Thursday, March 30, 2006

Good News From Iraq

After several months, the journalist Jill Carroll has been released and appears to be well and unharmed physically from the ordeal. This story came up before here she had originally been captured. As was mentioned before, she had attended a school in this area and it was one of the few times that a national story came through this town. Everyone should be pleased by this outcome and her family must be ecstatic right now.

Certainly good news out of Iraq, but certainly not the type that would satisfy the conservatives in the United States. The mere fact that a reporter who challenged the conventional wisdom that security is so adrift inside Iraq that one can't go to the source for stories is abducted herself and appears on the nightly news making announcements for the captors explicitly brings home the point that security is not viable there yet.

And judging by some comments made by an officer in the field, things are not going to be moving, on the whole, in a positive direction for quite some time. At Paul Rieckhoff's web log on the

So, I asked "The Cardinal" one simple question: "What do you say when people say the media doesn't tell enough good news stories out of Iraq?"

His response:

"I never hear that because we all here know the good news stories are bullshit and do not really affect the mission in any way. It's like this thing we keep saying here about all the new people we've recruited for the iraqi police. It leaves out the fact that my platoon was in a 40 minute gun fight with the iraqi police. So you recruited more of them ... awesome!

"the iraqi army is making progress and we're handing over more and more to them everyday." Complete bullshit. What's the good news in the fact that all their logistics, medical, engineering, staff function, etc. is being done by us? ALL OF IT.

The full post is here. One might not find a good deal of inspiration in the notes that this soldier passes back from the field, yet it sounds suprisingly different than what the Administration senses the situation to be.

Solid, encouraging news should be disseminated from Iraq if it exists, yet if there is insecurity rampant throughout the streets of Baghdad, a "unity" government has not come close to forming, and men are discovered in the morning with bullet holes in their skulls, then that is the news from Iraq. Anything else is just a feel good piece to make those in the audience not question what is really going on in country.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bring On The Next Three Years

Some headlines after three years:

Deaths Continue As Iraq War Enters Year 4
"BAGHDAD, Iraq - As the Iraq war entered its fourth year, nearly 1,500 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers on Sunday sought to root out insurgents from farming villages an hour's drive north of the capital, and at least 35 people died in insurgent and sectarian violence nationwide."

Bush predicts 'victory' three years after Iraq invasion
"WASHINGTON (AFP) - Three years after invading Iraq, President George W. Bush said he had a strategy for "victory in Iraq" while administration officials denied that the country had sunk into civil war."

Iraq War Anniversary Marked With Protests
"PORTLAND, Ore. - The third anniversary of the U.S.-led war in Iraq drew tens of thousands of protesters around the globe, from Portland to hurricane-ravaged Louisiana to Australia, with chants of "Stop the War" and calls for the withdrawal of troops."

Iraq in civil war, says former PM
"Iraq is in the middle of civil war, the country's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi has told the BBC. He said Iraq had not got to the point of no return, but if it fell apart sectarianism would spread abroad."

Rumsfeld: Leaving Iraq like giving Nazis Germany
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leaving Iraq now would be the same as handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a column published on Sunday, as retired U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton called Rumsfeld incompetent and urged him to resign."

The executive branch is in severe trouble. There is no way out of Iraq while trying to simultaneously claim victory at something, anything so as to save face. Victory was a relatively small-sized military force quickly traveling from the border between Iraq and Kuwait and capturing Baghdad in a month's time. This the Army, Air Force, and Marines did wonderfully on the ground. A victorious occupation is an entirely different matter.

Three years of force. One hundred fifty-six weeks of rolling blackouts. Seventy-eight fortnights of haphazard reconstruction. Thirty-six months of learning about new devices meant to explode and kill. One thousand, ninety-six days of instability with the return address - U.S.A.

If there is any reason to reject imperialism, it is Iraq. If there are two reasons to reject the Domino Theory - forced governmental change 'spreading' outward - it is Vietnam and will be Iraq. If there is a yardstick that measures gross criminal negligence, it will point to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue circa 2001-2008.

Bring on the next three years.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Foreign Policy: Iran As The Next Iraq

For the past four to five months the Administration has been stepping up the heat on Iran. One might deduce from this current dialogue on the nightly news programs that Iran is in violation of some U.N. resolution and is building a nuclear bomb as we speak. Hence, President Bush needs to consider all options when dealing with Iran.

So it begins.

The public must be incredibly careful when understanding what this Administration will say with regards to the evident facts of a situation. The almost never-ending list of statements which carefully step away from reality will be legendary twenty years hence. It would appear that this situation will not be much different.

Here are the latest events:
President Bush speaking on the National Security Strategy 2006
In a 49-page national security report, the president reaffirmed the strike-first, or pre-emptive policy he first outlined in 2002. Diplomacy is the U.S. preference in halting the spread of nuclear and other heinous weapons, Bush said.

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur — even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," Bush wrote.

The U.S. House wishes to put forward legislation that will sanction foreign companies that do business with Iran.
"... Illinois Republican [Henry Hyde] said the bill could "become a powerful tool to prevent Iran's development of weapons of mass destruction."

The State Department had said on Monday the mandatory sanctions would "create tensions with countries whose help we need in dealing with Iran, and shift the focus away from Iran's actions and spotlight differences between us and our allies."

The general pretext is that Iran is doing everything it can to get a nuclear bomb.

While Iran has made some missteps diplomatically in this affair, the general perception that Americans have on this issue is skewed heavily in favor of what the West Wing wants them to believe.

Often mentioned here, Professor Juan Cole has some thoughts on the pretext for war with Iran.

Some of the more relevant quotes from his article:
Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect and monitor its nuclear energy research program, as required by the treaty. It raised profound suspicions, however, with its one infraction against the treaty--which was to conduct some secret civilian research that it should have reported and did not, and which was discovered by inspectors. Tehran denies having military labs aiming for a bomb, and in November of 2003 the IAEA formally announced that it could find no proof of such a weapons program. The U.S. reaction was a blustery incredulity, which is not actually an argument or proof in its own right, however good U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton is at bunching his eyebrows and glaring.

The nuclear issue is for the most part a pretext for the Americans to exert pressure on the regime in Tehran. This is not to say that proliferation is not a worrisome issue, or that it can be ruled out that Iran wants a bomb. It is to say that the situation simply has not reached the point of crisis, and therefore other motivations must be sought for the Bush administration’s breathless rhetoric.

President Bush used the terrifying idea of dirty bombs and chemical weapons being released on American soil with a return address of Baghdad, Iraq as the pretext for the last war. It is quite simply astounding that the same gameplan is being rehashed for Iran. The popular media should be just a bit wiser today with its questions for the President - he has given ample proof that one cannot trust his word alone on a subject.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Will The Iraqis Know Hope Anytime Soon

President Bush will be talking about Iraq more in the following days and possibly weeks as the political talking heads reported this morning here in America. The going thought-process behind this was to improve the lagging poll numbers from the general public in regards to the Adminstration's handling of Iraq.

As always, when the President chooses to bolster his vision to the electorate in terms of Iraq policy, the reverse of the vision rears up and steals the headlines. Unfortunately for Mr. Bush, it happens before he even utters one sentence on the subject.

In a community made up of mostly Shiites, a car bomber and mortar fire tore through people, killing 44 and injuring upwards of 200 people.

The action is not to kill (that is the necessary byproduct though), but to foment the fundamentally unstable nature that is Sunni / Shi'ia relations. In other words, the action is the reaction.

No matter what the President will have to say in the coming speeches, it will not change anything on the ground in Iraq. The United States Armed forces can't change the way things are playing out within the borders and it must be especially frustrating for them to see the country trend downward over the past two years.

A very cogent point was made on an NPR broadcast over the weekend. The interviewer was asking the question, "What needs to occur to turn Iraq around?", to which the guest suggested that providing the security that would allow all of the streets to be safe for Iraqis would go a long way in improving the situation. This makes sense on paper, as most people will admit that being able to walk around one's neighborhood without the threat of explosions makes other good things possible. This point though spells out how difficult a task this is: it only takes one dedicated individual to revoke such security.

It must be clear to a great many in and out of Washington D.C. that the presence of American forces with all their appropriate power cannot stop an internal civil war in Iraq if one were to come. If there begins organized fighting, than an American outfit cannot be responsible for taking on both parties, nor can G.I.'s side with one group over the other (witness how well this path worked for America in Beirut).

There are no good options in the current situation. Removing American forces may still yet have a negative effect on the people of Iraq. Yet the spectre of the delicate situation going from bad to worse might make a decision to remove troops the wiser path in the long run for the Iraqis.

Then again, if war were to spread to the entire region, all hell could break loose.

Thank you very much Mr. President. May history treat you kindly.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bring Pot To Slow Boil

For the past two weeks, the country of Iraq has been experiencing what might be described as small-scale violence: bombings, killings, and political fighting. There is no structured attacks from what those on the ground can detect, yet there is a notion that it is one side versus the other - Sunnis against Shi'as.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash speaks about what is currently going on, and said, "We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in." At this moment, it would be wise policy to fully understand and acknowledge what is transpiring in Iraq. Accessing the situation as a low-intensity civil war appears to be the conclusion of most analysts. One of the important aspects of this phase of Iraq's "development" may very well be the lack of security within the country provided by the United States, or rather, the destabilizing force that America provides the country. The citizens are left to pick a side, and hope for the best.

Yet, even when things are turning quite sour for the citizenry of Iraq, the Administration seeks to reassure Americans that things are alright. General Pace made an appearance on the Sunday news program "Meet the Press" and had fairly optimistic news on the situation:

GEN. PACE: I’d say they’re going well. I wouldn’t put a great big smiley face on it, but I would say they’re going very, very well from everything you look at, whether it be on the political side where they’ve had three elections, they’ve written their own constitution, they’re forming their government. You look at the military side where this time last year there were just a handful of battalions in the field, Iraqi battalions in the field. Now there are over 100 battalions in the field. They had no brigades—that’s about 3,000 men each. Now they’ve got about 31 brigades. No matter where you look at their military, their police, their society, things are much better this year than they were last.

The General would not go so far as putting a "big smiley face" on the situation, but he does go far enough to put on a sunny, grinning, cheerful face in its place. One might be tempted to place a successful stamp on the most recent election, but even the results were reported as sectarian in nature and would further foment discontent. The government has not formed as of yet, and this is three months removed from the election that would decide the body of Parliament. Kirkuk is an all-too-real flashpoint with regards to the Kurdish population and the Turks. Baghdad appears to be a lawless city. Mosques are attacked, and young men are found dead "execution style".

It might be that the Administration in Washington sees the pot on the stove full of lukewarm water, but with more statements like those of General Pace surfacing, it appears the pot is not boiling at all - it is full of ice cold water.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

When Do The Troops Come Home?

In the waning months of 2005, there were calls from certain quarters that the American occupation of Iraq was no longer benefiting either country, and that a draw-down of forces was in order. From the conservative wing, the calls of cowardice belted forth, and the President himself said that the U.S. would not pull out of Iraq based on artificial time-tables set by "politicians in Washington."

At the outset of March 2006, there seems little hope now of the Administration withdrawing even a moderate amount of forces without putting on display the ultimate of hypocrisies. To disallow the option of removing forces from inside the country until the Iraqi forces can stand up on their own means that as the situation worsens or becomes more tangled, the President has no option but stay the course and leave American G.I.s in harms way.

Juan Cole's article in Salon is titled "Iraq's worst week - and Bush's". The following quote is perceptive:

Tactically, strategically and politically Bush now finds himself in the worst of all possible worlds. With Americans increasingly fed up with the Iraq debacle, he needs to start drawing down troops soon, but he can't do it while the country teeters on the brink of civil war. If civil war does break out, a U.S. withdrawal will look even more like cutting and running -- under these circumstances, not even Karl Rove will be able to figure out a way to get away with simply declaring victory and going home.

This is painting oneself into the smallest of corners. By using the idea of troop redeployment/ draw down / withdrawal as a hammer to pound the Democrats with as weak on Iraq, President Bush left himself no option for just this sort of eventual crumbling of the political structures in Iraq. If the entire idea of U.S. forces peacefully removing themselves from the situation is dependent upon preventing four well-armed insurgents bombing a mosque, than there is absolutely no control at the disposal of our leadership in America. It will be years before Iraq could begin to stabilize the political institutions that democracy needs in order to grow and thrive.

One might make the analogy that a father is trying to ask the unruly children to do something. It might go something like this, "We will not go to the dentist's office to have your cavities filled until you three calm down and behave like good boys and girls." If the father makes good on his supposed threat to the children, then the little ones have the control - so long as they don't behave, then they do not have to go to the dentist office and suffer through the procedure.

The lesson is, "be careful how you word your threat."

The window to change course came in 2005 when there was some hope and sense that the Constitution (however severely flawed) in Iraq could produce some governmental form that would hold responsibility, allowing the U.S. to define to the Iraqi people a set plan for turning control over to them. It may not have stopped the events that are currently set in motion today, but certainly it would have been agreeable to 80% of that population, as polls indicate currently. That window seems closed now, and any motion to take troops out now will definitely appear to be a panicked rush to the exits.

President Bush intimates that the troops will not come home until Iraq behaves like a good democracy should. This sounds very much like an artificial timetable set by a politician in Washington, D.C., does it not?