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CATEGORY: Middle East

This article originally appears in The American Thinker

Shocking information has come to light about the al-Qaeda inspired terrorist group Fatah al-Islam who have been battling the Lebanese army inside the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared for nearly 2 months. Ahmed Merie, a Lebanese citizen, testified before a military magistrate that he was a “liaison” between the terrorist group’s leader Shaker Abssi and Syria’s head of intelligence, General Asef Shawkat. Shawkat, a primary suspect in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, is President Bashar Assad’s brother in law and considered the second most powerful man in Syria.

The report appeared in the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar.

Merie was arrested in a a Beirut hotel along with his brother Mohammad several weeks ago. His testimony also included some other eye openers:

  • Shawkat supplied a bomb maker to the terrorist group who taught them how to make explosive devices. Plans were afoot to bomb several targets including booby-trapped car attacks against several targets in Lebanon, two Beirut hotels frequented by personnel of the United Nations Interim, Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as well as some embassies and U.N. offices. Merie also testified that he got the bomb maker out of Lebanon and back to Syria.
  • Merie played a role in smuggling Iraqi, Tunisian and Saudi “jihadists” to Lebanon via Syria. One of the Saudis, Abdul Rahman al-Yahya, who goes by the code name of Abu Talha, was the chief financial backer of Fatah al-Islam, keeping Merie supplied with plenty of cash as he moved around Lebanon.
  • Merie gave up the names of four Fatah al-Islam terrorists responsible for gunning down Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel last November. This is the first solid connection between the killing of Gemayel and the Syrians.
  • Shawkat also supplied the group “significant support,” the nature of which was not disclosed. There has been some evidence – the Lebanese navy interception of fighters trying to make their way into Nahr al-Bared via the sea in small boats – that Syria has been attempting to resupply Fatah al-Islam during their battle with the Lebanese army.

The connection betwen Syria and Fatah al-Islam has been suspected from the beginning. Their leader, Shaker Abssi, spent three years in Syrian prison, serving time for planning terrorist attacks in that country. He was suddenly released in late 2006 and made his way immediately to northern Lebanon where he set up shop in Nahr al-Bared. Seemingly out of nowhere, in a matter of months he had recruited more than 300 fighters – many of them from foreign countries – and was training them at a compound in the refugee camp.

Merie’s testimony fills in some of the gaps about how the terrorist group got organized and supplied so quickly. Fatah al-Islam was deliberately planted in Lebanon to stir up trouble for the government of Prime Minister Siniora. But to what end?

Frequent American Thinker contributor and noted Middle East expert Dr. Walid Phares had the answer last May. His dire predictions about this summer’s trouble in Lebanon are starting to come true:

Today’s clashes between the al Qaeda linked terror network and the Lebanese Army are a prelude to terror preparations aimed at crumbling the Cedars Revolution, both Government and civil society this summer. It is a move by the Assad regime to weaken the cabinet and the army in preparation for a greater offensive later on by Hizbollah on another front. In short the Damascus-Tehran strategic planners have unleashed this “local” al Qaeda group in Tripoli to drag the Lebanese cabinet in side battles, deflecting its attention from the two main events, highly threatening to Assad: One is the forthcoming UN formed Tribunal in the assassination case of Rafiq Hariri. The second is the pending deployment of UN units on the Lebanese-Syrian borders. Both developments can isolate the Syrian regime. Thus, the Fatah al Islam attacks can be perceived as part of a preemptive strategy by the Tehran-Damascus axis.

The al-Qaeda connection with Fatah al-Islam goes beyond Abssi being inspired by Osama Bin Laden’s idea of jihad. Abssi was condemned to death in absentia for his role in carrying out the murder of US envoy in Jordan Laurence Foley. He worked closely with the mastermind of that assassination, the now decased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qadea in Iraq.

And Phares’ analysis proved extremely prescient in his pointing to the deployment of UNIFIL on the border between Syria and Lebanon as a red line for Assad. In the United Nations today, the US told the Security Council that there was “clear evidence” of Syrian arms transfers across the border. The UN appointed team that assessed border security between Syria and Lebanon stated flatly that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling.

In order to intimidate UNIFIL, there have been two attacks on the peacekeepers now – including the detonation of a roadside bomb today in which no one was hurt – that are also designed to set up a “second front” against the Siniora government in southern Lebanon in an attempt to further destabilize the country. (Six peacekeepers were killed last month in car bomb attack.) The recipients of these arms are not only Hezb’allah but also the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFFLP-GC). Their Commander, Ahmad Jabril, is closely allied with Syria and has operated from Syrian territory for years. Jabril’s group is being reinforced in order to possibly start trouble in some of the Palestinian refugee camps on the border between Syria and Lebanon as well as in the eastern Bekaa valley where the PFFLP-GC has made common cause with other extremist groups.

North, south, and east – Lebanon is being squeezed by Assad and his Iranian backers. Given that the political standoff between the Hezb’allah led opposition and the majority shows no signs of easing, it could very well be that the pressure being exerted by Assad on his tiny neighbor is reaching some kind of crescendo that has the potential to explode at any time.

By: Rick Moran at 5:25 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (9) Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with U.S. Marine Convicted In Iraqi Man's Death...

Harry Reid wasn’t pulling any punches in this call to action on the Democrat’s Senate blog:

The high temperature in Baghdad today is 113 degrees. But our troops will wear their 100 pounds of gear and bravely go about the jobs that they are given. By nightfall, it is likely that some of them will die. It is certain that more will be wounded. The rest will end another day on foreign sand, not knowing when they will come home to American soil.

“Those 160,000 troops are heroes. Every single one of them. They are serving with courage despite enormous hardships and without even proper equipment. They are serving with courage despite a President who took us into war falsely, prematurely and recklessly. They are serving with courage despite a President who refused to form a coalition of nations to share their awful burden of sacrifice. They are serving with courage despite a President who has never had a plan for peace. And they are serving with courage despite Republicans in Congress who are blocking us from passing laws that will bring a responsible end to the war.

(Italicized portions could have been lifted from 10,000 blog posts and Democratic campaign speeches over the last 4 years. Ed.)

“I want everyone here tonight – every American from coast to coast – to know that we won’t stop fighting until we end this war. That is what this night is all about.

Elegant, symmetrical, logical – and utterly false. Does Harry think people have forgotten that our boys sat in the desert for nearly 5 months waiting on the UN, waiting on our allies, waiting on Saddam to simply comply with one – just one – of the 11 Security Council resolutions passed in the previous ten years? Bush didn’t “refuse” to form a coalition. That would have meant that others offered to help and he turned them down. Or that he didn’t ask our allies for help. Nothing of the sort happened, of course, which makes Harry Reid a bald faced liar about that and other facets of his rewritten history. I will have to congratulate him for condensing The Narrative into two or three paragraphs of pungent, if overwrought prose. And, of course, it is to one end only that all of this hysteria is being ginned up.

Ending the war is easy, Harry. The hard part is answering the question then what?

Despite warnings of catastrophe in Iraq if we pull out precipitously from just about every analyst who has bothered to look at the problem of our disengagement – good, smart people from both parties and both ends of the political spectrum – the Democrats insisted on going to the mattresses last night in their war against a man that they have allowed their hate and loathing to overtake any semblance of common sense and patriotism.

And lest anyone think the Democrats “changing course” in Iraq means that they have a plan to end the war, here’s Senator Levin on that subject:

Does Congress pass legislation to instruct the President on the details of a withdrawal? Do they dictate terms on how to involve NATO or other allies? Or even on how to negotiate with Iran and Syria over the withdrawal? And what if something happens to U.S. troops during the pullout or Iraq rapidly plunges into a bloody civil war as U.S. troops are leaving? Who is to blame? Bush? Congress?

“Those are not decisions that I’m either going to make, or get involved with,” Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman Carl Levin told TIME. “Assuming everything worked out perfectly, that’s the middle of next year, that’s early next year, so that’s not something that’s we’re focusing on.”

In other words, folks, last night was not about policy. It was not about loving the troops so much you want to bring them home. It was not about any concern whatsoever for Iraq and what would happen if we leave – even in an orderly manner.

Last night was about the politics of blame pure and simple. It was about the Democrats being terrified that caving in to their base on Iraq and bringing the troops home in a Dunkirk style evacuation will precipitate a chain of events in Iraq and the Middle East that would result in genocide, war, and al-Qaeda triumphant.

Being politicians with finely honed instincts for survival and with absolutely no clue about what to do in Iraq (join the club, guys), they seek to shift responsibility for the coming catastrophe precipitated by our withdrawal and all the blunders, errors, mistakes, and stupidities that have marked our adventure in Mesopotamia these last 4 years in order to be able to face the voters and point the finger at their political foes.

This will no doubt serve the purpose of getting them re-elected. And it will also probably serve to increase their numbers substantially when Congress convenes in January of 2009.

But at what price? Remember, the Democrats do not have a plan, do not have a clue on what to do next in Iraq. The “timetable” is a smokescreen. They no more expect Bush to meet that timetable than they do pigs to fly. It is political gamesmanship, nothing more.

Meeting this timetable would lead to rivers of blood being spilled. Bush won’t do it which is great political news for the Democrats. Just think of all the opportunities they will have between now and the election to get up on the floor of the House or Senate and rail against the President and Republicans for not meeting their demands to “end the war.” The Democrats no more want to end the war than al-Qaeda does. “Ending the war” now wouldn’t end anything in Iraq. It would only be the beginning – and Democrats want to be absolutely certain that the resulting chaos and destruction leaves them lily white and blameless.

I suppose it’s too much to ask politicians to put the needs of the country first and their careers and party subservient to that. But one would think that when it comes to confronting the truly great issues of our time, politicians would act like leaders and not screaming infants who have wet their pants or worse, juveniles on a playground sticking out their tongues at one another, trying to shift blame for starting a fight to the other kid.

In the meantime, the Administration remains committed to giving General Petraeus until September to make things better in Iraq. A tall order, that. The Iraqi Parliament, charged with nothing less than saving their country from a bloodbath by coming to grips with issues of power sharing, reconciliation, and political salvation, have decided that August in Bagdad is much to hot and will go into recess in order to cool off.

No word on how our boys, humping 100 pounds of gear in 130 degree heat, risking their lives to give the Iraqi government a chance to deal with its problems might feel about Iraqi parliamentarians taking a break to go to the beach in Dubai. Perhaps we should give them a vacation too. They’ve earned it a helluva lot more than the faithless Iraqi government whose intransigence on every single political issue vitally necessary to bringing their country together is making Petreaus and our boys work themselves to exhaustion for nothing.

Eventually, the Democrats will win out and they’ll get their timetable. And that’s when the pressure from the netnuts will really begin. Democrats will be forced to try and hold Bush’s feet to the fire on sticking to the evacuation while all hell is breaking loose in Iraq. This will give the Democrats additional opportunities to posture. We’ll have more votes about funding the war with more direction from Congress about how to skedaddle in the face of al-Qaeda terrorism and attacks. And the closer to the election, they more strident and unreasonable they will become.

That is, until a Democrat is elected President. Then the calls for bi-partisan unity will ring from the Capitol Dome and all will be peace and harmony. Perhaps they can all get a head start and do that “bi-partisan unity” thing starting now.

Fat chance.

By: Rick Moran at 7:29 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (22)

Can't See the Center >> What's the hurry? linked with What's the hurry?...

If you believe the left-wing Guardian, the Administration pendulum on Iran has swung back toward taking military action before Bush leaves office. The villain? Dick Cheney of course:

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: “Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo.”

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.

The story bases its conclusions on mostly anonymous sourcing. The problem with doing that was made amply clear last week as several reports by the media regarding an imminent Administration turn on Iraq toward withdrawal using unnamed sources proved to be absolutely bogus when President Bush came out on Friday saying he was contemplating no such thing.

But there is little doubt that the Cheney faction is putting tremendous pressure on the President to take out Iran’s nuclear program prior to their leaving office in 2009. The reasoning mentioned in the article better be made up by some lefty Guardian reporter because if it isn’t, it would constitute an arrogance beyond anything shown so far by the Bushies:

The Washington source said Mr Bush and Mr Cheney did not trust any potential successors in the White House, Republican or Democratic, to deal with Iran decisively. They are also reluctant for Israel to carry out any strikes because the US would get the blame in the region anyway.

“The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action,” Mr Cronin said. “The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job yourself.”

They don’t “trust” any potential successors to “deal with Iran decisively?” I can’t begin to tell you how offensive that idea is – not to mention its raw stupidity. The world may look a lot different to a new President on January 20, 2009 than it does to Dick Cheney and his advisers today or even next year.. And any military action taken against Iran next year – which is the current timetable – will mean that Cheney and Bush’s successor will be reaping the bulk of the whirlwind sown by the current Administration following any massive attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

And make no mistake. That “whirlwind” will be the mother of all blowbacks. We’ve been over and over the downside to attacking Iran so repeating the enormous cost to the United States and perhaps the west would be redundant punditry.

This is not to say that absorbing such a hit may not be necessary and that bombing the Iranian nuclear sites should not be done under any circumstances. There are few things in this world that would be more inimicable to American interests than Iran with nuclear weapons. The question has never been if that would be bad for America because even some lefties think it would be. The question has always been would the advantages in bombing Iran outweigh the disadvantages. And as far as I’m concerned, at this moment the scales tip toward negotiations and sanctions rather than war.

That’s because despite what Cheney and Bush want as far as “dealing” with Iran before they bid farewell to Washington, we still have time to head off the prospect of Iranian bomb making. To do so would require some tough diplomacy and even tougher work at the United Nations. But it can be done if we have the patience and the will to do so.

Iran’s construction of a bomb is not by any stretch of the imagination “imminent.” Dr. Jeffrey Hart of Arms Control Wonk explains why. Right now, the Iranians have installed and are operating around 2000 centrifuges at their main enrichment facility at Nantanz. But what does that mean as far as their ability to construct a nuclear device:

Iran could, with the current 1,968 centrifuges operating at 1.5-2.0 kg SWU per year and assuming 4.8 t SWU/a to produce 25 kg of 90 percent HEU, produce a significant quantity of HEU in 14-19 months or, say, September 2008-February 2009. (Readers might want to double check that calculation.)

But the “general view” of the IC is still—at least as of June 2007—2010-2015.

That’s odd, isn’t it?

One explanation is that the IC must believe Iran is going to, or has, run into some substantial operational barrier—maybe those Iranian manufactured components and/or UF6 feedstock really do suck ball bearings—that could add a year or more to the estimates.

That might explain the IC sticking by the 2010-2015 estimates, as well as the recent slowdown from Iran’s crash installation period this spring. For example, “a senior European official” told WaPo’s Robin Wright “They’ve committed down a road to expand as quickly as possible. But Iran won’t be the first to discover that it does happen to be rocket science, and development has its peaks and troughs.”

I had earlier noted that IAEA officials said Iran had enough good imported components 1,000-2,000 centrifuges, so that we would have to wait for evidence that Iran could get over 2,000. Stilll waiting, I guess.

Or, maybe, Iran may simply be attempting—as David Albright suggested—to learn to operate the centrifuges installed, rather than building more.

Or, maybe, Iran just wanted to create facts on the ground (underground, actually), avoid new sanctions and, perhaps, cut a deal.

The Iranians have experienced problems in mastering centrifuge technology, not unsurprising given the engineering tolerances involved in getting so many machines to work in synchronization. And as Hart points out, their supply of yellowcake may be deficient. And besides all of this, they have yet to enrich uranium beyond the 3-5% range although ratcheting up their enrichment process to achieve the 85% threshold to make a bomb would simply be a matter of time, not technology.

Even if the Iranians overcome all the technical challenges posed by enrichment, they still have to build a bomb. And you just don’t go to your local library and find a workable bomb design. Just ask the North Koreans whose “test” last summer was almost certainly a nuclear “fizzle” due to poor design. Unless they’ve purchased a tried and tested bomb design from A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist who ran a nuclear convenience store, supplying expertise and technology to Iran back in the mid ‘90’s (or somewhere else), you must add another 6-9 months to any timetable to Iranian nuclear capability.

Time is the key. We still have it if we’re willing to use it constructively to put pressure on the Iranians to come to an agreement about enrichment. With adequate safeguards and monitoring by the IAEA, it would be possible to keep the Iranian nuclear program peaceful.

The uncertainty of the moment however, makes Iran a very dangerous nation. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had some interesting thoughts in response to a question at a recent speaking engagement:

Secretary Gates: I think that the general view of American intelligence is that they would be in a position to develop a nuclear device, probably sometime in the period 2010, 2011 to 2014 or 2015. There are those who believe that that could happen much sooner, in late 2008 or 2009. The reality is because of the way that Iran has conducted its affairs, we really don’t know, and it puts a higher premium, it seems to me, on the international community coming together in terms of strengthening the sanctions on Iran so that they begin to face some serious tradeoffs—in terms of their economic well-being and their economic future—for having nuclear weapons. I don’t think anyone begrudges Iran the capacity to have peaceful nuclear power under proper safeguards and supervision. The key is whether they will have nuclear weapons.


Having to take care of this problem militarily is in no one’s interest, but it does put a premium on unanimity in the international community—and I would say especially in the U.N. Security Council—in terms of ratcheting up the pressure on the Iranians, not next year or the year after, but right now, in line with the uncertainty about when their capability actually will come online.

Wise words. He’s not downplaying the threat in the slightest and yet, Gates is pointing out an alternative to war. Given the immense downside to attacking Iran, it simply makes sense to follow the course laid out by Gates and supported by Secretary Rice while eschewing the arrogant belief by some in the Administration that only they have the cohones to deal with the mullahs effectively and that Clinton and Obama (two Democrats who have not taken the military option off the table with Iran) are weak sisters who would somehow allow a nuclear armed Iran to threaten the peace.

Of course, the 800 pound gorrilla in the room is Israel and what her plans might be. The Administration is correct in believing that any attack from Israel on Iran would be seen by the mullahs as an attack by the United States. But Israel herself is conflicted about starting a war with Iran. On the one hand, they realize the Iranians are an existential threat to the existence of the Jewish state. On the other hand, they also would experience a tremendous downside by attacking the Iranians. The Israelis are self confident enough about their relationship with the United States that they wouldn’t ask “permission” to bomb Iranian nuclear sites. But that’s not to say they wouldn’t consult us if they are seriously contemplating such a course of action.

It is impossible at this point to guess Jerusalem’s intent. But it should also be fixed in the minds of our policy makers that the clock ticking toward Iranian nuclear capability also may have an Israeli component. For unless we can convince the Iranians to agree on close monitoring and intrusive inspections of their nuclear program, it is more than likely that the Israelis will take matters into their own hands if they feel threatened and attack first.

That thought should be a goad to the international community to get busy and pass additional sanctions on Iran unless they cooperate in proving to the world that their nuclear program is peaceful. Given their past rhetoric on Israel, the burden is on them, not us and not the Israelis, to prove to the world that their program will not be used to create weapons of mass destruction that would threaten their neighbors – all of whom are US allies.

Yes we have time. But the clock is ticking and the world has a lot of work to do.


Allah has some sobering thoughts:

My feelings about another Bush-managed war are the same as Dennis Miller’s were in an old bit he used to do about Germany’s reunification: much like a Martin and Lewis reunion, he said, he wasn’t impressed with their previous work and wasn’t really looking forward to seeing any of the new sh*t. Hey, George: Let Fred handle it. Or, god forbid, a Democrat if it comes to that.

He also thinks the story is something of an invention by The Guardian. While that may be true, I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind where Cheney stands on Iran and that he won’t do his utmost to have his views prevail.

By: Rick Moran at 7:19 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (30)

Captain's Quarters linked with Military Solution Fof Iran?...

I don’t deliberately set out to anger you, oh gentle and discerning reader, but there are times after I read something about the war that spells out in excruciating detail the monumental problems facing the United States, our military, and especially the Iraqi government, that I can’t help wishing I could take some of you, grab you by the shoulders, and try and shake some sense into you.

If that sounds arrogant, I apologize. But since most conservative websites either refuse to examine some of these issues or are unaware of them or simply ignore them, I figure where else are you going to get the whole story? The MSM, mired in body count journalism won’t give it to you. Even lefty sites don’t bother to examine most of the problems facing us in Iraq. They’re too busy using the war as a political club to beat Republicans over the head or denigrate conservatives to care much what happens to the Iraqi people.

But you and I have come a long way with the people of Iraq. We cheered their first tentative steps toward democracy. We marvel at their courage as they daily face the blood and chaos fomented by both internal thugs and outside forces. But they have been ill-served by a leadership mired in sectarianism and paralyzed by division.

And the hell of it is, there’s precious little we can do to help.

To illustrate that point, allow me to quote extensively from a piece that appeared in the Boston Globe by Robert Malley and Peter Harling of the International Crisis Group. The ICG is one of those earnest left wing internationalist groups that churn out studies and papers about areas of the world in conflict. They play it mostly straight, politics wise – except regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where they have a decidedly anti-Israeli bias in my opinion. Having said that, they’ve got some pretty brilliant and experienced people who know their stuff that write for them which makes reading their analyses on Iraq a pre-requisite for understanding the conflict. Their insights into the sectarianism, the tribal squabbles, the shifting power centers all contribute to our understanding of the big picture.

They begin by looking past the surge:

TO IMAGINE what Baghdad will look like after the surge, there is no need to project far into the future. Instead, just turn to the recent past. Between September 2006 and March 2007, British forces conducted Operation Sinbad in Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. At first, there were signs of progress: diminished violence, criminality, and overall chaos. But these turned out to be superficial and depressingly fleeting. Only a few months after the operation came to an end, old habits resurfaced. Today, political tensions once again are destabilizing the city; relentless attacks against British forces have driven them off the streets; and the southern city is under the control of militias, more powerful and less inhibited than before.

Operation Sinbad, like the surge, was premised on belief that heightened British military power would help rout out militias, provide space for local leaders to rebuild the city, and ultimately hand security over to newly vetted and more professional Iraqi security forces. It did nothing of the sort. A military strategy that failed to challenge the dominant power structure and political makeup, no matter how muscular it was, simply could not alter the underlying dynamic: A political arena dominated by parties—those the British embraced, no less than those they fought—engaged in a bloody competition over power and resources.

So, what happened? While British forces were struggling to suppress the violence, the parties and organizations operating on the public scene never felt the need to modify their behavior. Militias were not defeated; they went underground or, more often, were absorbed into existing security forces. One resident after another told us they witnessed murders committed by individuals dressed in security force uniform. This, of course, with total impunity since the parties that infiltrate the security services also ensure that their own don’t get punished.

We’ve seen this same scenario being played out in Baghdad. Militias melt away or hide in plain sight as members of the security services. And despite a purge of 10,000 employees of the Interior Ministry suspected of ties to Iran as well as death squad activity, the Ministry is still a hotbed of sectarian violence. That’s because the Ministry oversees approximately a dozen different security forces and it is impossible to determine which ones have gone rogue. Forces to guard the oil fields and oil infrastructure, forces to guard prominent Iraqi politicians, forces connected with other ministries used mostly to protect civilian employees and headquarters buildings – all have been fingered at one time or another as carrying out death squad activities. And they do so usually with the assistance or tacit approval of the police who are also heavily infiltrated by militias. Purging the police units caught helping the death squads doesn’t seem to be to solving the problem.

And there are other parallels with Basra as well. Baghdad has many centers of power and like Basra, we appear not to be challenging the important ones. We’re sniping at the Mahdi Army by going after some of the top commanders who appear to be operating independently of Muqtada al-Sadr’s influence as well as targeting the Iranian trained Quds collaborators in the Iraqi police force. But that’s a drop in the bucket and we know it. This is why disarming the militias was included as a political benchmark to be carried out by the Iraqi government and not a military goal of the surge. How the influence of the militias is going to shake out after the surge is over will determine how much peace there will be in Baghdad.

And if you’re thinking about the Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) being able to do much good at rebuilding the country, here’s the British experience in Basra:

Likewise, little was done to rebuild the city. Instead, the leading parties maintained their predatory practices, scrambling to take advantage of available public resources, contracts, or jobs. Oil contraband is an open secret, acknowledged even by a fighter in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army, who told us that “when Moqtada al-Sadr met with representatives . . . in Basra, he scratched his nose and said, ’ I smell the smell of gasoline’—his way of accusing his own representatives of smuggling oil.” Fadhila siphons diesel off at the source; others drill holes into pipelines. The public sector as a whole is rife with corruption—instance of mammoth-sized projects that have delivered virtually nothing are legion—malfeasance and partisan hiring.

In short, Operation Sinbad, at best, froze in place the existing situation and balance of power, creating an illusory stability that concealed a brutal and collective tug-of-war-in-waiting. Once the British version of the surge ebbed, the struggle reignited.

For Baghdad, the implications are as clear as they are ominous. Basra is a microcosm of the country as a whole, in its multiple and multiplying forms of violence. In the southern city, strife generally has little to do with sectarianism or anti-occupation resistance, both of which are far more prominent in the capital or Iraq’s center. Instead, it involves the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly are indistinguishable from political actors. This means that even should the armed opposition weaken, even should sectarian tensions abate, and even should the surge momentarily succeed, Basra’s fate is likely to be replicated throughout the country on a larger, more chaotic, and more dangerous scale.

If you’ve been reading this site for the last year or so, you know that the last sentence rings true. And given the fact that come March, the numbers of American troops will start declining (unless the Administration wants to extend the army’s tours again), the situation outlined above will present the Administration and the American people with a huge problem.

Iraq really has become the stickiest of tar babies; we can’t withdraw too precipitously, if at all and yet our military cannot do much of anything to help solve Iraq’s massive political, sectarian, and security problems. We are well and truly stuck. We can’t move forward and we can’t go back. Here’s American Ambassador Ryan Crocker:

“You can’t build a whole policy on a fear of a negative, but, boy, you’ve really got to account for it,” Mr. Crocker said Saturday in an interview at his office in Saddam Hussein’s old Republican Palace, now the seat of American power here. Setting out what he said was not a policy prescription but a review of issues that needed to be weighed, the ambassador compared Iraq’s current violence to the early scenes of a gruesome movie.

“In the States, it’s like we’re in the last half of the third reel of a three-reel movie, and all we have to do is decide we’re done here, and the credits come up, and the lights come on, and we leave the theater and go on to something else,” he said. “Whereas out here, you’re just getting into the first reel of five reels,” he added, “and as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse.”

That from our own Ambassador. I would guess that with talk like that, it will be impossible come September to maintain any political will in Congress to continue with the surge – especially since Crocker is already lowering the bar by dismissing benchmarks as a reasonable way to measure progress in Iraq:

The ambassador also suggested what is likely to be another core element of the approach that he and General Petraeus will take to the September report: that the so-called benchmarks for Iraqi government performance set by Congress in a defense authorization bill this spring may not be the best way of assessing whether the United States has a partner in the Baghdad government that warrants continued American military backing. “The longer I’m here, the more I’m persuaded that Iraq cannot be analyzed by these kind of discrete benchmarks,” he said.

After the Iraqi government drew up the first list of benchmarks last year, American officials used them as their yardstick, frequently faulting the Iraqis for failure to act on them, especially on three items the Americans identified as priorities: a new oil law sharing revenue between Iraq’s main population groups; a new “de-Baathification” law widening access to government jobs to members of Saddam Hussein’s former ruling party; and a law scheduling provincial elections to choose representative governments in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But Mr. Crocker said there were better ways to measure progress, including the levels of security across Iraq, progress in delivering basic services like electricity to the population, and steps by Iraqi leaders from rival groups to work more collaboratively.

I’m afraid this won’t sit well with Congress if Crocker and Petreaus abandon benchmarks as a gauge of Iraqi progress. I don’t believe Crocker understands how tenuous a thread the President is holding his war coalition together. He can have all the determination in the world to see the conflict through to some kind of solution we could live with. But it won’t matter if a dozen or Senators and a couple of dozen Congressmen abandon him on Iraq.

Greg Djerjian, war supporter and Bush booster when the war started, has been a gloomy voice on Iraq over the last 18 months. I think he nails it here:

For the grim realities are these: we are in a massive and exceedingly dangerous mess in Iraq, one where if we pull out precipitously, neighbors are likelier to come in full-bore, the civil war will turn even more brutal, and genocidal actions on a scale not yet seen since the American invasion could result. Meantime, it is crystal-clear, given these stakes, that an immediate withdrawal is not going to happen, even if you think it’s, all told, the wisest course, as no consensus can be built around such a policy at this time. Even harsh Administration critics like Tony Zinni counsel against it.

We are therefore left with a feeling that our best hope is the ISG plan, which I don’t think has been overtaken by circumstances simply because its findings were published over six months ago. If anything, its findings are even more urgent, with regionalization of the conflict looming with the Turks massing more troops on the Kurdish frontier. And is the situation no longer “grave and deteriorating”, as the ISG found? Only more so, of course, as the clock keeps ticking.

There are actually two separate clocks; a countdown to September’s crucial debate and the clock in the heads of many GOP Congressmen and Senators. How long can they stick with the President without permanently damaging their careers? Their answer to that question will determine how much longer the surge will continue before we start to draw down our forces.

By: Rick Moran at 8:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (22)

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For you lefty trolls out there, here’s some red meat to go with your scrambled eggs and coffee this morning.

And for my conservative friends who enjoy a little introspection on a lazy summer Saturday, here’s a piece that will will give you something to think about while you’re on the golf course waiting for the idiots on the green to stop dicking around and putt already.

First, it appears that Chertoff’s “gut feeling” about an impending attack is being taken seriously by some people in the government. Or, if you’re inclined to wear the latest fashion in tin foil chapeaus (Reynolds Wrap Haute couture is all the rage this summer) it’s just more evidence of Administration tomfoolery with terror alerts:

Fearing a possible coded signal to attack, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials are studying an unusual pattern of words in the latest audiotape from al Qaeda’s No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahri.

On the tape, posted on the Internet Wednesday, Zawahri repeats one phrase three times at the end of his message.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

Have I not conveyed? Oh God be my witness.

A new FBI analysis of al Qaeda messages, obtained by the Blotter on, warns that “continued messages that convey their strategic intent to strike the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests worldwide should not be discounted as merely deceptive noise.”

A far cry from “John has a long mustache” or “Wounds my heart with a monotonous languor,” no?

Be that as it may, the FBI and Homeland Security seem to be taking this latest threat more seriously than some others lately. As for many on the left, not so much:

Let’s set aside for a moment the hollowness of the threat. Frankly the London and Glasgow plots were ill-conceived and miserably executed. It wouldn’t take much to “dwarf” them. Letting off a firecracker in a movie theater, for example.

First, this smacks of more fear-mongering by the administration. Chertoff had a “gut feeling” we’re going to be attacked, and now you see the media dutifully stoke up the panic with crap stories like this. (Yeah, a Taliban leader threatened big attacks in the US. And the head coach of the Raiders vowed to take his team to the playoffs.) The administration has a history of tweaking with terror alerts and fantasy plots to influence politics. That’s worthy of both impeachment and a swift kick in the *ss.

Second, if this threat is real and imminent, and something actually happens—it’s not the shrapnel I’ll be worrying about, it’ll be the overreaction of the government. This a group of thugs that kidnaps, tortures, and spies on its own people in times of safety. Think what they’ll do when the sh*t flies. Not to mention their track record against your standard-issue emergencies like, say, hurricanes.

I do not want these people in power in a time of emergency.

Well, whether you want them or not, they’re it and it does little good to fantasize about a Pelosi regime doing anything different.

Which brings me to the point of today’s ramblings; the respective views on terrorism and terrorist threats by the two sides and why, because of the viciousness and polarization of our politics, each side sees the other as a bigger threat than the terrorists.

One of the more thoughtful people blogging today is Matthew Yglesias:

Rick Santorum, appearing on the Hugh Hewitt show, predicts “some unfortunate events, that like we’re seeing unfold in the UK” over the next eighteen months or so that are going to lead people to have a “very different view” of the war in Iraq and the vital importance of “confronting Iran in the Middle East.” Avedon Carol wonders if it shouldn’t “concern us that Republicans are constantly talking about how people will all wise up when the next terrorist attack at home comes?” After all, they seem to really be “looking forward to it, and they take great delight in the thought that, by God, people will see things differently when it happens.”

There’s really, even, a larger structural issue here. Namely that while clearly on some level the conservative movement would like to make the country safer from terrorism, on another level everyone knows that mass fear of foreign threats to Americans’ physical security are a boon to the conservative movement’s fortune. On the one hand, this creates systematic incentives to overstate the extent and nature of the real threats facing America. On the other hand, it creates systematic incentives to ensure that such threats as do exist are never ameliorated. In particular, it gives everyone a very strong self-interest in not understanding the extent to which overreacting can be counterproductive since both the overreaction itself and the counterproductive blowback may serve the interests of the Republican Party.

On a superficial level, conservatives must plead guilty as charged. There is a belief by conservatives (not a “wish” or “desire”) that another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 would expose the liberal narrative on the War on Terror for what it is; an extraordinary myopic and paranoid view of the threat facing us and of the government charged with protecting us. This narrative is fairly consistent in downplaying the abilities of the enemy, complaining about false or faked terror alerts, ridiculing conservatives for reporting on successful or failed terrorist attacks, and generally positing the notion that the entire War on Terror is a manufactured political sideshow put on by the Bush Administration to jack up fear so that they can tear up the Constitution and set up a dictatorship.

Variations of that narrative exist depending on the reasonableness and thoughtfulness of the liberal writing about it. Some, like Yglesias, take the threat seriously but have huge problems (as many conservatives do) with the Bush Administration’s prosecution of the wider war. Others who are not quite as reasonable or thoughtful have a different perspective:

Democrat John Edwards Wednesday repudiated the notion that there is a “global war on terror,” calling it an ideological doctrine advanced by the Bush administration that has strained American military resources and emboldened terrorists.
In a defense policy speech he planned to deliver at the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards called the war on terror a “bumper sticker” slogan Bush had used to justify everything from abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the invasion of Iraq.

“We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq military that is mission focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes,” Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery. “By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set—that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam.”

The mass of Muslims who believe we are attacking all of Islam and not the radical minority are beholden to that idea not because we’ve framed the issue as a war but because of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamic propaganda – something Edwards himself has apparently fallen for. A couple of statements by ignorant American officials (including the President’s incredibly dumb “crusade” remark) that have been played up in Islamic countries do not reflect the policy of the US government in any way. If Edwards wants to criticize our own propaganda efforts, that would be a legitimate criticism. But his adherence to The Narrative in talking about the war as an ideological exercise by the Administration serves to proves my point.

But getting back to Yglesias and his thesis; that while “the conservative movement would like to make the country safer from terrorism, on another level everyone knows that mass fear of foreign threats to Americans’ physical security are a boon to the conservative movement’s fortune…”

The unwritten companion to that idea that Yglesias leaves out is that the reason conservative “fortunes” soar as a result of threats to the homeland is because of the perceived (and in my opinion, rightly so) weakness of the left on security issues. This is not an issue of smoke and mirrors but rather a decades long retreat from the left’s belief in an assertive American foreign policy and funding a military machine to back it up. The modern left never met a weapons system they didn’t try to kill at some point nor has there been an assertive move to protect American interests in the last several decades that they have supported. The American people have taken note of this and voted accordingly.

But what of the notion that this political advantage by conservatives is deliberately fostered by overstating the threat facing us and that this leads to creating “systematic incentives” to make sure the war continues ad infinitum?

The two issues should have been separated by Yglesias because they deal with two different assumptions. 1) Conservatives want to win elections, and 2) The only way the right sees itself as succeeding in this is to make the War on Terror a generational conflict so that a constant state of fear is used as a club to beat the left over the head on security issues.

As for the first part, Yglesias has a point. I think there is a psychological desire on the part of the right to see the country unified behind its point of view on terrorism. And I think this desire at some level includes the notion that the best thing that could happen as far as unifying the country (and making the left’s views on terrorism an irrelevancy) is for a terrorist attack to occur on American soil. I don’t see any “great delight” being exhibited by conservatives in anticipation of such an attack – an attack that every living expert on terrorism has warned is a virtual certainty – nor do I see conservatives “looking forward to it” as Avedon Carol so generously states. But to see the outcome of another 9/11 in superficial political terms, then I think Yglesias has a good point.

Of course, this throws up all sorts of questions about the leadership of President Bush, Republicans in Congress, and conservative intellectuals who have failed miserably in making the case for this wider war on terrorism to the American people. There are other, less destructive ways to unify the country without having an American city reduced to rubble.

But as with the War in Iraq, President Bush has failed to sustain any coherent defense of his policies. This has allowed his political opponents free reign to color his actions in the worst possible light. And while some intellectuals of the right such as Norman Podhoretz and Donald Kagan have defended the Administration’s policies in Iraq and the wider War on Terror, the intellectual underpinnings that should be girding our efforts in the war of ideas against Islamic radicalism as well as offering a rationale for our actions to those willing to listen overseas has been sorely lacking.

As for the second assumption made by Yglesias – that this desire by the right to extend the life of the war by creating “systematic incentives to ensure that such threats as do exist are never ameliorated…” I believe him to be on much shakier ground.

Matthew places that statement in the context of what he terms “over-reacting” to both the threat of terrorism and terrorist incidents themselves. From another Yglesias post following the London/Glasgow incidents:

I’m pretty sure I haven’t been “ignoring” the bomb attempt, but I’ve certainly said less about it than, say, the NBA draft. That said, I find there to be two curious presumptions built into the question. One is that “you’re paying less attention than you should to failed bombings in a foreign country!” is framed as some kind of cutting accusation. Second, is that it’s taken as a given that hyping-up the threat of terrorism is something conservatives will want to do whereas downplaying it is something liberals will want to do.

It’s interesting because on another level if a liberal wants to make the case that Bush has been a horrible president implementing horrible policies, probably the most natural response is to say “look, some of what you say is true, but at the end of the day there haven’t been any more attacks since 9/11.” At that point, it falls to the liberal to point to all this international data indicating a substantial surge in Islamist violence during the Bush years as evidence of the administration’s failures.

Again, on one level, Yglesias has a point. But rather than “over reacting” to gin up fear in the country, I would describe the right’s focus on such attacks – failed or otherwise – as a psychological need to validate their views on terrorism as a genuine threat. (“See? The world is a dangerous place even if liberals downplay these attacks!”) Since part of The Narrative is that there is no such thing as a War on Terror and that even if attacks occur, the jihadis are a bunch of ignorant, 15th century goat herders so there’s no reason for all this fuss, conservatives feel compelled by politics and self-image to play up every incident of terror as part of the larger war against Islamism – a war they feel should engage the continuing interest of the American people to the exclusion of other, more mundane considerations like the economy or health care.

Yglesias points up the political danger of this exercise by the right; that even though no terrorist attacks have occurred here since 9/11, there is little doubt that Administration strategy has created more terrorists than there were prior to that date and that the threat has not been reduced in the nearly 6 years since. I might add there is also a danger for conservatives in that the absence of an attack on our soil since 2001 has brought those “mundane” issues to the fore in 2008, giving Democrats a distinct advantage in domestic policy. Focusing on terrorism as the major concern of the American people is rapidly becoming bad politics – unless we are hit again. Then the question of those increased numbers of jihadis will become a political nuclear weapon with each side tossing screaming allegations back and forth in the aftermath.

I have wrestled with this question of our creating more terrorists by confronting them in several posts over the last year. The reason the question is relevant is because there seems to be a consensus on the left that if only we hadn’t gone into Iraq, the terrorist threat wouldn’t be what it is today.

I find little evidence that our Iraq adventure alone is responsible for the increase in jihadi recruitment. One need only look at the reaction by Pakistanis to our invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan has become the most anti-American nation on earth not because of our invasion of Iraq but because of what we did to the Taliban.

But the real question remains: Would not confronting the terrorists after 9/11 have made us safer? If we had lobbed a few cruise missiles at Bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan rather than going for regime change, would there be Muslim doctors trying to blow up airports? It’s an interesting thought experiment but one I have never seen tried anywhere on the left. They have simply accepted the notion that the War in Iraq is singularly responsible for the surge in terrorist numbers.

And even if there were no terrorists in Iraq prior to the invasion (a still debatable point given the curiously unpublicized revelations contained in the Saddam papers) there’s no doubt there are many in Iraq now. If killing them only creates more of them which in turn makes us less safe, logic would dictate that we basically surrender to the idea that from time to time we are going to be attacked and that the best we can do is work with our allies to mitigate that possibility as much as possible by smashing their cells whenever we find them. Is this the basis of the left’s strategy for dealing with terrorism? It would seem to me and to many conservatives that this forms the basis for a “fear-free” War on Terror that appears to be embraced by many on the left.

Perhaps they don’t like the idea that such a strategy would put them at a distinct electoral disadvantage against Republicans so why not rage against perceived “fear mongering” by the right on the issue. In that context, there’s not much conservatives can do except embrace the left’s strategy for dealing with Islamism which would also include changing our foreign policy so we don’t experience any more “blowback” as a result of our standing with Israel or confronting that other threat in the Middle East Iran.

I’m not sure Yglesias would go as far as that but there’s little doubt that sympathy for the Palestinian cause and a general aversion to confronting the theocrats in Tehran is a part of the left’s solution to Bush’s “failed” policies in the War on Terror. What that would mean as far as our safety and security is concerned is another question – one the American people will have to decide next year. But one thing both left and right better start thinking very hard about if we are attacked again is that the solution to security will eventually have to be found in unity and not in these tiresome partisan dust ups where the motives of both sides are questioned and the War on Terror becomes a weapon to be used by one side or the other for political gain.


Right on cue, Ron Paul shows why unity in the War on Terror is an impossibility at the moment:

Presidential candidate Ron Paul says the U.S. is in “great danger” of a staged terror attack or a Gulf of Tonkin style provocation while also warning that a major collapse of the American economy is on the horizon and could be precipitated by the bombing of Iran and the closure of the Persian Gulf.

Speaking to The Alex Jones Show, the Texas Congressman was asked his opinion on Cindy Sheehan’s recent comments that the U.S. is in danger of a staged terror attack or a Gulf of Tonkin style provocation that will validate the Neo-Con agenda and lead to the implementation of the infrastructure of martial law that Bush recently signed into law via executive order, as well as public pronouncements from prominent officials that the West needs terrorism to save a doomed foreign policy.

“I think we’re in great danger of it,” responded the Congressman, “We’re in danger in many ways, the attack on our civil liberties here at home, the foreign policy that’s in shambles and our obligations overseas and commitment which endangers our troops and our national defense.”

Ooookay, Ron. You can go back to the barbecue now. And next time make sure they don’t grill your brain instead of the steak.

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By: Rick Moran at 9:53 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (27)

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CATEGORY: Middle East

Chief UN investigator Serge Brammertz has issued a report stating that he has identified “a number of persons” who may have been involved in the murder of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and that motives for the killing have been “significantly narrowed down.”

But Brammertz has refused to echo the suspicions of the first UN investigator to look into Hariri’s killing, Detlev Mehlis, that fingers “top ranked” Syrian and Lebanese officials:

There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, could not have been taken without the approval of top ranked Syrian security official and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services.

And who were the assassins? The original Mehlis Report redacted the names of the perpetrators. But before they could do so, a Word document containing the redacted information was disseminated. Below is a quote from the Mehlis Report clearly implicating the highest levels of the Syrian government in the assassination:

One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyed ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (senior Lebanese and Syrian officials) decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that Sayyed ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (a senior Lebanese security official) went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of Shawkat ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (a senior Syrian security official). The last meeting was held in the house of Shawkat ($$ previous text in boldface omitted in final draft, replaced by following text in parentheses) (the same senior Syrian security official) approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included Mustapha Hamdan (another senior Lebanese security official). The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

1. Assef Shawkat, perhaps the second most powerful man in Syria. He’s head of Syrian intelligence and is the brother in law of President Assad.

2. Hassan Khalil, former head of Syrian intelligence. He “retired” 4 days after the Hariri assassination in a government shake up. He was replaced by Shawkat.

3. Maher Assad, the President’s younger brother. A commander in the praetorian Republican Guard, he leads a crack brigade charged with the defense of Damascus. Originally believed to be the logical successor to his father, Bashar evidently got the job because Maher has been known to be a little “unstable.” To wit: In October 1999 he reportedly shot his brother-in-law Assef Shawqat in the stomach after an argument.

4. Bahjat Suleymana. A friend of Shawkat and one of the three members (along with Asad’s brother and Shawkat) of the President’s “National Security Committee.”

5. Jamil Al-Sayyed. One of four high ranking Lebanese generals accused of complicity in the plot. Al-Sayyed headed up the Sûreté Générale, or internal security forces in Lebanon. He along with Mustapha Hamdan, a close confidante of President Lahoud; Ali Hajj, a general in the internal security service who was formerly in charge of Hariri’s security and who was fired by Hariri in 2000 for spying on him for Syria; and Raymond Azar, ex chief of Military intelligence have all been in jail for 20 months, arrested on charges of complicity in the killing of the ex-Prime Minister.

If Mehlis had no qualms about naming Syrian and Lebanese names – if only to the Security Council (the names were leaked inadvertently) – why won’t Brammertz point the finger at Assad’s inner circle?

Mehlis didn’t want to release the names in order to maintain the presumption of innocence and not influence the inquiry for his sucessor. But we are rapidly approaching the sitting of the International Tribunal to try these criminals and Brammertz has said that the investigation is nearly complete. Isn’t it about time we had the names of some defendants?

The first U.N. chief investigator, Germany’s Detlev Mehlis, said the killing’s complexity suggested the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services played a role in Hariri’s assassination. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for 20 months, accused of involvement in Hariri’s murder.

Brammertz has not echoed Mehlis’ suggestion, and did not provide any clues to those who may have been involved. He said Syria and other states have continued to provide “mostly positive responses” to requests for assistance.

In his eighth report to the U.N. Security Council, Brammertz signaled for the first time that the U.N. International Independent Investigation Commission would be wrapping up its work and transferring its files and findings to the international tribunal, which the council unilaterally established on May 30 to prosecute suspects in the killings.

He said the consolidated reports totaling more than 2,400 pages—including a 2,000-page report covering all areas of the Hariri investigation—were prepared to help ensure “a smooth handover at the appropriate time in the near future” to the new tribunal’s prosecutor.

Color me a pessimist but I have a very bad feeling about the tack Brammertz is taking. By steering clear of naming high level Syrians, he may very well have received cooperation from Assad’s government that wasn’t given to Mehlis. But it begs the question; why would Assad play ball with Brammertz if he even suspected his brother, brother in law, and other high ranking officials were going to be put on the dock?

This is not to say that the Syrian government will not be implicated. But there has been speculation for months that Assad will sacrifice one or more lower ranking Syrians – perhaps the deceased Ghazi Kenaan who headed up Syran intelligence in Lebanon for two decades and was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head. He was also implicated in the Mehlis report as was Rustom Ghazaleh, a former intelligence chief in Lebanon who some referred to as the country’s “pro-consul” so powerful he was. Could it be possible that Assad would have made a deal with Brammertz to keep his hands off his inner circle in exchange for giving him a couple of underlings?

I don’t subscribe to conspiracies but if the Tribunal were to name as defendants 3 of the most powerful men in Syria and they were found guilty, the absolute worst thing that could happen from the UN’s point of view would occur.

They would have to do something about it.

And given the reluctance of the UN to fully face up to difficult and thorny issues, it is not beyond imagining that even if Brammertz didn’t make a deal with Assad on defendants for the Tribunal, the prosecutor may have realized that it would be in his own best interests not to rock the boat too precipitously at the UN:

Brammertz, who is also investigating with less intensity 17 other political murders or attempted murders in Lebanon, said Syria’s cooperation remained “generally satisfactory.”

The Belgian has not repeated allegations by his German predecessor, Detlev Mehlis, that Hariri could not have been killed without the complicity of senior Syrian officials, and his relations with Damascus have been better.

Brammertz, whose current mandate expires at the end of this year, is considered a leading candidate to succeed Carla del Ponte of Switzerland as chief prosecutor for the Hague-based tribunal to try war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

Certainly he will need the support of the Security Council to get that posting to the Hague – and a nice feather in his cap to be sure. How would the SC feel if he forced them to deal with the implications of a state that routinely carries out political murders in order to control a tiny neighbor?

In the end, there genuinely may not be enough evidence to charge members of Assad’s inner circle with the crime. But my pessimistic assessment reading between the lines of what Brammertz is saying is that there is a chance that the real perpetrators of Hariri’s assassination may get a pass. And that would not sit well with the people of Lebanon or many in the west.

By: Rick Moran at 1:55 pm | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (2)

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CATEGORY: Middle East

Word from Michael Totten (via Naharnet) that Syria is telling its citizens to leave Lebanon by July 15th in anticipation of a “[p]ossible eruption of violent crisis” and even more shockingly, has already invaded Lebanon. The Syrian army has penetrated to a depth of three kilometers into the Bekaa Valley. They are digging in, throwing up berms and revetments with the evident intent of staying a while.

The invasion, coupled with the call for their citizens to get out of Lebanon means one of two things could be at work here; a gigantic bluff being run by Syria and Hizbullah in advance of the multi-party talks in Paris that will take place later this week or a genuine war warning. With the unpredictable Assad, it’s anyone’s guess at this point what he has in mind. But given the absolute, unbending determination the Syrian President has shown to keep the International Tribunal from meeting added to the fact that no one in the west appears willing to stand with Lebanon in this, her most desperate hour, I am leaning toward the belief that Syria is about ready to manufacture an “incident” that would set off a violent confrontation in Beirut between Hizbullah and the March 14th forces, giving Assad an excuse to re-occupy the country or allow Nasrallah to deploy his well armed, well trained militia against the March 14th amateurs.

Many signs recently have pointed to some kind of resolution to the 7 month long cabinet crisis that has virtually paralyzed the government. Nasrallah promised many months ago that the elected government would be overthrown peacefully and hasn’t delivered. He’s had his followers in the streets of Beirut surrounding the government building while Prime Minister Siniora and his ministers have hung tough in the face of incredible dangers and provocations.

But time is running out on Assad which is why the rhetoric from the opposition has been escalating drastically the last 10 days. Walid Phares:

The main issue now is the presidency of the republic. Elections are currently slated to take place in September. But current, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud will try to postpone the elections as long as he can. The March 14 movement (opposed to the Syrian regime) will try to vote for its candidate — not yet selected — by late October/early November. The new president won’t be recognized by Hezbollah and its allies.

Hezbollah and its allies will form a government of their own and take control of large parts of Lebanon. This plan is two years old. It is being publicized only now by both parties in the propaganda-warfare realm.

There is a possibility that the “axis” may attempt to break down the Seniora government during the summer (July-September) through ground action, and also by initiating the formation of another cabinet.

Al Mustaqbal, the pro-Hariri daily is publishing reports about a potential coup d’etat by Hezbollah as a “preemptive strike.” The information about Iran-Hezbollah plans for a coup, were made available as early as 2006 by the Lebanese international lobby (also known as the World Council of the Cedars Revolution). The March 14 coalition chose to release this information now, as the other side is also leaking it in an attempt to intimidate the Seniora cabinet. Hence, as both sides are leaking it simultaneously, it has been picked up by international monitors of the various media, including MEMRI. In short, the plan of a coup d’etat by Hezbollah, and backed by Iran and Syria is two years old, but it is surfacing now as the crush moment draws dramatically closer. “

MEMRI is reporting the same thing; that Hizbullah is set to form a “shadow government” in Lebanon:

For the past month, senior officials in the Hizbullah-led Lebanese government, as well as Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, have been threatening to establish a second government in Lebanon, or to take “historical” and “strategic” steps that will be announced in due course.

The crisis between the March 14 Forces and the Lebanese opposition has deepened with the approach of the legal date set for the presidential elections, which the opposition is threatening to prevent, and in light of harsh criticism by the Lebanese government and the March 14 Forces accusing Syria of being behind all the recent attempts to destabilize Lebanon.

On June 18, 2007, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is close to the Lebanese opposition, reported that Lahoud had postponed until mid-July the deadline on his ultimatum requiring the opposition to apprise him of their plans against the March 14 Forces. According to the paper, if the crisis is not resolved by July 15, the opposition will form the second government. [6]

On June 25, 2007, Al-Akhbar reported that the opposition had already discussed plans to form a second government and to take over the government ministries, in the event that the Al-Siniora government continued to adhere to its current positions. The paper added that the opposition had even begun to name the individuals who will form the second government.

A senior member of the Lebanese opposition told Al-Akhbar that he believed that if the second government is established, the Lebanese army will adopt a neutral stance. He estimated that the regions that would be loyal to the second government would be larger than the ones remaining loyal to Al-Siniora’s government. He further said that people from the South, from the Beqa’ valley, and from a large part of the Mount Lebanon region, as well as in the North, would refuse to recognize Al-Siniora’s government. He added that UNIFIL would find itself facing a new reality when it discovered that Al-Siniora’s government was no longer able to support its activities or ensure its security. [7]

It should be noted that an article in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is affiliated with the March 14 Forces, estimated that the second government’s jurisdiction would include South Lebanon, that is, the area bordering Israel, and the Beqa’ valley, that is, the region bordering Syria. [8]

Lots of speculation but little in the way of hard news about the plans and purposes of the Assad/Hizbullah/Iranian axis.

This presents something of a dilemma for Siniora and his besieged cabinet. They know a storm is coming but they don’t know when and are unsure of its magnitude. A Hizbullah move to create a “shadow government” would probably generate a lot of publicity but would hardly change the power equation in the country. Hizbullah has been an independent force for years, exercising authority in the south in opposition to the government. They have their own infrastructure in place already. Any declaration by Nasrallah – even if his “government” included Christians and Sunnis as ministers – would fail to generate much support outside of the Hizbullah stronghold in the south.

This leads me to believe that Nasrallah has something else planned in conjunction with the formation of another government in opposition to Siniora. It could be, as Phares points out above, the initiation of some kind of violence in the streets – past patterns suggesting a series of bombings possibly in Sunni areas of Beirut – that would give legitimacy to Nasrallah’s call for a new government to control the spilling of blood. This would certainly ratchet up the pressure on Siniora. His refusal to accede to Nasrallah’s demands in the face of increasing violence might – just might – give Syria an excuse to move back into Beirut.

Would Assad dare? Michael Totten:

Syria can, apparently, get away with just about anything. I could hardly blame Assad at this point if he believes, after such an astonishing non-response, that he can reconquer Beirut. So far he can kill and terrorize and invade and destroy with impunity, at least up to a point. What is that point? Has anyone in the U.S., Israel, the Arab League, the European Union, or the United Nations even considered the question?

There has been no outcry about Syria’s moving troops into the Bekaa from the United States, from the French, from the west, from the Arab League whose Secretary General Amr Moussa has been in Damascus talking with Assad in a futile attempt to head off disaster, from the Saudis, nor from the Iranians who MEMRI reports has moved from a position that opposed the idea of a Lebanese Civil War to now supporting Assad’s position that the International Tribunal must be headed off by any means necessary.

Who will stand with Lebanon? Will anyone fight to save what’s left of Lebanese democracy?

Even if Assad doesn’t order his tanks into Beirut, it is clear that he and the opposition forces are slowly gaining the upper hand in this cabinet standoff. Siniora can do nothing except endure the pressure coming from Nasrallah and Assad. They have tried every formula possible – without giving up their majority status – to try and accommodate Nasrallah and his beef about Shia cabinet representation. Every time it appears that a solution is at hand, Nasrallah has backed off and raised the ante. He has variously demanded new parliamentary elections as well as holding hostage the presidential selection process until Siniora is gone and his handpicked toady is in place.

There simply is no placating Nasrallah. Compromise and accommodation are not his goals. He means to overthrow the government and will accept nothing less. The coming talks in Paris beginning Saturday among all parties is just more window dressing for Nasrallah, one more venue where he can spout his lies and sound reasonable, all the while plotting his next move in this deadly game of chess with Siniora and his western backed government.

The answer to the question of who might help Lebanon is unfortunately, no one who could do much good before the storm hits. The United States, already involved in one civil war in Iraq could hardly be expected to deploy any troops to Beirut in order to become embroiled in another. The French, with their long standing affection and sense of responsibility toward the Lebanese people wouldn’t move militarily without some help from the EU and the US even if Sarkozy demonstrated a willingness to do so.

The United Nations would examine the situation carefully and after a couple of weeks of debate would issue a watered down resolution condemning the Syrians for meddling in Lebanon. As far as ordering the 13,000 UNIFIL force in the south to assist the Siniora government, that simply won’t happen. Those forces are not configured for combat and besides, it would be a huge stretch to imagine the UN involving itself in a civil war by taking sides.

The Saudis, as Lebanon’s chief financial ally, could only stand and watch as Lebanon was gobbled up by Assad. King Abdullah has no desire to get into a shooting war with either Hizbullah or Syria. Other moderate Arab states would also condemn any coup in Lebanon but would except an Assad fait accompli as a fact of life.

Except for rhetoric, Siniora and the March 14th forces will find themselves alone to face the tiger. And as the situation moves toward a climax, the painful reality will be that in the face of a ruthless, determined foe, the United States and the west failed to protect and nurture the hope for democracy in one of the most pro-western, secular Arab nations in the world.


Allah also believes the Syrian army’s move into Bekaa presages some kind of political denouement to the crisis. He sees “the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon as guarantors of the new government.” In this scenario, Assad keeps his forces out of Beirut while letting Nasrallah and Hizbullah slug it out with the woefully undermanned and underequipped Christian and Sunni militias. Once Nasrallah has the clear upper hand – something that should happen rather quickly – Assad moves in to prop up Nasrallah’s new government while ruthlessly suppressing any opposition to it. This is something the Syrian intelligence service was born to do, having proved themselves more than up to the task both in Lebanon and rebellious areas of Syria.


Despite the offensive in Baqubah continuing to show great signs of both political and military success and other military aspects of the surge also proving that the strategy developed by General Petraeus is doing what it’s supposed to from a military standpoint, the Iraqi government slips deeper into chaos and ennui, negating any possible chance that the American military alone can turn the situation around and bring peace and stability to the country.

The military successes we’ve had are taking place in a political vacuum. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to wallow in sectarianism, incompetence, corruption, and a curious lethargy when it comes to addressing the issues that absolutely must be addressed if Iraq is to have a chance at internal peace. To wit:

  • A boycott of the cabinet by Sunni ministers shows no sign of being resolved. In fact, it appears that very little effort is being made by the Shias to entice the Sunnis back into the government although it is understood that American diplomats are working frantically behind the scenes to get the parties back together.
  • The Parliament is paralyzed. With 74 members boycotting the proceedings coupled with the usual bunch who don’t bother to show up anyway, it becomes impossible to gather a quorum so that official business can be conducted.
  • For every step forward, two steps back are the result. While the New York Times is reporting that a moderate group of Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds appear ready to begin working on the oil revenue sharing legislation in order to try and shepherd the bill through parliament, the largest Sunni bloc is still opposing the bill making passage a moot point. Why pass a bill the majority of Sunnis won’t support? It’s just one more indication that the Shias intend on riding roughshod over the political rights of the Sunnis.
  • And if that weren’t bad enough, Muqtada al-Sadr has joined with some Sunnis and Kurds to oppose the oil legislation anyway. Mookie knows full well that if the oil bill passes, Bush can claim political progress in Iraq and stop the momentum towards withdrawal.
  • Nearly 20 people a day are still being found in Baghdad who have been executed as a result of the sectarian violence roiling the city and its suburbs. This is half the number that was found in February. But sectarian deaths elsewhere are up and the violence appears to be spreading into formerly peaceful northern provinces, especially around Kirkuk where Kurds and Shias are carrying on a low level conflict over control of that vital oil center.
  • There is no sign of any mass movement by internal refugees back to the city to reclaim their formerly mixed neighborhoods despite incentives offered by the government. In fact, more people are leaving the country. Both Jordan and Syria are thinking of severely limiting the number of refugees from Iraq.

As competent and bravely as our military has performed, there is little they can do to affect any of these problems. Yes, they can reduce the violence. But can they change what’s in the hearts and minds of the purveyors of this mayhem? Simply keeping the murderers off the streets is not solving the problem in any lasting way. This is a job for the Iraqi people and their elected government.

We can kill al-Qaeda. We can build effective bridges to the Sunni community. We can keep the militias from causing too much trouble by keeping them off the streets. We can keep raiding insurgent strongholds and confiscating weapons and bomb making materials. We can keep building infrastructure and reaching out to the Iraqi people. But this is not a permanent solution to Iraq’s problems. The surge is not designed to permanently solve Iraq’s security problems. It was designed to lower the level of violence so that the Iraqi government could get its act together and start the long, hard, slog toward building a peaceful, democratic society. We are doing more than our part. But the Iraqi government is failing miserably in holding up their end of the bargain.

Realizing this, Republican Senators are finally abandoning Bush and calling for a change in mission. The latest apostate is Senator Pete Domenici:

White House efforts to keep congressional Republicans united over the Iraq war suffered another major defection yesterday as Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) broke with President Bush and called for an immediate change in U.S. strategy that could end combat operations by spring.

The six-term lawmaker, party loyalist and former staunch war supporter represents one of the most significant GOP losses to date. Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Albuquerque, Domenici said he began to question his stance on Iraq late last month, after several conversations with the family members of dead soldiers from his home state, and as it became clear that Iraqi leaders are making little progress toward national reconciliation.

“We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress,” Domenici said. “I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home.”

Domenici becomes the fourth Republican Senator in the last week to come out in favor of a change in mission. He also announced he will sponsor legislation that would “embrace the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group” – a clear sign that Bush’s days of having unfettered control over war policy are numbered.

I and many others predicted that the ISG report would eventually be used by lawmakers as political cover to change the mission in Iraq and start the withdrawal of American combat forces. The question is, can the Administration itself adopt some of the ISG’s recommendations in order to avoid the political and military disaster of being forced to accede to the Democrat’s strategy of set timetables and a much faster draw down of troops?

The answer is no. Bush has pinned his political fortunes on the surge strategy and only Congress can make him give it up. Can Domenici and a few other Republicans craft a compromise that falls short of the Democrat’s draconian plan for withdrawal while still recognizing reality and begin the process of redeploying our troops so that we can start bringing them home?

I think this is more than possible and will probably end up a reality soon enough. And I also believe there are enough GOP House and Senate members who would leap at the chance to support such a compromise to make the measure veto proof. With the American people in favor of such a withdrawal – leaving substantial numbers of troops in place to train the Iraqi army as well as keep killing al-Qaeda – the President will face the stark choice of sticking with a losing hand in Congress or grudgingly accepting the inevitable and working with the leadership to come up with the best plan possible.

That last is probably a non starter. This President has shown a sometimes admirable stubbornness when it comes to sticking to his guns on Iraq. But that same stubbornness has also prevented him from changing course when it could have done a lot more good as well as blinding him to political opportunities to work with the Democrats in order to successfully extricate ourselves from the war.

There are some parts of the ISG that most GOP members would balk at implementing. Surely there would be great opposition to engaging in any kind of dialogue with Syria about Iraq. The gangsters who run that thug nation couldn’t be trusted to keep any agreement. And the fact that Syria continues to try and murder their way back into dominating Lebanon should put the Assad regime beyond the pale of all civilized nations.

Iran may be a different story. While the mullahs have zero incentive to come to any kind of agreement with us about Iraq, they may have other issues where a mutually beneficial dialogue can be initiated. With their economy close to collapse and great unrest among the populace, the Iranians may be in a relatively weak position regarding any bi-lateral talks with us about issues of common concern (except the nuclear issue). There’s a chance that some kind of agreement can be forged – but it is a small chance and may not be worth the effort.

Bush will wait on the interim report that General Petreaus is preparing for September before even contemplating changing course. He has promised the general that much and I think Petreaus deserves it. But I am anxious to see just how realistic Petreaus will make the political section of his report given the attitude of the Iraqi government to date. With calls from senior members of the military for a withdrawal, I wonder if Petreaus will heed those calls or cave in to the Administration instead and play the rosy scenario game with his report. At his confirmation hearing, the General appeared to be pretty much of a straight shooter. I would hope he gives the President a dose of truth from both barrels.

NOTE: Comments are unmoderated. As long as we behave ourselves, they will stay that way.


Allah and I seem to be on the same page as far as the ISG goes:

Bush’s team has reportedly been murmuring for the past six weeks or so about a Baker-Hamilton resurgence and the House actually passed a measure to resurrect the Group back at the end of June. There’s no question we’re going to adopt some form of that strategy; the question is whether Bush is going to go along and pretend like he thinks it’s a good idea or if he’ll resist until Congress overrides him and then blame the chaos that follows withdrawal on them. Probably the former — I don’t think he could stand to have his war authority diminished the way the latter process would.

Either way, I think the already-dim prospects of a partisan “truce” are finished. The Dems hold the cards. What would they gain?

By: Rick Moran at 8:28 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (48)

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Okay, so I’m an ass.

Today, I feel vindicated in my beliefs and analysis about the war in Iraq and I don’t mind letting people know that their bitter recriminations and name calling directed against me are proving to be the shallow, ignorant postulates of the blindly partisan I always said they were. In the end, I am being proved correct and they are being proved wrong. And rather than disagreeing with me as grown up adults, so many of them chose to indulge themselves in a childish orgy of vicious name calling in comments, emails, and on their own blogs to the point that it became a travail to even write about Iraq. And whenever I did, I only ended up driving more of my conservative readers away.

I knew this at the time but felt that it was necessary for conservatives to wake up and smell the coffee about Iraq rather than swallowing the Administration’s line (and their legions of defenders) who were saying that a military “victory” was still possible when all the signs pointed to a disaster in the making. I could very well have continued finding silver linings in dark clouds in order to make the case for “staying the course” but in the end, that approach wasn’t tenable given the reality of what has been happening on the ground in that bloody country.

It’s just that when everything that I’ve put into building this site up has basically gone for naught because so many of my friends on the right have abandoned reading this blog – mostly because my position on the Iraq War has diverged from GOP and conservative orthodoxy – that I now feel compelled to do a little fist pumping because more and more Republicans are saying exactly the same things I’ve been saying for months; that it’s time to start redeploying our troops so that we can salvage something short of an unmitigated disaster from this military adventure:

Republican support for President Bush’s Iraq war policy suffered a significant crack Monday evening when Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana urged the president to change course in Iraq “very soon.”

The well-respected GOP voice on foreign affairs took to the Senate floor to urge Bush to avoid further damage to America’s military readiness and long-term national security.

“Our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests in the Middle East and beyond. Our continuing absorption with military activities in Iraq is limiting our diplomatic assertiveness there and elsewhere in the world,” he said.

Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sounded a pessimistic note on the prospects for internal political progress in Iraq.

He said he sees “no convincing evidence that Iraqis will make the compromises necessary to solidify a functioning government and society, even if we reduce violence to a point that allows for some political and economic normalcy.”

The senator said continuing military operations in Iraq were putting a damaging level of stress on U.S. forces, “taking a toll on recruitment and readiness.”

“The window during which we can continue to employ American troops in Iraqi neighborhoods without damaging our military strength, or our ability to respond to other national security priorities, is closing,” he said. “The United States military remains the strongest fighting force in the world, but we have to be mindful that it is not indestructible.”

Lugar also said he believes the chances for success of Bush’s strategy of boosting troop levels in Iraq to try to get the security situation there under control is “very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.”

Every single conclusion reached by Lugar in the above excerpt was reached by me late last year. The lack of progress by the Iraqi government in dealing with their problems making the surge an exercise in futility; the toll on our military; and the ticking clock of public support for the war were all pointed out by me – for which I received the most vile criticism imaginable from some of my erstwhile friends.

Lugar isn’t the only Republican who is saying this, of course. Last month, a group of GOP House members confronted the President over Iraq in the White House and told him basically the same things. But when the ranking minority member of the Foreign Relations Committee – a man whose judgement on foreign and military affairs has been respected in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years – tells the President of the United States on the floor of the US Senate that he’s got to change course, Bush better listen. Otherwise, Republicans will be forced to work within the timetable framework offered by the Democrats. And that could only mean a catastrophic end to our involvement in Iraq as the artificial deadlines pulled more and more troops out of Iraq allowing the terrorists and militias to take over.

What Lugar wants is a sensible redeployment that will allow our troops to maintain a presence so that the country won’t fall apart completely:

Despite his call for a course change, Lugar said he did not support calls by some Democrats for a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, which he said “also fails to meet our security interests.”

Rather, he said a “downsizing and redeployment of United States military forces to more sustainable positions”—in rural locations of Iraq, Kurdish areas or possibly Kuwait—might better serve American security interests.

And to make my vindication complete – and even sweeter – is Lugar’s call for a bi-partisan consensus on Iraq:

“The president and some of his advisers may be tempted to pursue the ‘surge’ strategy to the end of his administration, but such a course contains extreme risks for United States national security,” Lugar said. “The president and his team must come to grips with the shortened political timeline in this country for political operations in Iraq.”

“A course change should happen now, while there is still some possibility of constructing a sustainable bipartisan strategy in Iraq. If the president waits until the presidential election campaign is in full swing, the intensity of confrontation on Iraq is likely to limit [options],” he said.

While a handful of other Republican senators have broken with the Bush administration over Iraq, Lugar’s call for a course change—which his spokesman, Andy Fisher, said was “months in the making, weeks in writing”—is likely to have particular resonance, given his stature as one of the party’s elder statesmen on foreign policy.

I know I shouldn’t feel this way. It’s petty, juvenile, and will serve only to make people madder at me. And I also know that the minute I hit that “publish” button, I’m going to regret putting this post up.

So be it. If I can’t be a sonuvabitch on my own blog, and tell people who have accused me of being a “traitor” and worse to go screw themselves, then to hell with it. I might as well take up tiddly winks or some other non-contact sport. Because what this site has been about since its inception has been a full frontal assault on the stupidity of the left. May as well throw some righties under the bus while I’m at it.


Glenn Reynolds:

535 COMMANDERS-IN-CHIEF: Now it’s Richard Lugar calling for a new strategy. Maybe we could do something to stop Iranian troops entering Iraq? I don’t think he has anything so useful in mind, though.

UPDATE: Fresh back from Iraq, J.D. Johannes posts a wrapup. And he emails that he’s got a rant about Senators on the way: “you know, we could have this thing all but won and still declare defeat. That is sickening.” Our political class isn’t known for bravery or discipline.

First, Confederate Yankee has debunked the “Iranian troops entering Iraq” story pretty thoroughly. Secondly, I will ask a question of Mr. Johannes: Just what is it you think we have “all but won” in Iraq?

The insurgents defeated? Al Qaeda destroyed utterly? Foreign fighters vanquished and prevented from entering the country? Iraq at peace and a stable society? The Iraqi government building a multi-sectarian democracy?

That’s a start as far as barometers for “victory.” And we’re nowhere near achieving any of them!

Not one.

So I will ask again. Just what is it you think we are on the brink of winning in Iraq if only we allow the American military to continue our current strategy?

By: Rick Moran at 10:55 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (44)

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Rafiq Hariri – Former Prime Minister and Lebanese nationalist. Assassinated by car bomb, February 14, 2005.

Samir Kassir – Crusading anti-Syrian journalist. Killed by bomb in his car, June 2. 2005.

George Hawi – Former Communist leader and anti-Syrian critic. Killed by a bomb in his car, June 21, 2005.

Ali Ramez Tohme – Anti-Syrian author. Escaped bomb in his car, September 15, 2005.

May Chidiac – Anti-Syrian television anchor. Severely wounded in car bomb explosion, September 25, 2005.

Gebran Tuinei – Anti-Syrian MP and publisher of An Nahar, largest Arab language daily in Lebanon. Killed by car bomb, December 12, 2005.

Pierre Gemayel – Minister of Industry and anti-Syrian MP. Killed by gunmen, November 21, 2006.

Walid Eido – Anti-Syrian MP. Killed by car bomb, June 13, 2007.

You’ve got to hand it to Bashar Assad, Syria’s gangster President. Even though he has more blood on his hands than Al Capone, the James Bakers and Nancy Pelosis of the world still want to treat this street thug as if he were head of a sovereign nation and carry on some kind of “dialogue” with the brute. Judging by the above blood soaked list, it would appear that Mr. Assad’s idea of dialogue is somewhat different than ours. At the very least, it makes answering bombs and assassin’s bullets with rational conversation problematic in the extreme.

What appears on the surface to be random acts of violence meant to fulfill some kind of manic bloodlust in the heart of the Syrian dictator actually has a frightening strategic element embedded in the madness. Assad wants nothing less than to murder enough members of the democratic majority government in Lebanon so that the Iranian backed Hezbullah can then seize power. Walid Phares:

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.

And to “achieve” these goals, the junta in Syria has a plethora of tools and assets left in Lebanon. First, the vast Syrian intelligence networks still deeply rooted in the small country; second, the powerful Iranian-financed Hezbollah with its lethal security apparatus; third, the Syrian-controlled groups within the Palestinian camps from various ideological backgrounds including Baathists, Marxists, or even Islamist such as Fatah al Islam; fourth the pro-Syrian and Hezbollah sympathizers “inside” the Lebanese Army as well as the units and security services still under the control of General Emile Lahoud; fifth, the client militias and organizations remote-controlled by Syrian intelligence such as the Syrian National-Social Party; and sixth, operatives inserted within political groups gravitating around Damascus such as those of Sleiman Frangieh, Michel Aoun and Talal Arslan. In short, the Syro-Iranian axis has a wide array of security and intelligence assets from which it can select the most appropriate perpetrators for each “take down.” The Assad regime has its “own” Sunni operatives to kill Sunnis, Christians to murder Christians and Druze to eliminate Druze and has the full resources of Hezbollah terror to obstruct the Government of Lebanon and ultimately crumble it.

At the moment, due to death, retirement, and assassination, it’s four down and four to go for the Syrian President. Four more Lebanese MP’s unfortunate enough to fall victim to Assad’s terror plans and the Iranians will have a toehold in the Eastern Mediterranian with Hizbullah coming to power by virtue of having a majority of opposition members in Parliament.

The grim reality is that there are 128 members of the Lebanese Parliament. The elections of 2005 gave the democratic forces 72 seats – a clear majority. But thanks to the death of one prominent MP and retirement of another – both replaced by politicians loyal to Hezbullah ally Michel Aoun – and the assassination of Gemayel and now Edio, Assad finds himself within spitting distance of his goal; the reconquest of Lebanon using his proxy Hizbullah to bring Syria’s influence to bear in Lebanese domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, Hizbullah still holds the country hostage by refusing all efforts to end the cabinet crisis now in its 6th grueling month. The most recent overtures to end the standoff between Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbullah, who seeks additional cabinet representation that would give him veto power over major decisions, and the government of Prime Minister Siniora, comes from France. The French have offered their good offices to bring the two sides together in Paris for talks aimed at ending the stalemate.

If Assad’s plan is to work however, it is not in the interest of Hezbullah to agree to anything at this point. Better to let his sponsor in Damascus try to hoist the black flag of Hezbullah over the government building in Beirut through terror, intimidation, and assassination. It’s worked so far so why change it?

And the “civilized” world stands by and allows all of this to happen. How can this be? How can we do “business as usual” with a country so far beyond the pale of human decency? Lebanon may be a small country, an insignificant blob on a map. They have little in the way of natural resources. They have no great army or navy. What Lebanon does have is a people with very strong ideas on freedom and independence. Perhaps the most westernized of all Arab countries, Lebanon’s historic ties to the west as a gateway to doing business in the Middle East goes back more than a century. Her people – both Christian and Muslim – are among the most literate and best educated in the region with a decidedly secular outlook on life.

And most importantly, they have recently thrown off the yoke of dependence and domination by Syria and embraced democracy. But the fragile government, coping with the “state within a state” that is Hezbullah, is beset on all sides by enemies both foreign and domestic. It remains to be seen whether Assad’s terror plan can succeed before the government can solve some of its problems and find a way to resist the tyrant on their border.

The UN sponsored International Tribunal to try the murderers of Rafiq Hariri and the others listed above will not get underway for several months. This is the time of maximum danger for Lebanon’s democrats. Assad will do everything in his power to try and prevent Lebanon from cooperating with the Tribunal thus keeping that body from bringing the Syrian and Lebanese perpetrators to justice, If that happens, Lebanese democracy will be doomed.