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Comparing Iraq’s ambitions to play a regional role — similar to that of Turkey — with Egypt’s relative irrelevance, Shadi Hamid at Democracy Arsenal concludes that democracies are capable of more stable foreign policies than dictatorships, especially those propped up by foreign support. Without disputing the nature of the Mubarak regime, I’m not so sure that Egypt is as irrelevant as Hamid suggests. After all, the Israel-Hamas ceasefire was negotiated via Egyptian mediation. The distinction Hamid makes regarding externally imposed dictatorships (e.g. Egypt) and indigenous ones (e.g. China) might also apply to democracies, given the nature of Baghdad’s dependence on […]

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A quick followup to my earlier post in defense of undue pessimism. According to the common wisdom, it’s churlish to deny that the Surge in Iraq was successful. And I suppose it was successful if “the Surge” is used to refer to a time period rather than a tactic. But everyone who has followed the Iraq War closely knows that there was a convergence of factors that led to the improved security situation. The increased troop presence and changed tactics associated with the Surge were a prominent one, but it’s impossible to know for sure whether they were determinant. Even […]

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Whoever’s version you believe about the wave of arrests of government officials in Baghdad, the news is troubling, if not surprising. Either we’re propping up an Iraqi government that faces even more security threats than we realized, or else one that is guilty of ruthless tactics of political suppression. My first reaction to the news that these guys were plotting a coup was that it takes a serious pair to seize power by force in a country where 130,000 American troops are deployed in defense of the currently constituted government. Either that or a nod of approval from the Green […]

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Cutting through all the chatter regarding the symbollism of the shoe in Iraqi culture and the Arab world at large, Kal over at the Moor Next Door gets my vote for insight of the day: Is there a culture in which throwing a shoe at someoneis not highly offensive? The consensus would seem to be that in mostcultures, throwing a shoe at someone at very least signals greathostility. If this incident becomes an iconic one, and I have a suspicion it will, it will be in large part because of the way it took everyone, including the Secret Service, by […]

Earlier this month, the Pentagon issued a directive (.pdf) raising “irregular warfare” (IW) to the same level of importance as conventional battles. The December 2008 directive defines IW as operations to fight terrorists and insurgents, enhance the defense capacity of foreign governments, and promote stability in conflict-prone regions. It asserts that it is now Department of Defense policy “to recognize that IW is as strategically important as traditional warfare.” Although the U.S. armed forces have long performed these tasks, most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has often done so only with great reluctance. The Pentagon developed considerable expertise […]

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Nathan Hodge, on assignment in Iraq and writing over at Danger Room, discusses the operational adjustments required by the soon-to-take-effect SOFA: The new catchphrase here is “warrant-based targeting”: U.S. forces willneed to secure warrants from Iraqi judges in order to conduct missionsto detain suspects. How this will work in practice, however, is stillsomething of an open question. This had struck me upon reading the document last month, but it’s worth pointing out that despite the emphasis placed on a light fingerprint in the COIN tactics that guided the Surge, “light” is used in comparison to war zone environments. What we […]

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I mentioned my email correspondence with Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Interpeter. Here’s a note he sent me regarding a recent post on the increasingly endangered F-22 procurement program: You raise the possibility that US stimulus spending might find its way to the arms industry and that items like the F-22 will be offered toJapan and Australia. I really wouldn’t worry too much. Arms spending may be stimulatory inthe US, because it is domestic spending. But although Japan andAustralia are not as hard hit by the global financial crisis as the US,it is biting, so both countries will want to […]

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I’ve written before about the macroeconomics of a counterinsurgency-based security posture, and specifically how COIN resembles a transfer of wealth, as compared to WWII, a.k.a. the “public works program” that ultimately got us out of the Great Depression. Andrew Exum of Abu Muqawama obliquely makes a similar point in a post titled “When Guns = Butter”: This is a genuine conundrum.Does one, in an effort to trim the budget, cancel the F/A-22 program?Or does one, in the midst of a severe recession, keep what has become afederal jobs program? In addition to trimming the budget, the justification for cutting the […]

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Defense Sec. Bob Gates gets the last word on yesterday’s asymmetric blog war, in a Foreign Affairs essay that should put to rest any doubts about whether or not he should have stayed on at the Pentagon. The entire piece is too well-constructed to dissect, so I recommend just clicking through and reading it all. But the operative word is balance, and as a reflection of how well the piece achieves that balance, all the concerns and criticisms that I cited yesterday are represented: the need to build capacity for the wars being fought balanced by the emphasis on conventional […]

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An asymmetric blogwar just broke out regarding the Army’s latest doctrinal manual on Stability Operations (see Jack Kem’s WPR feature for background). Before diving into the fray myself, here’s the sequence so far: Jason Brownlee attacks the manual as an imperialist handbook, whereby the operational doctrine facilitates and drives the strategic urge for imperialist occupations. Andrew Exum attacks Brownlee, arguing that the army would be irresponsible if it didn’t equip its junior officers and troops with the operational tools necessary to wage the wars America is actually now fighting. Any imperialist urge would come from the subsequent civilian misuse of […]