"Iraq Veterans Against The War put the truth in your hands.".
"If you will not make peace for us, we will make it for ourselves.".
The great Barnett Rubin had a post over at the Informed Comment Global Affairs blog yesterday that I would think would be of interest to many a concerned Canadian given the fact that we have now lost 70 soldiers and one diplomat in Afghanistan, and there is a serious debate ongoing in our country over the legitimacy and future of the Canadian involvement in the NATO mission there, with many domestic political implications.
Rubin's post has two subjects. The first has to do with the arrest and deportation of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif upon his return to Pakistan and how it relates to the present political crisis developing in that country.
But the second part has to do with the potential beginning of political negotiations between the Afghan government and the 'Taliban' - a development which would and could directly impact the violence levels and status of combat in the area- Kandahar province - where Canadian troops are fighting and where Canada is in charge of the Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The violence continues in Afghanistan, of course, despite the same type of statistically induced optimism as in Iraq on the part of US military commanders. The new British government, however, having conducted its review of Iraq and Afghanistan policy, decided to pull out of Basra and reportedly has told Washington that in Afghanistan, we are "winning the battles but losing the war.” Apparently the glass is half empty and getting emptier.
But a small item deserves to be watched: according to AFP a "senior Taliban spokesman" told their correspondent, "For the sake of national interests ... we are fully ready for talks with the government." This follows by one day yet another public offer of negotiations from President Hamid Karzai.
This could be another soon-to-be-denied random report. But it occurs in a context where Karzai has repeatedly offered such negotiations with no apparent hindrance from Washington.
At the August Afghan-Pakistan Peace Jirga in Kabul, the participants decided to constitute a smaller jirga of 50 (25 from each country) to "engage in "dialogue for peace and reconciliation with opposition." This jirga took place in part thanks to U.S. engagement, and senior officials have privately said they fully support this initiative. In Pakistan, Mawlana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of Jamiat-i Ulema-i Islam, the Deobandi party that is more or less the godfather of the Taliban, offered cautious support to the process. Fazlur Rahman had boycotted the Jirga on the grounds that the Taliban were not represented there, but he did not rule out joining the process in the future.
Fazlur Rahman has outlined what a settlement would look like. Last November in Peshawar, Ahmed Rashid and I heard him address a "Pakhtun Peace Jirga" organized by the Pashtun Nationalist Awami National Party. Fazlur Rahman, whose party had participated in Pakistani elections and has at times been an electoral ally of the PPP, said he "could not deny to others what I claim for myself." Just as JUI participated in elections in Pakistan, the Taliban could do so in Afghanistan, but not while they were labeled "terrorists" and foreign troops occupied the country.
That is the first and principal (though not sole) obstacle to negotiations: are the Taliban the organization that harbored the terrorists of 9/11, who therefore must, in President Bush's words, "share their destiny?" Or are they an Afghan armed opposition group that has not yet joined the peace process that started with the Bonn Agreement? Will returning Taliban be reintegrated or sent to Guantanamo?
If quoted correctly, the Taliban spokesman offered an interesting hint: he spoke of "national interests." This is not a term commonly employed by Bin Laden and Zawahari. There have been many signs, especially since the invasion of Iraq, that the Taliban have become radicalized and moved toward a global Islamism foreign to their origins. But Taliban ground commanders, like the mujahidin commanders of the 1980s (in some cases their fathers or uncles) sometimes make local deals for local reasons. President Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, responded to the report with the standard formula, that "government's doors are open to anyone who agrees to obey the constitution and other laws of the country to join peace."
The status of those Taliban leaders branded by the U.S. as harborers of al-Qaida and listed by the UN Security Council as terrorists subject to sanctions could pose an obstacle, as well as the question of foreign troops. But the internal ethnic cleavage and the regional situation will also complicate matters. Domestically, the former Northern Alliance leaders by and large have opposed any hint of dialogue with the Taliban. Significant sectors of the northern population retains memories of conquest and massacre by the Taliban. But their former political leader, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, reportedly stated last week at a seminar in Peshawar that "Taliban should be given representation in the sub-jirga formed in line with the declaration of the joint Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga last month."
Regional resistance may be harder to overcome. Russia refuses to countenance the removal from the sanctions list even of the current Governor of Uruzgan Province, a former Taliban commander who has collaborated well with a Dutch NATO contingent and made the province more secure. Even as the U.S. has escalated claims that Iran is aiding the Taliban, Iranian diplomats privately warn the U.S. against making a political deal with the Taliban.
Such a deal could constitute a rough Afghan equivalent of U.S. policy in Anbar Province, Iraq. In 2001-2002, the U.S. cooperated with Iran to use the Northern Alliance to occupy the ground vacated by the Taliban and to bolster the authority of the new Afghan administration. While the Northern Alliance's ties to Iran are weaker and more purely pragmatic than those of Iraq's Shi'a leaders, Iran and the U.S. both see them as potential (though unreliable) Iranian assets in Afghanistan. Whether or not the U.S. has in view such a strategic shift toward "moderate" Taliban (I have no direct evidence of it), Iran will surely suspect that it does and react accordingly. In the context of rising tensions with the U.S. over Iraq and Tehran's nuclear program, such political changes could link the two wars even more closely, mostly (as usual) to the detriment of the aspirations of Afghans for a semblance of a normal life after decades of war.
It is worth exploring indications that those currently fighting the Afghan government, NATO, and US in Afghanistan are willing to adopt a national political agenda that could, in principle, be a subject of negotiation. But if Bin Laden's support base among Taliban in the tribal territories of Pakistan continues to grow, and if the Pakistani state continues to disintegrate, the incentives for maximalist positions will grow as well. If tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalate, the result may be reconfigured war rather than peace. And if the U.S. presses on with aggressive opium poppy eradication in southern Afghanistan, efforts at consolidating government authority in the vulnerable areas bordering what Rashid calls Pakistan's "badlands" may collapse.
Political negotiations are the only possible route for ending the fighting in the south of Afghanistan. But it would certainly be ironic if 'escalating tensions' between the U.S. and Iran not only torpedoed any hope of political negotiations with the Taliban, but actually triggered some kind of reversal where essentially present allies become enemies and enemies become allies, and NATO and American forces found them selves fighting alongside Pashtun allies (the Taliban are a Pashtun insurgency, and largely the creation of the Pakistani military Intelligence - the ISI) against Afghan militias aligned with Iran. But such is the nature of fighting a counterinsurgency, and things shift in Afghanistan all the time.
And the present much touted success of 'The Anbar model' in Iraq has all kinds of implications for the present Western military effort in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Sunni tribes who are now American allies in Anbar province in Iraq after all were once insurgents trying to kill them not that long ago. Kind of a case of the classic dictum of - 'if you don't negotiate with your enemies who else do you negotiate with?' - once again apropos. Not to mention 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.
And as this guy was also once an Iraqi Sunni tribesman allied with the United States, as this guy was once considered by some a CIA asset, I certainly think there is much legitimacy to Senator Robert Byrd's question to General David Petraeus during the Senate hearings the other day that when it comes to the 'Anbar Model' is this another case of a 'short-term policy with still unforseen long term implications'?
But it does seem to be the kind of thing that is threatening to break out all over.
What's the alternative besides perpetual war?
It is September, and The War in Iraq, it seems, is reaching a 'critical juncture', and not just in Iraq itself, but in Washington - with General David Petraeus set to deliver his much anticipated status report to the U.S. Senate regarding the situation on the ground in Iraq on, wait for it - amazingly - September 11, (though the report itself is going to be written by The White House) and with President Bush reportedly preparing to ask Congress for another 50 billion dollar supplemental spending bill to fund the war.
As well, there have been many reports indicating a profound division within the upper echelons of the Pentagon as to just how to proceed, with Bush, as they always say, apparently weighing several options.
Things are developing pretty fast and could change at any time, but what are some potential scenarios?:
Could the U.S. actually begin a draw-down of forces for a subsequent withdrawal? And if so what would that consist of?
This is the first scenario - call it the Withdrawal Scenario (or at least I'm calling it that) - which suggests that the U.S will begin a gradual 'draw-down' of its forces in Iraq this year, leading to a larger withdrawal of more significant numbers of troops beginning some time in 2008. I'm sure at this point this is the scenario that would be most consistent with the majority opinion of a war-weary American Public, not to mention probably the majority of the military itself or the Iraqi public, or the Iraqi politicians, and in recent days it seems to have gained some further credence through the statements and opinions of two high profile Washington/military insiders. It has been reported the Chairman of U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff (at least until September) General Peter Pace is "expected to urge President George W. Bush to cut U.S. troop levels in Iraq next year.". And (retiring, so he doesn't have to run again)Republican Senator John Warner, former Secretary of the Navy and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, after a four day trip to the Middle East has called on Bush to begin withdrawing troops by Christmas. This follows the release this week of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (pdf link here) which concludes that the Iraqi government will become 'even more fragile in the next six to twelve months' and is presently unable to govern effectively. And all these developments come after the earlier break with Bush by Republican Senator Richard Lugar, not to mention the consistent War criticism of "maverick" Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, and the quixotic campaign of anti-war Republican Congressman Ron Paul. The steadfast "Anti-war", anti-imperialist, 'libertarian' website Antiwar.com (much obliged) has always maintained that it is the moment when Bush begins losing the support of the majority of his party and his base, and an effective challenge to his war policies is mounted from the "right" within his country which will signal the real time when his war policies begin their deep political trouble domestically - and thus mark the beginning of any significant policy change and it is in this vein that I even mention these above individuals. Bush certainly pays no heed to more established critics of the war and I wouldn't think he would possibly respond to anyone or anything else. And even then. As if.
But in the possiblity that this was actually to begin happening what would be the political future of Iraq?
One suggestion for a possible American exit strategy is what is being termed 'soft-partition' - i.e. dividing Iraq into three parts while still tying them together into some kind of loose federation, where they could in turn easily evolve into three independent states - i.e. a Kurdish North, a Sunni homeland somewhere in the centre and western part ofthe country and a Shia homeland in the South. This scenario does have the advantage of closely reflecting the present reality, however unacknowledged, and its a way forward advocated by Peter Galbraith, the author of The End of Iraq, a former U.S Ambassador to Croatia (and yes, son of John Kenneth) who has written extensively about Iraq for the New York Review of Books. He has been arguing this position from as far back as 2004, a year after the invasion. In this article - How to Get Out of Iraq (April 26, 2004) - he wrote:
In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state. From my experience in the Balkans, I feel strongly that it is impossible to preserve the unity of democratic state where people in a geographically defined region almost unanimously do not want to be part of that state. I have never met an Iraq Kurd who preferred membership in Iraq if independence were a realistic possibility
(Galbraith also wrote this recent article for 'The Review' - Iraq: The Way to Go.)
This is also the foreign policy position of Democratic Senator, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Presidential contender Joe Biden, and thus sometimes referred to as 'The Biden Plan'. It distinguishes him from the other leading, Democratic or otherwise, Presidential candidates in that at least he at least professes to having a plan. Biden has pretty much staked his entire campaign on it and its a distinction which he never fails to point out. It's often suggested that what Biden, who has no real hope of becoming President, is really running for Secretary of State. In this 2006 Washington Post editorial he wrote:
This plan is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which already provides for the country's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces and control over most day-to-day issues. This plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to their respective regions instead of engaging in acts of violence. This plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence. This plan is not partition -- in fact, it may be the only way to prevent violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq.
To be sure, this plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city, belonging to no one region. And we would require international peacekeepers for other mixed cities to support local security forces and further protect minorities. The example of Bosnia is illustrative, if not totally analogous. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S. troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now they are strengthening their central government and disbanding their separate armies.
At best, the course we're on has no end in sight. At worst, it leads to a terrible civil war and possibly a regional war. This plan offers a way to bring our troops home, protect our security interests and preserve Iraq as a unified country. Those who reject this plan out of hand must answer one simple question: What is your alternative?
(Whether or not more candidates begin to come around to this position as the campaign progresses remains to be seen.)
So this plan could conceivably provide some political cover for an eventual American withdrawal. And it is already very much in place due to the political constructions of the current Iraqi Constitution. But 'soft-partition' is a very benign sounding phrase for something that, for all anyone knows, could make the situation in Iraq even more fractious and violent than it already is. Though Biden's question of - what is the alternative? - I think is a pretty legitimate one at this point. In the negotiations that lead up to the Constitution it was clear that the both the Southern Shiites and the Northern Kurds - i.e. the people who suffered most under Saddam's tyranny - deliberately sought a very decentralized state and the power to retain their own militias. Is this now somehow going to be changed in favour of a stronger central government? Are those militias going to be disarmed? Unlikely.
For what seems to be emerging - certainly in the accounts and reports that I have read -is that while yes, this partition plan would involve the break-up of Iraq, that break-up and dissolution is already under way.
(and leaving aside for the moment the implication inherent in this plan that each of these 'ethncities' thinks and acts as some kind of respective unified bloc(s), and leaving aside the very real troubles of Iraqi inter-ethnic violence)
It seems perfectly obvious that 'The Kurds' do not want to be a part of a future Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan already has its own elected government and flies its own flag. They have their Peshmerga. The actual Iraqi flag is now in fact illegal in Iraqi Kurdistan. The "Kurds" have desired independence for decades - since the end of World War 1 and the break-up of the Ottoman Empire - and this is the closest they have ever been. No one seriously thinks they are going to go back. (Unless they are once again forced in some way, I suppose) If you (dear reader) were a Kurd - would you want to remain in Iraq? Isn't it perfectly reasonable to suggest that the "Kurds" hated being a part of Iraq, suffered horribly under Saddam Hussein, and probably want no part of that country's future, beyond using its present political mechanisms to garner even further independence for themselves? This seems pretty self-evident. So what is going to happen after the referendum on the future of Kirkuk (scheduled for now) on November 15, 2007 - when Iraqi Kurdistan will be independent in everything but name, complete with the city they have always wanted as their Capital, with its bounty of oil resources? Will this actually happen? Or is this potential flashpoint going to some how expand and enlarge the present civil war(s)? And how will the Turks - already concerned with low level insurgent fighting with PKK rebels attacking inside its territory from camps in Northern Iraq - react to this development? And the Iranians?
According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) has more than doubled to 1.1 million since the beginning of the year, nearly 200,000 of those in Baghdad governorate alone. Rafiq Tschannen, chief of the Iraq mission for the International Organization for Migration, says that the fighting that accompanied the influx of U.S. troops actually "has increased the IDPs to some extent."
When Gen. David Petraeus goes before Congress next week to report on the progress of the surge, he may cite a decline in insurgent attacks in Baghdad as one marker of success. In fact, part of the reason behind the decline is how far the Shiite militias' cleansing of Baghdad has progressed: they've essentially won. "If you look at pre-February 2006, there were only a couple of areas in the city that were unambiguously Shia," says a U.S. official in Baghdad who is familiar with the issue but is not authorized to speak on the record. "That's definitely not the case anymore." The official says that "the majority, more than half" of Baghdad's neighborhoods are now Shiite-dominated, a judgment echoed in the most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq: "And very few are mixed." In places like Amel, pockets of Sunnis live in fear, surrounded by a sea of Shiites. In most of the remaining Sunni neighborhoods, residents are trapped behind great concrete barricades for their own protection.
And what of these 'Sunnis'? Just what is happening? It seems they are being disenfranchised and driven out of areas they used to rule. As Middle East scholar and journalist Nir Rosen explained in an interview with Tom Foreman of CNN:
FOREMAN: So Nir, we keep hearing reports, though, nonetheless out of Baghdad. People saying that give us time, we are trying to get this government worked out. We are going to make some progress. Do you see any way that can happen?
ROSEN: No. This has been the case for the past would two years at least. There is no hope. There is no government. Neither side is interested in compromise and why should they? The Shias control Baghdad. They have removed the Sunnis from Baghdad, from Iraq's political future.
FOREMAN: What's going to change that if anything?
ROSEN: Nothing is going to change that. The Shias have actually expelled most of the Sunnis from Baghdad. It went from being a majority Sunni city. Now it is a majority Shia city. The last few pockets of Sunnis are slowly being purged by the police and the Mehdi army. It's now irrevocably a Shia city and Sunnis are just out. Unfortunately, Iraq has been completely remade and it is time to be honest. It is time for the American leaders to be honest and American military to be honest with their people.
There can be no reconciliation. This does -- the latest show we had a few days ago where they brought a few leaders together and pretended like they were going to reconcile, the Sunnis are still out of the government and they remain so and why should they be? They have been expelled from Iraq. The majority of the three million refugees that we have from the region, from Iraq are Sunni. The majority being internally displaced are Sunni. Of course, whatever agreement were to be reached, parliament would never ratify it anyway.
However, the one place that Sunnis do appear to be in control is in Anbar province - the area that Bush visited this week and the area that Administration is holding up as an example of the success of the 'surge'. But, as Patrick Coburn explains this piece from The Independent:
In reality, the improvement in the US position in Anbar has nothing to do with the surge and the deployment of 30,000 extra American troops. The change in the military situation in the province is a result of a split in the Sunni guerrilla movement between an al-Qa'ida umbrella organization called the Islamic State of Iraq and the rest of the Sunni guerrillas.
The Islamic State of Iraq created widespread anger among the Sunni community by killing anybody connected with the government, such as garbage collectors or lowly employees of ministries. They were also seeking to draft one young man from each Sunni family into their forces.
Bizarrely, the US is now backing and arming Sunni tribal militias who do not answer to the Iraqi government, while pressing Mr Maliki to clamp down on the Shia militias, notably the anti-American Mehdi Army led by Muqtada al-Sadr.
And as Juan Cole writes:
Sattar Abu Rishah, the chairman of the Council for the Salvation of al-Anbar, said that Bush promised to release innocent Sunni Arab detainees and to provide compensation for damages caused by military operations. He called Abu Rishah a "hero" and urged him to spread the tribal council model to other provinces (i.e. to fight Sunni radicals with tribal militias).
Al-Hayat says that the US military is arming tribal militias in the 'triangle of death' south of Baghdad, with the cooperation of Sunni guerrilla groups such as the Army of Islam, the 1920 Revolution Brigades, and the Army of Holy Warriors (i.e. the very guerrilla groups that had earlier fought the US and Iraqi troops).
The al-Maliki government takes a dim view of the new US policy of promoting Sunni Arab militias, for fear that eventually they will turn on the Baghdad government. Among Abu Rishah's demands, which Bush said he would study, were complaints about Shiite militias and about Iranian interference in Iraq. Al-Maliki depends on both things.
The Government Accountability Office, in a draft assessment reported yesterday, determined that Iraq has failed to meet 15 out of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress mandated by Congress. Laws on constitutional reform, oil and permitting former Baathists back into the government have not been enacted. Among other failings, there has been unsatisfactory progress toward deploying three Iraqi brigades in Baghdad and reducing the level of sectarian violence.
Or as Rosen stated far more bluntly in the same above interview:
ROSEN: There is no government to begin with. It's a collection of militias. And indeed, there is no alternative. The whole focus on the government in Baghdad is the -- problem is that -- in everybody's approach. In Iraq it used to be you could have a coup replace the government and the whole country followed. But now Iraqi is a collection of city states, Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Erbil, each one with its own warlords. They don't answer to Baghdad. Baghdad has no control over them. When we overthrew Saddam, we imposed one dictator after another. We didn't like Prime Minister Jaafari so we got rid of him and we put in his close ally, Maliki. And now the occupier is once again upset that the occupied people are not being sufficiently obedient. But it doesn't matter. We are past that stage. Iraq doesn't exist as a state anymore. The government has never existed. It has never brought in any services. Even the most fundamental service the government can provide, a monopoly over the use of violence, it doesn't provide that because it has never controlled the militias and militias are the ones that control the police and the army.
But in spite of all this of course, it's pretty obvious, despite what he says now, that Bush has no intention of implementing any serious kind of withdrawal and drawdown. In fact recent revelations in transcripts from his soon to be released new Biography reveal his true intentions:
For now, though, Mr. Bush told the author, Robert Draper, in a later session, "I'm playing for October-November.". That is when he hopes the Iraq troop increase will finally show enough results to help him achieve the central goal of his remaining time in office: "To get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence", and, he said later,"stay longer.".
Which brings up the next scenario. Call it the - Surge and Remain scenario - (or at least I'm calling it that.).
But if things are going so badly in Iraq- tremendous violence, overall chaos, exhausted military, massive population dislocations, Central Government falling apart - how could and would the Bush Administration be able to maintain and perpetuate its present policy?
By selling it as something else.
We are now in the midst of the Bush Administration media surge which on its own, if it wasn't so cynical and infuriating, would be a pretty fascinating thing to behold. It certainly has echo's of the initial campaign that sold the war in the first place undertaken back in 2002-03. Ands its clear that The Bush Administration is hoping a similar kind of exercise is going to work again this time. So its valuable, I think, at this time to take a bit of a closer look at this present Administration media campaign, and its subsequent blogoshperical dissection, in order to obtain a clearer picture of the state of the public debate in The United States over the future of the War in Iraq.
On July 30, an op-ed appeared in the NYT entitled A War We Just Might Win by Michael O'Hanlan and Kenneth Pollack, two scholars from the Brookings Institute, which seemed to suggest that the 'surge' in Iraq was working, essentially, and that progress was afoot. And for all the publicity it garnered it was as if this op-ed marked the de facto beginning of this new 'media surge'. Among other things, it stated that:
Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration for its miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily victory, but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.
This op-ed was quickly seized upon by long-time supporters of the war as more evidence that the momentum was beginning to turn in Iraq due to this new strategy under the leadership of General Patraeus.
There is significant progress being made in Iraq.
Criticism, however, was swift.
"Today, morale is high", wrote Pollack and O'Hanlan.
Seven soldiers wrote a follow-up editorial less than three weeks later attempting to give a more realistic assessment of life on the ground in the warzone(s).
Perhaps most contentiously - "(C)ivilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began", O'Hanlan and Pollack wrote," though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.".
This became a constant line: That violence was down in Iraq. And the Pentagon soon began repeating as fact the line that civilian casualties were now down 50 % in Baghdad, though they declined to give specific numbers. But McClatchy newspapers soon produced a report that did have numbers - numbers which suggested an opposite conclusion. The Associated Press also produced a report which stated -
This year the U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.
Other conclusions (as summarized by Kevin Drum):
* A military spokesman differed, saying fatalities are at their lowest level since June 2006, but "offered no statistics to back his claim."
* As nearly everyone predicted, many of the insurgents have simply moved out of Baghdad into other areas: "Initial calculations validate fears that the Baghdad crackdown would push militants into districts north of the capital....In July, the AP figures show 35 percent of all war-related killings occurred in northern provinces. The figure one year ago was 22 percent."
* Residents are fleeing: "The number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31."
And this question of 'the numbers' and how they were being used and reported inspired this video look from TPMtv:
In addition, much was made of the fact that Pollack and O'Hanlan who though they were 'Democratic policy mavens' were still, in their own words, "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq". They were constantly referred to as liberals, and even lefties - almost as if this conferred upon the authors an even further status and legitimacy - for apparently the 'liberal media' does have some usefulness after all. Even Dick Cheney, in an interview with Larry King cited the op-ed, and called them 'strong critics of the war'.
But it was common knowledge that the two had actually been ardent supporters of war since its outset. Pollack even wrote a book entitled The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq back in 2002.
And it turns out that the very selective itinerary for their eight-day trip to Iraq had all been arranged by the Pentagon. But then again such treatment of visiting scholars, journalists and politicians is pretty par for the course.
Nonetheless, the op-ed soon became representative of the new conservative narrative about the war, used by Republican war supporters everywhere as proven fact that, indeed, there was significant progress being made in Iraq. And that, yes, the surge is working.
And it soon became clear that for the Bush Administration all of this was just the beginning a much larger, more co-ordinated media campaign to influence American public opinion about the war. A campaign of which we are in the midst.
It was revealed that the Pentagon had set up an election-style information war-room" or '24 hour Iraq info desk' as they were calling to help co-ordinate and concentrate their message about the surge and the war in general.
A new 'private citizen's group' called Freedom's Watch fronted by former White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer" soon emerged and began running thirty second TV commercials in twenty states - all in support of 'the surge' and the 'Bush Administration'. Spots that were positively eerie in their propagandizing.
Like this one:
And this one:
And there have been other elements to this 'hard sell' media strategy - like Bush recently evoking the spectre of the Viet Nam withdrawal and the classic 'stabbed in the back' thesis concerning that war(more on this in a subsequent post) - but the question still persists: if this war is going so badly - and so 'other' from the official claims of its founders and supporters - why would the Bush Administration seek to perpetuate it this way, in such grand, unending manner and style?
And the obvious answer to that question is that Bush and his most loyal supporters really have drank the kool aid and truly believe their rhetoric: That we have to fight them over there so that we don't fight them over here. And as soon as we get Iraq right democracy is going to bloom throughout the Middle East, robbing the 'terrorists of their safe havens. And if not that then perhaps, at least, they truly feel that it is best to push forward on the present course then face whatever will accompany with an American withdrawal. At least not on their watch. Again, his comments to his official Biographer would certainly seem to suggest this to be the case. Bush's most enduring legacy will be The War in Iraq, its consequences and fallout - that with which he will be most historically identified. So it makes sense that he would want to persist with his present policy at least up and until the time he gets to hand the whole bloody mess off to somebody else. And there have have always been persistent suggestions that Bush feels his policies to be divinely inspired. The classic hallmarks of Bush's style are 'faith' and 'thinking and acting from his gut'. Not empirically based engagement with reality nor hard intellectual reasoning, to put it mildly. It is said that he is thinking a lot about Harry Truman these days, another President who made unpopular decisions and left office with low approval numbers, but who, it is said (in the general consensus), has been 'redeemed by history'. Bush I'm sure feels this way about himself. That history will prove him right; a man of vision and clarity, unafraid to make the difficult decisions. Now its just a matter of making it through the ever nasty present. How could he feel otherwise, really?
But is there something else going on here?
Now since I posted this post about Tony Karon's post Asking the Wrong Questions on Iran (which again, I would encourage everyone to read) the blogosphere has certainly been alive with the question of whether or not The United States is going to act militarily against Iran. (Not because, ahem, I posted of course, thats not what I'm saying) Maybe even sometime this month, or in the very near future. And as I said then, I had a hard time believing this to be the case. But then I read this post by former CIA Intelligence officer Ray McGovern Bush puts Iran in Crosshairs, and I have to say that I am beginning to take such assertions a lot more seriously.
First on the subject of Iran's nuclear ambitions, McGovern writes:
It has been like waiting for Godot...the endless wait for the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear plans.
That NIE turns out to be the quintessential dog that didn't bark. The most recent published NIE on the subject was issued two-and-a-half years ago and concluded that Iran could not have a nuclear weapon until "early- to mid-next decade."
That estimate followed a string of NIEs dating back to 1995, which predicted, with embarrassing consistency, that Iran was "within five years" of having a nuclear weapon.
The most recent NIE, published in early 2005, extended the timeline and provided still more margin for error. Basically, the timeline was moved 10 years out to 2015, but a fit of caution yielded the words "early-to-mid next decade."
On Feb. 27, 2007, at his confirmation hearings to be Director of National Intelligence, Michael McConnell repeated that formulation verbatim.
A "final" draft of the follow-up NIE mentioned above had been completed in February 2007, and McConnell no doubt was briefed on its findings prior to his testimony.
The fact that this draft has been sent back for revision every other month since February speaks volumes. Judging from McConnell's testimony based on the NIE draft of February, its judgments are probably not alarmist enough for Vice President Dick Cheney. (Shades of Iraq.)
It is also a safe bet that last December the newly confirmed defense secretary, Robert Gates, was taken to the woodshed by the avuncular Cheney, when Gates suggested to Congress that Iran's motivation in seeking a nuclear weapon would be deterrence:
"While they [the Iranians] are certainly pressing, in my opinion, for a nuclear capability, I think they would see it in the first instance as a deterrent. They are surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons – Pakistan to the east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west, and us in the Persian Gulf."
Apparently, the newly minted secretary of defense hadn't gotten Cheney's memo.
There they go again – those bureaucrats at the International Atomic Energy Agency. On Aug. 28, the very day Bush was playing up the dangers from Iran, the IAEA released a note of understanding between the IAEA and Iran on the key issue of inspection. The IAEA declared:
"The agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that it remains in peaceful use."
The IAEA deputy director announced that the plan just agreed to by the IAEA and Iran will enable closure by December on the nuclear issues that the IAEA began investigating in 2003.
Other IAEA officials now express confidence that they will be able to detect any military diversion or any uranium enrichment above a low grade, as long as the Iran-IAEA safeguard agreement remains intact.
Shades of the preliminary findings of the very intrusive U.N. inspections conducted in Iraq in early 2003 before the U.S. warned the U.N. in mid-March to withdraw its inspectors, lest they be shocked-and-awed.
Vice President Cheney can claim, as he did three days before the attack on Iraq, that the IAEA is simply "wrong." But Cheney's credibility has sunk to prehistoric levels; witness the fact that the president himself was enlisted to address the Iranian nuclear threat this time around. And he did it with new words.
But, as McGovern points out, now
Bush and Cheney have clearly decided to use alleged Iranian interference in Iraq as the preferred casus belli. And the charges, whether they have merit or not, have become much more bellicose. Thus, Bush on Aug. 28:
"Iran's leaders...cannot escape responsibility for aiding attacks against coalition forces...The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops. I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities."
How convenient: two birds with one stone. Someone to blame for our losses in Iraq, and "justification" to confront the ostensible source of the problem.
Vice President Cheney has reportedly been pushing for military retaliation against Iran if the U.S. finds hard evidence of Iranian complicity in supporting the "insurgents" in Iraq.
Again, President Bush on Aug. 28:
"Recently, coalition forces seized 240-millimeter rockets that had been manufactured in Iran this year and that had been provided to Iraqi extremist groups by Iranian agents. The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased in the last few months..."
And then there is the fact that "The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to target the group's business operations and finances.".
Which prompted this comment from Robert Baer (another former CIA man):
Reports that the Bush Administration will put Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the terrorism list can be read in one of two ways: it's either more bluster or, ominously, a wind-up for a strike on Iran. Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC, maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran's nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign, lite, if you will. But frankly they're guessing; after Iraq the White House trusts no one, especially the bureaucracy.
In a previous Ray McGovern column - George W Bush: A CIA Analysis - he even repeats the provocative rumours that it is because of the impending action against Iran that Karl Rove - reportedly opposed to this action and the only one within the Administration who could act as a counterweight to Cheney (all for it as you can imagine) with regards to influencing Bush - has now gone and resigned when he has.
Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labor Day, with a big kickoff on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way: They [the source's institution] have "instructions" (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labor Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox, and the usual suspects. It will be heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don't think they'll ever get majority support for this--they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is "plenty." Of course I cannot verify this report. But besides all the other pieces of information about this circulating, I heard last week from a former U.S. government contractor. According to this friend, someone in the Department of Defense called, asking for cost estimates for a model for reconstruction in Asia. The former contractor finally concluded that the model was intended for Iran. This anecdote is also inconclusive, but it is consistent with the depth of planning that went into the reconstruction effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I hesitated before posting this. I don't want to spread alarmist rumors. I don't want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.
A post which he has followed up a couple of times, including today.
It is important to remember that no one is suggesting that the Americans are actually going to invade Iran, they simply don't have the troops for that. But if an attack were to happen it would probably take the form of a three day bombing campaign against all of Iran's nuclear facilities and as well as some of its Revolutionary Guard stations. A campaign that has apparently been in the planning stages for some time.
And if this were to take place would it, in turn, be part of a larger strategic shift in the region by the United States, that the great Seymour Hersh defined some time ago as 'The Redirection'?
i.e. - Allying and aligning with sunni forces throughout the Middle East with the goal of surrounding and encircling Iran and its Shia allies in Iraq as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon.
But if this were true it would seem to suggest, essentially, that not only would the United States be choosing sides in an even larger and growing ethnic conflict that would and could engulf the entire region, but that it would actually be making moves to exacrebate that very situation.
Recent moves like the huge arms package for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf States and Israel, not to mention the arming of Sunni tribes in Anbar province itself would certainly appear to be in keeping with the suggestions of this potential strategy.
But what of the potential consequences of this potential strategy?
Use your imagination.
(N)ews organizations should ask certain questions, and keep asking them: Does the Administration expect the Iranian regime to fall in the event of an attack? If yes, what will replace it? If no (and it will not), why would the Administration deliberately set about to strengthen the regime’s hold on power? What will the Administration do to protect highly vulnerable American lives and interests in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world against the Iranian reprisals that will follow? What if Iran strikes against Israel? What will be the strategy when the Iranian nuclear program, damaged but not destroyed, resumes? How will the Administration handle the international alarm and opprobrium that would be an attack’s inevitable fallout?
Or as Chris Hedges:
But then what? We don’t have the troops to invade. And we don’t have anyone minding the helm who knows the slightest thing about Persian culture or the Middle East. There is no one in power in Washington with the empathy to get it. We will lurch blindly into a catastrophe of our own creation.
It is not hard to imagine what will happen. Iranian Shabab-3 and Shabab-4 missiles, which cannot reach the United States, will be launched at Israel, as well as American military bases and the Green Zone in Baghdad. Expect massive American casualties, especially in Iraq, where Iranian agents and their Iraqi allies will be able to call in precise coordinates. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, will be shut down. Chinese-supplied C-801 and C-802 anti-shipping missiles, mines and coastal artillery will target U.S. shipping, along with Saudi oil production and oil export centers. Oil prices will skyrocket to well over $4 a gallon. The dollar will tumble against the euro. Hezbollah forces in southern Lebanon, interpreting the war as an attack on all Shiites, will fire rockets into northern Israel. Israel, already struck by missiles from Tehran, will begin retaliatory raids on Lebanon and Iran. Pakistan, with a huge Shiite minority, will reach greater levels of instability. The unrest could result in the overthrow of the weakened American ally President Pervez Musharraf and usher into power Islamic radicals. Pakistan could become the first radical Islamic state to possess a nuclear weapon. The neat little war with Iran, which few Democrats oppose, has the potential to ignite a regional inferno.
We have rendered the nation deaf and dumb. We no longer have the capacity for empathy. We prefer to amuse ourselves with trivia and gossip that pass for news rather than understand. We are blinded by our military prowess. We believe that huge explosions and death are an effective form of communication. And the rest of the world is learning to speak our language.
And for all we know, dear, dear reader, it could already be happening.
Stay tuned. I hope everyone had a good labour day weekend. It should be an interesting month.