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February 24, 2007

Comments

It's as though we wanted the entire Middle East to hate us.

We only want them to hate our freedoms...

Frack.....

Do you all not remember the lessons of 9-11?

How can we bomb them to kingdom coming, if we accept them as human beings by talking to them?
Someone remember a certain Peanuts cartoon were a girl (I think it was not Lucy) wanted to beat up Charlie Brown for something, he didn't actually do? When he began to explain the situation, she hit him on the nose. In the next picture she tells a friend "I had to hit him and fast. He started to make sense." (quoted from memory).

There is only one really "good guy" in the world and that is the US.

To allow Syria, or even worse Iran, have an opening to be a "good guy" would be the worst thing possible. The rest of the world might even end up perceiving them as being civilized nations. Only we can solve the world's problems.

Honestly, sometimes this administration acts as if it afraid to be upstaged. I think we have probably all known managerial types who need to take all the credit and will sometimes actively work to make sure those under them cannot come off looking too good. That's what we have in Bush and Cheney.

What could we possibly have been thinking?

They are thinking two things.

1. Our way or the highway
2. They're really not that interested in peace in the first place

Thanks -

“We don’t negotiate with evil; we defeat it.” RBC, December 2003.

Well, on the one hand, the path to peace in the Middle East is a rutted, rocky one, and well-littered with the bones of "peace plans" and "initiatives" that never went anywhere - but on the other hand, hilzoy, you are quite right that "WTF??" is really the only response to this report (if it is accurate). That this Administration would deliberately scuttle a diplomatic initiative with even a remote chance of reaching some sort of agreement between Israel and Syria - and on the simpleton grounds of "we don't talk to evil" - is beyond mind-boggling. WAY beyond.


PS: Of course, Levantine politics never being simple, there IS one issue which isn't mentioned here: Syria's - uhh, "problematic" relationship with Lebanon and Hezbollah. And especially their suspected involvement with the 2005 assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri. I have read a lot of FP commentary that suggests that the unspoken subtext of the Syrian-Israeli "unofficial dialogue" is that Syria is looking for some sort of ease-up on international pressure over their Lebanese claims of hegemony - and also, some sort of pass on the Hariri hit - as the under-the-table price for their agreement on the Israeli peace deal. I can understand the reluctance to let a disgusting regime like Assad's off the hook for its crimes: but this shouldn't, in and of itself, be a barrier to talks. Especially if there are even distant odds of accomplishing something (beyond puerile posturing, a la Cheney).

I tend to agree with Hilzoy, but there may be some utility in avoiding an agreement between Israel and Syria, if the US thinks that there is a possibility of an agreement in the future that better advances US interests in the region, namely, a democratic and secure Lebanon. The US may gauge that a formalized peace between Israel and Syria will, by necessity, end any credible Israeli threat to Hizbollah. As a de facto matter, this strengthens Hizbollah's hand in Lebanon and, perhaps, cedes Lebanon back to Syria (which has never formally renounced its claims to the territory, IIRC).

In any event, Jay C's comment about Levantine politics is appropriate. It doesn't generally fall into a good v. evil framework. (I also think CharlieCarp's breezy allegation regarding our alleged motivation obscures the hard choices that need to be faced in the region.)

I noted this yesterday and I still wonder what it is about America that makes us think that it is fine for us to make comments like this when we do not react well at all to other nations telling us what courses of action we should or should not take. Freedom fries, anyone?

Jay C: agreed about the rutted, rocky road well littered, etc. There are zillions of reasons for thinking that something like this might not work; given how many things, starting with bad faith and ending with some outside party deciding to throw a hand grenade into the whole thing, might make it not work out.

That said: I don't see why either you or von thinks that this deal, if it did work, would harm Lebanon. Bear in mind: Syria was offering to "ensure that Hezbollah would limit itself to being solely a political party." Presumably, "solely a political party" means "not an army". If it did mean this, and if we could hammer out a deal to this effect, then Syria would have to stop arming Hezbollah.

I cannot imagine how this is not in the interests of Israel, a stable Lebanon, or anything else I can think of.

Moreover: the original negotiations started in Sept. 2004. Reportedly, we did not want them to proceed:

"Swiss diplomats checked every move in the process with senior regime officials in Damascus (unnamed). The Syrians were feeding into the negotiations with government approved ideas and suggestions.

The Israeli government did not.

The Americans vetoed any formalization of the track showing no interest in engaging the Syrians."

(That's from a presentation by the Israeli negotiator.)

That was before the war in Lebanon. It's a stretch to think that Israel and Syria would have cut a deal before then -- a little under two years is too short for that. But it is not a stretch to think that if we had supported the talks, or at least not vetoed them, Syria might have had a stake in not seeing them torpedoed, and would have had a lot more reason to try to rein them .

And, of course, since the offer we refused to follow up from Iran in 2003 also included cutting off Hezbollah, it's not at all inconceivable that Hezbollah at that point would have been largely without external support.

Oh well.

von: I don't see anything in this administration's record to suggest that they are holding out for a better deal. As far as I can tell, there's a large faction in the administration that just doesn't believe in diplomacy at all, and the administration manages to cut deals only when that faction is sidelined.

if Syria becomes a normal nation, we'll have to find someone else to do our off-the-books torturing. and it's just so hard to find good torturers these days.

it's just so hard to find good torturers these days

If only that were true...

Ah, moral clarity.

Syria: not too evil to send people to be tortured in its prisons; way too evil to allow our allies to talk to them.

"I can understand the reluctance to let a disgusting regime like Assad's off the hook for its crimes"--Jay C

I'm reluctant to suppose that people opposed to talking to Syria really are motivated by a disinterested sense of justice over unpunished crimes. Their sense of justice is probably limited to those crimes committed by the enemy of the hour. If countries which commit unpunished crimes aren't worthy of notice, then no one should be talking to the US or Israel.

von: "I tend to agree with Hilzoy, but there may be some utility in avoiding an agreement between Israel and Syria, if the US thinks that there is a possibility of an agreement in the future that better advances US interests in the region, namely, a democratic and secure Lebanon."

I only have two quibbles with this comment.

The first is that this type of behavior is a form of arrogance. In effect, we are telling the Israeli's that we don't care what they want, only what we think is best matters.

Secondly, and more important at this point in time (reflective of the discussion about military options being "off the table")is that our current administration has shown little to no ability to really understand the world stage and the nuances involved. I am sketical of the idea that they are thinking far enough ahead to future deals.

G'Kar, I read your post and it is very interesting. Particularly the part about American exceptionalism. However, and this is where I am beginning to understand bob mcmanus's thinking, we are different from the other countries in the world. Part of our problem is thinking that because we are different we are better. And since we are better then what we say should be followed by everyone.

That is where empires get into trouble.

Hilzoy: JFTR, I myself don't believe that an Israeli-Syrian accord along the lines of the "unofficial negotiations" agreements would necessarily "harm" Lebanon in and of itself (and a real peace between Israel and Syria, including a significant boost in trade, can only be a benefit, imo, to the region, and the world in general). However, it is true -and more-familiar-with-the-issue commentators have noted ; Syria still - officially - views Lebanon as, basically, its own (stolen) property; and, having already put itself in the role of de facto "protector" is going maintain some sort of "proprietary" interest in Lebanese affairs. And said interest is going to shadow, in one way or another, any regional diplomacy to which Syria is a party. Like it or not.

Katherine: you might be interested in this Globe and Mail article, A World of Maher Arars.

Money quote:

Senior Canadian government officials and European Union diplomats have told The Globe and Mail that they believe the U.S. is avoiding any apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the Arar case because it could open a Pandora's box of recriminations from Europe, where two cases almost identical to Mr. Arar's are being tried in Germany and Italy and at least 18 more could be pending.
The article also details how Arar's 37 minute Italian layover contributed to the collapse of Italy's government earlier this week.

[T]here may be some utility in avoiding an agreement between Israel and Syria, if the US thinks that there is a possibility of an agreement in the future that better advances US interests in the region.

The US is entitled to pursue its own best interests, and to advise other countries that it sees their actions as counter to that. But surely those other countries are also entitled to pursue their own best interests, even if that runs counter to what the US thinks.

The current Administration's actions in the Mid-East have been, to put it politely, counterproductive to peace and stability. The current Administration's actions in the Mid-East have shown an inability or an unwillingness to understand the political, cultural, historical, sectarian, and ethnic undercurrents that shape the Mid-East.

The last time Israel did something in the Mid-East that had the current Administration's approval was the war in Lebanon. ( In fact, IIRC, the Administration also stopped a nascent attempt then at negotiations.) How did that work out for everyone? DId it strengthen a "democratic and stable" Lebanon? Did it "weaken Hezbollah's hand" in Lebanon?

The US simply has no credibility to tell Israel what to do - not just no moral credibility, but no pragmatic credibility. With the single exception of establishing diplomatic relations with Libya, everything the current Administration has done in the Mid-East has blown up in everyone's face.

Now, there is a very strong possibility that continuing chaos, instability, terrorism, and death are indeed exactly what the current Administration wants to see in the Mid-East.

But I think that's a point at which the Administration's interests, and Israel's interests, sharply diverge.

Yeah, where's the deal going to come from?

Von, while it might be breezy to quote the Vice President on a position which which, sfaik, he's never backed down, but it is naive [adverbs deleted] to assume that the US has some kind of coherent master plan that has an actual chance of working. Have you been paying any attention at all to US foreign policy in the last 5 years?

On the other hand, an actual deal between Israel and Syria -- a deal that Israel, Israel, finds worth making, would be worth 10,000 unacheivable neocon fantasies.

but it is naive [adverbs deleted] to assume that the US has some kind of coherent master plan that has an actual chance of working. Have you been paying any attention at all to US foreign policy in the last 5 years?

I doubt that it's possible for anyone to have or devise a master plan likely enough to succeed to justify interfering with Israel-Syria talks. Blocking such talks in the interests of some larger scheme demonstrates a completely irrational belief in the ability to predict and control future events.

There's an opportunity for progress. No point in outthinking ourselves and losing it.

For an example of two neoconservatives who advocate that the United States should essentially be at constant war, here is Jonah Goldberg in April of 2002 waxing excitedly in favor of war against Iraq just because we should be warring against somebody, and citing the wholly immoral “Ledeen Doctrine” as articulated by Ledeen during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, my emphasis all:

I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”…
.
For now let’s fall back on the Ledeen Doctrine. The United States needs to go to war with Iraq because it needs to go to war with someone in the region and Iraq makes the most sense.

(Even being half serious about such a notion is grotesque, Jesus! But Ledeen almost certainly completely meant what he said.) So, any doctoring of WMD intelligence, generating hysteria about endless Hitlers and Nazis, absurd invocations of Munich and 1938 etc., these are often enough promoted in the service of the Ledeen Doctrine, which is pure Straussianism. That such inanities also dovetail nicely with the goals of the Israel lobby is a bonus, and not infrequently a free-standing, but wholly compatible motivation.

Found @

“Americans can forget about the pursuit of happiness and look forward to perpetual war, death, and catastrophe.”

You know, it may just be me, but the older I get -- and I'm just this side of 40 -- the less interested I am in whether the US pursues policies that "advance US interests" in parts of the world that are not actually a part of the US.

the less interested I am in whether the US pursues policies that "advance US interests" in parts of the world that are not actually a part of the US.

I remain as interested as ever, but I've become less interested in what people claim will "advance US interests" overseas since it almost invariably means "gaming politics at home".

but I've become less interested in what people claim will "advance US interests" overseas since it almost invariably means "gaming politics at home".

dingdingding we have a winner!

Always start with the Clauswitz-O'Neill Principle:

War is the continuation of politics.

All politics is local.

Therefore, a country's wars and other foreign affairs will be most readily explained by local, domestic political concerns.

The Bush Administration (I refuse to say "we") doesn't want Israel to negotiate, because no-one associated with the Administration can be seen negotiating with anyone, ever. Negotiation is weakness, it means you won't necessarily get your way, and the Administration *must* get its way.

That said: I don't see why either you or von thinks that this deal, if it did work, would harm Lebanon. Bear in mind: Syria was offering to "ensure that Hezbollah would limit itself to being solely a political party." Presumably, "solely a political party" means "not an army". If it did mean this, and if we could hammer out a deal to this effect, then Syria would have to stop arming Hezbollah.

Ensuring that Hezbollah limits itself to being solely a political party would mean more than just stopping the flow of arms across the Syrian-Lebanese border, if that is even possible. It would also mean restraining Hezbollah from using its existing arms to pursue dominance within Lebanon or attack Israel. Is the Syrian government capable of doing so without forcibly reoccupying Lebanon?

FWIW, I have no problem with Syria resuming its dominant position within Lebanon, even if it meant reoccupying the country, if that is what it would take for a genuine peace deal. My perception of American interests in the region probably differs from von's. A "democratic and secure Lebanon" would be nice, but a democratic Lebanon that was dominated by Hezbollah and unrestrained by Syria would not be in our interests at all.

Since we are so inextricably linked with Israel in the mind of the Arabs, anything that reduces tensions between Israel and its neighbors is in American interests. If Israel has to give up the Golan Heights and if we have to sacrifice Lebanese independence to Syria, so be it. Obviously the Bush administration doesn't agree. But I'm curious if the liberals here would be willing to accept the re-establishment of Syrian domination over Lebanon and the final death-knell of the Cedar Revolution to get a peace deal.

But I'm curious if the liberals here would be willing to accept the re-establishment of Syrian domination over Lebanon and the final death-knell of the Cedar Revolution to get a peace deal.

Sure, so long as it wasn't a formal commitment. Once the Israel/Syria business is all the way done, then we can continue to pursue whatever Lebanon policy we want. That is, "accept" would be a temporary condition.

And speaking of WTF, who is the genius behind arresting young Hakim, and what on earth does he/she think making trouble with SCIRI is a good idea?

Do the people who authorized the arrest have any idea at all about what is going on in Iraq?

That is, "accept" would be a temporary condition.

Not a bad point.

I’m somewhat confused – I thought that Israel pulled our strings, not vice versa.

On a more serious note – I agree that this is really stupid if true.

The prompt release and effusive, top-level (Khalilzad) apologies for the arrest of Hakim's son make me think that this was a big screw-up, not a thinly veiled warning to Hakim.

But it's hard to tell. Events there are getting more and more opaque as the operations against press in Baghdad get more frequent and severe (raids this week on the union of journalists' office and the Dawa Party paper).

If we make friends with Middle Eastern countries, it means we can't continue to bomb them and to exploit them for their resources (i.e. oil). Plus, if they get mad at us and someone decides to launch another terrorist attack on us, well that just works to our benefit because then the government will be "justified" in continuing to launch "retaliatory" attacks on them, occupy, and "rebuild" (i.e. take control of oil supplies.)

Hoorah for "good" foreign policy!

Nell, they knew who he was when they captured him.

von:

there may be some utility in avoiding an agreement between Israel and Syria, if the US thinks that there is a possibility of an agreement in the future that better advances US interests in the region, namely, a democratic and secure Lebanon

Jeebus. I find it hard, at this late date, to hear anyone talk about how "US interests" are "a democratic and secure Lebanon." I suspect it's ever harder for people whose relatives were blown apart this summer by US-made weapons in a US-supported war. Or the people whose relatives were blown apart by US-made weapons at Qana in US-supported bombing in 1996. Or the people whose relatives were torn apart by the US-planned car bombing in Beirut in 1985. Or the people whose relatives were blown apart by US-made weapons in a US-supported invasion in the eighties. Or people whose relatives were blown apart by the shelling by the USS New Jersey in the early eighties. Or...but you get the picture.

I really, really, really would like to live in a world in which most people understood that the actual motives of governments are not the same as their stated motives. For instance, the fact that Saddam Hussein used to talk all the time about how deeply he wanted a democratic and secure Lebanon did not actually mean he wanted a democratic and secure Lebanon.

But just as I'm sure many Iraqis believed Saddam, and their hearts filled with pride at the essential goodness of Iraqi foreign policy, so too with many Americans. And so too with many citizens of every country on earth. It may just be something beyond rational thought.

@CharleyCarp: Then I guess it is a message to Hakim.

I haven't read any of the stories in full, just skimmed the first few paragraphs. By the time I heard about the arrest he'd already been released and Khalilzad had apologized.

How about this as an interpretation: We're going to make highly visible but symbolic moves against the Shiite government parties (like the Hakim arrest and the raid on the Dawa Party paper), as a screen while we continue to direct the brunt of the 'pacification' against Sunnis.

Another angle on the Hakim detention from Laura Rozen:

Just a thought. Some reports indicate US troops were waiting for him, did they possibly think this was Sadr, also rumored to be in Iran?

I doubt very much that Sadr is in Iran, but I can believe that the U.S. military has been led to believe he is. In fact, I have no trouble imagining the spectacle of Hakim's arrest being particularly enjoyable to "Mookie", wherever he is...

"I doubt very much that Sadr is in Iran, but I can believe that the U.S. military has been led to believe he is."

You seem to think that the U.S. military is pretty dumb.

No, I believe that the U.S. military in Iraq is uninformed. As you might expect from an organization with so little ability to do its own intelligence work.

GF, a skillful magician isn't relying on his audience being stupid, but rather on members' perceptions being governed by their expectations.

What anyone can be led to believe starts with what they believe already.

Now I don't know why Nell thinks Sadr is not in Iran. It seems a logical place for him to be, because he's safe from "mistakes" there and because even if he's not a lapdog (or as friendly to the Iranian government as our closer allies in Iraq) he's not, sfaik - aidkm, actually unwelcome there.

"No, I believe that the U.S. military in Iraq is uninformed. As you might expect from an organization with so little ability to do its own intelligence work."

Perhaps. This seems rather a large judgement about a large number of people, based upon relatively small information, and a lot of confidence, myself.

I'd hope that U.S. Army intel units operated as infrequently as possible like that, to be sure. I'd call the degree of confidence here, low, and the degree of assumption, high. Basically, there seem to be no facts invoked, but endless prejudice; this is pretty much the opposite of how one wants an intel op to act.

As you might expect from an organization with so little ability to do its own intelligence work.

Nell, I know you must be very busy, but if you get the chance, could you expand on this? I would be fascinated to hear what intelligence capabilities you believe the U.S. military is lacking. Thank you.

We have been flying blind since April 2003.

There are 33 speakers of Arabic, six fluent, in the US embassy staff of 1000 in Baghdad, according to the Iraq Study Group.

Almost no U.S. military units contain fluent Arabic speakers, so all must rely on Iraqi translators.

It's increasingly hard for the Iraqi journalists to do their job, particularly in Baghdad. In 2006, 74 were killed and another 60 were forced to relocate due to threats (most of a sectarian nature). Presumably, a good number of those Arabic-reading staff in the embassy get their "intelligence" by reading the Iraqi press, given the difficulty of going out to meet what few sources they have (and surely that's largely the province of the few fluent speakers).

Why I am extremely skeptical of reports that Moqtada al-Sadr is in Iran: Because I'm extremely skeptical of almost any report coming out of Iraq for which there is only one source (Maliki's aide Sami al-Askiri), no independent evidence, and conflicting statements from other sources (Sadrists deny he is in Iran).

According to several U.S. news sources, the U.S. said he left for Iran last month. At this point, all sides are putting out whatever story they believe serves their interests. Given the relative sophistication of the players in this situation, I think it's prudent to decline to credit very little of what comes out of U.S. embassy or military sources unless there is independent substantiation.

Maybe Sadr will pop up publicly in Iran tomorrow, and I'll cheerfully admit I'm wrong. But, absent that, I'm not taking the b.s. our increasingly desperate representatives there are putting out at face value, either.

The lack of Arabic skills and the extent to which I fear that the military drink the administration kool-aid (blaming Al Qaeda in Iraq for just about every bit of Sunni terrorism, overlooking the extent to which the Badr Corps and Mahdi Army have infiltrated Iraqi army, police, and other security units) are serious barriers to genuine intelligence.

To me, the new strategy of many small forward outposts of U.S. military (described in this Newsweek piece) is just a recipe for a severe ratcheting-up of casualties.

Those of you who believe that U.S. forces really have an understanding of what is going on in a given neighborhood in Iraq: where do you think the solid intel comes from? Who is brave/foolhardy enough to pass information to U.S. troops, and how on earth do our troops evaluate sources?

G'Kar: I wish I didn't believe this. I wish that officers in the U.S. Army had some way of knowing friend from foe in Iraq. But good intentions, integrity, courage -- none of these enable someone who doesn't speak the language and doesn't have a deep understanding of the culture to tell wtf is going on.

I wish for all those to be deployed in the new plan to have Iraqis of good will near them, who can and will protect them. But it's a wish, not a realistic expectation.

"G'Kar: I wish I didn't believe this. I wish that officers in the U.S. Army had some way of knowing friend from foe in Iraq. But good intentions, integrity, courage -- none of these enable someone who doesn't speak the language and doesn't have a deep understanding of the culture to tell wtf is going on."

All true, but neither do you have a count of precisely how many Iraqi-speaking informants various people have, etc.

Basically, you're decrying arrogant generalizations via a set of whoppingly arrogant generalizations. It's really unimpressive in whatever direction; arrogant proclamations of superior information usually are.

All true, but neither do you have a count of precisely how many Iraqi-speaking informants various people have, etc.

Presumably, given the context, few reliable ones?

Gary, where do you get from my comments that I claim to have 'superior information'? I'm not saying there's no way I could be wrong about this. Like anyone else, I'm basing my assessment on the information available to me: from news coverage, books on the Iraq occupation, the history of other occupations and counterinsurgency wars.

I just don't see the ingredients that could make this one work. Worse, I see a shift now to a set of tactics that don't play to the strengths of the U.S. military, and put them in situations where they are outnumbered and surrounded. It scares the **** out of me.

If the U.S. military has really been operating on adequate intelligence all along, then I would expect the results to have been a bit better by now. So I conclude what common sense about the political-military situation, the linguistic handicap of U.S. troops, and the non-military intelligence resources available to them already incline me to believe: we have already long since lost this war.

Since the beginning of last September, U.S. military deaths have ratcheted up to three a day.

You seem to be saying that the only people in a position to assess U.S. military capabilities in Iraq are U.S. military themselves. I haven't read many upbeat reports from troops who are there, other than from guys who spout right-wing slogans and honestly believe we're there to avenge the September 11 attacks. I know (or at least hope like hell) that those aren't the ones dealing with Iraqi informants.

I'm also hoping that the numerous videos circulating out there are not a true indication of the attitudes and understanding of the majority of troops. But even if those cases are as isolated as I hope they are, they're not non-existent. And they make me want to yank those guys back to the states yesterday.

The arrest of Hakim, which is what started this discussion, is either a mistake (in which case, at what level did the faulty intel come in?) or it was intentional (in which case U.S. troops seem to be carrying out orders that would seem to have a much greater political than military component). Hakim's guards were beaten, he was blindfolded, and was told that he was being detained because his passport was expired (although the one he showed reporters doesn't expire until September).

It doesn't inspire confidence. I'm just saying.

Nell,

Thank you for your response.

Assuming we all believe that this Administation is more about revolution than evolution, and knowing that their time is winding down, could it be possible that the US will attack both Syria and Iran at the same time?
Under the GWOT thinking, the authorization is already there for the President to take such action.
Unbelievable, you say? So, too, the last few years.
4 countries in 8 years; 'unbelievable' to destroy the warmaking powers of each one and to shift the Mideast power dynamic.
Just thinking out loud.

The axis of Anglo-Protestant Empire will take as many darkies, as they can, before they finally fall.

"I doubt very much that Sadr is in Iran, but I can believe that the U.S. military has been led to believe he is."

You seem to think that the U.S. military is pretty dumb.

No, I would say that the US military in Iraq is more than willing to report as "fact" rumors that are politically convenient if they were fact. There is a long history of such politicized "reports" coming from the US military in Iraq. Also, I seriously doubt that we are getting the inside scoop of military intel, but the public propoganda version. Another point -- the primary source of the "Sadr is in Iran" rumor are his Shia rivals in Iraq. The ones we are siding with, so just maybe we are happy to carry their water on this topic.

Sadr has no reason to be in Iran. He is probably safer in Iraq than in Iran -- his most dangerous Shia rivals just happen to be very very tight with Iran, and they would probably have more access to him there than in Sadr controlled territory in Iraq. His familiy has made it an issue for years that it stayed in Iraq under Saddam while others fled into Iranian exile.

Politically, it would be bad for him to be seeking sanctuary in Iran. Given there are large areas in Shia Iraq under exclusive Sadr control, it makes far more sense that he is in a safe house somewhere in those regions.

I stopped reading Intel Dump when Phil Carter stopped blogging there, during his active-duty stint in Iraq. Then I saw him quoted in the recent Michael Hirsh Newsweek online column that says the new military plan in Iraq is to trap us there for the next five to ten years. It says Carter's been back here since last summer, so I regret not having checked in sooner.

One of the recent posts covers the report that Moqtada al-Sadr had gone to Iran. Even Phil found reason to hesitate in embracing the story, and there's more in his comments section.

Gaaaah. Sorry.

Way back at the beginning of this whole mess I had a simple idea which seems better and better all the time. Offer a 5% pay raise to all frontline troops who learn elementary Arabic[1], 10% to all who learn simple conversational Arabic[2], and 15% to all who learn arabic to read and write simple Arabic[3].

The troops should be provided with learning materials, but much of the learning would take place in informal settings as soldiers help each other out. I'm not talking about classes and all the rest - the typical grunt is young enough that language learning is relatively easy, and is certainly motivated enough to take positive steps to improve both his/her financial position and mission effectiveness (read: buddies not dead).

Some clarifications:
[1] Simple Arabic (perhaps better called Basic Combat Arabic) is just a list of simple words and phrases that are useful in the daily boots-on-the-ground grind. Things like "Stay Down," "Sorry for the inconvenience," and the like.
[2] Simple conversational Arabic - enough to go to the market, negotiate the price of a pound of dates, ask about the shopkeeper's family. Maybe in grossly ungrammatical Arabic, but at least enough to communicate meaning.
[3] Arabic good enough to read a newspaper and write a letter to the editor with no mistakes that alter meaning (bad spelling OK)

One of the great tragedies of this war is that so much hostility has built up against the US forces based on misunderstandings and their consequences. As US troops conduct more operations alongside Iraqi troops this will only get worse.

could it be possible that the US will attack both Syria and Iran at the same time

I’m not sure we even could – beyond air strikes anyway. I don’t think we have serious plans to attack Iran, though I could see our hand being forced by Israel.

I think that this is likely just an intentional leak and saber rattling:
Israel is negotiating with the United States for permission to fly over Iraq as part of a plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

At least I sure hope it is.

I don’t see us attacking Syria under any circumstances.

Also:

“The Gulf states of Oman and the UAE would allow Israel to use their airspace should the Jewish state decide to launch preemptive strike against Iran, the Kuwaiti daily al-Siyassah reported on Sunday, quoting European and Arab diplomats.”

Somebody sure wants Iran to think they are preparing an attack.

For a good example of how bad our intel in Iraq is, I'd point to the recent fight in Najaf, whereby Iraqi and US forces fought...actually, we still don't know who.

We can be manipulated to act on the behalf of certain factions because we don't have a solid grasp of the situation. Informants have often used us as a useful tool to settle local scores.

Sure this is a generalization, and there are limited exceptions, but that is the general rule. The linguistic barriers and cultural ignorance form a potent mixture. Overcoming that has proven a bridge too far. Especially considering that an overwhleming number of our intel personnel don't get out of the Green Zone much to recruit and utilze assets.

Further, the translators and informants that we rely on have their own agendas and biases. Some are honest, no doubt, but even they can fall prey to innocent mistakes. Long before the US ever set foot in Iraq, the nation was a notorious hotbed of conspiracy theories and far-fetched rumors. Often confclicting and wildly improbable.

Now, we are left to parse these stories. And the temptation is to pick the ones we like the most.

Further, whatever the state of our actual intel gathering capacity, the Pentagon has announced on multiple occasions that they release bad information as psy-ops to try to affect the battlefield. Actually, that's true in all wars. Some of this bogus information "blows back" on US sources.

So skepticism is warranted.

Man on the street offers his own whoppingly arrogant generalization on the new security plan:

"Obviously, the soldiers lack the necessary information about where to look and who to look for," said the government engineer, who declined to give his name in an interview during a sweep through his western Baghdad neighborhood last Monday. "There are too many houses and too many hide-outs."

Also:

For the Americans, the security plan depends heavily on pushing along the Iraqi security forces. The so-called joint security stations envisioned under the plan are intended not only to generate intelligence about insurgents and militias but also to bring together Iraqi military and police personnel, who often fail to communicate, as well as U.S. troops. The stations will be scattered throughout the city's 10 newly designated security districts. The plan originally divided the city into nine sectors, but one was split in two.

Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said that although part of the stations' function is to encourage Iraqis to visit, their locations would not be disclosed because of concern within the Iraqi government that such information would facilitate attacks.

I'm sure word will get around.

I wonder if the end-times beliefs of the religious right play into this at all? Since the creation of "greater Israel" is a key part of their timeline for the end times, they've long objected to Israel trading land for peace.While I doubt that would be the only factor, I'm sure spiking the giveback of the Golan heights will net the White House points.

When the Straits of Hormuz are full of burning supertankers, what's left of Saudi Arabia's oilfields will be worth lots, lots more.

Making neocon wet dreams come true is a fringe benefit.

http://arablinks.blogspot.com/2007/02/how-european-diplomats-are-reading-mind.html>This one is yet further out in WTF country.

Al Siyassah is more of a rumor rag than a solid source. Read it long enough, you can find support for more or less any theory you want.

Also, I have a hard time seeing how an Israeli-Syrian agreement would be anything but positive for Lebanon's security, democracy &c. The only way it wouldn't be is if it amounted to a return to Syrian domination of Lebanese politics, but that is a concession that neither Israel nor for that matter the United States actually has to offer. The most they could offer is to spike the international investigation of the Hariri murder, which would piss the hell out of a lot of Lebanese (and others), but which wouldn't really be a blow to Lebanon's sovereignty.

And it's hard to overestimate how significant a move towards a more peaceful southern border would be to Lebanese politics.

What Tom said. Especially about the Hariri investigation.

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