Sarah Palin’s Foreign Policy Knowledge

Unsurprisingly is not deep.

To defend her (partially) for a second.

1)She should have never been picked and put in this situation. She’s in over her head, which [edit: ***see note below] I find normal given [edit] I think she is unqualified for the job. But I can’t blame her, who would turn down an undeserved promotion?

2)Her answer on Georgia/Russia:

When Gibson said if under the NATO treaty, the United States would have to go to war if Russia again invaded Georgia, Palin responded: “Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

“And we’ve got to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable,” she told Gibson.

The bit about Georgia and war with Russia is in fact correct–minus the Russia was unprovoked BS–if Georgia is in NATO then the basis of NATO and the only reason for it to exist is that every country promises to defend every other country in the alliance. Otherwise it’s meaningless. Hence if Georgia was attacked by Russia and in NATO, we would have to go to war with Russia. What that means–contra McCain, Palin, and sadly Obama–is that Georgia should not be in NATO. NEVER EVER. [Edit Update: I see Yglesias came to the same conclusion].

Far more damning is the fact that she doesn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is. And as Matt Yglesias notes what answer she eventually does give isn’t the Bush/McCain Doctrine–so perhaps she should be asked how her views differ from the President’s and Sen. McCain’s. If Palin’s “credible intelligence of an imminent threat” threshold for preventive/anticipatory attack were actually to hold and not merely some rhetorical gesture interpreted in so wide a manner as to be useless–simply a pro forma justification–then she’s actually correct whereas Bush and McCain are wrong. Hilzoy on the same point in greater depth.

Now to critique her. Cuz there are some doozies.

Most important and most damning and the most clear evidence (imo) of an individual who has never thought about what is going on in the world in the last seven years and will simply do and abide by and argue for whatever the neocon brain trust tells her to think (when she doesn’t get confused on the talking points that is)…She thinks Iraq had something to do with al-Qaeda and the attacks of September 11th (h/t TPM). From the WashingtonPost:

Gov. Sarah Palin linked the war in Iraq with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling an Iraq-bound brigade of soldiers that included her son that they would “defend the innocent from the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”

Now under normal rational circumstances this would disqualify a human being from elected office much less Vice President of the United States. This is straight conspiracy mongering and shows no basic reflective thought on the matter. It’s can’t be underestimated how crackpot this idea is. Ask yourself whether you would vote for a candidate who believes that Zionists and the Freemasons control the world. Because that’s the level of nutjobbery professed in that statement.

This should be on the news every night–it won’t of course but there you go.

But this notion that all Muslim bad guys (by our definition), all Muslims dudes with guns essentially around the world are all part of some giant organization or some super monolithic evil force.  This is straight up wackadoodle.

2)On the answer where she clearly didn’t know the Bush Doctrine and had to be told what it was by Charlie Gibson (WTF?), this also is quite disturbing:

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation.

This is as stupid as when McCain said he was going to “defeat evil” in the forum with Rick Warren. You can no more rid the world of Islamic extremism or extremism of any kind as you can defeat evil or have a War on Terror (oh wait a second…). What you can do is attack, minimize, decimate, & otherwise annihilate specific terrorist cells who attempt to kill American (and Western) civilians. Like al-Qaeda.

Moreover as the Rand Study showed the way you do that is through (horror of horrors) the p–sy John Kerry method of “intelligence”, treating terrorists like criminals. i.e. Splitting off the reconcilables from the unreconcilables, offering political buy ins to the former, attacking the latter. Rather than say getting into a Cosmic War against Evil and Extremism.

Bonus: For the Facebookers out there, by having read this article (and possibly by just being a human being) you now qualify for the “I Have More Foreign Policy Experience Than Sarah Palin” Group.

Update I: Her national security credential is “energy independence.” But I thought the right-wing talking point was (actually correctly) that energy independence is nonsense and that it was an idea with zero merit. Until of course our gal is for it, then it’s golden. Sheesh. I believe James Poulous calls this petarded.

Update II: ***MD thinks I was begging the question by stating that she was unqualified for the job from the outset. I’ve amended the text to explicitly state that it is my view that she is unqualified. The major premise of the piece is that her foreign policy understanding is abysmally weak. And a number of points are raised to support that thesis. The point about her being unqualified is actually a side point so I’m not sure the question beginning charge is that on target given it’s not the thesis, but if I did beg the question, then I have made sufficiently clear that those views are my opinion and then I’m giving reasons as to why I hold that opinion.

I’m still however waiting for Matthew’s response to the prima facie incongruity between him saying that energy independence is an idea that has zero merit and Sarah Palin claiming her primary credential on security matters being her expertise in energy independence. Does her primary credential for national security then have zero merit? If so, then doesn’t that support my thesis her foreign policy knowledge is weak and therefore by extension she is unqualified? If not, how does he square that circle?


Response to Reihan Re: Iraq

Andrew Sullivan highlights this (concluding) graf from Reihan’s new Current piece on Iraq:

Advocates of a continued American presence have much to answer for as well. Why is it that Maliki hasn’t made the necessary concessions? What can the U.S. do to encourage reconciliation that hasn’t been done? Has the economic strategy of the Iraqi government been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country? It was fair and reasonable to neglect these considerations during the struggle to bring Iraq back from the brink. But that neglect has proved very costly indeed.

Let’s go one at a time on this:

1)Why hasn’t Maliki made the necessary concessions?

–Because in his world, there are no concessions to be made.  The notion that he has to make “necessary concessions” is predicated on a certain view dictated by the United States as to what Iraq should look like.  This is the central flaw of the entire war, surge or no surge.  Maliki spent years in hiding from Saddam’s assassination forces and by all accounts is a quasi-paranoid individual (as would be normal under those circumstances I imagine).  He is a member of the Dawa Party who sees it role as defending the Shia in Iraq.  That is his job.  And he is doing it.  In Maliki’s world, either the Shia will run Iraq or the Sunni will take back over and return the Shia to the position of the powerless.

2)What can the US do to encourage reconciliation?

–Nothing. Neither staying (Salam) nor half-drawing down (Colin Kahl).  Nothing in my opinion.  See #1.  There is no encouragement because there is no desire for a deal.  If the US abandons the Shia in Iraq, they know Iran will have their back and Iran isn’t supporting some mass integration of the Sunni militias into the Iraqi security forces.

3)Has the economic strategy been adequate to the task of rebuilding the country?

–Again this assumes our understanding of what the country should be.  The economic policy, such as it is, has been correctly predicated on lining the pockets of the Shia elites to buy leverage so they can control power.  Because the Tribesmen want to fight the Shia gov’t.  The Shia mass underclass tends more to support Sadr.  In other words, they aren’t thinking about rebuilding the country.  They are thinking about ruling what’s left of it.

Reihan almost answers his own questions here, but I think backs away from the edge at the last second:

The trouble with Maliki’s vision is that it leaves no room for the Sunni Awakening. One increasingly gets the sense that Maliki sees the Sons of Iraq, one of many names for the various Sunni militias that have turned against the insurgency, as a threat. Which is entirely understandable — a proper state possesses a monopoly on legitimate force, and it makes perfect sense that he would eventually disband irregular militias. But the Sons of Iraq have no confidence that there will be adequate representation of Sunni interests in the new Iraqi state, and Maliki hasn’t exactly helped in this regard.

I don’t think it’s correct to say the Sons of Iraq turned against the insurgency.  They are the insurgency.  This has big implications.  Because what happened of course then was the US paid off these guys to stop fighting us and paid them to kill some jihadis, mostly foreign.  This necessary act undermined however the goal and strategy of the entire operation:  namely the creation of a centralized pan-ethnic government.  The fact that they were paid off by the US (against Maliki’s wishes) means that underneath they are still the insurgency against the Shia.  Against the government.  Just waiting for their moment.

Maliki knows this and that is why he is trying to preemptively neuter them.

While it’s true as Reihan states that Maliki distrusts the Sons of Iraq because any legitimate state in a Weberian sense wants a monopoly on force. But Reihan is missing a key point here.  The specific reason he distrusts this specific non-state militia is that leaders within the movement have professed that once they finish off al-Qaeda their next target is the Shia government.

In sum, the only (given the history, culture, ethno-religious makeup) way Iraq stays together with a strong central government is under a dictatorship–see Maliki’s recent heavy handedness not only with the Sunni but now with the Kurds.  The notion of a national reconciliation/strong central gov’t, constitutional democracy is not in the cards.  And still too many are thinking in terms of the US imposing its will–either through force or persuasion.  It ain’t happenin’.  It hasn’t happened in nigh on six years.  And it ain’t startin’ anytime soon.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 9:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pakistani Goings On

News out today of another missile attack from a drone into Pakistani (Frontier Provinces). As always sadly civilians were killed. This comes on the heels of an actual ground force into Pakistan. The Asian Times is reporting that the new president of Pakistan, elected this weekend, Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) is on board with the US/NATO attacks in Pakistan, however much for public consumption he has to decry the intrusion on Pakistani sovereignty. The Atimes article also argues that Zardari has the Intelligence Services in Pakistan under control. Or rather that with the size of his victory, the Army (and ISI) won’t challenge such a putsch. That’s a shocking claim given the recent history, and I’m not sure I’d by that one without more evidence.

But it certainly represents the achievement of the US plan to back Bhutto and basically install her in Pakistan after it was clear that our SOB in Pakistan, Musharraf, was in an untenable position (well Cheney apparently held out on Musharraf to the bitter end).

The Obama Presidency re: Afghanistan and Pakistan is now under way, in a less intense version than he has called for–particularly in terms of nuumbers of troops into Afghanistan. And as Bob Woodward’s new book makes clear, David Petraeus was made CentCom Commander in an attempt to preempt Obama (or any Democratic President) from drawing down more quickly on Iraq. I can see a coming clash between a President Obama and CentCom Petraeus. And right smack dab between those two fronts is of course Iran. What an absolute disaster.

But whatever else may be going on with Pakistan, they fight in the Long War a war of existential survival whereas the US fights a war of discipline.  Obviously the stakes are high given Afghanistan, Kashmir, and the history of militancy arising from Pakistan.  Olivier Roy points out that so much trans-national militancy has arisen from Pakistan because it was never really a full state rather a piece together amalgamation and a notion of an “Islamic state”. A failure in this policy (and hell even a “success” however that is defined) could lead to a renewed jihadi movement emanating from Pakistan (and Afghanistan).  And we know the last time that happened, how that story ended.

Conservative Left Wingism

James Poulos writes:

At any rate, the main distinction to be drawn here is between cultural conservatives, who are willing to bet the future of their country on the practical virtue and persuasive power of their practices, and social conservatives, who mistakenly seek to create a nonentity (’society’) in order to get people who don’t share their culture to act, in public, at least somewhat more like they do. Or so I’d argue, anyway…Republicans would do well to work to protect and maintain significant parts of working-class culture (but not others: a story for another day); they would do ill to try to ‘create’ in America something meant to give us all a sense of being in a more ‘blue-collarish society.’

He also sees (unnerving) parallels between the right social cons and left wing traditions towards society creation, particularly disturbing when done from the top-down. This is why I said that I thought Palin should focus on her story, her gifts, and an argument from McCain rather than be the attack dog against Obama.

When sticking to the former she was a culture conservative–in James’ formulation. She legitimately defended her culture. And as Conor Friedersdorf (James’ blogging confrere) correctly points out Obama had it coming on her line about how people from small towns don’t appreciate big city politicians saying one thing to them and another to a shi-shi San Fran audience.

But when she went into full on attack dog mode, I felt like we were seeing the social con side come out. [Disclosure: I found that section fairly revulsive]. The social con side that possibly wants to decide what books you should/shouldn’t read at the library. Or more creepily from my perspective (as a seminarian!!!), equating certain political outcomes with God’s will.

Another line of conservatism that this point about a conservative left-wing societal creation impulse would hold of course is neoconservatism (in foreign policy). Neocons of course were former Trotskyites/left wingers so that makes perfect sense. They transferred their allegiance for a utopian societal creation from a domestic sphere (they became anti-New Deal/Great Society) to foreign countries (“remaking the Middle East.”)

McCain/Palin then at its best is a cultural conservatism–McCain defending the military ethos, Palin the family life/marriage-work mix, both helping to foster republican (little r) civic virtues.

McCain/Palin at its worst however is the combination of these two top-down right-wing enforcement streams: neo and social conservatism.

We’ll see if McCain can turn it around here tonight and pivot to the center in the upcoming campaign, but my fear is the headed the way of the latter.  If so, it’s going to get very ugly.  And it’s not just the sexism thing that is going to be lobbed out, the racial waters are inevitably going to get roiled again.  It’ll be the worst of the Dem primary all over again–as opposed the positives of having the first woman and first A-A on the tickets.

My fingers are crossed for the former, but my head tells me differently.

Meanwhile in Kurdistan

(H/t Juan Cole)

Remember Biden’s Three Scenarios for Iraq: 1)One side kills the other 2)Federalization/fragmentation 3)Return of a Tyrant.

Well the Kurdish government is now rethinking its backing of Maliki and is claiming he is the new Saddam.

The Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga (the Kurdish militia) are preparing to go to war with another. That would be two US allies btw. Remember that every time you hear the Fred Thompson’s of the world like last night proclaim at the Rep. Convention “we are winning” in Iraq. Who the F–k is We Dude? If the Iraqi Army and the Kurds fight each other who wins homes?

The Shia Arab v. Kurd fight involves where the Blue Line (the Kurdish Autonomous Regional Zone) exactly should be drawn vis a vis Khanaqin. [See the map under the green marked territory of Diyala north and slightly east of Baghdad].

Kirkuk is a powder keg ready to blow at a any second notice. That is a Sunni Arab v. Kurd fight but now is bringing in the Shia government because the Kurds backed Maliki on the premise that he would deal them Kirkuk for their support. The Kurds feel he is not moving quickly enough.

If there is a Scenario #4, it’s the Lebanonization of Iraq. The Kurd and Shia alliance has been the dominant force since the US invasion and if it breaks down, all hell will be loosed. There is no way the Iraqi Army can cross the Blue Line. That is the 54-40 or Fight Marker for the Kurds. They will war if the Iraqi Army crosses that border.

Maliki is balking at the Sunni tribesmen, the Mahdi Army, wants the US out, and now wants to start some stuff with the Kurds. This could break up along all kinds of lines. Weird temporary alliances. Arab vs. Kurds. Shia Group 1 with Sunni Group 2 versus Shia Group 2 & Sunni Group 1.

The Kurds would likely turn to the Sunni if they fought the Shia except that they want to cleanse Kirkuk of the Sunni. So there could be a pan-Arab (Shia and Sunni) versus Kurd battle. I don’t know, but it’s going to get very ugly very quickly I’m worried.

[Added snark: Think Sarah Palin can explain this fight and what to do about it?]

Published in: on September 3, 2008 at 9:10 am  Leave a Comment  
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Obama Speech Thread

7:12. And he’s off (er out)….sorta weird not to have a rousing “THE NEXT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES” Intro, no?

7:15. There it is the first African American (or non-white minority period) accepting the nomination of a major party for the Presidency of the United States.

7:17. The Obama kids could not be more adorable.

7:21. The “ENOUGH!!!” Line was very preacher-esque. Very good. “Eight is Enough” has a kinda Jesse Jackson ring to it.

7:22 Think the Republicans will be as respectful to Obama as the Dems have been to McCain?

7:23. He’s very calm and subdued. Interesting line about not be willing to take a 10% chance on change. Clear but not soaring.

7:24. The nation of whiners line from Graham was such a killer. Ohhhh snap. There it was. He said McCain does not not care about people he just doesn’t know. That will be the line of attack from now on til Election Day.

7:29. This is the elitist? The celebrity? He’s earnest, intelligent, and comes from a very ordinary (non-super elite background).

7:30. He just smacked McCain a good one by directly going after the celebrity theme.

7:33. Into the nuts and bolts of his policies. Tax cuts for majority of Americans. Call to move to renewables. Obviously the clean coal, nuclear, and ethanol stuff is pure boondoggle, but overall this is a vision. You will not see anything forward looking from the Republicans.

7:36. Whoa. He just threw down the gauntlet against the insurance industry.

7:39. My inner wonk digs the “we can not meet the 21st century challenges with a 20th century bureaucracy.”

7:42. Oh S__T. He just called out McCain’s manhood on Osama. McCain promised he would go to the gates of hell to get bin Laden–to which Obama responds, “He won’t even go to the Cave where is.” I’m liking this, he’s hitting McCain for thinking 20th century Cold War style in foreign policy. Continued theme of “doesn’t get it”.

7:43. This is a great rift. The Republicans are all talk/no action on FP. He is going straight after the long years of “Democrats Can’t Defend This Country” Meme from the Right. This is extremely effective.

7:46. There was a little take off “answering the call for freedom, hoping for peace…”

7:47. Did I mention that McCain can’t give a speech to save his life?

7:48. Obama is the adult against McCain who has more and more appeared petulant, adolescent, and unserious.

7:49. He’s tying common purpose to overcoming the cultural wedge issues: abortion, guns, gay rights, immigration. [The immigration piece got no love really, the rest was well received]. Third way motif.

7:50. “You make a big election about small things”. And small people and small thinking clearly implied. Here he goes about on the fear card that has been used against him.

7:51. He’s really in the groove now. The Republicans should be watching this scared out of their ever living mind. No more critiques of him being thin on details, all rhetoric. Or that he can’t attack.

7:54. This is to put it mildly, really really really good.

7:57. The ending wasn’t totally perfect. But it was still an incredible speech. He’s the real deal.

Podcast: McCain Foreign Policy (Audio Content)

Listen to the Podcast Here: McCain Foreign Policy

The text of McCain’s speech today to Veteran’s is here.
Text of Obama’s speech in Berlin.

Addendum: It’s even worse than I what said on the “a” versus “the” world comment. Obama came to the notion of a/the world united by quoting the MAYOR OF BERLIN DURING THE AIRLIFT: “People of the World now do you duty.” Geez, McCain is awful.

Air Strikes Afghanistan

Per the last post, a new UN report out states that the US airstrikes in Afghanistan have killed 90 civilians.

Now a HUGE CAVEAT: The UN based the number on interviews–no photographic evidence apparently (I would quote the passage but its AP–see the link for the reference to my paraphrase). As a good guess it usually always turns out to be more than the US army officially reports and less than UN type groups say.

But whatever the exact number it has been clear that Karzai has repeatedly called out NATO/US for the use of air strikes in the country killing civilians. He wants the US to use planes to bomb Pakistani targets–yikes.

Again, I have deep reservations (a la Juan Cole, Rory Stewart, and possibly even Jim Webb) about a ground force increase in Afghanistan. The alternative however is either A)continued use of air power which will mean more civilian deaths only increasing the hatred of the presence of foreign troops and/or B)the Taliban taking over and destroying the Karzai government. Unless they can massively train up an Afghan Army double quick time that could actually fight which doesn’t seem particularly likely then they are serious problems in this part of the world.

It is not just as China Hand said, that Pakistan is not Iran to Afghanistan’s Iraq (true) but also the Taliban are not the Sunni tribes of Iraq. They deal with al-Qaeda are not going to turn on them and can’t be bought off.

Iraq, since I obliquely am on the subject, is gearing up for Civil War 2.0, so even Iraq itself is headed back towards chaos so maybe there is no hope for any of them.

Iraq Update: Sons Not Welcome Into The Family

[Photo of Iraqi Local Security Force from Flickr poster onekingdown27 via Creative Commons License]

Following up on the reporting from the always excellent Leila Fadel in McClatchy, Richard Oppel Jr in the NyTimes points out the Shia goverment in Baghdad is going after the Sunni Awakening movement.

This is really dangerous stuff. Maliki is feeling his oats against both the Sadrists and now wants to take down the Awakening in an attempt–Weberian style–to gain a monopoly on all forms of violence in Iraq. Reconciliation, smeconciliation. Remember of all the possible outcomes of Iraq one of them is a returned dictator (the others being a Lebanon-ization, a Bosnia-ization, or a total slaughter of the Sunni). Maliki is pushing for the latter.

The American military is worried but unfortunately (as per the usual) translates that worry into fear of Salafi jihadism:

“If it is not handled properly, we could have a security issue,” said Brig. Gen. David Perkins, the senior military spokesman in Iraq. “You don’t want to give anybody a reason to turn back to Al Qaeda.” Many Sunni insurgents had previously been allied with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other extremist groups.

Now certainly the Sunni insurgency could return to a temporary alliance of convenience with the Salafi movement as was the case in 2004-2006. They could of course just as easily align with the Mahdi Army (again: Lebanon-ization of Iraq where militias cross ethnic and religious lines in terms of alliances and fights).

But even if they did reunite with al-Qaeda, the reason they would do so would be to fight their real enemy: The Shia government. Not because they care about some ludicrous never gonna happen Caliphate vision.

Exhibit A:

“Some people from the government encouraged us to fight against Al Qaeda, but it seems that now that Al Qaeda is finished they don’t want us anymore,” said Abu Marouf, who, according to American officials, was a powerful guerrilla leader in the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade west of Baghdad. “So how can you say I am not betrayed?”

This was inevitable. The Shia were and are never going to accept the Awakening. They are never going to see them as anything other than a rogue force with the potential of reinstating the Sunni. Remember Maliki is paranoid by all accounts. He lived in exile ducking assassination attempts and sees himself as the defender of the Shia (The Shia Dawa) in a sea of Sunni-ism to his West.

While I can understand the position of the US army and having to de facto accept the militia-ization of Iraq, this game of trying to prop up a government and pretend there was some reconciliation to be had was always a fraud and Maliki is calling the bluff–telling the US to get out and let them him deal as he wants to with the Awakening/Sons of Iraq.

Whatever Obama’s plans for regional dialog and such (which I think are valid), events are conspiring from within on Iraqi terms to suggest that it might not really matter. There may be nothing that can be done except prevent other countries from joining in in the next round of bloodshed.

Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 6:44 am  Comments (2)  
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NRO Editors on Iraq

This is some stupid stuff. The whole of it.

The gusher of encouraging developments from Iraq keeps coming: Moqtada al-Sadr promises to disband his militia in what is a de facto declaration of surrender after the beating he’s taken from American and Iraqi forces; the number of American troops killed in action dropped to five in July, the lowest monthly total since the war began; attacks in Baghdad have been averaging four a day, down from ten a day earlier this year and 40 a day last June.

Gusher is a particularly immoral word in the context of a war costing thousands upon thousands of lives. Including 554 Iraqis killed in June alone. Now 554 is better than the macabre levels of 100 bodies/day last year, but notice that the pro-war right never mentions Iraqi civilian and Iraqi security force casualties. The only casualty numbers that count are US troops. [As will be clear in a second that is because Iraqis and their opinions matter not]. 554 people violently murdered in a month is not my definition of “encouraging news” gushing or otherwise.

The reference to Sadr is classically dumb as well. They refer to him as Iran “cat’s paw” when anyone with a brain who has studied Iraq-Iran and the Shia know that Iran created the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (and their militia the Badr Corps, er I mean Organization).

Here’s Patrick Cockburn on this exact point (my emphasis):

The turning point in the fighting was not only American military intervention but al-Sadr calling his men off the streets and Iran backing the Maliki government. This is a point made by Ahmed Chalabi, the much maligned but highly astute opponent of Saddam Hussein, in his well-defended headquarters in Baghdad. “People fail to realize that the success of the ‘surge’ was the result of a tacit agreement between the US and Iran,” he says. This was true when Muqtada, who would need Iranian support if he was to fight a real war with the Iraqi government backed by the US, declared a truce at the start of the surge last year. Iran does not want to do anything to weaken or destroy the first Shia government in the Arab world since the Saladin overthrew the Fatimids in Cairo 800 years ago.

Sadr since 2004 has consistently not wanted to get in a fight with the US military. He will rather have his army stand down under ceasefires than directly attack. Each time this happens–and I’ve lost track what number we are at but at least 5 by my count–the pro-war right wing (like in this NRO piece) says that he is surrendering. No, he’s just being smart and telling his militia guys to hide their guns in their homes, hang out, and then when the proper time comes, bring those weapons back out and go back to fighting. When every male in the country is weaponized how hard is this to figure out?

So the right-wing meme the NRO editors have gotten is that Iran and al-Qaeda are the new enemies in Iraq. The absurdity of which would be laughable if it didn’t entail people getting killed. Iran is uh, next door, to Iraq and has as stated earlier, trained and built the government in Baghdad. They share a common religion, pilgrimage routes, business contacts, the history of the Iraqi exiles backing Iran against Saddam–so their connections run far deeper than a temporary alliance of convenience the Shia made with the US in order for the US to kick out Saddam and the Baath and force the US to hold elections so they (The Shia) could gain power. Which as Cockburn correctly notes, they have been planning for about 800 years. Not since I don’t know 2003.

As to al-Qaeda of course they weren’t there before the war and only a Paul Bremer-lead failed mission could be have been so careless and clueless as to allow the Sunni insurgency to make a temporary devil’s bargain with al-Qaeda. That was never going to last–al Qaeda is hated by the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunni in Iraq. Exactly why does the US army need to be there to kill off some dudes that the entire 99.9% of the rest of the country would like to anyway?

Ok, so none of that works, but our intrepid editors are undeterred, they soldier on with the following:

Provincial elections remain crucial to empower Sunnis who boycotted previous elections and Shia forces in the south who are not aligned with the religious parties. The Iraqi parliament failed to pass a law to hold the elections this fall; they are likely to be put off until the beginning of next year. American forces are widely — and understandably — seen as the best guarantor of the legitimacy of the elections, which we want to be accepted as free and fair as another step toward Iraqis solving their disputes through politics rather than force.

The current government of Iraq consists of the Shia exiles parties (Dawa and SIIC), the Kurdish quasi-mafia parties, and the non-tribesman Sunni parties. All three of those have vested interest in not holding elections. The Kurds because they want Kirkuk. The Shia exile parties because they know that unless they work to undermine the Sadr organization (which is what the latest military events were really about not decreasing Iranian influence contra the NRO bozoos) the Shia exiles parties would likely lose in elections to the more popular Sadrist movement (esp. in Southern Iraq), and the Sunni political parties because they would be beaten by the Awakening Crew at the polls. Surprise, said groups kicked the elections down the road. Who would have ever guessed. They can’t agree on anything other than saving their own asses. Victory achieved–they have learned democracy and parliamentary governance….the results are in.

Not that it really matters if the Awakening Guys get into the government anyway, as Maliki is completely (and correctly from the Shia pov) unwilling to have them enter the Iraqi Army. Because the Awakening members see their primary enemy as: The Shia government.

So finally their fantastic conclusion (my emphasis):

In light of all this, the drift of U.S.-Iraqi negotiations over a status-of-force agreement to keep American troops in the country is troubling. News reports say the Iraqis want to set a goal of removing American combat troops from Iraqi cities by June 2009 and all combat troops from the country by October 2010. Iraq is a sovereign country, and impatience with the presence of a foreign army is natural. But trying to hand over security to Iraqi forces too quickly is exactly the mistake that created the near-catastrophe from which the surge saved us.

The Bush administration has to do all it can in the negotiations to push off the dates and make them aspirational and conditional.

Nice political-ese. News reports say the people want America to leave–but can we really trust news reports or better yet the people themselves? Got that Iraqis–keep quiet, whatever you say doesn’t matter.

Cockburn again (m.e.):

A poll by ABC News, the BBC and other television networks in February 2008 showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis say that the presence of US forces makes security worse in Iraq and 27 per cent say they improve it. The only large pocket of support for the US occupation is among the Kurds who are about a fifth of the population. Among the Iraqi Arabs, the other four fifths, some 96 per cent of the Sunni and 82 per cent of the Shia says they have no confidence in the US occupation forces.

Uh, they don’t want to set a goal for US troops to leave, they want the US troops to leave. Everybody but the Kurds that is.

Plus you gotta love words like making our timelines “aspirational”. Keep Hope Alive Iraq!!! And conditional on what exactly? The end of Iranian influence (oops–there went that one)?

In sum, you knew all along the real point of this was just to keep up with an occupation. As always with this crowd, I can’t tell if they have drunk their own kool-aid or they are purely cynical and they know they are lying through their teeth. I also still don’t know which would be worse. But to hear them attack Bush for going all soft shows what they have been reduced to over there at the “flagship” of the right.

Let me present a different forecast:

The Iraqi Civil War always hid this underlying symmetry between the Shia and Sunni and that if an Iraqi nationalist force rose up, the US would have to leave. That was always clear from the beginning as was the real of Sadr’s uprising in 2004—that his insurgency would line up with the Sunni insurgency and Good Night Gracie on the US Occupation.

Given that the ethnic cleansing and the Sunni flip put the Civil War a little bit on the back burner, the nationalist anti-Americanism has revved up–with (contra the NRO editors) Sadr as per his usual ahead of the game.

The US however by arming and training a militia outside the control of the state (i.e. The Awakening) has simply re-set the battle lines for Iraqi Civil War 2.0 once the US leaves. The yo-yo going as follows: The Civil War ignites tamping down Iraqi pan-sectarian anti-Americanism; the Civil War decreases with the Iraqi nationalist protest increases (as they are inversely related); The Americans as a result pushed out which re-ignites the Civil War.

What is victory and defeat relative to an Iraqi civil war fighting over the carcass of a totalitarian police state? The Iraqi actors are taking their own steps to prepare for their own fights and their own reality and the US is at best simply a by-stander to this process and at worst stupidly getting itself involved and arming all sides in the coming battle.