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Michael Ubaldi, September 2, 2003.
A problem with various detractors of the Bush administration's command is that their collective argument focuses on the wrong aspects of the war. Reconstruction and defense in Iraq and Afghanistan, while in many ways at the mercy of unrest and disorder committed by adversarial forces, will ultimately operate on their own timetables. Infrastructure can be built more quickly with greater resources - but civil society cannot. A decade needed to right the Iraqi national conscience is not unreasonable. Afghanistan will take longer. To connect exterior threats with a failure on the Allied occupations' part is erroneous.
While turning on a country like Pakistan is currently a political impossibility, Iran and Syria, by their dedicated support of the very terrorist groups attempting to destablize Allied progress in the region, should be the Near East front's next candidates for regime change. Questions of the White House's strategic outlook are warranted here. From Saul Singer:
Just as the U.S. cannot afford to lose in Iraq, it cannot afford to exempt Iran and Syria from the Bush Doctrine: Supporting terror is punishable by regime change. If the terrorist network senses that the Iraq war was the end, rather than a cardinal demonstration of, the war against it, it is a matter of time before terrorist attacks against the West multiply in size and number.
All of this can be done even if the U.S. does not have a clear idea as to how the Iranian and Syrian regimes will ultimately fall. A plan for regime change is best, but a minimal alternative is to follow the simple blueprint these two enemies are using: The more problems we make for the other side, the less trouble they can make for us. Incrementalism is not ideal, but in this case, far superior to the combination of bluster and inaction.
Now suppose for a minute, whether you trust Bush or not, that the White House would be engaging Syria and Iran without even a semblance of a complete strategy. How much would that really accomplish for public trust at home or military victory abroad? And what would little pricks and prods amount to - remember, we did the very same thing to Saddam for a decade, with few results. Israel slaps Arafat and his thugs about week after week, but deprived of complete military victory, the Jews can't escape from a terrorist water torture.
Should we take Iran and Syria to task? By all means: they are prime instigators of terrorism and antagonists of liberty in the region. Steven Den Beste offers advice on cleaning out the State Department's penchant for the kind of indecision Saul Singer and others are worried about.
My fear is that too many critics aren't prepared to follow the logical response to their complaints: more regime change. Much more.
Michael Ubaldi, September 1, 2003.
Just so it's understood, the Near East's jihadists and Islamist kooks mean to defend the totalitarian establishment in Iraq and not, by any means, the Iraqis themselves:
Two Saudis arrested after the Najaf attack in Iraq that killed leading Shiite cleric Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim were picked up after sending an e-mail saying "mission accomplished: the dog is dead," The Times reported today quoting a source close to the Iraqi inquiry.
It was while watching footage of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant gloating over the destruction of the World Trade Center nearly a year ago - "More dead than we anticipated" or something to that demonic effect - that I realized how completely devoid of strategy or ethos, however convoluted, these men are. It isn't about a god; nor is it about culture. While many of their fanatic followers are drawn into terrorism to desperately seek an ideologically charged escape from despair and poverty, the terror masters - as Ledeen calls them - want baser things. If they sought to establish a world order, they wouldn't indiscriminately butcher people across borders and loyalties; Bali, Riyadh, Baghdad, Najaf. No, they just want to kill and consume. They wouldn't risk uniting humanity, however tenuous that alliance was.
I don't consider authoritarians bound by a "bestial will" for nothing. The Islamofascists are horribly dangerous; but also self-destructive fools. If this continues, they'll soon make rugged anti-terrorists out of the Iraqis.
UPDATE: Our friendship strengthens. The United States is more than willing to apply the strength of its intelligence and enforcement agencies to the success of democratic Iraq - and the Iraqis understand that.
Michael Ubaldi, August 30, 2003.
Most of will us remember this incident, considered an American faux pas at the time:
An angry crowd of Iraqi Shiites prevented troops of the US 101st Airborne Division from approaching the Ali Mosque, a sacred Shiite site in the town of Najaf, according to footage aired by CNN cable news.
U.S. troops were arranging a meeting with the mosque's cleric who had issued a decree urging Muslims to remain calm and not hinder U.S. forces.
While accepting responsibility for maintaining security throughout Iraq, U.S. officials said U.S. troops have avoided patrolling in the immediate vicinity of the holy sites of Najaf and Karbala out of respect for the Shi'a faith. They described the Najaf mosque as a good example of a "soft target" for terrorists seeking to create turmoil in Iraq similar to the U.N. compound in Baghdad.
So which will it be? The Coalition Provisional Authority can't be accused of insensitivity to Islam and an inability to safeguard Iraq in the same breath.
Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2003.
Here's a little perspective to the supposed "chaos" in four-month-old, postwar Iraq. Japan had crime, iniquity and yes, sectarian and ethnic violence. This comes from the masterful accounting of postwar Japan, Inventing Japan, by former Washington Post Tokyo Bureau Chief William Chapman:
Tokyo endured [the] winter [of 1945-1946] on the workings of an illegal economy. The black market encompassed thousands of sellers and millions of buyers dealing in every commodity of daily life. It was also a vast jungle of lawlessness that began with thefts and led to gang killings, turf wars, and casual murders, becoming at last a criminal demimonde of immense proportions. It embraced all classes and kinds of people. When the war ended, sake, bread, clothing, shoes, sugar and blankets had disappeared from military depots all over the country, pilfered wholesale by officers and enlisted men alike. Small thefts were the routine of daily existence. A bicycle snatched at Ueno's railway station turned up repainted and for sale two hours later at the station in Shimbashi. Koreans and Chinese, forced-labor immigrants during the war, prospered with goods smuggled from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and by the Occupation's ruling, they could not be arrested by Japanese police.
I'm beginning to take the European preference for August vacations seriously: there's a temporary fatigue I've come under, and it seems to be a combination of sultry weather capping three months of hot summer days and relative quiet in the world. Critical decisions are still being made daily, often shaped by significant events, but the world isn't charging ahead at the breakneck pace of the first four months of this year. Not every development is worth a cable news alert, radio bulletin or newspaper headline. The result, unfortunately, is that the same questions are being repeatedly thrown against circumstances that can't possibly change in the time frame to which we've become accustomed. Iraq is going to require years to stabilize - let alone rebuild, heal and [be given] its place among civilized nations. Consider the fact that it and the Near East are inextricably linked - Iraq surrounded by hostile, terrorist dictatorships will continually be harassed and attacked - and it's plain that the region, left under Islamofascism, will slow or even stunt Iraqi reconstruction.
Today everyone repeats the phrase "This will take years" just as they silently agreed with the administration's warning that "we have difficult work to do in Iraq." You'd think that would alter the perspective through which opinions, political and journalistic, are being made. Not a chance. It hasn't at all stopped the flurry of SERIOUS QUESTIONS and DIRE PROGNOSTICATIONS that crop up at two or three a week, even now. Why not, some would say - they fit in well with the war's rhythm. Given that the substantial military defeat of Saddam Hussein took four weeks, a pundit could get away with describing a day's delay as, technically, a significant setback - about a month or two in equivalent time to Allied victory against Nazi Europe. Couldn't that news-cycle-friendly magic be carried over into post-Saddam time? The prevailing assumption is that technology will similarly speed rejuvenation, be it politically, industrially, economically, religiously or militarily.
Technology has already averted major food and water shortages; it has aided the capture of most lead Ba'athists and mitigated the damage of many attacks; it has provided an unprecedented ability to communicate, the world to Iraq and Iraq to the world. But it cannot overturn immutable laws of construction or societal restoration, nor can it erase the time and sacrifices necessary for further prosecuting the wider war. In March and April, "Are we there yet?" was annoying. Now it's unbearable and destructive. Stories are being beaten to death; predictions are made out of focus. The obsession with quick results makes for bad journalism, repetitive [negative] blogging, unrealistic public expectations, and poor strategic decisions. Mark Steyn tears the phony United Nations panacea to shreds, although it's simpler than that: what's not happening after four months under occupation that realistically and historically should be? Four months? Nothing. Saddam's out and the country is slowly rebounding where it isn't completely deficient, no thanks to the Ba'athists. Our boys are supposed to, say, flick the lights back on when Saddam's electrical grid was specifically designed for subordination? Rule: any laundry list of CPA failures must include "moving mountains" and "altering space and time."
The people of Afghanistan were lucky enough to lose the spotlight immediately after their liberation from the Taliban. Progress occurs over there on a daily basis - but the fact that Afghans have been "forgotten," as some skeptics put it, actually means that no one is gauging the marathon against doubt, fatigue and terrorists by the footfall. Obstacles and setbacks are not magnified into global-scale tragedies. Iraq may not be upstaged in the near future; nor should it have to be. It's our responsibility to gain a sense of patience - not rely on the benefits of a short attention span or a near-complete ignorance of the trials faced in the most instructive occupations, those for Germany and Japan.
News stories can continue. Critical op-eds can, too. But not every weekend. Or weekday. Or hour. Hide the panic button. Skip the doom and gloom. Vigilance, not trainspotting.
Michael Ubaldi, August 29, 2003.
Seventeen people dead from a car bomb is seventeen too many. What makes the murder of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim complicated is the fact that he was a polite advocate for theocracy, based in Tehran and obviously in political harmony with Iran's mullahs. Statements he made in May are far better examples of his intent for Iraq than the conciliatory jargon spewed a couple of months later for the benefit of Baghdad's Governing Council:
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Iran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, said his group does not want a secular government "because a secular government doesn't respect religion."
As I said on Tacitus: If this is a battle between radical Shiite gangsters, it may fall into a similar phenomenon of rampant crime, murder and market shootouts between Japanese Yakuza factions that popped up in 1946 and 1947. From that perspective, it's less troubling than truly widespread violence - or direct attacks on Allied troops. I'll draw out some Yakuza accounts and observations this weekend - and keep on eye on Iraq in the meantime.
UPDATE: 85 dead. The Iraqis are being forced to learn painful lessons about the sort of hate and malevolence a nation inherits when it joins the ranks of liberal democracies - how fragile the peace of freedom is. Horrifying as it is, they'll triumph.
Michael Ubaldi, August 28, 2003.
I'd seen this article earlier today but wasn't able to comment:
Frustrated at the failure to find Saddam Hussein's suspected stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, allied intelligence agencies have launched a major effort to determine if they were victims of bogus Iraqi defectors who planted disinformation to mislead the West before the war.
That aside, the idea is equally flimsy: why in the world would Saddam Hussein not only risk his regime but practically ensure its destruction by luring America into a decisive attack? It's as unlikely as Al Capone seeding the FBI with proof of tax evasion so he could die peacefully in prison instead of hanging for an eventual murder rap. Criminals favor the easiest methods to escape from suspicion. If Saddam wanted to use defectors as decoys, their story would have been precisely the opposite: that Ba'athist Iraq was clean.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2003.
As the Oxblog-Tacitus argument continues, I noticed that today's list of violent incidents occurring in Shiite locations might be a bit of an overstatement on Tacitus' behalf.
Particularly with today's reiteration of a simple, nonideological criminal element in Iraq, we can't consider deaths in a Shiite town to be proof positive of Shiite resistance or the kind of organized violence that the Allies should consider a political failure or of internal origination.
I've read through the articles of ambushes in Shiite cities and towns, and with all but one, haven't come across any distinct identity of assailants.
It's no surprise or secret that people in Basra are frustrated; any disrupted urban environment with an accommodating authority (i.e., one that won't round up malcontents and yank out their eyeteeth) is ripe for protest. Two weeks ago, a small number of residents rioted. But even in those accounts, it's unclear as to whether the weapons attacks were necessarily part of a Shiite resistance. Considering criminals or an Iranian/Saudi/etcetera jihadist element simply taking advantage of unrest is important to deciding whether this is really "resistance" or external threats to security that are quite independent of the people who matter most to this argument - law-abiding, Iraqi citizens.
So this may not be about extra-triangle resistance. Even the ostensibly popularly contrived murder of British MPs in Majar al-Kabir seems a little fishy, what with a distinct Iranian presence onsite. We're really talking about invasion - a contingency that was not only predicted from day one, but is perceived under the developing "flypaper" ethos to be a potential bonding agent between Iraqis and Allied troops, even through the worst of times.
Everyone knew the Near East, while capitulating in some respects, would initially throw its dictatorial weight into defeating a free Iraq. The worst possible reaction to the continuing disarray is pessimism and expectations of disaster.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2003.
No, Saddam's weapons potential wasn't a figment of anybody's imagination:
U.S. intelligence suspects Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have finally been located.
Michael Ubaldi, August 26, 2003.
In-country chaos is not equal-opportunity:
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers raided a northern town on Tuesday in a bid to smash a crime ring wanted for murder, gunrunning and a terrorist attack on a police station that killed an American soldier earlier this month.
Lateef was imprisoned and serving multiple life sentences for murder until Saddam Hussein granted amnesty to all prisoners in October as the United States ratcheted up its case for invading Iraq, according to U.S. intelligence officers.
Michael Ubaldi, August 21, 2003.
Abraham D. Sofaer describes a dinner with then-American ally Tariq Aziz of Ba'athist Iraq:
After everyone had feasted on the delicious Middle Eastern buffet...Aziz spoke. He started out brilliantly, explaining why Iraq and the U.S. ahd mutual interests, including the need to prevent the Gulf from being overrun by religious militants. At the same time, he stressed, the West must allow Arabs to achieve economic and social progress, and the self-respect that comes from such achievement...A successful future for Arabs depended on their being trained to modernize their societies, and on being disciplined[,] not degenerate.