Friday, November 30, 2007

The Sweet Smell of Success

The Army-Navy football game is tomorrow. Army kidnapped the Navy goats. (Yes, pun intended.)

This Army video is pretty funny:

The Navy response wasn't as good:

The Navy guy hoped the Army wouldn't mind the smell.

That won't be a problem. The Army cadets stole the goats--not a Marine.
Sorry, Marines. Just kidding. (That one was unintentional)



UPDATE: Well, Navy won this one pretty handily. Congratulations, Navy.

The next battle is the joint fight. It is a very different sort of college rivalry.

School's Out

There is some noise out there about riots at a Chinese military academy:

“It was total chaos. Many people were beaten and were bleeding. The school buildings are a mess,” one student, surnamed Peng, told RFA’s Mandarin service.

“There is a 15-story building on campus. It’s been vacated. The iron doors in the corridors were smashed. In the morning armed police and police cars arrived to restore order. Their attempts were futile. Police cars were overturned,” Peng said.

That would be quite a story if the headline and picture of marching cadets accompanying the story reflected the story.

But if you read the actual story you will find that PLA cadets weren't rioting. The rioters were civilians who pay to take classes at the military academy.

So don't get your hopes up (or, I suppose, worry) that the Chinese government is about to face a revolt from the army.

Sing Along

I recently wondered if the incident with the PLAN Song-class submarine surfacing near our carrier Kitty Hawk was meant to send a message to us that our carriers are vulnerable if they get near Taiwan:

Are the Chinese sending a very specific message to make us more cautious about rushing carriers in like the cavalry to rescue the Taiwanese should the Chinese attack? Is Peking buying time to conquer Taiwan?

The refusal by China to allow the carrier task force to enter Hong Kong as planned added to my sense of the message their singing telegram sent.

Well, we know that tune and hummed a few bars ourselves:

After being blocked, the Kitty Hawk strike group, which includes two missile cruisers and six guided missile destroyers, changed course and headed for its home port of Yokosuka, Japan, because of bad weather, rather than turn back to Hong Kong.

A senior Pentagon official said later that the Kitty Hawk and its warships transited through the Taiwan Strait on the way back to Japan, in a deliberate statement to China, which in the past opposed U.S. warships traveling through the strait where Chinese and Taiwanese forces are faced off.

Oh, and in regard to the Chinese military maneuvers held, the article notes that the Chinese exercise was off of Hainan island. Which is "near" Taiwan the way Galveston, Texas is near Tampa, Florida.

Just Not Ready for Democracy?

There is a real possibility that Venezuelan voters will decide to give up their freedom this weekend:

Hugo Chavez could have a shot at becoming president for life if voters approve a sweeping overhaul of the constitution Sunday that would give him unchecked power to reshape Venezuela's government, economy and society.

And in Russia, freedom is also being trampled on:

Former chess champion and Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov on Friday dismissed Russia's parliamentary elections this weekend as a farce that will push the country toward what he called a "single-party dictatorship."

Voting to end your freedom is a strange way to exercise such a priceless right.

It's funny how some people think our freedom has eroded the last seven years even as tyranny descends abroad. And even in that darling of our Left, Venezuela.

At least non-communist Russia won't get a pass from our elites. Heck, Hollywood will have a nice safe northern hemisphere villain again!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bilateral Plastic Turkey

I don't understand why there seems to be something of an uproar in anti-war circles over the future bilateral security agreement that America and Iraq will negotiate next year.

This is routine diplomacy here.

If you doubt me, check out "United States Department of State Treaties in Force: A List of Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States in Force on January 1, 2007. Section 1: Bilateral Agreements."

Some are treaties requiring Senate approval. Most are not.

Careful, it is 419 pages and nearly 8 MB.

You are free to question whether a US-Iraq bilateral defense agreement is a wise move. But trying to pretend that this is some nefarious usurpation of power is just not going to cut it. Move on, people.

Wearing Out Their Welcome

I noted that the jihadis fleeing Baghdad and Anbar have few places to run.

We've taken another step to block off the Kirkuk region by enlisting local Iraqis to function as a local defense force to assist us in tracking and killing jihadi enemies trying to find sanctuary in the region:

Nearly 6,000 Sunni Arab residents joined a security pact with American forces Wednesday in what U.S. officers described as a critical step in plugging the remaining escape routes for extremists flushed from former strongholds.

The new alliance — called the single largest single volunteer mobilization since the war began — covers the "last gateway" for groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq seeking new havens in northern Iraq, U.S. military officials said.

U.S. commanders have tried to build a ring around insurgents who fled military offensives launched earlier this year in the western Anbar province and later into Baghdad and surrounding areas. In many places, the U.S.-led battles were given key help from tribal militias — mainly Sunnis — that had turned against al-Qaida and other groups.

So now we appear to have well over 60,000 Sunnis working for us in concerned citizen or awakening movement local defense forces. Contrast this with the 20,000 full-time shooters that the various insurgencies were thought to have at their peak. For all who insisted that the Baathists and jihadis represented legitimate national Sunni resistance, who represents the Iraqi Sunni Arabs more?

Other than just dying in place, the jihadis might only be able to run west to Syria. Be a damned shame if they decided Bashar Assad was as good an infidel as any to attack.

The Drive on Kabul

The article headline says the Taliban are "closing in on Kabul." That sounds ominous.

This is what the article says:

If NATO, the lead force operating in Afghanistan, is to have any impact against the insurgency, troop numbers will have to be doubled to at least 80,000, the report said.

"The Taliban has shown itself to be a truly resurgent force," the Senlis Council, an independent think-tank with a permanent presence in Afghanistan, wrote in a study entitled "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the brink."

"Its ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt," it said. "The insurgency now controls vast swaths of unchallenged territory including rural areas, some district centers, and important road arteries."

Senlis said its research had established that the Taliban, driven out of Afghanistan by the U.S. invasion in late 2001, had rebuilt a permanent presence in 54 percent of the country and was finding it easy to recruit new followers.

It was also increasingly using Iraq-style tactics, such as roadside and suicide bombs, to powerful effect, and had built a stable network of financial support, funding its operations with the proceeds from Afghanistan's booming opium trade.

"It is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when," the report said.

"Their oft-stated aim of reaching the city in 2008 appears more viable than ever."

So what do we make of this? Are we losing in Afghanistan? I've certainly read many charges lately that we are losing. Sure, Taliban walk into some provincial capital, chase off the seven cops, and declare it liberated every once in a while. But then we send out a small force with fighters circling overhead with JDAMs and the enemy flees or dies while trying to flee.

As far as I can tell, we are doing fine in Afghanistan but for the Pakistan sanctuary and even that hasn't stopped the progress.

And the cry that we are losing in Afghanistan because Iraq "distracts" us has been a fairly constant charge for four years now. Now it just seems to be morphing into the charge that while we may be winning in Iraq it is at the price of losing in Afghanistan.

So it is good to read Strategypage comment on this:

The "we are doomed" (or disgraced) stories the Western media gobble up, are meant to convince Western government to pull their troops out. To move that process along, the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies are making a major push to kill NATO troops. Normally, this is very hard to do. But suicide bombers have proven more effective, and are now used in larger and larger numbers. This is dangerous for the Taliban, because these suicide bombers tend to kill more Afghan civilians than NATO troops. Thus the importance of having lots of Taliban gunmen out there to keep the Afghan population from getting out of line in their outrage (and reporting the presence of Islamic terrorists). The Taliban believe that most Western nations can be convinced to withdraw their troops if enough negative media and dead troops can be generated. That will mean fewer smart bombs to deal with.

Remember, killing innocent civilians is easy for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Winning is another matter altogether. Still, Bin Laden is giving it the old college try:

In the new tape, bin Laden said European nations joined the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan "because they had no other alternative, only to be a follower."

"The American tide is ebbing, with God's help, and they will go back to their countries," he said, speaking of Europeans.

Bin Laden urged Europeans to pull away from the fight.

"It is better for you to stand against your leaders who are dropping in on the White House, and to work seriously to lift the injustice against the believers," he said, accusing U.S. forces and their allies of intentionally killing women and children in Afghanistan.

Sadly, convincing Westerners we are losing is still another matter altogether. Just because that effort looks to be failing in Iraq doesn't mean its practitioners are giving up on the strategy.

Looking for Victory

Polling on Iraq has demonstrated a decided turn for the better in public opinion:

On how the military effort is going, that's a massive 37-point swing from February.

On whether we are defeating "the insurgents" there is a 25-point swing.

The number of Americans who want to bring our troops home is stable. The details say this is being in favor of bringing troops home now rather than waiting until Iraq is stable. Perhaps some people think things have improved enough to come home. Or maybe people aren't focused on the part about stability first. Heck, I want our troops home. This could also be a simple desire to avoid the world. I wonder how many of those polled would say bring our troops home from Germany, Japan, or South Korea. There was a lot of public support to bring our troops home from Europe in the 1970s, too. The Mansfield Amendment in 1971 drew 36 votes in support in the Senate and surely defied public opinion at the time.

And the number of people who think we will win is stable.

My guess is that the opinions on how the war is going and whether we are beating the enemy are leading indicators. The numbers on whether we win will be tugged up as news of winning continues to be digested and internalized.

Given a general aversion to foreign adventure, I imagine the polling on bringing our troops home will not budge much--but it will be an opinion held without much fervor should our casualties drop off to big city murder-rate levels.

The polling also means that we are less likely to lose the patience needed to solidify our battlefield win, defend what we've won so far, and press on with the nonmilitary means we need to exploit the battlefield victory and truly win the war.

UPDATE: Another poll shows this change as well:

Confidence in the War on Terror increased for the fourth straight month in November and is now near the highest level of President Bush’s second term in office.

The latest Rasmussen Reports tracking poll finds that 47% of Americans now say the U.S. and its allies are winning the War on Terror (see crosstabs). That’s up from 43% a month ago and reflects is the highest level of confidence measured since December 2005. Over the past 35 months, confidence in the War on Terror has been higher than today only twice, in November and December 2005.

The 47% who believe the U.S. and its allies are winning is up significantly from earlier in the year. During the first nine months of 2007, the number believing that the U.S. fell as low as 33% and reached the 40% level just once. During calendar year 2006, an average of 40% believed the U.S. and its allies were winning. That average was 45% in 2005.

In what may be just as significant a finding, only 24% of voters now believe the terrorists are winning. That’s down from 30% a month ago and represents the lowest level of pessimism recorded since 2004.

Polls do not prove we are winning. I've not consulted polls to determine my views. But the polling does mean we should gain the time to cement the victory we are building.

UPDATE: Victor Hanson addresses the heart of the issue and why opinion polls are moving. Americans have not been anti-war but anti-defeat:

The people were mad at the war not because they felt it was amoral or unsound policy, or because they hated George Bush, or because they wished liberals instead to end it in defeat — but simply because they felt frustrated that we either were not winning, or not winning at a cost in blood and treasure that was worth the effort.

That Pattonesque national mood (“America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser”) is not quite entirely gone, and was entirely misunderstood by most Democrats. Somehow instead they saw their new popularity as connected to the appeal of their politics rather than their shared anger at the mismanagement of the war.

Mistaking discontent with not visibly winning, the new powers in Congress too easily assumed that the public shared their desire to get out at the price of losing the war.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Storming the Castle

American soldiers in Baghdad smashed up some al Qaeda fighters defending what our troops called their "castle."

“They used to call this place ‘al-Qaida’s Castle,’” Company E 1st Sgt. Eric Geressy said.

“They had it set up with lookouts all over the place, signaling when they saw us coming. They had IEDs (improvised explosive devices) at intersections and triggermen watching them to slow us down. Further in, they had places where they would meet and push out to defend the area.”

Spc. Avealao Milo was killed by a sniper here on Oct. 4. Geressy said Milo died instantly after he was struck in the neck by the opening shot when about 25 insurgents attacked 1st Platoon. The platoon was guarding the flank as soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment cleared the neighborhood house by house, he said.

What the enemy didn’t count on was that 2nd Platoon was also in the battle, Geressy said.

“When the enemy was attacking 1st Platoon, 2nd Platoon launched into them with AT4s (anti-tank weapons) and machine guns and it crippled the enemy’s attack,” he said.

I keep talking about the need to atomize the enemy so they don't operate in larger groups like this. On the bright side, the enemy were defending their home turf--which they lost--rather than being on offense in platoon strength. Plus, it is rare to read about groups like this.

And in the bigger picture, al Qaeda is losing their realm and their public support in the wider Arab world. Austin Bay concludes:

Could these positive trends reverse? Yes. Al-Qaida and Saddamist enemies will continue to test the will of Free Iraq and the United States. Harry Reid and his faction could quit and declare defeat. But I doubt that they will -- I very much doubt they will.

That sounds about right. We are winning in Iraq. The broad war on Islamist terrorism is making progress in undermining the appeal of jihad on the West. But no war is guaranteed, so we could still lose. But I doubt it.

Just as important, however, is that even success in Iraq won't mean that the Long War against al Qaeda is over. The enemy will seek to strike elsewhere just as they invaded Iraq after losing in Afghanistan.

The Ethiopians with a good assist from us stopped Somalia from being the next jihad.

Could Pakistan be the next jihad? Perhaps their last jihad?

Bring it On

Russia will sell more arms to Venezuela:

Russian arms exporters expect to increase sales to Venezuela, from the current $4 billion, to over $10 billion.

Who cares? Chavez is trying to put in place some bizarre notions of defense that sound really good and revolutionary to him, but which will just lead to about $10 billion in burning wreckage if it ever is used to fight us.

I'd be more worried if Hugo was stockpiling garage door openers and plastic explosives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rehearsal for Revolt

French "youths" are rioting:

Youths rampaged for a third night in the tough suburbs north of Paris and violence spread to a southern city late Tuesday as police struggled to contain rioters who have burned cars and buildings and — in an ominous turn — shot at officers.

Two kids died when they collided with a police car. Naturally, their fellow nondenominational "youths" hit the streets.

Two years ago, I wondered what would happen the next time:

This year's rioting is based on lack of opportunity and is not jihad coming to Europe this year.

But this begs the question of what happens next time? First of all, I obviously assume there will be a next time. I assume this because I don't think the French are capable of opening their economy, government, or society enough to bring these suburban aliens into French life. So hopes raised by increased government attention to their plight will be dashed in a few years by pitiful results that leave France's Moslems in pretty much the exact same spot as September 2005. A few dozen more Social Cohesion mime academies won't count as progress.

My fear is that the jihadis in France will increasingly lead the alien and alienated Moslems of France. Remember our own Revolution. When colonists first confronted British soldiers with arms in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, and then lay siege to the British in Boston, we did not seek political separation. Our forebears only wanted their rights as Englishmen recognized. It was not until July 1776, more than a year later, that we made independence from the British our official goal.

This is not jihad and it never has been, says Strategypage. But this says nothing of the future. Will it become jihad? A cry for rights can become a cry for separation in remarkably short time. Will we look back at the events at Clichy-sous-Bois as the first clash leading to a declaration of independence by France's Moslems?

So now, the French police say it is worse, and shots have been fired at police:

A senior police union official warned that "urban guerrillas" had joined the unrest, saying the violence was worse than during three weeks of rioting that raged around French cities in 2005, when firearms were rarely used.

And in a homage to their jihadi brethren in Iraq, the "youths" use car Molotov cocktails:

Rioting and arson quickly erupted after the crash. The violence worsened Monday night as it spread from Villiers-le-Bel to other impoverished suburbs north of the French capital. Rioters burned a library, a nursery school and a car dealership and tried to set some buildings on fire by crashing burning cars into them.

This is escalating. And France seems incapable of mandating social cohesion. One day, these riots will become the Frenchifada and we shall see how France responds when the jihad marches on Tours once again.

It won't be pretty. I wish the French well in this crisis.

UPDATE: The New York Times notes the escalation from two years ago:

And while the scale of the unrest of the past few days does not yet compare with the three-week convulsion in hundreds of suburbs and towns in 2005, a chilling new factor makes it, in some sense, more menacing. The onetime rock throwers and car burners have taken up hunting shotguns and turned them on the police.

Look, these rioters are not an urban rebellion. But it is closer to being one than it was two years ago. And these rioters hardly speak for a majority of French Moslems. But they probably speak for more today than two years ago.

When I was in the National Guard, we received riot-control training. We were always taught that rioters were Americans. Our job was to make them go home and that killing a rioter to protect a piece of property (unless it was one we were ordered to defend) was wrong.

So, on the assumption that these rioters are still French and that the vast majority of Moslems are French citizens, the French authorities must make the rioters go home. Use forceful measures, but don't kill unless in self defense. Do this and the rioters will get a lesson against rioting and the Moslem observers won't feel sympathy for the rioters being killed.

And then the hard decades-long work of making their Moslems feel part of France must be undertaken. I'm not talking about bribes to local Moslem leaders. That just creates grievance mongerers with an incentive to pose as Moslem leaders who can turn "the street" on and off.

I don't know nearly enough about French society to say how this can be done. But I do know that if they do not integrate these Moslems, one day they will have revolt in their suburbs.

Still in Deep Hibernation

Putin's Russia is making a lot of noise about rearming of late in the face of NATO's purported military threat to Mother Russia. (That's a laugh. We have about 95% of NATO's usable power. Much like what the Kaiser said he'd do if the British landed on his coast in 1914, Putin could call out the police to handle European NATO's military strength.)

But the Russian Bear is not roaring as much as it is snorting in a bear's deep sleep:

Although Russia has announced ambitious military construction and rebuilding programs, when you do the math, you realize that the Russian military is still in decline. For example, Russia's aging ICBM force, which has gotten little money in the last decade, is still wasting away. This despite some new missile construction. Over the next decade, Russia's ICBM forces will decline from nearly 700, to under 200. Similar declines are underway for ground, naval and air forces. Aiding this collapse is the continuing corruption, particularly when it comes to procurement. All the stealing means that the military pays more than it should, for less than it is supposed to get.

The bear is still hibernating. While we must try to treat them nicely in the hope that sanity will prevail there, we can still safely poke it with a stick now and again when our interests require us to ignore Putin's complaints and accusations.

And truly, it is amazing that even with windfall oil revenue, Russia is managing to screw up their military.

See? B.S.

Michael Fumento takes on the CBS veteran suicide crisis claim.

I noted another blogger's questioning of the value of comparing the statistics of a mostly male cohort and the general population and added my own question about whether there was any way to know if these were combat veterans or not.

Fumento raises these issues and adds a question on how the statistics were even gathered.

By all means, help suicidal veterans. But this issue is one of individual and family tragedies rather than a crisis that can be blamed on fighting in Iraq.

Those CBS guys know how to ride that fake-but-accurate horse long after Rather rode it into the ground.

Not Ready for Prime Time

The Chinese navy is making great strides in getting ready for war. But there are serious deficiencies, too:

Chinese ships are not trained or equipped to operate effectively far from China. Just invading Taiwan, which is two hundred kilometers from the Chinese coast, is seen as a major undertaking. The navy also has little experience in joint operations (cooperating closely with the army and air force.) There are also serious weaknesses in C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). Long range surveillance and targeting is a major problem. Against modern equipment, the navy would have a problem with anti-air warfare (AAW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and naval mines. Finally, the navy has a shabby logistics system.

As I have written every time that something like this comes up, I agree 100%. The Chinese navy can't beat ours. This is also irrelevant. As I also invariably go on to note, China needs to have a navy that can defeat Taiwan--not the United States and Japan. All China needs to do regarding America and Japan is to deter America long enough to complete the conquest of Taiwan.

That task is far more doable for China. Can they now? Or will they be able to invade soon? These are the only real questions we should be answering--not whether China can beat us at sea.

The Chinese want Taiwan. They are getting set to take Taiwan. When do they go?

Remember Caesar, Thou Art But a Man

While the drop in casualties in Iraq is significant and probably lasting, it is not the final word in achieving victory. I've long argued that casualties aren't a good metric for winning (though once we win, casualties will drop off) and I continue to hold that is true even as we witness reductions in military and civilian casualties.

It may be easy to lose track of this as the war opponents deny any success in this area since they have defined victory as a decline in casualties.

So Amir Taheri's column warning about what must be done should be read:

'A TORRENT of good news": So The New York Times described the reports of a significant fall in violence in Iraq. But reducing all Iraqi news to measures of violence can hamper understanding of a complex situation.

The surge bought time for many factors to lead to our current winning streak and accelerated those existng trends. We all must use the time gained to really win this campaign.

And yes, Sadr's thugs are still out there and a potential threat. I've worried about them as the biggest threat for over two years now. I hope we've broken up his organization enough to make them just capable of violence and not a real threat to the government. Remember, not all of Sadr's thugs are death squad members or tools of Iran. Most simply wanted to protect their neighborhoods from jihadi car bombs.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Drawing to an Inside Straight?

Strategypage has a good summary of the players in Pakistan. I'd fail to do it justice if I summarized it. Just go read it.

Here, some urge us to dump Musharraf with the view that his opponents are democratic saints.

Others urge us to back Musharraf to the hilt and help him maintain his dictatorship against corrupt politicians trying to engineer a return to power.

The existence of Pakistani nukes makes the issue far more important to us than it otherwise would be (And isn't this alone an argument to fight nuclear proliferation? Do we really want to be drawn into every Third World political crisis?).

The truth is that Musharraf is a decent ruler who rules by means that cannot maintain public support for long. I've long wanted us to push Pakistan to democracy and end military rule to prevent jihadis from exploiting the public's outrage over the lack of democracy.

I hope that Musharraf manages to bridge the divide between military rule and the corruption that has plagued Pakistani democracy. If Musharraf can shed his uniform and win an election against the representatives of the old regime, he might be able to rule honestly enough within a democratic system to keep the military out of politics and break the cycle of deadening corruption followed by military coup that only seems to benefit jihadis who oppose both corrupt politicians and mlitary rule.

It's a gamble however we play this. You do know this decade sucks, right?

Too Little, Too Late

I'm sorry that Prime Minister Howard lost in Australia. He has been a good friend. A "100% ally" as he once said. The new Prime Minister Rudd will seek to distinguish himself in two areas:

Mr. Rudd will distance Australia from the United States in some respects by signing the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Passing a Kyoto that is all but ignored even by those who signed it is just theater. I couldn't care less about that.

But in the area that matters, Australia isn't pulling out of the alliance. Even in Iraq, Australia will remain:

Rudd announced Sunday that he would visit Washington early next year to discuss the withdrawal of Australia's tiny but politically significant 550 combat troops. He will keep in place another 1,000 military personnel, including Navy warships in the Persian Gulf and a diplomatic protection contingent in Baghdad.

Rudd has said that he is "rock solid" on the military alliance between Australia and the US. "I think there'll be awkwardness rather than embarrassment," says political scientist John Hart, an expert at the Australian National University. "The US is also talking about withdrawing troops, so I don't think they'll see this as a major problem in the bilateral relationship."

With combat on a downward trajectory, losing Australia's troops in a combat role is not a killer. Two years ago, a decision by Australia to withdraw their troops from Iraq would have stung. Today, as our own troops start to draw down and we can see victory, this withdrawal is not going to hurt us. And Afghanistan remains a theater of war that we share a common concern.

American opponents of the war will make much of this. And yes, I wish Howard had won just to rebuke such assessments of their election. But our alliance will endure this and thrive. So the anti-war side has a hollow victory, here.

Our Coalition has always relied on the willingness of those allies. This is the wisest course. So I thank Australia for fighting with us so long in Iraq. And I thank Australia for continuing to stand with us in Iraq and fight with us in Afghanistan. Our alliance will remain strong.

Good luck Prime Minister Rudd. The Long War isn't over by a long shot.

A Sea Change?

The fact that Sunni Arabs fled Iraq has been used by some as a sign of failure in Iraq. At one level, it was a failure to pacify central Iraq. But in regard to fighting the war, clearing out Sunni Arabs who actively or passively (from fear or conviction) supported the insurgents and jihadis helped to defeat the Sunni Arab terrorists and insurgents. Many of these Sunni Arabs were the educated elites who gained from Saddam's rule.

Anyway, the refugees are returning home:

An Iraqi official at Al-Walid border post between Syria and Iraq interviewed by state television Al-Iraqiyah said between 700 and 1,000 Iraqis are returning daily.

Only 100 to 200 people are crossing into Syria every day -- mainly for work -- as against the 1,000 or more who just months ago were fleeing the violence, said the official, asking not to be named.

Major General Adnan Jawad Ali, deputy commanding general of Iraq's ground forces, told the news conference that some refugees were arriving home, particularly to Baghdad, to find their houses damaged or looted.

The Iraqi military was deploying in areas where refugees were returning to provide security but it was up to the government, Adnan said, to deal with the problems of damaged or destroyed houses.

The United Nations, meanwhile, said the number of returning refugees had become a "flow".

But the UN won't help because they don't want that help to encourage more Iraqis to return to Iraq while the war is waged. It's already a flow, so what the UN is worried about is beyond me. This could be an opportunity for us to cement our gains with the Sunni Arabs and lock them into a peaceful arena to compete in politics.

As unfortunate as the Sunni Arab flight from central Iraq was for many of those involved, I still think that in the end this flight helped drain the sea in which the Sunni terrorists swam. So I hope that as these Sunni Arabs return to a far different Iraq than the one they once knew, they come back having reconciled themselves to their loss rather than just raising the sea level for predators to thrive.

If these returnees use their education and money to build a new Iraq, this will be a good development. If they bring their sense of grievance at having their era of stealing ended, then a new struggle will begin in Iraq. In a few years time, if their grievances lead to an attempt at a coup, this return of refugees might represent the emergence of the new threat to victory that I've wondered about.

The struggle to defend our victory begins now, even as we work to finalize our ongoing success into that victory.

UPDATE: Our military is concerned about this development, too:

"All these guys coming back are probably going to find somebody else living in their house," said Col. Bill Rapp, a senior aide to the top U.S. commander in Iraq. "This is a major concern. The government of Iraq doesn't have a policy yet. We have been asking, pleading with the government of Iraq to come up with a policy."

Returning refugees is certainly a sign that violence has abated enough for these people to risk the trip home. But the result depends on what these Sunni Arabs do upon their return. The Iraq they fled is gone. Sunni Arab domination is gone. Can they set aside what they've lost and live in the new Iraq?

The Long Run

The Iraqis have announced they will seek a long-term military relationship with us. The President's Iraq advisor LTG Douglas Lute explained:

"We believe, and Iraqis' national leaders believe, that a long-term relationship with the United States is in our mutual interest," Lute said.

From the Iraqi side, Lute said, having the U.S. as a "reliable, enduring partner with Iraq will cause different sects inside the Iraqi political structure not to have to hedge their bets in a go-it-alone-like setting, but rather they'll be able to bet on the reliable partnership with the United States."

This should be no surprise if you've paid attention. Even when the terrorists are subdued, Iraq will need help to deter foreign conventional attack. And we are needed to train the Iraqis to take over this role. Further, our continued military presence will deter Shias who think a religious dictatorship is the way to go. Our presence will help constrain competition to peaceful elections--and good luck convincing a majority of Iraqis that a Shia mullahcracy is a good idea.

Our presence will be sizable:

The Iraqi officials said that under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and U.S. troops would relocate to bases outside the cities. Iraqi officials foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 U.S. troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.

I've long figured a corps and air power would total 75,000. Perhaps support troops in Kuwait will replace some of the number I assumed needed for Iraq. And reach-back capability means some support can take place from the continental United States. And we may leave fewer than the 7 old-style brigades containing 40,000 troops. Our new brigades are smaller and maybe only four or five (at 3,500 each) will be left.

The President, too, has mentioned that we will seek a long-term enduring military relationship with Iraq.

Secretary Gates a while back saw a number of objectives for Iraq in future years:

It has been my view over the last several months that the next steps in Iraq had to address several or multiple objectives.

First, they would need to maximize the opportunity created by the surge to achieve our long-term goals of an Iraq able to sustain, govern and defend itself, and be an
ally in the war on terror.

This is, of course, obvious. The surge had a point. It was to buy time for the Iraqi government to achieve the ability to fight the war with less US direct combat support. This overall goal is certainly the same as the old goal, but instead we used extra troops to gain the ability to go after the enemy in multiple areas at the same time and to hold the gains instead of turning the responsibility to Iraqi forces. And we want to do this in a way that allows friendly elements in Iraq to govern and help us in the broader war on terror. I've long held that a victory in Iraq will in time provide an Iraq that provides help against jihadi terror rather than needing our help to fight jihadi terror.

Second, the next steps had to avoid even the appearance of American failure in Iraq. Extremist Islam was dramatically empowered by defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The first attack against us by the extremists, the World Trade Center in 1993, was launched from Afghanistan just four years after the last Soviet soldier left there. Should the jihadists be able to claim a victory in Iraq over the United States, the sole remaining superpower, I believe it would empower them worldwide far, far more than their victory over the Soviets. The regional consequences would be significant and highly destabilizing.

It is important that our victory in Iraq not just be visible to historians looking back on this decade. It isn't enough for our Left to recognize a victory in Iraq. We will gain a great deal by driving the jihadis into the ground before we pull back and draw down our strength. If we draw down our strength first, the jihadis will believe this is post-Soviet Afghanistan all over where Moscow left a friendly regime in power that eventually fell to tribal warlords and jihadis. Even if we leave behind a friendly government that eventually crushes the jihadis with an alliance of Shias, Sunni Arabs tired of slaughter, and Kurds, in the short run jihadis would be emboldened.

I was willing to take that risk of turning over more of the fight to Iraqis because I didn't think the trends toward victory in Iraq would advance quickly enough to counter rising withdrawal sentiment in the United States. This has always been the major weakness of the anti-war Left. They thought that the war in Iraq was wholly unrelated to the war on terror. But our enemies have not been shy about claiming the importantce of Iraq to their jihad. Despite their base in Pakistan, al Qaeda put their money on fighting in a distant Iraq rather than in next-door Afghanistan. Perhaps bin Laden saw that the 2001 campaign against the Taliban showed that remoteness was no guarantee of safety and that it would be better to seize a more important Moslem state rather than just try to recapture what they'd lost once already.

The surge, however, accelerated existing trends in a manner that far exceeded my hopes back at the beginning of the year. So now, we really could avoid the short-term problem of giving delusional jihadis a shred of evidence to base a claim of victory on. We can leave the main fight against remaining non-jihadi Sunni Arabs and Iranian-backed Shias to the Iraqi government without providing even a flimsy pretense to claim jihadi victory.

Third, the next steps would need to reassure our friends and allies in the region that we will remain the most significant power there for the long term.

Again, Iraq is not an isolated problem. And a continuing presence in Iraq, in addition to our other military assets in the region, will reassure friends that we stay long enough to get the job done and will be there in case Iran directly threatens our friends.

Fourth, the next steps had to signal potential adversaries that we are not leaving Iraq to their ambitions and that we will remain the dominant force in the region.

This is where the fight to establish rule of law and fight corruption comes in. We can't let our wartime sacrifice be undone by enemy covert actions while we go back home with flags flying and bands playing, oblivious to enemy machinations.

This requirement also means that we must leave at least a division headquarters in Iraq controlling 4 or 5 brigades plus land-based air power and nearby naval forces to deter a foreign invasion while the Iraqis transform their current counter-insurgency army into a conventional force that can provide its own combat support and combat service support without our help.

Fifth, those steps also had to signal the different factions in Iraq that we would not abandon them in the near term and are prepared to have a modest-size, long-term, residual military presence there as a stabilizing force, thereby also discouraging them from counterproductive actions predicated on their anticipation of possibly precipitous American departure.

Our conventional forces will serve this function. But in addition we will need special forces and advisors to directly help the Iraqis transition to a regular military that does not seek political power either to "save" the country or to support narrow sectarian ambitions. And we'll need advisors to mold a court system and civil service that rejects corruption and serve rule of law.

Sixth, our actions would also need to signal the Iraqis that they must assume ever greater responsibility for governance and security.

This is an old problem. But it does us no good to get frustrated and walk away if that just means the Iraqis fail. We must push, pull, and cajole--but never abandon--the Iraqis.

Seventh, here at home, our next steps would need to create the best possible chance for broad, bipartisan support for a sustainable American policy in Iraq that protects long-term American national interests there and in the region.

Hopefully, with lower and only occasional US casualties, our political leaders will be able to ignore the calls from fringes to abandon the region. Both the hard Right that prefers the idea of more rubble means less trouble and the nutso Left that prefers American defeat will be marginalized.

And eighth, and finally, whatever we might do had to preserve the gains made possible by the service and sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, and thus reassure them that their service and sacrifice truly has mattered.

Victory does that. Repeated claims that you support them so much that you want to yank them from Iraq do not.

So can we do all this? I think so. We've done it before in Japan, Germany, Italy, and South Korea. All are now peaceful democracies planted on inhospitable ground and our allies. We are in relatively early stages in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Given time, Iraq will be a free country invested in the stability that our other "new" allies value so much. Our troops bought that time (as did far more Iraqis, to be sure, but it is their country). We owe it to all of them to keep investing our money and interest even as our troops transition to a supporting role in the next couple years.

It is a good sign that Iraq's leaders want more time and believe our troops can help them reach beyond mere battlefield victory over the jihadis and insurgents.

It isn't enough to win a victory. We must defend it, as well.

UPDATE: You know, I thought this was just a routine evolution of our strategy. But this press conference is just embarassing for the reporters involved. The question about whether a bilateral defense agreement is unprecedented is hardly an unprecedented display of press ignorance about defense matters.

Yes Virginia, there are many such agreements with countries around the globe--as General Lute patiently explained without ordering the reporter killed just for the blinding ignorance exposed by the question.

But poor knowledge I am used to. What is intolerable is the very ignorance of their lack of knowledge which leads to astonishing arrogance.

Like this "question":

How can any nation make a deal under occupation and not feel coerced? And anyway, they don't really have a sort of government there at all.

Where to begin? I look forward to the day that Germany, Japan, and South Korea can finally not feel coerced about signing international agreements.

Yet the UN recognizes both our presence to defend the fledgling democracy in Baghdad and that government.

And that "sort" of government has been ratified by the people of Iraq through three national elections to select a provisional government, approve a constitution, and elect a regular government. And all have been blessed as free and honest elections by the international community. Not even Jimmy Carter said anything to undermine their legitimacy.

The UN is made up of thug states without any real sort of national government (think Democratic Republic of Congo (old Zaire), Somalia, Chad, and Sudan to name four) as well as many more members whose sort of government has not been approved in any free election.

But this reporter thinks Iraq doesn't have any sort of government. Arrogance built on a foundation of ignorance isn't a pretty thing to behold.

UPDATE: Strategypage doesn't think 50,000 troops will be part of this agreement:

[It] would probably be closer to 10,000. All you need is a "tripwire force" (attack it, and a lot of U.S. reinforcements will promptly arrive).

Maybe in ten years we'll have a tripwire presence, but I find it hard to imagine that the initial force will be less than 4 brigades of troops plus special forces, combat support elements for our forces and the Iraqis, Air Force elements, and advisors. We'll want real combat power on the ground to back up the Iraqi army and police and to be a physical presence to keep troublemakers from acting up. The war isn't over.

And with the war still going on, I just don't believe we'd leave so many support troops and scattered Americans around Iraq without a ground force insurance policy.

Singing Telegram

A Chinese Song class submarines surfaced near the Kitty Hawk during an exercise (Tip to NRO's the Tank). Until that moment, the sub had not been detected:

The lone Chinese vessel slipped past at least a dozen other American warships which were supposed to protect the carrier from hostile aircraft or submarines.

And the rest of the costly defensive screen, which usually includes at least two U.S. submarines, was also apparently unable to detect it.

According to the Nato source, the encounter has forced a serious re-think of American and Nato naval strategy as commanders reconsider the level of threat from potentially hostile Chinese submarines.

It also led to tense diplomatic exchanges, with shaken American diplomats demanding to know why the submarine was "shadowing" the U.S. fleet while Beijing pleaded ignorance and dismissed the affair as coincidence.

Analysts believe Beijing was sending a message to America and the West demonstrating its rapidly-growing military capability to threaten foreign powers which try to interfere in its "backyard".

The People's Liberation Army Navy's submarine fleet includes at least two nuclear-missile launching vessels.

Its 13 Song Class submarines are extremely quiet and difficult to detect when running on electric motors.

Let's review this incident.

One, I think we can assume the Chinese government ordered this stunt.

Two, I don't think this represents a general Chinese capability. Sneaking up on one of our carrier task forces requires both a good boat and a skilled crew. I suspect this Song was hand picked for the mission.

Third, we don't know how the boat got to the location to surface. We seem to be assuming the boat penetrated our defenses. What if the boat sailed to the location before we reached it and sat silently waiting for our carrier to approach it? If the Chinese knew the general location of the exercise, perhaps several boats were out there sitting quietly, and this one boat was the one that got lucky. Maybe the Chinese have been trying to do this for months now.

Fourth, in war, the defensive bubble around the carrier is only the final layer of defense. Starting with offensive missions to hit subs in port with aircraft to attack submarines staking out Chinese ports and patroling aircraft, we would reduce the number of Chinese subs even at sea. And we would sail with more caution in general, to avoid dangerous areas.

Finally, this is the second incident of this type in recent months, if I'm not mistaken.

The Chinese are sending a message to us. But is this really a general message of their growing power?

Are the Chinese sending a very specific message to make us more cautious about rushing carriers in like the cavalry to rescue the Taiwanese should the Chinese attack? Is Peking buying time to conquer Taiwan?

Remember, China wants to defeat China--not America. All China has to do if they wish to invade Taiwan is delay us until it is too late and not defeat us.

Maybe this will bolster the Navy's argument in court that we really do need to train in ASW tactics.

UPDATE: So what are the Chinese up to? They also denied Kitty Hawk and her escorts access to Hong Kong for a planned visit. Perhaps with the publicity of the submarine incident, the visit would have undercut Peking's message of power to their own people by having that massive demonstration of U.S. naval power sitting in one of their ports towering over the docks.

UPDATE: The Chinese now say that the denial was based on arms sales to Taiwan and the Dalai Lama's visit to the US. They first said it was just a mistake.

But then a press conference led to an interesting angle I hadn't seen. A reporter asked, "was the Kitty Hawk or any of its ships involved in monitoring the Chinese naval exercises that took place off the coast of Taiwan? " So I went looking.

Yes indeed, there was a big Chinese exercise:

Well, according to the Chinese Media, the PLAN was conducting a major exercise in the region that included nearly 20 ships and several dozen aircraft. As Feng has noted, most of the article itself is propaganda, nonetheless it raises the question whether the US Navy was perhaps observing a bit too close for China's tastes.

So was the port visit denial just a part two of the PLAN message that our carriers shouldn't come close to Taiwan in case of war between China and Taiwan? Did Peking think their singing telegram about not getting close to China was too subtle and they had to go for the obvious?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Just Politics

As al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists are chased and many of the non jihadi Sunni Arabs are switching sides, more focus is being placed on the potential of Iranian-supported Shias to threaten stability.

Despite Sadr's order to stand down and Iran's agreement to back off (aided by our aggressive efforts against their network inside Iraq and extending even into Iran), some Shia thugs still shoot:

Four members of an Iranian-backed Shiite cell confessed to bombing a public market in central Baghdad, a U.S. spokesman said Saturday. He also blamed Shiites for recent attacks on U.S. bases, raising fears that a three-month truce by the most feared Shiite militia may be at an end.

Interesting enough:

The market is located in a Shiite area and has been targeted before by Sunni extremists. But Smith said the attackers wanted people to believe that the bomb, packed with ball-bearings to maximize casualties, was the work of al-Qaida in Iraq so that residents would turn to Shiite militias for protection.

The Shias don't seem to want Shia militia protection. Shias have grown tired of militia corruption and arrogance since August 2004 when we let Sadr live and his stature was perhaps near its peak. And the terrorists aren't able to kill Shias as they did in the recent past. So the Shia thugs find they must fake Sunni terrorist attacks. This does not indicate that the Shia militias command much popular support.

And those thugs still attacking using whatever Iranian help exists or left over from the days of full support just alienate Iraqi Shias. Led by 600 sheiks who oppose Iranian influence in Iraq:

More than 300,000 Shiite Muslims from southern Iraq have signed a petition condemning Iran for fomenting violence in Iraq, according to a group of sheiks leading the campaign.

A year ago, I worried that the threats from within the Shia community aided by Iranian support made our efforts against the death squads very touchy. The high profile campaign against al Qaeda was accompanied by a lower key campaign that has greatly weakened the Shia death squads and made the potential for them to undermine the government much less.

We may still see a Shia death squad uprising. Don't panic. We can defeat this threat, too, if it emerges. But I imagine we will be able to compel Sadr and other thugs to try their hand in political battles within a democratic Iraq rather than street battles.

That would represent quite the final victory over armed threats within Iraq.

Local Surge

One advantage of the surge is that we truly smacked down the enemies in Iraq and have continued to pursue them with the extra US and Iraqi troops. The enemy has not been able to run and then easily prepare to reinfiltrate back to where they were driven out.

Certainly, we've seen some smaller bombings in Baghdad recently, reflecting the enemy's efforts to strike there, but their infrastructure and resources to terrorize Baghdad have been seriously reduced--perhaps irreversibly so.

In Diyala province, we will pile on:

Col. David Sutherland, commander of the 3rd Brigade, acknowledged concerns that the withdrawal of U.S. troops could lead to a reversal of a decline in violence but said the transfer of the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, will actually result in more troops in the province northeast of Baghdad.

"Although our redeployment is part of the downgrade of the troops across Iraq, their presence allows more boots on the ground in the province," he said.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the increase would be about 2,400 troops due to repositioning but he stressed that the overall U.S. force in Iraq will be reduced by 5,000.

And don't forget that even as the jihadi enemies have fled the Baghdad region for points north, this has not resulted in a surge of enemy attacks in those areas. Regarding Diyala itself:

Significant acts of violence have dropped more than 68 percent province-wide since troop buildup began in April, with 200 reported by Nov. 20 compared with 464 in all of October and 1,051 in May.

This eases the worry that our withdrawal will lead to the reversal of our gains. Even though Diyala is a point of particular concern, we see solid gains in security here, too.

Iraqis still have to hold these gains in the long run, as I noted early in the full surge:

This direct American help in the securing aspect is what is different. And in the end, we can't do this for very long. In the long run, the old strategy of relying on the Iraqis to secure the population must be resurrected. Hopefully, our surge disrupts the enemy enough and secures the population long enough for the Iraqis to become good enough for the job and for the population to feel safe enough to reject the terrorists, death squads, and insurgents.

Iraqis are turning on the various enemies as they see Iraqi and US forces chasing the enemy. Further, even as Iraqi forces get more numerous and better trained and equipped, we have successfully addressed the other side of the equation by atomizing the enemy and increasing the Iraqi security forces' advantages over the enemies. It has taken time to get here, but we seem to have finally made it with different trends finally converging.

A benefit of our broad success across many areas in Iraq that has reduced enemy attacks dramatically is that even as we reduce overall US troop strength in Iraq, we can still add troops to areas that are troublesome. So we can still remain on offense and pursue the enemy.

Gangs and the Civil War in Iraq

Strategypage notes that the gang problem in Iraq is being solved:

The Gangs of Iraq are killing each other off. What it has come down to is the gangs, militias and organizations that have been making a living planting roadside bombs and carrying out contract hits on American and Iraqi troops for the last three years, are being defeated by tribal and community groups fed up with the constant violence. The terrorist activity of the last three years was paid for by kidnapping, extortion, black market gasoline and so on, and wealthy Sunni Arabs eager to put the Baath party back into power. Religious leaders, who often took fees for allowing their mosques to be used as armories and safe houses, also preached against the heretical Shia, who now ruled the country. Now the pro-peace Sunni Arab clergy have displaced the pro-violence imams, and established their own "Council of Religious Scholars" to prove it.

Generally unnoticed over the last two years was a growing revolt within the Sunni Arab community. The Sunni Arab nationalists, the guys who supported Saddam and what he represented, did not have the backing of all Sunni Arabs. Neither did Saddam. And after Saddam fell, the fighting between Sunni Arabs began. Many Sunni Arabs greeted the Americans, and the prospect of democracy, with enthusiasm. These Sunni Arabs found themselves threatened by their fellow Sunnis, and distrusted by the majority Kurds and Shia. But the anti-Saddam Sunni Arabs have grown in number over the last three years, aided in part by the departure (for Syria, Jordan or internal exile) of nearly half the Sunni Arab community.

I figured the gang problem would be an easier nut to crack than the Baathists and terrorists that we are driving into the ground. And the civil war within the Iraqi Sunni Arab community that has been apparent for years (except to the press which only saw Shia-Sunni divides) is being won by the side that wants to surrender. These Sunni Arabs were never part of the Tikrit and Baathist mafia that extorted resources from all Iraqis. Again, when the flight of Sunni Arabs was reported in early 2006, I figured the trend of fleeing Iraqi Sunni Arabs was not a sign of failure but a sign of hope that we'd dry up the sea in which the Sunni Arab terrorist fish swam:

The reason these Sunnis flee now is that these backers of the former regime of Saddam are probably losing hope that their killers can sweep them back into power with their campaign of terror and intimidation.

The fact that backers of the Baathists are now leaving Iraq is not a sign that we are losing. It is a sign that the enemy is losing. They see little hope of running things any time soon and are getting out of town before the new cops come around with war crimes and human rights violation charges in hand. They see that even Saddam is in the witness stand with his own life on the line and have no desire to follow him to the gallows.

So don't transform the fleeing Sunnis into poor oppressed victims. They are former neck-stompers who have given up on their dreams of continuing their neck-stomping. This is a good thing.

In the absence of so many backers of the Baathist Sunni Arab rule, the Sunni Arabs who weren't strong enough to defeat this old guard are gaining dominance. Hopefully, Shias and Kurds will remember that they were not the only victims of Saddam's reign of terror and the al Qaeda terror campaign. Sunni Arabs were victims, too.

The trends in Iraq have been good for years now. These trends are finally paying off visibly.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Fanaticism Eroding in Tehran?

Strategypage has never thought much of bombing Iran's nuclear infrastructure to solve the problem.

I figure that I'd rather not bomb Iran but that I'd rather buy time for other solutions rather than let Iran go nuclear and hope changes come after the bomb. The nutjobs could decide to use their nukes before rational people can take over.

For me, it has always been the regime that is the problem. But in a race against time, do we have the luxury of waiting for Iranians to rise up and throw out the fanatics?

Nor do I think that the situation in Pakistan changes the situation with Iran. Pakistan is a problem. But working on Pakistan is not an excuse to abandon efforts to solve the Iranian problem. That is the major weakness of the anti-any war side. They only say "we must deal with X first" in order to halt all action on "Y". In reality, they'd do nothing about X, Y, or any other Z you can think, of including a regime of white supremacists that bombs the Women's Studies Department at Berkeley. Besides, I suspect that the situation in Pakistan isn't even close to a nuclear crisis. I think our worries are simply highlighted by the very serious consequences should something go wrong.

So while I kept hoping that we would overthrow the mullah regime in Iran before the end of 2008 (or strike Iran as a last resort), I increasingly fear we are just getting ready to try and contain a nuclear Iran and hope for the best. We'll build missile defenses, organize neighboring Arab states, and try to squeeze the mullah regime economically.

Whether Israel will go along with this policy of hope is another question. I suspect we hope too much if this is what we expect.

Still, Strategypage gives me some hope (just a flicker) that maybe the Iranians themselves can end the reign of the Iranian fanatics while we hope for the best:

A coalition of conservatives and reformers have curbed much of what the radicals, as represented by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have attempted to do. This includes slowing down the nuclear weapons program and withdrawing support for Shia radicals in Iraq.

And this has been encouraged by forceful but quiet American actions:

In Iraq, Ahmadinejad also had to back down in his support of radical Shia factions there. It became obvious that Iranian religions fanaticism only appealed to a small minority of Iraqis, and any attempt to push Iranian radicalism there was creating resistance. More pragmatic Iranian leaders convinced Ahmadinejad that long term relations with a Shia dominated Iraq were at risk because of his policy of supporting Shia radicalism inside Iraq. So earlier this year, it was agreed to cut a deal with the Americans and withdraw the support for Shia radicals inside Iraq. This included cutting back arms smuggling, and the use of Iranian military experts to train Iraqi Shia terrorists. In return, the British and American would stop presenting embarrassing evidence of Iranian meddling in Iran, and withdraw the commando raids that have been doing deeper and deeper into Iran, looking for arms smugglers and Iranian troops.

Add in the effectiveness of our military in Iraq, the inadequacy of Russian air defenses that the Israeli September raid highlighted, and the knowledge that Iran's ramshakle conventional military is incapable of offering serious resistance, and you have an Iranian retreat from Iraq.

Still, even this report does not make me think we've given up completely on actively doing something about the mullahs. You'd think that a revelation that British and American special forces are operating inside Iran conducting raids would justify a little more expansive treatment by Strategypage.

And back to the Israeli wild card, is this a sign that we really aren't hoping for the best in Iran?

If our guys are operating inside Iran, who else is? And what else are the special forces operators doing?

Will we see a Persian Spring built on increasing internal opposition, external pressure, and covert operations supported by our conventional forces if necessary?

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Trend in Iraq

The surge is working. Has the surge rescued the Iraq War? Many war supporters assert we were losing until the surge was implemented.

If so, were these past events failures?

APRIL 2003. We destroyed the conventional armed forces of the Baathist regime and overthrew Saddam.

DECEMBER 2003. We captured Saddam and had ground down the Baathist insurgency. By February 2004, we suffered only 20 troops killed in Iraq.

AUGUST 2004. We put down the second Sadr-led Shia revolt after repulsing the first revolt in the spring alongside the jihadis and their new alliance with the Baathists. This alliance alienated most Shias who began to side fully with us. Our careful battle in August did not drive Shias to Sadr.

NOVEMBER 2004. The Second Battle of Fallujah ended the hopes of the jihadis to conquer Iraq posing as liberators.

The Year 2005. Transitional assembly elections in January, the approval of the costitution referendum in October, and the December parliamentary elections put Iraq on the road to democracy and rejected the idea that a better strongman was the answer to Iraq's problems.

FALL 2006. The Anbar Awakening began, signalling the end of non-Baathist and non-jihadi Sunni resistance.

FALL 2007. The Sunni jihadis were finally broken and the Iranian Shia proxies were knocked back

These were all successes. What some people fail to realize is that despite being successes, they weren't the final victory. But they are no less victories for failing to be the last victory.

The surge has not reversed our defeat in Iraq. The surge has built upon past success and is simply another phase in the long war against a series of enemies and obstacles.

We must still address the problems of criminal gangs, corruption and rule of law, Shia rivalry that could explode in violence, and deter conventional attacks on Iraqi territory.

Have no doubt, we have much more to do. But we've achieved a lot already. That's what the trend tells us.

Saving Private Ryan

This type of statistic is used a lot by war supporters to argue that the war in Iraq isn't that intense:

The Congressional Research Service, which compiled war casualty statistics from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts, reported that 4,699 members of the U.S. military died in 1981 and '82 — a period when the U.S. had only limited troop deployments to conflicts in the Mideast. That number of deaths is nearly 900 more than the 3,800 deaths during 2005 and '06, when the U.S. was fully committed to large-scale military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The CRS, which is the public policy research arm of Congress, issued its findings in the June report "American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics.", in re-examining the findings, found that — surprising as it may be — there were more active duty deaths in some years of peacetime than there were in some years of wartime. Military analysts say the current decrease in military casualties, even during a time of war, is due to a campaign by the Armed Forces to reduce accidents and improve medical care on the battlefield.

Of course, our military was probably 50% bigger than our current active duty force back then than now.

Even the anti-war side uses part of this argument to argue the toll is greater by saying that only improved medical technology has kept the war from being the losing blood bath that they know it is.

Or the anti-war side will say that contractors are taking the casualties our troops would take without the contractors. Then again, we don't need as many support troops in the field because of superior communications that allow them to support the forces in Iraq from outside of Iraq.

There are bits of truth to both sides on this. But trying to judge the current war by standards of another era can only take you so far. Times change and we fight a war in our circumstances and not another era's circumstances. If we hadn't reduced accident casualties since 1982, we'd have more deaths now out of the combat zone. So what? And our population is larger now. Should we adjust the burden down because of this? Should we adjust it up because we don't have the expectation of casualties that we had in 1865?

The bottom line is that our forces are fighting with high skill and morale, excellent protective gear, and with outstanding medical care against enemies that quite honestly aren't that good at fighting. This leads to lower casualties. We really are fighting with far fewer deaths and this is caused by a number of factors.

Which leads to good retention of existing troops and no shortage of volunteers for our combat arms in the recruiting arena (we have trouble only with the support function jobs that compete with the civilian sector for potential recruits). Going to Iraq really isn't a death sentence (Well, for the Armed Forces. I won't speak to the State Department on that issue.)

So this is an interesting statistic that tells much about the changing environment since 1982. But that's about it. Winning is not about the absolute level of friendly casualties. Nor does it make the war more or less just or necessary.

When Every Problem is a Nail

We are winning in Iraq. And visibly so, now. But the pro-retreat side is still insisting that the only thing that matters is progress in the benchmarks that Congress established:

And what is the reaction of the war critics? Nancy Pelosi stoutly maintains her state of denial, saying this about the war just two weeks ago: "This is not working. . . . We must reverse it." A euphemism for "abandon the field," which is what every Democratic presidential candidate is promising, with variations only in how precipitous to make the retreat.

How do they avoid acknowledging the realities on the ground? By asserting that we have not achieved political benchmarks -- mostly legislative actions by the Baghdad government -- that were set months ago. And that these benchmarks are paramount. And that all the current progress is ultimately vitiated by the absence of centrally legislated national reconciliation.

In the absence of success at the grass roots level, progress in the center would have imposed some type of reconciliation from the top. Had that happened, we'd be debating the relevance of leaders in the Green Zone being able to impose peace on their still-angry followers and questioning how deep reconciliation really was.

Mostly, this episode shows the folly of Congress trying to run a war. Congress institutionally believes no problem can't be solved by a new law. That's their job. So naturally they want to legislate solutions to every problem they assume authority for solving.

Congress compounded this outlook by misunderstanding the truism that insurgencies are not mostly a military problem but a political problem. This is true, but military action is still crucial. And the conflict is still a war despite needing political means as the primary weapon.

So Congress, having decided we aren't going to win in Iraq, naturally looked to legislation to solve the problem--either Iraqi laws to win or our laws to surrender.

We are winning in Iraq without the Iraqi laws Congress wanted and will finish the victory if Congress will refrain from enacting U. S. laws that insist on our defeat.

Not every problem is a statutory shortcoming. So not every solution is a bill.

A Reasonable Response

I think that talk of our oil "addiction" is silly. We utilize a natural resource to achieve unprecedented prosperity. How are we "addicted" to this resource any more than Copper our other resources? Indeed, if we didn't extract and use oil, it would be a contaminant lying in the ground.

The only reason we speak of oil as a particular problem is that much of the source of oil lies in Moslem nations. Whether directly or indirectly, Western money going to these oil exporters fuels jihadi terrorism.

So we need to do something to diversify our energy sources. With oil prices and demand going up, I see nothing wrong with an energy compromise along these lines:

Here is what we might do: Raise fuel economy standards for new cars and trucks; gradually increase the gas tax (possibly offset with tax cuts) to induce people to buy those vehicles; expand oil and natural gas production in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. These steps would, with time, temper the power of oil producers while also checking greenhouse gases. But many liberals, conservatives and environmentalists oppose parts of a sensible compromise. The stalemate hurts mainly us.

I use a hundred gallons of gasoline per month, so I'd really like that tax offset. But regardless, couldn't Congress try to legislate on common areas instead of flailing about appeasing their base that hates President Bush?

In short, Bush hatred is not a rational response to actual Bush perfidy. Rather, Bush hatred compels its progressive victims--who pride themselves on their sophistication and sensitivity to nuance--to reduce complicated events and multilayered issues to simple matters of good and evil. Like all hatred in politics, Bush hatred blinds to the other sides of the argument, and constrains the hater to see a monster instead of a political opponent.

In the short run, we don't need to replace oil to combat one fuel for terrorism. We just need to reduce demand for oil relative to supply sufficiently to drive the price of oil down. Once trends point to the replacement of oil, long before oil is actually replaced, the oil producers will seek to export their resource while they can and drive down the price even more. Nobody will think oil reserves are an asset when other sources of energy mean that nobody wants the hassle of using oil.

We really do need an oil policy. The reality-debased community needs to take a deep breath, count to ten, and actually try letting Congress legislate on American needs. And conservatives shouldn't let opposition to mandated fuel standards stop a bargain to start us on this virtuous cycle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Distracted from the Real War in Afghanistan?

Strategypage writes that events in Pakistan may lead the jihadis there to focus on the fight in Pakistan rather than in Afghanistan:

While it's difficult to evaluate the longer-term effects, there's a possibility that recent developments in Pakistan may help the situation in Afghanistan. With Pakistani Islamists focusing their attention on general-president Musharraf's crackdown, and probably on the Bhutto-led anti-Musharraf "liberal" movement as well, they are likely to be less willing to send men and money to Afghanistan.

With jihadis getting waxed in Iraq and Afghanistan and even in Lebanon, I thought that the Pakistani-based jihadis might focus on the near enemy rather than continue to send resources to far jihads where they get little return:

The jihadis surely gained strength because of the ceasefire they obtained from the Pakistani government, but the jihadis don't seem to be able to turn their strength in Pakistan into power they can project. Their increased attacks in Afghanistan just result in the slaughter of the jihadis themselves and just enough civilian casualties to piss of the Afghans rather than terrorize them.

And if the international brigade from the Arabian peninsula is reduced, the jihadis in Pakistan will only be able to wage war against Pakistan itself.

If Pakistan may finally realize that they cannot make deals with jihadis, al Qaeda and their jihadi Taliban allies may be waging war on Pakistan because they have no choice.

If Pakistan will fight this war with no quarter, this could be the final jihad.

The martial law in Pakistan complicates this, of course, by making the stability of Pakistan an open question. But then again, prior to martial law, that question was very much open if not obvious.

Yet perhaps martial law is providing the jihadis with one more reason to wage war in Pakistan instead of Afghanistan. Maybe the jihadis will try for a bridge too far, distracted by the hope of seizing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and get chopped up in a war with Pakistan's regular armed forces.

Of course, the Pakistani government has to actually fight this war and keep the people of Pakistan behind their efforts.

With nukes on the line, losing this fight could be very, very bad. But if Pakistan will actually fight the war instead of hope to talk their way out of it, we could gain an awful lot if we win.

From the Jaws of Victory

Ralph Peters argues that we are winning right now due to five factors.

One, we didn't quit. That is, we kept fighting and our troops didn't let us down by continuing to fight hard and honorably against our many enemies inside Iraq.

Two, Petraeus took command and was relentless in going on offense and letting subordinates adapt to local situations and do what it took to win in their areas of operation. And he had the authority to let them run with their instincts.

Three, fanatical enemies made it easier on us by their alienation of potential allies through terrorism.

Four, the Iraqis are getting worn out. At some point, being sick of fighting is necessary to stop fighting. The Sunnis are increasingly tired of trying to win back control of Iraq in a fight that doesn't seem to be working; and even the Shias are tired of revenge attacks, it seems, at the price of having actual lives.

The fifth reason is most interesting, the surge shocked the Sunni Arabs:

While the increase in troop numbers was important, allowing us to consolidate gains in neighborhoods we'd rid of terrorists and insurgents, the psychological effect of the surge was crucial.

Pre-surge, our enemies were convinced they were winning - they monitored our media, which assured them that America would quit. Sorry, Muqtada - that's what you get for believing The New York Times.

The message sent by the surge was that we not only wouldn't quit, but also were upping the ante. It stunned our enemies - while giving Sunni Arabs disenchanted with al Qaeda the confidence to flip to our side without fear of abandonment.

The Sunni Arabs thought they were finally winning despite their horrible losses in the battle, and then we snatched that hope away.

One reason I opposed the surge early in the discussion was that I feared it would just be more troops. I figured we were slowly winning and adding troops would erode home support more than the extra troops would accelerate the winning. I liked the surge as finally presented and the surge has worked far better in the short run than I expected.

I did speculate (and this was just that and no prediction) that even continuing the fight without an immediate withdrawal despite the calls of the victors in our November 2006 elections might shock the enemy:

Now consider that the Iraqi Sunni terrorists and insurgents of both the Baathist and jihadi variety may have a lot invested in the idea that our will was broken and we will withdraw from Iraq. This would leave them the chance to somehow overcome the majority Shias and Kurds. The Sunnis may have been getting smashed up all over Iraq, but in the nick of time we will pull a withdrawal and save them.

So, with each passing month where our forces go out and kill terrorists and jihadis with no sign we are about to pull out, will the enemy foot soldiers get seriously discouraged?

I'm not trying to put a smiley face on the situation. But consider that the enemy may have worked themselves up into a supreme effort to attack and affect our elections the last several months. Having succeeded (in their minds even if not true objectively) in getting Congress to flip party control, have the enemy convinced themselves they won the war?If so, as we continue to fight even with the opposition party controlling Congress, a sense of futility could infect the enemy and lead to elements quitting the fight.

I don't know. But it is a possibility considering that I think the Sunni Arabs are on the verge of being wiped out in Iraq and all their talk of ultimate victory is simply farcical.

And a little later, when the President proposed the surge, the possibility that our enemies might break in the face of this unexpected resolve to fight seemed real and that one reason for supporting more US troops might be to discourage our Sunni Arab enemies:

I've written before that when the Sunnis lose they may well break suddenly.

And I recently wrote a couple posts speculating that our Sunni enemies might have made a supreme effort in the belief that affecting our elections would save them. As we continue to fight and the press talks of "escalation" with the so-called "surge," I wondered if our enemies would become discouraged.

I think Peters is right about this reason. This is surely a major cause of the dramatic results of the surge. If a sizable portion of the Sunnis hadn't broken, my thoughts that we would simply continue to grind down the Sunni Arabs and increasingly fight the Shia thugs backed by Iran would have been true, I think, and the surge might have exhausted our political will to win before Iraq could stand a fighting chance of winning without becoming a Shia autocracy.

The war isn't over. But a year ago, the enemy thought our election meant they had won the war. Today, because we fought on, the pace of our winning seems to have sped up enough to create its own momentum toward breaking more enemies and convincing more to run or quit rather than fight on to the bitter end.

Get Out Your Telescopes

Ok, this post is just pure evil pleasure. I think very little of two of the stars in the Leftish constellation of deep thinkers: Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman.

So when the Washington Post defends the honor of their editorial board and slams Krugman for his dramatic change of heart on the Social Security issue by quoting competing columns from a decade apart, I had fun. I can only assume that Krugman will argue that the last decade has witnessed a dramatic improvement in the Social Security system!

Ultimately, Krugman suffers from arguing with an idiot ten years his junior. Or ten years his senior.

And then the Weekly Standard hits Tom Friedman, the most overrated so-called deep thinker there is today:

What his columns invariably lack in insight and sophistication about the world beyond our borders, they more than make up for in signaling (albeit belatedly) the direction of fashionable opinion in Washington and New York.

It was weird to watch Friedman go from war supporter to war opponent as the fight got difficult. Actually, I got the impression that what got difficult for him was enduring New York cocktail parties where all his wife's friends loathed Bush and "his" war. Now Friedman is starting to flip back, confident it is safe to say we might win the war.

My personal standard for judging the war lies not with Friedman but with the bulk of the non-Left war opposition. When they stop calling it "Bush's war" we'll know we've won.

As I've said before, I'm not saying you can't drown in a pool of Friedman's wisdom, but you'd have to be drunk and face down to do so.

Good times. Good times. It really is a time for giving thanks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Rising Threat

As the combat threats in Iraq decline, one threat that has been there all along contributing to the violence and inflating the impression of "resistance" is composed of criminal gangs.

The Iraqis can now address these common criminals:

Iraqis have been quick to react to the sharp decline in terrorist violence. The streets of most Baghdad neighborhoods are filled with people, as are the schools. Thousands of refugees from the city have returned. More importantly, the police now regularly patrol most of the city, talking to people, and collecting information on who-is-who and what is up. The next big target is the criminal gangs, which still rule many neighborhoods, and impose their own kind of terror on many Iraqis. The gangs are a major source of anti-government activity, and often supplied terrorists with goods and services. Many terrorists have switched to being gangsters, once the terrorist organization they belonged to was destroyed over the last few months.

This is a good thing. And success against this threat should be easier since these guys commit violence for profit and not ideology. Smack them hard and they should draw back to crimes that don't get them as much government lethal attention.

There are the Shia gangs, too, of course. Victors often scrap amongst themselves after the victory. Which makes it no less dangerous for our interests, of course. We need to make sure that contest is mostly conducted by ballots rather than bullets.

The Battle at Haditha

There was no massacre at Haditha:

At Haditha, did the Marines act reasonably and appropriately based on their training? They were in a hostile combat situation where deadly force was authorized against suspected triggermen for the IED, and were ordered to assault a suspected insurgent hideout. In retrospect, the men in the car had no weapons or explosives; in retrospect, the people in the house were not insurgents. No one knew at the time.

Innocents were killed at Haditha, as they inevitably are in all wars--though that does not excuse or justify wrongdoing. Yet neither was Haditha the atrocity or "massacre" that many assumed--though errors in judgment may well have been committed. And while some violent crimes have been visited on civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, overall the highly disciplined U.S. military has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion. When there have been aberrations, the services have typically held themselves accountable.

The same cannot be said of the political and media classes. Many, including Members of Congress, were looking for another moral bonfire to discredit the cause in Iraq, and they found a pretext in Haditha. The critics rushed to judgment; facts and evidence were discarded to fit the antiwar template.

Most despicably, they created and stoked a political atmosphere that exposes American soldiers in the line of duty, risking and often losing their lives, to criminal liability for the chaos of war. This is the deepest shame of Haditha, and the one for which apologies ought to be made.

Yet one officer will be prosecuted:

The highest-ranking U.S. serviceman to face court-martial involving combat since Vietnam was due to answer charges Friday of failing to investigate the killings of 24 Iraqis, including women and children.

He failed to look into the incident when early indicators were that something might have been done wrong. He didn't order the killings. He didn't cover it up. He failed to investigate.

Like I suspected as the massacre story began to fall apart, while our Marines made some errors there, it was never a deliberate murder spree. And the mistakes were fatal to Iraqi civilians because of the enemy's decision to fight among civilians and use civilians as shields.

For all those anti-war people who claim to support the troops nonetheless, a little less of the natural reflex to condemn our people would be nice.

Our military really can be trusted to punish those who actually commit crimes or violate the rules of war. I wish our enemies were held to similar standards.