CHESTER HAS MOVED!: We will win the war: a recent exchange

Saturday, November 13, 2004

We will win the war: a recent exchange

An Alert Reader has asked that I extricate myself from down in the weeds in Fallujah and comment on the overall course of the war. In response, I offer an exchange I recently had via email with a colleague (I hope he won't mind). This exchange took place a month ago, before I started this blog. FOC = Friend of Chester C = Chester FOC: "Well, you make a compelling case regarding unilateral action." [Note: he's referencing a previous conversation we had.] C: "Remember, our action is only unilateral if you define multi-lateral as France and Germany. Frankly they don't bring much to the table anyway." FOC: "However, I still feel that Arab pride is a major stumbling block in winning over the average Iraqi or middle easterner." C: "I disagree: The "Arab pride" concept circulates a lot in the press in the US, as does the "Arab street" concept. But a more powerful cultural force particular to Arabs is at work: they respect power. They go with the winner. There is a tipping point on the ground in Iraq. If we get past it, the majority of the population will support us. I think we have already surpassed this tipping point. Moreover, we are linking the success of our effort with the success of indigenous Iraqi forces efforts, and are thereby making common cause with the Iraqis: our success = their freedom." FOC: "It almost seems to be like a no win situation for the middle class there. I guess I see it from a religious perspective. If we fail, obviously their condition does not improve. If we are successful and transform the region, it means they and Islam were wrong and could not provide the means for a successful nation on their own. It exposes that fact that the majority of these countries have repressive governments and according to Hayek this repression goes hand in hand with unsuccessful economic systems. It took the "Christian" west to be the catalyst for change which implies that we/our system is superior to theirs." C: "I disagree: Saddam was no devout Muslim. And Iraq, since the 1920s, has been the most secular of all Arab states. I think that Al Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups want to influence perceptions such that people on both our side and theirs think the Iraqi campaign IS Christianity vs. Islam. But I think that the truth on the ground in the Arab world is more fragmented than this. I don't think you can make the equation, "Our success = Islam's failure." Islam is not unified. The key religious question in this entire war v. Islamofascism is: "Can Islam support separation of Church and State?" There are many Muslims who would say yes. A higher percentage of Iraqis are amongst this number than in neighboring countries. Finally, it does appear that the "Christian" west is the catalyst for change, but I think the Arabs, particularly the secular Iraqis, are smart enough to realize that the West isn't just the Christian west; it is also the technological west, the free west, the west of individuality, the west of separation of church and state." FOC: "My fundamental question is what did we accomplish." C: "Several things: 1. Opened a new front in the war; provides a staging base for US troops in the mid-East, and a new ally in the Iraqis. Fights fascism on its own turf. 2. Possibility of beginning the democratization process in Iraq -- will affect long-term change in the region. 3. Iraq, not a member of OPEC, will provide counterbalance to the Saudis, once it is producing at full capacity. 4. Saddam gone. No tears shed there. 5. Removal of troops from Saudi Arabia. This had been expensive both politically and financially. 6. Now we know for sure if Saddam had weapons or not: he didn't, but he did everything in his power to make others think he did (even within his own military, where every general interviewed said, "I didn't have them but the unit on my left and right did." -- I think this is the explanation for my gas mask at home), plus we now know that he would have gotten them if he could have, plus we know how corrupt the Oil for Food boondoggle was. 7. If Saddam wasn't working directly with al Qaeda on 9/11, he was at least a passive observer, or offered psychological support -- for that one particular operation. In total, as the 9/11 Commission report states, he offered sanctuary to bin Laden in 90s. That's enough for me. 8. From a humanitarian perspective, no more death camps, mass graves, torture chambers or sanctions causing malnourished kids." FOC: "I have no doubt that Saddam had some bad stuff (or had the potential of making it), however, whatever WMD Iraq had are now in Syria. Our actions did nothing to stop the terrorist from getting their hands on it. It still exists but in another country." C: "Not so sure Saddam had anything, or that Syria got what he had. Could be though -- there was that attempt to make a chemical strike in Amman, by Syrian based bad guys earlier in the year. Overall I think there is more here than meets the eye. We've been exploiting troves of documents we captured in Baghdad. Remember, the CIA had completely infiltrated the AQ Khan network for nuke material sales and that's how we wrapped it up. Some think we even had Khan himself on the payroll and that's why Musharraf pardoned him. I think there is much more here going on than we know." FOC: "Surely the intelligence community could see that Iraq would simply move whatever they had rather than risk handing it to the US, vindicating our cause." C: "No way. The reason Saddam continued thumbing his nose at us is cause he thought he would eventually win. Didn't believe we'd follow through. Can't put our reasoning in his mind. He has a completely different view." FOC: "Instead of solving a problem we moved it to another place while new terrorist poured into Iraq." C: "Even if Syria has weapons remnants now, we know that Iraq doesn't. Fine with me if we move by process of elimination to Syria or Iran. Also, terrorists pouring in to Iraq is a good thing. Once they are there, and have coalesced, it makes it very easy to kill them! We have created this battlefield, we are attracting the enemy to it, and if we beat them on it, it will be a decisive victory." FOC: "So now we are committed there with the only goal left to change the region and that I still feel is next to impossible. All of the leaders of Saudi, Iran, Syria, UAE, Qatar, etc don't want to loose power." C: "I disagree: you are viewing the region too monolithically. Saudi Arabia: has moderating gov't compared to some of its populace. If we lose in Iraq, it will be bad for the Saudi gov't short term, because all the yahoos who support Al Qaeda will turn to Saudi Arabia. The gov't itself is split there between two separate crown princes. One is a would-be reformer, the other would spin the dial back a century or two more than it already is. If we win in Iraq, that is very good for the Saudi gov't short term, but in the long term will cause them to reform -- which we want them to do. Overall: Saudis will choose their short term interest and worry about long term later. "Iran: they are definitely funding Sadr and his group, but the US/Iraqis have been successful in politically isolating Sadr from the mainstream Shi'ites, with the help of Sistani. That is the main avenue for Iran to influence Iraq. They can still find common ground with Sunni insurgents and foreign fighters, but much less so than with the Shi'ites. I think Iran is the next place for pre-emptive action, but the campaign there will look dramatically different from either Iraq or Afghanistan. "Gulf states: UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, maybe Oman, and Kuwait: these are firmly in our camp, all are democratizing, though slowly, and will not be upset to see us win. "Syria: probably assisting Sunni and other insurgents, does not want us to win. We're pressuring them with new sanctions if they don't withdraw from Lebanon, hitting them on a different front. Also have lots of Marines on that border." FOC: "If Iraq is successful, it is a threat to their power and money. They have successfully been able to use Islam to maximize their power and that will be how they discredit anything "good" that happens in Iraq. So to me, even if we do the enormous task of changing Iraq it is still an even larger task to change the region. It will not happen on its own because there are too many forces that oppose our "vision" for the region (French/German/Russia/Radical Islamic/etc)." C: "It's definitely a 15-20 year deal, but I think it's the right way to make things happen. The Russians already support what we are doing, just not materially or with manpower, but that would be counterproductive anyway, after Afghanistan and Chechnya. The Germans will come around and begin to provide increasing support overall, whether in Iraq or not. Esp if Schroeder loses re-election or is ousted. The French are done. Go ahead and write them off. 10 years from now, France will have more Islamic militants than Iraq. Sharia law is already being practiced by immigrants in the slums of Paris. Watching France go down the tubes over the next few years will not be pretty." FOC: "The infidel invaders (the US) are saying "you must do this" while other competing powers attempt to achieve their own vision for the region which is very different from their own. Given the discussion above, which side will the proud Arab most likely go with given the choice? His religion will force him to choose to reject the US. The Koran is very clear about what to do with Infidels." C: "I disagree again, for same reasons as above. Arab world is not so monolithically fundamentalist Islam. Many different flavors, factions, and even secular groups. In the Koran, worse than an infidel is an apostate (according to Bernard Lewis). This is why the Saudi state is being sieged from within for example. And the proud Arab is not so proud. He's really the scared Arab, and has to choose who he fears more: fundamentalist fascism, or the US, or increasingly a secular Iraqi state. I think he will side with US/Iraqis/moderating Arabs when all is said and done because we will have more to offer him than fascism. "By the way, the second round of the battle of Fallujah is going to kick off any day. Marines have the city cordoned and Allawi is negotiating with sheiks to give up the foreign fighters including Zarqawi. We're also using our new Iraqi forces to gather precise targeting intel on the ground, which is why there are so many airstrikes in the city. I think Allawi will fail, and we'll go into Fallujah after the US election (in case there's a casualty spike). It'll take 1-2 weeks to clean the place out, but will be a crushing blow to the insurgents. Look for Iraqi national forces to be heavily involved in the battle, perhaps on an equal footing with the US. If we play our cards right, we may even capture Zarqawi instead of just killing him -- this is a long shot though. Upside of everything: Elections are going to go off with little difficulty in January. I'll go out on a limb and make that statement." -------------- Comment away!

9 Comments:

Blogger TSW said...

Chester:

You said...

I think Iran is the next place for pre-emptive action, but the campaign there will look dramatically different from either Iraq or Afghanistan.What do you mean by this? How do you see it looking?

November 13, 2004 at 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello!!
I'm a new reader and look forward to reading more of your writing. Please comment on how the Iran and North Korea will be handled in the aftermath of Iraq. What will happen with Pakistan's nuclear presence?
Blue devils won today!!
Azalea

November 13, 2004 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger USMC_Vet said...

Iraq - al Qaida Link

(For those in the other comment sectin wondering about the Iraq - al Qaida relationship, I post this. Note the dates, the bin Laden 'charities' and the Iraq cities...all current hotspots. It is no coincidence, my friends.)

Excerpted from "bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America" By Yossef Bodansky (1999, Prima Publishing) [Ppg 322-324]

.....

Osama bin Laden has already completed backup plans if the Taliban renege on their promise of hospitality. Bin Laden's main problem in Afghanistan, however, is neither the threat of extradition to the United States by the Taliban nor a building conflict with the Taliban's leadership. Bin Laden maintains very close relations with the Iranian leadership and, as a member of the Committee of Three since its inception in summer 1996, in effect answers to the chief of Iranian foreign intelligence. In early September 1998 the crisis between Iran and the Taliban over the Taliban's killing of nine Iranian diplomats and the slaughter of over 4,000 Afghan Shi'ites during fighting in northern Afghanistan almost reached the point of war between Iran and the Taliban. Although bin Laden tried to mediate between Kabul and Tehran, the overall crisis has complicated his ability to operate just as a major escalation is about to be unleashed.

On August 31, 1998, before the crisis reached its peak, Hassan al-Turabi approached Iraqi vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan, then visiting Khartoum, and asked if bin Laden could move his headquarters and operations to Iraq. Ramadan immediately responded with a resounding yes, and bin Laden was notified within a few hours. Bin Laden has had some relations with Iraqi intelligence since 1993, when he played a role in the preparations and running of the Islamist in Somalia in which Iraqi special forces and Arab "Afghans" retrained by Iraqi intelligence also took part. In June 1994 bin Laden met Faruq al-Hijazi, then the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Department and at present the chief of the entire Iraqi intelligence apparatus, while he was in Khartoum. Turabi mediated the meeting, hoping they could formulate a joint strategy against pro-Western regimes of Arabia. But the Iraqis were still apprehensive about bin Laden's Islamist zeal and close contacts to Tehran, and the contacts did not develop into practical cooperation.

Recently, Baghdad's overall attitude toward militant Islamism has changed. As Iraq's crisis has mounted, Baghdad has incouraged the Islamists -a combination of Arab "Afghans" and Muslim Brotherhood offshoots- because of a series of pragmatic considerations. Saddam Hussein needs their anti-Shiite zeal to counterbalance the Shiite revivalism in the south. Their all-Islamic ideology also limits Kurdish nationalism. In the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq the Islamists have developed a social services program to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people that has resulted from UN sanctions, distributing food, medicine, clothes, and money to the growing numbers of Iraqis attending religious lessons in their mosques. These activities are financed by Osama bin Laden's charities. Starting in the mid-1990's with a few mosqies as al-Fallujah, about 60 miles west of Baghdad, and Mosul, in Kurdistan, the Islamists -bearded and wearing their special outfits, which are a combinatin of traditional Arab gowns and camouflage militarylike uniforms- can now be seen all over Iraq, especially in Baghdad but also in such places as as-Azamiyah on the al-Rasafah embankment, al-Fallujah, Mosul, al-Nasariyah, and al-Ramadi. Because of their proximity to Arabia, some of the Arab "Afghans" consider their presence in Iraq more important than being in Afghanistan.

November 13, 2004 at 8:37 PM  
Blogger USMC_Vet said...

Dissect this sentence:

"In the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq the Islamists have developed a social services program to ease the suffering of the Iraqi people that has resulted from UN sanctions, distributing food, medicine, clothes, and money to the growing numbers of Iraqis attending religious lessons in their mosques."

This is the Sunni Triangle, including Fallujah.

Bin Laden's charities distribute goods to the Iraqis to ease their suffering, right?

Look closely...to which Iraqi's? The ones 'attending religeous lessons in their mosques.'

Oh, so if the Iraqi's go to Mosque, they get charity. OK? No.

Whose mosques? The Iraqi's? No. bin Laden's mosques. Did you catch that the first time you read through it?

You must understand that while you may see on TV these huge domed mosques in Fallujah and elsewhere, these are a small percentage of the mosques. A mosque can be opened up anywhere, in any building. And they are. A mosque need not be on the Cathedral architectural scale to be a mosque.

Falljuah, Nasariyah, Ramadi, Mosul...these have a familiar theme to them, both then and now, don't they?

November 13, 2004 at 8:46 PM  
Blogger USMC_Vet said...

>>>EXCERPT CONTINUED<<<

>>>The Results<<<

Excerpted from "bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America" By Yossef Bodansky (1999, Prima Publishing) [Ppg 322-324]

.....

The development of the Iranian-Saudi rapproachment back in spring 1998 caused Turabi to revive his efforts to mediate between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. Baghdad ahd been impresssed with the anti-American zeal displayed by the Islamists during the US-Iraqi crisis. Turabi was apprehensive about Tehran's promise to Riyadh to stop terrorism and subversion against Arab regimes and began looking for an alternate support system should the need arise to confront the House of al-Saud. As a consequence two of bin laden's senior military commanders, Muhammad Abu-Islam and Abdallah Qassim, visited Baghdad between April 25 and May 1 for discussions with Iraqi intelligence. The importance of these contacts to Baghdad was shown by their meeting with Qusay Hussein, Saddam's son, who is now responsible for intelligence matters and was personally involved in both the Iraqi contribution to the Somalia operation and the latter intelligence cooperation with Iran. Both sides were very satisfied with the results of negotiations.

One of the first concrete outcomes of these contacts was Baghdad's agreement to train a new network of Saudi Islamist intelligence operatives and terrorists from among bin Laden's supporters still inside Saudi Arabia. Special clandestine cross-border passages were organized by Iraqi intelligence to enable these Saudis to make it to Iraq without passports or any other documents. The first group of Saudi Islamists co=rossed over in mid-Jume for a four-week course in the al-Nasariyah training camp. Most were trained in intelligence - how to collect intelligence on American targets and plan and launch strikes. The other Saudis were organized into a network for smuggling weapons and explosives. Later in the summer a second group of eleven Saudi Islamists recieved a month of training in the most sophisticated guerilla techniques. By then Iraqi intelligence anticipated a marked expansin in the training of Saudi Islamists, for Iraqi intelligence took over two training camps they had previously used for training the Iranian Mujahideen-ul-Khalq.

Bin Laden moved quickly to solidify the cooperation with Saddam Hussein. In mid-July, Ayman al-Zawahiri traveled to Iraq clandestinely. He met senior Iraqi officials, including Taha Yassin Ramadan, to discuss practical modalities for the establishment of bin Laden's base in Iraq, the expansion of training for his mujahideen, and a joint strategy for and antiUS jihad throughout the Arab world and North Africa.

November 13, 2004 at 9:07 PM  
Blogger SeekerBlog.com said...

Chester,

I think you'll find this new book seriously illuminating: "America's Secret War - Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies", a new book by George Friedman, published Oct 5, 2004. This is certainly the most fascinating book I've seen on US and Al Qaeda strategy. How many of the assertions herein are true? If just 20% are correct it is an eye-opener.

George Friedman is the founder of Strategic Forecasting Inc [the 'shadow CIA' as Barron's calls it, usually referred to as Stratfor as in www.stratfor.com]. Beyond that I know not what his qualifications are.

As the book is so new - there are not a lot of informed reviews to be found yet. Further I suspect that to effectively critique Friedman one needs to be highly placed in the intelligence arena, AND willing/able to write for the public. Friedman doesn't have a secrecy agreement constraint, Stratfor isn't part of the intelligence establishment.

There's a very long Amazon customer review by J. Dretler that does reasonably well at summary - but I found it ineffective at highlighting key insights. There's also a short negative review by a customer that I don't consider well-informed.

There are some thoughtful related comments by Lee Smith at Slate on Aug 13: "Does the U.S. press know we're at war?"

http://slate.msn.com/toolbar.aspx?action=print&id=2105141

Friedman's writing reads like I would hope an intelligence report would read: dry and non-partisan.

IF TRUE, Friedman confirms some of the inferences I had arrived at regarding US admin anti-Islamist policy logic and strategy - i.e., the logic that cannot be mentioned by officials. E.g.,

- the national security team post 9/11 quickly came to the conclusion that "homeland defense" was impossible. Attenuate threats yes, stop them no. Thus the only viable policy option was offense - to destroy the Islamist support structure everywhere - a multigenerational strategy.

- a central motivation for the liberation of Iraq was to force Saudi Arabia to get serious about cutting off Al Qaeda financing and support within.

- WMD was chosen as the best public argument to build the needed political support, in part because it was consistent with the history of UN resolutions and Saddam's lack of compliance [shoring up the legal case].

- the US did believe that Saddam had WMD, with most confidence being on chemical [that the military was seriously worried is obvious by requiring troops to outfit in that truly awful hazmat gear]. The worry about nuclear was future - after the collapsing sanctions were lifted. Bio weapons were a maybe.

- Friedman did not emphasize one of my key conclusions, that containment via the sanctions regime was essentially finished - but diplomacy dictated that US leadership not baldly state a central fact. France, Russia and China had been tunneling around the sanctions since 1992. All three were committed to ending the sanctions regime, thus allowing Saddam to resume his dream of leading the Arab world, and controlling the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf. Whether a nuclear Iraq was 2 years or 5 years away one can debate - but the end result was very clear - a nuclear Iraq at the hinge of the Middle East. Investigations greatly assisted both by discovered documentation and by interrogation of the involved Iraqi officals has made very clear how widespread was the corruption issuing from "Oil for Food". For an insiders history of Saddam's nuclear ambitions, read: "Saddam's Bombmaker- The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda" by Khidhir Hamza, Saddam's chief scientist, now a free man:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0684873869/002-1877097-6184827?v=glance

- Friedman's thesis does inform "why Iraq now?", while my thesis would have supported "Iraq soon, in the next 2 or 3 years" but did not demand "now.

I wish I had time to better summarize the content - there is just too much to cover, and too little time before I fly out of here.

But for motivation, there's some information online. First is this Friedman interview, which hits some of the key issues:

http://www.americassecretwar.com/author_interviews.html

Second there is the Epilogue/final chapter, published online Oct 4 to update readers on events since the book was written. You can obtain the Epilogue online here by signing up for a free trial Stratfor subscription [30 second signup]:

http://www.americassecretwar.com/about_book_finalchapter.html

<<<
The most important mystery about the war concerns the Bush administration. In some ways, we find the other players much easier to understand than Bush. The administration has been portrayed as strategically simplistic and politically adroit and opportunistic. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case, from our point of view.

Strategically, the United States appears to have a well thought-out approach that makes the most of a very weak hand. The trend lines are satisfactory, particularly considering where they started. We suspect that very few people on September 12, 2001, would have thought that the situation would be as well contained today as it is. Apart from a low but tolerable level of violence in Iraq, the broader war has evolved very much in favor of the United States. This is partly due to the nature of the war and partly due to the strategic and operational choices made by the administration.

Politically, the administration has acted with massive incompetence. Its failure to give a plausible defense to a policy that can certainly be defended is amazing. Instead, the administration has stumbled through a series of untenable and incoherent justifications for its actions until the political foundations of its war plans have been undermined. From WMD to democratizing Iraq, the administration has constantly undermined its own credibility.
>>>

November 14, 2004 at 10:24 AM  
Blogger strick9 said...

As a novice to this all, it is quite obvious to me that the reasons for the invasion of iraq was to drive a wedge into the heart of the middle east. The wedge offers a multitude of benefits:

1. Delivers U-S Military muscle on the ground between two major enemies in the war on terrorism; Syria and Iran.

2. Provide pressure through military muscle on Saudi Arabia.

3. Close proximity to U-S forces in Afghanistan.

4. Get rid of Saddam.

5. Insert a democratic goverment into the middle east.

Now I beleive The first two are the main reasons of which there appears to be great benefit. Both the Syrians and the Iranians have now been checked. The key will be how they react moving forward and how we utilize the strategic gains from this insertion of U-S military power.

I believe the political mistake has been spending to much time focusing on the last two reasons I laid out. Yes, it's great that Saddam is gone and a Democracy should soon be established.. But that is a by-product in a long campaign. For the democracy to grow and prosper to other countries in the region, the strategic gains made by coalition forces needs to be permanent and sold to the world community. In other words, there needs to be a broad, permanent U-S military presence in Iraq.

Such a strategy worked well in Europe post Hitler. We set up foward operating bases to stem the tide of the Soviet advance. We also removed an evil dictator (although I realize the reason for invasions are quite different).

Is the ultimte strategy to wear down (through economic, military and cultural pressure) the iranians and other middle east enemies much like we did with the Soviets?
If so, sell it to the public. They will understand. If it ultimately allows your kids to grow old and give you grandchildren with limited fear of chaos and terrorism; then I believe the strategy is a winner.

November 14, 2004 at 7:24 PM  
Blogger Beyond The Rim... said...

The wild card in all of this has been George Bush. If not for him, none of this happens, including Afghanistan. No body in the Middle East believed the U. S. would do any of what it has done and that is because of previous administrations. No wonder they were pulling for Kerry.

November 15, 2004 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Greg D said...

Hi,

Your friend seems to have missed the most important point (and IMHO you haven't pushed it enough):

The US cannot afford to lose, and won't unless we chose to.

If we have to, we can do the Ghengis Kahn / Tamerlain solution to Middle East problems. Given the choice between mass casualty attacks on the US at unpredictable intervals, and killing them all, we will kill them all.

If you want to see us kill them all, your friend's approach is perfect: Bitch and whine about how it's impossible to drag the Arabs into the 19th or 20th Centuries. Cry that there's nothing that can be done, offer no useful suggestions.

If you don't want to see us nuke every city in the Middle East, then look for an acceptable solution to the problem of ME terrorists. Here's your checklist for acceptable solutions:

1: Doesn't require changes in the US.
We can win without changing. Furthermore, rewarding terrorism (and changing to make it go away == rewarding it) is always a bad idea.

2: No long term ongoing costs for the US.
Paying Danegeld is always a bad idea.


If you think you've got a better solution than Bush's, great, tell us about it. But don't whine about how "it's all going to fail."

Because that's not an option, for us.

November 16, 2004 at 10:25 AM  

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