August 26, 2003
IRAQ OCCUPATION THOUGHTS
A couple thoughts on events in Iraq while I was away.
*The UN compound attack, overlooking all the blogosphere silliness it has engendered, was in intent and execution extremely simple. The audience, the intended audience, was the Iraqi would-be collaborator. "No matter who you are," the message reads, "we can get you." By attacking and successfully killing the best-liked Westerner in Iraq, Sergio de Mello, the message that the Americans cannot protect their friends and fellow travellers was starkly, viciously conveyed. Salam Pax certainly saw that as the message. No matter what else you say about this, this is a significant setback for the American occupation, probably the largest since war's end. It will certainly discourage prominent Iraqis from associating themselves with American interests, and will hobble the efforts of the Iraqi governing council, which only pulled together in the end as a result of de Mello's personal involvement. To say that this only shows the Iraqi resistance is "desperate" is a non-falsifiable hypothesis (ie, the same argument would surely have been made if the attack had failed, or had hit a far lesser value target). From a more dispassionate point of view, the move was brilliant.
*For the record, I don't think American troop levels in Iraq are insufficient, and they are not as far from historical norms as some claim. I don't believe anyone seriously believes the Americans could lose control of the country in any real way, for instance. However, what the recent Balkan occupations did show, if nothing else, was that erring on the side of caution, and flooding a hostile country with peacekeepers even beyond what was really needed, does have a positive quantitative effect on friendly casualty levels. It's a reasonable hypothesis that if the Americans are still suffering 20+ combat fatalities a month with 150,000, they'd be suffering a fraction of that with a larger number. That unquantifiable "delta" in combat fatalities, those (now-dozens of) Americans and British who didn't have to die, are a direct result of trying to do more with less, and should be counted as such in the final reckoning of how the Americans chose to fight this war.
*The larger problem isn't so much with the current force levels, but the inexorable downward slope the American numbers are on, and the failure to find replacements internationally. The withdrawal of the 101st Airborne in February will be the crucible, as in the absence of the second multinational division, there is no replacement force in sight, and, short a major new National Guard callup, no American replacement, either. The Bush administration, loath to engage the Security Council or with Ankara, the only two agencies that could easily solve their problem, for the right price, seem now to be gambling that there will be a major improvement in the internal security of the Iraqi state within four to five months. If there is more to the plan at the moment than simple hope, I confess I'm not seeing it yet.
CLEAR CHOICE, ANYWAY
Hmm... either NATO can elect Canadian John Manley, the human equivalent of WonderBread, as its secretary-general, or this woman. (Tip to Patrick C.)
THE DOG THAT DIDN'T BARK
There's a lot of fuss about the RCMP's busting of a Indian-Canadian immigration scam, with 19 Punjabi immigrants currently being held without charges. The RCMP is painting this as a terrorist bust, but it's clearly not.
Not that I lose a lot of sleep over immigration scammers, but to paint the 19 held as would-be terrorists is rather ludicrous. You don't have to be as anti-WOT as Tom Walkom to see this is something of a trumped-up PR move on the RCMP's part, turning a rather routine bust into a case for more anti-terrorism funding. This is more about duelling agencies than airspace security.
Two significant facts that haven't been made obvious yet, but made me wonder the moment I saw the first article (and are good hints for evaluating these sorts of events in general)... by all accounts this scam probably gave hundreds of Punjabis Canadian student visas, only those who were organizers or were doing something "suspicious" are in custody... finding only one out of those hundreds that enrolled in a flight school once here might actually be rather surprising, in that light.
Second is the complete absence of any involvement by CSIS, the primary Canadian security service. Even if they hadn't been involved, they would have benefitted by the credit if they thought there was anything here. An RCMP-Immigration terrorism release in Canada is the loose equivalent of a Homeland Security/INS release in the US that didn't bear the stamp of the FBI: suspicious on its face. To distort the Holmesian dictum, the anti-terrorism watchdog isn't barking in the night here.
UPDATE: Longtime reader P.J.C. asks me to clarify that the Punjabis in question were from the Pakistani side of the Punjab, not the Indian side. I was using "Indian-Canadian" in its perhaps overgeneralized sense there. (Subcontinental-Canadian?) Thanks for keeping me honest, P.J.
UPDATE: More here.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex