Thursday, April 26, 2007

Joe Lieberman op-ed

On the continuing thread of how much tunnel-vision there is in the political class and talking heads circles, Sen. Lieberman enters the fray. His piece here.

He starts with saying there was not enough condemnation of the suicide attacks in Iraq last week (that killed almost 200). Immediately it became a talking point. Fair point, but one that was as equally true on left and right. The rest of his article then goes on to slam Democrats for voting for a timetable, so he might have followed his own wise thinking, but whatever.

Lieberman writes this about the upcoming vote for timelines:
This reaction is dangerously wrong. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of both the reality in Iraq and the nature of the enemy we are fighting there. What is needed in Iraq policy is not overheated rhetoric but a sober assessment of the progress we have made and the challenges we still face.
I agree with the Senator here. We do need sober assessment. It is unfortunate that the rest of his article gives us very little of one.

For the record, whatever the political gains of timetable tied to money bills, the real issue which neither side is doing is getting the strongmen in Iraq down to the table and work out a deal, if such a deal can be worked out. I think it has to be tried; I'm agnostic on whether it can be achieved. But everything including the sink has to be thrown at the possibility that such a deal can be hammered out.

Bush and the pro-surge folks are not having this talk because they are still locked into this notion of a central government. The Left is increasingly moving to just pulling out and having no sense of what else to do.

Lieberman points out two successes from the surge:
1--Decrease in sectarian Shia activity in Baghdad.
2--Tribal leaders in Anbar fighting "al-Qaeda."

Recall: The Shia death squads have laid low because the Americans are doing their killing for them. And because the Shia have already won Baghdad. The cleansing of Sunnis will continue further, but basically it is done. So point 1 is a non-point.

2)This is the major flaw in Lieberman's analysis: the intra-Sunni fight. Neither of these two points leads to anything other than still a question about the failed state and the fact that there is no state and no political solution, nor one coming, in a one-state framework.

The enemy Lieberman says is the old stand in bogeyman al-Qaeda:
The suicide bombings we see now in Iraq are an attempt to reverse these gains: a deliberate, calculated counteroffensive led foremost by al-Qaeda, the same network of Islamist extremists that perpetrated catastrophic attacks in Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey and, yes, New York and Washington.
al-Qaeda in Iraq is not the Kenya, Indonesia, Turkey bombers. There is a viral theology/ideology but local resistance movements.

There is a split in the Sunni insurgency between the Islamic State in Iraq (sharia/caliphate) and Islamic Army of Iraq (Baathists mostly).

Lieberman goes so far as to say:
Indeed, to the extent that last week's bloodshed clarified anything, it is that the battle of Baghdad is increasingly a battle against al-Qaeda. Whether we like it or not, al-Qaeda views the Iraqi capital as a central front of its war against us. Al-Qaeda's strategy for victory in Iraq is clear. It is trying to kill as many innocent people as possible in the hope of reigniting Shiite sectarian violence and terrorizing the Sunnis into submission.

This is at best half-right and worse dangerously off course. As predicted, the surge plan was going to attract "al-Qaeda" elements to the smaller forward bases the Americans are heading to as well as to the rural areas on the outskirts of the cities (like south of Baghdad). This has happened. Which is why now the Americans are re-shifting their tactics because these places were not taken into account in the original plan.

The surge is straight outta Vietnam and assumes a rural agrarian society where people are not mobile. The counter-insurgency force can then create an oil-spot which keeps expanding radially out. In a mobile phone, urban zone, however, groups fade into civilian populations, they dis-assemble and then re-assemble somewhere else.

The Shia will continue to accept the body blows as long as the Americans continue to occupy. There is no political solution in this. The American presence is just putting a holding pattern. The surge we are told by Gen. Petraeus and Sec. Def. Gates is to buy time for a political settlement. But there is no political settlement to be had under the current circumstances. Everybody is just waiting for the Americans to leave.

Lieberman is right "al-Qaeda" is trying to push people to primary clan-militia loyalties. But this is no different in essentials from what has been going on since the beginning: the devolution and fragmentation of power.

But he is so wrong in assuming there is a battle for Baghdad. The battle is over. The clean up operations and attacks will continue for years. But the battle is over. The Sunnis lost. They have nothing really therefore to offer as a chip in a settlement scenario.

Hence the tribal leaders fighting al-Qaeda should be seen for what is possible in the future--these tribal leaders as the stakeholders of the future Sunni country/state of Anbar-istan.

Criticizing Obama Lieberman writes:
That is why the suggestion that we can fight al-Qaeda but stay out of Iraq's "civil war" is specious, since the very crux of al-Qaeda's strategy in Iraq has been to try to provoke civil war.
Again almost right. The reason you can not just fight al-Qaeda is not primarily because they are fighting to further explode the civil war but because they are so embedded in the society.

Lieberman with his Turkey, Indonesia reference still sees al-Qaeda in Iraq as some foreign entity. This is the same idea Bush has been peddling for a long time. They are not outsiders. They are perfectly connected into society. And the membership of these groups is fluid and alliances of convenience occur all the time. They are not so monolithic as Lieberman's platitudes assert.

There are no doubt some extremely hardline elements who will terrorize populations but the Americans for four years have shown they can not deal with this and efforts made in one area just moves them to another. These guys are not idiots. Even with the surge and the PMC there will not be/are not enough troops to maintain control. Hence they just shift.

Today the battle is "for Baghdad and Baquba" tomorrow it will be back to Ramadi, Tal Afar, and all the rest. The surge is shifting pieces around on the board but with no political solution in sight it is not clear that is much or anything more than that.

The only ones who are going to be able to fight these guys and deal with the consequences of their presence are in fact the tribal leaders. But the Shia government is not going to give them any aid because they know eventually it will end up being used against them. These tribal leaders may be anti-Salafi revivalism (much better than al-Qaeda) but most will likely be anti-Shia government as well. The black market on guns and weapons in Iraq is one of the fastest growing markets in the country.

In other words these tribal leaders that are touted now have to be supported for their position as future heads of a separate sphere from the Shia led government. The Sunni heartland is going to be an absolute mess for years to come. And that is sad--to answer the charge that is just another political talking point. We are discussing humans and there lives of disconnection will breed further criminality, gangs, terrorism, and despair. They have no buy-in nor do they have any chips with which to buy in the current schema.

Until Joe Lieberman and others like him realize this all this political jib-jab means next to nothing in my book.

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