“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"The Stakes are High... but Hard is not Hopeless"

Over at, Robert Kaplan says that the recommendations of the much disparaged Iraq study group are being implemented by the Bush Administration. He writes that the report:
...warned against a precipitous troop withdrawal from Iraq, and was open-minded regarding a temporary surge of modest scale in Greater Baghdad. President George W. Bush is doing that. The report called for a reinvigoration of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as part of a regional diplomatic blitz. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been doing that. The report called for a reconstruction czar for Iraq, as part of a process of infusing the country with more economic aid. President Bush indicated he will do that. The report sought to give the President a swift kick in the rear end—toward a more dynamic policy on Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton report, together with the November election results, have accomplished that...
He goes on to say that the appointment of Admiral Fallon as head of Central Command was meant to send a "we mean business" message to Iran. This little quote got my attention.
Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus told me months ago that because the Army promotes people for commanding American and not foreign troops, sometimes the least talented people get assigned to train Iraqi forces: therefore, the policy needed to be reversed.
Why am I not surprised and shocked? It's the old theory about "crap rolling downhill." Human nature is universal, even in the military. Undesirable tasks are passed down the chain to subordinates often with less than desirable results.

How many years ago was it that Secretary Rumsfeld was reporting the numbers of trained Iraqi forces "under arms and ready to stand up." Apparently, Gomer Pyle and Forrest Gump were doing the training because two years later we still haven't seem a significant improvement. Now that the first of the 20K surge troops have arrived in-country, the insurgents have stepped up the carnage and the question is: Can they be stopped or tamped down long enough for us to wean the Iraqi government. We'll know within a few months. The question that may not be answered so quickly though is "What the hell is Iran doing?" Well, we know what they're doing; working feverishly night and day to develop a nuclear deterrent so that they can work their will in the Islamic world or worse, bring on the end times. Kaplan writes:

Fallon could eventually be proven right on China. Whatever the case, it may not necessarily say anything meaningful about his stomach for a confrontation with Iran. Like a lot of people, he may put China in a completely different category from Iran. One thing is clear: he will be extremely cautious over the need for military action against Teheran. So the question becomes, can Gates and the man he has chosen to lead his war fighting command in the Greater Middle East frighten the Iranians sufficiently to make negotiations meaningful? For the history of naval pressure shows that it must communicate the willingness to fight if it is to have the desired impact on an adversary. I worry that we do not sufficiently grasp the fact that the Iranians may not be reading from the same set of instructions as us, on the real-life political-diplomatic board game we are about to embark on. What if the Iranians watch our beefed-up naval and air presence, combined with increasing economic pressure on them, and say, so what? That's where the partial and tenuous overlap between what the Baker-Hamilton report advised we should do, and what neoconservatives say we might do under better circumstances, evaporates. That's where it may come down to a confrontation between Vice President Dick Cheney and the Gates-Fallon team at the Pentagon, which is essentially the Baker-Hamilton team.

Only then will we know if Bush has truly repudiated the Iraq Study Group. For the moment, he has co-opted enough of its recommendations for those in Congress who praised the report, and now denounce the President's surge, to be labeled hypocrites. As I said, a report like that of the Iraq Study Group is never intended to be liked; or openly implemented. It is meant to subtly influence policy. That it has surely done, so far.

Niall Ferguson, also writing at the Atlantic, A War to Start All Wars, says that the middle east looks like Europe, circa WWI and he concludes with this:

What will the United States do if Iraq’s neighbors fail to contain the ethnic conflict that is now consuming Iraq? The simple answer would be to leave the people to kill and displace one another until ethnic homogeneity has been established in the various states. That has effectively been American policy in central Africa. The trouble, of course, is that Iraq matters more than Rwanda, economically and strategically. Does anyone seriously believe that a regional conflagration would leave Israel and Saudi Arabia—America’s most important allies in the Middle East—unscathed?

Ask a different question. Did anyone seriously believe that a war in Central and Eastern Europe in 1939 would leave Britain and France unaffected? The really sobering lesson of the twentieth century is that some civil wars can grow into more than just regional wars. If the stakes are high enough, they have the potential to become world wars too.

Ferguson rightly raises the issue of what happens after the US leaves Iraq. With the Democrats lost in the myopic politics of today and now joined by the first wave of Republican defectors, no thought seems to be given to the consequences of leaving the Iraqi government to fend for itself against the Baathists, al-Qaeda, the sectarian militias, and Iran. Maybe it's unfair to say "no thought is given to the future consequences of the redeployment plan. " This morning, I heard one Bush critic on public radio say that it doesn't matter when we withdraw, a sectarian bloodbath is inevitable, therefore, we need to begin withdrawal now. That represents shallow, callous thinking to me; dangerous thinking, because it only looks at the short term without regard for the future. The argument is also made that continued US presence in Iraq is causing the violence. Does anyone honestly believe the violence will end when the US leaves? Look at the Iranian proxy in Lebanon today. How many times must it be repeated? "The biggest threat to middle-east and world stability is radical Islam."

General Petraeous, testifying before Congress this morning admitted the situation is grim. He also said that he wouldn't have accepted the job if he thought Bush's plan had no chance of success. Petraeous is willing to "give it a go" and the country should be also. Bush's plan may fail , but the fact is, "staying the course" has been defeated and there is a higher probability for an unfavorable outcome with the Democrat's "Redeployment" plan. This could be our last opportunity to stabilize the country and secure our investment (such as it is). It would be a shame to give up now but letting the situation descend into regional chaos or world war would be criminal.
General Petraeous also told Congress, "The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. ... But hard is not hopeless."


  1. U.S. Intel Sparks Iraqi Shift on Militia
    Comments please!
    You have to read the whole thing to pick up little bits regarding the headline.
    Anybody believe it?
    U.S. Intelligence Convinces Iraqi Leader to Drop Protection of Anti-American Cleric's Militia
    BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq's prime minister has dropped his protection of an anti-American cleric's Shiite militia after U.S. intelligence convinced him the group was infiltrated by death squads, two officials said Sunday.

  2. It is hard for me to envision Iraq not ending up like Lebanon or partitioned like Yugoslavia. The unfortunate reality is that at this stage most Americans do not think it is worth the price or the price will be too high for the expected meager results. I fail to see the way for the politics to be turned in the President's direction.

    Great post.

  3. Doug,
    Tue Jan 23, 05:03:46 PM EST

    I read the whole thing. I believe the purpose of the attack in the black suv's was to create suspicion and alarm amongst any US imbeds with Iraqi troops and further create fire fights between friendlies. Who do you trust? Shoot first, ask questions later?

    It is a good strategy if the last best US hope is based upon the US following the Iraqi armies lead. What a better way than to cause a complete breakdown and get the US and new Iraqi army turning and firing on each other.

  4. Training, as per the snake eater link of the other day, takes seven months before basic fire contol can be expected. About a year, total, to get them really up to speed.
    Same as always.

    The "Surge" can last about seven, maybe nine months, then the rubber band of deployment duration will be streched beyond PR limits.

    Some of the Iraqi Army has to be dependable, no?

  5. Most of the Sadr folks have been detained, not killed. A propagandist was shot by a GI during a raid. I do not recall another killed, most have been detained.
    Being detained is a cost of doing business, in Iraq. As it is in the mob. Just watch the Sopranos.
    Saddam did time, Dr Z did time, most all MidEast politically active people are detained, during their career.
    The only number that counts is of the heads, then only if the count mounts, alot.

  6. Yes, I believe that protection has been withdrawn from the Mehdi Army, al-Sadr's people, in the areas of the city in which the operation is going to take place. The Kagan Plan is not to clear out Sadr City in Phase I, so that won't be happening. However, there are al-Sadr forces remaining in the Sunni & Mixed areas of Baghdad which are part of Phase I, and those will be treated the same as the Sunnis.

    Maliki and the Shiite leaders really have no choice over the matter. If they try to protect the Shiites in the zones where we are operating, news will quickly leak out, and the Democrats will pounce. Times have changed.

  7. I believe that this will quickly go in one of two directions based on politics, more than the military situation.

    If the Iraqi factions all want to fight, and especially if Maliki's government leans strongly to the Shiite side, then Operation Baghdad will be abandoned because the US doesn't want to fight in a civil war.

    On the other hand, if some or most of the Iraqi factions want peace & a central government, with Sunni willing to fight Sunni for peace and Shiite fight Shiite, then violence will drop in Baghdad and Iraqis will quickly be able to take over from our troops.

    It is way, way too late in the game for the public to support the US single-handedly pacifying all of Iraq. We don't have the troops for that over there anyway. So it is up to them. The Petraeus strategy is a good one, but it assumes that a lot of Iraqis will be willing to fight and die for their country instead of their faction.

    I doubt the Sunnis much more than the Shiites.

  8. I have to hand it to whit, wu and rufus. You guys know how to plant your heels.

  9. To gain some sense of why the Kurds might be a little hesitant in joining the Iraqi Shi’a v. Sunni war, see:

    The Kurds and Islam

    The Kurds and Islam. Martin van Bruinessen

    “Compared to the unbeliever, the Kurd is a Muslim.”
    “Compared to the camel, the Kurd is a Muslim.”

    Note, from above header, I did not use the term “civil war” because that would require a level of past simpatico not evidenced by historical fact.

  10. As for the regional context, if we "lose" Iraq, it would metastasize into a proxy battleground between Iran and KSA, thus ensuring with grim certainty the absolute anarchy and devastation that will turn Iraq into the killing fields of the Middle East. If Iran somehow manages to wrest control of Iraq, it will be turned into either a patron puppet state like Syria, or that of a buffer state like Lebanon: the repercussions will spread, and virulently so.

    Losing Iraq would also deprive us of a pressure point against the other belligerent regime of Syria - encirclement of Assad's regime would require that Iraqi, Jordanian and Turkish borders are equally tight and effective. It is undoubtedly an extremely difficult objective to accomplish - Jordan is probably the only ally we can count on right now to police their borders, for they have a very valid concern with regards to insurgents, Shiite or Sunni alike. Remember, they took care of Black September.

    Turkish cooperation would be a bonus, but if Kurdistan were to be forged and realised, a significant portion of the Turkish border would be controlled by the Kurds themselves - the Turks would be even more hard-pressed to secure their borders.

    Even more ominously, without Iraq acting as a state hostile to Iranian interests, the transfer of arms and personnel from Iran to Syria will be allowed to burgeon and prosper - and that directly affects Lebanon, Palestine and Israel as the Foreign Legions of Iran such as Hezbollah will be able to create their own states-within-states and wield power without accountability.

    Just as Germany was deemed to be too important to be left weakened and ravaged by the vicissitudes of vengeful powers post-1918 and then post-1945, the same can also be said of Iraq: its geographical location speaks for its own importance.

  11. Israel and the United States will soon be destroyed, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday during a meeting with Syria's foreign minister, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) website said in a report.

    "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad… assured that the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel will soon come to the end of their lives," the Iranian president was quoted as saying.

    "Sparking discord among Muslims, especially between the Shiites and Sunnis, is a plot hatched by the Zionists and the US for dominating regional nations and looting their resources," Ahmadinejad added, according to the report.

    The Iranian president also directly tied events in Lebanon to a wider plan aimed at Israel's destruction. He called on "regional countries" to "support the Islamic resistance of the Lebanese people and strive to enhance solidarity and unity among the different Palestinian groups in a bid to pave the ground for the undermining of the Zionist regime whose demise is, of course, imminent."

    Syria's Foreign Minister, Wailed Mualem, accused the US of attempting to carry out a "massacre of Muslims" and of sowing "discord among Islamic faiths in the region."

    Mualem called on "regional states to pave the ground for the establishment of peace and tranquillity… while preventing further genocide of the Muslims," the IRIB website said.

  12. An insightful snippet from your post:

    Army Lt. Gen. David Petreaus told me months ago that because the Army promotes people for commanding American and not foreign troops, sometimes the least talented people get assigned to train Iraqi forces: therefore, the policy needed to be reversed.

    An institutional problem with the American Military is that the services place the appropriate emphasis on the value of enabling foreign forces through advisory efforts. If you are an Army infantry major, it is unlikely that a stint as an advisor in Iraq or Afghanistan is going to be career enhancing; often, personnel are in advisory billets because they are not on the "fast track" and in prized assignments at the Battalion or Brigade level. Many advisors are reservists or national guardsman, who lack the operational experience or training to truly enable foreign militaries.

    Even the Special Operations community, where one would to find an unconventional mindset that greatly valued the ability to work with indigenous personnel, possesses a conventional mindset: Aviators have presided over the United States Special Operations Command for nearly a decade, and no "pure" SPecial Forces Officer (ie someone who grew up solely in the community that specializes in operating by with and through indigenous personnel) has commanded USSOCOM since its inception.

    General Petraeus' description of the military's cultural aversion to advisory missions is telling, indeed.

    The 2006 National Security Strategy describes the struggle we are in as "The Long War"; based on the way the military insists on understanding and arraying its forces for it, perhaps many in uniform would prefer to call it "the Wrong War".

  13. Elijah, the ME without Israel , would be the same problem it has been since the early Christian-Muslim conflict and later the Western-Muslim conflict. The difference is that for most of the time, the Muslims had a pretty good run at the Christians. They love that old time religion.

    Welcome back Bob W.

  14. 2164th wrote, "I fail to see the way for the politics to be turned in the President's direction."

    I can see the way. Bush stops with this pantywaisted 'Senior Drug Benefit' crap and this nancyboy 'Guest Worker Program' crap and this sissy catch and release crap in Iraq, and puts a $1 million dollar bounty for the head (not living body) of any al-Qaeda or Sunni insurgent. We're spending $300 million dollars a day driving up and down the streets of Baghdad getting our asses blown up, let's pull back and put that $300 million on the street. I want to see three hundred dead terrorists every day, and correspondingly, three hundred brand new millionaire rat-fink Iraqi former insurgents living in their villas, no longer wishing to associate with their unwashed brethren and their violent camel-lusting ways.

  15. Venturing momentarily away from my "beloved" Kurds:

    I just never tire of finding and disseminating stories of Islamic multi-cultural accomplishments. It is so important, you know, to support the President and Mr. Blair’s “religion of peace” meme.

    Being a Minority in an Islamic State

    Yemen's Last Jews Threatened and Banished

    A glimpse of life for Jews in an Islamic state

    “The Yemeni Jewish community has been there for nearly two thousand years, according to some, and for two and a half millennia, according to others. But Islam, that religion of tolerance and peace, has apparently convinced some of its adherents that Jews cannot live in peace with Muslims.”

    Certainly, if Israel were to deport one of its million plus Arab citizens for good cause, the condemnation of the international media would reverberate far and wide. How many readers were aware of the plight of Yemen’s Jews until now? The silence is deafeningly prophetic.

  16. teresita,

    Very well done, indeed!!!

  17. I rise and second Allen on Teresita!

  18. teresita,

    I have not watched the SOTU address this evening - mainly because I could have written it.

  19. maybe your right rufus, but are you sure you didn't mean "paramilitary"? I thought the tone was correct for the speech.

  20. “To the Islamists of both flavors, their dark and murderous totalitarian ideology is worth fighting for, even dying for. Whether or not we in America and the West in general believe that democracy is worth the same to us hangs in the balance. Democracy, and liberty, are principles too sweet to give away. They are values to strive for and live by, not to die by. Western civilization is not a death cult shackled to self-defeating ideology.
    That is why we must continue to fight and believe that freedom and democracy are good in and of themselves. American cannot give up on it now.”
    ___Publius Pundit

    Can a democracy wage war to impose democracy? Must it not, instead, take on the imperialist mantle for a season and wage ruthless war to defeat and then occupy territory antithetical to its liberty? Does it not then follow that first thought is security and only afterward the remediation of the enemy (if then)? And if remediation is the goal, can the precipitating philosophical/ideological culture of the enemy be permitted to remain intact? Is the Germany of today, the Germany of 1870-1945? If the United States intends to rid itself of those security threats inimical to its liberty as exemplified in the ME, how then can Islam of any shape or form survive the fire of war anymore than German imperialism/fascism?

    While I hope for the resounding success of the “surge”, it will buy merely a respite. Ultimately, Islam must be destroyed as a functioning principle of governance. Indeed, Islam must be thoroughly discredited and extirpated. If things settle down in Iraq, there will be talk of peace and a peace dividend. This talk will be short-lived. As the West worries itself to distraction with “Global Warming”, Wahhabism will continue the unrelentingly spread of its toxin throughout the globe. There must be and there will be a fight to the death. Time is not the friend of the West.

    “We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history. That we are in action at many points — in Norway and in Holland —, that we have to be prepared in the Mediterranean. That the air battle is continuous, and that many preparations have to be made here at home.

    I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
    You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs — Victory in spite of all terror — Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”
    ___Sir Winston Churchill, 13 May 1940

  21. trish,

    Where is this found at (a pay site)?

  22. trish,

    Wow! This is worth anyone's time with an interest in the ME. And I use ME advisedly and in the largest possible geographic terms because I doubt the problem is isolated to Iraq.

    Rollin's paints a dark picture of Bush I's handling of post-war relations with the natives, doesn't he?

  23. trish,

    I thought so much of that CIA link that I shamelessly plugged you and it at the BC and Westhawk. If it weren't so late and I weren't so lazy, I would rephrase the former, but...

  24. re: worst case CENTCOM

    Are you certain?

  25. At Hewitt:

    4) Whoa! Going a little heavy on the snark there, aren’t you?
    Sorry. But sheesh! We’ve got a war effort that the country is abandoning. The more craven elements of the president’s own party want to build a Chinese Wall between the war and themselves to maximize their electoral prospects. We have an enemy that’s talking genocide and making a headlong rush to acquire some nukes so it can get the job done fast. And the president’s going to be talking about malaria. Give me a break.

    8) What would you like to hear from the president tonight?
    Honesty. I would like to hear him finally say the words “radical Islam.” I would like him to put the Iraq war in context. I would like to hear him offer a full explanation of why we can’t lose there rather than just stubbornly postulate that as a fact.
    H/T Ace of Spades: SOTU/STFU

  26. Malkin is unimpressed with the SOTU, going so far as to H/T Ace of Spade’s while having the decency not to quote him. She did have something nice to say:
    Okay, I found something nice to say. There are many extraordinary people in First Lady Laura Bush's box tonight.

    Old Lonesome George

    What happens to a guy up Sh*t Creek without a canoe or a paddle?

  27. > What would you like to hear from the president tonight?

    It is what he says tomorrow and the day after that matters. The enemy, both inside the US and outside it, has a 24 X 7 media campaign to turn people against the Iraq war and the war on terror overall. Bush needs to realize that giving one speech every few months won't get the job done.

    Bush will lose if he controls the airwaves for only five days a year while Al Qaeda, Nancy Pelosi, and Cindy Sheehan control the headlines on the other 360 days.

  28. Yes we are really attacking Shiite militias. US military says there were 52 recent operations against Shiites, compared to 42 against Sunnis.

    Quotes from article in bold:

    US Shiite crackdown

    More than 600 members of Iraq’s Mahdi Army are in detention awaiting prosecution, the US military announced in a statement late on Monday – the latest indication that operations against the radical Shia militia have been stepped up and that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has withdrawn political protection from the group.

    The statement is unusual in that it detailed the number of operations against specific organisations and seems intended to show that there is a new emphasis on neutralising the Mahdi Army. It said that in the past 45 days, the US-led coalition and Iraqi security forces had carried out 52 operations focused primarily against the militia, compared to 42 targeting Sunni insurgents.