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.