Friday, December 16, 2005

The Speech That Should Have Been

Yesterday's election in Iraq gives new cause for hope in the ultimate success of the Coalition mission. By all initial accounts the vote transpired even more smoothly than the elections of January that occasioned so much optimism. This latest round of voting is even more promising, as the large Sunni turnout opens new potential for that community to be drawn away from the insurgency and into the political process.

Against this context even opponents of the war must concede that President Bush's series of four speeches bode some good. Even if one feels (as I do) that the invasion was a mistake, the return of Iraq to stability and peace is obviously in the interests of the world at large, and the sustainment of US public support for the Coalition mission is essential to that end. In this sense the speech series obviously achieved some effect, polls show that US public apprehension about the Iraq conflict has decreased (marginally, but measurably) in recent weeks. Though the speeches themselves contained much that may be dismissed as empty rhetoric, in all fairness they displayed more candor than we have ever seen from this administration on the issue of Iraq.

Even so, I would predict that the morale-boosting effect of the speeches will be short-lived, and that their ultimate impact will be, on balance, more negative than positive. Pundits have pointed to distortions and ellisions within the speeches, but it is not for these that I would take the President to task. Having had such a complete void of candor from this administration, I can no longer evince surprise when it finally emerges within very strict limits. Rather, it is the overall logical thrust of the President's "plan for victory" that I find ill-conceived and rhetorically ill-advised.

The administration's division of the Coalition mission into military, economic, and political aspects is in itself sound, but in all these arenas the President described a process in which the US has far more control than is at all possible. This thematic message pervaded all four speeches, but a few examples may illustrate both its flaws and its dangers. On the political front the President invoked the example of Japan:

"After World War II, President Harry Truman believed that the way to help bring peace and prosperity to Asia was to plant the seeds of freedom and democracy in Japan. Like today, there were many skeptics and pessimists who said that the Japanese were not ready for democracy. Fortunately, President Harry Truman stuck to his guns. He believed, as I do, in freedom's power to transform an adversary into an ally. And because he stayed true to his convictions, today Japan is one of the world's freest and most prosperous nations, and one of America's closest allies in keeping the peace. The spread of freedom to Iraq and the Middle East requires the same confidence and persistence, and it will lead to the same results."

Democracy in Iraq is a laudable goal, and I agree with the President that it may ultimately be possible. But if and when it does happen, it will be because the Iraqis themselves, in a time and manner particular to their volition and situation, bring it to fruition. It is a mistake to assert that the US "plant[ed] the seeds of freedom and democracy in Japan," or that the current Japanese political system is wholly an American imposition. Japan enjoyed a period of robust liberal democracy during the late Taisho era (1911-1925), it was only after the advent of the Great Depression that it experienced a slide into militant autocracy. The post-war democratization of Japan was as much a return to normalcy as a novel restructuring. The proof of this is the counter-case of South Korea. That country was garrisoned by the US as intensely for as long a duration as Japan, yet it remained a brutal police state until recent decades. If democracy could be imposed by US power that process should have transpired at the same pace in both Japan and South Korea. The disparity of these two cases demonstrates that if and when democracy emerges it does so on the timetable dictated by the intrinsic social and political conditions of the country in which it occurs.

Turning to Iraq, it is clear that though yesterday's elections are a hopeful sign, the political road ahead is highly unpredicable and likely to be fraught with conflict and digressions. Too many variables completely beyond the control of US power remain in play for anyone to speak with any confidence about what the political situation in Iraq will be from month to month. Whatever the conceptual merits of the institutions currently under construction in Baghdad (and many Iraqi observers express dismay that they are dangerously flawed from the outset), in practice they will only become as efficacious as the elected Iraqi leadership make them. Much hinges on the willingness and commitment of Iraqi leaders to operate in good faith within the institutional parameters they themselves have laid down.

Though one need not be gratuitously pessimistic, it would be foolhardy to deny that powerful forces of sectarianism, ethnicity, ideology, tribalism, and regional tension militate against a happy outcome. Already there are troubling signs, such as raids by US soldiers that revealed secret Interior Ministry detention centers at which Sunni detainees had been tortured by Shi'ite paramilitary commandos. Only a few such instances in which Iraqi leaders display a willingness to abuse or abandon the strictures of the constitutional order could cause the legitimacy and functional integrity of the new Iraqi government to completely collapse. This is not to suggest that such a collapse is inevitable or that even if it occurred it would preclude the possibility of democracy in Iraq altogether. One must admit, however, that the road to a stable and free Iraq may be a long and hard one, and the US has no control whatsoever over how long and hard it becomes.

On the military side, President Bush laid down this strategic principle in his first speech at Annapolis: "As Iraqi forces take responsibility for more of their own territory, coalition forces can concentrate on training Iraqis and hunting down high-value targets, like the terrorists Zarqawi and his associates." Here again the President's strategy assumes a far greater degree of control than the US will ever achieve over the strategic situation in Iraq. As I have stated in previous posts, the combat-readiness of Iraqi forces will not evolve along a schedule laid down by US policymakers, it will depend on the pace at which the Iraqi government establishes its authority and legitimacy.

More than this, the notion that US forces will ever be freed to "pursue high value targets" rests upon a bevy of logical oversights and miscalculations. The very concept of "high value targets" begs the question "high value to whom?" In coming months the nascent Iraqi government is not likely to make the same distinction that US policymakers do, between those insurgents who are motivated by purely local regional or sectarian grievances and those like Zarqawi who are part of a larger global conspiracy aimed (in part at least) at the US. The Iraqi government is certain to view any and all insurgents as "high value targets," and may well resent the notion that US forces remaining on Iraqi soil focus their efforts only on those combatants deemed particularly dangerous to the US. Such a strategic realignment would certainly strain relations between the US military and its Iraqi hosts, eroding the already very limited influence that US policymakers have in all arenas of the Iraqi scene.

Even if such tensions were not a concern, the plan is of itself tactically impracticable. Since the beginning of the insurgency US forces have been hampered by their relative lack of linguistic and cultural skills essential to gathering intelligence and identifying insurgents. Given this fact, the notion that the same US forces will somehow be able to isolate one small segment of the insurgency as targets is absurd. That task would in any case depend upon the assistance of Iraqi forces in gathering and assessing intelligence, and again Iraqi forces are not likely to blithely lead their American partners only to the targets of US interest.

The "high value target" principle moreover bears distressing implications about the administration's ultimate intentions in Iraq. It would seem to suggest that they remain determined to continue the Coalition occupation until Iraq has been cleared of Al-Qaeda affiliates. Such a plan holds out very little hope of a "light at the end of the tunnel." Even if key leaders like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are captured in coming months, Al-Qaeda's foothold in Iraq will not be dislodged until the new Iraqi government achieves a position of unassailable legitimacy and stability, and that process is likely to take many years and require the exit of US forces. A determination to keep US forces in Iraq until Al-Qaeda is wholly gone is a recipe for a viscious-cyclical quagmire.

Given all these perils, the President would have been well-advised to give a very different speech or series of speeches. Exhorting the American public to the possibility of victory in Iraq is all well and good, but that victory, if and when it comes, will be of Iraqi, not US making, and may fall far short of what Americans would consider a "rosy" outcome. There are good arguments for keeping US forces in Iraq a while longer (how much longer is open to debate), but if the President expects the American people to accept those arguments he should admit to them that much of what happens in Iraq in the months and years to come remains beyond the control of the US. If some cataclysms do in fact occur in the road ahead, US support for the Coalition mission will only remain steady if Americans are frankly and openly warned of their potential. Though Bush's speeches evinced more candor than he has ever expressed, they fell far short of the degree of candor that will be required if the Coalition mission in Iraq is to remain politically sustainable.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Future of China, as Seen from Taiwan (and Tibet, and Xinjiang, and....)

My last post was read (I am happy to note) by a number of critical eyes across the blogosphere, particularly Michael Turton in The View from Taiwan. I do not have many objections to Michael's perspective, except that he seems to be arguing against a case I did not make. My purpose was never to argue for the naturalness or even desirability of reunification with mainland China for the people of Taiwan, my post was commenting exclusively on the effect that cross-Strait interaction is likely to have on the political culture of China. In particular, I would not contradict Michael's assertion that-

"[E]ven China becoming a democracy would [not] entice Taiwan into the Chinese political embrace. One, and only one thing will create 'peaceful' union between China and Taiwan: the Taiwanese belief that China is willing to commit murder and mayhem on an island-wide scale, coupled with the calculation that they are unwilling to accept such destruction in exchange for their independence, that will cause them to pack up their tents and set out the white flag."

I would only add to Michael's observation that a)the Taiwanese people are not wrong in their belief that China is willing to commit murder and mayhem on an island-wide scale; b)nothing, not even China becoming a democracy will decrease China's willingess to use extreme force to prevent formal Taiwanese independence.

I must underscore that I am speaking in a completely non-normative mode. I do not approve of China's willingness to use force against Taiwan. No amount of disapproval upon my part or anyone else's can change the brute fact of Chinese nationalism, however, or the political realities to which it gives rise. As I have stated in earlier posts, the deep-seated nationalist aspirations of the Chinese people preclude their ever accepting a formal Taiwanese declaration of independence. Even in a China that was fully democratic and in which the CCP no longer existed a Taiwanese declaration of independence could only lead to a cross-Strait war. No mainland Chinese government could survive the political firestorm that would follow acquiescence to such an event.

That being said, it is also true (as I clearly stated in my last post) that Taiwan has had its own president, legislature, and judiciary, its own body of civil and criminal law, and its own military for over 50 years. It is not reasonable to expect Taiwan, having enjoyed de facto sovereignty for so long, to revert to being a mere "province" of China. What then, is the way forward? The world (as world peace and prosperity do in many ways hinge upon peace in the Taiwan Strait) seems to be at an impasse.

There is one solution that, though it would require extraordinary forebearance and compromise to be effected, might at once both preserve the dignity of Taibei and resolve many of the structural impediments hobbling Beijing. As I stated in my last post, one of the chief difficulties China must overcome to preserve its stability and prosperity is the supercentralization of its internal political structure. Beijing can not exercise the kind of micromanagerial control relegated to it by the PRC system over the provinces of China, so that even as the Chinese economy expands its progress is retarded by ever-acclerating irrationality, inefficiency, and waste. Though large urban movements as occurred in 1989 have not recurred, local unrest is becoming ever more frequent and destructive in rural areas.

China's only hope of avoiding cataclysmic meltdown is to opt for an eventual program of decentralization. All of the provinces of China must ultimately enjoy a great deal of autonomy and independence from Beijing- even more autonomy than the 50 states of the U.S. do from Washington, as each province is geographically, socially, and demographically more complex than even the largest U.S. state. As this process of decentralization occurs (assuming for the moment that the best-case scenario arrives), the question of the non-provincial territory of the PRC (the so-called "autonomous regions") will naturally come into play.

Beijing is no more likely to ever grant Tibet, Inner Mongolia, or Xinjiang total independence than it is to Taiwan. Even so, it is not inconceivable that a reformed Chinese government might accede to a "bimodal" polity. In this scheme the 22 historical provinces of China would be fully integrated into a Chinese Federation. The autonomous regions of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia (Ningxia and Guangxi too, should they so desire) would be bound more loosely into a Greater Chinese Commonwealth. Commonwealth members would have many of the powers of sovereignty (thus the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet, Xinjiang could resolve its own policy toward Uighur language and Islam, etc.), they would only defer to Beijing on matters of foreign policy and defense.

If Taiwan were to join such a system as a Commonwealth member it could retain its own institutions and sovereign independence, and would benefit from the lowering of all logistical impediments to cross-Strait trade. This might seem like an impossibly optimistic scenario, but international trends such as that exemplified by the EU demonstrate that it is the downhill slope of history. A Greater Chinese Commonwealth is no more intrinsically unlikely than a European Union, it only seems so because where Europe had historically been artificially hyper-fragmented China has been artificially hyper-united. If despite centuries of destruction and hardship Europeans have finally moved toward a more rational reconciliation of disparate sovereignties, it is not too much to hope that China, whose suffering has been no less intense, might make an analogously rational move (albeit in, superficially at least, the opposite direction).

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Coming (Knock on Wood) Taiwanization of China

Speaking in Japan this week President Bush urged China to look to Taiwan as a model of political democratization. Though there are few occasions this is so, on this score the President and I agree. Taiwan gives the lie to any cultural-reductionist claims that democracy is incommensurate with Chinese civilization. When I first arrived in Taiwan as a student in 1987 martial law had just been lifted and the island was still a single-party state. Today Taiwan is among the most robust democracies on earth, a fundamental restructuring that was achieved despite profound diplomatic isolation and unrelenting intimidation from the Goliath across the Strait.

Though the success of the democratization of Taiwan is undeniable, the prospects for the "Taiwanization" of China are less than obvious. Within the first week of moving into the men's dormitory at Tunghai Univesity in 1987 I returned to my room to find that my American roommate Doug had been collared by a young student in the army officer's training corps who was earnestly delivering a sermon on cross-straits politics. He explained that the situation today was analogous to the days of the early Roman Empire. Though the Christians had been a tiny, persecuted minority then they eventually were able to convert the entire realm, and the people and government of Taiwan would transform China through a comparably subtle organic process.

Doug and I smirked. At the time it seemed like more of the patriotic pabulum dished out by Taiwanese leaders at state occasions, when speeches still regularly referred to the imminent day that the army would "retake the mainland." Taiwanese leaders no longer indulge in that kind of rhetorical bravado, but as Taiwan's political system and economy continue to thrive the picture that young officer painted looks less and less fantastic.

Taiwanization seems more and more likely at least in part because it is already under way. As China's economy has liberalized and cross-strait tensions have cooled (albeit incrementally) the PRC has become a major target of Taiwanese investment capital. At least a quarter of a million Taiwanese businessmen and women are resident in Shanghai, billions of Taiwanese dollars have built factories and office buildings across Southern China. Just as Taiwanese capital has flowed to China, mainland citizens have become increasingly enthusiastic consumers of Taiwanese products. Taiwanese pop music, movies, and snack foods have become ubiquitous in the PRC both north & south.

With such an ever-increasing volume of economic intercourse one can only wonder how long it can fail to slide over into the political realm, especially given that both governments remain, in name at least, dedicated to a policy of "eventual reunification." Indeed, such political intercourse has proven unavoidable. The PRC government particularly is in some respects hostage to its commitment to reunification, a condition clearly ilustrated by September's visit to Beijing by Taiwanese intellectual and parliamentarian Li Ao. Li Ao has been one of the most articulate and effective advocates of reunification on the Taiwanese political scene, a fact which no doubt inspired the PRC government to invite him as a state guest. One can only imagine their chagrin when in a speech at Beijing University Li launched into scathing critique of the anti-democratic nature of the PRC government and berated the school's faculty for lacking the courage to dissent.

The CCP fell victim to one of the enduring ironies of cross-strait politics- the constituency on Taiwan that is most ardently pro-unification is also most zealously anti-communist. Beijing's leaders cannot be ignorant of this fact or have had any doubts about Li Ao's political opinions- they must have been counting on some impulse to courteousy or political expendiency to ameliorate his tone. Li's audacity is not likely to slow the pace of political interchange across the Taiwan Strait, however, as the PRC government simply cannot afford to reject ties or relations with those in Taiwan who oppose what would for Beijing be a domestic political disaster, the spectre of Taiwanese independence.

Moreover, Taiwan presents a global model for China in more than internal structural terms. Taiwan demonstrates not only how successful democracy can be within a Chinese social and cultural context, it demonstrates how much more efficient ANY form of political and economic management can be if practiced on a scale smaller than that of the 1.25 billion Chinese citizens. Much of Taiwan's success is arguably attributable not only to more liberal political and economic policies, but to the greater efficiency that inheres when local interests on the provinical level have more autonomous control over their own fiscal policy and infrastructural development.

As impressive as economic growth has been on mainland China, there is little doubt that future progress (especially in critical areas like ecological management and equitable development) demands a relaxing of the supercentralization of the PRC political system. Many of the political and economic woes of the current regime stem from the same systemic forces that impeded and eroded the Chinese Empire- the fact that precious few institutional structures were in place to allow for the free expression of local interests or the reconciliation of conflicts between center and periphery. Though Beijing looks to a future in which Taiwan exists in the same relationship to itself as Hunan or Jiangsu, all China would arguably profit from a situation where those provinces' orientation toward Beijing grew closer to that of Taiwan.

Decentralization and democratization (two forces that must ultimately work in tandem) seem the only way forward if China hopes to preserve its prosperity and stability. In this respect the prospect of the "Taiwanization" of China grows even more likely. No structural change in the Beijing government will make reunification with Taiwan any less urgent an issue in cross-straits relations. Reunification is a nationalist vision which the ordinary citizens of mainland China cherish very ardently, and no amount of democratization or decentralization is likely to cool their feelings on that score. Given that fact, the likeliest scenario for reform in China is one in which Taiwanese political parties and Taiwan's government play a central role. This makes sense in pragmatic terms, as Taiwan is well-placed to provide the kind of expertise essential to this transition. Beijing might furthermore see real political advantage in welcoming Taiwanese participation, as it would be the clearest and most infallible route to defusing the cross-straits crisis. More flies are caught with honey, as the old adage goes, and the surest way to make reunification palatable to Taiwanese leaders and citizens would be to invite Taiwanese political parties to register voters and compete in elections on mainland China. Strange as it seems to contemplate, coming decades could potentially see a KMT or DPP president at the helm in Beijing.

This is of course a very optimistic scenario. Many, many things can and may go wrong to preclude such a happy outcome. Resistance on Taiwan to unification is never likely to be wholly overcome. Having had their own President and parliament it is difficult to imagine the Taiwanese people accepting return to the status of "province." This is not an insurmountable goal, though it is a question too large to treat here. Even given the many difficulties and contigencies, however, I feel confident that Beijing is not only well-advised but more likely than not to look toward Taiwan, and that the future will bring one form or another of "Taiwanization" to the political life of mainland China.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


President Bush yesterday accused Democrats in Congress of undermining the Iraq war effort by raising questions about how his administration used intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq. This claim, wild on the face of it, is made doubly absurd in the wake of this week's bombings of hotels in Amman, Jordan. Where Bush would have us believe that, "These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will," events increasingly demonstrate that the Iraq conflict has entered a phase in which the tenor of American will is largely irrelevant.

Among many tragic facets of the brutal Amman attacks perhaps the most troubling is their provenance- they were planned in and executed from bases in Iraq. The Iraq conflict has thus finally afforded Abu Musab al-Zarqawi an asset he never possessed (or could have acquired) during the reign of Saddam Hussein, a platform in Iraq from which to launch attacks against targets in the broader Middle East. This despite more than two years of Coalition occupation, 220 billion dollars expended, and more than 2000 soldiers killed. If none of these efforts could prevent Zarqawi from achieving the strategic purchase he currently occupies, it is ridiculous to suggest that the griping of a few Congressman can make any difference to how the conflict evolves moving forward.

President Bush's speech is a familiar tactic for his administration, to go on the offensive in the face of criticism. Where this kind of audacity has served them well in the past, it seems ill-considered under the current circumstances. There is little likelihood that the teapot controversy being plumbed by Patrick Fitzgerald and implicating Scooter Libby will brew into anything with the dimensions of Watergate. It can never be proven legally that the administration set out purposely to deceive Congress or the public at large, and the time it would take to even approximate such a case would easily run out before the end of this lame duck presidency. It would thus seem prudent for the President to let this storm blow over rather than roiling the waters by launching an illogical partisan counter-attack.

One reason the President might have chosen this tack is because the administration is contemplating a further long-term extension of the Coalition occupation in Iraq. I give the administration enough credit for political savvy, however, to presume that they know this will not materially change public opinion about the war, as this is the one aspect of the Iraq policy where they have demonstrated clear judgment. The Bush White House knew all along that public support for the Iraq war was soft- this is why they engaged in the kind of political hijinks that have fed Scooter Libby to grand juries and special prosecutors. Whether a crime was committed is a moot point, but what cannot be denied is that the administration made every effort to circumvent a genuine open and critical debate about the Iraq invasion and its potential consequences before going to war. Why was this done? Because all polling showed that the American public was deeply ambivalent about the Iraq invasion, an ambivalency that would have been exacerbated by a clear and open enumeration of the complexities and dangers inherent in the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The administration knew that a long, arduous political process would be required to build a genuine consensus, indeed that if real criticism of the policy's perils entered the political bloodstream support might collapse altogether and the moment to strike might be irredeemably lost. This is why the administration resorted to strong-arm tactics like the "Valerie Plame" outing to quickly quash dissent and preserve the fragile support for the Iraq conflict just long enough to launch the invasion itself, trusting that the quick success of the policy would preclude any close scrutiny of the tactics employed in pushing it to fruition.

The optimism of the Bush White House on the outcome of the conflict has of course been shown false. If US troop levels had receded to the 30,000 soldier occupation force anticipated in Defense Department post-invasion plans there is little doubt that Scooter Libby would never have gotten near a grand jury. Though the administration was completely misguided about the strategic trajectory of the conflict however, its own actions show it was always clear-eyed about the nature of US public opinion. It is thus difficult to imagine that the President's audacious speech yesterday was made in hope of rallying public opinion for a much further extended occupation of Iraq. American patience with the war has bottomed-out, a condition which the Bush administration helped foster by short-circuiting open debate about its dangers and complexities. President Bush can chastise Congress's scrutiny of the justification for war all he likes, but he and his officials know that it is precisely the rhetoric of WMD's and links to Al Qaeda that has left Americans confused and disenchanted with the conflict as it stands now. No amount of punditry or posturing can unring that bell.

So why, then, has the Bush White House chose to launch this attack? One can only hope that a different, more rational motive underlies this rhetoric. The strategic trajectory of the Iraq conflict has clearly moved beyond the control of the US military. At this point, even if we were to double the number of US soldiers in Iraq it is unlikely that the Coalition could dislodge Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his confederates from his base in Iraq, much less quell the other elements of the Iraqi insurgency that are home-grown. Once a constitutionally mandated government is elected in December, the utility of US forces toward the defeat of the insurgency will rapidly move toward the negative spectrum. The intrinsic conditions of Iraqi society do not favor the long-term survival of Zarqawi and his operation on Iraqi soil, if an effective Iraqi authority can emerge from December's election it will likely, over time, dislodge Zarqawi from Iraq. Though US forces will be needed to protect the nascent government as it sets new institutions in place and begins to govern, if the US military presence is not seen to quickly diminish in the wake of its taking power the new Iraqi govnernment will suffer a crippling loss of legitimacy and prestige.

The time is thus now right for a staged withdrawal of US forces to begin. This process will not be a politically pretty one- as US forces withdraw the level of violence will likely increase. Ultimately the Coalition will depart from an Iraq still in the grips of insurgency and civil war, and Zarqawi and his ilk will be able to crow triumphantly that he drove the "infidel" off of Muslim land. Their triumph will not endure, however, as in subsequent months or years, once Iraqis are forced to choose between wholly indigenous options, foreign agitators like Zarqawi will see their base of support erode beneath them.

George W. Bush and his advisors hopefully see this picture or something like it. At the very least one can hope that they see the domestic political prudence of a US withdrawal from Iraq in the face of mid-term elections. This new rhetorical offensive is thus (hopefully) laying the groundwork for that policy shift. Any politically embarrassing sound-bites coming out of Iraq in the midst of a Coalition withdrawal can now be blamed on the Democrats- "Zarqawi would never have remained as powerful as he is were it not for the partisan attacks of Congressional Democrats." As deeply cynical as such a strategy clearly is, if it has been embraced by the Bush administration it is at least a hopeful sign that they intend to move the Iraq policy in a more rational direction.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Stand Up, Stand Down

As the date for the referendum on the Iraqi constitution draws nigh the question of what strategy the US and Coalition should pursue in Iraq remains neither less urgent nor more settled than it has been at any time in the past two and a half years. That the Coalition has reached this point without formulating a clear or effective counterinsurgency strategy is amazing, made more so by the fact that with the formation of a new Iraqi government the utility of the Coalition presence in Iraq (always problematic and limited) will rapidly wither away. To date US forces continue their round of search and destroy missions in northern Iraq, despite clear indications that such operations are doing nothing to stem the tide of insurgent violence or US casualties.

The only notion approaching a strategy that the Bush administration has offered is the "stand up, stand down" plan- the proposition that US forces will "stand down (withdraw)" as Iraqi forces "stand up"- as the Iraqi national army becomes capable of fighting the insurgency. This principle is either woefully misguided or deeply disingenuous. It is a fantasy to suppose that a national army could be constructed without a national government, yet both the administration and its critics here in the US have persisted in promoting this illusion.

Interminable debates over who is to blame for the slow speed at which Iraqi units have been made "combat ready" read like the dialogue of an Ionesco play. It has now been more than 30 months since the defeat of Saddam Hussein. I recently queried my father-in-law, a WWII veteran, and we determined that from the time of his joining the US Army until his landing in a combat zone in France was less than one year. Why would it take more than 30 months to turn citizens into soldiers in one instance and less than 12 in another? The answer is clear- to become a citizen-soldier one must first be a citizen, and to be a citizen one must have a government the legitimacy of which one recognizes and supports.

The truth of this assessment is clearly demonstrable in the case of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army. US forces were in Iraq less than a year when al-Sadr ordered his forces into the field against the US. Coalition commanders are fearful of sending Iraqi army soldiers to fight a small and primitively armed insurgency, yet Moqtada al-Sadr had no difficulty in mobilizing his men against the most technologically sophisticated and lethal combat force in world history. What could account for this disparity? Yes, the Mahdi army was tactically defeated, but can anyone doubt that the Iraqi army would be a much more effective fighting force if it had some fraction of the political will and internal cohesion of al-Sadr's militia? Today the most effective ex-Coalition forces in Iraq are those given a mission and esprit du corps by the larger institutions they serve- al-Sadr's Mahdi army, SCIRI's Badr Brigades, and the Kurdish Authority's Pesh Murga militia.

In this light one can see that waiting for the Iraqi national army to "stand up" prior to the Coalition withdrawal is totally unrealistic. The Iraqi national army will only begin to behave as such when at least the rudiments of an Iraqi nation emerge, and as long as Coalition forces remain in Iraq the Iraqi government will be perceived as a puppet regime. Once a new constitution is in place and an independent government is elected under its auspices (leaving aside complex questions of how legitimate the Constitution will be perceived to be given the difficulties in its drafting) there will be some hope that the Iraqi national army will cohere into a force capable of defending the new constitutional order, but that process will only begin AS Coalition forces begin to withdraw, NOT before.

A strong argument can be made that Coaltion forces must remain in Iraq to protect the formation of a new government and that subsequent withdrawal should be gradual and prudently conducted, but it is madness to insist that the Coalition must remain until the insurgency is defeated or even until the Iraqi national army proves itself capable of doing so. The Coalition cannot defeat the insurgency, as the presence of Coalition forces add as much fuel to the fire of the insurgency as their combat power depletes. The Iraqi national army, for its part, will only become capable of defeating the insurgency when it develops the same cohesiveness and political will displayed last year by the Mahdi army, and that will only happen when Coalition troops have withdrawn or at least begun to do so in earnest.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Eight Percent Solution

Last month's Israeli pullout from Gaza and its aftermath underscored the difficulties of a two-state settlement in Israel/Palestine. None of the incidental obstructions thrown up in the path of "disengagement" can change an unalterable truth, however- Zionist principles require a two-state solution if Israel is to survive and remain true to itself. The "Jewishness" of the Jewish state is not enshrined in iron-clad draconian laws. Israel is, as the Zionist founders intended it to be, a liberal democracy- its Jewishness is purely a function of demography. The moment that Jews are no longer a majority in Israel it ceases to be a Jewish state. Were Israel to simply annex the Occupied Territories and declare all residents citizens Israel would no longer be a demographically Jewish State (this new Greater Israel would have roughly 4.8 million Jews and 5 million Muslims, Christians, and Druze). Current demographic trends would quickly make Arab Muslims the plurality among Israeli voters. These hard facts leave Israel only two options- pursue a two-state solution or perpetuate a limbo state that subverts all the democratic principles upon which Israel is founded, in which the 4 million+ residents of the Occupied Territories are denied the rights of citizenship.

The closest Israelis and Palestinians have come to a two-state solution was the Camp David Summit of 2000. The basic framework for a Palestinian State conceeded by Ehud Barak at that summit was the most practicable and fair- a Palestine situated within the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem with Israel's borders returned to the so-called "Green Line" of occupation. Though other issues stirred controversy, the 2000 Summit foundered over departures of Barak's proposal from the basic Green Line framework.

Barak's proposed Palestine could not claim sovereignty over all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem because 350,000+ Israeli have settled in parts of those territories in the last twenty+ years. Unlike the settler movement in Gaza, which was always a limited affair, many of the Israeli settelments in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are profoundly substantial. Billions of dollars of real estate development and infrastructural investment have created communities with a climate of solidity and permanency, their deep economic and institutional roots would make any attempt at "Gaza-style" disengagement a grotesquely violent affair.

The 2000 Summit proposal suggested that 92% of the West Bank and East Jerusalem could come under Palestinian authority while the 8% of territory that contained untransplantable Israeli settlements would be annexed to Israel. Palestine would be compensated for these concessions with "land swaps" of Israeli territory from inside the Green Line. Palestinian negotiators rejected this proposal on the grounds that it would result in a geographically irrational and ungovernable Palestinian state. Long "islands" of Israeli territory would divide critical sections of Palestinian sovereignty from one-another, creating insurmountable difficulties in communication and resource management. The peace process is thus at an impasse. Disengagement is impossible on the Israeli side, extreme concessions on the geographic parameters of sovereignty are impossible on the Palestinian side.

Given the urgency of the peace process for both Israelis and Palestinians, it is surely worth considering one albeit radical solution. Palestinian nationhood will only come about in tandem with a basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestinian sovereignty and establishing definite protections for the security and welfare of both parties. Thus rather than contorting the map to accomodate intractable pragmatic concerns, the Green Line should be affirmed as the rightful boundary between Israeli and Palestinian sovereignty. Included in the basic treaty securing Israeli recognition of Palestine should be a clause guaranteeing Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem bestowal of Resident Alien status and rights from the new Palestinian government. These settlers could choose to remain in their homes and retain Israeli citizenship, in return they would only have to apply for a Resident Alien permit, submit to Palestinian law, and pay Palestinian taxes.

While seemingly simple on the surface, this type of solution would in fact be excruciatingly complex and contingent on a comprehensive and detailed set of safeguards and protocols hammered out in advance and committed to in writing. For example, a ban on all transfers of real property owned by Resident Aliens for an interim "stabilizing period" (20-30 years) would likely be required, to assure Israeli settlers that they could not be coerced to sell their homes or stripped of property through the exercise of "eminent domain." Practical political conditions would also make this policy extremely dangerous. Radicals on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide would seize upon the situation to incite violence and subvert the peace. Relatively small provocations could quite easily snowball into open war- the utmost diligence, forbearance and diplomacy would be required of both governments to make the peace win through.

Given all these legal and practical difficulties, however, I would still venture that a "Resident Alien" compromise holds out the best hope for peace. The abstract possibility of peace hinges on the hope that Israel and Palestine could be good neighbors in a common region. What better way to embody and nurture that hope than to require Israelis and Palestinians be good neighbors in a common country?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A "Deep Historical" View of Chinese Expansionism

Kate Marie over at "What's the Rumpus" tipped me off to an interview with Lee Kuan Yew, former President of Singapore, in the current issue of Der Spiegel. Lee speaks with real depth and insight about the future trajectory of Chinese prosperity and power. He is, for the most part, optimistic about the prospect for peace, but he expresses one qualifying reservation:

"Mr. Lee: I don't know whether the next generation will stay on this course. After 15 or 20 years they may feel their muscles are very powerful. We know the mind of the leaders but the mood of the people on the ground is another matter. Because there's no more communist ideology to hold the people together, the ground is now galvanised by Chinese patriotism and nationalism. Look at the anti-Japanese demonstrations."

Like Lee Kuan Yew, many US defense and diplomacy analysts are concerned about the short-term consequences of China's rise. The particular conditions under which any nation will undertake aggression are not easy to enumerate, the raw fact that a nation enters upon a period of newfound power is no clear sign that it will embark upon a predictable program of military expansionism. While it is true that most weapons are made to be used, the concentration of military might in the hands of a particular state provides no clear indication of when, where, or how it will be used. Lee gives a very plausible short-term scenario for Chinese aggression, one impelled by burgeoning nationalism and decline in the unifying ideology of Communism. Though there is some merit to Lee's concerns, I would argue that a "deep historical" perspective makes Chinese aggression a less pressing long-term concern for global peace and stability than internicine strife within China itself.

The question of Chinese "expansionism" is complicated by the fact that the scope of Chinese culture has been expanding throughout recorded history in a clearly observable progress. Chroniclers in the time of Confucius described the people of Wu as foreign barbarians who tatooed their bodies and spoke a tongue unintelligible to "civilized" people. Wu then encompassed the location of Shanghai, modern China's largest metropolis. By the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) the Yangtze River delta had become fully integrated into the Sinic world, but even then the region that now holds Canton and Hong Kong sat beyond the civilized pale. That region only became integrated into the Chinese empire during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), which is why southern Cantonese speakers refer to themselves as "Tang people" while northern Mandarin speakers denote ethnic Chinese as "Han people."

The steady outward expansion of Chinese culture and polity was sometimes violent, but historical evidence shows that this process was as often as not engendered by peaceful trade, migration, and conversion as by conquest. This truth is underscored by the fact that many aspects of Chinese culture expanded beyond the scope of Chinese imperial political control. Vietnam and Korea adopted Chinese script, religion, and political forms wholesale (the kingdoms of Korea and Vietnam were virtual simulacra of the Chinese imperial government) even as they violently resisted total absorption into the administrative matrix of successive Chinese empires. Despite China's immense prestige and powers of cultural suasion, by the seventh or eighth century C.E. Chinese political power had reached its greatest natural extent at its eastern and southern frontiers.

The current boundaries of the People's Republic of China embody this deep-historical pattern. PRC territory extends to limits established by the last imperial dynasty, the Qing. The Qing rulers were able, by virtue of being an Inner Asian people with allies among the steppe tribes, to extend the frontiers of imperial power further west and north than any prior Chinese dynasty had accomplished, encompassing Tibet, East Turkestan and Mongolia (regions that native Chinese dynasties had never subdued). Even with such military successes in hand, the Qing were never able to expand Beijing's power beyond the frontiers that seperated its imperial domain from the dynastic realms of Vietnam and Korea, otherwise the boundaries of the PRC might be quite different today.

Though certain "core" heartlands always rested securely within the orbit of Chinese imperial power, the outer scope of imperial political control tended to expand and contract (sometimes splintering between two or more competing dynastic centers) over the long term. The Qing was an expansionary era in Chinese history, though even that expansion was unable to transgress certain natural limits. By Qing terms the current era is already a "contractionary" one- the independent Republic of Mongolia was the vassalage of Outer Mongolia during Qing times. Moving forward, the prospects for further expansion of Beijing's military sway are dubious. The PRC does not possess the cultural resources that helped keep Tibet and Mongolia compliant within Qing suzerainity, and emergent nationalism among East Turkestan's Uighur minority make the continued tight integration of that region into PRC sovereignty unpredictable at best. With the real difficulties it faces in consolidating and maintaining the expanded territorial parameters of the Qing, it is difficult to see how the PRC can hope to accomplish what the Qing did not in regions like Vietnam or Korea.

Moreover, the internal integrity of the Chinese polity has always been vulnerable to powerful centripetal forces. Violent regional schisms plagued every dynasty, like the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 which brought China's wealthiest southern commercial district under the sway of a crypto-Christian monarchy and took as many as 20 million lives. The hegemonic status of nation-state thinking lulls analysts and observers into accepting China's sovereign unity as a given, but this is far from an axiomatic truth. The same forces that tore at the fabric of imperial unity still pulse beneath the surface of the PRC's nationalistic facade. In the final analysis the greatest deterrent to Chinese expansionism is not US military power but the intrinsic fragility of China's internal political coherence. Beijing must work hard and constantly to maintain control over the regions currently "securely" within its recognized domain. Any attempt to expand the scope of its control outward might jeapordize that carefully cultivated homeostasis.

The exception that proves this rule is Taiwan. Pronouncements on Taiwan (like the recently-passed anti-secession law) are often held up as an example of China's aggressive tendencies. It is precisely because Beijing's reins of control are so tenuous, however, that it cannot afford to give up any degree of sovereignty over any square-foot of territory. Even though Beijing's claims over Taiwan are purely symbolic, the dissolution of those claims might precipitate a "stampede toward the exits" upon the part of regions that chafe under Beijing's control. Breakaways might not be limited to "frontier" areas like Tibet and Mongolia, moreover, but might include wealthy southern regions like Guangdong and Shanghai who would happily keep tax revenues that flow northward under the status quo.

If historical events like the Taiping Rebellion provide any gauge, a breakup of Chinese sovereignty would not be a kind or happy affair. Any significant challenge to Chinese sovereign unity would undoubtedly portend a terrible civil war. Such an event would not only create great misery for a world ever more economically interdependent, in an age of nuclear weaponry it would almost certainly have tragic and direct human consequences that spread far beyond China's borders.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Oil-Spot Strategy

Andrew J. Krepenevich, Jr.'s article in the most recent Foreign Affairs, "How to Win in Iraq," prescribes an "oil spot strategy" as the best hope for Coalition success. The oil-spot strategy dictates that US forces should no longer be deployed in search-and-destroy missions against insurgents, but should be assigned strictly security duty, protecting Iraq's people and property from insurgent mayhem. Once a security cordon is placed around key areas economic and social development programs should be funneled in, creating islands of order and prosperity that would then seep outward like an "oil spot" spreading ever wider through a piece of fabric.

I would agree with Krepinevich that this is the best and most hopeful strategy in Iraq. His detractors assert that this "oil spot" strategy is built on false analogies to the Malaysian counterinsurgency and overlooks the failure of counterinsurgent operations like the "strategic hamlet" program in South Vietnam. Though such criticisms have merit, they are not damning of Krepenevich's basic premise. It is true that ethnic divisions between Malay farmers and the largely Chinese communist guerillas made security cordons easier to build and maintain in Malaysia. Political conditions in Iraq, however, could create similar popular sympathy for the Coalition mission if correctly capitalized upon (the fact that many insurgents are either foreign jihadists or agents of Saddam's regime, for example). Moreover, what Krepenevich proposes does not involve displacing large segments of population as the "strategic hamlet" program did.

I would take issue with one basic assertion Krepenevich makes, however. He claims that an "oil spot" strategy could be pursued with even fewer troops than are currently serving in Iraq. In this he is mistaken. The low number of US troops currently serving in Iraq works hand-in-hand with the Coalition's preference for a search-and-destroy counterinsurgency strategy, as this strategy hinges upon the superior firepower and mobility of US troops. The task of establishing a security cordon of any meaningful resilience drastically attenuates these advantages of the US combat soldier, however. In preventing attacks against civilians, officials, diplomats, and infrastructure no amount of mobility or firepower can replace eyes and ears and boots on the ground. If the US is to have any prayer of creating a cordon of order and security within which economic and social development can take root at least twice the number of soldiers now serving in Iraq would be required.

This is the fatal flaw of the "oil spot" strategy, and the reason it is not likely to be adopted. This is not to say that it could not work if the US had the political will to carry it out, but such will does not exist. Doubling the number of troops would no doubt increase security in cities like Baghdad and Mosul, but it would also double the number of US targets on the ground in Iraq, and lead to twice the number of casualties. The US public has already lost patience with the pace of loss in Iraq, an increase in casualty numbers would likely cause a radical collapse of public faith in the administration. Even Krepenevich acknowledges that his "oil spot" strategy would require a decade-long commitment on the part of the US, one which is not realistic given the current political mood. I would agree with Krepenevich that the oil spot strategy (perfect or no) is the only feasible one the US could pursue. Because the Bush administration failed to cultivate the necessary political will to carry it out, the US is left without effective strategic options in Iraq.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Sheehan Phenomenon

Increasing media coverage has been lavished on Cindy Sheehan and her anti-war protest in recent weeks, imbuing her with celebrity at a speed that can only be called dizzying even for a culture as celebrity-obsessed as our own. Intense scrutiny has been focused on Ms. Sheehan's spoken comments and correspondence by way of demonstrating that, however grievous her loss, her political views are far out of step with those of the mainstream public's. However much this may be true (I myself disagree with much of what Ms. Sheehan says), it is misguided to dismiss the "Sheehan Phenomenon" as the cynical media ploy of leftist politicos, its significance does not reduce so easily. New poll numbers from Gallup this morning show that President Bush's approval rating has hit an all-time low. It would be foolish to dismiss any connection whatsoever between the President's low numbers and the media frenzy surrounding Cindy Sheehan's protest, but I would argue that that Sheehan's visibility has been buoyed by the President's downward slide, not vice-versa.

Why would this be so? Arguments about the advisablity of the Iraq war and its prospects for success continue unabated and are not likely to stop any time soon. Such debates do not control or inform public opinion, however. In reality, the Iraq war has always been, from the outset, as much a domestic political as a foreign military enterprise. The strategic undertaking of the war has always been constrained by the level of domestic support that the administration enjoyed.

Bush administration critics have taken the administration to task for planning only for the "best case scenario" in Iraq. In truth, this critique applies as much to the administration's management of domestic politics with regard to the war as to military planning. Any look at poll numbers just prior to the war show that the mandate upon which the adminstration acted was very soft and came with many strings attached; the degree of public support on which Bush rode to war left very little margin for error in the conflict's conduct.

Many arguments may be forwarded in defense of the Iraq war in the abstract- Saddam Hussein was a cruel monster from whom the Iraqi people had to be rescued, striking down despotism in Iraq might help change public opinion in the Muslim world, democracy in Iraq may help spread political reform throughout the Middle East, etc. None of these principles, however, reflect the bedrock views upon which domestic support for the Iraq war was built in the first place. Polls clearly show that by far the greatest breadth, depth, and firmness of support for the war among the US public sprang from one simple belief- that Iraq posed a clear and present threat to the US and that the invasion would remove an IMMEDIATE danger to US security.

Given that the firmest support for the Iraq war was built on this latter principle, is it any wonder that public support for the war (and the Bush administration) has begun to erode? Again, one may argue in the abstract about whether or not the Iraq war will make the US sager in the long run, but core support for the invasion was not based on "long run" expectations. Most Americans believed, on the eve of the invasion, that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and that he had been integrally involved in the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks. They thus threw their support behind the President's plan on the understanding that it would make them safer right away. Even then, most poll respondents answered that they would not favor a war that would result in many US casualties.

Right now, with casualty figures mounting and terrorist attacks in Madrid, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and London, the public is left feeling that they are paying a cost they were not willing to expend without reaping the benefits they hoped to realize in return. Consequently, the administration is left fighting a war for which it does not have a proper mandate. Though tactical conditions clearly demonstrate that more troops would aid the security situation on the ground, the administration cannot contemplate such a move because any rise in troop strength would cause a proportional rise in casualty numbers.

Cindy Sheehan's views may be extreme and her tone shrill, but her high profile and broad impact can not be put down to the machinations of a left-wing conspiracy. Her message receives the airplay it does at least in part because it resonates with what have always been the visceral feelings of the American public about this conflict. However much they overtly disagree with her, behind closed doors the Bush White House's conduct of the war is informed by the same political forces that fuel Ms. Sheehan's sojourn in the media spotlight.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Iraq and the Struggle to Change Minds

Michael Barone at Real Clear Politics cites research by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, arguing that:

Two generations ago, Americans, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of deaths, changed minds in Germany and Japan. The Pew Global Project Attitude's metrics give us reason to believe that today's Americans, at far lower cost, are changing minds in the Muslim world.

There are several problems with this thesis. Barone notes that Pew surveys show a decline in the approval rating for "violence against civilians in the defense of Islam" in most Muslim countries (with the notable exception of Jordan). This is undoubtedly a hopeful development, but Barone makes no clear case that it may be attributed to US actions in Iraq or Afghanistan. The case is equally strong that the actions of Islamic extremists are the root cause of this change, as the decline is most dramatic in nations whose own civilians have been the target of Islamist terrorist attacks.

Barone notes also that "when asked whether democracy was a Western way of doing things or could work well in their own country, between 77 percent and 83 percent in Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Indonesia say it could work in their country -- in each case a significant increase from earlier surveys." Again, this is all well and good. But Barone disingenuously dismisses the fact that confidence in democracy has actually declined in both Turkey and Pakistan(from 50 to 48% in the former case, from 57% to a shocking 43% in the latter), arguably the US's closest allies in the "war on terror." Though a plurality in both countries still express confidence in democracy, the Pew report itself shows that majorities or pluralities in all the nations surveyed have had confidence in democracy going back to before the invasion of Iraq. Barone would contend that the net decrease in Pakistan and Turkey is the result of domestic affairs while the net increase in Indonesia, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan is the result of US actions, but this is a highly selective and speculative conclusion that can not be substantiated without further research.

The survey results that most unequivocally support Barone's thesis are the decrease both in "unfavorable" views of the US and approval of suicide attacks against US soldiers in Iraq. The former "change" is somewhat dubious, however, in that the US was still looked upon unfavorably by a clear majority in all of the nations surveyed but one (Morocco- 49%-44% favorable). Even if the invasion of Iraq can be credited for this change, one can not help but wonder whether the same incremental shift might have been achieved by less destructive means. The decrease in approval of suicide bombings in Iraq is more substantively encouraging, but here again Barone's optimism draws upon an incomplete picture. Though support for suicide bombings is down across the boards, a majority still express approval of the bombings in Morocco, Lebanon, and Jordan. The only country where the approval-disapproval ration has reversed is Pakistan (in 2004 Pakistanis surveyed favored the bombins 46%-36%, now they oppose them 29%-56%). What this says about Pakistani attitudes toward US policy is mitigated, however, by the fact that Pakistan is one of only two countries surveyed in which confidence in Osama bin Laden has risen (+6%, a statistic made more worrisome by the high probability that Pakistan is the nation where bin Laden currently resides).

Moreover, support for the insurgency was a majority opinion in all the countries for which statistics were availabe but one (Turkey) as late as March of 2004. This would indicate that Muslim attitudes toward the invasion of Iraq are malleable. Developments since 2004 have decreased opposition to the Coalition mission (though again, such opposition remains a majority opinion in half of the countires surveyed), but subsequent developments could cause a reversal of that trend.

Barone would read the Pew statistics as evidence of the success of US policies since 9/11. Unfortunately, they do not support either this conclusion or an argument for the wisdom of US policies in the first place.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Singing the Gaza Blues

The sound and fury surrounding this week's Israeli pullout from the Gaza strip is a sad index of the difficult road ahead toward peace. 1.7 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the population of Israeli settlers has never risen above 7 thousand. Withdrawal from Gaza is a first indispensible step toward the creation of a Palestinian state, an outcome that virtually all reasonable participants in and observers of Israeli-Palestinian relations accept as necessary. If evacuating Gaza, which has never had deep emotional resonance for religious Zionists, stirs up this cloud of turmoil, the prospects for disengagement from the West Bank and East Jerusalem seem bleak. Unlike Gaza the West Bank and East Jerusalem contain sites of great symbolic importance to religious Zionists and house over 300,000 Israeli settlers.

The histrionics surrounding the Gaza pullout amply illustrate the part-comic, mostly tragic conundrum at the heart of the failure of the Oslo and subsequent peace accords. Religious Zionist settlers are the one insurmountable obstacle standing in the way of Palestinian statehood and Israeli-Palestinian peace. These settlers were cynically encouraged by the Likud party to invest themselves in the Occupied Territories in what could only have been a foolhardy game of brinksmanship- threatening Palestinians with the prospect of a "Greater Israel" that was never politically or demographically tenable in order to force them to the bargaining table. Now the Likud Sharon government finds itself hostage to its own manipulative policies, as the Gaza pullout demonstrates just how hard it will be to sell those religious settlers, whose views Likud never shared, down the river.

In fairness, the Gaza drama also provides ample evidence of extremism and bad faith on the Palestinian side. Pronouncements by groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that the pullout represents a "triumph of arms" are deeply viscious attempts to undermine support for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence among the Israeli electorate. Portraying disengagement as a sign of Israeli weakness can only hamper efforts to do what is necessary to further the goal of peace, and Hamas' execrable propoganda can only come from those who are resigned to endless violence.

Even so, Hamas ultimately derives more political power from a delayed peace process than it does from transparently empty bravado. Anti-Zionism (which I understand as the denial of Israel's right to exist) is anti-Semitism, but not all Zionisms are equal. Those who hamstring the peace process through devotion to unrealistic and unjust political ideals are a threat to Israel's security as grave as that posed by Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Israel's rightful territory exists outside of the Green Line of occupation- anyone who would further the cause of peace must adhere to that first principle.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Consequentialism and Iraq

Through my dear friend, Kate Marie at "What's the Rumpus" I've been cued in to an essay by Tyler Cowen on "consequentialist" arguments for and against war (at "Marginal Revolution,"
marginalrevolution/2005/08/iraq_and_conseq.html). Cowen asserts that the consequentialist argument against war is flawed by a failure to assess its "marginal product," or the difference between the ills that the invasion will produce and the ills that would result from a failure to invade:

"Today we see many signals that things are going badly. But most of those signals also imply that things would have gone very badly under the alternative scenario for Saddam's fall. A civil war, for instance, may well have happened anyway, albeit later."

This argument is freighted with some weighty assumptions. Firstly, Cowen's suggestion that civil war "may well have happened anyway" is far from obvious- quite the contrary. Since the creation of Iraq in 1920 its government has seen at least half a dozen changes of regime, some of them quite violent, without engendering civil war. The closest was the uprising immediately following the first Gulf War, but as that would not have occurred without US encouragement it can hardly serve as a gauge of "likely counterfactuals." The current civil war has broken out under the peculiar circumstances of the Coalition invasion, and to suggest that this policy has only catalyzed the inevitable is a distortion.

Cowen continues this line of reasoning:

"One might argue that U.S. participation makes an Iraqi civil war much worse than otherwise (perhaps the presence of U.S. forces motivates insurgents). But I don't find this convincing. First, a civil war could be much worse without the U.S. presence (keep in mind the alternative scenario also involves many years of continued sanctions, or what Saddam would have done without sanctions, plus further suffering under Saddam). Second, the correct cost of the war -- at least to the Iraqis -- would be this difference in outcomes, not the current absolute level of badness."

The argument that civil war is exacerbated by the US presence is not convincing unless one pauses to examine a few facts. An indisputable byproduct of the Coalition invasion has been the immense surge of power and influence for Al Qaeda and other radical Sunni Islamist groups in Iraq. The humiliation of the Ba'ath regime combined with the crippling of the Iraqi state's internal security structure have given radical Sunni Islamists a strategic purchase in Iraq that they never enjoyed there before. Because these jihadists have little stake in the survival of the Iraqi state or the integrity of the Iraqi nation they may ultimately wreak more havoc than any combatants in a wholly "homegrown" civil war would cause, if such a war had broken out in the first place.

Cowen himself tries to finesse this point:

"The pro-war right seems keen to argue that much of the insurgency is foreign fighters. This in reality weakens their case, as it opens the possibility that the U.S. role drew in these forces. Insofar as the insurgents are Sunnis, fighting for domestic control, it is more likely they would have been fighting anyway, with or without the U.S. involved. That would strengthen a consequentialist case for the war."

Unless Cowen is determined to ignore the evidence that much of the insurgency is carried on by foreign fighters, then right here the "consequentialst case for the war" is sunk. There is absolutely no evidence that foreign fighters would flock to Iraq in the absence of the Coalition presence. It did not happen in 1991, nor did non-Iraqi Sunnis flock to Iraq to fight against invading Shi'ite hoards during the Iran-Iraq war. Cowen's assertion that Sunni Iraqis "would have been fighting anyway," moreover, ignores the fact that Sunni Iraqis would certainly not have thrown their lot in with radical Islamists had the Coalition never invaded. Foreign fighters are infiltrating Iraq and (as in the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) are increasingly taking a lead role in the domestic Sunni insurgency. This is not the natural result of domestic Iraqi politics, but transpires entirely because the Coalition invasion has transformed Iraq into a staging area for international Islamist "jihad."

Cowen's final summation departs the realm of logic altogether

"There is of course the separate question of what is good for the U.S. and for other countries besides Iraq. If you think Iraq will go badly no matter what, those considerations may well be decisive. But it sounds selfish and defeatist to cite those arguments alone, so we are again left with anti-war cases which do not make complete sense."

Why consideration of the welfare of the world beyond Iraq should be "selfish and defeatist" is a puzzlement, but even should it be so why, when combined with the assessment that "Iraq will go badly no matter what," it amounts to an argument that "[does] not make complete sense" is a total wonder. Even if one should grant that the situation in Iraq will definitely be no worse due to the Coalition invasion (a conclusion that the facts do not support), all things being equal it makes sense to oppose the war because of the harm it will bring to the world at large. The blood and treasure lost by the US and its allies is the least consideration in this regard- the strength that Al Qaeda and its affiliates are steadily gaining from the Iraq conflict and the opportunity cost of having US power hobbled by an uncontrollable military commitment are both grave threats to the security of the world.

Finally, the most glaring logical error in Cowen's calculations is his assumption that consequentialist arguments "against invasion" may only be assessed against those "for invasion." This presumes that invasion was the only proactive course of action open to the US and its allies, a proposition that is of course ridiculous. As I have argued in previous posts, it was at best blind hubris to attempt to force another nation to reform before first reforming ourselves in fundamental ways that would aid the situation. US dependence on Mideast oil helped keep despots like Saddam Hussein in power, breaking that dependence might have helped loosen his grip. Even had that not proven true, a US free from oil dependence would have labored under fewer political handicaps if and when invasion was deemed "necessary," greatly increasing the chances for successful post-war reconstruction. For this reason alone the US was obliged to at least attempt such a course of action before unleashing the destruction of war.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Stalled Struggle Against Al Qaeda

The shock and tragedy of the London bombings naturally inspires reflection on the progress of the struggle against Al Qaeda. Sadly, four years later, the state of that conflict remains much the same as it was prior to 9/11. Al Qaeda has lost its base area in Afghanistan, but its leadership remains at large along the Afghan/Pakistani frontier. Whatever strategic assets it lost in Afghanistan it has more than made up in Iraq, where the US led invasion has afforded Al Qaeda and its confederates a foothold in the Arab world more profound and strategically advantageous than it has ever enjoyed in the Arab world previously. London's tragedy demonstrates that four lost years is more than the US and its allies can afford. The longer Al Qaeda is given to martial its resources and develop its plans, the more audacious and destructive its attacks will become. This, in turn, will produce a snowball effect, as Al Qaeda's political capital rises among disaffected elements throughout the Islamic world and its power to intimidate fence-sitters grows.

What, then, is the way forward? Unfortunately, the chaos in Iraq has moved one front of the struggle against Al Qaeda into an arena in which the US and its allies has no control over outcomes. The Coalition can only stand by and safeguard the political rebuilding process in Iraq and hope that, over years, it will choke off Al Qaeda's strategic resources in that country. If and when this happens, if all else remains equal, the situation would return to the status quo just after 9/11.

This is obviously unsatistfactory, however. Fighting back to square one over the next few years would be tantamount to defeat, especially as Al Qaeda can be counted on to present a "moving target" during that time and be working on building its political and material assets outside of Iraq. Genuine, proactive progress can not be made against Al Qaeda in Iraq, but it can be made in South, Central, and Southeast Asia where Al Qaeda's political appeal remains broadest. More military and economic assets must be devoted to the struggle against Al Qaeda's allies, the Taliban, in Afghanistan. The "soft support" of the Pakistani political and military establishment for Al Qaeda must be openly confronted. The Pakistani government obviously lacks the political cohesion and will to root out the Al Qaeda forces that refuge along the Afghan/Pakistani frontier.

The US must exert all of its political, diplomatic, economic, and military influence to gain direct access to Pakistani frontier territory for the US military. This can almost certainly not be done without setting off a radically disruptive international confrontation, but this is a hard medicine that will have to be taken eventually. The Bush administation's decision to focus on Iraq rather than force a confrontation in Pakistan has already had disastrous consequences. The longer US leadership remains blinkered toward the situation in South and Central Asia, the more dangerous Al Qaeda will become, and the more insuperable the task of defeating them.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

London Calling

I was shocked and dismayed to read today's news that the perpetrators of the most recent London bombings were Britons of Pakistani descent. That young people born and raised in Britain could give their lives in the murder of their neighbors and compatriots must be deemed a major defeat for the forces of moderation, tolerance, and reason in what Gilles Kepel has labeled the "war for Muslims minds." That living all one's life in an open and democratic society is not sufficient to preclude one's being seduced by Al Qaeda's perverted ideology is profoundly troubling.

London's events underscore the vital importance of the cultural-political dimension of the struggle against militant Islamic extremism. Al Qaeda promotes a grand ecumenical vision the appeal of which is not limited to the Middle East. Outsiders might find its tenets and ambitions so grandiose as to be maniacal or absurd, but its sheer brash extravagance is among Al Qaeda's great strengths. For anyone feeling ultimately alienated, frustrated, disaffected, marginalized, or disappointed, Al Qaeda offers a sweeping vision- the prospect that life does not have to be petty, limited or insignificant. Conversion to Al Qaeda's ideology affords one a part in a cosmic drama of Manichean dimensions.

This might seem like a flimsy asset on which to build a global terror network, but Al Qaeda does not need many warm bodies to wreak a great deal of havoc. In the final analysis London's tragedy may prove to be as much a product of the kind of social and psychological forces that caused the Columbine high school shootings or the '92 LA riots as of an international terror conspiracy. Every community contains young people that are adrift, angry, and vulnerable- they swell the ranks of religious cults and fringe political groups throughout the world and occasionally act out in destructive ways that have nothing to do with militant Islam. Al Qaeda stands apart, however, in having the means and the ruthless will to take those young people it can gather, however few, and channel their energies in ways that will be maximally destructive of global order and prosperity.

It may never be possible to totally eradicate the appeal of Al Qaeda's message- there will always be people deluded or vulnerable enough to be drawn in. But defeating Al Qaeda depends on depleting the suasive power of its ideology. Those who stand for reason and tolerance must make it as difficult as possible for Al Qaeda to convince Muslims that its vision can or should give meaning to their lives and actions.

The first essential step in that process is to avoid playing any part scripted by Al Qaeda itself. Al Qaeda's great cosmic drama is predicated on a world divided between Islam and the forces that oppose it. Any move to bring all Muslims under suspicion or blame the Islamic religion itself for current difficulties will play directly into Al Qaeda's hands. This is not just a cautionary principle for governments- all people of conscience must work to demonstrate that participation in liberal democracy, open civil society, and seperation of church and state are wholly compatible with a life suffused by Muslim faith and practice.

Beyond this, anything and everything that can practically discredit Al Qaeda will deplete its fund of ideological capital. At present the greatest opportunity for this lies in Afghanistan. During the years of the Taliban's reign Al Qaeda had free rein to institute its "utopian" vision among Afghanistan's people, producing nothing but tragedy and resentment. If the forces of extremism can be finally defeated and Afghanistan reconstructed as a society founded on openness and tolerance in which Islam nonetheless thrives Al Qaeda will be shown false by the hard test of experience. If Osama bin Laden can be captured and forced to stand accused of his crimes Al Qaeda will be doubly humbled.

What role does Iraq play in this struggle? It is difficult to see how the invasion of Iraq decreased the appeal of Al Qaeda's ideology, as Saddam and his ilk occupied the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, thus their defeat does little to discredit Islamic extremism. Now that Al Qaeda's agents are operating actively in Iraq the situation is of course of crucial importance to the larger cultural struggle. If Al Qaeda were to succeed in creating another Islamist state in Iraq its mystique would increase exponentially, thus that outcome must of course be forestalled. But the prospects of the Coalition to win cultural ground from Al Qaeda in Iraq are much lower than in Afghanistan. Whatever transformation the Coalition is able to facilitate, Al Qaeda will be able to claim that had they been given a free hand they could have produced a more ideal and puritanically Islamic society. Moreover the majority of Iraqis are Shi'ites while Al Qaeda claims to represent the world's Sunnis, thus however Islam may thrive in the future Iraq Al Qaeda will be free to brand it a haven of heresy.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Predictions in Iraq

Telling the future is always a dicey business, but I have a strong sense of what lies ahead for the US media and its relationship to Iraq, so I will brave slings and arrows and go on the record. Right now we are in a very "down" news cycle regarding Iraq, with a new surge of violence and some very lurid incidents in the headlines (compounded by the shock of the terror attacks in London). This trend should taper off in the late fall, as the new Iraqi constitution is ratified and elections are held under its auspices. By December an "up" news cycle should be in full swing, followed by a honeymoon period in which news from or about Iraq is sparse and relatively upbeat. By this time next year, however, the insurgency will remain unchecked and the honeymoon will end, precipitating a new "down" news cycle on the run-up to midterm elections.

This may seem cynical or callous, especially as these predictions portend the deaths of more Coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians. My point, however, is that many of us who opposed the war did so because the trajectory of this policy was all too predictable from the outset and remains predictable today. Any attempt by the US to lead an effort at nation-building in Iraq was fated to be tragically costly in both blood and treasure.

A long-term positive outcome now hinges on the Iraqis summoning the political will to develop a new stable state-structure, a process that can not be induced or even much guided by the US. If and when the day comes when Iraq is wholly autonomous and at peace (a day which, I fear, will not come for many years) the debate will no doubt continue as to whether the US invasion was a wise or necessary policy. No outcome so positive or negative as to "close the case" will emerge, partisans on both sides of the issue will be able to draw upon facts and counterfactuals 'til kingdom come. In my mind (though I know this represents a "partisan" view) this fact alone engenders one conclusion- seen in the very best light the Bush administration's Iraq policy has been an ill-conceived gamble with human lives.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Victory in Iraq

Kenneth Pollack had a thought-provoking piece in the New York Times on Friday ("Five Ways to Win Back Iraq" Op Ed p. A17 7/1/05) in which he proposed five strategic policy shifts to the Bush administration in Iraq. While I don't agree that all of his suggestions are feasible, his first principle, "Think Safety First" seems the wisest advice anyone has offered since the conflict began. According to Pollack, the entire mission should be shifted from an offensive to a security posture, rather than sending the Marines on "search and destroy" missions Coalition forces should be reassigned solely to protect the lives and property of the Iraqi people from insurgent mayhem. This would have the dual effect of increasing the prestige of the interim government and draining political capital from the insurgents, who would lose any pretensions of being Davids fighting the American Goliath and be forced into the role mere thugs working harder and harder to injure ordinary Iraqis. The urgency of this policy shift is underscored by yesterday's kidnapping of Egypt's ambassador to Iraq- the interim government can have no international legitimacy if it can not guarantee the safety of foreign delegates.

The Bush administration seems to be under the delusion that aggressive tactics will retard the operational strength of the insurgents. This notion is based on a wild overemphasis of the military aspect of the counterinsurgency and a serious underestimation of its political dimension. The number of insurgents is not fixed, it will vary depending upon the political appeal of their "cause." The technological and material threshold of insurgent needs is so low that Coalition offensives can do little to destroy assets that may not be easily replaced. Offensives do more harm than good, as however many insurgents may be captured or killed the drama of their defying US power increases the appeal of the insurgency while any neutral bystanders that are killed in the fighting do further damage to the image of the Coalition and the interim government.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

"Muslim Minds" and "Arab Minds" in Iraq

Gilles Kepel has characterized the current global conflict between liberal democracy and Islamic extremism as the War for Muslim Minds. There is merit to this notion, in that the political appeal of an ideology like that of Al Qaeda's is broadest in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan where Islam forms the common bond between people divided among myriad ethnic and linguistic groups. However, within Iraq, the nation that has, for the US, become the central focus of the "war on terror," Islam is not the principal cultural force impeding efforts at nation-building.

Many of the forces that observers in the US and Europe associate reflexively with Islam- extreme patriarchy, clannishness, xenophobia- are not pan-Islamic phenomena. One must remember, in viewing the Islamic world, that 2/3 of the world's Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. Indonesia holds the largest Muslim community on earth, India the second largest. Islam is a world religion as ecumenical in its appeal and various in its manifestations as Christianity, Judaism, or Buddhism. Anyone who insists that Islam inexorably precludes participation in an open, tolerant, liberal democracy has much to explain in places like India, Singapore, and Malaysia.

Though much of the resistance in Iraq is being led under the banner of Islamic extremism, the cultural forces most corrosive to nation-building are not rooted in Islam but in the historic traditions of Arab society, traditions that date to pre-Islamic times. Family, clan, and tribe are profoundly powerful institutions that have structured life- individual and social, personal and political- for millenia in the Arab world. The operative principles of these institutions are diametrically opposed to concepts of personal liberty, individual independence, feminism, freedom of expression, or rule of law. As I noted in a previous post, the resilience and potency of these social forms is lucidly attested by the political career of Saddam Hussein. Only they can explain how Iraqi Ba'athism, a pan-Arabist movement that originally accomodated individuals as disparate as Saddam (son of a Sunni herdsman) and Iyad Allawi (son of a Shi'ite merchant), could degenerate into a narrow oligarchy controlled by Saddam and his Tikriti kin.

It must be stressed that the power of family, clan and tribe in Arabic society is in no way a moral indictment of Arabic society or culture. These institutions only became as important as they are because they functioned very successfully for many centuries in bringing order, harmony, and purpose to Arab life. All societies have cherished institutions rendered dysfunctional by the evolving economic, technological, and political conditions of the world at large. That being said, it must also be acknowledged that at present Arab society is in desperate need of reform, as the majority of Arab cultural and intellectual leaders are aware.

How then, is this reform to come? If the experience of other societies is any gauge, it must come and it shall come internally. The success of the Coalition mission in Iraq depends on overcoming regressive forces in Arab society, but unfortunately the presence of Coalition soldiers in Iraq has only made these forces more militant. Family, clan and tribe are most adapted to and resourceful in dealing with external threats, in the presence of a perceived external threat their hold on people's minds and allegiance will deepen and strengthen. This does not mean that social reform is impossible in Iraq, it only means that it must await the departure of Coalition forces. If a new constitutional government can be formed and survive the departure of Coalition troops, it might serve as the catalyst of social and political liberalization. As long as Coalition forces remain in Iraq, however, the forces of reform and reaction will remain locked in stalemated homeostasis.

If military intervention can not aid the cause of Arabic social reform, one must then ask if the US and other liberal democracies can play no part in such a process. Fareed Zakaria has an excellent piece in this week's Newsweek in which he observes that change comes fastest in those countries with which the US remains conscientiously engaged (e.g. Vietnam, China, Eastern Europe) and is stalled in those countries toward which we have adopted a policy of "regime change" (e.g. Cuba, Iran, North Korea). From this perspective, the US can best serve the cause of Arabic social reform through economic and cultural engagement with the Arab world, by committing to those forms of trade and cultural exchange that will further material and intellectual enrichment and will expand economic, social, and political opportunities throughout the Arab world.

This might seem like an excuse for inaction, but it is not. One of the most conscientious forms of engagement toward which the US could and must commit is the reduction of our consumption of oil. Family, clan and tribal dominance has enabled Arab oil wealth of to fall, with the aid of the US and Europe, under the control of a narrow oligarchy that keeps the price of oil artificially low. The breakage of that economic-political link would destroy one of the principal stopgaps to reform, and would pave the way toward genuine economic and social diversification and political liberalization in the Arab world.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nuclear Korea

US foreign policy seems to be heading toward an ever-deepening crisis over the issue of North Korea's nuclear program. The vaunted "six party talks" are creaking to a complete halt- the People's Republic of China has hamstrung US diplomatic efforts by announcing its refusal to tie basic economic aid for North Korea to the nuclear question. Non-military options seem to be running out quickly.

An Iraq-style solution can not be seriously considered in the case of Korea, however. An invasion would stretch US military assets beyond the breaking point, and would do incalculable damage to Sino-US relations. Indeed, there is no way to insure that such a conflict would not ultimately deteriorate into another Sino-US war.

Given the dire straits at present, it seems to me that a new diplomatic tack is needed. From my perspective, the deep structural flaw of post-cold war US policy toward North Korea has been the uncritical acceptance of North Korea's persistent existence. US policy seems resigned to the idea that North Korea will always exist, or at least that it will do so until its system collapses spontaneously under its own weight. This thinking is both unrealistic and culturally insensitive.

It is culturally insensitive because it ignores the fact that ALL Koreans, North and South, hope fervently for the reunification of their nation. Americans forget that Korea was a Japanese colony prior to WWII. The partition of Korea was a strategic accident, it resulted from US insistence that the Soviet Union join the Pacific War after Germany's surrender. In being partitioned Korea was effectively treated as an Axis power. Worse than an Axis power, in fact, since the speed with which the US' atomic arsenal brought the war to an end spared Korea's colonial oppressors the pain of partition. The partition of Korea is a relic of a cold war that is long over, no one in the diplomatic community should treat it as a necessary, inexorable, or unalterable "fact." All countries, the US included, should be discussing the paths by which this historic injustice may be undone.

Moreover, the Korean people's aspirations for unification is the chief weakness of the North Korean regime. Should the US put unification on the table as a topic of negotiation the North Korean regime would be trapped by its own rhetoric- they could not refuse to treat such a negotiation seriously, and they could not justify making something like a small nuclear arsenal an obstacle to that long-cherished goal.

The clear logic of this notion seems so apparent to me that I sometimes wonder why no US leader has even floated the idea as a "trial balloon" for the world press. Obviously, any official US endorsement of Korean unification would have to be done in very cautious, provisional language and with the close cooperation of our allies in South Korea (cooperation they are likely to give- the move would undoubtedly be wildly popular in the South). Nonetheless, such a move seems clearly to be the only way the US can restore its bargaining position with North Korea to one of advantage.

Perhaps US leaders feel that placing reunification onto the negotiating table plays into the North's hands. As said above, this school of thought posits that the North will collapse of its own degeneracy eventually, negotiating reunification with them will only give them a new lease on life. This is an unrealistic perspective, however. The North's militant isolation is what extends its longevity. Opening up cracks in that isolation through negotiated "stages of integration" (allowing for trade, travel, immigration) would hasten, not deter, the disintegration of the North's despotism. The experience of the Soviet bloc, where low-level human contacts and exchanges were instrumental in sowing the seeds of systemic discontent, proves the efficacy of this tack.

The only other reason I can think that the US refuses to broach the subject of reunification is the experience of the Korean War. When the Northern regime surmised in 1950 that the US did not have the political will to defend the South they launced an all-out surprise offensive. Since then US policymakers have felt that any slippage in our perceived willingness to defend South Korea might trigger another invasion. This thinking is outmoded, however. The Northern despots may be crazy, but they are not stupid. They know that the cold war is over and that they can no longer count on the strategic support of the Soviet Union or China if they attacked the South and the US unprovoked. A US offer to negotiate reunification would not embolden the Northern leadership, it would frighten them. Skillfully executed over the long term such negotiations would see the fears of Kim Jong-il and his ilk realized.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Iraq Cabinet Woes

The swearing-in of the new Iraqi cabinet bodes trouble when viewed against the backdrop of Peter Maass' report in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. In that article Maass described the "Salvadorization" of the Iraqi counterinsurgency, its being shouldered increasingly by elite paramilitary groups created and directed by individual ministries of the Iraqi government rather than the nascent Iraqi national army. These new police commando units are largely composed of and commanded by Sunni Arabs, many former soldiers and officers of the Republican Guard.

These units have a natural advantage over US soldiers or even other US-trained Iraqi units in that their background and experience are incalculable assets in the collection and analysis of intelligence on the insurgents. Maass' article describes the commando's high rate of success, he also candidly reports the severity of their methods. Though their American advisors officially discourage human rights abuses and breaches of the Geneva Convention, Maass himself witnessed beatings and death threats and saw evidence that worse was transpiring out of sight of American advisors.

All of these facts are bad portents given today's swearing-in of the new Iraqi cabinet. Though a compromise break in the deadlock over a new government seems to have been reached, key ministerial posts remain unfilled, including defense, oil, and human rights. The new government's best hope of continuing the counterinsurgency effectively rests with establishing its authority over the new commando units that are operating most successfully in the field. Those units were formed under the provisional department of the interior, but any successful integration of the paramilitaries within regular government authority requires a viable deparment of defense. Even if the paramilitaries remain seperate from the Iraqi national army, a legitimate defense department will be necessary to lay down an authoritative policy with which the paramilitaries will feel compelled to comply.

In this regard, wrangling over the defense post bodes ill. Reportedly the Sunni contingency of the government covets the defense ministry, but all proposed Sunni candidates have bee rejected as having too close ties with the former Ba'ath regime. As the Sunni troops currently operating in the field against the insurgency are "tainted" with the same ties, for this to be a source of friction at this juncture does not hold out good hope for the complete and successful integration of the paramilitaries within the umbrella of government authority as the insurgency wears on.

As hopeful an event as the January election was, the peril in Iraq may be measured against a very definite minimum gauge. A US pullout within the next 18 months seems certain, and the continuation of the insurgency in the wake of a US pullout is just as predictable. Civil war is inevitable from this perspective, what remains uncertain is whether the battle lines in that civil war will remain drawn as they are now (with all forces currently for or against the government continuing unchanged in their allegiances) or whether the conflict will become more complex in the wake of the US withdrawal.

A diverse tapestry of armed groups contribute to the strategic situation in Iraq today. In addition to the various factions that comprise the insurgency, the Iraqi national army, and the new paramilitaries, there are the Kurdish pesh merga militia, the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade, and Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. If the new police commando units become alienated from government authority not only will the Iraqi government lose its most effectve counterinsurgency weapon, but a collapse of trust might occur that would set all the various armed factions into motion against one-another, turning the civil war from a bilateral conflict into an anarchic cataclysm resembling the situation of Lebanon in the 1980's.

Much of the strategic situation in the long view will be determined by political developments in the weeks and months ahead. If the Iraqi government can build a defense ministry that can coordinate the various armed assets to which it has claim the civil conflict in the wake of a Coalition withdrawal may be attenuated. If not, that conflict may become very protracted and destructive. The only thing that is certain now is that the ultimate outcome of the Iraq war is out of the hands of US policymakers and rests upon the actions of Iraqi politicians, actions which US leaders will not be able to dictate or micro-manage as they might like.