Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Losing with consequences

James Fallows in The Atlantic Monthly writes about the failed effort to "stand up" an Iraqi Security Force, the critical task Bush has repeatedly stated must be achieved before we can leave Iraq. Here are a few quotes from the article:

"The current situation will NEVER allow for an effective ISF [Iraqi Security Force] to be created," a young Marine officer who will not let me use his name wrote in an e-mail after he returned from Iraq this summer. "We simply do not have enough people to train forces. If we shift personnel from security duties to training, we release newly trained ISF into ever-worsening environs."

"A growing number of U.S. military officers in Iraq and those who have returned from the region are voicing concern that the nascent Iraqi army will fall apart if American forces are drawn down in the foreseeable future," Elaine Grossman, of the well-connected newsletter Inside the Pentagon, reported in September.

"U.S. trainers have made a heroic effort and have achieved some success with some units," Ahmed Hashim, of the Naval War College, told me in an e-mail. "But the Iraqi Security Forces are almost like a black hole. You put a lot in and little comes back out."

"I have to tell you that corruption is eating the guts of this counter-insurgency effort," a civilian wrote in an e-mail from Baghdad. Money meant to train new troops was leaking out to terrorists, he said. He empathized with "Iraqi officers here who see and yet are powerless to stop it because of the corrupt ministers and their aides."
"On the current course we will have two options," I was told by a Marine lieutenant colonel who had recently served in Iraq and who prefers to remain anonymous. "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our army, or we can just lose."

"In Vietnam we just lost," the officer said. "This would be losing with consequences."

The Big Lie

Frank Rich, in Sunday's New York Times, makes an important point about the cost of the Iraq war. Aside from its ruinous effect on our military, and on our prestige in the world, and on our democracy, the failed war in Iraq and its dishonest presentation by our president have worked to reduce American will to fight the real war -- the war against Islamic jihadism.

Although the Times has put its columnists behind a $50/year subscription, you can read the article here.

Here's an excerpt:

One hideous consequence of the White House's Big Lie - fusing the war of choice in Iraq with the war of necessity that began on 9/11 - is that the public, having rejected one, automatically rejects the other. That's already happening. The percentage of Americans who now regard fighting terrorism as a top national priority is either in the single or low double digits in every poll. Thus the tragic bottom line of the Bush catastrophe: the administration has at once increased the ranks of jihadists by turning Iraq into a new training ground and recruitment magnet while at the same time exhausting America's will and resources to confront that expanded threat.

We have arrived at "the worst of all possible worlds," in the words of Daniel Benjamin, Richard Clarke's former counterterrorism colleague, with whom I talked last week. No one speaks more eloquently to this point than Mr. Benjamin and Steven Simon, his fellow National Security Council alum. They saw the Qaeda threat coming before most others did in the 1990's, and their riveting new book, "The Next Attack," is the best argued and most thoroughly reported account of why, in their opening words, "we are losing" the war against the bin Laden progeny now.

Running out of time in Darfur

Excerpt below comes from a piece by Eric Reeves, appearing in The New Republic (11/28/05) that describes the "now or never" predicament of 3.5 million people of Darfur in Sudan, for whom time is running out. It is estimated that 400,000 have already died in Darfur; one wonders whether the "culture of life" rhetoric of the present administration will be backed by the action needed to prevent hundreds of thousands more from dying in this tormented land. If there is any true Christmas spirit here, I hope it will be expressed in the rescue of our brothers and sisters in Sudan.

There is considerable evidence that many humanitarian organizations are on the brink of withdrawing from Darfur--or at least suspending operations. An upsurge in violence against humanitarian workers has pushed many groups to the very limit of tolerable risk. The consequences of such a withdrawal will be stark: hundreds of thousands dead. As a result, the reality facing America and its allies is simple: If we really believe that something should be done to save Darfur, then we have to do it now. Soon, it will be too late to do anything at all. [..]

Eighty-one NGOs and thirteen U.N. agencies currently operate in Darfur, according to the latest U.N. data. These groups have evacuation plans defined by varying contingencies and thresholds for implementation. A year ago, for example, Save the Children UK withdrew its non-Sudanese staff and suspended all operations in Darfur following the deaths of several workers.... But no matter what the threshold for evacuation, the precipitating scenarios are daily becoming more likely. [..]

The first to die will be malnourished children under five years of age, especially those who presently require the assistance of specialized feeding centers. But these casualties will only be harbingers of greater death, both in the overcrowded camps, which are again swelling because of new violence, and throughout the vulnerable rural areas where people are increasingly unable to feed themselves......

Two months ago Jan Egeland, head of U.N. humanitarian operations, warned that if
insecurity "continues to escalate, if it continues to be so dangerous on humanitarian work, we may not be able to sustain our operation[.] ... It could all end tomorrow--it's as serious as that." A year ago, when there were a million fewer conflict-affected people in Darfur, Egeland warned that in the event of humanitarian evacuation as many as 100,000 could die every month..... Hundreds of thousands of people are already beyond humanitarian relief, and the population is weakened by almost three years of intense conflict. The number without assistance may climb to over a million by year's end.

As humanitarian evacuation becomes more likely, the day draws near when the West will have to make its final decision on Darfur. African Union forces have failed to secure the region; and without security, there can be no humanitarian relief. Either America and its western allies put troops on the ground in Darfur soon, or the time to act will have passed. Perhaps 400,000 people have died in Darfur already, but after humanitarian workers leave, those numbers will swell quickly and considerably. After all, while humanitarian workers have an evacuation option, Darfur's residents do not.