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.

General Miller has denied recommending the use of guard dogs to intimidate prisoners during interrogations in Iraq. He also recently said he would not testify in the courts-martial of Sergeants Cardona and Smith, invoking his right to avoid self-incrimination. As someone who voluntarily spoke at length about my actions in Iraq to investigators, without a lawyer present, I can't have a favorable opinion of General Miller. By doing the military equivalent of "taking the Fifth," he's decided to protect himself, apparently happy to let two dog handlers take the fall — a stunning betrayal of his subordinates and Army values.

Sergeants Cardona and Smith have been accused of sick and sadistic behavior. They face the prospect of serious jail time. But they almost certainly acted believing they were following legal orders. In the military, orders are orders unless there is clear, uncluttered law transmitted from far above our commanders' rank and station. Instead of a clear message prohibiting torture, our top commanders gave us a deliberate muddying of the waters.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, recently shepherded a ban on torture through Congress. Then, while reluctantly signing the legislation, President Bush muddled this very clear ban on torture by stating that he would construe it "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president."

Those who serve in the prisons of Iraq deserve to know clearly the difference between legal and illegal orders. Soldiers on the ground need a commander in chief who does not seek strained legalisms that "permit" the use of torture. The McCain amendment, prohibiting "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment in all instances, is an accurate reflection of the true values of the military and American society. We should adhere to it strictly and in all cases. I know, from personal experience, that any leeway given will be used to maximum effect against detainees. No slope is more slippery, I learned in Iraq, than the one that leads to torture.

Amen Mr. Lagouranis. Amen.

Posted by Gregory at 01:54 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Spinning the Prospective Blood Bath


Well, someone had to put this into pretty, dressed-up words:

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.

It might well incite sectarian conflicts in neighboring countries and, even worse, draw these countries into taking sides in Iraq itself. Iran would side with the Shiites. It is already allied with the biggest Shiite militias, some of whose members seemed to be involved in the retaliatory attacks on Sunnis after the Shiite shrine bombing last week.

And Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait would feel a need to defend Sunnis or perhaps to create buffer states for themselves along Iraq's borders. Turkey might also feel compelled to move in, to protect Iraq's Turkoman minority against a Kurdish state in the north.

If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict, Baghdad and other cities could become caldrons of ethnic cleansing, bringing revenge violence from one region to another. Shiite populations in Lebanon, Kuwait and especially Saudi Arabia, where Shiites happen to live in the oil-rich eastern sector, could easily revolt. Such a regional conflict could take years to exhaust itself, and could force the redrawing of boundaries that themselves are less than 100 years old.

"A civil war in Iraq would be a kind of earthquake affecting the whole Middle East," said Terje Roed-Larsen, the special United Nations envoy for Lebanon and previously for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "It would deepen existing cleavages and create new cleavages in a part of the world that is already extremely fragile and extremely dangerous. I'm not predicting this will happen, but it is a plausible worst-case scenario..."

...The pivot of what could become a regional conflict is almost certainly Iran. Shiite leaders close to Iran won the Iraqi election in December, and although American and many Iraqi leaders defend their Iraqi nationalist bona fides, a civil war would almost certainly drive them to seek help from Iran. That stirs Sunni Arab fears of Iranian dominance in the region.

"What you have in Iraq is not just a society coming apart like Yugoslavia or Congo," said Vali R. Nasr, a professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "What is at stake is not just Iraq's stability but the balance of power in the region."

Historians looking at such a prospect would see a replay of the Shiite-Sunni divide that has effectively racked the Middle East since the eighth century and extended through the rival Safavid and Ottoman Empires in modern Mesopotamia and finally into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. This time, however, Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions could accelerate a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia likely to lead the way among Sunni nations.

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....

Posted by Gregory at 06:31 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack


"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."

"Great crises such as this can fragment, polarize people or pull them together," he said. "I hope in 10 years, in 15 years, in 20 years, people will look at this crisis as a turning point in getting Iraqis to come together against a common enemy."

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.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday -- blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound -- and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

"After he came back from the evening prayer, the Mahdi Army broke into his house and asked him, 'Are you Khalid the Sunni infidel?' " one man at the morgue said, relating what were the last hours of his cousin, according to other relatives. "He replied yes and then they took him away."

Aides to Sadr denied the allegations, calling them part of a smear campaign by unspecified political rivals.

By Monday, violence between Sunni Arabs and Shiites appeared to have eased. As Iraqi security forces patrolled, American troops offered measured support, in hopes of allowing the Iraqis to take charge and prevent further carnage.

But at the morgue, where the floor was crusted with dried blood, the evidence of the damage already done was clear. Iraqis arrived throughout the day, seeking family members and neighbors among the contorted bodies.

"And they say there is no sectarian war?" demanded one man. "What do you call this?"

The brothers of one missing man arrived, searching for a body. Their hunt ended on the concrete floor, provoking sobs of mourning: "Why did you kill him?" "He was unarmed!" "Oh, my brother! Oh, my brother!"

Morgue officials said they had logged more than 1,300 dead since Wednesday -- the day the Shiites' gold-domed Askariya shrine was bombed -- photographing, numbering and tagging the bodies as they came in over the nights and days of retaliatory raids.

The Statistics Department of the Iraqi police put the nationwide toll at 1,020 since Wednesday, but that figure was based on paperwork that is sometimes delayed before reaching police headquarters. The majority of the dead had been killed after being taken away by armed men, police said.

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.

Posted by Gregory at 05:49 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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.

Sadr's centrality in averting a civil war is based on three factors: He has emerged as the key power broker in the Shiite alliance that dominated January's election; his primary support base is among the 3 million Shiites of East Baghdad, which would put his militias on the main frontline of any sectarian civil war; and his uncompromising stand against the U.S. presence — as well as his opposition to the idea of a Shiite autonomous region in the south favored by the largest party in his coalition — has given him unparalleled credibility (for a Shiite leader) among Iraq's Sunnis. While Khalilzad has drawn the ire of the Shiite leadership for his efforts to pressure it into doing more to accomodate the Sunnis, Sadr represents a Shiite kingmaker with a history of reaching out to Sunnis on the basis of a common (if anti-American) Iraqi nationalism.

Sadr responded to the Samarra bombing by urging his fighters to guard Shiite holy places, but he has also appealed for restraint and warned against allowing outside elements to provoke an Iraqi civil war. He has also denounced the U.S. for failing to protect Shiites and has reiterated his demand for an American withdrawal from Iraq.

That position may yet resonate with the Sunnis, whose main political parties have long demanded a timetable for U.S. withdrawal — after all, neither side expects the Americans to protect them in the event of a full-blown civil war. In one of those paradoxes for which the Middle East is notorious, conventional wisdom throughout the region holds that a U.S. withdrawal would precipitate a civil war, but at the same time the call for such a withdrawal may be an integral part of any new national accord forged among Iraqis to avoid a civil war.

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.

Military officials said the Pentagon was in effect watching and waiting to see what the next 48 hours would bring before deciding on whether a more visible American presence might be needed — in effect, sending American forces back into areas that they had turned over to the Iraqis.

A senior official said there was no thought being given now to changing the "trajectory" of pulling American forces back and eventually withdrawing part of them this year.

But other administration officials said expanding the American presence might be necessary to contain the violence, partly because despite strenuous efforts, the Iraqi armed forces are still divided along sectarian lines. In particular, Iraqi Sunnis see Shiite-dominated troops as part of the problem, not the solution.

"Just in the last 36-hour period, Sunni Arabs who were urging us to withdraw forces from cities like Baghdad are now urging us to stay," a senior American official said. "I don't know if the American military is reconsidering its posture, but I can tell you that the Iraqis are reconsidering."

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.

Posted by Gregory at 05:20 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack


2/21 Pentagon press conference:

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.

There has been sectarian violence in that part of the world for decades. And I think the important thing to do is for us to be concerned about it and for General Casey and his folks to work on it, and for the political process to go forward in a way that it would mute it and minimize it.

I think we also have to recognize that there's criminal elements at work here, and it's not trivial. It's fairly significant. And I would add that it ought to be put in context. Think back. There -- I don't know whether the number's for sure 100,000 or 200,000 or 300,000 dead Iraqi people, men, women and children, filling mass graves in that country.

And so it's -- to isolate out violence today and say, "Oh, my goodness, there's violence today; isn't that different" -- which you did not do, of course, but I'm stating it myself -- would be out of context, because in fact there's been incredible violence in that country for year after year after year. And that does not minimize what's taking place today, but at least it puts it in a broader context and -- one would think.

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?

Posted by Gregory at 03:45 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Semi-Humorous Watch


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.

Do you feel that you were ill-served by the advice you got when you signed that memo, considering that you then had to rescind it just a month later, or a little over a month later?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well first, that's roughly my recollection of the situation; that the -- Chairman Myers and I were -- recommended that we sign -- that I sign this. I did sign it. And it was staffed around in the department, and as always, there are people who have different views. It went out. And then, I think within four or five, six weeks, we heard that there was concern about that, in which case we stopped it immediately -- retrieved it and put it on hold, and then undertook an investigation and consulted with the people who were in the Judge Advocate offices, and had a discussion about what the concerns were, because we didn't want to be doing something that people were concerned about in the department. And I had not been aware about any debate or concern prior to that. And in which case then it was revised in some ways and sent back out.

You know, I expect to have differing views. It's my responsibility to listen to differing views and to make judgments, and I do. And when, after the fact, it turns out that there is concern about it that concerns me, then I'm happy to rescind it and take another fresh look at it and talk to more people about it and see what ought to be done.

Q Do you recall on this memo that you wrote a little notation at the bottom about standing more than four hours because you stand at your desk?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I do. I do.

Q This attorney argued that that was -- it was badly advised to allow it to go out with that notation on it because that could be interpreted by some as a wink and a nod that it would be okay to go beyond the techniques that were prescribed in the memo.

SEC. RUMSFELD: No. No, no. There's no wink and a nod about anything. It was a semi-humorous remark that a person in his 70s stands all day long, and there was one provision in there that they would have people stand for several hours, and I just mused that.

And maybe it shouldn't have gone out, but it did, and I wrote it, and life goes on.

Q Part of it was that you should have gotten much better advice from your legal staff --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I heard your question the first time. I get differing views all the time, and it's not their fault for having differing views. It's -- if there's something that's done that is not the best as it might have been done, then it's my fault for having agreed to it, not the advice I get.

More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 03:38 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz reprimanded Naveh during a meeting of the General Staff at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv Thursday and called on all military officers, especially those in senior positions, to demonstrate caution and sensitivity when speaking in public. Halutz was also referring to his deputy Maj.-Gen. Moshe Kaplinsky, who said on Wednesday that Israel had discerned the first signs of instability within Hosni Mubarak's powerful regime in Egypt.

"A careless remark could be misinterpreted and taken out of its context," Halutz warned his senior staff. "It could turn into something that could drag the IDF into an unnecessary public debate and misrepresent policies and positions of Israel and the IDF."

Speaking Wednesday at a closed-door briefing with diplomats and foreign journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Naveh warned of the Hamas's rise to power and the possibility that an "axis of evil" beginning in Iran could negatively affect the Jordanian regime.

"Hamas is gathering strength and a dangerous axis starting in Iran and continuing through Iraq and Jordan is in the process of formation," Naveh said. "I don't want to be a prophet but I am not sure there will be another king after King Abdullah."

Jordanian diplomats who were present at the meeting reacted strongly and Wednesday night threatened to cut back ties with Israel if Naveh was not disciplined. On Thursday, however, the Jordanian charge d'affairs in Israel, Omar Nazif, backed down from threats he issued a day earlier and told The Jerusalem Post he believed the Hashemite kingdom had accepted the various Israeli clarifications.

King Abdullah, Jordanian security officials said Thursday, was "furious" over Naveh's remarks. "His Majesty is very angry," the officials told the Post. "He believes that Naveh's remarks reflect official government thinking in Israel."

The officials pointed out that Jordan and Israel have had "excellent" security relations over the past years and that the two sides have been cooperating in the war against terror.

"It's not clear to us why Naveh made these remarks, especially when you take into consideration the excellent relations we have in all fields," the officials said. "These remarks could create a lot of problems for Jordan."

Acting Prime Minster Ehud Olmert spoke briefly Thursday with King Abdullah and, according to sources in the Prime Minister's Office, clarified that Naveh's comments did not reflect Israeli policy.

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...

Posted by Gregory at 03:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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!

Posted by Gregory at 03:01 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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.

The Bush administration has responded by suspending talks on a bilateral free-trade agreement. Yet in Cairo Ms Rice contented herself with expressing disappointment at “setbacks” to reform, which she said fell within a context of continuing progress and friendly dialogue. Despite signs that America's western allies are inching towards talks with the Brothers, the Bush team remains wary of offending Mr Mubarak's regime by courting the rising party, which has yet to be made legal. The underlying signal, it seems, is that the Bush administration deems the regional situation too precarious, in the short run, for the kind of hasty experimentation that might weaken occasionally useful friends such as Mr Mubarak.

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.

Yet Ms Rice is hearing much the same refrain in response. America cannot preach democracy in Palestine, then chastise the winners, just as it cannot demand concessions from Hamas without Israel budging, too. It cannot bully dictatorial allies to reform, then always expect their support. And America cannot single out Iran on the nuclear issue, while ignoring Israel's nearby arsenal. It's like Dick Cheney hunting quail but shooting his friend instead, joked a Saudi columnist.

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!

Posted by Gregory at 01:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by Gregory at 05:23 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Condi's Trip to the 'Region'

At least if you believe the dastardly MSM, Condi's coming up empty this trip. In Egypt. And now in Saudi. And, of course, we knew where Iran stood on this issue...

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.

It's therefore time for Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Bill Frist and Peter King to work together to write the National Security Ethnic Profiling Save Our Children Act, which would prevent Muslims from buying port management firms, the Chinese from buying oil and mouth-toy companies, and the Norwegians from using their secret control of U.S fluoridation levels to sap our precious bodily fluids at the Winter Olympics.

In other words, what we need to protect our security and way of life is a broad-based, xenophobic Know Nothing campaign of dressed-up photo-op nativism to show foreigners we will no longer submit to their wily ways.

Never mind — the nativist, isolationist mass hysteria is already here.


Posted by Gregory at 04:47 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

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

From a must-read Jane Mayer piece in the current New Yorker:

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.

This standard had been in effect for fifty years, and all members of the U.S. armed services were trained to follow it. One by one, the military officers argued for returning the U.S. to what they called the high ground. But two people opposed it. One was Stephen Cambone, the under-secretary of defense for intelligence; the other was Haynes. They argued that the articulated standard would limit America’s “flexibility.” It also might expose Administration officials to charges of war crimes: if Common Article Three became the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it. Their opposition was enough to scuttle the proposal.

In exasperation, according to another participant, Mora said that whether the Pentagon enshrined it as official policy or not, the Geneva conventions were already written into both U.S. and international law. Any grave breach of them, at home or abroad, was classified as a war crime. To emphasize his position, he took out a copy of the text of U.S. Code 18.2441, the War Crimes Act, which forbids the violation of Common Article Three, and read from it. The point, Mora told me, was that “it’s a statute. It exists—we’re not free to disregard it. We’re bound by it. It’s been adopted by the Congress. And we’re not the only interpreters of it. Other nations could have U.S. officials arrested.”

Not long afterward, Waxman was summoned to a meeting at the White House with David Addington. Waxman declined to comment on the exchange, but, according to the Times, Addington berated him for arguing that the Geneva conventions should set the standard for detainee treatment. The U.S. needed maximum flexibility, Addington said. Since then, efforts to clarify U.S. detention policy have languished. In December, Waxman left the Pentagon for the State Department.

To date, no charges have been brought against U.S. personnel in Guantánamo. The senior Defense Department official I spoke to affirmed that, in the Pentagon’s view, Qahtani’s interrogation was “within the bounds.” Elsewhere in the world, as Mora predicted, the controversy is growing. Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Commission called for the U.S. to shut down the detention center at Guantánamo, where,it said, some practices “must be assessed as amounting to torture.” The U.N. report, which the White House dismissed, described “the confusion with regard to authorized and unauthorized interrogation techniques” as “particularly alarming.”

Mora recently started a new job, as the general counsel for Wal-Mart’s international operations. A few days after his going-away party, he reflected on his tenure at the Pentagon. He felt that he had witnessed both a moral and a legal tragedy.

In Mora’s view, the Administration’s legal response to September 11th was flawed from the start, triggering a series of subsequent errors that were all but impossible to correct. “The determination that Geneva didn’t apply was a legal and policy mistake,” he told me. “But very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.”

Mora went on, “It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing.” Many Administration lawyers, he said, appeared to be unaware of history. “I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus.” Mora understood that “people were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications.

These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals,” he said. “When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.”

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.

On April 28, 2004, ten months later, the first pictures from Abu Ghraib became public. Mora said, “I felt saddened and dismayed. Everything we had warned against in Guantánamo had happened—but in a different setting. I was stunned.”

He was further taken aback when he learned, while watching Senate hearings on Abu Ghraib on C-SPAN, that Rumsfeld had signed the working-group report—the draft based on Yoo’s opinion—a year earlier, without the knowledge of Mora or any other internal legal critics. Rumsfeld’s signature gave it the weight of a military order. “This was the first I’d heard of it!” Mora told me. Mora wrote that the Air Force’s deputy general counsel, Daniel Ramos, told him that the final working-group report had been “briefed” to General Miller, the commander of Guantánamo, and General James Hill, the head of the Southern Command, months earlier. (The Pentagon confirmed this, though it said that the generals had not seen the full report.) “It was astounding,” Mora said. “Obviously, it meant that the working-group report hadn’t been abandoned, and that some version of it had gotten into the generals’ possession.”

The working-group report included a list of thirty-five possible interrogation methods. On April 16, 2003, the Pentagon issued a memorandum to the U.S. Southern Command, approving twenty-four of them for use at Guantánamo, including isolation and what it called “fear up harsh,” which meant “significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee.” The Defense Department official told me, “It should be noted that there were strong advocates for the approval of the full range of thirty-five techniques,” but Haynes was not among them. The techniques not adopted included nudity; the exploitation of “aversions,” such as a fear of dogs; and slaps to the face and stomach. However, combined with the legal reasoning in the working-group report, the April memorandum allowed the Secretary to approve harsher methods.

Without Mora’s knowledge, the Pentagon had pursued a secret detention policy. There was one version, enunciated in Haynes’s letter to Leahy, aimed at critics. And there was another, giving the operations officers legal indemnity to engage in cruel interrogations, and, when the Commander-in-Chief deemed it necessary, in torture. Legal critics within the Administration had been allowed to think that they were engaged in a meaningful process; but their deliberations appeared to have been largely an academic exercise, or, worse, a charade.

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.

Posted by Gregory at 06:29 AM | Comments (63) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by Gregory at 04:59 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Protect Your Client

Another horrible anti-American, Alberto Mora, former General Counsel of the Navy, writing here about a meeting with William Haynes, General Counsel of the Department of Defense:

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.

Posted by Gregory at 04:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

Public Diplomacy Watch

Karen Hughes:

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.

Recently, the Palestinian people had an election and voted for change. I want the Palestinian people to know that America shares your hope for a better life and your dream of a state of your own living side by side in peace with Israel, and we are working to help you achieve both. We congratulate you on conducting free, fair and open elections. You made your voices heard -- you want better services and an end to corruption. We also believe you want to live and work and raise your children in peace. President Bush spoke of that dream -- of two free and democratic states living side by side in peace and freedom. That vision of course is only possible if we all accept the idea of two states. The two-state concept is at the heart of two peace treaties, and many international decisions, agreements and understandings -- yet it is still not accepted by some. But to live, to work, to go to school, to live free and productive lives, people must feel free from violence and terror -- and must understand that others should have that same freedom from fear. America and the international community, which care deeply about the Palestinian people, have quite reasonably said that we must all share the same principles -- principles we have agreed on through years of negotiations-- to arrive at our common goal of Palestinian statehood. And so to deliver on its promises to achieve a better future for the Palestinian people, it is the responsibility of any Palestinian government to renounce violence and terror, to recognize Israel’s right to exist and to accept previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap. This is the only way forward.

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....

Posted by Gregory at 05:16 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Jump. Yes Sir, How High?

Foreign Policy: Does torture work?

John Yoo: You would have to ask someone else with knowledge or expertise on the matter. I could add nothing more on that question than what is already in the public domain. But I would like to say that it is my understanding that the United States does not engage in torture, and that the reports of abuses that have occurred in Iraq or elsewhere appear to have been the result of individuals acting outside official policy. Abuses, while regrettable, sometimes happen in large organizations when individuals violate the rules. For example, we have many cases of police or prison abuse in our country despite clear rules against it. We have a military investigatory and judicial system to prevent and remedy abuses that occur on the part of soldiers in wartime. Those investigations and prosecutions are still ongoing.

Beneath contempt.

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

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.

"Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned," Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference, speaking in English, after addressing the European Parliament.

"How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not legally recognize this regime," he said.

Ah, I see....

Posted by Gregory at 02:54 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


"(T)he degree of duplicity going on just depresses the living hell out of me."

Frankly, I wish Dan was a louder voice on this. Less out-sourcing and Salma, more anti-Addingtonism and anti-Yooism!

Posted by Gregory at 02:37 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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....

Posted by Gregory at 11:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Democratization Watch...

Condi Rice:

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?"

Absolutely not. It was the only thing to do. It was -- first of all, from the point of view of the United States, the only moral thing to do. The idea that somehow, it is better for people to lack the means and the chance to express themselves, that it's better to support that and to, therefore, support dictatorship or oppression or authoritarianism where people don't have a voice -- it's, I think, morally reprehensible. People have to have a way to express themselves or, if they don't have a legitimate way to express themselves, they express themselves through extremism.

Secondly, there is an assumption, somehow, that the Middle East was somehow a stable paradise; that the United States' policies disturbed, and if we had just not insisted on the overthrow of dictatorship in Iraq or that Syrian forces leave Lebanon or that the Palestinian people have an opportunity to express themselves, everything would have been fine. But of course, that's not the Middle East as it existed three or four years ago. The Middle East was a place that you had such a great freedom deficit that people were expressing themselves by flying airplanes into buildings. That was a lesson we had to learn, that the 60 years of turning our backs on democracy in the Middle East and favoring "stability" in the Middle East had given us neither stability nor democracy.

And the problem is that after 60 years, it's perhaps not surprising that civil society is not very strong. It's not surprising that parties that express the need for compromise, the need for overcoming differences are weak. Those parties have to be built and it's going to take a while to build them. And perhaps it's true that the most organized parties, in some cases -- they're the most organized entities, in some cases, were more extreme. But I firmly believe that this is a transitional matter, because in politics, you have to deliver for the people, particularly if you have to stand for election by the people, particularly if you have to stand for the people to reaffirm you in elections.

So, what the world community should do is not turn back from democracy in the Middle East; not say, "Oh, my goodness, we got a glimpse of democracy and it's rather scary what can happen with it." That's not the right approach. The right approach is to continue to encourage reform and democracy and openness, to work to establish parties that are moderate in their views, to work to establish civil society, to work to establish the institutions, to say to any who have been elected in these processes and comes from the extremes, "You now have a obligation, however, a responsibility, to work for the aspirations of your people. And your people, as far as we can see, don't want to turn their children into suicide bombers. They don't want to spend their lives trying to destroy Israel and therefore, living in circumstances as the Palestinians do."

And so, the international community has to stand firm for the principle that however you came to power by election, you have responsibilities and one of the responsibilities of democracy is that you cannot have one foot in terrorism and one foot in politics. And it has to be the international community that has to insist on that standard. Now, for anybody who gets into power through election, that's a standard we have to insist upon.

So, while we are building institutions of democracy, we can't let those who have been elected through democratic processes govern undemocratically. We cannot let those who have been elected to processes through democracy keep one foot in terror and one foot in politics.

But it would be a tragedy if we turned back from the insistence that people ought to have a right to choose their leaders. That would be a tragedy and it would be -- for those of us who are fortunate enough to live in countries where we have that right, I think it would be morally reprehensible for us to turn our backs on those who don't yet have that right.

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.

We need in the first instance to understand that promoting democracy and modernization in the Middle East is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse, as we have seen in the case of the Palestinian election bringing Hamas to power. Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. It is no accident that so many recent terrorists, from Sept. 11's Mohamed Atta to the murderer of the Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh to the London subway bombers, were radicalized in democratic Europe and intimately familiar with all of democracy's blessings. More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism.

But greater political participation by Islamist groups is very likely to occur whatever we do, and it will be the only way that the poison of radical Islamism can ultimately work its way through the body politic of Muslim communities around the world. The age is long since gone when friendly authoritarians could rule over passive populations and produce stability indefinitely. New social actors are mobilizing everywhere, from Bolivia and Venezuela to South Africa and the Persian Gulf. A durable Israeli-Palestinian peace could not be built upon a corrupt, illegitimate Fatah that constantly had to worry about Hamas challenging its authority. Peace might emerge, sometime down the road, from a Palestine run by a formerly radical terrorist group that had been forced to deal with the realities of governing. [my emphasis]

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 06:48 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

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: "Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a "long, twilight struggle" whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world. As recent events in France and Denmark suggest, Europe will be a central battleground in this fight."


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."

And now, Rumsfeld again: We need to consider the possibility of new organizations and programs that can serve a similarly valuable role in the War on Terror in this new century.

What, for example, should a U.S. Information Agency, or a Radio Free Europe for the 21st Century look like? These are tough questions.

And I suggest that some humility is in order, because there is no guide book -- no roadmap -- to tell our hard working folks what to do to meet these new challenges.

Secretary of State Rice's proposal to support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people through expanded broadcasting, the Internet and student exchanges is a good start, and deserves support. [my emphasis throughout]

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.

You are conflating Rumsfeld's views regarding the entire 'war on terror' with all its manifold fronts and issues with his approach to war in Iraq.

I have heard him say much the same kinds of things you quote from CFR since the earliest days after 9/11. Yes he famously mischaracterized the insurgents as 'dead-enders' but his wider view has always been a dark one. He is always pessimistic when speculating on how long this threat will last and how great the sacrifices will be. He clearly expects this to be a generational undertaking and also that we will experience future devastating attacks. He never to my knowledge indicated that the war in Iraq was the alpha and the omega or that it had to act as the template for all our approaches. While he had good reason to disparage the German and French attempts at obstruction in the UN he is not a unilateralist for unilateralism's sake.

Can democracy be foisted on people who do not want it? Of course not. But the question has always been with regards to Iraq 'do they want it?'

Fukiyama may never have believed they did. Rumsfeld probably never much believed in this either-but it was his job to support his presidents policies..

But he can still sincerely believe Iraq will emerge a better place and have a positive effect on the region while also urging increased cooperation between nations and establishing institutions to contain the threat Islamic terrorism poses.

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...

Posted by Gregory at 12:36 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack


"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.

Posted by Gregory at 12:25 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

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!

Posted by Gregory at 05:12 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

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.

Posted by Gregory at 03:56 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Hamas Policy....

Steven Erlanger:

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.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement.

The officials also argue that a close look at the election results shows that Hamas won a smaller mandate than previously understood.

The officials and diplomats, who said this approach was being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the Israeli government, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

They say Hamas will be given a choice: recognize Israel's right to exist, forswear violence and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements — as called for by the United Nations and the West — or face isolation and collapse.

And today, Scott McClellan:

Q One on Hamas, and one on oil royalties. Is there a formal or informal plan to starve Hamas financially?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the news reports earlier today about some sort of plan that was talking about forcing Hamas from power so that there could be new elections. There is no plot, there is no plan. I talked about this a little bit earlier with some of you. Israel has said that there is no plan. We have always been very clear and consistent in our views when it comes to Hamas. The conversations that we have with Israel are the same kind of conversations we have with European governments, Arab governments and others.

Hamas is the one who has a choice to make. If Hamas wants relations with the international community, then it must renounce terror, recognize Israel, and disarm -- as the Quartet has called for. The Quartet spelled out what needs to be done and it's a choice that Hamas now has to make. We want a partner for peace. But you cannot be a partner for peace if you advocate the destruction of Israel and if you engage in terrorism. So there is a choice facing Hamas right now and we'll see what they do.

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.

But you are looking at economic assistance and it may be squeezed or stopped if they don't -- you know, renounce violence and all of the above. Wouldn't an economic squeeze tend to destabilize and bring down a Hamas-led government? I know we don't -- the U.S. doesn't pay the employees, but the Europeans do and they would be very hard-pressed to keep going without economic assistance.

Have I -- am I missing something here?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, you rightly point out, Barry, and you rightly characterize, certainly, the reaction of the U.S. Government and certainly, based on the press reports I have seen, the Israeli Government. Bottom line is that there is no U.S.-Israeli plan, project, plot, conspiracy to destabilize or undermine a future Palestinian government. There is an existing caretaker government with which we continue to work. We continue to work with President Abbas.

There are no conversations with the Israelis that we aren't having with other members of the international community, the Quartet, for example. Note the basis of those conversations is the recent Quartet statement out of London that lays down three conditions for any new Palestinian government to meet. And what it says basically -- you have access to it -- is that if a new Palestinian government does not meet the requirements outlined by the Quartet, the Quartet member states, and the Quartet would urge other states to follow suit, would review their assistance to the Palestinian Authority in light of the policies and actions of a future Palestinian government.

If the future Palestinian government does not meet the conditions and requirements that are outlined in that Quartet statement, certainly, we are going to have to take a hard look at what sort of assistance -- what our assistance programs would be. We do not fund terrorist organizations. We would have to act within not only our laws, but our policies and I believe that other members of the Quartet share that view. It's outlined in the Quartet statement.

Certainly, I think it's understandable that if you have a new Palestinian government that is -- that chooses to break with more than a decade's worth of policy of recognizing the State of Israel, seeking and negotiating a solution with the state of Israel, and turning away from the use of violence and terror as a matter of policy, then of course the international community is going to take a look at what its obligations are to a future Palestinian government.

I think it's -- I think that that's perfectly reasonable and understandable. So, what the international community has said in a strong, clear voice, beginning with the Quartet statement issued recently in London, is that it is incumbent upon Hamas to make some hard choices. While the government formation process has not formally begun and we don't know what the platform of a future Palestinian government might be, what the composition of that future Palestinian government might be, it is likely to be a Hamas government.

And that government will be faced with the hard choices of governing. It will be faced with the hard choices of meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people not only for good governance and non-corrupt governance, but also with the aspirations for peace. The Palestinian people, in voting for President Abbas a little more than a year ago, voted for peace. They voted for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinian people. So it will be incumbent upon any future Palestinian government to meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people not only for a good governance, non-corrupt governance, but also for peace and security.

QUESTION: The hard look that the U.S. and others would take at financial assistance if Hamas doesn't do the three things asked of it could result in suspension of assistance and couldn't -- wouldn't that have the effect of destabilizing the Palestinian government?

MR. MCCORMACK: Barry, you're leaping to conclusions here. First of all, there is a review of U.S. assistance programs at this point. There are three basic categories. There's direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority which has happened on an ad hoc basis three times over the past two years. There's indirect assistance which is provided through the Agency for International Development. There's an annual budget for that that's usually provided via NGOs. And then there's also direct assistance to the UN for humanitarian assistance. All U.S. assistance programs are under review. The EU is conducting a similar review of its assistance programs.

So at this point I can't tell you the outcome of that review. One thing that Secretary Rice has said is that we will look at humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians on a case-by-case basis. We understand there are humanitarian needs. But at this point, I'm not going to either prejudge the outcome of our assistance review and I'm not going to prejudge what the platform or composition of a future Palestinian government might be and I'm not going to prejudge what decisions they may or may not take. It is up to them to make a certain set of decisions. The international community couldn't have been clearer as to what will be required of them and we'll see if they are able to meet the requirements of the international community.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the policies that they make, will that -- that will be dependent, that will depend how much aid they get, what kind of programs do you get and that could lead ultimately to the destabilization of their government. But you're saying that's an unintended consequence, you're just forcing them to --

MR. MCCORMACK: No. I'm saying that you're hypothesizing and I'm not going to engage in hypothesizing along with you. What I'm telling you is that there is currently a review of our aid programs and that it -- the requirements for a new Palestinian government in order to realize a relationship with the existing Palestinian government that would be similar are very clear. If they fail to meet those requirements then, of course, the United States and the rest of the international community is going to look at what their assistance programs might be --

QUESTION: Which could also lead to their downfall, though? So you're saying there are policies that'll dictate --

MR. MCCORMACK: What I'm saying, Elise, is that any new Palestinian government is going to face some -- the hard choices of governing and the hard choices of meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The international community could not have been clearer in what it said about what a new Palestinian government needs to do. If a new Palestinian government does not meet the requirements, as laid out by the international community, then I think there certainly will be a reaction from the international community concerning assistance to that new government.


QUESTION: When do you expect the review to be completed, because Hamas is likely to come into power fairly soon? And secondly, in her discussions last week with Foreign Minister Livni, did you look at -- did the Secretary at all look at strategy of how to isolate Hamas? What was the substance of those discussions?

MR. MCCORMACK: The substance of the discussions was what we have -- the same substance that we have had with Russia, with the EU, with Secretary General Annan as well as other states and that is seeking to make very clear to Hamas what's required of it. That's the substance of the conversations.

QUESTION: Well, did you come up with the best ways of doing that, the best strategy to do that?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think the best strategy is the one that we are pursuing and that is sending a clear unified message from the international community about what will be required of a new Palestinian government. The first --

QUESTION: The other one was when will the review be finished of --

MR. MCCORMACK: I expect over the next week or two. The -- as I understand the timetable, there will be the new Palestinian legislative council will be seated, I think, the 16th or 18th.

QUESTION: This weekend?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, this weekend. And they will be sworn in. At that point, President Abbas will make some remarks. We will see if Hamas puts forward a prime minister candidate and what the platform for a new government might be. I think that President Abbas might have something to say about the platform upon which a government might be formed. So that's the beginning of the government formation process. I think that there's an amount of time, maybe five weeks, up to five weeks in which they have to form that government -- this is -- as we understand the law.

So this is going to play out over the course of the coming days and weeks.

QUESTION: But you're not saying one's conditional on the other?

MR. MCCORMACK: What, the --

QUESTION: And the aid review will proceed and --

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, the aid review is going to --

QUESTION: -- everything will come out in a week or two --


QUESTION: Whatever they say in their platform.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. Exactly.

QUESTION: So I'm sorry, just to go back to the review. When you've finished doing the review, will the review make recommendations as to what can be channeled to humanitarian groups or what will you end up with at the end of the review?

MR. MCCORMACK: I think what we'll have a good understanding of is the totality of our assistance programs and how -- if a government fails to comply with the requirements laid out in the Quartet statement, how those assistance programs might be affected in terms of the law and in terms of our policy. And I would expect that we will also compare notes with the EU during this process once we get to a point where we have a good picture of what our aid programs look like and what our legal and policy requirements will be.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, I missed it. But the review is the U.S. review?

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, there's a U.S. review. I'm saying that --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. MCCORMACK: I'm saying, yeah, there are parallel tracks going on.

QUESTION: Yeah. Oh, of course.

MR. MCCORMACK: Separate. But at a certain point -- I don't know exactly when, Barry -- we'll compare notes about what they found and what we found. [emphasis added throughout]

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....

Posted by Gregory at 05:26 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

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.”

--British imam Hamid Ali, a spiritual leader at the mosque where the 7/7 bombers worshipped, quoted describing the tube bombings approvingly, in a must-read Times expose.

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?

Posted by Gregory at 12:32 AM | Comments (71) | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Cheap Gratuitousness Watch

Emran Qureshi gets it:

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...

Posted by Gregory at 09:14 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Make That An Extra Cheese with Double Pepperoni...

"As long as the pizza is delivered hot and the remote control works, all's well in the world. Right, guys?"

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...

TCR's been cooking with gas for weeks now so head on over and, as they say, keep scrolling...

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.

Posted by Gregory at 05:20 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

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...

Posted by Gregory at 11:13 PM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

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.

Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. (Applause.) [emphasis added]

..."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.

Posted by Gregory at 02:19 AM | Comments (47) | TrackBack

"Addicted to Oil"

George Will nails it:

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.

Not to worry. The president says that by 2025 America will "replace" -- a certain ambiguity there -- "more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East." Replace with what? Other oil? Never mind. Such recurring goals, located safely over the horizon, resemble Soviet agricultural quotas, except that no one will be shot when they are not met.

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?

Posted by Gregory at 01:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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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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