A senior U.S. military official and adviser to the Iraqi military’s Baghdad command, Col. Timothy R. Reese, wrote a rather blunt memo that has recently found the light of day (copy here). In the memo, Reese argues that the U.S. should accelerate its withdrawal from Iraq based on the following factors: we have already accomplished what was possible for us to achieve militarily, the way forward involves Iraqi issues best-suited for Iraqi solutions (or not) and, further, that our continued presence is actually increasing tension, resistance, risk to our troops and the potential for a serious rift in relations.
Reese argues that we have lost leverage over the Iraqi government, and the ability to influence the political/military landscape. Political reconciliation – the endgame that the Surge was supposed to secure – is backsliding, as corruption and self-dealing have settled in as the norm:
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Ben Smith is impressed with the Obama administration’s relatively low-key approach to counterterrorism:
One of the most striking differences between the Obama and Bush administration is the handling of domestic terror arrests. The Bush White House trumpeted every arrest and disrupted plot — in some cases, ones that were nowhere close to fruition — as a major win in the War on Terror and a reminder of the need to be vigilant.
The Obama administration, by contrast, keeps them relatively quiet. There hasn’t been a statement from the White House, or any comment save a Justice Department press release, on the arrest of seven men on charges that they helped raise money and provide training for attacks in Israel, and trained to participate in attacks in Israel and Kosovo.
The decision not to talk about terrorism is just that — a choice, with the goal of ending the "politics of fear" that Obama denounced during the campaign.
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A little over a month ago, Andrew Sullivan had a fascinating piece on the evolution of the New York Times’ willingness, or lack thereof, to use the term "torture" to describe, well, torture (for definite lack of a better word). As Sullivan demonstrates, prior to the Bush administration, the Times repeatedly and reflexively referred to interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hypothermia, stress positions and physical beatings as torture. No euphemism, no equivocation, no even-handed airing of the torturers’ rationale/argument and no concern for the associated political controversy. It was simply torture.
In recent years, however, the Times has begun to use euphemisms to describe those exact same techniques. What was torture was now "intense interrogation," "harsh interrogation and "detainee abuse" – though recently, and to much self-congratulation, the Times has mustered the courage to call what they once freely termed torture, a "brutal mode of..interrogation." Baby steps for a previously ambulatory being.
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This highly recommended, if heart-rending, story from the Colorado Springs Gazette tells of a group of soldiers that returned from Iraq only to fall prey to severe mental illnesses that were largely self-medicated through, and as a result exacerbated by, drug abuse. The soldiers in the applicable unit have committed serial acts of violence, including murder, since their return. Although painful to read, the article focuses on one of war’s inevitable costs, a facet that rarely if ever gets the attention it merits (in fact, the cultural reluctance to acknowledge the severe mental trauma of war often leads to untreated – or self-treated – conditions that only get worse).
In the course of the reporting, the article also ends up highlighting some of the primary contradictions and limitations at the heart of the Counterinsurgency ("COIN") Doctrine – the military doctrine that has been given too much credit for "winning" the war in Iraq (Iraqis are still dying each month in the hundreds as the war continues) and that supposedly lights the way forward in Afghanistan.
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Stephen Biddle’s recent piece on Afghanistan seeks to probe the question asked in the title, Is It Worth It? Biddle’s answer is a tepid, tentative "yes." In his words, our ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan represents "a war effort that is costly, risky and worth waging—but only barely so."
As suggested, Biddle is certainly no optimist about our prospects for "victory" in Afghanistan – although, to his credit, he narrows down the criteria to two modest goals when compared to some of the other more grandiose designs associated with the mission since its inception.
The United States has two primary national interests in this conflict: that Afghanistan never again become a haven for terrorism against the United States, and that chaos in Afghanistan not destabilize its neighbors, especially Pakistan. Neither interest can be dismissed, but both have limits as casus belli.
Biddle quickly abandons the first rationale, however, describing it as the "weakest" reason to wage a war considering the fact that: (a) there is no guarantee that the Taliban would welcome al-Qaeda back if the US departs and the Taliban dominates; (b) we can disrupt so-called safe-havens by taking measures far short of all out war; and (c) there are more attractive safe havens available in several other settings, and waging war to shut them down as they crop up is unrealistic in the extreme (also: a key part of Osama Bin Laden’s strategy of bleeding our resources by goading us into costly campaigns across the globe) – arguments that this site has been making with some frequency.
Which leaves us with the second rationale alone, about which Biddle has this to say:
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On July 16, 2009 Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Moqtada al-Sadr visited Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in his Tehran hospital. Sadr said he was interested in rejoining the United Iraqi Alliance, which the Sadrists left in September 2007. The new alliance is due to be announced later this month according to a Supreme Council member. In February 2009 Sadr issued a statement saying that he would come back to the Alliance as long as it was renamed, the SIIC was no longer leading it, and that it was non-sectarian. Those talks fell apart in May when the Sadrists said they would run independently in the January 2010 parliamentary vote. The change in the Sadrists’ position could be due to the influence of Iran, which is applying strong pressure upon the leading Shiite parties to re-unite and run together in the next round of balloting in Iraq.
One of the main goals of Tehran is to ensure friendly Shiite rule in Iraq so that it never becomes a rival again. Following this Iran wants the main Shiite parties to be united during elections, so they stay in power. In 2005 Iran helped put together the United Iraqi Alliance, and gave them printing presses, advisors, broadcast equipment, and stuffed ballot boxes. Since the January 2009 provincial elections, Iran has been pushing for the Alliance to be revived. In January, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ran his own State of Law List, which trumped the Supreme Council in most of southern Iraq. Iran was afraid of further fracturing by the Shiites, and began pressuring them to run together in 2010.
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Anyone interested in transnational Islamist political movements or the politics of the Gulf countries, especially the Arab ones, should read Laurence Louer’s Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf. I won’t be able to finish it right away as I return it to the library tomorrow in advance of moving, but [...]