Barry Eisler

Monday, February 12, 2007

Iran: What, Where, Why

I'm curious about the timing of the publicity the Bush administration is currently giving Iran's involvement in Iraq.

For the past few days, CNN, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal have all led with stories about Iranian-supplied "EFPs" -- Explosive Formed Projectiles, aka Explosively Formed Penetrators. EFPs are bombs that can punch through the toughest armor, and which apparently have killed 170 American and allied troops in Iraq.

Is Iran supplying our enemies in Iraq with EFPs, and otherwise "meddling" there? I don't doubt it. Iran has many motives to try to worsen our predicament in Iraq, not least their fear that, if we ever got Iraq right, we might turn our attention to Iran next. And Iran's geographical proximity and cultural ties to Iraq's Shiites certainly give Iran the opportunity. Motive plus opportunity... if I had to guess, I'd guess that hell yes, Iran is doing everything the Bush administration has accused it of, and probably a lot more.

The question, then, isn't whether Iran is working against us in Iraq. The question is, why is the administration pushing this story now? After all, according to the Defense Department's own briefers, Iranian supply to Iraqi Shiites dates back to at least 2004. Why wasn't the administration publicizing Iran's role three years ago? Six months ago? Why now?

The only plausible explanations I can come up with are:

1. The new accusations are intended to divert attention from the administration's failures in Iraq by blaming Iran.

2. The administration hopes that by "calling" Iran on its behavior, it can frighten Iran into desisting (although still, why not try this six months, a year ago, three years ago...).

3. The new accusations are part of the administration's case for an attack on Iran. Paul Krugman suggests this in today's New York Times.

If anyone can think of something else, I'd like to hear it.

Maybe the most important thing to note with regard to the timing of the administration's Iran accusations is this: the White House has enormous power to create news. We heard little about Iran in Iraq until the White House decided to make it a front page story. The White House said little about North Korea, keeping that country largely off the front page, right up until the day Kim Jung Il went nuclear. Most of all, of course, there was the PR push the White House engaged in during the run-up to the war in Iraq, including nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

When you read a story -- or especially stories -- in the media, ask yourself not just about what the story says, but also where it's coming from. And why.
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23 Comments:

Anonymous Glen Krisch said...

Barry,
Perpetual warfare. That's it simply. I ask myself the simple question: when will we be out of Iraq? 2009 at the earliest is my guess. So now we prod Iran with a stick? How long can we prod before there's a military confrontation? Can we remain civil with Iran until we pull out in 2009 (or later)? NO. So, back to my point. Perpetual warfare. Certain people obviously want it to continue for a long time. Must be good for their pocketbooks.

BTW, have you read Morris Berman?

Monday, February 12, 2007 12:07:00 PM  
Blogger Nathan Bransford said...

Thit is such a fascinating/scary issue to me. It's been clear for a while that Iran has been meddling in Iraq, but up until this point the military and government have been conspicuously silent. At this point Iran will easily call our bluff -- an attack on Iran is politically and militarily impossible, so what do they have to lose by continuing to stir the pot in Iraq?

It seems to me that the only solution (and it's not a good one) is direct diplomacy, but that's not an approach the Bush administration seems willing to take.

What a mess.

Monday, February 12, 2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Nostalgia.
They long for the days when they could spin the intel, the Congress (Republicans and Democrats) would slavishly fall in line,the press wouldn't ask all those pesky questions, and anyone who didn't dance to the war drum could be mocked as "unserious" at best, and "a terrorist enabler" at worst.
For the Bushistas, those were the good times, the salad days, if you will.
Unfortunately, the Congress is in the hands of the Democrats, at least some in the press feel angry about being burned and are sharpening the knives, and being skeptical of the shrieking war monkeys isn't just for dirty hippies any more.
I preminisce no return of the salad days.

Monday, February 12, 2007 2:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob Siders said...

Beyond the ones you've given, Barry, I don't think there's another plausible explanation. I concede that other explanations are possible, though.

I am inclined to dismiss what's behind door number one, a simple diversion, for no other reason than it doesn't make much sense for the administration to keep this in their back pockets for so long... especially considering how poorly managed the war has been for the better part of three years.

Monday, February 12, 2007 3:27:00 PM  
Blogger John D. said...

Try this theory out for size: This administration just sucks at information warfare.

Also, keep in mind that they've been burned by news stories that got out from Iraq (like the mobile "bio weapons lab-trucks") that turned out to be false. Consequently, they've become overly cautious about putting out intel like this to the American people until it's confirmed beyond doubt.

Monday, February 12, 2007 4:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Eric Gaden said...

With the new Democratic congress installed and threatening to oppose the troop surge and other aspects of the White House war policy, the administration is pulling Iran in to create a bigger monster. With such a looming threat from an obviously and admittedly hostile regime, it is easier to say that withdrawl from Iraq leaves it wide open to Iran. With Iran in control, the percieved (and probably quite real) threat increases. If the public knows this, then they can yell scream and force the Democratic congress into continuing support at the threat of a greatly empowered Iran. I think all of your points in the blog entry were valid, but I think the new congress and there big talk about troop reductions and purse string diplomacy may have helped the timing out a little.

Or something.

Monday, February 12, 2007 6:47:00 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

With General Pace and CentCom Commander William Fallon not knowing who within the White House is making this claim(that weapons have been smuggled into Iraq with the approval of senior Iranian officials), I can only assume that the White House has a desire to create as many bogeymen as possible to justify why they can't or won't leave Iraq.

Eventually we will have some kind of milatary confrontation with Iran and kablooey, we've expanded the war.

These people running our government make me ill. Barry you do a good job of unemotionally analyzing the situation, but it hurts me to think of the damage Bush and Co. are doing to our nation in general and our brave soldiers specifically.

I challenge any person to answer the question "Why are we in Iraq?" There is no answer that I've found that hasn't manifested itself but because we're in Iraq, we now have to stay in Iraq. Sigh

Tuesday, February 13, 2007 7:00:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks for all the thoughts, everyone. The NYT leads with the story today: "Bush Declares Iran's Arms Role in Iraq is Certain". And the WSJ editorialized about it yesterday.

There's much discussion in the coverage of whether the administration's claims are true. But no discussion about why the administration is airing the evidence in the first place. The omission seems odd to me. The way the news is coming out seems like part of a planned product rollout, meaning we'll see more in the coming weeks, and have more data to use in trying to understand where the White House is trying to go with this.

Cheers,
Barry

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 9:25:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." - John Stuart Mill

At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. "I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers," said Soroush, "and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

Many Iranians say the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program has become a rallying point for a president who otherwise would be facing substantial public dissatisfaction over soaring inflation, rising unemployment and widespread censorship. Given enough time, there's a good chance the regime in Iran will dry up and blow away with the sand and dust of time. So why is the administration pushing this story (stories about Iranian-supplied "EFPs") now? Could it be to give the subject matter international coverage and possibly add more fuel to the fire in the growing political unrest in Iran? The Bush Administration has said it over and over and over again - we have no plans or intentions to attack Iran. And if Mr. Ahmadinejad wants to push the issue(s) he just might find himself out of a job. Perhaps it’s just a matter of how much more the Iranian people are willing to put up with.

As for the question: "Why are we in Iraq?"

Several reasons: To remove a brutal dictatorial leadership and free the oppressed people of Iraq; To assert American influence in the Middle East and create and maintain a strategic base within the heart of the region that will allow us react, militarily, to further terrorist provocations and/or threats to the United States, our allies, and our ‘interests’ in the region; To create a viable and successful democratic society in a section of the world that seems to loathe the very concept of “freedom”; and to drag the most backward, barbaric culture on the face of the planet into the 21st Century.

I'll get off my soap box, you all have a nice day.

Thursday, February 15, 2007 1:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Amico said...

Consider it like this: while reading the tesitimony of the Scooter Libby investigation, I've been fascinated to read how Cheney et al 'allegedly' told Scooter to de-classify certain information because it was convenient to their current stance, argument or need. Barry, you are absolutely correct when you assert that they 'make' the news. Whatever their reasoning is to focus on Iran now, I can only imagine the countless stategy sessions that focused on protraying Iran as an ever WORSE evil than Iraq; and we all know what happened there. It's a chess game; each move is made with the subsequent move (and further moves) in mind.

On a related subject, Africa, and the Administration's recent move to create a military division to counter China's interest there...have you ever played 'Risk' ? I love that game. But right now, it seems like we have one or two pieces remaining on about twenty territories...a stategy that never, ever, won me a game. But WTF do I know?

Thursday, February 15, 2007 5:19:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Barry,

I think your take of a "planned product roll-out" is spot-on, and that the choice of options in your post are probably all true to some degree or another. What’s particularly striking is the constant call to arms without any apparent real desire to get the job done: No new taxes to fund the war(s); no money for port inspections; no calls for a draft; etc.

Of equal interest to me is the way that the press seems to be falling into the very same stenographer's role that it played prior to the Iraq invasion, parroting White House talking points and providing inappropriate "anonymous source" cover for what are clearly staged leaks. (Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com has an interesting piece on the topic. You may have to watch a short web-commercial to view the article without subscribing.)

Finally, what is REALLY interesting to me is the manner in which General Peter Pace is essentially refuting administration claims that they know for sure that Iran is targeting U.S. troops at the behest of the very highest levels of the Iranian government. (See here – conincidentally also a Greenwald article. If you're not reading him, I recommend it - he's one of the sharpest observers on the web.)

Hope all is going well with the new book!

Best,
Paul
Sensen No Sen

Thursday, February 15, 2007 5:55:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Marcus, thanks for your post and for your additional comments offline. Folks, let's be vigilent about bombast... I know with the subjects we're discussing emotions can run high, but that's all the more reason to make our points with restraint.

Sean, good to see you here! And sorry we missed each other in Seattle.

Paul, thanks for the Salon link. Damn, I'd love to read a Michael Gordon rebuttal; the Greenwald's arguments sure seemed damning.

I've been watching Pace's distancing act with interest, too. Remember, he's the guy who, questioned about Rumsfeld's competence, talked about the SecDef's patriotism and work ethic, instead. Hmmm...

Cheers,
Barry

Thursday, February 15, 2007 9:20:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

As the rhetoric ratchets up between the US and Iran, there are really interesting things happening on the ground with serious implications...

Explosion kills 11 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards
By Ali Akbar Dareini ASSOCIATED PRESS 3:36 p.m. February 14, 2007
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/terror/20070214-1536-iran-explosion.html

TEHRAN, Iran – A car bomb killed 11 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday in the deadliest attack in years near the Pakistani border, and Iran accused the United States of backing militants to destabilize the country. A Sunni Muslim militant group called Jundallah, or God's Brigade, which has been blamed for past attacks on Iranian troops, claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency. An al-Qaeda-linked group of the same name has carried out attacks in neighboring Pakistan. Iranian officials say the militants in southeast Iran find a safe haven in Pakistan, but it is not clear whether the two groups are connected. Pakistani officials say they are not. he blast represented a sharp flare-up of violence in the remote southeast corner of Iran, near Pakistan and Afghanistan, that has long been plagued by lawlessness. The area is a key crossing point for opium from Afghanistan and often sees clashes between police and drug gangs…

"...and Iran accused the United States of backing militants to destabilize the country."

Things that make you go "hmmmm..."

Friday, February 16, 2007 8:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Alan said...

Hello Barry,

I always enjoy your analysis of political matters. I do have some additional plausible explanations that you did not suggest.

1. Election Year War. More than just diverting attention, it provides the opportunity to say "we can't change course in the middle of a war." Further, public opinion polls have consistently shown more support for the President during military intervention (starting with Reagan).

2. Scorched Earth. By causing as many intractable problems as possible at one time (for instance, "we will balance the budget by the middle of the next administration by spending more and taxing less right now!"), it will be impossible to stabilize all of the problems without providing plenty of leverage for conservative pundits to crucify all flithy liberals.

For very large part of the conservative base, the "culture war" is within US borders, not abroad.

3. Firepower: if it's not working, you are not using enough. I suspect that there are many true believers in power (probably few actual generals though, if they were free to tell the whole truth) that believe that the Middle East has always been a mess and one that just needed sufficient ass-kicking to resolve.

With Bush on the way out, true believers need to take the opportunity now in the hopes that the next president will be Republican and will get the military what they need to press the attack.

I think that an attack on Iran and/or Syria was in the plans for a long time, but Iraq has failed to resolve itself. I also suspect that Iran is stirring up stuff in Iraq specifically to keep us tied down there and unable to attack anywhere else. The leaders in Iran and Syria are not stupid, and they know our interests act against theirs, it also costs them very little to help bleed us. Momentum is on thier side.

Friday, February 16, 2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

"Several reasons: To remove a brutal dictatorial leadership and free the oppressed people of Iraq; To assert American influence in the Middle East and create and maintain a strategic base within the heart of the region that will allow us react, militarily, to further terrorist provocations and/or threats to the United States, our allies, and our ‘interests’ in the region; To create a viable and successful democratic society in a section of the world that seems to loathe the very concept of “freedom”; and to drag the most backward, barbaric culture on the face of the planet into the 21st Century."

This seems to me to be a pretty broad re-writing of history. I recall nothing along these lines being stated in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and it’s not because I wasn’t paying attention. Rather, the stated justification – the “why” of record – was centered on the following (just ask Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice):
* WMD
* A smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud
* An imminent, direct threat from Saddam Hussein to the United States

The “freeing” of the Iraqi people and the creation of a Jeffersonian democracy in a part of the world that has precisely zero experience with such only came online as the other justifications for this cock-up fell apart as they were revealed to be fantasy. That said, I believe your second reason is accurate: the creation of a forward base of operations – a country-sized aircraft carrier perches next to Iran, if you will.
Why the need to cloak that in the trappings of altruism when some pretty basic internet research reveals said decoration to be lip gloss for swine?

Friday, February 16, 2007 7:46:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

So let me get this straight: If we had found quantities of WMD (biological warfare, enriched plutonium, etc.) then the quagmire that we are in with Iraq would be completely justified right now? Somehow I seriously doubt that, because the liberals would certainly be saying, “okay, we got what we came for, we accomplished our objective, we’ve sustained too many losses, now let’s get the hell out…” If we found the WMD tomorrow, buried in the sands of Babylon – that would change everything? You and I both know that it would be considered yet another Bush Administration fabrication to justify the war. (I should have brought my shovel and my hip-boots.)

Let me point out several things:
1. The “Big Lie” about WMD in Iraq is not that there weren’t any, but the “Big Lie” itself. “We were misled, we were lied to, and we weren’t told the truth about this war…” are all fallacies. Leading up to the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) we had intelligence that Saddam had biological warfare capabilities. For the 12 years after the Gulf War the UN was speed bumped right and left in its efforts to determine Saddam’s chemical and nuclear capabilities. EVERY INTELLIGENCE AGENCY IN THE WORLD felt with a confident degree of certainty that Saddam had at least some sort of WMD. Solid, corroborated Intel doesn’t lie – where there is smoke, there is usually fire. Ex-President Clinton knew the deal, Al Gore knew the deal, and I can assure you that if Al Gore had been in charge when 9-11 happened, we’d still be right where we are today because no leader of the free world would have taken the chance that a terrorist supporter like Saddam would not supply the terrorists with WMD materials and have them unleashed on the U.S. The “Big Lie” is a liberal fabrication to add fuel to the anti-war cause and nothing else.

2. I find it funny that regular Joe Shmoes seem to know how to run a war and how war is supposed to be. I have been in several significant operational and intelligence build-ups for going into battle, and not once have I EVER SEEN the words “Exit Strategy” in an Operation Plan. Not once. WTF is an “Exit Strategy”? If there is one thing you should know about warfare is that it is fluid, it changes directions on a dime, and there is nothing certain when going into battle. And a war isn’t over until it’s over – NOT when we’ve grown tired of fighting and want to go home. And lastly –

3. “…when some pretty basic internet research reveals said decoration to be lip gloss for swine?” Internet research? Give me a frigging break. I could do some “internet research” and come back and tell you that Big Foot is real, aliens are at Area 51, that the government blew up the World Trade Center, and that Hillary likes to wear a strap on – but it doesn’t mean any of it is true. Don’t pee on my boots and tell me it’s raining, okay?

Now to get back on target – I find it odd that the general consensus is that the Bush Administration is stupid and inept at doing its job, and yet you are all willing to go down the road believing that Bush is smart enough to direct media traffic. When since did the AP, Reuters, or the Evil Liberal Controlled Media start dong what this administration wants it to do? Aren’t you all giving Bush and his buddies more credit than they deserve? Must we always get our news from Comedy Central?

Saturday, February 17, 2007 5:13:00 AM  
Blogger Barry said...

Alan, I'm not sure whether the administration planned on attacking Iran from early on, but I do believe the primary driver of our invasion of Iraq was to intimidate Iran and Syria. And the mullahs most likely believe it's in their interest to ensure the US is so bloodied in Iraq that we wouldn't dream of trying something similar in Iran or in allied Syria. Which is why I don't doubt the veracity of the administration's recent revelations about Iranian backing of our enemies in Iraq. What I do question is the purpose of the revelations. Is no other country "meddling" in Iraq? What about the Saudis? Why are we only hearing about Iran? There might be good answers -- but the question is a good one, too.

Which brings me to one of your points, Marcus. I understand the US wasn't alone in believing Saddam had or soon would have WMD. What I do wonder is why the Bush administration insisted on the timing, tactics, and target of immediate war with Iraq. Kim Jung Il also had a universally acknowledged active WMD program (which has subsequently led to an actual North Korean nuke) and was a demonstrated missile and nuclear know-how proliferator. The al-Saud fund hate-inculcating madrasses worldwide and supplied 3/4 of the 9/11 hijackers. Iranian sponsorship of global terrorism is well documented. We know the Pakistani government was complicit in AQ Khan's nuclear proliferation efforts, with North Korea, Iran, and Libya as Khan's customers. Yet of all these demonstrated WMD threats, we made war only on Saddam Hussein. I think it's fair to ask: if we can live with Kim Jung Il and the al-Saud and the Iranian mullahs and Masharraf's complicity with AQ Khan, why couldn't we live with Saddam? And if we could live with him but attacked anyway, what was the real motive for the attack? There might be good, persuasive answers to these questions, but the administration hasn't offered them.

You ask, "WTF is an "Exit Strategy?" I believe it's shorthand for "make sure you have a way of ending the conflict so your troops aren't stuck fighting forever." I've never read an operation plan and so trust you when you say the term doesn't appear in such plans. But the term is in wide currency, and if former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell feels comfortable using it, I'm okay with it, too.

As I've said before, I do think the Bush administration is incompetent. If Bush were a CEO, I have no doubt the board of directors would have removed him long ago, before facing a shareholder revolt. Many people (or about 33% of the public, anyway) disagrees with my assessment, and I respect those contrary opinions and the people behind them, as I respect you (and I wish more of them would contribute here on HOTM!). But just as success in one area isn't terribly predictive of success in another (Michael Johnson wasn't a great baseball player), incompetence in one area (foreign policy, including war planning and prosecution) doesn't necessarily make an administration incompetent in another (media relations). Feeding the media stories is pretty easy for the White House to do -- easier than effectively prosecuting a war, anyway. And it may be that the Bush administration has made media relations more of a priority than foreign policy, too.

This is a good debate, and I'm grateful to everyone who's posting here. Just a reminder: the hotter it gets, the less likely it is that we'll listen to each other and consider what's being said. Lipstick on a pig, piss down my back and tell me it's raining, all caps... I'm not sure what any of these adds to the substance of the discussion.

Cheers,
Barry

Saturday, February 17, 2007 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

So it would have been better to go after Kim Jong Il, first? Or perhaps pushed the envelope with Iran?

Or are you saying we shouldn't have gone after anyone except Bin Laden and crew in Afghanistan?

See, I'm thinking (as overly simplistic as this may seem) that right after 9-11 some folks over at the Pentagon decided that we needed to be a bit more proactive about taking out the bad guys - and I think that they told Bush that of all the loose cannons in the world - Saddam was right up there at the top of the list. Not only that, but he was a fairly easy target - at least initially - and they probably felt that the war would be a cake walk. You must admit, it pretty much was a cake walk right up until it turned from a war to a police action. They probably figured it would be easier to get world wide backing to take out the Butcher of Baghdad than any of the other Axis of Evil players.

And so now we have leveled our sights on Tehran.

Let me ask you this. Aren't all these guys 'bad guys' in every sense of the word? Shouldn't bad guys be taken out? Or should we just learn to live with them?

I must say, I am surprised at that notion. Perhaps my naivety is showing, but aren’t we the good guys? Aren’t we supposed to at least try to do the right thing? Save the day and all that? Aren’t we supposed to strike fear into the hearts of bad men, no matter where or who they may be?

Saturday, February 17, 2007 1:52:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Marcus, usually I try to avoid thinking in terms like "push the envelope," "bad guys," "loose cannons," "Butcher of Baghdad," "do the right thing," "save the day," etc., because I find that such shorthand categories impede real insight.

But because you asked: should we have "taken out" Stalin, who presumably fit the definition of a "bad guy"? What about the communist Chinese? The leadership of the Soviet satellite states during the cold war? Castro? Chavez? Assorted African despots? We seem to live with these people fairly well, whether you approve of the overall approach or not.

There are many other examples but I think you get my point. Which is: your question -- "Shouldn't bad guys be taken out? Or should we just learn to live with them?" assumes a false binary choice. There are other ways to "take out the bad guys" besides invading their countries. The outcome of the Cold War provides empirical evidence for the falseness of your binary presumption.

Questions can always be phrased in such a way that the outcome you want seems not only obvious, but ineluctable ("Stay the course, or cut and run?" is one example). Again, this is why I prefer to avoid the many soundbites you've invoked -- but in this case, I don't think even the soundbites advance your argument.

You asked: "So it would have been better to go after Kim Jong Il, first? Or perhaps pushed the envelope with Iran? Or are you saying we shouldn't have gone after anyone except Bin Laden and crew in Afghanistan?"

I'm saying neither. I see many other choices besides war with regimes we don't care for, and prefer to approach these instances case by case rather than trying to shoehorn them into a binary framework of my own construct. If you reduce our choices to war, on the one hand, and some undefinable catastrophe, on the other, war will seem the only way.

For more on this, see my next post...

Cheers,
Barry

Saturday, February 17, 2007 2:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In many ways I think that the administration has failed in getting relevant information into the public's hands. There is of course a certain segment within America that will not accept any facts as presented by the president. However, things like Iranian meddling and Russian involvement in moving possible WMD materials to Syria were held back to some degree. This may have been for diplomatic reasons. Bush made many attempts to make good with Russia, but Putin can't play nice and he hates the fact that America won the cold war. I do feel, from doing a lot of research myself though, that the Bush administration is always struggling against media bias, and really, there's no winning against it.

Douglas Moore

Sunday, February 18, 2007 1:47:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Marcus,

Your "so let me get this straight" argument is a straw man, and has nothing to do with either my point or the one you were apparently trying to make earlier. The fact is that WMD and an imminent threat were touted as the reasons for the invasion by the people who did the invading. You can try to dodge that reality, but it’s simply not true that either building democracy or freeing Iraq from Saddam are anything but late public relations efforts when the initial justifications proved worthless.

Your ad hominem attack on the supposedly liberal media is pretty hard to justify when recent history has seen supposedly “liberal” bodies like The New York Times act essentially as stenographer for Bush Administration talking points in the run-up to the war. (See Judith Miller.)

With regard to regular "Joe Schmoes," what I in turn find funny is that you believe the people who cooked up this plan (link goes to National Security Archive exhibit of invasion plan slides) had any clue about what they were doing. There was no scenario planning, no “what if this goes wrong” exercise, nothing but a rose-colored and hopeful view that everything was as they wanted it to be rather than as it was. (Kind of like WMD in Iraq.)

The fact that you haven’t seen the words “Exit Strategy” doesn’t mean that they – or words like them - shouldn’t be (or aren’t) used. To address your “WTF”, an exit strategy, post-occupation plan, post-normalization scheme - or whatever euphemism you want to use - is what you lay out so you don’t get stuck in a situation from which you have not figured out how to extract yourself. Since warfare is unpredictable, it is nothing short of negligent to commit other people’s lives to an exercise whose success depends on everything going as originally conceived.

Businesses use exit strategies all the time, and no planner worth his salt in any venue should be without one. Congratulations on having been in on several significant opertational and intelligence build-ups that have not had exit strategies; sounds like you got lucky, because, since, as you note, everything is “fluid,” you can’t possibly take credit for having everything right coming out of the box. (Either that, or you did some scenario and mop-up planning about which you’re being obtuse because it wasn’t specifically called “an exit strategy.”)

As for internet research, I was referring to the use of common tools like Google to access credible sources of information like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, BBC.com, AP, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, etc., not to cherry pick fringe conspiracy sites. I think you knew that, but were in such a rush to show off your knowledge of phrases like “Don’t pee on my boots and tell me that it’s raining” that you decided to act like you didn’t.

Finally, just because the Bush Administration has what is perhaps the worst foreign policy record in the last century of American history doesn’t mean that they can’t do some things well, such as manage media access and deliver a coherent and disciplined message. What’s too bad is that they have focused on that rather than on more substantive matters which might mitigate their having to rely so heavily on PR and the support of a portion of the population who believe that - despite having controlled all three branches of government for several years prior to the most recent elections - somehow George W. Bush has been stymied by a mysterious and powerful, behind-the-scenes cabal of liberals.

Paul
Sensen No Sen

Monday, February 19, 2007 8:27:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Maximus said...

Must have struck a cord with PBI.

I've said it before: Certainly there is room for political discourse, which is healthy for a democratic society, but allowing blind hatred of a political figure and his administration get in the way of doing the ‘right’ thing is not just counter-productive, it’s wrong. We have much more to loose here then some stupid political battle.

Straw man argument or not, I assure you that there are very well educated and competent men running things in Iraq. Please, do not doubt that for one second. As for creating an OPORD: Every OPORD has an objective, and once that objective is achieved, or a new objective is identified, then the OPORD is appended or changed. Or a new OPORD with a new objective is created. Fluid, fluid, fluid. There is no "exit strategy" or "post-occupation plan" or "post-normalization scheme." When the objective has been realized, then - and only then - does the mission change. (Oh, and BTW - a slide show is not an OPORD.) I would like you to show me the "exit strategy" for Micro-soft or Ford or Boeing or ANY major business. I'd be curious what 'exit strategy' they might have. Can you show me an example?

As for the Internet Research argument - How do you vet your sources? The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, BBC.com, AP, Reuters, CNN, Fox News, etc. - you trust these guys? It's easy to corroborate open source material - so my question to you is: do you? Do you even bother? How much of what you see and here is nothing more than circular reporting with little or no added value? How you vet your sources is probably biased by your own political leanings. So ask yourself, how opened minded are you really? How fair are you to any particular subject matter that differs from your pre-formed view of the world? How willing are you to listen, and give merit to, an opposing opinion?

All this aside, you never answered my question: "If" we had found quantities of WMD (biological warfare, enriched plutonium, etc.) in Iraq then the quagmire that we are in would be completely justified right now?

I think I can already guess your answer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007 2:14:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...

Marcus,

You "struck a chord" because your previous response was dismissive in tone, and apparently aimed at creating the impression I was ignorant and uninformed, rather than utilizing the type of courteous, fact-driven "political discourse" for which you now say there is room.

While there is less bombast in this most recent comment, overall, you have continued in the same fashion. I'm dealing in facts, not emotions, and quoting the Bush Administration itself. Re-examining the stated position of someone doesn't equate to "blind hatred," it's called “responsible citizenship” and “paying attention.” And we wouldn't have nearly as much to lose if this "stupid political battle" had been fought earlier, as some of us tried to do from the beginning, rather than allowing the country to be stampeded through fear mongering and collective ignorance into a disasterous war of choice.

Frankly, I'm not really sure why you think I should place value in your assurances. Facts will out, eventually, and the track records of people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfled and Paul Bremer tell a vastly different tale than one of competence. Their own past performance indicts the ability of both the leadership in Iraq and in Washington, not some predetermined bias, and they have earned every ounce of oversight and critical commentary they are receiving.

This is a representative democracy, not some tin pot, authoritarian dictatorship where my role as citizen is to take what the government feeds me and like it. The people who work in the military, the White House, the Justice Department, Homeland Security - you name it - they work for me and everybody else who pays their salaries; not the other way around. The founding fathers expressly set up the United States so that it was not to be run for the convenience of the government, but for the governed. As a "shareholder" I have every right and, in fact, the duty, to exercise oversight, because as history has demonstrated consistently, given public power and a lack of watchfulness, even well-meaning officials will blow it frequently.

If what you describe as the manner of planning for military options is accurate, that is perhaps the single most disturbing thing I have heard in recent memory. Unfortunately, it jibes with what we now know to be the way the Iraq invasion was carried out, so perhaps it's true. And if it is, it needs to change. Failing to plan for scenarios beyond the near future is willfully stupid based on recent history as embodied by episodes like Vietnam and Somalia, and it is criminally negligent when there are lives at stake. I think that most people would be shocked to learn that plans for getting out were not in the works; it is common sense and common decency, even if it is not common policy.

I never said the slide show was an operational order. I said it was "the plan," - which it was - and even a cursory reading of the core assumptions within it, upon which an OPORD would be built, are incredibly flawed, and not just with the benefit of hindsight. Take a look, for instance, at the number of U.S. troops they believed would be needed in Iraq today: 5,000. Look at the incredibly rosy forecast for a complete lack of sectarian strife or interal power struggles in Iraq. It is either totally naïve or utterly ignorant, and it is why I do not credit that these "leaders" knew or know what they are doing simply because they wear a uniform or sit in an office my mismanaged tax dollars fund.

As for exit strategies in major business, Here's an article about a Boeing exit strategy. Here's another on Bill Gates' plan for leaving the chairmanship at Microsoft. From personal experience, I can tell you that I have personally worked on constructing an exit strategy for a new, first-in-industry program that’s being trialed in a division of one of the nation's largest cable providers. If it doesn't work, we need to know how to extract ourselves with minimum damage, and it’s pretty standard. The concept of fluidity is in no way exclusive to warfare, and the idea that people who work in business or play sports or just deal with other human beings don’t get that, doesn’t hold any water with me.

None of these exit strateies are about shutting down the entire business - if that's where any genuine confusion lies - just as an exit strategy for Iraq is not about shutting down the American military. They are about planning fundamental changes and addressing contingencies. None of this stuff is arcane or unusual - heck, here's another article on exit strategies for entrepeneurs - but to this day, the Bush Adminsitration is resisting even elementary things like certifying the "benchmarks" that it developed itself as a supposed pathway out. That is what's commonly known as trying to make hope a method, and it doesn't work.

Your sage concern over my sources of information is, I suppose, nice if real, but off-putting in the extreme if not, and judging by the agenda clearly conveyed in your posts, I’ve landed on the latter. Still, in the interest of full disclosure, I vet stories and articles by cross-referencing as much as possible from across the poltical spectrum, actually checking source material, and throwing in some non-"open source" data as well (e.g. Stratfor.com). And yes I bother.

I am extremely open-minded and as fact-driven as I can be, and your efforts to further cast aspersions on the level to which I am informed comes across as an attempt to obfuscate the issues at hand and create the impression that you are somehow privy to a wealth of hidden and exclusive information which completely contravenes what anyone else can know or discover. I suppose there is some small set of odds under which that last might be true, but I'll take my chances.

Finally, I listen to opposing opinions all the time. In fact, I've been commenting here for a number of months now, and you can go back and look at my style of discourse and interaction, including my first post to you, in which I agreed with one of your points, while disagreeing with others. Further, I don't believe I have exhibited the sort of dismissive bias you did in your "Don't pee on my boots and tell me its raining"/”Give me a friggin’ break” comment, or in the uber-right-wing video you've linked in another one of Barry’s posts. To me, it’s really kind of funny that you're questioning my leaning, my ability to tell fact from fiction, and my capacity to synthesize accurate information, while posting stuff from Michelle “In Defense of Internment” Malkin's HotAir.com.

And I never answered your question because it is was irrelevant to the discussion at hand, and I think it remains so. I'm staying on topic in my response, and I think I've said enough.

Paul
Sensen No Sen

Saturday, March 10, 2007 2:51:00 PM  

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