March 24, 2010

The Innocents Pack for Damascus

Lebanese scholar Tony Badran quotes Robert Ford, President Barack Obama’s unconfirmed pick for ambassador to Syria, and Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making statements last week that are breathtaking in their disconnection from reality.

Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.” Ford, at the same time, said the U.S. “must persuade Syria that neither Iran nor Hezbollah shares Syria’s long-term strategic interest in … peace.”

These statements are simply off-planet. Either Kerry and Ford don’t know the first thing about how the Syrian government perceives its own interests, or they’re making stuff up for the sake of diplomacy.

It could be the latter. That happens. In Baghdad in 2008, a U.S. Army officer told me that the U.S. said things that weren’t strictly true about Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia to make it easier for him to save face, climb down out of his tree, and cut a deal. The American and Iraqi armies were still fighting his men in the streets but pretended they were only battling it out with rogue forces called “Special Groups.”

“We are giving the office of Moqtada al-Sadr a door,” the officer said. “We want them to be a political entity, not a military entity. So if you’re fighting coalition forces or the Iraqi army, we’ll say you’re a Special Groups leader or a Special Groups member.”

“So,” I said, “this is like the make-believe distinctions between military wings and political wings of Hamas and Hezbollah?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. That’s exactly it.”

I’d like to give Kerry and Ford the benefit of the doubt here and assume that that’s what they’re doing with Assad, that they know Syria’s alliance with Iran is three decades old and therefore well thought-out and durable, that they know his foreign policy goal is one of “resistance” rather than peace, but I have my doubts. They otherwise shouldn’t find engaging him worth the humiliation and bother.

The U.S. military used diplomatic fictions to help convince Sadr to cool it, but he was actively losing a war at the time. He was, shall we say, open to constructive suggestions. Assad is not losing anything. On the contrary, he has all but reconsolidated his overlordship in Lebanon through terrorism and warlordism, and his patron regime in Tehran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear-armed mini regional superpower. Kerry and Ford should know they can no more flip Syria into our column than they could have lured East Germany out of the Soviet bloc during the Brezhnev era.

Diplomatic fictions have their time and place, but there’s a downside. Unsophisticated players, observers, and analysts begin to believe them and no longer understand what is actually happening. Residents of the Washington, D.C., bubble are especially susceptible, but I’ve met American journalists who live in the Middle East who don’t understand that Assad strives not for peace and stability but rather for revolution, terrorism, and war. (They might want to reread The Truth about Syria by Barry Rubin and Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process by Marius Deeb.)

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 24, 2010 10:08 AM
Comments
Just so people know where I'm coming from and don't assume I'm suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome in the same vein that people suffered from BDS--I'm not a partisan. In fact, I voted for Obama and I like his domestic policy. But his foreign policy is starting to scare the crap out of me.

I understood when voting for him that he was going to attempt to reach out to the US's enemies and rivals, to take a softer approach than that of his predecessor. I thought it would be a good policy--initially--because it would:

a) Maybe, just maybe, work and get our enemies and rivals to cooperate, or

b) It wouldn't work, at which point there would perhaps be bipartisan agreement on many important foreign policy challenges that face us, and

c) Some of our critical friends around the world would see that our new soft and gentler approach wasn't working, and thus they'd be more willing to back us when times got tough.

But I think for many months now we've seen that Obama's policy of engagement (or whatever you want to call it) is not only ineffectual, but in my opinion detrimental to US interests. Michael's latest piece is yet the latest indicator of this policy, and how far removed it is from reality.

I can no longer honestly tell if the Obama Admin. is simply naive and on a slow learning curve, or if they are trying to significantly reorient US foreign policy.

What I find incredible is that it seems like France and Germany are actually more aggressively seeking tough sanctions against Iran than we are!
Posted by: semite5000 at March 24, 2010 11:31 am
I agree with everything except the last few sentences. Will we learn? Do we ever learn? I feel that we, and really the whole world, replay the same mistakes over and over again.

As you said, the US can afford to be wrong because our necks aren't on the line. We've been down this "please negotiate with us" route time and time again, and little has come to fruition from it.

I think this nation has a serious case of ADD.
Posted by: Kyle at March 24, 2010 12:46 pm
Kyle,

I don't mean we as a whole will learn. We won't. The individuals in question will learn when they fail, but the next batch of fools will forget the failure of the current batch and repeat it.

Recent dialogue between myself and a Lebanese-American friend who owns a restaurant in my neighborhood:

He: So where do you think we're going in the Middle East anyway?

Me: Around in circles.

He: Uh huh.

I got the feeling he was testing me, to see if I had figured it out yet.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 24, 2010 1:22 pm
Michael
If Assad drops Iran, his regime will be over in a few weeks. The Saudis hate him and so do all other Arabs. Connect the dots: Iran is Shia, Syria is overwhelmingly Sunni. Assad is Alawi, an offshoot of Shia. You don't need Kerry's haughty faux intellectualism to understand it: Blood is thicker than water and nowhere more so than in the Middle East, a hopelessly backward region of the world.
Posted by: Joe Hayek at March 24, 2010 1:33 pm
Point is.. If you are a middle east dictator, your allies are not your choice. You allies are the people who maximize your chance of survival, of staying in power. It would be different if these leaders were democratically elected. Good luck with that.
Posted by: Joe Hayek at March 24, 2010 1:39 pm
Kerry said he believes Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, “understands that his country’s long-term interests … are not well served by aligning Syria with a revolutionary Shiite regime in Iran and its terrorist clients.”

That is pretty funny. Does Kerry think Assad cares about "his country's long-term interests"? He cares about staying in power. This ain't Boston or a debating society on Beacon Hill, Senator Kerry!
Posted by: Joe Hayek at March 24, 2010 1:46 pm
My understanding of the basic reality of Assad and his family is that they are Alawites, which is considered heretical by the Sunni majority whom they rule over. Thus Assad and his family are under constant pressure to demonstrate their legitimacy on a daily basis by being more anti-Israeli than the Sunnis that they govern. Is this correct?

If so, any kind of peace between Israel and Syria is simply not possible. If Assad made the kind of peace deal that Sadat did in 1977, the Sunni majority in his country would tear Assad's family and tribe apart in a heart beat. The Israelis, being attune to the realities of their neighborhood understand this instinctively. The people in Washington D.C. do not.
Posted by: Lindsey Abelard at March 24, 2010 2:48 pm
Yes, Lindsey, that is correct.

There are plenty of Israelis who don't get it either. They aren't actually that much smarter about this than Americans. Some of them liked Lebanon better when Assad ruled it even though Hezbollah wouldn't exist today except that Damascus wanted it as an asset.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 24, 2010 2:55 pm
What passes for intelligence today can be breath taking. I tell my nieces the only thing important about intelligence is what's done with it. That DC bubble looks hermetically sealed. When I heard Hillary Clinton lecturing jihadists about being reasonable I knew we were in for a rough ride.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 24, 2010 3:05 pm
As to flipping the GDR to the West I seem to remember that idea was one held dear by the Carter Administration and most notably Anthony Lake. Fat chance.
Posted by: Pat Patterson at March 24, 2010 5:53 pm
Lindsey, Michael

Re "If Assad made the kind of peace deal that Sadat did in 1977, the Sunni majority in his country would tear Assad's family and tribe apart in a heart beat."

This may be true from the perspective of internal politics. But it does not follow that if Assad is removed, the new Sunni regime would be opposed to peace. Jordan and Egypt are Sunni and they made peace. A government which is more representative of its people would have more confidence to make peace.

Israel, like any country, would be much better off if its neighbors were democratic.
Posted by: Joe Hayek at March 25, 2010 2:46 am
Joe,

From outward appearances, Syria is a thoroughly radicalized country where even the Christians support Hezbollah in Lebanon. Then again, Syria is a totalitarian police state where opposition to the ruling ideology gets a person hauled off to prison or worse. So it's hard to say what actually happens in the hearts and minds of everyday Syrians.

A Sunni regime in Syria would be much more likely to make peace with Israel than the current Alawite regime, even though an independent Alawite-only rump state would make peace with Israel even faster if it weren't ruled by Assad and his family. That does not, however, mean a Sunni regime in Syria would actually do it.

I suspect a Sunni regime in Syria would be passively anti-Israel like Iraq is today, but that's a guess. Not even Syrians can know because they aren't allowed to talk about it. They probably don't even spend much time thinking about it.

The Alawites, in the meantime, believe they don't have the authority to sign a peace treaty with Israel on behalf of the Sunnis without losing power. I don't know if they're right about that, but that's what they think, and they act accordingly.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 25, 2010 3:13 am
We're not running around in circles, this is malignant neglect (as opposed to benign neglect). President Obama is only interested in the Middle East if he can get another Nobel out of the process. If not, then we will see the anger of a President who is the epitome of the Chicago political machine politician: what's in it for me?

The tragedy will be greater than we can comprehend. I'm increasingly inclined to be extremely cynical of anything approaching enlightened self-interest in US foreign policy under the Obama Administration: instead, we see a profoundly disinterested President that can't even be bothered to read the briefing documents if there isn't some fairly immediate pay-off for him, his party and those that he directly supports. Enlightened self-interest? Hah!
Posted by: John F. Opie at March 25, 2010 3:21 am
John F. Opie: We're not running around in circles, this is malignant neglect (as opposed to benign neglect).

In the conversation with my friend above, when he said "we," he meant Middle Easterners, not Americans. He's from Lebanon.
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 25, 2010 3:33 am
I think it's worse than running around in circles--we're letting our enemies run circles around us. This will continue to happen unless and until we start to take Iran seriously. Credible reports now indicate that Iran is actively aiding al-Qaida in the latter's fight against us.

http://www.gloria-center.org/gloria/2010/03/white-house-ignores

Wasn't the fight against al-Qaida the "good war," unlike Iraq, the "bad war?" So why does Iran get away with yet more acts of war against us? Why do we behave like we're so afraid of them when one week of sustained US bombing could take out their nuke program while also finally showing Iran to the paper tiger it is?

"They'll make things hard for us in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

They already do and have been.

"They'll heat things up between Hamas and Israel and Hezbollah and Israel."

They already have and do, and frankly that's more Israel's problem than America's, and the Israelis can handle it.

By leaning on Israel we embolden the Palestinians to increase their demands, NOT make them more likely to come to the peace table. Iran is ramping up its war against us, which it started in 1979 and to which we've never done anything about militarily. Why are we so damn afraid of Iran??? Why are we slowly letting Iran become the mini superpower of the Persian Gulf, even the Middle East at large?
Posted by: semite5000 at March 25, 2010 6:38 am
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/16/AR2010031603322.html

Another interesting article about our new foreign policy.
Posted by: semite5000 at March 25, 2010 6:45 am
"I don't know if they're right about that, but that's what they think, and they act accordingly."

I suspect they're right. This is the same situation we face in North Korea - an odious regime that depends for its survival on anti-American feeling. And you have to remember, the Kims and the Alawites are pursuing what is to them the rational course of action because they're trying to survive. You cannot negotiate with a regime like this, it's pointless. The choices are either a) force a regime change directly, which is bloody, expensive, and can have unforseen consequences or b) isolate the offensive regime as much as possible and wait it out.
Posted by: Ivan N at March 25, 2010 8:21 am
The Middle East is so divided and the situation on the ground so complex that unfortunately there are no easy answers. On the one hand you have those countries such as Jordan and Egypt where long dynasties rule, that have made their peace with Israel and have moved beyond the pan arab nationalistic movement in the interest of their own self preservation while retaining a tight grip over power and their people. On the other, you have these regimes that thrive on perceived conflict with the jewish state and engage in shifting alliances to alter the regional balance in their favor like Syria. This has been going on since the early 1970's and no one has been more adept at playing this game than the Assads (Father and now son). This is a well oiled machine and knows how to react to dangers and to reposition itself to adapt to new realities as opposed to Saddam's regime for example which was badly managed and eventually met its demise, luckily for the iraqi people. I would rather agree that Syria is running circles around the US and the west and has been doing so successfully and with confidence, knowing all too well that patience and time is always on its side given the short term policies of democratically elected western governments!
Posted by: Mason at March 25, 2010 9:19 am
John Kerry continues to prove that I did the right thing voting for Bush in 2004 despite my misgivings about GW. Look at this one from a couple months ago:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/POLITICS/01/05/iran.kerry/index.html

Tehran, Iran (CNN) -- An Iranian parliamentary committee has denied a request by U.S. Sen. John Kerry to visit Tehran, according to reports from Iran.

Imagine how effed up Iraq would be today if Kerry had been elected in 2004?
Posted by: Craig at March 25, 2010 11:14 am
The only positive aspect to that, Craig, IMHO, is that Obama would never have gotten elected!
Posted by: jb at March 25, 2010 11:41 am
"Israel, like any country, would be much better off if its neighbors were democratic."

Don't be so certain. A people indoctrinated into antisemitism will gladly elect those who not only call for genocide, but who will act on it, too.
Posted by: Squires at March 25, 2010 11:46 am
The only positive aspect to that, Craig, IMHO, is that Obama would never have gotten elected!

That may be, but McCain would have inherited a horrible mess that he wouldn't have been able to fix which would have meant a double-whammy of hugely unpopular Republican Presidents in addition to whatever disasters might have happened during a Kerry Administration. As it is, Bush managed to turn things around in Iraq and left at least the status quo in Afghanistan(and pretty much everywhere else). Obama inherited a terrible economy but in terms of foreign affairs he got a fresh start. If he fails on the economy AND fails to deliver his promised improvements on the international front, he's toast next election. Unless the republicans can't come up with a decent candidate, which is what happened to democrats in 2004.
Posted by: Craig at March 25, 2010 11:51 am
I suppose there'll be an indication of which way the wind is blowing in November.
But I agree about a Republican candidate. I think its even worse than 2004 with the Democrats.
But there still are a few years to go for things to get worse/better.
Posted by: jb at March 25, 2010 12:05 pm
MJT, Assad is a horrible dictator. What is so irritating, is why isn't President Obama supporting freedom for all Arabs, including Arabs in Jordan, the Gulf, Egypt and Algeria?

It seems like Arab dictators who have an arrangement with Israel get a pass.

Abominable.

Why can't America dump the whole lot of Arab dictators, and bet it all on an alliance with the new rising strong horse in the middle east; Iraq.

The Iraqis asked Pres Obama to transfer 134 used F-16s and 112 used F-15s to the Iraqi Air Force from the US air force. Pres Obama seems to have declined; possibly under pressure from the Israeli lobby.

I don't get this at all.

Iraq could be exporting more than 10 million barrels of oil a day + natural gas in 5 years. Iraq could have the highest quality military in Arab history. Iraq could transform the entire middle east.

Why not bet the farm on the new rising middle east power . . . Iraq?

Why not also bet on Turkey, a free democracy that is committed to defeating Takfiri extremists, victory in Afghanistan/Pakistan, and that is friendly with Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sunnis, Sufis, and Shiites.

America should follow Iraq's and Turkey's lead on Syria, Iran, and the Arab League. I also think America should follow Iraq's and Turkey's lead on Lebanon and Israel.

Let us embrace the strong horses in the middle east; let us hitch our wagon to them.

I was saddened that President Obama didn't back PM Maliki up when PM Maliki attacked Syria for its complicity in a major terrorist attack in Baghdad.
Posted by: anan at March 25, 2010 1:59 pm
Craig, jb,

Conservatives who have and are delivering results are out there, but memory loss (that learning- from-even-RECENT-history thing) seems to be endemic. Plus, campaigning becomes a superficial (and there's a gross understatement) popularity circus, and a nasty one at that (another understatement.) No perks known to man could lure me into that mud wrestling pit.

"But there still are a few years to go"

And how much done can then be undone? At least if it gets SO f'in bad even the couch potatoes can't ignore it...

But that wake up won't last either.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 25, 2010 2:13 pm
Anan: why isn't President Obama supporting freedom for all Arabs, including Arabs in Jordan, the Gulf, Egypt and Algeria?

Because that's what the fascist imperialist war criminals in the Bush administration did, and we had to have "change."
Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 25, 2010 2:35 pm
Michael, I wonder if you might address the incredible mess Obama has created with our relationship with Israel. Perhaps another topic headline?

Various sources claim Obama stopped a military collaboration with Israel involving counter-force regarding Iran early on. Many say this led to Israel's position, though for 42 years the US has backed up claims in East Jerusalem. It is rather ironic that Hillary is out there taking a line quite different than her husband did. The map he created is on line for anyone who wants to Google.

Though I am not thrilled with Netanyahu, the treatment he received isn't even up the Assad standards especially after Assad insulted Hillary. I read some foreign papers and they too are surprised by Obama's slapping a friend but looking weak towards our adversaries. I fear Obama is actually fulfilling Republican prophesy and screwing Israel. If nothing else, he is allowing militants to make further gains. I don't see Fact Check going over Netanyahu's speech to AIPAC nor Hillary's. It is coming to the point that this Liberal is reaching the end of his patience.....

Max
NYC
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 25, 2010 3:11 pm
Anan, Obama might need them after the predictable F-35 mess. Now our F-18s are having serious problems and that, after the problems with F-15s. Of course it is all the Israeli lobby at work. I suggest Gates reopen F-22 production before the plant is dismantled. Democrats want to pay the same for an F-35 as they did for a superior F-22? Smart.

Sure let's follow Turkey, Syria and Iran......into the toilet.
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 25, 2010 3:17 pm
Maxtrue, the US doesn't need the retiring F-16s or F-15s. The US has plenty, plus 187 F-22s.

Not to mention that NATO (Turkey, Canada, Europe), Japan, South Korea, Australia, Singapore, the Gulf States, and India have significant land based Multi-Role Fighter capability that is likely to advance American interests.

The problem is the shortage of Marine and Navy aircraft. This won't be fixed by reopening the F-22 production line or keeping more old F-16s and F-15s in inventory.

We can either live with a naval and Marine aviation gap or buy some new F/A 18s.

Maxtrue, if the US reopens the F-22 line; Japan, South Korea, India, Brazil, NATO (Canada, Europe, Turkey), Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Israel, will put great pressure on the Congress through their national lobbies to permit the export of the F-22.

As it is, there were many bruised egos in Australia, Japan, South Korea and India over America's refusal to export the F-22.

Unless we allow the export of a stripped down export version of the F-22, we shouldn't reopen the production line.

In any case we don't need the 134 F-16s and 112 F15s. PS. Yesterday it was announced that Romania is getting 24 used F16s. This means 110 F-16s and 112 F-15s are left. Note that not all of them are worth refurbishing. Some need to be cannibalized for parts to keep other used F16s and F15s flying.

In my view Iraq is America's most important middle east ally. If anyone should get the F16s and F15s, it should be Iraq.

"Of course it is all the Israeli lobby at work." What you need to understand is that the Israeli lobby doesn't understand Israeli long term interests and often shoots Israel in the foot.

An Iraqi explained me me that Israel benefits from a strong Iraq allied with the US that is armed with US weapons. I agree completely.
Posted by: anan at March 25, 2010 3:52 pm
anan, any Iraqi air force worth having would send the Islamic Republic into a non-recoverable paranoid rage. System failure. See why that can't be allowed to happen?
Posted by: blackpoint at March 25, 2010 4:27 pm
anan, perhaps you could go to Israel and share your wisdom with them. Stay there to ensure that they continue to have the benefit of your wisdom.

(I think that you are in the U.S., though perhaps not)

In your warped universe, Israel should just give up their country to the Arabs/Muslims, preferably the Pals, and all will be right with the world.
Posted by: Ron Snyder at March 25, 2010 4:40 pm
I have to smile at liberals' buyers' remorse; how could academia produce such ignorance, naivete and amateurish incompetence? He seemed so...elegant.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 25, 2010 5:05 pm
anand wrote: "In my view Iraq is America's most important middle east ally."

I'm curious: Do other readers here agree with anand? If you do, would you please be so kind as to explain your position? Thank you.
Posted by: del at March 25, 2010 5:36 pm
Anan, I don't want to digress into discussion of US aircraft so I will keep it short.

You should look at what was originally conceived as a proper balance between F-22s and F-35s. They are very different aircraft. Present numbers of Raptors are not sufficient for planners to risk for most missions the F-22 was designed to perform as explained at Aviation Weekly. There are even more roles today that the Raptor is well suited for despite Gates calling them Cold War fighters. Assuming even a 5 to 1 kill ratio, cheaper T-50s could overwhelm reduced formations F-22s.

As for Iraq at this moment needing F-16s, that is a stretch. What armies threaten them? They will go after AQ with F-16s and deserve them more than any other nation?

Last on the topic of aircraft, a stripped down version pf the F-22 going to Japan and Australia would make sense. It would pay for the development of additional improvements to future US versions of the Raptor including advanced electronics package, internal bomb bays, as well as improved thrust vectoring capabilities. This would make sense as we are not at work designing the next generation yet.

Paul S, I did not vote for Obama. It was the first time I voted for a Republican and I am not surprised at the drift taking place in the Middle East. I have some issues with this: http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100322_netanyahuobama_meeting_context?utm_source=GWeekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=100323&utm_content=readmore&elq=4d2dff1a6111459ca2f45e90a5f49551

Strafor does present some real differences between the US and Israel. Netanyahu is not the cleverest politician as Debka often suggests. He has allowed the narrative to get away from his control. He has also underestimated how much the New Liberal line in the West erases much of the good will and understanding that existed between the US and Israel, but in any case, both Obama and Netanyahu have misplayed tactics threatening to undermine the strategic aims of both. This display of ideological stupidity only encourages the rogues of the region. Despite the pretense on occasion of reasonable speech, they still espouse the the worst sort of behavior when compared the the Liberal ideals both American and Israel profess to believe.
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 25, 2010 5:55 pm
Maxtrue, you mostly repeated what I said regarding the F-22. :LOL:

Agree that Japan and Australia should get them. So should South Korea, Singapore, Turkey (and some other NATO countries) and India.

Exporting F-22s would be a sign of goodwill and trust on the part of the US.

Let me emphasize, Israel shouldn't get F-22s unless it does right by the Palestinians. For that matter, neither should Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE or the UAE. [If Iraq gets them, other Arab countries and Israel and Pakistan will demand them.] Pakistan, Bangladesh shouldn't get them. Can't afford them to begin with. Nor should Iran, even if the revolutionaries win (because then the Arabs and Israelis and Pakistanis will demand them), unless the Iranians do something spectacular for us [in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia.]

If the Brazilians do something grand for us (send troops to some important mission), they should get them too as pay back. Mexico is unlikely to be in a position to help out anywhere outside of Latin America thanks to the civil war with the drug lords; so this probably only applies to Brazil.

"As for Iraq at this moment needing F-16s, that is a stretch. What armies threaten them? They will go after AQ with F-16s and deserve them more than any other nation?" I couldn't disagree more. Iraq faces hostile threats from Iran, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. The other "Arab brothers" are also hostile and support Iraq's enemies against her. Only Turkey is an ally (although there have been promising signs of thawing with Egypt.)

I didn't say the Iraq's need most of the F-16s right away; but they need to start training on them ASAP. It takes many years to grow capable pilots and technical mechanics and engineers.

Most Iraqi F-16s should be new block 60s that are purchased over many years.

Iraq has no idea who the US will elect in 2012, and would be foolish to bet the farm on America electing a competent government.

Maxtrue, do you realize what happened in Iraq 2003-2008? How did over 4,000 US troops; over 15,000 Iraqi security forces, and hundreds of other allies troops die? How did over 100,000 Iraqis and tens of thousands of MNF-I get injured? Iraq fought a proxy war with 15 other countries. The reason the "brotherly neighbors" tried to destroy the Iraqi government and Iraqi Security Forces (killing MNF-I as a bi-product) was because they thought the GoI and ISF were weak horses that they could defeat. The neighbors felt that there was no consequence to attacking and killing Iraqis. The neighbors also feared that a successful free democratic prosperous Iraq would transform the region and cause their own people to demand freedom, democracy, competent governance and prosperity.

Iraq needs a capable air force to convince the neighbors that Iraq is strong; a power they should admire, respect and fear. Iraq needs an air force to credibly threaten their neighbors if the neighbors try to destroy Iraq again.

Getting close air support is a high priority for the Iraqi Security Forces. However that isn't enough. Iraq needs air superiority, air defense and anti air defense as well.

PM Maliki and the Najaf Marjeya took a big risk in defying Khamenei and the IRGC Kuds force. They took a big risk in refusing the congratulate Ahmadinejad for his election victory.

One price for Iraq's actions with respect to Iran and uncertainty over the next Iranian government is Iraq's urgent need for fighter aircraft. If America doesn't provide F-16s, Iraq will acquire French or Russian aircraft. Iraq has no choice but to spend tens of billions of its oil revenues on this urgent priority.

Iraq has decided that South Korean F/A 50s aren't good enough to satisfy Iraq's air superiority requirements. Politics means that the Grippen is out. China's aircraft aren't good enough for Iraq. Euro-fighter is possible if the European governments ingratiate themselves sufficiently with the GoI and ISF; but this is unlikely.

Iraq will acquire US aircraft (which means F-16s, since America needs F-18s as well, and because Iraq doesn't need power projection far from Iraqi borders), Russian aircraft, or French aircraft because of the Iraqi lobbies in favor of these aircraft.

Maxtrue, the question for us Americans is are we on Iraq's side or not? If we are on Iraq's side; then we need to demonstrate that we are by our actions.
Posted by: anan at March 25, 2010 6:41 pm
"anan, any Iraqi air force worth having would send the Islamic Republic into a non-recoverable paranoid rage. System failure. See why that can't be allowed to happen?
Posted by: blackpoint at March 25, 2010 4:27 pm "

Isn't that an argument "FOR" building up the Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army?
Posted by: anan at March 25, 2010 6:53 pm
Only if that was the goal, anan.
Posted by: blackpoint at March 25, 2010 7:23 pm
I cannot imagine Israel wants to travel out, and over Irak, to hit Iran's nuclear sites! Yes, I think they said they'd like to. But I don't even think the trust is there between the Israelis, and any other power right now.

While I think Sherlock in Dubai was stupid. But it indicates a "change" in that Israel does not expect to win any media war. And, has dropped all pretenses. You want to think the guy in Dubai is a genius, for instance? I think the Mossad held a graduation. Knew all about the cameras. And, were able to shut down, entirely, all the equipment at that fine 5-star hotel. Where the dead man lay. Until his "wife" called the front desk the next day, asking why her husband wasn't answering his cell phone.

You don't kill by stampede. And, you don't get excited when Sherlock in Dubai drops bombs in British newspapers. Just as Israel will never cause a human nuclear holocaust onto the heads of Iranians, where 40% of the young males are unemployed. At 51% of their society is not Persian. But Turkish.

We just haven't seen good textbooks.

Doesn't mean there isn't such a thing as good strategy.

As to Israelis, now that Passover is coming, they're viewing a commercial on TV, where the cast of characters match, to a T, the line up of all those passport pictures. Except here the costumed actors go into a supermarket. And, when they reach for an 'under priced item' it gets circled in red.

Sometimes, you just need a sense of humor to get through the day. (There's a book out there: ISRAEL IS REAL. That, among its pages talks about the Yom Kipper War. And, how there was only one SHERMAN tank left, one Israeli driver. Who drove it into the ranks of the Syrians. Who had gotten 300 SHERMAN tanks from America. (Only Zvika Greengold knew that no matter which tank he shot, he'd be shooting an enemy. And, the enemy couldn't figure out why they were dropping.)

The bamster's not doing much but following out failed Mideast policy. Where, if there was an exit sign, you'd see American soldiers fleeing. But they're stuck. And, none of them have the Zvika Greengold option.
Posted by: Carol Herman at March 25, 2010 7:45 pm
"Only if that was the goal, anan.
Posted by: blackpoint at March 25, 2010 7:23 pm "

Why wouldn't a strong Iraq that inspires Shiites and muslims around the world more than Khamenei and the IRGC Kuds force be the goal?

Strengthen Iraq. Transform the broader Arab, Shiite and muslim world. Let Iraq change Iran.

Isn't this the goal?
Posted by: anan at March 25, 2010 8:15 pm
"It seems like Arab dictators who have an arrangement with Israel get a pass.

Abominable."

Once again the antisemitic annhilationist blames it all on the Jews. anand shows yet again what a bigoted, ignorant fool he is because Syria of course is Israel's mortal enemy and in fact is in bed with anand's beloved bloody Iranian mullahs. One of the best things about being Jewish is that antisemites are invariably nitwits, misfucks and born losers like anand.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 25, 2010 9:44 pm
Del,

Iraq as a strong ME ally seems still to be a work in progress, that I'm pulling for. With much hard work and sacrifice, it's at least clearly trending away from chaos. But we know trends can reverse in nanoseconds, as events overwhelm intention and effort. And non-chaotic is a long, long way from stability, and, most importantly, lasting strength. But I admit being skewed maybe too much toward pessimism.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 26, 2010 12:45 am
Maxtrue,

I know my comment about The O seems flip, but I didn't have to do a great deal of research last year to sketch his profile and realize how it would play itself out (and, I admit, I've lived in San Francisco way too long, which has soured this conservative's disposition. So, nothing personal.) And when I heard PM Netanyahu actually refer to him as a great leader I paused, reread, and tightened my seatbelt---and, like you, I live over here, out of mortar and rocket range; 'rock and a hard place, it seems, for Israelis.

As for "liberal ideals", that gate swings open so wide that anything from classical liberalism to today's liberal notions of the moment could pass through. Our founders' vision is my ideal.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 26, 2010 1:16 am
del,

anand wrote: "In my view Iraq is America's most important middle east ally."

I'm curious: Do other readers here agree with anand? If you do, would you please be so kind as to explain your position? Thank you.


I agree that right now Iraq is the most important country for the US in the middle-east. Note that I left the word "ally" out because in my opinion that status takes some time to be established. Iraq is an ally now in the short term but whether or not Iraq remains a US ally in the face of competing loyalties is up to Iraqis.

Personally, I don't see the strategic importance of Israel to the United States. Israel has no political influence in any of the other countries in the region, and when it comes to military value what are the best and worst case scenarios? Worst case is more war. Best case is some kind of peace treaty with Palestinians and their backers. The "more war" is quite possible. The peace treaty is about a snowball's chance in hell by my reckoning. More of the same as we've seen for several decades now is most likely. However, Israel is an ally of long standing and we are fighting the same enemy so the US needs to continue supporting Israel, strategic importance or not. We aren't Frenchmen over here.
Posted by: Craig at March 26, 2010 3:07 am
Gary, please read my response to you:
http://www.michaeltotten.com/2010/03/syria-and-iran-think-were-the-sick-horse.php
It was genuine and heartfelt.

When have I blamed "Jews"? I really like Jews, and Torah and other ancient Jewish texts. I love the huge books with ancient hebrew text, and the commentaries on them, and the commentaries on the commentaries.

I love the traditional Jewish scholars and rabbis, as well as the sounds of Jewish prayers.

The Jews have many friends. Yes, many Europeans don't like Jews. True that some non Palestinian and non Iraqi Arabs don't like Jews either. But the Jews also have many friends . . . America, Canada, India, Australia, Turkey, Japan, China, Serbia, and Russia.

Israelis have the right to live in peace and security in Israel alongside their Palestinian siblings.

It is good that you love Israelis. No doubt you love the 3 1/2 million or more Arab Israelis (Palestinian Israelis and Arab Jews.) Israel is an Arab country, and you cannot love Israel without loving Arabs. You cannot love Israelis without loving Palestinians.

Israel's amazing successes in venture capital, technology start-ups, R&D (INTC conducts much of its cutting edge R&D in Israel), university research, university graduate programs, the IDF, are a testimony to Israel's greatness and the greatness of Israel's Arab and Palestinian heritage.

I think that if Israelis treated the Palestinians better . . . the Palestinians would likely side with the Israelis against the Arabs . . . who have so abused Palestinians. Allying with Palestinians is strongly in Israel's national interests.

Why would Palestinians want to harm Israelis? Palestinians want Intel, CSCO, MSFT, GE and other international companies to continue to conduct cutting edge R&D in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians want Palestine/Israel to continue to remain a major high tech and business hub. Palestinians have seen what Israelis have achieved and they want to utilize their proximity to it to benefit from it.

Gary Rosen, what is the source of your fear regarding the intentions of Palestinians?

Weren't over 80% of Israelis Palestinians as recently as 1919? Israelis and Palestinians have gotten along well for centuries. The Palestinians are the children of Abraham through Ishael. They are your people too.

If Israel were attacked, I think many nations would try to help Israel, including Russia, Turkey, India, Serbia, some European countries, Canada, Australia, Japan and America. Possibly even China would try to help Israel if it were attacked. Please don't be so fearful.
Posted by: anan at March 26, 2010 3:19 am
And, how there was only one SHERMAN tank left, one Israeli driver. Who drove it into the ranks of the Syrians. Who had gotten 300 SHERMAN tanks from America.

Are they really showing that on Israeli TV? Because that seems like quite nasty anti-American propaganda. Greengold was in a British Centurian tank, and the Syrians were using Soviet T-55s. What is the intent behind changing those historical facts around?
Posted by: Craig at March 26, 2010 3:27 am
It was probably the 67 war that was referenced.
In that war most of the Syrian tanks , at least 250 were in fact M48 Patton tanks not Russian T55's. And they, (Pattons) I believe, look more like Shermans although bigger than T55's
Posted by: yesjb at March 26, 2010 3:52 am
Okay, the digressions have wandered a bit away from the Totten topic at hand. Just this note: the US hardly wants to displace F-35 orders with F-22s nor give out top line technology to anyone (few we can trust these days). Australia and Japan are fairly trust-worthy allies and the critical signal is to NK and China. The bottom line is funding however, so someone must share the cost.

Anan, the Palestinians in their support of Fatah and Hamas prop up leadership that vilifies Jews and calls for the destruction of Israel. One would like to think Palestinians and Israelis have much in common, but this isn't reality. I recommend Memri to plumb the daily hate-fest. Iran has become a central player and your depiction of Iraqis and Palestinians is hardly convincing (though they are hardly the same). Top people in Fatah just defected to Hizb'Allah. As we speak Assad and Ahmadinejad are moving advanced weapons into Lebanon and Gaza and many global media pundits are predicting renewed fighting in the region.

Perhaps, Iraq will emerge as an alliance member, but the jury is still out. The idea that anytime soon they would take on Syria or Iran is ludicrous. Maliki can't even remove some Iranians from his oil well.

When I see a real desire for peace coming from the Palestinian side, I'll recalibrate my expectations. If one wishes to learn what Israel does for the US, just Google. At the moment, Israel is selling Russia and Turkey drones.
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 26, 2010 5:58 am
It was probably the 67 war that was referenced.

Nope! This is a very specific story and a very specific individual (Zvika Greengold) she is talking about.

In that war most of the Syrian tanks , at least 250 were in fact M48 Patton tanks not Russian T55's.

That was Jordan which had 250 M48 Patton tanks during the 6 day war. In fact that's the exact number, so I doubt that's a coincidence. You just mixed up the countries :)

And they, (Pattons) I believe, look more like Shermans although bigger than T55's

No, they don't look like Shermans at all.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M4_Sherman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M48_Patton

The Patton is a very typical looking tank. The Sherman is not, and has a very distinctive hull and a high profile. The Sherman was a terrible tank, and it's only advantage was that it was cheap and easy to mass produce. The M-48 Patton on the other hand was as good as any other tank of it's day. Unfortunately, it's day was long before 1967 but even the US was using the M-60 variant of the Patton tank until we replaced it with the M1 Abrams in the 1980s.

Anyway, I'm not here to argue about who was using what armaments. I'm wondering why, if what Carol says is true, Israeli television is showing anti-US propaganda.
Posted by: Craig at March 26, 2010 6:03 am
Hi Craig,
You are correct about Jordan.
But interestingly enough the Syrians also had about the same number of tanks most of which were in fact Pattons as indicated in the Wikipedia quote:

"Syria's army had a total strength of 75,000.[123] Jordan's army had 55,000 troops,[124] including 300 tanks, 250 of which were US M48 Patton, sizable amounts of M113 APCs, a new battalion of mechanized infantry, and a paratrooper battalion trained in the new US-built school. They also had 12 battalions of artillery and six batteries of 81 mm and 120 mm mortars.[100]"

But it is a moot point. Greengold fought in the '73 war and he was in a Centurion tank against Russian-built T62's.
But its an old story in Israel that comes up again every now and then.
But Carol mentioned that story was in a book about Greengold and it may have the info scrambled.
The TV commercial was a commercial for a supermarket, a rip-off of the Dubai killing which could only be considered anti-American if Obama is a fan of Hamas.
I dunno, maybe he is :-)
Posted by: jb at March 26, 2010 6:49 am
Anan, I haven't combed all the comments or your posts here, but no doubt you have said some things I can agree with. I part company with the notion that most Palestinians would agree with most of what you have said, either regarding their views or your assumptions about the dynamics of power in the region. While I reject the comparison of Israeli leadership and Palestinian, the Netanyahu government is unfortunately not as clever as one would like to see. Obama attacked the "Likud mindset" during the primary and many Israelis anticipated some problems. Not sure if Netanyahu did, although he has little wiggle room between Palestinians, Iran and the US. He is counting on Congress to keep a check on Obama, but it would be hard to strike Iran without executive permission. I wish this was just a farce to confuse our mutual adversaries, but I am beginning to doubt that. The silence from the WH over the insult by Assad of Hillary doesn't support that narrative. Certain suspended military cooperation doesn't support that narrative either.
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 26, 2010 7:00 am
Personally, I don't see the strategic importance of Israel to the United States.

Historically the Levant has been a battleground between Egyptian- and West Asian-based empires. Whenever one conquered the other, the imperialists often set their eyes upon Europe or India as the next target. Since 1919 America's policy has been that there should be no empires in Europe.

Geopolitically, Israel's mere existence as a strong, independent, non-Imperial state throws a spanner in the works and makes terrible Imperial conflicts impossible, at least from the Egyptian side. We know because Nasser tried to do this (through creating the United Arab Republic with Syria and by invading Yemen) but without the land bridge of Palestine his efforts failed.

The Iranian mullahs, of course, are trying to restore the old scheme of things right now. Is it really in the U.S. interest for them to succeed?
Posted by: Solomon2 at March 26, 2010 7:13 am
It's only for Iran and Syria's interest for Iran to succeed. And unfortunately, the US seems like it's foreign policy is being led by starry eyed amateurs. Seriously, what's been done about Iran--I mean REALLY done--to stop their march towards nukes? Does anybody even know when the sanctions (which apparently are now without "teeth") will kick in?

Oh, and the North Koreans might have sunk a South Korean ship.

As the US continues to project weakness, as it continues to keep allies at arms length and begs for negotiations with dictators, expect our enemies to smell the blood in the water and act accordingly.

The average American is concerned about domestic issues--and rightly so--which makes me all the more worried because I feel like our foreign policy is going down the toilet and people aren't really noticing.
Posted by: semite5000 at March 26, 2010 10:03 am
Craig,

I think Carol Herman's comment mentioned the tank story as being in a book, not on TV. Her mention of the TV was separate. Israeli TV does not show anti-US propaganda any more than US TV shows anti-US propaganda. Which is to write that there may well be honest if misinformed criticism, even widespread criticism, and there may be crackpots operating in-bad-faith, but in-bad-faith fabrications are not found, as they are in for example the Turkish media (do a search on "Gary Busey Turkey Iraq") of our good friends and staunch allies, the Turks, the Saudis, the Pakistanis...

My guess is that she wrote her comment based on an imperfect recollection of the facts of the tank incident.
Posted by: del at March 26, 2010 11:50 am
Googling around, I see that Israel's GDP hovers around $200 billion in U.S. dollars, and U.S. aid this year will be $2.5 billion. But George Mitchell is threatening an aid freeze if ISRAEL fails to advance peace talks. Then, from the other side of his mouth, he "clarified" that the U.S. wants to put pressure on both sides. Secure those tray tables and fasten your seatbelts---tightly; turbulence ahead.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 26, 2010 2:14 pm
Noticed this at Fox today:

"Is Hezbollah Ramping Up in the US?"

http://tinyurl.com/yelbdo7
Posted by: Paul S. at March 26, 2010 6:30 pm
Why would Palestinians want to harm Israelis?

All of our economies are interdependent, so why would Arabs enslave the Sudanese, start a war that kills millions in Africa, destabilize Somalia and Nigeria and support extremism in Europe? Why would Saudi funded al Qaeda operatives launch an attack against America? Why would British Muslims bomb the London subways? Why would the Russians and the Chinese support Iranian aggression?

Why do extortionists lean on, steal from and endanger the businesses their community relies on? Why do muggers beat up strangers, potential friends and employers, in dark alleys? Why do accountants embezzle money from their employers? Why do politicians cheat on their wives and morally betray their supporters?

I assume that people do these things because they have a certain moral flexibility. They also do these things because they're aggressive, they feel that they're entitled to more than they're legally and morally entitled to, their bosses tell them to do this and they're only following orders.

Or, they're motivated by hate and greed, political and religious extremism, general misanthropy or anger towards their parents.. But mostly they do it because they can do it and they believe that they can get away with it.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at March 26, 2010 8:24 pm
"I really like Jews"

Bullshit. You support groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah that want to kill all Jews. Yet another lie from the compulsive antisemitic liar anand.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 27, 2010 2:37 am
"Why would Palestinians want to harm Israelis? Palestinians want Intel, CSCO, MSFT, GE and other international companies to continue to conduct cutting edge R&D in Israel/Palestine."

So why did they vote in Hamas, a gang that wants to kill all Jews? Once again you're just full of shit, anand.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 27, 2010 2:38 am
Um, I think the clinical term is "cognitive dissonance"...

...but these days, that seems to be a feature and not a bug.... Globally.

As for allying oneself to the Arabs, it really seems like a great idea---that is:

* If one considers that past decisions of Britain, France and the USSR to have done so have been fruitful for those particular powers.

* And if one considers the reliability alliances with Arab countries have been, historically.

* And if one considers how extreme the degree of trust is between Arab countries and within Arab societies.

(Did I say, "trust"?)

Anyway, for these reasons alone, it would be more than understandable that the Obama administration has decided that this is the way to go....though he might want to reverse his slogan to "Change and Hope!!" Or perhaps, "Change and hang on for dear life."

(At the very least, Obama will have given other purported US allies (Eastern Europe, Taiwan, Western Europe?) something to think about...Oh, and also China, Russia, and N. Korea....)
Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 27, 2010 10:17 am
Barry,
I think that Obama has already delivered the message(s) but I don't think the ones received are the ones intended.
Posted by: yesjb at March 27, 2010 3:16 pm
And many months more of this and its consequences ahead.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 27, 2010 4:52 pm
I think that if Israelis treated the Palestinians better . . . the Palestinians would likely side with the Israelis against the Arabs . . . who have so abused Palestinians. Allying with Palestinians is strongly in Israel's national interests.

I was rather disappointed last year that Israel didn't remove Hamas' leadership entirely, re-occupy Gaza, and re-establish local civil government there. The problem is, of course, that that is pretty much what Israel did in 1967 and it worked for only twenty years. These Arabs don't really want to live under occupation for they have their own identity; they consider themselves Arabs, yet their brethren insist they are Palestinian and shut the door of citizenship in their faces.

So the problem is bigger than Israel-Palestine: you have to look at the surrounding Arab states as well. What have they done for the Palestinians? In Lebanon they are trash, in the Gulf tools; what if their fellows treated them like people instead?
Posted by: Solomon2 at March 27, 2010 7:39 pm
The naiveté of this administration is breathtaking.
Posted by: crosspatch at March 28, 2010 2:16 pm
The naiveté of this administration is breathtaking.

I don't think it's naiveté, crosspatch. I think Obama intends for the US to climb down out of its "superpower" tree. I kinda support him on that. Not that I want the US to deliberately weaken itself, but I do think it would be wise for us to re-evaluate our role in the world. So, I'm with him when he tries to communicate with some countries that have relied on us for decades that things are changing and that we'd rather have alliances that looked like partnerships than patronage. I think even a lot of our allies would prefer that, though there's bound to be some growing pains involved.

However, it isn't necessary for Obama to try to clear the slate for all our global adversaries in order to re-define our relationships with our friends. Obama seems to think he has to hit the reset button with everyone, friends and enemies alike. America's enemies can f@%^ off and die for all I care. To hell with them.
Posted by: Craig at March 28, 2010 3:26 pm
I'm afraid a true believer, with no road experience, is behind the wheel. Watching how this administration's ideology operates domestically, I don't expect any grand scale, surge strategylike, learning moment adjustments; more likely, I suspect eventually to hear that we've done all we can do---our way, followed by passive spectating as forces take over and play themselves out. While waiting to cash in any political credit anywhere for proclaimed caution, prudence, thoughtfulness or some other can't-blame-us bullshit. In professional sports, no level of skill or popularity alone can produce continued success without adjustments---which competitors are making constantly.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 28, 2010 4:26 pm
"I think Obama intends for the US to climb down out of its "superpower" tree. I kinda support him on that. Not that I want the US to deliberately weaken itself, but I do think it would be wise for us to re-evaluate our role in the world."

I think I know where you're going with this, Craig, and in principle I agree with you. It is a significant burden for the US to be the "guardian" of the world, and it would be much better if we could relinquish that role to some extent by sharing the burden with others.

The problem is I don't think it would work out that way in reality. You know the old saying about power wanting to fill a vacuum. If America abandons its current role someone will rush to fill that vacuum and in all likelihood it will not be someone whose aims are conducive to either American interests or the advancement of democratic (small d!!) values in the world. So I think we're stuck where we are for now. BO of course is going about it in the worst possible way, giving the finger to longtime allies like Britain and Israel while courting some of the most malevolent players on the world stage like Syria. Yeccccchhhh.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at March 28, 2010 9:52 pm
Seeing how debt-heavy European welfare states are complaining about Greece's too-big-to-fail request for a Euro bailout, I don't see a lot of burden sharing in America's future, only her enemies positioning themselves to their advantage.
Posted by: Paul S. at March 28, 2010 11:06 pm
http://www.debka.com/article/8685/

I wonder if scenarios take into account neutron bombs....
Posted by: Maxtrue at March 29, 2010 6:56 am
"No doubt you love the 3 1/2 million or more Arab Israelis (Palestinian Israelis and Arab Jews.) Israel is an Arab country, and you cannot love Israel without loving Arabs. You cannot love Israelis without loving Palestinians."

What are "Palestinian Israelis" and "Arab Jews"?
Posted by: Andrew Brehm at March 29, 2010 8:36 am
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