Saturday, July 29, 2006

Late Bloomer

I've always been a bit of a late bloomer, missing the trendy trends, getting all geeky interested in something just as the public turns to something more exciting.

Take the Iraq war. I tried to read Cobra II, and did manage to get through the first 100 pages or so, but until recently, I'd stayed away from books about the war and the administration's foreign policy. Then I read The One Percent Doctrine and State of War. This week I began reading The Assassin's Gate, and although I probably won't get to it for at least another week, I also picked up Fiasco today.

But as it turns out, just as I'm finally getting around to reading about The War to Save American Civilization, Glenn Greenwald is noticing that The War That Was Once So Very Very Important, Even to the Point of Ostracizing, Threatening, and Terrorizing American Opponents of America's Holy War In Mesopotamia is getting about as much coverage now as a National Hockey League playoff series:

"And having insisted for years that the fate of the free world and American security hangs in the balance in Iraq, they now just want to forget about the whole thing, pretend it never happened, and shut their eyes to the disaster they created and which they so plainly cannot control.

It isn't just that our occupation of this imploding country is being ignored by the media. What is so striking is the way which Iraq is now being talked about. It is purely surreal how the primary challenge to Sen. Lieberman is described -- in a way that is intended to be dismissive, to belittle it -- as all stemming from just one little, tiny disagreement: Iraq. Gosh, Sen. Lieberman is such a great Senator -- he votes the right way on the environment and everything -- and all he did was make one little mistake -- Iraq -- and now everyone is turning on him. That is so irrational and mean and unfair.

It is the proponents of this invasion who have insisted that Iraq is the centerpiece of American national security, that it is the primary front in the war on terror, that failure is not an option, etc. etc. They used their militaristic posture in Iraq -- and the "appeasing weakness" of opponents of the invasion -- to win two consecutive national elections. And now that the extent of the damage they created is too glaring to be denied, they want to walk away from it all, insist that it's unfair to hold them accountable for it, and hope that the media moves on to more interesting and exciting adventures than the plodding, depressing collapse of Iraq."

As we say around these here Internets, read the whole thing.

Actually I'd been noticing this trend for awhile, most of all from the neo-cons themselves, bored with the shockless follow-through to the Shock and Awe of March 2003. The neo-cons had some time ago turned aside from Iraq towards Iran and Syria. The Iraq war was boring them. What was next?

But the conflict in Lebanon has both enabled a shift of attention away from Iraq while affirming the neo-con's new Iran-Syria mission. Mindful of this change in national priorities and popular obsession, I also picked up a book on Iran, just to stay ahead of the curve.

Friday, July 28, 2006

We're All Defeatists Now

Billmon very rightly gives David Frum the business for now recognizing the Fiasco in Iraq due to internal opposition and external support for insurgents, both factors Frum, Perle and others sought to dismiss prior to the invasion.

But there was another aspect of Frum's NRO post that bears further attention.

To take back the capital from the militias that now terrorize it will take thousands, not hundreds, of American plus tens of thousands of Iraqis. No sector in Iraq can spare the loss of so many forces (our current troubles in Anbar date back to the decision in 2004 to shift troops from Anbar to the siege of Fallujah - when they returned, they discovered that every pro-US informant and ally in the province had been murdered, usually horribly and publicly). So a real plan for success in Baghdad will have to be built upon additional troops from out of area, potentially raising US troop levels back up to the 150,000 or so of late 2005.

Manifestly, neither the administration nor the Congress will contemplate such a move.


Averting such a fate means fighting to win Baghdad. But if the president decides against such a fight - either because it would be too bloody or too politically costly or even because he doubts that the US can ultimately succeed - then we need a backup plan.


This is not, as some American commentators argue, because the Iraqis refuse to fight for their country. Thousands of brave Iraqis, civil and military, have laid down their lives fighting or working for a secure and democratic Iraq. But Iraq has powerful enemies, inside and out. To date, the US has fought only a limited war against those enemies. Iran understands that the war in Iraq is a regional war. Syria understands it too. Only the US has tried to pretend that the war zone stops at the international border.


As I said, we may need a backup plan.


It's a second best. First best is to win. But that will take more commitment than the administration was prepared to offer yesterday. If we forfeit the best outcome, and refuse to plan for * second best *, we stand in very grave danger of ending up with the worst.

The gist of Frum's column is that the U.S. has not committed to go all out, to wage war unleashed. Since the U.S., both its president and worst of all, its feckless masses, have no stomach for real war, we'll have to settle for second best; Frum is posing as the conservative of conscience making for posterity's purpose a statement asserting we're only losing because of the great lack of Will. Of course this "fighting the war with one arm tied behind our backs" refrain on the part of conservatives isn't unique or new. You can find much of the same talk in Ralph Peters' and Shelby Steele's laments about not sufficiently exterminating the enemy.

And in a sense I think these conservatives are right, at least about one thing that's gone ignored in the neo-con utopian nightmare these last few years: war is messy, nasty business and should only be fought if one is willing to commit genocide, sparing neither man, woman, child, aged or animal. There's another type of war, a war of very specific, limited aims, and likewise conducted with brute, efficient and terrifying force--the type of war believed in by former Secretary Powell and most other realists.

But the neo-con vision and the Bush presumption was that neither type of war was needed in Iraq and neither paradigm accurately reflected American ability and Iraqi hopes for liberation. The war would be short, successful and received gladly by the country's oppressed masses. Collateral damage would be minimal. And in the war's early days, there was much to support this expectation.

But the ethnic and religious fissures that many critics of the war warned about prior to the invasion soon came to the fore, as did a predictable lawlessness and chaos as the American forces, lacking anything like a post-war plan, failed to secure the peace.

With three years of escalating violence and instability, some conservatives are falling back on the argument that if we had only really sacked the country and completely destroyed it would the war have been successfull, seemingly forgetting the liberating aspirations war was supposed to bring for the country's inhabitants. Some of these conservatives are cranky now either because they think America is being dishonored by the quagmire or because they want to move onto other, better wars.

Of course, other conservatives, as I've suggested, might not be at all displeased by the course of events in Iraq. Just the birth pang of a new Middle East, just the sort of creative chaos needed to ensure American hegemony.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Time for another "Truth Tour"

Hey, I know they canceled that gal's trip to Israel, but isn't it time to send these guys back to Baghdad?

Not a Good Sign

From Steve Gilliard:

Israeli troops wave captured Hezbollah and Lebanese national flags as they cross the border into Lebanon Thursday July 27, 2006.

Considering this war/skirmish/conflict was supposed to be just about Hezbollah, the waving of a captured Lebanonese flag doesn't strike me as useful, appropriate, or good PR across the Arab world.

Juan Cole:

"The Israeli official line is that they are only fighting Hizbullah and that the huge number of civilian casualties is an accident. But why are they bombing the regular Lebanese army north of Beirut if their real enemy is Hizbullah, a southern Shiite paramilitary? Why are they bombing radio relay stations?

Note that the only way this conflict can end is for the Lebanese state to be strengthened so that it has a hope of dealing with Hizbullah. Uh, these actions are not, like, strengthening the Lebanese state."

From the start it was obvious that Israel's stated claim to be waging war on Hezbollah, and only on Hezbollah, and the West's adjunct claim that appearances to the contrary, supporting Israel's bombing of Beirut was actually good for Lebanon and in the service and for the benefit of that country's budding Cedar Revolution was fiction.

But as the conflict expands to officially welcome in opposition to the Lebanese army and the Lebanese government, not to mention the resurrecting of Al Qaeda, who also wants a place at the table, and add to this toxic stew the rantings and fervor of people like this, it's hard to say or see how this gets resolved in some rational, peaceful manner.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nice UN Observation Post You Have There

--Be a shame if something happened to it.

After the IDF bombed a clearly marked UN observer post, killing four of its personnel, you might be forgiven for agreeing with Kofi Annan that Israel either has lousy aim, lacks adequate military intelligence, or targeted the observation post deliberately.

But have no fear, two of our U.S. Senators were already briefed with the applicable talking points (from Larry King Live):

KING: We'll start with Senator Allen, what do you make about these two observers killed and the apparent anger of Kofi Annan toward Israel?

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: Well, it's unfortunate. I don't think that Israel wants to hit the U.N. What they're trying to hit is Hezbollah. They're trying to degrade them, pound them, and make sure that they're not attacking and they're protecting themselves.

So, I'm sure they'll find out what happened. But Israel has a right to defend itself and now they have these latest threats that they're going to be launching missiles further into Israel.Kofi Annan's statements I think are unduly harsh. It would be nice if the United Nations actually showed such resolve and anger and determination in actually enforcing Security Council Resolution 1559, which has as its purpose the removal of Hezbollah or disarming the militias along the Israeli-Lebanon border.

KING: Senator Bayh, is this then, do you consider this a casualty of war?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Unfortunately so, Larry. I simply don't believe that the Israelis would intentionally kill U.N. observers. I'd be interested to know what Mr. Annan, what facts he has at his disposal that lead him to that assertion but until I see such facts I simply don't believe it.

And, I think George was right. We have to remember who was responsible for this. It was the Hezbollah that attacked across an internationally recognized boundary, killed soldiers, took others captive.

All this violence and tragedy flows from that act, so we have to focus on bringing Hezbollah under control, disarming them, getting a force in there that can keep them from reconstituting themselves. And then ultimately, Larry, we have to look at Iran because they're in the background of all of this. And, I think Kofi Annan would be better advised to focus upon the role that Iran has played and just think how bad things would be if Iran had nuclear weapons right now. So, this is a tragedy but we got to remember who's really to blame.

"Israel has a right to defend itself..."
"U.N. Resolution 1559"
"Islamic fascism..."

rinse and repeat.

Juan Cole suggests a reason why the IDF might have "accidently" targeted the UN observers:

"The Israelis denied that they hit the base deliberately, but Kofi would know. Why do it? When you have in mind war crimes, it is better not to have neutral observers in the region."

The "accidental" bombing of the UN observation post also sounds eerily familiar to this.

Glenn Greenwald is more cautious than I am in accepting Annan's "apparently deliberate" claim:

"(5) Oddly, the very pro-Israel New York Sun says that the Israel-U.N. incident "could prove a turning point in Israel's war to rid its northern border of Hezbollah." I don't see why that would be the case. Almost every war has incidents of this sort. The U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killed a group of Canadian troops in Afghanistan in an F-16 strike, and shot missiles at media offices in Baghdad. Incidents of this type are not uncommon.

Additionally, it was somewhat surprising that Kofi Annan would so quickly and impulsively make such serious accusations against Israel -- namely, that the bombing of the U.N. observation post was "deliberate," rather than accidental. That may well be the case, but it may very well not be, and it is hard to see how Annan could know that already."

On a 2008 note, I'm a little distressed to hear Evan Bayh employing the same saber-rattling on Iran as the administration and its neo-con supporters. I don't know if his stand here is based on a genuine fear of Iran's capabilities and intentions, or if he's posturing for a national campaign, or both. Of course, it's often the case that candidates and prospective candidates sound more alarmist or beligerent before entering office. Bill Clinton, for instance, campaigned against the first President Bush's "soft on China" policy but ultimately adopted much of the same policy once in office; the current President Bush likewise criticized his predecessor's "nation-building" efforts while going on to become among the most nation-building of presidents in Iraq.

But a harsh stance towards Iran could come back to bite Bayh, and other Democratic contenders, if they ultimately are not prepared to put up or shut up when it comes to exercising force against Tehran.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Now, Back to the Oil

Today's NYT:

...But Iran's ability to rebuff the West on these matters has only increased as oil prices have risen from about $27 a barrel at the start of the Iraq war, to $65 a barrel in the spring as tensions rose over Iran's nuclear program, to $75 on Monday as the conflict continued in Lebanon.

Indeed, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates, each $5 increase in oil prices translates into $85 million a week for Iran's bank account, emboldening its leaders and making whatever aid it supplies to Hezbollah easier to finance even as the crisis threatens to spread.


New oil money has given not only Iran but also Russia more resources to resist Western pressure. As he played host to the Group of 8 summit meeting in St. Petersburg last week, President Vladimir V. Putin was able to swat away criticism from President Bush about Russian domestic and foreign policies.

He boasted, in fact, that Russia's oil, natural gas and nuclear energy capacities made it the biggest energy player in the world.

Months before the summit meeting, Russia was hoping to use the final communique to endorse its approach on energy, in which the state basically controls the oil sector. The Bush administration joined with Europe to block such an endorsement, American officials say.
But energy remains a major American irritant with Russia and by extension China.

The Bush administration has stepped up its efforts to support pipelines that would carry oil and natural gas to the West, bypassing Russian territory.

Russia, in turn, has pressured Central Asian countries to oppose American energy projects and the use of the area for military bases.

To do that, Russia has joined with China to mobilize a five-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members include several Central Asian countries. The Defense Department is even worried that the group could move from its focus on energy to become a military alliance to rival NATO.

Many American analysts say energy issues are driving Russia and China into each other's arms politically, and that if anything American policies are accelerating the trend.

Meanwhile, the new oil politics are rearranging the international playing board, not simply giving Iran latitude in the Middle East but allowing Venezuela, for another example, to try to blunt Washington's influence in Latin America.

"We are seeing a radical change in how countries like Russia, Iran and Venezuela on the supply side, and China and India on the demand side, bring the world marketplace to bear on foreign policy," said Carlos Pascual, a former top aide to Ms. Rice and now foreign policy studies director at the Brookings Institution.

"I don't think any of us have done a terribly good job of thinking through how far behind the eight ball we are on these issues," he said.

So, our support of Israel's aggression in the Middle East, our invasion and stymied occupation of Iraq, and our sabber-rattling towards Iran have helped drive up the price of oil, which in turn has increased the wealth of our new supposed worst enemy, Iran. Meanwhile, Russia and China have forged an economic-energy pact, and Russian in particular, is reviving its opposition to American hegemony throughout Asia by encouraging resistance to sponsoring American military bases and forcing the U.S. to hope for an oil-gas pipeline that bypasses Russia. And if each $5/barrel increase in oil prices results in an extra $85 million/week for Tehran, than the increase in oil prices from approximately $25/barrel before the Iraq invasion to $75 now means that we've enriched Iran by approximately $75-$25 = $50, and $50 is 10-$5's meaning that 10*$85 million = $850 million/week, or about $45 billion/year. That may be chump change, or the price of one year's estate tax revenue here. But it probably helps out a lot over there.

And, oh yeah, a former top aide to Secretary Rice says we haven't done a terribly good job of thinking through these issues. Ya think?

But General Kristol and our American Mullahs still want us to attack Iran, and Syria while we're in the neighborhood.

From Our Mullahs to Your Mullahs

On the heels of my post yesterday about the connections between neo-conservative foreign policy and American megachurch evangelicalism, TAPPED tells us that some of our leading teevee mullahs are lobbying Washington to attack Iran for reasons that, as Sarah Posner has documented, stem from a toxic brew of end-times biblical literalism and apocalyptic forecasting.

So, you know, just in case you thought sanity or reason might prevail relative to the latest Middle East crisis, well, it doesn't look good.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Megachurch Evangelicalism and Neo-Conservative Foreign Policy

I'm sure someone's made this connection in one form another before, like maybe this guy, and this other guy.

But it still seems to me an unholy merger that warrants continued investigation, like an onion constantly peeled back to show yet additional gradations. For one thing, both megachurch evangelicalism and neo-conservative politics are heavily oriented around the nation of Israel, the former for its presumed role in bible prophecy leading to the rapture and return of Christ, the latter for other reasons, mostly geopolitical. So in regards to Israel, both movements have the same goal--the preservation of the Jewish state and the destruction of its infidel neighbors.

And both emerged at around the same time, in the late 1970's, as reactions against cultural liberalism and realist detente politics. And both represent significant breakages from the traditional Republican coalition and thought. Once upon a time, it was the mainline Protestant churches, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, etc, that made up the Republican elite and its core northern support. Now, mainline Protestantism is in decline, replaced by megachurch evangelicalism, and political Christianity is more rooted in the south and west than in the north.

Meanwhile, neo-conservative politics got its start in the late 1970's as the Reagan/Kilpatrick wing of Republicanism, which desired a more beligerent posture towards the Soviet Union and an end to the realist policy of detente and arms control led driven by Nixon-Ford-Kissenger. George H.W. Bush, General Scowcroft and Colin Powell resurrected a realist foreign policy vision as the U.S. entered the post-Cold War era. The election of Bill Clinton brought with it a more internationalist and humanitarian tweaking to the old realism, an adaptation that provided a ready target for discontented conservatives anxious to flex America's newly buffed muscles now that the other bully on the beach--Soviet Russia--had been vanquished.

But there is a sense in which megachurch evangelicalism and neo-conservative foreign policy are marketably different. The former seeks domestic authoritarianism, a destruction of the Constitutional wall between church and state, and a hyper-invasive posture towards privacy rights, lifestyle issues, and personal morality and religiosity.

But where megachurch evangelicalism demands hyper-order and control in the homeland, neo-conservative foreign policy advocates international disorder and chaos abroad. The old Republican realism of Nixon and Kissinger aimed for world order and a balance of power. In a word, stability. The new neo-conservatism of Gringrich and Kristol wants no order and relishes, if not purposely orchestrates, global instability. That's the only conclusion I can draw from the administration's Iraq strategery and its latest policy, or lack thereof, on Israel, Palestine and Lebanon.

There's a well known anecdote from Secretary of State George C. Marshall's visit with Stalin in the Soviet Union just before the formulation and announcement of the Marshall Plan. During the visit, Marshall was appalled to realize that Stalin didn't care about the reconstruction of Europe or the fate of the nations and peoples so ravaged by the war. Rather, Stalin appeared indifferent, if not pleased, by conditions of the countries borderin his own. The better, no doubt, to ensure the Soviet dictator he wouldn't be enduring any more invasions from the west.

The current neo-conservative foreign policy elite seem to share a similar mindset. Splinter the enemy, exploit the divisions, or attempt to exploit the divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, decapitate regimes deemed unfriendly to American power, and reap the benefits of countries left in turmoil or cowed into obesience. As I've mentioned before, the civil war in Iraq works for neo-conservatives for at least two reasons. One, it reduces Iraq's future opposition to U.S. middle east policy by causing the state to war against itself. Two, the continued chaos aids the neo-conservative story about the middle east and the global war on terror by providing an example of another situation where America is seemingly interested in promoting democracy but is hindered by terrorist opponents.

This latter point was made by Newt Gringrich on C-Span yesterday. For the Newter, the bloodshed there is indicative of the enemies we face and justifies continued American beligerence and war-mongering. That's the beauty of the neo-conservative foreign policy nightmare. There are no circumstances that don't reaffirm and justify its ambitions. If a friendly democracy is created in Iraq (or Iran or Syria) than the effort was worth it. On the other hand, if as a result the state disintegrates into sectarian violence, than that proves how dangerous and anti-American the area's peoples are, which in turn, reaffirms and justifies the American initiative.

I also seems clear to me that Newt Gringrich is emerging as the neo-conservative's leading political spokesman. Although out of office, his re-emergence in the last few months and his adoption of the neo-conservative war agenda gives the neo-con establishment a fresh, new believer, ready to take up the banner when George W. vacates the WH in two years. And it wouldn't surprise me if Gringrich both runs in 2008 and wins the nomination. He's the only True Believer among the prospective contenders who also brings an articulate nightmarish vision, unlike others, such as George Allen, who while being sufficiently ideological, I think lacks the charisma necessary for winning the presidency. Then again, who knows. Maybe someone like Allen would be the perfect, pliable Bush replacement, while Gringrich and Kristol procede with the real work of influencing public opinion and manipulating the bureaucracy to extend America's power across the globe and to destabilize our enemies, both real and imagined.