Archive for January, 2007

Strategic Redeployment vs. “Surge” and (Not) Engaging Iran and Syria

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Earlier this evening President Bush made a publicly televised speech to reveal his anticipated new Iraq strategy. In his address to the American people, the President, using a central theme of “sacrifice,” argued in favor of sending a short-term “surge” of more than 20,000 extra American troops.
However this choice, which is reflective of a lack of creativity on the Bush administration’s part, is also dangerous because it will break the back of the American army while failing to quell rampaging violence that has killed at least 23,000 Iraqis last year and over 3,000 Americans since the invasion began. These deaths are for what Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen calls “maybe.”

Among Cohen’s list of maybes, which the President also strongly hinted at or directly addressed, include:

  • Sectarian-based implosion of Iraq
  • Al-Qaeda would have a base to flourish
  • Iran would extend and enhance its influence and Syria would “gloat”
  • Israel would be even more threatened
  • American withdrawal would further encouraging extremists to attack it
  • (Skyrocketing oil prices causing a global economic meltdown can be added to this list.)

Would 20,000 more troops help stabilize through Bush’s military-centric approach? Not at all. In a 2005 op-ed, British strategic analyst and military historian Niall Ferguson concluded based on historical precedent, the United States would need at least one million troops to counter the popular Sunni-based insurgency. He determined that figure before a suicide bomber blew up a large section of the holy Shi’a Askariya mosque in 2006, setting off Iraq’s ongoing sectarian bloodbath. Given the current situation, it would be logical for the Bush administration to think that if it seeks a fresh military-centric option–of which it is neither intellectually, nor logistically, capable–it will require a lot more than an extra 20,000 troops.

Rather than “staying the course” and opting for a military surge, the administration should very seriously consider a different strategy: strategic redeployment and a diplomatic surge.

Naysayers of a diplomatic surge, such as the President himself, highlight Syria and Iran sponsorship of groups the United States lists as terrorists. They would also argue that any sort of a withdrawal, including a strategic redeployment, would be disastrous based on the list of “maybes” mentioned above.

I would first respond by arguing that engaging Syria and Iran can mitigate many of the disastrous “maybes” surrounding any type of withdrawal. In the global fight against Al-Qaeda and its like-minded militant supporters, the United States had working fairly well working relations with Iran and Syria, until recently. Those who support maintaining a large diplomatic distance between Washington and Damascus and Tehran are either dismissive or ignorant of the facts.

In addition, all three countries have strong interests in engaging each other in at least some limited fashion in order to achieve a more stable Iraq. The influx of Iraqi refugees is a destabilizing factor that harms all three parties. (See this map [PDF] of where Iraqi refugees flee to.) Both Syria and Iran are directly affected while America is indirectly affected by threats to friendly oil-producing states like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Furthermore, Iran and Syria would be directly impacted should the Kurds decide to form their own state, as would NATO ally Turkey.

Also, engaging Syria can important to Israel’s security, especially in light of its recent peace overtures towards the Jewish state. As one Israeli commentator noted, “If the headquarters of these organizations [HAMAS and Islamic Jihad] are fated to live outside the territories, would it not be better for them to operate from a country that has a peace agreement with Israel, instead of being expelled to a hostile country from which they can operate as they please?” Ditto for Hezbollah, which uses Syria as a transit hub to receive its men and materiel in Lebanon.

Engaging with Iran would also be helpful for Israel. Iran does not possess nuclear weaponry, but Israel is widely believed to have at least 100 nukes, a nuclear armed sub fleet able to strike any target in the Middle East, and a successfully tested anti-ballistic missile system capable of shooting down anything Iran can launch. Notwithstanding the intense media focus on Ahmedinejad’s rhetoric, Tehran has consistently behaved as a rational state actor with a defensive military posture–including its nuclear program (largely mimicking Israel’s strategy). Even with the military balance tipped heavily in its favor, Israeli security only stands to benefit further from a revived US-Iranian engagement by soothing dangerous tensions that could lead toward conflict.

Some fear that if American troops withdraw, Iraq will descend into a civil war. However if a commonly accepted and scholarly definition is used, then the Iraq has already been in a civil war since 2004. With current American military presence doing little to stem the ongoing sectarian bloodshed, it is high time to seek help from the international community, push the Iraqi government to make political compromises among its various political factions, and begin removing American troops.

Withdrawal from Iraq and ensuing sabotage of Iraqi production may significantly impact oil prices of neighbors like Turkey and Syria, but the global market has been accustomed to a lack output from the country for a while. The bigger threats to regional and global oil output are 1) the influx of sectarian violence-scarred Shi’a refugees whose demography and experiences may radicalize local Shi’a populations in oil-rich states such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; 2) the possibility of Al-Qaeda cells attacking oil facilities such as Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia and; 3) Iran imposing a blockade on the Strait of Hormuz if attacked by the United States or Israel.

The personal experiences of a Middle East expert, a comprehensive assessment by the consensus of the American intelligence community, global public opinion polling and even opinions of former jihadis all make clear that the invasion was a propaganda victory for extremists, generating enmity toward America among Muslims. This does not mean that the majority of Muslims in Iraq or elsewhere like Al-Qaeda. They do not. However, once American forces depart, Al-Qaeda will have a very hard time maintaining its presence. The Iraqi and global Muslim community will soon turn on the radical organization, absent a rationale for its violent tactics that have unnecessarily claimed the lives of thousands of Muslim and non-Muslim civilians.

It is sad that President Bush used “sacrifice” as a theme to couch his arguments for escalating the Iraq war. If he does go ahead with his proposed plan, American and Iraqi lives will continue to be sacrificed to fruitlessly pursue a chimera of “victory” which ultimately harm everyone’s interests – whether it is America’s, Iraq’s or its neighbors.

News and Analysis (1/10/07)

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Former State Department official argues “Nuclear-Free Zone” can bring stability and security to entire Middle East, including Israel and Iran

Members of Israeli and Palestinian civil society produce a documentary on reconciliation that will reach wide Arab and Jewish audiences:

American officials say the identities of the victims are still unknown:

A lack of an objective, unifying historical narrative harms civil society and peace in Lebanon:

Lacking confidence in the state’s ability to revitalize the economy after the war with Israel, people protest against proposed tax increases:

After being sexually assaulted by Egyptian police, victim is arrested:

News and Analysis (1/09/07)

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Muslim Museum in Mississippi: an example of civil society contributing to public education and social cohesion

Was he manipulated by the police into making threats?  Court sentences young Muslim man to thirty years over an alleged terror plot:

CIA and Italian Spy agents insist they are above the law:

When does money count as speech?

The measure of a successful military bombing: “Absolutely, a lot of people were killed. So many dead people were lying in the area, but we do not know who is who, but the raid was a success.”

News and Analysis (1/8/07)

Monday, January 8th, 2007

War of words between two US regional allies strengthens the Taliban:

With Saddam dead, court finds no need to try him on charges of massacring Kurds:

Electoral protest in Bangladesh’s fragile democracy turns violent:

Iraqi Health Ministry contradicts earlier report – 23,000, not 16,000:

Economic woes and lack of political freedom causes “brain-drain” in Iran:

Allegations of “defaming Islam” leads to controversy over press freedom in Morocco:

Turkish writer uses his position as a guest editor of a popular Turkish daily to highlight the persecution of dissenting intellectuals:

Israeli settlements violate Palestinian property rights and Israeli law:

News and Analysis (1/7/07)

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

A week after Saddam’s execution:

· US Iraq Losses Now More Than 3,000 (AFP)

Those who say Muslims don’t elect women to top offices have not been paying attention:

· The Personal Politics of Bangladesh: Feuding Women Lead Top Parties (Washington Post)

While others struggle to ban landmines, Pakistan proposes using them for border control

· Afghan-Pakistani Bond Steadily Deteriorating: Plan for Border Fence, Mines Seen Deepening Distrust (Washington Post)

News and Analysis (1/5/07)

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Who benefits?

· Cleric Gunned Down in Gaza After Plea for Calm (Reuters)

French president foresees “the end of the centuries long, undivided Western domination of the world”:

· Chirac Slams Iraq War as Boost to Terrorism (AFP)

Somali example underscores the relationship between law and prosperity: “Mogadishu was liberated by the Islamic Courts movement, which managed to rid the city of the militias and roadblocks that had functioned like a hundred Berlin Walls.”

Is there a planB?

· If Iraq Fragments, What’s Plan B? A Partitioned Iraq, Which Could Preempt Violent Ethnic Cleansing, Looks Ever More Likely to Many Experts (Christian Science Monitor)

“May the government indefinitely detain a foreigner living legally in the United States, without charges and without access to the courts?”

· In War of Vague Borders, Detainee Longs for Court (NY Times)

News and Analysis (1/4/07)

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Going into business for themselves is among the means India’s Muslims are struggling to break free from second-class status

How a cavalier attitude toward civil liberties can harm national security: Federal prosecutors rely on vague wiretapped conversations to prosecute Jose Padilla because coerced confessions are inadmissible in court

While the hunt for some 3,500 ICU soldiers in Mogadishu intensifies…

…Somalis see ominous signs of warlordism returning as the ‘transitional government’ takes power again

Iraq holds off on the execution of two former top Ba’ath ministers after fallout from Saddam’s death

Palestinian factions to continue to target each other in the Gaza Strip…

…as Israel launched a deadly raid in the West Bank

News and Analysis (1/3/07)

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Democracy in Iraq: man who recorded the sectarian taunting of Saddam is arrested

·        Official Held in Saddam Hanging Video (ABC)

Is this response to the Danish cartoons a case of poor taste or incitement to violence? (At least the editor of Jyllands Posten never said “I’ll be back”):

·        Cartoon Protests ‘Just Slogans’ (BBC)

“I believe the single thing that we have done wrong and we are striving extremely hard to improve on is killing innocent civilians,”—NATO spokesman Richard Nugee

·        NATO Laments Afghan Civilian Dead (BBC)

With the ICU gone, Somalis doubt the government can fill looming political and security vacuums:

·        Somalia Tense After Islamists Vanish: Ethiopian Forces Supporting the Government Have Routed the Islamists, but Are Seen Locally as Occupiers (Christian Science Monitor)

Darfur was used to revivify the case for foreign interventionism, but the “Global War on Terror” has shifted focus back to Somalia:

·        Darfur Diplomacy: Sidelined by Somalia? The Defeat of Islamists in Somalia May Lessen the Pressure on the Sudanese President to Accept a Large UN Peacekeeping Force in Darfur (Christian Science Monitor)

Turnabout is fair play:

·        Has Lebanon’s Cedar Revolt Come Undone? Hizbullah Now Occupies the Beirut Squares Where the ‘Cedar Revolution’ Helped End Syrian Dominance in 2005 (Christian Science Monitor)

FBI agent finds treatment “not only aggressive but personally very upsetting”:

·        FBI details possible detainee abuse (USA Today / AP)

News and Analysis (1/02/07)

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

Fears of “an Iraqi-style insurgency” and a return of warlords remain in Mogadishu

Egypt arrests more Muslim Brotherhood members:

According to the Iraqi government “1,930 Iraqis died last month, three-and-a-half times the number killed in January 2006”

Australia demands justice for citizen held in Guantanamo: “he’s entitled to a trial and a fair one and he is entitled to be charged and dealt with as quickly as is possible. As is anybody” (BBC News)

Fashion Police: Because forced hijab doesn’t work, Iranian police try ‘educating’ women on what to wear:

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad discusses the timing of Saddam’s execution:

Was the Timing of Saddam’s Execution a Sectarian Declaration of War?

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2007

In my previous blog I asked a series of questions about the execution of Saddam Hussein. Judith Latham, an astute member of the media, suggested to me offline that the answer to my question of why Saddam was executed on the Eid-al-Adha was simply that, for the current rulers of Iraq, Dec. 30 was not the Eid-al-Adha and the government is feeling very insecure. For the reasons mentioned below I now believe that she is correct, and for the reasons stated below, I think this portends a very dark future for Iraq and for the region as a whole.

By denying that Dec. 30 was the Eid day in the face of the three million pilgrims celebrating the high holy day in Mecca less than 900 miles away, Iraq was thumbing its nose at the Saudis, siding with Shia Iran and not with the Arab Saudi state in the perennial argument over what is the correct date of the holy day. It is all too easy to dismiss this dispute over a holiday date as no importance. After all, Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics don’t agree over the date of Easter; what’s the big deal? While it is no big deal for Iran and Saudi Arabia to differ on the date of the Eid, Iraq is different because Iraq is in the opening stages of a civil war between its Sunni Arab and Shi`a Arab populations. It’s one thing for the Iraqi government to choose to celebrate on one day rather than another, but it is a grave statement to the world to choose to execute the despised dictator on a day that, in the technical language of Islamic law, is “a day of doubt.”

It would be going too far to say the Iraqis picked deliberately the day Eid was celebrated in Mecca for the execution, since there were a number of factors that went into the decision. Rather, one can say that the Iraqis didn’t care that some Sunnis thought it was the Eid day. An article in the N.Y. Times (“U.S. Questioned Iraq on the Rush to Hang Hussein”) reports that the Iraqis “telephoned officials of the marjaiya, the supreme religious body in Iraqi Shiism, composed of ayatollahs in the holy city of Najaf. The ayatollahs approved.”

Surely such an attitude pours fuel on the fire of sectarian strife. Ms. Latham observes, “It shows a remarkable lack of sophistication.” To say the least.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Related articles (compiled by Sarah Swick)

Is the Iraqi government really upset about how Saddam was treated in his last moments, or just upset they got caught?

· Iraq to Probe Filming of Saddam Hanging (Reuters/Washington Post)

Op-ed discusses possible messages behind the execution of Saddam:

· A Scaffold’s Dark Portrait of Iraq (Washington Post)

“Under Iraqi law, all pending charges against Hussein will be dropped,” which “signifies justice denied for countless victims who endured unspeakable suffering during his regime.”

· Kurdish Survivors’ Feelings Conflicted (LA Times)

American Muslims react to Saddam’s execution on Eid:

· Thousands Join for Eid Observance (Chicago Tribune)

Americans, as a voice of reason, could not convince a determined Iraqi government not to rush to the gallows:

· U.S. Questioned Iraq on the Rush to Hang Hussein (NY Times)

Witness account reveals “two top officials” had cell phones at executions, all others were not allowed:

· Iraq Investigates Saddam Footage (BBC News)