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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Violence Spreads as the War on Terror Progresses

More Barbaric Executions

This from Reuters:
"...news that the noose ripped the head from Saddam's cancer-stricken half-brother as he plunged from the gallows appalled international critics of the process and fueled fury among Saddam's fellow Sunni Arabs."

Barbarism's entry into the execution room was first made clear with Saddam's hanging. Pattern established, it's no surprise others will not only die, but be humiliated by Sadr's people in the process. While the executions may have been authorized by an Iraqi court, the method of their conduct hints more at a primitive government, eager to appease the most base instincts of its populace.

As I said in my last post, the US was rightfully cautious in turning Saddam over to the Iraqis. According to one source, Saddam was moved in the middle of the night prior to his execution, and harassed through the night. Perhaps the Iraqi government had been eager to execute Saddam as quickly as possible--falling on the Eid Holiday as it did--out of fear one of Saddam's guards might have ended Saddam's life prematurely, as part of some personal vendetta.

Saddam's humiliation must have been meant to send some message to the Sunni, who've been angered over the cell phone video, which was released and made available for purchase on the streets of Baghdad.

A thorough compilation of the circumstances and reactions surrounding Saddam's death is available on mkanejeeves' blog.

A summary of provocative insights and opinions on the Saddam execution is available here.

In addition to being positively barbaric, Spiegel of Germany suggests the execution mave have been illegal. See their insights here.

The behavior of Saddam's guards may be an ominous warning sign of what is to come if the Shia have unrestricted control over Iraq. While this divide may make Sunnis less opposed to the US presence--as a counterweight to Shia domination--the US is doing what it can to empower the Iraqi army, which may mean Shias will come to use the power and resources of the new Iraqi state for ethnic cleansing and similar atrocities towards the Sunni.

Wider War

It was said here that widening the war was imminent.

The U.S. struck at allegedly escaping al Qaeda targets on the Somali-Kenyan border. Victims of the strike were guiltless herdsman gathering around a fire, according to The Independent. Over 60 died. See the Kurt Nimmo write-up here.

Spreading the range of military action helps dilute the ineffectiveness of the US in the Iraqi theater. By refocusing Media on external targets, Iraq appears to be just another state where the U.S. is militarily active.

Attacking other nations expands the ever-widening Free Fire zone alongside flexing muscle. The more frequent and wider the use of force, the more the battlefield is "shaped" for future military action. Resistance to the indiscriminate use of force--and the invariable host of civilian casualties--can be downplayed by Bush's PR, which caters to the cruder aspects of our foreign policy.

As is said in Kurt Nimmo's write-up, the Executive is acting unilaterally without respect for the sovereign rights where terrorists are allegedly present. While the geopolitical consequences might add up, Bush can appease the militarists in his base; besides, most Americans' grasp of geography is sufficiently poor as to lead most to neither know nor care where one country begins and another begins.

For the Bush base, a military statement justifying the strike based on "actionable intelligence" serves as sufficient justification for bombing. Where the bombs end up, and the actual results of such a strike, are secondary to execution of a successful attack on a target, valid or not.

While concern over civilian casualties is theoretically an issue, absent any restraint, US bombing policy continues unchanged from the days of Dresden. Through smart bomb technologies proudly displayed by the Pentagon, consideration has been paid to spatial accuracy, yet bombs compensate for accuracy through greater killing power. Still, the weapons technology itself cannot identify "organic" targets in assymetrical warfare, nor can smarter weapons lead to any meaningful assessment of the need to bomb or evaluate the benefits of bombing versus their costs.

Bombing has long been the end in itself, rather than the means to some larger goal. The Pentagon tends to view bombing as a success, regardless of who actually dies or the results--it's through the process that "shock and awe" provide an intimidation value. In the US' military's previous strike on Somalia, under Clinton, an aspirin factory was struck, now, herdsmen. The trend continues and few in the US dare to complain despite the lack of results or absence of restraint or care in choosing the targets and assessing their success. The victims of indiscriminate bombing, though, never forget.

Bombing is meant to send the message is that the U.S. is tough on terror. Using force indiscriminately may be intended to serve as a warning signal that we will lash out viciously at any foe, and ignore international law, with no consequences. Liberated of constraint, the US government is represented by its military, and military confrontation with the US and its proxies is the consequence, which completes the cycle and justifies the application of ever-more military force, solving nothing.

Sending messages has been a Bush point of pride since issuing a proclamation in the rubble of 9/11 that those responsible would soon hear from us. Dramatic, such sound bites calling Americans to action stand in clear contrast to the delayed and inadequate mechanism of diplomacy. Bush appealed to the lower nature of Americans and received tacit approval to "go get 'em, Georgie boy."

It's no coincidence warfare is the calling of the Right, as it enjoys a base drenched in nationalistic militarism. To these people, intervention provides an opportunity to show the world just how strong we are, not economically, or culturally, but in our capacity to wage war.

As the US military presence sprawls across borders, there is no apparent political force capable of confronting Bush in his reckless use of force. The US continues to use its military as a bludgeon against the restraints imposed by international law. Other nations have completely abandoned their unconditional support for the US in the unifying days after 9-11. The CIA's secret prisons, and use of rendition, has led our allies to not only not look the other way, but do what they can to stymie US methods in the war on terror.

An Italian court recently found CIA agents who kidnapped a radical iman in Milan to be guilty of kidnapping. Perhaps the most damning consequences of extrajudicial behaviors will not be felt by our enemies, but rather allies who we've turned against us.

Nowhere would an expansion of the war on terror be more devastating than in Iran. The country is positioned perfectly to disrupt oil flow into and out of the Gulf. Recently a US navy sub collided with a Japanese tanker in the Straits of Hormuz. Iran's mountainous coastlines offers ample placement for anti-ship cruise missiles, similar to those used quite effectively by Hezbollah against an Israeli patrol boat. Tankers are bigger targets, easier to hit, and would burn and obstruct naval traffic. Oil prices would surge, devastating the world's economy alongside that of the US.

More on the Surge

The Surge is not what it's made up to be. Not only are there too few troops to make a difference, they are being brought in piecemeal. Contrary to the imagery played on television shows of Americans mustering or lining up in full combat gear, preparing to board airplanes bound for Iraq, most of the surge will come from troops already there, forced to re-enlist.

Being called back to Iraq is far more than a test of patriotism. For veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the call to return forces the veteran to re-live traumatic experiences and aggravates their psychological problems. According to Michael Moore, "between Christmas and New Year's 2006, five U.S. soldiers committed suicide after being informed they'd been ordered to serve an additional tour in Iraq."

The degradation of our military was one of the chief reasons for leaving Vietnam. While our troops are constantly praised these days, the fundamental unfairness of saddling so few with so much responsibilty cannot be overlooked. Rather than share in the burdens of warfare, a relatively small group of Americans fight on our behalf. One could argue the limited direct impact of Iraq on the vast majority of Americans has made the war more tolerable, or made most Americans far more tolerant than they would otherwise be, should they have to make some form of ongoing personal sacrifice due to the war.

The Pentagon recently eliminated the ratio of home-to-foreign service, so that multiple re-deployments to Iraq are not only involuntary, but the length of deployments are unprecedented. Morale has suffered.

Now while some say our soldiers are responsible for bearing the burden of our "defense", and should just "suck it up", breaking military tradition by over-extending tours of duty indicates that our military is no longer a volunteer force. Military service has become mandatory. for those who've already served and paid their obligations to society in full.

In my post "War Strain to be Resolved by Surge," I talk about the imposition Iraq has made on the Army and Marines. Rather than using the strain as evidence of failed policies and a justification for pulling out, it's been turned into a reason for sending even more troops, although these will come too slowly and be too few in number to provide relief.

Short of a draft, simply stopping the war is the only just way to honor the sacrifice and commitment of those who've already given so much. Men of honor would let our Iraqi veterans come home to a well-deserved peace. If more war is required, let those who haven't served share in the responsibilities now relegated to soldiers in Iraq by our government.

The debate over troop strength has allowed politics to enter into the staffing needs of the military. To up the "N", Bush and war supporters have stretched the need for troops into a longer-term issues, as part of larger needs in the war of terror and not a consequence of failure in Iraq. This PR-bent approach meticulously avoids any admission of previous error, and disguises the fact troop strength had been too low in Iraq, and thus not only ensured a strain, but precluded the possibly of success. Rumsfeld's "Force Lite" approach still yields dire consequences, and will continue to do so long after the Secretary has left.

Of course the use of inadequate military force was bound to force a strain. Some would say Rumsfeld acted fully aware of the human resource limitations and simply chose to ignore the strain our inadequate strength has caused. But we see now the rhetoric of a surge, when in fact there is no real buildup. Higher casualties make the war even more intolerable to the American public.

Presiding over the Pentagon in the last days of Vietnam, Rumsfeld knew the risks of escalation and may have been seeking a viable alternative in "Force Lite." Bush's hesitancy to increase force strength attests to the political strength of the antiwar movement, and the liability of expanding a controversial war.

Continued occupation on a larger scale would make the Iraq effort unsustainable. Sustainability is a political objective, not a military one now that a clear victory over anti-American forces in Iraq is virtually impossible. Sustainability is needed to achieve the war's true long-term goal: developing Iraqi oil fields and extracting the oil. Perhaps the costs of a continued occupation will make open-ended occupation by US ground forces impossible. Sensing US aspirations for oil, the insurgents will do all they can to disrupt the infrastructure.

Former Knight Ridder military correspondent Joseph Galloway explains the surge option in a Miami Herald article. Galloway comes on quite strong, he's obviously critical of the President's plan.

End Game

How Iraqification will be implemented remains unclear outside of military plans. Talk of reconstruction is prominent in Bush rhetoric now, as it has been for years. The intent is clearly to get the Iraqis to shoulder some of the responsibilities for securing their nation. How the US can help Iraqi government acheive real independence while the US maintains an occupying military force in-country is not clear. The Iraqi government is incapable of handling the Sunni insurgency, much less preserving even the semblance of national unity, so it is dependent on the US.

Bush's strategy in Iraq contains no plan to get out. Bush has rebuilt his surge strategy around tactics and strategies which have been tried before and failed. There are no conditions for a drawdown in U.S. forces. The conditions on which can consider ourselves successful--and able to withdraw troops--remain undefined. Bush has hedged on articulating victory conditions, while acknowledging that victory will require sacrifice.

After making it clear his (or that of Keane and Kagan) plan was not open to debate, Bush has asked for alternatives from the Democrats. It's as if the critics of the President's policies are expected to somehow revise the post-invasion plan and stop the torrent of mistakes which define the Occupation.

As it is, Bush's occupation of Iraq has seeded the perfect environment for a war on terror. In trying to eliminate our enemy, Bush's dumbed-down worldview has created a massive contradiction in Iraq. The more we fight to secure democracy, the better established the more populous Shia become in Iraq's government, and the greater the Iranian influence.

According to The Economist's January 13th North American edition:
"America is losing its means of influence. Iraq has made its transition to full sovereignity...downtrodden Shias, including followers of Mr Sadr, now so dominate the government that it is no longer seen as a neutral arbiter..."

The Economist continues:
"America's real leverage over the Iraqi government is to pull out and abandon it to its fate. That is what Mr Baker's study group advocated. But Mr Bush cannot bring himself to do that."

Iraqi democracy appears to be a winner-take-all proposition. Shia rule will be for the minority Sunni what Saddam was to the Shia. By dumping Saddam, we've allowed Iranian-supported theocrats to dominate politics in Iraq.

[Correction: In the past, I've made the mistake of calling Muqtada al-Sadr part of the SCIRI, when in fact al-Sadr leads an independent faction, contributing 30 votes to al-Maliki. Al-Sadr is apparently open to dialogue with the Sunni and far from a friend to the Iranians. For an excellent essay on Iraq, please see "Petraeus! Is Baghdad Burning" by Stan Goff.]

As we saw with the barbarous executions of Saddam and his confederates, Shia rule will dispossess the Sunni. At the least Sunnis stand to become politically irrelevant in controlling Iraq's oil reserves.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasery, President of the Canadian Islamic Congress, writes:

"Sunni Iraqis have been marginalized to the point of having very little political power at all. Tariq al-Hasimi, the country's Sunni vice-president, is completely ignored in government decision-making.

Even more serious is the fact that Sunni Iraqis, who have no militias of their own, are accusing both of the dominant Shia militias -- the Mahdi army and the Badr Brigade -- of ethnic cleansing; they claim that the southern city of Basra is now empty of its former Sunni population."
Bush's plan intends to split up US soldiers and pair them with Iraqi army units. One idea is to pair an American battalion with every Iraqi brigade working one of nine districts in Baghdad.

Bush's attempt efforts to synchronize military efforts with Iraq's Shia-dominated armed forces will it appear as if we are taking sides against the Sunni, further alienating them. US military units will be forced to restrain Shia impulses to cleanse Baghdad neighborhoods of Sunnis.

For Sunnis, the US may, however, be a desirable alternative to the Shia. With Iraq lacking a strong federal government, and with dialogue between Sunnis and Shia strained, the US may serve a valuable role as mediator. Yet obstructing US efforts to broker peace is the stated policy of the US not negotiate with terrorists; this includes Iran and Syria, deemed "sponsors of terror". With those opposing the US in Iraq labelled terrorists, the US is prevented from being able to talk to Sunni insurgents, which perpetuates the marginalization of the Sunni and limits the effectiveness of alternatives to violence.

If we are in fact at war with the terrorists, how will the war end? While some wars may be indefinite--the multi-century sectarian conflicts between Sunni and Shia loom as an example--the US must win. Bush warned Americans not to expect a "surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship."

Yet how is the US to have closure, much less derive some degree of satisfaction for all its sacrifice? The defeated must be given their day to admit defeat, to give Americans a chance to move from a state of schadenfreude to a state of greater moral authority, one of reconciliation and sympathy for our former enemies. Surely World War II would have not been as glorious a victory without the signing of a truce on the decks of the Missouri, with a survivor of the Bataan Death March signing the documents.

When the war on terror ends, the public might never know. Like the war on drugs and the war on poverty, the battle goes on. Drugs don't sign off and walk off, defeated. Poverty still challenges us; as a matter of fact under Bush lower-income Americans are poorer.

Charles Sullivan, writing in Alternative Press Review, provides some insight:

"...the bogus war on terror is a contradiction in terms, as historian Howard Zinn has so aptly pointed out. War is terrorism. Terrorism begets terrorism, and nothing but terrorism. War does not, and cannot ever lead to peace." [Link]

Big Picture

Strategically, the Global War on Terror offers the President a basket of missions designed for the U.S. military to conduct in a number of countries for an indefinite period into the future. Combined with the need to act preemptively--exercised in Iraq--GWOT provides the perfect platform for wielding unprecedented Presidential authority in foreign policy.

Outside the domestic political arena, dangerous results have come with the use of force, as Iraq is demonstrating. In part, the severity of the problems we know face can be traced to the absence of planning in the headlong rush to war. In the black and white, testosterone-driven, Rambo-like urge to use violence there is no patience, merely anticipation.

Its sails filled with the winds of 9/11, the Good Ship Neo-con with its Captain Bush at its helm has steered into heart of the Middle East. Like any infant ideology innundated with ultra-nationalistic patriotic fervor, Bush and the neocons thought our war machine invincible. Like Napoleon and Hitler, Bush has been content on his marches to the East, in what must surely seem to be a crusade to those invaded and bombed.

Concentrating power in the hands of one man has always been an ideological imperative for the neo-cons. In Bush they found a man sympathetic to their ideology, someone with a single-mindedness of purpose unlimited by self-doubt in a position of nearly unlimited power.

Unerring belief in the certainty of belief brings with it a complete absence of pragmatism. People who believe that God told them what to do--as Bush has said of h(H?)is decision to invade--tend to avoid introspection over their (God's) decisions, being that they see it as their role to act as the instrument of a Higher Being, rather than question the source of their inspirations.

Bush is delaying the reckoning that the US will have to face in Iraq. Incapable of resolving problems of the scale we now face, the responsibility to extract us, restore the US military, and redeem our international prestige will fall to another. If Bush can simply wait out the pressure to get out, he believes he will succeed. Results are another matter entirely, which raises the serious issue of whom the occupation really benefits. Nothing has emerged from Iraq to indicate our policies there can succeed, so what is the ulterior motive for continuing the adventure? Oil may not fully explain why Iraq needs to be occupied; perhaps the windfall for military-industrial complex is a major villain, blood money though it is.

Policy Contradictions

The Administration's redefinition of Iraq as a war against terrorists there demonstrates the extent of manipulation of the popular perception. By blending Iraq into a broader conflict essentially targetting Middle Eastern and Central Asian states, Bush may have chosen too strong an enemy, or one simply too populous.

The broadest definition of terrorism encourages military action, but it also spotlights American duplicity when terror originates from ostensibly moderate or friendly states. With 15 of the 19 terrorists allegedly Saudi, the Bush Doctrine--that countries that harbor terrorism will be treated no differently from terrorists--misses a chief source of terror, and forces the US to delegate anti-terror responsibilities to the Saudis. If Saudi Arabia--or any state--fails to control terror, the US reserves the right to intervene. Yet the US is hamstrung by politics--cross-border raids into Pakistani supply routes, for instance, imperil Pakistan's sovereignty and Musharraf's control. So like Laos and Cambodia, the US can only take limited covert action.

And in the US, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq threatens to torpedo the war on terror. Linkage, which Bush has gone to great lengths to establish, means what is good for Iraq is good for the war on terror. Yet the opposite is true: what hurts Bush politically and in the popular perception in Iraq carries over to the broader war against terror. By this definition, Iraq is not merely a rhetorical "central front in the war on terror", but rather an all-or-nothing, increasingly desperate gambit to save the war on terror.

Other Links

In my last post I'd referred to some articles on the Iraqi oil production-sharing agreements bent in favor of multinationals. The article "The Surge to screw Iraq out of its oil" by Jerry Mazza offers insights into the oil deals, as well as Bush's "way forward."

See also, "Administration Leaving Out Important Details on Iraq" by Mark Siebel.



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