War — What’s this one good for?

Following the news this week has been confusing to say the least. Did the United States have 11 votes on the Security Council? Eight? Nine? Four? The vote is going to happen Friday. Or maybe next week. The March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm is firm, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the United States will just say, “to hell with it,” and launch the bombers. Or maybe it will continue to go “the extra mile” for diplomacy. Who the hell knows?

cpe_baghdad_tigris_01.jpgFollowing the news this week has been confusing to say the least. Did the United States have 11 votes on the Security Council? Eight? Nine? Four? The vote is going to happen Friday. Or maybe next week. The March 17 deadline for Iraq to disarm is firm, or maybe it isn’t. Maybe the United States will just say, “to hell with it,” and launch the bombers. Or maybe it will continue to go “the extra mile” for diplomacy. Who the hell knows?
victorybonds.jpgIt’s safe to say that reading the current Security Council is like trying to read tea leaves in a still-swirling cup. No one knows where the votes will come down until the last moment.
The U.S., for geo-strategic reasons, wants to go to war, very badly. France and Germany, for their own reasons, want to stop a war, very badly. Tony Blair may want to go to war, but I doubt he wants to very badly. If he does, in fact, take the U.K. into battle, he needs a new resolution very badly, or he might see his own regime changed before Baghdad’s. The rest of the Council — Russia, China, Syria, Angola, Pakistan, Guinea, Bulgaria, Spain, Mexico, Chile and Cameroon — is basically for sale.
As Stratfor points out, this is now a bidding war and being in between the U.S.-U.K. and France-Germany teams is the best place to be. Angola, Guinea et al., can sit back, keep the game going for as long as possible, get the bids (for aid, investment, military cooperation, state dinners or whatever) as high as possible and not let anyone know their prices until the very last moment. Why is it so hard to count noses on the Council on the issue of Iraq? Because the courted countries don’t know how they’ll vote until the gavel comes down and all bids are in.
And then we’ll have Mr. Bush’s splendid little war.
Ironic, isn’t it? I thought the point of diplomacy was to avoid war, but this bizarro diplomacy is intended (by the United States) to bless a war — and to keep the appearance of a coalition by keeping Britain in the game. France knows that whatever its actions, it can’t stop this train wreck — George W. Bush has already said the United States doesn’t need the U.N.’s permission — so Jacques Chirac’s intransigence is intended to …. what? Cement France’s position as the leader of the European counterweight to America? Keep the United Nations relevant, as though the dominant member’s ignoring the Security Council doesn’t render it irrelevant anyway?
bhun.jpgThis kerfluffle stopped being about Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, national interests and the efficacy of the United Nations long ago. Oh, national leaders say these are the reasons, but so many have refused to bend or compromise that everyone is painted into a diplomatic or military corner. Bush can’t back down because America will look weak and encourage more terrorist attacks. Of course, by waging an aggressive war against Iraq, that will encourage more terrorist attacks, too. Tony Blair can’t back down because he’ll be just as dead politically as he will be if he takes Britain to war without a resolution, so he might as well go forward and hope for a quick victory. France can’t back down because Chirac has committed France to opposing America’s hegemony. Iraq can’t back down because the United States will accuse it of more delaying tactics and deceptions and attack anyway. There’s no longer a good reason for any of this.
This isn’t the start of World War III, it’s the start of World War I — a very stupid war, started thanks to a tangle of alliances, national pride and personal egos involved. It never had to happen. And — again with the irony — WWI is the war that brought the world to this point, spawning the League of Nations, the failure of which led to World War II and the later creation of the United Nations and the Security Council. It also saw the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq. And let’s not forget the use of chemical weapons — allegedly the reason for the great big army in the desert. It was a war that embodied the Law of Unintended Consequences.
I promised I wouldn’t make predictions about the start of the war, so perhaps I can make one about the end of it. When it’s over and the dust has settled, the United States will stand supreme in the world, powerful but hated, its boot on the throat of Iraq. The international frameworks built over the last 50 years, including the United Nations, will lie in ruins or will be about to collapse. Resentful young men, hearts full of fear, hate and Allah will find refuge and a raison d’etre as explosive martyrs. The world will be less safe — for everyone. And thousands of people — soldiers, civilians, innocent or not — will be dead. And for no good reason at all.

Pentagon taking aim at independent journalists? Hey, that’s ME!

Question: Why does the Pentagon want to kill me? And why do the Brits want that damn resolution so bad? Three words: “War,” “crimes” and “prosecutions.” (In that order.)

Disturbing story here. BBC reporter Katie Adie claims a source in the Pentagon told her that satellite uplink positions of independent journalists in Iraq would be targeted in a war.

I was told by a senior officer in the Pentagon, that if uplinks — that is the television signals out of… Baghdad, for example — were detected by any planes … electronic media… mediums, of the military above Baghdad… they’d be fired down on. Even if they were journalists.

Naturally, I found this alarming, because filing with a satellite phone and laptop is part of my plan, although much of my time would be spent in Iraqi Kurdistan, not Baghdad. So I called the Pentagon and spoke with the Army’s Lt. Col. Gary Keck in the public affairs office.
“I don’t have any information on anything like that at all,” he said. “But we’re certainly not going to talk about targeting processing in any way shape or form.”
Fair enough, I guess. Then he referred me to Lt. Col. Ken McClellan, an expert on electronic warfare. Unfortunately, he doesn’t come on duty until 7 p.m. EST tonight, so I’ll have to wait until later. But it has to be assumed that if someone turns on a cell phone — or a sat-phone — then the emitter will be picked up by American sensors. And if that signal is next to an Iraqi command and control center, and one that had just been bombed no less, then that’s probably not a smart thing to be, as American pilots would likely assume a survivor of the bombing was trying to continue calling in orders.

Continue reading “Pentagon taking aim at independent journalists? Hey, that’s ME!”

Greetings from Kurdistan

Email from Kurdistan shows that Kurds feel betrayed by the Turks and are waiting to see what the United States does post-Saddam. Also, more countries oppose openly or quietly the U.S.-U.K.-Spanish resolution setting March 17 as a deadline.

Last week I sent an email to Karzan Taher Aziz, a young Kurd I met in Arbil last summer. He and I became friends, and he helped me with translation when I didn’t want to deal with the KDP’s official minder and translator. I asked him about the mood in Iraqi Kurdistan toward the Turks and the Americans, considering the alleged plans to have Turkey invade when war comes. Today he replied. The only changes I’ve made to this email were to remove his email address (for his protection) and cleaned up some punctuation and a touch of grammar here and there.

From: Karzan Aziz
To: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Mon Mar 10, 2003 01:23:24 PM EST
Subject: Greetings from Kurdistan
Dear Christopher:

How are you dear friend? How are doing? I was thinking about you. I hope this e-mail finds you in a good health. thank you very much for your e-mail. How things are going in NY? I hope your country all the best.

I’m so sorry that I could not reply [to] you soon, but I’m v. busy these days, but any way i tried to reply you the internet line was not working properly.

dear friend, concerning your questions… regarding Turkey, we feel that we’re betrayed by them. i think you know about the demonstration against the Turks, people have got very worried here because of Turkey. As far as i’m concerned i do believe that turkey will face problems if invaded Kurdistan, as i have met so many people they all repeat the same thing “as we have been fighting against Saddam from many decades, we are ready to fight Turkey some more other decades.” i don’t feel betrayed by America because you know the coming stage will decide whether we will be betrayed or not. though we, unfortunately, as kurds are used [to] wars but this time is entirely different from ever since — people are scared here and they are afraid of chemical or biological war.

if you are asking about me i’m just fine, thank you very much, and you asked me whether i have met any journalists or not!!!!! yes i have and i’m working as a translator with some scandinavian journalists and i’m going to be getting a translation-job with a German TV. And if you wanted to ask me any thing, any information, please just feel free to e-mail me. O.K.??

With The Best Of Wishes

Karzan’s a smart guy and he has a lot of connections, and I believe him when he says the Kurds are willing to fight the Turks should they invade. Whether they win or not is a completely different question, but Karzan’s report meshes with talks I’ve had with opposition members who say they will fight to protect what they’ve built in the north.

An interesting note, however. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, based in Suleimaniya in the south near the Iranian border, has agreed in principle to a federal Iraqi government with the regions based on geography instead of ethnicity. The Kurdistan Democratic Party, however, continues to hold out for federally protected ethnic divisions. (You can read the original proposed constitutions given to me by KDP Deputy Prime Minister Sami Abdulrahman here and here. The first is the federal constitution and the second is for the Kurdish entity within a federal Iraq.) The PUK’s support for geographic divisions is a neat diplomatic sleight-of-hand, since the northern three governances are predominantly Kurdish anyway with a population of between 4 million and 5 million. The KDP’s continued support for an ethnic-based constitution isn’t surprising. The KDP authored the constitutions, it’s older and more conservative than the Marxist-inspired PUK and has its roots in Kurdish ethnicity. The activities of its founder, Mustafa Barzani, went a long way toward changing Kurds’ loyalties from the family and clan to the idea of a Kurdish nation as a whole. To back down on ethnicity as the defining nature of the Kurdish entity in the north would be to repudiate everything Mustafa Barzani stood for. And the current president of the KDP, Masoud Barzani, Mustafa’s son, isn’t about to do that.

In other news, French President Jacques Chirac made it plain that a French veto is forthcoming at tomorrow’s (?) vote/smackdown at the Security Council. This is not a big surprise, since France has been saying it wouldn’t “allow” a new resolution authorizing war, implicitly or explicitly, for a while now, but it is an attempt to avoid being the lone veto if the United States manages to round up nine votes on the council. France’s public voicing of its intentions is to buck up Russia, which has also said it opposes any resolution that might be interpreted as authorizing war, but common wisdom is that Russia would abstain rather than veto a resolution. With France definitely in the “non” column, Russia will have more cover to say, “nyet.”

[UPDATE: Stratfor is reporting that Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said today that his country will abstain on the vote. “We will do what is best for our country,” Jamali said after a session of Parliament. “It is not best for my country to support war against Iraq.”]

This means, obviously, the resolution is kaput, and the United States has no reason to wait until March 17. The world could be facing war as early as this week, although it’s likely the United States will wait a few days to give inspectors and other foreign nationals time to flee Iraq and to attempt some semblance of tactical surprise. The dark nights over Baghdad grow short and the heat of April is stalking closer. The U.S. war machine won’t wait much longer, nor, from a tactical standpoint, should it. Why give the Iraqis more time to position their forces or stage a preemptive strike of their own on American troops? That’s the danger of ignoring the U.N. Not only does it free the hands of the U.S. military, but it removes any reason for the Iraqis to hold their fire, too. Saddam no doubt feels that war is coming regardless of what the Security Council decides, so it might be better to strike first and inflict as much damage as possible. Of course, he would then unite the Security Council -behind- against him, but if he plans on turning Baghdad into Stalingrad on the Tigris, what does he have left to lose?

U.S. backs British compromise of March 17 deadline

It’s payback time for Tony Blair at the United Nations Security Council, as the United States backs its friend with a second British resolution setting March 17 as the drop dead, we really mean it, deadline for Iraq to disarm. France, predictably, opposed the resolution and hinted at a veto.

The United States and Spain have revised the British Security Council resolution introduced last week to say that Iraq has until March 17 to disarm or face war. France, predictably, opposed the resolution and again hinted at veto.
“This is the logic of war,” said Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. “We don’t accept this logic.”
Iraq, too, reacted with pique. “So they will give us only 10 days to give up all we have?” asked Iraq’s U.N. ambassador Mohammed Aldouri. “We have to dig all of our desert? Really, this is nonsense. We are doing our utmost. We can’t do more.”
This is a gutsy gamble by Tony Blair, who desperately needs a U.N. resolution to bolster his position at home where he is facing huge domestic opposition and a revolt within his own party. Without this resolution, Blair could face a no confidence vote. If he lost, he likely would be replaced by a more dovish Labour Party PM who would be expected to pull Britain out of America’s plans for Iraq.
By getting this on the table, Blair can at least say to his critics that he tried, possibly forestalling a challenge. (And — bonus! — he could blame the French, which is always popular in Britain.) By appearing to compromise, the United States hopes to pick up a few more votes on the Security Council and protect Blair’s left flank if it comes to a parliamentary vote anyway.
This is a switch in the U.S. position against the setting of deadlines. But why not? The U.S. isn’t risking much by agreeing to support this resolution because the United States is prepared to attack Iraq with or without U.N. support — its plan all along.
The primary issue is timing. The war could start at any time after today’s report from Hans Blix.When these resolutions even come to a vote next week, they will be vetoed by France, Russia or China and the United States and Britain will go to war. Already, air patrols in the north and south no-fly zones have been -doubled- tripled. U.S. marines, possibly in violation in international law, have been seen cutting holes in the fence in the DMZ separating Iraq and Kuwait. Equipment for the 101st Airborne Division began arriving in Kuwait Thursday, according to Stratfor, and if the air war begins next week as is expected, that’s enough time for preparations.
March 12-13. Air war anyone?

Bush attempts to make case for war, puts exile on the table

Bush made several key points in his news conference tonight, but he still didn’t make his case that he’s given peace a chance.

President Bush’s news conference tonight emphasized a few key points. They are as follows:

  • Bush hasn’t made up his mind and “hopes” that this whole thing can get worked out peacefully;
  • Exile for Iraqi president Saddam Hussein is explicitly an option (!), the first time the president has said this so firmly and publicly;
  • Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked;
  • This war is a choice of Saddam, not the United States;
  • Disarmament must happen, and the only way to get it is via regime change;
  • The conquest of Iraq will be the start of “trickle-down democracy” in the region.

Let’s look at these in more detail, shall we?
bush.strip.pool.jpgBush is still undecided on war and hopes that this all we’ll all look back on this and have a good laugh about it
I don’t know what Bush hopes. No doubt he’s hoping this turns out well, and I don’t think he hopes for war, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t expect this to work out peacefully. Numerous times in the speech, he said that Saddam was flouting the will of the United Nations Security Council. “Great Britain, Spain and the United States have introduced a new resolution saying that Iraq has failed to meet the requirements of 1441,” Bush said. “Saddam Hussein is not disarming. That is a fact and it cannot be denied.”
In response to a question as to why, if allies of the United States have access to the same intelligence the U.S. does, are countries such as France and Germany so reluctant to back America, Bush again said he has no expectations of Saddam cooperating. “This is the last phase of diplomacy,” he said. “A little bit more time? Saddam Hussein has had 12 years to disarm. He is deceiving people. This is important for our fellow citizens to realize that if he really intended to disarm like the world has asked him to do, the world would know about it. He’s trying to buy time.”
So while Bush talks about hoping to find a peaceful solution, he fully expects and knows that there will be none forthcoming.
Exile for Saddam is definitely on the table
This might be the most significant comment of the evening, because while other administration officials have off-handedly mused that it might be nice if Saddam said, “To hell with this, I’m going to Morocco,” tonight was the first time the President of the United States offered it as an acceptable option. “That’d be fine with me, just so long as Iraq disarms after he’s exiled.”
That’s huge, because Arab countries have been looking for an exile solution but without any explicit support from the United States, they’ve been unwilling to go too far out on a limb to make serious offers to Saddam. I don’t think exile is a very viable option for Saddam, however, since he would be a target for score-settlers and he would lose his place in history — at least in his mind. Still, it’s significant that Bush put that card on the table. And with his innumerable references to his hopes to find a peaceful solution, he’s practically daring the Iraqi leader to turn it down. I think Saddam will.
Iraq and Sept. 11 are linked
This was one of the sneakier aspects of the news conference. Bush attempted many times in the opening statements and the responses to reporters’ questions to tie Iraq to Sept. 11, not through logical or evidential ties, but by using the rhetorical trick to mention the two in the same sentence, strongly implying that Iraq was behind 9/11 but not actually coming out and saying it. For instance:

Saddam Hussein is a threat to our nation. Sept. 11 changed the strategic thinking, at least as far as I was concerned, for how to protect our country. My job is to protect the American people. Used to be, we thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror. Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield, that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist organization could be deployed here at home. So therefore, i think the threat is real, and so do a lot of other people in my government.

Notice how he moves from “Saddam is a threat” to “Sept. 11 …” And also, “We thought you could contain a person like Saddam Hussein, that oceans would protect us from his kind of terror.” Then he follows it up with, “Sept. 11 should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.”
Notice that Bush just said that the attacks on Sept. 11 were “his kind of terror,” which is demonstrably not true. It is true that America is a now a battlefield, but regarding al Qa’ida, not Iraq. Bush’s false tying is a sneaky trick to try to pull, and I hope people see through it.
It’s Saddam’s fault!
Bush also said, “If war is upon us because Saddam Hussein has made that choice…” So Saddam is calling the shots now? Bush is trying to say that all Saddam has to do is disarm, but he is not adding, “and we’ll go home.” Bush has not given any signal that Saddam’s disarmament is enough to avert war, and in fact, Ari Fleischer said that disarmament and regime change were the only way to avoid war.

Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. In response to an earlier question, you said the President still hopes to avoid war, and that Saddam Hussein could avoid it by completely and totally disarming, and by going into exile. I’m wondering, are you — is that now the standard? Previously, you’ve obviously said disarmament. But is it now the combination of disarmament and exile?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President made it perfectly plain yesterday in the Oval Office and he has said this repeatedly, it’s disarmament and regime change.
Q So even though the United Nations would sign on to the first part of that, and not to the second, when the President thinks about launching military action, he’s going to think about the combination?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made that plain.

This is actually shameful. It’s one thing to say we were attacked and so we had war thrust upon us, which I believe happened regarding al Qa’ida. But it’s quite another to say, “Hm, there’s a bit of unfinished business in the desert over there. You! do what we say or else we’ll invade. No? Ah, now you’ve made us do something we don’t want to do…”
Make no mistake, this is a war of choice, and it’s not one that Saddam Hussein chose. This is a choice by the United States government; the very words used so often by the White House — “preventive” — show that. If he believes so strongly that this mission is just, say so. Don’t try to shift the responsibility from the shoulders of the United States by implying that Iraq provoked America.

Iraq must be disarmed; therefore, invasion and regime change are the only options
Are they? From 1991-1998, inspectors, with only nominal cooperation from Baghdad, managed to destroy more WMD and their production facilities than the military campaign of Desert Storm did. This, obviously, is the crux of the dispute between the U.K., the U.S., and, well, basically everyone else — but especially France, Germany, Russia and China. Inspections worked in the past. They did. Why won’t they work now? Hawks have never given a satisfactory answer to this, instead saying inspectors aren’t detectives — they’re more like auditors. They require full cooperation, otherwise they are Saddam’s “useful idiots.” Well, who says? Why can’t inspectors be detectives? Who’s to say a strengthened inspection regime backed up by U.N. troops and targeted air strikes on suspected sites if the Iraqis don’t play ball wouldn’t accomplish disarmament without a massive invasion and huge loss of life? George over at Warblogging a while back made a good case for a treating Iraq like a hostile witness and using a strong inspection regime that can be summarized as follows (I’d link to the article, but I can’t find the exact one I want. Sorry, George!):

  1. UN inspectors select site for inspection.
  2. Inspectors dispatch Predator UAVs to watch site for any movement, particularly the ingress or egress of people or material.
  3. Inspectors call Iraqi liaison to inspections team and notify them that any movement in or out of the selected site will constitute noncompliance. Noncompliance will result in punitive military action (i.e. destruction of three presidential palaces) and a report of noncompliance to the United Nations Security Council.
  4. Inspectors lift off in helicopters from an air base within an hour?s flight time of the site to be inspected.
  5. Inspectors inspect every inch of the site they’re interested in. Any non-cooperative Iraqi personnel are immediately arrested and shipped out of the country for interrogation, and punitive military action is taken in response. If necessary military forces descend on site and open any “locked” doors and such.

Some other key points of strong inspections include:

  • At all times at least one American Marine Expeditionary Force and carrier battle group are stationed around Iraq in order to take proper punitive military action against Iraq in the case of non-compliance
  • The Security Council meets biweekly to assess Iraqi compliance and decide whether compliance merits the lifting of some sanctions provisions or punitive military action. The Council can, at any time, decide to authorize the invasion and occupation of Iraq — and the United States will carry out such a sentence.

Many war supporters like to frame the only options available are “doing nothing” and going to war. “The risk of doing nothing, the risk of hoping that Saddam Hussein changes his mind and becomes a gentle soul, the risk that somehow inaction will make the world safer, is a risk I’m not willing to take for the American people,” said Bush.
George’s ideas, as well as proposals floated by France, Germany and most recently Canada, shows that “nothing” and war is a false choice.
Trickle-down Democracy
Bush has started to speak in positively Wilsonian terms lately, of spreading peace and democracy to the Middle East. That would be lovely, if only it were true.

I believe Saddam Hussein is a threat — is a threat to the American people. He’s a threat to people in his neighborhood. He’s also a threat to the Iraqi people.
One of the things we love in America is freedom. If I may, I’d like to remind you what I said at the State of the Union: Liberty is not America’s gift to the world; it is God’s gift to each and every person. And that’s what I believe.
I believe that when we see totalitarianism, that we must deal with it. We don’t have to do it always militarily.
But this is a unique circumstance because of 12 years of denial and defiance, because of terrorist connections, because of past history.
I’m convinced that a liberated Iraq will be important for that troubled part of the world. The Iraqi people are plenty capable of governing themselves. Iraq’s a sophisticated society. Iraq’s got money. Iraq will provide a place where people can see that the Shia and the Sunni and the Kurds can get along in a federation. Iraq will serve as a catalyst for change — positive change.
So there’s a lot more at stake than just American security and the security of people close by Saddam Hussein. Freedom is at stake, as well. And I take that very seriously.

If only he did take it seriously. America’s track record ain’t good. Afghanistan, with the exception of Kabul, is still made up of fiefdoms ruled by gangsters, Taliban holdouts and warlords. It’s arguably in worse shape than it was a year ago, what with opium again being one of its biggest crops and a spring offensive by al Qa’ida and the Taliban in the works. U.S. troops are engaged in the heaviest fighting since Operation Anaconda. That war isn’t finished and Bush is ready to start another one.
In a quick run-down, South Korea was a military dictatorship for decades after the Korean War. We kicked out a democratically elected leader in Chile in 1973 ushering in Pinochet. The Shah of Iran ran a wicked police state from the time the CIA installed him in 1954 until his overthrow by the Iranian revolution of 1979. Noriega was our strongman in Panama until we grew tired of his drug running. The list could be a lot longer.
However, there have been successful democractic interventions. Bosnia and Kosovo come to mind, fragile democracies though they are. But there is a strong multinational coalition running the show in both cases, something that it doesn’t look like the United States is going to get in Iraq. And anyway, democracy, powdered wigs and all, doesn’t jibe with the United States’ interests in Iraq.
All in all, I will give Bush this: He was measured, somber and didn’t flub up much. The only time the frat-boy glibness showed up was when discussed the massive protests of Feb. 15. “I’ve seen all kinds of protests since i’ve been the president,” he said and then shrugged. “I recognize there are people who don’t like war. I don’t like war.” He might as well have added, “Whatever.” Honestly, this was one of his better performance. I suspect tonight will go a long way toward convincing some fence-sitters in America that this is the route to take, and I’ll go out on a limb and predict a 5-7 point shift in favor of war in the next few days. Millions of Americans can’t be wrong can they?
Unfortunately, yes, they can.