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April 21, 2007

"Time is Irrelevant"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

More promising signs from Iraq.  Apparently the plan is for American troops to be there forever while Iraqi politicians haggle over the spoils of the country.

Hasan Suneid, a lawmaker and adviser to Maliki, said the Iraqi government would like to see both the oil legislation and de-Baathification proposal pass, but at their own pace. "These demands are already Iraqi demands," he said. "The most important thing is to achieve discussion of these plans. Time is irrelevant."

Meanwhile, via Kevin Drum and Laura Rozen it looks like training Iraqi security forces is also in trouble.

On Thursday the Pentagon abruptly blocked a group of mid-level officers from testifying before Congress about their personal experiences working with Iraqi security forces.

So, to recap.  Two of the key pillars of the American strategy - training Iraqi forces and forging a political solution - are both going nowhere.  The Iraqi government is under the impression that it has unlimited time.  And according to the President the "plan" is going along smoothly.

April 20, 2007

Some Reasonable Goals for Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Michele Flournoy and Shawn Brimley at the Center for New American Security have some interesting ideas (PDF) on our goals in Iraq.  They call it the “three no’s”.  No regional wars.  No al Qaeda bases.  No genocide.  I think they are onto something important here, but I would amend it to Minimize Al Qaeda bases.  Minimize regional wars.  Minimize genocide.  (Not as catchy as the Three No’s but more realistic.)

The main flaw with the plan is that it doesn’t acknowledge that the United States has little control over the outcome in Iraq.  Ensuring that training camps don’t start springing up is something we can do with limited forces and air power.  But if the country remains a failed state we won’t be able to fully eliminate Al Qaeda bases.  Stopping genocide might require as many troops as we have now, or even more.  Where do you draw the line between genocide and sectarian violence?  Where do you draw the line between proxy wars/skirmishes and a major regional war? 

Most importantly the “three no’s” have an unfortunate characteristic in common with the Bush/McCain argument.  Both start with what we can’t let happen, instead of asking what we realistically can expect to achieve at a reasonable cost. 

I’d suggest doing this in the reverse.  First figure out what is a reasonable number of forces that the U.S. can maintain in the region while minimizing damage to the military, harm to other strategic interests, backlash in the Middle East, and anger from the American people?  My guess is we’re talking somewhere between 10K-40K troops.  Second, develop a military and political strategy based on those troop levels that tries to minimize Al Qaeda bases, minimize regional wars, and minimize sectarian violence. 

Then again, as AJ at AmericaBlog points out, at this point the Administration is going in the other direction and taking on more aggressive military objectives.  Sigh…

Is the War Lost?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Harry Reid is taking some flack from Republicans for saying that the “war is lost.”  I’m confused about whether this is true or not, because four years into this war we still don’t have a definition of victory. 

If the mission was to bring a stable and representative government to Iraq that can act as an example for others in the region, I’d have to say we’ve lost.  Improving our position in the Middle East?  Lost.  If it was narrowly defined as deposing Saddam Hussein, than I guess we’ve already won.  As far as I can tell the mission today is simply to avoid failure, which really isn’t a mission at all. 

If memory serves me, the original mission was to eliminate Saddam’s WMDs.  I’m so confused.  Did we win or lose that one?

April 19, 2007

McCain's Strange Non Sequiter
Posted by Jeremy Broussard

Wednesday in a speech before the VFW in South Carolina, Senator John McCain responded to a question about a U.S. military response to Iranian-backed terrorism . . . by breaking into song.  Granted, the questioner asked him, "When do we send [Iran] an air mail message?" 

McCain paraphrased an old Beach Boys by singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran,"  to the tune of "Barbara Ann".

It was just a strange, surreal moment.  His campaign quickly issues a statement, saying, "He was just trying to add a little humor to the event."

Perhaps they're comparing his remark to the joke Ronald Reagan made before a radio address 23 year ago when he "outlawed" the Soviet Union and said, "We begin bombing in five minutes."  Unfortunately for McCain, he is not yet president.  And while Reagan's statement was comically absurd, there is serious concern that we may be at war with Iran in the near future.

One week  he's telling Wolf Blitzer how nice Baghdad is when you can stroll around a market with your own infantry company guarding you . . . the next he's singing ditties about bombing countries.

You Must Know Obama! Piercing a Bubble
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Finally. Using the last, say, 5 months as my window of observation, I just hours ago found my first American citizen who's never heard of Barack Obama. It was weird. She's a good friend. We were talking. For some reason, I mentioned John Edwards. And she drew a blank. I reminded her that Edwards was Kerry's running mate in 2004. She assured me that she knew about Kerry, but that "Edwards" wasn't exactly ringing a bell.

Then, I thought to myself, well, I'm sure she's heard of Obama. So I asked her. Nothing. "You must be kidding me! You've never heard of Barack Obama??" I was beside myself. Granted, she doesn't live in the U.S. anymore, but still...So, anyway, I proceeded to explain to her the phenomenon of Barack Obama in five sentences or less. A question to our readers: am I living in a self-contained world of like-minded northeastern liberals who hearken for the return of Robert Kennedy, or do "unaware-of-Obama" Americans exist in significant numbers?

The Imus Fiasco, Racism and Anti-Muslim Sentiment
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Sorry for not posting much the past couple weeks. Just got back from Greece and other places. Ok then, let me start off with Imus: I don’t like him. Many years ago, I remember occasionally tuning in to his show in the early morning hours, and sitting there baffled, wondering how someone like this could possibly get his own gig on television. But while what Imus said was of course offensive and racist, I find so many of the responses to his comments to be little more than self-serving, cynical examples of all-too-convenient scapegoating. The thing is that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The raison d’etre of talk radio is to offend, and because we enjoy listening to people who say outrageous things, we’ve condoned and indulged a talk radio culture that is revolting. Imus himself has said things that are much worse in the past such as using the epithet "thieving Jews" and later saying that the phrase was "redundant." I'm not sure how you can get much more anti-semitic than that. He also, not surprisingly, doesn't like Arabs, calling them "towelheads" and "ragheads."

At the same time, I understand people who say that we shouldn't be in the business of firing and censoring people for their bigotry, unless said bigotry crosses the line into incitement of violence. Even if Imus deserved to be fired (and I think there's a good argument for it, not so much based on his most recent "hos" comment but due to the fact that he has a history of saying these types of things), the danger is that because of this whole incident, people will practice even more self-censorship making an honest conversation about race in America even more difficult than it already is. Few white politicians and commentators say anything but useless platitudes on race today, because they’re in constant fear of slipping and saying the wrong thing. How this is conducive to addressing racial tensions in our country is beyond me.

Ok, let me now delve into a related point that I find a bit troubling. What Imus said is pretty tame compared to the anti-Muslim remarks that have been a staple of public discourse (and particularly right-wing talk radio) since 9/11. It’s amazing to me that Ann Coulter could get away with saying in reference to Muslims: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," which strikes me as out-and-out incitement to violence (she's also said utterly inane things like "Muslims ought to start claiming the Koran also prohibits indoor plumbing, to explain their lack of it").

Continue reading "The Imus Fiasco, Racism and Anti-Muslim Sentiment" »

Upping the Ante in Afghanistan
Posted by Jeremy Broussard

The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. allied forces in Afghanistan intercepted an Iranian shipment of mortars and plastic explosives, allegedly bound for Taliban fighters.  If true, it would mark a significant turn of events in U.S.-Iranian relations vis-a-vis  Afghanistan.

It was the first time that a senior American official had asserted that Iranian-made weapons were being supplied to the Taliban. But Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it was not clear if the Iranian government had authorized the shipment.

We have intercepted weapons in Afghanistan headed for the Taliban that were made in Iran ,” General Pace told reporters. “It’s not as clear in Afghanistan which Iranian entity is responsible.”

It's been lost on most people, what with all of the "axis of evil" talk of the past five years, but Iran played a crucial role during the initial invasion of Afghanistan by U.S. forces in 2001.  The Iranians shared intelligence, actively supported the Northern Alliance, and helped smooth over problems during the formation of the post-Taliban interim government.  How things have changed!

The fact that some faction of the Iranian government--the Revolutionary Guard, perhaps?--would be willing to support a group considered its nation's enemy only five years ago is astounding. But with Bush seeing everything in black and white, good vs. evil, it's no surprise that someone in Iran has concluded that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

The types of weapons the Iranians tried to deliver to the Taliban could have a dramatic impact on U.S. operations and casualties in Afghanistan, similar to the way Iranian-made EFP bombs in Iraq have caused a larger loss of American vehicles and personnel.  As tensions rise over Iran's nuclear weapons program, look for more "asymmetrical" Iranian actions like this on its eastern and western front.


Sudan's Bashir Knows No Bounds
Posted by Jeremy Broussard

A leaked United Nations report claims that Sudan is flying heavy weapons into Darfur, in direct violation of UN Resolution 1556.  To add insult to injury, the Sudanese government has painted these transport aircraft white, giving them the appearance of a UN aircraft to the untrained eye.  Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has done this while simultaneously delayed allowing a larger UN peacekeeping force to accompany the African Union forces ostensibly patrolling Darfur.

President Bush has threatened to tighten the financial sanctions already in place against Sudan, but it's doubtful that much will come of it.  Sitting on a proven reserve of 1.6B bbls of oil, Sudan is just too tempting for some nations with an growing energy demand (read China) to present a unified global front.  In fact, recent arms sales to Sudan only feed the beast and cause further regional instability, especially in neighboring Chad.

Bush also proposed a no-fly zone--a la pre-"liberation" Iraq--to eliminate the air support Bashir's military gives the Janjaweed militia who attack the black Sudanese in Darfur.

Enough is enough.  Over 200,000 Sudanese civilians have been killed in Darfur, twice the number killed in 1994 when NATO intervened in the Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Over 2.3 million have been made refugees, many internally-displaced.  Frankly, the U.S. is not in a position militarily or diplomatically to take direct against against the Bashir government, but our NATO allies should.  More importantly, the African Union should show true leadership and stop one of the worst genocides in Africa from continuing.

As we commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, we must not let the words "never again" be hollow rhetoric. 

April 18, 2007

The Escalation Plan - A 3 Month Report Card
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It’s been three months since the President announced his “new” plan for Iraq. (Seems a bit too much like the old plan, and the plan before that, if you ask me).  Supposedly we were going to see some results within six months.  So now that we’re halfway there, we at the National Security Network thought it was time to take a look at how things have been going.  I was originally skeptical about the ability of this plan to work, but I have to say that until working on this document I hadn’t realized exactly how many bad things had happened in Iraq, in Washington, and around the world in the last three you months.  You don’t get the full scope of how disasterous this has all been until you look at it all in one place. 


April 17, 2007

Iraq: I.E.D.s Don't Kill People, PEOPLE Do
Posted by Rosa Brooks

If that sounds like an idiotic and insane thing to say, ask yourself how gun control opponents can continue to make the equivalent claim in the domestic context.

No, hunters, I'm not after your shotguns: keep 'em with my blessing.  But how many more school massacres is it going to take before this country figures out that yes, there is a connection between the number of automatic weapons sloshing around, the laws that enable their easy purchase and concealment, and the amount of lethal violence? Sure, you can kill someone with a knife or a shotgun or by squishing them to death under sixteen tons of marshmallows, if you're really bent upon murder-- but without easily concealable automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it's a whole lot harder to kill 30+ people in a few short minutes.

Factoid: fanatical as the Bush Administration is about the right to bear arms-- and opposed as they are to the most common-sense of gun control laws,  one of the very first orders promulgated by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq was... yes, that's right, an order stating that "no person shall possess, carry, conceal, hide, bury, trade, sell, barter, give or exchange" heavy weapons, defined to include "all weapons firing ammunition larger than 7.62 MM." CPA/Ord/23 May 2003/03 also prohibited the possession of small arms in public places and the carrying of concealed weapons.

Funny, our commitment to bringing freedom to the Iraqis didn't include a commitment to guaranteeing the right of the people to bear any old arms they felt like bearing. On the contrary-- in the Iraqi context, even the Bush Administration readily understood that a society awash with weapons is more likely to see a lot of lethal violence than a society in which deadly weapons are more strictly controlled. Of course, we didn't do a very good job confiscating or controlling weapons and materiel in Iraq, but that's another story....


A Small Wish
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

That for every article, blog and radio hate-show reference we hear to the "foreignness" of the Blacksburg shooter (though he seems to have been here 15 years) we have another piece about Livian Librescu, a "foreign" professor who seems to have stayed behind to block his classroom door as his students fled, giving his own life but saving, if I read right, all his students. 

So is the "foreign" shot through the very best and very worst of our national life in the 21st century.  Maybe for once we could avoid easy cliches about it.

A Global Warming War Is Already Happening
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It would be easy to dismiss the report issued this week by a group of eleven Generals concerned about global warming as a hypothetical scenario written by strategists with too much time on their hands.  But the fact is it’s already happening.  The genocide in Darfur is not about primitive people who’ve hated each other for hundreds of years.  It’s about something much simpler:  food and water.  Scott Anderson explained this a few years back in what is one of the best pieces about Darfur:

Among the few things that the various antagonists in the Darfur crisis agree on is the conflict's root cause: cataclysmic droughts that have afflicted a vast stretch of northern and eastern Africa since the 1980's. Drought has strained the relationships that existed among the various tribes in the region and, most acutely, the relationships between its farming and nomadic communities… With everyone in increasing competition for the same shrinking pool of natural resources - water, grassland, arable soil - conflicts increased.

Essentially, the Junjaweed who have been razing villages and murdering thousands are nomads who are now fighting with local farmers for a shrinking supply of land and water.  This is a hugely important point because too often the international community blames genocide on ancient rivalries and hatreds that go so far back they cannot be stopped by outside forces.  It essentially acts as a convenient excuse for doing nothing while thousands are slaughtered.  The reality is that in most cases of genocide and sectarian violence there are multiple ethnic groups living near each other.   They may have long standing rivalries, but there is often an outside factor that sets off the violence.  In Iraq it is a lack of any security that has caused people to revert to the lowest common denominator – ethnicity.  In Darfur it is a question of food and water.

Sadly, we are likely to see more of these conflicts as the poorest countries in the world, those near the equator, suffer the harshest consequences of Global Warming.  See more in the Atlantic (Subscription only) or in a recent UN report.

April 15, 2007

Green is Great, Tom Friedman, But It Won't Make Us a Beacon
Posted by David Shorr

Putting environmetal concerns at the center of geostrategy and economics is crucial and helpful in oh so many ways, but Tom Friedman's proposed eco paradigm shift won't help America "get its groove back" as he claims in the lede of his cover article in today's Times Magazine.

Depending on how you look at it, Friedman's idea is the wrong solution for the right problem, or the right solution for the wrong problem. In terms of the latter, the argument for the public and private sectors to join efforts to stem climate change is unimpeachable. Friedman also makes a convincing case for the international political ill effects of high oil prices (actually he made this case nearly a year ago in Foreign Policy).

Cleaning up our environmental act is the wrong solution, however, for the problem of "reconnecting America abroad," set out in the opening of Friedman's piece. There's a clue why in a Michael Mandelbaum quote in the next-to-last graf. Friedman's strategic big-thinking pal says "This issue doesn't pit haves versus have-nots." And therefore, by definition, it will not help the biggest "have" of all to earn a warm place in the rest of the world's heart.

To do that, the superpower is going to have to deliver something of real interest to others that represents a significant political/economic concession -- with a more immediate benefit than lower carbon dioxide emissions and green technology. I suggest a Doha trade agreement that makes good on the promise of promoting development. Here's a proposal from Center for Global Development and Institute for International Economics.

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