Archive for the 'Notes on the war' Category

Iraq – We’re Winning!!!

A funny thing happened on the way to Iraq, President Obama declared that we’re winning.

Anyone who’s been keeping up to date knows we’ve been making great progress, and I say, winning in Iraq. President Obama acknowledges the courage and sacrifice of our troops, while ignoring the sacrifice of the Iraqis, and the choices President Bush made to enable progress to be made.

Under enormous strain and under enormous sacrifice, through controversy and difficulty and politics, you’ve kept your eyes focused on just doing your job. And because of that, every mission that’s been assigned — from getting rid of Saddam, to reducing violence, to stabilizing the country, to facilitating elections — you have given Iraq the opportunity to stand on its own as a democratic country. That is an extraordinary achievement, and for that you have the thanks of the American people. (Applause.) That’s point number one.

Point number two is, this is going to be a critical period, these next 18 months. I was just discussing this with your commander, but I think it’s something that all of you know. It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis. (Applause.) They need to take responsibility for their country and for their sovereignty. (Applause.)

And in order for them to do that, they have got to make political accommodations. They’re going to have to decide that they want to resolve their differences through constitutional means and legal means. They are going to have to focus on providing government services that encourage confidence among their citizens.

All those things they have to do. We can’t do it for them. But what we can do is make sure that we are a stalwart partner, that we are working alongside them, that we are committed to their success, that in terms of training their security forces, training their civilian forces in order to achieve a more effective government, they know that they have a steady partner with us.

Something’s missing from this. Oh yeah, an acknowledgment that Iraqis have made a huge commitment, and have sacrificed much more then we have towards achieving these goals.

Nor did he, or the press mention that Iraqis already have control of a large number of the provinces, and has been making tremendous progress in the last 2 years.

As of November 2008, 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces have successfully transitioned to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC). In fact, the current report, shows that the same provinces that hadn’t transitioned, are still the areas of concern for further transitioning.

Sphere: Related Content

Abuse and Confession

While I’m certainly not in disagreement that maintaining a ban on torture techniques in military interrogations should be an objective of the incoming Obama administration, Joe Klein’s pitch for it in his latest column takes us somewhere far beyond the overwrought. In it, Klein openly fantasizes about watching Donald Rumsfeld stripped naked and abused, as punishment for his part in incurring the permanent national stain of Abu Ghraib. How permanent is the stain according to Klein? He wants to erect a memorial monument to the victims of sleep deprivation on the National Mall. Yeah.

But this isn’t merely theatrical, it’s a confessional revenge fantasy. By his own admission, the mere mention in a newspaper of a prisoner standing in a stress position has Klein ready to torture former government officials as an act of retribution. It should be within his capacity to imagine that in a combat theater, inspiration for reciprocal abuses is even easier to obtain.

Sphere: Related Content

The Captives of Years

On Monday the United States officially returned all security duties for Anbar province to Iraqi police and military. The collapse of the Sunni insurgency there now appears to be almost total, with attacks having declined 90% from only two years ago.

The progress is perhaps best illustrated by this dramatic chart from the New York Times:

(NYT via BlogsforVictory)

Is 2006, 1968? The year the antiwar movement stopped paying attention to developments on the ground in the war, as Creighton Abrams’ Vietnamization strategy or Petraeus’ “Iraqification” approach later worked so spectacularly well? With their continued opposition to ongoing stabilization efforts, it certainly seems like a great many in the antiwar left are still captives of that dramatic and pivotal year.

Sphere: Related Content

Recent History – Republic of Georgia

I’m doing this for my own benefit, as I’ve not followed the goings on in the Republic of Georgia, except to note when it’s in the news, not our Georgia.

April 18, 2008

Georgia sought the backing of NATO and the European Union on Friday after Russia stepped up pressure by announcing intensified ties with two separatist Georgian regions.

Georgia’s Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze called Russia’s action “very, very, very dangerous.”

“It is a decisive moment,” said Georgia’s Vice Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze. “Russia has crossed the red line and Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community must react.”

April 22, 2008

Georgia has asked the U.N. Security Council to discuss Russia’s “military aggression” after saying a Russian jet shot down one of its unmanned spy planes.

“We call upon the United Nations to address this direct military aggression against Georgia and to fully exploit its own means and capabilities in order to keep the situation from further escalation,” Georgia’s U.N. Ambassador Irakli Alasania told reporters Monday.

To bolster its case, the Georgian air force released a video that it says shows a twin-tailed Russian MiG-29 shooting down a Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, over the separatist region of Abkhazia on Sunday.

April 23, 2008

Tensions have been escalating between Georgia’s pro-Western government and Russia, which is providing assistance to Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia.

Georgian forces fought separatists in Abkhazia before the ceasefire was negotiated more than a decade ago.

Last week, Moscow formalized relations with the territories and withdrew trade sanctions while expanding “trade, economic, social, scientific and technical, information, cultural, and educational” contacts with them, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reported.

April 29, 2008

Russia is increasing the number of its troops near the region of Abkhazia amid simmering tensions between Russia and Georgia, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday.

Georgians protest outside the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi on April 25, 2008.

A statement posted on the ministry’s Web site said the increase of what it called peacekeepers was in response to a Georgian troop buildup.

“Georgia is increasing its group of forces in close vicinity to the conflict zones,” and there have been “threats to use military force and provocations on behalf of Georgian authorities,” the statement said, according to a CNN translation.

July 4, 2008

Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia offered differing accounts Friday of a shooting that highlights continued tension between them amid Georgia’s NATO ambitions.
South Ossetians stand in the street during a night of shelling in Tskhinvali.

South Ossetians stand in the street during a night of shelling in Tskhinvali.

South Ossetia said shootings Thursday night in the regional capital of Tskhinvali and surrounding areas killed two people and wounded 11 in what a South Ossetian government spokeswoman called a Georgian “military provocation,” according to a report on Russia’s state Interfax news agency.

A Georgian defense official, however, denied that Georgian troops even fired a shot, though they were fired upon, and said the incident is part of ongoing provocation by South Ossetian separatists.

August 2, 2008

Six people were killed and 13 wounded in the shelling of South Ossetia by Georgian forces, South Ossetian officials said Saturday, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Officials of the breakaway Georgian region said the shelling was part of a Georgian military operation, Interfax reported.

Georgia initially suggested Russian peacekeepers were to blame, drawing heated denials from the Russian Defense Ministry, which called the allegation “dirty informational provocation.”

Later, however, Mamuka Kurashvili, the commander of Georgian peacekeeping operations, told reporters that four people were wounded when several Georgian villages were fired upon from South Ossetia, and Georgia “had to return fire.”

August 7, 2008

Georgia’s president on Thursday ordered his country’s forces to cease fire in South Ossetia, the separatist region where days of sporadic clashes have raised fears of full-scale war.

President Mikhail Saakashvili announced the order in a television broadcast in which he also urged South Ossetian separatist leaders to enter talks on resolving the conflict.

He proposed that Russia could become a guarantor of wide-ranging autonomy for South Ossetia, if the region remains under Georgian control.

Russia has close ties with the separatist leadership, and Georgian officials have alleged that Moscow is provoking the recent clashes.

August 8, 2008

Intense fighting reportedly raged for a second night in the Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia on Saturday and Georgia’s interior ministry reported air attacks on three military bases and key facilities for shipping oil to the West.

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the Vaziani military base on the outskirts of the Georgian capital was bombed by warplanes during the night and that bombs fell in the area of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

He also said two other Georgian military bases were hit and that warplanes bombed the Black Sea port city of Poti, which has a sizable oil shipment facility.

Utiashvili said there apparently were significant casualties and damage in the attacks, but that further details would not be known until the morning.

Russia dispatched an armored column into South Ossetia on Friday after Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, launched a surprise offensive to crush separatists. Witnesses said hundreds of civilians were killed.

August 9, 2008

Russian forces launched an airstrike against a military airfield near the Tbilisi International Airport early Sunday, despite international calls for Russia to stand down from the escalating conflict, Georgian officials told CNN.

The attack near the Georgian capital city came after a day of intense fighting in the former Soviet republic, with dozens of Russian warplanes bombing civilian and military targets in Georgia on Saturday.

As many as 2,000 people had been killed in the capital of separatist Georgian province South Ossetia, according to a Russian ambassador.

“The city of Tskhinvali no longer exists. There is nothing left. It was wiped out by the Georgian military,” the Russian news agency Interfax said, quoting the Russian ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko.

August 11, 2008

As fighting continued Sunday between Russia and Georgia over the separatist province of South Ossetia, U.N. officials expressed concern about violence in another Russian-backed breakaway territory in Georgia.

Forces of Abkhazia launched air and artillery strikes on Georgian troops Sunday, intending to drive them out of a small part of Abkhazia that the Georgians controlled, The Associated Press reported.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Edmond Mulet said Russian personnel and weapons were part of a military buildup in Abkhazia’s capital, Sukhumi. The Georgian government said 4,000 Russian troops have landed in Abkhazia, according to the AP.

Also Sunday, bombing was reported in the Georgian city of Zugdidi, south of the Abkhaz border, “causing panic among the civilian population,” Mulet said. Information on casualties and who was responsible for the bombing wasn’t available.

Map of Georgia

Sphere: Related Content

Bobby Begins

Rumors have it that Bobby Jindal will deliver the keynote address at the RNCC. Shlok Vaidya thinks the GOP intends to position Jindal for 2012, the way the Democrats managed Obama in 2004. Interesting and possible, although such things are rarely that well-planned. The Democratic view in 2004 wasn’t to position Obama for a White House run, but to lend a rather tired and morose candidate named John Kerry some youthful optimism and vigor. Come to think of it, not so different for the Republicans in 2008 after all, is it?

Sphere: Related Content

A Paranoid on Paranoia-Last updated 1:06 CST

After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential.

You could?

The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters — with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 — that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax — sent directly into the heart of the country’s elite political and media institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading media outlets — that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.

So that is what made everybody concerned? The twisted reasoning that could assert that after 9/11 we in any way could think something like that couldn’t happen again, sans those letters, is pretty breathtaking.  Once those letters were delivered however, it suddenly occurred to the American people that it might happen again? What kind of parallel universe is he living in? Oh, and if you couldn’t tell, this is the Sock Puppet talking. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Bin Ladenism in the Balkans

The irreplaceable Michael Totten is now in the Balkans tracking down the influence of al Qaeda and the mujahideen. They seem to be having trouble inculcating their values.

Exhibit 1:

“Most people know nothing about your country,” I said to Fana and Lumnije.

“The majority of us would not like to be perceived as a Muslim country in the real sense of the word,” Lumnije said. “Because we are different. Even geographically we are European.”

“We are not European,” Fana said and laughed, “we are American! We are the 51st state!”

“Kosovo is the most reliable,” Lumnije said.

“It is a small country,” Fana said, “but you can rely on us completely.”

Exhibit 2:

Erotic literature for sale on the street, Prizren, Kosovo

Sphere: Related Content

Chuck Hagel wants to change the subject-Updated

From The Huffington Post, where this kind of BS is applauded:

“Quit talking about, ‘Did the surge work or not work,’ or, ‘Did you vote for this or support this,’” Hagel said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.

“Get out of that. We’re done with that. How are we going to project forward?” the Nebraska senator said. “What are we going to do for the next four years to protect the interest of America and our allies and restructure a new order in the world. … That’s what America needs to hear from these two candidates. And that’s where I am.”

How cute. Take a nice piece of advice, concentrate on what comes next, and rob that discussion of all context. How are we supposed to judge who is best fit to move on to the next steps without some understanding of how people have judged things in the past? Especially something so recent and directly on point.

It isn’t that Hagel and Obama don’t have a legitimate, if wrongheaded in my view, defense. Stupid policy choices work out all the time. That doesn’t make them wise. If you jump off a bridge and a truck full of hay just happens to come by and break the fall, it hardly confirms ones good judgment. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content


We see this kind of thing in the press :

U.S. and Afghan troops have abandoned a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan where militants killed nine American soldiers earlier this week, officials said Wednesday.

Compounding the military setback, insurgents quickly seized the village of Wanat in Nuristan province after driving out the handful of police left behind to defend government offices there, Afghan officials said.

Factually true, and oh so very misleading. For the real story of these nine men and the fantastic job they and their comrades did I suggest letting McQ enlighten you.

Sphere: Related Content

Politics and Maliki’s Timetable

Not the same thing as a Harry Reid Timetable (HT: McQ):

Nouri al-Maliki

A deadline should be set for the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces from Iraq, and the pullout could be done by 2011, an Iraqi government spokesman said Tuesday.

Ali al-Dabbagh said any timetable would depend on “conditions and the circumstances that the country would be undergoing.” But he said a pullout within “three, four or five” years was possible.

“It can be 2011 or 2012,” al-Dabbagh said. “We don’t have a specific date in mind, but we need to agree on the principle of setting a deadline.”

I think there are several things to take from this. First and foremost this is a sign that “winning” in Iraq is at hand. The primary goal was an independent Iraq, capable of defending itself and being an ally in the War on Terror. That the Iraq government is declaring it’s ready to take over the reins of defending and policing its own country is a fantastic sign of confidence in its ability to do so. Considering the fact that the Iraqi Army has increasingly taken the lead throughout the country, including most recently the formerly “lost” province of Anbar, a phased withdrawal of American and coalition forces seems like the natural next step. While there are still problems to be dealt with, such as the ever-present threat of more ethnic and sectarian violence, Iraq in general appears to be in a much better position to deal with them on their own than just a year ago. They also seem to more willing to do so, judging by the Basra and related campaigns. Under these sorts of conditions, the job of our forces would seem to be coming to an end, and talk of bringing them home is welcome news indeed.

Of course, the conditions meriting talk of a withdrawal timetable are being ignored by some in favor of scoring political points:

“President Bush refuses to listen to Congress or the American people, but he cannot support Iraqi political reconciliation and security and ignore Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki’s call for a timetable for the withdrawal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

“I agree with Maliki,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid added. “Let’s take off the training wheels and let Iraq handle their own affairs. We have spent enough of our blood and treasure in Iraq.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rham Emanuel wondered at the administration’s response to the Iraqi position.

“When Democrats called for a timeline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, they were attacked by President Bush,” the Chicago Democrat said. “When Prime Minister Maliki suggested a timeline for withdrawal, the White House said he was ‘reflecting a shared goal.’ Apparently, in the Bush White House, the messenger matters more than message.”

The other day McQ explained why previous calls for withdrawal were treated differently:

2 years ago, timetables for withdrawal were a bad idea because there were viable enemies still operating in Iraq.

Today? Not so much. Today we’re talking about withdrawal timetables in the wake of victory. Then we were talking about timetables in the face of possible defeat. If you can’t get you head around the difference, then I’d suggest you haven’t much worthwhile to add to any discussion of the matter.

Ironically, the one’s who should be using the latest news to score political points are the current Presidential candidates, who have been somewhat muted thus far. Obama referred to Maliki’s announcement as “encouraging” and McCain rather clumsily noted that Maliki’s comments were being misunderstood as a rigid time table for withdrawal of U.S. Troops instead of a “conditions based” plan:

McCain said he was confident the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki would ask American troops to leave only if the military situation there warranted such a move.

“I know for a fact that it will be dictated by the situation on the ground, as it always has been,” McCain said.

“Since we are succeeding” in Iraq, he said, “then I am convinced, as I have said before, we can withdraw and withdraw with honor, not according to a set timetable. And I’m confident that is what Prime Minister Maliki is talking about, since he has told me that for the many meetings we have had.”

He’s not wrong, but McCain’s not exactly grabbing the bull by the horns here either. Especially when he seemingly demeans Maliki’s call as a mere political move:

Of Maliki, McCain said, “Look, he’s a politician. He is a leader of a country that’s finally coming together.

“The fact is that we and the Iraqis will deal in what is in the national security interests of both countries. And there is no reason to assume that the Iraqis aren’t going to act in what they perceive as their national interest. I believe we’ll act in ours, and I believe we’ll come home, we’ll withdraw.

Again, it’s not that McCain is wrong so much as he hasn’t seized a real opportunity to the gain the upper hand. Obama has so far missed the opportunity as well, but his minimalist reaction is probably the better of the two at this point. What one them needs to do is to tout Mailiki’s call for a withdrawal timetable as a sign of victory in Iraq, and to applaud the fledgling nation for taking one of its most important steps towards full sovereignty. While I’m sure that both candidates will declare that we will happily withdraw our forces at the request of the Iraqi government, what neither of them have done so far is to highlight the request as a clear sign that our job in Iraq may be almost done. Pointing to the light at the end of the tunnel where our troops will emerge on the way home is exactly the sort of hope and change that Americans desire and can feel good about. I predict that the first candidate to figure that out will be our next President.

*Editing Note: I revised “timeline” to read “timetable” throughout because it makes more sense.

Sphere: Related Content

Sometimes We Get Lucky

We probably wont know what’s behind this, unless there’s some indictments handed down. Just goes to show though that the fight against terrorism hasn’t completely left our country. However, the second article shows that many of those we are fighting over seas have been over here at some point in the past. Which just shows the need for tighter immigration and border enforcement. (both articles H/T Instapundit.)

At about 5 p.m. yesterday, an unidentified thief with a police record broke into a red van that had been parked at 53rd Street and Second Avenue in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park for about a month, a source told The Post.

He was stunned when he looked inside – it was filled with gas cans and Styrofoam cups containing a mysterious white substance with protruding wires and switches.

The street is lined with brownstones, and there’s a ballet studio and a small Muslim school. So he drove the van 15 blocks to 37th Street and parked it at a desolate waterfront location behind the Costco store and next to some little-used piers.

Then he got out and called a cop he knows from his run-ins with the law.

“He did the right thing,” a high-ranking officer said. “And he possibly saved a lot of people’s lives.”

In the six-and-a-half years that the U.S. government has been fingerprinting insurgents, detainees and ordinary people in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, hundreds have turned out to share an unexpected background, FBI and military officials said. They have criminal arrest records in the United States.

There was the suspected militant fleeing Somalia who had been arrested on a drug charge in New Jersey. And the man stopped at a checkpoint in Tikrit who claimed to be a dirt farmer but had 11 felony charges in the United States, including assault with a deadly weapon.

The records suggest that potential enemies abroad know a great deal about the United States because many of them have lived here, officials said. The matches also reflect the power of sharing data across agencies and even countries, data that links an identity to a distinguishing human characteristic such as a fingerprint.

Sphere: Related Content

What’s A Legal Arms Deal Anyway?

There are times when I’m kind of ashamed to work in the military-industrial complex:

Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukranian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm, has learned.

Weldon, who is currently being investigated by the FBI over alleged corruption during his time in office, visited Libya in March to discuss a possible military deal, according to a letter describing the trip from Weldon to Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold. In May, Weldon, together with Ringgold and another company representative, traveled to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East.

Both trips were part of the company’s effort to tap into the growing — and often legally murky — market for selling weapons from former Eastern Bloc countries to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

This has echoes of that 21 year old masseuse who was able to filch $300 million out of the DOD to sell useless only Chinese rounds smuggled through Albania to the ANA in Afghanistan. Years after the fact, that guy was arrested. Will Weldon face a similar fate? It’s unclear—Sharon Weinberger couldn’t find any government official who could say whether his actions—despite arranging arms deals with blacklisted countries—were legal or not.

Sphere: Related Content

Boumediene — The Great Sandbagging

UPDATE: Welcome QandO readers. Please look around after you’ve finished with this post, but McQ says you have to go back over to QandO when you’re done … but I won’t tell if you won’t.

The recent Supreme Court case involving Guantanomo Bay (GITMO) detainees and writs of habeas corpus promises to be one of the most significant opinions for decades to come. Not because it grants foreign citizens the right to challenge their detention in U.S. civil courts (although that’s huge), nor because the decision will lead to possible terrorists being set free in the U.S. (which is almost inevitable), but because it sets a new standard for the power of the Supreme Court. However, no matter the angle from which one approaches the case, constitutional scholars will likely not tire of discussing its implications and applications for quite some time. This post will concentrate on just one of those angles (with others hopefully to follow). (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

(Relatively) Measuring Success

This is the most recent of a series of posts on where I explore some of the fundamentals of conflict within the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the end of this post is a link to the rest of them.

Nightwatch argues that May was the most violent month in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion:

NightWatch almost has completed its monthly assessments of combat for both April and May. In the data sample drawn from unclassified reporting sources that NightWatch uses, April featured 199 violent incidents in 86 districts, making it the most lethal April in the six year conflict. May featured 214 incidents of violence in over 100 districts, also a new six-year total for May and the highest single monthly total. Despite official efforts to spotlight improvement, the spring offensive thus far is worse than last year’s spring offensive. The security situation has deteriorated again.

At no prior time has the Taliban managed to stage attacks in over 100 of the 398 districts. The previous highs were 86 in April 2008 and 83 in May 2007. Fighting has been heavy in Garmser District in Helmand Province but it has been significantly higher in Zormat District in Paktia Province; Andar District in Ghazni Province and Asadabad District in Konar, all across from the tribal areas of northern and central Pakistan. If Taliban fighters are heading to Pakistan, they are going back to base to rest and to get more ammunition and supplies.

Now, it is notable that the worst fighting has actually not been in the south, but in Paktya, Ghazni, and Kunar, all of which are provinces operating under the new success metrics breathlessly regurgitated by our lazy propagandists. Kunar in particular was the site of David Kilcullen’s now-seminal piece on the magical IED-stopping power of roads; Asadabad in particular is the site of one of the PRTs making the most talked-about progress in terms of construction and violence reduction.

Are we being sold a bill of goods? Are the areas bordering the FATA in far worse shape than we were lead to believe, and is the South in comparative good health?

It is not as simple to answer as it may seem. There are three metrics to look at: actual numbers, comparative numbers, and perceived numbers. For our purposes—i.e. for the purpose of some sort of permanent defeat of the Taliban and associated militias—the real numbers don’t matter. The comparative numbers might, if there was an effective IO campaign in place—not selling roads as bomb shields, but selling the astonishing success of the brand new national telecommunications network, or the very real benefits of steadily improving developmental indicators. But since there is not, the comparative numbers could be interesting, but haven’t really gone anywhere.

What of the perception? Again, this is a difficult question to unravel: security is rarely at the top of a typical Afghan’s priority. Most want food, or an end to the pervasive and devastating impact of official corruption.


Sphere: Related Content

From the Horse’s Mouth, So To Speak

Today, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight heard testimony from Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan of the Sunni Accordance Front and Nadim al-Jaberi of the Shiite (and anti-Moqtada, anti-Maliki) Fadhila Party. Both oppose a long-term presence in their country, but what was even more interesting, as Spencer Ackerman notes, is what they said about the occupation, the invasion, and the Surge.

For starters, Jaberi accused the U.S. of putting the Iraqi government “in a difficult situation” by insisting on the long-term presence of U.S. troops. al-Ulayyan, through a translator, cautioned that a reckless withdrawal would be catastrophic, but that a long-term presence would be counterproductive.

When Rep. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, tried to pry out some good quotes supporting the Surge, al-Ulayyan demurred:

“Increasing the number of forces didn’t affect the level of violence in Iraq. Because the war there is a war against gangs and they are like ghosts. They hit and run. What led to the reduction of terrorist acts and violence are the forces of the Awakening. They are from the tribes of the area where terrorists are more [in number]. And those forces managed to eliminate the other party, the terrorists, because they know them and know the tactics. We suggested that a long time ago for our government and the American government but nobody listened.

“I believe the reduction in the level of violence is due mainly to the efforts of the volunteers. The thing that will reduce the violence more is not military force but having realistic solutions to convince others to join the political process. I believe the best method to achieve that is a real national reconciliation. We need real reconciliation, not only slogans as is being done now. And reconcilition should involve all the Iraqis, whether they are involved right now in the political process or not.”

“As soon as the troops have withdrawn, it doesn’t make sense for these groups to exist,” Jabari added. “It is my belief that when troops withdraw these groups will not bear arms any longer. For as long as we have foreign troops on our land, these gangs will increase in number, they will hold onto their goals even longer… So I say the presence of foreign troops are actually serving these groups.”

Of course, such thinking would lead one to think that maybe Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a phantom threat and the real problem comes from deeper (or perhaps shallower) societal issues, rather than the dark puppetmaster of an enemy we can barely define, much less count. Remember that time the Congressional Research Service indicated that AQI was less than 2% (pdf) of the attacks in Iraq? That is because most of the insurgents—the vast majority—are not AQI, but rather nationalists fighting a foreign occupier. The Iraqis know this. But we have a hard time thinking that our mere presence somewhere can spark hatred.

After all, many Iraqis feel our invasion led to the destruction of Iraq, and kind of resent that. While these two Parliamentarians may not speak for the entirety of Iraq (the Kurds surely have a different opinion of us), their opinions are not wildly out of the ordinary, and represent a large and persistent strain within the mainstream of Iraqi society. Our deep unpopularity is our worst enemy.

Sphere: Related Content

Fallon and Petraeus sitting in a tree…

I was catching up a bit on my reading, and thanks to McQ found this interview with Admiral Fallon. As McQ points out, the conversation did not go the way Kyra Phillips was trying to steer it.

Given our own commentary on Fallon here, here, and here, I think several key points that fly in the face of claims about the President and Fallon’s views should be noted:

I don’t believe for a second president bush wants a war with Iran.

Somebody tell the Sock Puppet and Mona. For two straight Autumns I have been told the tanks would roll by November.

I believe the best course is to retain the high confidence we have in General Petraeus and his team out there. Dave has done a magnificent job in leading our people in that country.

Huh? I kept hearing he was disdainful of Petraeus.

The idea we would walk away from Iraq strikes me as not appropriate. We all want to bring our troops home. We want to have the majority of our people back and we want the war ended. Given where we are today, the progress that they’ve made particularly in the last couple months, I think it’s very, very heartening to see what’s really happened here. The right course of action is to continue to work with the Iraqis and let them take over the majority of the tasks for ensuring security for the country and have our people come out on a timetable that’s appropriate with conditions on the ground.

My emphasis. Has anyone here made that same argument? Why, I think it was me, along with Michael, Keith, McQ and a host of others, and Fallon was claimed to be arguing against us in the past. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t, but it sure is nice to hear that he agrees now. Note also his endorsement of the idea that there has been real progress, and it isn’t all just a misreading of what is “really going on.”

Sphere: Related Content

Of “Battle Fatigue” and National Caveats

Posted first to, your one-stop shop for all things Central Asia, this is a tangent to a really excellent theme I’ve been tracking the past few weeks—the flow of press releases masquerading as journalism from Afghanistan to our largest publications. Check it out if you like this.

It appears NATO is feeling “battle fatigue” after six years of combat. I feel for them, I really do—and it would be impossible for me to criticize the stance since I have never been in combat. But why, then, is the notion that Afghans just might be too exhausted to fight any more so alien to western thinking? That some may not be as actively battling off Taliban and associated militants with sleepless fervor as they could because they’re just too exhausted?

The most battle-hardened U.S. troops in Afghanistan will have been there for a total of perhaps five years (this is an educated guess; it could be either more or less). After so much time fearing for one’s life, feeling utterly fatigued is perfectly natural. And the political desire to end the expense of such a sustained conflict is also perfectly natural and understandable.

Most Afghans, however, cannot remember a time without warfare. With a median age of only 17.6 years, the vast majority of Afghans simply were not alive during a period without active warfare in their country—warfare that will, in about 19 months, reach its 30th anniversary.

I would say the Afghans are rather more resilient than we are. But NATO’s fecklessness certainly doesn’t help. The revelation that German special forces allowed the Baghlan bomber to escape because they were not authorized to use lethal force—they were only permitted to capture him, not kill him—drives this point further home. Many NATO countries are simply not acting as if they want to win. Only five of the 26 countries currently operating in Afghanistan—the U.S., the UK, Canada, Denmark, and Netherlands—can behave like a normal army. The rest have their operations crippled by restrictive caveats, some of which now can be shown to be actively aiding the insurgency.

The threat to the international relief workers and the ISAF soldiers stationed in the north may now be even greater than it was before. Warned of ISAF’s activities and intent on taking revenge, the man and his network are active once again. Over 2,500 Germans are stationed between Faryab and Badakhshan, along with Hungarian, Norwegian and Swedish troops.

The case has caused disquiet at the headquarters of the ISAF peacekeeping force in Kabul. The current strategy for fighting the enemy is to buy as many Taliban sympathizers as possible, to at least win them over for a while — and to “eliminate” the hardliners through targeted assassinations.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The German KSK is actually a highly respected, highly capable force. They were able to track the bomber down, observe him for weeks without him realizing it, and even close almost to capture before they were discovered. But they were just not permitted to behave like any other SOF or even police unit would: kill a dangerous man if he looks ready to escape.

And this strategy of purchasing Taliban sympathizers is the height of folly: it is precisely what the British tried during their disastrous invasion in 1838. When the money ran out some years later, those Afghans they had bribed didn’t walk home thankful to have received British gold, they rose up in murderous fury at the foreign invader who now didn’t even have money to placate their wounded pride. Refusing to fight while spreading Euros like Nutella on toast might work for a little bit. But, as Der Spiegel has documented, it will also fatally undermine what had been one of the great successes of the war.

I’m sure hanging out in Feyzabad and getting fat is really tiring, but honestly, bitte, stop undermining everyone else.

This Topic Continues:

  • Germany and Afghanistan
  • The Germans Have to Learn How to Kill
  • About the Baghlan Bombing
  • Disassembling the Baghlan Bombing
Sphere: Related Content

The Danger of Funding Thugs

Sure it’s nice when you pay them to pretty please stop attacking us, but what of the consequences? This is the dark side of the CLC/Sons of Iraq/Awakening bandwagon we jumped on, and it’s one I’ve been mocked repeatedly for not letting go of.

But doing business with the gunmen, whom the U.S. military has dubbed Sons of Iraq, is like striking a deal with Tony Soprano, according to the soldiers who walk the battle-blighted streets, where sewage collects in malodorous pools.

“Most of them kind of operate like dons in their areas,” said 2nd Lt. Forrest Pierce, a platoon leader with the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment. They shake down local businessmen for protection money, seize rivals for links to the insurgency and are always angling for more men, more territory and more power.

For U.S. soldiers on the beat, it means navigating a complex world of shifting allegiances, half-truths and betrayals.

Or we can call them what we do in Afghanistan: warlords.

Here is something darker to think about. In 1838, during the first of what would be three disastrous invasions over the next century, the British Empire thought it a great idea to pay off the various tribal chiefs of Afghanistan to keep them from attacking British supply and communications lines. By 1842 the gold had run out, and by 1843, the British suffered one of their most humiliating defeats as the tribes united in fury and killed them all save one (William Brydon, look him up).

The exact dynamic is at play in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, we hire Taliban sympathizers—more accurately called “those who are so poor they can be hired as fighters by Taliban and related militant groups”—to build roads at a rate just above the going day rate for a warrior. We offer them this carte blanche, just as we do in Iraq, and so long as they promise to work for us, we promise to give them an income.

This is the worst sort of dependency. It does nothing to address the long term stability issues in Iraq (or Afghanistan), just as it does nothing to ensure we can ever scale down our largess without fear of catastrophe. Welcome to our new strategic masterminds.

Sphere: Related Content

Two Iraqi Jokes

Both via Major John at Miserable Donuts, a milblog. First, a joke as told by an Iraqi Army captain:

President Jalal Talibani summoned the leaders of the Iraqi parliament to his office for a meeting. In the middle of the meeting his wife calls him and says, “Jalal, there is a thief in our house!” President Talibani replies, “impossible, they are all here with me.”


Second, a visual joke accompanied by an explanation from Major John:

Tuskan Raider?

The jundi in the picture was putting on everything he could while his buddies laughed and egged him on. I simply couldn’t not take a picture.

There’s a bigger image at the link for full visual effect.

Sphere: Related Content

Failed Wars = Great Strategies!

One thing I’ll never understand about the military is how it looks to failed wars to prove the truthiness of its current strategy. What baffles me more is how earnest scholars, like Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations, manage to revel in such silliness. Surely he knows what a failure is? To whit:

The whole process ought to be familiar to students of counterinsurgency. It is, in essence, an update of the old plan known as “concentration” zones or camps. The latter name causes understandable confusion, since we’re not talking about extermination camps of the kind that Hitler built, but rather of settlements where locals can be moved to live under guard, thereby preventing insurgent infiltration. The British used this strategy in the Boer war, the Americans during the Philippine war, and many other powers took similar steps in many other conflicts. In Vietnam they were known as “strategic hamlets.”

This was Boot in April of last year advocating the building of walls around ethnic zones to prevent bombings. Ignoring his advocacy of turning Iraq into an enormous concentration camp, he looks to the Boer Wars, the Philippines, and Vietnam to prove his point. Last I checked, they weren’t raging cases of victory (the Philippine-American War was a qualified victory, since an insurgency continued for well over a decade after the “mission accomplished”… how history repeats). He continues with such advocacy today:

It’s true that there are walls around Dora and other Baghdad neighborhoods. … But then there are walls around many gated communities in the U.S. too. The walls per se are not evidence of reconciliation, I’ll grant you that. But nor are they evidence that reconciliation is impossible. They are one of the important security measures implemented in the past year that is reducing violence and making possible political progress—which is real, whether you admit it or not.

The trick to this, of course, is that Americans choose to live in gated communities, and pay money for the privilege. We do not grant the citizens of Sadr City the same courtesy—we shut them in and declare victory. Boot is discussing coercion, not choice—the deliberate punishing of a community for the actions of a few.

Now in fairness, actual opinion amongst Iraqis, at least those willing to talk to soldiers, is mixed. None liked the walls when they were first installed, but some later came to appreciate the protection they afforded. All, however, according to my contacts, dislike the feeling of disconnectedness the walled communities generate. I’ve been under the impression that fostering disconnectedness is a bad COIN practice, no matter the security gains. And Boot isn’t selling this as a best-fit stop gap measure in the face of no other better ideas. He’s selling it as an unqualified good.

Nouri al-Maliki used to say that he didn’t want to wall off entire sub-cities for their own good; now that his election is in doubt, those beliefs have evaporated. How convenient for him. What is Boot’s excuse?

Sphere: Related Content

Roads, More Roads, and Still More Roads Indeed!

This is the latest post in a running commentary on a new meme to emerge from the PR folks in Afghanistan: the security benefits of building roads. The argument, advanced by a few American reporters and one David Kilcullen, is that building paved roads reduces the IED threat and contributes to the security necessary for economic development. I find this highly inplausible, and the lack of evidence—across multiple reports from multiple reporters—deepens this suspicion. If I can arrange it with a magazine, I’m going to try to compile all of these into a single essay addressing the issue of journalist knowledge and gullibility, ethics, and what security really means.

Naturally, this was posted first at, which is where you should be going for updates on the Forgotten War in Afghanistan, as well as the latest machinations in the still-simmering Former Soviet Union.

Remember David Ignatius’ pathetic excuse for reporting on Afghanistan? After a whole week in a few provinces in RC-East, he was making pronouncements about how the country was faring. Barnett Rubin properly called him out on this crap, but it’s worth looking at his ludicrous column and seeing if it might tell us anything.

Aside from the many facile references to Rudyard Kipling and British colonial administrators, and a curious inability to look at a map (Naray, in Paktya, is about 100 miles southwest of Asadabad, in Kunar… over Pakistani territory), there is a quite fascinating section.

Alison Blosser, a young State Department officer, is using a similar approach to help guide the Provincial Reconstruction Team for Kunar province, based south of here in Asadabad. An Ohio State graduate, she speaks fluent Pashto, which she learned before taking up her previous assignment at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. Dressed in a head scarf and body armor, she might be a modern version of Gertrude Bell, the celebrated British adventurer and colonial administrator of the 1920s.

Blosser and her colleagues have employed what they call a “roads strategy” to bring stability to Kunar. The biggest project so far was building a paved two-lane road from Jalalabad in the lush flatlands up the Kunar River valley to Asadabad. The road is a magnet for economic development in what had been an insurgent stronghold, and the PRT is planning new roads into what Blosser calls the “capillary valleys” where the insurgents have fled.

At least we now know who’s been pushing the Roads thing.

The tribal elders see the prosperity the new roads have brought and want the same for their villages. “We say, ‘Fine, but you have to guarantee security,’ ” Blosser says. That’s the essence of the counterinsurgency strategy U.S. forces are using in Afghanistan. As the military clears new areas, the PRTs follow quickly behind with roads, bridges and schools.

And by this, he directly contradicts what David Kilcullen was able to say with nary a critical peep from the professional counterinsurgency crowd. Whom to believe? I have no idea. Kilcullen says security follows roads. Ignatius says roads follow security, and then reinforce it. Ignatius’ version of causation makes more intuitive sense. But Afghanistan has a habit of defying intuition.

In either case, since Kilcullen is the supposedly serious thinker here, and Ignatius obviously is not, that places the burden of proof on Kilcullen (or anyone else who agrees with his version of causation) to build the case that roads equal security. Right now, there is precious little data and a great deal of pleasing talk in anecdotal generalities. Until there is an actual argument—involving evidence, which is noticeably lacking in Kilcullen’s writing on this subject—then no one can really say for sure.

And is Carlotta Gall the only reporter employed by an American paper to work off something other than official government press handlers?

This topic continues:
Of PR Campaigns and the Utility of Area Knowledge
War Is Peace, and Other Orwells at the Journal
A Practical Look at the Value of Roads
Learning from PRTs
The Strange Benefits of Paving Afghanistan

Sphere: Related Content

Forgive the Self-Promotion

I honestly don’t have the time to reformat everything for several cross-posts, so this is a summary of posts at my other blog,, where I’ve been discussing some interesting topics related to counterinsurgency and reconstruction in Afghanistan, as well as media and culture issues.

  • First up is a critical review of a new essay by Dave Kilcullen, on the security benefits of road construction. It was followed up by posting a disturbing video of an ambush against U.S. forces in the Korengal Valley to support my analysis.
  • Related to the above is a look at scholarship on the implementation and effectiveness of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, and where both scholarship and tweaked policy could yield enormous positive dividends on the ground and larger community.
  • I noted some not-so-buried racism shining brightly at the L.A. Times. Co-blogger Kayumars Turkestani noted this isn’t the first time.
  • I take a peek at the potential of Kazakhstan dominating the global uranium market, and if concerns over their security capabilities are legitimate or overblown.
  • And yet again, a look at how Afghanistan is not at all the same as Iraq, and why arguments that apply to one country do not necessarily apply to the other.
  • And finally, some lighter cultural stuff: a reporter traveled to Afghanistan several years ago and found out they deeply loved Johnny Cash. Yes, that is typed correctly. Go check out that video!
  • Oh and let’s all look at that movie about PMCs and Central Asia starring Hillary Duff as a slutty Central Asian pop star.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunni Bloc To Rejoin Government

This is a positive development:

Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move.

The Sunni leaders said they were still working out the details of their return, an indication that the deal could still fall through.


“Our conditions were very clear, and the government achieved some of them,” said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Tawafiq, the largest Sunni bloc in the government. Mr. Duleimi said the achievements included “the general amnesty, chasing down the militias and disbanding them and curbing the outlaws.”

The recently passed amnesty law has already led to the release of many Sunni prisoners, encouraging Sunni parties that the government is serious about enforcing it. And the attacks on Shiite militias have apparently begun to assuage longstanding complaints that only Sunni groups blamed for the insurgency have been the targets of American and Iraqi security forces.

Exactly which ministries will be given to which Sunni politicians is still under negotiation, said Ayad Samarrai, the deputy general secretary of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest party within Tawafiq. Among those under consideration are the Ministries of Culture, Planning, Higher Education and Women’s Affairs and the State Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Samarrai said.

What the greater affects of the Sunnis rejoining will be remain to be seen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if future events precipitate another walkout. But I think it’s hard to deny that Maliki’s offensive in Basra is paying the political dividends he had hoped for.

On another note, the NYT piece is prefaced with an incongruous image of what is claimed to be the remnants of a car bomb blast:
Caption: The site of a car bombing where one civilian was killed while six others were wounded on Thursday in Baghdad. // Photo by:Mohammed Ameen/Reuters

Does that look like the results of a car bomb? None of the buildings near the wreckage look like they’ve sustained blast damage. There’s no cratering in the ground, and there’s no shrapnel from the blast strewn around. And, of course, there’s the obligatory wailing woman in the foreground. Is this another fauxtography case? Even if it’s not, and the photo is exactly what it claims to be, what does it have to do with a story about Sunnis ending their boycott of the Iraqi government?

UPDATE: Keith provides another view of the car bomb wreckage in the comments. It appears to be a legitimate bomb scene, just with the staged wailing woman for affect. I guess the bomb wasn’t terribly big so there isn’t any noticeable damage to the surrounding scene. Either way, it does not appear to be a case of fauxtography, although it is a strange photo to accompany a news story about political reconciliation.

Sphere: Related Content

From the Horses’ Mouths (so to speak)

Whatever could this guy be going on about?

“Saddam had his big castles; they symbolized his power and were places to be feared, and now we have the castle of the power that toppled him,” says Abdul Jabbar Ahmed, a vice dean for political sciences at Baghdad University. “If I am the ambassador of the USA here I would say, ‘Build something smaller that doesn’t stand out so much, it’s too important that we avoid these negative impressions.’ “

Why, he’s one of many Iraqis in Baghdad who are furious at the monstrous U.S. Embassy that will open for occupancy next month. It will cost approximately $1 billion per year to operate, in part because it will be self-sufficient, completely disconnected with the rest of Baghdad and Iraq. And it was built by slave labor.

On the brighter side, however, it was only $250 million over budget, which makes it among the most economic decisions made during this war. For context, the new American Embassy in Beijing, which is needless extravagance of the first kind, costs less—an entire embassy complex—than this one embassy’s budget overflow. And the operating costs aren’t even in the same league.

It’s like a huge unfunny joke, only it’s not.

Sphere: Related Content

Welcoming Signs of Progress

Security improvements bringing people back to their homes in South Baghdad…

With security improving, local economies flourishing and community reconstruction underway, Iraqis who once fled their South Baghdad homes in fear are now returning to the villages they deserted.

This is a good sign, said Maj. Mark Bailey, the officer in charge of the Multi-National Division – Center governance cell.

“Once people are convinced that security is good in their area, they come back,” said Bailey, who is with 401st Civil Affairs Battalion, attached to 3rd Infantry Division. “If they own a business, they re-open their business, which helps the economy.”

Out of the approximate 18,700 Iraqis who left their homes, it is estimated that 10,450 have returned, according to MND-C records.

via Hot Air we find that the Iraqis are making further progress in reconciliation.

Most of those released were Sunnis who had been low-level army officials or former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. They were among thousands of Iraqis who were arrested without charges by coalition and Iraqi forces. The discharges signal “a return to some sense of normalcy,” said U.S. Army Col. David Paschal, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, who attended the ceremony. “At some point, the fighting must stop.”…

The prisoners are being freed under an amnesty law passed by Iraq’s parliament in February. More than 52,400 detainees in government custody have applied for their freedom. Of those, nearly 78%, or more than 40,000, were granted amnesty. More than one in five, though, were denied because they are being held for crimes not covered by the law. These include killing, kidnapping, rape, embezzling government funds, selling drugs and smuggling antiquities.

Ed Morrissey says of this:

This marks yet another benchmark in the Maliki government’s progress in meeting the political benchmarks set by Congress. It also defuses a longstanding point of friction with the Sunni tribes who have complained loudly about the imbalance in treatment for their communities by Baghdad. Their efforts to work within the political system have paid off, and their win in gaining amnesty for so many detainees will encourage them to work within the democratic system rather than conduct insurgencies against it.

Day by day, week by week, Iraq is making the progress we all want to see on all fronts. Security, Economic, and Socio-Political.

That this isn’t bigger news isn’t a surprise. After all, we need to know when Hillary knocks back a cold one, or someone finds yet another radical in Obama’s past.

Sphere: Related Content

More Like This Please

I was pleasantly surprised, and mildly irritated, to see that Condi Rice basically called Muqtada al-Sadr a coward while she was in Baghdad recently (via: Instapundit):

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers.

Rice, in the Iraqi capital to tout security gains and what she calls an emerging political consensus, said al-Sadr is content to issue threats and edicts from the safety of Iran, where he is studying. Al-Sadr heads an unruly militia that was the main target of an Iraqi government assault in the oil-rich city of Basra last month, and his future role as a spoiler is an open question.

“I know he’s sitting in Iran,” Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr’s latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. “I guess it’s all-out war for anybody but him,” Rice said. “I guess that’s the message; his followers can go too their deaths and he’s in Iran.”

Both my surprise and irritation are because our government has been notably reticent to openly ridicule people like Sadr and bin Laden, or to state the obvious with respect to the civilian-targeting terrorists who blow themselves (they hope) to high heaven. None of them are brave enough to face off against their enemies. Instead they snipe from the sidelines, issue crude and fantastic proclamations about their superiority, and in the end they prey upon the weakest and least protected members of the enemy herd. There is a word for these types of people: cowards.

When one considers the fact that we are knee-deep in an information war (as opposed to a conventional, battlefield, territory-taking war), it’s difficult to understand why we haven’t resorted to deriding the enemy much earlier. The war-supporting blogosphere does so on occasion, but our leaders certainly don’t.

By “deriding the enemy” I don’t mean producing propaganda. Instead, call them out regularly and forcefully as the cowards and charlatans that they are. Employ the poison pen and wipe that arrogant smile off of their collective faces. In other words, take them on in the battle space they’ve chosen. We can defeat them there just as easily as we’ve done in actual combat.

Sphere: Related Content

But He Knows the Military!

Cross-posted to

The Air Force Times reports on a rather surprising gaffe from the foreign policy Commander-in-Chief-to-be:

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona may not have been paying the closest of attention last week during hearings on the Bush administration’s Iraq policy.

Speaking Monday at the annual meeting of the Associated Press, McCain was asked whether he, if elected, would shift combat troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to intensify the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

“I would not do that unless Gen. [David] Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that,” McCain said, referring to the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Petraeus, however, made clear last week that he has nothing to do with the decision. Testifying last week before four congressional committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee on which McCain is the ranking Republican, Petraeus said the decision about whether troops could be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan was not his responsibility because his portfolio is limited to the multi-national force in Iraq.

Decisions about Afghanistan would be made by others, he said.

“I’ve been sort of focused on another task,” Petraeus said when pressed about whether more troops should be diverted to Afghanistan rather than Iraq.

McCain did not stay for the full Petraeus appearance before the armed services committee, so he might have missed that explanation.

I have another idea: how about, like President Bush, McCain has decided to punt any hard decisions to his future generals. While I dislike the politicized nature of General Petraeus, I also recognize that in a real way he was forced into that when President Bush made him the lynch pin of his Iraq gambit: everything would rely on “Davie” or whatever he was called in press conferences. And, unfortunately, should my fears be confirmed and Iraq slides off the precipice, it is Petraeus who will suffer the consequences for it now that politicians of the Right are ditching their responsibilities in the war they started.

At the hearings, Petraeus reiterated his stance that the larger strategic considerations of the GWOT are actually the President’s responsibility, and not his, as the military is controlled by civilians. As a politician who has based his entire career and now presidential bid on his foreign policy and military expertise, McCain really shouldn’t fumble such a topic. In fact, for him to say such a thing is deeply troubling: Petraeus is responsible for Iraq, not Afghanistan. An expert who spent his many years after Vietnam working with the military should know that. Petraeus hasn’t been read into the command-level briefings on Afghanistan, he doesn’t have the relationship with commanders within NATO and ISAF, and he doesn’t have the staff at ARCENT to know any more than we do what the situation is like in Afghanistan. How could Petraeus know that the needs of Afghanistan either do or do not outweigh the needs of Iraq?

As the man said: he’s been “sort of focused on another task.” That is, doing his job in Iraq.

Much like McCain’s curious inability to distinguish between Sunnis and Shiites 6.5 years into a cataclysmic battle as much about internal divisions within Islam as Islam’s relations with everyone else, this speaks to a much greater problem with the man who can’t talk domestic issues to save his life: even with the Armed services, the man is an empty suit. Unlike Clinton and Obama, he hasn’t yet come up with an idea, even a silly Obama-style one of unicorns and candy canes, of how to address the “Pashtun problem.” While the Democrats prominently feature plans of variously appalling quality for Afghanistan on their web pages, McCain cannot even be bothered to mention it apart from his vague rah-rah plans for Iraq—which doesn’t quite distinguish him from neophytes like Obama (and why does he note that we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan while not even offering a token “I want to win” about it?). When he does bother to mention the place in speeches, he makes obvious, galling errors. Any real look at his excuse for a strategy has to be gleaned from paragraphs here and there in speeches and articles.

So I guess it really is no wonder he’s punt his Afghanistan strategy to a theater one-star.

Argh. Does anyone else not feel like voting this year? (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

What Is ASHC?

tensionThere seems to be some confusion on the part of some as to exactly what sort of place ASHC is:

I was rather surprised to read this dubious and scornful appraisal of Michael Yon’s Wallstreet Journal editorial at A Second Hand Conjecture, a heretofore conservative site.

The post Mick Stockinger is referring to was created by Joshua Foust, our resident curmudgeon. Josh took aim at Michael Yon’s apparent advocation for more troops in theater:

This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting.

The title of Yon’s WSJ piece was “Let’s ‘Surge’ Some More.” So the obvious inference was that Yon thinks we should be committing more troops to Iraq as we did with Petraeus’ “surge” last year. Josh took exception with that (in his typical, short-post, snarky way), and he made a valid point: our military is admittedly stretched and strained, to the point that further commitments are not exactly feasible.

I’m not concerned here with the merits of Josh’s post, but instead with the characterization of ASHC as “a heretofore conservative site.” I understand why Mick (and others) think that, but we should set the record straight. This is not a “conservative” site by any stretch of the imagination. The great majority of us support the war in Iraq, but not based on any sort of conservative principles. Essentially we all believe that winning is possible, and that winning is in the best interests of America. The only difference between Josh and the rest of us on this score is that Josh thinks (and can cogently explain when he wants to) that the war was a mistake and that the costs of continuing it are greater than any perceived benefits. Josh and I fundamentally disagree on this point, but that does not make him “liberal” nor me “conservative.”

Which leads me to the ultimate point: ASHC is not a conservative site. We are an amalgamation of views loosely coalesced around the idea that more freedom is better than less. We each hold different views on what that means, and the sole issue on which we are diametrically opposed is with respect to the war in Iraq. Josh stands alone here on ASHC, but I defy anyone to produce a more intelligent and reasoned voice when it comes to articulating why taking on Iraq was a bad idea. Even as I routinely and vociferously disagree with Josh’s assessments, I appreciate the value that Josh adds to the discussion. In other words, Josh may be wrong, but he makes wrong look as right as anyone possibly could.

In sum, if ASHC is deemed insufficiently “conservative” because of Josh’s posts then so be it. We never claimed that moniker, nor is it one that we’ve ever expressed any interest in holding. Personally, I’m proud to have Josh as a co-blogger precisely because our views conflict. You will often find arguments here opining as to how we are winning in Iraq and the GWOT, and you’ll also see arguments suggesting that Iraq was a huge mistake. That does not make ASHC deficient in any category. It makes us more useful and interesting.

Sphere: Related Content

Victory Is Always Six Months Away

Back in December of 2006, the blogger Fabius Maximus compiled a rather handy anthology of our great foreign policy lights in the darkness, boldly predicting we’d know for sure whether or not the Iraq project would succeed in 2003. And 2004. And 2005. And 2006. And 2007. It was a depressing confirmation of the permanence of the Friedman Unit, perhaps the only positive contribution Duncan Black has ever made to political discourse.

Of course, the Friedman Unit is obsolete. In his new anthology of how our leaders are always promising withdrawal—always contingent on that good news six months to two years in the future. It was a hallmark of the early days of the war, and it’s been a hallmark of the Surge under Petraeus.

There is no grander point I am intentionally making, though doubtless some here will accuse me of it. I would beg those who would not to fall for the trap that bad news means we must stay, but good news means we must stay—it is important to remember the very long record of wrong assessments, unkeepable assurances, and unworkable plans of action those who lead us have on their hands.

Sphere: Related Content

Squirming Like A Stuck Pig

Technically, Doug Feith is right: no one ever said it would be a cakewalk. Of course, that still doesn’t mean he’s not a big, fat liar desperate to rewrite history with someone else as the villain.

Sphere: Related Content

Back-Stabbing Amongst the Warmongers

Stephen Hayes, when even Doug Feith (who is renown for his honesty) won’t stand up for your articles on the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection, it might be time to admit you were wrong.

Sphere: Related Content

What Is Iraq’s Largest Humanitarian Organization?

Moqtada sl-Sadr’s Army. This implies something very significant: much like how Hezbollah and HAMAS maintain enormous humanitarian operations that undercut the central government and keep their support base strong, al-Sadr has a reputation among the millions of Iraqis misplaced by our war that will not be easy to overcome. It’s too early to compare JAM to either movement, but the development is a bad one. This is one of those rare cases where we want the Iraqi government to be providing for its citizens to the exclusion of non-government groups, otherwise its legitimacy is further undermined.

Sphere: Related Content

Victory Ill-Defined

Michael Yon wants more troops, more surging, more progress in Iraq toward inevitable victory. Of course, what that “victory” is, if it is even remotely like what we thought it would be in 2003, if it is in fact achievable against all reason, is left unsaid. As is the impact his desires would have upon an Army its own soldiers fear is strained to the breaking point.

But hey, he’s been living with soldiers in Iraq for five years, so he knows best, right?

Sphere: Related Content

Those Magnificent Men

I was sent this via e-mail from my Uncle Pat, also known as Colonel Alfred H. Paddock. Uncle Pat is a story in and of himself, but I’ll tell you a little more about him after the e-mail. Let it suffice to say for now that Pat is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable soldiers on the subject of unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency and psyops to have served in our armed forces. Thus he has a deep appreciation for the struggles our men and women are having in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the magnificent way they have conducted themselves relative to history or any other armed force in existence today. (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Quotes of the Day


Here’s the sorry reality: Such occurrences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the “arc” of territory that the Bush administration has, in a mere few years, helped set aflame are the norm. Our “mistakes,” that is, are legion and, in the process of making them, our planes, drones, and helicopters have killed villagers by the score, attacked a convoy of friendly Afghan “elders,” and blown away wedding parties. For us, “incidents” like these pass by in an instant, but not for those who are on the receiving end…

Let’s remember that, after 9/11, Americans, from the President on down, spent months, if not years in mourning, performing rites of remembrance, and swearing revenge against those who had done this to us. Do we not imagine that others, even when the spotlight isn’t on them, react similarly? Do we not think that they, too, are capable of swearing revenge and acting accordingly?

The above list of incidents covers just a couple of weeks in one embattled country — and just the moments that made it into minor news reports that I happened to stumble across…

Whatever happened in these latest air attacks, the deaths of civilians are not some sideline result of the War on Terror; they lie at its heart. If your care is safety — a subject brought up repeatedly by Senators who wanted to know from U.S. commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker this week whether the surge had made “us” safer — then, the answer is: This does not make you safer.

Tom Englehardt, in a hard-hitting critique of the U.S. reliance on air power to accomplish our wars (emphasis mine). Despite the interjections of lefty jeremiads, the fundamentals of his piece are well-argued, and the piece warrants reading in full.


This is hardly the fault of Petraeus, a brilliant general tasked with a nearly impossible mission. Building a decent political order in Iraq has always been something of a fantasy. Even if Petraeus somehow succeeds in bringing violence down to a manageable level, it may be generations before Iraq becomes the “dramatic and inspiring example of freedom” in the Middle East that President Bush has repeatedly invoked. Instead, it will most likely evolve into a country plagued by instability, ethnosectarian violence, weak institutions, and unreliable oil production—if we’re lucky. Few Americans would support spending $12 billion a month in Iraq if they understood that they were buying, at best, another Nigeria, and at worst, Somalia with oil.

Foreign Policy Web Editor Blake Hounshell, on why he thinks the Surge won’t matter (by contextualizing it in the broader literature on democratization, nation-building, and so on). This in particular is about placing blame for Iraq where blame is due; that is, not on Petraeus or Crocker, who have carried out their assignments despite their annoying politicization, but on President Bush and his advisors, who keep pushing through the dream of utopia on a land that seems to reject it. It is, again, worthy of a complete read before commentary.

Sphere: Related Content

What They Won’t Ask Petraeus

3. Recent Senate testimony by General William Odom and journalist Nir Rosen presented a portrait of Iraq that is at odds with the more rosy picture painted by the Bush Administration. General Odom has said “the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strong men who distrust the government and occasionally fight among themselves. Thus the basic military situation is far worse because of the proliferation of armed groups under local military chiefs who follow a proliferating number of political bosses. This can hardly be called greater military stability, much less progress toward political consolidation, and to call it fragility that needs more time to become success is to ignore its implications.” How do you respond to this?

That and more, courtesy Abu Muqawama—including the excellent question: “How do we know if we’re losing? How do we know if our strategy is not working? Is it falsifiable?”

These are important questions to ask, and they haven’t been.

Sphere: Related Content

Is Disabling JAM a Good Idea?

Lost in the hoopla over the intra-Shia fighting in Iraq is a rather fundamental question: is it even a good idea? Is it something we should be poking our fingers into? Augustus Norton, a professor of International Relations at Boston University, is not so sure:

I remember sitting in Beirut with an old friend about the time of the invasion. He was a shrewd observer (and a Shi’i Muslim), who I had known for decades. He was happy to see Saddam toppled, but he was distressed by how poorly prepared the US was to deal with Iraq. He said, despite the mistakes, this will be ok provided the US does not alienate the Shi’a in Iraq. “If you do that, then it is all over.”

Muqtada al-Sadr sits atop a mobilized underclass community that is too unwieldy to encompass in a well-integrated party, and he is not the greatest leader, but he does have unique authority as a sayyid (or descendant of the Prophet), as the son and former aide of Ayatollah M. Sadiq al-Sadr and as part of a distinguished clerical family with branches in Lebanon and Iran, as well as Iraq. He alone can sit atop the volcano. If he loses control, then Katie bar the door…

Our political dilemma is that our Iraqi Shi’i “friends” don’t have the popular base that Muqtada does, not are likely to any time soon.

Indeed, the deeper, more ideological ties with Iran of ISCI and the Badr Brigades—which form primary components of Maliki’s political base—are often left aside in the more Kagan-esque commentaries on the fighting. It is not an unalloyed good; even though Maliki is the official government of Iraq, we are not well served by helping a minority Shia faction defeat a majority Shia faction—especially if we’re helping to further entrench those beholden to Iran. What’s even worse, Iran has proven it is the real mediator of peace in the country: the first round of fighting in Basra was brokered in Iran, not the Green Zone. Both sides now look East, rather than West, to resolve their problems.

This is not good news.

Sphere: Related Content

Political Progress in Iraq

This will be good news if it happens…

Iraq’s major Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties have closed ranks to force anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to disband his Mahdi Army militia or leave politics, lawmakers and officials involved in the effort said Sunday.

Such a bold move risks a violent backlash by al-Sadr’s Shiite militia. But if it succeeds it could cause a major realignment of Iraq’s political landscape.

The first step will be adding language to a draft election bill banning parties that operate militias from fielding candidates in provincial balloting this fall, the officials and lawmakers said. The government intends to send the draft to parliament within days and hopes to win approval within weeks.

“We, the Sadrists, are in a predicament,” lawmaker Hassan al-Rubaie said Sunday. “Even the blocs that had in the past supported us are now against us and we cannot stop them from taking action against us in parliament.”

And it looks like Sadr is reading the writing on the wall…

Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will consult senior religious leaders and disband his Mehdi Army militia if they instruct him to, a senior aide said on Monday.

The surprise announcement was the first time Sadr has proposed dissolving the Mehdi Army, one of the principle actors in Iraq’s five-year-old conflict and the main opponent of U.S. and Iraqi forces during a recent upsurge in fighting.

It came on the day Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in a television interview, ordered the Mehdi Army to disband or Sadr’s followers would be excluded from Iraqi political life.

Senior aide Hassan Zargani said Sadr would seek rulings from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, as well as senior Shi’ite clergy based in Iran, on whether to dissolve the Mehdi Army, and would obey their orders.

That effectively puts the militia’s fate in the hands of the ageing and reclusive Sistani, a cleric revered by all of Iraq’s Shi’ite factions and whose edicts carry the force of Islamic law, but who almost never intervenes in politics.

“Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered his offices in Najaf and Qom to form a delegation to visit Sistani in Najaf and (other leaders) in Qom to discuss the disbanding of the Mehdi Army,” Zargani told Reuters.

Sphere: Related Content

We Fund Terrorists


The Badr Organization is the military arm of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI previously known as SCIRI). Now ISCI is closely aligned with Maliki government and is arguably the most significant player in the current central government. In fact significant elements of the Badr Organization have been incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces… The Badr Organization (Originally called the Badr Brigades) was originally formed by Iran. But according to Ware many of its members were considered to be part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. And many of them are now considered to be retirees of the IRGC. Which means…They still get pensions from the IRGC!!

But remember: it’s the Sadr army that is beholden to Iran, not Maliki.

Sphere: Related Content

“The Iraq Narrative”

Abu Muqawama looks at the unconditionally rosy pictures of Iraq painted by Fred and Kim Kagan and sees nothing but disaster for the future civil-military relations:

Why is this dangerous? Because when the next president — Obama or McCain — comes to office and is suddenly confronted with the messy reality of Iraq, he might have to make some tough decisions. And if he decides to start cutting our loses and moving our finite troops to Afghanistan and back to the U.S. for re-training, he — especially if it’s Obama — is going to get mercilessly crucified by the right for abandoning the glorious success that was our involvement in Iraq. The “stabbed in the back” narrative will take hold, and it proponents will seize the dishonest picture of Iraq painted by the Kagans as evidence that we were winning in Iraq before the cowardly liberals took charge.

Naturally, this would have rather serious consequences for the military’s relationship with the rest of the country. The whole post is worth reading in full.

Sphere: Related Content

The Torture Memos

Well I’m sure you’ve all seen the declassified “torture memos” written by Deputy AAG John Yoo (part 1, part 2, both PDF). They laid the legal foundation for the use of expanded interrogation techniques, the horrid euphemism used by the Bush administration to justify what we once considered wretched torture performed only by our worst enemies.

Yoo’s argument, essentially, is that neither Congress nor the Courts nor signed laws nor ratified treaties can impede on the President’s choices, and that anything that may violate these statues nullifies them, making them no longer law. Yoo, however, took it even beyond nullifying the current spate of laws:

Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of enemy combatants would violate the Constitution’s sole vesting of the Commander-in-Chief authority in the President….Congress can no more interfere with the President’s conduct of the interrogation of enemy combatants than it can dictate strategic or tactical decisions on the battlefield… Any presidential decision to order interrogations methods that are inconsistent with CAT would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions…

If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network. In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.

This is, in a word, appalling. This commenter spent a good chunk of the day digging up more howlers from Yoo’s memo. Beyond all the shady reasons like they’re not war criminals because they declared the Geneva Conventions—which, as a ratified treaty is actually U.S. law—simply don’t apply to them because they President declared himself and his branch of the government an exception, there is this bit:

Footnote 41 notes that the torture statute carries the death penalty if the torture results in death. We know that at least 1 detainee died from extreme hypothermia in US custody. That was a capital crime.

Indeed it was. But I don’t really expect anyone to be held accountable for this atrocity (which led directly to the horror of Abu Ghraib and other despicable acts). After all, the memo has been rescinded, and most of its authors and supporters—like a very unrepentant Doug Feith—all have quite lucrative positions in law schools, universities, and think tanks. Holding them accountable for literal crimes would simply be too much to ask for the brave lawyers who shredded the constitution to save it lo’ these many moons ago.

Sphere: Related Content

Operation Lost Cause

Let’s see, the Mahdi Army is in retreat, and the ISF is continuing operations, and sending reinforcements.

Isn’t it OBVIOUS that Maliki is loosing.

Update -

This puts things into perspective…

Mission accomplished has been duly declared, although the JAM in Basra remains apparently intact and raids are still ongoing to seize some of the weapons whose surrender was the accomplishment the mission was aimed at. I’ve given up trying to figure out who won, a conclusion I reached when I found myself nodding along with this theory that Sadr’s actually in cahoots with Maliki to target the “rogue” JAM units who are operating essentially as renegades but under the Mahdi Army banner.

Read the whole thing…

Sphere: Related Content

Iran Saves the Surge

Iran was integral in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to halt attacks by his militia on Iraqi security forces, an Iraqi lawmaker said Monday.

Afghanistan hyper-expert Barnett Rubin says: “en Iran Revolutionary Guards helped the U.S. destroy al-Qaida’s bases in Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and form an interim government under UN supervision, the Bush administration responded by putting Iran (then led by President Muhammad Khatami) on the ‘axis of evil.’ … Iran convenes them on its territory, and the battle is calmed.”

But of course, Iran is the enemy.

Sphere: Related Content

The Question on Everyone’s Mind Is…

… why are we backing an Iran-friendly movement in Basra against Iraqi nationalists? Lest I be accused of a selective reading, this is the sort of question being posed by a huge range of people, from the usual suspects (like Spencer Ackerman), to Anthony Cordesman, to Bartle Bull, to Noah Shachtman, to Abu Muqawama.

But of course, the usual suspects are also claiming the fight is good guys vs. bad, popular government against populist movement, and even sometimes outright misrepresenting the factions in play. But alas, those kinds of people will always exist.

The big question, though: which side is “better?” Maliki has obvious drawbacks (namely ISCI’s close ties to Iran), but is the “legitimate” head of state. Sadr, on the other hand, enjoys massive popular support, and does not have any ideological affinity for a larger Arab-Persian Shiite alliance. It isn’t easy, but I fear our rush to support Maliki’s government will ultimately undermine it, and the occupation—it removes their incentive to take responsibility for their own choices.

Sphere: Related Content

Nice work if you can get it

A 22-year old kid and his 25-year old ex-masseuse brother run a company called AEY, Inc. They won a rather sizable contract to supply the Afghan National Army with ammunition for their fight against the Taliban. Along the way they developed a relationship with shady international arms dealers, 40-year old Albanian surplus bullets, and a penchant for rotting Chinese metal.

CJ Chivers has the whole story, which spans several continents. This is, sadly, not atypical for how these wars have been conducted—that is to say, downright sloppily.

Sphere: Related Content

AQI’s Last Stand?

Al Qaeda’s efforts in Iraq have been less than successful over the past year, due in large part to the Anbar Awakening and the related Councils of Concerned Citizens/Sons of Iraq movements, and the support offered those movements by Petraeus’ COIN methods manifested by the “surge.” Essentially, as Tigerhawk predicted a while back (and I discussed here), once the locals got sick of the barbaric tactics employed by al Qaeda and its fellow travelers, anti-American feelings simply were not enough to continue even passively supporting the terrorists and insurgents. It was pretty clear who offered the better deal, and the Iraqis rose up in great numbers to protect their families and their homes.

Now, in Nineveh, Michael Yon reports that AQI may be on it’s last legs and that this time they have not found hospitable grounds from which to base their terror tactics (via: Hot Air): (more…)

Sphere: Related Content

Why grow poppy?

Posted first on, this is the latest in a series I’ve been writing there for the past two years on the many problems with our counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, and how bad policy has fueled the insurgency to record strength.

Over at Abu Muqawama, Kip has posited a very interesting hypothesis:

Already in the 2007 annual survey on opium production in Afghanistan, UNODC challenged some of the claptrap from the SENLIS Council and other groups who have argued that poverty causes farmers to grow poppy and that eradication then results in those farmers joining the insurgency… In a March report, UNODC methodically puts to rest the issue of poverty as the root cause for regional opium production.

And here I thought the Senlis Council’s biggest crime was in pushing drug legalization. Kip quotes the report, which argues there is a stronger correlation between security and opium production, rather than poverty and opium production. He notes that in the south, farmers can grow other crops and “still make more than farmers anywhere else in the country (although less than they would growing poppy).” This is an incoherent statement, however. The biggest problem facing Alternative Livelihood programs isn’t the farm-gate price of produce—as entrepreneur/aid workers like Sarah Chayes have demonstrated, if the market is available, farmers will sell their produce rather than their poppy—it is infrastructure. Put simply, pomegranates grown in Kandahar cannot reach any real markets before they rot.


Sphere: Related Content


U.S. deaths in Iraq reach the 4,000 mark as rockets and mortar rain down on the Green Zone and the Sons of Iraq grow restless.

On the flip side of things, Totten tells us of the liberation of another pile of rubble. What do they mean? Is victory just around the bend?

Sphere: Related Content

A Retrospective of Retrospectives

Five years past the invasion of Iraq, every body has been posting their own recollections—with a surprisingly small number of mea culpas. Over at Cynic’s Party, “Blogenfreude” summarized the roundup on Slate quite ably:

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I believed the groupthink and contributed to it,” by Jacob Weisberg.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I seriously misjudged Bush’s sense of morality,” by Andrew Sullivan.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t realize how incompetent the Bush administration could be,” by Jeffrey Goldberg.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? Rather than bore you with the answer, here are lessons from the experience,” by Lord William Saletan.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I thought we had a chance to stabilize an unstable region, and—I admit it—I wanted to strike back,” by Richard Cohen.

“How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t,” by Christopher Hitchens.

Ignoring Hitchens’ grating arrogance, the Jeffrey Goldberg case is an interesting one. Spencer Ackerman looked back on how Bush was hyping the Saddam-AQ connection (”The danger… is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness,” sayeth the Dubya), and the ways Goldberg and Steven Hayes of the Weekly Standard played into it. It is a devastating case study of how the many journalists who are consistently, provably, wrong and deceitful continue to fail upwards:

Goldberg, in The New Yorker, wrote two pieces — one in March 2002 and the other on the eve of the invasion — backing the Saddam/Al Qaeda claim… Hayes, in the Standard, has made a career out of pretending Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league to attack the United States. He published a book — tellingly wafer-thin and with large type in its hardcover edition — called “The Connection.” One infamous piece even suggested that Saddam might have aided the 9/11 attack….

By contrast, Goldberg and Hayes have seen their careers flourish. Goldberg traded his New Yorker post for a lucrative spot at The Atlantic. Hayes wrote a lengthy hagiography of Cheney for major New York publisher, HarperCollins. Publicity for the book got him a special spot on “Meet The Press,” befitting his status as a high-profile television pundit who is never treated as the conspiracy theorist he is.

Other high profile journalists with long records of failure about the Iraq War include William Kristol, now comfortably ensconced at the New York Times editorial page.

But what of our leaders, those we have elected to defend and protect our interests?


Sphere: Related Content

The Left, McCain And The War


The inestimable Oliver Kamm provides a glimpse at the value our British friends find in a potential John McCain presidency:

Two points about McCain stand out. He’s not a conservative and he’s been right all along about Iraq. These are the reasons I favoured him from the outset for the Republican nomination. Indeed McCain has been more right than anyone on Iraq. He’s stuck to that position despite his conviction, (expressed in Seattle just over a year ago) that, like Tony Blair, he might have sacrificed his political career for Iraq. In The Sunday Times today, Sarah Baxter reports a gracious remark of McCain that “I do miss Tony Blair”.

Oliver quotes this exchange as being particularly noteworthy (my emphasis):

[INTERVIEWER]: In all of the polls, the majority of the American people say it’s time to begin withdrawing the troops. The House is on record saying it’s time to begin withdrawing. The Senate now on the record. You say more troops are the answer. Why?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the surge is a new strategy. It’s not just more troops. It’s a new strategy. The second thing is, polls are interesting. If you ask the American people, “If we can show you a path to success, a way that you can have a government that’s functioning and the military situation under control,” of course they’ll support it. They’re frustrated, and understandably, by the lack of progress in Iraq. And that’s because of the terrible mismanagement of this war that went on for nearly four years.

In addition to opining that McCain should opt for Sen. Joe Lieberman as his running mate over Mike Huckabee, Oliver concludes:

When I had a rather less elevated exchange last week with Tony Benn, he kept on about the anti-war views of the British people. But the British electorate, like the American electorate, is not opposed to war: it’s opposed to defeat.

Even as I agree that both the Brits and Americans would be more supportive of the war if a clear path to “victory” were established, I have to wonder if the Brits’ would be as enamored of McCain if he was more of a true conservative. McCain’s more Continental views with respect to social issues and the government’s role in them, and his unwavering stance on the proper manner for prosecuting the war in Iraq, combine to present to the Brits a politician they apparently feel comfortable with. However, if McCain did hold more conservative positions on topics such as immigration, global warming, and stem cell research, would the Brits be as sanguine about his prescription for Iraq? Somehow I doubt it.

Indeed, the comments at Oliver’s place suggest as much:

I have to disagree with you, Oliver, when you say that McCain is “not a conservative.” He’s definitely a conservative, just not a bigot (usually the two are interchangeable in American politics); McCain is to the right on every issue you cite: immigration, environment, science (he recently promoted the teaching of creation alongside evolution in Arizona schools), and same-sex rights. He also leans to the right on taxation, direct corporate intervention in legislation, and the place of religion in public life. Moreover on each of these issues McCain has compromised or entirely sold out his “maverick” positions in order to attain the nomination, and it is unlikely that once in office he would be able to renege on the promises he has made to far-right groups during the campaign, and definitely not if he wanted to seek a second term. Certainly he is not a far-right figure, but considering that even the Democrats are closer to the British Conservative party than to Labor, that makes McCain rather further right than you suggest. McCain may well be correct (or more correct) than Clinton or Obama on Iraq, but he would be a disaster for America’s domestic politics, which might well be more important in the long term for the fight against terrorism and al-Qaeda.

In other words, McCain’s domestic policy positions are much more important than his stance on Iraq. Brits who find him less than stellar in that regard, aren’t going to be very persuaded that (a) the war in Iraq is susceptible to any positive outcome, or (b) that John McCain has the proper policy for it, or (c) that his Iraq war policy is at all beneficial. And I think that holds true on this side of the pond as well. Many on the American left would agree, I think, that however left of the GOP base McCain may be, he’s still the wrong choice on domestic issues. There is almost no position he can take on such issues that will change their mind on the war.

To be sure, Roland Dodds (also found in the comments) argued back in January that the left should support McCain precisely because he stuck to his guns on the “surge”:

I have made it clear on this blog and in conversations with friends and family that my vote will go to the candidate that supports the fight for democracy in Iraq, and will not abandon the Kurds to be slaughtered yet again. I can forgive some of McCain’s decisions throughout his career and the way he has pandered to religious conservatives in recent months, and I can effortlessly when I consider what democracy promotion will look like if someone like Obama or Edwards is elected.

The War on Terror and the fight for liberal democracy may be nothing more than a bumper sticker slogan to some on the left, but it means something to me. If we surrender freedom to the forces of theocracy and totalitarianism overseas, we do not deserve to call ourselves democrats at home. If our concept of democracy ends at our borders, like Ron Paul supporters would have us believe, then we have sacrificed our comrades overseas for juvenile self assuredness and sciolism.

Both Oliver and Roland make a case for the left to get behind McCain’s campaign based his plan for victory in Iraq, which they see as the correct one. However, the presumption that victory is important to the left is misplaced. Achieving a stable democratic regime in the heart of the Middle East is never going to be acceptable to a good deal of the left who, even if they begrudgingly granted that such an accomplishment would count as a “victory”, tend to consider it to be little more than encouragement for future foreign excursions. Even more troubling for them is the fact that America will have avoided its much deserved comeuppance for its domineering ways. A victory in Iraq translates in to ever more unchecked American imperialism, which the left simply cannot abide.

In my humble opinion, until voices akin to those of Roland and Oliver (and Hitchens) find more purchase amongst the left, anybody and anything that trips up America will be applauded, and any person who speaks up against America will be feted as a hero. John McCain, therefore, may stand out to some on the left as one who can fulfill the role of spreading democracy (and through democracy, peace), and thus as someone whom they can get behind. But I would not expect the left as a whole (or even a large part) to embrace the Senator for these views, regardless of how liberal he may be on social issues. At least not until a majority of them can also embrace American virtues such as free enterprise, self-determination and individualism, which virtues are antithetical to governance for the “common good.” For so long as the needs of government are placed above the needs of the governed, victory for America in foreign lands will be viewed through the prism of the “common good.”

Sphere: Related Content

Get rewarded at leading casinos.

online casino real money usa