Entries from October 2006

Insurgencies Are Not Always A Lost Cause For The West

David Frum October 28th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

As the Iraqi insurgency accelerated in 2003, a brilliant staff officer with the Multinational Forces Command in Baghdad compiled a research study of counter-insurgency campaigns in the 20th century.

The officer, Kalev I. Sepp, argued that guerrilla warfare is not an invincible weapon. Indeed, in about half the conflicts he studied, the counter-insurgents prevailed.

Among the notable successes: the communist insurgency in Greece in 1947-49; the communist “Huk” insurgency in the Philippines in 1946-54; the British campaigns in Malaya, Kenya and Cyprus in the 1950s; the campaigns against Cuban-backed insurgents in South America in the 1960s; and the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

Based on these successes–and the equally notable failures, like the French campaign in Algeria and the United States in Vietnam–Sepp assembled a list of “best practices” to follow and worst mistakes to avoid. Among his list of essentials: “Insurgent sanctuaries denied.” And on his list of errors: “Open borders, airspace, coastlines.”

Since April, 2003, Iraq’s borders have stood dangerously open.

A friend who has spent much time in Iraq described to me his month-long stay in a cheap hotel in Najaf shortly after the overthrow of Iraq. The hotel, at first deserted, quickly filled up with Iranians. At first, most of them were elderly, apparently on pilgrimage to the long-closed Shiite holy sites of southern Iraq. But fairly soon they began to be replaced by muscular younger men, their heads shorn in military style above their civilian clothes.

Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, details the consequence of this Iranian influx. “It was no longer just the lethality of the weapons that was important,” Woodward writes, “but the significance that the weapons were coming from Iran. Some evidence indicated that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah was training insurgents to build and use the shaped IEDs, at the urging of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. That kind of action was probably an act of war by Iran against the United States. If we start putting out everything we know about these things, [State Department Counsellor Philip] Zelikow felt, the administration might well start a fire that it couldn’t put out.”

The Syrian border was left open, too. Millions of dollars in cash and gold were trucked northwest across the border into Syria; terrorist volunteers infiltrated back from Saudi Arabia, from Algeria, from Muslim communities in Europe.

How do you win a guerrilla war under these conditions? Kalev Sepp’s long answer can be shortened to two words: You can’t.

The next step toward a more successful campaign in Iraq requires U.S. and Iraqi military action to seal the borders, especially the border with Iran–the source of the deadliest weapons and most effective training deployed against the coalition in Iraq.

Border control has helped preserve the security of Iraqi Kurdistan. The roads approaching Kurdistan are controlled by checkpoints monitored by Kurds themselves, and terrorist incidents inside Iraqi Kurdistan occur with extreme rarity.

But physical methods alone will not unfortunately suffice to protect Arab Iraq. No fence will bar Hezbollah trainers; no satellite surveillance can detect which trucks are carrying weapons. So diplomatic and military pressure must also be brought to bear on Iraq’s insurgent-supporting neighbours.

There is much talk now of “engaging” Syria and Iran. That talk assumes that Syria and Iran wish to see peace and stability prevail in Iraq–the same Iraq where they have been encouraging disorder and violence since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Instead, those countries need to be made to understand that they are vulnerable to the same destabilization that they inflict on their neighbour. Militarily weak Syria knows its vulnerabilities–and has always hastened in the past to appease the United States whenever it faced a serious threat of American reprisal.

Iran is a tougher case, but it is home to many restive minorities. Its electrical generators and water plants are every bit as vulnerable to sabotage as are Iraq’s. It has economic troubles and depends heavily on foreign financial institutions–not least because its leaders have stored billions of dollars of wealth abroad.

Responding to Iran and Syria will be difficult and in some ways risky. But doing nothing will certainly lead to defeat.

In war, defeat is always a possibility. I wonder, though, how many of those who call for a quick end to the coalition presence in Iraq have quite absorbed how grave the consequences of a defeat in Iraq will be.

For Iraqis, the failure of their national government will open the way to a Rwandan-scale bloodbath.

For the larger Arab world, it will seal the doom of hopes for democracy and economic progress.

And for the Western world, it will mean a wider, more violent and more protracted conflict with globalized radical Islam.

Republicans Have Broken Faith

David Frum October 21st, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The House of Representatives is almost certainly lost to the Republicans, and probably the Senate as well.

Over the coming weeks, there will be no shortage of explanations offered as to the causes of the Republican debacle. Some will cite Iraq, others the price of gasoline, still others the Abramoff and Foley scandals. These explanations will be true enough, in a superficial way. But a deeper understanding can point the way to future Republican and conservative successes.

The American public will support wars, even very tough wars, if they see a clear strategy and strong leadership. Unfortunately, strategy and leadership have been lacking in Iraq. Here’s one example: The deadliest weapons used by the Iraqi insurgents–an explosive device that fires an armour-piercing shell–bears serial numbers in Iranian script. Army commanders in Iraq have warned Washington for months that Revolutionary Guards from Iran have been training the Shiite militias.

Yet we learn on page 414 of Bob Woodward’s new book (and in my opinion this is the book’s single biggest scoop) that the Bush administration deliberately opted to downplay this news lest it inflame public opinion.

How can you win a guerrilla war if you allow the guerrillas safe haven in Syria and Iran? Answer: You cannot.

Gasoline prices of course bother voters. But here too a bigger issue lurks in the background. The American economy has performed strongly since 2000. Employment has grown smartly, and employers have paid more to hire workers–indeed, since 2000, employee compensation costs have jumped more than 10% from about US$25 per hour to roughly US$28.

Yet virtually none of that extra pay has been received by employees themselves. The median wage in the U.S. today remains slightly lower than it was in 1999. So where did the money go? It was absorbed by the surging cost of employer-provided health care, which has nearly doubled in just six years. In 2000, a health insurance policy for a family of four cost an average of US$6,000; in 2005, such a policy cost nearly US$12,000.

Worse, because employees usually pay about one-fifth of their health costs directly out of pocket, their cash contribution to their health care costs has risen from an average of about US$1,200 for a family policy to nearly US$2,500.

When the price of gasoline then doubles on top of all that–well, it should come as no great surprise that nearly 60% of Americans surveyed now say that the country is “on the wrong track.”

Finally, the scandals. They are bad news of course. But there are always scandals. Just this past week, for instance, Washington noted the death of former Representative Gerry Studds of Massachusetts. In 1983, Studds, a Democrat, was caught–not sending dirty messages to a male congressional page–but actually conducting a sexual affair with him. Studds was censured, but he kept his committee assignments and went on to serve six more terms in the House. His party held its majority at the following election as well.

Why has the far less appalling Foley case done so much more damage to the Republican party than the Studds case did to the Democratic party? One is tempted to suggest that Republicans hold their representatives to higher moral standards than Democrats do theirs.

But there is this other difference as well: So long as the party rank and file remain convinced that their party as a whole champions their values, they can overlook some degree of individual misconduct. But when the party rank and file lose faith in their leaders, they will interpret individual scandals as symbolic of a larger breach of trust.

For Republicans, President Bush’s immigration proposals constitute just such a breach of trust.

The President has proposed–and Republicans in the Senate enacted–a plan to grant amnesty in all but name to most of the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States (half of whom have arrived since he took the oath of office in 2001). President Bush has also proposed a guest-worker program to import more low-skilled labour. The Republican rank and file hate these policies. Their party’s apparent determination to go ahead anyway has badly shaken the bond between leaders and supporters and left many Republicans wondering: Who are these people–and how dare they claim to speak for me?

Every political victory contains the germs of the next defeat. Every defeat prepares the way for victory. And from the coming debacle in 2006, Republicans can learn for 2008 that they need a clearer plan to win the war on terror, an answer to the problem of surging health costs and an immigration policy that attaches at least equal importance to the values of the voters as the wishes of employers.

A Reckless Game Of Numbers

David Frum October 14th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It’s the oldest trick in PR: If you want to generate publicity, generate a statistic. Statistics get attention. They lodge in people’s minds. They take on the status of facts. And by the time somebody comes along to check your work–well, it’s too late. The stat leads the evening news. The correction? Page A13.

And so it is with the new study from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins claiming 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Most Iraq experts estimate the civilian death toll in Iraq since 2003 as somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000, with the vast majority of these casualties inflicted by the terror tactics of the insurgents: car bombings, assassinations and so on.

The Bloomberg report implies that more than 90% of Iraq’s casualties have gone–not only unreported by the government–but unnoticed.

How was this number generated?

The Bloomberg team hired Iraqi interviewers to visit 1,849 houses in Iraqi cities. They asked the householders to tell them the number of deaths in their families in the year before the overthrow of Saddam and then in the three years since. They compared the two numbers, arrived at a figure of 547 “excess” deaths, and extrapolated that number to all of Iraq to reach their 655,000 figure.

The technical term for the kind of work the Bloomberg team did is “cluster sampling.” When conducted properly, it can produce useful information.

But the Bloomberg team has a record of doing their work improperly. In 2004, for example, they used the cluster method after the second battle of Fallujah. Their technique suggested that the town had suffered 200,000 civilian casualties–which is remarkable, considering that the town had a population of 300,000 before the battle, of whom 70% to 90% fled before the battle began.

The Fallujah numbers were quietly discarded by the Bloomberg team. But that embarrassing mistake does not seem to have taught them caution in 2006. If anything, their past errors seem only to have encouraged them to become more reckless than ever.

The Bloomberg team stresses that in 92% of the cases where a family claimed a fatality, the family produced a death certificate. The Bloomberg team seems not to realize that this claim undercuts their work rather than supporting it.

The Bloomberg team suggests that Iraq is such a scene of chaos and violence that 600,000-plus people (eight times the number killed at Hiroshima!) could die without anybody noticing. And yet at the same time they assume that Iraq is so well-organized that 92% of that vast number of unnoticed fatalities were issued a death certificate by an Iraqi morgue.

On the one hand: Rwanda-like slaughter. On the other: the paperwork all fastidiously completed. Does that make sense?

The Bloomberg survey was not carried out by American poll takers. They hired local Iraqis. Who were these people? How did they do their work? Who knows? But we do know that many Iraqis who work for foreign news organizations or non-governmental organizations have ideological or sectarian agendas. Many others simply find it impossible to do accurate work in the dangerous conditions of Iraq.

It’s not hard then to imagine that the survey takers simplified their job by paying a visit to the local sheik or imam and telling him: “We want to talk to people in the neighbourhood with death certificates for the loss of a family member.” The sheik or imam might well have been able to assemble a dozen local families with death certificates. But that would not be a sample of the local population with a death certificate. It would be the totality of the local population with a death certificate. You can’t extrapolate from it; you have already counted it all.

But never mind. Suppose it is all true. What would it prove?

The media who have reported on the Bloomberg team’s report echo that team’s argument that the civilian deaths in Iraq should lie on the conscience of the United States and its coalition partners. But it is the coalition fighting forces that are defending and protecting the Iraqi civilian population. It is the Baathists and Islamists who detonate bombs, slit throats and massacre worshippers at religious shrines.

The bloodshed in Iraq is the work of those who hope to profit from a return to dictatorship, not the work of those who have liberated Iraq from dictatorship. Even if true, the Bloomberg report would vindicate the American war effort and shame the insurgency. And it is to the shame of the international media that, in their eagerness to disparage the United States, they would so credulously broadcast a report that seeks to absolve the real murderers of the innocents of Iraq of the guilt of their crimes.

Mutually Assured Disruption

David Frum October 10th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The North Korean nuclear test–if that indeed is what it was–signals the catastrophic collapse of a dozen years of American policy. Over that period, two of the world’s most dangerous regimes, Pakistan and North Korea, have developed nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them. Iran, arguably the most dangerous of them all, will surely follow, unless some dramatic action is soon taken.

It is, alas, an iron law of modern diplomacy that the failure of any diplomatic process only proves the need for more of the process that has just failed. Thus those who have long supported negotiating with North Korea are now calling for the Bush administration to begin direct talks with the Kim Jong-il regime. Sorry, but all this would accomplish would be to reward an actual proliferator in order to preserve the illusion that the world still has a meaningful nonproliferation regime.

Some even suggest, in worried tones, that the North Korean test might provoke Japan to go nuclear, as if the worst possible consequence of nuclear weapons in the hands of one of America’s direst enemies would be the acquisition of nuclear weapons by one of America’s best friends.

A new approach is needed. America has three key strategic goals in the wake of the North Korean nuclear test. The first is to enhance the security of those American allies most directly threatened by North Korean nuclear weapons: Japan and South Korea.

The second is to exact a price from North Korea for its nuclear program severe enough to frighten Iran and any other rogue regimes considering following the North Korean path.

The last is to punish China. North Korea could not have completed its bomb if China, which provides the country an immense amount of food and energy aid, had strongly opposed it. Apparently, Beijing sees some potential gain in the uncertainty that North Korea’s status brings. If China can engage in such conduct cost-free, what will deter Russia from aiding the Iranian nuclear program, or Pakistan someday aiding a Saudi or Egyptian one?

To meet these three goals, the United States should adopt four swift policy responses:

Step up the development and deployment of existing missile defense systems.

The United States has already fielded 11 missile interceptors, nine in Alaska and two in California. The Navy has designed ship-based interceptors as well. As we well know, they are not perfect–but they are something.

Until now this lack of perfection has been allowed to block full deployment of the technology. But missile defenses do not need to be perfect to complicate any aggressive action by a comparatively weak power like North Korea against the United States or its allies.

And deploying a missile defense of growing effectiveness also helps achieve another goal–it would indirectly punish China by corroding the power of the missiles China uses to intimidate Taiwan.

End humanitarian aid to North Korea and pressure South Korea to do the same.

Since 1995, the United States has provided more than two million tons of food aid to North Korea, plus considerable energy assistance. Officially, Washington says it has ”delinked” its humanitarian aid from strategic concerns. Many United States officials believe that continuing this aid will sustain hopes for a better American-North Korean relationship in the future. Yet if the United States continues to send such aid even after an illicit nuclear test, North Korean leaders may well conclude that their aggressive actions have won them almost absolute impunity.

An end to humanitarian aid would not only exact a considerable direct price from North Korea, but it would also hurt China. Chinese leaders often justify their refusal to pressure North Korea by citing the risk of an economic collapse that would send millions of refugees northward into China. We could call that bluff: if a North Korean economic collapse is a thing China fears, why should the United States and South Korea shoulder the cost of helping to avert it? Let China pay the full cost of underwriting its aggressive client state.

Invite Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore to join NATO–and even invite Taiwan to send observers to NATO meetings.

Perhaps North Korea and China imagine that the nuclear test has tilted the strategic balance in the Pacific in their favors. Now would be a good time to disabuse each of them of any such illusion. We need a tighter and stronger security arrangement in the Pacific region, one from which rogue states and those who support them are pointedly excluded. The NATO allies have agreed to expand the organization well beyond Western Europe; now we need to persuade them to make it global.

Encourage Japan to renounce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and create its own nuclear deterrent.

World War II ended long ago, and it’s time to put an end to the silly pretense that today’s democratic Japan owes a burden of guilt to today’s rising China. A nuclear Japan is the thing China and North Korea dread most (after, perhaps, a nuclear South Korea or Taiwan).

Not only would the nuclearization of Japan be a punishment of China and North Korea, but it would go far to meet our goal of dissuading Iran–it would show Tehran that the United States and its friends will aggressively seek to correct any attempt by rogue states to unsettle any regional nuclear balance. The analogue for Iran, of course, would be the threat of American aid to improve Israel’s capacity to hit targets with nuclear weapons.

Countries like North Korea and Iran seek nuclear weapons because they imagine that those weapons will enhance their security and power. The way to contain them is to convince them otherwise. When nonproliferation can be prevented by negotiation, that is always preferred. But when negotiation fails, as it has failed in North Korea and is failing in Iran, rogue regimes must be made to suffer for their dangerous nuclear ambitions.

Britain’s Empty Conservatism

David Frum October 7th, 2006 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Guess whose political platform this is:

- Tax cuts? No.

- More public money for government-monopoly health care? Yes.

- Same-sex marriage? Enthusiastically yes.

- Big supermarkets? Offenders against the environment.

- Kyoto Accord. Absolutely.

- Terrorism? Close Guantanamo.

- Illegal immigration? Don’t talk about it.

- Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s rocket attacks? Disproportionate.

- George W. Bush? No friend of ours.

Believe it or not, these are the views of the newly remodeled British Conservative party, as unveiled at their annual conference in Bournemouth last week. Party leaders justify these new positions as the necessary price of power. Aghast friends of Britain may wonder whether power bought at such a price is worth having at all.

The British Conservative party is a deeply troubled organization. It has lost three national elections in a row — its worst performance since the days of Lord Palmerston — each time gaining less than 35% of the national vote. In the last election, Labour’s share of the vote slumped by 5.5 percentage points. Only 0.6 points of that lost vote went to the Conservatives. The other 90% went to minor parties.

How disliked are the British Conservatives? A pollster friend tells this story. He identified the three or four most popular ideas in the last Conservative manifesto. He convened a focus group and asked them what they thought of these ideas. The focus group murmured their approval. Then he told them the Conservative party advocated these ideas. Did that change their minds? Yes, it did. They decided they did not like the ideas after all.

In desperation, British Conservatives have now decided to remake their party from top to bottom. They have jettisoned their economic Thatcherism. They have ceased to talk about British sovereignty and the European Union. They have turned sharply leftward on issues from terrorism to the environment. And they have chosen a new leader who repudiates the past two decades of party policy: the handsome, articulate, youthful Cameron.

Cameron has replaced the party logo: a green tree instead of Mrs. Thatcher’s blue-and-red torch of liberty. He bicycles to work and has installed a wind turbine on the roof of his London house. He cheerfully submits to the demands of tabloids for personal information about his disabled child and his own past drug experimentation.

All this is supposed to remind the public of pop-cultural icons: Princess Di above all.

Ironically, the figure David Cameron most closely resembles is one few British voters feel much affection for: the Governor George W. Bush of 1999-2000, who excited Clinton-battered Republicans with promises of a new “compassionate conservatism.”

Like the early Bush’s, Cameron’s big ideas come concealed in a thick haze of evasive verbiage. One of Cameron’s special advisors published an article in the September issue of the British magazine Prospect to explain his boss’s “big idea”:

“David Cameron’s stress on social justice … is not, as unsophisticated critics imagine, a leftwards shift from liberty to equality. Cameron is not proposing an extension of state power. He is proposing an extension of social power, a move in favour of the voluntary institutions–the ‘social enterprises’–that exist in neighbourhoods themselves.”

What does this mean? Who knows. Its incomprehensibility is its point.

Margaret Thatcher always regarded political power as a public trust. Those who sought the public’s trust had an obligation to tell the public in advance and in detail how they proposed to use it.

David Cameron takes a more skeptical view of the public mind. As he seems to see it, voters are deeply emotional and seriously uninformed. They make their decision in favour of this leader or that, not based on what the leader might do, but on the basis of a warm emotional association. The first job of the politician is to win the voter’s affection and, after that, to improvise.

This was exactly George W. Bush’s method in 2000, and it worked for him, or close enough. Unfortunately, a politician who campaigns without a platform risks arriving in office without a mandate. Then again, that risk may not much bother the stylish young Conservative. As Cameron observed in his Bournemouth speech:
“Twelve years ago, there was an energetic young party leader. He stood before his party conference for the first time. He said he’d change his party. He made promises about changing the country.

“Remember him?

“I do. And look what happened. People voted for him, but he let them down.”
The party leader Cameron is referring to here is of course Tony Blair. And he has learned a lesson from the current prime minister’s experience. You cannot let people down, if you offer them nothing.