Sunday, April 20, 2008

Moving On

Here's a pair of interesting headlines. Anne Gearan of the Associated Press reports:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers. ...

"I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go to their deaths and he's in Iran." ...

Rice praised al-Maliki for confronting al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which had a choke hold on Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. The assault was al-Maliki's most decisive act by far against al-Sadr, a fellow Shiite and once a political patron. Kurdish and Sunni politicians, including a chief rival, have since rallied to al-Maliki, and the Bush administration argues he could emerge stronger from what had appeared to be a military blunder.

The words "appeared to be a military blunder" may no longer be operative. Bill Roggio reports the relentless advance of the Iraqi Army against Moaqtada al-Sadr's strongholds in Basra. The NYT now says Sadr's last strongholds have fallen to the IA.

The NYT wonders why the media-consensus "winner" simply refuses to "win". Maybe it's because he isn't winning at all, but losing.

Despite the apparent concession of Basra, Mr. Sadr issued defiant words on Saturday night. In a long statement read from the loudspeakers of his Sadr City Mosque, he threatened to declare “war until liberation” against the government if fighting against his militia forces continued.

But it was difficult to tell whether his words posed a real threat or were a desperate effort to prove that his group was still a feared force, especially given that his militia’s actions in Basra followed a pattern seen again and again: the Mahdi militia battles Iraqi government troops to a standstill and then retreats.

Why his fighters have clung to those fight-then-fade tactics is unknown.

Meanwhile, in another quagmire, the "losers" are ardently intent on pursuing the "winners". The NYT reports:

WASHINGTON — American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.

The requests have been rebuffed for now, the officials said, after deliberations in Washington among senior Bush administration officials who fear that attacking Pakistani radicals may anger Pakistan’s new government, which is negotiating with the militants, and destabilize an already fragile security situation.

American commanders would prefer that Pakistani forces attack the militants, but Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas have slowed recently to avoid upsetting the negotiations.

The core problems in both Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan are both political: the incapacity of the local state to establish a working civil society; a fact that has allowed all kinds of mischief to be based within their borders. But as events have shown, the solution to the political problem contains a large military component. Unless security is provided for the local good guys, the bad guys can always use terror to coerce the population into line. The dove flies under a parasol of swords. If there is no such thing as a "purely military" solution, neither is there such a thing as a purely political one.

For the first time in about two decades none of the Gulf States, nor ironically even Iran need fear an invasion from an belligerent Iraq. For the first time in a similar period, the Kurds no longer have to worry about being gassed or mass murdered. Over the same period, the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Council (including China and Russia) no longer have to worry much about "militants" training with Osama in Afghanistan. Those militants are too busy fighting for their lives.

There are now political opportunities to advance stability that never existed before. But they are only opportunities, which by their nature are fleeting and available only to those who recognize their potential.

One of the reasons the Fall of the Berlin Wall came as such a surprise to the Western intelligensia is that they had dismissed Ronald Reagan's strategy as a losing one. Therefore no one was more astounded than the newspapers when the former Soviet Union collapsed. Like Sadr's pathetic retreats, it wasn't supposed to be that way. None of this is to say that the US War on Terror, which has had committed many mistakes, should be compared to Reagan's push. But surely it is rational to argue that it has gotten some things right.

The challenge that will face the new President in 2009 is how to build on those achievements while remedying the mistakes. It seems inconceivable that any new President would throw everything away as worthless and start from scratch. And yet that is essentially what two out of three Presidential candidates plan to do in Iraq. This makes sense within the context of their accepted narrative. But as Sadr's loss of Basra should suggest, it may be worth considering whether that narrative is no longer operative.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Habu said...

Why oh why haven't our super duper Delta guys killed this al Sadr dude by now?

We can track lower level Muzzies to mud huts in date groves but we can't kill this guy..what is going on with this cat and mouse routine?

4/20/2008 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Valentine Smith said...

He's in Iran and ain't worth the political price. Yet.

4/20/2008 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

I don't know, but my guess is that the powers that be truly believe they can grab Sadr away from the Iranians. In some sense the game that is being played is effecting a transfer of allegiance in overlordship among Shia between Teheran and Washington. We are grabbing their guys.

Rice's comments may indicate that Sadr's last chance has just ended. But I don't know.

The Anbar Awakening was a process of "turning" their networks, just like they used to do in the old spy thrillers. That worked to a fair degree. Hence AQI is now pursued by the very men they used to trust. I think LEO types know very well how this game works.

But the Shi'ite South was left to the Brits. The Brits didn't have the horses to pull it off. Nor did the US until they could generate Iraqi forces and withdraw troops from the Sunni front for redeployment south.

Now the question is where do we get the men to capitalize on the opportunity. The ground forces are stretched. One Navy Lieutenant is quitting because of resentment towards being used for ground duty on an Iraqi base to free up troops. Ruining the career as a "sailor". So it isn't as if the US has a lot of reserve assets to use.

This is why the tug of war in Washington is so important. It's battle for the reserves. Some candidates want to bring two brigades a month home. Now if one thinks the war in Iraq is not worthwhile then it it makes sense to take the troops from Petraeus. If the game of "Grab the Enemy Assets" is a bad idea then it makes sense to undercut it. But I suspect that in many cases the idea of a rapid withdrawal is really driven by a good-hearted desire for peace, which is all very well, but may in reality lead to worse.

4/20/2008 02:59:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Here's an amusing story out of England, regarding how the battle of Basra was an "unmitigated disaster".

The British-trained Iraqi Army's attempt to retake Basra from militiamen was an "unmitigated disaster at every level", British commanders have disclosed. Senior sources have said that the mission was undermined by incompetent officers and untrained troops who were sent into battle with inadequate supplies of food, water and ammunition. ...At one stage during the battle, stories were circulating at the British headquarters that Iraqi troops were demanding food and water from coalition forces at gunpoint. "It was an unmitigated disaster at every level," an officer said. Gen Mohan Furayji, the Iraqi commander who was in charge of troops during the operation, was described by a senior British staff officer as a "dangerous lunatic" who "ignored" advice.

Next to the Telegraph's over-the-top bitterness, the NY Times is a joyous paean to Malaki's majestic wonderfulness.

I wonder if the Brits really think that, if their little feelings are hurted at the criticism they have received over their performance, or if the Telegraph is just playing to its own moonbat delegation.

4/20/2008 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard the desire to withdraw is driven by:

1. A feeling Muslims are not worth anything.
2. Reflexive anti-Americanism mixed with utopian pacifism.
3. Most important, the desire to inflict defeat on America as morally good for the US.

4/20/2008 07:40:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The desire to withdraw is also driven by total pessimism. Many really believe that war cannot accomplish anything. Those WWII accomplishments were "historical accidents". The modern world, because of the presence of nuclear weapons and right wing ineptitude, prevents effective military initiatives. Some also believe that Iraqis (and/or Vietnamese, Zimbabweans, Cosovars, Afghans, etc.) live the way they do by choice, and that we should let them get on with it. "It's none of our business."

I've been growing suspicious that the reason we have never killed Al-Sadr is that anyone who replaces him will have to be smarter and more effective. This strategy is essentially divide and conquer by letting things proceed as they are. Think about what a problem we would have had in WWII if Rommel had been running the German military instead of Hitler.

4/20/2008 09:26:00 PM  
Blogger Harrywr2 said...

"appeared to be a military blunder"

Every boxer knows you throw a few jabs first to test the waters before you go knockout.

Malliki sent his greenest troops to Basra to poke Moqtada in the eye(Draw a bit of blood in boxing terms)...and then gave Moqtada's goons a week to surrender...while he moved his most battle hardened troops to Basra.

Not a military blunder...a boxing style.

4/20/2008 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

That had occurred to me as well, soldier's dad.

Such a probing action would indicate the level of appropriate force needed to eliminate the threat at various locales.

One of the most tried-and-true sequences of military action in the book, really.

4/21/2008 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It'd called recon by fire.

4/21/2008 01:27:00 PM  

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