The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them. On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems. -- Afghanistan Study Group

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

History lesson for Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I commend to your attention this highly readable summary of some of the key constituents of the catastrophe the U.S. inflicted on Iraq and the entire Middle East, by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

The decision to ban all members of the Baath party from government positions, and to disband the Iraqi army, left the country with no government, no army, and hundreds of thousands of unemployed men with guns. We all know what happened next.

What we did not know at the time was that the National Security Council principals had voted unanimously to vet government officials but leave most of them in place; and to disband Saddam's Republican Guard but otherwise to keep the army intact. Where did this order come from? Apparently it surprised the ostensible president of the United States at that time, who is today a beloved avuncular amateur painter and affable buffoon.

Kaplan writes:


Why didn’t Bush rescind Bremer’s orders after reading about them in the newspaper? This is another mystery. When journalist Robert Draper posed the question, Bush replied, “The policy had been to keep the [Iraqi] army intact; didn’t happen.” Draper asked how he reacted to Bremer’s reversal. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember. I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”
This is the president of the United States, mind you. Kaplan concludes that Richard B. Cheney made the decision, and that Cheney had been duped by  Ahmad Chalabi,  an Iraqi exile who had been whispering in Cheney's ear urging the invasion, and who supplied fake intelligence sources about weapons of mass destruction. Cheney apparently actually believed that Chalabi could step in and form a government, and that he had a functioning militia that could be the core of a new Iraqi army. Neither was true. It was true, however, that Chalabi was an Iranian agent.

So that's what happened. Kaplan concludes:

No one has been held accountable, no one has had to pay a price, except for the 100,000 or so Americans and Iraqis who died—and the untold numbers maimed or otherwise damaged—in the struggle to clean up the mess or simply got trapped in the crossfire.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Update for Monday, March 19, 2018

Today is the 15th anniversary of the start of the illegal war of aggression against Iraq. Meteor Blades at Daily Kos offers an observance.

Incredibly, 43% of Americans polled think the invasion was justified.

Medea Benjamin and Nicholas Davies review death toll for Truthout.

Turkish troops enter Kurdistan in pursuit of PKK.

Campbell McDiarmid reviews the state of Iraq today. Excerpt:

With dead relatives, lost opportunities and a feeling of insecurity, many Iraqis remain less interested in elections and democracy than taking care of their loved ones. "I don't want to be wealthy; I want to have a decent life, I want to be safe, I want my family to be safe," said Zaki, who spent two years in American-run prisons on spurious accusations of supporting the rebellion. The ongoing violence even makes many Iraqis nostalgic for the relative stability under the former strongman.






Sunday, March 18, 2018

Update for Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pentagon identifies the 7 airmen who died in a helicopter crash on Thursday near Al Qa'im in western Iraq. The crash is not believed to be the result of hostile action. (Some witness reports say the helicopter struck power lines.)

Iraqi Parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri says the Baghdad government supports Turkey's military action against the PKK.

However, KDP head Arafat Karam says that the Kurdish Regional Government would have to approve any such action on its territory, and has not yet done so. (Note, however, that the KRG has repudiated the PKK and has not protested Turkish air strikes against it on its territory in the past.)

A Kurdish MP opposes any Turkish military operations in Iraq  and denounces Turkish president Erdogan.

Ethnic divisions in Tuz Khurmatu are a microcosm of the problems facing Iraq. Excerpt:

In years past, walls went up to protect against car bombs. Then Shiite Turkmens erected walls to guard against Islamic State after its resurgence in 2014. Now even after the jihadis have been driven out of the city, the walls still stand, and Tuz Khurmatu remains a flash point with an unstable melange of sects and ethnicities. Once united to fight Islamic State, Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs resumed viewing each other with hostility and suspicion.
"Without a doubt, Tuz Khurmatu is a case study for Iraq 2.0. It's the most violent, most divided place in the country. You have so many layers of conflict," said Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Residents of eastern Baghdad protest deteriorating government services.

A member of Parliament says the country no longer needs a U.S. military presence and accuses the U.S. of "plotting" to expand its military bases.

IS booby traps continue to kill and injure civilians in Fallujah.




Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Update for Wednesday, March 14, 1018

U.S. forces undertake major initiative to secure Kabul. Taliban have established a substantial presence in the city and recently carried out several high-profile attacks.

“Kabul is our main effort. To harden Kabul, to protect the people of Kabul and the international community that are here,” U.S. General John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told a group of reporters on Wednesday.
The remarks underscored the high degree of concern about the Taliban’s intent to stage high-profile attacks in Kabul, which are aimed at undermining the Afghan government and international resolve after 16 years of war.
They are also a reminder that while U.S. and Afghan officials speak with growing confidence about the prospects of peace talks with elements of the Taliban, the military is also making long-term preparations for an extended conflict, including in the capital.
Afghanistan experiences a massive tide of internally displaced people. "With more than 1.5 million Afghans – roughly 4 percent of the population – displaced after four decades of conflict, and 448,000 added in 2017 alone, relief agencies are scrambling to provide help as the dominant narrative of Afghan social and political progress, pushed for years by US and Western governments, fades into memory."

Thousands of civilians flee districts in Jowzjan province where IS is making gains.

Afghanistan deploys more troops to Farah province amid increased insurgent attacks. A major pipeline project is planned for the area. Most recently, attack on a checkpoint kills 10 members of security forces.

Suicide attack in Helmand kills 2 police.

Another bombing in Helman kills 6 border guards.

Heavy shelling in Kunar from locations in Pakistan.

In IraqBaghdad has allowed Kurdistans airports to reopen to international flights.

But U.S. forces aren't going anywhere. U.S. upgrades base in Quyyara. "Security sources in Baghdad disclosed that the US is expanding its military build-up in al-Qayyara, South of Mosul, to build its largest ever base in Iraq on the eve of parliamentary elections in the country despite the strong opposition expressed by the public, senior politicians and armed popular groups."

Matthew Sheffield discusses the U.S. administrations military posture.

Now that he’s had a full year of the presidency under his belt, Trump appears to have moved even further away from a restrained foreign policy and into the “conflict of civilizations” perspective that views America as waging a global war with Islam. That view was once relegated to the fringes of Republican foreign policy, too extreme even for the Paul Wolfowitz types who called the shots in the second Bush presidency. Trump's nomination of Pompeo, a man noted for his hostile attitude to Muslims, to lead U.S. foreign policy makes this point blatantly obvious.