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Sadr and Duvalier – Bad Guys Check in at The Democracy Motel

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Chalk it up as a bad week for democracy.

A few days ago, Muqtada Al Sadr comes back from his extended vacation in Iran to restore a little of his special brand of sanity to the Iraqi Government in Baghdad. And yesterday, Jean-Claude Duvalier, retired evil dictator who along with his evil dictator dad drove what was left of Haiti into a ditch checks into a luxury hotel to plot a return engagement in Port-au-Prince.

Neither of these characters has the words “avowed believer in democracy” on their blood-stained resumes.

So I’m guessing in both cases, Washington is none too pleased. In the case of Sadr, we’re talking about a guy who whipped up a very nasty insurgency and cost us plenty in lives and treasure. And as for Haiti, we’ve been dabbling with much failure in the place, since Duvalier was turfed out, and are powerless to do anything to stop him raiding the hotel mini-bar.

In both cases, an exhausted and disillusioned populace might well reinforce our own fears. They want these guys back, and they don’t want us. The fact that they’re wrong on a thousand different levels only points to something more fundamental. We did a terrible job of convincing the locals that we were the guys to make their world right. This despite many billions thrown into the maw of their catastrophes.

We shouldn’t have been there, but could still have done so much to effect serious change, because American power is best expressed through its economic and diplomatic influence. We could have exposed Saddam Hussein’s shell game on WMD without losing a man and brought him low by continuing to choke his regime with sanctions. And in the case of Haiti, we could have made simple changes to our trade treaties with the Haitian government to bring much wanted jobs to the Island nation, jobs that are currently outsourced to our arch-enemies in China.

But we didn’t. Not because we couldn’t but because we didn’t have the balls to extend our reach the right way, the smart way, the American way. It was America that helped coordinate the Stuxnet virus that has set the Iranian’s back a critical 3-5 years in their quest for nuclear weapons. Did we have to bomb the place? No. Did we have to spend billions? No. Did we succeed by being plain smart. Yes.

And what happens when we’re not.

Bad guys come back home and raid the mini-bar.

Let that be a lesson to those of little imagination.

Written by coolrebel

January 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Welcome to the Bullshit Era

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In the old days, policy used to have at least some potential to become reality, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America at least, those days are over. Nothing anybody seems to suggest from the President on downwards seems to mean a hill of beans anymore. It’s as if the country is set on a course for planet “slow decline into mediocrity” (or worse) and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. All this despite some soaring rhetoric from the President, and plenty of hot air from just about everyone else.

Here’s a rundown of the current bullshitian landscape.

Jobs.

Anyone who thinks a $30-40bn Jobs bill is going to pass without being watered down to meaninglessness is dreaming. And it’s not certain why it will fare any better than the $800bn dollar stimulus package which was supposed to rebuild the economy and create, yes, that’s right. Jobs. The problems that the US economy is facing are profound and structural. Just throwing money at the problem without deep and lasting changes to – industrial, fiscal, and budgetary policy – sorry about the ‘P word’ again – needs to rethink very, very quickly. We don’t make stuff here. Some people suggest that manufacturing in the US isn’t “cost effective”, but my question is this. Why is it cost-effective in Germany?

Any-way, moving on to…

Wall Street

The President talks a great game about beating up onWall Street, especially now he’s been sobered up to the problem by the Massachusetts debacle. But it’s a tad too late. In January of 2009 the banks were still sinking in the quicksand. That’s the time to make them an offer they can’t refuse. After we’ve pulled them out, and they’ve put on fresh $500 shirts is not the time to be making a deal with them. And yet this is what we did. We had our boot on their necks and we blew our chance to make the single most destructive force in this country pay. And now, in the cold light of day, is anyone in the 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote for meaningful financial reform? Uhh, Nope. Will Wall Street be constrained from ruining the nation again? Nope.

Healthcare

What was once a burning need is now a footnote that’s about to be buried ahead of the mid term elections. The Democrats thought that Healthcare reform was a winner, but after being thoroughly outmaneuvered by GOP demagoguery that idea is now going the way of another smart idea…

Stopping Global Warming.

Let’s get this straight. The world is waiting for America to get its act together on controlling greenhouse gases. But is 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote fr meaningful climate legislation? Uhh, Nope. It will die.

Education

Ah, what’s the point. Nobody cares.

Finally, on domestic policy, my personal favorite…

High Speed Trains

California just got $2bn dollars of Federal Stimulus funding to build a high speed train network. Sounds great, right? Except for the fact that the total bill (and that’s before the usual corruption, incompetence, delays and overruns) is $42 billion. Chances of this happening in a state with a perennial budget crisis? Nil.

Moving abroad now…

Iraq

At a certain point in time, the United States is going to have to face the rather unpleasant moment when our last grunt gets on the last transport plane out of Baghdad Airport. Cue the bombs. Cue the resurgence of the insurgents and the reemergence of the Mahdi Army. Hello, reality.

Afghanistan

One day conference in London. Karzai tells us he’s going to end corruption and undo a millennia’s worth of being a basketcase that’s swallowed up empires, as well as buying off the Taliban recruits without guaranteeing their protection. He’s got 18 months before the troops we’re about to land there ship out. You do the math.

Iran

Sanctions work. And if you believe that, you think Sarah Palin is a closet liberal. Will the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 be able to justify NOT attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? Unlikely.

Haiti

Will the outpouring of aid from Americans be matched by a long-term commitment to fix Haiti? Watch the BS flow. Ain’t nothing gonna change in Haiti.

So you see, on just about every front, there’s an awful lot of talk about how we’re going to fix things.

And then there’s reality.

Welcome to the Bullshit Era.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

Haiti Commentary: Want to Get your Nation Rebuilt? Export a LittleTerror.

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Haiti. A tragic, profoundly unlucky nation, poster child of colonial brutality and exploitation – right on America’s doorstep.

Every few years or so, Haiti pings the heartstrings of the world’s wealthy nations and donations flood in – along with every journalist worth his or her salt.

The scale and magnitude of this latest catastrophe is truly appalling, but its hard to imagine that its going to be any different this time. The Presidential Palace will be rebuilt and its new found glory will no doubt be photographed as a symbol of Haiti’s resurgence. But the photographers will be less present when the shanties are rebuilt too on the same hillsides they once stood on.

It’s possible that this time it will be different, that Haiti will be rebuilt by the world community, but it’s far more likely that Haiti’s misery will likely continue when we go back to business as usual, with our own jobs and futures on the line too.

It’s all just a tad ironic. I mean, nation building is something that we’ve been getting pretty good at recently. Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of miles away are works in progress, to put it kindly, with literally tens of billions of dollars frittered away on projects that are blown up, mismanaged, or simply abandoned as soon as the US contractors have cut their corners and pocketed their profits and then left.

What made Iraq a go-to destination for that special brand of US imperialism? Yellow cake, even if there wasn’t any. It helped that Baghdad was home to the world’s most quintessential dictator, and this his country is second to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves.

What makes the Afghans so much more deserving than the Haitians? One thing and one thing only. Terror. Afghanistan has been home to a massive attack on the US homeland, and Haiti has not. Afghanistan is a political game, played at the very highest levels, with a very special brand of lies and misinformation, Haiti is just a disaster area, no questions asked.

To put it mildly, Haiti is not strategically important. It has nothing to offer us except cheap labor, which on a global basis, let’s face it, is not in short supply. State Department policy wonks who want to move up in the world do not specialize in Haitian political machinations. It’s in the news, occasionally, not daily.

It’s easy to lob over the occasional peace-keeping mission, and get UN support for this or that move, because when a country is not strategically important to any of the permanent members of the Security Council, unanimity is suprisingly easy to come by. Politically, there are no domestic points to score by helping Haiti – except in New York. There are only downsides. In short it doesn’t rate high on the must-do list.

That could change. America could decide to get its nation-building groove on and fix Haiti once and for all. Clean water, better housing, hospitals and all that jazz, as long as the American people are happy to provide a nationalized charitable donation – at our own expense of course.  So it’s not likely.

The truth is that Haiti is not a threat. Not in the least.

If it was, Congress and the President would have an easier time fixing the place.

If only it had Jihadists, like Afghanistan, bent on laying ruin to Miami or Orlando. Why, then Republicans and Democrats would demand a force be sent to knock off the terrorists and clean out the shanties because they’re “breeding ground for Haitian terrorists”.  No such luck.

If only the Chinese were busy colonizing the place as a staging point for new waves of cheap crap to be sold throughout America, then we could at least justify going down there to ‘compete’ with the Chinese. Not gonna happen.

If only the latest Pandemic was known to be sourced in the fetid water of those self-same shanties, so in the name of humanity we could send down some guys in white suits and clean the place up. Highly unlikely.

No, for all our talk of solidarity, as sad as it is to say, Haiti, desparate, poor, tragic Haiti – is on its own.

Written by coolrebel

January 14, 2010 at 6:52 am

Turns Out We’re Not Leaving Iraq After All

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It was a reminder of the bad old days.  But it was today in Baghdad. Big suicide bomb, coordinated attacks on rescuers, dozens dead and wounded, and the customary “bears all the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda operation designed to ferment sectarian strife”.  It’s doubtful whether it had any effect on the tone of Robert Gates‘ interview on NPR this evening, but I’m sure the bombing was on the Secretary’s mind.

We’re not sure whether his boss is on board with this, although it seems likely, but Gates might have given us a little glimpse of reality during the interview. In response to a question about differences between him and the President on a final departure date for our troops from Iraq, Gates was less than convincing about the finality of that. From the NPR report. (My italics)

With regard to Iraq, Gates noted that under the Status of Forces agreement, all U.S. troops will be out by the end of 2011. Gates says he’s on the same page as Obama with the withdrawal and, barring a new agreement with the Iraqis, there will be zero troops in Iraq by that time. But he also speculates that the Iraqis could ask for logistical and intelligence support.

“The president’s statement is absolutely clear and it conforms to our current commitments, that is, according to the agreements we have signed, we will have everyone out of Iraq by the end of 2011,” Gates said. “And unless something changes, that is exactly what will happen. …[A change] would have to be at the Iraqis’ initiative. And the president will have to determine whether or not he wants to do that.”

“Logistical and Intelligence” support might well be a good cover-phrase for something a little more, shall we say, effective. In other words a new agreement ‘at the Iraqis initiative’ to guarantee some “we need your firepower because we’re getting our asses kicked” type support. Obama suspects that Al Qaeda is just waiting for us to shut the door after us before going all out again, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the President could make a judgment that keeping a few brigades on base for selective “logistical and intelligence support” might just be the insurance policy we need.

There’s been an awful lot of talk about the President’s philosophy. Nobody seems to know what it is. The reason is simple. His philosophy is the absence of a philosophy. Pragmatism.

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Written by coolrebel

March 10, 2009 at 1:53 pm

12k US Troops Leaving Iraq. 28 killed in Baghdad Bomb.

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Two headlines side by side on the same day. Sometime in the next two years, we’ll stop seeing versions of the first headline. Will the second headline be gone too? I doubt it.  Because it’s highly likely that not long after the troops are gone, we’ll be reporting on the new and endless rash of daily carnage.

And then what will we do? Send the boys back to Iraq?

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Written by coolrebel

March 8, 2009 at 7:25 am

Leaving Iraq. More Powerful Arguments Against.

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Tom Ricks’ new book “The Gamble” is going to make some waves, and the author’s interview on NPR this morning is just the latest. This blog is an advocate of Obama leaving US troops in Iraq for the long term. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Obama is caught between a rock and a hard place in his Iraq policy. If he leaves he runs the risk of renewed violence after we’re gone. If he stays, he’ll be charged with breaking his promise to withdraw.

But facing the political heat at home in the short term would be far wiser than risking a bloodbath in Iraq after we close the door behind our last guys out, which will be bad news for US foreign policy and would cause an about turn from a fickle US public who’d suddenly tell him he should have stuck it out. Ricks makes the point in his NPR interview that he has ‘sympathy’ for Obama. Clearly, Bush left him with an intolerable mess and it will take superior leadership from our new Commander-in-chief to escape the jam with minimum damage. But in order to do so, hard choices have to be made. Obama has yet to prove he’s a tough choice kind of guy, despite his rhetoric to the contrary. Iraq is an arena that he has to get right.

Written by coolrebel

March 4, 2009 at 2:49 am

Can you Spell Power Vacuum? The US Can’t leave Iraq.

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Obama’s speech at Camp LeJeune today made official what we’ve known for a while, that the combat mission in Iraq is over. Perhaps that explains why the response to what should have been a historical announcement seemed strangely muted. There are many other possible explanations too, ranging from the little matter of a massive economic crisis, to the existing de facto end of hostilities in Iraq, to the fact that just maybe, there’s a sense out there that it’s a mistake to go.

Obama’s decision to bring our major combat brigades home by the end of August 2010, and the remainder of the training and counter-insurgency force by 2011 is not a cause for celebration, even among those vehement in their opposition to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The reason is simple. If, as the President has pledged, all US forces are withdrawn from Iraq in 2011 we’ll be leaving an unpredictable power vacuum that we will have no ability to deal with – if as is possible, a new sectarian crisis breaks out. I’m certain that Obama’s National Security Team did their due diligence and got as much intelligence to support the case for continued stability in Iraq as possible, but forecasts are just another word for hopes. And in the Middle East, banking on hope is a very bad idea.

The Sadrists have taken a beating recently, and extremism appears to be on the defensive, but without the firepower and financial largesse of the United States, it’s not much of a stretch to see the radicals making a comeback in both Baghdad and Basra, and the Kurds finally pulling clear of a weak central Iraqi state to form the rump of a new Kurdistan, with all the international repercussions that would entail with Turkey, and other neighboring states. The Iraqi Government is incompetent, corrupt and weak. New elections won’t change that. Their army is poorly trained and lacks organization, motivation and firepower. The Iraqi economy remains a shambles, and the worldwide recession will do Baghdad no favors. Most important of all, the Sunni Awakening will be relying on bankroll from a Shiite government to keep the lid on Al Qaeda. That relationship is hardly made in heaven.

Overall, the bad guys are a patient bunch. There’s no reason why they won’t just wait us out. Reigniting the sectarian crisis shouldn’t be too difficult after we’ve gone. After all, the Shiites have essentially driven the Sunnis out, and won the Civil war, so the thirst for revenge is clearly there. Sharing oil revenues has gone ver quiet, as has de-baathification, and as for the religious extremists, it’s not in their nature to simply give up. They’ll be back for more.

But we won’t. Once they leave Iraq, our forces are not going back. The US strike force will be retraining and regrouping back home for a renewed campaign in Afghanistan. And Iraq will be left to it’s own devices.

America can not afford to take that chance. Our entry into Iraq in 2003 was a grevious error, but it’s a reality. We’re there, and we can’t take the chance of leaving any time soon. Simply put, the United States needs to set up permanent strike bases outside Baghdad, to the South and to the West. US bases can be made almost invisible, and pretty soon, they’d become part of the furniture. But we need a strong military presence there so we can keep the various rival elements (including Iranian influence) in Iraq as honest as we can. While our day-to-day combat operations (or as they were for the majority of the war police operations) must cease, our counter-insurgency, training and combat support operations for the Iraqi Army must continue. They need our air support, our special forces, and at least one or two strike brigades to give their major operations teeth, cohesion, confidence and leadership.

US forces remaining in Iraq after 2011 would be a deeply unpopular move. But Obama needs to reconsider, and stall their final departure. We can’t afford to risk being unable to control the power vacuum once our guys are stateside. It would be bad for our new image in the world and disastrous for our strategic position in the region.

Written by coolrebel

February 27, 2009 at 2:38 pm