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"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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Wednesday, 25 October 2006
Reassurance Offered - Explaining Things Will Be Fine
Topic: Iraq
Reassurance Offered - Explaining Things Will Be Fine
It's all in the sequencing - thing have to happen in the right order, and sometimes they don't.

Associated Press, Tuesday, 24 October - "U.S. officials said Tuesday Iraqi leaders have agreed to develop a timeline by the end of the year for progress in stabilizing Iraq, and Iraqi forces should be able to take full control of security in the country in the next 12 to 18 months with 'some level' of American support."

Our ambassador and General Casey were there, saying this. No Iraqi leaders were present. And the power cut out at an awkward moment. Baghdad is like that these days.

Associated Press, Wednesday, 25 October - "A defiant Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying Iraq needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country. 'I affirm that this government represents the will of the people, and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,' al-Maliki said.'"

A presidential press conference, hastily called (the reporters had only an hour's notice) - to say yep, things weren't going well, and he was no dummy, so he "got it." People should get off his back about that. And there was no timeline, really, just benchmarks that would assure victory, which is something else entirely.

With less than two weeks before the elections that could sweep his party from power, he had to say something. The Republican congressmen and senators running to keep their seats had been getting hammered on the war issue, so this was an effort to take the pressure off them. The president had their back. This was going to work out. He said so.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pointed out he was no dummy, and saw what was happening - "The Americans have the right to review their policies, but we do not believe in a timetables." It was all grandstanding and not particularly logical - "the result of elections taking place right now that do not involve us."

It doesn't. The timing of all this sudden enthusiasm for "blueprints" and "adjusting tactics" is no coincidence. And that is not to say Nouri al-Maliki is cynical. He's just realistic - and a bit annoyed.

How annoyed? He's this annoyed -
An angry Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in the capital's Sadr City slum Wednesday, and criticized the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying his government needs to set a timetable to curb violence in the country.

… Al-Maliki complained that he was not consulted beforehand about the Sadr City offensive. The raid was conducted by Iraqi special forces backed by U.S. advisers and was aimed at capturing a top militia commander wanted for running a Shiite death squad.

"We will ask for clarification to what has happened," al-Maliki said. "We will review this issue with the Multinational Forces so that it will not be repeated."
The man is in a tough spot. That anti-American cleric, Muqtada's al-Sadr, with his own private army, the Mahdi Army that he tries to control, is the reason Nouri al-Maliki is able to do the little ruling he can actually do. Muqtada's al-Sadr has his back, as does the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq, the SCIRI, which operates the Badr Brigades. Things are a bit tenuous there, of course. The coalitions are complex, and the players not very nice.

Enter one Mouwafak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser, telling Associated Press that it was all a misunderstanding that had been cleared up with General Casey - so everyone saves some face. And when asked about it at the press conference President Bush said this - "We need coordinate with him. That makes sense to me. And there are a lot of operations taking place which means sometimes communications are not as good as they should be. And we'll continue to work very closely with the government to make sure communications are solid."

It's a bit chaotic - in spite of everything the president said at the press conference. Until Wednesday, our guys and the Iraqi forces had pretty much avoided the part pf Baghdad known as Sard City, with its two and a half million Shiites. Named for his late, martyred father, that's Muqtada's al-Sadr's country within a country, so to speak. And he backs the prime minister, so let it be.

But we didn't. We went after one really bad guy, and the Mahdi Army militiamen fought back, and we called in an air strike and cordoned off the place. And we got ten guys - but the unidentified primary target got away. And the prime minister's fragile coalition was in trouble, so he had to protest. It's complicated, and add that we also raided a mosque in Sadr City looking for a missing United States soldier and his kidnappers. We didn't find him - "but three suspects were detained."

None of this is going well. We want to stop the madness, but we cannot undermine the elected prime minister - our only evidence we did what we said we'd do there, build a representative democracy.

But you get this -
Crowds of Shiite men, some carrying pistols and others hoisting giant posters of al-Sadr, swarmed onto the district's streets Wednesday morning, chanting, "America has insulted us."

Throughout the day and into the night, U.S. F-16 jet fighters growled across the Baghdad sky, and at one point the report of tank cannon fire echoed across the city five times in quick succession.

Streets were empty and shops closed, although the district still had electricity from the national power grid.

Well after nightfall, residents said all roads into the slum remained blocked by U.S. and Iraqi forces. U.S. soldiers were searching all cars.

A frustrated motorist waiting at one checkpoint jumped out of his car and called for al-Maliki to resign.

"Where is al-Maliki? It would be more honorable for him to resign. Why is he letting the Americans do this to us," the driver could be heard to scream.

Falah Hassan Shanshal, a lawmaker from al-Sadr's political bloc, said women and children had been killed, although videotape pictures of the bodies from the neighborhood taken at the local morgue showed only male victims.

"If there was an arrest operation, it should have been carried out by the Iraqi authorities, and not like this where air cover is used as if we were in a war zone," Shanshal said in an interview with the government's al-Iraqiya television station.
But it is a war zone, isn't it?

And what of this press conference to make it clear we were changing and adapting and making things better?

Dan Froomkin's summary in the Washington Post will do -
"I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq," Bush said, 13 days before a mid-term election that will in large part be a referendum on the war. "I'm not satisfied either."

"I think I owe an explanation to the American people," he said.

But Bush didn't have much new to say today, other than endorsing yesterday's already largely debunked announcement in Baghdad of a "new plan" that sounds very much like the old plan.

And after an hour of familiar sound bites, the public would be forgiven for feeling it still hasn't gotten that explanation he promised.

Among the things that remain unexplained:
  • Why does Bush believe that staying in Iraq will make things better, when the evidence suggests that it keeps making things worse?
  • Why does he believe that progress is being made, when the evidence suggests that Iraq is sliding deeper and deeper into civil war?
  • Why does he remain confident in Iraq's central government, when the evidence suggests that the center is not holding?
  • Why hasn't anyone in his administration been held accountable for all the things that have gone wrong?
The Washington Post's Peter Baker asked that last question, and after initially responding with a strong endorsement of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush had this to say:

"The ultimate accountability, Peter, rests with me. That's the ultimate - you're asking about accountability - that's - that's - it rests right here. It's what the 2004 campaign was about. You know, people want to - if people are unhappy about it, look right to the president."
And so they do. Those Republican candidates running for their seats who might have looked forward to "some help here" were no doubt a tad depressed by all this.

There was an incident a few years ago in Paris at a press conference on May 26, 2002, noted here, where George Bush and Jacques Chirac were answering questions from all sorts of reporters. President Bush got really testy and kind exploded when NBC reporter David Gregory decided to switch to French to ask Chirac a question. And his French wasn't bad. Bush stopped everything and sneered - "The guy memorizes four words and he plays like he's intercontinental!" Well, maybe it was a calculated insult on the part of the reporter. Or maybe Bush was having a bad moment. There are more details here, suggesting David Gregory would probably loss his job - Karl Rove would make a phone call.

Well, David Gregory is still working and more successful than ever, and just as cheeky, with this question at the Wednesday, October 25 news conference -
Mr. President, for several years you have been saying that America will "stay the course" in Iraq. You were committed to the policy. And now you say that no, you're not saying "stay the course," that you're adapting to win, that you're showing flexibility. And as you mention, out of Baghdad we're now hearing about benchmarks and timetables from the Iraqi government, as relayed by American officials, to stop the sectarian violence.

In the past, Democrats and other critics of the war who talked about benchmarks and timetables were labeled as "defeatists," "Defeat- o-crats," or people who wanted to "cut and run."

So why shouldn't the American people conclude that this is nothing from you other than semantic, rhetorical games and all politics two weeks before an election?
Gregory likes being provocative it seems. But he didn't ask the question in French, and the president didn't explode with his Texas bar-fight sarcasm.

The president carefully explained that you really have to distinguish between "mutually agreed-upon benchmarks" and "a fixed timetable for withdrawal." You see, they're quite different. He didn't mention the "mutually agreed-upon" thing had been blown up an hour before the press conference with angry words from Baghdad. After all, that can be worked out, maybe. And no one pointed out he had previously opposed even benchmarks. The follow-up was how he planned to measure success toward the benchmarks - and what he would do if the benchmarks weren't met. He didn't exactly answer that.

But the killer question (in so many ways) was about whether we'd be there forever, and he would not renounce the goal of establishing permanent military bases in Iraq. This sort of thing makes the Iraqi public very angry - not that they matter any more.

And the idea that we'd have our few permanent bases, hang out there, and that the Iraqi security forces could be largely self-sufficient within twelve to eighteen months seemed a bit far-fetched to many people. But that's what is supposed to happen. You have to trust him. And that's hard when you see things like this - "The top American commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he may call for more troops to be sent to Baghdad, possibly by increasing the overall U.S. presence in Iraq, as rising bloodshed pushes Iraqi and American deaths to some of their highest levels of the war."

Michael R. Gordon in the New York Times says this of the "we'll send a few more troops into Baghdad and in a year or a year and half we'll be gone" - "Given the rise in sectarian killings, a Sunni-based insurgency that appears to be as potent as ever and an Iraqi security establishment that continues to have difficulties deploying sufficient numbers of motivated and proficient forces in Baghdad, General Casey's target seems to be an increasingly heroic assumption."

But this is the administration of heroic assumptions, is it not?

And things are different now. There's none of the "stay the course" business. Now we have this distinction between "tactics," which the president is willing to change, and "strategy," which he isn't. And the White House will only talk about "milestones" and "benchmarks" for getting the useless Iraqis to get it together, but there are no "deadlines" or "ultimatums" or penalties if they don't.

Impressed? Over at SLATE John Dickerson isn't -
What's being lost in the semantic game over "stay the course" is the new set of choices that really confront the administration. They are not tactical. They are strategic and they are all painful: partitioning Iraq into semiautonomous regions, changing the Al-Maliki government, asking for diplomatic cooperation from neighboring countries like Syria and Iran, or adding more U.S. troops. If the administration were as flexible as it has been proclaiming recently, it would be talking about these options. It has either refused to consider them or stayed mum. If the White House is doing away with the old slogan, perhaps it should mint a new one: "All options are ugly."
But the press conference seemed to be held to say that it may seem as if all options are ugly, but they're not. You just have to believe in what seems impossible - and you have to be optimistic. Being coldly realistic is wrong. If you don't clap loud enough, Tinkerbelle will die.

One of those coldly realistic folks is Frederick W. Kagan, with this -
The U.S. military destroyed Iraq's government and all institutions able to keep civil order. It designated itself an "occupying force," thereby accepting the responsibility to restore and maintain such order.

… By allowing violence and disorder to spread throughout the country, the Bush administration has broken faith with the Iraqi people and ignored its responsibilities. It has placed U.S. security in jeopardy by creating the preconditions for the sort of terrorist safe haven the president repeatedly warns about and by demonstrating that no ally can rely on America to be there when it counts.
But other than that we're doing fine.

Froomkin in the Post also give us this, regarding the president's chief spokesman, Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary -
Back on October 16, Snow was asked: "Just the simple question: Are we winning?"

His response: "We're making progress. I don't know. How do you define 'winning'?"

On MSNBC's Hardball, yesterday, Chris Matthews asked the question again:

MATTHEWS: Are we winning the war in Iraq?

SNOW: Yes.

MATTHEWS: If this is victory, if this is winning what we're doing now, what would losing look like? I mean that seriously. What would have to happen for the president to decide that he did make a mistake, we can't set up a democracy in Iraq given those factional rivalries in that country, it can't be done?

SNOW: Wait a minute. You're making an assumption that I can't buy into for the simple reason that you have 12 million Iraqis who voted. Furthermore, you've got a unity government that includes Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurds. There was a summit over the weekend in Saudi Arabia that brought together Shi'a and Sunni leaders.

MATTHEWS: But over 3,000 people are getting killed in what is basically sectarian fighting here. How can you call that a winning success story here?

SNOW: Well, wait. You asked me if we're winning.


SNOW: We haven't won, there's a big difference.

MATTHEWS: When do you think we will stop having this national argument over Iraq, that it will be clear that your argument will prevail, when people will say, you know, damn it, I didn't like it, but Bush was right. We could establish a stable democracy in Iraq. When are people going to say? Next year, the year after, three years from now, five years from now? When will people generally say, damn it, he was right? We have a stable democracy. When is that going to come?

SNOW: I don't know, but if somebody had asked that question in 1776, the answer would have been 13 years.

MATTHEWS: But that's a long haul to fight a foreign war, isn't it?

SNOW: I'm not saying we're going to fight a foreign war for 13 years. I was engaging in a debating point.

No wonder folks are a bit unhappy with all this.

But James Baker and his Iraq Study Group will ride in to save the day after the election. Matthews will calm down.

Sidney Blumenthal thinks not -

On Wednesday, Bush held a press conference that can only be interpreted as a preemptive repudiation of Baker. Of course, other motives underlay the press conference as well. It was an effort to repackage Bush's unpopular Iraq policy on the eve of the elections and to demonstrate that he is in charge of circumstances that have careened out of control.

In his remarks, Bush digressed at length to give rote explanations that were elementary, irrelevant or misleading. His supposed admissions of error were attempts at deflecting responsibility. Rather than stating the facts that his Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq had forced the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the civil service (by banning those with Baathist Party membership, which included nearly every bureaucrat), he passively said, "We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people." And: "We did not expect the Iraqi army, including the Republican Guard, to melt away in the way that it did in the face of advancing coalition forces."

Sticking to his Karl Rove-inspired script before the elections, Bush said the word "victory" as often as possible and even explained that if he didn't do that, public opinion would falter: "I fully understand that if the people think we don't have a plan for victory, that they're not going to support the effort." Having given "victory" a cynical signature, he brought up the Baker commission, setting terms for his acceptance of its proposals. "My administration will carefully consider any proposal that will help us achieve victory." As far as can be determined, this "victory" consists of yet to be determined "benchmarks" to be negotiated with the Iraqi government, whose prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, hours before Bush's press conference, denounced the idea of benchmarks or "timetables."

When Bush was asked if he supported Baker's suggestion of negotiations with Iran, he knocked it down, putting the onus entirely on the Iranians and making any negotiations dependent on their acceptance of U.S.-European demands not to develop nuclear weapons. Baker's idea is not tied to those conditions. On Syria, Bush reiterated his old position and said, "They know our position, as well." Since they already know it, there is no need for the diplomatic initiative Baker proposes.

While giving the back of his hand to Baker, Bush went out of his way to lavish praise on his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. "And I'm satisfied of how he's done all his jobs," said Bush. "He is a smart, tough, capable administrator." Once again, Bush was deciding in favor of Rumsfeld.

On Tuesday, the day before the press conference, Rumsfeld acted as the blunt truth teller. On Sunday, Bush had said, "We've never been 'stay the course.'" But Rumsfeld called reports about any Bush plan to reverse course as "nonsense," adding that "of course" Bush was "not backing away from 'stay the course.'"

Now it's Baker's move.
Baker won't change the man's mind.

The elections should be interesting.

But Bush may be bulletproof, as Tim Noah explains -
Ever since the resignation of Richard Nixon, a very smart man who got caught abusing his executive power, the GOP has deliberately avoided nominating conspicuously intelligent people for president. Gerald Ford was smarter than he looked, but he was unable to dispel his buffoonish image. Ronald Reagan was famously checked out and ill-informed. George H.W. Bush, though clearly smarter than Dubya, is not exactly imposing in the brains department, and he's demonstrated almost as much difficulty as his son in formulating a coherent sentence. And George W. Bush? Let's just say the guy is either mentally lazy, not very bright, or some combination of these two. I've never felt it necessary to refine that diagnosis; the term I favor is "functionally dumb."

Two things must be said about my assertions in the previous paragraph. One is that they are all unmistakably true. The other is that whenever a liberal repeats any one of them out loud, that liberal - and contemporary liberalism generally - come under attack, along with the Democratic party, the New York Times, Harvard, the AFL-CIO, the Council on Foreign Relations, the three major TV networks, and the Sierra Club. If a liberal is deciding whom to hire to answer phones and return papers neatly to a metal filing cabinet, it's considered legitimate for that liberal to formulate a judgment as to the candidates' intelligence. If a liberal is deciding whom to vote for in a presidential election, it is not. Merely to raise the issue is seen as conclusive evidence that one is snobbish and effete, and that the subject of one's skeptical inquiry is an authentic man of the people.
We'll see if that's still true.

Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, may have screwed the pooch, or whatever the term is.

From Martin Amis' review in the Times of London, this -
George W. Bush has prevailed in two general elections because, very broadly, male voters feel that he's the kind of guy "you can have a beer with". Whereas in fact George W. Bush is the kind of guy you can't have a beer with, under any circumstances: as they say at AA, he has come to treasure his sobriety. You can have a beer with John Kerry and Al Gore; and you can have a beer with Bush Sr and Bill Clinton (and pretty well all the others, including George Washington). But you can't have a beer with Bush Jr.

… One of the many deranging consequences of September 11 was the reification of American power. Until that date, "US hegemony" was largely a matter of facts and figures, of graphs and pie-charts. Thereafter it became a matter of options and capabilities, of war plans cracked out on the President's desk. We can understand the afflatus, the rush of blood, in the White House: overnight, demonstrably and palpably, a tax-cutting dry drunk from West Texas became the most powerful man in human history. One wonders, nowadays, how it goes with Bush, in his glands and sinews. Post-September 11, he had the body language of the man in the bar who isn't going anywhere till he has had his fistfight. Now he looks washed, rinsed, bleached, his flat smile an awful rictus; that upper lip has lost all its lift.

Students of history are aware that illusion - or, if you prefer psychopathology - plays a part in shaping world events. It is always a heavy call on human fortitude to acknowledge that such a thing is happening before our eyes, in broad daylight and full consciousness. On the opposing side we see illusion in its rawest form: murderous fanaticism. On ours, we see a vertiginous power-rush followed by a vacuum, and then a drift into helplessness and self-hypnosis. That vacuum was itself reified after the fall of Baghdad, when the plunder began and the soldiers stood and watched, and it slowly emerged that there was no policy for the peace. Then came a dual disintegration, like that of the twin towers: the collapse of the authority of the state, and the collapse of the value of human life.

… we get a pretty fair idea of how it all happened. The dynamic was unanimity of belief: the establishment, by ideological filtration, of a yes-man's land. Talented experts with dissenting views were sidelined: "Rumsfeld said that they needed people who were truly committed and who had not written or said things that were not supportive." And so on, system-wide, in an atmosphere of feud and grudge, of tantrums and bollockings.

… Two misleadingly comical anecdotes reveal the abysmal depths of coalition unpreparedness. Having allowed the dispersed Iraqi army to stay dispersed, the American viceroy started building a new one, catchily called the NIC (or New Iraqi Corps). It was pointed out, after a while, that this was the Arabic equivalent of calling it the FUQ. Similarly, when Frank Miller of the National Security Council joined a Humvee patrol in Baghdad (March 2004) he was heartened to see that all the Iraqi children were giving him the thumbs-up sign, unaware that in Iraq the thumb (shorter yet chunkier) does duty for the middle digit.

But it may be that the Bush miscalculation was more chronological than geographical. In his sternly compelling book, The Shia Revival, Vali Nasr suggests that the most momentous consequence of the Iraq adventure is the ignition of the Muslim civil war. Not the one between moderate and extreme Islam, which is already over, but the one between the Sunni and the Shia, which has been marinating for a millennium. We can say, with the facetiousness of despair, that it's just as well to get this out of the way; and let us hope it is merely a Thirty Years' War, and not a Hundred Years' War. After that, we can look forward to a Reformation, followed, in due course, by an Enlightenment. Democracy may then come to the Middle East, with Iraq, in the words of one staffer (a month into the invasion), as the region's "cherished model".
So take the long view. In the broad scope of history, this press conference didn't mean a whole lot. And the sequence of events, and the main player, are both insignificant. We're screwed.

Posted by Alan at 22:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 26 October 2006 07:49 PDT home

Thursday, 20 October 2005

Topic: Iraq

Smurf War: Doing Good, Doing It Right

As regular readers know, I've been trading emails with my nephew, the Major in Baghdad deeply involved in events there. Without revealing too much, he's in the Green Zone with the senior commanders, tracking events and planning. I know he starts his day before seven and sometimes finishes up sometimes as late as ten in the evening. Still he has time to write a note here and there. A lot of what we discuss is non-political, as in our recent back-and-forth about cars (prompted by this). But we have discussed this war and its possible outcomes. Some of his comments have been posted in these pages - in Chatting With Baghdad, for example. He and I disagree a whole lot, as you can imagine, but as I said to him, we can talk like sensible people. That's one of the many things I like about him. He calls that "disagreeing sensibly." As he puts it - "One of the things I've have learned is that if you are not smart enough to speak sensibly to get your point across, you probably don't have a point."

Tuesday, October 18, I received this from him: "Please read the article below and give consideration for comment into your blog. I love it, not only because it declares triumph, but I liked the Smurfs in my earlier years."

Well, before what he suggest we consider, some background by way of this, from the Ottawa Citizen, reprinted from The Daily Telegraph (UK):

Smurfs used as shock treatment in UNICEF's fundraising drive
Cartoon characters' village bombed in anti-war TV commercial
David Rennie - October 8, 2005

So what is this about?
BRUSSELS - The people of Belgium have been left reeling by a public service commercial featuring the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters' village is annihilated by warplanes.

The 25-second commercial is the work of UNICEF, and is to be broadcast on TV across Belgium next week as a public fundraiser. It is intended as the keystone of a drive, by UNICEF's Belgian arm, to raise about $145,000 for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers in Burundi.

The animation was approved by the family of the Smurfs' late creator, "Peyo."

Belgian television viewers were given a preview of the commercial earlier this week, when it was shown on the main evening news. Reactions ranged from approval to shock and, in the case of small children who saw the episode by accident, wailing terror.

UNICEF and IMPS, the family company that controls all rights to the Smurfs, have stipulated that it is not to be broadcast before 9 p.m.

The ad pulls no punches. It opens with the Smurfs dancing, hand-in-hand, around a campfire and singing the Smurf song. Bluebirds flutter past and rabbits gambol around their familiar village of mushroom-shaped houses until, without warning, bombs begin to rain from the sky.

Tiny Smurfs scatter and run in vain from the whistling bombs, before being felled by blast waves and fiery explosions. The final scene shows a scorched and tattered Baby Smurf sobbing inconsolably, surrounded by prone Smurfs.

The final frame bears the message: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."

… The advertising agency behind the campaign, Publicis, decided the best way to convey the impact of war on children was to tap into the earliest, happiest memories of Belgian television viewers. They chose the Smurfs, who first appeared in a Belgian comic in 1958.

Julie Lamoureux, Publicis' account director for the campaign, said the agency's original plans were toned down.

"We wanted something that was real war - Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head - but they said no."

The film has won tentative approval from the official Smurf fan club. A spokesman said, "I think it will wake up some people. It is so un-Smurf-like, it might get people to think."

Hendrik Coysman, managing director of IMPS, agreed. "That crying baby really goes to your bones."
Okay. Got it?

The counter reaction is here, recommended by Our Man in Baghdad:

Sometimes it is worth going to war
Mark Steyn, The Telegraph (UK), Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Setting the scene:
I yield to no one in my disdain for the United Nations and all its works, but I did find myself warming up to Unicef the other day. Last week, on Belgian television, the UN children's agency premiered the first adult movie featuring the Smurfs. By "adult", I don't mean it was a blue movie. Only the characters were blue. But it was an adult movie in the sense that the Smurfs were massacred during an air strike on their village, until, in the final scene, only Baby Smurf is left, weeping alone surrounded by wall-to-wall Smurf corpses. It's the first Smurf snurf movie.

Well, I thought, say what you like about the UN, but any organisation that wants to bomb the Smurfs can't be all bad. Instead of those wimps at Dudley council banning Piglet like a bunch of nancy boys, why couldn't they make some blockbuster video nuking the Hundred-Acre Wood and leaving Pooh to die in a radioactive Heffalump pit?

My mistake. Apparently Unicef made the short film as a fundraiser to highlight how children are the principal victims of war. As Baby Smurf wails amid the shattered ruins, we see the words: "Don't let war affect the lives of children."
First point - the airplanes are wrong:
... I can't help thinking that, if you are that concerned for children in war zones, you might have done something closer to what real conflict is like in those places. In Rwanda, Sudan and a big chunk of west Africa, air strikes are few and far between. Instead, millions get hacked to death by machetes. Even on the very borders of Eutopia, hundreds of thousands died in the Balkans in mostly low-tech, non-state-of-the-art ways.

In 2003, Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote a fascinating column in the East African musing on the resurgence of cannibalism, after reports that Ugandan-backed rebels in the Congo were making surviving members of their victims' families eat the body parts of their loved ones.

"While colonialism is bad," he said, "the coloniser who arrives by plane, vehicle or ship is better - because he will have to build an airport, road or harbour - than the one who, like the Ugandan army, arrived and withdrew from most of eastern Congo on foot." Just so. If you're going to be attacked, it's best to be attacked by a relatively advanced enemy. Compared to being force-fed Grandfather Smurf's genitals, having his village strafed in some clinical air strike is about the least worst option for Baby Smurf.
Second point the whole concept doesn't fit the war we have -
Well, whether intentionally or not, they are evoking the war that most of their audience - in Belgium and beyond - is opposed to: the Iraq war, where the invader did indeed have an air force. That's how the average Western "progressive" still conceives of warfare, as something the big bullying Pentagon does to weak victims.

But this week is a week to remember that there are worse things than war that "affect the lives of children". If I were Papa Smurf, I wouldn't want Baby Smurf to grow up in Saddam's Iraq. I don't mean just because we'd be the beleaguered minority of Smurfistan, to be gassed and shovelled into mass graves.

Even if we were part of Saddam's own approved class living in the Smurfi Triangle, it's still a life permanently fixed between terror and resignation, in which all a parent's hopes for his children are subordinate to the whims of a psycho state.
And that old Iraq is gone now - a good thing.
Whatever the Americans got wrong, they got one big thing right - that, if you persevered, Iraq had the potential to function as a free society in a part of the world where no such thing has ever existed.

That was a long shot, and much sneered at, not least by British "conservatives". But Washington judged correctly: given the radicalisation of the Arab world, and the Arabification of the Islamic world, and the Islamification of much of the rest of the world, in the end you have to fix the problem at source.

... Pushing back the Islamists on their ever-expanding margins will never work. Reforming the heart of the Muslim world just might.

Sometimes war is worth it. And, if you don't think so, look at the opening scenes of that Unicef video - Smurfs singing, dancing, gambolling merrily - and try to imagine living in a Smurf enclave in a province that wants to introduce Sharia.
So go read the whole thing, as it is full of references to the main UK and US arguments for and against the war, and comes down on the side that this was mainly a good thing. (And enjoy the Brit spellings and capitalization and verb agreement oddities.)

Smurfs aside - and as one of an older generation I never warmed up to these little blue folk, so this advertising campaign doesn't "resonate" with me at all - this is a "straw man" argument.

Was there anyone on the left, beside Michael Moore in his famous film, arguing Saddam Hussein was a fine man and Iraq under his rule a fine place where everyone was happy? And even Moore, in his film, doesn't argue the former, only the latter - that the civilians there as the war started were just living their lives as best they could, and look what happened to them. In short, opposing this war was not the same thing as endorsing the regime of Saddam Hussein. It was suggesting that, given the major problem of that man and that government, and that something had to be done, and soon, there was an array of alternatives. War for "regime change" was an option. There were others.

The odd thing about the shift in US diplomacy under Bush was not only the new policy of "preemptive war" - wipe out the bad guys before they could even think about doing bad things - but the constant call for "regime change" in nations we found threatening, or with whom we had disagreements. We sponsored a coup in Venezuela that almost came off. We've called for "regime change" in North Korea - we wouldn't even talk to them one-on-one as that would be "rewarding bad behavior." We still won't. We are funding and supporting those deep inside Iran who would overthrow the government there. And so on.

The idea of sitting down and giving our position, and listening to the other side's, and working out agreements, and if that came to nothing applying diplomatic and economic pressure, was discarded as seeming weak.

Then too, idea of flooding an enemy with the tools of soft power - free trade and Coca Cola and rock music and books and ideas, and KFC and fast cars - to subvert old ways in favor of ours, was similarly dismissed. If fact, for decades, starting long before this administration, we have isolated Cuba - instead of opening trade and flooding the island with parts for all those old cars and consumer goods and Starbucks and all that is South Beach, Miami - thus making Castro's Stalinist-lite communism look foolish to everyone there. Heck, we helped him by NOT doing that - we looked nasty and mean and he plays the hero. Maybe applying such "soft power" tools makes us less manly, or something. It's not - it's just sneaky, and effective. And it's the opposite of what Karen Hughes is now tasked with doing - explaining we're the good guys without any of the "soft power" tools. All she has is words. She has a tough sell there.

What were alternatives to the war we waged? Well, we might have had to go to war eventually, but we could have examined the real threat more thoroughly. Had inspections gotten tighter and tighter, as they slowly were, in spite of the impediments raised again and again, we might have had a better sense of what we had to do when. Could we have roped in key players in the region to work with us on containing the problem? Every nation in the region had, and has, a stake in stability there. They're not exactly chopped liver, if you know that question.

Could we have turned to our traditional allies - Germany, China, Russian and even France - and asked them for ideas? They all said this war was a bad idea. We could have asked what their ideas were, and listened, even if we might reject some of those ideas. This was everyone's problem in some way. A summit would have been workable - "What do you think we, and that's all of us, should do?" An open forum for everyone who had a stake in stability and oil supplies and terrorism - and that was every nation.

There's always another alternative, or two, or three. It wasn't "make war now or you must love Saddam Hussein and everything about him." Nations, and just ordinary folks who like to think things through, resent being demonized as wimps and apologists for murdering dictators. These are the "work smarter, not harder" types, the folks who say sometimes it's better to "do it right" than to just "do it now."

But that wasn't this administration's style. We adopted the new "one note" approach to things. We'd been wronged. We'd decide what to do. Agree or admit you love Saddam.

It's bullshit, but simple enough for an angry nation to swallow.

You want to breed resentment and cause problems? That'll do it.

Oh well, it doesn't matter now.

As for what Mark Steyn argues here, well, yes, getting ride of the Saddam regime did some good. Who is arguing otherwise? The devil is in the details.

And this week's details are not encouraging. Forget Abu Ghraib. We just did something worse.

What happened here is not making things better.
Australian television on Wednesday broadcast footage of what it said was U.S. soldiers burning the corpses of two dead Taliban fighters with their bodies laid out facing Mecca and using the images in a propaganda campaign in southern Afghanistan.

The television report said U.S. soldiers burned the bodies for hygienic reasons but then a U.S. psychological operations unit broadcast a propaganda message on loudspeakers to Taliban fighters, taunting them to retrieve their dead and fight.
And this detail -
Attention Taliban you are cowardly dogs," read the first soldier, identified as psyops specialist Sgt. Jim Baker.

"You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burned. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be."
Something was lost in translation there. He probably said "girly men."

Think this isn't serious. From the New York Times see this from the AP wire:
"Abu Ghraib ruined the reputation of the Americans in Iraq and to me this is even worse," said Faiz Mohammed, a top cleric in northern Kunduz province. "This is against Islam. Afghans will be shocked by this news. It is so humiliating. There will be very, very dangerous consequences from this." Anger also was evident in the streets. "If they continue to carry out such actions against us, our people will change their policy and react with the same policy against them," said Mehrajuddin, a resident of Kabul, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Another man in the capital, Zahidullah, said the reported abuse was like atrocities committed by Soviet troops, who were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of occupation. He warned that the same could happen to American forces.

"Their future will be like the Russians," Zahidullah said.
We are doing good, then the "psychological operations" guys get a bit too enthusiastic.

So it's damage control -
The U.S. military and the Afghan government said Thursday they will investigate a TV report that claimed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan burned the bodies of two Taliban fighters and taunted other Islamic militants.

The U.S. military said such abuse would be "repugnant," and the State Department said U.S. embassies around the world have been told to counter a potential backlash by telling local governments that the alleged actions do not reflect American values.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said the government has launched its own inquiry.

"We strongly condemn any disrespect to human bodies regardless of whether they are those of enemies or friends," said Karzai spokesman Karim Rahimi.

... Cremation of bodies is not part of Islamic tradition, which calls for remains to be washed, prayed over, wrapped in white cloth and buried within 24 hours.

Dupont [the SBS-Australia cameraman] said the soldiers who burned the bodies said they did so for hygiene reasons. However, Dupont said the incendiary messages later broadcast by the U.S. army psychological operations unit indicated they were aware that the cremation would be perceived as a desecration.

"They used that as a psychological warfare, I guess you'd call it. They used the fact that the Taliban were burned facing west (toward Mecca)," Dupont told SBS. "They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban so the Taliban could attack them ... . That's the only way they can find them."

The SBS report suggested the deliberate burning of bodies could violate the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of enemy remains in wartime. Under the Geneva Conventions, soldiers must ensure that the "dead are honorably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged."
Can this be fixed? Someone might suggest to the "psychological operations" guys that, in the short term, this may have flushed out a few of the local Taliban, maybe - but in the medium and long term this is really stupid.

"Our Man in Baghdad" knows we're doing good. We are. Saddam is gone. But this sort of thing?

Yes, Saddam was an awful man. Andrew Cochran, on the right, says the act was "pretty stupid" but suspects it will be used as propaganda by Arab media who "will play it up and continue to ignore or minimize both Saddam Hussein's cruelties during his reign of terror and the chilling stories of murder and intimidation perpetrated in the name of the caliphate by Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." And he suggests those over here who oppose the war will do the same. It may be "pretty stupid" but the other guys are worse.

No. This has nothing to do with "Saddam Hussein's cruelties" or "Al-Zarqawi and his thugs." No one is forgetting those two. We just want to be better than that, and not by a little bit.

Think back to the Fallujah Bridge - March 31, 2004 - four private military contractors from Blackwater USA were dragged from their vehicle and killed. Their bodies were then mutilated and burned. A crowd estimated at over a thousand beat and dragged the burnt corpses behind automobiles, then hanged the dismembered remains from the girders of that bridge over the Euphrates River - and this all was videotaped by journalists and broadcast worldwide. We all saw it. Bush was pissed. He said so. And we leveled Fallujah.

And now?

Posted by Alan at 20:23 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 20 October 2005 20:30 PDT home

Monday, 19 September 2005

Topic: Iraq

Iraq: The 'Other' Story

The week began with my nephew flying back to Baghdad from Southern California. His leave is over and he won't be back until his tour ends, probably at the end of December. You've seen his photos here - Mosul and Baghdad - and read his words, most recently here. Back to the Green Zone - but we had some good talks, off the record of course. He knows what's up. After all, he briefs the senior command twice a day on what's going on in a sector I probably shouldn't mention. He knows what is happening operationally, day in and day out. It's his job to know that, and report it to the decision makers.

All the talk stateside has been about the hurricane, and the one that follows, and presumably the one that follows that, and on the White House and the federal response and matters of race and class. But there is this war. And Bill Montgomery over at Whiskey Bar provides a useful reminder that the Cheney administration is still losing it.

The Cheney administration? Montgomery sees Bush as cipher, it seems. Perhaps so. Maybe it doesn't matter. The net effect is the same.

Montgomery reminds us that the death toll, in Iraqis, was more than two hundred and fifty in the last week, and reminds us of the incident on the bridge where more than a thousand died, two days before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Not good. And there are the daily suicide bombing deaths - ten here, thirty there. It goes on and on -
The latest carnage is part of an escalated campaign by Al-Zarqawi (or whoever is actually behind the communiqués issued in his name) to upgrade the low-grade sectarian war already being fought in Iraq, probably in hopes of disrupting next month's constitutional referendum.

This is being accompanied by a massive show of insurgent force in Baghdad - as a kind of propaganda-of-the-deed response to the futile U.S. sweep through Tal Afar last week.
As mentioned previously, Juan Cole, the professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan, argued Tal Afar marked the start of a civil war. Is that what my nephew returns to? Cole has contacts in Baghdad and one of the says this, Monday, September 19 -
The situation has deteriorated in Baghdad dramatically today. Five neighborhoods (hay) in Baghdad are controlled by insurgents, and they are Amiraya, Ghazilya, Shurta, Yarmouk and Doura. It is very bad. My guys there report that cars have come into these neighborhoods and blocked off the streets. Masked gunmen with AKs and other weapons are roaming these areas, announcing that people should stay home. One of my drivers in Amiraya reports that his neighborhood is shut down totally, and even those who need food or provisions are warned not to go out.

The government will respond feebly. It will go into a contested neighborhood, and then just like Fallujah, Ramadi, Tel Afar, the insurgents will flee to take over another area on another day. Bit by bit they are taking over the main parts of Baghdad. The only place we are sure they cannot control is Sadr City, unless of course they want to take on Jaish Mahdy [Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army], and that would be bloody.

A few minutes ago Jaafari came on television to tell everyone in Baghdad to stay home. Can't wait for his next bold move.

There are flyers in public areas of Baghdad warning people not to gather in large numbers because they will thereby become targets. I am trying to get a copy of the flyer ...
There's more of course.

Can it be this bad? Should I worry about my nephew, or worry more now?

Well, he's in the Green Zone, not out in the neighborhoods, and Montgomery notes there seems to have been a shift over there. The bad guys do not seem to be working very hard to kill our soldiers at the moment, or even the Iraqi soldiers. The priority seems to be wiping out Shiite civilians - men, women and children. As many as possible.

He points to this article from Martin Sieff, UPI, on casualty trends and sayd "this may reflect the finite operational capabilities of the insurgency, the temporary impact of recent U.S. sweeps in western Iraq or it may just mean the insurgents don't see much value added in killing the sad sack recruits of the new Iraqi army." Sieff - "It could even be that the insurgents judge the security forces now so demoralized, infiltrated and cowed by their successive attacks that [they] do not feel the need to target them for the moment."

As Montgomery puts it, "the insurgents don't see much value added in killing the sad sack recruits of the new Iraqi army." And my nephew is probably fairly safe.

He also reports the site Defense and the National Interest reposts an article from Inside the Pentagon with the title Officers Worry Iraqi Army Will Disintegrate After U.S. Draws Down containing this:
Newly trained forces generally exhibit "a lack of willingness to fight for something," says retired Army Col. Gerry Schumacher, a former Green Beret who was recently in Iraq. More than two years of insurgent violence and a U.S.-led occupation have left Iraqi troops with "a lack of a cause to believe in," says Schumacher, who anticipates a civil war may break out between tribal and ethnic groups when American forces leave ...
Montgomery is a better researcher than most, and adds this:
The article runs through the same list of weaknesses that other reports have highlighted: the lack of training (the average Iraqi recruit gets three weeks) the rampant corruption, the AWOLs and desertions, the defective weapons, the shortages of ammunition and supplies - and most of all, the fact that most Iraqi soldiers are simply there to draw a paycheck, or are loyal only to their tribe, ethnic group or party militia.

Only this time, you can hear it from the mouths of the American officers who are trying desperately to turn things around, instead of from a bunch of "liberal" reporters.
Go read it. There are embedded links, and he is not kind to the whole effort now being in the hands of Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey and he give some background on what he considers Dempsey's "previous contributions to the sum of human stupidity."

But wait! There's more!
The failure of Iraqification is bad enough. How the commanders in Baghdad are coping with that failure is even worse. To keep up their sweeps in the Sunni Triangle (and sustain the fiction that the Iraqis are gradually learning how to conduct such operations on their own) the brass is relying heavily on Shi'a units and the Kurdish peshmerga - particularly the latter, which is probably the only significant combat effective Iraqi force (on our side, anyway).

This means sending Shi'a troops to bust down doors, search women and arrest men in the Sunni heartland or - as was the case in Tal Afar - sending Kurdish militiamen to kill ethnic Turks. It's hard to imagine a better way to fuel sectarian hatreds and push Iraq closer to civil war (and/or trigger a Turkish intervention in Kurdistan.) You read about stuff like this and you have to wonder: Is FEMA secretly running the war in Iraq?

But the unreliability of the new Iraqi Army - and the likelihood that its Sunni units have been penetrated by the insurgents - may have had more direct lethal consequences for the U.S. military.

You may recall that in early August six Marine snipers were ambushed and wiped out in Anbar province, near the insurgent-infested city of Haditha. It was a humiliating blow - Marine snipers are supposed to hunt, not be hunted - although it was quickly overshadowed by an even bigger humiliation when 14 Marines riding in an antiquated amphibious vehicle (in the middle of the desert!) were blown up in the same neighborhood.

But the destruction of those Marine sniper teams may have been even more ominous than it appeared at the time. Military analyst William Lind, who has excellent sources inside the Corps, says he's been told that the snipers were attacked and killed by the Iraqi unit they were attached to.

Lind also says he's not been able to confirm that report. But if it's true - or if other Marines even think its true - the implications for Iraqification are stark. How do you "stand up" an Army when you can't risk turning your back on the troops once they do? As Lind says: "If it did happen and the public was not told, the Bush administration will have been caught in yet another lie."

That, too, has strategic significance in a war we were lied into in the first place. If a strategy initially based on lies must rely on more lies for its continuation, it is probably not pointed toward success.
No kidding.

Will the Brits do it all better in the south, down Basra way? Well, the Iraqi police just arrested two of them. They say the two UK guys shot some Iraqi policeman. Huh?

Then this happened (Monday, September 19, Associated Press, Abbas Fayadh):
BASRA, Iraq (AP) - In a dramatic show of force, British soldiers used tanks to break down the walls of the central jail in this southern city Monday and freed two Britons, allegedly undercover commandos arrested on charges of shooting two Iraqi policemen, witnesses said. The Basra governor called the rescue a "barbaric'' act of aggression.

But in London, the Ministry of Defense said in a statement that two British troops held by Iraqi authorities in Basra were released as a result of negotiations. It said the two service personnel were with British forces. ...
Quite a mess.

Remember that British Colonel, Tim Collins, the one who gave his troops that splendid speech about was to their mission to liberate, not conquer? He's left the army and commented in The Observer saying this is a mess of our own making:
What I had not realized was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organize the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.

One cannot help but wonder what it was all about. If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever: a sort of large-scale equivalent of the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry in 1972, which in its day filled the ranks of the IRA. If it was an attempt to influence the price of oil, then the motorists who queued last week would hardly be convinced. If freedom and a chance to live a dignified, stable life free from terror was the motive, then I can think of more than 170 families in Iraq last week who would have settled for what they had under Saddam. UK military casualties reached 95 last week. I nightly pray the total never reaches 100.

... It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.
Yeah, yeah. Don't expect an answer, Tim.

So while domestic matters occupy us all stateside, things are falling apart fast in Iraq. Maybe they will improve, but the Bush administration, or the Cheney one if you wish, should be glad for Hurricane Katrina, and the ones stacking up in the Atlantic. Perhaps no one will notice what up in Iraq.

But my nephew, who I admire and respect tremendously, is there now. Some of us will notice.

Posted by Alan at 19:02 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 19 September 2005 19:19 PDT home

Saturday, 27 August 2005

Topic: Iraq

At Last Check: Congratulations, It's a Theocracy!

David Sarno reviewed the news as the week ended with that headline: Congratulations, It's a Theocracy!

Why? Because both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times led with the tale of the collapse of constitution talks in Iraq. (You can find that here and here, respectively.) The Shiite and Kurdish representatives simply called negotiations to a halt when they could find "nothing remotely approaching common ground." The Sunni folks lose. The Sunnis have some problems with the federalism stuff - as Sarno notes, "under the current draft, the Shiites would be able to create an autonomous region in southern Iraq that would contain nearly half the country's population - and all of its best oil fields." Oh well.

We're told, "the Sunni representatives also objected strongly to Shiite stances on the fate of former Baath party members, including Shiite refusal to constitutionally outlaw de-Baathification - the process by which former Baathists are banned from public office. In addition, some Sunnis were deeply suspicious of the theocratic tenets built into the constitution and the resulting similarity the new government might bear to Iran: 'Islam will reign as the official state religion and as a main source of Iraqi law.'"

The New York Times adds - "Clerics will in all likelihood have seats on the Supreme Court, where they will be empowered to examine legislation to make sure it does not conflict with Islam." Sunni leaders saying they'll organize to defeat the new "screw you" constitution at the polls in October. Of course to defeat it requires two-thirds of the votes in all three Sunni-controlled provinces and that might not be possible.

Out here the Los Angeles Times says this looks bad for Bush. No kidding. The whole mess carries "the seeds that could finally destroy the Bush administration's beleaguered strategy" - that would be establishing stability in Iraq. Yep, support for the whole enterprise is falling like a rock. The polls are miserable. This might nail it.

Sarno points to a Knight-Ridder story - "an up-front look at the ramshackle Iraqi security forces. Badly trained, poorly equipped, rarely paid, and in constant danger from insurgents who fiercely despise them, it comes as no surprise that these men aren't up to a mission that even the U.S. Marines are having difficulty with."


What Sarno missed? Try this from the BBC -
Thousands of Sunni Muslims have demonstrated in the Iraqi city of Baquba to protest against the draft constitution being debated in Baghdad.

Some carried pictures of Iraq's Sunni former leader, Saddam Hussein.
Not good. Like old times. But not civil war, of course, yet.

The former CIA guy, Larry Johnson says this -
A hard, clear-eyed look at the current situation in Iraq reveals that we are confronted with equally bad choices. If we stay we are facilitating the creation of an Islamic state that will be a client of Iran. If we pull out we are likely to leave the various ethnic groups of Iraq to escalate the civil war already underway. In my judgment we have no alternative but to pull our forces out of Iraq. Like it or not, such a move will be viewed as a defeat of the United States and will create some very serious foreign policy and security problems for us for years to come. However, we are unwilling to make the sacrifices required to achieve something approximating victory. And, what would victory look like? At a minimum we should expect a secular society where the average Iraqi can move around the country without fear of being killed or kidnapped. That is not the case nor is it on the horizon.

We may even be past the point of no return where we could impose changes that would put Iraq back on course to be a secular, democratic nation without sparking a major Shiite counteroffensive. Therefore the time has come to minimize further unnecessary loss of life by our troops and re-craft a new foreign and security policy for the Middle East.
That's not going to happen.

And there's this historical perspective from Bill Montgomery:
If success really is defined as "putting Iraq back on course to be a secular, democratic nation," then we passed that particular fail-safe point a long time ago - maybe in the early 7th century, when the armies of the Caliphate conquered Mesopotamia. Or at the battle of Karbala in 680, when the prophet's grandson was betrayed and slaughtered, laying the emotional foundation for the Shi'aism. Or when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and moved the caliphate to Baghdad. Or in 1258, when Baghdad fell to the Mongols and the most magnificant flower of Arabic civilization was destroyed. Or in 1533, when the Ottomans moved in. Or 1917, when the British conquered the place and tried to turn it into a branch office of the government of India - a colony of a colony. Or maybe in 1958, when the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown. Or '68, when the Baathists finally came to power and stayed there. Or '91, when we betrayed the Shi'a to Saddam's tender mercies.

The point is, the land of the two rivers is filled to the brim with historical turning points - ones which most Americans, including the idiots who created this mess, know little or nothing about. And that ignorance, maybe more than anything else, is why the "point of no return" for failure in Iraq was reached before the invasion even started. This has been, and always was, a fool's errand.
Someone's been doing their homework. Should have been someone in DC, it seems.

Larry Johnson again:
We could potentially defeat the Sunni insurgents if we were willing and able to deploy sufficient troops to control the key infiltration routes that run along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys … It would require at least 380,000 troops devoted exclusively to that mission. Part of that mission would entail killing anyone who moved into controlled areas, such as roadways. In adopting those kinds of rules of engagement we would certainly increase the risk of killing innocent civilians. But, we would impose effective control over those routes. That is a prerequisite to gaining control over the insurgency.
Also not going to happen, as that might make things worse, and anyway, we don't have the troops.

Which leaves "Iraqization" as the only viable alternative to withdrawal. But Iraqization is as doomed to failure as Vietnamization, although for different reasons. In Vietnam, it failed because it asked ordinary Vietnamese soldiers to die for a corrupt regime that had virtually no popular support outside the Catholic community and a Frenchified neocolonial elite. In Iraq, it will fail because Kurdish and Shi'a militiamen are willing to die for their own ethnic or sectarian leaders, but not for a country called Iraq. (The Sunnis will die for an Iraq, as long as they get to control it.)

It's all quite hopeless, in other words - in which case withdrawal is not only the correct strategic choice but also the moral one. …
The administration will now provide the counterargument, of course.

Posted by Alan at 16:52 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 27 August 2005 16:56 PDT home

Monday, 22 August 2005

Topic: Iraq

As Expected, Nothing Happened - or Things Got Worse

No news is just, well, no news - not good news, and then again, not bad news. One can discuss the efforts to write a satisfactory constitution in Iraq at great length - the deadline loomed and there was a bit of drama in it all. But on Monday nothing happened:

Iraqi Parliament Delays Constitution Vote
Qassim Abdul-Zahra with correspondents Bassem Mroue, Sameer N. Yacoub and Omar Sinan, Associated Press, Monday August 22, 2005 11:01 PM London (UK)
In another dramatic last-minute standoff, Iraqi leaders put off a vote on a draft constitution late Monday, adjourning Parliament at a midnight deadline in a bid for more time to win over the Sunni Arab minority whose support is key to stopping the insurgency.

The Shiite-Kurdish faction that submitted the draft constitution expressed optimism that a deal was still possible within a few days. But top Sunni Arab leaders said flatly that compromise was far off.

More than 20 issues still divide the sides, said Saleh al-Mutlaq, one of four top Sunni Arab negotiators. Those issues include federalism, power sharing and even how the constitution should speak about Islam.

"This constitution is full of land mines that would explode on Iraqis. This constitution will divide the country,'' al-Mutlaq said.
AP reports that all the remaining issues "cast doubt whether the Iraqis would be able to finish the document within a few days since the various groups have widely differing positions" - and that the repeated delays are "a deep embarrassment for the Bush administration at a time of growing doubts within the United States over the mission in Iraq."

No kidding.

They also report we lost two more of our guys Monday to a roadside bomb north of Baghdad, and two more in a military operation near Tal Afar. The AP count is now at least 1,870 lost since the war started in 2003 - and that Bush defended the war Monday, saying "a policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety'' - from terrorism.

Who was suggesting that? I though the ideas presented had to do fighting smarter, and maybe elsewhere, and by different means, and had to do with involving a lot of other nations instead of telling them they're all fools. The man has a Jones for Iraq - and Iraq may not be the problem at all. And the "new Iraq" we're about to get is, anyway, not what we wanted in the first place. All that was said by all those people was in the vein of "work smarter - not harder" and that sort of thing.

As for the draft (or daft) constitution that emerged late Monday, it was a Shiite-Kurdish thing, and, as noted by AP and most everyone else, this thing "would fundamentally transform Iraq from the highly centralized state of Saddam Hussein into a loose federation of Kurds, Shiites and Sunni Arabs." The Sunnis lose. They ran the place under Saddam. Is it any wonder they oppose decentralization? That cuts them out of all the oil revenues and leaves them just about powerless. They're not signing on to that. The Shiite-Kurdish draft actually was finished up on Monday, and was formally submitted it to parliament just before a midnight deadline. "But the negotiators quickly withdrew the draft because of the fierce Sunni Arab resistance."

This is not looking good.

Other matters?

It seems the Sunnis also objected to the draft because it called Iraq "an Islamic country" and not "an Islamic and Arab" country. Well, yes, the Kurds are mostly Sunni Muslims and they are not Arab. Are they being too picky? Down the road that could make a difference - "Hey, you don't belong here - you may be Muslim, but you're not any kind of Arab - so get your sorry ass out of here or die." Well, it's possible.

It seems too that there were fifteen Sunni Arab members of the drafting committee - and they said the other two groups just didn't play by the rules. They issued a statement early Tuesday about that - the government and the committee did not abide by the previous agreement for consensus. Sunni delegate Nasser al-Janabi - "We reject the draft constitution that was submitted because we did not have an accord on it."

But is this a big deal? The Democrats got over the Florida 2000 thing and that Harris woman and all the rest - or most did - so does this matter? Sometimes you get steamrolled. It happens.

The AP makes a lot of this Tuesday statement, however:
Although the statement was issued after parliament had deferred a decision, it was significant because it indicates the Sunnis may try to block any accord, if they do not agree with it entirely.

That could severely complicate negotiations in coming days.
Yep, blocking any accord messes things up, big time, as Dick Cheney would say.

Parliament speaker Hajim al-Hassani, who is a Sunni Arab, said there was strong interest in reaching unanimity on the draft "so that the constitution pleases everyone.''

Everyone? The AP tells us this fellow later ticked off the remaining issues: federalism, the formation of federal units, problems related to mentioning the Baath Party in the constitution, and the division of powers between the president, the parliament and the Cabinet. Geez.

But the bottom line is the Shiites and Kurds have enough seats in parliament to win approval for any sort of draft constitution they'd like - without the Sunni guys. On the other hand this Sunni minority could blow that constitution away when voters decide whether to ratify it - that would be October 15 referendum. If it is opposed by two-thirds of the voters in any three of the eighteen Iraq provinces it's toast, and the Sunni Arabs hold the majority in at least four provinces. And if the Shiites and Kurds do win ratification of this hypothetical constitution, there are always car bombs and assassinations, and our guys don't come home any time soon.

Worst part? They can't even take this to the US Supreme Count and let Scalia and Thomas and the rest decide matters.

It's a mess. Do we just walk away - do we just get out now? We took care of the bad guy, Saddam, so let them solve they own problems? Bring the troops home and let them squabble.

No. See Juan Cole here -
Personally, I think "US out now" as a simple mantra neglects to consider the full range of possible disasters that could ensue. For one thing, there would be an Iraq civil war. Iraq wasn't having a civil war in 2002. And although you could argue that what is going on now is a subterranean, unconventional civil war, it is not characterized by set piece battles and hundreds of people killed in a single battle, as was true in Lebanon in 1975-76 ?.

People often allege that the US military isn't doing any good in Iraq and there is already a civil war. These people have never actually seen a civil war and do not appreciate the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.

All it would take would be for Sunni Arab guerrillas to assassinate Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And, boom. If there is a civil war now that kills a million people, with ethnic cleansing and millions of displaced persons, it will be our fault, or at least the fault of the 75% of Americans who supported the war. (Such a scenario is entirely plausible. Look at Afghanistan. It was a similar-sized country with similar ethnic and ideological divisions. One million died 1979-1992, and five million were displaced. Moreover, all this helped get New York and the Pentagon blown up.)

I mean, we are always complaining, and rightly so, about the genocide in Darfur and the inattention to genocides in Rwanda and the Congo earlier. Can we really live with ourselves if we cast Iraqis into such a maelstrom deliberately?

And as I have argued before, an Iraq civil war will likely become a regional war, drawing in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. If a regional guerrilla war breaks out among Kurds, Turks, Shiites and Sunni Arabs, the guerrillas could well apply the technique of oil pipeline sabotage to Iran and Saudi Arabia, just as they do now to the Kirkuk pipeline in Iraq. If 20% of the world's petroleum production were taken off-line by such sabotage, the poor of the world would be badly hurt, and the whole world would risk another Great Depression.

People on the left often don't like it when I bring this scenario up, because they dislike oil; they read it as a variant of the "war for oil" thesis and reject it. But working people, whom we on the left are supposed to be supporting, get to work on buses, and buses burn gasoline. If the bus ticket doubles or triples, people who make $10,000 a year feel it. Moreover, if there is a depression, the janitors and other workers will be the first to be fired. As for the poor of the global South, this scenario would mean they are stuck in dire poverty for an extra generation. Do you know how expensive everything would be for Jamaicans, who import much of what they use and therefore are sensitive to the price of shipping fuel? It would be highly irresponsible to walk away from Iraq and let it fall into a genocidal civil war that left the Oil Gulf in flames.

On the other hand, the gradual radicalization of the entire Sunni Arab heartland of Iraq stands as testimony to the miserable failure of US military counter-insurgency tactics. It seems to me indisputable that US tactics have progressively made things worse in that part of Iraq, contributing to the destabilization of the country.

So those who want the troops out also do have a point.
You could click on the link and read his suggestions. None of them suggest jumping ship, even if our global strategies and policies have jumped the shark.

So they cannot agree on the New Iraq (does that get a ® or a ™ or a ©?) - not even close - and we shouldn't stay and we really can't leave.

Now what?

Posted by Alan at 19:08 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005 19:16 PDT home

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