Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who We're NOT Talking About

A fair number of folks, especially on the Democrat side of the aisle, are calling for the Administration to engage more substantively with Iran and Syria as a means for ending the carnage in Iraq.

Also usually named by the "pro-diplomacy crowd" are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan - Iraq's Sunni neighbors who all have a stake in the stability and overall (territorial) integrity of Iraq. However, there is one major country in the region that has received almost no attention despite its size, influence, Sunni denomination, and contribution to radical Islam: Egypt.

As a good friend of mine knows, I am increasingly worried about Egypt as the rule of Hosni Mubarak drifts ever closer to its inevitable end. Birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood and with an increasingly radicalized population disillusioned with decades of corrupt, incompetent government propped up by the United States, Egypt is a thorny issue we as a country have been content to "kick the can" on for far too long. Add to these concerns its border with Israel and its technological infrastructure, which, though lagging compared to Western standards, is nonetheless quite capable with regard to chemical, biological, and radiological "materials".

Sadly, the United States and the rest of the West are so fearful of what real political change might mean in Egypt, that we will likely acquiesce in the ensconcement of Mubarak's successor (likely his son Jamal) in Cairo's halls of power when his father passes. As we have for the last 25 years, the US will probably place its hopes in the powerful Egyptian security services' ability to suppress dissent -- and there is no bigger indictment of US foreign policy than that. And don't even bring up the half-hearted "pro-liberalism" trip that the Secretary Rice embarked on in 2005. Unusually blunt though US criticism might have been, the estimated nearly $2 billion in annual economic and military aid provided to Egypt sends a much louder message.

Ok, so having said all this, what does it have to do with Iraq. Simply this,

How on God's green Earth can we even begin to think that we can "convince" Syria and Iran to act in good faith and "common interests" in Iraq if we can't even get Egypt, a coreligionist to Sunni insurgents, run by a government fearful of Islamic radicals, and a recipient of over $50 BILLION in US aid over the last three decades to take any meaningful, public action to support our efforts? Using a "carrot" approach, we can't.

Looking at the longer term, (intensive) US engagement in Iraq will end at some point (my guess is late 2009) and we can and will leave the country. Redeployment will end some of our problems and allow us to wait out the Iraqi aftermath. My worry is that when Egypt goes south, however, Israel will not be able to pack up and redeploy. And that, unfortunately, is where we come in...

And that is also why we will continue to kick the can.

[Sorry that this was so "stream-of-conscious-y". There are a lot of threads I'd like to get around to pulling one day -- WMD, geopolitical competition between Egypt, other Sunni states, and Iran, and re-alignment of US foreign aid priorities. Perhaps when Dr. C goes to do his residency I will tag along and settle-in to writing a dissertation on one of them.]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Real News of the Day

I've been a fan of David Beckham and world-class football (soccer) ever since my year abroad in Britain during college. It's good to see a star player of his caliber come to the States to boost the visibility and, frankly, quality of the game here.

But this reminds me of a story about an old Cold Warrior from the Reagan years who had a young son. His boy was just reaching the age at which he'd start playing competitive sports at school and was looking at his options -- baseball, basketball, football, etc. The man went with his son to school one day to meet with the athletic director, who informed the man that his son ought to try out for the soccer team as he seemed quite talented in the game. Frustrated, the man replied that he hadn't worked for 30 years to defeat communism only to have his son play soccer!

Funny to me on two levels... (1) today soccer is the "cool" sport for young kids, and (2) I sort of long for the good old days of the Cold War.

The President's Speech

As with all of his addresses, the speech reads better than he speaks it.

A very quick perusal of its contents shows a lot of substance on a very wide array of subjects, from Iran to the US military's size and force structure. The key short term element, however, is this:

Now let me explain the main elements of this effort: The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations -- conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.

This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq. The vast majority of them -- five brigades -- will be deployed to Baghdad. These troops will work alongside Iraqi units and be embedded in their formations. Our troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.

This is where the rubber hits the road, and where we'll be most vulnerable. If I were Moqtada Sadr, I'd do my best to alienate the Iraqi forces and US troops. A couple of suicide attacks or "friendly fire" incidents involving embedded US personnel would likely unravel this whole approach. Surely Sadr and other Shia extremists have enough infiltrators to accomplish that.

As for Iran, I will address later today after some more thought.

Oh, and the sop to Lieberman was soooooooo unnecessary....

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Let it snow... please!

I've been wanting to go skiing with Dr. C for some time now, but the weather just isn't cooperating.

Seems like I'm not alone in my frustration.

To Surge, or Not To Surge...

It seems as though most everybody in town now expects the President to adjust force levels in Iraq in the range of +30,000 or so personnel, whether through out-and-out additions or shifts in rotation policies. And while everybody expects a "surge," few lawmakers, including Republicans already steamed by the Administration's handling of the war over the last few years, are enthused by the prospect. Adding to the concern is the fact that most observers seem to think that the "surge" will be just that... a short term increase that will do little to support the long-term strategy of "clear and hold", which folks smarter than myself on counterinsurgency think is the only viable military strategy for Iraq. Moreover, to truly be effective "clear and hold" must be combined with a more effective political and economic strategy for Iraq... which, frankly, I'm not even sure we have.

So, given all of the above, and plenty more not mentioned, can a "surge" really help the situation?

I'm not optimistic. It seems likely that simply too many insurgents and their supporters are too well entrenched in the Baghdad area for our troops -- both current and +30,000 -- to deal with. Moreover, we would require significant support, or at the very least non-interference, from Iraqi security forces in order to be effective... and that simply isn't going to happen. The bootleg video of Saddam Hussein's execution simultaneously demonstrates the sectarianism and incompetence of the Iraqi security forces. Until they have even a modicum of reliability and impartiality, "surging" won't work.

Well, except for one thing... a change in US rules of engagement. But that is for another post at another time...

Founding of the Realm

After many discussions with friends, I have finally taken the plunge and started a blog. As they are well aware, I have an abiding interest in all things related to national and international security, politics, and the absurdities of life. This will be the focus of the blog.

I don't know if I will impart any words of wisdom to folks through this blog, but I certainly hope to receive some in return from any readers who happen across it.