Friday, April 16, 2004

Life Imitates Art

Rodger A. Payne finds the perfect TV metaphor for the presidency of George W. Bush:
We wuz sittin’ out on the front porch in the summertime. It was so hot we couldn’t sleep, and he said, “Son, some day, when you’re growed up, they gonna test ya to see how much of a man you are. And you’re gonna have to make it ON YOUR OWN, ’cause I ain’t gonna be there to help ya.

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Strategic Intelligence
Juan Cole tells CENTCOM
What it should have already known

Having spent a number of years working in the intelligence business, I understand that the "soft sciences" of history, sociology, and cultural anthropology are often given short shift when it comes to research and analysis.

Military commanders are usually short on time and human resources. Their first questions are often about military hardware, i.e.: What does the enemy have that can hurt us and how soon will we be within range?

Studies of a given country's demographics, its cultural and religious traditions, and the intricacies of its social and political systems are often shallow and out of date.

That's part of the problem the U.S. military is facing with Iraq. So much of the DOD research and analysis over the past decade has focused on Saddam, the Baath party, the Iraqi army, and the supposed weapons of mass destruction, that there was very little understanding about the nature of the Iraqi people other than the lumping of them into the three major groupings of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd.

If there are any smart people left in DOD, somebody should consider putting Professor Juan Cole on the payroll (maybe as a contract worker). He has the information they desperately need right now:
I am often highly impressed with the intelligence and learning of the military officers I meet at security conferences. But I confess myself deeply puzzled as to how, after being in Iraq for over a year, these bright and well-informed persons could have gotten the Sadrist movement so wrong.
1) It is a longstanding social movement, not just a fly by night militia.
2) It is not tiny in numbers of adherents, though not all adherents are willing to put themselves out for it at the moment; that could change.
3) It has lots of potential leaders besides Muqtada.
4) Its cadres can easily become guerrillas, as the Army of the Mahdi shows.
So you can't wipe it out, and you can't hope that it will just go away, and it is highly unwise to start a decades-long (yes) feud with it. If you were worried about the militia, just make rules and enforce them-- that the militia can't march in public, can't wear uniforms, can't bear arms. Address the problem at its root in Kut and Nasiriyah. Going after the leadership in a way that seems trumped up will just provoke a steady drumbeat of violence into the future. Think Indira Gandhi and the Sikhs. Or the Baath Party and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, for that matter.
From my perspective, it would be money well-spent.

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Dirty Little Secrets
Hiding in the GOP's closet

David Neiwert at Orcinus has posted an outstanding piece, Denial like a river, on racism within the conservative political movement. It's the Republicans' dirty little family secret, sort of like an uncle with a hydrocodone habit.
"Compassionate conservatism" represents a cosmetic attempt to appear to shed the old racism, even though the reality is that, in both the South and elsewhere, those old impulses are not so easily shed.
This is especially the case when it comes to the continuing, and sometimes overwhelming, presence of the far-right neo-Confederate movement within the ranks of the GOP. This movement, as I've discussed at length previously, is not merely arch-conservative but positively radical; it not only defends the Confederacy and slavery and denounces Lincoln, but it argues for outright secession.
It is well-researched and very readable. And it's a reminder of why Orcinus won a Koufax last year. Take a few minutes this weekend and read it.

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Eyes on the Prize
with November in the Distance

As Will Rogers once said, "I don't belong to any organized political party -- I'm a Democrat."

We believe in freedom of thought, of speech, and of choice.

All that is good. It's what makes us the good guys and girls in the fight against bigotry, corporate greed, poverty, and the rule of the many by the few.

It also makes it really hard to develop a coherent message for the great mass of undecided voters to hear. We all have our own agendas and our own visions of a better America.

We're fortunate that the other side is so absolutely screwed up this year. But Digby reminds us that we can't depend on the other side to just lay down in their pool of bad governance and surrender.
There is a great big political battle going on with a bunch of guys who take no prisoners. We are not dealing with our daddy's Republican Party. They are not going to disappear and they are not going to allow us to enact a progressive agenda unimpeded. We'd best take that into account because simply reforming the Democratic Party into a fighting progressive voice for change ain't gonna get it done. We need every last person for this battle from all those awful DLC'rs and Democrats in the House and Senate to John Edwards to audacious faux Dem Wes Clark to Howard Dean. We don't have to sign any loyalty oaths but we do have to be serious and mature and understand how terribly difficult and how high the stakes are in trying to govern with the sort of opposition that puts a criminal like Tom DeLay into a leadership position. They will fight with everything they have.
There is a lot to do between now and November. Let's keep the big goal in sight and leave the petty shit aside. We owe it to America to win this one.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

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Army Breaks Pledge
to keep Iraq tours to 12 months

The Army announced today that, despite a promise to limit tours in Iraq to 1 year, about 21,000 troops are going to stay at least another 3 months. The extension is the result of CENTCOM needing more troops to address the recent uprisings by Iraqi insurgents.
Approximately 14,500 soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, which is based in Germany, plus about 3,200 support troops and about 2,800 soldiers of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment from Fort Polk, La., have been told that they will remain in Iraq for another three months instead of coming home this month, defense officials said Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The decision breaks the Army's pledge to soldiers and their families that assignments in Iraq would not exceed one year. The affected soldiers already have been in Iraq for a year.
In addition, about 3,000 soldiers in a number of transportation and other support units based in Kuwait will be extended beyond one year, an official said Thursday. Many of them are in the National Guard or Reserve. They are deemed critical to resupplying the troops based in Iraq.
Hard to say how this will impact the way those troops vote in November. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it change a few votes on the part of friends and family back home. Time will tell.

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Tax Day USA

And with it comes the reality that the check Mr. Bush sent me last summer (giving the American people some of their money back) was just a loan, due today.

So instead of my usual care-free blogging between sips of coffee, I'll be doing my taxes.

In my absence, check out a few other bloggers for Truth, Justice, and the American Way:
That Colored Fella's Weblog -- a blog with heart and soul from one of the good guys
The Sideshow -- well-written, insightful commentary from Avedon Carol, one of the contributors to the Daily News Online
The Mahablog -- Biting commentary and a new selection each day of entries from around the left blogosphere.
Tell 'em Travis sent you.


Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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Guess it depends on your definition.

FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. warplanes and helicopters firing heavy machine guns, rockets and cannons hammered insurgents Wednesday in the besieged city of Fallujah, and the commander of U.S. Marines here warned that a fragile truce was near collapse.

A U.S. Cobra attack helicopter fired rockets and heavy machine guns before dawn at gunmen gathered on the northern edge of Fallujah. Rocket-propelled grenades streamed up toward the helicopter and a second gunship providing support, but none apparently hit their target.

Early Wednesday, an A-130 gunship pounded a row of buildings from which Marines say ambushes have repeatedly been launched in a residential area.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

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The Bush Media Circus

A couple of thoughts on the Big Press Conference:

1. I hate to get nauseated right before dinner.

2. I could almost buy that he actually believes all that horse shit he says. Except he can't keep himself from smirking while he says it, as though he's laughing at all the rubes in the White House Press Corps, all of us watching on TV at home, everybody who voted for him, everybody who is paying their taxes this week...

UPDATE: For some pretty good actual analysis, take a look at David Sirota's CLAIM vs. FACT: Bush's Press Conference Tonight.

Thanks to Atrios for the tip.

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How you view the war in Iraq
depends on which end of the incoming
you are on

Phil Carter quotes a report by Greg Jaffe and Chris Cooper in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required -- I don't have one) describing the situation in Fallujah and the changing nature of the resistance there:
Senior military officials in and around Fallujah said that the enemy now appears far more determined than the former Baathists and Saddam Hussein loyalists who initiated the insurgency. "The enemy has become more fanatical, and some Iraqis here are clearly taking up the call to arms," said one senior Army official based in western Iraq. "These people are being spun up by religious leaders who are being backed by terrorists."
One increasingly worrisome scenario for military officials is that determined, fanatical fighters continue to mount successful attacks on civilian contractors and aid workers throughout the country. Such attacks might force commanders to divert troops now focused on battling radicals to play a greater role providing security for convoys along Iraq's highways.
Since the war began, 30 employees of Halliburton and its subcontractors have been killed. At any given time, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root has 700 trucks on Iraqi and Kuwaiti roads, the company said. Securing those supply lines against insurgent attacks is a massive undertaking, according to military officials.
Jaffe and Cooper suggest that this is part of the reason CENTCOM Commander General Abizaid has submitted a request for 2 additional Brigade Combat Teams.

For another perspective on Fallujah, be sure an read this report by Rahul Mahajan in Empire Notes:
When the assault on Fallujah started, the power plant was bombed. Electricity is provided by generators and usually reserved for places with important functions. There are four hospitals currently running in Fallujah. This includes the one where we were, which was actually just a minor emergency clinic; another one of them is a car repair garage. Things were very frantic at the hospital where we were, so we couldn't get too much translation. We depended for much of our information on Makki al-Nazzal, a lifelong Fallujah resident who works for the humanitarian NGO Intersos, and had been pressed into service as the manager of the clinic, since all doctors were busy, working around the clock with minimal sleep.
A gentle, urbane man who spoke fluent English, Al-Nazzal was beside himself with fury at the Americans' actions (when I asked him if it was all right to use his full name, he said, "It's ok. It's all ok now. Let the bastards do what they want.") With the "ceasefire," large-scale bombing was rare. With a halt in major bombing, the Americans were attacking with heavy artillery but primarily with snipers.
Al-Nazzal told us about ambulances being hit by snipers, women and children being shot. Describing the horror that the siege of Fallujah had become, he said, "I have been a fool for 47 years. I used to believe in European and American civilization."
Presumably Jaffe and Cooper are reasonably well paid for their work at the Wall Street Journal. Rahul Mahajan, on the other hand, could use a little help. Billmon has put out a tip jar. Please stop by and throw in a few bills.

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The Rift in the Pentagon is Getting as Deep
as the steer manure that flows out of the White House

In a recent column, Bob Novak touches on the tension between the uniformed military services and their civilian bosses in the Pentagon and the White House. Novak mentions the much-publicized conflicting estimates made before Congress by General Erik Shinseki and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. But the issue of the number of troops needed in Iraq is only a symptom of the real problem.

President Clinton was generally despised by the military because it was an alian creature to him and his people, and at least early on, the White House treated it as such.

The Bush administration was entirely different. They came into office promising a return to the Reagan-era support of the armed services. And with Cold War retreads Donald Rumsfeld and Condi Rice in charge, it looked like they were well on their way to achieving it. Most in the military were optomistic.

But just beneath the surface of Rumsfeld and his staff of neocon think tank weenies was a lurking disdain and condesension for the senior military leaders and the way they conduct the military's business.

But the way the military does business, its tactics, techniques and procedures, has been developed over hundreds of years. It is based on the lessons learned on the plains of Europe, in the jungles of southeast Asia, the desert of Kuwait, and the hills and ridgelines of Gettysburg.

Yet Rumsfeld and company were certain that the military was stuck in some kind of a time warp. It needed to get on the program of smaller, lighter, faster. They wouldn't need nearly so many troops. The Iraqis will welcome them as liberators. Rummy had it on the highest authority. A bunch of Iraqi ex-patriot hustlers led by Ahmed Chalabi told everybody who would listen.

This certainly played out most publically with Shinseki saying the U.S. might need a few hundred thousand troops in post-war Iraq, followed by Wolfowitz saying that figure was "wildly off the mark." The problem, from the standpoint of the generals, is that the civilians have corrupted the decision-making process. And from their perspective, that corruption is causing the deaths of American troops in Iraq.

It's supposed to work like this: The Secretary of Defense says, "The President is considering doing X."

The military looks at what it will take to accomplish X and then reports back with something like this:
We can do X. It will require this many ground units of this composition with this kind of air support and this much sea lift. It will take this long and it will cost about this much. This will be the end state.
Because of the intellectual arrogancce of the likes of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Doug Feith, they usurped the process. They told the military,
The President wants to do X. This is what you need to do it with, it should only take this long, and when it's all over, everything will be hunky-dory. We'll have everybody home for Christmas.
Not only is it pretty clear to the senior officers that they've been dissed, but with the politics of an election year driving the concept of the operation while violence is escalting all over Iraq, they are beginning to experience the political micro-managing of a war on a scale nobody has seen since Vietnam. That has been especially clear in the on-again off-again mission in Fallujah, as if the Marines could call off a major operation in mid-stride.

The commanders on the ground know that that is exactly the sort of thing that gets soldiers and marines get killed. Those commaders care about their troops. They're not at all sure that the civilians in the Pentagon do.

As they see more and more of their young men and women die in combat in Iraq, it will reinforce their resolve to not vote for George W. Bush again.


Monday, April 12, 2004

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How This Ends:
Searching for the Solution to
the Iraqi Disaster

"Tell me how this ends."

--Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Commander of the 101st Airborne Division -- From Rick Atkinson's In the Company of Soldiers

"Everybody knows how the puzzle was laid
But can anyone recall the solution?"

--Tarkio Road by Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley

My wife and I were driving down a country road on Sunday, taking our kids for a little hike with some friends. We were discussing the events of the past week and I said something like, "George W. Bush may very well be remembered as the worst president in U.S. history." Always the astute one in the family, she replied, "That's pretty amazing, considering he might be re-elected."

That exchange is one of the keys to what I'm writing today. Many of us in the left blogosphere have been on sort of a mission to make sure that the rest of America doesn't miss the details of what a miserable failure this administration has been and continues to be. It's no secret that we think the presidency of George W. Bush has done tremendous harm to American society, institutions, the environment, and our alliances.

In the absence of a vigilant press corps, bloggers have done a good job of publicizing the lies, deceit, misguided policies, stupid decisions, and perhaps most contemptible, the use of national tragedy for partisan political gain.

Certainly, the administration's misadventure in Iraq has been fertile ground for the blogging enterprise. Some pointed to the folly of the invasion from the get. Others believed the claims of weapons of mass destruction or ties to Al Qaeda, but became disillusioned when those reasons proved hollow, and the post-war planning proved to be so inept. I don't think any of us wants to make our name or our living off of the blood of the casualties of war. Yet we cannot help but note that this administration has created a terrible quagmire, and doesn't seem to have a clue about how to get out of it.

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely think we should keep the pressure on. Let's get this dangerous idiot out of office and start putting our country back together again.

At the same time, I think there needs to be meaningful discussion about what to do in terms of Iraq. It's a bloody mess. The U.S. created the mess. It's time for an honest discussion about how we resolve it.

I've seen opinions that span the continuum, from my brothers and sisters in Veterans for Peace who favor bringing all the troops home now, to Publius at Legal Fiction, who wrote recently that we have to stay and finish it, even if it takes 50 years.

I've been heartened during the past couple of days to see this topic getting some more discussion. Billmon points to an article in Time by Morton Abramowitz suggesting that Bush "might redefine success and announce a quicker exit strategy."

As Billmon points out, this sounds a lot like a re-issue of the Vietnam War strategy of "Declaring victory and going home." For an administration so adept at Calvin Ball, this might very well be how they end up spinning it.

Fareed Zakaria has some suggestions for what he views as our last chance to fix the mess: More troops, more civilians, more money, the U.N., and disarming the militias. Kevin Drum offers a credible critique:
There are two problems with all this. First, too many of these items simply don't seem possible. Second, even if we could do them all, we're essentially conceding any possibility of democracy in Iraq. Rather, we would be endorsing a policy of doing whatever it takes to stabilize the country regardless of who's actually in charge. This isn't exactly an inspiring vision.
Phil Carter says the U.S. should use its considerable military might to take out all the bad guys while at the same time encouraging Democracy to flourish, and acknowledges that that won't be easy:
How do you put the lid of the pressure cooker back on? The short answer is that you can't. If that's the right metaphor, and the lid has literally been blown off, then we must wait until things simmer down until we can restore peace and order in Iraq. Of course, we cannot (and should not) wait passively. American forces ought to hunt down and capture or kill as many insurgents as possible, because these people will come back to fight another day if we don't. But we should recognize the broad nature of this uprising and the extent to which disaffection and dissent permeate Iraqi society. And in the long term, we must figure out a way to allow this kind of dissent and to structure the Iraqi democracy so as to survive it -- and indeed, to incorporate this kind of dissent into Iraqi democracy through free speech, free elections, and other peaceful means.
Trust me -- I know this task is easier said than done. But no one said that nation-building was easy.
Phil doesn't attempt to answer the problem of not enough boots on the ground, and from my experience fire power alone doesn't win against an armed insurgency. I believe in the maxim that an armed, highly motivated populace is very hard to defeat on their home court. And they know that the outcome of the conflict is more important to them than it is to Joe Bob Lunchbucket back in the U.S. of A.

Mark Kleiman looks to the wisdom of Napoleon and thinks now that we're there, we need to finish the job:
Having never been certain that invading Iraq was a good idea, I'm not now certain that it was in fact a bad one. And whether it was a good decision or not, I'm still a "war supporter" in the sense of thinking that, having invaded, we need to observe Napoleon's principle: "If you start out to take Vienna, take Vienna." But that "pro-war" viewpoint makes me more, not less, interested in knowing, and saying, just how badly things are going at the moment.
I never thought that Iraq was going to be a working liberal democracy, or even a reasonable approximation, anytime soon. (According to the neocons, that made me a racist, if I recall correctly.) Now the odds of that seem even longer than they were. But there's a difference between a mediocre outcome and a disastrous one, and I'd like to see us stick around and pay what it costs, in blood and treasure, to achieve mediocrity.
Minimizing how badly things are going right now does not, however, facilitate that outcome. Yes, predicting that the current adventure will end badly, linked with the proposal that we cut and run, does tend to encourage the other side. But noting that things are, at this very moment, going to Hell in a handbasket isn't "anti-war."
If things are, at this very moment, going to Hell in a handbasket, the logical thing to do is try to get them back under control, whether that means sending more troops (our own or somebody else's), cutting a deal with Sistani on the terms he's now in a position to demand rather than the terms we were in a position to offer two weeks ago, or even calling the President back from his vacation.
If you, like me, would like the United States to win instead of losing, then you should, like me, be toweringly angry at those, whether in Washington, in the media, or in Blogspace, who are feeding us the happy h.s. about how, in Kevin's phrase, "everything is hunky-dory." The claim that, right now, things are going well in Iraq is (in a very short-sighted view) pro-Bush, but it sure as hell isn't pro-war. Not if "pro-war" means "wanting our side to win."
The first step in fixing something is noticing that it's broken.
I certainly agree that truth, as opposed the steer manure we've been getting from the administration, the CPA, and (down stream) the press, is absolutely essential to developing some kind of consensus about how the U.S. misadventure in Iraq should end. And I'm not suggesting we start ignoring the deception and malfeasance that seems to roll out of the White House each day as though they were running an assembly line in there.

But the problem of Iraq is very real. It is not going away. So I would hope that we in the blogosphere can contribute to some workable solutions. They don't have to be perfect. But for the sake of the Iraq people and the American troops and civilians who are there (are the others who will probably end up there soon), those solutions have to be better that what we've got now.

UPDATE: John Kerry weighs in this morning in the WaPo:
Over the past year the Bush administration has advanced several plans for a transition to democratic rule in Iraq. Each of those plans, after proving to be unworkable, was abandoned. The administration has set a date (June 30) for returning authority to an Iraqi entity to run the country, but there is no agreement with the Iraqis on how it will be constituted to make it representative enough to have popular legitimacy. Because of the way the White House has run the war, we are left with the United States bearing most of the costs and risks associated with every aspect of the Iraqi transition. We have lost lives, time, momentum and credibility. And we are seeing increasing numbers of Iraqis lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what the Bush administration has and hasn't done.
In recent weeks the administration -- in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts -- has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. The United States can bolster Brahimi's limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police.
We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers. The events of the past week will make foreign governments extremely reluctant to put their citizens at risk. That is why international acceptance of responsibility for stabilizing Iraq must be matched by international authority for managing the remainder of the Iraqi transition. The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility.
Finally, we must level with our citizens. Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone. The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people.
Thanks to Maha for the tip.


Sunday, April 11, 2004

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The Burnings back in WWIII

Well the world can't forget that misery
And the young ones now
Beggin' the old ones Please
Stop being Mad Men
'Fore they gotta tell their children
'Bout the Burnin's back in World War Three

--Dachau Blues by Captain Beefheart

Atrios links to this delightful opinion:
Answer Fallujah
The April 1 headline screamed "Four Slain Americans Savaged by Frenzied Mob." Unfortunately, it was no April Fool's Day joke.
How many of our countrymen and -women must lose their lives before terrorists are dealt with using the only means they understand: all-encompassing, completely deadly, damn-the-consequences brute force?
The entire city of Fallujah should be firebombed from the air, just as we did with Dresden. Many people died. It was war. So is what we are engaged in now. That whole city, and every man, woman, and child in it, should be reduced to nothing but charred ashes.
A message needs to be sent to those who would commit such actions as the terrorists in Fallujah did. The only reason they continue to do so is because they can. "Let the punishment fit the crime" is an old saying that in many cases falls short. The punishment should be more severe than the crime, if possible, so as to act as a deterrent to future crime.
When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated, it was done to send a message, to act as a deterrent and to save American lives in the future. Did innocents die? Unfortunately, yes.
To all of you reading this I say: just think of the innocents who perished on 9/11 in this country. And the thousands more who will die if we do not act decisively to deter such atrocities as Fallujah.
Brighton Heights
If any of you know Mr. Strous, please encourage him to go back on his medication.

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Disaster on the Cheap
Why Rumsfeld fails at Nation Building

Mark Kleiman points to an insightful piece on Iraq by Fareed Zakaria
America has gotten thousands of things right in Iraq. It has repaired roads, opened schools, provided food, built hospitals and introduced local self-government across the country. But nation-building ultimately succeeds or fails on the basis not of engineering but of politics. And Washington has made crucial political mistakes. Those errors, alas, have jeopardized the heroic work of thousands of American soldiers and civilians.
It is conventional wisdom that the United States should stay engaged with Iraq for years. Of course it should, but for this to work Iraqis must welcome the help. In the face of escalating anti-Americanism, U.S. involvement in Iraq will be unsustainable. For one thing, the American people are not likely to want to keep spending blood and treasure in Iraq. It will be the end of Washington's grand plans for a new Iraq, and the United States will face the dilemma that Britain did in 1920: how to get out while still saving face, maintaining stability and preserving its interests.
The United States does not face this dilemma yet. The trends that I outlined are just beginning and are not irreversible—yet. Washington has a final window of opportunity to end the myriad errors that have marked its occupation and adopt a new strategy.
The tragedy is that so much of this was avoidable. The Bush administration went into Iraq with a series of prejudices about Iraq, rogue states, nation-building, the Clinton administration, multilateralism and the U.N. It believed Iraq was going to vindicate these ideological positions. As events unfolded the administration proved stubbornly unwilling to look at facts on the ground, new evidence and the need for shifts in its basic approach. It was more important to prove that it was right than to get Iraq right.
The history of external involvement in countries suggests that, to succeed, the outsider needs two things: power and legitimacy. Washington has managed affairs in Iraq so that it has too little of each. It has often been pointed out that the United States went into Iraq with too few troops. This is not a conclusion arrived at with 20-20 hindsight. Over the course of the 1990s, a bipartisan consensus, shared by policymakers, diplomats and the uniformed military, concluded that troop strength was the key to postwar military operations. It is best summarized by a 2003 RAND Corp. report noting that you need about 20 security personnel (troops and police) per thousand inhabitants "not to destroy an enemy but to provide security for residents so that they have enough confidence to manage their daily affairs and to support a government authority of its own." When asked by Congress how many troops an Iraqi operation would require, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki replied, "Several hundred thousand" for several years. The number per the RAND study would be about 500,000.
But the civilian leadership of the Pentagon knew that such troop strength would require large-scale support from allies. Besides, it was convinced that the Clinton administration, the United Nations and the Europeans were feckless and incompetent. Donald Rumsfeld publicly ridiculed the U.N.'s efforts in Kosovo and declared that the administration intended to do its nation-building quite differently—better, lighter, cheaper. Thus America has tried to stabilize Iraq with one half to one third of the forces that its own Army chief of staff thought were necessary.
Kleiman does the numbers and explains how a little investment in Iraqi security might have prevented a whole lot of heartbreak.
An alternative to more U.S. troops might have been the recruitment of Iraqi forces (assuming that we were going to dismantle the existing Iraqi Army). But that effort, it seems to me, was probably doomed from the outset given the miserable pay offered to the soldiers and officers of the reconstituted Iraqi army: $50/mo. for the rank and file and $180/mo. for the officers. Is it any wonder those troops have melted away or simply refused to fight in the current crisis?
Juan Cole notes this piece by Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Anthony Shadid that tracks the CPA's decision to go after Sadr and the failure to adequately plan for the military consequences. It's interesting to note that at CENTCOM Gen. Abazaid had serious doubts about the wisdom of going after Sadr. But Bremer was feeling the pressure of the June 30 handover date.
When Bremer ordered the shutdown of al-Hawza, there was no intention to use force to apprehend Sadr or leaders of his militia, according to occupation authority officials familiar with the decision.
One U.S. official said there was not even a fully developed backup plan for military action in case Sadr opted to react violently. The official noted that when the decision was made, there were very few U.S. troops in Sadr's strongholds south of Baghdad. That area has been under the jurisdiction of multinational military divisions that had failed to move aggressively against the cleric's militia.The newspaper closure was intended "to send another signal to Sadr, just like telling him about the arrest warrant," the official said. "In hindsight, it was a huge mistake. The best-case scenario was that he would ignore it, like the earlier threat, or that he would capitulate. The worst case was that he would lash back. But we weren't ready for that."
At the time, occupation authority officials figured that Sadr had between 3,000 and 6,000 militiamen, only 2,000 of whom were armed fighters -- a figure that turned out to be a vast underestimate. "We were relying on the most optimistic predictions possible," the official said.
Officials in Washington familiar with the deliberations of both the National Security Council and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said they knew of no high-level meetings before the closure of Sadr's paper in which either group reviewed military plans girding for a possible violent backlash.
But the officials said that the decision to move against Sadr was fully supported by senior Bush administration officials. And while top officials may not have been familiar with military details, one senior administration official said that Washington had repeatedly advised Bremer and U.S. commanders in Iraq to ensure they were prepared for trouble if they went after Sadr.
"Every time we talked with Baghdad about taking any action against Sadr, we always talked about the need to have proper preparations in place to deal with a violent reaction," the official said.
Senor said the decision to move against Sadr in late March was prompted by "a real trend in the ramping-up of very inciteful, highly provocative rhetoric" from Sadr "that was directed at promoting violence against Americans during a very emotional time."
"We believe we had a responsibility to address it head-on," he said. "We had a concern that if he was left unchecked, Americans could wind up getting killed."
It appears that the militant Shia militia and their leaders were planning to revolt at some point. After years of supression by Saddam, they weren't going to settle for the sorts of compromises that appeared to be in the cards after the U.S. handover on June 30.

By putting pressure on Sadr, the U.S. simply dictated when the revolt would start. But like everything else in the Iraqi quagmire, the failure to anticipate what could go wrong becomes a formula for disaster.


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