Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over? - Part II

A Tale Of Two Viceroys

One aspect of the reconstruction follies that caught my eye was this passage in The Hindu article that I cited in Part I of this series:

Iraqi government ministries, which will be taking over responsibility for the reconstruction effort, tend to issue much smaller contracts that do not interest large US companies.
The tendency to focus on large bore projects was, in the end, an impediment to the overall reconstruction effort in Iraq. In overly simplistic terms, these projects tended to rely on American firms, employed primarily American and non-Iraqi employees/subcontractors (not exclusively, and this tended to get better as time went on), excluded - to their own detriment - Iraqis with expertise and indigenous know-how (again, with signs of improvement), they have taken too long for benefits to be realized by the Iraqi population and, due to their size, have been overly susceptible to sabotage.

But this tendency was symptomatic of the larger issues plaguing the Iraqi reconstruction effort: insufficient planning, the Pentagon's control of the process, ideological orthodoxy placed above competence for those enlisted, etc., while at the same time the entire project was operating under a disjointed strategy - the product of the interplay of the conflicting visions of those in charge. To understand the cause of these meta-maladies, one has to grasp that the post-invasion efforts in Iraq were simultaneously (or in near temporal proximity) too minimalistic and too grandiose. In the spirit of Richard Haass: Almost everything said and written about the Iraq reconstruction is true.

One way to reconcile this apparent paradox is to look at the situation in terms of the men in charge of the effort. The first man in, Jay Garner, was hand-picked by Donald Rumsfeld and was known for his plan-on-the-fly/no blueprint needed style of management. Garner did not go into Iraq with a fleshed out Phase IV plan for reconstruction, and there is ample evidence that this was not a bug but a feature. By this time, Rumsfeld's Pentagon had managed to cut Colin Powell's State Department out of the loop, and so the Iraq reconstruction was going to be nation building Rumsfeld style.

The problem was, as we have all grown aware, Rumsfeld had no desire to undertake the tedious, time consuming, resource intensive and monumentally difficult tasks associated with nation building. The keys to the Rolls Royce were given over to someone who, at a fundamental level, didn't like to drive - he wasn't even convinced as to the wisdom of the automobile as a concept. The operating theory for the Rumsfeld-approach was deliberately light on the details: decapitate the regime, allow Iraqi ex-pats to assume control and security while they remain dependent on, and accountable to, US patrons, democracy flourishes, 90% of our troops home by August 2003 (leaving the lean, mean transformitive military intact and capable of subsequent missions - some already in the offing) and then everyone lives happily ever after.

In real world terms, the military didn't even have rules of engagement necessary for preventing the widespread looting and lawlessness in the aftermath of the invasion that tainted the occupation from day one. Why should they though? Under Rumsfeld's theory, the US military would not be the police force for the Iraqi people. That was someone else's job. Rumsfeld's glib responses to questions about looting were indicative of the underlying attitudes. "Freedom is messy," mused Rumsfeld. So is nation building. And Rummy had no desire to get dirty.

Rumsfeld's best-laid fantasies plans underwent a rude encounter with reality, however. As the situation in Iraq worsened in ways inconsistent with predictions, Iraqi ex-pats were revealed as ineffectual and incapable of mustering popular support, and news of the simmering crisis filtered back to Washington, a change of course was deemed necessary. So, in came Paul Bremer, and (unceremoniously) out went Garner. This was a contrast in styles. Bremer was much more a hands on management type, and he quickly began to exert control over, and provide direction for, an otherwise wayward occupying entity.

Whereas Garner was hopelessly underprepared to tackle the problems in Iraq, Bremer was overly ambitious and failed to appreciate the necessary timeline of developments. Bremer's most famous mistakes were the decisions to disband the Iraqi armed forces and allow for the widespread de-Baathification of entire layers of Iraqi society - down to the level of school teachers (although in Bremer's defense, there weren't many obvious choices in this regard either). But the scope of Bremer's vision went beyond these initial moves. Iraq would be like clay to mold into the shape intended by the sculptor - according to the ideological whimsy and prerogatives of the Viceroy.

In deciding on a wholesale recalibration of Iraqi society, Bremer spread resources too thin, scattered talent and focus, pursued far too many fanciful and unimportant pet projects, and, in the end, ended up overseeing a CPA that was left trying to juggle so many tasks that it had little choice but to just let them fall, unfinished, one by one. Again, in Bremer's defense, his plans were also sabotaged by the pace of political handover demanded by Sistani and other Iraqi Shiite leaders. But maybe this miscalculation is also one of his larger sins.

George Packer's account of his conversations with Brad Swanson in The Assassin's Gate is illustrative. Swanson was an investment banker with experience as a Foreign Service Officer who joined the CPA at the behest of his longtime friend Michael Fleischer. For those wondering why the "Fleischer" name might ring a bell, here's an explanation with a humorous twist.

The privatizing of Iraq's economy was handled at first by Thomas Foley, a top Bush fund-raiser, and then by Michael Fleischer, brother of President Bush's first press secretary. After explaining that he had got the job in Iraq through his brother Ari, he told the Chicago Tribune - without any apparent sense of irony - that the Americans were going to teach the Iraqis a new way of doing business. "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review." [emphasis added]
According to Swanson (as quoted by Packer - pgs 319-320):

The word Swanson used to describe the mental atmosphere at the CPA was "groupthink": the uniform mind-set that takes hold of any hermetic, hierarchical institution with strong leaders and a sense of common mission, where bad news is unwelcome and no one wants to be the one to ask the truly unsettling questions.[...]

The determination to get the job done overrode everything else, and so no one asked whether the CPA had any business writing codes for Iraq that created a 15 percent flat tax, transparent accounting procedures and new banking and commercial laws. "The quality of the fairyland that was created was very lovely. All these things were great laws, but they just had no application in the real world."[...]

"CPA was set up to do a root and branch transformation of the country, and that wasn't what was required," Swanson said. "What was required was to get two basic things right: security and economy. CPA was created to be a long-term institution, a MacArthur-type restructuring of society. And then, when there was the abrupt decision in November [2003] to hand over [limited sovereignty] in June [2004], there wasn't the follow-through to pare down the CPA's activities and focus on one or two key things. Instead, this machine kept grinding on, creating structures as if it were going to be there for years to implement them. But then it just stopped, and the structures collapsed of their own weight with no enforcement, no real foundation."
The structural shortcomings left Swanson with little to show for his efforts. He came to Iraq in March 2004. He left in July 2004. It wasn't until October 2004 (three months after his departure) that Swanson's first authorized loan, to "the owner of a factory that made plastic water bottles" finally made it to the intended parties. More than a year after the occupation had begun, the process of getting money out of the CPA and either into Iraqi hands, or into the hands of American contractors working on Iraq's behalf, was still slow, halting and inefficient.

The story doesn't end there, however. Consistent with the rigid discipline of the Bush administration, and the tendency to punish all dissenters, Swanson's name was soon added to the long list of those who have learned these harsh lessons first hand.

Back in Virginia, Swanson set his thoughts down in an op-ed piece. When it was published, he sent a copy to Michael Fleischer. He heard nothing back, and several attempts to get in touch went unanswered. Finally, Swanson received a very brief e-mail from his old friend. "If we speak again," Fleischer wrote, "it will be sometime in the future."
Hey, what's a few decades' worth of friendship worth when one dares to deviate from the accepted narrative?

But while Michael Fleischer was fretting about the excommunication of a heretical friend, Iraq's reconstruction efforts continued to sputter on - in scattered and disorganized fits and spurts. The dysfunctional CPA, with its out of synch leadership in Washington, has left Iraq with little to show for three years of occupation and billions of dollars spent. In fact, in certain areas, conditions are worse than before the invasion. Astonishing.

"In two of the most crucial areas, electricity and oil production, relentless sabotage has kept output at or below prewar levels despite the expenditure of hundreds of millions of American dollars and countless man-hours. Oil production stands at roughly 2 million barrels a day, compared with 2.6 million before U.S. troops entered Iraq in March 2003, according to U.S. government statistics.

The national electrical grid has an average daily output of 4,000 megawatts, about 400 megawatts less than its prewar level. Iraqis nationwide receive on average less than 12 hours of power a day. For residents of Baghdad, it was six hours a day last month, according to a U.S. count, though many residents say that figure is high.

The Americans, said Zaid Saleem, 26, who works at a market in Baghdad, "are the best in destroying things but they are the worst in rebuilding.""
Chris Allbritton adds (via Swopa):

Electricity is down to about two hours a day in Baghdad, doled out in fits and spurts of 15 mins or so at a time. Sometimes, gloriously, we get a solid hour, but it's rare. Generators pick up the slack, and since you have rising fuel costs, you start to see the double squeeze that poor Iraqis are feeling.
Today's Washington Post chimes in:

Iraq's water supply, electrical capacity and oil production -- three primary targets of reconstruction -- are functioning below prewar standards, said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in a quarterly report to Congress published Monday.
The Iraq Index has more - of less. I suppose it's only fitting, then, that with so much left undone, the US companies have begun to withdraw from Iraq with the money flow for the big projects slowly petering out. In theory, the Iraqis might be able to do a better job than their American counterparts due to the former's home field advantage, insider knowledge and focus on small bore necessities ahead of ideologically-driven abstractions. The tragedy is that they will likely be proceeding with less than a fraction of the money that was so poorly managed by the CPA.

The mandate, as it appears from all accounts, is for US companies to finish out their current contracts and then head home. But don't confuse the concept of "finish" with the notion of actual accomplishment - because there isn't much of the latter to point to. This lack of tangible gain is the legacy of the lethal blend of hubristic groupthink, ignorance, lack of preparation and mismanagement that will stand as a testament to the Bush administration's inability to rise to the challenges presented by this most ambitious effort. As we head for the lifeboats on the decks of the USS OIF, I can't help feeling that the Iraqi people deserve better than what we are leaving behind.

Monday, January 30, 2006

We're Not Scaremongering, This Is Really Happening


I'm tempted to write in my introduction to this piece some glib little remark about how this particular January in New York has been disconcertingly warm. How there have been twice as many days (12) that have seen temperatures 50 degrees and above as there have been nights that have seen lows below 30 degrees (6). Further, there have been as many days over 60 degrees (1) than nights below 20 degrees (1).

Think of how different history would have turned out had either Napoleon or Hitler been so fortunate as to encounter similarly out of season balminess in Russia during their respective ill-fated winter campaigns. If Stalingrad's temperatures were anything like New York's in 2006, it would have been Springtime For Hitler in January. But that would be falling into a couple common pitfalls that laymen trip over when discussing global warming.

It is not unusual to hear people hold out global warming as the nefarious cause on an unseasonably warm day, and with similar frequency one can hear the shivering recitation of the claim that the then-current cold spell was proof positive that global warming is a myth. How, after all, could it be this cold in May if there was such a thing as global warming.

But the truth of the matter is, most science points to the likelihood that man-made climate change will have different impacts on different regions at different times. In general, weather patterns will be disrupted leading to out of season effects, more extreme weather (landslides, hurricanes, droughts, flooding), and the melting of the polar ice caps could interact with weather-affecting ocean currents that could result in paradoxical cooling in certain regions.

So it is possible for global warming to make some places warmer, and others colder, or even both occurring out of pattern. In either instance, limited, anecdotal and isolated data is largely irrelevant. Thus, January 2006 in New York City is too small a sample to be used as a predictive model, or even as dispositive evidence (on its own) of a larger trend.

But we don't have to rely on stories about "the coldest winter I ever spent" and the like. Since circa the Enlightenment, the world has been blessed with enough scientific thinkers who know about the value of empirical evidence and the scientific method that we as a people have evolved beyond the realm of limited anecdotal evidence and/or superstition as the basis for scientific prediction/description. Speaking of which, scientists say the darndest things:

Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.

This "tipping point" scenario has begun to consume many prominent researchers in the United States and abroad, because the answer could determine how drastically countries need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years. While scientists remain uncertain when such a point might occur, many say it is urgent that policymakers cut global carbon dioxide emissions in half over the next 50 years or risk the triggering of changes that would be irreversible.

There are three specific events that these scientists describe as especially worrisome and potentially imminent, although the time frames are a matter of dispute: widespread coral bleaching that could damage the world's fisheries within three decades; dramatic sea level rise by the end of the century that would take tens of thousands of years to reverse; and, within 200 years, a shutdown of the ocean current that moderates temperatures in northern Europe.

The debate has been intensifying because the Earth is warming much faster than some researchers had predicted. [emphasis added]
As that article noted, and Kevin Drum added, the particularly frightening tone of these findings stems largely from the concept of a point of no return, a fast approaching boundary that, if crossed, will lead to near-irreversible changes that will take decades if not centuries to rectify:

And keep in mind that the issue is not that the things she writes about are going to happen in 50 or 100 or 200 years. The issue is that within 20-30 years it will become impossible to stop them from happening no matter what we do. And since it will take a minimum of 20-30 years to make any serious progress on greenhouse gas emissions, we need to get our asses in gear now.
Some of the scientific findings from the article:

James E. Hansen, who directs NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, last week confirmed that 2005 was the warmest year on record, surpassing 1998. Earth's average temperature has risen nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 30 years, he noted, and another increase of about 4 degrees over the next century would "imply changes that constitute practically a different planet."

"It's not something you can adapt to," Hansen said in an interview. "We can't let it go on another 10 years like this. We've got to do something." [...]

Greenland's current net ice loss is equivalent to an annual 0.008 inch sea level rise.

The effects of the collapse of either ice sheet would be "huge," [Princeton University geosciences and international affairs professor Michael] Oppenheimer said. "Once you lost one of these ice sheets, there's really no putting it back for thousands of years, if ever."
How To Disappear Completely

The Bush administration's response has been all too predictable, and fitting well within patterns of past behavior. As far back as 2003, well into the self-termed "Environmental President's" first term, Republican strategist Frank Luntz was cautioning Republicans about the collision course with science on the horizon.

Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused largely by manmade pollutants that require strict regulation. Mr. Luntz seems to acknowledge as much when he says that "the scientific debate is closing against us." His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete.

"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled," he writes, "their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."
Wary of the impact all this inconvenient science could have on policy vis a vis important constituencies and environmental regulations seeking to contain emissions, the Bush administration and its Republican allies have decided to try to gag the scientists and muddy the waters:

Hansen said that nothing in 30 years equaled the push made since early December to keep him from publicly discussing what he says are clear-cut dangers from further delay in curbing carbon dioxide.
From the Washington Post article cited earlier:

"They're trying to control what's getting out to the public," Hansen said, adding that many of his colleagues are afraid to talk about the issue. "They're not willing to say much, because they've been pressured and they're afraid they'll get into trouble."
Biggest problem with this approach: Mother Nature is not susceptible to spin. Last time I checked, she doesn't watch Fox News. Controlling the flow of information and consensus on this topic might be good for book sales and certain industry sectors in the short term, but it's not going to mean much in the face of real world manifestations that will not suffer fools.

I know there were problems with Kyoto as written, but that doesn't mean we can simply ignore the underlying exigencies. The Bush administration didn't reject Kyoto because they had an alternative better-suited to the problem, they rejected Kyoto because they are intent on sticking, more or less, to the Party-line that global warming is a "hoax" perpetrated by malevolent environmentalists who tend to pick on the poor and defenseless fossil fuel industry. And in the meantime, the clock is ticking.

I generally have been focusing on foreign policy issues over the past several months of this blog's existence. I consider the stakes to be very high in this arena, and it is my natural area of interest. But without waxing overly melodramatic here, this one environmental sequence of events could have a much more drastic impact on our lives than terrorists ever could. In that sense, environmental calamaties can render so many other discussions moot. Maybe we should think about it that way - as a national security issue. Let's call it the "War on Global Warming" if that polls better. But we have to start acting in decisive ways, very soon.

Believe me when I say this, that the last thing I want is the ability to say in forty or fifty years time (God, and the ever-increasing life expectancy, willing): "I told you so." Here's a preview of the excuses/denials we'll undoubtedly encounter (some may sound familiar to our present circumstances):

1. This isn't happening.
2. Whoa! Nobody saw this one coming.
3. There was nothing that could have been done anyway.
4. Regulations would have crimped our automotive industry (which was already losing ground to competitors who were, ironically, forging ahead with more environmentally friendly and popular models).
5. Regulations would have been expensive, and there was no way to afford them and pass trillions of dollars worth of tax cuts primarily benefitting the wealthiest Americans.
6. This is a good thing because it will hasten the coming of the Rapture.*

Priorities people. Priorities. As Iraq war supporters are increasingly resigned to saying, history will be the judge. Unfortunately, we'll all be doing the time.

(* Please note that I did not mean this as a form of religious intolerance, it's just that James Watt - US Secretary of the Interior under Reagan [no irony intended] - once told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was not as crucial as some claim becuase of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back." Secretary of the Interior.)

[UPDATE: Doh! I don't think James Watt ever actually said the above cited quote. Apparently, this was a fabricated line that meandered its way from a book, to an article appearing in Grist magazine to a speech by Bill Moyers (which is where I read it) and on to a Washington Post story. Either way, in all likelihood James Watt never uttered these words. My apologies to him and the reader.

And hat tip to Patrick for the fact check. I always appreciate corrections. An important part of improving the dialogue. If possible, I'd rather only make mistakes once. Dare to dream I guess.]

Turn Out The Lights, The Party's Over? - Part I

A Billion Little Fleeces

What an intriguing couple of weeks its been for Iraq watchers, huh? A virtual cascade of news items all pointing, generally, in one direction: toward the exits and out of Iraq. Where to begin?

First, there was the mini-bombshell announcement that the Bush administration would not be asking Congress for any more funds for Iraqi reconstruction - this despite the multitude of vital social services still in desperate need of repair, refurbishment and funding. Some have speculated that these budgetary announcements might be veiled threats used to gain leverage over recalcitrant factions of the ruling Shiite bloc in order to get political concessions, but there is evidence that American contractors are taking steps indicative of an end to the gravy train (more below).

In a different sense, I guess there was some fortunate timing to this announcement considering that days later multiple scathing reports were released by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and other governmental oversight agencies citing widespread graft, incompetence, corruption and outright theft within the Coalition Provisional Authority and other US-run Iraqi reconstruction efforts. So maybe this move to turn off the spigot mid-flow looks like good governance. Or to put it differently: They were for good governance, after they were against it.

In fact, the reconstruction project has been so poorly managed that the Bush administration is actually turning to the Army Corps of Engineers for help. As praktike noted:

You know you're in trouble when you turn to the Army Corps of Engineers to clean up your projects...Because you know, the Corps certainly isn't known for its focus on huge public works projects that take forever and run way over budget...
Yeah, I guess the Corps doesn't exactly have a great track record in this regard, especially lately (levees anyone?). Punctuating this story was an article appearing in the The Hindu that took a ground-level view of the winding down of US funded reconstruction efforts:

American private contractors are preparing to leave Iraq as US money runs out and [Iraqi] government ministries take charge of the reconstruction effort, according to The Washington Times.[...]

The Times said most US-funded projects are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, and it is unlikely that any significant new US funds will be forthcoming.
Another microcosmic indication of the gathering momentum of American disengagement came from this part of an intriguing series-in-progress by the CJR's Paul McLeary who recently traveled to Baghdad to research a story:

In fact, I didn't see any Westerners at all until my second day, when I contacted the acting bureau chief for an American paper who was staying in my hotel. As we were discussing the state of reporting in Baghdad and Iraq in general, he told me that I was a little late to the game. These days, more American reporters are leaving Iraq than arriving. In large part, for the U.S. press, "The party's pretty much over." [emphasis added]
Then there was the recent release of the "thin green line" report by the Pentagon which came to some pretty stark conclusions regarding the sustainability of efforts in Iraq going forward (via everyone, but Swopa first):

Stretched by frequent troop rotations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has become a "thin green line" that could snap unless relief comes soon, according to a study for the Pentagon.

Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who wrote the report under a Pentagon contract, concluded that the Army cannot sustain the pace of troop deployments to Iraq long enough to break the back of the insurgency. He also suggested that the Pentagon's decision, announced in December, to begin reducing the force in Iraq this year was driven in part by a realization that the Army was overextended.
Maybe a healthy dose of serendipitously-timed Iraqis "standing up" in the near future huh? Allow me to remind you, as Justin Logan does, that this is the same Andrew Krepinevich whose famous "oil spot" strategy put forth in an article in Foreign Affairs set off quite a stir in foreign policy circles when it came out. This was due, largely, to the article's 'can-do' message for counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq (although in all fairness, the author did add a layer of fairly significant caveats to his optimism). Says Logan, Krepenivich is having some second thoughts:

The snarkier among you may remember that Krepinevich's widely heralded "oil spot strategy" for Iraq was contingent on "a protracted commitment of U.S. resources, a willingness to risk more casualties in the short term, and an enduring U.S. presence in Iraq." Further, "Even if successful, this strategy will require at least a decade of commitment and hundreds of billions of dollars and will result in longer U.S. casualty rolls."

So I guess he'll be recanting on that one, now that he's had a look at the books?
Add to this ever-expanding tableau of handwriting on the wall, the MTV generation-like short attention span that has gripped many former Iraq-war boosters who now focus, almost exclusively, on the desired change of channels to Operation Iran. Perhaps the need to piece together a viable military threat with which to confront Iran, and the knowledge that our current commitments in Iraq are hindering this effort, is increasing the speed of the cutting and running peace [with honor] train.

Speaking of Iran, there is even speculation that some of the recent moves to court Sunni politicians and local leaders might be motivated by more than just a desire to forge a political solution to the insurgencies. Perhaps there is some bet-hedging going on in case a confrontation with Iran re-casts the Iraqi Shiites - heretofore our putative allies - as our future adversaries.

"The increased tension between Iran and the U.S. on the nuclear issue is affecting relations between Washington and the Shi'ites here," one European diplomat in Baghdad said.

"They are trying to find someone else, some other allies who will not turn against them (in Iraq) if things heat up with Iran."

...Analysts say Iran appears confident it can deter the United States from action against it over the nuclear issue out of fear about what it may do in Iraq.
Intrigue abounds.

There is, on the horizon, a glimmer of hope with numerous reports of a schism in the Sunni-based insurgencies - with al-Qaedists/Zarqawi-ists clashing with Sunni nationalist/Baathist types. I consider this to be a promising development, but ultimately the linchpin of the "wedge and conquer" strategy requires the inclusion of the Sunnis in a significant way in the political process. Despite the Qaeda/nationalist split, both strains will continue to target the new Iraqi state unless some of those groups that are separated can also be coopted. If there are sufficient political enticements, this could be a meaningful change in direction.

Without cooptation, however, these groups will continue to snipe at each other, while reserving the brunt of their firepower for the Iraqi governing apparatus. Even if the nationalist/Baathists manage to vanquish Zarqawi's gangs completely (a positive outcome no doubt), nothing at this time suggests that this would translate into peace in Iraq. Absent the political solution, there will just be one less strain to the insurgencies (and that assumes that the warring insurgent factions don't come to some type of mutual accommodation at some point). The grim fact remains, as reported in the LA Times (as excerpted by Swopa):

...U.S. military officials concede that the guerrillas' ability to strike anywhere at any time is largely undiminished....Their attacks across Iraq averaged 75 per day in December, up from 52 a year earlier, driving the country's sectarian violence and contributing to a decline in its oil production. U.S. troops died at the same rate last year as in 2004, and most estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties rose.
I would also add that a delicate effort such as peeling layers of insurgents away and winning over warring groups could be negatively impacted by recent shifts in strategy to execute more aerial bombing campaigns in Iraq. The problem with aerial bombardment is that it can be imprecise, indiscriminate (although often informed by on the ground intelligence), and prone to cause collateral damage. These problems are exemplified in this bit from the Washington Post, as discussed by Mark Leon Goldberg:

A U.S. military statement said that an unmanned U.S. drone detected three men digging a hole in a road in the area. Insurgents regularly bury bombs along roads in the area to target U.S. or Iraqi convoys. The three men were tracked to a building, which U.S. forces then hit with precision-guided munitions, the statement said.
Problem is, living in that building was a family of 12 who were killed in their sleep in the dead of night by the US air strike.
Remember, the main reason there is even a conflict between the various groups of Sunni insurgents in the first place is because of the tendency of Zarqawi's group to disregard Sunni casualties as necessary collateral damage. If we show elements (albeit lesser) of the same callous disregard, we're not going to be making many friends. We might even rekindle some old relationships that we would rather remain in splitsville.

But have I told you about the weather in Tehran these days, you're gonna love it....

Friday, January 27, 2006

File Under: Hearts and Minds

Something tells me that tactics such as these could, perhaps, backfire, no?

The U.S. Army in Iraq has at least twice seized and jailed the wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of "leveraging" their husbands into surrender, U.S. military documents show.

In one case, a secretive task force locked up the young mother of a nursing baby, a U.S. intelligence officer reported. In the case of a second detainee, one American colonel suggested to another that they catch her husband by tacking a note to the family’s door telling him "to come get his wife."
Aside from the obvious, these decisions betray a supreme ignorance of Iraqi culture and societal relationships. Because tribal bonds are deemed extremely important in Iraqi society - and beyond that familial ties are even stronger - actions such as these will likely have significant negative repercussions in a much broader population pool.

I mean, a nursing mother? That detail in particular likely caused a visceral reaction in the exact population we are trying to win over. Obviously, no culture would take kindly to such aggression, but in Iraqi culture in particular, targeting women in such a way is beyond provocative.

In one memo, a civilian Pentagon intelligence officer described what happened when he took part in a raid on an Iraqi suspect’s house in Tarmiya, northwest of Baghdad, on May 9, 2004. The raid involved Task Force (TF) 6-26, a secretive military unit formed to handle high-profile targets.

“During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF personnel that if the wife were present, she be detained and held in order to leverage the primary target’s surrender,” wrote the 14-year veteran officer.

He said he objected, but when they raided the house the team leader, a senior sergeant, seized her anyway.

“The 28-year-old woman had three young children at the house, one being as young as six months and still nursing,” the intelligence officer wrote. She was held for two days and was released after he complained, he said. [...]

Of this case, command spokesman Johnson said he could not judge, months later, the factors that led to the woman’s detention.
The second incident described in the article:

The second episode, in June 2004, is found in sketchy detail in e-mail exchanges among six U.S. Army colonels, discussing an undisclosed number of female detainees held in northern Iraq by the Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division.

The first message, from a military police colonel, advised staff officers of the U.S. northern command that the Iraqi police would not take control of the jailed women without charges being brought against them.

In a second e-mail, a command staff officer asked an officer of the unit holding the women, “What are you guys doing to try to get the husband — have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?”

Two days later, the brigade’s deputy commander advised the higher command, “As each day goes by, I get more input that these gals have some info and/or will result in getting the husband.”

He went on, “These ladies fought back extremely hard during the original detention. They have shown indications of deceit and misinformation.”

The command staff colonel wrote in reply, referring to a commanding general, “CG wants the husband.”

The released e-mails stop there, and the women’s eventual status could not be immediately determined.

Of this episode, Johnson said, "It is clear the unit believed the females detained had substantial knowledge of insurgent activity and warranted being held."
If this woman was really detained because of her "substantial knowledge," then why the discussion about using her as bait/leverage to get at the husband? And even if this is true, it might be worth considering whether or not the intelligence value derived from a female detainee such as this would be worth the cost in terms of hearts and minds calculations.

Especially because of the image most Iraqis have of what American-run detention centers look like. As they are no doubt teaching in all those new counterinsurgency classrooms, Abu Ghraibs have their costs. Detaining women and using them to put pressure on their husbands too.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

US Army: Terrorists' Rights More Important Than US Soldiers

My American Footprints blog-mate, MC MasterChef, flagged an article in the Washington Post which addressed some of the concerns I laid out in a prior post on the institutional reluctance of the armed forces to engage the panoply of threats facing them. Instead, I argued, the military has a tendency to prepare for the conflicts it would prefer to engage in, at the expense of the inconvenient and problematic smaller wars that it will inevitably face. A positive trend is emerging, however, as the US Army has begun to take certain steps to reinvigorate its counterinsurgency training and strategizing.

After decades of being told that their job was to close in on and destroy the enemy, officers are being taught that sometimes the best thing might be not to attack but to co-opt the enemy, perhaps by employing him, or encouraging him to desert, or by drawing him into local or national politics.

It is a new focus devoted to one overarching topic: counterinsurgency, putting down an armed and political campaign against a government, the U.S. military's imperative in Iraq.

Officers studying at the Army's Command and General Staff College here are flocking to elective courses on the subject, with three times as many enrolled this year as last. Soon the Army will require a block of instruction in counterinsurgency for all of the 1,000 or so majors who attend the college each year. [...]

Conscious that it largely walked away from counterinsurgency after the Vietnam War -- the subject was not mentioned in the mid-1970s version of the Army's key fighting manual -- the service now is trying to ensure that the mistake is not repeated. Spearheading that effort is Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose doctoral dissertation at Princeton was on the Vietnam War and who later commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq. "I think the changes are very broad," Petraeus said. He oversees several of the Army's training bases and schools" with his new job here.[...]

Most of all, they said, the key to victory is not defeating the enemy but winning the support of Iraqis and making the insurgents irrelevant. [emphasis added]
This is good news, yet the ultimate significance of this sea-change will be borne out by the follow through. Around the time of the Vietnam war there was also a surge in such counterinsurgency scholarship, but the momentum petered out and the leadership began to turn its attention elsewhere as memories of Vietnam began to fade - or were consciously repressed. As the article points out, by the mid-1970s, counterinsurgency was already curricula non grata.

The hope is that this time, this invaluable field of study will have some staying power, and the Pentagon will take measures to harmonize its spending priorities with the lessons being learned in the classroom and in the field. I know it was only a QDR, and that QDR's are often behind the curve and rendered moot by the spending that Congress authorizes, but it still struck me as wrongheaded and disturbing to see such a lack of balance in that document.

Some Bush administration officials and conservative pundits were alarmed at some of the thought emerging from these courses, however. Most cited sentiments such as these as an indication that this training might be going too far:

Earlier this month, 19 officers pondered such questions in [a counterinsurgency] seminar. Most were Iraq veterans.

When the military detains civilians, they agreed, it is important to treat them well.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld immediately dispatched Major General Geoffrey Miller to "Gitmo-ize" the classroom, insisting that these Iraq war veterans were unduly influenced by the ACLU, Amnesty International and other quixotic human rights organizations. According to an anonymous DOD official, "The gloves were coming off" with respect to the syllabus on detainee treatment.

Unnamed administration officials were quoted as saying, "It seems like the Army cares more about the rights of terrorists than they do about protecting the American people. I mean, don't these so-called counterinsurgency experts know how they treat Americans when we're the captives? This is becoming the US Army of Dick Durbins or something."

Norman Podhoretz and James Taranto insisted that the Army's new approach to detainee treatment amounted to a "unilateral disarmament...in the face of a still intransigent enemy" and then proceeded to claim that the Army wasn't supporting the troops by employing these "allegedly" effective counterinsurgency tactics.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' office suggested that some of these soldiers and instructors might be al-Qaeda sympathizers and that the DOJ would consider searching their computers for evidence of such treasonous behavior - or unauthorized pornographic material. According to legal memos produced by Gonzales on the new standards being taught, "The treatment of detainees will not alienate local populations unless such treatment causes pain that rises to the level of organ failure or death."

The Vice President's office immediately issued a statement trying to correct what was termed a "fundamental misunderstanding on detainee treatment" in Iraq and beyond. "Detainees are treated well," the prepared statement insisted. "We like to think of each of these prisons as a type of battlefront 'bed and breakfast'." While the statement acknowledged that some abuse and torture might be occurring, "Ultimately, these are like vacation getaways for civilian detainees - they get three square meals prepared to their liking, a bed to sleep in (when permitted), exercise (although some may be "stressful") and time off from their jobs." One official went on, "Most detention-resorts can't compare to the luxurious accommodations at the beach front Hotel of Indefinite Dalliance at Guantanamo, but the thought that they aren't treated well is absurd."

There was also a chorus of condemnations from the conservative commentariat. Michelle Malkin suggested that the US Army, instead, should consider creating a network of domestic internment resorts for American Muslim men so that they could "vacation" for the foreseeable future.

Rush Limbaugh insisted that everyone loves good natured "frat pranks" like those on display at Abu Ghraib and most would consider the sexually humiliating tactics employed by female interrogators an added bonus. "We are already treating them well, like they're our little brown pledge brothers, but somehow these terror coddling Army instructors are indoctrinating our soldiers with ACLU-propaganda." "Femi-nazis," he added somewhat non-sequitur.

David Horowitz announced that he would be investigating the instructors for liberal bias, and offered a $100 cash reward to any students who could document liberal bias in the counterinsurgency classroom.

Max Boot argued that perhaps these soldiers should go through basic training again. "Why should civilian detainees be spared the hardships that our volunteer military enlistees face by their own volition," Boot quipped. "Last time I checked, we weren't losing the hearts and minds of our soldiers after they emerge from boot camp, so how could we possibly lose the hearts and minds of civilian detainees when they are forced to undergo the same treatment against their will? Furthermore, Saddam was worse." Boot went on:

This could lead to an anomalous result: a system that treats captured terrorists better than we treat our own soldiers.
Republican Senator James Inhofe said he was "Outraged at the Army's new approach to detainee treatment." And then that he was "Outraged that someone was outraged at his outrage," and that in general, "this is outrageous."

The Army officials involved in the teaching of these controversial new approaches could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

You Think Other People Might Like Me, You Really Think Other People Might Like Me!

Before any of you trigger happy TIA supporters go clicking on any links just hear me out first. Once again, through the good graces of you, the reader, TIA has made the exclusive list of nominees for the "Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition" category for the Koufax Awards. And by "exclusive" I mean TIA and roughly 300 other blogs.

But so you don't get frustrated in your search on the Wampum site to find where to dunk your mouse in the jar of purple ink, please be advised that Wampum won't be accepting votes in the comments section or by e-mail...yet. There is apparently a cooling off period in between nominations and the next round of voting. When they do open the floor to voting, be sure that I will once again strut across this screen like the shameless hussy that I am begging for your votes. Not that I care or anything. Calmer than you are. Whatever.

In the meantime, and since I am a shoe-in to be a perennial favorite in the "Most Deserving Of Wider Recognition" award due to my highly, er, "refined" clientele, I am proposing renaming the award to the more appropriate:

Grilled radicchio enjoyed while sipping glenlivet in your Bergdorff Goodman casual dress, Eric Dolphy playing in the background, Catherine Zeta Jones by your side, bare feet in the warm sand as you watch the sun set over the Riviera.....versus..... you and someone you picked up while shopping at walmart, scarfing 'slaw and chugging MadDog 20/20 while listening to Kenny G. in a Motel 6 somewhere off I-75 Award.*
I have not heard back from the folks at Wampum yet regarding my proposed upgrade.

(* all rights reserved by Mr. A)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Aunt and The Nephew

Don't Forget To RSVP

Scott McClellan had his "bring 'em on" moment at a recent press conference discussing Bin Laden's dubious offer of a truce:

The terrorists started this war and the president made it clear that we will end it at a time and place of our choosing.
Actually Scott, those terrorists kind of have some say in the matter as well don't they? I mean, can anyone envision a scenario in which the terrorists continue to attack but we declare game over? So at the very least, our choices vis a vis the war on terror are qualified and contingent. Not to make too fine a point about a little press-conference bluster, but I detected the same type of solipsistic tendencies in certain leaked portions of the Pentagon's much anticipated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). Embedded in this document is the thought that we alone can dictate the terms of future armed conflict and other forms of military confrontation. Via Kevin Drum the LA Times reported:

While some new lessons will be incorporated into the Pentagon review, the spending blueprint for the next four years will largely stick to the script Pentagon officials wrote before the Iraq war, according to those familiar with the nearly final document that will be presented to Congress in early February.

Iraq "is clearly a one-off," said a Pentagon official who is working on the top-to-bottom study, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. "There is certainly no intention to do it again." [emphasis added]
What kind of strategic planning is this? The thought that you prepare for the armed conflicts you would prefer to fight, regardless of the types of conflicts you will more likely have to fight. Like McClellan, it is as if the Pentagon is saying that we will choose the time and place of our wars - unilaterally declaring that no threats akin to Iraq or Afghanistan will challenge us in the future. Got that world?

Generally speaking, however, the real world has a nasty habit of disappointing such "best-case scenario" planning. Other states and non-state actors may not be as cooperative as we would like and some uppity types may even end up emerging as threats against our wishes - however inconvenient that may be to military planners. Considering the recent flourish of saber rattling with respect to Iran, it's as if the QDR is instituting a pre-emptive, self-imposed limitation on the means available to deal with that country. Regime change and prolonged occupation will either be off the table, or instead subject to the same mistakes, structural weaknesses and logistical shortcomings that we are encountering in Iraq.

Regarding the Iraq war as an anomaly is in some ways convenient for Pentagon civilians and uniformed officers. An armored assault across miles of desert is hardly the vision that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's civilian team laid out when it took over the Pentagon five years ago. At the same time, the human and financial costs of the war have made many senior generals eager to turn the page on Iraq.
Noah Schactman of DefenseTech has some additional insight on leaked portions of the QDR and how they relate to the general tenor of the strategic outlook:

But [asymmetrical threats do] not require, apparently, a wholesale change of direction. Terrorist-type threats will get some new attention. But the Defense Department isn't about to optimize for that threat, the way it did for the Soviet Union. Big money will continue to be spent on fighter jets designed to duel with the Soviets and destroyers designed for large-scale ground assaults. Grunts on the ground won't get much more than they do now. The war on terror may be "long." But, apparently, it's not important enough to make really big shifts.
[See, also, the always informative Armchair Generalist here and here for more QDR related information].

The Crazy Aunt In The Attic

There is an old truism that the US military establishment is always planning to fight its last war. There is one huge exception to this axiom, however. One war has been treated like the crazy aunt in the attic that everyone would rather ignore: Vietnam. After Vietnam, the Pentagon by and large decided that it didn't "want" to do large scale counterinsurgency again. So instead of dedicating its intellectual assets and monetary resources to studying those types of conflicts and developing comprehensive strategies to handle them, leadership instead opted to shift focus to big conventional war topics. Why bother with counterinsurgency when the leaders in the Pentagon would rather fight other types of wars? Sound familiar? Well, the crazy aunt's nephew might be taking a room next to her's in the near future.

Thomas X. Hammes, the author of The Sling and the Stone, saw this institutional neglect up close and personal. Hammes joined the Marines after the fall of Saigon and, by his own admission, became fascinated with the Vietnam war and the larger strategic arena of counterinsurgency/guerilla war that persisted (albeit in much smaller form) through much of the 1970s and 1980s. But he faced institutional resistance every step of the way, as his superiors and advisors constantly tried to steer his course of studies away from such out of fashion areas to more traditional and well received topics such as land war in Europe. Hammes eventually prevailed, sort of, but his work languished in relative obscurity for decades - even his seminal work on the subject couldn't find a publisher until after the Iraq war began and people recognized the demand for such thinking.

Kingdaddy, who has recently penned two series on counterinsurgency that are amongst the best scholarship in the blogosphere, had a similar experience. From his bio:

For all the attention paid to past conflicts (the American Civil War, World War II, the Napoleonic Wars, etc. etc.), for all the time spent on planning for the next war (a nuclear conflict with the USSR, another conventional war in Korea, etc.), very few people took seriously the wars we were already fighting. These were the "little wars," in which US interests weren't threatened by Soviet missiles or Korean armored divisions, but by as few as a dozen or as many as thousands of dedicated revolutionaries and their supporters. These were people equipped with small arms, organizational and tactical smarts, and a great deal of patience and cleverness. And they were causing us grief in practically every part of the world, from Vietnam to El Salvador, from Lebanon to Angola.

So, I focused my research in grad school on these little wars, and one major factor why we did so poorly in them: we were not trained, organized, or equipped for these conflicts. If the wars we were really fighting, against terrorists and guerrillas, really involved serious national security concerns, then we needed to do something more serious than we were at the time.

Unfortunately, when I finished grad school, my ambitions to be an academic, think tank researcher, or government worker of some stripe ran aground on two hard realities: (1) the recession around 1990 and 1991, and (2) the complete disinterest in this issue, from the university classroom to the Pentagon briefing rooms. [emphasis added]
But such ignorance came at a cost. Despite the bitter aftertaste of Vietnam, and the reluctance on the part of many to want to examine that painful chapter in greater detail, America's overwhelming military might made such conflicts almost inevitable. Hammes wrote this in his book:

4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare) is the only kind of war America has ever lost. And we have done so three times - in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia. This form of warfare has also defeated the French in Vietnam and Algeria, and the USSR in Afghanistan...As the only Goliath left in the world, we should be worried that the world's Davids have found a sling and stone that work.
Yet surprisingly, American forces were caught off guard by their awkwardly termed "catastrophic success" in Iraq. Unaware of the likelihood that Saddam's forces wouldn't cooperate by lining up like good little soldiers in a conventional slugfest with the most dominant conventional military force the world has ever seen, the US military missed early opportunities to combat the insurgencies. Rather than WMDs, American military personnel found Saddam's Iraq littered with books penned by Vietnamese counterinsurgency experts. They were preparing to take on Goliath the only way they could.

But think about that for a moment. If you were an Iraqi military planner, what would you do? Seems blatantly obvious doesn't it? But somehow the war's planners never put themselves in Iraqi shoes - or boots so to speak. Not only was America's military brass initially caught flat-footed by what should have been the most predictable response from Iraq's military, it took many months for senior leadership to realize and acknowledge this reality. James Fallows wrote this in a recent article for The Atlantic Monthly:

By late 2003 the United States had lost time and had changed identity, from liberator to occupier. But in its public pronouncements and its internal guidance the administration resisted admitting, even to itself, that it now faced a genuine insurgency - one that might grow in strength - rather than merely facing the dregs of the old regime, whose power would naturally wane as its leaders were caught and killed. On June 16 Army General John Abizaid, newly installed as centcom commander, was the first senior American official to say that in fact the United States now faced a "classical guerrilla-type campaign." Two days later, in congressional testimony, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, seemed to accept the definition, saying, "There is a guerrilla war there, but ... we can win it." On June 30 Rumsfeld corrected both of them, saying that the evidence from Iraq "doesn't make it anything like a guerrilla war or an organized resistance." Two days after that President Bush said at a White House ceremony that some people felt that circumstances in Iraq were "such that they can attack us there. My answer is, Bring them on." Meanwhile, the insurgency in Iraq grew worse and worse.
Many went scrambling for counterinsurgency texts collecting dust on bookshelves when such reading should have been required many months prior to the invasion - or over the course of the prior four decades. Packer wrote in The Assassin's Gate that when General George Casey took the reins from General Sanchez in Iraq he immediately asked who his top counterinsurgency expert was. He was told that there wasn't one.

Fallows' article details some of the shortcomings that stemmed from the "behind the curve" rush to get up to speed on Counterinsurgency Warfare 101. Some of his observations seem to presage the ultimate tone of the QDR:
In many other ways the flow of dollars and effort shows that the military does not yet take Iraq - let alone the training effort there - seriously. The Pentagon's main weapons-building programs are the same now that they were five years ago, before the United States had suffered one attack and begun two wars. From the Pentagon's policy statements, and even more from its budgetary choices, one would never guess that insurgency was our military's main challenge, and that its main strategic hope lay in the inglorious work of training foreign troops. Planners at the White House and the Pentagon barely imagined before the war that large numbers of U.S. troops would be in Iraq three years later. So most initiatives for Iraq have been stopgap - not part of a systematic effort to build the right equipment, the right skills, the right strategies, for a long-term campaign. [...]

In sum, if the United States is serious about getting out of Iraq, it will need to re-consider its defense spending and operations rather than leaving them to a combination of inertia, Rumsfeld-led plans for "transformation," and emergency stopgaps. It will need to spend money for interpreters. It will need to create large new training facilities for American troops, as happened within a few months of Pearl Harbor, and enroll talented people as trainees. It will need to make majors and colonels sit through language classes. It will need to broaden the Special Forces ethic to much more of the military, and make clear that longer tours will be the norm in Iraq. It will need to commit air, logistics, medical, and intelligence services to Iraq - and understand that this is a commitment for years, not a temporary measure. It will need to decide that there are weapons systems it does not require and commitments it cannot afford if it is to support the ones that are crucial. And it will need to make these decisions in a matter of months, not years - before it is too late.

America's hopes today for an orderly exit from Iraq depend completely on the emergence of a viable Iraqi security force. There is no indication that such a force is about to emerge. As a matter of unavoidable logic, the United States must therefore choose one of two difficult alternatives: It can make the serious changes - including certain commitments to remain in Iraq for many years - that would be necessary to bring an Iraqi army to maturity. Or it can face the stark fact that it has no orderly way out of Iraq, and prepare accordingly.
While the QDR does contain certain elements of these recommendations (a nod to language training, special forces build-up, etc.), by and large the portions of the document made available thus far show the same symptoms as the Vietnam hangover. Rather than shift the thinking and allocation of resources to the more complex, less decisive arena of fourth-generation warfare (where the outcomes are less certain as is our advantage), the Pentagon would rather pretend as if Iraq didn't happen, isn't happening and won't happen again in the future. To a certain extent, this is understandable from a human nature point of view: Why voluntarily plan for a type of conflict that reduces our advantage?

That is not a viable strategy, however. While we might prefer it, future conflicts will not always begin or end at the time and place of our choosing. The failure to plan and expend resources accordingly is myopic folly on a grand scale.

[ed note: I fixed an innaccuracy that appeared in the first draft which read "when Abizaid took the reins" when it should have read "when General George Casey took the reins"]

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Public Service Announcement

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Just thought, you know, some people might have forgotten what this one actually says in that quaint and old-fashioned sense of the word. And by "some people" I'm speaking about those who specifically took an oath to uphold the Fourth Amendment and the surrounding text that comprises the Constitution. For instance, "probable cause" and all that. Surprisingly, no mention of "reasonable basis to believe." My guess as to what this anachronistic Constitutional mumbo-jumbo means, as inspired by Karl Rove:

Let me be as clear as I can be. President Bush orders that if there is a reasonable basis to believe that al-Qaeda or someone associated with al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why - without the President providing any judicial oversight over such matters either before or after conducting surveillance on them. Some Democrats, federal statutes, Founding Fathers and actual authors of the dusty old Constitution clearly disagree.
[UPDATE: Matt Yglesias makes a good point - that we shouldn't lose the forest for my snarky little trees:

Meanwhile, I would add that talk of changing the burden of proof from "probable cause" to "reasonable basis" is largely a red herring. The important thing that changed was that the NSA shifted from a position where they needed to convince a judge that they had probable cause to one where they had to decide for themselves that they had a reasonable basis for initiating some wiretapping. There's a world of difference between a self-enforced standard and an externally-enforced one.
He's right. While the thought that the Executive Branch could unilaterally re-write the text of the Constitution is troubling no doubt, the more alarming aspect is the extra-Constitutional and extra-statutory push to make the Executive itself the arbiter of that standard. Whatever standard applies (it's conceivable that the Judiciary may be willing to bend to the "reasonable basis" standard) judicial oversight that such standard has been met is the key. Ultimately, standards of proof are meaningless unless there is some mechanism to enforce them. The Bush administration is taking the position that they will decide when they are playing by the rules. The Rule of Law that is. Frightening.]

The Echo of Sabers

I've had so many thoughts swirling in my head lately about Iran that it's been a source of stress that I can't compose something of substance on the matter at this point. But I do have a couple of thoughts that I will have to let out in brief, cursory and link-rich form (and, naturally, I reserve the right to return to these themes to apply flesh to bone at a later date).

At the risk of sounding like the naive babe in the woods, I want to reiterate my belief that there will be no invasion of Iran or military strike against that country in the immediate future (barring some overtly provocative act on Iran's part). For one, I don't think Iran is as close to obtaining a nuclear weapon as some of the recent "months away" chatter would have it (more like several years away as the reality-based folks are saying). In addition, as I wrote in my prior post on the subject, I think our options are limited severely by current logistical and strategic concerns. Whatever our viable strategies were when I wrote that post last year, they have not gotten any better through the passage of time and additional strain on our military capacity. Nor has our predicament in Iraq created any more latitude for action. Last January, I wrote this:

...can it really be expected that the Iraqi Shiite population, especially that portion of it under the influence of firebrands like Moqtada al-Sadr, would react apathetically to a US strike on Shiite Iran? That is dangerous thinking.
Since then, speculation has been supported by empirical evidence (via prak):

Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr said on a visit to Iran Sunday that his Mehdi Army militia would "support" any neighbouring country if they were attacked, the ISNA news agency reported.

"If neighbouring Muslim countries are attacked, the Mehdi Army will support them," he was quoted as saying after meeting with Iran's top national security official Ali Larijani.

"The Mehdi Army was created to defend Islam and will support the interests of the Iraqi people and the Islamic countries," said the firebrand cleric, a key opponent of the presence of US troops in Iraq.
Pardon the unoriginal use of the adjective "firebrand" but if the moniker fits. I also don't see armed confrontation as strategically inevitable, necessarily, as was described quite articulately by Brad Plumer here. But what is necessary is the perception that we do possess the ability and willingness to use force. This "tool" in the tool kit is what will give any diplomatic proposals the teeth needed to succeed. So, it is my estimation, that what we are hearing is the amplified rattle of sabers designed to create a threatening posture sufficient to compel Iran to make concessions (While many, undoubtedly, in the neo-con commentariat would prefer to see those sabers unsheathed, I don't think they enjoy the same level of influence and/or ability to act - again, possibly wishful thinking on my part).

Nevertheless, accounts such as this one from Steve Clemons are enough to make me nervous and doubt my sanguine appraisal of this high stakes game of chicken being played out between nations, politicians and pundits. And if Iran doesn't give an inch, then there might be some type of muscular approach - but I still see that as much farther down the line.

With that in mind, I recommend one post above all others. If you only read one thing on Iran today, you should make it this subsequent post from Mssr. Clemons. It is as rich in information as it is in general advice on the matter from more than one vantage point. An invaluable read.

[UPDATE: I have a slightly more detailed account of some Steve Clemons posts on Iran and related issues, including the one cited above, at American Footprints.]

[Off Topic: On a completely separate matter, I wanted to draw attention to one of the smartest and most comprehensive posts on the state of abortion rights and related issues that I've seen in a long time. I'd probably comment on this in greater detail if I had the time as well. Then again, I don't know what I could really add to Jill's observations. But do you really expect any less from a fellow NYU grad? I think not.]

Honesty Is Hardly Ever Heard

Honesty sure is hard work. In fits and starts, there has been some movement within various channels of the Bush administration to shift public statements to a more honest footing regarding the struggles that lie ahead in Iraq. Tone down the "last throes" fantasy and allow some Churchill-lite "blood, sweat and tears" to meander into the conversation. The better to prepare the American people for the long, hard, slog and the better to counter false hopes derived from chimerical turning points. In some ways, it is an attempt at an ex post facto corrective to the "flowers and candies"/short war/self-funding reconstruction predictions that were making the rounds prior to the invasion. The same prognostications that are frequently cited as a cause for the erosion of support from the American public that, to some extent, have been left feeling like victims of a geopolitical bait and switch. Or so the theory goes.

As noted in a prior post, however, old habits die hard. Exorcising the demons of spin can be a long, hard, slog in and of itself, especially when there are conflicting personalities behind the scenes not wholly committed to the task at hand. Swopa offers more grist for the mill from an article appearing in the USA Today (emphasis his throughout):

Attacks in Iraq jumped in 2005

The number of attacks against coalition troops, Iraqi security forces and civilians increased 29% last year, and insurgents are increasingly targeting Iraqis, the U.S. military says.

Insurgents launched 34,131 attacks last year, up from 26,496 the year before, according to U.S. military figures released Sunday.
But, as you might guess, according to our military geniuses in charge of the war, this is good news:

Insurgents are widening their attacks to include the expanding Iraqi forces engaged in the fighting, said Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, a coalition spokesman.

He added, "It tells me the coalition and the Iraqi forces have been very aggressive in taking the fight to the enemy."
Sadly, Gen. Alston didn't explain how putting oneself in the path of car bombs and improvised landmines (the use of which, in both cases, doubled last year) constitutes "taking the fight to the enemy."
So to anyone keeping score, the situation looks like this:

1. An increase in violence is a sign of "progress" and "freedom in action."

2. Increases in levels of insurgent activity and attacks are indications that the insurgents are becoming ever more "desperate" and weak.

3. More insurgent attacks every year (including a doubling of IED and suicide bomber attacks) means that we are taking the fight to the enemy and turning the tide.

With that in mind, can anyone doubt what bad news it would be if violence subsided and/or the number of insurgent attacks actually decreased? Beware all those hoping for less insurgent activity in 2006. That would be clear and convincing evidence that: (i) progress was stymied; (ii) freedom was withering on the vine - giving way to resurgent despotism; (iii) the insurgents were enjoying freer reign - self assured and confident in their position; and (iv) that we had ceased taking the fight to the enemy.

I can't imagine what a total cessation of insurgent activity would mean. Complete and total defeat? Most likely.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Playing KISS Covers

This account of the legal defense of one of the soldiers accused of pushing aggressive interrogation techniques too far is indicative of the problems created by the Bush administration's confusing and often conflicting legal maneuvering concerning definitions of torture, acceptable interrogation methods, the applicability of the Geneva Conventions and the importance of prisoner classification (POWs vs. enemy combatants).

Two intelligence officers testified Friday in the trial of an interrogator accused of killing an Iraqi general that guidance on how to treat detainees was hard to come by in the first months of the war.

Capt. Jesse Falk, who supervised the defendant, Army Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer Jr., said he had never seen any documents outlining which interrogation techniques were approved and which were forbidden.

Retired intelligence officer James Reese, who also worked with Welshofer in Iraq, said he found guidelines only after searching for three months. [...]

Defense attorney Frank Spinner has said Welshofer was using a technique approved by his commander and was under intense pressure to extract information to help stop an increasingly lethal Iraqi insurgency. [...]

Welshofer testified Thursday that he received an e-mail from his unit's commanders saying there were no rules for interrogations because officials still had not determined how to classify detainees. He said the e-mail claimed officers were "tired of taking casualties and that the gloves were coming off."

Welshofer said his company commander approved his use of a sleeping bag, but he had not mentioned that he might straddle a detainee's chest, pour water over the detainee's face or cover the detainee's mouth while using the sleeping bag.
While Welshofer claims the method was authorized, he doesn't claim that his commander signed off on the full array of techniques he would be using - and that's kind of important. But at the same time, there was also a pretty alarming lack of clear guidance, and there were other pressures pushing in the direction of being more aggressive, with the "gloves" coming off so to speak. But the lack of clear guidance is enough to move the blame up the chain of command. This passage in George Packer's The Assassin's Gate explains the problem well (p. 326):

Over time it became clear that the ultimate responsibility lay in Washington, at the Pentagon, the Justice Department, and finally the White House. The memos on torture and the Geneva Conventions written by the president's counsel Alberto Gonzalez [sic] and others made abuses inevitable. One administration official who had served in Vietnam said, "There's no doubt in my mind as a soldier that part of the responsibility for Abu Ghraib and for Afghanistan belongs wit the secretary of defense and the president of the United States. There's an old aphorism: Keep it simple, stupid. KISS is the acronym. You always have personalities in uniform - I had them in Vietnam - who will take advantage of any ambiguity, any lack of clarification in the rules of engagement, and kill people, or whatever his particular psyche is liable to do. You don't have rules for your good people. You have rules for that five or six percent of your combat unit that are going to be weird. You need those people, because sometimes they're your best killers. But you need the rules. And when you make any kind of changes in them, any relaxation or even hint of it, you're opening Pandora's box. And I fault Gonzalez [sic], the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, the chain of command, Myers, Abizaid, Sanchez, the whole bunch of them."

All of these men kept their jobs. One was even promoted.
I believe that this analysis should be considered when apportioning blame. Even absent express orders to commit torture, that result will inevitably follow when those in control begin to tinker with long held standards especially when they fail to replace them with a new set. To this day, can anyone really explain our policy on interrogations and detentions? Are the Geneva Conventions still "quaint"? Is waterboarding off-limits? Rendition? Black sites? And to whom do the aforementioned rules apply and in what scenarios? Something tells me we're not adhering to the KISS doctrine.


The Associated Press is reporting on the results from the December 15th vote in Iraq. It appears that the Shiite UIA list has once again bested the field, but did not get the magic number needed to form a government on its own. The Shiites will need to reach out to prospective coalition partners.

The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance captured 128 of the 275 seats in the Dec. 15 election, down from the 146 it won in January 2005 balloting, said commission official Safwat Rasheed. It needed 138 to rule without partners.

A Sunni ticket, the Iraqi Accordance Front, won 44 seats. Another Sunni coalition headed by Saleh al-Mutlaq finished with 11 seats, Rasheed said. A few other Sunnis won seats on other tickets.

That will give the Sunni Arabs a bigger voice in the legislature than they had in the outgoing assembly, which included only 17 from the community forming the backbone of the insurgency. Many Sunnis had boycotted the January vote.

Kurds saw their seat total reduced. An alliance of the two major Kurdish parties won 53 seats, down from the 75 they took in the January 2005 vote.

A rival Kurdish ticket, the Kurdish Islamic Group, won five seats, a gain of three from the outgoing parliament.

A ticket headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, won 25 seats, down from 40 in the outgoing assembly. The United States installed Allawi as interim prime minister in 2004 and applauded both his tough stand against insurgents and his secular approach to politics.
Overall, I think this is a positive outcome, and believe that the UIA's need to form a coalition government could produce much needed compromise, concession and cooperation. Outright UIA dominance would have made it too easy to avoid making the hard choices and showing the flexibility that the nascent and fragile Iraqi democracy needs in order to push the political process ahead - hopefully draining the power out of the insurgency.

Nevertheless, much, if not all, will depend on who the UIA teams up with and how they go about the business of ruling. Sunni outreach and inclusion (including amending the Iraqi Constitution) is still the key to progress on the political solution front. If the UIA is able to peel away some smaller, similarly minded parties in order to get over the 138-seat hump, then the results could be less than impressive.

As a footnote, Ayad Allawi and Ahmad Chalabi have once again performed well under the much-hyped pre-election forecasts of some of their State-side cheerleaders. Despite Michael Rubin's sly prediction that there was a stealthy, underpublicized support for Chalabi in Iraq that would reveal itself on election day and surprise all the doubters, all indications are that he didn't receive even one seat in the new assembly. I guess Chalabi's support was so clandestine that it didn't want to risk being discovered at the ballot box. Still, I'm sure it's there.

Then there were the predictions of Allawi's imminent success by the likes of Robert Blackwill, who once wrote this of Iraq:

....the critics have been pessimistic and wrong for well over a year with regard to the evolution of the Iraqi political process. And they've been wrong on every single important pivotal event. They were wrong on the elections. And they will probably go on being pessimistic and go on being wrong.
Leaving aside the absurdity of Blackwill's claim (dissected here for those that want to explore further), let's see how "wrong" the pessimists and critics were about Allawi this time. First, Blackwill, based on the reports he is privy to, at the exclusion of the media in general:

The-Allawi is coming on fast, apparently, in Baghdad, especially. So I don't know whether it'll be 40-ish. Could be lower. Could be somewhat higher.
Allawi's ticket got 25 seats. Well below the "40-ish" prediction, and nowhere near the stated possibility of "somewhat higher." In Blackwill's defense, he did acknowledge that Allawi's total "could be lower." But somehow I don't get the impression he meant lower by about 40%. He was better with his predictions on the Kurdish and Sunni outcomes, but was off on the UIA's final results. Blackwill predicted a range of 100-125 seats for the UIA. They got 128. He also said that he thinks Sistani's choices for prime minister in the new government would be either Abdul Mahdi or Ayad Allawi. Based on Blackwill's track record, this doesn't bode well for Allawi's prospects.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Swift Armada

James Webb, who served this country as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and as a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam, has a few stern words for the modern-day Republican Party - and the Bush team itself - that bear repeating. Webb's Op-Ed tracks nicely with my earlier condemnation of the repeated tactic by the Bush team to attack the war records of distinguished veterans when politically expedient. Webb provides useful information, and at least one key observation that I omitted in my prior post (emphasis mine throughout):

It should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.[...]

Now the Cybercast News Service, a supposedly independent organization with deep ties to the Republican Party, has dusted off the Swift Boat Veterans playbook, questioning whether Mr. Murtha deserved his two Purple Hearts. The article also implied that Mr. Murtha did not deserve the Bronze Star he received, and that the combat-distinguishing "V" on it was questionable. It then called on Mr. Murtha to open up his military records.
In my piece, I forgot to mention the shameful treatment that John McCain received. The slandering of McCain is illustrative of the mindset on display: regardless of whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, if you step out of line, or challenge Bush, your entire career, including and especially your war record, is "fair game." How patriotic. Tie me up with yellow ribbons.

During the 2000 primary season, John McCain's life-defining experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam were diminished through whispers that he was too scarred by those years to handle the emotional burdens of the presidency.
As Webb notes, Bush and his closest advisors take some care to erect a wall of deniability between themselves and the hatchet men, but a simple scratch of the surface reveals the symbiotic and cooperative relationship that lies, barely concealed, underneath.

Cybercast News Service is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as the senior producer for "Rising Tide," the televised weekly news magazine produced by the Republican National Committee. One of the authors of the Murtha article was Marc Morano, a long-time writer and producer for Rush Limbaugh.
I know that many commenters on the Right will argue, when necessary, that Limbaugh is a fringe character and, as such, he is not representative of the modern-day GOP. But that is more wishful thinking and useful spin than reality. His radio show is patronized by Republican officials, spokespeople and politicians, he repeats the Republican Party line with amazing discipline and consistency, is listened to by an extremely large audience of Republicans and other right leaning citizens and, ironically, his show is carried by the Armed Forces radio network (adding insult to the injuries received in the line of fire). If Limbaugh is an outlier, then it's time to treat him as such. Cut him off from contact, sever ties and at the very least take him off the taxpayer-funded radiowaves that service our men and women in uniform. You can't have it both ways.

Personally, I don't think that a veteran's war record should ever come under such scurrilous attack, but in the case of Murtha, it seems particularly baseless and reprehensible.

The accusations against Mr. Murtha were very old news, principally coming from defeated political rivals. Aligned against their charges are an official letter from Marine Corps Headquarters written nearly 40 years ago affirming Mr. Murtha's eligibility for his Purple Hearts - "you are entitled to the Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart for wounds received in action" - and the strict tradition of the Marine Corps regarding awards. While in other services lower-level commanders have frequently had authority to issue prestigious awards, in the Marines Mr. Murtha's Vietnam Bronze Star would have required the approval of four different awards boards.
I really can't condemn this tactic enough. And you know what, this shouldn't really be a partisan issue. Let me repeat that with emphasis, this should NOT be a partisan issue. In this highly charged and polarized environment, if Republicans and Democrats cannot agree to condemn this scourge of cheap shots and dirty attacks on the people that have so selflessly served our country with such courage, sacrifice and distinction, then I must confess that I think our Republic is in serious trouble. Loyalty to Bush should not interfere with this obvious truth. Further, the only thing that will make Bush and his team refrain from launching future Swift Boat's of Slander is the bi-partisan condemnation of these acts that should be so clearly off-limits.

Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine if Democratic politicians and pundits, instead of their Republican counterparts, were pursuing these lines of attack with such frequency. Can you imagine all the righteous (and justifiable) outrage that would usher forth from the right side of the aisle? I may be wrong in this, but something tells me that the Democrats would not have been able to get away with it the same way the Republicans have - that such vitriol would not be given the "he said/she said" balanced treatment on CNN and other "liberal" outlets that the Swift Boat folks got. Just an educated guess.

In closing, I want to say thank you Mr. Webb, for your service and clear vision. Oh, and you might want to watch your back. No doubt some GOP vehicle is putting together a dossier of misinformation on you as I type. Such is the state of affairs in the modern-day GOP. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Putting The "Dis" In "Unity"

As I have been pointing out, ad nauseam I'm sure, the most recent "turning point" in Iraq was/is supposed to have been the December 15th elections. The optimistic interpretation holds that these elections marked the beginning of the Sunni population's pursuit of political involvement and that this would lead to a winding down in insurgent activity. This sanguine reading relies on primarily two underlying premises: (i) the Shiites and Kurds would involve the Sunnis in a national unity government; and (ii) the Shiites and Kurds would be amenable to significant, if targeted, changes in the Iraqi Constitution designed to assuage certain Sunni concerns - the result of recommendations from a post-election panel slated to include Sunni participants.

If those two preconditions are met, it is argued, conditions would be conducive to the success of efforts designed to splinter the insurgencies - making it easier to separate, alienate and neutralize insurgents (bringing nationalist and even ex-Baathist types into the fold, while separating out and targeting jihadists and hard-core rejectionists). This cause would be especially aided by the cooperation, even tacity, of the newly "political" Sunnis who would (it is hoped) have the credibility and insider's knowledge to provide valuable intelligence and other forms of indigenous support so vital to counterinsurgency missions. These political developments could presage the beginning of a national pact, a new Iraqi unity able to overcome the centrifugal force of ethnic/sectarian violence.

Unfortunately, early rumblings from the Shiite camp, particularly from SCIRI head Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, seem to indicate that the Shiites will not be as accommodating as earlier predicted in terms of amending the Iraqi Constitution. This could be a serious impediment going forward to say the least. Via Juan Cole, the UPI is reporting that the Shiite bloc is also scaling back its earlier indications of altruism with regard to the inclusion of Sunni politicians in the ruling coalition government:

The new government in Iraq reportedly will offer the Sunni Arabs six cabinet posts or the same number they held in the 36-member interim government.[...]

Inclusion of the Sunnis in the new government is seen as crucial to quelling the Sunni-led insurgency plaguing the country.

Al-Rubaie said it had not been decided whether the Sunnis would be allocated one of the two crucial security positions -- interior minister or defense minister. The Sunnis are not likely to be satisfied with six cabinet posts, the Times said. [emphasis added]
Cole notes, as does the UPI article, that the Sunnis are not going to view the offer of only six posts as some genuine indication of the Shiites' intention to form a government of inclusion. After all, the Sunnis had 17 seats in the assembly after the prior election, and got six cabinet posts. Now they will likely have 51 seats in the assembly, but the same number of cabinet posts. Further, they may be shut out of the most coveted and influential cabinet positions altogether. The last go around, a Sunni politician was given the Ministry of Defense. It remains to be seen whether a Sunni will be given as prominent a cabinet position in the new government. Cole relates some reaction from Sunni quarters:

The London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East] reports that Husain al-Falluji, a candidate for parliament on the Iraqi Accord Front list [Sunni fundamentalist] objected strenuously to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's comments a few days ago. He said al-Hakim had backed away from an earlier commitment to have a government of national unity, proposing instead an inclusive government that would recognize the victory of the Shiite fundamentalist United Iraqi Alliance in the election. He said al-Hakim's remarks were an "ominous sign."
I'm not sure that this would constitute an "outreach" or a good faith attempt to form a government of national unity. More relevant, I don't expect the Sunni population to view it this way either. None of these decisions are carved in stone (yet), surely some of this rhetoric would be part of the negotiation process regardless of the ultimate intent of the parties involved, and there is still time to broach a more conciliatory accord. Still, I pity Zal Khalilzad and his overworked unicycle. Nation building is hard work.

(cross-posted at American Footprints)

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