The Best Defense

Nir Rosen’s ‘Aftermath’

I've been reading an advanced copy of Nir Rosen's new book on the U.S. in the Middle East. It is titled Aftermath and will be out in October, but you can buy it now on Amazon.

It is a very knowledgeable deep dive through Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. He contends that we still don't understand what we have gotten ourselves into. I don't agree with all of it, but I learned from it even when I disagreed.

Some highlights:

What the occupation felt like to Iraqis:

Under Saddam the violence came from one source: the regime. Now it has been democratically distributed.

Why the U.S. military has a hard time carrying out counterinsurgency campaigns:

COIN was dangerous, and the military was risk-averse.

(Here I think Rosen means commanders, not troops.)

A great lesson on how to deal with local allies, especially those who have turned from the other side:

According to a major who served under Kuehl, ‘An unsung hero of this entire time period [of the surge] was the commander of a combat support hospital in Baghdad. More than anyone else he kept our sometimes tenuous relationship with the SOI [Sons of Iraq AKA insurgents put on the American payroll] on good standing, simply by admitting their casualties to his facility and treating them. The rules on this were somewhat in the gray area, and lesser men or those who did not see the strategic situation would have been justified refusing care and turning them away. I had one such conversation with a doctor on Camp Liberty who was discussing the practical reasons for not treating them, that they wouldn't have enough beds for the American casualties. I told him that if he wanted to quit treating American casualties altogether, all he had to do was treat those SOIs when they were injured.'

The effect of the surge:

It was only in 2007 that they [the Americans] finally conquered Iraq, with the help of stronger Iraqi Security Forces, but chiefly thanks to the Shiite defeat of the Sunnis in the civil war. The American surge of troops came at just the right time, and they proved flexible enough to take advantage of events on the ground. The subsequent relative decline in violence was meant to lead to political reconciliation, but it never happened.

Where we are now in Iraq:

Six years after the fall of Baghdad, it felt as if the Iraqis were occupying Iraq.

Meanwhile, Joel Wing says that Iran's farewell attacks in Iraq appear to be beginning.

The Best Defense

What an energy-hogging China may mean for the U.S. and global politics

By Matthew Acocella
Best Defense deputy bureau chief, East Asian energy bureau

The International Energy Agency announced last week that China had overtaken the U.S. as the world's largest consumer of energy, citing data showing that "China consumed the equivalent of 2.25 billion tons of oil last year, slightly above U.S. consumption of 2.17 billion tons. The measure includes all types of energy: oil, nuclear energy, coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources." Chinese officials moved quickly to dispute this assertion and questioned the IEA's calculations.

This pushback is predictable, according to Fereidun Fesharaki, Senior Fellow at the East-West Center and Senior Associate at CSIS. At a talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies last week on "China and India's Energy Policy Directions," Ferashaki explained that China is loathe to take on the title of World's #1 energy user because it prefers the U.S. to be in the global hot seat.  One fact particularly struck me: according to Dr. Fesharaki, China purposely waits until a lull occurs in the price of oil before it buys up large amounts for its strategic petroleum reserves, in order to avoid being accused of spiking the price of crude.

China's energy use is projected to continue skyrocketing over the next decade.  It is currently the world's top emitter of global warming gases, but simultaneously investing the most of any nation into developing green technology. Whether this investment will yield any substantial emissions reductions over the next decade is up for debate. Critics note that China's efforts at carbon-capture and sequestration, a process that strips out harmful elements in released gases to be stored underground, is very expensive and requires a large usage of coal to fuel the process. With China's economy still developing, even substantial investments in clean technology may fail to bend the curve of its pollution.

Of course, China's energy needs have other geopolitical effects. When it comes to China's relationship with Iran in the wake of recent US sanctions and forthcoming EU ones... well, there's not much top surprising there. China will continue to do business with Iran, even with delays and setbacks caused by sanctions. "Despite political pressures, Chinese contractors could invest more than $10 billion dollars in the Iranian oil and gas sectors in the next few years," stated Ferekashi. Chinese corporations are also heavily invested in other of Iran's domestic industries.  Iran is fortunate in that 60% of its energy use is domestically produced, continued Ferekashi, which perhaps will allows it to withstand sanctions longer.  With China so heavily invested in Iran, will Sino-Iranian ties make Iran sanction-proof?

In sum, there is plenty here for Western nations to grapple with. China's insatiable thirst for oil and other energy sources will make shedding any pretense of modesty necessary as it becomes an increasingly aggressive player in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.  Furthermore, its willingness to partner with rogue states even in the face of international pressure has the potential to undercut efforts to impose sanctions on bad actors. If a superpower like China has no qualms entering into agreements with the likes of Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the U.S. will need in the coming years to develop policies and incentives to counter these marriages of convenience.

Marc van der Chijs/flickr