A very tuned-in military intelligence guy I know, on his third tour to Baghdad, emailed me recently a little ground truth about the situation we rarely read about anymore since the Petraeus testimony.
I think part of the success is what we have done, but a lot of the credit goes to the infighting on both the SUNNI and SHIA sides... with so much effort going to kill each other they seem to have little energy left to target us...
He expects Petraeus to come back in the spring and say we should keep troops in place for another year or so, as the security situation is tenuous and can turn at the drop of a hat. Only then will Petraeus and company suggest we begin to cautiously draw down below the pre-surge troop levels.
His evaluation of the overall state of play:
The weak link in all this, is the tactical problems are not the issues...the levels of attacks are indeed lower than they were 4 months ago...but still higher than they were when we were here in 2005...tracking those numbers is a public affairs metric, not one tied to the ability of the government to get stuff done. The government is wedded to parochialism...Shias as a group will do nothing to help Sunnis...and in fact spend most of their time lately fighting other Shias...I think we are at the point that as long as our departure is on the calendar, the Shias and Sunnis will embrace strategies which accelerate that eventuality. If we say...or intimate we are here for the long term, both sides will raise levels of attacks in order to hasten our withdrawal...
A study to be released today by the German based Energy Watch Group says world oil production peaked in 2006, and that production will now fall 7% a year. By 2030, global output will be half of today's 81 million barrels per day. Previewed in the Guardian, the new study predicts extreme oil shortages will cause wars and social breakdown.
The report says "peak oil" is clearly behind us, and the most alarming finding was the steep production declines in the future. Shortages of natural gas, coal and uranium are also expected as those materials are used up.
An AP story cites a rise in maritime piracy around the world, particularly near the Horn of Africa and off Nigeria. The story says "attacks on ships" worldwide "shot up" 14 percent so far this year, over the same period last year.
A little perspective is in order. Sure, freebooters will plunder unguarded goods laying about whether it be in an industrial park warehouse or a slow-moving floating warehouse. But these pirates are not plundering the world's shipping lanes.
Speaking at a recent maritime strategy conference here in DC, Stephen Carmel, senior vice president of maritime services at Maersk Line Ltd, said from his perspective as operator of the world's largest shipping fleet, the piracy threat is over-hyped, and usually limited to lighters plying coastal waterways.
"No doubt piracy is a very bad thing for those it happens to. But that's not us. It’s a coastal waters thing, regionalized coastal trade. For international trade and the ships that facilitate it, not so much. Right now there is in the news a flash about the Indonesian navy needing to interrupt a piracy incident in the straits of Malacca. But if you think past the headlines, and most people won't, the tanker in question was a 2,000 ton tanker carrying cooking oil. In my mind I make distinction between a three hundred thousand ton tanker loaded with crude and a barge carrying a couple of cups of Crisco. Unfortunately, the statistics won’t make that distinction."
Another in a series of smart decisions by SecDef Gates: naming John Hamre, CSIS president and former deputy SecDef and Pentagon comptroller under Clinton, to head the Defense Policy Board.
Hamre is a welcome departure from the Richard Perle, neo-con era at the Policy Board. He is an extremely bright and affable fellow, and is quite likely to be the next defense secretary under a democratric administration. Gates continues to impress with his reason, pragmatism and smart personnel moves.
Freed from their absurd and long ago lost mission in southern Iraq, the Brits are finally beefing up their forces in Afghanistan. All three battalions of the Parachute Regiment, around 2,000 troops, will be deploying to Helmand in expectation of a spring offensive, the Guardian reports. The key will be the deployment of additional helicopters, vital to moving any distance in Afghanistan.