December 12, 2005

Cease The False Declarations of Victory! (We Implore You)

Kissinger just nails it (hat tip: RCP):

The views of critics and administration spokesmen converge on the proposition that as Iraqi units are trained, they should replace American forces – hence the controversy over which Iraqi units are in what state of readiness. But strategy based on substituting Iraqi for American troops may result in confirming an unsatisfactory stalemate. Even assuming that the training proceeds as scheduled and produces units the equivalent of the American forces being replaced – a highly dubious proposition – I would question the premise that American reductions should be in a linear relationship to Iraqi training. A design for simply maintaining the present unsatisfactory security situation runs the risk of confirming the adage that guerrillas win if they do not lose.

The better view is that the first fully trained Iraqi units should be seen as increments to coalition forces and not replacements, making possible accelerated offensive operations aimed at the guerrilla infrastructure. Such a strategy would help remedy the shortage of ground forces, which has slowed anti-guerrilla operations throughout the occupation. While seemingly more time-consuming, it would in fact present better opportunities for stabilizing the country and hence provide a more reliable exit route.

The actual combat performance of new units cannot be measured by training criteria alone. The ultimate metrics – to use Pentagon jargon – is to what extent they are motivated toward ultimate political goals. What they fight for will importantly determine how well they will fight.

A responsible exit strategy can only emerge from a subtle interplay of political and security elements – above all, the consolidation of a national government. Real progress requires that the Iraqi armed forces view themselves – and are seen by the population – as defenders of the national interests, not sectarian or regional ones. They will have become a national force when they are able to carry the fight into Sunni areas and grow willing to disarm militias, especially in the Shia regions from which the majority of them are recruited.

To delegate to military commanders the ultimate judgments as to the timing of withdrawals therefore places too great a burden on them. Their views regarding security need to be blended with judgments regarding the political and collateral consequences that a major new initiative inevitably produces. Such a balance presupposes that all sides in our domestic debate adopt a restraint imposed on us by the consequences of failure.

For the decision to start withdrawals will have a profound psychological impact, the most immediate of which will be on the Iraqi political structure. Will the initial reductions – set to begin sometime after the December election – be viewed as the first step of an inexorable process to rapid and complete withdrawal or as a stage of an agreed process dependent on tangible and definable political and security progress?

If the former [ed. note: the likelier scenario, in B.D.'s view], the political factions in Iraq will maneuver to protect their immediate assets in preparation for the coming test of strength that will seem to them inevitable between the various groups. The incentive to consider American preferences for a secular and inclusive government in a unified Iraq will shrink. It will be difficult to broaden the base of a government at the very moment it thinks it is losing its key military support. In these circumstances, even a limited withdrawal not formally geared to a fixed timetable and designed to placate American public opinion can acquire an irreversible character. [emphasis added]

I've been chiming on for months about these themes but, alas, B.D's no Henry Kissinger and my soap-box is quite a bit smaller. But it's all here. The fact that 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' is bunk (it should be instead that, as they stand up, we'll stand up with them). The fact that even Henry Kissinger is telling anyone who will listen we had too few troops in theater, thus slowing down counter-insurgency efforts these past years. The thinly veiled criticism of our poorly performing Secretary of Defense, who (as is is wont, avoiding any real assumption of responsibility) wants to have the commanders advise when troop draw-downs can take place (Kissinger points out the obvious, that such decisions in the Iraq context constitute critical political judgments too, not ones that are solely for the purview of generals in the field). Kissinger also makes the point that local actors, if they see the Americans pursuing a hasty draw-down, will start planning for a post-American future, thereby no longer unduly concerning themselves with fostering a strong central government and enshrining minority rights.

Yes, all this 'stay the course' stuff is all hokum and wasted talk and disingenuous hemming and hawing if the Murthas are right, and this whole Iraq adventure was but 'flawed policy wrapped in illusion' and so on. But is it, really? I don't think so, not based on the merits to date anyway. I remain hopeful that a functioning democracy can take root in Iraq over the next decade or so. But, make no mistake, it will take massive American involvement to get us to that still so elusive finish line. Look at Bosnia, for example. We've had troops in that country for over a decade, not to mention varied (and quite activist) proconsuls manning the helm and getting recalcitrant parties (like Hercogovinian Croats and Serbs in Repulika Srpska) to play ball together. The situation in Iraq is much more complex and difficult than many of the matters Paddy Ashdown handled with such aplomb in Bosnia. And if we mean to accomplish two critical goals, a) helping midwife a strong central government (albeit with federalist arrangements) that is democratic in nature and truly respects minority rights, and b) putting together a truly national army, with a multi-ethnic, professional officer corps not loyal to Badr or Mahdi or peshmerga or some Sunni tribe, but the Ministry of Defense of the democratic government of Iraq based in Baghdad--you better believe we've got a long road ahead indeed.

As Kanan Makiya, a keen observer of the Iraqi political scene, who supported intervention in Iraq, put it:

The 2003 Iraq war has indeed brought about an irreversible transformation of politics and society in Iraq. But this transformation has not consolidated power, as the great revolutions of the past have tended to do (in France, Russia and even Iran), nor is it distributing power on an agreed upon and equitable basis, as happened after the American Revolution and as Iraqi liberal democrats like myself had hoped would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Rather, it is dissipating it. And that is a terrifying prospect for a population whose primary legacy from the Saddam Hussein era is a profound mistrust of government in all its forms.

By ceding and dismissing centralized power, Iraqis may end by ceding all their power. Iran in the short run, and the Arab world in the long run, will fill the vacuum with proxies, turning the dream of a democratic and reborn Iraq into a dystopia of warring militias and rampant hopelessness.

Later, Makiya speaks of the "furies" we've unleashed in Iraq. Managed over many years yet, with active American involvement helping sheperd the process through the many challenges to come, these furies might yet lead to a functioning (if often unwieldy) democracy in the heart of the Arab world. This would be an historic accomplishment of the first order. But we are still very far from this goal indeed, as people like Kanan Makiya and Henry Kissinger and John McCain and Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan and, yes, the proprieter of this blog--have been arguing frequently in varied fora. One of the key dangers in all of this, it might be pointed out, are false declarations of victory (that, in turn, help lead to too rapid deadlines that, despite attempts to conceal any linkage, are often really more related to American political calendars than actual conditions on the ground in Iraq). Come December 15th, if the elections move forward without catastrophe (which they will), there will be much euphoria about what a massive step has taken place, and there will be declarations of victory aplenty. But these triumphalist notes are dangerously premature indeed, as serious observers well realize. To be sure, who but the greatest cynics can remain unmoved at the specter of the veritable birth of modern, post-Saddam Iraqi politics, with myriad political parties sprouting up, and even formerly hostile Sunnis being urged to take up the ballot box rather than the gun (if only temporarily)? But still, minimizing the endemic violence, the myriad perils still facing Iraq, and just speaking breezily about a normalization of Iraqi politics (bombings happen a lot in the Arab world, after all!) is just bunk. Yes, it is irresponsible in the extreme to have already declared victory. And so I offer up Exhibit A, via various E-mails to me over the past two days, namely this gem from Australian blogger Richard Fernandez, known as Wretchard in the blogosphere, who writes about Iraq:

Victory when it came, was both greater and less; more partial and more complete than expected. It did not take the European form of parades down the Champs Elysee [sic], followed by a return to old and establish ways of governance. What the destruction of the Ba'athist regime did was reanimate long suppressed local and ethnic interests and channel them into competition through the ballot box -- with the occasional recourse to violence. Tremendous forces have been unleashed which critics of the war will point to as signs of an incipient civil war, but which supporters of OIF will describe as a newly liberated society feeling its way forward.

Now it's true, Fernandez, who in his evidently irrepressible optimism has become something of a Juan Cole of the Right (neatly inverting Cole's pessimisme de la gauche), I'm afraid to say, plays to an audience of commenters with names like "Pork Rinds for Allah" and "Vercingetorix" and other such farcical monikers that elicit giggles in more comme il faut company. They eagerly imbibe the ready dispensation of gravitas-infused essays from points Down Under, dressed-up with ponderous, near inscrutable sounding titles like the "Three Conjectures" (read it, it's the product more of schoolboy fantasy than policy analysis, replete with laugh-inducing numerical charts about "Islamic losses" vs. "Non-Islamic losses" in soi disant 'modeled' nuclear exchanges, and requisite mention of the dearth of a "red telephone," so that the crazy Ayatollahs can't be rung up to halt all the nuclear madness, alas, and intimations about all the "uncontrollable escalation" inexorably resulting in grim apocalypse for all the hapless Mahomedans in our midst). Through all this pulse-quickening fare, one espies a barely concealed Islamo-phobia of the most ignorant kind (Wretchard gravely advises his readers, in his latest declaration-of-victory-post, that "Arabs aren't all the same". Well no, they're not Wretchard, as we've known for some time now, just as Filipinos or Aussies, for that matter, aren't all the same either, I would have thought, no?). Said rank ignorance (or is the appropriate word in the lexicon dhimmitude, one forgets?) of the Arab world is crossed with rather wild Dr. Stranglovian speculations that would force even, say, a Charles Krauthammer to admonish a too excitable tutee about the perils of overly enthusiastic devotion to doctrinal exuberances.

But Fernandez does have a talent, it must be said, at dressing up such adolescent, under-informed, near hysterical cogitation into masters thesis sounding fare, the type that leaves more impressionable readers with the feeling of having been positively blinded by varied epiphanies about the Bold Steps so urgently needed--the better so that the Battle against Islamofascists can be bravely carried forth to final victory (you see, we've only won in Iraq, so far, alas). I mean, what does this sentence, haphazardly plucked from the Conjectures 'piece', bloody mean? "Due to the fixity of intent, attacks would continue for as long as capability remained. Under these circumstances, any American government would eventually be compelled by public desperation to finish the exchange by entering -1 x 10^9 in the final right hand column: total retaliatory extermination." Well, I've been careful here, even sat down and poured myself a stiff drink so as to steady the nerves, given the near panic-inducing import of all this heady algebraic-looking chart-making (maybe it's dark memories of high school pre-calculus that have me all in a tizzy!). And so, with some trepidation, I've just now taken another guarded peek at the chart, and I think it means this, in plainer English sans all the hifalutin' numbers: namely, that every Muslim in the world would be dead (that's the -1X10^9 position, folks). Why? Because they achieved nuclear capability, set off a bomb in Tulsa or something, and as no rational actors are sitting about the Kremlin chatting with POTUS sur le telephone rouge to calibrate all the tit-for-tat, we're all heading to hell in a handbasket, with Mecca in the cross-hairs as thrilling end-note coda. Or some such. But perhaps I'm missing something, and Pork Rinds for Allah or Vercingetorix or some other groovily-named commenter can educate naive simpletons like myself who Just Don't Get It, that is, all the thrilling high-jinx Bunker-Speak animating various swaths of the blogosphere.

But I digress. My point in this little spot of blog poo-pooing fun? Anyone who would declare victory at this juncture is either genuinely delusional, or the cheapest of hacks. On the delusional prong, others have put it far better than I. As a recent E-mailer put it to me: "When your ideology is a function of theology, reality matters not a whit. You create reality with language. We're seeing the consequences of faith-based warmaking". Yes, and faith-based blogging too, which depresses me so as, for months now, what I've tried to project in this blog is that real victory in Iraq cannot be measured for years yet, and patience and fortitude and the long view are absolute prerequisites to getting to the finish line. Empty talk re: how victory today doesn't include parades down the Champs Elysees, or defining victory down so that it constitutes little more than an Iraq wracked by endemic violence in some civil-war era Lebanon-like scenario, well it might earn Wretchard some kudos in his comments sections, and rah-rah and bully to him for it, but it's certainly not doing anyone favors in terms of serious policy debate in places like Washington and New York. Certainly not regarding how to carry this massive Iraq project--one still fraught with such peril--forward to a successful conclusion. Look, I've read some of Wretchard's previous writings with interest and, yes, occasional admiration. But I'm sick and tired of these fake declarations of victory, as I think they do a real disservice to prosecution of the war effort (they are the flip side of the coin, but not dissimilar in ultimate effect, to the defeatism of a Howard Dean). Thus my indignation, and my pot shots in the direction of precincts like the Belmont Club. We'll try to move back into non-rant mode tomorrow night...

Posted by Gregory at 12:30 AM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

December 02, 2005

Smaller Footprint Watch: Iraqis Doing the Oil Spotting?

Peter Spiegel, the FT's estimable Defense Correspondent:

Several US commanders, however, have argued that Mr Krepinevich's views, while compelling, are only a repeat of strategies already implemented by coalition forces. Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director for plans at US Central Command, said there were "a lot of people arguing about the oil-spot strategy", but insisted that the current practice of bringing Iraqi forces in to secure and stabilise urban areas after US raids illustrated that coalition commanders had already shifted away from "search and destroy" tactics.

"We don't want to say, okay, Krepinevich you're right: let's all pull back into cantons and start over," Brig Gen Kimmitt said. "The coalition forces are providing a thin protective shield, to some extent, over the country at large. It's not perfect, but what it then allows is to set the condition for the Iraqi forces to be the oil spot. The goal is that the oil spot, in fact, are the Iraqi forces who establish control, maintain control, and then get larger and larger."

Indeed, Maj Gen Douglas Lute, the operations director at Centcom, said such recommendations as embedding US forces into Iraqi units began early in the year, well before Mr Krepinevich began advising Mr Khalilzad. Such embeds, largely in 10-man "coalition assistance teams", enable Iraqi officers to have direct battlefield contact with coalition intelligence and airborne weapons, a practice that military leaders said has greatly contributed to Iraqi effectiveness.

"Here you have an Iraqi battalion in contact [with enemy forces], the Iraqi battalion commander turns to one of these 10 guys who is trained in close-air support, and F-16s or Tornados are dropping precision munitions in support of that Iraqi formation," said Maj Gen Lute. "It accelerates the hand-off of battle space to the Iraqis, and second of all, just imagine the psychological effect for that Iraqi battalion commander."

All this Krepinevich compliant doctrine sounds pretty hunky-dory, but I am concerned about having the Iraqis "be the oil spot" (especially if barely disguised Shi'a militia are oil-spotting Sunni areas, say). Also there's been a lot of scuttlebutt about more U.S. action from the air, as the baton is more and more handed off to Iraqis on the ground. This is not a risk-free strategy either (erroneous targetting will refresh the ranks of the insurgents). Still, however, the status of the overall counter-insurgency effort is much, much better than it was even 12 months ago--and we should be grateful for such improvements rather than merely bitch and wail from the sidelines day in, day out. Much more on the state of the war effort, I hope, over the weekend. And yet still a good amount of it quite gloomy I'm afraid.

Posted by Gregory at 12:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 23, 2005

Preliminary Iraqi referendum results

Via Knight-Ridder, I see that the official preliminary totals for the Iraqi constitutional referendum are coming in. While the final results aren't in yet, so far it looks like both Anbar and Salahuddin have overwhelmingly rejected the constitution, Salahuddin by 81%, thereby indicating that the opponents as well as the supporters of the consitution seem to have turned out in large numbers.

Courtesy of reader AMac, the preliminary figures for voter turnout are also available.

The Knight-Ridder piece also gives us an idea of the situation in Diyala:

In the mixed province of Diyala, just northwest of Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shiites are roughly evenly distributed, the "yes" and "no" votes are running almost neck and neck, with 51.76 percent voting "yes" and 48.24 percent "no."

If the Diyala votes hold up, that then leaves Nineveh, whose results are not being announced (along with Irbil, Babil, and Basra) as the deciding factor in whether the constitution is accepted or rejected. We do get some good news from the Electoral Commission, however:

Iraqi election commissioner Safwat Rashid said that no evidence of "significant violations" has so far been uncovered but that the audit is likely to delay the final result at least two more days.

Depending on what he means by this, it would seem that the type of widespread abuses that have been alleged by Saleh Mutlaq didn't occur to the degree that he some of his statements to Western and Arab media outlets would seem to suggest. That's a far cry from what I'd like and even in of itself doesn't preclude the kind of Tammany Hall politics we've experienced here in the United States at various stages in our history, but it does seem to indicate that none of the major Iraqi parties were on an organizational level out to thwart the voting process. Given, as many observers have pointed out, that Iraq doesn't have a terribly long tradition of representative democracy, this should be viewed as a very positive development.

The article also notes another interesting point:

Recent weeks have witnessed reduced insurgent violence targeting the Iraqi population, but there has been no letup in the rate of attacks against U.S. forces.

I actually think that violence has been going down (at least from where it was when the insurgents started mounting attacks in a big way in April) for a longer period than that, particularly with regard to the number as well as the scope of mass casualty terrorist attacks in the country. While these types of terrorist attacks are the most visible symbol of the Iraqi insurgency, they are not the ones that are the most lethal killers of US troops, as this New York Times story on the fighting in Ramadi helps to illustrate:

The vast majority of Americans killed here since September have been victims of homemade bombs, what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s. Sgt. William Callahan, a member of the bomb disposal team stationed with the Third Battalion, estimated that troops hit four such bombs a day in Ramadi. Most do not result in death or serious injury. Almost all are remotely detonated, which means someone is hiding in wait for coming vehicles.

There are a couple of ways one can read the partial shift from targeting Iraqi civilians to targeting US troops. One is that most of the mass casualty terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians are perpetrated by Abu Musab Zarqawi and his allies and that they've been sufficiently weakened by US counter-insurgency efforts (as my good friend Bill Roggio has documented in exsquite detail over at the Fourth Rail) to the point where they're still recouping their recent losses. Another is that all of the domestic insurgent groups that committed themselves to the referendum through their various proxies see no real contradiction between killing US troops while trying to pursue a political deal with fellow Iraqis, at least at this time. Finally, there's the view that the insurgents are more or less lying low for now in the belief that the constitution will either be rejected or that enough Sunnis will reject the legitimacy of the vote and throw in with them, hence they don't see a reason to rock the boat right now by staging any mass casualty attacks that might prompt such individuals to throw in with the government.

That said, a drop in violence is still a drop in violence, as is the fact that a lot of Sunnis are now engaged in the political process, even as an opposition force, rather than operating outside of it. As I think Eric has noted in the past, there are definite fault lines between the various insurgent groups, some of which are far more open to political participation than others. For those that are willing to come to the table (and it seems to me that several are there right now by proxy), the effort should now be made to keep them there as long as possible and incorporate them into the system. One such method for doing so that I've discussed with Bill Roggio on occasion is the idea of an Algeria-style amnesty offer for various domestic insurgent groups that are willing to deal. While Iraq now has a sovereign government that will have to weigh the costs and benefits of such a proposal, it would seem a measure at least worth considering at this point.

Posted by at 08:02 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

October 20, 2005

Electoral Politics

The Iraqi government has chosen to delay announcing the results of the country's constitutional referendum until Friday while they examine the integrity of the process, with the tallies in Nineveh and Salahuddin appearing as those under the closest scrutiny at the moment. I really don't have that much to add as far as this issue in and of itself goes and I think that the Iraqi Electoral Commission is probably quite wise in making its decision. One of the things I would note in particular is this passage here:

The audit, announced by the Electoral Commission on Monday, will examine results that show an oddly high number of "yes" votes - apparently including in two crucial provinces that could determine the outcome of the vote, Ninevah and Diyala.

The election commission and United Nations officials supervising the counting have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.

This is one issue that needs to be highlighted, namely that no one except certain Sunni leaders at this point is declaring that there's a fraud in the works. I have no idea whether or not any ballot-stuffing or other improprieties occurred with respect to the vote, but one thing I would urge observers against is drawing any unwarranted conclusions here before all the facts are in. This one of the major mistakes that Anzar made after 3/11 with respect to the culpability of ETA on similar (and at the time far more logical than some I've seen online) assumptions and we saw where that got him.

Other brief thoughts on the referendum:

* Large figures in favor of a particular referendum are not in of themselves evidence that impropriety has occurred. It can be an indication of it, but it is also equally possible that the constitutional referendum was extremely popular, particularly in the major Shi'ite provinces. It should also be kept in mind when looking at some of the Shi'ite results that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has urged Iraqis to vote "yes" on the referendum as well as the kind of following that Sistani is reputed to have inside Iraq. We have been told (and I agree with) on numerous occasions that if Sistani ever called for a popular uprising against US forces inside Iraq, that would be the end of it for us with respect to the Shi'ite population. However, it must also be asked whether or not that level of support also works in our favor on issues such as the constitution.

* There's been a lot of talk as to just how much support the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Sunni Endowment actually have in Iraq, with a lot of it centered around the January elections. I'm not sure if that's an accurate metric to use, though, given that it seems that the Sunni political paradigm has changed a lot since the elections for a variety of reasons. How much weight groups like the Association of Muslim Scholars carry among the general Sunni population rather than among the insurgents (for some of whom the Association is more or less an informal mouthpiece) would also seem to be an open question. Please note that I am not denying that any of these groups have large and influential followings, but rather that I don't think that we can effectively gauge just how much of a following they have. I am also extremely leery of viewing the Sunnis as a singular monolithic entity in either their opposition to the constitution or in terms of their adherence to the groups that purport to speak for them, whether it be the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Sunni Endowment, or the Association of Muslim Scholars.

* On a similar note, let us point out that there is a lot that we still don't know as far as the Iraqi political scene is concerned. Without attacking the integrity of any of the polling data that's been presented to date, let me just point out that we have a lot more polling firms and information available here in the United States yet would still be extremely hard-pressed to predict the outcome of our own domestic politics. One example I know I'm going to get a great deal of flak for by citing is the case of Chalabi, who was widely viewed as someone who would more or less fade into obscurity after being cut off from his Western backers since he had no domestic support inside Iraq. Instead, he emerged as a potential candidate for the Iraqi prime ministership and currently occupies a position in the government that his detractors would have assured us would have been impossible back in the spring of 2004. Similarly, Allawi is also still extremely active in Iraqi politics and is currently trying to set up an opposition bloc despite the widespread view among most observers that he was/is a CIA asset.

* A lot of scrutiny is being put on the vote totals in Nineveh and Diyala with good reason, but one question I have is why there's been so much suggestion that the "yes" totals are inflated in southern provinces but next to none on the possibility that there's been any in Anbar or Salahuddin. If anything, it would seem that the Sunnis have more of a reason in terms of simple demographics to cheat than the Shi'ites in the southern provinces do.

Ultimately, I think it's probably best to adopt a "wait and see" policy at this point and wait to see what the Electoral Commission decides. One thing I will advise though, is for those watching the referendum process unfold in Iraq not to use this as an excuse to settle old scores about voting disputes in our own country. In addition to displaying one's own provincialism, this also misses the full scope of the situation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that Americans have voted on an entirely new constitution before. The stakes are much, much higher this time around, if for no other reason than that in our own country no political faction maintains well-organized militias on the order of the peshmerga or the Badr Brigades.

In an e-mail conversation with a friend of mine in Washington earlier today, I tried to the best of my ability to explain why I thought the prospects for civil war in Iraq were less likely than are generally believed. One point that I forgot to mention was that at this point all sides seem to be playing the political game except for Zarqawi, whose followers as I noted earlier were going to continue their attacks no matter what happened with respect to the referendum. As long as all the major factions keep playing politics rather than reaching for their weapons, I think that there's a good chance that Iraq is on its way to establishing a stable political system and would consider both Allawi's attempt to form an opposition bloc as well as the news that several major players in the United Iraqi Alliance are planning to run separately in the December election as positive steps in this development. In the interest of seeing that through to its conclusion, I think we would all do well to sit back and see what the Electoral Commission and the international observers have to say on this score.

Posted by at 08:19 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

Thoughts on the constitution referendum

The referendum on the Iraqi constitution is over and, by all accounts, went rather swimmingly under circumstances. My colleague Bill Roggio takes a pretty good look at the situation and concludes that the end-result is net victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq. I concur with this assessment, but it is worth noting this passage from Anthony Cordesman's definitive Iraq's Evolving Insurgency in which he states several times:

There also will almost certainly be at least another year of intensive fighting against Islamist and extremist elements that will reject inclusion in the political process almost regardless of what political system emerges during the coming elections. There are only three ways to deal with Iraq’s most hard-line elements: Kill them, imprison them, or drive them out of the country. There is a very real war to fight, and it is still unclear when or if Iraqi forces will really be ready to fight it with anything like the total numbers required.

This is a key realization that needs to be understood alongside any celebration of the very real success achieved yesterday with respect to the constitutional referendum. However, the realization that Zarqawi does not have a significant popular support base inside Iraq was one of the major events that came out of the January 30 elections, as was the fact that he is extremely limited with regard to carrying out attacks outside his geographic base in the Sunni Triangle. Both of these realizations were extremely important developments, as they were both extremely unclear prior January 30, but it is nice to see that both have withheld the test of time with respect to the current referendum.

That said, Zarqawi does not require the support of all or even most Iraqi Sunnis to continue his terror campaign. Without getting very far into the numbers game, if only has a core of 5,000 fighters about 50,000 supporters, that should be more than enough to sustain al-Qaeda in Iraq and its allies like Ansar al-Sunnah for the time being. Note that this doesn't even begin to address those insurgent groups that are participating in political discussions through their various proxies like the Association of Muslim Scholars or similar organizations.

Now please don't get me wrong, it's certainly wonderful to note that so many Iraqis aren't buying what Zarqawi is selling or that his operational reach is limited. These are all extremely good things and should be recognized as such by everyone, as I'm sure my colleague Eric will agree. There are now a serious questions, however, as far as what happens next.

As it now stands, the constitution looks almost assured of passage despite the strong Sunni efforts to defeat it. The big issue now, though, is what comes next for the Sunnis. Do they return to the insurgency in earnest, do they wholeheartedly embrace the political game, or some combination of the two? Or will their efforts as a community splinter, with various groups going one way and others going another?

Eric expressed much the same concerns in this comment:

Will this vote convince the insurgencies to stop? Will it drain support from the Sunni regions? Will it help to bridge the divides between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites? Will even the Shiites and Kurds continue to work together now that the document they wanted is enshrined? What exactly about this vote will translate into any of those positive outcomes? What is the mechanism?

I honestly don't know the answers to those questions one way or another, but my guess is that we'll all find out pretty soon. One thing to keep in mind though is that earlier quote from Cordesman that even if everything goes absolutely wonderful as far as the political process is concerned, the Iraqis are still going to have a major fight on their hands against Zarqawi and his allies. Depending on how the Sunnis choose to approach the political process from this point forward could either accelerate or draw out that fight, but either way it's one that's going to happen sooner or later.

One final point that I once made to my good friend Aziz some time ago on the issue of what it means to have a real democracy in Iraq is for both sides to accept the results of the popular will without resorting to violence. In this way, I actually thought that it was something of a positive development for Allawi to lose the January 30 elections and then give up power voluntarily without going underground or declaring some kind of a permanent state of emergency to keep the United Iraqi Alliance from taking charge of the parliament. In a similar way, if Iraq is going to be a successful democracy, particularly once US troops are withdrawn, the Sunnis are going to have to accept the results of the constitutional referendum without going underground and launching a campaign to bring down the government. Same thing goes for both sides with respect to the December elections and so on and I think that ultimately that's going to be the biggest challenge for all quarters to accept given that much of Iraqi politics prior to this point have more or less been a zero-sum game.

Posted by at 02:44 AM | Comments (13) | 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

September 25, 2005

"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

August 24, 2005

The Liberal Hawks and Iraq

Sheelah Kolhatkar:

The people on the right cannot possibly be feeling the kind of dissonance that liberal supporters are feeling. It’s not a simple matter to live with, I have to tell you,” said Mr. Wieseltier, whose name appeared on a letter to Mr. Bush urging the removal of Saddam Hussein in late 2001, and who said that the U.S. shouldn’t cut and run. “I think that it is impossible, even for someone who supported the war, or especially for someone who did, not to feel very bitter about the way it has been conducted and the way it has been explained.” For some writers who were accustomed to speaking only to tiny audiences clustered on the coasts, the invasion of Iraq and its implications presented an opportunity to actually influence something. It was a career-making moment for theorists who had cut their teeth in Bosnia and who were ready to test out their newly formed vision of American force as a tool to promote democracy and human rights and prevent genocide. It made media stars of academics like Mr. Feldman, who prior to the war was merely an “assistant professor who had been teaching for one year,” according to him, and the human-rights expert Michael Ignatieff of Harvard, who wrote various Iraq analyses for The New York Times Magazine. Writers such as Mr. Wieseltier, Mr. Berman and Mr. Hitchens were profiled admiringly in the months before the war, held up as avant-garde prophets.

To make matters worse, the same group couldn’t even get the Democratic Presidential candidate to see things their way—or even to pay attention to what they had to say.

John Kerry, who was the great hope for people like us, completely finked out. He had no Iraq policy,” said Mr. Feldman. “Many of us were on various advisory committees in the Kerry campaign, and we submitted our memos up the chain, and they were assiduously ignored. No one’s really listening.”

Mr. Feldman said that, with Mr. Kerry lost in a confused fog, the anti-war camp clamoring for immediate withdrawal and the Bush administration fixated on “magical thinking” and lean, quickie warfare, there was never a political constituency behind them.

“I consider that to be our failure, mind you,” said Mr. Feldman. “You’re a failure as an advocate if you can’t get people in power to move.”

Kerry 'finked out' (as this blog pretty steadily reported back then), and Dubya is living in something of a flypaper bubble. It ain't pretty.

P.S. Mr Wieseltier, there's 'dissonance' on the right too...

Posted by Gregory at 10:43 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

"The Law Now, It's the Big Fish Eats the Small Fish"

From today's Wash Post:

Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to control territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their ascendance has come about because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January parliamentary elections.

Since the formation of a government this spring, Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, has witnessed dozens of assassinations, which claimed members of the former ruling Baath Party, Sunni political leaders and officials of competing Shiite parties. Many have been carried out by uniformed men in police vehicles, according to political leaders and families of the victims, with some of the bullet-riddled bodies dumped at night in a trash-strewn parcel known as The Lot. The province's governor said in an interview that Shiite militias have penetrated the police force; an Iraqi official estimated that as many as 90 percent of officers were loyal to religious parties.

Across northern Iraq, Kurdish parties have employed a previously undisclosed network of at least five detention facilities to incarcerate hundreds of Sunni Arabs, Turkmens and other minorities abducted and secretly transferred from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and from territories stretching to the Iranian border, according to political leaders and detainees' families. Nominally under the authority of the U.S.-backed Iraqi army, the militias have beaten up and threatened government officials and political leaders deemed to be working against Kurdish interests; one bloodied official was paraded through a town in a pickup truck, witnesses said....

...Toma said the tactics were eroding what remained of U.S. credibility as the militias operate under what many Iraqis view as the blessing of American and British forces. "Nobody wants anything to do with the Americans anymore," she said. "Why? Because they gave the power to the Kurds and to the Shiites. No one else has any rights."

"Here's the problem," said Majid Sari, an adviser in the Iraqi Defense Ministry in Basra, who travels with a security detail of 25 handpicked Iraqi soldiers. Referring to the militias, he said, "They're taking money from the state, they're taking clothes from the state, they're taking vehicles from the state, but their loyalty is to the parties." Whoever disagrees, he said, "the next day you'll find them dead in the street..."

...One of the most powerful militias in southern Iraq, the Badr Organization, which is blamed for many of the assassinations, denied any role in the killings. The head of the group in Basra, Ghanim Mayahi, said his organization was only providing "support and assistance" to the police through lightly armed militiamen. "There is no law, there is no order, and the police are scared of the tribes. Badr is not afraid, and it can face those threats," he said.

In the north, Kurdish officials acknowledged that people they deem terrorism suspects from across the region have been taken to several Kurdish-run detention facilities, but they said the practice was initiated by the Iraqi government with the blessing of the U.S. military. "It's a question of space; they have no place to put them and here it is safe," said Karim Sinjari, the minister of interior for the Kurdistan Regional Government and a senior official in the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Asked about the U.S. role, Sinjari added, "I think that they are supporting us. And we are supporting them. We look at them as freedom forces. If there's a problem you can ask them. We have no problem from our side."

U.S. officials in Baghdad declined several interview requests this week to discuss the growing number of complaints about people missing in northern Iraq who reportedly had been spirited to Kurdistan.

In June, U.S. officials denied any role and called for an end to the "extra-judicial detentions." A State Department memo at the time warned that abductions in the contested northern city of Kirkuk had "greatly exacerbated tensions along purely ethnic lines" and threatened U.S. standing.

In both northern and southern Iraq, the parties and their militias have defended their tactics as a way of ensuring security in an increasingly lawless atmosphere. In part, they have said, their power reflects their success in January's national and local elections, in which the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, along with the Shiite-led Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and other Islamic parties, won overwhelmingly in their respective regions.

But critics have charged that they are wresting control over security forces to claim de facto territory and authority, effectively partitioning Iraq even as representatives in Baghdad struggle to negotiate a permanent constitution... [emphasis added]

Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru have written an important article, and I use that word very purposefully, because I've seen little reporting of this caliber of late. You should really read the whole thing. Their piece rings quite true to me on many levels. Having spent time in war-time Bosnia and Croatia, my gut tells me the power vacuums resulting from constitutional dead-lock (which deadlock may very well be broken, but will the forced back-room deals being cut in the Green Zone materially impact the militiazation of Iraq's provinces on the ground?) and, more important, the abysmal lack of centralized security--such large vacuums are being filled very much as they sketch out. That is to say, by local militias in the main--even when they are ostensibly coalition trained/equipped Iraqi 'national' forces.

And, of course, yesterday's oppressed quickly become tomorrow's oppressors (as we witnessed in Kosovo, say). Don't miss this part of the piece, on this score:

In addition to providing security in Mosul, the militiamen have helped the Kurds take control of much of the Nineveh Plain, a barren flatland of hundreds of towns and villages that includes Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Turkmens and a little-known sect of Shiite Muslims called the Shabak.

On the sleeves of their Iraqi army uniforms, many Kurdish soldiers wear patches featuring the red, white and green national flag of Kurdistan, with its golden sun emblem. Along the highway toward Mosul, Iraqi army checkpoints openly fly the Kurdish flag.

Qaraqosh, a town of 25,000 people about 20 miles southeast of Mosul, demonstrates how the Kurds apply their expanding power in the north. Kurds, by all accounts, make up no more than 1 percent of the population. But Kurdish political leaders have not concealed their intention to dominate: "Under the parliament and government of the Kurdistan region, the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Turkmens will enjoy their rights," reads a banner outside the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters.

Luqman Mohammed Rashid Wardak, a senior member of the party's local committee who has the Kurdish sun emblem tattooed on the back of his right hand, said he hoped Qaraqosh would be ceded to the Kurds after the area "becomes normalized." In the meantime, he said, "we are presenting our political ideas to the people." Wardak said the Kurdish Regional Government has already distributed $6,000 to poor families. "Because this area does not officially belong to the Kurdistan region," he said, the money "goes to the party and the party pays them." The party has set up a 700-man "protection force," paying the guards' $150 monthly salaries.

But when largess doesn't work, the party uses force. On Dec. 5, local party officials ordered the director of a regional land office, Bahnam Habeeb, to disobey a central government edict to distribute parcels of land to former Iraqi army officers and soldiers.

Habeeb, who decline to comment, told the party that he could halt the distribution only if he received an order from "a higher authority" --either the provincial government in Mosul or the central government in Baghdad.

Fifteen minutes later, five pickup trucks filled with militiamen pulled up, according to witnesses. The fighters dragged the paunchy, 53-year-old Habeeb from his chair and beat him with their fists and rifle butts, the witnesses said. The soldiers placed him facedown in the bed of a pickup, pushed their boots into his back and legs and drove him around "to show everybody what they had done," said a witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.

Sinjari said the Kurds had objected to the land distribution, but he was unaware of the incident.

"There is an absence of law," said a 40-year-old Transportation Ministry official who was detained for five days in Dahuk last month. The official said a Kurdish officer had accused him of "writing against the Kurds on the Internet."

"'Freedom' and 'liberty' are only words in ink on a piece of paper," he said. "The law now, it's the big fish eats the small fish."

The law of diffuse (rather than centralized as under Saddam) brute force reigns in large part of Iraq today. This is largely a result of American failings, but the intent of this post is not to ascribe blame, engage in polemics, or call for Don Rumsfeld's head. Rather, we must look forward and attempt to sketch out a convincing path to success. What can one conclude from reports like these? One thing, of course, is clear. If we do as Andrew Bacevich advises in today's WaPo and just 'call it a day' (Bacevich: "While avoiding the appearance of an ignominious dash for the exits, but with all due speed, the United States needs to liquidate its presence in Iraq, placing the onus on Iraqis to decide their fate and creating the space for other regional powers to assist in brokering a political settlement. We've done all that we can do"), we will only leave behind the brute rule of the barrel of the gun in Iraq. Still, articles like Shadid's make me wonder--do we (by "we" I mean all of us, really, our leaders and policymakers and commentariat and informed public and so on), do we have the staying power and the skill and the fortitude and, yes, the nuance--to navigate and comprehend and intelligently act given the immensely volatile and complex maze that is post-Saddam Iraq? I'm increasingly unsure. And another question: are 'stay the course' people like B.D. becoming something akin to naive American Pyles, hoping against hope that we can get a credible central government afoot, in the face of voluminous evidence to the contrary? Or are we instead right that, with progress on the constitutional front (still very much possible), and a major American presence in theater, and continued oversight of the nation-building effort (make no mistake, that's what we're doing--while prosecuting a fierce insurgency)--we can still see a unitary, viable democratic Iraqi state through? These are not easy questions, and there are really no easy answers. The most that can be hoped for is that each of us try to be as honest as possible with ourselves as we try to comb through the proverbial fog of war and reconstruction and post-conflict recriminations and so on that is contemporary Iraq. To be very frank, when I read dispatches like Shadid's I wonder whether maybe Les Gelb isn't right, and that we must be mostly thinking instead how best to cobble together a loose confederation. But for the many reasons I've discussed, I still think the better option is to keep on keeping on towards a unitary state. And on this score, Bill Kristol is worthing reading again here.

Now, it is probably the case that a couple of years from now we will be able responsibly to reduce the number of American forces in Iraq. But the "stand up/stand down" formulation goes beyond that. It suggests--and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has repeatedly elaborated on this thought--that as Iraqi soldiers get trained, they will replace Americans, apparently regardless of our progress toward victory in the war.

But this formulation--and this policy, if it becomes policy--is, to quote the president, "a terrible signal" to send to the enemy. The enemy should confront the unpleasant prospect of soon facing the current level of American forces supplemented by an ever-growing number of Iraqi fighters. Our enemies should not have the impression that, by continuing the terror, they can secure the reward of facing (inevitably) less-able Iraqi forces in place of American troops.

This formulation, and this policy, is also a terrible signal to send to our friends. It suggests we want to get out more than we want to win. Such a suggestion will itself make winning more difficult--for who will risk committing to a side that seems uncertain about its own commitment, and that seems to be seeking an exit from the struggle?

The right formulation, and the right policy, would be this: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand with them. This formulation is consistent with the Bush administration's general approach to the war on terror. And, as Frederick W. Kagan pointed out last week in the Washington Post, the policy implied by such a commitment--supplementing the current American forces with a couple hundred thousand Iraqi light infantry--would point the way to victory.

I see no other better options now, and believe we can maintain this operational tempo for another three years at least yet. To precipitously withdraw would be to invite utter chaos. To preside over confederation would be to use American forces to help organize ethnic transfers--a sort of corrupting Milosevization of our Wilsonian/Reaganite traditions--with chaos still very likely in large, critical population centers like Kirkuk, Mosul and, not least, Baghdad. Therefore, as trite as this may sound to many, our default orientation must continue to be to 'see the effort through.' For I am not persuaded that postponing our exit is merely postponing the inevitable partitioning of Iraq, or civil war, or some other inglorious outcome. I still believe this project can be made roughly right. Putting it differently, I guess what I'm saying is that I don't believe we are simply creating more Cindy Sheehan's for no reason but empty sloganeering or nostrums about national prestige and such shouted breezily from the roof-tops of AEI or the White House. Iraq is still at a tipping-point, it is not yet a hopeless cause. Our continued presence there, our hand-holding of the parties on constitutional compromise (and on the inevitable, post-constitutional myriad haggles over interpretation of said document), our continued lead role in quashing a vicious insurgency (with more and more Iraqi forces participating alongside), our methodical, sober and non-rushed parceling out of equipment and training only to forces that will increasingly align themselves with a central government rather than local militias--all these imperatives argue for a major continued American presence. The stakes are higher than Vietnam, and so on realist grounds we owe it to ourselves to see this war and tremendously compex nation-building effort through. And, on moral grounds, we owe it to those who have died to date to fight this right and smart and make a success of it. Yes, those like B.D. arguing that we stay the course will face the reality that, not least because of Administration incompetence, we may still slog it out for two or so more years and end up still failing. With that many more dead. But I think we have turned the corner, perhaps, on the train and equip effort (after many false starts), that a prospectively viable constitution could be in the offing, that the insurgency can be defeated if we don't stand down prematurely. But all this requires a massive continuing American effort, on a variety of different levels (military, diplomatic, humanitarian and more), for a very significant period yet.

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

August 17, 2005

More From the Reality-Based Right

Frederick Kagan:

The Bush administration is making it clearer day by day that it intends to withdraw American troops from Iraq rapidly and roughly in step with the increase in the number of Iraqi troops deemed capable of taking over security responsibilities. Even while denying rumors of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces, President Bush has declared that "as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

This could be a big mistake. It is likely to simply sustain the current level of security in Iraq -- which is poor -- rather than take advantage of increasing numbers of Iraqi troops to improve the security situation. And, more important, relying on increases in the number of combat-capable Iraqi troops to make U.S. withdrawals possible ignores a serious set of challenges that have to be dealt with before the United States can depart with confidence in the prospects for victory.

The United States is engaged in creating a force of light infantry in Iraq that will ultimately number nearly 250,000 troops. This force will be well suited to conducting patrols in fixed locations, maintaining a presence in threatened areas, doing searches and sweeps, and performing high-end police functions. As more of these troops become available, we can expect improved intelligence and less friction between U.S. forces and local Iraqis. And although we can also be sure that these forces will be less effective than professional American soldiers and will suffer from conflicting tribal and sectarian loyalties and corruption, it will be generally true that the more such Iraqi troops there are on the streets the better.

But this light infantry force does not constitute an army. It will not be able, whatever its numbers, to conduct a counterinsurgency by itself for many years, and it will not be able to do so at all unless certain critical deficiencies are remedied. For example, it appears that efforts to establish Iraqi logistical elements are lagging badly behind the formation and training of light infantry units. Iraqis thus rely on coalition logistics when they must move from their home bases -- or, more commonly, they simply do not move from those bases at all. Their transportation assets are minimal, and so they lack the ability to project their forces within Iraq. As a result, they would not be able to concentrate force rapidly in particularly violent areas or to destroy insurgent concentrations quickly. For as long as these conditions hold, the U.S. military will remain an essential part of the struggle against insurgency in Iraq.

It is also important to understand that the current Iraqi forces rely heavily on the availability of responsive U.S. airpower. They do not have their own organic fire support (artillery or aviation), and so must wait for the American soldiers embedded within their formations to call in coalition air support when they run into any sort of serious opposition. The combined operations of Iraqi formations with embedded U.S. trainers and coalition troops have been excellent preparation for the Iraqis and have gone a long way toward creating a meaningful indigenous light infantry force. But they are also conditioning the Iraqis to rely on a capability that only a significant U.S. presence can provide. [emphasis added]

There's more. Read the whole thing.

P.S. The "reality-based" right, in case you're curious, is the non "last throes" wing.

Posted by Gregory at 06:32 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 30, 2005

Grading Bush's Speech: B-

I've now had a chance to read the transcript of Bush's speech. To me the best parts of the speech were those that well communicated his strong resolve to see the effort through, such as: "for the sake of our nation's security, this [abandoning the Iraqi people] will not happen on my watch". In this vein, the explicit refusal to endorse the concept of an exit date was, if not surprising of course, nevertheless commendable. Also positive? His reminder, and a fair one, that his administration has been able to successfully unseat Saddam, hand-over sovereignty to the Iraqis, and allow for relatively successful nation-wide elections amidst a difficult security situation. The bad? Well, for one, there was nothing really new in the speech. Unlike some, I guess, I'm not terribly discomforted by the conflation of 9/11 with Iraq that has become something of a Bush mantra (a tiresome and frustrating one, for Bush's many critics). After all, one can make serious arguments that the post 9/11 strategic climate made action in Iraq--if not an outright imperative--a policy decision that was not without a good deal of merit. Regardless, and these past debates aside, it is now incontestable that Iraq is a (if not the) critical theater in the war on terror. If we were to retreat before a sustainable, viably democratic Iraq polity were in place--we would invite a Taliban era kind of Afghanization of Iraq and, of course, significant instability through the region--thus providing assorted extremists, jihadists, neo-Baathists and terrorists with a tremendous victory (alternately, I guess, if democracy proved chimerical and we deemed anarchic conditions the biggest danger vis-a-vis terror threats--we could end up, more or less, passing the keys to another brutish strongman, one dressed up as a democrat perhaps--which would put the devastating lie to our democratization agenda. Either outcome is too ugly to contemplate and must be averted at all costs). As Bush put it well, quoting UBL (when are we going to capture him, btw?): "Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: "This third world war is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

My relative comfort with his continued evocation of 9/11 themes aside, I must say I found his continued, seeming endorsement of the so-called "flypaper" argument, particularly in the context of such an important speech, somewhat offensive ("There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us"). You know, to me, "flypaper" has always been something of a bogus spin-infused alter-narrative more than anything close to an accurate policy diagnosis/prescription. Put differently, it has always screamed rationalization-of-potential-debacle--much more than exemplar of brilliant strategic foresight. Relatedly, see such Sully synopsis/reader feedback, for instance:

The first is that the open Syrian border is a deliberate policy, the fly-trap theory, if you will. According to this theory, we want the jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere to come to Iraq so we can deal with them there. The only problem is that the mayhem this causes in Iraq undermines the political project, generates casualties among U.S. soldiers, and so weakens morale at home. It also means the possibility of turning Iraq into Jihad Central, making it harder and harder for us to leave - ever. Flytrap would make sense if we didn't have to sustain American morale.

This is risible fare, in my book. And I am pretty certain in people like Abizaid's too. Some intrepid journalist should ask the good commander if he "wants" Jihadists flowing in from Saudi Arabia and Syria. I'd bet you a helluva lot that the answer would be a resounding no--likely accompanied by an incredulous chuckle. I mean, why get all angry with Damascus about the porous border and their alleged nefarious role (whether by simply ignoring or, perhaps, facilitating insurgent movement into theater)? Flypaper, friends! Hell Bashar, be sure to keep that border mighty porous so as to open the floodgates to all 'dem nasty flies! Ridiculous, no? Another issue with flypaper (that its generally dim and too credulous adherents don't appear to rigorously contemplate) is the assumption that the number of jihadists (whether hailing from Saudi, the hinterlands of Algeria or, even, the Parisian banlieu or Barcelona suburbs) is somehow finite. It's not, last time I checked, which is another major problem with this "thesis." Put differently, you can kill thousands of them; but the ranks will still get re-filled with newbies. All told frankly, I suspect that one of the reasons flypaper-mania has gained widespread credence and popularity is because of the way Bush and other advocates like to portray the narrative: better to fight the terrorists in the far-away over there rather than in the streets of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It therefore has something of an appealing, populist, seemingly easy logic to it--but it's mostly bunk, at least in my book.

But I digress, and so back to the speech. As I said and to briefly recap, Bush was strong on showcasing America's resoluteness--while also fairly pointing out some real accomplishments achieved in Iraq. And yet, he was somewhat poor in that he covered very little new ground (with B.D. being less concerned about the 9/11 themes than the flypaper crapola). There are a couple other topics well worth covering from the speech. First, one can begin to sense encroachments of greater realism in Bush's remarks. Witness: "(o)ur progress has been uneven, but progress is being made" or "(t)he work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous" or "(t)o complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents" [ed. note: I quote this here because I am gratified to see him recognize we are speaking not only of "terrorists", but also "insurgents"), and "(w)e have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve." Yes, some of this is boiler-plate. But, taken in aggregate, it is clear he is signaling to the American people the struggle ahead will likely be a long one.

If anything was new in the speech, it was the additional detail Bush provided on the 'train and equip' effort of the Iraqi forces. It is clear that the prominence he placed on this issue showcases how critical "Iraqification" is to the overall U.S. strategy now. Indeed, Bush more of less described 'train and equip' as the very epicenter and kernel of our overall strategy there: "Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." He went on in some detail about elements of how that effort was being implemented, which was more noteworthy for evidencing just how firmly Bush sees this as our exit strategy than for any of the actual policy details (which all make good sense, and some of which, incidentally, Rumsfeld had already discussed on his recent talk show rounds last Sunday--such as the importance of better Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministry coordination down the chain of command).

There was also this very interesting part of the speech:

Some Americans ask me, "If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?"

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.

Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.

First, can I just say that, particularly given the uber-reluctant-to admit-mistakes and so stay-on-message Bush modus operandi--it's quite revealing that he would even discuss, in such a high profile and important speech--the whole issue of troop levels. In a way, this whole passage served as something of a quasi-admission that the adequacy of troop levels was at least an issue worthy of discussion. I do think that's significant--and it is worth noting too that the "right force level" can move up as surely as it can move down. Somewhat relatedly and worth checking out, from a Newsweek piece discussing Bush's war strategy as it relates to his conversations with the commanders in the field:

Those weekly teleconferences between the generals and the president are secret, and it is difficult to know with any assurance what has been said there. But according to a retired general who has spoken to Abizaid, the conversations do not involve much give and take. (The source declined to be identified because he is a friend of Abizaid's.) The president is generous with his praise and support for the generals, who by and large return his salute. Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is well connected to the Joint Chiefs, says, "There isn't much dialogue. It's 'These are the 14 things we are doing this week.' 'Great job.' 'Thank you, Mr. President'." Despite all the brave talk from generals who have read "Dereliction of Duty," it would be unrealistic to expect a more confrontational atmosphere. The military tends to be an optimistic institution, and generals do not win stars without being gung-ho and can-do. On split screen at these teleconferences is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said that his generals do not need—and have not asked for—any more troops and that the military is winning the war. The generals report to Rumsfeld, and he decides their next job. Also often present at the teleconference is Cheney, who has been equally outspoken about the war's progress. The generals may think they are being reasonably forthcoming about the problems on the ground. But Rumsfeld and Cheney, as well as the president himself, may have a tendency to hear what they wish to hear.

Again, and I'm sorry to appear to beat a dead horse over here, but I wonder: are the Generals really giving Bush the straight skinny as it relates to troop levels? What impact might Rumsfeld's 'transformationalist' biases have on his advice to the President? And Cheney's world-view on such issues? Unlike LBJ--who was choosing specific bridges to bomb in Vietnam in true over the top micro-managing fashion--is Bush perhaps too hands-off (on the other extreme) in terms of his involvement in tactical war decisions? Let me perhaps put this another way. Has he, per chance, been too consistently dependent on Rumsfeld (and perhaps Cheney) in terms of exerting operational control over this war? And might not the President, as he has matured now almost five years in office and given that Iraq will be his major legacy, might it not be time for the President to talk directly to his generals, in private, and really get to the bottom of whether some more troops, say in Anbar province (you run less of a risk of showing an overly onerous occupation footprint where, well, where you barely have a footprint to begin with...), might be necessitated? CEOs, after all, need to talk to their line managers every now and again without said managers' direct superiors necessarily present. It might not change the actual factual content of the information being relayed--but there can be changes in emphasis and tone that a smart CEO can digest and read between the lines--perhaps leaving him with different take-aways even. A final note on this specific issue. Bush said: "And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave." Really? This is too perilously close to and Mooreian disingenuous and hyperbolic speculations about U.S. perma-bases being erected through Mesopotamia. More men, in the short term, might very well reassure Iraqi moderates that America is fully serious about seeing the effort through and quashing the insurgency. Put differently, I'm not at all sure having a greater footprint in places like Tal Afar, or Ramadi, or Mosul--would this really further alienate fence-sitting locals from the horrific American occupier--or might it rather instead, show that an effort to create secure conditions is being more seriously pursued? After all, security and public order are what Iraqis crave more than anything else now. Would we be alienating them further by trying harder to achieve improvements on this score, even if it meant more U.S. and coalition troops needed to go in theater? I doubt it.

More on such topics another time, but to close on the speech, let me just say that I give it a B minus, all told. Big pluses for standing firm and making it clear we won't cut and run. Also for reminding us of some very significant accomplishments to date like the national elections of this past January. A sizable minus for there being so little that was new (perhaps an explicit repudiation of the "last throes" nonsense? an announcement of 20,000 additional men to Anbar Province? some announcement on a breakthrough in negotiations with less hard-core insurgents willing to play ball? an Egyptian or Indian contingent being sent in or such? etc etc). Still, the bottom line in all this is that we must signal fortitude and staying power. Bush did this. The question, however, is whether the resources currently devoted to the effort can do the job. Keeping in mind that public support lags steadily as one, two or three servicemen (and women) die day after day, seemingly inexorably, without an overwhelming display of American force beating back the insurgents more dramatically than any of Spear, or Matador, or Dagger, or whatever the counter-insurgency campaign de jour seems to have proven capable.

We aren't going to be run out of Iraq by the sheer might of an often desperate and nihilistic foe, not anytime soon anyway. But whether they will be decisively beaten, per the strategy enunciated by the President a couple nights back (keeping in mind that leaving behind a too lightly trained Iraqi Army in a millieu characterized by anarchic, quasi-civil war conditions constitutes a defeat, even if we were not "defeated" per se in battlefield terms), is perhaps just as dubious a proposition too. Put differently, how long will the American people accept a bloody stalemate, if it comes to that? Bush is gambling an increasingly trained Iraqi Army, in conjunction with successfully passed political milestones like a referendum on the consitution and such, will carry the day. He could be right. But it's still more by way of a big gamble than a hugely convincing war plan. And nothing about this speech really changes that perception among, say, centrist independents increasingly souring somewhat on the war--as compared to hard leftists deadly opposed from the get-go or chest-thumping, jingo rightists continuing to emptily cheer on the flypaper meme. Bush still, all told, controls the broad center on the war. But will he in four, or six, or nine months? I'm unsure. This speech bought him a bit more time--but perhaps not that much. People are getting tired of mere words--most often repetitive proclamations of certain victory ahead. Yes, Bush is right to make it crystal-clear we will hold firm and honor our committments to the Iraqi people (I disagree with some, by the way, who believe Bush's was subtly defining the mission down in his speech). But the public, more and more, is looking for convincing results on the ground that show tangible progress amidst the calls for fortitude and staying the course. It's not just the President who is becoming a bit more of a realist...

Posted by Gregory at 05:34 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Kerry's Bad Advice

John Kerry, in today's NYT, has some advice for Bush in advance of his speech tonight. It's quite poor, in the main.


He [Bush] should also say that the United States will insist that the Iraqis establish a truly inclusive political process and meet the deadlines for finishing the Constitution and holding elections in December. We're doing our part: our huge military presence stands between the Iraqi people and chaos, and our special forces protect Iraqi leaders. The Iraqis must now do theirs.

There is an obsession with "deadlines," isn't there, among the Democrat camp of late? As I've said, and I agree with Rumsfeld on this, talk of deadlines and timetables provides a "lifeline to terrorists". It's a huge incentive to the bad guys to simply wait us out. It's simply bad policy, and it's sad that whoever is advising Kerry on such opinion pieces behind the scenes (Jamie Rubin? Susan Rice? Ivo Daalder?) continues to go on about artificial drop-dead deadines and such. Yes, it would be great if Iraqis were able to meet deadlines on the Constitution or the December elections. But to hold a gun to their head and intimate we might cut and run if they do not meet such timeframes is just as irresponsible as providing some drop-dead exit date (yet another fictitious "deadline"). It is simply not the right way forward. Moderate Iraqis must believe that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them come what may.

Notice too how Kerry cloaks this recommendation in faux patriotic garb ("We're doing our part.,.The Iraqis must now do theirs..."). Let's re-rephrase that somewhat. We've not done our part, not by a long shot. In fact, speaking frankly, much of our involvement to date has been something of a pretty significant cluster-f*&k (this is not to discount the very significant strides made, ie. sovereignty handed over, successful elections, Sunni involvement in the Constitution-drafting but, still, the security situation remains dismal in large swaths of the country and so democratization and reconstruction is badly lagging). After all, a prerequisite to establishing a true democracy in Mesopotamia is providing basic order so that viable political governance structures can take root. So it is simply breathtaking--and speaks to Kerry's lack of real conviction and fundamental disinterest in seeing Iraqi democratization through--that he would breezily declare that "(w)e're doing our part." We've not yet, alas, and so this is simply rhetoric on par with Kerry's donning of the goose-hunting gear during the election. It's a bone to toss to presumed isolationist red-staters who wonder why we're spending so much blood and treasure helping out those so-far-away-ingrate-A-Rabs. It's the cheapest of rhetoric really, and until more serious Democrats emerge such talk only reinforces the view of foreign policy observers, like B.D., who chose Bush in '04 because the alternative was far worse.

He also needs to put the training of Iraqi troops on a true six-month wartime footing and ensure that the Iraqi government has the budget needed to deploy them. The administration and the Iraqi government must stop using the requirement that troops be trained in-country as an excuse for refusing offers made by Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more.

"A true six-month wartime footing." Wrong! What General Petraeus needs to do--the military leader in charge of 'train and equip'--is to take all the time he needs to make sure this job is done right. One criticism I've had of Don Rumsfeld is that he has thrown around numbers, 160,000 and such, of Iraqi forces trained and equipped much too breezily. We're meeting targets, Iraqification is proceeding apace, exit strategy is a-ok on sched! Except, of course, very few of these units can operate without U.S. support, many of them are not specialized in counter-insurgency tactics but are more by way of constabulatory forces and the like, not to mention a good many other problems besides. The point is there is no way this job can be done in six months. To so suggest is grotesquely irresponsible. Even Rumsfeld on Meet the Press last Sunday starting moving away from tossing about numbers and stated: "The biggest problems are not numbers. The biggest problems are the ministries, which are weak, and the chains of command down through those and the linkages between the police and the military forces, because they have to work together if they are going to repress this insurgency. And it's--most people are focusing on the metrics, the hard numbers. I would say the soft things, the ministries, the chains of command are considerably more important." Actually both are important. And neither the requisite numbers of fully trained and equipped Iraqi forces, nor adequate communication via "chains of command"--neither could be adequately accomplished on a 'wartime footing' (whatever that means) of six months. Kerry and his advisors likely know this, but this isn't about coming together and figuring out, really, how to win this war by helping bring about a viable, democratic Iraq. It's more about throwing around fake and easy fixes to score partisan points. Again, no leadership. No real opposition. Put simply, a time of deep mediocrity in Washington.

But I digress. Back to the meat of Kerry's oped. Ah, lest we forget, all those offers of help from Berlin and Paris that we've crudely rebuffed! What are they exactly (lest you think Bush's stubborn refusal to train more forces outside Iraq and his hick-like trans-atlantic feuding has us missing out on massive assistance and largesse from Paris and Berlin)? Well, here are the facts:

[France] pledged $660,000 to a NATO fund for military and police training in Iraq and has assigned one French midlevel officer to the training mission at NATO headquarters near Brussels, French officials said.

You'll forgive me if I wager that the one French midlevel officer--so reluctantly coughed up by Mr. Chirac so as to allow the U.S. to put the 'train and equip' effort under some titular NATO imprimatur/ umbrella--has absolutely no impact on 'train and equip'. Ah, you protest! But this is precisely Mr. Kerry's point! If we hadn't been so stubborn that most of the 'train and equip' take place in Iraq (which we weren't regardless, really)--Chirac would have come through!

Or, er, not:

Even with the agreement, the training mission is hampered by the fact that six NATO countries - France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece and Spain - have refused U.S. and Iraqi requests to help train military forces and police officers inside Iraq, preferring to do training outside the country or to help pay for the mission....

...But as several NATO countries resisted U.S. appeals to put even one soldier or police officer on the ground, the United States curbed its aims, saying that paying for the transport of equipment was to be lauded as an important contribution...

...As a result of the intense U.S. lobbying campaign, 17 other member states have committed more than $5 million in the last two weeks for trust funds that will cover such expenses as transporting Iraqi officers to NATO training posts outside Iraq and for equipment purchases...

By contrast, the United States has already contributed more than $50 million since last summer for the training mission.

Jones and other senior U.S. military officers have complained about the lack of adequate funding for the training mission and the cumbersome NATO system of fund-raising.

In a speech at NATO headquarters Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac of France said nothing about the French decision to participate in the NATO plan, but he reminded his partners that France has offered to train 1,500 Iraqi police officers outside of Iraq, a program that would cost France $20 million.

"In Iraq," Chirac told NATO leaders, "France wants to contribute to stability."

Sure, mon Jacques. Stability, indeed! In the form of 1,500 police officers. Gendarmarie, get it? The type that likely already have their hands pretty full in the Parisian banlieu. Still, they could help train a bit, oui? Er, with a small, pitiable number (1,500) of cops-to-be-trained in France. When what is really needed is a 200,000 strong fighting force trained in counter-insurgency that is capable of ultimately fighting alone, without coalition support, against a fanatical enemy. It is for this level of assistance that Kerry would like us to prostrate ourselves in front of a Jacques Chirac and beg for assistance? How silly. How inane. And, again, this is all a fake story, to a fashion. We've accepted German assistance training Iraqi forces outside of Iraq already (in the UAE). Kerry makes it sound like we've been stubborn, steadfastly refusing to allow for training anywhere outside Iraq. But that's simply not true. It's rank politiking, again. So people, lest you be fooled, he is not offering up real alternatives here. Get it?

The administration must immediately draw up a detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities to Iraqis after the December elections. The plan should be shared with Congress. The guideposts should take into account political and security needs and objectives and be linked to specific tasks and accomplishments. If Iraqis adopt a constitution and hold elections as planned, support for the insurgency should fall and Iraqi security forces should be able to take on more responsibility. It will also set the stage for American forces to begin to come home.

Again, a "detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities" would be a roadmap to the insurgents. And all this so that Senatorial blowhards like Kerry can windbag on a few months hence when the "plan...shared with Congress" misses a "deadline" because the going was a bit rougher than expected. Make no mistake. A good part of all this tiresome bloviating is making sure there is good political theater for the klieg-lights of the Beltway going forward. It's bad policy, but potentially good politics. Sad that this is what is proferred up as a serious alternative policy by the leading newspaper in the land and, perhaps, the leading Democrat (save HRC, of course!).

More from Kerry:

Iraq, of course, badly needs a unified national army, but until it has one - something that our generals now say could take two more years - it should make use of its tribal, religious and ethnic militias like the Kurdish pesh merga and the Shiite Badr Brigade to provide protection and help with reconstruction. Instead of single-mindedly focusing on training a national army, the administration should prod the Iraqi government to fill the current security gap by integrating these militias into a National Guard-type force that can provide security in their own areas.

What a horrible idea! Pushing the Badr Brigade and pesh merga out front smacks of desparation to provide security, whatever the consequences. Why? Because to integrate such militias into a "National Guard-type force" is likely to heighten the risks of inter-sectarian conflict. (Note also the inconsistency in Kerry's op-ed. He wants an all out "six month wartime footing" train and equip effort. But, apparently without really addressing the seeming contradiction, he more or less acknowledges that truly efficacious 'train and equip' will take more than two years).

His solution? Well, rush the effort so that a Shia-Kurdish National Guard provides security. But what of the risk of cross-ethnic or sectarian conflagration? Yes, Kerry says these militias would police "in their own areas." But this ignores hot-spots like Baghdad and Kirkuk that are ethnically mixed. And, regardless, what we really need is not more security, say, in Basra--but forces capable of helping root out insurgents in Mosul, Baghdad, Tal Afar, Fallujah, Ramadi, the Syrian border areas of Anbar province, and so on. Is sending pesh merga to Fallujah the way to go? Or, god forbid, Badr Brigades (with some Mahdi militia throw in for good measure)? Of course not. Look, there is a reason we are trying to create a unitary, national army that is ethnically diverse and includes Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni. Much like Turkey, say, the Army is likely to be the ballast and glue that holds Iraq going forward during the coming decades. So it must represent each of Iraq's major populations--or the risk of civil war becomes unacceptably high. Also, for the record, we are integrating pesh merga and Badr people into the Army. But piece-meal and in a fashion that won't raise too many Sunni alarm bells. In a word, brigades of Badr Militia can't simply show up for duty and, voila, happily become part of a unified Iraqi officer corps. This would be reckless in the extreme.


But the progress toward Sunni inclusion in the government came as comments from Interior Minister Bayan Jabr drew a harsh response from Sunni Arab leaders.

Jabr, in an interview with the Al Arabiya news channel, said that Kurdish and Shiite Muslim militias "are going to join the security forces. This does not mean that they are going to join the police or the army as one bloc, but some of their employees can be used as soldiers or officers with their real ranks."

Jabr specifically named the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of one of the top Shiite political parties, as well as the Kurdish fighters known as the peshmerga. He also mentioned firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia.

His comments weren't particularly controversial — members of the Kurdish and Shiite militias have been steadily joining the army and police forces. But the militia question is a sensitive one.

Sunni Arabs, who had dominated the Iraqi government and army since the 1920s, now find themselves outside the new Shiite-Kurdish political order.

They fear being further marginalized by the creation of a largely Kurdish and Shiite military.

Sunni Arab leaders complained that the move would produce a factionalized army whose loyalty to Iraq was secondary to diverse political allegiances.

"This is a dangerous decision…. It will be a historical mistake," said Salih Mutlaq, a spokesman for the National Dialogue Council and a new Sunni representative on the constitutional committee.

"There will be a sectarian and racist basis for the army…. The army has to be professional, far away from political parties. These militias are connected to political parties, and their presence will politicize the army."

This is typical Kerry isn't it? Pretend you have a new idea when, in actuality, what you are proposing is actually already taking place. But dramatize the issue and, without thinking through all the consequences, make more 'robust' the policy recommendation so it sounds like you are offering up something new. In other words, it's a matter of degree. Yes, we must (carefully, methodically) integrate some pesh merga and Badr (ensuring, for instance, they are not Mahdi Militia) into the national army. But not like Kerry suggests, seemingly rushed and whole-sale, so as to alienate the Sunnis. Again, he doesn't really care what the consequences are for Iraqi democratization--and is more preening in the New York Times pretending he has a better, more viable exit strategy than Bush. He doesn't. Please don't be fooled.

Anything I agree with in his piece? Yes, this part:

So what should the president say tonight? The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people. Happy talk about the insurgency being in "the last throes" leads to frustrated expectations at home.

He's right, of course. But it's much less dangerous to have a Vice President disingenuously talk of "last throes" than it would be to pursue many of the policy recommendations being offered up by the almost-but-for-Ohio President. Not even close, really.

UPDATE: What he said. And Maguire too. A polite request to various commenters (both on the Left and Right, they know who they are). Please don't hijack threads, engage in personal attacks, frequent use of profanity (yeah, I know, I break this rule sometimes too), or racial epithets--bottom line: please generally do your utmost to avoid descending into all the predictable, assorted cyber-nastiness. I don't have the time to come up with 'policies' and 'moderate' and all that. But if it becomes too unruly or too much of a hassle--I'll just shut them down. Please help me avoid doing so, OK?

On the substance of the post, be sure to check out Cole too (that's John, not Juan). Teaser:

A really good way to be perceived as playing with national security for purely selfish political reasons is to actually have your former losing Presidential candidate write snide and condescending editorials in the NY Times presuming to tell the President what to say in his speech. To make matters worse, you could repeatedly call him a liar, prescribe no real solutions, and throw around phrases that read like a grad school education training class ('establish a truly inclusive political process').

It probably isn't a good idea, the week after Rove unfairly painted you all as weak on security and the war on terror, to have the man who in many ways is still the symbolic head of the Democratic party demanding timelines and deadlines for withdrawal...

Also worth a gander: Von gets it.

Posted by Gregory at 09:15 AM | Comments (116) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

"A Lifeline to Terrorists"

From the WaPo:

Of a [Iraq withdrawal] deadline, Rumsfeld testified: "It would throw a lifeline to terrorists, who in recent months have suffered significant losses in casualties, been denied havens, and suffered weakened popular support."

But the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said a withdrawal deadline should not be ruled out.

"The Iraqis have approved a timetable for adopting a constitution: August 15th, with the possibility of one and only one six-month extension," Levin said.

"The United States needs to tell the Iraqis and the world that if that deadline is not met, we will review our position with all options open, including but not limited to setting a timetable for withdrawal," Levin said.

"We must demonstrate to the Iraqis that our willingness to bear the burden of providing security has limits. We have opened the door for the Iraqis at great cost, but only they can walk through it. We cannot hold that door open indefinitely," Levin added.

Don Rumsfeld is most assuredly right on this one; and Carl Levin most assuredly wrong. This tendency to cut and run before the job is done is one of the major reasons B.D. is consistently dubious about the seriousness of Democrat national security teams. They can't help themselves, it seems. Meantime, I have to say, I like Rumsfeld's description of setting an exit date as constituting "a lifeline to terrorists." That's really well put, and I say that despite being, of course, a frequent Rummy critic.

P.S. Don't miss Abizaid's refusal to endorse the "last throes" crapola:

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.: "General Abizaid, can you give us your assessment of the strength of the insurgency? Is it less strong, more strong, about the same strength as it was six months ago?"

Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf: "In terms of comparison from six months ago, in terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.

"In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was."

Levin: "So you wouldn't agree with the statement that it's in its last throes?"

Abizaid: "I don't know that I would make any comment about that other than to say there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency."

Levin: "Well, the vice president has said it's in its last throes, that's the statement the vice president — it doesn't sound to me from your testimony or any other testimony here this morning that it is in its last throes."

Abizaid: "I'm sure you'll forgive me from criticizing the vice president."

Levin: "I just want an honest assessment from you as to whether you agree with a particular statement of his — it's not personal. ...

Abizaid: "I gave you my opinion of where we are."

"A lot of work to be done." That's not quite the same as "last throes" now is it?

Posted by Gregory at 07:57 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Quote of the Day II

The problem is solved and ended. The Sunnis will participate in the process of writing the constitution," said Tariq Hashimi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni Arab organization.

From a WaPo dispatch here.

Some good Iraq news today with a deal struck so that the Sunni are on board (at least for now) on the Iraqi constitution-drafting exercise. This will be a hugely complex endeavour, and we're just at the very beginning of it, but let's at least be thankful that total stalemate (again, at least for now) has been averted.

More from Sabrina Tavernese:

Iraqi political leaders broke weeks of deadlock today, as Sunni Arabs accepted a compromise made by senior members of a Shiite-led parliamentary committee to include Sunnis in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution.

The agreement marked a turnaround in Iraqi politics and opened a way for the Iraqi National Assembly to meet its Aug. 15 deadline for drafting the document. Legislators had been haggling with Sunni Arabs for weeks over the number of seats the Sunnis would be given on the 55-member Constitutional Committee.

The compromise offer to Sunnis - 15 additional seats and 10 adviser positions - was made last week, but at the time it was rejected by many Sunnis, who said they wanted more seats with full voting powers. Since then, Shiite committee members offered a sweetener, saying the committee would approve the new constitution by consensus and not by vote, making the precise number of seats less important.

The offer was final, said a senior member of the Shiite-led committee, Bahaa al-Aaraji.

"We told them, if you are late it's not good for you, because we start to work and we won't wait for you," he said in a telephone interview this evening.

So on Tuesday night, a team of Sunni Arab negotiators met in one negotiator's house to discuss the offer. They decided, some with reservation, that it was one they must accept. Turning it down, they said, would mean permanent isolation from the political process. Today, they made their agreement public.

"We've been squeezed, we had to agree," said Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab group that has pressed for a greater Sunni role in politics. "There was no other alternative. Either we'd be in the political process or we'd be out of it."

Yes they were squeezed some. But the Sunnis (and those trying to influence them to join the process) made the right call here. If nothing else, it's called pragmatic survivalism. More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

B.D. Gets Results!

Well, this is better than "last throes", isn't it?

Vice President Richard B. Cheney urged patience as Iraq continues on the road toward self-sufficiency in a June 10 interview here. Speaking with Air Force Master Sgt. Sean Lehman of the Pentagon Channel, Cheney stressed the need for patience with the remaining U.S. and coalition mission in Iraq and as the fledgling democracy takes shape, citing "two really important developments" in progress.

"One is the Iraqis (are) in the midst of the process of writing a constitution, which will be ratified in a national referendum this fall, and then they'll have elections in December for the first freely elected government under the new constitution," the vice president said.

"The other important development that's going forward is training Iraqi forces to be able to take care of their own security requirements," he continued. "We've now got over 160,000 who have been through some training and are equipped. Obviously, there are various stages of readiness and capability, but more and more we're seeing Iraqis actually in the fight, taking on more of the responsibilities for the task of dealing with the security threat.

"And those two things," he said, "really are crucial to our completing the mission there."

Cheney noted that Iraq has made its progress so far toward becoming a full-fledged democracy in a relatively short time. "It took us from 1775 until 1789, about 14 years, from the time we started our revolution, ... until we had a constitution ratified, in place, ready to elect a government," he said. "It's only been a little over two years now in Iraq since we went in and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, so I think we need to be a little bit patient here in terms of our expectations about how fast they go. [my emphasis]

A good statement. Stressing the need for "patience" while acknowledging that the much vaunted 160,000 are "obviously" at "various stages of readiness and capability" (this last still an understatement, of course, but an improvement on Rumsfeld's empty numbers cheerleading). The reference to the U.S. constitutional ratification process lasting some 14 years is a nice touch too. Yes, a successful outcome in Iraq will take a long time indeed. Kudos on the Veep for moving in the right direction with this public statement by pointing that out quite effectively.

(And with apologies to the good Doctor for the shameless usage of his tag line).

[ed. note: Er, you do realize that Cheney said this on June 10th, right? Two days before you were shouting off the blogospheric roof-tops that "last throes" was likely bogus? Yeah, I do, but can I still pretend to take just a little credit?]

Posted by Gregory at 12:02 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

The Perils of Over-Optimistic Narratives

More, shall we say, Wretchardian sophistry:

Yet the question remains: if the insurgency is losing then why is the level of combat constant or increasing? The only answer, admittedly one that will not convince everybody, is to point to the pattern of operations. In 2004 the insurgent strategy was to co-opt or infiltrate government security forces. That failed and the insurgents are now meeting government forces in combat, a fact attested by the losses the Iraqi police and army are taking in the fight.

Heh. Let me translate this in plainer English for you friends. It's kinda good news that newly trained Iraqi forces are being killed in large number. Means the outmatched insurgents have finally been forced to take the fight to the enemy, see! Before, the insurgent strategy was more one of stealthfully co-opting or infiltrating government security forces. They were safer then, not yet actively engaging the enemy, and so losses (all around ostensibly) were fewer. Except, even per the statistics Wretchard bandies about (somewhat like a lugubrious actuary), there were 1,300 Iraqi Forces felled pre--2005 (there are just shy of a 1,000 killed so far this year--a number that will likely rise to 2,000 or so by year end). Not really a dramatic difference, all told. And, in my view, not causally linked to whether insurgents are more trying to infiltrate the Iraqi Army or whether they are more waging live battles with us and our local allies. The bottom line is that nascent Iraqi military forces have been slaughtered like lemmings month after month, often in quasi-quotidian moments, as they await picking up their paychecks (often the only reason they're there) or registering papers at the local municipality building. The heavy fighting continues to be done by the Americans (Wolf Brigades and such notable exceptions aside), in the main, because most Iraqi forces can't face the insurgents head-on without the best fighting force on the planet (that's us) leading the charge. They're not ready for prime-time and solo action. To divine a real pattern from all this regarding the numbers of Iraqi forces killed (that they have moved from infiltration to active fighting) is chimerical. Clear?

But I digress. Wretchard advises that the insurgent infiltration strategy (of the new Iraqi Army) has failed. But this last contention is not evidenced in the least but merely stated as accepted fact. I have significant residual concerns that train and equip has been infiltrated by a variety of foreign and unfriendly domestic agents. (B.D. worked on the 'train and equip' effort for the Bosnian Federation Army--which became infiltrated by a good many Iranian agents at certain junctures. How much you wanna bet they've done a better job of it closer in the 'hood? And that's just foreign agents...there's a good dollop of Baathist sympathizers in the mix too). The reality is that the insurgents are busy, not only placing IED's (a "steady dribble" of them, you might say), fighting us and nascent Iraqi Forces, but also very much still busy infiltrating the new Iraqi Army. And they're, in all likelihood, doing a much better job of it than Wretchard breezily lets on. Go here for more detail.

All this aside, you'd think, wouldn't you, that if more Iraqi Forces are dying, than fewer of our guys would be, no? After all, there taking over the fight, per Wretchard, right!?! Certainly if the insurgency had been "defeated" (or if it is "losing" as Belmont Club puts it more, er, ponderously today), things are on the up and up? But alas, we are losing at least as many men as last year as Wretchard is reluctantly forced to concede: "From a statistical point of view combat in Iraq has been as deadly as the year previous". (Hmmm, one wonders: are we losing fewer men from a non-statistical point of view, perhaps? Just curious). And this, of course, without having to deal with the nettlesome Moktada al-Sadr in 2005.

Wretchard also writes:

Nor is it clear that it will be "far cheaper, easier and quicker for an insurgent force to regenerate than for a counterinsurgent force to regenerate" where the insurgents come from the Sunni minority while the counterinsurgent force comes from the Shi'ite and Kurdish majority of the population.

People just don't get this, do they? Are we really going to send in legions of peshmerga or closet-Sadr supporters into Ramadi, Fallujah and the Sunni bad-lands of the Syrian border? Why not just send some Sunnis to go relieve themsleves in the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, say, or send some revanchist Shi'a to do a spot of score-settling in Anbar Province? The counter-insurgent forces, to be effective, must come from the population itself (or at least have a good dollop from the area in question). Otherwise we risk lighting the conflagration of sectararian strife and, god forbid, civil war.

Wretchard goes on to sum up:

The Coalition is on the strategic offensive, probably inflicting a multiple kill-ratio on the enemy, capturing its leadership, improving its intelligence capacity and generating ever larger numbers of indigenous combat forces. It is basically ascendant in every measurable military category. On the other hand, the insurgents are counting on making America tire of serial combat victories without apparent end in the belief that if they simply do not admit to loss they will eventually win -- not on the battlefield as Fester and Kos would have us believe -- but on the political front, as they always aimed to do. In a sense, neither Michael Yon nor anyone else can say us when the finish line will be crossed because it lies on a plane which includes, but is not limited to the battlefield. Karl von Clauswitz famously said "War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means." The US military has provided most of the "other means"; it now remains to be seen whether the remainder of its society can provide the rest.

I agree with the estimable Wretchard, all told, that we are "basically ascendant in every measurable military category." And amen for that. That's why I am still cautiously optimistic we will prevail in this war. But I have to strongly disagree with Wretchard still in this last concluding graf. In mondo Belmont Club, the insurgents are waiting for us civies watching dissident channels like the Beeb or CBS to "tire of serial combat victories without apparent end" and sap the war effort at home. Weak-kneed coastal Manhattan and San Fran pansies don't even have the stomach to keep the home fire's burning adequately! Please. Tell that to the grunts in the field. They'll tell us that rosy talk of imminent victory is mostly bunk. The bottom line is we have a helluva hard fight in front of us--and "serial victories" are the least of our problems. What we need is for smart guys in the Republican Party to stop spinning. Every time Cheney says something like "last throes", and months later we're still going hard at it, who is really suffering? The President and the credibility of his Administration, that's who. Let's be more intellectually honest with ourselves, no? Isn't that what leadership and character is about? Look, I'll be among the happiest to be proven wrong. Let the serial victories march forth untrammeled, and let us claim victory soonest. But I fear it won't be that easy. Not by a long shot. But who am I to question the over-optimistic narratives that carry us forward majestically and inexorably towards achievement of strategic, Clauswitzian ends? It can only be because I lack the requisite fortitude and sense of purpose, doubtless, that I dare question whether the insurgency has really been defeated. Or something like that.

MORE: A reader E-mails in:

I felt compelled to write and state my wholehearted agreement with regard your recent posts dealing with the recent output of the Belmont Club. Neither post had a word out of place and you got it absolutely bang on.

To be candid - perhaps unwelcomely - my personal view of the Belmont Club is probably rather less positive than yours. In fact it's gone on a more or less constant downward slope since I first read (and was impressed by) his output way back in the day. I don't deny for an instant that Wretchard is broadly well informed and clearly highly intelligent. However, for my part I have long felt that the BC has been perhaps the leading repository of what a friend of mine who works on The Hill as a professional (ex-U.S. Army Rangers) staffer refers to bitterly as the "hidden good news story", whereby an event that is perceived by almost everyone in the defence community as a disaster or setback and reported as such in the press is invariably somehow portrayed by partisan commentators as a startling example of
geo-strategic genius on the part of the Bush administration. Wretchard is also extremely good at making his arguments appear superficially impressive by the employment of lengthy posts drawing on numerous (often very superficial)historical analogies. However, were we to actually go over his coverage over the past couple of years I strongly suspect that in reality very little of what he has had to say has actually panned out the way he predicted. Not, it has to be said, that any of us (least of all myself) are entirely innocent of this! Everyone makes mistakes, but Wretchard's somewhat belligerent assertiveness doesn't help his case.

It also doesn't help that his posting has become increasingly overt in its political partisanship, with numerous sweeping condemnations of "the left" and unpleasant sneers at... well pretty much everyone but the Republican right really (I speak as somebody who cheerfully considers himself to be on the right hand side of the political spectrum - but hackery is hackery). My tolerance of his output probably reached its nadir when he implied, in what I felt was a rather cagey and undignified manner, that Associated Press photographers were guilty of collusion in the murder of Iraqi electoral workers ("questions must be asked" etc..). In fact, the evidence he marshalled was not only highly circumstantial but tissue thin and soon fell apart under scrutiny. To the best of my knowledge he has at no point withdrawn or apologised but was instead happy to deal in nods and winks and to let people foolish enough to dangle on
his every word (of which, to my continuing bemusement, there are very, very, many) to pick it up and run with it - disastrously in my view. For all the brouhaha about the failure and lack of accountability of the "liberal media", as far as I'm concerned that
little performance pretty much set Wretchard up as the right wing internet equivalent of a Michael Meacher column in the Guardian.

You may well consider this assessment unduly harsh and it may be that you'd be right, but regardless, your recent posts have been an absolute breath of fresh air and have restored my faith in a medium towards which I have become increasingly jaded recently (but this email is already too long as it stands so I won't get started...)

Keep the E-mails coming. Frankly, I don't know if my correspondent is being unduly harsh to Wretchard. There are some posts he writes which I consider of top quality and with which I wholeheartedly agree (for instance, see here and here). That said, I'm not a regular reader of Belmont Club and tend to head over more when Glenn links. So I really don't have a comprehensive feel. But I think I've made it clear over the past couple of days that he's overly optimistic on the war--which is my main beef with him. Regardless, no fear, I'll be moving on to other topics tonight beyond this (ultimately not so important) blogospheric navel-gazing. Recall I'm nine hours ahead of East Coast time still.

Posted by Gregory at 11:27 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

June 12, 2005

The Iraqi Insurgency Is Not Dead

Wretchard, of the Belmont Club:

A casual observer can't help but notice that three apparently unrelated news fronts -- the military war on terror, the EU project and the United Nations -- have risen and fallen together as if they were held together by some invisible current. It's possible that the defeat of the Iraqi insurgency (the subject of an excellent roundup by Bill Roggio at Winds of Change), the shocking setbacks dealt to the EU draft constitution and the continuing investigation into criminal activity at the United Nations are only coincidentally linked. [emphasis added]

I'm not going to spend time sketching the imagined connections between and among hapless Kojo and Kofi; Jacques, Gerhard and Dominique; and the Iraqi insurgency. But, with all due respect to Wretchard, it would have to be quite a "casual observer" indeed who would write so breezily of the "defeat of the Iraqi insurgency." This is such utter flimflam and snake oil, and needs to be called mightily lest too many people on the Thinking Right (of whom I count a good deal of Belmont's readership) buy into the "last throes" spinnage making the rounds. Even the Bill Roggio piece Belmont links to (ostensibly to buttress his absurd contention that the Iraqi insurgency has been defeated) is more about a temporary success in Baghdad than the defeat of the insurgency. The first sentence sets the tone: "Operation Thunder has temporarily put a dent in the car bombings in Baghdad." Well then, game over, yes? The insurgency has been quashed! Most assuredly, it appears the insurgency has taken some major hits in Baghdad and pulled up camp Anbar way. Yes, this is a positive development. And it would be an even more positive development, of course, if we had enough guys on the ground in Anbar to decimate them when they decamped there rather than see them live to fight another day instead.

From the Roggio WoC post Wretchard links:

James Janega of the Chicago Tribune reports on the scarcity of US and Iraqi troops available to secure the Anbar province. He estimates 4,000 Marines are patrolling about 30,000 square miles of territory. For good or ill, the strategy in the Wild West of Anbar appears to be one of establishing distinct garrisons in locations such as Qaim, Haditha and other locations, patrolling the territory, conduct search and destroy missions at opportune times when targets and threats materialize, and waiting for Iraqi security forces to train up and deploy to fill the security needs of the region.

Bill puts it quite delicately when he says "for good or ill." Let's be plainer, shall we? It's manifestly for ill.

From the Chicago Tribune piece Bill links:

To reach his battalion stationed at the town of Al Qaim, Marine Col. Stephen Davis must fly more than an hour by helicopter to the edge of 30,000 square miles of dusty badland that is Iraq's most dangerous territory.

Another battalion under Davis' command is split between bases in Haditha and Hit. The towns are 20 miles from Davis' home base at Al Asad but take two nerve-racking hours to reach by Humvee.

His third and final battalion is 150 miles away from Al Asad in the town of Rutbah. The unit's outposts on the Jordanian and Syrian borders are so distant that radios sometimes fail to reach them.

Between those forces are dozens of towns where Marines suspect the heart of Iraq's insurgency has taken refuge. To patrol the region, the Marines must traverse miles of pockmarked desert roads on which it is assumed every pothole hides a land mine.

This is western Anbar province, where in the last month Marines have launched two major sweeps to ferret out the militants they believe are behind an increasingly bloody insurgency. Hundreds of Iraqis--civilians and security forces alike--have died in a monthlong wave of suicide car bombings and other attacks that military leaders say were plotted in this region.

According to intelligence officers, militants use the province's washed-out canyons and remote towns for protection and sneak across the Syrian border almost at will. Davis' Marines are supposed to stop them, a daunting task even if the Marines weren't spread out and short-handed.

Insurgents in a region that is hundreds of miles across in any direction are opposed by Davis' three battalions of roughly 1,000 men each--all three of them short 150 men--plus a force that varies between about 200 and 1,000 at the Al Asad base. Until January, there had been four fully manned battalions in the area.

Over the same period, Marine units throughout Anbar and its restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi have dwindled from 13 battalions to nine.

By now, military leaders had expected Iraqi forces to make up the shortfall. But training in Anbar has lagged, and construction has yet to begin on bases for the Iraqi troops. American liaisons don't expect to see the soldiers until fall.

In the meantime, Davis is under no illusion that his sweeps last month in Al Qaim and Haditha have quelled the insurgency, and he promised this week that more large operations would follow. On an enormous wall map in his office, he pointed to vast regions where U.S. troops never have patrolled.

"Sooner or later, I would like to get here," he said of a stretch of canyons and high desert near Saudi Arabia. Then he pointed to another desert region closer to Syria, with trails and scattered settlements. "And then maybe up here." [emphasis added]

"And then maybe up here". Meantime, the enemy regroups, rests, and gets ready for another week or two of carnage in Baghdad down the road. This is one of the reasons I've always been so infuriated by Donald Rumsfeld. He's constantly dangled 'train and equip' (yes, like ill-fated Vietnamization) as some form of panacea. Be patient little ones, he avers, as we train the Free Iraqis--only they can pick up the mantle and finish the job. His Jacksonian disdain for really seeing true democratization take root in Iraq is plain for all smart people who care to see. But quit the unpatriotic carping Djerejian, and get on the train [no pun intended], right? Don is the Man with the Plan! Except he's always pushed doing the train and equipping job too quickly--tossing inflated numbers out to a gullible public and often fawningly imbecilic Pentagon press corps (look 'ma, 150,000 Iraqi troops fully trained! And it's not even summer yet!). As I've said for months and years now, you can't rush 'train and equip'. It'll come back and bite you in the ass, to put it plainly.

Again, from the Tribune piece:

U.S. officials estimate more than 150,000 members of Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped, for the first time outnumbering American troops in Iraq. But only a single unit of 30 reconnaissance troops has been sent to western Anbar.

The original Iraqi National Guard units formed in the province after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 were reviled by locals and not trusted by the American troops they were supposed to help and eventually replace. Recently they were quietly disbanded, said Maj. James Whitlatch, the Marine officer assigned to help develop Iraqi security forces in western Anbar.

"There was an urgency [at first] . . . to produce a large quantity of soldiers," said Paul Hughes, a retired Army colonel who was director of strategic policy for the former Coalition Provisional Authority and drafted plans to rebuild Iraq's military.

Authorities quickly learned that haste was counterproductive.

"If you try to stand something up right away, the people most likely to volunteer are likely to be the scoundrels. You have a mixed bag of quality," Hughes said. "It failed miserably because we didn't know who they were."

A more serious or honest Secretary of Defense (think Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger) would have grasped this well before. He hasn't, and I'm not even persuaded he has yet today, but here we are (and if you think the 150,000 troops "trained" are truly ready to stand and fight and win--well, put down that crack pipe buddy). And the problem is, and contra Wretchard, far from having defeated the insurgency--we are just settling in for a long battle ahead.

Don't believe me, and still chilling on the Cheney-esque "last throes" vibe? Here's a little reality check:

Military operations in Iraq have not succeeded in weakening the insurgency, and Iraq's government, with U.S. support, is now seeking a political reconciliation among the nation's ethnic and tribal factions as the only viable route to stability, according to US military officials and private specialists.

Two years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraq conflict has evolved into a classic guerrilla war, they argue. Outbreaks of fighting are followed by periods of relative calm and soon thereafter, a return to rampant violence. Despite significant guerrilla setbacks and optimistic predictions by a host of American commanders earlier this year, the Sunni-backed insurgency remains as strong as ever, forcing American officials and their Iraqi allies to seek a political solution to the bloodshed. Pentagon officials and current members of the military interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We are not going to win the unconditional surrender from the insurgents and have no choice but to somehow bring them into society," said retired Army Colonel Paul Hughes, an Iraq war veteran who is now at the government-funded US Institute for Peace. "To think there will be one climactic military event to end this is foolish. Those who cling to that don't understand."

Indeed, recent comments to that effect by Vice President Dick Cheney —who said on May 31 that the insurgency was in its "last throes" — took many US officials and analysts by surprise, Pentagon officials and others with extensive knowledge of the war said in a series of interviews. The available data, they said, simply do not support such a claim...

...New US government analyses suggest that the insurgents — led by Sunni nationalists, remnants of Hussein's police state, and foreign extremists waging holy war — have vastly more staying power than previously thought.

Following the successful American offensive in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah last fall, which killed at least 1,000 insurgents, there was a dramatic reduction in attacks, according to US military officials. After Fallujah, some US commanders and Pentagon planners had expressed optimism that US troop levels could be reduced following Iraqi elections. But since the Jan. 31 Iraqi elections, the insurgents, relying on steady streams of funding and weapons, new recruits, and staging areas in Syria and possibly Iran, have struck back with a vengeance and US force levels have remained constant.

Despite US estimates that it kills or captures between 1,000 and 3,000 insurgents a month, the number of daily attacks is going back up. Down to about 30 to 40 a day in February, attacks are now up to at least 70 per day, according to statistics of US Central Command.

An internal Army report in April said that rather than what some saw as a drop in the number of daily attacks earlier this year, the insurgents had simply shifted their focus away from US forces to attacks on more vulnerable targets, which were not being fully tallied at the time.

"The insurgency is still mounting an effort comparable to where they were a year ago," said Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer and specialist on counterinsurgency operations who directs the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank in Washington. "We do something we think will change things, but a month or two later casualties and the level of violence are back to where they were."

Still not convinced? Check out this piece too, which doles out the good and the bad in equal portion:

Even worse, the soaring death toll since the new government was formed a month ago has blown a huge hole through the Bush administration's political strategy that assumed the elections, assembling of parliament and subsequent creation of a broad-based government would isolate and shrink the insurgency. It hasn't.

There are, in fact, signs that stepped-up government and U.S. counter-insurgency operations are delivering significant blows to the guerrillas. Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Thursday that the massive deployment of 40,000 troops of the new Iraqi army and security forces across 23 districts of Baghdad this week had killed 28 guerrillas and netted 700 more suspects.

Further, U.S. military-intelligence reports suggest the active forces in the insurgency are increasingly composed of foreign jihadi fighters who have flocked into Iraq to battle U.S. forces there.

However, the bad news is that so far the vastly increased wave of car bombings and other guerrilla attacks across the country since the announcement of the new Shiite and Kurdish-dominated coalition government continues with no end or even lessening in sight.

Some 48 people were killed in bombings and other violence across the country Thursday, and the violence in Baghdad continued Friday with several bomb attacks on U.S. military convoys.

Since the new government was announced, far from sucking the air out of popular Sunni support for the insurgency (as so many American pundits had confidently predicted), the opposite appears to have happened. Some 825 people have been killed, and U.S. troop fatalities are running at the highest level in several months.

Iraqi civilians are being killed at the rate of 20 a day, a figure that would yield 7,300 more victims over the next year. The Iraqi government announced Thursday that the insurgency has killed 12,000 civilians, including 10,000 Shiites. That does not include the number of Iraqis who have been killed in firefights between U.S. forces and the insurgents. Estimates for that vary wildly from 20,000 to 100,000 -- both figures factoring in those who were killed during the intense but highly successful three-week campaign to topple Saddam Hussein in March-April 2003.

Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that the insurgency was on its last legs. Other optimistic assessments have argued that the current wave of attacks is a desperate last-ditch attempt to de-legitimize the new government before it can get established.

This assessment should not be dismissed out of hand. If the wave of arrests of hundreds of suspects this week in Operation Lightning leads to significant intelligence breakthroughs in penetrating the guerrilla networks in Baghdad, it might produce some light at the end of the tunnel. But it hasn't happened yet, whereas the continued wave of death, maiming and generalized terror is all too tangibly real.

U.S. military analysts privately acknowledge that the level of training and leadership of the new Iraqi security forces leaves a great deal to be desired. The current Pentagon civilian leadership erred badly in decreeing that they be run up in such large numbers from scratch.

I agree that Cheney's assessment can't be dismissed out of hand. Who knows? Machiavelli said half of life was skill and half of it was luck. Our troops, under major manpower restraints, are showing skill and great courage day in, day out, in pursuing a robust and sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign. And if all the cards fall just the right way (lotsa luck!) over the next weeks, just maybe this will prove to be the last gasp of the Iraqi insurgency. But let's not lie to ourselves friends. Cheney's assessment is a very optimistic one indeed. And it's not B.D's, either. Mine's not worth too much, of course. I'm just a business-person with a laptop and hi-speed connection blogging out of hotel rooms with none of the intelligence available to me. But, incidentally and importantly, it appears I'm not alone:

Even if the insurgency cannot be quickly eliminated -- and very few if any U.S. military analysts believe that it can be -- if the current counter-offensive and strategy proves successful, it could be reduced to a far lower level of daily attacks and casualties than we are still seeing. And that would buy time both to upgrade the officer cadres of the Iraqi security forces and to explore political strategies for eliminating popular support too.

But if the insurgency continues to rage at its current levels of activity, the pressure will be on the White House and the Pentagon to come up with new answers -- and fast.

On this last, should we be suprised that the President's numbers are at the worst levels they have been at since he's assumed the Presidency? As a supporter of this Administration, dare I suggest it's in part because people sense drift in the Iraq war effort? (On the domestic front, don't miss Newt Gingrich's quite surprisingly Carter-like malaise musings here). And that they want straight talk (no, "death throes" ain't gonna hack it)? Which is that we will likely need to be in Iraq for at least several more years full stop. In at least the numbers we are currently in theater with. This is assuming, of course, that George Bush is fully serious about seeing this effort through the right way. I believe he does which is why I supported him against Kerry who made manifestly clear (to me, at least) his basic lack of interest in securing a democratic outcome in Iraq. Like Kerry, and unlike Bush, I don't think Rumsfeld really gives two shits about securing a truly democratic outcome in Iraq. But Bush is President, and so has a wider panoply of strategic interests to consider, and he is advised by his Secretary of State and others outside civilian DoD like at the NSA, so that he better understands what an abject failure it would be if we declared a too nascent Iraqi Army ready for prime time, and then retreated hastily. Not only would this prove a strategic disaster on par with Vietnam, but it would also have been to lose the lives of thousands and thousands of Americans, Coalition Forces, and Iraqis in vain. I know this must weigh on this President heavily. Unlike cheap political hacks like an Atrios or Kos, say, he has to hold and kiss and hug the families of those killed in this horrible war. Like only a Commander-in-Chief can, he must reckon with the human costs of this war when he huddles with those whose lives have been torn apart because of the decisions only he could ultimately make. The better we should all try to be more honest about the challenges ahead, no?

This is why I am so incensed by the too rosy assessments of the state of the war effort (especially by smart people like Wretchard who should know better). Adults need to stop scoring this like a parlor game. Criticism=treacherous disloyalty to POTUS. Praise=omniscient Rummy rules us happy serfs so wisely! As a Bush supporter, let me give my level-best, most honest criticism here. We never put enough troops in theater and barely have enough there now. We are resource-constrained, and doing the best we can short of increasing the size of the military (which is getting increasingly problematic, see here) or re-instituting the draft (not kosher in the era of Paris Hilton and the Apprentice). What's the best way forward? If we could scrap a few more battalions together to go into Anbar Province that wouldn't be a bad start. Short of marching into Teheran or Damascus (the height of folly), we also need to continue to move towards better securing each of those long borders (today, more Syria's as Sunnis are our biggest challenge; tomorrow perhaps, Iran's, as the Shi'a might become more problematic if we are seen to be overly protecting the Sunni in the future) using every single rational means conceivable and at our disposal. Meantime, we need to continue these commendable efforts to get other parties (the Euros and the U.N.) to help present a united front to the Sunnis to persuade them to enter the political process. Basically, we need to continue to as robustly as possible prosecute a fierce counter-insurgency, while bringing the Sunnis into a political process (the more we get them in, the more this becomes us against foreign jihadists and Baathist restorationists--less so the broader swaths of Sunni nationalists). And, finally and critically, we need to continue the training and equipping effort of a multi-ethnic, cohesive Iraqi Army. Systematically, patiently, and on our own sober, realistic schedule. Sans McNamaresque dubious number-crunching exercises and the tiresome Rumsfeldian spin. The job won't be done until we have a multi-ethnic officer corps shown to be working together well, 200,000 Iraq forces willing to fight and die against, not only Baathists and jihadists, but also die-hard Sunni nationalists that have been totally radicalized and prove unwilling to enter the political process collaboratively. At the same time, we need to remain in Iraq to continue to act as guarantor of minority rights, of nascent political governance structures, and so on.

Do I still think this is all possible? My heart and head still say yes. But, ostensibly like the American people at large, I am getting more and more concerned about our willingness to really see this effort through the right way. As a supporter of this war, and if it turns out that we don't end up doing the job right, I'll have to bear that burden on my conscience--of course an infinitely cheaper cost indeed--compared to those whose lives will have been lost in vain. I still hope and trust it won't turn out this way. To speak as honestly as I can about the challenges that still await us in theater is my small contribution towards helping avert such a catastrophe.

UPDATE: More on the real state of "train and equip" from John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise. Meantime, I'm being subjected to "no s--t, Sherlock" snark from Dan Darling of Winds of Change:

So when I read Greg Djerejian's post explaining that the Iraqi insurgency isn't dead yet my reaction is, to put it quite bluntly, "No s--t, Sherlock!" There is a difference that needs to be understood, however, between the insurgency being dead and it being defeated.

To employ once again over-used World War 2 analogies, the Germans were beaten by 1944 but they still managed to kill quite a few people over the next year and a half.

Similarly, the Iraqi insurgency proved that it could never succeed in its ultimate objective (evicting US troops from Iraq and reestablishing some kind of Sunni hegemony over the country) on January 30 in which they utterly failed to expand their attack zone outside the Sunni Triangle area. That's where the vast of majority of the fighting and terrorist attacks were taking place on January 30 and that's where it's still taking place today. So in that sense, nothing has changed except for the ever-increasing disregard for innocent life among the insurgents.

Dan's a blog-pal and all that, but c'mon. Let's quit this silly rhetorical jousting about whether the Iraqi insurgency has been defeated or is dead (I could just have easily titled my post the "Iraqi Insurgency Is Not Defeated" if that would make Dan happier--as Wretchard's post almost made it sound like all was well in Iraq now that the EU Constitution had gotten the heave-ho and Kofi is feelin' the blogospheric heat or such). Am I supposed to applaud the fact that we will no longer have Sunni hegemony over Mesopotamia--perhaps with Saddam himself coming out of prison (with fresh undies to boot) to preside over a neo-Baathist Round II tutelage of Ye Olde Glorious Preserve?

No, of course the insurgents cannot force our troops out of the country for the foreseeable future if ever and, no of course the Shi'a are now going to run the show in the main so that Sunni hegemony won't be restored anytime soon. But the goal of our intervention, WMD aside, was not just to unseat Saddam and screw the Sunnis. It was to create a viable, democratic Iraqi polity (with minority rights protected) to serve as a show-case and inspiration for the region at large. Surely an embittered Sunni para-state embroiled in terrorist/insurgent activity for another decade isn't what Ken Adelman had in mind? Or a stagnating nation-state negatively impacted by a protracted civil insurrection, increasingly hobbled by the real risks of a civil war if we can't bring the Sunnis into the political process better (and better beat back the insurgents), with near constant carnage in its capital city and other key population centers. Is this what it means for the insurgency to have been defeated? If we are going to define down the goals of our Iraq intervention so bloody low then, hell--yes, we've won. No, the insurgents aren't "dead." But they've been "defeated" all right! Bravo. Saddam isn't coming back, and the Sunnis are gonna get the short-end of the stick. Sweet! Next stop Iran (or Syria), yes? Faster, please--lest us unsophisticates not grasp the "regional" implications at play (Darling: "we need to readjust our paradigm to view Iraq as part of a regional campaign.") But of course. I await this panoramic tour d'horizon with alacrity. But I hope the "paradigm" sketched out begins in places like Anbar Province and Baghdad Dan, because we are quite busy indeed in such locales just now.

Posted by Gregory at 03:11 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

June 10, 2005

Quote of the Day

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

Much more in a (quite gloomy) Anthony Shadid dispatch on the state of 'train and equip'.

Don't miss this part of the article either:

Last month, three trucks filled with two dozen soldiers from Charlie Company were ambushed near a Tigris River bridge. Instead of meeting the attack, the Iraqis fled and radioed for help. The Americans said the Iraqis told them they had lost 20 men, had run out of ammunition and were completely surrounded.

When a U.S. quick reaction force arrived, the area was quiet and the Iraqi soldiers were huddled around their trucks. Four were missing; it was later learned that they had hailed taxis, gone home and changed into civilian clothes. One soldier, the company's senior noncommissioned officer, refused to come out for several hours, saying he continued to be surrounded by insurgents.

After the incident, McGovern said he summoned an interpreter, asked him to translate the soldier's words verbatim and "disgraced" the Iraqi soldiers.

"You are all cowards," he began. "My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom. If you continue to run away from the enemy, the enemy will continue to chase you. You will never win."

McGovern asked the interpreter, Nabras Mohammed, if he had gone too far.

"Well, you shouldn't have called them women, and you shouldn't have called them" wimps, Mohammed told him.

"Of course they were scared," said Cpl. Idris Dhanoun, 30, a native of Baiji with two years in the security forces, who defended his colleagues. "The majority of them haven't seen fighting, they haven't seen war, they haven't been soldiers. The terrorists want to die. A hundred percent, they want to die. It's jihad. They want to kill themselves in the path of God."

Shortly after the ambush, a sniper shot a U.S. soldier standing on the roof of a police station, inflicting a severe head wound. The Americans suspected that the fire had come from the nearby Rahma mosque. American and Iraqi troops surrounded the building. Fearful of inflaming resentment, U.S. soldiers ordered their Iraqi counterparts to search the mosque. They initially refused, entering only after McGovern berated them.

"But I don't know if they searched it that well. They were still tip-toeing when they were in there," said Sgt. Cary Conner, 25, of Newport News, Va., who was among the first soldiers on the scene.

U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest.

"We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn't do this again," Dhanoun said.

In a measure of the shame they felt, the men insisted they had not entered the mosque.

"You can't enter the mosque with weapons. We have traditions, we have honor, and we're Muslims," Dhanoun said. "You enter the mosque to pray, you don't enter the mosque with guns."

At 4:30 a.m. Monday, the men of Charlie Company and the entire U.S. battalion -- some 800 soldiers -- set out in a convoy for west Baiji. The Americans used night-vision goggles to see in the dark. The Iraqis had glow sticks. Before the troops had left the base, an Iraqi driver plowed into a concrete barrier, momentarily delaying the convoy.

U.S. commanders said the involvement of the Iraqis on the mission -- a series of raids to crack a bomb-making cell -- was critical to its success. But the Americans clearly have lowered their expectations for the Iraqis' progress.

"Things are going to change according to their schedule, not our politics back home," said Sgt. Jonathan Flynn, 36, of Star Lake, N.Y. "You can't just put an artificial timetable on that."

No, you sure can't. As Glenn might quip, 'train and equip' is a process; not an event. Assuming we want around 200,000 fully trained Iraqi troops willing and able to fight anywhere in the country--I think we are still at least two-three years out from realizing that goal. If we're serious about doing it right, that is.

Posted by Gregory at 10:29 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

June 09, 2005

Jacksonian Daalder!

Ivo Daalder:

But now the American people are increasingly clamoring to be heard. They know this is a war that America cannot possibly win -- only the Iraqis can. So we need to put all our effort into training Iraqi police, paramilitary, and military forces. That must be America's number one, two, and three mission. And we must make clear that when Iraqis decide and vote on a constitution, our job there will be done, and our troops will come home.

Sounds more Jacksonian Rumsfeld than sober Brookings-ian mien, no? Or maybe it's just Howard Dean-y?

P.S. Will Ivo Daalder tell us what more he'd be doing on 'train and equip', like, specifically? Rather than have us hapless folk leaning over the counter at cafe TPM cogitate and hazard a guess at what "number one, two and three mission" might mean? Oh, and is it just me, or is it a flat-out risible policy prescription to have all the troops exit the minute the ink is dry on a constitution? Please.

P.P.S. Blogospheric snark aside, I'm very happy indeed to see an I.R. scholar of Daalder's caliber blogging over at TPM. We'll be reading him regularly over here at B.D., and adding him to the blog-roll soon.

P.P.P.S. I'm in the wilds of Armenia just now, but have high speed at the hotel. My schedule has been really hectic, but I might try to get a few thoughts down on Syria later tonight (I'm nine hours ahead of East Coast). Lotsa rumors swirling about re: what's next for Washington and Damascus.

Posted by Gregory at 11:19 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

May 31, 2005

Iraq: Troop Levels

John Burns, reporting on the major counter-insurgency operations underway in Baghdad:

The violence, including at least four suicide car bombings, was a bloody start to an operation that Iraq's new Shiite-majority government had presented as a new get-tough policy toward Sunni Arab insurgents, first in Baghdad and then countrywide. The government has said it will commit 40,000 uniformed Iraqis to the Baghdad operation in an effort to crush insurgents who reacted to the government's swearing-in four weeks ago with one of the war's biggest rebel surges.

The Baghdad toll was part of another day of bloodshed across Iraq. In total, at least 34 people were killed, including a British soldier caught by a roadside bombing near the town of Kahla that broke a protracted period of calm in the Shiite-dominated south.

A statement from the Second Marine Expeditionary Force said a marine was killed Saturday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb near Haqlaniya, about 90 miles northwest of Baghdad.

At least initially, the crackdown in Baghdad appeared to have been met by a stiff, coordinated response that brought the toll to about 700 from the intensified rebel attacks this month. The heaviest battle raged across the districts of Abu Ghraib, Amariya and Khudra on the capital's western edge.

In the space of 30 minutes in midafternoon, the insurgents answered attempts by government forces to cordon off the districts with a sequence of attacks. They appeared to catch Iraqi forces by surprise, and prompted commanders to call for backup from American troops garrisoned nearby. Iraqi witnesses said Apache attack helicopters with loaded missile racks swooped overhead as the insurgent attacks flared into protracted gun battles below. [emphasis added]

I'm not into blogospheric pissing matches, and I'm a real fan of Matt Yglesias, but I can't help wondering if Matt now agrees with me that the time wasn't ripe to start drawing down U.S. forces? Make no mistake, we've got a long road ahead. This is particularly true given information like this:

Even before the fighting on Sunday, the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari appeared to have opened a new and potentially hazardous chapter in the war. Announcing the crackdown last week, government officials said the operation would move Iraqi troops "from the defensive to the offensive" in the war, and show Iraqis that the leaders they elected in January were capable of providing the security that just about every opinion poll in recent months has shown is their highest priority.

For one thing, few believed the government could commit the 40,000 soldiers and paramilitary police officers it had promised, since the American command's latest official count of the number in Baghdad Province, reaching deep into the countryside beyond the capital itself, totaled only slightly more than 30,000. Many Iraqis said they suspected that the government was overstating its abilities in the hope of stemming rising popular anger in the face of the new insurgent offensive. [my emphasis]

Train and equip is still not ready for prime time. Which is another reason American troops, in large number, must remain in theater during this immensely difficult and tragic period. It is quite clear that the post-election lull in violence has now been overtaken of late by a very significant uptick in insurgent activity. I don't know if this is the insurgents giving it their very all, desperately pursuing an all out effort to destabilize the newbie Jaafari government. I suspect that they could well be dealt severe strategic setbacks over the coming weeks but, unfortunately, still be left with a good deal of their powder dry left-over to fight another day still. What is clear regardless, however, is that troop draw-downs at this juncture would be all but inconceivable and grotesquely irresponsible. Indeed, it looks like troop levels are actually heading up instead. That's not something John Kerry would have done, of course. We'd have been beginning significant troop draw-downs soon, if not already, likely. And what a disaster that would have proven.

Posted by Gregory at 02:27 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 07, 2005

A Brief Note on Iraq

Les Gelb (who just came back from a good ten days in Iraq) remains humble in opining confidently on what the take-aways from his trip are:

I don't know. It is so hard to tell. One of the main conclusions I came away with from the trip was that we hardly know what is going on. I spent 10 very intensive days there. That's far longer than administration leaders who have gone there, like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for half a day, or congressional delegations for half a day. I spent a lot of time talking to Iraqis, listening to them, and I don't feel I know what was going on there.

I know a lot more facts, but I am not sure that I understand the rhythms and trends much better than I did before. And I don't think the Iraqis do, and I don't think the Americans there do, and, for the most part, they are rather humble and careful about this. It's hard to judge. Everybody tries to find some excuse. They say, "Oh, it's because the government wasn't formed." But the people I spoke with there, in the U.S. Embassy, and Iraqis, they couldn't figure out why there had been a lull in violence for the last few months and then an eruption, what was going on with the various insurgent groups, and when it would end, or why it would end. They were guessing, too.

I think we are all guessing right now. I'm just coming off the blogging hiatus and so am particularly out of the loop (I have had no time to follow developments in Iraq as closely as I'd like). But I do know one thing. There has been a very serious uptick in insurgent violence over the past weeks as the insurgency puts pressure on the fledging Iraqi government. And as I've written pre-hiatus contra Matt Yglesias (too snarkily for which I've expressed regret!); this is most assuredly not the time to pull out any U.S. forces.

Back to the Gelb interview:

Q: There is no Sunni leader who can order the insurgents to stop?

Gelb: No. The insurgents are calling the shots. There are two powers in Iraq today: the United States military and the terrorists. The Iraqi political leaders are caught in between. The only power they have is to ask the United States to leave, if they dare. And they don't dare. In fact, even the Muslim Brotherhood people are no longer calling for an immediate American withdrawal. Even they understand that would bring utter chaos to their country. [emphasis added]

It sure would. Which was my point a few weeks back...

P.S. We'll have much more on Iraq in the weeks ahead.

P.P.S. Don't miss this critical snippet from the Gelb interview either:

Anyone who knows the history of insurgencies knows you can't win a military victory over an insurgency; the route to victory is in political legitimacy. You have to have a government and a cause people are willing to fight and die for. I think the people and armed forces would be willing to fight for a whole Iraq where the parts take responsibility for most of their own lives.

One of the things that struck me [in Iraq] was that, for all the frustration and anger there is toward the United States, there is real hatred toward the terrorists and what they are doing to Iraq. And if there is a government that is reasonably democratic, that conducts open politics, that is not too corrupt--corruption is a terrible problem--the vast majority of Iraqis would prefer it to any leadership by these terrorists and insurgents. [emphasis added]

There is real hatred among ordinary Iraqis towards the grotesque, indiscriminate violence stoked daily by Zarqawi and Co., assorted jihadists, varied Saddamites, and so on. And therein, of course, lies a critical opportunity. The tactics of beheadings, massive car bombings, mowing down Iraqi police recruits (is it true that some 1,900 Iraq police have been slaughtered to date!?!)--these are not values that appeal to basic human dignity, hope, fellow-feeling. And Iraqi moderates, if they can somehow regain the kind of relatively secure conditions that prevailed after the January 30th elections (and, make no mistake--it is the U.S. that remains the critical factor on the security front--not nascent Iraqi forces just yet), said moderates must use every opportunity to achieve political legitimacy by, not least, pointing out the nihilistic violence that their opponents are proffering and contrasting it with their vision of a modern, pluralistic Iraq. That is the only long term solution that will serve to beat back a viciously brutish insurgency and the chaos they stoke in the hope that it will engulf the still so nascent democratization effort. The task remains ambitious and challenging in the extreme (not least because of the perils of long repressed potential Shi's revanchism)--but there is no choice but to try to see it through. This is the least we owe the many victims of this difficult war which has caused such discord, bitterness and confusion around the globe. Yes, the goal remains noble. It is about human progress and liberty, about modernity versus medieval fanaticism, about a society ruled by law and basic dignity rather than neo-Stalinist thuggery. And yes, about signaling that U.N. resolutions are meant to be enforced, rather than chattered on about in the halls of Turtle Bay, by nation-states that take international security serously. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 01:20 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

More Good News From Iraq

John Burns, the best reporter the NYT has on its staff, has a must read dispatch from Haifa Street in Baghdad. The news is good. Some money grafs:

American morale, for the moment, is high. Lt. Col. Thomas D. Macdonald, the cavalry division officer who commanded the Haifa Street task force, believes the Iraqis, with an affinity for their own people, can push the rebels farther back. "I've got the enemy to the point where he can't do large-scale operations anymore, only the small-scale stuff," he said recently, during one of his last patrols of the area, at the head of a company of 120 soldiers. "If we put in more Iraqi garrisons like this, that will be the final nail in the coffin."

When Iraqi units began to serve in combat zones, desertion rates were high. During the first offensive in Falluja, last April, some soldiers refused to fight. But over the last nine months, a $5 billion American-financed effort has bought Iraqi units more than 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100,000 flak jackets, 110,000 pistols, 6,000 cars and pickup trucks, and 230 million rounds of ammunition. In place of the single Iraqi battalion trained last June, there are more than 90 battalions now, totaling about 60,000 army and special police troops. No one is certain how many insurgents they face; the number, including foot soldiers, safe-house operators, organizers and financiers, is estimated to be 12,000 to 20,000.

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished. "Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide-bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But the overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear, all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

A Shiite himself, commanding a unit composed mostly of Shiites, General Samraa has made his headquarters in the old Sajida Palace, on the riverbank at Haifa Street's northern end, a sad, looted, sandbagged relic of the pleasure dome it was for Mr. Hussein's first wife, Sajida. But the general insisted the new Iraqi forces had history on their side. "Saddam, we've seen the movie, and it's finished," he said. "He's broken. Now is the new Iraq."

In the Shiite neighborhoods of Haifa Street, the good will for Americans is pervasive. A fruit seller, Majid Hussein Hassan, 40, rose from his stall to ask Colonel Macdonald for help getting hospital treatment for an infant nephew with a heart deformity. From a balcony, an old woman appealed for better garbage removal. "We're counting on you Americans," she said. "Iraqi officials do nothing!" [emphasis added]

It is becoming increasingly clear that the situation in Iraq has changed quite dramatically for the better since the elections. Check out how gloomy John Burns was as recently as January 27th. Compare that to his piece today. It's almost night and day. Worth stressing too, apart from the elections, it appears that Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus has made a real yeoman's effort with regard to the "training and equipping" effort. It is only when Iraqi forces are willing to risk death and stand and fight (overcoming the "tiny heart syndrome") that the Baathist restorationist, jihadist, and terrorist insurgency can ultimately be vanquished. This appears to be happening now to the tune of at least 60,000 adequately trained Iraqi forces. As I said, major progress. And kudos to the NYT for beginning to give it more prominent billing.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

Recommended Reading

If you stop by over here at B.D. more out of morbid curiosity, shaking your head in resignation and often thinking I'm wrong on the issues, this guy is a pretty good antidote well worth reading. Yeah, it's not only Yglesias who is talking about a good deal of triumphalism in this space of late. Consider me duly chastened--but still, given the scale of recent events--mostly unrepentant truth be told.

Posted by Gregory at 01:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 28, 2005

That Troop Number Thang

"My own preference would have been for more forces after the conflict."

--Colin Powell, as recently interviewed in the British press.

Posted by Gregory at 03:03 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

An Optimistic Realist

Bob Blackwill:

So, it was not at all surprising to me that you had this extraordinary turnout in a situation in which, of course, there was scattered violence. Wherever you were voting, especially in Baghdad and areas around Baghdad, you had to wonder whether you were going to be attacked by the terrorists. So, I think it was an extraordinary outcome. As you say, nearly 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. And when you take into account that the Sunni turnout was quite low, you really do get in many areas of Shiite Iraq an 80 percent turnout, and in some areas of Kurdish Iraq, you get a 90 percent turnout. So, it was really quite extraordinary. And it just shows, again, what the president has been emphasizing, which is that, if given the opportunity, people, whatever their ethnicity and from whatever part of the globe they come, will choose freedom of choice, including elections and going to the polls.

So, it was an extraordinary outcome and one that didn't surprise me. And I must say also, just one last point, that this was also a shining endorsement of the president's strategy towards Iraq, where the critics have been pessimistic and wrong for well over a year with regard to the evolution of the Iraqi political process. And they've been wrong on every single important pivotal event. They were wrong on the elections. And they will probably go on being pessimistic and go on being wrong.

Another snippet from Bernard Gwertzman's interview of Blackwill well worth reading:

Q: Put on your Harvard hat for a moment. What's the impact of these elections and the recent Palestinian elections on the whole Middle East? After all, the president's been mocked by a lot of Democrats and others for the idealistic speeches he's been making about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Is this now more of a reality? Is this election going to put pressure on other states to reform?

A: The answer is yes. And, I must say, that those who mock haven't been paying attention to the empirical data that's been piling up. First, we had the Afghan election last fall with this extraordinary turnout. Then we had the Palestinian election. Then we had the Iraqi election. We're going to have a parliamentary election in Afghanistan in the spring. So this isn't a theory anymore, this is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East and it is absolutely revolutionary, these free and fair elections.

Now, the effect elsewhere in the region isn't going to happen overnight. It isn't going to be that some of these leaders who don't have sympathy for democratic practices are going to wake up in the middle of the night and have an epiphany and say, "Oh my goodness, we want to have our entirely free and fair elections, too." But I do think that, in aggregate, it does put pressure from the bottom up on these societies to move toward more freedom of choice in the political arena [emphasis added]

It's getting increasingly hard to deny that, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

More on the Arab World's Burgeoning View of the Iraqi Elections

Amr Hamzawy of Carnegie:

The turnout in last Sunday's Iraqi elections surprised even the most optimistic observers in the Middle East. Reading Arab newspapers during the weeks before the vote, one could hardly escape the expectation that the adventure of holding elections in Iraq was certain to be a fiasco. The bulk of Arab intellectuals and journalists foresaw a minimal turnout and possibly devastating results, such as an outbreak of civil war between the Shiite and Sunni populations and the emergence of an Iranian-controlled Islamic republic of Iraq.

Operating from Pan-Arabist and Islamist credos, they could not envisage the elections as at least a step toward political normality in a country long ruled by a brutal dictator and currently under foreign occupation. Commentators emphasized potential voting irregularities, asserting that no free elections would ever take place under occupation and implicitly urging Iraqis to stay away from the polls.

Because Arab writers normally see themselves as embodying an imaginary "Arab street," they had no trouble, in the absence of independent public opinion surveys, in representing their own quite ideological views as those of the Iraqi majority and as those of Arabs generally. They took this line even though their rhetorical warnings at the time of the initial invasion of Iraq -- exemplified by the slogan "the Arab street will explode if the Americans invade" -- had proven incorrect. These writers were taught a hard lesson by the Iraqi voter turnout in a way that should lead to questions about their claim to represent Arab public opinion...

...Assessing Arab public opinion is notoriously difficult because of widespread media censorship and government domination of the media. One of the few real indicators we have are readers' written comments on op-ed articles published in Arab dailies, especially in the regional newspapers such as al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat...

...within this very wide spectrum a mainstream perception of Iraqi political developments can be discerned that runs counter to the main tide coming from prominent intellectuals and journalists. A clear consensus exists among the majority of commenting readers on the moral and political rightness of the elections and a hopeful attitude toward the democratization of Iraq. Mistrust of American intentions and lamentations on the fate of pan-Arabism are to a large extent pushed aside by a more pragmatic understanding of events.

An active polemical minority, largely non-Iraqis, certainly remains, but it does not define the terms of the readers' debate. Most interesting, however, is the fact that the readers' comments turn out to be self-referential -- that is, they entail less commenting on the respective op-ed pieces and far more discussion among the readers. A pluralistic platform emerges, without the usual allegations of betrayal or tendentious ideological statements.

With all due modesty regarding how representative the readers' comments on the Iraq elections are, they do portray a different picture of the Arab public, a public that is pragmatic, confident and for the most part tolerant. This is one more reason to be hopeful for a better political future in the region. [emphasis added]

Posted by Gregory at 05:37 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Iraq Perceptions: A Deemphasized American Influence

Through 22 months of occupation and war here, the word "America" was usually the first word to pass through the lips of an Iraqi with a gripe.

Why can't the Americans produce enough electricity? Why can't the Americans guarantee security? Why can't the Americans find my stolen car?

Last week, as the euphoria of nationwide elections washed over this country, a remarkable thing happened: Iraqis, by and large, stopped talking about the Americans.

With the ballots still being counted here, the Iraqi candidates retired to the back rooms to cut political deals, leaving the Americans, for the first time, standing outside. In Baghdad's tea shops and on its street corners, the talk turned to which of those candidates might form the new government, to their schemes and stratagems, and to Iraqi problems and Iraqi solutions.

That's exactly the point, isn't it?

Meanwhile, 'Nam is springing to mind again!

It's now a week since Iraqis flooded the streets for their first free election in decades, and America, midwife to the birth of Arab democracy, is still in relieved thrall. Sunni clerics urged boycotts; the French dripped ridicule; terrorists promised to wash the streets with the blood of anyone foolish enough to cast a ballot. And 6 in 10 eligible Iraqis - roughly equal to the turnout in President Bush's own victory last November - voted anyway.

Honestly, has there ever been an election so inspiring?

Unfortunately, yes. Ponder the first sentences of one dispatch from this newspaper's archives: "United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election," it reads, "despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong."

That appeared in September 1967. Last week, Mr. Bush proclaimed that Iraq tests "our generational commitment to the advance of freedom." In 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union proclaimed a test of American will to "keep alive the hope of independence and stability for people other than ourselves."

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

More Good News on the Sunni Front

Anthony Shahid writing in the WaPo:

Influential Sunni Arab leaders of a boycott of last Sunday's elections expressed a new willingness Friday to engage the coming Iraqi government and play a role in writing the constitution, in what may represent a strategic shift in thinking among mainstream anti-occupation groups.

The signs remain tentative, and even advocates of such change suggest that much will depend on the posture the new government takes toward the insurgency and the removal of former Baath Party officials from state institutions. But in statements and interviews, some Sunni leaders said the sectarian tension that surged ahead of the vote had forced them to rethink their stance...

...The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most influential groups, sent mixed signals this week -- saying it would respect the election results, while arguing that the new government will lack the legitimacy to draft a constitution. But the sermon Friday at the association's headquarters, the Um al-Qura mosque, was decidedly conciliatory. Directing most of his words at the new government, the preacher called Iraq its "trusteeship" and said the people's welfare was "a great responsibility on your shoulders."

A meeting Thursday at the home of a Sunni elder statesman that brought together some largely Sunni groups, including those that boycotted the elections, produced an agreement to participate in drafting the constitution, "without condition," said Nadhmi, one of those in attendance. A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, which withdrew from Sunday's vote but still was listed on the ballot, said its members would not enter parliament but that the party would not object if independent candidates who were included on its list took seats.

"We're getting the same vibes," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"It's my sense that there are a number of people in the Sunni community that are trying to build consensus in that community that . . . participation in the political process would be to the best advantage of the Sunni Arab community," the diplomat said. [emphasis added]

Can't say I'm surprised. B.D. always thought most mainstream Sunni factions, even those boycotting (or threatening to boycott), would end up playing (mostly constructive) ball. It's still to early to make any definitive conclusions, but such a peeling away of moderate to nationalist Sunnis from the ranks of the extremists will lend yet another defeat to the ranks of the Baathist restorationists, assorted jihadists, and Zarqawi and Co. terrorists.

Posted by Gregory at 05:28 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Democratization in the Arab World: Ways Ahead?

Ray Takeyh writing in the National Interest:

It is customary for U.S. officials to cite the successful campaign of unseating the autocracies of eastern Europe as the necessary paradigm for political change in the Arab world. Yet despite a bipartisan consensus, America's democratization efforts in the Middle East have historically eschewed any vigorous promotion of reform in favor of offering technical assistance. Instead of utilizing intensive diplomatic and economic pressure to force reluctant states to comply with reform criteria, successive U.S. administrations have opted for dialogue with the incumbent regimes. The region's leaders, far from being viewed as the main obstacles to reform, are often seen as the necessary partners in a shared progressive enterprise. And so Washington's strategy of political change, endorsed by both parties, follows a well-worn path of promoting liberalization rather than genuine democratization. And as a result, a strategy of incremental liberalization necessarily conforms to the parameters established by the incumbent regimes.

Herein lies the fundamental weakness of America's approach. Washington has erred in its assumption that the region's ruling elites are prepared to initiate reforms but merely lack the expertise with which to carry them out. That misconception is evident in the proposals envisioned by the State Department, which emphasize technical assistance--aid to legislatures, training and exchange programs for civil servants, election monitors and so on.

The central dilemma of the Arab political order is not unfamiliarity with the process of political competition, but an entrenched elite that is determined to retain power. No amount of technical assistance can overcome that reality. This is not to say that the region's elites are unaware of the need for change and adaptation. Yet most Middle Eastern leaders--hereditary monarchs, revolutionary mullahs and perpetual presidents alike--are more attracted to the Chinese model, which seems to offer the promise of economic growth and development without displacing any of the political prerogatives of the ruling regime. This is not to downplay the value of the Arab world moving along a Chinese path. Liberal autocracies would certainly be an improvement over politically repressive, economically stagnant regimes--but they would not be functioning democracies.

It would be a mistake to claim that there have been no reforms in the Arab world. Indeed, since the end of the Gulf War, a number of authoritarian states in the Middle East have undertaken programs of guided, selective liberalization. Although democracy advocates routinely acclaim measured liberalization as a necessary prelude to democratization, in the Middle East such liberal autocracy seems to be an end in itself. In such an order, the rulers may eschew full-scale authoritarianism for a system that offers periodic openings in response to a variety of social, political and strategic challenges. Despite its tolerant pretensions, this governing structure lays down clear "red lines", ensuring that the prerogatives of the executive are not circumscribed by legislation and judicial oversight. A liberal autocracy may hold elections and countenance critical media, but all actors must agree to the rules promulgated by leaders who remain unaccountable. Far from challenging the reigning autocrats, the current partnership actually complements their survival strategies. [emphasis added]

I think this is all largely true. And, on the "one man, one vote, one time" fear--Takeyh appears relatively sanguine:

As with most ideological tendencies, the complexion of Islamism is changing, as more temperate forces are assuming the leadership of this movement. In states as varied as Turkey, Morocco and Bahrain, moderate Islamist parties are coming to the forefront, calling for participation in the political process as opposed to waging violent campaigns against the state. Indeed, beyond the glare of Western media, a subtle intellectual transformation is underway in many Islamist circles, with leading figures such as Iran's Muhammad Khatami or Egypt's Hassan Hanafi calling for harmonization of Islamic injunctions with democratic precepts. To be sure, given the retaliatory power of the state and the inability of radical Islamists to dislodge the regimes through violence in the early 1990s, such reconsiderations may seem a tactical concession to an altered balance of power. Nonetheless, the inclination of many Islamists to reconsider their ideological strategies should not be discounted. De-radicalization is not a new trend, as leftist forces in Latin America moderated their objectives once presented with the opportunity to participate in the political process. Once part of the governing order, the imperative of getting re-elected led many leftists to actually abandon their disruptive and costly utopian schemes in search of more practical solutions to their societies' conundrums. It is time to test the premise of "moderate Islam" and not continuously invoke the Algerian trauma as a justification for prolonging a deficient autocratic rule...

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that al-Qaeda's brand of nihilistic fanaticism is alienating, more than attracting, the Muslim masses. This is a controversial area, and there is much CW that Bush banged the bee-hive of Islamic fanaticism because of Iraq and so on, but my take is that the winds are going out of UBL and ilks sails of late. Nor did the successful Iraqi elections help Al Qaeda much, of course.

Regarding other aspects of Takeyh's article, I agree that State has, perhaps, too often focused on the latest NGO programs and such as a barometer of success--initiatives that do not cross "red lines" and are in accordance with the "survival strategies" of liberal autocrats like, say, Mubarak. And B.D., for a while now, has argued for using the West's economic leverage to link economic assistance to real political reforms.

But what more can we do? In Iraq, of course, we are proceeding full-bore on democratization. But what of Egypt? Saudi Arabia? I think Takeyh is right that we need to start thinking very seriously about a) tangible curbs on executive power and b) fostering independent judicaries. Indeed, both such ostensibly legal/political reforms have major economic impact too. What businessperson is ever wholly comfortable (unless acting solely in lock-step with local elites) doing deals in environments where the executive is omnipotent or the local judges corrupt? Perhaps, as an intermediate step, such prospective legal/political reforms should be more linked to free-trade style initiatives like the Barcelona Process (only taken more seriously--with a robust U.S. role in tandem with our Euro partners, monitored closely, with more carrots and sticks brought to bear systematically).


Throughout the region, the current constitutions enshrine the power of the executive and immunize him from any challenge to his prerogatives. Monarchs and presidents stand in a privileged position, as their decisions are unencumbered by either parliamentary legislation or judicial verdict. Moreover, many Arab constitutions deliberately undermine the power of the legislative branch by granting the executive the right to appoint an upper chamber that can obstruct parliamentary initiatives. Free elections to such emasculated institutions will not pave the way for emergence of a democratic order, as the existing constitutional provisions effectively strangle any viable reform project.

The second imperative of democratic change is an independent judiciary. Throughout the Middle East, the judiciary is staffed by the compliant agents of the executive, and the courts have been used to prevent media outlets and pro-democracy forces from organizing. Any attempt to create political parties in the region is routinely denied legal sanction by the judiciary. Although the security services are often decried for their abuses, it is the judiciary that provides the legal cover for the arrest of dissidents and closure of newspapers. Iran is the case study of how a cynical judiciary working in conjunction with the unelected branches of government can effectively undermine a progressive regime and its reformist agenda. Through its contrived procedures and arbitrary verdicts, Iran's judiciary effectively silenced the region's most vibrant press and subverted parliamentary initiatives. The lesson of Iran is that in the absence of legal reform and independent judges, the hegemony of the unelected institutions is unlikely to be disturbed.

Readers are invited to comment on Takeyh's piece--particularly with regard to how to move liberal autocratic societies towards real democratization. I think, at this juncture (and Iraq aside), we are mostly pursuing a gradualist course--seeking small improvements within the 'red lines' we informally agreed with the leaders in the region. Given how disorienting the massive changes taking place in Iraq right now, a bit of caution in not forging ahead too strongly in other countries might make sense in the short term. The cup runneth over and all that. Still, however, we need to be thinking about a mid-term strategy for moving, in calibrated fashion, the momentum of Iraq (should the political governance structures there stabilize) so as to help shoehorn this precedent into further democratizing liberal autocracies in the region. To tee that up, I mostly agree with Takeyh that we should get more serious about linking aid and the extension of diplomatic prestige to governments in the region that are, in return, agreeing to real, material curbs on executive power; the fostering of increasingly independent judicaries, to the allowance of parliaments unshackled from upper chambers solely answerable to the executive, to more profound economic moves towards liberalization. No, that doesn't mean wholly abandoning incrementalism, NGO's, civil society groups--but, as Takeyh points out, it's ultimately free political parties that will prove effective in introducing real democratization in the region. And, for political parties to flourish, curbs on executive power and free courts are pretty important prerequisites.

Posted by Gregory at 03:43 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Three Bets, Three Wins

Fouad Ajami:

Q: What are your first thoughts in the wake of Sunday's elections in Iraq?

A: It reminded me of just a few weeks ago when people were celebrating the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. The spectacle of ordinary Iraqis; old women, old men, Iraqis returning from far away to vote, people holding up their forefingers dipped in purple ink, gave the lie to the idea that democracy is alien or need be alien to this region. I got up this morning and decided, because I knew I was going to be talking to you, that I would pick up the Arabic press and see how the election was covered to get a sense of how the region responded to this dramatic and big event.

Q: How did they respond?

A: It was interesting. I would have to say the most shameful of all the responses came from the Egyptians, from the leading paper of the regime of [President] Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was one of the three people in the region that President Bush called to discuss the Iraqi election; the other two being King Abdullah II of Jordan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

In the lead paper of Egypt, Al Ahram, the elections were treated as some marginal event. The front page went, of course, to Mubarak who was attending a conference of the Organization for African Unity in Abuja, Nigeria. It was as if Mubarak wanted to shield his country from the effect of this Iraqi revolution.

On the other side, the elections received remarkable coverage from a paper which is undergoing a tremendous revolution, I think, in the way it thinks about the world and covers the world. It's a very influential paper, Asharq Al Awsat, a Saudi-owned paper that's published in London. It was exuberant over the election. The front page was celebratory. The huge banner headline said, "Iraqis Vote for Iraq." And the two pictures on the front page were of a man holding his forefinger with the purple ink and a woman looking and studying her ballot, perhaps a woman who may even be unable to read, who may actually vote with her thumbprint.

These two responses tell you the story that, among some Arabs, there is a kind of celebration of the freedom of Iraq. And then there is this other approach to the elections of Iraq, a fear of what this election would mean for other Arabs, with a determination to show, of course, that it was just another violent day in Iraq. Mubarak and his press, in my opinion, disgraced themselves. In the midst of history being made in Iraq, you have a situation where Mubarak himself is preparing to run for another six-year term to bring it to thirty years in office. So, he is in the middle of preparing for his own uncontested election.

Juan Cole's reaction, say, was much more al Ahram than Asharq Al Awsat, no? But what is he shielding us from? The possibility, just maybe, that Bush's policies in Iraq could bear fruit? On that note, don't miss this part of Ajami's interview:

Q: Let's talk about the United States, where President Bush is having a lucky streak.

You know, he's made three bets and he's won three times. He made a bet in Afghanistan there would be elections. He made a bet in Palestine that he would not have to deal with [former Palestinian Authority President Yasir] Arafat. The death of Arafat and the success of [president of the Palestinian Authority] Abu Mazen in the elections earlier in January were a vindication of the Bush policy. Now come the elections in Iraq.

Here is the president, a few days earlier, being ridiculed by the "realists" and by other people presumably "in the know" when he said he had planted the flag of liberty firmly, and people ridiculed him for saying he had planted a flag of liberty in Iraq, of all places. Well, now the elections vindicate him. But, I add, there is much danger for this policy still. The victory is not total and final, but grant this administration these three good outcomes--Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq.

I think the Iraq elections bought time for our president, not only on the ground in Iraq, but I generally believe they bought him time in the United States. It was almost like we as Americans had grown estranged from the people of Iraq. We came to doubt them. We got used to seeing them in a foul mood. We didn't see enough gratitude on the ground in Iraq. For a fleeting moment, today, January 31, in the immediate aftermath of the election, it seems as though we've closed a circle. We've gone back to that dramatic day, April 9, 2003, when that statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Firdos Square [in Baghdad]. We now seem to be bonded with the Iraqis because they were doing the most American of things, voting. There were election banners, there were these simple men and women, peasants, the marsh Arabs, Kurdish mountaineers, all voting.

You could almost forgive our President if he were to say: "I told you so. I said that I planted the flag of freedom and I planted the flag of liberty." So, I think the news from Iraq is a vindication of this policy. It doesn't tell us that the gospel of liberty is going to sweep the Arab world, but I think it does buy time for the policy. It does re-hook the American people to Iraq. It tells them something good can come out of Iraq. The elections came at about the time we passed 1,400 U.S. fatalities in Iraq. We have paid a terrible price, a heavy price in Iraq, but the elections vindicate and redeem the policy-- there is no doubt about it.

P.S. Chill out on the Sunnis--it just might be O.K.

A lot of people have been predicting that now that the election is over, there will be a big effort to bring the Sunnis into the constitution-writing process.

Everyone I've spoken to in Iraq, Kurdish leaders and Shiite leaders alike, will tell you no one has any intention to put together a new political process in Iraq that eliminates the Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arabs will have a place at the table. By the way, no one really knows for sure what the Sunni Arabs are as a percentage of the population. I've seen figures as low as 13%. I've seen figures as high as 20%. So, cut it any which way you want, the Sunni Arabs are at best 20%, at worst 13% of the population of Iraq.

No, the betting hasn't played out. This effort will be counted in years. But so far, we are doing well indeed. If we can strike a peace deal in the Holy Land by '08, stabilize Iraq under moderate Shi'a rule, integrate southeast Afghanistan under central government rule and moderate the behaviour of warlords like Dostum and Khan, begin to bring economic and political reforms, in collaborative fashion rather than at the barrel of a gun, to the Egypts and Saudis of the region--what massive progress this will portend in the conflict against radical Islam. And, yes, it's within grasp. There will be many setbacks--but I feel the broad direction of history is at our backs--at least at this juncture. These are exciting times indeed. A tad giddy, here? Perhaps. But if Asia and Europe could become largely democratic after the turbulence of communism, nationalism and fascism, well, why can't the Middle East after decades of authoritarianism? Yes, these are largely pre-Englightenment societies. But they instinctually hungered and were jubilant at the exercise of their newfound electoral freedoms--without having read their Montesquieu or Rousseau. It's called basic human dignity--and Bush's policies in Iraq just provided some to millions of heretofore disenfranchised Iraqis. Yes, there has been woeful carnage and suffering aplenty. But that is sometimes the price of large forward strides in history's evolution towards freer societies, alas. Look, all this could still prove a horrific disaster, of course, if elections ulimately set off uncontrollable factionalism, civil strife, anarchy. The road ahead remains perilous indeed. But I believe we have much leverage over reining in the maximalist agendas of all the key actors in Iraq--and therefore think we have a materially better than even shot at keep this thing together. Indeed, I think there is a decent shot Iraq might be a viable democracy in, say, 10 or so years. That, undeniably, would be an epoch-making event and a major positive in the region and, indeed, for the world. If that occurs, the names Bush and Blair will be remembered quite kindly by History, despite all the vitriolic denunciations heaped at them by large swaths of their respective publics.

Posted by Gregory at 07:02 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Philly's Enfant Terrible Espies an Elephant

The elephant in the living room is of course the high probability that even if things work out wonderfully, and the security situation improves, the Bushies still intend to maintain a significant permanent presence in Iraq. Is that true? I don't know. But it's time for somebody to start asking.

Duncan Black, clumsily and transparently moving goalposts, all the while displaying an ignorance that truly impresses (policy planners are bent over backwards trying to figure out an exit strategy--Duncan Black decides it's time someone start pondering whether we are plotting a "significant permanent presence" in Mesopotamia). And, easily impressionable, he approvingly links a blogger advocating a pre-determined timeframe for withdrawal. The better to signal to our foes how long to wait us out--and thereby very misguidedly suggesting that such a course will prevent insurgents from declaring victory because we 'chose' the timing of the (premature) exit.

This is why so many center-left Democrats simply can't be trusted with the apparatus of national security policy making. They just don't get it. A telegraphed exit is stupid policy, of course. And does anyone seriously believe we are going to scuttle our wider war aims in the conflict against radical Islam--by leaving sizable bases in Iraq after they are no longer needed (handing a propaganda victory to jihadists and conspiracy mongers through the region)? The reality, of course, is that forces will be needed there for a good while yet. But, if we are lucky enough to stabilize Iraq as a unitary, democratic polity--I have no doubt the vast majority of our forces will leave and that we won't leave permanent garrisons behind. Black is merely, and very amateurishly and obviously, setting up his next line of attack (neo-colonialist aggression! perma-bases dude!) because he can't rant on quite as much about some Tet on the Tigris after yesterday's setback to the insurgents. Sad.

P.S. Memo (second) to Duncan: The "elephant in the living room is of course" the hugely significant election that just took place in Iraq--as every serious observer realizes in spades. Sorry, because we try to pretend we're high-brow over here, and keep the snark on the down-low, but again: Get. Head. Out. Of. Ass. Fast. Cuz you're making a fool out of yourself pal.

Posted by Gregory at 06:05 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack


John Burns:

The chief United Nations election adviser here in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, said the vote count at the polling places had been completed by Monday afternoon at all but a handful of centers, including some in Nineveh Province, centered on the northern city of Mosul, one of the places where Sunni voters in surprising numbers defied insurgent threats to kill voters.

Mr. Valenzuela, a 46-year-old Colombian, spoke of the "euphoria" that those involved in organizing the elections felt as reports started coming in on Sunday of the high voter turnout. There had been emergency plans to cancel the election if rebel attacks on polling stations got out of hand, he said.

"We were all very worried about security," he said. "Would people really be so scared that they wouldn't come out and vote?"

"Euphoria." Not from unilateralist Chimperor. From the chief United Nations election advisor in Iraq.

And the Sunni angle:

But as more details emerged of the pattern of voting, it remained uncertain how widespread Sunni voting in those areas had been. Both Mr. Valenzuela and Mr. Ayar, the election commission chief, spoke of higher-than-expected turnouts in Babil, Anbar, Diyala and Nineveh, and described lines at polling stations in cities that have seen major insurgent violence, including Falluja, Baquba and Mosul.

But other reports said that polling centers in Samarra, another trouble center north of Baghdad, as well as in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, had been largely deserted, and that the turnout in Baquba, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population, had been about 30 percent. Still, Mr. Ayar said, "there were no cities with no votes."

But he cautioned against the notion that the Sunni turnout in the troubled areas had been that high. "Everyone says it was better than what we expected," he said. "However, the expectations were very low. So it really doesn't mean very much, does it?"

If the Sunni vote nears (or, dare we hope, tops) 30% it will mean quite a lot, actually. And who would have even begun to fathom the possibility that lines would be forming to vote in Fallujah, for instance? Really, who?

Posted by Gregory at 05:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 31, 2005

Quote of the Day

"A hundred names on the ballot are better than one, because it means that we are free."

An Iraqi voter, as quoted in this John Burns dispatch.

MORE: Another quote, from the WaPo: "Whatever they would do, I would still vote...Even if I was dead, I would still participate. The vote comes from the bottom of my heart."

Money grafs:

Officials loosely estimated voter turnout at 60 percent nationwide -- a figure that, if accurate, would make Sunday's vote perhaps the freest, most competitive election in an authoritarian Arab world and a rare victory for the Bush administration in Iraq. U.S. and allied Iraqi leaders had looked to the vote as a turning point in a troubled two-year occupation beset by almost daily carnage, rampant crime and deep disenchantment with the United States. Those officials had expressed hope that a strong turnout would deliver elusive legitimacy to the new government, enabling it to defeat the insurgency in Sunni regions and begin a long-awaited economic revival....

...In Ramadi, a western city of roughly 200,000 people along the Euphrates River, residents said only six people voted at one polling station: the provincial governor, three of his deputies, the representative of the Communist Party and the police chief. In Dhuluyah, a town north of Baghdad along the Tigris, the eight polling stations never opened, residents said, and in other towns in the region, voters usually numbered in the dozens as others ignored appeals broadcast by patrolling U.S. soldiers to vote.

But both the violence and the Sunni turnout proved to be the wild cards. After a slow start, growing numbers voted in heavily Sunni districts of the capital, including Khadra, Tunis and parts of Adhamiyah, residents said. Crowds in Baqubah, a mixed Sunni-Shiite town northeast of Baghdad, gathered with their children before polls opened and waited for tardy election workers as mortar shells detonated in the distance.

In the northern city of Mosul, scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months, turnout grew among both Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds as intense attacks failed to materialize. In the two weeks before the elections, the United States had increased its troop strength in Mosul by 50 percent, from 8,000 to 12,000, and brought in an additional 4,500 Iraqi security forces.

"God willing, this election will be the nail in the coffin of the terrorists," Abbas Salem, a real estate agent in Mosul, said after voting. [emphasis added]

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunni Turnout Higher Than Expected Too

The chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, Fareed Ayar, said as many as 8 million people turned out to vote, or between 55 percent and 60 percent of those registered to cast ballots. If 8 million turns out to be the final figure, that would represent 57 percent of voters.

The figure was based on national returns, Mr. Ayar said, and included the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh, which have large Sunni populations. The predicted low turnout in Anbar, a hotspot of Sunni resistance to the American occupation, was exceeded to such an extent that extra voting materials had to be rushed to outlying villages, where long lines were formed at polling stations, Mr. Ayar said...

...Even in the so-called Sunni Triangle people voted, too. In Baquba, 60 miles north of Baghdad, all the polling stations that reported indicated a huge turnout.

-- Dexter Filkins and John Burns, the latter ostensibly more optimistic than a few days back, in the NYT.

Make no mistake, and ignore anyone who plays the 'I thought it was 72% game' tomorrow. These figures, and the relatively robust Sunni turn-out, are truly wonderful news--and, it appears, in line with B.D.'s pre-election estimates.

Posted by Gregory at 01:46 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 30, 2005

Cole's Sad Defeatism

Although the violence and attacks have been extensive and took place all over the country, the security measures put in prevented massive loss of life. Suicide bombers clearly could not get close enough to crowds to take a big toll. [emphasis mine]

Juan Cole, writing today in his blog "Informed Comment." Professor Cole, alas, can't quite bring himself to come out and state the obvious. Which is that the insurgents suffered a major blow today--because Iraqis courageously came out in droves to vote and because there were far fewer insurgent attacks than anyone dared hope. And note the italicized portion quoted above. Is it just me, or does one almost espy a sense of regret that the security measures, you know, worked? [ed. note: Why do I still blogroll this guy? I respect his regional expertise--but I fear he's too knee-deep in Ward Churchill disease. Perhaps I'll have to remedy this during the next blog-roll cleanup.]

For more on Cole's excesses, be sure to see this post over at Volokh by David Bernstein. And don't miss Wretchard on Cole either. Both highly recommended reads.

UPDATE: I'm getting some mail along the lines that I'm unfair to Cole by suggesting he might derive pleasure from the deaths of innocents. That's not what I'm saying above. Cole cares about the region and its inhabitants, quite passionately. What I'm saying is that his quasi-pathological distrust and hate of the Bushies has greatly reduced his credibility. Why? Because he too often appears to be rooting for this Administration's policy objectives to fail (witness the almost monomaniacal obsession with each and every setback--day in, day out-- at his blog (never a good day, Juan, just one?). And also, people, because Bush is simply not the devil incarnate. Believe it or not, some of his policy moves can and do advance the cause of human liberty every now and again. Today was such a day. Cole would have done himself a favor by showing some magnanimity and judiciousness by acknowledging that. Instead, he's further embarrassing himself by penning such sour drivel:

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

"All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it..." How shabby, ungenerous and low. Meanwhile, I would look forward to an explication of Cole's methodology regarding how each of the Pakistani election of 2002 and the Iranian one of 1997 were "much more democratic" than today's in Iraq. Regardless, read all of Cole's post to get a full flavor of the hoops he will jump through to deny Bush any credit at all for what took place today. It's quite, er, breathtaking.

Posted by Gregory at 05:43 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

YES,YES, I did it. I have the courage to do it. (Hat Tip: Glenn)

--Iraqi blogger Rose, a female civil engineer in Baghdad with a three year old daughter, in a post entitled "I Did It, I Voted."

So did many others (perhaps 60-72% turnout). We will have to wait a few more days for the final, official numbers and there will be the inevitable disputes about methodology, or whether enough voters had been registered, or whether the relatively light turn-out in places like Fallujah (though some people voted there too) have a material impact on the election's legitimacy. But any judicious observer, in my view, must be awed and humbled by this wondrous spectacle of Iraqis exercising their vote in such large numbers--in the face of a fanatical campaign of fear and intimidation. As Michael Ignatieff wrote today:

The election in Iraq is without precedent. Never, not even in the dying days of Weimar Germany, when Nazis and Communists brawled in the streets, has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence - with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to 'observe' from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad.

Indeed. Which makes the turnout all the more impressive (and the relative indifference to it in parts of Europe, and certain quarters in America too, particularly underwhelming and sad). We have become spoiled in the West--but other peoples, less blessed with the fruits of liberty now taken for granted by so many--they have again shown today that they will risk their very lives to exercise universally desired rights if only given the opportunity. What a tonic such noble courage--particularly in these cynical times in which swines like a Michael Moore are feted in places like the dumbed-down precincts of Cannes.

All these electoral going-ons in Iraq reminded me of a brief break in law school, when I went back to Bosnia (I had worked in the Balkans in the mid-90s) for a stint as an election monitor in 1998. I was assigned to a town in a corner of northwestern Bosnia called Velika Kladusha. Balkan hands will recall some intra-Muslim struggles had occurred there as between local warlord Fikrit Abdic's militia and Alija Izetbegovic's central party in Sarajevo. I was taken aback by the numbers of people who came out, who hungered for their right to vote. We had to toss bottles of water out to the thirsty crowd that had waited for hours as we registered them at the polling station. It began to rain and the crowd rushed to a covered alcove just outside the door--pushing against a large window-pane that ran the length of the entrance--so that the glass appeared to sway under the pressure of dozens of bodies pressed against it. I was worried the window would shatter--injuring many and making a tense situation much more so. But, I remember thinking, how powerful an image! A press of human bodies, braving local thugs, the inclement weather, the long wait and thirst--to the point that a large window would burst from the sheer human weight--well symbolizing their so tangible desire to vote.

We have seen such tenacity, courage, and optimism today in Iraq--only ten times over. Today, it is not hyperbolic to say, what Abraham Lincoln called humanity's "better angels" triumphed against a fascistic campaign of terror. The ink-stained fingers, proudly displayed by Iraqi voters exiting polling stations, now joins the pantheon of images in the iconography of human freedom's long and perilous voyage. Today is a day of hope, a day of exaltation, a day, above all, where we in the West should be humbled by the courage of the Iraqi people.

UPDATE: An American contact on the ground, closely involved with the elections process, E-mails:

Best anecdote of the day: in Qadissiyah, voters waiting in line fled when an insurgent arrived on the scene with an RPG. He fired and missed. An hour later, the same voters--with more neighbors, friends and family, came back to finish the job. That's why the bad guys lost today.

Yep, it sure is. The bad guys lost because the power of human courage never ceases to amaze. And, of course, because coalition forces (and nascent Iraqi ones) helped make it all possible.

Posted by Gregory at 03:55 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 29, 2005

Iraqi Elections Special

Some assorted quotes from Iraqis on the eve of elections:

I voted under Saddam--it was bogus and now I am ready for a real election...Everyone in the neighborhood is going to vote."
Mohsin Abdul Ruda, a 50-year-old Shi'a shopkeeper in Sadr City.

"Inshalla,...we will go to the poll center...My mother, she's an 80-year-old woman, but she will go vote."
Jouad Latif, a shopkeeper in a Sunni neighborhood of Baghdad.

God willing, I will not be voting...Our religious leaders have not told us to vote."
Ziad Qadam, an unemployed 27-year-old Shi'a, from Sadr City

All these quotes come from a couple Dexter Filkins dispatches from Iraq. Note that the NYT's lead story through the night (on-line) was the gloomier of Filkins' pieces (featuring the quote from the non-voting, Sadr supporter) as compared to Filkins' later article which is now the lead and which features the two rosier quotes. Let's briefly check out this snippet from Filkins' gloomy piece:

Less than 48 hours before nationwide elections here, Nasir al-Saedy, one of the city's most popular Shiite clerics, stood before a crowd of 20,000 Iraqis and uttered not a single word about the vote.

Sheik Saedy spoke of faith, humility and the power of God. But about Sunday's elections, the first here in more than 30 years, nothing.

For the throngs of Iraqis who had come to Al Mohsen Mosque to listen, the sheik's silence came through loud and clear.

And it foreshadowed a less than overwhelming voter turnout in many parts of Iraq. [emphasis added, and note the encroachments of Laphamization]

Compare this with the more, er, nuanced (especially the last bit about Sadr's pamphleteers...) reporting of the FT:

At noon prayers in the Buratha mosque, a gathering-place for mainstream Shia parties, preacher and candidate Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer issued a rousing call to the faithful to go to the polls in spite of the risks.

"We will embalm ourselves for burial and take our coffins with us to the polling stations," Mr Sagheer proclaimed to the crowd.

Across the city, a representative of the radical Shia prelate Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement has been divided over whether to take part, gave a long sermon to the thousands gathered in the street, declaring that any government elected on Sunday would not be legitimate.

"Do not give your support to that which is only partly just . . . Be patient and wait for the reign of the Prophet's Family," said the preacher, appealing to the Sadrists' messianic vision. A gathering of local Sadrists standing in the elections later handed out campaign leaflets, insisting the sermon should not be taken to mean that loyal Shia should refrain from voting.

Look, the point here isn't another blogospheric beat-up routine of the big, bad NYT meanies of the MSM. Filkins' reporting feels a bit schizoid because, well, no one knows really, how tomorrow is going to go (though I think the attempt to represent that Shi'a turnout will be significantly lower than expected is inaccurate and a bit disingenuous). But let's put all this parsing of the media aside and look at the bigger picture. Andrew Sullivan asks:

How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud. But it makes sense to have some guidelines before Sunday so we don't just fit what happens to our pre-existing hopes or rationalizations.

I think Andrew had started with 1,000 dead, which he revised down to 500. Then, today, he updates: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?" Truth be told, I don't really think we should be handicapping, say, how many innocents will be slaughtered tomorrow like some kind of sports game. But, that said, let me hazard a few voter turnout predictions of my own on the cusp of this historic event--which are a little more optimistic than Andrew's (keeping in mind that the Administration would probably prefer that its allies in the commentariat lowball their turnout estimates so as help define success down--here, I'm just giving you my best quasi-educated guess--so, any lefties out there, this isn't some spin exercise).

1) Shia and Kurdish turnout will be well north of 50% (perhaps as high as 60%-65%...and many Sadr supporters will vote too).

2) Sunni turnout will likely push 30% (fingers crossed!)

As for Andrew's speculations re: casualty counts--I, of course, don't know how many people are going to die tomorrow at the hands of anti-democratic fanatics (I don't think Iraqi nationalists angered at the American occupation are the ones intent on blowing up polling stations and their own countrymen--those are only the radical jihadists and Baathist restorationists). But what I do know, thanks to an on the ground source close to the elections (who sent me some polling data today), is that 45% of persons polled believe the elections will help to bring positive gradual change, while just over 30% expect a dramatic improvement as a result of the elections tomorrow. So, and unlike the people at the Nation and blase "wankers" like this (doubtless, and ever so shallowly and short-sightedly, rooting for a bad day tomorrow just because it's bad for Chimpie-in-Chief), it appears a good 75% of Iraqis appear to think the elections are going to start getting them on the right track (with a sizable chunk expecting an immediate dramatic improvement). Which leads me to another point, also made by Steve Hadley in a kind of coming-out as National Security Advisor in today's WaPo--the elections really represent just the beginning of real, tangible moves forward on the path to democratization and viable sovereignty:

The critics also seem to forget that the assembly elected tomorrow will be a transitional body--only the most recent step on the road to Iraqi democracy. Iraq will move from the appointed government that it has today to an elected one. This assembly will select a government and draft a permanent constitution, which will be ratified by a popular referendum and under which a new round of elections will be held in December. Eligible Iraqis who choose not to vote tomorrow will be able to participate in that process and vote later in the year.

Another issue to keep in mind tomorrow? How many Sunnis, if the security environment were better, would have braved the polls? On this, note that the aforementioned polling data sent on to B.D. indicates that when Sunnis were asked how likely it is that they will vote, they responded thusly:

21.50% Very Likely
28.20% Somewhat Likely
15.10% Somewhat Unlikely
28.50% Very Unlikely

Now, if you strongly believed the entire elections process was rigged and illegitimate, you'd doubtless be part of the 28.50% who say they are very unlikely to vote. But think of the 28.20% that say they are somewhat likely. Why only "somewhat"? The lack of security is doubtless the biggest reason--not that they think the whole process is corrupt and illegitimate. No, this isn't a defense of the Administration. Of course it would be better if Anbar Province, say, had been secured via application of the requisite manpower. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want to vote--as Hadley points out too. And, that the U.S. is engaged in a struggle to help them exercise that right--one they mostly cherish and are hankering for. Put differently, we are not in Iraq to rape, to plunder, to conquer--but to get a constitution and viable government in place. No, I'm no naif. I know that our presence there involves extending our sphere of influence to a region critical to our national interest. But, say, if Iraqis don't want to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, or want no permanent U.S. military bases there--we will respect their will. This is to say, we are now fighting, in the main, for the Iraqis to have a right to assert a national will and so as to support them on their journey towards sustainable political governance structures. What, really, is so horrible about that? No, we should be proud of our struggle there, particularly given that we unseated a leading genocidaire of the late 20th Century to boot. God speed tomorrow, I say! Or, as they say, Inshallah turnout will be relatively high (near or above 60% for non-Sunnis; pushing 30% for Sunnis) and the fascistic, vicious carnage relatively low. Here's hoping.

Posted by Gregory at 06:52 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 27, 2005

A Gloomy Baghdad Dispatch from John Burns

Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military.

On the bright spring day in April 2003 when marines helped topple Mr. Hussein's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, more than any other place in Iraq, was the place American commanders hoped to make a showcase for the benefits the invasion would bring.

Instead, daily life here has become a deadly lottery, a place so fraught with danger that one senior American military officer acknowledged at a briefing last month that nowhere in the area assigned to his troops could be considered safe.

"I would definitely say it's enemy territory," said Col. Stephen R. Lanza, the commander of the Fifth Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the First Cavalry Division that is responsible for patrolling a wide area of southern Baghdad with a population of 1.3 million people.

In the week that ended Sunday, according to figures kept by Western security companies with access to data compiled by the American command, Baghdad was hit by 7 suicide car bombings, 37 roadside bombs and 52 insurgent attacks involving automatic rifles or rocket-propelled grenades. The suicide bombs alone killed at least 60 people and injured 150 others.

Although the American military command has cited surveys purportedly showing 80 percent of Baghdad's residents are eager to vote, many people interviewed by reporters are like Dr. Naqib who say they will stay away.

John Burns, in the NYT.

Just because John Burns says it's so bad doesn't make it so etc etc. But it means a hell of a lot more than, say, if Maureen Dowd did. As regular readers know, I firmly believe Burns is the best reporter the New York Times has in its employ. Indeed, I have the much faith in his abilities as a reporter to capture the realities of his environs with judiciousness and considerable intelligence. Still, I remain more optimistic of electoral turnout, even in non-Sadr City parts of Baghdad (turnout is likely to be highest there), than the article seems to allow. Well, we'll know soon enough, won't we?

But, and it bears stressing, articles like this should make manifestly clear that, if we are serious about Iraqi democratization, the effort (and significant committment of U.S. blood and treasure) is still to be measured in years (perhaps many), not months. I've seen some quite underwhelming blogospheric discourse here and there about a big draw-down of U.S. troops now being possible because we have upwards of 125,000 odd Iraqi forces trained. That number, in terms of truly trained forces that would really stand and fight when the shit hits the fan is much, much lower. More on the status of 'train and equip' here. Yes, things have gotten better since Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus arrived on the scene. But we are not where an increasingly ineffective Rumsfeld tries to portray we are during his entertaining little press gaggles.

Posted by Gregory at 05:09 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 26, 2005

Why Continued Optimism on Iraq?

The reaction to intransigent Sunni brutality and the relative Shiite quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shiite rule. The American experience with Shiite theocracy in Iran since 1979 does not inspire confidence in our ability to forecast Shiite evolution or the prospects of a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean. A thoughtful American policy will not mortgage itself to one side in a religious conflict fervently conducted for 1,000 years.

The Constituent Assembly emerging from the elections will be sovereign to some extent. But the United States' continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives: (1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis; (2) to prevent any areas from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centers for terrorists; (3) to keep Shiite government from turning into a theocracy, Iranian or indigenous; (4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi democratic process.

The United States has every interest in conducting a dialogue with all parties to encourage the emergence of a secular leadership of nationalists and regional representatives. The outcome of constitution-building should be a federation, with an emphasis on regional autonomy. Any group pushing its claims beyond these limits should be brought to understand the consequences of a breakup of the Iraqi state into its constituent elements, including an Iranian-dominated south, an Islamist-Hussein Sunni center and invasion of the Kurdish region by its neighbors.

A calibrated American policy would seek to split that part of the Sunni community eager to conduct a normal life from the part that is fighting to reestablish Sunni control. The United States needs to continue building an Iraqi army, which, under conditions of Sunni insurrection, will be increasingly composed of Shiite recruits -- producing an unwinnable situation for the Sunni rejectionists. But it should not cross the line into replacing Sunni dictatorship with Shiite theocracy. It is a fine line, but the success of Iraq policy may depend on the ability to walk it.

Henry Kissinger & George Schultz, writing in the WaPo.

A few quick points. I wholeheartedly agree that we must not allow relative Shi'a quiet (or quietism) in Iraq to, rather fancifully, have us breathlessly cheerleading some grand era of friendly Shi'a reawakening through the Middle East as necessarily a positive for the U.S. national interest. That said, I find the talk of some Shi'a bloc extending towards the shores of the Med rather hyperbolic (Iran to Baghdad to Alawite Damascus (Allawites considered Shi'a friendly as both sects are worried about Sunni majoritarianism) and so (via Syria's domination of Lebanon) extending onwards to Beirut's southern slums. But the bottom line is as Kissinger and Schultz state: we shouldn't put our chips wholly on either side of the Shi'a or Sunni divide (some observers seem, because of their disquiet with the Sunni in Iraq, to be getting a bit carried away about how cozy and swimmingly all would be should the Shi'a get to flex all the muscle). Note, thankfully, Negroponte and Co. are not going down this foolhardy road. Wisely, we appear to be ensuring there is real Sunni political muscle at play post Jan 30th.

I'd also like to echo Kissinger and Schultz's prioritization of the four issues they list re: the U.S. exerting its leverage post elections. It's indeed critical to stave off the perils of a crude Shi'a majoritarianism (whether theocratic, indigenous, or Iranian-backed); to ensure no Taliban-like zones of operation a la Fallujah take root again; to prevent any one political grouping from amassing a Baathist-style monopoly on power; and, finally--to ensure some 'breathing space' via regional autonomy arrangements and the like--so as to maximize the chances of a unitary polity remaining extant.

Why do I remain, despite it all, quite optimistic about Iraq? Because, truth be told, I still think the "silent majority" (stifle your laughter skeptics!) of Sunnis are in our camp. Put differently, I think that there are more Sunnis who are interested in modernization stemming from reconstruction and secure conditions than those who are dedicated to Baathist restorationist projects, or jihadist tenets, or terror tactics aimed at scuttling a democratic exercise. How about the Shi'a front? I think many Iraqi Shi'a don't want to see Sadr like theocratic encroachments within political governance structures, or Persian Shi'a overly influencing the going-ons in a predominately Arab Shi'a country. And in the North? Because the Kurds know that independence will, in all likelihood, lead to a Turkish intervention in Kurdistan. What do I mean by all this? That each main Iraqi faction understands that a full-blown anti-American posture, or relatedly, the lure of radical and/or maximalist positions--such postures would in all likelihood backfire on the ultimate interests of each of their respective communities. Which is why I think, despite the hard, difficult story of this difficult occupation to date--that we are still on the right course with better than even odds of prevailing.

I'm not alone:

I remain--optimistic may not be right word for it--but it seems to me the strategic architecture or maybe geography of Iraq continues to favor the United States' purposes there. That is to say, it's rather clear that a very large majority of Iraqis would like to go down the path the United States would like them to go down. The Shiite clergy, in particular, remain committed to, essentially, the kind of program we wish reformers would adopt for Iran, which is to say a republic profoundly influenced by the Muslim faith of the overwhelming majority in Iraq, but one in which clerics do not assert dictatorial power over decisions made by voters.

It's interesting that the violence by [terrorist leader Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi and other insurgents is looking less and less like political violence and more and more like terrorism aimed at preventing the majority from voting. This latest statement from Zarqawi, if it's authentic, in denouncing democracy as inherently opposed to Islam, is very much a minority position within Islam.

So there is a real sense, I think, in which the United States is with the tides of history. Maybe we haven't been swimming very elegantly with those tides, but the current is moving things in our direction. I think that continuing to hold steady, working intensively, and seeking new and more creative and effective ways to help the new emerging Iraqi state develop security forces--so that it can ultimately be the guarantor of its own security--is a very doable policy at this point. I think we should probably stop reading the news every day as if, every time a bomb goes off in Iraq, somehow it's a defeat for the United States. That's not actually what's happening. [emphasis added]

I think that's about right.

A cautionary note, and then I'll stop for tonight. Note this snippet from the Kissinger/Schultz oped:

An exit strategy based on performance, not artificial time limits, will judge progress by the ability to produce positive answers to these questions. In the immediate future, a significant portion of the anti-insurrection effort will have to be carried out by the United States. A premature shift from combat operations to training missions might create a gap that permits the insurrection to rally its potential. But as Iraqi forces increase in number and capability, and as the political construction proceeds after the election, a realistic exit strategy will emerge. [emphasis added]

I don't want us to get too carried away by 'train and equip' as the short-term exit and panacea (though it likely is the mid-term one). There is still much hard work to be done in beating back the insurgents. And by us--not by too hastily trained Iraqi forces. Also, check out this quite alarming data. Remember your 6 P's in all of this. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. We can't rush this 'train and equipping' effort. If we do, trust me, it will backfire on us big time. Snippets from the CFR Q&A--but be sure to read the whole thing:

Is it possible to measure the level of infiltration?

Not with precision, experts say. Last October, Aqil al-Saffar, as aide to interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said that as many as 5 percent of the Iraqi government’s troops were insurgents or sympathizers, The New York Times reported. Some experts suggest the number may be higher. “Penetration of Iraqi security and military forces may be the rule, not the exception,” Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Security International Studies, said in a January report. Some U.S. commanders agree. “The police and military forces all have insurgents in them. You don’t have a pure force,” Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Sinclair of the 1st Infantry Division told the Associated Press. However, focusing on the size of the infiltration misses the point, Gavrilis says. “I don’t think the [overall] level of penetration is as much as most people think it is, because you don’t really need a lot to do a lot of damage.”

How do insurgents make it into the forces?

All recruits are vetted. It’s the “first line of defense,” Trainor says. But many experts say the vetting of new Iraqi forces has been inadequate and rushed. Many files on individuals from Saddam Hussein’s regime are scattered, destroyed, or contain unverifiable or outdated information of limited use to current commanders. Iraqis lack sufficient personnel to conduct in-depth background checks on the thousands of new soldiers and police officers who join security forces each month. “This is part of the downside of the fact that the most important goal has been to create as large a force as possible as quickly as possible,” says retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international affairs at Boston University.

How can vetting be improved?

By slowing the hiring process and increasing the length of training of forces, many experts say. Observing the police and soldiers at work—and whether they are willing to risk their lives in combat situations—is perhaps the clearest way to test recruits’ loyalty, Gavrilis says. Iraqis also need assistance in developing an effective counterintelligence agency within the police and military that can help root out disloyal forces, Trainor says. In addition, a professional Iraqi officer corps will help ensure loyalty. Building such a system from scratch can take years, experts say. There has been more emphasis placed on training and vetting since June 2004, when the military appointed Army Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus to head the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq, the unit in charge of training Iraqi security forces. But experts say procedures still appear to be inadequate. After the Mosul attacks, U.S. officials announced that a military assessment team led by Army Brigadier General Richard P. Formica would reassess security and vetting procedures, both on bases and within the Iraqi forces. [emphasis added]

Given such realities, I wouldn't be surprised if maintenance of 50,000-100,000 American GIs will be necessitated in Iraq through at least the end of Bush's second term. Nor, frankly, would I be surprised to hear that, behind the scenes and in private, many Iraqi factions would welcome such a continued presence. More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 04:26 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

January 24, 2005

A Secular Iraqi Shia Face

Dexter Filkins:

With the Shiites on the brink of capturing power here for the first time, their political leaders say they have decided to put a secular face on the new Iraqi government they plan to form, relegating Islam to a supporting role.

The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric.

The Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.

"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."

Une bonne nouvelle, as the French would say.

This, however, remains an alarming wild card. Though my money, all told, is still on the Shi'a establishment keeping Sadr on the plantation (but it's a close call).

Posted by Gregory at 04:42 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 22, 2005

Laphamization Watch

...a fine example here (for a definition of Laphamization, go here).

Clearly the folks at the Nation are chomping at the bit to declare the Iraqi elections a failure. In this vein, the editorial is comical, to a fashion. You do, if barely, espy that the Nation's editorialists know the elections still haven't happened ("in the run-up", "upcoming poll") and are still 10 days away. But, via Laphamization, they appear to have made up their minds the elections shall prove an abject failure. Indeed, via clever phrasing, use of tense, and the like--one can skim the piece and really get the feeling the elections have already taken place. And, of course, proven a total failure. I particularly like the first sentence of the second graf ("As conditions deteriorated, it became harder for the Bush Administration to spin the upcoming poll to choose an Iraq National Assembly as a major step toward restoring security"). "As conditions deteriorated." How retrospective! And, some "poll" (you mean, the elections that still haven't happened yet?). It feels like we are casting our eyes backwards, with sorrow alas, at the grisly specter of the apres-"poll" postmortem. Then, quite neatly, the last graf of the piece takes us into February. The Chimp, it seems, is out and about to "demand" another big supplemental from Congress. And by screaming "no more money for war", pace the good folks at the Nation, we would provide the "best example of democracy we could offer the Iraqi people." Those not left to be slaughtered like lemmings, that is, by assorted Baathists, jihadists, terrorists and radicalized militia groupings--given the massive power vacuum that would ensue should American forces pull out precipitously (sorry, in "orderly" fashion) as the Nation--and, reportedly, Ted Kennedy--would recommend.

Posted by Gregory at 01:55 AM | Comments (28)

January 19, 2005

Tales from the Front

A friend in Baghdad writes in....after a bloody day of suicide bombings in the capital city:

“We, we lucky few.” -Henry Vth

Zarqawi destroyed my house this morning. I suppose I shouldn’t take this personally as it wasn’t actually my house, rather one leased by my employer for the accommodation of me and a dozen or so colleagues, but I liked the place. More importantly, and amazingly, no one inside was hurt. I am very, very happy about that. But I am also now personally pissed at Zarqawi.

[name omitted] saved me by stealing the shower before I could turn around from my desk and beat him to the door. I was irritated when he did it, but thankful to him after the fact, because I was shaving around the corner, later than usual, and not at my desk when the car-bomb hit. It comes first as a hollow crack, with force, that makes you instinctively turn away. Then comes a hail of shattered glass. And then comes screaming from somewhere unknown, amidst smoke and a ringing silence, with the confusing imperative to do something, followed by common sense dictating the need to put on some clothes, boots, passport, whatever, and to go find out—where the screaming is coming from, where is everyone else. [name omitted] desk was covered by a curtain, he didn’t answer, but barefoot on broken glass it comes instinctively that you need the boots to do anything else. The smoke and confusion clear—not necessarily in that order. Then something strange happens, and it may have to do with the divine luck of non-casualty. You’re alive, others are alive, and the bad guys failed. More powerful than fear, your blood pumps with the joyousness of survival.

The screaming was [name omitted], the house-boy, and he’s o.k. Moments before the blast, he had delivered three hard-boiled eggs to my desk (which I discovered once I found a pair of gloves and started rooting through the mess for salvageable electronics and scraps of paper bearing names or numbers), and moments ago he delivered us pizza, to our new, less hospitable quarters on the floor of the office, proving that life goes on. And [name omitted] a nice guy. It was his house as much as it was anyone’s that Zarqawi wrecked.

The weird thing was this: when the silence reigned long enough to become dominant, and was the replaced by the quieter resurgence of morning traffic, and we were let out of the safe room to collect essential belongings and hit the streets, then I saw those streets, those quiet, usually empty streets, filled with children playing. As if soaking in the exhuberance of life’s extended lease (or the closure of the local school), parents allowed their children to frolic freely in the road, under the brilliant sun. I’d never seen so many kids on that particular street. Someone has to live here.

According to witnesses, the truck-bomber jumped out of his vehicle of destruction and into a waiting car. Not exactly old school. Ten days and counting.

Game on, asshole.

I think I understand his emotion. And here's hoping he gets to soak "in the exuberance of life's extended lease" as many more times as needed before his time there ends.

Posted by Gregory at 11:45 PM | Comments (5)

January 17, 2005

Army-Rumsfeld Friction

The Army is engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over how to organize troops for "nation-building," a growing problem for the military as it settles in for lengthy occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly other countries.

Rumsfeld wants to shift thousands of civil affairs troops from the Special Operations Command to the regular Army on the theory that the service needs to do better at security and stabilization. This comes as he is pushing other components of the elite Special Operations Command -- such as Navy SEALs and the Army Delta Force -- to focus on aggressive actions against terrorists and other missions.

Officers specializing in civil affairs -- which helps establish local governments in occupied areas, oversees humanitarian assistance and coordinates military activities with aid organizations -- say they oppose the move. They say many officers believe, based in part on their experience in Iraq, that regular combat commanders do not understand their work and do not know how to use them well.

"This is a huge change," said retired Army Col. Michael Hess, who remains active in civil affairs issues and who said he has concerns about it...

...The reorganization also touches on the sensitive issue of the changing role of Special Operations forces since Sept. 11, 2001. Some Special Operations officers feel that under Rumsfeld, short-term "direct action" missions to kill or capture enemies are being overemphasized to the neglect of less dramatic long-term missions, such as training foreign militaries or winning hearts and minds with aid projects. They maintain that those less dramatic missions are sometimes more important. One example, they say, is Iraq, where the U.S. exit strategy turns on training local security forces, an endeavor that has hit frequent bumps.

In recent years, said Robert Andrews, a former official in the Pentagon office overseeing Special Operations, "Our Army Special Forces have been focusing on direct action -- killing or capturing HVTs" -- that is, the "high-value targets" who are key figures in terrorist organizations and Saddam Hussein's deposed regime.

Rumsfeld "wants the SOCOM [Special Operations Command] guys to focus more on kinetic stuff," agreed one civil affairs commander who recently returned from Iraq. Like every other active-duty civil affairs officer interviewed for this article, he declined to be identified because he fears being punished. "The CA [civil affairs] community is really concerned" about the proposed change, he added. "One hundred percent, we want to stay in the Special Operations community."

Historically, civil affairs has been something of a backwater for the military. But since the end of the Cold War, it has served an increasingly prominent role, most notably in peacekeeping and relief operations in northern Iraq in 1991, in Bosnia and Kosovo later in the 1990s and across Iraq and Afghanistan over the past three years. Most recently, civil affairs soldiers have been deployed to Southeast Asia for tsunami relief.

Some civil affairs officers interviewed for this article said they fear Rumsfeld's desire to move them out of Special Operations will only accelerate the trend toward emphasizing Special Operations attack missions. "From my perspective, he's never liked nation-building," said Hess, who helped run such missions in northern Iraq and in Bosnia. He worries that the proposed transfer would "dilute" the effect of civil affairs work. [emphasis added]

Article here.

To be sure, of course, Special Operations personnel need to be well versed in killing HVTs. But, at least equally important, they also need expertise, as the article puts it, in "less dramatic missions" that support nation-building efforts. After all, we know that failed states--whether located in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, or the Caucasus--will continue to be one of the most critical challenges in the stuggle against terrorist groupings in terms of denying them safe havens. Nation-building will, therefore, remain a strategic imperative for many decades to come. On some levels, transfering civil affairs guys out of Special Operations to the regular Army Command sounds like a good idea and one that B.D. would favor (on the theory that the regular Army needs to get more experience in security and stabilization tasks). But, managed like this, I agree with the disgruntled brass who leaked to the Washington Post. Why? Because many regular Army commanders likely don't know how to use these civil affairs units yet (as someone interviewed for the article pointed out). The net effect could well be a further diminishment, at least in the short term, of effectively pursued nation-building efforts in places like Iraq. I could be wrong on this one, and I'm open to hearing from any of you out there with relevant military experience, but I don't think this proposed bureaucratic reorg is a good idea. And I agree with Col. Michael Hess' assessment that, at least in part, this reorg is being pushed by Rumsfeld because he doesn't really take nation-building all that seriously. It smells a bit of get the wussies and kindergarten-builders out of Special Ops--without, unfortunately, having really diligenced how well they will fit into the regular army corps.

On a related topic, read this earlier post too.

Posted by Gregory at 02:35 AM | Comments (18)

January 15, 2005

B.D.'s Contradictions?

Are B.D.'s anti-Kerry musings vis-a-vis the candidate's meekness in taking on Dubya on Abu Ghraib contradictory and ultimately unpersuasive? So sayeth Mark K. But, deep down, he wanted to see more "guts" too.

Posted by Gregory at 05:00 AM | Comments (11)

January 13, 2005

Sullivan Reviews Danner

Andrew has an excellent piece up on the torture/abuse scandals in the New York Times book review. Don't miss his conclusion:

American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents - like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh - were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.

I'm not saying that those who unwittingly made this torture possible are as guilty as those who inflicted it. I am saying that when the results are this horrifying, it's worth a thorough reassessment of rhetoric and war methods. Perhaps the saddest evidence of our communal denial in this respect was the election campaign. The fact that American soldiers were guilty of torturing inmates to death barely came up. It went unmentioned in every one of the three presidential debates. John F. Kerry, the ''heroic'' protester of Vietnam, ducked the issue out of what? Fear? Ignorance? Or a belief that the American public ultimately did not care, that the consequences of seeming to criticize the conduct of troops would be more of an electoral liability than holding a president accountable for enabling the torture of innocents? I fear it was the last of these. Worse, I fear he may have been right.

Me too.

By the by, Kerry's manifest meekness in not effectively joining this issue in the campaign was a major reason I felt he did not deserve my support. He acted the hyper-cautious poll-watcher without any real moral compass. Rumsfeld had 70% support circa. Abu Ghraib, I could hear Kerry thinking. Let's not rock the boat and risk getting goose-hunting, red staters in a tizzy. Except that the patriotic thing to do, of course, was to condemn loudly that inmates in U.S. captivity were beaten to death on several occasions (I'm so sick of hearing about panty-hoses, human pyramids, Eminem appreciations amidst the cranked up AC--people, er, died--they didn't just listen to music, chill out, and play costume party and pile on up on each other for a 'lil giggle).

P.S. Spare me the flames that my position is absurd--ie, voting for the guy who presided over the torture mess--and against his opponent, simply for not condemning it more loudly. This episode was merely one of many (if a significant one for me) revelatory of Kerry's character. Here, in case you missed it then, is a piece on why I supported Bush contra the Massachusetts Senator.

Posted by Gregory at 05:55 AM | Comments (31)

January 02, 2005

A Gloomy Appraisal of Counter-Insurgency Efforts in Sunni Areas

The Economist has a rather depressing article (subscription required) on the state of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq. Apart from wishing everyone a Happy New Year, I should note I've been a tad glib of late (for instance, in some exchanges with Brad De Long) about, for instance, the need for military police in Iraq. It's not that I don't think a bitter mix of forces in theater has been critical all along--it's that Brad sometimes appears to suggest that, by simply waving a wand, myriad European and Arab nations would have contributed major troop/military police deployments. I think a sober analysis of the pre and post war diplomacy manifestly shows we provided our non-participating allies enough openings to make real contributions. It is too often assumed that the effort to get troops was one simply of coercion and bribery, a la Michael Moore school, along with the requisite mention of high-handed unilateralist methods (this is where I think Brad is overly simplistic in his analysis).

Anyway, back to the Economist piece, some keys excerpts below:

There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”

The old man should have read the bilingual notices that American soldiers tack to their rear bumpers in Iraq: “Keep 50m or deadly force will be applied”. In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching within 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: “If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,” says a bullish lieutenant. “It's kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people.”

And not all of them were in cars. Since discovering that roadside bombs, known as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), can be triggered by mobile telephones, marines say they shoot at any Iraqi they see handling a phone near a bomb-blast. Bystanders to an insurgent ambush are also liable to be killed. Sometimes, the marines say they hide near the body of a dead insurgent and kill whoever comes to collect it. According to the marine lieutenant: “It gets to a point where you can't wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody...It gets to a point where you don't mind the bad stuff you do.”

This last sentence sounds like one of those cheap gotcha quotes one often reads in, say, the Guardian--aimed at showcasing how brutish the Yank troops are in Iraq and how they are mucking up the effort--an effort British forces are handling so much better, or so the story goes. But the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute. I doubt the correspondent would have used this quote unless he felt it fairly conveyed the spirit of how U.S. forces on the front-lines are handling attempting to defend themselves amidst a vicious, unconventional guerrilla campaign.


Since September 1st, when the battalion's 800 men were deployed to Ramadi, they have killed 400-500 people, according to one of their senior officers. A more precise estimate is impossible, because the marines rarely see their attackers. When fired upon, they retaliate by blitzing whichever buildings they think the fire is coming from: charred shells now line Ramadi's main streets. “Sometimes it works in the insurgents' favour,” admits Rick Sims, a chief warrant officer. “Because by the time we've shot up the neighbourhood, then the guys have torn up a few houses, they're four blocks away, and we just end up pissing off the locals.”

These brutal actions are what the marines have been trained for. They are superb fighters, among the best infantrymen of the most formidable force ever assembled. They are courteous—at least to their friends—and courageous. Long will this correspondent remember the coolness with which one teenage marine flicked away his cigarette and then the safety-catch on his rifle, as a sniper's bullet zipped overhead. Since arriving in Ramadi, some 20 marines have been killed and 160 wounded by suicide bombs and IEDs, in ambushes and by mortars. Many were on their second seven-month tour of Iraq and, after a seven-month break to retrain and refit, can expect to spend next Christmas there too. Yet their morale was high.

Neither are they, nor any of the American forces accompanied during three weeks in Iraq, short of ingenuity. In Ramadi, the marines have rewritten their training manual for urban warfare. Having been taught to seize towns methodically, block by block—a method more appropriate to Stalingrad than Baghdad—they have learned to patrol at high speed and on foot, sending snipers on to the rooftops ahead, along streets littered with bomb debris and daubed with hostile slogans: “Slow Daeth [sic]” and “America down”.

In Fallujah, 40 miles (64km) east of Ramadi, the marines who survived the fierce assault on the town in November have a sardonic acronym for the skills it taught them: FISH, or Fighting In Someone's House. FISH involves throwing a hand grenade into each room before checking it for unfriendlies, or “Muj”, short for mujahideen, as the marines call them.

America's new war toys are on impressive display. In increasingly stormy northern Iraq, a lightly-armoured troop-carrier, the Stryker, is delivering infantrymen to the battlefield in numbers and at speeds unprecedented. As the Strykers race along, their computers display constantly-updated aerial maps of the surrounding area: a digitising of warfare that has made it virtually impossible for any ally of America to fight high-intensity battles at its side. The army's logistical support, needless to add, is superb. America's 138,000 soldiers and marines in Iraq sleep in smart heated cabins and enjoy tasty food, excellent gymnasiums and internet access.

But, as the article goes on to argue, where we show real skill in war-fighting we are coming up short in peacekeeping (or peacemaking, we might say).

Yet armies can be good at war-fighting or good at peacekeeping but rarely good at both. And when America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise. At peacekeeping, peace-enforcing or policing, call it what you will, they are often inept. Even the best of them seem ignorant of the people whose land they are occupying —unsurprisingly, perhaps, when practically no American fighters speak Arabic. And, typically, the marine battalion in Ramadi has only four translators. Often American troops despair of their Iraqi interlocutors, observing that they “are not like Americans”. American marines and GIs frequently display contempt for Iraqis, civilian or official. Thus the 18-year-old Texan soldier in Mosul who, confronted by jeering schoolchildren, shot canisters of buckshot at them from his grenade-launcher. “It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it,” he explained. Or the marines in Ramadi who, on a search for insurgents, kicked in the doors of houses at random, in order to scream, in English, at trembling middle-aged women within: “Where's your black mask?” and “Bitch, where's the guns?” In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce.

According to army literature, American soldiers should deliver the following message before searching a house: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we must search your house to make sure you are safe from anti-Iraqi forces [AIF].” In fact, many Iraqis are probably more scared of American troops than of insurgents.

Whether or not the insurgency is fuelled by American clumsiness, it has deepened and spread almost every month since the occupation began. In mid-2003, Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, felt able to dismiss the insurgents as “a few dead-enders”. Shortly after, official estimates put their number at 5,000 men, including many foreign Islamic extremists. That figure has been revised to 20,000, including perhaps 2,000 foreigners, not counting the thousands of hostile fighters American and British troops have killed; these are the crudest of estimates.

With insurgents reported to be dispensing criminal justice and levying taxes, some American officers say they run a “parallel administration”. Last month in Mosul, insurgents are reported to have beheaded three professional kidnappers and to have manned road checkpoints dressed in stolen police uniforms. In Tal Afar, farther west, insurgents imposed a 25% cut in the price of meat.

American military-intelligence officers admit their assessments are often little better than guesses. They have but a hazy idea of when and by whom the insurgency was planned, how many dedicated fighters and foreign fighters it involves, who they are, or how much support they command. The scores of terrorists who have blown themselves up in Iraq over the past year are invariably said to be foreign fanatics. But this has almost never been proved.

In bold contrast to his masters in Washington, General George W. Casey Jr, the commander-in-chief of coalition forces in Iraq, credits foreigners with a minimal role in the insurgency. Of over 2,000 men detained during the fighting in Fallujah, fewer than 30 turned out to be non-Iraqi. In Ramadi, the marines have detained a smaller number of foreigners, including a 25-year-old Briton two weeks ago, who claimed to be pursuing “peace work” but whose hands were coated with explosives. Pleased to find an enemy who understood English, marines say they queued up to taunt him; one told him he would be gang-raped in Abu Ghraib.

B.D. has previously discussed here why I think we aren't getting the full scoop on how the insurgency's ranks have deepened and broadened over the past year--and that it consists mostly of Iraqis rather than legions of foreign terrorists and jihadists.

According to official American reports, the insurgency is relatively concentrated: 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are said to see fewer than four attacks on coalition forces per month. But this includes several potentially volatile Shia provinces, like Dhi Qar and Maysan, parts of which are run by the still-armed Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who made mayhem between April and August. Only four provinces—Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninewa—see many more attacks. But as they include the capital city, the third-biggest city (Mosul) and the homeland of most of the country's Sunnis, they are no small problem: the equivalent in the United States might be an insurgency raging in those states that voted Democrat in November, and sporadic lawlessness in many of the rest.

More happily, since the carnage in Fallujah—now deserted and substantially demolished, though still violent—insurgents no longer control any town outright. The Americans estimate that around 1,600 of the enemy were killed in the battle to retake the town; several times that many are thought to have fled, mostly to Baghdad and the northern parts of Babil province.

It is unclear how much this really set back the insurgents. The many spectacular rebel attacks since the recapture of Fallujah show that the Americans have not, as their officials claim, “broken the back of the insurgency”. But it has at least inconvenienced their enemy. Among the treasures found in the town were 400 caches of arms and an ice-cream van kitted out as a mobile car-bomb workshop. In the last three weeks of November, when the battle began, the incidence of car bombs across Iraq dipped from 44 a week, to 33, then 22.

In Ramadi, as in many troubled places, the assault on Fallujah was marked by a sudden spike in violence, followed by a relative lull. After a bloody September and October—when the marines faced up to nine IEDs a day and fought street battles with, they reckon, scores of insurgents at a time, and when most of Ramadi's inhabitants fled—the past month has yielded roughly one IED every few days, and a handful of serious ambushes.

This may be because night-time temperatures have fallen to freezing, or because Ramadi's marines were reinforced by an army battalion. But it may also reflect a shift in the insurgency's character.

Midway through the past year—in July, in Ramadi—the insurgents began increasingly to seek softer targets, especially Iraqi security forces, Iraqis working for coalition forces, American supply convoys and the oil infrastructure. In November, one in four American supply convoys was ambushed. Three months ago, American officials overseeing reconstruction in Mosul were lobbied by 30 Iraqi contractors in an average day; now, they struggle to find even one brave enough to accept their dollars. A low helicopter flight over the Kirkuk oilfield, Iraq's second-biggest, presented a scene from the Book of Revelation: each of seven oil wells was marked by a tower of orange flame, meeting in a canopy of dense black smoke.

Starker still is the cost in lives. In the first nine months of 2004, 721 Iraqi security forces (ISF) were killed, according to figures compiled by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank; in October, the figure was 779. The surge of violence in Mosul at the start of the Fallujah campaign has not abated; the city's police are the main victims. On November 10th and 11th, rebels devastated almost all the city's police stations, after the 4,000-strong police force had fled. Around 200 dead policemen and ISF members, usually beheaded, have since been dumped about the city. Its American contingent is also under unprecedented attack. On December 21st, at lunchtime, 18 Americans were killed by a suicide bomber in an army mess-tent in Mosul.

Barely six months ago, Mosul was one of the most tranquil spots in Iraq. Now it is one of the most violent, and least policed. It may be no coincidence that, until last January, around 20,000 American troops were billeted in and around the city and led by a most dynamic commander. With troops urgently required elsewhere, they were replaced by 8,500 soldiers, around 700 of whom were diverted to Fallujah and Baghdad.

Again, insurgents will flock to areas not under robust American control--ie, where we have too few boots on the ground. As General Abizaid just mentioned last week--he counts Mosul in the 'too few boots on the ground' column.

Finally, the Economist article goes on to quote a leading military commander in Iraq to the effect that we've been forced to de-prioritize the struggle for "hearts and minds" right now:

Thus harried, American commanders have abandoned the pretence of winning the love of Iraqis ahead of the scheduled vote. “Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections,” says General Casey. “This is not about winning hearts and minds; we're not going to do that here in Iraq. It's about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves.”

But that goal is not easy to achieve either:

That could be possible if Iraqis would only accept the opportunity America is offering—which is not the case in Ramadi, for example. Though the city has more than 4,000 police, they refuse to work alongside American forces. According to the marines, the police's sole act of co-operation is to collect wounded insurgents from their base. For most of the past four months, Anbar has had no provincial administration, since the governor resigned after his children were kidnapped. Elsewhere, America's forces are incapable of giving Iraqis the security they crave because, quite simply, there aren't enough of them.

Consider western Ninewa, a vast desert area dotted with fiercely xenophobic towns and ending in over 200 miles of unfenced border with Syria. America has 800 soldiers there. Yet they are barely able to subjugate the town of Tal Afar, outside which they are based. In September, American forces fought a battle (in style, a prelude to the retaking of Fallujah) to wrest it back from insurgent control after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian fanatic, was reported to be preaching in the town's mosques. Over 80 civilians were killed in the crossfire and 200 buildings flattened. In November, insurgents blew up the town's police stations. The local police chief and his bodyguards are the only police still working; he changes his disguise several times a day.

I've not the excerpted article in full, so click though and read the whole thing if you're a subscriber. It ends on this rather gloomy note:

Little surprise that the Americans had not visited the nearby smugglers' town of Baij in force for three months, until they rode there one recent night in a convoy of 1,000 troops, with Apache attack helicopters flying overhead. The target was three houses in the town centre which signal intelligence had linked to Mr Zarqawi's group. The Americans had no further intelligence to support their mission except that provided by an informant from the local Ayzidi tribe, America's main ally in the area. This source claimed there was a wounded Yemeni rebel in the town. “I think it should be a great operation,” said Colonel Robert Brown, beforehand. “I think a lot of folks from Fallujah have gone there and we need to go there.”

There was no one in the three targeted houses bar women and children. Baij's police station had been blown up and its police had fled. The town's English-speaking former mayor, Abdullah Fahad, was frank about the town's allegiances. “There are terrorists here, not from Syria, not from Mosul, but from Baij. Some are Baathists and some are Islamists and before they hated each other but now they work together, and they tell people that if they don't work with them they will kill them.”

Mr Fahad, who claimed to have survived several assassination attempts and whose son had been kidnapped, refused to help the Americans on the grounds that he would be murdered if he did. When the American commander offered to protect him, he replied: “Thank you, but you are not always here. This is the first time I have ever seen you.” Whereupon the American troops labelled Mr Fahad a “bad guy”, and debated whether to detain him.

Instead, they detained 70 men from districts identified by their informant as “bad”. In near-freezing conditions, they sat hooded and bound in their pyjamas. They shivered uncontrollably. One wetted himself in fear. Most had been detained at random; several had been held because they had a Kalashnikov rifle, which is legal. The evidence against one man was some anti-American literature, a meat cleaver and a tin whistle. American intelligence officers moved through the ranks of detainees, raising their hoods to take mugshots: “One, two, three, jihaaad!” A middle-tier officer commented on the mission: “When we do this,” he said, “we lose.”

We will be looking at some of the issues raised in this article in greater detail in the coming days.

Posted by Gregory at 05:44 PM | Comments (37)

December 28, 2004

Berkeley Provincialism Watch

Oh, Brad.

Bush administration policy in Iraq is driven by three "nots":

--They will not ask America for even the kind of low-level mobilization, the tax increases and the call-ups, necessary to support 300,000+ American troops--including many Arabic-speakers--in Iraq.

--They will not hand over enough of a share of control over Iraq policy to entice our allies to contribute the troops and the Arabic-speaking military police that we need.

--They will not acknowledge that people trained in development and competent at management are more qualified to run the U.S. operation in Iraq than are Republican loyalists and activists from DuPont Circle.

Brad thinks the world would be so much better if Simone Ledeen hadn't gotten a gig with the CPA, our taxes went up (always a splendid idea), and we "entice[d]" Jacques and Gerhard to play ball in Iraq (how exactly, mon cher Brad?). Toss in having varied potentates and satrapies of the Middle East send in their mukhabarat so as to better police restive Sunni areas like Tikrit and Fallujah. And, voila, all would be swell!

The good professor trots out all the predictable soundbites about how Republican loyalists are running Iraq (a quick look at the staff of Negroponte's Embassy would disprove such claptrap speedily), that France and Germany would have rushed to send in large contingents if we had played out Turtle Bay and hunkered down with Dominique and Joshka for a wee bit longer so as to "entice" (while, of course, 200,000 troops cooled their heels in Kuwait waiting for Dom to give us the all clear), and that more Arabic speakers in theater would prove some grand panacea. (Memo to Brad: We've been doing this last already--as the ICG report linked here makes clear).

His commenters obviously eat the slop he dishes out with alacrity. Bully for them. But they're shouting in an echo chamber going through ye olde talking points that get the crowds all chest-thumpy in precincts Berkeley and Cambridge. No one mentions, for instance, the good faith efforts to have NATO get more involved in Iraq. Not to mention the provision of greater authority to the U.N. in Iraq--witness the Brahimi-led electoral machinations. I agree with Brad, of course, that we never sent in enough troops to Iraq. The Pentagon's post-war assumptions proved risible indeed. And the lack of accountability for such abysmal misteps is just shy of FUBAR. But the Pentagon no longer control the process as much as they did before. Mid-course corrections have taken place with greater input from State and other agencies. More will doubtless follow.

Does De Long do any of us favors by resorting to Mooreian sound-bites to get his readers in an anti-Chimp-in-Chief frenzy? The reality is that we are beyond "enticing" Old Europe to send in divisions. This is our, and to a lesser extent, the U.K's problem for the foreseeable future. We are going to have to deal with it as best we can. Empty chatter about how all the plum CPA jobs have gone to Republican K Street meanies or how we flubbed the pre-war diplomacy (mostly untrue, in my view) doesn't really add much to the debate, does it?

CLARIFICATION and UPDATE: Some readers seems to have interpreted my mention of Simone Ledeen as a critique of her. For the record, and contra some of her cheap critics like Paul Krugman, let me state for the record that I respect her courage in serving her country under such dangerous conditions.

As for Brad's comment that my post is not "serious", let me say this. First, note I've agreed with Brad that we didn't send enough troops in theater. And, to be fair, my statement re: taxes was a tad flip (Brad has thrown some ribald epingles in my direction too of late). But all Brad's other points, and I say this with respect, display a sad lack of knowledge regarding the state of the European and Arab world's appetite to make real commitments in Iraq. Brad's notion of better 'enticements' to secure their participation is just shy of risible. To put all the blame on Bush for not having secured troop commitments from the likes of Germany and France misses the point. True, Cheney wanted to ditch the whole U.N. process surrounding Resolution 1441. But Bush, pursuant to Blair and Powell's advice, went down that road. And for real, not merely as theater. The French and Germans were more consumed by constraining U.S. power, at all costs, than any real judgement re: Iraq on the merits. Recall too, at that time, many of us believed Iraq did possess ("slam dunk"!) significant WMD stockpiles. Indeed, many smart people (Fareed Zakaria, Ken Pollack, Leon Wieseltier, Andrew Sullivan) thought that we had a valid casus belli in Iraq pursuant to a variety of U.N. resolutions, the changed strategic environment post 9/11, and Saddam's unique record of having used WMD against his own people and having consistently proven a more reckless strategic blunderer than, say, Kim Jong Il or the Iranian mullahs (witness his ill-fated Iranian and Kuwaiti adventures, the "Kurdish Hiroshima" of Halabja, to use Samantha Power's phrase, the genocidal-like rampages against Shi'a Marsh Arabs in the south). Brad, diplomat extraordinaire, perhaps can clue us in to how Powell might better have 'enticed' Old Europe to play ball in Iraq. I doubt he will come up with convincing fare, however. That's not too serious either. It's more by way of breezy carping from the sidelines.

Re: all this talk of military police coming from Arab countries, it's very much worth noting that it would be a terrible idea to have any states bordering Iraq provide troops. Regular readers know how vociferously I oppposed Turkish troops in theater. While non-Arab, and supposed to patrol Sunni areas, I was highly alarmed that a conflagration would result as they moved their troops through Kurdish areas. The Turks clearly would have been up to much mischief up and down their supply lines to consolidate Turkish influence, constrain Kurdish aspirations, protect the Turkomen. Ditto Saudis and Jordanians and Syrians would be highly distrusted by the Shi'a. Would non-neighboring Egyptian or, say, Morroccan or even Malaysian military police have been helpful? All told, the impact would have been minimal in my view. And it's not like the insurgents wouldn't have been just as happy to murder Egyptian 'collaborators' than U.S. or U.K. or Iraqi ones, of course.

Turning to Brad's contention that the CPA is being run by a bunch of mindless Republican loyalists, duds, cretins, and so on--sorry, but no sale. As even articles critical of the CPA on this score make clear:

The vast majority of the CPA's 2,500 employees are nonpartisan - mostly military personnel tasked to the operation, or ex-diplomats and civil service employees from a variety of countries.

The fact that Dan Senor worked at Carlyle for a spell or that Ari Fleischer's brother worked with the CPA doesn't make Brad's point. Besides, bodies were needed, weren't they? Should we have sent the Berkeley faculty in instead (only those with nation-building experience, bien sur)? Regardless, we Americans, always averse to talk of Empire, don't have a colonial administrative corps or such. Yes, regional experts at State should have gotten a bigger role from the get-go. But Garner got the heave-ho pretty quickly, and was replaced by a diplomat. And now Negroponte runs the show. Brad, please point me to the Republican loyalists in Negroponte's inner circle? Who are they?

Anyway, this is really all quibbling over spilt milk. My point, that Brad still hasn't deigned to address, was my contention that Bush was and remains, as compared to Kerry, more serious about seeing the Iraq project through. Kerry, throughout the campaign, displayed an, er, unseriousness about this monumental task that was extremely worrying. Bush might still eff it up; but at least he's giving it a real try. I was never convinced Kerry would; and Brad hasn't enlightened us to how he might have. After all, Joe Lockhart's comments that Allawi was a Bush "puppet" played right into the insurgent's handbook, as did all but announcing to the enemy that our troops would be pulled out within 4 years, or all the talk about "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" (great for the morale of our troops on the front-lines, eh!) For more on why I had doubts about Kerry, be sure to go here and here.

Posted by Gregory at 05:50 PM | Comments (43)

December 25, 2004

Iraq: What Next?

According to a Robin Wright/Thomas Ricks WaPo piece, we hear that Colin Powell recently stated, during a teleconference with Bush and Blair, that he believes we have (or had?) too few troops in the Iraq theater.

Accounts differ about the details of Powell's remarks. One U.S. official said that Powell flatly stated: "We don't have enough troops. We don't control the terrain."

But a senior State Department official familiar with the exchange said that Powell was less pointed, raising the issue in the context of continuing conversations that focused on the turmoil in the Sunni Triangle, the Iraqi elections scheduled for next month, and the shape and size of the U.S.-led military presence in the country. This official said Powell spoke about the size not only of the U.S. presence but also of the British and Iraqi forces.

"They were talking about the security situation," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of ongoing diplomacy. "They asked Powell his opinion."

The secretary of state, who is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded by invoking his background as an infantry officer. He said the key task in warfare is to dominate the ground and control the situation. Overall, Powell concluded, according to this official, the number of troops -- U.S., coalition and Iraqi -- was insufficient to ensure such control.

The conversation, which took place on the fifth day of a major U.S. offensive to retake Fallujah, then turned to the issue of Iraqi security forces and the troubles that have been encountered in developing local forces that have confidence and leadership. "They looked especially at the training and how they could expand the Iraqi forces -- and that the situation would be difficult until they could do that," the State Department official said. "The emphasis was on getting Iraqi forces."

Both officials who discussed the meeting noted that the president a few weeks later decided to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in an effort to improve security before the Iraqi elections, scheduled for the end of January. It is not clear how much Powell's comments influenced that decision. Nor is it clear whether the boost in troop strength by 12,000 has fully addressed Powell's concerns.

In addition, Maj. Isaiah Wilson III, the official historian of Operation Iraqi Freedom, had this to say recently on the issue of troop levels:

"The scarcity of available 'combat power' . . . greatly complicated the situation," he states. Wilson contends that a lack of sufficient troops was a consequence of the earlier, larger problem of failing to understand that prevailing in Iraq involved more than just removing Hussein. "This overly simplistic conception of the 'war' led to a cascading undercutting of the war effort: too few troops, too little coordination with civilian and governmental/non-governmental agencies . . . and too little allotted time to achieve 'success,' " he writes.

Still, let's put the whole troop level question to the side for the moment. Frankly, I'm sick of arm-chair generaling (or, perhaps more apropos, of getting chastised by myriad commenters for arm-chair generaling). And one could make an argument that Colin Powell, (worth noting, perhaps, that despite the fact that he's oft-portrayed as some flower child-like, tree-hugger, he's got significantly more military experience than, say, Don Rumsfeld) is satisfied with the increase from 138,000 to 150,000 (though I doubt it, very much). As for the army historian, it's not necessarily clear he's talking about our current force posture. Maybe he thinks 150,000 troops is the right number now (though again, I doubt it strongly). Regardless, what I do think is virtually undeniable and widely accepted by serious observers is that, at least during the initial phase of the war, we never fielded the requisite overwhelming force to create, if even in the short to mid-term, secure conditions in Iraq. So much for 'shock and awe.'

A much harder question now, of course, is whether we have too few, the right number, or, even, too many troops in theater. Rather than guess-timate from the proverbial armchair, however, I'm going to instead describe what I view as the most pressing challenges that currently face us in Iraq--as well as some of what I think we have to potentially prepare for down the pike a little ways. Let's then have a more intelligent debate about what force posture is needed in theater assuming some of my assessments/observations are deemed credible, cogent, appropriate.

Let me preface the below with a few general thoughts. One, the challenges facing policy-makers in Iraq right now are immense. There are simply no quick fixes (more troops!) or easy answers (Iraqify!). Second, we must be immensely proud of the efforts and courage shown by the vast majority of U.S. military forces in Iraq. They have accomplished much in the face of tremendous adversity and hugely challenging circumstances. They deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. And third, contra much of the predictable hyperbole, this Administration has sometimes made mid-course corrections that show that they are well capable of learning from prior mistakes (increased Arabic speakers in the field, greater attention to cultural issues, seeking negotiated outcomes with Sadr's forces rather than simply going about flattening cities willy-nilly, fostering better policy-making coordination between State and Defense--ie., improving on the Bremer-Sanchez dynamic).

Unfortunately, however, an overly large dose of stubborness has too often been a hallmark of this Administration as well. There is simply too much by way of "stay on message"--ie. relax: elections are coming, Iraqi forces are being speedily trained, hospital construction is continuing apace, kindergarten attendance is on the rise, all will turn out swimmingly after the inevitable lil' bumps in the road. Don't get me wrong. Conviction and steadfastness are critical. But so is a more balanced and, yes, nuanced view of what is occurring on the ground. As this must-read International Crisis Group report on Iraq puts it (regarding Iraqi perceptions of the occupation):

It is not at all clear that senior administration officials have fully internalised the scope of the attitudunal shift. While privately acknowledging missteps and growing impatience with the presence of coalition troops, they also take solace in various indications that progress is being made and that the bulk of the population rejects violence, supports elections and is at worst a passive spectator of -- as opposed to an active sympathizer in -- the insurgents' campaign. Criticising the U.S. and international media's tendency to highlight all that goes wrong, they point in particular to polling results (suggesting, for instance, that some 88 per cent of the people plan to take part in the elections and roughly 76 per cent believe their results are "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to reflect the popular will); increased enrolment in Iraq's security forces; the apparently successful pacification of Najaf since late August and of Sadr City since mid-October; or the absence of popular demonstrations against the harsh military re-occupation of Falluja in late 2004.

Ah, the glass looks so full and sunny. But aren't there different narratives afoot? Put differently, isn't it time for the Administration to dampen down its too breezy recitations about hospitals rebuilt, schools re-opened, refugees "voting with their feet" by heading home? There is, of course, much good news. Admirable blogospheric personages like Arthur Chrenkoff point this out, in regular dispatches that are remarkable for their frequent non-trivialness and real import. Still, however, we need to focus on grappling with a fuller picture, no? So I offer the below observations in this, I hope, constructive vein. I look at our current problems in Iraq, as well as what might become problematic post-elections, with a view to what this might mean for our policies there.

1) We are failing in the battle to win the proverbial "hearts and minds" of many Iraqis, particularly in embattled Sunni areas (but not only there), because we cannot reconstruct areas quickly enough to showcase the prospective fruits of cooperation with the interim authority and coalition forces. There was recently an excellent WSJ article (no link available) describing this problem with regard to Fallujah. And this article helps sketch how complex the "hearts and minds" battle is in Shi'a Sadr City--despite all the valiant efforts underway there. This problem might get worse if security conditions cause more contractors to leave the country.

2) The insurgency does not merely consist of Baathist "dead-enders," on the one hand, and jihadists, Salafists, and other assorted radical Islamists (collectively, "terrorists") on the other. Unfortunately, our failure to better provide for secure conditions from the outset of the Iraq campaign has, not only emboldened these actors, but also led to more Iraqis supporting them (even if just passively) than might have been otherwise. From the aforementioned International Crisis Group report:

Of all the indicators touted by Washington, lack of support for the insurgency arguably is the most deceptive. Given the revolting methods to which militants have resorted, the insurgents' terribly damaging impact on reconstruction efforts, and their failure to articulate any realistic political program, popular passivity ought to be read as a worrisome rather than hopeful sign -- a symptom of resentment toward the U.S. and of lack of faith in the restoration of sovereignty.

In a series of visits to Iraq over the course of the past year, Crisis Group was struck by the degree to which citizen inertia had allowed the armed opposition to transform and develop itself. For the most part, it began as a grab-bag of poorly organised, isolated and divided groups facing a sceptical population aspiring to calm and ready to give the U.S. a chance. Iraqis condemned the methods and motives of home-grown insurgents, even when they were seen as settling scores with a foreign invader, and militants, therefore, were compelled to maintain a low profile. Islamist militants from abroad often stood accused of acting against Iraqi interests and feared being turned in at any time.

But the fear insurgents once felt has progressively declined, and they now operate with increased ease among a supportive or subdued population. Today, the insurrection is relatively well coordinated and structured, at least in its Arab-Sunni dimension; even those groups that don't work together communicate; even those that don't share the same background have agreed to join in a similar religious, Islamist discourse. For increasing numbers of Iraqis, disenchanted with both the U.S. and their own leaders and despairing of their poor living conditions, solace is found in the perceived world of a pious and heroic resistance. CDs that picture the insurrection's exploits can readily be found across the country, new songs glorify combatants, and poems written decades ago during the post-World War I British occupation are getting a new lease on life.
The ease with which insurgents operate in cities such as Baghdad and their ability to re-deploy outside sanctuaries reoccupied by coalition forces illustrates the degree to which they can move around and find refuge within the civilian population

During a September 2004 visit, Crisis Group witnessed sustained mortar attacks against the Green Zone launched with impunity from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Karrada on the other side of the Tigris river. Whereas at first insurgents would quickly disperse after their attacks, they gradually gained confidence, as if increasingly secure in the support or more likely silence of ordinary Iraqis. The horrific fate of those kidnapped in broad daylight by well-equipped armed groups and then passed on from one cell to another is yet additional proof of the insurgents' freedom of action and potency. [ed. note: Add to this a more recent example, the slaughter of election officials, in broad daylight, by unmasked thugs virtually masquerading in front of large streams of incoming traffic and, indeed, media reps who may have been invited to take in the lugubrious show.)

Yes, most Iraqis are doubtless pragmatists who wish to exercise their vote, get on with some semblance of quotidian existence, and hold out hope for a better future for themselves, their families, and their country. There is probably still, all told, a silent majority that is not completely alienated by the American project (and certainly a majority that don't want the Americans out just yet given fears of the chaos that would ensue). But months upon months of lack of order have led to obvious disenchantment in many quarters so that the insurgency has clearly grown in depth over the past year. I count here those who are remaining neutral by not cooperating with American and interim authority intelligence-gathering efforts, as well as those assisting the insurgents in direct fashion (I should add that I don't think the ICG broaches what we might call the fear factor in all of this. While there is much distrust and dislike of the occupation per the above--there is also the fact that, through grisly footage of beheadings and the like, the insurgents have often been successful in cowing potential intelligence sources as well. Such people may wish to assist the Americans but are simply too scared to).

Turning to the post-election scene, add these as troublesome factors that merit serious consideration by policymakers and military planners too:

3) Moktada al-Sadr's militia, whilst relatively quiescent of late (cooling its heels pre-election), could rejoin the fight in the New Year should it feel muscled out of power arrangements by competing Shi'a factions in the elections. Put another way, we simply cannot assume that we will continue to wage a battle solely against Sunni elements in 2005. Yes, the Shi'a will be assuming power and will be very busy with assorted political machinations thereto. Yes, it is therefore perhaps likelier than not that the Shi'a will not resort to arms. But Sadr remains a definite wild card. Caution would suggest assuming Mahdi militia may take up arms again. So our going forward force structure should reflect that nettlesome contingency.

Here's more on this from the ICG report:

The October 2004 Sadr City disarmament campaign is another example. Celebrated by the administration, it is widely discredited in Iraq and the subject of heavy sarcasm: Sadr City inhabitants joked to Crisis Group about militants handing over old, damaged and often unusable material before turning around and purchasing higher quality arms on the black market. Only token searches appear to have been conducted, and militia seem to be waiting for the outcome of the January 2005 elections before deciding whether to resume their armed opposition.

4) Inter-communal strife could erupt in 2005 or 2006, forcing American intermediation of belligerents or an American role as guarantor of shaky inter-ethnic power arrangements. Such highly sensitive work cannot be done by airpower and light special forces alone, it's perhaps worth noting. As regular readers know, I've been slightly more optimistic than Les Gelb in thinking that a civil war in Iraq is not inexorably in the making. But, of course, such a scenario cannot be wholly discounted. Not by a long shot. We must be in a position to stave off hyper-nationalistic Kurdish irredentist aspirations, Shia revanchism (the Shi'a, er, have a few sour grapes to settle with assorted Sunnis) and/or Baathist restorationisism.

5) The state of the "train and equip" effort is not particularly inspiring--as the President, uncharacteristically, admitted recently. Rumsfeld likes to routinely quote and update the number of newly trained Iraqi soldiers. It's reminiscent of all the McNamara-esque, statistics-obsessed number dumps we've seen before. What good are these 100,000 troops if they do not feel a sense of national solidarity, or are conflicted between their allegiancies to the insurgency and the American-trained army, or have had some of their units infiltrated by Iranian, fundamentalist and/or Baathist agents, or are too heavily Kurdish peshmerga when sent into action in Sunni areas? From the ICG report (much more at p. 9 of this report re: the problems with "train and equip"):

Increased coalition casualties and growing impatience in the U.S. coupled with Iraqi resentment at the presence of foreign troops have built pressure to form an indigenous army expeditiously. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, debates about the numbers of trained Iraqi forces raged, each side endorsing the principle that this was an important barometer of success. Yet, as discussed above, while important, the sheer quantity of trained troops hardly constitutes a reliable measure of progress. The objective ought not to be to put an Iraqi face on coalition operations but rather to alter popular perceptions of those operations. Even assuming proper training, so long as Iraqi troops are being formed for the express purpose of supplementing coalition forces and alleviating their burden -- rather than as the expression of a nationally-defined project -- this will remain a serious problem. The U.S. "needs to get over the idea that one trained and equipped Iraqi soldier can replace one U.S. soldier....We need to support them rather than see them as supplementing or supplanting U.S. forces". Without an overarching cause to defend -- an independent and sovereign Iraqi state -- and faith in a better future, Iraqi troops are likely to advance their own parochial interests and evince at best an erratic sense of allegiance.

Indeed. This "train and equip" effort, in my view, needs to be measured over a three to five year time horizon--not six months or a year. B.D. will be investigating the quality of the train and equip effort in greater detail in coming weeks. Particularly as I sense Rumsfeld is very likely (given his recent comments in Mosul) to push a too hasty Iraqification process down our throats and declare that the job is done. It won't be. At least not if you care about forging a true, if imperfect, viable democracy in a unitary Iraq. Which Rumsfeld evidently doesn't. No, that doesn't mean he doesn't want us to "win." But how he apparently defines winning and how people more interested in a real, good faith effort at Iraqi democratization define victory are, shall we say, different animals.

This portion of the ICG report is worth highlighting too, with respect to the 'train and equip' effort:

Pressed by immediate security demands, the CPA sped up formation of Iraq's security forces and relied on politically-affiliated militias. As Crisis Group commented in late 2003, the rushed, haphazard and often improvised effort, dictated in large part by the urgency of showing progress in the "Iraqification" of security, ironically undermined any notion of a credible, legitimate national institution. Instead, Iraqis viewed their security forces as either subordinate to the U.S., atomised and politicised outgrowths of tribes and militias, or both. Crisis Group warned: A military viewed as neither credible nor national and that is poorly trained, divided along ethnic and sectarian lines and in which politicised militias play a part is not the ideal foundation upon which to construct a stable, legitimate political system. The CPA's relatively cavalier approach to the old and new armies and the security structure as a whole sends the wrong message as to how seriously it reads the transfer of sovereignty. The effects of costly decisions taken for reasons of short-term expediency continue to be felt. Defections from various security branches, particularly when Iraqis are confronted with insurgent assaults, continue at an alarming rate, whether in Falluja or Najaf during the mid-2004 battles, or more recently in Mosul. Over reliance on political party militias also has proceeded apace, driven by the perceived urgency of fielding more Iraqi forces. Resort to Kurdish peshmergas -- affiliated with the two principal Kurdish parties -- to fight in Arab areas has been particularly widespread, and acutely resented, most notably in Mosul where ethnic tensions already are raw. Following the deployment of Kurdish fighters as part of rudimentary Iraqi forces during the (aborted) assault on Falluja in April 2004, Kurdish residents of that city (who had been compelled to settle there by the Baathist regime after the collapse of Mulla Mustafa's Kurdish insurgency in 1975) were forced out. Separate units of Iraqi combatants also have been set up by the U.S., leading to situations in which exclusively Shiite forces, paid by the U.S. and wearing U.S. uniforms, are deployed against predominantly Sunni insurgents, with serious consequences for inter-sectarian relations.

U.S. officials in Iraq evidently are aware of these difficulties. General Petraeus, who was put in charge of setting up Iraqi forces, by all accounts has done a remarkable job seeking to address problems, focusing in particular on recruitment and training improvements. But at this point the problem runs far deeper and relates to the overall context of the war and the lack of credibility of the transition process. Even assuming vastly improved training, Iraqi forces will operate in an environment in which there is, as of now, no national cohesion, loyalty to a central state, or belief in an independent political structure and in which basic security decisions (from recruitment criteria to rules of engagement to military doctrine) continue to be made by the U.S.

Again folks, think years--not months--before an Iraqi Army will be ready for prime time.

So what to make of all this gloom and doom? The ICG'ers thinks a crisis of legitimacy is in the offing:

The Iraqi government is seen as a poor appendage to the occupation forces, lacking genuine security forces, institutional capacity, or independence. Ministers, rather than technocrats chosen on the basis of expertise, are seen as selected to perpetuate the distribution of power to former exile parties and allocate positions on a sectarian basis. Reports of rampant corruption further tarnish the new leadership, while a legacy of bureaucratic apathy, nepotism, and clientelism thwarts performance of ministries. Notwithstanding the formal end of the occupation, a series of decrees issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) remain in effect. In this context, the notion of sovereignty has rapidly lost credibility and the milestones on the path toward its achievement have lost meaning. The process of transition -- seen in theory as a cure to the U.S. lack of legitimacy in Iraqi eyes -- itself suffers from the same infirmity and, indeed, aggravates it.

So, what to do, if one agrees with this assessment? "Dual disengagement" opines the ICG (ed. note: a play on the old "dual containment" Iran/Iraq policies of yore?). ICG describes "dual disengagement" thus: "a gradual U.S. political and military disengagement from Iraq and, no less important, a clear Iraqi political disengagement from the U.S. The new Iraqi state must define itself at least partially in opposition to U.S. policies or it runs the risk of defining itself in opposition to many of its own citizens."

More on the merits (or demerits) of such a policy prescription soon. But my first take is, I think, no sale. On the U.S. military side, and basically, the ICG wants us to scale back our forces into garrisons so that we have less of an 'occupation footprint.' They would be 'over the horizon' and called in when sh*t hits the fan. Problem is, of course, won't it be more likely that more trouble will ensue if our units are retrenched into an overly conservative force posture? (The other side of the disengagement coin, of which more another day, is how the Iraqi government needs to disengage from the U.S.).

So, there is a lot to digest in this post. Bottom line: reconstruction is not proceeding quickly enough to show Iraqis the fruits of cooperating with the coalition; the insurgency derives support from a broader swath of the Iraqi polity than Washington lets on; 'train and equip' is in its very early stages so talk of near term Iraqification is B.S. (if you care about seeing this project through); plus contingencies (Sadr, ethnic tensions, etc) loom.

Given all this, what troop mix/number is the best? Frankly, sometimes I feel I just don't know anymore. On the one hand, I am tempted to say we need to get as many forces as we can back in theater to try to, once and for all, get a better handle on security (this is what Abizaid evidently thinks we need to do now in Mosul; but the extra troops he transfers there will make another spot vulnerable). Against this, however, is the ICG's "disengagement" theme. Pouring more soldiers into Iraq would send the wrong signal--playing into Iraq conspiracy think that we view Iraq as a permanent American garrison in Mesopotamia. But having our troops 'over the horizon' with Iraqi forces taking the lead--won't that provide the insurgents too many opportunities to scuttle the democratization project--given that Iraqi forces are simply not ready to take on these responsibilities? My head and my gut tell me we need more forces in Iraq, not less. Still, I could be wrong. And I'm not a military man (though I did work on the Bosnian Federation "train and equip" program--which took at least three-four years, it should be noted).

NB: On the whole 'do we have enough troops meme, don't miss this footnote from the ICG report:

We would have to do what we did in Falluja all across Iraq -- and we would need a U.S. soldier on every street corner". Crisis Group interview with U.S. official, Washington, November 2004. Evidence of insufficient numbers of troops abounds. Thus, the fighting in Najaf up to late August 2004 required participation of troops from as far away as Mosul, creating security vacuums in other areas, such as Latifiya, which armed insurgents quickly invested. A military analyst also remarked on the connection between troop levels and reconstruction efforts: "there are insufficient military resources to even keep contractors safe". Crisis Group interview, Washington, October 2004. The debate about the appropriate number of troops is a recurring one that began at the war's outset. General Shinseki, General Abizaid, and even Paul Bremer at one point or another stated their views that far more troops were necessary in the immediate post-war period. While objections often were couched in technical terms -- with some observers questioning whether enough troops were available -- military analysts tend to agree that at a minimum a more robust deployment coupled with some restructuring in existing deployments elsewhere was feasible.

In cogitating about required force levels, btw, we should also start thinking about shifting the methods and priorities of our counter-insurgency campaign. Fallujah, in my view, cannot really be said to have proven a clean victory.

Yet, while arguably necessary, the re-occupation of Falluja -- whose very establishment as a sanctuary derived in no small part from early U.S. mistakes -- also was essentially futile, as evidenced by the rash of deadly bombings that accompanied and followed an operation officially said to have "broken the back" of the insurgency. The offensive reflected once more the dominant notion of a numerically fixed and, in this case, territorially-confined, enemy that is inherently external to the population and whose physical destruction is equated with the insurgency's defeat. Instead, the devastation of city infrastructure, failure to immediately resettle and compensate civilians fleeing impending hostilities, the use of tactics reminiscent of Israeli ones to most Iraqi minds, and the indiscriminate handling of all men between the ages of fifteen and 55 during the offensive (denied exit, water, electricity and aid ) risk both further alienating the town's citizens (supposedly among the intended beneficiaries of the operation) and being used by insurgents as propaganda tools in the battle for hearts and minds (purportedly the principal target of any counter-insurgency war). To this day, food is missing in refugee camps where Fallujans experience scant governmental assistance, the relocation of those who fled has been delayed and hampered by draconian security measures, and Iraqi security forces initially meant to secure and police the city remain unprepared. What is more, thousands displaced from the city and camping out in Baghdad mosques have become prime targets for insurgent recruiters.
Fallujah aside, and assuming more troops are deemed necessary, where will all these forces come from, you complain. As Frederick Kagan put it:
It was apparent to some as long ago as the mid-1990s that the American Army was too small. The urgency of that problem has been clear to many since September 11. The time lost in increasing the Army to proper strength cannot be regained, but we can mitigate the dangerous consequences for an uncertain future if we start now. President Bush should use the election mandate he received to take the next bold step in the war for democracy and against terrorism. He should insist upon an immediate and dramatic increase in the size of our armed forces to allow them to carry out his wise determination to prevail in Iraq and in the war on terror.

Some question whether the necessary increase, perhaps 200,000 new troops or more, can be reached without a new draft. The historical evidence suggests it can. In 1985, the active Army numbered more than 780,000 men and women. As late as 1991, there were more than 750,000 soldiers. Today there are around 500,000 troops in the active Army. Even at the height of the Reagan economic boom and in the waning days of the Cold War, the volunteer force mustered more than 250,000 troops above the current level. The threat now is just as great and more imminent. If the president called upon the American people to show their support not by flying yellow ribbons but by joining the Army, there is no reason to believe that they would not do so.

The best way to save the Army from collapse under strains too great to bear, the best way to prepare the nation for the long, hard struggles that lie ahead, is to return the Army to the size it maintained throughout the end of the last long, hard struggle. This task will take time, resources, skill, and determination. It will suffer from the time already lost. But the problems and dangers only increase when little is done to address this vital component of an effective strategy for fighting the war on terror.

After all, this is going to be a "Long War."

P.S. Rumsfeld likes to push troop-lite by pointing to our relative success in Afghanistan with few boots on the ground. But he's not comparing apples to apples. In Afghanistan, warlords like Khan in Herat or Dostum in the North provide the security. In the southeast, troubles continue. There was a warlord in Iraq too, of course. Saddam and the Baath party. They're largely decapitated. Thus, we face a much larger security vacuum there. That we've never convincingly filled. Why is this so hard to get?

Posted by Gregory at 11:23 PM | Comments (20)

December 22, 2004

Torture Redux

Story here.

The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees. In one instance, a soldier in a unit that lacked any training in interrogation -- but was nonetheless assigned to process and question detainees -- acknowledged forcing two men to their knees, placing bullets in their mouths, ordering them to close their eyes, and telling them they would be shot unless they answered questions about a grenade incident. He then took the bullets, and a colleague pretended to load them in the chamber of his M-16 rifle.

The documents indicate that the perpetrator, who was investigated on charges of assault and a "law of war violation," was given a nonjudicial punishment by his commander. Threatening detainees with physical harm to compel their testimony is a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In a second case, Army investigators concluded that a sergeant committed offenses including assault, dereliction of duty and cruelty when he conducted "a mock execution of an Iraqi teenager" in front of the boy's father and brother, who were suspected of looting an ammunition factory. Investigators also found that the actions were condoned by a lieutenant who conspired with the sergeant.

An investigative report also details an incident two days earlier, in which the lieutenant ordered a suspected looter to kneel, pointed a 9mm pistol at his head and then pulled the gun away just as he fired a shot. The outcome of both cases is unclear from the records released yesterday.

Back in the Balkans in the mid-90s, I used to interview refugees to determine their eligibility for resettlement to the United States--many of them victims of brutish persecution by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries. Some of them had been subjected to these types of mock executions. Such mock executions are, not suprisingly, deeply scarring experiences. Employing such tactics, of course, is not worthy of our military's finest traditions. But it has now become increasingly routine to discover that American forces have been involved in such odiousness. No, it's not sawing off a head. But is that our new benchmark--anything less 'medieval' now kosher?

I am ashamed, of course. And profoundly saddened. Part of the reason this is happening too often? Untrained personnel, likely confused kids really, are being tasked with interrogations. But interrogators need to be trained to perform their tasks consistent with relevant law, convention, norms. They also need to be coached on best practices by which to extract information--mock executions not among them. Again, our force mix and too few troops in theater have, not only rendered securing victory harder, but also contributed to scandals like these because we never dedicated the proper quantum and mix of resources to the tasks at hand. Will someone ever be held accountable in the broad reaches above Brig. General Karpinski of Abu Ghraib notoriety? Don't hold your breath. For Rummy, after all, accountability means, well, non-accountability (Except for assorted slaps on the wrist or jail time for some of the 'bad apples.' Many of them less guilty, if not vis-a-vis direct culpability, in terms of the piss-poor post-war assumptions that have led to the hoisting of large numbers of untrained personnel into difficult, unfamiliar situations. Situations that lend themselves to precisely the human rights abuses we are again hearing about now. Am I saying there is legal liability that resides directly with Rumsfeld via the chain of command? No, not necessarily. But there is certainly a more general failure of leadership and moral direction that is part and parcel of all of this. And in significant manner).

Alas, contemporary White Houses have become citadels of 'stay on message'; bastions of spin. Where is the courage and intellectual honesty to call a spade a spade? Or torture torture? Yes, Bush made some of the right noises after Abu Ghraib. But it wasn't a hugely convincing show (Kerry, btw, watched the polls showing Rummy with 70% support after A.G. Result: He didn't condemn it as vociferously as he should have. Another sign of his meekness and lack of character). Bush has now secured victory in the election. What does he even have to lose? Does he not think such despicableness needs to be shouted down, more forcefully, from his huge bully pulpit? Indeed, should not the Commander-in-Chief, more loudly, decry these human rights abuses for the whole world to hear--rather than march over to the Pentagon to give Don Rumsfeld another bear-hug?

Posted by Gregory at 05:33 AM | Comments (51)

Hard Questions After Mosul

Mosul piece in the WaPo:

The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.

"On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun," retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents' next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. "The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element," he said.

If anti-American violence does hit a new level, pressure is likely to increase on the Bush administration to either boost the U.S. military presence in Iraq or find a fast way to get out.

The adequacy of current troop numbers is one of the questions provoked by yesterday's action, said Charles McComas, a veteran Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan before retiring. "Do we have the right forces and enough of them to do the offensive patrolling to reduce the chances of this happening again?" he asked.

In a word, no.


A private-sector security expert who recently left Baghdad after more than a year there agreed, noting that the United States originally put an entire division in the Mosul area, the 101st Airborne, but replaced it earlier this year with a force about half that size, only to see insurgent attacks increase. "We have replaced a division with a brigade and think we can offer the same amount of security," he said, insisting on anonymity because his opinions are so at odds with the official U.S. government view.

The attack also indicates that the insurgency is growing more sophisticated with the passage of time. One of the basic principles of waging a counterinsurgency is that it requires patience. "Twenty-one months" -- the length of the occupation so far -- "is not a long time to tame the tribal warfare expected there," said retired Marine Lt. Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence specialist who operated in northern Iraq in 1991. "My guess is that this will take 10 years."

I supported Bush because I thought, as between his team and Kerry's, Dubya would be the better bet to continue seeing a major 5-10 year effort through. But Rumsfeld's policies, that the President and Dick Cheney don't appear to be forcefully re-appraising, are now beginning to imperil the war effort. Pas serieux. This is not panicky carping from the sidelines. Elections are not a panacea leading to stability. Ethnic tensions will mount and the post-election millieu will prove a period of great flux and danger. Talk of an exit strategy with trained Iraqi forces taking over by '06 is claptrap and farcical. Those forces, btw, will often be infiltrated by Iranian agents, Baathists restorationists, and other enemy groupings. Hell, such infiltrators might have had a hand in the Mosul attack. The quicker the rush to Iraqify--the more half-assed the effort will be. A real training and equipping effort will take place over years, with the insurgency pacified, and with post-electoral inter-communal relations set on a stable (as much as possible) course (this measured in years not months). American forces, and in large enough number to be credible, will have to act as guarantors of security during this exceedingly complex and lengthy transition period. Do enough people in the Administration get this? Not yet, I fear.

It's easy to beat up on me, as Brad DeLong does, for not stating that the buck stops with POTUS. Except that Kerry would have been even worse--all but guaranteeing that Iraqi democratization would not have been seriously pursued ("wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"; troops out w/in 4 years, interim authority head but a "puppet", the better to play into the insurgent's propaganda and handbook). Between arguably underwhelming options in elections, sometimes, hard decisions have to be made. But what's clear now is that it is in all of our interests that the Iraq project not flounder. This would prove the biggest American foreign policy disaster since Vietnam, perhaps worse even. It would allow radical jihadists to renew their momentum, render risible talk of Middle Eastern democratization, and make America appear a paper tiger again (as during the abdication-of-global-leadership-ridden Clinton years). These are critical times. Rumsfeld, if we're stuck with him, needs to be persuaded to rotate more troops into theater. It's not only Chuck Hagel and John McCain who need to raise the pressure. Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh, on the other side of the aisle, should consider doing so to. Better safe than sorry. Force matters. The Powell Doctrine is not dead. Rumsfeld must snap out of denial and get back to basics. Quickly.

Posted by Gregory at 04:57 AM | Comments (32)

December 21, 2004

A Catalogue of Shame

Here is a brief summary of what I observed at GTMO. On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand a foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night.

Another FBI report:

Describes Defense Department interrogation witnessed by FBI personnel. “I saw [a] detainee sitting on the floor of the interview room with an Israeli flag draped around him, loud music being played and a strobe light flashing. I left the monitoring room immediately after seeing this activity. I did not see any other persons inside the interview room with the Israeli flag draped detainee, but suspect that this was a practice used by DOD DHS . . .”

Perhaps the person pulling out his hair was mentally deranged. Perhaps the Israeli flag is some figment of an FBI agent's fevered neo-con conspiracy imaginings. Perhaps. But, of course, perhaps not.

Much more here...including the original Emails in PDF format (courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act).

Not convinced that unpretty things were going down and about to condemn me as a whiney wimp and too eager imbimber of the agenda-ridden ACLU Kool-aid? Look, your perogative. It's a free marketplace of ideas here. I report, you decide. But do read on a bit. Don't miss this report from ABC, for instance, that provides more detail.

A heavily redacted June 25 FBI memo titled "URGENT REPORT" to the FBI director, provided details from someone "who observed serious physical abuses of civilian detainees" in Iraq.

"He described that such abuses included strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations," the document stated. The memo also mentioned "cover-up of these abuses."

Many of these reports were sent by FBI agents to Valerie Caproni, the FBI's General Counsel. She sounds like a pretty cool woman:

If you were to run into Valerie Caproni at a party, you would never guess this 5-foot-tall, 49-year-old native of a small town on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia is one of the most hated general counsel in North America. During her 24 years of practicing law, she has managed to enrage the five Mafia families in New York, a host of Colombian drug dealers, heroin smugglers from Nigeria, white-collar criminals and just about every other lowlife living in New York. About a year ago, she added another group of thugs to her list_terrorists.

In August 2003, Caproni, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, took on the job of general counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Among her responsibilities is helping agents understand the legal parameters within which they can hunt down, investigate and detain suspected terrorists.

Looks like she's going to be busy indeed. Stuff happens, after all. And quite frequently, it appears. Still, war is an ugly business, of course. And Rumsfeld can't be held accountable for every last action of a private in some far-flung penal colony (though a different man, confronted with such dismaying torture scandals over the past odd year, might not have written last June: "(h)owever, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?") But anyone with half a brain who continues to insist that the torture (sorry, "abuse") story is about a few bad apples taking a frat hazing a tad too much to heart at Abu Ghraib alone are full of it and doing the country a disservice through their intellectual dishonesty. It's clear that, while not some God-awful American gulag archipelago--torture has manifestly occurred in detention facilities from Afghanistan to Iraq to Cuba. Likewise, it's time to say loud and clear that the fact that those tortured are Arab and South Asian detainees is noteworthy. Why? Because it's reminiscent of the different treatment afforded the Japanese enemy as compared to the German during WWII. Recall that the Japanese during WWII, above and beyond Korematsu, were more viciously dehumanized in the popular culture than their less offensive Kraut partners in crime. Put differently, race matters. Can anyone imagine the tortures that have taken place in places like Bagram, Gitmo and Abu Ghraib having been inflicted against, say, Bosnian Serbs in Brcko or Banja Luka? Highly doubtful indeed. 9/11 happened, of course. And Islam has too often been conflated in the popular imagination with the radical jihadists who would so gleefully kill thousands as they did in lower Manhattan that fateful day. Which explains polls like this one (though Orin Kerr of Volokh adds perspective). Still, it's time for intellectuals who care about the moral fiber of our polity, on both the Left and Right, to start speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends. America's better angels, and our more aspirational national narratives, simply demand it.

Posted by Gregory at 03:10 AM | Comments (33)

December 20, 2004

Not All Shi'a Are the Same

Tom Friedman reminds us that Iraqi Shi'a are Arabs and Iranian Shi'a, well, not. That's important. I suspect, deep down, that most Iraqis are well acquainted with that basic fact. Which is why some of this hyperbolic scare-mongering re: "Black Horde(s)" of nefarious Iranian interlopers looking for more Persian Shi'a lebensraum probably won't give Allawi and Co. any real legs as an electoral tactic. Martin Indyk has made this point in a different context as B.D. has previously blogged.

Posted by Gregory at 04:56 AM | Comments (6)

December 18, 2004

The Impending Iraqi Elections: A "Jungle of Ambiguity"

John Burns on the impending Iraqi elections.

With the candidates' lists closed and Iraq seemingly set on an irreversible course toward elections on Jan. 30, a senior Western official with decades of Middle East experience cast about Friday for the kind of optimistic forecast that the United States and its allies have offered at every important juncture in 20 turbulent months since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

The election, the official said, was the most ambitious democratic exercise ever attempted in an Arab country, one in which 14 million eligible Iraqis will choose from more than 7,700 candidates seeking seats in a provisional national assembly, 18 provincial councils and a regional Kurdish parliament. He invited comparisons with a clumsily rigged referendum two years ago, when Mr. Hussein declared himself re-elected president with 100 percent of his countrymen's 12 million votes.

Later, the official, guarded by the anonymity commonly demanded when reporters are briefed in the Green Zone command compound here, slipped momentarily into a more candid assessment of the prospects for conducting a successful vote in a country beset by an increasingly brutal war and deep sectarian, religious and regional rivalries.

The election, he said, was a "jungle of ambiguity" where hopes ride on a sea of uncertainties, not the least of them the degree of violence the voting will provoke.

Many of those most closely involved in organizing the elections, including Iraqis, Americans and officials in a small United Nations election team, agree that the elections amount to a high-stakes gamble: one that could end the bitter reverses that have followed last year's invasion, but that could just as easily spiral into chaos, with widespread insurgent attacks on candidates and polling stations, or end in a lopsided victory by Iranian-backed Shiite religious groups that the ethnic and religious minorities, especially Sunnis and Kurds, refuse to accept.

Don't miss this part either:

But the largest unknown is the effect insurgents will have on voting. After a protracted debate, American officials have ruled that security at the 9,000 polling stations will be provided by Iraq's 120,000-strong security forces, with units of the 150,000 American troops deployed across the country by the end of January "over the horizon," out of sight but close enough to intervene.

The decision has been contested by some American commanders, who have said privately that their experience, particularly in Sunni-majority areas, is that people have scant confidence in Iraqi police and guardsmen, and have said that they would be more likely to vote if American troops formed an inner cordon.

Another option, staggering the voting over a period of days or weeks to allow troops and police to be concentrated at polling stations, was also rejected after Iraqi and American officials, with support from United Nations election advisers, concluded that it would cause more problems than it would solve.

For one thing, these officials said, moving troops around the country would present major security problems, given the frequency of insurgent attacks on the country's highways, as well as giving the insurgents more time to choose their targets, and more opportunities to attack ballot boxes stored while awaiting a nationwide count.

Over 2,000 Iraqi police and security forces have been slaughtered in Iraq by the insurgents. It's little wonder that the populace often has little fate in their ability to withstand attacks by insurgents. Will having U.S. forces 'over the horizon' be enough come polling day? I don't know, but it's certainly not ideal. And it's quite revealing that an option under discussion involved staggering the voting so that requisite forces could be concentrated at various polling stations. Doesn't this all smell of (sorry to keep hammering in on it) too few troops in theater? Look, I'm not, via Laphamization or such, prejudging what's going to happen on election day. And, even if we had 500,000 guys on the ground, certain polling stations would doubtless get hit. But I'm concerned that some commanders on the ground are expressing concern about having Iraqis guard the polling stations. Doubtless part of the issue was also that Negroponte and Co. didn't think having U.S. troops manning polling stations created the right 'image' regarding Iraq's sovereignty during this historic democratic exercise. But, all told, having some discreet outer cordon (why inner, per the article?) manned by Americans (with an inner Iraqi cordon) might have struck the right balance between ensuring better security but not having American forces millling about the polls with Allawi placards or such. I'm open to other views on this (it's a tough call between ensuring security and allowing the voting to appear an unfettered Iraqi exercise sans Americans); but I'm quite concerned.

MORE: If you're coming from Glenn, go to the final update of this (quite long) post for an explanation of why I have felt we always needed more troops in theater. Hint: it's not because I believe that each and every of the 9,000 polling stations need to be protected. It's more about having the requisite resources on the ground to better mount an overpowering counter-insurgency campaign. Thanks to Glenn for posting a clarification (he didn't need to necessarily) on his main page for all those who don't click-thru.

Posted by Gregory at 11:07 PM | Comments (20)

Another Rightist Anti-Rumsfeld Voice

Frederick Kagan, writing in the Weekly Standard. A must-read. Excerpts below--but do click through and read the whole thing.

The overall manpower situation of the American military, too, is grim. By increasing troop strength primarily by extending the tours of duty of American forces already in Iraq, and by steadfastly refusing to consider increasing the size of the Army in any meaningful way, the administration has committed itself to a risky policy. It effectively assumes that one of three things will happen after the Iraqi elections: (1) The violence and resistance to the establishment of secular democracy will suddenly and dramatically diminish; or (2) the American Army will be able to withstand indefinitely unprecedented strains and hardships; or (3) Iraq will somehow cease to be an American military problem once a democratically elected government has taken power in Baghdad. The first two possibilities are wishful thinking; the third is terrifying.

There is little reason to imagine that insurgent attacks will suddenly and dramatically cease with the election of a democratic Iraqi government. The insurgents are not fighting simply to drive the United States out of Iraq, but to prevent the formation of precisely such a government. For some insurgents, in fact, only a government based on a radical interpretation of Islam can be legitimate. The period after the elections may well see attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces on a par with those we've seen in recent months.

It is quite possible that the insurgents will begin to shift their attacks away from U.S. forces and onto Iraqi forces and leaders, but Americans should take no solace from such a scenario. The nascent Iraqi state will not be able to defend itself for many months, perhaps years, after the election. Until then, it will be vulnerable to insurgents who can play on difficulties in the economy and on the inevitable hiccups that attend the formation of any new democracy. It is highly probable that if U.S. forces do not continue to defend democracy in Iraq, then democracy in Iraq will perish.

The consequences may well be disastrous should democracy fail in Iraq. When the United States invaded Iraq with the intention of establishing the first Arab democracy, it placed democracy itself on trial in the Middle East. Many in the region, and outside as well, declared that Arabs could not have democracy, or, more ominously, that democracy was inappropriate for Muslims. If the United States oversees the first real elections in a modern Arab land and then sits idly by as radical insurgents destroy the government, we will have set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East immeasurably. We will also have created excellent conditions for terrorists to reestablish bases and training camps in the heart of the Muslim world. The only way forward for America now is through success in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Be sure not to miss the part about why Kagan doesn't think we need a draft. I agree. If Americans are called upon, they will subsitute putting up yellow ribbons for volunteering to serve. But what is really needed now is leadership and straight talk--including an honest facing up regarding the resources we may need to ensure we get the job of Iraqi democratization done.

John Kerry, of course, would have most likely simply organized a cut and run from Iraq within 3 or so years--in time to declare a 'successful' Iraq exit for his '08 run so as to placate the Dean-wing of the party. Throughout his campaign, he manifested, and in spades, his basic disinterest and even contempt about the stakes surrounding the Iraq project. Bush, on the other hand, and to is immense credit, is trying to see this hugely difficult endeavour through, which is far and away the main reason why I supported him. But he seems to be hoping the elections (and a too hasty train and equip program) will prove panaceas of sorts. Put differently, and even beefing up to 150,000 (albeit too many of these overstretched, underqualified reserves), he's trying to do it on the cheap, with fingers crossed, hoping things will get better after January 30th.

But as Kagan and other adult, non-chest beating, non-breezily self-congratulatory conservatives are pointing out, that may not be the case. Look, few would be happier than B.D. if we were so lucky that all went swimmingly in Iraq post-elections. But we must plan for far more negative contingencies, as Kagan rightly points out. Don Rumsfeld doesn't seem capable of honestly reckoning with those contingencies (nor, it appears, do the other pet budget-interested, transformationalist cheerleaders around him). So in my view, and it's getting increasingly important, the President (whom I believe truly cares about the Iraq project and has the conviction to match--but doesn't appear to fully appreciate the quantum of prospective dangers ahead) needs to get better advice on the Iraq war than he is currently getting from the civilian leadership of the Pentagon.

Mitch McConnell, as is his wont (stolid party man to a tee!), is playing Rumsfeld defense (along with Bill Frist). Frist appears to believe some of the griping is more 'style over substance'--aggrieved lawmakers bitching because Rummy doesn't kiss their asses like they are accustomed to. Sorry, but that's mostly bullsh*t. Risking losing the war because we don't understand what force presence we may need if things get nasty isn't style. It's, um, a substantive matter. So let McConnell do his Rummy-defense rounds. But to Hagel, Kristol, McCain, Kagan, Donnelly, Collins, Coleman, and Lott I suspect more will add their voices regarding the need to push Rumsfeld out relatively soon. On the Senate side, I'm looking to Richard Lugar, Lindsey Graham and, yes (just maybe!), John Warner next: (LATE UPDATE: Yes, I saw Meet the Press today. More on that at end of this post. Note this post was originally written Saturday the 18th).

An embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cannot expect support from Sen. John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who normally supports the Bush administration on military matters.

"I've had it with him," Warner told a Senate colleague recently, referring to Rumsfeld. The 77-year-old Warner, a five-term senator and former secretary of the Navy who is a veteran of both the Navy and Marine Corps, complained about Rumsfeld's neglect of senators during a Senate Republican caucus two years ago. Nothing has changed since then, in Warner's opinion."

Robert Novak has, er, been known to inject his policy agendas into his copy here and there--it's probably not unfair to say. And he's no Rummy fan, of course. So take the above quoted piece with a grain of salt.

Still: "I've had it with him." You're not alone Senator! (See more below re: Warner coyly fielding a question from Tim Russert on whether he actually said this. Bottom line: he doesn't flat out deny saying it--instead opting for the oft-used Washington 'I have no recollection of it' non-answer answer).

An aside. The Bushes are well known for their loyalty. Poppy would likely have beaten Clinton in '92 if he had dumped Quayle and put in Powell, perhaps. This loyalty is an admirable quality, in my view. But it does sometimes make needed personnel adjustments, shall we say, difficult. So the pitch influential rightist commentators and congresspersons need to make to Bush is not 'hey, Don is not serving you well. You gotta throw him overboard'. That will backfire because Bush will feel he is being asked to do something disloyal.

The angle should be, rather, "Mr. President, Iraq is the fulcrum of the war on terror as you, more than anyone, state repeatedly and well realize. And your Secretary of Defense, as admirable and talented as he is, and as noble his past service, has become overly recalcitrant regarding grappling with some of the more difficult scenarios that may await us in 2005 and 2006 in Iraq. Some of these may mean readjusting our force posture there. This most likely means a larger standing army--particularly given that we may face additional challenges in other theaters during this period. Your Secretary of Defense appears unwilling to face up to this possibility. I would suggest, therefore, that you consider replacing him not too long after the Iraq elections with someone less beholden and married to transformationalist tenets that, in current form, are often too overblown. Don't get me wrong, Mr. President. Many of these ideas are critical, smart and need to be implemented. And Rummy's damn good at pushing tough reforms through a vast and difficult bureaucracy. But he's not indispensable. And, most important, he doesn't seem to understand well enough that trained, qualified, appropriate to the task boots on the ground still matter mightily. And we simply don't have enough of them at the ready. Unfortunately, your Defense Secretary doesn't realize this or, even worse, does but is simply unwilling to change course. Thus the pressing need for new leadership at the Pentagon. Please give it all due consideration..."

Or something less long-winded than that. But you get my point.

P.S. Don't miss more on Rummy at B.D. here, here, and here. Be sure to read the comments to these posts, both pro and contra B.D., which are (mostly) polite, sincere, and intelligently argued. Thanks for the feedback.

Oh, and Tom Maguire agrees with me! I mean, what else do you need to know, really? Now, if only Glenn would reconsider his staunch support of Rumsfeld...we'd start building up some right blogosphere momentum akin to some of what's going on in print media. Glenn, it's not just about the armored humvees or that the Secretary couldn't find the time to personally sign condolence letters to families of dead serviceman (recall there wasn't enough time to read the Taguba report in its entirety either, alas). The Rummy story is much bigger than any journalistic gotcha by proxy that got the predictable MSM blowhards in a big tizzy. It's about much deeper issues besides. Like whether our current military planning and force presence is the best suited to see Iraqi democratization through--a goal Glenn has tirelessly and admirably promoted. So why does Glenn so casually throw the whole issue over to the legislative branch? Shouldn't the Defense Secretary be taking the lead on issues like the size of our armed forces? Wouldn't a Secretary of Defense loudly opining that we needed to face up to possible manpower shortages have an impact on getting the requisite bills passed through Congress? Er, yes and yes, of course.

Late Sunday Update:

Some Lugar/Warner roll-back on Tim Russert's show. But it's pretty lukewarm fare. Sounds more by way of let's keep Rumsfeld through the elections and immediate aftermath than a ringing endorsement that he serve out a full second term.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Lugar, Senator Frist and Senator McConnell, the leaders of the Republican Party, both issued statements in support of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. John McCain said he has "no confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld." Trent Lott from Mississippi, Republican, says he's not a fan of the secretary: "I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officials." Should Secretary Rumsfeld be held accountable for what's going on in Iraq? Should he stay in office?

SEN. LUGAR: He should be held accountable, and he should stay in office. He needs at this point to listen, and he is listening. My own assumptions are much as Joe Biden's. We have heard in our committee, and I'm sure John and Carl have in theirs, about the deficiency of the equipment, about the difficulties. We've had 23 hearings. We've heard it all. We have made recommendations. When a sergeant stood up, however, in that public meeting and said something, he got some action, $4.1 billion more security suddenly moving ahead. I say more power to him.

The fact is that change of leadership in the Pentagon at this point might be as disruptive as trying to get somebody in homeland defense. We really cannot go through that ordeal. We have to hold accountable the secretary of defense and those who are responsible. Maybe we should be more vigilant and outspoken, and probably we all will be because this is crucial. In terms of the safety of our troops, not only their signing up, but their being effective out there now. And even more importantly for their safety, getting Iraqis able to patrol their own streets and patrol their own destiny.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, Bob Novak quotes you as telling a colleague "I've had it with him," regarding Rumsfeld? Is that accurate?

SEN. WARNER: Bob's going to follow on after we leave here. I'd like to have an opportunity to see him, and I would simply say I don't have any recollection of that. Matter of fact, I get up sometimes in the morning and look at my myself in the mirror and say, "I've had it with you, Warner. Shape up." But let me say, I have served...

MR. RUSSERT: But do you have confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld?

SEN. WARNER: I'll answer that. Give me a few minutes or a second. I have served with 11 secretaries of defense, three when I was secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon, and since then, now 25 years, on the Armed Services Committee. They're all different. But I assure you that in the three-plus years that I have worked with Secretary Rumsfeld, we've had our differences. We still have some. But I have confidence in my ability and his ability to continue to work together as a team for the common goals of the men and women of the Armed Forces and to support the goals of the commander in chief.

We're at war. And you're right, Dick, we should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon. We're going to go through this election. We're going to have a tough period after that election. And we should express our confidence in the commander in chief and his principal subordinates. The president makes the choice, and we're going to back the president and support his choice and make it work. [emphasis added]

As I said, pretty lukewarm fare (Lugar: Listen up! Warner: We should not, "at this point", entertain leadership changes at Pentagon. The so routine "let's all do our part to backstop POTUS' chosen principals" verbiage). Look, I completely agree that we are facing a hugely critical juncture in Iraq right now (at least through the elections and immediate aftermath) so that yes, we should not (especially with all the underwhelming Kerik shenanigans underway) be replacing the Secretary of Defense just now. It's in mid-'05 or '06 that I hope he gets the heave-ho. Incidentally, I'm still thinking it's even money that's going to happen. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But more of us who supported the Iraq war and want it to succeed, really succeed (not some morally defunct exit strategy involving leaving behind some mediocre, vulnerable Iraqi army prematurely declared ready for prime time), are feeling that new leadership is urgently needed at the Pentagon. Recall, Rumsfeld is not an Irving Kristol style neo-con (think Wolfowitz) or, alternately, a "national greatness" conservative (think McCain). He's pretty much an American nationalist of Jacksonian stripe and, deep down I suspect, he doesn't really care whether a true democracy takes root in Iraq. Indeed, his stewardship of the Pentagon is, increasingly, manifestly showing that.

MORE: Glenn writes: "Greg thinks we need enough American troops to physically protect all the polling places in a country the size of California." As I wrote to Glenn in an E-mail, I don't think anything I've written on this blog could fairly be construed as a call to have G.I.s man each and every of the approximately 9,000 polling stations in Iraq. So Glenn makes me look a bit silly, of course, by stating that's my position. But that's O.K., as Glenn is a blog-friend, generous linker and all around good guy. And he might fairly feel his sentence captures the 'spirit' of my 'more boots on the ground' argumentation.

This little blog-fracas aside, however, what I do know, for instance, is that we didn't have enough troops to take Fallujah while keeping sizable forces in the so called 'triangle of death' south of Baghdad. So we had to rotate the Brits in--and in quite small number. And so, of course, fleeing Fallujan insurgents went to areas south of Baghdad or points Mosul--and lived to fight another day. This is just one example among many regarding how we never brought overwhelming forces to bear during the counter-insurgency campaign. Yeah, I know some of this smells like Monday quarterbacking and that some commenters will beat me up about that. But as I've repeatedly argued in this blog, and piggy-backing on a phrase employed in a CFR report chaired by the very able Tom Pickering, security is the "critical enabler" in achieving all our other goals in Iraq (democratization, economic revitalization, reconstruction). And we've simply never had the resources in theater to make a real go at providing real security on the ground (including, importantly, the capital city). So yeah, I would have been happier with about double the troop deployment, about 300,000-350,000 men, devoted to this campaign. That might not be enough to protect each and every polling station in a country the size of California--but it might have been enough to better quash a insurgency that remains quite potent today.

STILL MORE: Andrew, who generously links this post, has more on Rumsfeld in the Sunday Times (UK) today. Teaser and best line from Sully's Times piece: "Getting Rumsfeld to admit that he is wrong is a little like expecting George Bush to become pregnant." It sure is.

Posted by Gregory at 06:08 PM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

December 17, 2004

Eastward, Ho!

Critical reading on the going forward rebasing of U.S. forces.

While the Bush administration’s proposed changes to the global force posture are a good start, they are far from complete. Most importantly, it does little to reassure both enemies and allies that the American presence in the Middle East is in proportion to the “long, hard slog” described by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. U.S. forces in Iraq, for instance, currently operate out of more than a dozen major sites. While continuing success in the counterinsurgency campaign may allow--and fairly soon--for a reduction of the 140,000-plus troops now in Iraq, no military commander counts on a full withdrawal. And even once the counterinsurgency inside Iraq is won, there will still be the matter of regional security. The American commitment to Iraq is growing as the country moves toward democracy.

President Bush has often described Iraq as the “central front” in the war on Middle Eastern terror. Just as it was necessary to defend the front lines in Germany during the Cold War--and the rationale for “forward defense” was political and strategic rather than military and operational--so it will be necessary to defend the front in the Middle East. Clearly, the current Iraqi interim government of Ayad Allawi is in no position to negotiate a long-term status-of-forces agreement--the legal framework that would establish the terms of a continued American military presence in the country--but a legitimately elected Iraqi government will be both able and ready to do so. Iraq’s mainstream Shia leaders recognize this fact, and Iraq’s Kurdish parties will demand continued American presence.

This need not mean that future U.S. bases must be an in-the-face irritant to Iraqi nationalism; although, indeed, the Kurds would welcome such bases. The backhanded benefit of Saddam Hussein’s massive army was that it had plenty of airfields and other facilities stuck out in the desert. These will prove an ideal infrastructure for a continuing training and strategic partnership between the new Iraqi security forces and the United States, and they will generally facilitate long-term U.S. operations. While neither the current American administration nor any future one will be eager for more wars in the region, it is folly not to prepare against the possibility. The operational advantages of U.S. bases in Iraq should be obvious for other power-projection missions in the region. Sites in northern and western Iraq would be key to patrolling the porous Iraqi borders with Syria and Iran. Lesser facilities in the far south would simply be an expansion of other U.S. posts in the Persian Gulf and Kuwait...

...The basing implications of the global war on terrorism, or the struggle to transform the greater Middle East, go well beyond the Persian Gulf. They extend inland into Central Asia, thus the operations from airfields in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Bush administration has also come to accept that the peripheries of the war in Africa necessitate new basing arrangements. Consequently, the Pentagon established in late 2002 its first sub-Saharan garrison in Djibouti, located at the strategic chokepoint between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, where more than 1,000 troops are currently deployed as part of Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa.

In sum, U.S. posture throughout the greater Middle East should be conceived of as a network or web of mutually supporting facilities that will serve three purposes: expressing the American long-term commitment to political change in the region, enabling the deployment of forces to points of crisis, and sustaining an expanding set of partnerships and alliances with friendly--and better yet, free--governments.

We'll need more troops for this smart game-plan. But our Secretary of Defense doesn't get it. Glenn puts the blame squarely on McCain and assorted legislators. Hey, why expect the Secretary of Defense to deal with pressing manpower shortages (presently and going forward) in the military? Not his bag, right? Glenn (who knows better) links to this piece too:

The agenda of most of Rumsfeld's critics is clear: to wound the administration and discredit the war effort by taking the scalp of one of its architects. Some of those coming at Rumsfeld from the right have a more subtle concern. They can't bear to admit that Iraq has been more difficult than they ever dared imagine, because of the irreducible reality of political and social conditions on the ground. Remaking societies by military means can be harder, bloodier work than some neoconservatives care to acknowledge.

That's not B.D.'s agenda. I want to win this war. And I don't care about scalping any of its architects-as I supported the Iraq war and still do. But four more years of Rumsfeld, as I've said before, may well imperil our effort in Iraq. And, contra National Review's musings, people like me don't need lessons about Iraq being more difficult than we "dared imagine." I knew the post-war would be much harder than the major combat stage--and I've argued for more troops (and a better mix of forces) in theater since at least May of 2003 (it's all in the archives to the right). That still hasn't happened in sufficient number--over a year and a half out. So yeah, I'm frustrated. Yeah, I want new leadership at the Pentagon. Yeah I don't think Don Rumsfeld is some infallible higher being. Is this some vendetta? Do I hate him, on some personal level? No, not at all. I hear, in person, that's he's quite affable, almost a Mr. Rogers kinda guy walking around the office in cardigan sweaters and, er, slippers (perhaps he has a future as a blogger?). I will never forget his evacuating felled Pentagon personnel on 9/11. I was thankful he was in office during the Afghanistan campaign. He is clearly a hugely accomplished man--in both the public and private sectors. But I believe in accountability. And he's simply gotten too many passes. He needs to go. He won't just yet, of course, but I think he will in '06.

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (77) | TrackBack

December 16, 2004

More Rollback from Presumptive Sunni Boycotters

A few weeks back major media was full of stories of mega-Sunni boycotts of the impending elections in Iraq. Over here, we predicted many of the presumptive boycotters would end up playing ball. Here's more rollback which, of course, is good news vis-a-vis helping give the impending elections a greater imprimatur of legitimacy.

Also announcing his candidacy today was Adan Pachachi, an Iraqi elder statesman and prominent member of the country's long-dominant Sunni Muslim minority. Pachachi had previously joined more than a dozen other Sunni and secular groups in calling for the elections to be postponed and raising the prospect of a boycott if they went ahead as scheduled.

But today he announced the formation of a group called the Independent Democratic Gathering and unveiled an initial list of 70 candidates, including five ministers in the current interim cabinet.

In a news conference, Pachachi cautioned that his group may decide not to campaign if there is too much violence in Sunni areas west and north of Baghdad where it expects to draw most of its support, news agencies reported.

Pachachi's coalition is among 89 blocs, consisting of more than 230 political organizations, that are participating in the election for a 275-seat National Assembly, a body that will be charged with drafting a new constitution and appointing a government to replace Allawi's interim administration.

More than 230 political organizations! What a burst of political energy after the decades of cowed submission to Baathist totalitarianism. But all was better when the brutish Saddamite yoke prevailed, right? No, of course, if we finish the job and see this through. I continue to see the glass more half full than half empty over an approximately five year time horizon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:16 AM | Comments (6)

December 10, 2004

Mosul Watch

A couple weeks back I poo-pooed the notion, rather breathelessly reported in the NYT, that a full-fledged "second front" had opened up in Mosul. I still think it's not the new Fallujah or such--but David Ignatius has a pretty gloomy dispatch from there. It's well worth reading. Some key grafs:

A year ago this northern Iraqi city was a model for American commanders of how to do it right. U.S. troops worked closely with Iraqis and gradually gained their trust; they found ways to finance thousands of popular reconstruction projects; they even helped produce offbeat programs for local television, including a Mosul version of "Cops" and a talent show they called "Iraqi Idol."

Today Mosul illustrates how things have gone wrong in Sunni Muslim areas of Iraq. There are fewer U.S. troops here than there were a year ago. Meanwhile, a well-organized insurgency has taken root in this city on the banks of the Tigris, intimidating the local population and terrorizing the police. Local security forces are mostly in disarray, and American troops last weekend were fighting running street battles. U.S. commanders say the city's 2 million residents know little about the election scheduled for Jan. 30, and insurgents have even managed to destroy most of the voter registration materials.

"Many, many people are afraid," says Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, who has commanded U.S. forces here since February. The insurgents have infiltrated the city, he says, and their campaign "has had a significant effect on the population."

Ham spoke at his base at the Mosul airport during a quick trip to the city last weekend by Gen. John Abizaid, who commands U.S. forces in the Middle East. Abizaid's visit provided a window on Mosul's importance as a crucial front in the Iraq war. There's no easy optimism about the battle here; U.S. commanders know they face a brutal and determined enemy that combines the ruthlessness of Saddam Hussein's old regime and the passion of radical Islam.

Mosul is Iraq's third largest city with a population of some 2 million inhabitants. It's something of a bellwhether, therefore. Local security forces are in "disarray," says Ignatius. Meanwhile, we have fewer troops than we did a year back. Who will fill the resulting vacuum, then? Hamiltonian democrats? Of course not. Moderates are fearful of losing their heads, literally. So, all told, we likely need a larger force posture there. Have we enough men on the ground to so accomplish?

Iraq has become, not to sound too simplistic a note, a battle between chaos and order. Chaos favors the brutish Baathist restorationists and fundamentalists. Order, all told, favors the coalition and those aspiring to a democratic Iraq. Order comes from security. Security is the critical enabler for all else we seek to accomplish in Iraq. We are not doing a good enough job of it. Bush is trying, with real conviction and with limited resources (that his military advisors need to come clean on), to make a strong effort of it (much more than Kerry would have). But I am concerned that we continue to be undermanned in theater.

Regardless, and sooner or later, there will be a tipping point one way or the other. Let's hope the elections, in the main, are not too bloody and garner decent participation. That would be a big help indeed--particularly in conjunction with serious mopping up operations of insurgents in the southern approaches to Baghdad. We could then turn to major population centers like Baghdad and Mosul and target the rejectionists--who will, with any luck, begin to become more isolated as Iraqis feel more enfranchised (at least many non radicalized Sunnis)-- post elections that enjoy some imprimatur of legitimacy. Fingers crossed....

Posted by Gregory at 06:18 AM | Comments (30)

December 09, 2004

Iraqi Elections Watch

As B.D. predicted a little while back, some Sunni groupings appears to be backtracking and indicating that they will participate in the January elections in Iraq:

Iraq's leading Shiite political groups agreed Wednesday to unite under a single banner, a move that could help them win a dominant share of votes in the coming national elections.

The agreement came as several Sunni parties, including one that led a broad movement to delay the elections for six months, registered to field candidates.

Together, the two decisions appeared to strengthen somewhat the chances of a January vote, despite the continuing violence here and calls by dozens of Sunni parties to postpone the elections.

In another development, officials at Iraq's Interior Ministry said they supported a proposal made by the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, to spread the elections over a two- to three-week period in January, in an effort to ease security concerns. Dr. Allawi is in Europe, and details of the proposal will be ironed out on his return, the officials said...

...In recent weeks, some Iraqi leaders have said the continuing violence makes the goal of January elections unattainable, especially in the Sunni-dominated areas north and west of Baghdad. Last month, dozens of political figures met to call for a postponement at the home of Adnan Pachachi, a well-known figure who has supported the American presence.

But Mr. Pachachi's party, the Independent Democratic Gathering, has now registered to run candidates in the elections, along with the Islamic Party and the National Democratic Party.

--from today's NYT.

These are the kinds of developments that give me continued faith that Iraq could still prove to be, five to ten years hence, a major success of historic proportions rather than an imbecilic, colossal blunder. And I still think a positive outcome is likelier by a material margin.

Posted by Gregory at 05:45 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Secretary of Denial

"Any problem mentioned, he's in denial."

"Troop frustration is growing," especially as some soldiers head back to Iraq for their second occupation tour as the security situation there deteriorates, said another retired four-star general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Officers and senior sergeants are worried, he noted, because, in his view, "we are breaking a small, great professional force."

The series of pointed questions shot at Rumsfeld reflect a consequence of the Pentagon's increasing reliance on National Guard and reserve units to carry out the U.S. mission in Iraq. Almost 45 percent of the 130,000 Army troops there now are drawn from the part-time components. Unlike active-duty troops, Guard and reserve troops tend to be older, more "civilianized" in their behavior and less deferential toward authority.

45% Guard and Reserve. It's a "temporary" problem though.

Read this too:

Our Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in denial of reality. He publicly states the situation on the ground in Iraq is being distorted by the media and characterizes the violence as comparable to Washington, D.C., crime levels. He has denied there is a "guerrilla war" and insisted that the only opposition is a handful of "dead enders." He points with increasing defensiveness to the small number of coalition forces (besides the courageous Brits) and the increasing hours of electricity per day as evidence that his policies are working.

Some argue that Mr. Rumsfeld has ill served the president. We claimed victory in the initial war intervention. Our adversaries, however, haven't seen themselves as defeated. Mr. Rumsfeld's critics feel that he dug in his heels and inadequately resourced the campaign's opening phase. In my judgment, the manner in which we intervened, and ended the regime, has been a major source of our subsequent problems. It's not enough to achieve victory--which we did; you've got to achieve a situation in which your adversary recognizes that he's been defeated, and that violent resistance is futile--which we didn't. We went in with a small force that, while unstoppable militarily, was incapable of the sort of "takedown" of an entrenched opposition that our troops now face. We should have front-loaded our military power and withdrawn forces as things got better; instead, we went in light, and augmented power after the regime's fall.

...Thousands of reservists have been called up. The coming months will see a continued rapid drawdown of deployed U.S. military combat power in Iraq (160,000 to 103,000) and an increasing reliance on 43,000 deploying reserve forces. This is driven not by military logic but by the realities of military end strength. We need to add six more activated National Guard brigades and 80,000 personnel to the Army authorized active-duty force. Mr. Rumsfeld must level with the administration and Congress on the coming crisis in Army active and reserve personnel and equipment readiness...

But none of this gets to the heart of the problem, which is that the U.S. military forces in Iraq are being forced into a drawdown situation. "Iraqification" doesn't address the question of the much broader U.S. Army manpower shortages, and it concerns me that Mr. Rumsfeld himself has said that he fails to see evidence that a shortfall exists. "Iraqification" may prove to be an alibi for broader inaction. Mr. Rumsfeld has so dominated the national security process with the force of his personality that his views on manpower are not being sufficiently challenged in Congress. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will have to candidly face up to this issue in the coming months, notwithstanding the political considerations involved.

But when denial is just a river in Egypt--candor ain't forthcoming.

Oh, via Paris-bound Dan, check this too:

We're realizing strategic victory is about a lot more than annihilating the enemy," says one senior defense official in Mr. Rumsfeld's office. Victory also requires winning the support of locals and tracking down insurgents, who can easily elude advanced surveillance technology and precision strikes. In some cases, a slower, more methodical attack, one that allows U.S. troops to stabilize one area and hold it up as an example of what is possible for the rest of the country, could produce better results, according to emerging Army thinking...

...Before the war began, Middle East experts, along with some Army officials, warned that stabilizing and governing a fractious and ethnically divided Iraq would be much harder than toppling Saddam Hussein.

A recent directive, prepared by Mr. Rumsfeld's office and still in draft form, now yields to that view. It mandates that in the future, units' readiness for war should be judged not only by traditional standards, such as how well they fire their tanks, but by the number of foreign speakers in their ranks, their awareness of the local culture where they will fight, and their ability to train and equip local security forces.


Maybe, like Rumsfeld indicated in Kuwait, his age is getting to him. After all, it shouldn't take 19 months to figure this stuff out--especially when many were saying it before the invasion. Harsh? You bet. But we have had a real failure of leadership at the Pentagon for many long months now. POTUS needs to start hearing this from more people than John McCain. Pity many in the serried ranks of Washington officialdom are often too cowed by the Secretary to speak out more. Accountability, less stubborness, flexibility--all our desparately needed at the Pentagon. Now more than ever given all the critical challenges awaiting us.

P.S. Rumsfeld should also recall some of his own fabled "Rumsfeld's Rules".

Here are a couple worth keeping in mind:

"Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles de Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men."

"Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance."

Oh, and he never did help do a good job of this one, did he?

"Establish good relations between the departments of Defense and State, the National Security Council, CIA and the Office of Management and Budget."

Posted by Gregory at 04:55 AM | Comments (53) | TrackBack

December 01, 2004

Civil War in Iraq (Already)?

Matthew Yglesias--seemingly largely based on the murder of some Kurds in Mosul by perpetrators beholden to an unholy alliance of fundamentalist radicals and Baathist restorationists--appears to have made up his mind that a civil war has already begun in Iraq (he also points, quite unconvincingly, to the fact that a police commander in Tikrit is blaming Israel and Iran for terror in Iraq as more evidence of a percolating civil war).

Matt's strongest point comes in this graf:

Thus, contrary to the Bush administration's hopes, elections themselves will not solve Iraq's problems. The trouble is not merely that some factions within Iraq are opposed to the very idea of democracy (though no doubt some are), but that what's at stake in these sorts of disputes is the very nature of the political community to be governed democratically. A community that might be quite happy to govern itself democratically still has no reason to support a conception of majoritarian democracy that will guarantee its own subordination to a larger community to which it happens to have been yoked by the mapmakers of the British Empire.

Unfortunately, in his rush to declare the existence of a civil war, Matt ignores a bunch of critical variables in his too pessimistic analysis:

1) Turkey will almost certainly never accept an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. This acts as a major break on Kurdish national aspirations. Thus, and for the foreseeable future, Kurds must be relatively 'good citizens' vis-a-vis helping to cobble together a federalistic Iraqi polity. This is one of the big reasons Kurdish leaders are, if not yet declaring it loudly to their publics, scaling back maximalist Kurdish national aspirations.

Money grafs:

Significantly, however, the tough bargaining and rhetoric during the TAL negotiations and the friction in Kirkuk mask a profound shift in Kurdish strategy that is yet to be broadcast and understood publicly. The top leadership of the two principal Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is offering Iraqi Arabs what amounts to an historic compromise: acceptance of an autonomous region as the maximum objective of the Kurdish national movement they represent and, even more importantly, a willingness, expressed in interviews with ICG, to abandon the exclusive claim to Kirkuk in favour of a sharing arrangement under which the city and governorate would receive a special status.

Regrettably, Kurdish leaders have yet to announce their decision or start preparing the Kurdish people for this profound and seemingly genuine strategic shift. Indeed, there is a growing discrepancy between what the Kurds want, what they say they want and what non-Kurds suspect they want. Given strong pro-independence sentiments in both the Kurdish region and Kurdish diaspora, they may encounter large-scale popular opposition to their plan at precisely the time -- the run-up to the constitutional process -- when they will need to persuade a sceptical Arab public, as well as neighbouring states such as Turkey, of their true intentions in order to realise even their reduced aspirations. For their part, Arab leaders have yet to lower their rhetoric and negotiate seriously with their Kurdish counterparts to preserve Iraq's unity by hammering out constitutional guarantees assuring Kurds that the atrocities of the past will not recur. [emphasis added]

Therefore, contra Matt, the Kurds will be (if not happy) utimately willing to play ball within the confines of "a conception of majoritarian democracy that will guarantee its own subordination to a larger community to which it happens to have been yoked by the mapmakers of the British Empire."

2) On the Shi'a angle, Matt sees myriad localized militias through the Shi'a south devoid of any loyalty to the national government of (Sunni friendly pace Matt!) Iyad Allawi and ready to spark a civil war at their earliest opportunity. Look, it would be foolish to think that the specter of large scale revanchist inter-communal violence spearheaded by the Shi'a against the Sunnis is negligible. Perhaps 300,000 Shi'a were killed at the hands of Saddam. The wounds are very real and very recent. But, again, Matt ignores some key factors, including the fact that there remains a sense of residual Iraqi nationalism among both Shi'a and Sunni (not Kurds, but they are stuck in a federal Iraq as fleshed out above).

Be sure to read this exchange between Les Gelb and Martin Indyk from a while back.


I think it's a fundamental mischaracterization of Iraq to say that it's been held together. The Shiites identify themselves as Iraqis, they fought Shiites in Iran, loyally, as Iraqis, for 10 years, and died in larger numbers than the Sunnis did. Yes, this was a state created by outside powers, as just about every state in the region has been created by outside powers, with the exception of, I think, Egypt. But, it's just a fundamental mischaracterization to say that this has only been held together by a strong man, and now we should basically take it apart, and return it to its natural state. The natural state that you seem to be describing never existed before.

3) Another issue Matt doesn't address is Baghdad. It's pretty much in the Sunni Triangle--yet is approximately 60% Shi'a. There is a long history of cohabitation across Shi'a and Sunni communities there. As it's the capital city and largest city in Iraq--this issue cannot simply be discounted as trivial. Keeping Baghdad from descending into chaos will act as a powerful incentive for community leaders to keep cross-ethnic relations on a pretty good keel.

4) Worth noting too, the army we are busy 'training and equipping' reflects Iraq's ethnic makeup. This army needs, er, a lot more training and equipping before it's ready for prime time. But, just maybe, it could end up proving a stabilizing factor two or so years hence--in terms of creating a national institution that could act to dampen the prospects of inter-ethnic/religious violence.

5) Finally, Matt needs to address (but doesn't) some of the efforts the U.S. will take to stave off a civil war. For one, we've got 140,000 troops on the ground and, again contra Matt's musings, I'm pretty confident that Bush will not declare some victory to assorted gaga red-staters after the Iraqi elections and, just like that, pull out. Rather, in my view, he's committed to creating a viable, if imperfect, democracy there. So, perhaps imperfect, but not a country on the brink of disintegrating into civil war. Indeed, John Negroponte will doubtless be navigating constitution-making from the sidelines trying to get such policy prescriptions in place:

While encouraging the devolution of power to regional and local levels, we should build up those institutions that would foster national cohesion and identity. In particular, maintaining a strong central role in the administration of Iraq's oil wealth would create an incentive for cross-ethnic collaboration. A professional national media will be indispensable to creating shared Iraqi images as well as enhancing the protection of minorities. Likewise, a new Iraqi state would greatly benefit from a strong central bank capable of regulating monetary policy, federal business and trade organs responsible for facilitating internal and external commerce, and a national army representative of the entire Iraqi populace.

Like some pessimists, and particularly given Saddam's brutality against the Shi'a and their feeling of historical disenfranchisement over hundreds and hundreds of years, I harbor fears that a horrific civil war could, of course, break out. As Les Gelb, a gentleman and all around great guy, put it in his debate with Indyk:

...this country is on the verge of civil wars. I think if you don't see that, and if you think that everybody considers themselves a happy Iraqi and there's no ethnic strife, then you're missing what's really happening in that country, and you're missing the tidal wave that's about to hit us. That's what I'm worried about. I want to act, based on these ethnic realities, and they are the underlying realities, before that tidal wave hits us. As soon as we begin to get out, these folks will start killing each other, unless we prepare for it in the way I describe.

Maybe. But I'm not going to prejudge the outcome. And I remain optimistic Iraq will remain a unitary state for some of the reasons I've sketched above. The Kurds aren't getting out of Dodge. Their leaders realize this--their hands are simply tied. The historic curse of statelessness for the Kurds will remain for a good while yet. Perhaps forever (whether we like it or not). Meanwhile, a good deal of Iraqi Shi'a are not necessarily totally in bed with the Iranians and do harbor some residual Iraqi nationalism. For this reason, among others, there are some areas where representatives of both communities can find common cause going forward. Yes, many Shi'a would love to engage in some score-settling with Sunnis. Yes, Zarqawi will do his damnedest to kill peshmerga and Shi'a to help set off a civil war. But our presence on the ground, likely needed for a minimum of four or so more years, maintained in concert with the creation of federalist governance structures and relatively robust national instutions (per Pollack's recommendations above and others)--could set the conditions for a viable polity that doesn't descend into Yugoslavian style carnage. Put simply, civil war can't simply be treated as a present-day reality or foregone conclusion.

More: Don't miss James Joyner and Total Information Awareness on this too. James seems to mostly agree with me; Eric crafts a middle position as between Matt and B.D. Both pieces are well worth reading.

Posted by Gregory at 02:19 AM | Comments (16)

November 28, 2004

The Next Front Post-Fallujah: Baghdad's Southern Approaches

First, the (relatively) good news:

Commanders expect the main offensive to last another week. But nobody is talking about quick victories, rather of the new raids setting the scene for more later on.

A chart of suspected rebels that was developed over months by American intelligence officers and Iraqi undercover agents, laid out like a genealogical table, measures 10 feet by 4 feet. Unrolled in the command center at this Marine base in the desert southeast of the town of Iskandariya, it lists hundreds of rebel leaders, financiers and fighters, grouped together by family, by tribe and by past links in Mr. Hussein's military, political and intelligence apparatus.

"Every day, we have to stay the course," said Col. Ron Johnson, 48, a native of Duxbury, Mass., who commands the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose operational area covers parts of three Iraqi provinces with a combined population of 1.2 million. "We're in here for the long haul," he said.

Still, the mood among Marine officers is cautiously upbeat, and the belief, as put to reporters embedded for the offensive, is that the war here can still be won. The immediate objective is to deal a hard enough blow to the insurgents that plans can proceed for the election scheduled for Jan. 30.

Sounds like a smartly-conducted, sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign to me. And it's wise indeed to strike a hard blow now still two months before the election--the better to try to be able to defend polling stations in such areas (if voting can indeed take place) by eliminating some of the worst trouble-makers now.

But here's the bad news:

Early on in American military planning, commanders knew that a campaign to wrest Falluja from the insurgents would necessitate an offensive here, but limitations of logistics, air power and troops dictated the two offensives be staged sequentially. One disadvantage was that this gave the Falluja rebels a ready refuge, one that American generals sought to inhibit by asking Britain to move an 850-soldier battalion of the Black Watch north from Basra to a base just west of the Euphrates.

Marine intelligence officers estimate that 200 to 500 rebels from Falluja, many of them natives of the region south of Baghdad that is the focus of the new offensive, have come here in the past few weeks; some officers say those estimates are too low, as they also say official estimates of 1,200 insurgents killed in Falluja are too high.

Marine intelligence officers say there are 400 to 500 "core leaders" of the Sunni insurgency in the area, many of them former ranking members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party or senior officers in his military. Although they describe the insurgency as heavily decentralized, they have identified two new political groups that knit together these rebel leaders, one of them known as the Return or Restoration Party. These men, they say, have made common cause in the insurgency with the numerous criminal gangs in the area, who also have much to lose in the new American push. The intelligence estimates say that insurgent attacks in the area are carried out by 2,000 to 6,000 rebels, many of them unemployed youths or criminals released from jail by Mr. Hussein before he was driven from power. In many cases, American officers say, captured men have told them that they were paid sums ranging from $20 to $200 to stage ambushes or plant explosives that are detonated by "part-time triggermen," many of them also paid.

Like the Marines who know infinitely more than me about what is going on on the ground--I remain cautiously optimistic that we will prevail in these military actions through the coming weeks and months (it is interesting to note that many of the cell leader's foot-soldiers are criminals resisting for mere cash--hardly true believers whether of the Salafist or restorationist stripe). Prevail in the sense that we will decimate and kill enough of the "core leaders"--without alienating overly broad swaths of the local populace--so as to begin to get some of these Sunni areas on the path towards conditions conducive to normal, post-conflict reconstruction. It won't be easy, and I'm very concerned about security surrounding the electoral process in particular, but I think all of it is achievable (sorry, Kos and Co.!).

But, as John Burns' article makes clear, it would likely have been far more effective (remember, time is of the essence with elections looming) to have more forces on the ground during the Fallujah offensive so as to prevent insurgents fleeing it getting refuge in the Sunni areas south of Baghdad. Having to transplant the U.K.'s Blackwatch contingent, I fear, is symptomatic of the biggest problem that has confronted us throughout this Iraq conflict. Too few troops. And while Colin Powell is the man exiting the Cabinet--his Powell Doctrine, imho, looks better and better than the too easy nostrums of the "transformationalists". Don Rumsfeld, I continue to hope, will be held accountable for these and other missteps after he has helped see through the elections (switching Defense Secretaries pre-Fallujah offensive, pre-ongoing counter-insurgency operations, pre-elections--all would have sent the wrong signal to our foes and likely proven disruptive to the prosecution of the war effort).

Posted by Gregory at 11:28 PM | Comments (5)

November 26, 2004

The Shi'a Triangle

"Surged." "Tenacious." "Relentless". "Devastated." "Intense." "Devastated (again!)." "Unrelenting." "Inflamed Sunni resentment." "Impossible." "Threatening to unravel the very social fabric of the country." "Sunni-dominated cities exploded." Mosul: "second front of the insurgency" "Embattled capital."

All that in a short Edward Wong NYT dispatch from Iraq. Oh, don't miss the "bit of positive news" too! (How, exactly, by the way, has Mosul become a full-blown second front of the insurgency? Several police stations were occupied by insurgents--and have since been re-taken by coalition forces. Does this a second front make?)

Look, these stories matter and need to be reported--if in more balanced, judicious manner. But the big and hugely under-reported story in Iraq, right now, is that the Shi'a are about to assume power after the January elections--after 500 years under Sunni domination since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Most journalists are ignoring this mega-story in favor of the cacophony of news re: car bombings, beheadings, and so on. While B.D. has been dismayed throughout the Iraq war that too few troops were put in theater (allowing such absurd situations to fester) the country is still moving towards elections-despite all the turbulence enthusiastically chronicled by the MSM.

Yes, of course, instability in the Sunni Triangle matters very much to the general legitimacy of the impending elections. But it's the emergence of a "Shi'a Triangle" that is the big story media should be following diligently right now. Unlike the Sunni Triangle, the Shi'a Triangle isn't a geographic designation--but a description of the complicated inter-relationships currently underway between three men: Ayatollah Sistani, Moktada al Sadr, and the irrepresible Ahmad Chalabi (busily re-inventing himself as a pious Shi'a, of sorts, and helpfully out of sorts (vis-a-vis his street cred) with the Americans, Allawi, etc (Allawi remains a player too, of course, so that we might even talk of a Shi'a quadrangle).:

In the political jostling, the two main religious Shiite parties have agreed to form a coalition to run in the elections and are competing for the support of Sistani, say officials of both groups, the Dawa Islamic Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, better known as SCIRI. The two parties want the ayatollah’s commission to endorse the parties as the main body of a unified Shiite slate.

But so does Chalabi, who leads a rival faction called the Shiite Council, which consists of 42 smaller parties, including his own Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi is competing for the commission’s endorsement and a guarantee of a significant share of any assembly seats won by the Shiites, at the expense of the more established parties.

Seen as a carpetbagger by some Iraqis, Chalabi is relying on Moqtada Sadr to strengthen his credibility. Senior officials in the groups of the two men have discussed how they would divide assembly seats if they were to offer a single list of candidates. An organizer of the Shiite Council, Ali Faisal Al-Lami, recently traveled to Mosul with Ali Smesim, Sadr’s top aide, to speak to Sunni tribal leaders about their possibly joining a predominantly Shiite coalition led by Sadr or Chalabi or both.

Who would have thunk it? Chalabi, Iraq's George Washington to be and darling of Washington's neo-con's--now allied with Moktada al-Sadr against more establishment Shi'a political groupings (SCIRI, Dawa) that are vying for Sistani's support? More material to beat up the AEI crowd with? Well, not necessarily. The situation is much more complex than that. Sadr, after all, periodically threatens to boycott the elections claiming that cooperating with the Americans and interim authority re: the scheduled Jan. 30 elections is tantamount to unacceptable cooperation with the occupiers. And, of course, we are busy enough worrying about Sunni boycotts to concerns ourselves with, say, Sadr City boycotting too (these Baghdad slums, it should be noted, represent approximately 10% of Iraq's population alone). So, to a fashion, Chalabi's attempts to cobble together some unified Shi'a list, perhaps with Sadr's participation, is actually probably pretty helpful to the Americans. In conspiratorial moments, indeed, one wonders whether the so public falling out with Bremer and the US government may not have been, at least to some extent, suffused with an extra dose of theater. After all, it is good for Chalabi to have fallen out with all the right people--Allawi, the U.S. government, etc. How else for him to gain Sadr's trust and cooperation, for instance...

My point in all this? The Shi'a are about to gain power in Iraq for the first time in 500 years (at least, why not start the clock back in 657 when the first Shi'a Imam Ali was deposed?). This is a massive historical development. Chalabi, indefatigable and uber-intriguer that he is--has emerged as one of the key players in this historical drama. We should, at least in the short term, be wishing him some dose of luck in getting a unified Shi'a ticket put together. Remember, Sadr refusing to participate in the elections would be a disaster for us. Let Chalabi help us keep him on board--whatever his agenda. Meantime, recall that many of Iraq's impoverished Shi'a certainly revere Sistani as their spiritual leader--but Sadr's credibility has been greatly enhanced on the bricks and mortar political leadership front--given his skillful evocations of Iraqi nationalism fused with displays of religious fervor during the intermittent insurgencies he spearheaded with his Mahdi Army. So it's doubly important to keep him in the fold.

Some brief takeaways, at this point: 1) Don't delay elections. A delay will, almost certainly, open up the proverbial gates of hell. The Shi'a are very keen to hit the ballot box come end Jan--let's let them--as a delay will likely precipitate renewed Shi'a insurgency 2) Allow Chalabi to continue his convoluted Shi'a ticket balancing act--it's a net positive for us--at least at this juncture. 3) Ensure that Shi'a emissaries continue to meet with Kurdish counterparts. The Kurds are likely biding their time for a going forward independence bid and, at this point, are basically happy to play along with the elections in cooperative manner. But their good behavior should never be taken for granted. 4) Don't panic on the Sunni front. My fearless prediction--many of the Sunni groupings that have threatened to boycott elections (most notably the Association of Muslim Scholars) will reverse course before then and end up playing ball--so that Juan Cole's (not bad) idea of carving out a 20% Sunni slate and holding in reserve may not be necessitated. Remember, the real enemy are the hard-core Baathist remnants, Salafists, and foreign jihadists. They do not consitute even close to a majority within Sunni areas and, of course, many of the jihadists aren't even Iraqi nationals. So I am still somewhat confident most Sunnis will realize that there real interests lie in participating in the elections come end of January.

This is the big story in Iraq right now--the myriad frenetic political machinations underway--truly a massive burst of political activity marked by free discourse rather than the old oppressive Saddamite yoke. These events are pushing Iraq towards elections that will help move Iraq towards a democratic outcome--despite all the obvious pitfalls and imperfect conditions we face over the coming months. Pity the MSM doesn't devote more resources to this story--one that is significantly more critical than the latest beheading or car bomb.

Note: More on the Iyad Allawi role in all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 07:25 PM | Comments (5)

November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

I've just returned from a Thanksgiving lunch in Houston, TX where I gorged myself with turkey, lamb, oyster stuffing, shrimp, corn bread, sweet potatoes with (yes) melted marshmellows, more turkey, salad, green beans and, for good measure, pecan pie and something called a seven-layer cake--each of these last with a good dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. A couple espressos at the tail end of this gluttony kept me on my feet and allowed me to get through what was left of the afternoon! I feel bloated, of course, but isn't that what one is supposed to do Thanksgiving Day? Well, aside from giving thanks too, of course. Alas, however, no time for lengthy reflections about Plymouth or such today--but do check out the stories below if you need some general cheering up.

First off, from my favorite NYT reporter, John Burns, some perspective (after a week of near hysterical reportage from his colleague Edward Wong):

American hopes that Falluja would be a turning point in the war were dimmed, at least initially, by the concurrent upsurge in rebel attacks elsewhere in the Sunni heartland, especially in Mosul. The fear was that the American forces might have crushed one center of resistance only to ignite others.

But the week since the major fighting in Falluja has also been one of a sudden quickening in political activity before the nationwide election set for Jan. 30, in which voters are to choose a 275-member assembly that will pick a provisional government and draft a permanent constitution. Many Iraqis fear that the election could set off new levels of rebel violence, but the political momentum is building. The leader of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, Abdel Hussein al-Hindawi, said Wednesday that more than 200 Iraqi political parties had registered for the polls, a week before the closing date.

Maneuvering is under way to form consolidated lists of candidates who can draw a major share of the votes. [ed. note: More on all this maneuvering soon]

Oh, and Zarqawi is feeling some serious heat, apparently:

An audiotape was posted on the Internet on Wednesday in which a man identified as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist leader, condemned the Sunni Muslim clerical establishment in Iraq for abandoning the Iraqi resistance movement in the face of the American military offensive in Falluja and other Sunni cities.

"You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy," the tape said. "You have stopped supporting the mujahedeen. Hundreds of thousands of the nation's sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence."

Why is he feeling so abandoned? Here's one reason detailed by Edward Wong (who last week was deep in the full-blown MSM groupthink 'Fallujah-didn't-solve-anything-mode' and whose stories were replete with hyperbolic language such as talk of full-blown second front having developed in Mosul--where some police stations had changed hands)--representatives of some of the insurgent factions appear set to meet with Iraqi interim authority personnel in Jordan.

Finally this Thanksgiving, don't miss some positive news coming out of Powell's visit to Israel. Sharon is being pretty accomodative on issues related to the impending Palestinian elections:

Israeli officials say they will make it possible for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote, even if by postal ballots, will pull back troops from big towns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and will dismantle a number of checkpoints to make it easier for Palestinian candidates and voters to travel freely.

The European Union said Monday that it would send an observer mission for the election. Mr. Shalom, meeting on Wednesday with the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said those and other observers could enter "to ensure that these elections are fair and the results will be acceptable, not only to the international community but first and foremost to the Palestinian people."

In another public sign of cooperation on smaller matters, the Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers, Gideon Ezra and Mitri Abu Aida, met Wednesday to sign an agreement on cooperative measures intended to ensure safe and smooth passage of pilgrims and tourists visiting the Holy Land, especially during the Christmas season.

And all this in the New York Times! Anyway, happy turkey day again. More blogging likely tomorrow.

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 PM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2004

More on Troops Levels

Some experts are now arguing we have too many troops in theater. (Hat Tip: Laura):

Those arguing for immediate troop reductions include key Pentagon advisers, prominent neoconservatives, and some of the fiercest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Washington's policy elite.

The core of their arguments is that even as the US-led coalition goes on the offensive against the insurgency, the United States, by its very presence, is stimulating the resistance.

"Our large, direct presence has fueled the Iraqi insurgency as much as it has suppressed it," said Michael Vickers, a conservative-leaning Pentagon consultant and longtime senior CIA official who supported the war.

Retired Army Major General William Nash, the former NATO commander in Bosnia, said: "I resigned from the 'we don't have enough troops in Iraq' club four months ago. We have too many now."

Nash, who supported Hussein's ouster, said a substantial reduction after the Iraqi elections in January "would be a wise and judicious move" to demonstrate that the Americans are leaving. The remaining US forces should concentrate their energies on border operations, he added. "The absence of targets will go a long way in decreasing the violence."

More on all this soon--specifically, why I think it's such a bad idea. Oh, but here's one reason...

The danger of civil war is clear in recent reports that Iranian-backed assassination teams are targeting Sunni leaders. Iraq's intelligence chief, Mohammed Shahwani, charged on Oct. 14 that the Badr Organization of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) had killed 10 of his agents, and that he had found detailed evidence of the plot in three Iranian safe houses in Baghdad. SCIRI leaders denied the allegation.

Iraqi sources tell me they have independent evidence of an Iranian plan to recruit as many as 3,000 Iraqi Shiites and organize them into hit teams of 10 to 15 people each. These sources also describe an Iranian plan last summer to provide intelligence training in Syria for some leading members of the anti-American Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr. "The rationale for the Iranians is that the Sunnis must never get control of Iraq again," an Iraqi source tells me.

The Sunnis have embraced this dirty war. The insurgency has been conducting a vicious assassination campaign of its own against the Iraqi government, military and police. Most of the victims are Shiites.

Imagine all the fun and games that would result if the U.S. pulled out somewhat precipitously causing a major power vacuum. Hard-core Sunni insurgents would spin it as a victory--and it would greatly embolden them. In turn, Shi'a militants would feel more threatened by residual Sunni forces no longer distracted by the American interlopers. Thus, prospects for a civil war would increase. Oh, and the Kurds would start thumbing their noses at the Turks more--perhaps leading to Turkish interventions in Kurdish areas. There are many other problems too (as I said, more another day when time allows).

But, certainly, the risks of plunging Iraq into a civil war by pulling out prematurely is one of the worst. Folks, a massive historical development is about to occur in Iraq. The Shi'a, after 500 years, are about to assume power from the Sunni. And we're just going to high-tail it out of there right after the elections and let the chips fall where they may--in this time of immense flux?

P.S. Don't miss this part of the article Laura linked: "Said Ken Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Board who predicted the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk": "If there is a [stable] Iraqi government after January you can withdraw. I would be OK with that."

Do these people have no shame? Why is Adleman still going on about what we should be doing in Iraq? Wrong once--he's wrong again. A "stable" Iraqi government is not going to magically appear the day after the elections. I simply cannot see how having fewer than 100,000-200,000 troops there, at least for the foreseeable future, is feasible--unless we are happy to leave Iraq to its own devices. Allowing massive score-settling between the Shi'a and Sunni, major Iranian and Syrian troublemaking, Turkish interventions in the north (and concomitant Kurdish troublemaking in majority Kurdish parts of Turkey), and a propaganda victory to the insurgents--all are unthinkable. Yes, if we had a major contingent of Iraqi forces trained and equipped adequately and large U.N. or other international forces available for deployment it would be fine and dandy to make the face of the occupation less American (as the French and Syrians, but not the Egyptians and Iraqi government, so disingenously want to see). But we don't have either. Which therefore, in all likelihood, means we need to stick around in large number for a good while yet. It's the lesser of two evils, I'm afraid.

Look, I'm not saying our G.I.s should be parading around Sadr City every morning in large, obnoxious displays of American power. I get what Bill Nash and others are saying. I can see how, er, a more "nuanced" force posture and such would be helpful. And, to be sure, we can scale down our presence in certain sensitive areas as and when non-compromised (doubtless a good dollop of Iranian agents and/or proxies, not to mention unfriendly Sunnis, have infiltrated the program) fully trained Iraqi troops can pick up some of the slack--and any international troops too (an Arab contingent would be nice someday--though with no troops from immediately neighboring countries). But everyone on the ground right now knows very well that, in the background, the Americans loom mightily as the major constraint on all the various, shall we say, more maximalist agendas. What will all these factions do if that is no longer the case? Hint: They are not all going to lay down their arms, be all cheerily fraternal, and sing Kumbaya around the solidarity-infused, happy Iraqi campfire. More later.

Posted by Gregory at 12:23 PM | Comments (43)

November 22, 2004

A (Highly Selective) Take on the Iraqi Art Scene!

The good folks at the Guardian have been kind enough to give us a tour d'horizon of the Iraqi art scene. But, er, it's a highly selective one. After all, you might think that, after decades of being forced to churn out "state art;" Iraqi artists might be spreading their wings a bit in varied directions. But the Guardian instead chooses to focus on three works of art: 1) a piece comparing the Americans to the Mongols; 2) one simply called "Fallujah"; and 3) one series titled (you guessed it) "A Man From Abu Ghraib."

In a dark corner of a dingy courtyard, four stocky warriors with disproportionately tiny heads and huge, muscular arms stand with their backs against the wall. They wear thick vests - like flak jackets or breastplates - decorated with circles and strips, and knee-high boots with metal caps. Weapons dangle from their waists. One wears a two-horned helmet and carries a round shield. A huge crescent-shaped sword rests against his shoulder.

They look like a jihadi group posing for a beheading video or the latest fashion show in an American sex shop; in fact they are 10cm-high bronze figurines called The Invaders, the latest in a series of sculptures produced by an Iraqi artist trying to come to terms with the everyday realities of his life in Baghdad. "The first three are American marines, the fourth is a Mongol warrior," says Karim Khalil, 45, an Iraqi painter-sculptor. "They have all occupied Iraq and destroyed its culture. But while the Mongols were primitive savages who burned the libraries, the Americans, who call themselves a civilised nation, stood watching as the Iraqi museums were looted."

Artists are emerging from the atrophied, censorious Saddam years, from the distortions of taste provoked by state patronage and control and the horizons foreshortened by sanctions, and are beginning to document what is around them [emphasis added] [ed. note: Translation, for those of you less versed in Guardian-speak. Under Saddam--there was patronage of the arts--something the crude Yanks don't do back in Jesusland].

In the courtyard of his small house in an impoverished Baghdad neighbourhood, where kids play around open sewage drains and electricity is as scarce as security, Khalil, chubby, bald and sweating like a boar, sits at the bottom of the stairs and paints another of his war scenes: a burning tank surrounded by red, orange and green flames applied with childish strokes on canvas. "A burning tank on the outskirts of Baghdad one day in May inspired me to do this," he says.

Another painting, showing a jet fighter dropping bombs and called Falluja, lies in a corner, next to marble blocks and unfinished statues, under a laundry line strung with towels and underwear. In another corner a big plastic barrel used to store water during shortages sits next to an outdoor toilet and more paintings and statues. His wife has to step over piles of brushes and paint on her way to the kitchen.

There, in the middle of all that domestic chaos, Khalil has produced his best work, A Man From Abu Ghraib: a series of a dozen 20-30cm-high marble and bronze figurines. A marble figure of a man, classically sculpted, at first reminds you of Michelangelo's David; it's only later that you realise he has a marble sack on his head. Another figurine - of bronze - depicts one of the more famous Abu Ghraib pictures, a man also wearing something like a sack over his head, standing on a box, with electrical wires attached to his fingers.

Think the Guardian will at least emphasize, out of a sense of basic fair play, that Iraqis now have the freedom to pursue their artistic visions--wherever they lead them--whether towards Mongols, Fallujah, or Abu Ghraib? Well, not really. The piece concludes thus:

The art of satire is something new in our country," said Jalal Kamil, the leading Iraqi actor and director who is behind this series, "and the potential is great. For the first time we can work without fear of the censors." He went on and on about this great potential, the great drama that can be found anywhere in Iraq these days. Then, as he left he turned and said, "What I have learned, however, is that I am not allowed to make jokes about the Americans or to criticise the occupation."

You can't make this stuff up. But it gets worse. In another Guardian piece, terrorist beheading videos are called "theatre." Well, in an evil, grotesque way they are, right? But note the despicable moral relativism that runs throughout the piece:

The videos are one of the most shocking elements of the war in Iraq. Scores have now been released by Iraqi insurgents. To many the terrorists' use of the media seems a radical innovation. It isn't. The Iraqi videos are part of a genre of propaganda tools developed over decades. This is simply the moment that the terrorist film-makers have started to reach a mass audience. In the longer term, the videos are rooted in the essence of the militants' project, which is the project of all terrorists - dramatic spectacle. Or, put another way, theatre...

...The intense competition between groups for airtime and attention goes some way to explaining the savagery of the acts committed to film by insurgent groups in Iraq in recent months. In the past two weeks, all over Iraq and particularly in the area where Mrs Hassan was killed, there has been violence of an extraordinary intensity. The insurgents know that for a single, small group of men, lightly armed in conventional terms, to grab the attention of their audience they need to do something utterly atrocious...

...The terrorists have become auteurs, mini film directors. Early on, in the Eighties, their videos were basic, consisting of little more than the speeches of radical leaders spliced with news footage of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. They were, however, effective. Many of the militants I've interviewed have described how they were first inspired by seeing one of the crude recruitment videos in circulation at the time...

...The execution videos in Iraq combine all the tried-and-tested elements of the genre. They are dramatic productions. There is the main subject centre stage, there is a carefully designed set and backdrop and there are carefully chosen props, such as the cage that Kenneth Bigley appeared in, that send particular messages to particular audiences. In recent videos, there is even a script, carefully drafted statements that have to be read out by victims, often in a hideous duet with their killer.

Auteurs! Competition over airtime! Innovation! Genre! Backdrops and stages! Scripts! Sounds like a production set in L.A.--not a spate of barbaric beheadings.

Oh, and then this whopper:

The risk is that we will become desensitised. Over the period that jihadi videos have been developed as a genre by the terrorists, hardcore porn sites and major release films and video games depicting graphic, if fictional, scenes of mayhem have also become far more common. There is a parallel in the proliferation in the pornography of violence and that of sex. Have a look at any number of American websites where 'rape videos' and clips of road and train accidents are available alongside dozens of the hostage and execution videos released by the insurgents over this year. When you subscribe you get access to both. Once, you may remember, images of life-taking were very rare.

"If fictional." Much of the perils of post-modern relativism can be summed up in how the author of this piece breezily uses that one little phrase.

UPDATE: Some readers appear to be struggling with what all the fuss is about with regard to the "if fictional" formulation. Read comments--particularly this helpful soul:

"Do you guys really not understand what's wrong with the inclusion of this phrase?...Let me break it down for you.

The Observer author's point is to make a moral equivalence between Harrison Ford movies and VIDEOS OF REAL TERRORIST DECAPITATIONS. He's saying that Hollywood movies and porn, IF FICTIONAL, are really gruesome and therefore contributed to the barbaric war crimes.

The argument about violent art's influence on real violence is complicated (and not one that the Observer writer is even beginning to get into), but surely one of the basic presuppositions is that there's a fundamental category distinction between art and reality.

The dismissive, parenthetical way he mentions this CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE reveals that in his imagination there really is no moral difference between art and reality. He lives in a world of moral relativism where everything seems as real as everything else. Like our boy said, it's the pyrrhic victory of postmodern moral relativism when well-meaning people are so blind to the difference between truth and fiction that they blame Hollywood for the barbaric atrocities of terrorists.

Clear now?"

Thanks, Chris!

P.S. The people who routinely imbibe this claptrap wrote us letters about whom to vote for in the Presidential election? Spare the poor Ohioans the indignity, please!

P.S.S. FYI, I should also note that the author of the piece on the Iraqi art scene is a combat photographer. He worked in Fallujah during the U.S. offensive--doubtless at great personal risk--not as a U.S. embed but with the insurgents. Some of those pics can be seen here (go to page 5). He's got guts and some talent--but unfortunately his Guardian piece is risibly biased in its anti-American slant.

Posted by Gregory at 11:03 PM | Comments (48)

Coming Soon at B.D.

The big story major media are largely ignoring in Iraq--the 'Shi'a Triangle.' Yes, you read that right.

Posted by Gregory at 02:35 PM

Too Little, Too Late (But Better Than Nothing)

The possibility that additional troops would be required to battle the insurgency in this critical period preceding the Iraqi elections has been signaled for weeks. The Pentagon took an initial step in this direction last month, ordering about 6,500 soldiers in Iraq to extend their tours by up to two months.

With some fresh U.S. forces already arriving in Iraq as part of a long-scheduled rotation, and two newly trained Iraqi brigades due to start operating next month, U.S. military leaders had hoped to avoid further increases.

But over the past week, a closer assessment of the forces needed for the Fallujah recovery effort and future offensive operations revealed a gap in desired troop strength, at least over the next two or three months, according to several officers familiar with the issue.

The officers said the exact number of extra troops needed is still being reviewed but estimated it at the equivalent of several battalions, or about 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq fell to nearly 100,000 last spring before rising to 138,000, where it has stayed since the summer.

From the WaPo.

Fifty thousand would be better. But I'll take five. It's a start. But it's not enough to remedy such ridiculousness.

P.S. I'm not alone in my view...

MR. RUSSERT: More American troops?

SEN. McCAIN: I've said that for--since a year ago last August.

MR. RUSSERT: How many more do you think we need, Senator, in all honesty?

SEN. McCAIN: I would say at least 40,000 or 50,000 more, but...

MR. RUSSERT: Where are you going to find them?

SEN. McCAIN: I think you can find them, but it's an enormous strain. We also have to plan on increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. Among others, General McCaffrey is a guy I admire. He says the--you need to increase the Army by about 80,000 and the Marines by 20,000 to 30,000. I don't dispute that. He and others tell me that that's about the right numbers.

Posted by Gregory at 03:23 AM | Comments (16)

November 19, 2004

Baghdad Dispatch--"Friendly Fire"

One of my best friends, an American national, sends in this descriptive dispatch from a chaotic Iraq where, it appears, identification of friend and foe can prove a rapid-fire judgement indeed--with life pretty cheap--especially if someone gets a tad trigger-happy. We've still got a long road ahead folks...

Friendly Fire

“Do you think if they’d have killed you, that would technically be murder?” Pete asked with a genuine and child-like curiosity that helped soothe the silent shivers that had suddenly gripped us all. “No,” I answered without pondering too long over the force majeure jurisprudential peculiarities of a friendly fire fatality, “but it would be pretty fucking embarrassing.”

Pete is one of four stocky, British Close Protection Officers who was
crammed in together with me in a late-model Ford Taurus that had skidded to a stop about 100 yards short of a U.S. checkpoint. The skid began when Bruce yelled “Stop!” and continued through several bursts of an M-60 until the trusty American car actually did stop, moments before the aerated barrel atop a distant, sand-bagged Hummer made the fatefully second engine-block, windshield sweep which, of course, would have made the Taurus a defunct convertible and robbed my faithful readers of this dispatch. After Pete’s question, there was—as one might imagine—a fair amount of swearing. Then
the Fijian popped out to go have a word with the Yanks, both arms as high in the air as his squat frame could manage. Crumpled in one hand was the mimeographed Union Jack, in the other his Department of Defense ID.

What was actually embarrassing was the amount of time one of the young,American reservists guarding this forlorn checkpoint, twenty or so kilometers west of Baghdad spent staring at the British flag. I’m not completely sure he knew what it was. It was all very strange: my bodyguards were—for perfectly understandable reasons—expressing various anti-American sentiments and, like them, I had nearly been shot dead by Americans, but I refused to allow myself to join in this chorus of criticism. To do so would be self-denial, after all. The best I could muster was a scowl at the repentant sentries (one had been gesturing us forward as the other was signaling to stop—their second day in Iraq, we later learned) as we eventually drove through the checkpoint, though even this was disingenuous as I actually felt badly for the boys, who themselves I knew felt badly as well.

600 yards further, we came into view of another checkpoint. A good ten yards ahead of the bi-lingual STOP sign, they too opened fire, though this time only a single warning shot. This time Pete, who had been driving, hopped out. They would have likely killed the Fijian. This sentry wouldn’t come any closer than 50 yards and the yelling back and forth was scarcely audible. We asked Pete what had been said as he returned to the driver’s seat. “Iraqi, go away!”

Stuck between two checkpoints, we figured our chances were best at the first where a few minutes before we’d had the opportunity to explain ourselves and I’d only scowled (as opposed to whipping the bird—sometimes restraint pays off). There, under the afternoon sun, we spent a good hour as the reservists struggled to get a signal on their radios and summon up an escort that could take us through the impassable checkpoint and to the designated meeting point with our back-up team a few kilometers beyond. Few things that day had gone according to plan.

As the disconnect between the checkpoints amply illustrates, radio
communications—like hand signals—are sometimes imperfect. The repentant soldiers at the first checkpoint were unable to summon an escort and eventually another Hummer came through and we flagged it down. Together with one of the sentries, we recounted the recent events and as we did the sergeant in the passenger seat did his best to suppress laughter. It was admittedly a ridiculous situation. Grudgingly, they invited us to tail along as they headed back down the road to pick up two track vehicles at the second checkpoint who were themselves awaiting an escort to proceed further. As we re-approached, this time nose to rear of the Hummer, the roof-gunner
of the Humvee desperately waved his arms in a gesture that said “NO” to the heavy gunners on the bridge above, and we made it through, stopping under the bridge to pick up the new members of the entourage. There, under the bridge, we got some incredulous looks indeed. With the Fallujah offensive still underway a hundred or so kilometers to the West, everyone seemed to be on edge. Twenty minutes later, we were in a safehouse waiting for our security firm’s escort to arrive and take us back into Baghdad. Sipping my
coffee, I stared at a wall-map tracing back the day’s route. “You’re
remarkably calm, all considering,” Bruce noted. “What do you expect me todo?” I responded. “I don’t know, maybe write your Congressman.”

Hours before, on the journey North, we lost our back-up car when its
radiator started acting up and it became clear it could no longer keep the only sort of pace that would be judicious under these circumstances. Accordingly, we packed sent the Iraqis back to the trip’s origin and the remaining British CPOs piled into the Taurus, with Pete taking the wheel. This may strike my distant readers as an impossible stretch of the “low-profile” posture which I maintain is the safest here these days, but when you’re stuck in the desert what else are you going to do. You need to understand the context—not only of Iraq, but of the Brits who, themselves one-hundred years short of an empire, tend to find their best successes traveling light and close to the earth. I maintain that there is, despite the comedy of errors described above, a very positive lesson exists here on
how to comport oneself in today’s world. The lesson, or perhaps question, concerns the manner of approach. American military—or
political-military—planners have taken a good deal of heat for going into Iraq “light,” yet that is precisely how those who have twice before made the Umm Qasr-northward drive did it. These days, the Brits know they cannot always rely on massive backup, and that’s what makes their soldiers necessarily resourceful. Fans of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” may join me in remembering the scene when O’Toole, fresh out of the desert, strides, in full dishdasha and kefiya, into the officers’ mess hall and demands a glass of water. Slowly, but eventually, it dawns on the assembled company what is going on.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I remember clearly the day a line was drawn over Fallujah more than seven months ago. I was exercising in the MWR “tent” in the Green Zone where one generally has to wrangle for limited weight machines amongst Army grunts burning off steam. Walkman blaring, I was struck by the sudden availability of most weight sets and relished in this for a few minutes before turning around to see where everyone went. When I did, I saw the rest of the gym clustered around a television set. On it, a satellite station was broadcasting footage of an angry Fallujah mob kicking and tearing at the charred remains of four American corpses. To a far more exaggerated sense than I have ever experienced in a male-dominated gym before, the prevalence of rising testosterone was palpable, and it
spelled revenge.

This might otherwise foretell that the recent operation in Fallujah was about revenge. Despite my little anecdote, I am here to testify—and justify as I did in my previous dispatch—that it wasn’t. It was about something bigger. But speaking of big, there is the old adage about elephants dancing. Best to get out of the way, say the African bushmen, who are of course the most likely to ever witness such a thing.

But don’t get out of the bush entirely. Don’t crawl into an armored bunker somewhere in the sand, or behind concrete walls, and try to imagine what other things might be causing the earth to tremble. What do the earth-dwellers do when the ground beneath their feet trembles? Watching them, and shaking with them, can be enlightening.

This afternoon, I found myself sitting in an imperially-appointed office, with gold-freized ceilings and Louis XV sidetables, overlooking the Tigris. The palace, previously belonging to Mrs. Saddam, had been renovated by a returned Iraqi expatriate who had a dream of turning it into the Hollywood of Mesopotania. With family and tribal ties to some of the folks running about Al Anbar province with red kafiyah-covered faces and RPGs, I have to say this guy was pretty close to reaching his dream. Out the window, I had the best view I’ve seen yet of the Al Dora Bridge, from which insurgents launch mortars over my roof and into the Green Zone every night. A variance of their aim would be an end to the dreams of my afternoon host. But that doesn’t seem to stop him, and the existence of such bizarre anomalies in this admittedly surreal environment maintains one’s fragile sense of hope. Hope, that is, that is there is some way—not just out—but to a better place.

Posted by Gregory at 05:32 AM | Comments (12)

November 18, 2004

Gloomy Lede Watch

A NYT piece timed to make Fallujah (a successful operation) appear, well, unsuccessful.

Senior Marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say.

You have to dig down into the piece to read this:

"The assessment of the enemy is a worst-case assessment," Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III of the Army, the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq, said of the Marine report in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "We have no intention of creating a vacuum and walking away from Falluja."

And this:

Officers who have read the report played down its dire warnings and pointed out several successes noted in the document. The report, for instance, says that the Falluja operation achieved its basic goal, to deny the insurgents their largest sanctuary in Iraq, and has forced the network of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to move to a new base of operations in the country, probably Mosul.

The report also says that the number of attacks in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar Province, has declined by 40 percent in the last few weeks, after security was heightened in the region, according to Maj. Douglas M. Powell, a Marine spokesman in Washington.

That said, as with most things, the reality lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these positive and negative going forward assessments. Put simply, and sorry to sound like such a broken record for some 15 or so months now, but more troops wouldn't hurt right about now in places like Ramadi, Mosul, Fallujah and Samarra, would they?

Oh, don't miss this assessment re: why the insurgency is proving rather resilient:

The insurgency has shown "outstanding resilience" and the militants' willingness to fight is bolstered by four main factors, the report says. One, the tribal and insurgent leaders understand the limitations of the United Nations, American elections and internal Iraqi government politics, and try to exploit them. Two, they are skilled at turning battlefield defeats into symbolic victories, just as Saddam Hussein did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Insurgents will make the battle of Falluja into an excellent recruiting tool, the report says.

Three, the insurgents are dedicated propagandists who use the Internet and other means to feed exaggerated and contrived reporting from the battlefield to jihadists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Al Jazeera and Arab media then pick it up, the report says.

Finally, the report says, the insurgents believe they are more willing to suffer casualties than the American military and public, and "will continue to find refuge among sympathetic tribes and former regime members."

Bush's victory took some wind out of their sails on the italicized portion of that fourth point, in my view.

Posted by Gregory at 06:30 AM | Comments (20)

Iraq: The Local Governance Angle

Local government is no substitute for central government, and there is a great need to recreate a sense of national identity. But in the context of rising violence, a growing sectarian and ethnic divide, and doubts on the feasibility and impact of national elections, the best way for now to protect the centre from centrifugal tendencies is, paradoxical as this may seem, to strengthen government at the various local levels. This means not only electing local governments but effectively empowering them, particularly on budgetary matters, and improving communication between national ministries and local councils. Without such steps, the isolated central state and the neglected local councils will both lose relevance and be unable to hold a fragile country together.

More food for thought from the smart folks at ICG can be found here.

Posted by Gregory at 06:25 AM | Comments (6)

November 16, 2004

The U.N. at Work

A Senate committee investigating the United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq estimates that during 13 years of international sanctions, Saddam Hussein's government made at least $21.3 billion illicitly - more than double previous government estimates.

-- Judith Miller, writing in the New York Times.

But, you know, sanctions were working. Why did we have to go and rock the boat?

Posted by Gregory at 12:41 PM | Comments (6)

October 28, 2004

The Great New York Times al-Qaqaa Rollback...

Let's briefly recap the NYT's handling of the al-Qaqaa chronicles.

1) First, the Times ran a big lead story saying that the explosives were definitely removed after the invasion. It was, of course, a piece that positively reeked of serving Kerry up an issue before the election. Particularly humorous, to a fashion, the language liberally employed through the article so transparently aimed at conjuring up monstrous Dr. Strangelove scenarios so as to herald the coming apocalypse ("greatest explosives bonanza in history,"It's like Mars on Earth," "easily move into the terrorist web across the Middle East", "Nagasaki,"blackened and eviscerated,", "No Man's Land.")

Shit, scared yet? The nuclear winter is here, man!

2) Mere hours after they 'broke' the story--the Times-Kerry axis had this story on tap. It was almost as if John Kerry had been holding his "great blunders" line in reserve once the Times got the piece up! (Oh, and cherub Edwards was mouthing off about the "clueless" Bushies--mining the Valley girl vote when not making sure his hair was comme il faut for the cameras).

3) Next, Krugman dutifully picks up the story. What's his op-ed called? You guessed it, a "Culture of Cover-Ups"! (Someone should tell Krugman that his credibility would be so greatly enhanced if, even just once, he had a single nice thing to say about this Administration. But, I guess, that's asking a little too much since Bush is the devil incarnate and bearded Kruggie plays ennobled dissident so well--garnering so many big awards from easily wowed Euro crowds who think him the new Sakharov or some such).

4) Next, the NYT gets into (somewhat) defensive mode. But, no repentance, just yet:

President Bush's aides told reporters that because the soldiers had found no trace of the missing explosives on April 10, they could have been removed before the invasion. They based their assertions on a report broadcast by NBC News on Monday night that showed video images of the 101st arriving at Al Qaqaa.

By yesterday afternoon Mr. Bush's aides had moderated their view, saying it was a "mystery" when the explosives disappeared and that Mr. Bush did not want to comment on the matter until the facts were known.

But others would be 'moderating' their views soon too, of course.

5) Next, the Times does its level best to distance itself from a story that, it appears, could be crumbling around them. After all, the key to this entire story (in terms of the political damage it could cause Evil Georgie) is that the explosives dissapeared after the invasion. There's quite a bit to mine here, and time is short, but here are some highlights:

President Bush addressed for the first time today the mysterious disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq, accusing his campaign rival, Senator John Kerry, of exploiting the issue without knowing, or caring about, the truth. Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, continued to hammer away on the issue.

Do me a favor. Substitute, in the graf above, the words "New York Times" where "Senator John Kerry" or "Mr. Kerry" is mentioned. Funny, huh?

Oh, and then there's this:

The very fact that Mr. Bush mentioned the missing explosives, after two days of silence since their disappearance was first reported, signaled that his campaign strategists recognized the issue's political potency in the final week of a presidential race that both sides agree could be exceedingly close.

People in the Kerry campaign clearly think too that the missing explosives may be a powerful issue...

Again, subsitute "the New York Times" for "the Kerry campaign" in the immediately preceding passage. And, note the transparent spinning in the graf above. First, POTUS was hiding for two days! Like, totally silent dude! And, now he's, you know, talking about it. So it must be a big deal! He's feeling the heat! Its got some, er, "political potency" to it...(Yawn. Can't they at least start doing all this boulot Lockhart with more subtletly?)

Then this:

The timing of the disappearance is crucial. The stockpile was found to be intact in March 2003, when United Nations weapons inspectors checked it just days before the American-led invasion. On April 10, one day after Saddam Hussein was toppled, American troops visited the Al Qaqaa depot, not finding any big cache of explosives but apparently not looking very closely either.

The troops' commander has explained that his unit was on its way to Baghdad and had simply paused at Al Qaqaa to plan the next stage of their advance.

If it could ever be established that the explosives disappeared while Mr. Hussein was still in power, Mr. Kerry's assertions that the disappearance illustrates the Bush administration's incompetence would be diluted.

Mr. Bush encouraged the idea today that the timing remained very uncertain. Accusing Mr. Kerry of making "wild charges," the president said American-led forces had seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions in Iraq.

Note what the Times is trying to get away with here!?! It's Bush who is encouraging the "idea" that "the timing remained very uncertain." Translation: We at the Times continue to believe the timing is certain, not ambiguous, so that the explosives were removed after the invasion. But, as contrary facts are emerging, we can't say this anymore (at least not without greatly embarrasing ourselves--though we very much did in our initial 'gotcha' piece). Now, rather than accept some responsibility for all this--we are stepping back and distancing ourselves from the entire mess. See, it's now Mr. Kerry's assertions re: the administration's incompetence that "would be diluted." But, bien sur, nary a mention that our assertions (our headlined, hyped, hypebolic reporting) was perhaps innaccurate.

All pretty shameless, no?

6) Next, roll-back mode begins in earnest:

The disappearance of the explosives has roiled the presidential campaign since the report on Monday, by The New York Times and CBS News, that some of them may have been removed from an ammunition dump after American troops passed by and failed to secure the area. Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency had warned American officials before the war began that nearly 380 tons of high explosives were hidden at the stockpile called Al Qaqaa. [emphasis added]

"Some of them may have been removed"? Sorry, but that wasn't how W. 43rd St. copy read. Again, so we don't forget, the initial story read thus: "White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year."

So now the Times is mis-characterizing it's original story. Without, of course, even beginning to broach whether they need to prostrate themseleves into full-blown mea culpa mode. But no, Raines has been expunged, so sky's the limit! Party on folks--get out the vote!

7) Signpost moving time. This story is no longer about Bush's personal responsibility in facilitating the greatest terrorist bonanza since the advent of modern history through grotesque negligence. Now, per this Times piece, the story has become much more, er, sober:

The disappearance of the explosives -- first reported in Monday's New York Times -- has raised questions about why the United States didn't do more to secure the facility and failed to allow full international inspections to resume after the invasion.


8) Le rollback continu. Buried in this Reuters piece carried on the Times website:

Bush and Pentagon officials said the material might have been moved from the site before U.S. forces arrived.

Perkins also said it was ``very highly improbable'' that enemy forces could have trucked out such a huge amount of explosives in the weeks after U.S. forces first arrived there, considering the high level of U.S. military presence and how clogged the roads around the site were with U.S. convoys.

9) Time to play defense--but rollback now complete!

Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday.

The Iraqis described an orgy of theft so extensive that enterprising residents rented their trucks to looters. But some looting was clearly indiscriminate, with people grabbing anything they could find and later heaving unwanted items off the trucks.

Two witnesses were employees of Al Qaqaa - one a chemical engineer and the other a mechanic - and the third was a former employee, a chemist, who had come back to retrieve his records, determined to keep them out of American hands. The mechanic, Ahmed Saleh Mezher, said employees asked the Americans to protect the site but were told this was not the soldiers' responsibility.

The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.

The Times is now busily casting about for Iraqi "witnesses." But, no witness accounts can keep them from now admitting what I've bolded above: that some of the explosives may have gone missing before the invasion. Wowser! And still--not an inkling of a retraction or apology. Hell, not even an ensy weensy clarification or such re: the initial story.

10) MoDo picks up where Krugman left off. She doesn't give one little Qa-Qaa about the facts, of course. Just spin, Cheney is Frankenstein, spin, George is hopelessly dumb, spin etc etc. You've read it all before....

11) Now, of course, and not reported in the NYT at this hour--comes this Bill Gertz bombshell from the Washington Times. Gertz is probably the best reporter at that paper--so I take it seriously (though I've always been dubious that massive amounts of Iraqi weaponry were moved to Syria or Iran).

Money grafs:

John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, "almost certainly" removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad. "The Russians brought in, just before the war got started, a whole series of military units," Mr. Shaw said. "Their main job was to shred all evidence of any of the contractual arrangements they had with the Iraqis. The others were transportation units." Mr. Shaw, who was in charge of cataloging the tons of conventional arms provided to Iraq by foreign suppliers, said he recently obtained reliable information on the arms-dispersal program from two European intelligence services that have detailed knowledge of the Russian-Iraqi weapons collaboration....

"That was such a pivotal location, Number 1, that the mere fact of [special explosives] disappearing was impossible," Mr. Shaw said. "And Number 2, if the stuff disappeared, it had to have gone before we got there."

The Pentagon disclosed yesterday that the Al-Qaqaa facility was defended by Fedayeen Saddam, Special Republican Guard and other Iraqi military units during the conflict. U.S. forces defeated the defenders around April 3 and found the gates to the facility open, the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday.

A military unit in charge of searching for weapons, the Army's 75th Exploitation Task Force, then inspected Al-Qaqaa on May 8, May 11 and May 27, 2003, and found no high explosives that had been monitored in the past by the IAEA.

The Pentagon said there was no evidence of large-scale movement of explosives from the facility after April 6.

Look, this version of events ain't airtight either. But, one thing is for sure. The NYT won't give it as much copy as their version of events which, as it turns out, is materially erroneous in terms of any judicious preponderance of the evidence test--as and where we sit today. Just don't look for any corrections or retractions. It's the Times, after all--and they're typically above such messiness. Wild-eyed Kerry ran with their story, you see, and now it's a Bush-Kerry explosives thang.

Meanwhile, the Times regally takes in the passing show--one they erroneously hyped up and published. They could have run a more sober piece--there is still a lot for the Bushies to be embarrassed about here--even in the Gertz piece scenario (why didn't Bush get good buddy Vlado to stop the arms-shuttling out of Iraq). But, instead, the Times tried to score a mega-October surprise style gotcha and hand it over to JFK the Second. And, it looks like, they came up real short.

(thax to reader Chris Jefferson for getting my butt in gear on this story)

UPDATE: The NYT is valianty keeping the story alive! But they are moving the signposts (again) and using lots of weasel verbiage:

A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The tape, broadcast on Wednesday night by the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis, appeared to confirm a warning given earlier this month to the agency by Iraqi officials, who said that hundreds of tons of high-grade explosives, powerful enough to bring down buildings or detonate nuclear weapons, had vanished from the site after the invasion of Iraq.

The question of whether the material was removed by Mr. Hussein's forces in the days before the invasion, or looted later because it was unguarded, has become a heated dispute on the campaign trail, with Senator John Kerry accusing President Bush of incompetence, and Mr. Bush saying it is unclear when the material disappeared and rejecting what he calls Mr. Kerry's "wild charges."

Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the war. One frame shows what the experts say is a seal, with narrow wires that would have to be broken if anyone entered through the main door of the bunker.

The agency said that when it left Iraq in mid-March, only days before the war began, the only bunkers bearing its seals at the huge complex contained the explosive known as HMX, which the agency had monitored because it could be used in a nuclear weapons program. It is now clear that program had ground to a halt.

The New York Times and CBS reported on Monday that Iraqi officials had told the agency earlier this month that the explosives were missing, and that they were looted after April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell.

"Apparently." "Appears." Seems the jury's still out. As I said, lots of weasel words. And, critically, note the bolded portion immediately above in the last graf. That's a flat-out mis-statement. The original Monday New York Times story stated that "White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year"--not merely that "Iraqi officials" had so opined.

Again, moving the goal-posts. Look, the point of this post wasn't to argue that whatever went down at al Qaqaa was all just fine and dandy. It, very obviously, wasn't. But it was to showcase, pretty convincingly in my view, that the New York Times--in its so transparent rush to hand Kerry a big issue--1) rushed their copy, 2) given "1", the article in its original form was not factually provable by a preponderance of the evidence standard (especially in that it may have been factually inaccurate with regard to the Administration's reported acknowledgement that explosives vanished after the invasion; or, at best, way too thinly-sourced to convincingly make that claim), and 3) was, in general, evocative more of a NYT that feels simply like a WSJ of the Left than the much ballyhooed even-keeled, wise, ever-judicious 'paper of record.' Don't you think?

UPDATE: The always on the ball Tom Maguire adds more relevant detail. Check it out...

Posted by Gregory at 01:43 PM | Comments (107)

October 27, 2004

A Puppet in Revolt?

Why, how dare the "puppet" use the 'N' word (even appending an unflattering adjective to it)? Quick, someone call Joe Lockhart and ask him whether the "hand underneath the shirt...[is] moving the lips" today too? Or was this all just a coup de theatre to show that big boy Allawi marches to his own drummer?

N.B. I am not opining on the merits of various parties' culpability in this sad affair. As with the explosives story, let's take a couple days to see how this sorry episode plays out. But, that said, note mention (in the NYT article) that up to 5% of nascent Iraqi forces may have been infiltrated by insurgents. This doesn't surprise me at all--and, of course, might have been a (if not the) major contributing factor in allowing this brutish slaughter of guardsmen to happen.

I remember the Iranians trying to infiltrate the Bosnian Federation Army when we were assisting that 'train and equip' effort. Doubtless Iraqi insurgents (and even some Iranian agents) are trying the same with this latest U.S. led 'train and equip' effort. Folks, we cannot rush this effort (the training of Iraqi forces), falsely declare them combat ready, and cut bait with a major drawdown in our presence there. We need a good 3-5 years to judiciously recruit, adequately screen, effectively train/equip; coordinate into our force presence, ensure professionalism, etc.--if we are serious about creating a viable Iraqi Army that is professional and capable enough to really assist in stabilization and democratization of that country. Yes, that means likely beyond the term of whoever wins next week (and Kerry says he will draw our troops out by the end of his first term? What a recipe for disaster! I thought he was the candidate so keen to 'train and equip' better? Hard to do without enough trainers on the ground and some insurance (read: lotsa U.S. boots around too) in case the nascent army gets overly compromised...) This is just one critical area of many where any irresolute signals emitting from Washington will further encourage troublemaking on the ground. Sullivan and Co. haven't focused enough, in my view, on the fact that Kerry has all but confirmed our troops are to get out of Iraq by the end of his first term--a major signal of weakness to the enemy in my book.

Posted by Gregory at 02:20 AM | Comments (6)

September 26, 2004

MoDo is the Marionette

I used to respect MoDo's keen wit and fierce independent streak. But sadly, over the past couple of years, she's wholly swallowed a far-too-easy, breezy quasi-Mooreian narrative that has transformed her into a willing and increasingly shrill mouthpiece for anyone with a bone to pick with the Bush Administration. In this so-simple, dumbed-down world--Rummy and Cheney baby-sit kid Georgie, the neo-cons hijacked U.S. foreign policy and imposed a loony doctrine of pre-emption that has grossly unsettled a heretofore peaceful and idyllic international system, and the Administration is full of moronic Panglossians who think all is going smashingly swell in Mesopotamia.

Today, in the most widely read and prestigious opinion page in American print media (the Sunday New York Times), she simply parrots Joe Lockart's 'Allawi-as-Bush-parrot' slur--unwittingly showcasing that she is much more of a marionette and puppet than the Iraqi PM--given how slavishly she goes about doing Joe Lockhart's bidding without even a hint of judiciousness or fair play. It's worth quoting at some length:

President Bush has his own Mini-Me now, someone to echo his every word and mimic his every action.

For so long, Mr. Bush has put up with caricatures of a wee W. sitting in the vice president's lap, Charlie McCarthy style, as big Dick Cheney calls the shots. But now the president has his own puppet to play with.

All last week in New York and Washington, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq parroted Mr. Bush's absurd claims that the fighting in Iraq was an essential part of the U.S. battle against terrorists that started on 9/11, that the neocons' utopian dream of turning Iraq into a modern democracy was going swimmingly, and that the worse things got over there, the better they really were.

It's the media's fault, the two men warble in a duet so perfectly harmonized you wonder if Karen Hughes wrote Mr. Allawi's speech, for not showing the millions of people in Iraq who are not being beheaded, kidnapped, suicide-bombed or caught in the cross-fire every day; and it's John Kerry's fault for abetting the Iraqi insurgents by expressing his doubts about our plan there, as he once did about Vietnam....

Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected. Every time the administration takes a step it says will reduce the violence, the violence increases.

Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet - which is the only way he can gain any credibility to stabilize his devastated country and be elected himself.

Actually, being the president's marionette is a step up from Mr. Allawi's old jobs as henchman for Saddam Hussein and stoolie for the C.I.A.

It's hilarious that the Republicans have trotted out Mr. Allawi as an objective analyst of the state of conditions in Iraq when he's the administration's handpicked guy and has as much riding on putting the chaos in a sunny light as they do. Though Mr. Allawi presents himself as representing all Iraqis, his actions have been devised to put more of the country in the grip of this latest strongman - giving himself the power to declare martial law, bringing back the death penalty and kicking out Al Jazeera. [my emphasis throughout]

I don't think I've ever read a more cretinous screed in the New York Times--which I've been reading for about 15 years virtually daily. Let's pause and take in a bit of Dowd's intellectually lazy and (even) morally defunct Sunday musings.

1) First, let me explain what I mean about the morally defunct part. MoDo castigates Iyad Allawi for "bringing back the death penalty." Bringing it back? Herein Dowd's absurd adoption of the moronic Moore-like narrative that depicts Saddam-era Iraq as a rosy socialist playground full of kite-flying, cheery weddings, equal wages for all(!)--a Titoist Yugo-paradise of sorts. Maureen Dowd should take time out of her busy schedule and read Samantha Power's excellent "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"--focusing, in particular, on what Power calls the "Kurdish Hiroshima"--the horrors of Halabja. She should read over such accounts of Saddam's massacres of Kurds and (relatedly) Shi'a Marsh Arabs. Power puts Saddam's actions in a narrative of 20th Century genocides that begins with the Armenians, proceeds to the Jews, and continues on with the Cambodians, Iraqis, Rwandans, and Bosnian Muslims. Saddam's crimes rank among the greatest of the 20th Century. Dowd's fevered insinuations that Iyad Allawi is a thug on par with Saddam are, truly, morally corrupt allegations--and wholly divorced from reason and fact. But her (and Dave Shipley) don't appear to give a shit. Well, too bad, I guess.

2) Related to 1 above, this grossly hyperbolic relativizing of Saddam with Allawi, she describes the new Iraq PM as formerly a Saddam "henchman." Of course, anyone with any ambitions in 70's era Iraq would (much like joining the Communist Party in the Soviet Union) have had brief flirtations with the Baathist Party. From Nasser's Egypt, to Asad's Syria, to Iraq--the prevalent political philosophy of the day in the region was a Baathist-like fusion of Arab nationalism and socialism.

So was Allawi some noble Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov-type? No, of course not. But was he simply a Saddam henchman? Equally forcefully, one must conclude no. Which is why he was forced into exile in the U.K. in the 70s. And why he was almost axed to death by, yes, Saddam's real henchmen--and had to endure a lengthy period of convalescence. Isn't it revolting that MoDo would describe a man who almost died at the hands of this brutish tyrant as one of his very own henchmen?

3) Finally, this whole puppet thing--that MoDo tries to turn around on Bush ("Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet"). Dowd appears to charge Allawi with being a Bush mouthpiece because a) he indicates all is rosy in Iraq, b) appears so appreciative of Bush action's in unseating Saddam, and c) conflates the fight against terrorists and insurgents with the global war on terror.

Let's take each allegation in turn. Re: (a) above, and as anyone who read Allawi's speech is well aware--it wasn't all rosy, sunshine ("I know, too, that there will be many more setbacks and obstacles to overcome.") And, re: (b) above, frankly, why can't Allawi show some gratitude to the American government and people for unseating a bloody tyrant responsible for the death of hundred of thousands of his country-men? Really, why?

And, finally, yes--Allawi's speech placed the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq within the larger context of the post-9/11 global war on terror. But these comments weren't meant to reinforce wild Myloriean-style claims that Saddam personally planned 9/11 and dispatched Iraqi intelligence agents to Prague to hobnob with Mohammed Atta. Allawi's comments were meant differently, of course. After all, he is hardly alone in describing his government's goals as part of the larger war on terror. So does Vladimir Putin and Arik Sharon. So does New Delhi and Islamabad. So does Karzai. And so will other countries going forward. Everyone and their mother are now using the war on terror as a kind of rationale for facing down domestic opponents and varied geopolitical threats. Each case must be viewed on its merits (for instance, Putin's conduct of the Chechen war has been extremely brutish--to wholly accept the placing of his efforts there within the rubric of the GWOT sullies the moral integrity of the struggle).

But the point here is that, yes of course, Allawi is going to place his difficult counter-insurgency efforts as part of the larger struggle between barbaric fanaticism and civilization. And, while you can disagree, he is doing this because he is faced with mammoth challenges and wants to succeed and garner as much international support as possible--not because he is some Bush stooge, parrot, marionette. No, the real puppet here is an increasingly lazy Maureen Dowd--who is simply rounding out the next inning of Lockhart's puppet slur to give it greater exposure and willingly play campaign flak for Kerry. It's the type of rank partisanship more nuanced and serious op-ed writers like Jim Hoagland, Dave Ignatius or Anne Applebaum would never stoop too--but that has become the increasingly routine, tiresome, and twice-weekly gruel she dishes up for all her cheerleaders in precincts Upper West Side and Berkeley. It's a pity--because she's better than that. But, like so many others, irrational Bush-hatred has gotten the better of her so that she is now simply embarassing herself.

MORE: Yes, I know the CPA abolished the death penalty--but such a hugely disingenuous technical reading would make a Bill Clinton blush and, of course, doesn't change the above analysis a whit.

Posted by Gregory at 11:01 AM | Comments (45)

September 17, 2004

Fatalities in Iraq

There has been a lot of talk of late in the blogosphere about what Iraq casualty rates (both in terms of location and number) tell us about how the war is going. In an interesting post, Belmont Club espied reasons for optimism.

Then Andrew Sullivan wrote:

But it also seems to me that military deaths may not be the best way to analyze this. After all, the White House may well have been withdrawing troops from sensitive areas in order to minimize casualties in the run-up to elections (perhaps prior to an attack on Fallujah in November?).

To which Belmont responded:

How to square this [Sullivan's argument] with observed events? The best way to minimize American casualties in the short term would have been to withdraw them from high-combat areas like Al-Anbar Province and Sadr City and fall back onto solid perimeters or bases in the open desert. That would cut US casualties by a dramatic percentage. The empirical problem with Sullivan's hypothesis is that of the 52 Americans who have died in September the vast majority were killed in patrols, "stabilization operations" or convoys in Al-Anbar which are offensive operations (although any good defense has active patrolling). [emphasis added]

I gotta side mostly with Sullivan on this one. What the Belmont blog misses is that while offensive operations in places like Anbar Province are indeed where most of the casualties are occuring (ie, we are taking the fight to the enemy pace Belmont and contra Sullivan)--we also need to note that the scale and pace of our counter-insurgency effort has slowed down considerably--and yet casualties are still occurring at a relatively high rate.

We'll look at casualty trends below, but for now note that it's beyond doubt that there have been fewer, major counter-insurgency actions in Iraq of late. Indeed, that's been part of our new declared strategy:

"The goal is to help the Iraqi interim government gain control of those cities as soon as possible" while at the same time "we make every effort to avoid major military confrontations," says Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel, deputy director for operations of the multinational forces in Iraq. "The more reconstruction and economic progress you have, the population migrates towards the government and away from supporting the anti-Iraq forces."

Note too, relatedly, that we are relying on airpower more (a tactic, incidentally, that often causes more undesired collateral damage than do on-the-ground counter-insurgency operations).

Indeed, when we were more robustly fighting in the Sunni Triangle back in April--we lost 140 men that month. After April, we decided to scale back from such operations for varied reasons (losing too many soldiers, international outcry if we flattened Fallujah, election(s) nearing etc). And, perhaps most important, the Army (as opposed, reportedly, to the Marines) started buying into such arguments:

...there is an innate disconnect between the requirement for security that the coalition forces must stay to implant, and the instability that the presence of these same forces causes. This disconnect will continue to grow. With the military setbacks of Kufa, Najaf and Fallujah, in which insurgents and irregular forces skillfully combined fanatical, if militarily unskilled fighting, with the use of religious terrain to battle the coalition to a standstill, Iraqis now know that the U.S. can be beaten. This combines with the inflammatory photos from Abu Ghraib to ignite widespread willingness to fight the coalition, or at least to give sanctuary to those who fight. This trend of increasing combativeness will likely grow, loosely coupled with the growing desire of foreign fighters to see the coalition, and anything associated with it, fail.

In other words, some experts advised the Army that is was better for us to a) pull out of major population centers, b) train Iraqi forces, c) have Alawi try to get some regions/towns under government control peacefully and d) failing (c), use (b) to regain said regions/towns later--rather than U.S. forces.

The problem with all this? What if doesn't work? What if the so-called ink-blot strategy is working better instead?

Look, to be sure, as Wretchard indicates, we are still engaging in a good number of offensive operations--but I think I've made it more than clear that our force posture has been materially more conservative and protective post-April. Indeed, this is likely the main reason why fatality rates have been lower in June and July--we lost almost two-thirds fewer men in those months than we lost in April.

While that's great on the level of losing fewer of our troops--it's begs a $64,000 question. That question is, if we really needed to get back into towns like Fallujah--would we be losing more troops now than we did back in April because the insurgents have re-grouped, strengthened, and are becoming (that dreaded, over-used word so loved by the New York Times!) more "sophisticated"? Unfortunately--and this goes more to Sully's point than Wretchard's--I fear the answer is yes. (Or, put another way, given the limited scope of our counter-insurgency efforts over the past summer--are we losing too many soldiers given the relatively smaller scale of our operations? Again, I think the answer is, unfortunately, yes).

P.S. Also, folks, a capital city like Baghdad is critical in all of this. You can't have foreign nationals, willy-nilly, being kidnapped from the Mansour neighborhood smack dab in the morning on their way to work. You can't have myriad suicide car bombings slaughtering new Iraqi police recruits seemingly every day. You can't have the effing perimeter of the Green Zone unsecured at this late juncture. Not only is it critical to exert real control over the capital as a strategic matter--it's also of hugely symbolic import--for us, for the international community and, yes, for the insurgents.

Listen, we're all in this together. Suger-coating and potentially dubious number-crunching exercises aren't going to win this war. Understanding (at least as best as one can judiciously ascertain) where we are right now, however, might help. And, truth be told, it ain't all that pretty. No, it's not Tet, not by a long shot. But it's not a rinky-dink little insurgency fully contained and emasculated in Anbar province either. It's something in between, and the sooner we accept that, the better for all of us.

Posted by Gregory at 03:01 PM | Comments (35)

September 16, 2004

Revisionist History Watch

During long plane rides of late I've been digging into the IHT (I stopped reading it, in the main, once WaPo stories were dropped--what's the point if you read the New York Times daily online?). Anyway, I had a chance to stumble across this Mark Brzezinski and Eric Rosenbach piece there.

The main thesis? Bosnia was a model in post-conflict reconstruction--and the Bush Administration has bungled Iraq largely because it has not learned the lessons of the Bosnia experience:

In Bosnia, the Clinton administration led a collective effort with NATO and the Russians to rebuild a destroyed country that had suffered massive human-rights abuses. The legitimacy of that alliance was essential, but the allies' most important contribution was added "boots on the ground." The United States convinced allies that a high number of soldiers and specialized police forces would ensure success.

When 60,000 troops initially crossed the Sava River, the security environment in Bosnia quickly and dramatically improved. In contrast to the anarchy experienced by Iraqis, Bosnians saw soldiers on nearly every corner. For the first time in more than five years, their neighborhoods were safe. Equally important, the size of the force protected American soldiers, too.

The second key ingredient in Bosnia was the handling of former combatants. After entering the country, NATO commanders realized that to prevent violence among the former warring factions and militaries, control had to be exercised over them. The Stabilization Forces in Bosnia, or SFOR, required all soldiers to report to duty every day, and they paid them as well. Happy just to have a salary, most soldiers spent their time playing cards and drinking slivovitz in their barracks.

The root of the difference between the Bosnian and the Iraqi experiences is arrogant civilian leadership in the Pentagon. The lessons learned from peacekeeping in the Balkans were clear. The Bush administration's failure to follow them is inexcusable, and has directly resulted in unprecedented failures and unnecessary casualties in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Several quick points on all this. While I agree with the authors of this piece that we should never have disbanded the Iraqi Army as we did--and that we never had enough coalition forces on the ground to begin with--I can't let such a blatantly rosy, revisionistic take on the Bosnia experience go unchallenged.

Let's remember a few things, shall we?

1) The Clinton Administration didn't act in Bosnia until many tens of thousands of innocents had been slaughtered and millions displaced.

2) When he finally did act (via the indefagitable efforts of Dick Holbrooke at Dayton--rather than any noble instincts by distracted, 'pizza delivery' receiving POTUS), we found a nation (indeed, a region) deeply exhausted by a near half-decade of vicious fighting. What's my point? That many in the Balkans were well ready to put down their arms if only out of sheer exhaustion. Compare that to the state of Iraqi forces post the speedy, 3-week so-called 'catastrophic victory' blitzkrieg into Baghdad.

3) The U.S. led NATO force in Bosnia was not weighed down by historical grievances harbored against them by local forces. While Serbs distrusted Germans (historic protectors of the fascist Ustashe in Croatia), Croats the French and British (residual Etonian and Quai d'Orsay Serbophilia), and Bosniaks most Christian Europeans writ large--all of the factions, with the possible exception of particularly hard-line Bosnian Serbs, were pretty much O.K. with the Americans. After all, the U.S. hadn't really had a history of picking favorites in the region.

In Iraq, of course, given Gulf War One (Shi'a and Kurds feeling abandoned; Saddamite Sunnis suspicious), the U.S. was much more suspect. Not to mention general anti-American sentiment in the region resulting from our stolid support of Israel, almost as stolid support of the corrupt Gulf monarchies, and so on.

4) The ethnic mix (yes, believe it!) is likely more complex in Iraq than in Bosnia. In fact, the situation in Iraq is more akin to Kosovo than Bosnia. Why? Because, in Bosnia, all three warring factions were of the same ethnic background. The Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks were all South Slavs. It was only their religion that differentiated them, ie. Christian Orthodox Serbs, Roman Catholic Croats, and Bosniaks who had converted to Islam under the Ottoman yoke.

That's why many long-time Balkan observers view the Kosovar-Serb dispute as ultimately more difficult to resolve. Correctly, in my view (Albanian Kosovars are not South Slavs). And, lest we forget, Kurds are not Arabs. And the Shi'a and Sunni, while ethnically of the same stock--face a sectarian divide likely worse than those in the former Yugoslavia. Put simply, the ethnic/religious mix is more difficult in Iraq than it was in Bosnia.

So, er, let's not say if we had just teed up a NATO force (leaving aside that that was a non-starter in Berlin and Paris, of course) of sufficient size--and had simply kept the Iraqi Army extant--all would have been swell. And that the Clinton Administration has major lessons to bestow to the hapless Bushies on nation-building (see Haiti, Somalia, pre-96 Bosnia).

It's just not that simple.

Posted by Gregory at 10:38 PM | Comments (5)

September 14, 2004

More on Iraq

As we are all painfully aware, it has been an exceptionally bloody period of late in Iraq. And, of course, we are in the middle of the political silly season--so very few people are addressing the massive challenges facing us there head-on. As Jim Hoagland put it:

It is especially hard for spies, generals and policymakers to reexamine, recognize and correct mistakes and assumptions as the U.S. presidential campaign roars into full fury: The incumbent is unable to allow himself to consider -- much less admit -- error. The challenger is unable to see anything but error on his foe's part. September's final small cruelty is to lock the candidates and those who work for them into imaginary omniscience until Nov. 2.

That said, between Coleian doom and gloom and unmitigated Panglossian sunshine ( Chrenkoffian, I might say in the blogosphere!) there is still some room for cautious and limited optimism.

For one thing, Iraq isn't Vietnam (yet).

Fareed Zakaria:

But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism that much of the country shared.

That's exactly right. Read all of Zakaria's piece, by the way. He's rightly concerned that policymakers, throwing their arms up in frustration given going-ons in the environs of Fallujah, will pursue a so-called Shi'a strategy:

Such an approach would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when [Iraqi] forces become available.

Tempting, of course, but not good policy. We need to start thinking (comments welcome) on innovative formulas to have nation-wide elections take place on schedule (ie, January) despite the existence of pockets of insurgent controlled enclaves:

Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."

So, and before January, we need to focus on a) getting that inkblot smaller and (perhaps more important especially if "a" continues to prove so difficult) b) figuring out innovative ways to delay and/or hold election in such places in a manner that makes non-radicalized Sunnis not feel they are getting the heave-ho. Policymakers should be focusing on that right now (as mentioned above, thoughts on that would be most welcome). One thought might be to have remote balloting done in a manner insurgents wouldn't know who had voted at, say, a polling station smack dab in the center of Fallujah--particularly given that many residents would likely be too scared to vote fearing death at the hands of insurgents for "collaboration". Said ballots could be matched against population registries to ensure they were not fraudulent or duplicative. Another thought is to have phased elections in problematic Sunni areas. Perhaps municipal elections could take place first--showcasing how the electioneering process is not prima facie nefarious. But these are just random thoughts that may nor may not make any sense in terms of the real situation on the ground.

Regardless of all this, State has decided (note, not the Pentagon, which is losing influence on Iraq policy) to move more money into the security budget right now. That's smart and good--but isn't going to be enough to solve our Fallujah/Samarra/Baqubah problem by January. Negroponte and Grossman therefore also need to be thinking hard about innovative election modalities too in case our counter-insurgency efforts don't have us back in control of major Sunni population centers by the elections.

Anyone out there have some smart ideas?

MORE: Thanks for all the excellent feedback. In particular, don't miss Point 2 of this comment, why successful elections in Iraq aren't necessarily a panacea, an argument countering that last fear, and a reminder about the nature of some of our enemies in Iraq.

Appreciate it, folks--I'm blessed with smart commenters (perhaps I should turn over the keys to them!) Still, I think we need to push further and more 'out of the box' on elections related ideas. I'll be giving it more thought when time allows--as well as trying to address developments in Russia, Turkey (vis-a-vis their Iraq policy) and, er, the Balkans (remember them?).

Posted by Gregory at 10:39 PM | Comments (34)

September 09, 2004

What to do in Iraq?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Address immediate socio-economic needs by:

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

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

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

(d) providing farmers with subsidised agricultural inputs; and

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

And also:

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

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

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

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

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

Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!

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

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

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 AM | Comments (49)

July 26, 2004

The Intel Tsar Won't Prove a Panacea

Amidst all the histrionics and mega-maelstrom surrounding the quality of the intelligence related to Iraq's WMD programs many tough questions remain unanswered (indeed, scarcely discussed).

Increasingly, you will doubtless instead hear a lot of chest-beating about who, as between Bush and Kerry, would appoint an intelligence czar more quickly.

Doubtless said Czar-in-Waiting will often be depicted as an individual who would bestride the Beltway like some omniscient behemoth--a panacea who will valiantly save the day and cure all the limitations related to our intel gathering/analysis capabilities and processes.

Don't believe all the hype. Bureaucratic reorgs and such can accomplish a lot--but there are other fundamental issues that need to be addressed too. Here are some of them.

Where should the burden of proof lie when confronting possible but uncertain proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- should the suspect state be required to prove its innocence, or should the outside world be required to prove its guilt? Should a state obstructing inspections -- something that can be easily observed -- be assumed to be harboring banned materials -- a much more uncertain conclusion? Should that distinction even matter for purposes of policymaking? Should we regard dual-use materials -- ones whose ultimate purpose is inherently uncertain -- as illicit until proven innocuous, or the reverse? The flagship example here is the now-notorious aluminum tubes delivered to Iraq that some once argued could be used in a nuclear weapons program, but which turned out to be part of a rocket program instead. Should the standards of proof and suspicion under uncertainty be applied evenly, or should they vary with the nature of the state under investigation?

This post isn't meant to rehash the Iraq intel but, rather, to flag going forward issues. That said, Levi's questions all but beg such a discussion.

So a few very quick points.

His last Q, to me at least, is a no-brainer.

Standards of proof, particularly post 9/11, must vary with the "nature of the state under investigation."

And, at the end of the day, I have to say that I viewed Saddam's Iraq as a more unstable and unpredictable state actor than Iran and even North Korea. We can debate NoKo--it's admitedly a close call. But for all Kim Jong Il's eccentricities--he hasn't started two land wars with his neighbors (Iran, Kuwait) and/or fired missiles at other neighbors besides (Saudi Arabia, Israel).

P.S. A final point on the old aluminum tubes debacle. Lest we forget--the ballistic missiles program that the aluminum tubes were being used for (rather than a nuclear program) was also violative of Resolution 1441.

Posted by Gregory at 12:38 PM | Comments (38)

June 28, 2004

Coup de Theatre?

A Parisian source informs me that Radio France International's breaking news bulletin on the early sovereignty handover declared it a coup de theatre.

Maybe, but a helluva smart one.

Attacks (bloody ones) will neverthless doubtless occur through the week and beyond.

But if anyone was planning some mega-attack on the Green Zone Wednesday--hoping to somehow scuttle the handover (or, more likely, simply to overshadow it)-- they have just been outsmarted rather handily.

It's been a good week for Bush, I'd say.

On top of this smart move on the handover, NATO looks to be getting involved, perhaps in significant fashion, with the Iraq troop training effort (btw, why don't we ask the Turks to let NATO train Iraqi forces in Turkey if NATO members like France and Germany don't want to do it in Iraq itself--and if Jordan and the UAE don't want too many more Iraqi trainees milling about?)

Of course, no one should get carried away about what the handover means.

As Richard Murphy puts it well:

Washington has oversold the significance of the June 30 handover and must now work to give substance to this symbolic step. Our problem is that the Iraqi people still perceive little improvement in their personal lives and no end to violence in their country. Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leading associate in Iraq, months ago advocated sparking a Sunni-Shiite civil war before July 1. We can assume that he and his followers will continue to decry the American occupation and, now, the "American transitional government."

All very true.

Still, all told, a pretty good week for the U.S. in Iraq.

And it's good to see that Dubya is looking to avoid a Houston '92 redux for the Republican Convention.

He's certainly trying hard to avoid repeating his father's mistakes.

Posted by Gregory at 10:24 AM

June 23, 2004

No Immunity

Another unintended consequence of Abu Ghraib.

They'll likely be many more.

This wasn't about Kofi Annan's speech.

It was about not having gotten on top of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

If we had, we could have more effectively lobbied the UNSC and prevailed on this resolution, I suspect.

Posted by Gregory at 09:11 PM | Comments (12)

June 22, 2004

Kurdish Intrigues

Israel's Plan B? So sayeth Sy Hersh.

Laura Rozen is right, however, to inject a contrarian note given robust Israeli-Turkish relations.

If not, can a Syrian-Turkish rapprochment be far behind (you gotta Kurdish problem? No, I've gotta a Kurdish problem....)

P.S. Don't forget us!

Oh, don't miss Turkish Foreign Minister's Abdullah Gul's non-denial on the Israel-in-Kurdistan story:

Reminded of New Yorker magazine's claim about Israel's joint activities with Kurds in north of Iraq, Gul said, ''we have been closely monitoring all developments in Iraq. Several news and information come from time to time. We make necessary warnings about them. Everybody knows about our sensitivities especially regarding Kirkuk. Everybody knows well that we absolutely won't allow any fait accompli there.''

"Everyone", in roughly descending order of concern (in terms of their current influence/roles) for Gul, are likely: 1) Americans; 2) Kurds; 3) Shi'a and Sunni (vis-a-vis contributing to a unitary state outcome); 4) Iran (as 3); 5) Israel; 6) Syria; and 7) Turkomen (don't get in trouble brothers!).

Posted by Gregory at 12:00 AM

June 20, 2004

The "Transformationists": As Reckless as Saddam?

How ticked off are intelligent pro-war people about the Administration's post-major combat phase handling of Iraq?

This T.O'd:

The willingness of members of the Bush administration to abandon their past records of prudence and match Saddam's reckless and delusional behavior with their own may have been the most important element missing from my own thinking about the war.

Alexander Cockburn? Robert Fisk? Noam Chomsky?

Nope, Ken Pollack!

Pollack is clearly torn on Iraq now well over a year out.

He rues the fact that Powell didn't have more influence re: Iraq policy-making and, correctly, states that one might have thought he would have around the time he was spearheading passage of 1441.

And Cheney, whom Pollack doesn't talk about quite as much, had as 41's SecDef shown a willingness to mount a war effort in the Gulf with 28 coalition partners and a high troop count.

But, of course, this was pre-9/11 Cheney.

He hadn't yet caught the "fever"!

Pollack doesn't mention Wolfowitz at all and mentions Rummy just once (unless you count the reference to the "transformationalists").

But, of course, everyone knew that those two would be key players in any prosecution of the Iraq war. And, it bears noting, they weren't necessarily known as the most cautious, realpolitik types in the Beltway.

What we didn't know, I guess, was that State was going to get so firmly shut out of the process and, most important, that the Pentagon would be flat out unwilling to put enough boots on the ground to create secure conditions.

That, ultimately, was the biggest F up (with the related disbanding of the Iraqi army writ large with the requisite Jacobin fervor amidst all the de-Baathification chest-beating).

Does this mean Wolfy (or Rummy) pace Pollack, were (are?) as "reckless" as Saddam?

No, that's a tad exaggerated, don't you think?

But it does mean they imperiled a nation-building excercise with their stubborn refusal to pursue real 'shock and awe'--at least 300,000 troops patrolling that country, securing supply lines; specialized constabulatory units policing less 'hot' areas; more marines; fewer reserves; more effective intelligence gathering (sans Ghraibian truncheons) fewer lugubrious 'sack-hoods' and razor-wire; fewer I.E.D's and terror bombings.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria wishes we had done Iraq more like we did Afghanistan:

Why has Afghanistan been more successful than Iraq? In Afghanistan, the Bush administration adopted a version of postwar policies developed over the '90s. After the war, it handed the political process over to the United Nations and directed its military efforts through nato. The United Nations was able to structure a political process (the loya jirga) that had legitimacy within Afghanistan as well as internationally. With some massaging, it produced a pro-Western liberal as president. Making the military efforts multinational has meant that today, the European Union spends about as much on Afghanistan as the United States and that the new Afghan army is being trained jointly by the United States and ... France.

Of course, loya jirgas are a bit harder to pull off when two ethnic groups in a country have been victims of genocidal policies by another.

Put differently, I'm not so sure Zakaria is right that Afghanistan was perhaps a more complex state-building exercise than Iraq.

Iraq is plenty hard folks. Probably, all told, harder.

Even if we had NATO and, er, the French there (who, incidentally, have likely let Radovan Karadzic slip through their gallant Gallic fingers more than once--so aren't necessarily the most, er, morally upstanding peacekeeping partners to be in bed with).

Posted by Gregory at 04:42 PM | Comments (11)