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Monthly Archives: July 2008

Soft Power

July 28th, 2008 - 5:28 pm

The Defense Department is stressing “humanitarian” missions alongside the usual shock and awe.  This al-AP story of course leaves out the rationale, and its only example is the assistance given to Indonesians smashed by the tsunami.  It mentions Iraq en passant, but I suspect that the full DoD document (which I have not yet read) has a lot to say about counterinsurgency, in which the support of the public is the determining factor in who wins and who loses.

It’s worthwhile, I think, to go through the logic once again:  counterinsurgency is a battle for both territory and “hearts and minds.”  The people will invariably strive to withhold their support from either side as long as they can, because when they choose one, they will be targeted by the other.   But once they do choose, their choice becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because they, the people, have the crucial information to win the war:  who is on the other side, where does the other side hide/organize/train/get its materiel, etc. etc.

This has nothing to do with ideology, by the way.  The people might prefer that the ‘nicer’ side win, but they’re going to join the side they expect to win.  In Anbar Province, the people decided a) that the Marines couldn’t be beaten, and b) that the Marines weren’t leaving.  Ergo, they went with the Marines.

Yes, they hated al Qaeda’s brutality.  But they’d have gone with the jihadis if they had thought the Marines could be beaten, or were planning to leave.

And all along, the Marines were working with the people, not just killing bad guys.  That made the choice a lot easier.  They saw the Marines in the streets and on the soccer fields, which reinforced the conviction that the Marines were going to win.


July 27th, 2008 - 7:59 pm

Let’s start with Arthur Herman, a wise and eloquent writer who wrote an important piece for Commentary a while back.  Herman’s overall argument was that our attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq could not have been avoided, and in the course of explicating all the reasons, he raised the issue of deception.  Were we deceived by our own lousy intelligence?  His answer was no, we were deceived by Saddam himself:

    by far the most important deceiver was Saddam himself. For more than a decade, he had consistently acted like a guilty man, evading inspections and moving trucks from palace to palace in the dead of night. Even his own army officers, Feith writes, believed he was hiding biological and chemical weapons. And as became clear from his post-capture interrogations, this was precisely the impression he intended to convey, assuming that it would be enough in itself to deter not only an American invasion but an insurrection by Iraqi Kurds or Shiites, or even—his most consistent worry—an attack by Iran.

    It never seems to have occurred to Saddam that an American President would take him seriously enough to decide that his supposed WMD stockpiles and programs had to be destroyed by any means necessary.

Actually, I think that the interrogations show that Saddam was also deceived, but that is beside the point here.  He rightly stresses that the Americans bought in to the deception, and as a result Saddam was destroyed.  Deception is a multi-edged sword.

Somebody might point that out to the mullahs in Tehran.  Of late, they have trotted out deception after deception:

By far the most hilarious–bringing back memories of al Qaeda’s claim early in the war to have captured an American soldier, only to have the “hostage” turn out to be a G.I. Joe toy–was the recent photo of a “new warplane,” which on examination was another plastic toy.

This was of a piece with the Photoshopped “evidence” of “new Iranian missiles,” which was doubly deceptive: it was an old missile, not (as claimed) a new one, and there was only one of “them,” not (as claimed) four launched simultaneously.

They have many other deceptions, and this sort of trickery is so common–and our actual knowledge so poor–that it’s sometimes very difficult to sort out the gold from the dross.  A few days ago, the Iranians informed Mr. al Baradei that they would no longer permit his UN inspectors to look at their nuclear program.  And then Ahmadi-Nezhad tells the world that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges humming away to enrich uranium.  Is it true, or just another plastic toy?  We don’t know.

And so we are facing a situation vis-a-vis Iran that is remarkably similar to the one we had to contend with re: Iraq.  A hostile dictatorship, actively attacking American soldiers, sponsoring terrorism, and crushing its own people.   Oddly enough, Iran’s greatest risk is convincing us they are on the verge of an atomic bomb.  And they’re trying.

Of course, we’re not their only audience, a lot of their deception is aimed at their own people.  They are trying to convince Iranians that there is no hope for them from the West, because the Islamic Republic is just too potent.  But that, too, runs the risk of backfiring.

And that’s why they’re killing anyone who steps out of line.  Thirty in one day today.

How will this play out?  I don’t know.  This administration certainly doesn’t want to attack Iran.  But we may be deceived into doing it.

The Negotiation Gambit

July 22nd, 2008 - 3:13 pm

Henry Kissinger once remarked that if an intellectual gets it wrong, all he has to do is write another book, while if a policy maker gets it wrong, people may die.  To which I would add that our pundits have learned that they don’t have to pay any attention to getting the past right;  they can ignore it.  Hardly anyone bothers with history, so the scribblers simply look at the headlines and think as deeply as they can.  And so, in all the commentary on the latest “negotiating” fiasco with Iran, I look in vain for someone who points out that we have just witnessed the umpteenth iteration of Western diplomats getting kicked in a tender spot by the mullahs.  Nothing new at all.  But nobody seems to know that.  They think it’s all about these Americans, or these Iranians, these Brits and these French.  Not so.  It’s part of a well established pattern.  And to make matters worse, our leaders don’t seem to know that, either.

After all, every president from Jimmy Carter to George W.  Bush sooner or later  become convinced that it is possible to strike a grand bargain with the mullahs, if only we could find the right formula.  I devoted a long chapter to this sad story of self-deception in “The Iranian Time Bomb,” noting that the most egregious example came during the Clinton years, which in many ways prefigures the current embarrassment.  Clinton had been very critical of Bush-the-Elder during the presidential campaign, and, once elected, talked very tough about Iran.  But then Khatami was elected president, and Clinton, Gore, Albright, Lake and Berger decided that they had a glorious opportunity to make a deal.  No doubt the “intelligence” supported that fanciful conclusion, and the administration went all-in (I’m writing this in Las Vegas and that’s a common expression in these parts) to sweeten the pot for the mullahs.

Iranian assets were unblocked, wrestlers got visas, the president and the secretary of state fell all over themselves talking sweetly, apologizing for sins real and imagined, trade deals were offered, etc. etc.  Just like today.  And then, one fine day, the Supreme Leader–the same as today–dissed the Americans and that was the end of it.

We just won’t accept the fact that Iran is at war with us.  From time to time I ask an audience:  “you’ve all seen demonstrations organized by the regime in Iran, thousands of people in the streets, chanting ‘death to America,’ right?”  And they agree, yes, they have seen it.  And then I ask them, “what do you think they mean?  Is it some subtle nuanced message to us, or what?”

They’ve been trying to kill us since 1979, and yet we still think we are one little clever move away from the Grand Bargain.  We’re not.  They don’t want a bargain, they want to destroy us.  And they will keep at it until they have either won or lost.  Yes, there are various tactics now and then, but they don’t really matter much.  At the moment they just want to get to November, when they think Obama will be elected, and Obama has already bought into the deception;  he’s good for a few years of folly, at a minimum.  They don’t know about McCain (nor do I), but they suspect he’d be more of a problem.

They have plenty of willing allies in the scribbling community.   Thus, Elaine Sciolino, of the New York Times, commenting on the BS the Iranians provided the Western diplomats:

The Iranian document, which has not been made public, offered a snapshot of Iran’s negotiating style. It put the burden on the other parties. Its imprecise language and misspellings were in sharp contrast to the rigorous approach by Iranian negotiators, many of them career diplomats, who were in charge in 2003 when France, Britain and Germany began the initiative of incentives in exchange for suspension of major nuclear activities. Those diplomats have since been replaced.

Yeah, those more disciplined spellers were a lot better, weren’t they?  They kicked us with good grammar.


I’m talking about Iran, of course.  Here Robert Fox of The Guardian looks at the mullahs’ endless flipflops about nukes, negotiations, and so forth.  His bottom line is that they are too tricky by half, and they are quite possibly headed down the same suicidal road as Saddam took when he kept sticking his finger in Western eyes and noses.  Fox is certainly no advocate of military action against Iran, but he is smart and realistic enough to know that military action happens, and as often as not it happens because of confusions, suspicion and ambiguity, rather than because of strategic calculation.

Not that strategic calculation is irrelevant.  Peter Brookes takes a clear-eyed look at the recent Iranian missile show, and concludes that it was staged (and by now everyone’s seen Charles Johnson’s pictures that suggest the mullahs photoshopped at least some of their images of the missiles) for several reasons, from driving up oil prices to pounding their chests for the benefit of domestic and regional audiences, to fending off possible attacks from us or the Israelis.

All that “makes sense.”  The Iranians atop that unhappy country have every reason to believe that they are immune to attack for the next many months, and so they use all the tools at their disposal to buy time for all their nefarious purposes:  develop the bomb and related delivery systems, increase the repression of the Iranian people,  and move terrorists out of Iraq, where they have been decisively defeated.

But the boy who cried wolf came to an unhappy end, as in the case of Saddam Hussein.

Winning Hearts and Minds

July 7th, 2008 - 11:04 am

Way back at the beginning of this war, and continuing through tomorrow, we have debated how to win the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East.  I have always viewed this discussion as important, but perhaps ultimately unknowable, because as Machiavelli loves to remind us, these things are all about winning and losing.  The war, not the debate.

During the Cold War there was an endless discussion about our enemy, just as there is today.  Back then, the main question was:  are we fighting a global movement (international communism), and its attendant ideology, or are we fighting an imperial state (the Soviet Empire)?

I am not sure we know the answer today.  But we do know that when the Soviet Empire fell, communist ideology was discredited.  That is why, in “The War Against the Terror Masters,” I argued that we shouldn’t worry so much about “exposing the evils of radical Islam” as about winning the war.  I said that nothing is more devastating to a messianic ideology than the defeat of the messianic leader.  And so it seems to have been in Iraq.

Yes, I know it isn’t really over yet.  I know–I insist–that we are fighting a regional war, and that we must still contend with Iran and Syria.  However, we have defeated al Qaeda and al Mahdi in Iraq, and that’s a huge event.  I am sure that the jihadis are having more trouble recruiting volunteers, because that’s the way it works.

For quite a while now, Nibras Kazemi has been one of the keenest analysts of the Iraq situation, and he’s written a serious essay about it.  His blog, Talisman Gate, has an excerpt, although you really will benefit from reading it all.

Here’s the excerpt (the last paragraph says it all):

My paper on the failed jihadist attempt to resurrect the caliphate in Iraq was published online today, [cue trumpets and cymbals] so without further ceremony, here it is:

The Caliphate Attempted: Zarqawi’s Ideological Heirs, their Choice for a Caliph, and the Collapse of their Self-Styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (opens up as a PDF document).

Here are a few paragraphs from its conclusion that may give you all a feel as to its relevance:

It has been the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that not only did al-Zarqawi (who was killed in June 2006) and his successors choose to turn Iraq into a battleground on their own initiative but that they subsequently chose Iraq as the incubator for their grand vision of a unified Islamic empire under the aegis of a ruling caliph. They did so without instructions from or consultations with the traditional leaders of Al-Qaeda hiding out in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Rather, they presented the jihadist world with a fait accompli: the Islamic State of Iraq, thereby capturing the imagination of a new generation of jihadists who were already enthralled by the alleged victories of the Zarqawists in Iraq.

The Zarqawists believed that they were winning at the time when they declared their state, taking the gloomy forecasts of an American ‘quagmire’ and ‘defeat’ in Iraq, as peddled by the U.S. media, as a sign that they were about to turn a corner in the war. As far as they were concerned, there was no greater service to Islam—not even ‘Servitude of the Two Holy Shrines’ of Mecca and Medina—that would compare with what the jihadists were proffering in Iraq, a distinction that ranked them as the elite and vanguard of a victorious Islamic regeneration. The merit of a successful jihad, waged against the world’s greatest power, earned them the authority and responsibility for resurrecting the caliphate, since they alone were the rightful ahl ul-hel wel-’aqd of their time…Their ‘state’ would be the “real caliphate” once again, set to expand under Muhammad’s own banner from the very heart of the Dar al-Islam, from ancient Baghdad and its environs; a venture far more ambitious and daring than a marginal emirate within the remote folds of the Hindu Kush.

The Islamic State of Iraq was to be the shield and spear of Islam, facing down infidel foes from within and without. It was to be the harbinger of glory and redemption, the “ummah’s hope” for an avenger to its many humiliations. And should the jihadists meet some slight setbacks here and there, then that too shall pass, for as al-Baghdadi says when giving his reasons as to why he is confident that the Islamic State of Iraq shall persist: “we are certain that Allah will not break the hearts of the embattled monotheists and turn us into the object of ridicule by the oppressors.” Yet, it does not seem as if the Islamic State in Iraq is about to make a comeback, especially since the Iraqi Sunnis that it claimed to be fighting on behalf of, and to whom its laurels shall accrue in victory, seem to have irreversibly turned against it. So could it be, after all the blood, treasure and prayers that went into the Islamic State of Iraq, that Allah too had turned His back on the jihadists?

The corollary to the military defeat now being experienced by the jihadists is the even more agonizing prospect of doctrinal collapse: the heralded caliphate is stillborn; the glorious vision of a reinvigorated Islamic State has been smashed. The anguish and demoralization brought about by this byproduct of battlefield victory cannot be overstated, for to smash the dreams of a man who lives for a cause, who endures cruel deserts and damp caves while awaiting martyrdom, is a fate far worse than death. In a battle of wills where a young man is able to summon the necessary willpower to press a button and to detonate himself among innocent bystanders for the cause of jihad and for a deferred utopia of a resurrected and avenging Islamic world power, nothing breaks the will of the individual jihadist than to see, in real time, his ideology bear fruit and to watch that fruit rot away right before his eyes. Such has been the impact of the ‘Zarqawist’ Islamic State of Iraq—the caliphate to be, under the Commander of the Faithful Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi the Qurayshite—and the bitter aftertaste of its ruinous downfall.

Heart of Darkness

July 5th, 2008 - 7:12 pm

Read this letter from a woman in Zimbabwe, and weep.  Weep for the dying and the starving and the penniless in Africa, and weep for the bureaucrats in the “centers of power” who just cannot find a way to bring an end to the terrible evil that is Robert Mugabe’s tyranny.

Years ago I wrote a little book called “Freedom Betrayed” in which I decried the fecklessness of the West–above all, the Clinton Administration of the time–in combating tyranny, after we had led a global democratic revolution that had transformed much of the world.  On this anniversary of the great democratic revolution that created America, it is clear that the West remains feckless.  If anything, it is worse today than it was then, because back then the threats to freedom seemed remote, whereas today they are manifest and imminent.

If we cannot support a fine nation that clearly expressed its wishes in a difficult election, it is unlikely we will find the will to fight the vicious tyrants in the Middle East, even though they daily promise to destroy us.  And what will they be thinking in Beijing and Moscow and Pyongyang?

Thanks to Gateway Pundit for informing the blogosphere that Iran’s most famous dissident, Ahmad Batebi, is now here with us.  And what better time to break the news than the 4th of July weekend?  Batebi is the student leader whose picture ran on the cover of The Economist, holding up the blood-stained tee shirt of one of his friends, who was killed by the regime’s thugs in 1999.

Batebi did an interview with the Voice of America, and I’m told it had a record audience, as I’d expect.  Follow the links, you’ll find the VOA’s press release and other useful items.

Happy Birthday, One and All

July 4th, 2008 - 10:45 am

The Fourth is the birthday of the modern world, the day we became free, and ever since that day we have inspired freedom-loving people all over the planet.  It’s a wonderful holiday, an inspiration to us and our friends.  And there’s a great symphony to celebrate it:


Nobody else can say it better than that.