Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How Long, O Lord, How Long?

Scenes of the Iranian conference on Holocaust denial greet us with nightmarish pomp - gold text on burgundy background, legions of attentive faces in the audience. While the "scholars" hosting this terror dress it in bland enough language (a "review of the Holocaust"), the purpose is clear, given the motley composition of the invitees:
Among those representing the United States was the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, whose prepared remarks, issued by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said the gas chambers in which millions perished actually did not exist.

Robert Faurisson, an academic from France, said in his speech that the Holocaust was a myth created to justify the occupation of Palestine, meaning the creation of Israel.
Sixty-seven representatives from 30 countries, all ready to argue or outright deny that six million people were slaughtered through what amounted to technocratic ritual. Can you imagine anything more absurd?

Yes, but only just:
Frederick Toben, from Australia, said Mr. Ahmadinejad had opened an issue “which is morally and intellectually crippling the Western society.”

“People are imprisoned in Germany for denying the Holocaust,” he added. Mr. Toben said that he was jailed for six months in 1999 for his ideas and that there was a court order in Germany to arrest him if he again spoke against the Holocaust.
While Holocaust denial offends us, repression of speech repulses us absolutely. The idea that someone should be imprisoned for stating an opinion - no matter how absurd or hateful that opinion might be - should rankle in the stomach of everyone who loves freedom and reason.

These men, "scholars" in name only, do not have a leg to stand on. They deserve the harsh eye of public scrutiny to be turned on their lies and pomps with full force. But only in a free society, with a free exchange of ideas, can such scrutiny be brought to bear. Let these dissemblers suffer the rotten fruit and the harsh rejoinders of a public audience, not the relative security of a prison cell.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Iraq Report (Part Two)

Now that we know who the players are, we can follow the playbook.

Prime Minister al-Maliki has suggested the following essential steps towards national reconciliation:

  • "revising de-Baathification, which prevents many Sunni Arabs from participating in governance and society." In the U.S.'s quest to strip Saddam Hussein and his cronies of power, they also alienated the Sunni, of which the Baath Party was largely comprised. So in order to build a state which has some semblance of democratic representation, the U.S. will need to at least partly rebuild the regime they razed.

  • "sharing the country’s oil revenues" The Shia and the Kurds have no reason whatsoever to vote for this process, as they're already sitting on the biggest piles of oil. Tariq al-Hashimi, leading the Sunnis in parliament, has suggested redistributing oil revenue based on population - an odd scheme which would favor the majority Shia more than anyone.

  • "demobilizing militias" This will not happen. As we noted previously, militias run the infrastructure of Baghdad. Unless al-Sadr is booted out, the Mahdi Army will remain the elephant in the dining room that is Iraq.

  • "settling the future of Kirkuk" Kirkuk is a Kurdish city with large Arab and Turkish factions. The Kurds want Kirkuk to be part of the autonomous Kurdish region; the Arabs and Turks want no such thing. Kirkuk is, incidentally, rich in oil.

In addition to al-Maliki's milestones, the following very pressing issues can not be resolved:

  • Infrastructure. Again, basics like water and electricity are in the hands of al-Sadr, who has shown no haste in supplying them to the Sunni regions of Baghdad. Sunni insurgents respond with sabotage against pipelines or power lines (IEDs to take them down; snipers to pick off the first responders). The most skilled technicians were either excluded from the new Iraq government by de-Baathification or (wisely) fled the country.

  • Economics. The report tosses in a few hopeful notes about wheat output in Kurdistan and reduction of gasoline subsidies. But those are trivia compared to inflation (50%), unemployment (hovering at 40%) and foreign investment (less than 1% of GDP). The sorry economic condition is a symptom of the sectarian violence. No one will invest in a country plagued by civil war. Consequently there is no capital, and therefore no growth.

  • Oil. We considered making this a subset of Economics, but it deserves its own heading:
    Iraq produces around 2.2 million barrels per day, and exports about 1.5 million barrels per day. This is below both prewar production levels and the Iraqi government’s target of 2.5 million barrels per day, and far short of the vast potential of the Iraqi oil sector.


    Corruption is also debilitating. Experts estimate that 150,000 to 200,000 — and perhaps as many as 500,000 — barrels of oil per day are being stolen. Controlled prices for refined products result in shortages within Iraq, which drive consumers to the thriving black market.
    Let's be generous and call it 200,000 barrels being lost to corruption. So just strike the ".2" from the "2.2 million" barrels per day. That's ten percent of Iraq's oil production - their only export.

The Iraq Report (Part One)

Taken from the Iraq Study Group's official report (.pdf) (emphasis ours in all instances):
Attacks against U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi security forces are persistent and growing. October 2006 was the deadliest month for U.S. forces since January 2005, with 102 Americans killed. Total attacks in October 2006 averaged 180 per day, up from 70 per day in January 2006. Daily attacks against Iraqi security forces in October were more than double the level in January. Attacks against civilians in October were four times higher than in January. Some 3,000 Iraqi civilians are killed every month.

This is the equivalent of one World Trade Center razing every 30 days.
Most attacks on Americans still come from the Sunni Arab insurgency. The insurgency comprises former elements of the Saddam Hussein regime, disaffected Sunni Arab Iraqis, and common criminals. It has significant support within the Sunni Arab community. The insurgency has no single leadership but is a network of networks. It benefits from participants’ detailed knowledge of Iraq’s infrastructure, and arms and financing are supplied primarily from within Iraq. The insurgents have different goals, although nearly all oppose the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Most wish to restore Sunni Arab rule in the country. Some aim at winning local power and control.

Al Qaeda is responsible for a small portion of the violence in Iraq, but that includes some of the more spectacular acts: suicide attacks, large truck bombs, and attacks on significant religious or political targets. Al Qaeda in Iraq is now largely Iraqi-run and composed of Sunni Arabs. Foreign fighters — numbering an estimated 1,300 — play a supporting role or carry out suicide operations. Al Qaeda’s goals include instigating a wider sectarian war between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia, and driving the United States out of Iraq.
There was no tangible connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda prior to the invasion of Iraq. The power gulf that the United States created has since given them purchase.
Shiite militias engaging in sectarian violence pose a substantial threat to immediate and long-term stability. These militias are diverse. Some are affiliated with the government, some
are highly localized, and some are wholly outside the law. They are fragmenting, with an increasing breakdown in command structure. The militias target Sunni Arab civilians, and some struggle for power in clashes with one another. Some even target government ministries. They undermine the authority of the Iraqi government and security forces, as well as the ability of Sunnis to join a peaceful political process. The prevalence of militias sends a powerful message: political leaders can preserve and expand their power only if backed by armed force.

Here are some of the major militia players:
The Mahdi Army, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, may number as many as 60,000 fighters. It has directly challenged U.S. and Iraqi government forces, and it is widely believed to engage in regular violence against Sunni Arab civilians. Mahdi fighters patrol certain Shia enclaves, notably northeast Baghdad’s teeming neighborhood of 2.5 million known as “Sadr City.” As the Mahdi Army has grown in size and influence, some elements have moved beyond Sadr’s control.

The Badr Brigade is affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. The Badr Brigade has long-standing ties with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Many Badr members have become integrated into the Iraqi police, and others play policing roles in southern Iraqi cities. While wearing the uniform of the security services, Badr fighters have targeted Sunni Arab civilians. Badr fighters have also clashed with the Mahdi Army, particularly in southern Iraq.
If the U.S. could even pick sides in a Sunni vs. Shia civil war, they would still be caught in the crossfire between feuding Shia factions.

This is the status of America's armies:
Nearly every U.S. Army and Marine combat unit, and several National Guard and Reserve units, have been to Iraq at least once. Many are on their second or even third rotations; rotations are typically one year for Army units, seven months for Marine units.

This is the status of Iraq's army, into whose hands the United States is supposed to have been transitioning power since "Mission Accomplished" two and a half years ago:
Significant questions remain about the ethnic composition and loyalties of some Iraqi units — specifically, whether they will carry out missions on behalf of national goals instead of a sectarian agenda. Of Iraq’s 10 planned divisions, those that are even-numbered are made up of Iraqis who signed up to serve in a specific area, and they have been reluctant to redeploy to other areas of the country. As a result, elements of the Army have refused to carry out missions.

This is the status of Iraq's police, who are primarily responsible for stopping attacks and sectarian skirmishes on the ground:
Iraqi police cannot control crime, and they routinely engage in sectarian violence, including the unnecessary detention, torture, and targeted execution of Sunni Arab civilians. The police are organized under the Ministry of the Interior, which is confronted by corruption and militia infiltration and lacks control over police in the provinces.

This is the status of Iraq's infrastructure:
The Facilities Protection Service poses additional problems. Each Iraqi ministry has an armed unit, ostensibly to guard the ministry’s infrastructure. All together, these units total roughly 145,000 uniformed Iraqis under arms. However, these units have questionable loyalties and capabilities. In the ministries of Health, Agriculture, and Transportation controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr the Facilities Protection Service is a source of funding and jobs for the Mahdi Army. One senior U.S. official described the Facilities Protection Service as “incompetent,
dysfunctional, or subversive.” Several Iraqis simply referred to them as militias.
So the U.S.'s efforts at propping up Iraq's infrastructure are directly funding one of the most radical Shi'ite militia leaders. And Iraqi citizens themselves recognize that the FPS - whose job is to guard roads, pipelines and power supplies against sabotage - is no more than another militia, whose loyalties lie with one faction or another.

The results of Operation Together Forward II [started in August 2006] are disheartening. Violence in Baghdad — already at high levels — jumped more than 43 percent between the summer and October 2006. U.S. forces continue to suffer high casualties. Perpetrators of violence leave neighborhoods in advance of security sweeps, only to filter back later. Iraqi police have been unable or unwilling to stop such infiltration and continuing violence. The Iraqi Army has provided only two out of the six battalions that it promised in August would join American forces in Baghdad. The Iraqi government has rejected sustained security operations in Sadr City.
The Iraqi government, to put a bold face on it, ordered the U.S. to release an aide of al-Sadr's, suspected to head a death squad. al-Maliki has not just rejected sustained security operations; he wants the United States to quit screwing up his budding friendship with the Shia militia.

Security efforts will fail unless the Iraqis have both the capability to hold areas that have been cleared and the will to clear neighborhoods that are home to Shiite militias. U.S. forces can “clear” any neighborhood, but there are neither enough U.S. troops present nor enough support from Iraqi security forces to “hold” neighborhoods so cleared. The same holds true for the rest of Iraq. Because none of the operations conducted by U.S. and
Iraqi military forces are fundamentally changing the conditions encouraging the sectarian violence, U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.
What does it mean to "clear" a neighborhood? The enemies of the United States include Shia militias and Sunni insurgents. Their preferred methods of attack are sniping, improvised explosive devices and other means of guerilla warfare. How do you clear a neighborhood of everyone who might be building a bomb?

And further, why should the United States have any reasonable expectation that the Armyr or Police - whose loyalties are to clerics and militias first - will aid in keeping a contested neighborhood clear?

The Shia, the majority of Iraq’s population, have gained power for the first time in more than 1,300 years. Above all, many Shia are interested in preserving that power. However, fissures have emerged within the broad Shia coalition, known as the United Iraqi Alliance. Shia factions are struggling for power—over regions, ministries, and Iraq as a whole. The difficulties in
holding together a broad and fractious coalition have led several observers in Baghdad to comment that Shia leaders are held “hostage to extremes.” Within the coalition as a whole, there is a reluctance to reach a political accommodation with the Sunnis or to disarm Shiite militias.

(A) The United States is dealing with a sectarian conflict that was ancient when the Battle of Lexington was being fought. The idea that 140,000 troops could impose anything resembling peace is laughable.

(B) Again, even if the United States chose to side with the Shi'ites (and there is no indication that they will), the infighting within the Shia coalition would still prevent us from creating any real stability.

(C) The stakes are too high for the Shia to surrender anything of importance.

The U.S. deals primarily with the Iraqi government, but the most powerful Shia figures in Iraq do not hold national office. Of the following three vital power brokers in the Shia community, the United States is unable to talk directly with one (Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani) and does not talk to another (Moqtada al-Sadr).
Imagine trying to retake France and being unable to coordinate with deGaulle.

The report goes on to describe the three major Shia players (not naming al-Maliki as one, bizarrely enough):

  • Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whom every Shi'ite leader seeks the approval of and who is the only Shia seeking "moderated aims." Of course, the U.S. hasn't spoken to him.

  • Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). SCIRI wants to divide Iraq up into Sunni and Shia regions, with the Shi'ites taking nine provinces in the south. SCIRI and Iran are on good terms.

  • Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls the 60,000-strong Mahdi Army, as well as the ministries of Health, Agriculture and Transportation. When your militia has grown to half the size of the national police force (and is better armed and appointed), you control the infrastructure and the Prime Minister orders U.S. troops away from your power centers, you are in charge.

But enough about the Shia. On the Sunni side, we have:

  • Tariq al-Hashimi, one of Iraq's two Vice Presidents and head of the Sunni bloc in parliament. His big issue is re-Baathification - in other words, installing the people that the U.S. invaded Iraq to depose in the first place.

  • Sheik Harith al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association, the most influential Sunni faction in Iraq. He's close with both the Sunni insurgents and the Sunni bloc in the government. There's a warrant out for his arrest.
The majority of Kurds, including Massoud Barzani (leader of the KDP and President of the Kurdish regional government) and Jalal Talabani (leader of the PUK and President of Iraq), would like an independent Kurdistan, believing that they can sit back while Sunni and Shia pick each other off. The downside, of course, is that the Kurds are sitting on most of Iraq's precious oil. It would only be a matter of time before one faction or the other amassed enough power to go after them.

# # #

The stage is now set, the players all assembled. More to continue in later posts.

Monday, December 04, 2006

One Day More To Revolution

Coyote and Cafe Hayek are tag-teaming Lou Dobbs and the rest of the modern protectionists (remember when conservatives used to be in favor of the free market?). We have little to add to their insight, except paraphrasing some much-needed Bastiat.

Let's say we are from Paris. We have some fine Burgundy that it cost us 800 francs to grow, harvest, press and bottle. We ship it to London (price of shipping included in that 800 francs).

We sell it in London for 600 pounds sterling. Since we have no use for pounds back in Paris, we buy a consignment of wool stockings for those 600 pounds. We ship this back to France and sell it for 1000 francs.

France is now richer, in that the nation has gotten rid of some surplus wine and received some much needed stockings. Britain is now richer, in that the nation has unloaded some excess stockings and taken in some delicious wine. And, sweetest plum of all, we are richer for the deal.

We have also increased France's "trade deficit" with Britain by 200 francs. We imported more than we exported. Allow us a moment's peace until the horror abates.

It takes a mind of the singular genius of Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanan to argue that a transaction which benefits everybody requires immediate government action and a precipitous halt.

Dobbs and his ilk would argue that since the excess is in the form of U.S. government securities, not actual product, that that is where the real threat lies. This changes the above argument - and the truth of the matter - not one iota.

A buyer in England, having francs that he cannot spend in London, invests them in Frankish treasury bonds. What can he do with these bonds? He can hold them until they mature for a tiny yield. He can find an eager buyer to sell them to for a larger profit. And that's it. Regardless of whether the Englishman sells his French bonds for a small profit or a large one, the government of France has already received whatever francs he paid for them. Regardless of whether the Englishman makes a mint on the deal or barely covers his cost, the government of France still owes the final holder of those bonds whatever it promised to pay. The fact that the bonds are held by an Englishman as opposed to a Frenchman should matter not one whit to the government of France, unless they have a particular antipathy towards Britain.

Substitute "China" for England and "the U.S." for France.

If someone could please tell us why any of the above is a bad thing, we'd thrill to hear it.