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Friday, November 17, 2006
More Signs of Statelessness in Iraq
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:29 am

Via the LAT: Iraqi Cabinet will meet to resolve divisions in wake of kidnapping

Iraq’s prime minister will convene the Cabinet next week to resolve the deepening political divisions after a mass kidnapping at government offices in Baghdad, a member of his coalition said today.

I will readily grant that it is difficult to wholly assess these situations from afar, but it continues to appear that despite the ongoing and significant problems in Iraq that the so-called government always is lackadaisical in its response. The kidnapping took place early this week and yet the cabinet will meet sometime next week to try and deal with the situation. Not only is the event itself troubling: a direct strike at a semi-functioning element of the state, but one which was carried out by persons posing as part of the security apparatus.

This is doubly problematic. First, if bureaucrats and other functionaries are not safe going to work in places like the ministry of higher education, where within the state apparatus are Iraqis safe to go to work? Second, if there is no way for the common Iraqi to know if a uniformed individual is a “good” guy or a “bad” one, there is no hope for the establishment of order.

Moreover, this situation is grave because, as the article notes, it is causing internal conflicts amongst members of the government as accusations fly over whether the situation is being downplayed by the PM or if, in fact, members of the police are acting out of sectarian motivations.

To let this fester for over a week is remarkable and a testament to the fact that despite the elections that have been held, there isn’t much of a governing apparatus in Iraq at the moment.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Maliki Downplays Kidnappings
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:29 am

Yesterday, as no doubt you all have noticed, there was a mass kidnapping of civil servants at the Higher Education Ministry yesterday perpetrated by men dressed in police uniforms. They abducted around 55 persons according to the NYT (although initial reports had the figure as high as 150)

From today’s NYT: Dozens Abducted in Brazen Raid on Iraq Ministry

Gunmen dressed in Iraqi police commando uniforms and driving vehicles with Interior Ministry markings rounded up dozens of people inside a government building in the heart of Baghdad on Tuesday and drove off with them in one of the most brazen mass kidnappings since a wave of sectarian abductions and killings became a feature of the war.

In this context we have a rather astonishing response from the Prime Minister of Iraq (via Reuters): Iraqi PM plays down kidnap as ilitia dispute

“What happened was not terrorism, rather it was due to dispute and conflict between militias from one side or another,” Maliki said in televised remarks. He later said the government’s response had been strong and vowed to catch those responsible.


In a speech at Baghdad University, apparently timed to allay academics’ fears for their security, Maliki said universities would remain open and should be free of sectarian influence.

“Most of the hostages have been released and we will pursue those who were behind this,” Maliki said.

First off, the tactics in question are clearly terroristic, so we are splitting hairs semantically at this point.

Second, the sort of “don’t worry, everything’s fine” routine wouldn’t be too comforting to me, if I worked at the University.

Third, and most importantly, the sectarian violence is far worse for Iraq than the terrorists, especially when it is masked behind official uniforms and when it is striking directly at the attempts of the creation of some normal state functions. The increasing inability of the Iraqi people to trust uniformed security personnel is a devastating problem.

If people who work at the education ministry, who should be considered noncombatants and innocuous, are not safe to go to work, who is? There is also an undercurrent here that is suggestive that the militias are trying to disrupt higher education purposefully because it will cause educated, secularly-oriented individuals to flee the country.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006
“Because international relations is more than having a Bangladeshi cousin…”
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:29 pm

Proving that maybe Iraqi study group will be able to produce something, here’s James Baker under fire:

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Post-Election Politics (Democratic Leadership Edition)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:30 am

Via WaPo: In Backing Murtha, Pelosi Draws Fire

Murtha, a longtime senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, has battled accusations over the years that he has traded federal spending for campaign contributions, that he has abused his post as ranking party member on the Appropriations defense subcommittee, and that he has stood in the way of ethics investigations. Those charges come on top of Murtha’s involvement 26 years ago in the FBI’s Abscam bribery sting.

“Pelosi’s endorsement suggests to me she was interested in the culture of corruption only as a campaign issue and has no real interest in true reform,” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Democratic-leaning group. “It is shocking to me that someone with [Murtha’s] ethics problems could be number two in the House leadership.”

There are several interesting aspects to this situation.

1) It is an intra-Democratic conflict at the moment. Even the interest groups that are the most vocal at the moment are more in the Democratic camp.

2) This the collision of the two main issues of the campaign: the war and corruption.

3) It indicates that Pelosi may have a character trait in common with President Bush: loyalty. Part of the argument for Pelosi favoring Murtha over Hoyer is that Murtha helped her in an earlier leadership race and Hoyer opposed her. A similar manifestation of part of this trait is the fact that she apparently has problems with Jane Harmon and hence is willing to ignore seniority rules on the Intelligence Committee (in this case this is perhaps what happens when one isn’t viewed as loyal).

Of note is the fact that this particular character trait/traits of Pelosi are getting her in trouble right out of the gate. It will be interesting to see how this manifests over time.

If anything, I suspect we are going to get quite the education on ABSCAM over the next week or so…

[Cross-posted at OTB]

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Monday, November 13, 2006
The Newest Talking Point?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:44 pm

Twice today I have heard a variation of the following: “no war has ever been won by withdrawing.” It was used by a commenter at OTB and by Fred Barnes on Special Report with Brit Hume this evening. It has the feel of new political catch phrase.

While this phrase may well be true, it strikes me as simplistic reasoning, as if we are poised for victory in Iraq and a withdrawal would ruin that.

Now, let me be clear: I am wholly uncertain at this time as to whether withdrawal in the short (or medium) term is the appropriate policy. However, I am certain of one thing: victory is not just around the corner. We are not at a stage where there choice is victory or defeat, we are at the stage where we are managing a failed policy. Recognizing and accepting this is rather important if proper decisions are to be made going forward.

And I would note: the likelihood of a swift and immediate withdrawal strikes me as highly unlikely, regardless of whatever rhetoric may be flying out there.

Even if one believes that that is exactly what the Democrats want to do, they do not have the power to make it happen at the moment.

[Cross-posted at OTB]

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The Politics of Withdrawal
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:48 am

Much is being made of the notion that the Democrats are going to do all in their power to force a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. While I continue to doubt the capacity of the Congress to force (sans extraordinary, if not unprecedented, action) such a move, there is another power that may lead to a substantial draw down: politics.

There can be no doubt that both parties are painfully aware that 2008 is on the horizon and it doesn’t take a genius to know that Iraq is going to be central to that election. An excellent point was made on This Week yesterday (I think by Cokie Roberts, but since This Week is too cheap, unlike MTP, to provide free transcripts, I can’t check) wherein it was noted that the Democrats don’t want to win in 2008 to inherit Iraq in January 2009 and nor do the Republicans want to have to run by defending Iraq in 2008. As such, there are incentives for both parties to wish to get out of Iraq.

I would argue that the notion that there is this dichotomy of the Republicans/staying to finish the job v. Democrats/leave as soon as possible is a radical oversimplification of the situation. For one thing, the Reps, as a party, may be far less interested in staying as many think that they are. For another, the Democrats are quite aware of what it will look like for 2008 if they come in and look like cowards who “cut and run” and so forth.

Now, do I think that we will be out by before the ‘08 elections? This strikes me as unlikely, but I do except some serious policy shifts. The President is also in a position to be able to present a public face of being the guy who wants to finish the job, but who can then use the Democrat’s pressure as cover for changing policy. Something along those lines seems likely, as Bush doesn’t like to admit mistakes, but he can now couch serious policy changes in the context of “understanding the message the American people sent in the elections” as well as in the context of pressure from the newly minted 110th Congress and its new Democratic masters.

[cross-posted at OTB]

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Pros and Cons » So, now that the Dems have some power, who exactly will crack-up? linked with [...] So, shall we sound the familiar sad refrain of retreat, “realism” and cynical abandonment of one time allies who have risked and sacrificed far more than we? I actually doubt it, but it took us long enough to recover from Yalta, much less 1975, so I (and Poliblogger, with whom I disagree only about the wisdom of drawing down any time soon, unless it is to better menace Iran) had better be right about the Donkey Party, or enough Blue Dogs and otherwise sane peoiple therein, including Dame Hillary, not wanting to throw our Middle Eastern allies over the side. [...]
Monday, November 6, 2006
The Answer: No
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 8:10 am

The question (via MSNBC/WaPo): Will Saddam affect vote?

The reason: no one was expecting otherwise. Was there any drama to be had here? I think not.

Plus, it isn’t as if he is going to be hung on international television tomorrow (not that I think that would help, either). No, he will remain in prison with an appeal pending and other trials to deal with. Really, the status quo hasn’t changed that much.

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Sunday, November 5, 2006
Losing Alabama (on the War, not the Elections)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 9:16 am

It is hard to find a state much redder than Alabama or to find one that is prone to support the military and the military actions of the United States. So, when Alabamians are starting to seriously question the war, the President has to know that he is in trouble.

Via the Press-Register: War skepticism grows in Alabama

Almost 60 percent of respondents now believe the war is going “somewhat badly” or “very badly” — up from 40 percent last December. Roughly the same percentage doubts that the Bush administration has a clear plan for ending U.S. involvement.

But more than half say the administration should not announce a timetable for withdrawing soldiers and respondents were exactly split on the question of whether the war was worth fighting.

Of course, the likelihood that these facts will effect any of the seven congressional races in the state is unlikely. Several of those races do not have two major party candidates running and the others are quite uncompetitive.

The poll had a small sample size, so one can make of that what one will:

The poll of 402 adult Alabamians was taken between last Monday and Wednesday, as U.S. forces were winding up their deadliest month in Iraq in almost two years. A total of 105 service members died in combat or from other causes.

Even with the small sample, the results are sufficiently dramatic to indicate that the state has serious problems with the war in Iraq.

Congressman Bonner (R-AL1) from Mobile seems to think that the views are the results of bad press:

“I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that these numbers show what they show … ,” Bonner said Thursday of the poll results. “It has become the drumbeat of practically every news story that things are not going well.”

There comes a point where it has to be admitted that the reason the press coverage is bad is because the situation is bad. We reached that point quite a while ago.

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Saturday, November 4, 2006
Amazing (VP Cheney Edition)
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:06 pm

Via ABC News (Cheney: ‘Full Speed Ahead’ on Iraq) comes a remarkable statement:

“We’ve got the basic strategy right,” Cheney told George Stephanopoulos in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on “This Week.”

While there is a legitimate position that would state that withdrawal is not the best course of action, to decalre that “We’ve got the basic strategy right” is utterly, totally remarkable.

Of course, the Vice President stated over a year ago that the insurgency was “in its last throes”-a fact that was highly questionable at the time and utterly laughable at the moment. As such, his ability to assess the situation is dubious, to put it mildly.

Indeed, I have to agree with Michael J.W. Stickings:

This isn’t stubbornness. It’s delusion.

Indeed. I am not sure what else you can call it. The old defense of the administration that they were seeing the whole picture while we were only getting the bad news from the MSM holds no water. The situation in Iraq is dire and yet the administration continues to want to assert that everything is fine.

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Editorial in the Four Military Papers Calls for Rumsfeld to Go
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:44 am

Via MSNBC: Military papers: ‘Rumsfeld must go’

The editorial, released to NBC News on Friday ahead of its Monday publication date, stated, “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.”


The military publications’ editorial also painted a grim view of the situation in Iraq, saying, “despite the best efforts of American trainers, the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition. For two years, American sergeants, captains and majors training the Iraqis have told their bosses that Iraqi troops have no sense of national identity, are only in it for the money, don’t show up for duty and cannot sustain themselves. … And all along, Rumsfeld has assured us that things are well in hand.”

More from Editor and Publisher:

The papers are the Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times. They are published by the Military Times Media Group, a subsidiary of Gannett Co., Inc. President Bush said this week that he wanted Rumsfeld to serve out the next two years.

“We say that Rumsfeld must be replaced,” Alex Neill, the managing editor of the Army Times, told The Virginian-Pilot tonight in a telephone interview. “Given the state of affairs with Iraq and the military right now, we think it’s a good time for new leadership there.”

The editorial was written by senior managing editor Robert Hodierne, based on a decision of the publications’ editorial board, Neill told the paper.

The timing of the editorial was coincidental, Neill said.

But he added, “President Bush came out and said that Donald Rumsfeld is in for the duration … so it’s just a timely issue for us. And our position is that it is not the best course for the military” for Rumsfeld to remain the Pentagon chief.

On the timing issue. Much will no doubt be made about the timing, but it is worth noting that the response is the President-he is the one who brought the whole thing up in the first place.

I have passing acquaintance with the Army Times as a friend of mine is a subscriber and I have seen some (granted, limited) coverage of Iraq from the paper. It was certainly more positive than that in the MSM. Indeed, given that the four publications are aimed a military audience, it is rather difficult to make “liberal media bias” claims in this context. Members of the military or regular readers of the papers in question are welcome to correct me if they feel the need.

As such, this is a fairly dramatic editorial.

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The Mahablog » How Low Can They Go? How Dumb Can They Get? linked with [...] Dr. Steven Taylor of PoliBlog — conservative but not crazy — writes, Much will no doubt be made about the timing, but it is worth noting that the response is [to] the President-he is the one who brought the whole thing up in the first place. [...]
Friday, November 3, 2006
What’s More Important: Keeping Rumsfeld or Kerry’s Foot-in-Mouth?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 12:40 pm

It is a legitimate question, asked in a column by James Klurfeld in Newsday (Forget Kerry, the joke is keeping Rumsfeld).

If anything, the amount of attention paid to Kerry’s whatever it was is disproportionate to its significance.

I certainly am not naive enough to know that replacing Rumsfeld would necessarily mean a change in policy. Further, it is possible that Rumsfeld could stay and policies could change. However, the President’s adamant support of Rumsfeld suggests that this is unlikely.

The bottom line with Rumsfeld is that the following (from the Klurfeld column) is accurate:

By deliberately and premeditatively not preparing for the postwar period in Iraq despite repeated warnings from some on his staff and a slew of experts in other parts of the government, Rumsfeld set the stage for what might turn out to be the worst foreign policy disaster in the nation’s history.

If one read Diamond’s book or Woodward’s, and I presume (based on interviews I have seen) Rick’s book Fiasco as well, one gets the decided impression that Rumsfeld wholly dismissed the need for a means to deal with the post-invasion situation and now we are in dire straits (see, for example, here for evidence of that fact).

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Monday, October 30, 2006
More Incompetence in Iraq
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:17 am

Via the NYT: U.S. Is Said to Fail in Tracking Arms for Iraqis

The American military has not properly tracked hundreds of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces and has failed to provide spare parts, maintenance personnel or even repair manuals for most of the weapons given to the Iraqis, a federal report released Sunday has concluded.

Given the security situation over there, the idea that hundreds of thousands of weapons were not properly tracked is disturbing. Further, and in some ways worse, if we aren’t providing spare parts and the ability to maintain the weapons given to the new Iraqi security forces, how can we be saying that we are preparing the Iraqis to defend themselves?


Exactly where untracked weapons could end up — and whether some have been used against American soldiers — were not examined in the report, although black-market arms dealers thrive on the streets of Baghdad, and official Iraq Army and police uniforms can easily be purchased as well, presumably because government shipments are intercepted or otherwise corrupted.

In a written response to the inspector general’s findings, the American military largely conceded the shortcomings. The military said it would assist the Iraqis in determining the spare parts and maintenance requirements for the weapons. The military also said it has now instituted a “process to accurately issue weapons by quantity and serial number listing.”

And it gets even more depressing:

the American military was not able to say how many Iraqi logistics personnel it had trained — in this case because, the military told the inspector general, a computer network crash erased records. Those problems have occurred even though the United States has spent $133 million on the weapons program and $666 million on Iraqi logistics capabilities.

The report said that although the United States planned to scale back its support for logistics and maintenance for Iraqi security forces in 2007, it was unclear whether the Iraqi government had any intention of compensating by allocating sufficient money to the Ministries of Interior and Defense.

It should be noted that the inquiry into this situation was initiated by Senator John Warner (R-VA). It is nice to see someone on Capitol Hill making some effort at fulfilling their oversight duties.

Some numbers on the weapons:

In its assessment of Iraqi weaponry, the inspector general concluded that of the 505,093 weapons that have been given to the Ministries of Interior and Defense over the last several years, serial numbers for only 12,128 were properly recorded. The weapons include rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, shotguns, semiautomatic pistols and sniper rifles.

Of those weapons, 370,000 were purchased with American taxpayer money under what is called the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, or I.R.R.F., and therefore fell within the inspector general’s mandate.

Despite the potential risks from losing track of those weapons — involving 19 different contracts and 142 delivery orders — the United States recorded serial numbers for no more than a few thousand, the inspector general said.


The inspector general’s report also found that money for spare parts was allocated for only 5 of the 12 different kinds of weapons sent to Iraq — and when the inspector general contacted units of the Defense and Interior Ministries, none actually knew how or where to requisition spare parts.

There were also significant discrepancies in the numbers of weapons purchased and those in Iraqi warehouses. While 176,866 semiautomatic pistols were purchased with American money, just 163,386 showed up in warehouses — meaning that more than 13,000 were unaccounted for. All 751 of the M1-F assault rifles sent to Iraq were missing, and nearly 100 MP-5 machine guns.

The story also cites another report which states that reconstruction efforts in parts of Iraq are being hampered due to security issues. That is hardly a surprise, but is noteworthy nevertheless.

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Friday, October 27, 2006
Rumsfeld’s State of Denial
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 6:53 am

Via WaPo: Rumsfeld Tells Iraq Critics to ‘Back Off’

“You ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it’s complicated, it’s difficult,” Rumsfeld said, appearing unusually combative as he sparred with reporters at the Pentagon. “Honorable people are working on these things together,” he said, adding emphatically that “no daylight” exists between the U.S. and Iraqi sides.

That may be one of the singularly most unhelpful things that I have heard in a while (the “back off” and “relax” bits). And the second part (the “no daylight” part) is demonstrably false, as there have been some public disagreements with Maliki over how to handle Sadr.

Here are a few examples:

  • ABC news: Defiant Iraqi PM Disavows Timetable
  • The Chicago Sun-Times: Iraqi leader rips U.S. on Sadr raid
  • The Mercury News: Iraq’s al-Maliki sharply delineates differences with U.S. leadership

Rumsfeld’s state of denial on a host of issues regarding Iraq is a substantial reason for why we are in the trouble that we are currently in. And as the state of denial continues it makes it all the more difficult to find anything approaching a solution to the situation. That he wasn’t replaced some time back is remarkable given the results on the ground.

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PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » So, What Does That Say About the Base? linked with [...] Let’s recap: the war in Iraq has not gone anywhere near as was expected in terms of the post-invasion phase, which now over three years old. One of the chief architects of the strategy regarding both the size of the force needed to secure Iraq and the processes necessary to rebuild Iraq is Donald Rumsfeld. He was wrong about the size of the force needed in the first place, and was quite public about the fact that he was right and others were wrong on the subject. He was wrong about what to do in the immediate aftermath of the invasion. He was wrong about the insurgency. He was wrong just the other day when he said that there was “no daylight” between the US and the Iraqi governments over what to do in Iraq. [...]
The Heretik : Back Off linked with [...] Relax? Rumsfeld could be more condescending. It’s unfortunate the conquest occupation transformation of the Middle East fiasco didn’t go so smoothly. Relax is something you say when somebody isn’t so excited with what you’ve done. [...]
Gun Toting Liberal » Blog Archive » Republicans call for Sect’y Rumsfeld to step down; ‘back off’, says The Rumster to critics of Iraq war linked with [...] ***** Other points of view: RealClearPolitics, Think Progress, PoliBlog, The Democratic Daily, MyDD, The Drudge Retort Technorati Tags:  2006, 2008, Bush, Current Events, Cut And Run, Democrats, GOP, Headlines, Iraq, News, News and Politics, Politics, Republicans, Rumsfeld, stay the course [...]
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Iraqis to Protect Themselves in 12-18 Months?
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:38 pm

Via WaPo: U.S. Officials: Iraqi Security Could be Ready in 12-18 Months

Top U.S. officials in Iraq today predicted that Iraqi security forces could be largely self-sufficient within 12 to 18 months and said the Iraqi government is building a timetable for disarming militias, quieting insurgents and solving ongoing struggles for economic and political power.

Not to be a pessimist (in truth, I am just being a realist), but what has happened of late to suggest that such estimates are to be considered anything other than wishful thinking?

This at the same time it continues to be clear that we can’t even bring security to Baghdad?

This after the flexing of the Mahdi army’s muscles this week? (In an area that was supposedly peaceful and under Iraqi control, I might add).

This after reports of citizens increasingly turning to private security?

This amid recent problems with the administration of the “established” security forces?

Nope-no reason to be pessimistic here at all.

And from the “if wishes were horses, beggars would rider” file:

“In the course of the next 12 months, assuming Iraqi leaders deliver on the commitments they have made . . . there should be a national compact in place by that time, with a constitutional amendment, with a program for dealing with militias,” Khalilzad said.

Well, sure, assuming that, of course.

Spencer Ackerman has some somewhat snarky, yet unfortunately quite accurate comments on the administration’s success rate with deadlines in Iraq at TAPPED.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006
Statelessness in Iraq
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 7:33 am

Via the NYT: Many Iraqis Look to Gunmen as Protectors

Behind the maze of men with guns in Iraq is a very simple truth: their barrels offer protection, something Iraqis say the government has never given them.

When the state fails to establish basic order (or, in fact, when there is no state), men do what they must to survive. Further, those who seek power and influence will capitalize on the lack of order and use violence as currency.

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