Category ►►► Syrian Slitherings
September 5, 2013
In a recent post on my favorite blog, Paul Mirengoff concludes:
The combination of Republicans who don’t understand the importance of America possessing credible military power in the Middle East and Democrats who believe that America should not exercise military power anywhere (at least if there’s the slightest risk involved) seems poised to carry the day in the House. And a growing number [of] Republicans have come to share the Democrats’ view of exercising U.S. power.
Paul appears to see such Republicans as short-sighted spoilers, or worse, dog-in-the-manger hypocrites who believe that if they can't be allowed to claim the victory, then nobody should; better American defeat and diminishment than allow Obama to soar!
But I, by contrast, see a growing number of Republicans who sincerely believe it's too dangerous to allow the current occupier of 1600 Penn. Ave. to exercise military power anywhere; I doubt they would feel the same about a President Cruz, a President Romney, or a President Christie.
Perhaps some of those GOPpers are simply meanspirited enough not to want Barack "Leading from behind" Obama to get the glory and credit, even if such wishes damage the United States. But I strongly suspect the vast majority of anti-intervention Republicans believe -- and not without good reason -- that the Obama administration is so venal, feckless, and incompetent that any military intervention at this juncture would likely have a perverse effect, leaving us worse off than had we done nothing.
For example, given Obama's open praise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and his condemnation of the military coup that overthrew the radical-Islamist tyrant Mohamed Morsi -- an absurdly perverse misunderstanding of the religio-political dynamics of that country -- is it not reasonable to fear that Obama might also have sugar-plum-fairy fantasies that the rebels against Bashar Assad are all budding Rooseveltian (or Wilsonian) democrats, waiting only for the fall of the dictator to implement a glorious socialist revolution that will be Obama's crowning achievement?
I see Obama as having the revalatory gravitas of Michael Jackson in the videos "Thriller," "Beat It," and the Disneyland attraction "Captain EO": He sees himself as Barack the magic man who need merely Imagine great triumphs, then declare, "Make it so!" But if his political bumbling and misunderstanding allows Assad's chemical weapons to fall into the hands of the al-Qaeda rebels in Syria -- democrats pining only for freedom! -- would that not be worse than the current status quo, even including Assad's massacre?
I'm not entirely onboard that particular bandwagon; I'm not certain that an Obamic intervention in Syria would necessarily produce perverse results. But I do sympathize with those Republicans who see the situation as more perilous than I; and I possess no secret evidence (or fully functioning Magic 8-Ball) that Obama will turn out to be a better wartime leader anent Syria than he has been to date anent Libya, Egypt, the Palestinians -- or any of our traditional allies.
December 7, 2006
Does Robert Kaplan Read Big Lizards?
Robert Kaplan, author of the seminal book Imperial Grunts, completely agrees with the Big Lizards take on the ISG report.
He agrees on both the good, such as the fact that many of the 79 recommendations are Bush policies that the Democrats have been fighting for years; and the bad, such as James Baker's peculiar belief that we can talk the Iranians into helping stabilize Iraq as a democracy because, after all, "the Humungus is a reasonable man."
In fact, Kaplan agrees so much about the report -- even using nearly identical phrases to describe it -- that were it not for my firm conviction that we're a flea on the hair on the wart on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea compared to someone like Robert Kaplan, I would wonder whether he had actually read our two posts!
But we are, so he didn't. Ne'ertheless, he still agrees; two thoughts with but a single mind between them, or however that expression goes. And if you don't believe me, just read the transcript of Kaplan's interview on Hugh Hewitt, whenever Duane puts it up on Hugh's transcript archive page.
That that, Hugh.
Important Readers Note
Big Lizards analyzed the entire James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group report in a pair of posts yesterday:
- Skip the Dicta; Read the Recommendations - Part Uno
- Skip the Dicta; Read the Recommendations - Part Zwei
It's important that we make clear the purpose of our posts. Many people deride the report on the grounds that the ISG really want us to withdraw, but they were too craven to call for it outright... so they instead (this theory goes) recommended "withdrawal lite."
Maybe, maybe not. Big Lizards could not care less what the commission thought it was doing.
I approached this analysis entirely, ah, analytically: given the facts on the ground and in D.C., the political reality that the voters will demand that President Bush accept most (if not all) of the ISG's 79 recommendations, can he do so while still fighting for true victory in Iraq?
And the answer I came up with was: yes he can.
Mind, I consider most of the ISG's recommendations silly and unworldly. Jed Babbin, whom I mostly disagree with, hit the nail with a needle:
The ISG report has all the attributes -- and all of the failings -- of an academic study. It is both theoretically sound and thoroughly inapplicable outside the laboratories of the schools of diplomacy.
The great majority of the 79 Commandments, including the entire "diplomatic offensive," by which we're going to persuade Iran to act against its own interests and help us stabilize Iraq as a democracy, is nought but a big time waster.
But since it only wastes the time of people whose time I consider valueless -- diplomats, even good ones like John Bolton -- I brush that aside. Besides, if properly construed, even the "diplomatic offensive" could conceivably be of some use... if we send someone like Bolton, who would use it as an opportunity to issue a series of ultimata to Iran and its organ-grinder's monkey, Syria.
In fewer words, Bush can take these recommendations and run with them. Most recapitulate what he's been trying to do anyway; and with the extra "bottom," or gravitas that the ISG adds, he will better be able to counter the Democratic floccillation, as they try to pick off this or that vital national-security program.
So take the analysis for what it is: not an examination into the motives or ultimate goal of the commission members, but rather as an examination of whether there are any underwater mines in the ISG report that will blow the Iraq war -- hence the larger GWOT -- out of the water.
And the answer is no, if President Bush chooses not to let it. Everything the report proposes can be squared with winning the war and standing up a stable, functioning democracy in Iraq (which, as a irrelevant aside, is clearly what the entire operative second section of the ISG report assumes is the ultimate goal).
Bush can accept the document and make frequent reference to it, even as he takes the upcoming Pentagon assessment as his actual lodestone. He might even get a little mileage out of it, in terms of holding the Democrats' noses to the fire on some of Bush's policies.
So everyone stop kvetching and bellyaching, and let's get back to our regularly scheduled war!
December 6, 2006
Skip the Dicta; Read the Recommendations - Part Zwei
This is the continuation of the previous post about the Iraq Study Group's final report....
(The report itself, in case you've forgotten in all the excitement, can be found here.)
Watcha gonna do about me?
Or us, actually; by "us," I mean "US," of course... what is the U.S.'s role in creating "national reconciliation" in Iraq? Here is how the commission steps into the fray:
The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is a key topic of interest in a national reconciliation dialogue. The point is not for the United States to set timetables or deadlines for withdrawal, an approach that we oppose. The point is for the United States and Iraq to make clear their shared interest in the orderly departure of U.S. forces as Iraqi forces take on the security mission. A successful national reconciliation dialogue will advance that departure date.
Again, not bad as a principle; implementing it won't be a piece of pudding, however, as we have to balance the effects on all the different groups in Iraq of a United States threat to leave: such a threat might be effective on moderate Sunni and Shiite groups, who understand the fragility of the newborn democracy; but Sunni terrorists and Shiite militias would both love for us to leave -- for the former, because of the chaos this would cause, allowing Iraq to become like Sudan; and for the latter, because they could embark upon a Hitlerian "final solution" to the Sunni question.
I don't agree with the second part of recommendation 35; here is the explanation that precedes it (the recommendation itself is just to implement this explanation):
Violence cannot end unless dialogue begins, and the dialogue must involve those who wield power, not simply those who hold political office. The United States must try to talk directly to Grand Ayatollah Sistani and must consider appointing a highlevel American Shia Muslim to serve as an emissary to him. The United States must also try to talk directly to Moqtada al-Sadr, to militia leaders, and to insurgent leaders. The United Nations can help facilitate contacts.
I believe that here, James Baker has allowed his Realist bias towards negotiation -- which always requires at least two negotiating partners -- to cloud the obvious (to me) judgment that Muqtada Sadr is no more a negotiating partner than was Yassir Arafat, or than is al-Qaeda today; the actual recommendation specifically excludes talking with al-Qaeda... I would do the same for Sadr. In addition to being a bloodthirsty butcher who has nothing constructive to add to any "national reconciliation," he is also a paid agent of Iran; in other words, he is a traitor to his country and the catspaw of Teheran.
Instead of talking to him, we should simply kill him and the entire inner cadre of the Mahdi Militia.
Killing Sadr (and his butt monkeys) would go a long way towards ending Iran's easy access to the Iraqi parliament; it would send a message to the mullahs (the only kind they understand); and once the dust settles, it would dramatically improve chances of a true national reconciliation.
After that point, it would make sense to "talk directly... to militia leaders, and to insurgent leaders." To quote the thoroughly unquotable Arafat, "of course you make peace with your enemies; you can't make peace with your friends. With my friends, I make business!"
Recommendation 38 -- that we allow "neutral international experts as advisors to the Iraqi government on the processes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration" -- is a sin; but it's a venial one. They will of course interfere with necessary military action, but I doubt they can interfere very much.
Withdrawal from fancies of withdrawal
The most important thing in the ISG report is the thing that wasn't in the ISG report, the dog that didn't bark, as Sherlock Holmes noted: the complete lack of any demand for any significant immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Originally, a couple of months ago, the Democrats were jubilant (and many conservatives bitter and despairing) at the widely reported claim that the ISG report was going to call for a phased withdrawal of troops to begin immediately, lending an air of authority to the Democrats' campaign promise. But when we read the actual report itself, we discover that once again, the Democrats have been betrayed by their own supposed informants on the committee (mostly likely Lee Hamilton and Leon Panetta). In the end, this is what the report says:
While [the national reconciliation] process is under way, and to facilitate it, the United States should significantly increase the number of U.S. military personnel, including combat troops, imbedded in and supporting Iraqi Army units. As these actions proceed, we could begin to move combat forces out of Iraq. The primary mission of U.S. forces in Iraq should evolve to one of supporting the Iraqi army, which would take over primary responsibility for combat operations. We should continue to maintain support forces, rapid-reaction forces, special operations forces, intelligence units, search-and-rescue units, and force protection units.
Most of this is straight out of the Bush administration's playbook. The ISG recommends embeds in all Iraqi Army units, all the way down to company level. How many soldiers do they envision doing this?
Such a mission could involve 10,000 to 20,000 American troops instead of the 3,000 to 4,000 now in this role. This increase in imbedded troops could be carried out without an aggregate increase over time in the total number of troops in Iraq by making a corresponding decrease in troops assigned to U.S. combat brigades.
The Pentagon report is likely to recommend something substantially similar, though they may also want to use U.S. troops more directly to disrupt violence in places like Anbar and Baghdad provinces... a possibilty that the ISG report itself raises, if done on a temporary basis. (Everything is "on a temporary basis;" Bush certainly doesn't contemplate leaving 150,000 troops in Iraq for the next thirty years!)
The report does, of course, recommend an eventual drawdown of U.S. forces; but that too has been our policy from the very beginning; this is nothing new. The ISG is looking at a timeframe of about a year and a half:
While these efforts are building up, and as additional Iraqi brigades are being deployed, U.S. combat brigades could begin to move out of Iraq. By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.
About the only thing the Democrats get out of this is a little bit of face saving: they can say to their constituents, "see? We did get at least some defeatism into the thing... don't hate us!"
As far as capping overall force level, Newsweek reports today that the man incoming Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) appointed as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, 80%), wants to significantly increase the level of American troops in Iraq to squash the militias, and has explicitly allied himself with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ, 80%) on this issue:
In a surprise twist in the debate over Iraq, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, the soon-to-be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he wants to see an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops as part of a stepped up effort to “dismantle the militias.”
Given that Silvestre echos the views of "experts" that the Democrats themselves trotted out during the election, such as Gen. Eric Shinseki, it will be very easy for Bush to accept the recommendation of more embeds -- but to do so via an increase of the force level, rather than holding it steady, as the ISG suggested.
Even the ISG itself recognizes the possible need for a short-term "surge" of U.S. forces to stabilize Iraq:
We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective.
(Pulling together the views of Rep. Silvestre, Gen. Shinseki, Gen. Pace, and the unanimous report of the Iraq Survey Group, President Bush can call the troop increase an act of "national reconciliation" for the United States!)
And what will the slow, steady reduction of forces, which has been the policy of the Bush administration from the very beginning, leave us in the region? From the ISG report:
At that time, U.S. combat forces in Iraq could be deployed only in units embedded with Iraqi forces, in rapid-reaction and special operations teams, and in training, equipping, advising, force protection, and search and rescue [oh, is that all?]. Intelligence and support efforts would continue [ah, there we go -- the last two components!]. Even after the United States has moved all combat brigades out of Iraq, we would maintain a considerable military presence in the region, with our still significant force in Iraq and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, as well as an increased presence in Afghanistan.
By the way, for those who thought the ISG would demand we hand Iraq over to Iran and Syria, the report envisions four "missions" for the remaining U.S. forces; three are just what you would expect -- but here is number four:
Deter even more destructive interference in Iraq by Syria and Iran.
Sounds good to me!
There follows a long list of recommendations for the repair and maintenance of equipment (and troops) as they return from Iraq, and for continued training of U.S. forces back home. I have no objection.
The police are there to preserve disorder!"
Much of the foregoing has been acceptable but not particularly helpful (not unhelpful either); its only utility is in the many cases of a Bush-administration policy that Congress was loathe to fund, but whose prospects will rise now that Bush can wave the ISG report in their faces and threaten to denounce them as refusing to follow it (that's a congressional disincentive).
But here's a suggestion that I think is actually innovative and a great idea: the ISG recommends that the Iraqi National Police and the Border Police shift from the Interior Ministry to Defense.
The Ministry of the Interior is riddled with corruption and Shiite sectarianism, and its has repeatedly been accused -- with a great deal of justification -- of running death squads out of police stations and filling the police ranks with boatloads of Mahdi Militia and Badr Brigades members. Contrariwise, the Defense Ministry has done a much better job with the Iraqi Army, which the police agencies would thus join as paramilitaries.
Most Sunnis trust the army far more than they trust the police; and even the Shia admit that the army has been fair, even when it fights against the militias. Removing the national cops from the dreaded Ministry of the Interior is an inspired stroke which can only have come from the mind of commissioner Ed Meese.
Left to Interior would be control of local (not national) police, prosecutions and investigations, and payroll for all the police, including those transferred to the operational control of the Ministry of Defense.
Other than this one new idea, the ISG proposes only that current Bush administration programs to train, embed with, reform, and improve the technological capabilities of the Iraqi police forces should continue, harder and faster.
The last 18 of the total 79 recommendations are technical suggestions relating to the Oil Ministry, to American intelligence collection and analysis (such as hiring more people who speak Arabic and retaining analysts who have studied the Iraq insurgency, terrorist groups, and militias), and to budgeting for the war; you're not particularly interested in any of them. (And if you really are, they start on page 83 of the document, 101 of the PDF.)
Hey, Big Lizards reads these things so you don't have to!
"And in conclusion..." whereupon thunderous applause spontaneously erupts
The most important point I want to make is the one that I suspect nobody else will make: the tone of the report. There is very little hectoring in the second section; it's all confined to the first one, which is why I opined (all right, a bit tongue in cheek) that the Assessment section was the one written by the Democrats.
In fact, throughout the operative section, the Way Forward, the ISG assumes that the purpose of the report is to suggest ways to win in Iraq... if by "win" we mean establishing a stable democracy in Iraq that has the military, police, and judicial strength to crush al-Qaeda, disband the militias, and pull together as a coherent national unit.
Even when they drift into Realist fancies and follies, such as the useless blathering on and on about "regional conferences" and "international dialogs" and "the unconditional calling and holding of meetings," it's quite clear that the ultimate purpose is not to transition Iraq to a dictatorship with "our own guy" planted on the throne, as I was afraid it might be, given James Baker's political leanings.
This ISG report will never be mistaken for something Henry Kissinger could have written.
It recommends an initial period of no reductions in force, but a shifting of priorities in the direction that the Bush administration has said all along it wants to go, but which it hasn't really done enough of yet. Even there, the report itself recognizes that there might be advantages -- political as well as military -- to a temporary bump, or "surge," of American muscle... a sentiment that is shared by powerful voices as diverse as the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the former Chief of Staff of the United States Army, and the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Thus, the defeatist Democrats will almost certainly be stymied in their long dream of an immediate "redeployment" of U.S. troops to next-door Okinawa.
There are a few recommendations that are actually interesting, notably the notion that the Iraqi national cops be shifted from Interior to Defense and made a part of the Iraqi Army. And a lot of technical recommendations that look good, and which the Bush administration has tried to get for a long time now, but which the parsimonious (when it comes to defense and intelligence) Democrats have thwarted -- including more spending on reconstruction, on the military, and on the clandestine agencies, and an almost Rumsfeldian reorganization of the latter.
The focus on useless diplomacy will eat up a lot of the brainpower and company time of the liberals and internationalists, while the rest of the country gets on with the business of winning the war and rebuilding Iraq in a stable, functioning democracy.
All in all, if you can ignore the smarmy and offensive lecturing at the beginning -- think of it as a very extended forward; the actual meat of the document isn't bad at all. Certainly the president can easily follow all of its recommendations as part of his own adamantine intention to fight this war to victory and not bring the troops home except as victors.
...No matter what Hugh Hewitt, Bill Kristol, and Christopher Hitchens say.
Skip the Dicta; Read the Recommendations - Part Uno
Ah, I think I know how the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Survey Group managed to get unanimous agreement for a report that is, on the whole, nowhere near as bad or dangerous as we were led to believe. The members clearly cut a deal between themselves:
- The Democrats on the panel got to write all the nasty, Bush-bashing spin and hype of the introductory "Assessment" section of the report (and script the press conference) -- which was the role they relished and had demanded from the git go;
- The Republicans wrote the actual recommendations in section II, "the Way Forward" -- that is, the operational part of the report.
(In legal terms, the Democrats wrote the dicta, but the GOP wrote the holdings.)
Thus, the first part is full of snide and arrogant analysis of how "bleak" and "dire" the situation is, which will allow perpetually backward-looking Democrats to spend the next two years rattling on about how terrible it was to invade Iraq in the first place. But the fairly open-ended and helpful recommendations in Section II are not too onerous on their face, and many are readily adaptable to the strategy of winning in Iraq that will come from the Pentagon group headed by Gen. Peter Pace, Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
I leave the discussion of dicta to others (since that part really irritates me anyway); I'm more interested in what the ISG considers "the way forward," and how it can be achieved only through victory, not by the Democrats' dream of defeat, defeat, and more defeat.
A note on structure: as this post got very long (I read the entire report and discuss most of it), I'm splitting it into two posts that will be posted more or less simultaneously. This is Part Uno, as you have doubtless already gathered.
Part Zwei will follow. Again, this is unlikely to shock many of you.
"Buckle your seat belts, gentlemen; it's going to be a bumpy night!"
The "diplomatic offensive"
Let's start with recommendation 1 of the Iraq Study Group's report (actually, the first two, since the second is really part of the first), just to get a flavor of what we're dealing with and how we can work with it for victory. (Don't worry, Big Lizards is not going to plough rigidly and lugubriously through every, last one of the 79 recommendations.)
RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States, working with the Iraqi government, should launch the comprehensive New Diplomatic Offensive to deal with the problems of Iraq and of the region. This new diplomatic offensive should be launched before December 31, 2006.
RECOMMENDATION 2: The goals of the diplomatic offensive as it relates to regional players should be to:
i. Support the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq.
ii. Stop destabilizing interventions and actions by Iraq’s neighbors.
iii. Secure Iraq’s borders, including the use of joint patrols with neighboring countries.
iv. Prevent the expansion of the instability and conflict beyond Iraq’s borders.
v. Promote economic assistance, commerce, trade, political support, and, if possible, military assistance for the Iraqi government from non-neighboring Muslim nations.
vi. Energize countries to support national political reconciliation in Iraq.
vii. Validate Iraq’s legitimacy by resuming diplomatic relations, where appropriate, and reestablishing embassies in Baghdad.
viii. Assist Iraq in establishing active working embassies in key capitals in the region (for example, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia).
ix. Help Iraq reach a mutually acceptable agreement on Kirkuk.
x. Assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones, including better performance on issues such as national reconciliation, equitable distribution of oil revenues, and the dismantling of militias.
Admittedly, this is mostly nonsense on stilts; neither Iran nor Syria has any interest in any of these specific initiatives. But the ISG is correct that Iran has its own problems with disunity: the Arab, Azeri, and Kurdish populations of Iran are always in danger of trying to break away... and that, of course, is a good example of a "disincentive" we can offer Iran to get them to back off from supporting Muqtada Sadr and other Iraqi Shia: we let them know that if they continue trying to destabilize Iraq, perhaps we should begin helping Kurds and Azeri in Iran that are interested in learning more about democracy, freedom -- and independence. (You'll read about "disincentives" later in this post; just keep this one in mind.)
But of course, all depends upon who, exactly, is tasked on the American side to deal with these negotiations. As this is a special envoy, not a permanent position, it's important to remember that the appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
Thus, since one of our finest ambassadors is currently at liberty, I strongly urge that the head of the diplomatic "offensive" be Ambassador John Bolton. As we certainly also need someone with extensive military experience in the region, Bolton's chief military attaché could be Gen. John Abizaid or Gen. Casey, both of whom are near the end of their current tours, and each of whom needs a political tour in order to burnish his credentials for an eventual shot at being the next Chief of Staff of the United States Army.
With the negotiations in the hands of Bolton (or someone like him), I would not worry about this "diplomatic offensive."
"Dealing" with Iran (oh, and Syria)
We skip many recommendations, all of which center on sundry "groups" that we can set up so that Bolton (or whoever) doesn't have to shuttle between different cities to carry out these negotiations. Let's jump right to the first really controversial one: "dealing with Iran and Syria," as the report puts it.
(Dealing? As in, Monty Hall and Let's Make a Deal? I doubt that's in the cards.)
Here is the first part that you're not likely to hear from talk radio and maybe not even on some other blogs:
The Study Group recognizes that U.S. relationships with Iran and Syria involve difficult issues that must be resolved. Diplomatic talks should be extensive and substantive, and they will require a balancing of interests. The United States has diplomatic, economic, and military disincentives available in approaches to both Iran and Syria. However, the United States should also consider incentives to try to engage them constructively, much as it did successfully with Libya.
What is a "disincentive?" Well, the dictionary says it's "something that prevents or discourages action; a deterrent." That is, we say to Iran, "if you continue supplying men, material, munitions, and training to Iraqi Shia, we're going to do the following horrible things: A, B, C..."
(For example, do you recall that bit -- I warned you it would be on the test -- about us threatening to encourage Arab, Azeri, or Kurdish minorities within Iran to break away if the Iranians continue their assault on Iraq? That is a perfect example of the kind of "disincentives" we can use.)
I'll bet you hadn't heard that that was in the report, did you? Not if all you did was listen to talk radio and read most other blogs.
From the sentence structure, it's quite clear that the ISG expects disincentives, not incentives, to be the default mode: they caution President Bush not to use disincentives alone... hey, look, here are some incentives you can also use!
Whether or not that's what the ISG had in mind, that is what they wrote: and it's perfectly reasonable for Bush to take it that way and say, "look, here I am doing just what the commission recommended: giving a disincentivizing ultimatum to Iran and Syria."
The list of specific steps that Iran can take aren't bad:
- "Iran should stem the flow of equipment, technology, and training to any group resorting to violence in Iraq."
- "Iran should make clear its support for the territorial integrity of Iraq as a unified state, as well as its respect for the sovereignty of Iraq and its government."
- "Iran can use its influence, especially over Shia groups in Iraq, to encourage national reconciliation."
- "Iran can also, in the right circumstances, help in the economic reconstruction of Iraq."
Only the last one is problematical; and even there, the weasel-words "right circumstances" allows Bush to put that last one off until the right circumstances prevail: that is, until Iran has become a democratic state like Iraq.
F--- the Jews
Naturally, the ISG being co-charied by James Baker, due deference must be paid to Baker's "poor King Charles' head," his bête noir: Israel.
The title of this section of the post refers to Baker's infamous (alleged) comment to "a colleague" -- later identified as Jack Kemp, I believe -- during a conversation about Israel while Baker was George Herbert Walker Bush's secretary of state: "f--- the Jews, they didn't vote for us anyway!" Baker denies he ever said it.
This entire section is imminently ignorable, as the five recommendations it contains all boil down to nothing beyond "the unconditional calling and holding of meetings."
Hear hear! Have some more meetings. Have as many meetings as we can stuff into a fiscal year. If the Palestinians and the Syrians remain intrasigent, refusing to rein in Hamas and Hezbollah, then Bush (and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- say, shouldn't Israel pass a law barring anyone named "Ehud" from holding public office?) can legitimately and honorably say "we followed those B-H recommendations to the letter: we unconditionally called and held several meetings, by gum.
Now can we get on with it?
The ISG says to send more troops and money, amounts unspecified. Any objections?
Iraq milestones and suchlike
Note the great specificity of the next set of recommendations for Iraq itself to achieve:
- Recommendation 19: "[T]there must be action by the Iraqi government to make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones.... [T]the President should convey as much detail as possible about the substance of these exchanges in order to keep the American people, the Iraqi people, and the countries in the region well informed."
- Recommendation 20: If Iraq "demonstrates political will" and "substantial progress" towards these unspecified milestones, we should "continue political, military, and economic support for the Iraqi government."
- Recommendation 21: If they blow us off, we should "reduce its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government."
- Recommendation 22: Ritual formula: we should say we don't "seek" military bases in Iraq; but if they ask us to keep a presence there permanently, we should consider it, just as we would "in the case of any other government." (In other words, they have to ask; we can only nudge them, not order them.)
- Recommendation 23: "The President should restate that the United States does not seek to control Iraq’s oil."
While the ISG didn't enunciate its own set of milestones, it more or less accepts (recommendation 25) the milestones suggested by Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself. It's a laundry list, some elements of which are easily achievable ("approval of the Provincial Election Law and setting an election date"); others are ambitious but possible ("provincial elections" by June); while some are dubious, to say the least ("Iraqi control of provinces" by September). You can read them for yourself; they're on page 63 of the report (page 81 in the PDF).
The longest non-diplomatic subsection of the operative section is all about achieving "national reconciliation" in Iraq; this is divided into what the Iraqis need to do, and what we need to do. Most of the recommendations here are obvious, common-sense stuff. But here are a few that might provoke some interest...
Right off, the commission makes another bold and unexpected statement, sparking great rejoicing:
U.S. forces can help provide stability for a time to enable Iraqi leaders to negotiate political solutions, but they cannot stop the violence -- or even contain it -- if there is no underlying political agreement among Iraqis about the future of their country.
Recommendation 27 says that de-Baathification has gone far enough; with the exception of top Saddam Hussein officials, Iraq should start letting people back into low levels of government even if they were members of the Baath Party under Hussein.
I actually have no problem with this; Hussein completely controlled Iraq for 24 years, and the Baathists ran the joint for the previous 16 years before that. Thus, for forty years, the only way to get ahead in Iraq was to join the Baath Party, which was the only legal political party anyway. It's hardly surprising that scientists, doctors, lawyers, engineers, policemen, and military personnel became "Baathists."
To permanently and forever exclude these people from participating in the recreation of Iraq is unjust; but much more important, it's profoundly foolish ("it is worse than a crime; it is a blunder," as Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe said of the execution of the Duc d'Enghien). Heck, if we could put ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun in charge of the United States rocket and missile program, then surely the Iraqis can allow ex-Baathist scientists to work in the Ministry of Technology, or whatever they call the thing.
I'm glad the Republican Guards dispersed, and I wish we had done so in a more systematic way with the national police. But that was then, this is now: many members of the New Iraqi Army are military veterans, and many cops were cops before. Some of these people cause problems, especially in the police, which were never properly purged... but that's the price you pay for revolution, especially when externally applied.
(The ISG actually has a really interesting idea for the Iraqi national police forces; but that has its own subhead in the next post.)
The reality is that the Iraqis need certain people, even if they were Baathists in another life. An excellent step to make this process much less threatening would be to carry out the execution of Saddam Hussein as expected in January; since Hussein was the Baath Party from 1979 onward, and is thus the only embodiment of the party that most ex-Baathists can remember, Hussein's execution will make him "the death of the party."
Recommendation 28 warns against distributing oil revenues by "region," which is code for religious sect: if revenues were disbursed according to region, then the Kurds and Shia would get it all, and the Sunni -- in the middle region, which has no oil fields -- would get bubkes. That's hardly the way to bring Sunnis into the fold! Again, I think we all agree that cutting the Sunnis out of all oil revenue is a prescription for civil war.
November 29, 2006
I've been thinking about Iraq lately.
All right, all right; I rarely think about anything but Iraq lately, unless it's to think about Iran. Or Syria. Or the GWOT in general. A few days discussing the principles behind police raids was a welcome respite. But here I am again, like a junkie, back in Iraq (mentally).
Yep, I'm goin' to Mes'potamia in my mind.
The Iraq war was really two main phases. Some folks split it finer, but that's more detail than I want at the moment. Broadly speaking, we had the kick-out-the-Baathists phase I -- which was a screaming success -- and the build-up-a-stable-democracy phase II... which has been less than a screaming success. I wouldn't say phase II was a failure; but it was sure going a lot better a year ago than it is today.
For some reason, this reminded me of the classic example of a start-up technology company: they often have an incredible first two or three years; they introduce radical and highly profitable technological advances, allowing them to capture a small but still significant market share... but then they tend to stagnate.
Suddenly, they can't do anything right: they mismanage their IPO; they start having labor problems; QC becomes a big problem, and they're swamped with help-desk calls. They promote their smartest engineers to head up the European division, and within six months they're hopelessly mired in regulatory purgatory. They drop a bundle on TV advertising -- and sales actually go down, rather than up!
The Midas touch has turned to a black thumb. What's going on? How did they go from gold to grunge in such a short time?
Often the very person who made them such a success at the very beginning -- the entrepeneur who started the company and whose vision has been guiding it all along -- is precisely the reason they fail later. The successful engineer is not only creative and innovative, he is easily bored by the mundane reality of running a middling large company. Of course he is; if he weren't, then he probably would have continued working where he was before starting his own company!
The very act of starting a new company implies the entrepeneur prefers to roll the dice than slog through the day-to-day quagmire of corporate shenanigans. But when a company reaches a certain size, it needs an innovator at the helm far less than it needs a steady and experienced player who knows how to work the machine and where all the metaphors are buried.
Innovation is essential; but it's less essential than really knowing how to get a payroll out, how to mollify the workers and (if necessary) deal with the unions, and yes, how to grease the skids of foreign regulatory systems: who you must pay off to get certified for retail sales in Upper Iguana.
The company no longer needs an entrepeneur at the helm: it needs a CEO.
But the founder will rarely leave his baby voluntarily; thus, unless the board of directors ousts him and hires an actual corporate-manager CEO, the company will probably founder, becoming yet another failed start-up.
I think you may see where I'm going with this...
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has been one of the most innovative SecDefs in American history; a recent article or blogpost I read about him said he had initiated over one hundred major reforms at the Pentagon. His "snowflakes" (Post-It notes asking tough questions or suggesting alternative ways to think about some problem) are legendary.
And he had a tremendous impact on the American military, probably moreso than any SecDef in the last forty years.
But Rumsfeld has also antagonized the hell out of the E-ring of that five-sided building. He has become the lightning rod for everybody who hates American hegemony. He has been subject to scurrilous and vicious attacks by former generals, foreign defense ministers, the U.N., NATO, and many other representatives of "the military industrial complex" around the world.
In other words, Rumsfeld, like the classic entrepeneur with a cool start-up, has been long (very long) on innovation but quite short on management and people-relations. For a good, long while, that was exactly what we needed.
But now that the Iraq war has shifted into a new state -- call it phase II.V, if you want -- where what it needs is finesse, management, diplomacy (to drag in more coalition allies and make them actually fight), diplomacy (to wheedle a reluctant Democratic Congress aboard), diplomacy (to sooth the ruffled feathers of the brass and hold their hands while the reforms creak slowly forward), and above all, diplomacy (to do a better job explaining to the American voters what the heck we're doing)... well, I think maybe it's time for the entrepeneur to step aside in favor of the experienced CEO.
Robert Gates may be just the fellow:
- He's a career bureaucrat who rose up the ranks of the CIA from a mere analyst to the Director of Central Intelligence... probably the only man ever to do that; so he knows how to play a bureaucracy probably better than anyone currently in government. (In that respect, the Pentagon is likely little different from Langley.)
- He has served in the White Houses of five different presidents, both Democratic and Republican; so he knows how to talk to both sides of the aisle and cajole them into doing what the current president needs to have done.
- He worked closely with James Baker -- and with Ronald Reagan.
- He can convincingly peddle the line that he had nothing to do with getting us into Iraq... but now that we're there, we'd bloody well better win, not lose.
- He has credentials both as a "neocon hawk" (with Reagan against the Soviet Union) and as a "moderate realist" with Baker and Scowcroft... so he will probably get along better with various factions within the GOP.
- And he might turn out to be better at communicating with everyone that Rumsfeld was -- which frankly wouldn't be hard, as the current SecDef is notoriously prickly and closemouthed.
The reforms that Rumsfeld initiated have become part of the system; the best person to shepherd them through now is probably someone who is part of that system, not an outsider imposing it from above. Such monomaniacal brilliance was necessary to kick-start reform in the first place; the insiders were too comfortable endlessly refighting World War II. But now that the bureaucratic reform ball is a-roll, I suspect we need a bureaucrat (who isn't afraid of innovation) to keep it rolling in the right direction.
The entrepeneur vs. the CEO; I have always suspected that the larger a corporation, the more it resembles government. I think we're about to see just how far that analogy applies.
August 22, 2006
The "Curious Omission" Gets Curiouser and Curiouser
Three days ago, we noted a curious omission from the New York Times and the Associated Press stories about Israel's commando raid deep into the Bekaa Valley Saturday: while both of those two media sources, as well as the Reuters account, all found occasion to quote chief U.N. envoy to Beirut Terje Roed-Larsen pronouncing Israel's raid "a clear violation of the ceasefire," only Reuters added a second quotation from Mr. Roed-Larsen: that if it were true, as the evidence clearly demonstrates, that Hezbollah were attempting to rearm in Lebanon... then that too would be a violation:
Israel said the operation, in which commandos were airlifted into the area by helicopter, was defensive and was designed to disrupt weapons supplies to Hizbollah from Syria and Iran.
It denied it had violated the resolution, which allows it to act in self-defense, and accused Hizbollah of doing so by smuggling weapons. Roed-Larsen said that if the guerrilla group was [sic] found to have smuggled weapons, it would indeed be in breach of the truce.
Well, here it is, 72 hours later... and now it appears that even Reuters has forgotten that vital piece of information. In a new article, Reuters -- perhaps having been teased unmercifully by its playmates for its unseemly faux pas -- repeats the point that the UN condemned Israel's raid as a violation... but they make no reference whatsoever to the fact that the same UN representative likewise condemned Hezbollah's provocation. Exhibit A:
"From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire," [Italian] Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told La Repubblica newspaper.
"It's fair to expect that Hizbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the (Israeli) army keeps shooting."
The U.N.-backed truce was shaken by an Israeli commando raid in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Saturday, which the U.N. deemed a ceasefire violation.
Israel says Saturday's raid was a defensive action and, as such, does not constitute a breach of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, which brought the war to an end.
The Jewish state has accused Hizbollah of violating the resolution by smuggling arms from Syria and has said its jets need to fly over Lebanon to counter such activities.
So on the left hand, we have the fact that "the U.N. deemed" Israel's raid violated the ceasefire; while on the right hand, we are told only that "Israel says" they were responding to an earlier violation by Hezbollah, which is merely an "assus[ation]" by (of course) "the Jewish state." Darn those Jews! Cheating again!
But on the third hand, Reuters itself, in the earlier article, admitted that it was not just Israel that considered rearming a violation; the U.N. itself agreed (conditionally), in the person of the rude Mr. Larsen -- I'm sorry, I meant Mr. Roed-Larsen -- an official U.N. spokesman. (The condition was that if Hezbollah tried to rearm, then that would be a violation; Roed-Larsen had not personally investigated whether that was true or not.)
As Sgt. Garcia says in yet another episode of Zorro -- see what I mean about that television show being the font of all wisdom? -- "have you not heard it said, never let your right hand know what your left hand is doing?"
(Cpl. Reyes: My left hand isn't doing anything.
Sgt. Garcia: Neither is your head, baboso!)
So the omission just got, to quote Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser."
August 15, 2006
Avoiding the patriotic chest-thumping of the Bush administration; dismissing the self-serving doubletalk of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz; brushing off the triumphalist squawking of Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah; and shunning the tantrum of defeatism by Jed Babbin and his ilk, let's take a moment to tally up, in as unbiased a fashion as we can, who won, who lost, and in what ways, in the recent dustup between Israel and Hezbollah.
Alas, much of the result is opaque, depending still on future events. But I'll try my best to make predictions.
Let's go through each player in turn, starting with...
Israel and Hezbollah
The war clearly was not a "win" for Israel; but that does not necessarily mean it was a "loss," either.
The Israeli hostages: Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev remain as hostages in Hezbollah's hands, though securing their release was a major reason that Israel went to war in the first place (not the major reason; that was to decimate -- not obliterate -- the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah's proximity to the Blue Line border). On this goal, Israel was utterly thwarted.
However, Hezbollah itself was also thwarted on this issue. When Hezbollah sent an 80-man raiding party into Israel to kill some Israeli soldiers and capture hostages, they were slightly successful: they only netted two "bargaining chips," despite a very strong incursion; two, however, is better for Hezbollah than none, so this has to be accounted a minor victory.
However, they didn't seize the hostages simply for fun. They intended to exchange them for duly convicted Hezbollah criminals serving their sentences in Israeli jails for various horrific crimes against Israelis. And on that larger goal, so far Hezbollah appears to have lost, and lost badly.
During the upcoming prisoner exchange, there is every indication that Israel will only offer some of the high muckety-mucks of Hezbollah captured during the war, which isn't at all what Hassan Nasrallah had in mind when he ordered Israeli soldiers grabbed in the first place. In fact, at the end of the war, Israel holds considerably more Hezbollah prisoners of war than Hezbollah holds hostages.
On this issue, far from being a big win for Hezbollah, the terrorists lost big time: they managed to capture two Israeli IDF members, but only at the cost of a much larger number of higher ranking Hezbollah members. I would have to rate this issue either a draw or, if anything, a slight advantage to Israel (I'll discuss the PR damage later).
The Katyusha and other rocket forces: not enough were destroyed, and too many (nearly 4,000) were launched into Israel; Israel did not shoot down any of these missiles; they were never able to stop the launches.
On the other hand, the rockets proved far more effective at scaring Israelis than killing them. On the whole, Hezbollah achieved a minor victory on this issue.
Actual combat at arms: Israel won hands down. At the beginning of the war, there was a boatload of chatter about how much tougher and stronger Hezbollah was than anyone had anticipated. Iran had heavily trained Hezbollah -- the forward-deployed SpecOps branch of the mullah's military -- and they were armed with much more effective anti-personnel, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons. The implication was clear: this time, the Israelis would blunt their swords against the stone wall of Hezbollah resistance.
In reality, Hezbollah was beaten like a bass drum in every face-to-face encounter with Israel. On those few occasions where Olmert actually consented to allow the IDF to fight, they killed the highly trained Hezbollah "soldiers" at a ratio of about 7:1 or 8:1, sometimes much higher. Many of the IDF deaths resulted from sniper fire and rocketry; remove those, and the overall ratio of kills is probably more than 6:1 in Israel's favor.
Hezbollah killed a few Israeli Merkava tanks; but Israel overran numerous Hezbollah "strongholds" and destroyed many rocket launchers (not enough of the latter, however). And Hezbollah, for all its fighting and Israel's hesitation, was nevertheless driven back relentlessly.
Israel gets points for their actual combat victories on the ground.
Hezbollah proximity to the border: prior to the war, Hezbollah enjoyed clear and unchallenged control of all Lebanese territory from somewhat north of the Litani River all the way down to the border, plus the entirety of the Bekaa Valley and large portions of Beirut. To Israel, the most immediately threatening Hezbollah position was that between the Litani and the Blue Line (the internationally accepted border between Israel and Lebanon).
At the moment, Hezbollah no longer controls that portion of Lebanon; but their hold over the rest of their territory further north is undiminished. For Hezbollah to reclaim south Lebanon, the Lebanese Army and the UNIFIL force would both have to abdicate their joint central mission. While that is certainly not outside the realm of possibility, it hasn't happened yet.
And it's unlikely to happen in the next couple of months; as we've said a number of times on Big Lizards, a lot can happen in that time -- including perhaps the collapse of Olmert's Monster and the election of a more stable government with a prime minister and defense minister who will actually fight next time (see infra).
At this point, I must take the data as they currently exist, not a blind guess about what might happen months from now. At the moment, Israel succeeded in pushing Hezbollah back by and large across the Litani. Those ten Katyushas that were fired at Israeli forces last night were fired from central Lebanon -- north of the Litani -- not from the south. This is a major military victory for Israel.
Public relations: this is the point on which Hezbollah achieved its greatest victory, accompanied by Israel's most substantial loss. The world -- not just the Arab world -- is not looking at this war in the nuanced fashion found on this site: they see only that "tiny" Hezbollah stood up to "giant" Israel, toe to toe... and that it was Israel who blinked and begged for a ceasefire.
It's not true' but Hezbollah has been as brilliant at spinning straw into gold as Rumplestiltskin. The world has bought into Nasrallah's fantasy.
Of course, it's the outcome that most of the world (including most of antisemitic Europe) desperately wanted to see; and it's arguable that no matter what happened on the ground, that's the result that Hezbollah would declare and much of the world would believe: Israel could have slaughtered 9,000 Hezbollah fighters and driven the organization all the way back up into Syria, and Nasrallah would still have declared a historic victory while the ummah cheered and shot fireworks.
Nevertheless, Israel badly lost the PR war. The loss was inevitable; but Israel managed to lose it worse than they needed to do.
Political fallout: the stature of Hezbollah has been dramatically enhanced, not only throughout Lebanon but the entire ummah.
But in Lebanon in particular, Hezbollah went from being distrusted invaders from Iran and Syria -- to being national heroes of Lebanese sovereignty and religious heroes of rising Islamic power. If elections are held anytime soon in Lebanon, Hezbollah will surely do much better than they did in the May-June 2005 elections.
In the 2005 race, the Rafik Hariri Martyr List won a clear majority of 72 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament; Hezbollah won 14 seats and were offered two positions in the cabinet. However, if elections were held today, it would not be surprising if Hezbollah nearly reversed that result.
Of course, the Hariri bloc will do everything it can to prevent elections from being held anytime soon; and given a cooling-off period -- and especially if the war resumes later with more positive results for Israel in round two -- it's probable that Hezbollah's actual electoral gains will be kept to a minimum.
Still, I cannot see a situation where they would not pick up seats, no matter how long the ruling bloc manages to delay. Thus, it's a political victory for Hezbollah, but not as much as many might expect.
Contrariwise, the war was little short of electoral disaster for the Olmert government. Already shaky -- a weak coalition between Kadima and Labor with a lot of minor parties needed to make even a bare majority of the Knesset -- the conduct of the war by the two coalition partners, Prime Minister Olmert of Kadima and Defense Minister Peretz, the head of Labor, is widely seen by Israelis across the political spectrum as incompetent to the point of imbecility.
The Israeli Defense Force, the only universally respected institution in Israel, has become open and vocal in their scorn for the political "leadership." I do not see how Olmert's Monster can survive the next few months; a quick vote of no-confidence, followed by general elections 90 days later, will completely change the scene in Israel, one way or another.
Likud is likely the big political winner: they came in only fourth in the last election, running not only behind Kadima and Labor but also the radical Sephardic religious party Shas. Over the next couple of months, I suspect anger at both Kadima and Labor will only deepen, as will the fear of terrorism and Hezbollah on the part of Israeli citizens, no matter what their party. If new elections are held in the next four months, I predict that Likud will win an outright majority, or at least so close to one that they need only ally with other right-leaning parties and can exclude Labor and the Israeli Left altogether.
Kadima will not survive this political catastrophe; I think everyone in Israel now understands that it was a creature entirely of Ariel Sharon, and it should have died with his his permanent incapacitation.
But Likud's victory does not necessarily mean Binyamin Netanyahu's victory. It's hard to tell. Netanyahu may manage to resuscitate a career that many had written off as dead, but it's not certain. I suspect it will definitely lead to the restoration of Shaul Mofaz, demoted to make way for Peretz, to his previous position as Defense Minister (unless he becomes PM).
So the political winners will be Hezbollah in Lebanon and Likud in Israel -- and Israel itself, in my opinion, because I have always hated Labor and I never believed in Kadima's existence for a moment; the losers are the Hariri bloc in Lebanon and Kadima and Labor in Israel.
Iran and Syria
Iran fomented a war between Israel and Hezbollah ("let's you and him fight!"), gained in international prestige as the only Moslem power to successful stand up to Israel, briefly distracted some attention from its own nuclear program, and managed to damage the "Little Satan"... all this while paying only a very small price:
- Iran was not directly attacked;
- Its catspaw Syria was not directly attacked;
Iran's Hezbollah was cut up some; but the mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don't care if Hezbollah members are captured or even killed.
They're like the cockroach army eternally battling Fat Freddy's Cat in the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comic: break another 1,221,785 soldiers out of egg storage!
The only price they paid was in the poor performance of Hezbollah in the field; this casts much doubt on Hezbollah's ability to serve as a devastating counterattack in the event the United States attacks Iran.
On balance, Iran is a winner in this conflict, as is its sock puppet, Syria, but not huge winners.
The United States
The United States demonstrated that it is willing to give Israel every opportunity to defeat our common enemies; the fact that Israel squandered that opportunity doesn't turn us into losers.
We showed that we could negotiate an agreement through the UN that was considerably more pro-Israel than such agreements usually end up being. UNSCR 1701 clearly ascribed blame for starting the war entirely to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is held to much harsher terms than is Israel. The agreement is supposed to lock in a number of gains made by Israel -- though whether it will succeed in doing so is doubtful (because of the toothless nature of the United Nations).
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Ambassador John Bolton proved in particular considerably more adroit than previous diplomats (Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright) at eliciting pro-Israeli clauses and killing off anti-Israeli, pro-terrorist clauses; they work very well as a team, and Condi showed that she was neither a lightweight nor an "Arabist."
From what I can tell, Israelis recognize the extraordinary latitude President Bush gave to Olmert, and they are very grateful; their anger seems to be directed entirely at Olmert and Peretz -- and, per Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Dan Halutz of the Israeli Air Force -- for not taking advantage of America's defense to press the offensive and really chew up Hezbollah -- Israelis don't blame us for Olmert's ineptness.
On the whole, except insofar as the entire civilized world loses whenever barbarity is not soundly trounced, the United States probably won slightly in this conflict: we proved we had the willingness and the ability to guard the backs of our friends.
The Big Picture
This is why I say that overall, neither Hezbollah nor Israel won this war; both lost. Hezbollah lost the actual ground war worse than Israel did; but Israel lost the PR war worse than did Hezbollah. Iran/Syria and the United States both had slight wins; and Europe showed itself to be, once again, feckless and unreliable.
The result will probably be an emboldened Hezbollah and an increase in morale for radical Islam, but a turn by Israel towards the right and a hardening of attitudes by the Israeli citizenry. Hezbollah's power within the government of Lebanon will probably increase, while Likud will rise quickly within Israel.
Round two of the Clash of the Titans will probably come before the year is out.
I agree that Israel did not do anywhere near as well as it could have, had it a different government. But it's just plain irresponsible to don sackcloth, roll in ashes, and proclaim a total and complete victory by the forces of darkness. For heaven's sake, results were mixed on all sides.
Let's all just get a grip, evaluate all aspects of the war results, and rationally decide on a future course of action.
August 8, 2006
Newsflash: Israel Commits Near War Crime, Almost, Except They Didn't. Quite.
This is a staggering charge that should, if there is a God, swiftly turn American public opinion against the Israelis, who have shown themselves to be such oppressors and aggressors against peaceful Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon. The headline from AP says it all:
Israeli Strike Kills 13 Near Mourners
by Ahmed Mantash [evidently his usual parther in fair and balanced reporting, Moshe Pippik, was unavailable for this effort]
Mourners in a funeral procession for Israeli airstrike victims scattered in panic Tuesday as warplanes again unleashed missiles that hit buildings and killed 13 people, witnesses and officials said.
The first missile struck a building about five minutes after the march by about 1,500 people had passed by, killing one person and wounding five.
In this almost war crime, which would have been an atrocity if the Israelis had actually struck the funeral procession, and was averted only by their underhanded trick of not actually striking the funeral procession, the Israelis had the temerity to strike a building some time after a funeral procession had passed by, frightening the mourners -- who imagined that they must have been the targets, and the Israelis were simply too dilatory and missed them.
To see how terrified these near-martyrs were, who almost suffered what would have been a crime against humanity (if the Israelis had actually done it, that is), just read their terror-stricken response:
The blast was close enough to send mourners screaming, "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!" Some broke away from the procession, while others continued on.
I hope we all see how evil and horrific those Israelis are: if they had actually committed the despicable act that they didn't commit, targeting innocent mourners in a funeral procession (whose first reaction to being frightened is to scream "Allahu akbar!"), then they would have been obviously evil and horrific; are we going to let them slide from this just charge, merely on the flimsy excuse that they did not, in fact, do it?
I think not. Let heads roll! Let revulsion sweep the world! The Associated Press is absolutely correct to highlight would could have been a ghastly and brutal attack on unarmed mourners, except that they didn't quite attack them. Their obviously concocted claim should not save them from the world's ignominy and opprobrium:
Witnesses said one of the destroyed houses belonged to Sheik Mustafa Khalifeh, a cleric linked to Hezbollah, but it was unclear if he was among the casualties. Most Hezbollah officials have left their homes and offices since the offensive began nearly a month ago.
Ghaziyeh has been targeted several times, but the attacks Monday and Tuesday were the heaviest. The town was overflowing with displaced people, who have swelled its population to 23,000.
After all, besides having the gall to attack a city that contained some displaced people, Israel is holding up the peace process by not agreeing to withdraw completely and trust the word of the hitherto thoroughly compromised Lebanese government that they will, in fact, take up the slack and prevent Hezbollah from returning. In fact, even Hezbollah itself has embraced this plan... which must prove they want only peace:
Lebanon put its offers on the table: pledging up to 15,000 troops to a possible peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon and saying Hezbollah's days of running a state within a state would end. The military plan had added significance since it was backed by the two Hezbollah members on Lebanon's Cabinet - apparently showing a willingness for a lasting pact by the Islamic militants and their main sponsors, Iran and Syria.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Tuesday praised Hezbollah's resistance, but said it was time for Lebanon to "impose its full control, authority and presence" over the war-weary country.
"There will be no authority, no one in command, no weapons other than those of the Lebanese state," he said on Al-Arabiya television.
Since it is clear to all with eyes to see that the Lebanese government is not in any way beholden to or even connected with Hezbollah, whose representatives sit not only in parliament but in the cabinet itself, surely such oral assurances should satisfy Israel. What more could they demand?
After all, the world knows that Israel has already been crushed in this war they started; AP has announced ever since Israel rolled into Lebanon that the war was a quagmire and could never be won by the oppressors. I mean, the Israelis. After all, how long can they go on accepting such losses as this?
Some of the fiercest skirmishes broke out around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. An Israeli solider and 25 Hezbollah guerrillas were killed, the Israeli military said.
Hezbollah TV also reported pre-dawn attacks on Israeli forces near the Mediterranean town of Naqoura, about 2 1/2 miles north of the border. The Israeli military said two reserve soldiers were killed in the area.
The latest casualties brought the number of people killed in Lebanon to at least 684, while the Israeli death toll was 100.
And after all, what have the Israelis to fear from this wonderful peace peace proposal, supported unanimously by the foreign ministers of the member states of the Arab League -- a group that is well known to harbor only friendly feelings towards Israel? Lebanon has pledged to ensure their coalition partner Hezbollah has no control over southern Lebanon, which currently dominates the Lebanese Army by superior force of arms, supplied by their patron Iran transshipped through their other patron, Syria (which controlled Lebanon absolutely for 29 years):
Saniora's government voted unanimously to send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire take hold and Israeli forces withdraw.
The move was an attempt to show that Lebanon has the will and ability to assert control over its south, where Hezbollah rules with near autonomy bolstered by channels of aid and weapons from Iran and Syria. Lebanon has avoided any attempt to implement a two-year-old U.N. resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, fearing it could touch off civil unrest....
Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani warned of "a civil war in Lebanon" between Hezbollah and government forces if the Security Council does not make changes to the U.S.-French draft resolution [that is, if Hezbollah does not get its way]. "Lebanon won't bear it," he told Al-Jazeera.
With such ironclad assurances, surely even Israel must give way at last to world public opinion! After all, the full weight of international condemnation is about to fall across the Israelis' necks, and it must surely destroy them, the way they nearly tried to almost destroy those innocent pallbearers and mourners in what might have been a crime against humanity, if only Israel had actually done it. For lo! see how the quagmire thickens:
In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council said it plans to convene a special session this week to consider taking action against Israel for its Lebanon offensive.
Against such force and power arrayed, what aggressor dare stand against?
August 6, 2006
Yet Another "18½ Minute Gap"
Way Back on May 30th, 2005, I posted on Patterico's Pontifications an article titled The 18½ Minute Gap, which I subsequently reposted here on Big Lizards a year later as a "Scaley Classic."
This was the central conceit of that post:
It does little good to point out what nobody now denies: that Hussein had many ongoing programs to develop such chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; they just weren't as advanced as we were afraid they were. Given how little intelligence we had about that secretive country, the choice was to trust in Saddam Hussein's restraint and good judgment, or trust in the United States military. "You should have just waited a few more months," the lib invariably intones; "maybe a year. Then we would have known for sure."
In other words, they wanted us to wait until two minutes to midnight. Then we could have moved... unless it turned out our watch was slow.... [Emphasis added, as the BL style has changed in the last year and a quarter.]
Had we waited just a few more months -- waited until two minutes before midnight -- even more high officials in Security-Council governments would have been corrupted; it's entirely possible that, in the end, even Britain would have bowed to international pressure and pulled out of the Operation Iraqi Freedom. Would we still have gone to war, then? I don't think anyone can really say for sure.
So the Left is actually right, for a change: we miserably failed to wait until two minutes to midnight to strike against the tyrant. We struck at twenty till, instead. Maybe even twenty and a half minutes before the witching hour.
Which would make it the second time in history that an 18½ minute gap saved the presidency... and this time, possibly the entire Global War on Terrorism as well.
The surreal argument advanced by Democrats -- now including nearly all of them, other than the soon to be unemployed Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT, 80%) -- is that we should have waited until the last, possible moment before the invasion window closed, just on the off chance that it was all a terrible mistake: that there were no WMD programs, that Saddam Hussein was really a nice guy, and all things black and ugly we thought we knew about him were just lies, spread by his competitors.
And indeed, the Left seized upon as vindication the supposed "failure" to find WMD, which was actually a deliberate decision by the CIA -- which had always opposed the invasion -- to refuse to label as "WMD" any program, device, chemical, or biological sample that had any conceivable non-war purpose, no matter how implausible or even ludicrous.
Thus, 55-gallon drums of Cyclosarin sitting in camouflaged bunkers near empty chemical rocket shells were not chemical-warfare tools; perhaps the Iraqis were simply obsessed with having aphid-free ammo dumps.
And those mobile labs that were described so accurately by Iraqi defectors who had worked on them, and who also described their use in developing chemical and biological munitions, were dismissed by the CIA as "mobile hydrogen-production factilities"... despite the fact that Iraq, being an oil-drililng and refining country, would routinely make tens of thousands of liters of hydrogen commercially and store it in tanks that were a fraction of the weight of those labs -- and of course were already ready for use.
Perhaps, on the very eve of the Coalition invasion, Saddam Hussein was simply focused like a laser beam on protecting Iraq's critical supply of weather balloons.
Rather than acting with alacrity in invading that country when we were pretty sure -- as we are now, especially with the wealth of new finds of the progress of creating WMD and the possible stockpiles moved to Syria -- the Left wanted us to wait until we could prove that Hussein was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (In fact, it was more like what Patterico wants the standard to be in death-penalty cases: "guilty beyond all possible doubt.")
As this standard would have put the possibility of military action forever out of range under any circumstances, since intelligence gathering is never as certain as all that, accepting it amounts to saying that no matter how serious the threat to the United States, we can never go to war -- even if the bad guys attack us first -- so long as they refuse to admit it was they.
I called that the 18½ Minute Gap; and now we have another example: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah.
As it turns out, Israel (along with most of the rest of us, certainly including myself) thought they dominated that terrorist group so completely that the war would be quick and decisive. And perhaps it would have been, had Israel attacked with the seriousness of purpose of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 (their last invasion of Lebanon, against Yassir Arafat's PLO, in which Manachem Begin used nine divisions and 800 tanks)... rather than the limp-wristed response of Ehud Barak in 2000: Barak jerked the troops out of Lebanon in such a panicky way that he simulated a rout following a military defeat, which had never actually happened.
For whatever reason, Israel has now discovered that Hezbollah is far stronger than anyone imagined; and the victories Israel has achieved -- and there are several important ones -- are neither decisive nor persuasive. Contrariwise, Israel is in the process of inadvertently convincing the Arab that Israel is a paper camel who can be defeated.
Democrats are triumphant: the hated Zionist entity is being battered, giving leftists the enormous satisfaction of a great, big, fat, wet I told you so! The Left wags its finger in Israel's face, like Mom after you almost shoot your eye out with that BB-gun you finally got, and says, in essence, see? look at all the trouble you bought for yourself by refusing to listen to us... you should have left well enough alone.
But this argument boils down to the question of what is "well enough." Had Israel simply done nothing -- or worked through the "international diplomatic community," which amounts to the same thing -- would they really have been better off than they are right at this very moment?
I say no, they would have been far worse off... even if they end up losing this war. To imagine they'd have been better off, a Democrat must think that this war was avoidable, that it need never have happened. That if Israel hadn't attacked Hezbollah and just suffered the missiles and kidnappings in stoic silence, they would have so impressed the terrorists with their sang froid that the latter would have written a letter like the one Sean Connery (Mulay Achmed Mohammed el-Raisuli the Magnificent, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates) wrote to Brian Keith (Teddy Roosevelt), telling TR that he was the wind to the Raisuli's lion), then bow out of any future conflict with Israel.
But that is errant nonsense. Hezbollah, the "Party of God," believes it has a holy mission to annihilate the Jews. Hezbollah is not a stand-alone terrorist group; in reality, it is nothing less than the third branch of Iran's armed forces -- their forward-deployed special-operations unit. Both Hezbollah and Iran are singing from the same hymnal (er... perhaps I could have chosen a better expression) anent the obliteration of Israel and driving the Jews into the Mediterranean.
Nor are they slackers or fulyaks about it: Iran's frantic effort to develop nuclear warheads for their intermediate-range ballistic missiles raises at least the strong possibility that the purpose of their soon-to-be nukes is not simply to "extort" the rest of the world, but also to set in motion the holocaust that will bring the advent of the "Twelfth imam," Muhammad al-Mahdi, whom Shi'a believe has been hidden from the world by God and will reappear at the end of the reign of the tyrants (non-Moslems), forcing (Shiite) Islam upon the entire world as the global religion.
And Hezbollah's pace of attack on Israel has grown steadily year after year since the 2000 pullout from Lebanon; there is no reason to believe they would abruptly stop or even level off.
The greatest probability is that this war was actually inevitable, not "evitable;" and that if the Israelis hadn't forced it now, the other side would have forced it later... at a time and place and in a manner of their own choosing, when they were even stronger, relative to Israel, than they are today.
Thank God the Israelis responded to Hezbollah's provocation by launching even the limited war that they did at 20 minutes to midnight; because if they had waited until two minutes to midnight, as the Left demanded they should have -- or even two minutes after midnight, as the Left actually believes -- then as bad as it is right now, it would have been a hundred times worse.
In their hearts, I believe most Democrats, liberals, and lefties know this; which means it's not an argument about the means, when and how Israel should have struck, but rather about the end itself: who wins? The Left collectively wants the jihadist savages to win and hated Western civilization to lose.
As to why they want that... well, that's a psychodrama for another day.
August 2, 2006
Airport Blogging: At Last!
Having missed our plane out of Buffalo to La Guardia (customs, navigational difficulties, don't ask), we've got plenty of time to blog while we wait for the next flight.
At long last, the Israelis have done what they should have done in the first place: a solid invasion force of one full division into Lebanon. (Actually, I'd rather see two divisions; but I never spent even one day in the Army, and my Navy experience is less than nothing in a situation like this... so what do I know?)
Israel pressed the first full day of a massive new ground attack, sending 8,000 troops into southern Lebanon on Wednesday and seizing five people it said were Hezbollah fighters in a dramatic airborne raid on a northeastern town. Hezbollah retaliated with its deepest strikes yet into Israel, firing a record number of more than 160 rockets.
Many moons ago, when I blogged on the Gaza pullout (it was back on Captain's Quarters); a, I supported it... but not on the silly grounds that all the other supporters cited. I never had any illusions about a "peace process." Rather, I saw the pullout as an opportunity to make clear that Gaza -- well, the entire Palestinian Authority (PA) -- was a separate country... and as such would be held to the same standards as any other sovereign nation.
In particular, if they engaged in the "normal" sort of terrorist attacks against Israel, the Jewish state would no longer be constrained by the peculiarity of being an occupier; they could respond with the full force of a nation responding to violent attack by another nation... with a war.
Now I was always opposed to the pullout from Lebanon, since Israel never claimed to be or acted as an occupier; it held only a security zone, and only to prevent Hezbollah from getting close enough to attack Israel. They ignored my advice (oddly enough) and pulled out under Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000... worse, Barak kept accelerating the pullout until at the end, it resembled a panicked rout -- despite the fact that Israel never suffered any military defeat.
Ne'ertheless, they departed so precipitously that they left armor behind. They actually had to send Israeli helicopters back into Lebanon to destroy the abandoned Israeli tanks, so as not to hand them over to the Party of God (Hezbollah).
It was the most inexplicable rout in military history, and it set the stage for the current conflict: Hezbollah, not being very bright, concluded from the panicky withdrawal that they must somehow have "defeated the Zionist entity"... and that primed them to attack again, while Israel's attention (they thought) was occupied by Hamas, which had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.
Whew! Thus endeth the history lesson.
The point of this dreary recounting is that, even though I opposed the Lebanon pullout, the same logic that applies in Gaza applies in Lebanon: since Israel departed six years ago, they should have no hesitation treating an attack from Hezbollah (in Lebanon) as an attack from a separate, sovereign country (which technically Lebanon was even before the pullout)... and they can respond with a full-scale invasion.
It took them a long time dithering. Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line basically predicted that the Israelis would not so respond; and for a while, I began to fear he was right. Ehud Olmert, despite being a former Likudnik before helping Ariel Sharon found Kadima, engaged his country in a perfect Kabuki dance of what I would call "pussyfooting": he accepted the advice of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over that of the Israeli Army (IDF) that Israel could achieve its aim against Hezbollah merely by bombing them sufficiently.
(Yoni the Blogger believes that Olmert is escalating as fast as he thinks the Israeli public will accept... though Yoni wishes it were faster, as do I.)
But Olmert appears, at long last, to have realized that only boots on the ground -- and enough of them -- will be able to "disarm" (that is, kill, mutilate, and destroy) Hezbollah fighters, annihilate the rocket launchers, and drive any survivors across into Syria, where they can fester until such time as that slithery nation becomes enough of a problem that either Israel from the west or American forces from the East makes Syria an offer it cannot refuse.
In addition to simply sending in a division of the IDF, Israel has also sent a commando raid into the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah's main stronghold in Lebanon, into the town of Baalbek, and seized five specific Hezbollah commanders they wanted:
Israeli commandos flew in by helicopter before dawn into the northern town of Baalbek, on the border with Syria, capturing five Hezbollah guerrillas and killing at least 10, said Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.
Witnesses said Israeli forces partially destroyed the Dar al-Hikma hospital in Baalbek, where chief Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said fierce fighting raged for more than one hour.
Israel has not yet released the identity of those captured. When asked by The Associated Press whether any were "big fish," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "They are tasty fishes...."
Olmert said that, although the scene of the fighting is called a hospital, "there are no patients there and there is no hospital, this is a base of the Hezbollah in disguise."
Interestingly, Hezbollah admits that last fact -- albeit between the lines:
A Hezbollah official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements to the media, said that Israeli troops captured "four or five" people, but not at the hospital.
He denied they were Hezbollah fighters, saying one was a 60-year-old grocery store owner and two relatives who work in construction.
The hospital, which residents said is financed by an Iranian charity that is close to Hezbollah, was empty of patients at the time of the raid, the guerrilla group said.
AP reports 540 "Lebanese" killed since all the fighting began; but they don't break this down into Hezbollah fighters, Hezbollah supporters (a huge number of Lebanese Shia in southern Lebanon actively support Hezbollah, which they see as their "tribe"), and ordinary Lebanese patriots, whether Moslem or Christian, who oppose Hezbollah (and still continue to give the Israelis intelligence information); the latter constitute a majority in that country, and they were the impetus behind the "Cedar Revolution" that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon. As usual, the antique media is less than useless: they're actively helping the terrorists by reprinting their propaganda as if it were verified news.
According to Haaretz, at least nine Hezbollah fighters have been killed Wednesday alone (what a wonderful world we live in, where a war that kills a few hundred people is treated as a "massive" conflict!)
Keep watching the skies; I suspect that this latest escalation to a division is just the first. We shall see...
July 28, 2006
Putting On My "Robert Novak" Hat
We've never seen Big Lizards as a primary news source, or a newspaper, or anything of that ilk. We're not journalists, and we don't engage in reporting. Rather, we like to analyze news and current events, trends and motives, often days after the fact. (Our egocentric motto: "Never first, always final!")
But occasionally I like to put two and two together in a sort of predictive way. Mind, this is all wild speculation, and a substantial part of it comes from a somewhat untrustworthy source, NewsMax.com.
First, we have this:
Hizbullah steps up attacks: Hizbullah steps up attacks: For the first time since the fighting in the north began 17 days ago, Hizbullah launched five Fajr-5 missiles at Israel Friday afternoon. Police officials said that long-range missiles of this type can carry a larger amount of explosives than the rockets that had been fired at Israel so far. A short while later, the IDF reported it had destroyed the rocket launcher used for firing the missiles.
The missiles landed in open areas between Afula and the Beit Shean Valley, causing no injuries.
Wikipedia says that the Fajr-5 missile has a range "75 kilometers, or 50 miles," but this is probably an overestimate (especially as 75 km is actually 46.6 miles, not 50). GlobalSecurity.org gives it a range of only 45 miles (72 km). Still, this is a substantial jump over the 10,000 Soviet/Iranian Katyusha rockets (13 mile range) and the handful of Fajr-3s (25 miles) that Hezbollah has been using; they nearly double their range with the Fajr-5s.
(Additionally, Breitbart reports that Hezbollah has fired a rocket they call a Khaibar-1 -- a made-up name taken from a famous battle at an oasis where Mohammed attacked a settlement of Jews and enslaved them. I can't find out anything about the "Khaibar-1," but it may just be Hezbollah's name for the Fajr-5; the range seems to match up, more or less.)
The point is that Hezbollah is increasing the range and payload of their rockets and missiles. Clearly, their aim is to bring all of Israel into missile range -- especially Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, with a population of 380,000 (Jerusalem's population is 725,000; Haifa has only 278,000).
I'm not sure what range Hezbollah would need to target Tel Aviv, because it depends where they're firing from. According to this distance-calculating website, the distance from Beirut to Tel Aviv is 134 miles (215 km)... so they still need a substantial increase in range, between two and three times what they have now, in order to seriously threaten that city.
But clearly, the Iranians are upping Hezbollah's arsenal; and Iran has many missiles that have a longer range than 150 miles: the oldest Shahab-3, for example, has a range that exceeds 1,300 km (808 miles), and that dates back to 2003; newer models have much longer ranges. It also packs a warhead that masses over 1,000 kg. (The Shahab-3 is derived from the North Korean NoDong-1.)
I suspect it's not a question of "if" but "when" will Hezbollah be able to directly attack Tel Aviv... and it's hard to imagine them having that capability and deciding not to use it. Which brings up the third point. From NewsMax.com (which I again caution is not exactly reliable; but I do believe this piece):
Additionally, Israeli sources say a line in the sand has been drawn: If Hezbollah is "stupid" enough to attack Tel Aviv or its suburbs, "then all bets are off."
While refusing to provide more details, the Israeli warned that if Hezbollah attacked Tel Aviv then the IDF will no longer have any restraints on prospective responses.
While recent Hezbollah attacks have rocketed cities south of the port of Haifa, all have fallen far short of Tel Aviv and its environs ... for now.
U.S. diplomats had no comment.
I do not have a window into the minds of the members of Israel's security cabinet, of course; but I suspect that "all bets are off" and no "restraint on prospective responses" means that if Tel Aviv is struck, the Israeli security cabinet would vote to extend the war directly to Syria, which they just refused to do yesterday. They would also likely vote to authorize close-air support, which they've been reluctant to do due to the probability of large numbers of "civilian" casualties and the PR-hit Israel would take.
This is pure speculation on my part; but I strongly believe that if Hezbollah missiles or rockets struck Tel Aviv, the Israeli people would absolutely demand a direct attack on Syria, which is allowing such trans-shipments from Iran to Hezbollah. If the Olmert government refused, the Olmert government would likely be history, and new snap-elections would put a Likud-centered coalition back in power.
Rather than risk that, I suspect Olmert -- a former Likudnik before helping Ariel Sharon to form Kadima -- would push such an expansion through the security cabinet.
So, to recap (oops, I sound just like a Glenn Greenwald sock puppet!):
- Hezbollah is improving its arsenal, nearly doubling the range of its missiles within the last two weeks;
- The new missiles come from Iran, most likely trans-shipped through Syria;
- They may soon get missiles from their patron, Iran, that have sufficient range to strike Tel Aviv;
- If they get such missiles, Tel Aviv's safety will rely only upon the forbearance and restraint of Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah (thought to be currently hiding in the Iranian embassy in Damascus, according to the Jerusalem Post). If such forbearance and restraint is as noticibly lacking as it has been since 1992, Tel Aviv will be struck;
- If Tel Aviv is struck, the security cabinet is likely to vote to expand the war directly to Syria (the sourcing for this is iffy, but it's certainly not an extraordinary claim).
Thus, I would expect the expansion of the war to include Syria will occur if and only if Syria (or anyone else) allows Hezbollah to receive missiles with ranges sufficient to attack Tel Aviv. This could, of course, occur at any time, since Iran does indeed have such missiles and has shown no reluctance in the past to supply Hezbollah with weaponry to attack Israel -- a country that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmaninejad has said must be "wiped off the map," which is also a long-term policy of the ruling mullahs.
As I said, I think the expansion is a question of when, not if. The only worry is that Israel may come to its senses too late, for Syria is already preparing itself for a likely war.
July 27, 2006
Der Spiegel Und der Baradei
RealClearPolitics pointed to an interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel of Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tom Bevan at RCP Blog noted rather cryptically that it was "a rather frightening interview."
Reading the interview itself removed all mystery. Here are some of the lowlights:
SPIEGEL: Are you in favor of an immediate deployment of United Nations peacekeeping troops with a "robust" mandate in southern Lebanon?
ElBaradei: That is the only solution. The bloodbath must be stopped quickly and a cease-fire must be brought about without delay. But what's even more important is a comprehensive solution to the underlying problem. The Palestinian question is the elephant in the room. One cannot constantly treat only the symptoms. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have been living under an occupying regime for 39 years now. We should not be satisfied with drafting one road map after the next and merely looking on as they fail.
[You would think that even as insular an organization as the UN would have heard something about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza!]~
SPIEGEL: A stabilization force would have to create a buffer zone, which would mean disarming Hezbollah. Is the UN capable of doing this?
ElBaradei: Lebanon will inevitably descend into civil war as long there is no cease-fire. That's why the most important thing is for open combat to stop. And then the force would need a robust mandate. The UN can disarm militias and reduce tensions. The long-term solution, however, is political and not military.
[If the UN can "disarm militias," why haven't they? What are they waiting for?]~
SPIEGEL: The Israelis have a legitimate need for security. They see their massive attacks as a way to destroy Hezbollah once and for all.
ElBaradei: The more violence they commit, the more they radicalize their enemies..
[Note that he never answers the question. Or even responds to the cockamamie idea that "Israel has a legitimate need for security."]~
SPIEGEL: But it was the Iranian regime that clearly lied and deceived the West in recent years when it came to its nuclear program. Doesn't Tehran have to accept the offer without conditions and stop its uranium enrichment activities?
ElBaradei: There is no other choice. To our knowledge, however, the Iranians have not accelerated their nuclear research program, which would be a sign of their developing a nuclear program for military use. There are apparently competing political directions in Tehran. And there are many shades of gray....
[About Iran, yes; about Israel, El Baradei doesn't appear to see greyscale.]
There was, however, one highlight at the end of the tunnel. I did like this exchange, right at the end:
SPIEGEL: You have just come from the G-8 summit, where, in addition to the Middle East, energy issues were the main topic of discussion. With the exception of Germany, everyone seems to be betting on new nuclear power plants. Is this the right approach?
ElBaradei: Every state has the right to choose its own approach, just as Germany is doing. In your country, a few nuclear power plants will be in operation for another 20 years, at least according to current plans. Perhaps the Germans will change their views within this period of time, and perhaps they'll decide to extend it. Nuclear energy is undoubtedly experiencing a renaissance. Environmentally friendly nuclear power will play a role in energy policy worldwide. 1.6 billion people, or a quarter of the world's population, have no access to electricity. They'll have no future without affordable energy.
That statement, at least, cannot be logically disputed. Perhaps Mohammed ElBaradei should ceasing heading up the IAEA and instead be offered a new position as United Nations Secretary of Energy.
More Proportionalities Than You Can Shake a Snake At
The Democrats' argument that Israel's response is "disproportionate" can mean one of only two things:
- That it's disproportionate to the attack;
- Or that it's disproportionate to the attacker.
The first possibility is easily rebutted: Israel has been attacked by Hezbollah for years and years and years, losing hundreds of citizens to an insane terrorist campaign, Hezbollah's holy pledge to "drive the Jews into the sea."
Arguably, since it was Hezbollah who pioneered (in the Middle East) the tactic of suicide bombings, a tactic later aped by Palestinian groups, the thousands of deaths of innocent Israelis by Hamas, et al, can also be laid to Hezbollah's doorstop.
So the only real chance for the Democrats to make stick a "disproportionality" argument against Israel's assault is to complain that it's just not fair for that big bully to beat up on that little bully. Is that a valid complaint, that Israel's assault is like a trained heavyweight boxer beating up a schoolgirl? If so, that would certainly be a gross disproportionality.
To the extent that liberals make this argument, in their relentless quest to find moral equivalence between Israeli Jews and Hezbollah terrorists (or even to assign the bulk of the guilt to the former), they either foolishly or mendaciously ignore a glaring point: Hezbollah does not act alone or on its own volition.
The organization was created in 1982, by and large by Iran, and they have been a creature of that theocracy ever since. Iran finances and controls Hezbollah in Lebanon through Iran's cat's-paw, Syria -- which comprises an Alawite-Shiite elite class, the Baath Party, ruling over an oppressed Sunni majority.
Thus, in comparing the relative sizes of the dogs in the fight, the real comparison is not Israel to Hezbollah... it's Israel vs. Iran and Syria in a proxy war that happens to be taking place in Lebanon. It's not just that Hezbollah receives its weapons from Iran; Iran also finances it, trains it, directs it, and indeed, Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been found throughout Hezbollah forces, firing missiles and directing the action.
Hezbollah is not Israel's real enemy: it's nothing more than the Iranian and Syrian "Foreign Legion."
So let's take a look at Iran and Syria compared to Israel; I rely upon the CIA World Factbook for these simple statistics:
|Economy (billions purchasing power)||562||72||155|
|Economy (official exchange rate)||181||26||114|
|Available military manpower (millions)||15.7||3.5||1.3|
As clearly seen, Israel certainly does not overmatch her two real opponents in this war; in fact, it's the other way around: even just Iran alone is larger, richer, and has a much greater available manpower. While Israel has nuclear weapons that still elude Iran (we hope!), Iran boasts a much more robust military than any country or combination of countries Israel has ever faced before.
Hezbollah is just the tip of the oilberg... make no mistake, Israel faces her deadliest test ever. And if there is any "disproportionality," it's much more accurate to say Israeli forces are disproportionately small compared to the enemies they face.
Israel is the "David" facing the "Goliath" of the Ayatollahs, and no amount of Democratic rewrite can obscure that fact.
July 25, 2006
The "Proportionality" Fallacy
I've been pondering and mulling for many days now the charge, absurd on its face, that Israel's response to the attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah is "disproportionate." What has puzzled me all this time is where the silly meme of "proportionality" came from in the first place.
I understand proportionality in, say, criminal sentencing: if a person stole some cash from the church poorbox, it's grossly disproportionate to punish him by cutting off his hand; the severity of the punishment vastly exceeds the mendacity of the crime.
And I understand proportionality in civil lawsuits: if a company produced a dangerously defective product, then tried to cover it up, and if a victim of that product is injured thereby... then it makes perfect sense for that victim not only to receive compensatory damages in the lawsuit (damages to make him whole again, or as much so as possible), but also punitive damages.
Even so, if the company has an annual income of $10 million, it's grossly disproportionate for a jury to award the victim $60 billion in punitive damages.
But how does any of this relate to warfare? The question has baffled me for a long time now, from even before the present ruckus in Lebanon and Gaza. How did a theory of criminal punishment get tacked onto the "law of war?"
And just now, the answer I'd been seeking struck me like a load of hay: those critics squealing about Israel's "disproportionate" response think war is how Israel "punishes" the Arabs.
All of a sudden, other paralogical incongruities fell into place: the Left believes war is not waged in order to gain national-security advantages for one's country; they see it entirely as an extension of the criminal justice system... a tit-for-tat revenge taken against countries that have criminally assaulted one's own. Thus, the Left cannot even understand the conservative argument that terrorism "cannot be defeated by a criminal-justice response but must be treated as an act of war."
To them, all war is a criminal-justice program. Why should the war on jihadi terrorism be any different?
And because they think war in general is a punitive action designed to punish transgressors, they also believe:
- It's wrong to punish countries disproportionately to their "crimes," such as killing more of their soldiers than they killed of yours... it's too much "tat" in the tit-for-tat equation;
- It's wrong to "collectively punish" the people living in the enemy nation by, e.g., dropping bombs;
- In fact, killing enemy combatants is wrong in general, because we're against capital punishment;
- It's wrong to "punish" a country for the actions of a terrorist group within that country;
- It's horrifically wrong to "punish" a country before it has actually committed the crime or even taken steps to commit the crime (pre-emption); that would be the same as putting someone in prison because you thought he might commit a crime in the future;
- It's wrong to go to war without first holding a criminal investigation and finding the enemy country guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the transgression;
- Captured unlawful enemy combatants must be tried in civilian courts (presumably for "conspiracy") with all the protections afforded ordinary criminal defendants;
- Captured unlawful enemy combatants may not be interrogated unless they have a lawyer present, and they cannot be interrogated at all if they "take the Fifth;"
- Once combatants have "served their sentences," which must be "proportionate to the crime they committed," they must be released, even if there is a chance they will return to the front lines and "commit more crimes;" after all, they've paid their debt to society.
As suspicious as I am of any general "Theory of Everything," this revelation (well, to me, anyway) does seem to explain an awful lot about liberal squeamishness anent the Israeli war on Hezbollah, the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and other attempts by the civilized world to defend itself against the forces of Islamist barbarity.
(It doesn't explain why liberals supported the carpet bombing of Serbs in Kosovo; but then, they also gave Bill Clinton a pass on a lot of other actual criminal behavior, too. To explain this, we must invoke a different thesis: the Theory of the Charmed Charmer, the lovable rogue who can do no wrong.)
It also explains why the American Left is increasingly bitter and hateful towards Israel: they look at Israel and they see a country that persistently violates the "liberal law of war" by treating warfare as if it were some means of defending the country from attack, instead of a police action.
Thus, to the liberal mind, Israel is like a "rogue cop" who commits serial acts of "police brutality." The Left's reflexive hatred of "the pigs" or "the Man" kicks in, and Ehud Olmert morphs into Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, with Lebanon as the new Democratic National Convention of 1968. "Israel is not there to cause disorder... Israel is there to preserve disorder!"
Arabs (and Persians, to the extent that liberals even know there is a difference) are the long-suffering poor who are always getting shafted by the Man; we need a healthy dose of "social justice," man, to redress the historical imbalances. Power to the people, man! Off the pigs! Free Mumia!
(In fact, wouldn't Arab suicide bombers be seen as heroic followers of Mumia Abu Jamal, giving their lives -- well, the real Mumia hasn't given it yet, alas -- to fight the inherent injustice of the Israeli neocon lobby establishment? Right on, man!)
I believe every Democratic candidate in 2006 and 2008 should be given a hot seat (I don't mean Old Sparky) and asked this question: if terrorists kill 3,000 Americans, how many terrorists will you allow us to kill before you decide our response is "disproportionate?"
Watch 'em squirm.
July 24, 2006
Resupply Is a Two-Way Street
It's been plastered all over the news recently that Israel has caught Syria resupplying Hezbollah missiles (or trying to, at any rate); see the previous post for our reaction to that news on the Syrian front. But as Gary Larson used to say in the Far Side, "two can play at that game, Hoskins!"
Word has now been leaked (by anonymous "American officials") that we've sent an emergency shipment of precision-guided bombs to Israel in order to allow them to continue the campaign:
The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.
(A Reader's Digest condensed version of the Times article can be found on Reuters, just in case the Times link stops working.)
This is for those readers here who have been led to believe (by the antique media) that Bush isn't doing anything to help Israel other than chatting them up. We're doing the best things of all: leaning heavily on Syria -- and making sure that Israel has all the precision munitions they need to really grind Hezbollah's face into the offal.
So keep it up, Israel; with the weapons we're supplying you, taking out the entire top Hezbollah leadership should be as easy as shooting drunks in a barrel.
According to an article in the New York Times yesterday, we're trying to "peel Syria away" from Iran and Hezbollah. We're hoping to work through Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, and their equivalent of the national security advisor and former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as well as their counterparts in Egypt and Jordan.
But the Times grabs the wrong end of the stick with this pretty boneheaded assessment:
But so far, there appears to be little discussion of offering American incentives to the Syrians to abandon Hezbollah, or even to stop arming it. The Bush administration has been deeply reluctant to make such offers, whether it is negotiating with Damascus or with the governments of Iran or North Korea.
We're not planning on bribing them, for heaven's sake; I suspect the incentive is more along the lines of telling Syria -- in John Bolton-type language -- that if they persist in supporting Hezbollah and the Sunni terrorists in Iraq, then we will urge Israel to attack Syria, and we'll join them. It's stick not carrot time.
A joint Israeli/American attack on Syria from two sides would be devastating to the Syrian military, hence to the ruling Alawite Baathist regime (and would probably lead to Bashar Assad's assassination by his successor as president of Syria).
Either way -- whether Syria cooperates with us and cuts off Hezbollah, or whether they tell us to sod off, and we saw them off at the knees -- both Hezbollah and the Sunni insurgency and terrorists would be stranded and starved. While Iran pulls the strings (both puppet and purse), the actual conduit through which control and money passes for these groups, as well as Hamas, is Syria.
I don't know whether Hezbollah in Lebanon could survive without the Syrian connection, especially after the Israelis finish their limited ground offensive; if Hezbollah is left weak enough, after Israel leaves, the secular and Christian elements of the government might well fight their own war against Hezbollah and finish them off.
I believe Iran directly supports Shiite insurgents in Iraq, such as the Iranian lapdog Muqtada Sadr and his merry men in the Mahdi Militia; so they would not be directly affected. But a lessening of violence from other sources frees up more Iraqi Army troops and American and British soldiers to focus on the Shia in Sadr City, the south, and elsewhere.
Too, Iran relies upon Hezbollah to serve as their main assault force for international operations; to cripple Hezbollah is to cripple Iran itself.
Assad has been resisting the connection recently:
A Western diplomat said Arab leaders had had trouble getting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to come to the telephone when they called to express concern about Hezbollah’s actions....
[T]he administration’s declared aim is to carry out United Nations Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarming of Hezbollah and the deployment of the Lebanese Army to southern Lebanon. Syria, which was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon last year, may well balk at efforts to enforce it.
But while analysts say it is possible for the Bush administration and Israel to work out a solution without including Syria in the diplomatic wrangling, it would be difficult. Some Bush administration officials, particularly at the State Department, are pushing to find a way to start talking to Syria again.
Definitely an intriguing move on the Mideast chess board. As Matt Drudge would say, developing...
July 21, 2006
A Tale of Two Madams and One Mister
No, not that kind of madam! I mean a pair of "Madam Secretaries of State," Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.
The first Madam Secretary, appointed by Bill Clinton for no reason other than to be the first president to appoint a woman as secretary of state, was an unmitigated disaster. Albright embraced Yassir Arafat, was bamboozled by Kim Jong-Il, tricked by Iran, cozened by Saddam, and turned a blind eye to Osama bin Laden while he and al-Qaeda prepared the most massive terrorist attack ever to occur on American soil. A magnificent and enviable record of failure and disachievement!
But let's contrast "Madam," as she insisted upon being called, with the other Madam Secretary, Condoleezza Rice. Here is Secretary Rice today, discussing her upcoming trip to the Middle East:
In her briefing for reporters on her trip, Rice said the United States was committed to ending the bloodshed, but didn't want to do it before certain conditions were met.
The United States has said all along that Hezbollah must first turn over the two Israeli soldiers and stop firing missiles into Israel.
"We do seek an end to the current violence, we seek it urgently. We also seek to address the root causes of that violence," she said. "A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo."
Rice said that it was important to deal with the "root cause" of the violence, echoing what has been the U.S. position since last week.
And what is that "root cause?" Everybody uses the phrase, but each means a different thing. Most people in Europe and most Democrats in D.C., when they say "root cause of Mid-East violence," mean the presence of Jews in the ummah... which could easily be corrected.
If Israel would just do the manly thing and commit national suicide, then the world would think well of the Jews... briefly. But what does Condi mean by "root cause?"
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled out a quick "false promise" cease-fire in the Middle East Friday and defended her decision not to meet with either Syrian or Hezbollah leaders in her upcoming visit to the region.
"Syria knows what it needs to do and Hezbollah is the source of the problem," Rice said at the State Department as she previewed her trip, which begins on Sunday with a first stop in Israel.
What a rare moment of truth and candor from the Department of State! Of course, with John Bolton at the U.N., such moments are starting to come as thick and as fast as oysters. How I'm going to miss this president when his term expires.
(Oh, and notice where her Mid-East trip begins: Israel. In the previous administration, it would have begun with a quick obeisance in Ramallah, some backhanding in Damascus, and an apology-trip to Sabra and Shatila, where Madam would have laid a wreath and danced a foxtrot with Sheikh Nasrallah.)
But here is my favorite statement, and why I still hope that someday, Dr. Condoleezza Rice changes her mind and decides to run for public office:
Resisting calls from the United Nations, Europe and the Arab world, she said an immediate ceasefire would produce a "false promise" that would allow Hizbollah to re-emerge in the future to attack Israel, the top U.S. ally in the region.
"An immediate ceasefire without political conditions does not make sense," she said.
"If you simply look for a ceasefire... we will be back here in six months again," she added. "What I won't do is go to some place and try to get a ceasefire that I know isn't going to last."
I've been scratching my brains for days now, wondering exactly what a "ceasefire" means when one party is a terrorist group. And for more clarity on that point, listen to Ambassador Bolton (it's from an press conference outside the UN Security Council in Foggy Bottom, New York City; I have paragraphed it, so I can refer to Bolton's specific points; via Power Line):
Well look, I think we could have a cessation of hostilities immediately if Hezbollah would stop terrorizing innocent civilians and give up the kidnapped Israeli soldiers. So that to the extent this crisis continues, the cause is Hezbollah.
How you get a ceasefire between one entity, which is a government of a democratically elected state on the one hand, and another entity on the other which is a terrorist gang, no one has yet explained.
The government of Israel, everybody says, has the right to exercise the right of self-defense, which even if there are criticisms of Israeli actions by some, they recognize the fundamental right to self-defense. That’s a legitimate right.
Are there any activities that Hezbollah engages in, militarily that are legitimate? I don’t think so. All of its activities are terrorist and all of them are illegitimate, so I don’t see the balance or the parallelism between the two sides and therefore I think it’s a very fundamental question: how a terrorist group agrees to a ceasefire.
This is like demanding a "ceasefire" between the United States government on the one hand -- and the Salvadoran drug gang Mara Salvatrucha. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Do they negotiate exactly how many kilos of cocaine MS-13 is allowed to smuggle into the country?
You know in a democratically elected government, the theory is that the people ultimately can hold the government accountable when it [agrees to] something and doesn’t live up to it.
How do you hold a terrorist group accountable? Who runs the terrorist group? Who makes the commitment that a terrorist group will abide by a ceasefire?
Say, that is a good question, isn't it? So how come nobody else seems to be asking it besides John and Condi? And here's another good question:
What does a terrorist group think a "ceasefire" is?
Does it really understand a ceasefire as a cessation of hostilities, to be followed by honest negotiation to settle the differences that led to the war in the first place? I think it more likely Hezbollah's understanding of ceasefire is "a pause to reload;" and the ceasefire will last as long as it takes for them to obtain replacements from Iran, through Syria, for all the missiles that Israel destroyed... maybe "six months," as Secretary Rice suggested.
Finally, Bolton finishes his answer with a nice summation of the main point:
These are - you can use the words “cessation of hostilities” or “truce” or "ceasefire.” Nobody has yet explained how a terrorist group and a democratic state come to a mutual ceasefire.
Those are all good questions, and here's another: if Israel were to ink such a ceasefire with Hezbollah... wouldn't that elevate the terrorist group to the level of a sovereign nation? What would be the next demand -- that Israel negotiate a trade agreement with Hezbollah? Perhaps an agreed-upon procedure for releasing Hezbollah killers promptly upon the kidnapping of future IDF soldiers, to avoid all the brouhaha in the future?
Or would Hezbollah be admitted to the United Nations (and probably invited to join the new UN Human Rights Council)?
Israelis should get on their knees and thank the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that at this critical turning point in their existence, their greatest ally has such clear-sighted and morally decent appointees running the United States Department of State. And Americans should thank whatever God we hold dear that we have an Israel that is finally willing to stand up to Hezbollah and Hamas: maybe President Bush can start listening to Israel, Condi, and John; then he himself can begin treating those Iranian-controlled terrorists the way he treats terrorists in al-Qaeda.
July 18, 2006
Arabs Abandoning "Party of God"
In any discussion about Moslem terrorists, many people -- both defenders of Islam and also those urging military response against the terrorists -- often object to extremists like Tom "Bomb Mecca" Tancredo by saying, "not all Moselems are like that, those are just extremists." But then the question becomes, where are these "non-extremist," moderate moslems? Or as Dafydd put it, where are all the Moslem Methodists?
Rarely have I seen such an uprising, indeed an intifada, against those little turbaned, bearded men across the Muslim landscape as the one that took place last week. The leader of Hezbollah, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, received a resounding "no" to pulling 350 million Arabs into a war with Israel on his clerical coattails.
The collective "nyet" was spoken by presidents, emirs, and kings at the highest level of government in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and at the Arab League's meeting of 22 foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday. But it was even louder from pundits and ordinary people.
Perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected reaction came from Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said bluntly and publicly that Hezbollah's decision to cross the Lebanese border, attack Israel, and kidnap its soldiers has left the Shiite group on its own to face Israel. The unspoken message here was, "We hope they blow you away."
The Arab League put it succinctly in its final communique in Cairo, declaring that "behavior undertaken by some groups [read: Hezbollah and Hamas] in apparent safeguarding of Arab interests does in fact harm those interests, allowing Israel and other parties from outside the Arab world [read: Iran] to wreck havoc with the security and safety of all Arab countries."
There are more remarkable statements from Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, the general manager of Al-Arabiya --
"We have lost most of our causes and the largest portions of our lands following fiery speeches and empty promises of struggle coupled with hallucinating, drug-induced political fantasies."
-- and from Tariq Alhomayed:
Tariq Alhomayed, editor in chief of the Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, stuck the dagger in deeper: "Mr. Nasrallah bombastically announced he consulted no one when he decided to attack Israel, nor did he measure Lebanon's need for security, prosperity, and the safety of its people. He said he needs no one's help but God's to fight the fight." Mr. Alhomayed's punch line was, in so many words: Go with God, Sheik Nasrallah, but count the rest of us out.
Ibrahim does acknowledge that much of the refusal to take the part of Hezbollah (despite it being the "Party of God") is Sunni fear of "an ascendant Shiite 'arc of menace' rising out of Iran and peddled in the Sunni world by Syria." But no Moslem nation is jumping to defend Sunni Hamas in the Gaza strip, either.
I don't believe there has been any sea-change in Moslem attitudes towards Jews. This is just belated recognition that the Arab nations (even with Iran added) cannot defeat Israel or even prevent it from scoring military victory wherever it wants in the Middle East.
I guess there's a limit to how many times Arabs must get slashed by the claws of the lion before they finally decide to stop poking it with a stick.
July 17, 2006
The Word On the "Street"
From Dafydd: N.Z. Bear, he of the Truth-Laid Bear fame, has a marvelous aggregator page of bloggers from all across the Middle East, plus some important and powerful bloggers right here in the United States -- movers and shakers, opinion-mongers, and "pundants" (such as Big Lizards): Crisis In the Middle East. This page is a must-view.
For many years now, Moslem dictators have used the same old trick: whenever their domestic policies hit a wall, they turn around and point a finger at the nearest Jew.
"It is not the time to squabble amongst Moslems. We need to unite against the Israeli aggression. We need to mobilize for freedom. We need to focus on defense." Never mind the economy is in a shambles due to the corruption, incompetence, and stupid policies of the Arab leadership. A quarter of their citizens unemployed and starving, bandits and police working hand in hand intimidating citizens to extort money and favors. That's not the issue; that’s not important. The urgent task is to defeat the Zionist Jews.
The tactic has worked for decades; it still does, to a certain degree. But, more and more Moslems across the world are getting weary of this same old excuse.
They hardly ever see any Jews; how could the Jews be responsible for their misery? They don’t even know what Israelis do, except fight against Palestinians, which concerns nobody. Nobody likes, respects, or cares about the Palestinians as anything other than a political stick to bash the "Zionist entity."
But even the Moslems who are critical of the Israeli “occupation” have strong words for the Palestinians. After all, Israel had, until quite recently, already left Gaza. The most obvious and immediate effect of the twin attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah was to bring the Jews back!
Saudi columnist Yusuf Nasir Al-Suweidan made a prediction on June 25, 2006. At that time, Israelis had not yet invaded Gaza; but he correctly prophecied that Hamas' attack on Israeli would bring about a far worse situation for Palestinians than the status quo... because, he said, this time Israel would not “react like 'harmless lambs.'”
[T]his time, a new reality will be created in the Gaza Strip in which all talk about 'back to square one' will be nothing but wild optimism -- since the [situation] will regress [far beyond that], to a level where it is possible to talk of a plan of deportation [of Palestinians] and demographic change in Gaza, and this [plan] might even be implemented soon. This will turn the Palestinian dream of an independent state into a thing of the past....
The main mistake lies in the fact that the Palestinian organizations did not respond correctly to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza... and its consequences. Instead of beating their swords into plowshares, pens, and other things that are needed for the development of Palestinian society -- in terms of the economy, society, culture, and so on -- most of them read the developments incorrectly and immaturely. This was exploited by the terrorist networks, that are funded and run by the regimes of the ayatollahs in Tehran and the Ba'th [party] in Syria, and [people] have been taken in by delusions and empty slogans like 'liberation from the river to the sea' [that are heard] among the poor, hungry, and desperate Palestinian masses. At present, what [these masses] need most is food, medicines, clothing, and other essentials _ not explosive belts, car bombs, and the slogan, "Congratulations, oh Martyr, the black-eyed virgin awaits you."
Attacks from Hamas against Israel are nothing new. However illogical, we cannot expect too much from Hamas. But what about the attack from Hezbollah? Israel left Lebanon in the year 2000. Since then, all has been quiet on the northern front. Why should Hezbollah arouse Israel now?
In Lebanon, after Syrian forces left, the power of Hezbollah began to weaken. The pressure to disarm the Hezbollah military wing gets stronger every day. Hezbollah was desperate to do something; they needed to divert the Lebanese citizens attention to somewhere else. But where? Why, the Jews, of course. They had to show the Lebanese that they still "needed" Syrian troops to protect from "Israeli aggression."
But, for some odd reason, this time, the Lebanese are not buying it. As their houses are being bombed, they are not necessarily blaming Israel; as Dafydd said, the public opinion of the Arab and Persian Moslems is up for grabs.
A Lebanese blogger, Fouad, has this to say.
We are ALL guilty. ALL OF US. Emergency hiwar watani session??? I am not sure if I should laugh or puke my guts out on the table. Let it be known to all. We are scared, our lives are on the line, our country is history, but it's all our fault. Each and every one of us. These are the people we elected, these are the people we let freely thrive in their little haven of hatred and murderous ideals, and this is us, scared and incapacitated, failing but to point fingers and complain. Well let me tell you this folks, we pulled our pants down and stuck our naked asses out, and now that we're ******, we really don't have jack **** to complain about.
Now, don’t get me wrong; as Fouad says, "there is no love lost between the lebanese people and the israeli leadership." Fouad and others have plenty to say about Israel’s aggression.
Under the circumstance, I cannot blame them. However, a blogger like Fouad correctly realizes it's Hezbollah who brought this to Lebanon. Israel is simply reacting to terrorist incursion.
Another Lebanese blogger Bob says:
And tomorrow when I will see the destroyed bridge linking my home town of Saida to Beirut, I will only say from the bottom of my heart: Enough! Enough wars, death and destruction! Curse you Hezbollah to hell and back! For all this destruction, for all this death! No it is not Israel fault; it is your own. Curse you!
Even though Hezbollah is hiding among the Lebanese, it is Iran -- and it's client state Syria -- which is behind the attacks. I wish Israel could bypass Lebanon and attack Syria directly. What do Syrian bloggers think of this?
Ammar Abdulhamid, who is Syrian but now lives in Maryland with his wife, has this to say:
[T]he national discourse and the constant calls for mobilization against a declared enemy were at best a diversionary measure meant to postpone any serious consideration of our developmental problems and our ruling regimes’ corruption and inherent authoritarian predilections.
For this reason, I never really believed in the conflict against Israel….
[T]he issue ahead of us if that of Hezbollah and Hamas being wielded as instruments of provocation by Syria and Iran to stir up another national liberation conflict and mobilize us all for the march to hell, with many of us applauding all the way.
All wishful thinking aside, I just don’t think that Israel is going to lose this round, and I think that the going-ons in Lebanon are only a prelude for the eventual and now inevitable confrontation with Syria, with all sorts of disastrous implications and consequences for our people.
I don't think Hamas or Hezbollah -- let alone Syria and Iran -- ever considered the "disastrous implications and consequences" of their acts of war against Israel. They only wanted to remind people of the Jewish threat and convince them they still needed the terrorist armies to protect them from Israel.
Instead, they brought the fury of Israel down upon them like fiery manna from Sheol. This was not in their plan; in fact, they are stunned by Israeli's reaction:
Hezbollah was surprised by Israel's response.
When they dreamed up this plan in January, they thought the Israelis would respond as usual: bomb a few Hezbollah positions on the border, and perhaps attack Palestinian militant camps. They were not expecting the attack to occur at this fragile time with the Palestinians.
Instead, the Israelis massively destroyed Lebanese infrastructure. Bridges throughout South Lebanon have been destroyed. Almost the entire South is without power.
If Hezbollah looked at reality instead of believing their own propaganda, they could have guessed this was going to happen... especialy after they saw what was already going on in Gaza at the precise moment they attacked Israel and kidnapped two soldiers.
True story: when Dafydd and I hiked in Yosemite, we were told not to cook near the camp ground. The smell, the rangers said, will attract bears. Despite all the warnings, some retardo decided to cook a whole mess of sausages on a grill he set up -- right next to his tent, right near our own tent (in Camp Curry).
That night, two black bears came roaring down to the camp ground and scared the heck out of the campers (we were already leaving that night for the Wawona Lodge). Fortunately no human was hurt; but one bear had to be shot by the "danger rangers."
Sure, the bears were the critters directly threatening our lives. But ultimately, the guy who cooked food and drew them down from the mountains should be held more responsible than the bears. The bears were just being bears; this dull-witted chef was being a dangerous fool.
Will the people in the Middle East ever hold their leadership responsible? Will they ever understand who lured the bears into camp? The jury is still out. But at least this time, the opinion of the infamous "Arab street" is up for grabs.
February 8, 2006
Assad vs. the Brothers
This could get interesting... in the sense of the old supposed Chinese curse, "may you be forced to live in interesting times."
Two old nemeses of the Assad family have joined forces to try to bring down the Assad/Baathist regime: Hafez Assad's former vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, who turned against the son, Bashar Assad, back in December 2005; and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has bitterly fought against the Baath Party and the Assads... well, ever since the Baathist coup d'état in 1963:
Former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam and the exiled leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood agreed on Wednesday to join forces to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
A source at Khaddam's office said the former official held talks with Ali Bayanouni, head of the Sunni Islamist group, in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"There was agreement on a joint vision to save Syria from the crisis that the regime has placed it in," the source told Reuters in Beirut by telephone. "It was also agreed to contact other opposition leaders inside and outside Syria to come up with a joint plan of action."
As fragile and tenuous as Bashar Assad's grip on power now is, with Syria being strongly and credibly accused of ordering the bomb-assassination of popular former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, it's very possible this alliance will be the last push that will cause the brutal and oppressive Syrian government to collapse.
But what will come after? That's the big question.
The history of Abdel-Halim Khaddam is well known:
Khaddam was for 30 years a political ally of Assad's late father, authoritarian president Hafez al-Assad....
Khaddam, a Sunni Muslim who quit in June and has since moved to Paris, broke away from Assad in December. He said last month that Assad was facing growing pressure from economic problems at home and the international investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
But the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is controversial and confusing (while Wikipedia is a suspect source, because of its provenance, this article seems very well written and researched, even citing its sources; it misses only one big but controversial point, for which see below).
On the one hand, on paper, they renounce all violence; but in practice, on the other hand, they fought a twenty-year war against the Baathists (and later, Baath Party leader Hafez Assad) that included car bombs, terrorist assassinations, armed uprisings, seizing of cities, and so forth.
On the third hand, they were fighting against an oppressive, Stalinist regime. But on the fourth hand, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood seems to have had strong ties to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in the 1930s and 1940s -- right around the time the Syrian version was starting up. This last point is the only major element of the Muslim Brotherhood that the Wikipedia article fails to mention -- possibly because academics don't necessarily accept this yet, since much of the evidence is recent... and perhaps for political reasons, as well.
The Reuters story is incorrect and incomplete on the founding of the Syrian branch (there's a shock); it notes that:
The Brotherhood, founded in Syria in 1945, is widely seen as the most serious rival to the Baath Party which in 1980 made membership of the group punishable by death.
But Reuters fails to note that there was an earlier group, Muhammad's Youth, which was founded in Syria in the 1930s by members of the Egyptian (Cairo) branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; Muhammad's Youth later changed its name to Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. Thus, the organization really does date from the time when some evidence indicates the Egyptian branch was working hand-in-glove with the Nazis:
Here's how the story began. In the 1920's there was a young Egyptian named al Bana. And al Bana formed this nationalist group called the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Bana was a devout admirer of Adolph Hitler and wrote to him frequently. So persistent was he in his admiration of the new Nazi Party that in the 1930's, al-Bana and the Muslim Brotherhood became a secret arm of Nazi intelligence.
The Arab Nazis had much in common with the new Nazi doctrines. They hated Jews; they hated democracy; and they hated the Western culture. It became the official policy of the Third Reich to secretly develop the Muslim Brotherhood as the fifth Parliament, an army inside Egypt.
(John Loftus, who wrote the above article, is an interesting character himself. On the fifth hand -- do I sound like John Kerry? -- he wrote a long article claiming, with some justification, that the Bush family fortune was built on laundered Nazi wealth... though (a) the Bush launderer, witting or unwitting, was Prescott Bush, not either of the presidents; (b) there is no evidence that George H.W. Bush knew anything about it; and (c) Loftus's article is weakest where he tries hard to show that Prescott Bush was no dupe but an active conspirator (it resorts an awful lot to "he must have known").
(On the sixth hand, Loftus also argues very strongly that Iraq did indeed have WMD stockpiles until just before the invasion, and that it transferred the weaponry to Syria after being warned by Russia, which brings us right back on topic. Loftus is not easy to classify politically.)
The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the few groups that I would unhesitatingly call Islamofascist -- because they, unlike Hamas or Hezbollah, really are fascists.
Or they were; that's the big question: have they really changed since they were annihilated by Hafez Assad in his 1982 aerial bombardment of Hama, which slaughtered "between 10,000 and 30,000 people," according to the Wikipedia article cited above?
Although its leadership is in exile, the Brotherhood continues to enjoy considerable sympathy among Syrians. Riyyad al-Turk, a secular opposition leader, considers it "the most credible" Syrian opposition group. The Brotherhood has continued to advocate a democratic political system; it has abandoned its calls for violent resistance and for the application of shari'a law, as well as for Sunni uprisings against Alawites. Al-Turk and others in the secular opposition are inclined to take this evolution seriously, as a sign of the Brotherhood's greater political maturity, and believe that the Brotherhood would now be willing to participate in a democratic system of government.
Well, anything's possible. Most of the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria's violence was directed against Syrian security forces under Baathist control -- though some of its violent attacks were unquestionably just vicious acts of terrorism against civilians. They're very different from Hamas in that respect, as Hamas prefers targeting innocents.
And the Brotherhood is also very different from Hezbollah, which is a creation of the Iranian mullahs, controlled by them, and also by Syria in Lebanon; Hezbollah has always been a state-sponsored terrorist group, while the Brotherhood has fought against the regimes in virtually every country where it has been active: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.
But does it fight for democracy, as it claims, or for an "Islamic republic," as it insists it does not? Either way, if it pushes democracy -- even hoping to see the election go the way of the Palestinian Authority vote that elected Hamas -- I see this ganging up on Bashar Assad as a good thing: as democracy sweeps the Middle East (and it will), inevitably some countries will vote in terrorist jihadi groups like Hamas. But terrorists will discover that in a democracy, voters actually demand that the country be governed and governed well; and as terror regimes fail for want of a workable plan to govern, I believe the Arabs (and Iranians) will opt to throw out the terrorist bathwater -- but the not the infant democracy.
Groups like Hamas -- and possibly the Muslim Brotherhood -- will quickly learn that having something is not always so pleasant and easy as wanting something.
January 3, 2006
Assad On the Griddle
Everybody and King Kong's uncle has already commented on this, so I'll try to give it the Big Lizard Twist (which really ought to be a dance craze). Today, Detlev Mehlis, the U.N. prosecutor investigating the assassination of erstwhile (and expired) Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, renewed his demand that he be allowed to interrogate the Big He himself, Bashar Assad, the trivial son of erstwhile (and expired) Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad.
Mehlis tried before and was rebuffed; but since then, a former Syrian vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, has admitted to al-Arabiya TV that Assad himself personally threatened Hariri with death if he didn't support unconstitutionally and illegally extending the tenure of Lebanon's puppet president, Emile Lahoud. Hariri refused, and shortly thereafter found himself ascending to the pearly-gated community in the sky.
The Syrian parliament, in a fit of impotence, voted to try Khaddam (in absentia) for capital treason... and worse, to drum him out of the Baath Party. Khaddam, currently living in Paris, appears unafraid -- at least now that the riots have stopped.
But none of this to-and-fro changes the tempo of the investigation, which contracts like an anaconda tighter and tigher around the cockeyed ophthalmologist who runs Syria. He may well not be able to avoid being questioned now -- or suffering sanctions from the U.N. Security Council (France is on board this time, since they had good relations with Lebanon before the Syrian invasion; time and the franc are on our side).
The quandry for Bashar Assad, stuck between Iraq and a hard peace, is that allowing himself to be interrogated like a common street thug by, of all people, a German would humiliate him. In a tribal world where perception of strength is often the difference between life and death, to be jerked around by the U.N. may quite easily cost Assad what little confidence the Party and the military had in him.
Like Kim Jong Il, Assad's only claim to the Damascene throne is that he is his father's son (his second son; the eldest, Basil -- I rib you not -- had the ill grace to die in a car crash in 1994). He actually had no interest in Syrian politics, as faulty Basil was the anointed successor to Papa Hafez; in the '94 flash of steel and glass, Bashar's whole life changed... and he was not prepared.
His rule has been tentative and uncertain. The assassination of Hariri was a blunder of monumental proportions, which has already resulted in the Syrian army being ejected from its thirty-year occupation of Lebanon -- which must have enraged the generals. If Bashar Assad is now humiliated by being dragged in for questioning, I suspect he will be forced out.
And in the tribal politics of Syria, "forced out" generally means horizontally, or at least into prison -- as former president Salah Jadid discovered when he tried to oust Minister of Defense Hafez al-Assad in 1970.
The United States could fairly easily destabilize Syria even further and hasten the day of Bashar Assad's ignominious departure from the corridors of power: we could simply slide some of our Anbar Province troops northwest and seize a 15-20 mile strip of Syrian land adjoining the border with Iraq. We would announce that, since Syria has professed itself incapable of interdicting the "insurgents" (terrorists) flocking from Damascus to Anbar and Nineva, we were doing Bashar Assad a favor by interdicting them ourselves.
And if Syria runs to the U.N. to complain about their sovereignty being debased by the invasion and occupation of some desert area inhabited only by tribes that make their living smuggling arms, munitions, drugs, and terrorists across the border... we just respond "(cough, cough) Lebanon (cough cough)." They'll get the message.
December 6, 2005
Amazingly enough, many of the witnesses who earlier fingered Syria, and in particular, Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkut, in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, have abruptly begun to recant, claim they were bribed by Lebanese, or claim they were kidnapped and tortured into falsely accusing Syria. Or, in one instance, to die under mysterious circumstances.
All the while, the Syrians smugly wink at the U.N. investigators and say "witnesses? what witnesses?"
- The star witness in the Security-Council case against Syria, Hussam Taher Hussam, has suddenly begun making "outlandish claims to have given false testimony after being kidnapped, tortured and offered $1.3 million in bribes by Lebanese officials - charges that even critics of the investigation say are hard to believe."
- Earlier, another chief witness, Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik, has now "changed his testimony and confessed to participating in the attack." He's now cooling his sandals in a hoosegow in Paris.
- A pair of employees of some Syrian governmental agency say that another witness, "Abu George," is about to recant and claim he was bribed with $500,000 by Lebanese government officials.
- Nawar Habib Donna, who "was identified as having sold five of the eight cellphone cards that Mr. Mehlis's team had connected to the killing," died late last month when his car flipped over, hurling him down into a valley below the roadway.
All of these bizarre twists have two things in common: they strain credulity -- and they all serve to exonerate Syria and make it appear as though the victim-state, Lebanon, were the real perpetrator.
Oh, one more thing: they all stink like week-old fish.
The Syrians insist that the whole case against them for Hariri's assassination is blown:
Security agents escorted Mr. Hussam into a hotel room on Monday to recount for a reporter a tale that exonerates him and Syrian officials of all wrongdoing while implicating Syria's chief enemies in the killing and subsequent conspiracy to frame Damascus. He repeatedly boasted about his ability to mislead people.
"No, they are not dumb," Mr. Hussam said of the investigators, who he said never doubted his account of events even after questioning him dozens of times. "I am smarter. I penetrated through all of them. I am proud of it. I penetrated through all of them, and I acted well."
However, the chief investigator for the U.N. Security Council, Detlev Mehlis, appears to be unworried by the worrisome "recantations" and the death.
"That is why we put on paper what people tell us," Mr. Mehlis said in a discussion of the case in his Beirut office on Monday. "That is why we let them read what we put on paper. That is why after reading it, we let them sign it. That's why we have asked them: 'Have you been threatened? Have you been given promises? Have you been offered or given money?' And we let them read it and let them sign it, because it unfortunately happens that people die, that people get killed, that people get sick, or change their minds on what they have told us."
Mehlis notes that Hussam's original story was thoroughly checked out, "but we didn't find a major inaccuracy in his statements."
I think by now all of you reading this post have figured out what is going on: Bashar Assad and the Syrian generals who back him have decided to go to the mattresses on this one; so they've almost certainly called in a "fixer," an organization of people who take care of inconvenient witnesses, either by threats, bribery, or simply running them off the road. It strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that all these witnesses would accept massive bribes from Lebanon to implicate Syria in a murder that they have all but admitted committing... and then all simultaneously get attacks of conscience and change their stories.
The United States says that we're not particularly concerned, either:
A senior State Department official said the United States had no evidence that Mr. Mehlis's investigation was encountering problems and warned that Syria was waging a "concerted effort to cast doubt on the Mehlis investigation." He said allegations about the recanting of one witness's testimony and other problems did not constitute anything like evidence that the Mehlis inquiry was running into trouble, as Syria says.
I wonder whether that is because State still thinks the UNSC will vote to hold Syria responsible for the assassination that they clearly carried out, voting sanctions and indicting top Syrian officials -- or whether we're not concerned because we never did think the Security Council was going to do anything in the first place... and we're just biding our time for our own form of American justice.
The Syrians have a soft spot we could hit blindfolded: the Syrian government depends critically upon Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon and upon the thousands of Syrian intelligence agents who were left behind when the Syrian Army pulled out shortly after the assassination. If the Lebanese government formally requested our help, we could fly a few hundred SpecOps troops into Lebanon, lead and train up the Lebanese Army, and drive Hezbollah back into Syria within a year, with virtually no risk of any significant American casualties. Likewise, with our help, Lebanon could round up many of the Syrian intelligence agents (before the rest fled east in a panic) and rendite them -- to Israel. I'm sure Mossad would be more than happy to interrogate them for a while.
Unlike Iraq, there would be neither need nor permission granted for us to invade with an army; Syria could be crippled entirely through the use of a small number of Special Ops forces, and mostly by the Lebanese Army (who would be overjoyed at getting help "disarming" Hezbollah). Being driven out of Lebanon for good would finish off Assad, and Assad knows it.
So the Syrian triumph at, as I believe, threatening witnesses into silence (or shutting their mouths more permanently) will likely be short-lived, as they discover that there are worse things in the world than being investigated by the United Nations.
November 1, 2005
Syria Activates Bat-Signal for Help
...But Batman lets the answering machine pick up.
In a sign of increasing desperation, Syrian President Bashar Assad has issued an urgent call for an emergency meeting of the entire Arab League, the twenty-two Arab-speaking countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
But in a sign of increasing Syrian isolation, Arab diplomats have rebuffed Assad, suggesting instead a cozy gathering of just five countries -- all but one of whom (Algeria) are actively working with the United States in the GWOT, hence against Syrian interests.
From the Associated Press via FoxNews.com:
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria called for an emergency Arab League summit in a bid Monday to rally regional support in the face of a stern, unanimously adopted U.N. Security Council resolution demanding greater cooperation in the probe of the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.
But Arab diplomats, anticipating lack of broad support for a summit of all 22 members, suggested a smaller gathering of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon and Egypt if others decline out of concern over harming ties with the resolution's prime sponsors — the United States, France and Britain.
That "if" in the second paragraph is actually a gentle reminder that Bashar Assad is not his father Hafez, and this is not the 1970s.
Take a look at Syria's position as it stands now:
Every single country surrounding Syria is now actively working with the United States in the Global War on Terrorism: Turkey in the north, Lebanon and Israel in the west, Jordan (to some extent) in the south -- and on the eastern border is of course Iraq, which used to be Syria's brother Baathist dictatorship but which now contains a democratic government and 157,000 American soldiers, Marines, airmen, and sailors.
Meanwhile, Walid Jumblatt, head of Lebanon's of the Progressive Socialist Party and fierce critic of Assad and Syria, bluntly warned Assad to look east to see what was in store for him if he obstructed the U.N. investigation:
"If (he) acts like Saddam did, yes, we are heading to a situation similar to what happened in Iraq," Jumblatt said in an interview with the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite television channel late Sunday. "But if he acts in order to preserve Syria's national unity and Syria's interest before (serving) the brother-in-law, a brother or anyone, he can save Syria."
Jumblatt was referring to Assad's brother, Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence, who were named in an initial report submitted by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis on Oct. 28.
Jumblatt was probably being overly optimistic: as noted in a previous post, it is unlikely that the Syrian military would allow its head of intelligence to be handed over to the U.N. for interrogation and possible prosecution; they may well respond with an attempt at a coup d'etat instead.
It is looking more and more like Assad's days are numbered (or perhaps, as Woody Allen suggests, "lettered"). Many fear that if the Baathists collapse in Syria, it will bring a wave of Wahabbism or other Islamic fundamentalism to Syria. This is certainly a possibility; but as Turkey has proven, a country can be Islamist and still be democratic... and an Islamist democracy like Turkey does not pose a threat to the United States. The real danger is not Islamism but Islamic totalitarianism.
Bush may not have to "throw the dice" on Syria; it looks ready to come apart all on its own. We should be prepared, however, to move swiftly if necessary to rearrange the pieces into something more closely resembling democratic Iraq than the Wahabbist autocracy of Saudi Arabia or the Mullocracy of Iran.
October 31, 2005
UN to Syria: It's Déjà-Vu All Over Again - UPDATED
UPDATE 5:18 pm PST: See below.
Once again, I must trot out poor, old Yogi Berra to explain international affairs.
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) just voted unanimously to impose an inspection regime on Syria similar to that imposed on Iraq... but in this case, they're looking for evidence about Syria's involvement in the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.
But I have a question: suppose the team investigating Hariri's assassination, poring through records, comes across evidence that Syria accepted "large stockpiles" of weapons of mass destruction from their Baathist brothers in Iraq; is there any way that the investigation can be expanded to include that question?
I suppose I'm really asking three questions:
- Is there any possibility that the UN inspection team members would decide to follow such a lead if they stumbled across it?
- Is there any possibility that the UNSC could rein them in if they decided to do so?
- Is there any wiggle room for Syria to prevent the investigation turning that direction without violating the resolution?
Number 2 is the easiest to answer: since the United States and Britain are both permanent members and have veto authority in the UNSC, if the inspectors did start moving that direction, I don't believe the UNSC would, as a body, stop them; any such attempt to restrict the investigation would be vetoed by us and probably by the Brits as well.
Number 3 is so inside baseball that it could only by answered by an attorney familiar with this particular resolution and with "international law" in this area (those are scare quotes because I am very skeptical about the existence of international law in the first place). It certainly seems as if the leader of the inspection team, Detlev Mehlis, has the authority to pursue the case wherever he wants to take it:
The resolution grants the U.N.'s chief investigator, Detlev Mehlis of Germany, the authority to take his investigation anywhere in Syria, demand any documents and interview any individual, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, inside Syria or abroad. Syria is also required to abide by any request by Mehlis to arrest suspects, including Assad's closest aides and relatives.
So the most interesting question is number 1: suppose such evidence of WMD transfer cropped up... would Mehlis pursue it? He is the investigator who just submitted a hard-hitting report accusing Syria of active complicity in the assassination and also specifically naming a number of top Syrians, including chief of Syrian military intelligence Asef Shawkat (Bashar Assad's brother in law), President Bashar Assad's brother Maher, and other top members of the Assad regime. So it's pretty clear that Mehlis is rock solid on the assassination question.
But I don't know how he would react to discovering evidence on the two questions that are more interesting to me than the fairly settled issue of the Hariri bombing: did Iraq transfer its WMD to Syria before the war to prevent it being found, and is Syria actively complicit (as opposed to passively turning a blind eye) to terrorists crossing the border into Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis?
How wide is Detlev Mehlis willing to expand his investigation to follow the evidence?
If he is more of a Norm Coleman or Richard Butler type, then I think the answer would be "as far as the evidence leads;" but if he's a Hans Blix clone, I would suspect "not one inch beyond the mandate."
My guess is he is somewhere in between those two extremes, so I'm left in a state of uncertainty.
One delicious Freudian slip on the part of the Syrians is contained in the article, though the Washington Post reporter, Colum Lynch, doesn't seem to have noticed:
The Syrian foreign minister, Farouk Sharaa, said Syria would cooperate, but he argued that the U.N. report produced no evidence that Syrians had committed a crime. He denied that Syrians knew in advance of the plans to kill Hariri and said such suggestions were akin to saying that U.S. officials were aware that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were coming or that British officials expected the subway bombings last summer.
In other words, Sharaa drew a comparison between the United States suffering an attack on American soil and Great Britain suffering an attack on British soil -- with a terrorist attack on Lebanese soil. Is he admitting that the Syrians consider Lebanon a "renegade province" of Syria, as Saddam Hussein used to consider Kuwait to be Province 19 of Iraq, and as China considers Taiwan to be a breakaway part of Red China? An interesting admission!
One excellent sign: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used exactly the same phrase, "serious consequences," to describe what would happen if Syria refused to cooperate as UN Resolution 1441 threatened if Iraq refused to cooperate -- which, of course, is just what he failed to do.
Even if the United Nations refuses, at the end, to enforce its own resolution (again), let's hope that America will show as much resolve in 2006 as we did in 2003.
UPDATE: Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters earlier predicted dire consequences for the Assad dynasty if this resolution passed... which of course it did, unanimously. If Detlev Mehlis exercises his mandate and demands that Bashar Assad hand over military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat or Assad's brother Maher Assad, this puts the Syrian president in a quandry:
Assad doesn't generate the same kind of fear his father did, and that means his enemies will not find themselves cowed merely by his personality the way they might have with his father.
Turning over the suspects, of course, means coughing up his own family and the people at the top of the military intelligence apparatus. Before that happens, the military will likely have something to say about protecting its own, especially after suffering the humiliation of the withdrawal from Lebanon just this year. That looks like actual suicide, rather than political suicide.
If Assad chooses not to turn over the suspects, it will likely trigger real economic sanctions: even Russia and China will be hard-pressed to vote against such sanctions if Syria thumbs its nose at the resolution that they, themselves supported. As Ed notes,
After losing Lebanon for economic exploitation, the Syrians cannot afford any more economic hurdles and will not handle this kind of outside assault. The collapse of the Syrian economy will force the monied interests out of the country, and those have provided Assad with most of his power base.
So if Ed is correct, then the real question is who will follow Bashar Assad in the UnComfy Chair? If Syria suffers an actual coup d'etat, that might well open the door for the US forces just across the border to intervene much more directly and aggressively by launching attacks on so-called "safe cities" inside Syria, where terrorists gather and plot before infiltrating into Iraq.
It also might make it easier for Syrian democrats -- and I am sure they exist -- to try to seize their own country back from the vicious Baathists who have ruled there since 1963, after Syria split from the United Arab Republic (under which Syria had unified into a single country with Gamil Nasser's Egypt). If so, I hope that we offer whatever support such democrats may request from our nearby troops and airpower.
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