Sunday, January 28, 2007

No Exit

At a conference I recently attended in Israel, one American recently arrived from Lebanon remarked that the "untold big story" in the Middle East was the confrontation between the Sunni and the Shi'a and the attempts by minority groups -- not just the Jews -- to survive in it. Maybe those minorities include not simply Allawites and Christians but democrats (small "d") as well. However that may be, the assertion that local conflicts are really regional conflicts is implicit in two recent news stories. The first is from the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinian Authority officials here on Sunday accused Iran and Syria of pushing the Palestinians toward civil war, pointing out that Hamas was acting on orders from Damascus and Teheran. The allegation came as the number of Palestinians killed in internecine fighting rose to 27. Seven more Palestinians were killed on Sunday in armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in various locations in the Gaza Strip.

The second article is from the Washington Post, describing a pitched battle between the Iraqi Army, supported by US helicopters, and a large and presumably Sunni group preparing to attack Shi'ite pilgrims attending the Ashura.

Jan. 28 -- Iraqi soldiers supported by U.S. helicopters on Sunday clashed with a gathering of insurgents hiding out amid date palm orchards near the southern holy city of Najaf, according to Iraqi officials. For the past several weeks, Sunni insurgents, including Arab fighters from outside Iraq, have stockpiled weapons and dug trenches amid the orchards in apparent preparations to attack the thousands of Shiite Muslim travelers observing the religious holiday of Ashura, Iraqi officials said. ...

The 8th Iraqi Army division along with U.S. helicopters assisted in the operation, said Ahmed Duaibel, spokesman for the Najaf provincial government. In a news conference, Najaf Gov. Asa'ad Abu Gulal said that an American helicopter crashed during the operation and that at least three members of the Iraqi security forces have been killed. There were no initial reports on a death toll of the insurgents.

Following on recent events in Lebanon, these reports are indications that the problems in the region are wider than events confined to Iraq. This means that even if the US withdraws from Iraq, as has been suggested by critics of the administration, armed conflict is likely to continue. For any long-term settlement to take place, America must find ways of effectively opposing the tactics of infiltration and subversion that are being practiced not only by Iran and Syria, but probably by elements within Saudi Arabia as well. And since the US must remain in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, not only because of oil but because of its commitments to key allies like Israel, the question of how to effectively fight a networked insurgency really transcends the issue of what the appropriate troop levels should be in Iraq.

So far the US, like Israel, has been doing pretty well on the "kinetic" battlefield but is performing poorly in the areas of information and political warfare. America has yet to find a way to harness all the sources of its national power and adjust its rules of engagement to delivered a well-rounded result. The need to achieve that goal is an issue which has yet to achieve national center stage. None of the candidates vying for the Presidency in 2008 is talking about it. If the conflict between the Sunni and the Shi'a is the untold big story of the Middle East, the lack of serious debate over how to effectively face the upheaval in the Islamic world -- as opposed to withdrawing or "staying the course" in Iraq -- is the even bigger untold story of American politics.


Blogger Oengus Moonbones said...

Wretchard: "The need to achieve that goal is an issue which has yet to achieve national center stage. None of the candidates vying for the Presidency in 2008 is talking about it."

Perhaps they're not talking because they really don't have any idea what to do.

1/28/2007 03:47:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Lebanon is the short version of the WOT.

If you understand Lebanon you understand the bigger picture.

The Lebanese and more pathetic, the free world, are divided on what to do.

Both in Lebanon and at home there is a strong current that confuses up with down, freedom with peace.

The answer seems obvious, remove those who seek to kill, remove those who disdain and erase the rule of law.

Peace in our time is like a piece of lead built into a crooked die.

1/28/2007 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The fight against the pilgrim killers is turning out to be a big one: 250 enemy KIA, 3 Iraqi Army, 2 US deaths, some bad guys wearing Pak and Afghan clothing. Called themselves "Soldiers of Heaven".

1/28/2007 04:49:00 PM  
Blogger Meme chose said...

So far the US, like Israel, has been doing pretty well on the "kinetic" battlefield but is performing poorly in the areas of information and political warfare.

I think we are doing quite a bit better than this:

- We continue to do extremely well in terms of formal kinetic conflict (i.e. by mobilizing a tiny fraction of our national resources we can quickly dominate any conventional battlefield on the planet).

- Our counter-insurgency and urban warfare capabilities have turned out to be far better than many thought (i.e. both effective and deployable at acceptable loss rates). Our enemies had felt confident this was not so.

- Just as important, both our technologies and our techniques are evolving at the rates you get from having forces engaged, i.e. several times faster than would otherwise be the case.

- On the other hand I agree that our domestic politic response to the war is fractured and bedevilled by opportunist, logically incoherent but determined opposition.

Firstly, firing very well on three cylinders out of four is pretty good compared to the performance of most governments around the world, including our enemies.

Secondly, there is something very American about this whole configuration. Lincoln fought the entire Civil War bedevilled by opposition very much like that put forth by the Democrats today. His Confederate opponents opposed him on the battlefield. It was his chattering class opponents at home, who disdained his lack of sophistication and never had a 'plan' of their own beyond capitulation, accommodation and carping about how well the war was being fought, who felt it was appropriate to murder him.

1/28/2007 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

It turns out that those insurgents were going to do much more than target pilgrims. They were going to take over Najaf at the height of the biggest Shiite festival, then kill the top Shiite leaders including Ayatollah Sistani!

There are at least 600 insurgents. Another article confirmed they had surface to air missiles, and said they were from Saddam's government.

Insurgents Najaf

Iraqi and U.S. forces have killed an estimated 250 to 300 gunmen in the Shiite holy city of Najaf during heavy fighting on Sunday, an Iraqi interior ministry official told CNN.

Those killed were part of a contingent of about 600 gunmen, stationed outside the city, the official said.

The insurgents intended to take control control of Najaf and kill Shia clerics including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the official added

1/28/2007 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger Elijah said...

Iran has always been the focus.

Iran's missiles are now ready to strike at their civilization, and as soon as the instructions arrive from Leader [Ali Khamenei], we will launch our missiles at their cities and installations.” (Hassan Abbassi, Revolutionary Guards intelligence advisor to the President, May 28, 2004)

“Such people are using words like ‘it's not possible'. They say how could we have a world without America and Zionism? But you know well that this slogan and goal can be achieved and can definitely be realized.”(Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, October 26, 2005)

What a coincidence that we currently completely encircle Iran...Afghanistan in the northeast, Iraq to the west, two carriers in the south in either the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Oman, Azerbajain/Georgia in the North, The Kurds, and most the southeast - it appears that the US has broached with Pakistan the issue of "help and assistance" in respect of its standoff with Iran and Musharraf is sending Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday.

Just lucky coincidences...

Before the US invasion of Iraq, Iran’s ambitions in the Gulf were kept in check by the surrounding Arab countries.

What changed the above paradigm?

"By removing the Taliban from Afghanistan, Iran's greatest threat to the east, and then removing the government of Saddam Hussein, its deadly enemy to the west, and finally installing an Iran-friendly Shi'ite government in Baghdad for the first time in history, the US virtually assured that Iran emerged as a power center rivaled only by Israel."

The enemy of my enemy...
The Arab countries feel obliged to place greater reliance on the West. They fear that in rejecting the West, Iran could be gaining the admiration of many countries that are against American policies. In addition to the Shia communities of the Middle East, Iran could start enjoying the sympathy of the common people in Arab countries, on account of its defiance of the US and its western allies. The Iranian leadership continues to adhere to Ayatollah Khomeini’s legacy of supremacy of the Shiite priesthood through the exercise of power - velayat-e-mutlaqhe faqih - and to the strongly anti-American and anti-Israel line. Khomeini had spoken – perhaps presciently - about the inevitability of a confrontation between the West and Islam.

Perhaps Khomeini will get his wish.

1/28/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Wu Wei said...

> Iran could start enjoying the sympathy of the common people in Arab countries, on account of its defiance of the US and its western allies.

Actually the opposite is true. In this blog thread, I posted an article saying that Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states just formed an alliance with the US & Israel against Iran and Shiite terror groups.

The alliance will "confront Iran in every way but direct armed conflict, using all means short of war... It's war by other means". Basically another Cold War with the US / Israel / Sunnis vs. Iran / Shiites.

1/28/2007 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

ahh, wu, you confuse the Governments of Eygpt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc. with the people of those countries.

They are, in reality, far removed from each other.

As the National Journal article that you, wu, quoted extensively at the Elephant Bar puts it:

"... Middle East analyst Daniel Byman, who is the director of Georgetown University's Security Studies Program, said, "The most popular people in the Islamic world right now, and the two most popular people in Egypt, are Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And their popularity is increasing. They are like Che Guevara."

THat is what is moving the Sunni Governments, FEAR of their people.

1/28/2007 07:18:00 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

"performing poorly in the areas of information and political warfare. America has yet to find a way to harness all the sources of its national power"

The problem is a core of fervently anti-American Baby-Boomers who cut their teeth on the anti-Vietnam movement. They are larded through the Democrat Party, the media, and academia. As long as they are in positions of power in those institutions, America's ability to conduct the GWoT is in doubt.

1/28/2007 09:29:00 PM  
Blogger summignumi said...

The answer to the Middle East problem is to move the U.N. head quarters to Teheran, It will be only a few years at most before then Mullah’s crumble from the perversion it would bring to their county or it would show beyond a doubt to the “doubting Thomas’s” what Islam is, how un compatible it is with the rest of the world, of course this would not work if moved to a western allied county such as Jordan or any of those other “gulf state sheikdoms” it would only speed their fall into militant Islam, after that Iran crumbled then it should be moved to China, let the Chinese deal with the corruption and see how long before it’s people are repulsed and over throw their own corrupted leadership maybe even splinter into the multiple (kingdoms) counties it should be. Yes my friends, the U.N. would finally pay off, the U.N. is the “Anti Body” to Islam!

1/29/2007 01:02:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Just saw a piece on Fox News showing an Iraqi statement concerning the battle with the pilgrim killers. They said that the group was BOTH Sunni and Shiite and contained a number of foreign fighters including some from Egypt and ..... LEBANON.

One report said that they had killed 250 but a slightly later one said they had killed 200 and and CAPTURED 100.

If it turns out that they captured Shiite terrorists from or supported by Iran - who were planning to attack a Shia shrine and the associated leadership, then things could get very interesting.

1/29/2007 01:22:00 PM  

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