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December 06, 2006

It's an American Show

By Carl Goldstein

The Baker Commission issued its report today. All hail the eminences grise! I'll grant that Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton and the other eight members at least belong to the reality-based community.

But the hoo-rah about the report and its potential impact is totally an American -- really a Washington -- show. It has very little to do with Iraqis or that actual situation on the ground we hear so much about.

Baker & Co. call for an intensive effort to train Iraqi forces to permit the withdrawal of most US combat troops by early 2008. This completely ignores the woeful progress to date. We don't have anywhere near the number of translators who would be needed. Just as important, the US military is set up to be a kick-ass, fighting force. Training has always been regarded institutionally as a secondary mission that attracts second-rate, non-fast-track types. Remember Bush's repeated invocation of the line "We'll stand down as the Iraqi forces stand up"? At this point, really, no one is standing, and as a result the violence keeps getting worse.

The talk in some circles of more troops is nonsense, whether the 20,000 McCain claims to want or Bill Kristol's 50,000. We don't have the troops, and they wouldn't make a significant difference in terms of reducing the bloodletting. (Note how the 20,000 troops rushed into Baghdad in September in what was intended as a major show of force not only failed to control the Shia-Sunni bloodletting, but allowed it to increase day-by-day.

The conventional wisdom thankfully has finally come to embrace the notion that we have to get out of Iraq. But otherwise intelligent and well-informed folks still have this idea that we (the US government, our troops, etc) have the ability to determine -- or even influence --events in Iraq.

We don't. The situation is getting worse and will most likely continue to deteriorate because of powerful forces that have been unleashed by our bungling and overweening hubris. By all indications, the politicians who control the various factions within the Shiite majority continue to find it in their interest to stoke the violence committed by their inhouse militias and death squads. The militias are increasingly seen as their people's only protectors, even as they wreak harsh retribution on Sunnis.

And the Sunnis appear unwilling to accept their minority status, and insurgents/fighters/terrorists of various stripes seem committed to continuing their already successful campaign to incite ever more serious sectarian violence.

We need to draw down most US forces over the next 6-12 months. Perhaps, as George Packer has suggested, we should grant asylum to those Iraqis most closely identified with the failed effort. What about the vast majority of the Iraqi people? It's harsh to say it out loud, but we're going to have to leave them to pick up the shattered pieces of their country the best they can.

Posted by Carl at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

Bubbling Cauldron

By Carl Goldstein

With all of official Washington's attention drawn to Iraq, little notice is being taken of developments regarding the dangerous nuclear standoff in Northeast Asia. That's a concern.

The real danger is not necessarily the fact that North Korea and its unpredictable leader Kim Jong Il has a nuclear weapons capability -- although that's scary enough. Rather, it is that other countries in the neighborhood -- Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan -- might feel the need to do the same. Once a nuclear arms race is launched, decision-making amidst the inevitable tensions inherent in day-to-day, month-to-month diplomatic relations can spin out of control.

Tokyo's reaction to North Korean sabre-rattling is especially problematic (albeit understandable, given the fact that Japan is well within range of Pynongyang's missiles). Japan has spent the decades since the end of Word War II sheltered uneasily beneath the US nuclear umbrella. But Japanese nationalists, who are very much in the ascendancy, are increasingly asking why they too shouldn't have an independent nuclear force, especially given the looming threat from a nuclear-armed and hostile North Korea. But the impulse is also part of a broader trend toward a more assertive role in international relations commensurate with Japan's economic heft.

Complicating the mix is the increasingly troubled state of China-Japan relations. Bound together by massive levels of trade and investment, the two countries are divided by history -- Japan's bloody invasion and occupation of China -- and a modern-day rivalry for pre-eminence in Asia.

Tokyo spent much of the time between China's post-Mao opening to the outside world (circa 1978 onward) and the recent past half-heartedly apologizing for wartime atrocities and attempting to buy China's goodwill via foreign aid and friendly foreign investment. The gains to be realized from this set of policies have often been limited by Beijing's tendency to whip up anti-Japanese nationalist fervor as a replacement for the now withered Maoist/Socialist sentiment.

At any rate, Japanese elites nowadays hear all the talk of Rising China and predictions that we've entered the Chinese Century and say -- whoa there! As a result, Japanese survey vessels are aggressively plumbing watery depths in the Yellow Sea with potentially rich oil or other mineral deposits that are also claimed by China. Beijing, for its part, adopts its own forward policy with regard to maritime claims -- not only in the waters between Japan and China but also extending right up to the territorial shelves of the Philippines, Indonesia and other southeast Asian nations.

At the same time, Japanese companies have lost favor in China by refraining from the kind of sweetheart deals that gave them early entry into China but have over time proved unprofitable. And -- this is a huge piece of it -- Tokyo has grown less solicitous of Beijing's sensitivies about Taiwan, to them a renegade, runaway province that must be returned to the Motherland sooner rather than later. Instead, Tokyo is more inclined to think of its own longtime economic and cultural ties with Taiwan, which it ruled as a colony from 1895-1945,
and fear the possible shock to the international system if China moves forcibly to assert its claim over Taiwan.

And what happens if Taiwan -- itself fully capable of developing a nuclear capability -- decides to go down that road? Then the S- could truly hit the fan.

Posted by Carl at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2006

Strange Window

into an alternative universe, which I ran across on Powerline.

Link here.

Posted by Carl at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)