February 28, 2006
Where Are the Accountability and Leadership?
Another America hater (but one who served in Iraq at least):
When an Army investigator asked Col. Thomas Pappas, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib, how intimidation with dogs could be allowed under this treaty, he gave the chilling reply, "I did not personally look at that with regard to the Geneva Convention." Colonel Pappas later testified that he was taking his cue on the use of dogs from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who took over detainee operations in Iraq after running them in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Amen Mr. Lagouranis. Amen.
Spinning the Prospective Blood Bath
We owe it to the Iraqi people to do everything we can to help avert a civil war and give their fledgling democracy a chance. Saving them from themselves, however, is both beyond our power and responsibility. If they decide civil war is the only way to settle their longstanding disputes, we must stand aside and let them fight it and then try to salvage a relationship with the eventual victors. While that would be a bitter pill, indeed, after coming so close to achieving the incredibly ambitious vision of the neo-cons, it would nonetheless be preferable to the other alternatives.
--from a piece entitled, rather incredibly, "Give Civil War a Chance"
Another one for the time capsule, one increasingly rich in abdications of responsibility and expositions of ignorance.
For more on the stakes, go here:
But a violent crackup could not easily be kept stable.
A full blown civil war in Iraq would be a grevious blow to the region, to the U.S. national interest, to America's prestige on the global stage. I find it just incredible that people are beginning to say it ain't all that. Remember: you break it, you own it. Are we supposed to sit back and take in the killing fields because, alas, we didn't quite achieve (so close!) the "incredibly ambitious vision of the neo-cons". Yes, it's a regretful business, to be sure, but we tried! What claptrap. I'm sure James Joyner is a nice guy, and his piece is nuanced in parts and stresses that civil war would be a tragedy--but still, how can one seriously in good faith write a piece entitled "Give Civil War a Chance"? But perhaps I'm just a naif....
"Localized difficulties also persist, but I think, at the strategic level, this crisis -- a mosque attack leading to civil war -- is over... It was a serious crisis. I believe that Iraq came to the brink and came back."
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
He goes on:
I give credit to Iraqi leaders for rising to the occasion," Khalilzad said. "Going to the brink, of course, but more importantly, pulling back. I am gratified that the decisive crisis caused by the attacks did not lead to an all-out civil war. The Iraqi people, I hope, will learn from this to use this as an opportunity for a new nationalism."
There is a bleaker narrative, of course. But, at least for today, let's give Ambassador Khalilzad some props for helping the various factions pull through this very significant crisis. Not to mention, a massive tragedy:
Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week's bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad's main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.
Ah, but stuff happens when your de facto war leader game-plans the wrong war, and his predictions go very, very awry. The President is at 34% (at least in one poll), in part one suspects, because of his refusal to hold such abysmally discredited figures to task. It has become unforgivable, really. Whether a tragedy or a farce, I don't know. Both, perhaps, at this point.
February 24, 2006
Brief Iraq Update
Interesting article in Time:
And the the key figure in bringing that about [forging a political consensus so as to stave off civil war] is less likely to be U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad than it is to be Moqtada Sadr, the radical firebrand Shiite cleric whose Mehdi Army militia has confronted the U.S. military in two insurrections since 2004.
I differ with the author in that I think that a precipitous American withdrawal is much likelier to help ensure that a civil war erupts. So I guess I'm still in the CW column, per his categorization. Indeed, I fail to see how a new national accord will be facilitated by U.S. withdrawal. Left to their own devices, I am extremely skeptical that Iraqis will be able to forge a viable polity. They need, desperately still in my view, an American umpire, arbitrer, whatever you want to call it. And the security situation is dismal even with 133,000 US troops in theater. Imagine the scene without them, and how emboldened Sunni insurgents would be, not to mention Iranian infiltrators. See this too from today's NYT:
Iraqi security forces were unable — or, Sunni leaders suggested, unwilling — to quell the violence after the bombing. In many cases, the American military was either not present or not able to stop Shiite mobs exacting revenge killings across Iraq.
I've argued this for a long time now. The trendline is going to be, as the months go by, Sunnis increasingly wanting the Americans to stay as protection against Shi'a revanchism. In the meantime, it is true, the Shi'a will get increasingly agitated vis-a-vis the Americans for holding them back from revenge attacks in the aftermath of events like the recent destruction of the shrine. But haven't we an obligation now, in one of those complex ironies that emerge from the fog of war, to protect moderate Sunnis from the wrath of Shi'a provoked by al-Qaeda and FREs (indeed some Sunni areas are becoming more fearful of Shi'a paramilitaries like the Wolf Brigades than their ostensible American foes)?
Meantime, don't miss this WaPo story, which differs from the NYT version to the extent it makes it seem the U.S. position is still more by way of putting Iraqi Forces out in front during the coming days. I think the WaPo story is likely more accurate, all told (so that re-insertion of US forces in areas turned over to Iraqi forces is not imminent), but, of course, this depends on levels of violence in the coming days. If the situation gets worse, I doubt Iraqi forces will be able to maintain any meaningful order, and then it will be crunchtime for US war planners. Not only will a more proactive posture be required, generally, but US forces might have to assist in separating belligerent factions, always a thankless task.
In the midst of all this near chaos, are there reasons for optimism? Yes. Sistani, despite seeming a tad less quietist in terms of directions to his flock, is still acting in moderate fashion--as is Sadr, relatively speaking, and for now. And never has there been a better timed and more critical curfew than that underway at the present hour (I'm writing this after midnight East Coast time). And this blogger (hat tip: Glenn) also makes some good points about why we're not quite at the gates of hell, although I have some quibbles with his arguments in parts (for instance, I can't help feeling that "civil war" is being defined up in some quarters, does it require set-piece battles to occur with armies facing each other in formation, is two-ways enough or does it have to be three-way, when does large scale sectarian violence become a civil war etc etc?)
At the end of the day, at this juncture, my take is pretty much per this quote below from the WaPo article:
This isn't a bump in the road, it's a pothole," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a senior policy and planning officer with U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the region. "And we'll find out if the shock absorbers in the Iraqi society will hold or whether this will crack the frame."
We don't know, but my gut tells me this shrine bombing doesn't necessarily crack the frame. But what happens the next time? And see this post too for concerns I have about Pentagon war planning generally. More over the weekend.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Let me go back to your question about sectarian violence. I may not have answered the last half of it as fully as I would like. Needless to say, any time there's violence, sectarian or otherwise, it's something that one has to be concerned about and oppose and attempt to do something about.
Translation: At least genocidal actions against Kurds and Marsh Arabs aren't underway (nor can I be bothered to know the numbers massacred under Saddam's reign...details!)
Well it's different today Mr. Rumsfeld. Not least because there are 133,000 of our own troops in theater and the stakes are massive--for Iraq, and for US credibility on the world stage, and for the war on terror. So what's your plan for victory, as opposed to poo-pooing sectarian violence like a college sophomore, re: the fact that Iraq is possibly on the cusp of a civil war in the coming months? Let me guess: you'll follow whatever the advice of the Generals on the ground, right? But, we're curious, what's your take? Or does the Emperor have no Clothes? Should you be facing the problem of increasing sectarian violence head-on, rather than minimizing it by disingenuously making comparisons to the genocidal massacres of Saddam's reign? Regardless, has Rumsfeld even considered, in any serious way, what will happen as American troops in theater are forced to protect Sunnis more and more, in places like Baghdad, as will now likely become critical? Has he game-planned how that will anger Shi'a, restrained by a foreign interloper from exacting revanchist attacks, to the extent there could be renewed Shi'a uprisings against U.S. forces perhaps down the road? Or, like failing to even contemplate the possiblity of an insurgency initially, has he not even game-planned a possible resumption of major hostilities between U.S. forces and some Shi'a elements? Do we have a special strategy in place if a sudden Iranian move is made in Basra? Or if Kirkuk explodes? Doubtless, some contingency planning is occurring. But it would be a lot better, I'd wager, if we had someone at the top of the civilian leadership at DoD truly seized by the possibility that Iraq could be slipping into a serious civil war, and quarterbacking the effort to stave off such an outcome with more assiduousness and creativity than currently being brought to bear. If we fail, this will represent a massive strategic disaster for the United States. Rumsfeld has committed blunder after blunder. Isn't it time for new blood? Or is it "Heck of a Job Rummy" for the next 3 years?
Q Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about a memo that was written by Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel, which details the internal debate about the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. The memo was first reported on by The New Yorker and it's now become public. And in the memo he refers to your December 2nd, 2002 memo authorizing some procedures, which you then rescinded in January. And he says that you got, essentially, very bad legal advice in signing that memo and that the memo itself had a deeply flawed representation of what the law was.
Gaming the Monarchy Watch
Israel washed its hands clean on Thursday of OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh's warning a day earlier that King Abdullah risked being toppled by an "Islamist axis" and could be the last king of Jordan.
It's tread carefully time people. And certainly not the best time for a rupture or downgrading (which has been thankfully averted) of Israeli-Jordanian relations. I doubt any other Israeli officials, anytime soon, will be gaming the prospective longevity of the Hashemite monarchy in public. In private, however, they realize better than U.S. policymakers, likely, how strong Islamist sentiment under the surface in places like Jordan and Egypt is...
Iranian-Syrian Rapprochment Watch
As the US position in Iraq remains so difficult (and as regional actors calculate the U.S. will be reducing its presence dramatically in Iraq at the end of '06), Syria is increasingly placing its bets with Teheran rather than the West. The narrative is a tad more complex than that, and Bashar's bet might not be the right one, of course, but for now it appears a Syrian-Iranian axis is bolstering up in anticipation of an under-100,000-US-GIs-in-Iraq-neighborhood...Without a strong central Iraqi Army, and not forgeting Turkish involvement, it's not too difficult to see some preemptive 'sphere of influence' trading going on here for the going forward 'hood...
Meantime, I would suggest to the Israeli Ambassador to the UN that the phrase "axis of terror" might be too rhetorically close to Bush's erstwhile "axis of evil". Let's be a tad more subtle, no? We don't want to make life too easy for the conspiracy-mongers!
Egyptian Democratization Watch
From the Economist:
As for internal reform, the signs are that it is America that is muting its demands. Last time Ms Rice was in Cairo, in June, she appealed for Egypt to lead the region in democratisation. Since then, Egypt has held presidential and parliamentary elections, but both were marred by massive fiddling. In recent weeks, Egypt has jailed a candidate who challenged Mr Mubarak for the presidency, summarily postponed local elections due in April, mounted pressure on judges who protested against vote-rigging under the country's notorious emergency laws. During the elections some 1,500 Muslim Brothers were arrested; most were set free quite soon, but a score or so remain behind bars.
You think? Such realities, however, won't stop the predictable gaggles of useful idiots from chanting on "faster, please!" The reality is that Condi Rice's State Department is making the right call here. At least in the short term, we must reduce pressure on Mubarak. The regional situation is far too incendiary right now without adding a too emboldened Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the mix. I hope Bush gets this, his use of the word "freedom" seemingly 50 times a day aside. Order matters too sometimes. Read your Hobbes.
P.S. If you notice I'm getting a bit more shrill here, of late, well, you might be on to something. The stakes are getting higher and higher in the Middle East. Major forces are at play throughout the region, and the time for soft-ball exchanges with under-informed blogospheric and other 'commentators' is over. When people are full of it, or haven't much of a clue re: the ramifications of policies they breathlessly advocate (just whack Iran dude! Syria too! Speed up democratization in Egypt, and all will be swell!), we are going to call them on it without any niceties. Time is short, people need reality checks etc etc.
Just an in-house note for regulars. Thanks for humoring me for a little spell....and hope I don't scare too many of you away...I'm starting to wonder, truth be told, whether we have enough policymakers in Washington who really understand how very fraught with danger the regional situation is in the Middle East is right now. I'm just not sure how deep the bench is, frankly, and am a tad concerned. Someone at NSC or State--Email me and let me know all is well (your privacy assured)!
P.P.S. Don't miss this part of the Economist piece either:
You can't have it both ways, is what America's secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is telling Arab audiences during a tour of friendly capitals to rally sagging support for American policy in the Middle East. You can't preach violence and expect international aid, she says of Hamas, the Islamist party that recently swept Palestinian elections. No one will respect you if you signal reform but act repressively, she advises Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak. You can't say in private that you fear Iran going nuclear but do nothing to stop it happening, she will tell Gulf leaders.
These are real issues. Who has really thought them through? I don't see it yet. And so I'm worried, not only re: confused policy, but other reasons besides. More on all this soon, more by way of analysis rather than panicky alarm-bell ringing, I hope!
February 23, 2006
Askariya Shrine Bombing
This was a big deal, but it hasn't inexorably opened up the gates of hell (ie, full blown civil war) in Iraq. Still, this was a seminal event in the narrative of post-Saddam sectarian tension, and it was timed well given the fragile state of politicking generally as between the different factions. Another major shrine or two destroyed, a particularly grisly series of mass ethnic killings--how much more can Iraq take before degenerating into more significant sectarian conflict? Still, leaders are pledging to rebuild the shrine asap, Sistani (and Sadr) are calling for restraint, national days of mourning will help cool the situation. But, make no mistake, we are dancing at a knive's edge in Iraq. It's an even bet whether the project is salvageable, if by salvageable we mean securing a viable, unitary quasi-democratic Iraq. I take comfort that Zalmay Khalilzad is working overtime to exploit schisms between Sunni tribes, on the one hand, and al-Qaeda, former regime elements, criminal actors, and Sunni irrendentists on the other. Ditto, T&E has improved dramatically, and our counter-insurgency operations have improved dramatically as well these past 12 months. Still, I'm dubious in the extreme about the state of the nascent Iraqi forces (the perpetrators of this bombing may have infiltrated, or bribed, the new Iraqi Army). And we have a Secretary of Defense who doesn't admit there is an insurgency, and a Vice President who announced the insurgency (at least he uses the word!) was in its 'last throes' back in, what, May? If you can't accurately diagnosis the problem you face, it's hard to really come to grips with it, no? The reality is that none of us know, finally, what is going to happen in Iraq, really. Pentagon mouthpieces run around preparing flowcharts indicating the latest town under 'coalition' control (Ramadi is Free!). Others, even more absurdly, have declared the war won. On the other hand, Administration critics focus solely on various memes that we've handed Iraq to Iran, or that civil war is inexorable, or that America has no option but to withdraw and leave Iraq to its own devices. The reality is somewhere in the foggy middle, and I believe fresh leadership at the Pentagon would be helpful in helping bring new thinking to the fore re: how to see this effort through in the coming months and years. But, of course, Bush isn't listening. He's dependent on Rummy. What would Poppy think that a President becomes overly dependent on his advisors? Or Reagan, for that matter? Answer: they'd both find it weak.
Condi's Trip to the 'Region'
B- so far. Next stop, UAE! Maybe they agree to cut off aid to Hamas if they get the port deal!
P.S. The port hullaballoo is embarrassing. To us, that is. From Schumer to Hewitt, not in recent memory have I witnessed such a pitiable tempest in a teapot, such absurd hyperbole, such gross xenophobia, such naked ignorance. Bush should hold firm on this one...
P.P.S. Brooks, the best columnist currently active at the NYT:
It's come to my attention that many of the foreign goods we import into our country are made by foreigners who speak foreign languages and are foreign. It's come to my attention that many varieties of hummus and other vital bread schmears are made by Arabs, the group responsible for 9/11. Furthermore, it's come to my attention that the Chinese have a menacing death grip on America's pacifier, blankie, bunny and rattle supplies, and have thus established crushing domination of the entire non-pharmaceutical child sedative industry.
The Comments Feature
Just an in-house announcement. I'm not screening comments deliberately, so as to choose which ones to publish (I think, frankly, that that would be highly lame, all told). What's happened, as a result of the MT upgrade, is that there appears to be a temporary hitch in the software which makes it so that comments need to be manually approved (although, oddly after several hours, comment approvals appear to be happening automatically). The simple deal is this: I just haven't had the time to deal with this issue with my software guy, but hope to this weekend. Until then: comment away, your comments will get up and be read by other readers--albeit perhaps with a lag time because of this temporary hitch. So sorry, but comment away as able. These days, the shit is getting dished out in roughly equal measures from the right (various...) and the left... That's OK, I'm not looking for an amen choir over here...
February 22, 2006
More on Mora
Just a few months ago, Mora attended a meeting in Rumsfeld’s private conference room at the Pentagon, called by Gordon England, the Deputy Defense Secretary, to discuss a proposed new directive defining the military’s detention policy. The civilian Secretaries of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy were present, along with the highest-ranking officers of each service, and some half-dozen military lawyers. Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, had proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article Three of the Geneva conventions, which bars cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as well as outrages against human dignity.Going around the huge wooden conference table, where the officials sat in double rows, England asked for a consensus on whether the Pentagon should support Waxman’s proposal.
Yoo. Addington. Haynes. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Gonzalez.
Wrong on the law. Wrong on our values. Wrong for America.
Some Republicans like Mora (Frank Carlucci supported him for the GC-Navy job) and Jack Goldsmith (a conservative lawyer who ran OLC after Yoo was deputy there, now at Harvard Law School) get this. But from comments left at blogs and general insouciance on the issue I think we've lost a good swath of the party, call it the Hannity-Coulter wing, who are happy to give the 'ragheads' their due and joke on about panties like rank fools. We need to reclaim our party from these ignorant primitives, if at all possible, but the task will not be easy--as even opinion 'leaders' (what passes for them, these days) get all giggly about torture at places like NRO (there is also, of course, the fear resulting from 9/11, tinged with Islamophobia and suspicion of the 'other', that has amply facilitated the de-humanization of Middle Easterners and South Asians so as to facilitate the cheer-leading of their mistreatment).
One last point. It's pretty clear that Haynes played pretend listen to Mora to the extent he didn't want Mora to put a dissent in writing, but then abused that trust (Haynes is an Addington protege, so I'm not surprised), by not letting Mora know that overarching OLC guidance was going to allow for beyond the pale detainee interrogation tactics that Mora had thought resigned to the dustbin. But the bureaucratic gaming about got worse, and with the stakes this high, I find the entire tale of duplicity deeply disturbing and reprehensible. From the New Yorker piece (note this is all, pretty much, in Mora's memo too, which I recommend you read in toto, see my two immediately preceding posts for links to it and discussion):
In June, press accounts asserted that the U.S. was subjecting detainees to “stress and duress” techniques, including beatings and food deprivation. Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for a clear statement of the Administration’s detainee policy. Haynes wrote a letter back to Leahy, which was subsequently released to the press, saying that the Pentagon’s policy was never to engage in torture, or cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment—just the sort of statement Mora had argued for. He wrote in his memo that he saw Haynes’s letter as “the happy culmination of the long debates in the Pentagon.” He sent an appreciative note to Haynes, saying that he was glad to be on his team.
Dirty pool happens and tough bureaucratic battling is par with the course in Washington. But this is different. This is purposefully, methodically dishonest. This uses people, via charades and make-belief theater, crudely and insultingly. This does smack, as Larry Wilkerson has stated, of "cabal" like behavior. That Bush, whether consciously or via ignorance, has allowed such dishonest chicanery to occur under his watch, on an issue of such immense import, is yet another reason that I view his Administration as increasingly discredited. And I say this as a Republican, one who endorsed him in '04.
The sad reality is, even after passage of the McCain Amendment, I simply don't trust some of these individuals anymore. I believe torture or serious abuse of detainees could still be occurring as I write, with various Administration players relying on the McCain Amendment signing statement and other loopholes, real or imagined. Yes, this is painful for me to write, but at least it has the merit of being sincere.
Vilgilance is the watch-word now, not only re: our many enemies abroad, but also with regard to key administration actors who would eviscerate the moral fiber of what this country stands for. This last is a perilous threat as well--because despite their arguably good intentions--they don't get the moral stakes, they don't get the law, they don't get the inefficacy of the enhanced tactics they are so obsessed with enshrining in law, and they don't get the damage this has done to our international position generally.
With an often meek opposition party (the Democrats have few, if any, standard-bearers who have really grappled with the torture issue seriously, and this includes Al Gore's sour grapes and poor venue selection for hyperbolic showmanship), people like me increasingly have no party to turn to. We recall the Clinton years with dismay, given his episodic and ineffective reaction to al-Qaeda as it grew in strength, culminating in the 9/11 attacks--as well as his morally bankrupt inattention to genocidal action in the Balkans pre-Richard Holbrooke's insertion in '95. We continue to be fearful the Democrats don't understand the full panoply of stakes with regard to the war on terror, and will over-compensate for what they too simplistically deride as Bush's unilateral militarism, and replace it with an overly supine resort to treating terrorism as a criminal law issue, so as to likely revert to a more isolationist posture at a time when continued major American involvement is absolutely critical on the world stage.
And, yet, we have certain elements in this Administration that have dishonored the nation, and continue to be in a position to do so, on issues like detainee policy, handing an unnecessary propaganda victory and recruiting tool to our enemy. We, in short, urgently need new leadership, most likely someone whose competence is near unimpeachable (think Rudy) or can much better balance our national security imperatives with our moral values (think John McCain). But we can do more than sit around and wait for 1,000 days. We need to monitor, very, very closely, the machinations emitting from certain quarters of the Executive Branch through the end of Bush's term. There are many smart, honest, fair, moderate Republicans fighting the good fight internally, the Mora's have shown us, and we need to do our part to bolster them however and whenever possible. The stakes are too high, and some of the key players, alas, we've now learned beyond any doubt, will stoop to very mendacious behavior indeed in pursuit of their misguided goals.
John Yoo: "Yes", An American President Can Order the Application of Torture
More from Mora's memo:
...I met in my office with OLC Deputy Director John Yoo. The principal author of the OLC Memo, Mr. Yoo glibly defended the provisions of his memo, but it was a defense of provisions that I regarded as erroneous. Asked whether the President could order the application of torture, Mr. Yoo responded, "Yes." When I questioned this, he stated that his job was to state what the law was, and also stated that my contrary view represented an expression of legal policy that perhaps the administration may wish to discuss and adopt, but was not law. I asked: "Where can I have that discussion?" His response: "I don't know. Maybe here in the Pentagon?"
Mora writes about Yoo's repugnant OLC memo thus:
Although the lengthy memo covered many issues and did so with seeming sophistication, I regarded it as profoundly in error in at least two central elements. First, the memo explicitly held that the application of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to the Guantanamo detainees was authorized with few restrictions or conditions. This, I felt, was a clearly erroneous conclusion that was at variance with applicable law, both domestic and international, and trends in constitutional jurisprudence, particularly those dealing with the 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and 14th Amendment substantive due process protections that prohibited conduct "shocking to the conscience." And second, the memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President's commander-in-chief authority. A key underpinning to the notion that cruel treatment could be applied to the detainees, the OLC formulation of the commander-in-chief authority was wrongly articulated because it failed to apply the Youngstown Steel test to the Guantanamo circumstances. If applied, the test would have yielded a conclusion that the commander-in-chief authority was probably greatly attenuated in the non-battlefield Guantanamo setting. In summary, the OLC memo proved a vastly more sophisticated version of the Beaver Legal Brief, but it was a much more dangerous document because the statutory requirement that OLC opinions are binding provided much more weight to its virtually equivalent conclusions.
No one is arguing John Yoo isn't smart. But his arriviste-style meritocratic hustling, as contained in a far too aggressive OLC memo assiduously designed to please some of his elders, reminds me of a line from my old high school's constitution, tasking the academy to educate "(y)outh from every quarter" to understand that "goodness without knowledge is weak...yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous." John Yoo helped imperil the best traditions of this Republic, but thankfully many lawyers like Mora fought back. His OLC memo is now off the shelf, belatedly (and by the Addington's and Cheney's doubtless half-heartedly) disclaimed by this Administration, but the deep damage has nonetheless been done. Still, the recent trend is in a better direction, with the McCain Amendment passed (albeit with the signing statement issue), and I'll have more on further steps required to restore America's reputation as prime champion of human rights on the international stage in the coming days.
P.S. For the record, I believe in a strong executive, particularly in the exercise of foreign affairs and national security powers. But John Yoo's analysis was far too aggressive (it was unconservative, really, in its extremeness), even from the perspective of one who favors a strong executive, although, yeah, not a monarch or such. Said analysis was also, it must be said, rather on the shoddy side in parts (probably deliberately, as Yoo likely realized where his reasoning fell short or was too aggressive, but nevertheless apparently went ahead to get to his political masters' desired result, in a manner not commensurate with best ethical practices, in my view, ie. don't always tell your client what he wants to hear, but what the best analysis of the law requires...). More soon, including discussion of 8th Amendment applicability issues in the context of enemy combatants, as well as more detail on Youngstown and why I side with Mora's interpretation.
Protect Your Client
I also drew Mr. Haynes attention to the Secretary's [Donald Rumsfeld] hand-written comment on the bottom of the memo, which suggested that detainees subjected to forced standing (which was limited to four hours) could be made to stand longer since he usually stood for longer periods during his work day. Although, having some sense of the Secretary's verbal style, I was confident the comment was intended to be jocular, defense attorneys for the detainees were likely to interpret it otherwise. Unless withdrawn rapidly, the memo was sure to be discovered and used at trial in the military commissions. The Secretary's signature on the memo ensured that he would be called as a witness. I told Mr. Haynes he could be sure that, at the end of what would be a long interrogation, the defense attorney would then refer the Secretary to the notation and ask whether it was intended as a coded message, a written nod-and-a-wink to interrogators to the effect that they should not feel bound by the limits set in the memo, but consider themselves authorized to do what was necessary to obtain necessary information. The memos, and the practices they authorized, threatened the entire military commission process...
The belief held by some that Guantanamo's special jurisdictional situation would preclude a U.S. court finding jurisdiction to review events occurring there was questionable at best. The coercive interrogations at Guantanamo were not committed by rogue elements of the military acting without authority, a situation that may support a finding of lack of jurisdiction. In this situation, the authority and direction to engage in the practice issued from and was under review by the highest DOD authorities, including the Secretary of Defense. What precluded a federal district court from finding jurisdiction along the entire length of the chain of command?
I'm not a litigator, just one of those horrid corporate lawyers, but that strikes me as a very good question indeed.
Mr. Haynes said little during our meeting. Frustrated by not having made much apparent headway, I told him that the interrogation policies could threaten Secretary Rumsfeld's tenure and could even damage the Presidency. "Protect your client," I urged Mr. Haynes.
Mora was backed up by many of the service lawyers, including Army General Counsel Steven Morello and Marine Corps Counsel Peter Murphy (yep, more America-haters!) , re: fending off some of the worst excesses various Administration players were pushing on detainee interrogation policies. Indeed, men like these, who nobly fought a rearguard action against the excesses of John Yoo's shoddy legal reasoning (as contained in the OLC memo, since belatedly repudiated by the Administration), merit great thanks from all those concerned with upholding bedrock American values.
February 21, 2006
Public Diplomacy Watch
Throughout the Islamic world, people are beginning to make their voices heard in free elections. I’ll never forget waking up in the morning and seeing the pictures in my newspaper, somewhat blurry because of the tears in my eyes -- of the long lines of men and women in Afghanistan and later Iraq -- defying the threat of death to vote for a better future -- and raising purple ink-stained fingers in triumph. Think about the enormity of what we have witnessed in a very short time: two elections in Afghanistan for a president and a parliament; three elections in Iraq for a constitution, an interim and permanent government, two in Egypt for President and Parliament, two in the Palestinian territories, one in Lebanon, and municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. Some of these elections were more open and freer than others, each had a very different outcome, yet each was a part of fostering freedom by encouraging debate, stimulating discussion, allowing greater participation of people who deserve to chart their own course to their future.
The best spin on a hugely complex situation--basically trying to sketch a rational middle-way forward as policy is formed reactively, somewhat on the fly, with the general aim of moving Hamas towards the two-state option? Or, worse, uneven rhetoric, riddled with contradictions, hypocrisies even ("better services")--with democratic processes being met by diktats (albeit saccharine-infused), all but guaranteeing a highly skeptical reception?
I'll try to weigh in later, but welcome commenters' views....
Jump. Yes Sir, How High?
Foreign Policy: Does torture work?
Department of Clarifications
The Iranian FM speaketh:
Iran's foreign minister denied on Monday that Tehran wanted to see Israel "wiped off the map," saying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been misunderstood.
Ah, I see....
Frankly, I wish Dan was a louder voice on this. Less out-sourcing and Salma, more anti-Addingtonism and anti-Yooism!
February 20, 2006
Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar
I don't do much, if any, food-blogging here, and try to stick to foreign policy, in the main. But I'm going to make an exception today, mostly because this restaurant is closing in a few months (the owner is reportedly selling the townhouse where it is located). So consider this something of a head's up to go there asap. I ate there Saturday night for my wife's birthday, and had a truly memorable meal. If you haven't been, and you live in NYC, you really gotta go. Tip: Oysters Rockefeller, one of the signature dishes at the place, is not the best item on the menu--just have your oysters as they're meant to be, fresh and clean and simple and pretty much w/ nothing on 'em. Chef Maxime Bilet, whom my wife and I spent a decent amount of time with during the meal (the kitchen is right off the upstairs dining room) is, not only a really amiable (and surprisingly young!) guy, but also a real talent-in-the-making. His fish dishes were touching up there at Le Bernadin levels, and the place is much more fun to boot! My recommendation: go posthaste before it closes....and don't skip the cheese course, or indeed, the fabulous creme brulee coda. Yes, you simply must make the room, even after you've imbided all the superb piscatory fare that came before...
P.S. Top notch wine list as well, Bainbridge would doubtless be pleased....
Let me take this opportunity to say something about what we've just been through, because I'm reading a lot in the papers these days about how -- "Well, you know, you made this mistake, you thought democracy could take hold in the Middle East, you supported elections and what have you done? You've supported elections that brought to power Islamists or extremists or in the case of Hamas, a group that you consider a terrorist group. Aren't you sorry that you supported these democratic processes?"
And, somewhat related, Fukuyama again:
The final area that needs rethinking, and the one that will be the most contested in the coming months and years, is the place of democracy promotion in American foreign policy. The worst legacy that could come from the Iraq war would be an anti-neoconservative backlash that coupled a sharp turn toward isolation with a cynical realist policy aligning the United States with friendly authoritarians. Good governance, which involves not just democracy but also the rule of law and economic development, is critical to a host of outcomes we desire, from alleviating poverty to dealing with pandemics to controlling violent conflicts. A Wilsonian policy that pays attention to how rulers treat their citizens is therefore right, but it needs to be informed by a certain realism that was missing from the thinking of the Bush administration in its first term and of its neoconservative allies.
The Kinder, Gentler Rummy: It's "Long, Twilight Struggle" Time!
Let's hand it to Don Rumsfeld: there are few, if any, more adept bureaucratic warriors that we've witnessed pass through Washington in the history of these United States. And now, as the quasi-unilateral, 'coalition of the willing' excesses of Bush I pass through something of a Thermidor--replaced instead by our positively furious multilateralizing in places like North Korea and Iran--Rummy again shows us what a wondrous bureaucratic survivor he is.
Yep, he's ably adapting to the new climes.
Exhibit A: Here he is at the CFR, channeling, none other than Francis Fukuyama!
Rumsfeld: "In the early years of the Cold War -- another "long twilight struggle" -- President Eisenhower made a perceptive observation -- despite the differences between this war and the Cold War -- that has resonance even today.He said: "We face a hostile ideology -- global in scope. . . ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. . . to meet it successfully [we must] . . . carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle -- with liberty the stake." For nearly 50 years we did just that. We will need to show the same perseverance in the long struggle we face today."
Fukuyama: "If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like. The United States has played an often decisive role in helping along many recent democratic transitions, including in the Philippines in 1986; South Korea and Taiwan in 1987; Chile in 1988; Poland and Hungary in 1989; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003; and Ukraine in 2004-5. But the overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can't "impose" democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective."
Why, who would have thunk it? Don Rumsfeld describing "expanded broadcasting, the Internet, and student exchanges" favorably as the way forward on Iran policy? Or calling for a revamped USIA? Fukuyama would be proud, and Charles Krauthammer dismayed! After all, friends, "student exchanges" and "expanded broadcasting" seem far removed, don't they, from Rummy's originally enunciated game plan: "(g)o massive...Sweep it all up. Things related and not"? Heh. But hey, times change, and we wouldn't want to "overplay our hand" now, would we?
On one thing, though, we can agree. The time for "some humility", as Stuff Happens stated to his CFR audience, is certainly "in order". Not least, dare I say, from our so accomplished Secretary of Defense himself...although his reference to "hard working folks" trying to get it right (did he have the Secretary of State in mind here?) appears to showcase that hubris levels are still running about an 11 on a 10 point scale. And, on idea generation on all this 'soft power' loosey-goosey stuff, he seems to be coming up pretty empty (I challenge you to detect a truly innovative idea in his entire speech and, no, merely mentioning blackberries or blogs doesn't cut it)--cuz, you know, there's no "guidebook" or "roadmap" and such...but at least Condi's cobbled together a "good start", so huzzah!
UPDATE: We get mail:
Your gloating commentary is misplaced if it's intention is to show how Rumsfeld has abandoned neo-conservatism since having been exposed to Fukiyama's recent apostasy. First of all, I am not sure either of them were neocons to begin with- but if you simply mean an acknowledgment that the ambitions of neocons to begin the process of democratizing the mideast through Iraq in order to lessen the threats we face from fundamentalism as having been wrong and that we need to retrench and take a page from the cold war containment strategies of the 20th century then you are simply being unfair to Rumsfeld's words.
Just posting this reader reax as a counter to my original post. FYI, however, please note I am well aware that Rumsfeld was and is not a neo-con per se. That was not my intent in "gloating" so, er, sophomorically. What was, however, is to suggest that this hubris-ridden Jacksonian, which is what I think Don Rumsfeld is, is nowhere near as powerful as he was back in the heady days of '02, when he was often playing SecState too. He's now forced to tout the party line a bit better, you see, and not piss all over Foggy Bottom like was his wont during Bush I. This is largely because crude realities have intruded, alas. His stewardship of the first two years of the Iraq occupation will go down as one of the most abysmally botched handlings of a post-conflict situation in US history (sorry, "post major combat..."). Embarrassing, indeed frightfully so, and on an epic scale. Second, his moral repute is in tatters (at least outside of the Hannity-Coulter wing of the Party, where 'ragheads' deserve their sorry due) as evidence continues to accumulate that the widespread torture and abuse of detainees that has occurred from Guantanamo to Iraq to Afghanistan and likely points beyond unknown stem from conscious decisions taken in his office (as well as lack of leadership and oversight that bordered on the criminally negligent). Third, this is the man who didn't even game-plan for an insurgency, swallowed Ken Adleman types hokum that this was going to be a "cakewalk", and resisted troop increases, at critical junctures, because we were just fighting a few hapless "dead-enders" (it still pains him to utter the word "insurgency"). If ever a man should have resigned from Bush's cabinet, this was the one. Deep down, I suspect, he knows this, but his arrogance prevented him from doing the right thing and stepping aside (and Bush's sad dependence on him, of course, played a role too). Regardless, history will not treat him kindly, so while he can play matinee idol tough guy for a couple more years at the podium--with an often cretinously supine Pentagon press corps along for the cheap ride--the long view will be much less generous. And, for that, I am happy indeed, as at least this rough, if delayed, measure of justice will be exacted. Is it all I would have hoped for? No, not by a long shot. But it's something, and I'll take it...
"Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support."
--Francis Fukuyama, writing in the NYT magazine.
February 17, 2006
The Hamas Conundrum
No one in Washington DC officialdom appeared to predict the political earthquake that occurred in the West Bank and Gaza now several weeks back. The conventional wisdom was that Hamas was going to put in a good show, maybe creeping into the mid-40s% (which they actually did, but more on why that analysis missed the point below), but that the Fatah old guard would carry the day. But the CW was wrong, of course, as we all now know. There are a bunch of reasons for this: 1) with Arafat gone, a charismatic figurehead at the helm of Fatah no longer existed (President Mahmoud Abbas or PM Qureia, whatever their strengths, could not be accused of enjoying a surfeit of charisma); 2) frustration with the endemic corruption that infected the Palestinian territories under Fatah's tutelage; 3) a groundswell of support for Hamas, much like Hezbollah's growth in popularity in Lebanon after Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in '82, resulting from a sense that Hamas' tactics had gotten Israel out of Gaza; 4) the fact that Fatah ran a very poor campaign indeed--often fielding too many candidates per district, dividing their vote so as to allow the Hamas candidate to prevail--giving the Islamist party more seats in the Parliament despite it getting the lesser share of the popular vote in such district; and 5) finally, and perhaps most worrisomely, the possibility that something of a seismic shift has occurred, that a persistent Islamization of the Territories is afoot in the face of continued occupation, endemic corruption, and chronic poverty (which I personally don't believe, more below).
But, here we are. Now what? Let me say this: I do not think, if George Bush is going to walk the walk (and not just talk the talk) re: democracy promotion, that he can now, however discreetly, attempt to destabilize the Hamas government he helped bring into power by pushing for new elections in short order. You asked for an election, you got an election, and the other guys won. (And, frankly, your diplomats on the ground should have given you a much better read about what might happen, so that policymakers were at least making decisions on the merits of having the elections armed with as many data points as possible. But, again, that's water under the bridge).
What's clear is that we consider Hamas a terrorist group, and aren't going to cozy up to them just because they won an election, of course. That said, we've already offered them a concession, of sorts, by saying that if they renounce violence, and recognize Israel and other such things they're not about to do (like recognize all interim peace deals)--that suddenly they'd be viewed as a partner, ie. their nefarious past would be forgiven. We're also saying, I think, that some deal will be cut with the EU to allow some to be decided quantum of humanitarian aide to flow to the West Bank and Gaza, although I'm not sure what, if any, US contribution will be involved. I suspect the EU will step up with more cash, to make up for any U.S. shortfalls, and I would be somewhat surprised if U.S. sourced dollars didn't still get to the Territories via the UN and the like. In other words, we are going to make life tough on Hamas, as we should and as pressure tactic but, I hope, not so hard so as to look inhumane, or hell-bent on regime change (so as to look nakedly hypocritical in terms of democracy promotion), or in a manner that may lead to significant instability with unpredictable results.
It also bears recalling, Fatah did get a majority of the popular vote, and they remain a major player. Helping ease them back into power, in gradual fashion, makes some sense as a policy orientation of sorts. This is particularly so as I am not one of those who believes this Hamas victory has rolled the clock back decades and decades. Put differently, that we are now back to right of return issues and irredentist claims writ large--so that there is no two state solution because the Palestinian people have all become radical fundamentalists. So no, I don't think the era of Fatah is decidely over. But, this said, that doesn't mean it's time to focus all of Washington's policymaking energy and efforts on figuring out how to topple the Hamas government, as this could backfire and, again, it makes something of a mockery of our democracy promotion strategy. (Note too, and even within Hamas, there are relative moderates, as this Haaretz piece about the new Palestinian PM evidences, indeed I'd suspect you will see Islamic Jihad and even parts of Fatah-affiliated al-Asqa brigades trying to outflank a Hamas government on the 'resistance' prong, at least at various junctures when Hamas is taking a more conciliatory tone as and if the responsibilities of governance moderates its behavior).
Little noticed too, of course, is the fact that, all things being equal, Hamas can likely actually control the suicide bombers better than Fatah's security services ever could (save Islamic Jihad's). So Israel, paradoxically, has an interlocuter that can better enforce understandings and deals, perhaps. In my view, given all the above, the way forward should now be to broach low-intensity confidence building discussions, via Euro and Egyptian proxies, between the Israelis and the Hamas goverment (with the US in the background but, of course, playing a critical role). The main goal should be to ensure there is no catastrophic detioration in relations, that relatively stable conditions are maintained into the Israeli elections (a Kadima victory would be far preferable to a Likud one), and that the U.S. balances putting real pressure on Hamas against not rendering overly self-serving and hypocritical its democracy promotion strategy (such as causing a humanitarian crisis via too draconian aid cut-offs). A tough balance, all told.
Still, at the end of the day, do I support the decision taken to have the elections go ahead? Yes, I think. We are, via elections in Lebanon, in Palestine, in Egypt and, of course, in Iraq--providing people a taste of democratic freedom. The obvious issue, however, is that Islamists are gaining in power more often than not. So this is not a moment for chest-thumping simplicities about freedom being on the march, but carefully calibrated democratization initiatives undertaken soberly and with a deep understanding of the local, case-by-case dynamics at play. Frankly, I don't have massive confidence in this Administration pulling off this very difficult balancing act particularly well, but at least Don Rumsfeld has been cut out of Foggy Bottom policy-making, one where his cluelessness was painful to witness back in the hifalutin' days of '02 when he thought he was Secretary of State too, so there are shreds of optimism.
P.S. A shout out to Joseph Britt, who was very helpful in helping me form some of my views above--though in no way does this mean that he shares them!
Bullshit Hearsay Watch
Thomas Wilner, of Shearman, who is representing some Guantanamo detainees, summarizing the evidence against his clients: "Bullshit hearsay...The information in some cases is, at best, hearsay allegations [obtained] long after capture." You don't say? I can't say I'm surprised, frankly. And here's Mark Falkoff of Covington's New York office: "It's the Salem witchcraft trials. You get one guy to start making accusations, and whether it's believable or not doesn't matter." These are serious lawyers, from top firms. They don't need to showboat for pro bono glory, and wouldn't waste their time doing so.
A few years back, I would have been more skeptical of these appraisals re: some of the detainees at Gitmo. I would have had more faith that, per Rummy, all the guys there were really the worst mofos of the bunch--you know, UBL's bodyguards, the 20th hijacker, just the worst scum of the earth. The lot of them! Well, after Katrina, and Harriet Miers, and Dick "last throes" Cheney, and many other mishaps besides--I've lost a lot of faith in our titular 'leaders'. And on this issue, keeping Gitmo open for a long while yet as appears the game-plan, they're dead wrong.
Guantanamo will be viewed by historians, when it's finally closed (it will be, I predict, at some point during the next Administration, whether Republican or Democratic--unless a mediocrity like George Allen or Bill Frist wins), as a misguided excess born of national trauma/panic post 9/11. Gitmo-approved tactics that 'worked' under controlled circumstances--with good guard to detainee ratios and such--led to the worst abuses by the US military since My Lai when they 'migrated' to Afghanistan and Iraq. Regardless, the tactics employed at Guantanamo itself (many personally approved by Don Rumsfeld) were morally reprehensible. Indeed, the UN Commission on Human Rights concluded, in a report released today, that interrogation tactics were often not consistent with "safe, legal, ethical and effective interrogations, and they have adversely affected the mental health of detainees" (cue a court syncophant commenter informing us Zimbabwe and Syria and others have served as leads on the Commission! And bonus points for a Christina Aguillera, Eminem or Rage Against the Machine snide aside, especially if A/C is mentioned!). Yes, the images of shackled detainees being wheel-barrowed around in orange jumpsuits amidst razor-wire cages have soiled America's reputation--despite the location in the "tropics", alas (Dick Cheney's memorable word)-- and placed our position as avatar of human rights on the world stage at real risk. To be sure, Europeans and others are often hypocritical in the extreme when they criticize the abuses of Guantanamo, as they've often delved into their own human rights abuses aplenty (France in Algeria, anyone?) But, put simply, the cost and benefits are all wrong on this one. There's a better way forward, and I'll be sketching it in the coming days. For now, suffice it to say I view protestations about Guantanamo being critical to our national security--so that it remains open into quasi-perpetuity--as unconvincing in the extreme. As bullshit, you might say.
February 14, 2006
The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.
And today, Scott McClellan:
Q One on Hamas, and one on oil royalties. Is there a formal or informal plan to starve Hamas financially?
Last but certainly not least, and also today, State Dept press spokesman Sean McCormack:
QUESTION: Can I bring you over to the Hamas issue? This morning the White House and the State Department said there's no plot or plan being discussed by the U.S. with Israel to destabilize the Palestinian government led by Hamas.
Heh. Attempts at translation later, and intrepid commenters are welcome to attempt to divine current U.S. policy re: Hamas too!
P.S. I am planning a thorough analysis of where things stand vis-a-vis the entire Hamas earthquake soon, by the way....
February 13, 2006
"At Least People's Ears Have Pricked Up..."
What they [the bombers] did was good. They have warned that we are here, we Muslims. People have taken notice that we are here. They died so that people would take notice . . . big meetings and conferences make no change at all. With this, at least people’s ears have pricked up.”
Radical Islamists of this ilk--those supporting violence against their fellow citizens--are nothing but fifth-columnists. They must be incarcerated and/or deported. But the challenge is to create conditions whereby fewer Muslims in the West are tempted by such fanatical radicalism and resort to violence. And my cautionary notes advocating that we don't cheerlead cartoon depictions of Mohammed as a ticking bomb are not some Munich-like appeasement redux, but rather an attempt to advocate judicious and responsible editorial judgment in the context of a wide-ranging ideological struggle against radical Islam--one being fought, not only in the Islamic world, but also very much in a West grappling with how best to integrate their Muslim minorities. Part of this battle means trying not to gratuitously humiliate religious minorities living within your midst.
Yes, freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet, and worth defending to the last. And while we may detest the imagery of neo-Nazis marching about Skokie, say, many of us will hold our noses and defend the right of such odious bigots to express themselves. Still, everytime we pen an essay, or draw a cartoon--we are weighing whether we are giving offense to someone based on race, or sex, or religion or something else. We practice judgment, a modicum of self-censorship, you might say. And putting aside the often absurd excesses of political correctness and hate speech regulations at the academy and such, aren't we being hypocritical if we pretend such self-censorship doesn't occur myriad times every day, though countless office conversations, op-eds being penned, blog posts being published, and so on?
Further, and putting aside the obvious ginned up nature of many of the (grotesque and unacceptably violent) protests in the Arab world, or how regimes like Bashar Asad's so transparently allowed the burning of the Danish Embassy to let the street blow off some steam, or how the cartoons were supplemented by other more offensive ones by Danish Islamists intent on stirring up a bigger fuss, and so on--can't we nevertheless understand, particularly in pre-Enlightenment* societies that haven't developed any sophisticated understanding of free speech norms--that depicting Mohammed in such an insulting manner will cause genuine rage? And shouldn't we, just perhaps, choose not to revel in rubbing the Islamic masses noses in it--especially when we are attempting to deny Islamist radicals more propaganda fodder for recruiting and such? And, here in the West, while we must demand of any Muslims living in our modern democratic societies that they fully ascribe to fundamental tenets like freedom of expression-- shouldn't we neverthless ask that editorial judgment be exercised, that purposefully inflammatory anti-Muslim cartooning not be mindeessly cheer-led in (seemingly) every blog in the land?
*There seems to be some confusion, in previous threads, about my use of the word "pre-enlightenment". By that I mean that the countries of the Islamic world did not go through the Enlightenment, the era of Voltaire, Diderot and other thinkers who advocated the prime importance of reason. So, to put it more plainly, having satellite dishes, cell phones, E-mail, Danish flags at the ready and all the rest of it--well, it doesn't mean I'm wrong in my description of these societies as being pre-Enlightenment ones. Indeed, one might say that the very core of the massive foreign policy challenge facing America today, one that may still fail dismally, is to attempt to help midwife the Islamic world towards modernity, towards enlightenment values of rationality--the very foundation of creating sustainable democracies--and thus lessening the allure of nihilistic and apocalpytic messianism of the al-Qaeda variety. And what the radical Imams in Denmark were likely seeking to do (and why they supplemented the already offensive cartoons with a few more for added insurance), was to secure a propaganda victory in the Muslim world against Enlightenment values of freedom of expression. Put differently, if your first introduction to such tenets are insulting depictions of your leading religious figures, you're not off to a great start representing the 'enlightened' West as model of progress and wonderful alternative to your present reality. Or, put even more simply, it's not going to get you any love or street cred in Najaf or Fallujah or Beirut or Cairo. Maybe that's not our goal, you protest, as we must be principled and uncompromising in the defense of our most strongly held ideals (no to Islamo-bullying, the latest earnest rallying cry!). But has our somewhat haughty, self-righteous and indignant reaction to this entire cartoon fiasco really helped us, on a pragmatic, brass-tacks level, in achieving our larger goal of trying to bring more Muslim moderates into our camp, of spreading Enlightenment values to the region? Or are we instead helping to do the opposite, by inflaming passions in the region and within the mosques of Europe, the better to facilitate the machinations of the Imam Alis busily plying their noxious trade, of radicalizing Muslim youth in the service of a perverse version of Islam, of some utopic caliphate rising again after some massive clash of civilizations?
February 12, 2006
Cheap Gratuitousness Watch
No, the answer is not more censorship. But it would be nice if Western champions of freedom of speech didn't trivialize it by deriving pleasure from their ability to gratuitously offend Muslims. They view freedom of speech much as Islamic fundamentalists do — simply as the ability to offend — rather than as the cornerstone of a liberal democratic polity that uses such freedoms wisely and responsibly. Worse, these advocates insist on handing Muslim radicals a platform from which to pose as defenders of the faith against an alleged Western assault on Islam.
Yes, I am aweary of all the banner blurbs gushing forth about 'Buy Danish!' and 'Cartoon Links Here!'. There's a lot of empty show-boating in the air, masquerading as staunch defense of freedom of expression. I find the spectacle unconvincing, on the whole, at least if such hyper-ventilations are meant to be taken seriously as noble defense of Western Civilization and our So Hard Won Freedoms. So forgive me if I'm a bit underwhelmed, and haven't rushed out yet to the neighborhood deli to stock up on the prescribed Danish bacon and Tuborg six-pack. Or maybe it's just the fearsome Blizzard of '06 that has me reticent to take the plunge, and therefore somewhat delinquent in rushing to defend our imperiled liberties...
February 11, 2006
Make That An Extra Cheese with Double Pepperoni...
I think this has got to get the nod for best bon mot of the year. And while I realize we're only in mid-Feb, I think it's gonna be a contender for a good, long while yet...
MORE: For another window into the cretinous crapola that busily occupies precincts of the dumbed-down right commentariat of late (with the left, of course, all atwitter too), note this pitiable little fracas about Ann Coulter's use of the word "ragheads" at a recent talk. Michelle Malkin, so helpfully, advises us that "(t)here is much buzz this weekend" and that some "conservative bloggers" are "weighing in" against. Well, hot damn! Thanks for the head's up, and keep fighting the good fight guys and gals! Never has Martin Amis' phrase the "moronic inferno" seemed more apropos. We dimly remember when National Review and such media outlets nobly manned a real good fight--against the perils presented by the specter of Soviet totalitarianism. Now large swaths of said publication have degenerated into Islamophobic trash talk, with cheap cracks about torture and a thousand dead Egyptians keeping the print flowing. Sad. Oh, and dare I say it, if some of said "commentators" didn't have passable looks--like a Daytona spring-breaker a few years on (no, I'm not talking about Derb here...)--they would barely register as a blip in the national consciousness. But we like to beam a decent profile and head of hair into the home television viewing stations (the better to keep the great public engaged and ad revenues on the uptick), and so the sad little show trundles along. Thank god, of course, this clownish gaggle's influence on actual policy making is, shall we say, de minimis.
February 05, 2006
A useful primer on the entire saga here...
My take? I agree, of course, that freedom of expression is a fundamental, bedrock value that we must defend and uphold without reservation. And yet, I would note a couple of things. One, while we post-Enlightenment sophisticates like to pat ourselves on the back for being so wondrously accepting about 'art', like a "Piss Christ", or such--as we merrily plod about the Chelsea art district looking for bargains and a good lunch on 10th Avenue--we shouldn't be so shocked that pre-Enlightenment societies aren't quite as accepting about crude depictions of their leading religious figures. Second, depicting Mohammed as a beturbaned bomb is rather unhelpful--particularly in the context of a global struggle against radical Islamism--not least because we are attempting to stoke a greater schism between moderates and radicals in the Islamic world, and equating the venerable Prophet as something of a bomb-wielding terrorist is counter-productive on this score.
The message of the most offensive cartoon (aside from the three sham ones used by a delegation of radical Danish Islamists to whip up more anger in the Muslim world) is clear: Islam writ large, via its leading prophet, is a vessel for terrorism. And, truth be told, that's not a message that's particularly helpful to propagate at this juncture. I mean, why describe one of the three great monotheistic religions on the planet, one that over a billion individuals call their own, as a terrorist faith? After all, there's a war on in the region, let us recall, and an intensifying stand-off with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Islamist movements in Lebanon, the West Bank and Egypt have all put in pretty good shows in the ballot-box of late. In Lebanon, which is transitioning through a very fragile period struggling to beat the odds and not sink back into sectarian discord, the cartoons have already led to sectarian violence with Christian-Muslim squabbles breaking out yesterday. There will likely be more such chaos in the coming days, not to mention Embassy and Consulate burnings--although security measures will be heightened. For what, really? Glenn Reynolds is right when he writes: "the message is that if you blow things up, or even look as if you might, we'll be nice to you. And once again, I note that this is a very unwise message to send". I agree, but that still doesn't mean, on the other hand, that we should cheerlead relatively gratuitous provocation.
Still, individuals who wish to live in the West must accept certain fundamental values and ascribe to national compacts dealing with freedom of expression. Put simply, people have the right to offensively piss people off (whether gratuitously or otherwise) in post-Enlightenment, Western societies (although there are varying degrees of hate speech protection and such, leading to charges of hypocrisy in some quarters). So I agree, and unequivocally, that freedom of expression is a right that needs to be defended vigorously. Muslims who wish to live in the West must understand and, indeed, accept this. If they are not willing to accept these bedrock norms, and particularly if they will resort to violence to counter them, they must be forced to leave their adopted countries. All this said, however, I'm not sure some grave New Totalitarianism is stalking Europe. Yes, the aggregated impact of various episodes over the years (the Rushdie fatwa, the Theo Van Gogh murder, the headscarves in France, and so on) certainly point to the existence of a very serious issue indeed, regarding integrating Europe's growing Muslim minority. But we must not fall into some self-fulfilling prophecy whereby we conclude that some inexorable clash of civilizations is nigh, and being fought on the streets of Amsterdam and Paris and London this very eve (by cartoonists of steely resolve and noble mien). So yeah, I found the Danish cartoons lamely provocative, on the whole, and don't think 'solidarity'-style re-printing of them through every blog and paper in the land is particularly noble or courageous, frankly.
Brace yourselves now too for Muslim groups to test the boundaries of press freedom in Europe. As Haaretz reports, an Arab European organization has published a cartoon of Anne Frank sleeping with Adolf Hitler. Yes, we're unsurprised here at B.D. that, especially given that the Arab world is rife with anti-semitic cartoons, the response to a European paper (ostensibly majority Christian staffed, I'd reckon), crudely depicting Mohammed is, you guessed it, hate-filled anti-Jewish cartoons. But they'll doubtless be some anti-Christian fare being cobbled together soon too, in varied fora, so that we'll likely see a lot of crappy cartoons in the coming days. Bravo Jyllands-Posten!
UPDATE: Suzanne Nossel, one of the very smartest young Democratic foreign policy thinkers around, make a good point, related to the above and via Shibley Telhami, about "prisms".
MORE: What she said, again. I agree with everything Nossel writes here (save one nit, namely: I think Suzanne is seriously underestimating Bashar Asad's ability, big time, to clamp down on the protestors in much more heavy-handed fashion--if Damascus really wished too. I'm guessing Bashar just wanted to let the proverbial street blow off some steam...to distract from his many, many governance problems of late...)
Oh, and Dr. D thinks I've gotten a bit carried away...
Bush to Iran: Win Your Own Freedom
From Bush's SOTU:
The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon -- and that must come to an end. (Applause.) The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. (Applause.) America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats.
..."and win your own freedom". I'm guessing some of those advocating a U.S. led regime change in Iran will be let down by this SOTU line, no? Especially as there doesn't appear to be a mighty Iranian Ahmad Chalabi to airdrop into Nasariya or some such, alas...Note also that Bush specifically stated that the world "must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons". Bush is traipsing carefully here, as he realizes that the huge majority of Iranians--including of the reformist variety--wish to have nuclear weapons just as regional actors like the Pakistanis, Indians and Israelis already do. And is it just me, or is there a slight rhetorical shift here? Before, if memory serves, Bush would typically say, more generally, that Iran writ large couldn't be allowed to achieve nuclear capability. In the SOTU, he very purposefully specified the "regime" (or is that a permanent fixture whomever leads the government)? itself couldn't achieve nuclear capability. Reader input on this point would be appreciated, as I haven't researched it in detail. Is there a real shift here, or is Bush just somewhat randomly swapping phraseology so that there is no real discernible pattern on this point? Frankly I'd be surprised if anyone in the Beltway would be excited about a nuclear Iran whether run by Ahmadi-Nejad, Rafsanjani or, even, a Khatami type...but hey, there's bad, and there's really bad....
UPDATE: Via David Sanger, this Administration quote, bolstering my case case there may be a real rhetorical shift at play here:
"Look, the Pakistanis and the North Koreans got there, and they didn't have Iran's money or the engineering expertise," said one senior official who is instrumental in putting together the American strategy. "Sooner or later, it's going to happen. Our job is to make sure it's later." By that time, he said, the hope is that a changed or different government is in power in Tehran."
Interestingly, perhaps, note John McCain has now staked out more hawkish terrain on this issue than the Bush Administration, at least per the Administrations's relatively recent Iran policy pronouncements.
"Addicted to Oil"
The president's headline-grabbing assertion that America is "addicted" to oil is wonderfully useless. If it means only -- and what else can it mean? -- that in the near term we will urgently need a lot of oil, it is banal. The amusingly discordant word "addicted" couched censoriousness -- the president as national scold; our use of oil as somehow irresponsible -- in the vocabulary of addiction, which is the therapeutic language of Oprah Nation.
SOTU fluff-ola to feed amidst the Syriana-infused zeitgeist. Some quick facts. Let's recall oil, of course, is a globally traded commodity. As Frank Verrastro of CSIS has pointed out recently in the FT, even if we didn't import a single drop of oil from the Middle East in the future, countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait will still have a major role in setting the price. As Verrastro put it: "You pay the global price and it doesn't matter where you buy it from." Currently, we only import roughly 20% of oil from the Mideast (we import more from Canada than we do from Saudi Arabia, for instance), but some 2/3rds of the world's proven reserves are located in the Middle East. So Middle Eastern oil producers will become more, not less, important going forward. And while it is laudable of Bush to talk of increasing research on hybrid cars, or alternate ways to produce ethanol etcetera, let's all be clear on one thing: boosting ethanol production via "wood chips, stalks or switch grass" isn't going "to replace more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025", Bush's stated goal in the SOTU.
Regardless of this rather transparent attempt at putting forth a catchy soundbite re: reducing our oil dependency on all those bad guys in the chaotic 'region', I suspect key OPEC countries read this portion of the SOTU as mostly rhetoric for domestic consumption, and that it won't have a material impact on their budgeting on going forward production capacity. Such, er, clarifications will help ensure this. As will the fact that there was nary a mention of conservation efforts, or slowing the growth in consumption (dare I even utter the dreaded "T" word, in this context?), and other related serious measures along these lines. The "addicted to oil" line was, mostly, populist drivel for dim anchors to clumsily cogitate over during the morning news shows the day after, and little more than that really. We will be importing oil, in massive quantities, for many decades to come--and likely more and more of it, proportionately, from the Middle East going forward. (All this said, Negroponte raises real issues here in terms of how greater oil wealth is allowing for increased trouble-making by countries like Nigeria and Venezuela. But switch grass isn't the magic bullet that's gonna make the difference, sad to say...)
P.S. Don't miss this amusing snippet from the article linked above:
Asked why the president used the words "the Middle East" when he didn't really mean them, one administration official said Bush wanted to dramatize the issue in a way that "every American sitting out there listening to the speech understands." The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he feared that his remarks might get him in trouble.
As I said, mostly drivel. SOTUs are getting increasingly tedious, no?
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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