“Under heavy American pressure, the Iraqi government ordered two Iranians who had been detained in an American military raid to leave the country, Iraqi officials said Friday, ending a bitter, nine-day political standoff,” reports The New York Times. Can you say untenable situation? The Bush administration (like Joe Lieberman) wants backing the Iraqi government to somehow be an anti-Iranian measure.
Today on Fox News Sunday, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said President Bush should have congressional support before he announces any plan for escalation in Iraq. “[I]n the past, the administration has been inclined not to disregard Congress but to not take Congress very seriously. I think this time Congress has to be taken seriously.”
If Bush ignores Congress, Lugar said he should expect “a lot of hearings, a lot of study, a lot of criticism,” and “demands for subpoenas.” Fox host Chris Wallace said, “You’re saying this could get ugly.” Lugar replied, “Yes, it could.” Watch it:
Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Larry Korb, former U.S. assistant secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan, said last week that “Congress should intervene to block another troop surge unless the administration could adequately explain to it why such a policy was necessary.” Read American Progress’ full memo to Congress.
Full transcript: Read more
Today on Fox News Sunday, Bill Kristol said that Saddam Huissein’s execution “could be a milestone on the way towards a more decent and democratic regime in Iraq.”
On NBC, reporter Richard Engle, who is actually in Iraq, provided a reality check. Engle noted that supporters of Hussein “are not the overwhelming majority of people in this country carrying out attacks against american soldiers or against iraqis themselves.” Moreover, because the execution was “tinged by…sectarian overtones” it could “fuel” the “civil war.” Watch it:
Transcript: Read more
In less than one week’s time . . . the social event of the season . . . Iraq: A Turning Point by the American Enterprise Institute:
U.S. senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and U.S. senator Joseph Lieberman (I-D-Conn.) recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. Both held extensive discussions with U.S. forces and Iraqi government officials. In light of a possible change in course for U.S. strategy in Iraq, their views will be critical in the upcoming Congressional debate.
At this important time, AEI resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan and former acting Army chief of staff General Jack Keane will release the updated and final version of phase one of “Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq.” The study calls for a large and sustained surge of U.S. forces to secure and protect critical areas of Baghdad. Mr. Kagan directed the report in consultation with military and regional experts, including General Keane, former Afghanistan coalition commander Lieutenant General David Barno, and other officers involved with the successful operations of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tal Afar. An interim version of the report was released on December 14, 2006.
At this event, Mr. Kagan and General Keane will present their final report, which outlines how the United States can win in Iraq and why victory is the only acceptable outcome.
“Sustained surge” is a pretty sweet oxymoron.
The Military Times released a new poll yesterday of 6,000 active duty U.S. military personnel. The results were revealing. Some highlights:
– Only 35 percent said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, while 42 percent said they disapproved.
– 50 percent believe success in Iraq is likely, down from 83 percent in 2004.
– 38 percent believe the United States should send more troops to Iraq. 39 percent believe we should maintain current levels or reduce the number of troops, including 13 percent who support complete withdrawal.
– 72 percent believe the military is “stretched too thin to be effective.”
– 47 percent disagree with President Bush’s mantra that the war in Iraq is part of the war against terrorism, while the same percentage agree.
– Only 41 percent of the military said the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, down from 65 percent in 2003. That closely reflects the beliefs of the general population today — 45 percent agreed in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll.
– 52 percent approve of the overall job President Bush is doing, down from 71 percent in 2004.
– 63 percent say the senior military leadership has the best interests of the troops at heart. That number is lower from President Bush (48 percent) and lower still for civilian military leadership (32 percent) and Congress (23 percent).
Nancy Pelosi: “The execution of Saddam Hussein ends a tragic chapter in the history of Iraq, but it is not a substitute for an effective strategy that will bring peace to the region and allow the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.”
The deed is done. Sad to see even something as justice for a major-league war criminal rendered tawdry by this administration. Here’s a report on the infamous Anfal Campaign that Saddam wasn’t tried for in order to spare Donald Rumsfeld embarrassment.
“In the general condemnation of neo-conservatism,” writes Victor Davis Hanson, “we forget, at least as it pertains to foreign policy, it arose from a variety of causes, not the least as the reaction against the moral bankruptcy of both rightist realism and leftist appeasement.” He continues:
We were reminded of those poles these past few days with news that confirmed Arafat’s order to murder American diplomats in Khartoum. That apparently had made no affect on Bill Clinton, at least if it were really true as legend claims that such a terrorist much later was the most frequent overnight foreign guest to the Clinton White House.
Suffice it to say I don’t see things this way. The news was that Arafat ordered the killing of American diplomats back in 1973. But it’s been a long time since Palestinian nationalist groups deliberately targeted Americans. In other words, violent Palestinian nationalism used to be a problem for American security and now it isn’t a problem anymore. Why’s that? Well, appeasement. The process of engagement initiated by Henry Kissinger, significantly advanced during Jimmy Carter’s administration, and pushed further down the road by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton succeeded in making the problem go away. Along the way, this diplomatic process also managed to significantly enhance Israel security by leading Egypt to drop out of the anti-Israel coalition in the Middle East. What’s more, during the Clinton years the engagement process came close to achieving a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that would have further enhanced Israeli security and removed a significant diplomatic problem for the United States of America.
At the end of the day and for various reasons, that ultimate goal was not achieved. But the process that came close to success did achieve a great deal. It didn’t do so quickly or easily, but it did achieve a lot. And there’s every reason to believe that an American administration willing to continue down that path would be able to achieve much more. Certainly, the Bush administration’s alternative approach has managed to be enormously more costly while bringing about essentially nothing in the way of positive results.
Naturally, I agree with Ed Kilgore’s basic sentiments regarding Joe Lieberman’s op-ed today. But as a slightly — but only slightly — pedantic point of clarification, I think we should be clear that Lieberman doesn’t have a blind spot about Iraq, the “blind spot” extends to the question of American foreign policy throughout the region, if not the entire region. What’s more, I don’t really think “blind spot” is the right word for it. Lieberman’s ideas about Iran, Iraq, al-Qaeda, escalation, and how this all relates are crazy, but they’re not idiosyncratic.
You can find the same ideas in The Weekly Standard, at the American Enterprise Institute, and from all sorts of other outfits around town. Lieberman’s not saying anything that dozens of other neoconservative foreign policy analysts are saying. Indeed, this is exactly what Marshall Wittman was saying before he left the DLC to go work for Lieberman, so there’s no real surprise here. But there’s the rub; on the question of national security policy Lieberman’s not just a “moderate” he’s on the other side, following the trajectory of an earlier generation of neoconservatives from relatively hawkish Democrat to total agreements with right-wing Republicans. Maybe he thinks he’ll be John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
Robert Farley doubts that “anything that happens in Somalia is going to have a significant impact on foreign opinion outside of, well, Somalia and Ethiopia.” I think there’s a pretty strong case for that. Nevertheless, it’s important to recall that the group of truly threatening anti-American terrorists in the world is really small. One one level, this should give us considerable comfort. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 it appeared plausible that the United States was going to face waves of sustained terror attacks implemented by a reasonably deep pool of people. That turns out not to be the case. On the other hand, it should make us worry. There were very few people interested in mounting large-scale terrorist attacks on the United States and nevertheless that small pool of people was able to pull off a pretty nasty operation.
What there is, however, is a much larger pool of people in some sense drawn to Islamist political movements and to various nationalist causes that involve Muslim populations. Under the circumstances, inserting the United States into disputes that involve Islamists fighting non-Muslim invaders is always very dangerous — it risks slippage of people from the big pool into the small pool. After all, the reason why the small pool is so much smaller than the large pool is that despite widespread dislike of the United States relatively few people believe Osama bin Laden’s message that these localized conflicts are all inextricably linked to the need for jihad against the far enemy. Our actions in the Horn of Africa probably won’t have a big impact on people doing there thing in Cairo or Riyadh or Islamabad but it clearly will have an impact on people living in the Horn.
Now that said, sometimes you do have to back the non-Muslim side in a local conflict. Maybe the Islamist side is threatening some crucial American interests. That, however, isn’t the case here. We simply don’t have any interests in that area that are more important than our interest in trying to avoid a situation where young Somali men cut their teeth for a few years in a guerilla war with Ethiopia and then decide to take the fight to the far enemy.
Joe Lieberman goes for this full neocon:
While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought.
And what about al-Qaeda? Lieberman appears to be arguing later in the article that Iran and al-Qaeda are collaborating in Iraq since otherwise it’s hard to make sense of the claim that “If Iraq descends into full-scale civil war, it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran. Iraq is the central front in the global and regional war against Islamic extremism.” Needless to say, he’s backing the Bush/McCain escalation plan.
One problem here is that to the extent you see the dark hand of Iran behind all events in Iraq, the situation should logically be viewed as more rather than less hopeless. The reason, of course, is that Iran can escalate every bit as much as we can. Whoever’s equipping, say, the Mahdi Army clearly isn’t equipping them very well — Hezbollah is much better-armed. Suppose we escalate and the Iranians counter-escalate by giving our foes wire-guided anti-tank missiles, katyusha rockets, Iglas and so forth — then you’re talking about a really bad scene. Obviously, though, that’s logic and hawks aren’t into logic.
Showing at least some vague measure of good sense, the Bush administration is officially against Israel’s plans to construct a new settlement in the West Bank, though they don’t seem inclined to actually do anything about it. New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz explains that the new settlement is a good idea because “there needs to be a sliver of land between what will ultimately be a Palestinian state and Jordan.” The benefits of such a policy are clear: “An Israeli buffer between Jordan and nascent Palestine will not only protect Jordan from its mischievous neighbors to the west. It will protect Israel from what would otherwise be a new Jordan. Also called Palestine, and part of it.”
Back in the real world, obviously, if Israel insists on such a policy there’s never going to be peace with the Palestinians, but I assume that’s fine by him.
I don’t know when Scott Stanzel started working as a White House spokesman, but his rejoinder to Joe Biden‘s anti-escalation views doesn’t make much sense: “I would hope that Senator Biden would wait to hear what the president has to say before announcing what he’s opposed to.” So while the Decider dithers none of us are allowed to offer our opinions about what he should do? I suppose it would be convenient for the White House message team if things worked that way. I think Gary Schmitt from PNAC is insightful on the psychodynamics here:
“No president wants to be remembered as the guy who lost a war,” he said. “Who knows whether this is a day late and a dollar short, but it is a striking example of presidential will trying to bend the system to what he wants.”
Roughly speaking, the fixed point of the president’s thinking is an unwillingness to admit that the venture has failed. For a long time the best way to do that was to simply deny that there was a problem. Political strategy for the midterms, however, dictated that the president had to acknowledge the public’s concerns about the war and concede that things weren’t going well. At that point, simply staying the course doesn’t work anymore. But de-escalating would be an admission of failure, so the only option is to choose escalation. Thus, the idea of an escalation starts getting pushed and we start reading things int he paper like “Top military officials have said that they are open to sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if there is a specific strategic mission for them.” Consider the process here. It’s not that the president has some policy initiative in mind whose operational requirements dictate a surge in force levels. Rather, locked in the prison of his own denial he came to the conclusion that he should back an escalation, prompting the current search for a mission.
Josh Trevino is none too happy with my Ethiopia commentary. Trevino knows a good deal more about Africa than I do and has some experience with recent American policymaking on that continent. Thus, even though I disagree with the general thrust of his commentary, let me recommend his Christmas afternoon post on the war which confirms the basic point that these events are tied to deliberate American policies. He also usefully spells out the basic strategic thinking here. His take on Ethiopia’s July intervention:
In an unrelated Ethiopia news story, an interesting New York Times feature looks at the problem of malnourished children, especially in Africa, and especially in Ethiopia where there are some relatively new and pretty promising programs in place to try and deal with the problem. As the article observes:
Yet almost half of Ethiopia’s children are malnourished, and most do not die. Some suffer a different fate. Robbed of vital nutrients as children, they grow up stunted and sickly, weaklings in a land that still runs on manual labor. Some become intellectually stunted adults, shorn of as many as 15 I.Q. points, unable to learn or even to concentrate, inclined to drop out of school early.
The result, obviously, is a kind of trap of impoverishment. Poor, badly governed states have a lot of children who suffer from these problems. The next generation grows up to be relatively lacking in human capital as a consequence of childhood malnourishment. And that, in turn, helps continue the country down a path of being poor and badly governed. Obviously, delivering food to hungry people is something rich countries are pretty well-positioned to do, and rich countries (especially the United States) do, in fact, provide a pretty large amount of food aid. But generous provision can cause problems of its own, distorting and undermining local markets in food production and distribution, when what you’d like to achieve is to put the country on a sustainable path where it no longer needs that kind of aid.
Islamists abandon Mogadishu in the face of Ethiopia’s apparently unstoppable conventional assault, leaving the capital back under conditions of clan-based anarchy. It will be interesting to see if the Ethiopians and/or the transitional government try to actually assert control over the capital. This has the rough shape of the result I would have anticipated (conventional success followed by hard-to-solve problems) but I must admit I wouldn’t have believed the Ethiopian military had the logistical capacity to advance this quickly.
Spencer spent some time working the phones in an effort to answer the question of the hour: which terrorists are the Islamic Courts Union harboring. “That’s a good question,” conceded Carl Kropf from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence who didn’t know the answer.
As you’ll see if you read Spencer’s post, there is an answer. The Somali terror nexus isn’t something invented out of whole cloth. On the other hand, it really doesn’t seem to me that there’s much there there. We want three guys, one of whom (Abu Tahai al-Sudani) there doesn’t appear to be any information about other than that we say he’s a terrorist, and the actual relationship between our desire to apprehend these dudes and the question of who controls Mogadishu is pretty vague. They were in Somalia before the ICU took power, and it’s at least not obvious to me why kicking the ICU out of the capital (or wherever they’re being kicked) would bring them to our custody.
The fact that the designated spokespersons for the US government didn’t have an answer at hand to the admittedly good question of what the basis of our policy was tends to indicate to me that the policy is not incredibly well-founded. As recently as the December 20 State Department briefing, Sean McCormack was saying America’s top policy priority was “that we don’t want to see the conflict in Somalia spread to the region . . . we don’t want to see a proxy fight in Somalia,” not anything about Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. A week later: Proxy fight on!
Forced to choose between intensive inquiry into the idea of swapping Ron Artest for Corey Maggette or else looking further at the Horn of African situation, I reluctantly chose what was behind door number two. Take a look back, shall we, at the December 7 State Department briefing. Sean McCormick got a question: “Sean, on Somalia. The Islamists say that they are sort of less than happy with the UN’s endorsement of this African peacekeeping force and they say that it’s just going to add fuel to the fire. I wondered whether you — were causing sort of a regional war?” McCormick replies, “no.” The questioner wants more: “Do you have any comment?” McCormick elaborates:
Look, this is — this force was authorized as a training and protection force for the Transitional Federal Institutions. Its approval takes place within the context of policy that we believe that the way forward here is for negotiations between the Islamic Courts and the Transitional Federal Institutions. As long as the Islamic Courts perceive that they can continue to back the Transitional Federal Institutions into a tighter and tighter and smaller and smaller corner, there of course is less and less incentive one would expect for them to actually want to negotiate. So I can understand why they may be less than happy about this. But this is a policy that is endorsed by a number of different countries in the region.
The force will be deployed under the aegis of the IGAD countries, which is the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, and it’s an East African regional organization. And the resolution also clearly states that neighboring states: Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti will not deploy troops to Somalia. So it actually specifically addresses this idea that somehow this action will directly lead to some wider conflict on the — in the Horn of Africa.
In short, the state of play a few weeks ago was this. Islamists were threatening to overrun the powerless Transitional Government unless an international peacekeeping force was sent in to protect them. So the United States sought to get such a force and, indeed, the UN agreed to authorize one. The Islamic Courts Union said that such a move would lead to a regional war. According to The Washington Post, “the United States accommodated a European request to exclude participation by Somalia’s neighbors, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, in the new force.” Our stated policy, as McCormick indicated, was to avoid rather than cause a regional war.
Now at this time, Ethiopia had already “sent thousands of troops [to Somalia] to help prop up the government.” Presumably, the deployment of a UN-approved force that would exclude Ethiopian participation (it was to be led by Uganda) would have precluded the Ethiopians from further expanding their ambit of control in Somalia. Thus, the war is launched to pre-empt the deployment of the Ugandan-led force — apparently with American approval contrary to the policy McCormick outlined earlier in December. New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz approves, citing the prospects for a Jew/Rastafarian/Christian alliance against Islamist influence in East Africa.
I’d forgotten that The New York Sun is so around the bend that they don’t print the term “Palestinians.” Instead, we read that Barack Obama “has faulted the Bush administration for not pushing harder for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.” Lawyer Alan Solow, a longtime Obama supporter and Jewish Community Center Association leader is trotted out to assure Sun readers that Obama has “been very strong on the defense of a safe and secure Israel.” The article also notes that Obama says “he would tend to support a missile strike on Iran if other methods fail to get Tehran to abandon its nuclear program” which I think is unfortunate.
I was most interested to see the views of Samantha Power, author of A Problem from Hell and a major Obama supporter. Power turns out to have significantly sounder views (none of this nonsense for example) than I had thought. All in all, he looks pretty good assuming he’s not too serious about that whole starting a war with Iran thing.
Joe Biden has often used his platform as the Democrat most likely to be paid attention to on national security issues to unimpressive effect. But with regards to the Bush escalation plan, he’s playing for the good guys: “I totally oppose this surging of additional American troops into Baghdad. It’s contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both inside and outside the administration.” Biden says he’ll start his Iraq hearings on January 9.