Day: July 18, 2006

Developments great and small

[UPDATED]

Laura Rozen points to a Ha’aretz story that Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicates a willingness to accept a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon:

peaking after a meeting with a United Nations delegation headed by special envoy Vijay Nambiar, Livni said that while Israel would prefer the deployment of the Lebanese army in the south of the country, “we will consider other solutions put forward.”

“If there is a need to strengthen the Lebanese army somehow, so that the military in south Lebanon is effective, and prevents Hezbollah from returning, we will consider ways to do achieve this,” Livni said.

She stressed, however, that any solution would have to take into consideration Israel’s ability to respond to any incidents in the future

Live From an Israeli Bunker issues this report:

The air force was told to crank it up because the operation time left is not very long. So they need to make it count. Here in Haifa we had three (count them) siren warnings within short pauses of each other, at least six rockets hit my area. The north is being heavily bombarded right now with Carmiel, Tverias, zpat, Malot, and Roch Pina. One dead in Nahariya. This all happened in about 20 minutes.

Kind of clashes with the title of this post, doesn’t it? Well not necessarily. Nasrallah is firing wildly now, with no accuracy, he’s shooting whenever and where ever he can. He wants an unconditional ceasefire and in his eyes this is what will get him that. Fat chance.

There is talk of quick infantry missions, the object is not to stay there long but get things done. This is going to go on for a week or two more at least, personally I’m safe, thanks for your concern.

If true, this coheres well with the possibility that the Israelis intend to degrade Hezbollah as much as possible, but might now recognize that an international presence will be essential to preventing an absolute power vacuum and collapse in Lebanon.

A great many bloggers are aflutter about George Will’s attack on The Weekly Standard. I can’t, however, endorse John Podhoretz’s odd claim that it “may prove to the be the most discussed op-ed of the year.”

The death toll from sectarian violence in Iraq over the last few days seems to exceed that in Lebanon. As does that of the Tsunami in Indonesia.

An Unsealed Room provides links to some very high-traffic Lebanese and Israel bogs, blog aggregators, regional blogs, and message boards that provide personal perspectives on the conflict.

Austin Bay repeats the standard, but incorrect, canards about the Peace of Westphalia. He seems, moreover, a bit confused about the relevant treaties; he refers to “the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the series of peace settlements that ended the Thirty Years War in Europe,” but I think he means Osnabrück and Münster which were constituent treaties of Westphalia rather than the 1659 Peace of the Pyrenees that ended the related Franco-Spanish conflict. We’ll probably never know, since my comments on his blog continue to get censored.

We’re apparently important enough to be targeted by CENTCOM public relations. I, for one, welcome this development. But I do think it is interesting that blogs are now part of the ‘war information’ effort.

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The ladder of escalation

In grad school, Herman Kahn was my second favorite strategic theorist (after Thomas Schelling). I still have an original edition of On Thermonuclear War with the dust jacket — restrain your envy, my copy was marked up as I read it.

In any case, Kahn is known for a number of interesting ideas, including the so-called “ladder of escalation.” Essentially, Kahn’s term explains gradations of conflict, from “ostensible crisis” up 40+ rungs to “spasm” thermonuclear war.

Such a spasm is to be avoided, obviously.

While Kahn developed the ladder as part of his critique of the “massive retaliation” doctrine of the Eisenhower administration, the notion of “winnable” nuclear war-fighting took on a life of its own during 1970s and 1980s strategic debates.

I’m referencing Kahn because he also reminds us that crises, conflicts and wars can escalate — perhaps in unexpected ways, though Kahn was a game theorist and wanted to think rationally about the unthinkable.

To some extent, Kahn was right. Leaders and scholars do have to think about the possible, not merely the probable.

Newt Gingrich, who was on “Meet the Press” yesterday, is trying to be one of those forward-thinking leaders:

I mean, this is absolutely a question of the survival of Israel, but it’s also a question of what is really a world war. Look what you’ve been covering: North Korea firing missiles. We say there’ll be consequences, there are none. The North Koreans fire seven missiles on our Fourth of July; bombs going off in Mumbai, India; a war in Afghanistan with sanctuaries in Pakistan. As I said a minute ago, the, the Iran/Syria/Hamas/Hezbollah alliance. A war in Iraq funded largely from Saudi Arabia and supplied largely from Syria and Iran. The British home secretary saying that there are 20 terrorist groups with 1200 terrorists in Britain….I mean, we, we are in the early stages of what I would describe as the third world war, and frankly, our bureaucracies aren’t responding fast enough…

He continued:

I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you’ve been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you’d have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III.

I’m not writing this to scare anyone, but I do think it is patently obvious that world leaders ought to be doing everything they can to try to de-escalate the current ongoing crises.

Israel’s latest incursion into Lebanon is dangerous and India’s recent threats about Pakistan might be as well. The risk that Iran might intervene in regional war could be low, and even that might not be enough to trigger an American response…but the risks of these actions are not zero.

Maybe the guy who wants to be the “peace President” could start thinking about more creative ways to stop the violence in the Middle East. I don’t think this will do:

See, the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit, and it’s over…

I felt like telling Kofi to get on the phone with Assad and make something happen. We’re not blaming Israel. We’re not blaming the Lebanese government.”

I’d like someone in the press to ask the most powerful man in the world who “they” are. Kofi Annan’s minions?

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Meanwhile in Iraq and Afghanistan

It has been a bloody week in Iraq. Today saw a particularly vicious attack in the action-reaction cycle that marks Iraq’s increasingly dangerous communal violence.

Masked attackers with heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks slaughtered at least 40 people in a crowded market area south of Baghdad on Monday, hurling grenades to blow up merchants at their counters and shooting down mothers as they fled with their children, witnesses and authorities said.

The military-style assault on unarmed civilians in the mostly Shiite city of Mahmudiyah lasted 30 minutes and was vicious even for a country besieged daily by bombs and cold-blooded attacks. At one point, the assailants entered a cafe and shot dead seven men — most of them elderly — while they were having tea, said Maythan Abdul Zahad, a police officer. He said the gunmen stepped on their victims’ heads to keep them still.

“Only those who escaped and ran were able to survive,” Zahad said in Najaf, where he later traveled to bury a cousin killed in the attack. “They did not spare anyone. Not the children. Not the elderly. The Iraqi army did not interfere.”

The massacre left the central shopping street in Mahmudiyah a charred war zone of gutted vehicles and blackened and smoldering tin-roofed shops. Some hospital authorities put the death toll at more than 70; most of the victims were Shiites.

Sunni Arab insurgents asserted responsibility for the slaughter, calling it retaliation for attacks against their own in surging sectarian violence. Hundreds of people have been killed since July 9, when suspected Shiite gunmen carried out a daytime massacre of at least 40 residents in Baghdad’s mostly Sunni neighborhood of al-Jihad.

The situation in Iraq, to put it bluntly, is looking very, very grim. One can understand why Kaufman would advocate cantonization. I could discuss, at some length, how the Bush administration’s incompetence deserves most of the blame. I’ve talked to former members of the CPA who can recount countless stories of warning their superiors about the dangers of the sectarian militias only to be brushed off with the excuse that the US didn’t have enough troops to make enemies.

Want to understand how bad things are getting? Edward Wong and Dexter Filkins report in the New York Times that:

As sectarian violence soars, many Sunni Arab political and religious leaders once staunchly opposed to the American presence here are now saying they need American troops to protect them from the rampages of Shiite militias and Shiite-run government forces.

The pleas from the Sunni Arab leaders have been growing in intensity since an eruption of sectarian bloodletting in February, but they have reached a new pitch in recent days as Shiite militiamen have brazenly shot dead groups of Sunni civilians in broad daylight in Baghdad and other mixed areas of central Iraq.

The Sunnis also view the Americans as a “bulwark against Iranian actions here,” a senior American diplomat said. Sunni politicians have made their viewpoints known to the Americans through informal discussions in recent weeks.

The Sunni Arab leaders say they have no newfound love for the Americans. Many say they still sympathize with the insurgency and despise the Bush administration and the fact that the invasion has helped strengthen the power of neighboring Iran, which backs the ruling Shiite parties.

But the Sunni leaders have dropped demands for a quick withdrawal of American troops. Many now ask for little more than a timetable. A few Sunni leaders even say they want more American soldiers on the ground to help contain the widening chaos.

One of the reasons the US didn’t “finish the job” in the First Gulf War stemmed from the realpolitik calculations of the Bush administration: they didn’t want to shift the balance of power too far towards Iran.

Disturbing news also comes from Afghanistan (via Brian Ulrich):

Taliban militants seized two towns in tumultuous southern Afghanistan, forcing police and government officials to flee, officials said Monday.

The Taliban operate freely in large areas of southern Afghanistan and police presence there often is virtually nonexistent, but insurgents only were known to have completely seized one town since their hard-line regime was toppled by U.S. forces in 2001.

They were quickly driven out of that town, Chora, in Uruzgan province.

The attacks came with thousands of U.S.-led troops involved in an offensive against Taliban holdouts and allied extremists in remote southern and eastern provinces to curb the deadliest upsurge in violence since the hard-line militia was ousted in late 2001.

On Monday, large numbers of militants chased out police after a brief clash in the town of Naway-i-Barakzayi, in Helmand province near the Pakistan border, district police chief Mullah Sharufuddin said.

Scores of Taliban forces overran police holed up Sunday in a compound in the nearby Helmand town of Garmser. The security forces and a handful of government officials fled, a local government official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he did not have permission to speak to the media, said Taliban forces were now “moving freely” around the Garmser and the surrounding district.

(Yes, apparently the United States cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.)

It is far too early to tell how these escalating conflicts will play out. But I think it is well beyond time for any reasonable observer to conclude that the Bush administration’s foreign policy is anything but a total failure. Even if the Israel-Lebanese crisis somehow resolves for the best, and even if the Taliban (as is likely) are pushed back when foreign troops arrive, it still won’t salvage the tattered grand strategy they’ve pursued.

I don’t say this simply to cast partisan stones but to stress that we’re long beyond the partisan debate. This administration has objectively failed in nearly every region of the globe. The real task is to figure out how the next administration, whether Democratic or Republican, can begin to staunch the bleeding.

My fear is simple: we lack the political will in this country to do what we need to do. The United States cannot turn things around without some pain–whether in the form of a draft, tax increases, or some other unpopular policy–and no politician with Presidential aspirations will ever directly admit that one cannot make a bad situation better without concrete and unpleasant sacrifices.

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