Sunday, January 07, 2007

Changing of the guard

Right, so there's been even more change in the US high command. Not only has Abizaid been replaced by Admiral William Fallon, and Casey by Petraeus, General Peter Schoonmaker has got the push as Army Chief of Staff, in favour of Casey. To answer some readers' questions, what the hell does it mean?

I first thought there was probably a net increase in clue across the whole reshuffle, but not enough to matter. But Casey's elevation is a shocker - it can only be explained either as a desire to reward someone who has been loyally dense, or else to kick a bungler upstairs to a desk job from where they can be quietly retired, as was done with William Westmoreland in 1969.

It's being widely suggested that Fallon, a carrier aviator, is called for to run a naval-air campaign against Iran. (His career is detailed at the PACOM site, here.) Pat Lang thinks so, as does Ignatius and Ralph Peters, and Jim Henley.

Well, Peters is insane. Check out this quote from him: "In short, the toughest side of an offensive operation against Iran would be the defensive aspects - requiring virtually every air and sea capability we could muster." You can just make out the remaining logical elements still functioning under the piles of bullshit, like one of those AT&T switches designed to run even after a nuclear strike. But those had three independent control functions, cross-checking each other's work, of which any two could decide to switch off any other if it went out of kilter.

Here, not so much. He can see the reasons why an attack on Iran would be disastrous, but although he accepts them, it doesn't break the perceptual fix. Under strain, he's become target-fixated and nothing gets through. The defensive aspects of the offensive operation, indeed!

For more Peters-related fun, Defensetech quotes him as follows: Regaining control of Baghdad - after we threw it away - will require the defiant use of force. Negotiations won't do it. Cultural awareness isn't going to turn this situation around (we need to stop pandering to our enemies and defeat them, thanks). Yes, the surge plan as cooked up over chilled thorazine at AEI requires a massive street presence in Baghdad and Petraeus in charge as the counter-insurgency expert - but that's precisely why Peters thinks he's the wrong man for the job.

Clausewitz remarked that there were four kinds of officers - the clever and hardworking, who would be excellent staff officers, the clever and lazy, who would be excellent commanders because they would think around problems and avoid loading up on detail they could leave to the first group, the stupid and lazy, who were tolerable, and the stupid and hardworking, who were a public menace. It's pretty clear which group Peters would pick from.

More seriously, there are strong arguments that putting the Navy in charge might actually signal retreat. No-one with any sense thinks the war in Iraq is going away when we go away - in fact, as I keep blogging over the last three months, it looks more and more as if other regional powers may get involved. It's urgently necessary to plan for non-disastrous exit, and that will involve keeping a deterrent capacity in the area with a minimal footprint - which really means "redeploying to ships off the coast", to borrow a Reaganism.

The following item from the New York Times, dropped but conserved by Laura Rozen, deserves close reading.
Military officers and Pentagon officials said that Admiral Fallon would represent a shift in focus for the Central Command, as he would bring expertise in maritime security operations more than land operations. As the Iraq security operation matures, the focus for Central Command is expected to shift toward countering the threat from Iran. In that capacity, the military's role focuses on maintaining regional presence through naval forces and combat aircraft and conducting maritime security operations like interdiction of vessels believed to be carrying banned weapons materials or suspected terrorists, in addition to preparing for combat contingencies.
"Maritime security operations" means stopping and checking shipping, providing escorts for merchant vessels in war zones, maintaining the freedom of the seas - that kind of stuff. I think it's fair to place the second sentence between pony tags - "as the Iraq security operation matures" sounds a lot like ponyism to me, or else a euphemism for "as we get the hell out of Iraq".

See also the Stiftung Leo Strauss on why not to care about this and why 2007 will be the Year of Hating Women for the Right. In other news, al-Maliki is asked to pony-up a matching five brigades. Guess where they come from? Kurdistan, naturally. The Kurds are currently in Baghdad in brigade strength, protecting the Iraqi government. You can be sure those won't be moved, and I don't believe the Kurds are going to move two divisions of peshmerga out of Kurdistan for anyone.

Whether any Kurdish troops are deployed depends entirely on how much the Kurdish leaders value al-Maliki (and Dawa)'s continuance in office - his value to the Kurds can be measured by the number of Shia he speaks for, and as the Americans are STILL talking about a showdown with the Sadrists, that might go minority at any moment. If the Shia split is activated, his value to the Kurds will be in the range of less than one grenadier's bones. Until then, I suspect they will make a token contribution, one battalion perhaps, which is what they found for Fallujah II. The "80 per cent solution" takes no account of political realities, which is that the 20 per cent of Kurds have no interest in it and the 60 per cent of Shia are divided three ways into to 5 per cent of Fadhila Fans in Basra, who don't want to know, 25 per cent SCIRI/Dawa and maybe 30 per cent Sadr, who are allied with the NOIA.

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