Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another political death in Lebanon and the Middle East

There is a passage in Theodore Rex that I recall at times like these:
His test, an affirmation of the Monroe Doctrine with special reference to Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia, featured his favorite "West African proverb," except now the source was obscured, to make it more memorable and quotable:
There is a homely old adage which runs, Speak softly and carry a big stick: you will go far. If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build, and keep at a pitch of the highest training, a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.
This generated such loud applause as to suggest that the audience took his "adage" as aggressive, rather than cautionary. Actually, Roosevelt was trying to say that soft-spoken (even secret) diplomacy should be the priority of a civilization, as long as hardness -- of moral resolve, of military might -- lay back of it. Otherwise, inevitably, soft speech would sound like scared speech.
A stick can only get you so far. This is as much a message for the assassins as it is for our president. The situation in the Middle East is very precarious. Hezbollah is likely to build a more autonomous state within a state, despite a United Nations resolution. The death of Pierre Gemayel will likely send Lebanon into disarray.

Lebanese Christian cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, an outspoken critic of Syria, was assassinated near Beirut on Tuesday, security sources said.

Gunmen rammed their car into Gemayel’s vehicle, then leapt out and riddled it with bullets as his convoy drove through the Christian Sin el-Fil neighbourhood, witnesses said. Gemayel, 34, was rushed to hospital where he later died of his wounds.
The Times of London:
Once his death was confirmed Lebanese television channels interrupted their broadcasts and played classical music. He is the first anti-Syrian politician to be killed since Gebran Tueni, who was assassinated in a car bomb blast on December 12 last year.

The shooting could intensify the crisis in Lebanese politics, which has seen six Cabinet ministers resign in the last week in an attempt to bring down the government.

Gemayel was a member of the Phalange party and supporter of the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, which is in the midst of a power struggle, with Hezbollah threatening to topple the government if it does not get a bigger say in Cabinet decision making.

Saad Hariri, the head of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament and son of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister, interrupted a press conference to accuse the Syrian regime of "trying to kill every free person" in Lebanon

"The cycle (of killings) has resumed," he said, in reference to a number of assassinations of government ministers in the past two years, including the killing of his own father.
Our debacle in Iraq has invited instability throughout the Middle East. Syria and Iran feel comparatively emboldened. That may lead to the Mullahs with the Bomb. Iraqi leaders will meet with both Syrians and Persians this week. Moreover, we see a clear power grab by Putin in Russia (Asia Times article today) and Chinese machinations in India and Pakistan (today's Christian Science Monitor has a good article).

Theodore Roosevelt's point was that you settled your problems at the table. This is not a moral point on the evils of war -- though war is terrible. This is a point concerning power. Sun Tzu says that when you wield the sword, you shall leave it blunt. After the weapons have been blunted, what force do you rely upon? You are left with the intentions of your allies and adversaries.

We have got to make a drastic change of course in Iraq, and adding 20,000 or 30,000 troops is not going to cut it. It's far passed that. We are incompetent occupiers, a worst case scenario that should have never been. The Washington Post details how poorly we have trained Iraqi Security Forces at this point:
Some of the American officers even faulted their own lack of understanding of the task. "If I had to do it again, I know I'd do it completely different," reported Maj. Mike Sullivan, who advised an Iraqi army battalion in 2004. "I went there with the wrong attitude and I thought I understood Iraq and the history because I had seen PowerPoint slides, but I really didn't."
General Barry McCaffrey held no punches on Hardball last night:
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s get to the particulars of the options apparently being discussed at the colonel level at the Pentagon. More troops, maybe 20 to 30,000 now for the short term, for training in the long term. No real option there of an immediate pullout and no dramatic doubling of forces or anything like that.

What do you think of this proposal that we bring in another 20 to 30,000 troops for a short term to begin a long training period?

MCCAFFREY: Well, first of all, I‘m adamantly opposed to reinforcing the current troop strength in Iraq. I think it‘s a big mistake.

If you put an inconsequential increase, you know, 20-30,000 troops, three, four, five brigades, it won‘t make any major change in the tactical situation. And then you‘ll be asking commanders six months from now, with the situation very likely to be worse, not better, to agree that it‘s a great idea to send them home.

And, by the way, we‘re going to have to take this tiny Army and Marine Corps, tell them to extend their tours, accelerate the deployment, call up the National Guard for involuntary second deployments of the brigade, this is a bad idea.

By the way, Chris, neither the Baker commission nor the leaks out of the JCS make one comment on the disastrous shortfall and resources, $61 billion to the Army, our National Guard has a third of their equipment, generators, trucks, helicopters, we better fix the Army and Marine Corps before we start talking about options to fix Iraq.

MATTHEWS: So John McCain‘s proposal for a substantial increase in forces over in the area is just not credible.

MCCAFFREY: No. North Koreans invade South Korea, we could surge a quarter of a million troops in 90 days. We call up the entire National Guard, the Army reserves, Marine reserves, we could do that, but not steady-state for a war that the American people have walked away from.

One way or the other, it‘s $7 billion a month. That money is coming out of Air Force and Navy modernization. We‘ve got sailors and airmen filling ground combat roles all over Afghanistan and Iraq.

We simply, the Congress, Article 1 of the Constitution, has to fix the resource shortfall before they willy-nilly talk about extending the tours of the combat forces now in country.
If you thought 2006 looked bad, ask yourself what has improved for 2007? The answer is nothing. This is in no way meant to disparage those that have risked and sacrificed everything to try their best in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, unless we realize the extreme potential for harm in the present situation, we will stumble into an even more damnable mess. It is time to repeal a lot of George W. Bush's tax cuts and to recover the resource gap in our Armed Forces.

There are several ways to recover that resource gap. One is pulling out of Iraq, which would throw that country and the region into a terrible conflict. The other way is "going big" -- not some hustle from the Pentagon that will force the same questions/problems in 2008.


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