Saturday, January 06, 2007

More First Down Than Victory

The coming week will offer an opportunity to see if the November 7 elections will make a real difference. BushCheney's decision on the so called "new way forward" will tell us whether or not he recognizes the will of the electorate. If he is somehow constrained by an increasingly vocal opposition to increasing American force levels in Iraq, primarily Democratic but some Republicans as well, then we will have accomplished a primary goal, we will have stopped the logic of ever-increasing intervention.

It's by no means a permanent victory, but it will be a first (or second, if you count November 7). I am skeptical that BushCheney will listen to calls for de-escalation, preferring to shoot for an elusive "victory" in Iraq's hostile streets and villages but the fact that he is taking such great pains to give birth to something "new" tells me that he can no longer act without looking over his shoulder.

That should have been expected as the result of the electoral thumping but until the Congressional Democrats spoke so clearly yesterday, I was not confident of any real change. I'm still hesitant--I need to see troops coming out of Iraq to claim a change. In the meantime, if opposition to the war in Congress and on the streets keeps BushCheney from digging an even deeper hole in Iraq, that will be a very good start.

What is disappointing is that changing the nature of American involvement in Iraq and reducing our military presence there has been largely invisible in the corridors of power in Washington. All the discussion has been about escalation and new missions. I'm glad to see that the Democracts have put military de-escalation back on the table. Democratic leaders need to also push hard for realistic political solutions--solutions that address ALL parties' interests in Iraq--as the only real alternative to continued violence and instability. That's how Democrats will protect America's real interests.

Even if BushCheney "surges", it will be gradual, more flow than flood.
Bush is looking at three broad options involving one to five additional brigades, according to U.S. officials. The smallest increase would basically be limited to the brigade from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, comprising fewer than 4,000 troops, which has already departed for Kuwait. It would eventually be deployed in Baghdad.

The second option would involve deploying another Army brigade to Baghdad and two battalions of Marines to Anbar, the volatile province that has been a battlefield for the Sunni insurgency and foreign fighters associated with al-Qaeda. The Marines could not be deployed until February, U.S. officials said. The joint Army and Marine deployment would bring the increase to between 9,000 and 10,000 troops.

The third option would supplement the first and second with additional Army brigades, bringing the total to about 20,000, largely deployed in the Iraqi capital. But U.S. officials said this would take considerable time -- possibly three or four months, with a complete deployment as late as May -- because of the difficulty of assembling additional troops through accelerating planned deployments and remobilizing reserves, U.S. officials said.

Even if The Decider chooses the 20K option, don't expect anything dramatic. It will be a gradual increase, one that will allow Iraq's many factions to adjust to the new reality before settling down to a new level of operational violence. A slow army is can be raadily countered. Ask Ulysses Grant about Cold Harbor.

Friday, January 05, 2007

More Spurt Than Surge

Two months after a sound electoral thumping and one month after the Iraq Study Group found the situation in Iraq "dire and deteriorating", BushCheney is still trying to avoid the obvious solution to his Iraq clusterfuck: admit error, change course and begin to deal with a political issue in a political rather than military manner. Many have talked and written about a surge of 20,000 or more troops to bring Iraq under control once and for all.

Now it appears that the surge may be even less than anticipated.
The U.S. military is increasingly resigned to the probability that Bush will deploy a relatively small number of additional troops -- between one and five brigades -- in part because he has few other dramatic options available to signal U.S. determination in Iraq, officials said. But the Joint Chiefs have not given up making the case that the potential dangers outweigh the benefits for several reasons, officials said.

There are already signs that a limited U.S. escalation, even when complemented by new political and economic steps, may not satisfy either supporters or critics of a surge. Pentagon officials and military experts say far more troops are needed to make a real difference, but the United States would have to remobilize reserves, extend current tours of duty and accelerate planned deployments just to come up with 20,000 troops, U.S. officials say. And such a surge would strap the military for other potential crises, they add.

Anything short of a full blown occupation of 400 to 500 thousand troops is likely to subdue the violence that has been spiraling out of control for almost four years. So 20,000 isn't likely to help much. Fewer soldiers have even less chance for success.

But maybe they can push the events into the next president's term. That would be a success for BushCheney.

Belated Thanks

My New Years's greeting failed to thank Alternate Brain for linking to Unsolicited Opinion. I missed seeing the link in the blogroll where it's included with other Reality Based Veterans. Good company, indeed. Thank you for including me.

Isolationist? Not This Leftist.

Jacob Weisberg examines America’s Iraq mistake and finds that failure was not inevitable. Had US policy not failed in so many key decisions, Iraq could be far less disastrous than it has turned out under BusCheney’s tutelage. Weisberg places himself between the combined “isolationist left-realist right” who question American intervention in Iraq and the neo-conservatives who believe that a perfectly good policy has been bungled terribly. There’s some logic to what Weisberg says. He recognizes that military success requires both planning and ability to adapt quickly to changing and uncertain circumstances, little of which he believes was evident in American policy in Iraq. Weisberg concludes by rejecting the isolationist left’s argument that American intervention was doomed to fail.

I take exception to much of his logic, though. It’s almost of the “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” mode. Yeah, had we not failed at so many critical junctures, we would have succeeded. And if I had money, I'd be rich. But if the Iraq war and occupation weren’t “doomed to fail”, the policy was never likely to succeed, either. BushCheney’s ambitions and plans were fantastic and delusional, for which America and Iraq have paid a high price. I anticipated the resistance and sectarian divisions (no brainers, really) and have been amazed at the US inability to rebuild Iraq. This failure, along with the inability to establish security pretty much doomed America’s Iraq intervention. We will be a long time re-establishing ourselves as a “practical, can-do nation” after this fiasco. Even if America wasn’t doomed to fail in Iraq, we have failed. Big Time.

Weisberg offers Bosnia and Kosovo as models of successful interventions but these are very different from Iraq in that those operations were considerably less ambitious in scope, were based on experience and were supported by a genuine coalition. Bosnia and Kosovo relate to Iraq only insofar as they demonstrate the requirements for success so visibly lacking in Iraq. Even so, I remain skeptical of American military intervention, especially when it’s just us, our faithful lap dog, Britain, and what other lackeys we can buy.

As a long time opponent of American military interventions overseas and a still proud George McGovern supporter, Weisberg calls me “isolationist left” and rejects my opposition to military intervention. Calling me isolationist is odd, since I am an internationalist who believes that United States should be an active member of the world community. In my mind, an America fully engaged with the world is good for both America and the world. Doesn’t sound very isolationist to me. I don’t believe in military force as a means for that engagement. Maybe that makes me isolationist. I am a realist in that I believe that the United States should pursue clear national interests in determining and executing foreign policies. I also believe that all nations should recognize social justice and human rights as they pursue interests, I guess you can call me Realist Left, a dreamer who works in reality.

America’s role in the world is part of a long history. The United States has been engaged with the world since its earliest days. America was a trading nation, depending heavily on international commerce. We were geographically isolated from Europe but established economic and communication links rapidly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Along with commercial and national interests, America’s experiment in self-government also represented freedom, liberty and tolerance to the world. Americans did not crusade on behalf of these ideas but we have always believe that our ideals offered hope to others. The 20th century brought America and the world even closer as technology spanned distances and natural barriers. And it brought war to America in the form of sacrifice, if not actual attack (except Pearl Harbor and the Aleutian Islands, all pretty remote). World War II left the US on top of a ravaged world and in an arms race with a victorious Soviet Union. The cold war ended with the United States as sole superpower in a world where all that military power was of limited use.

Personal experience also tells me that America needs to engage the world. I have gained much understanding and knowledge by working and cooperating with others , by traveling to other countries, learning about their history and culture. When I work with others, my efforts are multiplied and I am part of a community. I have lived in a society of laws and tolerance (mostly) governed by a unique compact based on cooperation and compromise. I have also seen combat and know history so I am all to aware how much of a dream my vision is. Even so, I want to see my nation engaged with the world in a manner befitting our national heritage and ideals.

What I do not want is for my country to kill and destroy. Period. And that’s where I differ with Weisberg. He looks at war in the abstract, as policy, which it certainly is. I look at war as people and their lives, which it always is.

Library Science in Iraq

From the diary of Saad Eskander, Director of the Iraq National Library and Archive:
On Wednesday, I received more bad news. A terrorist group attacked the house of one of my staff. As a result, he and one of his sons (a university student) were injured, while the other son (a doctor) was murdered.

On the same day, I met Ali's brothers and talked about his pension, and how the LNA could support his wife and two sons. The brothers gave some of information about the assassination of their brother. They said that Ali was in his car, when another blocked his way, after he had taken his younger sister to her university. The assassins were 4 men, who ordered Ali to get out of his car. After leaving his car, Ali discovered the 4 men were armed with guns and that they intended on killing him. Ali was a brave person, and had well-built body. He attacked the 4 assassins, succeeding in bringing down two of them. Unfortunately, one the assassins shot hem in the leg. After Ali fell on the ground, the assassins fired at his head, chest and stomach. Ali left on the pavement bleeding until he died. The street, the scene of the crime, was very busy that morning. But no one dare to intervene. It is highly likely that the assassins are members of one the militias that penetrated the security forces.

Our main concern now is the snipers. There are two areas, which the snipers use to kill innocent people at random. The first area is the infamous Haifa Street, the strong hold of the Ba'athists and al-Qadda. The Haifa Street is located on the other side of the Tigris (1 km away from our building). The second area is al-Fadhal, which is only 1/2 km. away from our building. A number of innocent people, including women, were gunned down by the snipers. The Republican Street, which separates our building from al-Fadhal, is no go area.

(h/t to Juan Cole)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Waking Up on New Year's Day

2007 starts out for me in pain and anger. My lower back, left hip and thigh are sore and stiff. It's been bothering me for a few days but yesterday was the worst. Moving about is definitely not easy. With some rest and care the pain should pass. The anger is more likely to be permanent.

The 3,000th American died yesterday and today's Washington Post carries articles about the Arlington Section 60 where 300 Iraq dead are buried and a young woman mourning her lost love. Yesterday was an article about women casualties and America's willingess to see its daughters die in war along with its sons. Nothing about any of these stories is unique--the pain and loss is shared by families throught America. And beyond is the immense toll of Iraqi civilitan suffering and death.

Maybe if this death and destruction were serving the nation it would be acceptable but it most certainly is not. Nor is it serving Iraqis beyond the favored elites whose interests and loyalties are to themselves. And even though the nation clearly decided against continued war and occupation, BushCheney is planing to throw more troops into the fire. The grave diggers will be busy in Section 60.

I look at those rows of white stones and see an abomination, the waste of sacrifice and service. The dead served honorably and courageously but BushCheney squandered their sacrifice on lies, deceptions and delusions. The invasion was a lie. The myth of democracy and self determination was a delusion. Now BushCheney is asking service members and their families to invest their lives and loves on a failed policy.

Yeah, it's easy to be angry at all this. I'll put the anger to good use in 2007.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

At Baghdad Burning

Riverbend is back. Today she writes about casualties.

Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

At the Turn of the Year

Happy New Year from Unsolicited Opinion. I hope 2007 brings you much joy and wonder with just enough challenge to make it interesting. As for 2006, most survived. Saddam Hussein and Gerald Ford didn't make it. Neither did tens of thousands of Iraqis and countless other victims of violence throughout the world. At best, any retrospective for the year will be somber.

Much better for me personally as a blogger. I attended the first YearlyKos in Las Vegas which was a lot of fun and filled with energy. Looking back, that was for me the beginning of the Democratic sweep in November, although it was far from certain then. I wrote several Daily Kos diaries and many comments. In the process I linked up with fellow veterans. Unsolicited Opinion received some welcome support from Mockingbird's Medley, The Galloping Beaver and The Moderate Man. In October Mimus Pauly invited me to join Mockingbird's Medley.

Thanks to everyone for your support and comments. I write mainly for myself, to clarify my thoughts and understand my beliefs. Putting my thoughts out for all to see requires me to think and write clearly. That's all. I'm not trying to convert you or berate you. I'm just thinking out loud, sometimes mellow, sometimes angry, ocasionally snarky, mostly thoughtful I hope. I appreciate you reading my words.

Peace and Love in 2007 from Rez Dog.

The Official Version We Can Give You Right Now. Reality Will Take Just a Bit Longer.

Phillip Kennecot writes about the "post-propaganda era" in today's Washington Post. He notes that our increasing ability to bypass traditional media gatekeepers to obtain images and information allows us to see through politicians lies and distortions.

Today's news confirms his thesis. Yesterday's video and reports of Saddam Hussein's hanging described him as "broken" and "mumbling phrases". The images were somber and subdued. Today's news reports on a cell phone video of the hanging that has Saddam and his executioner's taunting each other and Saddam dropping through the trap reciting a Muslim prayer.

This is nothing new. Radio and television, in their prime had a similar effect. Television brought the brutality and violence of the Vietnam war home to many Americans and undermined Lyndon Johnson's and Richard Nixon's noble lies. The difference now is speed, individual choice and access.

All the more reason to support net neutrality and other policies that keep the internet open to all.

Return on Hemp Investment

Washington Post reports reaction in Iraq to Saddam's Hanging:

There was no sign of a feared Sunni uprising in retaliation for the execution, and the bloodshed from civil warfare on Saturday was not far off the daily average _ 92 from bombings and death squads.


"He's gone, but our problems continue," said the Shiite Muslim, whose uncle was killed in one of Saddam's many brutal purges. "We brought problems on ourselves after Saddam because we began fighting Shiite on Sunni and Sunni on Shiite."


There were cheers at the cafeteria of a U.S. outpost in Baghdad as soldiers having breakfast learned Saddam had been hanged. But members of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, on patrol in an overwhelmingly Shiite neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, said the execution wouldn't get them home any faster _ and therefore didn't make much difference. "Nothing really changes," said Capt. Dave Eastburn, 30. "The militias run everything now, not Saddam."

addendum to yeterday's post

Saddam Hussein came closer than I thought to matching Joe Stalin for longevity. Stalin pretty much had total control by 1927 which gives him 26 years. Saddam Hussein wielded comparable power from 1979 to 2003, a 24 year run. So they're pretty much the same in longevity. Stalin still gets despot points for the sheer scale and breadth of his terror and for his exit (state funeral, mausoleum, etc). Nonetheless, Saddam will rank prominently among the 20th Century's notable dictators.