Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iraqi army

Flotsam and Jetsam

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

Could the 2012 GOP presidential primary start closer to 2012? “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is letting donors know it’ll be a while before he looks to 2012 — and that any presidential campaign he builds will have a much smaller staff than in 2008 … and no one is in a big hurry. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he’ll wait until after the Indiana legislative term ends in the spring before he decides, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune hasn’t laid out a timeline. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told The New York Times that she’s considering a bid but didn’t elaborate on timing. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s team has alluded to an announcement in the spring.”

Could there be a better formulation of the GOP’s approach than this by Speaker-to-be John Boehner? “We think that Obamacare ruined the best healthcare in the country, we believe it will bankrupt our nation, we believe it needs to be repealed and replaced with commonsense reforms to bring down the cost of health insurance and you’ll see us move quickly enough.” The “how” is still to be determined, but the goal is crystal clear.

Could the Dems be any more tone-deaf? “House Democrats on Thursday shot down a G.O.P. attempt to roll back federal funding to NPR, a move that many Republicans have called for since the  public radio network  fired the analyst Juan Williams last month.” I guess we’ll find out when they vote — or not — on the Bush tax cuts.

Could Haley Barbour be a 2012 contender? A “formidable” one, says the Gray Lady: “Mr. Barbour’s political might was on full display at the Hilton Bayside Hotel here in San Diego this week, where Republican governors met for the first time since the elections. He strode like a popular small-town mayor through the hotel’s wide concourses, attracting a steady crush of corporate contributors, political operatives and reporters. In public sessions and private conversations, his fellow governors lavished praise on him.”

Could they have drained the swamp a little earlier? “A House ethics panel Thursday said senior Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel deserved to be censured — the most severe form of punishment short of expulsion from Congress — for nearly a dozen instances of misconduct as a lawmaker.”

Could there be any reason to give the mullahs assurance that we won’t use force? The Washington Post‘s editors don’t think so: “We agree that the administration should continue to focus for now on non-military strategies such as sanctions and support for the Iranian opposition. But that does not require publicly talking down military action. Mr. Gates’s prediction of how Iranians would react to an attack is speculative, but what we do know for sure is that the last decision Iran made to curb its nuclear program, in 2003, came when the regime feared – reasonably or not – that it could be a target of the U.S. forces that had just destroyed the Iraqi army. As for the effect of the sanctions, Tehran has not shown itself ready to begin serious bargaining about its uranium enrichment.” It is one of their more inexplicable foreign policy fetishes.

Could the Dems benefit from listening to William Galston? You betcha. He tells them that they should have dumped Pelosi: “What’s the logic of patiently rebuilding a Democratic majority—for which Pelosi deserves a considerable share of the credit—only to embark on a strategy seemingly calculated to destroy it? And why should the kinds of Democrats without whom no Democratic majority is possible expect anything better in the future? This decision was the victory of inside baseball over common sense, and no amount of spin can change that.”

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Nouri al-Maliki’s Maneuvering

One cannot but be awed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s unbridled will to win another term. He has managed to make a deal with his sometime-enemies in the Sadrist movement and win their support — this, only two years after he had sent the Iraqi army to clear the Sadrist militia out of Basra and Sadr City. Maliki is personally unpopular, not only with the Sadrists but with pretty much everyone else in Iraq’s political elite. Yet he has managed to put himself into a position to become prime minister for another term. Unfortunately, Iraq is not close to actually forming a government, because he still has to reach some sort of accommodation with the Sunnis, who are now represented by a secular Shiite — Ayad Allawi. It seems likely that Allawi’s coalition will be accorded some cabinet posts in the new government, as will the Sadrists, the Kurds, and other prominent players. There is still much camel trading to be done, which could drag the protracted process of forming the new government formation into next year.

Is Maliki’s recent success good or bad from the American perspective? At this point, it’s still hard to say. Obviously, the fact that the Sadrists — the most anti-American faction in Iraq — will be part of the government isn’t good news. But nor would it have been good news if Maliki had made a deal with ISCI, another major Shiite party also seen as extremely close to Iran. Some analysts are suggesting that these latest developments mean that Iran is calling the shots in Iraqi politics. I wouldn’t be so sure. There is no question that Iran has an influence but it is hardly in charge. No one is. At some level, this is good news for a country like Iraq, which has been scarred by so many years of dictatorial misrule. But there is a thin line between inclusiveness and chaos and Iraq is now on the border between the two. The failure of a political class to agree on a coalition government is undermining public confidence and providing an opening to both Sunni and Shiite extremists.

I have some trepidation about seeing the power-hungry Maliki return for another term. But at this point, I just wish the Iraqi politicos would reach an agreement on a new government — any government. Their failure to do so is making a mockery of Iraq’s nascent democracy, which showed such great promise with the fair and open elections held in March.

One cannot but be awed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s unbridled will to win another term. He has managed to make a deal with his sometime-enemies in the Sadrist movement and win their support — this, only two years after he had sent the Iraqi army to clear the Sadrist militia out of Basra and Sadr City. Maliki is personally unpopular, not only with the Sadrists but with pretty much everyone else in Iraq’s political elite. Yet he has managed to put himself into a position to become prime minister for another term. Unfortunately, Iraq is not close to actually forming a government, because he still has to reach some sort of accommodation with the Sunnis, who are now represented by a secular Shiite — Ayad Allawi. It seems likely that Allawi’s coalition will be accorded some cabinet posts in the new government, as will the Sadrists, the Kurds, and other prominent players. There is still much camel trading to be done, which could drag the protracted process of forming the new government formation into next year.

Is Maliki’s recent success good or bad from the American perspective? At this point, it’s still hard to say. Obviously, the fact that the Sadrists — the most anti-American faction in Iraq — will be part of the government isn’t good news. But nor would it have been good news if Maliki had made a deal with ISCI, another major Shiite party also seen as extremely close to Iran. Some analysts are suggesting that these latest developments mean that Iran is calling the shots in Iraqi politics. I wouldn’t be so sure. There is no question that Iran has an influence but it is hardly in charge. No one is. At some level, this is good news for a country like Iraq, which has been scarred by so many years of dictatorial misrule. But there is a thin line between inclusiveness and chaos and Iraq is now on the border between the two. The failure of a political class to agree on a coalition government is undermining public confidence and providing an opening to both Sunni and Shiite extremists.

I have some trepidation about seeing the power-hungry Maliki return for another term. But at this point, I just wish the Iraqi politicos would reach an agreement on a new government — any government. Their failure to do so is making a mockery of Iraq’s nascent democracy, which showed such great promise with the fair and open elections held in March.

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The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth About Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria’s Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

If some Americans who live in and write about the Middle East have a hard time with this, I am not optimistic that the truth has fully penetrated the Beltway, especially when policy, as well as public statements, seems to be based on this fantasy.

Kerry and Ford are undoubtedly intelligent people, or they’d be in a different line of work, but getting leverage and results in the Middle East requires something more. “American elites have a hard time distinguishing between intelligence and cunning,” Lee Smith, author of The Strong Horse, said to me recently, “largely because their lives do not depend on them outwitting murderous rivals. In hard places, intelligent people is what the cunning eat for lunch.”

Engaging Syria and describing Assad as a reasonable man would make sense if something epic had just happened that might convince him to run his calculations again, such as the overthrow or collapse of Ali Khamenei’s government in Iran. Otherwise, the administration is setting itself up for another failure in the Middle East that will damage its — no, our — credibility. One good thing will probably come of it, though. The naifs will learn. They’ll learn it the hard way, which seems to be the only way most of us learn anything over there. But they’ll learn.

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Where’s the Support for U.S. Civilians in Iraq?

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

In recent years there has been a welcome outpouring of love and admiration for American troops. It has been common to hear, “I may not support the war, but I support the troops.” A commendable sentiment, but why doesn’t it extend to civilians who have risked their necks in war zones?

I was struck by Jim Dwyer’s snarky New York Times column about my Council on Foreign Relations colleague Dan Senor, who is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate in New York. There are plenty of reasons for a liberal columnist to disagree with the conservative Senor on matters of policy, but Dwyer chooses instead to launch a very personal attack on Senor’s service in Iraq as chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority during 15 tumultuous months from the spring of 2003 to the summer of 2004. Dwyer sneers: “As Iraq was entering its bloodiest days, Mr. Senor was a prophet and cheerleader for the Bush administration, his daily messages seemingly disconnected from the country that was imploding outside the American headquarters in Baghdad, known as the Green Zone.”

Echoing Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, he goes on to describe the Green Zone “as heavily populated by Republican loyalists” — like Senor — “who brought little experience to the towering task of restoring Iraq to any semblance of normalcy after the invasion.”

Granted, Ambassador L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer and his senior aides, including Dan Senor, were not well-prepared for the task of governing Iraq. Nor did they have adequate resources for the task. But that was hardly their fault. Blame lay in the senior levels of the administration and the military, where there was an appalling lack of planning for the post-invasion phase of the Iraq operation. Troop numbers remained grossly inadequate despite Bremer’s pleas for more help.

Bremer & Co. made mistakes of their own (who wouldn’t?), but they were not wrong about everything or even most things. Some of their projects — a new Iraqi constitution, for example — have been standing the test of time. Some of the worst decisions — disbanding the Iraqi army and purging too many Baathists — seem to have been dictated from Washington. Whatever the details, there can be no doubt that Ambassador Bremer and his aides did the best they could in an extremely challenging, dangerous, chaotic environment.

Did Dan Senor put a positive gloss on events? Of course. That was his job. He was the official spokesman. Maybe Jim Dwyer would have preferred that he join the press corps in daily bemoaning Iraq’s woes, but that wasn’t what he was paid to do. His job was to give the official CPA line, and in the process try to calm and improve the situation rather than simply pointing out the numerous deficiencies that were being (for the most part accurately) exposed by the news media.

To read Dwyer and others, you would think that being sent to Iraq was akin to an all-expenses paid holiday in the Bahamas. In fact, it was a dangerous assignment that was, with some heroic exceptions, for the most part avoided by experienced Foreign Service officers who generally opposed the decision to go to war. The largest group of people volunteering to go, aside from those in uniform, were a bunch of young conservative idealists like Senor. Their dedication and idealism reminds me of young liberals who were inspired by JFK to join the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

Scott Erwin, a former Council colleague, was one of them. A onetime White House intern, he postponed his senior year in college to work for CPA — an assignment that ended on June 2, 2004, when he was shot four times in an ambush that killed two Iraqis who were in the same car. He survived but others didn’t. Even the Green Zone, while safer than the surrounding areas, was hardly a pocket of tranquility. It was a constant magnet for rocket and mortar attacks that frequently landed in the embassy parking lot and killed a number of employees over the years. It was generally safer to be on one of the giant Forward Operating Bases, where most Americans in Iraq, troops and contractors alike, were garrisoned.

We should be celebrating those who volunteered to serve in the Iraq war, whether they wore a uniform or not — not demeaning their service to score political points.

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A Slice, and Only a Slice, of Reality in the Afghan National Army

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

YouTube has posted this clip about the Afghan army, which was made by Guardian Films, an affiliate of the ultra-left-wing Guardian newspaper in Britain. It is generating considerable chatter in the blogosphere because it presents a dire picture of the state of the Afghan National Army training as seen through the eyes of a Marine Embedded Training Team. As one Marine says: “You walk into a whole squad of ANA smoking hashish. They don’t understand that the use of drugs — it affects the way that they accomplish their mission. Soldiers come out without helmets, soldiers come out missing a lot of gear.” This has become, predictably, fodder for opponents of the war effort to claim that General McChrystal’s mission is hopeless.

A little perspective is in order. Similar videos could have been made about the Iraqi army a few years ago, or even certain Iraqi units today. Nevertheless the Iraqis have come a long way toward taking charge of their own security, and there is no reason the Afghans cannot make similar progress. In fact, some units of the Afghan National Army are already far along. Many of their soldiers show commendable courage in taking on the Taliban without the kind of equipment or support that U.S. troops take for granted. The unit featured in the video clip was undoubtedly suffering from lack of good leadership — a real problem but hardly unfixable. It simply requires time, training, and mentoring to improve the quality of the Afghan army.

It is also important that we not hold the Afghans to impossible standards. The Marines in the video are clearly disgusted by the idea of soldiers smoking hash before going on a combat patrol. They should realize that the current sobriety of the U.S. armed forces is the exception, not the norm. Throughout history — including American history — most soldiers have partaken of intoxicating spirits on campaign (remember the rum ration?), and no doubt many were drunk or half drunk or at any rate a little tipsy when going into battle. I imagine that, being Muslims, most of these ANA soldiers don’t drink; hash is their version of the rum ration.

It’s not ideal, but it’s not exactly unprecedented, and not a reason to write them off as hopeless. I would bet plenty of Taliban are stoned when they go into battle too; certainly that was true of many insurgents in Iraq. The difference is that they don’t allow Western journalists to film them toking up.

We can’t expect many Third World militaries to meet the standards of the 21st century U.S. armed forces. Heck, even many American soldiers don’t meet the high standards that are demanded of them. Anyone who has spent any time in the field knows that booze, while prohibited, is pretty common on military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. So are other rules infractions, including those regarding “fraternization” (i.e., sexual relations). And while the average quality of American units is extraordinarily high, a few are deeply troubled and could be subject to a Guardian exposé of their own.

In sum, the Guardian clip presents a slice of reality, not all of reality. It should not be dismissed, nor should it be given the last word. Until now, the U.S. and its allies have not made a really intensive effort to improve the quality and size of the Afghan security forces — certainly not on the scale of our efforts in Iraq. Such an effort is just now getting under way. For instance, salaries are just now being raised to pay Afghan soldiers wages comparable to those of the Taliban. Let us reserve judgment for a few years and see how the Afghan army does then.

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Yawn II: A Dangerous and Inexplicable Boredom

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

If your Spider Sense told you there was something significant about Friday’s news of Iranian forces taking over an Iraqi oil well – then it’s functioning properly. The U.S. government’s information mechanisms, on the other hand? Not so much. Our officials have given the absurd impression that this is no big deal. Such incidents, we are informed, “occur quite frequently” in the disputed Iran-Iraq border area. (So do a lot of things that we nevertheless bother to warn perpetrators about.) State Department spokesman Robert Wood noted, with an air of giving the correct answer on an oral pop quiz, that the U.S. military was aware of the incident. Then he referred media questions to the Iraqi authorities.

This ineffable performance merits an award for its misleading banality and buck-passing. Given the obviousness of the border incident’s current context, meanwhile – let alone the historical context – real determination is required to ignore it.

The oilfield in question lies in Iraq’s Maysan Province, which has gained fame as the principal geographic corridor between Iran and its insurgent clients in southeastern Iraq. For reasons geographic, commercial, military, and even ethnic, there is nothing random about seizing an oil well in that area. The Iranians wouldn’t be thinking only about oil assets either. In this desolate border territory, an oil well is a major terrain feature: a structure whose control has tactical import.

But, of course, the Iranians are thinking about oil too. Tehran is currently being sidelined from a key event in the region; foreign oil companies were finally awarded contracts last week to develop southern Iraq’s biggest oilfields (map here), and will soon be flooding the country. The huge resulting increase in Iraqi oil traffic and revenues will involve at least some areas Iran claims as its territory. Converging with this development are looming transfers of security responsibility from U.S. forces to the Iraqi army.  The transfers alone would make fresh Iranian maneuvers inevitable. In southeastern Iraq in particular, the U.S. 34th Infantry Division, currently charged with the security of Maysan Province, is scheduled to turn over its headquarters base in Basra to the Iraqis in January 2010. That’s only a few weeks from now.

As Iranian probes increase, the Iraqis won’t always lend clarity to events. Their initial difficulty getting their story straight on the oil-well seizure portends frustrating dramas as our forces draw down, with disputed reports, conflicting official statements, and everyone advancing his pet conspiracy theory. It’s way too early in the drawdown to make “Ask the Iraqis” the answer to every question.

None of this is specifically attributable to Barack Obama being in the Oval Office. But a worsening trend will be the fault of American passivity. We don’t have to have an opinion on the outline of the Iran-Iraq border to affirm pointedly that a peaceful resolution of the border dispute is a U.S. national security concern. We should have done that Friday. If nothing else, we still have over 100,000 soldiers in Iraq. It’s basic self-interest to act like we care what happens there.

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Not Done With The Mahdi Army

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

There is a strange quality to the repeated “ceasefires” between the Iraqi government and Moqtada al-Sadr. Bill Roggio reports that Iraqi and Coalition forces are currently engaged in anti-Sadrist operations in the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, along the Iranian border. And they’re doing very well. The following is particularly interesting:

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

Prime Minister Maliki is going after the Iranian support system, which puts a crimp in theories about the Iraqi government’s affection for Ahmadinejad.

Roggio also reports that Iraqi forces are continuing to clamp down on Sadrists in Baghdad, where eleven Mahdi Army members have been rounded up in the last 24 hours. It has become clear that the Iraqi Army, once laughed off as perpetually weak and green, is now involved in decisions and operations too fast-paced and complex for the mainstream media to follow. The New York Times coverage of Basra and Sadr City was so misleading, I find it barely pays to turn to any but experts such as Roggio on these matters.

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Islamists Are Naive

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

My colleague Pete Wehner has already called attention to this Washington Post article on “Basra’s Wary Rebirth,” but I would just like to emphasize that it bears a close reading-not only for what it tells us about the current state of Iraq but also for what it says about the future prospects of political Islam.

The gist of the article is that, since the Iraqi army broke the Mahdist Army’s control of Basra, a harsh brand of Islamic law has been lifted and a semblance of more urbane life has returned. Correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan writes: “Under the harsh constraints imposed by extremist Shiite Muslim clerics and militias that until recently controlled this city, men with Western hairstyles were threatened and beaten. Women without head scarves were sometimes raped and killed. Love was a secret ritual.” Now unmarried men and women can stroll in public, hand in hand; alcohol is sold and consumed in public; and secular CD’s and DVD’s are openly sold, many with lyrics or scenes considered risqué by Islamists. Of course the situation remains tenuous and many people are still afraid that the Mahdist Army will stage a comeback. Thus, Raghavan writes, “Samer Riad, 23, an artist, is still reluctant to paint portraits of women, another practice outlawed by the fundamentalists.”

What is fascinating is that the lesson of Basra confirms the lesson of Afghanistan and Iran: every place where a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has been imposed it has proven to be wildly unpopular. It can only be imposed, in fact, at the point of a gun. That is probably true even of Saudi Arabia, which, lest we forget, is one of the most complete dictatorships on the planet. What this suggests is that President Bush and others who think that there is a fundamental desire for liberty inherent in most people are not being naïve. It is Islamists who are naïve (or simply deluded) for thinking that their crazed version of Islamic teaching provides a viable model for a modern society.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to Reuters

U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq’s oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago. “We’ve still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress,” Gates told reporters in Singapore. “The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

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Muqtada al-Sadr, Civic Activist?

In response to a proposed agreement between the United States and Iraq, radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has urged his followers to–wait for it–”work on collecting millions of signatures” to oppose it.

A petition? Welcome news, from my perspective. And a sign, maybe, that democratic political practice is becoming more entrenched in Iraq. But it’s quite a step down, nonetheless, for the man who waged insurgent warfare against coalition forces and the Iraqi government for years, and whom the Left blogosphere has long told us is the true voice of the Iraqi people (even though he’s probably holed up somewhere in Iran). Not long ago, al-Sadr would have been confident enough to call for armed revolt–and he would have it. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from these same people that al-Sadr’s call for a countrywide initiative petition means he’s transformed himself into the Iraqi Ralph Nader. More likely is that the Iraqi Army’s missions in Basra and Sadr City played the decisive role in changing al-Sadr’s tactics.

In response to a proposed agreement between the United States and Iraq, radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has urged his followers to–wait for it–”work on collecting millions of signatures” to oppose it.

A petition? Welcome news, from my perspective. And a sign, maybe, that democratic political practice is becoming more entrenched in Iraq. But it’s quite a step down, nonetheless, for the man who waged insurgent warfare against coalition forces and the Iraqi government for years, and whom the Left blogosphere has long told us is the true voice of the Iraqi people (even though he’s probably holed up somewhere in Iran). Not long ago, al-Sadr would have been confident enough to call for armed revolt–and he would have it. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from these same people that al-Sadr’s call for a countrywide initiative petition means he’s transformed himself into the Iraqi Ralph Nader. More likely is that the Iraqi Army’s missions in Basra and Sadr City played the decisive role in changing al-Sadr’s tactics.

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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Right In Reverse

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

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McCain on Basra and Maliki

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

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Getting Basra Wrong

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

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The Bravery of Iraqis

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

Iraqi Army soldiers have a terrible reputation for cowardice and corruption – especially in Baghdad – but it’s unfair to write them all off after reading the news out of Iraq’s capital Sunday. Three Iraqi Army soldiers tackled a suicide bomber at an Army Day parade and were killed when he exploded his vest.

While embedded with the United States Army and Marines I heard over and over again that the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police have improved a lot in the past year. This is encouraging, on the one hand, but at the same time it is worrisome. If they are as bad now in some places as I’ve seen myself, they must have really been something in 2005.

At the War Eagle outpost in Baghdad’s Graya’at neighborhood, I was told by a military intelligence officer that the most likely reason we weren’t under mortar attack is because huge numbers of Moqtada al Sadr’s radical Mahdi Army militiamen had infiltrated the ranks of Iraqi Army soldiers who shared the base with us.

A colonel at Camp Taji north of the city told me the U.S. Army doesn’t dare inform their Iraqi Army counterparts about sensitive operations until the very last minute because they don’t want infiltrators to alert the insurgents.

The Iraqi Police in Mushadah, near Taji, were more of a military force than a police force when I visited last July. As many as half were thought to be Al Qaeda operatives, and the other half were so scared they refused to go on patrols until a female American captain showed them up by going outside the station herself.

And this is the new and improved Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police of 2007 during General Petraeus’s surge. Progress in Iraq is relative. It’s hard to say if the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police could hold the country together by themselves in 2008. Personally, I doubt it. So do most American soldiers and Marines I’ve spoken to. The Iraqis certainly could not have held it together in 2005 or 2006.

The Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police deserve kudos for progress, even so. And they deserve more credit for bravery than they’ve been getting. Iraqis are far more likely to be killed in combat than Americans due to their inferior equipment and lack of experience. And if the insurgents win the war, American soldiers and Marines get to go home. Iraqis who sided with the Americans in the army and police will have to face retribution alone, with little chance of escape, from the new regime.

And what of those three who threw themselves on a suicide bomber? They are hardly less brave than American soldiers. They are arguably as brave as the Americans who sacked the Al Qaeda hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 over Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001, and sacrificed themselves so that others could live.

These Iraqis deserve recognition, and they deserved to be recognized by their names. Yet I could not find their names cited in any media articles. All three of their names generate zero hits using Google at the time of this writing. I had to contact Baghdad myself to find out who they were. Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton was kind enough to pass their names on.

Iraq between the time of the initial invasion and 2007 was easily as nasty a place as Lebanon was during the 1980s, and the conflict is eerily similar. Thomas Friedman made a haunting observation about anonymous death during the civil war in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem: “Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.” Then he quoted a young woman. “In the United States if you die in a car accident, at least your name gets mentioned on television,” she said. “Here they don’t even mention your name anymore. They just say ‘thirty people died.’ Well, what thirty people? They don’t even bother to give their names. At least say their names. I want to feel that I was something more than a body when I die.”

Here are the names of the three brave Iraqis who hurled themselves on an exploding suicide bomber.

Malik Abdul Ghanem
Asa’ad Hussein Ali
Abdul-Hamza Abdul-Hassan Rissan

They were friends the Americans and Iraqis did not know we had until they were gone.

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Bring the Boys Home

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

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Snoozing on Sunni Awakening

Yesterday The New York Times ran a front-page story entitled, “In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict”. The valueless mouthful of a headline itself seems to advertise the strain reporters Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave must have exerted in order to shape the essentially positive story into something ominous.

The piece is about Iraq’s Sunni “Awakening” groups—the local security forces who’ve turned against insurgents and who continue to be invaluable in the rebuilding of the country. The Times reports that these groups could spell disaster because in the long-term they may amount to nothing more than a well-armed, well-trained anti-Shia military force.

Well, anyone who’s really concerned about that can’t also complain about the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. Saddam’s military was a deadly exercise in Sunni dominance. Awakening groups are far preferable to the former Ba’athist army for several reasons. The first being U.S. oversight. “Americans obtain biometric data on every Awakening group member to try to screen out known insurgents,” whereas no such practice would have been possible with the army. The second important difference has to do with goals. The Awakening exists in order to bring security to Iraq. Saddam’s army would almost have surely been a rolling crime wave over the past four years. The most important difference, however, is that Awakening groups are taking pride in the self-determination that comes with citizenship. Whatever problems lie on the horizon may be tempered by Iraq’s increasing sense of genuine statehood.

Ever since the undeniable success of the troop surge The New York Times has been scrambling to rediscover a tragic narrative in the good news. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a New York Times headline in the near future that reads, “Regional Neighbors Find Iraq’s Prosperity Gauche; Success Could Ignite Clash.”

Yesterday The New York Times ran a front-page story entitled, “In a Force for Iraqi Calm, Seeds of Conflict”. The valueless mouthful of a headline itself seems to advertise the strain reporters Alissa J. Rubin and Damien Cave must have exerted in order to shape the essentially positive story into something ominous.

The piece is about Iraq’s Sunni “Awakening” groups—the local security forces who’ve turned against insurgents and who continue to be invaluable in the rebuilding of the country. The Times reports that these groups could spell disaster because in the long-term they may amount to nothing more than a well-armed, well-trained anti-Shia military force.

Well, anyone who’s really concerned about that can’t also complain about the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. Saddam’s military was a deadly exercise in Sunni dominance. Awakening groups are far preferable to the former Ba’athist army for several reasons. The first being U.S. oversight. “Americans obtain biometric data on every Awakening group member to try to screen out known insurgents,” whereas no such practice would have been possible with the army. The second important difference has to do with goals. The Awakening exists in order to bring security to Iraq. Saddam’s army would almost have surely been a rolling crime wave over the past four years. The most important difference, however, is that Awakening groups are taking pride in the self-determination that comes with citizenship. Whatever problems lie on the horizon may be tempered by Iraq’s increasing sense of genuine statehood.

Ever since the undeniable success of the troop surge The New York Times has been scrambling to rediscover a tragic narrative in the good news. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a New York Times headline in the near future that reads, “Regional Neighbors Find Iraq’s Prosperity Gauche; Success Could Ignite Clash.”

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ANNAPOLIS Re: monitoring and judging

John, I’m certainly with you on the question of who is best suited to monitor and judge Roadmap compliance—there’s no question that the U.S. would be better than the EU or UN. The problem that many people foresee is the risk of an ostensibly objective monitoring and judging project being held captive to a set of bureaucratic and political interests that are unrelated to the task of assessing compliance. The Bush administration, and especially Condi Rice and the State Department, have a great deal invested in the appearance of the success of the peace process. In 2003, at the height of the intifada when the Roadmap was inaugurated, the U.S.-approved Palestinian leadership was uninterested in and incapable of even beginning to thwart terror attacks. Today, after years of lavish American funding for the training and equipping of PA security forces, Abbas has yet to show any kind of sustained competence in policing his territory or dealing with radicals. The “elite” Fatah security forces that U.S. General Keith Dayton has been responsible for training were routed in six days by a smaller number of Hamas goons in Gaza. We’ve had better luck training the Iraqi army.

Today, unlike in 2003, Bush has convened a large peace conference and thrown his weight behind a peace process that has rather high pretensions, and as part of all this he has staked an ample amount of his credibility on Abbas being able to get the job done. When Abbas is unable to do so, and when Israel is forced to maintain its security presence in the West Bank, is the American judgment really going to be that, after all of our money, diplomatic attention, speeches, and conferences, after all the political legitimacy we’ve attempted to foist upon Abbas, he got us nowhere? Who knows, maybe that will be the assessment — but it will mean, in stark terms, that the entire peace process has been a sham, a negotiation with a nobody. It would be an assessment that would take a great deal of political and diplomatic courage to make, and would upset a large number of European and Arab governments. If, for example, certain factions of the State Department are put in charge of “monitoring and judging,” I highly doubt that such a judgment would be forthcoming. And that is serious cause for concern.

John, I’m certainly with you on the question of who is best suited to monitor and judge Roadmap compliance—there’s no question that the U.S. would be better than the EU or UN. The problem that many people foresee is the risk of an ostensibly objective monitoring and judging project being held captive to a set of bureaucratic and political interests that are unrelated to the task of assessing compliance. The Bush administration, and especially Condi Rice and the State Department, have a great deal invested in the appearance of the success of the peace process. In 2003, at the height of the intifada when the Roadmap was inaugurated, the U.S.-approved Palestinian leadership was uninterested in and incapable of even beginning to thwart terror attacks. Today, after years of lavish American funding for the training and equipping of PA security forces, Abbas has yet to show any kind of sustained competence in policing his territory or dealing with radicals. The “elite” Fatah security forces that U.S. General Keith Dayton has been responsible for training were routed in six days by a smaller number of Hamas goons in Gaza. We’ve had better luck training the Iraqi army.

Today, unlike in 2003, Bush has convened a large peace conference and thrown his weight behind a peace process that has rather high pretensions, and as part of all this he has staked an ample amount of his credibility on Abbas being able to get the job done. When Abbas is unable to do so, and when Israel is forced to maintain its security presence in the West Bank, is the American judgment really going to be that, after all of our money, diplomatic attention, speeches, and conferences, after all the political legitimacy we’ve attempted to foist upon Abbas, he got us nowhere? Who knows, maybe that will be the assessment — but it will mean, in stark terms, that the entire peace process has been a sham, a negotiation with a nobody. It would be an assessment that would take a great deal of political and diplomatic courage to make, and would upset a large number of European and Arab governments. If, for example, certain factions of the State Department are put in charge of “monitoring and judging,” I highly doubt that such a judgment would be forthcoming. And that is serious cause for concern.

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Our Man in Mosul

Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

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Yochi Dreazen has an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal reporting on the heroic efforts of Colonel Saleem Qader, an Iraqi army intelligence officer, to clean up Ninewah Province (whose capital is the large city of Mosul). Dreazen writes:

U.S. commanders give Col. Qader much of the credit for a striking improvement in the city’s security situation. There hasn’t been a car bomb or large-scale attack here since early May, and U.S. commanders say the number of attacks has dropped to seven or nine a day from fifteen to eighteen earlier this year. Fewer than a dozen Americans have died in Mosul this year, a sharp reduction from 2006.

What the article doesn’t mention is that the U.S. troop presence in Mosul is down to a battalion—about a thousand men. In other words, Col. Qader and other members of the Iraqi security forces are managing to maintain order in this populous and volatile region pretty much on their own. That’s a cause for long-term optimism: It is not inevitable that Iraq will dissolve into all-out civil war once the U.S. starts to draw down its troop presence.

But premature and excessive troop withdrawals could indeed create disaster, as happened in Mosul in 2004 after the 101st Airborne Division (commanded by Major General David Petraeus) was pulled out and replaced by a much smaller unit. It is imperative to avoid such drawdowns until there are competent Iraqi police officers and soldiers—men like Colonel Qader—to take up the burden of maintaining law and order.

The major question—and the real unknown—is whether the Iraqi political system will reward and support those, like Qader, who are trying to enforce the law in a non-sectarian fashion. There is cause for real concern on this score. Dreazen writes:

Because Col. Qader, a 46-year-old Kurd, toiled loyally in the army of Saddam Hussein at the time of the former Iraqi strongman’s brutal anti-Kurdish campaign known as the “Anfal,” his job is threatened by his superiors. Gen. Babakir al Zibari, chief of staff for the entire Iraqi military and also a Kurd, has ordered Col. Qader’s commanders to replace him, said U.S. officials. The commanders have so far refused. Gen. Zibari responded by cutting off Col. Qader’s salary and delaying the promotions of his commanders, these people said.

The good news is that, for all the lobbying against him, Qader remains on the job and alive, having survived assassination attempts. There are many Iraqis like him, struggling against terrorists to serve their country as best we can. Let us hope that they will not be betrayed by corrupt Iraqi politicians or by misguided American politicians.

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Not A Partition

The great Charles Krauthammer—and I’m not being ironic: I really do think he’s a great columnist and thinker—has an article today claiming that “Iraq is being partitioned” as a result of General David Petraeus’s strategy of raising a grass-roots rebellion of Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq. He thinks this is a great step.

I agree that the Sunni revolt is good news, but is it actually leading to a partition of the country? Depends on your definition of “partition.”

Question: Is America “partitioned” into 50 states? By the loose definition of “soft partition” that some (like Krauthammer) use, you could say yes. After all, the federal government doesn’t provide most basic services, from welfare to policing to education; at most it supplements locally provided services (e.g., the FBI backs up or supplants local law enforcement in a few instances) and provides funding (e.g., “block grants”) to pay for locally provided services. While you could describe this arrangement as a “soft partition,” the more commonly accepted term is “federalism,” and it is a good description of what is happening in Iraq.

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The great Charles Krauthammer—and I’m not being ironic: I really do think he’s a great columnist and thinker—has an article today claiming that “Iraq is being partitioned” as a result of General David Petraeus’s strategy of raising a grass-roots rebellion of Sunnis against al Qaeda in Iraq. He thinks this is a great step.

I agree that the Sunni revolt is good news, but is it actually leading to a partition of the country? Depends on your definition of “partition.”

Question: Is America “partitioned” into 50 states? By the loose definition of “soft partition” that some (like Krauthammer) use, you could say yes. After all, the federal government doesn’t provide most basic services, from welfare to policing to education; at most it supplements locally provided services (e.g., the FBI backs up or supplants local law enforcement in a few instances) and provides funding (e.g., “block grants”) to pay for locally provided services. While you could describe this arrangement as a “soft partition,” the more commonly accepted term is “federalism,” and it is a good description of what is happening in Iraq.

Pretty much everyone agrees that there should be some degree of decentralization in Iraq, with the central government in Baghdad taking care of a few responsibilities (such as the army, foreign policy, and splitting oil revenues) and the rest of the governance functions delegated to provinces and municipalities (with funding provided from Baghdad). The chief success of American troops in the past year in Anbar and other provinces has been in beefing up local law enforcement functions, within a framework of a larger Iraqi state. For instance, the Iraqi army, composed of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites, is actively working with Sunni militias and local Sunni-dominated police forces to fight al Qaeda.

That hardly constitutes vindication, to my mind, of those who advocated partitioning Iraq into three new states composed exclusively of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. That is a “solution” still rejected by most Iraqis: it would be almost impossible to implement without tremendous bloodshed because most of Iraq’s eighteen provinces have mixed populations. Federalism, on the other hand, is a way that Iraq can remain a single state while still recognizing great differences between different provinces. Why this should be called “partition” is a bit of a mystery.

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