Saturday, April 29, 2006

Even When We Win, We Lose

If you take the shuttle between praktike and Swopa on the Nibras Kazimi line, a fuller picture of the Ayad Allawi intrigue begins to emerge. Zal Khalilzad's flirtation with trying to shoe-horn Allawi into the prime minister's seat - through some, er, less than democratic means - was the subject of previous speculation here. Kazimi provides one possible version of events surrounding this subterfuge [emphasis mine throughout]:

The election results presented a dilemma to the Bush administration: a Shia victory at the polls can never be allowed to turn into a victory for Iran's widening interests in the Middle East. The other goal was to prevent the Sadrists - enemies of America who have done battle twice against the democratic Iraqi state - from becoming de facto kingmakers due to their large showing in parliament. This was the right strategy, but somewhere down the line, America lost sight of its objectives and got lost in a silly game of pride and personalized politics. The electoral victors were all long time assets of the Iranians regime, and at their head was Mr. Hakim, a man Mr. Khalilzad communicates with in Farsi, the language of Iran and its derivative form that of Afghanistan.

American diplomats and spies on the ground in Baghdad had been keeping their fingers crossed for the return of Ayad Allawi, the ex-prime minister appointed by the Americans when sovereignty was handed back to the Iraqis. However, Mr. Allawi failed to deliver at the polls, and the first instinct was to contravene the numbers and bring him back to the top. To do that, Mr. Khalilzad put forward a plan to split the winning Shia block by promising American support to several hopefuls for the prime minister's job. The natural contender was Ibrahim Jaafari, the current prime minister who hoped to continue his mandate into a four year term. Another was American favorite and acolyte of Mr. Hakim's, Adel Abdel-Mahdi, and a third was the chairman of the Fadhila party, Nadim Al-Jabiri. Mr. Jabiri was the most ambitious and least talented of the lot, and thus, the easiest to dupe.

On January 20, a meeting was set up between Khalilzad, Allawi and Jabiri. According to sources privy to the discussions, Mr. Jabiri was promised the prime minister's slot if he could tear away his Fadhila Party faction and join the Kurds, the Sunnis, and Mr. Allawi's block. Mr. Allawi would later tell his lieutenants that the plan involved breaking off Fadhila and then forcing Mr. Jabiri - freshly out of friends - to deliver his votes to Mr. Allawi's bid for the top job.

This was a fine intrigue had it been employed anywhere else, but events are unfolding in Iraq that no amount of planning can keep up with...

But that's not to say that Zal's maneuvers were wholly without results. Kazimi in a subsequent post:

At this time, a wild rumor circulated among the top echelons of the UIA block that had Khalilzad warning of an American-backed military coup should Jaafari not relinquish his candidacy. But this unfounded rumor had an effect, and the morale of the Jaafari camp was squashed, leading the top man to back down.

In my prior post, I speculated that Zal's pushing of the Allawi line would be met with a rallying of support in a reinvigorated UIA bloc in defense of Jaafari. But I was wrong. Instead, it appears that Jaafari may have been sacrificed by the Shiites to head off the potential for an Allawi power grab.

That was a victory for Zal, right? Sort of. The problem is, "events are unfolding in Iraq that no amount of planning can keep up with":

The Americans were still doing due diligence on Al-Adib when it transpired that the UIA top brass had decided that he simply could not be the candidate - he was ethnically Persian and had only gotten his Iraqi citizenship papers done very recently. Picking Adib would have given credibility to accusations made by Arab leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak that the Shias owe allegiance to Iran, historically known as Persia.

Khalilzad and O'Sullivan kept their fingers crossed that other more palatable names would be put forth by the UIA, but they must have been surprised as much as anyone when the choice landed on Maliki. The key question that official Washington should be asking is this: did the Khalilzad-O'Sullivan duo advise President Bush that Washington's policy of hobbling Jaafari's candidacy would lead to the unfortunate situation of Maliki as prime minister?

Those American diplomats and strategic advisors can put a brave face on things and give Maliki the benefit of the doubt - as he is owed. However, there are many points against him from those in the know. He can be petty and quarrelsome, and forcefulness does not translate well into good managerial skills where the out-sized egos of Iraqi politicians are concerned: as deputy head of the De-Ba'athification Commission, Maliki initially expended his efforts to stymie the efforts of political foes such his party's rivals, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, in divvying up the job positions, budget and office space assigned to the commission. It later fell to Maliki to hire a general director of the commission's legal department, and since he had not built up a dedicated staff of his own over the years - a situation that still stands today - he quickly picked a candidate who it later transpired had a criminal record for fraud. To compound matters, Maliki refused to fire him even when confronted with the legal evidence and kept him at the job.

More skeletons will emerge from the convoluted alleyways of the Shia-dominated Al-Amin quarter of Old Damascus, where Maliki lived for many years and worked as a Da'awa Party official. There will be persistent allegations about his mysterious relationship with Major-General Mohammad Nassif of Syrian intelligence, better known as "Abu Wael," who has been recently promoted to Syria's tight decision-making team, and who generally handles the files that have to do with Iraq's Shia, Iran, and Hezbollah.

So we succeeded in bringing down Jaafari only to get Maliki instead. One choice, Adib, was practically an Iranian, so he was swapped for a politician with uncomfortably close ties to Syria. It's getting easier to understand the motivation behind the Allawi-coup daydreaming.

In Iraq, even when we win, we lose.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Turning Japanese

Breaking News: There is indeed rest for the wicked.

As proof of this shocking new revelation, I leave tomorrow for a one week vacation to Tokyo, Japan - and hopefully Kyoto if I can navigate the intricacies of intra-Japan travel. While over there, I'll be attending the wedding of occasional TIA guest commentator, and lone foreign correspondent, Alexander St John. Long overdue I might add - the vacation that is, not the wedding.

But just because I'll be doing my best to locate Scarlett Johansson while sampling every sake available in Japan, doesn't mean the party has to stop here in TIA-ville. Two highly qualified pinch hitters will be stepping up to the plate to cover for me in my absence. First, frequent guest columnist jonnybutter - a veritable TIA fixture - will be increasing the frequency of his posts.

Spelling jonny will be Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg - the man behind Draft Zinni and the collaborative site Blue Force (where I need to start stepping up my collab duties). If you ever make it out to Drinking Liberally on Thursday nights in NYC, Alex is the one in the hat. And I'm usually right next to him yapping away.

Show them both a little TIA-love while I'm away. And try not to let the Bush administration start any reckless boondoggles until I get back.

Until then, sayonara.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Fertile Crescent

Yesterday, the Sunni Vice President in the new Maliki-led government, Tariq al-Hashimi, called for the Sunni-led insurgency to be crushed by force. Today, Tariq al-Hashimi's sister was gunned down in a Baghdad as she was leaving her home. From MSNBC:

Mayson Ahmed Bakir al-Hashimi, 60, whose brother, Tariq al-Hashimi, was appointed by parliament as vice president Saturday, was killed by unidentified gunmen in a sedan as she was leaving her southwestern Baghdad home with her bodyguard, said police Capt. Jamel Hussein. The bodyguard, Saad Ali, also died, Hussein said.

This is the second tragedy to hit al-Hashimi's family:

It was the second recent killing in Tariq al-Hashimi's immediate family. On April 13, his brother, Mahmoud al-Hashimi, was shot while driving in a mostly Shiite area of eastern Baghdad.

The article provides some background information on al-Hashimi's recent political/rhetorical maneuvers that most likely made him and his family a target of insurgent violence.

On Wednesday, Tariq al-Hashimi called for Iraq's insurgency to be put down by force. Shiites had demanded that Sunni officials make such a statement as a show of their commitment to building a democratic system.

Al-Hashimi also shrugged off a video released this week by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, during which the al-Qaida in Iraq leader tried to rally Sunnis to fight the new government and denounced Sunnis who cooperate with it as 'agents' of the Americans.

'I say, yes, we're agents. We're agents for Islam, for the oppressed. We have to defend the future of our people,' al-Hashimi said at a news conference with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and his fellow vice president, Shiite Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

All three Iraqi leaders met with Rice and Rumsfeld on Wednesday.

On Thursday, al-Hashimi met with Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf.

At the risk of stating the obvious, forming political accords across ethnic/sectarian divides will be near impossible unless political leaders such as al-Hashimi can make such gestures without fearing for their lives, and the lives of family members. Without improved security, insurgents and miliprovocateursovacateurs will have the ability to negatively influence, if not scuttle, any such attempts at rapprochement.

Yet without a broad-based, inclusive political framework - that includes making significant amendments to controversial sections of the constitution - the security situation will likely deteriorate, or at least remain in its present poor condition.

It's an all too familiar knot. Iraq has become the fertile crescent of Catch-22's.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Most Underrated

There's an intriguing, though mildly disturbing, double-length article in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs that offers a rare, behind the scenes glimpse into Saddam Hussein's inner circle - complete with a retracing of Saddam's thinking on a number of relevant issues. I say 'mildly disturbing' because this inner circle seems reminiscent of one of Dante's mythical circles as described in the Inferno. Now I've had odious, unbearable bosses before, but, uh, nothing like this guy. Think the boss in Office Space if that movie was directed by Tarantino and Scorcese.

But the information unearthed in the article has obvious value. For example, the article attempts to provide an answer to the question: Why was Saddam so uncooperative with inspectors if he indeed had no WMD? The answer: Saddam didn't think the US would invade Iraq and if it did invade, Saddam didn't think the US would prevail. Thus, he wanted to maintain the perception that he did have WMD - or at least ambiguity around this issue.

When it came to weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Saddam attempted to convince one audience that they were gone while simultaneously convincing another that Iraq still had them. Coming clean about WMD and using full compliance with inspections to escape from sanctions would have been his best course of action for the long run. Saddam, however, found it impossible to abandon the illusion of having WMD, especially since it played so well in the Arab world.

Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as "Chemical Ali" for his use of chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians in 1987, was convinced Iraq no longer possessed WMD but claims that many within Iraq's ruling circle never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelons of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth. According to Chemical Ali, Saddam was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have WMD but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary, going on to explain that such a declaration might encourage the Israelis to attack.

By late 2002, Saddam finally tilted toward trying to persuade the international community that Iraq was cooperating with the inspectors of UNSCOM (the UN Special Commission) and that it no longer had WMD programs. As 2002 drew to a close, his regime worked hard to counter anything that might be seen as supporting the coalition's assertion that WMD still remained in Iraq. Saddam was insistent that Iraq would give full access to UN inspectors "in order not to give President Bush any excuses to start a war." But after years of purposeful obfuscation, it was difficult to convince anyone that Iraq was not once again being economical with the truth.

The entire article has so many facets that it's clearly worth a more in-depth treatment - which I may attempt at a later time - but I wanted to briefly highlight a couple of passages that touch on an aspect of the Iraq war/WMD story that I have argued on numerous occasions: sanctions worked. Not only did sanctions prevent Saddam from acquiring/re-equipping Iraqi WMD programs, but they also contributed to the severe decay and degradation of his conventional forces.

Another factor reduced Iraq's military effectiveness: sanctions. For more than a dozen years, UN sanctions had frayed the fiber of the Iraqi military by making it difficult for Baghdad to purchase new equipment, procure spare parts, or fund adequate training. Attempts to overcome the effects of the sanctions led Saddam to create the Military Industrial Commission as a means to sustain the military. The commission and a series of subordinate organizations steadily promised new capabilities to offset the effects of poor training, poor morale, and neglected equipment. Saddam apparently waited for the delivery of wonder weapons that would reverse the erosion of his military strength.

A captured Military Industrial Commission annual report of investments made in 2002Ð3 showed more than 170 research projects with an estimated budget of about 1.5 percent of Iraq's GDP. The commission divided projects among areas such as equipment, engineering, missiles, electronics, strategic weapons, artillery, and air forces. One senior Iraqi official alleged that the commission's leaders were so fearful of Saddam that when he ordered them to initiate weapons programs that they knew Iraq could not develop, they told him they could accomplish the projects with ease. Later, when Saddam asked for updates on the nonexistent projects, they simply faked plans and designs to show progress.

Consider, for example, decisions made based on the decrepit state of the Iraqi air force:

The best example of this focus is the prewar condition of the Iraqi air force, which did not launch a single sortie against the coalition during the invasion. According to the commander of Iraq's air force and air defense force, Hamid Raja Shalah, Saddam simply decided two months before the war that the air force would not participate. Apparently, Saddam reasoned that the quality and quantity of the Iraqi air force's equipment would make it worse than useless against coalition air forces. Consequently, he decided to save the air force for future needs and ordered his commanders to hide their aircraft. This decision was yet another indication that Saddam did not believe coalition ground forces would ever reach into the heart of Iraq. He was sure his regime would survive whatever conflict ensued.

To implement Saddam's decision to preserve the air force, the Iraqis moved most of their aircraft away from operational airfields. To hide them from prowling coalition air forces, they camouflaged planes in palm groves or buried them in the sand, from which coalition forces dug them up after the war. Saddam's refusal to use the Iraqi air force is reminiscent of his behavior during Desert Storm, when he ordered a significant portion of the air force to flee to Iran. In 2003, Saddam ruled out Iranian sanctuary, telling aides, "The Iranians are even stronger than before; they now have [part of] our air force." Even with his regime under dire threat, Saddam's thoughts were never far from the regional power balance. [emphasis mine throughout]

I know that sanctions/inspections are labeled by some hawkish types as "soft" and "weak" approaches to solving international crises, but given the relative successes/failures as well as the costs/benefits of these more restrained tactics vs. the Bush administration's reckless bellicosity, I think we need to reconsider what are, in effect, misconstrued biases.

The strength of a given policy is in the results - not the body count. And if we're judging results vis a vis Iraq, I think I'd take the impressive sanctions/inspections regime over the "shock and awe" fiasco.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Slippery Lid of Pandora's Box

Sebastian Holsclaw links to a truly chilling story at Radley Balko's site about the use of torture by local police in Tennessee against a suspected low level drug dealer. Apparently, the police were trying to get this man - who happens to be illiterate - to sign a confession despite the fact that they wouldn't describe the contents of the confession to him. When he refused, they began to torture him with sadistic gusto.

We only learn of this sordid business because the suspect's wife surreptitiously tape recorded the incident. The audio is now available online, though I would heed Holsclaw's admonition: "Don't listen to the audio unless you want to cry." Balko provides the lowlights:

They beat him, over and over, hook electrodes up to testicles and shock him, threaten to kill him, and threaten to go after his family. Early news accounts reported that the torture continued well beyond the end of the recording. After the tape ran out, the same deputies apparently repeatedly submerged the guy's head in a fish tank and a bath tub, threatening to drown him unless he confessed.

While it might be convenient and satisfying to conclude that these officers were directly inspired by policies implemented at Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the associated legal/moral justifications for torture put forth by the Bush administration and its supporters, Holsclaw makes a good point when he notes that these types of abuses existed well before the Bush administration, and will unfortunately persist long after 2008. There is a distinctively human aspect to this behavior that should not be underestimated or casually placed at the doorstep of the White House.

Though I must admit that the last bit about inducing the fear of drowning sounds an awful lot like waterboarding - which the Bush administration deemed to fall short of "torture" in a controversial decision when such a tactic was authorized for use by the CIA. So direct inspiration can't be ruled out either. While Presidential approval of tactics for use by the CIA in limited settings is a different matter from local law enforcement's free use of the same, one can still imagine the defense attorneys for these officers offering up the fact that the Bush administration itself authorized the use of waterboarding as a way of normalizing the behavior of their clients. An awkward moment in the court house no doubt.

In either instance, the less controversial contention would be that since these violent impulses reside in the recesses of human consciousness across cultural and societal divides, and are prone to manifest periodically, shouldn't official policy and oversight be unequivocal and vigilant in setting and enforcing clearly defined boundaries?

In contravention of this precept, however, the efficacy, utility and morality of torturing prisoners has been a matter of open debate among this nation's top leaders over the past four-plus years, and elements of torture have been incorporated into official policy as opposed to being relegated to the ignominious, illegal and clandestine underbelly of law enforcement. That is a direct result of the Bush administration's actions on this matter, and the rush to defend such decisions on the part of the Republican Party's various media outlets/pundits/supporters.

The danger inherent in such ambiguity reminds me of an account of a conversation in George Packer's The Assassins' Gate that I cited before (p. 326, emphasis added):

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

All of these men kept their jobs. One was even promoted.

Regardless of the ultimate, direct causal relationship between the Bush administration's muddying of the waters with respect to torture, and the incidents described in this story, Nell Lancaster makes a compelling argument on the thread over at Obsidian Wings about the destructive dynamic at play in the country at this time:

It's a two-way process:

Bottom-up, widespread abuse by police and guards (with averted eyes and impunity for most of it) ensures a ready supply of military torturers.

Top-down, a policy of torture sends the signal that being in a position of authority or power over others who can be depicted as "threats" permits torture.

Wouldn't it be a little better if we could limit such behavior to "one-way" status, or work toward eliminating it altogether? Should I even have to ask that question? This opened box needs a lid.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Dreyfuss Affair

Josh Marshall has an interesting post on the recent 60 Minutes appearance of retired CIA officer Tyler Drumheller - who was head of covert operations in Europe during a span of time that included the run up to the Iraq War. As Marshall indicates, there are two big points to take away from Drumheller's interview. The first has to do with the Niger-yellow cake uranium story.

According to Drumheller (a man who, given his position atop Europe's operations, was in a position to know), most of the intelligence community was well aware that the Niger-uranium story was highly implausible, and that the purported "smoking gun" documents that were brought forth from the Italian intelligence community were forgeries. More importantly, however, the Bush administration was made aware of this consensus on numerous occasions both before Bush's infamous State of the Union address as well as prior to the authorization of selective leaks, and other efforts, to attack Joe Wilson for his recounting of this conventional wisdom in his controversial op-ed. So the White House authorized selective leaks of the NIE to discredit Wilson's account of the story even though the White House was well aware that Wilson was right. But it wasn't just politics. And the president just wanted the American people to hear the whole story. Riiiiiight.

The second revelation from Drumheller concerned the existence of a high ranking Iraqi official named Naji Sabri whom the CIA managed to turn prior to the invasion. According to Drumheller, the White House was eager to hear what Sabri - who served as Iraq's foreign minister - had to say about Iraq's WMD and other potential casus belli - especially given Sabri's high level access to sensitive information. But that eagerness quickly evaporated when the White House learned that Sabri told (quite accurately) how Iraq had no active WMD programs at the time. After that inconvenient development, the White House completely ignored this potential gold mine of intelligence.

They hid behind the flimsy excuse that the value of Sabri's intelligence was dubious because it was single sourced. But as anyone familiar with the story knows, the White House was more than willing to use single sourced intelligence when it fit the script - including the single sourced intel gleaned from a man who carried the unintentionally descriptive moniker "Curveball."

But Marshall also makes a very good point about the official narrative from Washington and how Drumheller's version of events stands in contradiction to what we have been told from these sources. From Marshall [emph. mine throughout]:

Drumheller's account is pretty probative evidence on the question of whether the White House politicized and cherry-picked the Iraq intelligence.

So why didn't we hear about any of this in the reports of those Iraq intel commissions that have given the White House a clean bill of health on distorting the intel and misleading the country about what we knew about Iraq's alleged WMD programs?

Think about it. It's devastating evidence against their credibility on a slew of levels.

Did you read in any of those reports -- even in a way that would protect sources and methods -- that the CIA had turned a key member of the Iraqi regime, that that guy had said there weren't any active weapons programs, and that the White House lost interest in what he was saying as soon as they realized it didn't help the case for war? What about what he said about the Niger story?

Did the Robb-Silbermann Commission not hear about what Drumheller had to say? What about the Roberts Committee?

I asked Drumheller just those questions when I spoke to him early this evening. He was quite clear. He was interviewed by the Robb-Silbermann Commission. Three times apparently.

Did he tell them everything he revealed on tonight's 60 Minutes segment. Absolutely.

Drumheller was also interviewed twice by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (the Roberts Committee) but apparently only after they released their summer 2004 report.

Now, quite a few of us have been arguing for almost two years now that those reports were fundamentally dishonest in the story they told about why we were so badly misled in the lead up to war. The fact that none of Drumheller's story managed to find its way into those reports, I think, speaks volumes about the agenda that the writers of those reports were pursuing.

"I was stunned," Drumheller told me, when so little of the stuff he had told the commission's and the committee's investigators ended up in their reports. His colleagues, he said, were equally "in shock" that so little of what they related ended up in the reports either.

What Drumheller has to say adds quite a lot to our knowledge of what happened in the lead up to war. But what it shows even more clearly is that none of this stuff has yet been investigated by anyone whose principal goal is not covering for the White House.
This account triggered my memory of some aspects of an article that Robert Dreyfuss wrote a couple months back for the American Prospect. In it, Dreyfuss told of an internal CIA investigation that yielded vastly different results than other "official" inquiries. The internal CIA probe's account seems to track with the story Drumheller gave in this interview, and in subsequent answers to questions posed by Marshall. From Dreyfuss:

From 9-11 through the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, the neoconservative nexus in the administration, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, leaned heavily on the CIA to come up with intelligence to support the White House's preordained determination to go to war against Iraq. The pressure directed at Tenet, McLaughlin, and scores of other CIA managers, analysts, and field officers was intense. Subsequent official investigations, by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and by the commission co-chaired by Lawrence Silberman and Charles Robb, blithely passed over the question of whether intelligence analysts were pressured by the administration. Both studies determined that analysts were not pressured, a conclusion that CIA and other U.S. intelligence professionals find laughable -- especially the idea that analysts would answer in the affirmative when asked by commissioners or senators if they had been pressured....

In fact, analysts were pressured, and heavily so, according to Richard Kerr. A 32-year CIA veteran, Kerr led an internal investigation of the agency's failure to correctly analyze Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, preparing a series of four reports that have not been released publicly. Kerr joined the CIA in 1960, serving in a series of senior analytic posts, including director of East Asian analysis, the unit that prepared the president's daily intelligence brief, and finally as chief of the Directorate of Intelligence. For several months in 1991, Kerr was the acting CIA director; he retired in 1992. A highly respected analyst, Kerr received four Distinguished Intelligence Medals; in 1992, President George Bush Senior gave him the Citizen's Medal for his work during Operation Desert Storm.

Two years ago, Kerr was summoned out of retirement to lead a four-member task force to conduct the investigation of the weapons-of-mass-destruction fiasco. His team, which included a former Near East Division chief, a former CIA deputy inspector general, and a former CIA chief Soviet analyst, spent months sorting through everything that the CIA produced on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction prior to the invasion, as well as interviewing virtually everyone at the agency who had anything to do with producing the faulty intelligence estimates. The Kerr team's first report was an overview of what the CIA said about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the war compared with what Kerr calls the postwar "ground truth." The second looked specifically at a classified version of the important October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, which the administration used to build its case for war. The third looked at the overall intelligence process, and the fourth was a think piece that considered how to reorganize the management of intelligence analysis "if you could start all over again."

Kerr's four reports, with a fifth now under way, were viewed as the definitive works of self-criticism inside the agency and were shared with the oversight committees in Congress, outside commissions, and the office of the secretary of defense. Unlike the outside reports that looked at the same issues, however, Kerr's concluded that CIA analysts felt squeezed -- and hard -- by the administration. "Everybody felt pressure," Kerr told me. "A lot of analysts believed that they were being pressured to come to certain conclusions.... I talked to a lot of people who said, 'There was a lot of repetitive questioning. We were being asked to justify what we were saying again and again.' There were certainly people who felt they were being pushed beyond the evidence they had."

In particular, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other administration officials hammered at the CIA to go back time and time again to look at intelligence that had already been sifted and resifted. "It was a continuing drumbeat: 'How do you know this? How do you know that? What about this or that report in the newspaper?'" says Kerr. Many of those questions, which began to cascade onto the CIA in 2001, were generated by the Office of Special Plans and by discredited fabricators such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress and a secret source code-named "Curveball." As a result, says Kerr, the CIA reached back to old data, relied on several sources of questionable veracity, and made assumptions about current data that were unwarranted. In particular, intelligence on Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program, much of which was based on data collected in the 1980s, early '90s, and more spottily until the end of the United Nations inspection regime in 1998, was parsed -- and, some would argue, cherry-picked -- in order to reinforce the administration's case.

On and off the record, other former CIA officials say that despite the pressure, dissent against the White House was rife within the agency...."The Near East Division people didn't buy into what the Bush administration wanted to do in regard to Iraq, but much of WINPAC did," says Larry Johnson..."There were people in the agency who tried to speak out or disagree...who got fired, got transferred, got outed, or criticized. Others decided to play ball."

Michael Scheuer -- who gained fame in 2004 as Anonymous, the author of Imperial Hubris, and who exited the CIA as Goss came in -- headed the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit and saw the confrontation up close. "I know a lot of people in the Iraq shop who were dissenting," he says. "There were people who were disciplined or taken off accounts." Opposition flared, particularly when the controversial 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was being cooked. "There was a great deal of dissent about that [estimate]," says Scheuer. "No one thought it was conclusive. One gentleman that I talked to, a senior Iraq analyst, regrets to this day that he did not go public."

According to another former CIA official, as the war loomed, the CIA's Iraq task force ballooned in size, from fewer than 10 analysts to 500. But some of the CIA's best and brightest on Iraq asked to be given other assignments rather than play ball with an administration already set on war. "A lot of people from the Iraq shop asked to be transferred away from Iraq," the former officer said. "You had all these people being transferred in, and the people who didn't like the direction it was going transferred out."
The remainder of Dreyfuss' article has to do with the ideological bent of Porter Goss's recent "makeover" efforts within the CIA - purging dissenters and creating more uniformity in ideological outlook. Kevin Drum follows the bouncing ball along to a story in the Washington Post about fired CIA leaker Mary McCarthy:

David Corn points out this sentence in today's Washington Post story about the firing of CIA officer Mary McCarthy as part of the agency's stepped up effort to fight leaks:
The White House also has recently barraged the agency with questions about the political affiliations of some of its senior intelligence officers, according to intelligence officials.
That sure deserves a followup, doesn't it? And a note to the White House: if you stop breaking the law, that would be a pretty good way to stop leaks too.
I must admit that I still find this recent storyline about the CIA being a rogue agency over-run by bleeding heart liberals and other assorted peaceniks to be beyond bizarre. Yet so many on the Right are willing to pick it up and run a marathon with it at the slightest provocation. More disconcerting, though, is what does that mean about the Bush administration, and its supporters, when they attempt to define the CIA this way? How far out do you have to be in order to try to color the CIA with the hues of flower power and the like? Strange days indeed.

Friday, April 21, 2006

[Insert Name] The Great

Buckling under pressure from US representatives, Kurdish factions, Sunni factions, the kitchen sink and, most importantly, Ayatollah al-Sistani (with Moqtada al-Sadr's approval), Ibrahim al-Jaafari agreed to let the UIA choose an alternative candidate for the prime minister's office. Overall, I think this is a positive development. It should pave the way for the formation of a government, and create at least some positive momentum in political circles.

Unfortunately, this is not exactly the kind of breakthrough that, alone, will signify anything resembling a sea change. Maybe not even a pond change. Allow me to explain my tepid reaction by way of an extended analogy. The short version: while there are numerous, deep-rooted and intractable problems plaguing Iraq at this juncture, almost none of them are significantly attributable to the person named Ibrahim al-Jaafari. So removing Jaafari from the picture can only accomplish so much.

Like most of the great intellectual debates (nature/nurture, materialism/ideology, supply side/demand side, etc.) the controversy surrounding the "great person theory" of history vs. a more contextually deterministic analysis can, erroneously, be framed in a binary and "either/or" manner. However, these debates are more accurately framed using a spectrum - how far along the spectrum of ultimate determination does each influential factor fall. And even then, what other contingencies exist in the immediate surroundings that alter the potency of a given agent, actor or influence. In reality, the competing forces/explanations are intertwined in a more fluid and dynamic give and take.

For example, it's possible to have a genetic predisposition for a disease, but that pre-disposition could remain dormant unless triggered by certain environmental stimuli. Conversely, one could have no genetic pre-disposition at all for that same disease, but due to overwhelming environmental stimuli, the disease could manifest.

The present situation in Iraq does not seem conducive to the emergence of a "great person" who could transcend the societal divisions, and rein in the armed factions, to forge a national pact that would quell the violence. At least not yet. Even if a person with such a "genetic" make-up would emerge, the environmental factors contributing to the formation of the disease of narrow, short-sighted ethnic/sectarianism appear too formidable and likely to override more enlightened impulses. At least at this moment. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

Further, the cast of characters discussed as replacements for Jaafari don't exactly inspire confidence as to their "great person" potential. For now, it appears that the UIA will be choosing a replacement from within Jaafari's Dawa Party. From the NY Times, we get a look at the two front-runners:

Jawad al-Maliki, an outspoken and highly visible member of Parliament, and Ali al-Adeeb, a longtime party official and aide to Mr. Jaafari.

Via Juan Cole, we learn that Maliki spent time in exile in Syria. Adeeb, in Iran. Cole also noted, a few days back, that there was initially some push back on the candidacy of Adeeb from Sunni factions [emph. mine]:

Aljazeera reports that Salih Mutlak, leader of the neo-Baathist National Dialogue Council, dismissed al-Adib as no better than Jaafari, and in some ways worse, since he lacked the latter's political experience. (I have all along wondered who the Sunni Arabs thought they could get from the UIA as a prime minister who would be different in basic policies and outlook from Jaafari).

We'll have to see if that has any impact on Adeeb's candidacy going forward. As for Maliki, the Times article reported, "some rival coalitions see him as abrasive and inflexible."

While the various politicians involved tried to characterize the potential change in leadership as "remarkable" and a harbinger of a violence-quelling national unity government, they seemed less certain about who, exactly, they were getting as a replacement to Jaafari.

"I don't know much about [Adeeb] and a lot of people don't know much about him," said Mr. Pachachi, a secular Sunni Arab.

[Kurdish parliamentarian Mahmoud] Othman said Mr. Adeeb "looks more acceptable to most people."

Well then, that settles it. So, from what we know, they are both high ranking members of a Shiite religious party. Both are relatively inexperienced and untested. One has ties to Syria. The other Iran. And there are rumblings of discontent concerning both. Color me unexcited.

As I've mentioned previously, Jaafari was blamed for the infiltration of militias in the governmental security forces operating out of the Ministry of Interior - which was actually under the stewardship of SCIRI member Bayan Jabr. One of the supposed advantages of getting rid of Jaafari was that by replacing him with a SCIRI candidate for prime minister, a party other than SCIRI (Dawa?) would take over Interior. The hope was that this Dawa representative would do a better job of purging militia (Badr) influence from official forces. But my guess is that SCIRI will retain Interior now that Dawa will keep the prime minister's office. Even if not, though, what hope is there that a Dawa official would perform much better?

The scourge of militia activity in Iraq is far more pervasive, ubiquitous and potent an epidemic to be blamed on, and laid at the feet of, Jaafari. Especially because Jabr, not Jaafari, was in charge of the one governmental organ most often criticized in this regard.

Further, knocking Jaafari off his perch was supposed to help de-fang Moqtada al-Sadr, whose support of Jaafari gave that candidate a one vote lead over his rival in the previous UIA internal vote for the nomination. Problem is, al-Sadr still controls the largest bloc in the UIA and will once again have a lot to say about who makes it out of the nomination process. And, as Swopa noted, Moqtada had to give his personal approval for Jaafari's withdrawal in the first place.

While the goal of a national unity government is a laudable one, at the end of the day, I'm not certain that this alone will quell insurgent violence. Amending the constitution to ensure Sunni participation in the oil industry, and access to oil revenues, and to forestall the creation of near-autonomous regions in oil rich areas to the north and south, would be the more meaningful political development. Without such a structural alteration to alleviate Sunni fears of powerlessness and persecution in the post-Saddam Iraq, a "unity" government that grants the Sunnis a couple of cabinet positions will likely be viewed as window dressing. Unless they get access to the oil, the rest is meaningless.

So Jaafari's gone. To be replaced by Maliki, Adeeb or some other as-yet-unknown member of the Shiite fundamentalist UIA. But the pressing problems remain: militia activity is out of control, the constitution remains an engine of fragmentation and violence rather than national accord, Kirkuk is an open question, the security situation is abysmal, internecine fighting continues and through "soft" ethnic cleansing, large groups of Iraqis are migrating, under duress, to ethnic/sectarian homogeneous enclaves.

I'd like to think that either Jawad al-Maliki or Ali al-Adeeb, or whoever is eventually tapped, will rise to the occasion and become one of history's notable "great persons." I just don't know if the current chaos would even recognize and make room for a great person if one came along.

Again, hopefully I'm wrong.

[UPDATE: As Nadezhda points out, the UIA wasted no time in declaring their candidate. It's Jawad al-Maliki. Feel free to insert his name in the relavant places above. The era of "Maliki the Great" is upon us. Let's hope he lives up to the advanced billing.]

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Shedding Light On The Saber

It's getting lonely out here in Camp Saber Rattle. Many more people are sounding the alarm - rightfully so - in response to the horrifying rhetorical deja vu being spun out of the Bush administration with respect to the WMD-enabled "Hitler" du jour that is Iran's Ahmadinejad. Regardless of whether my increasingly dubious hunch is correct - that the Bush administration is trying to brandish the military option, and make it appear plausible, in order to dispel any notions of our relative impotence so as to compel Iran to make concessions at the negotiating table - it is important that these threats are taken seriously by American citizens and the rest of the world.

If the war-speak is just saber rattling, well then, it's preferable that we play our part convincingly in the geo-political Kabuki theater. The better to make Iran - and our European/Asian partners - believe the subterfuge. And if I'm wrong, and the Bush administration actually does intend to pour the gasoline of catastrophe on to the pyre of folly in Iraq, well then we simply must protest as loudly and as eloquently as is humanly possible (see, ie, Matt Y). Speaking of eloquent, Billmon makes the case as well as any that the saber rattling theory is a piece of dangerous and naive wishful thinking (here, here and most recently here). Let's hope he's wrong.

According to Fred Kaplan, the Iranians aren't exactly buying those same threats that are eliciting impassioned admonitions from pundit circles (of course, we must recognize the possibility that Iran is in fact concerned about the threats, and that this is just a double-reverse, half axel, triple lutz counter-bluff):

The military option is so manifestly impractical that the Iranians don't seem to believe it. Their top officials dismissed Hersh's article as "psychological war." Even Iran's former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - who has criticized the current regime's harsh anti-Western stance - said in Kuwait today, "We are certain the Americans will not attack Iran because the consequences would be too dangerous."

To Kaplan's credit, he does recommend a potentially fruitful course of action: negotiations, in earnest, aimed at proposing the double-pronged incentives of improved economic/diplomatic ties on one hand if Iran cooperates, and tough, multilateral sanctions if Iran remains recalcitrant.

The one thing that Iran's leaders genuinely seem to fear is economic sanctions. They sprinted to the bargaining table, and opened more facilities to international inspectors, only after France, Britain, and Germany - which had always tolerated Iran's nuclear deceptions in order to protect their trade relations - joined in with the Bush administration's criticisms and pledged to support United Nations sanctions if Iran continued to enrich uranium.

Western Europe, Russia, and China may depend on Iran for oil, but Iran depends at least as much on them for capital investment. The United States isn't involved in either side of this equation - we've been boycotting Iranian imports and exports ever since Ayatollah Khomeini's "students" took our diplomats hostage - which is why our sudden engagement in face-to-face talks, after all these decades, would make quite an impact.

Would the drama have a payoff? Would the Iranians accept some set of inducements - massive American investment, trade, security guarantees, or whatever - in exchange for giving up their nuclear program? Maybe not. However, the important thing for the United States to do, at this point, is to appear to be making an effort. [...]

To get the other countries [Western Europe, Russia and China] to unite around some sort of sanctions (or the threat of sanctions, which may be all that's necessary), President Bush not only has to threaten to penalize Iran for bad behavior but also has to reward Iran for good behavior. They will not go along with this pressure campaign—they will not undermine their economic interests - unless there are carrots as well as sticks.

In other words, Bush should commence direct talks with Iran not because they offer a hopeful chance for peace and good will, but because they're a necessary prelude to an international campaign of economic pressure - and because more drastic military pressure would likely backfire. There are two likely outcomes from serious American efforts to negotiate, both good. First, if Iran cooperates with the talks, then it might suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Second, if Iran doesn't cooperate, then the Bush administration will have made its case to China, Russia, and Europe that the regime is dangerous and untrustworthy. At that point it will be much easier to impose the economic sanctions that will scare the Iranians into better behavior.

Sounds like a plan. And if this were indeed the ultimate endgame, then the recent saber rattling would serve an important role: even if the Iranians remain unswayed by the threat of force (possible, though there must be a kernel of fear somewhere in Tehran), it is probably enough to bring them to the negotiating table in a slightly more open frame of mind. At the very least, Bush's bluster could convince our allies/ad hoc partners that sanctions are the more desirable route, as opposed to military means, for dealing with a stubborn and uncooperative Iran.

Here's the problem though: what if the US doesn't really want to negotiate in good faith? What if there are competing power centers in the White House that would rather sabotage negotiations, or prevent their initiation?

Kevin Drum has compiled what could be evidence of just such a reluctance on the part of key figures in the Bush White House. First, from Flynt Leverett who worked for Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council:

In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences. The document acknowledged that Iran would have to address concerns about its weapons programs and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. It was presented as having support from all major players in Iran's power structure, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. A conversation I had shortly after leaving the government with a senior conservative Iranian official strongly suggested that this was the case. Unfortunately, the administration's response was to complain that the Swiss diplomats who passed the document from Tehran to Washington were out of line.

Now, as Drum notes, more information that sheds light on the decision making process. From Gareth Porter:

Realists, led by Powell and his Deputy Richard Armitage, were inclined to respond positively to the Iranian offer. Nevertheless, within a few days of its receipt, the State Department had rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer.

Exactly how the decision was made is not known. "As with many of these issues of national security decision-making, there are no fingerprints," [Lawrence] Wilkerson told IPS. "But I would guess Dick Cheney with the blessing of George W. Bush."

As Wilkerson observes, however, the mysterious death of what became known among Iran specialists as Iran's "grand bargain" initiative was a result of the administration's inability to agree on a policy toward Tehran.

A draft National Security Policy Directive (NSPD) on Iran calling for diplomatic engagement had been in the process of interagency coordination for more than a year, according to a source who asks to remain unidentified.

But it was impossible to get formal agreement on the NSPD, the source recalls, because officials in Cheney's office and in Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans wanted a policy of regime change and kept trying to amend it.

According to Kaplan, "[e]missaries from the United States, China, the European Union, and Iran are meeting in Moscow this week." If the Bush administration has no intention of trying to pursue a peaceful resolution through these and subsequent talks - if good faith negotiations are off the table in favor of the monomania of "regime change" - then the whole saber rattling theory crumbles into dust.

Because this theory is entirely predicated on the notion that we will increase our bargaining position, and convince allies to join our cause, by creating the impression that there are still viable military threats remaining in our arsenal. But if we're not actually looking to do any bargaining, then all this chatter is more likely a preface to Bush's second - and probably more disastrous - grand strategic blunder. Shudder to think.

[UPDATE: Lorelei Kelly adds an interesting clarification in terms of chronology regarding that earlier diplomatic outreach on the part of Iran mentioned above:

In May, 2003, the Bush Administration allegedly received a missive containing extensive concessions from Iran--including nuclear issues. They didn't respond. Keep in mind, this was right as the USA rolled victoriously into Iraq--when the Neo-Con hubris was at its most extreme. The theory is that because of the Iraq experience, the Bush administration figured that no discussion was necessary and that they could trounce the Iranians later without compromise. Most shocking missed opportunity: one Iranian concession was an offer to disarm Hezbollah. Given the pulseless response, the Iranians concluded that working with Washington was impossible.
The good news: since the US rejected this entreaty at the acme of hubris and belief in our power to achieve military-imposed regime change, we might be more willing to accept such an offer now that reality has so rudely confronted us in Iraq.

The bad news: since Iran offered this entreaty at the acme of their fear of the power of the US to achieve military-imposed regime change, they might not be as willing offer such an attractive package now that reality has so rudely confronted the US in Iraq.]

That's Why He Gets Paid The Big Bucks

Actually, probably not big bucks (yet?), but whatever Matt Yglesias is getting, he's certainly earning it. He nails the Iran issue every which way possible in this article. Highly recommended. An extended teaser [emph. mine]:

[T]he big fear is supposed to be that Iran will launch an unprovoked nuclear first strike against Israel. The evidence for this is so weak that people feel the need to make stuff up. [ed note: sound familiar?] In The New Republic Daniel Jonah Goldhagen tried to make this case and had to clearly misinterpret something a former (yes, former) president of Iran said after he left office to do it....Jeffrey Bell once alleged in The Weekly Standard that Ahmadinejad “muses about the possibility of correcting that Nazi failure by dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel,” which never happened. I called him up and asked him about that, and he explained he was using “poetic license” (my understanding had always been that journalists, not actually being poets or fiction writers of any sort, didn’t have this license).

This aside, the idea that any Iranian leader would commit national suicide in order to harm Israel is ridiculous. Lots of “crazy” leaders -- Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il -- have had nuclear weapons and they’ve never done anything like that. What’s more, if Iran wanted to start a war with Israel, kill a bunch of Jews, and get wiped out in the process they could do that with conventional weapons. But in more than 20 years in power, the Islamic Republic’s never done any such thing. Indeed, just over the weekend Iran announced it would offer up a paltry $50 million in aid to the new Hamas-ified Palestinian Authority compared with many hundreds of millions in funding the PA lost from Europe and the United States. Just as they taught me in Hebrew school, the Islamic world’s governments like to talk a big game about Israel, but don’t actually give a rat's ass about the issue and never have.

They’ll do anything to help the Palestinian cause unless it involves spending money, risking the stability of their own regimes, or deploying their military assets. Now we’re supposed to believe that, suddenly, the Mullahs are willing to guarantee their own destruction in order to turn the holy city of Jerusalem into a radioactive wasteland. That’s absurd.

Heh indeed to the twenty-fifth power.

Generally speaking, nuclear weapons are highly coveted, extremely expensive, rather difficult to obtain and require substantial commitments of a nation's time, energy, diplomatic guile and scientific brain power. The reason nations are willing to accept such daunting costs in pursuit of this goal is that nuclear weapons offer a unique and unrivaled means of securing a regimes hold on power, preventing foreign invasion, as well as increasing prestige, respect, power and influence in the respective home region.

The thought that regimes such as Iran - or even Iraq - would spend tens of billions of dollars, multiple decades and incur the economic/military wrath of major world powers in order to finally obtain one of these things only to go pop it off at the first opportunity in what would be self-inflicted national suicide of genocidal proportions is beyond "absurd."

It's a neo-con.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

You Can Go Your Own Way

Here's a question I pose in earnest: if you're an Iraqi Kurdish leader, does the current stalemate over the formation of a central government in Baghdad really concern you? Think about it. What do the Kurds stand to gain and lose from the emergence of a centralized government? From what I can tell, most potential outcomes that stem from the creation of such a government accrue to the negative side of the ledger, with the positives amounting to little by comparison. At least from the Kurdish perspective.

It is no secret that the Kurds have been diligently pursuing their own form of autonomy since the end of Gulf War I, enabled, largely, by the policing of the northern no-fly-zone by British and American forces. Throughout the political process in post-Saddam Iraq, the Kurds have resolutely pushed their agenda, deftly using their middle-man position between the Sunnis and the Shiites, and their coveted seats in the Iraqi parliament, to secure their interests. And their gains have been notable.

Kirkuk is slowly being ethnically "re-cleansed" - with Saddam's previous Arab imports being exported, and some legitimate, long standing Arabic/Turkmen Kirkuk residents getting the boot as well. Whether by some future local referendum in the re-cleansed Kirkuk, or by political deal between the Kurdish faction and the incoming government, oil-rich Kirkuk will likely be a part of Kurdistan going forward.

More importantly, the draft of the constitution that was ratified in the October referendum directly responds to the Kurds' most coveted objectives: (a) there is strong language regarding the legitimacy of semi-autonomous regions - with considerable power reserved for local capitals; (b) control over oil production will be largely regional and not centralized; and (c) each region's share of oil revenues will be determined using a vague formula accounting for an undefined amount of reparations for regions that suffered under the Baath regime, as well as increased portions for the regions that actually produce the oil.

Since most of the oil in Iraq resides in the Kurdish north and Shiite south (both regions that suffered greatly under Saddam), these provisions will create clear economic winners and losers in the new Iraq. Suffice it to say, the Sunnis - currently fueling the insurgencies - are none too pleased. And that is why I argued against ratification of this draft of the constitution way back in October of 2005. Inclusion of the Sunnis in the political process will require a constitution that better protects their interests and insures them a share of the country's economic spoils. Without such a pact, they have greater incentive to keep fighting.

In response to this dilemma, there was an eleventh hour deal forged by the various factions at the behest of Zal Khalilzad prior to the ratification of the constitution in October that ensured that a constitution-amending committee would be enpaneled by the new government after the December elections. This committee would be charged with the task of making non-binding recommendations for amending the current draft. Nevertheless, after the UIA's victory in those elections was secured, SCIRI's leader, Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, announced that there would be no significant changes to the constitution. Hakim and SCIRI are squarely behind the regional autonomy structure - which is one of the reasons the Kurds would prefer a prime minister from SCIRI over Dawa's Jaafari who is not as committed to this principle.

From the Kurdish perspective, a government headed by SCIRI would be decent in terms of preserving key elements of the constitution. But no government at all would be even better - for reasons that extend beyond the constitution. Without such a central government, there would be no possibility for amendment of the constitution to accommodate the Sunnis, no potential resolution of the Kirkuk issue to the detriment of Kurdish designs, no nationalization of armed forces and dismantling of the pesh merga and other militias and none of the other myriad encroachments on Kurdish autonomy that would be made possible by a new central government.

So while Baghdad is burning, and the political process is creating a jarring cacophony, the Kurds have been busy making their own melody with Kurdish fiddles. They don't appear to be in any rush to push through a resolution - especially one that could jeopardize their prior gains. For example, in December, the Kurds took their constitutionally-sanctioned regional autonomy for a test drive by signing an oil exploration deal with a Norwegian company without consulting, in any way, the central government in Baghdad. Then, in January, the Kurds announced the creation of their own Kurdish foreign ministry. An extremely irregular move for a sub-state.

Today, according to the LA Times (via Juan Cole), the Kurds have gone one step further by moving to create their own separate an distinct oil ministry:

Leaders of Iraq's Kurdish north have unveiled a controversial plan to consolidate their hold on the region's future petroleum resources, raising concerns about how the ethnically divided nation will share its oil revenue.

The Kurdish parliament will be asked to vote on the creation of a Ministry of Natural Resources that would regulate potentially lucrative energy projects in newly discovered oil and natural gas fields within the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The new ministry, if established, would be another step in the Kurds' gradual retreat from the Baghdad government, as well as a potentially destabilizing development in a country already on the verge of fragmenting along ethnic and religious lines.

"They have the right to make a decision in their territory, but it is dangerous," said Mohammed Aboudi, a divisional director-general of the national Oil Ministry and a government advisor. "They are starting to search for oil without any consultation with the central government. What if Basra does the same, or any other province?" [...]

Officials in Baghdad, including allies of the Kurds, said they were blindsided by news of the proposed ministry.

"We know what the ambitions of the Kurds are," said Iyad Samarrai, a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group. "But everybody agreed to make such moves within the [national] political process."

When confronted with their Norwegian oil deal, the Kurds claimed that the constitution granted them this right. Once again, they rely on that document to justify their current moves. As written, they're probably right. But there is a tinge of double-speak and disingenuousness in this defense. Consider these two statements by Kurdish "advisor" Peter Galbraith. The first one seems to make a legal argument, within the framework of the nascent Iraqi state:

"Forming a new ministry is an arrangement that will help increase oil production," said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat who has advised the Kurds. "If oil production increases in Alaska, it may be that the Alaskans get a major part of the benefits, but Alaska is still part of the U.S."

But then he tells us what he's really thinking:

"There are people who haven't faced the reality of what has gone on in Iraq," Galbraith said. "They still think that the old central state is going to be put back together again. It's not going to happen in Kurdistan. It's not going to happen in the south. It's not going to happen in Baghdad."

One gets the impression that the Kurds will push their agenda under whatever justification is available. Not that I blame them in a normative sense. And Galbraith may be right that the Iraqi state will disintegrate and be replaced with multiple states regardless of recent moves by the Kurds.

But this outcome of becomes more certain if the Kurds push ahead with their oil industry agenda, and the Shiite south follows suit. This could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. The violence and chaos wrought by the Sunni insurgencies, and Shiite/Kurdish reprisals, will not die down if the political/economic framework does not take the Sunni position into account. And before that, the various factions would have to agree on a government that could even address these concerns. Given the various competing incentives, I'm not overly optimistic.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

When The Icing Melts

Is Stanley Kurtz laying the groundwork for the public's acceptance of one last, but rather significant, adjustment of the goal posts vis-a-vis Iraq? Apropos of my prior post on the potential for Iraq's democracy to become yet one more casualty of OIF, Kurtz writes (via Atrios):

My point is that the quick democratization standard [in Iraq] was mistaken. We created a false standard for success, and that is our problem. Once we focus on the big picture, and off of the false standard of quick democratization, the public will see Iraq in a new way....We need to see peace and democracy in Iraq [as] icing on the cake. The real goal is the proof of resolve against Iran and others. If the public sees that, it might change its view of what's important and what success means. [emph. mine]

Better to opt for a more gradual democratization, one that is, perhaps, fifteen to twenty years down the road. Preceded by a period of soft, US-friendly despotism. Maybe a "savior" strongman is what's needed in the near future to right the chronological ship.

Come to think of it, what better way to drain the swamps of anti-American soaked Jihadism than to impose a US-friendly dictator in the region through a brutal and well publicized military campaign. With US troops garrisoned in-country to maintain the sovereignty of this dictatorship. So much for the democratic domino theory I guess.

According to Kurtz (today) democracy wasn't really as important a goal as sending a warning shot off of Iran's bow. I'd have to say that our attempt to frighten Iran with our display of military might may have, er, backfired along the way. No doubt they recognize our military superiority, but also our limitations in terms of "clearing, holding and building." And the unwillingness of the American people (especially the cut and spend GOP leaders) to come up with the funding for such expensive missions. Let alone the strains on our all-volunteer military that have been exposed.

If things had gone well in Iraq, it's quite conceivable that Iran would have felt the heat and been more cautious in their pursuit of nuclear power. Of course, completely underestimating Iran's ability to work against that outcome is gross negligence of the highest order. More so the lack of planning, inadequate troop strength, reliance on non-experts, dearth of impartial analysis, etc., that have contributed to the less than ideal outcome in this regard.

The non-nation state version of this "deterrent" theory was always more perplexing to me, though. This was the argument that we would "humiliate and bully" the "terrorists" into submission through our military endeavors in Iraq. According to this line of thought, we were going to scare potential Jihadists into abandoning their cause for fear of what we might do in retaliation. By taking out Saddam, we'll show a bunch of people willing to martyr themselves for their exalted mission that we mean business. And that any attempt on their part to become martyrs by attacking us will result in their....death? Got that would-be martyrs? You'll die.

Some deterrent.

Kind of Blue

In another recent, chromatically themed post, I wondered out loud why the US was pushing so hard for a candidate from the SCIRI party to replace Jaafari as the new Prime Minister of Iraq.

Given that the alternative to Jaafari (of the Dawa party) most commonly mentioned is Abdel Mahdi (SCIRI), I find it curious that the US would draw the line in the sand with Jaafari - unless they hope, in the end, to usurp Mahdi as well (Allawi anyone?).

Some reasons why Mahdi would be an odd choice as replacement - at least if it were necessary to expend valuable negotiating capital to achieve such a result: (a) Mahdi's party, SCIRI, is likely closer to Iran than Dawa/Jaafari; (b) SCIRI's militia, the Badr Corps, was trained by Iran, with many members spending years in exile in Iran following the Shiite uprising circa Gulf War I; (c) Badr has been an active presence in the security forces and military (controversial Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is SCIRI), and are believed to be responsible for many of the atrocities uncovered in recent months - much of which has been blamed on Jaafari; and (d) SCIRI, unlike Jaafari, supports the establishment of semi-autonomous regions in the Shiite south - an issue likely to alienate and anger most Sunnis, though placate the Kurds (this is why Kurdish support for Mahdi is easier to grasp).
Well, it turns out that our backroom deal with SCIRI - the would-be usurpers of Jaafari - might actually be the bait and switch I alluded to above. From the annoyingly prescient Swopa, we learn that the stalemate over the formation of a new Iraqi government has led to some disturbing chatter about a deus ex machina type strongman emerging to restore order. The LA Times reported on Sunday [emph. mine throughout]:

The clerics also want to prevent the formation of a "salvation" government as proposed Saturday by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the official said.

. . . Allawi, a onetime CIA protege and leader of a secular coalition with 25 seats in parliament, said in a statement broadcast on Iraqi television that political leaders might have to create an emergency government "that is capable of bringing Iraq to its feet and save it from its current deadly crisis."

Interesting maneuver, but surely SCIRI would rather allow Jaafari to retain the prime minister's office than see Allawi take over in the wake of the neutering of the UIA, no? SCIRI's desire to marginalize Moqtada al-Sadr (who played kingmaker to Jaafari's candidacy) would most likely take a back seat to the broader UIA interest of maintaining control over the government that the UIA was democratically empowered to lead (a point that will be emphasized by Sistani and other UIA members) . And since the UIA has such a big bloc in parliament, game over. Right? Wrong. It appears that the oft rhapsodized, democractically infused shade of purple that stained Iraqi fingers on election day has slid further down the ROYGBIV spectrum.

Such a government could include political groups that didn't win seats in the election and be based on a political agreement rather than the constitution, said Adnan Pachachi, a leading politician in Allawi's coalition.

. . . "It would be a genuine, effective partnership between all the political forces in the country," Pachachi said in an interview. "It would not necessarily be based on the results of the election, which we do not think reflected the voters' will, anyway."

Aha. So, the elections didn't really reflect the will of the voters. Now these selfless and disinterested parties will just put together a government without the elected parties/officials - at least those that won't cooperate with their mission. But the new imposed government will reflect the real will of the people (wink, wink). Or something like that. Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before. I'm sure Osama and the gang are quaking in their boots right now at the prospect of this awe-inspiring, domino-tilting, terrorism-eradicating brand of democracy that is so clearly on the march.

The LA Times on Monday offered some further evidence of these troubling developments (again via Swopa):

With sectarian killings increasing and more and more people forced to move into Sunni or Shiite enclaves for protection, some wonder if the politicians have already missed the chance to tackle the violence.

"I don't care if the government is established," said an unemployed 22-year-old Christian woman in Baghdad who would give her name only as Miss Kapchy. "I am not excited about it because I don't expect this government will do anything for us, just as the previous government did not achieve anything for Iraqis.

"I want the prime minister to be a dictator, authoritative and have all the elements of power because it's been chaos since the fall of the ex-regime."

"They have failed the people," Kurdish lawmaker [Mahmoud] Othman said of the politicians.

"People want somebody to be the boss here. If one night an officer makes a coup d'etat, in the morning everybody would be happy.

"They want somebody to save them," he said. "Anything short of Saddam and his group."

Well, anything "short of Saddam and his group" and the religious Shiite parties - apparently. Because resistance to the notion of a UIA-dominated government is what's holding this process up and fomenting this crisis. I'm thinking that right about now, SCIRI might be feeling a bit played. I wouldn't be surprised to see them abandon their anti-Jaafari campaign in the near future and hop on board team Shiite's bus again in order to stave off all this talk of 'welcomed coups' and the secret, hidden will of the people for candidates/parties/dictators other than the ones they voted for.

In a previous post discussing Allawi's bold words concerning the state of civil war in Iraq, I cautioned that:

Allawi may still be auditioning for a job as "The Strongman Who Can Bring Peace" so he might not be a completely disinterested party.

Now that we see that Allawi is, in fact, still reading for the part, the question remains: who is in charge of central casting? Zal Khalilzad or Sistani? If I had to bet, given the relative power to compel Iraqis to act, I'd say the latter. So barring a second US military-imposed regime change in Iraq, I don't expect Allawi to get the part that he so covets. And if he does, and the UIA reacts with expected resistance to what would be viewed as the "second betrayal," the movie could end up being more of a disaster than Ishtar. This is one time that I would rather you not pass the popcorn.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Heckuva Job Chertoff!

Not wanting to take his eye off the ball, the Department of Homeland Security - under Michael Chertoff's stewardship - issued a bulletin yesterday warning businesses in the US of a grave and mounting threat: the potential for "terrorist groups" to drain the ink from your fax machine. I wish that was entirely a joke.

The bulletin itself addresses groups it labels "eco-terrorists." But to even use the term "terrorism" in this context is highly misleading and alarmist - to the degree that it dilutes the very meaning of the word. Just take a gander at some of the types of "terrorist" attacks we should be on the look out for from the dreaded eco-terrorist jihad:

- "organizing protests"
- "flyer distribution"
- "inundating computers with e-mails"
- "tying up phone lines to prevent legitimate calls"
- "sending continuous faxes in order to drain the ink supply from company fax machines"

Having experienced the horrors of a real terrorist incident - the 9/11 WTC attacks - from the up-close vantage point afforded by apartment located just a few blocks away, I feel confident in declaring that combating the scourge of rampant flyer distribution, excessive e-mail transmission and organized protests - while safeguarding the fax machine's precious bodily fluids - should not be a priority for the DHS or any other entity tasked with keeping this nation safe from terrorist threats. Actual terrorism is not so trivial, and should not be punted around like a political football.

In truth, some of the "eco-terrorist" groups cited have committed arson, vandalism and other forms of property crimes - with costs totaling millions of dollars in the aggregate. That is a serious law enforcement issue. But to date, their "terrorist" acts haven't led to even one fatality. Setting empty SUV's on fire to protest excessive gas consumption is as foolish as it illegal and, such destructive behavior should be punished. Ditto vandalism at animal testing facilities and other targeted enterprises. But elevating these acts to the status of terrorism, and dedicating valuable and limited DHS resources to these groups, is beyond misguided.

Consider also, the puzzling double standard with which the DHS is treating other domestic threats - seemingly ignoring some that would be more accurately described as "terrorist" groups, at least in terms of lethality:

The real outrage in this is that on the very day some DHS yahoo spent time and government money producing this bulletin, a jury was convicting a white supremacist on five counts of trying to obtain a chemical weapon and stolen explosives. The man's dream: to explode a briefcase "dirty" bomb inside the U.S. Capitol.

Needless to say, I'm told DHS has yet to send out a warning on wackos like him: white supremacists, militias, anti-abortion groups or other violent far-right groups that have actually killed people. It's the vicious left-wing flyer brigades that pose the greatest danger.

The politicization of terrorism threat assessment. Heckuva job Chertoff.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Louder Rattling, Earlier Warnings

Via Kevin Drum, I see that William Arkin has added his usual dose of depth and detail to the discussion on military options vis a vis Iran. His analysis provides a nice addendum to my prior post assessing the credibility of saber rattling threats, and the perception of the seriousness of those threats by Iranian leaders. Says Arkin, in an extended excerpt:

World pressure and American diplomacy would be mightily enhanced if Iran understood that the United States was indeed so serious about it acquiring nuclear weapons it was willing to go to war over it. What is more, the American public needs to know that this is a possibility. [...]

...The President of the United States insists that all options are on the table while the Secretary of Defense insists it "isn't useful" to discuss American options.

I think this sends the wrong message to Tehran. Contingency planning for a full fledged war with Iran may seem incredible right now, and Iran isn't Iraq. But Iran needs to understand that the United States isn't hamstrung by a lack of options, Iran needs to know that it can't just stonewall and evade international inspections, that it can't burrow further underground in hopes of "winning" because war is messy.

As I've said before in these pages, I don't believe that the United States is planning to imminently attack Iran, and I specifically don't think so because Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons and it hasn't lashed out militarily against anyone.

But the United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking.

It is not in our interests to have Tehran not understand this. The military options currently on the table might not be good ones, but Iran shouldn't make decisions based upon a false view. Two so-called "experts" are quoted in The Washington Post today saying that there are no options, that there is no Plan B, that the United States will just live with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. They are fundamentally wrong about the options, and misunderstand the Bush administration as well.

But most important, this constant drum beat in the newspapers and the media sends the wrong message to Iran. This is why Secretary Rumsfeld should be saying that the U.S. is preparing war plans for Iran, and that the United States views the situation so seriously that it would be willing to risk war if Iran acquired nuclear weapons or lashed out against the U.S. or its friends. The war planning moreover, Rumsfeld needs to add, is not just routine, it is not just what military's do all the time. It is specifically related to Iran, to its illegal pursuit of nuclear weapons, to its meddling in Iraq and support for international terrorism.

Iran needs to know the facts and the American public need to know the facts. But most important, the American public needs to hear the facts about American war plans, military options and preparedness from the government so that they can understand where we are and decide whether they think the threat from Iran justifies the risks of another war.
Read the rest of his post for a look behind the scenes at the actual war-gaming and planning going on. I don't know if this is a source of comfort or not. But if it's sabers we want to rattle, then Arkin has the right idea.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Magical Thinking's Mysterious Tour

Matt Yglesias wrote a post attempting to pour cold water on the theory that the saber rattling vis a vis Iran is really a means to intimidate Iran into making concessions regarding its nuclear aspirations. Said Yglesias:

One idea I've seen kicking around the past couple of days is that talk of military strikes against Iran may be part of some kind of clever gamesmanship designed to achieve a diplomatic resolution. I think people need to think harder about that.
Since I've been "kicking" this idea around for at least a year, I thought I might respond in part. Now I don't know if I personally would characterize any of this as "clever" gamesmanship, but it might just be the only game left to play - or at least the only game the Bush administration views as viable (more on that below). But first, I wanted to take a look at what I believe is a flaw in Matt's analysis. I think he is actually blurring the line separating a few separate arguments in order to refute them all.

By way of parsing the issues at play, the first question should be whether or not the Bush administration is, in fact, attempting to scare Iran in to making nuclear program-related concessions (or, on the contrary, is the recent uptick in bellicose rhetoric an indication of the Bush administration's intent to start the next war, or some other unknown purpose). The second question would be, can this scare-tactic gambit work? Third, and relatedly, if so, is the current use of scare-tactics and associated diplomatic entreaties the optimal package to be employing? Matt seems to focus most of his attention on the second and third questions, while framing the discussion as if his post answers the first as well. Perhaps I am misinterpreting his argument. Nevertheless, here is part of his thesis:

Airstrikes would, at best, delay Iranian acquisition of nukes. Giving in to the United States would, of course, entail abandoning the quest for them entirely. So the structure of Bush's offer, under this theory, would be "either give up your nukes or else I'll slightly delay the point at which you can get them." That, I think, isn't quite in "offer they can't refuse" territory. Indeed, they'd have no reason whatsoever to accept that offer. It's a pointless threat.
This is a very narrow reading of the threats currently being circulated as part of the Bush administration's fright junket, however. Matt's critique might work if the universe of threats were limited to airstrikes, and perhaps he means to limit the discussion thusly. But the publicly floated threats of aggressive action on our part have not been limited to airstrikes. Also included are references to the use of tactical nuclear weapons (airstrikes on steroids that would do more than delay the nuclear program"slightly"), facilitating regime change by proxy, implementing broader and more multilateral sanctions, fomenting ethnic and sectarian unrest and, for some ideological fellow travelers, all-out invasion/forcible regime change.

Consider, also, Kevin Drum's recent post on the establishment of some dubious Iranian policy shops and the wider ramifications potentially stemming therefrom:

Remember the White House Iraq Group? And the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans? Basically, they were organizations designed to sidestep the moldy old national security bureaucracy and market the war with Iraq directly to the American public. And while in retrospect some may have questioned their, um, dedication to precise and sober analysis, you can't deny they were effective.

Well, guess what? Lawrence Kaplan reports that we now have a similar organization for Iran:

Although a spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) declines to comment on its existence, and the press has yet to carry a single mention of it, last month the administration formed something called the Iran-Syria Operations Group (ISOG) - a group headed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Liz Cheney, the purpose of which is to encourage regime change in Iran. It's no secret that Cheney has over $80 million at her disposal to promote democracy in Iran. But ISOG isn't simply about promoting democracy. It's about helping to craft official policy, doing so not with one but two countries in its sights, and creating a policymaking apparatus that parallels - and skirts - Foggy Bottom's suspect Iran desk.
So, I think it should be acknowledged that the Bush administration's machinations on this matter foretell of potentially far more serious consequences for Iran than a mere "delay" of "Iranian acquisition of nukes." In addition, even if the threat were limited to non-nuclear airstrikes alone, there is the very real possibility that such airstrikes could set off a cycle of escalating conflict. Matt himself wrote this a couple of days ago: important point that I think too often gets neglected in this talk which is that if the United States starts a war (and, yes, bombing another country's nuclear plants is starting a war) we don't get to unilaterally decide on the scope of the ensuing conflict. If we bomb, presumably Iran will retaliate. Those retaliations will, in turn, tend to increase pressure for us to counter-retaliate. And so on and so forth....

Surely, these possibilities - considered by Matt - must also enter the minds of Iranian leaders while assessing the worth of the "bargain(s)" being offered by Bush. Yglesias goes on to suggest that positive incentives might add something more compelling to the deal, but even then, the airstrikes threat is superfluous:

The only way to make this work would be to put carrots on the table. "Give up your nukes and we'll lift our sanctions and grant you diplomatic recognition, or else I'll use force to slightly delay the point at which you can go nuclear." This will work, of course, only if Iran would prefer diplomatic and trade relations with the US to having a nuclear bomb. But if that is their preference, then the threat of airstrikes adds nothing to the equation -- you could just put the straight-up nukes for sanctions trade on the table and you'd get the same result one way or another. Airstrikes would be pointless in any case, and precisely because they're pointless there's no point in threatening to use them.
Again, I'm not sure why the discussion should be limited to the threat of airstrikes, or that airstrikes should be considered a one-time endeavor without the likelihood for severe escalation in the aftermath. Nevertheless, I think Matt is 100% correct that "carrots" are an integral part of what would be the optimal approach. The point is that the bargain must be made as attractive as possible - both from a positive and negative consequences vantage point.

The other point to consider is that some of the Bush administration's bluster might actually be aimed at European and/or Asian audiences. As Fred Kaplan noted (via prak), as did the NY Times (via Laura Rozen), there is a good deal of speculation that the Bush administration is trying to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the Chinese, Russians and other European nations in order to compel them to act along more attractive diplomatic lines in order to stave off another war. From the Times:

Others suggest that the vague drumbeat of talk about military action may be less aimed at Tehran than at China and Russia - two countries that have said they oppose even the threat of economic sanctions against Iran, much less threats to set back the Iranian program by obliterating its facilities.
From Kaplan:

If Iran is immune to such pressures, our European allies might not be. Many of them already regard Bush as a religious zealot and Cheney as a warmonger. If they believe that the White House might really resolve the dispute with Iran by dropping nuclear bombs, they might suddenly start pushing for sanctions - a move they've stopped short of, mainly to protect their own trade relations with Tehran - as a comparatively moderate way of pressuring Iran to stop enriching uranium. Whether or not this is Bush's intent, there's evidence in Hersh's piece that the escalation might have the same effect. The Europeans, Hersh writes, are "rattled" by "their growing perception that Bush and Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed." He quotes one European diplomat as saying, "We need to find ways to impose sufficient costs to bring the [Iranian] regime to its senses....I think if there is unity in opposition and the price imposed" - in sanctions - "is sufficient, [the Iranians] may back down."
This could increase the Bush administration's leverage by solidifying a unified front against Iran, even if Iran itself is not swayed by the "frightening" rhetoric. Yet as prak also noted recently, sometimes public bluster can increase resistance to making a deal and could force the hands of the actors involved:

Put it another way, if you make this a test of manhood via the international press, you decrease the likelihood of Iran backing down because they will lose face. Populations tend to become more nationalistic and rally around the flag when threatened, and leaders don't like losing face in front of such sentiments.
But, again, that argument has more to do with the efficacy of the approach than a judgment as to whether or not this is indeed the approach being pursued. I can't say that I have a lot of faith in the Bush administration's ability to pull this off, regardless of their intentions. Especially if they do not incorporate some of the "carrots" that Yglesias alluded to. Then again, given the exigencies of our commitments in Iraq, I don't know that any administration could succeed under these circumstances - let alone one with as weak a central leader and as many internal divisions and competing power nodes as this one.

I might also be misreading this situation completely, though, and perilously underestimating the Bush administration's willingness to use force against Iran. It's not exactly like I have recent history on my side. Nor should the potential for this brinkmanship to backfire be ignored. Still, I get the impression that the Bush team is doing what it can to puff up its chest because it knows that it has very few other means to compel Iran to make concessions - or to convince our allies and tenuous partners to cooperate in bringing more meaningful diplomatic pressure to bear on Iran. That is especially the case given its short-sighted refusal to get into the "carrot" dispensing business for fear of looking soft or upsetting certain constituencies.

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