Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The progress of Operation "Forward Together"

Anthony Cordesman has provided an update last week of the progress, such as it is, of the US-Iraqi effort to gain control of Baghdad: Iraqi Force Development: Summer 2006 Update (Center for Strategic and International Studies) 08/23/06 version.

When he first reported on it back in July, he gave the name of the original attempt as Operation Lightning.  He now uses Operation Forward Together for it, so I suppose the name was changed early on.  Operation Forward Together sounds much more like the typical propaganda names the Cheney-Bush administration uses for its military operations (abbreviated as Operation FT in the rest of this post).

The civil war continues to accelerate:

Baghdad became increasingly divided, with Iraqi officials saying “the Tigris river is already looking like the Beirut ‘Green Line,’ dividing Sunni west Baghdad, known by its ancient name of Karkh, from the mainly Shi’ite east, or Rusafa.” The violence had become so overwhelming that some Iraqi leaders had “all but given up on holding the country together” and spoke privately about “pre-empting the worst bloodshed by agreeing to an east-west division of Baghdad into Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim zones.” A civil war mentality seemed to have taken hold, particularly in the capital city.  (my emphasis)

But everything can be cured by propaganda, right?

US and Iraqi officials were insistent that a significant portion of the sectarian threat was exaggerated “rumor-mongering.”

Well, maybe not:

US and Iraqi troops on the ground in Iraq said that civil war had already begun in Baghdad, describing neighborhoods turning into “open battlefields,” streets as “dividing lines,” entire villages “cleared out,” and bodies “dropped in canals and left on the side of the road.” A 4th Infantry Division battalion commander summed up the goal of the militant factions as “trying to force Shi’ites into Shi’ite areas and Sunnis into Sunni areas” and compared Iraq to 1994 Rwanda. A BBC correspondent reported that “Baghdad is increasingly becoming a patchwork of Shia and Sunni enclaves looking nervously out across barricades.” The Baghdad morgue reported that it had handled 1,815 bodies in the month of July. About 85% of them had suffered violent deaths, the “biggest cause” of which were gunshot wounds to the head “execution style,” a method associated with “sectarian death squads.” Some Sunnis in Baghdad took to impersonating Shi’ites to avoid becoming targets of death squads. A Sunni organization’s website displayed “tips on being Shia” such as “memorize the names of the 12 imams,” “have an ID with a different name,” and “keep a poster in your house of Imam Hussein.”

Cordesman now has a more reliable number for the troops that participated in the initial phase of Operation FT:

The exact number of personnel participating in the action was not disclosed, but was initially estimated to be as high as 75,000.30 The actual number was eventually determined to be 42,500 Iraqi troops and 7,200 Americans.31 Forward Together was to be a dramatic first initiative to curb violence in the capital and comprised a substantial increase in standard security measures such as patrols, checkpoints, and curfews.

But for the initial phase, the figure of speech, "it bombed" is unfortantely more literally true:

The attacks increased in scale and audacity in spite of Operation Forward Together. On June 21, approximately 50 gunmen wearing police uniforms abducted as many as 100 factory workers in broad daylight in the northeastern Baghdad zone of Taji, home to a major US base. On June 23, the government extended the curfew to afternoon hours following a major shootout involving Sunni insurgents, Shi’ite militiamen, and Iraqi and US security forces. Two major incidents occurred on July 1. A suicide car bomb blasted a crowded market in the Shi’ite Sadr City district, killing over 60 people and wounding twice as many. Media reports noted that US and Iraqi soldiers who arrived to the emergency site were pelted with rocks by Iraqi children and jeered by civilians. Meanwhile, Tayseer Najah al-Mashhadani, a female Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, and her eight bodyguards were abducted at gunpoint on the city’s northern outskirts.

These events in Baghdad prompted the Iraqi government to announce a “comprehensive review” of the security operation. US officials “admitted that the plan has produced so far only a slight dip in the violence, and nothing like the results that had been hoped for.”

The propaganda claims of "good news" continued (of course!) but reality does have a way of imposing itself:

Top US officials attempted to paint the best possible portrait of Iraqi security force “progress,” as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted on July 10, “I’m quite certain that the combination of a strong government and the security forces that are now engaged in the security plan for Baghdad will be able to bring this situation under control.” The words, however, seemed to ring hollow as events on the ground unfolded. Coalition spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell “announced no great accomplishments as the Baghdad crackdown involving 50,000 security forces - 42,000 Iraqi and 8,000 American - approached the 30-day point.” On July 11, “frustrated by the lack of results, Iraqi lawmakers called on the country’s Defense and Interior ministers to explain why the security operation hasn’t led to a decline in violence.”

By July, the initial phases of the security operation had clearly failed to reduce the violence. In fact, violence continued to increase: “in the 101 days before the crackdown, an average of 23.8 attacks occurred daily. In the first 35 days of the operation, the average was 25.2 attacks a day.”45 US military figures released July 20 “showed that the number of daily attacks recorded by the police and allied forces in Baghdad jumped to an average of 34 this month [July 2006] from 24 in June.”

Caldwell reported, “We have not witnessed the reduction in violence one would have hoped for in a perfect world.”

"A perfect world":  he's talking about Iraq in the middle of an insurgency and civil war, for Christ's sake!  Generals seem to have a special knack for ham-handed PR phrases.

In late July, a previously unplanned second phase of Operation FT was agreed on with more American troops, which meant among other things that instead of the decrease of US forces that the Republicans and their willing enablers in the officer corps had been hinting at for months became even more of a phantasm.  But sometimes, one of our generals says something that is actually believable:

Lt. General Peter W. Chiarelli, “commander of day-to-day US military operations in Iraq,” revealed another aspect of the revamped security plan in an interview. As US and Iraqi troops secured neighborhoods in force, unemployed Iraqis living in those areas would be offered jobs on local public works projects, like digging water and sewer lines.  “When [Chiarelli] commanded the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad from March 2004 to March 2005, he reduced the violence in the Shi’ite neighborhood of Sadr City by putting many of the fighting age men to work digging a sewer system.” With a budget of $75 million to $100 million, Chiarelli planned to adopt that approach on a city-wide scale. Yet he admitted the troubles the US military was having in learning how to deal with the situation it faced in Baghdad, remarking, “Quite frankly, in 33 years in the United States Army, I never trained to stop a sectarian fight. This is something new.”  (my emphasis)

And so, this led to the situation in the summer of 2006, over three years after the Cheney-Bush administration's brilliant victory over Saddam's regular forces, that the primary goal of the war became ... securing the capital city.  Even in Afghanistan things are going better than that!  Cordesman writes:

Securing Baghdad was clearly the primary objective of Iraqi and Coalition efforts during the summer of 2006, and it proved to be an elusive goal.  The “first phase” of Operation Forward Together was simplistic in its approach, relying on a show of strength with more Iraqi security forces on the streets manning more checkpoints.  It was a relatively passive operation that spread the participating units across the city, attempting to handle the entire capital at once with no preponderance of force in any area.  The plan did not anticipate the acceleration of sectarian violence and was unable to cope with the cycle of retaliatory attacks and spiralling death toll.

“Phase two” of Operation Forward Together, formulated in late July well after the failure to slow the violence was apparent, demonstrated Coalition leaders’ recognition that a more coherent plan was necessary to provide security to Baghdad.  It incorporated more elements of counterinsurgency warfare, specifically the “oil spot” strategy of creating secured areas one by one and the attempt to win the confidence of Iraqi civilians through more sensitive and subtle search operations and efforts to clean up battle-scarred neighbourhoods. Yet the introduction of more US troops in this phase was also something of an admission that Iraqi forces alone could not be counted on to handle security responsibilities. “Phase two” of Operation Forward Together may have been a better plan, but its true test will be when secured areas are returned to the control of Iraqi military and police units.  (my emphasis)

Gee, and the film on FOX News looked so swell when the statue of Saddam Hussein fell way back when!

What allows insurgencies to succeed?

At The Blue Voice, I posted about a new article from military analyst Jeffrey Record, currently of the Air War College: External Assistance: Enabler of Insurgent Success Parameters (US Army War College) Autumn 2006. In that post, I discussed some of his analysis of American history.  I was glad to see he didn't try in this article to draw specfic lessons for the Iraq War or the Afghanistan War.  Instead, he lets the historical analysis stand on its own rather than be instantly drawn into political/ideological/strategic disputes and polemics going on right now.

Here is a good example of why that approach is helpful.  Focusing on the French counterinsurgency war of the 1950s in Algeria, the one dramatically recalled in the film The Battle of Algiers, he writes:

The Algerian War (1954-1962), the subject of much recent professional military interest, offers additional, if more complicated, evidence of the vitality of external assistance. At great cost, the insurgent Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) won politically but lost militarily, and it lost militarily because of ruthless French counterinsurgency methods and French success in shutting off external material assistance. The French army had learned much from its defeat in Indochina, where it was never in a position to isolate the Viet Minh from Chinese Communist assistance, and in Algeria it faced a smaller and much less politically formidable enemy than the Viet Minh. The peak strength of the FLN’s military arm, the Armee de Liberation Nationale (ALN), never exceeded 40,000, including regulars, auxiliaries, and irregulars, and it is testimony to the FLN’s limited political appeal within Algeria that five times that number of Algerians fought on the French side. The FLN, which was governed by a fractious collective leadership, lacked not only a charismatic, Ho Chi Minh-like, single authoritative leader, but also any political program for the impoverished rural masses of the country. Unlike the Vietnamese Communists, who promised land as well as national liberation to the peasantry, the FLN promised national but no social liberation.

Even had the FLN enjoyed a larger popular support, which its heavy reliance on urban terrorism worked against,it confronted a massive French military presence and a skilled and barbarously effective counterinsurgent strategy. French forces in Algeria peaked in 1960 at 500,000, by which time there were only a few thousand ALN fighters still operating in the country (the bulk of the ALN was ensconced on the other side of the Tunisian border).  French forces always maintained at least a 10:1 numerical advantage over insurgents inside Algeria. Moreover, they made widespread use of torture, collective punishments, and forcible population relocations to extract intelligence, terrorize potential FLN supporters, and isolate vulnerable communities from FLN penetration. In 1957, in the face of an FLN terrorist campaign launched in Algiers, the French government transferred civil authority in Algiers to the military, which proceeded to crush the FLN in Algiers. In what became known as the Battle of Algiers, elite parachute units under the command of General Jacques Massu brutally broke an FLN-sponsored general strike (by threatening to destroy shops on the spot unless shop owners opened them) and then savagely rooted out the FLN infrastructure through mass arrests and torture.

But what really killed any chance of an FLN military win was the French success in physically isolating the insurgency from external material assistance. During the first two years of the insurgency, the FLN suffered an acute shortage of weapons; it armed itself largely with what weapons it could capture from government security and police forces. This situation changed dramatically when France granted independence to neighboring Morocco and Tunisia in March 1956. From then on, those two countries became conduits of external Arab military assistance. Tunisia also became a sanctuary for ALN forces; indeed, as the war got worse for the FLN inside Algeria, Tunisia became the FLN’s main operating base. It encamped on the Tunisian side of the Algerian border, armed and trained its forces there, and then launched raids into Algeria. (my emphasis)

He goes on to describe how France successfully cut off the FLN from external assistance and how that affected the balance of military forces.

Although Record doesn't call special attention to it in his article, the issue of external assistance and safe havens is one of the most-disputed issues in discussions of counterinsurgency warfare.  The US Army, famously committed as it is to preparing for conventional war of the type that would have been involved with the Soviet Red Army attacking western Europe through the Fulda Gap, is inclined to emphasize the role of external assistance and bases to explain difficulties in combatting insurgents.

We also have been hearing from the Cheney-Bush administration lately that Iran is meddling in the Iraqi insurrection/civil war.  While no one seems to doubt that Iran is providing support of various kinds to the Iraqi Shi'a, some of the particular claims that have been made stretch credibility to the Iraqi-WMD point.

One implications of Record's analysis of the French counterinsurgency in Algeria is that the that France's brutal repression and torture was not the decisive factor in their victory, which in any case was effectively reversed when France granted Algeria its independence several years later.

I'm not ready to say yet that I agree with the general analysis that Record makes here.  But one of his strengths is to take a hard look at the actual situations, and he is careful to not draw facile conclusions.  His article is a real caution about any kind of notion that virtually any guerilla movement can succeed.  Because, in fact, most of them don't.  But that also makes the ones like Lebanese Hizbullah that have proven their effectiveness almost by definition exceptions to the rule.

Record also makes these important observations:

Victorious insurgencies are exceptional because the strong usually beat the weak. But all power is relative, and if an insurgency has access to external assistance, such assistance can alter the insurgent-government power ratio even to the point where the insurgency becomes the stronger side. ...

Much of the key theoretical literature on the phenomenon of weak victories over the strong discounts or altogether ignores the importance of external assistance. Andrew Mack argues that the best explanation of insurgent success is possession of superior political will and therefore greater readiness to sacrifice; the insurgents win because they wage a total war against an enemy that fights but a limited war. Ivan Arreguin-Toft contends that superior strategy—e.g., protracted irregular warfare against a conventional foe—best explains insurgent victories.  Gil Merom believes that chances of insurgent success hinge greatly on government regime type; insurgencies fare much better against democraciesthan against dictatorships because the former lack the stomach for brutal repression.

These explanations share a common assumption: the key to offsetting the stronger side’s material superiority lies in the weaker side’s possession of superiority in such intangibles as political will and strategy. The United States was defeated in Indochina because the Vietnamese Communists displayed a far greater willingness to fight and die and pursued a strategy that simultaneously limited their exposure to US military strengths (firepower, air mobility) and exploited American political vulnerabilities (the electorate’s aversion to indecisive, protracted wars for limited objectives).

However, even the most committed and cunning insurgency cannot hope to win without material resources. A rebellion must have arms.  (my emphasis)

This argument also has a very important implication.  The rightwingers are already preparing a stab-in-the-back excuse for the loss of the Iraq War, basically like the one that has become the stock assumption of today's miliaristic and authoritarian Republican Party.  This argument is based on the idea that Will - always a favorite virtue for authoritarians - is decisive in such wars.  Record's article reminds us that actual military prowess plays a role, too.  Every war involves some kind of calculation of cost and benefits.  We could have the Will to lose 50,000 soldiers in Iraq.  But what does that get us if we do?

He concludes:

The strong correlation between external assistance and insurgent success does not diminish the insurgent requirement for superiority in such intangibles as will, strategy, organization, morale, and discipline. External assistance can favorably, even decisively, alter the material power ratio between an insurgency and an enemy government or foreign occupier. For either the insurgent side or the counterinsurgent side, material strength unguided by sound strategy and unsupported by sufficient willingness to fight and die is a recipe for almost certain defeat. But most insurgencies seek foreign help for good reason.

Middle Eastern wars ain't what they used to be

Still on light posting.  But this is an important article by Andrew Bacevich:  The Islamic Way of War American Conservative 09/11/06 issue; accessed 08/28/06.

Bacevich writes about how the Arab governments and movements of the Middle East have finally unlearned their commitment to a conventional, Soviet-style military strategy.  Defeating armies committed to such an approach, but with inferior equipment, training and motivation was the basis of the perceived brilliance of the Israeli and American militaries in the Middle East.

This was the mistaken lesson that the neoconservatives and hardline nationalists (like Rummy and Cheney) learned in particular from the now-long-ago Six Day War of 1967 and the Gulf War of 1991.  Bacevich warns that it's time to unlearn that lesson ourselves:

What are we to make of this? How is it that the seemingly weak and primitive are able to frustrate modern armies only recently viewed as all but invincible? What do the parallel tribulations - and embarrassments - of the United States and Israel have to tell us about war and politics in the 21st century? In short, what’s going on here?

The answer to that question is dismayingly simple: the sun has set on the age of unquestioned Western military dominance. Bluntly, the East has solved the riddle of the Western Way of War. In Baghdad and in Anbar Province as at various points on Israel’s troubled perimeter, the message is clear: methods that once could be counted on to deliver swift decision no longer work.  (my emphasis)

He gives a brief history of the new and, for Israel and the US, dramtically unwelcome development:

In Afghanistan during the 1980s, the Mujahadeen got things started by bringing to its knees a Soviet army equipped with an arsenal of modern equipment. During the so-called First Intifada, which began in 1987, stone-throwing and Molotov-cocktail-wielding Palestinians gave the IDF conniptions. In 1993, an angry Somali rabble - not an army at all - sent the United States packing. In 2000, the collapse of the Camp David talks produced a Second Intifada, this one persuading the government of Ariel Sharon that Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was becoming unsustainable. Most spectacularly, in September 2001, al-Qaeda engineered a successful assault on the American homeland, the culmination of a series of attacks that had begun a decade earlier.

First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, the United States seemed briefly to turn the tables: Western military methods overthrew the Taliban and then made short shrift of Saddam. After the briefest of intervals, however, victory in both places gave way to renewed and protracted fighting. Most recently, in southern Lebanon an intervention that began with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowing to destroy Hezbollah has run aground and looks increasingly like an Israeli defeat.

So it turns out that Arabs - or more broadly Muslims - can fight after all. We may surmise that they now realize that fighting effectively requires that they do so on their own terms rather than mimicking the West. They don’t need and don’t want tanks and fighter-bombers. What many Westerners dismiss as “terrorism,” whether directed against Israelis, Americans, or others in the West, ought to be seen as a panoply of techniques employed to undercut the apparent advantages of high-tech conventional forces. The methods em-ployed do include terrorism - violence targeting civilians for purposes of intimidation - but they also incorporate propaganda, subversion, popular agitation, economic warfare, and hit-and-run attacks on regular forces, either to induce an overreaction or to wear them down. The common theme of those techniques, none of which are new, is this: avoid the enemy’s strengths; exploit enemy vulnerabilities.  (my emphasis)

It can hardly be strssed enough right now that the US contributed mightily to the current development through the strategy of promoting radical Sunni militance in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union.  I certainly recognize that even the best-intentioned American policymakers sometimes have to make cynical deals with ambiguous moral and practical implications.  But making those deals and not being realistic about what's being done, and not learning the lessons and recognizing the negative developments that such deals often produce, is just foolish.

Bacevich also describes well what the current US and Israeli dilemmas are and are not.  What they are is a major practical problem if we continue to pursue Cheney-Bush style Napoleanic wars of liberation in the Middle East.  What they are not is a basic threat to the existence of the United States or Israel - a matter certainly not to be confused with the ability to do us serious and deadly harm:

What are the implications of this new Islamic Way of War? While substantial, they fall well short of being apocalyptic. As Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has correctly - if perhaps a trifle defensively - observed, “Our enemy knows they cannot defeat us in battle.” Neither the Muslim world nor certainly the Arab world poses what some like to refer to as “an existential threat” to the United States. Despite overheated claims that the so-called Islamic fascists pose a danger greater than Hitler ever did, the United States is not going to be overrun, even should the forces of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi insurgents, and Shi’ite militias along with Syria and Iran all combine into a unified anti-Crusader coalition. Although Israelis for historical reasons are inclined to believe otherwise, the proximate threat to Israel itself is only marginally greater. Although neither Israel nor the United States can guarantee its citizens “perfect security” - what nation can? - both enjoy ample capabilities for self-defense.

What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the United States is this: the Arabs now possess - and know that they possess - the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people. To put it another way, neither Israel nor the United States today possesses anything like the military muscle needed to impose its will on the various governments, nation-states, factions, and political movements that comprise our list of enemies. For politicians in Jerusalem or Washington to persist in pretending otherwise is the sheerest folly.  (my emphasis)

Bacevich is one military analyst who knows how to use the concept of militarism realistically.  And he has been emphasizing for quite a while that the United States under the Cheney-Bush administration is foolishly relying on military might as the primary tool of foreign policy, even at times the exclusive one.  This is a bad, bad idea.

And it's very obviously having bad results.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Saddam and chemical warfare

I'm still on "light posting" for the next couple of weeks.  But I'll be posting occasionally like this.

It's certainly no secret that Saddam Hussein's regime did have chemical weapons at one time and used them against Iran.  We had some gripping testimony at Saddam's trial last week from some of his Kurdish victims.  This article focuses on a particular aspect of the terrible damage that chemical weapons can do to people:

Chemical Warfare Ravages Mental Health Of Iranian Civilians ScienceDaily.com 08/01/06

Iranian civilians exposed to high-intensity warfare and chemical weapons are experiencing significantly higher levels of psychological distress compared to those exposed to low-intensity warfare but not chemical weapons, researchers at Yale School of Medicine report in the August 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association devoted to the theme of violence and human rights.

The research was based on data collected in July 2004 on 153 civilians in three towns bordering Iran and Iraq by researchers in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health (EPH) at Yale School of Medicine, the Department of Psychiatry and the VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

The team, led by EPH research associate Farnoosh Hashemian, conducted a cross-sectional randomized study to measure civilian trauma during the Iran-Iraq war, which lasted from 1980 to 1988, caused one million casualties on both sides and 60,000 chemical warfare survivors in Iran. While much is known about the physical consequences of chemical warfare, the researchers sought to document the long-term effects of chemical attacks on mental health.

The United States under the Reagan administration was supporting Iraq in this war with Iran, and as a result helped downplay Saddam's use of chemical weapons.  Reagan also had the US briefly enter the war as an active naval belligerent against Iran.

The study cited can be accessed here (for a fee):  Anxiety, Depression, and Posttraumatic Stress in Iranian Survivors of Chemical Warfare.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Light posting notice

I'll be doing lighter than usual posting the next three weeks.  But the rest of the Blue Voice team will be here and posting great stuff, as usual.  So stop by there if there's nothing new here.

Meanwhile, check out this blog I just discovered via Juan Cole (I find a lot of things via Cole's blog).  It's called Killing the Frog.

Shakira in San Jose

I never really knew that she could dance like this
She makes a man want to speak Spanish

   - Wyclef Jean in "Hips Don't Lie"

On Saturday night in San Jose I got to see Shakira Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, better known just as Shakira, in concert for the first time.  She really puts on a great show.  And I don't think I've ever seen an audience that was overall so energized during so much of the concert.

I was a little surprised to see that the audience of 13,000 was mostly Latino. Or maybe it's because it was the first show and her Latino fans were the quickest to get tickets.  A second show was added there for Monday night.  Or maybe the Anglos around here are painfully unaware of what they're missing if they're not listening to Shakira.

Wyclef Jean provided the opening act, and came out to accompany her on the finale.  He provided the only overtly political moment of the show when he did a rap about calling President Bush and talking to him on the phone. Bush asks what he can do to help the country.  And Wyclef's reply was, "Stop the war! Stop the war!  Stop the war!  Stop the war!"  The crowd seemed to be pretty much down with that message.

Shakira performed for about an hour and 45 minutes, with brief breaks at a few points. I'm posting a set list below the fold.

She opened with one of her signature songs, "Estoy Aquí", the only one of her songs from her first mass-circulation CD Pies Descalzos that still makes it into her concert repertoire. (She had two earlier record releases in Colombia that are "collectors items", although they're from her mid-teens, so they're probably not on the same quality level as her current ones.)

She followed that up with "Te Dejo Madrid", which I was surprised to hear.  I like it a lot - well, I pretty much like all her songs - but I had read that she played it in Madrid, and somehow I was thinking she would only play that one there.

She mostly spoke English for her stage dialogue.  Most of the songs were in Spanish, although she did several English ones, as well.

I was also pleasantly surprised that she did a couple of her songs that were a bit of a departure for her.  One was "Obtener un Sí" (To Get a Yes), which she wrote as a Frank Sinatra-type song.  But it's an ironic song for her to sing.  Yeah, like anyone would tell her "No".

The other was "Hey You", whose melody and general mood are clearly a tribute to the Petula Clark hit of decades ago, "Downtown".

She really connected well with the crowd.  After the first two or three songs, she did a little introduction saying she was going to be singing and dancing and stuff, and the punch line is that she wanted us all to have fun.  But she built up to it, by asking, "Can you make a woman happy?  Can you make me happy?"  At which point the imaginations of about 6,000 guys and at least several hundred women, I'm sure, went soaring.

It's hard to say which songs the crowd liked the best, because this was a pavilion full of real fans.  Among the slower songs, "Inevitable" seems to be a special favorite.  On that one in particular, you get a sense of what a powerful voice she has.

The belly-dancing numbers "Whenever, Wherever" and "Ojos Así" were especially high-energy.

She ended the main show with her mariachi song "Ciega Sordomuda".  For the encore, she did "Ojos Así", and closed with her mega-hit, "Hips Don't Lie".  It makes a spectacular ending.

Did I mention that she's a really, really talented dancer?  I mean, I just like her for the music myself.  But I'm just sayin'.

Joel Selvin reviews the concert in Along her path to world domination, Shakira conquers San Jose San Francisco Chronicle 08/21/06.  He calls her a "pint-size powder keg", and was obviously impressed with her stage presence:

Making her entrance in a conservative silver T-shirt and black workout pants, she is an enormously appealing sprite, so tiny it's as if she were built on three-quarter scale. She gives her tight, chiseled body a shake, flashes a winning smile and sparkling eyes, breaks into laughter and melts the crowd.

Unfortunately, his review deteriorates into the "been there, heard that" attitude that pop music reviewers seem to think is obligatory. 

Here's the set-list as I remember it, only not in the exact order except for the first two and the last three:

Estoy Aquí
Te Dejo Madrid
Don't Bother
La Tortura
Si Te Vas
Underneath Your Clothes
Whenever, Wherever
Hey You
La Pared
Obtener un Sí
Ciega Sordomuda
Ojos Así
Hips Don't Lie

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Where are the terrorism threats?

This is an interesting and disturbing article about Cuban spies and anti-Castro groups plotting assassination on American soil:  Anti-Castro Disclosures Could Help 'Cuban Five': Convicted in Miami on espionage charges five years ago, the exiles may still win a new trial by Carol Williams Los Angeles Times 08/19/06.

The "Cuban Five", as the Cuban government and their American supporters call them (yes, they have American supporters), were convicted in 2001 of being Cuban agents, specifically of conspiracy to commit espionage.  No one denies that they were agents of the Cuban government.

The defendants' argument for a new trial may be successful, though the idea of their being acquitted in a new trial sounds pretyy far-fetched.  But the legal process is bringing to public attention some of the activities of the violent anti-Castro groups in the United States.

The Cuban government sent the "Cuban Five" to infilitrate some of those anti-Castro groups.  And their attorneys are arguing that because some of those groups were plotting violent and illegal acts against Cuba, that their mission was a legitimate law-enforcement one.  I don't pretend to be familiar with the applicable laws nearly enough to say I have an informed opionion on the legal case.  But on the face of it, it doesn't sound like a strong legal argument.

But Williams' article does provide some factual material on some of the anti-Castro groups' activities:

Among the developments is the admission by Jose Antonio Llama, a 75-year-old exile, that he financed a 1997 mission to kill Castro for which he had already been tried and acquitted.

In addition to Llama's admission, Robert Ferro, a Cuban exile in Upland, Calif., said in April that he collected 1,500 guns and grenades for an assault on Cuba during U.S. military exercises in the Caribbean in May. Ferro was charged with illegal weapons possession. And trial begins next month in the case of Miami developer Santiago Alvarez on charges of amassing guns last year for an attack on Castro. ...

Llama confirmed anti-Castro actions in interviews in recent weeks, including with The Times, in which he accusedfive different exiles of selling $1.4 million in equipment he bought for the 1997 operation.

The group planned to "eliminate" Castro during his visit to Venezuela's Isla de Margarita that year, but the Puerto Rican Coast Guard intercepted Llama's cabin cruiser ferrying four men and the weapons. Llama said his fellow plotters sold a cargo helicopter, 10 aircraft, seven boats and weapons while he was on trial in San Juan. He was later acquitted, for lack of evidence, of conspiracy to murder a head of state.

"I understand the implications" for bolstering the defense of the Cuban Five, Llama said of his admissions.  (my emphasis)

The planned terrorist acts by the anti-Castro groups were aimed against Castro and the current Cuban government.  But it raises a couple of troubling questions.  One is the activity itself.  An armed political group - probably a hard-right of some form, whose commitment to American-style democracy is conceivably not the strongest - amasses 1,500 guns and grenades?  Are these some of Howard Hunt's and Gordon Liddy's buddies?   Should we feel comfortable assuming that none of these guns and grenades will be used against Americans?  Or in American airports?  Or on American trains or subways?  A lot of these hard-right groups are sure that the American government is controlled by Communists or Jews or ZOG or Lord-knows-who and that violent attacks on the tainted government would be patriotic acts.  Even if you think Fidel Castro is an agent of Satan, that doesn't mean this kind of activity is desirable or tolerable in the US.

Also, didn't the Cheney-Bush administration defend Israel's "right" to attack military targets all over Lebanon because the Hizbullah militia, operating from Lebanese soil but not under the direction or control of the Lebanese government, made a raid across an international boundary against Israeli forces?  By the same logic, if an anti-Castro extremist group carries out an attack against Cuban forces or officials, even one as small as a single raid, wouldn't Cuba be justified in carrying out an attack in any part of the United States?  Sure, there's such an enormous disparity of military power that Cuba would face a huge deterrent against doing so.  But still, treating each new incident as though we are inventing the rules anew just for that news cycle is a risky and sloppy way to run foreign policy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Second World War factoid worth remembering

The road to the disaster known as the Iraq War was paved with anologies from the Second World War.

But then, all American wars are, it seems.  Every enemy is the new Hitler.  For the neocons, it's always 1938 and the West is always about to have a failure of Will and sell out Czechoslovakia to Hitler Germany.

But here's something about the Second World War that actually provides some kind of useful measure for the Iraq War:  Why has Iraq war lasted nearly as long as WWII? by Kenneth Janda Chicago Tribune 08/14/06.  He writes:

The United States has been fighting in Iraq since March 19, 2003, when President Bush launched Operation Iraqi Freedom with air strikes against Baghdad. Monday marks the 1,245th day of the Iraqi conflict. By that reckoning, Americans troops will have fought in Iraq for as long as they fought Germany in World War II.

Our war against Germany lasted 1,245 days, from Dec. 11, 1941, (when both nations declared war) until May 8, 1945.

Our war against Japan from Dec. 7, 1941, until Aug. 15, 1945, lasted somewhat longer - 1,348 days.

So one cannot yet say that the war in Iraq has been longer than World War II. ...

Nov. 25, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, will mark the 1,348th day of American involvement in the Iraqi conflict. It is not a date to celebrate.

Iraq War: Incomprehensible?

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

I like Digby's Hullabaloo blog.  Good writing, good links.

But with an opening like that, you know there's a criticism coming.  In Ungrateful Wretches 08/17/06, she writes about Bush's seeming confusion over the lack of gratitude from the Iraqi people for bombing, shooting and torturing them into the country's current state.  She continues:

And I suspect that a whole lot of other Americans are just plain confused.  It's very hard to finesse all that and it's one of the reasons why the occupation has been such a disaster. Nobody really knows what we're doing there, not us, not them.  Now Iraqis are boldly demonstrating in favor of terrorists and even Bush can no longer hide his own confusion and dismay.

In that sense, this war makes Vietnam a moment of foreign policy clarity.   It was certainly a mistake to put so much importance on the idea that the US could not afford to fail in a small proxy war or risk communism taking over the far east.  But at least everyone understood the premise and could either agree or disagree with it.  This war in Iraq is totally incomprehensible to everyone.  We invaded for dozens of disparate reasons none of which were entirely compelling and all of which have been proven to be mistaken.  We are throwing away hundreds of billions and yet there are now many more terrorists in Iraq than there were before the invasion and many more all around the world because of it.  Oil prices are sky high and rising. The middle east is more unstable than its been in many decades. Lots and lots of people are dying.  (my emphasis)

I'm generally receptive to hearing about the general senselessness of war.  But I have a concern about presenting the Iraq War as totally incomprehensible.  Bush lied, people died; what's so hard to comprehend about that?

More specifically, I think it's a mistake to give our Republicans the alibi that nobody really understood the premise and that it's "incomprehensible".   In fact, Congress passed a specific authorization for war in October 2002.  I've commented on it before, first time here in 2004.

John Dean in his Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (2004) summarizes the requirements of that resolution:

To avoid having to return to Congress for more debate on Iraq, Bush had pushed for and received authority to launch a war without further advance notice to Congress.  Never before had Congress so trusted a president with this authority.  But in granting this unprecedented authorization, Congress insisted that certain conditions be established as existing and that the president submit a formal determination, assuring the Congress that, in fact, these conditions were present.  Specifically (and here I am summarizing technical wording; the actual language [is in section 3(b) (1) and (2) of PL 107-243]), Congress wanted a formal determination submitted to it either before using force or within forty-eight hours of having done so, stating that the president had found that (1) further diplomatic means alone would not resolve the "continuing threat" (meaning WMD) and (2) the military action was part of the overall response to terrorism, including dealing wtih those involved in "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."  In short, Congress insisted that there be evidence of two points that were the centerpirce of Bush's argument for the war.

The Cheney-Bush administration relied most heavily on the claims of WMDs in Iraq, and used the alleged Al Qaida connection to Saddam to link the invasion of Iraq to 9/11.  And Congress, responding to his request for a war resolution, incorporated both those requirement into the resolution.  War was authorized only if all other means had been exhausted to deal with Iraq's WMDs, which were non-existent, *and* if the war was shown to be a part of the war on terrorism including those involved in the 9/11 attacks, a connection which was also non-existent.

The administration's claim about both those things were false.  Bush lied, people died.  Why mystify it into "incomprehensible"?  Let Bush and his Party explain why they went to war on this basis.

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05

A look at lessons of the Israel-Lebanon War

Anthony Cordesman has prepared a Preliminary “Lessons” of the Israeli-Hezbollah War analysis (Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]) 08/17/06.  He explains that he interviewed Israeli officials about the war, but did not have the same opportunity to interview correspoding officials on the other side, i.e., Hizbullah and the Lebanese government.

One of the points that jumped out at me is one that he refers to as somewhat of a sideline to his main purpose in this paper:

One key point that should be mentioned more in passing than as a lesson, although it may be a warning about conspiracy theories, is that no serving Israeli official, intelligence officer, or other military officer felt that the Hezbollah acted under the direction of Iran or Syria.  (my emphasis)

Will our mainstream media and the Big Pundits pick up on this?  Given that Bush just this past Monday gave a speech at the State Department repeatedly suggesting that Iran and Syria, especially Iran, were responsible for the actions of Hizbullah, what Cordesman reports there based on his own interviews is an important point in the debate about going to war with Iran.  He also writes:

The issue of who was using whom, however, was answered by saying all sides - the Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria - were perfectly happy to use each other. Israelis felt Nasrallah had initiated the Sheeba farms raid on his own and that Iran and Syria were forced to support him once Israel massively escalated.  Israeli officials did not endorse the theory that Iran forced the Hezbollah to act to distract attention from its nuclear efforts.   (my emphasis)

One of the most important points he makes is about how Israeli leaders dealt with how the war was perceived:

Israel saw its war as just, but made little effort to justify it to the outside world as a key element of strategy, tactics, and the practical execution of battle.

The Israeli government and IDF - like their American counterparts - have always tended to see this aspect of war more in terms of internal politics and perceptions than those of other states, cultures, and religions.  In Israel’s case, Israel also seems to have felt it could deal with Hezbollah relatively simply, intimidate or persuade Lebanon with limited leverage, and assume that its defeat of the Hezbollah would counter Arab and Islamic anger and lead to only limited problems with outside states.  (my emphasis)

This is a point that is becoming more important as time goes on.  The management of information, the role of information in warfare, is a topic that is intensely discussed in terms of both conventional and counterinsurgency warfare.  The shadow of the Vietnam War is very apparent in those discussions in America.  The officer corps seems to have largely bought into what is essentially a "stab-in-the-back" myth about the Vietnam War, in which American forces performed spendidly and victoriously (!) in the field.   But the war effort was undercut by antiwar protesters and hippies and their like-minded representatives in Congress.

This issue is often formulated in terms of "center of gravity", a term stemming from the Karl von Clausewitz' theories of warfare that are considered much like sacred writ to today's American military strategies.  Since "center of gravity" is not a term that reports and pundits toss around in relation to warfare, some of those discussions may sound less controversial than they should be.  Because "center of gravity" refers to what we could also call the essential aspect of the conflict that will make the decisive difference between victory and defeat.

Mix together that deeply flawed but widely accepted view of the Vietnam War, the influence of the "center of gravity" concept in strategic theory, and the military's ingrained inclination to keep as much of their workings secret from outsidiers as possible and especialy so during a shooting war, the "center of gravity" in the information war is often taken to mean "better PR".  Once you've convinced a bunch of generals that competent public relations operations are the key to victory and the biggest risk of defeat, you're likely to get something pretty much like we've seen the last five years.  You get senior officials saying things like the quote I use to open my Old Hickory's Weblog posts on the Iraq War, of Gen. Richard Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying on 04/26/05:

I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time.

You get fake stories about Pat Tillman's death and Jessica Lynch's captivity; civilian deaths chronically counted as "terrorists"; cover-ups for war crimes at Abu Ghuraib, Haditha and elsewhere; media offices blasted; journalists and photographers killed by US forces under questionable circumstances; paying Iraqi journalists for fake "good news" stories than are then flogged to the US media; and so on.

The punditocracy and the Christian Right may still worship the ground on which our infallable generals walk.  But such approaches have produced a real credibility gap among the public.  And that's a *good thing* because uncritical public and journalistic and Congressional attitudes toward the claims (and massive purchases) made by our infallible generals has had some very bad effects.  But it certainly wasn't the result the generals were expecting in this "center of gravity".

Israel does face prejudice and media bias in the political dimension of war, but - to put itbluntly - this is as irrelevant to the conduct  of war as similar perceptions of the US as a crusader and occupier. It is as irrelevant as complaints that the enemy fights in civilian areas, uses terror tactics, does not wear uniforms and engages in direct combat. Nations fight in the real world, not in ones where they can set the rules for war or perceptual standards.

Israel’s failure to understand this is just as serious and dangerous as America’s. So is Israel’s focus on domestic politics and perceptions. Modern nations must learn to fight regional, cultural, and global battles to shape the political, perceptual, ideological, and media dimensions of war within the terms that other nations and cultures can understand, or they risk losing every advantage their military victories gain.  (my emphasis)

Not only does the approach used by Israel and the US of focusing on domestic opinion at the expense of (to use a marketing term) positioning the case to the opinion of other relevant nations, or "world opinion" in shorthand, tend to create a self-reinforcing information loop for the decision-makers and encourage groupthink.  It also undercuts the political goals of our wars.

Following are some of Cordesman's other preliminary views on thelessons of the recent war.

I'm surprised at his finding the proportionality of the Israeli actions:

In general, Israel seems to have made a consistent effort to keep its military actions proportionate to the threat in legal terms if one looks beyond the narrow incident at Sheeba Farms that triggered the fighting and considers six years of Hezbollah military build up as a major threat that could target all of Israel with major Iranian and Syrian support. Weakness and division is not a defense in international law and the laws of war, and Lebanon’s failure to act as a state, implement resolution 1559, and disarm the Hezbollah deprives it of any right as a non-belligerent.

But the proportionality question does not hang on Lebanon's supposed rights as a non-belligerent in that sitution.  The question is whether Israel's attack which was ostensibly directly at Hizbullah justified attacking targets like Beirut's airport, residential areas where civilian offices of Hizbullah were located or attacks on targets in parts of the country far removed from the Hizbullah-controlled area.  He does recognize that Israel had a major perception problem in this regard.  And his conclusion for the US is sounds, as far as it goes:

The US must not repeat this mistake. It must develop clear plans and doctrine regarding proportionality and be just as ready to explain and justify them as to show how it is acting to limit civilian casualties and collateral damage.  Above all, it must not fall into the trap of trying either to avoid the laws of war or of being so bound by a strict interpretation that it cannot fight.  The last part about not "being so bound by a strict interpretation that it cannot fight" is superflous after the last five years. 

The following is also a bit puzzling:

Israeli officials differed significantly over how much they had planned and trained for conflict escalation.  Outside experts did not.  They felt that the Israeli government rushed into a major attack on the Hezbollah and Lebanon with little preparation and detailed planning, that the battle plan put far too much faith in airpower, and that the government was averse to examining another major land advance into Lebanon or broadening the conflict to put pressure on Syria.

Only access to the historical record can determine the facts.  There was, however, broad criticism that the government and IDF did  not properly prepare the active forces and reserves for a major land attack or for the possibility of a major escalation that required such an attack.  The government and IDF were criticized for never examining “Plan B”- what would happen if things went wrong or if a major escalation was required.

The puzzling part is the statement that the IDF didn't have "detailed planning" for the action.  Because we know that Israeli officials briefed US officials and reporters more than a year before the recent war began about their war plan for attacking Hizbullah and Lebanon.  Presumably, the lack of "detailed planning" means more detailed than the level of plans on which Israel was doing those briefings.

Cordesman's paper goes into some detail about the kind of weapons Hizbullah used and the way in which they were able to surprise the Israelis technologically in some ways.

He also cautions against drawing too drastic conclusions in the following way, as well:

The value and capability of such asymmetric "netcentric" warfare [as Hizbullah used], and comparatively slow moving wars of attrition, should not be exaggerated. The IDF could win any clash, and might have won decisively with different ground tactics. It also should not be ignored.  The kind of Western netcentric warfare that is so effective against conventional forces has met a major challenge and one it must recognize.

In an obvious dig at one of Rummy's more notorious sayings, he observes:

Military forces must prepare for the wars they may have to fight, not for the wars they want to fight. They must also prepare knowing that nothing about the history of warfare indicates that peacetime planners can count on predicting when a war takes place or how it will unfold.  

He refrains from any sweeping judgments on the success of Israel's air war.  But he also makes it clear that, at the very minimum, Israel planned for the air power to be much more effective than it actually was.  He also is reserved in his judgments about the question of Lebanese civilian casualties.  He seems to accept the Israeli claim that Hizbullah consistently used civilians to hide behind:

Hezbollah built its facilities in towns and populated areas, usedcivilian facilities and homes to store weapons and carry out its activities, and embedded its defenses and weapons in built-up areas. It learned to move and ship in ways that mirrored normal civilian life. We were shown extensive imagery showing how the Hezbollah deployed its rockets and mortars into towns and homes, rushing into private houses to fire rockets andrushing out.

I'm certainly not discounting this evidence.  But I'm also not convinced that this practice was a widespread as Israeli spokespeople wanted us to belive.  Or that it justifies the level of bombing and resultant death in Lebanese cities that actually occurred.

A fair amount of the paper is taken up with looking at whether the military means Israel employed were consistent with their goals.  This is a moving target to analyze, because Israel's stated goals not only varied but shifted over time.  But Cordesman recommends that Americans adopt one practice that the Israelis followed in this war:

One key lesson that the US badly needs to learn from Israel is the Israeli rush towards accountability.  Israeli experts inside and outside of government did not agree on the extent to which the government and the IDF mismanaged the war, but none claimed that it had gone smoothly or well. Most experts outside of government felt that the problems were serious enough to force a new commission or set of commissions to examine what had gone wrong and to establish the facts.

He also says on that topic:

What is interesting about the Israeli approach, however, is the assumption by so many Israeli experts that that major problems and reverses need immediate official examination and that criticism begins from the top down. Patriotism and the pressures of war call for every effort to be made to win, not for support of the political leadership and military command until the war is over.

The US, in contrast, is usually slow to criticize and then tends to focus on the President on a partisan basis. It does not have a tradition of independent commissions and total transparency (all of the relevant cabinet and command meetings in Israel are videotaped).  Worse, the US military tends to investigate and punish from the bottom up. At least since Pearl Harbor (where the searchfor scapegoats was as much a motive as the search for truth), the US has not acted on the principle that top-level and senior officers and civilian officials must be held accountable for all failures, and that the key lessons of war include a ruthless and unbiased examination of grand strategy and policymaking.  (my emphasis)

Cordesman looks at five of the Israeli goals in the war:

Destroy the “Iranian Western Command” before Iran could go nuclear.

Bascially, on this one he says that if the Israeli Air Force (IAF) claims are correct, they did take out most of Hizbullah's medium- and long-range missiles.  But what that means fgoing forward is hard to evaluate:  "One key limit of any war is that it can only deal with present threats. It cannot control the future."  And it is clear that Hizbullah remains very much a functioning, armed political force.

Restore the credibility of Israeli deterrence after the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and countering the image that Israel was weak and forced to leave.

Since deterrence is a matter of perception, it's hard to see how Israel's experience in this war improved the IDF's deterrent abilities.  Of course, perception is also based on reality, and the reality is that Israel's conventional and nuclear forces are capable of defending the country from anyone trying to seize territory withink its internationally-recognized borders.  The real problem comes from what this does to deterrence against Hizbullah and the Palestinians.  Based on his interviews, Cordesman says:

The other side of the coin was the deep Israeli concern with security barriers and unilateral withdrawals. Israelis felt that defense in depth and an active IDF presence was needed in front of security barriers; that major new security efforts and barriers would be required to deal with longer-range Palestinian weapons; that even more separation of the two peoples would be needed; and that Israeli Arabs might become more of a threat. This is scarcely a sign of improved deterrence.

Force Lebanon to become and act as an accountable state, and end the status of Hezbollah as a state within a state.

Cordesman sees some hope here.  But he concludes, "This goal is uncertain."

Damage or cripple Hezbollah, with theunderstanding that it could not be destroyed as a military force and would continue to be a major political actor in Lebanon.

This is closely related to the first goal he discussed, as noted above.  In this section, he writes:

If the Hezbollah is crippled as a military force, it will be because of US and French diplomacy in creating an international peacekeeping force and helping the Lebanese Army move south with some effectiveness. It will not be because of IDF military action.

Bring the two soldiers the Hezbollah had captured back alive without major trades in prisoners held by Israel - not the thousands demanded by Nasrallah and the Hezbollah.

Here, Cordesman highlights the problems that a testosterone-driven foreign policy can create:

This is a key feature of the UN resolution and the ceasefire. However, what actually happens is yet to be seen. The Israeli emphasis on such kidnappings and casualties also communicates a dangerous sense of Israeli weakness at a military and diplomatic level. It reinforces the message since Oslo that any extremist movement can halt negotiations and peace efforts by triggering a new round of terrorist attacks.

The message seems to be that any extremist movement can lever Israel into action by a token attack. Furthermore, there has been so much discussion in Israel of the Israeli leadership and IDF’s reluctance to carry out a major land offensive in Lebanon because of the casualties it took from 1982-2000, and would face in doing so now, that the end result further highlights the image of Israeli vulnerability.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Israel-Lebanon War

Paul Rogers of the Oxford Research Group has been following the Israel-Lebanon War with report at OpenDemocracy.net.  The latest is An unfinished war 08/14/06.  He writes of Israel's announced plan for an early withdrawal of ground troops from Lebanon:

Israel's belief in the value of an early withdrawal is underpinned by knowledge that Hizbollah remains highly effective; if the ceasefire were to break down with up to 20,000 IDF personnel embedded across much of southern Lebanon, the result would be a situation where the IDF would suffer heavy casualties while Hizbollah would still retain most of its missiles. This is just one more indicator of the problems facing the Olmert government, now that calls for Olmert's resignation are increasing.

More generally, it is indicative of the concern among neo-conservatives and other pro-Israeli groups in Washington that Israel has failed to use the political and military support offered by the United States to decisively defeat Hizbollah (see "The US and Israel: a marriage under pressure" (7 August 2006).

The concern in Washington is mirrored in criticisms in Israel that the Bush administration actively encouraged the Olmert government to take action against Hizbollah. While the United States did not specifically urge Israel to respond to the Hizbollah border raid, this was little more than an incident that set up a pre-planned operation. Moreover, at a key meeting between Bush and Olmert at the White House on 23 May, seven weeks before the start of the war, Bush is reported to have made clear his support for Israeli military action against Hizbollah (see Robert Parry, "Israeli Leaders Fault Bush on War" Consortium News, 13 August 2006).

Rogers talks about how eager the neocons and nationalists in the Cheney-Bush administration are to go to war against Iran and warns, "The guns of August might yet become the bombs of October."

In Why Israel is losing 08/09/06, from last week before the ceasefire and whose link doesn't seem to be working right now, he wrote about the ways in which the reputation of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had already taken a big hit:

The sense in which Israel is the loser is that it has focused its security over many years on deterrence through the threat of overwhelming military force - and that is failing.

He also wrote:

There are strong suspicions that Israel's own capabilities are being backed up by the much larger American space-based systems, yet another way in which this is a proxy war ...

A further issue that has come to the fore is the relative significance of Syria rather than Iran as a source of Hizbollah's arsenal.  Israel and American hawks have been instent that the real enemy is Iran, but IDF data now indicates that Syria is more important than previously believed (see Robert Wall, David A Fulghum and Douglass Barrie, "Harsh Trajectories", Aviation Week, 7 August 2006).

Was it "intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale"?

Or was it political cynicism on a scale we really shouldn't have to try to imagine?  "It" being the Big Heathrow Terror Plot.  You know, the one we first heard about a week ago about this time?  The one where Britain arrested a bunch of Muslims but still apparently not one of them has been charged yet with an actual crime?  (The quote in the title is from Scotland Yard's announcement of the alleged plot.) 

Some people are beginning to wonder.  No, that's not like "some say" they way Bush and FOX News always use to introduce points that probably no one but them is actually saying.  James Galbraith for one in Groundhog Day Nation Online 08/16/06:

From all official statements so far, we are led to believe that August 10 was a highly developed, far-advanced conspiracy, under surveillance for some time, which could have been put into action within just a few days.  And perhaps 8/10 really was the biggest thing since 9/11.  But then again, perhaps it wasn't.  We don't know yet.  And it's not too early to ask the questions on which final judgment must depend.

Well, then. Here is a checklist of some things we should shortly be hearing about. Bombs. Chemicals. Detonators. Labs. A testing ground. Airline tickets. Passports. Witnesses. Suspicious neighbors. Suspicious parents. Suspicious friends. Threats. Confessions. Let me spell this out: By definition, you cannot bomb an aircraft unless you have a bomb. In this case, we are told that there were no bombs; rather, the conspirators planned to bring on board the makings of a bomb: chemicals and a detonator. These would be mixed on board.

Exactly what the chemicals were remains unclear. Nitroglycerin has been suggested, but it's too likely to go off on the way to the airport. TATP, made of acetone and peroxide, has been suggested, but there are two problems. One is that the peroxide required is highly concentrated--it's not the 3 percent solution from the drugstore. The other is that acetone is highly volatile. As anyone who flies knows, you can't open a bottle of nail polish remover on an airplane without everyone within twenty feet knowing at once. It's possible to imagine one truly dedicated and competent bomber pulling this off. But it is impossible to imagine twenty-four untrained people between the ages of 17 and 35 all getting away with the same trick at once.

Lack of terrorist professionalism doesn't mean that they weren't serious.  Mohammad Atta and the 9/11 hijackers - none of whom were Iraqi or Iranian, I just wanted to mention - were super-spies themselves.  They did some things that the CIA black-ops types would not consider good "trade craft", like being seen in public together soon before the deadline for the attack.

As Galbraith patiently spells out, there was a lot that seems to have been missing in this alleged plot to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".   Like airline tickets for the perpetrators-to-be.  Or passports, which are required to board those overseas flights that were supposedly targeted.

He's being cautious.  But he's also right to be alert.  Even suspicious.  Remember those WMDs we went to war to get rid of in Iraq?  He concludes:

In short: Could this case blow up? Could it turn out to have been an overreaction, a mistake--or even a hoax? Yes, it could, and it wouldn't be the first one, either. I'm not saying it will, necessarily. I'm not accusing the British authorities of bad faith. I'm not suggesting the plot was faked - at least, not by them. But dodgy informants and jumpy politicians are an explosive mixture, easily detonated under pressure. Everyone knows that.

Iran War: Concern about the rollout of the war

I hope the local subscribers of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette realize what a treasure they have with Gene Lyons as a columnist for their paper.  Growing up in Mississippi, my local papers were the Clarke County Tribune and the Meridian Star.  You can take my word for it, they didn't have any Gene Lyons writing for them.

This week, he's writing about how the Cheney-Bush Administration’s temporary insanity continues 08/16/06.  He discusses the Cheney-Bush foreign policy in the Middle East, the neoconservative dogmas used to justify it and what "a catastrophic mess they’ve made of it".  He also talks about the irony of the US and Israel hoping for France and the UN - remember the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" talk? - to bail out what the Cheney-Bush administration made into our joint disaster in Lebanon.  And he concludes:

Achieving high rank in President Simple’s administration, the neo-cons - no war veterans among them - convinced him that removing Saddam Hussein, a secular military dictator, was crucial to defeating al-Qa’ida religious fanatics hiding in Pakistani caves several time zones away.  With a grateful citizenry strewing rose petals in their path, American liberators would turn Iraq into an Arab Switzerland.

Now they’re eager to double down on that calamitous bet.  The Jerusalem Post recently reported that Israeli defense officials received “indications from the U. S. that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.”  Thankfully, sources told veteran American reporter Robert Parry, even hawkish cabinet members think that’s “nuts.”  After the smoke clears, Israel, a functioning democracy, will doubtless investigate.

Since the fall of Baghdad, moreover, some neo-cons have joked that “real men go to Tehran.”  U. S. intelligence sources can find no evidence that Iran controls Hezbollah’s actions, although they arm Lebanon’s Shiite militia as surely as the U. S. sponsors Israel.  Neo-cons see one last chance to achieve their megalomaniacal daydreams before the November congressional elections, provoking a war whose scale - from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas - most Americans don’t comprehend, and which couldn’t be “won” without resorting to nuclear weapons. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh contendsthat thePentagon is resisting White House pressures to plan exactly that.  Daniel Levy thinks that “disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon ‘creative destruction’ in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers.” Had George W. Bush heeded France in 2003, allowing United Nations inspectors to document that Iraq harbored no weapons of mass destruction, today’s situation wouldn’t be so scary.  This time, Americans need to listen.  (my emphasis)

Juan Cole prints an essay by Ray Close on what a bad idea it would be for the US to attack Iran, and adds his own commentary.  The major points include:

Lebanese Hizbullah does retain a significant capability to fire missiles into northern Israel.  Even calling it an "undiminished" capability might not be too far from accurate.  Assuming Hizbullah would be willing to use them to retaliate for a US attack on Iran, this give Iran a strategic depth that Israel's month-long Lebanon war failed to remove.  That increases the risks involved in an Iran War.  But, conversely, it creates more urgent political pressure for the Cheney-Bush administration to attack Iran.

Iran's C-802/SACCADE cruise missiles give them a significant ability to strike at US warships and at oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Close and Cole understood Bush's Monday 08/14/06 speech at the State Department as I did, largely a war threat against Iran.  Close concludes by arguing that Cheney and Bush are pursuing an Iran policy that can produce one of two results:  "1. War with Iran (with negative consequences beyond anyone's ability to imagine); or 2. Another humiliating demonstration of impotence."

Larisa Alexandrovna in Is Lebanon the 'Trigger' for U.S. War With Iran? AlterNet.org 08/10/06, written before Monday's ceasefire took effect, talks about her concerns that the Cheney-Bush administration saw the Israel-Lebanon War as a trigger event to widen the Iraq War to Iran.  She describes a conversation she had in May with Sam Gardiner.  Gardiner was suggesting then that the positioning of US aircraft carriers could be preparation for strikes on Iran.  And Alexandrovna writes:

But at that time, he and I did not speak of our theories on triggers. I had, however, long claimed that any trigger would have to involve Israel, either as a defensive measure or a measure of provocation. An attack on Israel would be the easiest way to shore up domestic support.

When I was told that Israel had begun a military strike on Lebanon, for me there was no question: This was the trigger. Just prior to Israel's bombing of Lebanon, I got a call from a friend in the military who told me about two Israeli troops being kidnapped across the border into Lebanon. My first question was, "Do they say it is Hezbollah?" and of course we know now that it was. But when my friend answered that it was indeed Hezbollah, I knew that Israel - for whatever reason - had become a proxy U.S. war machine for Dick Cheney's madness of regime change in Iran.

Now, her last retrospective claim of that foresight can't be taken at face value, because she couldn't have known that such a "trigger" had been pulled until Israel actually started waging war on Lebanon.  (We could be generous and assume something got lost in editing.) 

My friend said not to worry, that the soldiers would be exchanged for Hezbollah prisoners in Israel.  I knew this not to be the case, and I said that this will be full military action, full war, with many casualties.  My friend thought I was overreacting.

Yet there is a full war and full military action, and it is not by accident.  It is also exactly on time to be the trigger.  But this will not be the worst of it, because Syria will be drawn in; it has to be, and then Iran.  This is the strategy that was feared and that is now being played out across the Middle East.

This is a strategy long wanted by the far right and people like Dick Cheney, and this is a strategy that was long in the planning.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Israel defeats Lebanese gas stations

William Arkin has been writing a lot about the Israel-Lebanon War.  The idea that the Cheney-Bush team looks at this as a template to be emulated in attacking Iran and/or Syria is a sobering thought.  Arkin looks in this piece at Israel's Failed Strategy of Spite Early Warning blog, Washington Post 08/15/06:

In the 24 hours before the agreed cease-fire, the Israeli Air Force carried out more than 200 air strikes, including attacks on eight "gas stations serving Hezbollah."

Gas stations.

If Israel and Hezbollah are fighting again in six weeks or six months, it will be because of those gas stations. ...

It is in pursuit of some theory about punishment of Hezbollah and its Lebanese supporters that the Israelis followed the wrong course.  The Israelis -- specifically the Israeli Air Force -- undertook an intentionally punishing, destructive and ultimately counter-productive air campaign, wielding high technology to Neanderthal levels of precision.  Israel bombed too much, bombed the wrong targets and conducted its campaign with inexcusable abandon.  What is more, Israel satisfied itself with conventional measures of "success" in the campaign -- counting rockets hit, dead fighters, destroyed infrastructure -- with utter disregard for the day after.

It all comes down to the gas stations, eight of thousands of civilian objects that were bombed in pursuit of a theory of "degrading" Hezbollah's military capabilities in the future but in the end bombed for no direct and concrete military reason and thereby rightly seen by the other side as sheer spite.

Arkin's professed faith in air power is somewhat surprising to me.  But he winds up saying that though air power technically allows precision warfare that carefully distinguishes between civilian and military targets, in practice that's not how it's actually used.  But one of the things I like and respect about Arkin is that he seems to take the laws of war seriously:

But no object in lawful targeting is sacrosanct.  Take the Beirut civilian airport, for example.  In the opening salvo of the war, Israelprecisely bombed the intersections of the runways and aprons, making it impossible for aircraft to take off and land.  No human rights or international organization particularly condemned the bombing as illegal, but it was: This was not bombing of Hezbollah's air force, it was not directed at Hezbollah fighters, it was not intended to disable the airport's radars and communications.  It was pure punishment. ...

Though popularity is not and should not be the motivating factor in limiting military attacks to strictly military objects - it is required by law - the truth is that "popular" support for war only comes when the populace - on both sides - is convinced that a just battle is being waged "humanely."  (my emphasis)

And his bottom line does not view the Israeli effort in a positive light:

These analyses are slightly wrong, however.  It wasn't airpower itself or an over reliance upon it.  It was its ineffective and gross application.  What is more, the notion that somehow Israel would have forged a better outcome with a more massive ground invasion, had it committed more effort on the ground, and the notion that somehow that effort would have resulted in less destruction and fewer casualties, is dead wrong.

So Israel is stuck, as is the United States, with the conundrum of modern military power.  We accumulate statistical success not only to no political avail but to our future detriment.  Hezbollah's strengthening in the face of the Israeli military - and the celebrations rippling through the Arab world that Israel and the United States have been thwarted (just as in Iraq) - comes from "conventional" defeat.  "We" show no regard for civilians in our conduct, we even destroy their gas stations.  Given that "they" don't have F-16s to attack us with, they are reduced to using rockets or airliners to strike back.  (my emphasis)

With "friends" like these ...

Thomas Edsall is the co-author with his wife Mary Edsall of Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (1991).  I always thought of that book as the "Yugoslavia analysis of American politics".  Basically, the thesis of the book relied on the 1988 Presidential campaign as a template and argued essentially that whichever of the two parties was perceived as the more anti-black would consistently win elections.

That's anti-black as in "racist".

It was one of those strange pitches that is presented as a liberal handwringing argument about the sad state of the American electorate.  But when I read it at the time, I thought it read more like a Republican polemic.  The contortions through which they had to put their analysis of recent American history to get to that conclusion were imaginative but glaringly deficient.  The seemed to have started and ended with the basic assumption that racial hostility was the only truly decisive issue in American politics.

Bill Clinton's 1992 victory threw a monkey-wrench into their argument.  I recall seeing an article by Tom Edsall in the New York Review of Books after Clinton's election trying desperately to salvage the argument.  I lost track of him the last few years.  He was a Washington Post reporter for a long time.  I remember that he dug up some of the white-supremacist background of Gingrich Republican Bob Barr.

Now, he's baa-aack.   He has a new book coming out in a couple of weeks called Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power (2006).  And, if this report is any measure, it's going to be more of the same:  New Republic baselessly asserted Dem "problem": "[L]iberal elites are disproportionately powerful in primaries ... have nominated a succession of losers" Media Matters 08/15/06.

The author of the New Republic article in question being good old Tom Edsall.  It sure sounds like the same old Republican line recycled with a slight twist to make it a sort of I-want-to-help-the-Democrats-with-this-advice kind of sound.  The basic argument is that those wicked Liberals are a bunch of stuck-up elitists who justdon't understand the common folks the way economic royalists like the Bush dynasty or Cheney and his cronies at Halliburton do.  The same argument as we hear endlessly on FOX News and OxyContin radio, in other words.

Yeah, Deadeye Dick and Shrub and Rummy, real champions of the workers, housekeepers and soldiers, those guys are.  If the Democrats could be, you know, just exactly like the Republicans only maybe a little more militaristic and racist - like maybe the Dems should call dark-skinned people "Sambo" instead of "Macaca" - they would win every election!

At least that's what our "friends" like Tom Edsall seem to think.

Iraq War: Documenting the wreckage

"I think we are winning.  Okay?  I think we're definitely winning.  I think we've been winning for some time." - Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the Iraq War 04/26/05

"I just wonder if they will ever tell us the truth." - Harold Casey, Louisville, KY, October 2004.

Here are several articles on the Iraq War, arranged in no special order.

What's Wrong in Iraq? or, Ruminations of a Pachyderm by John Waghelstein Military Review Jan-Feb 2006 (may load a bit slowly):

Most armies, when they lose a war, go back to the drawing board (for example, the Germans).  In contrast, regardless of the outcome of a war in which we have been involved, we have been institutionally preoccupied with “big war” and have shown habitual disdain for studying “little war” requirements such as restraint in campaigning, patience over the protracted nature of the contest, and the need to minimize rather than maximize the use of firepower in pursuit of limited goals. ...

In my 30 years of exposure to counterinsurgency, I have consistently encountered military leaders who believed that the proper warrior should study mainly for the next conventional war; they viewed all other kinds of military engagements as mere side events.  I believe this view persists even though the U.S. Army has fought the majority of its wars against irregulars, guerrillas, partisans, insurrectos, Native Americans, and other unconventional foes. Nor is this historical obliviousness new.  Beginning with General George Washington, who had a notorious disdain for irregular forces and partisan operations, the institutional Army has in the main tended to regard small wars as distractions from the main task of preparing to fight great conventional engagements.

True to this trend, when the Army came out of Vietnam - despite 12 years of continuous involvement (longerthan its involvement in World Wars I and II and the Korean conflict combined) - it nevertheless decided that studying all that recent unpleasantness was somehow not worth the effort, as if ignoring the experience of Vietnam would somehow inoculate it from having to get involved in such messy and complicated conflicts again. As a result, those of us who were called on to fight America’s small wars after Vietnam largely had to play it by ear, learning and relearning  lessons in a haphazard way without the benefit of either updated COIN doctrine or formal education from the Army’s school system. ...

But the entrenched view that countering insurgencies was a “silly distraction from what real armies did” persisted in the face of changing world circumstances.  Subsequent events further reinforced this predisposition, and Operation Desert Storm, of course, validated what has come to be known as “the American Way of War.” Professional journals, particularly of the airpower and Air-Land Battle variety, sang paeans to “the way of the future” and declared that “this is the way wars are supposed to be fought." ...

Meanwhile, current realities and even our relatively recent past should be sending up red star clusters about our education system. These wars are killing Soldiers and Marines, not to mention bushels of civilians, at a seemingly methodical pace, resulting in the same kind of visible erosion of public faith and political will we observed in Vietnam.  We have every reason to believe we will lose in Iraq unless we do everything we possibly can — and quickly — by applying lessons learned about winning small wars.  (my emphasis)

What Bush Isn't Addressing on Iraq by James Fallows Huffington Post 11/14/05:

On available evidence, the President himself has not grasped the essential criticism of moving against Iraq when he did: that a war in Iraq undercut the broader and longer term war against Islamic terrorism.

How Bush Created a Theocracy in Iraq by Juan Cole, Truthdig.org 12/02/05

The Bush administration naively believed that Iraq was a blank slate on which it could inscribe its vision for a remake of the Arab world.  Iraq,however, was a witches’ brew of dynamic socialand religious movements, a veritable pressure cooker. When George W. Bush invaded, he blew off the lid. ...

The weakness of the U.S. in Iraq encouraged the proliferation of party paramilitaries. The Dawa Party began having men patrol in some cities.  SCIRI expanded its Badr Corps militia, originally trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. These militias avoided conflict with the U.S. because their parties had a marriage of convenience with the Bush administration, and because they agreed not to carry heavy weaponry. It is alleged that the Supreme Council continues to receive substantial help from Iran, and that the clerics in Tehran still pay the salaries of some of the Badr Corps fighters. The likelihood is that the Iranians give at least a little money and support to a wide range of Shiite politicians in Iraq, including some secularists, so that whoever comes out on top is beholden to them. The mullahs in Iraq probably support the Supreme Council more warmly than any other political party, however. ...

The real winners of the January 2005 elections were the Shiite religious parties. This was bad news for Bush. In partnership with the Kurdish Alliance, they formed a government that brought Ibrahim Jaafari of Dawa to power as prime minister and gave Dawa and SCIRI several important posts in the executive. Sunni Arabs from the rival branch of Islam were largely excluded from the new government, insofar as they had either boycotted the election or had been unable to vote for security reasons. The new Jaafari government quickly established warm relations with Iran, receiving a pledge of $1 billion in aid, the use of Iranian port facilities and help with refining Iraqi petroleum.

Why the Media Gets the War Wrong by Michael Schwartz TomDispatch.com 03/28/06

The elimination of all protections for local commerce [in Iraq under the occupation] quickly threw the market wide open to large multinational marketing companies. This resulted in an immediate surge of sales to the Iraqi middle class of previously unobtainable goods like air conditioners, cell phones, and all manner of electronic devices. Though few remember this today, many American journalists reported the influx of such goods as an early sign of coming prosperity -- and of how successful an economy could begin to be once freedfrom the oppressive binds of state control and state ownership.

Economic aspects of peacekeeping in Iraq: what went wrong? by Bassam Yousif  The Economics of Peace and Security Journal Vol. 1, No. 2 (2006)

Coalition policies launched perhaps the most abrupt and sweeping liberalization of markets attempted anywhere, the goal being to improve the efficiency in the allocation of resources and to thus expand output and incomes. In the labor market, roughly half a million state employees (about 8 percent of the labor force) were fired, mostly as a result of the dissolution of the Iraqi army but also through “de-Ba’athification.”  Workers retained in the public sector nonetheless received large salary increases, six-fold on average.  The CPA also carried out reforms in currency, foreign trade, taxation, and capital markets: a new currency was introduced, import tariffs were slashed, corporate tax rates were reduced, and, to encourage outside investment, foreign companies were allowed to acquire Iraqi assets (except in the oil sector) and to repatriate profits.  The CPA also planned to privatize state-owned enterprises, a plan blocked by the 1949 Geneva Convention that prevents occupying powers from disposing of assets they do not own. Unable to privatize, the CPA froze the bank accounts and subsidies of public firms, thereby denying them working capital. Finally, despite United Nations advice to the contrary, the CPA ended agricultural subsidies. ...

In the context of Iraq’s weak ability to absorb investments, CPA measures were put into action. Some of the reforms, especially the currency reforms and debt relief, were praiseworthy. But the central aim of the measures – to induce capital and labor to flow to high-return activities – remains illusive. The promotion of employment and capital formation has run aground. ...

Reconstruction activities have absorbed an insufficient amount of the idle labor because, in general, they have utilized capital-intensive techniques. Construction activities are typically characterized by substantial opportunities to substitute labor for capital.  But plentiful Iraqi labor has been under-utilized in reconstruction, as U.S. firms (mainly in charge of reconstruction) do not face Iraqi relative factor prices. The cost of hiring Iraqis is relatively high because they are considered to be a security risk.  Consequently, it makes little sense for U.S. contractors to hire local labor. ...

Along with joblessness and insecurity, there has been a decline in the goods-producing sectors of the economy and evidence of deterioration in human development outcomes. Investment difficulties have delayed the restoration of basic services. The January 2006 level of electricity generation was 15 percent lower than the pre-invasion level. In Baghdad, electricity output from January to April 2005 was two-fifths of its pre-occupation level.  Energy-intensive manufacturing activities are consequently at a standstill, while competition from international food producers has resulted in a decline in domestic agricultural output.  The lack of electricity also resulted in diminished access to safe water and to a rise in water-borne disease and child malnutrition which, according to Iraqi government and United Nations studies, almost doubled between March 2003 and November 2004 – this despite the removal of economic sanctions. Mortality rates increased during the invasion period of March/April 2003 and, as of late 2004, had not receded. Deaths have occurred as a result of violence, frequently from coalition military action and also from crime. ...

A reorientation of reconstruction expenditure away from large, capital-intensive infrastructure projects, whose benefits have a long maturation period, to smaller projects, whose positive effects are more immediate, and from central government to local authorities is also advised. Some expenditure on such large projects, such as electricity generation, is of course essential.45 Where possible, however, preference should be shown to smaller projects, such as minor repair of buildings, roads, and sewage systems. Not only are these activities typically labor-intensive, they are also often associated with a high social rate of return. ...

It is often casually assumed that private ownership yields socially more efficient outcomes than public ownership. Yet even a modest review of the evidence suggests that privatization does not always promote efficiency and is sometimes harmful.

This paper is a reminder that we should be careful about getting too caught up in the "mistakes" and "misjudgments", although there were plenty of them in the Iraq War:  Revisions in Need of Revising:  What Went Wrong in the Iraq War by David Hendrickson and Robert Tucker (US Army Strategic Studies Institute) Dec 2005.  They remind us that the mission itself of taking over Iraq and remaking it in the neoconservatives' mold of what a Middle Eastern country should be was likely impossible.  They write:

Plans for “Phase 4” operations, which were given little attention before the war, failed to anticipate the most serious problems facing U.S. forces after the fall of Baghdad—persistent anarchy and the emergence of a raging insurgency. This was a mistake, as critics point out, but it is very doubtful that U.S. forces could have gotten a handle on the problem even had these contingencies received the planning they deserved.

A war plan keyed to the problem of postwar disorder would have inevitably confronted a substantial gap in time between the disintegration of the state and the arrival of forces of sufficient size to establish order.  A different plan in all probability could have prevented the worst consequences of the looting, such as the destruction of irreplaceable cultural sites and important government ministries, but the larger consequence of widespread anarchy probably was unavoidable.

It was clearly a mistake to misperceive the size and motives of the insurgency, but it is not so clear that there was a solution to the problem once its scale had been fully appreciated.  Most armed opposition was created by the invasion itself and would likely have arisen even had U.S. forces employed milder tactics or employed a different political strategy.

It is very doubtful that the reconstitution of the Iraqi army could have stemmed the immense disorder of occupied Iraq. At best, there are unanswered questions regarding who might have officered the force, the functions it would have performed, and its political orientation and reliability.  Though U.S. forces did not give the training of Iraqi forces the attention it deserved in the first year of occupation, the limited results were due, also, to the artificial character of the national forces the United States sought to build.

Criticisms of the political course followed by the United States—the creation and administration of the Coalition Provisional Authority, persecution of the Baathists, distrust of the Shia (through cancellation of local elections) - all have merit. At the same time, the more fundamental truth is that the United States had thrust itself into the middle of a bitterly divided society, and there was no apparent way to split the difference between groups whose aims were irreconcilable.  (my emphasis)

An Army Under Stress: A Tale of Two Green Lines by Sandra Erwin National Defense Magazine April 2006:

To its credit, the Army has, in a relatively short four years, begun to come to grips with the ugliness and the indignities of fighting in cities - after many of its top leaders acknowledged that their forces had not been trained or equipped for counterinsurgency guerilla warfare before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. ...

But serious questions remain about how long this can last.  Or whether the unpopularity of the war eventually will make it politically too costly for the administration and Congress to continue to pour the enormous sums of money required not just to keep the troops there but also to pay for the expanded array of financial incentives now needed to retain and recruit soldiers and Marines.

The nation has to fear that the Army eventually will break, says former Defense Secretary William J. Perry.  “We believe that the Bush administration has broken faith with the American soldier and Marine - by failing to plan adequately for post-conflict operations in Iraq, by failing to send enough forces to accomplish that mission at an acceptable level of risk, and by failing to adequately equip and protect the young Americans they sent into harm’s way,” Perry writes in a study he co-authored with other former government officials and military experts.

These failures have created a real risk of ‘breaking the force,’” Perry concludes. ...

The fiery animosity that pervades this debate brings to mind those pre-9/11 spats between the administration and Congress about the Army being “overcommitted” in peacekeeping missions around the world.  For the Army, it brings truth to the notion that reality is a question of perspective. [?!?]  Things actually could get worse, as evidenced by the chaos in Iraq, the prospect of a standoff with Iran and the repeated warnings by administration officials that we are in a “long war” with no end in sight.

Even if U.S. troops leave Iraq next year, the Army hardly will be out of the woods.  The “long war” - a euphemism for manpower-intensive guerilla warfare - will demand that the Army continue to support grueling rotations.

Next year, the Army expects to unveil a new troop-scheduling system known as the “Army force generation model.”  The idea is to develop predictable rotation schedules so that active-duty units only will deploy one year out of three, and Reserve and Guard only one year out of six.  That sounds like welcome relief to soldiers who already have been to Iraq three times in four years.  But it may not be enough, despite the Army’s highly optimistic forecasts.  (my emphasis)

Rice with Indefensible Brief; Cheney in Last Throes by Ray McGovern, Truthout.org 12/09/05:

Vice President Dick Cheney, whose unbridled chutzpah has led him to take public and well as private credit for being the intellectual author of US policy on torture, has become such a glaring liability that his tenure may be short-lived. There is a growing possibility that the vice president will resign at the turn of the year "for reasons of health," and that his partner-in-crime - in what Colin Powell's former chief of staff at the State Department, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, has labeled the "Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal" - will choose to retire to his home in Taos early next year.

Never in the sixty years since World War II has an American secretary of state been received with such hostility by our erstwhile friends in Europe. In one sense, it can be seen as poetic justice that Rice, who as national security adviser to the president never heard a Cheney suggestion she didn't like, is taking the heat, while the vice president hides behind her skirts. Poetic justice for Cheney himself, though, may be just around the corner.

It is no secret that Cheney bears primary responsibility for making our country a pariah among nations by punching a gaping hole in the (until now) absolute ban on torture under international and US law. Under international treaties, including treaties ratified by the US Senate and thus the supreme law of the land, civilized societies have long since prohibited practices widely recognized as torture. No matter. At the instigation of the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, the inherent human right to physical integrity and personal dignity has become an early casualty of the US "war on terror."

"Wars are easy to get into, but hard as hell to get out of." - George McGovern and Jim McGovern 06/06/05