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Monthly Archives: October 2007

London Times: The War is Already On

October 26th, 2007 - 11:57 am

Gerard Baker reminds his readers of the basic fact, which is one of the central themes of “The Iranian Time Bomb”:

Of all the silly arguments that pass as conventional wisdom in this debate is the claim that the US would be crazy to start a war with Iran. It’s a silly argument because America is already at war with Iran. Every day US soldiers in Iraq are attacked by Iranian-financed paramilitaries, with Iranian-produced weapons in pursuit of Iranian political objectives. Iran is manipulating the Iraqi Government in ways that undercut the steady progress the US is making in Iraq.

The only real question about the next phase in this war is whether an escalation by the US, in a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, would further American – and Western – objectives, or impede them. The evidence is increasingly suggesting that the costs of not acting are equal to or larger than the costs of acting.

Baker doesn’t think war is inevitable, but he, like so many in the journalist pack these days, thinks we’re in a runup to war with Iran. Yesterday I was on a live tv hookup with hundreds of journalists gathered in Berlin, and their main preoccupation was to “avoid the errors of Iraq,” to challenge claims of Iranian involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, to refuse to provide support for a Bush Administration they see as bound and determined to bomb Iran.

Quite aside from the fact that “the errors of Iraq”–which usually means the belief that Saddam had WMDs–are more commonly believed than demonstrated, there are nearly thirty years’ worth of hard evidence of Iran’s war against us. If anything, this administration, along with every other American administration since 1979, has been excessively timorous in its lack of response to this declared war. Gerard Baker thinks he’s found an “aha!” in the latest DoD request for $88 million for the latest generation of “bunker busters,” but those bombs were requested, designed and constructed over a period of many years.

He suggests that the recent Israeli raid on Syria–and the lack of outrage in the “Arab Street”–must surely encourage anyone in the administration who is pushing hard for assaults against Iranian nuclear facilities. That may be true, if indeed there is anyone around the president who is actually pushing for assaults. If there is anyone, I am unaware of it, and frankly it’s tiresome to hear this view ascribed to the vice president by the likes of Seymour Hersh, whose predictions have set a new standard for failure over the last two years.

On the other hand, the great debate over Iran policy, such as it is, has been unfortunately limited to the Sarkozy options: Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran. I am appalled at this short-sightedness. Those are NOT the only options, and you’d hope that prudent Western leaders would recognize that they have other choices, of which the most attractive must surely be support for the Iranian people to remove the regime.

Some time back, Secretary of State Rice was telling anyone who asked that our policy was not designed to change the regime, but to change the regime’s behavior. So she’s tried negotiations, both public and secret, and she’s trying sanctions, the latest of which were rolled out yesterday at the expense of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. Those sanctions have indeed been aimed at the regime, but I do not know a single case in which sanctions have led to changed behavior by any enemy regime, any more than their opposite–trade concessions and credits.

The central element of any sensible policy toward the Islamic Republic must be regime change. Fascist regimes, like their communist counterparts, do not change their essence, because they totally believe in the rightness of their cause and the inevitability of their triumph. The war with the Islamic Republic will be won or lost, but it will not be negotiated away as the mullahs convert to common sense and the love of peace.

That is why, paradoxically, those who loudly demand negotiations and bridle at the very thought of the president calling for regime change in Tehran and its sister city Damascus, are actually making war more likely. They are driving Western governments into the terrible trap of the Sarkozy options. Those of us who have long advocated non-violent revolutionary change in Iran are providing the best alternative to a war whose consequences, like all other big wars, are very difficult to foresee.

Maybe We’re Winning in Iraq

October 20th, 2007 - 1:59 pm

This is the text of my oped in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Vicory Is Within Reach in Iraq
October 20, 2007; Page A11

Should we declare victory over al Qaeda in the battle of Iraq?

The very question would have seemed proof of dementia only a few months ago, yet now some highly respected military officers, including the commander of Special Forces in Iraq, Gen. Stanley McCrystal, reportedly feel it is justified by the facts on the ground.

These people are not suggesting that the battle is over. They all insist that there is a lot of fighting ahead, and even those who believe that al Qaeda is crashing and burning in a death spiral on the Iraqi battlefields say that the surviving terrorists will still be able to kill coalition forces and Iraqis. But there is relative tranquility across vast areas of Iraq, even in places that had been all but given up for lost barely more than a year ago. It may well be that those who confidently declared the war definitively lost will have to reconsider.

Almost exactly 13 months ago, the top Marine intelligence officer in Iraq wrote that the grim situation in Anbar province would continue to deteriorate unless an additional division was sent in, along with substantial economic aid. Today, Marine leaders are musing openly about clearing out of Anbar, not because it is a lost cause, but because we have defeated al Qaeda there.

In Fallujah, enlisted marines have complained to an officer of my acquaintance: “There’s nobody to shoot here, sir. If it’s just going to be building schools and hospitals, that’s what the Army is for, isn’t it?” Throughout the area, Sunni sheikhs have joined the Marines to drive out al Qaeda, and this template has spread to Diyala Province, and even to many neighborhoods in Baghdad itself, where Shiites are fighting their erstwhile heroes in the Mahdi Army.

British troops are on their way out of Basra, and it was widely expected that Iranian-backed Shiite militias would impose a brutal domination of the city, That hasn’t happened. Lt. Col. Patrick Sanders, stationed near Basra, confirmed that violence in Basra has dropped precipitously in recent weeks. He gives most of the credit to the work of Iraqi soldiers and police.

As evidence of success mounts, skeptics often say that while military operations have gone well, there is still no sign of political movement to bind up the bloody wounds in the Iraqi body politic. Recent events suggest otherwise. Just a few days ago, Ammar al-Hakim, the son of and presumed successor to the country’s most important Shiite political leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, went to Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, to meet with Sunni sheikhs. The act, and his words, were amazing. “Iraq does not belong to the Sunnis or the Shiites alone; nor does it belong to the Arabs or the Kurds and Turkomen,” he said. “Today, we must stand up and declare that Iraq is for all Iraqis.”

Mr. Hakim’s call for national unity mirrors last month’s pilgrimage to Najaf, the epicenter of Iraqi Shiism, by Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni. There he visited Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric. The visit symbolically endorsed Mr. Sistani’s role as the most authoritative religious figure in Iraq. Mr. Hashemi has also been working closely with Mr. Hakim’s people, as well as with the Kurds. Elsewhere, similar efforts at ecumenical healing proceed rapidly. As Robert McFarlane reported in these pages, Baghdad’s Anglican Canon, Andrew White, has organized meetings of leading Iraqi Christian, Sunni and Shiite clerics, all of whom called for nation-wide reconciliation.

The Iraqi people seem to be turning against the terrorists, even against those who have been in cahoots with the terror masters in Tehran. As Col. Sanders puts it, “while we were down in Basra, an awful lot of the violence against us was enabled, sponsored and equipped by. . . Iran. [But] what has united a lot of the militias was a sense of Iraqi nationalism, and they resent interference by Iran.”

How is one to explain this turn of events? While our canny military leaders have been careful to give the lion’s share of the credit to terrorist excesses and locals’ courage, the most logical explanation comes from the late David Galula, the French colonel who fought in Algeria and then wrote “Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice” in the 1960s. He argued that insurgencies are revolutionary wars whose outcome is determined by control of, and support from, the population. The best way to think about such wars is to imagine the board game of Go. Each side starts with limited assets, each has the support of a minority of the territory and the population. Each has some assets within the enemy’s sphere of influence. The game ends when one side takes control of the majority of the population, and thus the territory.

Whoever gains popular support wins the war. Galula realized that while revolutionary ideology is central to the creation of an insurgency, it has very little to do with the outcome. That is determined by politics, and, just as in an election, the people choose the winner.

In the early phases of the conflict, the people remain as neutral as they can, simply trying to stay alive. As the war escalates, they are eventually forced to make a choice, to place a bet, and that bet becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The people have the winning piece on the board: intelligence. Once the Iraqis decided that we were going to win, they provided us with information about the terrorists: who they were, where they were, what they were planning, where their weapons were stashed, and so forth.

It’s easy to say, but quite beside the point, that any smart Iraqi would prefer us to the terrorists. We’re short-termers, while the terrorists promise to stay forever and make Iraq part of an oppressive caliphate. We’re going to leave in a few years, and put the country in Iraqi hands, while the terrorists — many of whom are the cat’s-paws of foreign powers — intend to turn the place into an alien domain. We promise freedom, while the jihadis impose clerical fascism and slaughter their fellow Arab Muslims.

But that preference isn’t enough to explain the dramatic turnaround — the nature of the terrorists was luminously clear a year ago, when the battle for Iraq was going badly. As Galula elegantly observed, “which side gives the best protection, which one threatens the most, which one is likely to win, these are the criteria governing the population’s stand. So much the better, of course, if popularity and effectiveness are combined.”

The turnaround took place because we started to defeat the terrorists, at a time that roughly coincides with the surge. There is a tendency to treat the surge as a mere increase in numbers, but its most important component was the change in doctrine. Instead of keeping too many of our soldiers off the battlefield in remote and heavily fortified mega-bases, we put them into the field. Instead of reacting to the terrorists’ initiatives, we went after them. No longer were we going to maintain the polite fiction that we were in Iraq to train the locals so that they could fight the war. Instead, we aggressively engaged our enemies. It was at that point that the Iraqi people placed their decisive bet.

Herschel Smith, of the blog Captain’s Journal, puts it neatly in describing the events in Anbar: “There is no point in fighting forces (U.S. Marines) who will not be beaten and who will not go away.” We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it.

No doubt Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno know all this. It is, after all, their strategy that has produced the good news. Their reluctance to take credit for the defeat of al Qaeda and other terrorists in Iraq is due to the uncertain outcome of the big battle now being waged here at home. They, and our soldiers, fear that the political class in Washington may yet snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They know that Iran and Syria still have a free shot at us across long borders, and Gen. Petraeus told Congress last month that it would not be possible to win in Iraq if our mission were restricted to that country.

Not a day goes by without one of our commanders shouting to the four winds that the Iranians are operating all over Iraq, and that virtually all the suicide terrorists are foreigners, sent in from Syria. We have done great damage to their forces on the battlefield, but they can always escalate, and we still have no policy to direct against the terror masters in Damascus and Tehran. That problem is not going to be resolved by sound counterinsurgency strategy alone, no matter how brilliantly executed.

Mr. Ledeen is resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His book, “The Iranian Time Bomb,” was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.

I guess he isn’t the 12th imam…

October 18th, 2007 - 9:56 pm

You might enjoy this one, if ‘enjoy’ is the right word. But it does remind us of the millions of people who believe we are living at the end of times.

The story itself leaves me gasping for details:

Man claiming to be Muslim messiah shot by Hamas

A man claiming to be the Mahdi, the promised redeemer of Islam, approached a leading imam in Gaza on Tuesday and insisted that local Muslims begin obeying his instructions.

The Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency reported that the enraged imam immediately called for the assistance of Hamas security forces, who demanded that the man recant his claim.

When the self-proclaimed Mahdi refused, the Hamas gunmen shot the man’s feet and then released him.

I’d like to know the results of the breathalizer tests, for one thing. And then I’d like an explanation for shooting the guy’s feet. I always thought that that sort of wound was self-inflicted, as in “he shot himself in the foot.”

And then I’d like more information about just what he wanted when he demanded that all the locals obey his instructions. What were those instructions? Why was the imam so angry?

Inquiring minds want to know…

Help Save an Ayatollah Today

October 14th, 2007 - 4:20 pm

I have written often here about the Ayatollah Boroujerdi, arrested because of his criticism of the Islamic Republic, and now in parlous condition. There is a petition on his behalf that I encourage all readers to sign. The history of political prisoners indicates dramatically that those who receive external support have a much higher survival rate than those who are abandoned to silence. Here’s the link:


Tough Talk (not!) from Treasury

October 12th, 2007 - 6:34 pm

Robert Kimmitt, the number two guy at the Treasury Department, has called for our allies to refrain from investing in Iran. It’s more a plea than an act of leadership, at least to judge from the article in the FT.

For those who think we’re gearing up for war with Iran, I think Kimmett’s language shows that quite the opposite is taking place. His big punch line, after all, is this:

Mr Kimmitt said foreign companies doing business with Iran faced unusual problems “because it’s very difficult to know whether the person you’re dealing with is, in fact, doing what he says, or could be connected, covertly or otherwise, with the [nuclear] proliferation programme”.

He said he was pleased with efforts in France, Germany, Italy and the UK to reduce export credits to Iran. Export credits, he said, “should not be used to subsidise the risks that Iran has brought on itself”.

But that’s not the point, which is that our money should not be used to finance acts of terror against us and our friends. “Subsidize the risks?” Pfui.

al-AP Strikes Again!

October 8th, 2007 - 5:05 pm

The headline on their story describing, in muted tones, the latest in a long series of demonstrations against the regime:

Rare Iranian Protest Targets Ahmadinejad

Feh. The real headline would have said “Revolutionary protests continue at Tehran U.”

After all, one of the main speakers, reminding Ahmadinejad of his call for a Palestinian referendum, demanded one on behalf of the Iranian people as well. Which is tantamount to calling for an end to the Islamic Republic.

The Archbishop’s Sermon

October 6th, 2007 - 2:30 pm

Ardeshir Dolat has forwarded a short article from the Australian Broadcasting System’s web site that quotes the Archbishop of Canterbury as follows:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has issued an angry rebuke to those in the United States who favour military action against Syria or Iran.

“When people talk about further destabilising of the region, when you read about some American political advisers speaking about action against Syria and Iran, I can only say that I regard that as criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly,” he said.

As you know, I’m all against invading or bombing Iran–although I think we’re entitled to attack the terrorist training bases in both countries on the grounds of legitimate self defense–but frankly this sort of thing is insulting to the United States, Iraq, and all members of the coalition. Not one word about the murderous activities of the mullahs or the Allawites. Not one little suggestion that maybe they should stop blowing up innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza.

Look deeply into your own glass house, Archbishop, before you start lobbing rocks at us.