May 31, 2006
Some Good News: Paulson to Treasury
There's obviously been a lot of mounting dissapointment expressed with the Bush Administration in this space in the past year or so, but Hank Paulson's appointment to Treasury is an excellent, excellent pick. He's the Republican Bob Rubin, if you will (albeit Paulson has less political experience than Rubin did, so his Wash DC learning curve will be a bit steeper). Now, if Robert Zoellick can just be persuaded to stay on at State, we'd be beginning to make some real headway towards strengthening the White House team. Still, however, Rumsfeld's continuing presence at the Pentagon is a massive liability, positively screaming out for remedial action. And, of course, Cheney's mounting post 9/11 Addingtonism remains a festering sore too.
But, for today, let's us praise the President for avoiding a crony pick, or a somewhat wanting 'Main Street' style salesman personage (a la John Snow), and instead going for the real cream of the crop at Treasury. Global markets are very likely going to be in for a hugely bumpy ride in the next few years (yes, count B.D. as a bear, of sorts), and having a top Wall Street pro at the helm of Treasury will help during what will likely prove to be very challenging times indeed (I wonder how many of Paulson's colleagues were surprised he took the job!).
The question is whether Bush will give the Goldman Sachs Group Inc. chief executive officer the leeway to run Treasury and shape policy like Rubin, Bill Clinton's top economic adviser.
We'll see....but for now, let's rejoice in an unimpeachably good pick. The issue is, as Bloomberg highlights, will Paulson be allowed to emerge as a real player? I hope so, and think he's far too smart to have taken this job without bona fide assurances that will be the case. Yes, even if this means a dimunition in the power of the Veep, Rove, and others. Here's hoping.
P.S. More on Paulson, from a more personal angle, here.
Mr Paulson’s appointment could address criticism that Mr Bush’s economy policy team lacks heavyweights. He has the chance to position himself as the leading voice on the US economy, at a time of rising volatility in the international financial markets, and while Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, has yet to acquire the decisive authority of his predecessor.
It rings true to me that Josh Bolten was likely the key figure in successfully wooing Paulson to decamp from 85 Broad to the Treasury. It's a real coup, and the biggest accomplishment of Bolten's tenure as Chief of Staff yet, not least given that Paulson was persuaded to make this move late in the Bush Presidency, and, as I said, during a time that will likely see very, very choppy economic conditions. With Bernanke still getting his feet wet (putting aside the risible Money Honey dinner chit chat leakage, a sign of a frothy and incestuous navel-gazing market that depresses somewhat), the Paulson appointment comes at a very good time indeed.
May 30, 2006
"Last Throes" Anniversary
A year ago, the Vice President of the United States declared on Larry King's show the insurgency in Iraq to be in its last throes: "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Judge for yourself.
U.S. fatalities (not including May '05, so that the 'last throes' statement is analyzed purely as a going forward assessment):
Injured: (not including May of 2005, nor May of 2006--data on this last not yet available).
GRAND TOTAL: U.S dead and injured, since Cheney's "last throes" statement: 5812 (and likely over 6,000 once the May '06 casualty figures are inputted).
Now let's compare fatalities with two other twelve-month time periods, first May '04 to April '05.
And then May '03 to April '04.
A blended average of these three 12 month periods has the US at about 749 fatalities per time period--fewer than died in the 12 month period since Cheney's "last throes" comment.
A bit after the last throes comment, in June of last year, Cheney was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER: The commander of the U.S. Military Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid has been testifying on Capitol Hill.
"...just a few months before the end..." Well, here we are Mr. Cheney, now a year later. The US Ambassador to Iraq has recently stated: "I believe that parts of Anbar are under the control of terrorists and insurgents". Seems like the insurgency is alive and well, alas. And since you informed the American public that the insurgency was in its "last throes", almost 1,000 Americans have died, and over 5,000 have been injured. Your titular boss recently expressed regret for some of his Iraq talk at a press conference with Tony Blair, stating: "(s)aying, 'Bring it on,' kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe a little in a more sophisticated manner...I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted and so I learned from that." When will you express similar regret for misleading the American people, and perhaps more important, artificially heightening expectations that the Iraq end-game was nigh, when indeed the insurgency is roughly as lethal today as it was when you made your comment a year ago?
Note: Fatality/Casualty data sourced here.
P.S. Given the oft-repeated locution, "as they stand up, we'll stand down" it's also worth looking at the amount of Iraqi Police/Army units that have been killed since Cheney's comment, not to mention Iraqi civilians (not only from a humanitarian standpoint, but also to gauge progess towards provision of basic security in Iraq). The numbers are grim:
Jul-05 304 518
The bottom line is that more U.S and Iraqi Army/Police forces (I'm not counting civilians, many of whom have died via generalized civil strife more than the insurgency, per se) have died since Cheney's comment than perished on 9/11. That's right, some 3,088 U.S and Iraqi forces are dead (the number is higher once you add British and other coalition forces) since May 30th of last year.
P.P.S: The WaPo reports:
The U.S. military said Monday it was deploying the main reserve fighting force for Iraq, a full 3,500-member armored brigade, as emergency reinforcements for the embattled western province of Anbar, where a surge of violence linked to the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has severely damaged efforts to turn Sunni Arab tribal leaders against the insurgency.
A week or so on the road and the question looms large, as usual, namely: what to do about Iraq? We have what Atrios has taken to calling the "six monthers" (the next half year or so will be critical! And yes, I've been guilty of that kind of quasi-serial punting here and there as well...) like Tom Friedman who write:
Mr. Ibrahim compares the U.S. invasion of Iraq to Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798, which punched the first big hole through which modernity could seep into the Arab world. It was the key ruler of Egypt after the Napoleonic invasion, Muhammad Ali, who started sending students to Europe, introduced secular education and ushered in a mini-Arab renaissance that culminated with the first Egyptian parliament, elected in 1866.
Put aside the perhaps overwrought analogies to grand Napoleonic campaigns. Like Friedman, I've got much respect for Mr. Ibrahim, and we should take his words seriously. But there are a couple issues here. One is that Ibrahim has previously written elsewhere that he hopes Islamic parties in the Middle East, once allowed to participate in a more egalitarian democratic process, will over time moderate and become like European religious parties (like the Christian Democrats and such in Germany). But I'm far from sure SCIRI types in Iraq, say, will really go down this path, even looking over a 10-20 year time horizon. And, if not, a big part of Ibrahim's assumptions and hopes for the region would appear to fall by the wayside. The other issue is that Ibrahim advocates the U.S. getting "out of their faces wherever possible." In other words, let's trend down our participation in Iraq and only be active where we are explicitly invited to do so. This will go down well with Democrats like Kerry who are seeking more evidencing of the advisability of their calls for the U.S. to pull out (particularly when, as here, such action is advocated by regional experts), and it will also go down well with the Rumsfeld (and, to an extent, Abizaid) wing that talk of 'dependency' and the need to leave less and less of an occupation 'footprint' wherever possible. All well and good, you say. And then you are reminded, if you needed to be, just how god-awful the situation in places like Baghdad is, and you wonder, how can we be speaking of lessening our troop presence in Iraq, in the face of growing anarchy screaming out for some Leviathan to emerge?
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device.
Not only do we have fewer troops in Iraq (from a post-invasion high of approximately 160,000 we are hovering around 130,000-135,000--and the political debate is almost always about trending down, very rarely trending up), but force posture has become more conservative. As the war has become more unpopular at home, efforts are being made to ensure casualty rates go down if at all possible. But all this comes at a cost. We are losing Baghdad, the center of the nation and a city that needs to remain unified if we are to have a prayer of seeing through a unitary Iraq, and we are roughly stalemated in Anbar (with places like Basra becoming increasingly problematic too). Zalmay Khalilzad, unlike Rumsfeld not a discredited and disingenuous fibber extraordinaire, said it plainly recently: "I believe that parts of Anbar are under the control of terrorists and insurgents."
It's not just the Ambassador, of course. Michael Ware has an excellent dispatch from Ramadi for Time detailing how critical the situation remains in Anbar. And, lo and behold, guess what remains a major problem? We still have too few troops in country, as John McCain recently stated too, in the context of an article on Afghanistan (which, by the way, is getting harder and harder slogging too): "The handoff to NATO [ed. note: McCain is speaking of Afghanistan here] is the right thing to do, but we should certainly assess our troop presence there...If you study the Iraq war, one of the major reasons for our difficulties clearly is that we never had enough troops on the ground, ever." "Ever" includes the present, of course, and he's absolutely right.
Back to Ware's Time piece:
There's no reason to believe that the Americans' battle against Iraqi insurgents is going to get better. With U.S. support for the war sinking, the Bush Administration is eager to show that sufficient progress is being made toward quelling the insurgency to justify a drawdown of the 133,000 troops in Iraq. The U.S. praised the naming of a new Iraqi Cabinet last week, even though it includes some widely mistrusted figures from the previous government. And even as commanders try to turn combat duties over to Iraqi forces and pull U.S. troops back from the front lines, parts of Iraq remain as deadly as ever. At least 18 U.S. troops died last week, raising the total killed since the invasion in March 2003 to 2,456.
(BTW, I've got a new policy in these parts. I won't waste a second refuting any blogger who declares the Sunni insurgency "fundamentally finished" anymore. Because time is too tight, and playing with the kiddies in the sandbox arguing such prima facie bullshit isn't in the cards anymore. Those who believe that are simply abject cretins, and must be allowed to go their merry ways, thinking things are swell and hunky-dory. Life is too short, and we're done suffering fools over here).
More from Ware:
The bigger problem, though, is one that few in the military command want to hear: there aren't enough troops to do the job. "There's a realization, as every military commander knows, that you cannot be strong everywhere," says Gronski of Ramadi. "In the outlying areas, we think in terms of an economy of force where we are willing to accept risk by not placing as many troops." But while Gronski says his fighting strength is "appropriate," other commanders bristle at the limitations. "I can't believe it each time the Secretary of Defense talks about reducing force," says a senior U.S. officer. War planners in Iraq say just getting a handle on Ramadi demands three times as many soldiers as are there now. Several U.S. commanders say they won't ask superiors for more troops or plan large-scale operations because doing so would expose problems in the U.S.'s strategy that no one wants to acknowledge. "It's what I call the Big Lie," a high-ranking U.S. commander told TIME.
Iraq today is an intense maze of complexities. Sunni residents of Baghdad, ironically, increasingly want the Americans to stay. But Sunnis in Anbar, more cowed by al-Qaeda and neo-Baathists, are still mostly opposed (or sullen fence-sitters) with regard to the American presence, thus allowing Sunni nationalist insurgents to continue to attract recruits with relative ease so as to sustain its ranks. Meantime we are becoming more and more unpopular with the Shi'a, to the extent our continued presence has us protecting Sunnis from Shi'a militias. In short, you've got a nascent (and intensifying) Shi'a insurgency against the British in the south. You've got a Sunni-Shi'a low-grade civil war afoot. You've got, of course, the Sunni insurgency against the Americans mostly centered (albeit not exclusively) in Anbar. And then too, lest we forget, you've got Kurdish reverse Arabization efforts underway in Kirkuk and other parts of Kurdistan. So, you say, let's stand firm and see all this through, right? Why all the whinging from the side-lines?
But here's the rub. If the war effort is being manned, on a day to day basis, by a leader you view as ineffectual damaged goods (Rumsfeld), and if you believe we still don't have enough troops in country to win the war (as I do), how can you support the prosecution of the war effort anymore? Should we not be, at this stage, becoming more Barry Posen-like? The question to myself, and to my readers, boils down to this: if you believe, as the saying goes, that we have "just enough troops to lose", if you believe despite the valiant efforts of many troops doing great things at a individual unit level, that the lack of an overarching strategic 'macro' top-down plan will ultimately render many of such efforts ineffectual, how do you continue to support the war? Put differently, will the 2,500th or 3,000th American to die have died for anything noteworthy, or will he or she have died for nothing much more than empty bromides about seeing the effort through? This, it seems to me, is the question that people who still support the war effort, like BD, must wrestle with at the present time. There are no easy answers. Owen West writes, today:
We are at the outset of a long war, and not just in Iraq. Yet it is being led politically by the short-sighted, from both sides of the aisle. The deterioration of American support for the mission in Iraq is indicative not so much of our military conduct there, where real gains are coming slowly but steadily, but of chaotic leadership.
It is true that the much derided MSM (we are frequently told they file their dispatches from the Green Zone as they slurp down Scotches by imbeciles on the 'Right', although today CBS lost 2 and a third was critically injured) often focus on the latest suicide bombing devoid of "context" about, say, a successful 'clear, hold, build' effort underway in another part of the country. But, if you are like me, and you believe Baghdad is the strategic epicenter of Iraq, and that a Baghdad descending into Beirut like civil war means that the country will likely mostly disintegrate, then I'm afraid I am less optimistic than West. And so, again, on this Memorial Day, when we thank and remember the sacrifice of our troops over the decades, we must also ask, painful as it is, what precisely they are accomplishing at the present hour in Iraq? Yes, here and there they are making progress. Yes, they are staving off total anarchy. But, if you fear it's a slow grind that we are losing, rather than winning, particularly given the continued lack of credible leadership at the Pentagon, the continued incorrectly placed concerns on 'dependency' theory, the continued dearth of troops, you must, at least to some extent if you are honest with yourself ponder, would it be worth my life (or the life of my son or daughter)? And the answer, it seems to me, is a very, very, very close call indeed.
But that's not a fair answer, is it? Because it's not really an answer at all. Finally, all I can say is that I am deeply torn. If we withdraw hastily we will leave behind a dismembered, increasingly anarchic Iraq, leaving Iraqis to a tremendously bleak future, and likely providing significant safe havens to international terror groups. But if we stay, under the current leadership and force presence/posture, the same result might ultimately come about, with more costs in blood and treasure, only more slowly. So, what is to be done?
May 21, 2006
Halevy Talks Up the Timarchic Virtues
Efraim Halevy, Mossad's chief from '98-'02, as interviewed in the current Newsweek (quick googling didn't uncover a link, apologies):
Q: Is there anything that the United States can do to salvage the war in Iraq?
Translation: Nuri al-Maliki ain't gonna cut it. But hey, there's always the Ministers of Interior and Defense and National Security to look forward to!
Merkel Wants Bush to Talk to the Iranians Too
It's not just most Democrats and many Republican foreign policy experts who say the time has come to seriously prepare for dialogue with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Our friends overseas, including very notably Angela Merkel of Germany, reportedly want us to talk directly with the Iranians. From IHT vet and man about Europe John Vinocur:
When Bush says "she's not a fake," take it as meaning this: Bush believes Merkel accepts the necessity of emphasizing Iran's very nontheoretical danger in ways that will prepare the psychological ground in Europe for major economic and diplomatic sanctions.
Kofi's gotta point, as much as people like to beat up on the fellow.
More, including the perils of creeping Genscherism on the Rhine:
[Merkel] will have to steer hard against the grain to make clear to the country she is not an arbitrator, and Germany not a bystander. To do it, Merkel will have to choose showing she remains the chancellor who, with Iran in mind earlier this year, linked Nazism's abyss to Western democracies' failure to face it down in time.
Push come to shove on military action in Iran, I don't think we can rely on Europe to be there, even with, say, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel in power. The French have talked big force de frappe talk on Iran, but it's more for neo-Gaullist show than anything real. The German foreign policy elite will hoist a more Genscher-ite solution on Merkel, at the end of the day, involving some form of negotiated out. The Brits? Maybe an assisted sortie or two, if that, but there is little appetite in London for more neo-colonialist misadventures in the Middle East (Can you blame them? What will we do, sent Bernie Kerik in after to train the Teheran gendermarie, whilst listening to Rummy lecture us lil' kiddies about the perils of 'dependency'?). And then, of course, there is a (somewhat theatrically, canny fellow that he is) pissed off Putin, post-Cheney in Riga, and the Chinese, neither of whom have ever been particularly hot, to say the least, on the idea of a war on Iran. The only country that would really be happy to go along for the ride is Israel which, of course, is the one country we wouldn't want to have flying air missions alongside us (worth noting too, albeit surreptitiously, the Saudis and Egyptians likely wouldn't be too distressed to see Iranian nuclear facilities taken out, somewhat ironically perhaps). Now, I've heard a senior GOP type, here and there, whisper: well, we could always let the Israelis do it like they did in Iraq. But this isn't Osirak, alas, and the Israelis might not be able to pull it off (whatever that means). Regardless, any attack would be viewed as having been 'approved' by Washington, so that the Iranians will be hell-bent on scuttling our war aims, in retaliation, in each of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bottom line: the 'coalition of the willing', at the end of the day, would be a very, very small one. Especially if we hadn't even tried to engage the Iranians directly in talks first. Do we have to wait for a Zelikowian study two years hence to move Iran policy up to speed, or can we dispense with another 18-24 months of wasted Euro troika machinations?
Immigration Battles: Why the Rancor?
Unquestionably, imho, the most talented blogger to emerge on the scene of late has been Glenn Greenwald. Agree or disagree with him, Glenn writes with passionate conviction, in easy to understand prose, and more often than not marshalling facts and forsaking histrionics. Reading his recent post chronicling the, shall we say, heated reaction to the President's speech among "conservative" blogospheric eminences (those occupying the Malkin-wing), I clicked through one of Glenn's links intrigued by the barnyard irreverence of a commentator (one Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiller, known as Misha), who wrote: "Take your “virtual” fence and your hi-tech vaporware coupled with your amnesty plan and shove them up your ass, Jorge." Somewhat morbidly fascinated by this Limbaugh-on-Steroids fare, I donned my seatbelt and began to wade into comments-land, always a risky proposition in mondo blogistan. About five or so comments into the thread (at which point I stopped reading), I stumbled across this choice item:
You know what pisses me off about this is that we could end illegal immigration in 48 hours. And it would take less than 500 people. We have some of the most high tech munitions in the world. We could put smart mines along the entire border, signs in 30 languages along with pictographs warning not to cross into a minefield (plus triple strand razorwire on both sides), loud speakers blaring into mexico the consequences of attempting to cross illegally and after the first 5 or 6 thousand explosions we have 0 illegal entries. All you have to have are mine replacement teams and razorwire replacement teams. Well okay, and body part elimination teams. Don’t want to stink up the border.
Who are these people? And why are they so angry?
Look, I understand that there are limited educational, welfare, healthcare and other resources available, and it's harder to assimilate immigrants (whether legal or illegal) in places like Tulsa or Laredo or Peoria, as compared to massive metropolises like New York, Chicago and L.A, where there is something of an assimilationist infrastructure in place.
From a recent Roger Cohen piece:
"Large-scale immigration has spread to cities that don't have the experience or the infrastructure of a Miami or New York," said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute. "People see a strange presence, new competition at the low end of the labor market. They get uneasy, and local politicians see a good horse to ride."
This said, Cohen is fair, and sees real issues at play here:
Behind all the anger lie some serious issues. Concerted efforts over at least two decades have not brought the United States any closer to controlling its Mexican border. Illegal immigrants tend to keep out those waiting in line to get in legally.
But Cohen thinks Bush is at least partly to blame for the impossibility of such a serious debate taking place:
But in the fractious, polarized nation Bush has done much to create, debate is not really what America is getting on immigration.
Yep. House primitives aside trying to salvage their seats by talk of erecting a thousand-mile long barrier on our southern border, or deporting large numbers of illegals, there is also a chickens coming home to roost quality in all this. Jorge, meet Misha.
P.S. In 1987, Ronald Reagan stood in West Berlin and asked Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Now, a couple decades on, large swaths of Reagan's party want to build a massive one in their own country. Historical analogizing is fraught with peril, and these situations are, of course, totally different, in a number of ways. Still, symbolism matters. And America is appearing more and more xenophobic, inward-looking, afraid of the 'other'. Things like sending in national guard units (a solution that won't really work anyway), or building a large security fence, have the effect of appearing to militarize the border, the better to, as Roger Cohen says, keep the 'Latino hordes' out. Rule of law and discouraging illegal immigration is important, but the measures being urged to counter illegals entering this country (especially the more excessive ones that Bush has rightly avoided) are not in keeping with an America meant to serve as beacon to those less advantaged than we, those hoping to become part of the so-called American dream. They are instead provincial reactions born of cheap fear-mongering and hysteria. Fostering immigration has always been part of America's DNA. Wall-building and mass deployment of national guardsmen to protect our borders against immigrants, even if we are talking of illegals in the main, have not. Or so I thought.
The Image of the United States Overseas
In a piece ostensibly about Karen Hughes, Roger Cohen (Times Select) touches on issues of more foundational import than any one public diplomacy tsarina:
The image of the United States is in something close to a free fall.
This is a hugely complex issue, and it is very true there is so much cheapness in the attacks on America born of bad faith, ignorance, envy, varied over-simplifications, cheap propaganda, fascination even, and so much more. And yet, in the past several years, at least in my travels, I can attest to what Roger Cohen (and I take it guys like Clive Davis know what I mean) is saying more and more.
Yes, our national narrative isn't selling like it was before. This isn't any one leaders fault, or one wars fault, or one detention centers fault, or anything so mono-causal. It's not even the end of the Cold War or something more macro and systemic like that. Nor is it, in my view, Cohen's view that it's mostly because we've been in something of a perma-war since Pearl Harbor, necessarily.
But causation issues aside, and while it's true our great national narrative is not dead, totally bespoiled, or even on critical life support, I think it's fair to say it's in real trouble, for many reasons (as I said, some valid-- some not). That strikes me as rather a big deal, and frankly, I haven't seen a truly coherent strategy yet to get it out of trouble. I've seen, as Cohen points out, some innovative and intelligent PD style initiatives, and kudos to Hughes for implementing some of them. But they strike me as more 'trees' than 'forest', and we've got a very long road ahead yet, I'd think, in ensuring a materially positive impact on our image abroad. To avoid sounding like a broken record, I'll avoid the urge to state here several big policy moves that would start moving us back in the right direction...but regular readers will know some of what I'd have in mind.
Bobbitt in the Speccie
Via a Matthew d'Ancona cover piece in the current Spectator (registration required), a very interesting interview of Philip Bobbitt (PDF), a professor at the University of Texas Law School.
Matthew d’Ancona: And on that note, one of the things that struck me, thinking about your attempt to marry the concept of the market state with the new context is that - I mean, I’m probably one of the last five people in Britain who thinks the Iraq war is a good idea, but to use your analysis, it was not a good outing for this germinating idea of the market state for several reasons. For instance, it encouraged the idea that the market state pedals false information, in the manner of a company to clients. That the Halliburton connection encouraged the notion that there were market elements is rather bigger then the accountable democratic state dimension. The horrors of Abu Ghraib, in which there were these mysterious private contractors engaged in acts of torture, again encouraged the idea that the state is simply contracting out acts that it would normally not have been willing to do in order to avoid accountability. So I wondered if you might say something about how you see the aftermath of Iraq, with reference to your analysis?
Philip Bobbitt: You also might have mentioned extraordinary renditions as another example of outsourcing by the states. You’ve put it perfectly. The crucial part of a diplomatic and military campaign for a market state is to unify strategy and law. The nation state separated them. It professionalised both. The military people are often heard to say you wouldn’t want a politician to do brain surgery, Mr President; you don’t want a civilian to do warfare either. Leave it to the pros, we’ll do it, you give us the goal, we’ll achieve it if we can. This kind of separation was characteristic in many, many areas of professionalisation in the 20th century. In the 21st century just the opposite is going to happen, because you’re trying to protect civilians, rather then kill enemy soldiers, as your first objective. You must bring the law into the closest possible coordination with strategy, and what this administration has done, and I support the war in Iraq, what they have done is heartbreaking, because they have steadily removed the greatest source of their power, which was the rule of the law. You may think of Abu Ghraib as a battle and we lost. Guantanamo is a battle that we have lost. It will cost us lives, it will cost us political influence, and above all it may cost us, our strategic objectives. Not simply by ignoring it but by having a studied contempt of the law, and not just international law, which needs desperately to be reformed, but for even our domestic laws. The administration has kicked away what should have been its strongest prop. It baffles me. And it angers me.
It angers me too. And a lot.
Question: There are two questions prompted by the changing use of the term terrorism. If you look back before the second world war every organisation one thinks of as being terrorists, whether it would be the French Revolution of the 19th century or Russia in the 1930s, were actioned by the state against their own citizens, whereas what we now call terrorism is more action by citizens or groups of citizens against states, which may not be their own states. The first question is given the range of examples in your answer just now, how useful is it, do you think, to use the term terror or terrorism in terms of formulating a policy response, or are there two many different kinds of terrorism to make it a useful term? The second question is, again if you consider these two different historical types of terrorism, it is taking as a crude measure of the number of people whose lives have been terminated, that it’s hard to say that terrorism in its modern sense has actually killed more people or terminated more lives early then the actions of states against people, and therefore are we not perhaps in danger of exaggerating the terrorist problem and not placing enough emphasis on the need to control the international community, legal state action against people?
I like Bobbit's analogy of stockpiling laws like we stockpile vaccines. I think a terror attack on the American homeland that dwarfed 9/11 (say 100,000 dead in a major city via a biological or crude nuclear device) would imperil American democracy like nothing that has occured before in our history. We should be thinking about preserving our bedrock values and the most cherished aspects of our rule of law in the face of such bleak scenarios. Such eventualities may seem very far-fetched, now almost half a decade since 9/11 with no terror attack having taken place in the United States (save a disgruntled jihadi manque plowing his jeep about some Carolinean campus), but this doesn't mean we're out of the woods, not by a long shot.
The major controversies raging over NSA wiretaps point to the difficulties we are already having--together as a society that ideally moves forth on a consensual basis-- balancing intelligence gathering efforts with civil liberties. Statute interpretation exercises aside, and there are relatively cogent arguments on both sides of the NSA wars, what's clear is that the President should not be secretly reaching judgments regarding the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of various statutes and related legal requirements. Without ever fully revealing the details of our tactics to our enemies, we must nonetheless better ensure society is consenting to the broad direction the goverment is taking--as a basically united polity (to the maximum extent possible)--in balancing national security imperatives with our basic liberties. Piecemeal revelations about NSA activity in the pages of the NYT and USA Today are not the way to forge a societal compact on such matters, and I shudder to think how the world would change after a mega-attack that made 9/11 look relatively small fry, vis-a-vis an unchecked Executive Branch forging ahead brutishly amidst the resulting chaos (we have already seen after 9/11 how supine the Legislative Branch, including the opposition party, can be in the face of major dislocations and national traumas).
Stockpiling laws in the event of a major WMD attack on the continental U.S. might seem over the top. But having a respected bipartisan group of experts begin to ponder these issues more systematically might quite advisable indeed. The future of our democratic system itself could well be at stake. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But we live in interesting times, as the saying goes, and really anything can happen. Let's at least put such risks in the known unknown category, and try to think about them in greater detail, if god forbid, such horrific events come to pass.
May 20, 2006
I'm getting on a couple long flights shortly. There might be a bit of airport blogging here and there, but it will depend on flight schedules, lounge access, wifi availability etc etc. This coming week, I'll be nine hours ahead of New York time. New content will typically come on line, if at all possible pending my schedule, sometime around 2 PM EST or thereabouts. Just a little head's up for regulars (yes, not everyone has defected!).
May 17, 2006
Let's Talk to Iran--A Growing Chorus!
People might disagree on whether direct bilaterals are better, or the U.S. tacking onto the Euro-3 multilaterals, or some combination thereto, but more and more seasoned foreign policy experts are calling for some form of direct dialogue between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Let's review the bidding, in no particular order:
...on a matter so directly involving its security, the United States should not negotiate through proxies, however closely allied. If America is prepared to negotiate with North Korea over proliferation in the six-party forum, and with Iran in Baghdad over Iraqi security, it must be possible to devise a multilateral venue for nuclear talks with Tehran that would permit the United States to participate -- especially in light of what is at stake.
Richard Lugar: Direct talks would be "useful"
Richard Armitage: "It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship ... everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq...We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away.”
Given these potential high costs, Washington should be searching harder for a diplomatic alternative, one that entail direct US talks with Iran beyond the narrow dialogue announced on Iraq. Iran would be allowed no—or at most, a token—uranium enrichment programme (one too small to produce a militarily significant amount of nuclear material over the next decade) coupled with the most intrusive inspections. In return, Iran would receive a range of economic benefits, security guarantees and political dialogue. If Iran refused, the United Nations Security Council would ban investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector.
As we consider the regional context of stability and security in Iraq, there is another issue that we must deal with—a relationship between the United States and Iran. The fact that our two governments cannot—or will not—sit down to exchange views must end. Iran is a regional power; it has major influence in Iraq and throughout the Gulf region. Its support of terrorist organizations and the threat it poses to Israel is all the more reason that the U.S. must engage Iran. Any lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will also require the United States’ direct discussions with Iran. The United States is capable of engaging Iran in direct dialogue without sacrificing any of its interests or objectives. As a start, we should have direct discussions with Iran on the margins of any regional security conference on Iraq, as we did with Iran in the case of Afghanistan.
Then there is this excellent CFR 2004 Task Force Report on Iran that recommends a "direct dialogue" between Iran and the United States. Signatories include Robert Gates (Bush 41's DCI), Frank Carlucci (Reagan's Secretary of Defense, who agrees with the "main thrust" of the study, but in a reservation to the report expresses some reticence about the prospects for dialogue, at least back in '04), and Louis Perlmutter, a MD at Lazard.
Kissinger. Lugar. Hagel. Haass. Armitage. These are heavyweights. Republican heavyweights. Yeah folks, that's right, with the possible exception of Dennis Ross, everyone listed above is a Republican. All these people calling for direct engagement with Iran are not, you know, limp-wristed, America-hating, defeatist Democrats, but solid red-staters, God-loving GOP'ers, people who'd get along just swell with Hugh Hewitt even (my list, of course, would double and triple in size if I added the Madeline Albrights and Sandy Bergers and so on, indeed, we'd almost have an emerging bipartisan consensus on talking directly to Iran)! Now, I'm not going to name names and get all mean over here, but I've seen a lot of people poo-pooing engagement with Iran whose collective foreign policy experience isn't worth a warm bucket of spit as compared to the people above. They'd be blown to the proverbial smithereens (and then some)--going mano to mano with this gang debating Iran policy--especially post the Iraq imbroglio. Just saying.
Closing thoughts, from Dick Armitage:
It appears that the Administration thinks that dialogue equates with weakness, that we've called these regimes 'evil'--either Iran or North Korea--and therefore we won't talk to them. Some people say talking would legitimize the regimes. But we're not trying to change the regimes, and they're already legitimized in the eyes of the international community. So we ought to have enough confidence in our ability as diplomats to go eye to eye with people--even though we disagree in the strongest possible way--and come away without losing anything.
Indeed. And, even should military force be ultimately required, it bears keeping in mind George Perkovich of Carnegie's words: "it's (the U.S) going to need a lot of friends in the aftermath. And if you haven't tried diplomacy in a serious way, nobody's going to stand with you. It's going to be worse than Iraq." Trying diplomacy in a "serious way", of course, means us speaking directly to the Iranians, not just playing tag-along with the Euro-3. More and more Republicans, those who are reality-based at least, are getting this. More will soon too, I predict. Even, per chance, senior players in the Administration (ed.note: scroll to bottom of post)!
P.S.How about John McCain, you ask? He's almost there (link), but always the hard-to-pigeonhole 'maverick'!:
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about another problem, and that is Iran. The administration is telling them `We will not tolerate the building of a nuclear weapon.' They're talking about diplomacy, and yet so far we have declined to meet with them. The--what's wrong with direct talks with Iran about this?
P.P.S. Commenters are welcome to add in comments below prominent Republicans calling for U.S. talks with Iran that I've omitted in my first cut, and I can update the list as able.
May 16, 2006
And don't miss this either:
Once in Iraq, he believed some of his reservations were justified. Like most units in Iraq at the time, the 1st Infantry Division's humvees lacked armor. His soldiers contracted with Iraqis to weld whatever metal they could find to the sides of their humvees.
A "sucking chest wound". Rumsfeld's legacy. And, of course, also the legacy of those who supported the war, like BD, without fully accounting for the serial bungling that would occur at the strategic oversight level.
I would suggest that the greatest challenge which free and democratic states face today is how to balance the need to protect individual rights with the imperative of protecting the lives of the rest of the community. The UK Government is constantly being criticised for striking the wrong balance. Sometimes the criticism comes from the right, from those who see the Human Rights Act as a charter for criminals and terrorists which impedes the executive’s freedom of manoeuvre at every turn. Sometimes the criticism comes from the left, from those who see in every Government initiative a threat to civil liberties. Such criticism is inevitable. Furthermore, we must expect that there will be a wide divergence of views on such difficult issues at every level of society including within the judiciary – there are no obvious right answers. As regards an example of a divergence of views within the judiciary, I would take the case concerning the legislation on detention without trial of foreign nationals passed by this Government after 9/11, a case to which I will return later. The Court of Appeal of three judges including the Lord Chief Justice, the most senior judge, found that the legislation was compatible with our obligations. Although the House of Lords found that there was a public emergency threatening the life of the nation, with the exception of one judge, it did not consider that detention without trial was strictly necessary to deal with the emergency. This was a clear set-back but it arose because we were striving conscientiously to deal with the greatest challenge facing our generation.
Friends like Goldsmith tell us this not because they hate or resent us, but because they care about us and are looking out for our best interests. Any benefits that Guantanamo has arguably presented have been massively outweighed by the negative impact it has had on our international reputation. Put aside the fake firefights about whether it's a Gulag, or whether the pilaf is good there, or all the other dumbed-down discourse. The bottom line is that Gitmo should be phased out over the next 18-24 months.
By the way, these are the kinds of dramatic moves that would begin to turn around Bush's fading fortunes and perhaps save his capsizing Presidency (add opening a dialogue with Iran, firing Rumsfeld etc). This would signal he's his own man, and that he's striking a bold new course. But does he have the moral wherewithal to belatedly realize this and face such realities, or will he continue to be beholden to the Cheney-Yoo-Addington-Rumsfeld crowd? Probably the latter, alas.
More support for B.D.'s general Iran view from the FT:
The world is entering a critical moment over the Iranian nuclear controversy, one that will decide whether a prolonged stand-off will now spiral into conflict or settle into crisis management that might yield a workable compromise. There may not be a solution. But, if there is to be any hope of one, the strategic and tactical parameters of Iran policy need to change. Until now, there has been a blur of belligerent ambiguity in Washington about whether the objective is to ensure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons capability or to topple the mullahs in Tehran. That being the case, the policy options on offer seem to have hardened into sanctions or military action, despite two years of robust European engagement with Iran the US licensed rather than supported.
Indeed, there are subtle signs the Administration might be moving in the direction B.D. is advocating:
So far Bush's hard-line stance hasn't changed: no one-on-one talks, period. Instead, Washington is still subcontracting Iran diplomacy to Britain, France and Germany. But as the diplomatic impasse continues, and Pentagon officials voice misgivings about future military options, the administration's firm line may be wavering. The chief U.S. negotiator, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, has indicated to colleagues that he is mainly waiting for the right moment, when America's leverage and its chances of success are maximized. "Whereas in recent months the U.S. response was 'It's impossible to do direct talks,' now the refusals from Washington are not so unequivocal," says a senior European envoy who works with Washington and wants to remain anonymous because of diplomatic sensitivities.
An (unintentionally) amusing snippet:
This initial commitment of Guard members would last for a period of one year. After that, the number of Guard forces will be reduced as new Border Patrol agents and new technologies come online. It is important for Americans to know that we have enough Guard forces to win the war on terror, respond to natural disasters, and help secure our border.
May 15, 2006
When I was a young man, I was quite infatuated with self-expression, and rightly so because, if memory conveniently serves, I was so much more eloquent, well-informed, and wiser than anyone else I knew. It seemed I understood the world and the purpose of life so much more profoundly than most people. I believed that to be especially true with many of my elders, people whose only accomplishment, as far as I could tell, was that they had been born before me, and, consequently, had suffered some number of years deprived of my insights. I had opinions on everything, and I was always right. I loved to argue, and I could become understandably belligerent with people who lacked the grace and intelligence to agree with me. With my superior qualities so obvious, it was an intolerable hardship to have to suffer fools gladly. So I rarely did. All their resistance to my brilliantly conceived and cogently argued views proved was that they possessed an inferior intellect and a weaker character than God had blessed me with, and I felt it was my clear duty to so inform them. It’s a pity that there wasn’t a blogosphere then. I would have felt very much at home in the medium.
--John McCain, at his speech at Falwell's digs. Incidentally, and like Andrew Sullivan, he's my current top pick for '08. If we get a Frist or Allen instead, however, I'd likely vote Hillary or Warner.
Ending Tyranny in Our Times!
Why, oh why, is this repugnant regime still getting $2 billion a year in American subsidies? Take the money away from Mubarak and give it to democracy-promotion programs across the Middle East. That would be a shot heard ’round the world. Failing such a signal, the dictators will become bolder and more brazen in defying what Bush once called “the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity.”
May I invite commenters to chronicle the many reasons an abrupt cut-off to Egypt of the roughly USD 2B a year would be foolhardy policy, in the extreme? But we all get a tad over-exuberant at times penning our little ditties, don't we?
National Guard to Mexican Border?
If true, count me w/ Chuck on this one.
May 14, 2006
What To Do About Iran?
We find ourselves locked in something of a deadlock with Iran. We say a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. We push some form of punitive action if Iran continues to balk. In turn, Iran, seeing us bogged down in Iraq, seems keen on calling our bluff. She is marching forward with her nuclear program. Meantime, there is talk of a cohesive UNSC sanctions regime if Iran continues to ignore warnings to cease and desist. But who knows if the Russians and Chinese will even abstain, let alone support such sanctions. So rhetoric looks to heat up, Bolton will run around Turtle Bay for 6-12 months of resolution-wielding diplomacy, and meantime the Iranian nuclear program marches on. Even if sanctions happen, of course, the Iranians might then become further radicalized and keen on getting nuclear weapons. Then what? The Krauthammer non-'defeatist' wing (perched cozily in the comfort of his Fox studio digs Kraut recently lugubriously opined that those against military action in Iran were but weak-kneed "defeatists") will urge us to summon up the requisite courage, this being 1938 and all, for a war, or at least a concerted bombing campaign (to the extent these end up being different propositions). But the results would be, at best, chaotic, highly unpredictable and very likely damaging to U.S. interests.
Yes, of course, we can bomb the hell out of Iranian nuclear installations. But there are a few issues with this 'strategy', alas. We aren't sure we know where all the nuclear installations are, that is, unless 'Dusty' Foggo or some such notable got all the locations down pat sometime between the Royal Flushes, Johnnie Blacks and Dominicans (cigars, of course, not gals...) at the Watergate. There will be too (cue furrowed brow and faux expressions of regret) 'collateral damage'. Even if, you know, 'we don't do body counts,' people in the region who aren't lucky enough to be taking in the Big Show from their couches in stolid New Hampshire will get a tad malcontent at the reality of the third war, in almost as many years, consuming their 'region'. And then, there's the reality that, even if we hit the jackpot, and decimate every last nuclear installation in Iran (highly unlikely) you can bet your bottom dollar the vast majority of the Iranian public will be united in demanding their government (whether a Khatami or Ahmadi-Nejad type) do its damn utmost to reconstitute the program--full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes (or Tomahawks)! It will become the issue determining Iranian pride and national dignity in the post-bombing era. Are we going to bomb perenially, every two years or so, for decades?
There are also the possible Iranian responses. Anthony Cordesman spelled a few of them out recently, and they include (his language, with slight B.D tweaks): 1) Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads; 2) using proxy groups including al-Zarqawi and Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces; 3) turning the Shi’ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demand US forces to leave; 4) attacking the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or deliver CBR weapons to al-Qa’ida to use against the US; 5) using its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies, commercial centers, and American citizens; 6) attacking US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines; 7) attacking Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads; 8) retaliating against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shut off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz; and 9) stopping all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflict damage on the global and US economies.
Yes, we can game plan for some of these contigencies and take preventative action. But, lest we forget, we have a gross incompetent at the helm of the Defense Department, so chances are he'll make a mockery of a good deal of the war-planning. I don't say that cheaply for kicks. I say it because, you know, it's pretty much true. Frankly, as Tom Friedman recently queried, what's worse? An Iran with nukes, or Inglorious Ruin Rummy's Great Persian Campaign? A close call, eh? Smart money is with the latter, I'd think, given the collossal blunders Rummy has presided over in Mesopotamia, plain to all observers save, oh I don't know, Larry di Rita, Hindrocket, Charles 'Pali Towelheads Smell But Are Fed Well' Johnson and, lest we forget, The Decider himself (even Fred Barnes has gotten on the clue train, at this stage...).
So, what to do, you ask? Before we turn to going-forward prescriptions, we should also dispense with the Michael Ledeen school that believes revolution is nigh in the streets of Iran. To quote from an excellent (and still relevant) 2004 CFR Report:
Despite...widespread alienation from the prevailing political order, Iran does not appear to be in a prerevolutionary situation. Iranians are protesting the political system by witholding their participation from any form of organized politics, including involvement with the opposition. People are frustrated with the Islamic Republic, but they have also demonstrated that they are not prepared to take that frustration to the streets. This disengagement from politics is a direct product of Iran's recent history. Having endured the dissapointment of their last democratic experiment gone awry, Iranians are weary of political turmoil and skeptical that they can positively change their political circumstances through mass mobilization.
And, unfortunately, the same report goes on to report: "no organization or potential leader has emerged with the apparent discipline or stamina to sustain a major confrontation with the government's conservative forces." Yes, yes, I know. If we can only let Elizabeth Cheney turn on the $$ taps (with the predictable gang in DC doubtless getting palsy-walsy with the next Persian Ahmad!), pump USD 70MM in the polity, we might even drop a cutesy Los Angeleno into the Azeri parts of the country and establish a safe-haven or something. But you know what? I saw that movie, it played next door in fact, and I'm not gonna watch it again. Repeat after me: no effing way! No sale you discredited dreamers, out ready so soon for another delusional jolly. Basta!
Look, the AEI gaggles think this is Warsaw, 1980, Solidarity all over again. It ain't. As the above quoted report points out:
Flawed assumptions about Iran's murky internal situation have weakened the effectiveness of U.S. policy toward the country in recent years. Persuaded that revolutionary change was imminent in Iran, the administration sought to influence Iran's internal order, relying on the model of the East European transition from communism. However, the neat totalitarian dichotomy between the regime and the people does not exist in the Islamic Republic, and, as a result, frequent, vocal appeals to the "Iranian people" only strengthened the cause of clerical reactionaries and left regime opponents vulnerable to charges of being Washington's "fifth column".
So B.D., you snarky Foggy Bottom appeasement-minded buffoon (the typical reaction in comments from the Great Persian Interventionist School, who often don't know squat about the region...). You condescend. You wail. You bitch. What would you do about Iran? Well, I'd start by putting down the Kool-Aid, by recognizing all the limitations I sketch out above. I'd start by trying to apply lessons learned from Iraq. I'd start by not talking about idiotic propositions like we're training the Iraqi Army so they can go into Iran on our behalf with a few Special Forces embeds (yes, a prominent right-wing blogger recently suggested precisely just such an absurdity). In short, I'd get real.
Getting real means talking with the Iranians. To prepare for such discussions, we need to approach the Euro-3. We need to say, listen, we'll open up a U.S.-Iranian bilateral track, in tandem with the multilateral one, but if it fails, you (yes even Dominique de Villepin's government and such camembert-munching appeasers) have to promise you'll come along for sanctions if we fail in extracting concessions from the Iranians after pursuing a good faith dialogue with them. We need to have multi-party talks, but with bilateral break-outs. The multilateral talks should continue to focus on the nuclear issue, as there is a significant infrastructure in place already. The bilaterals should focus on key issues of mutual U.S.-Iranian concern, to include:
1) Iraq--Yes, we have mutual interests here. Unlike blogospheric ignorants chiming on cluelessly, who finger Iran as culpable for the shrine bombing (Because They Want To Stoke Total Chaos in Iraq (TM)), the reality is it is not in the Iranian interest for total chaos to engulf Iraq. Iranians mostly want a unitary Iraq where the Shi'a basically have the run of the mill. Yes, 'tis true, some Iranian elements would rather have a Shi'a super-state among eight or so provinces in the south. But such sectarian division could cause trouble on the Iranian side of the border, and most experts believe the Iranians want, all told, a unitary state. This better allows a Shi'a dominated Iraq to bestride the region as per the so-called Shi'a crescent thesis--penetrating into Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Now, do the Iranians wants to get all cuddly with the U.S. on the Iraq dossier? Well of course not. They are happy everytime a couple G.I.s get killed, and they are happy when Kurdish and Shi'a Iraq Army forces fight each other as over the weekend. Why? Because it means the U.S. is stuck in the Big Sandy, and needs to keep 130,000 or so (watch Rove and gang urge that said number get south of 100,000 pre-November, a dumb, dumb, dumb and short-sighted move) troops in theater and away from the next adventure. But there is much to talk about here given that, at the very least, both the US and Iran don't want Iraq to disintegrate in toto. Much like Iran played a sometime helpful role in Afghanistan (mostly in her national interest to facilitate consolidating control in and around Herat), a similar dialogue should be taking place on Iraq.
2) Hezbollah (& the Middle East Peace Process)--As Richard Armitage has famously declared, we owe a "blood debt" to Hezbollah. They killed over 200 of our finest Marines in Lebanon in 1984. They've caused much bloodshed elsewhere besides (the despicable attack on Jewish targets in Argentina comes to mind). But, like it or not, Hezbollah has also become part of political life in Lebanon, and is not but a surrogate of the Iranians. This is particularly true as part of Lebanon is still occupied by the Israelis (the Shebaa Farms), and Hezbollah derives legitimacy among many Lebanese as it is seen as one of the key parties that forced the Israelis to withdraw from the rest of the country after the ill fated 1982 invasion. Query: if there were some progress on this front, is it possible to see Iran putting pressure on Hezbollah to wind-down its paramilitary activities? Answer: Yes.
Further, if more dramatic progress was made on the Arab-Israeli peace process front, if Syria and Egypt and Lebanon were ulimately willing to play ball, and endorse a global settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that returned to the Palestinians the lion's share of the West Bank, to the Syrians the Golan Heights, and to the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, what standing would the Iranians have to play pre-'67 irredentists? Little, if any. They'd likely sign-on to such a regional deal. By talking, we can start to make progress, even if only incremental steps. For instance, would getting the Israelis out of Shebaa better allow the Iranians to ensure no more rockets get to southern Lebanon via Damascus and the Bekaa Valley? Could we potentially then have a better chance of getting them to hand-over some of the worst Hezbollah thugs like Imad Mughniyeh? The point is, we don't know, unless we start talking some. Why can't we try to move forward dialogue on some of the fronts I sketch out above, in the context of bilateral discussions with the Iranians, accompanied by a regional initiative aimed at revitalizing discussions among Egyptian intelligence, selected Hamas and Fatah players, and Quartet representatives?
3) Al-Qaeda (and Afghanistan): Other estimable personages follow the question of what al-Qaeda figures are being harbored by Iran closer than I do. What's clear is that Iran is providing safe harbor to at least some al-Qaeda figures, and not just your latest Zarqawi "lieutenant" or similar low-level operative declared nabbed by Centcom and then passed on to Pentagon milbloggers who dutifully and breathlessly report to us each time the latest Emir of Mosul is turned up. But I'm pretty sure that good faith U.S. diplomacy on this front would yield dividends. The Iranians don't, really, care too much for Sunni al-Qaeda radicals. They likely view them as bargaining chips, of sorts, perhaps to be exchanged for some Mojahideen-e-Khalq types. I'm not necessarily advocating such a trade, but if we engaged in a real dialogue with the Iranians on al-Qaeda issues, we might end up getting our hands on more of UBL's gang, not to mention potentially make progress in areas of common interest in Afghanistan.
So, 1-3 above are meant as rough sketch towards a Chuck Hagel style "package of issues" that we could broach bilaterally with the Iranians, with the nuclear track still being pursued multilaterally via the IAEA, the Euro-3, as well as (per my proposal) ourselves, the Russians and the Chinese. What difference does this all make, save the obvious that jaw jaw is better than war war, at least when at all possible? Well, if the Iranians know the Europeans have really signed on to real sanctions if good faith bilaterals fail, they will be better incentivized to really talk and deal. And by not trying utopically for some "Grand Bargain", on the one hand, or merely piece-meal progress on too strictly demarcated issues on the other (just Zalmay and Iraq, say), we offer room and a venue for realistic forward movement on a package of issues that are more often than not inter-linked in practice and so better addressed together.
There is no need, as I said, for Foggy Bottom scriveners to busily go about drafting some chimerical roadmap to a Grand Bargain. There is a need to start talking, but within the framework of the ongoing multilateral process (on the nuclear issue), and a new bilateral channel (on Iraq, Afghanistan, Hezbollah, the Middle East Peace Process, al-Qaeda). Aside from the stick of real sanctions that the Euros will have signed onto in return for us opening up a bilateral channel, we should proffer commercial carrots such as permitting discussions re: executory contracts that would allow U.S. businesses to negotiate with Iranian counterparts--but importantly with a delay in the actual execution of the contracts if overall bilateral and multilateral talks didn't progress far enough. As the CFR report states: "...the return of U.S. businesses to Tehran could help undermine the clerics' monopoly on power by strengthening the nonstate sector, improving the plight of Iran's beleaguered middle class, and offering new opportunities to transmit American values."
So, here's a strategy. Does this make me a defeatist and a pie-in-the-sky striped pants wearing cocktail-swiller who is obsessed with talking and process, just for talking and processes sake? Or would attempting a strategic dialogue, as per my rudimentary sketch above, perhaps have a better chance of moving the ball forward, than empty talk of air strikes (especially as Iraq remains immensely problematic, and the Iranians could turn on a re-invigorated Shi'a insurgency like a light switch if so inclined)? Serious people have signed on to much of what I write above (at least the portions gleened from the CFR report). Macho folk like Michael Rubin at AEI to the contrary, who poo-poo such musings as but fodder for appeasers in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (in a highly disingenuous op-ed, more on that perhaps another day), neglect to mention people like Frank Carlucci, Mort Zuckerman, Steve Solarz and Bob Gates signed on to these findings. What makes them so naive and silly, and Ledeen, Rubin, and Mark Steyn so wise and wordly? Seriously, what? It's true, Carlucci signed on with a reservation, saying he agreed with the "main thrust" of the CFR report but believed "overtures" could be "interpreted as a sign of weakness and be rebuffed". But we just got an 18 page letter from Ahmadi-Nejad, in a very public overture indeed. We wouldn't be the limp-wristed first-mover here. Let's do something with it, something more than just run around Turtle Bay like bull-headed mustachioed Pavlovians for another 12 months, or contribute to the veritable cottage industry of Iran op-eds advocating regime change willy-nilly, with little thought to the actual conditions on the ground in Iran and the region generally.
Iran and Prom Dances: The Steynian View
Hugh Hewitt interviews Mark Steyn:
HH: Now in today's AP bulletin from Indonesia, Ahmadinejead is again calling Israel, "a tyrannical regime that will one day be destroyed," and going on about it. But meanwhile, over at Politecompany, Council On Foreign Affairs company, Greg Djerejian, who writes at the Belgravia Dispatch, I quote, "at some point, I'm hard pressed to see how we avoid talking with the Iranians, period. Bottom line, the Iranians have become players. And chiming on about just bombing them into submission isn't going to get us anywhere, save maybe on the Hugh Hewitt Show." I think he's talking specifically about you, Mark Steyn, earlier in that paragraph. What do you think about Polite Company refusing...the Council On Foreign Affairs refusing to deal with this problem?
I can't tell here whether Mark is calling me "smart", "ludicrous", or a "pimply nerd". Perhaps a combo of all three, throwing in Hugh's "polite company" for good measure. As for his comment: "[B.D.'s] falling into the sort of standard stripe pants...as long as you are indulging in the form and the process of diplomacy, that that's some kind of strategy. It's not. In most cases, it's just the absence of strategy". Perhaps, perhaps. But as Churchill said, jaw jaw is better than war war, wherever possible. And I'd politely suggest to Mark (whom I also think is a smart guy, btw) that it's more "ludicrous", at least at the present juncture, to be recommending a bombing campaign, as compared to attempting a resumption of strategic dialogue (see my post directly above for my proposal on this score).
As for high school proms and rebuffed suitors, here's a pic of me dancing with my wife at my wedding in Brazil back in October 2005. Believe it or not, I met her in high school, many moons ago, so you'll see I'm always hopeful the nerdy guy can get lucky Mark!
May 11, 2006
A quick note from the road. First, I'm sorry if some of the posts below don't seem to have functioning comment threads. I've gotten several E-mails telling me that a couple of them aren't taking comments. I haven't been able to find the time to get in touch with my software guy to look into it, but will try to in coming days. Second, a quick note on snark. There's been, as a commenter chastised me in the Iran thread, occasional foreign policy analysis as condescension in this space here and there (perhaps more often of late). Whether Steyn or Krauthammer or Hugh Hewitt, I haven't been above adopting a dismissive tone. I'm sorry about that, and I'm sure having a drink with Steyn or Hewitt or whomever would be swell, that they're nice guys in person (just like I'm sure Kos and Duncan Black probably are). This isn't personal. It's just that I'm concerned too many in Washington remain divorced from reality and are still dwelling in a faith-based posture on too many foreign policy matters. It's stunning, really. A military campaign against Iran now, even just air strikes, is the height of folly. So when guys like Steyn breezily chime on about it in between gigs reviewing plays in the Spectator and the Atlantic, someone has to call B.S., even a bit sophomorically, I'd think. By the way, Hugh kindly invited me to do an interview on his radio show to talk Iran. I told him I'm not avoiding his invite, but I am too busy at work and don't do media stuff like this (unless I happen to be on vacation or something and have more downtime). My employer is kind enough to indulge me this hobby, and for now I'm sticking to just pounding stuff off on the laptop when I can find an hour or two. But I did tell Hugh I'd feed him the next Iran analysis I do (a more non-polemical one hopefully), and perhaps we can keep the dialogue going via blog back and forth. Last thing....my earlier note about madcap travel over the next weeks remains very much in effect. Blogging will occur at odd times and sporadically. As ever, thanks for your patience.
P.S. While we're on in-house kinda fare, two more things: 1) if you comment in B.D. threads, try not to use "Greg" as your moniker (like the Greg in the Iran thread). I comment very rarely (not because I'm uninterested, but simply because I lack the time), but when I do, I do as "Greg", so better to not confuse people; 2) when you comment, just do it once. Even if you get an error message, your comment in all likelihood will get posted, no matter how off-putting and scary-looking the warning/error/whatever 'message' pops up, therefore leading too many of you, too often, to put up the same comment twice or three times, causing painful wading through threads cluttered with repeat posts.
P.P.S. Sorry the site graphics appear screwed up as well (at least from my vantage point). Another thing to add to the list when I have people dig into a few site maintenance issues....
May 09, 2006
To Engage or Not to Engage....
...that is the question. I'm leaning engagement, as are thinking Republicans like Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel (I'd take these guys policy prescriptions on Iran over, say, Mark Steyns--any day of the week, and then some). The Iranian position in the Middle East has been greatly strengthened these past years, not least because of U.S. interventions in Iraq and (less noticed) Afghanistan. From Herat to Basra, Baghdad to Beirut, Najaf to Gaza City--greater Iranian influence is being felt. That's not to say there is some inexorable Shi'a crescent that is about to imperil the governing classes in places like Amman or Beirut. That's not to say that Iran has become the indisputable regional hegemon (Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, of course, Israel (as Shimon Peres appropriately reminded recently), all have many cards to play too). That's not to say that Bush needs to leap to attention and pen a ditty in reponse to his new disingenuous pen-pal (who appears even wordier than BD!). But, at a time of our choosing and in a fashion and forum we devise in our own time, we very likely need to start talking to the Iranians. Whether we begin via a limited, strictly demarcated set of issues, or put all major strategic matters on the table, we can think about and debate and finesse in the coming weeks and months. But at some point I'm hard-pressed to see how we avoid talking with the Iranians period. Bottom line: the Iranians have become players, and chiming on about just bombing them into submission isn't going to get us anywhere, save maybe on Hugh Hewitt's radio show.
Put simply, this is another major foreign policy issue crying out for adult attention, fresh thinking, and less knee-jerk posturing. Are we up to it? Or are we just going to continue to let the rhetoric hot up, go the fictitious UN route (who seriously believes the Chinese and Russians will sign-on to use of force against Iran?), and continue to pretend the Euro-3 have a compelling action plan on Iran? Sanctions, of course, are another matter. I prefer sanctions that are specifically targeted at the regime leadership, such as freezing regime-specific assets and restricting travel of Ahmadi-Nejad and his closest conspirators. This smarts in a personal manner, while wider sanctions will likely create a feeling of solidarity among the Iranian public, and cause oil prices to go to (increasingly) unacceptable levels to boot. That said, sanctions could well strengthen the so-called conservative pragmatists like Rafsanjani (a relatively positive development), and so it's no great leap of imagination to suspect Ahmadi-Nejad would start sounding less pugnacious if a cohesive UNSC sanctions regime were put in place. He'd be under more pressure, to be sure. But would this really further our aim of ensuring Iran (especially one led by this radical regime) did not got its hands on nuclear weapons? I'm not so sure.
Which gets us back to the need to probably talk, if even sanctions likely won't do the trick and realistic military options are, to say the least, elusive (and even if they work, they probably only set back Iranian aspirations for several years, rather than permanently scuttle them). Look, this isn't some plea to plop down on couches in Geneva for feel-good Bush-Ahmadi-Nejad summitry. We're not there yet, to say the least. But, at some point, we are going to need to talk to the Iranians, directly. No, not in some chimerical quest for some rosy 'Grand Bargain'. But to begin to sketch forth a sober, serious strategic dialogue on key issues. Maybe down the road a bit James Baker and Richard Holbrooke could go on a joint mission to Teheran, as empowered special envoys, to feel out the terrain (I'm being a tad facetious, but...). Well, here's dreaming.
In the meantime, don't miss Chuck Hagel in the FT recently (click through the CFR link at the top of this post). He's making sense. For instance, he makes the too infrequently heard cautionary note that we should be careful not to alienate the next generation of Iranians. The 'bombs away' crowd loves to tell us how 70% or such of Iranians are under 30 (the message is: they're hip, they're young, they're like us, they dig hip-hop, and so on). But how would they react when the bombs start dropping? I suspect the Westernized youth of Teheran would get mighty nationalistic in quite a hurry, to say the least. Nor is 70MM of democracy promotion cash (a piddling sum, is this some small condo development in Ft. Lauderdale?) going to change the tides of history.
So, yes, we need fresh thinking. Likely, we need to work towards defining a "package of issues" on Iran, as Hagel puts it. Would that more party elders had the balls, brains and mojo to speak up along such lines too. Sadly, most of them are dim wannabes like Frist and Allen. They're mostly clueless about foreign policy (Republican John Edwardses, if you will), and have a hugely simplistic, cartoonified response to whatever crisis of the day. This might earn them plaudits in VDH/Krauthammer land, but it's not serious, and it's not going to solve the Iran crisis.
Don't Purposefully Partition Iraq
I'm still more with Anthony Cordesman than Gelb/Biden/Galbraith on this issue. He's got a succinct piece in today's NYT. Key quotes:
The first problem is that Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq showing exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they live. The two elections held since the toppling of Saddam Hussein have made it clear, however, that Iraq's cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities.
Regular readers know the specter of population transfers, and what to do about places like Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk, have always made me extremely skeptical about the 'loose confederation' idea. Cordesman is right that our efforts to build a unified, multi-ethnic army would likely come to naught as well, were the Gelb/Biden plan adopted. Of course, one can argue that preserving a unitary state is just shy of impossible, and that partitioning Iraq is more in tune with reality. I guess I'm just not there yet.
In today's WaPo, a Dana Priest piece describes the Hayden pick as a "clever move" by Negroponte to exert greater control over Rumsfeld's "burgeoning intelligence bureaucracy." Of course, Rumsfeld recently declared he wasn't in the intelligence business:
Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The president spent weeks and weeks with the central intelligence people and he went to the american people and made a presentation. I’m not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.
Yes, of course, Rumsfeld's not in the intelligence business. So what's all the fuss about?
Hagiography Bordering on the Pornographic
Did anyone catch Bret Baier's Fox special on Rumsfeld last night, "Why He Fights"? Amazing propagandistic fare, one for the time capsule. Eisenhower morphing into Rumsfeld, so as to portray the latter as noble knight staving off the perils of the military-industrial complex (those nasty retired Generals!), 5-10 seconds (seriously, if that) of gloss-over on Abu Ghraib, steely montage of all the other good wars fought before (but with far fewer casualties, of course, 'transformation'!). The kicker came towards the end, with Baier hunched over the backseat of Rummy's official car, like an adulatory lap-dog, breathlessly asking him about his faith and his plans for the future. You felt Baier just might have burst into tears if Rummy had surprised him and told him he was resigning. At times the mutual stroking almost seemed to get out of hand. Would they break into a cuddle, perhaps, arms akimbo and misty eyed at all the memories they had shared on their myriad trips to theater? Yes, the amorous play got hot and heavy all right. Call it Rummy porn. A bravura performance by Roger Ailes and Co. It doesn't get much better than this, but it's not for the squeamish...
It's Like Deja Vu All Over Again!
Bush nominating Porter Goss, August 11 2004: "He is the right man to lead this important agency at this critical moment in our nation's history."
Bush nominating Michael Hayden, today: "He's the right man to lead the CIA at this critical moment in our history."
(Hat Tip: Jon Stewart)
P.S. Maybe the take-away here is that the CIA is no longer an "important agency"? Otherwise the '04 and '06 language is pretty much identical. Just saying...
May 08, 2006
A Looming Crisis in Gaza?
In a summary report he submitted to the heads of the Quartet when he decided to resign, Wolfensohn called on the international community to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis without delay, in order to prevent severe consequences for the whole region and for world peace, while impugning the Quartet's credibility as a conflict-resolving party.
Wolfensohn had choice words for the Palestinians too:
"The Palestinians need to understand that it is not business as usual," Wolfensohn told the news conference, adding in a reference to Hamas, "Here you have a Palestinian group which has said it wants to destroy its neighbor.
I think it's a losing gambit too. You don't de-radicalize peoples by starving their health care sector. Nor do you inspire a region to your version of democracy in such fashion either. Quite the opposite, I'd think. All this will likely prove to be short-sighted policy. A major health care crisis in the Territories must be averted, even if this means considering some funding to government ministries. Development specialists agree. See this Toronto Star story:
In a bleak report detailing a Gaza Strip in economic tailspin, the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) cautioned donor nations and Israel that the strategy of starving out the newly elected Hamas government by rerouting aid to outside agencies is deepening the suffering of civilians.
As Wolfensohn said, this strategy is a "losing gambit". It's not going to help moderate Palestinian behavior, it's not going to help resuscitate the moribund peace process, and I'm dubious it will necessarily lead to a major uptick in support for Fatah. And if a serious health care crisis takes root, it will obviously have a further unfortunate impact on the U.S.'s image in the region. What's needed is for the Quartet to put in place a team, with the appropriate infrastructure and staffing on the ground, to devise methods by which to fund Palestinian humanitarian needs via NGOs and other neutral third parties, but where this is not possible, sketch out possible options by which to fund health and social welfare ministries, while ensuring as much oversight as possible that the aid monies are going directly towards humanitarian needs. Some mechanism that bypasses Hamas controlled coffers, but gets some salary monies directly to key public sector workers is likely needed too. Finding viable solutions along these lines should be a top U.S. priority right now, before things get very ugly during the summer months. It's also in Israel's national interest too, in my view, and I wouldn't be surprised if Olmert wouldn't be equally interested in finding innovative methods by which to effectuate some of the above, if not just now perhaps, in several months likely.
UPDATE: More from the FT.
Recent proposals by the EU and some of its member states indicate the Europeans are prepared to be more flexible than the US in finding ways to fund the Palestinian payroll while continuing to bypass Hamas.
Somewhere in all this, there's a better policy than the current one, methinks.
MORE: JPost--"According to sources in Washington, the US is considering a compromise that would allow the international community to transfer funds to PA employees who work in health and education."
May 07, 2006
Too Little, Too Late?
The changes in the Army's emphasis are among the most far-reaching since World War II, all being carried out at top speed, while the Iraqi insurgency continues undiminished and political support for the war ebbs at home.
Part of the reason U.S. forces are retrenching is the increasing discomfort of the American public with the war. There are of course political realities at play (not that I buy the absurd claptrap that the dastardly MSM, in the main, is to blame for this phenomenon of diminishing support simply because they hype all the bad news). But I'd wager a bigger reason is that Rumsfeld is not a believer in counter-insurgency, is not a believer in nation-building, is incorrectly concerned more about 'dependency' than creating basic order, and is still hell-bent on playing pretend that his troop-lite transformationist dogma is correct. On top of this, he thinks the situation on the ground (and so does Cheney, importantly) is materially better than it really is.
The President imbibes much of this, and has delegated much of the prosecution of the war to a man who has bungled it in large part. So we're stuck, pretty much, in neutral. Iraq will likely not degenerate into total chaos as long as we are there in sizable numbers, but we don't have the right leadership in place to make a serious go of improving the situation dramatically. The commanders and troops on the ground are nobly soldiering on, and they are sometimes making a positive difference. But they need better overall strategic leadership, from the top down. With a civilian leader at the Pentagon who doesn't understand the basic nature of the conflict (from lightning blitzkrieg of the hubris-ridden shock and awe variety we are now more in peacemaking nation-building modality, albeit still with important counter-insurgency components), the risk of too little, too late is only aggravated. Success in Iraq is already a huge long shot. Why make it even harder by keeping Rumsfeld on?
A word on Colbert's recent gig down in DC. I admit to having mixed feelings, to a fashion. I think the Office of the President of the United States deserves some respect. After all, deep down, is it really a happy occasion when we feel the occupant merits such round mockery? Was it Nietzsche who said "a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling"? The 'feeling' here, of course, being basic respect for our governing class. But it would be old-fashioned and boring of me, wouldn't it, in our brave new post-Watergate/Monica/Hookergate world of incessant cable news cycles, often ginned up faux crises, 24 hour blog blather, and so on--to harken back to ye olde days when the press corps merrily ran about 'in the sack' with Jack Kennedy and Washington was a clubbier, more discreet town?
The reality is, amidst the fevered media cycles, politicans have become all too naked and human, and their foibles and mediocrity and weaknesses come into starker and starker relief to anyone with half a brain (I wonder who the 25% percent of those still supporting this Republican Congress are? It's as baffling to me as the roughly similar amount of people who still support, say, Chirac.) But perhaps large swaths of an Oprah-fied nation like the cycles of rise to power and fall to disgrace, what with the 'inspirational' windows of opportunity afforded by possible 'redemption' and such.
Regardless, and balanced against my discomfort at POTUS being roundly mocked to his face, I end up on the pro-Colbert side of the fence. This is mostly because Bush dwells in an absurdly tight bubble. Cheney and Rummy are still in denial, big time, on the situation in Iraq. So to the extent people can shake the President out of such bubble-slumber, I've got to err on the side of a harsh ribbing here and there. If there are no wise men to do the hard task of persuading Bush that a massive re-org of the White House is urgently required, if too many reporters are dim, pliant ignoramuses (watching domestic CNN is a painful, nightly train-wreck, lacking even the brasher theater of the absurd comedy Fox affords), or have become appendages of the governing apparatus (creeping Woodwardism, let's call it), I'll take comedians trying to communicate to him that his Adminstration is degenerating into something of a joke. If it has come to this, so be it.
P.S. And was the Colbert routine funny, another pressing question occupying the national discourse of late? It was rather long (especially the Helen Thomas--Colbert fiddling with his car keys- Amtrak up to New York burlesque), and yeah maybe not that funny in parts. Bridgeses routine (the Bush impersonation) hit the right Washington notes better. DC is a one-industry company town still, and Colbert's peculiar and highly ironic schtick of posing as faith-based righty didn't play particularly well in the serried ranks of Washington officialdom. So I sensed the tone was rather off-putting to the assembled crowd, probably as it struck pretty close to the bone and was more New York in its aggressive 'in your face' vibe. Good.
It's amusing, at least in a 'holy sh*t has he no shame kinda way?' to see Rumsfeld, in the face of a somewhat flaky retired CIA guy's interrogatories (but for his bubble-bursting services I extend hearty kudos nonetheless), have to resort to using Colin Powell as a human shield. How low can you go Mr. Rumsfeld? (Yeah, that's a rhetorical Q...)
A Sunday Query
A question to B.D. readers, re: Cheney's recent critical comments of Russia. Apart from the substance of his remarks, was having Cheney deliver them from Vilnius wise, or needlessly provocative? I lean towards the latter, but recognize that the comments carry more weight delivered from Moscow's doorstep as compared to, say, AEI or Geneva or some other removed venue. What do commenters think? And does this mean, perhaps, that we've given up on the Russians really playing a constructive role at the UNSC on the Iran front, re: possible going forward sanctions? Or are Pootie and Bush in cahoots that Cheney's remarks were mostly for public consumption, and that behind the scenes all is still vaguely spirit of Ljubljana-ish?
P.S. This article seems to ascribe a good deal of the indigant Russian reaction to Cheney's venue selection. I'm just not sure what we've accomplished with these Cheney comments, save preserving fake Beltway bragging rights that no one could accuse this 'tough' team of having lost Russia. A debatable proposition, to say the least.
MORE: From a Kelly O'Donnell interview of the Veep:
Q How did you weigh the criticism of Russia as possibly alienating them at a time when the U.S. needs Russia in the Security Council to try to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions?
UPDATE: Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, to the FT: "The truth of the matter is that Russia has moved away from Soviet-era arrangements of subsidizing energy prices to our neighbors and turned to market-based pricing mechanisms...We are aware that impressions fade slowly, but it is time for the west to recognize and acknowledge the maturing role and state of progress that Russia has achieved."
It will be interesting to see what direction the rhetoric next takes when Putin gives his state of the nation on Weds....
Wanted: Basic Competence
Old CIA hands were not sorry to see Goss go. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may miss his former bureaucratic rival. The Pentagon has increasingly horned in on the CIA's territory, using Special Forces to run covert operations and gather intel. According to a former senior administration official who did not wish to be identified discussing high-level meetings, Rummy was only too glad to let Goss brief policymakers. Goss often appeared uncertain of his facts and tended to fumble and wander in his presentations. The more tangled up Goss became, the more Rumsfeld sensed he could steal the CIA's thunder.
Blogospheric and nascent MSM chit-chat about booze-infused risque poker games, nine-fingers and "Dusty" Foggo aside, it's (yet again) the woeful lack of competence this latest episode showcases that depresses most. I mean, if a spent force like Rumsfeld rues Gosses departure because someone more talented might impact his turf (and didn't so disingenuous Rummy recently tell us he's "not in the intelligence business" anyway?), we're putting in a pretty poor show indeed now almost five years after 9/11 in terms of fielding the best and brightest on the intelligence front. And then there is the White Houses so amateur handling of the announcement of Gosses resignation. If a replacement might have been appointed as early as Monday anyway, why not have waited a few days so the American people felt a sense of continuity, with the baton being passed from Goss to Hayden, so as to provide at least a token sense of an orderly transition? And doesn't the American public deserve better than having a retired DCI say that his abrupt resignation is "just one of those mysteries"? This is just breathtaking fare, especially given that we now have a new Chief of Staff who was supposed to bring some order and discipline to a White House that is tottering into irrelevance.
Of course I've written off this Administration, and I know many other Republicans who have too. The final (you know, final, final) bursting point, for me at least, might well have been Bush's obscenely child-like and indignant "I'm the decider, and I decide what's best" line announcing he was keeping Rumsfeld on. And so there (cue stomping of feet, all tantrum-like)! The flip side of the retired Generals calling for Rummy's head, ironically, is that I agree the President could not be seen to be sacking him as a direct result of military pressure. Despite my profound disdain for Rumsfeld, I view the import of ensuring civilian primacy over the military as critical and more important than any one man's immediate fate. But there are ways to ease someone out, and Bush is obstinately refusing to do so because, alas, he appears dependent on a failed war leader.
Look, I was talking to a partner at a leading private equity firm a few days back about the state of play in DC. He leans strongly Republican. The 'Decider' line came up. He said: "I mean, what the eff is this, a banana republic"? Indeed. We've had it. The government appears increasingly cretinized and dysfunctional. At this point, despite the bubble-headed idiocy of the Pelosi-wing, I can't help feeling thinking Republicans should be rooting for the Democrats to take control of the House in November, subpoena power and all. I mean, what are the arguments for Republicans keeping control? $100 oil rebates and other Fristian crapola? Or something else? Seriously, let's discuss the pros and cons of having the Democrats take the House in November. But let's do better than the war on terruh will be imperiled, OK? I'm open to both sides of this issue, and haven't really make up my mind definitively so am keen to see people's thoughts, but let's try to keep the discussion non-polemical, despite my admitedly somewhat shrill tone above.
UPDATE: Andrew says the Administration isn't dead, and sees Rove's fingerprints on the speed of execution here. Still, I can't fathom why they couldn't wait to push Goss out in time for the replacement pick to be named contemporaneously? But maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill on this point. My general point still holds however. Why did we have a DCI whose handpicked number 3 appears to have been rather on the ribald, clownish side? Who is minding the store? Where is the damn competence? How can it be that we do not have an umimpeachably serious, top-flight figure as DCI five years after 9/11? What the hell is going on? What do we need to do down in Washington, double the pay across the board for government servants? Or what?
The State of The Shi'a South
Worrisome trends afoot, but no large-scale explosion is likely imminent. But that's not to say we shouldn't be preparing assiduously for a potential resurgence of a Shi'a insurgency in coming months. I'm sure the civilian leadership of the Pentagon is all over it.
Despite the tensions, few believe southern Iraq is on the verge of an explosion. Deadly attacks against U.S., British and allied troops in the region appear to have increased in recent weeks, but the U.S. military says assaults there on allied forces still average less than one a day except in Basra, which has about two a day.
On a more optimistic front, don't miss this Bartle Bull dispatch from Babil from a few days back:
What really makes Babil special is that it is a largely Shiite province in which the Shiite militias — the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades — have almost no foothold. But they are trying. All Iraq's police answer to the Interior Ministry, which is held by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Iranian organ in the country. And the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, has repeatedly tried to replace Babil's independent-minded provincial police chief, Gen. Qais Hamza al-Maamony. Under heavy pressure from the Americans, however, the minister agreed in January to a moratorium on the replacement of senior police officers until after the formation of the new government.
The problem is, there are too few Maamonys around, and with diminishing U.S. involvement, their influence will likely wane further.
May 04, 2006
I'm alive, but living on planes, or so it seems of late. Significant blogging is simply impossible just now, and there's still a lot of travel ahead. Still, I hope to eke out a post or two here and there. But I can't promise anything in the coming weeks given work demands, or make any concrete predictions about when significant new content might come on-line. Thanks for your understanding, and in the meantime, enjoy the many fine blogs listed to your right below.
About Belgravia Dispatch
Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.
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