Saturday, April 10, 2004

Will there be a Tet Offensive effect?

David Brooks says that everyone needs to take a deep breath on Iraq:

We're at a perilous moment in Iraqi history, but the situation is not collapsing. We're in the middle of a battle. It's a battle against people who vehemently oppose a democratic Iraq. The task is to crush those enemies without making life impossible for those who fundamentally want what we want.

The Shiite violence is being fomented by Moktada al-Sadr, a lowlife hoodlum from an august family. The ruthless and hyperpoliticized Sadr has spent the past year trying to marginalize established religious figures, like Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who come from a more quietist tradition and who believe in the separation of government and clergy. Sadr and his fellow putschists have been spectacularly unsuccessful in winning popular support.

Let's assume this is true -- and let's further assume that these uprisings will be put down. My question is, will this have the same effect as the 1968 Tet Offensive? Tet was a military disaster that nevertheless exposed a vulnerable administration to (accurate) charges that it had micharacterized how the conflict was proceeding -- and therefore a long-term victory for the North Vietnamese [You're comparing this to Vietnam!! Bad Drezner!!--ed. No, I'm asking a more specific question].

My tentative answer is that the political effect in the United States will not echo Tet. However, a Tet effect might kick in outside the United States -- in allied countries that have troops in Iraq, and within Iraq itself. In alled countries, countries that dispatched troops had restive populations to begin with -- this only makes it easier to mobilize mass action. In Iraq, those who oppose but fear insurgents are less likely to take positive action.

The Financial Times has stories on both phenomenon. In one article, they observe that, "Junichiro Koizumi, Japan's prime minister, faced the severest test of his decision to send troops to Iraq as his government sought support for a rescue of three citizens kidnapped by an Iraqi militia group." In another article, the FT reports:

The US-led administration in Baghdad was on Friday night fighting to keep Iraq's Governing Council intact after two ministers quit in protest at the US crackdown on Shia and Sunni unrest. The interior minister, Nouri Badran, and the human rights minister, Abdul-Basit Turki, stepped down, as others among the US-appointed representatives threatened to resign unless occupation forces reined in their assault.

"There will be many resignations," said Haider Abbadi, communications minister, before an emergency session of ministers and the Governing Council - Iraq's representative body handpicked by the US governor, Paul Bremer, to discuss their future.


posted by Dan at 03:26 PM | Comments (109) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, April 9, 2004

What to read about the Iraqi uprisings

The Economist has a good backgrounder in the Iraqi uprising(s), which may ironically be leading to greater interethnic coordination. This is the depressing graf:

A striking feature of the latest turbulence has been the failure of Iraq's fledgling police force to stand up to the rebels. Though police numbers have risen from 30,000 last July to over 78,000 today, they are clearly no match yet for determined militiamen such as those of Mr Sadr. In Baghdad this week, policemen simply abandoned their stations. Elsewhere, some switched sides.

Noam Scheiber converts some of these lemons into lemonade:

[B]efore this week, the administration's plan was to hand over power in Iraq as quickly as possible, and to begin withdrawing American troops soon after that. Had people like Moqtada al Sadr been savvier, they could have waited until after that transition had been completed, and after tens of thousands of American troops had been withdrawn, to start causing trouble. At that point we'd have been powerless to stop them, and, worse, more or less ignorant of what they were doing--since the whole point of the Bush administration's withdrawal would have been to get Iraq out of the newspapers in time for the election campaign. Now that al Sadr et al have jumped the gun, they've forced the administration to confront a problem--Iraq's utter lack of security and political stability--it was otherwise inclined to ignore.

Virginia Postrel typically has smart things to say:

I have the same problem blogging on this topic that I do blogging on every little twitch in the economic statistics: It's too hard to separate the transient noise from the long-run trend, and the long run is what matters. Things are bad in Iraq right now, but is this a last-gasp effort by our enemies, the beginning of a quagmire, or, most likely, something in between whose conclusion depends largely on our response? Rushing to judgment, especially from afar, is a prescription for foolish conclusions and bad policies.

posted by Dan at 03:11 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (4)

A substantive debate

One of the underlying criticisms of the Bush administration's prosecution of the War on Terror has been that it came into office with a realpolitik mindset and that -- even after 9/11 -- it has focused too much on states rather than non-state actors (i.e., Al Qaeda) in its anti-terrorism policy.

Spencer Ackerman identifies this key fissure in his latest TNR article. The political ramifications for the Bush administration could be problematic. The crux of the article:

Republican James Thompson--who led the offensive against Clarke at the last round of hearings--questioned whether the White House even understands twenty-first century terrorism: "You referenced ... all these state-sponsored terrorist activities," he said to Rice, "when we know today that the real threat is from either rogue states--Iran, North Korea--or from stateless terrorist organizations--Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas. Does the Bush administration get this difference?" Rice, apparently caught off guard, countered that when terrorists "can get states to cooperate with them or when they can get states to acquiesce in their being on their territory, they're much more effective." But reconfiguring the terrorist threat to focus mainly on state sponsorship is problematic: It treats the terrorists themselves as a subsidiary concern. And, as the Bush administration has demonstrated in Afghanistan, this strategy can lull the U.S. government into ignoring the ongoing presence of terrorists in a country even after their state sponsors have been defeated. Rice's answer to Thompson's question--"Does the Bush administration get this difference?"--seemed to be: No.

Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey went even further. "We underestimate that this war on terrorism is really a war against radical Islam," he said. "Terrorism is a tactic. It's not a war itself." Kerrey, a liberal advocate of the Iraq war, argued that the administration's current fecklessness in Iraq was undermining U.S. interests. "I don't think we understand how the Muslim world views us, and I'm terribly worried that the military tactics in Iraq are going to do a number of things, and they're all bad," he said.

All of this points to the real political damage the 9/11 Commission could inflict on President Bush. Ever since Clarke issued his account of a Bush administration asleep at the switch in 2001, the president's allies have urged him to reframe the debate toward his post-9/11 posture. But yesterday's hearings indicate that the 9/11 Commission might issue recommendations that imply the Bush administration still doesn't know how to combat Islamist terrorism three years after the attacks--thereby robbing Bush of what is perhaps his cardinal political asset. And if that's what the Commission does, neither Rice nor any of her colleagues will be able to claim they only had 233 days to understand the problem.

Ackerman does miss one important detail in his argument, which is that in world politics, powerful states do much better at influencing the actions of other states than influencing the activities of non-state actors.

Which raises a question -- is it better to pursue an anti-terror strategy with productive strategies that only indirectly affect the terrorists themselves, or to pursue an anti-terror strategy with less productive strategies that directly affect the terrorists themselves?

posted by Dan at 02:55 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Open Rice thread

Comment on how well Condi does in her testimony in response to various queries here.

posted by Dan at 09:46 AM | Comments (78) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Iraq thread

No time for substantive blogging -- but comment on the mounting insurgency from radical Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq here. In particular, will international cooperation over Iraq be eroded as a result?

posted by Dan at 12:03 AM | Comments (104) | Trackbacks (0)

Dumb Dodd

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has apparently had a Trent Lott moment, according to UPI:

In a speech on the Senate floor last Thursday marking Sen. Robert Byrd's 17,000th vote in the body, Dodd said the West Virginia Democrat, member of the Ku Klux Klan before taking office and opponent of the 1964 Civil Right Act, "would have been right during the great conflict of Civil War in this nation."

Dodd's comments struck some as similar to remarks made by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., that led to his losing the position.

The comments were made as part of large praise of Byrd's great service as a Senator, which Dodd said, "would have been right at anytime."

-- See here, here, and here for blogosphere reaction that this is a Trent Lott moment.

It was a stupid thing to say, but then again, given Dodd's position on outsourcing, it's far from the only stupid thing he's said recently.

The thing is, unlike Lott, I'm not sure Dodd has a leadership position to resign from.

posted by Dan at 12:00 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (1)