Tuesday, May 04, 2004
The Sublime and the Ridiculous
The mystery of John Kerry's inability to decisively overtake George Bush, despite the flood tide of bad news in April has an easy solution: events have discredited his mental model for waging the GWOT even more than President Bush's. Which is not to say that the Bush model has fared well. On the face of it, many of the President's assumptions underpinning the campaign to 'bring freedom to the Middle East' have been falsified though perhaps -- and crucially -- the central assumption has not.
One possible reason for the recent inarticulateness of the White House is that the President cannot restate the key themes of his foundational vision, perhaps best articulated in the November 2003 speech for the National Endowmen for Democracy without sounding naive and Pollyannish.
In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy -- and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy. The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids, guided by intelligence provided by the Iraqis, themselves. And we're working closely with Iraqi citizens as they prepare a constitution, as they move toward free elections and take increasing responsibility for their own affairs. As in the defense of Greece in 1947, and later in the Berlin Airlift, the strength and will of free peoples are now being tested before a watching world. And we will meet this test. (Applause.)
Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women's rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation. Iraqis, themselves -- police and borders guards and local officials -- are joining in the work and they are sharing in the sacrifice.
This is a massive and difficult undertaking -- it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (Applause.) The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. (Applause.)
Recent events in April have shown that many factions in Iraq want the diametric opposite: sectarian bloodshed, extremism, graft and consuming hatred. Fortunately for the President, John Kerry's own Law Enforcement and International Treaty approach sounds worse than naive. It sounds stupid.
But the fight requires us to use every tool at our disposal. Not only a strong military – but renewed alliances, vigorous law enforcement, reliable intelligence, and unremitting effort to shut down the flow of terrorist funds. To do all this, and to do our best, demands that we work with other countries instead of walking alone. For today the agents of terrorism work and lurk in the shadows of 60 nations on every continent. In this entangled world, we need to build real and enduring alliances. ...
It is time to return to the United Nations and return America to the community of nations to share both authority and responsibility in Iraq, and take the target off the back of our troops. This also requires a genuine Iraqi security force. The Bush Administration simply signs up recruits and gives them rudimentary training. In a Kerry Administration, we will create and train an Iraqi security force equal to the task of safeguarding itself and the people it is supposed to protect. We must offer the UN the lead role in assisting Iraq with the development of new political institutions. And we must stay in Iraq until the job is finished.
The events of April 2004 have put these alternative visions through the crucible. The most striking fact to emerge is that the war in Iraq, despite Operation Iraqi Freedom, has yet to be won. The murder of the German GSG-9 policemen, the ambush of Spanish intelligence agents, the serial bombing of Iraqi police stations, the refusal of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps to prevent the mutilation of contractors escorting a food convoy through Fallujah and above all, the bombed out UN building in Baghdad make the President's vision hopelessly premature but John Kerry's totally ridiculous. Possibly the only thing less appropriate than President Bush proclaiming freedom to Moqtada al-Sadr would be the sight of John Kerry offering to return UN power to the widow of Undersecretary Sergio de Mello or to Kofi Annan, now in the public dock for war profiteering.
But the war is being won, most unfortunately, through means that no one prefers to acknowledge -- in the first instance by turning factions against each other. US commanders on the ground have organized militias to pit one faction against the other, both in Najaf and Fallujah. They have used Kurdish Peshmerga as allies in situations where Sunni Arabs simply sat on their hands. They have been fighting Syrian fighters secretly on the border and not-so-secretly in Fallujah. In due time we may learn that they have been fighting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard retainers of Sadr too. American operators must resort to these unacknowledged methods because they live in an unacknowledged world. It is neither the shining world of a unitary Iraq sighing for freedom nor a fantasy universe simply awaiting a scrap of paper awarding legitimacy from the United Nations. It is what it is: a place of good and evil men commingled, where the promise of freedom must be risked at the price of death.
Once President Bush is able to acknowledge these truths he may be able to resume the campaign to bring Arabs freedom in a more forthright and realistic way. By acknowledging the existence of deeply hostile factions in Iraq, of Syrian and Iranian intervention and the deep corruption that blankets the regimes of the region that includes, or perhaps even originates in the highest councils of the United Nations, he will restore the blurry strategic landscape to its true perspective. Only with visible mileposts can the march be measured and then will the public begin to understand the war American soldiers have been fighting and winning. President Bush should do it because John Kerry cannot. If the President's vision of the Middle East is premature, Kerry's is infirm. A timetable can be amended more easily than folly can be spurned. And that, in this comfortless month, is what passes for cheer.
Death and sorrow will be the companions
of our journey; hardship our garment;
constancy and valor our only shield.
-- Winston Churchill
posted by wretchard | Permalink: 7:57 PM Zulu
Behind Enemy Lines
This report from Mitchell Prothero describes what an Iraqi UPI reporter saw in the 'Golan'. Hat tip: Reader WG
While U.S. Marine commanders are hopeful that patrols of local fighters will bring peace to Fallujah, -- a city wracked by anti-coalition activity since the arrival of U.S. forces a year ago -- a situation of even greater concern appears to be lurking; an entire neighborhood seems to be completely under the control of foreign Islamic fighters, mostly from Syria.
An Iraqi employee of United Press International entered Fallujah on Saturday with a source who serves as a mid-level official in the Army of Mohammed, the umbrella group of Iraqi resistance opposing the U.S. occupation. The source had agreed to help arrange a tour of the city and interviews with civilians and resistance fighters by a UPI reporter for the following day.
They entered the city using a route that passed a new Fallujah Protective Army checkpoint, which waved them into the center of the city without even a cursory search. After the local guide liaised with Iraqi fighters in Fallujah, the pair was given permission to travel to the city and was supplied with three armed guards from the Army of Mohammed while they attempted to identify damaged parts of the city and arrange interviews. Upon their arrival in the Golan neighborhood in the northern portion of the city, where much of the fighting has taken place, a group of fighters speaking with Syrian accents approached and ordered the resistance fighters to leave and took the two men into custody. ...
Osama (the UPI reporter) said at least 10 Syrians were in the compound he was held in and estimates that far more were hidden in various fortifications around the area.
This report strongly suggests that 1) a large pocket of the enemy is still inside or contained in Fallujah; 2) this pocket may be called the 'Golan' and is in the nothern section of the city; 3) there may be large numbers of Syrian fighters in the 'Golan'. It is implies that the Fallujah brigade is not very careful in discharging its duties or is complicit to some degree with the enemy. The report continues:
And the top officer for the U.S. Marines in the area used a weekend press conference to dispute reports that the Marines would withdraw from Fallujah and turn local security over to the new unit. The initial reports to that effect came from embedded reporters and eyewitness accounts of Marines pulling back from their positions in Fallujah and turning over several checkpoints to the FPA.
"We have chosen not to commingle U.S. and Iraqi units, and that has prompted some realignment of Marine forces," Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Saturday. "In fact, we have assigned the Iraqi battalion to our least-engaged sector until they can get their feet on deck, absorb the weapons and equipment we are passing their way, and prepare for the next phase of the operation."
This is a categorical denial that the USMC has left Fallujah. General Conway's claim to have turned over "several checkpoints" to the Fallujah Brigade is consistent with the UPI reporters firsthand observation. Conway's assertion that the USMC is still in the city receives implicit support from the fact that the Syrian fighters were still "hidden in fortifications around the area" -- i.e. the 'Golan', something they would not do unless the USMC were present, seeing as they would have little to fear from the Fallujah Brigade in its present condition. The last part of the UPI report is interesting:
Conway said the decision to incorporate local fighters -- some of whom undoubtedly had recently been fighting the U.S. forces -- stemmed from a need to co-opt Iraqis frustrated by the occupation from the most committed anti-coalition fighters.
"It got at what was essentially at that point our operational objective, which was to separate out the hard-core insurgents and freedom fighters from the other citizens of the city that may well have taken up weapons against us, based upon the fact that they thought they were defending their city, based upon the call of the imams and those types of things," Conway said.
Taken at its face value, Conway's statement implies that the USMC appreciates that the enemy consists of an alliance -- something also corroborated by the UPI reporter, who speaks of the "Army of Mohammed", described an "umbrella group" -- and that the explicit goal of the Marines is to drive a wedge between the hard-core and peripheral elements. In General Conway's words: "to separate out the hard-core insurgents and freedom fighters from the other citizens of the city that may well have taken up weapons against us, based upon the fact that they thought they were defending their city".
To recapitulate, the main points are:
the enemy is probably still in the city
the enemy may consist, in part, of Syrian fighters
the USMC is probably still bottling them up otherwise how to account for the enemy containment, and is therefore present in the city, contrary to press reports
the USMC is attempting to drive a wedge, as per General Conway, between the hard core and the peripheral enemy elements
Although this information is too limited to make wide-ranging predictions, we may use it to adjust a posteriori our degree of belief in the following propositions.
the USMC has 'capitulated' to the enemy, turned tail and run. I think this proposition, driven by recent press reports, is less likely based on the UPI reporter's observations.
the US command is clueless as to how to respond to the current crisis. The Marines may be wrong in their appreciation of the enemy, but they are clearly working on the basis of a plan. Whether it will succeed or not remains to be seen.
an assault on the 'Golan' is imminent. I this likelihood is diminished by the new information. The enemy is dug in and commingled with the population. The whole point of the Fallujah Brigade seems to separate out the hard core Jihadis from the local population so as to widen the range of Marine military options. Such is the intent. Only time will tell if the plan will work.
None of the information provided by the UPI report bears on the wider, strategic decisions of the war. It says next to nothing about Sunni versus Shia, CPA versus Iraqi Governing Council or the role of Iran. However, it does suggest that there may be a Syrian hand in the recent fighting, or in the words of US officials, Syria has "not been helpful".
It's tempting to compare USMC attempts in Fallujah to drive a wedge between the "hard core" and their supporters to negotiations in Najaf between the US and community leaders as reported by the Associated Press. Suggestions that the US is trying to isolate Sadr have been augmented by reports in the Scotsmanabout a mysterious militia called "Thulfiqar Army" which has recently been killing off Sadr's men. Twenty of Sadr's menhave been killed in recent open fighting with US troops. Stay tuned.
posted by wretchard | Permalink: 7:15 AM Zulu