Saturday, December 30, 2006

Week in Politics

Big news in Iraq this week is of course the execution of Saddam Hussein. Although I think as events go there that is a more minor occurrence--in terms of historical reference perhaps significant (although less so than his toppling I think) but in terms of events as they transpire daily, I think not a huge deal.

In the short term the only result may be more violence. Although at this point the violence is so rampant and brutal, who knows.

Anyway, much more important I think was this article in the NYTimes by SABRINA TAVERNISE on the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad. Click the map for a neighborhood by neighborhood summary.

Some key pieces:

At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials...The Shiite-dominated government publicly condemns violence against Sunnis and says it is trying to stop the militias that carry it out. But the attacks have continued unabated, and Sunnis have grown suspicious. Plans for a new bridge that would bypass a violent Sunni area in the east, and a proposal for land handouts in towns around Baghdad that would bring Shiites into what are now Sunni strongholds underscored these concerns. Sunni political control in Baghdad is all but nonexistent: Of the 51 members of the Baghdad Provincial Council, which runs the city’s services, just one is Sunni.
The article also lays out a key theme under-repesented in the so-called MSM press: that the militias are not just death squads running around killing people (although plenty of that too) but the real protectors of their own ethnic groups. Like a mafia ring. And not just the big name ones: Mahdi Army, Badr Brigade, etc. There are numerous sub-militias at times allied with the bigger name ones, at times not.

The internal displacement of the population is well underway and has been since Saddam's statue was torn down. The Shia who have long been the oppressed are now in control and will give nothing to the Sunnis. As one Shia leader said: "They [Sunni Arabs] should believe in the new equation." The new equation is Shia dominance. And Baghdad is increasingly becoming a Shia town, and by the end of the sectarian killing and the eventual de-centralization or perhaps tripartite division of the fake/failed state of Iraq, will likely be all Shia.

There is no political give among either the Sunni or Shia, so I see no way that adding a paltry 20,000 or so troops means anything except (very) short-term possible downtick in violence in Baghdad. Those troops are coming from other parts of the country not from outside--further straining the already breaking US military--and therefore the violence in other areas, e.g. Anbar, will rise as the troops leave those areas. American casulties will increase significantly after New Years. I predicted a week or two ago that Bush would slide perilously close to the 30% or even dip below 30% approval rating. Changing a tactic in a failed strategy does not make the strategy work. The Senate Dems are going along with the troop increase because politically it is Bush and the Republican's War. They don't want another Vietnam where they are blamed for pulling the troops out right before victory. The Dems are going to sit back and let Bush fail even more profoundly in Iraq in this coming year--which whatever crass political ends it serves it is going to mean more US deaths and more lost influence around the world for the future.

The only way a troop increase would possibly have any lasting positive effect if it was designed to create a small window of opportunity to move massive population numbers within the country. The Army would led hundreds of thousands of Sunnis out of Baghdad to the Western provinces--they would be vulernable and exposed particularly to an evil-time al-Qaeda attack blamed on US to pull Sunni support away. But this is nowhere in the cards. Bush won't admit the country is breaking apart ethnically--he would need a massive logistics campaign which his administration is incapable of producing either internationally or domestically. And Sunnis likely wouldn't go for it.

When asked what the strategy in Iraq was, President Bush again reiterated that it was a unified Iraqi state, ally in war on Terror, model of democracy in the region. That set of prospects are goals not strategies. Strategy is a long range planning on how to achieve one's goals. Having goals and declaring we're winning (which is now described as "not winning nor losing") is not a strategy.

Also less on the radar has been talk of a new parliamentary alliance meant to isolate Moqtada al-Sadr. Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani essentially put an end to that discussion. His position throughout has been Shia unity, and I think that won the day. al-Sadr's people are back after a protest, participating in the government.

The next member of the Cabinet who should be pressured by Congress to be relieved of duty is Sec. of State Condoleeza Rice, who has been an abysmal failure. Her Palestinian-Israeli push that will occur after the New Year's is also headed (before it even begins) down the drain, I'm afraid. The opportunity to make a move came with the election of Hamas and a chance (and only that) to peel a percentage of Hamas away from Syrian Hamas and create something a unity coalition among the Palestinians. The immediate withdraw of funds and public announcement of such by the US, EU, etc was the end of that moment. The Palestinians are on the brink of civil conflict, as Hamas has no other means available to it than violence--other than accepting Israel, cowtowing to the West and losing their political base (when is that going to happen?).

Bush has left his "allies"in the region President Abbas of PA and President Sinora of Lebanon in almost complete isolation and de-legitimated/weakened. Some friendship--his got the reverse Midas Touch, did the same thing to Tony Blair.

Iran-Syria are here to stay through Hezbollah, through Hamas, etc. You have to deal with them at some point. You don't have to like them, you can still be (if adept) marshalling support for containment strategies, but this idea that "pressure" is put on them is just stupid.

The reason a containment isn't working is because the US since the fall of the Soviet empire has played a game of world policeman without inviting in post-Soviet Russia and post-economically communist China. China and Russia block the US at every turn on Iranian containment because it gets them nothing in return. This is how politics works--I scratch your back, you mine--but Bush has believed a show of American force would just shock and awe every one into obesiance. Unfortunately it has done the exact reverse: exposed US weaknesses, emboldended opposition, etc.

The way to deal with Iran would require a fundamental re-do of our relationship with Beijing and Moscow. You see Condi on that trip anytime soon?

Meanwhile the "wacko" Ahmadinejad continues to out manuever Dr. Rice at every turn. The analysis in US press has been that Iran needs a stable Iraq and therefore needs the US. Quite the opposite is true. Iran's interests in Iraq are quite well established and if the US were to pullout and Iraq descends into Bosnia-Rwanda style bloodletting overnight, Iran has powerfulyforces within the country that will achieve its goals. It is rather the opposite: the US needs Iran. Iran is far more influential than the US (which is just a large gang at this point) in Iraq.

I'm working hard to be as positive as I can--while still having a brain--this post was originally much darker (if you can imagine that). The reason I'm being so critical is because the moment (unbelievably) still exists for the two/three deals necessary for major global peace and stability: US-Iran/Syria and US-Russia/China.

They are going to come with drawbacks, no doubt, and the price paid now will be much higher than it was even 1 year ago. But in 2 years time it will be exponentially higher or worse no longer possible.


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