Friday, January 12, 2007

Why Abizaid has to go

Lots of waterfront property here

As the House Democrats pound the committee room tabletops and demand of Condi Rice what the hell she really thinks the word "surge" means (the Dems are in fine rhetorical form, now that the Republicans have had to relinquish important committee leadership positions to the Dems), one important detail that has slipped under their radar is the replacement of Gen. John Abizaid (a ground-pounding Army commander and head of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East) with Adm. William Fallon, currently the commander of the Pacific Command (PACOM), a Navy avaitor guy.

Several commentators have picked up on this odd move, but I think that Michael T. Klare over at The Nation has the best heads up.

The choice of Fallon to replace Abizaid was highly unusual in several respects. First, this is a lateral move for the admiral, not a promotion: As head of Pacom, Fallon commanded a larger force than he will oversee at Centcom, and one over which he will exercise less direct control since all combat operations in Iraq will be under the supervision of Gen. Dave Petraeus, the recently announced replacement for Gen. George Casey as commander of all US and allied forces. Second, and more surprising, Fallon is a Navy man, with experience in carrier operations, while most of Centcom's day-to-day work is on the ground, in the struggle against insurgents and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Part of the explanation for this move, of course, is a desire by the White House to sweep away bitter ground-force commanders like Abizaid and Casey who had opposed an increase in US troops in Iraq and argued for shifting greater responsibility for the fighting to Iraq forces, thereby permitting a gradual American withdrawal. "The Baghdad situation requires more Iraqi troops,"
not more Americans, Abizaid said in a recent interview with the New York Times.

For this alone, Abizaid had to go.

But there's more to it. Abizaid, who is of Lebanese descent and served a tour of duty with UN forces in Lebanon, has come to see the need for a regional solution to the crisis in Iraq--one that inevitably requires some sort of engagement with Iran and Syria, as recommended by the Iraq Study Group. "You have to internationalize the problem, you have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically," he told the Times. "You just can't apply a microscope on a particular problem in downtown Baghdad...and say that somehow or another, if you throw enough military forces at it, you are going to solve the broader issues in the region of extremism."

If engagement with Iran and Syria was even remotely on the agenda, Abizaid is exactly the man you'd want on the job at Centcom overseeing US forces and strategy in the region. But if that's not on the agenda, if you're thinking instead of using force against Iran and/or Syria, then Admiral Fallon is exactly the man you'd want at Centcom.

Why? Because combined air and naval operations are his forte. Fallon began his combat career as a Navy combat flyer in Vietnam, and he served with carrier-based forces for twenty-four years after that. He commanded a carrier battle wing during the first Gulf War in 1991 and led the naval group supporting NATO operations during the Bosnia conflict four years later. More recently, Fallon served as vice chief of naval operations before becoming the head of Pacom in 2005. All this means that he is primed to oversee an air, missile and naval attack on Iran, should the President give the green light for such an assault--and the fact that Fallon has been moved from Pacom to Centcom means that such a move is very much on
Bush's mind.

The recent replacement of General Abizaid by Admiral Fallon, along with other recent moves announced by the Defense Secretary, should give deep pause to anyone concerned about the prospect of escalation in the Iraq War.

Contrary to the advice given by the Iraq Study Group, Bush appears to be planning for a wider war--with much higher risk of catastrophic failure--not a gradual and dignified withdrawal from the region.

Make no mistake, Gentle Readers, this president has shown time and again that he has his own agenda, and regardless of the wishes and desires of the Ameircan people, he will kill as many Arabs (even though Iran is actually full of Aryans, not Arabs) as he possibly can before he is dragged off the stage of history, his legacy of death fully secured in the history books, and let the next guy clean up the mess.

Update: David Corn has a rumor to pass on:

The Abizaid ousting reminded me of a story a retired Army colonel told me last spring. This source still spends much time with Army commanders, occasionally as a consultant and as a participant in strategic discussions held at the Army's various institutions. He noted that he had recently been talking to Army commanders at a military war college. His colleagues said that Abizaid routinely visited their institution and would "walk the halls" complaining that he had no options in Iraq, that he did not know where to aim his guns, where to dispatch his troops. He was wringing his hands. This description made it seem that Abizaid had concluded that Bush's war was probably lost and that Abizaid was (justifiably) depressed. Which would mean that he was living in a reality-based hell. No wonder he had to go.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Victory in Iraq?

The Honorable U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was squeaking and waving his arms frantically in the air the other night in the well of the Senate and generally looking pretty agitated, trying to make his case that Americans should know that if we don’t try this one last trick, this “surge,” then by golly (and here he nearly broke down and sobbed) we’ll suffer Defeat in Iraq.

Wow, dude, where have you been? Not only are we already suffering “defeat in Iraq,” most Americans had that figured that out waay long ago. Graham is acting like we’ve all been living under rocks for the last three years (a period longer than WW II in which we kicked the butts of Germany, Italy, and Japan simultaneously) and like we can’t count to 3,000 or something. Graham needs to know that while we may be slow to anger, we ain’t stupid, like some people we could point our fingers at.

Iraq is America’s Tar Baby and there is nothing down this road but defeat. The history of that screwed up region tells us so.

Let’s look at the facts on the ground.

1) The Kurds in the north are autonomous (and relatively peaceful), and want to stay that way.
2) The Sunni and the Shiites are killing each other at a prodigious rate, qualifying their areas as ground zero in a civil war.
3) We’ve been spinning our wheels for three years with no end in sight.
4) Over one million Iraqis have fled the country, with thousands more fleeing every day.

These last people are the upper echelons of Iraq civic society: the shopkeepers, the intelligencia, the scholars, and the wealthy investors. In other words, the people who make a country work. Without these groups of people the country cannot function in any meaningful way and they won’t be back soon.

But is Iraq a write-off? Leaving aside American culpability in crashing Iraq’s economy as well as the enormous scale of the physical damage caused by the original Shock and Awe and subsequent military actions, combined with Halliburton’s gross incompetence in failing to meet even minimum standards in fulfillment of its mission to rebuild the infrastructure, we are left with the fact that it is our mere presence that is driving the bulk of the violence.

Recently President Bush has been driven against every fiber of his being to admit he made a mistake in not allocating enough troops to smother the country.

What he has not addressed is what in the hell are we doing there in the first place? The real reasons, and not more neo-con bullshit.

Tonight’s the president will address the problem of achieving “victory” in Iraq, over three years after he declared “Mission accomplished” on that aircraft carrier.

The question still goes unanswered, “What mission?”

Iraq - A History Lesson

Map by

The following is an excerpt from "Winston Churchill Strikes Again: The Map of Iraq," Encyclopedia Idiotica: history’s worst decisions and the people who made them, Stephen Weir (Barron’s Educational Series, 2005)

One result of World War I was that the Ottoman’s foolish last-minute alliance with the Kaiser and the Austrians led to the almost complete dismemberment of their empire. Turkey itself, empowered to some extent by the victory in the Dardanelles became a secular state bridging Europe and Asia. The rest of the empire was left without rule, but not entirely in chaos. The Byzantine nature of the empire meant that provinces were to some extent self-governing and could soldier along on their own…The new nationalisms that had exploded in the Balkans and had begun the whole decline of the Ottoman Empire swiftly spread into the newly-liberated Ottoman provinces, and bitter riots against any attempt at British rule began. The home audience had no stomach for this:

"How much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed in the vain endeavor to impose upon the Arab population and elaborate and expensive administration which they never asked for and do not want?" asked The Times.

…Perhaps the only one who really did care was Sir Mark Sykes appointed by General Kitchener in 1915 as his personal representative to a prime ministerial committee to determine the future of the Middle East. He worked tirelessly to establish proper British control in the region…but in 1919 Sykes unexpectedly died [and was replaced] by Winston Churchill.

Churchill had no time for any of this policy. He wanted the army demobilized: he wanted the Arabs rebellions put down, and the map redrawn…A British protectorate was finally set up in 1917, but the hold on Iraq was tenuous…There was strong opposition to British rule… The Ottomans had divided the region into three provinces, more or less ethnically centered around Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra in an attempt to keep the warring Sunni and Shiite populations apart…

By 1920 all of this had boiled over into full-scale revolt across the region. Horrifically, Churchill was not the least bit interested in working out what to do with whom. His view was …"I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am utterly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes." … [P]oison gas was used regularly across the region to put down the revolt…Airpower, the dropping of bombs containing gas, was used extensively for almost the first time in history to save ground forces and expense; indeed, the whole revolt was put down with the loss of 2,000 British soldiers.

The problem remained of what to do with Iraq once the revolt had been put down. Essentially, the decision was made to hand over all of Arabia to whatever local strongmen could be relied on to support British rule in return for being allowed unlimited control over local populations. It didn’t really matter which populations, whether they wanted to be under that leader, or who their new countrymen might be. The careful planning of Sykes was all for naught. Churchill held a 10-day conference at the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo on March 12, 1921, to work out the new frontiers…[Ibn Saud was given] the heart of Arabia…the Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra were no longer separate but were thrown together into the new state of Iraq…Local observers were horrified. An American missionary noted, "You are flying in the face of four millennia of history." The British civil commissioner in Baghdad, Captain Arnold Wilson, warned that it was a recipe for disaster because the enduring Shia-Sunni conflict would result in the "antithesis of democratic government."…The Kurds were lured into the new kingdom, rather than becoming a part of Turkey, by promises of self-rule, not the first or last time such a promise from the West was instantly broken.

The conference blithely gave a large portion of what should have been Saudi Arabia – west of the Euphrates – to Iraq. In return, Ibn Saud was given control of most of the historic Kuwaiti kingdom, all but cutting off Iraq from…access to the Persian Gulf.

The consequences are all too apparent today. Rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iraq remains. Three times Iraq has laid claim to Kuwait and been thrown back, most recently precipitating the First Gulf War. The total lack of interest in laying down sensible borders for the country resulted in what was at the time predicted – never-ending rivalry between the Shiites and the Sunni. This was complicated by the uncomfortable and unwanted presence of the Kurds, and the imposition of someone who was considered an outsider as king; and the lack of interest on behalf of the British in imposing anything other than a sphere of influence or proper governmental systems to replace the Ottomans. This resulted in the internal catastrophe and the endless successions of coups that led to the coming to power of Saddam Hussein.