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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

News for the Next 30 Years

If you started paying attention to the news in the 1970s, you grew up watching year after year of news about the "peace process" in the middle east, militant militias toppling governments and scenes of desert-camouflaged tanks rolling through barren hillside towns with names like "Golan Heights" that sound like they could be a suburb of Cleveland. Based on events from the week of November 19, 2006, the news for the next 30 years is going to sound horribly familiar -- like your Tivo stuck on permanent replay.

Lebanon is now closer to collapse and civil war due to the assassination of Lebanese Cabinet member Pierre Gemayel. Lebanon's current round of problems began with the assassination of its prime minister in a bomb blast February 12, 2005 that was subsequently traced by United Nations investigators to four Lebanese generals with pro-Syrian ties. (#1) Public outcry over the assassination prompted Syria to "withdraw" from Lebanon but shortly afterwards, killings of other anti-Syrian government officials began. Lebanon reached the boiling point earlier in November 2006 when Cabinet members allied with Hezbollah quit their posts to further destabilize the ruling government. With the assassination of Gemayel, Lebanon is now one body (literally...) away from its Cabinet having to surrender power and attempt to reform a coalition.

Regardless of exactly who gets linked to the trigger, there's no doubt about who directed the assassination. Iran, Syria and their Hezbollah terrorist militia proxies all share the same goals of toppling the shaky democracy in Lebanon and reasserting their own influence over the country. Of course, they don't really have any practical plan to IMRPOVE anything in Lebanon, they just want to ensure it isn't dominated by the United States.

Sound familiar?

That's exactly what's happening in Iraq right now and the United States is now equally powerless to improve the situation there as well. Iran and Syria are even volunteering to "assist" Iraq to stabilize the country. By the time the Iraq Study Group reports its findings, the list of possible options will have already been whittled down to virtually nothing by daily events. One of the options is to actually INCREASE troop levels by 10,000 or 20,000 troops to either make a push towards stabilizing a major chunk of the country or use those forces to focus on training Iraqi forces so they can both fire their tanks and guns and also keep them supplied.

Based on comments from American forces who would be responsible for providing that training, the likelihood of success with this plan would seem to be nil. When asked to comment on the value of his stateside training for the actual challenges experienced in Iraq, one colonel characterized his training as "a phenomenal waste of timeā€¦ nearly irrelevant to the current situation." (#2)

We also know that adding vastly larger numbers of troops to the deployment isn't practical. The skill, dedication and courage of the troops isn't a limiting factor. A fickle American public unwilling to take a few setbacks as the troops pursue a clear, militarily sound war plan isn't a limiting factor either. More troops aren't a practical alternative because WE DON'T HAVE ANY MORE TO SEND. Nearly EVERY possible full time or National Guard soldier with the training required is already deployed in the region or cannot be re-deployed from other commitments. Some Guard units are now looking at a possible third tour of duty. More importantly, sending more troops isn't practical when the Pentagon is unable to articulate ANY specific military strategy on how those troops would be used to eliminate even one of the social / security / political problems preventing Iraq from managing its security without our presence.

Of course, maintaining current troop levels is an option. However, the results to date speak for themselves about the viability of that approach. The mid-term elections also clearly communicated the message to American politicians that "stay the course" will not be accepted as a strategy. We are tired of seeing our troops absorbing bombing attacks and bullets when those "engagements" fail to draw the enemy out where they can be destroyed.

The only other option in play is reducing American troop levels. There seems to be little question that reductions will eventually pursued. The pattern of events in Lebanon also leaves little doubt about what the long term results of our withdrawal will be. A middle east quickly abandoning any semblance of "liberal democracy" and heading directly back to 700 A.D. under the thumb of Iran. The West and America in particular will be left just watching another 30 years or more of news stories about bombings, sectarian wars, assassinations and oil crises.

The only question remaining about the carnage set to unfold is the "brand" that will be assigned by the news shows and talking head programs. Will it be "Baghdad on the Mediterranean" or "Beruit on the Euphrates?" Sadly, the answer will be "both."


#1) http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-08/31/content_473723.htm

#2) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/11/21/eveningnews/main2204339.shtml