Thursday, December 27, 2007

Iraq Update: Picture Version

All these are taken from the DoD.

Picture the first: Overall Weekly Iraq Attacks. Dramatically down, to '04 levels. It looks, though, like attacks against Government Facilities are not down much, whereas small arms and mortar attacks are very down--this indicates to me that anti-government terror attacks (probably Al-Qaeda centered) attacks are more stubborn than sectarian militia fighting; we'll see some of this later. Another interesting thing is that violence is significantly up during Ramadan every year. Understandable: I'm homicidal when I'm too hungry, myself.

Picture the second: Ethno-sectarian deaths are down some absurd amount like 90% (or so it appears) since a peak in Dec. 2006. One simply cannot call this a civil war any longer; one can never expect ethnic deaths to reach zero, but reducing this number of ~220 by another order of magnitude would probably give the United States a run for its money in ethnic passivity.

Picture the third: total civilian, Multinational Force (MNF), and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) deaths. By both conservative and bad-scenario estimates, civilian deaths per month have dropped over 67% since their peak. Unfortunately, it's hard to look at this figure and tell how ISF and MNF deaths are doing, but the report shows that monthly averages are down about 50% from their peak.

Picture the fourth: Attacks by province. The first surprise I see is Anbar, from the last post on attacks by province I made (Feb 14 - May 4), Anbar has dropped from 25 attacks per day to five. Baghdad is down from 50 attacks per day to 27. Attacks in Ninewa have not budged over the same time, and Ninewa has made it into the "red zone" of four tough provinces that need work; but this is seems to be only because it has failed to improve, not because it has worsened. Other provinces have reduced in daily attacks by a more modest, but appreciable, rate.

Finally, picture the fifth: The Iraqi Provincial Security Transition Assessment. Self-explanatory by now, I'm sure, but I should note that the British handed over Basrah in December. Based on the previous figure, Qadisiyah and Wasit look like very reasonable choices for quick handover-- afterwards, the Polish zone would be reduced to only Babil.

In conclusion, things keep looking good. Here's to the brilliant General Petraeus keeping up the good work. If this trend keeps up, we can hope to see easy times in Iraq in another year.

Benazir Bhutto is Dead

She was assassinated by a suicide bomber terrorist. A summary can be found here.

There seems to be no word on what group might be responsible.

I don't know what Pakistan's going to do, how they're going to react. I hope whomever they elect can unite the country against the worldwide terror threat that lives on, like a tumor, in the chaotic northwest.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Afghanistan Finally Getting Some Attention

Lots of important people have been visiting Afghanistan lately, in rapid succession. This should be a morale boost for Karzai, who's probably been feeling quite lonely in the central front of the Global War on Terror. I think this guy should be getting a Nobel peace prize, but that's another matter.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown, France's President Nicholas Sarkozy, American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, new Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and just recently, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, have all visited Kabul and talked with Karzai, soon after his call to the world for help. Quite a response.

Sarkozy, in particular, is pledging a greater commitment in the Afghanistan conflict, emphasizing France's long-term interest in Afghanistan's stability. Hopefully, Italian, British, and Australian efforts will increase, as well, to make up for the United States' thinned capabilities.

With attacks up in the last two years, more effort may be necessary to keep the Taliban under pressure... particularly as NATO forces wait, frustrated, for Pakistan to get its act together.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Basra Handed Over

Iraqi Security Forces and government are now in full control of the city and province of Basra. A parade was held today throughout Basra's main streets, and an impressive array of security personnel and weaponry reassured Basra's citizens that they were in good hands.

As Iraq's second-largest city, Basra is a key testing ground for two questions:
1) Can Iraqi security keep the peace that the Multi-National Forces have wrenched into some Iraqi provinces?
2) Will violence in Basra actually _drop_, as anti-Coalition forces (like those of Al-Sadr) will no longer see a military obstacle, or will such militias turn against other militias with a new hubris?

British forces will remain in the deserts outside of Basra for some time, ready to enter the city on the command of Basra's Governor, should a militia try to take control. The Iraqi forces still have some growing to do.

But the British are now all but done their obligation in Iraq, leaving the Americans mostly alone.

(if the photo looks fuzzy, just open it in a new tab)

All British Command provinces are in full Iraqi control, and British forces are being reduced to a mere 2500 troops in the next few months. American forces can only hope that the British will continue to help pay for military training and purchases by the Iraqi army, as well as help manage the sluggish development of Iraq's economy.

But if this handover goes well, it shows great promise for handovers by Polish forces in Babil, Qadisiyah, and Wasit, all of which have relatively low violence and few ethnic mixing zones. Such handovers will be particularly important for the Americans, as the new Polish leadership is itching to bring its troops home, and the Americans would prefer to not have to spread their own forces to cover any ground that the Polish abandon before a formal handover. While these three provinces are not scheduled for handover at years' end, they may well be ready for handover early in 2008.

Unfortunately, all this handing-over has little immediate effect on the Americans' abilities to consolidate their forces in hot spots, or even start drawing-down-- the only handovers so far in the American sectors have been in Kurdish areas, and American forces still remain to make sure that Turkish and Kurdish forces do not start sparring. Not surprisingly, Americans chose to govern the toughest, most ethnically divided, most violent parts of Iraq in 2003, and their obligation remains.

But places like Anbar and Tamim are starting to look increasingly safe, and American forces may try handing over some of these provinces before next summer to keep a sense of progress in the air. But this is all speculation.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Musharraf is Starting to Win me Over...

With a good first step: returning Pakistan to constitutional rule. Do I believe his story about a terrible conspiracy? Probably, but I still don't believe the suspension was justified in the first place.

Either way, the ball is now in the hands of Bhutto and Sharif: if they see their demands being met, Pakistan might have a unified government, ready to finish the war on Al Qaeda.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Afghanistan Update

Afghanistan is often forgotten by Americans, cast behind the controversial War in Iraq. But it is a critical ongoing conflict, and far from resolved. I offer now only a smattering of updates to help the reader get a bit more information on progress.

In general, I must first say that progress is questionable at best. In the past two years, Taliban and Al-Qaeda attacks have been up-- it is my hypothesis that their new center of gravity in Waziristan has given them a place from which to grow, and from which to attack and then escape. The elimination of the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Waziristan is probably the most critical goal in the Unite States' War on Terror, and requires not only the stabilization of Pakistan, but also increased cooperation from both Pakistani and Indian leaders (the latter helping to alleviate tensions on the Indo-Pak border and freeing up Pakistani troops). I think a full-scale assault by the Pakistani military with NATO air strikes, lasting perhaps for months, is perhaps the only way to squeeze the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and Pakistan for good.

To emphasize the problem, see the map below: notice how close Waziristan is to Kabul and other large cities in Afghanistan's center of gravity.

Recently, NATO forces have had to fight to drive the Taliban out of border towns near Pakistan which the Taliban had trickled into and taken over.

Many Marines in Iraq are, in fact, calling for a Marine withdrawal from Iraq so that they can go to Afghanistan and finish the job there. An increased troop presence would certainly allow the US to put more pressure on Taliban forces trying to trickle in, but again, it's only a band-aid without a full offensive in Waziristan (or so I feel).

Furthermore, Afghanistan may be short on security forces. It's current 70,000 are relatively well-armed, but Karzai is requesting more. With the Taliban a major threat from Pakistan, that's certainly a reasonable request--but his hopes for 200,000 troops may be excessive. Not only will this be tough to fund (in particular for the international community-- Afghanistan's economy certainly can't support such forces at this point), but may be unnecessary long-term if the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the Waziristan area can be crushed.

Unfortunately, I've realized I'm mostly saying what I've been saying before. But in full, Afghanistan can't be forgotten. It's far from success, and more tough offensives need to occur. What's frustrating is the fate of Afghanistan may not be in NATO's hands-- NATO will require the full cooperation and help of Pakistan and its army, who must be willing to make sacrifices and investments in eliminating militants in the northwest and enforcing its security and administration there for years to come. Afghanistan and Pakistan both hang in the balance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I Seem to Have Spoken Too Soon on Bush's Iran Policy

With the report that Iran had dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 2003, I figured Bush's thus-far successful Iran diplomacy would make a paradigm shift, hedging for future success. But it seems Bush is intent on reversing any progress recently made.

He's claimed that his Iran policy will stay the same, making myself (and hopefully others) grow skeptical. Bush's claim that Iran is dangerous is certainly true, but without an active nuclear weapons program, the only thing I can seem to directly fault Iran for is their meddling in Iraq. While I don't approve of such meddling in any way, it's understandable; Iran feels like the US is trying to surround it with pro-US allies and isolate it in the region, and Iran is pushing back in what ways it knows how. But Iran has neither the conventional nor nuclear capabilities to launch an offensive campaign. Iran's greatest threat lies in its ability to manipulate, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Shiite force in Iraq.

So why the tough stance? Does "no change in policy" mean war or airstrikes are still an option? And if so, why? I can't seem to find some other imminent threat that must be stopped, so does the Bush administration simply want to take down this regime to establish US hegemony in the Middle East?

This lack of policy shift is frustrating, and is likely to frustrate the allies that Bush had successfully collected to pressure and isolate Iran. Should he frustrate them too much, he will lose their support entirely, and his outward Iran toughness may be the very force that unravels his Iran policy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Storm Clouds Begin to Break in Pakistan... Revealing More of the Same

Much to my surprise, Musharraf has followed through on his promise to step down from his position as head of the military, ending 8 years of military rule.

He is promising an end to emergency rule by the 16th of December. 3 weeks later, he says he plans to hold democratic parliamentary elections, "by the constitution."

Unfortunately, this won't be enough to appease much of his opposition into playing nice. Sharif is still calling for his party to boycott parliamentary elections. While I think such action is numbingly unwise (Sunni boycotts of parliamentary elections in 2004 left them without representatives in a parliament that chugged on without them; the boycott is blamed as one of the reasons anti-Shiite violence exploded in that year, and is a point of regret for many Sunnis that have since decided to work with the government), it could derail the legitimacy of a government that is already standing on shaky legs. While Sharif's political frustration is understandable, my primary concern in Pakistan is its ability to provide internal security, and the robustness of its government against extremist incursion.

Pakistan is still probably the front line in the war on terror. American front pages may not be carrying much about Waziristan, but it is currently largely under Taliban occupation (this after many elements of the Taliban fled from Tora Bora in early 2002), and Musharraf seems to have stepped up attacks against the region during Pakistan's Emergency Rule... but to questionable effect. The Taliban is trying to establish Islamic rule in the area (and probably spread it from there). But don't worry--we know how well that's working for our friends in Sudan.

I'm still not sure how the Waziristan problem can be put down for good. US airstrike-supported large-scale attacks by Pakistan's capable army could have even greater success than NATO's Afghani attacks in 2001 and 2002--the Pakistani army knows the Waziristan region better than NATO knew Afghanistan, and if the Taliban were to try and flee, they would escape into the rifles of waiting Canadian troops. I'm not sure why this option hasn't been played out, except perhaps for the political instability of the government and the stationing of so many troops in India.

Musharraf has a long way to go before Pakistan's political situation is secure. He will have to convince some of his toughest opponents to participate in parliamentary elections this January--but if his power-holding deal with pro-American Bhutto works out, they may be able to unite a large majority in Pakistan that will bring the government the stability it needs to deal with the Taliban once and for all.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

George Bush Shows off His Diplomatic Muscles

From Israel to Germany, it seems US President George Bush has decided to stop pretending that his diplomatic skills are akin to that of a rock, and buckle down and do what needs to get done.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited last month to dine on American cuisine with Bush, and declared his shoulder-to-shoulder friendship with the Americans. He was welcomed warmly by Congress and Bush, and will probably be Bush's primary European ally in his last year in office.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has has similar cross-Atlantic warmness to Bush, but certainly not as openly so. Blair's Iraq policy got him in trouble, and Brown does not want to repeat the mistake. But he has indeed maintained that the US and UK are the closest of military allies and friends, despite disagreements.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited Bush to Germany to talk about Iraq, the Middle East, Global Climate Change, and other topics of worldwide interest. While Merkel and Bush may not be best of friends, this consultation shows that their mutual opinions still matter, and the cross-Atlantic chill seems to have largely thawed.

The Mongolians have declared the US their "third neighbor" (their only two physical neighbors are Russia and China). With the loss of many friends in the former USSR (Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, etc) to the Shanghai Five, a strong ally in Mongolia will give the US presence and flexibility in the region that China has siphoned away.

In the Middle East, Bush is shining. While many Americans and Europeans fear that Bush's sanctions on Iran will lead to war, this is quite unlikely. The administration doesn't have the political capital to try to sneak anything past Congress, nor does it have the military manpower to do much to the Iranians. Bush Administration officials, including Secretary of State Rice, have insisted that there are no war plans. Instead, Bush has united his Western allies in delivering economic sanctions to Iran, both for pushing its nuclear program without IAEA approval and oversight, and for funding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (the Americans put the Guard on their terror list, and Bush was able to convince many of his Allies to follow). Iran faces a great deal of international and financial pressure to cooperate, and may be forced to capitulate to American demands without a shot being fired.

Most recently, Bush held an Israeli-Palestinian peace talk in Annapolis, Maryland. While many of these talks have happened, to no effect, Bush has managed to wrangle Syria, Saudi Arabia, and delegates from the Arab League to the talks. Their blessing is likely to give the talks legitimacy in the Middle East that they have previously lacked, and Israel's assurance that the Golan Heights are now under negotiation will soften Syria's line in Palestine. Hamas, of course, is protesting furiously, but President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, has shown great cooperation. Abbas and Olmert both walked away from the talks with less than they'd hoped to get, but nonetheless signed an agreement to form a peace treaty by the end of 2008. Should it be followed through, an independent Palestinian State could well emerge, and the Americans would likely be the first to jump on recognizing it.

To be frank, I've been surprised and impressed. I never expected such skillful diplomacy from this President, particularly after the stubbornness of 2003 and Iraq. Perhaps personnel changes, or just a change of heart, have caused the behavioral change. Hopefully, this new Bush is here to stay for his last year, and can create a world much more easy to deal with for his successor.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What the Heck is Musharraf Thinking?

I kept thinking that Musharraf's emergency takeover of the Pakistani government was a last-ditch effort to secure power for as long as possible (that is, until he, himself, was bloodily couped by some radical Islamist group), knowing full well he didn't stand a chance at having his election confirmed by the Supreme Court.

But now, he's trying to pretend he's on the democracy track. He has stacked the Supreme Court with hand-picked appointees who voted to unanimously approve the election (note that those judges who were not sacked nor hand-picked refused to swear oath, presumably due to Musharraf's insistence on the oath choosing him as primary deity). Now that he has "legitimacy," he's continually promising to shed his uniform and become a civilian leader (but he'd promised, some months ago, to do this as soon as he was re-elected... we're still waiting).

All of that doesn't seem too strange, but here's the weird part: He's pushing forward parliamentary elections. Prime Ministers really don't do this unless they think they're going to win big sooner rather than later. I don't presume to know what's really going on in Musharraf's head, but could he actually think the emergency rule he's put into place has bolstered his popularity? Or is he simply worried that some other annihilations of his country's constitutions will be discovered soon, and he's going to try to get the elections over with before everyone catches on to his world domination plot?

I'm just not sure. I'm very interested to see how these elections go. From what I'm reading (not that I can find a poll anywhere), it seems Bhutto has the edge, but it's entirely plausible that the Jamat-e-Islami party could dark-horse their way into instituting Islamic rule in Pakistan. I'm not sure at this point if these guys are Taliban-friendly, but I suspect they would be significantly less willing to launch tough operations into Pakistan's northwest, and would probably mean the loss of a pro-American ally in the region.

I just hope Musharraf hasn't screwed this up too bad.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Two Books That Get Me Through My Day

I hate looking through notes, and I hate looking things up. In what I do, there are two books that have consistently (especially today) helped me minimize both of these activities when I'm stumped.

1) Langenscheidt's Pocket Dictionary: Chinese (Langenscheidt Publishers, Inc. Available at Amazon for fourteen bucks)

This sucker is literally pocket-sized (maybe not for girls' pants), and has a radical chart with all of the characters in the book at the beginning. The next two (larger) parts are Chinese-English and English-Chinese, by pinyin. It uses context and sample sentences to help differentiate multiple meanings and usages, and is the darn easiest way I have used to look up Chinese.

2) Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science, by Steven Van Evera (Cornell University Press, available at Amazon for twelve bucks.)

This book is a must-have for anyone writing or reading political science papers. It helps structure one's argument, thinking, and methods to be more clear, precise, and accurate. It helps one analyze the strength of the thesis, predictions, and tests in a paper, and form strong ones when writing one's own.

I recommend both of these books. They've given me enough very wonderful mileage that I don't mind plugging for the authors at all.

Also, get the Van Evera book new. It's probably a few bucks cheaper, but the guy's a poor professor, and should be rewarded for his work.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Pakistan On the Brink

It seems Musharraf has shown his true colors.

Musharraf has suspended the constitution, declared a state of emergency, and arrested his political opposition. Now, with no functioning supreme court, his recent electoral victory is unable to be confirmed, and former Prime Minister Bhutto's party has had its legs cut out. The optimism Pakistan seemed to have for the Musharraf-Bhutto power-sharing plan may collapse.

What next, then? Will parliamentary elections be pushed back? Does Musharraf plan for them to happen at all? His allies in the military make him strong enough to possibly keep his hold over the country indefinitely. But without allies among the populace, he won't be able to defeat the growing Islamic Extremism in his country, as he is promising to do.

And should this crisis not be averted, should the United States look to finding a new ally in Pakistan? The United States supported many brutal, doomed dictators during the Cold War to try and push back Communism-- are we doomed to repeat that mistake in the war on Al Qaeda?

Most importantly for the US, Pakistan's stability is at grave risk. If Musharraf does not soon bring Pakistan back from the brink, his loyal military forces may be so busy keeping average citizens at bay that they will not be able to keep the growing Al Qaeda influence in check.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Update! August Transitional Assessment Released

Well, looks like I was wrong about the status of the Kurdish regions of Iraq, and also wrong about which province is going to be handed over next.

The Kurdish provinces are under Iraqi Provincial Control (IPC). It's possible that IPC is the very reason the PKK has had a freer reign in the region, but they are starting to talk peaceful resolution, and the Iraqi government has shut down their recruiting offices. If the PKK issue can be resolved, the north will probably return to relative quiet.

Remember this map is from August, and Karbala has been handed over. That puts us at 8 provinces handed over, and zero "not ready for transition." Compare this to 14 months ago:

One province handed over, and four "in the red," not ready for transition. Furthermore, Iraqi forces are in the lead in many of the provinces partially ready for transition, and US forces are taking an ever-increasing support role in the war:

The green indicates "Iraqi Army Lead." Notice that in 3 or 4 eastern provinces not yet handed over, they are in full lead. According to the US DoD, Basra is the next province on the list to be handed over-- and they plan to do it by the year's end, making 9 of the 18 Iraqi provinces under full Iraqi control.

Note the change in the rate of handover since the surge:
From Mar 2003 - July 2006 (30 months): 1 province handed over
From August 2006 - Jan 2007 (6 months): 2 additional provinces handed over
From Feb 2007 - Oct 2007 (Surge period, 9 months): 5 additional provinces handed over
From Nov 2007 - Dec 2007 (Projected, 2 months): 1 additional province handed over

Given the violence by province in the first half of the year:

The relative peacefulness of Qadisiyah and Wasit indicates that their transition will come not after a tough putting-down of violence, but after the United States is satisfied with the functionality of the local police force and civil services. They show the potential to be handed over early next year, and Tamim and Babil have shown recent declines in violence that could make them acceptable for handover within months. This leaves the US 5 provinces to concentrate its security operations before domestic pressures bring the troops home:

1) Baghdad. Certainly the most important province in Iraq, I believe Baghdad will be the last to be handed over. Hopefully, the surge will secure Baghdad fast enough (see the first pretty picture in the previous entry) such that post-surge level troops (troop levels will begin to reduce to pre-surge levels in Feb, 2008) can keep the city under control. Baghdad will benefit most from the cascading effect of Iraqi Provincial Control, as more and more US forces in Iraq are likely to move into Baghdad to further pressure insurgent groups. But, if the US is able to hand over most provinces by the end of 2008, the new US president may only have to commit 30,000 or fewer troops in Baghdad to keep Iraq on its feet.

2) Anbar. Anbar has surely shown the most improvement over the last year, due in part to the surge, but mostly to brilliant diplomatic efforts that have brought the tribal leaders of this Sunni-majority province to support the government. Additional provincial attacks charts should illustrate Anbar's improvement well:

Just before the surge, Anbar province was suffering an average of 35 attacks per day.

In the beginning phases of the surge, other provinces showed only some or no improvement, but Anbar had dropped to 25 attacks per day, an almost 30% drop. This was due not to a large insertion of troops, but to a decision by Anbar Sunnis to begin supporting the Iraqi Government. Attacks continue to plummet: notice that in the last Provincial Security Transition Assessment, Anbar, after stubbornly staying in a "not ready for transition" state for more than 4 years, has finally made significant progress towards peace and security, and could soon turn itself from Iraq's biggest trouble spot to a leader role in unification.

3) Salah Ad Din: Home to the infamous Tikirt and Samarrah, it has remained a trouble spot for US forces. The United States must try and spread the pro-government sentiment of the Anbar Sunnis to the Sunnis in Sala Ad Din if it is to calm down. Furthermore, Salah Ad Din suffers from being a relatively large Sunni and Shiite mixing ground, especially in Samarrah. Americans are leading strong efforts to get tribal leaders to sit down and talk in this region, but unfortunately, I don't have up-to-date enough violence-by-province data to tell you whether it's working well or not.

4) Diyalah: A mixing ground of all three major ethno-religious groups of Iraq, Diyalah may be a trouble spot for some time. That said, it has been the second-least-violent of our 5 remaining "trouble" provinces, but the US does not consider the level of violence there to yet be acceptable. This province will be the truest testing ground of coalition reconciliation efforts; that is, given the sheer amount of ethnic mixing, large decreases in violence in Diyalah will truly show that ethnic groups are finally putting aside their differences.


5) Ninewah. We don't hear much about Ninewah because, while it is a trouble spot, it has about half the number of attacks on a daily basis than Diyalah. Ninewah is an area of strong Sunni and Kurdish mixing (I think you're seeing a pattern), and contains Mosul, a high-density, high-ethnic-mixing city. Ninewah may well benefit from increased Sunni support-- with Kurds already mostly supporting the Iraqi government, Sunni realignment will likely give the two ethnic groups common ground on which to work, and common goals to work for.

Challenges remain. Al Qaeda in Iraq continues terror attacks against Iraqi civilians, but this may be a sign of leadership failure in the organization. Osama Bin Laden has urged Iraqis to work together to throw the US out, while other elements of Al Qaeda have stubbornly refused to halt terror attacks. As Iraqi tribal groups increasingly turn to crush Al Qaeda, their influence and effectiveness will falter.

Let's talk Turkey: could a Turkish invasion destabilize Iraq? Possibly. But a full-scale invasion is unlikely to happen, and even if military operations do cross the border, fighting between the Turks and Kurds will likely not have much effect on Iraq's 3 biggest trouble spots. The risk here is that either A) the Iraqi government will lose the support of its Kurdish citizens for not protecting them, or B) the Turkish government will see the Iraqi government as ambivalent or hostile to its interests, and Iraq needs all the international (especially neighbor) support it can get. Iraq has asked its neighbors for assistance in solving the matter with strong diplomacy and minimal military operations, and strong US and NATO influence with Turkey is likely to keep them from doing anything rash.

Finally, Iran: is the Iranian government funneling in weapons? Is the Revolutionary Guard conducting operations in Iraq? If so, are these significant? The answers to these are, unfortunately, unclear. But Iran seems to be on the defensive, thanks largely to US and EU sanctions and pressure. The Iranian government is almost certainly looking to expand its power, and certainly wants Iraq as an ally or even a puppet, seeing as Iraq is the only other large, Shiite-majority country in the world. But does Iran have the ability at the moment to expand its empire against the wills of the US and EU? While Russia may be a shaky ally of Iran, its power and influence are slim. If Iran wants to destabilize Iraq enough to force US troops out (as it will have to do before it can think about large-scale imperial efforts), it had better act soon, because trends seem to be in US and Iraqi favor.

Things are looking very good for Iraq at the moment. It seems the favorable trends that the surge has brought will continue through next February. If the US has properly prepared the Iraqi government, police force, and military, then these groups should well be able to take over the administration of security within Iraq, and keep violence to a low enough level that government and business can expand their functionality. If this transition works, the US can start to scale down troop commitments as early as summer of 2008, giving the citizens of the US some much-needed hope and relief, and throwing a wrench in the politics of the 2008 presidential election.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

After 9 Months, Surge Still Working

With US and Iraqi deaths continuing to fall, Baghdad daily looks less like a war zone and more like a particularly violent US city-- far from perfect, but increasingly entering a state where the government can operate. An operating government can start to combat the discontent and hopelessness that the Iraqi people are feeling, which will be key in convincing the Shiites and Sunnis to get along.

Al Sadr's Mahdi army remains at a stand down. But what are the cleric's long-term goals? I am somewhat skeptical that he's suddenly decided to support the US and Iraqi forces. But his motivations seem largely anti-American, so it's unlikely he's simply waiting for the US to exit before he unleashes the Mahdi army on civilians again. I am optimistic in considering that he may have decided that encouraging peace might be the best way to get US forces to pack up and go home. Hopefully, US forces have enough contact with him to keep communicating with his forces and maintain a mutual understanding.

Sunni tribes are increasingly turning their anger towards Al Qaeda, instead of against Shiite civilians. As I said in my last post, Al Qaeda may, paradoxically, become the enemy that unifies the Shiites and Sunnis into forming a strong central government. Osama Bin Laden's last tape shows his clear frustration at the fighting between terror and ethnic groups-- he had been hoping that they would unite and kick out the United States to form an Islamic Republic. It looks, day by day, like the chances of this happening are dwindling.

Hopefully, the Sunni tribes in the Anbar province have a contagious idea. If the majority of Sunnis decide to work with the Americans and Baghdad government, large swaths of all three ethnic factions will be represented, giving the government both legitimacy and functionality.

But really, if things keep going as they're going, the US could be down to a few tens of thousands of troops in Iraq by the next election, and I'm sure the Republicans are eager to see that happen. To better show these trends, I present you pretty pictures:

This shows the sharp decline in violence in Baghdad over time. Note that this only goes to July-- the rate of decline from July to October was even higher than from January to July. Remember this is Ethno-Secretarian Violence, and Al Qaeda anti-civilian terror attacks have not declined at as high a rate.

But is securing Baghdad enough to get most US troops out of Iraq? No, but securing the rest of the country, bit by bit, is. I present 3 more pretty pictures, timelining provincial handover over the last year:

So in Nov, 2006, we had handed over a mere two provinces.

By the beginning of February (the beginning of the surge), we'd only handed over 3. So this is 4 years into the war, we've handed over a whopping total of 3 provinces.

By May, we were already up to 4. In late September, we handed over Karbala-- a province at the Sunni-Shiite border, suspiciously close to both Anbar and Baghdad. An army report (that I don't have the link for, sorry) hinted that Qadisiyah might be soon.

The rate of handover has gone up: we may well hand over 3 provinces in 1 year, which is more than 4 times as fast as the first three that we handed over. Remember also, that if the handovers are smooth (and they have been so far), we get a positive feedback loop: we hand over a province to Iraqi forces, more of our troops are free to quell the violence in other provinces, the faster we hand them over. At the rate we're cleaning up Baghdad, it too could well be handed over by mid 2008.

You'll notice that the three predominantly Kurdish areas of Iraq have been "ready for transition" for at least a year, and yet have not been handed over. This may well be because the Turks have wanted a close eye on northern Kurds for the last 4-and-some years. Now that Turkey is beating its war drums and the PKK is stepping up attacks, who knows what might happen. One thing's for sure, transition to Iraqi provincial authority in the Kurdish north is unlikely to happen for some time, despite being the most peaceful region in Iraq.

So things are looking good. But I'd like to address the doubts of some of my more die-hard opposition with an argument that I've heard often (even quoted in the BBC article that this entry starts with)

Violence is predictably down because of the increased number of US boots on the ground, but will go right back up when the boots leave. I have a few answers to this. First, it's not that militant groups are simply keeping their heads down. The surge is actually killing militants at a very high rate. Despite border leakages, Iraq has a relatively finite number of people who would be willing to become insurgents and militants. While some argue that attacking militants will help their recruiting efforts, groups are unlikely to be able to recruit as fast as we have been eliminating members. Furthermore, while killing militants may cause anger, killing them at a high enough rate may convince potential militants that the risks of joining are just too high. Second, if you're saying this, you're not paying attention to political victories. What groups have caused us the most sectarian trouble in the past? The Mahdi army and the Anbar Sunnis. The Mahdi army has halted all operations in Iraq, and the Anbar Sunnis are increasingly supporting the Iraqi government and hunting terrorists. Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders are increasingly settling their differences in meetings (be they US-sponsored or not). Furthermore, increased security has allowed for increased civil functionality in and around Iraq-- more water is running, more lights are on, more trash is being picked up. A citizen whose needs are taken care of is a citizen that is increasingly likely to support the group that takes care of its needs, and the Iraqi government is beginning to take advantage of the security we are providing to win the hearts and minds of its citizens by returning functionality (to be fair, civil service functionality increase is much slower than we'd hoped, and one of the weaknesses of the surge... but it is improving). So as Sunni and Shiite tribes continually join the government, and hearts and minds of citizens are won over by an increasingly functional government, the motivation to torch an increasingly positive environment with fighting diminishes. When US troops pull out, former troublesome tribes will be cooperators, former militants will be satisfied citizens. Finally, the Iraqi police force and army have been increasing in number, and have gone through significant overhauls, and will have a larger presence when the surge ends than when it began. Not only will they be stronger, but it will simply be easier to put down budding violence as it tries to restart than to try and curb explosive violence that is already the norm of a region.

Ultimately, saying that Baghdad violence will significantly increase when the surge ends is a very similar argument to saying that provincial violence will increase after a transition to the Iraqi forces, and this has been largely empirically untrue. The US army does have the ability, given sufficient numbers, resources, and leadership, to enter an area and reduce long-term violence, and can do so in Baghdad.

My hat goes off to General Patraeus. He has commanded US forces brilliantly in Iraq, and has forged a hugely successful operation in spite of strong congressional doubt, weak political leadership in the executive, and groups of radicals trying to destroy him by calling him a betrayer of the American people.

The surge is working. Those who refuse to see it are as blind as those that refused to see that Iraq has been brought to the brink by our mismanagement in the first place. But now we've got something very good going, and an incredibly competent and capable general conducting the operation. So things are going well. But what does the United States want now? We want the troops to come home as soon as possible. But many have let their hatred for this war and this president blind their understanding of the hard truth: and the hard truth is, we cannot afford to bring the troops home without victory. We cannot allow Iraq to crumble into civil war, we cannot allow it to become a well-armed failed state, cannot allow it to become the primary base of operations for Al Qaeda. Finally, after four long years of foolish management, we have a working strategy, and our troops are bringing us each day closer to victory. Now is not the time to halt the surge, now is not the time to surrender and come home. Now is the time to take our victories and build on them, to clean up the mess we started, to secure US National Security, to turn our greatest military gaffe into a great military success, to build a new ally, to restore the world's faith in our competence and our commitment to doing the right thing. Now is the time to throw everything we've got behind the surge, to pray for our troops on the ground, and to-- dare I say it-- stay the course.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Summer Plans, And Some on Iraq

I've managed to get myself some funding from MIT to go to China this summer, with a few caveats:

1) I keep passing Chinese. I'm doing well so far, but we'll see.
2) I get a job. A little tougher. I've just finished my initial application to work for the State Department in the Embassy or one of the Consulates in China. I'd have a ball (I'd have to get a suit), but it's pretty competitive. I'm looking at the American Institute in Taiwan as a backup.

But, should this all work out, I'll be spending the summer in China, traveling about the country during the weekends, armed with a dictionary, a journal, and a camera. I'll improve my Chinese language and cultural knowledge, and (hopefully) have the summer of my life.

But for now, we're waiting.

Now, time to ring in on the surge, which I've been hesitant to do. It's a policy that requires a great deal of pragmatism to approach. We should ask ourselves two questions:

1) "Is it working?" Difficult to define, but we'll try.
2) "Does it matter whether it's working?" We might want to call it quits regardless of effectiveness, but that's unlikely.

I will first argue that we should weigh or judgments on the Surge as to whether it's working. If it's working, we keep doing it. If it's not, we shouldn't.

Why? Success is important. Stability in the Middle East is key to US oil and Israeli interests, and surrounding Iran with stable, democratic, liberal US allies will be a great foreign policy improvement over a chaotic ethnic cleansing region or an Iranian puppet.

Reputation is also important. It would be good for us to show that we're willing to clean up our own messes, and stick through to the end to help a state and society that our action has destabilized. We will continually deal with western-world dislike if they can be constantly reminded of a chaotic, dangerous state that reaches long-term realization if we pull out.

So, what is success? Well, most people think it means a stable, working democracy that can provide for its own security. This is a fine metric, and I think we should be striving for it, are striving for it.

But can we reach it?

Violence increased rather linearly for years after the invasion, despite the growth of the Iraqi Army. Baghdad was a literal war zone before the surge: 2/3 of 507 neighborhoods were war zones. But there has been drastic improvement. From a recent article:

"There are about 507 neighbourhoods in Baghdad and before operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Imposing Law) was launched (in February), two-thirds were controlled by terrorists and criminal gangs," the general said.

"Today, only five or six neighbourhoods can be considered hot zones," he said.

This is spectacular progress over 7 months. Iraq overall has not shown quite as much improvement (obviously; the surge has not been focused there), but violence outside of Baghdad has also dropped, despite the surge not being present in many of these areas. Violence overall is now lower than it was at any time after the Golden Mosque bombing, and linear reductions in violence continue.

So there are great improvements in security. But what of political reconciliation? These are still stalling. But I believe political reconciliation is extremely difficult without security. You can't have a functioning parliament when MP's don't show to meetings because they've been assassinated. But as Iraqi General Abud said, now "life is going normally," and we should keep our eyes out for reconciliation to occur on a national level soon.

If the parliament is unable to suck it up and try to stabilize their own country even with the efforts and successes of coalition peacemaking operations during the surge, then they're probably not worth our time. If the Iraqi government refuses to function, then there's nothing we could do. And we should pull out.

But reconciliation is happening on small levels. Sunnis and Shiites throughout Baghdad and most multi-ethnic zones in Iraq are participating in hundreds of small-scale reconciliation meetings between neighbors and local leaders. Coalition troops and diplomats are hosting these meetings, and they tend to go rather peacefully. These local Sunnis and Shiites are giving peace a chance.

But there's an even better sign, and it comes in a very odd form. While sectarian violence has dropped dramatically, Al Qaeda terrorist attacks have been more stubborn. This means, first, that we should look at the violence drop numbers knowing that Sunni-Shiite civil war violence has dropped more than the mean violence.

But Sunni and Shiite reactions to Al Qaeda have been better than we could have hoped for. When Al Qaeda killed a prominent pro-American Sunni leader, they began threatening Sunnis that cooperated with Americans. But instead of cowing to terror threats, Sunnis have vowed to seek revenge on Al Qaeda, and fight their influence.

Al Qaeda's covert meddling has been successful in causing spikes in sectarian violence (they are probably responsible for the Golden Mosque bombing), but their overt meddling may turn Sunnis and Shiites alike against them. History shows us that common enemies can act as a very strong (if temporary) adhesive. But perhaps, this temporary glue may be enough for political leaders to institute some longer-lasting solutions.

And people are primed for longer-lasting solutions. People are ready to work. In a recent article (, we read:

"We meet with Sunnis here in public forums and in very discreet ones, and they all readily acknowledge (the 2005 election boycott) was a mistake," said Joshua Polacheck, public diplomacy officer for the U.S. State Department's provincial reconstruction team in Ninevah. "I don't know one Sunni Arab who says it wasn't a mistake to boycott those elections."

So I say: give it time. American deaths have been very low in the past few months, Iraqi violence has been falling off decisively. Iraqi Sunnis (and Shiites, but the Sunnis are new) are open to reconciliation, and are making and accepting efforts in that direction.

I think Iraq is, for the first time, winning its fight to create a stable state. This is a course I am proud to stay, as it's working. And as long as things continue to go our way, we should stay. We owe it to the Iraqi people, and to ourselves.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The End of the War on Terror

We're in the middle of an ideological war.

At least, some of us are.

The "War on Terror," in retrospect, was probably a bad policy name. "War on Al-Qaeda and its allies" would have probably been better. Really, we're not waging a war on Hamas, Hezbollah, the Basques (of Spain), Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers, Indonesian who-knows-what-they-call-themselves, etc. I'm equally unconvinced that the War on Terror is secretly a "War on Radical Islam." We surely don't like Radical Islam... nor should we. But we shouldn't be out to militarily crush the ideology, and we haven't shown signs of trying to do that. We've stayed far away from many of the most radical Islamists-- Syria, southern Lebanon, Indonesia, Somalia. Iraq was probably the least of our Radical Islam worries in the Middle East... at least until we showed up. There's certainly been no tendency in the US "War on Terror" to unilaterally fight terrorists or Radical Islamists.

We're rather confident at this point that Bush was planning on taking out the Hussein regime even before 9/11, so let's not even consider the 2003 invasion as part of the War on Terror itself (regardless of what the President claimed at the time). Given that, we've had one major military operation against a terror operation, and this has been in Afghanistan.

Even our considerations of action (military and not) against Iran are unrelated to Terror or Islam. Iran's pressing need for nuclear weapons, suspiciously combined with a pressing need to wipe Israel off the map, should reasonably make any US foreign policymaker feel some hostility. But on top of it, evidence mounts that Iran is meddling in Iraq and making Coalition lives harder in creating security for the country. Given our desperation to fix up Iraq and go home, hostility in US foreign policymakers is understandable.

So it's clear that the "War on Terror" is poorly named. But why change it?

A few reasons. First, wars on concepts tend to do poorly, and help accentuate individual failures. The War on Drugs and War on Poverty are failed policies that we're hanging on to (and spending gobs of money on) regardless of performance. We don't need another one of these. Second, and more importantly, US foreign policy needs to be clear. We need to let our allies and enemies alike know where we draw the line between tolerable and unacceptable behavior. We need to let potential adversaries know what will cause us to go to war. The "War on Terror" is a war against a tactic. If we declare that we'll go to war against anyone who uses this tactic, then we either have to follow through with it and be consistent, or the sentiment will be lost, and none of our potential adversaries will know where our line is.

This clarity of communication was key to fighting the Cold War effectively, and will be key to fighting against potential terror enemies effectively. From here, I think we should replace the "War on Terror" with, indeed, a "War on Al-Qaeda and its allies." Many countries have interpreted the former as the latter, which is excellent: Al-Qaeda is a black name, and is not given haven in any country that wishes to avoid our wrath. Since our war began, they have lost ground in most states with strong security and administration (and have gained in Iraq and Northwestern Pakistan, where there is relatively little government influence). They've also lost ideological support overall:

Defeating Al-Qaeda, and making it clear that anyone who attacks us or our allies will fall onto our black list, should be a much more clear and effective line. Middle Eastern countries will have a strong incentive to crack down on potential radical groups that should wish us harm, so that we don't have to show up and do the cracking down ourselves.

Hopefully, a less ideological administration will be elected in 2008, and may take this more pragmatic approach to our fight against Al-Qaeda and its allies. Should that occur, I will be toasting, hopefully with many of you, to the End of the War on Terror.

Future Me

The future is looking up. And the engineering title's got to go-- at this point, it's a masquerade. I'm a political scientist. More accurately, I'm working on being a defence analyst.

There's a few ways I could take it. But it's almost certainly going to start with grad school. And if I play my cards right, MIT has a program that would let me become a grad student in my senior year, and work on my master's thesis for two years. But I have to apply this fall. That means GREs and letters of rec. The latter is mostly taken care of, the former will happen in fall. Admission probability is pretty good at this point.

Prof. Fravel and I are almost done with his book, and I'm hoping to get an acknowledgment out of it. He seems to like me, and has been happy to help jump-start my career. I think I may be getting some second-authorships on papers in the fall. He's going to work on getting me to China next summer.

And that means next summer this might turn into a sentimental travel blog, but that's okay. I've been studying Chinese all summer, and am close to ready for Chinese III in the fall. If all goes to plan, I'll get an internship at a Think Tank the Professor knows, and MIT will cover travel and board.

After grad school, I'm still looking at doing a stint with the CIA for a few years, then moving either to independent contracting, a think tank, or policy-making. But I've got plenty of time to make my mind up.

From here, I'm thinking about what presidential candidate I'll be voting for in the primaries. I'd like to say someone has a good foreign policy and grand strategy... but I really don't know myself where we go from here. We're in a pickle, it's true, and I'm wondering what Congress is going to do about this pull-out business... whether they'll jump on it, or wait until the September surge report.

The surge _has_ reduced civilian and American soldier deaths/day. Does that mean we've dealt a big blow to anti-Iraqi/American insurgents, or does it mean the bad guys are in hiding? The majority of insurgent attacks are still on American soldiers, which leads some to think that a pull-out will make Iraq more peaceful. But that's probably a bit naive--an American pull-out is not going to cause Iraqi sects to get along, and it's not going to stop Al-Qaeda in Iraq from trying to overthrow the secular government and establish an oppressive Islamic Republic. Iran--or at least Ahemenijad--is likely to feel emboldened about trying to create a Shiite-dominated neighbor if we pull out, but Ahemenijad is losing a lot of ground in popularity, and having enough forces to keep the Iranians under some sort of control (until Ahemenijad is voted out in 2009) may save us a lot of headaches in the future.

It's not that Iran is going to become the next Soviet Union, but until we achieve energy independence, we're going to have to continue to give a damn about the Middle East. Frankly, I'd like to stop caring about the whole region altogether, but until we start drilling in Alaska, building some nuclear power plants, driving electric cars, or developing atomic teleportation technology, we're going to have to keep putting up with it.

What about the Terrorists? They're really not the kind of problem the administration makes them out to be. If it's that important to preserve the lives of innocent Americans, we'd be pouring a lot more effort into public safety at home. At 2 million violent crimes per year, even sustained terror attacks would account for a small fraction of the violations of our Right to Life.

That said, we've had some pretty impressive crime reductions in the 90's:

Whether it was the Republicans or Clinton or Governors or some voodoo magic that caused the drop is beyond me, and frankly I don't care (what I do care about is my mother telling me that it's more dangerous now than it was when she was a kid. Now _that's_ media mayhem). But we should still work on it.

Heck, I'm not even convinced pulling out of the region completely would cause an increase in terror attacks in the US. How many times has Al-Qaeda attacked Sweden? But if anyone tells you they really know whether attacks on American soil are likely to increase or decrease if we pull out of the region, they're smoking something illegal.

But again, before I give you a "Middle East and World Foreign Policy '09" rant, I'm going to get a better idea of what we're doing with this Iraq thing. It seems to be the crux of such a future policy.

But really, I think the future's looking up.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Reasserting Control

Hot off the presses, just for you, a paper I just finished for Barry Posen. It's called "Reasserting Control: Could China Conquer Taiwan?"

I decided to write it after reading a handful of academic campaign analyses on just the same thing that resoundingly concluded "no," but used a series of hogwash arguments that either lacked detail or chose assumptions and scenarios that arbitrarily favored the Taiwanese. My analysis decides that if China is able to pull off a coordinated missile, bomber, and fighter/ground-attack (FGA) attack on Taiwanese airbases and C4I centers, it can gain an advantage in the air war, and possibly establish air dominance. After that, it's a matter of using its submarines to pin Taiwanese ships in port to open up the way for an amphibious assault. Though amphibious assault landing ships are limited, China could combine its elite marines with an all-out airborne assault on a single point of attack near a port city in the north to establish a beachhead, and then reinforce the beachhead with a "Million-man swim:" an operation that would involve shipping as many as hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops on commercial fishing vessels and making them swim to shore in what amounts to a very wet airborne-style operation, which is only feasible under the protection of a secure beachhead, air superiority, and sea superiority.

After taking and reinforcing the beachhead, the Chinese would have a short march to Taipei, and with the assistance of tactical interdiction on the part of the Chinese PLA Air Force, Chinese troops could break through and race to the city, where they would fight Taiwanese troops in brutal urban warfare. The award-winning training of China's more elite small units, as well as renowned toughness and grit, would give China the advantage it needed in taking the city. With Taipei in hand, China could stop and defend its spoils, having dislodged the Republic of China government.

The full paper explains in detail each step of the hypothetical operation, and uses the conclusions of the analysis to guide future US, Taiwanese, or Chinese military policy. I encourage at least a skim-through.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Paper, Job

"Loyal Readers,"

You'll have to excuse me for not posting recently, but I'm working on a paper I think many of you are going to enjoy; it's a campaign analysis of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan to re-establish political control over the capital after a Taiwanese declaration of independence...

I'm still not quite sure how the invasion's going to go. The air war hangs in the balance.

Also, I have a job:

I'll be working for Professor M. Taylor Fravel:

He's a Security Studies fellow at MIT, Harvard, and Stanford, a professor at MIT, and a Rhodes Scholar, specializing in China and East Asia. This summer, I'll be staying in Boston and working as his research assistant, helping him write a book he's finishing (from his PhD dissertation), as well as some papers on Chinaese territorial conflict, Japanese military considerations, etc. Still waiting on funding from the Institute, but it's unlikely to fall through.

More to come later when there's a bit more time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Iran Moves In for the Kill

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran has hated the United States. The end of the revolution wrought what was indeed a bad day for American flags in Tehran, as the American-backed government was fully overthrown. Iran's history from then is interesting, with their only significant war coming from the invasion of Hussein's Iraq in 1980. The war lasted 8 years, and Hussein's army inflicted 500,000+ casualties and USD 350 Billion in damage to the Iranians, in large part with mustard and nerve gas. The Iranians emerged from this war quite bitter, having felt teamed up against by just about everyone in the world. Iraq received weapons and support from many countries-- the highest number of weapons coming from France, China, and the Soviet Union. Even the United States provided political support and some helicopters (proving once and for all that the defeat of Iran seemed to be the only thing the Americans and Soviets could agree upon). Coming out of the war broken, but sovereign, the Iranians were rather pissed-- and bent on beefing up their military capabilities.

These days, the Iranians don't spend much on their own military, but still boast 550,000 troops, including the elite al-Quds. They have American F-14 Tomcats (provided before the revolution), as well as a large stock of Russian-provided weapons, and short-range ballistic missiles. But as the Iran-Iraq war showed us, Iran's home-field advantage would make it extremely difficult to invade. American forces' technological superiority would give them an advantage, but they're tied up with Iran's neighbors. And it's this tie-up that has given Iran the opportunity it needs to do something about being so angry at everyone all the time.

Not only is Iran angry about the United States' existence, but it is one of the few countries left in the world still trying to drive Israel into the sea (or, as it's written by President Ahmadinejad, "wipe Israel from the map." There's lots of good angry stuff at With the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, (with alliances of sorts in Pakistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) Iran has been feeling a bit surrounded. Not only that, but the fundamentalist theocratic government has had an opportunity to quell a lot of old unrest by uniting its people against the Zionists and the Great Satan. Iran's reaction to the United States and Israel cramping its style has not been to cow, but to flex its muscles. And Iran's government is starting to realize it can really do whatever it wants.

On the list of Iran's diabolical plans for the Middle East:

1) Develop a nuclear weapons program. They're not fooling anyone. The wildly disparate UN Security Council continually agrees that Iran's "peaceful" nuclear power program covers a clandestine weapons program. It doesn't help that Iran's also developing "peaceful" medium range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Having nuclear weapons would give Iran a leg up in its efforts in achieving objective number two...

2) Wipe Israel off the map. Nothing too new, but angrier than ever. President Ahmadinejad seems to have brought a whole new level to Iran's anti-Israeli hate. No real clashes yet... unless you count the unprovoked capture of soldiers and then rocket-bombing of civilians last summer by Iranian-trained, -funded, and -backed Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon. But the consensus seems to be to blame Israel for that war anyway. Iran may not have driven Israel off the map with that effort, but Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever, and the Iranian government wouldn't be crazy to think that Israel lacks a great deal of political support these days, which might very well mean that Israel would think twice about a pre-emptive attack against a mobilizing Iranian army. Iran's strange alliance with Sunni-dominated Syria remains strong, perhaps only due to shared anti-Israeli sentiment. More strangely, this alliance hasn't been hampered by objective the third...

3) Win the war in Iraq and establish Shi'ite dominance in the region. Remember, Iran is a hard-line theocracy, and Sunni Muslims, while not as bad as Americans or Jews, still find a place on the hit list. Iran has clearly been funding the stronger Shi'ite militias in Iraq, hoping that they will triumph in the war and finally make Iraq a strong Iranian ally. The US invasion of Iraq has proved an opportunity for Iran to bring the only other large Shi'ite dominated country into its axis. If Iran can secure Iraq, it becomes a highly formidable force, and in time, could become an uncontested regional force. The US military and intelligence have found Iranian soldiers in Iraq, as well as evidence of their elite al-Quds infiltrating Baghdad and other hot spots.

And Iran hasn't stopped there. Until recently, they have kept to subversion and proxy fighting against the west. But now, they've taken another big step, and gotten aggressive. The capture and holding of 15 British troops has brought Iran into the war for real, as much as nobody really wants to admit it. This crisis puts Iran in a hugely advantageous position-- The Iranians understand that Britain values the lives of these 15 soldiers, and they now act as a powerful negotiating tool for the Iranians to get what they want. Britain, and the coalition in general, have been put in a very tough position.

Iran will continue its bold moves to take power in the region. It won't dismantle its nuclear program. It won't stop funding Hezbollah. It won't stop interfering in Iraq, and it won't give back British troops until it gets something very valuable in return. Iran feels emboldened, and invincible. This is mostly because no single group or alliance has both the will and the capability to invade. With the United States and Britain tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their will for war depleting rapidly, Iran's two greatest enemies are all but out of the military picture. The next-largest militaries, France and Germany, surely won't consider invasion as a means for fixing Iran's behavior. Ever-confident that it can make move after move to shape the region as it wants, Iran knows that as long as none of its actions are too extreme, nobody will muster the will to do anything about it. This drip-by-drip escalation was mastered by Germany in the 1930's, and Iran may manage to stay far enough under the radar to see long-term success in its hopes for both an active nuclear weapons program and hegemonic dominance over the region.

But only if we decide to continue not to do anything about it.

Friday, February 2, 2007

China's Taiwan Dilemma

The Republic of China is a problem that the People's Republic of China government has tried to resolve since its inception in 1949. On the other hand, the People's Republic of China is a problem the Republic of China government has tried to resolve since its inception in 1949. The relationship between the two entities has varied wildly in the past 57 years, edging occasionally towards conflict and the brink of war.

Taiwan has been an incredibly complex issue for the United States, as well. From 1949 to 1971, the United States backed the Republic of China (run by the exile KMT government on Taiwan) as the legitimate government of all of China. In the 1950's and 60's, The People's Republic (headed by the CCP on the mainland) made moves towards war, using backyard iron works to produce shells designed to fly over the strait. China lacked the military material and technology to mount an offensive, but was able to solidify its threats when it tested atomic and thermonuclear bombs.

In 1971, the United States and China turned fully around. Nixon and Kissinger's various envoys to China brought recognition from the United States of the CCP as the legitimate government of all of China, and new diplomacy and trade. (Contrary to the belief of many, the United States does not officially recognize the KMT government.)The United States insisted that China's resolution with Taiwan be "peaceful," and it would not allow war. China and the US grew closer, but strains over Taiwan remained.

In the 1990's, strains over Taiwan became crises. In 1994, the Republican-majority congress put pressure on the Clinton administration to take Taiwan-friendly steps, including allowing a visit from its prime minister. In 1996 and 1998, China put forth aggressive confrontational efforts to intimidate Taiwan, firing missiles into the oceans near Taiwan's largest port cities, causing panic and economic recession. The United States twice responded by sending aircraft carrier fleets to Taiwan to assert its dedication to maintaining peaceful relations across the strait.

The People's Republic of China's policy firmly remains that Taiwan is rightfully a region of China, and that the Republic of China government of Taiwan is in exile. All but a few of the world's countries explicitly recognize the People's Republic and not the Republic of China as the legitimate ruler of China, and do not hold official diplomatic ties with Taiwan. The People's Republic has touted "one country, two systems" as a peaceful method of reuniting the two states.

Understandably, many Taiwanese are not particularly enthusiastic about the idea. The pan-green coalition currently rules Taiwan, and strongly leads towards eventually making Taiwan an independent state. Although Washington does not publicly support the idea, and Beijing has threatened invasion on multiple accounts if Taiwan were to declare indepdendence, Taiwan may have a brief window where the PRC's power position is weak.

Beijing, in striving for modernity, has sought the acceptance of the international community into great power status. Its most recent great symbol of modernity shall be the 2008 Olympics, held in Beijing. To this end, the PRC has striven to impress the international community by pouring resources into cleaning up public streets, fixing bad English on signs, etc. Statues and heavy internal advertising, touting the coming Olympic games, are all over the country. The People's Republic sees the successful operation of the 2008 Olympics to be a great symbol of China's vaulting into modernity. Anything to either hinder these Olympics or undermine the good press to come from them would likely be avoided if at all possible. The Chinese, therefore, are going to be very wary about making military action against Taiwan as those Olympics approach.

Knowing this, the Taiwanese politicians may be mulling a possible independence bid. To make matters more interesting, Taiwanese elections will likely be held in early 2008 (the Taiwanese do not set the date until late), and President Chen is a lame-duck. As such, he has some freedom to make possibly controversial measures, and he already has in the past. In 2006, he disbanded the Reunification Committee in Taiwan, symbolizing his lack of dedication in reunification. China was infuriated, but could do little in reaction. A bold Chen may try to set up Taiwan for independence before his term is done.

At the same time, US President George Bush is a late lame-duck, as well. Should Taiwan declare independence, he has the US Pacific Fleet (complete with 2 active aircraft carrier groups) to move to Taiwan and enforce its sovereignty, should he need to. His politics largely hail from the 1990's Republicans that spent many years pressuring the Clinton administration towards diplomatically friendly measures with Taiwan (like allowing the Prime Minister of the ROC to visit), and his style of "Cowboy Diplomacy" makes him unlikely to be too hesitant about deploying the US Navy to accomplish his diplomatic goals. Knowing Bush is on the way out (and suspecting a more militarily restrained executive might follow), the ROC may very well want to take advantage of his diplomatic style.

The chance that Taiwan will declare independence remains low. But parallel events are making the chance that it might happen, and work, more likely. As much as the People's Republic of China may be furious at the idea of an independent Taiwan, US help would put China in a tough place. A direct conflict with the United States would halt critical exports, and would likely bring harsh criticism of the international community. It is this, along with the PRC's deep need for international approval, that is most likely to make them helpless.