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April 05, 2008

Yes and Double Yes
Posted by Michael Cohen

To follow up on the points made by Ilan and David, one thing that people forget about McCain is that he supported the surge in Iraq before George Bush did.

In 2006 McCain was arguing that the US needed to increase its troop presence at a time when most Americans were coming to the conclusion that what was needed in Iraq was not a military solution, but a political solution. Rereading one of John McCain's speeches I was surprised to discover that he was advocating for troop increases in Iraq as far back as 2003. Maybe it's just me, but it does seem as though John McCain's stock answer to a thorny international challenge is to send in more troops. There is in much of his political rhetoric a predisposition to the use of force over diplomacy that seems both inappropriate and counter-productive.

But, what's worse is that when I re-read what McCain has said about the war, it seems rather . . . Bushian. Take a look, for example, at this speech McCain gave a year ago at VMI and the eerily similar conflation of Al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents that we are so used to hearing from the President:

Our defeat in Iraq would constitute a defeat in the war against terror and extremism and would make the world a much more dangerous place. The enemies we face there harbor the same depraved indifference to human life as those who killed three thousand innocent Americans on a September morning in 2001. A couple of days before I arrived in Baghdad, a suicide car bomb destroyed a large, busy marketplace. It was a bit unusual, because new U.S. and Iraqi security measures in Baghdad have reduced the number of car bomb attacks. But this time the terrorists had a new tactic: they drove their car to a security checkpoint and were waved through because there were two small children in the back seat. The terrorists then walked away from the car, leaving the children inside it, and triggered the explosion. If the terrorists are willing to do this terrible thing to Iraqi children, what are they willing to do to our children?

Some argue the war in Iraq no longer has anything to do with us; that it is a hopelessly complicated mess of tribal warfare and sectarian conflict. The situation is complex, and very difficult. Yet from one perspective it is quite simple. We are engaged in a basic struggle: a struggle between humanity and inhumanity; between builders and destroyers. If fighting these people and preventing the export of their brand of radicalism and terror is not intrinsic to the national security and most cherished values of the United States, I don't know what is.

I'm sorry, but this is the same simplistic view of the world and the threats facing America that we have seen from the Bush Administration over the past seven years. For those of you who want to get a fuller sense of the extent to which McCain views the war in Iraq as not a political challenge for Iraqis to solve, but as a larger conflict revolving around American determination and credibility in fighting Islamic terrorism I invite you to read on here.

To the people who argue that John McCain does not represent more of the same, well they just aren't paying attention to what he's been saying.

In Answer to David's Question... Yes
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I fear David is giving John McCain too much credit.  Parts of his speech give warm fuzzies to all of us who want to see a return to a more sane foreign policy.  But here's the reality.  This is a man who:

  • Wants to keep thousands of American troops in Iraq indefinitely
  • Started pushing for the war in Iraq as early as late 2001
  • Said some horribly offensive things about our allies in the run up to the war - the same allies he now wants to make nice with
  • Promoted a policy of "Rogue State Rollback" during his 2000 campaign.  This policy essentially amounted to regime change lite

The list goes on and as David rightly pointed out you can't do these things and build closer alliances at the same time.  McCain's willingness to leave a massive troop presence in Iraq will undermine any other major foreign policy initiative.  It will suck all of the air out of the room. 

It's nice to talk about making friends with allies.  But George Bush also gave a very nice warm fuzzy speech at his second inaugural about spreading democracy around the world and that didn't work out too well either and was completely stifled primarily by the realities of Iraq. 

Would John McCain Be More of the Same?
Posted by David Shorr

Does John McCain's speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council reflect a genuine difference in approach and worldview from the incumbent? I think there is something genuine there that is worth crediting. Much of the speech is basically an acknowledgment that legitimacy matters. He is saying that our policies and posture need to be much more mindful of others' concerns, potential consequences, and international perceptions -- the kind of self-awareness, the absence of which has been the hallmark of current policy.

During the Republican primaries, I thought McCain, alone among the candidates, had a grasp of the 21st Century reality of dispersed power, interdependence, and the fact that the rest of the world doesn't see things the way we do. And I don't think it's a bad thing for the Republican nominee to be talking about those things. In the long run, that could do a lot to deflate, permanently, the neocon fallacy of inherent American rightness. I don't think Sen. McCain's foreign policy credibility is completely a matter of hype and media swoon.

Not completely anyway, because McCain blind spots are no less real. And yes, they mainly have to do with the neocons' crude notions about standing up to enemies and tests of will that dispsense with any real analysis of (thank you DA colleagues) who the enemies really are, what victory or defeat really mean, or the larger strategic context for our choices.

There's also a trade-off between McCain's (no doubt sincere) wish to regain international legitimacy and his insistence that terrorism is the transcending threat we face. Newsflash, the actions we've taken in the name of fighting terrorism and our lack of proportion in expecting everyone else to regard the threat as transcending. If he really wants to win the hearts-and-minds battle, part of that will have to be rebalancing these priorities. Besides, suppose we succeed in warding off this threat, that no terrorist attacks reach the homeland -- suppose we achieve this, and yet global warming worsens, more nations get nuclear weapons, and the global gap between the haves and have-nots keeps widening. What kind of success is that?

April 04, 2008

How Not to Use Contractors
Posted by Michael Cohen

This is simply astounding. Apparently killing 17 people, whether justified or unjustified, is not a disqualification for government contracting:

The U.S. State Department has agreed to renew Blackwater USA's license to protect diplomats in Baghdad for one year while the FBI investigates a 2007 incident in which the company's guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqis. Assistant Secretary of State Gregory Starr told reporters Friday that because the shooting of Baghdad civilians is still under investigation, there is no reason not to renew the contract when it comes due in May.

No reason? Really? There is no reason not to renew their contract? You know I can think of one reason not to renew Blackwater's contract -- their guards killed 17 innocent Iraqis.

I think it's quite possible that what Blackwater guards did in Iraq is not criminally liable -- although admittedly this seems less and less likely. Nonetheless, anytime a company that is in a position of offering protective services kills 17 innocent people, it seems like they might not be the best contracting firm to use. You would think that the bar for using protective service companies would be higher than, "have they been criminally prosecuted of wrongdoing."

And what about the optics of this move? Part of the reason the Nisour Square incident created such a furor is because this was not the first time that Blackwater guards were accused of indiscriminately discharging their weapons against civilians. The Iraqi government has repeatedly complained about BW guards and yet here is the State Department blithely ignoring these complaints and rehiring these guys. It's sort of hard to believe that these guys are in the diplomacy business.

What is so aggravating about this is that many of folks who see benefit in using private contractors (or at least have accepted it as a reality of 21st century war fighting) have been for years calling for increased government oversight and enhanced accountability for  groups like Blackwater. In recent months, we've seen real progress on this front, particularly from the Pentagon, which has finally codified the application of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to PSCs. In addition, there is legislation on the Hill to create better legal frameworks for holding contractors accountable. And yet, here we have State thumbing its nose at these efforts and hiring the same bad actors who have given the industry, and practice, such a bad name.

Just sickening.

The Democracy Arsenal Stat of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

Like Ilan, I went to a conference yesterday featuring Nir Rosen, but at mine his performance was a tad less impressive. I like Nir's stuff, but this conference was a look at Blackwater and private security companies and unfortunately, I think Nir's hatred for the war in Iraq has warped his thinking somewhat on this issue.

Anyway, after listening to Nir and Jeremy Scahill portray PSCs, like Blackwater, as a bunch of renegade cowboys who are constantly shooting at unarmed civilians, I found this nugget  from Jack Bell, the Deputy Under Secretary for Logistics and Materiel Readiness at the Pentagon, who testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday pretty revealing.

The period of August 2004 through February 2008 covers a period of rampant insurgency and sectarian violence in Iraq affecting U.S. military forces. During that time, 19,268 DoD contractor convoy operations were recorded. Of those, only 151 (or less than eight-tenths of one per cent) involved the discharge of a firearm by a private security contractor, and not all of those involved aimed fire at an enemy combatant. This was in spite of the fact that during that time, 1,441 hostile attacks were made against those convoys. These statistics reflect a high degree of discipline and effective management of DoD private security contractors operating within a strict policy framework.

Now of course this doesn't include State Department contractors (and much of Blackwater's security contracts are with State), but these numbers do indicate that the general assumptions about PSCs in Iraq may not be wholly accurate.

Yet another plea for Afghanistan
Posted by Patrick Barry

Go ahead and add another key military figure to the rostrum of those who think we need more troops in Afghanistan.  Today Secretary Gates let reporters know that he advised the President to pledge more deployments to the troubled region at the NATO summit in Bucharest, even while cognizant of the fact that such deployments would not occur till Bush was out of office in 2009:

I put this in front of the president as a possibility, as something that I thought we ought to be willing to say and do…

Putting aside the fact that Gates’ comments may or may not have any real bearing on our strategy because the next President will be the ultimate arbiter over whether such commitments actually take place, let’s examine the thrust of his statement, especially as it relates to the mounting frustration coming out of the Pentagon – frustration stemming from our inability to address pressing strategic needs when our soldiers are overburdened trying to prop up a fractured and ham-fisted government in Iraq. 

The not-so-subtle pleas for a shift in strategy have been moving steadily up the chain of command.  First you had Admiral Fallon (whose assessments of our strategic priorities have been less than sanguine) resigning because of the “perceptions of differences” between him and the President, which arose from a controversial Esquire article. Then, just last week, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen appeared on NPR and said that "clearly" we need a stronger troop footprint in the region.  Now we have the Secretary of Defense essentially intimating to our NATO allies that they need just hold out a little longer until the President leaves office to get the commitments they need.

It’s mind boggling to me that the President (and John McCain for that matter) can't grasp this relatively simple point – that a ceaseless presence in Iraq must be weighed against other imperatives that necessitate the availability of soldiers to counter threats to the United States.  This, astonishingly, is what makes being the President kind of a tough job – the fact that you have an array of extremely complex challenges, laden with consequences that impact millions of lives, but few resources with which to address them.  Based on what we’ve heard from conservatives, who seem incapable of wrapping their heads around that concept, I see absolutely no reason to trust their judgment on National Security.

Audio of NATO Conference Call
Posted by Adam Blickstein

NSN held an excellent Conference Call with three experts on NATO, US/European, and US/Russian relations examining this week's NATO summit, Bush's NATO legacy, the future of US/Russian relations in the context of NATO expansion and the missile shield as well as NATO's role in Afghanistan. Needless to say, the call covered quite a bit of territory...

Listen to the call that featured Dr. Charles Kupchan, Council on Foreign Relations Senior fellow for Europe Studies, Dr. Stephen Hanson, Director of the Ellison Center for Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, and Dr. Celeste A. Wallander, Professor of Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies at Georgetown here.

That Wacky, Wacky Max Boot
Posted by Michael Cohen

Some of you may have noticed that it's been a while since I wrote one of my Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer posts and I apologize to all the loyal DA readers who miss this weekly feature. It's just that Charles seems to be talking less about foreign policy these days (no doubt cowed by my insightful and lacerating posts).

But rest assured DA readers, a new bete noire has entered my blogging crosshairs - Max Boot. Did you know that Max Boot has a blog ?!?!?! Seriously, this is the greatest development since ABC starting showing repeats of Lost with those pop-up features! Truly the blogging gods are smiling on me! (BTW, am I the only person who wonders if Max has a brother named "Das"?)

Since I'm a bit new to this blog, which is called Contentions (a deeply ironic, but still fantastic name), I'm a bit late in highlighting what Boot had to say about the fighting in Basra last week.  First, he approvingly cites this quote from the Financial Times:

“If the prime minister succeeds, the pay-off would deliver a big boost to the credibility of a shaky government, proving that the growing national army is capable of taking on powerful militia.”

So what happens, if the prime minister fails miserably . . . will it be a devastating blow to  the credibility of a shaky government proving that the growing national army is incapable of taking on a powerful militia? Surprisingly Max is silent on this issue.

But then there is this:

If Maliki is now getting serious about asserting the supremacy of the Iraqi state over the militias, that is a development to be cheered. I only hope he does not lose his nerve in this hour of crisis: if well-led, the Iraqi Security Forces have the power to defeat any militia on the battlefield.

Well every militia but one it seems. Sometimes I wish I was a neo-con: I could be consistently wrong and yet operate with complete and total impunity (and what's more serve as a key foreign policy adviser to the GOP nominee for President). Sorry Chuck, you've been replaced.

Sign #684 that the Surge is Working
Posted by Michael Cohen

Do you remember a week or so ago when the Bush Administration suggested that the fighting in Basra was a sign that the surge was working. Here's a brief refresher:

The Pentagon said an eruption of violence in southern Iraq, where US-backed government forces were battling Shiite militias, was a “by-product of the success of the surge.” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said it showed that the Iraqi government and security forces were now confident enough to take the initiative against Shiite extremists in the southern port of Basra. “Citizens down there have been living in a city of chaos and corruption for some time and they and the prime minister clearly have had enough of it,” he said at a Pentagon press conference.

All hail the glorious surge and the new-found confidence of Prime Minister Maliki and Iraqi security forces! Let us dance a jig of delight and feast on the finest meats and cheeses as we celebrate this pivotal moment in Iraq! Oh, wait a minute . . .

More than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers and policemen either refused to fight or simply abandoned their posts during the inconclusive assault against Shiite militias in Basra last week, a senior Iraqi government official said Thursday. Iraqi military officials said the group included dozens of officers, including at least two senior field commanders in the battle.

Seriously, this is just pathetic. Look I used to work in PR so I'm NOT a neophyte when it comes to spin, but honestly your spin has to have at least some grain of truth to it. Is it so much to ask that when the Bush Administration lies to me, they at least do it well.

Does the New Iraq "NIE" Even Matter? II
Posted by Adam Blickstein

As stories hit the papers (WSJ, Washington Post, NYT...) about the new Iraq intelligence assessment, I wanted to reiterate a point I made earlier in the week. While the Administration and others will cite the report as another sign that we are making progress in Iraq, with reporting of the classified document citing "significant security improvements and progress toward healing," and a more "upbeat analysis of conditions in Iraq than the last major assessment," there are some very important things to keep in mind.

The updated Iraq NIE analyzes only the subsequent six months after the previous update to the Iraq NIE, which was completed and released in August 2007. While it is deplorable that there is going to be no formal public document describing the findings—as has been the tradition in the past—due to DNI McConnel’s absurd declaration that “All future NIEs will not have unclassified key judgments”, it almost doesn’t matter. The New York Times article, for instance, states:

Among the factors seen as contributing to the ebb in violence in Iraq have been the cease-fire observed by the Mahdi Army, the militia founded by the cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

But since the report only examines the months ending in January 2008, this aspect is already outdated. The findings of this assessment highlight the reduction in violence from August 2007—when Sadr acquiesced to a ceasefire— to January 2008.  The updated NIE would not include any examination of the ground changing events from last month. 

March turned out to be the deadliest month in Iraq since August's NIE, with attacks against Americans reaching their highest level since the surge reached its peak last June. The upheaval that occurred in Basra and Baghdad, a success for Sadr’s forces and an embarrassment, from both an operational and perception perspective, for Maliki and tangentially America, makes the findings in the updated NIE effectively antiquated. The Washington Post nails this aspect:

Violence declined substantially late last year, although it leveled off during the initial months of 2008 and increased dramatically during last week's fighting between Iraqi and U.S. forces and Shiite militias in Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere in southern Iraq. Those conflicts are not substantively addressed in the new report, sources said.

This last line hints to way the Administration might also be reticent to turn the assessment into a declassified, public summary. If the document is so upbeat, wouldn't, politically, the Administration want to release a glossy version, bound and full of graphs, triumphantly trumpeted the improved security situation, especially as Petraeus and Crocker come to Capitol Hill next week? But after March, the NIE went from being a compendium of confidence to an embarrassing catalog of just how quickly "good" can turn to disaster, and so-called progress regresses into setback. 

While the showdown between Sadr and Maliki didn't end up being a definitive battle, it did expose the fragile fissures that currently exist and will exist in Iraq for years to come.  While a snapshot NIE is useful and instructive, it becomes non-essential when the situation on the ground is so variable, and our intelligence is so unreliable in the first place. To once again quote CIA Director Hayden:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I, I don't know what on--what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation.  I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister and personally by the prime minister, and that he's relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

Regardless of what we knew about the Sadr-Maliki showdown when we knew it, the bottom line is we were caught off-guard and unprepared. If one of our nation's top intelligence officials appeared in the dark before a major moment in Iraq, then how much we truly trust the information compiled in the new assessment, one that as March proves, just does not adequately describe the dynamic and uncertain situation in Iraq.


April 03, 2008

Round and Round We Go
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, I was at a great Center for American Progress panel yesterday with journalists Nir Rosen and Michael Ware.  They have been in Iraq for most of the last five years and get the perspective on the ground the we don't usually hear about here.  Ware said something that just totally blew my mind. 

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.

Now, here is where things start to break down.  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…wait for it... wait for it...

They still get pensions from the IRGC!!  But it gets better.  The Bush Administration has classified the IRGC as a terrorist organization!!

So, just so that we’re clear on this.  We are building an army full of people who are still getting pension payments from an organization that the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization.  And we are basing our entire future in Iraq on that army.  Not only that, but when this army decides it’s going to take out its major opponent for power as it did last week, and doesn’t even tell us about it, we still back it up with air power and American troops as it stumbles.  And then we tell everybody that this is a good sign.  And then Fred Hiatt agrees.

Correcting Heather
Posted by Michael Cohen

I hate to have to continue airing DA's dirty laundry in public, but if the NSN staff can't get with the GWOT program . . . well what else can a red-blooded American do.

Below, Heather notes that "terrorist incidents OUTSIDE Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine have DOUBLED since 2004."

Now Heather, don't you understand that Iraq is the "central front in the war on terror" - so terrorist incidents in other countries don't really count. In fact I'm not even sure why anyone's even keeping track. This is, I believe, what the Bush Administration calls the "new math."

What Do You Get for Your Money II: GWOT
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So, you know how we're supposed to be fighting in Iraq to tie up all those Islamic extremists so they can't attack us elsewhere?  Not working out so well, according to our friends at the bipartisan American Security Project, who prepared a handy-dandy chart to illustrate the point, which I am currently too tech-challenged to paste in:

terrorist incidents OUTSIDE Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel-Palestine have DOUBLED since 2004.

What Do You Get for Your Money: Iraq vs. Afghanistan vs. post-war Germany in constant dollars
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Our friend Jonathan Morgenstein, of Third Way, formerly of USIP, soon to be again of the Marine Corps in Iraq undertook an exercise that I have not seen elsewhere:  comparing US aid expenditures in postwar Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan in constant dollars.

The results suggest again how badly we have under-prioritized Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda is; and how badly we have managed our expenditures in Iraq.  Hat tip to Jonathan and his colleagues for doing the math.

In West Germany between June 1945 and July 1952 we spent $3.3 billion which equates to about $28.875 billion in 2008 dollars:  $577 per German, $82 per German each year.

From 2003 – 2008 our first six years in Iraq, we will have spent $26.4 billion on reconstruction and development, versus $7 billion for 2001-2008 expected expenditure in Afghanistan.

$228 dollars per Afghan, $33 per Afghan each year.

$160 per Iraqi each year

So per year in constant dollars:  Iraqis-$160, Germans-$82, Afghans-$33

Don't Be Afraid to Talk About National Security
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Democracy Corps has a great new poll out on national security and the 20068 election cycle (Also look at the slides(pdf)).  I think the overall conclusion is:  Democrats should address national security head on because they can beat Republicans on this issue.

There has been a pretty intensive debate in recent years in Democratic circles about the best foreign policy and national security message.  And it's gotten going again in the last few months as we head into the 2008 election cycle.  On the one hand there is the school of thought that argues that Democrats need to link national security to domestic failures and argue that the Bush Administration has the wrong priorities.  Portray the Iraq war as damaging our economy and our interests at home and promise to bring our troops home.   This seems to make a lot of sense considering the current economic situation.

The other school of thought argues for taking the security issue head on and arguing that Republicans have been reckless and irresponsible in Iraq and and that Democrats  will bring our troops home and focus on the other national security challenges that we face all over the world.  It argues that Democrats will never overcome their historic deficit on national security as long as they shy away from the issue and do not address it head on. 

Democracy Corps went ahead and tested both message options against John McCain's message.

John McCain says: I have been involved in every national security issue over the past 20 years, and having served this country, I know how important our security is. Barack Obama seems hesitant to stand up for America, and would run up the white flag of surrender in Iraq, pulling out our troops, handing al Qaeda a victory, and endangering our vital interests. I was the leading supporter of the surge, which is now succeeding,and I will press for victory in Iraq. I will also strengthen our military, restructure our intelligence agencies, and build missile defenses to protect us from rogue regimes like Iran.

Priorities At Home Message:  We need a change of priorities in our policies abroad. George Bush failed to stand up for American workers on trade and oil, and his failed policies in Iraq cost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. John McCain was Bush's biggest supporter on Iraq, and would keep our troops there for 100 years. As president, I will start bringing our troops home from Iraq during my first 60 days, direct more of that spending to our needs at home, insist on labor protections in our trade agreements, and support alternative energy to reduce our dependence on oil from dangerous regimes.

Security Message:  We cannot afford more of the reckless, extreme national security policies of the Bush years that lost us trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in Iraq. But John McCain was Bush's biggest supporter on Iraq and says he is willing to keep our troops there for 100 years. I would strengthen America's security by bringing home our troops from Iraq during 2009, doing what we need to win in Afghanistan, rebuilding our alliances, and pursuing a new alternative energy policy, including alternative sources, to reduce our dependence on oil from dangerous regimes.

The results are interesting:

Both the “priorities” and “strengthen America’s security” narratives beat the McCain narrative by about 8 points... But among the key bloc of independents, the “strengthen America’s security” is much stronger. The priorities narrative beats the McCain narrative by an average of 5 points, but the “strengthen America’s security” narrative beats McCain by a whopping 26 points... One factor that helps power this message is the characterization of the Bush-McCain Republican national security policies as “reckless” and “extreme.” By a 10-point margin (40 to 30 percent), voters believe Republicans are more “extreme” on national security; by a 41-35 margin, they believe Republicans are more “reckless.”

So, basically what this seems to say is that while the priorities message is a good one for core Democratic constituencies , the security message has a broader appeal to the swing constituency that is necessary for a general election.   Democrats shouldn't shy away from the national security debate because they can win it.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Props to the House Armed Services Committee.  A number of folks have been making the argument that Petraeus and Crocker shouldn't be allowed to testify by themselves.  Or that at the very least their testimony on Iraq needs to be put in the broader strategic context. Now it looks like the Petraeus-Crocker hearings will be followed the same day, by a hearing on the status of our ground forces with witnesses who have yet to be named, but who I imagine will include senior generals and members of the Joint Chiefs. 

This is absolutely crucial.  As Larry Korb explained a couple of weeks back:

But other military leaders who are looking at the larger national security picture need to be consulted. They know well how maintaining an average of 130,000 troops in Iraq over the last five years has not only decimated our ground forces, it also has compromised our security interests around the globe...

The reason we need the head of Central Command and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the table was demonstrated last September. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), a former secretary of the Navy, asked Petraeus, "If we continue what you have laid before the Congress ... does this make America safer?" Petraeus correctly responded, "Well sir, I don't know."

Mullen, Casey, Fallon or the next Centcom commander could tell Congress and the country that the answer to that question is no. Congress must demand the full military picture if it is to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.

It'd be better if you can actually have Petraeus sitting next to Mullen, Casey or Fallon.  But this is the next best thing.  Now let's home the other committees follow.

Extending NATO
Posted by Michael Cohen

As long as I'm throwing shout-outs around, how about one for our NATO allies in telling George Bush where to stick his idea about extending NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine.

While I am generally on board with the logic of expanding NATO, does anyone really think it's a good idea to extend the American nuclear umbrella to include Ukraine and Georgia? Georgia is barely even a state and is deeply reliant on outside aid and consultants to manage its affairs. The Ukraine is at best a fledgling democracy with a pretty lousy President and potentially uber-nationalist successor (the Perino-esque Yulia Tymoshenko). Do we really want to unconditionally pledge our military to defend these guys?

Finally, what is the point here of sticking a sharp stick in Russia's eye? I am not fan of Vladimir Putin or the lackey he currently has running the country, but this further alienates a somewhat important country and to my mind offers very little benefit for the United States and NATO. I just don't think there is a lot of logic to this and I frankly find it astounding that the President would suggest this move without knowing for sure whether our other NATO allies are on board.

Talk about making the US seem rather ineffectual, but then I suppose that's par for the course with this Administration.

Correcting Ilan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Below Ilan notes a supposed mistake by Joe Lieberman about Al Qaeda and Iran:

If we did what Sen. Obama wanted us to do last year, Al-Qaeda in Iran would be in control of Iraq today.

Oops!  There's no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iran!   

Forgive me for exposing DA's dirty laundry in public but Ilan really is confused here. You see, Iran hates America. And Al Qaeda hates America, thus . . . since Al Qaeda and Iran have the same objective, they are in effect one and the same.

Before you think this is some crazy notion - keep in mind, this was a key argument that the Administration made in support of going to war against Iraq.

Professor John Yoo
Posted by Michael Cohen

As most of you are likely aware the Department of Justice finally got around to declassifying John Yoo's infamous memo regarding the use of torture by Pentagon officials. Here are a few classic tidbits, courtesy of the Washington Post:

"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," Yoo wrote. "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."

"Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification," Yoo wrote, explaining, for example, that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.

And then there is this, courtesy of Kevin Drum:

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 (the Convention Against Torture) would amount to a suspension or termination of those treaty provisions.

If you might think that these notion run counter to the Constitution and the application of the rule of law, think again. According to an e-mail from John Yoo to the Washington Post, "Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution," Yoo wrote, "our legal advice to the President, in fact, was near boilerplate."

Well not so says Jack Goldsmith, who wrote that the two memos "stood out" for "the unusual lack of care and sobriety in their legal analysis" or Thomas J. Romig, former Army judge advocate general, who called the memo "downright offensive."

Now for most DA readers none of this will seem terribly surprising, but here's something that might. John Yoo teaches at University of California Law School. Guess what he teaches . . . constitutional law and development.

I really am too snarked out to add anything here. The truth speaks for itself.

Al-Maliki's Nanny
Posted by Patrick Barry

It now appears that the fraught operation in Basra last week was the brain-child of none other than Nouri al-Maliki (Cheney conspiracy theorists despair.)  According to a report in today’s New York Times, Maliki notified Ambassador Crocker on March 21 that he intended to travel to the Southern port city to personally oversee efforts directed at quelling the unrest there, but in his rush to become the hero of Basra, he seems to have forgotten something – a plan:

Instead of methodically building up their combat power and gradually stepping up operations against renegade militias, Mr. Maliki’s forces lunged into the city, attacking before all of the Iraqi reinforcements had even arrived. By the following Tuesday, a major fight was on.

Should we have expected anything less than a confused, slapdash effort from an Iraqi central government, riven by competing parochial interests and ineptitude, that has neither demonstrated the ability to act without substantial US support, nor even received any kind of meaningful pressure from the United States to do so?  The answer should be obvious.  In fact, given the nature of our endless commitment in Iraq, where neither signs of increasing stability, nor indicators of impending trouble do anything to change the Bush Administration’s thick-headedness, we should look forward to playing nanny whenever al-Maliki decides to embark on similarly ill-advised adventures.  Goodbye strategic calculus, hello moral hazard!

April 02, 2008

Lieberman Mixes Up "Al Qaeda in Iran"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Looks like John McCain's surrogates are taking it to a new level.  Joe Lieberman today decides it's fun to blast Barack Obama.  Except in the process he says this:

If we did what Sen. Obama wanted us to do last year, Al-Qaeda in Iran would be in control of Iraq today.

Oops!  There's no such thing as Al Qaeda in Iran!   

Over the past two weeks, McCain has confused Iran is training Al Qaeda with Iran is training Shi'a.  He also mixed up the facts concerning the agreement to end fighting between the Mahdi Army and government forces.  Lindsy Graham promised there would be 100,000 troops in Iraq by election day and then had to recant.  This is becoming a recurring and embaressing problem.  John McCain's national security team really needs to start minding its Qs and Ns. 

But who cares.  John McCain and his team know all there is to know about national security.  No reason to question anything here.

Memories… Remember when John McCain Killed Dwell Time
Posted by Max Bergmann

As McCain speaks tonight at the Naval Academy I doubt he will mention his part in “leading the charge” against providing our troops proper rest and recuperation. But it is worth recounting.

Last fall it looked like the two Senators from Virginia, Republican John Warner and Democrat Jim Webb, had carved out a bi-partisan agreement to ensure that our troops got proper time to rest, recover, and train before being sent back to Iraq. The proposed “dwell time” amendment would require that deployments stick to Army and Marine Corps standards of at least one month at home for one month deployed. With Warner on board it looked like the amendment would reach 60 votes to pass the Senate. Yet, in swept John McCain who stunned the Senate by getting Warner to offer with him a watered down toothless version that would reflect the “sense” of the Senate rather than its “will,” meaning it would do nothing to address the issue. The straight talk express indeed. [See the video of McCain killing dwell time and Webb’s response.]

Dwell time has been, as it should be, mostly discussed in moral terms –  that a country should both honor its commitment to those putting their lives on the line and that we must seek to minimize the strain placed on military families that have already gone through so much. But less mentioned are the strategic national security implications of shortening dwell time. In short, by accelerating and extending deployments and infringing upon dwell time for our troops, we are breaking the ground forces and weakening the military strength of this country.

The Post summarizes testimony on Tuesday from the Army and Marines:

Senior Army and Marine Corps leaders said yesterday that the increase of more than 30,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has put unsustainable levels of stress on U.S. ground forces and has put their readiness to fight other conflicts at the lowest level in years.

General Cody, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, said the heavy deployments are not just inflicting "incredible stress" on soldiers and families but that they pose "a significant risk" to the nation's all-volunteer military.

Cody added that the surge has depleted all of the Army’s reserves meaning that we cannot respond to anything else.  We are totally vulnerable.

"When the five-brigade surge went in . . . that took all the stroke out of the shock absorbers for the United States Army," Cody testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's readiness panel.

"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today," said Cody, who has been the senior Army official in charge of operations and readiness for the past six years and plans to retire this summer… Cody said that the Army no longer has fully ready combat brigades on standby should a threat or conflict occur. The nation needs an airborne brigade, a heavy brigade and a Stryker brigade ready for "full-spectrum operations," Cody said, "and we don't have that today."

The Marine Corps' ability to train for potential conflicts has been "significantly degraded," said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

"There has been little, if any, change of the stress or tempo for our forces," he said, calling the current pace of operations "unsustainable." The Marine Corps is "basically in two boats (Iraq and Afghanistan) at the same time," he said.

…The testimony reflects the tension between the wartime priorities of U.S. commanders in Iraq such as Petraeus and the heads of military services responsible for the health and preparedness of the forces.

General Cody pointed out that the damage was not easily repaired even if proper dwell time was reestablished:

He said that even if five brigades are pulled out of Iraq by July, as planned, it would take some time before the Army could return to 12-month tours for soldiers.

"Where we need to be with this force is no more than 12 months on the ground and 24 months back," Cody said.

Unfortunately, “where we need to be with this force” won’t happen if John McCain has his way

A Shout-Out to Joe Klein
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over the years, Joe Klein has taken some hits in the liberal blogosphere, but his takedown of Fred Kagan's wackiness in the pages of Weekly Standard deserves some love:

On the day that John Yoo's remarkable torture memo is released, this foolishness is a reminder that none of these people--none of the vicious, mendacious, naive, simplistic, unapologetic, neo-colonialist ideologues who promulgated this disaster--should have even the vaguest claim on the time or tolerance of fair-minded people. Fred Kagan's certainty is an obscenity, his claim to expertise a farce.

Damn, someone spiked Joe's Wheaties!

Does the New Iraq "NIE" Even Matter?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The updated Iraq NIE (or whatever they are calling) released to Congress yesterday analyzes only the subsequent six months after the previous update to the Iraq NIE, which was completed and released in August 2007. While it is deplorable that there is going to be no formal public document describing the findings—as has been the tradition in the past—due to DNI McConnel’s absurd declaration that “All future NIEs will not have unclassified key judgments”, it almost doesn’t matter, for a couple of reasons.

First, the report only examines the months ending in January 2008.  While the findings might highlight the reduction in violence from August 2007—when Sadr acquiesced to a ceasefire— onwards, the updated NIE would not include any examination of the well-documented events last month.  March turned out to be the deadliest month in Iraq since the August's NIE, with attacks against Americans reaching their highest level since the surge reached its peak last June. The upheaval that occurred in Basra and Baghdad, a success for Sadr’s forces and an embarrassment, from both an operational and perception perspective, for Maliki and tangentially America, makes the findings in the updated NIE delivered to Congress yesterday moot.  From constant missile barrages into the Green Zone, the rampant diffusion of some in the Iraqi Security Forces into the Mahdi Army and  partial refusal on their part to fully engage in the militias, and the end to hostilities as negotiated in the Iranian holy city of Qom by Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani, head of the Quds Brigade who’s on the U.S. and U.N. terrorist watch list, too much has happened in Iraq in the past few weeks from an intelligence and military viewpoint to make this version of the NIE temporal and relevant  While we should still be presented with a declassified version of this version of the report, March rendered the document anachronistic in terms of truly being analytically useful.

Self Promotion and Promotion of Others
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I have a piece up in the New Republic about the Responsible Plan for ending the War in Iraq.  48 Senate and House candidates have now signed on.  And the list is growing everyday.  Anyway, here's the basic gist.

As opposed to the usual broad language, combined with a laundry list of policy proposals that make up traditional party platforms, the plan has a sharp focus, with a clear strategic logic focused around two fundamental principles. First, the United States must find a way to sensibly end its military mission in Iraq--and use the political, diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic tools at its disposal to mitigate the negative consequences of the war. Second, the Iraq War has done irreparable damage not just to Iraq but to our country, and the time has come to reform our institutions and put the checks and balances in place to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated.

April 01, 2008

Nothing to See Here
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Spencer Ackerman points out the fact that there will no publicly released summary of an Iraq National Intelligence Estimate before the Petraeus/Crocker hearings.  Because why should the public have any access to what our intelligence agencies think about the war?

March 31, 2008

Max Boot: Even Wackier Edition
Posted by Patrick Barry

I second Michael’s move to have Max Boot declared March’s Global Village Dunce, but I also want to point out another reason why the strategic conceptions girding Boot’s argument -- that withdrawal from Iraq will mean devastating victory for al-Qaeda – are just massively flawed.  This weekend Boot made explicit what I have long suspected is the point of reference for all conservatives making the ‘Iraq in Flames’ argument – the Soviet failure to defeat the Mujahadeen during the Soviet-Afghan War: 

Just as Islamist militants were emboldened by the Soviet Union's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, so they would be encouraged by our premature departure from Iraq.

Implicit in conservative’s reliance on this historical analogy, and their fear that a withdrawal from Iraq will cede victory to Al-Qaeda and send the United States on a path of irreversible decline, is an assumption that the Soviet Union’s collapse came as a direct result of the Red Army’s defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the Mujahadeen.  What follows is a crude outline of this utterly absurd logic:

  1. American-backed Mujahadeen fight Soviets in Afghanistan.
  2. Mujahadeen defeat Soviets.
  3. 2 years later, Soviet Union collapses.
  4. Mujahadeen triumph = Soviet collapse.

Boot and his cronies are essentially trying to say “Hey America, did you see what happened to the Soviets after we paid the Afghans to kick their ass? Well that’s what’s going to happen if we re-deploy from Iraq.”  Not only does this massively overstate the role that United States played in upending the USSR (whose economy had been stagnant for over a decade and whose per capita GDP in 1989 was a little over 2/5th the size of our own), but the situations aren’t even close to being similar in the first place. 

As bad as the Bush Administration has made things in Iraq, the choice faced by the United States there is not existential. American re-deployment is not the same as American defeat for precisely the reasons that Michael and others have outlined – that Al Qaeda will likely have a pretty tough time declaring victory when there are 30,000 more American troops stationed right on their doorstep.  Conservatives like Boot are too busy playing Cold War analogy games to grasp this relatively simple, but important strategic distinction. 

Joe Lieberman's Hypocrisy
Posted by Michael Cohen

I have a confession to make to DA readers - and it's a pretty embarrassing one (worse than revelations about my unrequited crush on Dana Perino): I used to like Joe Lieberman. In fact, back in 2004, I actually supported him for President. However, after catching him on This Week yesterday, I feel the need to hang my head in shame.

Here's what Joe had to say about John McCain:

In my opinion, before we solve the problems the American people need us to solve in Washington, health care, the economy, education, global warming, Social Security, fiscal imbalance, we have to solve a problem within a political system, which is hyperpartisanship, a mud fight:  I don’t care what’s really good for the country; I care what’s good for my party.  That’s outrageous.

Of these three candidates, the one who has the clearest record of reaching across party lines, controversially sometimes, to solve a problem, is John McCain.

I wonder if Joe Lieberman would be able to square that sentiment with this one expressed by John McCain on January 24th of this year:

Senator Clinton decided that she wants to surrender, she wants to raise a white flag, she wants to set a date of immediate withdrawal from Iraq after we’ve been winning.

Or how about this on February 27th:

If we do what Senator Obama wants to do, and that’s immediate withdrawal, that would mean surrender in Iraq.

And this on March 13th:

In answer to a question on Iraq, McCain said the Democrat Formula for Iraq is clear: "Surrender to Al-Qaeda and leave."

Hmm, both leading Democratic candidates want to surrender to Al Qaeda - that sounds like just the kind of language that will bring the country together and end the hyperpartisanship in Washington. Good work Joe!

The Know-Nothings
Posted by Adam Blickstein

America has nearly 150,000 members of our armed forces on the ground in Iraq. There are thousands of other personnel—spanning the diplomatic, political and logistical world—scattered around the country.  We have ostensibly our largest intelligence operation in the region, narrowly focused on all aspects of the military and political situation in Iraq. And from the American perspective, Nouri al-Maliki—and his government—might be the most closely watched, either tacitly or overtly, political figure in the world.  So one would expect that when a dog scratches his ear on a corner in Baghdad, let alone the Iraqi Security Forces launch a major military offensive in Basra during which Maliki leaves Baghdad for the streets of Basra to personally oversee the operation, American officials in the Green Zone or Central Command or Washington might get a heads up.  Well, yesterday on Meet the Press, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden basically admitted that he and our military leaders, including General David Petraeus, and our diplomatic and political officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and our intelligence officials, were in the dark with little to no foreknowledge of the most important test for the Iraqi Security Forces since the surge began and another "defining" moment for Maliki’s government:

GEN. HAYDEN:  I, I don't know what on--what went on on the ground in Baghdad prior to the operation.  I do know that this was a decision of the Iraqi government by the prime minister and personally by the prime minister, and that he's relying on Iraqi forces, by and large, to take this action.

MR. RUSSERT:  Were you aware of it?

GEN. HAYDEN:  I was--in terms of being prebriefed or, or having, you know, the, the normal planning process in which you build up to this days or weeks ahead of time, no.  No, I was not.

MR. RUSSERT:  You didn't know it was going to happen?

GEN. HAYDEN:  No more so than Dave Petraeus or Ambassador Crocker did.

Hayden is hedging to what extent that he knew prior to the operation that it was going to happen vis-a-vis leaving it ambiguous what Petraeus or Crocker knew when (a question for Petraeus and Crocker at next week’s Congressional hearings). But what he is admitting is that there was very little to no preparation for it on the American side.  Either way, if our apparatus in Iraq knew nothing of the planned offensive, it is a major structural failure and top-to-bottom breakdown of our military and intelligence ability there, one which further calls into question the legitimacy of our presence in Iraq. If we had even the smallest hint that Maliki was going after Sadr’s forces in Basra, then we did nothing to either stop it or worse, allowed Maliki to pursue what was going to be a losing venture from its inception.  If this was the case, we either underestimated the Mahdi Army’s ability to repel the ISF’s offensive or overestimated the ISF’s ability to quell Sadr’s forces in Basra. 

But it’s possible that either eventuality is irrelevant for the administration. Why?  Because Petraeus, Crocker, and Republican officials are going to use what happened in Basra—whether they had foreknowledge of the situation or not—as another excuse as to why a pause in troop reduction this summer is necessary.  It’s possible, perhaps conspiratorial, to presuppose the Administration threw Maliki and his authority under-the-bus knowing that any operation against Sadr’s forces would provide sufficient evidence that the U.S. still needs to maintain a high, pre-surge troop level in Iraq.  For them, it’s always been a zero-sum game. The Administration still holds its own political priorities above those that represent the best Iraq policy for Iraqi’s and Americans alike.

That Wacky, Wacky Max Boot
Posted by Michael Cohen

There is so much wrong with Max Boot's op-ed in today's Washington Post it's hard to know where to begin in critiquing it, but I think this paragraph provides a pretty good jumping off point:

An early American departure is the last thing that most Iraqis or their elected representatives want. (In a recent ABC/BBC poll only 38 percent of Iraqis said that coalition forces should leave at once.) It would be cheered, however, by our enemies in al-Qaeda, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. Just as Islamist militants were emboldened by the Soviet Union's retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, so they would be encouraged by our premature departure from Iraq. Once we were out of Iraq (which Gen. David Petraeus has called "the central front of al-Qaeda's global war of terror"), they would be able to devote more resources to other battlefields such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This notion that "our enemies in Iran, Syria and Al Qaeda" will be cheered by an American "retreat" from Iraq, is classic neo-conservative obfuscation - conflating all of our supposed enemies as if the threat from them is equal. Is Syria and Iran's threat to America on par with Al Qaeda? Of course not. Syria and Iran may not like America, but so what - neither country is actively plotting to attack the US mainland. Iran is likely supporting groups that are attacking American troops in Iraq, but if our troops were not there it's hard to see why Iran would prod a much bigger enemy with pointless terrorist attacks.

Indeed, whatever Gen Petraues or George Bush or John McCain say about Iraq being the central front in the war on terror the FACT is that Afghanistan and Pakistan is where AQ is at is strongest.  Leaving the quagmire of Iraq, where AQ has been dealt a pretty harsh blow by Iraqi Sunnis (a fact readily trumpeted by neo-cons like Boot) and focusing on AQ's presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan would actually do enormous damage to Al Qaeda's ability to wage its war on America. It may seem hard to remember five years later, but protecting America against terrorist attack was supposedly the key motivation for going into Iraq in the first place.

It is simply the height of comedy that Boot argues our leaving Iraq would allow Al Qaeda "to devote more resources to other battlefields such as Afghanistan and Pakistan" all the while ignoring the fact that it would also allow America to devote more resources to these two battlefields.

Of course, Boot and other neo-cons argue that America leaving Iraq would be a public relations boon to Al Qaeda and they would be emboldened as they were after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is regular refrain from President Bush and Senator McCain. But it's also a pitch perfect example of the phenomenon that Zbigniew Brzezinski describes in the Sunday Washington Post, "The case for terminating the war is based on its prohibitive and tangible costs, while the case for "staying the course" draws heavily on shadowy fears of the unknown and relies on worst-case scenarios."

In all honesty, who really cares if Al Qaeda is emboldened by us leaving Iraq? These guys sent 19 young men on a suicide mission to destroy the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Capitol - don't you think they are already pretty emboldened to attack America? They can be emboldened all the want, but if they have the full force of American military and diplomatic power aimed to destroying them it ain't going to do them a lot of good. I know neo-cons love historical analogies but the reason why Al Qaeda was successful after the Soviets left Afghanistan is not because they were necessarily emboldened. It's because Al Qaeda was allowed to develop a base of operations in Afghanistan as the United States and others dropped the ball and let the place fall apart. To paraphrase Snoop, "emboldened ain't got nothing to do with it." Moreover, didn't Vietnam teach us that staying in military quagmires to maintain US credibility is a self-defeating proposition?

Finally, Boot make the more astounding claim, in critiquing Brzezinski's Sunday piece, that "he simply takes it on faith that the risks of withdrawal are smaller than the costs of commitment." For any supporter of this war to criticize a war opponent for making a cost/benefit argument is rich indeed. This entire war has been based on the utterly misguided notion that the benefits of going to war in Iraq would outweigh the costs.
Even if Iraq turned into a Jeffersonian democracy tomorrow, could anyone realistically argue that this "benefit" justifies the extraordinary "costs" that America has been forced to bear over the past five years? I think not. And of course, the possibility of Iraq turning into a Jeffersonian democracy anytime soon seems pretty slim indeed.

March 30, 2008

Monopoly of Force
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

CIA Director Michael Hayden claimed today that the latest incursion into Basra was a good thing because it is an indicator that the government is trying to establish order.  I have to agree with David that this is basically bull.  Hayden stated:

I mean, I mean, a lot of people in this country have criticized the Iraqis for, for not stepping up, for, for not taking advantage of the breathing space that's been created by, frankly, coalition military activity.  Here's a case of an Iraqi leader stepping up.

Really?  I don't think what I had in mind by having the Iraqis step up, is for one faction to step up and try to annihilate another one.  I don't understand how this is political progress.  It is quite likely that the forces working on behalf of the government are no more loyal to the central government then the Mahdi Army.  The Badr Corps, many of whose members are integrated into the Iraqi Security Forces, are loyal to ISCI.  What if Sadr's party wins the provincial elections or if he were to come to power through an election at some point in the future?  Would these same forces support his legitimate government?  Probably not.  It seems to me that they would instead turn against the government.  Their loyalty lies with SCIRI / ISCI, which is a faction of the government, but not with the government itself. 

Hayden also said:

And, and you're right, about 70 percent of the city controlled by militia, armed gangs, criminal elements.  It's, it's, it's a real stew down there, Tim, in terms of the different factions.  And they were in a bit of an equilibrium between and among these armed factions over the past several months, and violence had been reduced.  But I don't think anyone could think that that equilibrium was an acceptable long-term solution...They were beyond the writ of the Iraqi government, they were exercising the attributes of sovereignty, I mean, exclusive use of violence, for example.  It should be the province of the Iraqi state.

If our goal is really to help the government establish a monopoly of force in Iraq  then why did we organize 80,000 Sunni militia members who are by definition an extra-governmental force?   Six months from now or a year from now or whenever the "Sons of Iraq" / Concerned Local Citizens start fighting it out with the central government are we going to say the same thing?  Are we going to say that this is the natural course of events?  That this is by definition political reconciliation? That these groups were beyond the control of the Iraqi government and that this delicate balance could never hold?  No.  Our whole strategy is based on the fact that such a tenuous cease fire will in fact hold and we're going ahead and supporting these groups.  And in fact, we're specifically trying to avoid what is going on in Basra right now by trying to bring the CLCs into the ISF.  Although until now this effort has been relatively unsuccessful.   

Basically, the same scenario that the Administration is now trying to spin as success in the South, is the same scenario that in the central part of the country would be defined as a total catastrophe. 

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