May 2, 2010

The Trouble with Proxy Wars

My friend and colleague Lee Smith, author of the terrific new book The Strong Horse, is having a civil but important argument with our mutual acquaintance and colleague Andrew Exum at the Center for a New American Security. I've agreed to publish Lee's response here, not because I want to pick on Andrew—whom I like personally and whose work I appreciate even when we don't agree with each other—but because Lee presents a compelling and cogent argument in favor of fighting the Syrian and Iranian governments instead of their proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was one of the first journalists to put my credibility on the line by saying General David Petraeus's counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy was working in Iraq, at least militarily, and I still think Petraeus is a genius who accomplished what most people, including me, feared might be impossible. So while I'm more impressed with our ability to fight insurgencies than Lee, and perhaps a bit less pessimistic in general, I still find myself thinking about his argument and figuring out how I'll need to incorporate it into my own thinking, as I usually do when he and I look at the same problem from slightly different angles. Lee's perspective is fresh and all his own, so I present it to you here, without further comment, trusting that you, too, will find it thought-provoking and worth thinking about whether you agree with him or not. -- MJT

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Over at “Abu Muqawama,” Andrew Exum, whom Michael and I know from Beirut, has had some interesting things to say recently about my book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations. Andrew, as some readers will know, is an analyst and researcher at the Washington DC-based think-tank, Center for a New American Security, where he contributed to formulating the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. Andrew writes that I chose not to do a Q&A with him because I knew he “would not endorse the book whole-heartedly,” but the truth is that I wrote the book in the hopes of having many arguments over the issues I discuss in it. Accordingly, I wanted to use some of the issues Andrew raises with my book, and some of the differences I have with his position, to illuminate larger concerns regarding the US’s role in the region and the current state of US regional strategy.

In his critical appraisal of my book, Andrew writes that the strong horse is not a uniquely Arab phenomenon. I do not disagree with him. Indeed the strong horse is a feature common across cultures and historical periods. However, this is not the case in the contemporary United States where, as I write in my introduction, “we are among the very few people in history who have been able to live our daily lives free, relatively speaking, from violence and the fear of violence…[I]t is difficult for us to see that our form of political organization makes us not the norm but a privileged exception, the beneficiaries of a historical anomaly.” The point I was making is that it is not the Arabs who are the exception, but Americans. I had thought I had made that point clear enough, but perhaps the problem is that Andrew is just plain uncomfortable with the idea of the strong horse, especially insofar as it requires punishing one’s enemies and rewarding one’s friends.

For instance, Andrew writes of how he had once asked my opinion concerning what sort of advice he might give to US policymakers in the event they were to solicit his recommendations on Lebanon. I suggested he tell them that we should bomb Syrian targets, including the Presidential Palace in Damascus. To me, the prospect of the gilded, gaudy residence of a man responsible for so much death, suffering and repression in ruins was a cheery one indeed, a prospect that apparently left Andrew flummoxed.

“What shocked me,” he writes, “is that Lee had not seemed to think too seriously about the political effect he intended to achieve with this act of force.” It is unclear to me why advocating the use of violence against a regime that has used violence against us and our allies is shocking. Surely the many tens of thousands of Iraqis that America has killed in the past three decades attest to a military and political echelon that does not shy away from killing foot soldiers and, if necessary, civilians. It is odd then that the idea of destroying a dictator's palace is so distressing to Andrew. Violence done against the Syrian regime would illustrate that it cannot kill US soldiers and American allies in Iraq, or our friends in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories with impunity. In failing to punish actors like Syria for interfering in matters of US vital interest, we allowed our adversaries to shape our actions and those of our allies at the expense of our ability to shape theirs, a point I will address in more detail below.

Of course, Andrew did eventually find himself in the position of advising US policymakers, not on Lebanon, but rather on Afghanistan, where he and his colleagues at the Center for a New American Security are credited as the architects of the Obama administration’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. In this case, Andrew believes that US force should be brought to bear on shaping a political effect, the outcome of which we are presumably certain, or else Andrew would not have been among those recommending the use of force. I leave it to him to describe what that outcome will look like, or to explain what the US wants in Afghanistan and if it is worth it. For my part, I think Afghanistan is a foolish enterprise and a waste of American power. As I have written elsewhere,

We are there for two bad reasons. The first is to defeat an outfit backed by dangerous elements of our Pakistani ally's security services so that the government in Islamabad's nuclear weapons don't fall into the hands of those same bad elements of the ISI. This is not strategy; it's a bank shot…. The other reason we're in Afghanistan is even worse. If we leave, some say, we'll be showing our adversaries that, in the words of Bin Laden, we're a paper tiger. If it seems that the strong horse principle dictates that we have to stay and fight the Taliban, there is nothing strong horse about letting someone else shape your strategy and tie you down with petty affairs.

Andrew is correct when he writes that I am “quite critical of counterinsurgency,” and not just because, as he states, it will force us to negotiate with so-called non-state actors that it is best to isolate, and because it obscures the roles of states in terror. The much more fundamental issue is this: COIN doctrine, as promulgated by its advocates like Andrew and his colleagues at CNAS, is a symptom of the incoherence that currently rules US strategic thinking.

Consider this example from Andrew’s own hand, writing in a recent post claiming that the surge was a success: “[T]rying to argue that the Surge 'failed' at this point -- even if Iraq someday descends anew into civil war -- simply isn't a credible option anymore.” If what happens after an American withdrawal from Iraq is of no consequence -- even a civil war that may cost many more thousands of lives, for instance, or Iraq becomes an Iranian satrapy -- then Andrew is saying that political outcomes shaped by the use of force are entirely irrelevant. Given that he is here making a very different claim than his concerns about political effects related above, it is difficult not to conclude that he is tacitly confessing to one of the faults that COIN critics level at COIN advocates like Andrew and CNAS: the political effects touched off by counterinsurgencies like the surge in Iraq and its cousin in Afghanistan are meant to be felt most acutely not in Washington’s theatres of operation abroad, but rather in Washington itself.

It’s worth recalling that the surge allowed George W Bush to leave office claiming a tentative victory in Iraq, and thus positioned for the favorable historical re-evaluation that his tenure rightly deserves. However, he does not merit that future reassessment for winning Iraq. Whether or not the American counterinsurgency waged in Iraq’s Sunni regions was successful, Bush did not win Iraq, and Washington has no intention to win Iraq. It’s not me who says so, but rather a broad cross-section of America’s political, military and intelligence classes. Back in July 2008, Andrew himself wrote the following:

The past year and half have demonstrated that despite impressive gains in Iraq and a truly heroic effort by our soldiers and diplomats, a large portion of that country’s security environment is determined by the Iranians, who have leverage with nearly all of Iraq’s political parties and factions. If Iran desires to turn the heat up there or elsewhere in the region, it can.

Even Gen. David Petraeus, the man credited with a successful counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, acknowledged in his senate testimony in March that "the Iranian regime has embarked on a broad campaign led by the IRGC-Qods Force to influence Iraqi politics and support, through various means, parties loyal to Iran. The Qods Force also maintains its lethal support to Shia Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding, and training."

If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. The test of victory is simply whether or not you are capable of imposing terms on your adversaries; if you can’t, if rather they shape your strategic decisions -- e.g., if they determine your security environment by funding, arming and training militias -- then you have not won. Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy? American society may have changed during the last half century so that we no longer know how to describe victory, but the objective standards for defining victory have not changed, nor have they changed at any time during the course of human history. The Iranians are able to shape our regional strategy because we did not win.

It bears repeating that it is not me who says we did not win, but rather our decision-makers. Of course, they do not explicitly say that we did not win, only that the Iranians can hurt us in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is the same thing. Indeed, it is the Washington consensus put forth by a broad cross-section of American leadership, political, diplomatic, military, and intelligence, on both sides of the aisle and from the last two administrations, that in the event of an attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran will target US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Consequently, this violence would undo the appearance of an American victory, a prospect that is in no one’s interest. It is bad for the party of the current commander-in-chief, who seeks to leave Iraq as quietly as possible and give Afghanistan the old college try before withdrawing next summer. It is bad for the GOP, which wants Iraq to stay in Bush’s win column. And it is bad for the man whose reputation is predicated on the success of the surge, current CENTCOM commander Gen David Petraeus.

And it is not just an American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities that will provoke Tehran to retaliate against US troops, for, according to America’s strategic class, an Israeli operation would draw the same response. As Andrew wrote two years ago:

Although Israel cannot be expected to act in the interests of any nation but Israel, an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program has the potential to erase many if not all of the hard-won gains in Iraq and to make the environment there and elsewhere in the region much more dangerous for U.S. servicemen.

Andrew identified here what would become a source of tension between Jerusalem and Washington -- and this is indeed precisely what has beleaguered the US-Israel alliance for the last two months. The crux of the matter is not 1600 apartment units in East Jerusalem but rather that US and Israeli interests are in direct conflict. Jerusalem’s vital national interest at present is in stopping the Iranian nuclear program; Washington’s overriding political interest is in preserving the appearance of stability, or victory, in Iraq, which would be undone by an Israeli attack. Therefore, the US and Israel are at odds.

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether the Iranians would really retaliate against us in Iraq and Afghanistan in the event of a US or Israeli attack; I am only relaying Washington’s conventional wisdom. Nor, never having been to Iraq, am I qualified to say myself whether or not we have won in Iraq; but taking seriously the statements of dozens of American political, military and intelligence professionals who tell us that Iran can and will hurt US troops in Washington’s two combat theatres, I am drawing the only logical conclusion -- if we believe that our adversary can still shape our strategy then we did not win in Iraq and we do not have the political will to win in Afghanistan. If Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Al-Qods force can heat things up now with US troops present, what do you think they will do once we have gone? Look on at their Shia-majority Arab neighbor with great pride, and even perhaps a bit of envy, as Iraq becomes a beacon of democracy? Not only have we not won, we have rendered ourselves incapable of acting against the agent that is most desirous of ruining our position across the region. In short, we have deterred ourselves on behalf of our enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

So how did we get here? Or how is it that an American military tasked by COIN doctrine to protect Iraqi and Afghani populations is, according to American leadership, incapable of protecting itself in Iraq and Afghanistan? How long can a nation sustain a military that its leaders perceive of as an army of hostages? Since we do not believe our armed forces are capable of defending themselves, US civilians and interests cannot be defended either, except by tailoring our strategy to suit the exigencies of a reality determined by our enemies.

If you are wondering how the US’s position in the Gulf will be ruined if the Iranians get a nuclear bomb, here is your answer: the rulers of the Gulf Arab states where we have basing rights will tell us that because we do not think we can protect ourselves, obviously we cannot protect them either. Since all our bases in the Gulf do is draw the baleful attention of Tehran, and since we did not prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that allows them to dictate such terms to the Arabs, it is best we leave, immediately -- as the Iranians have dictated to the Arabs. Expect similar arrangements, or rather the cessation of arrangements, to follow in Central Asia and everywhere else in the world where the US Dept of Defense reckons our military strategy not merely in terms of troops and weapons, but also bases -- how many bases we have, where they are located, which allies, friendly rivals or outright enemies do they abut or encircle, etc. If our armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are likely targets of Iranian retaliation then all of our bases around the world are not forts manned by soldiers trained and equipped to defend their country and, obviously, their own persons; but are in reality large, international hostels where we deposit US servicemen to serve as hostages for failed political strategies.

How did this come to pass? How did it happen that adversaries like Iran and Syria are able to shape US strategy, so that we have failed to win in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan and have deterred ourselves from taking action against the Iranian nuclear program, and have jammed up our strategic alliance with Israel? It is because American leadership of the last two administrations failed to act against those states that have attacked our troops, allies and interests. We did we not win in Iraq because states like Syria and Iran did not pay a price for the acts of force they used to shape political effects to their own advantage; when we failed to do so we abandoned our Middle East policy to the mercy of our enemies, who, as we are repeatedly told, can ruin Iraq and Afghanistan whenever they decide to take off their gloves. We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come.

Lee Smith is the author of The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 2, 2010 10:13 PM
Comments
We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come.

Absolutely.

Added to which is that neither the Bush nor the current administration has any idea what the war is about; or whom they are fighting; and therefore no one has any idea what it might take to "win" it.

So that one is left with the knitted-brow bromide that "This is not a war that can be 'won'". (Remind you of anything?)

Alas, this state of affairs will continue until our backs are against the wall, at which time, one hopes (against hope), that we will be able to fight back.

Still, the current administration does have one major advantage. To deflect its abject inability to face reality (led by the realist onslaught of Walt and Mearsheimer, the Obama administration will labmaste Israel for any and every "disappointment" on the (so-called) diplomatic front. Along with Israel's supporters.

And with this knowledge well in hand, Israel's "partners in peace," along with those who wish to see her erased, will press every advantage, with all the propaganda weaponry that they command....

And at this point, they will be practically preaching to the converted.
Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 3, 2010 2:08 am
Good post! I made enough smartass comments about how some people on Andrew Exum's blog have transformed Sun Tzu's "winning without fighting" into "winning without winning", so I won't comment on this much here except to say that I agree with Andrew and not with AM.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 2:21 am
...I agree with Andrew and not with AM.

Oops! Supposed to be "I agree with Lee and not with AM(Andrew Exum).
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 2:22 am
[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tony Badran. Tony Badran said: The Trouble with Proxy Wars. Lee Smith. (Must read). http://bit.ly/b8vifG [...]
Posted by: Tweets that mention The Trouble with Proxy Wars. Lee Smith. (Must read). -- Topsy.com at May 3, 2010 6:26 am
"The past year and half have demonstrated that despite impressive gains in Iraq and a truly heroic effort by our soldiers and diplomats, a large portion of that country’s security environment is determined by the Iranians, who have leverage with nearly all of Iraq’s political parties and factions. If Iran desires to turn the heat up there or elsewhere in the region, it can."

Most likely true, but it usually backfires.
Iran can only considerably turn up the heat in Iraq if it has overwhelming support of Iraiqis. Otherwise it will be very limited scale operation similar to what we already have today perpetrated by other parties. If it is latter I doubt Iran will risk and create liability for itself. If it is former we must withdraw from Iraq at once and just wait when it will blow up in Iran's face.
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 8:09 am
"Since all our bases in the Gulf do is draw the baleful attention of Tehran, and since we did not prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that allows them to dictate such terms to the Arabs, it is best we leave, immediately -- as the Iranians have dictated to the Arabs."

And allienating Israel in this situation will not help either.

I do not know about others, but to me Iran and Russia look much smater and and much more determined these days than US. Cold War was never over. And our thinkers in Washington better get it and quickly.
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 8:26 am
I do not know about others, but to me Iran and Russia look much smater and and much more determined these days than US. Cold War was never over. And our thinkers in Washington better get it and quickly.

I agree, and I'm concerned that our government doesn't seem to get it.

I also agree with Smith's thesis. We've always dealt with Iran and Syria with kid's cloves. They have nothing to fear from us, and so they behave accordingly. It doesn't help that our government has currently ruled out military force, for now at least. Why tell your enemies that you won't use force? Even if the Obama Admin has already determined in private that they will never use force, at least let your enemies think we might. Stunningly incompetent.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 8:46 am
I think the Egyptians are going to go forward with Netanyahu's plan to form a Palestinian State within temporary borders. The US might grant up to 2.4 percent of West bank to Israel not straying far from Clinton's 2001 formula. It is all about maps now (beyond the renunciation of violence) and Iran is ironically forcing new arrangements between Sunnis and Israelis. The administration has wasted a lot of credibility going in the wrong direction. The situation is still salvageable short of Iranian nuclear hegemony.

They should see the dynamic (including the domestic one) and get on board giving themselves cover with the Saudis and Egyptians. Germans are supplying even more Dolphin subs. Israelis may be serious about their threats of pre-emption, especially towards Syria. We might be seeing some movement on the part of Sunnis to break the deadlock on Palestine, but that depends on what Natanyahu promised to Mubarak to get him to go forward with his peace plan.
Posted by: Maxtrue at May 3, 2010 9:43 am
The only viable option in the Iraq/Afghanistan was to pacify the countries enough to put pressure on the Iranians, who would then fold internally.

The pressure would be in two parts. First Democracy in a neighboring country would give rise to Democratic forces in Iran, which then could be leveraged to bring down the Iranian Regime. Second, Iraq could pump enough oil to bring down the price to pressure the Iranians economically.

The first came to pass, and Obama did nothing about it - possibly because of the threat of military retaliation from Iran. The second may come to pass, but is still 2 years away - or more.

In this strategy, Iraq was by far the bigger leverage point. It has the oil and it has a sophisticated culture that could create a Democratic culture. Focusing on Afghanistan is surely a waste of time and energy in this strategy. This strategy is also far more expensive in lives and treasure than direct military action, but if successful, possibly more rewarding as well.

Of course, Obama wants to see, or cares about all of this not at all.
Posted by: James at May 3, 2010 10:26 am
"to form a Palestinian State within temporary borders"

I have a bad feeling about this "temporary" word. It will become additional source of contention. Unless it is settled completely there will be no peace between. These half-baked measures may even make situation worst.

"Iran is ironically forcing new arrangements between Sunnis and Israelis"

Absolutely. Who would've thought Iran may end up successful peacemaker between Jews and Arabs. Like you say, what an irony.
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 10:42 am
Maxtrue,

I just hope that Netanyahu can and will negotiate in good faith. Israel's future as a Jewish majority democratic state relies on a divorce from the vast majority of the West Bank. And if the Palestinians won't agree to a two state solution as outlined in past negotiations, then Israel at least can't appear to be the spoiler; Israel can't afford it.

I think there is actually some logic behind the idea that a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians will make it easier to face off against Iran. It will certainly make it easier for Arab countries to have a de-facto if unpublicized alliance with Israel and the US against Iran's nuclear intentions.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 10:46 am
If Obama is hoping a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians is going to miraculously materialize and give him leverage with Iran, the situation is even worse than I thought.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 10:53 am
I have always felt that the US went into Iraq to create a bold US target in the region for Al Queda to come after more so than any of the "official" reasons. This would lead to the activation of the money, communications, weapons movement, etc. networks which gave us some badly needed intelligence to then start to "intelligently" go after them. If that is the case, then maybe we do need to exit both Iraq and Afghanistan and regain control of our national interests. We've accomplished what we set out to accomplish and a Bush/Rumsfeld panel discussion illuminating this would give the current/future administrations some badly needed wiggle room.

I enjoy reading Michael's columns as well as the comments from everyone, all of which are vastly more knowledgeable than I of the dynamics of the region, so I would ask you to please forgive what is probably an oversimplification on this.
Posted by: Rufus at May 3, 2010 10:57 am
Craig,

I concur. But the true believers out there (like my dad and uncle) think that Obama is so brilliant that he has some sort of grand behind-the-scenes scheme going on that will bring all the parties together while dealing with Iran. I, on the other hand, tend to agree more with Gates, i.e. that the US doesn't have a coherent plan for dealing with Iran beyond sanctions, which even they are passed, will be toothless, it appears.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 11:34 am
[...] Totten talks about Proxy wars and Spengler is writes on what he is calling General Petraeus’ Thirty Years War. [...]
Posted by: The Anchoress | A First Things Blog at May 3, 2010 11:41 am
"In failing to punish actors like Syria for interfering in matters of US vital interest, we allowed our adversaries to shape our actions and those of our allies at the expense of our ability to shape theirs..."

I am appalled and dismayed that such a fundamental dictum has been repeatedly violated, bringing us to today's sorry state of affairs: "When you always sit on the defensive, you allow the enemy to take and retain the initiative."

What the hell happened to the US, that this has come to pass?

"This is not a war that can be won."

Yeah, shades of Vietnam redux. Of course, that point of view is, well, pointless. The sole thing that has prevented us from actually decisively winning conflicts is that we have become past Masters at self-defeat and worrying about other people's "feelings."

One wonders. What part of the descriptive, "War," do they not understand?
Posted by: Allston at May 3, 2010 11:42 am
semite5000, the US doesn't even have a plan to deal with Afghanistan and we are already heavily invested there. If anyone in the US government has an "end game" picture of what Afghanistan would be like if all of America's plans (whatever they are!) went perfectly, I've yet to see it. And I've been looking.

Despite what Andrew Exum says, the US really sucks at fighting non-state actors. Instead of coming up with new ways to try to suck less, we should just stop doing it in my opinion. Luckily for us, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a non-state actor. And we're actually pretty good at kicking the crap out of enemy states. I think Andrew Exum would be of more service to the US "military establishment" if he could come up with a method that allowed us to play on our strengths rather than on our weaknesses. Maybe he can come up with some stroke of genius whereby we could topple an enemy state actor and smoothly transition power to a new state actor and then getting the hell out of dodge. Rather than the current method of turning functioning states into failed states just so that we can attempt an anemic nation building effort in the midst of a terrorist insurgency. Because, that's not really working out so well for us.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 12:09 pm
And if the Palestinians won't agree to a two state solution as outlined in past negotiations, then Israel at least can't appear to be the spoiler; Israel can't afford it.

Looks like you're counting on the Palestinians to help Israel out of a jam.

Israel, the spoiler.
Israel, the occupier.
Israel, the colonialist country.
Israel, the apartheid state.

But why, exactly, would the Palestinians want to do that?

Because they're decent?
Because it's "in their interest"?
Because they want a state?

Um, no, sorry. Wrong on all counts.

It's in their interest to see Israel gone, poof, from the neighborhood. And it's their plan to have it happen.

And given the sky-high popularity of the current "narrative, all they have to do is keep on keepin' on. And wait until the Israeli behemoth topples like Saddam's statue in the center of Baghdad.

(Or so they think.)

As you said, Israel can't afford to be seen as the spoiler.

But that is exactly what is going to happen.

And everyone knows it.

The Palestinians and their friends have Israel pretty much where they want it. The only question is whether Israel will agree to give up, or fight its way out of this ever-tightening noose.

(Which pretty much settles the question---unless you think Israel's gonna give up.)

What this means, though, is that Jewish communities in Europe, and anywhere that there is a surging Arab/Moslem population will be at great risk; since any Israeli defensive maneuver will be perceived (and portrayed) as blatant and disproportionate aggression against poor, defenseless Arabs (thank you! Richard Goldstone; but there are others who have worked assiduously over the past 10 odd years who also deserve a lot of credit----take a bow, MSM).

As for Egypt "helping" out, that is pure fantasy. The only thing the Egyptians are interested in at the moment is how to pressure Israel to get rid of its nukes (for regional peace, of course)---this, along with making sure that Hizbullah and Hamas don't get overly cocky towards Egypt.

The one country that really ought to be nervous is the grand old Kingdom of Jordan, since its existence relies on Israel's ability to defend it (but don't tell anyone). And so one hears the usual earnest warnings from His Royal Highness about how something must be done and done soon, or else, etc.

But it is curious (isn't it), that the Palestinians, who, as we speak, essentially have three states (if one, indeed, counts The Royal Kingdom, though only two states---alas---if one doesn't), still seethe with the need to bring Israel to its knees, until the knockout blow can be administered.

And they have a good friend in Washington. (Or do they?)

(And in the meantime, some people still think and talk in terms of Palestinians agreeing to this, that or the other.... to help the Zionist Entity out of the mess it's in....)
Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 3, 2010 12:32 pm
Despite what Andrew Exum says, the US really sucks at fighting non-state actors. Instead of coming up with new ways to try to suck less, we should just stop doing it in my opinion.

We should look for a solution in a place where we know the solution isn't at because the light's better there? That's why we went into Iraq. It didn't work.

If we're going to be allied with terror supporting states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in an effort to fight other terror supporting states, (like Russia, Iran, Syria) we're going to have to learn how to manage our terrorist militias and their terrorist militias.

And we should also stop pretending that we're 'fighting' anything. If we're allied with the Saudis and the Pakistanis, it's a joke to pretend that we're fighting terrorism. We're just managing them. Poorly.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 3, 2010 12:34 pm
Mary,

We should look for a solution in a place where we know the solution isn't at because the light's better there?

Are you suggesting the IRI is not a problem that needs to be solved? Seriously?

That's why we went into Iraq.

"We" didn't go into Iraq. The neocons did. And the reason they did is not because Iraq posed a threat to the United States, but because they foolishly thought Iraq could be turned into a prosperous and peaceful modern democracy, which would act as a bulwark against terrorism.

It didn't work.

Even as foolish as the invasion of Iraq in the middle of the unrelated war on terror was, it could have worked. It *would have* worked, if Reagan had been President, instead of Bush. The Bush Administration couldn't have screwed things up more if they'd been trying.

If we're going to be allied with terror supporting states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in an effort to fight other terror supporting states, (like Russia, Iran, Syria) we're going to have to learn how to manage our terrorist militias and their terrorist militias.

So instead of recommending that we stop engaging in stupidity, you recommend we improve our capacity to be stupid?

If we're not prepared to invade Pakistan, we need to get out of Afghanistan. And we aren't prepared to invade Pakistan. Time for us to quit dicking around and vacate.

And we should also stop pretending that we're 'fighting' anything. If we're allied with the Saudis and the Pakistanis, it's a joke to pretend that we're fighting terrorism. We're just managing them. Poorly.

Yeah, I've run into a lot of neocons like you who have such a phobia about Saudi Arabia and the Wahabbis. Have fun with that. You aren't going to have any luck distracting me from the IRI. Neither KSA nor Pakistan has ever sponsored an attack on Americans. IRI has, more times than I could count, beginning with the hostage crisis in 1979. There's no comparison. And if your team hadn't had such a brainfart in 2003, we wouldn't even be having this discussion right now because the IRI would no longer exist. But you'd probably argue that would be a BAD thing, right? Because the IRI serves as such an important counter-weight against (Sunni) Arabs... isn't that the thinking of "realists"? And look who is talking about "managing" people?
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 1:08 pm
"If the Iranians are capable of heating up Iraq, if they are able to embark on a broad campaign including both political and military aspects, then the US did not win in Iraq. [SNIP] Or think of it like this: after VE Day what capacity did the Nazis have to heat things up for US troops in France and Italy and consequently determine US strategy?"

This seems to be a false analogy. We never went to war against Iran. Arguably we should have...or at least against Syria. A truer analogy would be this:

"After VE Day, what capacity did the SOVIETS have to heat things up for US troops in Germany?"

Answer: Quite a lot.
Posted by: CMAR II at May 3, 2010 1:10 pm
Neither KSA nor Pakistan has ever sponsored an attack on Americans

??? Then who was responsible for 9/11, Columbian drug lords? It was al Qaeda, a Saudi/ISI operation.

From the book "While America Slept"

"The book's final chapter contains the details of Zubaydah's confessions, which are chilling not just in the way in which they describe the cozy relationship between al-Qaeda and Pakistan's Inter-Intelligence Service (ISI), and long-time Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Turki-al Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, but the manner in which they were obtained.
He was given pain killers and sodium pentothal in the old game of "reward and punishment" in a cell made to look like a Saudi jail, while being questioned by two Arab-American interrogators. Instead of being alarmed at finding himself in "Saudi" hands, he was relieved and started reeling off names and numbers of Saudi princes who could vouch for him. The main contact for bin Laden, according to Zubaydah, was Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a publisher and race horse enthusiast. He was a nephew of the king, but most Americans know him because one of his horses won the Kentucky Derby last year. The two other Saudis named were Prince Sultan bin Faisal and Prince Fahd bin Turki. The Pakistani named by Zubaydah was Mushaf Ali Mir, the air force chief, who met bin Laden along with other ISI operatives in Kandahar and other places.
Once the contents of the confessions were passed on to the Saudis and Pakistanis last year, first the two governments came back with nearly identical responses, saying that the allegations were false and malicious. Then the men named by Zubaydah started dying one by one...."

As long as we remain allied with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, we are defacto responsible for managing their many terrorist militias. I don't for a minute approve of this outrageously stupid arrangement, I never have, but there is no feasible way to change the way the government does these things. Allying with terrorists and fighting proxy wars has been the basis of American foreign policy no matter who is in power.

Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran and their militias speak the language of threats, extortion and intimidation. If our government wants to play wargames in this corrupt, miserable area of the world, they're going to have to learn how to intimidate and, at some point in time, finally destroy these terrorist militias and their sponsors. It doesn't make sense to deliberately remain ignorant about fighting 'non state' actors.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 3, 2010 1:26 pm
Craig: "because the IRI would no longer exist"

Why wouldn't it?
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 1:29 pm
Andrew Exum can kick your nerdy ass, Lee! Don't forget that.
Posted by: Pepe Gonzalez (PhD) at May 3, 2010 1:44 pm
Because the US would have invaded Iran instead of Iraq, leo. But neocons and realists couldn't have that... it would have left the Arab world with no credible military and ideological balancing factor in the ME.

Mary, I don't want to argue with you about your KSA and Pakistan thing. I've argued with you about it before, and I've argued with a lot of other people about it.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 2:03 pm
PS, Mary:

As long as we remain allied with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, we are defacto responsible for managing their many terrorist militias.

You seem to be suggesting that the US while at war with the Taliban is at the same time responsible for "managing" the Taliban. That's one of the most irrational statements I've ever read on the blogs.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 2:10 pm
In the last couple of years, the Israelies assassinated someone in downtown Damascus and destroyed the (hopefully 'the') Syrian nuclear reactor. What were the repercussions?

We have been paying a form of Dane-geld to the Syrian and Iranian regimes by not reacting to their attacks on our soldiers, but our non-response will only result in further squeezing.
Posted by: elambend at May 3, 2010 2:33 pm
Israel goes to war with Hamas, but I think Michael had a quote here stating that their intent was never to destroy Hamas. They suffer from some sort of delusion that they need Hamas around for one reason or another.

We go to war with the Taliban, but I don't think our intent is to destroy the organization. We just want to find some sort of status quo we can live with. Like Israel, we're just trying to manage them.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 3, 2010 2:45 pm
"Because the US would have invaded Iran instead of Iraq"

Why would US invade Iran?
How would US invade Iran?
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 3:04 pm
Mary, you not only grossly exaggerate the degree to which the US is "allied" to KSA and Pakistan, you grossly exaggerate the degree to which they are involved in attacks on the US rather than merely pursing what they see as their own regional interests. And then you kick it up a notch by claiming the US is in control of (and is responsible for) things that foreign militias do. That's crazy talk. Does the US "manage" the military of the UK? The military of Israel? The military of South Korea?

We go to war with the Taliban, but I don't think our intent is to destroy the organization. We just want to find some sort of status quo we can live with.

That's Andrew Exum's COIN doctrine. He gets there by admitting we can't win. Phase II is redefining the victory conditions. That are of winning without winning, as I put it earlier. That's not because the proponents of such a course of action think it's a good outcome. It's because they can't think of a way to achieve a better outcome.

leo,

Why would US invade Iran?
How would US invade Iran?


Now? We can't. Or won't, at least. The public wouldn't back it, unless something major happened. But in 2003? Would have been fairly easy.

I don't understand the "why" part of your question, though.
Posted by: Craig at May 3, 2010 3:28 pm
"Because the US would have invaded Iran instead of Iraq"

Let say, today is early 2003 and US is about make a decision to hit Iran instead of Iraq.

Why would US invade Iran?
How would US invade Iran?
Posted by: leo at May 3, 2010 4:38 pm
Q: Why not bomb the palace of Dictator X ?
A: Because Dictator X has arranged for posthumous
revenge: The bombing of the White House.

Q: What should the US do about Afghanistan ?
A: Make each Khan, including the Mayor of Kabul,
secure in his territory, by providing him with a
'God's eye' view of that territory, and some help
from US forces against large invading forces.
In return, the Khans sell the US their entire
Opium harvest, and the heads of Terrorist enemies
of the US, for gold on delivery.
Posted by: M. Report at May 3, 2010 5:22 pm
What this means, though, is that Jewish communities in Europe, and anywhere that there is a surging Arab/Moslem population will be at great risk; since any Israeli defensive maneuver will be perceived (and portrayed) as blatant and disproportionate aggression against poor, defenseless Arabs (thank you! Richard Goldstone; but there are others who have worked assiduously over the past 10 odd years who also deserve a lot of credit----take a bow, MSM).

Ironically, by making Israel’s defensive operations “illegal,” Goldstone and others like him actually make Israel less likely to cede land for “peace.” Israelis were basically sold on the premise of land for peace with the tacit understanding that if it turned out to be land for war, the Western world would back Israel. Turns out, that hasn’t been the case. Israel faced more diplomatic onslaughts after the second Intifidah broke out than Israel ever did when it occupied 100% of the West Bank and Gaza. Two other examples: Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon; Hezbollah became stronger and continued to attack Israel, Israel fought back and the usual one-sided UN resolutions condemning Israel, coupled with Western leftists slamming Israel. Gaza—ditto.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 6:20 pm
Hi Barry,

"As for Egypt "helping" out, that is pure fantasy. The only thing the Egyptians are interested in at the moment is how to pressure Israel to get rid of its nukes (for regional peace, of course)---this, along with making sure that Hizbullah and Hamas don't get overly cocky towards Egypt. "

i think Egypt has its own preservation to consider and right now it finds its interests coinciding with those of Israel...against Iran to be sure. Mubarak does not want Iran promoting the Muslim Brotherhood's aim actively. It also does not want the Iranians to have the influence and power that nuclear weapons would create. Mubarak still sees Egypt as a great power.
So, if anything, they are not too upset at all that Israel does in fact have nukes.
Secondly with respect to Gaza, the Egyptians have put up (or down) a physical barrier, with the help of the US to block the smuggling tunnels. and it has been successful. They also are not reacting with restraint against any Gazans who threaten them.
They've also just imprisoned 24 Hezb'allah terrorists much to Nasrallah's displeasure.
So at least for the time being, their interests coincide.
As far as King Abdallah is concerned he'd better read the story of Belshazzar's feast!
Posted by: yesjb at May 3, 2010 6:23 pm
Neither KSA nor Pakistan has ever sponsored an attack on Americans.

Well, KSA certainly nursed the ideology that gave rise to 9/11. I wouldn’t let the KSA off the hook so easily, although for economic and strategic reasons it’s in our interest (for now) to work with them, like an enemy state.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 6:30 pm
Mary:
Israel goes to war with Hamas, but I think Michael had a quote here stating that their intent was never to destroy Hamas. They suffer from some sort of delusion that they need Hamas around for one reason or another.

Israel turned a blind eye to Hamas’ growing popularity in the late 80s because it gave Fatah a headache. But to argue that Israel currently *needs* Hamas is absurd, particularly considering all of the innocent Israelis Hamas has murdered. I’ve never met an Israeli who thinks it’s a good idea to keep “Hamas around for one reason or another.”
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 6:38 pm
I wrote: although for economic and strategic reasons it’s in our interest (for now) to work with them, like an enemy state.

What I meant was that we cooperate with the KSA, we don't treat them like an enemy state.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 3, 2010 6:45 pm
I’ve never met an Israeli who thinks it’s a good idea to keep “Hamas around for one reason or another.

OK, so I had to go and search for the quote. In the comments section of "If You Shoot at a King You Must Kill Him", Michael said:

They didn't try to remove Hamas from power. I was in Israel during that war, and Israeli government officials I spoke to were quite clear on this point. They'd rather have one terrorist army in control of Gaza than three because it's possible to make agreements with one that has a monopoly on the use of force.

This may be one of many stupid reasons why we're allied with the KSA. Because they're our 'strong horse' in the region.

Unfortunately, most of the Muslim world hates the KSA and they're the most incompetent military force in the area. They also attack us and our allies on a regular basis. They're not really our strong horse, they're more like our pet rabid weasel. Ask anyone east of Austria what they think of the Wahhabis. Everyone hates them, because the attack their allies as often as they attack their enemies (among other reasons)

So, we're depending on the local rabid weasel to promote our interests in the area, and we're wondering why we're losing the war...
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 3, 2010 8:50 pm
..and if Israeli and American forces are deliberately holding back from attacking the enemy with full force because they want to keep them in power, they are 'managing' them, not fighting them in the traditional military sense.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 3, 2010 8:54 pm
"Let say, today is early 2003 and US is about make a decision to hit Iran instead of Iraq.

Why would US invade Iran?
How would US invade Iran?"

Of course we never would have invaded Iran in 2003 (which I'm pretty sure is the point Leo is trying to make). At that time the moderate Khatami, not the repellent Nutjob, was Iran's president and it was hoped, perhaps naively, that Iran was going to wean itself away from the mullahs and pursue a more rational course.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 3, 2010 10:38 pm
A generalization?:

The basic problem is that the US (et al.) is dealing with people so treacherous that they can only see treachery in others.

With people for whom truth is a tool rather than a value---and hence, don't believe a word they say themselves, let alone the words of anyone in the West.

With people that know only crass self-interest and hence can only interpret the actions (and words) of others as crassly self-interested.

With people whose paranoia informs their world view and their views of others towards them.

With people for whom survival is the highest principle, and who therefore switch allegiances (or claim to) when they believe they must; a people for whom manipulation is a way of survival, and hence a way of life.

With people who must continually watch their backs (and act accordingly), lest they subject themselves and their families to intimation, violence, extortion, and worse.

With people where everything is a market and everything has a price.

With people that provide others with very, very bad alternatives on the one hand, and worse alternatives on the other.

With people who have oil and geostrategic relevance.

So how does one deal with it? The current US administration believes that negotiations are the way, and that Israel is the Gordian knot that must be slashed to find a solution (after all, isn't this what Israel's enemies say?).

Meanwhile, Israel and Israel's friends still speak in terms of Israel's historic friendship with the US, in terms of the historical alliance with the US, in terms of allies, etc.

But if they, indeed, still believe this, they ought to wake up:

The Obama administration is in Walt & Mearsheimer mode. This means that:
* Israel is a liability and not an ally
* Israel's supporters are anti-American
* The creation of a Palestinian state is the ne plus ultra for regional peace and stability (and world peace and stability) and Israel is standing in the way of its creation. Actually, actively preventing its creation.
* Israel must be pressured to the hilt to provide such a state
* Anybody in Israel or outside that resists the Obama/Powers/Walt/Mearsheimer et al. perspective (or tries to tailor or mitigate it in any way) is an enemy of progress, an enemy of the US administration, an enemy of US interests, and enemy of the US.

The gloves are off (though many would prefer to believe---and yes, one can understand the fervent wish---- the honeyed words of an administration whose integrity is non-existent---both in internal and foreign affairs).

And Israel's enemies are waiting for the opportunity.

Meanwhile, Washington's Arab allies (we must call them that) are confused as all hell. And worried.

For in their worldview, if this is what Washington can do with its historic ally, its strongest ally, the country (that in their necessarily perverted views) actually CONTROLS the US, then what does this mean about Washington's alliances (so-called) with them? For These Arab allies (so-called), Washington's naked "realist" view ("realist" because Washington seems to actually believes that it can count on countries like KSA, like Pakistan, like Turkey, like Syria, like Egypt, like PALESTINE!! when the chips are down), is quite a bit unsettling.

Even for them.

And so they are and will be doing their best to cozy up to Iran if only for the (phantasmagoric) relative safety they believe such reconfiguration will offer.

And what will Iran demand from them in return?.....

And Washington believes (or seems to, for what that's worth) that this is the key that will turn the lock (after all, nothing else has worked, so far)....

While Israel dearly wants not to believe what it must, ultimately, come to terms with (it was hard enough with Turkey; but Washington's about face---it could be called other things---sweeps all the pieces of the table).
Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 4, 2010 12:09 am
Should be: "...sweeps all the pieces off the table".
Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 4, 2010 12:12 am
[...] Lee Smith: How did this come to pass? How did it happen that adversaries like Iran and Syria are able to shape US strategy, so that we have failed to win in Iraq and will fail in Afghanistan and have deterred ourselves from taking action against the Iranian nuclear program, and have jammed up our strategic alliance with Israel? It is because American leadership of the last two administrations failed to act against those states that have attacked our troops, allies and interests. We did we not win in Iraq because states like Syria and Iran did not pay a price for the acts of force they used to shape political effects to their own advantage; when we failed to do so we abandoned our Middle East policy to the mercy of our enemies, who, as we are repeatedly told, can ruin Iraq and Afghanistan whenever they decide to take off their gloves. We did not win because our leadership, abetted by Washington policy intellectuals, is more interested in political effects in Washington than strategic victories in the Middle East. Seen in this light, the only American victory in the region is a pyrrhic one, the bitter harvest of which we may well be reaping for many years to come. [...]
Posted by: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Strategic Failure at May 4, 2010 12:21 am
Glasnost; argued why Taiwan doesn't require American help to defend itself from China-- although US help would be nice to have--in the comment section of this MJT article:

http://www.michaeltotten.com/2010/04/the-revolution-that-came-out-of-nowhere.php

I don't understand Lee Smith's argument. MJT or someone else, could you please explain it too me?

In what way is Iraq not a success? Iraq's oil production is likely to reach 12.5 million barrels/day within 7 years; making Iraq the largest oil producer in the world; larger than even Russia, KSA, and the US. The Iraqi Security Forces are better quality today that Saddam's army in the 1980s was. Most Arab militaries are perceived as unprofessional junk; including Syria's. For that matter; the Iranian security forces are quite deficient. Their IRGC Kuds force proved how horrible they were at FID missions through their horrendous performance in Iraq; the Iranian backed Iraqi militias performed poorly against the Iraqi Security Forces [which were trained and advised by Americans.]

The IDF is not perceived as that good either [for example when compared to Taiwan's, South Korea's, Singapore's, or India's militaries]; however even the IDF is better than any Arab military or Iran's.

In a similar vein; the Iraqi Army is likely to be more professional and higher quality than any other Arab military in the near future.

As the wise SNLII says . . . my midget is one inch taller than your midget. The ISF stands out among other Arab security forces because other Arab security forces are so God awful in quality.

In what way are Syria and Iran "strong horses"? Their economies are complete disasters; and they are laughing stocks around the world. South Asians, East Asians, most of the world; laugh derisively when discussing the Syrian/Iranian businesses and economy. Syria and Iran are perceived internationally as weak horses.

The rise of Iraq and its growing strategic partnership with Turkey will contain and manage Syria and Iran.

Gulliver and SNLII explain why Lee Smith's arguments make little rational sense:
http://tachesdhuile.blogspot.com/2010/05/anybody-interested-in-really-really.html#comments

Lee Smith, if you are reading this; it isn't my intent to insult you. I really don't understand your argument; or why you believe what you do.

Maybe you could explain in a long comment?
Posted by: anan at May 4, 2010 12:29 am
And yet, as someone who insists that, The rise of Iraq and its growing strategic partnership with Turkey will contain and manage Syria and Iran when, in fact, it is precisely Syria and Iran with whom the current Turkish regime has decided to ally itself, how might you even begin to entertain the possibility of understanding any potential answer to your question?
Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 4, 2010 5:54 am
Craig, we would not have invaded Iran in 2003. Their nuclear program had just been revealed by MEK. They had shown little public disunity and invasion had never been part of DOD planning. In fact, the obstacles regarding Iran and North Korea were strong enough to lead us to Iraq.

Gates yesterday admitted Iran is changing the strategic balance in the Gulf. (see response below) He is in fact using Gulf threats to seek a serious reduction in Navy and Craig, you might not like what Gates has in mind for the Marines.....

In another universe, SECDEF would be shoring up the holes rather than wavering in the face of asymmetric warfare. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64310420100504?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews

Some are even suggesting that US forces in Gulf need permission from WH to fire at Iranian provocation such as over flights.

Meanwhile NK and Iran continue their dance... http://in.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idINIndia-48210420100504



http://www.informationdissemination.net/

Item one and three (response to Gates) is worth reading.

No, I don't get Lee's logic, though I've read this several times. I'll take a stab again later....
Posted by: Maxtrue at May 4, 2010 6:14 am
Yeah, when you read something like this http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=174661 you have to wonder if it makes sense to only go after Hezbollah when Hezbollah couldn't really do anything if it wasn't for Syrian and Iranian connivance.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 4, 2010 6:54 am
leo,

Why would US invade Iran?

1) Because we were fighting a "global war on terror", and the IRI is the #1 state sponsor of international terrorism.

2) Because a defacto state of war has existed between Iran and the US since 1979.

3) etc...

Gary,

Of course we never would have invaded Iran in 2003...

That was exactly my reaction when the Bush admin was talking up invading Iraq throughout 2002. I was totally shocked. It seemed absurd to be making Iraq part of the war on terror, when Iraq had never sponsored any terrorism against the US and (unlike KSA) had no real links to major terrorist organizations. But they went and did it anyway.

At that time the moderate Khatami, not the repellent Nutjob, was Iran's president and it was hoped, perhaps naively, that Iran was going to wean itself away from the mullahs and pursue a more rational course.

The neocons got played. Which is really embarrassing for them, since so many other Americans have gotten played by the IRI before them. It makes me wonder if they weer even paying attention when the IRI crushed the opposition movements who were encouraged by Khatami's fake reform platform the late 1990s. It's not such a clever ploy to try to get dissidents to believe in reforming the existing system instead of replacing it. I'm somewhat surprised after all the history during the 1980s that anyone outside of Iran fell for it, back in the 1990s. In the 2000s? The neocons should be ashamed of themselves. The IRI even had Chalabi pointing Bush at Saddam, like waving a red flag in front of a bull. And look at the IRI now. In a better position than it ever was before.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 7:19 am
Anan, I already explained in the long comment above. What is it in particular you don't understand?
Posted by: Lee at May 4, 2010 7:22 am
Gulliver and SNLII explain why Lee Smith's arguments make little rational sense:

Anand, SNLII doesn't look to be saying what you say he's saying, to me.

SNLII: Smith's larger point doesn't exactly seem wrong, especially when Exum blathers on about how the so-called "Surge" worked in the least convincing manner possible.

Muddled strategy.


SNLII: Well, he's all over the place, but he seems to be speaking somewhat differently about COIN, which Exum perhaps perceives to be an end in itself and which is focused primarly on the politics of DC (Porch would nod knowingly), and proxy wars, to which COIN might be place but which can have quite different outcomes.

The point being that the selling of COIN benefits certain political elites here (Bush can depart as a "victor" because of the "Surge," just as the Democrats can term it a "victory," too, so that we might leave), but the proxy war's victors might be our proxy (the Da'wa-led government in Baghdad) or, more likely, Tehran.

He seems to place this conundrum within the regional security deficit, should Iran get the bomb but it's a bit confusing.

Regardless, Exum crying out for the intervention of Clausewitz is, uhhhhhh, absurd, and no one needs Bernie Finel to arrive to tell us that.

It gets worse when Exum begins to name drop Smith and Goldberg and the increasingly dated Kalyvas, each like a nail in the coffin of post-Maoist irrelevancy.


That's a critique of Andrew Exum, not a critique of Lee Smith.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 7:23 am
Gary Rosen: "Of course we never would have invaded Iran in 2003 (which I'm pretty sure is the point Leo is trying to make)."

Practically so, but I also realize I could be wrong. Bottom line, I already know what I think and it would be more valuable for me to learn why others have different opinion.
Posted by: leo at May 4, 2010 7:39 am
Craig:
"1) Because we were fighting a "global war on terror", and the IRI is the #1 state sponsor of international terrorism.
2) Because a defacto state of war has existed between Iran and the US since 1979.
3) etc... "


Understood. Thank you.
Posted by: leo at May 4, 2010 7:50 am
"If Iran desires to turn the heat..."

Iran's ability to turn up the heat is inversely proportional to Iraq's desire to protect itself against outside agressors. While Iran may cause problems initially, they risk consolidating Iraqi nationalistic opposition to their activities. Iran will be seen as conspiring to subjugate the Iraqis. Iran will be the new occupier.

Lee may be giving Iran too much credit.

When Iran gets the bomb, Arab states may desire US presence as a tripwire against Iran until the Arab states develop their own nuclear weapons, the same way South Korea values our continued presence there.
Posted by: Greg from USA at May 4, 2010 7:57 am
Lee Smith. I don't think you know what you are talking about in Iraq. Have you ever been to Baghdad?
Posted by: Zino at May 4, 2010 8:24 am
I agree with Greg, plenty of risk for Iran and let's not forget NK and Syria: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/34656/

The author is reputable if the paper is not....
Posted by: Maxtrue at May 4, 2010 8:25 am
Iran's ability to turn up the heat is inversely proportional to Iraq's desire to protect itself against outside agressors. While Iran may cause problems initially, they risk consolidating Iraqi nationalistic opposition to their activities. Iran will be seen as conspiring to subjugate the Iraqis. Iran will be the new occupier.

I hope you are right, Greg. But that isn't what happened in Lebanon.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 8:37 am
Maxtrue,

Craig, we would not have invaded Iran in 2003.

I agree. But that doesn't mean we "should not* have.

Their nuclear program had just been revealed by MEK. They had shown little public disunity and invasion had never been part of DOD planning. In fact, the obstacles regarding Iran and North Korea were strong enough to lead us to Iraq.

The neocons were wrong. They made a bad call. Explaining the thought processes behind their mistake doesn't make it less of a mistake.

Gates yesterday admitted Iran is changing the strategic balance in the Gulf.

A little late! There isn't much the US can realistically do about it, now. The US public would have supported an invasion of Iran in 2003, and the US military could have accomplished it. Neither of those things is true now. The US military could undoubtedly pull off an invasion, but without public support and with such heavy military commitments elsewhere it'd be too precarious a position for the US military to voluntarily undertake it.

(see response below) He is in fact using Gulf threats to seek a serious reduction in Navy...

Seems illogical. He has the mentality of an Army or Air Force officer, who thinks setting up static forward operating bases is preferable to expeditionary warfare. This is nothing new. This argument has been going on since the 18th century. As far as I know, the value of expeditionary warfare capabilities has been decisively proven, and Gates is on the wrong side of history.

...and Craig, you might not like what Gates has in mind for the Marines.....

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2010/05/03/Gates-urges-rethinking-Navy-Marines-needs/UPI-21151272935371/

The country's 202,000-strong Marine Corps is bigger than most nations' armies, he added.

I'm with him on that. The USMC was 130,000 strong under Ronald Reagan, when the US military hit its Cold War peak. 202,000 Marines is way the hell too many. I think that may be even larger than the USMC was during World War II. Its crazy. The only reason the Bush Administration cranked up the USMC so much is that they desperately needed expeditionary warfare capability and the Army wasn't capable of that. Now Gates is trying to reduce the USMC and USN expeditionary capability lol.

I suspect if Gates has his way a lot of future US Administrations will be cursing his name when they discover they need something from the US military that it is no longer able to do.

Item one and three (response to Gates) is worth reading.

I don't think a response to Gates is necessary. He's just one more Secretary of Defense. A civilian appointee. His positions are neither new nor particularly well thought out. And besides that, he will soon be gone like every other secretary of the DoD before him. Hopefully, he won't do the US military a substantial amount of damage during his tenure in office. And, I don't think he will. His ideas are unsound, and obviously so.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 10:07 am
Interesting comments Craig. Some see Gates as a genius while others think he is terrible. We must obviously make changes... The best approach is to have two different forces. One is the conventional force prepared to do the usual on two fronts which includes air lift and refueling and theater defense. The second is 4g warfare. This does focus on the wars we are fighting. Unfortunately the threats we are facing are a mixture of both and each force is in need of certain fixes. Conventional needs X and 4g needs X. My fear is that neither gets what they need and we are caught between postures failing to anticipate a new emerging dynamic.

The only way the US gets really tough with Iran is if Sunnis can make progress with Israel and offer some peace hopes to Obama in exchange for toughness on Iran (because Iran is hoping to destroy peace). Interesting trade. Especially when that toughness might mean taking-out all of Iran's conventional and advanced capacities. My bet is that Obama would rather Israel make the first move in that scenario.....

I have to differ on your Bush Iranian take. Gore under Clinton rejected Russian desire to sell military weapons to our market. We told them to stick with Iran. We pushed the Chinese and French out but let the Russians continue dangerous exports.

The case in 2003 had not been made against Iran, nor had the US understood the dangers of Hizb'Allah or Syria. NK had not yet tested nukes. Again, we had told the Russians to stick with Cold War clients so they did exactly that with Bout helping at the periphery and Belarus and Syria providing ample shipping platforms.

The idea we would suddenly go after the Mullahs with Saddam in place would have been strange.

Strange indeed.
Posted by: Maxtrue at May 4, 2010 11:10 am
Here's an example of our toughness towards Iran: "Iran to hold new war games, says it photographed U.S. ship"

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20100504/wl_nm/us_iran_gulf_wargames

Could we be any more supine? The Iranians are laughing at us. They think we're a paper tiger and that we'll never touch them. They might be right.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 4, 2010 11:36 am
Btw, I read that an Iranian airplane flew right up to a US aircraft carrier, and that the carrier was told to hold their fire. I didn't give it too much credence until now.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 4, 2010 11:38 am
Some see Gates as a genius while others think he is terrible.

I'm with the "terrible" camp. When Gates didn't tell Petraeus and McChrystal to put a sock in it when they started requesting the authority to break apart (cherry pick) USMC air/ground units which have always been integrated very closely, he was in the wrong. When he didn't tell his Secretary of the Navy that naming an amphibious assault vessel that carries Marines after Jack Murtha was a bad idea and that it wasn't going to happen, he was in the wrong wrong. The US military deserves a better Secretary of Defense. One who doesn't play cheer-leader for some branches of service, and as major critic of others. Seeing as how I'm not in the military anymore and seeing as how he's a political appointee, I get to say I think he's a bad choice for heading up the DoD. He should be replaced with somebody better qualified for the position. Like me, for instance. I have some great plans for the US Army and US Air Force. Do we even need special forces in this day and age? And how about all those tanks we have in service? When was the last time the US engaged in a major tank battle? 1944? WTF!? I think the US Army should seriously consider if it will ever again be called upon to engage in armor-centric maneuver warfare. And the air force? Seriously, do we even need an air force anymore? That was great in the days of B-52 carpet bombing but we are so far beyond that now. Why not just attach the jets to the Army units they will be supporting in the field, like the Marines do it? Isn't that much more practical? Not to mention cheaper! And we above all need to think about tightening our belts, these days. We're broke!

The second is 4g warfare.

I think that term was first used by Marines in 1989 which means Army officers and former Air Force officers like Gates have to come up with an identical concept that has a slightly different name that they can claim they just invented. Kinda like how Petraeus and his cronies came up with FM-3.24 for COIN, which was basically a re-hash of the USMC's "Small Wars Manual" from way back in the Banana Wars days.

That's the way these things work, you know.

Conventional needs X and 4g needs X. My fear is that neither gets what they need and we are caught between postures failing to anticipate a new emerging dynamic.

My fear is stupid people. Especially when they are in positions that exceed their level of competence. Stupid people are easily influenced, and prone to making serious mistakes. And what's worse, they compound their errors by misunderestimating their own stupidity and coming up with remedies that are worse than the ailment.

The only way the US gets really tough with Iran is if Sunnis can make progress with Israel and offer some peace hopes to Obama in exchange for toughness on Iran...

Haven't we wasted enough time with false hopes? That isn't going to happen.

My bet is that Obama would rather Israel make the first move in that scenario.....

My bet is that Obama will do the same calculus with balancing Iran against the Arab ME that every President before him has done.

The case in 2003 had not been made against Iran...

There was no case to make. IRI was and is an enemy of the United States. IRI was ans is the biggest state sponsor of international terrorism. IRI and US have been in a state of undeclared war for 30 years.

...nor had the US understood the dangers of Hizb'Allah or Syria.

US doesn't care about Syria. US understands well about Hezbollah, seeing as how Hezbollah has murdered or otherwise victimized so many Americans over the years.

NK had not yet tested nukes.

US doesn't care about North Korea.

The idea we would suddenly go after the Mullahs with Saddam in place would have been strange.

Strange indeed.


Strange? The US supported Saddam when he went after the Mullahs. How is it that we pot Iraq ahead of Iran in our priority list? That's what is strange, and I'm still waiting for somebody to explain that to me.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 11:45 am
Craig,
I understand that Gates wants to cut back on carriers.
Now I read that China wants carriers.
Well how about the US building them for the Chinese!
Puts people to work, reduces debt, gives the US control of the carrier construction and its better than anyone else doing it. :-))
Posted by: jb at May 4, 2010 11:54 am
jb, that's exactly what I was thinking about when I read that article about Gates! I was thinking that since the US Secretary of Defense believes we have too many aircraft carriers now, that we could just sell China some of the ones we don't need? At a premium, of course, since the Chinese would also be getting the tech on how to make them! Should be able to net us a hefty profit!

And besides, when half of Asia starts in with the "Hey, US, what are you planning on doing about all these Chinese aircraft carriers that are running around terrorizing everybody!?" whining... well... the obvious response would be that since the US no longer needs aircraft carriers, we offer to build them aircraft carriers too so that they can take on the "Chinese" carriers themselves. More money for the US. Should boost our R&D sectors too, since we'd constantly have to come up with better tech to sell to all the various (now) warring parties to cancel out our older tech. It's not as good as the socialist utopia, but it comes pretty close.
Posted by: Craig at May 4, 2010 12:37 pm
/condensed

"What the hell was he thinking punting on 4th and 1 with 30 secs left? He should have thrown to the..er... whats that called again Bob?"

"The Flat?"

"Ya, he should have thrown to the flat. Gee, if only they would listen to me, we'd be Superbowl Champs again"
Posted by: Fen at May 4, 2010 1:09 pm
Take out the Alawites in Syria, and Ikhwan takes over. What do you prefer, a fascist government obsessed with self-preservation and subjugating Lebanon... or a government of megalomaniac Islamist fanatics?

Take out the Mullahs, and the people will rally behind them. Wait and maybe the people will throw them off and return to democracy (which, unlike the Arabs, they both comprehend and had of their own volition).

To root out Palestinian terrorism, Israel can either kill the vast majority of Palestinians or wait and hope for decades, or more likely centuries. The third option is dying. So what's the point of taking out Hamas?

MENA is not like the West. It just isn't.

And Afghanistan is even worse than MENA - it's an absolute basket case.

You can't win when you're fighting against a culture. You can only contain it and wait - or lose by becoming them.

I don't think USA have had the pleasure of such a war since Russia.
Posted by: Abu Sa'ar at May 4, 2010 2:02 pm
"To root out Palestinian terrorism, Israel can either kill the vast majority of Palestinians...." To root out Israel, Arab states can kill the vast majority of Israeli Jews.... which, by the way, was attempted in 1948. As I recall, it didn't work.
Posted by: Harold at May 4, 2010 3:07 pm
Lee Smith, there are many parts of your argument that I don't understand. But to even get to your argument; we need to understand your assumptions.

First of all; why won't Iraq be the strong horse of the greater middle east region? Iraq's new security forces are better quality, better motivated and more loyal to the chain of command than what Saddam fielded against Iran in the 1980s. Remember how dependent the old Iraqi Army was on tens of thousands of Indian/Soviet/French combat advisors?

Iraqis are more self confident now; and see a clear pathway to 12.5 million barrels/day in oil production. Saddam was never able to increase oil production above 2.5 million barrels/day due to his amazing incompetence and stupidity. Inflation adjusted oil prices are likely to remain high over the medium term; thanks to the economic miracle in Asia, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Colombia; and hopefully soon increasing pockets of Africa.

Iraq's economy is growing rapidly; including non energy GDP. Iraq also has substantial NG and water resources.

If Iran tries to cause trouble in Iraq; including by attacking US forces; Iraqis would love to take the excuse to give the IRGC Kuds and Khamenei a bloody noise; and they can increasingly do it too. PM Maliki and every Iraqi Marja (Grand Ayatollah) refused to congratulate Ahmeninijad on his election victory. Iraqis believe that the IRGC Kuds and Khamenei are the weak horse within Iran and within the region. And they are right.

Iraq isn't anti Iran; but it is anti IRGC Kuds/Khamenei/Ahmeninijad. Iraq has laid its cards publicly for all to interpret.

Where do you get the sense that Khamenei/IRGC are strong? They did a horrible job training/advising/equipping their Iraqi proxies. When PM Maliki ordered the ISF to eliminate them on 3.26.2008; IRGC Kuds' Iraqi assets fell apart like flies.

What makes you think the IRGC Kuds could handle higher intensity conflicts?

Do you realize how poorly global militaries perceive the quality of Khamenei's security forces? If you don't believe me; as a leader in the ISF, Turkish military, Pakistani military, Indian military, Russian military, South Korean military, or NATO military.

Iran's private sector is widely percieved as a disaster. This is one reason India, China, and Russia are distancing themselves from Iran . . . Iran is a weak horse. Khamenei has terribly managed Iran's great research universities and graduate programs. Compare Iranian perceptions of their graduate programs to Pakistan/Indian/Russian perceptions of their own graduate programs. There is no comparison.

Iran's oil production is stable to dropping. Iran's RoI (return on investment) in oil and NG exploration and CAPEX is among the lowest in the world. Any country that mismanages its oil and NG industry as badly and incompetently as Khamenei has managed Iran's is perceived as a "weak horse." Iran's dependents on NG (Natural Gas) hurts bad; because NG prices are near all time lows.

Iran disastrously messed up its Iraq file; a country that had positive feelings towards Iran for its help in liberating Iraq from Saddam in 2003. Even Hakim and Muqtada al Sadr are openly and viciously anti Iran now; both accusing Khamenei of backing AQ against Iraqis in 2008.

Iran has a bottomless pit in Hezbollah that sucks up scarce Iranian money; which in turn is shrinking because of Iran's economic mismanagement. Iran's funding of Hezbollah is unpopular among Iranians; even among Ahmeninijad supporters.

Your difficult to understand statements that Iraq is weak and Iran strong confuse me. Perhaps this is because of the difference in perceptions between Lebanon and Iraq.

Iraqis perceive Khamenei to be weak. But Lebanese less so. Lebanese perceptions will change over the medium term as GoI revenue exceed Iranian government revenues; and as GoI foreign aid exceeds Iranian foreign aid.

Perhaps you do not realize how close to overthrowing Khamenei the Iranian people are? Only two of the 11 Quom Marjas still might support Khamenei; the other 9 see him as illegitimate. The only non Iranian Marja that still supports Khamenei is from Lebonon. [Only 1 left.] Khamenei is percieved as week and illegitimate by Iranians and the global Shia. He is likely going down.

Why do you think China reduced its oil imports from Iran by half? Why did PM Singh not attend Iran's latest national day? Why is Russia trying to distance themselves? Because Khamenei is weak and they are trying to reach out to the Iranians who replace him.

Why bomb Iran now; when Khamenei might fall any way?

On Syria; the Iraqis will not forget Syria's crimes against Iraq 2003-2008. Iraqis have long memories; and will handle Assad on their own time table in their own way. Turkey will likely side with the Iraqis when the time comes. By then, the new Iranian government will also likely side with the Iraqis.

Assad will likely fold and pretend to be an Iraqi poodle when that happens . . . which is what you want . . . right?

If Syria is to be bombed; isn't it better for Iraqi F-16s to do so 5 years from now; versus for Israelis or Americans to take immediate action?

The world would rally behind a free, democratic, successful Iraq; not behind a weak immoral dictator.

What is the hurry to attack Syria and Iran right away?

India/Iran/Russia could have attacked the Taliban/AQ before 9/11 and very nearly did. Instead they waited for the Taliban/AQ to attack the West. Then India/Iran/Russia sat back and enjoyed the ride as NATO bled to destroy Iran's/India's/Russia's mortal enemies . . . while they partied and free rode.

Lee Smith; letting others fight your enemies for you is sweet. It's the smart way to do things. Why can't we Americans be smart? Other great powers will respect us for it; and be forced to start paying for part of the global commons.
Posted by: anan at May 4, 2010 8:23 pm
"Then India/Iran/Russia sat back and enjoyed the ride as NATO bled to destroy Iran's/India's/Russia's mortal enemies"


Iran's "mortal enemy" is not the Taliban...it is the "Great Satan", the USA. The IRI doesn't even blame "Takfiri" when Jundullah launches suicide bombings on its soldiers...they blame the West or Israel.
Posted by: C.H. at May 4, 2010 10:08 pm
"Strange? The US supported Saddam when he went after the Mullahs. How is it that we pot Iraq ahead of Iran in our priority list? That's what is strange, and I'm still waiting for somebody to explain that to me."

-Craig

I don't understand this either...
Posted by: C.H. at May 4, 2010 10:11 pm
"If Syria is to be bombed; isn't it better for Iraqi F-16s to do so 5 years from now; versus for Israelis or Americans to take immediate action?"

Even better yet, if Iran nukes Israel first anand will achieve his dream of Jewish annihilation. Mustn't allow da Jooooos to defend themselves, even from mortal enemies like Syria, Iran or Hezbollah - in anand's view *especially* from mortal enemies.
Posted by: Gary Rosen at May 4, 2010 10:22 pm
Anan; you need; to learn how; to use semicolons; Properly.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 4, 2010 10:40 pm
"Craig, we would not have invaded Iran in 2003.
I agree. But that doesn't mean we "should not* have."

Craig, when you see how swimmingly well the Iraq invasion went (what was it, 3000% and 5 years over budget?) and how well we are doing in the mountains of Afghanistan against a irregular enemy, how in hell do you visualize a US invasion of Iran? Its a big country, and nationalistic as hell. Face it, the US does not have the capacity to invade Iran.

As for the "Strong Horse" argument, some would say that a lot of arab ire is aimed at the point that the Israeli horse is being given steroids, and does not have to follow the rules. Egypts argument that its hard to pressure Iran when Israel refuses to sign the NPT treaty and allow international oversight of Dimona is a valid one.

Oh, and stay classic Gary Rosen.
Posted by: Fnord at May 5, 2010 2:59 am
Fnord,

Craig, when you see how swimmingly well the Iraq invasion went (what was it, 3000% and 5 years over budget?)...

Did you even read my comments? lol

...and how well we are doing in the mountains of Afghanistan against a irregular enemy...

That's your war, and Andrew Exums. I supported the initial counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan. In my opinion, it was foolish (understatement) to transform that mission into a nation-building project, especially when we had/have no leverage on Pakistan to get them to stop supporting their various proxies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the mission you and Andrew Exum pushed for, and if you fail - and you will - you are going to have to own it.

... how in hell do you visualize a US invasion of Iran? Its a big country, and nationalistic as hell.

Again, did you read my comments? I supported invading Iran INSTEAD OF invading Iraq. Not "in addition to". As to whether or not we could have done it, it's quite foolish of you to think that anything that happened in Iraq might translate to Iran. For one thing, there isn't any nation in the region which would have been sending "foreign fighters" into Iran to support the (deposed) IRI. For another thing, Iranians as a people have no history of committing terrorist attacks so I seriously doubt there would have been anything like the insurgent->civilian violence in Iran that plagued Iraq. For yet another, there's no reason to believe a civil war would have started in Iran, or that even if it had there would have been as much bad blood between factions as there was in Iraq. I could go on, but it would be pointless wouldn't it?

Face it, the US does not have the capacity to invade Iran.

Face it, fnord. You have no clue what you are talking about.
Posted by: Craig at May 5, 2010 4:51 am
PS, fnord: On Afghanistan, how do you plan on completing your nation building project? You do realize that the entire annual revenue of the Government of Afghanistan can't even cover payroll for existing Army and Police, right? If and when the international community leaves, who is going to foot the bill for Afghanistan's military and police (not to mention everything else)?

You and I both know that isn't going to happen, right? So even if by some quirk of luck the Taliban did fold (or if Andrew Exum redefined them into good-guys) - how long would it be after the last NATO soldier left the country before the Taliban was back, just as bad as they ever were? Do you even think about that kind of stuff, or do you just go on and on about your current favorite flavor of COIN doctrine?
Posted by: Craig at May 5, 2010 4:57 am
The IRI doesn't even blame "Takfiri" when Jundullah launches suicide bombings on its soldiers...they blame the West or Israel.

Good point, CH :)
Posted by: Craig at May 5, 2010 5:04 am
For one thing, there isn't any nation in the region which would have been sending "foreign fighters" into Iran to support the (deposed) IRI.

Well, there's Hezbollah, which is one of the strongest military forces in the region. While most of Hezbollah's support comes from Iran, it's not their sole source of cash and weapons.

And, if the Iranian government was overthrown, the Sunnis would send in their insurgents, like the Baluchi-linked 'separatist' mosque bombers Jondollah (“Soldiers of God”).

This is how they fight wars in this region. Their military forces are weak, inconsequential, and when they're overthrown, both sides (sunni/shi'ite) send in their 'non-state' insurgents and they turn the occupation and/or new government into an ungovernable hellhole.

The Iranian people may be

If we knew how to deal with this particular strategy, it would make sense to attack Iran. But we don't.

I have no idea why we haven't learned yet how to deal with 'non-state' actors. Hopefully, we're just pretending to be ignorant. But we're doing a really good job of pretending.

For another thing, Iranians as a people have no history of committing terrorist attacks so I seriously doubt there would have been anything like the insurgent->civilian violence in Iran that plagued Iraq.

If this is true, and I think it is, then how did the IRI become the "#1 state sponsor of international terrorism". Al Qaeda and the majority of Saudi-sponsored terrorist groups are staffed by Saudis, who are more than willing to blow themselves up for Allah. They make up to 45-55% of the very large sunni terrorist network.

Since Sunnis greatly outnumber Shi'ites, the statement that "IRI is the #1 state sponsor of terrorism" sounds suspiciously like the neo-con claim that "Iraq under Saddam was a major state sponsor of international terrorism".

The whole marketing campaign for a war against Iran sounds exactly like the neo-con campaign for the very poorly-planned war in Iraq. The only thing that's different is that they're deliberately avoiding the phrase "WMDs" I supported that ad campaign, and I do regret that. As Bush said, fool me once..
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 5, 2010 7:36 am
Mary,

Well, there's Hezbollah, which is one of the strongest military forces in the region.

No, it isn't. It's 10,000 guys with about a million rockets. On their home turf, and with their rockets in range, and with Syrian and Iranian backing, they pose a threat to Israel. In Iran, if they could manage to get their somehow without the IRI ferrying them through Syria, they are 10,000 dead Arabs. I doubt you could find anyone in Iran who doesn't absolutely loathe Hezbollah, and that includes the folks who've been sending them money.

You're also ignoring the fact that HA wouldn't have any motivation to try to help the IRI once it is out of power, even if it could.

While most of Hezbollah's support comes from Iran, it's not their sole source of cash and weapons.

It's not? That's news to me!

And, if the Iranian government was overthrown, the Sunnis would send in their insurgents, like the Baluchi-linked 'separatist' mosque bombers Jondollah (“Soldiers of God”).

For what possible purpose?

If this is true, and I think it is, then how did the IRI become the "#1 state sponsor of international terrorism".

By paying Arabs to do their dirty work for them. No money, no Arabs.

...sounds suspiciously like the neo-con claim...

...The whole marketing campaign for a war against Iran sounds exactly like the neo-con campaign...

Are you accusing me of being a neocon? :D

I supported that ad campaign...

Of course you did. As you now support the "KSA is the root of all evil" campaign. That's the new neocon fad. It started when Iraq turned to shit and the neocons decided it was Saudi Arabia's fault. Which it probably was, but it should have been expected that KSA and other Sunni Arab countries would not willingly see Iraq pass into the majority Shiite hands.

...and I do regret that. As Bush said, fool me once....

Looks to me like you are plenty willing to be fooled again. You want to try to leverage Iraq against KSA, Egypt(right?) and the whole Sunni order in the ME. As if we don't have enough problems already. And what happens when that doesn't work out as we hope? Who do we blame then? Or maybe at that point we just decide to nuke whole place and send in guys in radiation suits to pump the oil? How does it work, exactly?
Posted by: Craig at May 5, 2010 8:57 am
Fnord, I am curious how Norway would respond if, hypothetically, the countries in its neck of the woods--like Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark, Germany, etc.--all decided that Norway had no right to exist, launched wars and terrorist attacks against it, boycotted it economically, demonized Norwegians in the media, preached holy war against Norwegians in their churches, and on and on.

I seriously doubt Norway (or whatever country you're from) would behave as morally as Israel does against its genocidal foes. Frankly, you can take your self-righteousness and stick it where the sun don't shine.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 5, 2010 9:59 am
... the Sunnis would send in their insurgents, like the Baluchi-linked 'separatist' mosque bombers Jondollah (“Soldiers of God”).

For what possible purpose?

I don't know, but that's what they do. That's what they've been doing for decades. Failed states provide slaves and militia members, so maybe that's why they do this, but maybe they do it because it's their pleasure.

Why do the Saudis and Pakistanis attack their own allies, why do they despise innovation? Maybe it's because of Islam, maybe macho woman-hating cultures promote too much aggression, maybe it's because they marry their cousins, and those cousins marry their cousins, and after awhile that affects a culture. I have no idea...

Of course you did. As you now support the "KSA is the root of all evil" campaign. That's the new neocon fad.

Are you serious? I've thought that the KSA was the root of all evil since I found out that they sponsored 9/11, but I thought I was the only one out there who thought that way. Who else is saying such crazy things?

Looks to me like you are plenty willing to be fooled again. You want to try to leverage Iraq against KSA, Egypt(right?) and the whole Sunni order in the ME.

No, I'd support targeted assassinations of all of the vulnerable middlemen in the Sunni and Shi'ite terrorist infrastructures, and generally weakening but not killing the leadership in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Syria and Iran. Then I'd support developing closer relations with Russia, China, India, Brazil, agreeing to stop playing these proxy war games, realizing that the current economic superpowers can accomplish more by working together than by supporting terror militias and crazy tinpot regimes like the KSA and Iran. Then work together to crush the lot of them.

That's my plan and I assume that it's not supported by anyone else. Which is why I've been pretty apolitical lately.

I supported the war in Iraq, but I assumed that the American military leadership had plans to deal with the inevitable insurgency. They didn't! They didn't even develop a reasonable counter-terrorism plan until 2005, and they still don't want to deal with non-state militias! This is idiocy.

Now some are promoting yet another poorly-planned war? I try to be apolitical now, but I have to criticize when it's obvious that they're making the same mistake twice.
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 5, 2010 10:37 am
I've always been under the impression that military action against Iran would be conducted by air power. Going in on the ground doesn't even make sense. The US could probably put Iran's nuclear program back for many, many years without losing a single air craft, since the Iranians have no defenses against US technology. They would be helpless. I don't think they have the power to close the straights of Hormuz, and even if they could, they wouldn't be able to export oil, either. If the Iranians retaliated by launching Shahab missiles at various targets in the region, we must remember that they only have a finite number. They can't launch missiles indefinitely. Really, Iran is a paper tiger. Unfortunately, under Obama the US is a paper kitten, even though The US has the capability to be a real lion if we want to be.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 5, 2010 11:01 am
Iran is a paper tiger

Yes, I agree. But since they are a paper tiger, why should we be so anxious to attack them?

If the only goal is to wipe out their nuclear capabilities, then an attack makes some sense. But we're not even sure what their capabilities are, and they are hard to reach. How will we know that we've disabled them?

And if we do wind up having to take the entire government out, what will we do about the inevitable Shi'ite vs. Sunni insurgent war that will follow?
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 5, 2010 11:48 am
...what will we do about the inevitable Shi'ite vs. Sunni insurgent war that will follow?

Mary, I have so many criticisms of that phrase I hardly know where to start. I'll give it a shot.

1) You mentioned Balochistan separatists. Balochs are only ~2% of the population of Iran. As a separatist movement, that's a non-starter. Balochs are much more of a problem for Pakistan, seeing as how the bulk of the Baloch population is in that country, and not in Iran.

2) Iran not a country where a minority group has been in power and has been lording it over the majority. The leaders of the IRI for the most part are representative of the demographics of Iran, which makes an "old order vs the new order" civil war unlikely.

3) That goes for religion as well. 90% of Iranians are Shia. Only 8% are Sunni. The IRI is inherently Shia. What is going to fuel an anti-Shia backlash in Iran if the IRI falls? Where are 8% Sunni going to find the resources to have any hope of taking on 90% of the population, even if they wanted to? Especially considering they are not amongst the financially/politically privileged classes today? Do you really believe that Sunnis in the Arab world would go to Iran to die for Iranian Sunnis? Why would they do that? They aren't stakeholders in Iranian culture, Iranian history, etc. And especially, the fact that they be dead on arrival for all intents and purposes makes that REALLY unlikely in my opinion.

4) The real danger of post-IRI strife in Iran is between various ethnic groups. However, I think the grievances most of them (those who have grievances, that is) have are with the Islamic Republic which has been oppressing them. Not with their fellow Iranians in general. I could be wrong about this, but that's the impression I've gotten.

Anyway, looks like I may have been wrong about you being a neocon. Sorry.

Now some are promoting yet another poorly-planned war? I try to be apolitical now, but I have to criticize when it's obvious that they're making the same mistake twice.

I'm not sure who you are criticizing. It looked like you were criticizing ME :)

I don't speak for anyone but myself. I'm used to being the odd one out on political issues. I'm libertarian, and not to be too cliche but trying to get libertarians to even agree with eachother on anything let alone anyone else is a lot like herding cats. For instance, I think Ron Paul is an idiot, and I think Glen beck is a loudmouth.
Posted by: Craig at May 5, 2010 3:25 pm
Craig, you're the first libertarian I've ever encountered who seems to have a firm grasp of the realities of international relations. I've been singularly unimpressed--and at times appalled--by the naivete so many libertarians display when it comes to international relations.
Posted by: semite5000 at May 5, 2010 4:15 pm
You mentioned Balochistan separatists. Balochs are only ~2% of the population of Iran.

I mentioned Jondollah, which is a sunni terrorist group that is supported by the usual suspects (Pakistan's ISI, the Saudis, the Taliban). Iran claims that the US has been working with this group too (they would say that) but even if we were, these situations always have a way of getting away from us.

According to Wiki, Jondollah (or Jundallah) is believed to have 1,000 fighters and claims to have killed 400 Iranian soldiers and many more civilians.

Do you really believe that Sunnis in the Arab world would go to Iran to die for Iranian Sunnis? Why would they do that?

Kurds are Sunnis and so were Saddam's Republican guards, yet they didn't really get along. According to recent reports, the Iranian Shi'ite government has been supplying the sunni (well, Deobandi) Taliban with weapons. Sometimes these conflicts have other priorities.

Why would the Sunnis, Shi'ites, Deobandis and every other rabid, mob-run cr*p state/organization in the area send insurgents into Iran to turn it into a failed state? Because that's what they've been doing for decades. Why did they turn Somalia, Afghanistan, the Sudan, and now Yemen into Mad Max Islamist wrecks? It works for them and they have no intention of changing until they're forced to do so. We won't be able to force them to change until we learn how to effectively fight the 'send in the insurgents' tactic.

For instance, I think Ron Paul is an idiot, and I think Glen beck is a loudmouth.

So we do agree about something! I'm not left, right, conservative or libertarian. I agree with some parts of each group, but disagree with others. My only interest in politics is in informed foreign policy, which is why I tend to hang out here..
Posted by: Mary Madigan at May 5, 2010 4:22 pm
Craig

"For another thing, Iranians as a people have no history of committing terrorist attacks so I seriously doubt there would have been anything like the insurgent->civilian violence in Iran that plagued Iraq."

So the Iraqi people had a history of terrorism pre-invasion and so had it in their blood to fight? Thats serious news, care to point me to serious pre-war Iraqi terror attacks? (Ansar al Islams massacres of their neighbours do not count). And you seem to thinkt hat the bashir and Revolutionary Guard folks would ... errm... welcome an invasion with flowers and all that. Good luck with that calculus.

I believe Gulliver from Ink SPots has the best precise critiscism of both Lees points and yours: You seem to hold a vision of military powers capacity to cause positive change thaqt has no bearing in reality.

semite5000: What does Israel have to do with this argument? Que?
Posted by: Fnord at May 6, 2010 3:37 am
Fnord, sorry but your idiocy is not really worthy of a reply. You refuse to see things you don't want to see, even when they are explicitly spelled out for you. I bet you spend a lot of time confused about how things never go the way you hoped they would, right? That's the kind of shit that happens when you ignore the truth in front of your eyes and choose instead to project your own version of reality onto every scenario.
Posted by: Craig at May 6, 2010 7:31 am
Lol, Craig. What a absolutely stupid answer. I do indeed fail to see how it would have been physicaly possible for the US to invade Iran in 2003 as you have stated that you wanted. But I understand that reality and logistics are not your cup of tea. I still would like you to point out how the Iraqi and Iranian history and culture would lead to the former fighting back and the later bringing out the roses. If youre a realist libertarian as you claim, then its eery to hear you channeling Rumsfeld and his policies of betting on the best possible outcome without any contigency plans whatsoever.

I guess Weinbergers principles are out of fashion these days...
Posted by: Fnord at May 6, 2010 11:13 am
I do indeed fail to see how it would have been physicaly possible for the US to invade Iran in 2003...

But I understand that reality and logistics are not your cup of tea.

I think anyone who is familiar with US and Iranian military capabilities in the early 2000s can appreciate the irony up in there :p

Don't worry, though, fnord. They aren't laughing AT you! They are laughing WITH you! Really!

I still would like you to point out how the Iraqi and Iranian history and culture would lead to the former fighting back and the later bringing out the roses.

Dude, I never said anything about welcoming an invasion! I said the aftermath of an invasion of Iran would have been quite different than the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. I even listed some of the reasons why. It's not my fault that you think all them smelly Muslims are the same.

There's some irony in you claiming I'm channeling the neocons in their blind rah-rah for war with Iraq, when it is you who is suggesting that Iraq and Iran are same same no different. You've got the mind of a child, and I've had it out with you on some of your stupidities over on AM's blog more than I ever wanted to. You just repeat things you heard smart people say, and when you get challenged you find yourself unable to respond with anything but cliches. I for one found it really entertaining during the Gaza war when people accused you of being an anti-semite over there at AM and you came back with stories about all your Jewish friends and how much they liked you. So Archie Bunker :p
Posted by: Craig at May 6, 2010 12:42 pm
Craig, thats the finest example of avoiding arguing I have heard in a long time. Im not suggestin that Iraq and Iran would have been the same. Im saying that Iran would have been impossible. Military capabilities have nothing to do with succesful invasions, unless the aim is to hit and withdraw if the locals are willing to fight to oppose the invasion. You posit that Iran would welcome US forces in 2003. I find that silly. You could sure make it into a pile of rubbel, given the full might of the US. But a invasion? Not possible, not even in a limited theatre (Hormuz, key harbours.)

If were going personal, I would point out that you are all stuck in the hasbara echo-chamber of self-assertion as it seems to me. You seem to be locked in the neo-con phantasy of military efficiency. As Ink Spots point out, military action only works given certain parameters. You folks seem in the silly section.
Posted by: Fnord at May 6, 2010 1:28 pm
As Ink Spots point out, military action only works given certain parameters.

Oh, now you are throwing "things smart people said on a blog" at me? How exiting! I don't suppose it ever occurred to you that if I wanted to engage in discussions with bloggers I could go over to their blogs and give it a whirl firsthand without having to endure a Norwegian anarchist trying to beat me over the head with their words of wisdom on an unrelated blog?

Thanks for proving my point about not being able to do anything but parrot what intelligent people say, by the way. If you want to reply again in this thread, you can consider it me giving you the last word. I've got nothing more to say to you.
Posted by: Craig at May 6, 2010 1:47 pm
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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