Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Catching up

Some quick thoughts on current events:

The surge is working from a military perspective. With all due credit to our troops and Gen. Petraeus' solid planning and execution of a competent strategy, however, the turnaround is mostly due to thousands of Sunni tribesmen switching sides, joining the U.S. to fight Al-Qaeda militants.

The switch is partly due to AQ's self-destructive tendency to attack other Sunnis. When AQ stepped up attacks against fellow Sunnis, it marked the beginning of the end of their fall. Particularly because Iraqis are not, by and large, extremist material.

But because the improvement is largely based on a change of allegiance, the improvement is fragile: if the Sunni tribes switch back, the improvement could disappear as quickly as it appeared.

Which underscores the main challenge remaining in Iraq: achieving the political changes that will make the security improvements permanent. And progress there has been slow.

Whether the invasion, even in hindsight, was justified or worth the cost is not the question here; we're concerned only with achieving the best end we can now that we're in Iraq. In that context, Petraeus and Bush have achieved enough to stave off demands for withdrawal; they've earned a chance to demonstrate that they can make the changes stick. I hope they can, but it's way too early to declare victory.

The CIA has thrown the administration's Iran rhetoric into disarray with a new intelligence estimate that indicates Iran's nuclear weapons program has been frozen since 2003.

Some blindsided neocons, like Norman Podhoretz, were reduced to floating conspiracy theories -- that the new NIE is an attempt by the CIA to undercut the administration for political purposes, as if the CIA is so politicized that they're willing to let Iran get nukes if it lets them make Bush look bad in the short run.

For my money, though, this doesn't really change things much. It's good news if true, and it certainly short-circuits the premature (and hopelessly naive) drumbeat for war that was being beaten in certain quarters. Fact is, thanks to the ongoing mess in Iraq, this country has no appetite for war with Iran unless and until they actually drop a bomb on somebody.

But Iran still has a program, even if it's in mothballs. And we still need an intrusive inspection regime and other concrete assurances that Iran cannot and will not develop a nuclear weapon. So all the NIE does is put the ball firmly in diplomacy's court, where it should have been all along. I support limited military action to avoid a Persian Bomb, but that necessity is still a long way off.

As an aside, I love watching how people accept or don't accept the NIE as credible based on its contents. Up until now, many administration critics have all but accused Bush and Cheney of making up the NIEs to support their policy -- while administration supporters pointed to the NIE as authoritative grounding for our Iran policy. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and the roles are reversed. Not everyone is playing that game, of course -- Hot Air is doing a pretty good job, for example, despite linking to lots of people who aren't. But those who do demonstrate that partisanship has pickled their brains.

I'm still not seeing anything to love. My biggest fear is that we'll get a Rudy-Hillary matchup in the general. On the one hand this wouldn't be too bad, because they're both basically centrists. On the other hand, they have the highest negatives of the candidates, and both can be fairly criticized for blowing with the political winds. So if they clinch the nominations, we will see perhaps the most negative presidential campaign in history, and the lowest voter turnout in decades.

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Blogger Dyre42 said...

You live! I thought the aliens had gotten you.

12/04/2007 11:02 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

The alien that can catch me hasn't been hatched yet....

I apologize for going radio silent without any warning, and without posting any updates for three months. Turns out I needed a vacation, but there were more graceful ways to do it.

12/04/2007 11:38 PM  
Blogger Dyre42 said...

I can't chide you for it as I've done the same myself.

12/05/2007 9:33 PM  

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