SCIRI's recent name change--dropping the "Revolution" from their movement--was only the most obvious of recent signals of a simmering shift in the Iraqi political landscape.
Some of the political wrangling no doubt results from a pervasive impression of the Maliki regime's ineffectiveness, but to a larger extent, Iraqi leaders appear to be readying themselves for an imminent reality of life after occupation.
Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, two of the most influential actors to watch as Iraq rolls from occupation into sovereignty, are both making overtures intended to move their own parties into a position of supremacy. In this power wrangling, Babak Rahimi views the looming potential for a storm of confrontation in a new piece for the Jamestown Foundation.
Both factions are taking new positions in a shifting political landscape. Due to the failure of the constitutional drafting process, tensions over key political issues, such as federalism and the distribution of oil, are paving the way toward a major Shiite-on-Shiite conflict. The two parties appear to expect some sort of a political confrontation over the constitution after the future collapse of the al-Maliki government. What these new strategies also indicate is how the weakening of the Iraqi government is forcing Sadrists to expand their military prowess for control over cities and regions that are at the moment dominated by the SIIC's militia group, the Badr Organization. A major clash between the two Shiite parties can be expected in the future, and only a viable political solution can prevent a full outbreak of conflict.....
The potential descent into an intra-sectarian civil war poses a serious danger to Iraq and the region. This sort of civil war could contribute to the formation of new Shiite groups, destabilization of the Iraqi government and the southern provinces, especially Basra, and lead to serious humanitarian catastrophes. Although such intra-sectarian conflict is essentially a political one, it also includes a significant religious component. Iraq is undergoing a shift in the balance of power among Shiite militant groups, and the best Washington can do is to hope for the victory of the orthodox Shiite institution in Najaf. It is with the authority of al-Sistani that fighting between these two militia groups can best be prevented.
The most practical strategy that the United States could adopt at this stage is to prevent the meltdown of the Iraqi government into a state of political factionalism; in reality, Iraq's worst enemy at this moment is the Baghdad government itself. The reason is that with the absence of a relatively centralized state, militias (regardless of their ethnic and sectarian associations) are bound to expand and continue to fight among themselves (and Iraqi and U.S. troops) for power. This general strategy also means that Washington should recognize the pivotal role of political integration, rather than military operative tactics (like the troop surge), against the radicalization of Shiite groups.
Regardless of the success or failure of the surge, the post-coalition era would need to see the formation of inter-sectarian political parties. In light of his recent call for the creation of a "reform and reconciliation project," al-Sadr could possibly lead the country to a new post-Baathist political era, in which Shiite and Sunni nationalists, who remained in Iraq during Saddam's reign, could unite against former exiled Shiite and Kurdish parties like the SIIC and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. The United States should encourage such political coalitions, despite its obvious anti-occupation (or anti-American) fervor. Nevertheless, although this new coalition can lessen sectarian tensions, it will not, however, do away with the Shiite militia competition over power and prestige. An SIIC-Sadrist clash looms ahead, and the best Washington can do is to contain it through an already fragile Iraqi government.
As crises go, the controversy over the Pentagon's decision to restrict access on DoD networks to thirteen popular websites doesn't compare to, say, the post-invasion looting in Baghdad or the Samarra mosque bombing. But much as those larger horrors caught the military command unprepared, the Pentagon appears surprised and embarrassed by the growing computer-network controversy.
Word of the guidelines made the front page news, causing such a cringe in first amendment experts and uproar in the blogosphere that the Pentagon called a press conference this week in an attempt to stem the criticism.
Defense Information Systems Agency vice director, Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, emphasized the Pentagon's message to reporters that:
"It's important to point out that this directive does not prohibit any individual, including DOD personnel or their families, from posting to or accessing these recreational websites from their personal or commercial network providers. It only restricts the use of DOD computer network resources to access these sites."
The trouble is that, at least in Iraq, far more troops rely on the DoD network to get online than use the Internet from their own laptops, and non-DoD resources are probably not sufficient to sustain troops' usual amount of leisure time invested in these sites.
At Baghdad's Camp Liberty in early March, the Morale, Welfare and Recreation tent's Internet-equipped computer lab frequently had a waiting list for weary soldiers and airmen seeking to get online. A much smaller tent with seven stations for troops to plug Ethernet cables into their laptops for Internet access through a commercial scratch card always had space for this reporter when he sought to avoid the MWR wait.
If the wait to access non-DoD computer networks was sometimes prohibitively long in March, it's hard to imagine the new guidelines won't impact soldiers' everyday access to MySpace and other sites. But that doesn't seem of much concern to the Pentagon.
Q: Is DOD doing anything to facilitate more access through commercial providers in places where folks were using this bandwidth? Are you, you know, making it possible for commercial people to move in in greater numbers so that there are alternatives available beyond what had been available up till now?
ADM. HIGHT: No, we're not. And I, quite frankly, think that there is a tremendous market approach to whether or not service providers need to be where they need to be. So in other words, I think that commercial providers go where the demand is.
MySpace, in particular, is a favorite at Camp Liberty -- both to talk with loved ones outside of Iraq and with one another. Flyers hanging on the bulletin board of the MWR tent advertise soldiers' MySpace pages and urge gawkers not to be "shy about making friends." At least one computer at the MWR tent had its background screen set to advertising a MySpace-available mixtape of troops rapping about their experiences. And MySpace's chat function seemed to be enabled as a desktop shortcut on most stations in the tent.
The new DoD network ban on MySpace received an unexpected and unwelcome mention in the coverage of the three soldiers missing since Saturday. Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr.'s aunt told the Washington Post that her nephew had called from Iraq on Friday because the military had cut off his access to the MySpace account he used to keep in touch with his relatives.
Hight told reporters yesterday that the Pentagon might block "additional sites... in the future as part of ongoing efforts to ensure DOD networks have sufficient throughput available to conduct operational and supporting missions as well as enhance DOD network security." Yet when pressed as to how much bandwidth was really being expended by the use of the fourteen websites, Hight demurred:
Q: Are you able to put a rough percentage of how much of your bandwidth was being taken up by a recreational use from these sites, just to give us an idea of the proportion of the problem?
ADM. HIGHT: Well, I'll tell you why that's very difficult for us to do. We span the globe. We have over 5 million computers. And any number I gave you would just be an average of the world. So rather than mislead you, I'd rather not -- I'd rather not do that.
YouTube, BlackPlanet and other companies have said they will try to persuade the Pentagon to reconsider.
Coming on the heels of the recent decision to have restrict military blogging, many wonder about the new policy's impact on the information war. In a conference call yesterday, according to Noah Schachtman of Wired, Hight got the question head-on:
When asked whether these Internet-enabled troops are a valuable part of the information war against insurgents and Islamic extremists, Admiral Hight replies, "That's a great public affairs question. And I'm not a public affairs officer."
We enjoyed a nice Mother's Day. We ate brunch with my mother at her nursing home, and the smile on her face at seeing her grandson was wonderful. She excitedly showed him off to all her friends.
My son had brought a "swim noodle" with him. Cutting it into pieces, he skillfully fashioned them into a more comfortable armrest for my mother's wheelchair. Several of the residents came over to admire his handiwork. I guessed that kind of creative ingenuity develops when one lives in a war zone.
His two-week leave went by way too fast, with too many people to visit and too much shopping to do. While we didn't have enough time to do everything we had planned, we did do much.
My daughter is a photographer in a portrait studio. She got him into her studio and took new pictures of him--something we do every time he comes home, just in case we never get the chance again.
His sister also dragged him over to see her new apartment. For the first time in her life, she lives by herself in her own little studio apartment, and was eager to get advice from her brother on how to make everything fit in the tiny space. Six years of military living has made him somewhat of an expert on living in tight quarters.
My son, being the computer geek of the family, found everyone he visited had something they wanted him to do on their computer. As he explained how to do different things, I saw a confidence in my son that he didn't have when he was younger.
He is twenty-seven years old now, no longer a kid. The man he is today is the result of life in the military. Most of the changes I see in him are for the better. Confident and resourceful, he has the tools he needs to go wherever his life might take him. But now it takes him back to Iraq--life in a war zone.
After putting back on the uniform he had arrived in, he gave me hug and said goodbye.
Then he was gone.
He should arrive in Kuwait sometime today. I don't know how long he will be there before he goes back into Iraq, and won't know until he has opportunity to email me and let me know he arrived safely.
Life now goes back to what has become normal for my family. My son lives in a distant land under an omnipresent threat of violence, trying to perform the job his country has asked of him. All I do is wait--fearing each knock on the door and ring of the phone, scouring the news for every tidbit on Iraq.
I wait to hear from him that he is safe.
Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.
George Tenet's memoir At the Center of the Storm was designed to redeem the record of the former director of the CIA, but his account of key events has encouraged many critics to speak out in contradicting his recollection.
Most famously, Center of the Storm rejects Bob Woodward's account of Tenet describing pre-war intelligence on Iraq's WMD program as a "slam dunk" in his book Plan of Attack.
Tenet has admitted giving Woodward information for his books, but says the scene in question did not happen. The back and forth on the subject of the "slam dunk" comment has gotten the bulk of press regarding their differing accounts, though Woodward's criticisms have been much deeper and more wide-ranging.
As Jeffrey Goldberg writes in this week's New Yorker, "Woodward’s position in Washington is such that his view will likely be seen as the definitive word on Tenet’s career, and certainly on his memoir."
Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Tenet's main complaint about the author is Woodward's contention that the then-DCI was derelict in his duties by not going directly to the president with his fears of an imminent attack on July 10, 2001, after the CIA had received information which, as Tenet wrote in his book, “literally made my hair stand on end.”
Tenet briefed then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice instead of the president, with whom he met with every day--a decision Scott Pelley questioned on Tenet's recent 60 Minutes appearance.
Tenet responded: “The President is not the action officer. You bring the action to the national-security adviser and people who set the table for the President to decide on policies they’re going to implement.”
Bob Woodward wrote in his Washington Post review, “Whoa! That’s a startling admission. I’m pretty certain that President Bush or any president, for that matter, would consider himself or herself the action officer when it comes to protecting the country from terrorism.”
When Goldberg mentioned Woodward’s contention to Tenet, he first responded, “You know, I don’t want to talk about Woodward. I really have no interest in talking about it.”
Then, as Goldberg recounts:
He paused for a moment, and then his view of Woodward burst forth: “I mean, the one thing I object to, you know, the one thing I really object to, is ‘You didn’t tell the President.’ There’s nothing about the threat reporting in that period that I didn’t tell the President correctly about. So there’s this one meeting that occurs—the President understood—look, it started in the spring. Look, we wrote any number of pieces about the potential for a large attack against U.S. interests. I mean, he knew exactly what we were doing overseas.” He continued, “So maybe Woodward thinks, Well if you wanted covert action, you should have gone to the President. Well, no, I’m sorry. Direct? If you wanted covert action—well, I remember directors that went directly to the President, around a policy process, to get a covert action going. That doesn’t work. You don’t jump the principals and say, ‘Give me covert action.’ So it’s good for Bob to say that, but the point is that’s how I believed this worked. There’s a disciplined process of governance. I got enough cowboy to last me a lifetime that spring and summer”—of 2001. “We’re running down people, we’re moving people, you know, there are renditions going on, we’re talking to people, we catch the guy who’s going to bomb the Embassy in Paris, we got to get him moved, there are plots against the Embassy in Rome, we got plots in Turkey, we got guys crossing the borders in Saudi Arabia with detonators and manuals—we’ve got enough going on.”
Goldberg took Tenet's explanation back to Woodward, and got a sharply-worded response:
“I hate to say this, but I think the world agrees with me. Governments and Presidents expedite things all the time. . . . President Bush told me he didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and that his blood was not boiling before September 11th. I would argue that Tenet’s job was to boil the President’s blood. That’s why you show up on the President’s doorstep. I’m raised in a culture where you don’t observe the chain of command, you go around.”
In Socratic thinking, the wisest of men admit they know nothing; those who claim expertise are considered suspect--a thought that often crosses my mind when watching cable news shows or reading a commentary piece by the "expert" of the day.
The war in Iraq has created a large stable of Middle East "experts," each of whom feels qualified to occasionally posit what they advertise with unblinking certainty as the ideal strategy the US should pursue.
Many do not enjoy a depth of knowledge and experience to adequately support their opinions, but that is of no consequence, since it seems a preening self-confidence has replaced logic, reason, and argument support as the key qualifications for developing a reputation for contributing value to the public discourse.
With the era of egos currently at its peak, the admission of one who voices a disclaimer that he is no expert before offering an opinion on Iraq makes this jaded blogger take note.
As a former soldier and member of the British Foreign Office, Rory Stewart served the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq as Deputy Governor of the southern provinces of Maysan and Dhi Qar from 2003 to 2004, an experience he described in the book The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq.
The New York Review of Books has published portions of a discussion with Stewart from an event at the Asia Society in New York on April 20, 2007. When an audience member asked what Stewart would do in Iraq now, he responded:
What would I do in Iraq now? I am not an expert, but I believe that the time has come to withdraw, that our presence is infantilizing the Iraqi political system. That we're like an inadequate antibiotic. We are sufficiently strong to have turned what might have been a conventional civil war into a highly unconventional neighborhood conflict. But we're not strong enough to eliminate it entirely. At the same time I fear that, without intending to, we have discredited democracy in the eyes of many Iraqis. We have created a situation in which many Iraqis now feel that the only way to keep security is to bring back a strongman. They are extremely skeptical of our programs and suggestions for development.
I think that Iraqi politicians are considerably more competent, canny, and capable of compromise than we acknowledge. Iraqi nationalism, in my view, can trump the Shiite–Sunni divisions. Our continuing presence is encouraging Iraqi politicians to play hard-ball with each other. Were we to leave, they would be weaker and under more pressure to compromise. In our relations with the Iraqis we often blocked negotiations with Moqtada al-Sadr or Sunni insurgency leaders, or the offer of troop withdrawals and amnesties for former Baathists and insurgents, among others. Yet these will probably be elements in any kind of settlement.
And therefore, my belief—and I emphasize this is my belief, not a certainty—is that were we to withdraw, things would improve. I say belief because that may not be the case. I can't predict the future. Iraq and its neighbors and its internal forces are extremely difficult to understand.
Larry Wilkerson, an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said in a radio interview on Thursday that the "high crimes and misdemeanors" of the Bush Administration make the offenses for which President Bill Clinton was impeached "pale in comparison."
Speaking in an interview to NPR's On Point, Wilkerson said: "The language in that article, the language in those two or three lines about impeachment is nice and precise -– it's high crimes and misdemeanors. You compare Bill Clinton's peccadilloes for which he was impeached to George Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors or Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors, and I think they pale in significance."
Wilkerson is a Retired Army Colonel, Chief of Staff under Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, Vietnam War veteran, former Acting Director of the Marine Corps War College at Quantico, and currently a teacher of national security at William and Mary College.
Wilkerson has previously described Powell's presentation to the United Nations as "the lowest point in my life."
Six former intelligence officials released a letter today responding to the piece written a few days ago by six other retired CIA officers, who had called for George Tenet to return his Presidential Medal of Freedom and donate half of his book's royalties to Iraq veterans "who have paid and are paying the price for your failure to speak up when you could have made a difference."
Open Letter From Senior Former CIA Officers
A recent public letter by six former CIA employees is a bitter, inaccurate and misleading attack on Former CIA Director George Tenet’s leadership and, ultimately, on the CIA itself. That letter came from officers many of whom had not served in the Agency for years and in some cases decades. For the most part, these few individuals did not bear the burdens of rebuilding an agency that had been battered by resource cuts in the 1990s, battling terrorism in the run-up to 9/11 and in its aftermath, or wrestling with the complex problems associated with US involvement in Iraq.
Their letter was written from the comfortable confines of hindsight and from afar. We note they launched their attack before any of them could have had an opportunity to read Mr. Tenet’s book.
In contrast, what we saw during the seven years Mr. Tenet was Director was a very different picture than the one presented by these former officers.
We saw a Director who worked tirelessly and passionately to restore, modernize, and enhance the nation’s intelligence capabilities.
We saw a Director who cared deeply about the people of the intelligence community – about their welfare, their training, their opportunities and about the diversity of the intelligence workforce.
We saw a Director who understood before most other senior officials in Washington the seriousness of the threat al Qaeda and other terrorists represented and declared war on them long before many in Washington were ready to fight.
We saw a Director who, after 9/11, literally led the nation’s counterterrorism fight – aggressively pushing, cajoling, and demanding the best from everyone across the entire US counterterrorism community.
We saw a director who was adamant that his intelligence officers not become policy advocates; to do so would make the objectivity and credibility of all intelligence suspect in the eyes of the recipients. In short, he set an example of what it takes to be a dedicated public servant and the consummate intelligence professional.
And on Iraq, we saw a Director who did not shrink from conveying bad news to policymakers when the war began going badly, and who now has the courage to acknowledge errors that were made and accept the responsibility that belongs to him and the intelligence community he led.
None of us would argue that the CIA’s record or Mr. Tenet’s is perfect. The CIA is a human institution; Mr. Tenet was just one man directing the nation’s intelligence operations during the most tumultuous period in recent history. But the record is dramatically better than the above referenced letter indicates.
Intelligence and the issues of recent years are too complex to deal with in the emotional sound bites we’ve heard in the last few days. We suggest that everyone take a deep breath, read the book in its entirety, and weigh it thoughtfully against all the other things that have been written and said. It is doubtful that Mr. Tenet expected any more than that in writing this account, but that thoughtful debate has yet to begin.
Ambassador Cofer Black
John O. Brennan
Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton
Robert L. Grenier
The Honorable John E. McLaughlin