Can’t keep a bad man down

Bin Ladin’s back, showing up the failures of American intelligence. And all the White House can do is talk about Iraq. Why?

Whoa! Who would have thought that Osama Bin Laden was really alive and hiding out for all this time? Apparently not the U.S. intelligence community which has fervently hoped that bin Ladin was toasted in the bombing of Tora Bora. That seems increasingly to be wishful thinking on the part of the United States. Astonishingly, the tape that has come to light, in which someone who sounds an awful lot like the Napoleon of Terror praises recent attacks and threatens more violence against the West if Iraq is attacked, was met with resounding indifference by the White House and the Pentagon. Sec. of Defense (and in-house funny man) Donald Rumsfeld quipped that Bin Laden was “alive or dead” when asked about the terror leader’s condition. Apparently, Schrödinger’s terrorist is a paradox they know well at the Defense Department.
But seriously folks, shouldn’t the news of bin Ladin’s survival be taken a little more, well, seriously? Senate Majority leader (for the moment) Tom Daschle, D-S.D., thinks so and valiantly questioned whether the U.S. is winning the war on terror yesterday, asking, in effect, if we didn’t declare victory in Afghanistan a wee bit early.
So if bin Ladin is alive, as is likely, and al Qa’ida is preparing to strike again, as is likely, the obvious course of action is to focus on … Saddam Hussein!
Argh. I tear my hair out over this. I’m convinced that the reason given by the left for the U.S.’s drive to topple Saddam — mainly control of Iraq’s oil fields — is much too simplistic to give the whole picture. And I don’t trust the Bush Administration that Iraq poses a clear and present danger, with Saddam being thisclose to fielding nukes on magic unmanned drones that could take out American cities. And the Butcher of Baghdad isn’t sostupid that he would give weapons of mass destruction to an element that he couldn’t control, such as al Qa’ida. So what gives? Why the push on Iraq when al Qa’ida poses a clear and present threat and Pakistan has been helping North Korea with its nuke program. (The implication is that if Pakistan has elements that would help the North Koreans, there are likely elements in the government that would help al Qa’ida in a similar manner.)
This report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies’ National Defense University might offer some clues. The main thrust of the report is that America has long realized the strategic value of the Persian Gulf, and fully intends to keep a military presence there regardless of any outcome in Iraq. “The United States will need to diversify its dependence on regional basing and forward presence, as well as reduce the visibility and predictability of its forward-deployed forces,” reads the report.
Why is this necessary? Because way back in 1990, the the Bush White House, part first, announced a defense posture that called for “adult supervision” of the world. And the most recent iteration of the National Security Strategy of the United States calls for the globe’s sole superpower to suffer no rivals militarily or economically, imposing a pax americana. So the United States is in the Gulf to guarantee the supply of oil not for itself, but for Europe and Japan, which get most of their oil from the Middle East. (Surprisingly, the United States gets most of its oil from Canada, Venezuela and Mexico; Persian Gulf sources supplied only 11 percent of America’s oil in 2000, according to the Department of Energy.) The United States Marines safeguard the Persian Gulf because Europe and Japan might re-arm and secure the oil sources for themselves if we didn’t. And as I said, the United States does not intend to suffer rivals gladly.
So we are going to be in the Gulf for a long time. As the INSS report says, “There is no escaping the U.S. role as a guarantor of Gulf stability. Thus, the United States needs a viable concept for its future forward presence that can be sustained over the long haul.” Saudi Arabia is not the secure base that we need for such a presence, as the presence of infidel troops so close to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina directly undermines the legitimacy of the House of Saud, which came to power in the 1920s as the family that would protect Islam’s holiest shrines. The presence of the troops inflames the faithful, such as bin Ladin, and leads the Saudi royal family to pay off the radical clerics that wield much influence in the kingdom. In essence this is the reason radical Islamists with possible access to nukes are “funded” by Saudi Arabia — the Saudis are buying them off and pointing a loaded gun away from their own head and toward someone else’s. If the House of Saud falls, which it could do at any time, a big reason will be resentment over its invitation of American GIs.
The solution is to get the 5,000 or so American off the Arabian peninsula. But the United States can’t pull out with Saddam in power; the troops are there to contain Saddam. So the solution to the solution is to remove Saddam from power, in the process diversifying the distribution of American troops in the region and removing a provocation to radicals. (Once they get over being pissed at the subjugation of Iraq, that is.)
Some would argue that this will just preserve Saudi legitimacy. Others may argue that a friendly regime in Iraq would undercut the Saudis and bring oil prices down as the two countries (which control the largest and second-largest known reserves of oil on the planet) compete for markets. There is evidence that the Saudis are hewing to the second view, doing everything in their power to impede the United States’ war planning, including a massive loan to Russia — interest free! — if the Bear had only vetoed UNSCR 1441. Alas for the Saudis, this didn’t happen, and they are caught between Iraq and a hard place.
So the goal of the United States is to maintain a presence in the Persian Gulf so that Europe and Japan don’t re-arm. In order to maintain a presence and decrease dependency on an unreliable ally, Saudi Arabia, Washington has to lighten the military footprint in the region by removing the cause for the heavy footprint — Saddam Hussein. Once that is accomplished, the forward forces can be distributed out of Saudi Arabia and a friendly Iraq can help pressure the Saudis to keep oil prices low. As a bonus, Washington would no longer have to easy on the Saudis in its war against al Qa’ida since Iraq would be the bulwark in the Gulf.
Could this be the strategy after all, part an elaborate chess game played on several boards at once? Winning such a game demands cool heads, clear minds and accurate intelligence — especially in a shooting war. The fact that bin Ladin has probably reëmerged right now means that the latter — since well before Sept. 11, 2001 — has been woefully lacking.

U.S. on ground in Iraqi Kurdistan

Reuters is reporting that the United States has quietly moved forces into Iraqi Kurdistan to train up to 5,000 Kurds in prepartion for an invasion. Regular readers might remember that I posted about this back in October.

Reuters is reporting that the United States has quietly moved forces into Iraqi Kurdistan to train up to 5,000 Kurds in prepartion for an invasion. Regular readers might remember that I posted about this back in October.

There are two things interesting about this. One, Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the southern and eastern part of Kurdish country, said that the Kurds had finally received security guarantees from the United States in case of an attack by Saddam’s forces. This is a good thing. One of my major objections to this adventure has been America’s reluctance to stand by the Kurds, which it has failed several times in the past (1970s, 1980s and twice in 1991 and 1995.) The Kurds are working at building a nascent democracy in their territory, and while it’s hardly perfect and prone to the Great Man theory of government that so plagues the region, they’re trying. And the United States should support that effort. The security guarantee is a good first step. Next, the United States should sign on to the proposed constitution for a Federal Republic of Iraq. It’s certainly not a perfect document, but again, they’re trying.

Secondly, if the United States is actively training Kurds, that obviously means the Kurds have signed on to an invasion, which they had not when I was there. Deputy Prime Minister (KDP) Sami Abdul Rahman told me that the Kurds would not — could not — stand in the way of American forces should an invasion come, but there would be no active help without the security guarantees. With the training and the guarantees, the Kurds have secured for themselves a place at the table when it comes time to govern Iraq, apres Saddam

Aside: The Kurdish special forces, of which it seemed the KDP had the most, are trained by Iraqi generals who defected to Kurdish country. They brought with them their training from the Iraqi army, which inherited British SAS training. Also, there were a number of Kurdish peshmergas who wore American GI uniforms. When I asked where they came from, they just smiled and said, “smugglers and traders.” I’ll bet.

News from the region…

Saddam gives an interview! The U.S. gets closer to a deal on force in the U.N.! And Ariel Sharon tries to start World War III! All this and more in the latest installment of … Back to Iraq 2.0!

Wow. Lots of stuff today already. In the first instance, (and others) reports that Saddam Hussein has shown a new willingness to work with the United Nations and thanked Saudi Arabia for its lack of cooperation with the Americans. The Kuwaitis on the other hand, in a show of Gulf War I gratitude, said it was OK with them for the United States to bivouc on Kuwaiti bases. (This may end up proving more trouble than its worth, perhaps, since the Kuwaiti daily al-Rai al Aam is reporting that a solidier for the emirate was caught trying to sneak into the al-Doha base there for the purpose of attacking Americans. With Kuwaiti army troops and other people attempting mayhem against the United States on a semi-regular basis, Kuwait may prove a shaky ally.)
At the same time, the Washington Post reports that the United States is prepared to tender its final Iraq resolution to the Security Council, possibly as soon as tomorrow, and that it wants a vote by the end of the week. It’s the third such resolution and is aimed at allaying the concerns of Russia and France, since Britain is on board and China has indicated it won’t sign on to such a proposal, but it won’t veto it either. Mexico, which has many of the same concerns as France and Russia, said it was “optimistic” a solution would be found soon, indicating the Americans are getting closer to a deal.
Also, Saddam gives his first interview in 12 years, according to the Egyptian opposition weekly, Al Usbou’. It’s full of juicy little tidbits, including the novel theory that the United States will carve up all Arab lands into countries the size of Yemen (or Israel) so they may be governed better by an American viceroyalty. A highlight of the interview:

Nassar: “Mr. President, I want to ask you something that I already know, but would like your confirmation. Do you have Kuwaiti prisoners that you did not release as yet, knowing that Kuwait is demanding their release as a condition for reconciliation?”
Saddam: “You know, and everyone else knows, that I issued a decision to release all prisoners, political and criminal, Arab and Iraqis. Except for the spies who worked for Israel and the U.S. We released even murderers, on condition that an agreement was reached between the families of the murderers and the families of the victims, and that the amnesty was the will of both sides. The jails in Iraq became the only jails in the world, and in history, without occupants.”
Nassar: “…And the wardens have a problem, Mr. President, they have to look for a job since the jails are empty…”
Saddam: “We shall turn the jails into shelters for orphans, the victims of American daily missile attacks on the country’s south and north, and on Baghdad’s neighborhoods, while the world conscience remains indifferent.” (Ed. — Emphasis added. Orphans!)

Prime minister Ariel Sharon backed up Saddam’s statement that the United States was trying to make the Middle East safe for Israel by saying in an interview with The Times that Britain and America should attack Iran after they’ve finished conquering Iraq. British foreign minister Jack Straw soundly rejected that idea, thank goodness. (You can read the entire interview here. Also, Sharon has agreed to Beyamin Netanyahu’s demands for early elections on Feb. 4, 2003, but grumbled that Israel doesn’t need elections right now. Palestinian officials urged Israelis to vote for “a leadership capable of making peace,” while Islamic Jihad said elections would make no difference.)