Friday, December 15, 2006

Asking the Question...

As Iraq continues to degenerate, even the deepest Kool-Aid drinkers on the neocon right (save for the the absolute true-believers who continue to believe that Iraq is a stunning success obscured only by "enemedia" lies) are forced to admit the extent of the debacle. Still, they tie themselves into knots trying to salvage the enormous foreign policy failure that they helped create in the first place. In the December/January issue of Policy Review, Robert Zelnick of the Hoover Institution, argues that no matter how bad the situation in Iraq is, the US cannot pull out. But he is forced - by reality - to admit, up front, that the whole enterprise was based on the most shocking display of incompetence, mendacity and naivety ever witnessed in modern US history:

The country may have entered the war with erroneous notions of the state of Saddam’s wmd programs. It may have underestimated the resilience of former Baathists and regime loyalists, their access to weapons and the help they would get from foreign jihadists. It may have failed to anticipate that a society divided and oppressed by an authoritarian ruler might erupt into ethnic and religious conflict when that leader departs. It may have been naïve in thinking that an externally modeled Iraqi democratic government would opt for secular rather than sectarian parliamentary representation and that its near perfect transition would transform the region into a galaxy of democratic states. And it may have underestimated the number of troops needed to occupy a country of 25 million.

Mr. Zelnick then spends thousands of words describing just how awful the situation in Iraq currently is, and dissecting the massive errors in policy and judgment that brought that situation about. The two questions he never tries to answer - indeed the two questions that tower over his entire article, given that opening - are: who is responsible for this? and what are the consequences for them? The "country" did not enter the war with "erroneous notions of Saddam's wmd programs," nor did "the country" underestimate the possibility of an insurgency, nor did "the country" fail to adequately plan the post-war rebuilding or contemplate the possibility of sectarian strife. The Bush administration - the President and his advisors, appointees and cabinet officers - were solely responsible for those errors. President Bush is the chief executive; his orders launched this disaster into motion. Ultimately, all responsibility rests with him. Given that those errors have cost the lives of almost 3,000 American soldiers, maimed and crippled thousands more, turned Iraq into a abbatoir of religious fanaticism, drained the US treasury and severely damaged American strategic position in the Middle East and Asia, should the President bear no cost? Where are the conservatives with the courage to demand a consequence for the President's actions? Where is the demand for resignation? If, as many conservatives loudly asserted, Bill Clinton should have resigned for his sexual indiscretions with an intern in the Oval Office, should not a president who has so badly mishandled the nation's foreign policy be called upon to surrender the office that he is clearly not competent to hold? Or has conservatism simply become intellectual pretense in service of gaining and maintaining political power? The answer to that last question, sadly, lies in the bloodied, ruined sands of Iraq.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bit by Bit the Truth Dawns on Them...

Over at National Review's The Corner, Rich Lowry, who the the last few months has been teetering back and forth on the edge of realizing what a truly disastrous President George W. Bush has been, both for the GOP and the Republic, finally admits what should have been blindingly obvious three years ago:

I believe there is no way a liberal Democratic administration would have been able, in the post-9/11 environment, to run-down and over-stretch the U.S. military the way the Bush administration has by giving it ambitious missions without significant new resources and manpower. This is very much a Nixon-to-China kind of phenomenon, because a liberal wouldn't have won the acquiescence of the Right to such a thing. But Bush has mostly gotten it—and, moreover, conservative audiences still give Rumsfeld standing ovations!

Lowry then quotes extensively from a Washington Post article that reports that the army and marine corps feel that they are overstretched and will shortly ask for large increases in manpower and equipment. According to the article, any notion of sending significantly (50,000+) more US forces to Iraq is pure fantasy since the US doesn't have the forces available. Why? Because the Bush administration made no effort to increase the number of available soldiers, even as it drastically increased US military commitments in the Middle East.

According to Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, the Army and Marine Corps today cannot sustain even a modest increase of 20,000 troops in Iraq. U.S. commanders for Afghanistan have asked for more troops but have not received them, noted the Iraq Study Group report, which called it "critical" for the United States to provide more military support for Afghanistan...

...The U.S. military today could cobble together two or three divisions in an emergency — compared with as many as six in 2001 — not enough to carry out major operations such as overthrowing the Iranian government. "That's the kind of extreme scenario that could cripple us," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution.

The invasion of Iran that the neoconservatives are so desperate to draw the US into would be a catastrophe that could easily break the US military. Not that the neocons actually care about the US military, or much about the US for that matter. So much better for other people to be martyred while pursuing their ideological universalism.

The question that Lowry doesn't ask is what price should the Bush administration pay for its shocking lack of competence and foresight? Or, better still, what price should conservatives and GOP leaders force the administration pay?

Afghanistan Falling Prey to Islamabad

While the US remains mired in the increasingly bloody sands of Iraq, waging a costly and unnecessary occupation solely for President Bush's vanity, Afghanistan, the administration's supposed success story is beginning to fall apart. A resurgent Taliban is slowly retaking control of the countryside while the US-backed Afghan government still exerts no control outside the capital. But how is it that the Taliban has rebounded so quickly after its 2001 defeat at the hands of the US? One word: Pakistan.

Pakistan has been violating club rules -- big time. President Pervez Musharraf not only knows but also approves all major operations by his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Official fiction holds that Pakistan is not assisting Taliban's comeback insurgency in Afghanistan. In fact, ISI is doing just that. The U.S. and NATO are being deliberately undermined by ISI with the full knowledge and approval of Mr. Musharraf.

ISI is also directing its Taliban proxies to agree to local coalition governments in return for a case-fire and the withdrawal of NATO troops. Such a deal is now in effect in Helmand Province, which borders Afghanistan and is officially the responsibility of British troops under NATO command.

Interrogation of Taliban prisoners and suspected agents -- about 1,500 so far -- by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's intelligence service shows every one (with no exception) came from Pakistan, many of them former pupils in madrassas (Koranic schools).

Most had been trained and equipped in Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan's two provinces that border Afghanistan, both governed by pro-Taliban administrations and both friendly to al Qaeda. The entire Taliban resurgence, the interrogations show, was conducted "under the supervision of ISI operatives, one to three layers removed." Speaking privately, a U.S. general involved in the Taliban account at the Pentagon, said: "We know but maintain the fiction Musharraf doesn't know. Coalition partners also know. Hence their reluctance to increase Afghan troop commitments."

The White House knows about Mr. Musharraf's doublecross in Afghanistan, but the steady stream of bad news out of Iraq precludes even worse news from what is still described as a success story.

The Taliban prisoners also told Afghan security interrogators that Pakistan supplied medical services, as well as rest and recreation facilities near the provincial capitals of Quetta and Peshawar.

Pakistan's ISI served as the midwife at the birth of the Taliban more than a decade ago, helping it sieze control of Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviets' withdrawal from the war-torn nation. As the US turned away from Pakistan in the 1990's, the ISI became increasingly anti-American and increasingly pro-Islamist.

Taliban was an ISI project to quell the mayhem that followed the humiliating withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989 after a disastrous 10-year occupation. Its first recruits came from major madrassas, Koranic schools, under Wahhabi or Deobandi control, where they were taught the holy book by heart, along with the love of holy war to kill all enemies of Islam.

ISI claims it did not sire Taliban. But it was present at its birth and assumed the role of wet nurse and then foster parent. ISI also provided training and equipment, and guided tactics and strategy as Taliban, based in Pakistan, under ISI supervision, conquered Afghanistan. Kabul fell to a victorious Taliban in 1996 where flat-Earth clerics established their medieval dominion. Mullah Mohammed Omar, an Islamist Torquemada, ruled as a tyrant for the next five years until the U.S. invasion in October 2001.

ISI had 1,500 officers and operatives in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The country represented Pakistan's defense in depth in the event of an Indian invasion. Many ISI agents were veterans of the anti-Soviet guerrilla campaign fought by the mujahideen under ISI direction, with funding and weapons from Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

The ISI culture has been anti-American ever since the U.S. turned against Pakistan after the Soviets left Afghanistan. The country's secret nuclear weapons program, protected by ISI, incurred a slew of hostile U.S. diplomatic, military and economic sanctions.

The Pakistani military, particularly ISI, is in a Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde mode when it comes to U.S. military requests. President Musharraf reacts favorably to U.S. intelligence on al Qaeda's operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the rest of Pakistan. Almost 700 al Qaeda terrorists have been arrested since Osama Bin Laden and his entourage escaped from the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.

It is no coincidence that the British Muslims who are waging jihad against Britain visited Pakistan to receive their Islamist training (see posts below). Indeed, virtually every Islamist terrorist seems to have spent some time in Pakistan or received support from Pakistanis.

Recall that Pakistan had to be threatened with little short of obliteration in the aftermath of 9/11 in order for the US to secure its support in routing the Taliban. That support has almost cost Musharref his life on several occasions because the average Pakistani by and large supports bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists. But as the US's position in the region has weakened - due entirely to the fiasco in Iraq - Musharref, rather like Iran, is less and less intimidated by US threats and more willing to give the ISI free reign to support the Taliban. Musharref knows that the American threats that brought him to heel in 2001 cannot be carried out with the US bogged down in Baghdad. Hence, he no longer feels the need to appease the US. Similarly, Iran and Syria, which were initially cowed by the successful invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are currently emboldened by the US's unfolding humiliation there.

Even Hamid Karzai, whose life hangs in precarious balance, has recently lashed out at Pakistan for backing the Taliban's push back into his country:

Mr Karzai's latest verbal attack on Pakistan came while he was visiting a school in Kandahar.

Even if they kill 25 million people [in Afghanistan] I won't become their slave
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

"Pakistan has not given up hope of making us slaves. But they cannot," he said.

"This tyranny against our people is not by the nation of Pakistan, it is by the government of Pakistan."

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says Taleban fighters are known to move across the border between the two countries and there are growing concerns that the insurgents are increasing their strength in the tribal-controlled areas on the Pakistani side in Waziristan.

Our correspondent says many diplomats support the view that elements within Pakistan are making things worse in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani government has long denied suggestions that it could do more to stop cross-border attacks.

Officials point to the deaths of hundreds of Pakistani troops fighting pro-Taleban militants on the Pakistani side of the border.

But recent peace deals with the militants aimed at ending the bloodshed have been viewed with suspicion in Kabul and Washington.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam did not respond directly to Mr Karzai's remarks, but repeated Islamabad's view that the roots of Afghanistan's violence were mainly to be found within its borders.

"The problem of Afghanistan is primarily inside Afghanistan and it should be resolved there. The Taleban are operating well inside Afghanistan," Ms Aslam said, the AFP news agency reported.

Pakistan can afford to blithely dismiss Karzai's accusations. They know that the US can do nothing to punish them at the moment because the mess in Iraq has sapped American military strenght and completely absorbs US strategic attention.

Sadly, that will very likely be the legacy of the Iraq invasion. A weakened American military, emboldened enemies, worsened relations with allies, and a diminished US strategic position in the Middle East and Asia. That is the legacy George W. Bush has created for himself with his crusade to bring "democracy" to Iraq.