Thursday, May 08, 2008

Frightening silence

(It appears that Bush's man mini-Hariri has backed down in the confrontation with Hassan Nasrullah, so possibly the new Lebanese civil war will not take place, at least not now.)

Meanwhile, on the level of what is actually taking place in Sadr City, the reports of conditions there are fragmentary, minimized by the corporate media except for their "parental-guidance" type of entertainment value--CNN currently has a clip with the Hollywood PG rating attached to it--and except for the endless interpolations about how the US forces are merely following the lead of those crime-fighting Iraqis. But the reality is frightening.

Entire sections of Baghdad's embattled Sadr City district have been left nearly abandoned by civilians fleeing a U.S.-led showdown with Shiite militias and seeking aid after facing shortages of food and medicine, humanitarian groups said Wednesday. ...Claire Hajaj, a UNICEF spokeswoman based in Jordan, said up to 150,000 people — including 75,000 children — were isolated in sections of Sadr City "cordoned off by military forces." She said about 6,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and that some areas of southeastern Sadr City were virtually abandoned.
Iraqi soldiers for the first time warned residents in the embattled Sadr City district to leave their houses Thursday, signaling a new push by the U.S.-backed forces against Shiite extremist who have been waging street battles for seven weeks.
There are reports that refugee camps are being set up at sports stadiums and other facilities.

This is not happening by divine intervention. This is happening because the US is escalating its military attacks on the city.

CSM, also today: "Residents of this city's embattled Sadr City district are growing increasingly anxious that an escalation in fighting is imminent. They reported that soldiers with loudspeakers warned people in one section to move out, while others said that on Thursday, for the first time, the US carried out daytime airstrikes." Also for the first time, the US forces attacked Sadr City from the north rather than from the south:
The US focus on the southern part of Sadr City left residents all the more surprised by the fighting they described in the northern section outside the security wall. "We did not expect that," Abu Hawaraa said, adding that it led to a fight that left several houses destroyed. "The Americans came in with Humvees and tanks, but some of those vehicles did not get out," he said. "I saw by my own eyes that two of the humvees" and at least two other vehicles were destroyed.
These reports in the corporate media--all of them--are in the form of fragments interspersed with exculpatory statements from American officials to the effect that (1) The Americans are only following the lead of the Iraqi forces (which is manifestly not true) and (2) the whole Sadr City operation is nothing more than an attempt to protect the Green Zone from rocket attacks, the American forces subsequently having been "drawn into" full-scale urban combat.

But in fact, daily airstrikes and heavy-weapons and tank-supported warfare in this densely populated urban area represents a major shift in US military strategy. (A major shift, that is, compared to what we were told the new strategy is). You don't need to be a military expert to see that. You can read any of the accounts of the US military's new "COIN" (counterinsurgency) doctrine, to see that the strategy--supposedly--is to avoid bombing urban areas and similiar massive-force tactics, and instead to concentrate on winning the hearts and minds. Explanatory material about this "progressive" approach was a very popular genre at the time of the Surge and the appointment of Petraeus.

One of the main popularizers of the doctrine was Colin Kahl, now a Democratic Party foreign policy consultant of some description. But while he (and others like him) trumpeted the doctrine when it was introduced, now that it is being abandoned and the policy is gradually reverting to the barbarism of the 19th century, they have gone back into their shells and are saying nothing.

Perhaps that is slightly unfair. For people who could read the very, very fine print between the lines, Colin Kahl had this to say back in December 07:
The U.S. military's new counterinsurgency manual is an overdue step forward in doctrine. But a look back at the history of counterinsurgency offers a sobering reminder of how low the odds of success are -- as Iraq is showing all too well.
That's from the summary of his essay in Foreign Affairs in Dec 07, subtitled "Is there a future for Counterinsurgency," which in the jargon means: Is there a future for counterinsurgency "best practices"--hearts-and-minds counterinsurgency--or if not...

Now that it is May 2008, it is clear that what comes after the "...or if not": Tanks and airstrikes in Sadr City, followed by massive population dislocations and refugee camps, followed by what we can so far only imagine.

So you should read Colin Kahl's Dec 07 essay, where he points out how unlikely it is that this hearts-and-minds type of Counterinsurgency can be successful in Iraq. Naturally you will expect him to discuss how the US military strategy might react to that. But there is nothing of the kind. The essay is a model for the kind of obfuscation that is a badge of the true policy-elite. As the discussion proceeds, Iraq gradually fades from his field of vision, and Colin Kahl talks about other things, future wars, and so on.

Another bit of recommended reading is the year-old briefing outline by military-strategy bigshot Andrew Krepinovich, discussed in the earlier post here called "Flim-flam". Krepinovich's slide collection offered a rare look at what Capitol Hill staffers were told about actual military-policy options, as opposed to what the public was being told about "civil war strategies". When it came down to what you do when the hearts-and-minds approach doesn't work, he talked about the massive-force option, adding it was unlikely the US would resort to this "except in the most dire of circumstances". And his interpreter Kahl said in a commentary: "[Massive force would be] incompatible with the norms against targeting civilians embraced by the US military and political leadership..."

Now that the use of massive force against civilian areas is upon us, the whole policy establishment has gone silent on this issue. All that is reported in the news are the fragments like those noted above, interspersed with phrases of exculpatory jargon. And the policy-elite are still putting out studies casting the US forces in the role of the benevolent adjudicator and proponent of reconciliation.*
* Here, just to illustrate, are a couple of paragraphs from the same Colin Kahl, dated March 08 (via Marc Lynch, who seems to have a acquired a taste for this kind of thing).

A policy of conditional engagement—a nuanced middle position between “all in” or “all out”—offers a better chance of producing lasting progress in Iraq. Under this strategy, U.S. negotiators would make clear that Iraq and America share a common interest in achieving sustainable stability in Iraq, and that the United States is willing to help support the Iraqi government over the long-term, but only so long as Iraqis move toward political accommodation......

In such a context, the best way to push groups toward compromises on the critical issues of oil, federalism, provincial elections, and the integration of Sunni security volunteers into the Iraqi army and police is to establish a broad framework for withdrawal—but also demonstrate a willingness to leave residual forces in the country to support the Iraqi government if accommodation is reached.
Possibly we are in the realm of psychic abnormality, and these policy-groupies think what is happening now in Sadr City actually isn't happening because it doesn't fit any of their stories.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aloha, Badger! I see you did post about the Sadr City fiasco, after all...! I was stunned when I read it! BTW, talking about psychic abnormality, did you read this Al Jazeera interview with L. Paul Bremer? His biggest regret was the use of the term... 'Occupation'! "There was nothing I could do to change the noun, occupation. When Iraqis raised their concerns with me all I could do is sympathise and say 'I understand you’re problem but there it is, it’s the international law.'"

You can't make this sh*t up...!

6:13 PM  
Blogger badger said...

a strange cast of characters, to be sure

6:55 PM  
Blogger badger said...

btw, it's good you're keeping people up to date with this over at your place. Would that more people were.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My god! L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer III is a real piece of work, isn't he? And does he actually believe that self-serving twaddle?

8:43 PM  

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