More on the arms sales

In my posts this weekend I wondered whether the announced arms sales to the Sunni governments of the Middle East meant the Administration was strategically tossing the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq and the Iraqi Shiites under the bus, having now decided to back to the region's Sunnis in a more protracted battle against Iran and its regional allies.  A new post by Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo finds further evidence of this new "Sunni-tilt:"

Part of Gen. David Petraeus' job in Iraq is pressuring Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Apparently, heads of state don't care for marching orders from generals from other countries, so it's caused a little bit of a strain on their professional relationship.

OK, more than a little.

A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.

The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship "difficult." ... U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."

Al-Maliki has spoken sharply -- not of Petraeus or Crocker personally -- but about their tactic of welcoming Sunni militants into the fight against al-Qaida forces in Anbar and Diyalah provinces.

First, if the U.S. policy of arming Sunni militias is exacerbating the strained relations, Maliki probably won't like the fact that the administration has decided to do more of this, not less.

Second, if the relationship has deteriorated as poorly as the article suggests, would the White House seriously pull Petraeus from Iraq? After basing most of the existing policy on Bush's confidence in the general?

Thinking more about the meaning of the new Middle Eastern arms sales

The Times has an editorial today which examines some of the issues raised in my post yesterday, The Endless War becomes a Regional War. 

An excerpt:

The Bush administration and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family have a lot in common, including oil, shared rivals like Iran and a penchant for denial that has allowed both to overlook the Saudis’ enabling role in the Sept. 11 attacks. But their recent wrangling over Iraq cannot be denied or papered over with proposals for a big new arms sale. And if these differences are not tackled, there is an increased likelihood that the war’s chaos will spread far beyond Iraq’s borders.

While Washington hasn’t protested publicly, Riyadh is pouring money into Sunni opposition groups and letting Saudis cross the border to join Sunni insurgents fighting the American-backed, Shiite-led government. Washington estimates that nearly half of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month come from Saudi Arabia....

Congressional leaders need to quickly assess the long-term implications of the Surge, Part II , the just-announced arms sales to Israel and the Sunni-led Arab governments in the Middle East.  Has the Administration settled on a longer term strategic plan for the region, a Cold War like containment policy towards the area's rising power, Iran, as is suggested in an excellent piece by Robin Wright in the Post today? And does this involve throwing the current Shiite-led Iraqi government under the bus? And if that is the case what exactly are our troops doing in Iraq then? Propping up a government and a nation we've already strategically abandoned?

For all the saber rattling at Iran for meddling inside Iraq - Joe Lieberman has called it a de facto declaration of war against the United States - there is substantial publically-available evidence that the Sunni governments of the Middle East are much more actively funding their end of the emerging proxy war in Iraq than the Iranians are.  Where is the public outrage over the Saudi's funding of insurgents regularly killing the US? Or of the Egyptian government's support of a bootlegged Sunni TV station in Iraq that regularly celebrates the deaths of American servicemen?

For those wanting to learn more about all this, I would strongly suggest checking into the thinking of noted Tufts University scholar, Vali Nasr.  You can watch an interview I did with him recently, and learn more about how to buy his compelling book here.

The endless war becomes a regional war

It is time for Congress to appoint one of their periodic Blue Ribbon Commissions to review all aspects of the Iraq War.  So much has gone wrong that we need to have a big discussion not how just to bring it to a close, but how to prevent it from ever happening again. 

The review should look at everything: from the pre-war build up, to the execution of the military campaign, to the planning for the aftermath, to the horrible aftermath itself.  The nation needs to turn this terrible experience, so expensive in terms of lives, money and our standing in the world into a learning experience for future generations.  If Congress were to do this, and do it well, it would be a tremendous public service to the nation.  And the review could come out in late 2008 or early 2009 so as not to interfere with the Presidential Election, but to assist the next Administration in its own conduct of foreign policy in the post-Bush era. 

Two major stories today highlight the extent of the failure of our policy in the region.  The first, in the Times, details a new report on our reconstruction efforts in Iraq.  Remarkably, the $5.8 billion reviewed in the report is the cost of perhaps 2 weeks of our military efforts there (clearly inadequate btw), and yet it has been a total disaster:

Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.

The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.

The next is a story, widely reported this morning, on how the Administration has made a massive sale of arms to Israel and the Middle East's Sunni governments.  While there is much to discuss about with this move, it has been sold as a way to counter the region's new great threat - the rise of Iran.  What amazes me about our the War Supporters newfound fear of Iran's ascension is how, of course, the rising regional influence of Iran's is the direct result of the Iraq War itself.  Remember that it was our policy to installed in Iraq a Shiite government closely allied with Iran, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite political balance in the region.  When we hear Bush, and Senator Lieberman, go on about Iran we have to ask them was there any other possible outcome of your Iraq policy, which included the instillation of a Shiite-led Iranian-allied government in Iraq, then the regional ascension of Iran?  All of this feels like so much stumbling around in the geopolitical dark. 

And how will our Shiite allies running the Iraqi government respond to the arming of the Sunni governments in the region who are already funding Sunni insurgents in Iraq working to undermine the Iraqi government? Are the Saudi's funding Al Qaeda for example? Will these new arms we are providing to the region's Sunnis end up back in Iraq in Al Qaeda's hands, or other Sunni insurgents intent on killing Americans? Is this move an acknowledgement of our failure in Iraq, that our post-war political strategy in the region has failed, and the establishment of a predicate for withdrawal and abandonment of Iraq's Shiites and their government? Have we, with this act, essential chosen the region's Sunnis over the Shiites and thrown the Iraqi government under the bus?  

The endless Iraq war has now officially become a regional war.  It is long past time for a big conversation not just about ending the war in Iraq, but also for what our vision is for the region in its aftermath.  Bush has layed down a new and powerful marker.  What is the proper response?

The Iraqi Soccer Team

I hope one of the teams of Major League Soccer here in the US invite the remarkable Iraqi National soccer team to play a "friendly" match sometime soon.  

We need to do something to honor these players and their country.  Sunni, Shiite, Kurd, playing together for national pride in a troubled nation, improbably advancing to the Asia Cup finals.  Against who? Sunni Saudi Arabia, a nation that has not yet fully accepted the new Iraqi government, which of course is the first Shiite-led Arab nation in the history of the Middle East. 

I also feel that somehow the events of yesterday, the killing not just of people but of joy itself, will become to be seen as an important day.  Perhaps it will become a rallying cry for the government and average people to fight harder against the chaos and those looking to rip their country apart.  Perhaps it will be a sign of disintegration, a moment when Iraqi's descent into chaos hit the point of no return.  My own sense is on this one the insurgents went too far, and that the global and local outrage brought by the soccer bombings will become, at least for now, a rallying cry for those working against the chaos. 

In that sense these horrible killings are an opportunity, an opportunity for the Iraqi leaders and our government to start to change the impression that sustained chaos in Iraq is inevitable.

Democratic Congressman: pulling out may not be enough of a plan for Iraq

In The Politico today, Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former 3-star Admiral who served in the Navy for 31 years, explains why he feels the Democrats' current plan for Iraq is insufficient. Although Sestak voted yesterday to withdraw troops by April of 2008, he expressed serious misgivings about the current incarnation of the bill. From his thoughtful statement:

"We need a strategic approach to ending this war because the consequences of failure are immense. Congress is close, as it should be, to ending this tragic misadventure but we need to set a date certain for a safe redeployment. Ending this war is necessary, but insufficient.  How we end it, and by what means, are more important for our troops' safety and our own security.

...I voted for this bill, but I did so reluctantly for it does little to define the how and why within a strategic approach to redeploy from Iraq with a date certain and leave behind the possibility of an un-failed Iraqi state. We owe such a comprehensive explanation to the country and the world for it is our responsibility to do so when the consequences are so great for our nation and Congress is the one to soon enforce an end to it by its own force of law."

Clearly, "Staying the Course" has not been an effective strategy in Iraq, and the American people are increasingly unhappy with the Bush Administration's gross mishandling of this war. But Sestak warns fellow Democrats against taking a similarly simplistic approach to withdrawl.

A failed foreign policy

Morning shows and the am papers all leading with the story that Al Qaeda is regrouping, stronger than ever.  Sec. Chertoff was on Fox talking about the threat, so it seems as if this is a White House strategy to scare folks during the upcoming Senate debate. 

But is this is a good strategy? Doesn't it just reinforce that the Administration's foreign policy has been an utter failure in every way? Al Qaeda is stronger.  Iraq has failed, and will end up exporting chaos throughout the region and the world.  Our traditional allies in the Middle East and Pakistan are losing ground to radical elements.  Israel is weaker than before.  Iran is closer to having nuclear weapons.  Our standing in Latin America is at an all time low, and Hugo Chavez's influence is on the rise.  Russia is becoming an ever more important problem.  Afghanistan is not coming along as promised.  On trade liberalization  Doha has stalled, TPA expired and prospects for important trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia look dim.  No action has been taken on combating climate change, and our military has been severely degraded.  

Does the Administration really want to broaden this debate beyond Iraq?

I say "bring it on."

Iraqi government warns of regional chaos

From the Times:

BAGHDAD, July 9 — The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warned today that an early American withdrawal from Iraq could bring on an all-out civil war and regional conflict, pointedly telling the United States that it had responsibilities to continue lending support to the Baghdad government.

Mr. Zebari also asserted that Iraq’s neighbor Turkey had massed 140,000 troops near his country’s northern border and urged it to resolve differences with dialogue, not through force.

Mr. Zebari was speaking after a violent weekend in which more than 220 people were killed in Iraq, including 150 by a truck bomb in one of the deadliest single attacks since the American invasion in March 2003.

Asked if the Iraqi government’s was aware of the growing pressure on President Bush from Congress to impose a timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, Mr. Zebari said his government was holding a “dialogue” with some congressmen.

“We explain to them the dangers of a speedy withdrawal and leaving a security vacuum, and the dangers vary from civil war to dividing the country or maybe to regional wars,” he said.

“Some people might disagree with this assessment, but in our estimation the danger is huge. Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities.”

Mr. Zebari’s comments came after some Sunni and Shiite leaders called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves, amid frustration that Iraqi security forces had failed to halt the deadly suicide attacks....

Officials knew of Abu Ghraib abuses

The New Yorker just published another great new article by Seymour Hersh, the investigative reporter who first broke the Abu Ghraib story. In the article, and his interview about it on CNN, Hersh details how Administration officials scrambled to absolve themselves of all responsibility for the scandal. In a hearing before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee on May 7th of 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said:

"It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn’t say, ‘Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something... I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn’t...I didn't see [the photos] until last night at 7:30."

However, Major General Tabuga, the officer originally assigned to investigate reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib, insists that this is simply not true. Whether or not Rumsfeld and other higher-ups had seen the photos (which they certainly had access to long before the scandal broke), very detailed reports describing the abuses had made their way up the chain of command months before the story was leaked to the press. As Taguba said, "You didn’t need to ‘see’ anything—just take the secure e-mail traffic at face value." These reports, among other things, included "descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son, who were both detainees" and "a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee" (which was never released).

For obvious reasons, these reports were taken quite seriously, and were relayed quickly through back channel emails. The upshot of all of this is that by March at the latest, Rumsfeld was talking with the President about the incidents at Abu Ghraib, and once again 'The Decider' decided to do nothing. As Hersh writes, "The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career." In fact, General Taguba was asked to resign, without being given any real reason.

Said Taguba, whose only crime was his honesty, “They always shoot the messenger. To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.” While Taguba's story is sad, it is not very surprising, given that this Administration has always been more concerned with avoiding responsibility than with acting responsibly.

Coming to terms with today's Middle East, continued

Of all the emerging challenges we face in the new post-Iraq Middle East, there is perhaps no more important one than what to do in and with Iraq itself.  In a Sunday Outlook piece, Ray Takeyh and Steven Simon offer thoughts on what to do with the reality of Iraq today, not the fantasy place invoked from time to time by members of the Administration and their allies.  It begins:

Last week's bloodshed in Iraq and the bombing of what remained of the historic Shiite shrine in Samarra and of two Sunni mosques in Basra were more reminders of a terrible truth: The war in Iraq is lost. The only question that remains -- for our gallant troops and our blinkered policymakers -- is how to manage the inevitable. What the United States needs now is a guide to how to lose -- how to start thinking about minimizing the damage done to American interests, saving lives and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco.

No longer can we avoid this bitter conclusion. Iraq's winner-take-all politics are increasingly vicious; there will be no open, pluralistic Iraqi state to take over from the United States. Iraq has no credible central government that U.S. forces can assist and no national army for them to fight alongside. U.S. troops can't beat the insurgency on their own; our forces are too few and too isolated to compete with the insurgents for the public's support. Meanwhile, the country's militias have become a law unto themselves, and ethnic cleansing gallops forward.

To read the whole piece, click here.  For more on this series, click on the Middle East tag above.

Coming to terms with today's Middle East, continued

Yes, back to our favorite policy theme this morning.  Robin Wright of the Post takes a sweeping look through the results of our foreign policy in the Middle East.   It isn't pretty:

The Middle East is in flames. Over the past week, war erupted among the Palestinians and their government collapsed. A Shiite shrine in Iraq was bombed -- again -- as the new U.S. military strategy showed no sign of diminishing violence. Lebanon battled a new al-Qaeda faction in the north as a leading politician was assassinated in Beirut. And Egyptian elections were marred by irregularities, including police obstructing voters, in a serious setback to democracy efforts.

U.S. policy in the region isn't faring much better, say Middle East and U.S. analysts.

"It's close to a nightmare for the administration," Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center and former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said in an interview from Dubai. "They can't catch their breath. . . . It makes Condi Rice's last year as secretary of state very daunting. What are the odds she can get virtually anything back on track?"

Each flash point has its own dynamics, but a common denominator is that leaders in each country -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak -- are each pivotal U.S. allies.

"The people we rely on the most to help are under siege, just as we are," said Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution fellow and former National Security Council staffer. "Three of the four leaders may either not make it [politically] through the end of the summer or find themselves irrelevant by then."

The broad danger is a breakdown of the traditional states and conflicts that have defined Middle East politics since the 1970s, said Paul Salem of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Beirut office. An increasing number of places -- Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories -- now have rival claimants to power, backed by their own militaries.

Also, once divided by the Arab-Israeli conflict, the region is now the battleground for three other rivalries: the United States and its allies pitted against an Iran-Syria alliance in a proxy war regionwide, secular governments confronted by rising al-Qaeda extremism, and autocratic governments reverting to draconian tactics to quash grass-roots movements vying for democratic change.

Extremists are scoring the most points. "Gaza is the latest evidence that most of the trends are pointed in the wrong direction. It's yet another gain for radical forces. It's another gain for Iran. It's another setback for the U.S., Israel and the Sunni regimes," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and State Department policy planning chief during President Bush's first term. "The United States has not shown that moderation pays or will accomplish more than violence."

A second danger is that conflicts now overlap. "You can't look at Lebanon or Iraq or the Palestinians or Syria or Iran and try to deal with them separately anymore. You could have 10 years ago. Now they are politically and structurally linked," said Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut.

Khouri said the United States deserves a good share of the blame for a confluence of disasters spawning pessimism and anger across the region..

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