Thursday, November 30, 2006

Iraq War: Never retreat, never surrender

"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.

             You're doin' a heckuva job, Maliki

Bush's method of giving the Judas kiss to Michael "Brownie" Brown and Donald "Rummy" Rumsfeld was to fulsomely praise them in public just before axing them. Bush said on Thursday when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with thim that "we support this government, because the government understands it was elected by the people. And Prime Minister Maliki is working hard to overcome the many obstacles in the way to a peaceful Iraq, and we want to help him".

Also, in the just-what-does-he-mean-by-that category, Bush said of Iran, "And my message to the Iranian people is we have no beef with the Iranian people." Robert Fisk recounts in his The Great War for Civilisation (2005) that when he heard Bush say something similar about the Iraqi people in his UN speech in the fall of 2002, Fisk thought, he's decided to go to war for sure, it's flak jackets on.

This is a time of big uncertainty about events in the Iraq War. Do I need to say that the Establishment punditocracy is floundering around cluelessly trying to figure out what's going on?

But even well-informedand sensible peopleare having a hard time reading the situation. Bob Dreyfuss, who is generally no fount of optimism, sounds downright enthusiastic that the Baker commission (ISG-Iraq Study Group)report and the coming of Bob Gates are going to put the US on a withdrawal trajectory (Baker to Bush: Game Over 11/30/06). But he ends an unusually hopeful column with, "Pray it isn’t too late."

Others are skeptical that Bush will change course in any meaningful way. Ray McGovern in Gates, Hadley: More Of The Same 11/29/06 thinks if Gates is confirmed as SedDef, he will continue his past habits of being a toady for his bosses, who in this case will be Cheney and Bush:

No one should expect Gates to depart one iota from the position of the president, who said Tuesday, "I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." In answering the senators' questions, Gates insisted that an early pullout would risk "leaving Iraq in chaos [with] dangerous consequences both in the region and globally for many years to come."

Harold Meyerson is also a skeptic (Plumb Out of Mission Washington Post 11/29/06). He specifically talks about something I discussed the other day, that the Vietnam War prism which we are all tempted to use in looking at the Iraq War may be very misleading. For one thing, we had more actual supporters in Vietnam than in Iraq:

We have plumb run out of mission in Iraq. We have enemies galore, but, other than the Kurds, precious few friends. We defend the idea of Iraq in the absence of Iraqis willing to do the same. We are at best a buffer - unable to deter the daily atrocities but ensuring by our presence that they won't grow cataclysmically worse. Since we cannot deter the sectarian polarization, however, the cataclysm will follow our leave-taking whether it comes sooner or later.

Josh Marshall also warns about facile Vietnam War analogies in his Talking Point Memo blog 11/29/06 (which is where I came across the link to Meyerson's column):

This bleak situation showed itself most clearly in the recent discussion of administration thinking on just whose side we would choose to support if and when we finally decide to start calling the situation in Iraq a 'civil war'. Going on four years running the place (officially or in effect) we're still not certain who our friends are. And that's really a round-about way of saying we don't have any.

I hope that a bolt of good sense would suddenly cause the scales to fall from Bush's eyes, or whatever other melodramatic simile you might want to use. And then he would try to arrange a phased withdrawal on a six-month or so schedule and try to set diplomatic arrangement to allow the withdrawal with minimal violence. It's just hard for me to picture him doing that given his awful record the last six years.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joe Galloway on the magic words for exiting Iraq

From Iraq sinks deeper into utter confusion by Joe Galloway, McClatchy Newspapers 11/29/06:

We can only hope that the Pentagon - famous for groaning shelves laden with contingency plans for everything from an invasion of Tierra del Fuego to pre-emptive strikes against Iran and North Korea - has a plan for a fighting retreat from a hostile nation where both sides of a civil war take a break from killing one another to concentrate on killing us.

You can be sure that if such a plan does exist, a "fighting retreat" will be called a victory parade or a retrograde movement intended to restore peace in our time.

Or maybe just "Mission Accomplished, Part II."

US-Iranian diplomacy

Historian Gareth Porter has been keeping close track of US diplomacy with Iraq and Iran.  In A 'Grand Bargain' with Iran 11/17/06, he looks at the prospects for a genuine improvement in US relations with Iran:

The grand bargain approach [encompassing a wide range of issues] is unlikely to gain acceptance of the political and foreign policy elite as long as it clings to an unrealistic understanding of the power relationship between the United States and Iran. The precondition for a new diplomatic policy toward Iran and Iraq, therefore, is the acceptance of the reality that the United States does not have the power to impose a solution on Iran but must make major concessions to Iranian interests in order to achieve it own interests.

Porter reminds us of the seemingly very promising diplomatic initiative by Iran to the US in the spring of 2003, which was spurned by the Cheney-Bush administration.

From the Iranian side, the administration's goal of "regime change" in Iran is a central problem.  From the American side:

The main source of resistance to a grand bargain is the illusion that the United States can still rely on coercion - through sanctions and the threat of force - to get Iran to give up the nuclear option. The Bush administration is not alone in being guided by that illusion. It was also the fundamental premise of the 2004 Gates-Brzezinski report, which observed that the United States could engage Iran more successfully than it had in the previous 25 years because "the U.S. military intervention along Iran’s flanks in both Afghanistan and Iraq has changed the geopolitical landscape in the region."

It is also argued that Iran is now so overconfident, because of the U.S. debacle in Iraq, it is no longer afraid of U.S. attack and therefore has no motivation to reach a broad compromise with the United States.  But that objection assumes that the only Iranian reason for offering concessions to the United States is fear of attack.  In fact, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei opposed negotiations with the United States in the 1990s because he felt that Iran was too weak to defend its interests adequately in such negotiations. ...

Iran’s leadership is motivated to “haggle” with the United States not primarily because it is afraid of the United States, but because it needs the United States help to fulfill two ambitions: to be integrated fully into the global economic system, and to take it place as a legitimate regional power in the Middle East. That gives the United States strong bargaining leverage with Iran, but it is not the power to compel Iran to do something that it believes is not in its interests.

The administration's preferred approach to diplomacy is to tell Iran, along with Syria and other countries deemed hostile, what they should do and then expect them to do it.  Negotiation itself has been seen as a reward to the other party and often as a sign of "appeasement".

Also, imperial arrogance dies hard.  Porter observes, "The belief that the United States should be able to prevail in a confrontation with a third-rate power like Iran still runs deep in Washington."

Here's a clue: Iran is in far better shape to resist militarily than Iraq was when we invaded that country in March 2003.

Additional comments on the subject from Simon Jenkins in Why stop the Great Satan? He's driving himself to hell Guardian 11/15/06:

Bush and Blair are men in a hurry, and such men lose wars. If there is a game plan in Tehran it will be to play Iraq long. Why stop the Great Satan when he is driving himself to hell in a handcart? If London and Washington really want help in this part of the world they must start from diplomatic ground zero. They will have to stop the holier-than-thou name-calling and the pretence that they hold any cards. They will have to realise that this war has lost them all leverage in the region. They can insult and sanction and threaten. But there is nothing left for them to "do" but leave. They are no longer the subject of that mighty verb, only its painful object.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

No shortage of villains

David Neiwert on the hardcore rightwingers (Behind the mask Orcinus blog 11/28/06:

I think a key to understanding this illogic, if such a thing is possible, lies in recognizing that these people conceive of themselves as heroes engaged in a heroic task. Once a person claims that status for himself, at least in his own self-conception, all kinds of obvious contradictions are immediately resolvable, since the blunt force of the hero's moral superiority rub out any such distinctions. They are right no matter what "facts" may argue otherwise.

"Miblogger" Yankeemom (Discouragement and tip of the spear 11/27/06):

So with all these “stuck on stupid” elected people who have been elected by the head in the sand crowd, we who know better because we take the time to read the milblogs, watch the videos on MEMRI TV, read blogs written by Iraqis and Afghanistanis, and research what the media puts out, are at the tip of the spear here at home. We are the hearth warriors who need to get the truth out.  And keep getting it out. (my emphasis)

Yankeemom offers gems of "hearth warrior" wisdom like this:

Of course, if you read Flopping Ace’s post on the latest enemy propaganda put forth as news here by our treasonous unethical [those two words with strikethrough in the original]  illustrious Media (spit), you might start taking all the bad news coming out with an extremely large grain of salt.

I can't exactly tell from her link what evil Media (spit) she's talking about. Then there's this:

Hating the troops is so passe’ ~ and doesn’t make you look good in any way, shape or form. So put away the patchouli and tye dye - the 60’s are over! Have been for forty-frickin’-plus years!

Has anyone else noticed that most anti-war folks look as if they were rode hard and put up wet? It's all the focusing on the negative, whether it’s real or imagined. No amount of tofu will help that!

I assume the troop-haters she's talking about must be the "God hates fags" Christian fundamentalists from Westboro Baptist Church and their fans. I didn't realize they were into tye dye and tofu. What is "patchouli"? Some kind of fundi talisman to ward off liberals and homosexuals and other Muslim terrorists?

An LA Times editor dissents from the press script on the great Maverick McCain

In Do we need another T.R.? Los Angeles Times 11/26/06, Times assistant editor Matt Welch looks at the marvelous Maverick McCain with a less than adoring eye, something still too rare among our "press corps".  Noting the Maverick's talent for allowing people to read large amounts of their own preferences into his positions, Welch writes:

Sifting through McCain's four bestselling books and nearly three decades of work on Capitol Hill, a distinct approach toward governance begins to emerge. And it's one that the electorate ought to be particularly worried about right now. McCain, it turns out, wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He'll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats' nanny-state regulations with the GOP's red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism. And he's trying to accomplish this, in part, for reasons of self-realization.

He indulges in some pop psychology in the course of arguing that McCain's speeches often rely on imagery similar to "12-step" therapy phrases:

What is this higher power that ennobles McCain's crankiness? Just as it is for many soldiers, it's the belief that Americans "were meant to transform history" and that sublimating the individual in the service of that "common national cause" is the wellspring of honor and purpose. (But unlike most soldiers, McCain has been in a position to prod and even compel civilians to join his cause.)

He warns that people should look carefully at the implications of McCain's brand of National Greatness conservatism and not simply read their own wishes into it:

But chances are he will eventually see a grave national threat in what you consider harmless, or he'll prescribe a remedy that you consider unconscionable. Nowhere is that more evident than in his ideas about the Iraq war.

McCain has been banging the drum from nearly Day One to put more boots on the ground in Iraq. "There are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this," he said on "Meet the Press" on Nov. 12, "but they all require the presence of additional troops." McCain is more inclined to start wars and increase troop levels than George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. He has supported every U.S. military intervention of the last two decades, urged both presidents to rattle their sabers louder over North Korea and Iran, lamented the Pentagon's failure to intervene in Darfur and Rwanda and supported a general policy of "rogue state rollback." He's a fan of Roosevelt's Monroe-Doctrine-on-steroids stick-wielding in Latin America. And - like Bush - he thinks too much multilateralism can screw up a perfectly good war.  (my emphasis)

Yep, that's our bold Maverick.

Graduation party in Buenos Aires

Looks like fun!

From Los egresados del Nacional Buenos Aires festejaron en la calle La Nación 18.11.06

Maybe the Bush twins went down there looking for something like this.

(Foto: Maxie Amena)

Iraq War: The Untergang Option

It's understandable that when we in America look at the options for exiting Iraq that the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and the Vietnamization program would come to mind. The Vietnam War and the post-Confederate mythology of the Lost Cause in the American Civil War seem to be our major conceptual paradigms for lost wars.

But what if the end comes in a very different way? Not as a gradual withdrawal, and not as an orderly surrender at Appomatox Court House, but as a rapid collapse (Untergang) of the US military position in Iraq? The latter possibility is what I've come to think of as the Untergang Option.

Steve Gilliard gives a good capsule summary of how the Untergang Option might play out in How How Iraq ends - pt. 1 The News Blog 11/28/06.

Pat Lang explained the logistical vulnerabilities in The vulnerable line of supply to US troops in Iraq by Patrick Lang Christian Science Monitor 07/21/06.

Jane Hamsher quotes Ambassador Joe Wilson on the Iraq War saying, "[W]ith every passing day the situation becomes ever more grave. I worry that we might actually have to fight our way out. There are no magic bullets." (Not As Easy As It Looks FireDogLake blog  11/27/06)

Yet the Decider so far sound like he plans to stay the course. "We'll succeed unless we quit," he said in Vietnam a fews days ago. Today in Riga, Estonia, he said that "we will continue to pursue al Qaeda to make sure that they do not establish a safe haven in Iraq." Which is apparently how he's trying to frame the entire war this week.

Different things could trigger the Untergang Option: a US military strike on Iran, a decision by the Shi'a militias (aka, the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF]) that the American presence is no longer helping them to stomp the Sunnis, a fatwa by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani declaring that foreign troops must leave Iraq immediately.

If the Shi'a militias turn full force on the Americans, there will essentially be no more Iraqi government backing the US. And the ISF that we've been training so they can "stand up" will stand up against the US Army. It will be fortunate at that point that the claims the Pentagon has made about the combat readiness of the ISF are lies.

As Gilliard illustrates with maps, American supply lines run from Kuwait through heavily Shi'a territory in southern Iraq. So do the American lines of retreat. If the Shi'a go over to fully opposing the US, the critical points of control become the Baghdad Airport, the "Highway of Death" connecting Baghdad's Green Zone to the airport, the bridges at Nasyriah and the roads in the south providing the supply lines and escape routes.

The Untergang Option is not likely to look like Dunkirk where a few days' fortuitous weather allowed British troops to evacuate with cloud cover that interfered with German air strikes. Or like Stalingrad where Gen. Paulus' 6th Army was surrounded and trapped by the Soviet Red Army.

But if the Shi'a are able to cut the supply roads and retreat routes, possibly with the Green Zone being overrun at the same time and the Baghdad Aiport coming under serious attack, the US forces will have to leave. Not in a "phased withdrawal" over six months or a year. Not with a face-saving "peace with honor" agreement. But in the "precipitous withdrawal" even war critics have said we want to avoid. Or, as Joe Wilson put it, "we might actually have to fight our way out."

The Untergang Option would involve a major spike in American casualties. And American prisoners would be taken. American POW's are unlikely to receive even as much consideration as Rummy's torturers showed their victims at Abu Ghuraib.

Like virtually all Americans who have become accustomed to thinking of our military as invicible in conventional war, the Untergang Option is hard to imagine. But it's a real possibility. I have neither the expertise nor the information to say how likely it may be. But it's certainly one of the real possibilities we could see develop in the coming months.

Given a political process that has become dysfunctional in many ways, and an Establishment press that has crippled itself, it's hard to guess how such a turn of events would affect our domestic politics. The real existing Republican Party could only fall back on jingoistic and militarist slogans, despite the obvious fact that those very Republicans qualities had just would up with the US Army partially wrecked and its combat readiness seriously degraded.

The Democrats would be sorely tempted to insist on throwing even more money into corporate-welfare boondoggles like Star Wars to show they are "tough on defense". Let's hope that some of the more realistic and pragmatic-minded Democrats would insist instead on serious oversight investigations of the debacle, including the failures of our infallible generals, and on a coherent military policy going forward.

Impeachment of Cheney and Bush would be very likely. But with a one-vote majority in the Senate - and one of those being Joe Liebermann - the Senate might not be able to get the 2/3 requirewd to convict and remove them from office.

The Untergang Option would be uncharted waters for American politics.

The Dark Lord's priorities

Laura Rozen catches something important by close reading of the middle paragraphs of this story, Civil War in Iraq Near, Annan Says by Robin Wright and Thomas Ricks Washington Post 11/28/06:

Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.  (my emphasis)

Laura asks a very relevant question:  "Cheney doesn't consider himself subject to Congressional oversight - but he obeys Riyadh when it summons him?"

Priorities are important.  Dark Lord Cheney knows his.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Iraq Study Group: let's see it for what it is

A scene from the Crusades

Andrew Bacevich gets it right in Iraq panel's real agenda: damage control Christian Science Monitor 11/28/06:

Even as Washington waits with bated breath for the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to release its findings, the rest of us should see this gambit for what it is: an attempt to deflect attention from the larger questions raised by America's failure in Iraq and to shore up the authority of the foreign policy establishment that steered the United States into this quagmire. This ostentatiously bipartisan panel of Wise Men (and one woman) can't really be searching for truth. It is engaged in damage control.

I saw someone who wrote that the ISG, aka, the Baker-Hamilton commission, may be the strangest way a great power ever tried to negotiate a retreat.

Bacevich has worked out a sytematic view of US foreign policy, particularly when it comes to military intervention.  And he's very skeptical of those.  He's right when he says:

Their purpose is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded. The ISG is antidemocratic. Its implicit message to Americans is this: We'll handle things - now go back to holiday shopping.

The election this year represented a slap up side the head for the Congress, the Presidency and the neocons, but also for the broader foreign policy establishment.  Public opinion on the war long since had turned to opposition to the war and supporting a relatively quick withdrawal.  It happened because lots of people understood over months and years what a mess this thing had become.  And because the antiwar movement, which a large part of our "press corps" still doesn't think exists, kept raising the issues that needed to be faced.

The last thing that Jim Baker and his business associates at the Carlyle Group want is a public that seriously engaged with major foreign policy issues.  And certainly not a public that takes regular notice that both our political and military leaders are willing to bald-faced lie about national-security issues.  They certainly don't want ordinary citizens to start focusing on boondoggles like Star Wars/Missile Defense/Whatever Propaganda Name They Call It Now.

Others have notice this as well, but it's worth repeating: as Bacevich writes, that of all the members of this commission that's going to provide the Secret Plan to End the War, "None possesses specialized knowledge of Islam or the Middle East."

He's also willing to project several things that the ISG report will not include:

The guardians of the foreign policy status quo are counting on the panel to extricate the US from Iraq. More broadly, they are counting on it to avoid inquiring into the origins of our predicament. So don't think for a moment that the ISG will assess the implications of America's growing addiction to foreign oil. Don't expect it to question the wisdom of President Bush's doctrine of preventive war or the feasibility of his Freedom Agenda, which promises to implant democracy across the Islamic world.

Far be it from the group to ask whether an open-ended "global war on terror" makes sense as a response to 9/11 or to ponder the flagrant manipulation and misuse of intelligence in the months leading up to the Iraq war. The ISG won't assess the egregious flaws in US military planning for the Iraq invasion or the manifest deficiencies in American generalship since the war began.  On the role that Congress has played in enabling presidential fecklessness, you can be certain that Baker and Hamilton will remain silent.  (my emphasis)

This Baker commission is a scam.  I don't see any reason why critics of the Iraq War should view it with anything but the greatest suspicion.

Reserve your excuses now, it's CYA time

Our road into the Iraq War was paved with bad Second World War analogies.  Our road out looks like it will be paved with bad Vietnam War analogies.

There are a lot of people looking for excuses.  Including the military brass.  William Arkin in  Threads that lead to a Turkey Washington Post 11/22/06 puts it this way:

While Baker's Iraq Study Group eyes grand options to craft an eventual American withdrawal from Iraq, the Joint Chiefs of Staff is pushing its own passive aggressive strategy. Tom Ricks reported this week that the "options" were "Go Big," "Go Home" and "Go Long." A friend who watches the Pentagon closely calls it the "Goldilocks" approach: We can't go big, can't go home, so voila, we have to do exactly what we are doing

"Our troops' posture needs to stay where it is as we move to enhance the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces," theater commander Gen. John Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Just right.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Marine Gen. Peter Pace - perfect Peter as they call him - doesn't have a different idea about what to do. What is at play here in all of the "studying" is not some post-Rumsfeld release to finally produce the hidden silver bullet or come up with some good ideas heretofore suppressed. No instead, this is the military looking out for their own interests at the corporate level: We, they say, are not going to be blamed for the failure. We stand with the mission, with American honor and the President and we just need more time. When the political forces and the American people command us to leave, we will be positioned to say 'if they had only given us more time, we could have won.'  Get ready for the Vietnam argument all over: We won every battle; it was just the American people - and the media! - that failed us.

The Goldilocks gambit is all the more reason to reiterate that the military needs strong civilian control. Sure Rumsfeld was autocratic and tone deaf, but what I detect in a more felicitous Pentagon these days is a circling of the wagons by a bunch of competing institutions to protect their equitiesand reputations. The most stark observation here is that the military - at least at the Pentagon level where the desk jockeys and the perfumed princes reside - doesn't seem to be motivated by the mission itself; no one is arguing that America should spare no resource, make any sacrifice to defeat the enemy. Sure the military wants to win, but as it senses that it can't or won't achieve victory, it is looking out for itself. Each of the services is already looking beyond Iraq to likely missions, budgets, and power struggles.  (my emphasis)


The xenophobic, anti-immigrant nut jobs to whom our Gov. Schwarzenegger pandered before he decided to play the "moderate Republican" for election year make a big deal out of a Latino gang called MS-13.

Military Review provides a reality-based view of MS-13: La Mara Salvatrucha y la Seguridad en América Central de Steven Boraz y Thomas Bruneau Nov/Dec 2006.

The "Stab-in-the-back" tap dance

Vô Nguyên Giap, North Vietnamese general and Minister of Defense during the Vietnam War

He had nothing to do with the US loss in the Vietnam War; it was John Kerry and all them other flower children

In a book review cited in  Iraq strategy takes page from Vietnam playbook by Peter Spiegel Los Angeles Times 11/24/06, Col Stuart Herrington challenges some particular elements of the stab-in-the-back alibi about the Vietnam War. An excuse of which some in the military's officer coprs are so fond. But in the end, he embraces the core of the stab-in-the-back excuse.

He's reviewing the book Abandoning Vietnam (2004) by James Willbanks (also quoted in Spiegel's article) in Parameters (US Army War College) Spring 2005. Herrington writes:

Willbanks' conclusion that "Vietnamization failed and failed miserably" should surprise no one. His analysis of the reasons for this failure includes that the South Vietnamese did not fight, except in exceptional cases when they were well-led, such as during the two-week defense of Xuan Loc by the ARVN 18th Division in April 1975.

Some Iraqified version of "Vietnamization" is what the Cheney-Bush administration has been attempting, i.e., "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down".

Herrington continues:

This said, even though the 1975 rout of the ARVN was almost total, and showed our ally at that time to be unable and unwilling to fight, readers of the book might overlook the fact that between 1960 and 1975, the war cost the South Vietnamese military 275,000 combat deaths, as compared to American combat deaths of 46,000, or the fact that, during the three- to five-day evacuation of Danang in March 1975, the estimated South Vietnamese military and civilian deaths of 60,000 described by Willbanks exceeded the total losses of the US military for the entire war. History should honor South Vietnam’s fallen, whose sacrifices are even more admirable (and tragic) when one considers the flawed political system for which Saigon’s soldiers laid down their lives.

Relevant comparative question: have we seen the Iraqi army carry on that kind of combat? When they are acting as the national army, I mean, not when they are acting as Shi'a militia.

Still, despite recognizing some of the real problems of Vietnamization, Herring does what so many military analysts do when discussing the Vietnam War; he refers to the loss of public support in the vaguest terms:

Simply put, having wasted more than three years (until 1968) pursuing a flawed strategy, the Pentagon lost the support of the American population, and was not given the time to get it right, even when it was clear that General Creighton Abrams’ pacification and Vietnamization approach might have worked.

"Simplistically put" would be more descriptive. In all these discussions about Vietnamization, the role of our South Vietnamese allies and of the enemy should be kept in mind. They played a role, too. But in the outlook Herrington is reflecting here, there's no way the invincible American military could have lost in Vietnam. It must have been some nefarious evil force back home. You know, like the American public.

He applies this (perceived) lesson of Vietnam to Iraq, in an observation that is warranted, so far as it goes:

In spite of military experts who absorbed the lessons of Vietnam and warned of the sizable commitment and time required to consolidate the initial military victory and achieve a stable, revitalized, and democratic Iraq, since the fall of Baghdad we have stubbornly attempted to accomplish these goals with too few forces. Worse yet, having lost almost two years since the masterful campaign that toppled Saddam Hussein, the proverbial clock is ticking, and the Bush Administration is at real risk of losing popular support at home.

And for very good reason, though Herrington obviously doesn't seem to think so.

The final two sentences of Herrington's review have him embracing one of the most deeply problematic "lessons of Vietnam", one that is at the core of the stab-in-the-back excuse:

For just as Hanoi correctly reckoned in 1968 that the American center of gravity was the will of the American people, so too have the Iraqi insurgents and their al Qaeda allies made the same calculation. One hopes that planners in Washington understand this, and that the Commander-in-Chief will use his second-term political capital to hang tough. (my emphasis)

Hey, no prob there. Commander-in-Chief Bush has been staying the course. "We'll succeed unless we quit," he said in Vietnam the other day.

The concept of the "center of gravity" in a war is essentially an unknown phrase in American civilian politics. But it's a very familiar phrase in Pentagonese. And it ought to seet off alarm bells every time we hear some military officer or analyst say that American public opinion was or is the "center of gravity" in a war.

To put it briefly, this "center of gravity" concept derives from the teachings of the 19th-century Prussian (German) military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, whose writings have acquired the status of holy writ for today's US officer corps. (Historical tidbit: he was also the favorite military theorist of the Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin.) An English edition of his 1874 classic On Waris available in English translation at Project Gutenberg.

Essentially, the "center of gravity" in this context means the key factor that has to be mastered to win a war, to beat the enemy, a key weakness or strength. (See the additional commentaries cited below, one of which suggests that this common contemporary understanding of the term is not actually how Clausewitz himself understood it.)

I haven't yet seen anyone do an adequate job of laying out why this is such a problematic concept for a democracy, the idea that public opinion back home is the US military's own "center of gravity" in a foreign war. Defining American public opinion as the "center of gravity", understood as strength or weakness, or the key to success in a war, means that the most vital task of the military in a foreign war is to convince the American public to supoprt their war policies.

And if public opinion turns against the current war policies by definition that stregthens the enemy. This makes the American public alegitimatetarget of military "information operations", that is, systematic deception.

I've written about this before and will again. Here, I'll just say that this notion of American public opinion as the "center of gravity" (in the sense that Herrington uses it in the review I quoted) in a foreign war is an open-ended, stab-in-the-back alibi for military failures.

It also leads to fundamentally undemocratic conclusions.

Additional sources on Clausewitz and the "center of gravity" concept:

Here is an excerpt from Clausewitz and His Works by Christopher Bassford (2002):

Clausewitz did provide some guidance in choosing military objectives. Perhaps most important was the idea of focusing one's military efforts against the enemy's "center of gravity" ("Schwerpunkt"), which has become an important concept in American doctrine. Clausewitz's use of this term is problematic, however. He often used it in very general terms to mean something like "the main thing" or "the key point at issue." He used it in tactical discussions to denote the main line of attack. When applied to operations or strategy, however, the term assumed a more narrow definition. Insofar as the center of gravity "belongs" to one side or the other, it is the most important source of that side's strength. Operationally, it usually appears as the key enemy field force. Strategically, it is most commonly the enemy's military forces as a whole or in part, but it can be his capital or something less concrete, like the common interest of an alliance or even public opinion.

We should remember, however, the context for Clausewitz's use of this metaphor: war as a wrestling match. This metaphor is fundamental to Clausewitz's outlook on strategy, but translation problems sometimes obscure his point, as in Clausewitz's famous characterization of war as a "duel." Used in all of the English translations, it is not a very good substitute for the original German "<em>Zweikampf</em>," literally "two-struggle." A duel with sword or (particularly) pistol is based more clearly on skill than on raw strength and lacks the dynamic character, the multiple points of contact, and the mutability of a wrestling match, Clausewitz's actual imagery. The latter metaphorprovides a much better graphic image into which to fit the famous term "center of gravity." The center of gravity may be "the hub of all power and movement," but it is created by the interaction between the wrestlers and changes as they alter their relationship.

The term center of gravity comes from Mechanics. Clausewitz was clearly trying to use a scientific metaphor to force the reader to focus on key considerations, rather than frittering away his energy on peripheral concerns. Unfortunately, Clausewitz's statement that "A center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely" is scientificly incorrect, and the metaphor -while useful and interesting - suffers accordingly. In any case, as usual with Clausewitz, the correct identification of any center of gravity would have to be consistent with the character of the situation and appropriate to the political purposes of military operations. To seek for an all-purpose strategic prescription in Clausewitz's discussion of the center of gravity will therefore lead to the usual frustration. The rigid prescription simply is not there. Destruction of the enemy army is not the fixed goal of "Clausewitzian strategy."

A superficial reading of On War may, however, leave the reader somewhat confused on this point. Clausewitz's definition of strategy emphasizes battle, and he states quite clearly, time after time, that "there is only one means in war: combat."

See also Clausewitz's Center of Gravity: Changing Our Warfighting Doctrine - Again! by Antulio J. Echevarria II September 2002 (US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute). Also available here. Echevarria argues that Clausewitz saw "center of gravity" as more of a "focal point" on which to focus military attacks, not as a strength or weakness, as contemparary interpretations often use it.

Covering Pelosi

The San Francisco Chronicle has so far been dong a more decent job covering Nancy Pelosi in her new leadership role as incoming Speaker of the House than most of the Establishment press I've seen. For instance, How Pelosi propelled Democrats to power by Marc Sandalow 11/10/06:

So how did the San Francisco congresswoman, who even some Democrats said was too partisan, liberal and shrill to lead the party, take them to the majority?

The answer has as much to do with the tactical skills Pelosi developed as chairwoman of the California Democratic Party in the early 1980s as her positions on policy matters such as the war, which now are regarded well within the mainstream of American politics.

Sandalow notes that she has had some real successs the last two years in getting the notoriously fractuous Democrats to act like a real opposition party on some critical issues:

After Democrats lost three House seats in the 2004 election, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders made a series of strategic decisions -- to recruit conservative Democratic candidates, refuse to compromise on Social Security, threaten to punish House Democrats who don't vote with the party, aggressively go after President Bush on Iraq - that contributed to the largest Democratic gains since the post-Watergate election of 1974.

And it paid off this year, as he reports:

Anger at Bush, at the war in Iraq and at the conduct of Republicans running Congress were critical components of the Democratic victory. Nevertheless, players from both parties credit Pelosi, along with Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, her choice to run the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for shrewdly harnessing those sentiments for Democratic gain.

"What Pelosi has been successful doing is channeling that anger and creating the environment in districts around the country to take advantage - to have surfers poised on their surfboard to take advantage of the wave," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic Party strategist and former campaign committee official.

Many Republicans grudgingly admit that Pelosi has been far more pragmaticthan they first imagined, keeping her liberalism from becoming a central issue and staying away from conservative districts where her presence might have been used against Democratic candidates.

The Chron's Edward Epstein at least give a "he said/she said" alternative view to the bizarre Republican meme that the 2006 election was a "conservative" victory in Pelosi must corral 3 Dem factions to unite on agenda 11/17/06.

This article by Epstein makes me wonder if the ubiquitously-quoted Larry Sabato may have fallen into ritually reciting the current press script: Win, loss for Pelosi in House 11/17/06. The issue in this case being Steny Hoyer's election as House Majority Whip over Pelosi's preferred candidate, Jack Murtha:

But Larry Sabato, political analyst at the University of Virginia, said the whole episode was a self-inflicted disaster for Pelosi, especially since it came just nine days after Democrats triumphed at the polls, moving from a 15-seat minority to at least a 15-seat majority, with a few races still undecided.

"If you're going to kill the prince, make sure you have the votes. She didn't even come close,'' said Sabato. "That's what I call a disaster.

"This is going to cause everyone to question her judgment.''

Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution said Pelosi can use the defeat to her advantage as she moves forward.

"Murtha as leader would have been a continuing problem for her and the Democrats. Now she can work to regain the trust of Democratic members who were bewildered by her intervention and came to question her judgment," he said.

"I think she and Hoyer can work effectively together and that she can eventually profit from this experience."

I do think Joe Conason offers good advice to her about picking the chair of the House Intelligence Committee in Pelosi's compulsion Salon 11/24/06.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Tom Edsall - still wankering after all these years

How Tom Edsall ever managed to get a reputation as a liberal is beyond me.

Duncan "Atrios" Black named him Wanker of the Day on Saturday and linked to this post from MyDD.

And to this one from Editor and Publisher: Despite Election Results, Edsall Still Sees 'Red' by Greg Mitchell.

The Democrats - the elected officials, the party activists, the netroots, all of us - have to start differentiating both the Democratic Party and liberals from the Establishment press.  Not least because they hold up clowns like Tom Edsall who wouldn't know a real live liberal if one bit him on the leg as being spokespeople for the "liberal" viewpoint.

I read his 1991 book Chain Reaction when it came out.  I called it the "Yugoslavia analysis" of American politics, Yugoslavia then disintegrating into ethnic and religious warfare.  The essential argument of his book was that whichever of the two parties defines itself as being the more hostile to black people will win.  And it was obvious he was doing some creatively contorted analysis of political trends to get there.

Good grief!

Steve Gilliard also has some choice comments for Edsall.

An antiwar movement with no hippies doing nekkid pagan dancing?

Tom Hayden takes a look at today's antiwar movement - yes, Virginia, there is one - in Anti-war movement deserves some credit San Francisco Chronicle 11/26/06.  He poses an obvious question.  Obvious, that is, if you're not one of the punditocracy:

To many observers, the [antiwar] movement seems feckless and marginal, its rallies an incoherent bazaar of radical sloganeering. Yet according to Gallup surveys, a majority of Americans came to view Iraq as a mistake more rapidly than they came to oppose the Vietnam War more than three decades ago. So how could there be a peace majority without a peace movement?

A political movement does not equate to street demonstrations, although Hayden points out:

Even defined as a street phenomenon, the anti-war movement has commanded significant numbers. The global movement surely succeeded in pressuring foreign governments against supporting the U.S. invasion in 2003. The February 2003 protests were the largest turnouts in history before a war began. The August 2004 demonstrations at the Republican convention in New York were unprecedented in convention history, including the 1,800 arrests (approximately three times the number arrested in Chicago in 1968.)  (my emphasis)

And his explanation of the cluelessness on the Establishment press on that score rings true:

Perhaps these events go largely unnoticed because of a false paradigm that anti-war protesters must be isolated, howling, fringe figures. That doesn't fit Cindy Sheehan or the military families who have turned against the war.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Achtung! Dolchstosslegende (stab-in-the-back excuse) in sight!

This guy had nothing to do with American defeat in Vietnam; it was those dirty dope-smoking hippies that did us in

This report by Peter Spiegel gives a very good glimpse at how our political and military leadership, chronically and deliberately unprepared for a counterinsurgency war, are now dragging up a failed template from the Vietnam War because they haven't come up with any better way to process the consequences of defeat: Iraq strategy takes page from Vietnam playbook Los Angeles Times 11/24/06.

Spiegel lays out the stab-in-the-back excuse that is all too common among military analysts and the US officer corps:

In historical assessments and the American recollection, Vietnam was the unwinnable war. But to many in the armed forces, Vietnam as a war actually was on its way to succeeding when the Nixon administration and Congress, bowing to public impatience, pulled the plug: first withdrawing U.S. combat forces and then blocking funding and supplies to the South Vietnamese army.

If they hadn't, the South Vietnamese army, which had been bolstered by U.S. advisors and a more focused "hearts and minds" campaign in the later stages of the war, could have been able to fend off the communist North, many leading military thinkers have argued.

In their view, progress was undermined by President Nixon's decision to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in 1969 in the face of political pressure at home, despite military objections that the South Vietnamese army was not ready to go it alone. Another key U.S. mistake, they contend, was the deep cuts Congress made to military aid to Saigon beginning in 1974.

For many in the military, the lessons of Vietnam are clear: Maintain public support, and be patient.  (my emphasis)

Bush's seemed to endorse that view and a strategy for the Iraq War arising from it in his stunning comment while he was in Vietnam, "We'll succeed unless we quit."

Spiegel's article gives a good quick survey of various expert comments on the "Vietnamization" strategy. Even if one were to lean toward a glowing assessment of the performance of the ARVN (Army of South Vietnam) - an assessment that reality-based history scarcely supports - there are still some very significant differences between the situation of South Vietnam in 1969 and Iraq today:

In addition, the Iraqi and South Vietnamese militaries are hardly comparable. Although the ARVN was notoriously corrupt and politicized, it was a functioning institution that had been engaged in fighting the communist North for decades. Conversely, the Iraqi army is being built from scratch, and unlike the ARVN, which was clearly aligned with the government in Saigon, Abizaid noted last week that it remained unclear whether the Iraqi government sees their armed forces - rather than armed militia - as their preferred fighters.

The short version of that paragraph could be: it failed with South Vietnam, and Iraq ain't even close to their capabilities to do it.

Near the end of the article, Spiegel restates a critically important point:

"There are certain things you just can't do in a military situation like Iraq or Vietnam, and if you violate these tenets, you're at great risk," Herrington said. "One of them is to take too long to figure out what you ought to be doing so the American public falters in its support."

Such fears, and the consequences of losing political backing for the war in Iraq, have colored military strategy. Senior military officials have acknowledged that maintaining domestic support for the war effort is frequently factored into planning discussions.

That particular brand of Pentagon obsession with public opinion is problematic in so many ways it's mind-boggling. One of those ways is that our military officer corps seems to be losing its willingness and even ability to distinguish professional military considerations from public relations.

And for many of our infallible generals and rightwing politicians, it's going to be part of their excuse for "Who lost Iraq?" It wasn't our flawless generals, oh no. They didn't have anything to do with it. It was those weak-kneed civilians that caved when we had the enemy on their last gasp.

For some perspective, it's worth considering that this coming Sunday, November 26, marks the point at which the United States will have been fighting in Iraq for longer than in the Second World War, which began with the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 and ended on V-J Day (Victory in Japan Day) in September 1945. And so far, that gutless civilian public opinion has not resulted in any Congressional limitations on our glorious generals in fighting the war.

And if you believe the civilian officials of the Cheney-Bush administration and the generals serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff during this war, the generals have received all the troops they have requested and are being given complete freedom to fight the Iraq War in exactly the way they see fit with no civilian interference.

So, for the civilians-stabbed-us-in-the-back theory to be true, that would mean that our Dear Leader Bush and his government and our infallible generals have been bald-faced lying to us all for years! And no patriotic, red-blooded American could possibly think that.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Review of OUT OF IRAQ by George McGovern and William Polk

Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (2006) by George McGovern and William Polk

This book by former Senator George McGovern and historian/diplomat William Polk (who negotiated a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt in 1970) is a broadside. That is, it's a pamphlet (142 pages including index) addressing an issue of the moment and encouraging a desired action. The action in this case is getting the US out of the Iraq War.

At a time when peace plans and exit proposals are sprouting like mushrooms in a cow pasture, McGovern and Polk offer a serious and wide-ranging proposal. They stress that the historical course of insurgencies like those in Iraq indicates that after the foreign forces leave, the internal conflict will intensify. But they argue that "staying the course" has been steadily intensifying the conflict, which cannot be resolved by US troops. "We are as powerless to prevent the turmoil that will happen when we withdraw as we have been to stop the insurgency". That's harsher than many Democratic war critics would like to be. But it's long past time that people need to talk pragmatically about the grim realities of the situation.

Two of their suggestions are directed to the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi government: seeking temporary assistance from other Muslim countries in policing Iraq, and relying on a national police force but not to create a national army. This latter suggestion is a unique one (at least I've never heard it before), and the only one not clear to me. It's hard to see how an Iraqi government could simply forgo having an army. They argue that historically, "Iraqi armies have been a source not of defense but of disruption". Still, it's hard to picture Iraq becoming the Costa Rica of the Middle East any time soon.

For the US, they propose a phased withdrawal of US combat troops on a definite timetable to begin on December 31, 2006, and be completed by June 30, 2007; release of all prisoners of war; establish and fund a national "reconstruction corps" for Iraq; immediately cease work on building US military bases; withdraw all American presence from the Green Zone by the end of 2007; get the mercenaries ("security details") out of Iraq as quickly as possible; begin a cleanup of landmines and unexploded ordnance; develop an honest accounting of the Iraqi funds spent by Jerry Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA); "make reparations to Iraqi civilians for loss of lives and property" caused by the US; provide financial and other assistance through international institutions to civil society organizations; and, turn prosecution and custody of officials from Saddam's regime now under arrest for crimes over to the Iraqis.

In the weeks since this book was published, conditions in Iraq have deteriorated even more, so that all-round acceptance of these proposals is highly unlikely. Even if the Bush adminsitration were willing to try. But the real value of the McGovern-Polk proposal is that it would establish a US withdrawal schedule at an early date, and it focuses attention on the nature of the current prospects in the Iraq War. The US is not going to create the model Arab democracy that the delusional neoconservatives dreamed about. At this point, being able to make an orderly withdrawal and beginning to ameliorate the hatred towards America this war has generated in the Muslim world seem like nearly utopian goals. Jerry Brown's signature slogan from the 1970s, "lower your expectations", would apply well to this situation.

The programatic proposals just summarized are contained in one of the book's six chapters. This book pleasantly surprised me in that quality of its compact discussion of the war's history to date. It's easily the best brief summary I've seen. Their discussion of the appalling failures of our so-called "press corps" in its coverage of the war and the prewar buildup includes this observation:

Believing that they were not getting the whole story or often not even the truth, increasing numbers of Americans have done what anti-Soviet Russians did before the fall of the USSR: they have turned to informal means of communicationThe Russians used mimeograph machines to circulate information among themselves in what they called samizdat; we turn to Internet blogs, to hear what the mainstream press is not reporting. There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands of these websites, originating on both sides of the Atlantic and even in Iraq.

Unable to control the media or the Internet, the Bush administration has manufactured news events to get itsmessage across. On October 13, 2005, for example, President Bush went before television cameras to ask a supposedly randomly selected group of soldiers what they thought of the way the war in Iraq was going. But the sample was not random, and the soldiers' answers were rehearsed: the participants had been carefully selected, and a Pentagon official was observed coaching them before the show.  (my emphasis)

Their frank and sensible discussion of the repercussions of war atrocities and the torture policy carried out by American soldiers will displease anyone who wants to hear only heroic tales and feel-good military press releases. As they show, the torture policy in particular represents a very serious breakdown of military discipline and a major failure of command, things that are essential to keeping the violence required in combat focused on legitimate targets and methods. That breakdown is already having far-reaching consequences on the Army and American's standing in the world. As McGovern and Polk emphasize, "The history of guerrilla warfare demonstrates this dehumanizing tendency among peoples of all religions and cultures". When the national leadership actually encourages such a tendency as the Cheney-Bush administration had done with the torture policy, the effects are even more corrosive.

And they remind us that along with the tranformation of Iraq into a violent, chaotic failed state, the war is also helping to undermine the Constitution here at home:

George Orwell was unduly pessimistic: his bleak vision of the future did not happen as fast as he thought it might - that is, in 1984 - but it could well happen in our lifetime.

Getting out of Iraq is the first and most urgent step in avoiding the treacherous, downward spiral toward such a hideous future. Getting out with dignity and making every effort to do so in a way that will leave behind us the best possible climate for rebuilding, re-growth, and peace ... is the right thing to do. Absent a reversal of American policies, which must begin with a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, the America we have inherited from our Founding Fathers will continue to be in grave, perhaps even mortal, danger.

Among the "lessons of Iraq" on which they touch briefly, they include the folly of the Bush Doctrine's blind faith in military force to impose America's will on other countries and the powerful encouragement it gives to countries who may become targets of "regime change" to seek their own nuclear weapons.

They conclude:

Finally, all war is unpredictable and horrible.   Our wise old statesman Benjamin Franklin once said, "There never was a good war." But among wars, guerrilla wars are the worst; at best they are unwinnable, lasting as in Ireland for centuries and in Algeria for a century and a half. Chechens suffered massacre, deportation, rape, and massive destruction at the hands of the Russians for nearly four centuries, and now incorporated into Russia, Chechnya still is not "pacified." Aware of this history, the American neoconservative advisers to our government plan for (and indeed advocate) perpetual war. If they get their wish, then the final lesson of Iraq will emerge from the "fog of war."  It is that insurgency and counterinsurgency brutalize whole societies, even those of the victors.  This was true of the British in Kenya, French in Algeria, Americans in the Philippines, Russians in Chechnya, and Chinese in Tibet. Hegel may be right - we may not learn [from history]; but certainly, we would be wise to heed the warning of Santayana not to "blot" the lessons of this costly adventure out of our minds. It has been our most expensive school. (my emphasis)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Iraq War: Jim Webb in 2002 on occupying Iraq

"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.

Senator-elect Jim Webb wrote a perceptive article before the Iraq War began about the risks of occupation and the foolishness of relying on superficial analogies to Second World War experiences: Heading for Trouble Washington Post 09/04/02 (copy also available at Webb's Web site.)

Those who are pushing for a unilateral war in Iraq know full well that there is no exit strategy if we invade and stay. This reality was the genesis of a rift that goes back to the Gulf War itself, when neoconservatives were vocal in their calls for "a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad." Their expectation is that the United States would not only change Iraq's regime but also remain as a long-term occupation force in an attempt to reconstruct Iraqi society itself.

The connotations of "a MacArthurian regency in Baghdad" show how inapt the comparison is. Our occupation forces never set foot inside Japan until the emperor had formally surrendered and prepared Japanese citizens for our arrival. Nor did MacArthur destroy the Japanese government when he took over as proconsul after World War II. Instead, he was careful to work his changes through it, and took pains to preserve the integrity of Japan's imperial family. Nor is Japanese culture in any way similar to Iraq's. The Japanese are a homogeneous people who place a high premium on respect, and they fully cooperated with MacArthur's forces after having been ordered to do so by the emperor. The Iraqis are a multiethnic people filled with competing factions who in many cases would view a U.S. occupation as infidels invading the cradle of Islam. Indeed, this very bitterness provided Osama bin Laden the grist for his recruitment efforts in Saudi Arabia when the United States kept bases on Saudi soil after the Gulf War.

In Japan, American occupation forces quickly became 50,000 friends. In Iraq, they would quickly become 50,000 terrorist targets.

Webb was clearly wrong about one thing: American occupation forces here in 2006 are providing more like 150,000 targets for the enemy.

Incidentally, long-time readers of Old Hickory's Weblog  have encountered this piece by Webb before in Iraq War Critics: James Webb on the Risks of Occupation 02/19/04.  As I concluded there two and a half years ago, "No, Bush and Rummy can't say that nobody warned them".

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

"Hippie" foreign policy

Yes, Virginia, the 1960s did exist.  They didn't look much at all like the psychedelic fantasies that haunt the minds of the Christian Right "culture warriors" and the OxyContin dreams of Rush Limbaugh and his dittoheads.  But they existed.

And among civil rights and antiwar activists, there actually were some serious attempts at genuinely left-radical criticisms of US foreign policy.  I won't try to trace what the path one might take to get from today's Bush Republican definition of "the Left" as including Osama bin Laden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Hagel to something resembling reality.  It's probably one of those "you can't get there from here" situations.

Let's just say that circa 1968, the liberals knew they were liberals and the "left" knew they shared many social goals with liberals but also took a different viewpoint on some things, including some basic Cold War assumptions.  Left critics of the Cold War during those days produced some serious, well-informed, thoughtful critiques of US foreign policy.  Liberals, some of them anyway, actually engaged in what could be called a meaningful and occasionally productive dialogue with them.  Followers of Spiro Agnew and George Wallace, the political ancestors of today's entire Republican Party, just dismissed the left and the liberals as dirty anti-American hippies. Some traditions remain intact.

Some of the better-known names of left historians of US foreign policy then would be William Appleman Williams, Noam Chomsky, Carl Oglesby, Gabriel Kolko, Gal Alperowitz, Walter Lafeber and David Horowitz.  Yes, that David Horowitz, who went on to spend decades building a career out of being a repentent leftist who became a stark, raving rightwinger.

A liberal historian, Robert Tucker, wrote one of those "dialogue" books, The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy (1971), that dealt in particular with Cold War "revisionist" historians.  Daniel Ellsberg in his 1972 Papers on the War called Tucker's book "a useful critique" of the left-revisionist approach, though Ellberg made it clear that the "revisionist" approach was closer to his view.    Writing about the moral judgments on American conduct that their more sleazy opponents seized on to accuse them of being "anti-American", Tucker argued on the contrary that this aspect was the most appealing aspect of the left-revisionist take on the Cold War:

More than the explanatory power of radical criticism, it is the moral fervor and idealism of this criticism that must account for its influence.  A provisional realism masks an idealism that runs deep in the American grain.  The moral absolutism with which, explicitly or implicitly, the radical judges America's relations with the world is distinctive only with respect to the object of judgment - and condemnation [i.e., the US].  With respect to the standards of judgment employed, radical criticism is characteristically - if exaggeratedly - American.  It is not surprising, then, that it is also characteristically American in its expectations of the role a new America is destined to play in the world.  The radical does not foreswear the belief in America's providential mission.  Instead, he changes the content of that mission and sees its fulfillment in the future.  A condemnation of the past and present is accordingly joined to a promise of a future in which a sinful nation may yet redeem itself and, by so doing, serve as an example to the world.  Indeed, given America's wealth, it may yet save the world. In the vision - or illusion - of how a Socialist America [!!!] would behave, the radical entertains expectations of the nation's destiny Americans have always entertained.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

It's not "1938"

Douglas McCollam writes about The Umbrella's Shadow (Oct 2006) for Foreign Policy Online.

The umbrella in this case being Neville Chamberlain's umbrella which came to symbolize the British and French policy of "appeasement" toward Hitler Germany, a policy that became such a disaster that "appeasement" became a dirty word; prior to that, it simply referred to a policy of negotiating concessions.

McCollam argues that the use of the "Munich analogy", i.e., the dangers of appeasement, is used far too much today, and often used badly:

A fondness for rehashing the disreputable legacy of appeasement is understandable, given that a bronze bust of Winston Churchill seems to be part of the standard-issue starter kit handed to members of America’s conservative foreign-policy establishment. Still, many conservatives seem to be marooned in 1938, with Hitler forever poised on the border of Czechoslovakia. It seems fair to ask: Doesn’t history have any other lessons to offer? ...

What’s going on here? Is every two-bit strongman a would-be Hitler who, let us recall, was the leader of the most formidable industrialized country of the day? Must every U.S. excursion abroad be a new crusade to rescue the free world? America may have been a 98-pound weakling when Hitler rose to power, but it emerged from World War II as a military and financial colossus, easily the most powerful nation in the world. Today, U.S. military might exceeds that of the combined forces of the rest of the world. Yet, like a gawky adolescent who’s grown too fast to appreciate his own strength, Americans cling to the notion that they are weak and vulnerable—and need to bluster and bully to compensate.

I think he uses "Americans" in too broad a sense there.  Right now it's the Bush administration's neoconservatives and nationalists who are obsessed with the Munich analogy and constantly try to convince us we're living in "1938" and that the Western democracies are always on the verge of cowardly selling out to Hitler.

This stance is particularly ill-suited to our confrontation with radical Islam, which feeds on America’s post-9/11 outrage. By now it should be clear that the central pillar of our adversaries’ strategy isto provoke us into conflicts that they can then turn into a casus belli for their recruiting and propaganda efforts. We know this and yet we seem incapable of resisting when they twist the lion’s tale. ...

In this age of American hyperpower, can't we agree that the oversized fear of appeasement - a doctrine, after all, born of military weakness - does more harm than good?

The neocons and Cheney-style militarists will never agree as long as it serves their efforts to maintain a constant war atmosphere and the national-security state that goes along with it.  But the rest of us should be able to agree that fear of a comic-book caricature of appeasement is doing more harm than good.  The road to war in Iraq was paved with bad, exagerrated, non-reality-based applications of the "Munich analogy".

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Britney - the new Kissinger?

Okay, you unbelievers!  I told you there were going to be major karmic repercussions all over the place from Britney's announcement of her divorce.

And within hours after her announcement, Rummy was history.  A coincidence?  I think not.

TRex at FireDogLake has suddenly discovered what those who are blind to cutting-edge cultural innovation have recognized for a while.  Britney's marriage moves are paradigm-shattering cultural events.

TRex has just realized that what Little Boo is telling us with her latest move includes: a solution to North Korean nukes; the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and, a peace agreement in Iraq that ends the insurgency and gets American troops all home.

Now, being a newbee to Britney prophetic interpretation, I think TRex may have partially misread the signals on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  But it's nice to see yet another convert to the Real Truth about Britney.

Secretary of State Britney Spears?  Ridiculous, you say?  How many years have you heard people saying that no one would remember her in another year or so?  Be warned, oh ye of little faith.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Is Bush boozing again?

In the cover story of the British New Statesman of 11/13/06, Rumbled!, US editor Andrew Stephen seriously suggests that Bush may be back on the bottle (via James Wolcott):

I was asked on BBC radio a couple of days ago whether Democratic victories would temper Bush's recklessness. I replied that I could answer that only if I could peer into the strange mind of a 60-year-old recovering alcoholic named George W Bush.

Rumours persist here (and I have heard them repeated at a very senior level in the UK, too) that Bush has actually resumed drinking; I throw this into the mix not to sensationalise, but because I have now heard the rumour repeated at a sufficiently high level that I believe we must face the possibility that it might be true.

Bush was huddled inside the White House eating beef and ice cream on election night with Rove, my friend Josh Bolten, and four other trusted aides who will stick with him to the end. He was not drinking on this occasion, I'm assured - but, more than ever, my depiction of an unstable man living out his final days in office inside his bunker seem no longer to be fanciful. Hemmed in by Democratic foes wherever he looks, determined to be remembered in history as an unwaveringly strong leader, and increasingly detached from reality: now that suddenly becomes a very frightening vision indeed.

Stephen explicitly identifies his information as "rumours" (aka, "rumors" in the American spelling) so take it with the appropriate reservations.  But New Statesman also isn't a tabloid, so I don't think he's being frivolous in choosing to publish that.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Iran War: Hersh's latest

Seymour Hersh has come out with another long article about the state of play with the Cheney-Bush administration's Iran policy: The Next Act New Yorker 11/20/06 (accessed 11/19/06; 11/27/06 issue).

His bottom line is that an attack on Iran at this point is still a live option for many officials including Dark Lord Dick Cheney.

He hits on a number of points that are important to keep in mind in the administration's overall approach to Iran policy. An important one that I've mentioned before is how central the entire model of covert Executive foreign policy and war-making evident in the Iran-Contra affair is to Cheney's thinking. That comes out in the first three paragraphs.

Another is that the Robert Gates nomination for Defense Secretary could be primarily a new sales approach not accompanied by any significant change of policy on Iraq or Iran, in hopes that Gates would be a new, more credible figure to advocate expanding the war to Iran, for instance.

Bad habits die hard. The Cheney-Rummy use of "stovepiping" raw intelligence to war advocates in the Pentagon and the Office of the Vice President continues. As does a willingness to rely on dubious HUMINT (human intelligence) from shaky sources. There's even a remarkable form of groupthink going on that has some officials arguing that the absence of any good evidence on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program is itself ividence that the Islamic Republic is deviously concealing such a program.

The growing and mysterious role of the Pentagon in covert ops has not been entirely missed by our Establishment press. But not much is being reported on it, in part because the Republican Congress all but shut down the Congressional oversight function.

Hersh gives an idea of the potential problems of the Pentagon's expanded role in fighting secret wars:

Another critical issue for Gates will be the Pentagon’s expanding effort to conduct clandestine and covert intelligence missions overseas. Such activity has traditionally been the C.I.A.’s responsibility, but, as the result of a systematic push by Rumsfeld, military covert actions have been substantially increased. In the past six months, Israel and the United States have also been working together in support of a Kurdish resistance group known as the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan. The group has been conducting clandestine cross-border forays into Iran, I was told by a government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon civilian leadership, as “part of an effort to explore alternative means of applying pressure on Iran.” (The Pentagon has established covert relationships with Kurdish, Azeri, and Baluchi tribesmen, and has encouraged their efforts to undermine the regime’s authority in northern and southeastern Iran.) The government consultant said that Israel is giving the Kurdish group “equipment and training.” The group has also been given “a list of targets inside Iran of interest to the U.S.” (An Israeli government spokesman denied that Israel was involved.)

Such activities, if they are considered military rather than intelligence operations, do not require congressional briefings. For a similar C.I.A. operation, the President would, by law, have to issue a formal finding that the mission was necessary, and the Administration would have to brief the senior leadership of the House and the Senate. The lack of such consultation annoyed some Democrats in Congress. This fall, I was told, Representative David Obey, of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that finances classified military activity, pointedly asked, during a closed meeting of House and Senate members, whether “anyone has been briefing on the Administration’s plan for military activity in Iran.” The answer was no. (A spokesman for Obey confirmed this account.)

The fact that the Cheney-Bush administration is already funding violent opposition groups against the Iranian government is something that is rarely mentioned in stories about US-Iranian relations. But it's worth asking if that could have something to do with Iran's current or future cooperation over Iraq. Among other things.

Hersh provides another confirmation of how closely the Cheney-Bush administration is working with the Israeli government on Iran policy. Which makes recent bellicose statements by Israeli leaders all the more concerning. Hersh writes:

The Pentagon consultant told me that, while there may be pressure from the Israelis, “they won’t do anything on their own without our green light.” That assurance, he said, “comes from the Cheney shop. It’s Cheney himself who is saying, ‘We’re not going to leave you high and dry, but don’t go without us.’ ” A senior European diplomat agreed: “For Israel, it is a question of life or death. The United States does not want to go into Iran, but, if Israel feels more and more cornered, there may be no other choice.”

Iranian nuclear weapons would be a huge spur to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Even major Democratic leaders might be willing to go along with an attack on Iran based on that concern. Unless the public in general and the Democratic base in particular makes very clear to the Dems that expanding the war to Iran is unacceptable. Hersh:

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—all led by Sunni governments—would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves. The Bush Administration, if it does take military action against Iran, would have support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senators Hillary Clinton, of New York, and Evan Bayh, of Indiana, who are potential Democratic Presidential candidates, have warned that Iran cannot be permitted to build a bomb and that - as Clinton said earlier this year - “we cannot take any option off the table.” Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has also endorsed this view. Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, “A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die - the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail."

The elimination of Saddam's regime and the transformation of Iraq into a violent, chaotic failed state have given Iran a status as the leading power in the region after Israel. Administration calculations based on the idea that Iran will be overawed by American might are higly problematic, as Hersh notes:

One problem with the proposal that the Administration enlist Iran in reaching a settlement of the conflict in Iraq is that it’s not clear that Iran would be interested, especially if the goal is to help the Bush Administration extricate itself from a bad situation.

“Iran is emerging as a dominant power in the Middle East,” I was told by a Middle East expert and former senior Administration official. “With a nuclear program, and an ability to interfere throughout the region, it’s basically calling the shots. Why should they coöperate with us over Iraq?”

Hersh's reports that Cheney was heavily involved with Rummy, Gates and Bush over Rummy's resignation before the election. No big surprise there. But a "former senior intelligence official" suggests to Hersh that Cheney might not have been as adverse to having Rummy take the fall for the administration over the Iraq War as some press reports have indicated.

The same source used a darkly ironic image in describing one of the likely effects of a military attack on Iran. Administration spokespeople including Bush himself have been raising the bogeyman of the revived caliphate that is part of Bin Laden's fanatical ideology. Al Qaida has nothing like the capability to seek such a goal, so citing Bin Laden on a new caliphate is sort of like citing Charles Manson as an expert on Beatles songs. Although the idea is not unique to Al Qaida; other extreme Islamist groups also talk about restoring a caliphate. The "former senior intelligence official" suggested that Bush might wind up giving the pie-in-the-sky idea a bit of a boost He told Hersh:

... that the C.I.A. assessment raised the possibility that an American attack on Iran could end up serving as a rallying point to unite Sunni and Shiite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West. It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” (An Islamic caliphate ruled the Middle East for over six hundred years, until the thirteenth century.)

I was surprised to see that Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) sounding cautious and restrained in his interview with Hersh about the danger of Iran's nuclear program. WINEP is generally supportive of hardline Israeli policies.

Finally, Rummy apparently started a review of options for the Iraq War back in August to head the Baker-Hamilton commission off at the pass as they suggest alternatives to the current disastrous Iraq War policies. Hersh reports:

It is not clear whether the Administration will be receptive. In August, according to the former senior intelligence official, Rumsfeld asked the Joint Chiefs to quietly devise alternative plans for Iraq, to preëmpt new proposals, whether they come from the new Democratic majority or from the Iraq Study Group. “The option of last resort is to move American forces out of the cities and relocate them along the Syrian and Iranian border,” the former official said. “Civilians would be hired to train the Iraqi police, with the eventual goal of separating the local police from the Iraqi military. The White House believes that if American troops stay in Iraq long enough—with enough troops—the bad guys will end up killing each other, and Iraqi citizens, fed up with internal strife, will come up with a solution. It’ll take a long time to move the troops and train the police. It’s a time line to infinity.”

It's worth remembering, discouraging though it may be, that Lyndon Johnson had effectively accepted the defeat of the US in Vietnam in 1968 - though he may not have framed it that way for himself - when he decided on a bombing halt and agreed to open peace negotiations with the other side. But American combat forces didn't leave Vietnam until 1973. And even then the US remained actively involved in the cotinuing war until the fall of Saigon in 1975. Seven years after Johnson's major change of course in 1968.

Air war report of 11/19

F/A 18-E/F Super Hornet

The Air Force news service gives the official report for air power usage in the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War covering the day of 11/18/06:

In Afghanistan, which still is nearly invisibile in the US media:

Afghanistan Nov. 18, U.S. Navy F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Es provided close-air support for International Security Assistance Force troops in contact with Taliban extremists near Kandahar.  The F/A-18Cs expended a guided bomb unit-12 and the F/A-18Es expended a GBU-12 and cannon rounds on enemy positions.

Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs provided close-air support to ISAF troops in contact with enemy forces near Asadabad.

In total, 42 close-air support missions were flown in support of ISAF and Afghan troops, reconstruction activities and route patrols.

Forty-two combat-support missions on Saturday.  Five years after "liberating" Iraq the fighting is still at that level.  And always keep in mind that any air strike in any sort of populated area, whether city of village, is likely to claim the lives of noncombatants, especially when bombs are used.

Are any American reporters following up on the results of these dozens of air strikes per day in Afghanistan?

The F/A-18Cs (single seat) and F/A-18Ds (dual seat) Hornets are described as follows by :

These Hornets carry the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) and the infrared imaging Maverick air-to-ground missile. Two years later, the C/D models came with improved night attack capabilities. ...

On all missions, the Hornet will employ the highly effective 20mm Gatling gun. With the high performance of a lightweight fighter combined with the "state-of-the-art" night attack, all weather weapon system, the Hornet is capable of finding and destroying land, sea, or air targets on the first pass, day or night.

Powered by two GE F404 engines, the F/A-18C can get home in the event of a malfunction or battle damage. Moreover, its self-start capability and modular maintenance make it ideal for remote airstrip operation, as well as the furious pace of carrier operations.

This "remote airstrip" capability is presumably one of the reasons these Navy planes are being used in Afghanistan.  Presumably, the "Taliban extremists" don't have much of a navy of their own.

The F/A-18C radar is the world's most advanced for a fighter aircraft.  Two radars in one, the Hughes APG-73 has the ability to detect airborne targets at more than 100 miles, distinguish low-flying or slow-moving targets "on the deck," pinpoint ships at sea, map the contours of the ground, and track ground targets.  F/A-18Cs have synthetic aperture ground mapping radar with a doppler beam sharpening mode to generate ground maps. This ground mapping capability that permits crews to locate and attack targets in adverse weather and poor visibility or to precisely update the aircraft's location relative to targets during the approach, a capability that improves bombing accuracy.  New production F/A-18Cs received the APG-73 radar upgrade radars starting in 1994, providing more precise and clear radar displays.

We're fighting guerrillas armed with rifles and IEDs with high-tech aircraft?  I wonder of other potential adversaries of the US in the world are noticing that they can spend a few dollars and devote a few guerrillas to attacks that will bring entice the US to bring expensive hardware like this to bear.

The F/A-18Es mentioned in the Air Force story are known as Super Hornets with even longer ranges and more capabilities.  The F/A 18-C/D and F/A 18-E/Fs are manufactured by Northrop Grumman under contract to Boeing.

And in the Iraq War:

In Iraq, an Air Force Predator conducted a strike against anti-Iraqi forces near Ramadi. The Predator expended Hellfire missiles on enemy targets.

Royal Air Force GR-4s provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Baghdad.

United States Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles provided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Bayji, Baghdad and Al Musayyib.

Air Force F-16 Fighting Falconsprovided close-air support to troops in contact with anti-Iraqi forces near Subakhu.

In total, coalition aircraft flew 30 close-air support missions for Operation Iraqi Freedom. These missions included support to coalition troops, infrastructure protection, reconstruction activities and operations to deter and disrupt terrorist activities.

We're policing "reconstruction activities" with Hellfire missiles?  When one of those nicely-painted schools we keep hearing about get built, how many houses in the town on the average have to be blown up with missiles to protect that "reconstruction activity"?

I'm noticing that the Air Force press releases often have these close-air support missions being carried out "near" some town or city.  Which would probably sound to most American readers like "somewhere out in the desert".

It would certainly be helpful for independent reporters to follow up on these attacks reported by the Air Force.  But we know that, outside of Baghdad's Green Zone, most of Iraq is considered too dangerous for reporters to even travel.  Not that that reflects on the unending success of the Cheney-Bush administration and our infallible generals in Iraq. describes the F-16 Fighting Falcon as follows:

In an air combat role, the F-16's maneuverability and combat radius (distance it can fly to enter air combat, stay, fight and return) exceed that of all potential threat fighter aircraft. It can locate targets in all weather conditions and detect low flying aircraft in radar ground clutter. In an air-to-surface role, the F-16 can fly more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), deliver its weapons with superior accuracy, defend itself against enemy aircraft, and return to its starting point. An all-weather capability allows it to accurately deliver ordnance during non-visual bombing conditions.

The F-16 was built under an unusual agreement creating a consortium between the United States and four NATO countries: Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway. These countries jointly produced with the United States an initial 348 F-16s for their air forces. Final airframe assembly lines were located in Belgium and the Netherlands. The consortium's F-16s are assembled from components manufactured in all five countries. Belgium also provides final assembly of the F100 engine used in the European F-16s. The long-term benefits of this program will be technology transfer among the nations producing the F-16, and a common-use aircraft for NATO nations. This program increases the supply and availability of repair parts in Europe and improves the F-16's combat readiness.

USAF F-16 multi-mission fighters were deployed to the Persian Gulf in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm, where more sorties were flown than with any other aircraft. These fighters were used to attack airfields, military production facilities, Scud missiles sites and a variety of other targets.

Originally conceived as a simple air-superiority day fighter, the aircraft was armed for that mission with a single six-barrel Vulcan 20-mm cannon and two Sidewinder missiles, one mounted at each wingtip. Over the years, however, the mission capability of the aircraft has been extended to include ground-attack and all-weather operations With full internal fuel, the aircraft can carry up to 12 000 pounds of external stores including various types of ordnance as well as fuel tanks.

The original F-16 was designed as a lightweight air-to-air day fighter. Air-to-ground responsibilities transformed the first production F-16s into multirole fighters.