Friday, February 29, 2008

US Navy off the coast of Lebanon

All over the news today that the USS Cole (that's the same USS Cole that was ripped open by a suicide boat several years ago in the harbor at Aden) is now posted offshore the coast near Beirut, to show the US's "displeasure" with the political impasse in Lebanon and perhaps apply a little not-so-subtle pressure on Hizbollah. This certainly has to put some Lebanese in mind of other "interventions" by the US Navy, some of which have been nicely chronicled by Roger Morris in a piece posted on the War in Context website.

By the way, another vessel is steaming there as I write, evidently to accompany or replace the Cole. It's an amphibious assault vessel. Shades of 1958, when the Marines went ashore to bolster the Maronite-dominated Chamoun regime against "radical" Nasserists nationalists.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Iraq "Surge" as band-aid

The Washington Post reports this morning that elements of the Sunni Awakening are growing impatient with the US and edging away fro their cooperation with US forces against "al-Qaeda." This may spell huge trouble.

Again, one of the major reasons why the "Surge" seemed to be "working" was the "Sunni Awakening" (Sahwa), which basically consisted of Sunni tribes who were fed up with al-Qaeda in Iraq's extreme tactics and willing to be paid off by the US to take them on. But neither the Surge nor Sahwa was doing anything to address Iraq's most fundamental problem - the fragmentation of the Iraqi state along sectarian and ethnic lines after (indeed, because of) the US occupation. The Sahwa ranks are also full of former "insurgents." In fact, the "insurgents" are often Sunni nationalist fighters who are resisting both the US occupation and the inroads that the Shiites (and especially Iran, which they see as empowering and backing Iraq's Shiite parties, who now run Iraq's central government) have made in Iraq because of that occupation. Those insurgents have been often quoted as saying that they hate the Americans, but right now they hate AQI and the Iranians even more. Bush et al. by now know all this, but they are content to apply the Surge band-aid over the gaping wounds of a broken Iraq. As with all band-aids, the adhesive is wearing off. Defense Secretary Gates and General Petraeus have recently been quoted as favoring a "Pause" - stopping the planned post-"Surge" draw-down of US troops - but if the trend of Sahwa elements backing away from the US continues, the Pause would be no better that trying to re-apply that used band-aid. We all know how long that works.

An even larger problem looms. The impatience of the Sunni forces might lead them to resume attacks on both the Americans and the Shiiites. At the least, that means more US casualties, as well as more "collateral damage" in Sunni communities as US forces go after Sunni "terrorists." At the worst, Muqtada al-Sadr may feel compelled to retract the recent extension of his Jaish al-Mahdi's (Mahdi Army's) cease-fire against the Americans and their erstwhile Sunni allies. In fact, some elements of the Mahdi Army have been chafing against Muqtada's cease-fire, during which the US forces have continued to launch raids into Shiite communities to eliminate Mahdi Army "bad guys"; it's not unlikely that more in their number will simply decide to ignore Muqtada's cease-fire, or even turn against him as having become too cozy with the Iranian ayatollahs. (Don't forget that he's been in Iran for awhile now, evidently studying in hopes of becoming an ayatollah himself.)

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