Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Is Sadr calling the shots?

Three perspectives on the subject of Maliki's order to withdraw the cordon from around Sadr City. First, Jules Crittenden at the Boston Herald argues that its time to deal with Sadr and why the heck haven't we dealt decisively with him before?

On the streets of Baghdad, where the Shiites are celebrating the removal of the coalition cordon, Moqtada al-Sadr has another victory, and al-Maliki has demonstrated he is no U.S. puppet. Let them have their fun. High fives all around. For now. ...

Al-Maliki has been increasingly defiant of the United States in recent weeks. To some extent, this is to be expected. Al-Maliki must maintain his credibility with Iraqis. But his coddling of the Shiite militias goes beyond that. Maliki, as other observers have noted, senses the danger of a U.S. abandonment, and also senses that militant Shia is the ultimate source of power in Iraq. His own ticket to the future. The United States can speak privately or publicly to al-Maliki, indicate its patience is not endless and that money can be cut off. But the ability of the United States to force al-Maliki’s compliance in fighting the militias is limited, and he knows it. The United States cannot, for example, replace the elected prime minister of Iraq with someone who will do what needs to be done, without undermining a central tenet of the war, Iraqi democracy. What to do?

What should have been done long ago. Demonstrate that sectarian thuggery is not the future of Iraq. With or without al-Maliki’s cooperation, call Moqtada al-Sadr in his game of chicken. Provoke a fight with his forces, and destroy them.

Then there's Andrew Sullivan's and the reaction to Andrew Sullivan. The Confederate Yankee posts Sullivan's view and offers a detailed rebuttal.

As seems to be his pattern lately, Andrew Sullivan suckles onto one fact and uses it to fatten up a dishonest charge he cannot support:

While the media is obsessed parsing the ad libs of someone on no ballot this fall, something truly ominous has just happened in Iraq. The commander-in-chief has abandoned an American soldier to the tender mercies of a Shiite militia. Yes, there are nuances here, and the NYT fleshes out the story today. But the essential fact is clear.

What Andrew Sullivan obtusely states as "fact" is nothing of the sort. ... (various arguments follow)

I think Crittenden is strategically correct, but am tactically agnostic on the subject of whether the US translator was abandoned to the Shi'ites. The emergence of an independent Iraqi government complicates and simplifies things. It simplifies things in that the US can focus more on advancing its own national interests and less on the interests of the Iraqi government. We have given them a hand, now we must give ourselves a hand. And the question is, whatever Maliki thinks of the Shi'ite militias, is it in America's best interests to see them flourish? Do they hold an American soldier and can we let them? Those are the relevant questions. And strategically the answers to those questions must be answered in the best American interests.

However, as Crittenden also points out, the men on the ground have a variety of means at their disposal. Threats, money and finally guns. As long as it is clear that an American interest is being pursued, then the men on the ground should be allowed to use whatever means they think best to achieve them. If that means giving in some directions and taking in others, then so be it. I am not against lifting the blockade per se. So long as we break America's enemies we should leave the details to the pros. The problem is that I have no positive way of looking inside the decision circle and knowing this is the intent.

There has been little detailed discussion on how to deal with the Shi'ite militias in official documents. It has the aspect of a taboo subject, along with the question of weapons smuggled in from Iran and probably the question of its uranium enrichment. The Sadr question is probably tied up with a whole lot of other things. Therefore the militias have always been treated as criminal, rather than political elements as an issue-avoidance strategy. But that fiction is wearing thin. As Crittenden says, its a problem we can't avoid for much longer. Unfortunately the answer to the question has to be much larger than simply shooting Sadr. That part's easy. It's the encore that's hard. So the question is: are we willing to see this through or not? Sullivan criticizes the decision to lift the cordon but adds, to the end of every one of his posts the injunction to 'vote independent or Democrat or abstain' and as far as I can tell, than means lifting the cordon not only around Sadr city, but moving the cordon in Murtha's immortal words, to Okinawa. What I'm wondering about now is how much of a difference there truly is between Republicans and Democrats on this issue.


Blogger NahnCee said...

Why can't we let the Iraqi's figure out their own cordon, and we just pull behind walls into the Green Zone? We'll maintain a presence to deter Iran and Syria from actively sending tanks and missiles in, but let the Iraqi's make their own decisions about how they want to pursue their nationhood. I don't see where such a strategy is incumbent upon who wins or loses the coming election.

Even if Democrats win a few seats and people start waving around impeachment papers, it will *not* be anything more than a gnat's pesky flitting around one's head. People act like American elections are a really big deal and if you step back and look at them, it's very very rare that a President actually mines Hanoi or invades a country or anything else substantive. It's even rarer for Congress to accomplish anything given its ongoing position of stalemate.

I just don't see what's going on Iraq to change dramatically no matter what the outcome of the American elections next week. It would be nice, however, if Mr. Bush nukes Iran once he doesn't have to play politics any more.

11/01/2006 04:25:00 PM  
Blogger ipw533 said...

The dog that didn't bark? The conspicuous absence of any reference to Ayatollah al-Sistani makes me wonder where he is in all of this. I'm staying tuned....

11/01/2006 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Why can't we let the Iraqi's figure out their own cordon, and we just pull behind walls into the Green Zone?

I like this idea better: No green zone at all, except around the embassy, and everyone defends themselves as they can. US forces can do their own force protection dynamically. Maliki thinks taking down the road blocks is such a great idea, let's see what he says after that.

11/01/2006 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

...And now there is Little Sadr City:

Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, is increasingly active in Washash, which some U.S. troops now call Little Sadr City.
Sutton believes they are working to make Washash a Mahdi Army stronghold west of the Tigris.

Until now, the militia's base in the capital has been Sadr City on the east bank of the river, a sprawling slum that houses some 2.5 million Shi'ites.

The Mahdi Army's expansion across the river complicates the efforts of U.S. forces to quell sectarian violence

11/01/2006 06:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're in the weeds here. A show of force against the mother of all migraines Iran is what is needed.

We've been permissive parents, to pick up the last thread's theme. Parents have to be chauvinistic with their values. Why didn't we lay down the law in the beginning to fashion a secular constitution and pluralistic society, and show them zero tolerance for terrorist and sectarian bloodletting, if the Iraqis wanted any of our help in rebuilding?

On the surface it seems counter-intuitive, but by being too sensitive to humanitarian and cultural concerns (and especially to hostile press) and by seeming tentative and insisting on surgical precision, we hurt the Iraqi/ ME democracy project. There is such a thing as giving too much latitude, deference and choice to people who are not ready to handle it; inevitably, they'll engage in terrible, self-defeating behavior, as a consequence. The Iraqis are grown-ups, but they're no where near reaching "adulthood" after a period of American strict parenting, which we didn't give them.

11/01/2006 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

Wretchard writes . . .
So the question is: are we willing to see this through or not?

See this through to what exactly? Only two weeks ago you were stating that we are still waiting to "discover our goals" in Iraq. What goals, what aims? Stay the course is gone, democracy has led to a Shiite Islamist government and our men are caught in a crossfire between two of our enemies.

So tell us Wretchard: What is the mission, what is the objective? If you can't answer that then what are we doing there?

11/01/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Ms T thinks we are running out the clock until after the election.
After the election, the question will remain.

11/01/2006 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Risking some worry wrinkles there, Catherine:
Read something from the State Dept.
More effective than Botox, and no unseemly connections with you know who.

11/01/2006 07:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading something from State, Doug, would be more effective than anthrax.

11/01/2006 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

Ms T thinks we are running out the clock until after the election.

I thought I was supposed to be the one who coughed up hairballs like that, Doug.

October was a spike in violence to influence the election, but the overall trend, if you look at the chart, shows no general improvement. This is officially a quagmire. But then, it's another land war in Asia so what did we expect?

11/01/2006 08:10:00 PM  
Blogger Annoy Mouse said...

I am way beyond the notion that Bush has something up his sleeve here. Bush is trying to maintain his “legacy” as a compassionate conservative, which is to say, he is neither. If the hard working people of the religion of peace were our neighbors they would be invited to sup with the elites while our children broke Gaines Burger with the dogs. Bush has no uber strategy. He had one good idea and he blinked and the opportunity passed by. Only apocalypse now.

11/01/2006 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger Fat Man said...

Sadr is a mere sergant in his army, the officers are in Iran. Michal Ledeen has a muchmore acute take on this whole mess:

Delay: Has the president made a conscious decision to not act on Iran? By Michael Ledeen, November 01, 2006, 4:17 a.m.

... Once you see that Iraq and Afghanistan are battlefields in a larger war, you must figure out how to win that war, and not the one that was drawn up on the Power Points before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, based on the false assumption that we would fight a series of limited wars, one country at a time.

At a minimum, the real war is a regional war, and most likely a world war. That becomes obvious as soon as you see that Iran, sometimes in tandem with Syria and with covert help from Saudi Arabia, is waging war on us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sponsoring terrorist assaults against us and our allies from Lebanon to Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, with their preferred instrument, Hezbollah, as the organizing army. But our national debate, with the exception of rare men like Senator Santorum, is limited to Iraq and Afghanistan alone, and thus our war plan is wrongly limited to Iraq and Afghanistan alone. If we expand our vision to the Middle East, current “hot topics” dissolve, because they are only urgent in answer to the wrong question. Instead of asking, “How do we win in Iraq and Afghanistan (and these are foolishly treated as if they were separate issues)?” we must instead ask, “How do we win the real war, the war against the terror masters?”

Iraq and Afghanistan are part of that war, but only a part of it. And we cannot win in Iraq and Afghanistan so long as the terror masters in Tehran and Damascus have a free shot at us and our democratic partners in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Israel, which is the current situation.

... If, as Secretary Rice tells us, we do believe in spreading democracy in the Middle East, Iran is, and always has been, the best place to start. Nothing would help the prospects for a reasonable solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis so much as the downfall of the Tehran regime and its Siamese twin in Damascus. Indeed, like Iraq and Afghanistan, it is impossible to imagine freedom and security for the Palestinians so long as Khamanei and his ilk rule in Iran, and the Assad family dictatorships reigns in Syria.

But these considerations belong to a strategy to win the real war. As far as I can tell, we are very far from seeing the war plain and devising ways to win it. The first step is to embrace the unpleasant fact that we are at war with Iran, and it is long past time to respond.

11/01/2006 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger demosophist said...

1. The fortunes of the Shia version of Islamism have been looking up lately, across the Middle East, while the fortunes of the Sunni/Salafist version have been declining. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because any change brings with it both challenges and opportunities.

2. Knowing more about the differences between Sunni and Shia civilization might help us decipher 1. They're the minority and they've generally been the outs.

They have two primary traditions that distinguish them from Sunnism: a. Insistence on an hereditary leadership descent from the Prophet; and b. a faction that believes in the separation of secular and clerical authority.

3. Any movement in the direction of "a grand resolution" of the problem of Islam must, perforce, rest on b. Ernest Gellner, btw, figured that if there was ever going to be a completion of the perpetual Reformation of Islam, referred to by Ibm Kaldun, it would likely happen in Iran, because the social changes there have established a stable hierarchy against which a Reformation can be pitched.

A Reformation needs purchase, and a "locus of dissensus".

So that settles the issue of who and what we need to be routing for. The only question left is whether our attempts at cracking the egg's shell will kill the embryo.

11/01/2006 08:36:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

The first step is to embrace the unpleasant fact that we are at war with Iran, and it is long past time to respond.

At this point any move into Iran would be viewed with the same horror as Nixon invading Cambodia which of course led to Kent State and Congress reining in war spending. The MSM can't wait to say, "See, this really is Vietnam redux"

11/01/2006 08:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some "news" that might end up justifying simultaneous strikes on Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah by the US and Israel:

"The White House said Tuesday it was concerned by 'mounting evidence' that Syria, Iran and Hizbullah were planning to topple the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora...

"Representatives of the Lebanese government had 'stated publicly and also in conversations with us that there has been arms coming across the border into Lebanon...'

"Bolton stressed that Syria was required to respect the UN arms embargo authorized by the Security Council resolution that ended the 34-day war in Lebanon last August."

Were we to cripple Iran, Syria, and their terror organs for a while, wouldn't at least half our troubles in Iraq be over? Sure, others would be just beginning, but nobody said making the world safe for petroarchy and from terror, caliphate and diplomacy would be easy.

11/01/2006 09:09:00 PM  
Blogger Frege said...

We need a bold stroke to win the war in Iraq. The way to win the war is to expand it. Iran is the real enemy in Iraq (they even support the Sunni insurgency indirectly by supporting Syria which supports the Sunni insurgency), in Lebanon and in Syria. We should give Iran an ultimatum: stop supplying weapons, explosives, training, and cash to Iraqi militias, and withdraw your intelligence and Revolutionary Guard forces from Iraq within two weeks or suffer severe consequences by the U.S. (e.g. punitive expeditions, constant and sustained air and sea attack, naval blockade, training, supporting and deploying anti-government Iranian militias, etc.) Then we should carry out the threat. Give the Iranians internal problems, economic problems, insurgency problem in Iran, to deal with so they can’t be effective in Iraq or Lebanon.

The one advantage we were supposed to have in fighting an insurgency in Iraq that we didn’t have in Vietnam was that the Iraqi insurgency didn’t have the support of nation states like Vietnam did. The Iraqi insurgency should be severely in its supplies of high explosives, cash, etc. Instead it is being resupplied from the outside. The Veit Cong had relatively safe supply lines through Cambodia and Laos because they U.S. limited its operations against the Ho Chi Minh trail in those countries. We gave the VC and the North Vietnamese safe harbor zones. We shouldn’t make the same mistake in Iraq. We need to cut off external support, supplies, and training for the Iraqi insurgency and militias.

Further, expanding the war to include Iran would have the effect of cutting off much needed external support, supplies, and training for Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran is the root of much of the problem in the Middle East. Expanding the war to include Iran should help retard the nuclear weapons program as well. By expanding the war, we can address the cause of the disease instead of just treating the symptoms.

One objection to expanding the war is that we can barely handle occupying Iraq let alone Iran. But I am not suggesting occupying Iran. I am suggesting military and intelligence actions that do not require large numbers of ground troops. We could advance regime changes from within by aggressively training Iranian militias and imbedding Special Forces troops in those units. We could engage in punitive expeditions, sustained low level bombing campaigns. Pick a set of strategic targets and bomb them every time they rebuild them. Destroy their refining capacity and prevent refined petroleum products from getting in from other countries.

Another objection is that it will hurt our economy. It may, in the short term. It may even hurt it severely in the short term. But in the long term it would have been worth it. Someday, when Iran gets nukes and continues to spread the Islamic Revolution to Lebanon and Iraq there will be a conflict with us or Israel. It will hurt our economy then. We might as well bite the bullet now when they don’t have nukes.

A still further objection is that we don’t have the manpower. We do. We have the naval and air power necessary to put the hurt on Iran. We could even us some of our troops in Iraq to perform large scale cross border raids.

Iran is the real enemy in the Middle East. If we don’t address Iran, we won’t solve the real problem. The best way to do that is to hope a threat will cause them to withdraw support from Iraqi insurgents. If a threat doesn’t work, then boldly expanding the war is the only way to win.

11/01/2006 10:38:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Bush and Rice will up their rhetoric on how unacceptable that is, and that will constitute our response.
Which job would be worse:
Snow's, or Bolton's?
I vote for Bolton since Snow gets to cover campaigns at present, which is the one thing Bush gets into and is good at.
On Foreign Affairs he has devolved into talking the talk.
Our troops really deserve better.

11/01/2006 10:41:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


(shaking head)

If only...

I have come to the conclusion that "war weariness" has nothing to do with the number of dead or wounded soldiers and everything to do with the slow drip of defeatism that seeps into the bloodstream of our nation.

In all honesty, we aren't fighting a war against al-Qaeda or anybody else for that matter. If we were truly at war, we would have wartime censorship and defeatists would be locked up. Our economy is a peacetime economy, not a wartime economy; this is the first war in recent memory fought on tax cuts. There is a certain lack of seriousness about defeating al-Qaeda and Iran on both sides of the aisle.

Invading Iran would need congressional approval. If Congressional Democrats demand such a thing, there may be a chance, but I don't see any realistic possibility for congressional authorization of anything against Iran. The drip of defeatism has gotten too corrosive for Congress to authorize the death of a fly.

Our armed forces are brave, but I don't think their bravery is matched by our political class. Not by a long shot. And worse, I have a sickening feeling that most Americans aren't even interested in figuring out how to defeat our foreign enemies, given how domestic partisanship is trumping everything -- including our national survival.

As it is now, Iran could mount a surprise attack on our fleet in the Persian Gulf and the domestic reaction would be outrage -- against the President for "allowing" such an attack to happen, not against the enemy for attacking us. It would be impolitic to wage war against Iran, even if it openly declares war and attacks us with everything it has. I think the Iranian government understands that a nation suffused with "war weariness" will be unwilling to fight even under the provocation of getting its cities get nuked by Islamists -- Islamists have little reason to believe they won't win this war, and every reason to think our internal divisions will win this war for them.

11/02/2006 12:02:00 AM  
Blogger lugh lampfhota said...

Sadly Alexis has it right. The political class and leadership elites only want to make more money. Meanwhile most of the rest of America has become a girl-troop who won't even rid the country of vile pedophiles. How would one expect such a nation of girls to prosecute a war against an enemy who hides behind civilians?

Too many in America no longer believes in it's exceptionalism nor have the will to survive.

If you listen closely you can almost hear the last whimper.

11/02/2006 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger M. Simon said...


Taxes cut. Government revenues up, economy booming.

Sees like what you would want during war time.

11/02/2006 03:10:00 AM  
Blogger HK Vol said...

Let's lift the cordon around Sadr City.
Let's also lift the cordon around al-Maliki at the same time.
Let him fend for himself without security.
Reckon there are a few Sunnis that want Maliki taken out? Yep, thought so.
Quid pro quo would be my suggested rebuttal to Maliki's tippy-toeing around the militias.
Either that or expose Maliki's true colors of being loyal to a militia rather than the greater Iraqi government.

11/02/2006 04:33:00 AM  
Blogger goesh said...

1.) Take out Sadr now, engage with full force and devastation when his militia engages and that means making rubble out of fairly large areas of engagement regardless of how damn many civilians die 2.) tell Iran to back off immediately and withdraw its agents immediately 3.) take out an airfield if they don't follow through 4.) take out their energy production capability entirely if they engage with us after taking out one of their airfields 5.) Take out one of Syria's airfields and tell them to back off totally 6.) do what IDF does - where more than one weapon is found in or near a home in Iraq, destroy the home - start massive searches and destruction 7.) start shooting on sight anyone with a weapon on the street that is not in an Iraqi uniform 8.) execute anyone on the spot anyone caught in an Iraqi uniform proven to not be a cop or soldier. Either occupy and quell it or get the hell out.

11/02/2006 05:46:00 AM  
Blogger sirius_sir said...

I like many of Goesh's suggestions. Take action against Syria (especially in light of the recent attempt to destabalize and overthrow the Lebanese government) and shoot on sight any Iraqi on the street with a weapon who isn't in uniform--and execute those impersonating police or legitimate military personal. It amazes these last initiatives have not yet been implemented.

As noted earlier, Assad remains a thorn in our side, supporting the Sunni insurgency in Iraq as well as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah assault on Lebanon. Perhaps it is time to do more than just take out a Syrian airfield. Action taken against Assad might well have a salutory effect on the entire region, with little downside risk.

It would almost certainly be less risky than letting things go as they are, or letting them devolve further. We have, it seems, to select from one of two fundamental choices: either stay and effect change, or leave that job to others. The second choice may seem palatable now, based on certain assumptions--the most hopeful being that Sunni and Shia elements will basically fight each other to a peaceable draw. But according to that formula shouldn't Iran and Syria be antagonists and not allies? They support opposite sides in Iraq, and yet their enemy is not each other but us. Once we are driven from the Middle East and democracy in Iraq and Lebanon is demolished, once Iran has established its hegemon in both countries, who wants to bet Syrian support for disruptive elements in Iraq doesn't suddenly stop? (And would anyone care to place a bet on what, in any case, the price then for a barrel of oil might be?)

It seems to me that if we just quit and leave that our prestige and influence in the world will be severely diminished. But maybe for some, that is the object.

11/02/2006 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Fucking pathetic is what it is, Period.

11/02/2006 08:55:00 AM  
Blogger skipsailing said...

the Ralph Peters piece is of grave concern. It seems as if we're watching Maliki slowly but surely morph into Siniora.

My guess is that within a few days Sadr will demand that the Iraqi government be dissolved and a new "unity" government be formed. Keeping up with Nasrallah is important.

What are our realistic options now? I don't believe that a major act of war against Iran is in the cards. Nothing they have done so far has exceeded the minimal benchmark for CB. While this places upper limits on their options, it still permits the slow bleed techniques we are seeing now.

My thought is that the Americans in Iraq should begin to manage their counterinsurgency efforts without the involvement of the Maliki inner circle.

He can sputter in the media all he likes, but we should run operations that we find necessary without his permission. He's given away his credibility and we still have a job to do.

A few high visibility operations against shi ite militias will force to Maliki to take an even more public stand. Right now he can hide behind the apron of "sovereignty" but as long as our guy is missing, we have reason to act.

The more frequent his demonstrations of support for the Iranian backed troublemakers, the less need to involve him. he can dole out plums (or dates or whatever) to his cronies in B-dad while we go hunting.

the goal post movers among us will switch from complaining about violence to complaining about corruption or Sharia the day after the murder rate in b-dad reaches some multiple of the rate in MOTOWN so let's set that issue aside for the moment and deal with missing soldier.

11/02/2006 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...

m. simon:

Taxes cut. Government revenues up, economy booming.

Sees like what you would want during war time.

If the people do not feel a vested interest in victory, it is not war.

If the sacrifice of war is not shared, it is not war.

If belts do not tighten, it is not war.

If luxuries are not taxed, it is not war.

The military tells us "Freedom Isn't Free". So where's the bill? If increasing the national debt were the solution to all of our problems, why bother having taxes at all? For that matter, why bother working for a living when one can simply pile on more debt instead?

We have a peacetime economy now, a peacetime economy paying a professional military. It is not a wartime economy. To say we are at war is a joke.

Money cannot buy victory. All it can do is buy time. All the money in the world will not defeat al-Qaeda. And if money were so important in war, Carthage would have easily defeated Rome.

There is more to liberty than making money. We can either cut off oil revenues for our enemies or we can make sure our enemies keep their hands on the jugular of our economy. The terrorists think we would rather live in a fools paradise than cut off their subsidies. And they may be right, for cheap oil has become the bane of our existence, making our economy dependent upon the very men who finance the terrorists.

Sacrifice means something more than soldiers dying in foreign lands. In war, he who is unwilling to tighten his belt won't be able to keep the enemy's noose from tightening around his neck.

11/02/2006 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Alexis - Well said.

One of Bush's great mistakes in cognitive dissonance.

"We are in the defining war of our generation."

"So I am calling on all Americans to shop, enjoy your tax cuts especially *wink* those that have enough to invest wisely in new Chinese factories. Cheer the heroes. Be sympathetic to the Noble People of the Religion of Peace. Travel! Shop even more! Build McMansions! This War depends on you doing that".

SNAAAP!! Fitzs^3gppp*&! Does not compute!!

NO wonder so many people are convinced there is no risk and their biggest problem is if green is the new black, and peach is the new green, then what is black???

11/02/2006 02:21:00 PM  

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