Why the $20 Billion Arms Deal?

The *New York Times* has an interesting piece today on the $20 billion arms deal to Saudia Arabia and some of the other Gulf sheikhdoms. Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper write that the U.S. has admitted that the plan to provide advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel is to contain Iran. Helping America’s friends in the Middle East is paramount the White House says, and the weapons will include “only defensive systems.”
Why the U.S. felt the need to announce this is a mystery, since it’s a pretty obvious conclusion to draw. Did the Iranians not get the message the first time? [They certainly seem rather upset about the whole thing](http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/30/AR2007073000623.html/). America “is creating fear and concerns in the countries of the region and trying to harm the good relations between these countries,” said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini. Shockingly, the U.S. blew off Iran’s concerns and countercharged that it was Iran that was doing the meddling. “There isn’t a doubt that Iran constitutes the single most important single-country strategic challenge to the United States and to the kind of the Middle East that we want to see,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice en route to Egypt with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
(By the way, Lebanese Hezbollah is going to get *tons* of milage out of that comment. They like to fashion themselves as the bulwark against America’s “imperialist plans” in the Middle East.)
Rice denied there was any *quid pro quo* for the package, saying “We are working with these states to fight back extremism.” Yeah, whatever. Back in Washington, undersecretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas Burns didn’t get the memo, however, saying, “We would want our friends in the region to be supportive not only of what the United States is doing in Iraq, but of the Iraqi government itself.” Translation: of *course* it’s a *quid pro quo*.
Who else might have missed the message that Iran was Public Enemy No. 1 in the Middle East these days? Congress? It would seem so. The White House faced hostile questions from lawmakers during closed briefings as to why the U.S. thinks new, “only defensive” weapons would deter Iran.
Ah. And there’s a reason for trumpeting the Iran threat in preparation for these sales. Senators and Representatives are eager to distance themselves from the Bush White House, and Israel is viewed as a trusted friend in the Middle East. No member of Congress ever lost an election by standing up for the Jewish state. By questioning these deals, members up for reelection get to defend Israel’s interests. Even though Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed approval of these sales to moderate Arab countries, Israel is probably looking for a little Congressional insurance — paid for with lobbying dollars — to keep the balance of power in its favor, despite assurances from the White House that they have nothing to worry about.
So it’s more than possible that the White House is playing up the Persian peril as a way to keep them from blocking the deals. By warning of Iran, the White House can make the case that the weapons sales are actually *good* for Israel, and that the weapons will be “only defensive.” How can you oppose standing up to the greatest threat to Israel?
That probably won’t comfort the Israeli’s too much because as part of the payment for supporting the Shi’ite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, America’s Arab friends are buying things that don’t seem “only defensive.” Egypt’s package, for example, (which is separate from the Gulf package and “only” $13 billion) includes advanced [AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles](http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/aim-9x.htm), used on jet fighters for aerial combat. In the past, Israel has successfully lobbied the United States not to sell such missiles to Arab states out of fear that the balance of power might shift. And Egypt’s a lot closer to Israel than it is to Iran.
So you see why the Israelis might on the one hand express no great concern — they’re getting $30 billion extra themselves over the next 10 years — and on the other have their allies in Congress question the wisdom of selling advanced missiles and smart bombs to neighboring states they really don’t trust.
But why are these deals so important? Well, $20 billion is a lot of money for defense contractors, who overwhelmingly donate to the Republican party. It’s also, obviously, a reward and incentive for backing Maliki’s government, which most Sunni Arab governments in the region see as an Iranian cats-paw. And finally, the weapons might deter Iran making Israel a little safer.
But I wouldn’t bet on it.
*Parts of this post draw on my writings at [IraqSlogger.com](http://www.iraqslogger.com) — CA*

Go, Lions!

So, the Iraqi national team just scored it’s first goal against the Saudi team in Jakarta in the finals of the Asia Cup. This is the first time the Iraqis have made it to the final round, and they’re totally underdogs. But the Saudis are playing a messy game and I hope you all will join me in rooting for the “Lions of Mesopotamia.”
These guys so need a win. And with a goal in the second half, maybe they’ll get it.
**Update** They got it. Rockin’ to the extreme! Way to go, Iraq!

Craziness on Display

One of the things writing the U.S. media roundup on IraqSlogger allows me to do is get a high dudgeon up over the crap that passes for analysis on op-ed pages … or sloppy writing in the middle of reporting. (Michael Gordon of the New York Times has been raked over the coals for his indiscriminate use of “al Qaeda” to describe most Iraqis with a Kalashnikov, but thankfully that seems to have been reined in.)

Others have been less careful. On Friday, Leslie Sabbagh of the Christian Science Monitor writes that Petraeus warned of “greatly increased sectarian violence” if the U.S. pulls out too soon. It’s a fairly run-of-the mill story, with stats showing a drop in attacks against civilians and an increase against U.S. troops. Pretty much what you’d expect, but there is some sloppy language in here. Sabbagh writes of a “quick withdrawal,” but few people in Washington are talking about anything hasty. They’re talking about the start of a withdrawal sooner rather than later — one that might take six months, a year, whatever — not a pell-mell rush to the border.

Sabbagh does it again, writing, “The prospect of any hasty removal of US troops has (Petraeus) concerned.” But the general actually said, “If we pull out there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns….” Petraeus makes no mention of the speed of the pullout; he questions the wisdom of a pullout altogether. The military command and the Bush White House seem to be envisioning a long-term presence in Iraq that will last years, but reporters are thinking of a evacuation, Saigon style. Those are two very different ideas. Reporters need to let the readers know when Petraeus, Bush, et al. are trying to reframe the debate as a choice between a hasty, unplanned retreat and an indefinite presence. What’s actually being talked about is either an indefinite presence or an orderly withdrawal with proper force-protection over a period of time, but which begins sooner rather than never.

But for an egregious example of high weirdness, check out the Monitor‘s publication of an op-ed by Andrew Roberts, author of “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.” In this extraordinary op-ed, Roberts argues that “the English-speaking peoples” (ESPs) of the world are the ones best able to stand up to radical, totalitarian Islam because Anglophones have never been invaded or fallen under the sway of fascism or communism. “Countries in which English is the primary language are culturally, politically, and militarily different” — read, “better” — “from the rest of ‘the West,'” he writes. “They stand for modernity, religious and sexual toleration, capitalism, diversity, women’s rights, representative institutions — in a word, the future.” Yeah! Suck it, Germany, Spain and Italy! (Who have all committed troops and suffered casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere since 9/11.)

Seriously, this offensively nativist tract must come as a surprise to the those non-English-speaking peoples of the world (poor sods), but maybe they’ll be content to bask in the warm protectorate of the US-Canadian-British-ANZ imperium. There is just so much wrong with this op-ed — such as saying the invasion of South Korea by North Korea was a “surprise” attack for the world’s ESPs when it sounds like it was more a surprise to the South Koreans. And his repetition of the whole ESP phrase is grating. Finally, he just up and ignores the contributions of German soldiers in Afghanistan and the French Navy in patrolling the vital sea lanes throughout the Arabian and Indian oceans. And he trots out the old, “Al Qaeda can’t be appeased because the French would have already done so” trope. WTF? Is this a joke?

There’s much more — so much more. I’m leaving out the pablum from such luminaries as Bill Kristol — “the Bush presidency will be seen as a sucess” — and the Wall Street Journal editorial page. I mean, we all know what’s the score with those guys. But I expected a bit more from the Monitor.

Finally, my latest column for Spot-on.com is available. In it, I take up — what else? — the 1st anniversary of the Israel-Hezbollah war. (Some people call it the July War, but since half of it happened in August, I’ll stick with my appellation, thanks.)

That’s all. More to come!

Lebanon’s war: One Year Later

My latest column is up on Spot-on and — surprise! — it’s about the one-year anniversary of the Lebanon War.

Today, a year ago, I was witness to what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would come to call “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
I was in Jerusalem, “covering the abduction of the Israeli solider, Gilad Shalit”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1211595,00.html?iid=chix-sphere, by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for TIME Magazine. Word soon came filtering down from the north on July 12, 2006. Hezbollah, the militant Shi’ite group, had captured two soldiers and killed three others. Three other reporters and I rushed up to Israel’s Northern Command. On the first day, Israel had launched a fierce series of airstrikes against Hezbollah positions and infrastructure, bombing three to five bridges “and more,” said Col. Boaz Cohen, chief of operations for Israel’s Northern Command. I remember asking Cohen if the list of targets would grow, to include targets in Beirut.
“Wait and see,” he said.
The next morning, I woke up to Katuysha rocket strikes just a few hundred meters from the bed and breakfast where we’d found rooms and the news that Beirut’s airport had been bombed.

“Check out the rest”:http://www.spot-on.com/archives/allbritton/2007/07/lebanons_war_one_year_later.html if you like…

Latest IraqSlogger: Chalabi’s back

My latest for IraqSlogger is up, and there’s a howler of an op-ed in today’s _Wall Street Journal_. As I wrote for the Slogger:

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the _Wall Street Journal_’s op-ed page, calling him the “nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician.” For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. … We are heroes in error.”) In Chalabi’s views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin’ State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi’ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi’ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he’s able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

The quote from Chalabi that I reference can be found here, way back from February 2004.

Iraq news and column update

Just a little reminder, you can keep up with reporting from the Big Five East Coast papers every day at IraqSlogger.com. Today’s is especially meaty, since there was a lot of enterprise reporting today. Here’s a sample:

In probably the least surprising news of the day, President Bush used the Independence Day holiday to defend the Iraq war while the New York Times makes a surprising comparison Iraq and the Revolutionary War.
“Our first Independence Day celebration took place in a midst of a war — a bloody and difficult struggle that would not end for six more years before America finally secured her freedom,” he said to an audience of Air National Guard members, according to Jim Rutenberg of the Times. “Like those early patriots, you’re fighting a new and unprecedented war — pledging your lives and honor to defend our freedom and way of life.” Tim Craig of the Post adds that Bush didn’t exactly promise much to look forward to: The Iraq war will “will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice.” This kind of speech is old hat for Bush by now, as the Times notes, and from the reporting it sounds like he rolled out the same old talking points we’ve heard many times before. Fighting for freedom and way of life? Check. Terrorist following us home if we leave Iraq? Gotcha. Today’s armed forces fighting for the same cause as the patriots of yore? Yep. Ok, see you next year!
The Times, however, throws in a little zinger on the artificial tying of Iraq to the holiday with a contributed op-ed by Michael Rose, a retired British Army general who commanded the United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia from 1994 to 1995. Why, yes, the Iraq war is like the Revolutionary War, he writes, but playing the role of Britain’s King George III will be George W. Bush and playing the role of the insurgents will be George Washington’s Continental Army. Rose argues that the British made many of the same mistakes then the U.S. is doing now: King George “attempted to fight a conventional war against insurgents, and sent far too few troops across the Atlantic to accomplish the mission.” Hm. Sounds familiar. Although the British quickly took Baghdad and Tikrit — oops, sorry, I meant New York and Philadelphia — they failed to shift to a counterinsurgency strategy. They never managed to seal the colonies’ borders. The upside is that once the British got their butts kicked out of the colonies, it freed them up to concentrate on more important things, like India and the Industrial Revolution. When Rose reveals at the end that the United States should learn the lesson that tactical defeat can be turned to an empire-building win is hardly a surprise, but he fails to note that the U.S. doesn’t have a subcontinent to covet nor a commercial revolution on the horizon.

Also, new column on Spot-on about the Lebanese Internet woes, which is a particular bête noire of mine.