National Security

GOP Senators Scrambling to Block Anti-Surge Resolutions

In an effort to save face for the White House, Republican leaders in the Senate are trying to peel away Republican support for the anti-surge non-binding reolutions proposed by Joe Biden, Carl Levin and John Warner, among others. 

The new effort by President Bush’s allies, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is aimed at blocking two nonbinding resolutions directly critical of the White House that had appeared to be gaining broad support among Democrats and even some Republicans.

Republicans skeptical of the troop buildup said some of their colleagues had begun to suggest that opponents of the White House plan ran the risk of undermining Lt. Gen. David L. Petraeus, the new military commander in Iraq, as well as Mr. Bush.

“There is a lot of pressure on people who could be with us not to be with us,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, the co-author of one resolution along with Senators John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska.

As an alternative to that measure and another broadly backed by Democrats, Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, along with Senator Joeseph I. Leiberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut, are trying to enlist support for a resolution that would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government and describe the troop increase as a final chance for the United States to restore security in Baghdad.

The senators have been joined in their effort by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.

Dealing With Iran

The NYT is picking up the Bush Administration's claim that the abduction and subsequent killing of 5 US soldiers on January 20th was the work of Iranian trained and supported fighters. 

An Iraqi knowledgeable about the investigation said four suspects had been detained and questioned. Based on those interviews, investigators have concluded that as they fled Karbala with the abducted Americans, the attackers used advanced devices to monitor police communications and avoid the roads where the police were searching.

The suspects have also told investigators that “a religious group in Najaf” was involved in the operation, the Iraqi said, in a clear reference to the Mahdi Army, the militia controlled by the breakaway Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr. If that information holds up, it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.

This apparently growing cooperation between Iran and radical Shiite militia elements further complicates the work of US troops and increases the likelihood of eventual conflict between American and Iranian forces.  Also troubling, was the attackers ability to impersonate American troops and travel without harassment by Iraqi forces, raising questions of loyalty:

An American military official said all possibilities were being explored, with the focus on whom the United States can trust, even among senior Iraqi officials, in the Karbala area.

“We’ve got to be very careful as to who we define as our allies, and who we trust and who we don’t,” the military official said. “Was the governor involved? Were the Iraqi police that were on guard complicit or just incompetent?”

Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is challenging the President's nominee for the #2 position at State, John Negroponte, over Iran policy:

“Do you think we are drifting toward a military confrontation with Iran?” demanded Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska.

“I don’t think that has to be, Senator,” Mr. Negroponte replied. “I think we would strongly prefer that the issues between us and Iran be resolved peacefully.”

Mr. Negroponte maintained that an emboldened Iran could harm American interests in the region.

“We don’t believe that their behavior, such as supporting Shia extremists in Iraq, should go unchallenged,” said Mr. Negroponte, who is now the director of national intelligence.

Sectarian violence is up dramatically, and as long as that is the case, Iran will continue to defend Shiites in Iraq.  Attacks against Shiites are being timed to coincide with the Shiite holiday of Ashura, and are taking place around the country, including in Baghdad, with ever-greater weaponry and lethality:

Attackers using bombs, rockets and guns killed at least 60 Shiite worshipers Tuesday as they observed their most sacred holiday, Iraqi officials said...

A roadside bomb in the sprawling Shiite enclave of Sadr City struck an Ashura procession, killing seven people and wounding 23, Salih said.

In other neighborhoods, gunmen fired Katyusha rockets at processions and used machine guns to attack passing buses heading to Karbala, Salih added. He said at least three people died in those incidents.

If there is any good news, it is that Saudi and Iranian leaders are working together to try and stabalize Lebanon and head off war there:

Leaders of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed party trying to overthrow Lebanon’s government, have recently visited the Saudi king in Riyadh, according to officials who attended the meeting. And Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi chief security adviser, has met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larijani, in Riyadh and Tehran to try to stop Lebanon’s slide into civil war.

“The only hope is for the Iranians and Saudis to go further in easing the situation and bringing people back to the negotiating table,” said Radwan Sayyed, an adviser to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The Saudi-Iranian efforts have put Washington in an awkward position, since it is trying to reduce Iran’s regional influence. But since a stable Lebanon is also an American priority, American officials have watched the efforts without interfering.

Surge Sends Troops Into Harms Way Without Proper Equipment

Following up on an armor shortage story we blogged on last week, Army and Marine Corp leaders are testifying before the House Armed Service Committee, and their quotes (from the WAPO) are shocking:

"The response would be slower than we might like, we would not have all of the equipment sets that ordinarily would be the case, and there is certainly risk associated with that" 

-Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway

"my concerns [regarding readiness[ are increased over what they were in June."

"To meet combatant commanders' immediate wartime needs, we pooled equipment from across the force to equip soldiers deploying in harm's way.  This practice, which we are continuing today, increases risk for our next-to-deploy units and limits our ability to respond to emerging strategic contingencies."

-Army Chief of Staff Peter J. Schoomaker

The Bush Administration seems perpetually doomed to repeat its mistakes, and VoteVets new ad speaks to the consequences of this most recent reckless decision:

Why is Iran on the Rise?

Anthony Shadid in the WAPO frames the answer, following the shocking news that the usually eager to please Kuwait is pulling out of a US-led naval exercise in the Persian Gulf:

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."

Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."

It isn't a good day for US prestige when a Saudi academic and an Israeli academic agree that America is to blame for rising Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Shadid goes on to recognize the transformative combination of the US removing Iran's enemies from power without thinking-through the consequences and Iran's success in using military and humanitarian aid to support proxies in Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories and Iraq.

Iran has found itself strengthened almost by default, first with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to Iran's east, which ousted the Taliban rulers against whom it almost went to war in the 1990s, and then to its west, with the American ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, against whom it fought an eight-year war in the 1980s...

Across the region, Iran has begun to exert influence on fronts as diverse as its allies: the formerly exiled Shiite parties in Iraq and their militias; Hezbollah, a Lebanese group formed with Iranian patronage after Israel's 1982 invasion; and the cash-strapped Sunni Muslim movement of Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

"I disagree with Iranian policy, but you have to give the Iranians credit," said Abdullah al-Shayji, a political science professor and head of Kuwait University's American Studies Unit. "You have to appreciate that they have an agenda, they're planning for it, they seize the opportunity, they see an American weakness and they are capitalizing on it."

In Iraq the consequences of unchecked Iranian power are clear:

...U.S. officials say Iran is providing Shiite militias with sophisticated projectiles capable of penetrating U.S. armored vehicles and backing those forces in a gathering civil war against Sunni Arabs. One commander of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that U.S. military officials now identify as the greatest security threat in Iraq, said that however much he might dislike Iran, he was eagerly anticipating the delivery of 50 rocket-propelled grenades to Basra.

Look for Bush Administration officials to lash out at Iran for providing powerful weapons to Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army.  But don't look for those same people to apologize for their inexcusable lack of foresight...

Ahmadinejad Weak Politically

The image of Iran as an evil monolithic nation, dominated by radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has always been a flawed one, and much like his nemesis President Bush, his domestic political support is collapsing.  From the WSJ:

Many of Tehran's elite politicians and even clerics have long harbored concerns about Mr. Ahmadinejad, who ascended to the country's top political post from outside the traditional ruling circles. But the immense popularity he generated among Iran's poor and working-class voters kept many of his critics from speaking out or openly moving against his policies.

...a round of elections late last year -- for local municipal and village leaders as well as an important national consultative body -- has undermined Mr. Ahmadinejad's political momentum and unleashed a flood of public criticism and moves to clip his wings. Candidates whom Mr. Ahmadinejad supported fared poorly in the elections, while key adversaries re-established themselves as fixtures of the political scene.

In Tehran's city council, from which Mr. Ahmadinejad launched his campaign for president two years ago, his supporters went from a majority to a handful of seats. Meanwhile, Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom Mr. Ahmadinejad defeated in the presidential election two years ago, dominated the voting for seats on the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with choosing a new Supreme Leader when the 67-year-old Mr. Khamenei steps down or dies.

Since those public votes, a drumbeat of criticism against Mr. Ahmadinejad's administration has emerged from within Iran's Parliament and among some senior regime officials. The president even found himself confronted by a crowd of jeering students during an appearance at a Tehran university campus, with a video of the incident distributed on the Internet.

More on the Shiite ascendency in the Middle East

Following on our post from yesterday, the Post has a strong piece this morning about the powerful new dynamic in the Middle East unleashed by America's actions in recent years:

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Iran has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Gulf Arab states, in moves it sees as defensive and the United States views as aggressive. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the United States with funds, arms and ideology. And in the vacuum created by the U.S. overthrow of Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is exerting a power and prestige that recalls the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranian clerics led the toppling of a U.S.-backed government.

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."

Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."

The Times reports this morning that European governments are questioning America's strategy seeking to isolate Iran.

Saudi Arabia Appoints New Ambassador to the US

The Saudi's new Ambassador to the United States is young, not a member of the royal family, an alumnus of the University of North Texas and Georgetown University, and couldn't be assuming his position at a more pivital moment for US-Saudi relations. 


"The fight we're in"

"This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in."

This morning I offer up three pieces helpful in gaining a greater understanding of this new "fight we're in."

Yesterday the Times published a remarkable essay by Sabrina Tavernise, looking back at her time in Iraq, and how much things have degraded in the last several years. The story dives into the deepening and horrible fight between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq in a way few other stories I've read have.

The Post had a thoughtful editorial yesterday making the case that now is the time for a diplomatic opening to Iran. I agree with their arguments.

And this morning, the Iranians outflank the Administration, and offer the Iraqi government aid in reconstruction and in "the security fight."

I can't get that State of the Union line out of my head, for in so many ways it is the defining line of the Bush Administration. The stumbling, the lack of understanding of what they were doing, of where we are headed in the Middle East today. And that is my great concern now. These guys have gotten so utterly wrong for so long, why do we believe they are going to get it right now?

I don't think they have really come to terms with what is happening in the Middle East today. The most powerful new dynamic, unleashed by our actions in Iraq, is the growing violence between Sunnis and Shiites, and the assertation of power by Shiites across the region. Do we really believe that this dynamic, captured so powerfully in Tavernise's piece above, will be solved by military action alone? Reopening some state owned factories? Or the capturing of some insurgents in a field?

It seems as if the Administration simply doesn't understand this new Middle East our policies have created, this new "fight we're in." It isn't going to get made better by arms alone. It is going to require a great deal more imagination, diplomacy and political sophistication than the Administration is showing today. Starting by telling Congress to go f--- themselves was probably not a great sign that these guys, once again, are headed in the right direction.

Nuclear Proliferation Still a Problem

More than a decade after Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton's aggressive efforts to round-up nuclear materials after the end of the Cold War, there is still work to be done.  Yesterday's arrest of a Russian attempting to sell highly refined uranium, in Georgia, proves the need for continued vigilance to prevent against the unthinkable.

It's worth remembering today that John Kerry put a lot of emphasis on nuclear proliferation when he ran for the Presidency in 2004.

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