Opposition to the war in Iraq is back in the headlines. After a Senate Committee formally opposed President Bush’s plan for Iraq — which the President is still going through with — anti-war protesters have come out onto the streets.

This is nothing new. When the Iraq conflict developed over three years ago, thousands also marched the streets. The Administration ignored to budge then. And the Administration will ignore this wave of protests too.

But this opposition is not insignificant. Large demonstrations against the war in Iraq have with time become scarce, and it now seems that the anti-war movement is starting to grow, at least in its visibility. Capitol Hill officials are ready to criticize the war, and citizens are asking an end to the conflict. Washington, DC apparently saw at least 100 000 protesters demand an end to the war in Iraq.

This is important, because the war movement is not about to end.

It’s true that the US will be out of Iraq sooner rather than later, maybe even by the end of the year. However, the war on “Islamists” is far from over. Somalia is slowly emerging as a new target, with alleged Al-Quada operatives in the country. Since 2007 hit, the US has been very active in bombing targets inside the country. These attacks were preceded by a US supported power takeover in Somalia, with the Union of Islamic Courts government ousted from office.

No matter the denials of war plans, Iran is also likely to see some form of action from the US. Not a day goes by that Iran is not mentioned in the media as a supporter of the Iraq insurgency, and a general nuisance, with its nuclear program steaming ahead. As Doug put it on Doug’s Darkworld, did Bush really need to authorize US troops to kill Iranian nationals on Iraqi soil? No. But he did, and this seems connected to a larger picture. Also, consider the post on Fundamentalist Druid which analyzes last year’s highly publicized Seymour Hersch article and finds that the author cannot be contradicted on many points.

In the end, the anti-war movement does not matter much for Iraq, but it does matter for Iran and Somalia and the future of the US military. This Administration is on a time-leash, with elections set for 2008, and the successor Administration won’t be able to ignore the movement, if it continues to show signs of its existence, as has been the case this week.

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Is Iran next?

January 12, 2007

The idea of the US attacking Iran seems far-fetched and unrealistic. Not only is the US’ military over-stretched, strategically any operation could spell disaster. Iran’s facilities are not as exposed as Iraq’s were and Iranian infrastructure would not be taken out of order as easily, with an intricate underground network existing in Iran.

However, considering President Bush’s address to US citizens on Wednesday night, reality doesn’t seem to matter much to this Administration.

There continue to be signs that the Administration is interested in facing off against Iran.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran against impeding US efforts in Iraq. Prior to her warning, US troops stormed an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq and detained five diplomats, violating international norms on treating diplomats . Were a US or British consulate raided in like fashion, an immediate response would be rightly implemented.

Could the US be provoking Iran? Northern Iraq, after all, borders with Iran.

Is the additional troops deployment into the region meant to solve Iraq or does it have another purpose? Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski asserts that the additional troops have “no strategic benefit” and “will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil.”

Could Iran really be next?

One of the US’ most (if not the most) faithful allies in the region, Israel, has already been reported to have plans to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Israel has denied those reports. However, they did not surface without a reason. Iran has been the recipient of very harsh rhetoric from both the US and Israel and while there may be no concrete plan on Iran, something is in the works.

On Wednesday night, President Bush made several allusions to Iran, accusing the state of supporting radical “Shi’a elements” in Iraq. The President also mentioned facing “extremist challenges” in the region and said that “this begins with addressing Iran and Syria.”

A raid targeting Iranian diplomats followed on Thursday. On Friday, Secretary Rice warned Iran and said the US would not “stand idly by” if Iran’s “regional aggression” continued. This all fits into a pattern of high-ranking officials speaking out against Iran, and warnings against its regional role.

The latest warning comes from US intelligence chief Negroponte who has expressed concerns over the country’s intentions, citing the country’s alleged funding of terrorist activities.

Keeping President Bush’s address in mind, Iran just might be next.

For quite some time, President Bush has been under pressure to provide a new approach to solving problems in Iraq. In fact, Bush himself acted on this pressure by assembling and commissioning the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to assess the situation in Iraq and to offer possible solutions. The ISG’s report was delivered on December 6, yet Bush’s announcement of his New Iraqi Strategy is set for today, over a month after the group’s report was made public.

Even without the ISG report, the Administration has had over three years to elaborate and devise plans of action and has obviously plotted out many different options and scenarios. The advantage of creating the ISG was its independence from the Administration, providing a fresh assessment of the reality in Iraq. Its bipartisan nature was beneficial in avoiding potential situations of deadlock. It looks like such a situation may, in fact, occur if Democrats face off against President Bush’s plan.

Unsurprisingly, the new Democratic Congress is challenging a reported call for a troop surge set to be announced today.

Did President Bush truly need to wait a month to announce his New Strategy? With the Democrats touting their new majority in Congress (and their ability to hinder the Strategy), the choice makes absolutely no sense. Why not present the New Strategy in December, with a Republican Congress, to ensure that the plan is not put into question?

As it stands now, the Strategy will be shot down by the Democrats and will polarize the President’s worldview against that of high-profile Democrats.

If the Democrats are actually able to effectively intervene in the troop surge, the President will be in a position to say, “We tried, but the Democrats did not let us do our job.”

After all, an additional 20 000 (or 30 000) troops will not change much. Insurgents in Iraq are notorious for disappearing when the US military shows up, and for reappearing at later times. This is not the year 2003 and it’s clear that the US will be leaving Iraq sooner rather than later, so any troop surge is only going to be a cosmetic band-aid solution.

Whichever way this goes, announcing the Strategy now, plays in the Administration’s political favor. By challenging the plan, Democrats can be painted as unpatriotic and as stalling progress in Iraq for their own political benefit. Furthermore, it gives the Administration the ability to eventually withdraw from Iraq and say, “We did everything we could.” With the Democratic challenge in place, the troops increase can be made to look as something extraordinary that the Administration had to fight for. Resilience wins political points.

If the surge is in any way successful then the Administration can proceed with a quick withdrawal from Iraq, without looking like they bowed to pressure from the Democrats.

It makes sense. And with support for the Bush Administration at a new low, with the approval rating of the handling of the Iraq war at 26%, it may be what the Administration needs.

As Wednesday approaches, there is more and more speculation on President Bush’s new Iraq strategy and what the Democrats can effectively do if they disagree with the Commander-in-Chief.

Senator Kennedy has been the most pro-active, saying he will introduce legislation today which will limit the President’s ability to get funding for more troops without Congressional approval. The Democrat from Massachusetts said that Iraq was in a state of civil war and that Senate would insist on accountability.

Not everyone in the Democratic party is favoring steps to stop the potentiality of a surge of troops. Notably, House majority leader Steny H. Hoyer has not backed the idea of financially blocking a troop surge.

Considering all this, the next few days will be a serious test of both President Bush’s leadership and the Democrats’ new majority in Congress.

Can Bush convince the opposition that an increase of troops can actually yield results? There already is a view that the whole Iraq campaign has been one gradual surge, with matters getting worse instead of better. When increased security is attempted, it oftentimes leads to an increase in violence. On November 23, during a week when the US sought to increase security in Baghdad, the city saw the biggest level of carnage in a day.

The Democrats have won Congressional dominance, but can they hold up as a party? The Bush Administration will be making compelling arguments for its strategy and some may feel they may be perceived as unpatriotic if they don’t go along.

The opportunities are there for both parties. The Bush Administration can show maturity and work together with the Democrats in finding a solution. The Democrats can offer a viable alternative that party members will stand by.

When the US went to war with Iraq a few years ago, it cited the possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by Saddam Hussein’s regime as a reason for the war. Since the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, there has been no proof of WMD in the country. Luckily, the US (as well as Britain, Italy and Australia) had plans for democracy in Iraq, which culminated in the so-called Purple Revolution of the January 2005 elections. Surprisingly, those elections did not result in much violence and outlooks were positive.

But 2006 saw the violence in Iraq grow to huge proportions, some saying the country was in a state of civil war. US troops have had trouble subduing the violence and more troops may be on the way, with the Bush Administration circulating the idea of a surge option. An exit from Iraq was an option a few months ago, but it now seems farfetched.

Yet the US could use its troops elsewhere. In a major failure of US foreign policy, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in early October. While the US was busy figuring out what to do in Iraq, North Korea (DPRK) quietly brought its nuclear program to a new level. While rhetoric against the DPRK continued, it never seemed that the US was pro-active about negotiating with the alienated regime. After all, the US’ financial sanctions were working and were putting North Korea into a position of no exit. So the Korean leadership went ahead and made the US listen by detonating its nuclear weapon.

More conspicuous perhaps is the case of Iran. The Iranians have been progressing with their civilian nuclear program and are openly enriching uranium, which could very well mean that they too are developing a nuclear weapon. If the US wanted to use its military as a deterrent with Iran, it cannot, because now its troops are very much stuck in Iraq.

Furthermore, Iran is increasingly becoming an active regional player that may be needed for stability in Iraq. Iran has already met with Iraqi President Talabani and has plans on co-operating with Syria to stabilize Iraq. But it also wants US forces out of the region. So any negotiations — direct or indirect — that the US has with Iran will be connected with the future of Iraq, and the US’ role in it. Not the scenario that President Bush was hoping for.

And to end the year, Iraq has executed its former president Saddam Hussein. While the conviction of Hussein is the work of an Iraqi court (and the sentencing carried out by Iraqis), it is hard to divorce the trial from US interests or US meddling. After all, why did Hussein’s dialogue with justice have to start with the Dujail trial and his crimes against humanity not include the Iran-Iraq war (where chemical weapons, likely provided by the US via Germany, were employed)? Why was Hussein in US custody until his hanging? Doesn’t that make him a Prisoner of War, as his lawyers argued on Friday? And why was Saddam Hussein treated to a dubious trial, which a leading US human rights organization has called flawed? That, of course, was the verdict of Human Rights Watch. The US President, however, seems content with the hanging citing a fair trial and as well as Iraqi rule of law.

Would the Iraqi leadership really hang its dictator during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the the Sacrifice, when the Arabs are supposed to pardon? That would be the biggest mistake for any new government, and its hard to conceive that the sentence was carried out without US encouragement if not enticement.

The hanging itself will not change how things go in Iraq. Hussein was no longer in control. If anything, the execution may make things more difficult, as Hussein still has supporters in Iraq and the insult of hanging him on the first day of Eid al-Adha may add fire to the discontent.

And US foreign policy seems stuck on Iraq, with the US incapable of facing up to North Korea and Iran. After all, it looks like the six-party talks with North Korea will require more than what US negotiator Christopher Hill is ready to offer, and will probably require the help of China. And there seems to be no clear policy for dealing with Iran, though the US was successful in passing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

More Troops in Iraq?

November 20, 2006

There is indication today that the US may increase the number of troops in Iraq on a temporary basis. While US President Bush, who is currently in Jakarta, was non-definitive on the plan of action, Pentagon officials may opt for an increase in troops. The idea is to restore security in the country, particularly Baghdad, by bringing in as many as 20 000 new troops.

In their midterm Congress bid the democrats vowed to not increase troops in Iraq. It will be interesting to see how the Democratic Party will handle this, if the Bush Administration truly decides to go ahead with a troops increase. With 144 000 troops already on the ground, the Democrats’ may be accused of being unpatriotic.

With violence in the country rampant, security has to be somehow restored and decreasing troops can potentially put American troops in danger. Without a commitment from Iran and Syria, a plan favored by British PM Tony Blair, it’s hard to imagine the right plan for the Administration to take. In fact, a troops increase could be a last attempt at a decisive victory, which the Bush Administration has been thirsting for a while.

It is clear that within the next twelve months or so the US will decrease their troops in Iraq, but the next few months can go either way.

The most interesting story to follow is the way the Democrats will be handling it.

Military Talk of Iraq Exit

November 10, 2006

After increased indication from the US executive that change is likely to come in the White House’s Iraq policy, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said that Generals in the US military are looking at necessary changes to make. The announcement by General Peter Pace, the top US general, comes ahead of the upcoming report by the Iraq Study Group.

With the UK having already talked about a period of one year for an exit, the US simply will not be able to sustain its mission at its current level. Other allies, like Slovakia, are set to leave Iraq within the next months. A change of policy is required and increased military presence is simply not an option: the US cannot afford more military deaths and the forces have been stretched much too thin. With new threats from North Korea and Iran, the US will need troops available to mobilize to the troubled regions, if the US is to continue pursuing its current foreign policy approach. That means an Iraq exit. One scenario is a redeployment of US troops to the Kurdish part of Iraq, at the border with Iran. This would make sense, because the Kurds would likely be accommodating to the US troops and this would be a clear signal for Iran (if the US desires to pressure Iran).

With the Iraq Study Group delivering their report to President Bush, next week will be key in US strategy in Iraq.