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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Well, somebody's afraid of the surge 


There are, I think, two groups of people who are afraid that the "surge" might work.

I spent the morning straightening up the house with various Sunday talk shows on in the background. The conviction with which Democratic Senators aver that the "surge" will only make matters worse is startling. They do not explain how it will make matters worse, only that it is inevitable that it will. While I myself am far from certain that the planned changes in tactics, commanders, force levels, rules of engagement and tone with the Iraqi government will work, I do not understand the downside. We are always free to adopt the opposition's idea, which is to withdraw at least from the fight, if not Iraq. If Iraq is in fact the geopolitical disaster that most Democrats (and no few Republicans) claim that it is, it seems to me that the incremental geopolitical risk in the surge is small.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer seemed to give away the game -- at least implicitly -- on "Meet the Press." He quite obviously does not want the next election cycle to be "about" Iraq. One gets the sense that this sentiment is even more pronounced among the Democrats who will be vying for their party's presidential nomination. It is easy to see why: the problem of Iraq will be nothing but trouble for leading Democrats. The party activists who hold sway during the primary season will demand that candidates embrace the so-called "anti-war" agenda without reservation, but if Democrats do that too enthusiastically they will remind voters that their party has been all about defeat since 1972. Since none of them want to be caught in that Liebermanesque trap, leading Democrats are desperate for Iraq to be off the table by next fall. [UPDATE: Hillary's new and bizarre demand that all American troops be out of Iraq by January 2009 is the new, best evidence in support of my suspicions. This was a mistake on her part, for it reinforces the impression that in opposing the surge the Democrats are motivated by electoral considerations rather than an honest appraisal of the national interest.]

From the perspective of Democratic political strategy, the worst possible result would be partial success -- for conditions in Iraq to improve significantly and palpably, but not decisively. That would guarantee that Iraq would remain a central theme in the 2008 campaign, not just as fodder for attacks on Republican "incompetence," but as a problem to be solved in the future, and that would be a nightmare for the leading Democrats. This is the reason, I believe, why at least some leading Democrats are so obviously willing the surge to fail.

Interestingly, the enemy also seems to be afraid of the surge. Under the headline, "Death squad chieftains flee to beat Baghdad surge," the Times of London reported not only that the new plan was motivating "death squad chieftains" to leave the country, but that Iran was sheltering the enemy:

DEATH SQUAD leaders have fled Baghdad to evade capture or killing by American and Iraqi forces before the start of the troop “surge” and security crackdown in the capital.

A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.

Among those said to have fled is Abu Deraa, the Shi’ite militia leader whose appetite for sectarian savagery has been compared to that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, who was killed last year.

This is far from unalloyed good news -- since these bastards have gone to Iran, we can't kill them and they will live to fight again. As the linked article makes clear, Prime Minister al-Maliki may have even encouraged them to flee. But scaring the death squad commanders out of the country is a good intermediate step. With the leadership gone, perhaps morale at the lower echelons will suffer, and perhaps the Iraqi army will be able to make some progress in restoring the order that is necessary to strengthen the central government.

There is an additional advantage in this, and that is in the "outing" of Iran. It is, of course, no surprise to anybody who is even remotely aware that the Islamic Republic would provide sanctuary to somebody with an apparently unquenchable "appetite for sectarian savagery." Even under the "reformist" government of John Kerry's new greatest fan, Iran was ecumenical in its willingness to do so. Nevertheless, there remain a great many people in the world -- including United States Senators -- who believe that the perfidy of Iran is an invention of the Bush administration. If the surge clarifies that little ambiguity for the next president of the United States, it will at least have served the purpose of defining the threat.

23 Comments:

By Blogger JohnF, at Sun Jan 28, 03:42:00 PM:

Allowing these death squad "leaders" to escape just seems unbelievably inept, as our advance notice that we were coming simply let them go.

May I ask why we tipped our hand so brilliantly? What is the precedent for this? Am I forgetting that Churchill told the Nazis we were coming on D-Day or something?  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Sun Jan 28, 04:31:00 PM:

"This is far from unalloyed good news -- since these bastards have gone to Iran, we can't kill them and they will live to fight again."

Awfully credulous, aren’t we, TH? This report should be ringing alarm bells. The key line, “A former senior Iraqi minister said most of the leaders loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American cleric, had gone into hiding in Iran.”

Of the main Shi’ite operators in Iraq, Moqtada is the one least close to Iran. He’s a nationalist, Iraqi through and through. If he was worried about his people and wanted to move them to friendly territory, there are plenty of places in Iraq to put them. Maysan province’s elected government is controlled by the Sadrists, for example. Secondly, why even move them out of Sadr City? The increased amount of Americans coming means that the Mahdi army may have to lie low, but as soon as they stash their weapons and black uniforms, they’re just ordinary civilians, safe amongst their brethren.

It seems likely that this report says far more about the “former senior Iraqi minister” than it does about Moqtada. It’s an old Sunni bigotry to associate Shi’ites with Persians as a way of questioning their loyalty to Iraq. This could be some of that. Sectarian tensions are running a bit high right now, after all. The other possibility is that, much the same way as vaguely sourced damning yet ultimately untrue reports about Iraq surfaced in news carriers in the run-up to war there, the same thing is happening again, but this time with target Iran.

A friend bet me that the U.S. will strike Iran militarily before Memorial Day weekend. I took his bet. I think it is unlikely to happen, but certainly not overwhelmingly so (if Israel hits Iran before Memorial Day weekend, it’s a push). However, every time I see stories like this, I start getting 2002 déjà vu, and it looks just a little bit more like I might have to pay out on this one.  

By Blogger M. Simon, at Sun Jan 28, 05:04:00 PM:

The Nazis knew we were coming.

They knew the target was France.

What they didn't know was where the landings would be Calais, further north, or Normandy.

The also didn't know when.

So yes. In effect the Fermans knew we were coming and that Frace was the place.  

By Blogger Consul-At-Arms, at Sun Jan 28, 05:48:00 PM:

The downside that one sincere questioner brought up in conversation with me was whether U.S. casualties would increase.

It's my understanding that while total casualty figures, in general, are higher when we have more troops on the ground, the casualty rates actually drop the more troops are there.

Now that doesn't take into account things like increasing the number and scale of offensive operations, but I don't see going on the offensive to be a bad thing. It's smarter than hunkering down and taking it because if you do that, "take it" you will.

On the bright side, for those idiots who enjoy similarities between Iraq and Vietnam (and they really have to work for them, most of the time), Iran has given them another one by providing a sanctuary to which the Mahdi Cong cadres can take refuge, just like Cambodia and/or NVN.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jan 28, 05:52:00 PM:

Shochu John, it is of course wise to be skeptical. Thanks for the reminder of the Sadrist nationalism.

Still, I imagine they stash them where they can. It's a calculated risk for both individuals and groups. The idea that it's "not too much risk" in place A will be measured against "but almost zero risk" at place B. Adding in the complexities of return, whipping up loyalty and morale, and keeping the weaponry under control, and people will make divergent decisions.

Great opportunities for infiltration.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 28, 05:55:00 PM:

Everyone knows that the true enemy here is Iran. Now or later someone is going to have to deal with Iran. If it is later it will be a nuclear Iran. That is if they decide to wait to nuke Israel, which is a bit of a delusional hope. Al Sadr has been getting a lot of money and support from Iran. We have been capturing Iranian agents in Iraq. Iraq will never be secure as long as the mullahs are in power.

If you go look at bookstands in the major retail stores you will see that 2 or 3 of the feature titles will have Iran in it. Iran is the big white elephant in the room that Bush tries not to mention but is forced to. Bush's ratings aren't low because the 40-45% of the country that opposed the Iraq war from the beginning switched their opinion. His ratings are low because the large portion of his base that thought the goal was sweeping change in the middle east is pissed he hasn't called Iran out and demonstrated that he plans on dealing with them in a credible manner. We are losing momentum in this conflict because Bush is not dealing credibly with the true threat in the middle east and the jacksonian component of Bush's base is deserting him.

If Bush calls out Iran and he takes them on his popularity will return to what it was when people thought Iraq was just a first step.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jan 28, 06:26:00 PM:

If the surge works we will never know, the media will bury success on page 128 and lead with the most minute failures.

CO Pessimist  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Jan 28, 06:42:00 PM:

Secondly, why even move them out of Sadr City?

Because even Iraq lives in the era of mass media and cell phone cameras?

Hard to be anonymous when your picture is floating around.  

By Blogger Billll, at Sun Jan 28, 06:52:00 PM:

Sounds like the surge is working admirably already. The rats are fleeing the ship (Sadr City) and many of them are not making it across Diala (sp?) to the border. It looks to me like banging on the nest with a stick, and catching them as they flee along a fairly predictable route. Do we get them all? No, but we get a bunch, and coming back may not be as easy as the escape.
The best weapon is one you don't actually have to use. The enemy flees in anticipation.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jan 29, 09:51:00 AM:

"Of the main Shi’ite operators in Iraq, Moqtada is the one least close to Iran."

Flat wrong. He travels to Iran regularly for 'consultations' with senior clerical figures, and has for the last few years. The Mahdi Army (his personal militia) is supplied and trained by the Iranians. Iranian agents have been arrested WITH his henchmen, and Iranian weapons and explosives caches belonging to the Mahdi Army have been seized. (recently; I read about it last week on BBC: Arabic)

Isn't it funny how none of this makes it into the US press?  

By Blogger Great American, at Mon Jan 29, 09:58:00 AM:

From the perspective of Democratic political strategy, the worst possible result would be partial success -- for conditions in Iraq to improve significantly and palpably, but not decisively. That would guarantee that Iraq would remain a central theme in the 2008 campaign...

Gotta say, it sure didn't work out badly for the Dems in '06 when Iraq was a central theme in the campaign. The only real hope for the GOP in '08 is to take Iraq off the table. The American people trust the Dems more to handle Iraq than they trust the GOP.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Mon Jan 29, 10:02:00 AM:

Two things.
1. The source for the London Times story is “former senior Iraqi minister”, an anonymous title I give about as much credibility to as Jamil Hussein, and given the state of normal sources in that country I have good reason.
2. If it is true, and he did flee to Iran, what makes you think he is any safer there than in Iraq?  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Jan 29, 12:08:00 PM:

Dawnfire,
Note, firstly, that I did say that the Mahdi Army was less close to Iran than other Shi'ite political operators in Iraq. I don't think you would even say that they eclipse the excpilictly Khomenist SCIRI, with Iran having nursed the Badr Corps the dark days of Saddam. I suppose it is possible that the Iranians and Moqtada's people are getting friendlier. It may be in the Iranians' interest worm their way into a few more applies, especially given that Moqtada is looking increasingly like a winning horse in Iraq. However, it would mean undermining their traditional allies in favor of a nationalist firebrand, which would be a risky move for Tehran.

In any case, sourcing of this information is important. It is possible that anti-Sadrist forces within Iraq are playing up a Sadrist-Iran connection to discredit the Sadrists amongst more patriotic Shi'ites, or perhaps to make it more attractive for the Americans to go after them. What sources are you finding in your readings?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Jan 29, 01:48:00 PM:

Dawnfire82: "The American people trust the Dems more to handle Iraq than they trust the GOP."

Nope. As many people voted against the GOP culture of corruption as voted against the war.

If not for Foley, Cunningham, Delay et al, it is doubtful the GOP would have lost control of the House.

Prove I'm wrong: Let the Dems nominate a slate of McGovernites and see how well they do.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Mon Jan 29, 06:31:00 PM:

Oh please.

Of the main Shi’ite operators in Iraq, Moqtada is the one least close to Iran. He’s a nationalist, Iraqi through and through

He and Hassan Nasrallah got the same training from the same ayatollahs.

he's an "iraqi nationalist" because it suits him at this juncture. tyrants need enemies and Sadr's enemy is the US. the second we leave Sadr will be doing the Hassan Nasrallah two step in B-dad. That's what his masters in Teheran want and that's what he'll deliver.  

By Blogger Pudentilla, at Mon Jan 29, 06:43:00 PM:

While I myself am far from certain that the planned changes in tactics, commanders, force levels, rules of engagement and tone with the Iraqi government will work, I do not understand the downside.

oh, TH, you big tease you. do you think the splurge will work, or not?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Jan 29, 07:38:00 PM:

I'm not sure where you get the idea that Muqtada is an Arab or Iraqi nationalist firebrand, since pretty much everyone he and his militia have killed in the last couple of years have been Iraqi Arabs; I've always seen him as a Shiite Nationalist. And he's been in the Iranians' pocket at least since his original 'revolt' against the Coalition interim government was put down.

Party to Party comparisons aside, (like to the SCIRI) you said "of all the Shi'te operators [in Iraq], Moqtada is the one least close to Iran." Others might answer to Iranian trumpets as well, to varying degress, but he is most certainly not the least among them.

As for sources; part of my 'knowledge' just comes from being in MI and hearing things I shouldn't (I've never worked against Iran) here and there, but a lot of what leaks to open source is cought here:

http://regimechangeiniran.com/

It's a good site.

And as I mentioned, the recent seizing of Iranian arms and agents and Mahdi Army militants and captains were talked about in Arab language press quite a bit, but are mysteriously left out of English print. For example, I didn't see the the story on BBC Arabic to which I was referring earlier on regular English language BBC. (though I didn't look hard, te arrests of 600 militiamen including leaders and a few tons of weapons and explosives is kind of a big story)

Anon: "Dawnfire82: "The American people trust the Dems more to handle Iraq than they trust the GOP."

I, uh, didn't say that.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Mon Jan 29, 10:35:00 PM:

"I'm not sure where you get the idea that Muqtada is an Arab or Iraqi nationalist firebrand, since pretty much everyone he and his militia have killed in the last couple of years have been Iraqi Arabs; I've always seen him as a Shiite Nationalist."

In a sense, yes. In another, no. Muqtada has always opposed the regionalization plan that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim keeps talking about every chance he gets because Muqtada believes in a unified Iraq. He has actually been able to find common ground with certain Sunni political groups on this issue in the past. Further, he had his people sending in aid convoys to the Sunnis in besieged Fallujah. Muqtada does not dislike Sunnis. He only dislikes Ba’athists and the al Qaeda types who hate Shi’ites. I am sure you can find many of his speeches on the subject to enjoy in their original Arabic. However, he has gotten along fine in the past with the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars who are neither. Their mutual dislike for Americans and desire for a unified Iraq seem to give them a lot of common ground. Of course, now, common ground politicking has given way to sectarian violence in the streets and it seems like Muqtada’s militia is decreasingly within his control. It’s just my hunch, but after the surge is over and they all come out of hiding, they’re going to be more outrageous than ever.

“http://regimechangeiniran.com/”

I just visited and the second post cites Amir Taheri, who I remember fondly from his breathless and totally untrue assertions that Iran was forcing the public brandishing of religious identification. I find that hucksters with agendas are a terrible place for actual information, though they do provide previews of disinformation to come, especially when the need to create a rationale for military action arises.

“For example, I didn't see the the story on BBC Arabic to which I was referring earlier on regular English language BBC. (though I didn't look hard, te arrests of 600 militiamen including leaders and a few tons of weapons and explosives is kind of a big story)”

Yes, it’s kind of curious. I just popped over to the English BBC myself, and though I found many less significant stories than that would be, not a peep.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Tue Jan 30, 01:12:00 AM:

"hucksters with agendas"

Boy, that's rich coming from someone who was burbling about Hizbullah's "peaceful" resistance in Lebanon just a few days ago. How's that workin' for ya now, pal?  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Tue Jan 30, 10:46:00 AM:

The peace is, as always in Lebanon, Gary, uneasy. However, uneasy peace beats easy war. The "strike" which followed the aforediscussed peaceful resistance ended precisely because it began to get violent. I never suggested Lebanon was going to remain peaceful. What I did suggest is that peaceful antigovernment protests bode well for Lebanon's future. I stand by that. We saw what outright civil war looked like in Beirut in the 1980's. We are seeing it in Baghdad right now. It's not pretty. Lebanon could theoretically backslide to that, but it hasn't yet.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Wed Jan 31, 09:20:00 PM:

"I just visited and the second post cites Amir Taheri, who I remember fondly from his breathless and totally untrue assertions that Iran was forcing the public brandishing of religious identification. I find that hucksters with agendas are a terrible place for actual information, though they do provide previews of disinformation to come, especially when the need to create a rationale for military action arises."

If you'd gone past the second post, you might have noticed that they use all sorts of sources for their information, including major western newspapers, cable services, blogs, local middle eastern newspapers, official statements, and so forth.

"Yes, it’s kind of curious. I just popped over to the English BBC myself, and though I found many less significant stories than that would be, not a peep."

Another example of an allied success swept under the carpet. And some people still insist that we get the straight dope about Iraq from the media...  

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