Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mosques and Money

It was almost prescient: “My nightmare – the thing that keeps me up at might – is a failure of Iraqi security forces, somehow, catastrophically, mixed with a major Samarra-mosque-type catastrophe.”

That was Major General Joseph Fil Jr., commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, speaking last week from Baghdad. Today (nightfall in Iraq) the second of the two scenarios Fil described happened – and not at any mosque but at Samarra’s Golden Dome (Imam al-Askari) mosque, the same one whose destruction in February 2006 unleashed a reign of sectarian terror in Iraq. This time, the attack against the site of one of Shi’a Islam’s holiest shrines destroyed the two minarets that survived the first attack. U.S. military officials suspect an “inside job” as the minarets were brought down using planted explosives.

Iraqi and U.S. officials will, over the next few days, confirm the type of explosive used and may even be able to identify which group – and possibly the two or three individuals who carried out the destruction of the minarets. They will, in a phrase, successfully complete a forensic study of the material aspects of this incident.

What this examination will not do, however, is answer with assurance the question of why a second attack on this partially demolished site, even if it is sacred to Shi’as.
One possibility is to demonstrate the ineptness if not the corruptness of the security forces in general and those at the site – a combination of Shi’a and Sunni police and troops – in particular despite the $20 billion spent to train and equip Iraqi security formations.

This is hardly news, either to Iraqis or to Americans. But this is not and should not be the sum-total of the response by the Bush administration and the generals in the field. Left to themselves, the civilian and military brass in the Pentagon and the White House national security structure will do what they know best, since they have been doing it ever since March 2003. They will continue to ask for more money; they will ask for greater latitude in spending the money, not just in Iraq and in the U.S. but throughout the world wherever the Puzzle Palace detects allies “under threat.”

The creeping militarization of foreign assistance over the 45 years since the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 became law is picking up momentum. And the longer U.S. forces are in Afghanistan and Iraq, the more pronounced this trend will become. Traditionally, the State Department has developed and set in place a coordinated approach – both outreach and response – to other countries. Ambassadors were the “person-in-charge” representing the President and the nation and responsible for U.S. citizens who came into the country.

That changed in the aftermath of World War II when organized units of U.S. armed forces remained in various countries. These troops were commanded by the military through the Pentagon to the President as commander in chief. The Pentagon then divided the globe into “unified commands” to oversee preparations for war anywhere within the area of each command and to oversee military training exercises with the armed forces of friendly nations. Belatedly, the State Department assigned a senior officer with ambassadorial rank as an “advisor” to the military commander of each region.

The Pentagon now wants to be given another blank check – permanent authority to spend one billion annually as it sees fit to equip and train other military forces in the “global war on terror.” Moreover, the Puzzle Palace also wants greater latitude to disperse economic and humanitarian aid to friendly countries.

Watch for the coming showdown in Congress over what is called Section 1206 funding.

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