Thursday, March 27, 2008

Anthony Cordesman: "Warning: This could lead to dancing"

Iraqi Government Benchmark XXXIII:
"Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security."
(h/t RhusLancia)

Look I don't know how this current operation will end, but I do know that if you want to get from "Iraqracy" to democracy then JAM (as it is currently constructed) can't go along for the trip. They'll always be wanting to take side trips to Irancracy and Hezbollahland. The Iraqi government cleaning house against JAM is a good thing, Anthony. Learn to enjoy it.

I further recommend Mohammed Fadhil's article "Behind the Bloodshed in Basra". He makes essentially the same points as Cordesman, so why don't I come away feeling like rubbing out Sadr's thugs is a disaster for Iraq?

The Value of Cordesman's Analysis

What annoys me about Anthony Cordesman's analysis, "Current Iraq fighting not good guys vs bad"? I've heard it before. When the US President and Congress decided to depose Saddam, the foot-draggers said, "But there are a lot of other despots in the Middle East that we aren't deposing!" So what? Give us time. What despot can we unify to bring down if we can 't unify about Saddam?

Then, when it was clear early last fall that the Bush/Petraeus Surge had worked against AQ in Iraq and brought the insurgents in from the cold, the foot-draggers said, "Yeah, but the Shi'a militias are overrunning Baghdad and Southern Iraq. The sectarian government will never do anything about those! There is no national army! It's just a collection of militias!" Well, we'll see about that, but how can Sunni-Shi'a sectarianism end when Al-Qaeda is actively seeking to drive them apart with random murder and bombs against mosques and worshippers?

BUT, suppose the national army DOES try to scrape away the bottom of the barrel of the Shi'a theofascist militias? Oh, no! In walks Anthony Cordesman...."Don't start thinking this is a good thing. That would be a mistake. This is just one gang, "The government", knocking out a rival, "the theocratic, Iran-backed, Ja'ish Al-Mahdi". That sounds like good news to me. Do you know what the Crips and Bloods say about cops? "They're just the biggest gang in town". It's an appealing argument if it is one you want to hear, but its also true that I'd rather have cops than gangs. Cordesman is making the "Crypts argument" in Iraq.

The value of Cordesman's analysis is solely that it allows Frank James, and Fred Kaplan, and Andrew Sullivan to shake their hands and squeal "Eek! It's too complex! It's too complex! We're in the middle of a complex situation! Let's move all the troops to Kuwait and see if things get simplier in Iraq!"

10 Steps to Disaster

Let's map Cordesman's argument:

1) He says its an oversimplification to call Sadr's vicious hand-to-mouth criminals cum gangland kings "bad guys" and to call the forces of the freely elected government of Iraq "the legitimate side". They're the freely elected government...that's the definition of "legitimate side".

2) He graciously admits that "many elements" of the Ja'sh Al-Madhi are behind "sectarian cleansing", that Sadr's movement "in general" is hostile to the US (e.g. conducting attacks on US personnel), and "is seeking to enhance Muqtada al-Sadr's political power" (why that almost sounds like legitimate politics if only it didn't include graft, intimidation, and murder), that "the extreme rogue elements" in the movement have continued mayhem during Sadr's declared ceasefire. The kicker is this: "some [extreme rogue elements] have ties to Iran". So only ROGUE elements have ties to Iran? Where is the Madhi Army's fearless leader, Muqtada Al-Sadr, right now? Isn't he presumed to be in Iran?

3) He says "No one should romanticize the Sadr movement, understate the risks it presents, or ignore the actions of the extreme elements of the JAM." This is supposed to get us all nodding with him in agreement when he kicks in his next point (see 4).

4) "But no one should romanticize Maliki, Al Dawa, or the Hakim faction/ISCI. The current fighting is as much a power struggle for control of the south, and the Shi'ite parts of Baghdad and the rest of the country, as an effort to establish central government authority and legitimate rule."
Oh really?? Even if every thing Cordesman is about assert is true, would that make a success by forces of the freely elected government to crack down on the JAM's criminal, foreign insurgent rackets in Basra and beyond, LESS of a positive strike for central government authority and legitimate rule in Iraq??

Would leaving southern Iraq to JAM be that positive strike? Cordesman doesn't say. He's only interested in warning people not to get "too happy" about a self-evidently positive action. Too much happiness is morally corrupting. It could lead to dancing.

5) Next Cordeman argues that the central government's southern Shi'a leadership could not retain their seats in an open election. He casually glosses over the question of whether Sadr's people could be any more successful in an election without intimidation and cheating. But who cares? If JAM is involved, there will be intimidation and cheating. Of that, there is no doubt.

He asserts that JAM has "a broad base of support in Baghdad". The same was true for Lucky Luciano in New York circa 1932. That doesn't mean we shouldn't be glad to see him suffer or that it is an "oversimplification" to portray his story as "bad guy" Luciano and "good guy" US prosecutors.

6) This paragraph is a gem:

"One of the key uncertainties that emerged during visits to the south was over how elections would shape up when there were no real political parties operating with local leaders, and in a framework of past national elections that only allowed Iraqis to vote for entire lists (most with many totally unfamiliar names) for the main parties and that made no allowance for the direct election of members of the COR that represented a given area or district. Optimists hope for a populist upswell; realists foresee an uncertain mess. "

A "mess" in what way? What horrible things will happen IF the current system that everyone agrees is bad (oops! It it alright to frame this as "good-bad"?) becomes irrelevant in the upcoming elections?

7) Next Cordesman implies that whoever wins in Basra, the government or JAM, Iran will take control. Essentially, he is pandering to the lowest rung of Sunni conspiracy mongering.

8) After all this, you will be surprised to learn that CORDESMAN THINKS THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT IS DOING THE RIGHT THING in busting the Madhi Army in Basra:

This does not mean that the central government should not reassert control of Basra. It is not peaceful, it is a significant prize as a port and the key to Iraq's oil exports, and gang rule is no substitute for legitimate government.

But wait a minute, I sense some happiness out there. Cordesman to the rescue:

But it is far from clear that what is happening is now directed at serving the nation's interest versus that of ISCI and Al Dawa in the power struggle to come. It is equally far from clear that the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces in the south is not being used by Maliki, Al Dawa, and ISCI to cement control over the Shi'ite regions at Sadr's expense and at the expense of any potential local political leaders and movements.

Well, maybe this might be an issue in the future, but Sadr's movement has not exactly been open-minded about other "potential political leaders and movements". What possible logic is there in lumping these two together as co-victims of ISCI oppression?? But Cordesman doesn't want to waste any time denouncing Maliki for blocking legitimate political organization even before that organizing has had a chance to begin!

9) Now watch Cordesman conspiratorially connect the dots:

Certainly, the fact that these efforts come after ISCI's removal of its objections to the Provincial Powers Act may not be entirely coincidental.

...OR these efforts MIGHT just as well as have come because JAM's strangle-hold on in Shi'a communities would make a joke (or travesty) of the Provincial Powers Act.

10) Finally, Cordesman asks himself and answers, "Is the end result going to be good or bad? It is very difficult to tell." Actually it seems to be very easy to tell, since Cordesman follows this up with series of doomful scenarios. Then he ends his analysis with a sneer:

It seems far more likely that even the best case outcome is going be one that favors Iraqracy over democracy.

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