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I don’t have a whole lot to say about President Obama’s withdrawal timetable, officially announced today, other than that it strikes me as hitting the sweet spot on all fronts. I’m a bit surprised at the degree to which the Democratic Congressional leadership criticized the 35-50K residual force from August 2010 to the end of 2011. That sounds like wise and logical contingency planning, every bit as dependent on circumstances (which in this case means amenable to acceleration) as the rest of the timetable. It’s interesting to note that Obama called former president Bush before addressing the Marines at Camp […]

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It’s probably reductionist, simplistic and uninformed of me, but I’ve long considered that the biggest source of cultural misunderstanding between the West and the Islamic World was their fundamental disagreement over the role of women in society. Not that there is any monolithic, uniform opinion on either side of the debate. But for me, modernism culminates in — if it doesn’t quite boil down to — the liberation of women from biologically determined social roles. But if the Islamic World has embraced almost all other aspects of modernism — after all, what’s more modern than uranium enrichment? — the sticking […]

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Two months ago in a post on Iraq’s prospects for developing into a regional power, I parenthetically mentioned the following: Funny how we’ve heard a lot about the impact of falling crude prices on Russia, Iran and Venezuela, but not on Iraq. Two months later, we begin to hear about it (via today’s WPR Media Roundup), and with oil exports accounting for 90 percent of the Iraqi government’s revenues, the consequences have been immediate and drastic. Future reconstruction projects are being postponed, and the government will have to tap into its $35 billion oil revenue reserves not only to finance […]

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If you find yourself going, “Whuh?” everytime I or other bloggers mention COIN, or if you know what it refers to but never had the time or inclination to go through the U.S. Army field manual articulating it, the recently released U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide (.pdf) is a very informative, readable way to get up to speed. If the manual reads like a “lessons learned” from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, that’s because it is. That explains why, for instance, it stresses the difficulties involved in COIN campaigns in the aftermath of forcible regime change. It also explains why, by […]

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I went scanning the Pakistani English-language press for fallout over the American covert training presence in the FATA (just one low-key item in Dawn). Instead I stumbled across coverage of a proposed Village Defense Council program in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). That’s the province that contains both the troubled Swat valley and larger Malakand disctrict, where the Pakistani government recently agreed to a controversial ceasefire deal with militants. (See Ahmed Humayun’s Briefing.) Both the News and Daily Times report that the province’s governor plans to distribute 30,000 rifles (you read that right) to carefully screened participants, who will be […]

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I should have seen this coming. Two weeks ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a visit to Baghdad with his foreign and defense ministers. He promised to return before the end of the summer with a business delegation. Of course, business delegation these days is French for Areva, especially when Sarkozy is traveling in the Arab world. With Iraq now expressing interest, it might not be long before Baghdad and Paris sign a Memo of Understanding for a civilian nuclear reactor, Fabriqué en France. The levels of irony here are pretty deep: Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq sealed a […]

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Depending on who you listen to, the F-22 is either a boondoggle, or the key to America’s air superiority in the coming century. One thing that’s interesting to note, though, is that Israel, Japan and Australia would all love to get their hands on it, but can’t due to the U.S. export ban on the aircraft. (Okay, there’s a bit of sticker shock, too.) One of the big arguments against expanding orders for the F-22, besides the fact that we’re kind of hard up for cash these days, is that it plays no counterinsurgency role. My hunch, though, is that […]

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Turkey, whose refusal to allow American forces to invade Iraq from its territory tested our relations back in 2003, is ironically in discussions with American military planners to allow us to withdraw from Iraq using Turkish territory. (That follows on the news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Baghdad earlier this week.) That’s as it should be, of course, since we have every reason to leave Iraq more carefully, and with broader support, than we entered it. That means, too, listening to our friends a bit more than we did six years ago: The same official said Turkey advised […]

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Just saw on the news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy made a surprise stop in Baghdad, accompanied by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defense Minister Hervé Morin. (No shoes for Nicolas, apparently.) Obviously there are some contracts — especially defense contracts — to be gained, so the visit isn’t selfless. But I couldn’t help but think this is part of the French effort to get President Obama to walk back the tough love on NATO troop increases for Afghanistan. According to Le Figaro, Sarkozy is the first Western head of state not part of the invading coalition to visit Iraq. […]

The idea of a single, united “Arab World” has never moved very far beyond the realm of wishful thinking. The history of the Middle East comes filled with countless chapters on intra-Arab warfare and numerous tomes on political enmity and intrigue pitting Arab states against each other. From the earliest days of Islam, when the Sunni-Shiite divide tore the believers apart, to the late 20th century, when conflicts such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and subsequent U.S.-led counterattack divided Arab loyalties, unity has proven elusive. At times, it was possible to downplay the split. Now, however, all pretenses have […]

Iraq’s provincial elections took place without major incident, leading observers to let out a sigh of relief. Some hailed the elections for what they were — in Larry Kaplow’s words, “orderly, safe, and enthusiastic” — others for what they weren’t — a vindication of the Iraq war and the subsequent surge. Most assessments thus far have been premature. After all, it is one thing to vote, it is quite another to accept the results. The real test for Iraq’s fledgling democracy will be not Saturday’s voting, but rather how the competing parties come to interpret Saturday’s meaning. While these were […]

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I don’t have a whole lot to say about the Iraqi elections. From a cursory read of a wide range of coverage, there seems to be some reason for encouragement and some for concern. I don’t get the feeling the peaceful voting and projected victory for proponents of secular, central government is as triumphant an event as some are making out. The true test of a democracy is not so much the voting, but whether or not all the parties respect the outcome of the voting, especially when it comes to a peaceful transfer of power. On the other hand, […]

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“There is a thin line between the right and duty to formulate a policy based on subjective political values, and the conscious or unconscious temptation to abuse or ignore the intelligence process. It is one thing for a statesman to listen carefully to his intelligence advisers, then make a decision counter to their best judgment; and another for him to wield his political strength and authority in the interest of receiving only that information which conforms to his preconceived ideas and political biases. . . . It has been suggested that the unresolvable tension between policymaking and intelligence rests in […]