Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two Must-Reads by Kagan on Iraq

Posting has been light the last couple of days, as I've been digesting a number of articles. Two have risen to the top (rather an unattractive image, given my previous sentence), and I very much encourage you to read them through.

The first, Why Iraq Matters, via NRO, is a point-by-point dissection of the "anti-war" crowd's cherished chestnuts about why OIF is pointless, doomed, too expensive, none of our business, and other constant canards. It is a devastating deconstruction of the Left's (and Paleoconservative Right's) dominant narratives in favor of disengagement from Iraq, revealing their strategic, economic, and moral indefensibility with Kagan's characteristic clarity and muted snark. To wit:

We will consider below just how much of a diversion of resources away from more desirable domestic priorities the Iraq war actually is, but the more important point is simply this: Unless the advocates of defeat can show, as they have not yet done, that the consequences of losing are very likely to be small not simply the day after the last American leaves Iraq, but over the next five, ten, and 50 years, then what they are really selling is short-term relief in exchange for long-term pain. As drug addicts can attest, this kind of instant-gratification temptation is very seductive — it’s what keeps drug dealers in business despite the terrible damage their products do to their customers. “Just end the pain now and deal with the future when it gets here” is as bad a strategy for a great nation as it is for a teenager.

Indeed. This is why I always place "anti-war" in quotes: the advocates for precipitous withdrawal from Iraq have consistently failed to demonstrate that our "redeployment" will do anything more than remove (temporarily!) American forces from the still-dodgy but increasingly promising landscape of Iraq. The resultant power vacuum will present an irresistible opportunity for Iran to make a play for cementing its hegemony in the region despite the very deep and fundamentally irreconcilable differences between the Najaf (Quietist Arab Iraqi) and Qom (Political Persian Iranian) schools of Shia Islam. Naturally, the neighboring Sunni nations will feel the need to escalate their deterrent forces in response. The resultant proxy wars, I think it safe to say, will not benefit from the responsible Rules Of Engagement which restrain the behaviors of Coalition Forces in-theater now. Building a stable, prosperous, peaceful, democratic Iraq will most decidedly not be high on the agendas of the actors who will flood into the niches vacated by our forces, should they be yanked from the scene before the concrete we have been so carefully (if at times unevenly) pouring has a chance to set.

Try to imagine the choice which a Democratic President will face as the hard-won gains in Iraq crumble then collapse, and the specter of total chaos looms larger in the lands bounding the Persian Gulf. As oil prices spike, vicious hot wars flare, humanitarian catastrophes mount, and former allies are systematically butchered, there really will be no option but to send forces back into a situation that will have spiraled to levels of mayhem which make Anbar Province in 2005 look like downtown Detroit...OK, bad example. "Anti-war" should be read as code for "much worse war, punted downfield." With claymores mounted on the goal-posts. And snipers in the stands.

So, then, given that the fantasies of Utopian outcomes following retreat from Iraq are (to put it very, very charitably) empty, what then should we be looking for as indications that our continued presence in Iraq is yielding the sort of fruit which will make the agonizingly costly and chronically embattled endeavor worthwhile? Kagan provides some very tangible examples in the second article to which I direct your attention, pithily entitled "How Will We Know When We've Won: A Definition of Success in Iraq" (via Iraq Status Report and The Weekly Standard). Here, Kagan's task is to go through the various metrics which have emerged to assess the degree to which OIF has been successful in Iraq, and to compare those metrics against the actual conditions on the ground. He set out to show that Iraq is on its way to becoming a stable, representative state which controls its territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism.

On the matter of stability, it is shown that the extent of territory currently held by insurgents and terrorists (both Sunni and Shia) has been steadily giving way to that controlled by legitimate Iraqi and Coalition forces. One of the measures of this is the drop in violence in the contested areas, which he correctly points out "tend to be peaceful both when government forces control them completely and when insurgents control them completely. Violence can drop either because the government is winning or because insurgents are consolidating their gains." Point well-taken (though I am not as confident that 'insurgent-' controlled areas would tend to be especially peaceable). Reading through Kagan's examples, however, it is hard to conclude that it is not the Iraqi Government which is progressively gaining ground against 'Anti-Iraqi Forces.'

As to the recent actions by Iraqi Security Forces in Basra and environs, one could see these as the exception that proves the rule; here, a short-term uptick in violence is the result of the long-overdue assertion of legitimate government control over areas hitherto held by assorted gangs of Shiite thugs owing various degrees of allegiance to Moqtada al-Sadr and the operatives of Tehran. Here, it must be emphasized, the predominantly Shiite government launched an offensive against Shiite militias, effectively putting the lie to accusations that Baghdad's government was evolving into a Shiite-and-Kurd-only club. This, apparently, was enough for a bloc of Sunni politicians to declare their intention to rejoin the government after walking out in protest last year, and so to pave the way toward still more meaningful political reconciliation ahead of provincial elections this Fall.

I could go on. Kagan, however, lays out his case quite clearly and convincingly enough on his own. Still, there is one point I feel I should emphasize:

An ally in the war on terror. Al Qaeda has killed many more Iraqis than Americans. Iraq has eight army divisions--around 80,000 troops--now in the fight against al Qaeda, and another three--around 45,000 troops--in the fight against Shia extremists. Tens of thousands of Iraqi police and National Police are also in the fight. Thus, there are far more Iraqis fighting al Qaeda and Shia militias in Iraq than there are American troops there. Easily ten times as many Iraqi as Pakistani troops are fighting our common enemies. At least three times as many Iraqi soldiers and police as Afghan soldiers and police are in the fight. And many times more Iraqi troops are engaged in the war on terror than those of any other American ally. In terms of manpower engaged, and sacrifice of life and limb, Iraq is already by far America's best ally in the war on terror.

I am stubbornly confident that future scholars (honest ones, anyway..... it could happen) will look back on a curious historical irony. They will marvel that the long-suffering people of Iraq, in their struggle to achieve liberty and self-determination, should turn out to have been stauncher allies by far in our war against fanatical tyrants than many members of an American political party with the temerity to call itself "Democratic."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Obama Finally Gets Something Right

"I will listen to General Petraeus given the experience that he has accumulated over the last several years," Obama said. "It would be stupid of me to ignore what he has to say."
These are the words of Sen. Obama to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday," via this Boston Globe article. For once, I am in complete agreement with the junior senator for Illinois. If he had simply stopped there, it would have been an uncommon moment of clarity for him.

Alas, as has so very frequently been the case, it is everything else he had to say which further cemented in my mind the extraordinary geopolitical naiveté which so unquestionably disqualifies him for the Oval Office.

"It would be my job as commander in chief to set the mission, to make the strategic decisions in light of the problems that we're having in Afghanistan, in light of the problems that we are having in Pakistan, the fact that al Qaeda is strengthening," Obama said.

So, in a few short sentences, Obama has correctly identified the intellectual stature of one who would ignore the recommendations of our Nation's premiere warrior scholar...and then proceeded to proclaim himself as one who would do just that.

How exactly, does Obama imagine that a premature withdrawal from an increasingly successful campaign would strengthen our hand with enemies in other, related battlespaces? What signal does he fancy such a move would send to those who would test themselves against American resolve? How confident should potential allies feel about the capacity and will of the United States to protect them from the repercussions of their cooperation when the inhabitant of the Nation's highest office would see fit to yank the levees from the shores of a torrent which is finally showing signs of retreating? And how would we be judged by history and by the countless mother's sons and daughters who would be swept away in the all-but inevitable flood which would follow?

General Petraeus has some notions on this score:

For nearly six months, security incidents in Iraq have been at a level not seen since early-to-mid 2005, Petraeus reported. Also, the level of civilian deaths has decreased to a level not seen since the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing. Deaths due to ethno-sectarian violence have fallen since September, and the number of high-profile attacks is far below what it was a year ago, the general said.

While this progress is significant, al-Qaida is still capable of lethal attacks, and the coalition must maintain pressure on the organization and the resources that sustain it, Petraeus said. Defeating al-Qaida will require actions by elite counter-terrorist forces, major operations by coalition and Iraqi conventional forces, a sophisticated intelligence effort, political reconciliation, economic and social programs, information operations initiatives, diplomatic activity and many other actions, he said [emph. added].

No matter how I try and wrap my mind around it, I am unable to fathom how operations of such scale and breadth and complexity could possibly be executed --let alone be serviced by nuanced, timely, and actionable intelligence-- from "over the horizon" in Kuwait or elsewhere (at least he didn't suggest Okinawa). The resiliency and tenacity and ruthlessness of our foes would swiftly overwhelm the efforts of any such half-hearted, phoned-in force, to the despair of the Iraqi people who have so very recently tasted the barest appetizers of hope.

And, speaking of "Hope," here we have an answer from Obama's own web site:

Bringing Our Troops Home

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda [emph. added].

It simply boggles the mind. So, then, President Obama's response to a viciously aggressive enemy is to stand off, wait for him to establish a foothold, then blunder in with guns blazing, kill some folk, then retreat until he manages to regroup again. Splendid strategy. I'm certain that the contractors who struggle to rebuild infrastructure and the teachers who labor to educate the young and the women who yearn to establish themselves in a civil society which grants them equal footing with men on a day-to-day basis will be grateful indeed for those gunships thundering over the horizon to rain fire on the heads of those who have just tortured and killed their neighbors. Hope, indeed!

Obama is, quite simply, in over his head and not ready for prime time. And, for once, he has said something which appears to suggest that --just maybe-- a portion of his consciousness knows it.

UPDATE 4/28/2008, 2:31AM: Edited for clarity and flow.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Doug Feith on the GWOT (UPDATED)

I'm only a little over 100 pages into Douglas Feith's War and Decision, but it is already an embarrassment of riches, a trove of fascinating insights into the early days of the US' response to 9/11, and to the campaign it forced upon us. Feith, then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, worked very closely with Rumsfeld and a veritable Who's Who of the most influential figures in the Pentagon and USGOV. His accounts of the decision-making processes, the interdepartmental wrangling, and the large philosophical and strategic considerations which were thrust on a fledgling Bush Administration make for riveting reading.

Feith has generally been demonized almost at a level of Paul Wolfowitz as a Neocon's Neocon. But the figure who emerges from the pages of this extraordinary book is one of a thoughtful, humble, and deeply patriotic man who found himself in a position to influence his Nation's response to an almost unimaginable atrocity, and who worked with tireless vigilance to shape that response with the full knowledge that he was engaged in the very early stages of what would likely be a generational project. The choice to treat 9/11 as an act of War, rather than a mere law-enforcement problem is one for which I have little doubt generations to come will owe him and others a very great debt.

Hugh Hewitt has posted a very lengthy but well-worth-reading interview with Feith, whose voice is very much as it comes across in the book. Both are essential reading for those who wish to gain perspective on many of the cherished myths about the Bush Administration's approach to Afghanistan and Iraq as theaters in a vastly broader mission to keep America and the world safe from Islamist terrorism. Everything from Afghan warlords to WMD is treated in a comprehensive, fair and (no doubt for some) surprisingly moderate and fair-minded manner.

So far, I am in agreement with Hewitt (not always the case!) that this book stands with The Looming Tower as a must-read for those who desire a comprehensive understanding of the issues and threats which are encompassed within the Long War.

UPDATE (5/2/2008): Doug Feith has created a companion web site to the book, where he has posted much of the footnoted material, as well as the raft of unclassified documents from the appendices, a number of maps, timelines, and other bits which will enhance the usefulness of an already invaluable book.

Oh, and, according to that web site, "[t]he author is donating all of his book reveues to charitable organizations serving U.S. veterans and their families."

A class act all around.

Friday, April 25, 2008

So long, and thanks for the all the bits!

[by Mr.Hengist]

Two hundred and seventy million miles of vast dark emptiness from here and high above the ecliptic plane slowly spins the high science of two decades past. At fifty million miles an hour Ulysses has been marking the monotony with only a gradual shift in the positions of the stars, including our own, at which it has stared relentlessly for these many years. The heat of her radioisotope generator has been largely depleted and can no longer power all her instruments; her hydrazine fuel has dwindled down to a pittance of only seven months’ supply. The end is near and approaching fast; come November, one year into its third trip around the sun, Ulysses’ low whisper of data will finally fall silent as she succumbs to the cold sleep in deep space.

Yet, just as the forever lost vessels of our early seafaring past are only now being recovered from the floors of the seas, perhaps it will be the children of your children who will one day return her home to Earth, but home she will be brought as a prized artifact of exploration from our time.

I figure it’s either that, or the Klingons will use it for target practice, but twenty quatloos says we get to it first.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Five-Party Capitulation

[by Mr.Hengist]

The Six-Party Talks October 3rd, 2007 agreement calls for the sealing of North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor – which has already reached its end-of-life – as well as the “complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs, including its nuclear weapons.” Just yesterday, a State Department spokesman said that the U.S. will not accept a faulty declaration from Pyongyang. However, the agreement provides no mechanism for independent verification of its veracity. In exchange for the declaration the U.S. will be “rescinding the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism and the termination of the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) with respect to the DPRK.”

Today, according to press reports, the CIA is to reveal that the military facility destroyed in the September 6th, 2007 Israeli airstrike was a nuclear reactor modeled on the Yongbyon facility in North Korea. The Norks not only provided technical knowledge but technicians to help the Syrians as well.

The continuation of this farce after the Norks missed the deadline for their declaration five months ago – five months ago! - is nothing less than a capitulation by the Bush Administration and it will haunt us for years to come. When the Norks (predictably) failed to live up to their end of the bargain (and what a bargain for them!) we should have declared this awful agreement dead on arrival and ceased negotiations. Coupled with the continued intransigence of the Iranians who are flaunting their obligations to abide by the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty they signed, what we’ve got is a de facto abandonment of meaningful (i.e., effective) efforts at nuclear non-proliferation.

Democrats, take note: Diplomacy is not pixie dust. Been there, tried that, didn’t work. With North Korea facing yet another acute food shortage in 2008, and few other means of applying leverage short of the application of military force, we have an opportunity to wrest real concessions and compliance. Unfortunately it would mean forcing the thugocracy to contend with another food crisis, and the suffering of the prisoner populace of North Korea has never been too high a price for their aristocracy to pay.

The Long War: A Long View

Short and linky (vs. long and thinky) tonight. From the estimable Counterterrorism Blog comes this presentation on the status and progress and challenges in the Long War, delivered to the Washington Institute by Juan Zarate, deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.

It is an exceptional and searching overview of the various fronts on which our struggle with Islamic Extremism is being waged, a potent tonic to counteract the tunnel vision which --with and without the "help" of the media-- can characterize our view of that global conflict. The sheer scope and complexity of this endeavor are daunting, and it is most helpful to pull back and examine the multiple, overlapping "fronts" on which it proceeds.

Ranging from descriptions of the nature of our foe(s), to the military, diplomatic, legislative, and financial tools at our disposal, to the considerable challenges which still face us, this presentation manages to strike a hopeful note, even as it provides a sobering perspective on the distance yet to travel. The concluding paragraph --appropriately enough-- sums if up best:
We are attempting to address all of these challenges with the varied tools at our command and by innovating new areas in our counterterrorism approach. We know the War on Terror -- with its embedded struggle against a violent extremist ideology -- is a generational calling that requires the entire U.S. government and the international community to act. There will be challenges and setbacks, but there is no doubt in my mind that we will see victory in this struggle, with markers and key indicators of that success emerging even today. There is also no doubt that we will see al-Qaida defeated, imploding from its own moral hypocrisy and strategic missteps. That said, we must remain focused and committed to ensuring the safety and security of this country against an enemy that remains committed to the destruction of our way of life. That has been the work of this administration, and it will no doubt be the work of administrations to come.

It's longish, but eminently worth the time it will take to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Whither the Sons of Iraq?

Via Acute Politics, I came across this article from the Long War Journal regarding the groups of local security fighters who have risen up across Iraq to fend off AQI and other threats to the integrity and safety of their communities....or, as the Democrats put it "the insurgents and sectarian militias which we are arming in their civil war."

Snark aside, it is true that many of these fighters took up arms against the Jihadi interlopers not only out of disgust and rage at the horrifying behavior of AQI toward their families and themselves, but out of a genuine lack of options and need for the paycheck. For a land as ravaged by war and tyranny as Iraq has been, however, I must question the judgment of someone for whom the absolute purity of intentions is required of all allies. Part of what makes a well-conceived COIN strategy work is the willingness to adapt to the realities on the ground, such that one is in a better position to influence their unfolding in a desired direction.

In the case of the Sons Of Iraq, the concern has been that these individuals --many of whom are illiterate teens-- will constitute a destabilizing force, a group of armed and combat trained youths with no options and no place in peaceful society. This is a legitimate concern, which is being addressed in just about the best way I can imagine. A sizable proportion of them are being readied for transition to the official security forces (Army and Police) of the Iraqi state. But Anbar Province, for example, is already looking to have a surplus of security forces as an unaccustomed calm settles more deeply into the daily life of its residents. This is a situation which --all other things being equal-- appears to be poised to pertain to larger and larger swathes of the Iraqi landscape. For them, there is this:

[The Arab Jabour village of] Hawr Rajab is unique in that it is home to a trial program that will train and transition Sons of Iraq from a security force into skilled laborers. If the program is judged to be successful, it will become a model for other areas across Iraq.

As the first step of the transition program, US Air Force construction engineers of the 557th Expeditionary “Red Horse” Squadron built a $13 million facility next to Patrol Base Stone, the small US outpost in Hawr Rajab. The complex will house the squadron and a large team of interpreters while they train former Sons of Iraq. There will also be classrooms for teaching and a dining facility.

The “Village of Hope,” as the school is now called, will graduate a class of 50 men every three months, after training them in a variety of disciplines. Instructors cover basic skills in masonry, concrete, general construction, plumbing, and electricity. Trainees are graded on a pass or fail basis, and receive a certificate of completion and hiring preference on projects in the village once they graduate.

The fierce pride which is woven into the Arab consciousness has been bruised raw by generations of strife and civilizational underachievement. If the reconstruction of Iraq were to be solely the business of foreigners --however well-intentioned-- that pride would hardly be assuaged. Much of what we are trying to accomplish in OIF and other fronts of this Conflict is to foster the creation of a new and more sustainable set of anchors for that pride, to direct it away from the impotent rage which for so long has been its only outlet. The more rapidly we can create the conditions for Iraqis to claim a larger stake of ownership for the prosperity of their society, the more progress we will have made in providing a definitive answer to the nihilistic fury which is what the Jihadis have had to offer the Arab and larger Muslim world.

You can give a man a fish, teach a man to fish...and then you can train him in the skills to build and market a better fishing rod.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Than Four Questions Here

I am what is often referred to as a Recovering Catholic. No aspersions, mind you...well not too many; it's just that 'my karma ran over my dogma' (har-har). However, I went to predominantly Jewish --if nominally secular-- private schools from K-7. I had learned the Sh'ma before my first Communion. The spirit and traditions of Passover are not unknown to me.

Why on earth would I bring this up? I just encountered a post at the Weekly Standard Blog which I heartily recommend. It is a devastatingly on-point demolition of recent orations by Clinton and Obama to mark the occasion of their latest attempt to woo an unlikely constituency through the fine art of unacknowledged satire. On Passover.

I almost hesitate to blockquote, lest it deter you from reading the (really very short) whole thing, but I just couldn't resist this lovely nugget:

As a man of faith, Obama probably could have offered some interesting thoughts on Passover and the mixed feelings the holiday engenders. Also, the pining for a Jewish homeland in the Holy Land remains a relevant issue today. Instead, the candidate jammed even Passover into the Obama canon of meaningless tripe.

Whether it involves chatting up foreign despots or a national conversation on race, Obama habitually elevates the act of talking to a level of meaning it doesn’t deserve. And yet for all of Obama’s talk, he avoids the significant issues and concrete action like, well, a plague.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Totten on Fallujah

In this City Journal article, linked from his main page, Michael Totten provides a nice overview on the status and stakes in this notoriously troubled city in Anbar Province. Fallujah and its fiercely independent tribes have presented would-be conquerors with a thorny problem for centuries; even Saddam's tyranny "succeeded only in renting the tribes around Fallujah, not buying them."

Fallujah, most of you will recall, was the site of the horrific burning and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in 2004. It was the site of an abortive attempt by Coalition Forces to wrest the city from the grip of a motley assemblage of terrorists and insurgents in April of that year, followed by a more successful (but still incomplete) pacification attempt that November. Its name became synonymous with an intractably hostile operational environment.

Since the emergence of the Awakening Councils and the implementation of Gen. Petraeus' counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy and its supporting Surge, the tides have turned dramatically in Anbar Province in general and in Fallujah in particular. It's quite spectacular, really, just how profoundly the picture has changed there; Coalition Forces have gone from complaining about an almost unimaginably dangerous climate, to complaining about boredom and an excess of invitations to tea with solicitous locals.

This, however, is not to say that all is and shall remain roses in the City Of Mosques. Here is where Totten really shines; he is able to portray the very dramatic progress on the ground, while enumerating the substantial challenges yet to be conclusively faced.

The Marines’ final mission is the make-or-break mission, as all final missions must be. The third battle for Fallujah will be decisive. After the Americans leave, the city will either transform into a relatively normal backwater that nobody cares about—or tear itself apart. If Fallujah goes, Baghdad goes, and all of Iraq will follow.

A particularly pessimistic U.S. Army soldier I met in Baghdad last summer was certain that Iraq was too dysfunctional and conflict-wracked to be fixed. “Iraq will always be Iraq,” he said. Fallujah, likewise, will always be Fallujah, and Fallujah is difficult. One should not be starry-eyed at the news of its “awakening.” The city is not yet open to the modern world and its ways. Only desperate necessity granted Americans a reprieve from Fallujah’s fear and loathing of outsiders, which it now directs at Baghdad, Iraq as a whole, and international as well as local jihadism. Jeffersonian democracy has not yet come to the banks of the Euphrates.

That said, Fallujah’s worst days are likely behind it. “The al-Qaida leadership outside dumped huge amounts of money and people and arms into Anbar Province,” says Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman, who oversees an area just north of Ramadi. “They poured everything they had into this place. The battle against Americans in Anbar became their most important fight in the world. And they lost.”

Again, like Michael Yon, the particular genius of Totten's writing is his ability to report on progress without lapsing into cheerleading, and about challenges, setbacks, and outright disasters without collapsing into histrionics. The simple truth is that nothing in Iraq is truly simple. If our goal was to perform a kind of alchemy whereby Iraq would become some sort of clone of a Western-style Democracy over the course of one American election cycle, then we would be better off taking the Democrats' advice and packing it in straightaway. The task before us is to thread the needle between an unobtainably Utopian feat of social engineering, and a pointlessly "realistic" installation of a business-as-usual thugocracy which would be more amenable to the strings of an American puppeteer.

While respecting and co-opting existing social structures, we must facilitate the emergence of a State which will allow those structures to evolve. That means winning the respect and trust of the tribes, for they have formed the skeleton of a social compact among peoples whose views of any external authority --foreign or domestic-- have been quite understandably jaundiced for centuries. It is only when the tribes feel enfranchised and empowered that they will allow their shields to drop enough to acknowledge the legitimacy of any authority beyond Sheiks and clan affiliations. The coalescence of the Iraqi state quite simply has to emerge from the bottom up, for any top-down imposition of State control will inevitably evoke the specter of conquerors and tyrants from living memory down to the dim vaults of history.

It is this last point which I fear the Democrats of this country are dispositionally unable to recognize. Then again it is not surprising that a group of people for whom the top-down imposition of Governmental Initiatives is viewed as a panacea for all social ills should be chronically unable to see the existence –let alone the value– of social processes which arise from the bottom up. Thus the de facto reconciliation which is going on all over Iraq cannot help but be seen as irrelevant (when it is seen at all) because it is not the result of earnest deliberations by progressive-minded legislators, duly deploying a proper bureaucracy in the service of a comprehensive Program. So when Clinton and Obama and their legislative brethren on the Left side of the aisle prattle on about unmet benchmarks (albeit less so in recent days), they reveal a fundamental misreading of Iraqi society. They are stuck on statism.

This is why it is so imperative that independent reporting like Yon's and Totten's be required reading for those who struggle to develop a comprehensive understanding of Iraq's true status and its standing in our larger endeavors. As ever, I do encourage you to Read The Whole Thing and, if you feel it has been of value, to navigate over to Michael's site and make a donation to his on-going contributions to this vitally important conversation.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Edward Lorenz: Rest in Equilibrium

Meteorologist Edward Lorenz has died at the age of 90. The theories of deterministic chaos/dynamic systems and their associated applications in complexity theory have been pretty seminal in my thinking (as anyone who's endured me droning on about attractors and emergent phenomena can testify), and I've always admired Lorenz as one of the first to see into the tangled relationships between chaos and deep order in the universe.

Lorenz was one of that rare breed of researchers who could look at anomalous findings and not simply write them off to faulty experimental design or human error. Better still, he could detect the presence of those factors and still have the presence of mind to discern that something deeper was afoot anyway:

As recounted in the book “Chaos” by James Gleick, Dr. Lorenz’s accidental discovery of chaos came in the winter of 1961. Dr. Lorenz was running simulations of weather using a simple computer model. One day, he wanted to repeat one of the simulations for a longer time, but instead of repeating the whole simulation, he started the second run in the middle, typing in numbers from the first run for the initial conditions.

The computer program was the same, so the weather patterns of the second run should have exactly followed those of the first. Instead, the two weather trajectories quickly diverged on completely separate paths.

At first, he thought the computer was malfunctioning. Then he realized that he had not entered the initial conditions exactly. The computer stored numbers to an accuracy of six decimal places, like 0.506127, while, to save space, the printout of results shortened the numbers to three decimal places, 0.506. When typing in the new conditions, Dr. Lorenz had entered the rounded-off numbers, and even this small discrepancy, of less than 0.1 percent, completely changed the end result.

Even though his model was vastly simplified, Dr. Lorenz realized that this meant perfect weather prediction was a fantasy.

A perfect forecast would require not only a perfect model, but also perfect knowledge of wind, temperature, humidity and other conditions everywhere around the world at one moment of time. Even a small discrepancy could lead to completely different weather.
It was Lorenz who coined the term "butterfly effect" to refer to this phenomenon of "sensitive dependency on initial conditions." With the advent of more powerful computers and their ability to perform intensive iterations and so reveal the complexity which could emerge from relatively simple parameters, the storm of profound insights into nature which arose from his elegant formulations has enriched our lives in ways even he could not have foreseen.

His was a life well and fully lived, and we owe him much.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Coward Talks

'Captain' Ed Morissey over at Hot Air, posts about two developments out of Iraq: one a barbaric suicide/homicide bombing at a funeral for members of one of the heroic Awakening Councils. This is the Washington Post story you are more likely to have heard (assuming it wasn't simply lost in the numbing cacophony of catastrophe which is the dominant media mantra out of Iraq).

The second reports the news of the Iraqi government's opening several giant oil and gas fields for exploration, and experiencing no shortage of bidders for the contracts. Unfortunately, it reports this news in the "D" section of the Post, where only the most intrepid are likely to find it.

Speaking of intrepidity, it bears noting that these corporations are competing with each other for the chance to sink some Very Serious Capital into the development of Iraqi resources. It has been said that money is a coward, and this coward appears to be doing some talking.

I will leave it to the reader to deduce what comparably plentiful product of the mainstream media may soon have to do some walking.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Habitat for Inhumanity

I have held off on writing this post out of a general inclination to refrain from intemperate rants. I take seriously the warning that once you press that "publish" button, your thoughts are out there for all time, so words need to be measured twice before you cut them loose.

However, there are some outrages which are so egregious, some choices which are so manifestly abominable that moderation must take a back seat to catharsis. Ex-President Jimmy Carter's plan to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Syria is one such bridge too far. And given the sheer magnitude of the misery and strife which can arguably be laid squarely at James Earl Carter's feet, this is truly saying something. From the empowerment of Soviet aggression to the rise of Islamic radicalism in Iran and the Middle East, we owe much woe to Carter's mind-numbing incompetence. His subsequent sanctimonious screeds against the Nation which we were once so horrifyingly unfortunate to have had him lead have been an on-going shame. He is both the paper cut and the lemon juice.

And now, he has taken it upon himself to ignore the strenuous objections of the State Department and of sensible humans everywhere, and to plan a meeting with the odious leader of the murderous Hamas movement. Words simply fail to encompass the sheer contumely of this decision. Quite aside from the stinging slap this trip delivers to the people of Israel (something about which Carter has never been shy), the legitimacy which a visit from a former American Commander In Chief will grant, gratis, to this blood-soaked band of brigands is wholly unacceptable and will undoubtedly constitute a colossal propaganda coup for terrorists everywhere. I can visualize very few greater setbacks in the war of ideas which is so central to our worldwide struggle against extremism.

Shame on you, Jimmy Carter. Once again, you dishonor the Nation on whose proud Presidency you constitute an eternal stain.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

GWOT: So far, so good.

[by Mr.Hengist]

Greetings, Peoples. By way of introduction, I am the friend of which Noocyte speaks in his post, “MY PATH FROM PORT TO STARBOARD”, and Noocyte has kindly invited me to post to this blog, an invitation that I have accepted with Gusto! or maybe it was trepidation. Now that I think about it, it was probably mostly inebriation so we'll have to see how it goes; at some point I might sober up.

My own political conversion from Liberal to, well, whatever I am now, started roundabout Early Spring of 2003. At some point I’d like to write about it, and my recollections of the Summer 2004 email conversation with Noocyte about which he wrote, but for now I thought I’d just metaphorically get my feet wet with something less daunting in scope (... like justifying the state of the Global War on Terror in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. Yeah, that should be a cakewalk!).

I’ve been reading “Neocon Nation: Neoconservativism c.1776” by Robert Kagan (worldaffairsjournal.org) and it begins by setting the premise that critics of the Iraq war ignore the history of Saddam Husseins' Iraq, particularly in relation to the United States. That seems true enough; in my travels around the swamplands of Leftopia, this history seems to begin around the start of the Bush 43 presidency, the period preceding it consisting of a prehistoric fuzzy-wuzzy time when the butcher Saddam was remote and contained. That's understandable, given that the indignant and outraged denizens of Leftopia primarily occupy themselves with criticisms of Bush and Republicans as opposed to making a case for contextualized alternative policies or strategies when addressing a problem. That is to say, they seem to only infrequently offer the alternative, as in “This is what we should have done instead” rather than their usual complaint that “What Bush has done is wrong.” It got me to thinking about the chasm which separates hawks and doves, not just in matters of opinion but in matters of objective fact. There are a variety of criticisms from the Liberal/Left that I’d like to unpack, but in this post I’d like to share my observations which casually address some of their criticisms of the GWOT. Of course, various critics of the war have raised innumerable objections, the vast majority of which don’t stand up to scrutiny (and I’ll let that statement stand unsubstantiated for now, although I’d like to address it at some point in the future). Nevertheless, it seems to me that for these critics it’s as if the fact that the war has dragged on for years and years is in itself prima facie evidence that the conduct of the war has been flawed – as if we should have pacified Iraq and Afghanistan by now had it been done properly.

I disagree. These wars are taking as long as they have because the facts on the ground are changing. As the members of our Armed Forces say, from the top brass down to the boots on the ground, “The enemy has a vote” – which I’ve always found somewhat ironic in that the democracy we've been working and fighting for over there would be immediately and permanently undone should our enemies win. After the Taliban were routed in Afghanistan they fled in large numbers, but we did not block their escape and slaughter them. Later, after the astonishing rapidity with which our Armed Forces shattered the Iraqi Army, Republican Guard, and Fedayeen in Iraq, we again let our enemies dissolve and disperse rather than killing them outright. This left a great many enemy combatants alive to fight another day.

Certainly WWII would have taken a great deal longer had we acted similarly. Although the Liberal/Left complain about how this war is taking America longer than WWII, it goes without saying that they would never agree to a redress of their grievance with a reversion to the tactics that enabled us to do so in WWII. Google "Highway of Death" to see what I mean.

At any rate, while the ensuing insurgency has waxed and waned, only two events really threatened to spin the war out of our control. The first was when Sadr’s “Mahdi Army” confronted Coalition forces in a stand-up fight back in April 2004. I’ll confess that I was genuinely concerned at the time, not so much that we’d lose but that the cost of crushing them would be enormous, mostly for the Iraqi people, and that American public support might go wobbly. Bear in mind that in Iraq or Afghanistan, to this day, U.S. Armed Forces have never lost an engagement that involved twenty or more of our fighters; in every moderate-sized or larger stand-up fight that any of our enemies has undertaken against us, they always lose. While the Mahdi Army wasn’t destroyed, it did suffer horrific losses which forced Sadr to agree to a ceasefire. Problem deferred but not resolved; adequately, although not optimally.

The second was the al-Askari Mosque bombing (better known in CENTCOM as the “Samarra Mosque bombing”) in early 2006, although I didn’t recognize it at the time. This was a part of the Al Qaeda program to instigate Sunni/Shiite sectarian war in Iraq, and it was working. Although it took time for Al Qaeda to commit enough atrocities to incite the Shia, the Surge seems to have done its job in quelling the two sides.

In either case, what we’ve seen is, to put it in simple terms, war. It’s what happens when, after the outbreak of hostilities, neither side is either destroyed or willing to capitulate. Although Iraq’s Army was destroyed in the initial invasion to the point that what was left disintegrated, we did not bomb the country of Iraq back into the stone age. That’s pretty close to what we did in WWII, and the critics who point out that these conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking longer to pacify than larger theaters in WWII are seemingly oblivious to the contrasts between how these conflicts were waged. We’ve not mobilized our millions of citizens to fight on anything near to that scale; we’ve not bombed their population or industrial centers into dust as we did then.

Had we destroyed their ability to make war in the same way as we did in Japan and Germany during WWII then we would probably have achieved similar results. I’m always reticent about making such comparisons because, as it turns out, we can’t rerun history with different parameters, so although I won’t make any defense of the theory I do think it stands to reason. Bear in mind that Arab countries, having given tacit, if not explicit support to the Nazi’s during WWII, were duly subjugated in the end stage of that war, and I can’t think of a reason that it couldn’t be done again.

The point is that we did not do that again; we’ve been waging a more humane war which has been intended to convert these hostile countries run by thuggish despots and theocrats into representative republics, and in so doing set an example for the rest of the Middle East for what was possible, and how beneficial it would be for them to follow suit. Not that the WWII model of prosecuting war would have necessarily precluded our achieving these aims; our successes in transforming postwar Japan and Germany are testament to that. Furthermore, the zeal with which Liberal/Left critics frequently accuse America of war crimes demonstrates the difficulty of waging traditional war in the modern age of instant, global media attention.

For the Afghanistan and Iraq theaters, it’s been so far, so good. Not without flaws, but then, I’ve never expected that we would do it with zero-defects, as some critics seem to demand. The zero-defect war is an inherent contradiction; insofar as we know, it cannot be done.

If the Liberal/Left is going to demand that wars that aren't perfect should be abandoned then that’s an argument which can be made against any war. That is to say, it’s an argument which can be used against waging any war at all – even a war which might otherwise be fully justified or necessary to the degree that we would all agree that it must be waged. If Liberals believe the war in Iraq should be derailed by such criticisms then in principle we would never be able to wage any wars, although we’d still be able to lose them.

[2008-04-21 Revised with minor edits for grammar & clarity.]

Monday, April 14, 2008

"The 'Other' Obama..."

Oversold and undercooked.

The gods spare us from eloquent 'populists.'

Global Counterinsurgency

Leave it to me to decide to start a blog the very week-end that I have to travel halfway across the state for a Big Family Function (a cousin's Bar Mitzvah. To the parents' eternal credit, they provided an open bar, which was a mitzvah). So much for the “Be Sure To Write Something Every Day” advice for nascent bloggers!

While unwinding at the hotel and jacking into these here Internets on its complimentary wifi service (a splendid practice which I hope will become universal), I happened across this article (.pdf) on the Small Wars Journal Magazine. It deals with the nature of the global conflict in which we are engaged, and the methods which we must bring to bear in order to prevail in that conflict. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a key graf:

The nature of the international enemy is not terrorism, but a globalized insurgency, which demands the methods of counterinsurgency to defeat it. Those methods emphasize not just military force, but the entire array of tools at our disposal. We must engage in the overhaul of our national assets and structures to defend our way of life. We must do so under a new national security and foreign policy paradigm: The Global Counterinsurgency.

The beauty of conceptualizing this conflict as a global counterinsurgency is that it implicitly recognizes the multimodal and flexible approach which that conflict requires. One of the central tenets of COIN doctrine as I understand it is the context-sensitive nature of its approach to the exigencies in the battlespace. Engaging with the host population on social, economic, cultural, and yes 'kinetic' warfare levels is the nature of the beast.

One of the indications that the COIN strategy and its accompanying surge in troops has been successful thus far in Iraq has been the degree to which coalition forces have been able to secure increased cooperation from the Iraqi population in combating Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), as illustrated by this graph of weapons caches secured (and thus, by implication, of Iraqi tips as to their locations).

The judicious use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and the moving of troops from big, fortress-like FOBs into community stations in closer contact with the host population has proved to be of incalculable value in reassuring the Iraqis that we are allied with their fundamental wishes for a normal life and for the stability to ply their trades and raise their families and go to Mosque or Church etc., unimpeded by the forces of chaos and brutality. AQI showed itself again and again to be inimical to those hopes and wishes, and the Awakening movements among the Sunni populations, as well as their Sons Of Iraq organizations are living proof that Iraqis are fed up with the vicious and lawless vision offered by the Jihadis.

Therein lies the main value of reimagining the GWOT as a global counterinsurgency. In essence, we are implementing a strategy which views stable, rule-governed sovereign states as watertight compartments against global insurgencies like AQ, et al. Such a vision is very much in line with Thomas Barnett's view of shrinking the "Gap" by [re-]connecting lawless, chaotic, and disengaged regions with the Global, interconnected network of rule-set-sharing, politically and economically stable states which he calls the "Core." The theory is that, as people experience the benefits of being able to trade and otherwise reliably interact with the rest of the world, the attractiveness of militant ideologies begins to drop away. If you can rely on the State to enforce laws and contracts, to keep the peace and punish those who encroach on what you can, with a straight face, refer to as your "rights," then it makes more sense to go through the courts than to take up your trusty Kalashnikov against your errant neighbors. Say what you will about frivolous law suits and unscrupulous lawyers, but they betoken a society in which I would much rather live than one in which matters are settled by glorified gang wars.

Contrary to the claims that the "Bush Doctrine" is antithetical to the ideal of the sanctity of national sovereignty, a Global COIN doctrine is very much supportive of strong, stable States which hold a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of force. It is within such states that people can build their lives and rely on stable political and social and economic structures as the scaffolding for dealing with each other without the need to resort to violence.

Security also involves isolating the insurgency from external support networks. Strong borders are crucial to disrupting the insurgent communications and logistical networks. At the same time, we must recognize that unstable societies and weak states are contagious, regional threats. Where the insurgency finds safe-havens of chaos, instability and the lack of sovereign territorial control– such as Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan—threats against our security can metastasize. It is because of this need to contain and compartmentalize the movement of the insurgency, that the stability of remote and seemingly “insignificant” countries are relevant to America’s most basic national interest.

In this, I am reminded of a marvelous article by Ralph Peters in which he lays out the characteristics of failed or failing states. Here's the short list:

  • Restrictions on the free flow of information.
  • The subjugation of women.
  • Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
  • The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
  • Domination by a restrictive religion.
  • A low valuation of education.
  • Low prestige assigned to work.

To the degree we are able to shore up a society against the encroachment of these symptoms, we are making an investment in future allies against the spread of the radical ideologies which spring up like opportunistic infections in regions whose social 'immune systems' are compromised by these seven factors.

The upshot here appears to be striving to make the world a more lawful place in general, a kind of global "broken windows" doctrine. Much as you needn't be a Believer in Anthropogenic Global Warming to think it is a bad idea to dump immense amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere when viable options exist, so one needn't be a flaming Neocon to see the expansion of stability and liberty as a good in itself.

Such is the kind of society whose emergence we are currently engaged in midwifing in Iraq. And it appears that the contractions are coming closer together. It is vital that we see this new Nation through its turbulent rites of passage, and that we welcome it into a global community in which its vibrancy will spread like a vaccine through a world increasingly populated with such healthsome members.

I, for one, will drink to that!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Why Not Study War Some More

(orig. Posted 4/10/08, on MySpace)

OK, so here are some more responses to the Petraeus/Crocker testimony before the Senate and House. Mainly, they boil down to the notion (not a new one for me, mind you, but driven home with fresh force) that most people do not have the faintest understanding of the military, its mission, methods and mindset. As I’ve repeatedly groused in the past (and doubtless will do in the future) the activities of our military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere tend to be presented in the most superficial and tendentious manner imaginable...when those activities are presented at all (i.e., "good news is no news").

Thus, you’ll get reports about "violence" and Casualty Numbers, entirely unaccompanied by any reporting of what the military was actually doing at the time (routine patrol? hot-fire engagement of armed terrorist cells? IED blast while en route to build or repair another school/water treatment plant/medical clinic?), how people were killed/wounded (firefight? roadside bomb? sniper?), which people were killed (enemy vs. coalition forces), and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not the objectives of any given operation were achieved.

In other words, all you get from the Body Count Media is a vague sense that a lot of mayhem is happeing, with no clear point, and with no end in sight. Sound familiar?

As I try and assess what is going on in any given theater of our military’s operations (and those of our allies), there are a few sites to which I go to try and gain a broader perspective than would be available to me in the MSM.

On the principal that it is generally best to go straight to the horse’s mouth, one could always go to several sites sponsored by the military itself, such as the Pentagon/DoD’s web site, as well as the site for the Multi-National Force, Iraq. I know, I know, I can hear you now: "Why should I dignify those jingoistic Government Propaganda sites with any of my time?" Uh-huh. In case I haven’t been tediously clear by now, I am not proposing that you single-source anything. However, it is useful to begin with a sense of how the military is presenting its goals and methods and progress and setbacks (yes, they do report setbacks), before going on to compare those narratives to other sources and drawing your own conclusions.

Speaking of going straight to the horse’s mouth, over the last few years, there has been an explosion (pardon the pun) of "Milblogs." This is just what it sounds like: people in the military, frequently on active deployment, blogging right from their AO ("Area of Operations"). This is an unprecendented opportunity for the rest of us to have a glimpse --free from the editorial priorities of those who "report from the front" -- of what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are thinking and experiencing. These can be very frank and earthy (as you’d expect), so not always safe for work!

Trouble is that there are so many of them, and not all of them are especially interesting or edifying reading. A good place to start is on Milblogging.com, where you could go to the "Top 100 Favorite Milblogs" section (scroll down a bit). A couple of my own faves are: Blackfive, the Mudville Gazette, and Acute Politics.

I have found these to be a useful reality check against the overly bleak (from the Left) and overly rosy (from the Right) reports of our military’s morale and performance. Some of these blogs can be very critical of the government and its policies (leading to some stunningly wrong-headed and thankfully short-lived efforts to shut them down).

Now, I did deliver a doubly-deserved diss to the frequently fatuous flatulence of most "embedded reporters" (Credit: brave enough to ride along with our troops through the scrum. Demerit: not brave enough to deviate from the "It’s All Going To Hell" narrative their editors demand). However, they are most decidedly not created equal. There are at least two independent reporters who ride along with our military though the very thick of it, and who write with an eloquence and objectivity which is simply unmatched in MSM World. They are Michael Totten and Michael Yon. Their articles tend to be long, and highly detailed and lush with striking photos. I highly recommend them. Also, if you do like what you see, I encourage you to drop a little something in the tip jar (PayPal), as this is what finances their journalistic trips for the most part, and thus keeps them free from the editorial biases of the big News Outfits. I’ve contributed and consider it money very well spent.

Pulling back the focus from the grunt’s-eye view to the broader strategic picture, there are a number of sites which I have found to be indispensible. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Long War Journal, edited by Bill Roggio and published by the non-profit Public Multimedia, Inc. It offers wide-ranging reports and editorials and podcasts covering all theaters of the Long War, from Indonesia to Minnesota to Paris, to the Middle East. Tight, efficient writing and well-sourced reports make it an invaluable resource for keeping track of the twists and turns and victories and setbacks in the Global Conflict in which we are engaged. It may also prove useful for those of you who are still trying to decide if we are engaged in any such thing!

By the by, Bill Roggio is also a contributor and co-founder of the recently-launched Iraq Status Report page, which is meant to serve as a "one-stop shopping" site for the good, bad, ugly, etc. on Iraq. It is rapidly becoming my favorite site for an initial daily pass at the news from Mesopotamia. So far, so highly recommended (and I’ll let you know [like how I talk as if anyone is actually reading this? Wacky fun.] if it drops in quality or veers too sharply in a supportive/critical direction).

Threats Watch is another highly useful site. From their "About" page:

ThreatsWatch.Org was established in 2005 as the means to disseminate information on national security threats in an accessible, interactive and contextually aware form. In 2007 ThreatsWatch.Org became the web-based publication of the Center for Threat Awareness (CTA), a 501(c)3 tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to increase public awareness of threats to national security and liberty.

Its daily briefings and "Rapid Recon" sections are especially useful in tracking evolving threats and responses.

Global Security.org is a dizzying trove of information on matters of...well...Gobal Security. It can be a bit overwhelming, but eminently worth bookmarking due to its value as a research site. How they manage to make such a staggeringly comprehensive resource available for free (as opposed to Stratfor) is a mystery to me, but I’m grateful.

OK, I’m up on a hard break here, so I’ll let this be. I’ll likely be back to update this post sometime.

Central Front or "Distraction"

(orig. Posted 4/8/08, on MySpace)

Today I set my DVR to record Ambassador Crocker’s and General Petraeus’ testimony before Congress on matters pertaining to Iraq. Although I mean to watch it later, I tuned in to parts of it as it recorded and was once again struck by the deep disconnect in various people’s perceptions of what is going on over there.

To the Democrats (with the notable exception of the redoubtable Joe Lieberman), Iraq is an adventure undertaken by the Bush Administration which has diverted resources away from the "real" war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Qaeda Prime currently resides. The Al Qaeda presence in Iraq is seen as an incidental factor, provoked and maintained by the presence of Coalition forces there. The "real" phenomenon unfolding in Iraq is seen as a protracted civil war between indigenous Sunni and Shiia factions. And it is seen as hopeless and so, unsurprisingly, as going very poorly.

To Republicans, the Iraqi theater of the Global War On Terror (or "Long War," or War on Islamic Extremism, or what have you) is currently the central front of a multimodal, worldwide campaign to attack the roots (versus merely pruning the branches) of Salafist Jihadism. The so-called "civil war" aspect of the conflict is a very deliberate strategem of foreign Jihadis to inflame long-standing Sunni-Shiia animosity with the goal of collapsing Iraq into a failed state from which the Coalition will be forced to withdraw and from whose ensuing chaos Al Qaeda can consolidate its efforts to spread its violent Jihad through the greater Middle East, aided by Iraqi petro-capital and by the enormous propaganda victory of having expelled the "Great Satan" from the heart of the ancient Caliphate. It is seen as an essential component of the larger endeavor to starve the feeder streams of global Jihad and to present the Arab world with an alternate model of life from the grandiose fantasies of the Jihadis on the one hand, and the cynical oppressive petrocrats on the other. In the wake of General Petraeus’ subtle and incisive counterinsurgency strategy and its supporting surge in troop levels, it is seen as very winnable, and viewed with guarded optimism based on the events of the past year.

These two visions could not be more diametrically opposed to each other, and it strains the mind to imagine how such incompatible narratives could be applied to the same events.

Unfortunately, the stakes of this question are terribly high (just how high, I fear many Americans have gradually forgotten, as 9/11 falls farther into the rear-view and a follow-on attack on our soil has --thus far-- failed to materialize). The current Presidential campaign highlights just how different a view of the way forward is currently ascendant in each party. Americans have some very difficult choices to make, and I fear that -- as usual -- the requisite data to inform that choice is buried amid the posturing and shouting on both sides.

A couple of days ago, I happened across this article, which examines some objective indices of the respective energies expended by Al Qaeda (AQ) in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Specifically, it looks at the AQ weapon of choice: the suicide/homicide bomber, and concludes that the available evidence supports the contention that AQ views Iraq as a far more important front in its global Jihad than the Af/Pak theater. This makes a great deal of sense, given that AQ is primarily a Sunni Arab creature, which very much speaks to that ethnic/sectarian consciousness in its efforts at recruitment and in its vision of who will be in charge should the global Caliphate ultimately come to pass.

Afghanistan was a refuge of opportunity for Osama Bin Laden after he was expelled by the government of Sudan in 1996 (link is to the absolutely essential book, The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright. If you read no other book on these matters [though naturally I hope you read many more!], then do read that one!). Afghanistan possessed the distinction in the Islamist mind of being the site from which the Warriors of Allah managed to expel a superpower (the USSR) in the 80s, and it had the advantage of being a loose and relatively lawless setting to establish remote training camps and direct operations.

But it was not Arabia, and thus was never seen as more than a staging area for the Big Push to expel the "apostate" regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and thence to the rest of the Middle East and the world.

So the notion promulgated by Obama and Clinton (to the extent that her actual policies can be gleaned from the average of her poll-driven statements) that Afghanistan and Pakistan are somehow the more central and primary locus of AQ’s wider strategies is nonsensical on its face. In point of fact, they are seen by Bin Laden and Zawahiri as distractions, albeit temporarily necessary ones, from their larger designs. Iraq was a few steps down their action plan until we hastened their attention toward it. But it is now, as the above-linked article lays out, front and center for them. And that means it should be for us as well.

On "Frontline" and the Front Lines

(orig posted 4/4/08, on MySpace)

A buddy of mine recently recommended that I watch a PBS "Frontline" special with the dismally unsurprising title of "Bush’s War." As it happened, I had previously read a review of that special, which allowed me to spare myself the 4+ hours of tooth-grinding agita which would doubtless have ensued had I subjected myself to it.

In the comments section of that review, I dropped a couple of posts in response to the baiting of a rather hostile commenter (I know, I shouldn’t allow myself to be drawn in..but I think I stayed polite). On re-reading them, I thought they laid out some important arguments with sufficient clarity that they might prove useful as a blog entry. So, here they are (obviously, I’m "Noocyte")...


Where are the neocon apologists? Are you just not there or afraid to engage in thoughtful debate?

Mar 28, 2008 - 10:09 pm


dph; Point of order: Name-calling and ideological baiting are not customarily regarded as especially enticing invitations to "thoughtful debate."

In a very small nutshell, the main strategic task which faced the US after 9/11 was to put pressure on the feeder streams of global Jihad, to engage those in the Muslim world who abetted or at least tolerated the virulent and violent strain of takfiri Islamism which had struck us, and to induce them to change their behavior.

Clearly the main source of the Jihadi ideology and resource stream lay in Saudi Arabia, and its ruling clan’s Saitan’s bargain with the Wahhabi clerics and operatives which exported Jihadism abroad. Unfortunately, even leaving aside the devastating effects of military action in SA on the global petroleum markets, the simple fact is that if a bunch of kufirs put boots on the sands of the land of the Two Holy Cities, then we could expect a global Islamic rising the likes of which we can only imagine in our most dreadful nightmares.

Saddam’s Iraq was a pestilence waiting to be unleashed on the world as soon as the sanctions regime fell. Something was going to have to be done about it sooner or later. In addition to this, a bold system perturbation in the heart of the ancient Caliphate would send a message to the Saudis without the need to strike directly. This was the main justification for toppling the Baathist regime, and the fact that it was commonly accepted that Saddam had WMD provided a far more palatable proximate cause for action, regardless of how (apparently) unfounded those near-universal estimates turned out to be.

Shortly after the fall of Saddam’s Baghdad, the Saudis ramped up their anti-terror cooperation, Libya abandoned its nuclear program, and Iran apparently shelved its nuclear weaponization programs (ed. though likely only temporarily...). Also, Lebanon expelled its Syrian military controllers, and a raft of pro-democracy movements appeared worldwide. Jihadis, shamed by the rapid conquest of Iraq, swarmed into Mesopotamia to oppose us, and were thus forced to fight at a time and place of our choosing. The fact that the guerrilla nature of that conflict was so very badly misread by Rummy’s model of post-invasion Iraq does not invalidate the initial strategy any more than the myriad tactical and strategic blunders throughout WW2 invalidated its central goals.

The prospect of a stabilized, democratic Iraq (albeit clamorous and spasmodic in its birth-pangs) is making totalitarian regimes worldwide (and most particularly those with an Islamist bent) VERY nervous. This is a good thing, even if their efforts to make the project fail will cost much and bring much misery. Those whose actions or inaction would embolden these regimes (and the violent non-state actors which they employ) miss the point, to the peril of us all.

Documentaries like this present the opportunity to engage in dialog on matters of the utmost importance. It is when they degenerate into partisan polemics that we lose out on the fleshing out of these crucial narratives. Both sides have important points to make, but if this continues to be seen as a bitter zero-sum shouting match, the only beneficiaries will be our foes.

Mar 29, 2008 - 9:56 pm



Thanks for rising to the rhetorical bait! I was frustrated by the failure of the you neocons to respond and my intent was to start the dialog that you have begun.

Thank you!

My problem with your argument is that the attack on the US on 9/11 was done by an obscure but very dedicate and well disciplined group of terrorists with absolutely not relationship to Iraq. Cheney, Rumsfield, et al were looking for a reason to attack Iraq long before the 9/11 as a way to forcing "democracy" on a recalcitrant Mid East regime. The Bush invasion of Iraq was not a response to 9/11 but rather 9/11 was an excuse to play out neocon fantasies - particularly replaying Viet Nam and ending in a "vistory".

Anyone with knowledge of the history of Iraq and what actually happened in Viet Nam knew from the beginning that this would end in failure, as it has.

Trying to explain the neocon response to 9/11 as "a bold system perturbation in the heart of the ancient Caliphate" is sophistry.

Did we need to make a response? Absolutely!!

But what we needed was a multidimensional response that rooted out the problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan and an adherence to our basic values.

Torture, special rendition, suspension of basic human rights, etc. only played into those who oppose us. There is real strength in ideas, something stronger than pure military might. And Bush, Cheney, Rumsfield, et al didn’t understand that and have thus failed us.

Mar 30, 2008 - 10:30 am


dph: "Thanks for rising to the rhetorical bait! I was frustrated by the failure of the you neocons to respond and my intent was to start the dialog that you have begun."

I’m fairly new here, having followed Ed Morrisey over from the late, lamented Captain’s Quarters blog, like a Grateful Dead fan on the first leg of a Phish tour. I don’t know if it will be worth it to make this reply, but I will have a go at it. The opening of your response is the sort of taunt which implies that having initially engaged your response, I have already lost face. It carries the implicit assumption that you have nothing to learn from me and that I am incapable of absorbing anything you have to say. How inclined would you be to discuss anything with someone who approached you thus?

dph: "The Bush invasion of Iraq was not a response to 9/11 but rather 9/11 was an excuse to play out neocon fantasies - particularly replaying Viet Nam and ending in a ’vistory’." [sic]

Prior to 9/11, the idea of toppling Saddam had little to do with Spreading Democracy; Bush’s stance during his campaign was that of a much more modest, "realist" foreign policy. Saddam was a demonstrably destabilizing force in the region, and thus, from a realist position (which is, after all, about preserving stability) would have had to go, soon or late.

"Neocons" (an increasingly ill-used term which originally referred to Liberals who adopted a more proactive approach to the promotion of Liberal ideas and ideals abroad) had very little place at the table during the early Bush administration (recall that it was Cheney, as SecDef under Bush 41, who had left Saddam in power after Gulf War 1). It was only after 9/11 that their ideas were judged to have the highest probability of success in attacking the roots of Islamist terrorism, and that the liberation of Iraq emerged as a vital theater of operations in that larger endeavor. With respect, you are unduly conflating the two broad rationales for unseating Saddam’s regime, and it is skewing your narrative.

You see, the group that attacked us on 9/11 was *not* an "obscure" group at all. Would that they had been! In point of fact, they were the pointed end of a very long spear whose shaft stretched through much of the Muslim world. Now, the vast majority of Muslims were not pushing that shaft along. A fair number were doubtless trying to hold it back…at the risk of some nasty burns and splinters. An uncomfortably large number, however, were letting it slide on by. The regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the sources of most of the 9/11 hijackers) were only too content to preserve their purchase on power by allowing their disaffected and radicalized youths to direct their rage toward the West, and felt (with good historical reason) that they could continue to do so with relative impunity.

Thus the previously Stability-minded Bush administration was placed in the ungainly position of deliberately and decisively destabilizing the calcified and festering status quo of the Arab Muslim world, such that it could lurch back into motion. Hopefully in a direction which would prove less hospitable to radical Jihadism. There is much sophistry on both sides of this question, to be sure…but the underlying strategy is very much as I described it: a system perturbation (h/t to Thomas Barnett for that formulation, BTW) with an eye toward second-order change. Simple tweaking simply would not do, as we had seen over and over again.

Your allusion to Viet Nam is a fascinating one, and could provide fodder for a MUCH longer response. Suffice it to say that it is both a better and worse analogy than I suspect you suspect. If you like, I propose that you look into the differences between Gen. Westmoreland’s and Gen. Abrams’ approaches to the war in SE Asia. You may find it edifying reading.

dph: "Did we need to make a response? Absolutely!!

But what we needed was a multidimensional response that rooted out the problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan and an adherence to our basic values."

Here we are very much in agreement. Given the deep and systemic socio-cultural dis-ease which so pervades so much of the Muslim world, and the aggressive metastases which it spawned, it is incumbent on us to use every level of our civilization to combat its spread (much as we did to defeat Soviet Communism in the last century). Warfare without diplomacy without covert operations without economic engagement without theological discourse without cultural cross-fertilization….is doomed to fall short of the mark. Our "basic values" are arguably our chief weapons in the Long War we now fight, for it is those values of pluralism, popular rule, open trade, gender equality, and individual liberty whose absence in the Muslim world has so hobbled its ability to keep pace with the societies whose energy it so sadly ironically provides.

It may surprise you to read that I agree that a vigorous debate should take place on the limits of acceptable tactics we should employ in the fighting and holding and interrogating of our enemies. War is not for the squeamish, and our foes are most adroit at manipulating our humanity for the sake of an asymmetric advantage. However, at the same time that we must project strength and resolve to enemies who very publicly bank on our weakness, we must also recognize that a major part of how we will win this Long War is by communicating to the Muslim world that there are alternatives beyond the Strongman/Caliph duality they have been fed.

Still, we must not forget that we are up against a civilization which is based on a shame/face model of honor and which respects strength and fortitude on almost an equal footing with piety. If we take too many tools out of our belt in the gathering and utilization of intelligence, then we will signal actionable irresoluteness and weakness to those who would exploit it. This will not be lost on the great mass of Muslims who are deciding whether or not to take hold of that spear (and whether to push forward or pull back if they do!).

Again, a long-format documentary would have been an ideal format for the thoughtful and comprehensive engagement of these questions. It is a pity that — yet again — that opportunity was missed by those who believe their interpretations to be foregone conclusions and their opponents to be deluded or malicious. In a democracy, there really is no greater danger.

Pardon the dissertation, but you *did* (ostensibly) ask for a thoughtful discussion.

Mar 30, 2008 - 7:56 pm

I don’t want to make too much of the fact that "dph" never returned to respond; blog comment threads have a rather short shelf life, and this one was already a few days old.

Or maybe he/she/it was prompted by my thoughts to dig deeply into alternate sources of information and subject his/her/its ingrained assumptions to an intensive scrutiny. I hope that, even as I write these words, "dph" is by-passing the pre-digested output of the MSM, examining primary source material, digging into the publications of think tanks on the left, right, and center, scanning multiple blogs, reading government reports and open-source intelligence data, possibly resulting in an enhanced and somewhat (or profoundly) revised perspective on Geopolitics in the 21st Century.

Oh, wait. That’s what I did, almost four years ago. Still, a fellow can dream.

News To Me

[Originally posted on MySpace: 3/12/2006]

OK, so I am demonstrating my supreme laziness by making this entry a simple cut-and-paste from the blog over at my professional MySpace.

Still, it seemed a potentially useful thing for me to do, given some of the conversations I’ve had with some who might read this (and the Extreme Puzzlement and Consternation which those conversations have inspired!). Rather than blathering for hours at social gatherings, I thought it would be courteous to give folks a window into some of my sources and methods of gathering info, then let them draw their own conclusions. Gods know, the trip to my own current perspective on things has been a long and strange one!
So, do brew a fresh pot of coffee and have a gander (or a goose. Whatever.). Hope it’s useful.

Category: News and Politics

Sorry, gang; this is gonna be a LOOOONG one.

This may seem an odd sort of entry to find on a psychologist’s blog. What does being an educated consumer of the media with respect to matters of policy and politics have to do with mental health,you might understandably ask. Good question.

A big part of the work of psychotherapy is helping people sift the rational and useful from the irrational and unproductive, so their responses to their environments can track more adaptively with the shifting sands of reality. It’s all part of being a more fully conscious occupant of the universe, whether viewed from the perspective of the privacy of our own minds, the landscapes of our relationships, or the marketplace of ideas in the broader world. Really it’s all of a piece.

And yet, for some time now, I’ve been watching a curious phenomenon: People whose politics lean to the Left cry out that the MSM (MainStream Media: TV News, Newspapers, and the big magazine outlets, like Time and Newsweek) is Conservative-controlled, while those on the Right wail about a "Liberal Media." It’s a chin-scratcher and no mistake!

Political views have become toxically polarized (American politics have always been a rough-and-tumble business, to be sure, but I’m forced to conclude that the current state of affairs, with each side of the aisle dug in and glowering at the other, seemingly unable to give a millimeter, is a wholly new and altogether poisonous development). "Political debate" has largely degenerated into a brutal exchange of talking points and attack ads, and what used to be called "common ground" is rapidly turning into a radioactive wasteland. Those who are brave or foolhardy enough to wander into that no-man’s land (like John McCain or Joe Lieberman) can find themselves declared Ritually Unclean, and banished to a kind of political leper colony. It’s a hard thing to watch!

And right in the thick of it sits the MSM. To paraphrase an old truism in news circles: We don’t report on all the buildings that aren’t burning. Another form of the same thought is "If it bleeds, it leads." It is the MSM’s job to stay in business. Nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes. The trouble is that the need to show growth at the next quarterly stockholders’ meeting creates a dizzyingly competitive market, where the news cycle is 24/7, while the average attention span is (to quote Dennis Miller) that of a ferret on a double espresso. Moderation does not keep our fingers away from the remote.

And so, the media will tend to create a narrative into which they will plug (or ram) a string of disconnected "facts," in order to paint the most eye-catching picture possible. You can see where the first casualty of such a process will be context. No matter how seemingly self-evident might be the meaning of what someone says during any given sound bite, the true meaning and intent will usually lie in what gets said before and after that slice. Yet that is precisely what gets lost in most MSM reporting. Indeed, I’ve been forced to conclude that the sources from which most people get their information about the world amount to little more than a gigantic controversy engine, tuned to our most base fears and rages and appetites, and shaping our collective consciousness into ever-more violent spasms of ill-informed arm-waving. It is very unfortunate, not to mention undignified!

So, what is a body to do? In my travels on the Wide Wild Web, I have stumbled across some useful islands of reason and (relative) sanity, which have helped me to develop a "third ear" when consuming news segments, and better check their facts and judge their merits (or the lack thereof!).

The first group I’ll pass along to you are some non-partisan information sites. These help sift the wheat from the chaff from the sticky bits of fertilizer which come in stuck to the stalks.

The second group deals with blogs (short for "Web Logs"), the last true frontier (so far) in the media landscape. Usually labors of love (or rage. Or paranoia. Or sheer tomfoolery), these volunteer journalists are free to comment, weigh, sort, and generally blab about everything from golf to baking to the metallurgical properties of pogo-stick springs from the mid seventies. Not to mention politics.

UPDATE, 9/6/2007: This seems as good a place as any to add
http://thenewsrightnow.com/ This is a very handy complilation of the headlines of a variety of MSM publications, as well as a selection of leading blogs on the Left and Right. It’s my new home page, and a great place to start one’s News Crawl.

Update: 10/27/2010: Deal links at the site. Pity.

First, the basics:

www.factcheck.org should be a frequent stop (especially during any given election year, when the manure flies fast and furious!). I’ve found extremely few examples of bias here, and those (pretty subtle) errors have not usually been limited to one or the other end of the political spectrum. It’s also searchable, so you can look around for some of the nonsense which has been spewed about with regard to your political chestnut of choice (like, say, a search for Halliburton or WMD...).

www.snopes.com This is a well-known site which specializes in the carefully researched (they show their work!) confirmation or debunking of a host of urban legends, "well-known facts" and other bits of informational flotsam which can lodge in our brains, masquerading as Truth. It is a fantastically useful resource, from double-checking those URGENT VIRUS WARNING emails that choke our in-boxes, to the scuttlebutt about some politician, issue, etc. which can get passed around like...well... a virus, and ultimately turn out to have no basis in fact...but usually long after the damage is done.

http://www.vote-smart.org/ Project VoteSmart is an incalculably valuable resource for opening up the book on the ACTUAL policy positions, voting records, contribution portfolios, affiliations, etc. for any given politician/candidate (it’s so useful, indeed, that I keep a collection of their brochures in my waiting room. Feel free to grab one; I just ordered more!). Don’t let lobby groups and their attack ads on either side tell you what a candidate stands for. Check it out for yourself.

http://www.opensecrets.org/ A splendid companion to VoteSmart, which focuses more exclusively on the money trail for any given candidate. Wanna know who’s been taking heaps of cash from Big Oil, or Greenpeace, or whatever else might be your boogieman of choice? Here’s your spot.

(Fun game: Sit down and watch a few campaign ads, then follow them up at the above sites, and count the ways you would have been spun, manipulated, and straight-up duped if you hadn’t investigated for yourself!)

And now, on to BLOGS!

It takes a little (okay, a lot) more work to skim the Blogosphere for the stories behind (and above, and below, and around) the stories you’ll get from the MSM, but the payoff is a MUCH more nuanced and fleshed-out appreciation for the issues which inform those stories.

But which blogs to read (there are thousands upon thousands!)? One of the best ways to build your blogroll is to find entries which move
and interest you (say, something somebody sends you [see below!], or that gets linked in an article somewhere else, or maybe the link to the blog page of someone who makes a particularly on-point comment in the discussion of an article you read somewhere). Click on the "Main" or "Front" link on that entry, to get you to the blog’s front page, and read a few more of that blogger’s entries. If you still like what you see, bookmark it...then go on to see what blogs they read (usually a list along the side of the page), and repeat the procedure. Over time, the best blogs tend to rise to the top, and get linked to from more and more other blogs, so if you start seeing the same name again and again, odds are it’s worth a click.

Naturally, this process can be a mite time-consuming, so I was really happy to find the following links to various blogs on the left and right, with brief blurbs/reviews of each. I’ve also added a few of my own faves....

Here’s a page with reviews of some blogs which lean, to varying degrees, Leftwards:


And here’s one which reviews some which lean, again, to varying degrees, to the Right:


Actually, I would add a couple to this second list:

http://www.tigerhawk.blogspot.com/ A pro-war but generally non-rabid site with some thoughtful commentary on tactical and strategic matters.

http://rantingprofs.typepad.com/ A devastatingly on-point daily deconstruction of the MSM’s coverage of the War and related matters, from a professor of Communications Studies at UNC. Leans in a pro-war direction, but you needn’t agree with this to draw useful (and at times infuriating) information about the ways in which media stories get spun, decontextualized, generally distorted, and otherwise buggered beyond usefulness.

UPDATE, 9/6/2007: Unfortunately, the Prof stopped ranting last year, and hasn’t returned. The archives are still up, though, so somebody’s paying the bills, and they are definitely worth a read.

And here’s a couple from what I would call the Center, though, of course, the location of that elusive fulcrum is a notoriously moving target!:

http://windsofchange.net/ This is my first stop every day in my blog crawl. I simply cannot overestimate the value of their frequent and comprehensive briefings on matters related to the realm of foreign policy. Although leaning in a moderately pro-war direction, this site is all-too ready to take the Bush Administration and other sectors of the USGov to task when they step in it. The writing is balanced and wide-ranging (and occasionally hilarious). This site is one of the best examples of the value of the Blogosphere that I can point to. Check it often!

UPDATE, 9/6/2007: Alas, in the last few months, WoC has slipped, as several of the writers have gone on to other projects. The posts are not nearly as frequent, nor as balanced and comprehensive. This is not to say that it’s not worth checking, but it no longer merits the glowing endorsement I gave it when I originally posted this.

http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/ The Belmont Club is one of my favorite blogs. Their thoughtful commentaries on a variety of topics take a reasoned, generally quite moderate perspective on military, Intelligence, and diplomatic matters, with a generous helping of historical analysis and the occasional Tolkien reference. I’ve found many of these commentaries to be quite wise and useful in providing historical and geopolitical context (there’s that word again!) on the stories of the day (including many of the ones you’re not likely to see reported in the MSM at all).

http://www.danieldrezner.com/blog/ This guy usually impresses me by how directly up the middle he tends to fly. He’s like a bull detector when one or the other end of the spectrum (or both) gets too exercised about a given issue. Useful.

Sorta-Center-Left foreign policy discussions. Liberal-friendly, but not afraid to be a tad hawkish. Not exactly entry-level, in that they go into some detail of the politics of the Middle East and other hot spots. But it rewards the effort with some pretty thoughtful analysis (particularly useful with all the dense political wrangling now going on in the new Iraqi government, which
the MSM is all-but-guaranteed to oversimplify or just plain get wrong).

UPDATE, 9/6/2007: This site also appears to have suffered over time, with very infrequent entries, and some problems with the formatting. Doesn’t look like anyone’s minding the store as of this writing. Pity; it was pretty good. That’s just how it goes in the blogosphere, though.

That’s about all I have the energy for right now. I hope these links prove useful, particularly as we move toward mid-term elections. It truly is a crying shame that it should take this much work to gather balanced, comprehensive information, when the survival of a democracy is so vitally dependent on its citizens’ capacity for critical, well-reasoned decision-making (any journalism majors out there, please take note!). But there it is.

We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the secret sits in the middle
And knows.

-Robert Frost