National Security

Is the privatization of war a good idea?

The Post weighs in on the Blackwater mess, and I'm not sure they totally nail it.  There is an important question here that needs to be answered, and soon - is it a good idea to count on such a high degree of privatization of our war making ability when we go to war?  15-20 percent of our security forces in Iraq are now private firms like Blackwater.   Is this is a good idea? What is driving this? Is it less expensive than expanding the active military?  More so? What are the rules governing these folks?  Isn't the kind of rampant lawlessness of Blackwater exactly the kind of high-handed behavior that is weakening America's standing in the world?

All of this raises more questions than the Post answers in its facile editorial today, and seems like an area worthy of deeper Congressional study. 

Crises in Flushing and the Middle East

First off, I'd like to echo Simon's lament. I too am a Mets fan and was at Shea yesterday, watching the Mets get eliminated from the playoffs at the end of a historic collapse. 9 men on a field playing a boys game someone can feel larger than life. Unfortunately, yesterday, that left me feeling like I'd been punched in the gut, while other fans were celebrating just an hour and a half down the Jersey Turnpike. For Mets fans like us, the long wait until spring begins today. Congratulations to the Phillies, they earned the right to play under the bright lights of October.

More importantly - although it doesn't feel like it at the moment - is Sy Hersh's new article in this week's New Yorker "Shifting Target's The Administrations plan for Iran." It's an explosive and insightful piece that details dangerous changes in our Iran policy. Part of what elevates the piece is the contribution of a close friend of NDN's, Professor Vali Nasr of the Fletcher School of International Law and Diplomacy. (You can see Simon's in-depth interview with Professor Nasr here.)

Professor Nasr is quoted repeatedly in the piece, and one section that stood out is his detailing of the risks of our current strategy of arming Sunni tribes in Anbar Provence, ostensibly to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia:

Vali Nasr, of Tufts, called the internal displacement of communities in Iraq a form of “ethnic cleansing.”

“The American policy of supporting the Sunnis in western Iraq is making the Shia leadership very nervous,” Nasr said. “The White House makes it seem as if the Shia were afraid only of Al Qaeda—but they are afraid of the Sunni tribesmen we are arming. The Shia attitude is ‘So what if you’re getting rid of Al Qaeda?’ The problem of Sunni resistance is still there. The Americans believe they can distinguish between good and bad insurgents, but the Shia don’t share that distinction. For the Shia, they are all one adversary.”

As usual, Professor Nasr is a step ahead of everyone, including it would appear the people setting American policy towards the Middle East. I hope to hear more people asking these critical questions: are the short term gains derived from arming Sunnis in Anbar worth the medium and long term risks? And, are we really qualified to 'distinguish between good and bad insurgents?'

Democracy's "After Iraq" Panel

In response to the Petraeus/Crocker hearings, our good friends Kenneth Baer and Andrei Cherny over at Democracy are holding an important event worth checking out. To RSVP, call Democracy at 202-263-4382, or send an email to Further details are below:


General Petraeus' report to Congress and the current discussion about Iraq are focused on how many troops are deployed there, how effective they are, and when they're coming home. But what's missing from the popular debate is a discussion of what comes next. Once there is a significant drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, what should American strategy be in the Middle East?

In its fall issue released September 10, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas brings together an unprecedented collection of thirteen of the top progressive foreign policy thinkers writing on the critical topic: "What the U.S. should do once it leaves Iraq." Three of the authors will join us to discuss the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East. They are:

Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute and editor of With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic.

Kenneth Baer, co-editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, will moderate the panel.

The panelists will take audience questions as part of the discussion.

A light breakfast will be served.

Monday, September 17, 2007
9:30 AM - 11 AM

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The Root Room
1779 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

GAO report suggests little Iraq progress

In what is sure to be a major topic of debate, the Post reports on a leaked draft of an upcoming GAO report that suggests very little progress has been made in Iraq.  The story begins:

Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 congressionally mandated benchmarks for political and military progress, according to a draft of a Government Accountability Office report. The document questions whether some aspects of a more positive assessment by the White House last month adequately reflected the range of views the GAO found within the administration.

The strikingly negative GAO draft, which will be delivered to Congress in final form on Tuesday, comes as the White House prepares to deliver its own new benchmark report in the second week of September, along with congressional testimony from Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker. They are expected to describe significant security improvements and offer at least some promise for political reconciliation in Iraq.

Meanwhile the Times reports that the White House is upbeat about its chances to win the coming fall debate over our approach to the increasing turmoil in the Middle East.

NYTimes: "The Problem Isn't Mr. Maliki"

In its Friday editorial the New York Times argues that the problem in Iraq isn't Mr. Maliki. 

I agree.

Update: Maliki responds to his critics.  Attacks Senators Clinton and Levin by name. 

The Bush Effect

Proximity to this deeply unpopular President and his policies has become in itself a major factor in world affairs.  Let's call it the Bush Effect.  Throughout the world - and here at home - leaders allied with Bush has seen their political fortunes ebb, and leaders seen as opponents to this Administration's policies are gaining ground.  What this means is the very presence of Bush in the White House is becoming a daunting national security challenge for the United States. 

We've seen it here at home with the GOP, as their national repudiation in 2006 has left them with much less power and with their lowest levels of approval in a generation.  We've seen it with Tony Blair, and the Spanish government who backed the Iraqi war.  We've seen it in the rise of Putin and Chavez. 

But even more dangerous is how leaders, countries and parties seen as "pro-Western" are losing ground to more extreme elements throughout the Muslim world.  The installation of a Shiite government in Iraq has strenghtened the hand of Iran in the Gulf.  Our allies in Palestine lost an election to a group we had declared to be terrorists, and now have had to flee half the country.  Pro-Western forces in Lebanon have lost control of the nation's politics.  We know what is happening in Iraq, though it is increasingly unclear who are allies are there these days.  The Iranian government has its most radical leader since its revolution, one who replaced a leader much more oriented to the West.  Karzhai's government in Afghanistan is teetering.  And now our long time ally, General Musharrah in Pakistan, seems to be on the verge of collapse. 

Two germane stories in the papers this am.  The Times makes news with a great piece about our government's efforts to help salvage Musharraf.  In the Post Robin Wright has a story that looks skeptically at the Administration's strategy towards Iran, which concludes with these thoughts about their latest move to brand the Revolutionary Guards terrorists:  

Michael McFaul of Stanford University also urged more carrots. "If you want democratic regime change and to destabilize the regime, the best thing you could do is to make an offer about massive negotiations about everything -- human rights and state sponsorship in terrorism, as well as lifting [U.S.] sanctions and opening an embassy," he said. "Politically, this step doesn't help the administration undermine the regime -- it helps to consolidate the regime."

The Muslim world is in a very combustable place right now, and I have fear that the only thing this Administration can do - because of its ineptitude and the Bush Effect - is make matters much much worse. 

The Times on how Afghanistan has gone bad

The Times has a wonderfully reported piece on how the "good war" in Afghanistan has gone bad.  This story reminds us that it isnt just Iraq that has gone bad, but virtually everything Bush and his foreign policy team have attempted to do has failed.

Iraq battles Saudi Arabia - and wins (in soccer that is)

Coming just two days after the White House announced proposed arms sales to Sunni Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments to help counter the growing influence of Iran and the region's Shiites (including the ruling parties in Iraq), the Iraqi soccer team defeated Saudi Arabia today 1-0 to win the Asian Cup. 

The irony of all this is hard to overstate. 

For additional thoughts on the Iraqi soccer team, take a look at my post from the other day.  Anyone know how I can buy an Iraqi soccer jersey?

For some weekend thoughts on the emerging politics of the Middle East see my various posts below.

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.

Syndicate content