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Archive for August, 2008

Blogging Break

Will take off for southern Italy for a two-week vacation.

There will be absolutely no blogging.

To thwart invaders, comments will be off until Sept. 14.

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The Maliki government may find the Sons of Iraq disagreeable, but the heroic volunteers still feature prominently in MNF-I news releases, like this one, dramatically titled “Sons of Iraq find weapons cache in southwestern Baghdad, EOD diffuses IED”.

If you really want to know when the U.S. withdraws its support — and that day will come, despite all the assurances by Petraeus of not “walking away” from the SoI — check out these dispatches. They’re a fun read.

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SOFA for Afghanistan?

I can just imagine the crapstorm this will whip up:

For the past six years, military relations between the United States and Afghanistan have been governed by a two-page ‘diplomatic note’ giving U.S. forces virtual carte blanche to conduct operations as they see fit.

Although President Bush pledged in a 2005 declaration signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ‘develop appropriate arrangements and agreements’ formally spelling out the terms of the U.S. troop presence and other bilateral ties, no such agreements were drawn up.

But after a U.S.-led airstrike last week that United Nations and Afghan officials have said killed up to 90 civilians — most of them children — Karzai has publicly called for a review of all foreign forces in Afghanistan and a formal ‘status of forces agreement,’ along the lines of an accord being negotiated between the United States and Iraq.

U.S. officials quoted by the Post say an agreement has never been attempted because “there are just a lot of moving parts” — in layman’s terms, because the Karzai government hasn’t gotten its shit together. One might ask, though, whether this is reason enough not to hold American forces — and ISAF, too, for that matter — accountable for their mistakes. Just because a country is bankrupt and its government corrupt doesn’t mean it can be bombed with impunity — right?

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Here’s another sign that the Bush Administration has come a long way since the heady days of secret renditions and “enhanced” interrogation techniques:

The United States military has secretly handed over more than 200 militants to the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries, nearly all in the past two years, as part of an effort to reduce the burden of detaining and interrogating foreign fighters captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to American military officials.

However:

[...] The prisoners can block their transfers to home countries, military officials say. Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross interview all detainees before they are returned to their home countries, Bernard Barrett, a Red Cross spokesman, said.

In short, the U.S. has reverted back to the kind of renditions the Clinton Administration approved — without much public outcry — in the late 90s. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the new system, on the face of it, sounds more humane.

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Iraq: SoI Blues

Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl, analysing Maliki’s SoI crackdown in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, suggest a chilling analogy:

It is obvious where this road might end. The last time tens of thousands of armed Sunni men were humiliated in Iraq — by disbanding the Baath Party and Iraqi army in May 2003 — an insurgency began, costing thousands of U.S. lives and throwing Iraq into chaos. Yet Maliki and his advisors risk provoking Iraq’s Sunni community into another round of violence.

Marc Lynch, for his part, sees a quandary:

What if that battle is joined, but the ‘former Awakenings’ (‘the once and future insurgency?’) choose not to turn those guns against their American ‘friends’ but concentrate exclusively on the Iraqi government.  Which side does the U.S. support?  The Awakenings movement which it has built and cultivated, or the Iraqi government which it has built and cultivated?  Could get messy.

Judging by what Petraeus said last week in a McClatchy interview, the answer seems clear:

“We’re not going to walk away from them, and as I said, Prime Minister Maliki committed to taking care of them. [...] I do think it is somewhat understandable that the government struggles to hire former insurgents for its security forces or for its ministerial positions… But this is how you end these kinds of conflicts. That’s why they call it reconciliation. It’s not done with one’s friends, it’s done with former enemies.”

Paying off your enemy is always a huge gamble, particularly when you’re fighting someone else’s war. Whatever happens, the least likely outcome is probably the one Maliki is banking on: that the Sunni volunteers will quietly accept their fate, throw down their weapons and slink back to irrelevance.

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Here’s a good one: the rogue unit that stormed the Diyala governor’s office last week was even more rogue than usual, according to an Interior Ministry official.

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I’m surprised at the fervour, particularly from the American left, with which the 2003 Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq’s “soft-partitioning” is being attacked. Reading recent blog posts you’d think Biden and Gelb concocted some mad-cap scheme that had no relation to reality. In fact, the plan — envisioning separate enclaves for the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia — not only makes sense but may end up being a blueprint for Iraq’s future regardless of what the U.S. and Maliki want. At the very least it would warrant a more serious discussion.

In case you’ve forgotten what the plan was all about and how it was received, here are some useful links:

“The Three-State Solution” — the original NYT op-ed by Leslie Gelb
“Biden: Ahead of His Time?” — George Packer’s take on the plan
“The Case for Soft Partition in Iraq” — a Brookings analysis paper by Edward Joseph

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Like everyone else, I’ve been trying to figure out what to think of the two U.S. presidential candidates and their running mates (I’m almost sure McCain will choose Romney). For me, it boils down to this: how would they have reacted to the deaths of more than 3,000 people in terrorist attacks on American soil?

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t really matter how they would’ve reacted. What matters is the advice they would’ve been given.

Obama’s response probably would’ve been more to my liking — more reasoned, lawyerly, multilateral. McCain, on the other hand, has surrounded himself with neocon ideologues the likes of whom I no longer trust. Of the two candidates, he probably would’ve been the one to lash out against whoever happened to be the bad guy on his political agenda; after all, he’s done it before, and with Scheunemann, Kagan and Kristol advising him, what’s to say he won’t do it again?

The president may be the decider, but the Bush presidency should’ve taught us that not all bad decisions emanate from the executive — that, in fact, there may be no decisions at all, if the guy happens to be totally blasé about running a superpower. Just think how different the world would look like if instead of Rumsfeld and Tenet we would’ve had Gates and Hayden, and if the likes of Haynes, Yoo, Feith and Wolfowitz — all since resigned — would’ve been giving lectures in Harvard instead of bad advice in the White House?

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Reidar Visser has the last word on the impact of the Obama-Biden ticket on Iraq:

On the one hand, there is McCain, who looks set to persevere with the Bush policy of handling Iraq primarily through military power instead of working for a more truly inclusive political system. With its systematic promotion to top positions in the new Iraq of some of the most sectarian, pro-Iranian and unprofessional cliques among Iraq’s 18 million (and mostly Iraqi nationalist) Shiites, this contradictive policy seems so obviously antithetical to long-term American interests that it is really hard to make sense of (except if one does what should be the unthinkable and puts it in the frightening context of a grander plan to eventually force regime change in Iran as well). Democrats appear to be equally ignorant about the survival of Iraqi nationalist sentiment, but they express this in a different policy: acceptance of Iranian influence in Iraq as something natural. This was even written into Obama’s ‘New Strategy for a New World’, released in mid-July. Commenting on Iraq, Obama writes, ‘Iraq is not going to be a perfect place…we are not going to … eliminate every trace of Iranian influence’. He seems unaware that this particular statement may be seen as deeply offensive by many Iraqi Shiites who are proud of their Iraqi identity but fearful of Iran and the pro-Iranian elites that have been empowered by the Bush administration. Their fear is that a new Democratic administration will accord Iran exaggerated influence in Iraq as part of a grand, Dayton-style regional settlement designed as an antidote to the Bush administration’s unilateralist policies.

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If The Wall Street Journal has it right (and it may not), U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq in 2011. The way I see it, there are exactly two ways of looking at this: 1) 2011 is too late; or 2) it’s too early. But before we start a Missing Links style tit-for-that, let’s put things in perspective:

  • In 2011, our newborn will be three years old.
  • He will walk and talk.
  • He will ride a bike — if he takes after his big brother.
  • He may not know all of the alphabet, but he knows Iraq is a country, and he will want to know why daddy is again going there.

It may well be that an Iraqi child born this summer will grow up in an atmosphere of peace and prosperity. But it’s equally possible he might see his family killed and end up as a refugee in some scary foreign country. There’s just no way of knowing. Three years is a long time in a kid’s life — and in Iraq.

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