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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Monday, 20 November 2006
What Now?
Topic: Iraq

What Now?

Monday, November 20, the week opened with no one much having any idea what we should do about the situation in Iraq - more troops in massive numbers should be sent, from Senator McCain, and Kristol and Kagan on the neoconservative side, and the rising young Democratic star, Senator Obama, saying it might be wise to manage a rapid but careful drawdown. The three coronals assigned to figure this out at the Pentagon had come up with three options - Go Big (pour in the troops, as many as needed to stabilize things), Go Long (reduce the numbers dramatically but stay for a decade or more training the Iraqis), or Go Home. There was the variation - Go Big then Go Long (a quick bump then a quick reduction and then a decades long training effort) - but we were to avoid "moonwalking out of there" (as in the tricky backward "I'm outta here" dance Michael Jackson used to do back when anyone cared what he did). The idea there is the last thing we want the Iraqis and the world to think is we're just being clever and disguising our bugging out. That whole business is explained here - the Washington Post's Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks got the inside story. The president, on his way back to Washington from a dicey day in Jakarta, said he is waiting for the full report. He hadn't decided what he will choose to do.

And too, he's waiting for the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group to recommend something, and his own study group he set up to counter what they might come up with, as what the first group might recommend is "off the table" - partitioning Iraq to keep the angry sides apart, talking with Iran and Syria on stabilizing the region (we don't talk to "evil" people). At least the Pentagon fellows put thing is really simple terms, so he won't get all grumpy when faced with details.

But then Iran and Syria the same say just upstaged us all, as reported here -
President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to a summit in Tehran this weekend to discuss ways of ending the sectarian violence in Iraq, upstaging the US and underlining the growing influence of Iran.

Washington is still casting around with increasing desperation for an honourable [sic] exit strategy from Iraq, a strategy some say should include bringing Iran and Syria into the negotiating process.

Apparently, Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi President, has already agreed to the meeting, and Syrian leader Bashar Assad is expected to follow suit. News of the summit came after surprise talks in Baghdad between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki and Walid Moallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister and the highest ranking official from Damascus to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The White House is not happy. This is our problem to fix. Who are these people, and what's this about Iraq and Syria now reestablishing diplomatic relations? Who do they think they are?

The day also brought the neoconservatives in despair about the whole situation. Three of them - Kenneth Adelman, Michael Rubin and David Frum - appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer and discussed how it all went sour. Check out the video or the transcript or this analysis.

It hardly matters now. Key neoconservatives may now be distraught, but Cheney is still in the White House, carrying on. He's calling the shots.

Better attend to two retired Army generals, Barry McCaffrey and William Odom, on where matters stand now, as the past is, well, the past.

McCaffrey quoted in the Army Times -

"The country is not at war. The United States armed forces and the CIA are at war. So we are asking our military to sustain a level of effort that we have not resourced," he told Army Times.

"That's how to break the Army is to keep it deployed above the rate at which it can be sustained," he said. "There's no free lunch here. The Army and the Marine Corps and Special Operations Command are too small and badly resourced to carry out this national security strategy."
He says we need to bring home five brigades from Iraq before Christmas to keep the Army from "breaking" - and a redeployment strategy is just not feasible.

Odem says this -
Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq, creating democracy there, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, making Israel more secure, not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain, and others.

But reality no longer can be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq.

These realities get worse every day that our forces remain in Iraq. They can't be wished away by clever diplomacy or by leaving our forces in Iraq for several more years.
But the president said in Vietnam, that he now sees the light - the Vietnam War taught us that we will win if we don't quit. That was an amazing assertion, as we sort of did quit there, and no dominos fell, no hoards of communist marines landed in San Diego and fought their way to Yuma, and now Vietnam is the potential "economic tiger" over there. Well, to be fair - he did kind of skip that war.

But the idea was we lose all credibility if we quit - we will be seen as what they used to call in those days "a paper tiger." Perhaps it's something else in the Middle East.

Josh Marshall tries to work out what this all means -
… a few comments on the president's new obsession with the Vietnam War (sort of a sign of how bleak things have gotten in Iraq, on so many levels. Think about it: at this point, it's the president who's arguing that Iraq is another Vietnam).

The argument about the need to maintain "credibility" when deciding whether to withdraw from an ill-fated engagement is not one that, I think, can be dismissed out of hand. But those who wield this argument ignore another argument that is at least as important. If everyone really is watching, what do our actions tell other countries about how rational our national decision-making is about the use of our own power?

To be more concrete, showing other countries that we're willing to bleed ourselves dry because we don't have the common sense to cut our losses doesn't necessarily serve us well at all. Quite the contrary.

Also, and this is another point that I don't think gets raised often enough, a great power has the luxury to make various course corrections without its international standing or "credibility" collapsing in upon itself. In fact, those who don't get this seem to be concealing a profound pessimism about the United States' collective national strength. The Bush crowd (and of course Kissinger in his long-standing and twisted way) sees America's position in the world as exquisitely brittle, liable to being destroyed entirely by what happens in Baghdad or what sort of "mettle" we display in Iraq. (A similar mindset about the "demonstration effect" of whacking Saddam is, in a sense, what got us into this mess in the first place. But let's leave that to another post. )
Then there are the comparisons -
To use a crass but I think not totally inapt analogy, say Rupert Murdoch invests a lot of money in a big business deal in South America. And it just doesn't pan out. Which inspires more or less future confidence in Murdoch's reputation as an international media mogul: a willingness to keep pouring money into the failed venture basically forever, or pulling up stakes once it's clear the deal isn't working and moving on to more profitable ventures? Again, a crass analogy given the cost in lives and treasure we're talking about in Iraq. But I think the analogy and its implications are solid. Denial and moral and intellectual cowardice do nothing for ones "credibility."
And as for Vietnam -
Isn't this trip a really odd venue for the president to be arguing that staying the course basically forever is the only acceptable solution? Though it took a tragically long time, the US, for all the moonwalking, eventually decided to pull up stakes in Vietnam. And what was the result? One might make arguments that the Soviets and Soviet proxies were temporarily emboldened in Africa or Latin America, though I think that's debatable. But what of the real effects? The Soviet Union was dismantling itself within little more than a decade of our pull-out. And now we have a Vietnam that is politically repressive at home but proto-capitalist in its economy and, by any measure, incredibly eager for good relations with the United States.

If geo-political standing and international repercussions are really the issue we're discussing, it seems very hard to argue that our decision to pull out of Vietnam had any lasting or meaningful ill-effects. And there's at least a decent argument to the contrary.

And yet here we have President Bush, stepping on to Vietnamese soil to further our rapprochement with Vietnam, and arguing, in so many words, that the lesson of Vietnam is that we should still be there blowing the place up thirty years later.

We're really deep into the primitive brainstem phase of our long national nightmare of presidential denial and mendacity on Iraq. Poetically, politically and intellectually it's appropriate that Henry Kissinger is now along for the ride.
Yep, it's just like old times. It's just not working - but we are told it will. Almost forty years ago we were told there was a light at the end of the tunnel. They had to retire that old saw. Now we're told if we don't fight them there we'll surely fight them here. And the metaphoric light at the end of the tunnel a working free-market liberal democracy in Iraq where everyone gets along. We're told it could happen. They just don't mention any tunnel and any light these days - but it's the same thing.

But what are our options? Suzanne Nossel provides a comprehensive list that covers just about every one. And she suggests reasons why each has little if any chance of succeeding. It's rather sobering, but the standout is this -
9. If we don't begin a planned exit, there's a good chance we'll find ourselves in an unplanned one - It's surprising that by now we haven't experienced the Iraqi equivalent of the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the dragging of a corpse of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu a decade later. But it seems likely that that day will come.
Well, that is possible. Is it likely? Who knows?

But Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly says things really could get worse -
Conventional wisdom tacitly assumes that the worst that can happen in Iraq is a continuation of the current low-level civil war, resulting in the loss of thousands of Iraqi lives and dozens of U.S. soldiers each month. But as bad as that is, it's worth keeping in mind that the American occupation has actually made the Iraqi situation worse every single year since it began, and will probably continue to make things worse as long as we're there. And the worse the violence, the worse the Iraqi theocracy that eventually takes root in its wake is likely to be.

But that's not all. The dynamics of violence are nonlinear in the extreme, and the odds of an Archduke Ferdinand moment continue to rise inexorably as our occupation continues to make things ever worse and ever more unstable. A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?

All of these developments may be individually unlikely, but you're not trying hard enough if you can't dream up plausible scenarios leading to each one of them. Pundits and policymakers alike should keep this in mind when they're mentally totting up the costs and benefits of staying in Iraq and concluding that we might as well try a Last Big Push because, heck, it can't do any harm to try. In fact, it can. The longer we stay in Iraq, the worse things are likely to get.
So how about a cynical interpretation of that from Richard Einhorn, as in -
"A year from now, we could end up in the middle of a full-blown civil war costing a thousand American lives a month. We could end up taking sides in a shooting war against Turkey, a NATO ally. We could end up fighting off an armed invasion from Iran. We could end up on the receiving of an oil embargo led by Saudi Arabia. Who knows?"

Possibly.

Or suddenly tomorrow, the scales could fall from al-Sadr's eyes, and from Maliki's, and from everyone else's, and they would realize that after the horror of the Saddam years, it is simply crazy to fight amongst themselves for control of such a potentially wealthy country like Iraq when there are plenty of petro-dollars (or petro-euros) for everyone.

Or maybe tomorrow Osama bin Laden will get on TV and say, "Mein Gott, what a schmuck I've been. After deep study of Torah, and after discovering the joys of matzo ball soup, I've decided to convert and become a Lubavitcher. As for my ex-friend Ayman al-Zawahiri, the heretic! He's renounced all religious belief and become Richard Dawkins personal physician and valet."

Hey! Y'never know.

Let me put this another way, to make the point clear. I'll ask, and answer, a rhetorical question or two.

Are any of Kevin's scenarios even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are the scenarios I proposed even remotely plausible?

Yes, mathematically, they are. They could conceivably happen.

Are they of equal plausibility?

No, of course not. Kevin's scenarios are far more likely than mine.

What is the approximate probability of one of Kevin's scenarios happening? Of mine?

Roughly 10% to 65% for Kevin. As for mine, roughly .000000000000000001% to .00000000000001%.

Using everyday language, how would you best summarize these probabilities?

It's somewhat possible, to likely, that one of Kevin's scenarios may actually turn out to be an accurate prediction.
So why did no one think of these possibilities three or four years ago? Or more importantly, as many probably did, why were the possibilities dismissed and those who raised them marginalized, or let go, or quit in frustration? Why did we think "the power of positive thinking" was anything less than a silly catch phrase to motivate salesmen? Positive self-delusion can be useful if you're cold-calling, trying to sell timeshares is Tucson. It keeps you working the phones, even with all the hang-ups. As the basis for the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the world, it's deadly. But here we are, a government of Willie Lomans - "personality always wins the day."

But we will, it seems, send more troops, in spite of the possibilities.

Michael O'Hare wonders about that -
It's not clear, I have to note, what these extra divisions will actually do: is there something to attack with arms? A strong point to seize and occupy? A fortress to invest? Maybe it makes sense, and maybe Truman and MacArthur, or Lincoln and Grant, or Bismarck and Von Moltke, could pull this trick off. But we have Rumsfeld to thank for the insight that you go to war, or make your big push, with the administration you have, not the one you wish you had. I think an enterprise like "straightening out Iraq with one short commitment of lots more troops" is completely beyond the competence of the people who will run it, from the president down at least several levels into Rumsfeld's defense department, and maybe into the star ranks that remain after his housecleaning of generals who said what was true. ... My call is that this is a very bad bet.
But then, Iraq and Syria and Iran may work it all out themselves, without our help. It may not be what we like, but there was what happened in Vietnam, and things finally did work out for the best.

Heck, the same day as all this Rupert Murdoch pulled the plug - his Harper Collins folks will not publish the book and his Fox television network will not air the special. OJ Simpson will not be explaining how he murdered his wife and her friend, if he did it (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). The affiliates wouldn't show the special, and the book was a big mistake. Cut your losses. Move on. Murdoch should call the White House.  He has the answer.

Posted by Alan at 21:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006 18:22 PST home

Sunday, 19 November 2006
Drumbeats in Los Angeles
Topic: Couldn't be so...
Drumbeats in Los Angeles
Last week, in The Issue of Bullies, there was a link to an item by Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy. That was his post-election letter To My Fellow Neoconservatives. The American people may be fed up with wars of choice to change the world based on innovative and never tested theories - that we have the demonstratively best form of government (secular free-market democracy) and there is an inner-American in everyone in the world just waiting to emerge if encouraged, by our superior military force, and obviously eager to shop at Wal-Mart and buy a Chevy Malibu or whatever - but even though the results of the election were clear, all is not lost. We may have botched the war to make Iraq a prosperous but sandy Iowa, where no one is killing each other over questions regarding the Prophet Mohammed's son Ali, where entrepreneurs come up with amazing start-ups and the government recognizes and rather likes Israel and all the rest - but the theory cannot be wrong. The fall of the Soviet Union proved we have the only system that really works. It's just so obvious.

It was a "buck up the troops" pep talk - full of advice on how to carry on the work of their hero, Rumsfeld, even though he's gone now, how to get Senator Lieberman to run for president in 2008 to carry forward the effort to remake the world in our image by force, and much more. But the centerpiece was what Muravchik said really needed to be done, something that had to be done to show the world the theory - that we are morally compelled to use our overwhelming military advantage over everyone else to remake the world - was, is and always will be is quite right. What must be done? We must bomb Iran to stop their nuclear research - and that would mean also taking out their command structure, and communications, and roads and bridges and anything else that would allow them to start up the program ever again.

It would be the right thing to do. And the world, eventually - after the chaos and massacre of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in reprisal, and the massive terrorist attacks all across America with tens of thousand dead - would thank us.

Muravchik sees the PR problem - "The global thunder against Bush when he pulls the trigger will be deafening, and it will have many echoes at home. It will be an injection of steroids for organizations such as MoveOn.org. We need to pave the way intellectually now and be prepared to defend the action when it comes."

Muravchik keeps his word, and does start to pave the way. Sunday, November 19, in a major op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, he offers this -
Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat; a show of force is the only answer. WE MUST bomb Iran. It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and sanctions has led nowhere.
We have no choice, he says. And the caps are his. We cannot live in a world where the crazy folk in Iran have a bomb. And the consequences of using nukes on their underground faculties, and making it impossible for anyone there to even leave their home for a few years, no matter what those consequences are, may not be that bad - people might just thank us and nothing bad will happen at all. Heck, you never know. The Iranians could rise up and overthrow their silly government. It could happen.

Muravchik is a true believer, you see. He may seem whacky. When you abandon yourself to some idealistic theory, saying prudence and common sense are stupidly limiting, you propose all sorts of things that make others scratch their heads, or laugh, or offer Prozac - or vote for the Democrat on the ticket.

No doubt he, and that crew, would wholeheartedly agree with what William Blake, the visionary British poet and artist said back in the late 1790's - "Prudence is an ugly old maid, courted by incapacity." That's from The Proverbs of Heaven and Hell, and Blake doesn't say into which category that one falls.

Muravchik being crazy on a Sunday morning is easy to dismiss. And that day in Los Angeles was too nice to worry about such things - bright sun, blindingly clear, and a record high for the date (well over ninety in the valleys). The football was good - the Steelers actually won and the Colts actually lost. But then, while watering the plants on the balcony, what was that on the television - Seymour Hersh on CNN saying odd things? Yes, it was the same business (video and a link to the transcript here) - he was pimping his latest New Yorker article.

That article is The Next Act, released on the net before it hits the newsstands. He has his sources. It seems there is a new CIA report - Iran doesn't have much of nuclear weapons program, if it has one at all. They're decades away from having "the bomb." They may never get there. And Hersh's sources tell him that this report has made the vice president - who is the one who makes decisions about what we do by way of wars of choice - very, very, very angry. He's said they're wrong - he has his own sources, exiles who have talked to the Israelis, and one source Israel has on the inside. It's the old "the CIA knows nothing" routine. He gets his information directly - as they say, it's "stovepiped" in. And this means war.

If you watch the video, CNN's Wolf Blitzer tried to get Hersh to qualify this all - it cannot be the same thing again, a mirror of the Iraq business where Cheney's Office of Special Plans developed their own intelligence using Chalabi's exile group for "the real truth" that the CIA and intelligence services in Germany and France, and Hans Blix and his people on the ground, said wasn't the real truth at all. They must have learned something - once burned you don't make the same mistake again. Iraq had no nuclear program, and they had no weapons of mass destruction. Surely they'd be more careful now. Hersh said, based on his sources, the answer was a resounding "nope."

What about the elections? Wouldn't the vote - pretty much against elective wars based on truths only the "true believers" can see, that turn out to be self-serving planted information or "anythings" blurted our under torture in foreign prisons - mitigate against going down that road again?

Hersh's first paragraph covers that -
A month before the November elections, Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting in on a national-security discussion at the Executive Office Building. The talk took a political turn: what if the Democrats won both the Senate and the House? How would that affect policy toward Iran, which is believed to be on the verge of becoming a nuclear power? At that point, according to someone familiar with the discussion, Cheney began reminiscing about his job as a lineman, in the early nineteen-sixties, for a power company in Wyoming. Copper wire was expensive, and the linemen were instructed to return all unused pieces three feet or longer. No one wanted to deal with the paperwork that resulted, Cheney said, so he and his colleagues found a solution: putting "shorteners" on the wire - that is, cutting it into short pieces and tossing the leftovers at the end of the workday. If the Democrats won on November 7th, the Vice-President said, that victory would not stop the Administration from pursuing a military option with Iran. The White House would put "shorteners" on any legislative restrictions, Cheney said, and thus stop Congress from getting in its way.
The problem they'd deal with was future legislation to prohibit the White House from financing "operations targeted at overthrowing or destabilizing the Iranian government."

No Borland Amendments -
In late 1982, Edward P. Boland, a Democratic representative, introduced the first in a series of "Boland amendments,: which limited the Reagan Administration's ability to support the Contras, who were working to overthrow Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government. The Boland restrictions led White House officials to orchestrate illegal fund-raising activities for the Contras, including the sale of American weapons, via Israel, to Iran. The result was the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-eighties. Cheney's story, according to the source, was his way of saying that, whatever a Democratic Congress might do next year to limit the President's authority, the Administration would find a way to work around it. (In response to a request for comment, the Vice-President's office said that it had no record of the discussion.)
But why is Cheney and not Bush the center here? Hersh notes that in late October, Cheney told Time Magazine, "I know what the President thinks," about Iraq. "I know what I think. And we're not looking for an exit strategy. We're looking for victory." And Cheney is "equally clear" that the Administration would, if necessary, use force against Iran. They won't get the bomb.

In any event, various folks in the administration - the attorney general for instance - have stated quite explicitly that they believe Congress has already provided full authorization to the executive to wage its "war on terror" in any way the White House deems "necessary" - and on any front, anywhere, until "war on terror" is over, and they'll say when it is over. This of course would include an attack on Iran. - or on Portugal if they felt like it. That's how they read things.

And diplomacy is out. And don't think the new guy, Gates, in Rumsfeld's slot, will tamp things down -
"Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid," Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said. "Gates will be in favor of talking to Iran and listening to the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the neoconservatives are still there" - in the White House - "and still believe that chaos would be a small price for getting rid of the threat. The danger is that Gates could be the new Colin Powell - the one who opposes the policy but ends up briefing the Congress and publicly supporting it."

Other sources close to the Bush family said that the machinations behind Rumsfeld's resignation and the Gates nomination were complex, and the seeming triumph of the Old Guard may be illusory. The former senior intelligence official, who once worked closely with Gates and with the President's father, said that Bush and his immediate advisers in the White House understood by mid-October that Rumsfeld would have to resign if the result of the midterm election was a resounding defeat. Rumsfeld was involved in conversations about the timing of his departure with Cheney, Gates, and the President before the election, the former senior intelligence official said. Critics who asked why Rumsfeld wasn't fired earlier, a move that might have given the Republicans a boost, were missing the point. "A week before the election, the Republicans were saying that a Democratic victory was the seed of American retreat, and now Bush and Cheney are going to change their national-security policies?" the former senior intelligence official said. "Cheney knew this was coming. Dropping Rummy after the election looked like a conciliatory move - 'You're right, Democrats. We got a new guy and we're looking at all the options. Nothing is ruled out.'" But the conciliatory gesture would not be accompanied by a significant change in policy; instead, the White House saw Gates as someone who would have the credibility to help it stay the course on Iran and Iraq. Gates would also be an asset before Congress. If the Administration needed to make the case that Iran's weapons program posed an imminent threat, Gates would be a better advocate than someone who had been associated with the flawed intelligence about Iraq. The former official said, "He's not the guy who told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and he'll be taken seriously by Congress."
So Gates is there to sell the implausible. They knew no one would trust Rumsfeld now. Gates is the new sales rep. Maybe the sources here are misquoted.

But the whole thing comes down to showing the world that no one messes with us, and Iraq and Iran are both in the mix -
[M]any in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It's a classic case of 'failure forward,'" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq - like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."

The consultant added that, for some advocates of military action, "the goal in Iran is not regime change but a strike that will send a signal that America still can accomplish its goals. Even if it does not destroy Iran's nuclear network, there are many who think that thirty-six hours of bombing is the only way to remind the Iranians of the very high cost of going forward with the bomb - and of supporting Moqtada al-Sadr and his pro-Iran element in Iraq."
Ah, it would be an object lesson, or as Arthur Silber suggests, it's the Michael Ledeen Doctrine -
[H]ere is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
Maybe we do - but the price can be high.

As for the CIA report on the facts on the matter -
A current senior intelligence official confirmed the existence of the CIA analysis, and told me that the White House had been hostile to it. The White House's dismissal of the CIA findings on Iran is widely known in the intelligence community. Cheney and his aides discounted the assessment, the former senior intelligence official said. "They're not looking for a smoking gun," the official added, referring to specific intelligence about Iranian nuclear planning. "They're looking for the degree of comfort level they think they need to accomplish the mission."
It doesn't seem to matter if anyone else is uncomfortable. Here we go again.

Posted by Alan at 21:38 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006 21:51 PST home

Saturday, 18 November 2006
Things Change
Topic: Perspective
Things Change
Looking back on the week, some things people have said about change -

"In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." - Al Rogers

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts

"'One and one make two' assumes that the changes in the shift of circumstance are unimportant. But it is impossible for us to analyze this notion of unimportant change. - Alfred North Whitehead

"Change lays not her hand upon truth." - Algernon Swinburne

"The things that have come into being change continually. The man with a good memory remembers nothing because he forgets nothing. - Augusto Roa Bastos

"Change is one thing, progress is another. 'Change' is scientific, 'progress' is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy. - Bertrand Russell

"Change begets change. Nothing propagates so fast. If a man habituated to a narrow circle of cares and pleasures, out of which he seldom travels, step beyond it, though for never so brief a space, his departure from the monotonous scene on which he has been an actor of importance would seem to be the signal for instant confusion. ... The mine which Time has slowly dug beneath familiar objects is sprung in an instant; and what was rock before, becomes but sand and dust." - Charles Dickens

"If you don't pay attention to the periphery, the periphery changes and the first thing you know the periphery is the center." - Dean Rusk

"Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks." - Doug Larson

"If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like this forever. Is that good news?" - Robert Anthony

"All change is not growth; all movement is not forward. - Ellen Glasgow

"Men make the mistake of thinking that because women can't see the sense in violence, they must be passive creatures. It's just not true. In one important way, at least, men are the passive sex. Given a choice, they will always opt for the status quo. They hate change of any kind, and they fight against it constantly. On the other hand, what women want is stability, which when you stop to think about it is a very different animal." - Eric Lustbader, The Kaisho

"Money is always there but the pockets change." - Gertrude Stein

"He who rejects change is the architect of decay." - Harold Wilson

"I soon found out you can't change the world. The best you can do is to learn to live with it." - Henry Miller

"What I possess I would gladly retain. Change amuses the mind, yet scarcely profits." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"Men may change their climate, but they cannot change their nature. A man that goes out a fool cannot ride or sail himself into common sense." - Joseph Addison

"People change and forget to tell each other." - Lillian Hellman

"We are restless because of incessant change, but we would be frightened if change were stopped." - Lyman L. Bryson

"I don't think that a leader can control to any great extent his destiny. Very seldom can he step in and change the situation if the forces of history are running in another direction." - Richard Nixon "A man will never change his mind if he have no mind to change.' - Richard Whately

"Why abandon a belief merely because it ceases to be true? Cling to it long enough and it will turn true again, for so it goes. Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor." - Robert Frost

"Such is the state of life, that none are happy but by the anticipation of change: the change itself is nothing; when we have made it, the next wish is to change again. The world is not yet exhausted; let me see something tomorrow which I never saw before." - Samuel Johnson

"Men are always sincere. They change sincerities, that's all." - Tristan Bernard

"People who are easily shocked should be shocked more often." - Mae West

"What's the use of a good quotation if you can't change it?" - Doctor Who

Posted by Alan at 14:14 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Friday, 17 November 2006
Notes from All Over
Topic: Perspective
Notes from All Over
Just some end of the week notes from various places - Tennessee, Binghamton in south central New York, from a Brit correspondent in Washington, what the Miami Herald reports is planned at Guantanamo, and a reaction from Berlin citing what the attorneys from Seaton Hall in central New Jersey think about such things. Friday, November 17, 2006 - it's a small world after all (don't think of the song).

The Tennessee item is very odd. That would be Deep-Fried American Flags Ruled Bad Taste -
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee (AP) - A museum director in this military town removed an art exhibit that featured several deep-fried American flags.

Art student William Gentry said his piece, "The Fat Is in the Fire," was a commentary on obesity in America. "I deep-fried the flag because I'm concerned about America and about America's health," Gentry said.

Customs House Museum executive director Ned Crouch took down the artwork Wednesday, less than 18 hours after it went up in this community next to Fort Campbell.

"It's about what the community values," Crouch said. "I'm representing 99 percent of our membership - educators, doctors, lawyers, military families."

He also said the timing of the piece could cause "incendiary reactions."
Of course you can click on the link and read on, if you wish. You'll find a description of the works and a few reactions.

The symbolism is delicious, so to speak. But it is too bad the items in question are only about obesity. In so many ways right now, regarding America, the fat really is in the fryer, what with Iraq in chaos, the Democrats about to take control of Congress and change everything, the president in Vietnam saying the war there decades ago has taught us all a valuable lesson regarding the war now in Iraq - you can't win if you quit (obviously he's unaware of the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions). The South Koreans then announced they'd not join us interdicting all shipping in and out of North Korea - they'd listened politely to what Bush had to say about really isolating and punishing their northern cousins, and decided he was on what they think is the wrong tract. They're more into diplomacy. So the Asian summit was not going well. Ah well, at least the food was great.

But they didn't serve deep-fried American flags. In the months before the midterm elections the Republican House and Senate had of course decided the war and the economy and immigration reform and what some call the healthcare crisis were really not the issues we should worry about. The summer brought us what they said the real threat to America, and proposed starting the process of changing the Constitution of the United States to ban gay marriage and ban flag burning - making that a carve-out to that freedom of speech business that pesky people like to claim. Both efforts failed, and the clumsy attempt to "change the subject" probably wasn't the best way to tee up for the November elections. Some someone thought it was worth a try. No one at the time even mentioned banning deep-frying the flag. It might have made the long speeches a bit more interesting, but it probably wouldn't have helped. And, wouldn't you know, someone actually did it. Amazing.

And then, by way of James Wolcott at Vanity Fair, we have some distressing observations from SUNY-Binghamton, actually from Immanuel Wallerstein at the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations at Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Gee, the last time I was in Binghamton was back in the late seventies. I was recording with an "alternative" band - a reggae version of the Stone's "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," the unchanged lyrics sung by a chubby lesbian. My job was to do the bass line on tenor saxophone - overdubbed three times so there was three of me. Actually, the thing worked well - Bob Marley meets an inside-out version of Mick Jagger. Maybe you had to be there. A tape is available upon request.

But serious things also happen there in Binghamton, it seems. Wallerstein, at the center with the long name, observed we're in for some trouble -
On November 7, the Republican Party lost the midterm elections. As Bush himself said, in all the close races, the margin was very slight, but overall it was a "thumping." The degree of thumping is underlined by the fact that, after the elections, Bush's poll ratings went down still further.

This will box in Bush's options and range of movement, particularly abroad.

The one thing that is sure is that there will be no U.S. troops in Iraq as we approach the 2008 elections. The voters and the military made that clear in the 2006 election. Of course there will be a massive blame game - among Republicans as to who lost the 2006 elections, and between Democrats and Republicans as to who lost Iraq. But the word on everyone's mind is "lost."

We can also be sure that bombing either North Korea or Iran is off the real agenda (including for Israel). The U.S. armed forces and the U.S. electorate will not tolerate it (not to speak of the rest of the world). Where will this leave the United States as a world power? It will probably result in a big push towards drawing inward. Already, in the 2006 elections, many candidates won by opposing "free trade" and Iraq was a dirty word. The political temptation will be to go local in emphasis. One of the major side effects will be a notable reduction in U.S. support for Israeli foreign policy, which will be wrenching for Israel.

The Democrats are united on internal economic legislation - higher minimum wages, better and more affordable health care, financial aid to college students. They are also going to push ecology issues and medical advances (stem cell research, for example). If the Republicans hope to recuperate strength, they will have to move their economic program as well as their program on social issues somewhat in a centrist direction.

The result, as is already obvious, is to create major turmoil in the Republican Party, while reducing it in the Democratic Party - the exact opposite of what has been the case in the last decade. And in early 2009, George W. Bush will fade into the wilderness, remembered (if we bother) for being the front man for the mother of all defeats - in Iraq, in the world-system, and at home for the Republican Party.
The midterm elections did all that? That's pretty grim. Everything has indeed changed.

And Wolcott is worried - "But will Bush recede into the night? Bush-in-a-box - contents under pressure - could become an explosive property if not properly handled."

And that leads to even more distressing news from Andrew Stephen, Washington correspondent for the New Statesman (UK, which explains the spelling). Maybe it's not really news, just hints at trouble ahead -
I was asked on BBC radio a couple of days ago whether Democratic victories would temper Bush's recklessness. I replied that I could answer that only if I could peer into the strange mind of a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic named George W Bush

Rumours persist here (and I have heard them repeated at a very senior level in the UK, too) that Bush has actually resumed drinking; I throw this into the mix not to sensationalise, but because I have now heard the rumour repeated at a sufficiently high level that I believe we must face the possibility that it might be true.

Bush was huddled inside the White House eating beef and ice cream on election night with Rove, my friend Josh Bolten, and four other trusted aides who will stick with him to the end. He was not drinking on this occasion, I'm assured - but, more than ever, my depiction of an unstable man living out his final days in office inside his bunker seem no longer to be fanciful. Hemmed in by Democratic foes wherever he looks, determined to be remembered in history as an unwaveringly strong leader, and increasingly detached from reality: now that suddenly becomes a very frightening vision indeed.
Damn. It's that Nixon thing, again. And we get Kissinger in the mix too. As is often said - History always repeats itself, and that's the trouble with history. Maybe it had to be this way. Bummer. Here we go again.

As for things elsewhere, like Cuba, the end of the week news brought this -
The U.S. military on Friday said it plans to build a $125 million compound at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where it hopes to hold war-crimes trials for terror suspects by the middle of next year.

The compound, designed to accommodate as many as 1,200 people, would include dining areas, work spaces and sleeping accommodations for administrative personnel, lawyers, journalists and others involved in trials at the isolated detention center in southeast Cuba.

It would create a total of three courtrooms on the base to allow for simultaneous trials, and a separate high-security area to house the detainees on trial.

"We need to build more courtrooms, and we want to do multiple trials," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler, a Pentagon spokesman. He said the government hopes to begin construction as soon as possible to be ready for trials no later than July 1.
It's a Halliburton contract of course, or will be - plans for this compound are provided in a "presolicitation notice," dated November 3 and posted on the Internet for potential government contractors. You might want to bid, if you're handy at building things around the house. This whole business was first reported by the Miami Herald, but only widely reported later.

It may not be built. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents several hundred of Guantanamo detainees quotes as saying this - "This is a huge waste of taxpayer money. They've been trying to try people for five years, and until they try somebody according to the Constitution, nothing's going to happen there."

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, says this compound proposed by the Pentagon is basically "a permanent homage to its failed experiment in second class justice."

We'll see. If you do bid, know that the contractor will be required to complete work by next July - including "a secure perimeter," a garage for one hundred government vehicles and a closed-circuit video transmission center. And know that the government is drafting new rules for the trials under the Military Commissions Act, which the president signed last month. The Supreme Court had declared that previous efforts to try Guantanamo detainees were unconstitutional, and might do so with whatever the administration comes up with now. It's all a bit iffy.

And that takes us to Berlin, to the November 17 meeting of the Club de Madrid, Berlin, Germany. That's where Scott Horton has a few things to say about the work of the faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School, who have examined what is happening at Guantanamo and issued that report.

Horton has this to say -
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to read your newspaper today very carefully. In it you will find another - now the third - report prepared by faculty and students at Seton Hall Law School examining the Combat Status Review Tribunal, a board composed to confirm the status of detainees in Guantanamo. Based on its determinations, detainees may be held for indefinite periods - potentially forever. Yet, as this study reveals, most proceedings occupy only a few hours, involve no witnesses and generally little meaningful evidence of any sort. The detainees are not confronted with the accusations or evidence against them, given an opportunity to ask questions or conduct a case. Once more, the model that is adhered to is not the rich criminal or military justice system of the United States, but the model of Franz Kafka's Penal Colony. What attitude towards justice does this reveal?

I am not here to argue for release or freedom for those detained in the campaign against terror. I am arguing for justice. That is something quite different. It may well be that Majid Khan is a serious criminal responsible for crimes against humanity. It may well be that he used or promoted the use of terror as a device. If that is so, he should be charged and given a fair chance to defend himself. This trial, fairly run, will vindicate my nation's counterterrorism efforts. It will show those who are held for heinous criminals, if they are heinous criminals. It would promote the view in the world that my nation has and pursues a just cause, and treats those in its power with justice, though the justice be severe.

In the end justice is a glorious thing and the evasion of justice is shameful. But we must remember, as both Robert H. Jackson and Hannah Arendt have taught us, that this process is not simply about justice. It is also about the appearance of justice. Failing that, we run a severe risk. The penal colony may now be an island. But soon it may become the world.
Okay then, you have your American attorney in Berlin, citing the work done in a top tier New Jersey law school, referencing the work of a dead Czech Jew, regarding what we're up to in Cuba. It is a small world - and do you really want to bid on that contract?

Not up on your Kafka? Never read the Penal Colony? Horton's summary -
In the Penal Colony, a visitor - on a voyage of exploration, he says - arrives on a tropical island which serves as a penal colony. Shortly he receives an invitation from the island's military commander to witness an execution. In a drawn-out discussion, the visitor learns from an officer sent to greet him that the prisoner who is to be executed has no idea that he has been accused or charged of anything; nor of the penalty that awaits him. The penalty, in fact, is horrific - before he is executed, the prisoner is to be mutilated by a great machine designed to carve his offense in florid letters into his body. The process is a simple one, says the officer: he handles every stage of it, and there is no need for a defense - after all, says the officer, who is accuser and judge, he always starts from the premise that the accused is guilty. Indeed, are we not all guilty?

This presents a moral dilemma to the visitor. He recognizes the injustice and inhumanity of what is about to transpire. But he is after all just a visitor; moreover, a foreigner. What does all of this mean to him? Isn't it easier for him just to hold his peace and get off this island hell as quickly as he can?
Well, we're all in that position, What do Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Baghram and the Salt Pit, for instance, mean to us, after all?

But we cannot get off the island, even if more than half of us have had more than enough of this particular "military commander" and his crew and elected folks to rein things in, even if they probably cannot.

And now we cannot even deep-fry a flag in protest. What a world.

Posted by Alan at 21:28 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 18 November 2006 06:24 PST home

Thursday, 16 November 2006
The Day We Chose Sides
Topic: Iraq
The Day We Chose Sides
Finding some way to make the war in Iraq turn out in some marginally acceptable way seems to be the issue consuming Washington, and to some degree our allies in the UK - which would be the Blair government there, not the people. Blair never quite got the people of the United Kingdom to buy into the war, but he had the levers of power so that didn't matter much. What are you going to do? He had been given the decision-making power, and he decided to throw his lot in with us.

Enough people here were for the war initially. Enough of the people were convinced Saddam had nukes and deadly chemicals and nasty biological stuff - and somehow had something to with 9/11 - that the substantial numbers of those who wondered about all that were drowned out. We were told his little drone airplanes could blanket Miami or Philadelphia with anthrax or whatever. We were told about mushroom clouds. And anyway, we had to hit back at someone - we had to make a statement, and Iraq was as good a someone as any you could find. Saddam Hussein was one nasty piece of work, a mass murderer and all. It would be good to take him out, in any event. And the bad guys around the world would discover we really did hit back, and as Thomas Freidman said at the time, we needed them to know that. So we made our statement, and everything that followed turned sour.

When the original reasons for this adventure turned out to be what the software folks call vaporware, the neoconservative theory about the "New American Century" remained standing. The "making a statement" argument stood - we were the sole remaining superpower after the end of the Cold War and bad guys everywhere had to be reminded of that, dramatically, and of their own impotence, even more dramatically. Rubbing their noses in their impotence would make us safe as they slinked off with their tails between their legs and everyone laughed at them. This was an odd reading of human nature, not allowing that they might dispute our assessment of their impotence and try to prove us wrong. When they did, we applied more and more force, and continue to do so. The problem is they have done the same, in their quite irritating asymmetrical way. So we apply more force. It didn't work before - so it must be going to work in the future.

Then too, when all the other rationales evaporated, we were reminded of our role in building the "New American Century" - it was our destiny or burden, or whatever you will, to build free-market Jeffersonian democracies where there had been none before. The basic idea informing the neoconservative movement was that when the Soviet Union self-destructed and communism turned out to be a dreadful joke, it was obvious our way of running things had prevailed. It was the one system left standing, so it must be, by default, the only way to manage a society. This was The End of History and all that - "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

Francis Fukuyama said that, in 1989 and then in 1992. That was the whole idea. Iraq was to be taking that idea out for a spin - applying it. We'd plant the send of the manifestly best system of government there, and the whole region would be transformed, as everyone learned the lesson of the Cold War - only one system works, and history, which had just ended, proved it. That's now what we say we're up to.

Fukuyama has since left the neoconservative movement and decided he had been wrong. Some things that are universal and obvious are also things that are hard to set up, and may take decades of building the institutions and customs that underlie Western liberal democracy - a free press and a sense of compromise and codified basic individual rights and assured public safety and shared-cost basic services. Unlike the Manifest Destiny we proclaimed in the nineteenth century, our new mandate, our new destiny, turned out to be hard work - it wasn't just grabbing every acre out to the Pacific, killing off the Indians, and James Monroe telling the rest of the world to keep their hand off anything in the western hemisphere. This was building from scratch, in a year or two, what had evolved over centuries elsewhere.

And they thought this would work? That seems absurd. But then there were no nukes nor any deadly chemicals nor any nasty biological stuff, and Saddam Hussein seems to have had nothing to do with 9/11, and he had actually loathed and feared al Qaeda (the feeling was mutual). This would have to do for an objective - victory will be achieved when we have established, or helped establish, a Western liberal democracy in Iraq.

That's not working. We find ourselves pretty much responsible for a failed government in a nation in the middle of what looks like a brutal sectarian civil war, and now screw the Western liberal democracy thing - we'll settle for a stable government of almost any sort.

And that's the problem. What would a stable government of almost any sort look like? Do we choose sides in the civil war - supporting the folks who have the best chance of getting things under control - or do we try to get the three sides - Sunni, Shiite and Kurd - to play nice with each other?

We need to think that one through.

And we don't have much time. Consider the news the Associated Press reported Thursday, November 16 - a double-dose of grim -
The Pentagon said a convoy of civilians traveling near Nasiriyah was hijacked on Thursday, while earlier in the day the Shiite-led Interior Ministry issued an arrest warrant for the top leader of the country's Sunni minority. The move was certain to inflame already raging sectarian violence.

… An official familiar with the incident said preliminary reports being checked by the military indicated that the attack occurred at a checkpoint near Nasiriyah and that four Americans were believed to have been taken captive.
So we had the second hijack-kidnap incident of the week - and four American contactors taken - while the Shiite head of the Interior Ministry orders the arrest of the top Sunni in the country. How do we deal with this?

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, announced Thursday on state television that Harith al-Dhari was wanted for "inciting terrorism and violence among the Iraqi people." And Al-Dhari is head of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars - the biggest of big guns on that side. The idea may be to drive any moderate Sunnis out of the political system, bringing things to a head. AP notes that moderate Sunnis have been threatening for weeks to leave the government and take up arms. This may turn them, leading to an all out civil war - not just reprisal killings and cleansing neighborhood - and making it impossible for us to leave. Someone has to keep a lid on things.

Hell, the Sunnis and Shiites couldn't agree on whether all hostages had been released from a mass abduction in Baghdad two days earlier. And there was the expected reaction -
Mohammed Bashar al-Faidi, spokesman for the Sunni association, condemned the warrant for al-Dhari's arrest.

"This government should resign before the Iraqi people force it to resign," al-Faidi told Al-Jazeera television from Jordan. "The association calls on its people to be calm."

Al-Faidi accused the interior minister "of supporting terrorism by covering for (Shiite) militias that are killing the Iraqi people."
Yep, he's a bit ticked - earlier this year, the Sunni association blamed the Interior Ministry for the killing of a nephew and cousin of al-Dhari. Their bodies had turned up in a bullet-riddled van in Baghdad. These guys play for keeps.

And don't forget the Kurds. On Tuesday, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, called al-Dhari a hard-liner with "nothing to do but incite sectarian and ethnic sedition."

How did we get in the middle of this? And the arrest warrant thing has always been a problem - in April 2004 we issued an arrest warrant against Muqtada al-Sadr and got ourselves a two-week uprising by his Mahdi Army militia. Hundreds were killed. And the Shiite who runs the country and visistes the White House, Al-Maliki, will do nothing to wipe out the Mahdi Army. Al-Sadr, is a key backer of the prime minister.

And it seems this Mahdi Army is responsible for kidnapping all those people from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday of the week. On Thursday, the Sunni higher education minister called the Interior Ministry "a farce" for not preventing that and claimed more than half the one hundred fifty that were grabbed were still in the hands of the Shiite vigilantes. National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a Shiite, said everyone had been freed and said everyone was making trouble when there was none now.

Sunni guys who had been abducted and released said most of the other Sunnis had been tortured and killed -
I was lucky. They only beat me with a wooden club. Others were handcuffed and hanged from the ceiling by their wrists. They were beaten with iron bars. Others, building guards, had cotton shoved in their mouths and tape wound around their heads. They suffocated. One was shot in the back. The managers in the building and people with higher degrees, masters and doctorates, were in a different room. I could hear them screaming like women. Then it was quiet. I think they died.
And we're in the middle of this. Hanging Saddam Hussein and televising it around the world close-up for all the gory details, isn't going to make this all better. William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and chief spokesman for the whole neoconservative movement, famously said that people know nothing and always engage in cheap pop psychology, but really, there has never been any history of conflict and strife between Sunni and Shiite in Iraq - folks were just wrong about that. Wrong - but even if he had been right, there is conflict and strife now. And we have to deal with it.

That same day in Baghdad gunmen fired on a bakery, killing nine people. It's a Sunni thing - most bakeries in the capital are run by Shiites. And we lost four more of ours that day - 2,862 at that point, and 44 through November 16. Now what? The president picked a hell of a day to finally make it to Vietnam, about forty years late. All the levels of irony are just too obvious.

But there may be a plan. Laura Rozen in the still functioning, for now, Los Angeles Times, reported that same day that the Bush national security team met over the Veterans Day weekend, quite secretly, to discuss options for Iraq. National security advisor Stephen Hadley seems to have set the agenda for the meeting, and it was all about choosing sides -
Numerous policy options were put forward at the meeting, which revolved around a strategy paper prepared by Hadley and drawn from his recent trip to Baghdad. One was the Shiite option. Participants were asked to consider whether the U.S. could really afford to keep fighting both the Sunni insurgency and Shiite militias - or whether it should instead focus its efforts on combating the Sunni insurgency exclusively, and even help empower the Shiites against the Sunnis.

... So what's the logic behind the idea of "unleashing the Shiites"? It's the path of least resistance, according to its supporters, and it could help accelerate one side actually winning Iraq's sectarian conflict, thereby shortening the conflict, while reducing some of the critical security concerns driving Shiites to mobilize their own militias in the first place.
Ah, so that's why the Shiite head of the Interior Ministry ordered the arrest of the top Sunni. We may have stepped back and said fine, do it, knock yourself out. If we let the Sunnis go - hell, let them use gas chambers - we'll get some stability and find a way to finally step back and fade away, little by little. Someone's got to pay the price to get us out of this mess. They'll do.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly understands -
Would this be an appalling strategy to follow? Of course it would. Appalling options are all that's left to us in Iraq.

More to the point: is it worse than the other options at our disposal? Or, alternatively, is it slightly less bad? I'd guess the former. There's not much question that Shiite forces are eventually going to wipe out the Sunni insurgency, but it's probably slightly better for them to do it on their own instead of doing it with our active help, something that would alienate every Sunni in the Middle East. And don't think that we might be able to keep this a secret. Even if our support for this strategy were never publicly acknowledged, there's not much question that everyone in the region would understand perfectly well what was going on.

Such is the moral calculus we're left with in Iraq. It's not a battle between good and bad, it's a battle between bad and worse.
So we piss off our Sunni allies over there - the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Gulf States. They'll get over it. We're in a jam.

David Kurtz says this -
There are other policy options on the table, but so far "the last big push" and "the tilt" are the two we've seen most publicly articulated.

Are the lame names for these strategies indicative of how poor the policy options are?
Yes. That was easy. (The "the last big push" idea was discussed here.)

Matthew Yglesias just offers common sense -
Let me merely point out that our occupation of Iraq has now gone on for so long that this, like essentially every other idea, has already had its moment in the sun. After the heady days of the Early Bremer period, we attempted a Sunni Placation Strategy during Iyad Allawi's administration. Then, at some point during the Ibrahim Jafari Era the decision was made that we needed to be backing the forces of "democracy" in Iraq (i.e., the Shiites) against their adversaries. We eventually wound up backtracking on that, and have spent much of Nouri al-Maliki's administration attempting a return to the Sunni Placation Strategy, complete with the resumption of on-again, off-again warfare against Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers.

And so, sure, why not tilt back again? Then again, why not leave?
That's a thought. But we can't do that.

Posted by Alan at 21:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006 21:57 PST home

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