The Times has a wonderfully reported piece on how the "good war" in Afghanistan has gone bad. This story reminds us that it isnt just Iraq that has gone bad, but virtually everything Bush and his foreign policy team have attempted to do has failed.
Coming just two days after the White House announced proposed arms sales to Sunni Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments to help counter the growing influence of Iran and the region's Shiites (including the ruling parties in Iraq), the Iraqi soccer team defeated Saudi Arabia today 1-0 to win the Asian Cup.
The irony of all this is hard to overstate.
For additional thoughts on the Iraqi soccer team, take a look at my post from the other day. Anyone know how I can buy an Iraqi soccer jersey?
For some weekend thoughts on the emerging politics of the Middle East see my various posts below.
In my posts this weekend I wondered whether the announced arms sales to the Sunni governments of the Middle East meant the Administration was strategically tossing the Shiite-led Maliki government in Iraq and the Iraqi Shiites under the bus, having now decided to back to the region's Sunnis in a more protracted battle against Iran and its regional allies. A new post by Steve Benen at Talking Points Memo finds further evidence of this new "Sunni-tilt:"
Part of Gen. David Petraeus' job in Iraq is pressuring Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Apparently, heads of state don't care for marching orders from generals from other countries, so it's caused a little bit of a strain on their professional relationship.
A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's relations with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus are so poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington the withdraw the well-regarded U.S. military leader from duty here.
The Iraqi foreign minister calls the relationship "difficult." ... U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who meets together with al-Maliki and Petraeus at least weekly, concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."
Al-Maliki has spoken sharply -- not of Petraeus or Crocker personally -- but about their tactic of welcoming Sunni militants into the fight against al-Qaida forces in Anbar and Diyalah provinces.
First, if the U.S. policy of arming Sunni militias is exacerbating the strained relations, Maliki probably won't like the fact that the administration has decided to do more of this, not less.
Second, if the relationship has deteriorated as poorly as the article suggests, would the White House seriously pull Petraeus from Iraq? After basing most of the existing policy on Bush's confidence in the general?
The Times has an editorial today which examines some of the issues raised in my post yesterday, The Endless War becomes a Regional War.
The Bush administration and Saudi Arabia’s ruling family have a lot in common, including oil, shared rivals like Iran and a penchant for denial that has allowed both to overlook the Saudis’ enabling role in the Sept. 11 attacks. But their recent wrangling over Iraq cannot be denied or papered over with proposals for a big new arms sale. And if these differences are not tackled, there is an increased likelihood that the war’s chaos will spread far beyond Iraq’s borders.
While Washington hasn’t protested publicly, Riyadh is pouring money into Sunni opposition groups and letting Saudis cross the border to join Sunni insurgents fighting the American-backed, Shiite-led government. Washington estimates that nearly half of the 60 to 80 foreign fighters entering Iraq each month come from Saudi Arabia....
Congressional leaders need to quickly assess the long-term implications of the Surge, Part II , the just-announced arms sales to Israel and the Sunni-led Arab governments in the Middle East. Has the Administration settled on a longer term strategic plan for the region, a Cold War like containment policy towards the area's rising power, Iran, as is suggested in an excellent piece by Robin Wright in the Post today? And does this involve throwing the current Shiite-led Iraqi government under the bus? And if that is the case what exactly are our troops doing in Iraq then? Propping up a government and a nation we've already strategically abandoned?
For all the saber rattling at Iran for meddling inside Iraq - Joe Lieberman has called it a de facto declaration of war against the United States - there is substantial publically-available evidence that the Sunni governments of the Middle East are much more actively funding their end of the emerging proxy war in Iraq than the Iranians are. Where is the public outrage over the Saudi's funding of insurgents regularly killing the US? Or of the Egyptian government's support of a bootlegged Sunni TV station in Iraq that regularly celebrates the deaths of American servicemen?
For those wanting to learn more about all this, I would strongly suggest checking into the thinking of noted Tufts University scholar, Vali Nasr. You can watch an interview I did with him recently, and learn more about how to buy his compelling book here.
It is time for Congress to appoint one of their periodic Blue Ribbon Commissions to review all aspects of the Iraq War. So much has gone wrong that we need to have a big discussion not how just to bring it to a close, but how to prevent it from ever happening again.
The review should look at everything: from the pre-war build up, to the execution of the military campaign, to the planning for the aftermath, to the horrible aftermath itself. The nation needs to turn this terrible experience, so expensive in terms of lives, money and our standing in the world into a learning experience for future generations. If Congress were to do this, and do it well, it would be a tremendous public service to the nation. And the review could come out in late 2008 or early 2009 so as not to interfere with the Presidential Election, but to assist the next Administration in its own conduct of foreign policy in the post-Bush era.
Two major stories today highlight the extent of the failure of our policy in the region. The first, in the Times, details a new report on our reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Remarkably, the $5.8 billion reviewed in the report is the cost of perhaps 2 weeks of our military efforts there (clearly inadequate btw), and yet it has been a total disaster:
Iraq’s national government is refusing to take possession of thousands of American-financed reconstruction projects, forcing the United States either to hand them over to local Iraqis, who often lack the proper training and resources to keep the projects running, or commit new money to an effort that has already consumed billions of taxpayer dollars.
The conclusions, detailed in a report released Friday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, include the finding that of 2,797 completed projects costing $5.8 billion, Iraq’s national government had, by the spring of this year, accepted only 435 projects valued at $501 million. Few transfers to Iraqi national government control have taken place since the current Iraqi government, which is frequently criticized for inaction on matters relating to the American intervention, took office in 2006.
The next is a story, widely reported this morning, on how the Administration has made a massive sale of arms to Israel and the Middle East's Sunni governments. While there is much to discuss about with this move, it has been sold as a way to counter the region's new great threat - the rise of Iran. What amazes me about our the War Supporters newfound fear of Iran's ascension is how, of course, the rising regional influence of Iran's is the direct result of the Iraq War itself. Remember that it was our policy to installed in Iraq a Shiite government closely allied with Iran, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite political balance in the region. When we hear Bush, and Senator Lieberman, go on about Iran we have to ask them was there any other possible outcome of your Iraq policy, which included the instillation of a Shiite-led Iranian-allied government in Iraq, then the regional ascension of Iran? All of this feels like so much stumbling around in the geopolitical dark.
And how will our Shiite allies running the Iraqi government respond to the arming of the Sunni governments in the region who are already funding Sunni insurgents in Iraq working to undermine the Iraqi government? Are the Saudi's funding Al Qaeda for example? Will these new arms we are providing to the region's Sunnis end up back in Iraq in Al Qaeda's hands, or other Sunni insurgents intent on killing Americans? Is this move an acknowledgement of our failure in Iraq, that our post-war political strategy in the region has failed, and the establishment of a predicate for withdrawal and abandonment of Iraq's Shiites and their government? Have we, with this act, essential chosen the region's Sunnis over the Shiites and thrown the Iraqi government under the bus?
The endless Iraq war has now officially become a regional war. It is long past time for a big conversation not just about ending the war in Iraq, but also for what our vision is for the region in its aftermath. Bush has layed down a new and powerful marker. What is the proper response?
In The Politico today, Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former 3-star Admiral who served in the Navy for 31 years, explains why he feels the Democrats' current plan for Iraq is insufficient. Although Sestak voted yesterday to withdraw troops by April of 2008, he expressed serious misgivings about the current incarnation of the bill. From his thoughtful statement:
"We need a strategic approach to ending this war because the consequences of failure are immense. Congress is close, as it should be, to ending this tragic misadventure but we need to set a date certain for a safe redeployment. Ending this war is necessary, but insufficient. How we end it, and by what means, are more important for our troops' safety and our own security.
...I voted for this bill, but I did so reluctantly for it does little to define the how and why within a strategic approach to redeploy from Iraq with a date certain and leave behind the possibility of an un-failed Iraqi state. We owe such a comprehensive explanation to the country and the world for it is our responsibility to do so when the consequences are so great for our nation and Congress is the one to soon enforce an end to it by its own force of law."
Clearly, "Staying the Course" has not been an effective strategy in Iraq, and the American people are increasingly unhappy with the Bush Administration's gross mishandling of this war. But Sestak warns fellow Democrats against taking a similarly simplistic approach to withdrawl.
In a new letter, Senate Democrats challenge the President to explain his foreign policy strategy:
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
Press reports today indicate that the National Counterterrorism Center, our government’s top counterterrorism experts, recently concluded that Al Qaeda has significantly rebuilt itself since 2001 and is now as strong as ever. Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff stated he believes the country faces an increased chance of a terrorist attack this summer. Additionally, today's Initial Benchmark Assessment Report outlines that the Iraqi government has failed to meet any of the key benchmarks they set for themselves, demonstrating that the war in Iraq continues to head in the wrong direction. These developments are the latest troubling indicators that your national security strategy is making America less secure and has left America vulnerable to terrorist attack.
It has become increasingly obvious that the war in Iraq has only exacerbated the terrorist threat. Iraq has now become what it was not before the start of the conflict there, namely a training ground and launching pad for a new generation of terrorists. Your focus on Iraq has permitted Al Qaeda to gather strength elsewhere to the point where Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell recently concluded that the next attack on America most likely “would be planned and come out of the [Al Qaeda] leadership in Pakistan.” Meanwhile, repeated and extended deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched our military to the breaking point and reduced readiness to levels not seen since Vietnam. Finally, most Guard and Reserve units in our states no longer have the equipment they need to perform their tasks, either abroad or here at home in the event of a national emergency or a disaster.
It is precisely because of our concerns about these developments that Senate Democrats have been pushing to rebuild and reequip our military, fully implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, enhance our special operations and intelligence capabilities, and, perhaps most urgently, change your strategy in Iraq. We are surprised that you and many congressional Republicans have resisted these efforts and concerned that you continue to do so.
We ask that you immediately inform Congress through the appropriate channels of (1) the near-term steps your Administration has taken or plans to take to address Secretary Chertoff’s heightened concerns about the terrorist threat, and (2) the strategy to reverse the alarming growth of Al Qaeda and affiliated extremist groups.
Thank you for your consideration of these views and we look forward to your prompt response.
Morning shows and the am papers all leading with the story that Al Qaeda is regrouping, stronger than ever. Sec. Chertoff was on Fox talking about the threat, so it seems as if this is a White House strategy to scare folks during the upcoming Senate debate.
But is this is a good strategy? Doesn't it just reinforce that the Administration's foreign policy has been an utter failure in every way? Al Qaeda is stronger. Iraq has failed, and will end up exporting chaos throughout the region and the world. Our traditional allies in the Middle East and Pakistan are losing ground to radical elements. Israel is weaker than before. Iran is closer to having nuclear weapons. Our standing in Latin America is at an all time low, and Hugo Chavez's influence is on the rise. Russia is becoming an ever more important problem. Afghanistan is not coming along as promised. On trade liberalization Doha has stalled, TPA expired and prospects for important trade agreements with South Korea and Columbia look dim. No action has been taken on combating climate change, and our military has been severely degraded.
Does the Administration really want to broaden this debate beyond Iraq?
BAGHDAD, July 9 — The Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, warned today that an early American withdrawal from Iraq could bring on an all-out civil war and regional conflict, pointedly telling the United States that it had responsibilities to continue lending support to the Baghdad government.
Mr. Zebari also asserted that Iraq’s neighbor Turkey had massed 140,000 troops near his country’s northern border and urged it to resolve differences with dialogue, not through force.
Mr. Zebari was speaking after a violent weekend in which more than 220 people were killed in Iraq, including 150 by a truck bomb in one of the deadliest single attacks since the American invasion in March 2003.
Asked if the Iraqi government’s was aware of the growing pressure on President Bush from Congress to impose a timetable for withdrawing American forces from Iraq, Mr. Zebari said his government was holding a “dialogue” with some congressmen.
“We explain to them the dangers of a speedy withdrawal and leaving a security vacuum, and the dangers vary from civil war to dividing the country or maybe to regional wars,” he said.
“Some people might disagree with this assessment, but in our estimation the danger is huge. Until the Iraqi forces and institutions complete their readiness, there is a responsibility on the U.S. and other countries to stand by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people to help build up their capabilities.”
Mr. Zebari’s comments came after some Sunni and Shiite leaders called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves, amid frustration that Iraqi security forces had failed to halt the deadly suicide attacks....
David Sanger of the Times has a huge front page story about internal deliberations in the White House. It starts:
White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush’s Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.
Mr. Bush and his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until after Sept. 15, when the top field commander and the new American ambassador to Baghdad are scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the troop increase that the president announced in January. But suddenly, some of Mr. Bush’s aides acknowledge, it appears that forces are combining against him just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war’s future and financing.
Four more Republican senators have recently declared that they can no longer support Mr. Bush’s strategy, including senior lawmakers who until now had expressed their doubts only privately. As a result, some aides are now telling Mr. Bush that if he wants to forestall more defections, it would be wiser to announce plans for a far more narrowly defined mission for American troops that would allow for a staged pullback, a strategy that he rejected in December as a prescription for defeat when it was proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.
“When you count up the votes that we’ve lost and the votes we’re likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim,” said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record about internal White House deliberations....