Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Between Iraq and a hard place

OK, so John Kerry's Iraq position(s) is becoming a bit of a joke. His big problem is that, like the president, he refuses to admit that he made a mistake, so over the summer he continued to claim it was OK to vote to authorize war, but that the president had bungled the job. Now, he says the war was a mistake to begin with. I agree, but it's now all too easy for the president to paint Kerry as a waffler who sees four sides of a two-sided issue. It's too late for Kerry to transform himself into Howard Dean. Remember how Kerry was supposed to be the electable one? As one of my readers once said, Thanks Iowa.

David Brooks brings Kerry's dilemma into relief, though I take issue with some of the neocon columnist's arguments. Such as:

The president's case is that the world is safer with Saddam out of power, and that we should stay as long as it takes to help Iraqis move to democracy. Kerry's case is that the world would be safer if we'd left Saddam; his emphasis is on untangling the United States from Iraq and shifting attention to more serious threats.

Rhetorically, this was his best foreign policy speech by far (it helps to pick a side). Politically, it was risky. Kerry's new liberal tilt makes him more forceful on the stump, but opens huge vulnerabilities. Does he really want to imply that 1,000 troops died for nothing?

First of all, the world does not appear to be safer--at least so far. History may prove me and all other war opponents wrong. In the short term, innocent Iraqis are suffering as they did under Saddam, only now, U.S. soldiers and civilian workers are added to the death toll. Plus, al Qaeda now has another front on which to attack U.S. interests and whip up anti-American fervor. As for whether the troops have died for nothing--well, that will be history's judgment. It pains me to suggest that brave young American men and women are dying in vain, but if they are, it's no reflection on them, but on the government that sent them on their mission in the first place.

The big question that remains is whether the continued presence of U.S. troops is helping the situation or hurting it. It's one thing to have opposed the war--as Kerry may or may not have done. It's quite another to cut and run when doing so may condemn a nation to a violent and protracted civil war, and perhaps leave the United States vulnerable to even more terrorism.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

J Man,

You have the most thoughtful blog in town, but I would remind you that Islamist terrorists (with ties to Al Qaeda) existed in Iraq long before the U.S. arrived in Fidros Square:


Let's rewind to 2003, before Operation Iraqi Freedom. If you're Bush (like Clinton, or had he been elected, Gore), you've been given an intelligence dossier that concludes Saddam Hussein is waiting out the sanctions, busily spending Oil-for-Food dollars on weapons. You know that the U.S. was burned in 1991 by shoddy intelligence that failed to pick up his development of WMD. You know that he continues to defy UN sanctions and routinely shoots at U.S. and British warplanes patrolling the no-fly zone and continues to try to undermine our allies in Kurdistan, Israel and Kuwait.

You know he protects Abu Nidal and Ansar. You know that his intelligence network helps finance Islamic Jihad, the Al Aqsar Bridage and other suicide terrorist operations. You know that he's not only developed an advanced WMD program in the past, but he's used the fruits of it on Iranians, Kurds and would have shelled Americans with gas had they not blown up his stockpiles in the 1991 war.

What do you do? The only reason he's let inspectors back into the country during the winter of 2003 is because there are 150,000 troops parked in Kuwait. The summer is coming, making fighting tough. You've spent hundreds of billions of dollars already patrolling Iraqi skies; keeping two fleets moored near his coast; billeting troops in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman to defend against future Iraqi invasions; and pre-positioned munitions for use in the theatre.

You can either sit in the Kuwaiti desert, holding valuable troops for U.S. defense and to prosecute the war on terrorism, or you can let Hussein rule Iraq. Just remember, Iraq likely will become a Babylonia version of Cambodia once Uday or Qusay replace the old man.

You think you have instability now? Wait a few years and see what happens when the Shiites make a play in the wake of his death.

Sorry, but I say we were right to get rid of the fucker and save the lives of 10,000 dissidents and minorities "disappeared" every year by the Baathists. Abu Ghraid is a terrible stain on the reputation of the U.S. military, but it wasn't a Baathist rape or torture room, which dot the country like Hardees here.

Yes, the 1,000 deaths (about 650 of which were combat-related) and the 3,000 wounded personnel were tragic and I've certainly shed my tears, including some for people I knew personally.

But I sleep better at night knowing Saddam Hussein and the Baathists will never hold power in Iraq again. They won't threaten the Kurds, the Kuwaitis or the Israelis.

Iraq might become a Shiite vassal of Iran and it will still be better than what it was under Hussein. At least the mullahs in Qum don't try to invade their neighbors.

And the nice thing is, if they ever get out of line, we can send the marines into Tehran, pull some beards, and then leave. We can be the ultimate radical destabilizer in a region that needs a good, swift kick in the ass every once in awhile.

8:16 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

First, thanks for the compliment, and I appreciate being kept on my toes.

It is no secret that Ansar al-Islam had been operating in northern Iraq, so perhaps I should be more careful in stating that there was no connection between Iraq and radical Islamic terror groups. But as also has been reported, the U.S. had the opportunity to eliminate this terror camp without an all-out invasion.


"The second news story that heaves more burdens on the president comes from an NBC News broadcast by Jim Miklaszewski on March 2. Apparently, Bush had three opportunities, long before the war, to destroy a terrorist camp in northern Iraq run by Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al-Qaida associate who recently cut off the head of Nicholas Berg. But the White House decided not to carry out the attack because, as the story puts it:

[T]he administration feared [that] destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam.

The implications of this are more shocking, in their way, than the news from Abu Ghraib. Bush promoted the invasion of Iraq as a vital battle in the war on terrorism, a continuation of our response to 9/11. Here was a chance to wipe out a high-ranking terrorist. And Bush didn't take advantage of it because doing so might also wipe out a rationale for invasion.

The story gets worse in its details. As far back as June 2002, U.S. intelligence reported that Zarqawi had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq that was capable of producing ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon drew up an attack plan involving cruise missiles and smart bombs. The White House turned it down. In October 2002, intelligence reported that Zarqawi was preparing to use his bio-weapons in Europe. The Pentagon drew up another attack plan. The White House again demurred. In January 2003, police in London arrested terrorist suspects connected to the camp. The Pentagon devised another attack plan. Again, the White House killed the plan, not Zarqawi.

When the war finally started in March, the camp was attacked early on. But by that time, Zarqawi and his followers had departed.

This camp was in the Kurdish enclave of Iraq. The U.S. military had been mounting airstrikes against various targets throughout Iraq—mainly air-defense sites—for the previous few years. It would not have been a major escalation to destroy this camp, especially after the war against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The Kurds, whose autonomy had been shielded by U.S. air power since the end of the 1991 war, wouldn't have minded and could even have helped."

At the very least, we could have spent more time and resources sealing off Afghanistan before moving on to Iraq.

9:27 AM

Blogger fester said...

I have been struggling with this idea for a while. I orginally thought that the Iraq war was to use a hackneyed phrase "the wrong war at the wrong time" and that is why I supported Dean. I can understand the Kerry position; I disagree with it because it has an assumption of both Bush's honesty and competence inherent to it that I did not share at the time, nor do I share now, but it is understandable.

Now onto your last paragraph:

"The big question that remains is whether the continued presence of U.S. troops is helping the situation or hurting it. It's one thing to have opposed the war--as Kerry may or may not have done. It's quite another to cut and run when doing so may condemn a nation to a violent and protracted civil war, and perhaps leave the United States vulnerable to even more terrorism."This is the great unknown. Here is what we know. US troops are not aiding in stopping the violence in Iraq. It is not a net positive, now the question is what is the worse net negative? I don't know where I stand on this because I believe that the United States has an obligation to do the best possible job of avoiding the worst possible outcomes. This is a limited minimize maximum regret standard and I wish that I could go to a maxi-max position, but that is not even plausible to contemplate.

I believe that there will be a civil war in Iraq in 90% of the scenarios that could occur. Under the current set of quasi-plans the elections in January are being boycotted by over 30% of the populations' political leadership (Popular Sunni parties/clerical associations and the Sadrists are not participating by either choice or their prohibition.) Even if the elections are held, a significant portion of the population that is armed and willing to use violence will not hold the results as either legitimate or binding. Hell right now, there is a bit of a civil war going on as the secularists and middle class are going head to head against the poor and the fundamentalists. The only ones who are staying comparatively "clean" are the Kurds but they are making a power move in the north to seize control of Kirkuk and minimize Turkomen influence. So I think that the question is which type of civil war will be worse: a short brief one that has the Shi'ite community come out on top of a decentralized federal Iraq (as the Kurds can defend their positions well enough to make that stick)or a decentralized defacto or dejure partition of the country or is a long simmering decade long insurgency the cheapest option in terms of human life and stability. I don't know what the best choice is as a US policy or moral option. All I know is that none of these options are good options.

PS: I'll be publishing a tidied up copy of this at my blog.

9:39 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to disregard Fester because I went over to his blog and learned firsthand he knows nothing about (1) the military; (2) the current military situation in Iraq; (3) the divisions within Iraqi society; (4) name anything else here.

But I've been to Iraq twice now, and I certainly know a great deal about it. You acquire a fairly good working knowledge of the sitrep when you've been shot at a few times. There are two reporters at the Trib who could add something about this, locally, not to mention Jack Kelly at the Post-Gazette.

The fundamental question you ask is a good one: Are the U.S./Coalition troops doing more harm than good in Iraq?

Let's answer this question from several perspectives, because that is what policy analysts do.

Kurds: Yes, they are very happy Coalition troops are there. That guarantees the rights of Kurdish and Turkomen minorities south of the magic Kirkuk-to-Tikrit border and keeps their nascent democracy and growing economy alive. The Pershmerga, although valiant fighters, did not have the military power to stand up to Iraqi armor, and benefitted from 12 years of U.S. air support. They don't want to see that final guarantee of their freedom disappear. They were the true victims of Ansar, a group invited in and supported by Saddam Hussein, a group with ties to Al Qaeda. The remnants of this Sunni network are the ones you see supporting the Islamist suicide bombers in the Triangle right now.

Shiites: The vast majority want the U.S. to stick around, but not forever. This is something Fester doesn't understand, but which is very important. The Shiites formed much of Saddam's enlisted conscript army. They were barred from NCO and officer posts, so they have no tradition of command and control necessary for a modern military. They don't know how to procure weapons, use them as supporting arms, train highly-disciplined battalions or communicate effectively on a contemporary battlefied. They have no intelligence, indirect fire, amphibious, naval or vertical insertion capabilities.

The de facto leader of most moderate Shiites is al-Sistani. He's not the great lover of Qum some make him out to be. He wants democracy, and he wants the mullahs to be a final backstop of constitutional authority (much like a Supreme Court), but only in the most delicate matters.

While his main antagonist is al-Sadr (the gutter thug-son of a learned cleric), al-Sadr has the great problem of losing a "Mahdi" army everytime it's formed to Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. In April, he lost 20,000 recruits to American firepower. It's hard to sustain an army, even an ill-trained one, while suffering 100 percent turnover.

Ideology helps, and this is something few people in the major media understood when Rumsfield said they would "eventually get tired of dying." Sadr has tapped into a curious sub-sect of Shia that believes Ali is coming soon, and the quicker you overthrow the American "crusaders" and establish a new Caliphate in Baghdad, the sooner the Prophet's emissary on earth returns.

If you wish to compare it to anything occidental, try a millinarian cult. The only reason he can afford to lose 20,000 recruits in a month of fighting is because they believe their martyrdom means something politically relevent. Once they learn it doesn't, and that maybe al-Sistani has a better plan, the sooner they'll drop their arms, which is what they've appeared to do after losing their army three times over.

What al-Sistani, basically, is saying, is something like this -- 'Listen, fellow Shiites, we have suffered a very long time. I have been to Iran, and I don't want us to be like that. Besides, we're Arabs, we're better than they are, more learned, more in the spirit of Mohammed. These are our mosques. We can rule, theologically and politically, someday, the Shia world, which is ascendent and important.

'I don't want the Americans to stay. But even if we are greater in numbers, we don't have an army that can stand up to the Sunnis. We have no officers, no NCOs, nobody who can command an army strong enough to defeat the Sunnis unless we ask the Iranians for help, and that's a devil's bargain.

'So, let's let the U.S. kill Sunnis for us! Once we've held elections (which we will win because it's too unstable in the Sunni areas for voting), and we come to terms with the Kurds (they have their oil, we have ours), we can do something here. But we have to play a waiting game, and we want the Coalition to wait with us.'

Sunnis: A more difficult task involves the Sunnis, and this might not be do-able. Right now, there is a tenuous truce between the insurgents in the north. You have the generals sitting in their mansions in Tikrit (notice no violence there), quietly assembling their militias of former Baathist officers, NCOs and trained troops.

The Ansar-inspired insurgents, most of whom are from other parts of the Middle East and Indian sub-continent, deliver the suicide bombs and take on the highly dangerous ambush missions. Much like Sadr's "Mahdi" army, ideologically they believe suicide terrorism will create political changes here on earth.

There also is a home-grown Taliban-ish subset of Sunni Islam in places like Ramadi and Fallujah that's attempting to create some semblance of law in a vacuum. Add to this the stew of tribal politics and blood feuds dating back 800 years none of us will ever understand, and you have the ongoing conflict in places like Fallujah. Enjoy your stay.

For Kerry, what options does he have? Do we abandon the Shiites and the Kurds (the vast majority of whom enjoy a quasi-peaceful existence in places thus far untouched by the fighting)? Let's face it, Basra and Um Qasr aren't Fallujah; neither is Kirkuk or Mosul, even if there are random suicide bombings.

Is Kerry so weak, so fickle, so given to allowing internecine squabbling within his own base of pacifists and know-nothing, draft-dodging Baby Boomers to trump America's moral responsibility to help the vast majority of Iraqis? Clinton did so in Somalia, and Somalia kept him from acting in Rwanda, something he now considers (along with not doing enough about Al Qaeda) the great failures of his administration.

Bush's administration bungled Iraq. They lost much of the goodwill during the initial looting (of course, how was the Pentagon supposed to know that the Iraqis would loot their own utilities, thus cutting power, water and fuelstocks for the entire country? That's a first), and Abu Ghraid made it only worse. Thank you unsupervised idiots in the National Guard.

I think we should look at Afghanistan instead of Iraq for the moment. The elections in Afghanistan might be a preview of things to come in Iraq. While I like the idea of "rolling elections" in Iraq, there are few good options if the Sunnis don't see a political end-game short of killing everyone they don't like.

12:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On another note, let's reconsider American pre-invasion options on Ansar. I think we can safely say now that the policy of lobbing a few missiles at a training camp not only won't disrupt ongoing terrorist preparations, but it makes us a laughing stock among these very militants.

A plan to blast Ansar safehavens in Iraq would not have dislodged them, nor would they have prevented (what seems erroneous) plans to attack western Europe. The Kurds also were militarily incapable of attacking them, which would have exposed them to Iraqi armor and artillery, for which they had no solution.

The only means of rooting out Ansar's base of operations was to invade. Has this base shifted south, to Fallujah? Yes. Was this avoidable? Perhaps, but the large influx of U.S. troops into Iraq from Turkey was denied by Ankara, so Fourth Infantry Division had to take a boat to Kuwait and serve as a follow-up to the initial invasion.

Now, after Turkey has been attacked by Al Qaeda, you probably would've had a very different response from Ankara. But that won't help us now.

While Kerry pastes Bush for not "doing enough" to fight the global spread of terror, he misses the larger picture in all of this, which Bush is trying to solve (somewhat ineptly).

First, you have to isolate, contain and then root out insurgents in chaotic or failing states (Afghanistan), then cut off potential or existing lodgements in supporting states (Iraq). Is American military power the final solution to these issues? No, but it's the best option we have in the immediate short-term, and that there have been no major Al Qaeda attacks against the U.S. is somewhat proof that it's somewhat working.

A greater issue is what to do about other states, such as Iran, that are developing WMD in great quantities, with sophisticated delivery systems (you do know there's a village of North Korean researchers developing a new generation of Iranian SSMs in northern Iran, right?), and political/ideological reasons to use them (on Israel, our Gulf state allies, etc.).

I have no doubt the invasion of Iraq scared the living poop out of Qaddafi (the small-arms merchant of sub-Saharan Africa), but maybe we should turn the pressure up on Syria too. Maybe that will free the Lebanese, finally, from the stranglehold of Damascus.

Then there's North Korea, which seems to be the laboratory of death for many of these client states, and Pakistan, which has problems too scary to even mention here.

I don't like all this neo-Colonial grandstanding any more than you do, but we have few options in the wake of 9-11. Our "soft power" can't even get us a majority of votes on the Security Council to jab at Saddam Hussein.

The spread of globalism, so lauded under Clinton, has now shown its ugly side, and we realize that loose immigration, shipping and arms controls make us as much a potential victim as benefactor to the world's poor.

I can't imagine Kerry has the creative solutions that will change this dynamic. I think we'll get four years of half-baked Clintonisms, which is why I really regret the loss of Gore/Lieberman four years ago.

I have no doubt Kerry would blunder all of this, which will mean an even more reactionary, conservative government in 2008.

12:52 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I guess my question is, how do we go about applying pressure to Syria, Iran and North Korea when our military resources are stretched to the limit in Iraq and Afghanistan?

1:24 PM

Blogger fester said...

Hi Reality Check:

You said On another note, let's reconsider American pre-invasion options on Ansar. I think we can safely say now that the policy of lobbing a few missiles at a training camp not only won't disrupt ongoing terrorist preparations, but it makes us a laughing stock among these very militants. I believe you are excluding some other options, but I agree with you, cruise missile strikes before March 2003 would most likely have been ineffective in eliminating the core cadre of Ansar Al Islam.

A plan to blast Ansar safehavens in Iraq would not have dislodged them, nor would they have prevented (what seems erroneous) plans to attack western Europe. The Kurds also were militarily incapable of attacking them, which would have exposed them to Iraqi armor and artillery, for which they had no solution.

The only means of rooting out Ansar's base of operations was to invade.
First, the last time Saddam went into Kurdistan with heavy armor and artillery was in 1996 where he intervened in an inter-party flare-up. He went to support the KDP against the PUK. The US quickly launched a series of airstrikes that illustrated the US policy that he was not in de facto control of Kurdistan. Given the military build-up in both Turkey and the Arabian Pennisula by January 2003, a reminder by the Bush administration that Iraqi regular ground forces would be bombed and attacked by US warplanes if these forces went into Kurdistan would have been an extremely credible threat. Since this incursion and air strike cycle, the only Iraqi forces under the control of Hussein were intelligence operatives and potentially light infantry. Even granting the assumption that Kurdish forces with US air support would not have been able to take over the Ansar Al-Islam base camps, there were other options available.

For instance, the US was willing to drop the 173rd Airborne Brigade (2 battalions of light infantry + reinforcements) into a permissive environment during the opening stages of the war. A similiar drop and raid might have worked as an effective raid. The logistics and timing would work in a scenario where the a weak brigade dropped into pre-marked friendly drop zones controlled by the Kurds and then proceeded to consolidate itself and then attack Ansar Al Islam's base camps. Airpower, assigned to either Op. Northern Watch or indepedently assigned to the operation could provide cover for both the drop and later exfilitration of US forces from the Kurdish region of Iraq. This operation would most likely have been a success.

I believe that the credible threat of US airpower and horizontal escalation as posed by the US corps sitting in Kuwait would have kept Iraqi heavy armor in garrison. I also believe that the evidence strongly shows that in a straight up fixed-position fight, US infantry will run over pretty much any other light infantry force in the world (excluding the British, and a couple of other Western style armies). It is also extremely likely that the diplomatic consequences of this raid would be at worst a net neutral as no one really liked Ansar Al-Islam and more probably a net positive because this would be a valid application of a pre-emptive strike that removed an internationally recognized menance to civilized nations. Yet Bush decided that he needed to maintain this tenous connection between Ansar Al-Islam and Hussein in order to sell the invasion of Iraq.

Now onto the rest of your post:
First, you have to isolate, contain and then root out insurgents in chaotic or failing states (Afghanistan)Agreed without qualification. However it helps to effectively root out all of the insurgents in Afganistan before creating another pool of insurgents from a previously apathatic and non-insurgent population in a state that had not failed in providing basic order and non-chaos.

then cut off potential or existing lodgements in supporting states (Iraq). This is where I disagree with you. I have no problem with everything that is not in paranthesis. As a long term grand strategy, it makes a lot of sense. I have a problem with (Iraq) as being the place to start this strategy. As you note further there are far greater problems coming up on the horizon than Iraq in Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. Iran is known to be a state sponsor of anti-US terrorism, it is known to have an active nuclear weapons development program, and it is widely suspected to have worked in concert with Al-Quaeda against US targets (Khobar Towers) and it is intent on developping a credible regional deterrant and delivery capability for its current chemical and biological weapons and future nuclear weapons. Pakistan's intelligence service propped up the Taliban which allowed Al-Quaeda free roam of the country. It also has nuclear weapons and a leader who is more and more trying to implant himself as a dictator for either life or a damm long time. North Korea is a basketcase and the armament factory for most of the crazies in the world. It is also able to go nuclear on a very short time frame. Yet, we went into Iraq which was contained (at some cost as you mentioned in a previous comment) despite the fact that the reward was significantly lower than the reward of disarming countries with known nuclear ambitions and known nuclear capabilities.

Is American military power the final solution to these issues? No,Agreed, some other system is needed to incentivize countries to assert effective control over terrorist or potential terrorist elements within their own populations due to the limitations of military force.

Our "soft power" can't even get us a majority of votes on the Security Council to jab at Saddam Hussein.
I disagree; fifty years of American soft power got the Security Council to reinstate effective inspections with an unanimous vote. What it did not get was an automatic committment to a war that was not justified on the metrics that Bush gave as reason for war; the inspectors were hitting the "known" WMD sites and seeing nothing and the US was letting Ansar Al Islam to continue to exist in an area under US air cover. Now if you want to argue that these were Straussian explanations and that the foreign policy elites of the UN countries that would have voted against a second resolution should have known that Iraq was stage 2 of reordering the Middle East, make that argument but given the evidence that was available in mid-March of 2003 to the world community, the US case for a UN approved war was weak and getting weaker.

I have no doubt Kerry would blunder all of this, which will mean an even more reactionary, conservative government in 2008. Will he blunder it worse than Bush? I doubt that because Kerry has shown a repeated ability to look at complex problems (BCCI, Iran Contra) and recognize that A) he does not know the solution before he examines the problem
b) there are shades of gray and nuance
c) Experts are worth listening to because they tend to know a particular problem space better than a learned layman.
d) The best policies are often the result of a synthesis of views.

Bush on the other hand does not do nuance and believes that experts are to be distrusted (see his remarks on the recent NIE which states that muddling through is the best case scenario) and that his advisors know that if they want to get their policies implemented, they need to and can eliminate contradictory information from Bush and get him to go with his gut.

1:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, there is no point in responding to Fester, who seems to learn what he knows from the Internet, which makes for nice cutting and pasting from blogs, but little realworld knowledge of the military, Iraq, or whatever. I might have a lot of intellectual failings, but they're not there.

I would simply suggest to "Fester" that if he really believes Hussein harbored onlylight infantry and intelligence forces up north, I have a great many photos of shredded tanks I could post here (which would be pornographic, in the nature of the violent images, and illustrate nothing else of value, except that I'm right and he doesn't have a clue).

The one point that had us howling in the halls here was:

"The logistics and timing would work in a scenario where the a weak brigade dropped into pre-marked friendly drop zones controlled by the Kurds and then proceeded to consolidate itself and then attack Ansar Al Islam's base camps."

No shit. That's exactly what DID HAPPEN in 2003. But, believe it or not, it takes a long time for a paratrooped unit without supporting armor or vehicle transport to get through the mountains to nimble base camps, which is why when the Pershmerga and the SOF guys got there, they found a lot of bodies but few kingpins. See also Tora Bora.

But thanks for playing.

Again, J, you poised the important question (which demonstrates that you once were a gifted reporter before selling out for filthy lucre): How does America project hard power against troublesome states and proto-states and state-less transnational military networks while being stretched thin.

This is the core of the Bush/Rummie argument: It's not that American forces are stretched too thin; they're not stretched the right way.

Bush wants to reform the military, top-down. His idea is that we have a window here wherein the U.S. projects total asymetrical power worldwide. The IT revolution did many things, including making certain weapons systems and their supporting troops and delivery modes obsolete. Take, for example, the modern armored division. The supply train for this anachronism stretches several miles, is itself highly vulnerable to asymetrical attack, and costs a fortune to deploy and maintain.

The revolution in precision munitions, especially those mounted on airborne stealthy delivery systems, gives a team leader more firepower, at higher rates and with a quicker delivery that what's in an Abrams. Thus the rise in Special Forces and traditionally light-armored, highly-trained infantry, especially the Marines, who operate far from supply bases in very hostile terrain, is something he would like to encourage (and something Kerry latched on to last month, although it never interested him in 25 years of public service).

Bush's point is that we can reconfigure the DOD to take advantage of these fellows, and rely less of other assets. Efficiencies that come from privatization, IT networking, etc., can slim some services (especially the USAF and Navy), and this manpower can be transferred to the Army (which can itself be reconfigured to become leaner, meaner and greener).

The occupation (not the invasion) of Iraq caught us at a bad point, as far as manpower is concerned, because Bush's reforms had yet to take root. Currently, we are fighting two wars (Afghanistan/Global war on terrorism, and Iraq). It's not so much that the entire military is "stretched thin," but that certain specialty troops are (light infantry, special operations capable, military police, civil affairs, intelligence).

I have no doubt Bush and a GOP Congress will increase troop limits about 45,000 (which is still LESS than manpower figures in 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall!). The important thing is that when they do this, they push them into the right slots (infantry, etc.).

While everyone talks about the deployment crunch, trust me it's in many ways similar to what Clinton imposed on the military during his famous "draw down" of forces (high troop deployments to Somalia, Bosnia, Kuwait/Kurdistan/Turkey/Oman/UAE, etc./ Haiti/ S Korea/ Japan-Okinawa, etc., etc., etc.

The problem with Kerry is that he's caught in his own butt-stupid myopia (which is why you find him, today, desperately saying Bush will bring back the draft, something Bush's entire military reform policy is designed to never do -- in fact it will decrease ultimate troop numbers absolutely). Unlike Gore, Lieberman, etc., he never deigned to actually learn anything about the military after he left the Navy.

To put this into perspective, George Bush has more military experience than Kerry, and he's an idiot. But at least he's an idiot with very smart people working to revamp DOD.

In the short-term, you're right. It's going to be very tough to pressure Syria short of arming internal insurgents against them. If I were CIA director, right now I would be making extensive contacts with Maronite and Kurdish rebels who already are plotting against the Baathist state.

Iran, I've always said, is a natural geopolitical ally of the U.S., despite the Qum hardliners. Eventually, I can imagine a close, working relationship between New Dehli, Washington and Tehran, but first we must deal with the WMD issue before Kfir bombers do (which they will if we don't).

5:14 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, J, Slate is picking up what you're putting down:


And everyone still forgets that Kerry voted AGAINST the first Gulf War in 1991, and that was with unanimous approval of force by the Security Council, a detailed battle plan and financial pledges from our western allies.

If he voted against the use of force in 1990-91 (I know, nuance, shades of gray, whatever excuse we want to toss out to make him vote-worthy, which polls show he increasingly isn't), why should we count on him for even the most limited use of troops now?

Why do I get the feeling that, deep down, Kerry has never really recovered from Vietnam (which is his right, and I don't begrudge him that in any way), and sees the U.S. military as the same conscripted mess it was then.

8:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In sum,

Thanks, Iowa!

8:23 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I appreciate the dialogue. Let's try to keep it as civil as possible. Thanks again for the kind words--I'll pretend I didn't read the selling out comment.

8:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Kerry's continuing Babylonian quest to out-waffle IHOP, he now says he was "deceived" by Bush, who "lied" about the nature of the dangers in Iraq.

OK, John. Let's get this straight. You're on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and you trusted the CIA, an agency that the Republicans on the committee have been trying to reform ever since 9/11 (and a committee controlled, at the time of the war vote, by DEMOCRATS).

Now, in 1990-91, you determined that GWHB was just nutty about going into Iraq, with a UN Security Council mandate, a preponderance of military power, a wide-ranging coalition of militaries and a cash reserve from the Germans, Japanese, Kuwaitis (in exile) and Saudis to pay for it.

So, in 2003, you decide, with few hearings and little oversight by the leaders in YOUR PARTY, that it's OK to give the U.S. the push to go to war, without (1) unanimous UN Security Council support; (2) very many other militaries present; (3) no way to pay for it without dipping into the U.S. taxpayer's pocket.

Ahem. And we should question Bush's judgement? Where in the hell were you, Mr. Sanctimonious Waffle Batter? Could possibly, just possibly, your vote have been strictly cover-your-ass political because you knew you would be running for office and you assumed the invasion/occupation would turn out like 1991? Maybe because you didn't want two NO votes on wars against Iraq before you Kerry-ed your candy little ass to Iowa?

Hillary Clinton listened to her husband, who told her that Bush had the same intelligence estimates he had in 1998. She voted to go to war. To her credit, she hasn't backed down from that vote, even though she's questioned strongly the handling of the occupation.

Dean opposed the war from the beginning. He is a reckless moron, but at least he's sincerely moronic. I can respect that, just as I can respect that Bush is a sincere moron.

But I can't abide an insincere moron like Kerry. This is the same bozo who voted against the defense authorization bill that paid for initial occupation expenses and rebuilding costs, not to mention armor for Humvees and flak jackets for the boots on the ground (and this isn't just a side issue).

It's fair game for him to attack Bush's handling of the occupation and to offer, in his own curious way, solutions (still waiting, tick tick tick). But please, please, please don't waste our time with shifting explanations for why you voted the way you did.

If you can't give a meaningful path to a better solution in Iraq, then get out of the way. I don't want you to accidently win, in spite of your stupidity, and keep us from getting Hillary in 2008.

Thanks, Iowa!

6:43 PM


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