Sunday, December 17, 2006

Will a temporary surge in U.S. troops turn the tide in Iraq?

It now seems that the most popular change in strategy for coping with the "rising violence" in Iraq is a temporary "surge" in U.S. troops in Iraq on the order of 20,000. An article in The New York Times by David Sanger and Michael Gordon entitled "Options Weighed for Surge in G.I.'s to Stabilize Iraq" reports that the White House is seriously considering such "surge" options. The big question remains whether any such option is likely to be successful as more than simply a temporary fix unlikely to add enough momentum to the work that the Iraqis themselves need to perform. My answer: No.

The elephant standing in the middle of the room that U.S. "policy-makers" are unwilling to acknowledge is that it is the mere presence of U.S. troops in Iraq in any number is the underlying cause of unrest and the primary impediment to the Iraqis coming together as an integrated nation. The solution is to take 100% of U.S. forces out of the equation and then the Iraqis can focus on their own, indiginous issues rather than having one of the twin bogeymen of the Middle East in their faces every single day. If Iraq is a "central front" for terrorism in the Middle East, it is the presence of the United States which is creating the conditions for that front and drawing in potential terrorists and turning them from being mere malcontents to actual terrorists.

The high-profile presence of U.S. forces in any number other than zero is an extreme distraction that prevents the parties in Iraq from focusing on the political issues. It is the lack of progress on the political issues that leads to violent action. Violence is frequently a political tool, used when non-violent political processes are precluded, as for example with the extreme meddling of the United States.

There is actually an advantage to all the chattering about a troop "surge", since it re-focuses the Iraqis on the need for them to get their act together and come up with a dis-engagement plan for the departure of U.S. forces that they can present to the U.S. as a non-negotiable "requirement" (demand.) The alarm caused in Iraq over a potential U.S. "surge" could help move up the pace of a departure plan by a month or more.

I do not know why so many people in Washington are being so stupid and unable to grasp that Iraq is a political problem, not a military problem. Actually, I do know the answer and it is that a very strong pro-military establishment has infected U.S. politics, in particular, the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby. To them, merely "diplomacy" is considered a joke and smacks of "appeasement." Asking these folks in the U.S. to engage in diplomacy is an exercise in futility. Talk to Iran and Syria? No, they would prefer to bomb them.

Maybe the best that the White House and Pentagon can do right now is to give us a lot of big talk about a possible "surge" while quietly withdrawing troops behind the scenes. By not publicly admitting to the withdrawal of those troops the White House and Pentagon can have its cake and eat it too. If U.S. troops are gradually moved out of the populated and contentious areas of Iraq to remote bases in Iraq, the U.S. won't even have to publicly admit to reducing the number of troops "in" Iraq at all.

So, let's tolerate all the big talk of a surge, while the Iraqis will pick up the hint and soon enough tell us to take a hike and be good American tourists and go home after spending our money.

-- Jack Krupansky

Thursday, December 14, 2006

More progress in Iraq: Iraq proposes to take primary responsibility for the security of Baghdad early next year

An article in The New York Times by Michael Gordon and Sabrina Tavernise entitled "Iraq Army Plans for a Wider Role" reports that the Iraqis have presented the U.S. with a plan for Iraqi troops to take over exclusive responsibility for maintaining security in Baghdad early next year. This is a big step forward and illustrates how anxious the Iraqis are to get American forces and bureaucrats out of the picture ASAP. It shows that the Iraqis are starting to "get the picture" about standing on their own rather than sitting around and waiting for the U.S. to "do something."

I am actually in favor of the Bush administration's decision to resist a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. This "go slow" approach on the part of the U.S. only adds a strong incentive for the Iraqis to get their act together and push back against the U.S.

I remain confident that Iraq will quickly get to the point where they will be dictating a timeline for the early withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq.

We may still have significant forces in Iraq in 2008, but the numbers will be at least moderately smaller and it will no longer "feel" like we are "stuck" in a hopeless situation.

-- Jack Krupansky

Monday, December 11, 2006

Predictions for 2007

I usually don't waste my time doing detailed "predictions" for events that will happen in the coming year, but now that I see other people doing their predictions, I've decided to revisit the reasons why predictions should be considered as well as my old reasons for refraining from them. I haven't decided to do ahead and make predictions, but I am giving the concept serious consideration.

One angle on predictions is to simply identify your niche areas of expertise and simple express that expertise.

Another angle is to pick niche areas where you wish you had expertise and make some wild guesses, and then use the results to gauge your intuitive grasp of those niches.

Actually, I just remembered that I did in fact make some predictions about the stock market and economy back on January 3, 2006. I had intended to update those predictions at mid-year, but didn't since I became a full-time employee (not one of my predictions). I haven't checked any of those predictions, but it's a couple of weeks early anyway. I suppose at a minimum that I will update those 2006 predictions for 2007.

One other thing... it may actually be more fun and enlightening to simply list out questions that you wish you could answer for the coming year. If you have suggested answers, fine, but simply asking good questions can be enlightening if not entertaining in itself.

A few:

  1. Will GM or Ford declare bankruptcy?
  2. Will Microsoft finally gain significant search market share?
  3. Will Sun be acquired?
  4. Will the Web 2.0 bubble burst?
  5. Will venture capital investment surge?
  6. Will Robert Scoble jump to another company?
  7. Will there be at least a 25% drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq?
  8. Will Iran continue to "slip the noose" that the Neoconservatives keep trying to skip over its neck?
  9. Which tech startup will zoom up to be "the new Google"?
  10. Will Apple finally begin to lose digital media player market share?
  11. Will Zune be more than an "also ran" distant number two or three?
  12. Will "global warming" become a bigger problem, or recede for at least the year?
  13. Will the dollar fall below $1.45 to the euro?
  14. Will the Fed cut interest rates, raise them, or keep them the same?
  15. Will crude oil finally hit $100 per barrel?
  16. Will speculators finally abandon commodities?
  17. Will inflation fall back below 2%, rise above 3%, or remain in the 2% to 3% range?
  18. Will GDP hit 3% in any quarter?
  19. Will there be a recession?
  20. Will there be a "mega" terrorist attack (more than 500 deaths in one attack)?
  21. Will Saddam Hussein be executed in 2007?
  22. Will the Democrats actually accomplish anything in 2007?
  23. Will blogging be an even bigger hit or sprial into a decline?
  24. What will the next big Web 2.0 technology look like?

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Waiting for the Democrats to drop their first shoe on Iraq

Despite all of the chatter about the various "reports" on Iraq, the real question is when the Democrats will make their first move and what that move might be. I suspect that the move they would like to make is to pass a joint resolution of congress endorsing the Iraq Study Group report recommendations in their entirely and "recommending" that the Bush administration proceed to implement all of those recommendations in their entirely.

Clearly the administration has professed a desire to cherry pick the recommendations and otherwise water down the report, but there is essentially no reason for the Democrats to turn away from the Iraq Study Group report as issued and bend in any way to waffling by the administration.

The other ongoing "studies" of Iraq should be completed within a few weeks, so that the Democrats could well be in a position to either pursue such a resolution or to at least begin holding hearings on the topic by the end of January. Worst case, we should see some "action" from the Democrats before the end of February.

Even on such an aggressive plan, it is also more likely, in my view, that the Iraqis will be far ahead of the U.S. by then and will have issued their own proclamation of intentions no later than mid-February.

In fact, although the Democrats may fully intend to endorse the Iraq Study group recommendations, rapid progress by the Iraqis may force the Democrats to pass a resolution that simply "urges" the Bush administration to "negotiate" a "treaty" with the Iraqis.

I believe that a treaty of some form is needed between the U.S. and Iraq, but nobody is yet talking about such a treaty. I think that if both sides could simply agree on a set of principles to govern the relationships between the two countries, all of the details could be resolved in a much more straightforward process. If we could simply get the discussion framed as an agreement between two sovereigns, progress would be much more rapid.

For now, the best thing the Democrats can do is simply to keep Washington tied up in knots so the Iraqis can feel that they have enough "running room" to get their own act together.

-- Jack Krupansky

More progress in Iraq: Iraqi president Talabani pushes back on Iraq Study Group report

An Associated Press article entitled "Iraqi president calls panel's report 'dangerous' - Talabani says Study Group's plan could undermine Iraq's sovereignty" illustrates the growing willingness of the Iraqis to establish some distance between themselves and American attempts to continue to meddle in Iraqi affairs. The article quotes Iraqi president Jalal Talabani as saying that recommendations in the Iraq Study Group report were "an insult to the people of Iraq" and that the report "is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution."

The article quotes Talabani as saying "If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on. ... We are a sovereign country."

It is now only a matter of time before Iraq truly asserts its sovereignty and begins dictating terms to the U.S. That would be a very good thing.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 09, 2006

One less Neoconservative: Jeane Kirkpatrick

Even as the debacle in Iraq thoroughly dulls the reputation and aspirations of the Neoconservatives, their ranks are also dwindling. John Bolton is getting booted from his job as U.S. ambassador to the UN. On Friday it was announced that Jeane Kirkpatrick, former U.S. ambassador to the UN under President Reagan, had died. In recent years she was a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, D.C.

I actually met her once at AEI not too many years ago. Like other public policy "think tanks" in Washington, AEI regularly holds seminars that are open to the public (including people such as myself). Former and even current public officials and academic and industry experts as well as the AEI staff fellows give presentations and commentary on topics of interest to AEI and its financial backers. I recall her moderating and giving introductory comments to two seminars in early 2003 during the run-up to our "liberation" of Iraq.

I was standing in the small cafeteria line for an AEI luncheon seminar (free lunch!) and turned around and she was behind me. She smiled and introduced herself. She was quite congenial, articulate, and knowledgeable.

That's the thing. A lot of these people seem quite pleasant and reasonable in person, but then when they shift into high hear with truly outrageous rhetoric in public, all bets are off.

I never understood the intensity with which she supported Israel at all costs.

For more on her, see the article in The New York Times by Tim Weiner entitled "Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s Forceful Envoy, Dies."

I harbor no ill will towards her or her memory as a person, but it is a great relief to see the ranks and the influence of the Neoconservatives continue to decline.

-- Jack Krupansky

Confusion in DC gives the Iraqis room to get their act together

The strategists in Washington, D.C. have been virtually paralyzed as they awaited the much-anticipated Iraq Study Group report. Now that we have the report, it may take another month before the dust settles and people make up their minds what to do about Iraq, not to mention that the Democrats may become quite active and disruptive when they take charge of Congress in January. This level of confusion and chaos may sound like a strong negative for Iraq, but it is actually a strong positive since it gives the Iraqis room and time to get their act together which Washington squabbles. The fate of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis, where it belongs. Anything that causes gridlock in Washington over Iraq is a very good thing since it gives the Iraqis a quieter backdrop to do their own thing.

I still strongly suspect that by the end of January we will find the Iraqis becoming more and more adamant that they will make the decisions about how soon and under what conditions U.S. forces will depart from Iraq.

Note: I've spent a fair amount of time poking around Washington on my own, and one of the things that I learned is that the "locals" know that the "C" in D.C. stands not for Columbia, but Confusion: the District of Confusion. That was back in 1990 (the week after Iraq invaded Kuwait), but little has really changed since.

-- Jack Krupansky

More progress in Iraq: Oil revenue distribution by population

I read in an article in The New York Times by Edward Wong entitled "Iraqis Near Deal on Distribution of Oil Revenues", that the Iraqis are actually getting close to agreeing on a law for how to share revenue from oil production. This has been a really big stumbling block on how to reconcile the geographic, ethnic, and political divisions within Iraq. This is really good news. Of course, the effort could still fall apart, but it does illustrate the degree to which the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunnis actually really do want to go forward as one integrated country.

Wong writes that:

Iraqi officials are near agreement on a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population, Iraqi and American officials say.

If enacted, the measure, drafted by a committee of politicians and ministers, could help resolve a highly divisive issue that has consistently blocked efforts to reconcile the country’s feuding ethnic and sectarian factions. Sunni Arabs, who lead the insurgency, have opposed the idea of regional autonomy for fear that they would be deprived of a fair share of the country’s oil wealth, which is concentrated in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.

Despite the ongoing "sectarian violence", anxiety amongst the American people, confusion in Washington, D.C. over strategy, and the primary focus of the media on negativity, the Iraqi people really are making excellent progress towards being a successful nation. It may take another five years and a lot more blood may be shed, but there is too much positive passion within Iraq for the venture to truly fail.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Elections are a loan of power

I disagree with Howard Dean on a lot of things, but I have to agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment he expressed which was quoted in an article in The New York Times by Jeff Zeleny entitled "Democrats Face a Tough Job, Leader Says":

"The other party made mistakes in the past claiming that elections are mandates," Mr. Dean said. "Elections are not mandates. The voters of this country loaned the Democrats the power of the country for two years. Now it's our job to earn it back again."

Right on.

Whether voters choose to renew and even expand the loan in two years will depend on the rate of return that they receive.

Alas, as Mr. Dean also frets, I remain concerned that so many Democrats will simply enjoy the perks of power and engage in so much small-minded petty party politics, without making deeply serious efforts to rebuild our democracy, open market economy, and moral standing in the world.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, December 02, 2006

U.S. needs to stop meddling in Iraqi politics

I read in an article in The New York Times by David Sanger and Edward Wong entitled "Bush to Meet With Head of Iraq Shiite Party", about efforts by the Bush administration to reach out to another Iraqi political leader as part of an approach to "bolstering the fragile Iraqi government." Although it is tempting to give the administration credit for at least trying to fix the mess that they created, it is far more important to urge the administration to simply refrain from meddling in Iraqi politics any further at all. Of course, they most certainly won't follow my advice since they feel a desperate urge to "shape" Iraqi politics before U.S. military forces depart within a year, but any such efforts really will be seen and felt by the Iraqis as meddling and will be very unlikely to have a lasting positive effect on the outcome of the Iraqi political process and in fact may have the opposite effect to that which was desired. The U.S. has done all of the positive good things that it can do for Iraq and now should do the right thing and let the Iraqis reassume control over their own political fate.

-- Jack Krupansky

Setback for the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby

The Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby were dealt another setback in their Middle East ambitions by the fact that soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opted to appoint Rep. Silvestre Reyes to be chairman of the House intelligence committee rather than Rep. Jane Harman, the ranking member who was first in line to be chair. Harman was too much of a hawkish centrist to be supportable by the new House Democratic leadership. This is a further setback for the Neocons and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby since Harman was one of their most ardent supporters, voting for the war with Iraq and being very receptive to the ambitions of AIPAC. Harman was also accused of trying to use AIPAC to lobby on behalf of her appointment, and of possibly influencing a Justice probe of AIPAC.

I wouldn't expect the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby to simply roll over and play dead, but the pace of their agenda will definitely be slowed.

-- Jack Krupansky