October 30, 2006
Quote of the Day
"It is no secret that U.S. standing in the Middle East is at an all-time low."
-- Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the United States.
That's quite a statement coming from a sitting Saudi Amb to DC, don't you think?
Brooks on Santorum
I must say, I was rather surprised to see an op-ed writer of David Brooks' repute engaged in panegyrical paeans to Rick Santorum at this, shall we say, advanced hour:
I could fill this column, if not this entire page, with a list of ideas, proposals and laws Santorum has poured out over the past dozen years. It’s hard to think of another politician who has been so active and so productive on these issues.
David, not even a word about the desperate demagoguery (see below, for instance, where Santorum reports Hugo Chavez is creating the "largest Spanish-speaking armed force in history"!), grotesquely over-simplified worldview (Iran as Nazi Germany), and gross distortions (we found WMD in Iraq!) of Santorum's foreign policy views? Our country is confronted by major geopolitical challenges at this stage, and we need serious leaders to redress some of the many failures of these past years. You would think a not infrequent observer of international politics like Brooks would at least deign to broach Santorum's views on these topics some (beyond heralding his anti-poverty initiatives) in an op-ed penned in the leading paper in the land just a week before his electoral contest. But apparently not, alas.
Brooks aside, however, does anyone think I'm exaggerating Santorum's cartoonish views? Read this speech, for instance. It's one for the time capsule--showcasing how brittle societies are--where one devastating terror attack can actually have sentient human beings imbibing such hokum with anything approaching credulity. A sampler:
Ahmadinejad, like Hitler and Mussolini, intends to conquer the world. This is not a hidden agenda. His goal is to establish a Caliphate. Like Khrushchev, he wants a nuclear arsenal, and he is building the same sort of frightening global alliances that enabled the Soviet Union to put missiles near us.
Portraying Ahmadi-Nejad as some Hitler bestriding the globe (all the way to Caracas!) reads like the desperate last act of a political pygmy, a huckster fighting to save his seat, one more than willing to gin up fictitious threats to keep his tenuous clutch on power. His electorate having ferreted out his essential fraudulence, he must resort to hoping against hope they will vote for him because of fear that a new fascism is stalking the planet--perhaps coming soon to a suburb of Philadelphia. It's sad to behold, and also disappointing that opinion leaders don't focus on such reckless imbecility more critically--so as to help provide the public serious historical perspective and intellectual guidance--rather than cheerleading such discredited alarmist buffoons. Regardless, Santorum is right about one thing. This is not "funny business." That the third ranking member of the US Senate, representing one of the two major political parties of the world's reigning superpower, that he can engage in such outrageous fear-mongering and not be brought to task and challenged on it more often, not least because our media has too often proved overly supine, ignorant and provincial, yes it's true, it's not funny business at all.
Mr. Last Throes
A surreal and ultimately disgusting facet of the Iraq fiasco is the lag between when a fact becomes obvious and when the fiasco's architects acknowledge that fact. Iraq's civil war has been raging for more than a year; so has the Washington debate about whether it is what it is.
Indeed. Or as Brent Scowcroft put it so succinctly (and devastatingly): "I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.” Historians studying the Bush fils administration will do well to search for clues explicating Cheney's descent from serious policymaker to dissembling denialist.
P.S. Related fare here:
Meantime, Vice President Dick Cheney confirmed that some of the senior al-Qaeda terrorists in our custody have been subjected to "water-boarding," a torture that brings the victim within a hair of drowning and suffocation. Cheney declared that it was a "no-brainer." My thoughts exactly: Only people with no brains opt to torture a captive in violation of domestic and international law.
Rosy Gaddis, Incensed Freeman
It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The speaker could have been Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton. In fact, it was George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address; and what he said is what historians will probably remember as the Bush Doctrine. This poses a serious challenge for Democrats. What do you do when Republicans steal your principles?
Meantime, quite a less innocuous take on the Bush Doctrine, from veteran diplomat Chas Freeman:
No country was then more widely admired or emulated than ours. The superior features of our society - our insistence on individual liberty under law; the equality of opportunity we had finally extended to all; the egalitarianism of our prosperity; our openness to ideas, change, and visitors; our generous attention to the development of other nations; our sacrifices to defend small states against larger predators both in the Cold War and, most recently, in the war to liberate Kuwait; our championship of international order and the institutions we had created to maintain it after World War II; the vigor of our democracy and our dedication to untrammeled debate - were recognized throughout the world. Critics of our past misadventures, as in Vietnam, had been silenced by the spectacle of our demonstrable success. This, our political betters judged, made the effort to explain ourselves, our purposes, and our policies through public diplomacy an unnecessary anachronism. The spread of global media and the internet, many believed, made official information and cultural programs irrelevant.
Gaddis seems to think the Bush Doctrine is solidly in the mainstream of bipartisan foreign policy tradition, while Freeman is all but declaring the end is nigh. Frankly, of late, I've found the Bush Administration's missteps so gross, its '03-'05 blunders in Iraq so collosal, its torture policy so despicable and counter-productive, and its inability to make significant course corrections so depressing--that Gaddis' piece seems strangely disconnected from reality, up in the clouds of grand strategy, while Freeman's piece rings much more true. Could I be losing perspective given my dismay? Or is the situation as awful as Freeman (and to some extent BD) sees it? Like often in life, the reality is likely somewhere in between, though I must say for Gaddis to suggest that the Democrats should be focused on "building on" the Bush Doctrine strikes me as rather odd advice. The Bush Doctrine, in North Korea, in Palestine, in Lebanon, in Iraq--well, it lies in tatters. And it could get worse, if we see a greater Islamist resurgence in countries like Egypt and Syria (further fueled by recent events in Lebanon and Iraq), or radicals in Washington persuade Bush to mount a military operation in Iran. What do commenters think?
October 29, 2006
Chalabi: Talk to Iran
"If America enhances the Iraqi army, improves its intelligence, gives Iraqis and their government more authority, and opens talks with neighbors such as Iran, coalition forces could begin their withdrawal in less than two years...Iran and Turkey, both powerful neighbors of Iraq, must be involved in the process to help Iraq's security situation improve and its democratic process and economy develop. [emphasis added]
Perhaps now that it's not just dreary realists calling for talks with Iran, but the neo-cons very own anointed and haloed Iraqi George Washington, the Ledeens and Rubins will take a different view on opening discussions w/ the Islamic Republic? I'm kidding, of course, they never would. But one can't resist pointing out yet another rich irony in an increasingly long list of them....
The Blame Game...
October 28, 2006
Boot's Iran Prescriptions...
The U.S. already has increased aid for the promotion of democracy in Iran, from $3 million in 2005 to $76 million in the just-concluded fiscal year. If we're serious, we need to spend much more, and we need to consider the possibility of going beyond peaceful measures to foment change. An American invasion is out of the question. But perhaps we could do to Iran what the Iranians are doing to us in Iraq, where they are funneling weapons and money to militias that are killing our soldiers.
Boot's a capable foreign policy analyst. So how in heaven's name could he be cheerleading fomenting a civil war in Iran (because make no mistake, that's what the above prescriptions would accomplish)--particularly at the very time Iraq is capsizing into one? Do the creative destructionists believe a series of metastasizing conflicts through the region will help spur on the 'freedom agenda'? Will cascading crises and greater disorder through the Middle East benefit U.S. interests? If so, how? Readers, please help me, what am I missing here?
UPDATE: Thanks for an interesting thread. I see that a lot of readers were somewhat up in arms about my description of Boot as "a capable foreign policy analyst". Truth be told, I flirted with inserting an "ostensibly" or "arguably" at the beginning of said phrase, but I've been pretty tough on people in this space of late, and thought I'd tone the temperature down some. Regardless, calling someone a capable analyst is hardly effusive praise, all told, and I think I made it pretty clear that I found Boot's Iran policy prescriptions obscenely irresponsible, not to mention amoral (given how breezily he seems willing to stoke chaos in Iran in the face of the massive carnage resulting from the near anarchy unleashed in Iraq).
October 26, 2006
Q I've heard from a lot of listeners -- that's what we do for a living, talk to good folks in the Heartland every day -- and I've talked to as many who want an increased military presence in Iraq as want us out, which seems to be the larger debate, at least coming from the left -- cut and run, get out of there. One fax said, when you talk to the Vice President, ask him when shock and awe is coming back to Iraq. Let's finish the job once and for all.
When will this nightmare (running on torture, gross dissembling, demagoguery etc.) end?
UPDATE (via WaPo):
The White House said yesterday that Vice President Cheney was not referring to an interrogation technique known as "waterboarding" when he told an interviewer this week that dunking terrorism suspects in water was a "no-brainer."
October 25, 2006
Overhead costs have consumed more than half the budget of some reconstruction projects in Iraq, according to a government estimate released yesterday, leaving far less money than expected to provide the oil, water and electricity needed to improve the lives of Iraqis.
Biotechnology company ImClone Systems Inc. on Tuesday said its chairman, David Kies, has resigned, together with William Crouse, a member of the board.
If only the competence demanded in the private sector by corporate raiders like Icahn was applied to our Executive Branch. We used to have, in some bygone era, something called Congressional oversight. Let's get it back on November 7th. I never thought I'd write these words, but having a Henry Waxman delve into the details of matters like our contracting policy strikes me as just the medicine the doctor ordered. A sense of having genuinely, co-equal branches of government needs to be restored urgently, even for those like me who are happy to grant the Executive some deference on foreign policy matters. But not carte blanche. Not an end to demanding basic competence, accountability, and leadership. Time for Icahn's Rules to migrate to Washington. And soon.
We haven't lost in Iraq, and we probably won't if we remain determined to prevail. The situation today is not good in some parts of Iraq, but the implicit suggestion that it can't get worse is absurd. As I wrote here, the current murder rate in Baghdad is around four times the murder rate in Washington, D.C. in 1991. The murder rate for Iraq as a whole is not quite double the 1991 Washington D.C. rate. This is a high level of violence, to be sure. But it is nothing compared to an actual civil war. It is nothing compared to genocide. If the Democrats win in November, they are likely to have, before long, a great deal of blood on their hands.
And to think that we have State Department spokepersons who actually feel compelled to issue 'clarifications' to this gang--one that includes writers that apparently believe Iran is an Arab country. Sad times...
MORE: In related fare, herewith the "Toady-Tent"!
October 22, 2006
Rubin's Distortions of the Baker-Hamilton Commission
I’ve been noticing Michael Rubin more and more these days, increasingly taking pen to paper to issue pitiable little epingles in the direction of those horrible realists, in neo-con cadre party outlets like the WSJ editorial page and the Weekly Standard. His latest is a preemptive attack on the Baker-Hamilton commission. It’s a classic Rubin type piece, full of wooly-headed intimations that we must expand the war theater to new Middle Eastern fronts, that the realists are but Neville-like appeasers tiresomely recycling old ideas, stabbing us in the back really, so as to preclude the glorious, total victory that would be ours but for a lack of resolve crippling the cocktail-swilling Foggy Bottom set, or those horrid leakers at Langley, or whatever other bogeyman du jour. Basically the usual fare that his ilk of weenie clowns (still, for reasons I cannot quite fathom, feted amidst the provincial echo chambers of varied Washington “think-tanks”) feed the remaining gaggles of true believers who still get all excited amidst the navel-gazing (is there still hope we might persuade Bush to summon the courage to go on to Teheran!?!). But this piece stood out, in its cheapness and shamelessness and solipsism, so I’ve decided to address his “arguments” in these cyber-pages.
First, however, allow me a confession. What really got my goat was Rubin’s suggestion that the Baker-Hamilton Commission’s recent trip to Baghdad (it was four days, not three, Michael) suffered egregiously because only Chuck Robb ventured into the Red Zone (Ramadi, specifically), while the other members of the working group remained safely ensconced sunning themselves amidst the pool cabanas of the Green Zone. We are told by Michael that the U.S. Embassy would have been happy to facilitate any further travels (doubtless soldier grunts would have been particularly eager to escort a bunch of VIPs through the alley-ways of Fallujah and Ramadi too, yes?). And despite the fact that the ISG members met with actors across the Iraqi political spectrum while in Baghdad, reportedly including a Sadr representative, secular leaders like the head of the Iraqi Communist Party, President Talabani, Prime Minister Maliki, Abdul-Aziz Hakim and so on and on—Michael informs us from his Washington cubicle that they would have gained better access to “unvarnished opinion” if they had “embedded with U.S. servicemen on patrol.” But these aren’t journalists out for a scoop or story in Ramadi. They’re former high ranking government officials gathering information directly from the key players—all of whom were more than happy to meet with them in Baghdad.
Now, it’s painfully clear, Michael desperately wants someone to take his bait, and query how many times he ventured into the Red Zone during his service with the CPA. Doubtless a few, one suspects, because otherwise even he would not have the gall to lob this kind of lame attack at people with decades more government experience than he. But here’s the rub. Sources tell me that for most of the time Rubin was in Iraq, it was still quite safe to venture out of the Green Zone (it started getting more dangerous around November/December of 2003). And while it is true that Rubin’s AEI bio states he was in Iraq until March of ’04—forgive me if I hazard a guess that his time spent in the Sunni Triangle (rather than Kurdistan, say) for those few months after the Fall of ’03 was, shall we say, rather on the de minimis side.
But let’s leave such pissing matches about Green Zone/Red Zone travel-time logged aside, shall we (before I bore you with tales of my time spent in war-torn Bosnia!). Here’s what we should really keep in mind for purposes of this discussion. Rubin was part of a group associated with Doug Feith at the Pentagon that were, in the main, Chalabi-cheerleaders, and swallowed with alacrity the kool-aid that the "liberation" would be swift and welcomed by the Iraqis and that the U.S. government would be able to hand off the governance quickly and without much pain to Chalabi and Co. Putting it plainly then, and I hope I’m not hurting anyone’s feelings here, Rubin had a significant responsibility for the strategic and operational decisions made after the invasion. In effect he could well be called to task for this major U.S. policy failure and all the tragic mess our government and nation is now facing with so much blood and treasure spilled. And now, to add insult to injury, all he can do is snipe and provide no viable solutions in the pages of the Standard. Indeed friends, one is compelled to ask how guys like him responsible for the decision-making on Iraq can so cavalierly dispense advice given the over 2,700 US soldiers killed, thousands more maimed and wounded and tens of thousands (if not hundreds) of Iraqis dead. They should be very wary indeed of criticizing those Americans who have been tasked by Congress with finding a way out between staying the course and cutting and running, especially when all they can apparently muster up instead is wailing from the sidelines cheerleading new adventures like reckless blowhards.
But I digress. Shall we turn to Rubin’s piece in the Standard, and take a look at it in more detail?
POLICYMAKERS ARE ABUZZ with the explosive recommendations for U.S. policy toward Iraq soon to be released by the Baker-Hamilton Commission: Abandon democracy, seek political compromise with the Sunni insurgents, and engage Tehran and Damascus as partners to secure stability in their neighbor. While former secretary of state James Baker and former representative Lee Hamilton said they would withhold their report until after the elections on November 7 to avoid its politicization, they have discussed their findings with the press. On October 8, for example, Baker appeared on ABC's This Week, and the next day he discussed the group's findings with Charlie Rose. On October 12, both Baker and Hamilton appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Both men are master inside-the-Beltway operators. Rather than prime the debate, they sought to stifle it. While on March 15, 2006, Baker said, "Chairman Hamilton and I have the same objective . . . to make an honest assessment of where we are and how we go forward and take this issue to the extent that we can out of politics," both chairmen designed the commission to affirm preordained conclusions that are neither new nor wise.
Clever verbiage, Michael, that Baker and Hamilton “discussed their findings with the press”. Sure, they’ve made the television rounds some, and hinted at directions here or there, but the reality is no one knows what their recommendations are going to be exactly, as they haven’t even been written yet as far as anyone knows. I challenge Michael to comb through the Lehrer transcript, or Baker’s appearance on This Week, or on Charlie Rose—and share with us how, in anything approaching a comprehensive fashion, they’ve shared their findings with the public. They haven’t, of course. If anyone is trying to “stifle” the debate—it’s disingenuous commentators like Rubin who are emitting these preemptive shots across the bow. But with their credibility in tatters, it won’t matter. People want to see what Baker and Hamilton are going to recommend, because the direction the Michael Rubin’s have pointed us towards have us knee-deep in a cluster-fuck of rather significant proportions, in case I need to remind anyone, which apparently I do.
Take the four subordinate expert working groups: Baker and Hamilton gerrymandered these advisory panels to ratify predetermined recommendations. While bipartisan, the groups are anything but representative of the policy debate. I personally withdrew from an expert working group after concluding that I was meant to contribute token diversity rather than my substantive views.
Michael Rubin “personally withdrew from an expert working group”. Say it ain’t so! James Baker and Lee Hamilton, doubtless, must have been crushed--that the penetrating insights Rubin would have brought to bear are now lost forever, amidst his protest resignation (a resignation, one suspects, mostly borne of a dreary sense of self-importance rather than any legitimate grievance about “token diversity”). More seriously, note how Rubin has reached a conclusion about the judgment of the ISG Commissioners before even waiting for them to reach theirs! Rather unfair, wouldn’t you say? But no, as I said, dreary solipsism, rather than any serious attempt at analyzing the situation we find ourselves in and confronting reality. Instead, as is the wont with this crowd, he pisses on selected members of the ISG, trying to smear the group with some tar brush of being conspiracy theorists and other beyond the pale types. But I’m afraid that’s not going to work so easily dear Michael. You see, the members of the ISG include (apart from Baker and Hamilton) Bob Gates, Vernon Jordan, Ed Meese, Sandra Day O'Connor, Leon Panetta, Bill Perry, Chuck Robb, and Alan Simpson. Each of these persons (in equal number Democrats and Republicans) might view Michael as something akin to a little cherub in diapers, given how much more experience they each have individually than him, let alone as a group.
But, you protest, what of the working groups?!? Michael says they are infested by conspiracy-theorists and such rabble! Again kiddies, not so quick! Here is a link to members of each working group. These include people of strong reputation like James Dobbins (Rand), Geoffrey Kemp (Nixon Center), Mike Eisenstadt (Washington Institute for Near East Policy), Jon Alterman (CSIS), and Reuel Marc Gerecht (of, drum-roll please….AEI!). Now, putting aside Gerecht (whom I’m surprised hasn’t fled the ISG before he is tarred as a deviationist traitor in the hallways of AEI, but who knows, perhaps he has?), this is a serious bunch of individuals, as are people like Dan Kurtzer and Phebe Marr. Are they all chumps, and Michael Rubin the noble preserver of the Torch of Freedom? C’mon! As for his cheap attack on Chas Freeman, suffice it to say Freeman could run circles around Rubin in his sleep when it comes to knowledge of the region, at least of the non-Chalabi-spoon-fed variety, that is.
Even if the eight other commissioners--all distinguished retired government officials--approached their work with honesty, they had little opportunity to get an independent look at developments in Iraq. U.S. evaluations of Iraq have long suffered from an overemphasis on both PowerPoint presentations and conversations with a limited circle of Green Zone interlocutors. During the commission's three-day visit to Iraq, only former senator Charles Robb left the Green Zone, despite the embassy's willingness to facilitate excursions. Had commission members embedded with U.S. servicemen on patrol, each in a separate area of the country, they might have expanded their contacts, broadened their collective expertise, and gained access to unvarnished opinion.
I’ve already dealt with this business about travel outside the Green Zone above. But to suggest that the ISG’s conclusions would be different, so as to lead them away from potential calls for increased engagement with Iran and Syria—if only they had left the Green Zone—well, it’s just risible. Regardless, someone will doubtless have an opportunity to ask Chuck Robb if his trip to Ramadi has him eager to expand the war to Syria and Iran as Rubin would cheerlead like a dim, faith-based adventurer. As for Rubin’s so clever use of quotes around “new approach”, what could our devilishly clever little Beltway maven mean? Have we had direct, sustained high-level discussions on a wide stable of issues with the Islamic Republic since 1979? Nope, so it would seem to be a “new approach,” no? And if Rubin is so petrified Baker and Hamilton are going to recommend that, it sure sounds like a “new approach” to me. If anything, the “old approach” of supremely naïve democracy exportation exercises like that Rubin and his gaggles of fellow-believers still recommend like gross naifs has failed, dismally in fact, so that a “new approach” is desperately needed.
The problem is that this "new approach" hasn't been good for U.S. national security. After Secretary of State Madeleine Albright extended an olive branch to the Islamic Republic in March 2000, the Iranian leadership facilitated anti-U.S. terrorists. As the 9/11 Commission found, "There is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers."
Putting aside whether James Baker, say, needs lessons from Michael Rubin on what may or may not constitute “effective realism”, and putting aside further the rich irony of Michael spouting on about “utopian conviction”, what to say about a reference to the Bob Woodward of Iranian journalists?!? Well game over then, eh? Point proven! Michael has great sources, you see, or more precisely, he seems breathlessly eager to get played for a dumb sucker once again (le plus ca change…). Of course, it’s true, some al-Qaeda have transited and found relative safe harbor in Iran. And yes, it is true, the Iranians are trouble-making, and quite a bit, in Iraq. Does this mean then that we should march into said country post-haste too, so as to resuscitate the moribund Bush Doctrine? Does this mean that any dialogue with Iran on the Iraq issue is doomed to failure? Of course not.
While Baker and Hamilton themselves may be sincere in their convictions [ed. note: How generous of you Michael, this concession will doubtless mean a lot to them!], conclusions absent acknowledgment of historical context will backfire. In Iraq, perception trumps reality [ed. note: And in Washington too, dear Boy]. Sunni insurgents, former military officers, and Shiite tribal leaders each voiced one common complaint in a meeting last month: They believe Washington is ready to hand primacy in Iraq over to Iran. "You [Ed. Note: Does the “you” here include YOU, Michael?] have allowed the Iranians to rape us," a former general said. Just as Iraqis believe the coalition's failure to restore electricity to be deliberate--if NASA can land a man on the moon, who would believe that USAID cannot turn on the lights in Baghdad?--so Iraqis across the ethnic and sectarian divide are convinced the White House has blessed a paramount role for Iran. Why else would we allow Moktada al-Sadr and the Badr Corps to expand their influence unchecked? Such conspiracy theories may appear ridiculous to an American audience accustomed to government ineptitude, but in Iraq they have real consequences: If Washington has blessed Iranian ambitions in Iraq, then Washington is to blame for outrages perpetuated by Iranian militias.
Excuse me while I stifle a chuckle with regard to this straw man. Even if Baker and Hamilton call for dialogue with Iran on the Iraq issue (or on other issues besides, perhaps), how is this tantamount to having “blessed Iranian ambitions in Iraq”? Because we want to talk to our adversaries and persuade them to change tack and lessen support to problematic Iraqi factions (both Sunni and Shi'a ones, as the Iranians are allegedly hedging their bets and supporting, not only Shi’a militias, but Sunni insurgents too), we are blessing their lebensraum in Iraq? Poor Michael is petrified of diplomacy, as it might interfere in the next campaign his ilk is eager to gin up from points Washington. But Michael, people are on to your gig, and they’re very tired of it. They won’t be snookered again by the likes of you peddling around the usual snake-oil.
When Rep. Frank R. Wolf conceived of the Iraq Study Group, he chose Baker and Hamilton to lead it in recognition of their extensive diplomatic experience. But it is this experience that may not only condemn the commission's recommendations to failure, but also further inflame Iraq. In the Middle East, Baker's legacy is twofold. As secretary of state, he presided over the 1989 Taif Accords, which ended Lebanon's civil war. By blessing Syrian military occupation, he sacrificed Lebanese independence on the altar of short-term pragmatism. Many Iraqis--Sunni elites and former officers especially--fear Washington may repeat the episode in their country. They fear Baker's cold realist calculations may surrender Iraq to Iranian suzerainty. While Americans may nonetheless welcome short-term calm, in terms of U.S. security, the Taif model failed: Damascus used its free hand to gut civil society and turn Lebanon into a safe haven for terror.
Oh my! Was it really only post-Taif that Lebanon became a "safe haven for terror", to employ Rubin's hyberbolic (and simultaneously banal) use of ye olde 'safe haven' verbiage? Michael, did the PLO exist in Lebanon pre-Taif? Did Hezbollah exist in Lebanon pre-Taif? In short, what the bloody hell are you talking about?
Baker's other legacy may be harder to shake: Iraqis remember him for his role in Operation Desert Storm. On February 15, 1991, President George H.W. Bush called upon Iraqis to "take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." Iraqis did rise up, but Baker counseled U.S. forces to stand aside as Saddam turned his helicopter gunships on the rebellious Kurds and Shiites. Had more commission members exited the Green Zone, they might have found that among the greatest impediments U.S. forces and diplomats face in Iraq is the experience of betrayal that Baker imprinted on their country. Washington's adversaries have capitalized on this legacy. The foolishness of Iraqis' trusting Washington has been a constant theme in Iranian propaganda. Should the Baker-Hamilton Commission also recommend abandoning democracy--which the Shiites understand as their right to power--and urge a political accord with Sunni insurgents, they would push 16 million Iraqi Shiites beyond possibility of accord and into the waiting embrace of an Iranian regime that, paid militias aside, most Iraqis resent.
Er, memo to Michael: we’re already reportedly talking to Sunni insurgents, right now in fact, in precincts Amman—trying to reach the “political accord” that so disturbs you. If Michael is worried that complex power sharing arrangements with Sunnis will hold the crude majoritarianism of the Shi’a at bay (throwing them into the eager clutches of the dastardly Mullahs!), well, he might ring John Bolton or Elliot Abrams to ask what the hell is going on, rather than bitch about the Baker-Hamilton commission.
Iraq is a bipartisan problem. Regardless of the outcome of the 2006, and even 2008, elections, the legacy of Iraq is going to impact U.S. policy and security for years to come. It is unfortunate, then, that the commission has bypassed its responsibility to seek a new approach and instead has embraced the old.
So many delicious passages here, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps Michael’s desperately lame spin that the fact that the tens of thousands of middle class Iraqis fleeing for their lives from Iraq showcases how, if only we had handed Chalabi the reins or some such, democracy would have sprouted up in Iraq? Or is it perhaps the arrogance to suggest that it is men like Baker who “construct…smoke and mirrors”, given the great damage people like Rubin have wrought by doing this very thing, big time, as they say. A friend, who knew I’d be blogging Rubin having finally been pushed to spend a couple hours writing about his disingenuous recent output, sends an E-mail:
Another aspect you might want to consider is that, as far as I can see, the narrative of people like Rubin is based almost entirely on conspiracies and counter-factuals. The conspiracy aspect is most visible in his Weekly Standard [piece], where Baker has brought in 'the left.' This is familiar. It was the common coin of people in which people like Feith, Wurmser, and Luti at the OSD and the Vice-President and those around him traded at their height (it was also echoed by people like Hitchens and Kristol from the outside). The basic view was that the State Department and the CIA were basically seditious centers of resistance to the GWOT, objectively (and how trippingly that Old Bolshevik phrase tripped from neo-conservative tongues) the allies of liberals if not, indeed, of our country's enemies. But alongside this has arisen the counterfactual---to whit that if the neo-cons had been allowed to install Chalabi as they had wanted to, all would have been well. Forget the facts on the ground in Iraq, which were that the Shi'a were determined to have their day whatever happened and that secularism had already become a dead letter in sanctions-era Iraq (though of course one of our signal accomplishments in Iraq has been to destroy forever Christianity there). For the neo-cons, the war can't have simply been a bad idea. No, the good idea was somehow screwed up, whether by Powell, Rumsfeld, CIA, or the liberal media. You will never hear a David Frum say the book he wrote with Perle has simply turned out to be flat wrong in its essence or a Michael Rubin to admit that the invasion he championed was a mistake. Like the Trotskyists of yore, these people are never wrong IF ONLY they had been listened to and allowed to follow their mad utopian schemes to their limit.
Indeed. Another way to put it, perhaps, is that the Republic would likely have been better served, putting Cheney and Rummy and Bush’s role aside, for the moment at least, if intellectual enablers had pursued different avenues in life. Say, perhaps, Wolfowitz had stuck to mathematics (his undergrad major), Feith to lawyering, and Rubin to biology (his undergrad major). But at least Wolfowitz is trying to make amends at the World Bank, and Feith is keeping a relatively low profile. Where does Rubin get off spouting off like this? Perhaps it’s his youth. But let’s clue him in, shall we—that we view his foreign policy prescriptions with little more than scorn and contempt. Maybe he’ll pipe down some if he hears the message loud and clear, from enough of us.
UPDATE: Thanks to all the readers who sent in this hilarious byline via E-mail: "Michael Rubin, a former CPA political officer — the only one who lived outside the American security bubble —is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute."
October 20, 2006
Is America's Unipolar Moment Waning?
It has been almost twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall--so how are we doing? Not great. Sanger:
...it is hard to remember a moment when the world’s sole superpower seemed less positioned to manage a fractured world. It’s not only that American hard power is tied up in Baghdad and Kabul; Mr. Bush has acknowledged that soft power — the ability to lead because you are admired — is suffering, too. Abu Ghraib “kind of eased us off the moral high ground,” he volunteered at the news conference the other day.
We outsourced Iran policy to the so-called Euro-troika so far too, with similarly underwhelming results. And our credibility lies in tatters in Iraq as Shi'a militias overtake towns, Baghdad remains an anarchic killing fields, and we remain unable to put down the Sunni insurgency. This is just with regards to our hard power, as Sanger points out. Regarding our so-called 'soft power', we lost our moral high ground not only with Abu Ghraib, but also with Guantanamo, with seeing a major U.S. political party run on and indeed brag about allowing torture for 'interrogation' techniques, and shredding habeas corpus for certain categories of detainees in our custody. As a result, we increasingly risk not being seen as a so-called 'benevolent hegemon', therefore resulting in intensified pressures on our primacy as other countries are likelier to try to array themselves against us. In short, this Administration has done untold damage to us, and this righteous letter from Pat Tillman's brother sets out the bill of grievances as well as anyone else has--straight from the gut. Send them a message on November 7th: a blistering one of rejection.
October 19, 2006
Jaw Jaw Time
BBC: Coming back to the Americans, do you get the impression America is preparing for action against Iran and they want to get Iraq finished first?
But that would mean direct, high-level talks with the Iranians and Syrians on the Iraq issue. And a combination of sloth, amateurism, ideology (not to mention cowardice masquerading as resolve) appears to be precluding such an eventuality. The clock's ticking, though...
A reader writes in:
Nice post, BD. An honest, serious effort at creating at least the framework for a solution. Put me down as skeptical towards the success of it but absolutely compelled to try. U.S. citizens, myself included, are ultimately responsible for the folly of our elected officials. This won't be "Bush's mess" for more than another 2 years. It will be "ours" for a lot longer. As much as I share the anger of your other readers who think some form of withdrawal is in our best interests (even Sullivan is creeping in this direction, burdened with caveats), I respectfully disagree. While we may be able to shrug off the moral calamity that would follow our exit (as we have with Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Palestine, Somalia, etc.), we won't be able to ignore the ramifications of an Iraqi Civil war/disintegration and the possibility of a regional conflagration.
Another reader writes in:
Your analysis and insights on the complex situation on the ground are excellent. The policy recommendations need to be more focused under categories such as security, federalism, regional policy, e.g... I am not sure the Dayton model is the right cultural fix for Iraq but you raise interesting analogies on what could be considered. All in all a thought-provoking piece which i take it was your intent.
Well yes, I was just trying to kick around some initial ideas. I'll try to refine in coming days, when I've got more time. Thanks for all the comments to the original post, and the E-mails.
October 18, 2006
A Brooklyn reader writes in via an E-mail entitled "Why the Silence?":
Dear BD- After previously writing so much about the issue of "torture", detainee treatment, Geneva Conventions etc - why have you been so silent about the recent McCain-Warner-Graham compromise with the White House? Surely you owe your readers some comments....
The short answer is yes, most assuredly, I do (though note a brief mention of my deep unhappiness with the legislation in this recent post). The longer answer, unfortunately, is that I have less and less time to spend here. As regular readers know, I have a demanding day job that takes up at minimum around 12 hours a day. Add family time, the typical madness of New York City, and varied errands and other extra-curriculars--it's extremely hard to find more than an hour (sometimes two) a day to devote to this site--at least if I mean to get any sleep. And so I grapple with the usual tension, knowing that running a top-notch site with longer pieces that are more provocative and challenging is usually impossible (at minimum I'd think this would take 3-4 hours daily, which I don't have save occasionally on weekends), but at the same time not wanting to fold down the site because I am something of a foreign policy junkie and enjoy this outlet. In short, I'm dong the best I can to put up at least somewhat interesting content, writing usually around 11PM or so on weeknights, but please excuse lack of editing (run-on sentences, spelling errors and other nits) as well as the fact that I may not have gotten around to the topics you believe merit covering in typical 'blog-time'.
October 17, 2006
An Iraqi Dayton Accords?
What to do in Iraq? The question occupies key policymakers, myriad commentators, military officers, and of course legions of Iraqis. The country is cascading towards civil war, dozens or hundreds of Iraqis die daily, and lately coalition fatalities are on the increase too nearing 4-5 day. And while Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s washing his hands of the details of the Iraq War is actually a good thing--as it allows uniformed military men on the ground to pursue counter-insurgency tactics more adeptly without his noxious interventions--the nation is still suffering greatly a dearth of strategic civilian leadership to allow for bold changes to the war strategy.
The issues are numerous. Do we need more troops or fewer? Related, is the continued presence of U.S. forces helpful to keeping the proverbial pot from boiling over even more ferociously, or is our presence actually contributing to the carnage? Do we need to continue to strive for a unitary Iraqi state or should we bow to the realities of a confederated Iraq? How can enough Sunni nationalists be weaned away from hard-core al-Qaeda and Baathist restorationist types, so as to better lessen the potency of the insurgency? Which Shi’a militias can we do business with, and which can’t we? To what extent is the sleeper issue of Kurdish federalism (not to mention invigorated PKK attacks within Turkey) going to cause a crisis with the Turks? Can Maliki’s government persevere and produce some tangible results, or is it doomed to failure? What of the state of the Interior Ministry, and the so critical training and equipping of the Iraqi Army, or the general posture of the Iraqi Police? How can Iraq’s neighbors perhaps be better enlisted to assist? (With Iran, the question is perhaps instead better phrased how can she be incentivized to scuttle less assiduously our efforts in Iraq)? And so on.
The answers to the above questions are maddeningly complex and elusive. Yes, we need more troops in some places (Anbar, Baghdad), but we likely need fewer in others (certain Shi’a areas). Yes our forces are what is keeping Iraq from the full-blown civil war that it is teetering towards, but yes too in certain parts of Anbar, say, our troops are caught in a no-win dynamic facing off against embittered locals who view them as alien interlopers. Yes, we must continue to strive for a unitary state, but at the same time we must realize such a state might not be possible to achieve for years yet, so that a ‘managed’ confederation scenario might be the better short-term, transitional goal. Yes relations with certain tribes (including, interestingly, some mixed Sunni-Shi’a ones) can be improved further so as to weaken al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s grip in certain parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, say, but yes too al-Qaeda has been far from defanged and continues to enjoy greater support than is commonly realized in Washington. As for the Shi’a militias multiplying in number and strength, and arguably beginning to pose a greater challenge to Iraq's stability than the Sunni insurgents, it is likely that some associated with Badr/Hakim might cooperate with coalition forces to a limited degree, and even Moktada al Sadr’s men on occasion when interests may temporarily align—but it is evident too that they are increasingly being swept up in a ferocious wave of Shi’a revanchism, with militias mushrooming and splintering into factions that don’t even necessarily bow to Hakim or Sadr--but rather pledge their allegiance to the brutish laws of the jungle of the local streets and neighborhoods they inhabit. Meantime, yes, Kurdish-Turkish tensions are set to increasingly flare as Kurdistan increasingly flirts with deep autonomy that straddles independence, worrying Ankara more and more. And U.S. troops garrisoned amidst the peshmerga in the North, while a stop-gap measure that might contain tensions spilling over for a time, are certainly no panacea. As for the region generally--as Vali Nasr points out in a recent book that serves as helpful primer on the Shi’a--the major dynamic unfolding in the Middle East at this hour could well be described as how best to manage the Shi’a ascendancy (though let us not risk overstating it), an ascendancy most vividly being witnessed in Iran and Iraq. While this seems blindingly obvious, it appears this important Shi'a resurgence is still not attracting as much attention as might be advisable in Washington. And so on and on, the challenges and questions are evident, but the solutions and answers each highly problematic and debatable.
So what is needed now, amidst this veritable maelstrom of competing historical interests vying for supremacy in Iraq? I’d argue that the time may have come for something akin to the diplomatic effort that Richard Holbrooke undertook with the Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 1995—only this effort, necessarily, would have to be more massive and ambitious. Historical analogies are always imperfect, and this one most certainly is, but let me perhaps sketch out why I believe it may serve as helpful precedent.
First, however, some differences. Iraq is not Bosnia. It is even worse, with European Enlightenment values having touched Bosnia to some extent, but with Iraq firmly a pre-Enlightenment society at a different stage of historical development. The furies unleashed, as we’re seeing with dozens of bodies turning up with drill-holes in them, vie with the most grotesque war crimes of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Second, the parties haven’t exhausted themselves to the same extent through long years of civil war bloodshed. While the wars have lasted roughly the same amount of time (Bosnia ’92-’95; Iraq 2003-2006--and counting), the civil war in Iraq is only beginning in earnest now. Third, the corollaries in the Shi’a, Sunni and Kurdish communities to Franjo Tudjman (the Croatian leader), Slobodan Milosevic (who could bring the Bosnian Serbs in line) and Alija Izetbegovic/Haris Silajdzic are less evident in Iraq. Who is the key Shi’a? Is it Maliki? Is it Jafari? Is it Sistani? Sadr? (I’ll fight the temptation to list Chalabi here). Ditto there are many power-struggles in the Sunni camp--with the Kurdish leadership a tad easier to get a handle on—though there are of course rival actors complicating matters there too. In short, there are not two or three key players to deal with to get tangible, immediate results, as there were at Dayton, and so the situation is more fluid and complicated.
But there are some similarities. The previous strategies had failed in the former Yugoslavia. So-called 'lift and strike' was never really employed in Bosnia, genocidal actions stalked Europe again only 50 years after the Holocaust with events like the fall of Srebrenica, diplomacy and UNPROFOR proved dismal failures. In Iraq, we are facing a similar grim reality. Our strategy has mostly failed. While US forces in theater (freed from the gross missteps of Rumsfeld’s arrogant hubris that defined the ’03-’04 period) are making occasional, tentative, and localized progress, they still lack the resources to effectively pursue a top-down nation-wide ‘clear-hold-build’ effort. They are still rotating troops from Anbar to Baghdad, and back again, and so on. And on the diplomatic front, our approach to the neighborhood has been characterized by gross amateurism, or laziness, or both. Last, our feeble interventions at bolstering the Maliki government have proved fruitless and no amount of “the next three months will be critical” utterances among the blow-dried commentariat-class making the rounds on Meet the Press are going to change that.
So we need a new approach, and it has to be a dramatic one. First, let us begin by admitting our strategy has been a failure (getting rid of Rumsfeld would at least constitute the beginnings of acknowledgement of same). Second, we must convene a major Iraq Contact Group consisting of the U.S., British, Germans, French, Russians and Chinese—with full participation too by each of Iraq’s neighbors (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait), as well as other critical Arab and/or Islamic countries as observers to the Contact Group (Egypt and Morocco, for instance). To represent the U.S. at the Six-Plus-Six Contact Group we should appoint two seasoned envoys with proven track-records, who will work well together in lockstep. In a bid for bipartisan consensus, there should be one from each party (George Mitchell and James Baker III, say, only by way of example).
One critical priority must be addressing directly the wider regional tensions Iraq has exacerbated so that the conflict does not spill over and spread to other countries. There might well be surprising areas of common interest among many of the regional Contact Group members on this score. A variety of goals will need to be tackled, and the diplomatic might of the entire key “Big Six” of the Contact Group must be marshaled to 1) build on Syria’s somewhat underappreciated progress towards make the Iraqi-Syrian border less porous, 2) continue to assist Riyadh in minimizing insurgent flow from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, 3) bolstering via diplomatic and other efforts countries facing growing religious radicalism from within like Jordan and, less noticed, Syria, 4) engaging Iran full-bore on the Iraq agenda (to include as necessary other issues of mutual concern on a discrete case by case basis) to assure that the most radical elements in Teheran are dissuaded from providing arms and materiel to the most reckless of the Shi’a militias (lately groups splintering away from Moktada-al-Sadr), 5) more closely dialoguing with Turkey to assure that her vital interests are not being imperiled by Kurdish resurgence, and 6) getting Arab countries more involved generally with the situation in Iraq (greater Arab influence, in terms of bolstering the Sunni position, might well help serve to contain some of Iran’s growing influence, while also perhaps reducing the appeal of the ‘alliance of convenience’ between Syria and Iran, the former 70% Sunni, the latter a predominately Shi’a country). This is an impartial list, but the point is clear: a massive, full-scale international effort comprising all the great powers and the key regional actors must be convened to, around the clock, tackle the growing Iraq crisis-- and this initially just to help ensure the widening violence does not spill over into a wider conflagration.
Within Iraq itself, we must most likely bow to reality—which is to say we must entertain how to more smoothly manage a separation of the Sunni, Shi’a and Kurdish zones into three relatively autonomous zones (this is happening whether we like it or not, recent developments increasingly suggest). But several major caveats: 1) this must occur in a context of a massive international effort to restore order to Baghdad, as well as continue to deny al-Qaeda sanctuary in the large Belgium-sized swaths of Anbar Province; 2) not all parts of Iraq necessarily need to become ethnically homogenous, but rather areas that are already so (see the Shi’a south and Kurdish north for instance), in ethnically mixed areas (and areas of special concern, such as Basra or Kirkuk), the continued presence of international forces would remain to protect those who didn’t wish to flee to ethnic safe-havens; and, most important, 3) there must be a very detailed Dayton-style reconciliation process spelled out leading ultimately to a unitary state--once the passions of the historical turmoil currently unfolding through Iraq wane. In short, we must help create stability by securing ethnically mixed areas with international forces (including perhaps ultimately even UN peacekeepers after the Contact Group has restored America’s multilateral approach to the conflict and so renewed legitimacy), while also allowing for a managed separation of Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds, but with the hope it will be more temporary than permanent.
In the capital itself, the international community will need to make a stand that will likely last many years, first militarily, later in terms of governmental and military capacity-building. After first establishing rough order in that city (and the entire will and might of the international community might be more effective than General Casey free-lancing without any qualified civilian back-up), attention must then turn to a variety of long-term challenges, to include: 1) continuing to make progress towards forming a multi-ethnic Iraqi Army that would one day serve as back-bone guarantor of stability to a unitary state, 2) make similar progress with Iraq Police (including in key cities like Mosul, Basra, and Ramadi), and 3) assuring that critical Ministries like Interior and Defense do not become beholden to one political faction or the other. It is not impossible to see Baghdad’s political class, after several years and greater stability born of order taking root in some of the regions and major cities, helping move the country towards re-integration of Iraq into a unitary nation-state. Regardless, powers related to border control, national defense, oil revenue sharing, foreign policy, among other issues of critical national import, all would remain the responsibility of a sitting national government in Baghdad, backed up by the international community, even during any period of ‘managed’ confederation.
It bears stressing, what will be the role of U.S. forces be amidst all this? In my view, a continued major troop presence will prove imperative, certainly during the anticipated transition period towards greater confederation, otherwise a wider civil war will inevitably erupt. Meantime, as mentioned above, military forces will be critical to continuing to battle Sunni insurgents in Anbar, and to continuing to attempt to secure Baghdad. And, as mentioned, heavy patrols will need to ensure ethnically mixed areas don’t become killing fields during the transitional confederation period. Generally, however, beyond U.S. force levels, the key will be to gain greater international support, whether diplomatic, economic or military, use the confederation process to attempt to de-radicalize many Shi’a, not least so as to free up resources to deal with the most hardened Sunni elements (keeping in mind too that the Sunni will have the biggest stake in seeing the re-integration process per an Iraq Dayton-style process ultimately bear fruit, so will ideally gradually become more aligned with international aims for the country). This is very much necessarily a rushed first cut for comment and ideas, particularly from those who might give more color as to what assets and policies can be employed to better assure that any temporary, ‘managed’ confederation does not end up producing three permanent para-states--namely a Shiastan, Kurdistan, and embittered Sunnistan—but instead would be oriented towards best providing the ‘breathing space’ of a transition period before ultimately reverting to a unitary state pursuant to a long-term international effort involving all key players internationally and in the neighborhood. Thoughts welcome.
October 16, 2006
Civil War Watch
Militias allied with Iraq's Shiite-led government roamed roads north of Baghdad, seeking out and attacking Sunni Arab targets Sunday, police and hospital officials said. The violence raised to at least 80 the number of people killed in retaliatory strikes between a Shiite city and a Sunni town separated only by the Tigris River.
We called this type of violence a civil war back in the mid-90s when it consumed Bosnia. Iraq could (if it hasn't already) prove much worse, however. The historical grievances are just as bad, if not deeper, there are more factions (to include varied sub-groups within each of the Shi'a, Sunni and Kurdish camps), so that the chaos unleashed could be more anarchic even than what occurred in the former Yugoslavia, and, to boot, regional neighbors are more likely to get involved. I plan to sketch out possible ways to avoid a total blow-up, in this space, as soon as time permits, hopefully sometime this week.
October 14, 2006
Iraq Study Group
I'm not planning on discussing the ISG much if at all at B.D. until the report is actually published, but I have noticed of late that there appears to be quite a bit of speculative drivel and/or varied hyper-ventilation in the air about its presumed contents (see, for instance, this laughable mention of a supposed mega-scoop ("scoops the world"!) and "amazing story" about the ISG at Frum's place). I've got no inside information--but I can certainly state here that everyone should stop, take a deep breath, and wait for, you know, the actual issuance of the ISG's report--rather than breathlessly speculate about what it may or may not contain. No one really knows yet, and a story or two (particularly in outlets of, shall we say, dubious credibility like the NY Sun), shouldn't be taken as gospel.
UPDATE: I think commenters might be missing the thread here, so to speak. See my comment here.
October 11, 2006
David Rieff writes in:
Excellent post, Greg. But fear the answer may be horribly simple and boil down to the old cliche, 'those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.' The know-nothing tradition that you rightly associate with people like Lott or Santorum (and you might have added Sessions, Inhofe, and Cornyn to side only three of their most egregiously stupid colleagues) has always existed in America. But the pain and the panic of 9/11 not only maddened most of us temporarily, but gave that old strain of American know-nothingism and paranoia---the syndrome famously described by Richard Hofstader---a centrality that it hasn't had since the McCarthy period. That, too, was a period of fear and madness. The difference was that, for all their faults, we had Truman and Eisenhower---that is to say, adult leadership, above all the leadership of men who understood the horror of war---whereas as now we have George W. Bush, a man who, as far as I can see, simply rejects outright the idea that America faces a situation of great political complexity and of great moral ambiguity, in short a man whose mindset is the purely emotive one that we all felt in the immediate post-9/11 period but that most of us understood to be emotional and not analytical. Rage has a tendency to make one an idolator of force, but rage is the worst imaginable basis for a great power's foreign policy.
I tend to refrain from too much analogizing to ancient Athens's demise as harbinger of the current U.S. position, most of the time at least, but it is true the damage done by this Administration to our moral repute and international standing is and has been very considerable indeed. I believe this decade will largely be viewed by historians as an era marked by profound incompetence and deep paranoia. These two have conjoined into something of a national mania, of late, and the key now is damage control. To accomplish same, even for those of us who have little faith in the Democratic party's foreign policy, we must nevertheless hope the Democrats win in November. Further as victory (at least in the House) appears more and more assured, we must not get complacent, and we must look not just for a glancing blow that the Frist-Allen-Rove-Santorum Republicans will shrug off in the advent to the '08 Presidentials. Rather, we need to see a severe body blow delivered, one that has the House lost by a painfully sizeable margin, and hopefully Democratic control over the Senate eked out too (this last will be very difficult, but perhaps just achievable). In short, November 7th has to be a comeuppance of historic scope, at least on par with Gingrich's takeover in '94, so that it forces the Republican Party to survey a landscape marked by a devastatingly large-scale and stinging public rebuke. This is because only the strongest medicine might belatedly force the Republican Party to truly take stock of its woeful current straits, the better so as to divorce itself from the dangerous ideological blinders that have consumed it these past years. In short, the Republican Party needs to reclaim the mantle of relatively sober, deliberate leadership on national security matters (one severely squandered during the Bush 43 years), as well as dissassociate itself from the Schiavo type follies domestically--and it is likely only a defeat of historic scope that will help egg such a process along, I suspect.
What is driving public opinion is an overall impression that those in office -- meaning mainly Republicans -- have let things slide out of control and need to be relieved.
That's for sure.
October 10, 2006
Dana Allin and Steve Simon, writing in the FT:
The recently declassified findings of a US National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism have caused a furore by stating the obvious: the Iraq war has radicalised Muslims and rallied many of them to the terrorist cause. The findings are controversial only because George W. Bush refuses to entertain any second thoughts in the war against what he now calls Islamo-fascism. Not long ago Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, said that raising questions about this “war” was tantamount to appeasing “a new type of fascism”. Newt Gingrich, former House speaker, says we are in a third world war.
P.S. For more such sanity, be sure to pick up Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman's "Ethical Realism". I'm only halfway through, but it's a very good read so far. Highly recommended, and I'll be discussing it in this space as soon as I'm able.
P.P.S. Sanity, and well, a little spot of insanity. Is this what it takes to get an op-ed in the NYT these days? Throw Anzus into NATO (plus Japan, S. Korea and an observer seat for Taiwan!), salivate over the prospect of a nuclear Japan, cut off all humanitarian aid to North Korea, and so on? Wowser! Must be cool to be a new paradigmist and creative destructionist! There is also this unintentionally hilarious bit from Frum: "(n)ot only would the nuclearization of Japan be a punishment of China and North Korea, but it would go far to meet our goal of dissuading Iran — it would show Tehran that the United States and its friends will aggressively seek to correct any attempt by rogue states to unsettle any regional nuclear balance..." Always about Iran with these guys, eh? But, let me understand: the way to dissuade Iran from getting the bomb is to push Japan to go nuclear, as that showcases that we "will aggressively seek to correct any attempt by rogue states to unsettle any regional nuclear balance". Tell me David, who would we enlist to do so with Iran? Israel already has nukes, so I take it you'll be cheerleading getting Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to go nuclear if Iran does, per your prescription of having North Korea's nuclear capability balanced by a Japanese bomb? Nah, that can't be right. Frum: "The analogue for Iran, of course, would be the threat of American aid to improve Israel’s capacity to hit targets with nuclear weapons". But of course. As if Israel doesn't already have such capacity in spades, friend--and as if ratcheting up an Israeli-Iranian stand-off in such fashion is in any way a convincing way to disincentivize the Iranians from going nuclear. Quite the opposite, I'd think. Shorter Frum: roll the dice and see where the chips fall. But we tried that in Iraq David, and it has proven a disaster. It's time to grow-up, and get serious now, I'm afraid--not upset the apple carts further by stoking a crisis with the Chinese and, with grotesque recklessness, chomp at the bit to re-militarize Japan come what may.
Golden Oldie Time
From Bush's 2002 SOTU:
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
Bush Doctrine, RIP.
A Quasi-Failed Test?
The North Korean test appears to have been a nuclear detonation but was fairly small by traditional standards, and possibly a failure or a partial success, federal and private analysts said yesterday.
That's probably about right, and of course North Korea's nuclear capability would have to be weaponized as well to pose a more severe threat (though, it is true, there are cruder delivery mechanisms)--a couple years away at very least, one would surmise--particularly given this wobbly first test. Still, the risk of nuclear proliferation through Asia has been ratcheted up, with nerves on edge (Japan's new PM Shinzo Abe said the treat represented a "serious threat [that] would transform in a major way the security environment of north east Asia") and North Korea itself proliferating surreptitiously remains a real threat. So while it is not far-fetched to believe Kim Jong's test was an act born of weakness (food shortages, dearth of foreign exchange, etc)--and it appears the test didn't go particularly swimmingly--the fact remains the test constitutes a dismal failure for Western policy, both putting the lie to the Bush Doctrine (preventing the world's most dangerous regimes from getting WMD, remember?) while putting the NPT under greater and greater stress (Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are watching, of course--even more keenly than they would have given the chaos in Iraq, and Iran's rising power and own nuclear ambitions).
P.S. In the heat of the moment, one shouldn't forget that Japan going nuclear is still a very low probability, all told, although other forms of renewed militarization become likelier.
The nuclear test may prove to be an even bigger shock to public opinion” than the 1998 missile, said Yasunori Sone, a professor of political and policy analysis at Keio University in Tokyo. “It will get a minority of people here calling for Japan to build nuclear weapons.”
PPS: And on the Chinese reaction, don't miss this piece:
China’s punctilious Foreign Ministry reserves the word hanran, which translates as brazen or flagrant, for serious affronts to the nation’s dignity by countries that have historically been rivals or enemies.
I still don't see Beijing, at the end of the day, agreeing to hyper-punitive sanctions. I could be wrong on this, of course, but I just don't see it ultimately. That's probably why Chris Hill's statement today that Kim Jong "is really going to rue the day he made this decision" strikes me as not wholly plausible. Without the Chinese really stepping up, that's an elusive goal, alas. And I'm far from sure Beijing is willing to wholly ditch North Korea, so as to really team up per the U.S. approach, even given frustration about how unreliable and untrustworthy an ally North Korea is. This is particularly true given seemingly perenially fraught Sino-Japanese relations, and of course the unresolved Taiwan issue always looming too in the background.
MORE: "More fizz than pop"? See Gertz here.
Rumsfeld: Time For An Afghanistan Victory Lap!
Rumsfeld, writing in the Washington Post on Saturday:
Yet from halfway around the world -- with but a few weeks' notice -- coalition forces were charged with securing a landlocked, mountainous country that history had dubbed the "graveyard" of great powers.
And now, reality:
The top NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Sunday that if the lives of Afghans don't improve within the next six months, a majority of them could switch their allegiance to the Taliban. Gen. David Richards, a British officer who commands NATO's 32,000 troops, told the Associated Press that he would like to have 2,500 more troops in the south of the country to help speed up reconstruction projects. General Richards said this area, which has seen intense fighting between NATO and Taliban forces, is "broadly stabilized," but if the NATO, US, and Afghan governments don't take this time to start reconstruction projects, 70 percent of the country could decide to back the Taliban. "They will say, 'We do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life that might involve than another five years of fighting,'" Richards said in an interview.
I'm happy Donald Rumsfeld believes "rising violence in southern Afghanistan is real." That's just swell. But before Rumsfeld gets too carried away with his fifth year anniversary Afghanistan valedictory, he might instead snap back to reality some. There are still battles being won (or lost), key strategic points being taken (or given back), and enemy forces (and indeed, our own) being killed, to use his verbiage. We are still very much at war in Afghanistan, and not in a "post-battle" phase as Rumsfeld risibly scribbles in the Washington Post. But let's put all this aside. Why is our Secretary of Defense wasting time penning such piffle (there is the inevitable mention of schools opened, health care access up by 72%, and other data points that are mostly irrelevant, and conveniently omit, say, that Afghanistan could still be lost, as certain areas in Pakistan have been increasingly), not to mention as Iraq melts down before our eyes? Why is he still in his job? Who will take the Decider aside, and put a stop to the dismal fraud that is Donald Rumsfeld remaining in office? As Andrew Sullivan puts it succintly, and often: Fire. Rumsfeld. Now. My God, even Karl Rove must be able to see the light on this, one would think, no? Oh wait, it would be an admission of failure or some such. Well let me clue you in fellas, the failures are huge, and they are erupting all around us, quite literally of late. They're not big secrets or anything. Let's try to turn things around, instead of going in bunker-mode. To at least tentatively begin the hard work of doing so, get a new Secretary of Defense in office--without further delay.
October 06, 2006
North Korean Nuclear Test
Tawdry 'sex' scandals, the Dow testing frothier and frothier new highs--a couple days back, I wondered, what next: Chandra, Monica and Nasdaq 5000? One couldn't help suspecting another shoe was about to drop. Perhaps, say, a North Korean nuclear test? My schedule precludes any detailed analysis, but I'll try to provide commentary in the coming days. In the meantime, note the DPRK's statement below:
The field of scientific research in the DPRK successfully conducted an underground nuclear test under secure conditions on October 9, 2006, at a stirring time when all the people of the country are making a great leap forward in the building of a great, prosperous, powerful socialist nation. It has been confirmed that there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation. The nuclear test was conducted with indigenous wisdom and technology 100 percent. It marks a historic event as it greatly encouraged and pleased the KPA and people that have wished to have powerful self-reliant defense capability. It will contribute to defending the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the area around it.
Discuss below, including each of the Japanese, U.S., Chinese and South Korean reactions. One thing is for sure: a destabilized nuclear North Korea is even worse than a relatively stable nuclear North Korea--so let's make sure Cheney doesn't get all creative destructionist on us. Our North Korea policy has proved a woeful failure (not just during Bush 43, but also through Bush 41 and Clinton too...), let's not make it even worse by over-reacting--meantime, Ahmadi-Nejad will doubtless be monitoring the fall-out quite closely, one suspects...
...President Bush declared in 2003 that the United States would never “tolerate” a nuclear-armed North Korea. He has never defined what he means by “tolerate,” and on Sunday night Tony Snow, Mr. Bush’s press secretary, said that the United States would now go to the United Nations to determine “what our next steps should be in response to this very serious step.”
Busy times at Turtle Bay....
P.P.S: One suspects one possible hoped for end-game here is to somehow 'manage' over the coming years a decline in Kim Jong's power, ultimately with the aim of having North Korea capsize and be unified with South Korea. Then, not least in return for major economic aid, the South Koreans would be urged to follow the Ukrainian, Kazakh etc route so as to voluntarily disarm the nukes they inherited--all before, one hopes, the Japanese decide they need a nuclear capability of their own, or indeed, the South Koreans. In this respect, the U.S. should provide enhanced security guarantees to these last two, while also giving very serious thought on how to prevent enhanced North Korean proliferation attempts to potential client states in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, stocks in China advanced on speculation its markets would see an inflow of funds. The Shanghai Composite Index, which tracks yuan-denominated A shares and foreign- currency B shares, rose 0.9 percent, set for its highest close since April 7, 2004.
Still More: Gotta love these guys:
Yet a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.
Well, hurrah, then! Another "clarifying" moment, one that "fundamentally changes" everything. Why, it's almost like Hez and Israel are at it again...perhaps we are seeing the "birth pangs" of a new Asia! A serious query: I'm all for stepped up counter-proliferation efforts (must use the muscular new Boltonian language, as non-proliferation is old sappy language for those who wouldn't allow for, you know, things like North Korea joining the nuclear club happening...), but is it really the time for severe sanctions on North Korea that will have the effect of further de-stabilizing the Peninsula? Oh wait, I've uttered the dreaded "S" word again ("stability"), and so risk offending the courageous legions busily creating a safer world for us tradition-shackled defeatists.
October 04, 2006
The Bush administration's effort to foster a bloc of moderate Arab states to stand against growing militancy in the Middle East has come up against a brick wall, with several close U.S. allies bluntly telling Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday that they do not want to be pitted against other Arab governments and movements, according to senior Arab officials. The solution, the allies told Rice, lies with stronger U.S. leadership in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But apparently the Arab-Israeli conflict is not considered one of the "root causes" materially impacting the Decider's pollyannaish freedom agenda. So we muddle along, requesting the Israelis open border crossings and such de minimis fare. And any intimation that we think resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is, you know, a big deal--one even where progress could help us in generating positive momentum to tackle other regional crises (imagine that!)--well, such radical cogitations are swiftly met by State Department spokesman prostrating themselves to reassure fourth-tier commentators that all is well (ed. note: see penultimate graf at link), and that they shouldn't fear, so that any muscular road-mapping on the road to Iran sanctions or some such is not in the cards. Put differently, even the remotest 'linkage' between the situation in the Holy Land and other regional happenings--one aired in a policy speech of a mostly theoretical, cogitating nature--is quickly poo-pooed as tantamount to sacrilege. Better to leave such perilous musings unvoiced, of course, lest the self-appointed Beltway commissars get agitated that weak-kneed Foggy Bottom think might gain a toehold in the true councils of power. Meantime, in related news, the reputable International Crisis Group has issued a statement calling for a renewed emphasis on forging Arab-Israeli peace. The statement can be found at this link and reads in part:
With the Middle East immersed in its worst crisis for years, we call for urgent international action towards a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The signatories are very distinguished, and very numerous but, it must be said, Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker and Glenn Reynolds haven't signed--so the State Department spokesman doesn't need to send E-mail 'clarifications' to anyone 'important' who might be disgruntled at the current state of affairs for whatever reason. All's well, thank God, with the bovine base cheery!
MORE: Re: Condi's ineffectual trip, via Ignatius:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East this week, trying to bolster America's allies to confront an enemies list that includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the all-party anarchy in Iraq. My worry is that Rice is becoming a traveling version of Baghdad's Green Zone, talking about hopeful strategies that are disconnected from events on the ground.
Even as the Bush administration urges Americans to stay the course in Iraq, Republicans in Congress have put down a quiet marker in the apparent hope that V-I Day might be only months away.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Your tax dollars at work! Don't get me wrong. If we won, I'd be in favor of much more than 20MM being spent to flood Broadway, with the biggest parade since WWII, to congratulate our heroic troops. But it is just not happening. Not in '06, and not in '07. Certainly not with the current team in place, still refusing to make significant strategic re-adjustments, not least by keeping a dismally failed war leader in the E-Ring.
October 03, 2006
Ditch Denny, For Starters...
House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week's revelations -- or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away.
Gross negligence and deliberately looking the other way? Say it ain't so! Why, this might well sum up a large amount of our contemporary history these past five years. Just as one example that leaps to mind, imagine substituting Rumsfeld (gross negligence) and the Iraq insurgency (deliberately looking the other way) rather than Denny 'The Coach' Hastert and the page scandal in the text above. Sure, the page scandal repulses mightily, and Hastert and the rest of these preposterously bumbling Congressional mediocrities deserve to lose their jobs over it immediately. But as much as this latest sordid story emitting from this despicable Congress rankles, it pales in comparison with the costly and epic blunders made in Iraq, with detainee policies, with much more besides. Of course, the Democrats are so weak and pitiable that even if they can wield subpoena power one wonders what they'll even be able to accomplish with it. But let's give them the chance, at least. In the meantime, l'affaire Foley seems to be having somewhat of a beneficial impact, on this score, meaning the Democrat's chances. From the WaPo:
There was intense anger among social conservative activists in Washington yesterday, and some called for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to resign.
Fat chance, as even if Hastert goes in the next 48 hours, a plethora of questions about other House leaders remains. And beyond the sordidness of the specific IMs and such, there is also the larger fact that this scandal is just the latest manifestation that we have a cheap and tawdry little Duma in Washington, not a real legislature worth its salt. Hopefully this will fuel further righteous anger in the polling stations. Developing, as they say.
WMD In Lebanon!
From a George Will piece, narrating another Woodward revelation:
While leading the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the summer of 2003, David Kay received a phone call from "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who wanted a particular place searched: "The vice president wants to know if you've looked at this area. We have indications -- and here are the geocoordinates -- that something's buried there." Kay and his experts located the area on the map. It was in the middle of Lebanon.
This is why people like Colin Powell say Cheney caught the "fever", and why people like Brent Scowcroft see a changed man they don't recognize. One of the big stories of the Bush Administration, when historians look back, will be that Cheney lost his sobriety, his perspective, basically his marbles. Put simply, he's made one poor judgment after another. And we're all suffering for it, of course, not least as we all know the President relies on Cheney tremendously, given the former's intellectual limitations and stunted world view. Witness, also from the Will column:
"Where's the leader?" Bush, according to Woodward, has exclaimed in dismay about the Iraqi government's dithering. "Where's George Washington? Where's Thomas Jefferson? Where's John Adams, for crying out loud?" For a president to ask that question about Iraq, that tribal stew, is enough to cause one to ask it about the United States.
Almost makes you pity the man. He's in way over his head, and he has two failed advisors (Rumsfeld and Cheney) that he's chosen to lean on, in the main, as well as a relatively untested Secretary of State not genuinely respected by these last two. Ugly dynamics all around. But he's incapable of performing a real top to bottom house-cleaning, because he's deathly scared to lose the heretofore pillars that have kept him on his two feet. As I said, very ugly.
Abizaid: Rumsfeld's Got No Cred....
Vietnam was also on the minds of some old Army buddies of Gen. Abizaid, the Centcom commander. They were worried that Iraq was slowly turning into Vietnam -- either it would wind down prematurely or become a war that was not winnable.
Meantime, George Will appears to believe this anecdote speaks well of Rumsfeld but, sorry to say, it does just the opposite:
On Veterans Day 2005, the president traveled to a Pennsylvania Army depot to deliver a speech announcing the new military policy for Iraq, the policy of "clear, hold and build." Woodward says Rumsfeld, having read the speech, called Andy Card, the White House chief of staff, a half-hour before Bush was to deliver it, and said, "Take that out." Card replied that the three words were the centerpiece of the speech, not to mention the war strategy. Rumsfeld replied, "Clear, we're doing. It's up to the Iraqis to hold. And the State Department's got to work with somebody on the build."
I understand Will's view that the so-called warrior ethos is impacted by having to 'do kindergartens' and such, but Will is missing the main point. A coordinated counter-insurgency effort has to be led by the Americans, and that includes taking the lead on each component of 'clear, hold and build'. First, Rumsfeld's 'just enough troops to lose' doesn't even have us clearing adequately, so he fails dismally on that score regardless, the one he erroneously claims "we're doing". Next, Iraqi Forces aren't yet ready to persuasively "hold", as anyone with a smidgen of situational awareness realizes (this category doesn't include Rumsfeld, of course). Next, infrastructure build-out might include some input from State, but it is breathtakingly obvious that the military would need to play a key role here too, and most likely the lead one, particularly given a lack of international support to lean on for engineering and other assistance (not least given how many allies Rumsfeld alienated like an impestuous buffoon).
In short, you have Abizaid all but begging for strategic leadership at the civilian leadership level, but making it clear as day Rumsfeld hasn't any credibility left, so can't play that role. A prime example of this dearth of persuasive strategic leadership is showcased by Rumsfeld's absurd call to Card thirty minutes before Bush's speech. It's all here: a dysfunctional Administration where a key strategy arrived at woefully belatedly ("clear, hold, build"), and about to be sketched out by the President in a major public address, is poo-pooed by a discredited Secretary of Defense at the 11th hour, so as to transparently attempt to abdicate the lion's share of responsibility for the new strategy he should instead be hell-bent on trying to ensure succeeds.
I'm tired of writing it, and you're likely tired of reading it, but it is simply staggering that Rumsfeld remains at the Pentagon. It's akin to a profound fraud being perpetrated on the American public. And it's a key reason why we need to support Democrats on November 7th, so as to increase the chances of holding such incompetents accountable for their collosal blunders, for their deep arrogance, for their stubborn refusal to admit mistakes, and for their bungling of the war effort.
October 01, 2006
I'm back in the U.S., so blogging will get back to 'normal' hours, meaning after approximately 10 PM EDT during the week, and at random times when possible on weekends. Frankly, I'm somewhat torn between digging more heavily back into foreign policy analysis type pieces here, versus chronicling my increasing dismay at various bloggers, columnists, freshly minted 'counter-terrorism analysts', politicians, etc. I guess, as is typical, I'll fall somewhere in between, but with November 7th approaching, let me apologize in advance for occasional polemics appearing in this space. If readers have a strong preference either way (relatively sober policy analysis versus trying to unmask the myriad lies, disinformation and distortion flowing about), feel free to drop a comment below re: what you'd prefer to see here. This isn't about dreary navel-gazing or reader sampling exercises (I don't make a penny off this site, don't associate with any larger group of bloggers, so couldn't care less about things like advertising revenue, etc etc.)--it's more just to get a sense of where the people coming around want this site to go in coming months. Thanks for any input.
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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