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 20, 2006
I'm not asking you to ask, I'm telling you to listen
Iran judges itself the victor in the Iraq war. It is now inviting Syria and Iraq to Tehran for a conference.
Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation and will fly to the Iranian capital Saturday, a close parliamentary associate said.
The Iranian diplomatic gambit appeared designed to upstage expected moves from Washington to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq, where more civilians have been killed in the first 20 days of November than in any other month since the AP began tallying the figures in April 2005.
The Iranian move was also a display of its increasingly muscular role in the Middle East, where it already has established deep influence over Syria and Lebanon.
"All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region," said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister.
What do victors do next? They consolidate their gains. Belmont Club notes:
It was Mark Steyn who said that however evasively the Democratic party phrased it, the platform upon which they ran would be understood by its true name throughout the Middle East. George Packer, writing in the New Republic, said that now was the time to make arrangements to evacuate the thousands of Iraqis who believed in America; and that those Iraqis were even now making deals with whoever they thought would be in charge -- after the policy with the unstated name was implemented -- in order to survive.What will the conversations be like in Tehran? Hard to say, but one thing is sure: Tehran won't be asking for anything, but dictating terms instead. After the meeting, no one should be surprised at what comes next. Talabani might even change his tune as to how many US troops are needed for how long.
But the Iranians can hardly contain their glee. They know what last elections meant; and so do Iraq and Syria. There may be no need to wait for the Baker report. It is being overtaken by events.
Phase One of the "Global War on Terror" is over. It has seen two vicious regimes destroyed in the Middle East. Thousands of Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured. A fledgling democracy grips power by its fingernails in Iraq. Iran is emboldened and is now the dominant power in the region. A new regional war looms around the periphery of Israel and another is beginning around the periphery of Somalila. Pakistan has ceded territory to the Taliban in Waziristan. The US military now has hundreds of thousands of battle-hardened veterans.
Writing in the Weekly Standard of his latest trip to Ramadi, Michael Fumento concludes thus:
People always ask how the Iraqis feel about Americans and the war in general. I respond that they just tell you what they think will prove advantageous to them, a combination of complaints and praise for Ameriki (America). Non-embedded American reporters run into the same thing. I asked one of the north Ramadi farmers through the translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water from the Euphrates for his fields because of rationing, and then tells me: "But safety is 100 percent better now that the Americans have come along." Baloney. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn't going to tell me. None of them will tell me.There are pluses and minuses. The war is not over, but the first part of it is largely ended. It might be presumptuous to end a chapter now, but the largest use of US force has been in Iraq, and that enterprise is now destined to wither away in one form or another. It's hard to know what comes next: an interlude, or Phase Two. The previous post The Golden Mean argued that those who favor attacking Iran are now largely in the wilderness. It's hard to know if there will even be a Phase Two. But for now, the last page has been turned and it will be time to wait for the sequel in whatever form it takes.
Soldiers also give different accounts of the extent of progress in Ramadi. A Cougar driver told me nothing had changed since his last deployment, yet the very fact that he was driving into Ramadi in a convoy of just four trucks indicated otherwise. Another told me Ramadi is now "a thousand times better." Ultimately each was simply another blind man feeling his part of the elephant. With my three embeds in Anbar, I'd like to believe I've felt quite a few parts of the elephant.
Depressed? No. Thinking we won't eventually win? Not at all. Just being realistic. They don't call it a "long war" for nothing.
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 19, 2006
Game, Set, Match: Hezbollah's Demise Has Been Decided
UPDATE FOLLOWS BELOW
My spider senses tell me that the US has decided to give Israel a goodly amount of time to destroy Hezbollah. NPR's All Things Considered today interviewed US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. Since the resignation of Robert Zoellick, a few weeks ago, Burns is the number two man at State. He's always interesting to observe and is one of the heavy hitters behind US policy. Consider: [emphases added, and let me also state for the record for the NPR folks that I duly paid $3.95 for this transcript, rather than listening with realaudio and copying myself]:
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Secretary of State Rice said today that there should be a cease-fire in Lebanon as soon as possible when conditions are conducive. Does that mean after Israel is satisfied that is has sufficiently disabled Hezbollah?The US is creating a diplomatic dilemma for Hezbollah: in order to stop the Israeli offensive, Hezbollah will have to take actions that inherently admit defeat and discredit it. Returning the Israeli soldiers and removing itself from the south might leave the Arab street sufficiently riled up, but these actions will be strategic disasters. And that's not to even mention the attrition their forces will have suffered at whatever point the fighting stops.
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I think it means that the conditions have to be appropriate for a ceasefire to be effective. What all the leader in St. Petersburg said over the weekend - the G-8 countries and that - is that it’s very important that we go to the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem is that Hezbollah - in deciding to abduct the Israeli soldiers and in deciding to now inflict a reign of terror on Israeli cities in the north - has actually broken four U.N. Security Council violations. And as you know Robert, this has been a 25 to 30 year struggle over that border. And what we wanted to do is make sure that the border can be safe and secure so that there’s no need for violence on either side. Hezbollah has broken that long- standing prohibition on violence.
SIEGEL: But to pursue this notion of when conditions are conducive - if the Israelis felt that it would take them several more weeks of air strikes in order to degrade Hezbollah, would that be acceptable to Washington? Or do you think that the countdown to a cease-fire is measured in days rather than weeks?
Undersecretary BURNS: I think what has to happen now is that Hezbollah has to return the abducted soldiers, and Hezbollah has to also stop the bombing of Northern Israel. That is a condition that - not only the United States - but all the European countries, Russian, and Japan laid down the other day.
That’s why Secretary Rice said when conditions are appropriate, because a cease-fire in place today would essentially leave Hezbollah in a victorious position, and Hezbollah with a sword hanging over Israel’s head. That is not a condition conducive to peace or stability. And it’s a tragic situation, because Lebanon is very much a victim of what Hezbollah has done.
SIEGEL: Does that mean, then, that Hezbollah would have to return the Israeli soldiers it captured and also completely disarm in the South of Lebanon in order for there to be conditions conducive to a cease fire?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I don’t - we have certainly not been that specific about conditions conducive to a cease-fire, nor has anyone else. Kofi Annan has not been that specific.
Everyone knows what happened here. And I think what was remarkable about the St. Petersburg statement issued yesterday morning by the leaders was that they said there was one party responsible for this, and it’s Hezbollah. They all said that. If you look at the public statements of Egypt and of Saudi Arabia, and look at the statements of Kofi Annan himself - it was Hezbollah who started this. And Hezbollah has now put us and put us and put the Israelis in a situation where they have to defend their country.
So our task as diplomats and our task in the United States is to try to use our influence and our energy to right that situation, and it has to begin with Hezbollah.
SIEGEL: Since the president was heard saying that he believes someone ought to tell Syria to tell Hezbollah to cut it out in Southern Lebanon, why aren’t we saying that to Syria? Why aren’t we talking directly to Syria now?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, we’re certainly talking to the Syrians. I mean, they have an ambassador in Washington, we have an embassy in Damascus. The quality of that relationship is very, very poor.
Syria, of course, is a country that in our view has destabilized Lebanon for the past 30 years. And we certainly don’t want to see Syria now try to regain its position in Lebanon. But the other day in St. Petersburg, the leader said – all of them – that in addition to the extreme miss by Hezbollah starting this conflict, there were others who supported, who bore a equal responsibility, and Syria and Iran are certainly two of them.
Siegel: Equal responsibility?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well certainly, Syria and Iran have to be held accountable for what they’ve done, and it’s our strong advice that they would stop resupplying Hezbollah in the coming days.
SIEGEL: So the long and the short of it is the Israelis should continue until they really deal a grievous blow to Hezbollah. That’s the - that should be the condition that precedes any kind of ceasefire?
Undersecretary BURNS: I wouldn’t put it like that. I would put it in the following way: that Hezbollah has the responsibility now to take the steps to end this crisis. And the obligation rests with Hezbollah to begin to lead the region back towards peace, and that’s where we will be putting our efforts over the next several days and several weeks.
Allow me to paint a best-case scenario: The US or EU brokers backchannel diplomacy between Syria and Israel to the effect that neither will attack the other unprovoked. Israel then is given diplomatic leeway to absolutely destroy Hezbollah, even to the extent of entering the Beka'a Valley, provided it takes place within a reasonable amount of time.
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
In other words the goal of the international community should not just be the destruction of Hezbollah; it should be a solution such that a similar proxy cannot emerge.
Before you hound me in the comments, please, like I said, it's a best-case scenario . . . Some of the conditions of the best-case will undoubtedly not be met. Finally, this is excepting some event by Iran which escalates the conflict. Then, all bets are off.
UPDATE: Bill Roggio and the other smart guys at the Counterterrorism Blog study the Israeli military call-ups, rather than reading the diplomacy tea leaves like me, and come to a different conclusion:
While there is always the possibility the Israeli government and military officials are conducting a sophisticated information operations campaign, the military is not mobilizing for a large scale invasion of Lebanon. Only three battalions (about 300 troops per battalion) have been mobilized over the past few days. With Israel being a small nation, a large scale call up of troops could not be hidden from public view.Goodness knows there are smarter guys than me at the Counterterrorism Blog. All of this shows the difficulty of reaching a consensus on intelligence issues. At least those of us in the blogosphere try to make predictions . . .
The same post also mentions that "air strikes cannot defeat Hezbollah's forces alone." If their analysis is correct, then a decision will not be reached, and the entire tumult will revert to the status quo ante.
In my mind this would be unfortunate.
July 17, 2006
Israel's Beka'a Dilemma
In the past few days, Tigerhawk has excerpted two reports from StratFor discussing the likelihood of an Israeli attack on Syria. First was an excerpt on Friday with this tidbit:
Israel will not put ground forces in Lebanon, particularly in the Bekaa Valley, without first eliminating the Syrian air force; to do otherwise would be to leave Israel's right flank wholly vulnerable. If al Assad does nothing, Israel will have to assume that Syria is waiting for an opportune moment to strike, and will act accordingly.In other words, if Israel prosecutes the war such as to eliminate Hezbollah's presence int he Beka'a Valley, it will be extremely vulnerable to Syrian attacks. Israel is therefore awaiting some indication from Syria that it will not stop Israel or attack its forces in their pursuit of Hezbollah into the Beka'a.
The second StratFor article excerpted by Tigerhawk here contains further detail:
The uncertain question is Syria. No matter how effectively Israel seals the Lebanese coast, so long as the Syrian frontier is open, Hezbollah might get supplies from there, and might be able to retreat there. So far, there has been only one reported airstrike on a Syrian target. Both Israel and Syria were quick to deny this.All of these considerations become more clear when taking a look at the battlespace:
What is interesting is that it was the Syrians who insisted very publicly that no such attack took place. The Syrians are clearly trying to avoid a situation in which they are locked into a confrontation with Israel. Israel might well think this is the time to have it out with Syria as well, but Syria is trying very hard not to give Israel casus belli. In addition, Syria is facilitating the movement of Westerners out of Lebanon, allowing them free transit. They are trying to signal that they are being cooperative and nonaggressive.
The problem is this: While Syria does not want to get hit and will not make overt moves, so long as the Syrians cannot guarantee supplies will not reach Hezbollah or that Hezbollah won't be given sanctuary in Syria, Israel cannot complete its mission of shattering Hezbollah and withdrawing. They could be drawn into an Iraq-like situation that they absolutely don't want. Israel is torn. On the one hand, it wants to crush Hezbollah, and that requires total isolation. On the other hand, it does not want the Syrian regime to fall. What comes after would be much worse from Israel's point of view.
This is the inherent problem built into Israel's strategy, and what gives Hezbollah some hope. If Israel does not attack Syria, Hezbollah could well survive Israel's attack by moving across the border. No matter how many roads are destroyed, Israel won't be able to prevent major Hezbollah formations moving across the border. If they do attack Syria and crush al Assad's government, Hezbollah could come out of this stronger than ever.
This image was grabbed from Google Earth. It shows a tilted view of the operational space of the current war, facing northeast from northern Israel. The Beka'a Valley is represented by my poorly drawn hashed area in the middle of the picture. It is extremely restricted terrain; there is not a great deal of room for maneuver. Its entire length runs parallel to the Syrian border. Even though much of that border is made up of mountain ranges, this still leaves any attacking force vulnerable to armored attack through gaps, or to indirect fire, whether via missile or artillery. As the map shows, there is a significant difference in elevations within the Valley as opposed to either side. (For another good map of the Valley from a different perspective see here.)
Hence the Israeli dilemma: Hezbollah cannot be destroyed unless its facilities, camps and logistics dumps in the Beka'a are destroyed. To create a buffer zone in south Lebanon is only to cause Hezbollah to seek longer-range rockets or missiles in the future. But, a ground assault to destroy that logistics infrastructure requires that the risk of Syrian interference be mitigated somehow. There are many ways to do so. The most obvious is to pre-emptively attack Syria. This was recommended today in The New Republic by Michael Oren (registration required):
The answer lies in delivering an unequivocal blow to Syrian ground forces deployed near the Lebanese border. By eliminating 500 Syrian tanks--tanks that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad needs to preserve his regime--Israel could signal its refusal to return to the status quo in Lebanon. Supporting Hezbollah carries a prohibitive price, the action would say.Oren proposes more than just the military actions necessary to ensure the security of an expeditionary force operating in Lebanon. He suggests that Assad's rule itself should be threatened.
There was one report over the weekend that Israel had given Syria 72 hours "to stop Hizbullah’s activity," and "bring about release of kidnapped IDF troops." A deadline implies consequences. This was the only report of the deadline, so it seems unconfirmed.
Some readers may be tempted to ask, "How can the Israelis strike Syria? It will bring a declaration of war from Iran!" Well, how would anyone know the difference?
My guess is that there's a 50/50 chance of the war being confined to Lebanon. Diplomacy may convince the Israelis not to strike Syria. Or their goals may be smaller in scale than the destruction of Hezbollah. Either way, the clock is ticking. A commenter in a previous thread noted that it takes 3 days to activate Israeli reservists for defensive action, and three more for offensive action. That clock has been ticking for about 4-5 days now. Decisions are being made and soon the trains will have left the station.
If the war expands into Syria, my guess is there's a 90% chance that the US will then get directly involved in some way. Iran will declare war on Israel, and might even include the US too, just to link them together. Even if it does not, it would more overtly attack our interests and this will demand a US response.
If it comes to this, the US will be given a rare and fleeting chance to act decisively to frustrate the regional hegemonic and nuclear ambitions of Iran's mullahs. Proxy war may be Iran's core competency, but open battle is that of the United States.
July 16, 2006
Noncombatant Evacuation Operation in Lebanon: The US will take the lead in evacuating Americans and other allied nation's citizens from Lebanon. In fact, there is already an assessment team on the ground figuring out the logistics of how to do a mass evacuation, especially since the Israelis have taken the Beirut airport out of action. Here's a couple of key issues that will be important:
a) throughput of personnel: If the evacuation is to be handled by helicopters as Spook 86 argues, and those are from the USS Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group, then there are going to be some serious logistical problems to be solved if the NEO is not to drag on for weeks. How many helicopters does the ESG have? An educated guess would be less than 30, mainly CH-46s and CH-53s, with a handful of Navy CH-60s. Figure an average of 20ish people per trip and you start to see the problem. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon, not to mention foreign nationals. Now the second part of the problem is the distance that must be flown. Cyprus has been mentioned as one drop-off point, where follow-on fixed wing transport can be arranged to Europe or back to the States. Nicosia, Cyprus is 150 miles from Beirut, according to Google Earth. This makes for one long flight for just 20 people per bird. Finally, I think they'll have to go to Cyprus. It's the closest relatively safe place with airfields.
I'm no NEO expert. There are probably a variety of techniques to shorten the roundtrip distance needed per flight in order to increase the flow of personnel. But here's two predictions: the US is going to surge more helicopters to the region somehow. And, don't be surprised if the British and especially French navies show up to assist in the evacuation. The NEO will be big.
b) Rules of engagement: The NEO will require a relatively light footprint on the ground; it probably will not be conducted under fire, so there can probably be some bare minimum in the way of processing stations. These areas, however many there are, will need security. I'd expect at least a company of Marine infantry to go ashore to provide security at pickup sites. A larger force could be required, depending on how many pickup sites there are and how dispersed they are.
This leads one to wonder what sorts of rules of engagement they'll be given. If sniped at, what's the response? If the transport helos receive ground fire, will Cobras be on call to respond?
Finally, aside from tactical considerations of ROE and responses, what does it mean strategically if an American helicopter is shot down in Lebanon? That is the biggest risk of the entire operation. Finally, if US ships are close to shore, what's to prevent Hezbollah from using one of its drones to attack the US Navy?
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.
July 12, 2006
The Guns of July
The big news of the hour is twofold: first, Carl in Jerusalem has it on good authority that Israel is stepping up its strikes into Lebanon and will declare war tonight against its neighbor. I've never heard of Carl in Jerusalem before but that post is being linked from everywhere. So far, no other secondary confirmation of an open declaration of war, even though Drudge himself is running with the headline "It's War, Israel Says" which points to this piece in which Olmert doesn't say that but calls "the Hezbollah raid an "act of war" by Lebanon and threatened "very, very, very painful" retaliation."
Then there's good ole Debka, which always has something interesting, but which usually must be taken with a shaker of salt. Debka is reporting both that Ali Larijani, the Iranian National Security Advisor, is in Damascus for consultations with Syria, AND that the real reason this whole dustup started is so Iran can force the G8 to focus on Israel during their conference starting today:
Tehran hopes to hijack the agenda before the G-8 summit opening in St. Petersberg, Russia on July 15. Instead of discussing Iran’s nuclear case and the situation in Iraq along the lines set by President George W. Bush, the leaders of the industrial nations will be forced to address the Middle East flare-up.This makes for an interesting little narrative, but it ascribes a great degree of control of events to the Iranians -- a degree that is hard to sustain at any level when human beings are involved. Keep It Simple Stupid is the best defense against conspiracy theories: no plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and conspiracy theories are always the most convoluted of plans.
But even if Iran didn't set in motion the current crisis, there's no reason to believe it doesn't want to profit from it.
If Larijani is in Damascus, my guess is they're trying to keep Israel from declaring war on Syria at all costs. Consider:
-Syria is militarily extremely weak compared to Israel
-Iran is not only weaker than Israel, it has no easy method of threatening Israel, save with missiles of questionable accuracy.
-Israel can strike Syria from the air with impunity.
Now consider: from the Iranian and Syrian standpoint, the best course of action is to vex the Israelis as much as possible via their Hamas and Hezbollah proxies. So long as this happens, Israel does take the headlines, and the attention span at the G8. But as soon as Israel declares war on Syria, or commits an act of war, which might be the same thing, then events start to turn sour for the Iranians:
-Iran will have to declare war on Israel or risk losing face in the region, since it has pledged to defend Syria
-Syria's government would likely fall; what might follow it is anyone's guess; what does follow might not be nearly as close to Iranian interests
-Israel and the US have never fought on the same side at the same time, but Lord (and Yahweh) knows they'll help each other in other ways. If a three-way war breaks out, and Israel requested US permission to use bases in Iraq for strikes against Iran, even for refueling, the US might grant them their wish. Alternatively, it was rumored long ago that Israel had set up a deal with the Kurds to use Kurdish bases for strikes into Iran. The same might be true of Turkey, which has no love for Iran either.
From the Israeli standpoint, it all depends on what they can gain from striking Syria. If they think strikes in Syria will convince the Syrians to pressure Hamas to release Shalit, they might give it a shot. But they are probably just as aware of the consequences as anyone else: Iran might declare war.
So my guess is neither Israel, nor Syria, nor Iran want to get in a war with each other at the moment. But there're always wild cards. At least three groups, Israel, Hamas, Hizbollah, and possibly a fourth, the Lebanese military, are now involved. From that stew, an event might emerge that like it or not would force a widening of the conflict by one side or another, or an entry by Iran or Syria. This is it, in a nutshell: Is Israel willing to risk a widening of the conflict in order to dismantle Hamas and Hezbollah? Is Iran willing to risk the dismantlement of Hamas and Hezbollah in order NOT to widen the conflict?
The New Republic carries a piece entitled, Battle Plans:
The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites . . .And we silly Americans thought this was about one captured Israeli soldier. Stupid, stupid . . .
The ultimate threat, though, isn't Hezbollah or Hamas but Iran. And as Iran draws closer to nuclear capability--which the Israeli intelligence community believes could happen this year--an Israeli-Iranian showdown becomes increasingly likely. According to a very senior military source with whom I've spoken, Israel is still hoping that an international effort will stop a nuclear Iran; if that fails, then Israel is hoping for an American attack. But if the Bush administration is too weakened to take on Iran, then, as a last resort, Israel will have to act unilaterally. And, added the source, Israel has the operational capability to do so.
For Israelis, that is the worst scenario of all. Except, of course, the scenario of nuclear weapons in the hands of the patron state of Hezbollah and Hamas.
UPDATE, 8:08am EST: Welcome Pajamas Media and Roger Simon readers! Roger says, about this post: "I think he is naive in thinking the Israelis didn't want this confrontation. It may be quite the opposite - at least in its result. You could look at this all as Sharon's trap... and his adversaries walked right into it."
Hmm. Could be. The question is what kind of confrontation did they want? Is this a limited action meant to stop the kidnapping for prisoners rubric that has become standard practice? Or is this something larger? Is it meant to attack Hezbollah in depth? Or is it even larger, meant to hit Syria and Iran too? My guess, as I tried to outline above, is that the Israelis don't want to spark a regional conflict, just hurt Hezbollah very badly.
Here are some interesting things to read:
-The Jerusalem Post reports :
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Thursday morning that Israel would not allow Hizbullah to return to its positions on Lebanon's southern border. He also demanded that Lebanese forces secure the border, something they have not done to date, during comments made to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.Hmm. Several months.
A high-ranking IDF source said that the current operation, dubbed Operation Just Reward, would be "long" and could last up to several months, or "as long as it takes to destroy the Hizbullah's ability to launch attacks against Israel."
Raja @ Lebanese Bloggers, who's been doing a play-by-play of events, also something big is in the works:
Something tells me that everything the Israelis are doing right now is preparation for something much bigger.Finally, this is the most interesting thing I've read in the past 24 hours. An article written in August of 2002 by Mark Silverberg, an author in the Ariel Center for Policy Research is an absolute must-read:
American and Israeli leadership both share a common concern that Bashar al-Assad is "playing with fire". Hezbollah has the ability - even the intention - of sparking an explosion that could lead to a regional war. Nasrallah now possesses 7,000 Katyusha rockets - each targeted at Israel. Some are heavy, long-range missiles that threaten the entire Galilee region to the outskirts of Haifa (and its oil refineries).Read the whole thing. It's an uncanny description of exactly what's happening 4 years later.
Hezbollah has completed building a line of forward positions along the Israeli border, complete with video cameras that track the IDF's movements in order to learn the operational routine of its units. Iranian officers in Southern Lebanon check Hezbollah deployments directly under Syrian eyes.
Within the next several months, Hezbollah will also complete construction of its second line of defense deep inside South Lebanon meant to create a barrier against any Israeli armed advance. The effect of such a barrier will permit Hezbollah to shell northern Israel continuously over a period of several months, and, if necessary, to slow an Israeli retaliatory invasion.
The problem for Israel is that young President al-Assad has surrounded himself with people inexperienced in high politics, although he recognizes his country's military and technological inferiority to Israel. Assad Jr. unfortunately, is fascinated by Nasrallah, accepts his patronizing praise and has allowed him to hold at least one Hezbollah paramilitary parade on Syrian soil.
He's playing the dangerous game of brinksmanship without understanding the rules. Slowly, almost invisibly, an important revolution appears to be underway. Hezbollah is gradually consolidating its strength in Syria, and the Iranians, whose Vice-President recently visited Damascus, have "laid down the law" for the confused leadership there.
A Syria that can be manipulated by Hezbollah under Iranian guidance could well miss that crucial moment when Iran and Hezbollah attempt to spark a regional conflagration by means of a military provocation on Israel's northeastern border.
That is a major source of concern to both Israel and the United States Defense Department. A weak and naive Syria will accelerate the power, influence and growth of Hezbollah, just as Arafat now finds it impossible to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Palestinian territories. The more that Nasrallah is convinced that Assad Jr. is not up to speed; the more he will be convinced that he, in consultation with his Iranian cohorts, holds the key to power. And if he is convinced that there is an American threat to Iran, he will preempt it by striking at the Galilee to provoke an Israeli retaliatory strike.
But that retaliatory strike will be at Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Syria.
This is not an imaginary scenario. As recently as three weeks ago, American and Israeli UN representatives met privately with their Syrian counterpart to warn him of the danger posed to Syria and the entire region by Hezbollah.
The singular conclusion is that someone has to inject sufficient fear into the Syrians to bring Nasrallah down.
And if the Europeans and Americans can't, the Israelis will. [emphasis added]
UPDATE2 8:38am EST: Welcome Instapundit readers! Please comment. What does everyone else think?
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 . . .
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 18, 2006
The Saddam Tapes and the Intelligence Summit
The Intelligence Summit, a "non-partisan, non-profit, educational forum", is taking place this weekend in the Washington, D.C. environs. Another blogger, Kobayashi Maru
, is there and I just spoke with him on the phone. He had some highlights from this morning's speaker, John Tierney, who discussed the tapes of Saddam Hussein recently released to ABC, and subject of a story on Nightline.
Here are some points Tierney made this morning. Take from them what you will:
-Only 4% of the tapes have been analyzed
-The tapes contain the voices of senior Iraqi scientists, meeting with Saddam. Many of these scientists' identities were completely unknown to UNSCOM. Tierney implied that they were being hidden and were never interviewed in the search for WMD in Iraq.
-References are made on the tapes to "plasma programs" of some kind, which Tierney took to mean that Iraq was attempting to manufacture hydrogen bombs first, rather than more simple nukes.
-It is clear from Saddam's tone of voice, and his laughter on the tapes, that he was supremely confident that he had UNSCOM completely running around in circles and utterly confused insitutionally as to what he was actually doing.
Other speakers in the tapes share the same view.
-Tariq Aziz is not just a diplomat at arm's length on the tapes, but is very highly valued by Saddam. At one point, Saddam tells him that when they win the fight against the Americans, Aziz will write the book about it. (Readers with a sense of irony may enjoy knowing that US troops occupied Aziz's home in the spring of 2003. A detailed account of this may be found in The March Up by Bing West and Ray Smith.)
-Many speakers on the tape punctuate their remarks with references to Allah, God's will, etc etc. Tierney points out that Saddam never stops them, corrects them, or discourages them from using such pious language. This may be meaningless, as such expressions are common in the Arab world. But they seem to speak to the notion that Saddam would never cooperate with Islamists.
-Tierney implies that in one portion of the tape, Tariq Aziz makes the case that a biological weapons attack would be more difficult to blame on Iraq than a nuclear attack. Tierney then mentions that the anthrax attacks in 2001 were in some part blamed on personnel at Fort Detrick.
-Another speaker, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jack Shaw, has restated his case that the Russians helped move Iraqi WMD materials to Syria, and have even helped move some of them back to Iraq, and that many places in Iraq where they might be have still not been thoroughly investigated. He makes the case that the US wants to keep a lid on this in exchange for Russian cooperation with Iran in the future. Shaw also implies that some of these allegations have been corroborated by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
So that's some highlights from today at the Intelligence Summit. Take what you will from them. Are they true? Who knows? But they're certainly interesting.
Based on my interpretation of the list of speakers at the conference, I think it probably succeeds as a non-partisan forum. Looks like quite a number of different backgrounds and viewpoints are present.
January 15, 2006
Diplomatic History is Taking Place Even As We Speak
In addition to the much-publicized diplomatic shuffling between the US and the EU, there are other meetings taking place which happen much less frequently, or at all, and which seem to indicate that momentous events behind the scenes, the contents of which we might only speculate upon, are at hand.
Syria's Assad made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
The answer to all three might be Iran, or it might not. What is scary is that the answer could be Iran. In short, while Iraq was largely diplomatically, economically, militarily and otherwise isolated from the rest of the world before 2003, Iran is only slightly so today. While Iraq's contacts with the west were abundant via the Oil-for-Food scandal, those contacts were still scandalous. Iran is linked to the economies of Russia & China, has relationships with North Korea, Pakistan, even France, Germany, and the UK.
The relationships which Iran possess do not sum up to a coalition. But they are there nonetheless, making the Iran nut even harder to crack, and the price for miscalculation ever higher.
A History of the Modern World, by R. R. Palmer and Joel Colton:
The Austrian government was determined to make an end to the South Slav separatism that was gnawing its empire to pieces. It decided to crush the independence of Serbia, the nucleus of South Slav agitation, though not to annex it, since there were now thought to be too many Slavs within the emprie already. The Austrian government consulted the German, to see how far it might go with the support of its ally. The Germans, issuing their famous "blank check," encouraged the Austrians to be firm. The Austrians, thus reassured, dispatched a drastic ultimatum to Serbia, demanding among other things that Austrian officials be permitted to collaborate in investigating and punishing the perpetrators of the assassination. The Serbs counted on Russian support, even to the point of war, judging that Russia could not again yield in a Balkan crisis, for the third time in six years, without losing its influence in the Balkans altogether. The Russians in turn counted on France; and France, terrified at the possibility of being some day caught alone in a war with Germany, and determined to keep Russia as an ally at any cost, in effect gave a blank check to Russia. The Serbs rejected the critical item in the Austrian ultimatum as an infringement on Serbian sovereignty, and Austria thereupon declared war upon Serbia. Russia prepared to defend Serbia and hence to fight Austria. Expecting that Austria would be joined by Germany, Russia rashly mobilized its army ono the German as well as the Austrian frontier. Since the power which first mobilized had all the advantages of a rapid offensive, the German government demanded an end to the Russian mobilization on its border and, receiving no answer, declared war on Russia on August 1, 1914. Convinced that France would in any case enter the war on the side of Russia, Germany also declared war on France on August 3rd.
The German decisions were posited on a reckless hope that Great Britain might not enter the war at all . . . The German plan to crush France quickly was such that it could succeed only by crossing Belgium. When the Belgians protested, the Germans invaded anyway, violating the treaty of 1839 which had guaranteed Belgian neutrality. England declared war on Germany on August 4th . . .
As for Russia and Austria, they were both tottering empires. Especially after 1900, the tsarist regime suffered from endemic revolutionism, and the Hapsburg empire from chronic nationalistic agitation. Authorities in both empires became desperate. Like the Serbs, they had little to lose and were therefore reckless. It was Russia that drew France and hence England into war in 1914, and Austria that drew in Germany. Seen in this light, the tragedy of 1914 is that the most backward or politically bankrupt parts of Europe, through the alliance system, dragged the more advanced parts automatically into ruin.
It is not useful to draw analogies among the power relationships, the rising or falling states, or the alliances of 1914 to those that exist today. We live in a new world. But it is useful to consider the enormous complexity of the world then and now, and to realize that complexity offers both opportunities for the art of the deal to thrive, and for miscalculation to lead to utter ruin.
We are blessed to live in the "interesting times" of the old Chinese proverb . . .
November 2, 2005
Lawrence on Syria
A Presidential Decision-Making Game: Open Scenario Plan
Last year, I tried a bit of prognostication about the future of the US policy toward Iran. This year, I've learned my lesson: I'd rather use the aggregate wisdom of all you readers out there.
Here's what I propose: I'm going to set the table with a set of assumptions about Syria, then anyone who wants can respond with a scenario for how the administration will handle it. Over time -- a couple of days -- there'll be some discussions and then I'll summarize everything by attempting to narrow things down to three to five scenarios. Then we'll watch and see which scenario looks to be occurring. I'll create a special page on the blog to hold all the scenarios, for easy reference.
February 17, 2005
US Increases Military Pressure on Syria
The Middle East Newswire reports that
the White House has endorsed a plan that would grant U.S. troops the right of pursuit of Iraqi insurgents into Syria. They said the plan also included greater efforts along the Iraqi-Syrian border to block the flow of insurgents and weapons into Iraq.This move has been in the works for some time. Last month we discussed various options for Syria (here, here, and here) and noted that some were pushing for incursions into Syrian territory. Looks like a less aggressive option was chosen, which includes allowing US fires to cross into Syrian territory, though not troops (or will they in small numbers . . .).
"We will continue to make it clear to both Syria and Iran that meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq is not in their interests," Bush said.
The plan does not call for an invasion or attack on Syria, officials said. Instead, the plan stipulated the deployment of additional air and ground assets meant to detect and strike infiltrators from Syria. They said the policy would allow U.S. troops to shoot suspected infiltrators, even while they were on Syrian territory.
1. Diplomatic pressure on Syria ongoing for months.
2. Recall US ambassador in wake of bombing in Lebanon.
3. Announce more aggressive defense posture vs. Syria-based enemies in Iraq.
1. Kill former PM of Lebanon.
2. Make a defense pact with Iran.
The US announcement shows that the US is not willing to cede the initiative in its overall diplomatic and military judo-match against Syria.
What next? What countermoves might Syria attempt, and what further initiatives might the US begin?
One thing is certain: while it may seem that Syria was on the back-burner in the White House for a while -- and this may only be a perception, as diplomacy is not always visible -- it and Iran are now clearly in the front of the President's field of vision.