Archive for the 'Syria' Category



Obama Admin Again Leads With Behind: Super Secret Syria Plan

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 9 months ago

From Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy, “Obama Administration Secretly Preparing Options For Aiding the Syrian Opposition.”

As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama‘s administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.

This is one of those articles that illustrates the quandary of politics and democracy in America, circa 2012.  A Leftist can read the article and feel concerned but encouraged that the Obama Administration is carefully reviewing options and nicely weighing consequences and unforeseen possibilities.   A Conservative can read this very same article and find a mother lode of examples of everything that is wrong with Obama and his foreign policy team.   So without offense to Mr. Rogin, we will begin to mine.

In the lede paragraph we find that the Administration is, “quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.”   The fact that this is even news is disturbing.   Isn’t this one of the principal tasks of any administration– to look at the likely hot spots on the globe and have a plan, even (gasp) a strategy for each?   The reaction of the Obama Administration to Syria is the same as it was for Libya as it was for Iran as it was for Egypt as it was for Iraq:  caught with its pants down.

There is no stratagey, no over-arching view of the world that weaves U.S. foreign policy into a coherent set of goals and takes pro-active action, in advance, of events.   In short, the Obama Administration has been playing defense from day one.  And it shows.  When the people of Iran rose up and marched in the streets to denounce the fraud and, later, to demand an end to the Regime, Obama’s reaction was to stay out of it.   There was no thought of seizing an unparalleled opportunity to change the trajectory of the Middle East overnight.  In Libya, the Administration went along for the ride with Britain and France, or, more precisely, Britain and France took the U.S. for the ride, relying on U.S. logistics and air power for the bulk of the mission.   And, despite the War Powers Act, Obama never once articulated a rationale to support the use of force (and the risk of American lives) in Libya.   Obama waffled back and forth on Egypt, with different Administration officials making conflicting statements for months before Mubarak was thrown to the wolves.   Even now, with the Muslim Brotherhood on the verge of gaining power in Egypt, the Administration is busy reacting—or perhaps better known as covering its rear end by painting the Brotherhood as a “moderate” Islamist group.

Notice, too, in just this, first paragraph, how the Administration is busy “preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.”   That pretty well sums up Obama’s first term in world affairs:  floating one  “major diplomatic initiative” after another, even in the face of abject failure and embarrassing rejections.   Iran is busy developing nukes?  No problem.  Let’s get our terrific allies, the Russians and Chinese, to get behind Security Council resolutions that have no, real teeth and do nothing to stop the nuke program.   Here we go again with Syria.  An opportunity to take out one of the worst enablers of terrorism, a puppet of the Iranian Regime and an implacable foe of our only ally in the Middle East, Israel, and Obama is busy “preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.”    Oh and “the unlikely option” of a no-fly zone.

Every line of Rogin’s piece is like a manual on what is wrong with this Administration:

…U.S. officials said that they are moving cautiously in order to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country’s complex dynamics before getting more involved. [Emphasis added]

Yes, this thing in Syria is just so, darn complex that we have to move slowly because, you know, we wouldn’t want Syria to become even less stable than it is now, what with the tanks in the streets and snipers randomly shooting civilians trying to buy bread.   And, of course, that Bashar Assad is such a “reformer” that we want to make sure he stays in power as long as possible.

And here’s a great line about the Administration’s idea of taking action:

…the administration is now ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue. After several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis, the National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable. [Emphasis added]

I have to hand it to Rogin on that sentence: it is a marvelous description of an Administration steeped in timidity laced with inaction bounded by circumspection and ringed with preliminary precaution.    “[S]everal weeks” of no, real discussions about Syria!?  What were the “top-level” people doing in the months before that when Syrians were demonstrating against Assad and being killed?  I know, I know, it’s a busy world and there’s a lot of golf that needs playing.

But not worry.  We are told that the NSC is on top of it now.   Uh… with “informal” and, um, “quiet” talks to “create and collect options” to do something.   This has to be the biggest exercise in foot dragging ever.   Essentially the Administration does not want to do anything with respect to Syria except, perhaps, give the impression that it is really, really about to get serious about thinking about creating an “interagency” panel of some sort who will exchange memos about  how to study the issue of, perhaps, aiding the Syrian opposition.

The unmistakable impression is that the Administration is not just playing defense here, they are doing everything they can to run out the clock in the hopes that someone else will do something (and if that “something” happens to turn out well, then take full credit for that result and trumpet it as another foreign policy triumph).

Well, at least there seem to be some options on the table:

The options that are under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.

“The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it’s still at the preliminary stage,” one official said. “There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future.”

Gosh, it’s great that the U.S. is so focused on providing “humanitarian” help to these people that are being shelled by Assad’s artillery.   They probably do need alot of bandages and stuff.   But somehow it seems strange that Obama was hell-bent to bomb the pants off of Qaddafi for, what was it?  Oh yes, the possibility of a “humanitarian disaster,” but when it comes to Syria, where people are actually dying at the hands of a ruthless dictator in a country that actually has vital importance to the U.S., Obama is playing the coy, young girl.    Yes, when important world events demand immediate action you can count on sweet Miss Barack to spend months writing in his diary and having endless slumber parties before coming to anything like a decision.   This does not earn the U.S. any points in the world, though perhaps it will do something for Barack Obama at this year’s Miss World competition.

But, as it turns out, Mr. Rogin found at least “one official” who was willing to (anonymously) provide an explanation of the Administration’s odd behavior:

“Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious,” the official said. “The criticism could be we’re not doing enough to change the status quo because we’re leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it’s mindboggling.”

A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.

“This isn’t Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher,” the official said. “Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow.”

I don’t know, maybe I just have impossibly high standards for civil servants, but, unless this “official” with knowledge of these discussions is the office janitor who happens to be in the room changing EPA-approved CFC lightbulbs, it sounds a bit funny: the Administration is being hyper-cautious because of the “incredible” and “far-reaching ramifications” of taking any action in Syria.   Ooooh.  There are “ramifications.”   And they could be “incredible.”   And “far-reaching.”   [Director's Note:  Insert here shot of President in fetal position in dark corner, sucking thumb, blankie in other hand].   As the “official” said (with no trace of irony as far as I could tell), “It’s mindboggling.”

And the examples?  A “power vacuum” in Syria?  Got news for you, buddy, Syria under the Butchers of Damascus (Assad I and Assad II) has been plenty frightening.   When the Assads have not been killing and torturing their own people, they have been busy assassinating every pro-Western leader in Lebanon, assisting Iran’s plans to obliterate Israel, hosting and training terrorists for worldwide terror missions and trying to develop their own nukes (until Israel blasted the nuclear reactor to oblivion in 2007).  How much worse are we talking here?

“Loose weapons of mass destruction” ?  Come on, now.  We’re not falling for that one again.   The Left screamed their little heads off that Saddam did not have WMD’s and all the evidence that they were moved to Syria in the year prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq have been ridiculed by the Left.   Surely Obama is not going to try to tell us that Syria has WMD’s, is he?  That just opens up too many cans of worms, even for a guy who owns the Leftist Media in this country.

And a “refugee crisis, and unrest across the region” ?  The entire Middle East is a refugee crisis and non-stop unrest.   Nothing the U.S. could do in Syria is going to change these eternal features.   This is truly one of those situations where things have to get better because they cannot get any worse.

I could go on and on.  Literally.   This valuable piece by Josh Rogin is comedy gold and you should read the entire thing.   Yes, those chortles will be mixed with tears of frustration at such an inept Administration, but these days we have to find the silver lining anywhere we can.

Here are just a few more highlights:

“This isn’t Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher,” the official said. “Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow.”   [Really?  Syria is more important than Libya?  Now there's a good reason to go even slower! And you have to love the tie-in with Las Vegas.]

***

The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on the Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.  [Yes, attacks against the air defenses and command-and-control should only be attempted against third-rate loons like Qaddafi where our vital interests are at stake.]

***

Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside and protecting the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve that result. “The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.  [I am told that Jay Carney scored rather well on the Journalism 101 test for stating the obvious.  Still, it's good that Obama sees the problem even if he has no clue what to do about it.]

As the comedy writers are fond of saying about real life, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”   But it took Obama to bring us the perfect marriage of U.S. Foreign Policy and Comedy Central.   And with CNN World, you can get this farce 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Expect things to get much funnier in 2012.

Any Spooks Left in the CIA Attic? Aiding the Syrian Army Defectors

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years ago

I just want to know.

General Petraeus.  Once you get settled in over at the C.I.A., can you check around the closets or under the desks at Langley and see if there are any covert ops people left?   I know we are too high-tech for that sort of thing nowadays, but every so often a job comes up that just can’t be done by the drones or the snooping satellites or wire intercepts.

The Washington Post publishes this article concerning the rising numbers of Syrian soldiers defecting to the opposition:

WADI KHALED, Lebanon — A group of defectors calling themselves the Free Syrian Army is attempting the first effort to organize an armed challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, signaling what some hope and others fear may be a new phase in what has been an overwhelmingly peaceful Syrian protest movement.

For now, the shadowy entity seems mostly to consist of some big ambitions, a Facebook page and a relatively small number of defected soldiers and officers who have taken refuge on the borderlands of Turkey and Lebanon or among civilians in Syria’s cities.

Many of its claims appear exaggerated or fanciful, such as its boasts to have shot down a helicopter near Damascus this month and to have mustered a force of 10,000 to take on the Syrian military.

But it is clear that defections from the Syrian military have been accelerating in recent weeks, as have levels of violence in those areas where the defections have occurred.

“It is the beginning of armed rebellion,” said Gen. Riad Asaad, the dissident army’s leader, who defected from the air force in July and took refuge in Turkey.

The article goes to great lengths to point out that the group does not have much clout at the moment but also notes:

There are nonetheless signs that the Free Syrian Army is expanding and organizing as reports of violent encounters increase. The group has announced the formation of 12 battalions around the country that regularly post claims on the group’s Facebook page, including bombings against military buses and ambushes at checkpoints.

This type of reporting is to be taken with more than a grain of salt, particularly in light of the lack of any reporters inside of Syria verifying the claims  (Calling Geraldo:  report to your choice of border crossings into Syria).  At the same time, it is only natural that protesters who are regularly attacked, beaten, tortured and killed will want to take up arms and at least try to defend themselves.   Given that the Assad Regime has been a major supplier of insurgents and armaments into Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and actively does the bidding of Iran in Lebanon, the U.S. has a keen interest in seeing him toppled.

What perfect justice for the U.S. to return the favor to Assad tenfold by infiltrating weapons into Syria from western Iraq.

But does the U.S. even have that capability?  And if we do, would this Administration actually follow through?

How does the U.S. influence the future of Syria?  At some point, when the Assad Regime continues to kill and torture its citizens, the U.S. must do more than just offer a rhetorical bone to the opposition.    Connections are made and relationships formed by providing material assistance (even if covert) to the opposition groups in Syria who at least have a willingness to work with the U.S.   How do we know that we will not be supplying weapons and training to Islamist militants?

That requires actual intelligence officers and human sources inside Syria.

General Petraeus, do you have anyone like that around the office?

Connecting the Dots: The Muslim Brotherhood And Middle East Unrest

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 7 months ago

A TCJ reader, “Dave,” wrote an excellent comment to a post not too long ago on the unrest in Egypt and the lack of response by the U.S.   He links to an article by Barry Rubin of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (aka GLORIA Center) that was first published on October 9, 2010.

This comment is so striking and important that I believe it needs to be highlighted as a separate post.  When you consider that Rubin’s article was written months before any of the arab uprisings, it sounds almost prophetic and deserves to be quoted at considerable length.  Reporting on a sermon delivered on September 30, 2010 by the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt, Rubin states:

This is one of those obscure  Middle East events of the utmost significance that is ignored by the Western mass media, especially because they happen in Arabic, not English; by Western governments, because they don’t fit their policies; and by experts, because they don’t mesh with their preconceptions.

This explicit formulation of a revolutionary program makes it a game-changer. It should be read by every Western decision maker and have a direct effect on policy because this development may affect people’s lives in every Western country.

OK, cnough of a build-up? Well, it isn’t exaggerated. So don’t think the next sentence is an anticlimax. Here we go: The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has endorsed (Arabic) (English translation by MEMRI) anti-American Jihad and pretty much every element in the al-Qaida ideology book. Since the Brotherhood is the main opposition force in Egypt and Jordan as well as the most powerful group, both politically and religiously, in the Muslim communities of Europe and North America this is pretty serious stuff.

By the way, no one can argue that he merely represents old, tired policies of the distant past because the supreme guide who said these things was elected just a few months ago. His position reflects current thinking.

Does that mean the Egyptian, Jordanian, and all the camouflaged Muslim Brotherhood fronts in Europe and North America are going to launch terrorism as one of their affiliates, Hamas, has long done? No.

But it does mean that something awaited for decades has happened: the Muslim Brotherhood is ready to move from the era of propaganda and base-building to one of revolutionary action. At least, its hundreds of thousands of followers are being given that signal. Some of them will engage in terrorist violence as individuals or forming splinter groups; others will redouble their efforts to seize control of their countries and turn them into safe areas for terrorists and instruments for war on the West.

When the extreme and arguably marginal British Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary says that Islam will conquer the West and raise its flag over the White House, that can be treated as wild rhetoric. His remark is getting lots of attention because he said it in English in an interview with CNN. Who cares what he says?

But when the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood says the same thing in Arabic, that’s a program for action, a call to arms for hundreds of thousands of people, and a national security threat to every Western country.

The Brotherhood is the group that often dominates Muslim communities in the West and runs mosques. Its cadre control front groups that are often recognized by Western democratic governments and media as authoritative. Government officials in many countries meet with these groups, ask them to be advisers for counter-terrorist strategies and national policies, and even fund them.

President Barack Obama speaks about a conflict limited solely to al-Qaida. And if one is talking about the current military battle in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen that point makes sense. Yet there is a far bigger and wider battle going on in which revolutionary Islamists seek to overthrow their own rulers and wage long-term, full-scale struggle against the West. If it doesn’t involve violence right now it will when they get strong enough or gain power.

More than three years ago, I warned about this development, in a detailed analysis explaining, “The banner of the Islamist revolution in the Middle East today has largely passed to groups sponsored by or derived from the Muslim Brotherhood.” I pointed out the differences-especially of tactical importance-between the Brotherhood groups and al-Qaida or Hizballah, but also discussed the similarities. This exposure so upset the Brotherhood that it put a detailed response on its official website to deny my analysis.

Yet now here is the Brotherhood’s new supreme guide, Muhammad Badi giving a sermon entitled, “How Islam Confronts the Oppression and Tyranny,” translated by MEMRI. Incidentally, everything Badi says is in tune with the stances and holy books of normative Islam. It is not the only possible interpretation but it is a completely legitimate interpretation. Every Muslim knows, even if he disagrees with the Brotherhood’s position, that this isn’t heresy or hijacking or misunderstanding.

Maybe it is just coincidence and it may be an over-estimation of the MB’s reach and influence to view the spate of uprisings in the Middle East as a carefully calculated stratagem, but it takes no imagination whatsoever to see that:  1) the MB felt sufficiently confident by October 2010 in plainly and openly stating their call for war against the West and any muslim regime that cooperated with the West, and;  2)  consistent with that declaration, the MB has quickly and effectively pounced upon the enormous opportunities afforded by the unrest and is systematically seeking to turn that unrest to their advantage.

One evidence of this is brought to light in another article by Barry Rubin on the MB’s campaign, post-Mubarak, to take over the clerical leadership in Egypt.

This is of gigantic importance (see if anyone else covers it). MEMRI has pointed out the opening of a Muslim Brotherhood campaign to replace Egypt’s current clerical hierarchy with its own people. If that happens…you can imagine. Once Islamists are in place making the “official” decisions on what constitutes proper Islam, an Islamist state cannot be far away.

Let me explain the background briefly. Knowing that control over Islam was vital to maintaining control of the country, the Egyptian regime (like nationalist regimes elsewhere) set out to build a systematic structure for doing so. The head of the al-Azhar Islamic university, the chief qadi, the clerics of different mosques, are government-appointed. Sermons are government-approved. A ministry in charge of awqaf (religious foundations) and religion supervises all of this and hands out the money. And the government also decides which clerics appear on television and radio, or even have their own programs.

Over the last decade or so, the “official” clerics have been radicalized, and they support terrorism against Israel. Yet there is still a huge gap between those who accepted the rule by Mubarak’s regime and those who demand an Islamist regime. They hate the Brotherhood and the Brotherhood hates them.

Now, if all of these official clerics are declared to be corrupt instruments of the old regime and are thrown out of office, the Brotherhood will control “Islam” in Egypt. Equally important, they will control a vast amount of patronage and money. Every cleric will have to get along with them or be unemployed. They could authorize which mosques could open. They would control religious education.

The MB-affiliated cleric, Muhammad Zoghbi, is quoted in the MEMRI translation of his February 15, 2011 television appearance as calling on the leaders of Al-Azhar University as well as the mufti of Egypt to resign.

Al-Azhar was subjected to a dangerous scheme, which was intended to shatter it and bring it down. This scheme consisted of three aspects: First, the politicization of the positions of the sheikh of Al-Azhar and the mufti of Egypt, as well as the position of the minister of religious endowments. These positions must be filled through elections. By no means should these officials be appointed by the president. Why? Because this politicization has led the people to lose their trust in Al-Azhar and its sheiks. [...]

“Therefore I say to the ‘sons’ of Al-Azhar: Let us all join the campaign, led by Sheik Khaled Al-Gindi, until we liberate Al-Azhar, just like Egypt was liberated. The liberation of Al-Azhar is even better than the liberation of Egypt, because while Egypt is the mother of the Arab region, Al-Azhar is the mother of all the Muslims on planet Earth. If Al-Azhar gets back on its feet, the entire nation will be back on its feet, and if Al-Azhar is back on track, the entire nation will be back on track. The president of Egypt must be subordinate to Al-Azhar and respect it. [...]

This has the eerie feeling that we have been here before.   1979 in Iran, perhaps?  This is the very same pattern:  de-legitimize the current religious leadership as being too connected and tainted by the old regime, then call for the appointment of new leadership subject to your own choosing.  Finally, make it clear that the political leadership, “must be subordinate to Al-Azhar and respect it.”  As Rubin notes, the real levers of power in Egypt can then transfer to the religious clerics.   If the Muslim Brotherhood can control these levers then they will be in position to dictate the shape and make-up of power in Egypt just as the mad mullahs did in Iran.

What about Libya?   The infamous cleric, Sheikh Qaradawi, has reportedly issued a fatwa that Gaddafi be killed.  The MB has been present in Libya since at least the 1950′s, at first openly and later, under Gaddafi, as a banned group operating covertly.  It stands to reason that the fall of Gaddafi would present a huge opportunity for the MB to expand its influence there.

What lessons can we draw here?

Surely one is that the U.S. cannot play defense in its foreign policy, by merely propping up friendly authoritarians.  When we line up on the side of dictators and thugs, we are sending a very clear message to people oppressed with our support that the U.S. talk of human rights and freedom is only so much hot air.  This, in turn, gives ample ammunition to groups like the MB who can effectively argue that their version of Islam is the only, true solution.  The U.S. has effectively ceded the playing field, so to speak, to the enemy.  Not only that but the U.S. has effectively given up– to continue the sports metaphor– developing any kind of farm system where we can have influence in developing future leaders who can puncture the lies of the Islamists.   We find ourselves with no, real options in Egypt for the precise reason that we never seriously and strategically pursued democratic formation in these countries.  We have, shamefully, left the Egyptian people with no one to turn to except the MB.

Another lesson is the importance of long-term, strategic thinking.   Note the striking difference between how the MB plays the game and how the U.S. has played it.   The MB was founded in 1928 with a clear purpose and objective to take power in Egypt and, from there, to re-establish theocratic Islamic states throughout the Middle East.   The MB has shown incredible patience and cunning, adopting conciliatory postures when they were weak or faced overwhelming opposition, but taking advantage of opportunities when available.  For over 75 years, the MB has been building its organization and extending its tentacles in Egypt.  And not only Egypt but throughout the Middle East by providing the ideological support (and perhaps logistical support) for groups like Hamas and opposition groups in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.   The U.S., by contrast, has no, obvious, long-term strategy in the region.   In fact, our policy, to the extent that we have one is neglect (at best) and, as practiced by the Obama Administration, a positive refusal to “interfere” in the affairs of any Middle East nation, even the worst such as Iran and Syria.   No, we go out of our way to extend a hand to them.   Surely the Islamofascists must be laughing their turbans off in amazement.

In fact, there is a clear note of triumphalism in Badi’s September 30, 2010 sermon (as translated by MEMRI):

Resistance is the only solution…. The United States cannot impose an agreement upon the Palestinians, despite all the means and power at its disposal. [Today] it is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance – and the wars of Lebanon and Gaza, which were not so long ago, [are proof of this].

The Administration’s conciliatory gestures and haste to exit Iraq and Afghanistan simply embolden the enemies of freedom and convince them to redouble their efforts.  Worse, there is every indication that the Administration has no clue what it is doing and simply bounces around from event to event, reacting and recalculating its position with every new day and every news cycle.

Everyone should be closely watching events in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East for signs that the Muslim Brotherhood is actively instigation or, at least, co-opting the unrest to its advantage.  One pattern that may be emerging is that the protests seem to be fiercest in those countries that have governments which cooperate to some degree with the war on terror.   Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen.   All of these states have cooperated to one degree or another with the West in the war against Islamic terrorism or have not actively encouraged jihad against the West.   In the case of Libya, it may be a case of sheer luck for the MB which they are now seeking to fully exploit.   In any case, Qaddafi has been no friend to the MB.  Watch for Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to be hit with “spontaneous” unrest in the next weeks or months.

Conversely, we have not seen the same sort of protests in Syria which is as autocratic as any Arab state.   The MB has a significant, if low profile, presence there as well.  But the Syrian regime fully supports the aims and methods of the MB, so any uprisings there, if my theory holds true, would be short-lived and anemic.

If the Brotherhood can seize power in any of these nations, the Long War is going to get very ugly, very quickly.

Rapidly Collapsing U.S. Foreign Policy

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

Iran is quickly advancing towards becoming a nuclear state.  In troubling developments in air power, Iran can now deploy UAVs, and Russia may have supplied Iran with new air defense systems, including their long range S-300 surface to air missiles.  If they haven’t, the system is being used as a bargaining chip by Russia.  There are reports that they have refused to sell the missile system, but responding to the Israeli plan to sell weapons systems to Georgia by saying that Moscow expected Israel “to show the same responsibility.”  In the first case, Iran is armed with an air defense system that would make an attack against its nuclear assets much more difficult.  In the second case, Russia has used this potentiality to weaken Georgia and prime it for another invasion.

Pavel Felgenhauer at the The Jamestown Foundation has recently published a commentary entitled Russia’s Coming War with Georgia.  The commentary very smartly connects the isolated Russian base in Armenia – which in itself is further demonstration of Russian intentions of control over its “near abroad” – with the need to control Georgia.    Says Felgenhauer, “The ceasefire last August has left the strategically important Russian base in Armenia cut off with no overland military transit connections. The number of Russian soldiers in Armenia is limited to some 4000, but during 2006 and 2007 large amounts of heavy weapons and supplies were moved in under an agreement with Tbilisi from bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (Georgia). At present there are some 200 Russian tanks, over 300 combat armored vehicles, 250 heavy guns and lots of other military equipment in Armenia – enough to fully arm a battle force of over 20,000 (Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozrenie, August 20, 2004). Forces in Armenia can be swiftly expanded by bringing in manpower by air transport from Russia. Spares to maintain the armaments may also be shipped in by air, but if a credible overland military transit link is not established within a year or two, there will be no possibility to either replace or modernize equipment. The forces will consequently degrade, undermining Russia’s commitment to defend its ally Armenia and Moscow’s ambition to reestablish its dominance in the South Caucasus.”

Concerning the timing of the potential invasion, Felgenhauer observes:

While snow covers the Caucasian mountain passes until May, a renewed war with Georgia is impossible. There is hope in Moscow that the Georgian opposition may still overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime or that the Obama administration will somehow remove him. However, if by May, Saakashvili remains in power, a military push by Russia to oust him may be seriously contemplated. The constant ceasefire violations could escalate to involve Russian servicemen – constituting a public casus belli. The desire by the West to “reset” relations with Moscow, putting the Georgia issue aside, may be interpreted as a tacit recognition of Russia’s right to use military force.

With the addition of the Biden pronouncement that the U.S. would “press the reset button” with Russia, the U.S. is now in the throes of a logistical dilemma.  On the one hand, the missile defense program for NATO states is meant as a deterrent for a potential Iranian nuclear and missile based military capability.  On the other hand, the current administration is seen as likely to jettison the whole project.

The U.S. is now beholden to Russia for logistical supply lines to Afghanistan.  General David Petraeus has visited numerous European and Central Asian countries recently, including Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.  Supplies are soon to leave Latvia bound for Afghanistan.  But the common element in all of the logistical supply lines are that they rely on Russian good will.  This good will exists as long as the missile defense doesn’t, and the missile defense was intended to be used as a deterrent for Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Alternative supply routes have been suggested, including one which wouldn’t empower Russian hegemony in the region, from the Mediterranean through the Bosporus strait, into the Black sea, and through Georgia to neighboring Azerbaijan.  From there the supplies would transit across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan, and from there South to Afghanistan.  An alternative to the air route from the recently closed Manas Air base is sea transport to India, rail or truck to the Indian-controlled Kashmir region, and then air transport to Kabul.  But none of these options has been pursued.  The current administration is locked into negotiations that empower Russia.

Pakistan President Zardari has observed, and correctly so, that Pakistan is in a state of denial concerning the threat posed by the Taliban, yet rather than eliminate the threat, the strategy has been to make peace deals with the Tehrik-i-Taliban and plead for the same financial bailout being offered across America, saying that in order to defeat the Taliban Pakistan needs a “massive program,” a “Marshall Plan” to defeat the Taliban through economic development.

Certainly, some of the foreign policy problems were present with the previous administration, from the failure to plan for logistics for Afghanistan, to support for Musharraf’s duplicitous administration, assisting the Taliban by demure on the one hand while money was received with the other.  But the currents appear to be pointing towards a revised world opinion of what the U.S. is willing to sustain on behalf of “good relations,” and the current administration’s prevarications appear to be going headlong into numerous dilemmas.

We wish to use the missile program in Europe as an bargaining chip to avoid the reality of an Iranian nuclear program, while the Iranian supreme has said that “relations with the U.S. have for the time being no benefit to the Iranian nation.”  Russia, who is assisting Iran in its military buildup, is unimpressed because we have planned for no other option for logistics for Afghanistan except as dictated by Vladimir Putin.  The best that we can come up with, so far, is to forestall the planned troop reduction in the European theater, a troop reduction that is needed to help fund and staff the war against the global insurgency.

Pakistan’s Zardari figures that if the administration is willing to give away on the order of a trillion dollars, they can play the game of “show me the money” like everyone else, from Russia over logistical lines to Afghanistan to over-leveraged homeowners in the U.S.

Israel figures that all of this points to throwing their concerns under the bus, and thus they have launched a covert war against Iran, a program that is unlikely to be successful, pointing to broader regional instability in the near term.  Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, has said that they will acquire or have acquired anti-aircraft weapons.  While they have stood down over the war in Gaza, they are apparently preparing for more of the same against Israel.

The current administration has attempted to befriend Syria, while at the same time the USS San Antonio has interdicted Iranian weapons bound by ship to Syria, intended for Hezbollah or Hamas.  Most of this has occurred within less than two months of inauguration of the current administration in Washington.  It may prove to be a difficult four years, with unintended consequences ruling the day.

Update: Welcome to Instapundit readers and thanks to Glenn for the link.

What the USS San Antonio Can Teach Us About Iran

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 8 months ago

The Amphibious Dock USS San Antonio has something to teach us about Iran and its intentions.

But before learning from the USS San Antonio, a framework must be constructed within which to view this information.  David Ignatius authored an article for the Washington Post on the A-Team for Iran.  Ignatius likes Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft because of their ability to help American foreign policy “turn a page,” so to speak.  Ignatius asks the two how they would begin negotiations with Iran.

Scowcroft replied that his brief to the Iranians would begin this way: “First, that we’re aware you live in a dangerous region, and we’re prepared to discuss a regional security framework. . . . Second, whether or not you want nuclear weapons, you’re proceeding on a course that psychologically destabilizes the whole region. It is dangerous. It will bring about a counterreaction. And let’s work on this security framework. You don’t need nuclear weapons.”

Brzezinski said he agreed and added: “The only way we can accomplish [mutual security] is by sitting together and figuring out some mechanism whereby you achieve what you say you want, which is a peaceful nuclear program, and we achieve what we need, which is a real sense of security that it’s not going to go any further.”

The obvious but unstated presupposition is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear program, and indeed, behaves as it does, because of its fear and need for survival, or in their own words, “mutual security” in a dangerous region.  That no nation has threatened them, and that no nation in the region would even be able seriously to threaten them, doesn’t weigh in on the axiom.  It is simply irreducible, the notion that Iran would live in peace with its neighbors if only it could assure its own security.

All mathematics and in fact all philosophy begins with presuppositions, propositions that are unproven because they cannot be proven.  But the investigation doesn’t end here.  When a system of thought based on these presuppositions yields conclusions, results, observations and consequences that are radically inconsistent with what would be expected given the presuppositions, then something is wrong with the starting point.  Under these conditions, one must be willing to relinquish his presuppositions.

That Iranian weapons, special groups, IRG, Quds and other rogue forces supported by Iran (Ansar al Sunna) created havoc inside of Iraq hasn’t been enough to convince the two A-Team members that Iran doesn’t intend on having peace in the region.  Neither, for that matter, does the fact that General Petraeus had to appeal to Iranian General Qassem Suleimani to stop the shelling of the Green Zone in the summer of 2008 (at which point it stopped) convince the A-Team that their ideas of a docile Persia just may not be panning out.

But this unwillingness to revisit presuppositions isn’t baggage carried by the Arab states.  In fact, the Arab states never started with these ideas.  They are uniquely Western.  With Iran’s push towards going nuclear, the balance of the Middle East is thinking the same way, and not because they need the energy.

The outstanding Middle East journalist Michael Totten has an important article on how the Sunni Arabs see Iran, and the role Israel is playing in regional resistance.

Most Arab governments, aside from Syria’s and possibly Qatar’s, are far more worried about Iranian regional dominance than they are about anything coming out of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. They know perfectly well that the State of Israel is not going to undermine or overthrow them, while radical Iranian-sponsored Islamists just might.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are threatening Iran with a nuclear arms race. Surely they weren’t happy when Israel developed nuclear weapons, but they never retaliated with programs of their own. Bombastic anti-Zionist rhetoric to the contrary, they know Israel isn’t really a threat. Nor are they a serious threat to Israel anymore.

While the Arab states fear for their very existence, the A-Team wants to convince the radical Mullahs that they aren’t in any danger.  They wish to tell the regime that it doesn’t need nuclear weapons for its defense, while the regime has flatly told them that negotiations and dialogue will only succeed if the U.S. accepts the Iranian nuclear program.  It isn’t just the evidence of Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas, trouble in Iraq, and threats against the state of Israel that is available to convince the A-Team that they must revisit their fundamental axioms about Iran.  In fact, it’s not even the conservatives in America (who have mostly given up).  The Iranian regime itself is trying to convince the U.S. that what they believe about Iran is fundamentally wrong by dictating a starting point for negotiations that ensures that the end game is diametrically opposed to what the U.S. wishes.

And now to the USS San Antonio.

The U.S. Navy has assigned an amphibious transport dock ship, the USS San Antonio, to track Iranian weapons shipments to the Gaza Strip.

Officials said the San Antonio, flagship of Combined Task Force 151, intercepted and searched an Iranian-owned cargo ship in mid-January found to contain artillery, missiles and rockets. The ship was released and expected to arrive in Syria on Jan. 28.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the weapons ship intercepted in the Red Sea was determined to have been destined for Syria, a leading supplier of Hamas and Hizbullah. Mullen said the United States could not legally hold the Cypriot-flagged ship, owned by Iran.

“The United States did as much as we could do legally,” Mullen told a briefing on Jan. 27.

“There are authorities, limitations in complying with this particular UN resolution, and we basically went right up to the edge of that and we couldn’t do anything else. And we think those weapons are headed to Syria, which is obviously not a great outcome …shipping weapons to Syria that we think, quite frankly, are going to end up in Gaza.”

We learn many things about our own struggle with lawfare versus warfare with this example.  But saving this for another time, the U.S. has interdicted a ship bound for Syria with artillery, missiles and rockets.  Whether these weapons end up with Hezbollah or Hamas is not relevant.  They will end up destabilizing the region over nation-states which are not a threat to its own existence.  The weapons will end up contributing to the regional hegemony that Iran has pursued for twenty five years.

While the A-Team is confused about presuppositions, they don’t hold the exclusive right to dreary stubbornness regarding Persian intentions.  This has been going on for twenty five years now, and thus, the same page that has been read for twenty five years is being recited once again.

The Role of Palestine in the War with Iran

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 9 months ago

While supporting Israel’s right to a robust self defense, The Captain’s Journal has also questioned both the strategic and operational goals of the current Israeli offensive, especially since it is being run by the more leftist administration currently in power in Israel.  But there are deeper questions still about the operation, ones that drive to the heart of the matter.

Robert Kaplan discusses the larger war in which Israel is engaged.

Israel has just embarked on a land invasion of the Gaza Strip after a week of aerial bombing. Gaza is bordered by Egypt, and was under Egyptian military control from 1949 through 1967. And yet in a startling rebuke to geography and recent history—and in testimony to the sheer power of audacity and of ideas—the mullahs in Teheran hold more sway in Gaza today than does the tired, Brezhnevite regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Gaza constitutes the western edge of Iran’s veritable new empire, cartographically akin to the ancient Persian one, that now stretches all the way to western Afghanistan, where Kabul holds no sway and which is under Iranian economic domination.

Israel’s attack on Gaza is, in effect, an attack on Iran’s empire, the first since its offensive on Iranian-backed Hezbollah in 2006. That attack failed for a number of reasons, not least of which was Israel’s poor intelligence on Hezbollah: historically, its intelligence on the Palestinians has been much better. Moreover, this attack seems more deliberately planned, with narrower, publicly stated aims – all in all, a more professional job. But there is a fundamental problem with what Israel is doing that goes to the heart of the postmodern beast that the Iranian empire represents.

To start with, Hamas does not have to win this war. It can lose and still win. As long as no other political group can replace it in power, even as some of its diehards can continue to lob missiles, however ineffectually, into Israel, it achieves a moral victory of sorts. Moreover, if Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement tries to replace Hamas in power, Fatah will forever be tagged with the label of Israeli stooge, and in the eyes of Palestinians will have little moral legitimacy. Israel’s dilemma is that it is not fighting a state but an ideology, the postmodern glue that holds together Greater Iran.

This is similar to the view espoused by Dr. Ely Karmon, namely that “The present conflict in Gaza must therefore be understood in its broad regional context. Israel is fighting not only Hamas, a radical Islamist religious/political movement whose ideological and strategic goal is to destroy the Jewish state in order to build on it a Taliban-style one, but is facing a coalition of radical actors — Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas — which is responsible for the destabilization of the entire Middle East for the last two decades … Hamas is a crucial element for Iran because it is the only Sunni member of the coalition, a faction of the broader Muslim Brotherhood movement (the Sunni Syria is actually led by an Alawi/Shia dictatorship), and represents the Palestinian cause, so dear to the Arabs and Muslims worldwide.”

In The Globalization of Jihad in Palestine, The Captain’s Journal pointed out that Ayman al-Zawahiri and the al Qaeda leadership had heretofore rejected participation in jihad with Hamas because of its acceptance of nationalism and democracy, two things al Qaeda hates most.  Global jihad (and hence, al Qaeda) doesn’t recognize borders or the legitimacy of states.  But we also pointed out that radical Salafist schools were developing across Palestine – including Gaza – financed by Saudi money and producing young radicals accepting of a more global and even less tolerant perspective.

Adding to this narrative is an analysis by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Both Hamas and the Gazan jihadist groups share a desire to destroy Israel and impose sharia, but Hamas focuses on local interests limited to the Palestinian arena. Hamas, therefore, directs its energy largely at Israel, while these groups target foreigners as well. The Salafi-jihadist groups espouse an ideology of “pure resistance,” within which there is no room for ceasefires or temporary halts in attacks against the enemy. Some of their members were therefore especially motivated to continue attacks following Hamas’s agreement to a tahdiyah, or lull …

Although these groups do not aim to usurp Hamas’s control of Gaza, the expansion of their power and popularity poses an ideological and practical challenge for Hamas and emphasizes the dichotomy in the movement; on one hand, Hamas is a resistance movement siding with an ongoing jihadist struggle, on the other, it is a sovereign power that is required to compromise on daily governance issues. Hamas is worried that this phenomenon will gain popularity among the young generation, since it represents “pure resistance.” Confronting this phenomenon not only endangers Hamas’s image on the street, but also forces the organization to confront one of the cornerstones of its identity: the ideological adherence to jihad as a way to achieve its goals. This very dilemma may go a long way toward explaining why Hamas allowed the tahdiyah to erode; attacks from time to time allow Hamas to explain that it remains committed to resistance.

In the wake of the current crisis, Hamas may choose to ease its crackdown on these jihadist groups, causing repercussions beyond Gaza. Strengthened Salafi-jihadist groups in Gaza could ultimately pose a threat not only to Hamas, but also, as the various attacks and foiled plots over the past several years illustrate, to Israeli and Western interests as well.

Al Qaeda’s inability to utilize differing sects in its global struggle, e.g., the nationalistic Hamas, is not a mistake made by the Persian empire which, while Shi’a, has no problems working with the Sunni Hamas.  Al Qaeda may look on with envy at the empire carefully constructed by Iran, but in the main Israel is surrounded by Iranian proxies.  True, there are allegations and counter-allegations over the role of al Qaeda in Lebanon (page 5).

There is no official consensus in Lebanon on whether al-Qa`ida has a presence in the country. Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, all politics in Lebanon has been polarized. It is on the threat of terrorism where the gap is arguably most pronounced. On the one hand, the anti-Syrian political coalition, led by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and parliament majority leader Saad Hariri, believes that al-Qa`ida does not have an indigenous presence in Lebanon. What the country faces instead is a fabricated threat by Damascus and its intelligence services that is intended to destabilize Lebanon and restore Syrian hegemony. On the other hand, the pro-Syrian alliance, spearheaded by Hizb Allah (also spelled Hezbollah) and the Free Patriotic Party of Michel Aoun, judges that al-Qa`ida exists in Lebanon and poses a real threat to national security. For them, the rise of al-Qa`ida in the country is largely attributed to a devilish pact between Lebanese Sunni politicians and extremist Islamic factions in the north, the purpose of which is to counter-balance the perceived ascending power of Shi`a Hizb Allah. The Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), an institution that is perceived to be fairly loyal to Siniora—in addition to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two most influential regional patrons of the anti-Syrian coalition—are also accused by the pro-Syrian alliance of having a hand in financing and arming these terrorist groups.

But the argument itself is evidence of the paltry presence of al Qaeda, or strongly Sunni anti-Persian elements.  Syria is an apparatchik of Iran, and Damascus gets its orders directly from Tehran, orders it immediately relays to Hassan Nasrallah who governs Hezbollah, which is itself Iran’s troops deployed in Lebanon.  Hamas, like Hezbollah but still following in its footsteps, serves the interests of Iran.

Michael Ledeen makes a strong case that Iran has turned Hamas loose to lose if necessary, a sort of cowardly betrayal of the Hamas leadership.  Further, argues Ledeen, there is rot inside of Iran.  Indeed, there is a budding insurgency in Western Iran, one that we have argued that should be aided in fomenting a full blown insurgency and regime change inside of Iran.

Caroline Glick makes a similar argument to Ledeen, but ends with a stern warning.

ALAS, THERE is another possible explanation for Iran’s apparent decision to abandon a vassal it incited to open a war. On Sunday, Iranian analyst Amir Taheri reported the conclusions of a bipartisan French parliamentary report on the status of Iran’s nuclear program in Asharq Alawsat. The report which was submitted to French President Nicolas Sarkozy late last month concluded that unless something changes, Iran will have passed the nuclear threshold by the end of 2009 and will become a nuclear power no later than 2011. The report is notable because it is based entirely on open-sourced material whose accuracy has been acknowledged by the Iranian regime.

The report asserts that this year will be the world’s final opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And, as Taheri hints strongly, the only way of doing that effectively is by attacking Iran’s nuclear installations.

In light of this new report, which contradicts earlier US intelligence assessments that claimed it would be years before Iran is able to build nuclear weapons, it is possible that Iran ordered the current war in Gaza for the same reason it launched its war in 2006: to divert international attention away from its nuclear program.

It is possible that Iran prefers to run down US President George W. Bush’s last two weeks in office with the White House and the rest of the world focused on Gaza, than risk the chance that during these two weeks, the White House (or Israel) might read the French parliament’s report and decide to do something about it.

So too, its apparent decision not to have Hizbullah join in this round of fighting might have more to do with Iran’s desire to preserve its Lebanese delivery systems for any nuclear devices than its desire to save pennies in a tight economy.

And if this is the case, then even if Israel beats Hamas (and I eat my hat), we could still lose the larger war by again having allowed Iran to get us to take our eyes away from the prize.

Whatever their strategy, unless Israel is willing to follow through with these current operations and the U.S. is willing not only to implement democracy programs in Iran but also to pursue regime change, the entire Middle East might be dealing in the near future with a nuclear Persia, leading not only to mortal danger for Israel but also to a nuclear Egypt, Jorgan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Thus we haven’t questioned the role of Iran in the war with Palestine, for that would be to miss the point.  The real question is the role of Palestine in the war with Iran, and whether the larger strategic picture is being kept in sight.

Further Reading:

Robert D. Kaplan, Iran’s Postmodern Beast in Gaza, a “must-read” from the author of the remarkable Imperial Grunts.

Michael Ledeen, Is Iran in Trouble?

Caroline Glick, Iran’s Gaza Diversion

Yoram Cohen, Jihadist Groups in Gaza: A Developing Threat

Syed Saleem Shahza, Al Qaeda Sniffs Opportunity in Gaza.  Saleem purveys fantasy when he says that there has been a slight resurgence of AQ in Anbar, and has to be read through the lens of someone who shills for both AQ and the Tehrik-i-Taliban.  Nonetheless, his prose is interesting and if you’re able to discern fact and analysis from propaganda, is usually useful.

Charles Levinson, Israel’s Ground Assault Marks Shift in Strategy

Victor Davis Hanson, Gazan Calculations

James Lyons, Gaza Distraction

Even if the current Hamas leadership and infrastructure are destroyed, nothing will change as long as the Ali Khamenei regime remains in power with continued support of terrorist groups to act as their proxies to further their political agenda.

While we have proof positive of Iran’s direct involvement in terrorist activities over the last almost 30 years, which has resulted in thousands of U.S. military and civilian casualties, they have never been made to suffer the consequences of their cowardly acts or held accountable. The ultimate solution is to change the power structure in Iran preferably by a form of a “yellow revolution” in which Iranians who desire a better life are able to free themselves from their current medieval theocratic regime. The odds of a popular uprising are slim unless supported by a variety of actions led by the United States.

Lyons’ commentary is analogous to the arguments made at TCJ for the last two years.

A Battleground for Intelligence Services

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Iraq’s defense minister has weighed in with some interesting insights concerning the future of Iraq.

Iraq’s defence minister warned on Saturday that the Gulf would be infested by pirates and Iraq left at risk of attack by its neighbours if US forces leave the country too soon.

“Coalition forces are currently protecting the Gulf, and our navy will not receive its first ships until April 2009,” Abdel Qader Jassem Mohammed al-Obeidi told a press conference in Baghdad.

If those forces “withdraw precipitously, our gulf will become like the Gulf of Aden, where there have been 95 acts of piracy,” he said.

Obeidi was addressing journalists on his support for the controversial military pact that would allow US troops to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011, a deal now being considered by the Iraqi parliament.

The minister did not enlarge on his remarks or explain how the Gulf would become prey to pirates when one of its littoral states, Bahrain, is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

The Gulf, which supplies the bulk of world oil imports, is also bordered by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Iran, all of whose navies patrol the waterway.

Somali-based pirates have in recent months been plaguing shipping in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa.

Obeidi also said Iraqi territory risks being attacked by neighbouring states, referring to Turkey’s bombing of Turkish Kurdish PKK rebels in their mountain hideaways of northern Iraq.

“Today, Iraq is the target of bombing from abroad but it is limited because the (US-led) coalition represents a dissuasion force,” he said.

“If it not there any more, the whole country risks being the target of shooting, even (the southern port of) Basra, and they will justify their actions by referring to information on a PKK base there,” the minister said.

Obeidi also said his country has turned into “a battleground for different foreign intelligence services,” without naming any countries.

“Iraqi security forces, backed by the coalition, must impose a limit on their activities, of which Iraqis are the victims,” the defence minister added.

Iranian Quds, Syrian intelligence, and so on, are in Iraq battling for preeminence – and the Iraqi Defense Minister knows it and makes it clear that there is more that must be done in Iraq. The roles filled by U.S. forces going forward will be fundamentally different that before, with focus on border security (e.g., the Marines in Anbar have their eyes trained on the Syrian border), training, backup of ISF, sea and air space security.

But there is a very real need to continue the high value target campaign that has been going on for months now in Iraq. Whereas in Afghanistan we have incorrectly attempted to employ a strategy of high value targets rather than counterinsurgency, in Iraq the counterinsurgency campaign has now given way to a campaign against high value targets, which is the right order.

This campaign won’t simply employ the U.S. military. The Captain’s Journal has made it clear that U.S. intelligence will engage Iranian intelligence or we will lose the region regardless of what happens in Iraq. Iraq is the primary battleground at the moment as noted by the Iraqi Defense Minister. But the covert war has been going on for years, and we must be willing to play “hard ball” in order to be in the same league with the Iranians.

And what would such U.S. engagement look like? We mustn’t forget Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, who is the primary commander of the Iranian covert war with the U.S., and to whom General Petraeus had to turn to request that the summer 2008 artillery shelling of the green zone be halted.

Bullying, arrests, much better human intelligence and targeting of people like General Suleimani must be employed or the covert war will be lost. The Israeli Mossad understands that they are engaged in a deadly serious effort for self-preservation and behaves accordingly. Thus far in Iraq, the effort has also been deadly for U.S. warriors. The full engagement of all U.S. resources is necessary to finalize the gains in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and this means actions that make some squeamish. But the squeamish should find other things to occupy their attention, and we must do what needs to be done.

Iran and the Iraq Status of Forces Agreement

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

Nibras Kazimi, who by his own insistent claims is an Iraqi expert, has written an analysis of the status of the SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

After months of wrangling and getting the Americans to make all sorts of compromises on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), Iraq’s Shia Islamists suddenly found that they are unable to agree to the very same terms that they themselves had negotiated. This conundrum became abundantly clear on Sunday, October 19th, when the luminaries of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) parliamentary bloc–much diminished by sizable defections–met and failed to sign onto the agreement as presented to them by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Da’awa Party is a leading component of the UIA.

The Iraqi political class is adrift as it tries to find its political center, delaying an agreement with the United States about when and how to pull its forces out of Iraq.

This has much less to with the Americans than it does with local politics. The Islamists, both Sunni and Shia, are at a grave disadvantage as Iraq’s political discourse turns patriotic, rather than sectarian. In an odd twist, secular Shias have adopted the talking points of Sunnis when denouncing Islamist Shias, namely that they are agents of Iran, while secular Sunnis have adopted the talking points of Shias when denouncing Islamist Sunnis–they’re too close to the terrorists.

To confuse matters further, America’s top general in Iraq has recently accused Iran of sabotaging the SOFA agreement, provoking a sharp rebuke from Maliki who is at pains to demonstrate, to his detractors among the secular opposition, that he is not an Iranian stooge.

Only a creepy and twisted world view can see General Odierno’s charge – specifically, that Iranian agents were trying to buy votes in the parliament to reject the SOFA – as having confused matters. It is this attitude that has sabotaged the campagin from the beginning, i.e., this failure to see Operation Iraqi Freedom from within the context of the regional conflict that it is.

If Maliki wants to convince his people that he isn’t a stooge, then he shouldn’t act like one.  Charging General Odierno with instigating a problem because he pointed out the truth is like charging the homeowner for sedition because he points out that his taxes are too high.  We have laid out options in the past making it clear that Iraqi forces and their commanders weren’t Iranian stooges.  The first step might be arresting all special forces, Quds, and IRG in Iraq (and this, not by U.S. forces, but by Iraqi forces).  Other steps could follow.

Kazimi has a blind spot concerning Iraqi politics – Iran.  He didn’t always have this weakness. Before he was the staunch admirer and advocate for Maliki, he saw things more clearly. Immediately after the Iraqi elections of 2005, he was understandably disheartened at the horrible loss suffered by Chalabi. Said Kazimi of the results: “Which leaves us, incidentally, with all the people Iran has been cultivating for decades as the soon-to-be-crowned heads of the Shia community.”

We agree with this assessment rather than his later ones, and believe that most, if not all, of the elected officials and even the current Shi’a administration are in the service Iran (including Maliki,  Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Moqtada al-Sadr, and religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has a following in Iran as well as Iraq and some minor theological disagreements with the Mullahs in Iran, and may not rise to the level of stooge, but at least has very close ties with Iran).

Sistani has recently said of the SOFA:

… the security pact being negotiated with Washington must not harm Iraq’s sovereignty, his office said on Wednesday.

“Ayatollah Ali Sistani insists that the sovereignty of Iraq not be touched and he is closely following developments until the final accord has been clarified,” said his office in the holy city of Najaf, AFP reported.

The statement was issued after a visit by two Shiite MPs.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani wields vast influence among the Iraqis and his explicit opposition could scuttle the deal.

Iraq wants a security agreement with the U.S. to include a clear ban on U.S. troops using Iraqi territory to attack Iraq’s neighbors, the government spokesman said Wednesday, three days after a dramatic U.S. raid on Syria.

The Captain’s Journal weighed in saying that the SOFA already prohibits raids like the one at the Syrian border under Article 4 [3]. Apparently, Sistani insists that it be made even clearer than it is now. Thus does Iran get their way, at least in part. If they cannot rid Iraq of U.S. troops, then they intend to ensure that the U.S. cannot effect operations against Iran or their boy-worshipers in Syria.

As for the good General Odierno, in addition to engaging in truth-telling concerning Iran’s influence in Iraq (The Captain’s Journal likes truth-telling), he has weighed in quantitatively concerning the SOFA.

In a blunt assessment, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, said Thursday that there is a 20 percent to 30 percent chance that the United States and Iraq won’t reach a deal to allow U.S. troops to operate in Iraq past Dec. 31.

On a scale of one to 10, “I’m probably a seven or eight that something is going to be worked out,” Gen. Odierno told The Washington Times during a visit to the 101st Airborne Division in Samarra, about 120 miles north of Baghdad. “I think it’s important for the government of Iraq. I think it’s important for security and stability here.”

Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, told The Times on Wednesday evening that he would be happy to host U.S. troops if the central government in Baghdad refuses to do so.

“The people of Kurdistan highly appreciate the sacrifices American forces have made for our freedom,” Mr. Barzani said at a reception in Washington after meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

And if the Kurds threaten to undermine the Iraqi Parliament and cut a deal with U.S. troops, that’s what they will do and Iraq won’t be able to stop them. And there is no love in Kurdistan for Iran or the brutal Iranian treatment of the Kurdish people in Iran.

But it would be an odd solution given the enormous mega-bases constructed for the balance of U.S. time in Iraq.   Whatever the outcome of the political machinations in Iraq, if U.S. troops are prohibited from interdicting, arresting and interrogating Iranian forces and destroying terrorist cells across the border in Syria, then the next several years in Iraq will suffer from the same lack of vision that has plagued it thus far.

Prior:

Analysis of U.S. Attack on Syrian Border

U.S. Combat Action Across the Syrian Border

Analysis of U.S. Attack on Syrian Border

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

Villagers in Syria gathered Monday near the coffins of people who died during an American Special Operations raid aimed at Iraqi militants on Sunday (Hussein Malla/Associated Press).

In U.S. Combat Action Across the Syrian Border we puzzled over why the attack on the suicide bomber network at the Syrian border had come now and not later (or not at all). The Captain’s Journal had recommended more than one year ago that these actions be taken. In a recent report it has been claimed that Syrian intelligence knew and approved of the raid.

Publicly America is still saying nothing but US officials are making intriguing claims off the record.

Now, a respected Israeli intelligence expert says he has been told the operation was carried out with the knowledge and co-operation of Syrian intelligence.

Ronen Bergman, author of The Secret War with Iran, makes the claim in the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper, based on briefings with two senior American officials, one of whom he says until recently “held a very high ranking in the Pentagon”.

Mr Bergman told Sky News the raid happened after America had lobbied Syria intensely to deal with an al Qaeda group conducting activity on the border.

The Syrians were unwilling to be seen publicly bowing to US pressure to tackle the group, he says, but in the end gave the Americans the green light to do so themselves.

He claims the Syrian government told the Americans: “If you want to do this, do it. We are going to give you a corridor and carte blanche. We will not harm your troops.”

Syria is still an apparatchik of the radical Iranian Mullahs, and we doubt this report (it sounds like something that DEBKAfile would publish, along with seeing pigs fly and green Martians landing). Damascus gets its orders from Tehran. It’s more likely that Syrian complaints before the U.N. are representative of its government’s position (and certainly of the Iranian position).

DAMASCUS (AFP) — Syria on Tuesday protested to the UN Security Council over what it branded a barbarous US helicopter raid on a village near the Iraqi border and decided to close two American institutions in Damascus.

The government also indicated Sunday’s deadly raid, launched from Iraq, could have repercussions on ties with Baghdad by postponing a November 12-13 meeting of the Syrian-Iraqi high commission.

Baghdad initially appeared to condone the raid by US troops as aimed against insurgents who infiltrate Iraq, before joining in condemnation of the assault on Tuesday.

In a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Syria protested “this aggressive act and expects the UN Security Council and member countries to assume their responsibility by preventing a repetition of this dangerous violation.”

It called for the Security Council “to hold the aggressor responsible for the deaths of the innocent Syrian nationals,” state news agency SANA reported, quoting the letter.

In New York, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said the letters asked Ban and the Security Council “to assume their responsibility” to prevent any repeat of “such aggressive and terrorist acts against a sovereign member of the United Nations.”

The next few paragraphs of this report are not only interesting, but very important moving forward with U.S. force presence in Iraq.

In Baghdad, the government slammed the assault, which an unnamed official in Washington said was believed to have killed Abu Ghadiya, “one of the most prominent foreign fighter facilitators in the region.”

“The Iraqi government rejects the US helicopter strike on Syrian territory, considering that Iraq’s constitution does not allow its land to be a base for launching attacks on neighbouring countries,” spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

“We call upon American forces not to repeat such activities and Baghdad has launched an investigation into the strike.”

On Monday, Dabbagh said the raid targeted a border area used by insurgents to launch attacks on Iraq.

Iraq’s parliament said it regretted that “the operation took place at a time when relations between Iraq and its neighbours are progressing.”

According to the draft Status of Forces Agreement for U.S. forces in Iraq, Article 4 [3], this strike would not be allowed or legal. This hasn’t stopped U.S. officials from anonymously claiming that they may happen again.

There has been continued official silence from the Pentagon and the State Department regarding the raid on Sunday … Despite Syrian outrage and the threat of retaliation by Syrian troops, officials did not rule out mounting such a raid again.

The official silence of DoD and the State Department precisely comports with counsel given here at The Captain’s Journal. As for the “anonymous officials” who go on record with the main stream media, they are cowards for not giving their names and should be fired for divulging any information at all. They are undermining the war effort. But that’s a different problem, one the DoD should be working to solve.

We don’t wish for a cease and desist order on U.S. operations across the Syrian border. In fact, this analysis calls into question the viability of the Iraq SOFA if it doesn’t allow raids such as this one (we have recommended seeing the long war as one without territorial borders). But the administration may have waited about four years too late to conduct cross border raids against Syria (for Sunni insurgents and terrorists) and Iran (for IRG, Quds and “special groups”). While a hard fought and bloody victory in Iraq has been essentially won by U.S. forces, our hands are tied under the new SOFA. Unfortunately, it’s a lame duck administration that is ordering the raids, and General Odierno, for all of the admiration that The Captain’s Journal has for him, might have been dealt a bad hand in the SOFA.

U.S. Combat Action Across the Syrian Border

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 12 months ago

The U.S. has launched limited kinetic operations inside the Syrian border to help destroy part of a foreign fighter logistics network.

U.S. military helicopters launched a rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as “serious aggression.”

A U.S. military official told the Associated Press the attack included a raid by special forces targeting a foreign-fighter network that travels through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area because Syria was out of the military’s reach.

“We are taking matters into our own hands,” the official told the AP on the condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an “uncontrolled” gateway for fighters entering Iraq …

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq’s western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries, but that Syria was a “different story.”

“The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,” Gen. Kelly said. “We still have a certain level of foreign-fighter movement.”

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

“There hasn’t been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,” Gen. Kelly said.

The foreign-fighters network sends militants from North Africa, the Persian Gulf states and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al Qaeda and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, the U.S. military official told the AP.

Sand Berms were an effective tool for isolating Haditha from foreign fighters, but such a concept will be difficult to implement along an entire border, and probably not nearly as effective. The strike directly against the logistics network, in fact, closely follows an approach recommended by The Captains Journal more than one year ago in Sun Tzu and the Art of Border Security.

The solution is not for Iraq to seal the borders. The solution involves intimidation of Iraq’s neighbors into sealing the borders. While the U.S. and Iraq are involved in talks with Iran and other neighbors, tried and tested military strategy suggests that bullying is the order of the day.

This bullying and intimidation might take the form of financial pressure (or conversely rewards for good behavior), market sanctions, air assets used against foreign fighters flowing in from across the borders, small incursions across the borders to destroy the sanctuaries of foreign fighters, or even larger air power involvement to destroy those sanctuaries and other supporting infrastructure.

The alternative is leaving these sanctuaries and flow paths in place, with no hope of the Iraqi security forces or U.S. forces being able to stop them (due to force size). Tested military strategy aims for the right target. In the case of the borders, the target is the offending country, not the Iraqi border proper. At the moment, the offending countries know that U.S. forces have restricted the battle space to Iraq proper. Either this changes — causing confusion and disaggregation among the foreign elements who wish to destabilize Iraq — or the borders will remain porous.

The question is why now? General David Petraeus has moved on to head up CENTCOM, and General Odierno is in charge of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Is this a sign of a shift in strategy to incorporate cross-border operations solely because Odierno is in charge? It’s possible, but not likely. Since this represents a fairly significant change in strategic approach with potential international repercussions, Petraeus would certainly have been involved in the decision-making, and likely the CJCS.

While it has been claimed in the past that Syria was doing a better job of deconstructing the terrorist networks inside her borders, this has mostly been theater, much as the Pakistani military operations in the FATA and NWFP are intended to be a show to keep U.S. dollars rolling in. The Iraqi insurgency was in many ways born in Damascus, and the constant flow of suicide bombers across the Syrian border has killed or injured at least 4000 Iraqis.

Since cross-border operations have been initiated, follow-through is absolutely necessary. Any capitulation by the Multinational Force, any show of weakness by the State Department, and any reluctance to continue with these operations in the future will spell the death of this strategy, and little if anything will have been gained.

With over 4000 American warriors having perished in Operation Iraqi Freedom, this approach should have been implemented long before now. Nothing needs to be said by the Administration or the State Department about this incident. In fact, nothing needs to be said by the Multinational Force. All spokesmen should respond to inquiries with “no comment.” Everything that needs to be communicated has been. The U.S. is willing to conduct kinetic operations inside Syrian territory. Silence is golden. Let the guns do the talking, as Sun Tzu smiles upon the plan.


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