Sunday, December 31, 2006

Creating Enemies

I've long held that we must encourage China to look inland. This will help get China to stop looking to the sea where we stand in their way along with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia. We would likely win but the cost would be high.

More importantly, if China looks inland, China actually will create new enemies as dormant foes feel threatened and react. As long as we are there to bolster these new Chinese foes they will be more likely to resist than fold against superior power.

And China will find themselves required to be both a major land and sea power at the same time. The Soviets, Nazis, the Kaiser's Germany , and Napoleon's France all failed when they tried to be both with insufficient resources. China, too, will fail if they attempt this in the next couple generations.

We are supreme at sea but are not really a major land power despite our dominance in land warfare. We do not have military land power capable of continent-spanning operations. We fielded both dominant land and sea power in World War II but have not tried since then.

China is opening up new paths into Tibet to confront India:

China seeks to create "a string of anti-Indian influence around India" that is "designed to marginalize India in the long term," according to one Indian strategist. Prime Minister Singh laments "the desire of extraregional powers to keep us engaged in low-intensity conflicts and local problems, to weigh us down in a low-level equilibrium."

China is also expending money and manpower to construct strategic road and rail links in India's backyard. A high-altitude rail line linking Qinghai in China with Lhasa in Tibet, which began transporting Chinese military personnel in early December, reportedly features a planned southern spur leading to the disputed Sino-Indian border, enabling the rapid movement of Chinese military forces in the event of conflict. Beijing and Islamabad are conducting surveys for a rail line across the Karakoram mountains linking western China to northern Pakistan, which would tie up with Chinese-funded roads and railways leading to Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea. China is reported to be considering construction of a rail link to Nepal, traditionally a buffer state under India's influence.

China has reportedly constructed 39 transport routes from its interior to its contested border with India--which Indian planners perceive as more of a military threat than a commercial opportunity, since much of the border is closed to trade. China's program of road and rail works along its border with the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing claims as Chinese territory, has led New Delhi to accelerate "strategically important" road construction in the region. China is also funding extensive road and rail projects in Burma, traditionally the land corridor for both commerce and armies between East and South Asia.

India will react with its own communications network and nuclear weapons. The result will be that India's north and China's southwest won't just be a corridor for exert Chinese influence on India and threaten India, but a path for Indian counter-attacks, too.

China may count Burma, Bengladesh, and Pakistan as friends to confront India; but India has America. And we have friends in central Asia, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Australia.

Nor do I know how long China can count on Russia being a nice little poodle to China.

As long as China's west was poorly developed and garrisoned, it would have remained a huge buffer zone against land threats. China would face only poor Vietnam in the south and shrunken Russia to the north. But now China is prompting India to arm up and look out for China in a major way.

The Great Game is under way in Asia. Just by playing, China is losing and we are winning.

What a Bloody Giveaway

Saddam's corpse was sent to his hometown:

Thousands of Iraqis flocked to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Ouja on Sunday, where the deposed leader was buried in a religious compound 24 hours after his execution.

I'm no expert, but shouldn't we arrest anyone who shows up there who doesn't spit on the grave?

Still Stomping the Furry Little Mammals

Technology was supposed to create a Future Combat System (FCS) that made heavy tanks obsolete.

The M-1 Abrams main battle tank will not be heading for the tar pits:

Experiences in Iraq have shown the US Army that the Abrams tank will constitute a significant portion of the combat force well into this century, as there are no viable substitutes for it.

So we will upgrade the tank for service for another twenty years--until 2027.

I wrote before the Iraq War showed the value of our heavy armor that the Abrams was not obsolete:

Barring successfully fielding exotic technologies to make the FCS work, the Army must consider how it will defeat future heavy systems if fighting actual enemies and not merely suppressing disorder becomes its mission once again. The tentative assumptions of 2001 will change by 2025. When they do, the Army will rue its failure today to accept that the wonder tank will not be built.

Based on the Iraq War, we now know that the Future Combat System cannot become the wonder tank. It cannot provide with technology what the Abrams provides with sheer bulk.

The Abrams is the closest thing we've got to a wonder tank so far. And we'll be keeping it around. Our enemies surely won't like that.

Uncle Sam Wants You! (Wherever You Were Born)

We want more troops to fight the Long War.

Our allies are largely standing aside on the military side of the struggle.

We will likely enlarge our Army and Marine Corps.

We like the results of our higher recruiting standsrds but will need to lower our recruiting standards to meet these new numbers. (Keep in mind that after lowering the current standards they will still be higher than our 1990 standards.)

Many people in our allied country would surely fight for the West if they were asked to fight by their governments.

So let's go out and recruit these citizens of our allies who want to fight but whose governments won't let them fight. Put them on the fast path to American citizenship:

I once liked the idea [of separate foreign mercenary units like Gurkhas in the British army] as a temporary program but changed my mind. If we can't get sufficient citizens to join, let's get those worthy of citizenship to join. Indeed, I mentioned the idea of doing this in that long post:

We need to rely on our own resources. Sure, perhaps we should step up recruitment for Americans-at-heart abroad and bring them into our military. This would make up for having Europeans-at-heart right here at home who only get worked up over bike path issues. But we would be creating new Americans and not relying on those who fight for pay.

So lets actively recruit abroad. Set up recruiting programs in countries that don't fight with us in the field to avoid stealing from militaries that do fight with us, then expand to nations who support us minimally. First emphasis should be on recruits in countries with advanced modern societies who can be integrated into our military more easily. Call it the Liberty Corps. In the end, American citizens committed to democracy will be in our military. That should be the bottom line.

And we can recruit in allied countries that allow their troops to deploy but not fight.

Remember, we could recruit all we want at home if we reduced our standards. Go to 1980 standards and we'd be home free. But our military likes the high quality recruits we get now. So let's be careful lowering our standards here. Some reductions can be accomplished. But there are high quality people abroad who have not given up on the defense of the West even if their governments have opted out of the fight.

Yes indeed, a Liberty Corps program could solve a bunch of problems.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Chinese Nukes

The Chinese are not a major nuclear threat to us. I've always known that. Their submarine-based missiles are likely to be sunk early in any conflict. If their sub even tries to go to sea at all to get in range of our country. And the Chinese are unlikely to take the attitude of "use 'em or lose 'em" because it would prompt us to hit the remainder of China's arsenal--a small number of liquid-fueled land-based missiles that can reach western America--and would likely be destroyed by our forces before they can fuel up.

And our growing missile defenses will increasingly be able to handle any missiles we miss--especially if they aren't launched at once to swamp us but dribble out as they are made ready out of fear of losing them.

But what I did not know was how small China's arsenal is. I recall estimates in the Cold War that China had about 500 warheads (mostly bombs for aircraft). But Strategypage reports they have 200.

The Chinese probably don't believe we'd nuke them despite our overwhelming advantage, the post says.

And besides, China is huge and is hardly a one-bomb state. Any enemy would have to use an awful lot of nukes to really damage the Chinese. So even Russia's arsenal isn't too threatening to China in this light.

China is far weaker than us overall. I never argue against that. But what I do argue is that China could gain temporary superiority over Taiwan and any forces we can get there within a month, and maintain that superiority long enough to conquer Taiwan. And that is all China really wants to accomplish in the short run. One thing at a time. Enough victories close by will add up over the decades.

As Long As the Jihadis Are Cooperating

Somalia fortunes swing rapidly because various clans switch sides when one side appears on a roll. As the Islamic Courts Movement advanced earlier this year, clans defected to them until the official government was holding on by its teeth in Baidoa held up only by Ethiopian regulars.

With the jihadis massing to "finish off" the government, the Ethiopian forces jumped the massed jihadis making them easy targets. I still don't know if the Ethiopians managed to kill a lot off or if the jihadis and their clan allies just scattered or abandoned the cause still intact.

Now, the jihadis of the Islamic Courts Movement have lost their clan allies and have retreated south to a port somewhat near the Kenyan border.

In many ways this is a lot like the fighting in Afghanistan where tribal leaders first helped the Taliban and then defected away when we intervened. We could flip Afghanistan back because the Northern Alliance still lived on in a sliver of Afghanistan northeast of Kabul.

So with the jihadis massed, they are down but not out. And massed, they are still a target for the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians and their Somali government allies are sending thousands of troops south to take on the last stronghold:

Some 3,000 Muslim militiamen have taken a stand in the Indian Ocean port city of Kismayo, wedged between the Kenyan border and the Indian Ocean, and the U.S. government believes they may include four suspects in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Somali government and its Ethiopian allies hope to close the net before the al-Qaida suspects can slip out of the country.

"We are going to advance from different directions to try and encircle the city and force the Islamic group to retreat and so minimize the loss of civilians," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press. Government troops, backed by Ethiopian tanks and artillery, currently are in the town of Barava, with 75 miles between them and the Islamic fighters.

The jihadis should have scattered for safety. They could have waited out the Ethiopians and regrouped. Massing while the Ethiopians are still there are just giving the Ethiopians a chance to slam the jihadis and kill them in larger numbers. This will make it less likely that the situation can flip dramatically in a short period back towards the jihadis. Without massed jihadi forces to intimidate clans, the government is more likely to hold its clans together.

But hey, as long as the jihadis want to play by Ethiopia's rules, by all means let the game continue. The nominal Somali government might have the time to get its act together.

The Choice

While I hope the execution of Saddam Hussein will soothe the worries of the Iraqi Shias that somehow Saddam could return to power, my main hope is for the impact in other thug states.

Two comments are instructive. First, Prime Minister Howard of Australia:

"I believe there is something quite heroic about a country that is going through the pain and the suffering that Iraq is going through, yet still extends due process to somebody who was a tyrant and brutal suppressor and murderer of his people," Howard told reporters.

"That is the mark of a country that is trying against fearful odds to embrace democracy," he said.

And then Khadaffi of Libya:

The government of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi announced a three-day official mourning period and canceled all Eid celebrations. On Friday, Gadhafi made an indirect appeal for Saddam's life, telling Al-Jazeera television that Saddam's trial was illegal and that he should be retried by an international court.

Democracy will bring people to power who will hold dictators accountable for their crimes.

And dictators are uncomfortable with this precedent. Even though Khadaffi made a deal to "flip" his country and avoid our wrath, even he knows that he sits atop a people who could do the same to him despite his deal with America to let him live.

This is a new age. For all our problems, we do have democracy in Turkey; voting in the Palestinian territories; and fragile democracy in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Dictatorship is not the the good deal it once was for the dictator and their cronies. This is progress.

So, with Saddam dead and Khadaffi alive, thugs like Ahmadinejad, Assad, and Kim Jung-Il can see the choice they have to make: oppose us and die, or flip and live.

And for those here who think letting thug leaders flip means they escape justice, remember Khadaffi's reaction. He flipped to avoid Saddam's fate. But he knows that ultimately, the Libyan people--like the Iraqi people--will hold their leader accountable for his rule. A deal with the United States is not the final word in dictators' fates.

Khadaffi is not sleeping easily. And neither should the other thug rulers who wage war against us.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Princess and the Pea

With all of China's security issues and neighbors who don't like China, China continues to focus its defense policies on the so-called dire threat of tiny Taiwan:

Describing China's general security situation as good, the 83-page document nonetheless wasted little time in denouncing Taiwan independence moves, saying the island over which Beijing claims sovereignty was a serious threat to regional stability.

We'll gloss over the fact that the only reason Taiwan is a threat to regional stability is that China will destroy Taiwan if it won't join China. Without China's threat the stability of the region would be just fine, thank you.

This claim that Taiwan is a serious threat to China is so ridiculous that even Mad Minerva can't work up a good rant about this drivel.

Yet it is drivel the Chinese believe--and will act upon--if we don't take them at their word. And it would help if Taiwan had a sense of urgency about their need to defend their island democracy.

Sic Semper Tyrannus

Saddam is dead:

State-run Iraqiya television news announcer said "criminal Saddam was hanged to death and the execution started with criminal Saddam then Barzan then Awad al-Bandar."

May he rot in Hell.

My only regret that he had but one life to pay for his crimes.

May the death of this tyrant be a lesson to all other tyrants that this is how tyranny ends. And may their people gain hope from this lesson.

Wankers in the Snow

Strategypage reports on the winter campaign going on against the Taliban in Afghanistan:

A force of U.S., British and Canadian troops has trapped several hundred Taliban gunmen in a valley 40 kilometers west of Kandahar. The Taliban can surrender, try and fight their way out, or wait for the Western troops to come clear them out, one house at a time. This operation is part of a campaign that has already gone on for several weeks. So far, there have been over a hundred NATO casualties (and five dead). Several hundred Taliban have been killed so far. This is all part of the NATO Winter campaign, to take advantage of the fact that Afghan warriors typically take shelter in villages during the Winter, if only because they do not, like NATO troops, have the special Winter clothing and robust supply system (aircraft and helicopters) to keep them alive out there.

The dreaded Afghan winter has turned out to be more of a problem for the Taliban and al Qaeda types than for Western forces.

Luckily, we've figured out a way to get the jihadis out in the open away from their villager shields:

[The] usual tactic is to surround the compound holding the Taliban and civilians, bring up the interpreters and either negotiate, or call the Taliban names ("you wankers are hiding behind women's skirts...") until they come out to fight (and get killed.)

Remember, the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi. Any we leave alive are just more that we'll need to kill next year when spring comes and the enemy leaves their shelters to kill again.

So Who Drew Short Straw?

I had wondered what caused the recent Saudi confidence in regard to Iran:

Saudi Arabia's military is not nearly as good as it was twenty years ago. Yet Saudi Arabia seems willing to tangle with the Iranians now? When Iran could soon have nuclear missiles? And with Saudi Shias potentially looking to Tehran for support?

Well, this may be the reason:

There is a growing convergence of opinion among the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt that only an aerial bombardment of 17 known nuclear sites could retard Iran's nuclear ambitions by five to 10 years. One U.S. intel topsider remarked (not for attribution), "If we can gain five years that way, it's worth considering." He speculated Iran's moderate reformers could gain power in the interim.

Iran under the mullahs will get a nuclear weapons capability. We'd only be buying time by striking Iran.

But we'd at least have some time. That is better than just hoping for time and hoping our intelligence services can tell us when the threat is "imminent"--that apparent Gold standard for action in some quarters.

If a strike is likely, the question remains who does the deed? Do we do it thoroughly? Who will openly help us? Or do we subcontract to the Israelis?

Surge Effort Not Troops

Let's unleash cash, spooks, and commandos on the Sadr problem.

We can't lose the Shias of Iraq. And we need to neutralize the Shia death squads who make the Sunni Arabs too scared to surrender. To add to our problems, home morale to win is shaky so whatever we do will be under the unblinking (and unthinking) media eye.

Surging military force not only won't solve our problem but will be counter-productive:

The more U.S. firepower and military force would be used against the militias, and the more civilian casualties that would be inflicted as a by-product of military operations the more the Shiite population of Baghdad would become bitterly opposed to the U.S. presence. As the conflict escalated, U.S military forces would become embattled and beseiged. The Iraqi government that is a government in little more than name in the Iraqi capital at best would try to help ineffectually and at worst could easily become a conduit for intelligence and sabotage on behalf of the Shiite militias.

So going on offense with a surge of troops won't do any good. We may just anger Shias and simply drive Shia militias underground while we surge.

And just parking our troops there as guards just provides targets even though we'd likely calm down the areas we are in while we are there. But we can't do this for long anyway.

And all this will be reported by our beloved press. Talk about being between Iraq and a hard place.

Baghdad's Shia death squads are not a problem for large-scale kinetic solutions unless they openly revolt as in 2004. The real solution barring that unfortunate event is to surge an effort against the Sadr boys and other assorted flunkies of Tehran. This effort should be centered on our Special Operations Command.

We could certainly surge Iraqi troops and police into Baghdad with Americans embedded for training and to restrain an impulse to vent sectarian hatreds. With sufficient density, they could provide the conventional military shield for the population that enables our offensive effort to gut the enemy.

Behind this shield of conventional security forces, unleash a surge of special forces, regular snipers, and spooks--Iraqi and Coalition--to take down Shia death squad leaders and key technical and money men. Let militias who agree to be regularized and simply provide local security to continue to exist. For the rest who defy the government, use money, blackmail, targetted killings and arrests to break apart the leadership of the death squads. Make Baghdad the real Commando Olympics (as Strategypage calls Afghanistan). When fighting urban death squads and militias, the cannon fodder are plentiful so it is pointless to count their dead. Go after the key people and the mass of actual and potential gunmen will drift away leaderless and without resources.

It would be tragically ironic if those who still support the war plant the seeds of our defeat with a misguided effort to surge wholly inappropriate forces to Baghdad to win a victory. I cannot emphasize this enough--surging troops to control Baghdad is an extremely bad idea.

Remember, we enterred a new phase of the war since the February Golden mosque bombing, and so a different approach should be considered for the new phase of war the Bush administration is mulling over. We could win on our present course, I think--though the new threat of Sadr makes this approach take much longer than it would have otherwise taken if we faced the old threats of Sunni terrorists and insurgents. If we don't surge an effort as I describe it, it would be far better to stay the course than to tack the troop surge way.

I want to win--not feel good about appearing to "do something."

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Kid Gloves

We clearly don't think we can take on Sadr directly.

From Captain's Quarters:

A top deputy of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was killed Wednesday during a raid by U.S. and Iraqi troops in the southern holy city of Najaf, sparking protests from Sadr's followers and complicating an already tense relationship with the powerful anti-American leader.

We are nibbling around the edges and watching reactions, I imagine. This appears to be a more cautious version of August 2004, but then Sadr's boys are being far more cautious by not taking on our troops directly to give us an excuse to hit them as they did in 2004.

I still don't know if Sadr is really popular enough to make a direct take down a bad idea or whether Sadr just wants us to think he is too popular (whether or not Sadr believes that himself).

But it is important we answer the question of how popular Sadr is before we decide what to do about him.

Not a Unilateral War on Terror

I wondered if we were helping the Ethiopians in their Somalia campaign.

Yes we are, but the question remains how much:

The U.S. was apparently providing the Ethiopians with satellite and aircraft photos of Islamic Courts positions. The U.S. has a large counter-terror force to the north, in Djibouti. The U.S. may be supplying Ethiopia with cash (to pay for all the gas the Ethiopians are burning in their operations). For years, the U.S. has been training Ethiopian troops for operations like this.

Shades of Croatia's Operation Storm in 1995, where a private American company (MPRI?) organized the Croatian military and planned the blitzkrieg that drove the Serbs from Croatian territory? This paved the way for America to lead Western Europe into Bosnia to separate the sides after the Croats and Bosnian Moslems regained Serb held territory in that campaign.

We've trained the Ethiopians for years. Did we help plan the conventional campaign to reach Mogadishu and open the door for the government to enter the capital?

And what happens next? Surely, the Ethiopians aren't up for an extended stay. And unless we can get some actual troops into Somalia--even UN trooops--I don't have a lot of confidence that the government can hold the gains once the jihadis regroup.

Or did the Ethiopian offensive hurt the jihadis more than I think?

In any case, this was a victorious battle. But the war goes on.


We face enemies who draw support from traditional states but do not rely on them. Waging war by private groups has been made more lethal by modern technology. Cheap and readily available weapons, modern communications gear (Internet and satellite phones), and WMD--from poison gas to Anthrax to dirty bombs to perhaps nuclear weapons--are no longer state monopolies. Warfare is being privatized by our enemies.

And if our Western governments fail to wage war effectively, will private Western warfare be far behind? Much as vigilantes arise when police and courts cannot provide security, will private groups strike back at whatever target they believe responsible for jihadis?

So if warfare is being privatized, how long will it be before groups arise to profit from this unmet need?

We speak of online private cyber-warfare (as I did here in regard to what I called cyber-booters), but real warfare requires more than hacking. Where will such refined skills be found?

With so many private security outfits around, how long before they need to drum up business when contracts start to peter out or too many competitors eat at the profit margin?

And so perhaps a need to match potential warmakers with potential war fighters will be met with an online service. Call it warBay. Need a bridge blown up somewhere? Sign on to warBay and choose from local insurgents out to make a profit, renegade pilots from a poor Third World air force willing to drop a bomb for cash, or ex-SAS members who formed a company without current government contracts in need of some money. Or assassinate a leader. Or just kill a bunch of people who are of the designated race or religion. Or hire some special ops types to intercept another group you read on an Internet board are planning to hit your side's headquarters (church or whatever). Freelancers and idiots could hire themselves out like the Shoe Bomber or like Timothy McVeigh to ply their particular skill for money.

Whatever your war needs, there are people out there who can provide the service. More bang for the buck, to turn a phrase. And warBay will be there.

The longer this Long War drags on without the West winning, the more likely that private entities will wage war and the more likely some form of supporting infrastructure will arise to use the surplus fighting talent out there.

So some time in the future, potential warmakers will turn on their computers to hear the soft voice say, "Hello. You've got war." The ability to right click to destroy won't be our military's sole domain forever.

I think warBay isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. Not nearly as ridiculous as the idea that you could make money by letting people sell that dreck in their basement for money.

Why the Personal Touch?

Something is happening in Iraq and Iranian fingerprints are all over it.

I haven't commented on our capture of Iranian agents in Iraq.

One, I figured the press would be all over this. And two, I've just about given up hope that our enemies in Syria and Iran can do anything bad enough to catch our attention (of the JDAM or coup kinds).

The coverage the blogs are giving it also focus on why the press isn't covering this very much (to avoid giving us the reason to go to war with Iran)

But note this:

Details of the arrests were sketchy. The New York Times, which first reported the arrests on Sunday, said the Iranians were picked up in a pair of raids in central Baghdad late last week.

At least four Iranians were still being held by the U.S. military, including some described as senior military officials, the paper said.

Why are senior military officials of Iran risking being caught inside Iraq? Why wouldn't the Iranians send in lower level people who Tehran can safely deny work for them? I mean, moving weapons and cash or conveying messages is the work of flunkies and lackeys.

Perhaps the Iranians have little confidence in their local puppets to carry out Tehran's bidding and need to send somebody with authority to knock some heads together. This would be good.

Or, the Iranians made a big decision and could only send in high level people to pass the decision along to their local stooges.

So what is it? Are the Iranians planning something with their local hand puppets, as I've long worried? Or are the Iranians simply worried about losing in Iraq and so are just trying to stem the rot by slapping their people around?

And Ahmadinejad has been rather bold of late.

Whatever the reason, the Iranians thought it important enough to risk getting high level people caught. I want to know why they were in Iraq.

We caught them. Let's find out why they were there, shall we? They were there for a reason and I fear we won't like why.

UPDATE: The agents may have simply been there to help kill Americans and Iraqis. So no big deal as far as the media is concerned:

The other two appeared to be military technical experts, in Iraq to show pro-Iranian Shia fighters how to make better bombs against foreign troops, and Iraqis who did not support Iranian goals.

Perhaps they are not as high ranking as I assumed if they were really just technical advisors.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

When Defense is Offense

The Chinese are massing troops along the border with North Korea. Well, "massing" is probably over-stating the troop increase. But the numbers are growing.

The Chinese deny any offensive intent:

Chinese generals say they have no plans for military intervention in North Korea. Meanwhile, more Chinese troops are sent to the North Korean border each month, in anticipation of a political collapse across the border. That would bring a huge wave of refugees, and the growing army of Chinese soldiers are prepared to stop as many of the refugees as possible.

I would like to point out that having no intention to intervene in a North Korean civil collapse does not rule out Chinese forces entering North Korea.

Stopping North Korean refugees from flooding Manchuria would best be done in depth. And an in-depth defense would best begin 20 miles insides North Korea rather than starting the defensive effort right on the border and thus rendering 20 miles of Chinese territory the quarantine zone.

Oh, and I'm just guessing on the depth of the zone. I'm assuming that you'd want to make sure that refugees couldn't make the walk in one night of movement in order to hide from Chinese surveillance. Just being weak from hunger and moving through bad terrain--possibly with the elderly and surely with children will slow them down as it is. Forcing night moves will slow them more, giving Chinese security force more chances.

And it depends on how many refugees head north. If millions move would they swamp any effort that the Chinese mount?

Plus, if North Koreans know they can't flee the regime, will they be more likely to fight the regime? I know that many--including me--have some hope that a mass exodus of refugees will bring down the Bamboo Wall, but might bottling up the pressure cause an explosion?

Now Is the Time to Push

What is it with our side that wants to call a truce if the enemy is hurting?

Yet another vulnerability of an enemy:

Iran is experiencing a staggering decline in revenue from its oil exports and, if the trend continues, income could virtually disappear by 2015, according to an analysis released yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences.

Yet the economic geographer at John Hopkins University advises doing nothing with this:

If the United States can "hold its breath" for a few years, it may find Iran a much more conciliatory country, he said. And that, Mr. Stern said, is good reason to control any instinct to take on Iran militarily.

I don't know about that conclusion. When an enemy is on the ropes, why would you let up the pressure? If an enemy is staggering--push them over! Don't pull back and let them recover their balance. It's ok if we win. Really.

Besides, rather than making Iran more conciliatory, might not looming economic collapse inspire the mullahs to strike hard to gain by force what they cannot provide by themselves? God help us if they have nukes by then.

Heck, maybe we can use non-military means to fix our Iran problem. Indeed, using information like this oil revenue forecast to undermine Iran's mullahs might make it less likely that we need to use military force.

But of course, to think that way you have to have the instinct to recognize an enemy. For some, I won't hold my breath.

UPDATE: Victor Hanson doesn't understand why we should let up on an enemy who is hurting:

So, as Iranians worry that their nation is becoming an international pariah and perhaps heading down the path of bankruptcy in the process, now is not the time for America to give in by offering direct talks with Ahmadinejad. That propaganda victory would only help him reclaim the legitimacy and stature that he is losing with his own people at home.

And please keep in mind that our enemies are not unbeatable. For so many who counsel "redeployment" or negotiating, there seems to be an assumption that our enemies cannot be beaten. In fact, our enemies have far greater problems than we have and only losing our nerve can deliver victory to our enemies.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jack Kelly agrees that the prospect of internal economic collapse might well prompt Iranian aggression rather than making Iran more conciliatory:

Impending fiscal catastrophe could make the Iranians more tractable, Prof. Stern thinks. If the U.S. can "hold its breath" for a few years, it might find Iran to be a much more conciliatory country, he told Barry Schweid, the AP's diplomatic writer, in an interview.

But one of the big reasons why oil production in Iran is declining does not suggest a happy outcome. Iran is spending so much on its nuclear program that next to nothing is being invested in modernizing oil production. Though the West has made it clear it will assist in developing nuclear energy if Iran will forswear its nuclear weapons programs, Iran would rather have the nukes than the carrots the West is offering.

So rather than come begging with his hat in his hand, it's more likely Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will seek a Saddamite solution. When Saddam Hussein invaded Khuzestan in 1980, he didn't say he was doing it for the oil. He was asserting Iraq's historic territorial claims to the region, and acting to protect the Arabs in the province from Persian oppression. Or so he said.

And if Iran should take aggressive action against its oil rich neighbors, it will, ostensibly, be to protect Shia minorities from oppression by Sunni overlords. Or so Mr. Ahmadinejad will say.

I've mentioned the possibility that Iran might have grander visions than just Iraq. Oh, and if you want to brush up on the Iran-Iraq War (The First Gulf War), read my piece here.

Rules of Derangement

And you think our troops have restrictive rules of engagement?

Check out the rules that new Taliban recruits are told to abide by:

Taliban are also told not to steal from civilians, smoke cigarettes (nothing is said about opium) or sodomize young boys.

Virgins in the afterlife are for suckers, apparently, when you have apprentice goat herders romping around the hills.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Syria is Annexed to Iran

Cliff May restores some reputation with this post on Syria and Iran. Said Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader in Lebanon:

Syria is annexed to Iran. … The ruler of Damascus bet his destiny and sold his Arabism for the sake of his existence.

This is what I noted about Syria in my Iraq situation report:

I once thought they could be flipped. No more. They are tied to Iran and have decided this alliance will preserve their regime. Perhaps. Or it will deliver their ruin. Their status is fragile.

And though in theory I have no problem trying to pry Syria from Iran, I think Syria has chosen sides quite clearly. So there isn't much to talk about.

Unless we are getting serious signals that, like the Italians in 1943 regarding the Germans, the Syrians in 2006 want out of Iran's embrace but don't know how to escape.

And one question. Why doesn't anybody call Syria a poodle of Iran? Just wondering.

UPDATE: This says Syria may be more like Italy in 1943 than I suspected:

Recent visits by Syrian President Bashar Assad to U.S.-allied Yemen and the United Arab Emirates are prompting speculation that Syria is seeking to leave the Iranian orbit and pursue closer ties with the West.

Still, it could just be a pretext to try to get the Golan back. And anything Gary Sick is quoted on causes me to be suspicious.

But is this related to this theory?

The Reform Party of Syria, the good guys in that sad corner of the world, reported a few minutes ago that a wave of arrests is going on in the country's major cities. It seems a large number of military officers have been rounded up, along with the usual vivilian suspects. RPS stresses that the targets do not seem to be Islamists (read: Muslim Brotherhood).

Who is Assad rounding up? And why? Would the men rounded up oppose whatever Assad is planning to do? Or is this just the usual goings on in the "stability" of a thug state?

But if we can flip Syria, that is good. But no bribery should be involved. We have the Libyan standard agreement as the template: come over and live. Period.

But whatever is going on, remember that our enemies have vulnerabilities. Too often our people see them as all-powerful monolithic entities against whom resistance is futile.

A Cedar Two-by-Four?

Syria, Iran, and Hizbollah maneuver to retake Lebanon for the bad guys.

The good guys are not idle, according to Jane's Defence Weekly from my email updates:

Amid Lebanon's swelling political crisis, the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has been building up the army with help from the US and sympathetic Arab regimes in the Gulf. However, and more significantly, it has also quietly doubled the strength of the paramilitary Internal Security Forces (ISF) with Sunni Muslims and Maronite Christians for a possible showdown with the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Party of God (Hizbullah) movement and its pro-Syrian allies over who will govern.

[Jane's Defence Weekly - first posted to - 15 December 2006]

Are the Lebanese government force getting ready to whack Hizbollah?

If I may depart from my usual impulse to belittle the French, are the French acting so hostile to the Israelis in southern Lebanon in order to have the freedom to side with the Lebanese Christians and Sunnis when the clash finally comes? That is, do the French want to avoid tainting their intervention in an inter-Arab battle with the charge they are doing Israel's bidding? Are the French really working with us?

You never can tell.

Justice Denied

Saddam will finally die for his many crimes. His death sentence was upheld and will take place soon:

The sentence "must be implemented within 30 days," chief judge Aref Shahin said. "From tomorrow, any day could be the day of implementation."

My hope is that the Shias may calm a bit after this sentence is carried out and that it will be easier to halt revenge murders of Sunnis. I hope that Sunnis who still retain hope that their resistance may put Saddam back in charge will become discouraged. Justice has been delayed to follow the law in post-Saddam Iraq, but it has not been denied.

And it would be nice if the reporters who cover Iraq would stop their implicit pro-Baathist coverage. Can you believe this statement in the story?

The nine-month trial inflamed Iraq's political divide, however, and three defense lawyers and a witness were murdered during the course of its 39 sessions.

Get that? The trial inflamed the divide. Not Saddam's mass murders during his cruel rule over Shias and Kurds. Or the terrorism campaign against Shias the Sunni Arabs have waged since May 2003. No. According to AP, a lawful trial that has passed judgment on Saddam for his reign of terror is what has inflamed the political divide. The denial that justice is being served by this verdict is just stunning.

On what planet does the AP get its writers?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas.

It is a holiday for children and I get a great deal of joy seeing little ones opening presents and believing in the full Santa story.

And because this is so important to me, I almost cannot bear that so many American children don't have their father or mother home this holiday because the parent is fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or some other hell hole where our enemies hide and plot.

And the children whose parents will never come home. Whose presence will be a triangular-shaped American flag placed lovingly on a mantle next to their picture in their dress uniform--forever young and a warrior. For these children, their parent is a fading memory that will be increasingly dim as time passes. They've been robbed of a father putting together that toy that surely has a piece missing. Or had a mother stolen from them who would bake Christmas cookies for them and hover over them while the child sprinkled green and red sugar crystals over the dough.

I cannot begin to thank the soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen for whom December 25th is just another day on the job killing bad guys and protecting us at home.

So Merry Christmas. And remember just who stands on the ramparts providing the actual peace that we need in order to enjoy this holiday of peace on Earth and good will toward men.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

About That Kite-Flying Stability

Iraq is better now than under the tender mercies of Saddam. Both for us and for Iraqis. And it will get even better once we've vanquished our enemies there.

It is also highly likely that the post-Saddam Iraq we have now is far better than the post-Saddam Iraq we would have gotten had we failed to invade in 2003.

Hitchens notes something that should always be considered when discussing Iraq. We didn't cause the Shia-Sunni-Kurd fighting in Iraq and if we hadn't invaded it is likely there would have been a civil war in Iraq with the Iranians, Saudis, and Turks intervening to protect their interests. So-called 'stability' was never really an option with Saddam's regime.

Wrote Hitchens:

Many people write as if the sectarian warfare in Iraq was caused by coalition intervention. But it is surely obvious that the struggle for mastery has been going on for some time and was only masked by the apparently iron unity imposed under Baathist rule. That rule was itself the dictatorship of a tribal Tikriti minority of the Sunni minority and constituted a veneer over the divisions beneath, as well as an incitement to their perpetuation. The Kurds had already withdrawn themselves from this divide-and-rule system by the time the coalition forces arrived, while Shiite grievances against the state were decades old and had been hugely intensified by Saddam's cruelty. Nothing was going to stop their explosion, and if Saddam Hussein's regime had been permitted to run its course and to devolve (if one can use such a mild expression) into the successorship of Udai and Qusai, the resulting detonation would have been even more vicious.

And into the power vacuum would have stepped not only Saudi Arabia and Iran, each with its preferred confessional faction, but also Turkey, in pursuit of hegemony in Kurdistan. In other words, the alternative was never between a tranquil if despotic Iraq and a destabilizing foreign intervention, but it was, rather, a race to see which kind of intervention there would be. The international community in its wisdom decided to delay the issue until the alternatives were even fewer, but it is idle to pretend that Iraq was going to remain either unified or uninvaded after the destruction of its fabric as a state by three decades of fascism and war, including 12 years of demoralizing sanctions.

Indeed, I recently wrote about what a civil war in 2003 would have meant:

Consider that if Iraq devolves into civil war we would consider it a defeat. Then remember that in February 2003, we would have considered a civil war in Iraq as a great victory. It would have meant that the people of Iraq had risen up against the Baathists. It would have meant that the Shias were battling the entrenched Sunni Baathist regime with a chance of ending the regime. We would have had the opportunity to try and send in special forces to repeat our Afghanistan success. Civil war and chaos would have been an improvement over an enemy regime running Iraq that supported terror, threatened the stability of the region, and wanted WMD.

Had we helped the Shias and Kurds win that insurrection, we would have gotten a Shia-run Iraq with the Kurds still safe in their mountain redoubt. The death and destruction that would have been necessary for the Shias to defeat the Baathists when the Shias had only their numbers going for them would have dwarfed the losses of the last three and a half years. The Baathists probably wouldn't have accepted their defeat whether the Shia victory meant Shias marched on Baghdad to take the capital or just managed to eject Saddam's security apparatus from the Shia south.Sounds worse than what we have today, eh? And that scenario would have been an improvement over the status quo of February 2003.

And I didn't even broach the possibility that Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey would have overtly intervened to protect their own interests.

I'm sure our sanctions would have been blamed for this outcome, too. And there is little chance we would have intervened to separate the combatants and end the bloodshed until after the sides had exhausted themselves by killing. Like our Bosnia intervention, we would only go in after the killing when the killers themselves were tired of killing and after the combatants themselves had determined the boundaries to come.

And remember, too, that this outcome is exactly what many anti-war advocates wanted. They wanted the Shias and Kurds to do the job themselves. Saddam was bad, of course, they said. But we shouldn't do it. Let the Iraqis do the job themselves. Or the Arab League. At most send in our special forces like in Afghanistan. Of course, those who wanted these things always implicitly assumed a Kumbaya moment when the Sunni Arabs would just give in when faced with people power. And Saddam would have just turned himself in to Kofi Annan for a nice international trial (and no death penalty, of course!)

But recall the Saddam Fedayeen--the imported jihadi killers--who Saddam planned to unleash on the Shias to control them. Recall the brutality of the last three years of Saddam's henchmen and al Qaeda terrorists. The regime would not have gone quietly into exile. The Baathists would have fought with the same ferocity as today, but with far greater relative power against the ill-armed Shias.

At least the way we've done it by invading and toppling Saddam's regime, we have a chance to keep Iraq intact and the neighbors out. Plus we eliminated a country that was actively working against us. And if we keep on the path we are, and don't panic and hand victory to the stunned and staggering enemy that our troops are killing every day, we can gain an ally in the war on terror. This will be a good new stability.

The Iraqi kids will probably even fly kites.

Expanding Without Us?

Are we going to just let the situation in Somalia deteriorate to our enemies' advantage?

We have reasons aplenty to hammer the Islamic Courts Movement in Somalia that threatens to completely take over that failed state and recreate a safe haven after we destroyed their last Taliban-provided haven in Afghanistan in 2001.

As I've written, we are not the only ones with interests in the area and the fighting could expand with or without us.

The Ethiopians are escalating after recent successes by the ICM against the weak official government:

Somalia - Ethiopia launched an attack Sunday on Somalia's powerful Islamic movement, sending fighter jets across the border and bombarding several towns in a major escalation of the violence that threatens to engulf the Horn of Africa.

Which could expand (which I've noted) could expand as the article states:

The clashes could mean a major conflict in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, which has one of the largest armies in the region, and its bitter rival, Eritrea, could use Somalia as the ground for a proxy war. Eritrea backs the Islamists.

Yet it seems we've decided that force is not the answer. Even when al Qaeda and Iran are involved.

These are strange days indeed when the Coalition of the Willing includes Ethiopia but not America.

Did I miss VJ (Victory over the Jihadis) Day?

UPDATE: The Ethiopians are driving the jihadis back:

Islamic fighters retreated Tuesday as Somali government and Ethiopian troops advanced on three fronts in a decisive turn in the battle for control of this Horn of Africa nation.

I think it is rather early to say if this is a decisive turn. But no doubt the Ethiopian army is hammering the Islamic Courts Movement. Not too surprising since the Ethiopians are in organized combat units and the Somali jihadis are really just mobs used to a noise and gesturing type of combat where one side tends to get scared and run before real fighting takes place.

So are we involved in some way? Are the Ethiopians fighting based on promises of something from us?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Cliff May utters some nonsense regarding the Ethiopian advances:

I’ve just been talking with an FDD researcher who has been monitoring developments in Somalia via Arabic media. It does indeed appear that the Ethiopians are defeating Islamist forces there. Why are they achieving what American forces in Somalia in1993 did not and what American forces in Iraq today apparently are not?

More “boots on the ground” may be part of the explanation. The Ethiopians are not attempting to have a “light footprint.” They are not worried about whether they will be seen as “occupiers” or whether their “occupation” will be viewed as benevolent.

Secondly, the Ethiopians are not overly concerned about whether their tactics will win approval from the proverbial Arab Street – or the European Street or Turtle Bay. They are fighting a war; their intention is to defeat their enemies; everything else is secondary or tertiary.

Anyone have an alternative interpretation?

Let me offer an alternative interpretation.

First of all, in Mogadishu we lost fewer than 20 troops and killed 500 to 1,000 of the enemy. And much like our initial invasion of Iraq where we slaughtered Saddam's Fedayeen in the thousands when they massed to fight our conventional units, the Ethiopians are fighting massed jihadis and not an insurgency.

The "heavy footprint" point is ridiculous. If the Ethiopians have three brigades involved, I'll be shocked. This is a giant raid against jihadis who massed in anticipation of finishing off the official government in Baidoa.

The Ethiopians won't likely stay long at the end of their long supply lines, so talk of not wanting to appear as occupiers is silly. Ethiopia will not occupy Somalia--or even Mogadishu.

Neither we in 2003 nor Ethiopia today care much about opinion as the troops slaughter targets of opportunity.

Let me assure Mr. May that should the Ethiopians stay long, the jihadis will scatter and then there won't be any opportunity to make untenable contrasts between Ethiopian warmaking capabilities and ours.

The Ethiopians are doing some good work. But let's not get as silly as this analysis is.

MORE UPDATE: Some numbers:

The military balance appears indeterminate. Ethiopia has deployed 15,000 to 20,000 troops in Somalia. Eritrea has provided arms to the Islamic Courts militias and sent only about 2,000 troops to support them; but the Islamic Courts hold more territory than the TFG and have greater indigenous assets and popular support.

Depending on support troops involved, we could be talking 3 brigades to two divisions of Ethiopian troops. If at the high end, I'd think they can't stick around for long unless Ethiopian logistics are better than I think. The Eritreans could have a bare bones infantry regiment committed.

And the author cautions about assuming large numbers of casualties. He thinks there might not be many thus far. The shout and gesture form of combat may be in force despite the rival claims. Remember, it is no surprise that heavy forces could march so quickly in the face of the rabble militias facing the regular Ethiopian troops. The question comes after the Ethiopians get to where they are going. Do the militia effectively harass the regulars? Do the regulars even stay for long? Can the nominal government take advantage of the help Ethiopia has provided? Do Eritrean troops directly fight Ethiopians?

I'd guess the Ethiopians just want to level the playing field by knocking back the Islamic Courts militias and then pull back to pre-hostilities positions. And that the nominal government fails to hold the gains. And I guess that the Eritreans won't fight Ethiopians given the drubbing Ethiopia inflicted on Eritrea in their 1999 war. But you never know how rational (from our point of view) they will be.

We probably haven't escaped the need to hammer the jihadis camped out in Somalia.

With 100,000 More

Strategypage says six or seven years to get nine additional combat brigades out of 100,000 new Army troops.

With combat brigades at 3,500 to 4,000 men in our current brigade combat team organization, would two-thirds of the new men really go to the institutional Army? I figured 15-20 brigades but that this could go lower depending on whether we wanted more MP brigades or new division headquarters. Even at 20 brigades, assuming 3,500 per brigade (Stryker brigades are larger and I don't think we are going to build more of those), that still leaves 30,000 troops for additional support to these new brigades whether on bases or combat support and combat service support units. What is Strategypage assuming will be done with the remaining 60,000+ troops outside the brigades if only nine are created?

It looks like the author assumed 500,000 current Army troops provide 43 combat brigades so 100,000 more troops provide 20% of that--8.6 brigades--and then rounded up. I find it hard to believe we'd need that many supporting troops given our efforts to improve the tooth-to-tail ratio (including using civilians) and given that the additional brigades would likely be used to help rotations and not to put more in the field at once.

Still, with perhaps an easy limit of adding 7,000 troops per year under our existing training structure, we would still only get a couple brigades per year maximum. Will we expand training capacity to triple this? Could we house them? Heck, maybe Selfridge Air Base could house a brigade up here in Michigan. I think that was proposed under the last BRAC round.

And as I've mentioned before, will the combat units all be part of new brigades? Would we create separate battalions? When divisions were the standard unit we had separate brigades. Now that divisions are the new corps and brigades are the standard unit, will we stand up separate battalions that could reinforce existing brigades?

I guess we'll have to wait and see what is actually proposed by the Pentagon.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Reading Tea Leaves

OK, I can't help it. I was going to avoid speculating on press reports about what we are going to do, but this article at least addresses Secretary Gates' reported statements.


In the larger context, he spoke optimistically about Iraq's political leaders and their commitment to taking over their own security and dealing with the militias that have brought the country to the brink of civil war.


Gates mentioned one unit's success at training Iraqi brigades by boosting the size of the U.S. teams embedded in each Iraqi unit. He talked at length about the continued need for U.S. forces to support the Iraqis as they build their security forces, signaling the unlikeliness of a rapid drawdown.


He issued a stern warning to Iran and Syria, saying the U.S. has an enduring commitment to the Gulf region while they are having a negative impact on Iraq's security.


And he predicted American troops will be providing logistical help for "a long time," and didn't rule out a short-term increase in troop levels when several soldiers told him they thought it would help.

And Fifth:

"Will the way forward probably be difficult? Probably," Gates said. "But I believe, based on what I've heard and seen both from the American commanders and from the Iraqis, that things are moving in a positive direction. But it's going to be a long haul."

These are interesting. Gates is saying that we have to stand up the Iraqis and that the Iraqis must confront the militia problem. We must keep advisers within Iraqi units to bolster their abilities. We will be providing logistical and related support to the Iraqi miltiary for years to come. We could add more troops if needed in the short run. And this means no quick withdrawal of US combat forces. And he explicitly warned Iran and Syria, showing he recognizes what those two countries are doing to kill our troops and Iraqis. (Could this problem be a task for a surge? Will have to think about that.)

And most important, Secretary Gates states what I have been adamant about stating clearly despite the growing conventional wisdom: he thinks we are winning this war. We may be winning more slowly than we'd like, and it will take more time to win--but we are winning.

This sounds an awful lot like staying the course. Never forget that staying the course does not and never has meant a static course.

But the Senate confirmed Gates already so it is too late to hold him to his confirmation hearing statement that we aren't winning in Iraq. He even improved on his "we aren't winning and we aren't losing" comments. I'm feeling better about him.

We are winning. So let's surge a little patience to Iraq, shall we?

UPDATE: Here's the transcript of the news briefing.

Baby Steps

The UN Security Council has approved weak sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt nuclear programs. Iran rejects the resolution:

The result of two months of negotiation, the resolution orders all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs. It also would freeze Iranian assets of key companies and individuals related to those programs.

If Iran refuses to comply, the resolution warns Iran that the council will adopt further nonmilitary sanctions.

The Iranian government immediately rejected the resolution, vowing in a statement from Tehran to continue enriching uranium and saying it "has not delegated its destiny to the invalid decisions of the U.N. Security Council."

The Bush administration said it hopes the resolution will clear the way for tougher measures by individual countries, particularly Russia.

We'll see if we can use this broad but weak condemnation to get individual countries to impose santions that hurt.

While I think little of this first baby step, perhaps in combination with growing internal dissent, this will show Iranians that their leaders have offended even the hard-to-offend international community of fellow thug states who water down what democracies might do on our own.

And if there is any revolt in Iran, having the international community's disapproval--no matter how mildly it is expressed--might help to delegitimize Ahmadinejad's government and make a revolt easier. And if we have our justifications for overthrowing the mullah regime lined up--like this--perhaps the mullah regime's days are numbered:

A federal judge ruled yesterday that Iran is responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing and ordered that the government pay $254 million to the families of 17 Americans who died in the attack in Saudi Arabia.

Hey, I know I'm reaching here. But the situation is grave and I have no idea how we are going to solve the Iran problem. At some level I have to rely on my gut feeling that we really are working to nail this charter member of the Axis of Evil.

Friday, December 22, 2006

What Caused the Spine Infusion?

Saudi Arabia is extremely cautious when confronting enemies.

All through the Iran-Iraq War, Saudi Arabia supported Iraq with money and cooperated in the Tanker War to throttle Iranian oil exports while keeping Iraqi sea lines of communication open. Yet it was only late in the war in April 1988, when Iran was visibly on the ropes due to American-led naval intervention and Iraqi successes on the ground, that Saudi Arabia finally cut diplomatic ties with Iran.

So this is interesting:

The Saudi Arabian government claims that Iranian support for several militias in Iraq has resulted in a "state within a state," with these private armies of pro-Iranian gunmen operating largely independently of the Iraqi government. Saudi Arabia now threatens to openly aid Iraqi Sunni Arabs if the Iraqi government does not control the Shia Arab militias (which have been active in murdering Sunni Arabs, and driving others from the country.) Iraqi Shia Arabs, and Iran, hold Iraqi Sunni Arabs responsible for keeping Saddam Hussein in power, for the 1980s war with Iran, and for decades of killing and oppressing Kurds and Shia Arabs. In effect, Saudi Arabia is threatening to go to war with Iran, via support for anti-Iran Sunni Arabs in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia's military is not nearly as good as it was twenty years ago. Yet Saudi Arabia seems willing to tangle with the Iranians now? When Iran could soon have nuclear missiles? And with Saudi Shias potentially looking to Tehran for support?

It almost makes me think that the Saudis expect somebody to do something about Iran soon.

Don't Lose the Shias

I break my New York Times embargo to link to a good piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht about dealing with Sadr:

In fact, attacking Mr. Sadr now and elevating the Supreme Council [Adil Abdul Mahdi's group] is likely to accomplish the exact opposite of what we want. And it shouldn’t be that hard to see why: the sine qua non for peace in Iraq, and for a democratic future for the country, has always been unity among the Shiites. Any violent struggle between the Mahdi Army and Supreme Council could provoke anarchy throughout the entire Arab Shiite zone, including Iraq’s holy cities and the oil-rich south. As bad as things seem now, such Shiite strife could impoverish all of Arab Iraq, dropping the non-Kurdish regions to an Afghan-like subsistence level.

This is an excellent point. We can't afford to alienate the Shias if we want to win in Iraq. If we do there is little point in staying in Iraq. We truly would be fighting virtually the entire Iraqi population. Remember, we liberated the Shias from Saddam's grip.

Which is why I've mentioned in the past that if we go after Moqtada Sadr we must also go after the Sunni insurgency just as hard to avoid looking like we are betraying the Shias. Conspiracies die hard among the Shias who have been betrayed by us before. (Executing Saddam would go a long way to ending the thought that we might put Saddam back in charge to restore order.)

And it is why in 2004 I advised going after the Sunni half of the insurrection hard while fighting very carefully in the Shia south to avoid alienating the Shias:

I worry about the Baathists because they have the means and motive to resist hard in the short run and are the ones killing our troops. The Shias are friendly for the most part and although Sadr is defying us, he isn't terribly effective and the Shias consider him more of an idiot brother-in-law than a legitimate voice of the Shia.

In the long run, Strategypage is correct. Since the Sunni Baathists are a minority in a geographically distinct region, they can't on their own retake Iraq. The Shias, who represent the majority, must be kept on our side to keep Iraq friendly—hence the worry about the Shias as the more important problem.

I guess I figure we can keep the Shias content by transferring power to a Shia-dominated interim government on June 30 and transitioning to a democracy where numbers will count (with minority rights and rule of law established so losers don't reach for their AKs and RPGs).

Given this distinction, I'm actually glad that we have been softer on the Sadr uprising. I'm still upset we are in a ceasefire with the Baathists in Fallujah, mind you. But we can't storm Najaf the same way to get the idiot Sadr. Najaf is a holy site and Sadr would gain sympathy for being attacked in there. Indeed, were I the Iranians, I'd have the Iranian contingent of the Mahdi Army in Najaf primed for a fight to the death to provoke the destruction of holy sites and the death of Shia civilians. Shoot, I'd blow up the holy sites myself since I'd be pretty sure the Americans wouldn't do it even accidentally.

We succeeded in 2004. The question is could we fight Sadr today and emerge with the Shias still backing us? Times change and the tactics that worked on Sadr in 2004 won't likely work in 2007. Sadr is no longer the idiot brother-in-law. Perhaps a third of the Shias are sympathetic. And others perhaps would not take kindly to an American campaign against their own SOB.

So perhaps we need to rethink how we deal with Sadr. The Shias seem to still need the protection of the militias against the Sunni terrorists of Saddam's boys and al Qaeda.

Could the Iraqi government split the less radical and bloody of the militias from Sadr by recognizing them and arming them but with guarantees they will simply defend their neighborhoods? With trusted government forces placed in the areas to watch the militias, of course.

Only then, could the Iraqis with our support target Sadr and the leaders of the more bloody groups with arrests without stripping the Shias of protection from Sunni killers.

And of course, coupled with an offensive by Iraqi and American forces against the Sunnis insurgents, it would not look at all like a betrayal of the Shias.

Plus, with the Shia death squads reined in and Coalition forces bearing down on the Sunnis who resist, perhaps we will finally push the majority of Sunnis to abandon the insurgencies for their own protection in favor of supporting the new government in order to live.

Sadr is the biggest long-term threat to the Iraqi government. But as frustrated as I am that we didn't nail him when we had him by the short hairs in 2004, that doesn't mean that a 2004-style military campaign carried out in 2007 that leads to the death or capture of Sadr is wise. Indeed, we might see another major shrine blow up but with our troops blamed as I feared in 2004. Given Samarra in February, is this terribly unlikely?

So how would we neutralize Sadr without a US military campaign that risks alienating the Shias?

Whatever we do--surge or no surge--we can't risk losing the Shias. To do that is to lose the war. We'd have to pull out and hope we can bend events indirectly in our favor. No surge of American troops is big enough to cope with fighting the Sunnis and Shias. Nor would it make much strategic sense.

UPDATE: Sistani won't bless an alliance of Iraqi political parties that excludes Sadr:

An official close to al-Sistani, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the cleric "will not bless nor support any new bloc or front. He only supports the unity of the Shiites."

If you want to look at a major difference between 2004 and 2007, look no farther. In 2004, Sistani blessed our military offensive against Sadr's Mahdi Army after his revolt even as fighting took place around important mosques in Najaf. Now Sistani won't risk alienating Shias by proposing to politically sideline Sadr.

Sadr is the biggest threat to Iraqi democracy, but he has moved beyond our capacity to deal with him on our own. The Shia Iraqis must do that.

UPDATE: Or is Sadr a known idiot brother-in-law (via Hugh Hewitt and before that, Instapundit) as IraqPundit notes?

Iraqis know he's an ass. Lots of people in the region know he's an ass. (One of Lebanon's leaders referred to Moktada the other day while speaking to the press. Comparing him to Hassan Nasrallah, he called Moktada "the deranged one.") The
fact is that Iraqis, after decades of living in fear under Baathist thugs, are simply afraid of Al Sadr's terrorist gangs.

I've long been critical that we let Sadr live after Baghdad fell. He should have been nailed in 2003. And certainly by August 2004 he should have been dead or jailed. I've long been concerned that we don't betray the Shias in trying to persuade the Sunni Arabs to halt their insurgency. And this year I've been well aware that efforts to get the Sunnis to give up are complicated by the Shia militias who kill Sunni Arabs.

So while I want to control the Shia militias in order to soothe the Sunni Arabs in order to stop the Sunnis from fighting, I've worried that Shia admiration of Sadr could unravel the course of action at the beginning. If nailing Sadr inspires a sizable portion of Shias to oppose us, we are lost.

Gerecht says Sadr has popularity now that he lacked in 2004. IraqPundit says he is an ass.

The correct course of action depends on who is right. If we help the Iraqi government take Sadr down, will Shias be grateful or angry? And answering this question determines whether one major reason for surging US troops is worth doing.

And I just don't know who is right. Surely, plenty of Iraqis know Sadr is an ass. But that assessment does not rule out that it is equally true that millions of Shias look up to Sadr to some significant degree, and that taking him down will turn too many Shias against us.

I hope Gates is getting better information than I am.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Marine Rebalancing

The Army has gotten the lion's share of attention for its efforts to create ten new combat brigades within the existing force structure. By eliminating little-used units and transferring some jobs to civilians, the Army has freed up slots for more combat units and Military Police and other units in demand now.

The Marines are doing the same. Before Iraq they had 8 regiments in 3 Marine Expeditionary Forces plus a Marine Reserve division:

The U.S. Marine Corps is disbanding some unneeded units (headquarters, anti-aircraft, artillery, and an anti-terrorism battalion) and activating the rest of the 9th Marine Regiment. The 9th Marines were deactivated in the early 1990s, but the 1st Battalion of the 9th was activated last year, and over the next two years, the other two battalions of the 9th will be activated. The marines are also reactivating a combat engineer battalion and some armored reconnaissance companies. The marines need the infantry and engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan, while the deactivated units have not been needed as much.

The Marines don't have the numbers or force structure to do as much as the Army since the Marines rely on Army logistics and other support units for lengthy campaigns.

But with 9 regiments relatively soon, the Marines should be able to rotate two regiments through Iraq and support 2-3 Marine Expeditionary Units at sea at any one time. And I assume the Marines are limited in calling up an already tapped out Marine reserve division to active duty.

When Nuance Isn't Enough

Given how much France has sided with Islamists--siding with Hizbollah against Israel, refusing to fight in Afghanistan, running interference for Saddam--you'd think they'd earn some credit with jihadi nutballs.

You'd be wrong, of course:

In the last 18 months, French police have arrested 76 people for Islamic terrorist activity, and aborted at least three terror attacks. But the French police believe that there are still hundreds of former Algerian terrorists in France, and many of them are still active. Al Qaeda, which has absorbed GSPC, is desperate for another big attack in Europe, and the former GSPC terrorists appear to be the most likely to pull something off.

You'd be wrong because you believe that the jihadis try to kill us based on some particular grievance. The grievances cited are just an excuse. They are so unimportant to the jihadis that they just lift them from Michael Moore movies.

In the end, to the jihadis, French infidels are just as worthy of death as American infidels. If not, French police wouldn't be so busy arresting jihadis in France.

Come on France! Join us!

Getting What They Wish For

The Sunni Arab insurgents of Iraq are Dumb as Rocks.

Their Brilliant Plan to regain control of Iraq started with slaughtering Shia Arabs to provoke the Shias into killing Sunni Arabs in retaliation. With Shias killing Sunni Arabs, the Sunni Arabs would then turn to the insurgents for protection and thus add to insurgent strength.

Of course, the result has been a bit less than the Sunni Arab insurgents hoped for:

A major source of loss for the Sunni Arabs is migration to foreign countries. About 100,000 are fleeing each month, joining nearly two million already in exile. Many Kurds and Shia Arabs make no secret of their desire to drive all Sunni Arabs from Iraq. They are well on their way to achieving this goal, with over a third of the Sunni Arabs gone already. At the current rate of migration, all Sunni Arabs will be gone from Iraq within four years.

The Moslem world as a whole should consider the plight of Iraq's Sunni Arabs when they hear jihadis trying to spark a war of civilizations between the Islamic world and the Western world. It won't end up any better for the Islamic world than it is turning out for the Sunni Arabs of Iraq.

This does not mean I've given up hope that Iraq could settle down into a muti-party democracy. That is because for all the anger of Shias against the Sunni Arabs, many Shias don't have direct experience of the murder campaign the Sunni Arabs are conducting (from the first link to Strategypage):

For all the reports of violence in Iraq, most Iraqis feel safe. That's because, 78 percent of the violence (as measured by armed attacks), take place in Baghdad, Anbar province (west of Baghdad), and the smaller Salah ad Din and Diyala provinces. These four areas contain 37 percent of the population. In the rest of Iraq, containing 63 percent of the population, opinion surveys indicate that 90 percent of the people feel safe.

There is hope for Iraq given the trends of the Sunni Arabs losing strength and the majority of Iraqis having little experience with Sunni Arab violence. It would help a lot if the Sunni Arabs of Iraq would take a clue pill and decide on a course of action that takes away the Shia excuse to wipe them out.

And I have hope for the wider Islamic world, too, if we can help the moderates defeat the jihadis and their enablers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Airheads. Lots of Them.

I've mentioned that I think that splitting Iraq is a bad idea. We simply cannot trust the Sunni Arabs of Iraq with their own piece of real estate.

Yet some think we should split the country whether Iraqis want to or not and redeploy our forces to the friendlier Kurdish regions in the northeast part of Iraq to watch the area. We'd be safer there than fighting in central Iraq and Anbar, such redeployment advocates think. And it isn't nearly as embarassing as urging a redeployment to Okinawa or something addled like that. Staying in the region seems downright plucky and brave, too. Completely unlike cutting and running.

So there you go, Kurdistan is our perfect base area. Far enough from angry Sunnis to be safe but close enough to not look at all like retreating! Why the Baker commission didn't recommend something like this I'll never know.

Of course, the Shias of Iraq who will run the non-Anbar parts of Iraq might not like losing the Kurdish regions, in addition to losing Sunni areas (the ones they can't ethnically cleanse anyway). And the Turks will be mighty angry with us since they have their own Kurdish minority problem. Bad precedent to have an independent Kurdish nation with stamps and currency and all that. Oh, and the Iranians have a Kurdish minority problem of their own and are unlikely to welcome an independent Kurdish nation on their border stirring up trouble.

But that's ok, we'll be safe up in the mountains with our Kurdish friends.

I want you to go get a map, now. I'll wait while you get it.

Back now? Good.

Notice the northeast region of Iraq where this veritable redoubt would lie?

Let's see, to the southwest we have Shia-run rump Iraq. To the north we have Turkey. And to the east we have Iran.

Which one of these countries will just let the Kurdish nation trade through its borders freely?

And more to the point, which one will let us supply our forces in their new Kurdish bases?

Splitting Iraq and withdrawing into an independent Kurdistan simply puts our troops into a Dien Bien Phu situation where we are completely surrounded by people quite unhappy with us. No land traffic will get through and we'd be reliant on escorting air supply missions into an airhead (the air equivalent of a beachhead) through hostile airspace.

Bad idea, people. Bad idea. Putting our forces in Kurdistan would require lots of airheads to implement. I don't want to rely on airheads for this to work.

Or do we have more than enough airheads to put this plan in place?

Coaxing the Flood

I mentioned that the decision to accept North Korean refugees in America was potentially a significant step in causing a flood of refugees that would collapse the North Korean regime.

This article tells of one man who agrees and what he is doing to start the flood:

The refugees, Pastor Buck argues, are the key to regime change in North Korea and, by inference, the key to halting the North's nuclear and missile programs. Help one man or woman escape, he says, and that person will get word to his family back home about the freedom that awaits them on the outside. Others will follow, and the regime will implode. This is what happened in 1989, when Hungary refused to turn back East Germans fleeing to the West, thereby hastening the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Destroying that horrible regime must be our goal.

The Enemy Safe Haven

We must learn how to fight in Afghanistan with the enemy having a safe sanctuary. We cannot get Pakistan to shut down the jihadi recruiting and training areas inside Pakistan. And we cannot just poke around on our own too much to avoid destabilizing Pakistan. Pakistan may be far from ideal the way it is, but the way it is now is also far better than it might be.

So we must kill them in Afghanistan in large numbers and make sure they don't stick around to learn the local areas. We have the edge in killing the enemy and knowing the area. So the enemy flees to Pakistan when winter approaches.

As long as this pressure means they must leave Afghanistan before winter sets in and then enter Afghanistan in the spring to fight again, interdicting the border with artillery fire bases will inflict more casualties by striking the enemy in motion twice a year and slow down supply efforts.

Killing the enemy inside Afghanistan and interdicting their entry and exit isn't as good as getting rid of the Pakistan sanctuary, but the situation is what the situation is.

I would hope we don't feel compelled to fight with this disadvantage in Iraq in regard to the Syrian and Iranian sanctuaries. Destabilizing those countries should be our goal and not an unfortunate side effect to be avoided.

But then, we've done nothing about them for three years now. Perhaps we need a general theory of fighting insurgencies with enemy sanctuaries completely off limits.

There Is One Alternative

Will we recoil from the cost of eliminating the root cause of Islamist fascism? Will we refuse to try and help Moslems save themselves and adapt Islam to the modern world and democracy?

Or will we accept that the Islamic world's failures are just part of the religion and nothing is to be done?

Charles Krauthammer writes of our recent failure of will:

As the Bush Doctrine has come under attack, there are those in America who have welcomed its apparent setbacks and defeats as a vindication of their criticism of the policy. But the problem is that that kind of vindication leaves America in a position where there are no good alternatives. The reason that there is general despair now is because if it proves to be true that the Bush Doctrine has proclaimed an idea of democratizing the Arab/Islamic world that is unattainable and undoable, then there are no remaining answers to how to counter ultimately the threat of Islamic radicalism.

It is not true that if we don't democratize the Arab/Islamic world that their is no remaining answer to how to counter the threat of Islamic radicalism. If opponents of the President's methods win and compel us to pull back to our shores; and our enemies continue to attack and kill us anyway, we don't have to simply surrender at that point.

One method will always be within our power.

Buildup in CENTCOM

We might send another carrier battle group to be in position near Iran:

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the idea has not been approved, the official said one proposal is to send a second aircraft carrier to the region amid increasing tensions with Iran, blamed for encouraging sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq as well as allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

This would certainly be helpful if we fight Iran.

It would also be helpful if we fight al Qaeda in Somalia.

One problem we have in achieving surprise is the near impossibility of moving significant forces without attracting the attention of other countries or the media. So if we can't hide the movement, we have to hide the purpose.

So in theory, ships moving to watch Iran could easily shift to the Horn region to join an Expeditionary Strike Group with an embarked reinforced Marine battalion (a Marine Expeditionary Unit). Special forces, Rangers, and aircraft could move in rather discreetly.

Similarly, units surging into Iraq don't have to be for the purpose of some nebulous mission against Sadr or Sunni terrorists.

I'm not saying that we are planning to hit Iran anytime in the next half-year. But if we want significant land forces to support a revolt against the mullahs, the only way to get them to the region is for the public purpose of fighting in Iraq.

If we were determined to deal with Iran. Which I can't say I'm terribly confident we are planning to do.

Something to think about, anyway.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


As we look toward the next two years in Iraq, let us review where we stand.

The Iraq War has gone through a number of phases.

Phase I was the period of major combat operations beginning in March 2003 and ending about three weeks later when American forces stormed Baghdad. Although President Bush did not officially declare major combat operations over until May 1, 2003, this phase was over by mid-April at the very latest. The Baathist regime was crushed with the Republican Guard defeated, the regular army collapsed, the Special Republican Guards, Baath pary, and intelligence services scattered (taking the money with them), and Saddam's Fedayeen, the imported jihadis that Saddam would have used to restore control among the Shias of the south if a repeat of 1991 occurred, cut apart by our conventional forces. We suffered 139 deaths in March and April. The monthly average was thus 139.

Phase II was the initial Baathist insurgency beginning small in May 2003, escalating sharply in November, and continuing through the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, and ending in February 2004. Through this period, primarily US forces were able to slowly throttle the insurgency. We were focused on building a small conventional Iraqi army of 40,000 organized to fight other conventional forces, and which would serve as a cadre for later growth. We recruited light infantry in a civil defense force to work with our forces and worked to put the long-ineffective police force back in service. By February 2004, our monthly death toll was 20 and it appeared as if the Baathist insurgency was broken. From May to December 2004 we suffered 347 killed. The average rate was 43 per month.

Phase III was the Syrian and Iranian counter-attack. This lasted from March 2004 to December 2004. Syrian-supported foreign jihadis and Sunni Baathists in concert with Iranian-backed Shia thugs under Moqtada Sadr rose up and attempted to provoke a national uprising against American "occupation." The contractor killing in Fallujah sparked this and saw the first Battle of Fallujah in April that was called off prematurely to allow "former" Baathist officers to lead a "Fallujah Brigade" to pacify the city. This also saw battles in April, May, and June against Sadr's thugs and again in August. Sadr's forces were defeated without provoking a Shia reaction against our presence. About half of the new Iraqi security forces collapsed in the face of this uprising, showing the inadequacy of our training program. Nonetheless, despite the heavy combat, I judge the enemy to have made a huge error in this uprising. The Baathists sided with the jihadis, thus alienating the previously wary Shias. The Shias had been happy to have us remove Saddam but were suspicious based on our abandonment of their uprising in 1991. In addition, our careful campaign against Sadr was done in a manner that did not provoke Shia anger at us. We also turned over the governing of Iraq to an interim appointed government, thus ending the official US occupying authority. One result of this phase was that the majority of the Shias sided with us. The major flaw was the survival of Sadr. By November 2004, we assaulted Fallujah a second time and this time cleared it of jihadis. In December, we coped with the jihadis who escaped to Mosul where they overran and collapsed the local police force. We lost 514 troops in these ten months for an average monthly rate of 51 deaths.

Phase IV lasted from January 2005 with the first free national elections for an interim parliament and a constitution-drafting body, and went to December 2005 with the election of the first permanent government under the new constitution approved in October 2005 in the second national election. We revamped our training program for the Iraqi military and scored successes with holding three major national elections where the enemy was held at bay and more Iraqis voted than in the previous election. The Iraqi security forces proved up to the task of partnering with us for election security and we began to push ground forces into Anbar province in the fall of 2005 for the first time to clear and hold cities and break up enemy strongholds. The Sunni insurgencies were essentially broken. The Baathists were doomed and the local and imported jihadis merged as each suffered heavy losses. In this year we suffered 846 dead. The monthly rate was 71 dead.

Phase V is the current phase beginning in January 2006 and lasting until November 2006 when our elections essentially mandated a new phase. At the beginning, with the Sunni Baathists and jihadis held back, we hoped that we'd be able to pull back our forces from routine combat and reduce our presence to under 100,000 troops in a mostly logistical and reserve role. Four features have defined this phase. One, the Iraqis had difficulty forming a cohesive government and the resulting government has been weak and unable to make hard decisions. Two, the Samarra Golden Shrine bombing in February unleashed Shia anger against the Sunnis that Sadr and other Iranian-backed Shia thugs exploited to begin a campaign of revenge atrocities against Sunni Arabs. This occurred after two years of Shias patiently enduring the Sunni attacks while trying to coax the Sunnis into ending their insurgency. Three, Sadr's radical Shias emerged as the primary threat to the new government. We pushed the Iraqi government to take on Sadr but failed. We were able to gain more cooperation from Sunni Arabs who knew they lost their shot at retaking the government. Of note was the Anbar tribal decision to throw in with the government to fight the foreign jihadis. And four, our national will to fight until we win has finally fragmented. This may not be permanent as past decreases in our home morale have rebounded. But with many political leaders rather than mere polls reflecting the pessimism, I think any renewed vigor in the war will be fleeting.

The increased violence in this phase since February was primarily Shia death squads under Sadr or similiary Shia death squad leaders killing Sunnis. To speak of increased violence is to ignore the fact that the Sunnis haven't been able to kill more--Shias began dishing it out even harder than they were taking hits. This isn't good, but it reflects the change in primary enemy to Sadr and Shia extremists rather than a resurgence of the Sunni-based insurgencies. Indeed, though the current sectarian violence is exactly what the Sunnis wanted in order to ride the chaos to power, the Sunnis will not be able to overcome their lack of numbers or power to win control. They are history. And many flee Iraq in recognition of their defeat. In this phase we've lost 708 dead over eleven months. The monthly average is 64.

Let's look at the players through five phases.

Iraq is made up of 60-65% Shia Arabs, 15-20% Sunni Arabs, and 15-20% Sunni Kurds:

The Sunni Arabs lost power and are losing numbers.

The Sunni Kurds are more secure than ever in their mountain stornghold and are prospering.

The Shia Arabs have the political power their numbers deserve and ended centuries of Sunni oppression and mass murder under Saddam. They are in the fight for their lives to build a government and military from scratch with few having the education and experience to build Iraq.

More specifically:

Baathists. Mostly Sunni Arab. We destroyed their government and defeated their hopes of winning the insurgency. The Baathists are defeated. They still fight but Sunnis are fleeing the combat areas and even Iraq itself.

Sunni Arab "nationalists." They may not have loved Saddam but they hate being ruled by "inferior" Shias and Kurds. And our presence is insulting to them and tantamount to occupation. They are defeated. They continue to fight at weaker levels. Some have come over to the government and some have sided with jihadis. But their power base flees the mixed areas of Iraq and even Iraq.

Foreign Sunni Arab jihadis. Present in Iraq since before the invasion, they keep fighting us. We killed many Fedayeen that Saddam imported in the years before the war during the invasion campaign and smashed the al Qaeda base in northern Iraq set up after we overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001. They alienated most Iraqis with their suicide attacks, and Sunni volunteers aren't as plentiful as they once were. They are defeated though they still fight. These have merged with the local jihadis.

Local Sunni Arab jihadis. Saddam was not the secular champion of popular mythology. He turned to Islam to bolster his authority after Desert Storm and built many mosques in the 1990s. They have alienated most Iraqis with their bloody attacks that killed Shias and Sunnis, and cannot win. They are defeated. They still fight but Sunnis flee mixed areas and Iraq itself.

Criminal gangs. They thrive in the chaos and contribute to the image of enemy success by inflicting for-profit violence that is indistinguishable from enemy violence from afar. They are not a threat themselves but aid others who seek power. They continue their crime campaign and won't be defeated until the primary threats to the government's power are ground down to managable proportions. We need to address corruption which makes forging an effective Iraqi government more difficult. Still, the enemy is beset by the same culture of corruption so we don't have to create a perfect government.

Arab Shia fanatics. Sadr is the most well known. Down but not out after 2004's disastrous uprisings, since the fall of 2005 they are the primary threat to Iraq's government. They kill Sunni Arabs, defy and paralyze the government, and are even part of the government. They draw on perhaps a third of the Shia community as supporters--or about 20% of Iraqis. Two-thirds of Shias, the Kurds, and certainly the Sunnis would never give them support. But the Sadr thugs are a major threat only because Iran backs them with men, money, and material. Without that support, they would be merely annoying. They have the advantage that the Iraqi government has not decided to destroy them.

Syria. Syria is weakened but still struggling to hold Lebanon. They support jihadis in Iraq to maintain their own hold on government. They have a Shia government ruling over an unhappy Sunni majority with Sunni Iraqis fleeing to Damascus. If Iraq succeeds as a democracy, the Syrians will see Lebanon set free and will face their own internal insurrection or civil war. Israel looms over them as does Turkey to a lesser extent. A conventional war with either would be a disaster for Syria. I once thought they could be flipped. No more. They are tied to Iran and have decided this alliance will preserve their regime. Perhaps. Or it will deliver their ruin. Their status is fragile.

Iran. They appear to be involved in a regional struggle for dominance that starts in southern Lebanon and Hizbollah, goes through their puppet state of Syria, gains support among Palestinians, and is influential in Iraq through their alliance with Syria and their support for Sadr and other Shia thugs. This is the main threat to us in Iraq. Iran's influence extends to the second-class Shia Arab communities in the Gulf who Tehran hopes to support against the Sunni Arab rulers. And Iran pursues nukes. Yet they rule a restless empire of subject peoples and even a majority of the barely majority Persians do not like the current mullah rulers. They are surrounded by hostile Arab states and Turkey which host American forces, and America's ally Afghanistan. The Iranians are advancing but are vulnerable to sudden reverses from inside the country. Iran's military is ramshackle and held together with duct tape. Ignore their scary-sounding military maneuvers. The few high-tech modern items they import are just isolated spots in a vast sea of obsolete weaponry.

Turkey. They watch the Iraqi Kurds with worry and see some common interest in cooperating against Iraq's Kurds with Iran who struggles against their own Kurds. The Turks are no friends to Syria. They are a member of NATO. They have problems with Islamic parties threatening their secular history.

Sunni Arab world. They send their jihadis to Iraq to die. They send money to Iraq's Sunnis. They fear Iran and the Shias. And they fear the jihadis at home. And they blame us for their difficulties. But they have oil.

With all this in mind, we are now debating the form of Phase VI. It began this month and will likely be the last phase dominated by American combat operations. I estimate it will last no more than sixteen months.

Phase VII will be the Iraq phase with the Iraqi government taking the lead in fighting the insurgents. We will supply air power, special forces, and keep at least seven brigades of troops inside Iraq to deter conventional invasion. I only question the pace of our draw down in this phase. The main question is whether we break Sadr's forces and the other Shia extremists and make the Iraqi government's task easier. The second question is whether Syria and Iran will continue to support their side, perhaps escalating to direct intervention. The third question is whether the government will win by winning hearts and minds or by slaughtering enemies. This phase will last as long as it takes one side or the other to win. Iraqis can't go home. It will be victory or death and on this struggle will depend our image for resolve in the Long War. And whether Iraq serves as a beacon of hope for others or simply reflects the realist-level goal of flipping an enemy Baathist state to a friendly authoritarian state.

We've fought off many threats. Don't lose hope people. In the broad sweep of the war, we are making progress. We faced setbacks in Phase III yet emerged in a stronger position to make real gains in Phase IV. We faced a different struggle in Phase V that we have not yet defeated, but it is not defeat for us by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, it is ugly in Iraq. I've never denied that. It is war. But that is what makes me avoid gloom. War is death and misery and tears. The only good thing is that we should fight to create something better out of that death and misery and plentiful tears. Who can doubt our Civil War produced far more of it all? Who can say we didn't create something far better? We can say the same for World War II. We can say the same for Korea. We can say the same for Afghanistan though that fight continues, too. I think we will be able to say the same about Iraq when we look back on it.

That's the situation in Iraq as I see it. So how do we shape the next phase for victory? [UPDATE: And to clarify my point that our will to win has fragmented. This doesn't mean I think we will lose. Since fall 2003 I've judged we are in a race between getting the Iraqi government ready to fight without us and our home front morale breaking. I think we are well enough along in preparing the Iraqis to fight that we will win the race against our declining will to win. But it is now clear that our will to fight will decline rapidly in the next two years. Unless we face another 9/11 situation, of course.]