Losing Iraq II

In Hitch’s words, there was never a more valiant supporter of regime change in Iraq than Peter Galbraith. Like many of us repelled by the tyranny of Saddam and concerned about the possibility of WMDs in the hands of terrorists, Galbraith supported the war. He now sees, as I think we now are all Fiasco forced to acknowledge, that the only hope for a half-way stable Iraq in the near term is among the Kurds. The Iraqi civil war – enabled and abetted by Bush’s, Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s criminal negligence and arrogance – is unstoppable now. Every window of opportunity we have had has been squandered. The fundamental mismatch between extraordinary ends and cheap, half-assed, brutal means has led us to this impasse.

The great danger is that withdrawal could mean the establishment of an al Qaeda redoubt in the Sunni regions and a Shiite enclave in the South, allied with Iran. Given the empirical data from Iraq, it seems profoundly unlikely that we can stop the latter. But we might be able to forestall the former, by air-power and a base among the Kurds. I’d like to read a more through analysis of Galbraith’s argument – especially the risks it entails. But it is the most realistic proposal I’ve read in a while – and deserves serious consideration. Given the manifest negligence of the president and defense secretary, who can have any confidence in a more ambitious strategy? They are the architects of a fiasco far more dangerous than Vietnam, and far more avoidable. Money quote from Michiko Kakutani’s review of Thomas Ricks’ new book, "Fiasco":

An after-action review from the Third Infantry Division underscores the Pentagon’s paucity of postwar planning, stating that "there was no guidance for restoring order in Baghdad, creating an interim government, hiring government and essential services employees, and ensuring that the judicial system was operational." And an end-of-tour report by a colonel assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority memorably summarized his office’s work as "pasting feathers together, hoping for a duck."

Observing this, many of us have gone from denial to despair to grim hope to acceptance that the scale of the task was greater than even the pessimists foresaw and the means deployed to achieve it almost pathetically unequal to the goal. I guess a miracle may eventually emerge. Maybe a de facto Iraqi partition after more bloodshed and sectarian massacres may pave the way for a more peaceful future. We can hope. But Baghdad is fast turning into what Beirut once was – a cualdron of unrestrained sectarian hate and violence, fomented by a few empowered by the incompetence in Washington. I’m left with contrition at my own small contribution to the misunderstanding; and abiding, deep, and furious anger at the administration who conducted this war with such arrogance and negligence. This president’s betrayal of the Iraqis, his betrayal of the armed forces, his betrayal of those who supported him, is profound. Some of his supporters will forgive him. This much I’m sure of: History won’t.

Losing Iraq

I fear the cycle of civil war is now beyond our control – or anyone’s control. Here’s an email from an American soldier in Northern Iraq about the fast-deteriorating situation:

Baghdad has descended into complete anarchy, as near as I can tell. We have police investigators in Northern Iraq who are scared to drive down there to attend an IPS investigator’s course for fear that they will be stopped by Sunni or Shia checkpoints and killed. And these guys are police! I imagine the situation is terrible for ordinary citizens.

This is the dark side of the big shift in the U.S. strategy/presence over the last year. As we’ve reduced our forces, disengaged from the cities, and consolidated on massive super-FOBs like Balad and Camp Victory, we have lost the ability to impose our will on the streets of Iraq. At this point, I don’t know how effective U.S. forces can/will be in imposing order. We just don’t have the combat power, nor the presence in the city, nor the right mix of constabulary and civil affairs units. It’s frustrating.

And so one of the biggest military fiascoes in American history lurches toward another down-draft.

An Inconvenient Truth


I finally saw the Gore movie yesterday. It’s thoroughly persuasive about the reality of global warming and the contribution of carbon dioxide emissions to it. I’d recommend it strongly to anyone. Its blindspots were, however, obvious. No mention is made anywhere of the fact that Al Gore was a very powerful vice-president for eight years in a critical period for this issue. His fulminations against others’ indifference would have been a little more credible if he’d at least addressed and explained his own failure to do anything when he was able to. It’s also striking that Gore could have used the movie to argue for a serious increase in the gas tax – and he didn’t. The movie’s final recommendations – recycle! write your congressman! ride a bike! reset your thermostat! – were truly lame after the alarm of the rest of the movie. I think a serious gas tax and a tough increase in mandatory fuel economy standards in the U.S. are essential to prompting the technological breakthroughs that alone can ameliorate this. And yet Gore balked. Just like he did when he was in power.

King George Watch

If you thought the notion that this president is a threat to the constitution is a "fringe" or "hysterical" notion, then a bipartisan panel the American Bar Association must now be "fringe" and "hysterical". His expansive and substantive use of "signing statements" to gut the separation of powers is unprecedented. Well, not quite. There are precedents, just not in America:

The issue has deep historical roots, the panel said, noting that Parliament had condemned King James II for nonenforcement of certain laws in the 17th century. The panel quoted the English Bill of Rights: ‘The pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal.’

King George indeed.

Conservatives and Israel

A reader writes:

I disagree with the Adesnik theory on the media and Israel. The absence of real debate about Israel’s bombing of Lebanon (other than how loudly should the U.S. cheer it on) is as much a result of the fact that any criticism of Israel‚Äôs tactics is quickly labeled ‘viciously anti-Israel’ (at best) by all but a fringe. I’m a conservative supporter of Israel who thinks Israel has the right to respond to Hezbollah but fears the scale of the response is a tragic mistake.  I recently saw a quote from Henry Seigman: "Israel’s political and military leaders remain addicted to the notion that whatever they have a right to do, they have a right to overdo." I think there is some truth in that. We so often demand forbearance of Israel’s neighbors, but I do not recall (since maybe Eisenhower) where we’ve demanded it of Israel (by the way, for Netanyahu to compare the relatively ineffectual shelling of Northern Israel to the Holocaust trivializes the Holocaust and does us all a disservice). 

I wish media outlets like yours ‚Äì where sensible conservative discussion can be seen on any subject ‚Äì could also discuss the possibility that Israel’s tactics might play directly into the hands of Ahmadinajad, and that the U.S.’s knee-jerk support of the bombing undercuts our "continued outreach to Iranian [Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian, Palestinian, etc.] civil society".  Israel is unfairly made the scapegoat for so many of the region’s tyrants and maniacs.  But the Israeli hardliners (like our own neo-cons) make it much easier for them to do so. The notion spread by the neo-cons that the "road to peace in Jerusalem runs through Bagdad" is more likely the opposite. But it’s going to take more honest criticism of all parties in the region including Israel, for that to happen. 

I certainly don’t believe that all criticism of Israel is illegitimate. But in this case, Hezbollah’s Islamist ideology, its threat to the fragile Lebanese government, its initiation of hostilities, and its close links to Tehran make me reluctant to condemn any attempt to degrade its military potential as much as possible. I’m heartened by the fact that many Arab countries are uncomfortable with Hezbollah as well – the Sunni-Shiite division is one the West should exploit as shrewdly and relentlessly as possible to further our interests in the region. I’m also happy to see that this small, yet brutal war may actually get the European powers to police the Israel-Lebanon border. But there are times when Israel’s actions have actually damaged the country – the occupations of Gaza and Southern Lebanon high on the list. In this I agree with the reader: I don’t think supporting Israel requires never criticizing its government. Au contraire.

Quote for the Day

"This is one reason why Glenn Reynolds’ calling the Blogosphere an "Army of Davids" annoys me to no end. If you have a passing familiarity with the Bible, you know that there can’t be an Army of Davids:  David was David because David was unique. He did something no one else could (or would). He had, one could say, an expertise that everyone else lacked.

Talking about an Army of Davids – suggesting that everyone is David (one envisions the scene at the end of Spartacus or, perhaps, Malcolm X) – misses the whole point of what it means to be David, i.e., that not everyone can be him.  Indeed, almost no one can be David. David is rare; he’s special; he’s unique.  It’s easy to forget that; it’s easy for me to forget that," – Obsidian Wings, yesterday.