August 31, 2006
Unity, Then and Now
“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.”
--Otto von Bismark
Time constraints have prevented me from analyzing Donald Rumsfeld's dishonest and repulsive speech (I use these words very advisedly) to the American Legion, but the above quote came to mind while perusing it. Detailed analysis to follow as soon as time allows, but in the meantime, and aside from Rumsfeld's transparent demagoguery, I did want to quote this snippet, and juxtapose it with somewhat similar quotes, Rumsfeld:
"It seems that in some quarters there's more of a focus on dividing our country than acting with unity against the gathering threats."
Unity is an interesting word. It immediately brought to mind Adolf Hitler's February 1933 Berlin Proclamation to the Nation, where he stressed the importance of "unity" no fewer than six times:
1) "With profound distress millions of the best German men and women from all walks of life have seen the unity of the nation vanishing away, dissolving in a confusion of political and personal opinions... (ed. note: "Confusion" is another word both Hitler and Rumsfeld employed liberally, Rumsfeld twice, including this snippet: "And that is important in any long struggle or long war, where any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong, can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.")
2)" ...Germany has presented a picture of heartbreaking disunity..."
3) "We never received the equality and fraternity we had been promised, and we lost our liberty to boot. For when our nation lost its political place in the world, it soon lost its unity of spirit and will.... "
4) "He called to those of us in nationalist parties and leagues to struggle under him once more, in unity and loyalty, for the salvation of the German nation."
5) "The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation"
6) "Reichspräsident von Hindenburg has called upon us to bring about the revival of the German nation. Unity is our tool. Therefore we now appeal to the German people to support this reconciliation." [my emphasis throughout]
The point here isn't that Rumsfeld is some Hitler redux, of course. But Rumsfeld's rhetorical tactics of late, it should be noted, are not infrequently rather similar to the Fuhrer's, and this bears noting, I'd think. Especially for someone who tries to wear the mantle of Churchill and who throws the word fascism around so liberally, Rumsfeld might instead take a good, hard look in the mirror, as the relevant historical analogue(s) might not be quite as flattering as he'd wish. Regardless, and analyses of political leader's rhetorical tactics aside, what is quite clear is that as election season kicks into gear, Bush has instructed his two old attack dogs (Rumsfeld and Cheney) to go out, dish some dirt, and play hardball. But this is not devilishly effective Lee Atwater style fare, delivered with calculated punch and resulting in tangible electoral advantage. Rather, it smells like damaged goods, smacks of desperation, and is nakedly divisive fare despite disingenuously masquerading as a call for unity.
Indeed, as the failure of the Bush Administration's war strategy becomes more and more evident to all but the most hardened denialists, as their desperation and incompetence becomes more evident to the American public, as their Middle East policy increasingly lies in tatters, and as they continue to erroneously attempt to conjoin things like the London terror plot with Iraq, without admitting the need for urgent re-appraisal of our overall strategy in the war on terror (they are incapable and/or too exhausted to make significant course corrections)--the rhetoric is beginning to border on dangerously reckless, and I trust the American people to reject this growing demagogy, and vote the Democrats in in November (at least in the House). I take no particular joy in this, as I think the Democrats have distinguished themselves by what I've called their ferocious lameness too often, but I cannot support a party that continues to allow a man this discredited a platform to propagate such gross dissembling, not to mention continues to allow him to prosecute a war where he has failed so dismally to achieve our nation's most basic strategic objectives.
To be sure, Bush will doubtless give a more centrist, 'statesmanlike' speech in the next days. But let us not be fooled. Bush has proven an incompetent, and he has two reckless, even dangerous men advising him in Rumsfeld and Cheney who, rather than disappearing into the early retirement both so richly deserve, are instead being given free rein to engage in the quite disgusting revisionism, cheap historical hyperbole, and demagoguery we've witnessed with the American Legion speech. Bush supports them in this, and so is totally complicit. Enough is enough. The only message these arrogant, discredited men will understand is a blistering one of rejection sent through the ballot-box. Let's try to give it to them, big time, as they say.
MORE: The FT editorializes:
It may be unfashionable to acknowledge this, but Mr Rumsfeld is making one valid and important point. There should be no moral confusion about who is responsible for the heartbreaking violence in Iraq. It is not the American army that is planting car bombs in markets. Some of the most ardent critics of the Iraq war are in danger of almost welcoming further bad news as an opportunity to say "I told you so". They should recognise that it is still overwhelmingly in the interests of those who want a freer and more peaceful Middle East that the Americans and their allies succeed in stabilising Iraq.
Color me deeply unconvinced any "honest analysis" will be forthcoming.
August 29, 2006
Don't Compound the Earlier Blunders....
Deep in devastated south Beirut, the engineers of Hizbollah, the Shia movement that fought Israel's army, are rebuilding the fabric of their heartland in the city, and thereby reclaiming their constituency.
Why then, just the time to cheerlead Tom Lantos' strategy of cutting aid to Lebanon! Let's give Construction Jihad even more of a leg up....
Posted by Gregory at 04:30 AM
The scene in Syria:
Enas al-Kaldi stops in the hallway of her Islamic school for girls and coaxes her 6-year-old schoolmate through a short recitation from the Koran.
Why do I feel, rather often, that we're blind to major trends afoot in the region, even asleep at the switch?
UPDATE: David Rieff writes in:
How extraordinary that the hawks in the US and in Israel are pushing for the toppling of the Assad regime when, of course, what they would get would be another Islamist regime (and think of the pressures that would put on Ankara!). But then, a world in which those who support the war think the comparison between death rates of young black males in Philadelphia and US troops in Iraq is illuminating is simply a world gone mad. So why not? Let's just upset one more Middle Eastern apple cart and see what happens. If Bush and his advisors are really energetic, perhaps we can have a Hezbollah-ized Lebanon, an Islamist Syria, a further de-secularized Turkey, and an Iran-dominated Iraq by the end of the President's second term. Not bad for eight years!
Heh, indeed, as they say. Call it the reverse-domino effect...
Meantime, don't miss the end of the NYT piece, not excerpted above:
The girls at the madrasa say that by plunging more deeply into their faith, they learn to understand their rights within Islam.
More color on this soon.
Posted by Gregory at 03:31 AM
Moronic Inferno* Watch
UPDATE: Via E-mail, David Rieff details the provenance of 'moronic inferno' some: "I'm almost certain that Amis got the phrase 'the moronic inferno' from his friend and mentor, Saul Bellow." Regardless, it's a good turn of phrase, that's for sure, and in these heady times, I suspect I'll have to crib it from Amis (or Bellow) more and more often.
Posted by Gregory at 03:10 AM
All Points Bulletin
Lots going on in the 'region'....what with all the "birth pangs" and all...so where's Karen?
Posted by Gregory at 03:03 AM
August 27, 2006
Gerson's Straw Men
In a widely quoted recent Newsweek piece, Michael Gerson, a former Bush speechwriter, wrote:
A second point: the promotion of democracy in the Middle East is messy, difficult, but no one has a better idea.
Gerson's conception of "soft realists" is an out and out straw man. You see this argument peddled around many of the more boorish blogs (and there are many)--most of which don't care a whit for innocent Arabs being felled by collateral damage (whether in Lebanon, or Iraq, or wherever), but erupt into spasms of self-righteouseness if one questions Bush's breezy 'freedom is on the march' nostrums. How dare you question the freedom agenda? Are you racist? Do you think Arabs are not fit for democracy? Disgusting! And so on. As I said, you've seen the argument made frequently, doubtless, and it's a straw man. One can be a soft realist, to use Gerson's lexicon, and so believe democracy is desirable--but question whether this can be successfully achieved by, say, invading Iraq, allowing massive disorder to prevail--with the country tottering on the brink of civil war--or too hastily cheerleading elections in Palestine, and then working in concert with Israel to attempt to scuttle the new government that prevailed at the ballot-box. Gerson, alas, doesn't broach such subtleties (good evangelicals, it appears, often find such nettlesome details rather on the pesky side, as it might keep 'clarifying moments' at bay), that is to say, alternately, the reckless ineptitude (Iraq) or brazen hypocrisy (Palestine)--though his faith-based call to arms has evidently led to much head-nodding exultation among the flock.
Next Gerson tees up straw-man #2, namely the so-called 'hard realists'. This crew, according to Gerson, think democracy is perhaps possible in the Middle East, but fearing the rise to power of Islamic radicals (and as good Kissingerian realpolitikers regardless), prefer to cozy up with the authoritarian satrapies of the region, thus showcasing a dismal tendency to prefer cursed stability to the glorious freedom taking root in the region. Put differently, in this tired narrative, hard realists are short-sighted, cold-hearted folk who lack the gumption to, say, cut off aid to Mubarak to usher in the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood (the worrisome specter of "one man, one vote, one time"). How niggardly of them, to deny the great Arab masses the fruits of Bushian freedom, and how breathtakingly dangerous too--as this addiction to stability at all costs has the effect of imperiling the American polity--by allowing long simmering repressions to continue to fester in the Arab world, and thus leading doubtless to more 9/11s on our shores. As I said, yet another straw-man, but one that I note was widely applauded among the usual suspects as a grand, re-invigorated Gersonian call to arms as November beckons (Gerson: "If American "cowboy diplomacy" did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it." Well, rah-rah, then!).
Unfortunately, Gerson neglects to mention a third category in his little schema. Call us skeptical realists, perhaps. Don't get me wrong. We are not but unsentimental Palmerstonians, to a man. Beyond direct calculations of national interest, we certainly believe there are moral considerations that need to be brought to bear in the foreign policy decision-making process. For instance, we found Reagan's stance against Soviet totalitarianism wise and effective (note, of course, that Reagan actually talked to the Soviets). So we understand that a moral dimension has its place, and always will, in the prosecution of U.S. foreign policy. We realize too, as security hawks, that the spread of democracy typically has the effect of reducing the specter of war and conflict. Which is to say, we like democracy, and we are happy to see it spread. But we are not fanciful adventurers--and we want to ensure requisite resources are brought to bear, and utopic outcomes are not breezily assured, and we suspect the effort will take place in gradualist fashion, via economic liberalization as much as political reform, and certainly not under the barrel of Israeli (Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon) or American (Iraq and, for some of the dimmer neo-cons salivating away, prospectively 'Syran') guns. We realize too that democracy is more than a 'ballot-cracy', more than waving purple fingers around in what was mostly a national census showcasing the rise of Shi'a revanchism in Iraq. We further realize that Bush's clumsy attempts to spread democracy in the Middle East are flailing rather dismally (see, again, the 30-day carte blanche to Israel to engage in a fanciful expedition to 'eradicate' Hezbollah, which helped put another nail in the coffin of America's repute in the region, not to mention the Cedar Revolution, or the emptily quixotic exercise that were the Palestinian elections, swiftly met with aid cut-offs which predictably have spurred on a grave humanitarian situation, and most of all, an Iraq adventure that has unleashed, in the face of our inability to provide for basic order, national furies that most Americans don't even begin to understand, as well as great skepticism about America's policy objectives in the region), and that in the face of such debacles, we must not curl up like bovine Pavlovians and ask for more of the same--but rather demand strategic changes. To do so, we must face reality square-on, learning from our mistakes and re-appraising our strategy, rather than rushing blindly towards the next misadventure with open arms.
To help this process along, let me offer some observations and even some lessons learned, and then open up this discussion to comments. Democracy, in my view, cannot be achieved by grotesquely undermanning a nation-building effort after militarily unseating a dictator in a nation riven by sectarian and ethnic tension (see also Iran, as many in the dumbed-down Beltway are urging a repeat there). Put differently, creative destruction is not an approach to sober statecraft. And on the challenge of terrorism more generally, as the London plot showcases, our real challenges are not necessarily presented by under-educated Afghan peasants gravitating to madrassas in Peshawar, say, but rather Muslim middle-class British and French and Dutch youth watching al-Jazeera on their satellite televisions in East London, the banlieu, and Amsterdam--becoming radicalized as they grapple with the vying tensions of disorienting Western liberties, feelings of alienation amidst under-employment and life in stand-alone ethnic ghettos, and not least a sense of humiliation and indignity born of the carnage they see beamed in on news shows from places like Lebanon and Iraq. Another observation, to those who hanker to unseat, say, the Saudi monarchy--is to point out that the Saudis have been much more effective of late in combatting al-Qaeda in their own country, than we have been in reducing the specter of growing extremism in the region and beyond. As former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas Freeman recently put it, when asked how Saudi efforts to fight terrorism were going:
The answer is that they’re [the Saudis] winning. (We, of course, are not.) So what is it that they are doing right? They have essentially discredited the extremist ideology in their own mosques, by driving the radical imams from the pulpits. They have co-opted or seduced or induced to defect a large number of people who were terrorists or were heading in that direction, and who are now going straight. They’re killing anybody who’s left.
No, we are not convincingly dealing with the ideological component of this struggle. By refusing to shut places like Guantanamo, or to fire Rumsfeld and raze Abu Ghraib immediately after that horrific scandal, or to be an honest broker in the Arab-Israeli dispute, spearheading and leading forward a peace process no matter how difficult, or to more assiduously work with the Indians to move them towards a resolution of Kashmir with Pakistan, or to better understand that continued chaos in Iraq leads many Arabs to disdain America's role in the region, among so much more, none of us, whether naive post-Wilsonians pining for an end to tyranny in our time, or soft or hard or skeptical or luke-warm or whatever realists, or progressives, or isolationists--none of us are going to achieve our policy goals--which is to say effectively defending America's national interest against the scourge of international terrorism. (Others might recommend, as James Fallows has recently written in the Atlantic, that we just go ahead and declare victory, the GWOT over, if you will. It is true, as Fallows has written, that the original al-Qaeda organization has suffered quite harsh blows. Still, alas, the original al-Qaeda has mestastasized, not least as we've too often pursued policies that have made us into something akin to a Bin Laden recruiting sergeant, so that Fallow's recommendation to declare we've prevailed in the GWOT and pack our bags leaves me, to say the least, rather unconvinced).
What is needed instead is 1) continuing to devastate al-Qaeda's network, 2) trying as I've recently written to (so belatedly) pursue a true success strategy in Iraq, 3) better understanding the hugely important ideological dimension of this war (including importantly the impact of our policies on Muslim minorities living in the West), 4) looking at reform in the Arab world as a more incremental process, involving economic reform as much as hasty political ones, while less often unconvincingly preaching about democratic freedom to those in Riyadh or Cairo where the alternatives, at least in the short term, would likely be far worse (yes the Muslim Brotherhood might someday become more like European Christian Democrats, say, but over decades, not simply because of hasty elections pursued under conditions of incipient chaos, as democracy entails more than balloting, of course, but also the rule of law, the maturation of political parties, the protection of minority rights, economic reform, and more besides), and 5) moving very seriously to resolve festering territorial disputes such as the West Bank or the Golan Heights or Kashmir. These are the makings of a true success strategy (admitedly imperfect ones, I don't pretend to be proferring panaceas here) in the wider Middle East and North African region, not resort to the same tired bromides and failed strategies of the past half-decade, that Gerson's call to arms mostly counsels.
UPDATE: A reader well acquainted with James Fallow's piece in The Atlantic writes in:
The "pack our bags" part is EXACTLY AND EXPLICITLY what the article does NOT recommend....even the sub-head [of the Fallows piece] says that a large reason for declaring the open-ended state of war over is so that the harder and more sustained campaign to squash the copy-cat/metastasized cells can work BETTER. (Eg, note that the British authories, who actually DID break the airline-bombing cell, did so not with declarations of war but with old fashioned means of penetration, agent recruitment, surveillance, etc.)
That's a better description of Fallow's argument, it is true.
August 26, 2006
One way to measure how the world has changed in these last five years is to consider the extraordinary address to his nation by General Musharraf on Sept. 19, 2001. Pakistan was one of just three countries in the world (along with "our friends the Saudis" and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize the Taliban -- and, given that the Pakistanis had helped create and maintain them, they were pretty easy to recognize. President Bush, you'll recall, had declared that you're either with us or you're with the terrorists -- which posed a particular problem for Musharraf: He was with us but everyone else in his country was with the terrorists, including his armed forces, his intelligence services, the media, and a gazillion and one crazy imams.
This is pretty rich, even for a clownish kibitzer like Steyn. Guess who made that call, Mark? Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, after discussions w/ Richard Armitage. Both of them card-carrying, charter members of that so hapless uber-peacenik and dove crowd, you know, the one you so love to poo-pooh as not having the requisite cojones to defend against the varied civilizational perils we face at the present hour.
Powell had told Bush that whatever action he took, it could not be done without Pakistan's support. But the Pakistanis had to be put on notice, and Powell had in mind a pitcher's brushback pitch to a particularly dangerous batter – high, fast and hard to the head. Squeezing Musharraf too hard was risky, given the potential for fundamentalist unrest inside his country, but Powell believed they had no other choice.
Today, apparently, Steyn appears to rue the passing of such muscular telephone diplomacy. But that hasn't stopped Steyn from heaping scorn on Powell, just about every chance he has. Witness:
From the moment Colin Powell advised against marching on Baghdad and ended the Gulf War, the world's only superpower has been on a ten-year long weekend off. It loaded up the SUV, went to the mall, enjoyed the good times and deluded itself that the new world of politics could be confined to feel good initiatives -- big government disguised as lots and lots of teensy-weensy bits of small government.
As long as...Colin Powell and the rest are willing to prance around doing a month-long Islamic minstrel-show routine for the amusement of the A-list Arabs, Muslims will rightly see it for what it is: a sign of profound cultural weakness.
I was on the road the other night and so found myself watching CNN's coverage of Israel, Lebanon, Gaza, etc. It was "Larry King Live," one of those shows where Larry interviews great men about what needs to be done and the great men all agree the president needs to get other great men involved to "broker" a "deal." Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, suggested Mr. Bush appoint Colin Powell or James Baker as his Special Envoy...Aside from Larry's closing tribute to Red Buttons, I've never heard more rubbish in a single hour since... well, come to think of it, since the last time I saw "Larry King Live."
Ask why the Saudis are allowed to kill thousands of Americans and still get the kid-gloves treatment, and you’re told the magic word: oil. Here’s my answer: blow it out your Medicine Hat. The largest source of imported energy for the United States is the Province of Alberta. Indeed, whenever I’m asked how America can lessen its dependence on foreign oil, I say it’s simple: annex Alberta. The Albertans would be up for it, and, to be honest, they’re the only assimilable Canadian province, at least from a Republican standpoint. In 1972, the world’s total proven oil reserves added up to 550 billion barrels; today, a single deposit of Alberta’s tar shales contains more than that. Yet no Albertan government minister or trade representative gets the access in Washington that the Saudis do. No premier of Alberta gets invited to Bush’s Crawford ranch. No Albertan bigshot, if you’ll forgive the oxymoron, gets Colin Powell kissing up to him like ‘Crown’ ‘Prince’ Abdullah and ‘Prince’ Bandar do.
I could go on. You get the picture though, no? Mark, writing from his fortified cabin up in New Hampshire, appears rather clueless regarding the rather massive hypocrisy going on here, I'm afraid, that is to say his breathless pining for the days when you had a Colin Powell at the ready to pick up the phone, general to general, to get Musharraf in line might quick. Mark's a gifted polemicist, to be sure. But not much more, I'm afraid. Guys like Powell know that, of course, and don't care a whit what piffle the usual suspects scribble to make a living. But, once in a while, we should pause, even if very briefly, to point out the rank speciousness of it all...
Posted by Gregory at 09:54 PM
Weekend Iran Round-Up
It's now time for the U.S. to quietly rally defense and foreign ministries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to develop operational plans for containing and deterring a nuclear-armed Iran. Far from throwing in the towel or abandoning diplomacy in favor of warfare, devising a deterrence and containment strategy now would allay international fears that Washington uses U.N. diplomacy as a prelude to military-delivered regime change. Building international capabilities to contain a nuclear-armed Iran would have the double benefit of putting muscle into the Security Council's effort to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability in the first place.
The take-aways this Saturday: Iran continues to thumb its nose, with basic impunity, at the international community with Ahmadi-Nejad's inauguration of the heavy-water plant, Bolton is reportedly going to hunker down in 'enhanced' PSI-mode and sanctioneering 'coalition of the willing' type fare (will Condi Rice espy ultimate futility of same?), and meantime the long-term strategic advice of people like Perkovich and Barry McCaffrey will be mostly ignored. Oh, and this kind of imbecilic hysteria will mount and mount in coming months, of course.
For sanctions advocates out there (at least those who wish to see serious sanctions, rather than Potemkin ones), the big Q really comes down to this, putting aside the Russians and Chinese for the moment: should we mount a major international effort to restrict importation of refined petroleum into Iran (Iran relies on refined petroleum imports heavily), knowing full well that the Iranians will respond by a) dramatically reducing oil exports (though, make no mistake, this will cause much pain in Iran when subsidies come under pressure) and b) likely cutting off the Straits of Hormuz? With a barrel of oil leap-frogging to levels beyond Goldman Sach's earlier 'super-spike' prognosis (if memory serves, they were calling $105) to perhaps as high as $120/barrel, and combined with the housing slow-down, a major recession in the US becomes all but certain. And while significant sanctions and/or import restrictions will cause much disgruntlement among the Iranian people, I strongly suspect the larger impact will be circle-the-wagons national solidarity type phenomenon. Put differently, would sanctions even achieve their objective? Color me dubious and unconvinced. Meantime, most of the international community will (likely correctly) view sanctions as merely prelude to the U.S. ultimately arguing military force must be resorted too, with the sanctions route (whether of the faux or ones-that-bite variety) exhausted. This is rather self-defeating and could become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it means fewer nations will sign up for sanctions (distrusting America's ultimate intentions), thus rendering them less effective (Perkovich's point).
Meantime, even significant non UN Security Council players have major interests at play here too, of course. Witness the Japanese:
Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki said it would be difficult for Japan to cut off Iranian oil imports should the United Nations impose sanctions against Iran for its nuclear development program.
Further, and predictably, the petro-powers are up to no good, with Chavez paying Iran for things like trucks in kind, ie. with refined petroleum product. Ahmadi-Nejad and the Iranians are no dumbies, and they are going to do their utmost to assure alternate supplies of refined petroleum while waving the stick of their prospective oil export cut-offs. This is shaping up as a hugely complex situation, and one where Boltonian beefed-up PSI-style initiatives (including restricting top leadership travel and accounts) will likely prove woefully inadequate. A much larger strategic lens must be brought to bear, including significant thought being given to how a nuclear Iran would be convincingly contained.
This awful scenario apart (having to integrate a nuclear Iran into the community of nations), I firmly believe the best hope to stave off such a bad outcome is for the US to engage in direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even Bill Kristol, pinned to the wall and somewhat manhandled by Dick Holbrooke recently on Charlie Rose's show, basically agreed to talking to the Iranians. But he demanded to know (I paraphrase, and rely on memory, chide me in comments if your recollections are contrary): to achieve what? what are we going to talk about? etc etc. Mr. Kristol, there is a helluva lot to talk about, and we well know what our goals would be in such a dialogue, issue by issue, as you well realize, including, without limitation: A) the situation in Iraq, B) the situation in Afghanistan, C) Iran's support for terror organizations, D) the situation in Lebanon, E) whether Iran would come around to supporting the Saudi-endorsed two state resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, of course, F) the nuclear issue. We can spin our wheels with John Bolton playing mustachioed PSI'er-In-Chief--and other such ultimately ineffective fare--or we can get to 'root causes', to use a term in vogue. To do so, we need to have an intelligent, direct high level dialogue with the Iranians. But perhaps that's the issue. Perhaps we lack a diplomat of the requisite caliber and experience to engage the Iranians directly at such a high level without fear we'd lose our shirts. If only Henry Kissinger were a few years younger....
The Futility of an Olmert Quasi-Putsch
What happened is that our best and brightest suddenly lost it. They had an attack of reckless, sloppy, half-baked thinking. It would never have happened to some of the people who held their jobs before them. Yitzhak Rabin, for example, was the anxious type. At the very suggestion of some military operation, his face would turn grim and you could guess right away what he was going through his head his breakdown on the eve of the Six Day War, his defeat at the polls in 1977, the experience of the first intifada. Yitzhak Shamir could not be dragged into any kind of military escapade. He would not let his defense minister, Moshe Arens, or his chief of staff, Ehud Barak, bomb Iraq when the Scuds were falling here during the Gulf War.
The bolded section is probably about right. On the right, Avigdor Liberman or Bibi Netanyahu aren't going to magestically ride in and save the day, I'm afraid. And, on the Israeli left, it's slim pickings indeed. The dearth of quality political leadership appears a growing problem in quite a few countries, doesn't it?
Posted by Gregory at 01:29 AM
Out in the Fields Doing Things....
Rumsfeld, earlier in August:
And the question, Mr. Secretary, after your most recent visit and the spike in violence. Do you believe that Iraq is closer than ever to the brink of civil war?
Posted by Gregory at 01:27 AM
August 23, 2006
Department of Messy Birth Pangs
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be quite right about a new Middle East being born. In fact, their policies in support of the actions of their closest regional ally, Israel, have helped midwife the newborn. But it will not be exactly the baby they have longed for. For one thing, it will be neither secular nor friendly to the United States. For another, it is going to be a rough birth...
Posted by Gregory at 04:51 AM
Princeton Tall Tales, Puff & Yarn
Can someone please send me my own special edition "I Survived August 22" T-shirt?
Posted by Gregory at 04:16 AM
August 22, 2006
...and Isaiah Berlin's hedgehog and fox.
More (somewhat related fare) here:
America's stance on the Lebanon war has had a wide range of negative consequences for America. It has driven Sunni and and Shia Arabs together in an anti-US front, at a time when potential US allies among Sunni Muslims were themselves worrying about the rise of Hizbollah and Iran. It has provoked and empowered the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, just as Washington is deploying more troops to Baghdad to try to quell the violence there. It has distracted attention from the Iranian nuclear issue, just as the United Nations Security Council was coming together to threaten sanctions on Tehran. It has destroyed whatever remaining hope there was for the US to be perceived as an honest broker between Israelis and Arabs in the search for peace in the Middle East. It has undermined US allies and democratic reformers in Arab states. It has also created a new crisis of confidence with America's European allies just when transatlantic relations were starting to improve.
Costs and benefits, balance sheets, P&L, assets and liabilities. Didn't Dubya learn about any of these concepts at HBS?
Posted by Gregory at 04:56 AM
Personnel Retention vs. Counter-Insurgency Best Practices
In contrast to 2003-2004, when some troops ate mainly prepackaged rations, food was plentiful, and tailored to the palates of young men happy to dine on unlimited cheeseburgers, soft drinks and ice cream. Dinner one night in January 2006 in one of the four big mess halls at the U.S. base at Balad offered entrees of baked salmon, roast turkey, grilled pork chops, fried crab bites, breaded scallops, and fried rice. The smiling servers standing behind those dishes were from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Soldiers who were still hungry could hit the two salad bars, the sandwich line, or a short-order stand. There were also two soup offerings and a dessert stand near the exit with chocolate mint and vanilla ice cream, banana pudding, pumpkin pie, cherry pie and yellow cake. For those bored with the mess halls, there were a Subway, a Pizza Hut and a Popeye's, an ersatz Starbucks called Green Beans that served up triple lattes, and a twenty-four-hour Burger King. The abundance was such that military nutritionists were beginning to worry. In 2003, the average U.S. soldier had lost about ten pounds while stationed in Iraq for a year. "Now they gain that much," reported Maj. Polly Graham, an Army dietitian at Balad, the biggest U.S. base in Iraq....
(Source: Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, pp. 417-418)
Axel: Nick, let me ask you a question. How come I never see you eating? Nick: I like to starve myself. Keeps the fear up.
From Michael Cimino's Deer Hunter.
Posted by Gregory at 04:08 AM
August 21, 2006
McCain: An Important Question
The graphic accompanies this NY Times piece, and describes who some of McCain's closest political and policy advisors are. Needless to say, there's a lot of daylight between Powell, Armitage and Scowcroft, on the one hand, and Kristol (and, to a lesser extent, Kagan), on the other. Who really has McCain's ear on foreign policy matters, push come to shove, one wonders? I'm opening to comments for reader input on this point, which would be appreciated. This is a very important question, it seems to me, and for quite obvious reasons.
Just a few quick B.D. news items. I've deleted a bunch of categories from the blog-roll (mostly foreign blogs) as my original thought to form regional clusters of blogs never really took off (lack of time more than anything else) and so I removed to reduce clutter over to the right. The new main category of blog listings will be named "Blogs", rather than "US Blogs," and I'll re-insert some of the best foreign ones piecemeal going forward. Note too I removed the "Categories" area, as I very rarely organized blog posts via category. Next, apologies if I haven't responded to E-mails of late. I'm way behind (in some cases over a month), and haven't had much weekend time to catch up on the backlog. Finally, a word on comments. I've gotten lots of notes asking me to reinstitute them. I think, on a trial basis, I will put comments up--but only for posts where I think there is a good chance comments will add to furthering debate on an issue. Other times (probably the majority of the time) there will be no comments. I've got little time to monitor them, and as I've said before, this site is likely going to become less 'bloggy' going forward, meaning fewer 'interdisciplinary' features. This is nothing personal, and as I've said, they'll be open on occasion to allow for the often excellent insights readers provide. Still, given scheduling constraints and professional considerations, it's best for me to control the feature so that it's not a constant free for all over here. Hope that's OK.
Posted by Gregory at 03:09 AM
Lieberman and Rumsfeld
I've really got no dog in the whole Lieberman/Lamont fight. I live in Manhattan, not Connecticut, and this blog has never focused much on senatorial races and the like. So I wasn't going to write about it much, if any. But today I hear that Lieberman has called for Don Rumsfeld's resignation. Specifically, Lieberman was asked on Face the Nation what he might be doing differently than Bush in Iraq:
LIEBERMAN: Yeah. I think there's--three years ago in October on this show you asked me and I said that I believe that it was time for new leadership at the Pentagon. I think it's still time for new leadership at the Pentagon. With all respect to Don Rumsfeld, who has done a grueling job for six years, we would benefit from new leadership to work with our military in Iraq. We also have to put severe pressure on the Iraqis to contain the sectarian violence that is there and stand up their ministries of defense and interior security. And then we've got to get the other Arab countries and hopefully some of the Europeans in with us to help to reconstruct Iraq.
That's interesting, specifically the "three years ago in October" part. That would put us in October 2003, wouldn't it? But here's Joe Lieberman writing in May of 2004, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (ed. note: Perhaps Lieberman appeared on Face the Nation in October '04, and really meant to say two years ago in October? I'm certainly not going to waste anytime googling to find out, as this isn't really meant as some 'gotcha' post, but rather just to point out Lieberman was quite the Rummy defender post Abu Ghraib generally. P.S. See update below):
We cannot allow the prison scandal in Iraq to diminish our own American sense of national honor and purpose, or further erode support for our just and necessary cause in Iraq. American opponents of the war may try to do the latter, while foreign critics and enemies of the United States will try to do the former. The misdeeds of a few do not alter the character of our nation or the honor of the many who serve in our defense--and the world's--every day. Winning the war we are now fighting in Iraq against Saddam loyalists and jihadist terrorists remains critical to the security of the American people, the freedom of the Iraqi people, and the hopes of all the Middle East for stability and peace.
I suspect this is the kind of thing that gets the so-called netroots so steamed at Lieberman. I mean, it gets me steamed, given that I thought Rumsfeld should have been frog-marched out of the Pentagon after Abu Ghraib, much less be defended by an opposition party statesman who is supposedly a leading 'conscience' politician or such. And now, with rather convenient timing given the Lamont challenge, Lieberman comes out more, shall we say, plainly against Rumsfeld. Not particularly elegant, it must be said, and rather of the too little, too late variety, no? I'm certainly underwhelmed and this despite being a fervent Rummy critic who, I suppose, should be quite happy indeed anytime a major politician comes out calling for his head. But for some reason this call for Rumsfeld's resignation leaves me strangely unmoved and unpersuaded. It smells, frankly.
UPDATE: A reader clarifies:
When Lieberman says he called for Rumsfeld to resign in 2003 he's referring to this 10/26/03 Face the Nation appearance:
So, for the record, the bidding looks like this. Way back in October of 2003, Lieberman said if he were the guy in the Oval Office he'd can Rummy (different than calling on Bush to do so, of course, which is more forceful, and not in keeping with the deferential war time mores we're admonished to follow). Then, after the massive debacle of Abu Ghraib, and some seven months after this interview, Lieberman sees it fit to pen an op-ed in the WSJ urging Rummy not be sacked--lest we "delight foreign and domestic opponents". And now fast-forward to these heady times rife with challenges from the likes of Ned Lamont, and it's OK again, I guess, to risk delighting our foreign foes with calls for Rummy to go. Rather on the lame side, I'm afraid.
Posted by Gregory at 02:22 AM
August 18, 2006
No More American Deaths Just To "Hang On and Hand Over"
I'm afraid we're going to have to do much, much better than congratulating ourselves over a "huge improvement" such as this, at least if we're trying to be serious about the scale of the challenge before us in Iraq, rather than making a Beltway navel-gazing mockery of ourselves. Our current war strategy in Iraq can only be described as a dismal failure. We are losing the war, as Iraq devolves into vicious sectarian chaos, Iran gains influence there daily, and given our continued inability to snuff out the Sunni insurgency.
We have three serious options now, I'd think: 1) the Barry Posen route (see also variants such as Les Gelb's or Peter Galbraith's, this last smacking of a good deal of Kurdophilia, incidentally, in my view), 2) a 'stay the course' route (sorry, "adapting to win", as the desperately lame word-smithing has it), or 3) a Fred Kagan style route significantly enhanced by special attention to Baghdad and very astute Krepinevich style 'oil-spotting' (albeit more focused in the author's so-called Red Zone than the Green Zone, in my view).
Option 2 above (as supplemented by troop rotations around Iraq so as to create totally insufficient 'surges' in Baghdad, and weakening counter-insurgency efforts in the areas the troops are rotated from) has become a total non-starter. It dishonors our men in uniform who are dying in Iraq daily. Why should one more of them die for a failed war strategy presided over by proven incompetents? Really, why? Rumsfeld must immediately be fired to inject fresh thinking into Iraq policy-making from a high-level strategic vantage point. We need a Secretary of Defense who understands counter-insurgency doctrine, and who actually cares about rather than dismisses nation-building. His continued presence basically begs a continuation of Option 2, which is simply no longer tolerable, despite Mehlman and Lowry's pathetic spin to the contrary.
Option 3 is my favored approach, but it means: 1) likely another 40,000-70,000 troops (needed immediately to 'surge' into Baghdad to convincingly control it, while avoiding simply rotating troops out of places like Anbar, Nineveh, and Salah ad Din, indeed supplementing troops there as well), 2) fewer U.S. soldiers stationed in large, remote bases with more of them instead actually forward deployed (indeed living in cities or very near areas of significant insurgent activity) in smaller bases, along with Iraqi Army units, to better observe and combat insurgents at closer hand (more on this in a subsequent post, but think of the Tall Afar precedent, which is, however, much harder to accomplish in larger towns like Ramadi and, of course, Baghdad), and 3) a region-wide approach involving more intensive consultations with each of Iraq's neighbors, particularly Iran (out-maneuvering us mightily at the present hour), Turkey (a Turkish incursion in Kurdistan becomes likelier with each passing month and continued PKK activity), and Syria (where we must prevail on Damascus to make the border less porous). Saudi Arabia and Jordan, particularly given rising Shi'a influence through the region, must be a key part of this dialogue too. The goal, however chimerical it may seem, would be to ultimately broker non-interference pacts with all these countries vis-a-vis Iraq, or at least understandings on certain 'red-lines' that cannot be crossed (I am thinking here, in particular, of Iran). In the course of all this, we must also give extremely serious thought on how to contain the specter of growing Shi'a radicalization and revanchism within Iraq proper (al Qaeda in Iraq's bombing campaigns, the Lebanese war, and Iran's massive interference in Iraq aren't helping, to say the least).
If we can't muster up such efforts, we either need to go the 'soft' partition route (we can try to preserve a 'loose' central government), or we need to just pick up and leave. This is because today we still don't have the number of troops and strategic leadership to win, despite the noble efforts of commanders and troops on the ground. Today, whether it's 'adapting to win' or 'stay the course' or whatever other tired bromides, the reality is that we are playing 'whack-a-mole' and 'hang on and hand over'. I, for one, cannot support the continued death of American servicemen and women fighting a failed war strategy. Either we get closer to 200,000 troops in theater to make a real go of it, or move towards a partition scenario, or let's draw down and get out. It has come to this, and I think people (including, yes, even presidential aspirants like John McCain) need to start saying this rather more loudly, more aggressively, and more plainly, or else their credibility will begin to diminish as well. We've now lost approximately as many American and Coalition troops in Iraq than died on 9/11, after all, and the loss of Iraqi lives has been almost unfathomable. Unless we convincingly embark upon a new strategy, future deaths will be deaths in vain. Barry Posen, in the piece linked above, writes:
It has been argued that the United States has an ethical obligation to prevent Iraq from falling more deeply into civil conflict because it removed Saddam Hussein, who at least kept order. In a civil war, many fighters and civilians would be killed—perhaps even more than are dying now. The ethical questions for Americans are these: Do we owe Iraq an open-ended peace-enforcement mission that necessarily includes a bloody, costly, and seemingly counterproductive counterinsurgency campaign? Do we owe Iraq the certain erosion of the U.S. Army? Does a stalemated counterinsurgency bring Iraq closer to an internal political settlement than would a civil war for which the three Iraqi factions would bear both the political responsibility and the costs?
I still believe we owe the Iraqis a serious effort to stabilize their polity, and I think a full-blown civil war will be so terrible, and so very difficult to calibrate per Posen's 'stalemate' scenario, that I obviously lean towards a Kagan-plus policy option. But Iraq's middle class is fleeing, and historical furies have been unleashed between Shi'a and Sunni that so few US policymakers even begin to comprehend, and we are not dealing with Iraq's neighbors intelligently (or at all), and we are prosecuting a counterinsurgency campaign (belatedly) that remains essentially stunted by a lack of effective resources and strategic leadership.
So, what do do? I think, if we don't see a new Secretary of Defense and significant troop increases soon, we'll have to conclude that this White House lacks the will (I speak here of real will, not Bush's piteous faith-based variety, as in his glib, empty "just wait" to Vladimir Putin) to be serious about winning in Iraq, and so B.D. will have to support a partition strategy. And if this White House can't persuasively orchestrate such a complex partition end-game either, having failed to effectively preserve a truly unitary Iraqi state, one is all but forced to conclude a hugely discreditable withdrawal will be needed to spare more American lives being lost for little to no purpose.
While I believe America owes Iraq much more than such a prospective devastating abdication of responsibility, given not least the massive bloodshed Rumsfeld's chaos has unleashed, at the end of the day I am an American, and I must recommend what I think is in America's best national interest, despite my moral disgust for what could prove our abject failure to deliver to Iraqis what we promised to them. An over-the-horizon force to ensure that Anbar (and Sunni parts of Baghdad) don't become al-Qaeda sanctuaries should eventually become our policy aim if we are simply incapable of pursuing a coherent war strategy. As for containing Iran (not least in the context of their stoking something of a Hezbollah-zation of Iraq, if you will) color me unconvinced the current national security team can pursue an intelligent strategy there either, certainly if the fiasco (to use a word in vogue) of our effort to date in Iraq is any indication, or indeed the recent happenings in Lebanon.
The Israeli-Lebanese Denouement: A Tragicomedy of Errors
When the Israeli-Lebanese situation began to deteriorate, I wrote in this space that the conflict amounted to a “futile, little war”. I subsequently regretted this verbiage, only because it could be construed in a manner that appeared to diminish the tragic loss of life on both sides. This was never my intent. I merely sought to explain that I felt Israel’s effort was doomed from the get-go to be rather futile, not least given the manner by which she was pursuing the campaign. I believe events have, more or less, fully borne my analysis out.
First, let me stress that no comprehensive, lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict can be achieved by force of arms. So while Israel certainly has a right to self-defense, it should not labor under the misconception that it can eradicate or totally defang or otherwise defeat her foes militarily in some maximal fashion. This is simply not possible, short of a series of nuclear holocausts, perhaps, and so it was surprising to see so many rabid commentators, both here and in Israel, chanting on about Israel not having the will to win, to win totally, that is. This is claptrap, chimerical, absurd—although it appears to provide varied commentators here in New York City and down in Washington with a frisson of macho-thrill—that is, before they abscond back to their think-tank cubicles feeling manlier about having called for a good, old-fashioned bombs-away Armageddon in the Holy Land.
Let’s be clear. Beating Hezbollah ultimately must rely more on what might be described as counter-insurgency tactics, not some Dresden redux. To beat back Hezbollah one must moderate the 40% of Lebanese who are Shi’a, by over time having them pledge their primary allegiance to a strong central government, one that is sharing the economic fruits of Lebanon’s revival with all ethnic groups, so as to ultimately render the social welfare arm of Hezbollah largely irrelevant. Given this, it is manifestly clear that Israel’s reaction to Hezbollah’s provocation should have always been limited to targets south of the Litani River (save the very exceptional target to the north of truly imperative strategic value). This is so that the greatest pain would have been inflicted solely on the perpetrators of the rocket attacks and kidnapping themselves, rather than Lebanon writ large. (One might have thought, for instance, that some of Israel’s best commandos might have been air-dropped at the Litani, worked their way southwards so as to catch Hezbollah by surprise, and in conjunction with the judicious use of airpower, inflicted some significant pain on Hezbollah guerillas acting near the border. This would have been more by way of an intense 7-10 day security operation, serving to create a deterrent effect, and with the Americans fully briefed on the details and moving swiftly to put a cease-fire in place a week or so into the Israeli action).
Instead, of course, Israel fought a month long war (mostly a rather brutal, too often indiscriminate air campaign) that involved the death of hundreds and hundreds of civilians, as well as: 1) imposition of a total naval and air blockade on the entire country, 2) the destruction of a very significant number of roads and bridge networks, 3) an environmental disaster in the Mediterranean Sea of worrisome scope, 4) a massive pummeling to much of Lebanon’s infrastructure causing billions of dollars of damage, not to mention 5) reducing large swaths of southern Beirut neighborhoods to rubble, as well as so many towns in the south, including important population centers like Tyre.
Such a strategy was doomed to failure, as it has had precisely the opposite effect than that Israel had (or should have) intended. The population of Lebanon, including Sunnis and even Christians and Druze, stand today united in their disgust at Israel’s tactics. To be sure, this pervasive anti-Israeli sentiment will diminish some in coming weeks, as internal fissures increasingly rise to the fore instead. But none of us should cheerlead such internecine tendencies with too much alacrity, as a Lebanese civil war would be the final nail in the coffin to a Cedar Revolution already torn asunder by a combination of Iranian (and perhaps Syrian) adventurism and Israeli overreaction (and a lack of timely American diplomatic leadership, I hasten to add). To be sure, Israel’s action will be long remembered for its gross excesses, and as legions of internally displaced returning south, or returning to their apartments in Beirut, all the while waving Hezbollah flags in victory attest, we can be confident that Israel has only alienated anew another generation of Lebanese.
Moreover, as we are all so painfully aware, there is a regional overlay to all this. For one, the hand of Iran and Syria were very much apparent as having probably provided some tacit or explicit approval to Nasrallah’s kidnapping of the IDF personnel (partly an act of solidarity with Gazan militias, so that some of Hamas’ more radical leadership in Damascus probably played a role in egging Nasrallah on too, to the extent he needs to be, that is). For another, the splintering of some Sadrite elements in Iraq into even more radical factions probably saw the war in Lebanon serving, at least to some extent, as contributing factor. There is also the fact, however old fogey-like and apparently drearily Scowcroftian this may sound, that getting at the real “root causes”, as our rather impressionable Secretary of State is so fond of saying, means addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict on a comprehensive basis. As for Hezbollah, it means talking to the Syrians in serious fashion (that is to say, no more of the “they know what they need to do” woeful cop-out), lest Hezbollah arms coffers simply be replenished by Damascus going forward—even if mostly to Hezbollah assets north of the Litani. Put simply, to speak of getting to the "root causes" of Hezbollah, without broaching the overall Arab-Israeli peace process, or the Syrian and Iranian role, well, it's just a joke.
And so what now, who were the winners and losers, in the Beltway parlance we all gravitate towards like breathless Pavlovians? Well, the Lebanese and Israeli publics, of course, were losers—having suffered under, on the one hand, an untested and embarrassingly clumsy Israeli PM, and a too eager Iranian proxy on the other. Still, Nasrallah is undoubtedly the winner in this sad affair, having outlasted the combined might of the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies in a head on struggle with Israel. Israel has been shown to be strategically vulnerable to rockets (to which one might query, what is so important about the Golan when rockets can fly over it?), and Assad and Ahmadinejad have surely taken note of same. The French were somewhat winners, flexing some muscle with boots on the ground in the international force and so having a stronger hand to play going forward (if they aren’t attacked and scared away, that is, as in previous Lebanese deployments).
And what about the USA, you ask? Not too swell, I’m afraid. Condi Rice's unfortunate talk referencing the “birth pangs” of a New Middle East, or presence in Jerusalem amidst the carnage in Qana—well, no one could have really divined better blows to America’s image in the region if they had tried mightily. It is true, of course, that if a bunch of things happen (if the Lebanese wake up two weeks hence hating Hezbollah, if the bolstered UNIFIL force proves effective at disarming Hezbollah, if the arms embargo isn’t a joke (which it is), and so on), American diplomacy, while so very late and slow-coming, might end up having somewhat improved the situation vis-a-vis Israel's exposure to Hezbollah in the south. But the reality is likely very different. The reality is that, apart from Washington’s piddling USD 50MM, it is Hezbollah, in the main, that will be manning the lion's share of the reconstruction in impoverished Shi'a parts of Lebanon (helped on by the wind-fall of Iranian oil money). The reality is that, without talking to the Syrians, Damascus has absolutely no incentive (zip, zero, nada) to refrain from smuggling in even better rockets to Hezbollah in the future. The reality, in short, is that the strategic situation in the south, over the mid to long term, will probably not change materially, which is to say, Hezbollah lives to fight another day--and its regional sponsors have been emboldened.
And so we had a rather big exercise in futility, a futile little war, as I said, only a tragic one too, with all the blood spilled and damage done. The reality is that Lebanese hearts and minds, certainly Shi'a ones, are going to support Nasrallah even more now, not to mention the many in Cairo and Baghdad and points beyond hailing Nasrallah as a new Nasser. Hezbollah is far further from 'eradication', however absurdly unrealistic a goal that was regardless (particularly given the U.S. and Israeli approaches), than before. What we've just witnessed is a (tragi)comedy of errors, really, featuring incompetence (the bungled Israeli military campaign), fake showmanship (Bush and Olmert finally talking four weeks into the war with Olmert thanking the American President for his help with the UN Resolution, in a butt-covering, farcical coup de theatre par excellence!), historical innocence mixed with hubris (that because Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza and south Lebanon, in her self-interest more than anything else, this would mean no attacks from either quarter--in the absence of an overarching settlement--so that any attack would demand a hugely asymetrical response, the better so as to discipline the recently liberated ingrates), another low ebb for America's repute in the region (the disasterous Rome Conference where the world judged, correctly, that only the U.S., and perhaps Tony Blair, to the ire of his government colleagues and people, were willing to give Israel's ill-fated campaign additional time), and more. One that occured, to boot, in the midst of an Iraq debacle that grows worse by the day, where Iranian influence is increasing in lockstep with America's mushrooming impotence there. The entire sad spectacle must look almost amusing from Teheran.
MORE: For additional insight into why Iran emerges stronger from the latest ill advised adventure undertaken in the 'region', don't miss Olivier Roy writing in the FT. Excerpt:
The Iranians are taking revenge for their defeat at Iraq’s hands back in 1988, when Arab Sunni nationalist and Islamist movements supported Iraq against Iran, and only part of the Shia population supported Iran (hence Tehran’s desire to help create Hizbollah as a client party from the Shia movement in Lebanon). Iran has never been able to unite the Shia under its patronage on a religious basis nor a purely political one. Now Tehran is playing the “Arab street” and undermining the legitimacy of the ruling Arab regimes by leading this new alliance of Islamism and Arab nationalism in the near east. In Iraq, however, the same alliance works against Iran. Hence Iran’s leadership of the new radical front will not necessarily help bridge the Shia-Sunni gap in Iraq.
August 13, 2006
Reminder: Out of Pocket
As previously mentioned, I'm a bit out of pocket given a lot of travel these past few days. Analysis of the Israeli-Lebanese denouement to come hopefully no later than mid-week, if not sooner, as well as discussion of the London terror plot.
Posted by Gregory at 05:58 PM
August 10, 2006
Guns of August
Richard Holbrooke, certainly the most talented foreign policy practitioner currently active in the Democratic party, and not a man prone to sophomoric hyperbole, writes today in the Washington Post:
Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily get pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even though the governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate that organization. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO's own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamic resistance.
While I think saying that we are today presented with the gravest crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis might be a tad overwrought (a tad, mind you) and I am less enamored by the Galbraithian partial pull-back to Kurdish areas Holbrooke recommends on the Iraq front (of which more another time), I certainly believe that we are at an extremely critical juncture in the Middle East. The fact that we are only talking to the Syrians via a charge d'affaires in Damascus is becoming increasingly irresponsible, as no stone should be left unturned at this stage in an attempt to secure an immediate cessation of hostilities. Meantime, and coming out of this crisis if we can belatedly contain it, we must give serious thought to the launching of a serious Madrid II process. Mamoun Fandy has more in today's FT in a similar vein:
The Israeli attack on Hizbollah further marginalises the Lebanese government, thereby making Hizbollah more powerful – almost as the de facto state. The Hizbollah flag is being raised in capitals such as Cairo and Rabat. As a result, centres of moderation in the Middle East are undermined.
There is still hope to contain and reverse some of the damage done to date, but it is manifestly clear to me that every passing day the Israeli-Lebanese conflict rages on will continue to cause tremendous harm to our national interest.
Posted by Gregory at 12:07 PM
Olmert: "I Expect You To Keep Your Cool"
In the five months since Amir Peretz dethroned Shaul Mofaz as the country's defense minister, the two kept their tensions out of the public eye.
The large number and the location of the casualties that the Israel Defense Forces sustained Wednesday indicate that the army does not yet control the narrow strip along the border, although this stage of the ground operation was supposed to have been completed already.
Meantime, more on the Mofaz/Peretz contretemps here:
Olmert found two ways to solve this dilemma - he allowed Mofaz to present before the ministers his plan for a swift, limited operation, a plan that would enable Israel to announce victory quickly and with a minimal casualties. Mofaz met with Olmert on Tuesday and presented his plan. According to one version of the story, he also told the chief of staff about it before the meeting.
I think it's imperative that a cessation of hostilities occur before Friday, or else this "futile little war" risks becoming a futile mid-sized one, with the risk of the conflict spreading well beyond the Israeli-Lebanese border growing materially daily. I am frankly stunned that American diplomacy has not yet secured a cease-fire (tomorrow we'll be a month into this conflict), and cannot stress enough the urgent import of same. Such a cease-fire is manifestly in the interests of all key parties involved, very much including the Israelis and Americans, in my view.
Posted by Gregory at 11:45 AM
August 09, 2006
The Key Syrian Role
THE ADDRESS to turn to in reaching a cease-fire agreement that will enable Israel to achieve some of the goals listed above is not Hizbullah or Iran - and hardly the Lebanese government (which is still influenced by Syria) - but Syria. Therefore Israel must pressure Syria effectively and wisely, using all the means at its disposal in the military, political, economic and diplomatic arenas.
But we don't believe in direct, high-level diplomacy (whether quiet or otherwise) with our foes anymore. It's deemed weak-kneed, a quaint pre-9/11 notion, or such. But avoiding these difficult dialogues, particularly in the midst of the increasing carnage in Israel and Lebanon, strikes me as very bad policy. Even somewhat "lazy", to quote Dick Armitage.
Note: A few nits to pick with Ganor's op-ed: 1) I think threatening military action on Syria right now would be irresponsible and likely counter-productive, even in combination with carrots and 2) while I agree that Syrian and Iranian interests diverge significantly in large part, two mitigating factors are worth noting: A) to the extent Bashar's minority Alawite status has him keen to contain too strong Sunni influence in Syria--Syrian and Iranian interests converge (but again, only in limited fashion), with regard to Sunni containment strategies and B) we should also remember Damascus has historically been quite close to Teheran given their joint opposition to Saddam Hussein over the course of many decades, which has led to well developed ties between the two countries. Both "A" and "B" above are somewhat glossed over by Ganor.
Don't miss this additional view from Israel calling for discussions with Syria. Unlike increasingly fanatical neo-cons who are rabidly calling for the war to be expanded to "Syran" (hilarious!), and related sophomoric and hyperbolic fare, it is worth noting that sane Israelis (who actually have to live in the neighborhood) aren't being as clownishly jingoistic about expanding the adventure to new theaters.
Posted by Gregory at 11:39 PM
August 08, 2006
Just when you think your capacity to be surprised by some blunder or mishap committed by this Administration has reached some sad apex--so that your ability to get dumbfounded anew has just plain maxed out--you are left sadly awestruck by the sheer scale of the bollixing yet again. I'm reading Tom Rick's "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq" and stumbled across this gem about confusion (whether real, feigned, or otherwise) all the way to the highest levels about the most rudimentary understanding of the Iraq chain of command:
But even at the top of the reporting pyramid there appears to have been confusion. In a meeting in the White House situation room one day, there was a lot of 'grousing' about Bremer, a senior administration official who was there recalled. As the meeting was breaking up, Rice, the national security adviser, reminded Rumsfeld that Bremer reported to him. "He works for you, Don," Rice said, according to this official. "No, he doesn't," Rumsfeld responded--incorrectly--this official recalled. "He's been talking to the NSC, he works for the NSC." Bremer relates a similar anecdote in his memoir, saying that Rumsfeld told him later in 2003 he was "bowing out of the political process," which apparently meant he was detaching himself from dealing with Iraq--a breathtaking step for the defense secretary to take after years of elbowing aside the State Department and staffers on the National Security Council. (pp.181-182)
Phase IV, at best, was marked by gross negligence. I say, at best, because the supposed negligence was so FUBAR, wanton and reckless, that you can't help wondering whether there wasn't an intent prong--at least among some at civilian DoD--so that the essentially criminal ineptitude brought to bear (in terms of a total lack of a post-major combat plan) is more by way of willfull malfeasance. That or they are truly some of the worst public servants to have ever served the Republic. I highly recommend to those who insist on denigrating us former war supporters turned critics (you know, cheap ex post carpers, armed with 20-20 hindsight, whiney arm-chair quarterbacks to a man) that they read books like Rick's. They are really eye-openers. All but the most committed Caesarists and 43 cultists will find them bleak reading indeed, forcing them to belatedly reckon with the scale of the epic blunders committed these past years. In this context, let us recall too: "(b)ut I'm the decider, and I decide what is best...(a)nd what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defense," and ponder what that might mean in terms of epic fiascos perhaps still awaiting us. Rumsfeld is a man, after all, who told Bremer way back in '03 that he was "bowing out of the political process," which is to say, not getting involved with the pesky details that come with a massive nation-building effort. Without competent strategic leadership brought to the helm, is it little wonder our Iraq effort is mostly a tragic shambles?
UPDATE: As if on cue, Caesarist-in-Chief Hugh Hewitt does his level best to attack the credibility of Tom Rick's book, or more particularly, all those who make up the nefarious "cadre of Clinton-era senior brass" (translation: not well behaved Rummy-sycophants like Dick Myers and Pete Pace, or per Hewitt-land, disgruntled left-leaning traditionalists who don't have the requisite courage to face off against the Islamofascists in WWIV):
HH: Okay, a second take on this, Thomas Ricks. A cadre of Clinton-era senior brass, who did not see it coming, it being the Islamist world war, got bitter and angry at having been passed over and pushed aside by the 9/11, post-9/11 Pentagon, and they have spent the next five years doing their best to undermine this administration, using reporters like you who are good, to carry out that story, and amplify every mistake, and there are many, and to downgrade every success, and there are many, in a continued war against the people who tossed them out, and perhaps against their own conscience for not having seen it coming. Your response?
It's a good thing our favorite Caesarist cheerleader is inviting Tom R. for a second interview, because Hugh got pretty schooled (as in taken to the woodshed) during the course of this one, including having the (rather cravenly) disingenuous spin he merrily incorporates into his interrogatories denuded as nothing more than: "convenient, cute, but much too pat and not attached to the reality". Yes, quite an apt description, I'd say. Meantime, it's quite chuckle-inducing to see Hugh (elsewhere in the interview) all giddy that U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are so well positioned for further action in Iran. Hugh, you might want to go read Fred Kagan on this, so as to get on the clue train:
Such a prolongation has always been problematic from a political perspective, but it has become worrisome from a regional perspective as well. The United States has ground and air forces stationed on both the western and eastern borders of Iran at a time of crisis over Iran's nuclear programs. In principle, that presence should give the United States leverage in Tehran; the Iranians clearly feared this in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the oft-repeated American determination to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan as rapidly as possible, together with the continuing violent insurgencies in both countries, has turned the tables. The Iranians now derive leverage from America's difficulties on their borders, and may be emboldened to press harder on the nuclear issue than they would otherwise find comfortable.
Hugh's in la-la land, as per the usual. He's not alone, of course. Glenn Reynolds and other foreign policy savants still believe the Iranians are somehow spooked by the fact that 130,000 U.S. soldiers are enmeshed in the Mesopotamian bog. Even more laughably, Glenn has suggested ("Hmm", he ponderously noted) that joint U.S.-Iraqi forces might mount "large helicopter-borne assault operations" against Iran. Yes, the Shi'a-led government in Baghdad is going to join us in a war against Shi'a Iran lickety-split, the better so they can spread their newly won democratic freedoms (read: anarchic killing fields) to their eagerly awaiting religious brethren to the East. But let's just make sure Ahmad Chalabi doesn't hand over the invasion plans before, OK, so as not to spoil the surprise factor...
Posted by Gregory at 10:43 AM
August 06, 2006
I'm on the road for the next 10 or so days, so please note writing in this space will be quite intermittent.
Posted by Gregory at 07:45 PM
The Scene in Egypt
The scene has become routine: day and night, in small, run-down teahouses all over this teeming city, men sit quietly smoking harsh tobacco from water pipes with their eyes glued to television news from Lebanon. And around the city, there is a similar reaction: despair.
Max Boot is right! This is just the time to cut off funding to that dreary Pharaoh Mubarak (with the country already grappling with endemic poverty, contributing to further radicalization). Why, we might even get the Camp David Accords shredded by the next "democratic" government we usher in to the region--more 'creative destruction'--you know, just to keep things interesting!
Everything making people angry is coming out,” said Gasser Abdel Razek, a lawyer and board member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights. “I don’t think the regime is comfortable any more.”
Lots of talk about 'root causes' these days, isn't there? Pity no one in power in Washington seems to be focusing on the 800-pound mother-of-root-causes staring us all in the face. That is, the need for Israel to reach comprehensive peace treaties (along the lines Brent Scowcroft recently described) with each of its neighbors (not least so the ones already in place with Jordan and Egypt are not imperiled in the future), and the concomittant need for economic reforms, accompanied by incremental political ones, to take place in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. More 'shock therapy' and 'creative destruction' (whether broadening of the Lebanon war, incursions in Syria, military action against Iran, continued failure to stabilize Iraq, and so on) are only going to fuel further radicalization in the region. I mean, does anyone believe, for instance, that the Israeli action in Lebanon is weakening Hezbollah's influence in the body politic there? On this last, see here for some background on Hezbollah's deep grass-roots support among the Shi'a of southern Lebanon. Needless to say, the havoc wreaked to Lebanon's economy, and concomittant weakening of the central government, only heightens the appeal of sub-governmental actors who combine social welfare arms with their military wings. But wait, I forgot. We are totally eliminating Hezbollah, of course, as it's one of the root causes holding Condi's transformation initiatives at bay, so there's nothing to worry about....
...now, snark aside, let me say here that the Israelis have certainly achieved increasing the deterrent effect on Hezbollah who, in the future, will think very long and hard indeed about kidnapping any IDF personnel across the international border, or launching rockets again once hostilities have ended. This is a good thing. But the over-reaching manner by which the offensive was pursued (full air and naval blockade, extensive bombing north of the Litani, etc), combined with the fact that the draft UNSC resolution is not seeking an immediate cease-fire (to include a withdrawal of Israeli forces back across the border), makes it very, very difficult for the Lebanese (not least, Nabih Berri) and the Syrians to do what we all want them to do, namely rein in Nasrallah and his Iranian proxy attributes. Hezbollah is a major Lebanese political party, and it is not fair of it to play hand-maiden to Tehran. But to lessen Iranian influence, we need to get buy-in to our strategy from key political actors in Lebanon, and at least to some extent, the Syrians. I'm not sure this resolution, in its present incarnation, is going to get us there. And thus the risk of miscalculations and the conflict growing remain very real, which is a very worrisome prospect indeed, not to mention continued tragedy for innocents both in Israel and Lebanon who are being slaughtered daily.
Posted by Gregory at 04:53 PM
Reaction to the Draft Resolution
Aluf Benn on the Israeli reax: pleased with the UN draft, but keeping quiet. Meantime the Syrians, it appears, are less pleased--although there are also reports they are prepared to take a more constructive tack. And while there is some bluster and (pre-finalization of UNSC resolutions) maneuverings going on with statements like these, I continue to believe our reluctance to broker an immediate cessation of hostilities still dangerously risks this conflict spreading to other theaters. Something akin to a wet dream for grotesquely irresponsible neo-cons, I know, but for those of us concerned with a saner pursuit of the national interest, a very worrisome prospect.
UPDATE: Nabih Berri:
''We always spoke about an immediate cease fire. We never spoke about ending military operations because this is in a way like legitimatizing the occupation, as if the war is being legitimatized,'' Berri said in fiery remarks before opening the floor to questions. He said the U.S.-French draft resolution was fundamentally tilted in favor of Israel. ''If Israel has not won the war but still gets all this, what would have happened had they won'' the war, Berri asked. The central demand of the U.S.-French plan, agreed to after days of difficult negotiations, is ''a full cessation of hostilities'' under which Hezbollah must stop all attacks, and Israel must stop all offensive attacks. That's a victory for Israel because its military is not prohibited from defensive operations, a term that can be interpreted broadly. Lebanon has indicated it opposes that stipulation because the resolution includes no timetable for Israel to withdraw thousands of troops from southern Lebanon, an area that has been under Hezbollah control for several years.
Meantime, I note perusing the NYT today that some are expressing a good deal of surprise that the French and Americans are getting along so swimmingly. But let us recall France has for many decades now played a special role in Lebanon, one that isn't particularly Syria-friendly, to say the least. It's therefore no surprise, really, that a) Bolton and his French counterpart were able to cobble the draft together relatively expeditiously, and equally, that b) Berri and the Syrians aren't exactly enamored by it.
Posted by Gregory at 03:22 PM
What would “the Bulldozer,” as he was known, have done? A participant in all of the nation’s previous wars, he had little time for pie-in-the-sky talk of peace. While he did withdraw Israel from Gaza last year and planned further territorial reductions, he did not shy from aggression. So if he had not lost consciousness seven months ago and had gone on, as expected, to win the elections in March, what would he have done last month when Hezbollah attacked with rockets, mortars and a raid that killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two?
Shorter Bonner: Olmert over-reacted, and Sharon would have played Israel's cards better. And I firmly believe this smarter approach would have been less a function of Sharon's previous Lebanon baggage irresponsibly spooking him from protecting Israel against Hezbollah--but rather resulting from a better strategic take on the situation-- marrried to the fact Sharon didn't need to 'prove' himself.
Posted by Gregory at 04:24 AM
Saturday Night, Musical Interlude
Tough times? Feeling down? Take a music bath, as they say. Here are two classics I dug out of the CD-attic over the weekend: #1 and #2. Don't miss track 10 and 1, respectively. More on Pete Yorn and James Carter here.
Posted by Gregory at 02:23 AM
Over the past year, as American commanders pushed Iraqi forces to take over responsibility for this violent capital, Baghdad became a markedly more dangerous place.
File that factoid in the 'no effing shit' column.
Meantime, we're trying Ramadi tactics in Baghdad:
American commanders say they are planning to embark on a plan to secure one neighborhood at a time. They say they are optimistic about it, in part, because it does not rely exclusively on military force. Iraqi and American leaders are preparing to spend $50 million to put Iraqis to work and restore basic services like electricity and water that are absent from much of Baghdad.
I wish I was optimistic, I really do.
P.S. Someone should ask Rumsfeld what neighborhood we are trying to "secure" first, and why? Betcha he won't have the slightest clue...
Posted by Gregory at 01:44 AM
August 05, 2006
Round I: Here She Is...
Draft UNSC resolution / Projet de résolution du Conseil de Sécurité
So, what now? Comment thread open for those who may wish to weigh in.
N.B: Bolds just sections I found of particular interest by way of kicking off debate, histrionics, etc.
When I arrived in Israel, it was the anniversary of the day the Spanish Civil War began. It was 70 years ago that the Spanish generals set off the war — civil, ideological and international — that the fascist governments of the time wanted. And I could not help thinking about this as I landed in Tel Aviv. Syria in the wings. . .Ahmadinejad’s Iran maneuvering. . .Hezbollah, which everyone knows is a little Iran, or a little tyrant, taking Lebanon and its people hostage.. . .And behind the scenes, a fascism with an Islamist face, a third fascism, which is to our generation what the other fascism, and then communist totalitarianism, were to our elders.'
Is it just me, or is BHL getting increasingly unreadable these days (and not just in translation)?
This snippet is quite good too:
Up north again, near the Lebanese border, I travel from Avivim to Manara, where the Israelis have set up, in a crater 200 yards in diameter, an artillery field where two enormous batteries mounted on caterpillar treads bombard the command post and rocket launchers and arsenals in Marun al-Ras on the other side of the border. Three things here strike me. First, the extreme youth of the artillerymen: they are 20 years old, maybe 18. I notice their stunned look at each discharge, as if every time were the first time; their childlike teasing when their comrade hasn’t had time to block his ears and the detonation deafens him; and then at the same time their serious, earnest side, the sobriety of people who know they’re participating in an immense drama that surpasses them — and know, too, they may soon pay a steep price in blood and life. I note the relaxed — I was about to say unrestrained and even carefree — aspect of the little troop. It reminds me of reading about the joyful scramble of those battalions of young republicans in Spain described, once again, by Malraux: an army that is more friendly than it is martial; more democratic than self-assured and dominating; an army that, here, in any case, in Manara, seems to me the exact opposite of those battalions of brutes or unprincipled pitiless terminators that are so often described in media portraits of Israel. And then, finally, I note a strange vehicle. It resembles the two self-propelled cannons, but it is stationed far behind them and doesn’t shoot: this is a mobile command post that you enter, as in a submarine, through a central turret and down a ladder; there are six men in it, seven on some days, and they are busy working with a battery of computers, radar screens and other transmission devices. Their role is to determine the parameters of the firing by collecting information that will be transmitted to the artillerymen. Here, at the root of Israeli firepower, is a veritable laboratory of war where soldier-scholars deploy their intelligence, noses glued to the screens, trying to integrate even the most imponderable facts about the terrain into their calculations. Their goal is to establish the distance to the target and how fast the target moves, as well as to consider the proximity of the civilians, whom they want to avoid at all cost.
My, my Bernard, you've almost reached a Proustian sense of eroticism here, non?
Posted by Gregory at 06:56 PM
"No Idea What We're Going to Do"
While American politicians and generals in Washington debate the possibility of civil war in Iraq, many U.S. officers and enlisted men who patrol Baghdad say it has already begun.
If I hear our Crawford Brush-Clearer-In-Chief say one more time "as they stand up, we'll stand down" I think I'm going to have a conniption.
Posted by Gregory at 06:00 AM
Max Boot, writing recently in the L.A. Times:
Critics are right that Bush hasn't transformed the Middle East into a bastion of peace, love and harmony. But he never promised to work miracles; he has consistently spoken of our current struggle as a generational challenge — the Long War. Sure, he could have done more to help win the war. But there is no reason to think that the critics' preferred approach — more diplomatic blather, more international confabs, more concessions to the terror-mongers — would have produced any better results. In any case, to suggest that his policies are the cause of today's woes, rather than a reaction to them, reveals a stunning historical amnesia.
This sounds more like Mehlman-level spin than serious foreign policy analysis, I'm afraid to say. I'd hope Max knows better, no?
P.S. Speaking of "diplomatic blather, more international confabs" and related Steynisms more fit for the hurly-burly of dormitory room bull sessions than serious discussion, I prefer to listen to, shall we say, more experienced people like Richard Haass:
This administration and other administrations have often viewed diplomacy subjectively. Diplomacy was something of a reward or something of an inducement to be held out only if countries met a certain standard of behavior. I simply disagree with that. We ought to approach diplomacy as simply a neutral tool that has the potential to promote or advance U.S. interests. In the case of Iran and Syria, there has been reluctance in Washington to engage them because they are seen as unattractive or even evil regimes. And that clearly is the case with Iran. The administration has historically been loath to deal with Iran in the belief that the regime in Tehran is in a precarious position, and diplomacy would somehow buttress the regime. I believe that is simply based on a misreading of the regime’s stability, and in the process we have lost several years of what could have been useful interaction with the Iranians.
Posted by Gregory at 04:21 AM
Straight Talk, and B.S. Talk
In life there's straight talk:
ABIZAID, yesterday: "I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war," he said. "Al-Qaida terrorists, insurgents and Shia' militia militants compete to plunge the country into civil war. It is a decisive time in Baghdad and it requires decisive Iraqi action with our clear support."
...and then there's BS-ing me talk:
Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?
I prefer straight-shooters, myself. Note too Abizaid uses the "I" word (insurgents) because he well realizes the insurgency continues to rage in Anbar (unlike profoundly amateur bloggers masquerading as plausible analysts, who have repeatedly declared the insurgency defeated like rank ignorants), and he's likely aware the specter of a renewed Shi'a insurgency is getting increasingly real too. On this last, see here and here. And, don't miss this story either (thanks to reader DR). We don't control the roads, just like we don't control much of the battle-space. Don't get me wrong. Of course it makes sense to rely on airpower to move equipment around so as to reduce casualties. I'm certainly not complaining about it. I'm just pointing out that it's not just in Baghdad that our influence is on the wane. It's hard to escape the conclusion that we are increasingly moving towards failure, rather than success, in Iraq. And, needless to say, the deepening radicalization the Lebanon war will stoke among the Shi'a of Iraq isn't going to help much either.
Posted by Gregory at 04:09 AM
Bill, Charles, VDH Etc...
Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.
Yep, even sane Israelis want the craziness to cease. The big Q at this hour: does Condi get it? P.S. Oh, and if so, can she rein in Bush before he allows further mega-blunders?
Posted by Gregory at 01:51 AM
Posted by Gregory at 01:36 AM
August 04, 2006
A reader dissents, re: the Pape piece:
Hello, I really enjoy reading your blog and I appreciate your thoughful analysis. I am writing to correct not mistakes that you made, but ones that Robert Pape seems incapable to acknowledge and that are spreading too quickly. While I agree with his broader point on the Lebanon war, his analysis of Hezbollah is factually wrong (and the thesis of his book is very ably taken apart by Scott Atran in this Washington Quarterly piece) and does not relate in any way to his conclusion (again, one with which I fully agree). While Hezbollah first emerged from a small group of Amal dissidents in 1982 (they opposed Amal's ambivalence vis-a-vis the Israeli occupation) that were coopted and supported by Iran later that year, Hezbollah never functioned as an umbrella organization for groups opposed to Israel. In fact, Hezbollah fought hard against leftist, pan-Arab and Palestinian groups resisting Israel, and succeeded in eliminating them and in becoming the only resistance force in the country. By monopolizing the struggle against Israel, Hezbollah gained special status (the Taef agreement that served as the post-war framework recognized Hezbollah and only Hezbollah as the legitimate resistance group) and once it entered Lebanese politics, used the political process to protect and legitimize its weapons. To compare Hezbollah's organization to "the multidimensional American civil-rights movement of the 1960’s" is laughable. Hezbollah has a very tight organizational structure (see Magnus Ranstorp's writings and ICG reports) and decisions are always taken at its very top. There is no room for initiative on political or military issues (there is arguably more of it when it comes to its social activities). That's why Hezbollah has been so disciplined over the years. This is no grass-roots operation with multiple "groups with a variety of religious and secular aims." What is true though (but Pape never mentions that in his op-ed) is that many Shia fighters, formerly members of leftist groups, joined Hezbollah in the 1980s. Why? Because Hezbollah became the best vehicle of Shia identity and assertiveness, sometimes that goes against the core of Pape's argument. Pape has a point when he notes that suicide bombers were not only Islamic fundamentalists. But the flaw in his argument is that he limits himself to "suicide bombers" while the Shia notion of martyrdom is larger than this. It includes fighters who died in what one would call "suicide missions," or missions undertaken with the certainty that those involved in the attack will die. Martyrs are not only those who blow up their car or their belt, but also those who undertake these suicidal missions.
Yes, the analogy to the 60s civil-rights movement did seem rather overwrought, I'll grant you....
Posted by Gregory at 02:03 AM
August 03, 2006
George, Tony and "Root Causes"
...here's a bit of flavor showcasing the kind of criticism Tony Blair is getting from the Whitehall Old Guard, in this case, former UK Ambassador to Moscow Rodric Braithwaite, writing in the FT:
The catastrophe in Lebanon is the latest act of a tragedy rooted in European anti-Semitism and in the expulsion of an Arab people from their ancestral home. Both sides claim the right to self-defence. Neither hesitates to use force to pursue aims it regards as legitimate. No single event is the proximate cause of the current mayhem – neither the Israeli onslaught on Lebanon, nor the Hizbollah rockets, nor the Israeli assassination of Palestinian leaders, nor the suicide bombings. The causes go back in almost infinite regression. In the desperate pursuit of short-term tactical gain, both sides lose sight of their own long-term interests.
Meantime, Andrew is comparing Tony favorably to Churchill, and posts extensive excerpts from a rather impressive speech he gave recently. But here's the thing, just one example of what I think frustrates many Brits. Blair, in this speech, speaks of the critical import of "bend[ing] every sinew of our will to making peace between Israel and Palestine", as if we don't, "we will not win." Well, O.K., so you'd think he'd be pressuring his Buddy-in-Chief to run with the ball on this some, as it's only the Americans that can lead the show on this issue (the Israelis trust no other players, and the Palestinians know only the Americans can deliver the Israelis). But aside from Bush's constructive June 2002 call for "two states, living side by side in peace and security," he's barely made any real effort to put the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the front-burner so as to wrest the necessary concessions from each side. To be sure, this is very tough work, and the devil is in the details obviously, and every Adminstration has basically failed before. But, you know, at least they tried. And it's no great secret what's needed to make a deal, one that will massively improve dynamics in the Middle East and materially reduce the appeal of radical Islam to many, and thus greatly enhance the United States' position in the so-called GWOT. But back to Blair. He can talk about the critical need to "bend every sinew of our will", and so on, but people in London wonder: where's the beef Tony? What is your alliance to George Bush producing, really, on this score, among others?
Meantime, Condi Rice speaks of "root causes", as if eradicating Hezbollah gets to the nub of the issue. But as Brent Scowcroft recently wrote, the real root causes are a bit deeper, alas, than Nasrallah and Co.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has stated that a simple cease-fire in Lebanon is not the solution to the current violence. She says it is necessary to deal with the roots of the problem. She is right on both counts. But Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948.
Finally, don't miss Robert Pape, who demolishes the grotesque over-simplifications about Hezbollah solely constituting an Iranian agent and enjoying no real support in Lebanon:
ISRAEL has finally conceded that air power alone will not defeat Hezbollah. Over the coming weeks, it will learn that ground power won’t work either. The problem is not that the Israelis have insufficient military might, but that they misunderstand the nature of the enemy.
It sure will....
...anyway, just a hodge-podge of links, for your reading pleasure. More later.
Posted by Gregory at 04:05 AM
Prince Faisal on the "new Middle East":
“We would like to return to the old Middle East as we did not see anything in the new Middle East apart from more problems...The Middle East is not an uninhabited area, it has people, governments and our destiny is determined after God’s will by its people.”
Translation: The region isn't just a guinea pig for 'birth pang' experiments. And we think Hezbollah (and Iran) are getting stronger, not weaker--not least given the passe partout granted Ehud, and America's basic impotence in Iraq (where Iran is gaining strength daily...)
Posted by Gregory at 03:52 AM
Department of Good Catches
Posted by Gregory at 03:48 AM
...and the President of the United States hasn't even picked up the phone once (at least according to CNN) to speak with Ehud Olmert. Can you imagine Poppy this AWOL, at such a critical juncture? I know, I know--wouldn't want to give the appearance of any pressure. But c'mon!
Posted by Gregory at 03:33 AM
August 02, 2006
Self-Parody Alert (III)
Welcome to Mark Levin's topsy-turvy world:
I want to congratulate the attorneys who work with me at Landmark Legal Foundation for tenaciously pursuing the untold story of the systematic abuse of American MPs by the al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.
Chuckle. Yes Mark, detainees kept in penal colonies for years do nasty things, like throw urine and feces at their guards. Does this mean then that the writ of habeas corpus is a nullity, and that the Magna Carta should be tossed over-board too? Back to 1215 then, so as to wage the war on terror with the fortitude that Mark so nobly brings to bear, brandishing his Freedom of Information Act privileges like a bona fide American hero and embattled (by the weak-kneed PC, defeatist brigades!) Brandisher-of-the-Truth.
Does Levin have the slightest clue what a total debacle Gitmo has been, in the context of a global counter-insurgency where we need to persuade people we are the good guys, and where images of Muslim males being carted around in wheel-barrows in their orange prison jumpers--amidst the razor-wire of the "tropics"--has dealt our international image grevious blows? And, mere media images aside (public diplomacy is girlie-man fare, of course, for the tough guys at NRO) does Levin have a clue how serious a blow it is to our reputation as leading avatar of human rights on the global stage--among key international players--given that such a legal black hole has been allowed to fester like an open sore now for almost half a decade? He should ask our friends like the British Attorney General, or the Danish Prime Minister or Angela 'Back Rub' Merkel. These are true friends advising us in good faith, not just pestful, self-indulgent cat-calls emitting from perfidious Jacques, or hypocritical Vladimir, and so on. And sometimes, as we've all learned in life at times, it pays to heed the advice of one's good friends. But perhaps they are just soft-nosed Euro-weenies to the man (and woman), unhelpfully trying to put an end to Mark's brave new world of water-boarding and indefinite detention and new paradigmist 'military necessity' interrogation techniques--that he and his ilk so desparately wish to force down our collective throats.
Really, you can't make this stuff up, in terms of missing the plot (Levin, again: "the untold story of the systematic abuse of American MPs by the al-Qaeda terrorists at Guantanamo Bay"!), it's such an Orwellian theater of the absurd. Meantime, in the linked AP piece, Levin contends:"Lawyers for the detainees have done a great job painting their clients as innocent victims of U.S. abuse when the fact is that these detainees, as a group, are barbaric and extremely dangerous." As a group, eh? All 450 of them, to a man? I mean, there are quite a few detainees at Gitmo, after all, and nothing in Mark's surreally shameless attempt at bamboozlement conclusively proves every last one of them is hurling feces around, or such (ed. note: This is not to say that malicious and coordinated attacks on guards haven't taken place, in occasional "waves", and by quite a number of them. But certainly not each and every one of them, unless Mark can conclusively prove to us hapless terrorist enablers otherwise, that is...).
Look, Levin's intent is transparently clear, isn't it? He wants us to believe every last detainee in Guantanamo is a hardened, worst-of-the-lot al-Qaeda terrorist (make no mistake, some are, but again, not all), so that they would be damn lucky even to get a military tribunal (and not the Lindsay Graham watered-down pansy style ones, mind you, let alone UCMJ-compliant court martial type proceedings, which is just out and out the height of sissy-dom in Mondo Levin). It's really interesting the lengths some commenters will go to try to rationalize these piss-poor policies, or a little spot of torture, or casting aside impestuously (like scared little cherubs) the Geneva Conventions. But still, gotta give Mark an “A” for effort no? The iguana tail was a particularly nice touch--injecting as it did a note of the dehumanizing macabre (read the AP story for details on this last)—the better so we can move swiftly to exterminate these heathen soonest, or keep them locked up for another few decades, so as not to waste any crocodile tears on ‘em.
P.S. Coming soon in this space, a road-map on how to close Guantanamo by the end of Bush's term (in other words, what to do with the different classes of detainees there, the worst of whom need to be tried via court martial type proceedings and, if found guilty via a judicious process, subjected to the worst penalties the relevant laws afford), as no one in the Administration appears to be adequately moving the ball on said subject, so it is left to us disgruntled hand-wringers, it appears, to come up with a game-plan.
Posted by Gregory at 05:32 AM
Mailbag, and More J-Pod
A reader in Connecticut writes in:
Dear Sir: I received by email a copy of the Podhoretz piece from one who apparently thought it a bold statement, and it put me in mind of a passage from Mein Kampf: "If at the beginning of the War and during the War twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain. On the contrary: twelve thousand scoundrels eliminated in time might have saved the lives of a million real Germans, valuable for the future." (Book II, Chapter XV, p.679 [Houghton Mifflin U.S. edition, 1943].
This little J-Pod hubbub aside, I agree that cogitating about mass massacres of entire demographic groups does indeed bring to mind quite dark chapters in human history. Re: J-Pod himself, he responds to his blogospheric critics, assuring: "No, I Am Not in Favor of Genocide." Well, good, and let's take him at face value then. Still, J-Pod's inability to restrain himself from holding out Hama and the eradication of many of the Marsh Arabs by Saddam as models of successful counter-insurgency doctrine strikes me as unfortunate, and ultimately unpersuasive (comparing Hafez al-Asad's brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, where Damascus had a monopoly on power in a highly authoritarian state, is a very different proposition indeed than the conditions prevailing amidst the anarchic wilds of war-torn Mesopotamia, so that razing and flattening Ramadi might not have the impact that Hama did, to say the least). Meantime Yglesias, as often, has an interesting take--that this all may have just been a 'defining deviancy down' kinda floater....you see that a lot at places like the Corner these days.
Posted by Gregory at 04:48 AM
The View From London
The FT editorializes:
The images of children being pulled like broken dolls from the Qana apartment block bombed by Israeli jets on Sunday will be seared into the memory of a country and a region already well-stocked with horror. The international backlash against an equally harrowing massacre at Qana - in a United Nations refugee shelter destroyed by Israeli artillery - put a brake on the last open conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 1996 and opened the way to diplomacy. It is not clear that is what will happen now, in spite of Israel's grudging partial suspension of air raids for 48 hours.
Not much to disagree with here, I'd think.
Posted by Gregory at 04:27 AM
Talk with Syria, But Not Just Yet...
Itamar Rabinovich, the dean of Israeli Syria experts, argues here that "the diplomatic process with Syria must be considered as a matter for a later time, and not as a step in ending the present war." Rabinovich's views are always worth considering with real seriousness.
Posted by Gregory at 04:14 AM
Self-Parody Alert (II)
Posted by Gregory at 03:57 AM
Could it also be that world stock markets are rallying as Israel and its freedom agenda advances toward a Hezbollah-free Lebanese border, highlighting a significant defeat not only of the thuggish and cowardly Hezbollah murderers, but their totalitarian backers in Syria and Iran...
Folks, it doesn't get much better than this! (Thanks to reader RM).
P.S. B.D.'s still short...
Posted by Gregory at 03:19 AM
August 01, 2006
Timing of the Ceasefire?
Aluf Benn, on the 'overtime' phase of the Israeli intervention in Lebanon:
Borrowing from the world of soccer beloved to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Israel Defense Forces operation in Lebanon went into overtime on Monday.
Meantime (as I predicted), there are reports the Israelis will be willing to trade prisoners for the two IDF soldiers kidnapped. Along with Shaba Farms (the Israelis are signaling more reluctance here, but this is perhaps just positioning in advance of striking the final deal) and the multinational force, it's not hard to see a deal here (one that could have been struck two weeks ago, in my view). As Condi belatedly works overtime to get a cease-fire deal, a query (I'm opening comments, as I'll do on occasion): will there be a cease-fire in place by next Monday, or will Olmert continue operations beyond that (say until the multinational force is more firmly in position)? What is the risk of major miscalculation still, and a spreading conflagration (say on the Syrian front)? And are some commenters much less expectant that a cease-fire is approaching in the near term, and believe rather that it is still more 2-4 weeks off? If so, why? Israeli refusal to sign-on to an "early" cease-fire if their offensive encounters difficulties (read: significant casualties that make the fight look less a win, or even draw, but more a loss), more reckless adventurism by Hezbollah, Condi dropping the ball, delays with dispatch of the multinational force, some combination thereto? Meantime, this ostensibly imminent offensive appears more Potemkin-like than likely to achieve very real results, south of the Litani or otherwise. The big question, perhaps, is whether Olmert is really waiting for a full-fledged multinational force to deploy throughout south Lebanon and near the Syrian border, or just assurances of same with some preliminary deployments for public consumption. If the former, it's hard to see a cease-fire occuring by this weekend, which is what is urgently needed, in my view--so that Condi Rice needs to get more cooperation from the Israelis on that front (perhaps partly by obtaining assurances via Nabih Berri that Hezbollah will not embarrass the Israelis by firing rockets after the cease-fire and before comprehensive deployment of the multinational force). Comments on all the above welcome.
Quote of the Day
"The Islamic world and peace loving people will not excuse sides which hinder a ceasefire. It will have harmful consequences in the whole region."
Yes, some of this is about trying not to get outflanked by Moktada-al-Sadr, ie. intra-Iraqi Shi'a politics and such, and so more by way of rhetorical posturing. But only to a fashion. If Israeli action in Lebanon lasts weeks more, rather than days more, and especially if there are more Qanas, the risks of resurgent Shi'a insurgent activity in Iraq against US forces may well rise materially, quite apart from the already dangerous dynamic underway between US forces and some of the more radical Sh'a militias. That is to say, Sistani will feel compelled to denounce the Israeli offensive in increasingly strident fashion (despite his quietest roots), and that will likely lead to consequences unhelpful to the US war effort in Iraq.
Posted by Gregory at 03:58 AM
Grotesquely inconsequential given the major events underway, but just a quick in-house note to mention that traffic here at B.D. is currently at daily highs since inception of this blog in January '03. Thanks to all of you for coming around, and thanks for your thoughtful E-mails. As it appears there are a good many new readers of late, just a brief note (regulars can skip the rest): blogging usually takes place after 10 PM weekdays, and noonish on weekends. I have a very demanding full time day job, and if blogging stops for a couple days, or a couple weeks (even, sometimes, periods of almost a month), it's not because I don't care about what is going on, and don't very much want to scribble on about it from this little soapbox, but rather because it's just not humanly possible to find the time to write anything of substance. That's all, back to regularly scheduled programming...
Posted by Gregory at 03:33 AM
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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