Friday, December 29, 2006

My all too brief argument with Jonah Goldberg

The internet is a wonderful place, my friends. I have had the pleasure of exchanging emails with the Baghdad Bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, Borzou Daragahi. James Fallows once sent me an email because of the lazy "reportage" of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. Beyond those known names, I've made a lot of friends, fellow bloggers on the right and the left, on the internet. It has been an enjoyable learning experience for this 24-year-old. However, this blog's days are numbered. I don't think it will see much activity after the Spring of 2007.

Earlier this month, I enlisted in the United States Army. I have a college degree, and my scores on the ASVAB lead the test proctor to say "don't f--- with enlisting". However, the officer corps in both the Marines and the Army provide open-contracts. With enlistment, I can select a particular job and have that on my contract, as both the MOS and my Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Please forgive me for not going into the nitty gritty about what I will be doing. I will provide these hints: it is not infantry and it is not public affairs.

I am thrilled with the job I have, and my motivation is only rising.

Anyone that has occasioned this website would know my opinions of our current foreign policy. We are not conducting ourselves as well as we should. Iraq has been a disaster. If we do not make important changes in Afghanistan, there will be hell to pay there -- again. The war between Ethiopia and Somalia has just begun. The war between Hezbollah and Israel was a mistake for both sides.

Our president had a noble idea concerning the Middle East, but based on a lot of his talk (such as his post Katrina promises) I question his motives. At the least, the implementation of his plan was terrible. The Arab street has got to see more prosperity in social, economic and political life or else there will be many angry young adults.

In Iraq, we have only made them angrier.

Our domestic counterterrorism efforts have not been stellar. We have profited from the major disruptions to al Qaeda from 2001 - 2002, conducted by CIA and special forces and augmented with conventional formations. As a result of this good work, we've faced al Qaeda's B Team for a number of years. It is likely that this will change unless we refocus our efforts.

These observations make me more inclined for service to our country.

For the past few weeks, I have wondered how to "announce" my career change on this blog. I saw via TailRank this post by Jonah Goldberg. I do not read him often, but he seems to jump at every opportunity to slightly (oh, so slightly) redeem the president's efforts. In this post, it's a contrast between DeFrank's account of Gerald Ford and Woodward's. Woodward cast Ford as anti-Iraq war. DeFrank made some of the same observations, then added that Ford voiced his support for the war. Then he highlighted Ford's concerns over personal privacy. Historians, no doubt, will pour over the notes, as this will be an important passage in the accounting of our time. DeFrank and Woodward provide two glimpses. Goldberg focuses on the most extreme positives available in these pictures, these imperfect pictures.

If I may be so bold, I think Gerald Ford wrestled with the Iraq war like any good American would do at this point.

So, I sort of lost my cool and sent the 37-year-old Goldberg an email:
According to your Wikipedia ( you are 37. That is way too old for the Corps, but the Army will take you.

Frankly, I'm sick of you. Get some guts and fight this war if you like it so much.

Most disrespectfully,
Future Soldier (Last name redacted)
Here is Jonah's response: to me

yawn. get some new material. By the way, why should I give a rat's ass that you're sick of me? Who are you?
He posed two questions, which I answered. However, he had already blocked me with his AOL account... So he must not have actually wanted these answered. I suppose that leaves them as mere rhetorical questions from Therefore, it leads me to believe that he thinks I am a nobody (which is true) and and that my opinion, even as a soon-to-be soldier, is not important. Here was my response, just for the record:
As my signature indicated, I am going into the United States Army.

So, I'm going to be John Q. Soldier. Even though I think this war is garbage, the situation is out of hand and likely to get far more dangerous for our country. I would appreciate a little more intellectual honesty from your NRO friends. I would suggest the commentaries of this Blogger concerning what NRO produces:

He is far more eloquent than I.

There is no reason you should give a rat's ass that I am sick of you. I just wanted to tell you that I was. As you replied my comment, I now know that you know that I am sick of you. And this brings me great joy.
TCR does do great work watching the so-called "right" from an actual right-winger's perspective.

My best wishes to everyone, and have a Happy New Year! I'm going to stop blogging until next week. Oh, and if you like what you have read on this site, click some Google ads. An E4's salary is sort of minimal at best.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Wasta", rapport -- Tribe to tribe war fighting

A surge of 20,000 - 30,000 troops in early 2007 is a bad idea for a number of reasons, many sufficient in isolation to discourage strongly the idea. The United States has an underresourced military in terms of equipment. Present troop deployments, among all forms of the Army, are approaching the limits of the Pentagon's policy. For some units, they are deploying more quickly than policy suggests. It is possible that additional troops will improve the security situation in Baghdad, but that did not happen in the summer. Nor are there sufficient troops to improve security throughout the country. If a post-surge military is forced to curtail operations in Baghdad, the insurgents that hid in Hit or Baquba will re-emerge.

A huge force of 500,000 American troops could substantially change the game in Iraq, as would the infusion of billions and billions on reconstruction.

Those resources are not available.

Two Pentagon experts wrote in today's Washington Times:
It's time to alter U.S. strategy by putting USSOCOM generals and admirals truly in command of the global war. And in Iraq, conventional forces could best serve by providing ground, air and sea support to USSOCOM and Iraqi security forces and sealing Iraq's porous borders with hostile and/or dubious neighbors in Iran, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to prevent foreign jihadists, arms and sophisticated munitions from entering the country.
Special forces work up-close with Iraqis, building relationships whereas traditional combat units fight bad guys when they are visible.

The Washington Post noted the contrast in September:
The conflict in the Anbar camp, while extreme, is not an isolated phenomenon in Iraq, U.S. officers say. It highlights two clashing approaches to the war: the heavy focus of many regular U.S. military units on sweeping combat operations; and the more fine-grained, patient work Special Forces teams put into building rapport with local leaders, security forces and the people -- work that experts consider vital in a counterinsurgency.

"This war was fought with a conventional mind-set. The conventional units are bogged down in cities doing the same old thing," said the Special Forces team's 44-year-old sergeant, who like all the Green Berets interviewed was not allowed to be quoted by name for security reasons. "It's not about bulldozing Hit, driving through with a tank, with all the kids running away. . . . These insurgencies are defeated by personal relationships."

The real battles, he said, are unfolding "in a sheik's house, squatting in the desert eating with my right hand and smoking Turkish cigarettes and trying to influence tribes to rise up against an insurgency."
Earlier this week, TIME observed that one tribe has joined sides with American forces:
Tasked with clearing Ramadi of insurgents, MacFarland and the officers under his command had been looking for local allies to help with the fight since they arrived in the summer as Ramadi became an urban battleground. Seemingly from nowhere Sittar, the leader of the Albu Risha tribe, volunteered himself — and the thousands of followers loyal to him. Shortly before MacFarland met Sittar, a tribal alliance led by the sheik had come together and issued a manifesto denouncing al-Qaeda in Iraq and pledging support to American forces. MacFarland had heard about Sittar and his movement, which the sheiks call the "Awakening." And after a few meetings with Sittar, MacFarland felt he had a friend he could trust.

Soon an agreement was struck. U.S. forces would build and secure a series of police stations in Ramadi, where insurgents had run off the cops almost entirely. In return, Sittar would send recruits, hundreds of them, to join local security forces, which MacFarland wants to see take the lead in the battle to regain control of the city. MacFarland admits that he was a bit skeptical about Sittar's commitment to cooperating with U.S. forces. But month after month through the fall, police volunteers turned up, just as Sittar promised. An estimated 500 recruits joined the revamped police training program for Ramadi in November, bringing the number of overall new volunteers to around 1,500. Compare that figure to enrollment in May, when roughly 40 men signed on to a police force then numbering only about 150 officers in Ramadi. "Sheik Sittar has delivered on every single thing he has promised me," says MacFarland. "He's a leader."

MacFarland says his pact with Sittar is bringing gains in Ramadi, which remains the latest insurgent stronghold in Anbar Province. But, helped by U.S. forces, local police for the first time in recent memory are taking to the streets, where they fight and sometimes even capture insurgents.
Your war plan has to take into account the situation on the ground as it is, not as you'd like it to be. Surging a small increase of forces for a short period of time (indeed any period of time with a clear ending, or an implicit ending as a result of force fatigue) is a very Western, nation-state response to the problems in Iraq. Yet, the problems in Iraq are splintered (cracked) along sectarian and tribal lines. Getting in close, with people who have language training, and building rapport are the only prudent steps at this point. American forces can augment tribes willing to denounce attacks on civilians, and American forces can keep their eyes on those tribes.

This sort of approach may yet work. Large amounts of combat forces are extremely counterproductive. They should not be withdrawn from the country, but they should have a low profile and augment smaller teams. It's time to think of our own presence in the country as one of the tribes. How can we get the other groups to work with us?

Ultimately, a political solution is the only way to end the violence. However, politics won't be possible until the most powerful tribe in Iraq starts drawing allies closer to its side and further isolates extremists.

News from Iraq

Sadr's deputy

The Washington Post:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 27 -- A top deputy of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was killed Wednesday during a raid by U.S. and Iraqi troops in the southern holy city of Najaf, sparking protests from Sadr's followers and complicating an already tense relationship with the powerful anti-American leader.
Gerald Ford on the record

The Washington Post:
In a conversation that veered between the current realities of a war in the Middle East and the old complexities of the war in Vietnam whose bitter end he presided over as president, Ford took issue with the notion of the United States entering a conflict in service of the idea of spreading democracy.

"Well, I can understand the theory of wanting to free people," Ford said, referring to Bush's assertion that the United States has a "duty to free people." But the former president said he was skeptical "whether you can detach that from the obligation number one, of what's in our national interest." He added: "And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security."
Major Voorhies on the record

The New York Times:
For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.

“I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Major Voorhies said.
Gordon Smith on the record

The New York Times:
But the real impact of the address came not just from Mr. Smith’s words, but from the way he delivered them. His somber cadence resonated in a way that made political Washington take notice, transforming him into one of the most talked-about Republicans heading into the new Congress.

After acknowledging that he had been “rather silent” on Iraq since voting to authorize the war in 2002, Mr. Smith said he was rising “to speak from my heart” because he had witnessed “the slow undoing of our efforts there.”
Not more troops, different troops

Fred Gedrich and Paul E. Vallely in the Washington Times:
To prevail, the United States has to transition from a conventional to an unconventional war footing and make the enemy pay a heavy price for its despicable tactics. In Iraq and elsewhere, traditional troops, weapons and tactics are less useful than tools of influence, covert operations and intelligence brought to the battlefield by special operators working harmoniously with indigenous forces and local populations. The prime objective is to create a climate of fear within enemy ranks that breaks its will to continue the armed insurrection against the freely elected Iraqi government.

Special Operations Forces (Rangers, Seals, Delta Force and other special units) leaders and troops are uniquely qualified for this mission. Special operators played prominent and successful roles in removing Afghanistan's Taliban regime from power and disrupting al Qaeda's terror base. In Iraq, they have spent most of their time searching for the infamous "deck of cards," the elusive WMD arsenal, and high-value insurgents and terrorists.


Immediately after recently assuming his new post, Mr. Gates correctly stated that the United States must win in Iraq or face a "calamity" that would "endanger Americans for decades to come." Since the fall of Baghdad, the United States has had the will to win but not the right strategy. It's imperative that the United States transition quickly to an unconventional war strategy with USSOCOM generals and/or admirals in charge, or the war will be lost.
I think we can do more with less. More special operations, more intelligence, less combat power. Less total troop numbers.

On the line

The Los Angeles Times:
But there are moments of adrenalin-pumping drama. On this day, the Marines shot an Iraqi spotted planting a roadside bomb. When Lance Cpl. William Shaw was lifting the wounded Iraqi into a vehicle to be taken to a field hospital, the Marine was shot in the back by a sniper.

The round struck the back plate in the flak vest worn by the 22-year-old from Fort Bend, Texas. A few inches lower, and Shaw might have been killed or his spine severed.

The explosive ordnance detail was called to examine the bomb. It was fake.

Fake bombs are a recent wrinkle in the insurgents' game plan. The strategy, apparently, is to fire at Marines who arrive to neutralize the devices.

Navy trauma doctors who have treated wounded Marines say the snipers have also learned how to find vulnerable spots not covered by protective plates.

"We're not bionic men," said Gunnery Sgt. Justin Smith, 32, of Boston.
82nd Airborne

Surge? Department of Defense:
The Department of Defense announced today that the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. will deploy to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility beginning in early January 2007 to become the theater command’s call-forward force.

The brigade is replacing the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) which recently deployed from its call-forward location in Kuwait to support the ongoing operations of Multi-National Forces in Iraq. The call-forward force provides necessary theater capability and flexibility to the commander of U.S. Central Command.

U.S force levels in Iraq continue to be conditions-based, and are determined upon the recommendations of military commanders in Iraq and in consultation with the Iraqi government.
"Nothing to see here, folks"

Shuffle the deck

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not been able to muster enough support to introduce new changes in his government.

Parliamentary blocs have been adamant in their attitude not to give any concession that would have seen a reformed government brought to light this year.

Maliki had promised President George Bush during a meeting held in Amman recently that he would form a national unity government as part of efforts to contain terror and violence.

The Prime Minister had hoped to have the unity government in place before Bush’s much-awaited for announcement of his new Iraq strategy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, 1913 - 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What makes a person of the year?

I guess you can name anyone a "person of the year", if you define the award in just the right way. My conception of the honor, or the ignomy, would be a person who has enhanced greatly his or her position -- especially in the face of rivals. It is a sign of our times that the contenders for this position are not close allies of the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin would be a far better selection than "You" as a person of the year.

Political dissent

Numerous media organizations have been brought into the fold of the government. The Committee to Protect Journalists states that the three major television networks are now under the control of those loyal to the Kremlin. Similar consolodation of influence has occurred in the energy sector.

Journalists who have reported on events portraying the Kremlin in a negative light have been killed, the most noteable perhaps is Anna Politkovskaya.

The dramatic death of Alexander Litvinenko, still under investigation, has the hallmarks of a Moscow-based assassination attempt.

Max Boot in the Los Angeles Times:
The identity of his murderers is likely to remain unknown, but in all probability Litvinenko was poisoned because of his campaign against Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and the KGB's successor, the FSB. He is only the latest to pay with his life for offending Russia's ruling clique. The list of prominent people murdered in the last few years includes crusading journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya (whose death Litvinenko was investigating), politicians, executives and government officials. Others, such as Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, have narrowly survived assassination attempts or have been exiled or silenced with threats of violence or legal charges.
Natural resources and a sphere of influence

Russia began 2006 with a controversy concerning the Ukraine. Gas deliveries were suspended on the first day of January and were restored three days later, Russia-Ukraine gas dispute. Allegations for Russia's actions include a method of punishing the then Western-leaning government, or to influence elections in the Ukraine. However, Putin recently concluded a trip to the Ukraine to visit the formerly poisoned Viktor Yushchenko,

Belarus is now under the proverbial energy gun with a deadline looming and no new contract. Reuters:
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Tuesday a new round of talks with Belarus on gas prices for 2007 had yielded no results, but Europe was safe as Moscow had stockpiled enough gas in Germany and Austria to guard against possible cuts.

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom said it still hoped for a deal before the New Year to allow Belarus to receive gas in 2007 and Gazprom to transit gas smoothly via the ex-Soviet state to customers in Poland and Germany.
Azerbaijan's contract is also frozen, Novosti.

Actions such as these have lead Richard Lugar to include Russia as a potential energy enemy, in a speech he delivered in August:
Third, adversarial regimes from Venezuela, to Iran, to Russia are using energy supplies as leverage against their neighbors. We are used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations, but energy is becoming a weapon of choice for those who possess it. Nations experiencing a cutoff of energy supplies, or even the threat of a cutoff, may become desperate, increasing the chances of armed conflict, terrorism, and economic collapse.
Short lived pressure from the United States

In February, the Washington Post reported that Vice President Dick Cheney had begun to gather information on the Russian president. One insider was quoted as saying, "He's basically in the more critical camp," said one person familiar with the vice president's thinking ... "You have this tension between the Putin lovers and the democracy lovers in the administration. And the president himself and Condi seem to be balancing between these forces."

In May, Cheney lashed out at Putin stating that he was an enemy of democracy in Russia, the London Times. In July, President Bush was far more conciliatory.

Popular support

Vladimir Putin's popular support was reported at 60 percent "full confidence" in the summer of this year.

The Times of London:
Boris Gryzlov, the Duma Speaker and Interior Minister, who is seen as a siloviki sympathiser, said yesterday that Mr Putin might be elected for a third term, but not in 2008. “It would be wrong to amend the Constitution to suit a particular person,” he said. “In line with the Constitution, he can become President for a third term, but not a third term in a row.” His comments lent credence to the theory that Mr Putin would allow a protégé to take over for four years, before returning to power in 2012.

The Boxing Day Tsunami

Bill Clinton's advice in today's Washington Post:
First, we must get better at managing risk. Climate change and patterns of human behavior ensure that more devastating natural disasters will occur in the future. The good news is that officials in the countries affected by the tsunami have made progress on a regional early-warning system, natural disaster prevention legislation, training of rapid-response personnel and public education. However, funding for prevention is much harder to come by than funding for relief after a disaster. Donors and governments of at-risk nations must invest much more money to ensure that early-warning systems reach coastal communities, that safe building codes are developed and enforced, and that evacuations are practiced.

Second, we should pursue recovery practices that promote equity and help break patterns of underdevelopment. In the Cuddalore District of India, for example, officials have worked with nongovernmental organizations to expand their post-tsunami housing program to include new homes for Dalits and members of other disadvantaged communities. Many of these people did not lose assets in the tsunami but had been living in substandard conditions. Authorities in Aceh are considering similar solutions for former squatters and renters who did not own the housing they lost in the tsunami. Such efforts should be strongly encouraged.

Third, we must recognize that peace is critical to any recovery process. In Aceh, long-conflicted groups put aside entrenched differences and created an environment conducive to reconstruction. Tragically, the tsunami has not had a similar impact on reconciliation in Sri Lanka, where the recovery will be continue to be hampered until the parties resume a serious dialogue and reestablish the cease-fire. I hope they will choose to work for peace; all of Sri Lanka, especially the tsunami victims, will continue to suffer until they do.

Finally, we must do more to harness the talents of local entrepreneurs and established businesses, domestic and foreign, in relaunching economies. Corporations in the United States and around the world contributed generously to the tsunami response, but we need to do more to turn philanthropists into investors, and providers of access to new markets.

Two years ago, millions around the world responded generously to a tragedy of historic proportions. The challenge that remains is to sustain the recovery effort, use the lessons we are learning to continually improve our response, and apply those lessons to mitigate and respond to future disasters. This will be the most fitting way to honor the memory of the hundreds of thousands who died in the tsunami and to support the millions who survived and are rebuilding their lives.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shifting from Sadr, while Sadr shifts again

There's an important AP report this morning:
Half the delegates traveled to Najaf Wednesday night and were gathered Thursday morning at the home of the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, an official in al-Sistani's office said on condition of anonymity because of political sensitivities. The others were traveling to Najaf on Thursday, he said.

The visit is intended to allow the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, to work out some of Iraq's biggest political obstacles in front of al-Sistani, and to pressure al-Sadr to rein in his fighters and rejoin politics -- or face isolation, participants said.
For several weeks, there have been external and internal pressures in Iraq that would shift the power base of the government from Sadr to Hakim, the cleric in charge of SCIRI. Time and again, Sadr has shifted his positions, and we may see another change in the coming days. His forces battled Marines in Najaf. His followers boycotted elections. Then, his supporters formed one of the most powerful political blocks when Sadr endorsed voting. His influence is impressive, but he seems to want to follow the leadership of Sistani and remain an Iraqi/Arab/Shiite in the public's perception. Sadr believes in velayat-e faqih, or rule of the clerics. One day, he may wish to be the most prominent cleric in Iraq. But at this point, his beliefs and public persona necessitate that he remain a follower of Sistani.

With substantial changes in the Iraq government, progress could be made. However, there is not much reason for optimism at this time. Two articles detail the potential trouble in shifting the political power structure in Shiite/Iraq at this time.

Reuel Marc Gerecht (highly speculative) in the New York Times:
In fact, attacking Mr. Sadr now and elevating the Supreme Council is likely to accomplish the exact opposite of what we want. And it shouldn’t be that hard to see why: the sine qua non for peace in Iraq, and for a democratic future for the country, has always been unity among the Shiites. Any violent struggle between the Mahdi Army and Supreme Council could provoke anarchy throughout the entire Arab Shiite zone, including Iraq’s holy cities and the oil-rich south. As bad as things seem now, such Shiite strife could impoverish all of Arab Iraq, dropping the non-Kurdish regions to an Afghan-like subsistence level.

In such a situation, we would likely see the hyper-radicalization of the Shiites, who have already become more militant owing to the tenacity and barbarism of the Sunni insurgency. In addition, whatever fraternal and nationalist bonds remain among moderate Sunni and Shiite Arabs would probably disappear in a Shiite-versus-Shiite bloodbath.

We would do well not to underestimate how these age-old familial and national ties and sympathies still diminish the sectarian strife. A genocidal Shiite-versus-Sunni conflict in Iraq — a real possibility — would be much more likely after an intra-Shiite war that destroys the traditional social and religious hierarchy that has remained vastly stronger among the Shiites than among Sunni Arabs since the American invasion.

Yes, the forces of the Supreme Council might be able to beat Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army. Trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Badr Organization is a serious army that might handle Mr. Sadr’s more numerous and passionate supporters. The mullahs in Tehran, who have aided both Mr. Sadr and Mr. Hakim, would probably throw their support to the latter’s Supreme Council in the event of all-out war. Such a confrontation, beyond wrecking Iraq politically, would probably allow the worst elements in the Supreme Council — those who envision a religious dictatorship along the lines of Iran — to become more powerful within the party.
Sudarsan Raghavan in the Washington Post:
Hakim, who once verbally attacked U.S. policy, now senses a political opportunity and is softening his stance toward the Americans. Sadr's position is hardening. Young and aggressive, he has suspended his participation in Iraq's government and is intensifying his demands for U.S. troops to leave the country.

Their rivalry is rising as the moderating influence of Iraq's most revered Shiite figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is fading on the streets of Baghdad and is being replaced by allegiance to militant clerics such as Sadr, according to Iraqi officials and analysts.

They question whether Hakim can counter Sadr's growing street power without worsening the chaos. As President Bush ponders limited alternatives in forging a new approach in Iraq, some wonder whether the United States is overestimating Hakim's ability.

The U.S. embrace of Hakim "will deepen their rivalry," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator. "And it will deepen the rifts between the United States and the Sadrists."

Across Baghdad, as the fourth year of war nears an end, many Iraqis are asking one question: Can their prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite politician backed by Sadr, balance U.S. demands to distance himself from the cleric and move their country forward?
The potential talks among the Shiite governing factions could change the dynamic in the country. However, this will have to be seen so that it can be believed. Sadr's militia has been brutal, and there are indications that he does not have complete control of his own followers.

Ultimately, this is about the militias, the insurgents and strictly internal Iraqi politics. Matteo Tomasini pointed to an article by Anthony Cordesman:
No US strategy or surge effort can work without a militia and local security forces strategy. Simply buying temporary security in Baghdad is pointless without such efforts. Yet, no consensus now exists within the Maliki government on the treatment of the Shi'ite and Kurdish militias, how to deal with local Sunni forces, and over a schedule for action.

Fixing the police and justice system will take years, and it is far easier to call for the militias to be disbanded than create real day-to-day security. The Iraqi government and the US may well need a plan to try to coopt such security forces, rather than disband them, and gradually include them in the police or pay them to find other jobs. Surging US forces to try to forcibly disband them before any other forces can provide local security seems a recipe for disaster.
A surge is pointless without political progress in Iraq. In fact, a surge could be counterproductive unless a substantial amount of the Iraqi population believes that it is in their best interest. Yesterday, America handed over its first province to the Iraqi government. This province so happens to be Sistani's Najaf. The New York Times reported this banner:
The general public did not attend the event. Much of the audience was made up of the area’s powerful tribal leaders, who sat beneath a sign that read: “We are the sons of those who drove the British out in 1920.”
There is a long legacy of foreign interests in Iraq. We must be cognisant of the colonial (British) and imperial (Ottoman)legacies in Iraq. Without political progress and this sensitivity, we may find General Abizaid's wariness of a large military presence to be prudent, the Washington Post:
Yet critics say Abizaid has placed too much emphasis on Arab sensitivity to foreign occupation, and therefore never demanded enough U.S. troops to stabilize the country. "He was too smart by half," another U.S. officer said.

"The bottom line is we are losing a war in his theater on his watch," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a defense expert at the Brookings Institution, saying Abizaid's popularity has dwindled in recent months as the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan have deteriorated. "We need a fresh approach."

Abizaid made clear his continued opposition to a major surge of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the current 140,000, arguing that it would perpetuate a mentality of dependency by Iraqi forces and increase resistance among Iraq's population.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

To surge, or not to surge

There is a great deal of news that will profoundly impact both Iraq and the United States.

The newly minted Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, is on his not-so-surprising "surprise" tour to Iraq. There are persistent stories of additional troops that will be sent to Iraq. The Decider has decided that he was wrong in late October. He has also Decided that he needs to expand the size of the ground warriors in the American military, a policy advocated by the opposition party in 2004. There are subtle, perhaps too subtle, changes in Iraq's internal politics as well. This is where we shall begin...

Internal politics (drastic improvements necessary for any success)

The New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 19 —Iraq’s most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.


Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say. He now appears to be backing away from his demand that the Shiite bloc play the dominant political role and that it hold together at all costs, Iraqi and Western officials say.
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has made some minor changes to the executive component of the Iraqi government. These changes are not all that encouraging, so reports the Los Angeles Times. Instead of a major change in the security establishment, Maliki appears to be rearranging some deck chairs, as the saying goes.:
"The security dilemma is not an issue of ministries," said Abbas Bayati, a member of Maliki's Shiite Muslim coalition. "The issue is beyond the government and ministries. The real challenge is to find reconciliation and political understanding. It's not possible to accuse the security ministries of poor performance."

Word of the plan emerged amid swirling lawlessness throughout the country that left at least 68 Iraqis and two U.S. troops dead Tuesday in shootings, bombings and sectarian death-squad killings.

And thieves made off with nearly $1 million in government money.

Given Iraq's dire state, some Iraqi politicians said they were surprised by the limited nature of Maliki's reforms.

"I'm astonished," said independent lawmaker Mithal Alusi. "Do we have a problem in tourism so we need to change the minister of tourism? Or do we have a security problem? Or do we have economic problems?"
Control in the province of Najaf, Sistani's base of operations, has been passed to the Iraqi government. The BBC reports:
The senior US commander present, Maj Gen Kurt Cichowski, said the handover was a sign of the growing capability of Iraq's security forces.

But Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie, sounded a note of caution.

"If we don't handle the responsibility, history will destroy us," he said.
A "surge" of additional forces (very dubious unless politics move forward as well)

The Christian Science Monitor:
When it comes to force levels, finding 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops for Iraq is not the real problem, say officers and experts outside the government. The White House is considering such a surge as a way to counter rising sectarian violence.

More difficult is deciding how long to keep those extra units there. After years of war, US active duty ground forces are stretched to the limit. Many National Guard and reserve personnel can't be deployed to Iraq. Recruiting more soldiers would be an expensive and time-consuming process.

"The other issue is equipment," says Kevin Ryan, a retired Army brigadier general and fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. "Even if you could magically have 30,000 more troops, you don't have the equipment to give them."
Michael Gordon (always worth a close read) of the New York Times (please note the emphasis on my part):
By most accounts, a decision to substantially increase the American military presence in Baghdad would signal an important strategic shift. For years, the generals have argued that their military strategy could not work unless the Iraqis simultaneously made progress toward political reconciliation, a development that American commanders calculated would reduce the support among Sunnis for the insurgency and ease sectarian tensions.

In effect, the advocates of sending more troops have turned that logic on its head by arguing that the Iraqis cannot make political headway toward overcoming their sectarian differences until military action is taken to blunt the Sunni-led insurgency, and security is improved. That could lessen the increasing dependence on militias by Iraqis who feel the need for protection against sectarian violence.

The idea of sending reinforcements to Baghdad is not a new one. The United States dispatched a Stryker brigade and several Army battalions to the capital in August as part of a joint American and Iraqi operation to improve security there. Those additions brought the number of American troops involved in the Baghdad operation to 15,000.

Sectarian killings initially declined, only to soar after death squads adapted to American tactics.


Advocates of sending additional forces acknowledge that troops can be only part of the answer. To be effective, the strategy must include efforts to train the Iraqi Army and deal with political and economic issues. But they also say that too few reinforcements were sent this summer to decisively improve security.

“It was not done to the necessary scale and not to the point where the people felt they were secure and protected,” said Daniel Dwyer, a retired major who served with the Army’s Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Baghdad and Tal Afar. “The people right now feel that there is no tactical design toward securing them, that we come in and conduct operations that are short-lived and leave, and their problems don’t go away.”

Another problem with the Baghdad security operation, critics say, is that it depended on Iraqi policies that were never adequately carried out. The Iraqi Army supplied only two of the six battalions that American commanders requested. Iraqi-funded reconstruction projects to generate jobs and win popular support have been too few or too late.

To address these shortfalls, some advocates of sending reinforcements have proposed that the United States substantially expand its military mission. There are a variety of possible options for adding troops.

Gen. Jack Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff, has argued for sending four or five additional brigades to Baghdad, effectively doubling the American military presence there. The United States would also change its concept of operations in Baghdad.

Instead of limiting themselves to conducting patrols from bases in the capital, American troops would take up new positions in 23 mixed Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods to better protect the population. Millions of dollars in new American reconstruction assistance would be provided. Iraqi forces would also be involved in the operation.

American forces would not initially confront the Mahdi Army, which is controlled by Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric. Once security was improved, Prime Minister Maliki would be encouraged to negotiate with the Shiite militias to stop attacks against Sunnis.

There is a risk that an adversary could wait out the American forces, evading major combat until American troops levels began to subside. For that reason, General Keane has argued that the United States should be prepared to carry out the expanded mission for 18 months, or perhaps longer, a far cry from the increase of several months that some Democratic lawmakers support.

Whether the Bush administration will opt for such a demanding strategy is far from clear. It would be an approach with huge political risks and one that would dramatically escalate American involvement in Iraq. President Bush has, however, taken one step that is a prerequisite for any effort to sustain expanded military operations in Iraq: he has signaled his intention to increase the size of the American armed forces.
A bigger force (necessary for any increase, necessary without an increase)

The Washington Post:
President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning."

In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point.
The president has changed his tune very quickly. What was his motivation for the optimism before the election? It was pure politics. This is most discouraging. He has always valued politics over the actual conduct of and potential success with this war.

The Los Angeles Times:
Countering any talk that a beefed-up force would necessitate a draft, Army officials have said they believe at least an extra 20,000 soldiers a year could be recruited through pay incentives.

"The president is inclined to believe we need to increase the overall size of the Army and the Marines," said the official, adding that "how big and how soon" would be up to Gates. "The genesis is his long-held belief the global war on terror is going to be a long one and we're going to need a military capable of sustaining our effort to keep the country safe."
The New York Times:
Any decision to increase the size of the Army and the Marine Corps would do little to meet the need for more troops should Mr. Bush order a significant increase of American forces in Iraq in 2007, as it takes considerable time to recruit, train and deploy new troops. Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, said last week that the Army could probably grow by only 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers per year.

Army officials have estimated that for each addition of 10,000 soldiers to the force, it would cost about $1.2 billion.
Abizaid to step down (he is no advocate of the "surge")

The Arabic-speaking CENTCOM commander is to step down. The Los Angeles Times:
"If you're going to change the strategy, in fairness to [Abizaid], let him go," said a former senior Pentagon official who has worked closely with the general. "He's given it all he's got, in terms of personal sacrifice."

Abizaid's planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January.


Abizaid's four-year term as chief of the Central Command, or Centcom, was to end in July. But some close to the Army have speculated in recent weeks that his term might be extended to see through implementation of the administration's new Iraq strategy. However, a Centcom spokesman said that earlier this year, Rumsfeld asked Abizaid to stay only until "early 2007."


In Gates' search for a successor, the candidate most closely associated with Abizaid's strategy is Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who is also expected to leave his current assignment early next year. Although Casey was considered the favorite to become the next Army chief of staff under Rumsfeld, Gates could decide to move him to the Central Command for continuity, officials said.

Critics of the current war effort say making Casey either chief of staff or Centcom commander would send the wrong signal — essentially endorsing a strategy that the president acknowledges has failed.

"It would be a terrible thing," said one military analyst with close ties to the Pentagon. "He's the guy who's losing the war."

The leading candidate from the counterinsurgency advocates is Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, a highly respected military thinker who led the 101st Airborne Division during the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

In his current job as head of the Army's leading military schools, Petraeus oversaw the rewriting of the Army and Marine counterinsurgency field manual, which was issued last week and argues that while killing insurgents is often important, the most vital task in a counterinsurgency is winning the support of the population.

The manual also argues for moving soldiers out of large bases into smaller outposts among the local population. Such manpower-intensive tactics run counter to those now used by Abizaid and Casey. Currently, troops clear dangerous Baghdad neighborhoods with regularity but, because of their limited numbers, must quickly turn over long-term security responsibilities to unprepared Iraqi units, which frequently results in backsliding.

Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who last week left Iraq as the head of day-to-day military operations, is also closely associated with such tactics, having implemented them when he was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad's Shiite slums. He is also seen as a top counterinsurgency candidate if Petraeus is chosen for another job in Iraq, such as replacing Casey.

"I do think there are two camps," said the military analyst. "I think there is a Petraeus camp, and Chiarelli has been in it, and there is definitely an Abizaid-Casey camp."

Both Chiarelli and Petraeus have gained key backing from the Army's influential alumni, such as retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who recently briefed Bush on his views of Iraq policy, and former Army Secretary Thomas White.
There is also a movement for smaller, more ecclectic units. These would not be infantry formations, but rather battalions with engineers, civil affairs specialists and I assume linguists. There would be some traditional combat power in these formations as well. I am not certain where Petraeus or Chiarelli fall on this matter. I do know that Ret. General Paul Eaton endorses this plan as do some subordinate officers in active service. (More in this old post.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why this "surge" is such a bad idea

Press reports concerning a "surge" in United States combat power in Iraq continue to surface. Most reports estimate about 20,000 additional troops, however, some reports state numbers closer to 40,000 or 50,000 troops. There are numerous reasons why this is a bad idea, which makes me think that the president is likely to order this surge.

1. The United States military has a tremendous amount of damaged equipment. (Washington Post, 12/05/2006)

2. This surge would require numerous units in Iraq to remain in the country long after their announced withdrawals. This is likely to impact recruiting and further stretch a troubled force. That having been said, our American military personnel are beyond amazing, and this is why it's number two on my list compared to the state of the equipment.

3. The numbers available in this "surge" are not sufficient to actually secure the country. Perhaps 20,000 more troops are available in the force and can be applied to Baghdad. They would, perhaps, have a benefit for the next few months. Then, the United States would have to withdraw a sizeable amount of its forces in Iraq, leaving something closer to the number of troops we have today. What would happen then?

4. This relates to the previous point. Any commitment of additional combat power should only happen if a political solution is near within the Iraqi government. If there is no progress toward a political solution, than any military exercise will only produce short term gains that will quickly erode.

5. After the American military has further extended itself in this effort, what is done next? If this "hail mary" pass does not produce a political deal, and it is likely that it will not, what will be left for our country? We would find ourselves in a situation exactly like today, only with more casualties and less punch left in the military. Since 2004, we have seen challenges arise throughout the globe: Iran, North Korea, Syria, Hezbollah, the Horn of Africa. We have seen trouble in our own country, most importantly in the city of New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Can we realistically expect anything less than a repeat of these woes with our military so abused? It might be reasonable to expect something worse.

6. If we conduct this surge and the situation does not improve, we will revisit the same set of decisions: chaos and religious war throughout the resource rich Middle East, or another "surge".

The Washington Post:
Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said.

But the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House review is not public.

The chiefs have taken a firm stand, the sources say, because they believe the strategy review will be the most important decision on Iraq to be made since the March 2003 invasion.

At regular interagency meetings and in briefing President Bush last week, the Pentagon has warned that any short-term mission may only set up the United States for bigger problems when it ends. The service chiefs have warned that a short-term mission could give an enormous edge to virtually all the armed factions in Iraq -- including al-Qaeda's foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias -- without giving an enduring boost to the U.S military mission or to the Iraqi army, the officials said.

The Pentagon has cautioned that a modest surge could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda, provide more targets for Sunni insurgents and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to flock to Iraq to attack U.S. troops, the officials said.

The informal but well-armed Shiite militias, the Joint Chiefs have also warned, may simply melt back into society during a U.S. surge and wait until the troops are withdrawn -- then reemerge and retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities.

Even the announcement of a time frame and mission -- such as for six months to try to secure volatile Baghdad -- could play to armed factions by allowing them to game out the new U.S. strategy, the chiefs have warned the White House.

The idea of a much larger military deployment for a longer mission is virtually off the table, at least so far, mainly for logistics reasons, say officials familiar with the debate. Any deployment of 40,000 to 50,000 would force the Pentagon to redeploy troops who were scheduled to go home.
Eugene Robinson, also with the Post, assails the president:
Here's an idea: Let's send more U.S. troops to Iraq. The generals say it's way too late to even think about resurrecting Colin Powell's "overwhelming force" doctrine, so let's send over a modest "surge" in troop strength that has almost no chance of making any difference -- except in the casualty count. Oh, and let's not give these soldiers and Marines any sort of well-defined mission. Let's just send them out into the bloody chaos of Baghdad and the deadly badlands of Anbar province with orders not to come back until they "get the job done."

I don't know about you, but that strikes me as a terrible idea, arguably the worst imaginable "way forward" in Iraq. So of course this seems to be where George W. Bush is headed.


It is unconscionable to think about dispatching more young men and women to Iraq without the realistic expectation that their presence will make a difference in a war that is no longer in our control. Here in Washington, proponents of a troop "surge" speak of giving the whole Iraq adventure one last try. But they sound as if they're more concerned about projecting an image of American resolve than anything else. Does anyone think a symbolic troop increase is going to have the likes of Moqtada al-Sadr or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tossing and turning through sleepless nights?

Doubling the number of American troops in Iraq would be wrong -- we need to get out, now, before we set the whole Middle East on fire -- but at least a surge of that scale would have a purpose. The modest increase now on the table would be purposeless and wrong. What could be more immoral than sacrificing American blood and treasure to save face in a lost war?
The American military can degrade the most violent insurgent and militia organizations and buy the Iraqi government time to settle the political troubles in Iraq. This does not require a surge. It requires more intelligence assets and a more narrow set of goals for our military. Only when there is an internal, political solution to the sectarian war can external, foreign forces apply effective pressure to eliminate the rejectionist fringe.

When this plan surfaced in the Los Angeles Times (12/13/2006) last week, the analogy was a gambling term: "double down". We've lost valuable chips in Iraq with a bad strategy, all military and not enough politics. When you continue to gamble with a bad plan, you'll only find yourself in a worse financial predicament.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A shark and a crocodile walk into a polling station in Tehran

Asia Times Online:
With votes still being hand-counted, there's every indication Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's moderate faction has scored a stunning victory over the extreme right in the crucial election for the 86-member Council of Experts, according to Iranian state TV.

"Hashemi" - as he is known in Tehran - as well as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi - the gray eminence and spiritual leader of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad - will be among the 16 clerics representing Tehran in the Council of Experts.

The Council of Experts (86 clerics only; no women allowed) is key because it's the only institution in the Islamic Republic capable of holding the supreme leader accountable and even removing him from office. It is the system's Holy Grail. The supreme leader - not the president - is where the buck stops in Iran.

Once again, this election has been a case of the extreme right against the moderate/pragmatists. Or the recluse Yazdi - aka "the crocodile" (in Farsi) - against the eternal insider, relative "friend of the West", former president (1989-97), opportunist and king of the dodgy deal, Rafsanjani.

Yazdi is the dean of the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute in Qom, a hardcore hawza (theological school) that has prepared and configured the world view of key members of the Ahmadinejad presidency. It's impossible to interview Yazdi - officially because of "government rules", unofficially of his own volition.

Rafsanjani, aka "the shark", remains the chairman of the Expediency Council and virtually the regime's No 2, behind Supreme Leader Ali al-Khamenei and ahead of Ahmadinejad. Iranian pop culture, with a tinge of Discovery Channel, delighted in describing this as the battle between the crocodile and the shark.

It was heavily symbolic that moderate Rafsanjani and another former president, the progressive, sartorially impeccable Mohammad "dialogue of civilizations" Khatami, voted together in the Jamaran mosque, where the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, used to deliver his speeches. Iranian reformist papers did not fail to publish the emblematic photo sealing the alliance on their front pages this past Saturday. Rafsanjani's victory was sweeter because he had lost to Ahmadinejad in the second round of the 2005 presidential elections.

There have been rumors in Tehran for months that Yazdi and his followers were on a power grab. They had won city and village council elections, then parliamentary elections, and the presidency (with Ahmadinejad), and were ready to conquer the Council of Experts and thus be in position to choose the next supreme leader. There have been unconfirmed reports that Khamenei may be seriously ill.

Saudi Wahhabis may complain there are "no free elections in Iran" (as if there were any elections in Saudi). Anyway, popular participation in these, one may say, "relatively free" elections was a healthy 60%.


Yazdi and his followers have always stressed they want to implement "real Islam". They view the Rafsanjani camp as a bunch of filthy rich, morally and legally corrupt decadents, totally oblivious to the concerns of "ordinary people", whose self-styled key symbol happens to be Ahmadinejad.

Yazdi is also the spiritual mentor of the Hojjatieh, a sort of ultra-fundamentalist sect whose literal interpretation of Shi'ite tradition holds that chaos in mankind is a necessary precondition for the imminent arrival of the Mahdi - the 12th hidden (since AD 941) Shi'ite imam who will come to save the world from injustice and widespread corruption. Ahmadinejad may not be a Hojjatieh himself, but he understands where they are coming from.

Yazdi's "real Islam" has nothing to do with Western democracy. He wants a kelafat - a caliphate. Ayatollahs like Yazdi are simply not concerned with worldly matters, foreign policy, geopolitical games or Iran's nuclear program; the only thing that matters is work for the arrival of the Mahdi. Yazdi is on record as saying that he could convert all of America to Shi'ism. But some in Tehran accuse him of claiming a direct link to the Mahdi, which in the Shi'ite tradition would qualify him as a false prophet.

Even facing a relative defeat at the polls, the Ahmadinejad faction - known as Isaargaraan ("the Self-Sacrificers") - maintains a huge, countrywide popular base in the military-security establishment, in the tens of millions, ranging from the Pasdaran - the Revolutionary Guard - to the Bassijis, the hardcore paramilitary, also known as "the army of 20 million", and expanding to the pious, apolitical, downtrodden masses, mostly rural but also urban (in sprawling south Tehran, for instance). But the defeat at the Council of Experts signals their efforts for an all-out power grab have certainly been thwarted.

It's important to remember that Ahmadinejad, more than a politician, is fundamentally a believer in the Mahdi. Ahmadinejad even has his own roadmap for the return of the Mahdi; he drew it himself. According to Shi'ite tradition, the Mahdi will rise in Mecca - not in Qom - where he will preach to his close followers (Jesus Christ puts on a guest appearance), draw up the armies of Islam and finally settle down in Kufa, Iraq.

The only crucial policy the Council of Experts has implemented since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 has been to appoint Khamenei as Khomeini's successor and new supreme leader, in 1989. It was in fact a white coup - because according to the constitution at the time the supreme leader had to be a marja (source of imitation and top religious leader). Khamenei was not up to standards. Khomeini died while the constitution was being revised; so Khamenei was in fact appointed by a law ratified only after he was already installed as supreme leader.

Yazdi has been trying a different strategy - to take over the Council of Experts from the inside and then overwhelm Khamenei. It's fair to argue that Khamenei has played a very deft hand. He firmly supported Yazdi before the 2005 presidential election, but lately has rallied his followers - and the full machinery of the system - to keep Yazdi and his protege, Ahmadinejad, under control.

"Hashemi" may have been a winner - but most of all it's the supreme leader who seems to be as much in control as he ever was. Khamenei has been politicizing the religious system non-stop, to the point of the Islamic Republic nowadays being neither a democracy nor a theocracy: rather, it's a clerical autocracy.

Neo-conservatives and the Washington establishment should not jump to hasty conclusions. There won't be regime change in Tehran any time soon. This year there has been a serious crackdown on the reformist press, the Internet, personal weblogs, satellite dishes and academia - where more than 50 reformist professors have been targeted.

What is happening now is the moderate/pragmatists reaching a more solid position allied with the reformists - with the extreme right held in check by a supreme leader more supreme than ever. The crocodile may have been rocked. But the Islamic Republic's fierce internal power play is far from over.

More troops in Iraq?

There is a lot of speculation in the main stream media that George W. Bush postponed the announcement of a new Iraq policy because of a lack of consensus on the next step. That is possible. But, one should also realize that a president is unlikely to commit 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops into an unpopular war right before Christmas. We will have to wait and see what the Decider wants to do.

BBC News from this weekend:
US President George W Bush is likely to boost troop levels in Iraq next year, an administration official has said.
Up to 25,000 more troops could be deployed to try to help end the violence, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The comments come a day after prominent Republican John McCain called for up to 30,000 more troops to be sent to Iraq.

Mr Bush had been due to announce a new strategy on Iraq next week, but has delayed his speech until January.
The Hartford Courant:
WASHINGTON -- Two key Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, said Sunday they could back a temporary increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq - but only if that surge was for a very short period and specifically helped end American involvement.

At least three other Democrats, as well as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, saw little help from such a surge.
The Washington Times:
Iran has effectively created a Shi'ite "state within a state" in neighboring Iraq, defying both Iraqi Sunnis and neighboring Sunni nations, according to a Saudi security report.

Iranian military forces are providing Shi'ite militias with weapons and training, Iranian charities are pouring funds into schools and hospitals, and Tehran is actively supporting pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians, the report said.

"Where the Americans have failed, the Iranians have stepped in," said the report by the Saudi National Security Assessment Project, a Riyadh-based consultancy commissioned by the Saudi government to provide security and intelligence assessments.
Marine Major Ben Connable cautions that in the past a troop withdrawal has lead to more problems in al Anbar, the New York Times Op Ed.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"Unprecedented secret letter to the White House"

Scott Peterson, of the Christian Science Monitor, addresses the potential help Iran could provide in Iraq. Not the change in tone identified with a secret letter in 2003. I had never heard of this correspondence (my emphasis):
Earlier this year, both Washington and Tehran approved Iraq-specific talks between their officials in Baghdad, though none are known to have occurred. More recently, Bush has spoken disparagingly of bringing Iran into the Iraq equation.

"Fundamentally, the Bush administration refuses to have comprehensive talks with the Iranians," says a Western diplomat, noting that US officials continue to say that Iran is a top state sponsor of terrorism and that its nuclear-power program is a cover to build atomic weapons. Iran rejects those charges. "[But] even if you plan to get in some sort of contact, it makes sense to say 'never,' " as an initial bargaining stance, says the diplomat.

The White House has wanted to limit any dialogue with Iran to Iraq, or, in a separate offer last June, to the nuclear file. But as Iraq has deteriorated, and the demand for talks with Iran has intensified, Iran feels increasingly that it can demand much in exchange.

James Baker, co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, which met with Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the UN, has downplayed the likelihood of Iran's assistance.

"We're not naive enough to think that in this case [Iran] may want to help. They probably don't," Mr. Baker testified to Congress last week. "The president authorized me to approach the Iranian government. I did so. And they in effect said ... we would not be inclined to help you this time around."

Iran's price, analysts here say, could be a broader package that would, at the least, include ending action by the UN Security Council to draft a sanctions resolution over Iran's nuclear issue.

Iran may expect the US to accept its determination to continue enriching uranium, something the White House says must be suspended before talks. Recognition of the regime, after 27 years of estrangement, and a guarantee that Iran will not be a military target, are top priorities as well.

"I have no doubt, that if there is a serious attempt by the US administration for a comprehensive resolution of the problems between Iran and the US, Iran would be more than ready to help," says Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a political scientist at Tehran University. "But it is not going to be just about Iraq. Iran would be much more willing to do more, if it knew there is going to be a comprehensive [deal] with the US."

This calculus in Tehran represents a dramatic turnaround from the spring of 2003, when Iran's clerical leadership worried that they were "next" after Iraq on the target list for regime change.

Feeling vulnerable, Iran sent an unprecedented secret letter to the White House, offering to talk about everything from its controversial nuclear program to support for Hizbullah and Hamas militants.

But the Bush team dismissed the offer, and even scolded the Swiss ambassador in Tehran at the time for passing the message on. Today, with the US bogged down in Iraq and looking for a facesaving way out, it is the Iranians who want to define the terms of any cooperation.

They often cite Afghanistan in 2001, when Iran helped the US defeat the Taliban and push out Al Qaeda with extensive intelligence and diplomatic aid, only to be labeled part of the "axis of evil" weeks later.

"It's a game. We think the US wants to use Iranian power to solve their problem in Iraq before the presidential election in 2008," says Mr. Mohebian. "After victory ... then it will be back to the old 'axis of evil.' "

A final Iranian decision will await more signals from the US, because "up to now, we hear only slogans," says Mohebian. "We don't want to look to the mouths of US leaders, but at their hands. After helping in Afghanistan, what was the result? It only helped the radicals in Iran."

Iran and the US share an interest in a stable Iraq that remains intact and is no longer a breeding ground for extremists, Iranian analysts say. But the Afghanistan case has made the regime uncertain.

"Now, if Iran helps the US contain the violence in Iraq, and [afterward the US] has a free hand, then 'OK, we're going to bomb you now. You are the next target,' " says Mr. Hadian-Jazy. "They should know which road they are putting a step in. They want to be sure."

Iran can't bring stability to Iraq, but it can use its influence - especially with fellow Shiites who run the embattled government - to ease the sectarian violence and help forge a unity government.

"The situation wouldn't be worse if Iran said it would help," says a European diplomat. "But the question is: How much better would it be?"

"[Iran] sees all this as pieces of a great big game, [and] the price will continue going up as the situation gets worse," says the diplomat. "The American request would include intelligence help - and this is very uncommon - [because Iranian] eyes and ears on the ground are the best in Iraq."


Gaza and Palestine

BBC News:
Clashes have erupted between rival Palestinian factions after Hamas accused Fatah of trying to assassinate Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas.
Hamas accused Fatah's Mohammad Dahlan of organising an attack on Mr Haniya as he crossed into Gaza from Egypt.


Correspondents say the attack on Mr Haniya - and the open accusation against such a prominent opponent by Hamas - has dramatically raised the stakes in the tense political struggle in the Palestinian territories.

The violence in Ramallah on Friday came as Hamas supporters attempted to march towards the centre of town, reports said.
Elections in Iran

BBC News:
In theory, the Assembly of Experts is the most powerful body in Iran's complex network of religious institutions.

Its job is to elect, dismiss and supervise Iran's top political figure, the Supreme Leader - currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The reformists are barely present in the assembly race, because candidates must be passed by a conservative panel.

So analysts are watching to see whether the body will be dominated by conservatives aligned with Mr Ahmadinejad or pragmatists close to the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, our correspondent adds.

The local council elections, in contrast, are likely to witness a higher turnout and will provide a clearer reflection of trends in public opinion, analysts believe.
The Boston Globe:
But at both the local and national levels, the races pit supporters of Ahmadinejad against members of the reformist movement, which pushes for democratization within Iran's Islamic government. And in some cases, traditional conservatives have banded together with reformists to oppose Ahmadinejad allies.

Reformist candidates are taking a page from Ahmadinejad's play book, emphasizing bread-and-butter issues like the need for better public transportation and more accountable city officials instead of the human rights and freedom of speech themes they've sounded in the past.

"We need to show the world that we are more practical," said Piruz Hanochi, an architect running on the reformist ticket for Tehran's city council. "After the election, people's lives have to become better."
Security in Iraq

The Los Angeles Times:
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno assumed command as the new number two general in Iraq at a ceremony in the capital yesterday, vowing to use more than combat to resolve the conflict .

"This is not just a military solution only," he said to the crowd assembled outside one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces near the US military headquarters. "It is a combination of diplomatic, economic, and military programs."

But those who know Odierno say the hard-charging general, who plotted Hussein's capture and anti-insurgency combat operations, may put more effort toward securing, rather than rebuilding, Iraq.

Odierno gained a reputation as an aggressive commander while leading the Fourth Infantry Division in Sunni Arab-dominated parts of the country in 2003 and 2004. Some military analysts have contended that the region's continued unrest can be traced to Odierno's heavy handed methods.

Odierno took command of the Multi-National Corps-Iraq from Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, who, in contrast, emerged as a champion of more comprehensive strategies aimed at winning over local populations, including large-scale public works programs and restrained firepower in the face of sectarian warfare.

Despite sporadic violent uprisings against his forces, Chiarelli, a former West Point professor, eventually was able to stabilize the volatile Shi'ite Muslim slums of Sadr City by putting locals to work on a large sewage system and posting some of his top soldiers to nascent Iraqi security forces.

Chiarelli also is popular in Washington, where he is in contention to replace his commander, General George W. Casey Jr., who may leave before summer.

At yesterday's ceremony, Casey praised Chiarelli's approach to securing Iraq.

"I will always remember your personal passion for building a better life for the Iraqi people," Casey told the crowd, which included US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and several regional US military commanders.

Chiarelli spoke about working side-by-side with Iraqis the past year to rebuild the country, in a speech with quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt and 19th century liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill.


People close to Odierno maintain his characterization as an overly aggressive commander with a style antithetical to Chiarelli's is unwarranted. They say he's become more attuned to the importance of soft power during his last two years as an assistant to Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — President Bush and top aides have made the effort to build a new governing coalition in Iraq a top priority in their search for a new strategy, one of the country's two vice presidents said Thursday.

Tariq Hashimi, who leads the Iraqi parliament's most important Sunni Arab group, said that Bush and other senior officials told him at a White House meeting this week that they believe "for the present time, the only solution we have" is to create a new ruling alliance in hopes of strengthening a frail central government.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The best laid plans...

The Pentagon

December 13, the Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON -- As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in U.S. troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Moqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their recommendations to Bush on Wednesday. Military officials have argued that an intensified effort might be the only way to get the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory.
December 14, the Washington Post:
The nation's top uniformed leaders are recommending that the United States change its main military mission in Iraq from combating insurgents to supporting Iraqi troops and hunting terrorists, said sources familiar with the White House's ongoing Iraq policy review.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney met with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday at the Pentagon for more than an hour, and the president engaged his top military advisers on different options. The chiefs made no dramatic proposals but, at a time of intensifying national debate about how to solve the Iraq crisis, offered a pragmatic assessment of what can and cannot be done by the military, the sources said.

The chiefs do not favor adding significant numbers of troops to Iraq, said sources familiar with their thinking, but see strengthening the Iraqi army as pivotal to achieving some degree of stability. They also are pressing for a much greater U.S. effort on economic reconstruction and political reconciliation.
Mike notes that the JCS are worried about the ability to handle new problems with so many troops in Iraq. One pre-war reason to invade Iraq was the ability to position a garrison in a difficult region. Our positioning has lead to more trouble.

Lest we think that only American leaders are struggling through the Iraq mess...

Saudi Arabia

The Associated Press:
CAIRO, Egypt - Saudi Arabia's royal family and government leaders are deeply divided over how to handle the growing crisis in Iraq and other looming Mideast problems such as Iran, with some favoring strong aid to fellow Sunnis and others more cautious.

The split played a key role in this week's abrupt resignation of the Saudi ambassador to Washington. It also could hurt U.S. efforts to forge a new overall strategy to calm Iraq.

Borzou Daragahi of the Los Angeles Times:
The Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki faces domestic and international pressure to secure streets and provide services. Maliki blames his government's shortcomings in part on the ministers appointed under pressure from his coalition partners. Talks between Maliki, Cabinet officials and political party leaders were underway Wednesday to reshuffle the posts.

"We're trying to strengthen the position of the prime minister," said Diya Din Fayyad, a Shiite Muslim member of parliament. "There's an agreement to change the ministries."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The King's foreign policy

We novice military strategists have been calling for diplomacy for some time. Here is how it is playing out this late autumn, the New York Times:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 — Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney’s whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

The Saudi warning reflects fears among America’s Sunni Arab allies about Iran’s rising influence in Iraq, coupled with Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed concern about rising Shiite influence, and about the prospect that the Shiite-dominated government would use Iraqi troops against the Sunni population.

A senior Bush administration official said Tuesday that part of the administration’s review of Iraq policy involved the question of how to harness a coalition of moderate Iraqi Sunnis with centrist Shiites to back the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

The Saudis have argued strenuously against an American pullout from Iraq, citing fears that Iraq’s minority Sunni Arab population would be massacred. Those fears, United States officials said, have become more pronounced as a growing chorus in Washington has advocated a draw-down of American troops in Iraq, coupled with diplomatic outreach to Iran, which is largely Shiite.

“It’s a hypothetical situation, and we’d work hard to avoid such a structure,” one Arab diplomat in Washington said. But, he added, “If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war.”

The Bush administration is also working on a way to form a coalition of Sunni Arab nations and a moderate Shiite government in Iraq, along with the United States and Europe, to stand against “Iran, Syria and the terrorists,” another senior administration official said Tuesday.

Until now Saudi officials have promised their counterparts in the United States that they would refrain from aiding Iraq’s Sunni insurgency. But that pledge holds only as long as the United States remains in Iraq.


Mr. Obaid also suggested that Saudi Arabia could cut world oil prices in half by raising its production, a move that he said “would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even without today’s high oil prices.” The Saudi government disavowed Mr. Obaid’s column, and Prince Turki canceled his contract.

But Arab diplomats said Tuesday that Mr. Obaid’s column reflected the view of the Saudi government, which has made clear its opposition to an American pullout from Iraq.
Machinations against Shiite-Arabic Moqtada al Sadr and now numerous stories from Saudi officials and proxies that they will actively side with the Sunni insugency if America quits the field. Last week, the Associated Press reported that private Saudi citizens were already funding the Sunni insurgency groups in Iraq. The Washington Times reported yesterday that Israel even encourages a Sunni nuclear program to help counter the potential Shiite-Persian bomb.

President Nixon positioned Iran and Saudi Arabia as two pillars against Russian interests in the Middle East. With the theocratic revolution in Iran, brewed with an anti-American flavor, a pillar was lost. The Islamic revolution based in Tehran, not unlike the French revolution, views itself as an exportable brand.

To counter this ambition, America supported a Sunni-Arab dictator in a poorly executed war against the Persians.

Thus we had this moment:

Iran's current, bombastic president is a veteran of that war.

In the Persian Puzzle, Kenneth Pollack states that it was the Israelis who were the most vocal critics of the Persians in the 1990s. However, the Sunni Arabs in the region were also very wary of their ethnic and religious others.

Why wouldn't they be? Many of those monarchies are vestiges of a different era. Iran has trained and equipped Hezbollah and HAMAS.

To say that diplomacy and intrigue is moving apace would be to downplay the frantic positioning of regional powers. This conflict has been building not since the winter of 2002 but actually since the late 1970s, if not earlier.

The current pressure points in the region are not encouraging.

Jordan has endured an influx of Iraqi refugees, some 600,000 according to McClatchy Newspapers in late November. A CIA estimate from the summer of this year places the total population of Jordan at under 6,000,000. Jordan is also home to a number of Palestinian refugees. King Abdullah II, of Jordan, has begun an animated campaign to prevent a series of wars throughout the region. His stated fear is civil wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. These happen to be the traditional hot spots of Iranian intrigue.

Syria has acted to upset peaceful politics in Lebanon. Al Jazeera reports this morning:
An inquiry into the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, is turning up significant links between his death and 14 later attacks in Lebanon, the chief investigator says.

Serge Brammertz, who leads the UN inquiry into the killing of al-Hariri, also said he continues to demand interviews and evidence from Syria.
There is one proposal in the Baker-Hamilton report that will never see the light of day: talk with Iran, at least with this president. The adversarial dynamic between the Persians and the Arabs has been going on for centuries. The adversarial dynamic between Iran and the United States has lasted generations. James Baker points to a rapprochment concerning Afghanistan as an example of Iranian-American cooperation. This is true, but it seems more the exception than the rule.

America and Iran are now the two strongest tribes in Iraq. One power has lost some of its might, the other has gained. One power is distant with an increasingly troubled population, the other is quite close to the area of contest. Both powers have much over which they disagree.

It is my hope that a rapprochment develops. It is my fear that as Iraq continues to slide Sunni organizations and Shiite organizations, whether supported by governments or not, will continue to fuel conflict. It could proceed as something like the prisoner's dilemma. All sides should work to avoid conflict. But with so many competing interests at play, each side may seek to build combat power for their interests -- proxies not unlike Lebanon's Hezbollah. Their motivation would be primarily a fear that the other sides will do this and gain an advantage. It is clear that the trends are already going in this direction.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Coup de Sadr?

This report is all over the papers today. There were rumors that something was afoot when Hakim met with Bush and the Sunni delegate was asked to report to the White House several weeks earlier than anticipated.

Azzaman has learned that Iraqi factions would like to enter into a new coalition that will force Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki introduce a major cabinet reshuffle.

Major Kurdish, Shiites and Sunni factions would like to come together to exclude the powerful parliamentary block of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on whose support the current government relies in order to survive.

The move, the analysts say, will be announced shortly after U.S. President George Bush makes his new Iraq policy public.

But the analysts said excluding any major faction through the formation of new alliances is bound to even further exacerbate conditions in the violence-torn country.
The New York Times:
The talks are taking place among the two main Kurdish groups, the most influential Sunni Arab party and an Iranian-backed Shiite party that has long sought to lead the government. They have invited Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to join them. But Mr. Maliki, a conservative Shiite who has close ties to Mr. Sadr, has held back for fear that the parties might be seeking to oust him, a Shiite legislator close to Mr. Maliki said.

Officials involved in the talks say their aim is not to undermine Mr. Maliki, but to isolate Mr. Sadr as well as firebrand Sunni Arab politicians inside the government. Mr. Sadr controls a militia with an estimated 60,000 fighters that has rebelled twice against the American military and is accused of widening the sectarian war with reprisal killings of Sunni Arabs.

The Americans, frustrated with Mr. Maliki’s political dependence on Mr. Sadr, appear to be working hard to help build the new coalition. President Bush met last week in the White House with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Iranian-backed Shiite party, and is to meet on Tuesday with Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Sunni Arab party. In late November, Mr. Bush and his top aides met with leaders from Sunni countries in the Middle East to urge them to press moderate Sunni Arab Iraqis to support Mr. Maliki.

The White House visits by Mr. Hakim and Mr. Hashemi are directly related to their effort to form a new alliance, a senior Iraqi official said.
The Los Angeles Times:
BAGHDAD — A group of prominent politicians made up of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds said Monday that it was seeking to form an alliance that could shift Iraq's balance of power and end months of political inaction.

Representatives of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr were not invited to join the coalition, said Iraqi Islamic Party member Ammar Wajeeh — a sign that the group may want to politically isolate the powerful Shiite preacher. Sadr's Al Mahdi militia has been accused of killing hundreds of Sunni Arab Muslims in recent months.
I think we can now view the Hadley memo in clear light. First, it was short and hardly sage policy analysis. It was manufactured for public consumption and to shake the current Iraqi prime minister. That is pure speculation on my part, but I think it correct.

Sadr has been made, perhaps justifiably so, as the boogeyman in Iraq. His militia has killed many. He is either not in full control of his militia, or he is duplicitous. It may be a combination.

However, Sadr remains a political power. Pushing him out of the way is a tremendous risk. Mahdi militia members claim that they have 60 percent of their force in the security establishment. Based on the conduct of death squads and kidnappers, they are probably not exaggerating. Badr/SCIRI wants Sadr out fo the way; their forces have clashed in the Shiite south. It is not surprising that Sunni moderates and the Kurds want to most violent Shiite group out of the picture. For the latter, Sadr is a strong nationalist and would push for a more centralized government. For the former, Sadr is the man behind the death squads and ethnic cleansing.

But, what is Sadr for the embattled Shiite population? That is where the risk arises. In an ironic sense, trying to push Sadr out of the process may strengthen his hand.