Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Iraq and Terrorism

On Sunday, the NY Times reported:
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.

National Intelligence Estimates are very important intelligence products, designed to reflect the consensus analysis of all the members of the Intelligence Community, using all the available intelligence to draw important conclusions.

Bush, at his press conference with Afghan President Karzi, disputed the NIE.

Now, the whole report has been declassified, so you can read it for yourself.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Its all Iraq, All the Time...

Question of the day: are we winning?

Asked point-blank whether the United States is winning in Iraq, Abizaid replied: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

In other words--no. We don't have unlimited time, and its rather clear that the Administration hasn't offered unlimited resources to its Commanders in Iraq. We've never been close to 200,000 troops in-country. Though....
The general's comments effectively ended hopes for a big troop withdrawal from Iraq this year, which had long been the military's target for reducing forces. As violence has intensified over the spring and summer, military leaders and the Pentagon's official assessment of the war have delivered increasingly tough characterizations of conditions in Iraq.

Now, six weeks before the U.S. midterm elections for which Iraq is a galvanizing issue, Abizaid is delivering the message that there will be no hasty exit from the costly conflict...

While dampening hopes of troop cuts this year, Abizaid left open the possibility that the U.S. troop level could be increased. "We'll bring in more forces if we have to," he said.

The military would draw, if necessary, on reserve forces already in Kuwait and elsewhere in the region before asking the Pentagon to send more U.S. troops, Abizaid said. He added that there is currently no plan to further extend the tour in Iraq of the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade. That unit had been scheduled to return home over the summer but was abruptly diverted to Baghdad in July when sectarian killings spiraled there.

Happy times, especially with the election just around the corner.

Kerry (finally--maybe 2 years too late) asked:
“What’s the endgame? We need a deadline to force Iraqis to stand up for Iraq and get our combat troops home,” said Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat.
The Bush end-game is (or was) we'll stand down our forces as the Iraqis stand up thier forces. That's not going so well either:
Senior Iraqi and American officials are beginning to question whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has the political muscle and decisiveness to hold Iraq together as it hovers on the edge of a full civil war.

Four months into his tenure, Mr. Maliki has failed to take aggressive steps to end the country’s sectarian strife because they would alienate fundamentalist Shiite leaders inside his fractious government who have large followings and private armies, senior Iraqi politicians and Western officials say. He is also constrained by the need to woo militant Sunni Arabs connected to the insurgency.
You can ask how on earth we got in this mess. You can read all about it in Sunday's WaPo which has quite good book-excerpt article on life in the CPA-Green Zone. Dan Drezner now has a heated debate on whether it was the idea or the implementation of the idea that failed in Iraq (and if anyone from that class is reading, its a nice preview of what we'll discuss that day).

But, of course the more pertinent question is in fact Kerry's--where do we go from here? What's the end game?

I have a really long answer to that, but perhaps I'll let you all comment on it for a while and save that rambling rant for a subsequent post.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Current and former students might find this interesting.
From Marc Fisher's blog at WashingtonPost.com:

10 Reasons Why Tony Williams Might Be AU's Next President

Mayor Anthony Williams is a short-timer now and some D.C. residents have started to wonder whether he, as did Sharon Pratt Kelly before him, will forsake Washington and start a new life somewhere else.

Despite numerous pledges to buy a house in the District, Williams never did move out of his Watergate-area rental. He seems to spend most of his time gallivanting around the globe. And he's hardly ever seen even at the site of his most historic and controversial achievement, the home games of the Washington Nationals.

Will Tony stick around town? And if he does, what will he do? The rumor for many months has been that American University is more than a little interested in hiring Williams as its next president. The last couple haven't exactly worked out terribly well.

Herewith, 10 reasons why AU would--heck, let's just say it: should--make the move:

You can read the whole list here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Safer, but Not Yet Safe.

Bush declared:
The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad.... In truth, it is a struggle for civilization.

Not going all that well for civilization this week.

Thomas Ricks has an absolutely must read in the Post:

Situation Called Dire in West Iraq
Anbar Is Lost Politically, Marine Analyst Says

The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country's western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there, said several military officers and intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

The officials described Col. Pete Devlin's classified assessment of the dire state of Anbar as the first time that a senior U.S. military officer has filed so negative a report from Iraq.

One Army officer summarized it as arguing that in Anbar province, "We haven't been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically -- and that's where wars are won and lost."

Which may be OK, since we're really not trying to win--its enough to train someone else to fight for the heart and soul of civilization, reports the NYT:
The senior Marine commander in Iraq said Tuesday that he had sufficient forces to carry out his mission but that the mission did not include defeating the insurgency.

“For what we are trying to achieve out here I think our force levels are about right,” said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, who defined his primary mission as training the Iraqi forces who ultimately would be responsible for security in the area.

“Now, if that mission statement changes — if there is seen a larger role for coalition forces out here to win that insurgency fight — then that is going to change the metrics of what we need out here,” General Zilmer added.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Five Years Later...

How many ways is Sept 10, 2006 different from Sept 10, 2001? Five years ago, there was a football game on in Prime Time, the Yankees heading for the post season, a Bush presidency struggling a bit to find its legs in the world of international affairs, and a general sense that tomorow would be like today, a regular work day, conducting the Nation's Business. It wasn't, of course, and that's why despite the fact that tonight, as you have prime-time network football, the Yankees on a roll, a struggling Bush presidency, and a general sense that tomorow, September 11, 2006 will be, for the most part, just like today, it won't be, it will be a day marked by rememberences and reflection along with the regularity of the workday.

Its interesting to look back and recall the mood in the days and weeks after 9-11, and think about what has happened since. In the intervening 5 years:

Ossama Bin Laden went from obscure radical to public enemy #1
The US had the sympathy, compassion, and cooperation of the world
We invaded Afghanistan, toppling the Talaban and installing a new regime
The economy dipped
The President had bi-partisan, overwhelmingly high approval ratings
We invaded Iraq
We lost most of the cooperation and sympathy of much of the world
The number of terrorist attacks has risen over the past several years
No "major" attacks have occured on US soil
A sniper (not a terrorist) held the Washington DC region hostage for over a month
Anthrax in the postal system paralyzed the Washington DC region and killed several postal workers
The US government underwent its most significant reorganization since 1945, creating a Department of Homeland Security and National Intelligence Director
The economy rebounded
Ossama Bin Laden remains at large, releasing tapes
The Talabin is making a comeback in Afghanistan
A US occupied Iraq seems near civil war
A second US city, New Orleans, was nearly wiped out.
The President has horribly low approval ratings
National security is a top issue in midterm Congressional elections
And the list goes on...

The cliche is that "everything has changed," we're in a "new era" and that Sept 11, 2001 was some sort of end of innocence for the American public.

On the one hand, I'm inclined to disagree. As William Dobson argues in this month's Foreign Policy:
Yet, if you look closely at the trend lines since 9/11, what is remarkable is how little the world has changed. The forces of globalization continue unabated; indeed, if anything, they have accelerated. The issues of the day that we were debating on that morning in September are largely the same. Across broad measures of political, economic, and social data, the constants outweigh the variations. And, five years later, the United States’ foreign policy is marked by no greater strategic clarity than it had on Sept. 10, 2001.

If you were in either of the two cities that were attacked on September 11, you might have picked up a copy of one of the daily newspapers. The headline of one story in the Washington Post read, “Israeli Tanks Encircle a City in West Bank.” The front page of the New York Times led with a story headlined, “Scientists Urge Bigger Supply of Stem Cells.” Inside the paper, readers might have also noticed a small item that read, “Iran: Denial on Nuclear Weapons.” The headlines on that morning—before the world learned of the attacks—suggest that our pre-9/11 preoccupations are certainly not that different from those we carry today.

Indeed, if you look at post 9-11 Bush Administration foreign policy, it does have much more in common with a second term-Clinton foreign policy that either might care to admit. Clinton laid the groundwork for most of Bush's arguments in favor of the Iraq war (bomb in response to WMD threat a la Desert Fox, unilateral action a la kosovo). As Dobson argues, the globalization of the late 90's continues.

You could even make the case that Bush would have invaded Iraq, with similar results, regardless of 9-11-- it may have been no more than an enabling event creating an opportunity for policymakers convinced of the rightness of their cause.

On the other hand, certainly a lot has changed. Everyone will probably be asking--Are we Safer today than we were then? In a sense, yes, but not because of anything that the Bush Administration, Congress, or any other Government Officials have done. The 9-11 Commission identified a host of failures that led to the attacks of 9-11, but perhaps the most damning was a "failure of imagination." Across the board, everyone realized the intelectual possibility of a terrorist attack (indeed, Tom Clancy even wrote about crashing a plane into Congress back in a book in the early 90's), but no one thought that "it could happen here."

What has changed is that now everyone realizes that it "can" "happen here" and that possibility shapes the course of our collective lives. In many ways, America became "safer" a mere 90 or so minutes after the first plane struck the first tower, when the passengers on flight 93 decided to confront their attackers, crashing their plane over PA instead of in DC. At that very moment, our collective narrative as a nation changed. Now, people look for and report suspicious packages and passengers. People are accepting of more invasive searches in the name of "security." We can now imagine another 9-11, and hope to prevent it. We now see terrorism and terrorist links all over the place.

Which, if another 9-11 style attack is forthcoming, makes us much "safer"--we know what to look for But, somehow I don't feel so optimistic--because if the future is anything like the past, the future won't be anything like the past. Its quite possible the War in Iraq and the Department of Homeland Security will be no more than a second Maginot line, trying to safeguard our security in a very uncertain and turbulent world. I really hope not, but I'm still searching for a truly reassuring answer.

Filed as:

Thursday, September 07, 2006


Today is Sovereignty day, and it coincides with a key moment in the evolution of Iraq's "sovereignty."

The sin qua non of a Weberian state is control over the legitimate uses of violence. The hallmark of sovereignty is a state's ability to assert its authority within its own territory.

When the US invaded and occupied Iraq, it stripped Iraq of its sovereignty, deposed its government, and became the ultimate authority in the territory of Iraq. Under the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US tried to reshape Iraqi governmental, military, economic, and social institutions. In 2005, the US turned over "authority" from the CPA to an Iraqi Government and transformed the occupational authority into an embassy. However, the US retained (and still retains) control over the military, police, and other security services in Iraq.

Today: "US hands over Iraq army control"
The Iraqi authorities have begun taking control of their armed forces from the US-led coalition.

Control of the Iraqi navy and air force and the 8th Division of the army was handed over at a ceremony in Baghdad.

Other divisions will be transferred in the coming months according to a timetable set by Iraq's leaders.

US officials called it a milestone in Iraq's history, but the key test will be whether the Iraqi-led forces can control violence across the country.

This is mostly a symbolic moment, the NYT reports:
However, it is unclear exactly how quickly Iraqi forces will be prepared to take over their own security.

Previously, the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq, commanded by Casey, gave orders to the Iraqi armed forces through a joint American-Iraqi headquarters and chain of command. Senior U.S. and coalition officers controlled army divisions but smaller units were commanded by Iraqi officers.

Now, the chain of command flows directly from the prime minister in his role as Iraqi commander in chief, through his Defense Ministry to an Iraqi military headquarters. From there, the orders go to Iraqi units on the ground. Initially, this would apply only to the 8th Iraqi Army Division, the air force and the navy.

The other nine Iraqi division remain under U.S. command, with authority gradually being transeferred. U.S. military officials said there was no specific timetable for the transition.

Days before the engagement, the 8th Division's commander, Brig. Gen. Othman al-Farhoud, told The Associated Press his forces still needed support from the U.S.-led coalition for things such as medical assistance, storage facilities and air support.

"In my opinion, it will take time," al-Farhoud said when asked how long it would take before his division was completely self-sufficient.

So, at what point does Iraq become a "sovereign" state again? When it has assumed total control of its military? When it ends the insurgency? When it takes political actions independent of the US? When the US finally (if ever) withdraws?

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