Sunday, March 30, 2008

So Where Are We Going? It's a Surprise

Ilan Goldenberg isn't buying my skepticism regarding claims from anonymous administration sources that they were kept in the dark about the recent anti-Sadr operations. I responded to his post at American Footprints.

Meanwhile, commenter byrningman make an interesting point at Obsidian Wings concerning the ongoing debate:

Of course the US was notified of the offensive beforehand - Americans drove them to Basra. The Iraqi government does not have the capability to mobilise and maintain in the field 20-30k fighters.

I'm not an expert by any stretch in terms of military logistics, but I was under the impression that this was one of the shortcomings of the Iraqi military. Does anyone (avedis? Jay Sigger? Phil Carter? Abu Mook?) know any better? Of course, there are local Badr elements engaged in the fight, and they didn't need transport. But what about the bulk of the "official" Iraqi forces?

Commenter Matttbastard at American Footprints unearths this little nugget from The Independent:

British commanders were unaware of the operation until just before it began, although the Iraqi government’s national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, had spent half an hour discussing the plan with General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, on Saturday evening. This was followed by Mr Maliki ordering two extra Iraqi infantry battalions to Basra that night. [emphasis his]


While perusing the Obsidian Wings site (which should be a daily ritual for all upstanding citizens), I also came across this gem from Publius:

God help us if this isn't a lie (emphasis mine):

Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign’s senior foreign
policy adviser [said] “Would you rather have the Maliki government in control, or the Iranian-backed special groups in control, or Al Qaeda in control?
Ah yes, it's either Maliki and ISCI, or else Iran will get its way (or al-Qaeda in control!). This statement is either gallingly ignorant, or remarkably dishonest. Either way, it would be extremely dangerous if John McCain takes the White House.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Feign in Vain

Ilan Goldenberg passes along this rather significant claim appearing in today's Washington Post without any caveat or indication that it might not be entirely truthful:

Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials.

At the very least, this contention should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism (not to single out Ilan - whose work I have enjoyed immensely - as I have seen this statement repeated uncritically as fact in numerous blogospheric/media outlets).

First of all, as Laura Rozen pointed out, the Independent published a story back on the 20th quoting Iraqi generals discussing the imminence of an assault on Basra that would target Sadr's militia. The story itself was published days before the assault began, and who knows when the quotes were generated.

Perhaps Iraqi generals felt free to discuss these top secret plans with reporters from the Independent but not Bush administration officials? And were confident that the Bush folks wouldn't read the news....OK, maybe that last point isn't completely persuasive, but you get the point.

Second, the anti-Sadr operations took place roughly a week after Cheney flew to the region for, amongst other things, a face to face with ISCI's leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. I'm sure they had other, more important things to discuss. That warranted Cheney coming in person. Like, say, a hunting trip they were planning for August?

Third, it should be noted that the Bush administration has an interest in downplaying its role in this affair for a number of reasons: if the Bush team is seen as pulling the strings, it would taint the operation itself by association, weaken Maliki and his allies in the eyes of Iraqis, and incur the full wrath of Sadr (though I imagine he has a pretty good idea of who is adversaries are).

Further, if the operation is a disaster, the Bush team can shrug its collective shoulders and tut-tut the lovably incompetent Maliki and his disfunctional Iraqi army that is obviously in need of coddling. If the operation succeeds, then the Bush team can applaud the Maliki government's performance, praise the Iraqi armed forces and use these events as evidence of the success of the Surge - thus silencing those clamoring for withdrawal.

Given that, I'd just as soon not take self-serving statements by anonymous Bush administration officials at face value. Especially when the veracity of those statements is called into question by the available evidence. Call it a learned response.

[PS: It is also entirely possible that the adminstration official quoted in the article was telling the she/he knew it. There has been a perculiar pattern of secrecy within the Bush administration (not just vis-a-vis outsiders) such that the Secretary of State might be pursuing some policy without telling the Secretary of Defense or Vice President, and vice versa (with the POTUS included on a need to know basis - which is rarer than it should be).

Rumsfeld and Cheney used to do this all the time to Rice and Powell, and eventually the latter two returned the favor on a few occasions as well. It's the preferred method of a party looking to avoid pushback from within. A similar dynamic could be in play here.]

This Time, I Really Mean It!*

The AP reports that Maliki's offensive is going so well that he's extended the deadline imposed on the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr:

Al-Maliki's office also announced Friday that it has given residents in Basra until April 8 to turn over "heavy and medium-size weapons" in return for unspecified monetary compensation.

The deadline is separate from the three-day ultimatum for gunmen to surrender their arms and renounce violence or face harsher measures, which expires later Friday, government adviser Sadiq al-Rikabi said.

Separate? Sure. Not only is Maliki extending the deadline, but he's throwing in some cash incentives to sweeten the pot. Those aren't the negotiating tactics of a party with the upper hand. The Sadrists, thus far, don't seem overly enthused with Maliki's offer.

One quibble with the way the AP characterizes the current conflict:

The campaign to rid Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, of lawless gangs and Shiite militias — some believed tied to nearby Iran — is a major test for the Shiite leader and for the Iraqi military.

Basra has several militias serving several masters (apart from Sadr's group, there's Fadila's militia, tribal militias and, of course, ISCI's Badr Corp - which has heavily infiltrated the official Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) - as well as other assorted actors).

Yet, oddly enough, Maliki's effort to "rid Basra" of militias has only focused on Sadr's. In fact, Badr Corp. irregulars are joining the fight on the side of the ISF (which is, again, itself heavily infiltrated by Badr Corp.). If cracking down on militias is really the goal, shouldn't Maliki be targeting Badr as well, not allowing his troops to fight side by side with an illegal militia?


*(Tomeck gets credit for the title)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Terminator X Packs a JAM

From the Department of Wrong Horses Backed:

Iraq’s Prime Minister was staring into the abyss today after his operation to crush militia strongholds in Basra stalled, members of his own security forces defected and district after district of his own capital fell to Shia militia gunmen.

With the threat of a civil war looming in the south, Nouri al-Maliki’s police chief in Basra narrowly escaped assassination in the crucial port city, while in Baghdad, the spokesman for the Iraqi side of the US military surge was kidnapped by gunmen and his house burnt to the ground.

Saboteurs also blew up one of Iraq's two main oil pipelines from Basra, cutting at least a third of the exports from the city which provides 80 per cent of government revenue, a clear sign that the militias — who siphon significant sums off the oil smuggling trade — would not stop at mere insurrection.

The most secure area of the capital, Karrada, was placed under curfew amid fears the Mahdi Army of Hojetoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr could launch an assault on the residence of Abdelaziz al-Hakim, the head of a powerful rival Shia governing party [ed note: that would be ISCI].

While the Mahdi Army has not officially renounced its six-month ceasefire, which has been a key component in the recent security gains, on the ground its fighters were chasing police and soldiers from their positions across Baghdad.

Rockets from Sadr City slammed into the governmental Green Zone compound in the city centre, killing one person and wounding several more. [...]

In Baghdad, the Mahdi Army took over neighbourhood after neighbourhood, some amid heavy fighting, others without firing a shot.

In New Baghdad, militiamen simply ordered the police to leave their checkpoints: the officers complied en masse and the guerrillas stepped out of the shadows to take over their checkpoints. [...]

One witness saw Iraqi Shia policemen rip off their uniform shirts and run for shelter with local Sunni neighbourhood patrols, most of them made up of former insurgents wooed by the US military into fighting al-Qaeda.

Badger has more on the situation in Basra:

The problem facing the government in its battle for control of Basra, which it has said will be "decisive", is that a large number of people in the army and the police are not carrying out orders to fight. Instead they are planning to return home, given their lack of desire to get into this fight.

Several notables in the governate have told AlQabas that the government forces, having entered into what amounts to street-fighting for Basra neighborhoods, will lose this fight unless these local forces are reinforced by large additional forces from elsewhere, because their opponents in the Mahdi Army and other organizations have appropriate weapons in sufficient quantity, and have experience in urban fighting. The lack of fighting spirit on the government side is owing to a lot of causes, among them the existence of tribal links between the army and police on the one side, and the armed militias on the other.

Also, the provincial council and the governor have come to an almost unified position of opposition to this [central government] operation, because they feel that the Prime Minister infringed on their jurisdiction as an elected local council. [In particular] they think the Prime Minister's meeting with the heads of the army and the police in the governate, without involving them, was a derogation of their status and an infringement on their legal authority.

The power of motivation should not be underestimated. It's a force multiplier. Speaking of picking which horse to back, Reidar Visser takes note of the direction of the wind:

After a long silence on the Basra operations, the parliamentary bloc of the Fadila party has within the past hours released a statement criticising the impact on civilian life in Basra and asking for an end to the operations “as soon as possible”. This is not quite as hostile as the reactions by the Sadrists, but it underscores internal Shiite divisions regarding control of Basra and shows how little room for manoeuvre Nuri al-Maliki really has.

The caveat, and it's a sizable one, is that these reports are preliminary, the information is thus not reliable in its entirey and much can change in a short period of time. Still, it's starting to look like Nouri and the boys bit off a bit more than they could chew.

Iraqracy Over Democracy

Anthony Cordesman, as usual, is worth reading:

Much of the current coverage of the fighting in the south assumes that Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sadr militia are the "spoilers," or bad guys, and that the government forces are the legitimate side and bringing order. This can be a dangerous oversimplification. There is no question that many elements of the JAM have been guilty of sectarian cleansing, and that the Sadr movement in general is hostile to the US and is seeking to enhance Muqtada al-Sadr's political power. There is also no doubt that the extreme rogue elements in the JAM have continued acts of violence in spite of the ceasefire, and that some have ties to Iran. No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents, or ignore the actions of the extreme elements of the JAM.

But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi'ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule.

The nature of this power struggle was all too clear during a recent visit to Iraq. ISCI had de facto control over the Shi'ite governorates in the south, and was steadily expanding its influence and sometimes control over the Iraqi police. It was clearly positioning itself for power struggle with Sadr and for any elections to come. It also was positioning itself to support Hakim's call for a nine governorate Shi'ite federation -- a call that it had clear Iranian support.

The US teams we talked to also made it clear that these appointments by the central government had no real popular base. If local and provincial elections were held with open lists, it was likely that ISCI and Dawa would lose most elections because they are seen as having failed to bring development and government services. [...]

This does not mean that the central government should not reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful, it is a significant prize as a port and the key to Iraq's oil exports, and gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government. But it is far from clear that what is happening is now directed at serving the nation's interest versus that of ISCI and Al Dawa in the power struggle to come. It is equally far from clear that the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces in the south is not being used by Maliki, Al Dawa, and ISCI to cement control over the Shi'ite regions at Sadr's expense and at the expense of any potential local political leaders and movements. Certainly, the fact that these efforts come after ISCI's removal of its objections to the Provincial Powers Act may not be entirely coincidental.

Is the end result going to be good or bad? It is very difficult to tell. If the JAM and Sadr turn on the US, or if the current ISCI/Dawa power grab fails, then Shi'ite on Shi'ite violence could become far more severe. It is also far from clear that if the two religious-exile parties win, this is going to serve the cause of political accommodation or legitimate local and provincial government. It seems far more likely that even the best case outcome is going be one that favors Iraqracy over democracy.

Um, yeah.

(via these three dudes)

Robbing Peter to Bomb Paul. Peter Dies Anyway. So Do You.

The Editors unearths this fact that will someday spawn a few billion bitter smiles (avedis: you can stop reading now):

Projected total US spending on the Iraq war could cover all of the global investments in renewable power generation that are needed between now and 2030 in order to halt current warming trends.
Responding to those that argue that we simply can't afford to combat global warming, the Editors goes postal floral:

People, listen: reducing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere? Obtaining all the energy we need directly from sunlight? These are the kinds of insurmountable engineering challenges overcome every day by plants. Plants. And not just those clever trees or those cunning shrubberies, mind you - single-celled algae-type bullshit figured out workable solutions to these questions several billion years ago. Call me speciesist (kingdomist?), but I’ve never found the flora to be particularly deep thinkers.
Heh meets indeed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Backing the Wrong Horse?

As predicted on this site repeatedly over the past couple of months, the aggressive anti-Sadrist actions of the ISCI/Dawa factions - in tandem with the US military - has led to the scuttling of the cease fire by Sadr. The US military, and its Iraqi allies (who are also Iran's primary allies) are playing a dangerous game, however, as a resumption of violence by the Sadrists could have widespread reverberations.

The purposes behind the continued targeting of the Sadrists are manifold. First, there has been an ongoing competition between the Sadrist current and the ISCI/Dawa factions for wealth, power and control of the Shiite political sphere. Against that backdrop, the looming October 1 regional elections have provided ISCI with an added sense of urgency: the Sadrist current is considerably more popular and stands to make a serious dent in ISCI's local political clout (ISCI is somewhat overrepresented locally due to the fact that the Sadrists boycotted the last round of regional elections in 2005).

That is why ISCI vetoed the most recent iteration of the regional elections law. It is likely that Cheney, on his most recent visit, promised US support for anti-Sadrist activities in return for ISCI's withdrawal of its objections. Along these lines, it is no accident that the strategically vital southern city of Basra is currently the site of the most concerted effort to purge the Sadrists. If ISCI can push the Sadrists out of Basra (the main port city, and transit hub of oil and other goods), losing ground in other Shiite localities would be less painful.

For the Bush administration, backing ISCI/Dawa is appealing for a few reasons. First, ISCI/Dawa are amenable to the US presence, whereas the Sadrist current is strongly opposed. So ensuring that ISCI maintains its political power is essential to the goals of maintaining permanent military bases and gaining preferential access to oil residing in the Shiite-dominated south. Ensuring the legitimacy of the democratic process is, apparently, not quite as important.

Second, the US could be attempting to drive a wedge between Iran and its strongest allies in Iraq (ISCI/Dawa) by providing robust support against those factions' main rival (the Sadrists). I remain highly dubious as to the prospects of such a gambit, however, and find it quite plausible that ISCI/Dawa would view us as friends of convenience - useful on a limited, contingent basis - without completely abandoning their Iranian allies. For the Bush administration, even preserving the chance to secure permanent bases and access to oil might take the sting out of failing to cut Iran out of the picture completely, though.

Regardless of the stated objectives, the question of execution remains. Trying to weaken the Sadrist current is a lot easier said than done. For one, it is a movement made up of over 2 million Iraqis - represented by a fairly sizable bloc in the parliament and with a large base of support in Baghdad. Sadr's network delivers necessary social services to large segments of Iraq's society, and that ability, as well as his religious lineage and nationalist, anti-occupation rhetoric make him and his movement extremely popular.

The Mahdi Army militia, while rough around the edges and lightly armed, are highly motivated and determined. The early results of the most recent clashes vary depending on the source. While Maliki took to the airwaves today to issue an ultimatum to the Sadrists, it is unclear which faction is in a position to dictate terms. First Maliki:

Iraq's prime minister on Wednesday gave gunmen in the southern oil port of Basra three days to surrender their weapons and renounce violence as clashes between security forces and Shiite militia fighters erupted for a second day.

Sadiq al-Rikabi, a chief adviser to al-Maliki, said gunmen who fail to turn over their weapons to police stations in Basra by Friday will be targeted for arrest. He said they also must sign a pledge renouncing violence.

Juan Cole translates some pieces that suggest that Maliki's bargaining power is not quite strong enough to make such demands:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that members of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI, formerly SCIRI, led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim); the Da'wa Party led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Badr Corps paramilitary of ISCI have fled their HQs in Basra and Kut, because of the threat that they will be stormed by Mahdi Army militiamen [seeking revenge for the current offensive], In fact, some such buildings already have been attacked. [...]

Al-Zaman says its sources in the Sadr Movement confirmed that the Mahdi Army has gained control of the main road between Amara and Basra, allowing it to cut the government troops off from military supplies.

Badger translates a piece that says US soldiers were employed to protect the ISCI's offices in Baghdad as well. Events such as these should make US policymakers wonder whether, yet again, we are backing the less popular local elements simply because they tell us what we want to hear.

Speaking of which, Sadr has another card to play, and so let me make another prediction: If the US and its putative Iraqi allies do not back off, the Sadrists will attempt to bring down the Maliki government by coordinating a no-confidence vote. While Sistani and others have fought to maintain a united Shiite political bloc for some time, alas, not even the cat herder can prevent this rift unless there is a let up in violence.

The question remains: can the Sadrists pull in enough Shiite and Sunni lawmakers to back this play? I'd say the odds are better than 50/50.

Monday, March 24, 2008

If You Kill My Dog I'ma Slay Your Cat

Over the past couple of months, I have been sounding the alarm that the US military and its allies in the Iraqi government are pushing too hard against Moqtada al-Sadr, such that he might be forced to lift the cease fire in place since last Spring/Summer. Thankfully, in late February, Sadr extended that cease-fire as its expiration date approached. Still, at the time I warned:

While this is a positive development (both for US forces and, consequently, Mahdi Army forces), it is important to remember that this declaration of truce is not exactly a binding contract. It is entirely contingent on developments on the ground, namely the extent to which raids on Sadr's cadres (even non-militia members) persist.

Unfortunately, the attacks and targeting of members of the Sadrist current have continued - actually, they've heated up in recent weeks with informed speculation pointing to a coordinated attempt to weaken the Sadrist current ahead of regional elections (more on this below). A couple of weeks back, Sadr hinted at an adjustment in the parameters of the cease-fire that would carve out a pretty substantial loophole:

The normally reclusive Sheikh Sadr released his second statement in three days responding to a list of questions from followers...

"If a military war is conducted against us by the occupiers we will defend ourselves," Sheikh Sadr said in the four-page statement bearing his personal seal.

"Self-defence against the occupiers is beyond discussion."

Sure enough, yesterday, the AP reported:

[R]ockets pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad and a wave of attacks left at least 61 Iraqis dead nationwide. [...]

The attacks followed a series of clashes last week between U.S. and Iraqi forces and factions of the Mahdi Army, the biggest Shiite militia loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A telling, if somewhat understated, paragraph from the AP article:

Al-Sadr's followers have accused the Shiite-dominated government of exploiting the cease-fire to target the cleric's supporters in advance of provincial elections expected this fall and demanded the release of supporters rounded up in recent weeks. [emphasis added]

It is no secret that America's main ally in Iraq (and Iran's), the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), is likely to lose ground to the more popular Sadrist current in the upcoming provincial elections (the Sadrist current boycotted the 2005 round). Absent some extracurricular activities to level the playing field that is. As Cernig noted quoting an AP article on Friday, ISCI, whose Iran-trained militia (the Badr Corp.) has heavily infiltrated Iraqi Security Forces, has been moving aggressively (in tandem with US forces) to help overcome what it lacks in popular appeal:

A Sadrist member of parliament alleged that the crackdown in Kut and elsewhere in the south was part of a move by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party and [ISCI] to prevent al-Sadr's followers from winning control of key southern provinces in provincial elections expected this fall.

"They have no supporters in the central and southern provinces, but we do," Ahmed al-Massoudi told the AP. "If the crackdown against the Sadrists continues, we will begin consultations with other parliamentary blocs to bring down the government and replace it with a genuinely national one."

The maneuvering continues today (from the first AP article cited above):

Also Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relieved the top two security officials in Basra, Iraq's second largest city, officials said. The move is a sign of growing concern about security in the nation's oil capital since British forces handed over control of the city last year.

Two Iraqi officials said the police chief of Basra, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Khalaf, and the commander of the city's joint military-police operation, Lt. Gen. Mohan al-Fireji, have been replaced.

The timing is not the product of mere happenstance - nor should Basra's importance in the Shiite political game be underestimated. Also, as translated from Al Hayat by Badger:

As the level of tension rises between the Iraqi government and the American forces on the one side, and the Mahdi Army on the other, the British Defence Minister went back on a previous plan to reduce their forces in Basra from 4100 to 2500, given the preparations that the Iraqi army is making for a broad operation against Shiite militias in that city.

I wonder if this "progress" is part of what Cheney promised his allies in ISCI in order to get them to withdraw their veto of the law which contained provisions for regional elections. Regardless, Brandon Friedman is right to be concerned with the recent spike in US casualties. If we continue to side with ISCI in its efforts to cripple Sadr through massive purges, arrests and violent confrontations ahead of the October elections (in support of the democratization of Iraq, natch), our forces will begin to sustain higher casualties as the Sadrists fight back.

Sadr might be making alternative plans himself - finally forging one of those long sought after cross-sectarian alliances. This one would be centered around one of the more popular platforms going in terms of cross-sect appeal: putting US forces on a firm schedule for withdrawal.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dead Again

Sigh. Yet another conservative proclaiming that Moqtada al-Sadr is dead. Again.

You'd think that after reading some version of this claim every month for the past four years or so, one would be a bit gunshy about being the latest to run up and take a kick at Lucy's football. You'd be wrong of course.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The One Hand Tied Dodge

Abu Mook reminds me that it's about time to check in, again, on our Horn of Africa Champion du jour, the brutal Zenawi regime in Ethiopia. Regular readers may recall that in December of 2006, a bevy of conservative pundits were singing the praises of the Ethiopian approach to warfare during its US-backed invasion of neighboring Somalia. This armchair Clausewitz set was asserting, emphatically, that Ethiopia's unchecked brutality, disregard for human rights and contempt for critical media coverage would lead to the swift eradication of any insurgency that might erupt in vanquished Somalia.

In fact, many of these self-styled military strategists went as far as to suggest that our officers could learn a thing or two from their Ethiopian counterparts. Alas, it was acknowledged by our would-be adivsors with a wistful sorrow, our society has lost its stomach for such brutality due to liberal indoctrination, and thus the lessons would likely go unlearned. The sighs were audible.

So how are our putative mentors doing some 15 months on in their campaign?

Islamist insurgents cut off the heads of three Somali soldiers south of the capital on Thursday and the U.N. special envoy said he would try to set up peace talks between the opposition and government.

It was the first case of beheadings since the government and its Ethiopian military allies ousted the Islamists from power in late 2006, sparking a bloody insurgency characterized by roadside bombs and hit-and-run attacks.

"This morning the mujahideen attacked the so-called government troops guarding the roads for the Ethiopian forces. We killed three of them," said Muktar Ali Robow, a senior commander of the Islamists' Shabab youth wing.

"We did what we promised to them. People traveling in that road can be asked how we killed them," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. [...]

At least 7,000 people have died, and hundreds of thousands been displaced in the 15-month insurgency, creating what aid workers call one of the world's worst yet most ignored humanitarian crises.

And if it wasn't for those meddling do-gooders, we too could be enjoying a counterinsurgency operation every bit as successful. When will we learn.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Harder than the Hardest, Hardest Aardvark Can Get

Marc Lynch has a piece up about withdrawal from Iraq that I highly recommend. In particular, I wanted to emphasize this portion - which touches on several aspects of the occupation, and its acceptance by certain segments of the Iraqi population, as well as the disincentives for those groups to compromise created by our presence:

The current government, and more broadly the Green Zone political class, is one of the few Iraqi groupings which genuinely wants or needs a sustained American presence – as the guarantor of its political survival. At the same time, they have been one of the greatest obstacles to national reconciliation, and have proved largely resistant to American pressure. Since surviving a series of attempts to unseat his government, Maliki seems to feel politically secure and has spoken often about his belief that national reconciliation has already been achieved. Support for relatively unconditional American backing is similarly strong among the Green Zone Kurdish leadership. Even the Green Zone Sunnis, who have often been the most critical of the US in public and have long since quit the Maliki government, need the Americans to maintain their political positions.

The Green Zone dominant parties share a common situation, of disproportionate power in the national government and an eroding position within their own constituencies. The Sunni parties feel threatened by the rise of the Anbar Salvation Council and the Awakenings, and by their failure to achieve substantial national reconciliation legislation to strengthen their political hand with their constituency. The united Shia list of the UIA has long-since fragmented, with the Sadrists and Fadhila and other Shia parties now largely on the outside. By most reports, ISCI has lost ground with Shia voters, and would likely lose in elections (provincial or national). ISCI's political leadership therefore depends on US support for its political weight, and despite its strong Iranian ties would likely be loathe to see the US leave. The Supreme Council's response to a withdrawal would be clearly shaped by its terms, and by the role – implicit or explicit – of Iran in the presumed post-US order. At the same time, in the context of an agreement (tacit or overt) with Iran, its role could be guaranteed. Without such a guarantee, however, the incentives would be strong to unleash the Badr Brigades to stir up trouble in hopes of preventing the US from following through on its plans to depart.

No Iraqi actor would scream more loudly or offer more dire warnings of impending doom than the current Green Zone elite – and, not coincidentally, these are the voices most often heard in Washington and by politicians on short visits to Baghdad. But their warnings should be understood at least in part as expressions of their own political self-interest. No Iraqi actor is more likely to quickly readjust its behavior and calculations should such a withdrawal be announced. With the US set to depart, the whole range of national reconciliation initiatives which are currently seen as at best luxuries and at worst mortal threats would suddenly become a much more intense matter of self-interest. [emphasis added]

While it's a point that I have been making for some time, it bears repeating: We are currently incurring unthinkable costs in order to prop up Iran's primary ally in Iraq (ISCI). In fact, Iran's chief proxy is so unpopular that, should we withdraw our support, ISCI would have a difficult time succeeding in free and fair elections. Iran must feel blessed to have such magnanimous adversaries.

But remember, as John McCain warned us recently, if we withdraw from Iraq any time in the next decade or ten, we would greatly boost Iran's influence. On the other hand, fighting, spending and dying so that ISCI can maintain its position of power in the Green Zone (and Shiite south) limits Iran's influence.

Happy Fifth!

[UPDATE: See, also, Matt Duss (at his new Think Progress digs) who adds layers of evidence to the central assertion]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From a Certain Perspective I Suppose

Blake Hounshell is funny. Next to the picture on the left, Blake included this caption:

"Visiting Baghdad, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said the Iraq war was a "successful endeavor." Not long afterward, a female suicide bomber killed 40 people in Karbala."
Successful indeed if you're a Shiite fundamentalist group that was exiled in Iran (ISCI), whose political organization and militia were formed, funded, trained and indoctrinated in Iran and that still maintains extremely close ties to Iran. Successful, also, for Iran. The rest of us? Not so much. As if on cue, soi disant foreign policy expert John McCain weighed in:

U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, speaking in Jordan after visiting Iraq, said the recent buildup of U.S. troops was succeeding and any early military withdrawal would dramatically boost Iranian influence in the region.
Yeah. An early withdrawal would jeopardize all that success wouldn't it.

(Photo via PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

They Knew All the Tricks, Dramatic Irony, Metaphor, Bathos, Puns, Parody, Litotes and...Satire. They Were Vicious.

I have been complaining of late about the disturbing level of ignorance revealed in certain statements made by Senator McCain regarding the goals, composition and strategy of al-Qaeda (a shortcoming brought into stark relief by McCain's self-touted foreign policy expertise). True to form, the presumptive GOP nominee is giving little cause to alter this assessment. Actually, he's only reinforcing the judgment. Matt Yglesias caught this head scratcher (and that's putting it mildly) from a CNN interview yesterday in which McCain sets forth the supposed results of a measured withdrawal from Iraq over the course of 16 months to 2 years (as proposed by Clinton and Obama):

So I just think what [measured withdrawal] means is al Qaeda wins. They tell the world that...And their dedication is to follow us home.

Matt skewers as appropriate:

[T]o portray what the U.S. military is doing in Iraq as primarily a matter of fighting al-Qaeda is breathtakingly dishonest. At least I hope it's dishonest, because if McCain is really that clueless about what's happening, then we're in more trouble than I thought.

Actually Matt, you might be on to something regarding the dishonest vs. clueless question (a question I posited myself recently). More on that below, but first Matt is still at it:

Meanwhile, this business about al-Qaeda following us home from Iraq is ludicrous. The American deployment in Iraq isn't a physical barrier preventing people from coming to the United States. Obviously, preventing would-be terrorists from getting into the country is an important priority, but sending 160,000 soldiers to Iraq doesn't accomplish that.

Um, yeah. Adding: Iraqi militants will be staying in Iraq to contest for control of the country's future, which is their primary concern (that, and fighting for the expulsion of US forces - which would not require following anyone anywhere, other than to the exits). Similarly, foreign elements streaming in from Saudi Arabia and the Maghreb (many of which are identified as "al-Qaeda in Iraq"), will have lost much of their motivation to fulfill the duty of confronting foreign armies on Muslim lands when those invading armies have departed.

Now, al-Qaeda Central (the group hunkered down in the Afghan/Pakistani tribal areas) will still be intent on attacking us at "home," but invading Iraq never changed that, nor would prolonging the occupation for even 100 years. Back to Matt, who's making my life easy today:

Meanwhile, as John Brennan told me a few weeks ago, McCain "says that al-Qaeda has said it will be a defeat if we leave, I think it is most inappropriate to concede to al-Qaeda the ability to define what constitutes success." After all, "al-Qaeda's strategy has been to bleed the U.S. into bankruptcy and to continue with the same approach will have severe consequences for U.S. national security."...To reason, as McCain does, that because al-Qaeda will boast if we leave Iraq that we therefore most make an unlimited commitment to indefinite warfare there is crazy; we'd be letting a small group of fanatics pin down a huge swathe of the American military with nothing more than the threat to release a gloating videotape.

That all depends. Will al-Qaeda use...satire? I mean, regular gloating is pretty potent, but boasting with bathos may prove an existential threat.

Snark aside, in conceding that withdrawal equals victory for al-Qaeda, McCain simultaneously bolsters that group's prestige beyond correlation to actual events (how does this serve al-Qaeda's grand designs when bleeding us dry by prolonging the occupation is preferential?) and artificially amplifies al-Qaeda's efficacy (it wasn't al-Qaeda that rendered this invasion unwinnable, they have been but a small factor). Further, actual terrorism experts point out that this type of glorification of al-Qaeda engaged in by McCain is singularly counterproductive in that it encourages would-be terrorists to enlist in a romanticized movement that is portrayed as "epic" by those that should expose it for its smallness.

Continuing its tour, McCain's Jaw Drop Express pulled into Amman, Jordan today where the Senator from Arizona proceeded to lecture the locals on al-Qaeda and its allies in the region:

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.”

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear. McCain then said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”

The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night.

That one sure seems to militate in favor of "clueless" on the clueless-dishonest spectrum. Of course, that's a lose-lose proposition now isn't it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Pat's

Go get drunk.

I plan on it.

Work made me do it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Boy in a Million, Idol, a Big Star, I Didn't Tell You, How Great You Are

Olivier Roy eviscerates John McCain's recent claims that al-Qaeda would take over Iraq should we pursue the slow-evolving withdrawal plans of either Clinton or Obama. Roy points out several factors that should be obvious to any person even vaguely familiar with the strategy, tactics and potency of al-Qaeda - most importantly, that "Al Qaeda does not have the necessary local rooting for taking power."

Al Qaeda seeks to hijack existing conflicts and make them part of the global jihad against the West.

However, in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan and now Iraq, the Islamist internationalist groups have been unsuccessful in diverting local and national conflicts, playing only the role of auxiliaries. The key actors of the local conflicts are the local actors...These groups are not under the leadership of Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda has managed only to implant foreign volunteers into these struggles, volunteers who usually do not understand local politics and find support among the local population only as long as they fight a common enemy, such as American troops in Iraq.

But their respective agenda is totally different: Local actors, Islamist or not, want a political solution on their own terms. They do not want chaos or global jihad. As soon as there is a discrepancy between "the policy of the worst" waged by Al Qaeda and a possible local political settlement, the local actors choose the local settlement. [...]

In Iraq, many among the Sunnis, including the Salafists, resent not only Al Qaeda's tactics of indiscriminate suicide bombings, but also the strategy of confronting the Shiites.

The fact is Al Qaeda plays a role in the deterioration of the conflicts but is unable to succeed in coordinating them. Local, national, tribal or sectarian religious channels are stronger. [...]

In short, there may be good reasons for the United States to remain in Iraq, but they have nothing to do with Al Qaeda; they have more to do with a damage-control operation. If the U.S. troops leave, there might be a civil war, there might be a growing Iranian influence, Iraq might be turned into a battlefield by proxies between Saudi Arabia and Iran. There could be a Sunni-controlled area, a Shiite state and an independent Kurdistan, but no Qaedistan.

The most charitable reading of McCain's dubious admonition is that he is trying to gin up fear through evoking a specter that he knows to be a chimera. In short, he is lying to the American people in order to maintain support for the Iraq occupation that he believes is justifiable for other, non-stated reasons. The other plausible reading is that McCain is simply gallingly ignorant as to the nature of al-Qaeda and the threat it poses in Iraq and beyond.

Under either interpretation, however, McCain's words are not only misleading, they are actually counterproductive to the cause of defeating al-Qaeda. Let's revisit his statement: friends if we left [al-Qaeda] wouldn't be establishing a base, they wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country. And I'm not going to allow that to happen my friends. I will not surrender. I will not surrender to Al Qaeda.

Now consider the advice of Marc Sageman - one of the most well respected voices on issues related to al-Qaeda (and one of my personal favorites). Sageman points out, in his latest book, that al-Qaeda's first and second waves have mostly been neutralized. The remaining threat comes from an Internet-fueled, movement of would-be terrorists who are more amateurish, though less easy to identify (a "leaderless jihad"), and motivated primarily by an urge for something bigger, some heroic path. In this article in Foreign Policy (subscription required):

The U.S. strategy to counter this terrorist threat continues to be frozen by the horrors of 9/11. It relies more on wishful thinking than on a deep understanding of the enemy. The pursuit of "high-value targets" who were directly involved in the 9/11 operation more than six years ago was an appropriate first step to bring the perpetrators to justice. And the United States has been largely successful in degrading the capability of al Qaeda Central.

But this strategy is not only useless against the leaderless jihad; it is precisely what will help the movement flourish. Radical Islamist terrorism will never disappear because the West defeats it. Instead, it will most likely disappear for internal reasons—if the United States has the sense to allow it to continue on its course and fade away. The main threat to radical Islamist terrorism is the fact that its appeal is self-limiting. The key is to accelerate this process of internal decay. This need not be a long war, unless American policy makes it so.

Terrorist acts must be stripped of glory and reduced to common criminality. Most aspiring terrorists want nothing more than to be elevated to the status of an FBI Most Wanted poster. "[I am] one of the most wanted terrorists on the Internet," Younis Tsouli boasted online a few months before his arrest in 2005. "I have the Feds and the CIA, both would love to catch me. I have MI6 on my back." His ego fed off the respect such bragging brought him in the eyes of other chatroom participants. Any policy or recognition that puts such people on a pedestal only makes them heroes in each other's eyes—and encourages others to follow their example. These young men aspire to nothing more glorious than to fight uniformed soldiers of the sole remaining superpower. That is why the struggle against these terrorists must be demilitarized and turned over to collaborative law enforcement. The military role should be limited to denying terrorists a sanctuary.

It is equally crucial not to place terrorists who are arrested or killed in the limelight. The temptation to hold press conferences to publicize another "major victory" in the war on terror must be resisted, for it only transforms terrorist criminals into jihadist heroes. The United States underestimates the value of prosecutions, which often can be enormously demoralizing to radical groups. There is no glory in being taken to prison in handcuffs. No jihadi Web site publishes such pictures. Arrested terrorists fade into oblivion; martyrs live on in popular memory. [...]

It is necessary to reframe the entire debate, from imagined glory to very real horror. Young people must learn that terrorism is about death and destruction, not fame. The voices of the victims must be heard over the bragging and posturing that go on in the online jihadist forums. Only then will the leaderless jihad expire, poisoned by its own toxic message.

With that in mind, consider, again, the words of McCain and others that elevate al-Qaeda's importance and stature by claiming - erroneously - that al-Qaeda has the power to take over Iraq, that leaving Iraq would be an al-Qaeda victory or that we are locked into an epic and existential battle with al-Qaeda (as if they could anihilate us). Hype such as this only makes al-Qaeda appear larger than life, and emulation a more attractive endeavor for those searching for a heroic journey (however misguided they are in their estimation of the heroic).

We would be better served to dismiss, downplay and delegitimize. Unfortunately, playing on, and stoking, the fear in the minds of voters seems to be the fall-back position for GOP politicians - McCain included. He's adding the golden lights to the billboard.

You Will See - From Now 'Til Infinity

Kevin Drum asks a question after citing an excerpt from a recent WaPo article:

Petraeus credited both the mainly Sunni neighborhood patrols known as the Awakening and a cease-fire called by Shiite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr with helping to bring down violence....In the interview, Petraeus conceded that some elements of both the Awakening movement and the Mahdi Army may be standing down in order to prepare for the day when the U.S. presence is diminished. "Some of them may be keeping their powder dry," Petraeus said of Mahdi Army members. "Obviously you would expect some of that to happen.

A lot of war critics have been saying this exact same thing for months. Now that Petraeus is saying it too, does that make it OK?

Not just OK. Now that Petraeus is saying it, those that were previously bashing war critics for making this exact point will now act as if this was the case all along, that it was obvious, and only those naive war crtics - who just don't "understand war" - have ignored this reality. Better still, this dynamic will be cited as the reason that we must continue the occupation for 100-Years-to-Infinity as John McCain promises repeatedly.

The tar baby conundrum goes something like this: If things in Iraq are chaotic and violent, well, we just can't leave can we - I mean, what about the oil (which was so totally not a reason for this invasion at all, in any way, whatsoever, I mean, who even knew Iraq had the second largest reserve oil supply in the world)? On the other hand, if things in Iraq are quieting down, we can't leave lest we disturb the peace. Especially because once we leave, the various factions will have at it. Even Petraeus said so.

This is how we chill...from '03 'til...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And When You Disappear, We'll Just Pretend You Were Never Here

You know what I've been turning over in my mind the past few days: I'm actually kind of glad that Eliot Spitzer is resigning. Don't get me wrong, the circumstances of his resignation are no doubt extremely painful for his wife and children and - though less sympathetic - the Governor himself. I would never wish such humiliation on anyone, nor do I delight in their suffering. My point is just that Spitzer has been a massive disappointment (prior to the scandal) and a rather ineffectual leader.

Despite his enormous margin of victory, and sky-high approval ratings upon entering office, he has managed to alienate Democrats and Republicans alike - from citizens, to those within the State legislature, to those in national office. Much of this stems from Spitzer's dictatorial style, and unwillingness to bring others into the decision making process (or coax the public along with his plan).

Spitzer has preferred to spring his proposals on lawmakers with little pre-game consensus building or consultation. He prefers the rule by fiat - but that doesn't work so well in a State where the opposition controls one of the houses (the state senate). Republicans have opposed his every move and, due to his aloof and dismissive manner, he has even failed to rally what should be solid support from amongst the State's Democratic legislators.

His plan to issue driver's licenses to undocumented workers was a fiasco that managed to creep up and taint both Clinton and Obama in successive debates. It would have helped them - and his cause in general - if he had consulted various Party leaders before springing it on them, as well as the public. That is no way to massage a legislative body or electorate into supporting a potentially controversial program.

But that was just a high profile microcosm of Spitzer's inability to grasp the intricacies of the governing process. Maybe watching Bush during the last 7+ years gave him the wrong impression as to the typical dynamic between an executive and his/her legislature. Perhaps it was the years spent as Attorney General - in charge of an entire office - that led to the development of bad habits that didn't translate well to the State House.

Whatever the cause, Spitzer's approval ratings were abysmal (quite a shocking drop from their initial peaks), and his record of legislative accomplishment was near non-existent. This from a Governor that was supposed to shake up the status quo and bring massive change to the State's calcified political culture.

But here's the good news: by all indications, Governor-to-be David Paterson is many of the things that Spitzer is not (a dealmaker, who knows how to develop relationships, listen to other voices and build consensus) - while still possessing many of Spitzer's more admirable attributes; such as intelligence, drive, progressive bona fides and desire to usher in positive change. This post at the Albany Project gives a taste of Paterson's agenda. As a side note: I'm also very proud that my home State finally has a black governor, and one that is legally blind. Paterson will stand as a role model to so many people, and that is one rather large bonus.

Speaking of which, Paterson also has a sense of humor. From a recent back-and-forth with reporters:
Just so we don't have to go through this whole resignation thing again," one ballsy reporter asked, "Have you ever patronized a prostitute?"

Paterson thought for a minute. "Only the lobbyists," he said.
So pardon me if I'm not exactly lamenting Spitzer's departure. It leaves Democrats, and all New Yorkers, in much more capable hands. I'm already looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Apres Mook, Le Deluge

This is not a good sign. Spencer Ackerman explains (quoting a subscription only piece on IraqSlogger):

...[A]n anti-Sadr rally. Practically in Sadr City!

In an act described by witnesses as verging on the "unthinkable," scores of Iraqis staged a protest against the Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday inside a region known as a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia.

On Monday, in the Kasra wa Atash area, in the Eastern part of the capitol near Sadr City, assembled protesters chanted anti-Sadr slogans, and voiced objections to the recent trends in Sadr's leadership of the Sadrist Current, the Shi'a religious tendency named after his father and his father-in-law.

The marchers chanted in Arabic: "The traitor is a soldier and we have discharged him" (i.e. from his military service). When a Slogger source asked to confirm who the "soldier" was referred to in the chant, marchers indicated that the "dismissal" was indeed directed to Muqtada al-Sadr, using the nickname "Qaddu," an Arabic nickname for the young cleric that derives from his first name.

Why are they opposing Sadr? Because he's a demagogic religious thug? Because they're sick of the violence? Because they want reconciliation with the Sunnis and occupation by the Americans? Nope.

Some marchers reportedly accused the Sadrist leadership of reaching a quiet agreement with U.S. forces in order to pacify the capital, but said they opposed such an agreement, preferring that the Sadrist current offer resistance to the American presence.

As I have been warning recently, the US military and its "allies" in the Iraqi government are pushing Sadr into a corner. Unless they ease up on the operations against the Mahdi Army militia and others in Sadr's organization, Sadr won't be able to hold back the flood. He will be forced to lift the self-imposed cease-fire due to mounting pressure from within his organization given force by the continued killings, arrests and general harrassment of even non-militants in the Sadrist current. Not to mention the arming of tribal elements in the Shiite south in an attempt to replicate the "awakenings" strategy by encouraging those tribal elements to turn on the Sadrists.

The good news is, Sadr would likely prefer to keep the Mahdi Army militia on the sidelines - why expose his fighters to the full wrath of the US military at a time when US forces are less preoccupied with the Sunni resistance? The Sunni militants have decided to wait out the occupation in order to consolidate, retool and restock for future clashes with Shiite elements in and around Baghdad (read: Sadrists). Sadr would be foolish to do otherwise.

Engagement with US forces at this time would leave his cadres weakened and vulnerable to both Sunni militants and his Shiite rivals alike. Further, Sadr's cease-fire has enabled him to weed out undisciplined and disloyal elements that fail to adhere to the ethical/religious code demanded by the Sadrist leadership. That is an ongoing process that is far from complete, but one that his current deems vital.

The bad news is, however, that Sadr might have little choice in the matter if the trajectory of anti-Sadrist activities continues unabated. Not only should US military commanders re-think their heavy-handed approach, but I would lean heavily on ISCI and its Badr Corp militia (now largely incorporated in the "official" Iraqi Security Forces) to pull back as well.

Sadr is not the only one who should fear the outcome of an unrestrained Mahdi Army. We're talking about a political movement that is comprised of over 2 million Iraqis. Trying to eradicate such a force would be near impossible. The violence would send ripples throughout Iraq, and the body count would be considerably higher on all sides.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Odd Paucity of Hope

Matt Yglesias really nails the disparate ways that the policies put forth by the two main Iraq policy camps (withdrawal vs. indefinite occupation) are treated by much of the media/commentariat when gamed out. In the context of criticizing Michael O'Hanlon's recent attempts to devise an Iraq benchmark scorecard based almost entirely on O'Hanlon's opinions, Yglesias observes:

O'Hanlon is trying to introduce a spurious sense of precision to an inherently subjective judgment. Try to ask a coherent question like "is there a broadly based government that enjoys legitimacy across sectarian divides for us to support in Iraq?" and the answer is clearly "no."

O'Hanlon concedes as much, but counters that it's not hopeless to think that such a government might emerge if we keep sticking around and trying to cajole them. I would counter that, on the one hand, hope is not a plan and, on the other hand, that there's nothing stopping us from "hoping for the best" in a withdrawal scenario. The tendency in the U.S. policy debate has been to assess dovish options in terms of worst-case scenarios (regional war! genocide! al-qaeda base!) and hawkish options in terms of best-case scenarios (reconciliation! a new democracy!) but this is completely arbitrary. It's not clear that the presence of a large U.S. military force in Iraq alters the incentives facing Iraqi political actors in favor of reconciliation.

Right. Neither camp's "best case scenario" is likely to come to fruition. Both "happy endings" are rather remote possibilities at this time, but one version of Operation Hope for a Pony is dramatically less costly - not just in terms of financial resources, but across a broad range of categories. That is a crucial factor that is almost always neglected in these discussions. It's like one side gets to put forth a cost-benefit analysis that leaves out the "costs" while calibrating the benefits on a scale that goes up to 11 out of 10.

[UPDATE: Come to think of it, there is one big reason that the public discourse on Iraq is skewed in the direction of this myopia that O'Hanlon is afflicted with: the public discourse on Iraq is dominated by...O'Hanlon! Weird.]

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Village Green Zone Preservation Society

Forget golden parachutes, our staunchest "allies" in Iraq have been busy assembling golden helicopters (complete with rooftop liftoff capabilities):

The Democratic chairman and Republican former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee have asked government auditors to determine what Iraq is doing with the billions of dollars in oil revenue it generates.

"We believe that it has been overwhelmingly U.S. taxpayer money that has funded Iraq reconstruction over the last five years, despite Iraq earning billions of dollars in oil revenue over that time period that have ended up in non-Iraqi banks," Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John Warner, R-Va., said Friday in a letter to the head of the Government Accountability Office.

The link comes via Swopa, whose emphasis I've borrowed. Swopa is, at last, returning to the Iraq beat now that I've successfully cajoled him out of his election-blogging cocoon. He adds with trademark bite:

There has been speculation among wags in Iraq (which I'm sure I've quoted here at least once in the past) that having built up no popular base of support during their incompetent/corrupt/etc. reign, the former-exile politicians who have dominated the post-U.S. invasion government there will go promptly back into exile as soon as the Americans stop propping them up.

Depositing billions of dollars in foreign banks suggests that they might be preparing for this eventuality.

The friends we keep. While we're on the topic of profiteering and the economic drain of war, I might as well highlight the most recent predictions regarding what the Greatest Foreign Policy Blunder in US History will cost US taxpayers:

The flow of blood may be ebbing, but the flood of money into the Iraq war is steadily rising, new analyses show. In 2008, its sixth year, the war will cost approximately $12 billion a month, triple the "burn" rate of its earliest years, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz and co-author Linda J. Bilmes report in a new book.

Beyond 2008, working with "best-case" and "realistic-moderate" scenarios, they project the Iraq and Afghan wars, including long-term U.S. military occupations of those countries, will cost the U.S. budget between $1.7 trillion and $2.7 trillion — or more — by 2017.

Interest on money borrowed to pay those costs could alone add $816 billion to that bottom line, they say.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has done its own projections and comes in lower, forecasting a cumulative cost by 2017 of $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion for the two wars, with Iraq generally accounting for three-quarters of the costs. [...]

In a Jan. 30 report to Congress, the GAO observed that the U.S. will be committing "significant" future resources to the wars, "requiring decision makers to consider difficult trade-offs as the nation faces an increasing long-range fiscal challenge."

Mercifully for John "Hundred Years to Infinity" McCain, both studies only projected out to 2017, a mere comma in a single sentence of McCain's interpretation of War and Peace. As he put it himself recently:

"It's a false argument to say how long we're going to stay, because [Obama and Clinton] don't understand warfare.

"Warfare has got to do with victory or defeat. They want to declare defeat; I want us to continue to have this victory."

Yes, how could Clinton and Obama want to deprive us of the pleasure of enjoying this victory for the next century and beyond? Not only a resounding and perpetual victory, but a bargain too. Obviously, McCain, and those Green Zone former-exile Iraqi politicians, really understand war. The rest of us are so naive.

Friday, March 07, 2008

You Know Things in Iraq are Going Well, When...

That post title could really be part 10,236 of an ongoing series. But I've digressed before I've even started. Now back to this episode of everyone's favorite neverending war.

Today, we learn that Bush administration officials are so sanguine about the prospects in Iraq going forward, so convinced that The Surge will succeed (or has already succeeded), that they're going to release the key findings of the updated NIE on Iraq ahead of Petraeus' April testimony to Congress.

Well, that's what you would expect them to do, right? I mean, why sit on all that good news - news bound to mute public opposition to permanent occupation and buoy the candidacy of Mr. Hundred Years to Infinity himself.

Here's the thing though: the Bush administration is actually leaning toward keeping the key findings of the NIE a secret. Via Cernig, the WaPo reports:

A new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is scheduled to be completed this month, according to U.S. intelligence officials. But leaders of the intelligence community have not decided whether to make its key judgments public, a step that caused an uproar when key judgments in an NIE about Iran were released in November.

The classified estimate on Iraq is intended as an update of last summer's assessment, which predicted modest security improvements but an increasingly precarious political situation there, the U.S. officials said.

It is meant to be delivered to Congress before testimony in early April by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, according to a letter sent last week by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.).

...Intelligence officials said that the National Intelligence Board -- made up of the heads of the 16 intelligence agencies plus McConnell -- will decide whether to release the Iraq judgments once the estimate is completed. But they made clear that they lean toward a return to the traditional practice of keeping such documents secret.

In internal guidance he issued in October, McConnell said that his policy was that they "should not be declassified."

The key findings are that good, huh? Guess we'll just have to take their word for it. I mean, they wouldn't lie would they? Not about the situation in Iraq at least.

Looks like the Cheney wing, having seen its Iran-war designs crippled by the recent release of Iran-related NIE key findings, is saying fool me once...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Fear of the F-Word

Lisa Shiffren writing at the National Review's blog, The Corner, reacts to the infamous Charlotte Allen "Women are Dumb" column (see Hilzoy and Jessica Valenti for a recap if you aren't familiar, and Laura Rozen has been doing absolutely bang-up work as well):

As far as I can tell, there is more than enough stupidity out there to go round. When it's a writer with a dumb idea for a column, the idea is that an editor will exercise better judgement. I'm not an oversensitive feminist. But as a rule, "women are really stupid" columns aren't funny even when written by women.
Shiffren insists on caveating her feminist-based critique with an explanation that she is not really a feminist. Yes. What a terrible thing for a woman to be. And what a curious thing for Shiffren to insert at the end of a perfectly legitimate argument against Allen's shoddy, biased - if not mysoginist - column. Actually, not curious at all. This is a particular tic amongst women that seems to be waxing rather than waning.

If you want to see an example of how a non-feminist reacts to Allen's colum, check out Kathryn Jean Lopez - editor of the same Corner blog where Shiffren writes:

Charlotte Allen [Kathryn Jean Lopez]
eviscerates women. I love it.
What's not to love? KJL, obviously, does not need to bother with a caveat reassuring the reader as to her lack of feminist leanigs.

There are certainly many people more qualified than I to discuss the prevalent aversion on the part of so many women to identify themselves as feminists (Jessica and Jill for starters), but there is one aspect that I wanted to touch on briefly. Underlying this aversion is a certain disingenuousness and lack of acknowledgment for the many advances gained through tireless effort and immense sacrifice on the part of women that were less fearful of admitting their feminist bona fides (wonderment: women that actually believe themselves to be worthy of equal protection!). This anti-feminist pose is often struck by women who have taken full advantage of the holes in the ceiling drilled by women who didn't really have the luxury of deriding the women's empowerment movement. They were too busy fighting so that empowered women could decry the nasty feministsts.

This, from Atlas Shrugs' Pam Geller, is a fine example:

I don't need equal rights....I'm already equal. I don't need somebody telling me something that's already a fact. All these women like Gloria Steinem, "Oh, we made it happen for you!" You didn't make it happen for me. That whole rooted in Marxist-Leninist propaganda....I'm not a feminist, I'm an anti-feminist. I think it has hurt women enormously.
Where does one begin? Brad LeRoque pretty much sums it up:

Nope, I can’t even begin to parse this one. It reads like something an infinite number of monkeys would produce if you gave them a magnetic poetry kit comprised of the 200 most frequently used words in Liberal Fascism.
Yeah, and he's not even talking about the intentionally funny version Liberal Fascism.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pangs, Bangs and Armed Gangs

I don't have time for fuller comment on this incredible piece by David Rose on the role the Bush administration played in fueling the intra-Palestinian civil war in Gaza, but it is too important an article to sit on until an opportunity arises. Suffice it to say, there is no happy ending, only death, destruction and chaos (but hey, this is Bush administration foreign policy we're talking about - what did you expect?). On a side note, attempting to topple democratically elected governments through armed coups is, I suppose, just another of those famous birth pangs Condi Rice keeps talking about. Freedom marching, etc.

Once you've finished the Rose piece, you'll realize (to the extent that you haven't already) that people should be paying more attention to the advice Gershom Gorenberg is doling out over at TAPPED.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Rapier Replaces the Saber

Back in October, Senator Chuck Hagel made public his concerns that our hyper-bellicose position vis-a-vis Iran was causing some partners at the UN to hesitate with respect to increasing pressure on Iran (discussed here). According to Hagel, the leaders of some of the nations needed to implement the hoped-for sanctions regime were concerned about providing the US with a pretext, or UN-based justification, for starting yet another war in the region. These ambivalent countries did not want to increase the volume at a time of maximum tension.

Then, with the release of the now famous NIE (which poured cold water on claims that Iran had an active nuclear weapons program), folks like Kevin Drum wondered whether the path had been cleared for tougher sanctions on Iran - given that nervous foreign leaders would feel freer to act, unchained by an NIE that undercut the argument for military action.

Some ridiculed this notion, arguing that sanctions would be harder to pass given the NIE-created climate of passivity with respect to Iran's nuclear activity. Whether or not the NIE worked to faciliate another round of sanctions, the UN did in fact just act to impose harsh sanctions against Iran - with remarkable consensus:

The U.N. Security Council approved a third round of sanctions against Iran on Monday with near unanimous support, sending a strong signal to Tehran that its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment is unacceptable and becoming increasingly costly.

For the first time, the resolution bans trade with Iran in goods which have both civilian and military uses and authorizes inspections of shipments to and from Iran by sea and air that are suspected of carrying banned items.

The vote was 14-0; Indonesia abstained. [...]

The resolution introduces financial monitoring on two banks with suspected links to proliferation activities, Bank Melli and Bank Saderat. It calls on all countries “to exercise vigilance” in entering into new trade commitments with Iran.

The resolution also orders countries to freeze the assets of 12 additional companies and 13 individuals with links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs — and require countries to report the travels of those Iranians. It bans travel by five individuals linked to Iran’s nuclear effort.

Most likely, the release of the most recent IAEA findings that Iran has witheld key information on various aspects of its weapons-related nuclear program on the eve of this sanctions vote was key in swaying some fence-sitters. But don't tell Michael Rubin or Danielle Pletka.

Work Is a Sucks

The long time girlfriend of one of my closest friends hails from Italy - though she has been attending college and grad school here in NYC. While it may be immature to laugh, and despite the fact that she has mastered the English language in ways that I will never match with her native Italian, there are occasionally moments of mangled English that cause me to laugh.

My friend, cruel individual that he is, made it a point to correct her only rarely - enjoying the cuteness of the flawed syntax (worse still, he would sometimes feed her the wrong word or phrase just for effect). One of her more persistent errors is to put an article in front of "sucks" and use that word as a noun. As in, "This bar is a sucks, let's go somewhere else."

Anyway, I thought of her today when contemplating the fact that, more than most Mondays, work most definitely is a sucks. Posting is a resume shortly.

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