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StateSide:Opinions
Archive: December 2006
This Is About Iran More Than Anything Else
12/29/2006 9:55 PM ET
The following posting is from Larisa Alexandrovna, whose blog at-Largely, is for journalists and others who like examining the landscape of investigative reporting. She argues that Saddam's execution is really about Iran:

Her posting appears on Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment. She writes: "What the Bush administration appears to be waiting for, stalling for, while they allegedly mull over the Iraq question, is for the naval carriers and other key assets to fall into position. This will happen in the first week of January. Saddam Hussein is being executed (and I would not be surprised if every major network aired it) to enrage tempers and fuel more violence in Iraq. This violence will justify an immediate need for a troop surge, although I think it will be described as temporary. Remember too that the British press has for the past week done nothing but report that Britain will be attacked by the New Year. Clearly they are preparing themselves for a contingency, and that contingency is the massive violence that will erupt across the Muslim world as they watch (and I really believe it will be televised) Saddam's hanging just before the New Year.

"Why is the rush to execute Saddam Hussein not account for Hajj? Or does it?

She adds that: "The carriers will be in position. I imaging there will be an event of some sort in Iraq, or the violence will spill into friendly (our friends) territory. It will be dramatic, even more so than the immediate violence. The attacks will be blamed on Iran, with the help of the Saudis and Pakistan. Iran will be blamed for something that happens in Iran. The naval carriers, again, will be in position. The sanctions, as watered down as they are, have given the administration the blank check they needed from the world (and they still have their blank check from Congress) to order aerial strikes. The surge troops will be in position, and I estimate that ground support will begin around late February, early March."

She explains that Saddam's execution and the violence will also be a convenient cover while the administration moves pieces into position.

"But what the planners in the administration don't seem to realize is that the Persians are the most expert of chess players, and they are a patient, strategy minded opponent. They are watching this develop, all of it, and they too are planning their counteraction. They know better than to strike first, because in doing so, they would lose the moral argument in the eyes of the world, as well as the advantage of counteraction. The US has a superior air force, but Iran has a formidable navy, and while the house of Saud will fuel this, the fallout will be fatal. Why?"

Lastly: "Here is why: Because the US is too stretched to be able to protect Israel, and Israel cannot sustain a long term attack. They can sustain a few hits, but they will not be able to sustain a full blown attack."

Human Rights Watch Says Trial Deeply Flawed
12/26/2006 8:21 PM ET
Human Rights Watch issued a statement today regarding the death penalty for Saddam Hussein that said: "The Iraqi government should not implement the death sentence against Saddam Hussein, which was imposed after a deeply flawed trial for crimes against humanity. The Appeals Chamber of the Iraqi High Tribunal, which was first reported by Iraq's national security adviser to have upheld the sentence, should have conducted a thorough legal review of the verdict and then announced its findings."

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch said that: "Imposing the death penalty, indefensible in any case, is especially wrong after such unfair proceedings. That a judicial decision was first announced by Iraq's national security advisor underlines the political interference that marred Saddam Hussein's trial."

The press release ends with" "Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently inhumane punishment and says that executing Hussein while other trials against him are ongoing will also deprive many thousands of victims of their day in court."

Blogosphere
This and Nine Other Fantasies About Iraq
12/26/2006 5:25 PM ET
Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan, writes in his blog Informed Comment, about the top ten myths regarding Iraq for this year.

Below, his best for the year:

1. Myth number one is that the United States "can still win" in Iraq. Of course, the truth of this statement, frequently still made by William Kristol and other Neoconservatives, depends on what "winning" means. But if it means the establishment of a stable, pro-American, anti-Iranian government with an effective and even-handed army and police force in the near or even medium term, then the assertion is frankly ridiculous. The Iraqi "government" is barely functioning.

2. "US military sweeps of neighborhoods can drive the guerrillas out." The US put an extra 15,000 men into Baghdad this past summer, aiming to crush the guerrillas and stop the violence in the capital, and the number of attacks actually increased...The US has not and is unlikely to be able to repress the guerrillas, and it is losing hearts and minds at an increasing and alarming rate. They hate us, folks. They don't want us there.

3. The United States is best off throwing all its support behind the Iraqi Shiites. This is the position adopted fairly consistently by Marc Reuel Gerecht. Gerecht is an informed and acute observer whose views I respect even when I disagree with them. But Washington policy-makers should read Daniel Goleman's work on social intelligence. Goleman points out that a good manager of a team in a corporation sets up a win/win framework for every member of the team...Gerecht, it seems to me, sets up a win/lose model in Iraq.

4. "Iraq is not in a civil war," as Jurassic conservative Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly insists. There is a well-established social science definition of civil war put forward by Professor J. David Singer and his colleagues: "Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter's ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain." (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, "Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.)"

5. "The second Lancet study showing 600,000 excess deaths from political and criminal violence since the US invasion is somehow flawed." Les Roberts replies here to many of the objections that were raised. See also the transcript of the Kucinich-Paul Congressional hearings on the subject. Many critics refer to the numbers of dead reported in the press as counter-arguments to Roberts et al. But "passive reporting" such as news articles never captures more than a fraction of the casualties in any war. I see deaths reported in the Arabic press all the time that never show up in the English language wire services. And, a lot of towns in Iraq don't have local newspapers and many local deaths are not reported in the national newspapers.

6. "Most deaths in Iraq are from bombings." The Lancet study found that the majority of violent deaths are from being shot.

7. "Baghdad and environs are especially violent but the death rate is lower in the rest of the country." The Lancet survey found that levels of violence in the rest of the country are similar to that in Baghdad (remember that the authors included criminal activities such as gang and smuggler turf wars in their statistics).

8. "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror." From the beginning of history until 2003 there had never been a suicide bombing in Iraq. There was no al-Qaeda in Baath-ruled Iraq. When Baath intelligence heard that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might have entered Iraq, they grew alarmed at such an "al-Qaeda" presence and put out an APB on him! Zarqawi's so-called "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" was never "central" in Iraq and was never responsible for more than a fraction of the violent attacks.

9. "The Sunni Arab guerrillas in places like Ramadi will follow the US home to the American mainland and commit terrorism if we leave Iraq." This assertion is just a variation on the invalid domino theory. People in Ramadi only have one beef with the United States. Its troops are going through their wives' underwear in the course of house searches every day. They don't want the US troops in their town or their homes, dictating to them that they must live under a government of Shiite clerics and Kurdish warlords (as they think of them).

10. "Setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq is a bad idea." Bush and others in his administration have argued that setting such a timetable would give a significant military advantage to the guerrillas fighting US forces and opposed to the new government. That assertion makes sense only if there were a prospect that the US could militarily crush the Sunni Arabs. There is no such prospect. The guerrilla war is hotter now than at any time since the US invasion. It is more widely supported by more Sunni Arabs than ever before. It is producing more violent attacks than ever before. Since we cannot defeat them short of genocide, we have to negotiate with them. And their first and most urgent demand is that the US set a timetable for withdrawal before they will consider coming into the new political system."

Saddam: 11th Member of the ISG
12/18/2006 01:00 AM ET
Fredrick Bernanke
Fredrick Bernanke
One thing is for sure: The Iraq Study Group's (ISG) report is not going to win any prizes for earth-shattering revelations or poignant originality of thought. They made it their business to think within the box; and now, after the report's release, which produced nary a "Eureka, they've got it!" from any quarter, the American people are left to ponder essentially the same options that have been out there for months and months.

So what would thinking outside the box look like?

The United States has in its control the most fecund source of information regarding governing Iraq. He is a man of brutish violence, a murderer, a torturer, a pathological sadist seemingly without conscience, a man who without compunction could order the tongues ripped out of those who dare speak ill of him -- a monster. Very much the antithesis of the ten members of the ISG.

Yet, in the few glimpses the American public has had of him during his trials, he certainly does not project an image of lunacy or stupidity, quite the contrary. There is no disputing the fact that he held what we now have learned to be a cauldron of hate-filled sectarian groups together as a viable nation for thirty-some years. Indeed, some experts held up the progress Iraq was making toward modernization and secularization as an example for other Middle Eastern countries to emulate. This sounds ridiculous, I know, but this is the Middle East we're talking about.

Let me state clearly the following: We cannot return to the status-quo-ante before our invasion of Iraq. Saddam and/or his surrogates cannot ever be installed by the USG as the government of Iraq. Saddam's days of living the life of a modern day King are over forever. Saddam will never again live a single day as a free man.

But is hanging him and tossing his dead body into a dumpster the best use we can make of him? Or should we think (outside the box) of him as an asset, a resource that we can exploit? For all intent and purpose -- like it or not -- Saddam Hussein was Iraq for decades. Does anyone doubt that Saddam knows more about Iraq than James Baker or Lee Hamilton or Leon Panetta or Sandra Day O'Connor or the lurking ayatollahs of Iran?

Saddam's visage at his trial exudes the arrogance one would expect to encounter in a deposed monarch. But also visible is the intelligence seldom found in those whose royalty came merely from the right bloodlines. And finally, there's the abundance of pride manifest in his demeanor, and perhaps it's that pride that may be our entry way into tapping that vein of knowledge this despot possesses about his country, a knowledge patently absent in the ISG report, but a knowledge that the United States desperately needs.

Why would Saddam want to cooperate with us? And if he agreed to do so, do we have people with enough savvy to get what we need from Saddam without being outsmarted by him (as we were militarily by his strategy of fighting a guerilla war rather than a traditional one?) Maybe some street-smart New York detective would have a better chance of "turning" him than would some Princeton-educated CIA operative. Or maybe Rudy Guiliani? (Outside the box, I know).

Bearing in mind the four non-negotiable points enumerated earlier, sparing his life, allowing him a small propaganda victory as the "peacemaker" for his beloved Iraq, and a life behind bars where he will not be tortured might be a starting point.

The ISG did not interview Saddam for its report. Such an interview would have to be cloaked in absolute secrecy. If interviewed, he may simply state: "One rules Iraq by killing as many of one's enemies as it takes to leave the remaining ones in a state of constant fear and terror."

But if Saddam, the erstwhile Islamic philosopher, the man who perhaps can be cajoled into worrying more about his legacy than his future, can be mined for information maybe, just maybe, he'll utter some thought outside our Western box and finally we will be able to say as a nation: "Eureka, he's got it."

Fredrick Bernanke is a freelance writer and real estate investor living in San Diego. He is available at: fbernanke@cox.net

75% Disapprove of Bush on Iraq, 62% say War a Mistake
12/11/2006 11:51 PM ET
The American people are more down than ever on Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, and they're more sure than ever that the war was a mistake in the first place.

The CBS News.com report is here.

The full poll results are here.

EJ

DC Scoop
Flop: Iraq Reconstruction Conference in Washington
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 12/10/2006 8:39 PM ET
The twice-annual Rebuilding Iraq Conference and Expo in Washington was once the talk of the military and security contractor communities. In those glory days, spooks, contractors, and top Iraqi and U.S. officials were among the thousands in attendance. Huge deals were done. Lots of smiling faces. No more. The Sixth Rebuilding Iraq Conference and Expo last week in Washington was an unmitigated bust. Not only was it sparsely attended, it had the misfortune of coinciding with the release of the bleak report of Iraq Study Group, which surely would take issue with the confab's slogan: "Building on a Successful Beginning." While Kurdistan is open for business and doing well, the Iraq gold rush is over.

12/07/2006 5:31 PM ET
An excerpt from Zbigniew Brzezinski column in the Financial Times:

This is the week in which a painful truth finally came calling on power in the Oval Office of the White House. The president, though still mouthing his self-reassuring slogans to the public, has on his desk two documents, each telling him in effect that "mission accomplished" has turned into mission bust.

Superficially, the two documents could not be more different. Donald Rumsfeld's memo on the conduct of the military operations in Iraq, submitted just prior to his sudden dismissal, is a very brief and highly personal summary of the various tactical adjustments that might be considered in the light of the setbacks in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. It conveys anxiety but offers no strategic alternative.

The president, and America's political leadership, must recognise that the US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago. The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The full op-ed.

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