Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bush Folding His Cards In Iraq

Donald Rumsfeld announced yesterday that the Bush administration is still committed to its strategy of "clear, hold, and build" in Iraq. The idea is for American troops to clear areas of insurgent forces and for the Iraqi Army to hold those areas and gradually engage in a social and economic rebuilding process.

But it's just not happening.

The situation for the American military in Iraq is somewhere between retreat and irrelevance. American forces have retreated from the strategy of clearing insurgents out of the cities and towns of Anbar province. Instead, American military units are posted on large bases outside Anbar towns and cities. This keeps American troops safer. It also avoids the ineffective sweeps of 2005 where American troops would move into a town to find that the insurgents (and all men of military age) had simply moved on to other towns. What made the sweeps useless is that the U. S. did not have enough troops to stay continuously on the offensive. As a result of ending the sweeps, however, Anbar has become "an al-Qaeda stronghold" according to one senior American officer.

In other words, the safety-conscious American military is no longer doing the "clearing" necessary for the "clear, hold, and build" strategy to work.

One of the problems with the situation in Anbar is that the U. S. moved troops to Baghdad to address the sectarian bloodshed that was unleashed after insurgent attacks on Samarra in March. Nevertheless, despite the concentration of American assets, the U. S. military has not been able to make itself relevant to the sectarian bloodshed. American policy has been to engage in "sweeps" against both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, but death squads and assassins on both sides continue to carry out their work as if American forces aren't there. The Shiite militias pose a particularly difficult problem. Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr organization are not only integrated into the Maliki government, but are the strongest and the most popular forces associated with the government. To the contrary, the Iraqi Army is a creature of the American military. To destroy the Shiite militias would make the Iraqi government even more of an empty shell and make the American occupation even more unpopular with the Shiite population than it is now.

In other words, the price of making of the American Army making itself relevant in Baghdad might be destabilizing the situation even further. American units might end up staying in their bases in Baghdad just like they're staying in their bases in Anbar.

Of course, if American troops are mostly staying in their bases and DAB (driving around Baghdad) rather than clearing out the enemy, perhaps they're not serving a useful function at all.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Sifting Through Amara

Everything about the the Mahdi Army partial takeover of Amara yesterday was disastrous. Most importantly, it was the first open assault on an Iraqi city by anti-American forces since the American re-taking of Falluhah in November, 2004. Keeping large-scale insurgent forces from taking over large cities (Amara has 340,000 residents) has been one of the few claims to success that the American military can make over the last two years. Along with the continuing large-scale violence in Baghdad, the take-over of Amara is an indication that the situation in Iraq is regressing and that the American military is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the many little civil wars that are going on.

Perhaps more important, the Mahdi army's activity in Amara looks like a strong indication of the balance of power between the militias and the Iraqi army and police. The militias are stronger. This presents the Maliki government with a dilemna. If Maliki goes along with the American idea of dismantling Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and SCIRI's Badr Brigades, he would be destroying the most effective sources of power in the Shiite community and making all Shiites more vulnerable to Sunni insurgents and terrorists. If Maliki does not go along, the Shiite community itself might splinter into a Hobbesian war of all against all and lose the support of the American military.

It's hard to tell which option is worse. However, there can't be much doubt that both scenarios represent a further weakening of the American position in Iraq.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dick Cheney Used to Be a Genius

Dick Cheney--Vice President Dick Cheney was on Rush Limbaugh yesterday claiming that the government in Iraq was doing "remarkably well." In a way, you have to admire the brazen quality of Cheney's lies whether it's about mobile bio-labs, "six months and we're out," "they'll greet us with flowers," or the insurgency is in "its last throes." After his term is up, Cheney could open up an interactive, online exhibit where he tells his favorite lies. He can call it Dick Cheney's fantasyland. But all is not well in Dick's fantasy world. The fact that the veep could not come up with an exciting new lie this close to the election is a sign that he and his staff aren't fully engaged.

Lou Dobbs--One of the things that's killing the Bush administration is that conservative figures like Lou Dobbs and Joe Scarborough are becoming dismissive critics. From all appearances, Lou Dobbs used to be a business-oriented media guy. Now, however, Sweet Lou is taking up class warfare in opposition to the Bush administration and the Republicans. According to Dobbs,

"It's been a tough decade for the American middle class, which has been experiencing stagnant wages in the face of rapidly increasing costs for health care and prescription drugs, soaring energy prices and escalating tuition costs. But worst of all, the middle class is up against a Congress that is driven by powerful corporations and dominant special interests."

If the Democrats were more committed to being coherent, that would be the Democratic attack line on the Bush economy.

Karl Rove--I'm one of the people who think that Karl Rove is a real political genius. The same for Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich for that matter. They've remade American politics since the 1992 election. Jacob Weisburg at Slate, though, is a skeptic who thinks that this election is the first real test of Rove's abilities and that Rove will prove himself a genius only if the Republicans keep their majorities in the House and Senate. Talk about overly high standards. Hannibal, Napoleon, and Robert E. Lee all lost in much bigger ways than Rove is going to lose, but they're still bona fide military geniuses. What makes Rove a genius is that he has created a seamless architecture of money, policy, and media for electing Republican candidates despite the unpopularity of the conservative agenda and the weaknesses of his own candidates. Given the disastrous war in Iraq, the incompetent response to Katrina, popular unhappiness with the economy, and the endless litany of Republican scandals, the Republicans deserve to lose both the Senate and the House by wide margins. As it is, the Republicans still have a good chance to hold the Senate even if the House is lost. If Rove can hold the lost Republican seats in the House under twenty and maintain a tie in the Senate (that can be broken by Dick Cheney), he would still be a bona fide genius in my book.

Monday, October 16, 2006

O'Reilly another Cronkite--Sort of

President Bush didn't sound very good during his interview with Bill O'Reilly today. Bush had the usual array of excuses and rationalizations for the failure of his Iraq and North Korea policies. But O'Reilly was almost as skeptical of Bush's ideas as Keith Olbermann and Steve Colbert and that falling away from the faith on O'Reilly's part made Bush look just as bad as Lyndon Johnson looked when Walter Cronkite gave up on the Vietnam War.