Archive for the 'Iraq' Category



Long Live Kurdistan! An Emerging Counterweight in the Middle East?

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 7 months ago

As usual, Walter Russell Meade astutely notes the emerging Kurdish state in northeastern Syria:

Syria’s Kurds once waged a fruitless struggle with Damascus against discrimination and for basic rights like citizenship and official recognition of a distinct Kurdish language and culture. Now, however, the equation has changed, and large chunks of northeastern Syria are now under the sole control of the Kurds.

Back in July, Butcher Assad ceded the responsibility of governing and maintaining law and order in northeastern Syria to Kurdish leaders. In return they would keep out of the uprising. Syrian Kurdish leaders have taken this responsibility and run with it.

Of particular value is the accompanying map:

This illustrates the haphazard nature of current national boundaries in the Middle East, the result of post-World War I deals by the British and French.  Much of the conflict in the Middle East results from the incoherence of diverse ethnic groups arbitrarily compressed into a nation state.   As the Middle East continues to snowball into chaos and war, it may be that more sensible states will necessarily emerge.

Interestingly, Meade appears worried about the emergence (or re-emergence) of Kurdish nationalism in Syria and elsewhere, but from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests, the Kurds seem to be a natural ally of the U.S. in a critical part of the world where such allies are few and far between.

The Kurds are a distinct people group from the Arabs, Persians and Turks.   The Kurds in northern Iraq are one of the most pro-American populations in the entire Middle East and yet the Obama Administration has left them with little tangible support.   Syria presents an opportunity for the U.S. to establish a Kurdish enclave that can be a lever against an increasingly Islamist Turkey, as well as Iran, Iraq and whatever state emerges in the remainder of Syria.

The Kurds present an opportunity for the U.S. in Iraq as well.   After kicking ourselves out of Iraq last year, a new Romney Administration might take advantage of the autonomy of Kurds in Iraq to expand U.S. influence and presence there.  Iraq appears to be headed towards another civil war as the Shiite leadership in Baghdad increasingly excludes the Sunnis.   The U.S. could have a significant influence, through Iraqi Kurds, in curbing the excesses of the Shiite government or, failing that, to buttress the security and integrity of the Kudish region against pressure from the Baghdad government or Iran.

This is the kind of statecraft that the U.S. has seemingly forgotten.  We do not need infantry battalions on the ground nor billions of dollars in foreign aid to influence the direction of events in the Middle East.  The U.S. first needs to prove itself reliable as an ally (something that has suffered enormously under Obama).  Next, the U.S. must show the unique value it brings to vulnerable peoples like the Kurds:  expertise and training; economic development through private industry and trade; an unmatched (for now) diplomatic, military and humanitarian muscle available in times of need.   Like the Israelis, the Kurds have shown themselves to be fierce, independent, industrious, loyal and willing.   These are basic qualities necessary in an ally.   (Which is, perhaps, why, after 11 years, Afghanistan cannot be called an ally in any true sense of the word).

The Better War

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 1 month ago

There are a lot of Milbloggers, military aficionados, knowledgeable members of the military, and veterans of wars that can and often do weigh in on issues of policy, strategy, tactics, techniques and procedures.  But occasionally a real warrior-scholar steps into the fray, and we are always blessed with insights beyond what we could normally bring to the table.  Gian Gentile is just such a warrior-scholar.  I do not believe that a man has to have waged war in order to be a scholar and great historian on it, but with Gentile, we have the entire package.  He has both studied it and lived it.  He is both a friend and a genuinely good man, and we are richer for having his insights.

Gentile uses the occasion of a new book to give us insights into Vietnam, extending his lessons into Iraq and Afghanistan.  The book is Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, by Lewis Sorley.  Gentile begins his review thusly.

DID GENERAL Westmoreland lose Vietnam? The answer is no. But he did lose the war over the memory of the Vietnam War. He lost it to military historian Lewis Sorley, among others. In his recent biography of William C. Westmoreland, Sorley posits what might be called “the better-war thesis”—that a better war leading to American victory was available to the United States if only the right general had been in charge. The problem, however, is that this so-called better war exists mostly in the minds of misguided historians and agenda-driven pundits.

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In 2008, former secretary of defense Robert Gates chided the American military establishment, and the army in particular, for its affliction of “Next-War-itis.” Parts of the American military, lamented Gates, were too focused on fighting hypothetical future wars rather than the immediate wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the secretary also might have noted another dangerous affliction suffered by parts of the U.S. Army: “Past-War-itis.” Those afflicted with this disease obsess about a Vietnam defeat they believe should have been averted.

Sorley titles his book Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. This is “Past-War-itis” run amok. Is it possible that a single man actually lost the war and all of Vietnam? The question is pertinent today because many seeking to bring logic to the past ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have embraced the simplistic concept that to win those wars we just need to put the right guy in charge. One such example is the Council on Foreign Relations’ Max Boot, an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars … another example is writer Thomas Ricks, one of the purveyors of the better-war thesis for Iraq. Ricks wrote a glowing jacket endorsement for Sorley’s book, and he also noted on his military-affairs blog that it would probably end up as the “definitive” biography of Westmoreland. If one is interested, however, in a fair and balanced historical biography of William C. Westmoreland, Ricks is wildly off the mark.

The better-war thesis argues that there was a tactical panacea in Vietnam—a golden cipher of success—just waiting for the right general who could grasp and apply it. Instead, for the first three years of the war beginning in 1965, the U.S. Army was led by a fumbling general named William Childs Westmoreland, who did not crack the code that would have produced victory for the United States. Luckily, as the better-war thesis continues, once Westmoreland was replaced in the summer of 1968 by a savior general named Creighton Abrams, everything changed for the better, and Abrams’s army actually won the war in the South by 1971. The tragedy, according to this thesis, was that weak American politicians undermined the victory by eventually cutting off material support to South Vietnam after the United States departed in 1972.

Weak American politicians and an unwilling American public did indeed undermine the campaign, but I’ll basically state my agreement with Gian’s thesis on the better general, while I’ll also [later] demur with some of his specific findings on Vietnam and Iraq. We’ll continue with Gian’s observations.

The tale of a better war in Vietnam is seductive. It offers a simple explanation of an army redeemed through tactical innovation brought about by a savior general. But the United States did not lose the Vietnam War because it didn’t have the right general in charge at the start, or because of weak politicians toward the end of the war. Washington lost because it failed at strategy. It failed, in short, to discern that the war was unwinnable at a cost in blood and treasure that the American people would accept. There was never a “better war” in Vietnam.

THIS FAITH in the promise of better tactical wars with savior generals has emerged in full force in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In August 2007, as the violence in Iraq dropped precipitously, Clifford May, former New York Times reporter and current president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, identified Petraeus as the main cause of the reduction in violence. May wrote that this enlightened general replaced a failed general and then equipped his army in Iraq with new methods for conducting counterinsurgency. Later, in October 2009, Sorley penned a New York Times article that praised the counterinsurgency tactics of General Stanley McChrystal, then senior American commander in Afghanistan. May and Sorley saw Iraq and Afghanistan as better wars in the making based on the arrival of savior generals.

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But the conditions in Iraq that would lead to the lowering of violence in late 2007 were already in place. They included the spread of the Anbar Awakening and the decision of Shia militias to end attacks against Sunni civilians. Recently published databases such as the Iraq Body Count project’s show quite clearly that the sectarian violence peaked in December 2006 and then started to drop a good two months before Petraeus ever rode onto the scene with his new counterinsurgency manual in hand. Petraeus, the savior general, played only a marginal role in the greater series of events and circumstances that brought down the level of Iraqi violence.

I do indeed think that there was a “better war” in Vietnam – not in the sense that Gian critiques – but we’ll get to that later.  His observations on Iraq contain a number of things I have personally addressed with Gian, but it will be useful and productive to lay it out for closer inspection.

First, let’s address the so-called Anbar Awakening.  The Awakening – primarily in 2006 and beyond – was significant.  It certainly truncated the Marine Corps campaign for Anbar shorter than what it would have been.  But it was primarily a feature of Ramadi, and it was primarily a feature that obtained as a result of hard Marine Corps combat operations in the Anbar Province convincing the population that the victor would ultimately be the Marine Corps.

In Haditha late in 2006 and early in 2007 pacification is primarily attributed to a former officer in the Saddam Hussein army known simply as Colonel Faruq, with the power and charisma to bring the town to heel, along with sand berms around the city (constructed by the Marines) to prevent transnational insurgents from coming in from Syria and causing problems.

In Al Qaim, the fight against al Qaeda began in 2005 when Abu Ahmed took them on, lost, fled to the desert, and sought (and obtained) help from the U.S. Marines to defeat AQ.  In Fallujah in 2007, al Qaeda fighters were so firmly ensconced in the city that the people, fearing for their lives, were sending their own children out to mark and encircle Marine patrols with balloons (at the direction of the AQ fighters) so that the patrols could be targeted with crew served weapons.

It took the 2/6 Marines using extremely hard and aggressive tactics, coupled with local IPs and block captains, or Mukhtars, recruited from among the population, again using extremely hard and aggressive tactics, to drive AQ from the city.

My point is that invoking the Anbar Awakening has become in many ways symptomatic the campaign.  It’s as if without it, the Marines wouldn’t have been successful, but with it, Anbar was Shangri La.  Neither view is true.  Nor is it true that the Marines weren’t grateful for what awakening that did occur in various parts of Anbar.  The truth is more complex than simple narratives can possible convey.

Similarly, to say that the Shia militias decided to end attacks on the Sunnis misses the point, and in the superlative degree.  Perhaps they did, but this bit of historical myopia is tailor made for constructing false narratives about Baghdad and the Shia South.

In 2003 the 3/2 Marines had Moqtada al Sadr in their custody (this is as conveyed from the Battaion Commander to Andrew Lubin).  They were ordered to release him.  Then as the U.S. Marines (BLT 1/4) and U.S. Army Calvary swept through al-Najaf in 2004, for all practical purposes they obliterated the Sadrist militia.  The year of 2004 could have seen the virtual end of the organized Shi’a militia threat.  The 1/4 Marines had surrounded Moqtada al Sadr (see this John Burns interview, beginning at 17:20 into the discussion).  Sadr and his militia were essentially finished twice, once in 2003 and again in 2004, due to 3/2 and 1/4 Marine Corps combat operations.  Both times they were ordered to stand down.*

We could have chosen to kill Sadr, finish the Shi’a militia, and end the threat of a violent Shi’a uprising against the Sunni population.  We chose unwisely, and the order came down to let Sadr go.  To say that the Shi’a militia later decided to end attacks against the Sunnis is to miss the bigger picture, i.e., there wouldn’t have been any Sadr to command them, and likely no militia to speak of, had we engaged in the “better war” in Iraq when we had the chance.  Instead we had Paul Bremer, the British and horrible leadership.  It was a toxic combination, and it cost precious lives.

Meanwhile to the West, campaign command pulled the Marines back from Al Fajr I, creating the necessity for Al Fajr II, more loss of lives, more time wasted, and more legitimacy lost.  We didn’t fight the better war in Fallujah either.  And when we completed the job, we sent Marines on wasteful MEUs rather than into Fallujah to ensure stability, and thus the 2/6 Marines had to deal with an ensconced al Qaeda in 2007.

But something tells me what while Gian and I may disagree on the details of the campaign in Iraq, he would concur with my general theme.  Gian observes of Vietnam:

The better-war thesis argues that if only the U.S. Army had concentrated from the start on building up the South Vietnamese armed forces and winning the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people through limited applications of military force, we would have won the war. But the question remains: Precisely how could tactical adjustments early in the war have overpowered the political constraints placed on the army by the Johnson administration, which kept it from taking the fight to the North Vietnamese? Or the dysfunctional nature of the South Vietnamese government and military that precluded them from standing on their own? Or the declining popular support and political will in the United States as the war dragged on without a decent end in sight? Or, perhaps most importantly, how could tactical adjustments toward better methods of counterinsurgency have overpowered a communist enemy that fought the war totally while the United States fought it with limited means? In his Westmoreland biography, Sorley essentially ignores these questions.

Could the United States have prevailed in Vietnam? Yes, but it would have had to commit to staying there for generations, not a mere handful of years. The Vietnam War was an attempt at armed nation building for South Vietnam.

The better fight in Vietnam to which I earlier referred has nothing to do with staying for generations or armed nation-building.  These are the policy mistakes we have made in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We tend to see campaigns as failures unless they install governments and re-create populations that never pose another threat to the U.S.  But this isn’t reality, and this is certainly not the way the U.S. Marines think about these issues.

This last point isn’t mere inter-service rivalry.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard Marines express their desire to end campaigns quickly, and then go back and do it again in two, five or ten years if the need arises.

The better war to which I refer was alluded to by Gian when he posed the question, “Precisely how could tactical adjustments early in the war have overpowered the political constraints placed on the army by the Johnson administration, which kept it from taking the fight to the North Vietnamese?”

If this question isn’t explored, the book is essentially worthless no matter how many endorsements the author obtained.  Consider for a moment how we dealt with the threat from Germany during World War II.

The burning of Hamburg that night was remarkable in that I saw not many fires but one.  Set in the darkness was a turbulent dome of bright red fire, lighted and ignited like the glowing heart of a vast brazier.  I saw no flames, no outlines of buildings, only brighter fires which flared like yellow torches against a background of bright red ash.  Above the city was a misty red haze.  I looked down, fascinated but aghast, satisfied yet horrified.  I had never seen a fire like that before and was never to see its like again.

Roads melted, and some people were seen stuck in the melted asphalt, having put their hands out to try to get out, only to get their hands stuck as well.  Many were seen on fire, eventually melting in their own fat.  Eight square miles of Hamburg were completely burned out that night, killing 45,000 Germans.

If we had not done this, countless more American lives would have been lost, and the war may not have been won by the allies at all.  Destruction of the will and industry to wage war was necessary to end the war, whether this fits into the American clinical view of bloodless war or not.

Compare this with the decision to refuse to take the fight to the North Vietnamese.  Consider for a moment what would have happened if we had bombed the dikes and dams on the Red River Delta.  To be sure, the cost in human tragedy would have been staggering, but this is exactly the point.  We wish to wage war, but only partly.  The Viet Cong insurgency in the South was for all practical purposes defeated (in spite of the succor given to them by the North via the Ho Chi Minh trail), and it was the entrance of the NVA regulars that saved the insurgency.  A hobbled North Vietnam from having bombed the Red River Delta for year wouldn’t have been able to give the kind of assistance that the VC got.  It might have even brought down the regime.

Back to Iraq, if we had taken on the Syrian pre-deployment camps for AQ fighters (80 – 150 fighters per year crossed the border to fight in Iraq), and if we had fought the Iranian Quds forces by targeting them in Iraq and elsewhere (while we also engaged in a program of targeting Quds generals like Suleimani), and if we had allowed the Marines to kill Sadr and finish off his militia, and if we had allowed them to continue the sweep through Anbar like they started it in Fallujah, and if we had sent more Marines into Anbar instead of on wasteful MEUs … what would the campaign have looked like?

Gian continues:

In war, political and societal will are calculations of strategy, and strategists in Vietnam should have discerned early on that the war was simply unwinnable based on what the American people were willing to pay. Once the war started and it became clear that to prevail meant staying for an unacceptable amount of time, American strategy should have moved to withdraw much earlier than it did. Ending wars fought under botched strategy and policy can be every bit as damaging as the wars themselves.

The better-war thesis, with its seductively simple cause-and-effect schema, buries the reality of American strategic failure in Vietnam.

The campaign in Vietnam was unwinnable under the stipulations dictated by the President, Congress and perhaps the Secretary of Defense.  And the campaign was unwinnable if winning was defined as building an American-like democracy (in which Gian is correct, taking multiple decades of toil).  On this Gian and I concur.  The proposed end was wrong, and the means weren’t defined in a manner that matched the proposed end.

Gian goes on to supply data that contradicts Sorley’s theses.  Again, I concur.  Westmoreland didn’t lose the war in Vietnam any more than Creighton Abrams could have won it with alternative tactics.  Tactics, techniques and procedures don’t replace strategy, and they certainly don’t replace policy.

The “better” general in Iraq didn’t win Iraq.  As we have [briefly] discussed, the hard work of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps was done before and during the tenure of all the generals who commanded the campaign.  It was a matter of time, endurance and professionalism by the U.S. military.  To the extent that we attained success in Iraq, it is attributable to the U.S. military.  To the extent that we failed in Iraq, it is attributable to lack of vision or clear policy by the administration(s), e.g., the failure to fight Iraq as a regional war, the support of corrupt Iranian apparatchiks like Nouri al-Maliki, the failure to secure the borders, the engagement of protracted nation-building, etc.

Afghanistan is lost due to the same reasons.  I generally give the U.S. military more credit and attribute more capabilities to them than does Gian.  But one thing the U.S. military cannot pull off is replacement for national policy.  Gian reminds us again that seeking out military heroes to do just this is a distinctly American pastime, but it is mistaken and dangerous, at least for the thinking men among us.

* Thanks to  Wes Morgan and Andrew Lubin for assisting me to get the Marine Corps units and dates correct regarding operations in 2003 and 2004.

U.S. Foreign Policy Triumphs Again! Turkey Fills the Vacuum In Iraq

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 5 months ago

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the U.S. could not figure out how to negotiate an extension of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, leading to the “premature evacuation” of our forces in two months time, the Turks have decided to make it clear to the world (and, more importantly, the regional powers that matter) the decidedly unmanly U.S. foreign policy.

Turkey has apparently decided that it is really just too inconvenient to keep dodging back and forth across the northern Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdish militants.  Instead, according to this news item from August (which seems to have slipped under the collective radar), the Turks are fortifying bases in northern Iraq and settling in for a seemingly long stay.

ANKARA, Turkey, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Turkey targeted Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq for a second day, broadening the reach of its fight against the rebels, officials said.

The attacks Thursday came as Turkey said it’s turning intelligence outposts into operations garrisons to fight the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as PKK, to northern Iraq, where Turkey has 2,500 troops.

Turkey, which has had intelligence outposts in the region since 1995, will transform a Bamerni garrison into a logistics center for supporting major operations against PKK, Today’s Zaman reported.

The publication, citing sources, said fortification of outposts would enable Turkish troops in Iraq to stay there longer to search for members of the outlawed PKK. Bombings are to continue and units from Sirnak province will be deployed in the region, officials said.

Today’s Zaman did not give casualty figures in the latest attacks.

The 25 cross-border operations Turkey has conducted so far have been short because of pressure from allies and regional governments, but sources told Today’s Zaman Turkey would now continue operations as long as necessary to end the threat of terrorism in northern Iraq.

After a regular meeting Thursday, led by President Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s National Security Council said it’s embarking on “more effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”

About 20 million of Turkey’s 74 million residents are Kurds, living mainly in the southeast near the country’s borders with Iraq and Iran, and the PKK’s fight for Kurdish independence has claimed 40,000 lives in the past three decades.

There are so many knife wounds in such a short story.  The actions of Turkey here could not present a stronger contrast with U.S. actions if Hollywood wanted to script it.

First off, the Turks do not seem to have learned that Iraq is a sovereign state and that any bases in Iraq used to pursue Turkey’s enemies must be subject to arduous and infinite negotiations, full of lavish offers of foreign aid and support.    How long did Turkey negotiate with Nouri al-Maliki in order to get these basing rights in a supposedly sovereign Iraq?  The article is silent but it is a safe bet that there were no negotiations.   Turkey essentially told the Iraqis, “We’re doing this.  Get used to it.”

Next, what about immunity for Turkish soldiers from prosecution under Iraqi laws?   Obama has told us that those Iraqis are absolute sticklers about this sort of thing.  Why the Iraqi people would never allow foreign soldiers on their soil who can violate Iraqi law with impunity.   The U.S. just couldn’t get that point resolved, so time to pack up in a hurry and get out of Dodge.    Somehow, though, it doesn’t look like the Turks are at all worried about Iraqi prosecutors putting Turkish soldiers in jail.

And how about that nasty Turkish attitude about a few, measly PKK fighters taking shelter in Iraq?  Kurds make up over 25% of Turkey’s population and have historic claims to parts of Turkey, Iraq and Iran.   Arguably, the Kurds were robbed of their own state when the victors of World War I split up the Ottoman Empire.   Unlike the U.S. in Pakistan, Turkey seems to have no problem treating the Iraqi border as purely optional and, now, it seems that part of Iraq itself will become effectively Turkish until the PKK is sorted out.   If that ever happens.

And what to make of Turkey’s methods for defeating the PKK?  It sure does not sound like Turkey is establishing these bases in Iraq in order to win the hearts and minds of PKK guerillas.   I sure hope that Turkish forces are going to be culturally sensitive and not commit any grievous offenses like flatulence in the presence of Iraqi Kurds, but we cannot expect that Turkish leaders will be nearly as enlightened as American leadership in this regard.  Instead, it appears that the Turks are intent on finding and killing as many of the PKK militants as possible, hence the talk by President Gul about “effective and decisive strategy in the fight against terrorism.”   Sounds way too warlike.   Not at all a COIN-centric policy.

Nonetheless, these actions by Turkey should not diminish the crowning achievement announced by President Obama that U.S. forces will be completely withdrawn from Iraq by January 1, 2012 and the war officially “over.”

Funny.  Wasn’t there a time in U.S. history when a war was not “over,” it was “won” ?

UPDATE: Michael Rubin has just posted this damning bit of information that relates how the once openly-pro American Kurds of Iraq have now (correctly) read the complete collapse of American foreign policy in the Middle East and are embracing the Iranian Regime:

The Iraqi Kurds have prided themselves on being America’s allies throughout the Iraq war and its aftermath. Repeatedly, regional leader Masud Barzani​ told visiting American generals and dignitaries that the Kurdish region was the most pro-American in Iraq.

The Kurdish authorities, however, have never made ideological alliances, but are the ultimate realists: Barzani forms partnerships with whomever he believes can most fulfill his own interests. With the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, it is clear that anyone with an ounce of self-preservation is rushing to cut deals with the Iran. After all, the most common Iranian influence theme, Iraqi politicians say, is that “You may like the Americans better, but we will always be your neighbors.” Hence, on October 29, Barzani traveled to Iran where, on Sunday, he warmly embraced both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. According to press reports, Barzani declared, “We will not forget the assistance of the Iranian people and government during the hard times passed by Iraq. To preserve our victory we need Iranian assistance and guidance….”

Everyone in the region knows that the way Iraqis negotiate is to state extreme positions as a deadline approaches, and then go behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room to hash out agreements. The Iranians often quip that they play chess while the Americans play checkers. No one expected Obama to forfeit before the game actually began. But, alas, now that he has done so, he will discover just how deeply he has lost Iraq and Iraqis.

The only consolation I can take from this is that Obama’s replacement in 2013 may be able to undo some of the terrific damage done U.S. interests in the world.   The Kurds and Iraqis at large may quickly come to regret making any deals with the Iranian Regime and may be looking for help in 2013 once the U.S. regains its senses.

Exit From Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 5 months ago

So this is the way it comes to an end?

Throughout the summer and autumn, as talks on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq foundered, President Barack Obama and his point man on Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden, remained aloof from the process, not even phoning top Iraqi officials to help reach a deal, according to logs released by the U.S. Embassy here.

The omission is an unusual one, given the high priority that U.S. officials had given to achieving an agreement for some sort of residual U.S. presence in Iraq after the Dec. 31 pullout deadline set in a 2008 pact between the two countries. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other senior Pentagon officials spoke often about the need for an agreement in a pivotal country in a volatile region and insisted talks were continuing up until Friday, when Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be coming home before the end of December.

A listing of direct conversations provided by the embassy — drawn, the embassy said, from the White House website — indicates that Obama had no direct contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki between Feb. 13, when he telephoned the prime minister, until Friday, when he called al-Maliki to tell him U.S. troops would be withdrawn by Dec. 31.

Also absent for nearly the entire year was Biden. According to the official listing, Biden telephoned al-Maliki on Dec. 21, the day al-Maliki formed a new government, and visited here Jan. 18, but had no direct contact after that date, according to the official listing.

U.S. Embassy officials, asked in July whether Biden was coming to help secure the deal, which military officers said needed to be concluded by July 31 for planning purposes, said the vice president was too busy trying to end the donnybrook in Congress over raising the national debt ceiling to visit Iraq.

On Tuesday, a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, denied that Obama and Biden had not talked to al-Maliki during the negotiations. But he did not respond to a request for the dates of conversations between the president and al-Maliki.

So I decided to hop on over to Abu Muqawama’s place at CNAS (for the first time in about a year) and see if he had anything to say about Iraq.  He had this to say.  “Having pretty carefully considered the arguments for and against leaving troops in Iraq beyond this year, I ultimately found Doug Ollivant’s argument to be the most persuasive. So I support the president’s decision to end U.S. military involvement in the war in Iraq.”  Douglas Ollivant had this to say.

Let me be clear. The United States should have no — zero — troops in Iraq on Jan. 1, 2012, when the Status of Forces Agreement signed between the two countries requires a complete withdrawal (this number excepts, of course, a small military presence at the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Military Cooperation — a presence that exists in almost every embassy worldwide). This is not about delivering on an Obama campaign promise or saving money. This is about doing the right thing for both the United States and Iraq. Although the White House’s proposal to keep approximately 3,000 troops in Iraq is better than the rumored 17,000 desired by the commander of the U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin, maintaining any American presence is simply the wrong decision for both parties.

Despite having both a political problem and a terrorism problem, Iraq is now a reasonably stable country that must have the opportunity to chart its own course.

Now that Ollivant has been “clear,” let me also be clear.  Maliki’s puppet-masters are the Mullah’s in Iran.  Regardless of what one thinks of OIF1, OIF2 and OIF3 were necessary.  And a certain Marine and I had a conversation the other day about the 100+ foreign fighters flowing across the Syrian border per month and Iraq as a terrorist haven in 2007 during the height of the surge (when he deployed to Fallujah).  He also remarked to me about the poverty he witnessed, and the wealth that it takes to arm a society.

“As little money as I make, I am rich compared to most Iraqis,” he said.  “Yet they had AKs, handguns, explosive ordnance, and RPGs.  The RPG is an EFP device.  Do you know how much it costs to make and deploy one of those?  The weapons came in from Iran.  Typical Iraqis could not possibly have had the size caches we seized of those weapons after combat ops.  Thousands upon thousands – just in our AO.  You just can’t imagine the scope.  The money doesn’t exist.  These people don’t have it, and neither did the foreign fighters we killed, although the foreign fighters had better equipment than we did.”

He continued, “So do you think we finished the job?”  “No,” I said.  “We are leaving Iran empowered.  We could have enjoined the covert war they declared against the U.S., but we refused to do it.”  “I agree,” he replied, somewhat wistfully.  And we continued to discuss the possibilities that even a small force in Iraq could accomplish with the will to do it at the senior administration level.

And now I find that the President is busy printing and spending trillions upon trillions of dollars and throwing it away on worthless projects, while the Vice President is busy attempting to raise the debt ceiling so that our children and children’s children can be impoverished and bankrupt, while we ignored Iraq and Iran, refusing even to invite the PM for a visit so that we could strong arm him and negotiate a new SOFA.

Children.  Children in the White House, being led by a senior child, surrounded by children for policy advisers, being advised by children at think tanks who have absolutely no idea whatsoever of the ramifications of their counsel forward in time ( and who quote even more childish and un-serious think tanks for their sources).

Please, dear God, please, send someone serious to help these people.  Gravitas, please?

U.S. Warning to Iran

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 6 months ago

From The Washington Post:

The United States will continue to support Iraq as it moves toward democracy, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday as she wrapped up a weeklong overseas trip.

Without mentioning Iran by name, Clinton warned Iraq’s neighbors against meddling and said the U.S. and Iraq would remain close allies.

“As we open this new chapter in a relationship with sovereign Iraq, to the Iraqis we say: America is with you as you take your next steps in your journey to secure your democracy,” she said.

“And to countries in the region, especially Iraqi’s neighbors, we want to emphasize that America will stand with our allies and friends, including Iraq, in defense of our common security and interests.”

She said the United States would have a “robust, continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region.”

The problem with Iran began more than a quarter century ago, and for Operation Iraqi Freedom, even before the campaign began.  We could have addressed the present problem, at least in part, when Maliki’s rule was hanging by a thread and Iraqi lawmakers were waiting to see who the U.S. would support.  While I argued for support of Allawi, the U.S. policy-makers decided to support the Iranian apparatchik Maliki.  At that point we may as well have withdrawn troops, and afterward a downward spiral took effect in Iraq, from a poor status of forces agreement to increased Iranian hegemony.

To be sure, the Obama administration could have projected strength, but did not and will not, and hence Maliki feels even more emboldened to follow the dictates of his puppet masters in Iran.  While the Obama administration did nothing whatsoever to help the situation, the problem began years ago with our refusal to engage Iran in the war that they declared on us.

I haven’t recommended full scale conventional warfare with Iran.  That’s clearly not necessary.  But what is necessary – support for the Green movement, a campaign of assassinations against Quds commanders, fomenting an insurgency within Iran, and robust covert warfare against Iranian forces around the Middle East, from Quds forces in Iraq, to Hezbollah in Lebanon – will not happen because neither the Obama administration nor the Bush administration has or had the stomach for winning the global war on terrorism.

The Iranian Mullahs know that.  We don’t even have the sway left in Iraq to have gotten a renewed status of forces agreement that prevents our Soldiers from being held on charges in Iraqi courts, much less to prevent the expansion of Iranian power in the Middle East.

Thus, this warning to Iran must seem like the silliest, most self-delusional piece of propaganda ever to be issued from the offices of the State Department.  We have sunk to a new low.  We now traffic in complete lies without  the slightest concern over the fact that not even the enemy believes us any more.

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

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 6 months 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?

Paul Krugman’s Shame

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 7 months ago

Paul Krugman bears his soul to us on the events of 9/11 and thereafter.  He sets the framework for his short post with his title: The Years of Shame.

Is it just me, or are the 9/11 commemorations oddly subdued?

Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. Te (sic) atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of other people behaved badly. How many of our professional pundits — people who should have understood very well what was happening — took the easy way out, turning a blind eye to the corruption and lending their support to the hijacking of the atrocity?

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I’m not going to allow comments on this post, for obvious reasons.

Good grief.  A columnist for the New York Times leaves a spelling error in his post, and the Times runs it anyway.  And Krugman doesn’t seem to care enough to correct it.  Is it me or do many bloggers care more about their prose than the New York Times, and isn’t this odd?  Actually, I don’t think it’s me, and it’s not really that odd.

But on to the main point.  Let’s do this thing about Iraq … one … more … time.  My own son did a combat tour of Iraq, so I have the right to say just about anything I want to concerning Operation Iraqi Freedom (though not as much right as those families who paid the ultimate sacrifice).  Knowing something about nuclear technology and thus knowing the kind of infrastructure it takes to accomplish enrichment, I was ambivalent about the invasion (we call this phase Operation Iraqi Freedom I).  With Michael Fumento and others, I know that chemical weapons are a poor substitute for military weapons (conventional ordnance is much more effective), and so that justification failed with me.

But whatever policy differences or questions I might have had with that phase of the campaign, there was no vacillation in my support for Operation Iraqi Freedom II (generally taken to be late 2003 – 2006) and III (2007 and on, i.e., surge and post-surge).  During the height of the conflict, eighty to one hundred foreign fighters per month crossed the Jordanian and [mainly] Syrian borders to fight the U.S. in Iraq.

Al Qaeda poured an immense amount of capital into the campaign in Iraq, including money, philosophical  underpinnings and personnel.  Their writers went to work trying to justify suicide as a legitimate form of jihad, they spent a large amount of the monies donated by wealthy Saudis on Iraq, and they lost thousands of fighters who would otherwise have been able to fight in Afghanistan or come to the shores of the U.S.  And I don’t buy the notion that Iraq was their raison d’être.  I believe that they would have fought us anyway, anywhere.

Iraq was a quagmire for al Qaeda.  It was a tremendous loss for them, regardless of the final disposition of the campaign for Iraq.  I am proud of the role played by the American Soldier in Iraq.  As a Marine father, I am proud of the role played by the U.S. Marines in the pacification of the Anbar Province.  The ridiculous notions of … flipping … a tribe, as if this is some sort of parlor game, is a poor excuse for explaining what happened there.  More than 1000 Marines perished in Iraq, and years of fighting set the preconditions for “flipping” those tribes.

I am proud of the first responders on 9/11.  I am proud of how our nation responded, and I am proud of the contribution our warriors have made and are making to Operation Enduring Freedom.  I am proud of the strengthening of our nation’s security apparatus since 9/11, and have noted that much more is needed.  I am particularly proud of God’s grace to this country in the days since 9/11.  Lastly, I am proud of the combat tour my son did in the U.S. Marines.

Isn’t it telling that Krugman is ashamed of the days since 9/11?  It demarcates world views, no?  Is it just me and is it odd that this seems more like Paul Krugman’s shame than America’s shame?  I don’t think it’s just me, and it really isn’t all that odd.

Unlike the coward Krugman, I’ll leave comments open on this post.

The Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshabandi Movement

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 8 months ago

The Combating Terrorism Sentinel has an extremely interesting and well-informed piece entitled The JRTN Movement and Iraq’s Next Insurgency.  It’s well worth the reading time invested in it, and it explains why we no longer need to be in Iraq at all without significant changes to the Status of Forces Agreement where we would be allowed to operate more autonomously than we currently are.  I’ll leave the balance of the report to the reader, but the money quote (for the point I’m trying to make) is this.

JRTN’s branding and messaging has yielded a number of significant advantages for the group. One private security analyst with access to U.S. and Iraqi Security Force officers stated: “At the operational level, JRTN’s appearance of a religious connection gives it credibility in the eyes of the population and therefore increases the support offered and reduces the interference by the local population.” The analyst noted that JRTN’s stated “policy of only attacking the ‘occupiers’ and not the local population (whatever their ethnic or religious group) makes it one of the least ‘interfered with’ terrorist groupings. The population turned its back on many of the foreign fighters but JRTN are still seen as Iraqis first.” In areas along the federal-Kurdish line of control, JRTN’s anti-Kurdish agitation may have assisted its penetration of Sunni security forces. Kurdish factions recently accused JRTN of influencing the 12th Iraqi Army division in southern Kirkuk and flying JRTN’s flag on Iraqi Army vehicles during anti-Kurdish protests. Through sympathizers in the security forces, JRTN is assumed by U.S. officers to have at least some basic insight into the workings of joint U.S.-Iraqi operations centers, including Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and signals intelligence.

The apparent focus on U.S. forces (plus its capacity to intimidate local judges and call upon tribal support) has earned the movement sympathetic treatment by some parts of the Iraqi security forces and judiciary. One intelligence officer from Diyala noted that his Iraqi counterparts “rarely stated in public that JRTN was much of a threat and every time we detained a JRTN leader, we had to fight tooth and nail to keep them detained. In other words they did not accept that JRTN was a serious risk to the [government of Iraq], only to Americans.” JRTN appears to have successfully used loopholes in Iraqi law that means “resistance activities” are not treated as seriously as crimes with Iraqi victims. According to one analyst, this legal aspect “is one reason that [JRTN] is deliberately not leaving a trail of evidence and claims connecting it to car bombings or assassinations that target Iraqis.”

The Iraqis want our logistical capabilities, our MEDEVAC capabilities, our stability, our discipline, and so on.  They don’t want us to operate in such a manner that we quell an insurgency, or target Iranian forces who destabilize Iraq.  We should be killing insurgents, and instead we are still tipping our hat to incarceration of insurgents, which we have demonstrated is never a successful strategy in counterinsurgency (kill them or let them go – prisons are counterproductive in COIN).  And with the current state of affairs in Iraq, we can’t even do that against favored insurgent groups.

So be it.  It’s time for the Iraqis to go it alone.  Our military forces shouldn’t play second fiddle to anyone.

The Long Term Effects Of Prisons In Counterinsurgency

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 10 months ago

From Al Arabiya:

Corrupt administrators, bribery and political connections are all reasons for the continuous series of prison breakouts, many involving Al Qaeda members who later joined militias.

Around 4,000 militants and terrorists have escaped detention with inside help since 2006, the UAE-based newspaper, The National, reported figures compiled by Iraqi Reconciliation Society (IRS), an independent organization the monitors the country’ jails.

Most of the escapes occurred in Baghdad, the capital that is considered to be the instable and unsecure part in the country, IRS records show.

On May 20, five members from the Mahdi Army broke out of the Taji prison west of Baghdad as they were being transferred to a detention centre in the capital.

In Basra, the extreme south of the country, a parliamentary committee was set up to examine the escape of 12 Al Qaeda figures, some facing death sentences, from an interrogation center in the southern province on January 12.

Suzan Al Saad, a committee member, said the probe had “led directly to senior officials in the prime minister’s office who planned the escape” from Basra.

Information leaked to the media about the committee’s findings said Abdul Karim Abdul Fadel, security adviser to the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, allegedly helped Al Qaeda members escape.

Also named was Brigadier Ali Fadel Omran, a Baghdad military commander, in connection with the escape. He fled the country just as the parliamentary report was being completed.

“There were high-level security officers connected directly to the prime minister’s office who were coming and going from the prison compound and who had no reason to be there because they had no formal involvement in dealing with those prisoners,” Ms. Saad said in an interview.

Haider Al Saadi, a justice ministry spokesman, said in statement after the Taji escape that “weak and corrupted” administrators had let “a large number” of detainees break out.

The ministry’s spokesman also spoke of the ministry’s “serious concerns” over sectarianism among prison officials and said staff was susceptible to “political pressure.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another justice ministry official said there were prisoners with political connections who were “untouchable” while in custody and who eventually were set free because of those connections.

“Some of these prisoners are militants, including Al Qaeda, who enjoy support from political parties,” the official said. He insisted the justice ministry was working to tackle the corruption, which he said had been allowed to flourish for years under previous governments.

Iraq took control of jails previously run by the US military. The last prison under US control, Camp Cropper in Baghdad, was transferred to the Iraqi authorities in July 2010, although some detainees remain in American custody.

The prison breakout series have intensified with the US forces pulling out at the end of the year.

Stop and let that information wash over you again.  Approximately 4000 insurgents have escaped from Iraqi prisons since 2006.  The equivalent of four Battalions.  In addition to not taking the Iranian influence in the region seriously by engaging Iran in the covert war it was waging against both Iraq and the U.S., we (and Iraq) have left Iraq vulnerable to four Battalions of insurgents because of our adolescent belief in the rehabilitative powers of incarceration.

It isn’t surprising, this notion that prisons can effect proper counterinsurgency, given that most of the hard core advocates of population-centric, nation-building COIN are stronger believers in psychology and sociology than in theology.  But in the end, evil is a moral problem, not an epistemological one, and you cannot educate or rehabilitate evil out of mankind.

So the reader knows what I advocate.  Kill or release, but capture is counterproductive.  That offends the sensibilities of many, and so we play this silly game of incarceration – until, that is, the insurgents get released.  And then it’s no longer silly, because by releasing them we continue to allow evil people to perpetrate evil acts.  But by the time this evil would affect our sensibilities, we are long gone and don’t have to watch.  We trade off one thing for another, but the Iraqis are no better for our trade-off.  And the job is not done.

Prior: Prisons in Counterinsurgency Category

The Death of Bin Laden And the Myth of ‘American Empire’

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 11 months ago

I can’t believe I am going to give space to this Article by Timothy Carney in The Washington Examiner, but, as it seems to represent a growing feeling out there, even among conservatives, Mr. Carney’s article may be useful in clarifying some issues that get awfully foggy when something happens like the killing of Bin Laden.

Mr. Carney’s piece posits these incredible insights:

The United States’ long, bloody occupation of Afghanistan did not significantly help the U.S. find and kill Osama bin Laden, current evidence indicates. Neither did the invasion and occupation of Iraq help in decapitating al Qaeda, it appears.

The means of bin Laden’s demise, and the location of his hideout, both undermine the arguments offered for the last decade by hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.

Somehow, Carney (and others) have been trying to turn the killing of Osama Bin Laden into more than just the swing of the executioner’s axe.  But no matter how it is spun, there is no, larger lesson here.  Bin Laden was a crazed beast that needed to be hunted down and terminated.   If there is a larger lesson, it is not in the killing of Bin Laden, per se, but in the means– the necessity for utmost secrecy, to keep even a whiff of the operation from a purported ally, Pakistan, and to covertly violate Pakistani airspace to a location deep within its borders, some 40 miles outside of its capital.  But for Carney and his fellow travelers the killing of Bin Laden is an opportunity to beat the drum for retreat, defeat and America-bashing thrown in for good measure.

Rather than produce any, real evidence, Carney puts together a straw man:  “hawks who claimed an invasion of Iraq and an imperial presence in Afghanistan would help America smash al Qaeda.”   I challenge Mr. Carney to produce the quotes of these so-called “hawks” that “for the last decade” have been calling for “an imperial presence” in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

This notion of an Imperial America needs to be stamped out on a regular basis.   It seems to be a habitat for those determined to blame America for all that is wrong in the world and determined, furthermore, to reduce the U.S. to a whimpering shell.   Victor Davis Hanson, the classical historian and Hoover Institute resident scholar, has said many times, the U.S. is not an Imperial power nor does it maintain an “Empire” in any, proper understanding of those terms.  From his 2002 opinion piece on the subject:

But if we really are imperial, we rule over a very funny sort of empire.

We do not send out proconsuls to reside over client states, which in turn impose taxes on coerced subjects to pay for the legions. Instead, American bases are predicated on contractual obligations — costly to us and profitable to their hosts. We do not see any profits in Korea, but instead accept the risk of losing almost 40,000 of our youth to ensure that Kias can flood our shores and that shaggy students can protest outside our embassy in Seoul.

Athenians, Romans, Ottomans, and the British wanted land and treasure and grabbed all they could get when they could. The United States hasn’t annexed anyone’s soil since the Spanish-American War — a checkered period in American history that still makes us, not them, out as villains in our own history books. Most Americans are far more interested in carving up the Nevada desert for monster homes than in getting their hands on Karachi or the Amazon basin. Puerto Ricans are free to vote themselves independence anytime they wish.

Imperial powers order and subjects obey. But in our case, we offer the Turks strategic guarantees, political support — and money — for their allegiance. France and Russia go along in the U.N. — but only after we ensure them the traffic of oil and security for outstanding accounts. Pakistan gets debt relief that ruined dot-coms could only dream of; Jordan reels in more aid than our own bankrupt municipalities.

****

Empires usually have contenders that check their power and through rivalry drive their ambitions. Athens worried about Sparta and Persia. Rome found its limits when it butted up against Germany and Parthia. The Ottomans never could bully too well the Venetians or the Spanish. Britain worried about France and Spain at sea and the Germanic peoples by land. In contrast, the restraint on American power is not China, Russia, or the European Union, but rather the American electorate itself — whose reluctant worries are chronicled weekly by polls that are eyed with fear by our politicians. We, not them, stop us from becoming what we could.

The Athenian ekklesia, the Roman senate, and the British Parliament alike were eager for empire and reflected the energy of their people. In contrast, America went to war late and reluctantly in World Wars I and II, and never finished the job in either Korea or Vietnam. We were likely to sigh in relief when we were kicked out of the Philippines, and really have no desire to return. Should the Greeks tell us to leave Crete — promises, promises — we would be more likely to count the money saved than the influence lost. Take away all our troops from Germany and polls would show relief, not anger, among Americans. Isolationism, parochialism, and self-absorption are far stronger in the American character than desire for overseas adventurism. Our critics may slur us for “overreaching,” but our elites in the military and government worry that they have to coax a reluctant populace, not constrain a blood-drunk rabble.

***

Most empires chafe at the cost of their rule and complain that the expense is near-suicidal. Athens raised the Aegean tribute often, and found itself nearly broke after only the fifth year of the Peloponnesian War. The story of the Roman Empire is one of shrinking legions, a debased currency, and a chronically bankrupt imperial treasury. Even before World War I, the Raj had drained England. In contrast, America spends less of its GNP on defense than it did during the last five decades. And most of our military outlays go to training, salaries, and retirements — moneys that support, educate, and help people rather than simply stockpile weapons and hone killers. The eerie thing is not that we have 13 massive $5 billion carriers, but that we could easily produce and maintain 20 more.

***

Our bases dot the globe to keep the sea-lanes open, thugs and murderers under wraps, and terrorists away from European, Japanese, and American globalists who profit mightily by blanketing the world with everything from antibiotics and contact lenses to BMWs and Jennifer Lopez — in other words, to keep the world safe and prosperous enough for Michael Moore to rant on spec, for Noam Chomsky to garner a lot of money and tenure from a defense-contracting MIT, for Barbra Streisand to make millions, for Edward Said’s endowed chair to withstand Wall Street downturns, for Jesse Jackson to take off safely on his jet-powered, tax-free junkets.

***

Intervention is supposed to be synonymous with exploitation; thus the Athenians killed, enslaved, exacted, and robbed on Samos and Melos. No one thought Rome was going into Numidia or Gaul — one million killed, another million enslaved — to implant local democracy. Nor did the British decide that at last 17th-century India needed indigenous elections. But Americans have overthrown Noriega, Milosevic, and Mullah Omar and are about to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, to put in their places elected leaders, not legates or local client kings. Instead of the much-rumored “pipeline” that we supposedly coveted in Afghanistan, we are paying tens of millions to build a road and bridges so that Afghan truckers and traders won’t break their axles.

In that regard, America is also a revolutionary, rather than a stuffy imperial society. Its crass culture abroad — rap music, Big Macs, Star Wars, Pepsi, and Beverly Hillbillies reruns — does not reflect the tastes and values of either an Oxbridge elite or a landed Roman aristocracy. That explains why Le Monde or a Spanish deputy minister may libel us, even as millions of semi-literate Mexicans, unfree Arabs, and oppressed southeast Asians are dying to get here. It is one thing to mobilize against grasping, wealthy white people who want your copper, bananas, or rubber — quite another when your own youth want what black, brown, yellow, and white middle-class Americans alike have to offer. We so-called imperialists don’t wear pith helmets, but rather baggy jeans and backwards baseball caps. Thus far the rest of the globe — whether Islamic fundamentalists, European socialists, or Chinese Communists — has not yet formulated an ideology antithetical to the kinetic American strain of Western culture.

Much, then, of what we read about the evil of American imperialism is written by post-heroic and bored elites, intellectuals, and coffeehouse hacks, whose freedom and security are a given, but whose rarified tastes are apparently unshared and endangered. In contrast, the poorer want freedom and material things first — and cynicism, skepticism, irony, and nihilism second. So we should not listen to what a few say, but rather look at what many do.

Critiques of the United States based on class, race, nationality, or taste have all failed to explicate, much less stop, the American cultural juggernaut. Forecasts of bankrupting defense expenditures and imperial overstretch are the stuff of the faculty lounge. Neither Freud nor Marx is of much help. And real knowledge of past empires that might allow judicious analogies is beyond the grasp of popular pundits.

Add that all up, and our exasperated critics are left with the same old empty jargon of legions and gunboats.

Hard to say it any better than that.

Moving on to the other silly notions in Carney’s piece,he writes:

Bin Laden’s capture provides no vindication to those hawks who argued that invading Iraq would provide a treasure trove of intelligence on al Qaeda, nor those who insisted that 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan were a key part of our war on the terrorist network.

“We found bin Laden in Pakistan without troops on the ground,” counterterrorism expert Michael Cohen, formerly of the New America Foundation, told me. “We didn’t need troops on the ground to carry out a very successful operation.”

The location of bin Laden’s compound — a few hundred yards from a Pakistani military school — also deflates another argument of hawks. President Bush said in April that a U.S. exit from Afghanistan would “create a safe haven for terrorists.”

This notion underestimates the capabilities of American intelligence and military forces: Our drones, spies and special forces can strike basically anywhere. But it also ignores the ability of terrorists to hide in plain sight: Bin Laden was not stowing away in some clandestine cave in the wild regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan. He was living within shouting distance of Pakistan’s West Point, possibly since his compound was built in 2005.

Liberal blogger and former hawk Matt Yglesias made this same point: “Trying to physically conquer and occupy territory in order to prevent it from being used by terrorists is extremely difficult, oftentimes counterproductive, unnecessary, and offers no guarantee of success.”

Who ever argued that invading Iraq would provide “a treasure trove of intelligence on Al Qaeda” ? The 2003 invasion of Iraq was always about the removal of a crazed dictator, hostile to the U.S., in possession of weapons of mass destruction.   As it turned out, Al Qaeda was drawn to Iraq like a mosquito to a bug zapper.  And, predictably enough, that “bug” got zapped by the Marines, but good.  Carney seems to be making up the bit about “hawks” from whole cloth.

As for his contention that the troops in Afghanistan served no useful purpose in the killing of Bin Laden, where does Carney think that the helicopters took off from, New Jersey?   Clearly the bases in Afghanistan were critical in providing the point of departure for the attack and, no doubt, logistical support as well.  Carney’s point about the U.S. capability to “strike basically anywhere” is only relevant in the context of decapitation operations.   As TCJ has argued repeatedly, those operations, as useful as they may be to disrupt, will never defeat the enemy.  Carney’s points exist in a fanciful vacuum where he imagines that SOF can win the war single-handedly somehow.    The quotation from Yglesias simply underscores this myopic thinking:  of course it is difficult to invade, occupy and root out the terrorists and there is no guarantee of success.   Sometimes, however, it is necessary and no amount of hand-wringing will change that fact.

Whether Carney likes it or not, there is simply no, easy option for fighting the Islamofascists.   They have to be beaten like Al Qaeda was in Anbar Province, Iraq:  direct, kinetic operations that wipe them out mercilessly and demonstrate to the population that terrorism is the losing side.   The popular notion that we cannot “kill our way” out of an insurgency is too often political cover for avoiding the hard reality of the fight.

We can argue about whether the strategy in Afghanistan has been correct.  The evidence coming in from Helmand Province and Kandahar, where U.S. Marines are literally wiping the floor with the enemy and making it impossible for them to re-infiltrate, is encouraging.   It is the path to victory and it is the only, viable exit.

Those of Mr. Carney’s opinion looking for lessons from the war on terror thus far  should study Iraq, not the elimination of Bin Laden.    At the height of the hysteria in 2006, when people (no doubt Mr. Carney included) were calling the war in Iraq hopeless and unwinnable, President Bush brought in more forces to apply more pressure and better kinetic operations against the terrorists.   The hard fighting in 2007 paid off and by late 2007, Al Qaeda was clearly on the run and a broken and humiliated foe.   Although I personally disagree with the rapid draw down in Iraq, there is no doubt that our very ability to draw down is due entirely to the butt-kicking that we gave the terrorists (and Al Sadr’s thugs) in 2006-2007.    Iraq is relatively stable today, with extremely low casualty levels.

Turning back to Afghanistan, the U.S. does not look for “excuses” to surrender and run away.   Maybe Obama does, but not the U.S.   We either win the fight by taking it to the terrorists, or we decide that the fight is not in our national interest and we leave.   Either way, it has nothing to do with a so-called Empire or the killing of Bin Laden.  The killing of Bin Laden satisfied a basic need to see retributive justice done.   (This, as a side-bar, is far different than revenge and, therefore, wholly justifiable).   But, as others have observed, the tide of war has long left Bin Laden behind and shifted to other, more important locations:  Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.  Although it is understandable for politicians to grandstand and preen over a successful mission, it would be far better for national security if we congratulated the work of our military and intelligence services and quickly moved on to grappling with the important tasks at hand.


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