January 20, 2008

Lazy Sunday Reading

Check out the pro-Surge and anti-Surge op-eds in the Washington Post today written by Keane, (Frederick) Kagan and O'Hanlon and Andrew Bacevich, respectively. Aside from taking a few potshots at the AEI crowd, Bacevich asks the important question that must accompany any admission of the very real tactical successes enjoyed in the past year.

As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstand ing, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that "Iraq is sovereign," that sovereignty remains a fiction.

Bacevich is a little too strident for Abu Muqawama's preferences, but the points he's making and the questions he's asking behind the vitriol are good ones: transient military successes do not equal lasting political success. Can we somehow translate the tactical successes of the past year into some kind of reconciliation? If not, what use has the surge been?

Moving on, for all you Machiavelli fans out there, enjoy this brief review from the Telegraph.

The disgraced diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli could never have dreamt that the short treatise on statecraft he wrote in 1513 would have such a long, notorious afterlife.

Having fallen from favour when the Medici returned to power in Florence the previous year, he wished to curry favour with the new ruler, Lorenzo de' Medici. He was singularly unsuccessful. It is hard to see how it could have been otherwise: few rulers could have tolerated an adviser so clear-eyed.

And finally, the pick of the day might be this op-ed in the New York Times on Iranian small boat tactics:

It was April 4, 2003, and in support of the British assault on the city of Basra in southern Iraq, four Navy patrol boats, under a Navy command in which I served, were dispatched up the Shatt al Arab, the waterway marking the Iran-Iraq border. The senior officer present — a Navy captain — was an experienced Seal who was fluent in Persian, having lived in Tehran as a teenager. We took great pains to avoid a confrontation, staying well within Iraqi territorial waters and even erecting a makeshift Iranian flag on one of the boats, which our captain felt would display our peaceful intentions.

The Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responded by sending four small boats toward us at high speed, the largest being a fast Swedish-built Boghammer, which resembles a cigarette boat, outfitted with a twin-barrel machine gun on its bow. With rooster-tails of white water, the boats came barreling over to the Iraqi side of the Shatt al Arab, surrounded us, and took the tarp off of at least one multiple-rocket launcher and pointed it directly at our lead boat.

Our captain tried to defuse the situation by telling the Iranians over the normal commercial radio channel that we were simply exercising our right to navigate Iraqi waters, had no intention of entering Iranian territory and did not seek a confrontation. The Iranians responded by a string of obscenities in heavily accented, broken English. After several tense minutes, we were ordered by our superiors to withdraw; the Iranian boats followed us a considerable distance before breaking off and heading back to their side of the waterway.