Washington’s Iranian dilemma

All three of the major Middle East crisis-areas that I identified in this JWN post last week are entering new and even more dangerous phases.
That is: Iraq; Israel-Palestine; and the Iranian nuclear developments.
The Bushites find themselves faced, in all three of these areas, with choices that are just about impossible for them to make– if they stick to the pugnaciously unilateralist approach to foreign affairs that they’ve pursued since 9/11.
In fact, it’s very interesting and significant already that they’re trying to take the Iranian case to the Security Council rather than “simply” deploying their own or Israel’s military might to obliterate the cause of their concern there.
But even the Bushites are realistic enough to understand that if they did attempt an “Osirak” option:

    (1) It would only set back the Iranian program– whatever that is intended to achieve, which we still do not know– by a short period of time;
    (2) It could meanwhile confidently be predicted to provoke a firestorm of violent anti-US and anti-Israeli actions throughout the Middle East– including very probably against both the widely-dispersed US forces in Iraq and their lengthy and vulnerable supply lines;
    (3) It could also be predicted to provoke a massive and largely unpredictable political/diplomatic reaction throughout a world that has seen the US government giving a nod and a wink to the “outside the law” acquisition of nuclear weapons by Israel, India, and Pakistan, but which then chooses to launch military action action to end a nuclear program in Iran that– even with the launching of fuel-enrichment activities– still does not transgress the basic terms of the NPT.

What will happen at the Security Council if the Bushites succeed in their campaign to have that body consider the case of the Iranian nuclear developments? Who knows? It certainly wouldn’t easily result in the kind of strong-condemnation outcome that the Bushites would aim for. The balance of global power is no longer one that is prepared almost “automatically” to give Washington whatever it asks for.
And if the Security Council starts examining the status of the NPT– how about looking at the degree of progress on Article 6, while we’re about it?
… Anyway, I’ve opened this thread here for people to discuss the Iranian nuclear question. It certainly won’t be “going away” as an issue anytime over the next three weeks! Nor will the other two portions of Washington’s current Middle East “trifecta”.
I, however, will be “going away”… Well, not literally. But this week my agent and I have been nailing down the arrangements for publishing my book on transitional justice issues in Africa. They involve me rewriting just about the entire manuscript within the next three weeks. I need to bring the length down from 108K words to under 100K, and do some re-arranging. Good job my whole professional formation was on the basis of “Deadlines ‘R’ Us”, eh?
So expect my postings here over the next few weeks to be even more scrappy and idiosyncratic than usual. (Though I have a very interesting one up my sleeve for you, soon.) In the meantime, have some good conversations here among yourselves if you should wish…

Powell Doctrine story, concluded

Sometimes, I find that I can work my own thinking out most satisfactorily if I start writing… and then, that I will end up in places fairly different than where I started out from– or indeed, than where I might have expected to go. That’s something that has happened with the “Powell Doctrine” story that I started here yesterday, and have just concluded… and I’ve found out now that it’s not really centrally about the Powell Doctrine at all.

Oh well. That’s okay. That’s what life as a writer is frequently like. The problem, though, with being a blogger is that I’ve already “published” what I wrote yesterday… What I wrote today takes off from, and complements, that earlier post. But it ends up in quite a different place than I expected.

Luckily, this work is not at all wasted. It’s already started a good conversation down on that other post. Plus, I think I’ll take the two posts together and fashion them into a slightly more coherent essay for a dead-wood publication sometime in the near future… Anyway, enough of my introduction here…

Where we had gotten to in this story yesterday
is that our two intrepid plotters, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, had
decided that after 9/11 they had a unique opportunity to kill the “Powell
Doctrine” once and for all– but that to do so they needed to demonstrate
the power of the US military not just in Afghanistan but also in Iraq.
Now, read on…

It now seems pretty well established– from the books by Bob Woodward
and Ron Susskind, among other sources– that Che/feld had succeeded
as early as December 2001 or so
in persuading George W. Bush of the
need to invade Iraq.  But from the beginning they planned that this
military operation should be very different from the one that, just over
ten years earlier, had been successful in ejecting Saddam Hussein’s forces
from Kuwait.  The 1991 operation had been a Powell Doctrine classic,
consisting of: (1) the amassing around the targeted theater of a military
force large enough to cope with just about any contingency; (2) the administration’s
pursuit of a steady and open campaign of political persuasion designed to
win strong support for the use of force from both the US public and the United Nations; and (3) the definition,
prior to the start of hostilities, of the precise political goals of the
operation– a definition that was worked out in conjunction with all allies
and endorsed by the U.N., and that formed the core of the “exit strategy”.

The operation that Che/feld planned from late 2001 on would be radically
different on all three scores.  In particular, Rumsfeld wanted to
“prove” the efficacity of his favored force structure– one dominated
by light and very mobile forces that could be deployed anywhere around
the world
with a minimum of lead-time.  (Unlike the force
structure used in 1990-91, which took around eight months to assemble.)

Rumsfeld’s concept really was for a “stealth force”, one that could
pop up to threaten or attack a potential foe with an absolute minimum of
advance notice.  It would also be “stealthy”, in his and Cheney’s
thinking, by virtue of the fact that it would be small enough that its
assembling could “slip under the radar” of too much scrutiny and oversight
by the US Congress and the US political class
, in general. If this light,
stealthy force could achieve its political objective and all be shipped home
relatively quickly, they must have thought, why bother about going to all
the trouble of consulting with Congressional leaders, getting a highly specific
authorization for this operation from the Congress (something that would
also tip off DC-watchers everywhere else in the world as to what was afoot),
and doing all that hard work of public persuasion such as George Bush I
did in late 1990?

Continue reading “Powell Doctrine story, concluded”

Powell Doctrine to be reinstated?

In today’s WaPo, Ellen Knickmeyer reports that, “The Bush administration does not intend to seek any new funds for Iraq reconstruction in the budget request going before Congress in February, officials say.”
And so, friends, this is the way that the end of the cataclysmic project the US government has pursued in Iraq over the past four years gets announced.
Evidently, if no more funds will be requested for “reconstruction” the Bush administration will be cutting Iraq loose to fend for itself. Once there is no more pretext of “reconstruction”, the US military footprint will almost certainly be radically reduced and, in effect, most of the country handed over to the Iranians. (Or, in a slightly better scenario, the Iranians and/or Ayatollah Sistani will see the wisdom of reaching some form of a new nationalist consensus with the Sunni Arabs and any Kurds who might care to join it… Which might not, actually, be very many at all.)
But anyway, by announcing the rapid winding down of the “reconstruction” project, the Bushies are signaling that the speeches the Prez made over the past six weeks were, indeed, the “declaration of victory” that was required before the administration implemented its plan for a “strategically wise redployment of the troop presence” in Iraq.
(Let the words “cut and run” never cross my lips.)
So this is the way the war ends. Not without many continuing bangs, certainly; but equally certainly with this damp squib of a whimper. Knickmeyer quotes Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps of Engineers commander overseeing the reconstruction work in Iraq, as saying: “The U.S. never intended to completely rebuild Iraq… This was just supposed to be a jump-start.”
Truly breath-taking, how they tried to sneak this latest declaration past an unsuspecting public while Americans were still dozing off their post-New Year’s hangovers, and while Congress is most assuredly out of session.
Still, all caveats having been taken into consideration, I have to breathe a massive sign of relief. Phew!!!! It looks as though they have finally decided they need to bite the bullet of a large-scale (if still not yet total) reduction of the troop presence in Iraq.
And even if the withdrawal envisaged is still not total, it is already appropriate to start to think about what this development means for US strategic doctrine and for Washington’s relationship with the rest of the world.
As I’ve written here before, any large-scale US withdrawal from Iraq will have ramifications far beyond the borders of that benighted country, and far beyond the Persian Gulf region, too. To start to think through some of these ramifications, I think it’s best to back up and see just what it was that Bushies were trying to achieve, back in late 2001 when– just a few weeks after 9/11– they decided they needed to invade and take over not just Afghanistan, but also Iraq.
Here is my first quick stab at this assessment…

Continue reading “Powell Doctrine to be reinstated?”

George Bush and “victory”

I’ve been thinking a lot about George W. Bush today. Can’t help it. Here’s what I’ve been thinking…
He and his administration have been making a big deal about the record so far regarding yesterday’s election in Iraq. Claiming it as their own “victory”. (See, for example, the exultant– if somewhat patronizing– text of the remarks he made to some visiting Iraqi-exile “just plain voters” who visited the White House yesterday.) And I can’t really decide how I feel about this claimed “victory”. Here are the two main points on which I’m anguishing:

    (1) I am very happy that the Iraqi people get the chance to vote for their government. I hope that this vote proves to be a meaningful one– though I fear that two big factors may strip it of its value: (a) the centrifugal nature of the draft constitution, and the clear intention of most Kurds to indeed, flee from the Iraqi political center, which together may mean that the “national government” is a meaningless body; and (b) we know that a strong majority of Iraqis want to see the US occupation end: but will the body elected yesterday actually be able to pursue that goal on behalf of the electors?
    (2) I believe the central goal for the “peace and human equality” movement here in the US and elsewhere around the world now has to be the speedy and total withdrawal of the US forces from Iraq. But is this likelier to happen if we can allow George W. Bush to claim one or more political “victories” in Iraq? Is it indeed possible that him claiming this “victory” right now is a way for him to politically cover his rear end as he prepares to– in effect– “cut and run” from a situation that, as his political handlers now believe, has become increasingly politically costly for him and for his party.

There is actually a third big concern I have about yesterday’s election which causes me no anguish to think through, at all. That is: were the Iraqi voters indeed able to express their preferences freely, and to have it fairly represented in the final outcome of the election– or did the US and its allies, or other parties, end up beng able to “rig” the election and thus steal it from the Iraqi voters? If that latter thing happened, then of course the election was not a “victory” for anything valuable, at all.
But the other two issues are tough ones to think through. I don’t want to punish George W. Bush if his clear intention is to do what I consider to be the “right thing”– i.e., to withdraw from Iraq. But I really don’t want him, at the end of the day, to be able to say that his whole invasion and subsequent lengthy occupation of Iraq has been “successful”.
That risks having two consequences I consider very worrying: (a) his cohorts in the right wing of the Republican Party might be able to use the claims about that victory to stanch the erosion of support they have been suffering among US public opinion, and to lay the basis for further political victories here in 2006 and 2008; and (b) Bush himself, or the other US president (of either party) who follows him, might be tempted to try to do a “regime-change invasion” some place else, over the years ahead…
Then again, I really do want the much-battered and much-abused Iraqi people to find a way of achieving stable self-governance. If having “successful” elections there right now helps to bring this about– both by paving the way for a total US withdrawal, as noted above, and by providing the basis for a working national governance structure– then I reckon I would have to be totally for the success of those elections, regardless of whether this strengthens George Bush here in the US or not…

CSM column on diplomacy in Iraq

Here is the column of mine that ran in the CSM on Thursday. (Also, here).
Sorry it took me so long to post that. I’ve been really busy.
Alert JWN readers will note that the column is much gentler on Zal Khalilzad than what i generally write here. I still don’t think the guy has become a Quaker pacifist and philanthropist. (Though there’s still time, Zal!) But on reflection I did conclude that at least pursuing a policy of negotiations inside Iraq is a lot better than continuing to to try to rely solely on military means to resolve Washington’s problems in Baghdad. And if, as a result, there’s an easing of the broader tensions between Washington and Iran, then so very much the better.
And I wanted to recognize that in the column.
What I didn’t have space for there was to express my deep, deep reservations about much of the rest of the content of what Khalilzad and Gen. Casey are doing inside Iraq. They are certainly far from having given up their reliance on military force, and their use of pernicious divide-and-rule tactics, altogether.
Also, I didn’t say anything about the grave doubts I have about the tactics used by many other parties inside Iraq, too. That includes militants from all three of the big local population groups (including those inside and outside the present government), as well as the government of Iran.
I don’t believe any of these parties has yet become Gandhian angels! But still– and this is a centrally important point– it is always better to find ways to de-escalate violence and open up the path for negotiations, rather than not to… Especially with people you disagree with!
That was the point I wanted to get across.

Gulf of Tonkin redux, redux

Today, I received an email from Tom Cleaver of “That’s Another Fine Mess” who had wanted to post a comment on my Oct. 31 post about the emergence of new evidence about the exaggeration or downright faking of the (second) of the 1964 “incidents” in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Tom was an on-watch Petty Officer on the admiral’s staff aboard the “Pine Island” when the USS Maddox reported it had been fired on that night…
The software here closes down the Comments boards after some period of time. So Tom couldn’t post his comment. I’ll paste it in in full, just below.
But before I move over to the intriguing contents of his email, I’ll tell you that the (non-governmental) National Security Archive organization has a fine new portal to the Gulf-of-Tonkin-related documents that have finally been declassified over the past few days. If you go there, you can even read the previously classified article on SIGINT aspects of the GoT story, written by the intel agencies’ in-house historian Robert Hanyok. So now you can read Hanyok’s article, read Tom Cleaver’s criticism of his work, and decide for yourself…
Here, anyway, was Tom’s email:

    I was just referred to your site where you comment about the Tonkin Gulf incident and the NSA historian saying the “intelligence was flawed.”
    I was going to post the following there, but it wasn’t allowed. I thought you might be interested with this information.
    Tom Cleaver
    Not only was there not an attack on August 4, there were no attacks on the Maddox ever in August 1964. The Tonkin Gulf “incident” never happened.
    In 1966, the former Chief Sonarman of the Maddox told an officer I served with on the staff of Commander Patrol Forces 7th Fleet (the operational command of the Maddox and Turner Joy) that “there were never any torpedoes in the water on the first night.” It happens that, while whales and schools of fish in particular formations can be mistaken for submarines, there is no “natural” sound in the water like a torpedo. It is unmistakeable. There were no North Vietnamese torpedo boats anywhere near the Maddox, which was actually there to perform fire support for a South Vietnamese “34-Alpha” commando raid on Hon Me Island (a bit of geography that is always conveniently not shown on any US maps of the “incident”).
    On August 4, the Maddox and Turner Joy only managed to not sink each other when a Fire Controlman 3rd class in the control tower of the Maddox refused to open fire on the grounds that “the only target I have is the Turner Joy.” He was later court-martialed for “failure to obey a direct order” and reduced in rank. Lt (jg) Fred Gardner, the assistant gunnery officer on the Turner Joy (and later one of the founders of the GI antiwar movement), managed to convince his commanding officer that the only target they had was the Maddox. Had a junior officer and a junior enlisted man not stuck to their guns, so the guns remained stuck in the non-firing position, one would have sunk the other (if not mutually) and things would have been very different.
    The entire Tonkin Gulf “incident” was a lie from beginning to end, and if some moron “historian” from the NSA is too stupid to figure out that August 2 was as phony as August 4, then it’s no wonder the only “historian” work he could get was this “job.”
    I say all this because I was there as a member of the staff of the drunken old fool of an “Admiral” who was supposed to be in charge of this.

Another lousy war over a bunch of made-up accusations, eh?
(At lunch today, George Packer said one of the differences between the US in Vietnam and the US in Iraq is that actually, in Vietnam, the stakes turned out not to be so huge. “The US was able to walk away and lick its wounds, and not suffer too much.” But in Iraq, he argued, the stakes are much higher– “because Iraq is a much more important country on the global scene than Vietnam.” I agree with that. I agree too with the implication of what George was arguing, namely that in withdrawing from Iraq the US won’t simply be able to walk away and lick its wounds and act as if nothing too big had happened… Indeed not. In the aftermath of a US withdrawal from Iraq, we need to recognize that the whole structure of the relationship between the US and the other 96% of the world’s people has to be radically restructured. We should not carry on as if it’ll be “US hegemony, as usual” the day after the withdrawal… Anyway, why would we want that?)

Epistolary fraud? Almost certainly

Juan Cole’s explanation of why the “Zawahiri Letter” looks like a forgery is very convincing to me. (Al-Qaeda’s leadership itself has also claimed it is such.)
Juan argues that basic elements in the greetings, etc., used in the “Letter” indicate that:

    Most likely it is a black psy-ops operation of the US. But it could also come from Iran, since the mistakes are those a Shiite might make when pretending to be a Sunni. Or it could come from an Iraqi Shiite group attempting to manipulate the United States.

Hey, Juan, don’t forget the Brits! Remember that (1) Blair’s guys have a huge presence down there in the Shiite areas of southern Iraq, and (2) British rightwingers were the author of the infamous 1924 “Zinoviev Letter” which, by apparently associating Ramsey Macdonald’s Labour Party with the machinations of the Soviet Comintern, lost Labour the British General Election of that year.
The role the Zinoviev Letter played in that election has been extensively studied in Britain, including in recent years. Many Labour leaders thought the British intelligence services had been complicit in its production. But that Wikipedia entry states that a 1999 study by the British Foreign Office’s chief historian found that, intelligence responsibility for the letter was “inherently unlikely.”
The Wikipedia entry also noted that:

    Although much of its content otherwise persuasively echoes Comintern vocabulary, the letter contains errors (such as “Executive Committee, Third Communist International” – a nonsensical title) which led many even at the time to denounce it as a hoax.

Well, who knows who the true author is this time round, of what looks very likely to have been a Zinoviev-letter-type hoax– and also one released just before a key nationwide vote.
(Anyway, here’s another important question: Has anyone in the British media found out yet what those two SAS guys were actually doing when they were barrelling around Basra, heavily armed and dressed as Arabs, and they got arrested by the Iraqi police just over three weeks ago?)
On Tuesday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (that is, Negroponte) put the text of the “Zawahiri Letter” up on its website in both Arabic and English, accesible through a portal on which this statement is made:

    The United States Government has the highest confidence in the letter’s authenticity.

But it is not really the US government that needs to be “convinced” of the letter’s authenticity, is it?

Nations and purposes

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the conference on 
Terrorism, Security, & America’s Purpose

that I sat through for a long day on Tuesday and most of yesterday.  There
was lots of great substance, from some very impressive thinkers and analysts
(and a fair bit of dross, too.)  The “spectacle” aspect of it was notable
too: 700 people sitting at banquet tables in a vast banquet-hall in the Capital
Hilton; panel after panel of big-name politicians, thinkers, and funders
following each other with clockwork regularity to a long “front table” lit
with heavy TV lighting and flanked by massive video screens…

(And, it has to be said, a gallery of performers that was very heavily tilted
towards white males… What is it about “security” issues that makes the
guys sweep women’s wisdom aside so lightly?  I swear to God things were
better in Washington DC in this respect ten years ago, than today.)

At one point early along the way I got to wondering, “What is this massive–and
not cheap– undertaking all about?”  And as I noted

I concluded that it was an an attempt to stage a public forum on the listed
was “both  high level and wide-ranging”.  And it’s true that the
conference did lend itsK-Street-glitzy stamp of political “legitimacy” to
ideas as far-reaching as that (1) Bush’s Iraq policy needs a serious re-thinking
, and even that (2) the non-resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
had contributed to Muslim and worldwide hostility to the US.
an addendum to the latter proposition– which I had voiced a few times in
my work in the working-group on “Underlying causes of terrorism”, and which
Nir Rosen, Juan Cole, and a number of other speakers made very explicitly
from the big podium– it was even urged that (3) the US government needs
to be much more pro-active in working for a Palestinian-Israeli peace than
it has been until now

Well, none of those propositions is actually terribly radical– though number
2 there scarcely ever gets adequately voiced in the mainstream political
discourse in the US.  But all three of them have been under-argued until
now. So the conference made a good– if perhaps not optimally cost-effective?–
contribution to opening up the space in the mainstream discourse wherein
such propositions can be more fully aired, discussed, and even seriously

Continue reading “Nations and purposes”

Nir Rosen, Wesley Clark, etc

I’m back in the Great Wen (Washington DC) again this week… Taking
part in this mega-conference on “Terrorism,
Security, and America’s Purpose
“. It is probably an admirable
venture: an attempt to stage a public forum on these issues that is
both high level and wide-ranging. I had originally thought it was
an attempt to start to define a strategy for the Democratic Party
a task that certainly still needs to be done! But no. It
turns out the speakers come from both parties, and even from the far
right (e.g. Grover Norquist, the long-time campaigner against any and
all forms of taxation; and the fiction writer Tom Clancy, who is about
to enter this massive banquet hall where the main sessions are being

My personal high points so far have been listening to Nir Rosen of Asia Times
Online, and Gen. Wesley Clark

(Aha, there’s Clancy on the podium now, looking pudgy and jowly.
He looks like a little old grandpa with his jaws sort of collapsing
into his mouth; and one tuft of his hair is sticking straight up…)

Okay, so Nir Rosen.
He was on, I guess, the second of the big panels this morning. I
missed the first one, because the “working group” I’ve been a part of
was having it’s meeting then. So I got to miss George Soros and
someone described as “The Hon. Roger Cressey” who– I kid you not–
used to be my research assistant back in the mid-1980s… The
Honorable?? Well, anyway, I missed him.

Then I missed most of Sen. Joe Biden’s presentation.

Nir– whom I’d never met before, in the flesh– was on a large panel
along with Robert Pape of the Univ. of Chicago, Yosri Fouda of al-Jazeera and a couple of other
folks. I have to tell you this is very much a Washington
‘establishment’ event. Nearly all white males, most of them
middle-aged or older; everyone in standard power suits and monochrome
(red or blue) ties… And then there’s Nir Rosen, 28 years
old, three days growth of beard, swarthy, and rumpled.

He spoke in almost a monotone. I couldn’t figure out why.
Maybe it was the weirdness of being where he was– TV lights blaring;
all this DC establishment stuff going on around him. What
he talked about was Fallujah, mainly. (He also talked about how,
during recent visits to Somalia and Pakistan, he has already seen
stores named after Fallujah, and people wearing tee-shirts talking
about Fallujah. “So it’s become a big rallying-point in different
parts of the Muslim world.”)

He talked quite rapidly, and in that fairly soft monotone. He
talked about the brutality of the US occupation of Iraq as he has seen
it, and said that wherever he goes Muslims tell him they hate the US
for what it does, not what it is…

Continue reading “Nir Rosen, Wesley Clark, etc”