Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Basic Statistics for Iraq April 2008

In January 2008, the first of the surge brigade combat teams returned to its base. Since then at least two more brigade combat teams should have left Iraq or been taken off line in preparation for departure.

The number of fatalities among U.S. soldiers in Iraq can be expected to lag any significant change in numbers or in the level of combat support. February marked the low point for monthly fatalities. March rose by ten to 39 and April was up an additional 12 to 51 – the highest number since September 2007.

Meanwhile, Iraqi deaths really soared, hitting 1,073 in April. Most of these died in the U.S.-led fighting in Sadr City against militias.

And tomorrow is May 1, the fifth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished.”

Monday, April 28, 2008

May 1 Anniversary and Carrier Moves

The latest information on who said what about whom, shot at whom, accused whom of failing to live up to promises made, and who may still be a brake on this seemingly berserk administration in The White House.

First point: like wedding anniversaries, (which men prototypically forget more often than women), Americans have a penchant for forgetting both the disasters that we make and those of Nature that we intensify and prolong because we can’t remember just what we did to start or add to the momentum toward disaster.

For example, remember the tanker reflagging during the Iraq-Iran War? There was a move to arm civilian shipping other than the oil tankers, thereby freeing U.S. Navy ships to protect the oil tankers. Well, the Iranian Navy mined the Gulf in the hope that tide and current would eventually cause a meeting between tanker and explosive. Instead, Navy ships took a few hits. The Navy also suffered missile strikes from the Iraqi air force.

Now it has come out that ships under U.S. charter are armed with deck cannon, which could up the ante for retaliation by the Iranian Navy should a U.S. charter or flagged vessel open fire again.

Thursday, May 1, 2008, is the fifth anniversary of President Bush’s highly orchestrated landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the ship steamed off San Diego, always careful to not show the shoreline. This was the commander-in-chief setting Bush craved. Moreover, the “Mission Accomplished” banner the crew had made and hung from the carrier’s control island was exactly the declaration he was making here and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was announcing in Kabul: major combat operations had concluded.

Given all that has transpired since May 1, 2003, surely even the most flitting “at sea” newsreel, entertainment video, or sound bite from the comments he made to the carrier crew, the country, and to the world must stand as his most embarrassing political-military moment – one that will be a prominent if not the very first words historians will associate with his administration.

(And one must not forget the fatalities since that date five years ago: 3,913 U.S. military and 275 coalition military personnel)

It’s also a coincidence that public television (PBS) started its 10 part, 10 hour made-for-television special “Carrier” that filmed the 2005 deployment of the USS Nimitz carrier battle group to the vicinity of Iraq, filmed operational launch and recovery as well as other aspects of life for the 5,000 men and women who staff the ship and the aircrews. Right now, the Nimitz battle group is in the Pacific, having left Guam over the weekend with no destination announced. It may head east back toward Hawaii, southwest for a port call in Australia, or pass through into the Indian Ocean and west toward the Persian Gulf and Iraq.

By another coincidence, the just-arrived on-station carrier that is relieving the USS Harry Truman is the Lincoln, the same carrier from which Bush made his ill-fated pronouncement 5 years ago. All things being equal, the Truman should depart the Gulf for its home port. If so, even with the Nimitz en route, there would be two carriers.

If the Truman lingers, it might be for psychological reasons – or it could signal something worse.

Friday, April 25, 2008

April and the Navy

That’s April as the fourth month of the year, not a name.

April 27th, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television will show the first of a ten-part series called “Carrier.” In 2005, a film crew embarked on the USS Nimitz for a six-month cruise that included combat operations: launch and recovery of fighter jets flying close air support for U.S. and coalition soldiers fighting in Iraq.

The opening paragraphs of the on-line “Introduction” to the series ( establish the overall tone and atmosphere of the film-makers as something akin to the Stockholm Syndrome – perfectly understandable in that once on the ship, that was their common experience for half a year:

“Making the film CARRIER required 17
filmmakers to take a six-month journey aboard
the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz during its
deployment to the Gulf in support of the Iraq
War. They disembarked (sic) from Coronado,
California on May 7, 2005 and returned there
November 8, 2005 with stops at Pearl Harbor,
Hong Kong, Guam, Kuala Lumpur, Bahrain
and Perth, Australia.

“The trip proved an evolution for the film crew
who spent the early weeks trying to find their
place while the 5,000 sailors and Marines around
them were too busy to take notice. Eventually, the
film crew discerned the ebb and flow of life on a
carrier, and began to feel more at home on board.
The ship’s crew not only accepted them but also
took a vested interest in the project, making
suggestions on the best places to film and providing
access to missions that helped capture the full
experience of the deployment.

“Jammed into their own staterooms, the crew that once
felt apart now felt kinship as they shared both trepidation
and jubilation awaiting the safe return of the carrier’s jet
fighters. When the huge emotional surge of seeing home
hit in November, the filmmakers knew how the Nimitz
crew must feel.”

The editing of the film into the ten one-hour segments took three years. Much has changed in Iraq and in the United States in that interval, most notably the shift in the attitude of the public from supporting to opposing Operation Iraqi Freedom. Despite this shift, carriers such as the Nimitz are still launching jets to support an increasingly U.S.-and-Iraqi-only armed conflict in which Iraqi civilians and Iraqi and coalition soldiers and other security personnel continue to die. As it is, with the U.S. still bogged down in Iraq and desperate to find a plan for disengaging and leaving Iraq to Iraqis, “Carrier” assumes the hue of Pentagon propaganda whereas the original intent of PBS probably was to depict the complex operations of what amounts to a small town floating on water.

What will be interesting to watch between May and November is whether scenes from the film make their way into television ads by groups that favor the election of Senator John McCain – a carrier pilot in the Vietnam War who became a prisoner of war when his plane was shot down.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Burning Up Another Crisis

Among the various “morality stories” that parents regularly recite to their children is the Tortoise and the Hare. Its point is that steadfast effort gets one to the goal more reliably than does off and on spurts of work..

Similarly, among the universe of land navigating mammals in machines, today – even with the price per gallon of gasoline (or gasoline and ethanol) racing toward the $4 mark – one can still encounter the “jack-rabbit” at the nearby stop light: gear in neutral or disengaged by the clutch; other foot alternating between applying and releasing pressure on the accelerator pedal, each molecule of each hand poised to synchronize the hand and leg movements that produce maximum controlled acceleration accompanied by the sounds and smells of burnt/burning rubber and raw gasoline.

For some reason, this past weekend two or three cars were engaged in “laying rubber” at the T road junction where we reside. Normally, I probably would not have alluded to this childishness (a value judgment on my part). But the recent spate of warnings from UN specialized food and relief agencies of a looming shortage of basic foods such as rice and wheat, warnings echoed by non-UN international humanitarian groups of sharply escalating costs as the extent of the shortages becomes more clear, and the beginning of riots and other destructive behavior, point to an eventuality that, should it occur, may cost humanity most of the recent gains against disease and the lengthening of average life spans.

So what does this have to do with laying rubber? One other factor came into play – the administration’s self-congratulatory announcement that by 2017, U,S, automobile fleets will have to attain overall fuel consumption standards of 35.7 miles per gallon for passenger cars and 28.6 miles per gallon for light trucks. Current conventional technology plus hybrids coming on the market could beat the administration’s timeline easily, according groups who track technology improvements. That would help cut down on the demand for biomass fuels – particularly corn for ethanol. Yes, the percentage of the diversion may not be large considering the totals harvested, but when you are starving, every ear of maize so diverted could well be a life lost.

So when government pats itself on the back for setting standards achievable in past decades or when fuel is burned simply to create a shrill sound and a noxious scent, both seem a form of stealing from those who are most at risk.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Once a General, Alway a Pundit

Major- General: But wait a bit. I object to pirates as sons-in-law.

Pirate King: We object to major-generals as fathers-in-law. But we waive that point. We do not press it. We look over it.
Gilbert and Sullivan, Pirates of Penzance

David Barstow’s front page article in yesterday’s (April 20) New York Times, “Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” started above the fold and occupied the central quarter of page one before being continued on three interior pages. I didn’t measure the column inches devoted to this single article, but when I used 8x11½ standard paper and Times New Roman 12 pitch print, I ended with 21 Xerox pages – and that did not include any pictures that were part of the article.

Twenty-four hours later and with a catch-up article on, the cable news world has been uncharacteristically reticent about the vetting procedures they used (more to the point, the ones they didn’t use) in the competition for expert commentaries on the progress (and even occasionally lack of progress) in the fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq and the controversies about the CIA covert prison system and the military’s overburdened detention facilities in Iraq (including Abu Ghraib), and the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

It is unfathomable that the networks could not see immediately the cul de sac into which they were headed as they hyped the service records and experience of their expert commentators. By so doing, they ran the very real risk of pitting the retirees (“been there, done that”) against their own and free-lance experienced reporters who may actually have resided in a region or country for a number of years (indeed, might even be indigenous) as an accredited foreign correspondent.

But one thing was quite evident early on in both Afghanistan and Iraq: the Pentagon might not know when the first really critical (as opposed to the merely questioning) articles would surface, but they could predict what some of the unfavorable stories would be (e.g., friendly fire, civilians killed in cross fires, lost convoys). So while Pentagon or combatant command public affairs organizations prepared to release official statements of the “what happened,” the cable news outlets were able to present authoritative and dispassionate commentaries about the possible “whys” of the incident that served to reassure the public that the military had been through it all before and still triumphed.

For me, the problem with this arrangement is less about financial conflicts of interest – both the New York Times and the online Washington Post addressed – and more about the ability of flag retirees to disengage objectively from a life of uncritical public allegiance to the institution. Anyone watching and listening to the many retired flag officers who regularly presented their views for the cable news outlets could not miss for long the almost reflexive protective instinct ingrained over thirty or more years of “hard-charging” dedication to military life that – quite rightly in terms of the choices made and commitments endured on behalf of the military as an institution – was rewarded with one or more stars. It is not a question of truth and conscious, deliberate falsehood as much as a psychological inversion that is a bridge too far.

What I have noticed is that there are more doubters, if not dissenters, to the prevailing pro-administration media pundits and commentators among officers who spent their careers in the world of intelligence analysis. While senior officers frequently would observe they were users of intelligence and knew what to ask for, that is not the same as having to pour over numerous, often contradictory reports or snippets of information and piece it together to make sense.. (This disregard for objectivity is also a factor in the administration’s disdain for National Intelligence Estimates that do not support its ideological stance.)

What the good intelligence analyst possesses that a reporter has to learn is the military context in which questions need to be asked and in which answers need to be examined. That is what experience teaches the enquiring mind that, to invert Socrates, allows the examined life to be worthy of living.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Inter-religious Dialogue III

Pope Benedict flew to New York today where he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly. The following extracts seemed to me to continue his theme of the critical need for community, beginning with the family through the nation-state to international organizations.

The organization, he said, was intended to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of three common ends of peace and development.”

It should also be “a moral centre where all the nations of the world feel at home…a family of nations.”

“Its Founding Principles – the desire for peace, the quest for justice, respect for the dignity of the person. Humanitarian cooperation and assistance…constitute the ideals which should underpin international relations.”

This is “a time…when we experience the obvious paradox of a multilateral consensus that continues to be in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few.”

“In the name of freedom there has to be a correlation of rights and duties.”

“Recognition of the unity of the human family and attention to the inner dignity of every man and woman, today find renewed emphasis in the principle of the responsibility to protect…It is indifference or failure to intervene, that do the real damage.”

“Legality often prevails over justice when the insistence upon rights makes them appear as the exclusive result of legislative enactment.”

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inter-Religious Dialogue -- Part II

Half-way through last Monday’s (April 14) entry on this website I wrote that King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s monarch, “Custodian of the two Holy Mosques,” and one of the most prominent adherents of the Wahabi branch of Sunni Islam had proposed that representatives of the three “religions of the book” should meet “to discuss the future of religion in society.

Today, in Washington DC, he received an answer from Pope Benedict XVI who is visiting the United States over the next few days. Now perhaps I am reading into Benedict’s speeches during today’s welcoming ceremony at the White House and later to the bishops of the Church at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception more than is there. But as one who values synchronicity, I could not get past the similarities between the “concerns” each of these world figures expressed:

disintegrating family structures
rise of atheism
proper balance among reason, ethics, and


the state of the family within society
the influence of secularism and materialism
the harmony of faith and reason; ethical challenges; separation of faith from life; the extent to which religion has become a private as opposed to a communal affair

I also realize that Benedict’s immediate audience was the clergy and the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States as well as the wider circle of all American men and women, Nonetheless, it is also true that the men who have occupied Peter’s chair from John XXIII on seem to command the attention of millions around the world, even those who profess other faiths or no faith at all.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Inter-religious Dialogue?

As a nation ruled by law and not by men, we are accustomed to accept the written word in all its forms and formats as an indication of intent or meaning of the author of the document – with the usual reservations of “read the fine print,” caveat emptor, “define key terms,” and how much is the pitchman making?

That’s the positive side. The negative side is the propensity for accepting uncritically the authority of institutions that have a vested interest in promoting their story as the sole repository of all truth. The temptation to simply “be,” to live the unexamined life, to let others distinguish good from bad and so inform the rest of humanity, is particularly dangerous for the three “religions of the book.” This trio – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – each have movements or schools that claim to be the repository of God’s divine word and truth such that no other claim could possibly be valid.

The claim of exclusivity of truth as the distinguishing attribute of the Scriptures and traditions of the religions of the book is particularly evident in some Christian sects and movements. For these “fundamentalists” who also require acceptance of each word of their Holy Book as literal truth, the New Testament is the account of the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies about the redemption of the human race while Islam and the Quran are false worship and devoid of any truth.

So when King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, the “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” at Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, proposed that representatives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, who all acknowledge the same one God, should meet to discuss the future of religion in society, religious leaders took note. Abdullah said he was especially concerned about disintegrating family structures, the rise of atheism, and the “proper balance among reason, ethics, and humanity.”

So far no further details such as when, where, and who would be invited. But that the embodiment of the strict Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam would publicly make known his willingness to meet and discuss religious issues even with “infidels” marks a significant breakthrough on a par with Nixon in China in the world of geo-politics. The question is whether the other faiths will reciprocate.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Uncovering the Strategy

It's the Election Calendar, stupid!

That's the basis of the Bush administration's "strategy" eveyione is looking for.

With nine months left in office, the Bush administration has opened discussions intended to set the parameters of future relationships between Iraq and the United States. As presently envisioned by Washington, there will be two major sections to the final document (or possibly two documents). One is to be a traditional status of forces agreement (SOFA) that defines the extent to which Iraq’s laws will apply to U.S. personnel in Iraq. The other agreement will cover non-security issues.

When assured of anonymity, Iraqi officials have been more open about their expectations. Their description of the non-SOFA discussions, said to cover economic, social, financial, trade, political, military, and environmental matters, suggests that there may well be a series of specialized subject-matter documents rather than one or two Such an outcome presumably would please the White House which has taken the position that no documents emerging from the negotiations will rise to the level of a treaty and thus require legislative imprimatur.

The preferred U.S. timeline calls for completion of these discussions by the end of July – the same time line for the complete withdrawal of the last Brigade Combat Team that went to Iraq in 2007 as part of the Bush administration’s “surge.” In his April 2008 testimony to the Armed Services and Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs Committees of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. commander in Iraq called for a 45 day “pause” in troop withdrawals to consolidate and assess the reaction to decreasing U.S. forces to 140,000. With Congress – as usual – in recess for all of August and the first day of September (Labor Day in 2008), the administration undoubtedly hopes the U.S. press will be focusing on the September 15 date. That would enable Prime Minister al-Maliki to quietly get the approval of the Iraqi parliament and and then send them to Washington for Bush to sign while Congress is in recess and unable to stop another instance of the “unitary presidency”

Should this sequence not materialize, the administration will undoubtedly try to hold out against any effort by Congress to demand that the agreements be submitted for Senate ratification as treaties. In this effort, the electoral calendar will be an ally of the White House as Members of Congress seeking reelection will be anxious for the leadership to adjourn the session by October 1. An easy way to stretch the ratification process is for al-Maliki to not send the documents to the Iraqi parliament until late September. As it is, the agreements do not have to be ratified until December 31, 2008. That is the expiration date of the current UN Security Council mandate authorizing the presence of armed foreign soldiers in Iraq to help maintain order and to assist other national and international agencies working to restore Iraq to its place in the community of nations.

The countdown is 265, the number of days to the end of the year.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

In Their Own Words Part II: A Growing Consensus for Diplomacy?

Jim Fine
Jim Fine, FCNL
Guest blogger

See the first section of quotes from the Petraeus-Crocker hearings on Iraq this week.

Senator George Voinovich Adds That the Diplomacy Needs to Signal "We're on Our Way Out."

"And some of us have talked about this and what we think we need to have is a surge of diplomacy during this period of time. The witnesses that were in last week to tell us -- said that we should take advantage of this 10-month period between this administration going out and the next one coming in. And if we don't -- if we don't do it in terms of diplomacy, if we don't sit down with the Syrians and the Saudis and the Egyptians and tell them, 'Hey, guys, we're on our way out. We have to leave here because of our own financial situation and we're stressed out to the point where we've got to do this. Now, understand this -- and it's not in your best interest to see the thing blow up. It's time for you to step in and start taking some action in bringing people together.'

General Petraeus Suggests a Little More Diplomacy on the Way Back to Iraq

"There has been pretty extensive diplomatic activity. Even the ambassador and I have participated in this. I've gone to Jordan. He's gone to a number of different Arab countries. We've both been to Bahrain, to Qatar and others. We may stop on the way back in a country as well…"

Senator Obama Tells Crocker a Diplomatic Surge Must Include Iran and a Timetable for Withdrawal

"I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind -- and this is where we disagree -- includes a timetable for withdrawal -- nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that is has to be a measured but increased pressure -- and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we're going to be able to stabilize the situation without them."

Meanwhile, in an April 9 Senate Appropriations hearing, Senator Arlen Specter (PA) Urges Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Launch Unconditional Talks with Iran

Sen. Specter: "We all know that among the many pressing problems the United States faces, none is more important than our relation with Iran and the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon. And the multilateral talks and the sanctions in the United Nations are very, very important. But I would again take up and urge the bilateral talks. You were successful on the bilateral talks with North Korea in structuring an agreement… But Madame Secretary, in the waning days of the administration, in light of the intensity of the problems, why not use the approach taken in North Korea and engage Iran in bilateral talks to try to find some way of coming together with them on the critical issue of their building a nuclear weapon?"

Sec. Rice: "Senator, I think we've made clear that we don't have a problem with the idea of talking to the Iranians. I said at one point in a recent speech that we don't have any permanent enemies, so we don't-"

Sen Specter: "Well, but without preconditions."

Sec Rice: "…They have only one thing to do, which is to suspend their enrichment and reprocessing efforts, and then everybody will talk to them. And I've been clear that we're prepared to talk to them about anything, not just about their nuclear-"

Sen. Specter: "But Secretary Rice, they don't need talks to have a cover to proceed with whatever it is they're doing. They're proceeding with that now. I've had some experience. I haven't been secretary of State and I haven't been in the State Department, but I've been on this committee -- subcommittee for 28 years and chaired the Intelligence Committee, talked to many foreign leaders, and frankly, I think it's insulting to go to another person or another country and say we're not going to talk to you unless you agree to something in advance. What we want them to do is stop enriching uranium. That's the object of the talks. How can we insist on their agreeing to the object that we want as a precondition to having the talks?"

Urge your Senators to support diplomatic negotiations

In Their Own Words Part 1: A Growing Consensus for Diplomacy?

Jim Fine
Jim Fine, FCNL
Guest blogger

This week's congressional hearings-with General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice-have produced some remarkable endorsements from both Senate Republicans and Democrats of the inclusive regional diplomacy that we at FCNL have long been advocating to stabilize Iraq and the Middle East. Here are some pertinent excerpts from hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations Committees:

Crocker Attests to a Diplomatic Surge

Ambassador Crocker testified that along with the troop surge a year ago "we also launched a diplomatic surge focused on enhancing U.N. engagement in Iraq, anchoring the International Compact with Iraq, and establishing an expanded neighbors process…"

Senator Chuck Hagel (NE) Asks, 'What Surge?'

"Now, a diplomatic surge, I assume, is somewhat similar to the surge we saw militarily, meaning that you put tens of thousands of more troops on the ground and you did the things you thought you needed to do to surge. But as I read the testimony, Ambassador, it's pretty thin: I don't know if I would equate surge with Turkey hosting the second ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors in November…. I don't know if that's a surge.

Support from Arab capitals has not been strong. I don't know how we think we would find any regional diplomatic effort that's going to work if we can't get the regional neighbors to work with us. Syria plays an ambivalent role. Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government. So, where's the surge? What are we doing? I don't see Secretary Rice doing any Kissinger-esque flying around. Where is the diplomatic surge? In my opinion [the diplomatic surge is] the one core issue that in the end is going to make the difference as to the outcome of Iraq and will certainly have an awful lot to do with how we come out of this. So, where is the surge? What are you talking about?"

In Response, Crocker Agrees More Is Needed

"Does there need to be more activity on the part of the region? Clearly, yes. And I noted in my statement the Arabs need to be more engaged. Similarly with Iran. As I noted in my statement, we have taken a position that we are prepared to discuss face-to-face with the Iranians security in Iraq at Iraqi request. The Iraqis have announced that they would like to see another meeting occur. We have said we're ready to participate. It's now up to the Iranians."

More quotes coming soon...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

What Wasn't Said by the General and the Ambassador

After the rush job yesterday to get initial impressions of the testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on the “Quakers’ Colonel,” I was on “travel mode” and out of the loop for about 150 minutes. As I was late for an appointment, I didn’t think much beyond what I had written – and as I later discovered had not written as I had missed one sheet of notes on the general’s testimony.

Whatever the reason, last night, lost somewhere in the noise of the television and the radio, I had a feeling I knew something about the testimony seemed to be missing – something fundamental. Neither official had said anything unexpected; most of their points had been telegraphed in the U.S. press for days if not weeks. There were a few more details provided about the central government’s planning , command and control, logistics, and combat air support arrangements as it positioned forces and supplies for the week-long (as it turned out to be) attack on Basra.

The U.S. commanders were aware that the Iraqis were planning an operation but were trying to stay on the periphery. So when the Iraqis revealed that the operation would be launched March 26th, it was already March 24, which sent U.S. advisors scrambling to catch up, especially in making sure U.S. aircraft would be available should the government forces need help. General Petraeus added, when asked directly by the committee chair, Senator Carl Levin (D), that Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki had disregarded his suggestion to delay the attack. Petraeus next saw al-Maliki just prior to leaving with Ambassador Crocker before the two U.S. officials flew to Washington. Al-Maliki was up-beat – publicly at least – about the operation, apparently believing the exercise had strengthened his position.

By the time I arrived at work today the problem that had been bothering me began to unravel of its own accord. I had been waiting for Petraeus and Crocker to speak specifically and directly to the steps they envisioned would carry them into January 2009 and that they would pass to the next president. Like Sherlock Holmes in “Silver Blaze, where the dog did not bark in the night, more important than what the general and the ambassador said was what they did not say. Beyond the 45 day assessment period that takes the calendar to mid-September – two weeks before the provincial elections – they offered no strategy.

I have no crystal ball, but the U.S. public can expect the July status quo to remain into February 2009 if not longer. There are provincial level elections in Iraq October 1st for which all available security units will be needed. Five weeks later is the presidential contest in the United States which, because of its symbolism (so the justification will go), dictates no troop reductions. In February the new administration will send its spending plan to Congress. And at that point, the country just might finally have a date certain for withdrawal that they and the men and women of the armed forces can take to the bank.

That is not a strategy either, but I think the Pentagon could build one quite easily on this basis.

Anyone Notice that Whole Basra on Fire Thing?

Anyone want to ask Petraeus what it was about?

Kate Gould, FCNL
Guest blogger

Senator Levin: “But the major political steps that they need to take have not yet been taken by the Iraqis, including […] adopting an election law, so an October 1 provincial election can take place; and considering amendments to their constitution.”

OOPS!!!! This was Senator Levin’s, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, opening statement for the Petraeus testimony. Problem with this statement—it is flat out wrong!

Next problem—it misses the entire root of the conflict. This is of course the main “anti-pro-war” argument put forward in Congress—that the political benchmarks as developed by the Bush administration and later supported by Congress have not been met because of the failures of the Iraqi government to reach reconciliation.

Iraqis HAVE passed their provincial election law. You ask why this matters that Iraq passed its election law on March 19th, a few days before the Maliki offensive began against Sadr’s forces? The “pro-war” and the “anti-pro-war” American political spectrum have jointly derided Iraqis for political infighting while the US surge was meant to “provide the political space for reconciliation”. The US backing with its Special Forces, bombing raids, and ground troops, of one side of that political fight seriously challenges the idea that the US presence the “a breathing space” for political reconciliation in Iraq—but not one Senator questioned this approach.

The passage of the Provincial Powers Act and the struggle it represents is at the heart of the violence in the south, which spread to Baghdad and throughout Iraq. As Ambassador Crocker (correctly) explains, this law is “a major step forward in defining the relationship between the federal and provincial governments.” Only Sadr’s militias reported to be targeted during this “crackdown on militias”. Sadr’s party is widely expected to win the elections in the south, and that this offensive was intended to undermine his political support. Some U.S. officials in Iraq have concluded that Mr. Maliki is firing "the first salvo in upcoming elections" scheduled for Iraq’s provinces in October, according to one administration official cited by the Washington Post.

[IRAQI SHIITE POLITICS 101: There are 4 primary Shiite parties represented in the Iraqi parliament. Maliki’s party, al-Dawa, and Hakim’s party, the Supreme Islamic Council, favor ‘federalism’ or weakening the central government in favor of a Shiite “super region”. They favor decentralizing natural resource revenues (thereby providing more money for the provinces), and increasing US troop levels.

The Sadrists and Fadhila parties support a strong central government, centralizing natural resources revenues, and favor a US timetable for withdrawal.]

Why has Sadr’s support grown since the 2005 elections, while the pro-US Shiite parties have lost power? Perhaps we should take note at an Iraqi opinion poll published by the BBC/ABC just before Petraeus’ last testimony on September 11th:

  • 73% of Shia thought that the presence of US forces in Iraq made the security situation worse
  • 55% of Shias believed that the departure of US forces would make a Shia-Sunni civil war less likely.

As Petraeus insists 140,000 troops must be kept in Iraq without any timetable for withdrawal, a majority of Shia Iraqis believe that US presence is making them less safe.

FCNL supports the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation that “The United States must also try to talk directly to Moqtada al- Sadr, to militia leaders, and to insurgent leaders.”

Instead of serious negotiations, the US backed Maliki’s forces in an offensive launched against Sadr’s forces. The last time the US launched such a major offensive against Sadr’s forces, was back in April 2004. The Coalition Provisional Authority’s (Bremer’s government) own polling data showed that Sadr gained 81 points of popularity after US forces target his Mahdi Army militia members.

After thousands of Iraqi security forces resigned, it seems if Sadr wasn’t set to win the elections before, Maliki’s actions would certainly have strengthened his actions this time.

The US and the Maliki leadership have to recognize not just Moqtada al-Sadr, but the base of his political platform which draws so much support. When 70% of Iraqis support withdrawal of US forces, is it any surprise that his consistent call for a US timetable for withdrawal would have a substantial base of support?

Beyond that, its time for the American “anti-war” Senators as well as “pro-war” Generals, to start recognizing the “major political steps” that Iraqis are indeed taking in deciding the future of their country and that the US strategy of taking sides in this conflict is squeezing the breathing space rather than widening it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Observations on Iraq Hearings: Day One (Pt II)

Jim Fine
Jim Fine, FCNL
Guest blogger

Read Part I of these observations.


Distortions cropped up in the Petraeus-Crocker testimony in at least three critical areas: related to Iran, al-Qaeda, and the bilateral agreement the U.S. is currently negotiating with Iraq.

The “extent of Iran’s malign influence” was evident in the recent fighting in Basra, Ambassador Crocker told both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. “Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way,” Gen. Petraeus said, by funding, arming, and directing what the U.S. calls the “special groups” formerly associated with Moqtada as-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The special groups, Petraeus said, were responsible for shelling the Green Zone in recent weeks. Well, whether the shelling was done by the “special groups” or by other Shiite militia, it was done in retaliation for the U.S.-backed offensive that Prime Minister Maliki launched against, not the special groups, but as-Sadr’s Mehdi Army in Basra. And the “extent of Iran’s malign influence” was well illustrated by the central role that Iran played (in the person, so less, of the commander of the reviled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) in brokering a ceasefire when Maliki’s Iraqi army troops lost ground to Sadr’s forces in Basra.

The greatest distortion of the reality in Iraq related to al-Qaeda was the frequency with which both Petraeus and Crocker invoked al-Qaeda as the reason to support the administration’s Iraq policy. Neither mentioned that there was no “AQI,” al-Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invaded, and both implied that the fight against AQI was the central battlefield in the “war on terror,” though Senator Joe Biden (DE) managed to get Ambassador Crocker to choose to Afghanistan and Pakistan “if the Lord Almighty came down and gave you the choice of wiping out al-Qaeda in Iraq or in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But that was only, Crocker said, because the U.S. had already made so much progress against al-Qaeda in Iraq.

On the bilateral agreement the U.S. and Iraq are currently negotiating, it was the old shell game. There are more than 80 of these “status of forces” agreements, Ambassador Crocker said, and they don’t require congressional approval, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq agreement will contain certain “enhancements,” including authorization to carry out military operations in Iraq. But, the administration is arguing, authorization to fight is not an obligation to fight. The U.S. could always choose not to fight, so Iraq is not being offered a “security guarantee” that would require congressional consent. An executive agreement will suffice. But the agreement will not, Ambassador Croker assured the committees, include an authorization for permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. In fact, he predicted, it may even expressly foreswear them, a point that offered little assurance to Sen. Jim Webb (VA) who said he was not sure what “no permanent bases” meant given the administration’s willingness to foreswear them despite its unwillingness to commit to withdrawal from Iraq

Constructive Nuance?

If you were looking for rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds you might have caught a few glints and glimmers escaping from the dark thunderheads gathering around Iran. The U.S., Ambassador Crocker took the trouble to note in his opening statement, did support negotiations between Iran and Iraq and intended to continue the conferences of neighboring states that include Iran. He did not contend that Iran’s sins to date had cast it irrevocably into outer darkness but said instead “Iran has a choice to make.” Gen. Petraeus echoed this sentiment, saying, “We should all watch Iranian movements closely in the weeks and months ahead” for signs of their intentions.

As for U.S. intentions, today’s hearings suggested signs of change are not likely to appear until after the November elections, but one of the most important changes to look for—and to work for—will be a change in the U.S. attitude to Iran. The U.S. and Iran are the most influential outside actors in Iraq. Cooperation between them is the surest way to bring stability and reconciliation to Iraq.

Observations on Iraq Hearings: Day One (Pt I)

Jim Fine
Jim Fine, FCNL
Guest blogger

No surprises. A nearly complete (and if you are interested in Iraq policy change, a regrettable) partisan divide in Congress. Same old (but from the administration’s perspective, pretty effective) distortions on key issues. Just a hint of constructive nuance that could under the best of circumstances blossom into a policy change in the next administration. These are my conclusions from the first day of Congressional testimony on Iraq by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The two appeared before the Senate Armed Service and Foreign Relations Committees on Tuesday and will face the comparable House committees Wednesday.

No Surprises

The central theme of the Petraeus-Crocker testimony was that progress in Iraq is “substantial but reversible,” a cagey formulation that is vague and cautious enough to be plausible and conveniently implies that continued U.S. commitment is essential if reversal is to be prevented and progress sustained. I expected no less from a team that has actually evidenced considerable understanding of Iraq and the region, as well as considerable talent in dealing with Congress and the public. Indeed, in the service of a different administration, this team might not be a bad one to put on the field.

And there was, of course, no surprise on the subject of withdrawal, but, again, there was a particularly artful formulation. Gen. Petraeus explained that in July the administration would declare a 45-day period of “consolidation,” after which it would begin an “assessment,” and then formulate recommendations on further troop draw downs “as conditions permit.” Pressed by Senator Levin (MI) to say if it might take one, two, three months, or more after the 45-day consolidation period to complete the assessment and recommend a further draw down, Gen. Petraeus said only that this would be accomplished “as conditions permit.”

Partisan Divide

The opening statements by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin and ranking member John McCain predictably highlighted partisan differences on Iraq. Levin said the recent fighting in Basra raised questions about the military success of the U.S. troop surge in addition to its failure to achieve the intended goal of political
reconciliation. He warned that the U.S. was being drawn deeper into a civil conflict and argued that only an announced timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops would prompt Iraqi factions to reach a political accommodation.

McCain, in contrast, argued that the change in U.S. strategy a year ago had brought Iraq back from the brink of civil war and given him real hope and optimism that the success of a stable and democratic Iraq was achievable. A premature U.S. withdrawal, he said, would be a victory for al-Qaeda and Iran.
Questions and comments from Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee members followed similar partisan lines.

But there was one significant exception: the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar (IN), delivered a strikingly frank opening statement asserting that “Iraq will be an unstable country for the foreseeable future” and that the idea of a democratic, pluralistic Iraq emerging anytime soon was an illusion. U.S. security operations, he said, had reached a plateau and could not be expected to have a further “transformational” effect on the situation. The limited number of U.S. troops available made a substantial draw down certain, he added, and concluded, “We need a strategy that needs a political end game.” If you didn’t have a score card, it would have been hard to tell if the statement came from a Republican or a Democrat. It was a glimmer of nonpartisan realism and candor that made it possible to think for a moment that Congress might be capable of uniting around a new policy on Iraq.

Read Part II of these observations

No Permanent Bases But No Exit Strategy

Petraeus-Crocker Early Review: No Permanent Bases But No Exit Strategy

The Greek chorus (see yesterday’s blog) set the stage early with the chant “bring them home.” Then it fell silent as the chief protagonists spoke their well-rehearsed lines.

Senator Levin’s opening statement touched on virtually all the major issues of the Iraq war, the under-performance of the Iraqi government, the continued use of U.S. troops instead of Iraqi forces “in the lead” against al-Qaeda-in-Iraq and other “criminal militias.”

Senator McCain declared that “success is in sight.” What must come next is turning over an expanded range of responsibilities to the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki and Iraqi security forces. The U.S. has given the Iraqi’s a foundation for security on which they have to standup and buildup their capacities as U.S. forces start coming home.
McCain also stated it is time for Iraqis to advance two programs much talked about but so far with little to show. One is reconciliation among sectarian and ethnic groups. The other is to spend Iraqi money from the bonanza created by high oil prices on short term projects at local levels to demonstrate the government’s concerns. Right now the U.S. is still paying for almost everything Specifically, McCain pointed to the Commanders’ Emergency Relief Fund as a place for contributions that can be dispersed with high impact. Finally, McCain re-iterated that he would not leave U.S. troops in Iraq a minute longer than necessary. But he also warned that “congress should not choose to lose.”

General Petraeus broke no new ground. He spoke of the successes in lowering fatalities – an achievement that is partially attributed to the surge. Under questioning from Senator Levin, he acknowledged that the truce declared by Muqtada al-Sadr was another factor. Petraeus pressed for approval of the FY2008 Iraq supplemental by the Congress. He spent time outlining the change in the security situation over the last eight months, including use of a series of charts. He singled out Iran as the chief threat to continued success of the U.S. endeavor, both directly in terms of operations and interference in Iraq’s affairs and indirectly by the training and weapons being provided by the Qods force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to the special operations groups sponsored by Iran.

On the two most important areas of contention, Ambassador Crocker flatly stated that there would be no permanent bases for U.S. forces in Iraq. There will be a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to go into effect when the UN Chapter VII mandate expires December 31, 2008. This agreement is already being discussed. In what sounded like a separate set of negotiations – not yet started – Iraq and the U.S. will strike a long-term Strategic Agreement based on the Declaration of Principles signed last fall.

And on the return of troops, after the last surge Brigade Combat Team returns to the U.S. min July, the U.S. commanders will take 45 days to consolidate and assess the situation on the ground. They will then begin analysis of what the necessary level of forces is to avoid losing ground to the enemy. This will be a continuous process and will form the basis for recommendations on troop levels in Iraq.

General Petraeus, in short, would not even begin to estimate when the troops will come home. The only assurance for the future from either man was that there will be no permanent bases in Iraq.

And this point, the Greek Chorus resumed its chant – until removed from the hearing room.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Iraq: Is Anyone Listening to the Chorus?

Tomorrow, April 8, 2008, Washington, DC will be the setting of what should be high drama worthy of comparison to the best of ancient Greece. Ryan Crocker, the chief U.S. diplomat in Iraq and the Bush administration’s public point person for negotiations with Iran, and General David Petraeus, the ranking military leader of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, respectively, are scheduled to testify before Congress on what has happened in Iraq over the last eight months, and why, and to lay out their expectations about the course of events over the coming eight months.

One might think that Crocker and Petraeus would suffer in any comparison with Greek drama for no reason other than the Greeks conversed with the gods and heroes while the modern duo have mere humans to inform and act as messengers thereto. The point of the drama – like the point of the testimony – is not the content or story, all well-known to the audience, but the “enthusiasm” (literally the qualitative expression of the god within) that found expression in the chorus and the non-musical recitatives.

The drama in Washington will also be more directed by the depth of skepticism or support from members in both Houses. An added “feature” this year is the presence on the Senate Armed Service Committee of the major political party candidates vying for the U.S. presidency: Senators McCain (R), and either Clinton or Obama (D.

For some months, it has been quite obvious that the conduct of the war in Iraq, let alone the question of the origins of the war, would be on the hearts and in the minds of the public – and therefore be of interest to Congress. But this April also features two other protagonists whose appearance in the jousting lists seemed no accident of timing.

The first is a familiar source: the original staff of the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group (ISG, also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission) that Congress established to look at all aspects of the superhighway into and a possible foot path out from Iraq, including the diminution of the war effort in Afghanistan. As in its original December 2006 report, the new assessment calls for devolving all government services except national defense and distribution of oil income to the provinces and local communities. Should Baghdad refuse, U.S. forces should begin withdrawing on a schedule that will reduce the chance of chaos. Should the Iraqis agree, the U.S. should continue to train and equip. Washington should also look at the distribution of its forces in the entire region to ensure proper balance considering the perceived threats.

The second entrant is an active duty officer who is on the promotion list for colonel and has been appointed a permanent professor of history at West Point. Colonel Gian Gentile, who served two tours in Iraq, challenges the popular misperception (as have others) that the decrease in violence in Iraq in the latter half of 2007 was the product of the “Petraeus-Bush” surge that brought 30,000 additional troops into Iraq. On the broader stage of five years in Iraq, Gentile is extremely wary that the wrong conclusions will be drawn and the wrong preparations made in shaping the army of tomorrow.

The core of the problem is the misplaced enthusiasm for the Petraeus tactic of counterinsurgency as the most appropriate response to any future military challenge the United States. Gentile attributes the failed 2006 Israeli response – the first failure of the Israeli Defense Forces in armed conflict with its Arab neighbors – to Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon to a misconceived doctrine which downgraded conventional warfighting skills of the IDF while elevating counterinsurgency.

This concern goes further. Because of the near-total embrace by the Bush administration of the Petraeus model for Iraq, Gentile fears that counterinsurgency will become the only response that future administrations, Democratic or Republican, will entertain. What will be missed in the analysis or denigrated as irrelevant will be the crucial role of two elements present in 2006 but not used before that year by the coalition. The first is the widespread use of bribery – essentially paying the largely Sunni “Awakening Council” militias to stop killing Shi’a militias and U.S. and coalition troops. The second “new” element has been the unilateral ceasefire ordered by Muqtada al-Sadr and renewed by him for an additional six months. This took his Madhi Army militia off the streets of Iraq’s towns, villages, and large cities, including Sadr City in Baghdad.

What Colonel Gentile misses – at least from his writings in the International Herald Tribune in January and the Wall Street Journal today, is that this is the same argument that emerged after Vietnam. The army knew it had not been prepared to fight an insurgency against a highly motivated opponent with experience in asymetrical warfare. Coming out of Vietnam, the question was whether to go back to training and organizing for pre-Vietnam style warfare or go deeper into special operations and counterinsurgency roles.

By the end of the 1970s, the decision was clear: the U.S. Army would return to its conventional roots. Big and armored were the preferred characteristics. Ten years later, in the first Iraq War, the decision appeared to be validated. In the Second Iraq War the initial invasion force followed the conventional warfighting model, only to discover that their new opponent lay not on pitched fields of battle but in their own perceptions of the people they are so often sent to kill in a drama whose curtain, when it falls, is final.

This brings us back to one other function of the chorus in Greek drama: foreseeing the possibility of a form of “resurrection” from the tragedy that humans had to endure.

For those with the will and the character to see beyond the normal human horizon, who, though suffering from an often almost unbearable tragedy nonetheless survive and in so doing surmount their fate, the Chorus holds out the possibility of attenuation, of a form of self-healing that serves as an example to others not to take the same path. In so doing, they find the strength of will and character to press on with life and rise, once again, beyond the usual limits of human horizons.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Breaking the Silence: Riverside Church Forty-One Years Ago

Forty years ago today, April 4th 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Forty-one years ago on the same date, he spoke to a gathering of “Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam” at Riverside Church in New York City.

I don’t recall hearing anything about this event when it happened. At the time Dr. King spoke, I was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Germany, one of the four U.S. combat units whose ostensible mission, should war come again in Europe, was to block any Warsaw Pact attempt to use the “Fulda Gap” – a break in the Haartz Mountains that was a traditional invasion route from the east into the North German Plains. That the Soviets and East Germans could muster some 80 divisions against perhaps 15-20 NATO divisions was a clear indication that the U.S. units were tripwires guaranteeing a U.S. response.

At least that was the geo-political rationale. By 1967, U.S. units in Germany had another, more urgent mission: retrain, reintegrate, and re-socialize the growing number of soldiers fresh from a year of increasing bloodshed in Vietnam where, they were told, U.S. soldiers were fighting to defeat communism and sustain democracy in South Vietnam – and by extension in America even though most U.S. “minority” soldiers had themselves never enjoyed the rights and privileges that were their birthright.

King’s oration at Riverside remains one of his most holistic presentations. Its core is the absolute, total, unequivocal, and complete rejection of the presumption that, in time of war, there is only one “patriotism” – that of the “warhawks” – and those unable to accept the utility of war as national policy are constrained by their minority position to remain silent.

King does not – indeed as a minister cannot – repudiate the role of silence in religious observances. Indeed, in the Society of Friends, meetings for worship rest on the principle that only in silence can Friends “hear” or otherwise encounter the promptings of the spirit. Thus, for Friends, in the absence of silence, nothing of the spirit may be discerned. Even meetings for business open and close with periods of silence. In Buddhism, the sacred word OHM has four sounds when properly pronounced: “O,” “AU,” “UM,” and the Silence that follows.

The silence that Dr. King rejects is the refusal of community and religious leaders to speak out against policies, programs, and events that diminish rather than increase the human and materiel resources that the state can expend to reduce poverty and other social injustices. Clearly, at the top of his concerns are the activities conducive to war and the preparations for war. As hard as it may be in the face of rampant jingoism, war-fever, or the fear induced in the public of new calamities striking unless the government is given a free hand, religious and political leaders are obliged to hold their ground – but not their voices – when government adopts policies that, individually or collectively, demean those in need.

Writing in Counterpunch April 2, Bernard Chazelle suggests that a creed or ideology has two functions: feeding the soul and serving as a guide when hard decisions need to be made. I see the silence that Dr. King rejects as the “smooth patriotism” that stays safely in port rather than sail before the wind. If none object, all might find that the policy (the port) is more dangerous (e.g., the “wind” turns into a hurricane) than the open sea.

The irony in all this lies in the public’s belief that in the long term the choices made by government are rational, reasonable, and pragmatic. In Dr. King’s era, the war was one into which the country stumbled in silence. The current war does not even have this to excuse it – only an inappropriate silence.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

March Statistics: Spotlight on Afghanistan

March Statistics – Mainly Afghanistan

On March 23rd, the 4,000th U.S. service member was killed in Iraq. Over the following eight days, another 12 U.S. soldiers died. This brought March fatalities to 39 and the total since March 19, 2003 to 4,012 for the U.S. military in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But Iraq is not where the Bush administration’s attention is focused this week at the NATO summit. For weeks, in fact, the Vice-President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and now President Bush himself, in Bucharest for the summit, have all been pressing other NATO nations to put more troops into Afghanistan to repel a resurgent Taliban. NATO countries, especially France and Denmark, have committed to send reinforcements, Britain is considering additional deployments, but Germany has said no.

Fatalities continue to mount. In the first three months of 2008, countries allied with the U.S. have suffered 24 fatalities while the U.S. has lost 16. These raise total fatalities since October 8, 2001 to 491 for the U.S. and for the allied countries to 298. This is the first time the allied dead have so outstripped the U.S. killed.

Afghanistan will never be solved by armies in the field. Not united in modern times until 1747, Afghanistan’s incessant history of war and insurrection ought to have warned any sane government to stay. Russia, Britain, the USSR, and now the U.S. risk repeating the obvious lesson the hard way: outsiders have never, nor will they ever be able, to devise and implement a “sane” policy for Afghanistan other than “stay away.”

Unfortunately, having toppled what was in 2001 the Taliban government in retaliation for Kabul’s refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden to the U.S. or to a third country for trial in connection with 9/11, the U.S. is responsible for the health and welfare of the people, for the physical safety of the population from domestic criminals or from foreign syndicates, and for the provision of services that are normally considered the responsibility of the community/state.

If these are the responsibilities “to do,” the occupying power is enjoined from altering the form of government, the relationship between the national and local governance, the legal system, and social/ethnic constituencies.

Occupying powers also are to look after the economic recovery and well-being of the population once fighting has stopped or moved on to other regions. The economic aspect, it seems to me, is the key to the riddle – if there is a key. And at this stage, whether the NATO troops are “occupying” or are in Afghanistan under UN auspices and at the invitation of Hamid Karzai, is a moot point.

Studies suggest that the most important program government can undertake in a society dependent on agriculture as a (if not the) chief occupation and possibly the main source of foreign exchange is the construction of all-weather “high speed” (relatively) road and rail networks that, either alone or in tandem, ease the transport of goods from the point of origin to “collection” centers (e.g., co-ops or the equivalent, even road/rail junctions) to processing and distribution (or re-distribution) via conduits that operate along the farm-to-market network only in reverse.

Afghanistan is complicated by the poppy crop grown to meet the demand for illegal drugs. Unable to control demand among their own publics, the “consumer” countries have demanded that the Kabul regime eradicate the poppy fields by slash and burn or by dropping herbicides. Naturally, Karzai is not pleased with either option, especially when the reconstituted Afghan army and 26, 00-plus NATO troops are beset by a resurgent Taliban insurgency that enjoys a virtual safe-haven in Pakistan.

The requirement is educational. The introduction of alternative highly subsidized cash crops suitable to the terrain and weather, starting in the more stable of the 35 provinces using greatly expanded province reconstruction teams (PRTs) balanced between native Afghan and foreign agricultural experts, Afghan social service providers, civil society and micro-economic funding sources – all no “higher” than province and preferably more local representatives. Trained full-time security forces will have to be provided in some areas, especially in the early stages of the effort when the new transportation infrastructure will be used by poppy growers and legitimate farmers.

If the subsidized legal crops can thrive well enough to provide steady income, then the government can go after the poppy crop, again pressing outward from the safer areas to the less safe. Undoubtedly, this process may require a re-re-balancing of the PRTs in the short run to discourage a return to violence as the illegal crops are found and destroyed. But by the time this stage is reached, the stakeholders who became successful in new endeavors financed by micro-loans, together with the stakeholders of larger companies that benefit from an “open road” policy made possible by the national road infrastructure, will not want a return to the old experiences of guns, drugs, criminal and state violence that are part of the opium trade. And Afghanistan’s exports would be less dependent on the success of a single substitute crop.

Should all else fail, it would probably be cheaper to give farmers money not to grow any crops on a commercial scale. Over a ten year period, this just might, if enforced, cut the drugs.

And then there is the other big concern, something only the Afghans can do: diminish significantly official corruption and bribery.