Democracy Arsenal

January 15, 2008


Bombing Ourselves in the Foot - Diyala Style
Posted by Patrick Barry

Buried within this piece from CBS and the AP is this troubling kernel of information:

“Still, the tree-lined farm region is more difficult terrain for fighting insurgents than the desert of Anbar, suggesting Diyala may not have seen the last of al Qaeda in Iraq. Compounding the difficulty for the military is the checkerboard pattern of Shiite and Sunni communities adjacent to one another.”

Violence has escalated as insurgents pour into Diyala from Anbar province but less attention has been paid to Diyala’s geographic and demographic peculiarities, which may affect the scope and intensity of the fighting. 

When viewed in this light, the recent round of bombings become more interesting. As Max has pointed out, air strikes are a rather counter-productive tactic for a counter-insurgency strategy, and it may be that the most recent strikes presage the challenges US troops will face as they focus their attention on Diyala.   


A Soldier's Final Blog
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

... perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace....

Anything I could add to this would just be annoying blather. Read the rest of Major Andrew Olmsted's post here..

October 17, 2007


So much for the "peaceful" haven of Northern Iraq. Iraqis prepare to seek safe haven. But where?
Posted by Anita Sharma

Although Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, downplayed a Turkish invasion in Northern Iraq, refugee agencies and Iraqis are taking the threat pretty seriously.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned of further destabilization if Turkey attacks. Iraq's Kurdistan has been a refuge for many displaced Iraqis, where -nearly five million people, ONE in SIX Iraqis -- have been pushed from their homes.

According to the recent displacement report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Turkish cross-border shelling has already displaced families living along the border. An escalation in attacks is likely to displace between 300 and 500 families in northern Dahuk (Zakho and Amediyea). IOM reports that local authorities aren't planning to set up emergency facilities, though hospitals are stocking additional supplies. I'm seeking information as to whether UNHRC or the U.S. government has contingency plans should the crisis escalate in Northern Iraq. Don't forget, this area was touted as the safest area in Iraq.

June 04, 2007


Iraq Ain't Got No Seoul
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The White House's latest spin on the Iraq War involves likening the US role in the conflict to the American military presence in Korea:  a roughly 40,000 strong force that, more than 54 years after the end of the Korean War, faces essentially no casualties and is barely noticed by the American public.

Like early efforts to compare the occupation of Iraq to that of Japan and Germany after WWII, the analogy is beguiling but deeply false.  The White House is now pivoting toward an "over the horizon" support role - a concept taken directly from John Murtha's broadside against the conduct of the war in November 2005 - under the cover of a long-ago war that bears no resemblance to Bush's quagmire. 

No one will be fooled into thinking that the monumental challenges and terrifying risks faced daily by American troops in Baghdad and elsewhere will somehow morph into the kind of calm, predictable wary watchman function performed by US troops in South Korea.  In describing this, Defense Secretary Robert Gates eschewed the Vietnam analogy, “where we just left lock, stock and barrel,” favoring “the idea is more a model of a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence but under the consent of both parties and under certain conditions.”

But the biggest problem with Bush's latest analogy is not that its insulting to those at home whose tolerance of the war he is trying to prolong.  Iraqi opinion polls show just 1 percent of the population who wants the US to "never leave."  A further 2 percent are amenable to a US plan to "stay longer but leave eventually."  The remaining 97 either want the US to get out right away (35 percent) or to remain until either security is restored and/or the Iraqi government and security forces are capable of operating independently. 

Gates acknowledged in his comments that a key predicate of the South Korean arrangement is that the US's military presence is "mutually agreed."  In Iraq, by contrast, some 97 percent of the population would reject a similar plan. 

Some 150,000 US troops are right now risking their lives to cultivate the support of a battle-weary and angry Iraqi population against violent insurgents and sectarian warriers.  For the Administration to float a scheme involving a semi-permanent US presence in Iraq that is rejected by virtually the entire local population can only inflame anti-US sentiments and heighten the risks faced by US troops.  All this in service of a political analogy that is defied by the daily headlines of killings, kidnapping, car bombings and mortars.

March 19, 2007


10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The Best Available Intelligence Can be Dead Wrong Or, Even Worse, Manipulated for Political Purposes – When the war was first launched, the prospect that evidence of Saddam’s weapons program might never be found was an cringe-worthy nightmare scenario. It was impossible to imagine that Colin Powell’s UN powerpoint was a work of fiction. We all know what happened next, and our trust in the intelligence establishment and the White House’s use thereof has been irreparably shattered

When the World isn’t Behind Us, That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean They’re Wrong – It’s become an article of faith that the UN failed the test posed by Iraq four years ago. But how so It doesn't take a UN-hugger to acknowledge that in refusing to ratify the war, the Security Council avoided the very same mistake Members of Congress are now admitting to one by one One can argue that no matter what Saddam did, Russia, Moscow and even Paris would have given him a pass, but that wasn't put to the test.

The US Military Has Limits - Four years ago it was tough to imagine a scenario in which the mighty US military was, by all accounts, stretched to its limit When we used to hear about the requirement of preparedness to fight two regional wars simultaneously, the prospect always seemed very far-fetched Some may be heartened that, the wisdom of such a potential option aside, launching a military confrontation right now with Iran is all but impossible.  But we would rest easier if the military option were off the table only by choice, rather than by necessity as well.

Continue reading "10 Lessons Learned the Hard Way in Iraq" »

March 12, 2007


The Surge that Keeps on Surging
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The Administration has decided to surge yet again, adding another 4,700 troops on top of the 21,500 already announced in January. (And, lest we forget, we're sending another 3,500 troops to Afghanistan as well, bringing total US troop strength there to "an all-time high.") Needless to say, this escalation (yes, it is an escalation) is a further sign that the situation in Iraq continues to spiral out of control. But you were probably wondering: hey, where are we going to get those extra troops from? Well, it didn't take long for the Administration to stumble upon the obvious answer: raid Walter Reed! According to Salon, troops pronounced "medically unfit" as a result of injuries sustained in Iraq are nonetheless being shipped right back out. We can't have all those lazy fellows lolling around in Building 18 when they could be out there fighting for us!

Okay, okay. They're not actually raiding Walter Reed to get the extra troops. So far, the story's about injured soldiers at Fort Benning. But give the Administration time. Because after all, it's a fiendishly clever way to kill two birds with one stone: get some more troops to Iraq, while teaching the injured not to go whining to the press about the lousy care they're getting....

March 05, 2007


Why asymmetrical warfare is so effective against the US
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Former Democracy Arsenal guest blogger Ike Wilson's study of asymmetrical conflicts is discussed in today's Washington Post. (Don't Send a Lion to Catch a Mouse).  Short version: "the analysis showed that the odds of a powerful nation winning an asymmetrical war decrease as that nation becomes more powerful.... the likelihood of a great power winning an asymmetrical war went from 85 percent during 1800-1850 to 21 percent during 1950-2003."


Samantha Power on how to stop genocide in Iraq
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Samantha Power, who knows a little something about how the US has historically handled (or failed to handle) genocides, has a strong piece in today's LA Times: How to stop genocide in Iraq:

Although critics of withdrawal do a masterful job of painting a grim picture of the apocalypse that awaits, they offer no account of how U.S. forces in Iraq will do more than preserve a status quo that is already deteriorating into wholesale ethnic cleansing.... What is needed to stave off even greater carnage than we see today is neither assuming massacres won't happen nor suspending thought until the surge has demonstrably failed in six months — at which point other options may no longer be viable. Rather, we must announce our intention to depart and use the intervening months to prioritize civilian protection by pursuing a bold set of measures combining political pressure, humanitarian relocation and judicial deterrence.

March 04, 2007


Iraq: Wishing there had been Whistleblowers
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A piece yesterday in the NYT about an ex-British diplomat who parted ways with his country's foreign service after testifying to intelligence lapses over Iraq's weapons program got me thinking: what would have happened if, two or three years ago, a chorus had arisen among the sitting military leadership, State Dep't and Pentagon policymakers and others in government decrying the direction of our policies to try to stabilize Iraq?  Would we be in a better position now and, if so, are there ways to ensure such silence doesn't hobble the effectiveness of our policymaking going forward?

The most famous example of official heresy concerning the occupation of Iraq came from General Erik Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, who was criticized and snubbed by his Pentagon superiors for telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2003 that the mission would require several hundred thousand US servicemembers to be done right.  Three and a half years later, in November, 2006, General John Abizaid admitted that Shinseki had gotten it right. 

Shinseki's fall from grace was widely cited as having a chilling effect on other military and Administration personnel.  While retired generals have spoken out loudly against the course of the war, those still in uniform have been mostly silent.  Accounts suggest that the retired generals were motivated in part by their conviction that the mistakes of Vietnam-and the silence of top military officers as those errors unfolded-must not be repeated.  But to the extent that avoiding a pattern of silent acquiescence in a failed and deadly war requires cultural change in the military, Iraq suggests that the transformation hasn't yet happened.

It's impossible to measure the Shinseki effect, or to know what information or opinions might have come to light had the Administration better tolerated dissent.  What is certain is that years of Iraq policy have been made in an environment of remarkable opacity as far as how well the effort was going, the motives and strength of the insurgency, and the efficacy of various US tactics.   

Continue reading "Iraq: Wishing there had been Whistleblowers" »

February 25, 2007


Iraq Intel - Take it to the Committee
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Last Thursday night I took part in a discussion with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Rockefeller offers a predictably blistering critique of the Administration's handling of intelligence to date, and makes clear that Congressional access to those on the frontlines of intelligence gathering is sorely limited.

But Rockefeller is surprisingly upbeat about prospects that incoming DNI Mike McConnell will start to change all that.  He respects McConnell's experience, and judges him a straightshooter who will not be beholden to a hobbled Administration.

Apropos of last week's post on how we will judge the success or (seemingly inevitable) failure of the surge/escalation, Rockefeller and his Committee may play a key role in this determination.   As illustrated by Dick Cheney's down-the-rabbithole argument that Britain's withdrawal from Iraq bodes well for the war effort, the Administration will try to spin anything into success.  Solid intelligence, assuming we have any, could be essential to baring the truth. 

If McConnell is committed to a serious effort to restore the legitimacy of the US intelligence establishment, there is no better place to start than Iraq.

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