November 27, 2006
Magical Realism Visits the Middle East
Students of Latin American literature will be familiar with "magical realism," a technique of writing frequently associated with Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, the Nobel-prize winning Colombian novelist. Wikipedia notes some elements of magical realism, several of which are excerpted here:
* Contains fantastical elementsIndeed, Garcia-Marquez's novels contain all of these elements. The primum inter pares of these is One Hundred Years of Solitude (which has even made it into Oprah's Book Club, though it was first published in 1970). Garcia-Marquez's masterpiece contains such passages as this:
* The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
* Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element . . .
* Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
* Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
* Incorporates legend or folklore
* Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another . . .
* Open-ended conclusion leaves the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.
"The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point."What could possibly be realistic in these passages? As Garcia-Marquez knew, it was the inherent fantastic nature of daily life in places like Columbia that made nearly anything believable so long as it was presented in a plausible way -- and if the storyteller believed it himself.
"She was in the crowd that was witnessing the sad spectacle of the man who had been turned into a snake for having disobeyed his parents."
"'What day is today?' Aureliano told him that it was Tuesday. 'I was thinking the same thing,' Jose Arcadio Buendia said, 'but suddenly I realized that it's still Monday, like yesterday. Look at the sky, look at the walls, look at the begonias. Today is Monday too.'"
"Colonel Aureliano Buendia organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad."
"As soon as Jose Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps, and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano Jose, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread."
Such lessons are illustrated in Mark Bowden's tale of the hunt for and killing of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious cocaine smuggler in history. In Killing Pablo, Bowden describes the lunacy that results when Pablo negotiates his surrender with the Colombian police, on the condition that a special jail be built for him, at a location of his choosing, staffed with "jailors" on his payroll. The place was called La Catedral:
Not long after Pablo moved into La Catedral, the purity levels of cocaine on the streets of New York were restored and the prices dropped.
Lawyer Roberto Uribe visited him weekly and found the place growing cozier. At first the living quarters, gymnasium, and cafeteria had seemed like a real prison, but gradually the furnishing became more lavish . . . Anything could be brought in. The prison guards were no more than Pablo's employees, and the army checkpoints just waved Pablo's trucks through . . . To have plenty of cash onhand, Pablo shipped in tightly rolled American hundred-dollar bills in milk cans, which would be buried in the fog of dawn at places around the prison. Two of the cans, each containing at least $1 million, were buried under the soccer field. A bar was installed, with a lounge and a disco. For the gymnasium there was a sauna. Inmates' "cells" were actually more like hotel suites, with living rooms, small kitchens, bedrooms, and bath. Workmen began constructing small, camouflaged cabanas uphill from the main prison. This is where Pablo and the other inmates intended to hide out if La Catedral was ever bombed or invaded. In the meantime, the cabanas made excellent retreats, where the men entertained women privately . . . Food was prepared for them by chefs Pablo hired away from fine restaurants, and once the bar and disco were up and running, he hosted many parties and even wedding receptions . . .
It was not a normal prison in other ways. Pablo, for instance, did not feel obliged to actually stay. He rarely missed an important pro soccer game in Medellin . . . Pablo considered such excursions minor . . . he did after all, always come back. He had made his deal with the state and intended to honor it . . .
It is all too easy to see the similarities between the fictions penned by Garcia-Marquez, the surreal nature of negotiating with terrorists such as Pablo Escobar, and the presumptions of American political elites who believe that by engaging Iran and Syria -- thereby admitting their involvement in Iraq's chaos -- that such chaos might be ended on terms favorable to either the US or Iraq. Such dreams are the stuff of our own variety of magical realism, but rather than resulting in pleasant narrative escapes, they will result in the irrelevance of the United States, whether one means its military power, its national interests, or its once-admired revolutionary Democratic ideals.
Negotiating with Iran and Syria, whilst they hold positions of strength, is likely to be only the first of the magically realist positions that the US political class breathlessly advocates. There will be more, and the ones to follow will be even sillier. In one episode in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the entire village of Macondo succumbs to an incurable insomnia, "the most fearsome part of which," was not "the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory." Only through painstakingly going throughout the town and painting the names of objects upon them are the villagers able to remedy their memory loss.
With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee in order to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.While everyone forgets, we can begin to label the things we encounter today in the news, hoping that the values of the letters are not forgotten: evil, enemy, tyranny, appeasement, suicide, madness. The village of Macondo was saved from its insomnia-induced memory loss when a traveling gypsy magician returned from the dead and offered an antidote. Will something similar be conjured from history to redeem us?
November 22, 2006
. . . But somebody's got to do it
Der Spiegel carries a slideshow of photos of assassinated Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayal. He is seen in turn with various members of his family, including his wife, when they were married.
The Washington Post reports the details of Gemayal's death.
Gemayel, a 34-year-old father of two and an up-and-coming politician, was killed when his car was ambushed by men from one or two cars that collided with it in the suburban neighborhood of Jdeideh. At least three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons equipped with silencers, hitting him in the head and chest, officials said. Television footage showed the tinted driver's-side window pocked with at least eight shots and the glass on the passenger's side shattered. The silver sedan's hood was crumpled from the collision.
Doctors said Gemayel was dead when he arrived at the hospital, and his bodyguard later succumbed to his wounds.
Is this a consolidation or an overextension? Iran announces it is seeking a new set of centrifuges. Syria tells James Baker it'll help in Iraq in exchange for the Golan Heights. Iran invites Iraq and Syria to a conference. Syria and Iraq re-establish diplomatic ties. Syria offs another prominent Lebanese politician.
Are Syria and Iran overplaying their hands? Have the carefully leaked deliberations of the Iraq Study Group been so much theater, meant to force an over-reaction? Victor Davis Hanson wrote in his book The Soul of Battle that upon hearing of the German offensive that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Patton's inclination was to let the Germans go as far west as they could, and then take his Third Army and cut off their rear, blocking their retreat.
Patton, of course, knew from his initial conversation with Bradley that he would be under orders to go north, not to continue east: "That's too daring for them. My guess is that our offensive will be called off and we will have to go up there and save their hides."
Tony Blankley, writing at RealClearPolitics, says this:
In fact, even those Americans who today can't wait to end our involvement in the "hopeless" war in Iraq will -- when the consequences of our irresponsibility becomes manifest -- join the chorus of outrage.Jules Crittenden writes that "It's a dirty job . . .
Expedient Washington politicians, take note: Your public is fickle. They may cheer your decision today to get out of Iraq but vote you out of office tomorrow when they don't like the results . . .
Iran has been our persistent enemy for 27 years -- Syria longer. They may well be glad to give us cover while we retreat, but that would merely be an exercise in slightly delayed gratification, not self-denial, let alone benignity. So long as Iran is ruled by its current radical Shi'a theocracy, she will be vigorously and violently undercutting any potentially positive, peaceful forces in the region -- and is already triggering a prolonged clash with the terrified Sunni nations. Our absence from the region will only make matters far worse.
We need to start undermining by all methods available that dangerous Iranian regime -- as the Iranian people, free to express and implement their own opinions and policies, are our greatest natural allies in the Muslim Middle East.
We have only two choices: Get out and let the ensuing Middle East firestorm enflame the wider world; or, stay and with shrewder policies and growing material strength manage and contain the danger. [emphasis added]
This is the thing about dirty jobs that need to be done. They can only be ignored or left half-done for so long . . .But will any of this happen? What prevents it from happening right now? It is not a lack of resources. It is only a perception that all is lost, held by a large part of the political class. Fortunately, they are wrong. Sadly, they don't know it.
This is why the current move to restrain the militias in Baghdad must be stepped up. This is why the calls for more troops there must be heeded. This is why the United States must pursue and destroy militias there ruthlessly and in force.
This is why these regimes need to know that their missteps will cost them, and that their own infrastructure, seats of power and persons are not immune from our threat of force as long as they abet murder, spread instability through the region, and seek weapons of mass destruction.
Belmont Club takes the pessimistic argument: The Rout Continues:
The most comical aspect of this whole rout is the way the diplomats will continue to prepare for the big meeting with Syria and Iran to broker a regional peace, something they believe "only a Superpower" can achieve. Alas, the habits of self-importance die hard. The countries are already making their own arrangements with the new victors, because those countries realize better than Barack Obama that you cannot charge a price for what you have already given away. And what will come of it all won't be peace. It will be war on a scale that will either draw America back into a larger cauldron or send it scurrying away behind whatever line of defense it thinks it has the will to hold. More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill told the appeasers they had a choice between war and dishonor. They had chosen dishonor, and added that now they would have both war and dishonor.
If Bush lied and people died, then Pierre Gamayel is probably dead today because Nancy Pelosi told the truth last week: Bringing the war to an end is my highest priority as Speaker. James Baker didn't stage that.
November 15, 2006
All Together Now
The Guardian reports US Plans Last Big Push in Iraq:
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations . . .
Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers . . . The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.
Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait . . .
Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state . . .
Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.
This all sounds eerily like the well-argued Weekly Standard article from earlier this week, Doubling Down in Iraq:
Consider these data: Between November 2004 and February 2005, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, the number of coalition soldiers in Iraq rose by 18,000. In that time, the number of Iraqi civilians killed fell by two-thirds, and the number of American troops wounded fell by three-fourths. The soldiers were soon pulled out; by the summer of 2005, American and Iraqi casualties rose again. Later that year, the same thing happened again. Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.To take one point at a time:
The picture is clear: More soldiers mean less violence, hence fewer casualties. The larger the manpower investment in the war, the smaller the war's cost, to Iraqis and Americans alike. Iraq is not an unwinnable war: Rather, as the data just cited show, it is a war we have chosen not to win. And the difference between success and failure is not 300,000 more soldiers, as some would have it. One-tenth that number would make a large difference, and has done so in the past. One-sixth would likely prove decisive.
-Sending 20,000 more troops: Ever the contrarian, just when a new Democratic congress is claiming its victory as a mandate for withdrawal, Bush is ready to throw fuel on the fire.
But why 20,000? Why not more? The answers are probably: a) force availability, and b) the desire not to become fully engaged (even though we are already decisively engaged, as far at the operational theater goes. It seems that the "all hands on deck" approach is being dismissed.
Even so, 20,000 more troops can't hurt. It may prove very helpful indeed.
-Regional cooperation: The idea that Syria or Iran will help much here is laughable. But asking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for assistance of some sort, whether diplomatic, financial, or of an intelligence nature, could pay great dividends. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are primarily Sunni states, and it will not please them to know that the US is abandoning Iraq to be dominated by Iran, and probably for its Sunni population to be ethnically cleansed. It is in their interests to assist us -- if only for the realpolitik goal of thwarting Iran's regional ambitions.
-Reviving reconciliation: This will be the most difficult of these tasks. For the Shias and Sunnis, the last three years have seen increasing levels of vengeance and vigilantism. A shrewd effort here might pay off, but what will be done differently that we aren't already doing?
-Increased funding for a variety of goals: Hard to know what to make of this. On its face, it seems kind of undefined. But the key word in the entire phrase might be "Congress." It might merely be an attempt to get Congress to fund the war without a lot of grandstanding, in order to create a bipartisan consensus for the whole thing. Then, a rising tide will lift all boats, or in this case, political ambitions.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of the plan, at least in the Guardian's portrayal, is it's time-based essence. "One last big push" implies an end, or, in other words, a timetable. Otherwise, one last push before what?
The Guardian infers that the "what" is the US presidential election. "The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said."
Without a doubt, part of the "what" is in fact driven by domestic politics. But perhaps the other part is baldly enriching uranium next door . . .
September 26, 2006
DVD Rec of the Week
If you like this blog, you'll probably enjoy watching this:
The Battle of Algiers, produced only three years after the end of the French-Algerian War, is an excellent little study in the phases of a counterinsurgency, and quite a learning tool to boot. Moreover, its style is incredibly realistic. When coupled with a reading of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice it almost makes for a small little course in counterinsurgency, especially for those (like probably everyone reading this) who have been inundated in the headlines of the past three years and can readily draw comparisons to current news and practices.
The Criterion Collection edition also includes two full discs of special features, most of which looked interesting, though I didn't have time for them.
There's more background about the film at Wikipedia's entry.
September 12, 2006
From Every Mountainside
Tom Ricks’ book FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq has been climbing the charts of late. Ricks lists the work Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula as being very important to understanding the fight in Iraq today. Galula was a French officer who served in Greece, Algeria, and China, and observed various different insurgencies firsthand. His work is peppered with colorful anecdotes such as the things he learned after being captured by the Chinese Communists. Nevertheless, it very much attempts to develop a theory of counterinsurgency warfare that is extremely relevant today, despite the differences between Communist fighters and those of the Islamic ilk.
Galula believed that the population must be divided into three groups, the favorable minority, who will always favor the side of the counterinsurgent, the insurgent minority, those who are the actual fighters and organizers for the insurgency, and the rest of the population, which lives between the two sides, and can be swayed in either direction. He further made the point that insurgencies are always motivated by a cause, and that counterinsurgencies must have a cause as well if they are to succeed:
The strategic problem of the counterinsurgent may be defined now as follows: “To find the favorable minority, to organize it in order to mobilize the population against the insurgent minority.” Every operation, whether in the military field of in the political, social, economic, and psychological fields, must be geared to that end.
To be sure, the better the cause and the situation, the larger will be the active minority favorable to the counterinsurgent and the easier its task. This truism dictates the main goal of the propaganda – to show that the cause the situation of the counterinsurgent are better than the insurgent’s. More important [sic], it underlines the necessity for the counterinsurgent to come out with an acceptable countercause.
All of this struck me very forcefully last week while attending the 5th Annual Defense Forum in Washington, DC, and hearing Tom Ricks give the keynote address. Ricks told the story of Army Colonel H.R. McMaster’s method of addressing the sheiks and imams in his area of operations upon arrival in Iraq in 2005. “McMaster told the Iraqis that when the American military first invaded Iraq, they were like men stumbling around furniture in a dark room. Now, the Iraqi government has turned on the lights for us, and the time for honorable resistance has ended.”
Ricks stated that this level of courtesy, used by McMaster even while implicitly threatening those who opposed him, is both necessary and extremely effective in the Arab world because the core value of that society is honor, or dignity, or respect. Ricks believes that when “Americans speak to the Iraqis about freedom, something is lost in translation.”
To use Galula’s terminology and theory, an independent observer must conclude that democracy is the “countercause” that the US seeks to advocate in the Middle East. But to use Ricks’ anecdote of Colonel McMaster, perhaps this is not the strongest or most effective countercause we might be using. Instead, perhaps we could link the honor that is so important to Arabs to what we define as freedom. Or perhaps we might attempt to dissociate jihad – especially the suicidal variant – from those actions which are perceived to be honorable.
These are tall orders but certainly possible for what has already been called a “long war.” Surely we are up to the task.
September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
September 4, 2006
Defense Forum Washington 2006
Tomorrow (Tuesday the 5th), I'll be attending the Defense Forum in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Marine Corps Association and the US Naval Institute, two outstanding professional organizations for the Naval services.
While there, I'll be sending email dispatches throughout the day to Pajamas Media, so look for updates on their homepage.
The schedule of events looks really interesting and I'm especially looking forward to the panels entitled "The Long War: Where Are We Now?" and "Fighting on the Terrorists’ Turf: Lessons Learned in Iraq & Afghanistan and the Gap Between Expectations and Realities".
If there's a chance during the panel discussions, I'll be sure to ask a question or two from the back of the room. If any readers have questions you'd like me to try to address, please send them on to my email account, listed in the sidebar to the right.
I'll be attempting to file my dispatches while using my Motorola RAZR phone in a modem capacity for my laptop. There's a backup if it doesn't work, but it will be pretty cool if it does!
August 18, 2006
Discussion: Energy Independence Part Two
Those readers who have been participating in the conversation below on Energy Independence could do no worse than to click on the ad in the sidebar for Ford and see what they're up to. (Or just go here).
My take is that Ford reads the marketplace and understands that there is a widespread demand for vehicles using a different form of energy. That demand may be due to environmental concerns, national security concerns, or economic independence concerns. It doesn't matter. Ford wants to fill that demand. I think they should be commended on an innovative ad campaign too (and no, I don't get revenue per click for Blogads, so I'm not juicing my own bottomlilne here).
All of this reinforces my earlier belief that a sense of legislative forbearance is what is most desperately needed, not some new government program akin to putting a man on the moon. If there are regulatory obstacles to projects like that of Ford, then by all means, let them be removed. But otherwise, let the market sort it out. In the end, the result will be more efficient and achieved faster than any comparable large-scale titanic government effort.
August 15, 2006
TCSDaily Article: Unfrozen Caveman Voter
I've written another piece for TCSDaily entitled, "Unfrozen Caveman Voter." Go check it out and ask yourself: are you part of the caveman demographic?
Discussion Topic: Energy Independence
One of the frequent strategies espoused for the war is that of pursuing independence from the importation of vast sums of foreign oil.
It seems there are many competing agendas among those who favor this move. Many want to end the dependence on fossil fuels in general. That may be well and good, but it doth not make an immediate foreign policy or strategy for war.
Also, many who advocate increasing the use of alternative energy see no way for this to happen but for the government to invest massive sums in such technologies. It seems to me that any sector of the economy in which the government is heavily invested, whether monetarily, from an attention-standpoint, or via regulations, is likely to be inefficient and screwy. Consider public education, health care, pensions, and defense (hey the military is filled with motivated individuals, but it is after all a bureaucracy and as such, filled with nonsense). In other words, it's hard to see how a massive government program to rid our dependence on oil would really serve any immediate strategic aims. I rather think that the government should abolish the energy department altogether and then if there are market alternatives to imported oil, those will begin to shine.
The other agenda for many who insist on an end to imported foreign oil is an old-school isolationism. Rid the US economy of the necessity to have anything to do with oil exporters, and then we can just fence the Middle East in and let them kill each other off. But it seems to me that those who are angry with us now will be no less angry with us if we are more isolated from the world.
Any thoughts? Please discuss.
July 31, 2006
Kissinger on Iran
Henry Kissinger's op-ed in today's Washington Post requires careful examination.
Let's take a close reading of The Next Steps With Iran:
The world's attention is focused on the fighting in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, but the context leads inevitably back to Iran. Unfortunately, the diplomacy dealing with that issue is constantly outstripped by events. While explosives are raining on Lebanese and Israeli towns and Israel reclaims portions of Gaza, the proposal to Iran in May by the so-called Six (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) for negotiations on its nuclear weapons program still awaits an answer. It's possible that Tehran reads the almost pleading tone of some communications addressed to it as a sign of weakness and irresolution. Or perhaps the violence in Lebanon has produced second thoughts among the mullahs about the risks of courting and triggering crisis.Unless Israel resumes its offensive against Hezbollah, the mullahs have little reason for second thoughts about provoking conflict because the war will have finished in Hezbollah's favor. Hezbollah's centers of gravity are either its support from Iran and Syria, or its masterful use of the international media to rally world opinion against Israel. Whichever it is, if it's not both, the Israelis have yet to find a critical vulnerability to attack either of those two strengths. Attriting Hez forces buys time for a little peace in the future, but it does not solve any problems in the long term. It looks as though Israel is going to widen its ground offensive. We'll see what happens next . . .
However the tea leaves are read, the current Near Eastern upheaval could become a turning point. Iran may come to appreciate the law of unintended consequences.Is this a reference to a defeat for Hezbollah? Perhaps.
For their part, the Six can no longer avoid dealing with the twin challenges that Iran poses. On the one hand, the quest for nuclear weapons represents Iran's reach for modernity via the power symbol of the modern state; at the same time, this claim is put forward by a fervent kind of religious extremism that has kept the Muslim Middle East unmodernized for centuries. This conundrum can be solved without conflict only if Iran adopts a modernism consistent with international order and a view of Islam compatible with peaceful coexistence.Thank goodness Kissinger doesn't say the only other way the conundrum can be solved without conflict: for the world to just accept a nuclear Iran. Finally, someone sane in the diplomatic community!
Heretofore the Six have been vague about their response to an Iranian refusal to negotiate, except for unspecific threats of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council. But if a deadlock between strained forbearance by the Six and taunting invective from the Iranian president leads to de facto acquiescence in the Iranian nuclear program, prospects for multilateral international order will dim everywhere. If the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany are unable jointly to achieve goals to which they have publicly committed themselves, every country, especially those composing the Six, will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.This is the gut check for the world. As much as an encouragement of iran's nuclear ambitions by other states may serve to promote their interests in checking US power, ultimately, if Iran proliferates, then the international system will be broken, perhaps beyond repair. And the United Nations will become even more of a laughingstock than it is now. Previous posts have discussed the issue of Iranian proliferation from the standpoint of stability in the international system (here and here). Iran may well be the tipping point in nuclear proliferation in the world. Not only would the likelihood of further proliferation by Egypt, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia be increased dramatically, but the case of Iran is unique in that the series of events comprising Iranian proliferation offer a direct challenge to the UN and the system of nonproliferation. Whereas Pakistan and India pursued their programs clandestinely, and successfully so, and Israel is still technically an undeclared nuclear power, Iran's cover was blown in 2003 by an opposition group, thus creating a clear case where the nonproliferation regime must be tested in its ability to dissuade a state from aquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq may have involved horrendous lapses in intelligence, but one thing is certain for the moment: Iraq currently has no nuclear weapons or programs to produce them. If the international security system cannot deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, then its credibility will be completely destroyed, and its legitimacy nil. Kissinger is right: world order will decrease, conflicts will multiply, and what he doesn't explicitly say will also be proved true: the chances of a nuclear exchange or a nuclear crisis will increase dramatically as well. These are not conditions that will appear overnight, but over an intermediate period. The morning after an Iranian weapons test will not mark the end of the current system of international security, but it will mark the beginning of the end. Kissinger next offers a quick primer in Diplomacy 101:
The analogy of such a disaster is not Munich, when the democracies yielded the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, but the response when Mussolini invaded Abyssinia. At Munich, the democracies thought that Hitler's demands were essentially justified by the principle of self-determination; they were repelled mostly by his methods. In the Abyssinian crisis, the nature of the challenge was uncontested. By a vast majority, the League of Nations voted to treat the Italian adventure as aggression and to impose sanctions. But they recoiled before the consequences of their insight and rejected an oil embargo, which Italy would have been unable to overcome. The league never recovered from that debacle. If the six-nation forums dealing with Iran and North Korea suffer comparable failures, the consequence will be a world of unchecked proliferation, not controlled by either governing principles or functioning institutions.
Diplomacy never operates in a vacuum. It persuades not by the eloquence of its practitioners but by assembling a balance of incentives and risks. Clausewitz's famous dictum that war is a continuation of diplomacy by other means defines both the challenge and the limits of diplomacy. War can impose submission; diplomacy needs to evoke consensus. Military success enables the victor in war to prescribe, at least for an interim period. Diplomatic success occurs when the principal parties are substantially satisfied; it creates -- or should strive to create -- common purposes, at least regarding the subject matter of the negotiation; otherwise no agreement lasts very long. The risk of war lies in exceeding objective limits; the bane of diplomacy is to substitute process for purpose. Diplomacy should not be confused with glibness. It is not an oratorical but a conceptual exercise. When it postures for domestic audiences, radical challenges are encouraged rather than overcome.The popular methods of portraying diplomacy include its being on the opposite end of a one-dimensional axis that includes military action on its far end, and of characterizing diplomatic initiatives as merely talk and not action. Such a view is unconstructive. Diplomacy is dealmaking, pure and simple. The tragedy perhaps is that so much of our recent dealmaking has seemed much more like concession-making alone. As Kissinger mentions, diplomacy is not rhetoric; the other side of the negotiating table will not be swayed by the eloquence of domestic speeches. Kissinger next spends two paragraphs comparing the current situation with that of the US and China in the 1970s. He concludes that they are dramatically different:
The challenge of the Iranian negotiation is far more complex. For two years before the opening to China, the two sides had engaged in subtle, reciprocal, symbolic and diplomatic actions to convey their intentions. In the process, they had tacitly achieved a parallel understanding of the international situation, and China opted for seeking to live in a cooperative world.Kissinger sees a window of opportunity for diplomatic action and it looks something like this: allow Israel to teach Hezbollah a significant lesson; quickly come to consensus among the Six; use the Israeli action to encourage realism among the Iranians, an attitude that would abandon their messianic religious idealism heretofore displayed in favor of seeking a deal. It's a tall order and my guess is the window won't be open long.
Nothing like that has occurred between Iran and the United States. There is not even an approximation of a comparable world view. Iran has reacted to the American offer to enter negotiations with taunts, and has inflamed tensions in the region. Even if the Hezbollah raids from Lebanon into Israel and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers were not planned in Tehran, they would not have occurred had their perpetrators thought them inconsistent with Iranian strategy. In short, Iran has not yet made the choice of the world it seeks -- or it has made the wrong choice from the point of view of international stability. The crisis in Lebanon could mark a watershed if it confers a sense of urgency to the diplomacy of the Six and a note of realism to the attitudes in Tehran. [emphasis added]
Up to now Iran has been playing for time. The mullahs apparently seek to accumulate as much nuclear capability as possible so that, even were they to suspend enrichment, they would be in a position to use the threat of resuming their weapons effort as a means to enhance their clout in the region.Kissinger sees comprehensive sanctions as a necessity, and soon. And he encourages a process among the Six that will not necessitate 100% agreement or long pauses.
Given the pace of technology, patience can easily turn into evasion. The Six will have to decide how serious they will be in insisting on their convictions. Specifically, the Six will have to be prepared to act decisively before the process of technology makes the objective of stopping uranium enrichment irrelevant. Well before that point is reached, sanctions will have to be agreed on. To be effective, they must be comprehensive; halfhearted, symbolic measures combine the disadvantage of every course of action. Interallied consultations must avoid the hesitation that the League of Nations conveyed over Abyssinia. We must learn from the North Korean negotiations not to engage in a process involving long pauses to settle disagreements within the administration and within the negotiating group, while the other side adds to its nuclear potential. There is equal need, on the part of America's partners, for decisions permitting them to pursue a parallel course.
A suspension of enrichment of uranium should not be the end of the process. A next step should be the elaboration of a global system of nuclear enrichment to take place in designated centers around the world under international control -- as proposed for Iran by Russia. This would ease implications of discrimination against Iran and establish a pattern for the development of nuclear energy without a crisis with each entrant into the nuclear field.This seems like a fantastic idea if it can be accomplished in a verifiably safe fashion.
President Bush has announced America's willingness to participate in the discussions of the Six with Iran to prevent emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. But it will not be possible to draw a line between nuclear negotiations and a comprehensive review of Iran's overall relations to the rest of the world.This is a point that many other commentators have made: while Iran's nuclear program is our paramount concern, there are a number of other issues that need addressing, any one of which would be bad enough on its own.
The legacy of the hostage crisis, the decades of isolation and the messianic aspect of the Iranian regime represent huge obstacles to such a diplomacy. If Tehran insists on combining the Persian imperial tradition with contemporary Islamic fervor, then a collision with America -- and, indeed, with its negotiating partners of the Six -- is unavoidable. Iran simply cannot be permitted to fulfill a dream of imperial rule in a region of such importance to the rest of the world.
At the same time, an Iran concentrating on the development of the talents of its people and the resources of its country should have nothing to fear from the United States. Hard as it is to imagine that Iran, under its present president, will participate in an effort that would require it to abandon its terrorist activities or its support for such instruments as Hezbollah, the recognition of this fact should emerge from the process of negotiation rather than being the basis for a refusal to negotiate. Such an approach would imply the redefinition of the objective of regime change, providing an opportunity for a genuine change in direction by Iran, whoever is in power.A good point: give the Iranians enough rope to hang themselves, then say diplomacy won't work. Don't just assume it won't. He may be referring to direct negotiations here.
It is important to express such a policy in precise objectives capable of transparent verification. A geopolitical dialogue is not a substitute for an early solution of the nuclear enrichment crisis. That must be addressed separately, rapidly and firmly. But a great deal depends on whether a strong stand on that issue is understood as the first step in the broader invitation to Iran to return to the wider world.Another good point: a policy of improving relations with the world should have identifiable and verfiable objectives.
In the end, the United States must be prepared to vindicate its efforts to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons program. For that reason, America has an obligation to explore every honorable alternative.This final statement is where Kissinger shows he understands the game better than most of the denizens of Foggy Bottom ever will: "vindicating" US efforts implies efforts that have failed. And it refers to the use of force. Kissinger understands all too well the big stick that must be carried by the soft-spoken.
Altogether an excellent piece. Given the hyperbolic nature of the coverage of Israel's war with Hezbollah, Iran's nuke program has fallen by the wayside. Kissinger's piece could not have come at a better time. In summary: Iran is the real problem; the clock is ticking quickly; there's an opportunity; get after it. Wise words from an old man.
July 24, 2006
Gates of Vienna Symposium: After Hezbollah
Gates of Vienna is conducting a symposium as to what might be the end-state of the current war between Israel and Hezbollah. The assumption is the destruction, or severe defeat of Hezbollah. And then . . .
What happens next? What will the Middle East look like after Hizbullah?Attempts at prediction are a staple here at The Adventures of Chester. So far, previous posts have asked, "Will Israel be given the time it needs to reduce Hezbollah?" and "Will Israel widen the war to include Syria?" and those posts have answered Yes and No, respectively, in so many words.
What happens to Syria? What does Syria have besides Hizbullah? It’s got some of Saddam’s old WMDs, a lot of sand, and presumably some olive trees and date palms. But on a “Principal Products” map of the Middle East, Syria’s main product icon would be a little picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. Take that away, and what does Syria do to hold its head up in the honor-sensitive Arab world?
What happens to Iran? How do they respond to having their best boy whipped? How will they bring their influence to bear in the Maghreb after Hizbullah is gone? Will they drop Boy Assad as an ally once he has outlived his Hizbullah-related usefulness? How will it affect their nuclear efforts?
But the "After Hezbollah?" question is more difficult. Allow a guess:
Hezbollah is militarily defeated some weeks hence, but before then, some other event occurs that serves to keep the region in a period of flux. This period of flux will continue until one of two outcomes is sustained: the US and its allies find themselves involved in an overt war with Iran, or Iran becomes a declared nuclear power. The events that contribute to the period of flux could be friendly actions, such as new initiatives in Iraq or diplomatic initiatives in the Levant; or Iranian actions, such as a new intifada-like campaign in Iraq, or the attempted closing of the Straits of Hormuz, or the testing of a ballistic missile.
In other words, Israel has the opportunity to achieve an operational victory over Hezbollah and destory it; but by the time that is accomplished, the overall regional strategic picture will not have changed enough to allow such a victory to congeal long enough to create a status quo that can be characterized as "post-Hezbollah." Something else will happen. The victory, though a real one, and a meaningful one, will not be as meaningful as it otherwise might be until the problem of Iran's nuclear program is settled one way or another.
This assumes an Israeli victory of course, and the capabilities within its military to produce one.
July 23, 2006
Discussion Topic: Splitting Syria From Iran, Hez
The AP reports that a major diplomatic task is being undertaken: an attempt to split Syria from its support of Hezbollah, and presumably, from its alliance with Iran, is underway:
With Israel and the United States saying a real cease-fire is not possible until Hezbollah is reined in, Arab heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia were pushing Syria to end its support for the guerrillas, Arab diplomats in Cairo said.Let's all discuss. My stream-of-consciousness thoughts:
A loss of Syria's support would deeply weaken Hezbollah, though its other ally,
Iran, gives it a large part of its money and weapons. The two moderate Arab governments were prepared to spend heavily from Egypt's political capital in the region and Saudi Arabia's vast financial reserves to break Damascus from the guerrillas and Iran, the diplomats said.
Syria said it will press for a cease-fire to end the fighting — but only in the framework of a broader Middle East peace initiative that would include the return of the Golan Heights. Israel was unlikely to accept such terms but it was the first indication of Syria's willingness to be involved in efforts to defuse the crisis.
-Do the major Arab powers have the wherewithal, whether politcal capital or financial resources, to sway Syria from its support of Hezbollah by themselves? How is such an agreement enforceable?
Seems that if they can pull it off by themselves that would be a serious accomplishment for the US because it would mean no concessions on our part in negotiations. Even with US support in the background, for example, pressuring Israel to do or not do certain things as good-faith measures, it would still be a significant move forward.
-Can the Arab powers appeal to Assad's regime as Arabs? Does that appeal carry more water than the amity he feels with Iran since his ruling caste is Shia?
-If the US enters these negotiations, what will be on the table? The US has had many differences with Syria in the past three years: the harboring of Saddam's lieutenants, the support for the insurgency, the assassination of Hariri and lack of cooperation with the resulting investigation . . . what is the US prepared to offer Syria to entice it away from Iran's umbrella? Is there a Libya-like deal there to be made? Can Qaddafi come in and do a bit of "witnessing" as it were?
-Is it possible to corral Syria away from Iran's influence while not affecting its innate hostility to Israel? My guess is yes, but only if the Arabs make the deal among themselves.
-If Syria drops its support for Hezbollah, would that serve to sunder its security relationship with Iran? What does Iran gain from being "allied" with Syria if Syria no longer supports Hezbollah?
All of this seems like reading a good mafia novel with competing crime families. Assad is weak and inexperienced. Everyone sees him as the weakest link. Does he know it? Is he trying to figure out who is the best candidate to be his protector? Whose wrath will he fear more? Iran or the US?
-Aside from political capital and financial resources, what levers can the Egyptians, Jordanians and Saudis pull to put pressure on the House of Assad?
What do all of you Loyal Readers think?
MORE: I just saw Tigerhawk's post on this same topic and he makes some of the same points I do. So go there for more discussion and his thoughts.
July 13, 2006
The Guns of July Part Two
Assorted thoughts for today about the conflict in the Middle East:
1. All day I thought, you know, there really hasn't been that much activity on the ground yet. Richard Fernandez agrees, writing in a Belmont Club thread:
. . . remember that actual events on the ground are still limited, despite the ominous sounds being generated everywhere. That might be part of the posturing game. Our best bet is to keep watching. We'll know where this goes soon enough.I agree.
2. Strategic Forecasting, in a subscription-only piece (hat-tip to Tigerhawk) has predicted this [emphasis added]:
Given the blockade and what appears to be the shape of the airstrikes, it seems to us at the moment the Israelis are planning to go fairly deep into Lebanon. The logical first step is a move to the Litani River in southern Lebanon. But given the missile attacks on Haifa, they will go farther, not only to attack launcher sites, but to get rid of weapons caches.This means a move deep into the Bekaa Valley, the seat of Hezbollah power and the location of plants and facilities. Such a penetration would leave Israeli forces' left flank open, so a move into Bekaa would likely be accompanied by attacks to the west. It would bring the Israelis close to Beirut again.This is eerily similar to a possible scenario for Israeli action described in an opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post[emphasis added here as well]:
This leaves Israel's right flank exposed, and that exposure is to Syria. The Israeli doctrine is that leaving Syrian airpower intact while operating in Lebanon is dangerous. Therefore, Israel must at least be considering using its air force to attack Syrian facilities, unless it gets ironclad assurances the Syrians will not intervene in any way. Conversations are going on between Egypt and Syria, and we suspect this is the subject. But Israel would not necessarily object to the opportunity of eliminating Syrian air power as part of its operation, or if Syria chooses, going even further.
At the same time, Israel does not intend to get bogged down in Lebanon again. It will want to go in, wreak havoc, withdraw. That means it will go deeper and faster, and be more devastating, than if it were planning a long-term occupation. It will go in to liquidate Hezbollah and then leave. True, this is no final solution, but for the Israelis, there are no final solutions.
For some time, the defense establishment has considered the Hizbullah armaments an important enough target to justify preemptive action. Therefore, the removal of the missile threat and the perceived strategic parity that has constrained Israel's reaction to past Hizbullah provocations must be the primary goal of an Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon.
Eliminating the Hizbullah missile threat will allow greater freedom of action against Syria and Iran. The "search and destroy" mode of operation required for capturing and/or destroying the missiles hidden in numerous locations necessitates the use of ground forces. But, of course, even their cautious employment under an aerial umbrella might be costly. To a large extent the success of Israeli actions in Lebanon will be measured by the counting of casualties.
Israel may well capitalize on its missile hunt in Lebanon to expand the goal of the operations. Israeli threats to seriously punish Hizbullah probably mean targeting its leadership. A "gloves off" policy to decapitate Hizbullah could paralyze this terrorist organization for several years. This would clearly signal Israel's determination to deal with terrorist threats and with Iranian proxies.
A further expansion of goals concerns Syria - the channel for Iranian support to Hizbullah. Damascus still hosts the headquarters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, despite promising the Americans a few years ago to close their offices.
Israel may enjoy much freedom of action versus Syria because Syria frustrated the American and French attempts to limit it's influence in Lebanon in their quest to restore Lebanon's independence. Washington, in particular, may relish military pressure on a Bashar Assad regime that allows infiltration of insurgents into Iraq from its territory.
Syrian targets could be attacked by an Israel Air Force that could easily suppress the Syrian air defenses and acquire aerial supremacy. Israel may also decide the time is ripe for attacking the Syrian long-range missile infrastructure, whose threat hovers over most of Israel.
3. Michael Ledeen makes this point in an NRO piece:
After a few days of fighting, I would not be surprised to see some new kind of terrorist attack against Israel, or against an American facility in the region. An escalation to chemical weapons, for example, or even the fulfillment of the longstanding Iranian promise to launch something nuclear at Israel. They meant it when they said it, don’t you know?The kidnapping yesterday put the initiative in the hands of Hezbollah. Israel has regained the initiative in this conflict with its rapid and robust response. It's important at this point to differentiate between acts by Hezbollah that regain the initiative yet again at the operational level and acts which escalate the conflict in an attempt to seize the initiative at the strategic level. If Israel conducts airstrikes in Syria, this is an escalation, a strategic enlargement of the conflict. The same is true of Hezbollah acts that involve overt Syrian or Iranian involvement. On the other hand, an Israeli ground incursion into Lebanon does not seem like such an escalation. The same might be said for rocket attacks by Hezbollah. These would be more confined to the existing campaign space, small though it may be.
4. Today, the Intrade prediction market contracts dealing with Iran were extremely active and had high volume. Here's a breakdown:
a) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31SEP06" increased from 5.0 to 10.0, an increase of 100% on volume of 631.
b) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31DEC06" increased from 10.0 to 18.0, an increase of 80%, on volume of 5050.
c) The contract "USA and/or Israel to execute an overt Air Strike against Iran by 31March07" increased from 15.0 to 22.0, an increase of 47%, on volume of 8179.
For the uninitiated, these contracts are settled when the event occurs or when the date expires. When a contract is settled, it is either a "yes" and the value goes to 100, or it is a "no" and the value drops to 0. So the "price" level of the contracts currently don't indicate a huge sentiment that airstrikes are imminent, since the prices are mostly closer to 0. But they are worth watching to see how that sentiment changes in the coming days. At least, they are worth watching if you have any belief whatsoever in the wisdom of crowds.
5. Here's a couple of requests for information for you Loyal Readers:
a) What's the range and payload of Israel's Jericho missiles? What would be the most effective use of them if Israel wanted to strike Iran? How many does it have? I researched this once and I think they have between 200 and 300. But I bet there are readers who know better than any quick Google searches I could do.
b) Have there ever been any reports of chemical weapons being shipped to Hezbollah? How credible are those reports? Can Katusha or Fajr rockets hold a chemical payload without destroying it on detonation?
c) Can rocket attacks be countered with counterbattery fire? My guess is that the Katushas can, but that something like the Fajr missiles depend on how close the counterbattery tubes are to the launch sites. Artillery has a much shorter range than rockets do.
d) What's the latest version of Patriots we've sold to Israel? Do they have PAC3s or just PAC2s? There's an order of magnitude of difference in performance.
6. Tigerhawk's big post today was extremely insightful. This is his conclusion:
Iran cannot afford to let Israel decimate Hezbollah in Lebanon. If Israel measures its response to preserve Hezbollah, a wider war can still be avoided. However, if Israel decides that it can no longer allow Hezbollah to attack it from Lebanon, Iran will have to intervene. The question is how? One method might be to increase the pressure on the United States, the external player with the greatest ability to influence Israel. If Iraq's Shiites rise up during the crisis in Lebanon, we will know who is behind them.This is a very compelling argument. Allow some absolutely unadulterated speculation: If Iran's goal is to set the Middle East ablaze in order to give it as much leverage as possible in upcoming trials concerning its nuke program, then an Iraqi uprising seems like a great way to do so. The question is, can they actually accomplish such an uprising? I haven't followed the latest antics of Moqtada Al-Sadr closely enough to know. Readers may disagree. Keep an eye on Muthanna province though, which was turned over to the Iraqi security forces in toto today. That is deep in the heart of Shi'ite Iraq. If there's to be some sort of uprising, it might be one place to look, and the target might not be American and coalition forces, but the Iraqi government.
June 23, 2006
The Iraqi Peace Deal
Very late night thoughts of the just-reported Iraqi peace deal (see here):
1. The source: The Times nailed another recent event way in advance: the large-scale security operation in Baghdad. They called that several months ago and were correct that it would occur in the summer. They seem to have good sources inside the parties that would be involved in the negotiations.
2. The negotiations: There's a deal and then there's a deal. How close is this to getting done? Have confidence-building measures already been performed? Could the appointments of the Interior and Defense ministers be a part of that process? Could Zarqawi's death have been part of the process? The two happened on the same day! That has bothered me ever since . . .
3. The terms: The Times article states,
The Government will promise a finite, UN-approved timeline for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq; a halt to US operations against insurgent strongholds; an end to human rights violations, including those by coalition troops; and compensation for victims of attacks by terrorists or Iraqi and coalition forces.It's never good to believe the first report. This one implies that the US will admit ongoing human rights violations. It also implies that the UN has somehow given sanction already to an existing withdrawal plan. Neither of these seem like concessions the US would be willing to make. FInally, the article states in a later point "A halt to “anti-terrorist operations” by coalition forces in insurgent areas" as being another term. What exactly does that mean? It seems way too broad.
My guess is that the agreement is much more detailed and some of these details are incorrect as reported.
4. Enforcement: The deal involves "seven Sunni insurgent groups". Is that a significant enough portion of the insurgency to really offer a meaningful end to violence? Do we have good documentation of their capabilities (see confidence-building measures above)? And, will they act against the remaining elements of the insurgency, whether Ba'athists, criminals, or Al Qaeda? This would be a must, no?
5. Effects: Wow. I think the degree to which this will be good for Bush will depend on whether Iraqis who've killed Americans are given amnesty and how that works out.
This would be bad for Iran, not only because they'll lose a little more on their bid for influence, but because the US will soon be in a position to right-face the whole force and head east (figuratively).
The Left will still be the Left, but it won't win in November. And if the whole thing goes through more or less as declared by the Times -- which says it has seen the documents -- then Zalmay Khalilzad should get the Nobel Peace Prize.
If the deal goes through as predicted, someone is going to have to sit back and tally the results: what did the insurgents get out of the insurgency? This is a deal after all, not a surrender. Did they get a place at the political table? A share in oil revenue? Something more? Implied security guarantees?
One can ask what the US has gotten for its blood and treasure . . . but I think it is far too early for that.
If Iraqis who've killed Americans are given amnesty, a curious possibility enters the mind: future Sunni politicians who declare their status as veterans of the war against the Americans in their campaigns . . . This is a horrendous historical comparison, but Confederate officers weren't allowed to run for office . . .
But let's hold for more developments . . .
June 22, 2006
Prairie Pundit Review of Cobra II
Prairie Pundit has posted a review of Cobra II in which he takes the authors to task for several different reasons, namely, its description of the Fedayeen, troop strength debates, and descriptions of intelligence work at the operational level. As they say, read the whole thing, especially if you are considering buying it.
I can personally vouch for one of Prairie Pundit's criticisms:
In fact the Centcom staff and Franks came up with pretty good way of eliminating a large part of the Fedayeen on the way to Baghdad that Trainor and Gordon, again, do not even discuss. The intelligence analyst noticed that the Fedayeen would come back from their attacks and "puddle" around Baath Party headquaters or Iraqi intelligence offices in the towns along the route. Franks told the staff to bomb those buildings when the "puddles" were at their maximum. Reports on these attacks were usually limited to just saying that the building had been destroyed, because we did not want to tip the Fedayeen and let them know why we happened to bomb those building when we did. The authors never discuss this tactic of dealing with the enemy and write as if the Fedayeen survived to start the insurgency.Prairie Pundit is exactly right. Sitting in our ops tents one day in Nasiriyah right after the invasion, I was checking the MEF's Significant Events page, chronologically listing important things that were happening throughout the MEF's battlespace, along with a standard date-time group. At one point, something like this came up on an update:
SOF TM REPORTS 500 FEDAYEEN FIGHTERS CONVERGING ON SOCCER STADIUM IN AD-DIWANIYAH, GC XXXXXXXXAbout half an hour later, this was followed up with this:
SOF CONFIRMS DIWANIYAH SOCCER STADIUM DESTROYED WITH CLUSTER MUNITIONS @ DTG XXXXXXXLater, when my unit moved to Diwaniyah, I had an opportunity to visit the soccer stadium as part of a team sent to find humanitarian projects in the city which my engineer battalion might have been able to perform. Needless to say, the stadium was pretty screwed up (I may even have a picture of that somewhere . . .).
Anyhow, see Prairie Pundit's review for further discussion.
April 8, 2006
The US-Iraqi Security Treaty of 2007
Belmont Club points to an article I noticed in Opinionjournal last week, in which Amir Taheri fleshes out his belief that the strategy in many Muslim capitals is to wait out the end of Mr. Bush's presidency, the assumption being that whoever follows will not be so prone to an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East:
According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.Allow a bit of speculation . . .
Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as "waiting Bush out." "We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies," says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran's new Foreign Minister.
The Bush administration is probably equally as concerned as Mr. Ahmadinejad that its successor will pursue a, for lack of a better term, more "traditional" foreign policy in the Muslim world. Moreover, the Bush team has proven fairly adept at forcing military actions to conform to domestic political timeframes. I think an oft-overlooked facet of the timing of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was its relationship to the election cycle. Bush et al. knew that they wanted to get rid of Saddam, and knew that they had to do it in his first term, because there was no way to guarantee that he'd have a second. Letting the inspections drag on then, as an alternative strategy for example, would have been more than just backing down; it would have lessened the chance that the regime would be changed before November of 2004.
Likewise, the Second Battle of Fallujah coincided with the end of the US election in 2004, as Bush could not risk the media's coverage of a dirty, urban battle while he was shoring up his own electoral position at home.
Some might think this is a poor way to plan: manipulative of policy for the purposes of political gain . . . but to think such is to ignore the intricate ties between warfare and politics . . . Clausewitz would understand what the President is up to, as would Lincoln, I think . . .
In any case, assuming Mr. Taheri is correct in his assessment of the "waiting Bush out" strategy he describes, we now encounter a new foreign-policy conundrum for Bush's team. First an inescapable fact: after January 20th, 2009, we'll have a new President, who might have altogether different ideas of how the US should be involved in the Middle East.
So assume that Bush wants his strategy to continue beyond his own tenure. How might he ensure that? One way might be through a security treaty with the new Iraqi government. Such a treaty might detail the nature of continued US intervention for the next decade or so: where bases might be located; how aid should be distributed; how intelligence might be shared between the two; how the two countries' forces could cooperate in a variety of endeavors . . .
It is unlikely that such a step could be taken in 2006 because of political conditions in both countries: the Iraqi government is in no shape to begin deliberating it, as it does not yet exist. And in Washington, things have entered the twilight zone that occurs in the runup to elections: little other than the election itself is on anyone's mind, and passing a major piece of foreign-policy legislation is unlikely (the immigration debate is certainly foreign-policyish, but is also certainly more driven by reelection concerns than anything else). Moreover, after 2007, Bush will probably have missed his chance to attempt such an initiative . . . by 2008, he'll have entered full-scale lame duck status, and most everything will be on autopilot as the politerati totally focus on the presidential election.
Back to Iraqis: one thing's for sure: whoever does end up running the government over there will not run it for long if security is not his highest priority . . .
So there's an interesting confluence of interests: US desires to extend its forward presence in the Mideast for the intermediate term, perhaps 10 years or more; and an Iraqi political need to appear to shore up domestic security, while at the same time addressing the status of the large US presence within the country.
And then there's the timing: the formation of the Iraqi government, and what could be called the continual reformation of the US government, both won't be complete until early 2007 . . .
My guess is that if the Bush team wants to enshrine some sort of aggressive US transformational policy in the Middle East, 2007 will be the year to make it happen, and a treaty, or other similar agreement, might be the means . . .
One interesting side note is that treaties must be approved by the Senate . . . and the number of Senators who are preening for 2008 is as large as ever . . . and the Bush team also has a habit of skillfully employing the tactic of forcing a vote on an issue so that legislators are thereby defined by that vote in an upcoming election (think the DHS bill of 2002 for example) . . . interesting . . .
A principle of grand strategy is to ensure that one's policies live longer than one's own administration -- for if they are the correct course, then they should not be limited in the timeframe of their execution . . .
March 24, 2006
Why didn't Turkey let us open a northern front in 2003?
That's the question Wretchard poses in Belmont Club today. Here is my response:
As to your question, how this debacle occurred . . . My guess, and that is all it is, is that the issue of staging/basing rights in Turkey for the 4th ID is one of those things that falls in between departmental seams in the makeup of our foreign policy apparatus.
Was it a State function or a Defense function to convice the Turks to let us have our way? If memory serves, both Powell and Wolfowitz made trips to Turkey in the Jan/Feb/Mar timeframe. Who was ultimately responsible? Was everyone on the same page, making the same kinds of overtures to the Turks? or was it a case of an issue -- everyone who's worked in a large organization has observed this phenomenon -- where both were in charge and therefore neither took the initiative, knowing that they had the other to blame if it went south . . .
I think this is an enduring seam in the execution of our policies: the separate chains of command and institutions between the warmakers and the dealmakers quashes the ability to align the execution of policy except at the highest level -- the President. This seam definitely persisted for the entire lifespan of the CPA as well after the fall of Baghdad . . .
I agree, W, that only in retrospect can we say that 4th ID may have made a difference in the Sunni triangle, but I'm not so sure it would have. When we did the big op-pause about 7 days into the invasion, in order to "clean up the Fedayeen in our rear" (as ordered by LtGen McKiernan of CFLCC), the 1st MarDiv's intelligence section's opinion was that such resistance would collapse upon our seizure of Baghdad, and therefore the best way to clean it up was to press on. But somebody higher up wanted to stop, so we did.
This flies in the face of the assertions in Cobra II that Saddam's regime had two centers of gravity: the regime apparatus in Baghdad, AND the spirited insurgency fighters with a spiritual heart in the Sunni triangle (or some such).
I don't think that's an accurate observation. I think it was true that Baghdad was the center of gravity, and therefore the key node of the entire regime's system of power.
I think the real problem was that we dithered too long after Baghdad fell. That dithering was the result of the same seams between diplomats and generals mentioned above wrt to Turkey. Warfare is about creating opportunities and then exploiting them. For the creating part, I give us an A+. For exploitation, a B-.
One wonders if this performance might not be inherent to democracies. We worry so much about whether to go to war, and why, and why shouldn't we, and how else could we, and is there a precedent like this, and what will the French think, and how will people feel, that in the end, this makes the initial action the source of our mental focus, and not the second and third-order effects which is where exploitation -- and victory -- lies.
March 17, 2006
Fallujah, media memes, and public debate
I knew Wretchard was reading this book, so I decided to read it too and finished it earlier in the week.
The thing that struck me, but which West does not explicitly state, is that media perceptions were the driving factor in two key decisions made by the Bush Administration: first, to order the assault on the city in April of 2004, and second to halt it a few days later.
First, US popular revulsion to the images of the four dead military contractors in Fallujah caused the Administration to seek vengeance solely for its own sake.
For a gleeful mob to hang Americans like pieces of charred meat mocked the rationale that the war had liberated grateful Iraqis. The mutilation was both a stinging rebuke and a challenge. National pride and honor were involved. The president's envoy to Iraq, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, went on television in Baghdad to denounce the atrocity, vowing that the "deaths will not go unpunished." The spokesman for the JTF, Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, followed up by saying the attack on Fallujah would be "overwhelming." Write an order for the Marines to attack, General Sanchez told his staff, and I don't mean any fucking knock-before-search, touchy-feely stuff.The Marines, namely the 1st Marine Division, then still under General Mattis, and his immediate field commander, LtGen Conway of the First MEF, had intended to slowly take over various portions of the city over months, not invade it in one decisive action. But they had their orders (apparently very poorly written ones, according to West) and they carried them out.
But then media coverage and perceptions of the attack were once again integral in operational decisionmaking. The CPA
had prepared a public affairs plan in support of the offensive, although it didn't address the Arab press.That left Arab media to shape perceptions of the battle with no American influence at all.
On April 4, Fallujah was dominating international headlines because all major news outlets had rushed reporters and video crews there after the administration's vow of an overwhelming response.West's chapter entitled "Faint Echoes of Tet" is priceless. Here's an extended excerpt:
The CPA and all Iraqis were relying on the press to inform them about the military situation. Reports about the fighting came from two major sources -- Western journalists, principally American, and the Arab press. The two dominant Arab satellite networks were Al Arabiya, based in Dubai, and Al Jazeera, based in Qatar. In addition to reaching hundreds of millions of Arabs, their reportage was more trused by Iraqis than was the US-funded channel called Al Iraqiya, based in Baghdad. About 25% of Iraqis -- the more wealthy and influential -- had access to satellite reception, and by a five-to-one margin they preferred Jazeera to Iraqiya . . .West offers what might have been a palliative for this spin.
Both networks had learned how not to bite the hands that fed them. Criticism of the autocracies in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere had resulted in the closure of offices and the withdrawal of advertising revenues. Diatribes about the Israeli occupation of Iraq were the two staples of their coverage that received wide approval among Arab governments . . .
In April the insurgents invited a reporter from Al Jazeera, Ahmed Mansour, and his crew into Fallujah, where they filmed scenes from the hospital. Hour after hour, day after day after day in the first week in April, the airwaves were filled with pictures of the dead, the bleeding, and the maimed. The Arab media were calling the resistance an Initifada, linking the insurgent fighting against the Americans to the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis. The sound bites featured the wails of the mourners, the sobs and screams of mothers, and the frenzied shouts and harried faces of blood bespotted doctors and nurses. No one with a breath of compassion could watch Arab TV and not feel anguish. Most poignant were the pictures Jazeera ran of babies, one after another after another, all calm, frail, and pitiful in the repose of death. Where how or when they died was not attributed. The viewer assumed all the infants wwere killed by the Marines in Fallujah. The baby pictures would bring tears from a rock . . .
A Jazeera and Al Arabiya were unrelenting in broadcasting the plight of the civilians in Fallujah, while the internet amplified the message of Marine callousness and sped protests around the world on a minute-by-minute basis. On the Google search engine, during the month of April, the word Fallujah leaped from 700 to 175,000 stories, many highly critical of the Marines. Quantity had a spurious quality of its own, resulting in an erroneous certitude based on the sheer volume of repetition.
The reports filed by Western journalists embedded with the Marines did not support the allegations of widespread, indiscriminate carnage. Senior US government officials, though, didn't have the time to peruse tactical reporting. Instead, in their offices they turned on cable news, where video clips from Fallujah were shown over and over again. The images, obtained from a pool that included the Jazeera cameramen inside the city affected viewers in Iraq, in Washington, and in Crawford, Texas.
In the face of this press onslaught, the White House, the Pentagon, the CPA, and CentCom were passive. Partially this was a military reflex to avoid any comparison to the 'body count' debacle of Vietnam. none of those at the top of the chains of command, though, requested from the Marine units in daily contact any systematic estimates that distinguished between civilian and enemy casualties. Given the video recorded the the unmanned aerial vehicles and the imagery required of every air strike and AC-130 gun run, records of the damage would have been easy enough to collect and verify had anyone thought of doing so.
In the absence of countervailing visual evidence presented by authoritative sources, Al Jazeera shaped the world's understanding of Fallujah without having to counter the scrutiny of informed skeptics. The resulting political pressures constrained military actions both against Fallujah and against Sadr.
The Cluetrain Manifesto, which in the 1990s was so influential at describing the nature of the emerging connected world, made two observations that are relevant here:
1. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. In the case of Fallujah, the CNN and other western outlets frequently used footage from Jazeera, subverting to some extent the hierarchy of national boundaries as being determinative of press coverage. The same is true with the Google News aspect that West mentions. And finally, the hierarchy of the chain of command was subverted as well. Presumably the President himself had Fallujah brought into his living room, and its coverage shaped his perceptions of the battle. West implies that he did not seek out other opinions, notably that of the ground commanders, Mattis and Conway.
2. Markets are conversations. Cluetrain asserted that the information technology revolution allowed mass markets to revert to their conversational origins: the haggling, debate, and spirited nature of the traditional market or bazaar, rather than the stilted interaction between monolithic institutions and underdog individual customers that came to characterize relationships in the age of the industrial society.
West's solution to the whole conundrum, as mentioned in the last two paragraphs above, is very interesting. Traditional public relations methodology has attempted to generate enough contrary content such that the good might offer an alternative to the negative for the public to choose what to believe themselves. But what West advocates is something more like a public debate, in which some viewpoints, spin, or memes, are publicly refuted in some meaningful way. The only member of the Bush Administration who does anything like this on any kind of regular basis is the Defense Secretary. Occasionally when asked a leading or insinuating question for example, he responds with another question that attempts to refashion the dialogue. But even he doesn't do this that often. Keeping track of what memes are proliferating, where they come from, how they contradict each other, and finding concrete and believable evidence to refute them is a big job. Few military or policy organizations do this well. Not even corporations excel at this: usually they stumble along with PR as a sort of arm of the Marketing department. How many times has a corporation been accused of something and responded with deft explanations and a robust defense? Only about a tenth of the time or so would be my guess . . .
In fact, the only kind of organization I can think of that has an inherent stake in immediately and strongly responding to charges made by the press -- or by an opponent, with the press as its proxy -- is the political campaign. Attack ad is met by attack ad, and spin meets spin. But even those organizations are in search of the ever-memorable sound bite, not some public consensus on "truth."
Perhaps then, one thing that the Defense Department needs is a rapid response combat punditry team. Since this would essentially be a political function, it should be staffed with appointed civilians, but preferably those who are not too closely tied to the reigning administration, if that's possible. The office would work to refute, debate, clarify and offer counter-narratives in any case deemed necessary. This would be something different from "propaganda" creation, at least as I envision it. Propaganda nowadays is smelled as such by the public immediately and if there ever was value to it, it would certainly be counterproductive today. But to publicly enter into a debate with the memes, or individuals in the press -- to begin a conversation, rather than the traditionally conceived shouting match or corporate institutional-speak-- might be very effective. It would be a difficult job, but it seems to be a necessary one these days. The key would be to be forceful, but not necessarily adversarial. Public debate is about winning people over to one's side after all, and the ultimate coup would be to win the press themselves.
Notably though, one key to good conversation is when each side is willing to admit previous mistakes, or misjudgments. A candid combat pundit would do so. And if the press failed to do so, it would lessen it morally in the eyes of the independent observer. Or, miracle of miracles, perhaps some would admit mischaracterizations from time to time. In that case, would not public debate be more enlightened than it is now?
The blogosphere already performs the function I've described to some degree, but with much more limited effectiveness. Someone based within the DoD would have the authority of office to go with that of the megaphone.
A second technique for offering evidence to counter inaccuracies that enter public discourse would be the use of a small number of "directed telescopes", perhaps working out of the same combat pundit office mentioned above. The directed telescope was an innovation of Napoleon. Each was a pretty senior colonel or general officer, held by Napoleon in exceptionally high esteem, and trusted implicitly. He would use them to survey terrain, deliver important communications, gather intelligence, make judgments of enemy dispositions, and occasionally they would jump in to correct units that were not following Napoleon's intent. Martin Van Creveld describes this technique in Command in War:
Climbing through the chain of command, however, such reports tend to become less and less specific; the more numerous the stages through which they pass and the more standardized the form in which they are presented, the greater the danger that they will become so heavily profiled (and possibly sugar-coated or merely distorted by the many summaries) as to become almost meaningless. To guard against this danger, and keep subordinates on their toes, a commander needs to have in addition a kind of directed telescope -- the metaphor is an apt one -- which he can direct, at will, at any part of the enemy's forces, the terrain, or his own army in order to bring in information that is not only less structured than that passed on by the normal channels but also tailored to meet his momentary (and specific) needs. Ideally, the regular reporting system should tell the commander which questions to ask, and the directed telescope should enable him to answer those questions. It was the two systems together, cutting across each other and wielded by Napoleon's masterful hand, which made the evolution in command possible.While in Napoleon's time the directed telescope was one of two parts that were reinforcing -- regular reporting being the other -- in our day, there would be three parts: regular reporting, the directed telescope, and the press. The telescopes would be a powerful tool to have in the arsenal of a Defense Secretary or President in need of further independent information on the status of forces or situations. And, in my conception, the telescopes might provide valuable information about the conduct of a given battle or campaign. Such information could be priceless in engaging in the debate with the press described above. They might be composed of a couple of colonels, some independent civilians (West himself, or Robert Kaplan might be good examples, since this is similar to the roles they've fashioned for themselves already, albeit independently), and even a physically fit diplomat or two. Combined with robust archiving, search, image retrieval, and public-speaking capabilities inherent in the combat pundit office (perhaps "office" is the wrong term, as it should be informal, small, and not legislatively created), the National Command Authorities might be much better able to determine the status of all kinds of events, and use that information to refute inaccurate media memes (and be more informed in general as well).
As organized from 1805 on, Napoleon's system for cutting through established channels and for directly gathering the information he needed consisted of two separate parts. The first was a group of between eight and twelve adjutant generals; these were men selected unsystematically from among colonels and generals who caught the emperor's eye, usually carried the rank of brigadier or major general, and were between ages thirty and forty and thus in the full flower of their mental and physical powers. Their duties varied enormously, from reconnoitering entire countries (Savary in 1805) to negotiating a surrender (Rapp in the same year) to spying out enemy headquarters under the cover of a truce (Rapp again, on the eve of Austerlitz) to commanding the cavalry of the artillery reserve in battle (Druot, Lauriston) to governing a province and commanding a garrison far from the main theater of operations. Such responsibilities called for practical savoir faire as well as diplomatic ability, the knowledge and talents of a military commander, and, last, but not least, sheer physical stamina.
PS: Comments are currently closed. Feel free to email me any thoughts or responses you have. I may include them here, but no promises.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention: in case there's any doubt to the role the press played in the Fallujah Battle, remember that when the city was finally assaulted in November of 04, the first objective was seizure of the hospital so that he images mentioned above would not be used so spuriously.
March 2, 2006
Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, “I don’t care what the Muslim world thinks, I’m not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don’t care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don’t trust them, and I’m not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!”Geraghty points to this New Republic piece, in which Peter Beinart asks,
Courting these voters will mean supporting proposals that are supported by wide swaths of the American people, but are largely considered nonstarters in Washington circles: much tougher immigration restrictions, including patrolling the Mexican border; racial profiling of airline passengers instead of confiscating grandma’s tweezers; drastically reducing or eliminating entry visas to residents of Muslim or Arab countries; and taking a much tougher line with Saudi Arabia and coping with the consequences of that stance. Since 9/11, the Bush administration, and most leaders on Capitol Hill in both parties have dismissed those ideas as unrealistic, counterproductive, or not in accordance to American values.
If you listen to Democratic criticism of the port deal, the Jacksonian themes are clear. In the words of California Senator Barbara Boxer, "We have to have American companies running our own ports." But nationalism tinged with xenophobia makes Democrats uncomfortable.
For Democrats, stealing the Bush administration's populist, unilateralist thunder would be a remarkable coup. And it would be a remarkable historical irony, since Jacksonianism in Jeffersonian clothes--civil libertarian, anti-globalization, uninterested in transforming the world--inverts the foreign policy of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Politically, the opportunity is clear. There's just one catch: Is this really what Democrats believe?
I'm convinced this is all a remake of Naked Gun. You remember the scene: in his zealous pursuit of the Queen's would-be assassin, Lt. Frank Drebin finds himself at an Angels game, suddenly taking the place of the umpire behind home plate. A pitch is thrown. The crowd goes silent. Drebin is quiet. The pitcher stares at him. The batter turns and looks at him. Drebin looks back at him. Then he mumbles, "Strike?"
The crowd goes wild. Drebin smiles. He's got em now! He's forgotten all about the assassin for the moment. The next pitch is thrown. It's obviously way outside. Drebin calls another strike. The crowd goes nuts! Drebin does a little dance behind the plate, with two fingers up in the air, repeating, "Two! Two! Two! Strike Two!" On the next pitch, Drebin calls a strike before the ball even hits the catcher's mitt. Then he polishes it off with a moonwalk and a bit of breakdancing.
This is where the Democratic party finds itself. With their friends in the press, they've thrown out all manner of arguments in their zealous quest to wrest power from George W. Bush. Then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a position to umpire a large commercial transaction. Everyone waits to see what they're going to say.
The country goes wild! They reinforce their success and continue on this meme. But as Beinart notes above, are they really ready to deal with the underlying reasoning that leads the nation to cheer at their calls?
We all know how that segment of the movie ends. Drebin is having so much fun that he forgets about the sleeper in his midst. Then, when he's reminded, he starts a riot on the field. Of course, it's Hollywood and in the end he's a hero. But is this the kind of national security that we want? Ask a Democrat what kinds of actions he's prepared to take in the war, and he'll say he'll withdraw troops from Iraq. Then he'll list a litany of things he would have done differently. But does he really have a plan of any substance? In the midst of discrediting the Bush Administration, he sees an opening on Bush's right. Finally! But is he really ready to go there and do the things that those constituencies want done? All of a sudden, the pre-9/11 Democrats have gone on a blind date with 2006 voters. I have a feeling that before it is all over, the Democrats will be as terrified of the voters as they are of Arabs.
This all goes back to my post of yesterday: How will our society answer the question: Is Islam compatible with a free society? The Democrats may be about to side with those who say, No. SInce this violates some of their most fundamental principles, and those of multiculturalism, can they even make this journey? Or are we witnessing a transformation of the Democratic party?
Interestingly enough, Naked Gun opens with Drebin "on vacation" in Beirut, if memory serves, where he takes out Ayatollah Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Qaddafi all at one time.
[Frank has beaten a horde of America's most-feared world leaders in a conference room and heads for a door]This was supposed to be funny back in 1988: a witless American taking the fight to the enemy: basically what the American people would have loved to see done to any of those world leaders. But it's meant to be a farce!
Muammar al-Qaddafi: Hey, who are you?
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!
[the door hits Frank in the face and he loses his balance]
Who knew it was prophetic of the possible electoral machinations of the Democratic party in 2006?
The Key Strategic Question
Is Islam compatible with a free society?
This is the key strategic question of our day.
In October, William Buckley wrote:
The moment has not come, but it is around the corner, when non-Muslims will reasonably demand to have evidence that the Muslim faith can operate within boundaries in which Christians and Jews (and many non-believers) live and work without unconstitutional distraction.[h-t to a Belmont Club commenter]
Buckley is correct that this is a question demanding an answer, but he misjudges the timing of its asking and answering. The truth is that assumed answers to this question have been fundamental in developing our strategies in the war on terror, and that we have yet to answer it definitively.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? A 'yes' answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a 'no' answer.
In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak notes the tone of discourse in the beginning of our war:
"Surely," the proposition was put forward, by many Islamic voices as well as by the president, "a modern and faithful Islam is consistent with nonrepressive, open, economically vital societies."To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
Since 9/11, the assumption of our government has been that Islam can be compatible with freedom. The Bush administration has been exploiting all manner of divides within the Muslim world, not to conquer it, but to transform it such that a type of Islam compatible with freedom -- and therefore the West and the US, the wellspring and birthplace of modern individual liberty -- will come to the front at the expense of a type of Islam that is irreconcilable. Every institution of government answers our key question with a resounding yes. The Pentagon, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, makes a distinction between "bin Ladenism" and moderate Muslims, our would-be allies. Bush makes speeches in praise of freedom in general and especially in the Muslim world. The defense establishment is addressing what it calls a 'war of ideas':
The U.S. government is also focusing more attention on the intangible but vital dimension of the "war of ideas" between radical Islam and moderate Western and Islamic thought. The Pentagon's September 2004 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to counter ideological support for terrorism to secure permanent gains in the war against terrorism.A yes answer to the question requires Red State Christians in the US to tolerate an Islam that tolerates them. A no answer to the question requires an abandonment of belief in the universality of ideas originating in the west, because it becomes clear that a large portion of humanity -- a fifth perhaps -- follows an incompatible religion. A yes answer forces one to attack totalitarian elements within Islam. A no answer forces a clash of civilizations, a Great Islamic War, as it assumes that all Islam is totalitarian.
It stated the importance of negating the image of a U.S. war against Islam, and instead, developing the image of a civil war within Islam, fought between moderate states and radical terrorists. This kind of imagery will feed into the broader debate beginning in the U.S. on how to win such a war of ideas and how to cultivate moderate democratic Islamic states.
A yes answer might lead to the establishment of something like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as discussed in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The idea of the congress, however, grew out of a feeling among independent intellectuals on the non-Communist left, as well as American officials, that the West after World War II faced a huge Soviet commitment to propagandizing and imposing Communism, and might lose the battle for European minds to Stalinism.One principle of the CCF's founding document was, "Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance."
So the congress — established at a 1950 Berlin meeting at which the writer Arthur Koestler declared to a crowd of 15,000, "Friends, freedom has seized the offensive!" — launched magazines, held conferences, mounted exhibitions, and generally sought to expose Stalinist falsehoods from its liberal position. At its height, according to Coleman, the CCF "had offices or representatives in 35 countries, employing a total of 280 staff members."
A no answer might disparage the notion that Westerners can say anything of import to those practicing Islam. I'm not sure if Bruce Thornton would answer no to the key question, but he doesn't seem to like the idea of Westerners trying to convince Muslims of anything new about their religion:
If, then, you are in possession of this truth that you are absolutely certain holds the key to universal happiness in this world and the next, why would you be tolerant of alternatives? Why should you tolerate a dangerous lie? Why should you “live and let live,” the credo of the spiritually moribund who stand for everything because they stand for nothing? And why wouldn’t you kill in the name of this vision, when the infidel nations work against God’s will and his beneficent intentions for the human race?A yes answer to our question might force us to reexamine the religious roots of our own conceptions of freedom, in order to figure best a way to help Muslims look for such roots in their faith. This might resemble the efforts of David Gelernter in his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, "A Religious Idea Called 'America'"
This is precisely what the jihadists tell us, what fourteen centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence tell us, what the Koran and Hadith tell us. Yet we smug Westerners, so certain of our own superior knowledge that human life is really about genes or neuroses or politics or nutrition, condescendingly look down on the true believer. Patronizing him like a child, we tell him that he doesn’t know that his own faith has been “hijacked” by “fundamentalists” who manipulate his ignorance, that what he thinks he knows about his faith is a delusion, and that the true explanation is one that we advanced, sophisticated Westerners understand while the believer remains mired in superstition and neurotic fantasy.
The most important story in and for American history is the biblical Exodus; the verse “let my people go” became the subtext of the Puritan emigration to America in the seventeenth century, the American revolution in the eighteenth, and--in significant part by Lincoln’s own efforts--of the Civil War in the nineteenth. It became important, also, to the twentieth century Americanism of Wilson and Truman and Reagan and W. Bush--Americanism as an outward-looking religion with global responsibilities.A yes answer might say that if God gave Biblical antecedents for the freedom of all mankind, He might have put some in the Koran as well . . . A yes answer would try to figure how to play our own religion-based beliefs into a conversation with Islam, as Henry Jaffa seems to argue in the Claremont Review:
In the end we do need to know the real character of Americanism. The secular version is a flat, gray rendition--no color and no fizz--of this extraordinary work of religious imagination: the idea that liberty, equality, and democracy belong to all mankind because God wants them to.
We [are], in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.A no answer, on the other hand, might first start with Islam as anathema to free society, then move to other religious creeds, seeing them through a lens of general suspicion.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? Like a Zen koan, this is the question that vexes us.
Our answer of course, might change. The Bush administration has been answering yes for five years. But, inhabiting a democracy, it is of course reflective of and responsive to public sentiment. Several commentators believe that sentiment may be shifting. A piece by Jim Geraghty on his National Review blog wonders if Americans' answer to the key question is changing:
This strikes me as the fallout of the Tipping Point™ - my sense that in recent weeks, a large chunk of Americans just decided that they no longer have any faith in the good sense or non-hostile nature of the Muslim world. If subsequent polls find similar results, the port deal is dead.Perhaps the people's answer to the question is changing.
And what to make of the Manifesto from a dozen European intellectuals, Muslims or former Muslims many of them? How are they answering the key strategic question?
It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats . . .In Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Claire Berlinkski, author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, she relates this story:
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others.
Reynolds: You have this wonderful scene in your book where you talk about this, this Englishman of Bengali descent, and he said that when he traveled to the United States, he saw all these immigrants who were US citizens being welcomed by the INS and told, "Welcome home!" And he said, you know, if I ever got that kind of treatment you know when I returned to England, I'd happily lay down my life for England right there . . .In a dissenting statement to the above-mentioned manifesto, Paul Belien in Brussels Journal quotes Dr. Jos Verhulst:
Berlinski: I would have died for England on the spot, that's what he told me. If ever once, someone had said "welcome home" when I showed them my passport at customs and immigration, I would have died for England on the spot.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise – Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep – full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.When I was in Iraq, one Iraqi told me he wished Iraq could be the 51st state in the union. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that there are many Muslims who would prefer that we answer the key question with a yes, saying to those Muslims who can find Islam compatible with freedom, "Have courage!" and once they've achieved their freedom, "Welcome home!"
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him to see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
To what fate are we assigning them if we answer no?
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Even though I had no direct quote above, this piece, like most that I do, had a lot of influence from Belmont Club, especially Blowback.
UPDATE2: There seems to be some problem posting comments. The server must be a little slow. It took me several tries to post last night. Thanks for your patience.
February 23, 2006
Has war with Iran begun already?
Back in January, I said:
Here's what I expect in the next 12 months.Is it possible that the Iranians have begun their campaign of terror, but with as much deniability as possible? Let's discuss.
-There will be airstrikes upon Iranian facilities by either the US or Israel.
-There will be catastrophic, if not cataclysmic, terror attacks in various parts of the Middle East, sponsored by Iran or its proxies; The Gulf States, Jordan, Israel, and Iraq are potential targets.
I'm not going to make any definitive statements of causality. Either of the above two events may happen before the other. What happens after those two is anyone's guess. But I think they are both coming, and coming faster than we may all expect.
As far as terrorism and its relationship to a state, Iran presents a different set of circumstances than either Iraq or Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's raid on the eastern seaboard on 9/11 was an act of a transnational terror organization with sanctuary within a state. Afghanistan was a totally willing host to Al Qaeda's parasitic organization. Nevertheless, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were still different organizations, with different goals, intents, and motivations, complementary though they might have been.
In Iraq, terror organizations have yet a different relationship with the state. There they exist as something more akin to a cancer, feeding off the ideological and organizational remnants of the Hussein regime, and attacking the host -- the new Iraqi state, founded in the period of 2004-2005.
But what if terrorism is not just a tactic, or an organization separate from its host state? What if instead, terrorism is part and parcel of the state, and not just a tactic, but key to the national security strategy of a state? What if its institutions are not just cooperative with those of a given state, but nearly completely reliant upon it, even to the point of serving as its proxy?
Something akin to this last scenario describes the relationship of Iran to terrorist outfits, whether Hezbollah, its own internal security organizations, or its Pasdaran officers who have made mischief in all parts of the Muslim world at some point or another. Let us then posit that terrorism in some form is an integral part of Iran's foreign policy.
Allow a slilght digression on the nature of terrorism itself. As much as Al Qaeda or its brethren may wish to inflict massive casualties within the West and the US especially, terrorism is just as much about, well, terrorizing a given audience or constituency. That is to say, even though many forms of it might inflict significant casualties, the ultimate goal is influence. It is meant to change minds. When its perpetrators are known, and terror acts are overt, it might be categorized within that type of operation that the West would know as a "show of force." When its origins are not known, or if it is perhaps not even clear that a certain event has a single human agency behind it, then it seeks other forms of influence -- perhaps to change mindsets or affect policy. In some cases, it might even overlap or be confused with covert action, one of the purposes of which is to affect or change policy without any public knowledge of agency or origin.
The US response to 9/11 -- transformation of two states, and an unremitting pursuit of Al Qaeda in all its forms -- would seem to suggest that overt terrorism does not influence the US in a productive manner. Any organization or state that used terror solely for the purpose of a "show of force" would be looking down the business end of the US military's arsenal with little delay. This is not to suggest that spectacular attacks won't be pursued, just that they might now be most useful only for their destructive power.
But the second kind of terrorism -- deniable, covert, and meant to influence -- might take on a whole new importance. These kinds of attacks might be meant to embarrass the West, harrass it, sow discord among its nations, or alternately (and perhaps not simultaneously) unify the Muslim world against it. What might some of these actions look lilke? Well, perhaps "spontaneous" demonstrations in dozens of countries about something published four months previously in an obscure news organ would fit the bill. Or, perhaps a massive terror attack upon a key Shia shrine, which has thus far not been claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, could fit into this category as well.
When considered in the light of the long history of Iran with terror, as both its sponsor and its exporter, one wonders if Iran has begun a new campaign in its quest to achieve nuclear power status with no real objection from the rest of the world. Much of the below has been stated in other venues, but consider each of these points afresh:
-the cartoon controversy did not really begin until after the IAEA had referred Iran to the security council.
-the current chairmanship of the IAEA is held by Denmark.
-some of the worst violence was in Syria, a state where the government controls association, and which is allied with Iran.
And as far as the mosque destruction goes:
-no particular group has claimed responsibility.
-conventional wisdom, correct or not, holds that this act has created one of the highest states of tension in Iraq in some time.
Have these acts been effective in influencing the West? The cartoon controversy might have united the West a bit, but it might have united the Muslim world much more. The mosque destruction is a bit too recent to judge.
One wonders though: how does the US public's reaction to the UAE port deal relate to the cartoon riots? One commentator today (can't find the link) mentioned that it is the reaction of the US public to distrust this transaction when they see that their own government was not forthright enough in supporting Denmark.
One can speculate all night on whether the above two acts are related and how. There are other explanations. Coincidence is one of the easiest.
But all of this raises a larger point: when Americans envision war, we imagine large scale military assaults and operations to neutralize targets, not covert and deniable violence on behalf of influencing public attitudes. Yet this blind spot is exactly what Iran excels at performing, and exactly what vexes Secretary Rumsfeld so much as he laments today in the LA Times:
Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today's media age, but for the most part we -- our government, the media or our society in general -- have not.I believe our war with Iran has begun.
Consider that violent extremists have established "media relations committees" and have proved to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline-grabbing attacks using every means of communication to break the collective will of free people.
Strategypage today has a list of "Ten Signs that the United States is about to Bomb Iran." These are things to look for that will indicate an imminent strike by the US, movements of units and materiel and such that intelligence analysts would examine.
Iran is playing quite a different game than us. It seeks a campaign of influence, of which terrorism and rioting might be key components. Iran's campaign needs no top ten signs to detect it. If the period before it was referred to the Security Council might have been called the "diplomatic phase," it is now in the "influence phase," which might last for a long time, and mean no further escalation is necessary. There may be no start or stop, there may be no formal military action, there may be no overt Iranian involvement, but war with Iran will likely look like a series of events, inexplicable and spontaneous, yet which frustrate our aims.
It is a well-crafted strategy really, as it seeks the seams in our defenses. It undermines our cultural assumptions (wars must be declared at a given point, ended at a given point, and fought by uniformed military forces on "battlefields") and even some of our societal organizational seams (media institutions are not part of the governments that fight wars, but are separate, and beheld to different standards).
For those who think I might be some sort of conspiracy nut, consider: a key part of influence is opportunism. I'm not implying that Iran knew the cartoons would be published, or even was behind the Danish imam who first started circulating them. But when you see an opening you seize it. Iran may have had nothing to do with the destruction of the golden mosque, but this doesn't stop Ahmadinejad from fanning the flames of popular emotion by blaming the US or Israel.
Welcome to warfare in the 21st century. What will be next?
UPDATE: Hat-tip to Instapundit for the Strategypage bit. Also, for this piece by Michael Novak:
Naturally, the West is feeling guilty about the cartoons, and chillingly intimidated by the “Muslim reaction”—more exactly, by the contrived, heavily stimulated, long-contained, and deliberately timed demonstrations of focused political outrage against them—while failing to pay serious attention to the truly huge event that started off this week with a great boom.I guess I'm not the only one . . .
That event, I have a hunch, might well be followed by another shocker fairly soon.
For the stakes for Iran—its nuclear future—and for Syria—its safety from within—and for the future of Hamas in Palestine, could scarcely be higher than they are just now. The most organized radical forces are poised to act in great concert. The moment is crucial for their future prospects.
February 5, 2006
Today's sermon at church was pretty thought-provoking. The minister took the occasion of Bush's State of the Union address to offer his own interpretation of the "State of the Church," by which he meant, the state of the Christian church in general, not our own church community.
He pointed out that statistics show that 76% of Americans weren't in church today. He noted that long ago, when a new subdivision was created, the developers would choose a place for the church, making sure there was one, but now, churches have trouble expanding or even starting in some communities. Neighborhoods often even oppose church expansions -- which was apparently the case for our church several years ago.
Pastors are portrayed on television and in popular culture as bumbling, and inarticulate. Christians in general are shown as being narrow-minded and judgemental. In years past missionaries would depart the United States for lands abroad, then return to report on their progress. Now, the United States is the 3rd largest mission field in the world, with missionaries coming here to testify, then returning to their own countries to report.
The minister mentioned Thomas Friedman's book, "The World is Flat", which makes the case for the extreme interconnected nature of the world economy today.
He noted that we live in a time of extreme technological advance, with corresponding social upheavals, and political controversies. He said that although Christianity may seem as though it cannot adapt to new circumstances, and it may seem that our nation is not a Christian nation, that Christianity has weathered similar social upheavals before. I thought he was going to draw comparisons to the Reformation or the Renaissance, but instead, he drew our attention to the 1st century AD.
In the 1st century, Pax Romana ruled the world, and Roman engineering, in the form of roads and other public works projects, and shipping and transportation technology, meant rapid change in many parts of the world. Christianity started in this environment and began to spread like wildfire. By the end of the 1st century, the Christian church had spread until it covered most of the known world.
But its spread was not without strife. The Romans at first ignored Christianity, then began to persecute it, and then things got so bad that Romans would kill Christians anytime they discovered them.
How did Christianity spread so quickly in this environment? The pastor's thesis was that Christianity spread because it acted and "looked" differently than the rest of the world. That is to say, his thesis is that Christianity spread by its own example. He pointed us to the book "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark, in which it is argued that Constantine's conversion to Christianity was not a leading event but a trailing one: only when much of the empire was already Christian did Constantine convert. By that time, Christianity had already infiltrated all realms of empire life. The reason the pastor gave was that during the period between 100 AD and the conversion of Constantine, Rome had many troubles which its government and its elites could not solve. When they failed, Christians stepped in and attempted to take care of the people of the empire, to provide the services that the government could not.
The pastor noted that when Christians today discuss how to influence the United States so that it might become a more devout or devoutly Christian nation, they usually have two solutions: first, they want to somehow convert the media such that celebrities are Christians and set good examples. Second, they want to "vote out the bums" in office and replace them with Christians.
The pastor said that those ideas were all well and good but the real way that Christianity will spread is by the example of its philosophy in everyday life: Christians can change the culture "through the living of our very lives." Christians themselves can affect this change by 1) aspiring to be Christ-like, 2) going on mission trips of some kind, whether locally or abroad, and 3) having social and communal relationships with other Christians, because Christianity does not thrive in a vacuum.
I thought this was a very interesting sermon and I really agreed with his idea that Christianity must survive and thrive on its own merits, not by voting in certain politicians who might enforce it through fiat, or by merely having somehow the right celebrities in place to espouse its tenets. This appealed to me as one who tries to examine all manner of ideas on their own merits.
I did however, have two other reactions to the sermon:
First, if today is an era of rapid technological change and there is a faith that is spreading as quickly as Christianity did in the 1st century AD, I think the more accurate analogy is Islam. Islam is offering itself very clearly as an alternative to the modernizing forces of rapid technological change, social and political upheaval, and "mental war" as I mentioned in a previous post.
Second, if, as the pastor recommended, Christians can advocate their own religion by setting an example through the living of their very lives, how might Muslims be convinced to do the same? And not just Muslims in the US, or the West, but Muslims in the Middle East as well? Is this even possible? Or are they destined to attempt to impose their own enforcement of Islam upon the rest of us, by law when possible, or by protest when not?
Perhaps our own democratic initiatives in Iraq -- a secular country, and a religiously diverse one at that -- are as much about inculcating some sense of this striving to prove the value of one's own religion as a way of life in compeition with other ways of life, as they are about anything else?
I know that all may be a bit off the beaten path from the regular topics here, but it all seems incredibly relevant given the cartoon controversy of late.
February 16, 2005
The Post-Assassination Aftermath
Daniel Drezner thinks things are getting uncomfortable for Syria.
It seems like many parties are going to use this assassination to resuscitate and spearhead new efforts to get Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Part of the rationale will now also be that any supposed Syrian 'stabilization' role has fallen well short with this gruesome mega-bombing near the St. George hotel on Beirut's corniche. Still, however, we need to see where the evidence leads before getting too carried away. The demarche and temporary recall of our Ambassador were fine and, all told, measured and appropriate responses. An actual suspension in diplomatic relations or more permanent recall of our Ambassador are not yet warranted, in my view.How might the US maneuver now? If Syria can be induced to withdraw from Lebanon, grateful Lebanese might give the US free reign in the Beka'a Valley. Getting there either before or during the Syrian withdrawal could yield treasure troves of intelligence -- everything from the Iranian Pasdaran's support of Hamas and Hezbollah to all other manner of ill-willed individuals who have trained there from time to time . . . The Lebanese seem genuinely pissed off about the assassination (h-t to Drezner for this bit from the NY Times):
n Sidon, Mr. Hariri's hometown, Syrian workers were attacked by dozens of protesters before the police intervened, and hundreds of Lebanese marched with black banners and pictures of the slain leader. A mob also attacked a Beirut office of Syria's ruling Baath Party.
Thousands of protesters also massed in the northern port city of Tripoli, according to Reuters.