Friday, September 30, 2005

Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom Channels Eric Martin

Well, sort of. OK, not really, but you have to admit, this:

"The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history," said [Retired Army Lt. Gen. William] Odom, now a scholar with the Hudson Institute....the invasion of Iraq alienated America's Middle East allies, making it harder to prosecute a war against terrorists. [emphasis added]
Sounds an awful lot like me last week (reacting to reports of Iraqi trained terrorists migrating to Afghanistan and abroad):

Let me put it to you simply: The invasion of Iraq was the absolute biggest strategic blunder the US government has committed since Vietnam. Actually, this is worse.
Shrill minds think alike.

(one of many hat tips to Laura Rozen)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

About Those Battalions: The Un-training of an Army

I have been wondering since at least the beginning of August (based on statements from Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, General Meyers, Donald Rumsfeld, etc.) whether the Bush Administration had made up its mind to begin the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq at some point in late 2005/early 2006 regardless of the situation on the ground. Then Iraqi President Jalal Talabani got into the act stating that United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year because there are enough Iraqi forces ready to begin taking control of parts of the country. That statement was even bolder than those that came before.

The fog of withdrawal is still too thick to determine whether or not withdrawal in the near future is a fait accompli, but most of the parties are at least going through the motions in terms of referring to benchmarks - like the ratification of the Constitution and the national elections slated for December - as well as the levels of insurgent activity and to what extent there is a competent Iraqi army able to replace our own departing forces. That being said, I
have noted, with some degree of unease, the impression that the Bush Administration was intent on hurrying through the Constitutional ratification in the interest of keeping the schedule of benchmarks moving along despite the long term risks of alienating the Sunni minority in the process. It seems as if form was trumping substance.

Only time will tell what the real game plan is, and much will be learned from how the Bush team handles obstacles and setbacks to their timetable that will inevitably arise in the near future. One such problem area has been, and will remain, the readiness (or lack thereof) of the new Iraqi armed forces - the group that will supposedly step into the vacuum created by our withdrawal. As Bush has said repeatedly, "As they step up, we will step down." But as
Swopa might say, "What if the cavalry never arrives"? Will the Bush Administration place the timeline ahead of the facts on the ground if the Iraqi army never materializes in a suitable form?

Such a crisis might be more imminent than some in the Administration have been letting on. Here is this
disturbing account of a not altogether insignificant setback in the effort to stand up an Iraqi army capable of defending the country and staving off widespread violence and mayhem (via the Armchair Generalist):

The number of Iraqi battalions capable of combat without U.S. support has dropped from three to one, the top American commander in Iraq [Gen. Casey] told Congress Thursday, prompting Republicans to question whether U.S. troops will be able to withdraw next year.[...]

The Bush administration says training Iraqi security forces to defend their own country is the key to bringing home U.S. troops. But Republicans pressed Casey on whether the United States was backsliding in its efforts to train Iraqis.

In June, the Pentagon told lawmakers that three Iraqi battalions were fully trained, equipped and capable of operating independently. On Thursday, Casey said only one battalion is ready.

"It doesn't feel like progress," said Sen. Susan Collins (news, bio, voting record), R-Maine.
That depends on how you define "progress" Senator Collins. I'm not exactly sure how battalions become "untrained" - but I'd love an explanation. The most plausible answer is that previous reports of progress were inflated for propagandistic purposes. Further, this admission from such a high source (keep in mind, Rumsfeld was sitting next to him during the testimony), gives credence to the recent reporting on the great difficulties in forming the Iraqi military forces. In terms of credibility, these journalists have a leg up on the three transformed into one crowd in the Pentagon. First, an account from an embedded journalist with Knight Ridder (via Needlenose):

Many of the Iraqi troops were in poor condition, unable or unwilling to complete long foot patrols without frequent breaks. They often didn't know what to do in complicated situations, standing back and letting American Marines and soldiers take the lead.

...The Iraqi National Guard, heralded last year as the answer to security in the area, has been disbanded because morale was low and insurgents had infiltrated it. The old national guard trucks, with their blue emblems, now sit rusting. As with the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, the predecessor to the national guard, American officials say the new Iraqi army and police will establish security in places such as Anbar.

However, the police force has collapsed in Ramadi, the provincial capital. Two divisions of Iraqi soldiers - a total of 12,000 men - are to establish security, but so far only 2,000 are available, and half of them lack basic training.

...So far, a little more than 5,900 police officers have been screened for all of Anbar, about half the number needed. Most of those still must be trained, said [Marine Capt. John ] LaJeunesse, 30, of Boise, Idaho.
And then this from the Boston Globe:

In April 2005 I had the chance to visit the center, the world's largest international police training camp. I am a military officer and have been deployed throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, but this was one of the nicest training posts I have ever seen. However, the comprehensive training I witnessed was disheartening. The Iraq coalition constituency deserves to know why this mission is likely to fail.

There are three main reasons why these forces will never be ready to defend their country: The wary, uncommitted recruits are immature and lackadaisical about the mission; the parsimonious training is inadequate; and accountability once recruits return to Iraq is inconsistent at best and lacks the return on investment that one would expect.

The recruit pool. According to international instructors at the camp, the troops are often recruited from among intimidated teenagers or disillusioned, desperate unemployed men left with few job prospects in their chaotic country. We aren't always getting the highest quality '"volunteers" because many of those have already joined the insurgency. Others are understandably concerned about their life expectancy if they join the police. In spite of most of the high-quality, experienced instructors, I learned that a clan relative of the Jordanian terrorist mastermind Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was also an employee at the camp, adding an interesting element to operational security.

Return on investment. Purportedly, about 40 to 60 percent of these graduates never actually join the Iraqi police force when they return from Jordan. They defect, taking their coveted pay and their new skills to the insidious insurgency, according to liaison officers in Iraq. Some are forced to give up the weapons they were issued at this camp to corrupt local police chiefs; these often end up on the black market. Others lose their firearms in insurgent raids on police stations. Sadly, too many are targeted immediately upon return to Iraq. Forty-six newly returned graduates on a bus were executed point-blank by insurgents this spring; more than 1,500 of those who have made it into the police force have died just this year.

...Instructors admitted to me that their work was more about pumping out numbers, not about quality, reinforced training. One would think that high proficiency at firearms training, armed reconnaissance patrols, and perhaps self-defense would be requirements for graduation, yet the training for each skill lasts one week. Furthermore, there was no scheduled follow-up training in Iraq.
Nevertheless, Casey (ever the good soldier), stays on message:

Casey, the most senior commander of coalition forces in Iraq, said the result of the upcoming Iraqi referendum on a new constitution on Oct. 15 and December elections will affect whether conditions on the ground will be appropriate for withdrawing U.S. troops.
I guess. But it is just as likely that regardless of the outcome of those benchmarks, there will still be raging insurgencies and a mostly inept Iraqi military to deal with it (unless and until they release the sectarian and ethnic militias). And if the results from the elections and constitution ratification in any way resemble the results of our efforts to train, equip and make ready an Iraqi military and police force capable of replacing our troops, I'm not overly optimistic. So, Mr. President, will we ride off into the sunset if the cavalry never shows? Onward to Crawford?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


The trouble with socialism is socialism. The trouble with capitalism is capitalists.
That quote is attributed to the late Austrian analyst Willi Schlamm, as referenced by William F. Buckley in a column bemoaning the wayward path that executive compensation has taken in America. At a time when upper level executive salaries are at unprecedented levels (and growing) proportional to the salaries of other employees in the same company, Buckley decries the "capitalists" that are spoiling "capitalism."

Here and there efforts are being made to impose correlations of some sort between executives' compensation and stock performance. "The secret to linking pay to performance remains elusive," writes Claudia Deutsch of the New York Times. "Net income at Eli Lilly fell 29 percent and its return to shareholders dropped 17 percent last year, but its chief executive, Sidney Taurel, saw his pay go up 41 percent, to $12.5 million." There doesn't seem to be anything elusive about that: the boss aggrandizes.[...]

That money was taken, directly, from company shareholders. But the loss, viewed on a larger scale, is a loss to the community of people who believe in the capitalist free-market system. Because extortions of that size tell us, really, that the market system is not working - in respect of executive remuneration. What is going on is phony. It is shoddy, it is contemptible, and it is philosophically blasphemous. [emphasis added]
Perhaps such actions are "philosophically blasphemous" Mr. Buckley, but as Mr. Schlamm pointed out, there is an inherent weakness to capitalism - namely the greed of the actual capitalists who are themselves necessary components that cannot be removed from the equation. Compounding the problem, greed itself is often a short-sighted, impulsive and obsessive animal and rarely, if ever, does it consider posterity or even the next fiscal year. In other words, greed tends to create a system in which short term gain is valued over substantive, balanced, and sustained growth. This friction does not benefit society at large. As capitalist champion Milton Friedman said:

What kind of society isn't structured on greed? The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm...

So if we accept that the problem with capitalism is the greed of capitalists, then we should look to implement certain regulations that will create the types of rules that will channel the greed into positive manifestations and limit the tendency of the capitalists to derail the economic system in which they operate. The tradition of checking the excesses of capitalists is a storied one, from Teddy Roosevelt's antitrust policies that unwound the monopolistic entanglements constricting growth around the turn of the Century, to the recent enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations designed to monitor corporate malfeasance vis a vis securities fraud in the Enron/WorldCom/Tyco era.

Yet ironically enough, it is the modern GOP that is most dedicated to removing structural regulations and oversight. It is almost a fetish. The people that should be the most dedicated to maintaining the non-blasphemed philosophical purity of capitalism are themselves locked in a tango of near-sighted greed spurred on by the wurlitzer of corporate cronyism and fiscal recklessness punctuated by the motif of industry self regulation and repeated upper income tax cuts.

Just as those ideologically committed to democratizing the Middle East should have been the loudest critics of Abu Ghraib and other detainee abuse, rather than the apologists that most were (how better to undermine our ostensible role as liberators and bestowers of enlightenment?), so too should the GOP leadership be seeking to rein in the trend to trust industry to regulate itself, the exacerbation of vast disparities in wealth, shameless siphoning of corporate profits into the executive class and other such dysfunctions in the market place. If you value an economic system, a political ideology or an ethical concept, you don't honor it by ignoring its flaws, or rewarding those who would betray it, like a courtier or sycophant. Capitalism, like the modern GOP, needs honesty and tough love from those that value its continued health and existence.

Mark Schmitt discusses the recent revelations of improper stock sales by GOP Senate leader Bill Frist and places the scandal in larger context:

[When Frist learns of troubles in the health care sector] he takes a private action, and just dumps the stock. And not just any stock, this is his patrimony he's selling out. It's the stock of his own family's company. But he washes his hands of it. Leaves it to some bigger sucker.

And that, to me, is telling, and it's about more than Frist's despicable character. Because it goes to the great paradox of what is currently called "conservatism." The central constituency of the modern Republican machine is, broadly speaking, business. Yet there are dozens of policies, passive as well as active, large and small, that are going to be a disaster for American business in the medium- and long-term. Some are disasters for specific companies and sectors, others for business generally: the fiscal debacle, the burden and unpredictability of health care costs, climate change, income inequality, short-sighted energy policies designed only to boost supply, chaos in the Middle East, hostility to the U.S. everywhere, lack of access to higher ed, collapsing infrastructure, etc. Somehow, in a way that would not have been the case in previous decades, business leaders and many investors seem bizarrely unconcerned about these trends.
They are unconcerned because nothing compels them to take pause. All incentives are moving in the opposite direction. Without some type of external and/or regulatory pressure on the marketplace, this death spiral consisting of former lobbyists in cabinet positions overseeing industry, endless tax cuts for the upper brackets, environmental myopia, infrastructural deterioration, educational malaise, and near-sighted greed will bring about a calamitous crash. It is in those times that capitalism is most vulnerable. Though many free market zealots remain antagonistic to FDR's New Deal model (treating it as socialistic anathema), it is important to remember that capitalism itself might not have survived had not FDR applied the vaccination. Schmitt goes on:

I suspect it's integrally related to the "pump and dump" culture that has infiltrated business, a mutation of the cult of "shareholder value." (Pump and dump refers to the practice of talking up a stock or making earnings appear high, then selling just before the inherent weaknesses in the company become apparent. On the Yahoo! Finance message board discussing HCA, Frist is referred to lovingly as the "Pump and Dump Drama Queen.") Investors as well as executives don't look at a company as something to build for the long term; they need to beat their numbers in the current quarter. And for the most part they assume that by the time things get tough, they'll be out. The insiders will bail out before the suckers; the CEO will move on to some other company. Or, if worst comes to worst, he'll retire with a nice package guaranteeing health care, use of the company plane for life, and a nice package of stock to sell when someone else turns the company around.

So true. In my own legal career I have experience with certain aspects of the "Pump and Dump" culture. Allow me to explain in what I hope is not overly esoteric language.


During the halcyon days of the Internet boom, IPOs (short for "Initial Public Offerings" - meaning the first time a company sells stock in the market to the public at large) were a hot commodity for investors. This is because, almost without fail, stock purchased in an IPO would go up in value at break-neck speed - the same day even - because everyone assumed every new stock was the next big thing. In other words, if you got in on an IPO and the initial price was $5 a share, you might expect the stock to be trading at $25 or $30 a share later in the week. Now imagine if you had purchased 100,000 shares. If you sold at $25-30 a share, that would be a profit of between $2-3 million dollars. In one week. Got your attention?

Well, it got a lot of people's attention and the certainty of the return on the investment began to corrupt the process. Eventually, the investment banks began to abuse the power they had to allocate shares in the IPOs [ed note: in an IPO, or any subsequent offering, a large investment bank underwrites the offering (for a fee) by securing buyers for the stock (often times purchasing the stock itself for resale), distributing the stock through the markets and other services - in essence managing the process for the company selling shares]. While normally an I-Bank has to solicit buyers for an offering, the climate had changed dramatically. As you can imagine, many large investors were clamoring to get in on the ground floor of the myriad IPOs and the I-Banks were actually inundated with investors - with the number of buyers exceeding the shares available.

So the I-Banks began to push the parameters of their new found leverage by engaging in many dishonest and ultimately illegal practices, one of which is known as "laddering." Laddering is when an I-Bank requires an investor in an IPO to agree to purchase more of the stock throughout the week at predetermined prices. So, in order for investor X to get 1,000 shares of the IPO at $5, X has to agree to buy 500 more shares in the aftermarket at, say, $10 a share. The reason the I-Banks did this was to create artificial demand for the stock that would inflate its price beyond what the free market would pay. All of a sudden, as the stock price would normally be hitting its natural equilibrium, there would be an injection of overly zealous buyers willing to pay a premium. This created a feeding frenzy, a self-sustaining upward cycle. They were "Pumping." But eventually, before the dust settled, the I-Banks and investors in the know would be "Dumping" - one step ahead of the suckers.

Tearing Down The Wall

Within the major investment banks, there are various divisions. One such division handles the underwriting duties, and another conducts market research on various companies on a sector by sector basis. In theory, and in practice for many years, the research and banking branches were separated by an internal firewall. After all, it is in the interest of investors, the markets, the companies themselves and our economy in general if there is a knowledgeable investor class that can rely on objective research and corporate transparency mandated by disclosures in filings made with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But with all that easy money churning around during the expansion of the Internet bubble, the wall began to crack. In fact, the I-Banking divisions began pressuring the research division to issue inflated "buy" ratings on stocks and author favorable reports of companies in order to acquire or maintain the banking business of the companies being lauded. There was a conspiracy to "Pump" in order to keep the business relationship in order.

In many cases, the researchers were privately deriding stocks they were extolling to the unsuspecting public through institutional reports, TV appearances and other media. If you recall, this was the era of the celebri-analysts who began popping up on the cable TV outlets, the most notorious of which was probably Merrill Lynch's Henry Blodgett who infamously called a stock he was publicly recommending a "piece of shit" in a private email. Unfortunately, the unsuspecting American people trusted these "objective" analysts, and continued to pour money into companies that the analysts and I-Bankers themselves knew were hollow shells and lost causes. In the end, countless Americans were financially wiped out, or set back considerably, while the bankers and executives absconded with windfall profits.

Yet despite the parameters of these financial scandals, and their potential impact on the integrity and attractiveness of American financial markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission (populated by industry insiders) was lax in maintaining oversight and uninterested in pursuing charges against any of the wrongdoers. It took the Attorney General of New York State Elliot Spitzer's own pursuit of justice to shame the SEC into action - and even then, a lackluster effort at that. These abuses, and the culture of deregulation, tie in to what Mark Schmitt was discussing above.

Despite what supposed free market aficionados might claim when discussing the dreaded bugaboo of regulation and oversight, it is, in fact, in the best interest of capitalism, and America's brand of it, to maintain open and transparent markets with a free flowing of reliable information for potential investors. The only way to achieve this is to require it through regulation. You cannot trust industry to monitor itself. Greed does not provide those incentives. Just as business will be served by a healthy environment, functioning infrastructure, quality public schools, single-payer health insurance and a whole host of programs that "capitalists" take a hostile stance toward, so too does business thrive when there are umpires on the field to make sure the rules are being adhered to. The best features of capitalism lie in its creation of conditions conducive to rewarding the worthy, efficient and innovative. Of course, that depends on the market's ability to recognize such and society's ability to produce them. Greed can either help or hinder that process.

But the "Pump and Dump" culture of greed threatens to break the system beyond anyone's ability to put it back together again. And it's not just capitalism. Schmitt again:

And what is our political culture except another version of pump and dump? Everything from war to tax policy to energy policy to the Medicare bill is a short-term effort to boost the president's political stock, with the long-term costs left to some bigger sucker.
I might not agree with the totality of Schmitt's indictment, but I would say it's about time for citizens on both sides of the aisle to demand more from the Republican Party that is at the helm of all three branches of our government. Not because we are hostile to capitalism, Bush or from some latent anti-American, but for the opposite reasons. Rod Dreher pleaded with his fellow conservatives, to too many deaf ears no doubt:

I don't at all get this attitude among many on the right that our sworn duty is to back anything President Bush and the GOP choose to do. We are conservatives before we are Republicans, are we not? [...]

At some point, we conservatives have got to ask ourselves if we stand for principles, or merely maintaining power. We have got to ask ourselves just which conservative goals are being served by the Republican governing status quo. We have got to ask ourselves if our conservatism stands for much more than The Democrats Must Lose.
Good questions all. Hopefully some answers before we all have a big fall.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Impressions Of Paris

Unfortunately, work has me under the gun now that I am back in the office. Apparently, two days off is the equivalent of a crisis. Either way, I thought I'd pass along a few of my thoughts on my recent jaunt to Paris.

First, the obvious: The food was exquisite (down to the little baguette sandwiches you pick up on the street corner) and I ate too much of it. The wine was magnificent, and I drank way too much of it. And physically it is one of the most, if not the most, beautiful cities in the world - bar none. The architecture put me in a trance. All in all, the people were much friendlier than I anticipated - with most showing a merciful attitude to my crude attempts to piece together a sentence in French.

The Parisian subway system, the Metro, was extremely user friendly - especially coming from the slightly esoteric NYC version. That being said, I was a little taken aback when the doors would sometimes swing open while the train was still moving, heading into the station. My first thought, because of my profession naturally, was that trial lawyers would have a field day with such an anomaly. That and the fact that many of the doors had a mechanism that allowed them to be opened manually (at any point) - which accounted for some of the mid-ride openings. Every year in NYC, there are a handful of homicides attributed to people being pushed on to subway tracks ahead of oncoming trains. I shudder to think of what would happen if people had the option to open the doors mid-ride and jettison a passenger.

What also struck me, though, was the number of children, particularly newborns. It was as if the City of Lights had become the City of Enfants. This was unexpected, to say the least, because I had heard so much about Western Europe's notoriously anemic birth rates. What I was unaware of, however, is that France trails only Ireland in terms of birth rates in Western Europe, owing in large part to a series of government funded incentives to would-be parents. Here are some examples:

From conception to the age of 20, children in France entitle their parents to a welter of subsidies, allowances and tax breaks. Breeding for France is also one of the free leisure activities that has benefited most from the 35-hour working week and high youth unemployment.

Families with incomes of more than Euros 125,000 can reduce their tax bill by around Euros 2,000 per child and by more for a third child, who takes the size of the family above the replacement rate.

Furthermore, anyone living with at least two dependent children under 20 is eligible for family benefits of Euros 1,351 per year, rising to Euros 3,082 for three children. There is no means testing.

But making it easier to have children starts much earlier. During pregnancy the state will pay for Aids tests for both parents, a medical examination for the future father, seven pre-natal examinations and eight birthing classes. Nor is it a coincidence that French hospitals are so inclined to recommend epidurals. Pain-free birth is taken as a right, symbolic of the desire to limit the stresses of producing and raising children.

Mothers can take 16 weeks paid maternity leave for the first child, rising to 26 weeks for the third child. During this time, the state will pay the average of the woman's salary over the previous three months, less 20 per cent in social security charges, up to a monthly maximum of Euros 2,476. It is illegal to fire a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave, except for "grave error" or if her contract can no longer be honoured for financial reasons unrelated to the pregnancy.

Last but not least, the government heavily subsidises childcare costs. On top of a cash payment that ranges from Euros 500-Euros 1,500, the state will allow 50 per cent of the cost of nannies, au pairs and special tutors to be tax-deductible. So get breeding.
And these policies are getting results, as France's birthrate is 1.8 children per woman, which is well above Europe's average of 1.4. It pays to have children in France. Which might explain, at least in part, why I met a couple (friends of a friend) who had lived in NYC for the past 10 years but had decided to move back to France when the woman got pregnant.

Another facet of Parisian life that stood out to me was the dominance of American pop culture. From the moment I boarded the bus set to taxi passengers from the tarmac to the terminal at Charles De Gaulle, I heard nothing but American music - mostly hip hop and modern R&B, though plenty of Top 40 thrown in. Without fail, no matter where I traveled, every bar and club was churning out hip hop and R&B to a bevy of Frenchmen unabashedly basking in their whiteness on the dance floor. On the streets, hip hop fashion was ubiquitous amongst the young - with brands like Sean John, Roc-a-Wear and Ecko reminding me more of New York City than Europe. On top of that, billboards for the latest American cinematic releases were plastered everywhere - like "Les Frerres Grimm."

Also, a pet peeve: the way I understand things, Americans suffer from an affliction that compels us to ask, within the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, what they do for a living. On top of that, we tend to talk more about money than our foreign counterparts - so gauche. Personally, I've always been slightly annoyed at the predilection to shift the conversation to professions. Most of the time, I don't really want to hear about someone else's boring job. I have my own to keep me satisfied, thank you. I would rather discuss almost any other topic - music, film, literature, sports, politics (obviously), the weather, etc. But that's why it annoyed me to no end that every French citizen I met in Paris (at two separate apartment parties) showed the same reflexive urge to almost instantaneously ask what I "do."

Maybe they were launching preemptive strikes against the American, anticipating the same query from me, but that seems unlikely. After the perfunctory resume recitations, most went on to rail about prices in NYC, the cost of living in France, money woes, etc. Some went as far as to declare that I was obviously "rich" because I live in Manhattan - a contradiction of sorts because the same folks were bemoaning the high cost of real estate in NYC that drains the better portion of any New Yorkers paycheck. It was bizarre to me. Am I wrong to observe this?

No worries though. I took comfort in the copious amounts of vin rouge.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Cambodia, We Hardly Knew Ye

Since I'm holding down the fort for Eric here, and this story is hitting the American wires (under the atrocious headline, 'Syria Said Aims to Thwart Iraq Democracy'), I should at least flag it. I'm not sure how much it means (help us out, Gurus!), but since Eric might have noted it if he were here - instead of frolicking amidst all those completely superfluous consonants (wink, wink - you know how them Frenchies are) - I bring it up for your attention:

Syria is refusing to stop insurgents and foreign fighters [?] from entering Iraq because it is frightened of efforts to build a democratic nation in the heart of the Middle East and wants them to fail, Iraq's foreign minister says.

Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press that Syria isn't alone in trying to thwart Iraq's efforts to establish a democracy but because of its proximity, its refusal to cooperate is having a more devastating impact in lost lives from terrorist attacks.


Asked why he thought Syria lacked the political will, Zebari replied, "I think it's based on wrong assumptions -- to make life difficult in Iraq, to see this plan of democracy-building fail in Iraq."

"They and others are frightened, really, of this experiment to succeed. This is the bottom line. They don't want these values, these ideas to take root in a country like Iraq. This may affect them," he said.

Sound familier?

As Mr Martin ably explained last week:

The study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), obtained by Reuters on Sunday, also said Saudis made up just 350 of the 3,000-strong foreign insurgents in Iraq -- fewer than many officials have assumed.

"Analysts and government officials in the U.S. and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," it said.

Non-Iraqi militants made up less than 10 percent of the insurgents' ranks -- perhaps even half that -- the study said. [...]

The study estimated the largest foreign contingent was made up of 600 Algerian fighters. It said about 550 Syrians, 500 Yemenis, 450 Sudanese, 400 Egyptians, 350 Saudis, and 150 fighters from other countries had crossed into Iraq to fight. [emphasis added]
These facts seem to belie the increased saber rattling vis a vis Syria, ostensibly in response to that country's lax crackdown on the infiltration of foreign fighters. Clearly Syria is not doing all it can to stem the flow, and Syrians are indeed making it over the border to fight in Iraq, but Syria and every other nation's contributions of fighters combines makes up less than 10% of the insurgencies' ranks. In other words, even with a fully cooperative Syria, our problems with respect to the insurgencies would remain critical.

Is this just the usual 'maintainence' boilerplate on the part of the Pentagon-reliable Kurdish leader and Iraqi Foreign Minister? Or is it the recurrence of a leitmotif in a Prelude To A Cock Up? The GOP talking points still overestimate the importance of foreign fighters to the general insurgency (I just heard Rep. Duncan Hunter on C-SPAN strongly imply that the foreign fighters are the main cause of instability in Iraq! Riiight!). Any thoughts?

[UPDATE: Max Boot fills in some dreamy details for us:

...bombing strikes, commando raids and increased support for anti-Assad dissidents may help to concentrate the mind of the world's sole surviving Baathist strongman.

(hat tip Matt Y]

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Godwin's Law 'Sunsets'

Well, not really. But its bastardization has done. It has long annoyed me that pointing out any qualitative similarity between an instance of American authoritarianism, and the 1930s European kind, was met first with nice English words for 'bullshit' (like 'tosh'), and then with loaded citations of Godwin's Law: hey, where I come from, it's un-American to ignore authoritarianism in our own midst! In a world in which Teddy Roosevelt's Estate Tax is the 'Death Tax', equal rights for gay people is 'special treatment', and the Executive branch thinks it makes reality, the concept of 'naming rights' takes on extra meaning. Marketing concepts like this have seeped into so many aspects of American life, not just politics. Consider this conversation I've had many times with a very knowledgeable music aficionado (the names have been changed to protect the innocent):

-(afficio) Hey man, I just got the new album by The Cheetotarians and I think you might like it.

-(me) Yeah?

-(afficio) Yeah, it's sort of a cross between Captain Beefheart and Lawrence Welk.

-(me) So, great stuff?

-(affico) Well, I can hear the influences...I think I detect some Magma in there, too.

-(me) But do you like it? Is it any good?


Sometimes naming the nameless is a vital first step towards grappling with it. But sometimes naming something means nothing at all - is actually a clever way to only appear to be saying something. 'You just think Bush's Iraq war is a mess because you're a liberal!'; 'You think Bush's and congress' transfer of vast chunks of our national wealth to rich people and big corporations is reminiscent of National Socialism? Woah dude, you are SO busted: Godwin's Law!'

But at least this last line of anti-reasoning is extinct now. Just as (yawn) it took Nixon to go to China for the first time, we've all had to wait for Andrew Sullivan to break the rhetorical ice. About time.

[UPDATE: No. Unlike Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band and Lawrence Welk and His Hotsy Totsy Boys, 'The Cheetotarians' is not a real rock and roll band. It's the name of a nacent song of mine, actually (perhaps it will end up being 'Cheatotarian' to preclude legal action). The inspiration was a legendary young woman whose story is oddly appropriate to this post. Despite being a strict - and somewhat self-rightous - vegetarian, she's very fat. She doesn't eat any meat or fish, but does eat: cheetos, doo dads, ding dongs, knick knacks, nips, cheezit (get yer own box!), poppycock, combos, doodles, corn nuts, moonpies, munch'ems, doritos, 'hot fries', nibs, and Campbell's cream of potato soup out of a can.]

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TIA Looks French

I'm not going to be smashing any stereotypes or playing against type by admitting that I'm going on vacation to....France. Alas, tis true. From now until Monday, I'll be cavorting with the truculent surrender monkeys in Paris. But rest assured my fellow Americans, I'll be on a one man crusade to replace every reference to "France" that I come across with the more worthy moniker "freedom."

So, while your humble narrator will be departing on an Air France Freedom Flight later this evening, I leave TIA's readers in the capable hands of Mssr. Jean d' Beurre. Au Revoir.

Study Abroad For A PHD In Terrorism

Well, this was bound to happen (as reported by Newsweek via Swopa):

At sundown, the most-wanted man in Ghazni province comes roaring down a country road astride his motorcycle. Mohammed Daud, 35, commands the biggest Taliban force in this area roughly 100 miles southwest of Kabul....Climbing off his machine, Daud launches into a glowing account of where he spent the first few months of this year and what he's done since his return. "I'm explaining to my fighters every day the lessons I learned and my experience in Iraq," he tells a NEWSWEEK correspondent. "I want to copy in Afghanistan the tactics and spirit of the glorious Iraqi resistance."

...Daud and other Taliban leaders tell NEWSWEEK that the Afghan conflict is entering a new phase, with help from Iraq. According to them, Osama bin Laden has opened an underground railroad to and from jihadist training camps in the Sunni Triangle. Self-described graduates of the program say they've come home to Afghanistan with more-effective killing techniques and renewed enthusiasm for the war against the West. Daud says he's been communicating a "new momentum and spirit" to the 300 fighters under his command.

...One beneficiary of Al Qaeda's renewed interest in Afghanistan is Hamza Sangari, a Taliban commander from Khost province....An Arab named Abu Nasser taught him to make armor-penetrating weapons by disassembling rockets and RPG rounds, removing the explosives and propellants and repacking them with powerful, high-velocity "shaped" charges. Another Arab trainer, Abu Aziz, trained him to make and use various kinds of remote-controlled devices and timers. A veteran Arab fighter named Abu Sara showed him how to spring ambushes and engage in urban fighting. Sangari said he often heard the sounds of battle nearby. He volunteered to fight, but his instructors told him his job was to study and get home alive to fight in Afghanistan.

...The guerrillas seem to have no trouble recruiting and arming new fighters. Daud says his forces have tripled from 100 to 300 since last year. This year at least 51 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared with a total of 60 in the first three years of combat. One big reason for the jump in the U.S. fatality rate seems to be the guerrillas' shift to shaped-charge IEDs.

...The big worry is that studying Iraqi tactics will make the Afghan resistance significantly stronger and more lethal. During a recent sweep of pro-Taliban sites along the Afghan frontier in north Waziristan, Pakistani troops collected a mound of Arabic-language training manuals, apparently copies of the ones used by insurgents in Iraq. Sangari says he was impressed by way Iraqi insurgents created combat videos to help fund-raising and recruiting efforts; now similar videos of Taliban attacks are showing up in bazaars along the Pakistani border. An even scarier development was a suicide bombing at a mosque in Kandahar in early June that was eerily similar to atrocities against places of worship in Iraq.
As I have maintained all along, the "flypaper theory" - the "fight 'em over there so we don't have to fight 'em over here" argument - is deeply flawed for so many reasons. First, as the most recent CSIS/Anthony Cordesman report indicates, young Muslim men are joining jihadist groups in direct response to our actions in Iraq. In other words, we are breeding flies that, but for our invasion, would not have been so radicalized.

Second, as the Newsweek article suggests, the flies that we're breeding are going to be better trained, equipped, motivated and indoctrinated - and now they will have a network of like minded terrorists with which to operate in tandem or toward the same objectives. Flies on steroids that won't stay glued to the flypaper indefinitely. They will eventually branch out, as the above cited article indicates.

Not to mention the likelihood for multiple civil wars erupting in Iraq which will further destabilize the region and ensure the perpetuation of a failed state in the center of the Middle East so that aspiring terrorists will know where to go to bone up on their jihadist tutelage.

All this, and the US taxpayers are footing the bill to the tune of several hundred billion dollars - so far. While the structure of the all volunteer military in America is pushed to the brink of meltdown.

Let me put it to you simply: The invasion of Iraq was the absolute biggest strategic blunder the US government has committed since Vietnam. Actually, this is worse. And you voted for George Bush for national security reasons?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Don't Call It A Quagmire

As I remarked in my previous post, the fact that the media has finally gotten into the habit of referring to the violent opposition in Iraq as "insurgencies" in the plural (as opposed to the singular "insurgency") is a sign of progress, at least in terms of understanding the nature of the problems we face. Unfortunately, the need to adjust the lexicon to the ever evolving situation doesn't stop there. Not only are there multiple strains of insurgency to contend with, each with competing interests and varied compositions, but there is yet another truly frightening specter revealing itself in Iraq at this juncture - the prospect for multiple civil wars.

Many observers correctly point out that there is already some low-intensity civil war unfolding in Iraq today; with predominately Sunni insurgents lashing out at Shiites and Kurds, resulting in retaliatory crackdowns on the Sunni forces by Iraqi security forces which are comprised of mostly Shiite and Kurdish fighters. The near universal fear is that this low level violence will erupt into full blown civil war, with an exponentially higher rate of civilian and combatant casualties. While these fears are well founded, they are not exhaustive of all civil war scenarios.
Anthony Shadid clues us into another possibility:

This question of civil war is really pressing, and I think it is actually important to say whether one is under way or not. I believe it is, but maybe not in the way we've fashioned it in the past: Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. When I think of the civil war in Iraq, I'm struck by the fault lines that are getting less attention. There is the sometimes explosive rivalry between Hakim's Badr militia and the Sadr forces. We've seen time and again the flaring of differences in western Iraq between insurgent groups. (As far back as last year, I heard an Iraqi guerrilla from Fallujah, of the nationalist variety, vowing to shoot any Arab expat trying to give him orders.) We should be careful in not minimizing differences between the two Kurdish parties. Understandably our attention is focused on Zarqawi's threats to wage an unrelenting campaign against Shiites. But in the long run, it's the intra-communal battles that I think are more decisive and worrisome. [emphasis added]
According to Shadid, there is as much, if not more, to be concerned about with respect to possible Shiite on Shiite, Kurd on Kurd and Sunni on Sunni violence. In other words, rather than a massive civil war between the three major sects/ethnicities (or perhaps in addition to it), we could see a bloody mosaic of internecine conflicts that spread their tentacles into all corners of Iraq as the myriad organizations vie for power in a Hobbesian nightmare. Such catastrophic outcomes seem a far cry from predictions of democratic change spreading through the region. Instead, there could be a ripple of violence and instability emanating like a shockwave from Baghdad. Swopa, as usual, is on the case citing a separate piece by Shadid:
As Shadid notes in a separate post sketching what Iraq might look like after an American withdrawal:

I think you could have an ostensible government in Baghdad, with ministries and embassies around it. In the hinterland, you could have militias staking out turf: Badr, Sadr and so on vying for influence in parts of Baghdad and the south, elements of the insurgency laying claims to land in the west and center, the Kurdish parties competing in the north, with varying degrees of intensity. Their points of intersection would be explosive, though not necessarily numerous.
A complicating factor here is how neighboring countries would react to Iraq's disintegration. With the U.S. no longer the biggest dog in the yard, several might see an opportunity to tip the balance of power in their direction -- Iran through a more overt alliance with one or more Shiite factions, Turkey by intervening in Kurdistan, and so on.
Add to that list Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Jordanians and Syrians, backing one or more of the various Sunni factions, and there is a recipe for region-wide mayhem. All the while, we are relegated to "staying the course" in order to plug the many holes in the dike. The problem is, we are running out of troops, and so we are running out of fingers for the dike which grows more porous by the day. Speaking of which, the realities of the deteriorating situation in Iraq are probably behind the British government's recent reversal on troop deployments to the region:

Secret plans by the Government to reduce troop numbers in Iraq have been shelved - and there is now no official date for the withdrawal of British soldiers, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

The decision comes as ministers prepare to announce an unexpected redeployment of up to 6,000 members of the 7th Armoured Brigade - the renowned Desert Rats - in the conflict zone next month. This follows growing concerns that Iraq is heading into full-scale civil war.

Under the original withdrawal plans of John Reid, the Defence Secretary, up to 8,500 troops should have returned to Britain by next month with the rest coming home by the middle of next year.

But the confirmation of a new large-scale troop redeployment, and the news that there is no end-date for British withdrawal, have sparked fears among serving soldiers and senior military figures that Iraq may be developing into Britain's own "Vietnam".
Of course, the recent violence in the supposedly "stable" southern city of Basra (an area under British control) will not likely cause the British to upgrade their pessimistic outlook - though it may make their prolonged presence untenable in the long run. In that incident, two British "soldiers" (they were actually operating in civilian clothes) were taken prisoner by the local police and had to be rescued by a contingent of British tanks. The two soldiers had, according to the Iraqis, killed a local police officer. In addition, at least two Iraqi civilians died in subsequent clashes with the British troops. But this incident only revealed the extent of the problems that lurk beneath the surface in the new Iraq.
Brig Lorimer added: "It is of deep concern that British soldiers held by the police should then end up being held by the militia. This is unacceptable."

BBC Defence Correspondent Paul Wood said local police revealed the whereabouts of the two men after the station was stormed.

"At the point of a 30mm cannon - no shots were fired - but at the point of this cannon, the Iraqi police gave away the location of where the two British soldiers had been taken," he said.

...Paul Wood said none of Basra's 20,000 police officers had helped the UK troops "partly because of reticence by their commanders, partly because, I am afraid, they have been infiltrated by these militants".

He added: "Now we are in the situation where presumably revenge will be sought by relatives of the dead Iraqis - and our allies in the police, I think there has been a complete breakdown of trust and it's going to be very difficult for British troops to call on them." [emphasis added]
To summarize the situation in Basra, heretofore an example of stability, the police and local militias are increasingly indistinguishable and ostensibly operating in tandem. And the militias' leadership is growing impatient with, if not hostile to, the presence of foreign troops. Things are getting dicey at a time when both the British and American governments are looking for an escape hatch. The Iraqis might be forcing one on them. Swopa, once again:

With the U.S. and British militaries so badly overstretched by the ongoing violence in both Iraq and Afghanistan, they've been desperately looking for a Peter to rob so they can pay Paul. For a moment, they thought they'd found him in southern Iraq, planning to hand authority to local Shiite militias Iraqi security forces so that more British troops could be sent to Afghanistan while the Americans devote more manpower to fighting Sunni guerrillas in western Iraq (in fact, the larger-than-usual offensive in Tall Afar used forces diverted from the south).

The unrest in Basra, though, makes that house of cards tumble down. Previously hinted-at plans to withdraw British troops have been scrapped, meaning that the U.K. can't replace U.S. troops in Amnesiastan [sic], which in turn can't be used to relieve the strain in Iraq's al-Anbar province. With a relatively minimal amount of effort, al-Sadr has helped make sure the Americans and British remain in an unsustainable position of trying to plug too many security holes with too few troops. And it's entirely up to him whether to turn up the pressure even further.
I know this word is taboo, and its mere utterance inevitably elicits jeers and condemnations from certain quarters, so forgive me. But if this isn't a quagmire, it is about as close as you can get.

Monday, September 19, 2005

But First, The Good News...

The good news is, the media and blogosphere have, over time, become accustomed to the notion that there is not one monolithic "insurgency" in Iraq, but rather several different "insurgencies," each with varying compositions, objectives, tactics and raisons d'etre. There are Iraqi Sunni revanchists that seek to reinstate Baath Party rule, foreign jihadists and domestic Islamists fighting for the creation of a Taliban-esque theocracy, Shiite fighters lashing out at an occupying power and jockeying for power internally, Sunni tribesman avenging deaths at the hands of coalition forces, foreign fighters joining the jihad to expel US forces perceived as crusaders in Muslim lands, etc. A recent report put out by the CSIS in conjunction with the indispensable Anthony Cordesman, sheds some light on the composition of certain strains of the various insurgencies - the conclusions of which defies some of the conventional wisdom (via Laura Rozen):

The study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), obtained by Reuters on Sunday, also said Saudis made up just 350 of the 3,000-strong foreign insurgents in Iraq -- fewer than many officials have assumed.

"Analysts and government officials in the U.S. and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," it said.

Non-Iraqi militants made up less than 10 percent of the insurgents' ranks -- perhaps even half that -- the study said. [...]

The study estimated the largest foreign contingent was made up of 600 Algerian fighters. It said about 550 Syrians, 500 Yemenis, 450 Sudanese, 400 Egyptians, 350 Saudis, and 150 fighters from other countries had crossed into Iraq to fight. [emphasis added]
These facts seem to belie the increased saber rattling vis a vis Syria, ostensibly in response to that country's lax crackdown on the infiltration of foreign fighters. Clearly Syria is not doing all it can to stem the flow, and Syrians are indeed making it over the border to fight in Iraq, but Syria and every other nation's contributions of fighters combines makes up less than 10% of the insurgencies' ranks. In other words, even with a fully cooperative Syria, our problems with respect to the insurgencies would remain critical. Nevertheless (hat tip Nadezhda):

Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador to Iraq, made the off the record prediction that the US will go into Syria to combat insurgents that have been using the country as a staging ground for terrorist activity in Iraq.
And this from Pat Lang is a cause for concern as well.

The CSIS report's findings also support this site's position that the war in Iraq has further radicalized the region, aiding the cause of Bin Laden in recruitment and support. These factors undermine the supposed benefits of the dubious "flypaper theory" - if you simultaneously breed flies, ensnaring some is not much of a strategic advantage. Especially when the flies that slip through the cracks emerge indoctrinated, trained, motivated and with a network of contacts with which to utilize to practice terror abroad. In short, Iraq has become what Afghanistan was in the 1990s.

The study by Middle East analyst Anthony Cordesman and Saudi security adviser Nawaf Obaid may offer further fuel to critics who say that instead of weakening al Qaeda, the 2003 invasion of Iraq brought fresh recruits to Osama bin Laden's network.

Hundreds of Saudi fighters who joined the insurgency in Iraq showed few signs of militancy before the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, according to a detailed study based on Saudi intelligence reports.

Most were motivated by "revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country."

It said Saudi Arabia had interrogated dozens of Saudi militants who either returned from Iraq or were caught at the border. "One important point was the number who insisted that they were not militants before the Iraq war," it said.

"The vast majority of Saudi militants who entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war, and were radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion," the study said.

Backing up their claim, 85 percent of those interrogated were not on any watch list of known militants, the study said. Most came from the west, south or center of Saudi Arabia, often from middle class families of prominent conservative tribes. [emph. added]
While Cordesman and the CSIS provide evidence to support this contention, it really doesn't require a suspension of reason. How could it have been any other way? With the image of the United States in the region in need of repair, with the battle for moderate hearts and minds calling for action, we instead chose to invade a second Muslim nation giving Bin Laden a propaganda coup. Images of dead and dismembered Iraqi women and children were never going to buttress our cause. These results were, sadly, predictable. The thought that some policymakers think that invading Syria in the near future would be an acceptable adjunct to our already counterproductive foreign policy in the region astounds me.

Friday, September 16, 2005

We're All Zeppelin Fans

Pejman Yousefzadeh, who now shares his blogospheric space with occasional Belgravia Dispatch guest poster Joseph Britt (Mr. Britt is also intermittently spotted, via an alias, in TIA's comments section), discusses a Robert Kagan Op-Ed in the Washington Post:

Robert Kagan has a very good read-the-whole-thing article pointing out what any student of the most recent history should know; that support for ousting Saddam Hussein was bipartisan and widespread from the 1990's through 2003. Few people point this out nowadays, given the partisan nature of the debate over Iraq. And yet, one would think that it would be the honest and responsible thing to do to go to many of those who now say that getting rid of Saddam was a terrible idea because he was never a threat to us and remind them that once not too long ago, they felt quite differently.
Reading Pejman's post, as well as the Kagan article, reminded me of this very worthwhile essay by Richard Haass appearing in the penultimate edition of Foreign Affairs (more on this below). The shorter version of my objections to Pejman/Kagan's thesis rests along the following lines: First, prior support should not lock someone into support of a policy irrespective of outcomes or real world effects. If people weren't allowed to change course or admit error, our policies would become brittle and self-defeating. I mean, at the turn of the century many people supported using hydrogen to give zeppelins their lift. But after the Hindenburg went up in flames, would it have been wrong for those same engineers and public servants to proclaim loudly that helium, not hydrogen, was the better course of action for future zeppelin construction? Of course, there is a fine line between admitting error and pretending to have been on the right side all along (whatever that may be).

Second, not all forms of regime change are alike, so, it should be noted, different people were actually urging different courses of action even if couched in the similar rhetorical packaging of "regime change." Third, even if someone supported the use of preventitve invasion to cause regime change, such support, once logged as some vague policy proclamation, does not remain constant regardless of the timing, means and the context of the actual proposed implementation of such policy. It is somewhat unfair to hold a pundit, politician or journalist to a certain policy when the extenuating circumstances alter, in some cases dramatically, over time.

In other words, Kagan takes some short cuts by lumping everyone who at one time or another advocated for the ill-defined "regime change" in Iraq with those that still supported the actual invasion in March 2003 to accomplish such goal (with the then current troop levels, international opinion fixed against such action, no UN support, etc.). For those whose support for the invasion never wavered up until March 2003, Kagan's criticism is valid - but even then only to the extent that such pundit, politician or thinker doesn't acknowledge and account for their own personal conversion. Allow me to explain.

Before we begin, let's establish that Saddam Hussein had been a brutal, malevolent and repressive despot for decades prior to his ouster, even when the United States considered him a useful ally to counter the spread of Iran's Islamic Revolution. The fact that there was bi-partisan condemnation and distaste for Saddam should, therefore, come as no surprise. In fact, through much of the 1980s, it was only the Left, and not the Right, that was concerned with Hussein's transgressions. But that doesn't necessarily translate into an endorsement for the timing and means employed by the Bush Administration in its decision to invade Iraq.

Not Always On Time

The issue of timing should be considered when parsing statements made over the course of several years (near a decade in some cases) regarding Saddam's regime and the proper means for dealing with it. Even if one supported regime change in Iraq prior to the invasion, and even if one supported regime change using military means, it is not inconsistent or hypocritical to oppose the timing selected by the Bush Administration to initiate such policy. It is perfectly reasonable (wise actually) to have objected to opening a second front in Iraq while the mission in Afghanistan was still so unsettled and the effort to counter Al Qaeda and similar networks required an ongoing commitment of valuable and limited intelligence, military and monetary assets. It is also a perfectly justifiable position to state that one would favor an invasion to topple Saddam, but only if the United States could muster support from the international community, field hundreds of thousands more troops, secure the cloak of legitimacy provided by the UN (despite its obvious flaws), as well as other factors missing from the picture in March 2003.

Further, it was sage advice to caution against playing into the hands of Osama Bin Laden by invading a second Muslim country in a matter of months and giving his virulent propaganda about US/Anglo/Zionist crusaders a semblance of credence. Not to mention the pictorial aid of images of innocent Muslim civilians (including women and children) dead and dismembered at the hands of a Western military power - the inevitable result of collateral damage. At a time when the United States needed to engage the Muslim world in a battle with Bin Laden for the hearts and minds of moderates, invading yet another Muslim nation, with little perceivable justification, was destined to radicalize and enrage. Even if, in the abstract, deposing Saddam was considered a justifiable and worthy endeavor.

Then there is the strategic aspect. As Mark Danner pointed out in a recent cover story for New York Times Magazine, Bin Laden was trying to provoke us militarily, but things didn't turn out the way he intended or planned. At least initially:
According to a text attributed to Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian Army colonel now generally identified as bin Laden's military chief, "the ultimate objective was to prompt" the United States "to come out of its hole" and take direct military action in an Islamic country. "What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere." ("This is a new kind of evil," the president said five days after the attacks, "and we understand. . .this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.")

The 9/11 attacks seem to have been intended at least in part to provoke an overwhelming American response: most likely an invasion of Afghanistan, which would lead the United States, like the Soviet Union before it, into an endless, costly and politically fatal quagmire.[...]

For the jihadists, luring the Americans into Afghanistan would accomplish at least two things: by drawing the United States into a protracted guerrilla war in which the superpower would occupy a Muslim country and kill Muslim civilians - with the world media, including independent Arab networks like Al Jazeera, broadcasting the carnage - it would leave increasingly isolated those autocratic Muslim regimes that depended for their survival on American support. And by forcing the United States to prosecute a long, costly and inconclusive guerrilla war, it would severely test, and ultimately break, American will, leading to a collapse of American prestige and an eventual withdrawal - first, physically, from Afghanistan and then, politically, from the "apostate regimes" in Riyadh, Cairo and elsewhere in the Islamic world.[...]

In Afghanistan, bin Laden would be disappointed. [emphasis added]
But then, with the battlefield in Afghanistan still smoldering, the Bush Administration rushed to give Bin Laden what counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer dubbed, "a Christmas gift he never thought he would get" because it provided Bin Laden with everything he hoped Afghanistan would have been, but wasn't. In short, the war in Iraq. So, it is possible to have favored regime change in theory and also to have advocated regime change through invasion, but still objected to the timing and extenuating circumstances surrounding the March 2003 invasion for several well founded reasons without there being glaring inconsistencies or hypocrisies in need of rectifying.

That Depends On What Your Definition Of "Regime Change" Is

When building his case that there was broad bipartisan support for the invasion of Iraq throughout much of the 1990s leading up to March 2003, Kagan points to the Clinton Administration's stance vis a vis Iraq and Saddam:
In his second term Clinton and his top advisers concluded that Hussein's continued rule was dangerous, if not intolerable. Albright called explicitly for his ouster as a precondition for lifting sanctions. And it was in the midst of that big confrontation, in December 1997, that Kristol and I argued what the Clinton administration was already arguing: that containment was no longer an adequate policy for dealing with Saddam Hussein. In January 1998 I joined several others in a letter to the president insisting that "the only acceptable strategy" was one that eliminated "the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction." That meant "a willingness to undertake military action" and eventually "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power." The signatories included Francis Fukuyama, Richard Armitage and Robert Zoellick.
This paragraph by Kagan highlights the point I am trying to make about regime change being an imprecise term with many strategic offspring. First, it should be pointed out, that despite Kagan's claim that the Clinton Administration had already concluded that containment was no longer adequate, the Clinton Administration chose to pursue just that policy: containment. After all, why, if the Clinton Administration had reached the same conclusion as Kagan and Kristol, was the letter they and their colleagues wrote urging military action necessary? And let's not forget, such military action was never actually undertaken, and the letter failed in its intent. That sort of belies the conclusion that the Clinton Administration was opting for the same policy exemplified by the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. If it had, wouldn't it have implemented its designs?

But this gets to the larger point, made so eloquently by Richard Haass in an essay in Foreign Affairs. Regime change as a goal is not a monolithic being. I will quote him at length:
Regime change allows a state to solve its problems with another state by removing the offensive regime there and replacing it with a less offensive one...

Using regime change as a policy panacea is nothing new. Nor are the challenges posed by repressive countries possessing threatening weaponry; these are certainly not exclusively post-Cold War or post-September 11 phenomena. Indeed, the Cold War itself can be understood as a prolonged confrontation with a state of precisely this sort; the Soviet Union threatened the United States by what it did beyond its borders and offended Americans by what it did within them. So had Nazi Germany and imperial Japan before it.

The Roosevelt administration ultimately chose to deal with Germany and Japan through a policy of regime change, seeking not simply to defeat them on the battlefield and reverse their conquests but to continue war until the regimes in Berlin and Tokyo were ousted and something much better was firmly ensconced. It took years of armed occupation and intrusive involvement in the internal politics of both countries -- what is known today as nation building -- to achieve that latter objective.

The U.S. approach to the Soviet Union, however, was markedly different. After World War II, when Moscow emerged as Washington's principal global rival and threat, "rollback" became something of a popular concept. Yet the potential for a nuclear war in which there would be no winners regardless of who struck first tempered U.S. policy. Seeking regime change, or rollback, was deemed too risky, even reckless, given what could result if a desperate Soviet leadership lashed out with all the force at its disposal.

Simply acquiescing to Soviet behavior at home and abroad, however, was not acceptable to Washington either. The result was a policy of "containment," which George Kennan (then a U.S. diplomat in Moscow) helped formulate in his "long telegram," which ultimately found its way into this magazine in 1947. Containment was never as modest a policy as its critics alleged. Although it prescribed resisting Moscow's attempts to spread communism and expand Soviet influence, it also had a second, less cited dimension.

"It is entirely possible," Kennan wrote, "for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement. ... The United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than [the Kremlin] has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power."

In other words, containment's second, subordinate goal was regime change. It eventually achieved this end through incremental means. But this method was so gradual (it took more than 40 years to succeed) that it could better be understood as regime evolution, and it took a back seat to containing Soviet advances. Whereas regime change (as the Bush administration uses the term) tends to be direct and immediate and to involve the use of military force or covert action, as well as attempts to isolate both politically and economically the government in question, regime evolution tends to be indirect and gradual and to involve the use of foreign policy tools other than military force. [...]

In the end, the Soviet regime did change. Historians will continue to debate how much of this was due to internal flaws in the Soviet system and how much resulted from U.S. and Western policy. The easy answer is that both forces were effective. The important thing is that an end did come, and it came peacefully. The third great conflict of the twentieth century, like the first two, ended with the result desired by the United States. Unlike the outcomes of the first two conflicts, however, this one was achieved without total war. [emphasis added]
So from Haass we see that "regime change" as an overarching policy goal can have many different strategic manifestations that are spread along a broad spectrum - and in practice policymakers often pick and choose a combination of the various tools available to achieve the desired ends. Just as some fair-weather Iraq war supporters-cum-detractors are guilty of a little intellectual dishonesty, so too is Kagan exaggerating a bit when he paints all calls for regime change and opposition to the Hussein regime "bi-partisan support" for "removing Saddam Hussein by force" via the March 2003 invasion. Again, though he relies on the Clinton Administration much throughout his article as evidence of such bi-partisan support, Clinton's actual policies were closer to regime evolution than preventitive invasion along Haass's spectrum.

And for good reason I should add. Actual use of a military invasion to achieve regime change ("regime ouster" as Haass terms it, coupled with the subsequent "nation building") is a monumental undertaking, the difficulty of which cannot be overstated. The case for an invasion of Iraq, as George Bush Sr. and James Baker argued, was far from an exception. Haass offers this summary:

The Soviet experience holds important lessons for current U.S. foreign policy. Removing odious leaders -- "regime ouster" -- is no easy thing. The Soviet Union survived for nearly three-quarters of a century. The United States found it difficult to locate and arrest Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989 and impossible to oust Mohamed Farah Aideed in Somalia in 1993. Fidel Castro remains ensconced in Havana today.

Regime replacement, the second step in regime change, is even more difficult, however. In the end, toppling Saddam Hussein was easy compared with putting in place a new Iraqi government that could run a secure, viable country. Although the Iraq venture was made far more expensive and difficult than necessary by Washington's poor planning and questionable decisions, it is possible it would not have gone more smoothly even had Iraq's occupation been approached differently. And occupations elsewhere will not be much easier. The rise of nationalism, together with globalization (and the increased availability of powerful means of resistance), may have doomed prolonged occupations of foreign countries by sharply increasing their human, military, and economic costs.

Indeed, the uncertainties surrounding regime change make it an unreliable approach for dealing with specific problems such as a nuclear weapons program in an unfriendly state. Neither North Korea nor Iran appears to be on the brink of dramatic domestic change. A decade ago, many believed that North Korea was near collapse, yet the regime still stands, and it may persist for years more, notwithstanding North Korea's impoverishment, its cruel and eccentric leadership, and its utter lack of freedom. Iran, too, is unlikely to throw off its current clerical leaders, despite their unpopularity. Even if these assessments ultimately prove incorrect, regime change cannot be counted on to come quickly enough to remove the nuclear threats now posed by these countries.

Unless, that is, the United States is prepared to invade them. But the expense of this approach would be enormous. Pyongyang's conventional military power could inflict great loss of life and physical destruction on South Korea, and its nuclear weapons could obviously increase such costs dramatically. Many U.S. military personnel (including some of the more than 30,000 currently stationed in South Korea, along with reinforcements who would be sent) would lose their lives. The United States could and would win such a war, but only at great cost to itself, the region, and the rest of the world. The same goes for war with Iran. That country is roughly the size of Alaska and has 70 million people, roughly three times as many as Iraq -- more than enough to make any occupation costly, miserable, and futile for the United States.

Using more indirect tools to bring about regime evolution, instead of change, might well work but would take years, if not decades. Achieving regime evolution requires the strategic use of television, radio, and the Internet. Admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be offered in return for fundamental economic reforms, ones that are, by their nature, also political. Rhetorical support for change can also help, as can direct assistance to nongovernmental organizations and other elements of civil society. Economic and political incentives should be made available to the target country if it is willing to adopt policies that reduce threats and that create more freedom and space for independent economic and political activity; in the absence of such changes, targeted sanctions should be considered. Trade and personnel exchanges can open a closed society to new ideas. Over the past few decades, there have been dozens of cases of successful regime evolution in the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, and Asia, and there is no reason such patterns could not be repeated elsewhere if the United States makes the investment and takes the necessary time. Odious or dangerous regimes should never be neglected, but the safest and best way to encourage their moderation or implosion is to smother them with policies that force them to open up to and deal with the outside world.
This, I would say, should be one of the primary lessons learned from the Iraq campaign. Such recognition, however, should not be limited to those that opposed the invasion in the first place. Even war proponents should be encouraged to grapple with their earlier positions in order to test their theories and challenge their advocacy in light of history's tutelage. We might all want to fly a fleet of zeppelins, but that doesn't mean we need to stick to using hydrogen as the main buoyant. Hopefully then we can achieve a balance of strategies more akin to the framework advocated by Haass. Not an abandonment of military options mind you, but a realistic reckoning of the costs, benefits and likelihood of success.
Regime change, limited military action, diplomacy, and deterrence can all be considered as alternative policies. They are better understood, however, as components of a single comprehensive approach toward states such as North Korea and Iran. Deterrence is a way to make the best of a bad situation. Military action or, more precisely, the threat of it can buttress diplomatic prospects. But diplomacy should be the heart of U.S. policy toward both countries -- because it could succeed, because it must be shown to have failed before there is any chance of garnering support for other policies, and because all the other options are so unattractive.

As for regime change, it is best viewed as a complement to diplomacy and deterrence. It is essential to appreciate not only the limits of regime change but also its nature. A refusal to engage tyrannies allows them to wrap themselves in nationalism and to maintain control; offering regimes enhanced security and economic and political interaction if they meet specified requirements can deny them their rationale for tight control and their ability to maintain it. A foreign policy that chooses to integrate, not isolate, despotic regimes can be the Trojan horse that moderates their behavior in the short run and their nature in the long run. It is time Washington put this thinking to the test, toward what remains of the axis of evil. Delay is no longer an option, and drift is not a strategy. [emphasis added]
Nor is talk about starting the next war to solve our foreign policy dilemmas while we have our hands filled with two already. Remember the Hindenburg.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Uniter?

I must say I was somewhat taken aback at the President's speech tonight. In the middle of it, I turned to a friend and said, "He sounds like FDR." Not in terms of eloquence (though by Bush's standards, he was pretty solid), but in terms of rhetoric. I heard the comparison to Roosevelt and LBJ made by Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough many times in the post speech coverage. Scarborough seemed incredulous and outright angry - reiterating the sizable price tag for Bush's promises and questioning who was going to pay for this.

I was particularly stunned by Bush's statement that the cycle of poverty afflicting minorities in New Orleans was the effect of past racial discrimination. That's the second time my jaw hit the floor this week. But it didn't stop there. Bush went on to discuss how we can use the federal government to address the residual effects of state sanctioned and societal racism that are, after all, only a few decades from being raging problems. Because in much of America, to quote Faulkner, "the past isn't dead, it isn't even past."

Substantively, Bush outlined a laundry list of tools to combat intractable poverty, in many ways linked to the legacy of racism: job training programs, education credits, homestead programs to give poor people a chance to get a house at no cost from Federal lands, housing assistance, child care assistance, incentives for minority businesses, assistance to small business, etc.

In general, he discussed using the Federal government in a way that most conservatives would bristle at if the words were spoken by a Democrat. His proposals were Roosevelt-ian in scope - including $200 billion for a massive government rebuilding effort. As Scarborough said, it was reminiscent of "The WPA on steroids." Bush sounded like a liberal, with a solid grasp of persistent race-based problems in the United States. In short, it was very disconcerting.

But my question to Republicans and conservatives is this: Do you agree with the rhetoric Bush used tonight? Do you agree with the concepts promoted (leaving aside the potential for gaps between words and performance)? Will you loyally praise the President's bold vision and problem solving instincts? Will you defend his proposals if attacked?

Because if so, what on earth have we been fighting about for the past 50 years? It must have been one big misunderstanding. Who knew we were in agreement this whole time. And it took George W. Bush to show us the light.

Now can we all agree that other cities like Detroit, NYC, Los Angeles, Oakland and elsewhere, are also suffering from, as Bush would say, the inequality of opportunity caused by past discrimination? I mean, why stop with New Orleans. Right? Now that we agree.

[Doc Demarche, if you're out there, what do you say about Bush's reference to racism? Sounds like Richard Haass no?]

[Update: For the reader's edification, the portion of Bush's speech on race that I referenced above:

As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
Shocking. I never knew Bush and I agreed on this? And as Billmon points out, this, at the very least, will be one we can take away from last night's performance:

All that said, I still appreciate the fact that he raised the issue. And the next time some mouth-breather at Free Republic starts ranting about the goddamned welfare queens in New Orleans, or a pseudointellectual twit starts babbling infantile nonsense about "tribes," I hope somebody will let them know their beloved president disagrees with them.
(hat tip to Billmon for excerpting the relevant text as well)]

Command and Control Redux

This post was originally slated to be a Liberals Against Terrorism exclusive, but I'm going to bring it over here (with some touch-ups) because I think the story, as unfolding, is one worth taking notice of. The trajectory of these events, and the posturing of the players involved, could have a lot to do with the extent to which Iraq descends into bloody, brutal and destructive civil war (more widespread than the current levels).

A couple of weeks ago, in a post discussing the tragic stampede that killed many hundreds of Iraqis during a Shiite religious procession, I noted:

I have heard the argument made that Bin Laden has instructed Zarqawi to avoid targeting the Shiites and that Zarqawi has been complying. It's possible, but clearly someone hasn't gotten the memo.
This sparked an interesting and informative discussion between myself and Dan Darling. Dan offered the following reasonable explanation:

Downside of decentralization is that it makes it impossible to micro-manage the way you conduct the guerrilla war. So bin Laden may not want Shi'ites targeted and may be conveying that to Zarqawi, but given that he runs a coalition of at least half a dozen terrorist groups it makes it very difficult in practice to keep things under control. This is further compounded by the fact that the US has killed or captured a lot of Zarqawi's henchmen, this making command and control less than ideal and shifting the impetus to regional and local cells that may not share Zarqawi's ecumenism.
To which I largely agreed, but wondered if Zarqawi's own tenuous loyalty to Bin Laden, personal powerlust and well documented animosity toward Shiites might not be causing him to be somewhat more lax in implementing this aspect of Bin Laden's dictates. Dan responded:

Zarqawi is certainly a bigot as far as Shi'ites go, but at this point he's still financially as well as logistically dependent on the global al-Qaeda (particularly the European and Saudi networks) to support him in Iraq. Openly defying bin Laden as far as the Shi'ites are concerned, whatever his personal views, would provoke an inter al-Qaeda schism similar to what happened when GIA leader Antar Zouabri broke with bin Laden over declaring the whole of Algerian society takfir....The end-result was that bin Laden got the GIA's European leader Hassan Hattab to form the GSPC and, when combined with the government amnesty offer to FIS, the Algerian jihad was substantially weakened - though not before the GIA was basically annihilated by a combination of attrition and defections to the GSPC. Bin Laden is certainly aware of this and Zarqawi probably heard about it back in Afghanistan, which is why I think it's probably unlikely to occur.
[Yesterday], there was more evidence of sectarian violence targeting Shiites at the hands of either Zarqawi, or those aligned with him. According to CNN:

Insurgents launched more than a dozen suicide bombings, assassinations and execution-style killings in Iraq on Wednesday, killing at least 153 people and wounding more than 300.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, a group led by militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, apparently has said it is responsible, saying the attacks are in retaliation for the U.S.-Iraqi offensive in the northern city of Tal Afar. U.S. and Iraqi forces launched the operation last month to root out insurgents in the border city near Syria.

The claim was made on a Web site the group frequently uses, but CNN could not verify the authenticity of the posting.
Although the Web site claims could not be verified, the level of coordination in these attacks, and the use of Zarqawi's Internet real estate, leads me to believe that Zarqawi had at least some knowledge of their planning and execution - and perhaps some level of tacit support. If not, he has ceded control in a major way (big time decentralization), and this strain of the insurgency is beginning to resemble a rogue element. I'm reminded of this passage from Mark Danner's essay flagged by Praktike:

As Zarqawi described in his [January 2004] letter [to Bin Laden] and in subsequent broadcasts, his strategy in Iraq is to strike at the Shia - and thereby provoke a civil war. "A nation of heretics," the Shia "are the key element of change," he wrote. "If we manage to draw them onto the terrain of partisan war, it will be possible to tear the Sunnis away from their heedlessness, for they will feel the weight of the imminence of danger."
Despite this, Bin Laden allegedly overruled Zarqawi on targeting Shiites. But could it be that Bin Laden himself has changed courses to match Zarqawi's intentions? Or that Zarqawi is acting on his own initiative? No clear answers to these questions, but I would say all bets are off. The results are beginning to look the same regardless of whether or not Zarqawi is opposed to targeting Shiites.

I requested Dan's input, and once again he was on the spot to offer an insightful take:

This is why seeing the full transcripts of these things are important, dammit ;) What the press regards as newsworthy as far as quotes go often only gives you a brief window into what they're saying. I don't suppose anybody here has the 10K or so it costs to subscribe to the SITE Institute?

What it looks like to me is that Zark is splitting hairs here - the attack was because of what happened in Tal Afar, not because the good people of Baghdad are Shi'ites. That gives him cover, for lack of a better term, where he can reason with bin Laden that he had to hit back hard after Tal Afar and that if you blow stuff up in Iraq you're more likely than not to kill Shi'ites for demographic reasons.

Another point not to be missed is that Zark has the green light from bin Laden to target Shi'ites within the context of killing collaborators - in other words, he's allowed to kill them because they're working with the government rather than just because they're Shi'ites. Bin Laden's reasons as for why he doesn't want the Shi'ites targeted is because he views that as not being terribly productive towards his main goal of driving the US out of Iraq, since he probably figures that moving against the Shi'ites in a big way will push them into the arms of the Americans. Similarly...he didn't care that Antar Zouabri was a bloodthirsty lunatic who killed Algerian civilians by the hundreds but yanked his support of the GIA when he decided that his open declaration of intent to do so wasn't in the best interests of the jihad in Algeria.

One of the things that it is difficult to keep in mind is that for all their craziness is that al-Qaeda still operates on what we might call at least a pseudo-rational basis. For instance, Zarqawi has even employed Shi'ites to serve as mercenaries for him on occasion.
My reply (cleaned up for spelling and syntax):

Good points all, but I wonder if this:

Another point not to be missed is that Zark has the green light from bin Laden to target Shi'ites within the context of killing collaborators - in other words, he's allowed to kill them because they're working with the government rather than just because they're Shi'ites.
Won't end up providing Zark with the rationalization needed to continue a campaign of violence against mainly Shiite targets anyway. In the end, it might result in the same thing even if there is some PR gloss on it ala Bin Laden's truce with the Shiites write large.
To which Dan replied (slightly scrubbed for syntax):

Quite possibly, and I suspect that's at least how Zarqawi sees it, which may have been one of the reasons why it wasn't that big a deal for him to openly declare his allegiance to bin Laden to begin. But then bin Laden's never been too terribly concerned about how many people get killed by his minions to begin with because of his "ends justify the means" mentality. What he needs, rather, is plausible deniability so that he can claim to the Muslim world at large that he's above petty sectarian disputes and justify the deaths of any large numbers of Shi'ites who are killed by saying that they're collaborators with the new government.
All in all, not very encouraging. I think both Dan and myself think that Bin Laden wants to maintain what Dan terms "plausible deniability" so that he can avoid being tainted by the blood of the Muslim on Muslim violence that has been occurring in Iraq. Nevertheless, and despite the desire to preserve the appearance of aloofness, it seems that Zarqawi's tactics (and those of his underlings) are beginning to move more and more in the direction of an overt provocation of all out civil war premised on anti-Shiite animosity.

From Anthony Loyd in the Times (via Laura Rozen):

A TERRORIST mastermind has united insurgent groups in Baghdad to target the Iraqi Shia Muslim community with the aim of bringing civil war to Iraq, The Times has learnt.

According to US military intelligence sources, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man responsible for the bloodiest acts of terror in Iraq over the past two years, now commands thousands of fighters from various rival groups and is set to order further waves of bombings.

Yesterday the self-styled 'emir' of Iraq was blamed for a dozen co-ordinated bombings in Baghdad that killed 152 people, the single worst death toll in the city since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Most of the dead were poor Shia labourers killed by a huge car bomb in a busy square.

"The al-Qaeda organisation in Mesopotamia is declaring all-out war on the Rafidha [a pejorative term for Shias], wherever they are in Iraq," said the 38-year-old in an audio message released on an Islamic website. He urged Sunni Muslims to "wake up from your slumber" and joint the fight.[...]

His organisation is believed already to have gained domination of smaller resistance groups in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in western Iraq and a centre of gravity for the Sunni insurgency. An Iraqi resistance insider there last week told The Times that al-Zarqawi's men had already caused thousands of Shia to flee the city over the past six weeks.

"His men announced through leaflets that all Shia should leave Ramadi or face 'the iron fist'," the Ramadi resident said. "At first local Sunnis didn't want anything to do with it. But they know how powerful Zarqawi's group is, that it doesn't hesitate to kill and is not afraid to die."

"They control Ramadi now. They have the best weapons and the most money, and more and more men. They walk openly on the streets when the Americans aren't around. So the Shias left, by their thousands." [emphasis added]
Not. Good. Things are moving in a very disturbing direction. If Zarqawi continues along this path, it will truly test the heretofore remarkable restraint shown by the Shiites. Full scale reprisals could be in the cards - more than the low level militia activity. At that point, chaos.

(Please Note: there are more comments on the LAT site to this post if you are interested in following the discussion there)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?