It’s Saturday, do you know where your military is?

John Prados over at TomPaine.com makes an interesting argument that Team Bush will start a war sooner rather than later in order to shuck off the diplomatic restraints of the U.N. Security Council. At the same time, Hans Blix’s mixed report to the Security Council today has rallied markets as the threat of war supposedly recedes. The White House must surely be gnashing its collective teeth.

John Prados over at TomPaine.com makes an interesting argument that Team Bush will start a war sooner rather than later in order to simply shuck off the diplomatic restraints the U.N. Security Council has begun to draw tighter around the United States. And while Hans Blix’s mixed report to the Security Council today rallies markets as the threat of war supposedly recedes, the White House must surely be gnashing its collective teeth.
Let’s see about connecting the dots, as they like to say in the White House:

  1. Special forces are already operating in Iraq and have been for some time.
  2. With the escalation of ThreatCon to “orange,” the public is “ready” for a retaliatory attacks from terror groups.
  3. With that in mind, it’s a long weekend, and many people have left cities for vacation. (I know several of my friends have done so.) It’s also a slow news cycle on Saturday, so the White House might be able to get some traction before CNN et al. get their game on.
  4. The Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage ended yesterday.
  5. Gen. Tommy Franks, the theater commander, is en route to Qatar.

Do these add up to war?
I’m inclined to say no. While there are a lot of forces in the region, they are not yet at full strength, despite the full deployment the 3rd Infantry Division. The 101st is not yet there, with helicopters and gunships still being loaded in Jacksonville, Fla. (Granted, the Clinton administration pre-positioned a lot of equipment in the region throughout the 1990s to avoid a Desert Shield-style buildup, but there still remains a lot of heavy-lifting to do. An irony of this war is that for all the scorn heaped upon the Clinton administration by the Bushies, they will fight this war and win it with Clinton’s military, the one that was apparently neglected for 8 years.)
Also, the U.N. is still talking. While Bush said he would not be bound by “unproductive debate” (“The United States has agreed to discuss any material breach with the Security Council, but without jeopardizing our freedom of action to defend our country,” Bush said in his Rose Garden comments on Nov. 8, 2002), I’m betting this was more bluster than policy. The United States, through its ham-fisted handling of the Security Council and NATO, has isolated itself in the world, with the exception of Britain and the new NATO countries. Perhaps my naïvité is showing, but I don’t think even the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz Axis of Incompetence is so mad as to launch a war while the Security Council hasn’t even begun debate on Blix’s report yet.
Will they?

Iraqi opposition goes for the heart

Three members of the Iraqi opposition movement showed up at Columbia University’s Political Union to make the case for war. They appealed to the hearts of the audience — a mainly sympathetic one — but unfortunately not the minds.

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Suleimaniya city center(® 2002 Christopher Allbritton)

Three members of the Iraqi opposition movement showed up at Columbia University’s Political Union to make the case for war. They appealed to the hearts of the audience — a mainly sympathetic one — but unfortunately not the minds.
The speakers were:

  • Dr. Ala Fa’ik, vice president for the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, formerly of Baghdad and a member of the steering committee of the Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice,
  • Qubad Talabany, the deputy U.S. Representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who works closely as a liaison with both the White House and Congress, and
  • Feisal al-Istrabadi, esq., a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, who is an activist on various humanitarian issues relating to Iraq. Istrabadi is also a member of the planning committee for the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project, serving on its Transitional Justice and Democratic Principles working groups.

All three men told us that Saddam was wicked. All three gave a litany of evils that Saddam had inflicted on the people of Iraq. And all three made the case that Saddam should be removed because he’s a bad man. Jeffrey A. Klein, who writes for KurdishMedia.net, summed it up best: “Saddam Hussein is one of the great criminals of our era. He has taken Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, and turned it into a giant concentration camp.”
There is no doubt about that, but are the “humanitarian issues,” as Istrabadi claimed, the best reason for going into Iraq? “The humanitarian reasons are stronger than the reasons for going into Kosovo,” Istrabadi told one questioner. “The United States missed an opportunity by focusing on the weapons of mass destruction instead.”
Talabany agreed: “Weapons of mass destruction and the terror ties are excellent reasons for otherthrowing the Saddam regime,” he said, “But there are other reasons. Most important is the desire of my people to sow the seeds of democracy in the soil of the tyrant. The time has come to bring peace to Iraq. The time has come to liberate Iraq.”
As to arguments from anti-war activists that the looming Iraq war is “all about oil,” he said: “I do not believe the US and the coalition of the willing will go to war for oil. I do believe there are easier ways for these governments to get oil than to go to war. But Iraqis in Basra, Baghdad and Suleimanya don’t care why the U.S. wants to liberate them. If it’s oil, then so be it.”
Fa’ik, as a peace activist, called for a restoration of the “oneness” of Iraq, and claimed that throughout all its history, Iraq had been an open, tolerant society. “I studied my history very well,” he said. “You walk into the museum and go into the Mesopotamian exhibit and you will see my face there. I am Sumerian, I am Chaldean, I am Assyrian, I am Arab, I am Muslim. Iraq is an open society.
“We have to bring back that oneness of Iraq. We have to bring back what’s been broken by that regime.”
Of the three speakers, Fa’ik was the least credible, if only because of his rosy-eyed view of the history of Iraq. Iraq was ruled for centuries by the Ottomans, with tribal differences held in place by a combination of enlightened provincial rule and Turkish scimitars. After the British conquered it in 1915, it was a colonial state until 1958 when a coup brought Col. Qasim to power. Fa’ik’s vision of a peaceful, open Iraq is discredited even as recently as 1995 when the Kurds in the north fought a vicious civil war.
In essence, the speakers were begging the United States for liberation. The mood among the speakers and the audience, which was heavy with Arab and Iraqi students, was dark when the subject of France and Germany arose. The speakers also sought to reassure the audience that American troops would be welcomed.
“Rest assured that Iraqis will welcome an American military presence because they will be seen as liberators, not as occupiers,” said Talabany. “If there is any anti-American sentiment it will be because we felt you let us down in 1991.”
The occupation, he said, will be more like Italy after World War II rather than Germany or Japan — presumably, short and sweet. Now we know who the White House has been listening to as it makes its occupation plans.
“Overnight, Iraq will not transform into a functional democracy,” said Talabany. “But we have shown in the north that will proper resources you can give power to the people. And a free Iraq will be a major player in the Middle East and a reliable American ally. We will work to have an Iraq that will not be anti-Israel. We hope to have an Iraq that can play a constructive role in the international community. Upon liberation there will be an end to the war that the Ba’ath party has been waging on the people of Iraq.”
Istrabadi was perhaps the most dogmatic of the speakers. Laying out his points in his lawyerly way, he opened his part of the program with this:

  1. “There will be military action soon, by which I think by the first of March. Without it, there is no point in talking about democracy.”
  2. “If this regime survives, then the Kurds will not accept reintegration and they should not. If you believe in the territorial integrity of Iraq, you should act now.”
  3. “This war will target terror infrastructure of the regime, not the civilian one as in 1991.”

He then attempted to dispel the ideas that Iraq is the “Arab Yugoslavia,” liable to fall apart into warring tribes the moment Saddam is removed, an idea promoted by Peter W. Galbraith which he called “nonsense.”
“You have had too frequently in Iraq genocide and ethnic cleansing,” Istrabadi said. “But with one exception, there is not an example in the modern history of Iraq in which the Kurds rose to massacre the Arabs of a village or vice versa.”
What genocide had gone on had been committed by the central government against ethnic groups it believed were in revolt, he said. “This says Iraqis have a high sense of cohesiveness. Left to their own, they will be able to rebuild their country.”
His further made his case to act now and not wait for a coup or a change of Saddam’s heart by ripping apart Fa’ik’s vision of Iraq as one big happy family. “One of the reasons I feel it is necessary for the United States to intervene, is if there is a coup, blood will run in the streets of Baghdad as people take vengeance,” he said. “There is much vengeance to be had in Iraq after 35 years.”
Only the United States military can prevent that, he said. (On this he’s probably right.)
He went on to detail his vision of a transitional government. It would last two to three years at most, must provide immediate benefits to the people of Iraq, would hold municipal elections within six months and regional elections within another six months after that and begin immediate criminal prosecutions. The other duties must be to fulfill obligations to the U.N. regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, and human rights agreements must be adhered to. “It’s critical to me that the transitional period not be seen as a final status,” he said. “I don’t think the transitional government should be the government that signs a peace treaty with Israel. That should be the permanent government.”
And most important, he said, the United Nations should not lift the sanctions. Instead they should be suspended so that the transitional government doesn’t gain control of the country’s treasury and the permanent lifting of sanctions is an incentive to democratize.
“If you want to ensure the transitional figures do not become transitional in the Iraqi sense of the word — by that I mean lasting 40 years — you cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” he said. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ’70s by drowning them in cash.”
The general consensus was that if protesters are anti-war, they are pro-Saddam, even if the protesters do not consider themselves so. One Saudi woman asked if the United States shouldn’t take the Arab street into account, especially considering that innocent Iraqis will die. Istrabadi said, as an Iraqi, he didn’t care what “some guy in Cairo” thought. Talabany said that people danced in the streets in Afghanistan when the Americans came. Fa’ik fully admitted to having a narrow view on the subject and only cared about Iraq.
Istrabadi deplored “collateral damage,” as he put it, but said it was a weak argument to say, “Innocent people will be die because of American bombs, so it is immoral to bomb.”
“People are dying now!” he replied.
Istrabadi and the others missed a key point, however. Throughout this evening, I heard them say several times, “The Iraqi people are all that matter.” Well, actually, the American people matter, too, since the Iraqi opposition is asking our soldiers — and possibly our civilians — to die for them. It matters very much what “some guy in Cairo” thinks because if he teaches his sons that the infidels came into Iraq and conquered it — and there will be people who think that regardless of how well it goes — those sons could come to New York and kill people here. Maybe with a subway bomb. Maybe with something worse. The “collateral damage” might not be limited to Baghdad, and blood will flow in the streets of New York, Washington, Chicago…
There are only two really valid reasons for America to take military action against another country and that is to protect the national interests of the United States and to protect the lives of American citizens. One can argue that invading Iraq will do both. One can also argue it will do neither. I fall into the latter camp and believe Fa’ik, Talabany and Istrabadi, as well-meaning as they are, as asking the United States to place its own citizens in danger from retributive terror attacks so that they can free themselves from Saddam. Liberty and democracy are worthy goals, and the United States should promote them, but at the expense of lives here at home? I’m not sure if I could support that.
But perhaps I could. As I wrote once before,

This cuts to the heart of my own ambivalence on the matter of Iraq. I don’t trust the Bush administration to act in any but the most venal, self-serving manner. I don’t believe in going to war and killing innocent people if there’s no greater goal than access to oil and some slippery geopolitical goal of “benign” hegemony that no one will admit to on the record. But if there were a real commitment to democracy and a free Iraq that was truly liberated not just from Saddam’s thuggery but from the United States’ ambitions as well, then I might just consider that something worth fighting for.

I have a great affection for the Kurds. I hope they find their independence and freedom. I really do. But like large swaths of the American public, I’m not convinced that the Bush White House is committed to a democratic Iraq. It is selling out the Kurds, has shut down pro-democracy radio stations and told Kuwaitis not to worry about a Shi’ite state.
Motivations matter when a country goes to war. Motivations — whether liberation or plunder — determine how the day after the war goes. What happens if Iraqis, hungry for liberation, find themselves under a petit-Saddam or a new Hashemite king backed up by Americans troops based in their country for decades?
Are we prepared to find out?

Split in NATO, U.S. anger and Franco-German proposals

Germany has confirmed it would work with France to introduce a new Security Council resolution aimed at disarming Iraq without war by strengthening the inspections regime and backing it up with United Nations peacekeepers. While Russia expressed cautious support for the Franco-German initiative, the United States, predictably, threw a hissy fit. Meanwhile, Belgium and possibly France will block the United States’ request to NATO to shore up Turkey’s defenses when war breaks out with Iraq.

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The United Nations Security Council faces some tough choices

Germany has confirmed it would work with France to introduce a new Security Council resolution aimed at disarming Iraq without war by strengthening the inspections regime and backing it up with United Nations peacekeepers. While Russia expressed cautious support for the Franco-German initiative, the United States, predictably, threw a hissy fit. Meanwhile, Belgium and possibly France will block the United States’ request to NATO to shore up Turkey’s defenses when war breaks out with Iraq.
“Damn those Eurowimps!” Rumsfeld was heard to exclaim when Germany admitted to working on the resolution. (Ok, he didn’t really say that.) The plan calls for France and Germany to put its euro where its mouth is by tripling the number of inspectors, declaring all of Iraq a no-fly zone and backing it all up with thousands of U.N. peacekeepers. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said German “could well take part” in the peacekeeping force if the proposal is adopted.
But let’s be honest. The United States, which reacted angrily to France and Germany acting like sovereign nations with national interests of their own, will veto any such resolution. Which brings us to an interesting game of chicken on the Security Council. Britain is set to introduce a resolution authorizing force against Iraq in the next week or so. Germany is set to introduce the peacekeeping initiative Feb. 14, the day of U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix’s likely final report. France and Russia could veto the British resolution while the United States could veto the Franco-German one. What’s a superpower to do?
The snit is getting increasingly personal, too, with the French and German officials clashing with their American counterparts. As the Guardian reported:

Mr. Rumsfeld, a leading US hawk, said it was not surprising if public opinion in Germany and France was opposed to war in Iraq if their governments were.
[German Defense Minister Joschka] Fischer lashed back: “You have to make the case in a democracy. Excuse me, I’m not convinced.”

The United States will be under enormous pressure to go along with the strengthened inspections, since world opinion is firmly on the side of giving inspectors more time. (Plus, it allows the lilliputians of the world to throw at least a few symbolic ties around the American Gulliver.) This latest proposal by the French and Germans is a gamble, a gauntlet tossed at the feet of the United States by multilateralists who say, “If you walk out that door alone, don’t expect to come back.” If the United States persists in warning the United Nations that it is threatened with irrelevancy if it doesn’t enforce its resolutions, then France and Germany are challenging America to walk out on the U.N., as it did the League of Nations, betting, of course, the Bush White House is unwilling to take that drastic a step to get its way on Iraq.
(By the way, Kos has a lively debate on this in the comments section of his site, Daily Kos.)
At the same time, Belgium is planning to block a U.S. request for war materiel for Turkey to defend itself for when the war breaks out in early March. Turkey responded by saying it was “strongly likely” to invoke Article 4 of the NATO treaty for the first time in history. The article, which says, “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened,” allows a member country to claim the alliance’s attention if it is threatened. Belgium’s foreign minister, Louis Michel, said deployment under a NATO umbrella would be tantamount to endorsing a war with Iraq. (However, Germany and the Netherlands have gone ahead and dispatched Patriot missile systems to Turkey by the end of next week, with or without NATO’s help. Stratfor muses that the boldness of the Dutch was a signal that it stands with the United States, after declining to sign on that open letter circulated last week, itself a further sign of the deep divisions within Europe.)
In my opinion, Belgium has stepped over the line on this one. Regardless of why Turkey is threatened, NATO members have a treaty obligation and should step up to the plate. Lending aid in defense of a ally is not the same as providing assistance in an aggressive war. What principle is served if an Iraqi gas attack kills thousands of innocent Turkish civilians and the Turks were unable to defend against it because they didn’t have the proper equipment? Michel and others may argue that such attacks won’t happen if America would quiet its war drums, but the fact of the matter is those people will still be dead — and they likely would have been opposed to the war, if Turkish opinion polls are to be believed.
All of this points to the shape of the world after war with Iraq. The Atlantic Alliance could be shattered, the Middle East transformed in ways unforseen, the European Union revealed as a deeply fissured beast and a reorganization of American military power in Europe. Sure seems like a lot of change to disarm Iraq, no? Especially when you consider that Libya and Iran — the latter admitted today to having uranium — both have similar weapons of mass destruction programs and a longer and more violent history of terrorism and support of trans-national terror groups. But, as I’ve stated before, WMD are only the public reason the Bush White House is calling for Saddam’s head. The real reasons, which I’ll detail later Monday, are based in hard-nosed geostrategic iniatives that are breathtaking in scope.

Regional diplomats pulled from Gulf; Blix continues to talk

While chief United Nations arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei journeyed to Baghdad to for “very substantial” talks, the United states pulled out all but its most senior diplomats from the Persian Gulf region. At the same time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that France and Germany’s attempts to give inspectors more time were actually increasing the possibility of war rather than averting it.

While chief United Nations arms inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei journeyed to Baghdad to for “very substantial” talks, the United states pulled out all but its most senior diplomats from the Persian Gulf region . At the same time, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that France and Germany’s attempts to give inspectors more time were actually increasing the possibility of war rather than averting it.
“There are those who counsel that we should delay preparations” for war against Iraq. “Ironically, that approach could well make war more likely, not less, because delaying preparations sends a signal of uncertainty,” Rumsfeld said in the opening address at an international conference on security policy.
We live in a topsy-turvy world. As Iraq makes concession after concession — Blix has managed to wring more documents, private interviews with scientists and possibly U-2 spy plane flights — London and Washington keep saying that Iraq is missing its chance to comply. With the 101st and a fifth carrier group dispatched to the region, and the removal of diplomats, it seems that war is, indeed, inevitable and Iraq has no reason to comply as President Bush has said, “The United States, along with a growing coalition of nations, will take whatever action is necessary to defend ourselves and disarm the Iraqi regime.”
By the way, this part of Bush’s radio address — “We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network headed by a senior al Qaeda terrorist planner. This network runs a poison and explosive training camp in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad” — is mostly a lie. As I’ve pointed out several times, Iraq is not harboring Ansar al-Islam; that group has taken refuge in the Kurdish area on the Iranian border that’s under the protection of the RAF and the American Air Force. And if it runs a poison and explosive training camp, why doesn’t the United States bomb it as the PUK has requested on numerous occasions?
I realize I’ve become a broken record on this subject, but so has the White House. It has never strayed from its determination to invade and conquer Iraq since 1999 when then-Gov. Bush signed on to the idea. What have changed are the ever-shifting reasons for invading Iraq that Bush has trotted out. But as Thomas Friedman pointed out his column (registration required) not a single audience of Americans he talked to are ready to fight this war. “I understand what the Afghan war was about and would have volunteered with a pitchfork,” he quotes an everyman as saying. “But I just don’t get this war.”
Just wait a few weeks, Everyman. You’ll get this war — whether you want it or not.

101st “Screaming Eagles” en route to Gulf

101st Airborne and the USS Kittyhawk are en route to the Gulf. That’s will mean 20,000 more troops and Navy aircraft totaling 250.

screaming eaglesCNN reported this morning that the 101st Airborne Division, the “Screaming Eagles,” got the order to pack it up and head to the Persian Gulf.
Based in Fort Campbell, Ky., the 101st is the Army’s air assault division, comprised of 20,000 troops and 300 AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. It’s capable of operating on its own up to 150 km inside enemy territory. The 101st will probably be some of the first troops to enter Iraq, reprising a role they performed in Desert Storm when they fired some of the the first shots in the 1991 offensive. They can be expected to drop in on oil fields and suspected chemical or biological weapons sites.
Considered one of the finest military units in the the world — they were among the first troops to hit the ground at Normandy in 1944 — the 101st will also be joined in the deployment by the aircraft carrier, the USS Kittyhawk, from Japan, bringing the total number of carriers in the region to five. The addition of the Kittyhawk brings the Navy’s firepower up to 250 fighter aircraft in the Gulf.
The deployment of the 101st should convince anyone still doubting the determination of the Bush administration to remove Saddam Hussein by force that this will happen and it will happen soon. I stand by my latest prediction of March 1 as the start of hostilities.