June 04, 2004

Prophylactic tactics

Interesting proposal from Brookings on how to win over the Iraqi public:
The objective of insurgent tactics is to show that coalition forces cannot protect the civil population while simultaneously provoking responses that will drive up civilian "collateral damage." Our forces cannot entirely escape this dilemma, but they can demonstrate greater sensitivity for Iraqi civilian casualties, first by beginning to keep track of how many innocents are indeed being killed and wounded by insurgent or coalition actions, and then by adjusting tactics and rules of engagement to reduce the figure. American spokesmen in Iraq might talk less about offensive operations to win the war on terrorism and more about protective measures to improve security for the Iraqi public. Emergency and long-term medical attention for civilian victims can be improved and highlighted. Coalition commanders can defer to Iraqi authorities when considering operations likely to produce high collateral damage, and explore the possibilities for local accommodation with tribal, communal and religious elements.
These are subtle shifts and nothing like a grand sweeping strategy, but increments do add up, and the change in focus probably would alleviate some tensions. Alas, this is yet another Iraq proposal that would have worked marvelously had it been implemented, oh say, last year.
-- Brad Plumer 1:40 AM || ||

All Gas

Is it too much to ask for the president to pretend he's interested in a sensible energy policy?
QUESTION: But what more can you do, as prices rise?

Bush: I can continue calling upon Congress to pass the energy bill and to make sure the American consumers are being treated fairly. But what you're seeing at the gas pumps is something I've been warning for two years, and that is that we're hooked on foreign sources of energy and that if we don't become less dependent on foreign sources of energy we will find higher prices at our gas pumps. It's precisely what happened. Had we drilled in ANWR back in the mid-'90s, we'd be producing an additional million barrels a day, which would be taking enormous pressure off the American consumer.
How many ways can we say 'ugh'? Even leaving the farcical 'energy bill' aside, this is drivel. From subsidizing SUV purchases to pretending that ANWR will solve our problems, Bush has never been remotely serious about promoting energy independence.

The tragedy here is that the government could very easily help kickstart alternative energy industries, as Japan and Europe are already doing:
Both Germany and Japan began aggressively pushing research in solar, wind and other alternatives. Just as important, both countries have moved to build new markets for alternative technologies — for instance, by subsidizing homeowner purchases of solar panels or helping farmers who want to install wind turbines. By creating more demand, these programs have increased the number of solar cells or wind turbines being manufactured, which is driving down the unit costs — ideally, to the point where alternatives can compete directly with conventional energy.

The results are encouraging. Joachim Luther, director of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, a leading solar research center in the world, is upbeat. He says that if current trends in research continue, by as early as 2008 solar energy could be competing, without government subsidies, against coal or gas in sunny regions, such as the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the American Southwest…

So where is the U.S. in all this? On the sidelines. Not only have Germany and Japan far outstripped the United States in solar power (last year alone, Japan installed nearly five times as much new solar capacity as America did), but the leading manufacturers of solar technology are companies such as Sharp, Kyocera and Sanyo… But what's missing is a political commitment from Washington to give alternatives the same priority as oil, gas and coal.
For those into cause and effect, it sure seems like a very interesting coincidence that Europe has managed to shrug off the latest oil price spikes, doesn't it?
-- Brad Plumer 12:57 AM || ||

June 03, 2004

Iraqi New Deal, part 2.

How prescient. Right after endorsing Hassan Fattah's plan for an Iraqi New Deal, I find out that the US army is planning to try just that, scaling back military operations and focusing on building up infrastructure. Question: if CENTCOM's hyping the idea, can we really be sure it's wise?

Well, maybe. I'd prefer not to be as pessimistic as Spencer Ackerman, who, in addition to being grossly more informed than I, writes that 'restricting our security activities around the country cuts the legs right out from under that "base of support."' But honestly, what other choice do we have? Does Ackerman really have the stomach for endless shootouts in Kufa and Najaf? In the past few months, no tactic has proven less effective than large-scale violence. Maybe it's time to cut deals, make unsavory handshakes, and start focusing on the poverty and unemployment problems, in whatever chaotic manner is possible.

If The Washington Post's reporters can be believed, the latter strategy might have more legs than Ackerman thinks. Ali Abdul Kareem Madani, a senior Shiite Muslim cleric, chimes in with more 'poverty as a root cause' talk:
U.S. authorities in Baghdad have mainly blamed the violent insurgency for delays in rebuilding. Civilian contractors have retreated from the field, and often from the country, they note, and civilian U.S. officials have been hobbled by stringent security restrictions.

But for Madani, the converse is true: The delays in rebuilding have been a big reason for the violence. Thousands of young men, having been told their country would be swiftly rebuilt, have not found jobs, he said. And Baqubah's merchants, having heard of millions of dollars in reconstruction contracts, still have not seen the money flow or the return of municipal services.
And meanwhile, the Post's Daniel Williams notes that Moqtada Sadr is drawing much of his support from—surprise!—the poor and unemployed:
Sadr City is far from unanimous in its support of Sadr. It is a jumbled neighborhood that has decayed and grown ever more cramped with the influx of Iraqis looking for work in the capital. On the south end of the enclave, where better-off Shiites live, there are posters extolling Sadr's virtues. But deeper into the slum, the posters of Sadr, his fingers thrust aggressively into the air, grow in number. At the northern fringes, hardly a wall does not bear his portrait.

Nassiri, the sociologist, said Sadr's main support lies among rural migrants who came to Baghdad and other cities over the past several decades to better their lives -- only to find cramped housing, overflowing sewers, an inadequate water supply and no jobs. The elder Sadr cultivated Iraq's rural Shiite poor. By contrast, the core followers of Sistani and other mainstream leaders include the Shiite merchant class, which is uncomfortable with Sadr's populist message.
It's certainly a catch-22 at this point. Allowing the militias to roam wild will alienate the middle class technocrats who are being shot and abducted daily. But large-scale violence will detract from the reconstruction efforts and allow Sadr to whisk away more impressionable youths. We've tried brute force; why not give the New Deal a chance?
-- Brad Plumer 8:36 PM || ||

Spy Games

Not much to say about Chalabi's intelligence leak to the Iranians, except to rag on this Michael Ledeen column. According to Ledeen's spy-friend J.J. Angleton, Chalabi couldn't have possibly told the Iranians that we had broken their communication codes:

Impossible! If the Iranians knew that we were reading their mail, they would never let us know that they knew. They would continue to use the codes, but instead of sending accurate messages they would use those channels for disinformation against us.
How clever! The only problem: Disinformation campaigns of this sort are difficult to pull off and hence, extremely rare. Two Cold War examples come to mind. After the Russians discovered our infamous spy tunnel in Berlin, they continued to carry on normal communications for several months. Likewise, when the US discovered that the Moscow Embassy had been bugged in the 1980s, Secretary of State George Shultz decided simply to conduct business as usual rather than carry out a disinformation campaign.

So, maybe Angleton knows what sort of sneaky tricks he would have pulled; but it seems perfectly reasonable and precedented for the Iranians simply to call game over and switch codes.

(Of course, The New York Times makes this all a moot point: Chalabi did indeed pass along intelligence to the Iranians. Our hero!)
-- Brad Plumer 8:35 PM || ||