Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Iraq war is a noble cause

From The Australian March 23, 2006 by Greg Sheridan ...

...THE Iraq war was the right war against the right enemy at the right time, and waged for broadly the right reasons. There is no need to apologise about it. Notwithstanding many mistakes in execution in the peace-keeping phase, provided the coalition of the willing retains its nerve there is every chance of achieving a reasonable outcome still.

Success is not guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed except blood and toil and trouble. Aspects of the operation after the conventional fighting have been spectacularly incompetent. But the decision to go to war was the right one.

...Most of the analysis on the third anniversary of the invasion has failed to consider the obvious question: what was the alternative? The tenor of most of the discussion presumes that there was some stable, satisfactory status quo in the Middle East with which we could have persisted happily for the next 10 years, and only the fevered visions of the neo-conservatives, in the secret service of Israel, led us into the folly of Iraq.

It just ain't so.

It is almost impossible to deal with the complexity of the situation but it had several key features.

As a welter of post-war official inquiries in the US, Britain and Australia have shown, Saddam Hussein did not have the stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction we thought he had, but everyone of consequence in the world - whether they were pro or anti the war - thought he did. The inquiries also show that he had weapons programs which he intended to resume five minutes after sanctions were lifted. .... French, German and Russian intelligence all thought he had WMDs. .... Saddam would certainly have resumed his nuclear program as soon as he could. British intelligence believes to this day he was seeking uranium from Africa. That intelligence was unconfirmed but not baseless. ... Statesmen in Washington, London and Canberra didn't get to decide in hindsight in 2006. They had to act with available information in 2002-03.

But why do I still believe it was not only the right decision but taken for broadly the right reasons? Surely containment of Iraq was working. This is not so. Sanctions were unsustainable and were breaking down. It was never envisaged, when Iraq was expelled from Kuwait in 1991, that the Iraqi people would have to live forever under the privations of sanctions. We were constantly told that sanctions cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. If that is true, then the war, in ending the necessity for sanctions, has brought huge humanitarian benefits.

Containment was unsustainable in other ways. Saudi Arabia had told Washington it could not host US troops much longer. Those troops were necessary to stop Saddam once more menacing Kuwait and the Saudis. It's true that by 2003 Saddam's army had been weakened. But a year or two without sanctions, given today's oil prices, and he would have been able to threaten Kuwait and Saudi Arabia again.

As Bob Woodward makes clear in Plan of Attack, the Saudis repeatedly urged the Bush administration to move against Saddam. The underlying message from the Saudis was clear: remove Saddam or ultimately we'll have to make our peace with him.

As Harvard's Daniel Goldhagen has argued, the single most beneficial military operation since World War II was Israel's 1981 demolition of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. Without the Israeli action - unilaterally, almost universally condemned - Iraq would have invaded Kuwait in possession of nuclear weapons. It would then have been impossible to dislodge, and would have dominated the Gulf.

Saddam's strategy never changed. He was on the brink of overcoming sanctions and would have resumed his path to run the Gulf, a strategic nightmare.

Nor should his connections with terrorists be trivialised. As former Iraqi government documents are discovered and translated, it seems Saddam had substantially greater connections with terrorists than was previously thought. His time in office was littered with massive miscalculations: invading Kuwait before he had nuclear weapons, believing the US would never finally attack him in 2003. Given his intimate involvement with Palestinian terrorism, and his grandiose historical vision, it is plausible that he may have provided WMDs to terrorists.

The darkest and maddest of conspiracy theories are nourished by the fact that many of the senior figures in the Bush administration had written about Iraq before they took office. This is seen as evidence of bad faith, that they always intended to invade Iraq and that WMDs, and the heightened threat after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, were merely a pretext. This is not true. It just shows that since 1991, Iraq had been a big policy problem for the US, and all the strategic players had tried to grapple with it. Bill Clinton made numerous war-like speeches about Saddam's threat, fully believed Saddam had WMDs, changed US policy to one of seeking regime change in Iraq, took smaller military action against Saddam and prepared for much bigger action.

As to the alleged dire political consequences of the Iraq invasion much could be said, but suffice to note that the Westerners against whom greatest hostility has been expressed in the Muslim world are the Danes, over an issue that has absolutely nothing to do with Iraq or the US.
Since the invasion, the Iraqis have voted three times, an utterly unique experience in their history which they have embraced with enthusiasm. Is it wrong that Iraqis vote?

Australian policy on Iraq cannot possibly be described as a failure. Howard backed a tough, necessary and unpopular action. He won domestic support for it. Like most leaders who closely supported Bush in Iraq, he was handsomely re-elected. Part of Canberra's calculation was alliance management, and as a result of our Iraq commitment Australia has never been stronger in its relationship with the US. Nor is there a scintilla of evidence that this commitment has harmed us in Asia. Howard designed our military commitment to be meaningful, intense during the conventional fighting, but overall small in size. While doing the right thing in principle, we have reaped maximum national interest benefit.

The US-led coalition probably needs to be in Iraq for a long time. None of this stuff is easy, but provided we don't lose our nerve, it can be done. Perhaps that makes me a neo-conservative. So be it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

White House Nonchalance

From New York Sun , March 21, 2006 by Daniel Pipes , see ...

Expect the Bush administration to continue to make the Middle East the center of American foreign policy. Also expect its strategies to remain basically unchanged – despite their mixed record so far.

That's the message in a major foreign policy document issued last week by the White House, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Mandated by law to appear every four years, the NSS, 49 pages long, was written by the national security advisor, Stephen Hadley and his team.

The Middle East's outsized role comes across in various ways. In a cover letter, President Bush opens the report by stating "America is at war" and describing the enemy as "terrorism fueled by an aggressive ideology of hatred and murder, fully revealed to the American people on September 11, 2001." The report singles out the Middle East as the region that "continues to command the world's attention" because for too long, many of its countries "have suffered from a freedom deficit. Repression has fostered corruption, imbalanced or stagnant economies, political resentments, regional conflicts, and religious extremism."

Other indications point to the centrality of the Middle East. and Gulf states. Iraq is mentioned by name 57 times, while China is named just 28 times and Russia 17 The most dangerous state? "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," asserts the report. And the Syrian regime, which "has chosen to be an enemy of freedom, justice, and peace," will be held to account.

This focus on the Middle East makes sense, given the region's many urgent threats to America Unfortunately, the NSS then insists on a rosy-tinted outlook, either understating the region's problems or approaching them too optimistically.

Circumstances in Iraq are presented as a mere challenge to be overcome. "We will work with the freely elected, democratic government of Iraq – our new partner in the War on Terror – to consolidate and expand freedom, and to build security and lasting stability" – as though the specter of civil war were not looming.

That "every time an American goes to a gas station," as Gal Luft puts it," he is sending money to America's enemies," is a rude problem absent from the NSS, other than a vague acknowledgment that "oil revenues fund activities that destabilize [the producers'] regions or advance violent ideologies."

The report minimizes the threat of radical Islam via the fiction that a "proud religion" has been "twisted and made to serve an evil." Not so: Islamism is a deeply grounded and widely popular version of Islam, as shown by election results from Afghanistan to Algeria. Reliable opinion polls are lacking from majority-Muslim countries but repeated surveys in Britain give some idea of the harrowingly extremist attitudes of its Muslim population: 5 % of them support the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks in London and say more such attacks are justified; 20% have sympathy with the feelings and motives of the July 7 attackers and believe that suicide attacks against the military in Britain can be justified. These results are probably typical of Muslim populations globally, as recent polls of Indonesians and Palestinian Arabs confirms.

The NSS omits any mention of Turkey and Bangladesh and it refers to Saudi Arabia only in passing, suggesting that the Islamist leadership in these states poses no particular concern. The administration's grievous error in helping a terrorist organization, Hamas, reach power in January 2006 is glossed over with soothing words ("The opportunity for peace and statehood … is open if Hamas will abandon its terrorist roots and change its relationship with Israel").

Thus does the NSS accurately reflect the yin and yang of the Bush administration's Middle East policy: a much-needed, relentless focus on the region's sick political culture and the threats it poses to Americans, mixed with an insouciance that current policies are just fine, thank you, everything is on track, and problems – Iraq, terrorism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular – will soon enough be resolved.

Significantly, only the Iranian drive for nuclear weapons does not inspire that glow of confidence. Here, the administration is frankly worried ( "if confrontation is to be avoided," states the NSS, diplomatic efforts must succeed in convincing Tehran to restrict its nuclear program to peaceful purposes). This observer wishes that comparable doubts accompanied other American policies in the region.

Terrorists Are on the March

From a Middle East DEBKAfile Special Analysis , March 20, 2006, 11:45 AM (GMT+02:00) ....

Lt. Gen Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 US commander in Baghdad, said Friday, March 17, that the goal is to turn control of 75 percent of the country’s territory to Iraqi forces by the end of summer.

The US army has already pulled out of 25 percent of Iraq, so this means its withdrawal from another 50 percent over the next six months. Chiarelli warily characterized the land to be handed over as not necessarily areas where the insurgency is strongest. The subtext of his words was that three years after the American invasion, the Iraqi army still cannot be trusted to handle the guerrilla war fought by Sunni insurgents. He also implies that the insurgents and their al Qaeda allies are in control of 25 percent of Iraq.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it differently. In an article he contributed to the March 19 Washington Post, he said “…if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum – and the free world might not have the will to face them again.”

Both were saying in different ways that, three years after the US invasion of Iraq, Baathist and Sunni guerrillas, combined with al Qaeda, are still capable of conquering Iraq and restoring Saddamist rule.

But aside from perseverance, neither suggests how to solve this predicament.

...The defense secretary states that some 100 Iraqi army battalions are “in the fight.” He says nothing about their fitness to stand up to the enemy on their own. Neither does he refer to the likelihood of their disintegration once the American army is gone: Shiite units heading for the Shiite regions south and northeast of Baghdad, and Kurdish units joining their people in the north.

But the former prime minister, the pro-American Iyad Allawi, filled in the blanks by calling a spade a spade. “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is,” he said Sunday, March 19. If Iraq has not reached the “point of no return yet,”…we are moving towards this point. We are in a terrible civil conflict now.” In Allawi’s view, Iraq will fall apart if the bloodshed reaches the point of no return, “…sectarianism will spread through the region and even Europe and the United States would not be spared the violence that may occur as a result of sectarian problems in this region.”

None of these authoritative voices refers to Iran’s clandestine penetration of Iraq or the 10,000 well-trained guerrilla fighters Tehran is holding ready under cover for suicide attacks against US forces, upon a signal from inside Iran. Neither General Chiarelli nor secretary Rumsfeld acknowledges Tehran’s massive meddling in Iraq.

The Olmert-Livni unilateral pullback strategy in the West Bank offered the Israeli voter ahead of the March 28 election, far from being a bold design, is more like a pale imitation of the Rumsfeld-Chiarelli perception of the Iraq imbroglio, a transposition of America’s strategic mistakes from Iraq to the West Bank.

On record, as recently as late 2005, is the US-British failure to build a Palestinian army (one army, one authority, one gun) as a crutch for the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas after Israel’s exit from the Gaza Strip. An Egyptian intelligence mission in the Gaza Strip was just as unsuccessful in setting up and training Palestinian forces of law and order.
Both projects were designed to prove the Palestinians were mature enough for self-rule in the Gaza Strip and therefore ready for statehood.

However, Israel’s pullback from the Gaza Strip last September proved the opposite; it left the vacuum so feared by Rumsfeld in Iraq. Instead of “Saddamist and terrorists”, the vacuum has been filled by Iran, Hamas, al Qaeda and motley crime gangs and warlords. In Ramallah, the situation has veered out of control and bypassed the crisis predicted for Iraq after the American withdrawal.

...Since Israel’s pullout, the Gaza Strip has become a sanctuary for Palestinian and international Islamic terrorist movements, from Hamas to al Qaeda, Hizballah and sundry Palestinian groups funded from Tehran. Gaza is a cautionary model which all counter-terror forces operating in the Middle East would do well to avoid like the plague.

But instead, they are rushing to embrace it. US leaders, president George W. Bush and vice president Richard Cheney may insist loudly the US must stay the course until a free and stable Iraq is on its feet. However, on the ground, American troops are pulling back with the stated goal of quitting 75 percent of the country by summer’s end, although Rumsfeld acknowledges: “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”

By the same token, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima face two ways: they promise to “fight terror” and at the same time are committed to a unilateral pullback from large tracts of the West Bank if they are elected. They have no answers to the key questions of who will step into the vacuum and how the vacated territory will be secured against its falling into willing terrorist hands. Clearly, another unilateral Israeli withdrawal would compound the Gaza Strip disaster, opening up the West Bank to a further surge of violent elements.

In the present circumstances of terror on the march in the Middle East, abandoning territory will not tame the terrorists, only strengthen them and expand their holdings.

Iranians are pushing for a terror attack

From Ynet News 22/3/ 06 by Hanan Greenberg ....

Defense Minister tells Ynet in an exclusive interview that Iranians are pushing for a terror attack in March and have increased funding to Islamic Jihad .... 'There is a consolidation of an axis of terror.'

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has revealed that Iran has increased its funding of terrorism against Israel. "Last month, Iran gave the Islamic Jihad USD 1.8 million, to carry out attacks against Israel," Mofaz told Ynet in an interview. The defense minister said that the figure was a short-term record transfer of cash. His comments came as a terror attack involving a large explosives device was intercepted on Highway 1 connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

... "We know that Iran transferred in the last month USD 1.8 million to the Islamic Jihad organization in order to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel. This is direct aid from Iran, from which most of the money is transferred through Syria, and from there to the Islamic Jihad in the territories. ....The axis of evil, including Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood, is consolidating. Hizbullah is also involved in some of the terror operations here and sends messages, as well as money, which arrives from Iran to the Islamic Jihad, and to Hamas, from other sources. The bottom line is that there is a consolidation of the axis of evil in two senses: One is terrorism, and the second is the Iranian nuclear project."

Let's talk about the situation in Gaza. Wasn't Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu right on the eve of the disengagement when he warned about the ascension of Hamastan in Gaza? Aren't we seeing that now on the ground? "I don't think Bibi was right. The reality is unfolding against his eyes and Bibi is simply interpreting and flipping it, as if he knew it from the beginning, as if he knew it would happen."

So what is the situation in Gaza from your perspective? Did the disengagement prove itself – or are we just not discovering its dangers? "Our security situation has improved invaluably since the disengagement, despite the disturbing Qassam firing. The fact is, we have had no casualties among soldiers and civilians in Gaza. They can't dispatch suicide bombers out of the Gaza Strip. 99 percent of their attempts to infiltrate Israel have been thwarted. Therefore they are trying to fire these Qassams. And here too, so long as we patiently, and with nerves of steel, continue our targeted strike against the entire Qassam chain – we will succeed in dealing with the problem."

There are some who claim that the Gaza Strip must be closed off completely, and to end all contact with it so long as terror continues. "I think that we can't close the Gaza Strip off completely. We can't say to the Palestinians to live on their own. There is a dependency on us." Are you hinting that the safe passage way from Gaza to the West Bank, through Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat, is still relevant? "No, no. The safe passage way is off the agenda. If one day there will be dialogue with the Palestinians, I assume it will again be placed on the negotiations table. Either way, we can't completely close off the passages to the Gaza Strip. They exist to facilitate the Palestinian population, and not terrorism. We have to insert food products, milk… this has no connection to American pressure. I simply think that one can't tie the whole of the Palestinian population to terrorism. We must also remember that pictures of babies hungry for food and milk, or lack of medicine, will harm Israel's image. Israel does not harm innocent civilians."

Which red line does the Hamas government have to cross to cause the State of Israel to declare war on it? "If the Palestinian Authority of Hamas applies direct terrorism against Israel, in other words Hamas returns to the terror cycle, and the waves of suicide bombers of two and three years ago, we will strike at anyone who operates terror. When we set out on Operation Defense Shield we didn't call it a war. If the Palestinian Authority applies direct terror against us, that is a crossing of a red line. Then Israel will be obligated to work as aggressively as possible against this entity. I don't want to be misunderstood as saying that tomorrow we will go and conquer Gaza. I only said that we'll strike terror if it is applied directly against us."

Ronny Sofer contributed to this report

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Israeli Elections In the shadow of Hamas

From Jerusalem Post 21/3/06 By DAVID HOROVITZ ...

Twelve days to go, and the elections are looking increasingly like a referendum on the virtues of a second disengagement, among an electorate depressed by the ascent of Hamas and hardly overwhelmed by the Israeli leadership and policy options.

Labor holds out faint hopes of the possibility of negotiation via the office of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas but, facing a Hamas-dominated Palestinian government, the principal choice for many Israeli voters appears to be between Kadima's now overt commitment to a second pullback in the West Bank, and the determination by the Likud and the National Union-NRP alliance to stay put.

If Camp David created an Israeli consensus that the Palestinian leadership was not seeking peace, the Hamas victory has dramatically widened the circle of Israelis who have concluded that the Palestinian public does not seek coexistence either. In such a climate, for all Labor's distinctive social welfare policies, its appeal is much circumscribed.

Given the high proportion of still-undecided voters, and the proclivity of Israeli opinion polls to underestimate the Right, the result may yet be closer than the surveys predict, although the windfall for Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Tuesday's enforced capture of the killers of Rehavam Ze'evi in Jericho may solidify Kadima's support.

....As impatient politicians and analysts speculate on the nature of the coalition government ahead of us, it seems reasonable to believe that an overwhelming Kadima victory will set the stage for a second pullout - a genuine pullback, settlers and army, rather than the "civilians only" hybrid floated this week, whose main purpose seems devoted to maintaining unity within Kadima's own ranks. Such a withdrawal would doubtless be bitterly resisted by the settlers and their supporters, but such opposition would be deflated if it were unequivocally clear that such is the will of most Israeli voters. A narrower Kadima victory, however, would make any planned pullback far more complex politically, and more divisive in practice, since opponents - in the Knesset and on the ground - would contend that the government lacked the necessary consensual mandate.

As a gloomy Israel prepares to vote, and its government to grapple with the implications of Hamas taking formal office, the would-be enlightened international community is also still utterly at a loss as to how to come to terms with the dire new reality.

...the Americans, making a virtue of paralysis, are resolved to "wait and see" what exactly a Hamas government is going to exemplify before taking a precise position. They won't want to fund it, or even interact with its more unpalatable personalities, but neither do they want the West Bank and Gaza turning into humanitarian disaster areas. ...

...Formally, the US remains opposed to further Israeli unilateralism and, however irrelevantly, formally committed to the road map negotiated path to peace. But even those who still harbored faint hopes for eventual diplomatic progress have been thoroughly sobered by the Hamas landslide. And the notion of salvaging even a veneer of interaction via the offices of Abbas, not a particularly realistic prospect .....

....European Union representatives, meanwhile, are dutifully communicating the consensual message to Hamas that it must recognize Israel, commit to signed agreements with Israel and renounce terrorism. .... When Hamas leaders ask "or else what?" the Europeans threaten that failure to comply will trigger a far-reaching review of EU policy. Terrifying.

In fact, however, the EU may be alighting on a path to continued interaction with Hamas while formally sticking to the "we won't deal with the terrorists" line. At the end of this month, the EU's Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA) will hold its annual gathering of European and Mediterranean parliamentarians in Brussels. ...According to one extremely senior European source, invitations went out as usual to the PLC members, including those on the newly elected Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform List. This source said that, of course the EMPA grandees knew full well that this was the Hamas list, but it didn't actually say Hamas on the ballot, did it? ...."We're hoping none of them is a true member of Hamas," said a source close to the EMPA. "If they are, since Hamas is on the EU terror list, I don't know what we'll do. There'll be a big sigh of relief if they're not."

Saddam still Iraq leader: Gaddafi

From The Australian, correspondents in Rome, March 21, 2006. . .

LIBYAN leader Muammar Gaddafi said Saddam Hussein should still be considered Iraq's legal president and the current government illegitimate as it was elected under an occupation regime.

In an interview with the Italian Sky TG24 television channel, he slammed the practice of sending in troops to get rid of heads of state, saying by that theory he could be next.

"Saddam Hussein cannot be tried because he is a prisoner of war and under the Geneva Convention should be released at the end of hostilities," Col. Gaddafi said. "Saddam is still to be considered the legal president of Iraq because he was not overthrown by the people but by the occupation forces... ..It is dangerous to send troops to eliminate heads of state who are not appreciated, because tomorrow it could be the turn of Castro, Gaddafi or Mugabe, or even China and North Korea," he said......

.....He said the US should get out of Iraq in its own interests "because the Iraqis are no longer afraid of the Americans so that the murder of US soldiers has become routine".

Libya and the US resumed direct diplomatic relations in June 2004 - after a gap of 24 years during which US planes bombed Tripoli in 1986 - following Gaddafi's announcement of a program to destroy his weapons of mass destruction.