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This is a media story that should be getting a lot more coverage than it has.

An NRO reporter/blogger, W.Thomas Smith, Jr., reported from Lebanon last fall and several of his stories contained gross inaccuracies and what many Lebanese observers and reporters believe to be fabricated vignette’s regarding Hizbullah activities in Beirut as well as his own exploits in getting his stories.

I read most of Smith’s dispatches from Lebanon at the time and thought it odd that this American was able to get around so easily and had apparently fantastic sources who were feeding him colorful little nuggets of information. Compared to Michael Totten, David Kenner, (who also pointed out Smith’s fables among other outrages) and others who have written of their experiences there and how difficult it was to report what was happening in that confusing muddle of politics, religion, and geo-political conflict, Smith’s job seemed effortless by comparison.

I don’t believe I ever linked to any of his dispatches there if only because he really wasn’t giving any new information and I was disinterested in his personal observations in that they seemed rather self-indulgent. I remember at the time thinking “This guy is going to get killed or kidnapped if he’s not careful.” As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.

That’s because Smith embellished his “reporting” with at least two glaring factual inaccuracies or lies if you prefer. On September 25, Smith wrote that Beirut was occupied by “some 200-plus heavily armed Hezbollah militiamen” at a “sprawling tent city.” Then on the 29th, Smith reported that his sources had told him that 4,0000-5,000 Hizbullah militiamen had “”deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in an unsettling ‘show of force.’”

Using the word “unsettling” is a rather large understatement. Such a move by the Shia militia into Christian Beirut would have almost certainly initiated a violent reaction. And while there is indeed a tent city that virtually surrounds the Grand Serail – a symbolic show by Hizbullah who has occupied the square since last December to protest what they see as the illegitimacy of the Lebanese government – the thought that there are “200-plus heavily armed” Hizbullah militiamen would probably come as a shock to the Lebanese army who are currently carefully stationed between Hizbullah and the government building. One journalist described activity at the tent city this way:

“This guy is hilarious. Armed Hezbollah at the Serail? He must be mistaking the Lebanese army at the gates – those 200 in the tents are some middle class Hezbollees – who now come once a week to have a smoke with their friends and get away from their wives.”

According to most of the Lebanese media sources I’ve read, there are rarely more than 500 people camped out there. And while the tent city has severely curtailed economic activity in downtown Beirut, the government is much more concerned about Syrian assassins than they are an armed Hezbullah thrust at the Serail. (Note: For the Glenn Greenwalds of the world, such was not the case last December when only entreaties from Saudi King Abdullah kept several dozen armed Hizbullah gunmen who had blockaded entrances to the building, from storming the Serail and toppling the government.) This is not to say that Hizbullah and their guns present no serious threat to the government’s existence. But there is certainly no immediate threat beyond the normal unease the government feels about 20,000 or so of its citizens in possession of guns and heavy weapons that could easily be turned on them.

There were other questionable tales told by Smith regarding his travels around Lebanon detailed in an email to Huffpo’s Thomas Edsall from Middle East correspondent Michael Prothero:

“In his [Smith’s] wildly entertaining postings, he describes kidnap attempts, an armed incursion into Christian East Beirut by 5,000 armed Hezbollah fighters that was missed by every journalist in town, he also notes the presence of 200 armed Hezbollah fighters in downtown Beirut ‘laying siege’ to the prime ministers office, recounts high-speed car chases and ‘armed recon operations’ where he drives around south Beirut taking pictures of Hezbollah installations, while carrying weapons. In a word, this is all insane.”

Clearly, Scott Beauchamp has nothing on Smith when it comes to just making stuff up.

Indeed, according to Edsall, Smith heavily criticized Beauchamp last fall while his Lebanon fables were were fresh on people’s minds. Edsall (and Glen Greenwald) try and make the curious point that this somehow calls into question NRO’s criticisms of Beauchamp or perhaps lessens their impact. I see the hypocrisy but facts are facts, my friends. Beauchamp lied, smearing the military in the process. What difference does it make with regard to the Beauchamp story if Smith got that one correct? Call him out for his hypocrisy but don’t try and use it to somehow defend Beauchamp.

Smith issued his partial mea culpa on Friday, trying to weasel his way out of apologizing and retracting what even he says are stories he simply made up:

In the case of the 4000-5000 Hezbollah troops, Smith wrote:

“I have not been able to independently verify that ‘thousands’ of armed Hezbollah fighters deployed to the Christian areas of Beirut in late September, but my sources continue to insist that it happened….

“In retrospect, however, this is a case where I should have caveated the reporting by saying that I only witnessed a fraction of what happened (from a moving car), with broader details of what I saw ultimately told to me by what I considered then—and still consider to be—reliable sources within the Cedar Revolution movement, as well as insiders within the Lebanese national security apparatus. As we were driving through that part of town, I saw men I identified as Hezbollah deployed at road intersections with radios. I was later told that these were Hezbollah militants deploying to Christian areas of Beirut, and there were four or five thousand of them.”

In the case of the 200 armed Hezbollah militia, Smith wrote:

“The Hezbollah camp in late September—and up until the time I left in mid-October—was huge (‘sprawling’). And though the tents were very large and many of them closed, I saw at least two AK-47s there with my own eyes. And this from a moving vehicle on the highway above the camp. And in my way of thinking, if a guy’s got an AK-47, he’s ‘heavily armed.’

“Did I physically see and count 200 men carrying weapons? No. If I mistakenly conveyed that impression to my readers, I apologize. I saw lots of men, lots of them carrying walkie-talkie radios, and a tent city that could have easily housed many more than 200. I also saw weapons, as did others in the vehicle with me. And I was informed by very reliable sources that Hezbollah does indeed store arms inside the tents. And they’ve certainly got the parliamentarians and other government officials spooked and surrounded by layers of security.”

This is a non-retraction retraction. He didn’t see 200 men carrying arms but he apologizes for mistakenly conveying that impression? It wasn’t an “impression.” He reported it as fact – a huge difference. But as I said, weasel words instead of a clear apology and retraction.

NRO Editor Kathryn Jean Lopez also issued an apology which was a not very forthcoming and praised Smith’s other reporting to boot:

Bottom line: NRO strives to bring you reliable analysis and reporting — whether in presenting articles, essays, or blog posts. Smith did commendable work in Lebanon earlier this year, as he does from S.C. where he is based, as he has done from Iraq, where he has been twice. But rereading some of the posts (see “The Tank” for more detail) and after doing a thorough investigation of some of the points made in some of those posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that NRO should have provided readers with more context and caveats in some posts from Lebanon this fall. And so I apologize to you, our readers.

“Context and caveats?” What good are those when your reporter is making stuff up? This is not quite Franklin Foer territory but it’s hardly the kind of reaction we should be seeing from responsible journalists. This is especially true since the reporter himself has disavowed the accuracy of the stories in question. Save the praise for another time and come clean about his mistakes. While you’re at it, Ms. Lopez, you should probably have taken the opportunity to announce that Mr. Smith was no longer employed at the National Review. A self-admitted fabulist has no business working for a magazine with as much integrity and honesty as NR has shown over the last 50+ years.

The excellent critiques of Smith’s made up Lebanon stories by Edsall and conservative blogger Michelle Malkin have done a great service to online reporting by holding our own to as high or higher standards than the mainstream media holds themselves. But this hysterical and dishonest screed written by Glenn Greenwald – where the confirmed sock puppetteer believes that Smith’s fables were more serious a transgression than Beauchamp smearing the military – prove that not only is Greenwald extraordinarily uninformed about Lebanon, but his screaming paranoia about the reasons for Smith’s fables could only be written by someone who has abandoned reason and logic in favor of partisan hackery.

As with all Greenwaldian diatribes, it is impossible to deal with due to the fact that there are so many distortions, false assumptions, straw men, and deceitful conclusions that any complete destruction of his cockeyed stupidities would necessarily be book length. However, allow me the luxury of picking and choosing from Mr. Greenwald’s idiocies to at least try and set the record straight on a few matters.

Greenwald pooh-pooh’s Hizbullah’s threat to the elected majority by writing of “Hezbollah’s alleged armed threat to the Lebanese Government.” There is nothing “alleged” about this threat in the slightest. It drips from every pronouncement made by the opposition regarding their year long seige of the government building in Beirut. There may be only a couple of hundred Hizbullah members camped out at any one time. But as Nasrallah has proved time and time again, he can have 500,000 screaming maniacs in the square facing the Grand Serail in 24 hours.

Some examples of “alleged” threats to the government by the only armed militia in Lebanon:

Hezbollah deputy chief Sheikh Naim Kassem:

“This government will not take Lebanon to the abyss. We have several steps if this government does not respond but I tell them you will not be able to rule Lebanon with an American administration.”

FPM Leader and Hizbullah ally Michel Aoun:

He said the Saniora government “does not deserve to stay in power for one hour more … in a few days we will declare our rejection of this government and we will ask for the formation of a transitional government to organize new elections.”

He threatened that the “barbed wire doest not protect government offices. In the coming days the protest will expand.”

Aoun noted that protesters in Ukraine had stormed parliament building to push for regime change “and no one said that was an illegal move.”

And Aoun again:

Despite some of his allies’ refusal to storm the Grand Serail, the former army general said that “the natural tide can carry the demonstrators to the Grand Serail, which is why they increased the metal barriers.”

“Siniora should not take this as a threat but rather a warning, to him and to all those who support him, that the people will not wait much longer for him to step down. They don’t even need encouragement from the leaders.”

What is the government supposed to think when the opposition has its very own heavily armed, highly trained militia dedicated to achieving power? What is there “alleged” about this threat? Only an apologist for Hizbullah could make such an idiotic statement.

The other point about Greenwald’s writing about this affair is his deceitful references to Smith’s motives for his fabrications; that they are “war-fueling” and, in quoting approvingly from John Cole (the blind leading the ignorant when it comes to Lebanon), spreads the notion that Smith is agitating to get the US involved in a Lebanese civil war:

As Cole notes, while Beauchamp’s stories did nothing other than highlight the bruatlity (sic) of war, Smith “radically overstate[d] a military threat to a key ally, perhaps to agitate for American military involvement.”

Only a paranoid believes the US has any desire or interest in getting militarily involved in a civil war involving Hizbullah. There is not one shred of evidence that it has been contemplated or even discussed beyond a contingency. It simply is not going to happen. To believe it is possible or that Smith was beating the war drums to fight Hizbullah is not evident in either Smith’s writings or any pronouncement from any American official anywhere on earth. It is a totally decietful and gratuitous notion advanced by Greenwald with no basis in fact or reality.

And by the way, it is very difficult to “overstate” the military threat of Hizbullah to the government. While the idea that 4,000 Hizbullah militiamen entering Christian Beirut may be fanciful, the actual threat is extraordinarily serious and is taken that way by not only the Lebanese government but every actor in the region.

Greenwald should stick to his paranoid Bush bashing or perhaps write something else that makes Joe Klein look silly. His hysterical rants about Smith and right wing bloggers with their “war-fueling” items makes him look even more foolish than usual.


Ed Morrissey is considerably more charitable toward Lopez and NRO in his analysis:

Notice that she did not blame the critics for pointing out the error or assume that the criticism was motivated by some sort of conspiracy. She didn’t, in essence, blame the customer for a faulty product. She took quick action to investigate, found obvious shortcomings, and issued an apology and a detailed accounting of the problem.

This is indeed laudatory. However, given that Lopez felt the problem with the stories could have been solved if NRO had supplied caveats and context, Ed’s analysis doesn’t zero in on NRO’s true failings; that Smith exaggerated or made things up and Lopez didn’t acknowledge that fact.

By: Rick Moran at 3:22 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

CATEGORY: Middle East

After weeks of fruitless bargaining, the March 14th majority in Lebanon may have finally conceded that expediency is the better part of compromise.

After rejecting a proposal weeks ago to amend the constitution to allow an active duty officer in the military to serve as president, thus clearing the way for the election of General Michel Suleiman, the current commander of the Lebanese army, the March 14th bloc in parliament now says it is ready to take that deal:

Houry, a legislator with the Future Movement of Saad Hariri, said the bloc had reversed its previous stand against amending the constitution to elect a sitting army commander.

“We declare our acceptance to amend the constitution in order to reach consensus on the name of the army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman,” he said.

Hariri is effectively the leader of Lebanon’s parliamentary majority, and his support is tantamount to the majority’s acceptance.

Houry’s statement described Suleiman as “symbol of the unity of the military establishment which has given martyrs and blood in defense of the nation against the enemy and against those who threatened civil peace.”

Suleiman is also respected by Hizbullah, which is leading the opposition, suggesting that after months of being unable to elect a new leader, the republic may once more have a president.

Suleiman’s stock rose considerably following the army’s painfully slow but successful operation against Fatah al-Islam, the al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group who had barricaded themselves in the Palestinian refugee camp at Nahr al-Abed. He proved himself acceptable to March 14th in 2005 when the Lebanese army sat on the sidelines during the massive demonstrations that eventually led to the ousting of Syrian troops from the country. He has also steadfastly stood by the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, going so far as to protect the Grand Serail from Hizbullah mobs last December when it appeared that they may have been preparing for a coup d’etat.

But Suleiman, like all Lebanese leaders, is full of contradictions. His brother in law was a spokesman for former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president’s father. He also owes his job as army commander to the Syrians who installed his patron, former President Emil Lahoud into office.

Then there was the Lebanese army’s move into the south of the country when UNIFIL expanded following the Hizbullah-Israeli war. Suleiman made a point of announcing that the army would not be involved in taking away Hizbullah’s weapons, earning him the gratitude of Hassan Nassrallah and the opposition bloc.

The fact that Suleiman is now a leading candidate for president shows that in Lebanon, you don’t get anywhere politically until you’ve played both sides against the middle several times and emerged alive with your reputation relatively unscathed.

The key will be opposition acceptance of both the idea to amend the constitution and Suleiman’s candidacy itself. Even among the ruling coalition, doubts are being expressed about mucking with the constitution:

I am personally opposed to Suleiman’s nomination as it would be against democratic principles,” said Butros Harb, a member of the ruling coalition and a declared presidential candidate now apparently out of the running.

“I have nothing against him personally … but his appointment would amount to prostituting the constitution once again.”

He was referring to a Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment in 2004 that extended Lanoud’s six-year term in office for another three years.

Indeed, opposition to that amendment by former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri cost him his life when he was assassinated by a car bomb on Valentines Day, 2005. The resulting demonstrations kicked Syria out of the country and established the current governing majority.

But the real key to Suleiman’s acceptance will be the reaction by Christian Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun whose own presidential aspirations drove him to abandon other Christian groups who allied themselves with the majority and throw his lot in with Hizbullah and the opposition.

Just a few days ago, Aoun grandiosely offered to settle the crisis by dropping out of the presidential race – as long as he could name the candidate to succeed President Lahoud. No one really took him seriously which shows how far Aoun’s stock has fallen with the majority although he still commands plenty of respect in the Christian community and enjoys the qualified support of Nasrallah’s Hizbullah.

At the moment, Aoun seems to have been taken by surprise. Naharnet is reporting that “Aoun said he will consult legal authorities regarding amending the constitution to elect Gen. Suleiman president and “we’ll comment after that.”

This must be hugely disappointing to the old man. Is he big enough to swallow his ambitions and work to solve this intractable crisis for the good of the country? Once upon a time, Aoun refused to turn the Lebanese government over to Syrian toadies and had the army fight in the streets against vastly superior numbers to prevent that from happening. He lost that battle and went into exile to France, a hero to many Christians.

From there, he organized a resistance to the Syrian occupation earning him the respect of many Lebanese. He returned expecting the presidency as a reward for his services. But Lebanon had changed in his absence and spurned by the forces of democracy, he joined the opposition led by the extremists of Hizbullah – a strange marriage of convenience that now appears to have done him no good whatsoever.

Suleiman on the other hand, seems to have played his cards just about right. He would be an acceptable candidate to both Syria and the United States, obviously for different reasons. Michael Young predicted Suleiman’s ascension back in August:

Suleiman’s presidential ambitions are no longer a secret. On Monday, the former minister Albert Mansour made a statement to this newspaper that the army commander had told him he would accept heading a transitional government if Lebanon’s politicians didn’t agree over a candidate, provided all sides accepted Suleiman’s nomination. More intriguing, Mansour added that if the army commander presided over such a government, this would mean he could dispense with a constitutional amendment necessary for active senior state officials to stand for office.

This is worrying, because if Albert Mansour said what he did, then he almost certainly had a Syrian green light to do so. Far from desiring a vacuum, Syria apparently is seeking to use the threat of a vacuum to push its favorite through. Suleiman is not necessarily the only nominee, but he does seem to be the most likely one, because it’s the army that Syria wants to see win out. Michel Murr’s recent assertion that only the army can maintain security in Lebanon today, combined with Fatah al-Islam’s threats, means the security situation might have to deteriorate first for Suleiman to become more palatable to the parliamentary majority.

That’s not to suggest the army commander would be part of such a ploy. Nor is it to suggest that Suleiman would be rejected outright by the majority. The fact that on Saturday Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem backed France’s initiative in Lebanon was revealing. It indicated that Damascus is focused on bringing European pressure to bear on the majority to accept its candidate of choice. The tactic may well work. France, Spain and Italy, pillars of UNIFIL all, are determined not to allow a void at the top of the state, and if Suleiman is their way to avert that outcome, the March 14 coalition will find it hard to say no.

Suleiman is also on good terms with US Ambassador David Feltman and is seen by some as Washington’s favorite compromise candidate all along. This may be true if only because a Suleiman led government would be preferable to a vacuum.

Despite the fact that one of his biggest boosters in Lebanon is former Defense Minister and Syrian mouthpiece Albert Mansour, filling the position of president as quickly as possible – along with the prospect of negotiations that would give certain guarantees to keep the current makeup of the government, including Siniora as Prime Minister – has apparently swayed the March 14th forces into acquiescing to this less than favorable arrangement.

It is doubtful that a deal can be reached by Friday, the day of the next scheduled vote for president. But almost certainly by the end of the weekend, we will know whether a deal is possible and a vote should follow shortly thereafter.

In a perfect world, Suleiman is a terrible choice for the majority. But with pressure coming from both France and the United States to compromise, March 14th has reluctantly bitten the bullet and, if Hizbullah goes along, will have a president that is at least not totally under the blankets with Syria although he may be sleeping in the same bedroom.

By: Rick Moran at 2:32 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)


Before my conservative friends get their panties in a twist about my skepticism and before my liberal friends start piling on because I’m just not being gloomy enough about the prospects for success in Iraq, l think we should all take a deep breath, step back, and look at what is happening there not through our partisan political glasses – rose tinted or otherwise – but with the critical eyes of observers who have been watching closely what has been going on for more than 4 years in that tragic, bloody country.

We are all aware of the the progress that has been made these last few months; the welcome drop in civilian deaths, the Sunni “Awakening,” the extraordinary progress made in rooting out al-Qaeda terrorists, and the curious but gratifying pullback in the south by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. All of this has combined to create the most important benefit of all in Iraq – the return of hope among the people.

This has been manifested by a return to old neighborhoods by hundreds of thousands of people who abandoned their homes during the worst of the sectarian violence as well as a cautiously optimistic re-opening of business districts previously shuttered due to the violence. It is apparent in many of the interviews with ordinary Iraqis who have voted on the success or failure of our change in strategy with their feet by venturing out and about to sample the nightlife of Baghdad once again.

All but the most unreconstructed liberal (or partisan Democrat) have cheered these events. The reasons for this success vary depending on which side of the political divide you are on. “No one left to kill” say liberals. “It’s the performance of our military,” say conservatives.

Both are right. Both are wrong. And both left out a few details as well.

There are parts of Baghdad that will never see a Sunni Iraqi again just as there are parts that will never see a Shia again. In many neighborhoods, after homeowners were given 20 minutes to pack and told to leave or forfeit their lives (many being executed anyway), Shias and Sunnis moved in to those houses and occupy them to this day. Prime Minister Maliki has a program that pays the squatters to leave if the neighborhood votes to have the original home owner return. But whole neighborhoods were emptied of Sunnis and Shias in Baghdad and there is no doubt that part of the reason for the drop in sectarian violence has been the simple fact that the sects are no longer in close proximity to each other in most of Baghdad.

Our professional military has done more than its fair share as well in helping tamp down the violence. Showing the Iraqis that we have no intention of leaving a neighborhood after it is swept and cleared has given the people confidence to inform against al-Qaeda and the insurgents. This intel has led to information from interrogations that precipitates more raids, more intel, ultimately making the neighborhood much safer.

Our war against al-Qaeda will someday, according to one officer at the Army War College, become a textbook example of rooting out terrorists and insurgents hiding inside a civilian population. The success of this phase of our counterinsurgency plan has shocked even its planners. If the world were fair and the press unbiased, this would easily be the story of the year – the near destruction of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Is it too early to be touting General Petreaus as Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year?”

Then there’s the Sunni “Awakening.” The reason I put that in quotes is because no one is sure – least of all our commanders on the ground who have made this point abundantly clear – just how this “Awakening” will play out.

It pains me to see a note of triumphalism creeping in to some pro-war blogs and columns. I share their enthusiasm for the good news but not their apparent blindness to the dangers of making allies of former enemies – especially enemies whose goals have not changed; America out of Iraq. Some of these Sheiks have truly changed sides and are working with us eagerly on security issues while being open to reconciliation with the Shias – as long as they are treated fairly.

But there are many more tribal leaders who view this marriage of convenience with our military as a lull in their blood feud with the Shias. This is extraordinarily bad news if we can’t differentiate between who our true friends might be and who are future enemies are certain to be. To these Sheiks, no political reconciliation is possible with the government as long as it is made up of Shias like Maliki and his sectarian gang. What they might do if the Iraqi government would be more to their liking is anyone’s guess. But as has pointed out many times, many of these former Baathists are nationalists who will never voluntarily give up power to the Shias and despise the Americans for propping up the Maliki government (who they see as little more than a sectarian thug who has murdered thousands of Iraqi Sunnis).

From all that I’ve read both in media here and overseas, it appears to me that an unknown number of these Sheiks and militia leaders – perhaps less than a majority but that would be a guess – will eventually return to their insurgent ways. In short, we will eventually have to deal with a reconstituted insurgency. Hopefully, we aren’t giving them too many arms that would assist them in being any more formidable than they already are.

I hasten to add that this is not my analysis but has been talked about openly among our commanders as well as other observers around the Middle East. To them, it is not a question of if the Sunnis turn but when.

In the south, there is no other way to describe what is going on but a lull in the violence. The coming war between the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr and the Badr Organization for ultimate control of most of the population centers has been put on hold by Mookie, probably at the behest of his Iranian sponsors.

In fact, one could say we have achieved a kind of victory over the Iranians as we have forced them into what David Ignatius calls a “tactical retreat:”

[T]he recent security gains reflect the fact that Iran is standing down, for the moment. The Iranian-backed Mehdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr has sharply curtailed its operations. The shelling of the Green Zone from Iranian-backed militias in Sadr City has stopped. The flow from Iran of deadly roadside bombs appears to have slowed or stopped. And to make it official, the Iranians announced Tuesday that they will resume security discussions in Baghdad with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

I suspect the Iranians’ new policy of accommodation is a tactical shift. They still want to exert leverage over a future Iraq, but they have concluded that the best way to do so is to work with US forces – and speed our eventual exit – rather than continue a policy of confrontation. A genuine US-Iranian understanding about stabilizing Iraq would be a very important development. But we should see it for what it is: The Iranians will contain their proxy forces in Iraq because it’s in their interest to do so.

Of course, there is still infiltration by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They seem to have stopped inciting violence among their cadres as Ignatius points out but there is absolutely no evidence they have left the country.

It seems unlikely that the uneasy peace in the south will remain that way for long. Al-Sadr has been reorganizing his militia while at the same time, reaching out to some unlikely allies in the Sunni and Kurdish communities. He would like to broaden his base, removing the sectarian taint from his militia. So far, he has not had much success but its clear he is seeking allies for when he takes on the Badr Organization.

The Badr Organization is smaller but better trained, and is much more powerful politically, being the military arm of the largest party in Iraq, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (formerly the SCIRI). Both militias received various levels of training and assistance from Iran and still receive support from the mullahs there although the Badr Organization has been sidling away from Tehran since the establishment of the government. Their emphasis has been on infiltrating the Iraqi police and army.

Iran is seeking a Shia enclave in southern Iraq and will, according to some observers of Iran, use the Mahdi Army to achieve that goal once the American drawdown is well underway. The leader of SIIC, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, hates the upstart al-Sadr and will oppose any expansion of his power. Hence, the set up for conflict in the south once al-Sadr gets his act together.

Even what appears to be a permanent reduction in violence by al-Qaeda might be illusory. There is no sign that Syria or Saudi Arabia have much interest in seriously trying to keep their borders secure from terrorist infestation of Iraq. The feeling is apparently because they don’t want them in their countries either. Better they blow themselves up in Baghdad than Riyadh or Damascus.

All this would normally point to exactly the attitude that the Administration has taken relating to the spate of good news coming out of Iraq – cautious optimism.

Not so some commentators and bloggers on the right who have trumpeted the news that we are “winning” in Iraq with all the fervor of a newly baptized convert. The gloating is unseemly by some and is liable to come back and bite them in the butt. We even have Charles Krauthammer comparing what is going on in Iraq with the Inchon Landing during the Korean war and the 1864 turnaround of Union fortunes during the civil war.

That kind of hyperbole is nonsense. We don’t know what the situation is going to be like 6 months from now in Iraq – perhaps not even 6 weeks. There will almost certainly be more spikes in the violence despite the best efforts of the tribes and the US military. Those increases in the body count will not doubt bring equally stupid cries from the left about stupid righties who were “taken in” by the government or some equally nonsensical claptrap.

The situation as it is now in Iraq is just that – the situation now. No more, no less. It would really, really help if the Iraqi government got off its behind and took this extraordinary opportunity that our men and women have bought and paid for with their blood and sweat to get busy with trying to reconcile with those Sunnis willing to join the government. And there are Sunnis out there who wish to reconcile, including the large, diverse National Public Democratic Movement made up of dozens of tribes centered around Ramadi as well as The Iraq Awakening out of Anbar province that enjoys widespread local support among the Sheiks.

What is happening in Iraq now has been referred to by some in the Administration as a “window.” I think they are correct. What must be done is to cement as many of the Sunnis as possible to the fortunes of the government while continuing the fight against al-Qaeda and trying to find a way to neutralize al-Sadr.

How much we accomplish relating to those goals in the next few months will tell the tale about whether the gains we’ve made using our new counterinsurgency strategy, so hard fought and exhilarating though they might be, are to be permanent or not.

By: Rick Moran at 11:06 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (10)


As the clock ticks toward midnight, the factions in Lebanon, unable to agree on a consensus candidate for president, have resigned themselves to the fact that they are about ready to enter unknown territory.

A constitutional vacuum is about to open up – if, as he has promised, soon-to-be-ex-president Emil Lahoud resigns as planned. What does it mean in practical terms? No one knows which is why pronouncements like this from Lahoud are not helpful:

Premier Fouad Saniora on Friday rejected a controversial measure by outgoing President Emile Lahoud ordering the army to enforce law and order after claiming that “risks of a state of emergency” prevail over the nation.

A three-article statement signed by Lahoud said: “The risks of a state of emergency prevail over all the territories of the Republic of Lebanon as of Nov. 24.

“The army is assigned the task of maintaining security and all military forces would be placed at the army’s service,” the statement added.

It said that once a “legitimate government is formed” the army command would coordinate its moves with it.

However, a statement issued by Saniora’s press office said the presidential measure is “not factual and not based on constitutional or legal authorities.”

It recalled that, constitutionally, only the government has the authority to declare a state of emergency, subject to revision by parliament in eight days.

The Saniora statement said Lahoud wants to allude that the nation is facing serious threats “at a time security prevails because the army maintains the nation’s security and protects the people’s safety.”

The statement concluded by stressing that the government is both “legal and constitutional.”

Lahoud has maintained for almost a year now that because 6 opposition ministers resigned from the cabinet, subsequent decisions taken by the Siniora government have been illegal and that the government itself is not legitimate.

It is unclear whether Lahoud’s statement is meant to urge the army to carry out a coup although by asking the military to “maintain security” until a “legitimate government is formed” while all but declaring a state of emergency, it is hard to interpret his statement otherwise.

In fact, Abu Kais at From Beirut to the Beltway writes that even if Siniora insists on maintaining his position, the cabinet no longer controls the military:

Although Lahoud did not directly call for state of emergency (post corrected), he handed over all security matters to the Lebanese army, meaning the cabinet would no longer have power over it. AFP quoted an official in the Siniora government as saying Lahoud’s statement “is not valid and is unconstitutional…It is as if the statement was never issued.”

One more unknown in a sea of unknowables.

Meanwhile, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri has rescheduled the presidential vote for November 30. As the majority bends over backward to accommodate the opposition by not taking advantage of the constitutional option open to it and electing a president by simple parliamentary majority, some have taken the government to task for this inaction:

Now that the “opposition”, including Nabih Berri, has adopted Aoun’s “initiative”, March 14 finds itself, yet again, outmaneuvered. After living in the Berri-esque illusion that Bkirki’s list will be respected, March 14 rediscovered the dishonesty of its opponents. Over the past month, the “opposition” successfully managed to prevent the parliament’s majority from electing a president through distraction and deceit. Hours before the constitutional deadline expires, the Syrian-puppet president is preparing to announce measures designed to prevent the Siniora cabinet from assuming power. Lahoud is armed with Hizbullah’s blessing and the complicity of Michel Aoun. March 14 is counting on assurances given by Berri that the “opposition” will not escalate the situation if a president in not elected through a majority vote.

March 14’s Fares Soueid said the movement is waiting for Lahoud’s announcement before taking such a step. Sadly, March 14 deputies came to parliament today and consented to a postponement, forfeiting their constitutional right to holding such a session. Considering that Berri couldn’t hold his end of the French-sponsored bargain, it seems strange to this blogger that so much faith is still being placed in his promises, and in reaching agreement with him.

It should be clear that Lahoud is not bound by any arrangement Berri may have made with the majority. It should also be clear that Hizbullah and Aoun have been using Berri to buy time and keep March 14 from convening its deputies. One wonders if March 14’s current strategy, which is sadly being pushed by Jumblatt and Hariri, will cost them the country.

The feeling is widespread among March 14th supporters that their leaders have not taken advantage of the legal mechanism open to them and simply elected a president by majority vote. The feeling seems to be “Let Hizbullah do their damndest and to hell with Michel Aoun.”

I can understand their frustration but speaking as an outsider and a supporter of the government I sympathize with the majority’s plight. They have been well and truly trapped ever since the opposition ministers walked out of the government almost exactly a year ago. The government of Lebanon – any government – was dependent on the cooperation of Hizbullah both for legitimacy and to get anything done. Once that cooperation was withdrawn (with the realization that Nasrallah has no intention of granting it again unless he gets to call the shots) everything that has happened between then and now could have been foreseen.

The assassinations, the war with Israel, the constant, unyielding pressure on the government to compromise is being cheered on in Damascus if not planned and carried out on President Bashar Assad’s orders. Only Syria benefits from the chaos that threatens the peace in Lebanon. Despite the United Nations moving forward with the Hariri Tribunal – almost certain to implicate Syrian officials in the political violence that has taken place in Lebanon – they are moving glacially. And if the government changes hands, peacefully or otherwise, the chances of that Tribunal getting any cooperation from Lebanon vanishes. In that case, it is very difficult to see how the Tribunal will be able to do its job properly – something devoutly wished by Assad and his henchmen who UN prosecutors are convinced are involved in the assassination of the ex-prime minister.

There are precious few options left for the majority. It seems clear that by next week’s deadline, they will either have resigned themselves to the prospect of civil strife by electing a president themselves or will continue to dither, hoping lightening will strike and the opposition presents a candidate who would be acceptable to them.

The latter prospect is not in the cards which is why it is more than likely that eventually and reluctantly, the elected majority government of Lebanon will take the fateful step of thrusting aside opposition objections and, being constitutionally empowered to do so, will elect a president by simple majority vote. What this action will precipitate is anyone’s guess. Anything from violence in the streets to the opposition setting up their own president and cabinet and calling it the “legitimate” government of Lebanon is possible.

A “sea of unknowables” indeed.


Street celebrations are underway as Emil Lahoud leaves office. What is his legacy?

Emile Lahoud packed the sack and evacuated the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, leaving behind a record of two Syrian-sponsored constitutional amendments that placed him in office … and kept him there for nine years.

A cheerful crowd took to the streets of Beirut’s Tarik Jedideh district to celebrate the end of Lahoud’s term in office chanting “Lahoud out.”

Lahoud, 71, also has a long list of leftovers: Four military aides behind bars, 12 unsettled political crimes, a split nation struggling to avoid renewed civil strife and a vacant presidential office waiting for the election of a new head of state who can patch up a people that cannot agree even on one answer to a simple question: Who is the enemy?

Sounds more like an indictment.

Speaking of indictments, when will justice be served?

In 1998, Syrian President Hafez Assad sponsored a constitutional amendment that allowed Army Commander Lahoud to run for Lebanon’s top post.

The Syrian-controlled parliament responded, not only by adopting the Assad-inspired constitutional amendment, but also by unanimously electing his chosen candidate to Lebanon’s top post.

Blessed by “the father”, Lahoud enjoyed another constitutional amendment inspired by the late Syrian President’s son-heir Bashar Assad in 2004 that kept him in office for three years more.

Shortly after Lahoud received the second Assad Blessing, Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh survived a car-bomb attack on Oct. 1, 2004 and the list of serial killings rolled:

Ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, Minister of Economy Basel Fleihan, columnist Samir Qassir, former leader of the Communist Party George Hawi, TV journalist May Chidiac, Defense Minister Elias Murr, MP Jibran Tueni, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, MP Walid Eido and MP Antoine Ghanem.

The Assassination of ex-MP Elias Hobeika in 2002 also remains a mystery.

No coincidence, all the victims were prominent opponents Lahoud, or both Lahoud and Syria’s dominance over Lebanon.

I have said it many times but it bears repeating; the similarity between the Syrian regime and a Mafia crime family are striking. Both use intimidation and murder to achieve their ends. Both set up “protection rackets” to soak their victims. Both are made up of a small, vicious cadres of lieutenants who are loyal to a crime boss.

Read the whole article by Mohammed Salam, one of Naharnet’s most insightful writers.

UPDATE: 11/24

Gateway Pundit has a good round up and some telling photos of Lebanese celebrating the end of Lahoud’s presidency.

By: Rick Moran at 6:15 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with Political tumult intensifies in Lebanon ...

The driver of the yellow Mercedes Benz truck in Beirut that awful day 24 years ago knew precisely where to go. According to intelligence reports, two members of what was then the underground terrorist organization known as Hizbullah had mapped the layout of the Marine barracks so that the suicide bomber could carry out his mission to maximum effect. He knew the Marines pulling sentry duty had pocketed their ammo clips thanks to some ridiculous rules of engagement. And he was aware that there were no barriers protecting the structure so that his truck laden with 12,000 pounds of explosives would only have to crash through ordinary wood and plaster in order to be positioned perfectly so that detonation would have catastrophic effects on the building.

The truck had apparently been prepared with the help of Syrians and Iranians in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon where several Revolutionary Guard units had been stationed under Syrian protection. An NSA intercept revealed at a trial that convicted the Islamic Republic of Iran of being behind the attack, stated that a message sent from Iranian intelligence headquarters in Tehran toAli-Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus and directed the Iranian ambassador to get in touch with Islamic Amal which has since been identified as the military arm of Hizbullah at the time, and instruct him to “take spectacular action” against the Marines.

When the bomb detonated, it may have been the largest non-nuclear explosion in history up to that time (we used the “Daisy Cutter” in Afghanistan which weighs 15,000 lbs). The entire barracks building was lifted off its foundation and when it came down, it collapsed in a heap of cinder blocks, plaster, and dust. A few seconds after the blast, another suicide truck bomber crashed into the French military headquarters detonating a similar device. All told, 241 Americans lost their lives in the blast. Another 58 French paratroopers died in the other attack that day. It was the worst day for the Marines since the battle of Iwo Jima and the worst day for the US military since the first day of the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam.

While it is not a rock solid certainty that Hizbullah, acting on direct orders from Iran, was behind the attacks, the preponderance of evidence certainly points that way. At the time, Hizbullah was in its initial stages of formation, being trained by Revolutionary Guard units who had infiltrated Lebanon through Syria. At first, Hizbullah was not an independent actor in Lebanon, receiving its orders directly from Khomenei’s Iran. The US had just given Sadaam Hussein more than two billion dollars in aid to fight Iran and the thinking is that Khomenei wanted to get back at the US for our support of Iraq. When US forces pulled out the following February, it was simply gravy from the Iranian point of view.

So for 24 years, we have been in an undeclared war with Hizbullah and, by extension, Iran. Or, at least Iran has been at war with us. We have pretended that no such conflict exists under successive US presidents, Republican and Democratic, liberal and conservative. Occasionally, history intervenes and tries to rouse us out of this stupor but so far, to no avail. In 1984, Hizbullah attacked our embassy, killing 5 Americans. In 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked by Hizbullah and a Navy diver was savagely beaten to death. They kidnapped and murdered CIA officer William Buckley and Colonel William Higgins, a Marine serving with the UN at the time. (They were kind enough to forward videos of the murders to our government). They fired on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. They have operated around the world, killing Jews wherever there’s a soft enough target to hit.

To this day, Hizbullah is beholden to Iran, getting all of its funding and weapons as well as its training through the Revolutionary Guards. They receive an estimated $250 million a year – by far and away the largest recipient of Iranian foreign aid. Their fighters are trained in Iran, indoctrinated in Iran, and are more loyal to the “Islamic Revolution” than they are to Lebanon.

And yet, there are those who are serious when they proclaim they don’t want us to “start” a war with Iran.

This is worse than madness. It is deliberate, self deluded suicide not to recognize Iran as deadly enemy of the United States. Bombing and invading is not the answer, although as the last option available, it may come to that. But we should have absolutely no qualms about attempting to undermine the government of Iran and work for regime change – peacefully if at all possible. But ultimately, the only peaceful solution would be if the Iranian people themselves overthrew the corrupt and messianic mullahs who currently run that country.

It was 24 years ago today that Hizbullah, acting under what is believed to be the direct orders of Iran, made their largest and most successful attack against America. Their masters in Tehran have since been challenging us at every turn, testing our resolve and going so far as to assist our enemies in Iraq. The question now isn’t if a showdown will occur but when.

I don’t know if violence can be avoided. I know we must try to do so because the consequences of war with Iran for the entire world would be profoundly dangerous and destabilizing. But the threat Iran poses is intolerable and must be dealt with – one way or another.

UPDATE 10/25:

Reader Mike emails with a correction:

The “Grand Slam” bomb of WWII, weighing 22,000 lbs and dropped from a British Lancaster bomber, was larger.

And for that matter, accidental ammunition explosions of WWI and WWII, in Halifax N.S., Texas, the Bay Area and IIRC, Eniwetok Atoll, each involved several thousand tons of munitions.

I should have mentioned above that the statement about the barracks bomb being the largest explosion ever up to that time was actually from a quote by the trial judge in the suit against the Iranians.

Obviously, he didn’t know what he was talking about – any more than I did.

Thanks to Mike for the correction.

By: Rick Moran at 2:16 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)

Blogs 4 Brownback linked with The Splodydopes Started It...

As all other Presidential campaigns have done, Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy team has written an essay for Foreign Affairs outlining her thoughts and goals for her potential presidency.

I felt that given the fact that it is a good bet at this point that Mrs. Clinton will be putting her thoughts into action come January, 2009, a close look at her ideas and proposals would be of interest to all.

Generally, speaking the essay is typical Democratic party boilerplate with some interesting differences, including the eye-popping inference that a Clinton Administration may be willing to negotiate with al-Qaeda:

Use our military not as the solution to every problem but as one element in a comprehensive strategy. As president, I will never hesitate to use force to protect Americans or to defend our territory and our vital interests. We cannot negotiate with individual terrorists; they must be hunted down and captured or killed.

We can’t negotiate with “individual terrorists” but does that mean we might be willing to sit down with terrorist groups? I hope somebody asks her that question but for the moment, I’ll just put it down to poor writing on the part of whoever penned the piece.

As for the rest, I was surprised at what the left would consider to be her bellicosity toward Iran as well as a realistic view toward China. I would say that her outlook is not quite a 9/10 view of the world but she seems to have one foot in the past when it comes to fighting terrorism. And for all her Bush bashing rhetoric, she appears willing to carry on many Bush policies, despite not giving the President credit for them.

Here are some specifics:

The tragedy of the last six years is that the Bush administration has squandered the respect, trust, and confidence of even our closest allies and friends. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the United States enjoyed a unique position. Our world leadership was widely accepted and respected, as we strengthened old alliances and built new ones, worked for peace across the globe, advanced nonproliferation, and modernized our military. After 9/11, the world rallied behind the United States as never before, supporting our efforts to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan and go after the al Qaeda leadership. We had a historic opportunity to build a broad global coalition to combat terror, increase the impact of our diplomacy, and create a world with more partners and fewer adversaries.

But we lost that opportunity by refusing to let the UN inspectors finish their work in Iraq and rushing to war instead. Moreover, we diverted vital military and financial resources from the struggle against al Qaeda and the daunting task of building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan. At the same time, we embarked on an unprecedented course of unilateralism: refusing to pursue ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, abandoning our commitment to nuclear nonproliferation, and turning our backs on the search for peace in the Middle East. Our withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol and refusal to participate in any international effort to deal with the tremendous challenges of climate change further damaged our international standing.

It’s hard to dissect so many mis-statements, falsehoods, and plain old Democratic talking points so I’ll just handle a couple of the more glaring errors.

First, the idea that all was peaches and cream on January 20, 2001 when the first President Clinton left office is so outrageously false as to be beyond belief. We were then as we were on 9/11 and afterwards, widely mistrusted and disliked by a vast majority of the world’s people and governments. The idea that 9/11 changed that is bunk, as I wrote about here.

This persistent myth is convenient politically but historically a sham. It has no basis in fact and has more to do with a desire by the left and the Democratic party to make some ridiculous point about America being loved by the world until George Bush came along.

I might have a few other questions for Hillary just from these first paragraphs.

  • Which “new alliances” did the Clinton Administration build?
  • Explain how gutting the military modernized it.
  • Is it your position that we have more “adversaries” now than we did in 2001? Than 1996? Who are they? When did they move from the “neutral” or “friendly” column on to the “enemy” side of the ledger?
  • Is it your position that we do not have a “broad coalition” fighting terrorism today – sharing intel, cooperating with law enforcement agencies around the world and generally working around the clock with literally dozens of countries to keep the US safe?
  • Do you remember the Senate refusing to take up the Kyoto agreement during your husband’s presidency? Do you remember why?
  • Do you remember the Iraq Regime Change Act of 1998? Or did you sleep through that one too?

Those are for starters. If we all got together and really put our minds to it, I’m sure we could come up with a couple of dozen more questions just from those first two paragraphs.

But that was just from the intro to the essay. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes:


We must withdraw from Iraq in a way that brings our troops home safely, begins to restore stability to the region, and replaces military force with a new diplomatic initiative to engage countries around the world in securing Iraq’s future. To that end, as president, I will convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council and direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home, starting within the first 60 days of my administration.

While working to stabilize Iraq as our forces withdraw, I will focus U.S. aid on helping Iraqis, not propping up the Iraqi government. Financial resources will go only where they will be used properly, rather than to government ministries or ministers that hoard, steal, or waste them.

As we leave Iraq militarily, I will replace our military force with an intensive diplomatic initiative in the region. The Bush administration has belatedly begun to engage Iran and Syria in talks about the future of Iraq. This is a step in the right direction, but much more must be done. As president, I will convene a regional stabilization group composed of key allies, other global powers, and all the states bordering Iraq. Working with the newly appointed UN special representative for Iraq, the group will be charged with developing and implementing a strategy for achieving a stable Iraq that provides incentives for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey to stay out of the civil war.

“While working to stabilize Iraq as our forces withdraw” – a nice trick if you can pull it off. If we could stabilize the damn place while taking our troops out, somehow you have to believe we’d be doing it already.

And why should Iraq’s neighbors Iran and Syria work to “stabilize Iraq’s future” when they’re the ones destabilizing it at the moment? Is it Hillary’s belief that once we start to leave that those two terrorist supporting nations will suddenly cease their interference in Iraq and allow the legitimate Iraqi government some breathing room?

This is realism?

And then there’s the shocking notion that aid will go to the “Iraqi people” and not “prop up” the Iraqi government? What is she, nuts? While corruption is endemic in Iraq (as it is in every government in the region and most of the world) is that a reason to cut Maliki off at the knees? With us gone and the Iraqi government collapsing because a Clinton Administration won’t support them, who in God’s name is going to fill the vacuum?


And I don’t hear Hillary or the left up in arms about giving assistance to African dictators who routinely line their pockets and those of their cronies with our foreign aid. If she cared half as much about a sizable portion of the rest of the foreign aid budget going into the Swiss bank accounts of the generals, potentates, and dictators who rule most of the world, you could at least give her credit for not being a towering hypocrite.

The regional conference idea is a good one – something Bush should have embraced years ago. If he had, there’s a chance that pressure from other Arab states could have curtailed Syrian involvement. Iran is a whole different story. The mullahs have their claws firmly gripping a sizable chunk of Iraq thanks to their influence with some powerful forces as well as individuals. I doubt there is much that can be done to lessen their interference in Iraqi affairs.


Here, Hillary admits Iran is supplying weapons to our enemies in Iraq, something not too many Democrats have done so I give her credit for abandoning a cherished Democratic talking point. As for the rest of her prescription regarding the mullahs, she mixes tough talk with unrealistic diplomatic goals:

The case in point is Iran. Iran poses a long-term strategic challenge to the United States, our NATO allies, and Israel. It is the country that most practices state-sponsored terrorism, and it uses its surrogates to supply explosives that kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, preferring to ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it. Meanwhile, Iran has enhanced its nuclear-enrichment capabilities, armed Iraqi Shiite militias, funneled arms to Hezbollah, and subsidized Hamas, even as the government continues to hurt its own citizens by mismanaging the economy and increasing political and social repression.

As a result, we have lost precious time. Iran must conform to its nonproliferation obligations and must not be permitted to build or acquire nuclear weapons. If Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table.

On the other hand, if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives. This will let the Iranian people know that our quarrel is not with them but with their government and show the world that the United States is prepared to pursue every diplomatic option.

Talking is fine but what do we discuss? Iran has ostensibly taken their enrichment program off the table so some kind of “Grand Bargain” involving Iraq and Iran’s nuclear program would seem to be nixed for now.

If she believes that her Administration would be able to offer anything to Iran that would make it “willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq,” she is dreaming. There are no “calibrated incentives” that would encourage the mullahs to behave like decent citizens of the world. Even without Ahmadinejad in the picture, the nuclear issue won’t be negotiated to our satisfaction. We just don’t have enough to offer the Iranians that would knock their socks off and give them the incentives to make a deal.

If elected, she will have about 2 years to decide whether to attack or live with a nuclear Iran. It will be the hardest decision of her presidency – as it would be for anyone sitting in the Big Chair at that time – and whatever she decides will have severe consequences for American policy.


The forgotten frontline in the war on terror is Afghanistan, where our military effort must be reinforced. The Taliban cannot be allowed to regain power in Afghanistan; if they return, al Qaeda will return with them. Yet current U.S. policies have actually weakened President Hamid Karzai’s government and allowed the Taliban to retake many areas, especially in the south. A largely unimpeded heroin trade finances the very Taliban fighters and al Qaeda terrorists who are attacking our troops. In addition to engaging in counternarcotics efforts, we must seek to dry up recruiting opportunities for the Taliban by funding crop-substitution programs, a large-scale road-building initiative, institutions that train and prepare Afghans for honest and effective governance, and programs to enable women to play a larger role in society.

We must also strengthen the national and local governments and resolve the problems along Afghanistan’s border. Terrorists are increasingly finding safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Redoubling our efforts with Pakistan would not only help root out terrorist elements there; it would also signal to our NATO partners that the war in Afghanistan and the broader fight against extremism in South Asia are battles that we can and must win. Yet we cannot succeed unless we design a strategy that treats the entire region as an interconnected whole, where crises overlap with one another and the danger of a chain reaction of disasters is real.

Hillary’s heart and head are in the right place regarding Afghanistan but the problem is there is very little to be done about Pakistan and not much militarily that can be accomplished in Afghanistan without a 180 degree change in the attitude of our NATO partners about engaging the enemy (“How many NATO troops do we need to guard the airport?” asked one Canadian general).

The political problems in Afghanistan that prevented us from taking out the opium crop last year, leading directly to a Taliban flush with cash to buy weapons and influence with the tribes need to be solved by President Karzai and the National Assembly. Other questions directly bearing on the Taliban resurgence in the south have to do with the ease with which their fighters can infiltrate across the border with Pakistan.

And there, Hillary is once again dreaming if she thinks there is anything the US can do to help the Pakistani government (which will be even less cooperative with the US once civilian control is restored early next year and we will be dealing with Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister), especially in the NWFP - the “federally administered tribal areas” – where the writ of Pakistani law has never run in the 60 years of independence. We could “redouble” our efforts, triple them, and then multiply that by a hundred and still come up short. Musharraf can’t control those areas. What makes Hillary think we can?

No word in the essay about how divided Pakistan is about helping us with the people madly opposed to American policy in Afghanistan and the intelligence service ISI supportive of the Taliban. Pakistan is a much tougher nut to crack than simply “redoubling” our efforts.


Statesmanship is also necessary to engage countries that are not adversaries but that are challenging the United States on many fronts. Russian President Vladimir Putin has thwarted a carefully crafted UN plan that would have put Kosovo on a belated path to independence, attempted to use energy as a political weapon against Russia’s neighbors and beyond, and tested the United States and Europe on a range of nonproliferation and arms reduction issues. Putin has also suppressed many of the freedoms won after the fall of communism, created a new class of oligarchs, and interfered deeply in the internal affairs of former Soviet republics.

It is a mistake, however, to see Russia only as a threat. Putin has used Russia’s energy wealth to expand the Russian economy, so that more ordinary Russians are enjoying a rising standard of living. We need to engage Russia selectively on issues of high national importance, such as thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, securing loose nuclear weapons in Russia and the former Soviet republics, and reaching a diplomatic solution in Kosovo. At the same time, we must make clear that our ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference.

First, it is difficult to see how we could have deflected Vladmir Putin from his goal to establish himself as virtual dictator. But having said that, I’m glad to see Hillary not taking the Russian bear for granted and realizing at the same time that there are vital areas where cooperation is desired by both sides. Non proliferation is huge and the Bush Administration should be faulted for its laxity in this regard.

One area of cooperation she didn’t mention was in fighting terrorism. We have worked closely these last few years with Russian internal security to combat the Chechen menace – one of the more active terrorist enclaves in the world. She might want to see about increasing those contacts and firming up some of these relationships that I understand are somewhat informal.


Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century. The United States and China have vastly different values and political systems, yet even though we disagree profoundly on issues ranging from trade to human rights, religious freedom, labor practices, and Tibet, there is much that the United States and China can and must accomplish together. China’s support was important in reaching a deal to disable North Korea’s nuclear facilities. We should build on this framework to establish a Northeast Asian security regime.

I would be interested to hear her thoughts on the possible Chinese thrust at Taiwan. The day may come in the next 8 years where China feels strong enough militarily to take us on in their own waters. Do we abandon Taipei to the tender mercies of their communist cousins? Or do we risk a general war with China to try and save her?

As for the rest, Japan, China, and the US have been the powers that be in Asia for the last 100 years and will be for the next 100. Working together the last quarter century has brought peace to Asia for the first time in a thousand years. A “Northeast Asian Security Regime” is fine as long as it recognizes our current commitments to South Korea and Japan. And I’d love to see a Democrat stand up to the Chinese about their unfair trade policies.


This is worrisome:

We must also take threats and turn them into opportunities. The seemingly overwhelming challenge of climate change is a prime example. Far from being a drag on global growth, climate control represents a powerful economic opportunity that can be a driver of growth, jobs, and competitive advantage in the twenty-first century. As president, I will make the fight against global warming a priority. We cannot solve the climate crisis alone, and the rest of the world cannot solve it without us. The United States must reengage in international climate change negotiations and provide the leadership needed to reach a binding global climate agreement. But we must first restore our own credibility on the issue. Rapidly emerging countries, such as China, will not curb their own carbon emissions until the United States has demonstrated a serious commitment to reducing its own through a market-based cap-and-trade approach.

The problem is that the Kyoto protocols were not a “powerful economic opportunity.” Far from it. The protocols would have sucked several hundred billion dollars out of our economy and placed it in the hands of countries who had the offsets for sale. And the goals set for the US - emissions targeted to 1993 levels – could very well have had us spinning into a depression.

I would prefer a more modest approach to curbing emissions involving the only countries that matter – the industrialized nations of the world. We don’t need a Fidel Castro going on for 4 hours telling us how great an environmentalist he is and how evil we are. Kyoto was a scheme to transfer massive amounts of wealth from the rich to the poor countries of the world and was too complex to work anyway (witness Europe’s failure to meet Kyoto targets despite their best efforts). What is needed is an agreement among those nations who are responsible for 95% of the greenhouse emissions on the planet.


To build the world we want, we must begin by speaking honestly about the problems we face. We will have to talk about the consequences of our invasion of Iraq for the Iraqi people and others in the region. We will have to talk about Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. We will also have to take concrete steps to enhance security and spread opportunity throughout the world.

Perhaps we should get her some sack cloth and ashes as an inaugural present. From the sound of the above, she will be knee walking her way around the world apologizing for America being so beastly to everyone else.

Wake me when it’s over.


Not as bad reading it the second time around. Clearly, Hillary’s inside look at how the presidency operates in a hostile world taught her some valuable lessons. My question is how resistant she is going to be to the siren call of appeasement and surrender of the base in her party? Ironically, for some of her bolder, stronger moves in foreign policy she may have to rely on the rational right in Congress to support her.

I am encouraged by some of what she is thinking and frightened by some other ideas. But taken in total, it is not a foreign policy I could get behind and support with any enthusiasm. Better than Obama’s. Better than any other Democrat’s so far. But far short of what I think is necessary as far as fighting an implacable enemy who, given the odds, will probably hit us again during her presidency.

And then we’ll see, in the crucible of crisis, of what exactly Hillary Clinton is truly made.

By: Rick Moran at 1:08 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

CATEGORY: Middle East

From Syrian President Bashar Assad’s point of view, why use words when bombs are so much louder and more attention getting?

Phalangist MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated by a powerful blast that ripped through his car in east Beirut’s Sin el-Fil suburb Wednesday in what appears to be bloody scheme to strip the March 14 coalition of its parliamentary majority just six days before a scheduled session to elect a new president.

A 40-kilogram strong car bomb explosion shattered Ghanem’s black Chevrolet Sedan as it drove in the plush suburb, killing him and five other people, including his driver and an unidentified person who was sitting next to the slain MP on the back seat of the vehicle.

Well that’s one way for Assad to express his disapproval at Ghanem’s anti-Syrian politics although he may have gone a bit overboard with 100 pounds of explosives doing his talking for him.

Maybe we can get Jim Baker to negotiate a dignified surrender of the March 14 government to Assad. After all, he’s willing to do it for the United States.

Another assassination of a March 14th MP. Another step in gangster Assad’s plan to control Lebanon any way the world will let him. It is unbelievable to me that civilized nations continue to carry on business as usual with this thuggish tyrant. Despite mountains of evidence assembled by the Hariri Commission that these assassinations are planned and ordered at the highest level of the Syrian government, the US and the rest of the world continue to deal with Syria as if it were a sovereign nation and not a collection of murderous gangsters who brazenly flout international law and human decency in order to fulfill their twisted goals of ruin and domination of a tiny neighbor.

If there was ever a need for the nations of the world to collectively and as one step up and take on the responsibility of grabbing Assad and his henchmen by the scruff of the neck and throwing them on history’s ash heap, it is now.

Walid Phares saw this coming last June:

After the withdrawal of regular Syrian forces from Lebanon in April 2005, Bashar Assad and his allies in Tehran designed a counter offensive (which we described then and later) aiming at crumbling the Cedars Revolution. One of the main components of this strategy was (and remain) to use all intelligence and security assets of Syria and Iran in Lebanon in order to “reduce” the number of deputies who form the anti-Syrian majority in the Parliament. As simple as that: assassinate as many members as needed to flip the quantitative majority in the Legislative Assembly. And when that is done, the Seniora Government collapses and a Hezbollah-led cabinet forms. In addition, if the Terror war kills about 8 legislators, the remnant of the Parliament can elect a new President of the Republic who will move the country under the tutelage of the Assad regime.

As incredibly barbaric as it seems in the West, the genocide of the legislators in Lebanon at the hands of the Syrian regime and its allies is very “normal” by Baathist (and certainly by Jihadist) political culture. During the 1980s, Saddam Hussein executed a large segment of his own Party’s national assembly to maintain his regime intact. In the same decade, Hafez Assad eliminated systematically his political adversaries both inside Syria and across Syrian occupied Lebanon to secure his control over the two “sister” countries. So for Bashar to order the assassination of his opponents in Lebanon as of the fall of 2004 to perpetuate his domination of the little Baathist “empire” is not a stunning development: it is the standing procedure in Damascus since 1970.

The guy is psychic.

Phares points out that for this strategy to succeed, 8 pro-government legislators must be dealt with. To date, due to assassination and death by natural causes, the March 14th majority has shrunk by 6. Two more and Hizbullah will be able to name their own man for the presidency, probably paying off Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun by handing him the office on a silver platter.

Ghanem was no fool. He knew he had a bullseye painted on his back:

A Friend of the victim, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted Ghanem as telling him Tuesday evening: “I face the threat of assassination. They want to kill me to open the door for by-elections to choose a new MP from (Michel Aoun’s) Free Patriotic Movement.”

I’ll have more on this story and the implications for the presidential elections as well as the future of the Siniora government either later today or tomorrow morning.


Jim Hoft has a huge roundup from both MSM and Lebanese sources as well as some pretty gruesome pictures.

By: Rick Moran at 12:39 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (4)

CATEGORY: Middle East

It took 106 days and nearly 160 fatalities for the Lebanese Army to clear out the nest of terrorists who had infested the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp but they finally finished the job yesterday, killing Fatah al-Islam’s leader Shakir al-Abssi in the process:

The Lebanese Army has finished off the Fatah al-Islam legend, killed its leader Shaker al-Abssi and 31 other terrorists and rounded up 20 in the 106th day of the confrontation at the northern refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared.
Security agencies have launched a nationwide manhunt for 10 terrorists who escaped the battle Sunday by infiltrating through the al-Bared River stream.

Judicial sources told Naharnet a Palestinian cleric, who had mediated with Fatah al-Islam terrorists, identified al-Abssi’s body.

However, the judiciary issued a warrant to bring in al-Abssi’s wife and daughter to the public hospital in Tripoli to identify the body and, to conduct DNA tests that would provide the definite answer to questions related to identity of the alleged Abssi corpse, the sources explained.

Later reports from the hospital confirm that al-Abssi’s wife has in fact identified the body of her husband in the morgue.

Abssi created Fatah al-Islam last November following a break with the ultra radical Palestinian faction based in Syria Fatah al-Intifada. Sentenced to death in absentia for his role in the assassination of US Jordanian diplomat Laurence Foley, Abssi had previously fought with Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq and claims to have been inspired by al-Qaeda’s radical ideology, pledging his loyalty to Osama Bin Laden.

All that is known is that Abssi moved into Nahr al-Bared in November and in a matter of months, he had assembled 300 fighters (many of them Salifists from other Arab countries) and was training them at a makeshift camp. Many Lebanese believe that Abssi is a present from Syrian gangster President Bashar Assad. While Assad’s relations with the parent terror group Fatah al-Intifada are not the best, it is not beyond imagining that the Syrian president would have facilitated the creation and growth of Fatah al-Islam as a means to destabilize the Lebanese government.

Last spring, several members of Fatah al-Islam were implicated in a bank robbery and were traced to a building in Tripoli that housed a Fatah al-Islam office (the Lebanese government has also accused members of the group of carrying out a terrorist attack on commuter buses in February). The resulting gunfight turned into a siege with the terrorists finally blowing themselves up after a 3 day standoff. Other members of the group took refuge in the nearby Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, attacking the Lebanese army and vowing a fight to the death. The Lebanese army responded by firing artillery and heavy machine guns into the camp that housed 30,000 refugees at that time and the fight was on.

The Palestinian authorities in Lebanon at first tried to negotiate an end to the crisis but eventually, gave permission for the Lebanese army to enter the camp and take out the terrorists. And for the last 100 days, that is what the Lebanese Army has tried to do.

At first, the army tried frontal assaults on the terrorist positions which were repulsed with great loss of life. The Lebanese army had not fought a major engagement since the end of the civil war and its lack of training and experience showed. Gradually, and with what appeared to be rather indiscriminate use of heavy weapons, the Lebanese army began to shrink the pocket of terrorists until all that was left of their fortress like positions was a small group of destroyed buildings.

Some of the militants tried to sneak out through a tunnel, while another group tried to escape through a different path. Outside fighters arrived to help them, said security officials.

Army quickly deployed reinforcements to the camp, just outside the port city of Tripoli, blocked surrounding roads and set fires to nearby fields to deny fleeing militants a hiding place. Helicopters provided aerial reconnaissance for the military inside the camp, and checkpoints were erected as far as Beirut and southern Lebanon.

Villagers of nearby settlements, armed with guns and sticks, also came out to help the army and protect their houses, the state TV reported.

By the end of the day, the camp was in Lebanese army control and authorities declared victory over Fatah Islam. Officials said the army killed 39 militants and captured 20. It was not immediately known how many militants managed to escape.

The final civilian death toll is almost certainly higher than the official number of 20. Early days of the fighting saw the Lebanese army bombarding the camp with tank and artillery rounds while spraying heavy machine gun fire down the narrow streets. An early cease fire allowed most of the residents in the camp to escape. But there are still thousands of refugees in Nahr al-Bared who have been without water or food for months.

The Lebanese people are celebrating this victory by the army with Prime Minister Siniora going on television to praise their performance and pledging to rebuild the camp – under Lebanese control:

“It is a great success that the Lebanese army has achieved over the terrorists, those who sought chaos, destruction and tragedies for Lebanon,” he said in a televised speech to the country.

He pledged that the Lebanese government would rebuild Nahr al-Bared, but said that the camp would be placed under the authority of the state and “only the Lebanese state.”

“As we said at the beginning of the battle, the Lebanese state is committed to rebuilding the camp and today we are restating this pledge,” Saniora said, adding that he had called for a meeting of donor countries on September 10 to help in rebuilding efforts.

“As the state stood by you when you were forced to flee Nahr al-Bared, we stand by you again in rebuilding the camp so that you can return there with your heads held high,” Saniora said, addressing the estimated 30,000 Palestinian refugees who were forced to flee at the start of the standoff between the army and Fatah al-Islam militants on May 20.

The significance of this declaration of Lebanese control of Nahr al-Bared should not be lost on the Palestinian authorities. There are 12 Palestinian camps in Lebanon with internal security in them controlled by the PLO. The Lebanese army by tradition maintained security around the camps and was actually forbidden by a 1969 accord to enter. That agreement was voided by the Lebanese parliament in 1987 but had been maintained ever since because the potential for unrest in the camps if the Lebanese army violated the pact was great. Then, UN Resolution 1559 called upon Lebanon to establish sovereignty over all its land and disband the militias including Hizbullah and the Palestinian groups patrolling the refugee camps. So far, the Lebanese government has failed to implement 1559 but this declaration by Siniora would seem to be the first time that the Lebanese government has sought to establish its sovereignty where it had not been previously.

The practical benefits of the army’s victory should not be overlooked. While their initial efforts were less than successful and indeed, quite amateurish, the soldiers seemed to gain in confidence and ability as the siege wore on. Woefully underequipped, the army nevertheless ended up making the entire country proud by facing down and defeating a well armed, entrenched enemy.

Indeed, all of Lebanon is celebrating today – even the Hizbullah led opposition which had the good sense to support the efforts of the government to eradicate the terrorists despite the 9 month cabinet crisis that continues to threaten the stability of the country. There is little doubt that the army is the only major institution in Lebanon that is seen to be above politics (even though that may be less true than most Lebanese realize). Their well earned victory today gives a much needed boost to the besieged Siniora government while uniting the Lebanese, if briefly, in celebration.

What tomorrow will bring is a different story.


I couldn’t resist. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a smile on the face of a beautiful Lebanese woman – without a doubt the best looking demonstrators in the world:

Image Hosted by

By: Rick Moran at 7:05 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (5)


I find the imbroglio over Senator Barak Obama’s remark that he would be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea without pre-conditions amusing on several levels.

First, who is surprised that a man of the far left would be naive enough to make himself available as a propaganda tool for our deadliest enemies? The belief among liberals that their purity of heart and plain, simple goodness will warm the cockles of beasts like Assad or Kim Jong Il has been part and parcel of lefty dogma since before Americans were accused of having “an inordinate fear of communism.”

Hence, the man who uttered those words before visiting Moscow and kissing a senile Brezhnev on the cheek 5 months before the old coot ordered Soviet troops into Afghanistan could genuinely be heartbroken at such a monstrous betrayal of “trust.” Who would have guessed that the Soviets would double cross us like that?

The answer at the time was just about anyone who chose to see the Soviets for what they were.

Obama seems to have a similar problem in identifying the difference between genuine diplomacy and handing an opponent your head on a platter. Perhaps he should ask Nancy Pelosi, the highest ranking American leader to visit with President Bashar Assad of Syria in many years how well that kind of face to face diplomacy works.

Since Pelosi’s disastrous visit with Assad (in which she embarrassed herself and the United States by claiming she passed along a message of peace from Prime Minister Olmert – a notion quickly and brutally shot down by the Israeli foreign office) President Assad has proven just how easily he played his American visitor for a fool.

Just exactly what has the Syrian President been up to since that April visit?

  • He let loose the Palestinian/al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group Fatah al-Islam on the Lebanese government.
  • His forces have occupied areas inside the Lebanese border, building revetments and digging trenches.
  • The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq – about 80 a month – has not slackened one bit.
  • According to the UN he has resupplied Hebzbullah with arms and missiles to the point that the terrorist group has bragged they are as strong today as they were prior to their aggression against Israel last summer.
  • He has continued his attempts to intimidate the Lebanese government, trying to force them into bringing the pro-Syrian opposition to power.

This is what has been confirmed. Much more troublemaking by Assad has been suspected including plots to murder anti-Syrian Lebanese as well as foment a civil war in that tiny country. And his plans to destabilize the Golan Heights the same way he’s roiling the streets of Lebanon are well known by the Israelis.

What Pelosi’s face to face meeting accomplished was clear; zero for America and a PR triumph for Assad. Even non-competitive liberals have got to see that score as a losing proposition.

Now take Pelosi’s gaffe and imagine President Obama in Caracas with that smiling goat of a President-for-life Chavez introducing our hero to the multitudes of Venezuelans paid to go into the streets (or perhaps genuinely curious to see an American president handing a sworn enemy a propaganda coup). Does Chavez inch away from Tehran. Does he drop his support of the drug cartel/terrorists/communist revolutionaries in FARC? Does he stop his meddling in other South American countries?

Not likely. But Chavez has gotten exactly what he wants – legitimacy offered up on a silver platter by an American president.

Hillary has called Obama’s plan to take the 50 cent tour of America’s enemies “irresponsible and naive.” Actually, she’s probably upset she didn’t think of it first. For his part, Obama was backtracking but only slightly:

“What she’s somehow maintaining is my statement could be construed as not having asked what the meeting was about. I didn’t say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon,” he said.

He added Clinton is making a larger point.

“From what I heard, the point was, well, I wouldn’t do that because it might allow leaders like Hugo Chavez to score propaganda points,” he said. “I think that is absolutely wrong.”

He likened the position to a continuation of the Bush administration diplomatic policies. And he said what was “irresponsible and naive” was voting to authorize the Iraq War.

I gather from those comments that as long as there was an agenda for such meetings, he’d attend. Fair enough. But Hillary’s point was that beyond an agenda, diplomacy is a two way street. In other words “What’s in it for us?”

Atmospherics mean little when Iran is trying to bring the entire post World War II structure of alliances and relationships crashing down in order to drive America and the west out of the Middle East. Is there anything Iran can give us – or say anything that we’d believe – that would stop their march toward dominance? The optimists like Hillary would probably say yes. And I shudder to think what she’d be willing to trade for that.

I’d like to believe that Obama’s gaffe would hurt him in the primaries. But from what I’m reading today on lefty blogs, most think the controversy is a non-issue invented by Hillary or actually support the notion of an American president giving a boost to our enemies stature and legitimacy. Most often, the precedent of talking to the Russians comes up in response to foreign policy realists who object to talking to the Damascus Don or the Tehran Terror Enabler. But just what were the Soviets after in agreeing to all of those summits – which were years in planning and carefully scripted? Nothing less than recognition that they were an equal with the United States in superpower status. The fact that they had 25,000 nuclear weapons aimed at us made that a reality that had to be dealt with.

But what of pissant dictators like Chavez? Do we offer him the same stature building, the same legitimacy? What the hell for? No matter what he says, he can’t be trusted to stop trying to foment revolutions in Latin America. Ditto the Iranians and Syrians as far as trusting them to be good global citizens. (Cuba may not be a problem by November of 2008 and Kim may be in a Chinese box by then as well.)

What makes these countries enemies is their desire to damage the interests of the United States. There is nothing concrete that we could offer them that would change that goal. No matter how much spadework was done by our diplomats and envoys, the fact is we would be giving these cutthroats exactly what they want without getting anything of substance in return. Why both Hillary and Obama would even contemplate such meetings only shows that atmospherics will always mean more to the left than what can be accomplished in the real world. And despite talk of our “broken military” and our “waning influence” in the world, I guarantee you that such nonsense is not on the agenda of leadership meetings in Iran and Syria. Potential targets inside their country for American bombs is, however, at the top of the list.

In the end, it is that perception that will modify the behavior of Iran and Syria, not the smiling, good hearted entreaties of naive American presidents who think that because the voters of America found them irresistible that the brutes who wish us ill would similarly be charmed.

By: Rick Moran at 7:27 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (8)


Amid talk of end games, withdrawals, and timetables for the American military leaving Iraq, precious little is being said of the consequences if we stay, albeit with a much reduced force.

Yes more Americans will die. And more Iraqis. Perhaps many more Iraqis if some of the more extremist Shia elements get their way. But frankly, I’m puzzled by those who wish to see the US military policing Baghdad for the next ten years as well as those who think withdrawing every American soldier from Iraq is the best outcome available.

This piece by Timothy Garton Ash appearing in the Los Angeles Times actually makes the case – unintentionally – that we should not only stay in Iraq but institute a draft and take the country to a full war footing:

In an article for the Web magazine Open Democracy, Middle East specialist Fred Halliday spells out some regional consequences. Besides the effective destruction of the Iraqi state, these include the revitalizing of militant Islamism and enhancement of the international appeal of the Al Qaeda brand; the eruption, for the first time in modern history, of internecine war between Sunni and Shiite, “a trend that reverberates in other states of mixed confessional composition”; the alienation of most sectors of Turkish politics from the West and the stimulation of authoritarian nationalism there; the strengthening of a nuclear-hungry Iran; and a new regional rivalry pitting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, against Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan.

For the United States, the world is now, as a result of the Iraq war, a more dangerous place. At the end of 2002, what is sometimes tagged “Al Qaeda Central” in Afghanistan had been virtually destroyed, and there was no Al Qaeda in Iraq. In 2007, there is an Al Qaeda in Iraq, parts of the old Al Qaeda are creeping back into Afghanistan and there are Al Qaeda emulators spawning elsewhere, notably in Europe.

Osama bin Laden’s plan was to get the U.S. to overreact and overreach itself. With the invasion of Iraq, Bush fell slap-bang into that trap. The U.S. government’s own latest National Intelligence Estimate, released this week, suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq is now among the most significant threats to the security of the American homeland.

Would someone please tell me why, after listing the most dire consequences that will flow from our withdrawal that anyone in their right mind would even contemplate such a move?

Why give up and leave when the world will fall upon our head? Why remove all of our troops if our strategic position in the Middle East will suffer such a grievous blow? Why skedaddle and give Osama Bin Laden his victory?

The de facto argument of people like Ash and those on the left is that there is nothing that can be done to prevent this catastrophe so we might as well get out of the way and allow it to happen. Obama said as much yesterday with regard to Sunni genocide:

Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

It is bothersome that liberals like Obama can’t differentiate between a humanitarian mission where American interests (oil, economic, strategic) are not in play and a place like Iraq where we are not only responsible for breaking the china but have spent the last 4 years stumbling around like a blindfolded bull in a curio shop. Iraq is, if nothing else, of extraordinary importance to our national security and our interest in seeing that the free flow of cheap oil continues from the Middle East.

But this is much to selfish for the average lefty. When they look in the mirror, they want to see self-sacrifice as the price of going to war. It feeds their heroic self-image to believe that we are sacrificing American lives (not theirs, of course) for no discernible American advantage. Grubby questions about whether military action would benefit the United States in any way simply never enters into the equation. And if they do, the questions are dismissed or disparaged as “war mongering.”

We saw the exact same crap in Kosovo and Bosnia. Liberals are not in favor of military action unless it can be seen as an act of self-abnegation. This explains a lot about why they wish to see such a precipitate and total withdrawal from Iraq. They want to punish the United States for acting in its own interest.

But is it true that all is lost in Iraq? Can any of the consequences listed by Ash above be mitigated or stopped?

Of course they can. We can’t create a civil society in Iraq with our military. That much is certainly true. But preventing a regional Shia-Sunni war? I daresay with 130,000 troops (even fewer if you believe people like Senators Lugar and Domenici) we can keep the two sides outside of Iraq from going at each other’s throats. Preventing the “destruction of the Iraqi state?” With enough troops, this too is possible. It won’t be a healthy state. It won’t be a democracy (if we can get Bush to drop his unquestioned support for the sectarian killers who are currently running Iraq). But with enough troops we can continue to battle al-Qaeda while our very presence may deter the worst of the sectarian massacres.

Turkey’s internal political struggles will continue whether we are in or out of Iraq. But it would help Prime Minister Erdogan in maintaining a secular state if we could reinforce the 3,000 troops we already have at the border and work with our NATO ally to prevent the Kurdish terrorists from striking inside Turkey.

Also with enough American troops in Iraq, Iran would feel constrained from being too aggressive. Yes, they’d meddle in Iraqi affairs and keep up the pressure elsewhere using their proxies to stir up trouble. But Iran has their own internal problems and it’s an open question just how the future will play out. And, of course, Iraq could be the launching pad for any kind of strike at Iran if it ever became necessary – something that would certainly play on the minds of the Iranian leadership if we stay in sufficient numbers.

The point is anything is better than the catastrophe outlined above and echoed by many experts who see our withdrawal in such stark, unforgiving terms. Are all of these people so anxious to see their prophecies fulfilled that they can’t wait for American troops to leave so that the show can begin? To not even try to head off this monumental blow to our security is just plain daffy.

And to my righty friends who insist on believing that victory on the battlefield will translate into an Iraq with a functioning government that represents all the people while creating some kind of viable, multi-sectarian state I would point out that the military doesn’t do faith. Nor do they do trust. Nor do they do hope. And without those three attributes, Iraqi society will remain what it is today – a broken mess teeming with hate and vengeance.

If we are going to salvage something from this military adventure while heading off the worst of the fallout from our invasion and occupation, we are going to have to get used to the idea that while the security situation may become tolerable, Iraq will not improve dramatically for many years. In the interregnum, the death squads will be ever present while the elements pushing for a “cleansing” of Sunnis from the country will continue to agitate for genocide. It will not be pretty nor will it be democratic. But if we can maintain a large enough force there, it may prevent the kind of catastrophe that so many experts are predicting but failing to offer any rationale why this is acceptable.

And Bush? If Iraq is as important as he says it is. If the stakes are so high. If it is a matter of the highest national security interest of the United States that we stay in Iraq and continue to involve ourselves directly in this civil war, then why only 160,000 men? Why not strip foreign postings of troops and send them to Iraq? Why not call up the rest of the reserves, initiate a draft, put a gun in the hand of any soldier that can walk and send them to points north, south, east, and west in that bloody country to truly get a handle on all aspects of the security situation; the insurgency, al-Qaeda, the militias, the foreign jihadists – anyone who opposes the government or us?

If Iraq was that important, shouldn’t we be doing at least some of these things? Bush will have a lot to answer for from history but his monumental failure in articulating what is at stake in Iraq while failing to make his actions match his rhetoric will be perhaps his greatest blunder. No wonder the American people want out. When their president has failed so miserably in giving them logical, coherent reasons to support the mission, why not just give up and go home?

We can still prevent the kind of catastrophe mentioned by Halliday and predicted by many others. Unfortunately, it would take leadership to do so. A leader in the White House that would do everything in his power to prevent the unthinkable. But Bush seems oblivious to differentiating between his vision for Iraq and what is actually required to avoid a serious blow to American interests. And that kind of stubbornness will truly lead to a disaster of epic proportions in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

By: Rick Moran at 7:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30)

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