Thursday, June 28

The Battle of Iraq, and what is Senator Lugar thinking?

Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail has the latest update on Operation Phantom Thunder:
Iraqi and Coalition forces maintain the pressure against al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents, and the "rogue," Iranian backed "secret cells" of the Mahdi Army and the Qazali network. Operation Phantom Thunder is underway inside Baghdad and the Belts, as well as against al Qaeda's network nationwide. Also, the northwestern region of Iraq has been a focus of U.S. and Iraqi operations. The simultaneous operations to pressure al Qaeda's network are occurring in all theaters throughout Iraq. An update on each theater is provided below.
Bill has an interesting note about Mookie:

"Sadr's past two demonstrations failed to draw more than ten thousand protesters, when in the past he would draw hundreds of thousands."

As you can see from Bill's rundown on each theater of operation, Coalition and Iraqi forces are making good progress on all fronts. So I find it inexplicable that just as Operation Phantom Thunder geared up, Senator Lugar and other influential GOP congressionals decided that now was the best time to call for the US to quit Iraq.

Yesterday the New York Sun's Eli Lake reported:

The architects of the current surge strategy for Iraq are worried the Republican Party may abandon the war in September and force President Bush to begin the withdrawal of troops from the country prematurely.

Both American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan and a retired general, John Keane, the two men who persuaded Mr. Bush to launch the current counteroffensive in Iraq last December, said in interviews this week that they fear Republicans in Congress could be looking to declare victory and leave.

"The tragedy of these efforts is we are on the cusp of potentially being successful in the next year in a way that we have failed in the three-plus preceding years, but because of this political pressure, it looks like we intend to pull out the rug from underneath that potential success," General Keane said [on June 26].

The concerns are real. In the Senate there are anywhere from 10 to 15 Republicans who have signaled publicly and privately they could not support the current surge of troops come September, when Congress is set to vote on another temporary funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At that time, General David Petraeus, the top American officer in Iraq, will give a status report on the current strategy. Those Republicans could create a veto-proof two-thirds majority in the Senate, assuming all Democrats vote for a hard withdrawal deadline or threaten to cut off funds
Okay; I understand the reasoning come September. I even understand that GOP leaders believe the GOP will be routed if they keep supporting the Iraq war in the face of high US poll numbers against the US staying on Iraq.

What I don't understand is the timing of Lugar's remarks. What in God's name is he thinking? Has he totally let go of the concept of war, as if by wishing one can undo the fact that the United States is at war?

Why clearly signal to the enemy that there is no suspense about the outcome in September? Why come right out at this time and tell the enemy that if he can hang on in Iraq through the summer, he will definitely achieve victory?

Wednesday, June 27

Thank you, Prime Minister Blair and good luck, Prime Minister Brown

Thank you, Mr Blair, for your help in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack on the United States. Thank you for your unshakable support of the US-led invasion of Iraq. Thank you for your intelligence, and eloquence and courage on the world stage. Best of luck in your new endeavors.

* * * * * * * * *
According to the Guardian, Mr Blair's job as envoy for the Quartet

will deal primarily with helping the Palestinian Authority to build political institutions, and will not - at least at first - involve direct mediation or negotiation between the Palestinians and Israel, US sources said.

His responsibilities could include trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas.Diplomats familiar with the proposed mandate for Mr Blair said it did not differ in substance from that of his predecessor, James Wolfensohn, who left the job in April 2006.

Mr Wolfensohn worked on issues such as galvanising international economic assistance to the Palestinians, economic development, governance, justice and human rights.

Mr Blair has repeatedly said the Middle East peace talks need to be micro-managed in the way that he handled the Northern Ireland peace process.
Pundita's nightmare scenario is that Hilary Benn will be the Foreign Secretary under Gordon Brown. However, in the early days of his administration, at least, Mr Brown doesn't seem likely to make radical shifts in UK foreign policy. Here's a rundown by the Beeb's world affairs correspondent, Paul Reynolds:

Gordon Brown is something of an unknown quantity as far as foreign policy is concerned. He can probably be described as an Atlanticist and his pro-American sympathies should not be underestimated, though he will not be as close to President Bush as Tony Blair has been. His European instincts incline towards the practical not the integrationist. He has quietly supported all the interventions carried out by the Blair-led government - Iraq, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan - but the question remains as to how far he would undertake such interventions himself. As chancellor of the exchequer (finance minister) he has been keen on multinational initiatives on debt and aid, so he is expected to continue with these.

The expectation is that he will distance himself from President Bush to some degree. However, Mr Brown has close ties to the United States, is certainly not personally anti-American and his will not be an anti-American government. He is interested in and in sympathy with US politics and history, knows a number of American political, especially Democratic, leaders well and holidays at Cape Cod. He might disappoint those who want Britain to make a decisive break with the Bush administration. A lot will depend on the decisions he takes over Iraq.

He has not backed away from the decision to invade Iraq, but has hinted he will take a new look at how long the troops might stay. He said recently: "I take my responsibility as a member of the Cabinet for the collective decisions that we made, and I believe they were the right decisions, but we're at a new stage now." Current British policy is to regroup the 5,500 troops there into one base, at the airport, this summer but there is no timetable for a total withdrawal. Mr Blair has always insisted that the troops will have to stay until conditions for stability are right. Mr Brown, however, has room to manoeuvre because he could interpret those conditions more flexibly. This could be the test of how far he is prepared to diverge from US policy. His own military advisers might also tell him to get out as quickly as possible, perhaps within a year, to avoid army overstretch.

As British policy in Iraq moves towards an endgame, British military commitments in the war against the Taleban in Afghanistan are increasing and troop numbers are expected to reach nearly 8,000 later this year. Mr Brown is not expected to change this commitment. He has taken a tough stand in the fight against al-Qaeda and believes that it must not be allowed to regroup in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan could become a growing problem for him.

It would be wrong to suppose that Mr Brown will weaken Britain's efforts. Indeed, he has recently proposed tougher laws domestically, signalling that he thinks domestic and international Islamist terrorism remains a serious threat. As chancellor, he has acted against sources of terrorist funding. In a speech in 2006 he declared his intentions: "This global terrorist problem must be fought globally - with all the means at our disposal: military, security, intelligence, economic and culture."

Mr Brown can be expected to continue supporting UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities. Asked recently if he would rule out a military attack on Iran he replied: "We want a peaceful settlement to the Iran issue." This is in line with current British government policy, which emphasises a multilateral approach but does not rule out military action. However, one of Mr Brown's closest political allies, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, has said: "I don't happen to believe that military action has a role to play in any event. We could not justify it." So support by Mr Brown for military action is hard to envisage.

Gordon Brown has not shown as much interest in Israel/Palestine issues as Tony Blair has. Britain therefore is not expected to play a major role under a Brown premiership, which will probably recognise the limited influence that any single European country can exert. The appointment of Simon McDonald, a former British ambassador to Israel, as his foreign policy adviser has delighted the Israelis, who see McDonald as "friend of Israel". One of Mr Brown's main areas of interest could be in economic development for the Palestinians. On a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2005, he got Israeli and Palestinian economic ministers together for the first time in many years.

He is likely to support increased sanctions against Sudan in the Security Council over Darfur and might face a tough decision at some stage on whether to provide military forces to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur, if this is agreed by the Security Council. Zimbabwe might present problems if the situation deteriorates further but Brown's instinct will be to work through neighbouring countries to bring pressure on Robert Mugabe while standing ready to help with aid.

The main issues over the EU treaty were settled at the Brussels summit, but the new prime minister will have to approve the final details. As chancellor, Gordon Brown has been more interested in practical EU policies than in institutional debates. He sees Britain's future in an EU that is flexible, free-market and pragmatic. A study in the journal International Affairs in March concluded that he would be either an "awkward partner" or a "pragmatic player" but not someone who wanted to put Britain at the forefront of European integration. His EU adviser is a Treasury official, John Cunliffe, who knows Mr Brown's thinking on Europe well. Mr Brown has kept Britain out of the Euro and this policy is likely to continue. Arguments ahead could come over Turkish membership, which he wants, state support for industry which the new French President Nicolas Sarkozy favours, farm policy reform and Britain's budget contributions.

Mr Brown commissioned and accepted the results of the report on climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern in October 2006, which said that global warming could shrink the world economy's potential by between 5 and 20%. He has supported EU and British targets for carbon reductions. So he is on board for international action over climate change, which has come increasingly to dominate world economic discussions. In March 2007 he said: "The foundation of this must of course be a new international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2012." He added: "My ambition is to build a global carbon market, founded on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and centred in London." He has even appointed the former US Vice President Al Gore as an adviser and action on global warming is another issue on which he is likely to differ from President Bush.

This was one area in which Gordon Brown made his mark internationally as chancellor. He has championed debt relief through the "Heavily Indebted Poor Countries" initiative. He proposed an International Finance Facility to help the poorer countries to raise capital. He supported the G8 initiative in 2005 to double aid to Africa. The UK Treasury says he will have increased the British aid budget to "nearly £6.5 billion a year by 2007-08 - a real terms increase of 140 per cent since 1997". So he can be expected to be active in these areas as prime minister. His efforts will probably be reflected in an attempt to get Britain closer to the Commonwealth.

Monday, June 25

Middle East: a change in the weather

Last week saw stunning events in the Middle East:

Moqtada al Sadr accused Iran of being in collaboration with al Qaeda. And Tawfiq al Tirawi, the Palestinian intelligence chief, accused Iran of playing a "big role" in Hamas's seizure of Gaza.

The accusations are notable for their specificity; earlier Mahmoud Abbas had vaguely accused "foreign elements from the region" of orchestrating Hamas's takeover of Gaza, and Mookie had taken vague pot shots at what he termed Iran's interference in Iraqi affairs.

It could be that Mookie's earlier accusation was a tactic to assure fellow Iraqis that he was not under the thumb of his Iranian masters. Whatever his motive, his directly connecting Iran with al Qaeda in Iraq is a very serious accusation in light of the 'blame al Qaeda' sentiment sweeping Iraq society.

Another stunner has been Iran's weak response to al Tirawi's accusation; Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, said it was "surprising some Arab countries ignore the Western countries, the United States and the Zionist regime."

No one outside Iran is buying that shopworn excuse. Iran's warfare against peaceful governments in the Middle East is now plainly visible.

On June 22 Bill Roggio reported on more stunning news from the Middle East: the success of the first week of Operation Phantom Thunder, the corps-coordinated operation across three theaters in the Baghdad Belts.

It's as if the Coalition has corrected every mistake they made during the past four years of fighting in Iraq. Gone is what John McCain called the "Whack-a-Mole strategy" -- the Coalition chasing the insurgency out of one Iraq region but leaving the region when things quieted down, which meant the insurgents quickly returned.

And the Coalition has ditched another aspect of Whack-a-Mole; they're now picking off the enemy as he attempts to flee a fight or hotly pursing him if he gets past the booby traps, instead of allowing him to flee as in the Battle of Fallujah.

What makes the early gains of Operation Phantom Thunder particularly interesting is that the operation converges with anti-al Qaeda sentiment among Iraqis. The confluence paints a stark picture for al Qaeda in Iraq. Bill Roggio comments in the same report:
Al Qaeda is left with fewer places to hide: Anbar Province no longer a safe haven, pressure has increased Baghdad and the hot operations in the belts, and the Shia south is hostile. Ninewa, Kirkuk, and Salahadin, remain as al Qaeda's fall back positions, but Iraqi and U.S. Forces have prepared for this option. Some of the best Iraqi Army units are stationed in the northwest.[...]
Of course al Qaeda has responded with their "patented" suicide bombing attacks against civilians. But the attacks only stiffen the resolve of Iraqis and further expose al Qaeda's blatant attempts to foment civil strife.

Wednesday, June 20

Inside the Box: More on the US in Iraq

Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has rounded up some recent mainstream opinion on the Iraq situation, and below is his take on my Three Kings post, and my reply.

Dear Pundita:
There have been rumors floating around of a U. S.-backed coup headed by Iyad Allawi for a year now. I think there are several reasons for them.

First, I think that a lot of Iraqis just can't imagine peaceful surrender of power: Allawi couldn't possibly just relinquish power voluntarily; he must be planning a coup.

Second, the Shi'a in particular tend to completely conflate Sunnis and Ba'athists. I don't know that they're wrong. They think that the Ba'athists, e.g., Allawi, will do anything to regain power. Hence, a coup.

Third, they may be right. Who knows?

[Regarding your observation about the US muddling through in Iraq], I'm reminded of a comment by the late Mayor Daley (in response to charges that the Chicago police had provoked a riot (or rioted themselves) at the Democratic Convention in 1968:

"The Chicago police were not there to create disorder. The Chicago police were there to PRESERVE disorder."
Dave Schuler

Dear Dave:
I got a laugh from your Mayor Daley story; the quote is vintage Daley!

I think I've observed once before that best metaphor for the US in Iraq is the heroine in the movie Cold Comfort Farm; the relatives she helps are a perfect metaphor for the majority of Iraqis.

I daresay no one from an advanced nation who has worked in development in third world countries can watch Cold Comfort Farm without collapsing in laughter mixed with tears of frustration and understanding.

My dear Dave, the world is full of very stubborn and proud people who are very set in their ways, and whose way of life is so overgrown with moss that it's intolerable, even for them. They know they have to change, but that means giving up a way of life they're used to. And it means dealing with their fear that the earth will open up and swallow them in vengeance, if do abandon the old ways.

What wins in that situation? If you cast out the inhumane approaches to modernizing views, of the kind that Mao deployed, you're left with the tactics of tenacity and patience. You just have to hang in there and repeat the same points, over and over and over -- without losing your temper or acting superior.

It's a fair argument that the heroine of Cold Comfort Farm didn't have to shed blood in order to help her relatives join the modern era. Yet it's also fair to argue that when the Coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's government, we ripped the lid off Pandora's Box. We were horrified when we learned what was inside the box.

Senator Gordon Smith recently recounted that Muslim Iraqi police cadets stoned to death their Iraqi training officer because they found out he was a Catholic.

There is the common practice of intermarriage between first cousins. Brain damage and all kinds of birth defects are rampant in the region because of the practice. Polygamy is rampant, even though most families can't support many children.

One horror after another -- horrors that should have been left behind when the modern era came. Yet generations of Europeans and Americans who dealt with those peoples turned a blind eye.

Piled on top of all that grief was the UN embargo and Saddam's abuse of the Oil for Food Program, which was responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

An entire population was being killed off -- not by a planned genocide or the throes of war but through cruelty, ignorance, and criminal neglect.

I realize I'm skating near the Nurture vs. Nature argument, but these are fellow humans. So who among us is willing to say that maybe it's best that the most backward among us die off? We can't say that -- and even wanted to, there is the bogeyman to contend with. Al Qaeda will not allow us to let things be, to turn a blind eye.

So we are left in the position of the very modern heroine in Cold Comfort Farm -- and with the warning that Prince Bandar gave President Bush when Bandar learned that Bush wanted to invade Iraq: Just remember you're buying the farm.

And everything inside the box.

Monday, June 18

US in Iraq: Three Kings All

James Cogan, writing for the World Socialist Web Site, has a revealing analysis of where things stand regarding the Iraq government's efforts to meet US benchmarks for political progress in Iraq.
[...] Maliki has been unable to secure agreement from the various factions in the Iraqi parliament on any of the key US demands. Essentially, the US is demanding that Shiite and Kurdish parties agree to the erosion of their recently acquired power and privileges. Thus far, they have shown no signs of doing so. No legislation that meets the US benchmarks is even under consideration. [...]

The intransigence of Shiite and Kurdish opposition to the US demands is fueling a pervasive sense of crisis within both the Bush administration and the US military.

In order to curb the insurgency, US commanders have been given the go ahead to negotiate truces with Sunni insurgents behind the back of Maliki’s government. Sunni tribal heads have been given control of the western province of Anbar in exchange for calling off armed resistance. Efforts are underway to convince insurgents in the largely Sunni provinces of Salah Ad Din and Diyala to accept a similar arrangement.

Shiite politicians are objecting to a US policy that effectively places entire swathes of the country into the hands of their bitter enemies.

An unnamed official of Maliki’s government told the Washington Post: “They are forcing the Iraqi government and the Shia and the Kurds to reconcile with the Saddamists.”

Maliki has reportedly ordered the Iraqi military to treat the Sunni militia, with which US troops are arming and conducting joint patrols, as “outlaws”.

For the Bush administration, the situation is becoming untenable. It cannot achieve what it wants through the Maliki government, but there is no political alternative within the Iraqi parliament. Efforts to develop a rival bloc around former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi have thus far come to very little. In such conditions, the US may well consider some form of coup.
I have trouble envisioning a coup, but the analysis suggests the major reason that Iraq's parliament has been talking for months about taking a vacation during July and August. I guess it's their way of saying that since the US considers Maliki's government irrelevant anyhow, why go through the motions in the runup to the US military's September progress report to Congress?

Take the vacation; this will give more time for Saudi King "I am not Bush's Arab Tony Blair" Abdullah to flog the Gold Dinar Fairy to even greater activity in Iraq. If not a coup, maybe we'll see a stronger Allawi-led coalition emerge by the time the parliament returns from vacation.

Meanwhile, al Qaeda continues their historical pattern of wearing out their welcome everywhere they go. Al Qaeda's footprint was again evident in the bombing of the Shiite Golden Dome mosque in Samarra. But this second time, and despite a seeming 'revenge 'bombing of a Sunni mosque and Mookie's call to Shiites for a "peaceful" march to the Golden Dome in July, the Iraqis weren't provoked into a sectarian bloodbath.
Ayad Jamaludeen, a Shiite cleric and member of parliament from the secular Iraqiya party, said Iraqis are sick of violence and tired of being used as pawns by al Qaeda in Iraq.

"Al Qaeda cannot live except in a situation where there is sectarian tension and crisis," he said. "The Iraqis have understood this and now recognize who the enemy is."(1)
This is a lesson that every government and sectarian faction involved with al Qaeda has learned the hard way. Al Qaeda is the bogeyman for our era: Eat your vegetables, don't fall into clan warfare, have a strong central government that reflects the will of the people -- or al Qaeda will move in on your country and sow more grief than you can imagine.

So how are things stacking up for the US effort in Iraq? The shorter the timeline used as a yardstick, the worse things look. But considering where the people of that region were a thousand years ago; and considering centuries of machinations by Arab satraps and European colonialists, and European and US meddling in the last century; and considering Saddam's rule; and the UN embargo of Iraq -- we're muddling through.

We could muddle a lot better, but to say we're presiding over a disaster we created is to ignore the scope of disaster that existed in Iraq before the US-led invasion. It was just that the disaster didn't make headlines or cost Coalition blood; it was a disaster papered over by neglect from the world outside Iraq.

Last week I saw the movie Three Kings for the first time. The movie harks back to The Gulf War. A group of US soldiers steal gold that Saddam stole during his invasion of Kuwait. But they get involved in the plight of some Iraqi Shiites, whose doomed uprising against the government brings Saddam's wrath. The soldiers finally give up the gold in exchange for getting the Iraqis to safety in Iran. Then the soldiers leave Iraq and its troubles.

So here we are today, Three Kings all, trying to finish what Bush 41 started. Recalling that the Shiite uprising was inspired by US encouragement, the narrow view is that the lesson for the US is never encourage other peoples to rise up against a brutal regime. But now there is the bogeyman to keep us struggling on the right side of justice.

1) From As Sunni Mosque Falls, Sadr Issues a Call by John Ward Anderson and K.I. Ibrahim, The Washington Post, June 17, 2007.

Friday, June 15

Well, so much for the Saudi plan.

King Abdullah knew better than Washington so he brokered a Hamas-Fatah "unity" Palestinian government. Now what, your magnificence?

There will be a post on Monday sometime before noon.

Regards to all,