Archive for July, 2008

Is Iraqification Succeeding?

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2008 by whatafteriraq

In What After Iraq, I devote a chapter to Iraqification as the likely outcome of the Iraq War. The essence of the argument is that the outcome will resemble the process of Vietnamization (from which, obviously, the term is drawn). As it evolved, the policy of Vietnamization involved turning the war gradually over to the South Vietnamese with the “reasonable chance” they would be able to maintain their independence after the transfer of responsibility from American to South Vietnamese forces was completed.

There were really three dynamics to Vietnamization that have been transplanted to Iraq:

1, A recduction in acceptable outcomes from the American vantage point. In Vietnam, that meant backing down from a guarantee of Soth Vietnamese independence to the “reasonable chance” of that outcome.

2. The training and preparation of South Vietnamese forces to be robust enough to withstand a North Vietnamese onslaught.

3. The creation of conditions in surrounding countries to maximize the likelihood of South Vietnamese survival (notably sealing off Cambodia and Laos as infiltration routes).

Obviously, all this did not work out as planned in Vietnam, but it is clearly the basis of U.S. efforts in Iraq. The United States has backed away from the absolute goal of Iraqi democracy to the more measured standard of a stable government survival in which a democratic outcome is possible. The Iraqi armed forces have been recruited and trained, although that process is ongoing. Some efforts have been undertaken to neutralize influence from Syria and Iran, although those could hardly be called glowing successes (but then, neither were Cambodia and Laos successes).

Something like Iraqification is, after all, the only possible outcome. The United States will leave, and it requires some semblance of success behind it as it lowers the flag and departs. Although what will happen after we leave is still debatable, it is at least arguable that the situation will be stable. Sounds like Vietnamization to me!

The major forces seem to be aligning behind this outcome. Obama and McCain are, as argued in previous posts, “schlepping” their way toward the goal of full or large-scale withdrawal by 2010, and the al-Maliki government has embraced that outcome as well. Will it come as any surprise if the SOFA that is negotiated after January 2009 does not move in this direction as well?

Does the movement toward Iraqification favor one side or the other in the November election? No one, of course, uses the term, even if both have embraced its dynamics. Getting the U.S. out of Iraq certainly favors the Obama position, but McCain’s support for the surge will be trumpeted as having moved the situation to the point that Iraqification can be implemented. Sounds like a wash, although both candidates will doubtless take credit. If there is an advantage, it will be the direction the reasidual debate about Iraq will go. If it goes toward “how we won the war,” it will redound to McCain’s advantage (proof he knows how to “win wars”–despite never having won one); if it goes back to what we were doing there in the first place, the advantage goes to Obama.

In the end, Iraqification helps out everyone, by putting Iraq behind us. Then, the question will be how we treat Iraq once we’re gone. We forgot (arguably abandoned) Vietnam as fast as we could, and hardly noted it when the “reasonable chance” of success failed. Will we do the same things if events work out poorly after we leave Iraq?

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Are U.S. Candidates Really Helping Israel?

Posted in Diplomacy, Israel-Palestine Peace Process, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East Conflict, Middle East Peace with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2008 by whatafteriraq

With Barack Obama having completed his recent visit to Israel, donning the ritual yamulke to visit the Holocaust Memorial, pledging absolute support for Israeli security and issuing veiled threats against Iran (all acts performed earlier by John McCain), it may seem like a silly question. The obvious answer is that both candidates have demonstrated their commitment to Israel, which should reassure both the Israelis and their supporters in the United States. All that is left to debate is which candidate would be the most steadfast in support of Israel, which translates into who would tilt most toward Israel.

Therein lies the heart of the question posed in the title. The position that is implicitly supported by the candidates is that of the current Kadima government of Israel, an offshoot of the Likud party that shows its Likud roots more and more each day. If one assumes the Kadima/Likud position is good for Israel, then the candidates are helping Israel. But what if that position is actually hurting Israel?

Not all Israelis support the current Israeli regional stance, which consists of factual (if not rhetorical) hardlining toward the Palestinians. The most obvious evidence is the continuing growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank territories that are supposed to be the basis of a Palestinian state in the two-state solution that is official Israeli policy. It is an absolute sham. There are now a quarter million Israelis living on the West Bank (closer to 400,000 if Jewish suburbs in East Jerusalem are included) in 140 settlements that are accessible by roads on which only Israelis can travel and which are patrolled (complete with checkpoints) by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). If left in place (and it is increasingly difficult to argue with a straight face the Israelis have any intention of undoing all this), the prospects for negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states approaches zero. If one assumes that U.S. policy isnot identical to Israeli policy in the region and that a peace treaty with which the Muslims in the region are happy is in the American interest, then continuing to support–or not vigorously to oppose–the Israeli settlement policy (which neither candidate has done) is tantamout to opposing the American national interest. It may not serve Israeli interests either.

There are only three ways out of the current Israeli-Palestinian impasse. One is a continuation of the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including further expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank following the Likud preference for a “Greater Israel.” Nobody thinks that will work in the long run; at best, it settles none of the differences that separate the party;at worst, it simply allows things to fester.

A second solution is the two-state solution. As noted, this is official policy on everyone’s part: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the Americans. The Israelis and Palesinians are divided on how the division of the West Bank occurs: the more that becomes part of Palestine, the happy the Palestinians are, and vice versa. The division of Jerusalem, which Obama has opposed but has backed slightly away from, is part of this controversy. It is the only solution that resolves the situation by separating the parties. It makes so much sense, however, that it is a diminishing possibility. Some Israelis who oppose the Kadima/Likud position believe the window is closing on this option, and that the settlements are what is slamming the window closed.

The last possibility, which becomes the only option to the status quo if the two-state solution dies, is a single Israeli-Palestinian state encompassing current Israel and the West Bank. It could take two forms. One is as a fully representative democracy. The problem with that is that the Jewish population of the combined state would be in a slight minority, and because the growth rate of the Palestinians is higher than that of the Israelis, that balance will tip progressively against the Jews. A fully democratic Israel/Palestine would not be a Jewish state. The other possibility is the one raised by Jimmy Carter: a combined state where the Israelis are fully participating citizens and the Palestinians are not. Carter had the audiacity to call such an outcome an “apartheid” state, which is politically incorrect but probably factually descriptive. If one thinksIsrael is a pariah state that is vigorously opposed by its opponents now, just imagine what this possibility could produce.

What all this suggests is that it is not at all clear that unfettered support for the current Israeli government is really in the interest of Israel or anyone else–other than the Likudniks and their dreams of a Jewish-controlled Israel that extends to the Jordan River (the entire West Bank incorporated into Israel). That solution may (apparently does) sound good to Benjamin Netanyahou, but it would arouse passions that certainly do not serve U.S. interests. Or, for that matter, sensible Israeli interests.

Election campaigns are not great places for getting at the detailed, complex nature of international problems. Sound bites of undying support for Israel sound good to an American electorate which does not know what that means, but those sound bites may disserve the interests of peace in the region. How about biting the bullet and suggesting a little tough love for he Israelis; for instance, conditioning our unconditional support on dismantling of all the Israeli settlements not directly contiguous to the pre-1967 borders of Israel? The candidate who might take such a position might even rise above the label of politician to that of statesman. Isn’t that what we want after eight years of decidedly unstatesmanlike behavior in the White House?

The SOFA and the Election

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , on July 20, 2008 by whatafteriraq

It was not supposed to work out this way. The Bush administration assumed that it was going to be able to tie the hands of its successor administration by negotiating a new Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqis that would, as noted in earlier posts, give the United States Iraqi acquiescence to a more or less indefinite stay by American forces on converted Iraqi bases all over the country and essentially immune from Iraqi legal or other jurisdiction. Along the way, the U.S. forces could even conceivably help make sure the Iraqis did not do anything untoward with their oil industry, like excluding American oil companies from the leases they will negotiate. A sweet deal that might allow achievement of Bush’s objectives in Iraq (whatever those are) and also mean that if Obama wins, he would have a hard time pulling out of the country.

But then the Bushies were outsmarted (hardly the first time that has happened). Their plans, of course, assumed the Iraqis would, Uncle Tom-like, accept what was clearly a much better deal if you are an American neo-con than if you are an Iraqi, To the absolute chagrin and apparent surprise of Americans from Bush to smiley Condy Rice, the Iraqis have said, “no thanks.” Since the agreement the U.S. seeks to extend is based in the expiration of a UN mandate, it is kind of hard to ignore. And al-Maliki and company know it. And so the administration is frantically backing and filling, acquiescing to the new realities while denying anything is new at all. Nice try guys!

What is rather clearly emerging from all this is a compromise that will affect the fall election. There will be no long-term SOFA on Bush’s watch; rather, there will be some sort of interim agreement that allows the Americans to remain beyond December 31 and for the new administration to get into the mix. The Iraqis have clearly learned about American lame ducks and would prefer to talk to the folks who will be in charge for the next four years rather than today’s caretakers. Now, the discussion has turned to timetables for American withdrawal. The Bush neo-cons, of course, refuse to use that particular “t-word”, so they are “time horizons,” but everyone knows what that means. But as if to twist the knife in George Bush’s back a little, al-Maliki said yesterday, as he was getting ready to go to the airport (figuratively, at least) to greet Obama landing in Baghdad, that he thought the Obama 16-month timetable sounded pretty good to him. John McCain cannot be happy with this turn of events.

Something like an agreement on the terms of the SOFA could turn the Iraq issue in the campaign. If al-Maliki embraces the Obama position during his visit, it is a tacit endorsement of Obama and rejection of McCain. Do the Iraqis have their own pollsters in the United States? If he continues to say that 16 months sounds like a pretty good timetable–er, time horizon–where does that leave McCain? Does he declare he thinks victory will be achieved in 16 months? By that time, Bush will be off cutting brush in Crawford and will probably not care. Obama, on the other hand, will have a hard time wipig the smile off his face.

Things can, of course, change. The SOFA problem will not go away, however, and the Bush administration has clearly shown it has no juice left to force, maybe even influence, the outcome. And so maybe the Iraqis will get to frame the major foreign policy issue of an American presidential campaign. The occupied dictating to the occupiers? Wow.

Dying on Afganistan’s Plains

Posted in Afghanistan, Getting out of Iraq, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Senator Obama is preparing to leave for his tour of Iraq. While this event will provide nothing of substantive value, it will at least allow him to quiet the charge that he has made policy pronouncements without having been there from the McCain camp.

This ia a curious charge and response. People make policy judgments all the time on matters with which they have little if any direct, experiential connection. Legislators cannot possibly immerse themselves in everything about which they will make judgments, and presidents are the same. So why does Obama need to go to Iraq? And even when he does, what is he going to learn? Is he going to see the situation as it actually exists, or as the US command wants it to look? And are the Iraqis (who, according to today’s New York Times story, pretty much like Obama) going to get to know Obama, who will be well surrounded by security people to keep those Iraqis away from him? What is takeaway supposed to be? Am I the only one who does not really get it about this trip?

The trip to Iraq is mostly fluff, but this week’s announcements from the Obama camp on Afghanistan (mirroring McCain) are not. Obama said that a main reason for getting the troops out of Iraq is so more will be available for Afghanistan (he has suggested an extra 10,000). The stated reason is better to track down bin Laden. Does this make sense?

There are currently 36,000 American troops in Afghanistan, plus assorted NATO forces. They are fighting, primarily at least, Taliban who melted away after 2001 but never really went away. What is now transpiring in Afghanistan is an Afghan reaction to yet another foreign invader, who happens to support a government in Kabul that it helped install. The connection, of course, is that the Taliban and Al Qaeda have close links; thus, a Taliban victory means a resurgent Al Qaeda, and a defeated Taliban leave Al Qaeda more vulnerable. Thus, an increased U.S. effort against the Taliban translates into progress against bin Laden and Company.

Will this all work? It depends on how the Afghanis see our presence. If they view the Taliban (who come from the largest tribe in the country, the Pashtun) as the enemy, they may support the US and its allies. If, on the other hand, they come to view our presence (especially if it becomes larger) as just the most recent foreign occupation, we are in trouble. Any reading of Afghan history does not offer solace to the invaders/occupiers. The British learned this a century and more ago; the Soviets nearly 30 years ago. Must we reinvent the wheel here? Or, might it be a better idea to adopt much more specific, limited goals to achieve in Affghanistan that can be accomplished without major US military presence on the ground. Or, are we going to drift into another open-ended military commitment that we do not understand, and can neither win nor figure out how to get extricated from?

As Senator Obama is flying to Iraq, I hope someone will give him a copy of the collected works of Rudyard Kipling. If they do, Senator, please turn to his poem “The Young British Soldier.” The last verse reads in part:

“When you’re wounded and left of Afghanistan’s plains,

And the women come out to cut up what remains,

Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,

And go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

Enough said.

Source: Sabrina Tavernise and Richard A. Oppel Jr. “In Iraq, Mixed Feeling About Obama and His Troop Proposal.” New York Times (online), July 17, 2008.

Bridge over Troubled–SOFA–Waters

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , on July 13, 2008 by whatafteriraq

It has become so commonplace for American politicians to ignore the lame duck Bush administration as to constitute a “dog bits man” story. When, however, the government of Iraq does the same thing, that’s news: “man bites dog.” And yet that is apparently what has happened over the ill-fated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to extend the American stay in Iraq past the December 31 withdrawal date set by the United Nations.

As reported in this space, the Bush administration has hoped to negotiate and sign a long-term presence in Iraq that would tie the hands of the next administration–much more of a bind for Obama than McCain. The Iraqis have been resisting these advances (much to the surprise and consternation of the Bush “brain” trust), and yesterday the hammer went down. As described in the Washington Post Sunday edition, there will be no long-term agreement between now and the new administration. Instead, negotiations will continue for a “bridge agreement” that will avoid the U.S. being unceremoniously thrown out as the ball drops in Times Square. The United States calls what is being sought a “temporary operating protocol”; the Iraqis call it a “memorandum of agreement” (MOU); the rest of us can call it a ringing defeat for the Bush administration.

As noted in earlier postings, the Iraqis have been troubled by various aspects of an extension of the occupation, and apparently the immunity of US troops from prosecution for alleged crimes has proven the sticking point; moreover, provincial elections are scheduled for the fall in Iraq, and no Iraqi politician wants to be associated with having expedited an open-ended US stay. So, they said “no deal; we’ll talk to the new adminstration.”

The bridge over troubled waters being discussed would likely carry through 2009, allowing the Obama or McCain administration to negotiate either a complete pullout or some more limited form of continued stay. At any rate, this is one instance where kicking the can down the road is usefully empowering for the recipient, since the new administration will not be stuck with a long-term albatross from which it can only extricate itself indelicately.

The administration has, of course, slapped lipstick on the pig as best it can. The Post quotes an unnamed adminstration official rationalizing the situation with a curiously mixed metaphor; the US will now negotiate “a bridge to have the authority in place so we don’t turn into a pumpkin on December 31.” George W. Bush himself could hardly have said it better!

Those SOFA-Schlepping Iraqis

Posted in Getting out of Iraq, Iraq and Election, Iraq and Vietnam, Iraq War, Leaving Iraq with tags , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by whatafteriraq

In one of last week’s posts (“Schlepping toward the Center”), I described the process by which the Obama and McCain positions on Iraq were moving toward one another. This week, it is the Iraqis’ turn to join the parade.

Two pronouncements by the Iraqis in the last two days demonstrate their ability to master the schlepping game. In a widely reported statement on July 8, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie repeated Iraq’s reluctance to enter into a new open-ended Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. “We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that does not have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq.” Sounds like they are going to force the US to leave at the end of the year, doesn’t it? Score one for Obama?

Not so fast. They may want the US to leave, but maybe not right away. In a statement released July 9, 2008, “Iraqi spokesman” Ali al-Dabbagh issued a clarifying schlep that moved the Iraqis back toward the McCain move to the center: The pullout, he said, “could be 2011 or 2012, We don’t have a specific date in mind, but we do need to agree on setting a deadline.”

The United States was quick to pick up on this Iraqi move toward the American center. Lt. General James Dubik, US Army commander in charge of training the Iraqi army, announced that training could be completed in 2009 “as early as April. Could be as late as August.” Once that army is trained to its projected strength of about 565,000, it presumably can take over responsibility for more and more Iraqi provinces’ security, which in turn triggers the withdrawal process Obama advertises. It does not, however, mean everyone can come home (or move one country over to Iran, or two countries over to Afghanistan), because there will be residual needs such as intelligence provision, air cover, and special forces missions by the Americans (which sounds remarkably like US actions in Vietnam in 1972 in Vietnam under the policy of Vietnamization).

The net result of all this, of course, is mostly to show the Iraqis are learning thedir American electoral politics. Simply refusing to negotiate some form of new SOFA would undercut the McCain position of staying until there is victory. Since McCain might win, that’s bad American politics for the Iraqis. At the same time, negotiating a long-term presence for the Americans in a new SOFA is bad politics two ways. First, it antaonizes the vast majority of Iraqis who want the US to leave. Second, since Obama may win (possibly probably will win), such an agreement would leave the appearance of tying the hands of the new administration, which would not endear the Iraqis to that regime.

How do the Iraqis solve their problem? They join the schlepping toward the middle. And it could well work. As Andrew Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is quoted in todays’s Washington Post, “If they can establish a clar schedule for withdrawal, it is probably a schedule the next president will accept.” That schedule, of course, could be dateless, with figures to be added later.

Source: Tyson, Ann Scott, and Dan Eggen. “U.S. General: Iraq Forces to Be Ready in ’09.” Washington Post, July 9, 2008, Aii.

The GWOT and the Election

Posted in Global War on Terror, Iraq and Election, Middle East Conflict, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Since the withdrawal of Rudy Guiliani from the 2008 presidential sweepstakes, the global war on terror (GWOT) has all but disappeared from the rhetoric surrounding the 2008 presidential campaign. Certainly, both Obama and McCain have assured us that the war continues, that it must be pursued diligently (Obama by getting out of Iraq, McCain by staying in), and that each is the best person to assure diligence and “victory.” These pronouncements have certainly been neither central nor staple to the general appeals the candidates have made to justify their election. 

All this has occurred amidst sporadic reports indicating that the principal terorist opponent of the United States, Al Qaeda, has fallen upon hard times. A large part of the leadership (at least below the very top of the organization) has been captured or killed, and there are even indications that the appeal of bin Laden and his merrt band of crazies may be decreasing. A recent newscast, for instance, featured interviews with several Islamic young men, once the prime recruiting ground of Al Qaeda, where they suggested they disapproved of Al Qaeda’s practice of murdering innocent women and children on Quranic grounds. Quite a revelation.

So what is happening here? What is the state of the GWOT? I offer four possible, if heretical, explanations. Choose one if you want!

1. The GWOT is essentially over, and the United States has won. There have, after all, been no post-9/11 attacks against American soil, most of Al Qaeda’s leaders are incarcerated or dead, their money is dwindling, and they are basically trapped in the caves along the Afghan-Pakistani border. At any rate, they no longer have the resources to pose a direct threat, and what’s left of the GWOT is a mopping up exercise.

2. The GWOT is essentially over, and Al  Qaeda has won. Usama bin Laden could never have seriously believed he could bring the United States down, but he may have believed he could undercut American power by attacking and helping wreck the economy. The 9/11 attacks in New York caused something like $500 billion in losses by disrupting the global financial system, the belief in the war has caused the United States to expend countless billions on one of history’s true boondoggles–the Department of Homeland Security–and the war on Iraq, and the enormous rise in oil prices is adding to the misery. High fives all around in the caves!

3. The GWOT is real, it is a continuing menace for which great diligence is required, and what we are seeing is only a temporary lull in the action. Al Qaeda is alive, as are its global partners and spinoffs, and any relaxation will simply make easier the next offensive.

4. The GWOT has always been an overblown construct, a virtual mirage, and the illusion is being exposed for what it is and always has been. 9/11 was certainly a spectacular and horrible event, but it was also the opening gambit/high water mark/capability-exhausting event for the terrorists, and there never has been much danger it (or something worse) could be carried out again. Sensible policy should reflect this and move priorities to other, more real concerns.

Which one of these is closest to the truth? Even stating numbers 2 and 4 is heresy of the first order, number 1 is too self-congratulatory for the election campaign (for one thing, it would require giving George Bush credit for something–hardly likely), leaving number 3 as the rhetorical explanation of choice. But is that really so convincing anymore? Does the American public really wanted a “GWOT without end”? In the absence of an October Al Qaeda surprise, the GWOT will probably lay fallow as the economy hogs the spoltlight. Unless, of course, someone points out that throwing large amounts of money at the GWOT has contributed importantly to the economic mess we are in.