July 27, 2006
The Galbraith plan? Where have I read that before?
From the NY Times:
From Kurdistan, the American military could readily move back into any Sunni Arab area where Al Qaeda or its allies established a presence. The Kurdish peshmerga, Iraq’s only reliable indigenous military force, would gladly assist their American allies with intelligence and in combat. And by shifting troops to what is still nominally Iraqi territory, the Bush administration would be able to claim it had not "cut and run" and would also avoid the political complications — in United States and in Iraq — that would arise if it were to withdraw totally and then have to send American troops back into Iraq.
"As that recent New Yorker piece everyone’s talking about amply demonstrates, Iraqi Kurdistan is the closest thing to a pro-American Muslim state that exists in the region. Yet Wilsonian determinism dictates it must forever be under the thumb of whoever rules in Baghdad. This is clearly unacceptable. The biggest destabilizing act the U.S. could create right now (and easily defendable at home and abroad) is not this silly pretext of UN inspectors vis-a-vis Iraq, but the recognition of Kurdistan as its own country, backed by American occupying force."
"Imagine a different set of circumstances. Imagine, for instance, if the United States had started boldly, instead of weaselling into a confrontation. If they had said that, as the guardian of democracy for the world, they could not, would not, allow the No-Fly Zone-Republic of Kurdistan to revert to Iraqi sovereignty, ever. If assistance, peaceful and otherwise, had poured into that new nation, to build it up, democratize it (they are already soooo close) and defend it against the inevitable Muslim backlash... this time against their fellow Muslims."
"The most likely development at this point involves the current constitution drafting proving unacceptable to the north, and under the Bremer provisions the Kurds voting to secede, as they already did overwhelmingly during the last Iraqi "elections." The best American course, now that they're in it, would be to hem and haw as this inevitably happens, and then sit down to negotiate the "interim" border and other arrangements in tripartite talks. The alternative at that point would be to promote some kind of strongmanism, and use American forces to repress one side, or the other, or both. That decision point has not come for them yet, and likely won't until early 2006."
Glad to see people are finally seeing the wisdom of it. On the other hand, it's evidently not too late to screw this up, too.
About those Australians
The Globe and Mail-run AP story this morning was entirely wrong, as it turns out. The 12 Australian personnel attached to UNTSO are staying put.
What Australia actually announced is that *another* dozen unarmed Australian soldiers sent into South Lebanon to help evacuate their nationals last week have now been pulled back to Beirut... partly because they've no one left to evacuate.
Here's a story I haven't seen in the Canadian Press yet
A week ago, the U.S. announced the expedited sale of 24 Blackhawk helicopters and 724 LAV armoured vehicles, along with a couple tonnes of other military equipment, to Saudi Arabia. The total deal is worth over $6 billion US.
The LAVs, of course, are built at General Dynamics's Canadian plant in London, Ont. I'm not sure yet that this is the largest single sale of Canadian-made arms in history by any measure, but I suspect it's going to be close. (Of course, GDC has provided thousands of LAV-variants to the U.S., Canadian, and other armies, so this is neither surprising nor, probably, a huge deal for them at this stage.)
Still, isn't it interesting that a sale of Canadian-built weapons to the Middle East right now is subject to U.S. Congressional ratification but has not been debated and cannot be obstructed in any way by the Canadian government, which presumably might still have an MP or two with an opinion on the matter? That's globalization for you, I guess.
UPDATE: It has been suggested in other places that the sale to Saudi Arabia was part of the American purchase price for recent anti-Hezbollah statements by the Saudi government. (We also know the Saudi national guard that they are going to is the regime's primary instrument for internal repression: those LAVs are much more likely to be used against rebellious Saudis than another country such as Israel.) If it appears that our government has no problem with Canadian-made weapons being sold in huge quantities to the Saudi regime to help them suppress their own populace, as well as to pay off the Saudi rulers for their acquiescence in Israel's actions, I suspect there may be certain people in the Middle East who will draw the obvious conclusions a lot faster than our own press or politicians have thus far.
The world before blogging
This is really a beautiful example of pre-blogging era discourse (1986). May I always be as calm, focussed, and possessed of the facts as Frank Zappa was able to be for those 25 minutes. (The other fellow is a hobgoblin, who will hopefully only ever be remembered for clearly losing to Zappa in an open debate.)
A brief primer on UN military personnel in Lebanon
Just to avoid confusion, it should be noted there are actually three UN missions ongoing in the area of the current fighting.
UNDOF (the UN Disengagement Observer Force) numbers 1,033 troops. It supervises the disengagement line between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. This was the force that Canada withdrew its support from last year, due to troop shortages. It has in large measure been successful, in that Israel and Syria have not fought over the occupied Golan since its creation in 1974. Its primary forces at the moment are an Austrian/Slovakian infantry battalion and a Polish infantry battalion, with logistical support provided by India and Japan.
UNIFIL (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon) numbers 1,990 troops. It was created in 1978 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the area and assist the Lebanese government in restoring control over South Lebanon. It currently occupies more or less the same 10km deep zone up to the Litani River that is Hezbollah's primary territory, and the object of Israel's current attention. It consists primarily of an infantry battalion each from Ghana and India, and an engineering battalion from China, with a Polish logistical battalion in support. A good map is here. Unless renewed, the current UNIFIL mandate is due to expire on July 31.
UNIFIL was created in 1978, back when Israel first seized the South Lebanon buffer zone (it would go on in 1982 to strike into Lebanon as far as Beirut). Until recently, it was seen as fairly successful in its own mission of dampening (if not preventing) Hezbollah-Israeli hostilities along the border.
UNTSO (the UN Truce Supervision Organization) deploys roughly 150 personnel as unarmed military observers to the area. These are not regular soldiers (almost all are officer-ranked), but specialists with expertise in detecting and understanding military movements, detecting and reporting back truce-line and ceasefire violations, and the like. Currently about 50 each are in the UNDOF and UNIFIL areas of operation, with the rest either with the UNTSO observer group in the Sinai or working in their headquarters in Beirut or Damascus. UNTSO has been in the Israeli area more or less constantly since the creation of the country in 1948. Technically, they're UN "military observers," not "peacekeepers," although they do work in conjunction with any UN peacekeeping forces in their local areas.
Military observer service is different from standard peacekeeping service in many ways: in the Canadian military it's normally a one-year deployment, instead of six months, for instance. There's no question that, as the UN military organization's "eyes on the ground," that UNTSO had the responsibility to stay in the area of the current fighting as best they could, and report back.
(It's questionable, however, whether UNIFIL forces are now doing much good other than guarding their own facilities and equipment in case a future UN-authorized force might need them -- not a useless military function, mind you... any future UN or NATO force put into that area will want to occupy the same hilltops and other positions, and a hasty evacuation under fire now would only surrender a lot of equipment and facilities to Hezbollah or looters.)
The Canadian military observer missing and presumed dead this week, Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, was killed along with three other UNTSO officers. His last email home is an interesting read.
Israel has been accused in the past of targetting UNIFIL/UNTSO activities in this area. In 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, Israel shelled a UN Fijian battalion position at Qana, injuring 4 UN soldiers and killing over 100 Lebanese who had taken shelter with them. Repeated investigations --by the UN, Amnesty, and HRW -- all failed to fully absolve the Israeli army of having intentionally shelled Qana, although there was no doubt that Hezbollah forces were also in close proximity to the base at the time. A lawsuit by victim's families is pending in a U.S. court.
UPDATE: Today's press release from UNIFIL indicates the troops still in position are doing what they can to help civilians and evacuees, exactly what one expects of UN soldiers.
SECOND UPDATE: I'm a little ticked at the uninformed commentary by the usual suspects on this one. UNTSO has had UNMOs (UN military observers) on the Israeli borders since 1948, through four hot wars and all kinds of border incidents. It'd have been negligent for them to leave now when the UN desperately needs independent confirmation of what's going on. Whether *UNIFIL* should pull out now is an open question, but even if they had, UNTSO would have undoubtedly stayed on, getting as close to the action as was safe. Their "base" is one bunker, with only the four guys in it, marked with UN flags and logos, and any support from UNIFIL some distance away: it would have been strong enough to resist anything but a direct hit, which unfortunately is what they got. If Hezbollah or the IDF had parked on that particular hill, they had no authority to boot them off, just to smile and wave, then count the tanks, rockets, etc. and provide detailed intelligence to the UN military organization. With UNMOs, near-tragic accidents like this happen all the time... this one was probably just bad luck and/or a Kandahar-bombing style pilot "error." It's dangerous work, and those who take it on know they are assuming a higher measure of risk in doing so.
The other comment worth making re the wisdom of UNIFIL's (not UNTSO's) continued presence is that if they *had* evacuated their fully loaded field hospital and 2,000 soldiers in APCs right now, when the local Lebanese most desperately need them to get to safety, the same usual suspects would be laughing at the UN for cutting and running, no? Even if the mission is lost, it's still a soldier's responsibility to minimize the scope of that defeat, and that seems to be what they're doing, to their eternal credit.
Another update here.
"endearingly macho" -- Mark Steyn
"wonderfully detailed analysis" -- John Allemang, Globe and Mail
"unusually candid" -- Tom Ricks, Foreignpolicy.com
Bill & Bob
Ghosts of Alex