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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

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

Nobody Fights in Afghanistan and Wins.

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From a superficial perspective, the idea of diverting US forces to Afghanistan as we draw down troops in Iraq seems like a good idea. But Afghanistan is a deeply inhospitable, corrupt, backward, and highly unstable failed state with an almost feudal social structure. It’s been resisting modernity and foreign control for millenia.

Before we do anything we need to make a strategic decision about our goals. It’s clear that the Taliban must go, but forget democracy, stability is just fine. It’s equally clear that increasing US ground forces by a few combat brigades will not do the job. The war would slog on for many years at great cost in lives and treasure. The Kush would be a graveyard for our grunts. There has to be another way. And there is.

There are two connected ways to beat the Taliban. We need both to win.

The first lies in economics of the Taliban.

The Taliban are really drug traffickers with a mission from God. They rely on weapons and recruits paid for by opium money. No opium. No money. No money. No recruits. No recruits. No power. All we have to do is to bribe the opium farmers not to plant the poppies. Over time we have to make the farmers very, very rich (in Afghan terms).  Of course we’d need to make sure we weren’t being played, but if there’s enough cash in it for the farmers, and we’re able to keep them honest, they’ll become a force we can rely on – just like the Sunni Awakening in Iraq. Afghans are fierce fighters and when there’s money at stake – watch out. Supporting this with a US or WFP strategy to improve agriculture will be very useful. We’ll need Special Forces teams on the ground doling out the money, and ground troops to verify, patrol and protect the farms, but the total investment will be a fraction of the costs planned.

The second part of the solution lies in cutting the Taliban off from their outside suppliers.

These are primarily Iran, Pakistan’s ISI, and other sources of Finance from the underbelly of the Saudi establishment for example. In the case of Iran, weakening their ties to the Taliban will be a part of a US diplomatic offensive to build a new rapprochement with Iran. We won’t have to ask them to choke off Taliban support. If Iran and the US get along (which they should) it will happen automatically. As for Pakistan, we have to help the Civilian government get out from under the heel of the Pakistani Army and ISI. The best way is to support the army not castigate it. After all it’s the first line of defense in Pakistan. There’s nothing a third world army likes more than US training and support. It will buy their loyalty and give the civilian government the breathing rooom it needs to make inroads against the Pakistani Taliban. Finally, Saudi we should put pressure on our Saudi “friends” to stop exporting Wahabbiism. And now we’re planning to go it alone on energy, we have some leverage to get them to do our bidding.

The end result could be that Afghanistant goes back to being a distant and dusty backwater with no strategic role to play. The world would be an awful lot safer.

Written by coolrebel

January 27, 2009 at 6:14 am

Black Friday is Incitement to Mob Frenzy

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Tragedy on Black Friday morning.

The 34-year-old employee, who was not identified, was knocked down by a crowd that broke down the doors of the Wal-Mart at the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream, N.Y., and surged into the store. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 6 a.m.

Who’s responsible for this?

During the election campaign, Palin and McCain were chastised for not stopping people in their crowds from crying racial epithets and worse at Obama. That’s nothing compared to Black Friday. At least nobody got hurt.

But it’s just fine for Walmart, Target, and all the other Crap pushers to prime the crap junkie mob with massive come-ons to buy more cheap stuff. The ads go out, the mob get up at 2 a.m, arrive at the locked doors at the same time, the group mentality gathers pace, adrenaline is running high, there’s a push from the back of the crowd, the mob surges. The doors give way. Everyone rushes in and some poor employee in the wrong place gets trampled to death.

We scoff when this kind of thing happens during the Hajj, in Mecca. Down there, the pilgrims surge and crush others underfoot all the time. But we think we are beyond that. The sad fact is that we’re worse. Because the God we trample is the God of the big screen TV. The pilgrims in Mecca are surging for Allah.

And the economists want us to adjust our behavior. Forget it. Consumerism is a drug.

And there is no methodone.