Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rahm Bombs

Rep. Rahm Emmanuel was on Real Time with Bill Maher last night, promoting his new book, "The Plan." He said that there are five points that the Ds need to get across to the public, plus one other point. Already, this doesn't seem like great marketing. Five points plus one point? What the hell is that? How about six points? Anyway, here they are:

1. Balance the budget in five years.
2. Make college education as universal in the 21st century as high school education was in the 20th century.
3. Every who works gets health care.
4. Create a "hydrid-based economy" and cut America's dependence on oil in half in ten years.
5. Create an "institute for science and engineering" to do for new technology and new jobs what the NIH has done for healthcare.
Extra bonus point. Bring the country together for a common purpose and a common mission.

Are you feeling inspired? Me neither. Citizen Cain can do better. Here's my seven point plan:

1. Provide tax relief to average Americans, while making sure that corporations and wealthy people pay their fair share
2. Double federal support for education.
3. Everyone gets health care. Basic health care insurance is no longer tied to employment.
4. Cut America's dependence on oil in half in ten years and begin to address global warming through major incentives for energy efficiency and for alternative energy.
5. Make the country more secure through a serious commitment to homeland security, to rebuilding America's alliances, and through a focus on destroying al Qaeda.
6. Restore competence and integrity to government, with lobbying reform and a commitment to a government that works for all the citizens, not just the wealthy and politically connected.
7. Protect social security.

Assignment: discuss, in the comments section, the many reasons why Citizen Cain's plan is superior to Rep. Emmanuel's plan. No fair saying that seven points is better than five points plus one point-- I already said that.

In subsequent posts, Citizen Cain will grade your answers.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Iraq: Now the Bad News

In the last post, we looked at some good news from Iraq-- the increasing capability of the Iraqi security forces. Today, we look at the bad news. And, as with all good new/bad news jokes, the bad news (almost) completely negates the good news.

There's a lot of bad news. Here's just some of it:
  • Those increasingly capable Iraqi security forces are, in most cases, just ethnic, religious or tribal militias in uniform, with little loyalty to the central government. Anthony Cordesman, who was the source of most of our good news in the last post, confirms that this is the case.

  • The prospects for the government of national unity that Condoleeza Rice and Jack Straw want the Iraqis to put together look increasingly dim. It now seems likely either that a government just can't be formed, or that the new government will leave significant groups unhappy and ready for war. In addition to the Shia-Sunni-Kurd conflict, the chances are rising of intra-community battles.

  • Baghdad and several other parts of the country are in the throes of ethnic (or religious) cleansing. While much of the country is relatively calm, that calm has been secured largely by ethnic, religious or tribal militias. As ethnic cleansing heats up, it is increasingly likely that these militias will mobilize nationally in an attempt to secure territory. Think Yugoslavia after Tito. Think Lebanon in the 1970s. If that's the case, the improved "quality" of these militias will be poor consolation.

If conditions continue to deteriorate, the United States will face some hard choices. No choice is good, but it is clear that as the civil war intensifies, and as Shiite militias become increasingly capable of taking on Sunni extremists, the case for U.S. withdrawal is strengthened. It's one thing to help a government fight against an insurgency, another to participate in or try to stop a civil war.

Citizen Cain has always been leery of just pulling out of Iraq, because as bad as conditions are, they will get worse if the civil war moves from assassinations in the night and battles involving platoon-sized groups, and takes on the scale of battalion-sized military units engaging in artillery duels in the middle of cities. But there’s a limit. We can’t go to war on the side of the Madhi army, and we there’s a limit to the casualties that we should accept in the name of keeping the violence in Iraq down to a low simmer.

Maybe there’s a way to pull out partially or gradually that will limit the risks to our soldiers while giving the Iraqis some chance of stabilizing the situation. I’m dubious. But we have to face the significant possibility that we can’t win in Iraq at an acceptable cost, and prepare for it.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Iraq: First the Good News

The right wing talking point of the last fortnight seems to be that the MSM is failing to report all the good news from Iraq. Laura Ingraham, William Bennett, Michael Fumento, Howard Kaloogian, George Bush, and many others have all pushed this theme.

Stephen Kaus asks the right question. What, exactly, is the good news that the MSM is failing to report? For the most part, I agree with the Kaus's answer: there is no good news. In one area, however, I disagree. Unlike Kaus, I think that there is evidence that the Iraqi army is increasingly capable, and that one could make a case that this "good news" is underreported. However, I would argue that the good news about the improved ability of Iraq's military forces is overwhelmed by terrible news in the broader political situation, and that as a result, the overall picture in Iraq is terrible and getting worse.

Kaus is understandably skeptical of claims that the Iraqi military is improving:

Is it [the underreported good news] the Iraqis taking over the battle? We have heard that before and the statistics then went backwards. Laura Ingraham acknowledges that the previous iterations were false ("I think what we're doing now in Iraq is maybe finally the right thing. The Iraqi military is taking over more of the battle space."), but neither she nor the government seems to have anything specific. Saying that "more and more Iraqis are taking the fight," as President Bush did on Thursday is a little short in the evidence department.

Good point. Since Laura Ingraham and George Bush failed to tell us that the Iraqi military was in bad shape before, they're hardly credible when they tell us know that the situation has improved. However, we needn't rely on them. Anthony Cordesman of the Center on Strategic and International Studies is one of the leading American experts on Middle Eastern militaries and the author of Inexcusable Failure: Progress in Training the Iraqi Army and Security Forces as of Mid-July 2004. If the title doesn't convince you that Cordesman is willing to be critical of the administration, here are some details:
. . . failed dismally to execute their plans in the security sector . . .

The CPA never standardized its public reporting on the status of Iraqi training, although the data always implied a much higher level of training than actually took place. The training data on the Iraqi security forces were also altered in ways that disguises the level of training in most services in the in CPA reporting issued from April 2004 onwards, by implying that training under the Ba’ath regime, or limited on the job training under the Transition Integration Program (TIP) was adequate.

Most of the training was little more than at the token level . . .

No single mission is more important than security, and no Iraqi popular desire is clearer than that this mission be done by Iraqis. The US has been guilty of a gross military, administrative, and moral failure. It seems to be finally taking steps to correct these mistakes, but its past history shows that detailed progress reporting is essential, and that the US military has been reluctant at best to come to grips with the need for an effective effort.
So if Cordesman thinks that the quality of the Iraqi military is improving, I think we should take notice. Here he is in a February 15 draft report:

In spite of the problems facing Iraqi forces, they have made major progress. Changes in the US led Coalition advisory effort have led to steadily higher selection and training standards and better equipment and facilities. Embedding US training teams in each new Iraqi unit, and pairing them with US combat units until they could operate on their own, has made a major qualitative difference in the field. More and more Iraqi units have come on-line.
By early December, a total of 50 battalions were at Level 1-3 readiness and active in dealing with the insurgency. In March 2005, there were only three battalions manning their own areas—all in Baghdad. A total of 24 battalions were in charge of their own battle space in October and 33 in late December. In January 2006, the US army transferred an area of operation to an entire Iraqi army division for the first time in Qadissiya and Wassit provinces, an active combat area south of Baghdad. In early February 2006, 40 of the army’s 102 battalions had taken over security in the areas where they operated, and in contested areas, such as parts of Fallujah, Ramadi and Samarra.

The Army was making real progress in developing effective personnel. NCO and specialist training improved, officers and NCOs now had considerable experience, and most training institutions were now functional. The Iraqi Military Academy at Al Rustamiyeh, modeled on the British academy at Sandhurst, graduated its first year-long course of 73 officer cadets on January 19, 2006.62 The NCO academy at Q-West Base Complex was also fully functional, and provided training to NCOs which had already demonstrated their capability by serving in Iraqi forces. A "master trainer program" to teach Iraqi NCOs how to train other Iraqi soldiers was underway and producing significant numbers of graduates by January 2006.
Is this enough progress? Does this progress excuse the administration's earlier failures? No. But it is progress nonetheless.

But how important are these changes? Does the fact that Iraqi security forces are improving mean that the overall situation in Iraq is improving? Are we making progress? Citizen Cain says no. Our next post will cover just a few of the reasons for pessimism.

(note: lightly edited for format and to add links on 4/2)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Citizen Cain: Prophet of the Israeli Election

After Ariel Sharon was incapacitated by stroke, conventional wisdom was that his newly-formed Kadima party would be in trouble and that Likud would be resurgent. Citizen Cain resisted the conventional wisdom put forth by lesser minds and prophecied the victory of the center-left and the exclusion of Likud from the new government. From January 5:
Citizen Cain's bold prediction-- a coalition that excludes Likud will win. Some combination of Kadima, Labor and smaller parties, who will continue the policy of selective unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians.

Events prove: never bet against Citizen Cain.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Even Worse

Zeyad reports that al-Iraqiya TV has been highly critical the U.S. attack on Madhi army militiamen, described by the U.S. as a terror cell. Al Iraqiya is referring to them as "martyrs."

How bad is that? Al-Iraqiya is the U.S.-funded network that is supposed to be the pro-American alternative to al Jazeera. Apparently, we can't even buy a friend in Iraq any more.


The situation in Iraq keeps getting more untenable. The Washington Post reports that U.S. and Iraqi forces killed at least 16 members of a "terrorist cell" tied to Moqtada al Sadr. This cell, according to the Post, was "responsible for attacks on soldiers and civilians."

Of course, while some of Sadr's followers are engaging in terror attacks, others are holding positions in Parliament and in goverment ministries.

An outspoken opponent of the U.S. presence in Iraq, Sadr has become a potent political force, fielding more than 30 loyal members in Iraq's new parliament. The incident Sunday was his deadliest encounter with U.S. and Iraqi forces since his Mahdi Army militia waged two violent uprisings in 2004.

"I think we are going to have a firm stance against the American forces because of this crime," Salam al-Maliki, the country's transportation minister and a close Sadr ally, said on al-Iraqiya television.

So we're dammed if we do and dammed if we don't. Either we allow the operation of terror cells, or we kill people closely affiliated with a member in good standing of Iraq's governing coalition. Maybe there was a time, back just after the fall of Baghdad, when we could have prevented some of this by crushing Sadr's movement. Maybe when they were looting the city would have been a good time. Or maybe after they murdered Abdel Majid al-Khoei, the moderate cleric under (ineffective) U.S. military protection. Or maybe after the 2004 uprisings.

Now, however, they're part of the government. Such a key part of the government, in fact, that prime mininister praises them in a March 20 Washington Post opinion piece:

Sidelining Moqtada al-Sadr's group from the Governing Council was a mistake. Had it been integrated into the political process back then, long before the formation of the Mahdi Army, events would have turned out differently in the south. I corrected this policy and brought Sadr's group into the democratic process. This inclusive approach resulted in the huge nationwide turnout for the December elections and a parliament that truly reflects Iraq.

During my term as elected prime minister, Sadr's group has not attacked any coalition troops. Furthermore, Sadr and several Sunni leaders are now catalysts for maintaining the peace in Iraq, calling on their followers not to retaliate against terrorist provocations, which aim to ignite civil war.

I'm not saying that al-Jafari's policy is wrong-- he may be making the best of a terrible situation. But how long with the U.S. be able to maintain its position in Iraq while at war with not only an insurgency but with a key member of the governing coalition?

Sorry, I'll stop now. I should probably be blogging about a good news story, like the opening of an Iraqi school or something.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Sad Prose Poem from an Iraqi Blogger

Citizen Cain's favorite Iraqi blog, Healing Iraq, resumed regular posting about a month ago after a long hiatus. Zeyad, Healing Iraq's maitre de blog, had been extremely optimistic about the prospects for his country in the aftermath of the invasion, and very positively-inclined towards the Coalition. It has been sad to see Zeyad's building frustration over the years with the circumstances in his country, and with the failures of the occupation.

His latest post, which describes the growing chaos in Baghdad, concludes with an intensity and passionate insistence on bearing witness that brings to mind Dylan's Hard Rain, albeit in realistic prose rather than Dylan's dream-like poetry.
Please don’t ask me whether I believe Iraq is on the verge of civil war yet or not. I have never experienced a civil war before, only regular ones. All I see is that both sides are engaged in tit-for-tat lynchings and summary executions. I see governmental forces openly taking sides or stepping aside. I see an occupation force that is clueless about what is going on in the country. I see politicians that distrust each other and continue to flame the situation for their own personal interests. I see Islamic clerics delivering fiery sermons against each other, then smile and hug each other at the end of the day in staged PR stunts. I see the country breaking into pieces. The frontlines between different districts of Baghdad are already clearly demarked and ready for the battle. I was stopped in my own neighbourhood yesterday by a watch team and questioned where I live and what I was doing in that area. I see other people curiously staring in each other’s faces on the street. I see hundreds of people disappearing in the middle of the night and their corpses surfacing next day with electric drill holes in them. I see people blown up to smithereens because a brainwashed virgin seeker targeted a crowded market or café. I see all that and more.

Don’t you dare chastise me for writing about what I see in my country.

I'm not sure who the last sentence is aimed at. Who is chastising Zeyad for writing about what he sees? Whoever it is, don't listen Zeyad! Keep on calling it like you see it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Third Anniversary

We should all pause to recognize the anniversary of this major event.