Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Unilaterally setting borders.

From Al Jazeera:

On Tuesday, the White House signalled a policy shift by giving unexpected backing to Israel's plan to unilaterally set its borders with the Palestinians should their new Hamas leaders refuse to disarm and renounce their call for Israel's destruction.

The PA is on the verge of financial collapse. The Palestinians are on the brink of a civil war. The people are suffering. Israel is planning to unilaterally set their final borders. And still, Hamas clings to their despicable and violent ways. You can't really blame Israel for this action, should they take it. There is no partner with which to forward the piece process.

But still, I feel great pity for the Palestinian people, who have been manipulated all along. It is they who will continue to suffer because their leaders refuse to let go of their hate. Neighboring governments won't be much help either; they of course have always known that the Palestinians are more useful if they are suffering. It makes for a convenient scapegoat with which to distract their populations from their own failures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What does this accomplish?

Juan Cole's Critique of US Policy in Iraq. First, some of my own thoughts on some selected portions.

Bush Administration policies in Iraq have largely been a failure. It has created a failed state in that country, which is in flames and seething with new religious and ethnic nationalist passions of a sort never before seen on this scale in modern Iraqi history. The severe instability in Iraq threatens the peace and security of the entire region, and could easily ignite a regional guerrilla war that might well affect petroleum exports from the Oil Gulf and hence the health of the world economy.

The rivalries between Shia and Sunni Iraqis are not new. In fact, a civil war was bound to happen in that country. Saddam was going to die someday, and the Baath Party's iron grip on power was going to weaken eventually, just like Stalin's did. The US has done a lot of things, but don't pretend we created the rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites.

The inauguration of a new Iraqi government was marred by the enormous amount of time it took to form it (5 months!), by open US imperial intervention in the choice of prime minister and in other negotiations...

Wow, you mean to tell me that a brand new democracy, in a country that was previously run by a Stalinist dictator, that is on the verge of a civil war, had some problems negotiating?? You dont say! True, the US ambassador urged the Iraqis to pick a new PM to get the ball rolling; to move the political process forward. Call it imperialist, but thats really an unwarranted abuse of a stigmatized word.

The new parliament is virtually hung, and Prime Minister al-Maliki governs as a minority prime minister, being able to count on less than 115 MPs from his own party, in a parliament with 275 members. He is therefore hostage to the Kurds, who want to move Iraq in the direction of having a very weak central government, a degree of provincial autonomy unknown in any other country in the world, and who want to unilaterally annex a fourth province, oil-rich Kirkuk, to their regional confederacy, despite the violent opposition of Kirkuk's Turkmen and Arab populations to being Kurdicized.

Maybe the Kurds living in Kirkuk had opposition to being kicked out of their city and forced to flee to the north during the 1980s under Saddam's plan to Arabize Kurdistan? What I don't understand is how Juan Cole can be so adamant about giving the Palestinians back the land that the Israelis 'stole' 40 years ago, and could care less about giving back to the Kurds land that was stolen only 20 years ago.

The main US military tactic still appears to be search and destroy, a way of proceeding guaranteed to extend the scope and popularity of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. The guerrillas appear more well-organized, determined, and effective than ever, and no lasting and effective progress appears to have been made in counter-insurgency anywhere in the Sunni Arab heartland. The human toll of the war has been deeply depressing. The number of Iraqi dead in the war and its aftermath (killed in political violence by any side) cannot be estimated, but certainly is over 100,000 and could easily be more. The 30,000 figure often cited comes from counts of reports of deaths in Western wire services, which are demonstrably a fraction of the true total. None of the nearly 1,000 Iraqis assassinated in Basra during the past month, possibly with police involvement, appears in such statistics.

The human toll of Saddam's rule was deeply depressing. Hundreds of thousands of Shia and Kurds murdered. 1.5 million dead, including 500 thousand children, over the course of 10 years because Saddam refused to cooperate with the UN.

Despite what Juan says, progress has been made. The Iraqi Army is ever more capable of fighting the insurgency; even captured memos written by insurgents reveal this. The insurgents complain that they are unable to actually hold any territory. They are only capable of causing local violence; kidnapping and blowing things up. A big deal, but not a threat to the existence of the government. The US needs to remain in Iraq, to give the Iraqi government a chance to sort things out for themselves.

The prospect lies before us of years, perhaps decades of instability in the Gulf and eastern reaches of the Middle East. There is a danger of it doubling and tripling our gasoline prices. There is a danger of it forming a matrix and a school for anti-US terrorism for years to come. Are people in Fallujah, Tal Afar and Ramadi really ever going to forgive us?

Sure, Iraq was stable before. Tends to happen when you have one of the most brutally repressive dictators in history in charge of things. And the people in Fallujah, Tal Afar, and Ramadi didn't have to choose violence. There are peaceful ways to fight an occupation Juan - don't pretend there aren't.

The Bush administration has pushed us all out onto a tightrope in Iraq, 60 feet up and without a net.

Congratulations Juan. You've restated one of the most obvious facts about the world today - that the Bush administration has messed up royally in Iraq. Nobody denies that anymore. This is what I don't understand about people in this country that are obviously biased to the left. What do you think you are proving by stating the obvious? Are you just sticking out your tongue at the right and saying "nah nah nah I told you so?"?

I was against the war in Iraq. I thought the invasion was a very bad idea, for various reasons. I think Bush is a complete moron. Despite all of these things, I don't want to see the Iraqi government fail (which would be equivalent to a US failure). I don't want to abandon all hope of victory just because things are looking grim. You know, at the end of the day, the vast majority of the things Juan has said in his post are right. But so what? They dont help a damn thing. He doesn't offer any suggestions as to how we could improve our strategy - he just points out when we make mistakes; a habit not uncommon among the left in this country. They just knock everything we've done, even the little bit that is undeniably good, and hope enough of us buy into their pessimistic view that we pack up and leave Iraq. Just in time so that the left can rally us to send our forces to restore order in another oil rich Muslim nation - Sudan. The concept must not be such a bad one, so long as Bush can never get the credit for it.

Juan may be proven right. The Iraqi government may fail to produce any positive change. The US would eventually be forced to withdraw, and Iraq might then collapse into civil war. And then years from now, we would all know that Bush's adventure was 100% a mistake; and Juan can finally sit back and say "I told you so".

But things are still up in the air, whether or not liberals might admit it. There is still great hope that the Iraqi government could advance the political process enough to at least be in a position where it can control the country on its own, and slowly but surely improve the situation from there. For that government to even have a snowball's chance in hell of accomplishing its monumental task, its going to need America's help for a couple more years.

Juan wonders whether or not the people in a few particularly violent cities will ever forgive us for what we've done. The vast majority of Iraqis have embraced America's democratic project. I am more concerned with whether *they* will ever forgive us, were we abandon them to jihadists and years of bloody civil war, if we could have prevented such an outcome.

MAD worked once; we might have gotten lucky.

Many people are saying that the potential Iranian nuclear threat is exaggerated. These people have suggested that even if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, they could never use them because of the MAD (mutually assured destruction) principle. They couldn't be more wrong. Obviously, it is unlikely that the Iranians would fire nuclear-tipped missiles directly from Iran at targets in Israel or the US. However, there are two very realistic scenarios in which a nuclear war could still be started.

The scenario probably on most Americans' minds is one in which the Iranians pass off nuclear weapons to terrorists. In one scenario, the fanatical Iranian leadership could directly arm Hezbollah or some other group. Alternatively, a group of senior Iranian military commanders might act unilaterally to steal a nuclear weapon and pass it off to a terrorist group. The terrorists then float the nuclear weapon into Tel Aviv harbor, detonate, and kill hundreds of thousands of people. Nuclear-armed Israel responds. WW3 begins.

Even if you believe that the Iranian government wouldn't be so foolish as to pass off nukes to terrorists, or that nukes are impossible to steal, there is still serious risk of nuclear war if Iran gets nuclear weapons. That risk comes from the potential failure of MAD to deter a nuclear war. It is true that MAD saved us from war with the Soviet Union. Two points are noteworthy here.

1) To function properly, MAD requires that both sides of the prospective war be rational and deterrable. Can we expect a fanatical theocratic government to behave as rationally as an atheistic communist government?

2) MAD almost failed to prevent war between the US and USSR on multiple occasions. Read about Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov. Both of these men were Soviet military commanders that single-handedly prevented WW3. Now imagine a hypothetical scenario. Replace both of these men with highly religious Iranian commanders. Instead of the USA being the enemy, make it Israel. Do you still have faith that MAD will work to prevent nuclear war?

As I recently wrote, military force against Iran still is not a good option. However, people need to recognize the Iranian threat and take it very seriously. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that just because the Iraqi threat was exaggerated, the Iranian one is too. Iran needs to be internationally isolated and closely watched until it gives up its nuclear ambitions.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Surprise, Al Qaeda is beaten.

An internal Al Qaeda document was captured in Iraq. It is translated and analyzed here. The situation for Al Qaeda in Iraq is fairly desperate.

And yet, that has been obvious for months. Just because Al Qaeda is beaten in Iraq doesn't mean our mission is accomplished. There is still a powerful insurgency comprised of native Sunni Arabs. There remains a high risk of outright civil war. This battle hasn't been won yet. So while I certainly loath those Americans who would portray the cause as lost and futile, some on the right who are trumpeting Al Qaeda's defeat as being equivalent to our victory are equally wrong.

It will all come down to the new Iraqi government. If they can negotiate compromises, and continue to draw Sunnis into the government, then this thing will work (albeit with violence continuing for years). Alternatively, failure of the Iraqi government to move forward could spell disaster for the entire mission.

One final point. I keep hearing people (from the anti-war left) claiming that the presence of American troops is driving the insurgency. This convenient position has no basis in reality. If the insurgents were really interested in removing foreign troops, they could do it politically, and they know it. They're fighting because they (Sunni Arabs) don't want to share power with the Shia or Kurds.

Right now, with 150,000 American troops and an ever stronger Iraqi military, the insurgents know they cannot win. They are hoping that the removal of the main power in Iraq (US troops) will give them their chance to take over. If American troops were to pull out, the sides would become fairly balanced; the fragile Iraqi government and military on one side, and the well trained and well armed Sunni insurgents on the other. That is a real civil war.

Now isn't the time to surrender. We need to give the new Iraqi government time to negotiate and work things out. If it fails, we bounce. But as long as it continues to move forward, we should be there to back it up.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Some good news.

From Aljazeera:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with the reps of seven insurgent groups. He seems optimistic that he will be able to broker a deal to draw them away from the armed resistance. There are probably dozens of insurgent groups; still, if this turns out well, it may serve as an example for other groups to follow. Unfortunately, some groups will never bargain; see Al Qaeda and Saddam's ex henchmen. Those are problems that the Iraqi military will have to deal with for years.

A decent Frenchman.

"In the two months after 9/11, the phobias and fallacies of traditional anti-Americanism massively intensified. The clumsiest of them was an attempt to justify Islamist terrorism by claiming that America has long been hostile to Islam. The United States' actions historically have been far less damaging to Muslims than those of Britain, France, or Russia. These European powers have conquered Muslim countries, occupied and indeed oppressed them over decades and even centuries. Americans have never colonized a Muslim nation. Americans evince no hostility toward Islam as such today; on the contrary, their interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, as well as the pressure exerted on the Macedonian government, were designed to defend Muslim minorities. And the U.S.-led coalition that removed the Iraqi army from Kuwait during the first Gulf War acted to defend a small Muslim country against a secular dictator who had used chemical weapons against Muslim Shiites in the south and Muslim Kurds in the north."

Very long, very interesting piece on European anti-Americanism. And I've had my own in the works for some time now...more later.