Friday, December 22, 2006

Surrender is forbidden!

W. says he's now "inclined to believe" that expanding the permanent active-duty military is a good idea. Perhaps up to 70,000 more troops will be coming into the Iraq pipeline and, according to the WaPo, this expansion will add an additional cost to the Treasury of $1.2 billion for every 10 thousand soldiers recruited. Besides the already staggering price tag of W.'s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- now up to about $600 billion -- what I'm wondering is where the money is going to come from to finance this enlargement over the long term. This isn't something that's going to happen over night and we're already up to our ears in hock to most of the richest countries in the world.

The Chinese, in particular, who we owe about a trillion dollars to, will, sooner or later, have to make a decision about whether the cost of backing W.'s serial international blundering outweighs the benefits of selling toys to bratty American children. An economy built on debt and the probability that the oil will keep flowing is not exactly an investor’s dream come true. This is probably why many countries, including China, are switching their dollar holdings to other currencies, just in case.

But even if the money is there, which is a big if, as a practical matter where exactly is the Army is going to find the 20,000 to 40,000 more bodies it says it needs to fill the ranks? There are only a finite number of folks out there in the population who the army can use and it's not like they're standing in line at the recruiting office door waiting to sign up. Theoretically the Army could buy up all the ad time on every football Sunday to promote "Army Strong" for the next ten years. Although, I don't see 40,000 young men or women deciding to risk their lives and limbs based on a glitzy ad portraying buff, face-painted men running under hovering attack helicopters and then finding good jobs back at home.

Over the past few years as the war has begun to decimate its ranks, the Army has lowered its standards for those it recruits, raised the age limit to forty and still has just barely kept up with its recruitment quota. The lowering of standards had led to the introduction of people into the Army without high school degrees and in some cases with minor criminal records. About one in six soldiers now being recruited would not be serving had it not been for the war in Iraq.

In the case of those with criminal records the Army issues so called "moral waivers," a dubious practice that in one case -- that we know of anyway -- has led to one of the most horrific incidents of the murder of Iraqi civilians in the war. Forget about or Haditha, the rape and killing of a teenage girl and her family by a soldier allowed into the Army under the moral waiver policy has to rank as one of the most glaring examples of the failure of the army's current recruiting strategy.

And the case of Steven D. Green and what he allegedly did to his "Hadji girl" might be a sign of things to come if we keep losing so many experienced NCOs and officers. As the war has become bloodier for our troops over the past year, I've started to notice in the names of the dead a steady up tick in the ages and ranks of those being killed. The Army prides itself on its institutional memory, but this great advantage is being steadily eroded by multiple deployments and the death and injury of those who represent the backbone any army. From the Legions of Rome to the modern day no army can long survive the attrition of its cadres. Particularly now, when they're most needed to train and supervise this new crop substandard recruits.

And it’s just not some whacko blogger like me saying this, either. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are said to be resisting W.'s new "surge" plan for Iraq because they realize the current condition of the Army and the Marines Corps. is unsustainable at present and the sending of 20,000 or 30,000 more troops to Iraq could push the whole thing over the tipping point. Trudy Rubin in the Inquirer quotes an e-mail from an Army officer who writes: "The idea of adding 20,000 is criminal. It's not enough to do any good, but it's more than enough to bring an already staggering Army to its knees." Former general Colin Powell, the man who basically built today's modern volunteer Army says, "The active Army is about broken." General Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, told Congress recently that Hamdanya under the strain of current deployments the active-duty Army "will break." When you see a sergeant from a local National Guard unit in a bar asking for donations for the family of a soldier who is being "involuntarily" (his exact word) returned to Iraq, you know something is seriously wrong.

Yet, despite all the warning, the claxons blaring red-alert, our "war president" remains supremely confident in his beleif that all the active-duty military needs is a "reset,"and that victory is just around the corner. Sure it may be "stressed" but he hasn't heard the word "broken." That's probably because all his advisers know he frowns on those who deliver ill tiddings. Such stuborn refusal to react to the disaster staring him in the face is somewhat reminicent of someone else who fancied himself a great war leader who also was trapped by his own hubris. In 1943 600,000 German soldiers of his vaunted Sixth Army found thmselves freezing, hungry and totally cut off outside of Stalingrad because Hitler didn't allow Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus to pull out of a trap he saw coming earlier on. After the situation had became impossible and the Sixth Army was facing annihilation, von Paulus asked once more for the order to save his remaining troops. Hitler replied:

"Surrender is forbidden. Sixth Army will hold their position to the last man and the last round and by their heroic endurance will make an unforgettable contribution toward the establishment of a defensive front and the salvation of the Western world."

Von Paulus wound up suurendering his 90,000 remaing troops to the Russians and of those about 10,000 made it back to Germany after the war. So, in other words, he wasn't winning but he wasn't losing either.

Perhaps George W. Bush thinks this is the sort of national ardor required to win the "idealogical war we're in," but I doubt the people fighting and dying in it and their families would agree. There's got to be a better way to secure the salvation of the Western world.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The New Way Forward takes a bipartisan turn?

The New Way Forward takes a bipartisan tact:

Up until now W.'s entire presidency has been about going it alone, not listening to the appeasers who would coddle terrorists (i.e. the democrats). Now though, his administration is going to "listen with people . . . work with democrats. . . work with the military" to "put a plan in place that achieves the objective."
It seems what he's really saying is that, from now on when "stuff happens," (as Rummy used to put it) it will be on the military and the Democrats, not just him. He's still going to do exactly what he has been doing all along, making the same mistakes over and over again, but now that the Dems are in control of Congress he can spread the blame around. He seems to be implying also, that he's going to take his fellow Republicans down with him if they don't play along.

Beyond cutting off funding to the war, which is approaching $600 billion (more than the entire cost of Vietnam,) there is not a whole lot Congress can do to keep W. from doing whatever he feels like doing. Even the election fiasco hasn't slowed him down. While the rest of the world saw the utter defeat of the GOP as a call by the American electorate to get out of Iraq, W. sees it another way. W. says, "There's not a lot of people saying 'Get out now.' Most Americans are saying, 'We want to achieve the objective.'" Really? I thought I saw a recent poll that said --------------

And what exactly is the objective in Iraq anyway? The story keeps changing. Those pesky nonexistent WMD won't be producing any mushroom clouds over New York any time soon, Saddam has been overthrown and the Iraqi people have been "liberated," so what's left? A viable Western style democracy in the Middle East able to defend itself against regional foes? Not going to happen.

Our choices in Iraq are between supporting one Shiite religious fanatic who is beholden to Iran versus backing another Shiite religious fanatic who is more pro-Iraqi. Ironically, W. decided to meet with the one who's more aligned to Iran. In case no one told W., Abdul Aziz al-Hakim -- though he may not be Muqtada al-Sadr -- runs an organization created in Iran called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri)." There's some truth in advertising there I think. Al-Hakim actually thinks the Iranian Mullahs have lost their way when it come to really enforcing Sharia law.

If the objective in Iraq is now to undercut the power of Muqtada al-Sadr -- who contrary to popular belief actually distrusts the Iranians and their influence in Iraq -- by supporting Sciri, I'd say to W. & Co., "there you go again." We can train and equip Iraqi security forces 'til the cow comes home, but the question is which religious fanatic will ultimately wind up controlling them?

The real objective W. seems to be going for here, is to find the least objectionable strong man who can use enough force to get Iraq off the TV screen every night and focus America's attention on the threat to Israel coming from Iran. Obviously, the threat to Israel thing will be played down for public consumption -- it will be framed more as the Iranian threat to the entire world posed by their 300 centrifuges -- the Israel angle will be mainly employed to bring Congress along.

In a funny twist, if and when W. is able to garner the minimum of political support he needs to go after Iran -- perhaps an engineered naval "incident" in the Persian Gulf would do the job -- he's going to find his Sciri and Dawa buddies in the Iraq government turn on him. The only other militias operating in Iraq with enough fire power to counter the Iranian influence would be either, the Mahdi Army or the Sunni insurgents. Now won't that be an interesting PR problem to triangulate?

The Bully Pulpit is mainly bull and so is the New Way Forward

So this week W. & Co. appears to be making their big push for their New Way Forward. A new part of the NWF now includes pushing for more troops for the army and marines -- a policy W. has consistently rejected -- along with the much talked about "surge" of extra forces for Iraq. (That latter part of the plan could be better described as the Same Way Backward, because it's just a rehash of Operation Together Forward, but with more cannon fodder.) W. told the WaPo that he is now "inclined to believe that we do need to increase our troops." It sure has been a long time coming. W. says "there's no question the military has been used a lot" and now it has to be "reset."

Funny, I thought that's what Rummy's big contribution to history was; the transformation of the oversized, lumbering army into the leaner, more rapidly reacting force of the future aided by the wonders of modern technology. What happen to that? Looks like we're going to reset the reset. Building up the army and marines again to fight the "ideological war we're in" to "achieve peace," might also imply that this all isn't just about Iraq anymore. (Or peace for that matter.)

W. told the WaPo that the fundamental question is, "Will Republicans and Democrats be able to work with the administration to assure our military and the American people that we will position our military so that it is ready and able to stay engaged in a long war?" What worries me about this talk of the "long war" and his sudden conversion to building up the military is what's coming down the pike. Part of this "surge" W. & Co. are talking about, includes the deployment of another carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf. The WaPo writes that, "While such a move would certainly send a pointed message to Iran, [an] official said it would also allow additional strike capabilities in Iraq."

Yeah right, I'm not buying it. You don't put two carrier battle groups into the Persian Gulf {Sorry the "Arabian Gulf"] to provide additional strike capability for a war that's being fought street by street. That battle group is going there to provide additional capabilities for a shock and awe campaign against Iran. The notion that we're going to expend those kinds of resources in order to pressure the Iranians to stop enriching uranium and come to the negotiating table is ludicrous.

This build-up of naval forces in their back yard must be adding extra encouragement to the Iranians to work even more furiously to build a bomb and test it before the US navy arrives in full force. W. & Co.'s main rationale for not talking to the "axis of evil" is that it would be rewarding bad behavior. Yet North Korea staged an apparently not so successful nuclear test and -- lo and behold -- now we're having one on one discussions with them, something W. & Co. said they would never do. What "pointed message" does this send to the Iranians?

Meanwhile, the same old rhetoric of an impending war is right out there for all to see if they care to. Tony B-liar said in Bahrain just the other day that Iran was a "deadly" threat and was "openly" supporting terrorism in Iraq, according to the Daily Telegraph. Sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it?

And the neocons are all over the media painting Iran as the great anti-Semitic Satan that must be wiped off the map before they wipe Israel off the map. (Perhaps Ehud Olmert's little atomic slip in Germany wasn't a slip after all?) One text book example of the propaganda being employed to get us into another war was Victor Davis Hanson's command performance on TOTN yesterday. He accused the Iranians of harboring OBL's son, the Taliban and every other bad actor -- regardless of the fact that Arab and Sunni al-Qaeda and the Sunni Taliban are anathema to the Shiite Persians -- and was hardly challenged on any of it, as usual.

What I find especially amusing about the neocon line this time around is citing the example of Moammar Kadafi giving up his WMD and coming back into the international fold as a model for Iran. Seems to me that Kadafi is still resisting fully paying for the Lockerbie bombing, was actively trying to have then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia killed as he was negotiating his disarmament and just this week a Libyan court sentenced 8 Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor to death for giving AIDS to children. Beyond opening up his oil and natural gas fields to Western corporations, I don't see Kadafi as a model citizen that should be held up as a great success of this administration that could be repeated in Iran or Syria.

I've asked this before, but I'll ask it again; why is the media giving these neocons the air time? They have been proven to be wrong about everything they said about the invasion of Iraq. They were wrong about the WMD, they were wrong about a flowering democracy in Iraq, they were wrong about the cost of the war, yet the same old faces are still appearing on the TV now advocating a war with Iran. And people are still listening to them! How many times do you have to be completely wrong about something before people stop listening to you?

And that goes for the man on the Bully Pulpit, too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bad ideas get worse in Iraq:

The NYT reports today:

"A Pentagon assessment of security conditions in Iraq concluded Monday that attacks against American and Iraqi targets had surged this summer and autumn to their highest level . . .The report, which covers the period from early August to early November, found an average of almost 960 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week, the highest level recorded since the Pentagon began issuing the quarterly reports in 2005"

Coincidently, this just happens to be roughly the same time period during which "Operation Together Forward" has been in effect. Remember, Operation Together Forward was the grand strategy deveoped by the pentagon that began in June, which was to flood Baghdad with US and Iraqi troops in order to stem the spiraling sectarian violence. This new quarterly report would appear to prove that the "Battle of Baghdad" isn't going so great.

It should be crystal clear at this stage that the more troops we put in the worse things get. According to the WaPo this is the conclusion the Joint Chiefs of Staff have come to, as well. Typically, regardless of the facts staring them straight in the face, the White House is pushing for the "surge" idea as the next new thing.

Robin Wright and Peter Baker write that "the Joint Chiefs think the White House, after a month of talks, still does not have a defined mission and is latching on to the surge idea in part because of limited alternatives, despite warnings about the potential disadvantages for the military."

The NYT quotes Gen. James T. Conway, now in charge in Iraq, saying that the military would support a surge in the number of troops if "there is a solid military reason for doing so." That's the rub, isn't it? "He said sending more troops just to be 'thickening the mix' in Baghdad would be a mistake." How about that? Is it possible for this administration to make a mistake?

We keep hearing a lot about how the president will listen to the commanders in the field when it comes to sending more troops if they need them, but if the commanders in the feild happen to think that escalating the war would be a really bad idea, then they're ignored.

The NYT reported on the 16th that the White House has already asked the OMB for an a cost estimate of a surge in troop levels up to "20,000 or more."

"American military officials said Friday night that the Pentagon was planning to send the Second Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to Kuwait in January. The brigade, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., would serve as a reserve that commanders in Iraq could draw on. American military commanders have been operating without such a reserve since the Marine unit that had been on call was dispatched to Anbar Province in western Iraq. The Army brigade could become an element of a larger troop deployment to Iraq if the White House decided to increase troops there."

I think its pretty safe to assume they will send more troops in and a large number of troops already there will be staying for a lot longer than they thought they were. But rest assured this time W. & Co. really know what they're doing.

Wait they don't. A senior officiakl says that "There has not been a full articulation of what we would want the surge to accomplish," but 'what the hell' we'll figure it out as we go along. Is this any way to run a popcorn stand? I've siad it before and I'll say it again, this bunch in the Whiter House hasn't got a clue and their pigheadedness is going to get us into a larger disater than they one we already are in.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Somalia mess continued:

Well, it looks like the Somalia situation might be all wrapped up very soon. State Department spakesman Scott McCormick, responding to criticsm about Condis's total lack of any attention being paid to the disaster about to happen in the Horn of Africa, says that Condi had "a good, long, two-hour session" and asked for "better options" in June, back before the Islamic Courts Union took over Mogadishu.

Remember, that was when the State Department was running a secret program to give Somali warlords U.S. money to fight the ICU. The Herald Tribune reported on June 8:

"Officials said the CIA effort, run from the agency's station in Nairobi, channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past year to secular warlords inside Somalia with the aim, among other things, of capturing or killing a handful of suspected members of Al Qaeda who are believed to be hiding there. The officials said the decision to use proxies was born in part from fears of committing large numbers of U.S. personnel to counterterrorism efforts in Somalia, a country that the United States hastily left in 1994."

State Department employees who complained about this really dumb idea were transfered to other posts. That's Condi's version of "better options" I guess.

I don't kniow what to think about reporting by the WaPO on this subject. The tone of there reporting I've read is kind of simliar to the stuff they were pumping out before the Iraq war. Karen DeYoung writes that, "Al-Qaeda, long hovering in the shadows, has established itself as a presence in the Somali capital, say U.S. officials, who see a growing risk that Somalia will become a new haven for terrorists to launch attacks beyond its borders."

Really? I haven't seen anything conclusive that says that al-Qaeda has suddenly taken over Somlaia and is ready to launch attacks on other countries. The ICU is not a monolith and if there is any threat of cross border attacks, its most likely going to come form Ethiopia.

"Meanwhile, a major war -- promoted and greeted approvingly by Osama bin Laden -- looms between Somalia and Ethiopia."

A war between Somalia and Ethiopia may be "greeted approvingly" by OBL, but the same might be also said for Bush administration. John Abazaid being seen in Addis Ababa at this point doesn't exactly fill me with expectations that we're about to give the diplomatic track a chance.

Knowing this bunch in the White House, they see this as a war between good and evil and you just know the weapons shippments to Ethiopia are on their way. The US has given President Meles Zenawi's government billions already to promote democracy but Zenawis is a better ally in the WOT then he is a democrat. Human Rights Watched reported last year that Zenawi's "government has amassed an appalling human rights record during its 14 years in power. While this government is an improvement over its brutal predecessor, its human rights record is nonetheless extremely grim."

But, he's a Christian and he's fighting terrorism.

Extra points: Here's a good summary from HRW on the Bush and Reagan administration's blundering in Somalia back in the 80's.
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