November 30, 2006

The Edgy Saudis

Nawaf Obaid says he is writing this in his personal capacity and that it doesn't reflect official Saudi policy, but it still struck me as quite a read:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Because King Abdullah has been working to minimize sectarian tensions in Iraq and reconcile Sunni and Shiite communities, because he gave President Bush his word that he wouldn't meddle in Iraq (and because it would be impossible to ensure that Saudi-funded militias wouldn't attack U.S. troops), these requests have all been refused. They will, however, be heeded if American troops begin a phased withdrawal from Iraq. As the economic powerhouse of the Middle East, the birthplace of Islam and the de facto leader of the world's Sunni community (which comprises 85 percent of all Muslims), Saudi Arabia has both the means and the religious responsibility to intervene...

...What's clear is that the Iraqi government won't be able to protect the Sunnis from Iranian-backed militias if American troops leave. Its army and police cannot be relied on to do so, as tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen have infiltrated their ranks. Worse, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, cannot do anything about this, because he depends on the backing of two major leaders of Shiite forces.

In this case, remaining on the sidelines would be unacceptable to Saudi Arabia. To turn a blind eye to the massacre of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles upon which the kingdom was founded. It would undermine Saudi Arabia's credibility in the Sunni world and would be a capitulation to Iran's militarist actions in the region.

To be sure, Saudi engagement in Iraq carries great risks -- it could spark a regional war. So be it: The consequences of inaction are far worse.

By the way, I hope I don't hear any Administration players telling us we have another 'clarifying moment' or 'historic opportunity' or 'birth pangs' or some such at hand with an opportunity to counter Iran with some far-flung Sunni alliance (that, to boot, will get the Syrians in line!)--so as to cheerlead rising Sunni-Shi'a tension, or argue that no real action on the Arab-Israeli front is required. That would be delusional in the extreme. But, and especially with the "Zs" gone (Zelikow, Zoellick), I guess that wouldn't be a huge surprise now, would it?

P.S. I suspect part of the motivation behind Obaid placing this somewhat alarmist piece in the WaPo is so as to supply some fodder for the Beltway debate, meaning another argument in the quiver for those fighting against precipitous U.S. troop withdrawals and/or fixed, automatic deadlines.

Posted by Gregory at 05:12 AM | Comments (92)

Rating Presidents...

Martin Wolf:

US voters have now repudiated those who sought to impose democracy by force abroad. In spite of the gerrymandering of districts, the advantages of incumbency and renewed recourse to the politics of fear, common sense prevailed. George W. Bush is still president. But he is damaged political goods. That is good, because change is desperately needed.

The signal feature of this administration has not been merely its incompetence, but its rejection of the principles on which US foreign policy was built after the second world war. The administration’s strategy has been based, instead, upon four ideas: the primacy of force; the preservation of a unipolar order; the unbridled exercise of US power; and the right to initiate preventive war in the absence of immediate threats...

...The US must now start again. It must design a foreign policy for the current age. In doing so, it should discard almost everything the Bush administration has proclaimed.

First, the aims of foreign policy go far beyond the misnamed “war on terror”. The Islamist terrorists with which the world should, indeed, be concerned do not even pose the same existential threat as the cold war’s competition among superpowers. Equally important are maintenance of a prosperous world economy, management of the rise of new great powers, economic development, not least in the Islamic world, and management of the global commons.

Second, military power is far less effective than its supporters suppose. The threat of force cannot change the policies of other great powers, except to make them more suspicious of US intentions. It must make potential enemies still more determined to obtain nuclear weapons. As Iraq has shown, vast power cannot even impose stability on a country of 21m.

Third, the legitimacy of America as a global power rests on the ability of the US to command the respect of other countries and peoples. Gerhard Schröder could not have won an election in 2002 on an anti-American platform if the German people’s confidence in the US had not been undermined. Yet more important, the war against jihadi terrorists is a war of ideas. It will be won not by fear, but by making the west’s values more attractive to hundreds of millions of Muslims than those of its fanatical opponents. The willingness of this administration to treat the rule of law as an optional extra has made it far more difficult to defeat the terrorist ideology in the long run.

Fourth, multilateral institutions matter. They turn what would otherwise be clashes of prestige and power into acceptance of shared rules of good behaviour. Above all, only the willing co-operation of at least the world’s leading powers can address many of the global challenges. Shared institutions make such co-operation more credible and more sustained.

Fifth, solid alliances matter. The coalition of the willing has proved a slender reed. Even the UK is unlikely to let itself be dragged into a venture similar to Iraq again, in which it is fully committed but has no influence on how policy is executed. Yet the US has proved unable to achieve what it seeks unaided. Fixed alliances are indeed constraints, but they are also means of securing commitments.

The foreign policy of Mr Bush, arguably the worst president since the US became a world power, has come to a dead end. The big question is what happens now. [my emphasis throughout]

Wolf is perhaps the most distinguished columnist at the FT, and not a man prone to mindless hyperbole. His calling Bush "arguably the worst president since the US became a world power" is therefore quite a statement indeed. And if Bush doesn't start to make major course corrections very soon, that verdict will likely begin to get shared by more and more rational, intelligent observers. Put differently, it is no longer easy to just holler "Carter!", or "Nixon!", and assume you've just proven your case Bush isn't as terrible as all that. At very best, it's debatable, as the policy blunders have been that egregiously bad.

Posted by Gregory at 02:34 AM | Comments (33)

November 27, 2006

Did Somebody Say "Cakewalk", Or "Naive"?

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that Michael Rubin is resorting to "dowdification" of late, which is to say, Rubin takes a truncated quote from my father out of broad context and tries to play pretend that my father thought the Iraq conflict would be, a la Ken Adleman, a "cakewalk." By way of brief background, my father, a 33 year veteran of the Foreign Service, served as the United States Ambassador to both Syria and Israel, as well as Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and South Asia. He is (or was, as the case may be) on good terms with political figures in the Middle East ranging from Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Yitzhak Rabin to Hafez al-Asad, King Hussein (Abdullah’s father), Abu Mazen and Hosni Mubarak. (Incidentally, Rubin’s caricature of him as archetypal Arabist is wholly unpersuasive—as any of those Israeli leaders, past or present, would likely attest). Regardless and with apologies for being so plain about it, what a class of 1994 biology major from New Haven might think of him likely leaves him rather uninterested, I’m afraid. Still, with Glenn Reynolds entering the fray and calling my father's predictions “naïve” (quite a charge coming from that famed Middle East specialist Instapundit(!)—seemingly always at the ‘aw shucks, sounds good’ ready to link whatever neo-con swill du jour), it appears I have to wade into this recriminatory morass, if for no other reason than to defend a family member I respect.

The item Rubin linked to (over at the giddy spectacle that is The Corner) is this April 22nd '03 Bernard Gwertzman interview of my father. Rubin cherry-picked this portion of the interview:

What we’ve stated in our report is that we should have no illusions; that it’s going to take at least two to three months of a very strong military presence in Iraq to re-establish law and order, get humanitarian assistance going, get the water going, the electricity going, in other words establish the secure premise upon which reconstruction can take place both physically in the country and in terms of political evolution.

Note that the very next sentence (which Rubin conveniently omits) reads “(b)ut there should be a performance-based phase-out of the U.S. military presence,” which clearly indicates that my father more than held out the possibility that we wouldn’t necessarily be in and out of Iraq within 3 months. Elsewhere in the interview, my father states:

In 1991, I was assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs and met with the Iraqi opposition, including people like [Jalal] Talabani [of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and [Massoud] Barzani [of the Kurdistan Democratic Party], the Kurdish leaders. They told me very directly that while a Kurdish homeland was always in their hearts, they knew that it would be a very risky thing to try to establish a homeland because the Turks would see their national security interests threatened, as would the Syrians and the Iranians, who all share borders with Kurdish populations. So they said, if we had a state and a government in Baghdad, in which we really had effective power-sharing, politically, economically, and culturally, we would opt for that. This is the challenge. Whether we can do that or not, or whether it will be done or not, is a major question.

Hardly “cakewalk” talk, no?

Further, and much more important, Gwertzman was interviewing my father, in the main, because he had recently co-chaired a Council on Foreign Relations/Baker Institute report entitled “Guiding Principles for U.S. Post-Conflict Policy in Iraq” (link to (PDF) report here) with Frank Wisner. In this report, which came out before the war, my father and Wisner, among other things, recommended: A) establishing an effective coordinating structure for US government decision making--not just handing that job over to DOD (meaning, for example, the Office of Special Plans Rubin worked in, which proved to perform, shall we say, rather underwhelmingly); B) assuring that forces on the ground were sufficient to assure law and order without which our strategy for post-Saddam Iraq could not be achieved (including importantly making mention that part of this approach meant not disbanding the Iraqi Army, as it would be needed to help serve as guarantor of peace and stability post-conflict); and C) proceeding with caution with regard to not expecting a bonanza from the Iraqi oil sector to pay the costs of reconstruction.

Such specifics aside (of which more below) the very first paragraph of the report, as it turns out, doesn't sound like a "cake-walk" prognostication to me:

Today’s Iraq debate is understandably focused on the run-up to possible military action. However, the question of how the United States and the international community should manage post-conflict Iraq is even more consequential, as it will determine the long-term condition of Iraq and the entire Middle East. If Washington does not clearly define its goals for Iraq and build support for them domestically and with its allies and partners, future difficulties are bound to quickly overshadow any initial military success. Put simply, the United States may lose the peace, even if it wins the war.

Here are more of the relevant recommendations, direct from the report (remember, it came out several months before the Iraq War):

Establishment of Law and Order. U.S./coalition military units will need to pivot quickly from combat to peacekeeping operations in order to prevent post-conflict Iraq from descending into anarchy. Strong U.S.-backing for an emergency government will be needed to fill the vacuum left by Saddam. Without an initial and broad-based commitment to law and order, the logic of score-settling and revenge-taking will reduce Iraq to chaos. The optimal strategy is for the United States to play a superintending role, one that maintains low visibility but is clearly committed to protecting law and order and creating a breathing space for a nascent Iraqi government to take shape. The U.S. role will be best played in the background guiding progress and making sure that any peacekeeping force is effective and robust enough to do its job.

"(P)eacekeeping"? A “commitment to law and order”? C’mon friends, let's not be silly. That was only for Schwarzeneggerian sissies and girlie-men over at civilian DoD, circa '02, didn't you know? “Stuff happens”, after all, and “freedom is messy”, right?

Here’s another recommendation from the report:

Do Not Dismantle the Iraqi Army. Initial efforts must also focus on eliminating the Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard, intelligence services, and other key institutions of Saddam's regime, while preserving the Iraqi Army (minus the uppermost leadership and any others guilty of serious crimes). The army remains one of the country's more respected institutions. How it is treated during the military campaign and after, including the removal of its top leadership, is one of the key pieces of a U.S. strategy. The army could serve as a guarantor of peace and stability if it is retrained in part for constabulary duty and internal security missions. Iraqi leaders whose crimes are so egregious that they can be tried as crimes against humanity must be detained and prosecuted


Next, on Iraqi oil revenue:

There has been a great deal of wishful thinking about Iraqi oil, including a widespread belief that oil revenues will help defray war costs and the expense of rebuilding the Iraqi state and economy. Notwithstanding the value of Iraq's vast oil reserves, there are severe limits on them both as a source of funding for post-conflict reconstruction efforts and as the key driver of future economic development. Put simply, we do not anticipate a bonanza.

Speaking of "prophetic" words, to quote Glenn again (incidentally, I wonder if Austin Bay agrees with the substantive merits of this Reynoldsian juxtaposition, he seems too fair-minded to, at least I'd think?), these cautionary words on oil reserves paying for the reconstruction appear rather far-sighted, no?

I could go on. And on. But notice what the report says. It says oil revenue won’t be able to pay for the Mesopotamian adventure, contra what some at the Pentagon had proclaimed. It says post-conflict management of Iraq must be run via an effective inter-agency process, not just a blundering, hubris-ridden DoD. It says de-Baathification should occur only at the very highest levels, and/or for those directly guilty of crimes, but not whole-sale through middle and lower-ranking swaths of Baathist officialdom. It says we cannot rely on Iraqi exiles, such as the unreliable Chalabi. It says, critically, don’t disband the Iraqi Army.

In other words, it provides sober, intelligent advice, advice mostly not taken, alas, with tragic consequences. Now, just for fun, let’s compare the above with what Michael Rubin was saying back in the day, shall we? To kick off things, here’s Rubin suggesting that the Hashemite Monarchy might be enlisted to help lead Iraq (an idea that would have gone just swimmingly with Sistani, Hakim and Sadr, eh?):

As one drives through the hills near Sarsang in northern Iraq, locals point with pride to the former Hashemite palace (now a hospital) perched on the hillside, while they treat with disdain the ruins of Saddam's ostentatious palaces. Iraqis are not alone in looking back fondly on bygone royalty.
Hey look, if "bygone royalty" means fire-brand descendants of distinguished clerics, Michael just might have a point! But seriously, this Hashemite nonsense is really quite rich, no? Time to get serious, and put down the imaginary Gertrude Bell novellas!

Here’s Michael again, sounding overly Panglossian notes I’m afraid, busily poo-pooing those crazy ideas that Iraq might be a bit on the difficult side or such:

If there's an emerging conventional wisdom uniting many of the pundits, military analysts, and former government officials who have taken to the airwaves and op-ed pages in recent weeks, it's that the United States can overthrow Saddam, but it will be messy and painful. In particular, commentators worry that a U.S. assault will bog down in urban warfare. "It's going to involve Iraqis hiding behind civilian populations, ambushing us from the basements and roofs of various buildings, trying to use shoulder-launched weaponry against our helicopters, and making life difficult. We will win, but we could lose a thousand or more people if things go badly," Brookings Institution scholar Michael O'Hanlon told CNN on August 9. One week later in the Wall Street Journal, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft opined that liberating Iraq "would be very expensive . . . and could as well be bloody." And this week a front-page, above-the-fold New York Times headline warned, "iraq said to plan tangling the u.s. in street fighting." But there's reason to believe that these predictions--like many of those that preceded America's military successes in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the first Gulf war--are too pessimistic.

Or perhaps, too optimistic, as it were.

There’s much more: Rubin again, still ostensibly in la-la Hashemite Restoration and/or Chalabi booster-land, averring that Moktada al-Sadr doesn’t enjoy real grass-roots support!

Most Iraqis recognize that Muqtada al-Sadr is not a true grassroots figure [ed. note: but Ahmad Chalabi is, right?]. He receives money through Ayatollah Kazim al-Husayni al-Haeri, an Iraqi cleric based in Iran who himself is a close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Is that right? Pray tell more on this point Michael, with special attention paid to events ongoing these past few months in ye olde Baghdad town, OK? Not a "true grassroots figure" eh? Well, in a faith-based alternate universe, perhaps. But for those of us who dwell in reality things look, well, different. As Robin Wright and Tom Ricks report today:

Sadr is so powerful that if provincial elections were held now, he would sweep most of the south and also take Baghdad, said the intelligence officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position.

Around the same time, Rubin also wrote: “As violence provoked by Muqtada al-Sadr's fringe Jaysh al-Mahdi militia enters its third day, Washington remains in a frenzy of misplaced panic.”

Ah, if only we all had such sang-froid. I feel a frisson of macho thrill just imagining how the stewardship of the ship of state would benefit so! But coolness under pressure aside, Mr. Rubin might want to get out of the predictions business, as in the same article (from April '04) he had written: "In many ways, al-Sadr's revolt appears to be a last gasp from a firebrand radical who has seen his domestic support hemorrhage." And what a "last gasp" its proven!

Later still, Rubin pours on with still more terrible advice, arguing for wholesale, massive de-Baathification, which of course, helped stoke the insurgency and still has it thriving today. What tugged his heartstrings so, so as to become a whole-sale proponent of shock de-Baathification (aside from its “ethnic chauvinism,” of course, favorite shorthand description of Baathism that those of Rubin’s stripe employ so as to facilitate trotting out all those racy Munich '38 analogies)? Well, here was the moment of epiphany, and it was a glorious one to behold indeed:

I became convinced of the need for de-Baathification when I accompanied an Iraqi friend into a repository of Baathist-party documents hidden under the shrine of Michel Aflaq [ed. note: A Christian Arab, fyi, for those who insist on hysterically gibbering on about "Islamo-Fascism" and the Gates of Vienna being crashed anew etc etc.], the man who, inspired by European fascism and national socialism, founded the Baath party in 1944. Amid musty books and scattered documents, an Iraqi scholar showed me a ledger containing the names of every secondary-school child, notes about his ethnic and sectarian background, and political details regarding their extended family. Marks next to names indicated that that child would be blacklisted upon graduation. Baathist schoolteachers, at least those in the upper-four levels of the hierarchical party, were not benign opportunists as Brahimi alleges, but rather the enforcers of one of the world's most evil regimes.

Oh those horrid, horrid schoolteachers (well, only the "upper-four levels" of them)! To the re-education boot-camps with all of them, post-haste!

And then, just for the comedic factor, there is this recent speech where Rubin uses the “N” word (no, not that one, rather the one I thought had been de facto banned by the hyperbolic herds that constantly harp on about the dearth of will at Foggy Bottom and Langley and other enemy encampments, or tut-tut on about their Manichean world-views to impressionable types so as to reduce complex regions to grossly dumbed-down 'good vs evil' narratives, that is, when not busily issuing that jingo-rallying call that excites them all so--real men go all the way to Teheran and Damascus!):

With violence and insurgency continuing in Iraq, television footage often presents the situation there as grim. Television cameras do not lie, but they also do not show the full perspective. Stability and security are lacking, but the situation in Iraq is more nuanced than it at first appears. Problems are complex. Some may be the unavoidable part of the transition from dictatorship to democracy, but many other setbacks are the results of Coalition mistakes which are correctible.

Ah yes, “nuance”. And thanks for letting on that "problems are complex". Indeed, they are. But spare us too much corrective, remedial action Mr. Rubin, no matter how complex the problems might appear, as I fear your policy recommendations will only make matters worse. Anyway, I could go on (really, there's a seemingly endless amount of bogus fare masquerading as high-brow policy recommendations to pick from), but I think we've all had enough, no?

Now, a word or two of clarification here. The point is not to comb through Rubin’s prolific ouevre to be mean, nor to embarrass him publicly. God knows, anyone searching through my archives will doubtless find much blush-inducing fare. But I’ve at least acknowledged my mistakes, including in hindsight gross errors of judgement, and at least I feel remorse (which isn't to say I expect Rubin to submit to an auto de fe and prostrate himself on a town-square overlooking the Potomac begging for forgiveness, but a smidgen of a mea culpa would not be unwelcome, and it would even show some character, dare I say). Further, at least I understand that our foreign policy is in need of critical course corrections (and not of the hitting the gas-pedal variety so as to create even more severe blunders). So I would never, ever be so arrogant as to mount a full-scale broad-side against a bipartisan task force trying to salvage something coherent from the Iraq wreckage—especially if some of the policies I feverishly advocated helped lead to it.

But no. For the neo-cons, like Trotskyites of yore, they are always right if only we had pursued their course without any deviationist cowardice (airstrikes on Iran, Damascus!, no to Bremer’s (so horrid!) “re-Baathification”, all A-OK if only we had handed the keys straight-away to Chalabi! and so on). At the end of the day, Glenn Greenwald sums it up much more succinctly than me:

Seeking input from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted to see it rage...even more strongly -- and, worse, if he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying everything and everyone in its path-- it would be the height of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen to what he has to say.


A final word, to anyone who has stuck with me through this lengthy screed. Look, we're in an awful situation in Iraq right now, and I think this country needs to try to come together some and focus on constructive policy recommendations given how grave the situation is. Therefore I am in favor (and of course I am biased, as my father is involved) of at least giving the Baker-Hamilton Commission a fair chance at producing their report (without cheap pot-shots) and seeing if the broad centers of both parties can perhaps broach their differences and unite via the ISG on a plausible way forward.

Predictably, the Baker-Hamilton Commission is getting hit from both the Left (who view it as a fig-leaf for a 'peace with honor' type withdrawal that will delay the immediate troop withdrawals they favor) and the Right (where fevered total victory types like Rubin see the Commission as a defeatist, appeasement-loving stab in the back that will cheer jihadists from Jakarta to Alhambra). In an era that seems a long, long time ago--politics were supposed to stop at the water's edge. That bipartisan tradition appears to be mostly (if not wholly) dead, of course, but now we find ourselves in the worst jam since Vietnam overseas and we really need to start pulling together in serious manner in the face of major strategic challenges. This is not to say we cannot air our differences, debate is the life-blood of our democracy, and it is imperative. But let's at least try to be constructive (which isn't to say I've not been guilty of broad-sides not infrequently, but I do try to balance them with contributions to the policy debate, and I've seen precious little of Rubin attempting to suggest credible policy alternatives of late, rather than carp rather unpersuasively from the sidelines).

This, in a nutshell, was the main reason I was so disgusted by Rubin's drive-by preemptive strike on the Baker-Hamilton Commission--not only because of the gross display of arrogance in criticizing those trying to put out a fire that many of his ideological fellow-travellers played a key part in setting alight (to use Greenwald's analogy)--but also because he spent so much time busily poisoning the well (see his aspersions of various ISG study group members in the linked piece) rather than being at all constructive. In a word, it was low, but these days, par with the course, I guess.

Note: Emphasis added throughout.

Posted by Gregory at 07:16 PM | Comments (33)

Department of Crude Agitprop


--An image accompanying a DoD web-site panegyric to Great Patriarch Uncle Don, which includes this gem: "(a) multinational coalition has liberated 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, with formation of representative governments and security forces." Mr. Secretary, what "representative" government do you speak of in Iraq today, the one that is capsizing before our very eyes? And whom does this "representative" government represent, dare I ask? This is outlandish hagiography, and in its total divorce from reality, it brings to mind another great Uncle's Potemkin-like poster campaigns:


--"Working in a new way; leading in a new way--Our production programme can and must be achieved."

Anatol Lieven:

The Bush administration’s ideological rhetoric concerning US policy in the Middle East has become separated from the policy itself to an extent almost reminiscent of the former Soviet Union. According to the rhetoric, the US has adopted democratisation as the core of its political strategy and made a clean break with its past strategy of propping up local dictatorships and playing one country and ethno-religious group against another.

In practice – especially since the latest conflict in Lebanon – US strategy relies entirely on the ability of pro-American authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to control the anger of their populations at US and Israeli policies. To help keep these Sunni regimes in line, Washington relies on their fear of an expansion of Iranian and Shia influence. This is precisely the dominant US strategy of the past generation, except for periods when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq replaced Iran as the chief regional bogeyman. President George W. Bush’s language of democracy is also accompanied by utter contempt for the views of potential voters in the region.

P.S. Come to think of it, I'm surprised Secretary Rumsfeld didn't list another item in his lengthy list of "accomplishments", namely authorization of innovative new 'interrogation' techniques. Or perhaps that's what he meant by this coy reference: "(s)uspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have revealed information that has helped thwart attacks against our troops, the American people and our allies." We'll have to pay quite a bit more attention to that one in coming years, no?

Posted by Gregory at 02:45 AM | Comments (14)

Read Spanish?

If so, check out this interview. The notion that culpability at Abu Ghraib (and beyond) only extended to one-star Janis Karpinski was always absurd. The role of two-stars and three-stars like Generals Miller and Sanchez needs to be much more fully investigated (beyond the information contained in the Schlesinger Report, among other Pentagon- authorized investigations), as does of course the role of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Democrats should make subpoenaing these three individuals, among others, a top priority. We need to hear, under oath, what role each had in authorizing specific interrogation techniques that violated the Geneva Conventions. Meantime, Laura's sure got a good eye--and that gentleman (see left-hand corner of the frame) needs to be subpoenaed too, I'd think. And soon. P.S. Karpinski calls Rumsfeld a "coward" in the El Pais interview. She's right. A man of courage and integrity takes responsibility, real responsibility, for outrages like those that occurred at Abu Ghraib--rather than scapegoat lower-downs.

Posted by Gregory at 01:54 AM | Comments (32)

November 25, 2006

The Neo-Con's Gross Amateurism

Stephen Holmes, reviewing Fukuyama's latest in the LRB, makes some very good points:

The neo-con argument goes roughly as follows. The US had to deploy its military might because American national security was (and is) threatened by the lack of democracy in the Arab Middle East. The premise behind this allegation is not the much debated notion that democracies seldom go to war with one another and, therefore, that democratisation makes an important contribution to the pacification of the globe. The neo-con argument is concerned not with relations among potentially warring states, but with class or group dynamics within a single state that may spill over and affect other countries adversely.

The thesis is that democracy is the most effective antidote to the kind of Islamic radicalism that hit the US on 9/11. Its exponents begin with the premise that tyranny cannot tolerate the public expression of social resentment that its abuses naturally produce. To preserve its grip, tyranny must therefore crush even modest stirrings of opposition, repressing dissidents and critics, with unstinting ferocity if need be. In the age of globalisation, however, repressed rebellions do not simply die out. They splash uncontrollably across international borders and have violent repercussions abroad. Middle Eastern rebellions have been so savagely and effectively repressed that rebels have been driven to experiment with an indirect strategy to overthrow local tyrannies and seize power. They have travelled abroad and targeted those they see as the global sponsors of their local autocrats.

On 9/11, this argument implies, the US woke up in the middle of someone else’s savage civil war. The World Trade Center was destroyed by foreign insurgents whose original targets lay in the Middle East. The explosive energy behind the attack came from Saudi and Egyptian rebels unable to oust local autocrats and lashing out in anger at those autocrats’ global protectors. Thus, the rationale for reaching ‘inside states’ is not the traditional need to replace hostile or un-cooperative rulers with more compliant successors (of the type Ahmed Chalabi was apparently slated to become), but rather to ‘create political conditions that would prevent terrorism’. The political condition most likely to prevent anti-American terrorism from arising, so the neo-cons allege, is democracy.

Their reasoning at this point becomes exasperatingly obscure and confused, but their guiding assumption is clear enough: democratic government channels social frustrations inside the system instead of allowing discontent and anger to fester outside. Autocratic governments in the Arab world have shown themselves capable of retaining power by sheer coercive force, but their counter-revolutionary efforts, under contemporary conditions, have serious ‘externalities’, especially the export of murderous jihad to the West. America’s security challenge is to shut down this export industry. To do so, the US must find a way to democratise the Middle East.

This convoluted and debatable argument played only a marginal role in the administration’s decision to invade Iraq. It plays a more substantial role in the current presentation of its ‘mission’ in Iraq, however. It is also a central focus of Fukuyama’s book. So how should we evaluate the idea? Is a democratic deficit in the Middle East the principal cause of anti-Western jihadism? And is democratisation a plausible strategy for preventing the export of political violence?

The first thing to say is that fighting terror by promoting democracy makes little sense as a justification of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Although the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt may indirectly fuel anti-Western jihad, in Iraq it has never done so. In non-democratic countries with which the US is allied (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), anti-regime violence naturally escalates or swerves into anti-American violence. The idea that a lack of democracy in countries overtly hostile to the US (such as Saddam’s Iraq or contemporary Iran) will have such an effect is logically implausible and unsupported by historical evidence.

To argue that creating democracy in Iraq will help defeat Islamic terrorism is to bank on a multi-stage process by which democracy, once established in Iraq, will spread to Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc by force of its inspiring example. Only then, after neighbouring dominoes (including governments allied with the US) begin to fall, would the democratisation of Iraq contribute seriously to draining the terrorists’ proverbial recruitment pool. Of course, such political revolutions, in the unlikely event that they actually erupted, would be wholly impossible to control or steer. That is reason enough to doubt that Cheney or Rumsfeld, for example, ever took seriously this frivolous bit of neo-con futurology.

The idea of a democratic cure for terrorism assumes that there are two separate causes of anti-American jihad: Middle Eastern autocracy, and unprincipled or opportunistic American backing for it. Anti-American jihad would subside, the theory implies, if either condition could be eliminated. Thus, the neo-con rationale for regime change in the Middle East seemingly justifies something much less radical, and presumably less difficult, than creating stable multiparty democracy in Mesopotamia: the gradual withdrawal of American support from the region’s corrupt oligarchies and oppressive autocracies. Putting daylight between the US and abusive Middle Eastern regimes should be enough to insulate America from the violent backlash such tyrannies produce.

Unfortunately, this pathway is blocked. The US cannot simply disengage from a region in which so many of its vital interests, including the steady flow of oil and the tracking down of terrorists, are at stake. Yet the paradox remains. From the impossibility of disengaging and the perils of engaging with autocrats, the neo-cons conclude that American interests require engagement with a democratic Middle East. The logic sounds impeccable at first. But it is based on the unfounded assumption that periodically elected governments in the region will necessarily be stable, moderate and legitimate, not to mention pro-American.

An even more fundamental argument against fighting terrorism by promoting democracy, however, is that no one in the US government has any idea how to promote democracy. Fukuyama accuses the neo-cons of chatting offhandedly about democratisation while failing to study or even leaf through the ‘huge academic and practitioner-based literature on democratic transitions’. Their lack of serious attention to the subject had an astonishing justification: ‘There was a tendency among promoters of the war to believe that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators.’ Democracy obviously has many social, economic, cultural and psychological preconditions, but those who thought America had a mission to democratise Iraq gave no thought to them, much less to helping create them. For their delicate task of social engineering, the only instrument they thought to bring along was a wrecking ball.

One might have thought that this ‘remove the lid and out leaps democracy’ approach was too preposterous ever to have been taken seriously. But it is the position that Fukuyama, with some evidence, attributes to neo-cons in and around the administration. They assumed, he writes, that the only necessary precondition for the emergence and consolidation of democracy is the ‘amorphous longing for freedom’ which President Bush, that penetrating student of human nature, detects in ‘every mind and every soul’. Their sociology of democracy boils down to the universal and eternal human desire not to be oppressed. If this were democracy’s only precondition, then Iraq would have no trouble making a speedy transition from clan-based savagery and untrammelled despotism to civilised self-restraint and collective self-rule: sceptics who harped on the difficulty of creating a government that would be both coherent and representative in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and tribally fragmented country, simply failed to appreciate the love of freedom in every human heart.

Neo-cons, Fukuyama implies, seldom do the hard work required to learn about the evolving political and social dynamics of specific societies. Instead, they over-personalise any ‘regime’ that they dream of destabilising, identifying it with a single reprehensible ruler who can, in principle, be taken out with a single airstrike. But here again they walk into a serious self-contradiction. One of their principal claims is that a bad regime will have long-lasting negative effects on the society it abuses. A cruel autocracy puts down ‘social roots’ and reshapes ‘informal habits’. Thus, ‘Saddam Hussein’s tyranny bred passivity and fatalism – not to mention vices of cruelty and violence.’ It is very likely, in other words, that Saddam unfitted the Iraqi people for democracy, for a time at least. This is a logical implication of the neo-cons’ theory of ‘regimes’, but not one they considered, presumably because it would have knocked the legs from under their idealistic case for war...

...The proposal to pull Mesopotamia into the modern world, he says, is based on a facile optimism reminiscent of 1960s liberalism and publicly rebutted by the original neo-cons. Progressive dreams are bound to be dashed on the hard realities of social habit. One of the fundamental goals of neo-conservatism, in its formative period, was to show that ‘efforts to seek social justice’ invariably leave societies ‘worse off than before’. They were especially ‘focused on the corroding effects of welfare on the character of the poor’. All distribution from the rich to the poor and from whites to blacks is inevitably counterproductive. Progressive attempts to reduce poverty and inequality, although well-intentioned, have ‘disrupted organic social relations’, such as residential segregation, triggering a violent backlash and failing to lift up the downtrodden. According to the neo-cons, it is wiser to concentrate on the symptoms, using police power and incarceration to discourage violent behaviour and protect civilised values.

The neo-cons, according to Fukuyama, never explored the relevance of such warnings to US foreign policy. Proponents of the Iraq war, very much like old-style liberal advocates of welfare, ‘sought worthy ends but undermined themselves by failing to recognise the limits of political voluntarism’. Their failure in Iraq was just as predictable as the failure of American liberals to improve the lives of poor American blacks. In short, the plans of today’s idealistic hawks for creating Iraqi democracy show how utterly they have betrayed the neo-con legacy. Perhaps the deepest irony is that their enthusiasm for destroying the status quo and overthrowing the powers that be (without giving much thought to how to replace them) recalls the institution-bashing antics of 1960s student radicals more than the counter-revolutionary posture of the founding fathers of neo-conservatism. [my emphasis]

I've posted extensive excerpts, but you should read the whole thing, as they say. I'll note too, I post this on a day when Dick Cheney, more or less hat in hand, is in Saudi Arabia looking for any assistance the Kingdom can render to stabilize Iraq and counter Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon (still foolishly without engaging in direct dialogue with them). Doubtless the 'more rubble, less trouble' crowd, and the feverish 'end all evil' brigades at AEI will view this as another sign of American weakness. And, to an extent, they will be right. But their fanciful, utopic remedies are no real alternative, of course. But this won't stop them from clamorously hollering and complaining and writing their breathless little op-eds. This won't stop them from having dim cable anchors and radio talk show hosts ask them stupid questions while credulously lapping up their half-cocked answers. In short, the moronic inferno will proceed on in all its glory. Would that this only constitute but burlesque farce and cheap entertainment, save that some of these personages still (amazingly) wield not insignificant influence in the Beltway.

NB: For a pretty good example of what passes for foreign policy "analysis" these days, see this laughably underinformed news anchor plying his trade (note the hyperbolic reference to the "biblically evil" Ahmadi-Nejad being "far worse" than Hitler, at the end of the 'interview') with one of the more die-hard neo-cons down in DC (bonus references by the interviewee to 50 Cent and, later, "free ice-cream"--"state workers" of the world unite and getcha yer' Haagen Dazs!--as he, rather weakly, attempts to sketch a way forward on Iran policy). Do go listen, while keeping in mind also that, while some in the Iranian youthful demographic of grafitti-scribbling 50 Cent aficionados doubtless might not like aspects of the clerical regime--they sure as hell would like American attempts to stoke internal discord to install an American puppet far less, and, like it or not, Iranians across the political spectrum believe a nuclear program, if not weaponized nuclear arms, constitutes an inalienable right of the Iranian nation, not least given that countries like Pakistan, India and Israel have nukes. But I digress. Click the link for some ribald fun on this Saturday (and ignore the unconnected footage after the interview which, for some reason, was part of the "YouTube" video):



Seeking input from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted to see it rage forever, even more strongly -- and, worse, if he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying everything and everyone in its path-- it would be the height of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen to what he has to say.

What he said.

Posted by Gregory at 06:12 PM | Comments (69)

Probable U.S.-Syrian Discussion Points

Itamar Rabinovich sketches out the broad parameters of discussion that would need to be broached should high level direct dialogue between Washington and Damascus resume (incidentally, often lost in the din about 'should we talk to Syria?' is the fact that, unlike Iran of course, we have not ruptured diplomatic relations, but merely recalled our Ambassador after the Hariri assassination, meaning we presently have a charge d'affaires and active Embassy in country):

--The bilateral relations between the U.S. and Syria. These relations are presently at a nadir. Bush and his administration consider Assad and his government a hostile entity that is assisting the anti-American "rebellion" in Iraq, supporting Palestinian and Lebanese terror, and trying to destroy Lebanon's sovereignty and the stability of Fouad Siniora's government. President Assad and his regime, on the other hand, believe Bush's U.S. is trying to bring them down. An American-Syrian dialogue would start by restoring the relationship to its 1990 level. Syria would then seek an American promise not to undermine the regime, an improved atmosphere and an upgraded relationship.

--The Lebanese issue. Here we can anticipate problems. Syria considers Lebanon a strategic asset and a legitimate area of influence, while the U.S. is determined to protect Lebanese sovereignty and the 2005 anti-Syrian "revolution." Syria wants the investigation into the Hariri assassination shelved, while the U.S. is determined to resolve it. Bush is an ideological president who considers spreading democracy an important mission. The establishment of the Siniora government was a very significant achievement for him, as was the "expulsion" of Syria from Lebanon. For him, having the U.S. recognize Syria's "special status" in Lebanon would be difficult and embarrassing. Naturally, the decision to establish a special court to investigate the assassinations of Hariri and Gemayel are serious obstacles.

--The Golan Heights and relations with Israel. Assad wants the Golan back. Unfortunately, he must be seen as working toward this end, whether through negotiations or an armed conflict. The U.S. favors the principle of "land for peace" but has no desire to reward Assad, at least not at this stage. If an overall American-Syria understanding is reached, Bush will probably change his mind. However, at the moment the clear message from Washington to Jerusalem is that the U.S. is opposed to a renewal of Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

--Relations with Iran. Various Syrian spokesmen tell their interlocutors and the Western media that the alliance between Syria and Iran is not insoluble and that Damascus has been pushed into Tehran's arms out of a lack of choice, due to American hostility. These claims can be tested only by a U.S.-Syrian dialogue.

--The ongoing crisis in Iraq. The U.S. expects Syria first and foremost to hermetically seal its border with Iraq, and thus prevent the infiltration of weapons and fighters. More generally, it will want to see Syria as a partner in stabilizing Iraq, such that it can withdraw its forces without a sense of defeat and an authentic Iraqi government can function. Syria is interested in a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and wants to see a friendly government across its eastern border. Syria currently considers the Iraqi arena a lever for counter-pressure on the U.S. and cooperation with Iran. But in the long run, the Iraqi chaos may threaten Syria's stability as well.

The Lebanese thicket would arguably be the most difficult to navigate, not least given Pierre Gemayel's recent assassination and reports like these.

Posted by Gregory at 05:58 AM | Comments (12)

Democracy Falls Victim to Foreign Policy Realism?

I think of Philip Stephens as one of the best columnists in the business, but I thought this column was somewhat off. I'm glad I wasn't the only one. Steve Clemons explains why.

Posted by Gregory at 02:26 AM | Comments (4)

November 24, 2006

Burned to Death Outside Their Mosques

Sunni worshippers have been burned to death in Baghdad today:

In one attack, black-clad gunmen grabbed six Sunnis as they left worship services, doused them with kerosene and burned them alive near an Iraqi Army post.

Given events like these, how can we possibly take seriously a sitting Vice-President who says the Iraqis are doing "remarkably well"? How can we possibly take seriously a Secretary of Defense who preens his DoD "(l)iberated 26.7 million Iraqis"? How can we possibly take seriously a President of the United States who says, with Vladimir Putin standing beside him: "I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world, like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same." What kind of freedom of religion does one have when you can be burned to death outside of your places of worship by vengeful mobs massacring your religious kin?

I mean, are there no senior public servants with the courage to tell the President, very directly, how awful the situation has become--so as to better snap him out of his 'freedom is on the march' reverie? Can we no longer expect even a modicum of reality-based competence and seriousness from our most senior political leaders? Don't 300 million Americans deserve better than this, finally? They're fed up, of course, and have registered their disapproval in the recent election, so we now at least have the prospects of real (rather than totally supine) Congressional oversight. But while these investigations are critical, the crisis in Iraq is now, and I have zero faith in either Rumsfeld (still with us for a couple months) or Cheney's ability to grapple with this situation. We desperately need a Wise Men style intervention, and some of us are hoping that such an intervention might be provided via the Iraq Study Group. But they will not wield any miraculous and easy-to-implement panaceas, and regardless the President is so bull-headedly messianic no one knows if he'll even accept some of their most important recommendations (not to mention his grossly simplistic world-view too). In short, we are facing a crisis of leadership in this country, and it's very sad indeed that the most powerful democracy on earth cannot find better leaders than those we find ourselves with today.


Some accounts treat as unconfirmed rumor that some Sunni worshipers were burned to death. From the WaPo:

Friday's reprisal attacks underscore how powerful the Mahdi Army and other militias have become in Iraq, operating above the law, spreading violence even under an indefinite 24-hour lockdown of the capital.

By Friday evening, the attacks were still unfolding. With no other alternative, many Sunnis were hoping for the intervention of U.S. forces.

"Up till now we are waiting for the American forces, and they haven't shown up yet," said Salman al-Zobaye, imam of al-Hashab mosque, in a telephone interview. An attack on the mosque by Shiite militiamen killed four guards.

Throughout Friday, rumors of new atrocities committed against Sunnis floated across Baghdad, including one in which six Sunnis were doused with kerosene and torched to death in Hurriyah . But two local imams, in an interview, denied such an attack took place.

But there was no shortage of confirmed incidents. In Hurriyah, militiamen Friday morning expelled Sunni families who were living near tea warehouses, and more than 90 Sunni families received letters threatening them if they did not leave their houses within 72 hours, authorities said.

Most news organizations, however, appear to be going with the story.

Posted by Gregory at 10:36 PM | Comments (16)

"Harmony" vs "Democracy"

Roger Cohen:

The American-dominated unipolar world that emerged from the abrupt end of the Cold War is already history. In retrospect, it will be viewed as the 17-year interlude that produced the Iraq war and much disquiet before the emergence of a new bipolar world whose centers are Washington and Beijing.

Those centers are unequal for the moment, U.S. power being greater, but the China of President Hu Jintao has now come far enough on the road to superpower status and the articulation of how its muscle will be used to establish a new bipolarity. Countries once again have options: the American road or the Chinese.

At the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting here, this new world was apparent. President George W. Bush was largely hidden from view for security reasons while Hu set out his vision of "peaceful development." His speech dwelt heavily on "harmony," a Chinese buzzword, and called for an increase in "official development assistance with no strings attached."

We all know what the American "strings" are: democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law - the whole Iraq-tarnished lexicon of the luminous "city upon a hill." When the West offers money or simply its embrace, it wants these things in return.

China has no such preoccupations or scruples. If the Washington consensus is ideologically interventionist, the emerging Beijing consensus looks ideologically agnostic. It prizes peace, development and trade. It cares not a hoot what a country's political or economic model is, so long as oil and raw materials are flowing.

Faith-based adventurism via blind ideological interventionism seems to be underperforming Beijing's ideological agnosticism of late, doesn't it? Make no mistake, America must always try to pursue a robust human rights agenda as part of its diplomatic efforts overseas. But we don't appear to like those horrid (and so angry!) turban-headed folks getting voted into power in places like Lebanon and Palestine, have made a ham of Iraq's democratization, and a good deal of our foreign policy "experts" populating the (increasingly provincial) Beltway appear to believe the greatest threat facing the planet is something called "Islamofascism" (little matter whether we speak of al-Qaeda terrorists, or Shi'a extremists, or aggrieved Muslims facing occupation, or even Baathism, which assorted think-tank starlets conflate with "Islamofascism" too, despite the fact that the intellectual founder of the Baath was Christian Michel Aflaq!).

In these gross over-simplications--in the so empty group-think of cheap hustlers pimping their breezy mono-causal narratives about the 'region'--we are actually helping sacrifice the hope of further democratization, albeit accomplished in more realistic fashion--while China (and Russia) increasingly out-maneuver us on the global stage (though unlike Cohen, I wouldn't rank China a competing bipolar power, at least not yet) caring not a whit for democratization.

What a shame keener minds aren't focused on the challenges we face at the present hour, yes what a shame we are facing such a dearth of talent and fresh thinking in the foreign policy field. And the fact that many of the most naive democracy exportation commentators are still taken seriously, especially after the Iraq fiasco, is a farcical sham. While I get flak for pointing this out heatedly at times, I feel compelled to continue doing so, so as to make an (admitedly miniscule) contribution to helping American foreign policy move away from the caricature-like ideological strait-jacket it finds itself in (more on this very soon, including discussion of an excellent new book out by John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven titled Ethical Realism).

Posted by Gregory at 05:29 PM | Comments (14)

November 23, 2006

The Iraq Conundrum on this Thanksgiving

Mark Danner, in a must-read NYRB piece, quotes George Kennan, speaking before his death in September of 2002: "Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end." Well, we went in, and now almost four years on, still none of us know where we are going to end. On this day we give ritualistic thanks here in the United States, there is little to give thanks for in Iraq. Rather it is a season of constant mourning, with the Iraqi people facing a cruel onslaught of cascading, unabated violence. Today a series of car bombings (including a mortar attack) led to at least 145 dead (the toll is rising hourly--UPDATE: currently 202 dead, 257 wounded), and hundreds more wounded in Sadr City. In retaliation, Shias attacked the important Abu Hanifa mosque in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad, frequented by Sunnis, with mortar shells. These events clearly constitute the most devastating blow to any hopes of avoiding full-scale civil war in Iraq since the bombing of the Askariyya Mosque in Samarra. In short, events are outpacing policymakers and think-tank gab-fests and study groups and all the rest of it, with Iraq in a critical state, tottering on the precipice of a full-blown civil war.

I have recently sketched out a rough strategy that I believe is the last best hope to avoid greater carnage in Iraq, and it includes (most controversially) injecting tens of thousands more troops into Baghdad to attempt to stabilize the critical center of the country (more on where we'd find these troops and what they'd do here). But I must wrestle with the reality that neither I, nor anyone else advocating such a course, really know whether it would work (I mean over the long-term, rather than merely providing some relatively marginal short-term stability). And so I must ask myself (and indeed anyone else seriously advocating such a course, particularly as such a move would doubtless lead to greater U.S. fatalities, and perhaps only delay massive intra-Iraqi carnage): does such a final 'surge' style troop deployment really have a chance of turning around the monstrously horrid security situation in Baghdad caused in large part by the disgraced and discredited and (thankfully) dead Rumsfeld Doctrine, or would it merely serve as some fig-leaf for some 'peace with honor' style withdrawal? (translation: we gave it one last shot(!), but the Iraqis couldn’t meet their ‘benchmarks’ or ‘deadlines’ or whatever verbiage du jour we demand of the beleaguered people we ‘liberated’--as if throwing a people into the clutches of an unremitting orgy of anarchic sectarian violence constitutes anything remotely resembling a liberation).

I cannot know, although I sincerely believe we can realistically improve the situation in Iraq per my recommendations of a week or so back, otherwise I wouldn’t have written them. This said it would not be uncharitable to say that my opinion might be worth something akin to a warm bucket of spit, since I was an early supporter of this war effort, in hindsight the biggest blunder in American foreign policy since at least the Vietnam War. Still, I have to write what I believe, and what I honestly believe still today is that there is a chance, even at this late hour, to rectify some of the colossal errors we've made to date. But yes, none of us should pretend that there isn't a risk that the proverbial gates of hell have already opened, and that there is very little we can do about it now. That's the gig is up, if you will, so that we need to pull up and go. If that's the view, it's rather hard to disagree with David Rieff who writes in last week's TNR symposium on Iraq:

Mocking Senator John Kerry is practically an obligatory sport in Washington these days. But Kerry's eloquent words to that Senate committee more than 30 years ago are as relevant today as they were then. Who would want to be the last soldier to die for a mistake? Would you want anyone you loved to be such a person? Would you volunteer yourself for that terrible fate?

At the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968, while his policemen were beating up the demonstrators along the Loop and in Lincoln Park, Mayor Richard Daley apparently told Lyndon Johnson that it was time to pull the troops out of Vietnam, once and for all. "How am I to do this?" Johnson asked pleadingly. To which Daley is said to have replied: "You put the fucking troops on the fucking planes and you get them out of there!"

Apart from protecting the Kurds, whose possible acquisition of statehood may be the only good news of this whole dreadful adventure--America's Sicilian Expedition, I fear--there is no longer anything we can do. And the Kurds can probably look after themselves anyway. It is time to put the fucking troops on the fucking planes. Now! Before any more of our children die for their country's hubris.

Why do I still resist this course of action? Because I know that a precipitous American withdrawal will remove any question at all about Iraq's future. If we go, the increasingly brutal civil will get far worse. This we know, and we know it for sure. Beyond this, but relatedly, I am not totally persuaded a massive Iraqi civil war is inevitable. For instance, it is worth pointing out Iraq tribal affiliations have trumped sectarian allegiances in the past, indeed tribal links can not infrequently cross sectarian lines, with Shi'a and Sunnis part of the same tribe. I am therefore perhaps not as dubious as others that, with a continued U.S. presence, it might not be (if just) possible to walk Iraq back from the brink of even grosser carnage with casualties perhaps rising into the millions. Reza Aslan, writing in the same TNR symposium as David, says (contra those advocating partition, a group including distinguished foreign policy analysts like Les Gelb who tend to believe a civil war is a foregone conclusion and propose partition as the only plausible way to avoid it):

On the surface, partition seems like an attractive option. After all, the argument goes, Iraq is already bitterly divided along sectarian lines. Partitioning the country would only formalize what is taking place on the ground.

But, despite portrayals to the contrary, Iraq is not so cleanly divided along sectarian lines. The homogenization of Iraq's neighborhoods results more from a lack of security than from a hardening of ethnic or sectarian identities. In a country where the police and armed forces have failed to provide any semblance of protection, allying oneself with a sect, if not a sectarian militia, has become quite literally a matter of life and death. Nevertheless, most Iraqis continue to identify themselves first and foremost as members of individual clans, many of which cross ethnic and sectarian lines through intermarriage and ancient alliances.

In any case, partitioning Iraq would in no way solve the country's most intractable problem: how to divide oil revenue evenly. Considering that the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields reside almost exclusively in the Shia south and the Kurdish north, it is not difficult to imagine how partition could lead to the permanent exclusion of the Sunnis from what is practically Iraq's sole source of revenue. This would likely result in an even greater sense of alienation among the Sunnis and, consequently, increased sectarian violence. Partition could even lead to a regional war, as Iraq's neighbors, such as Turkey and Iran, are forced to deal with the chaotic aftermath of a fractured Iraq.

The bottom line is this: if the gates of hell have opened, and there is nothing we can do about it, we must look more at an 'over the horizon' troop presence (not in Kurdistan, at least in large numbers, for reasons I'll detail separately) in an attempt to contain each of al Qaeda and growing Iranian aspirations in Iraq. But if we believe we have a fighting chance to stave off a total Iraqi meltdown (yes, even in the face of 1400 year old Shia-Sunni rivalries, and long extant Kurdish-Arab hatreds, and the nefarious intent of Iraq's neighbors) if we believe we can make a final go at changing the course of our involvement in Iraq--aided by policymakers engaging with reality rather than fantasy and thus improving our strategy (Gates rather than Rumsfeld, for instance, though we still have an increasingly haggard, discredited Cheney with us who apparently believes things in Iraq are going "remarkably well")--then I still (reluctantly) believe we cannot yet put our troops on those planes home. Still, I'd be lying if I didn't say I wrestle with that question frequently, given my fear that our massive earlier errors may have already condemned the Iraq War to irremediable failure. As Mark Danner writes:

Nearly four years into the Iraq war, as we enter the Time of Proposed Solutions, the consequences of those early decisions define the bloody landscape. By dismissing and humiliating the soldiers and officers of the Iraqi army our leaders, in effect, did much to recruit the insurgency. By bringing far too few troops to secure Saddam's enormous arms depots they armed it. By bringing too few to keep order they presided over the looting and overwhelming violence and social disintegration that provided the insurgency such fertile soil. By blithely purging tens of thousands of the country's Baathist elite, whatever their deeds, and by establishing a muscle-bound and inept American occupation without an "Iraqi face," they created an increasing resentment among Iraqis that fostered the insurgency and encouraged people to shelter it. And by providing too few troops to secure Iraq's borders they helped supply its forces with an unending number of Sunni Islamic extremists from neighboring states. It was the foreign Islamists' strategy above all to promote their jihadist cause by provoking a sectarian civil war in Iraq; by failing to prevent their attacks and to protect the Shia who became their targets, the US leaders have allowed them to succeed.

In this Time of Proposed Solutions, let us all at least proceed with humility (the grotesque spectacle of arrogant ass-covering we are witnessing among the usual suspects in Washington is appalling, if woefully predictable, and I'll doubtless feel compelled to turn to this parade of vanities full-bore shortly). None of us have some magic answer, but however we got here, we face an immense and complicated mess today. As Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it. And so here we are, hoping against hope a Proposed Solution will move us in more positive direction, while avoiding a too hasty withdrawal that will leave Iraq to the merciless demons we helped unleash by going into Iraq without even the semblance of a serious plan. After all, convincingly midwifing a transition from a brutally repressive neo-Stalinist society towards a viable democracy constituted an immense challenge by any measure, but instead it was characterized by a total dearth of serious historical perspective and regional expertise, in favor of airy powerpoint charts, empty bureaucratic squabbles and grandstanding, and reckless faith-based adventure marked by hubris and swagger and grotesque negligence. The question is, what can be salvaged at this late hour, given this record of bitter dissapointment? And that is a question with no easy answer, I fear.

UPDATE: How bad is the security situation in Baghdad? So bad that Sunni IDPs are fleeing to Fallujah daily. I suppose this speaks relatively well of the security situation in Fallujah, so let that be the little silver lining for today, but note that if I had to choose between massive instability in Fallujah versus Baghdad, I'd choose the former in a heartbeat.

As far as Baghdad residents coming here -- my estimate right now is about 150 a day. And we track that very closely, because we have in Fallujah, for lack of a better term, a gated community. There are six entry points into the city of Fallujah, and you cannot drive into the city of Fallujah unless you go through one of these entry points. Well, you can't even get through an entry point unless you have an ID resident badge. And we have what we call a Fallujah Development Center where we make ID cards for what we call our IDPs, or for those that want to seek their refuge in the city of Fallujah.

What we don't have in Fallujah is we don't have refugee camps or IDP camps. We don't have tents or any of that. The Fallujahans are very giving, and the Fallujahans accept these people. We've opened up apartments. And again, one of the things, as I mentioned -- the city's booming. There's a lot of new housing going up, apartment buildings are opening, but even some of the damaged structures that still remain, we are able to rehab them to a position where they can accept some of these families. But by and large, they are being welcomed, and they are being housed, fed by families in Fallujah. And again, the tribal connectivity here, as you can imagine among the Sunni, they have no problem bringing in these people.

It must be very grim indeed in some of the Sunni neighborhoods of Baghdad these past months--grim enough to have to pack up and head to the "gated community" of Fallujah.

Posted by Gregory at 10:18 PM | Comments (67)

November 21, 2006

In-House News

Apologies for being out of pocket, but I've been totally consumed with the pre-Thanksgiving rush at work. To the extent I've got some downtime over the holiday (as yet unsure), please look for some new posts then.

Posted by Gregory at 05:07 AM

November 14, 2006

Iraq: A Final (Bipartisan) Push?

With the nomination of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, the important role of the Baker-Hamilton Commission in forging a new approach in Iraq becomes even clearer. Gates was formerly one of the principals of the Commission, and now finds himself thrust into a critical policy-making role, one where he might well end up implementing some of the Commission's recommendations. The challenge that James Baker and Lee Hamilton (the co-chairs of the so-called Iraq Study Group (“ISG”)) must now grapple with is how to forge a bipartisan consensus on Iraq policy. Without one, the Commission will not be able to issue a recommendation that meets with the approval of all the Commission members (who range from Democrats like Leon Panetta and Vernon Jordan, on the one hand, to Republicans like Ed Meese and Alan Simpson on the other). The goal is clear: recommend a credible and actionable game plan on how to move forward, while helping a divided American nation find broad, if elusive, consensus regarding what to do next in Iraq.

A huge challenge, to be sure, but the good news is that the last best hope for Iraq might well involve a mixture of policy positions some of which are popular with Democrats and others with Republicans. For instance, the Democrats (not to mention quite a few non-ideological Republicans) will find engaging Syria and Iran in high-level, direct talks of interest. In addition, an attempt to provide deeper autonomy to the main Iraqi groups in relatively secure, organized manner will appeal to leading Democratic foreign policy players like Richard Holbrooke who have been influenced by Les Gelb’s calls for an Iraqi confederation. Republicans, on the other hand, will find talk of bolstering the remnants of central authority in Baghdad of interest, so as to keep alive the prospects of a unitary state, as well as increasing troop deployments in Baghdad, so as to not have to rotate forces out of Anbar Province. And both Democrats and Republicans will find some common ground with regard to embedding more U.S. military advisors with Iraqi units to enhance the training and equipping effort, hammering out an oil revenue sharing protocol among the key Iraqi constituencies, working to better disarm and disband the militias, more attentively monitoring growing Turkish-Kurdish tensions, and more comprehensively backstopping national reconciliation efforts.

The most contentious issue, of course, will be what to do with the approximately 140,000 troops in Iraq. Some observers, including this one, believe that forces must be increased by not fewer than 30,000-50,000 additional men, at least so as to provide for a temporary massive ‘surge’ style operation in Baghdad. This, however, not only will put greater strain on the military, but also will be hugely controversial with Democrats who see their victory in the recent elections as a mandate to begin troop withdrawals in Iraq. To persuade the Democrats to entertain introducing greater troops into Iraq, so as to have a fighting chance to re-assert order in Baghdad (an absolutely critical goal)--the Baker-Hamilton Commission will likely have to introduce the notion of benchmarks--so that Democrats can point to achievement of certain goalposts as constituting conditions for continued deployment of significant numbers of troops.

The obvious question this begs, however, is what happens if the benchmarks aren’t met? While Republicans must resist any automatic triggering of troop withdrawals based on failure to achieve benchmarks, they should keep in mind that America's greatest leverage in Iraq might well now be the very act of threatening the Iraqis with our too precipitous withdrawal (even Shi’a militias like the Badr Brigades must be somewhat concerned about the prospects of Sunni insurgents still putting up a hard fight, just as Sunnis will be worried about a wave of unfettered Shi’a revanchism—so that all but the most radical factions, even if they don’t say so loudly publicly--aren’t yet ready to see the Americans leave the country, particularly overly expeditiously). This means the Democratic concept of benchmarks could well be used adeptly to ratchet up pressure on the Iraqis to achieve goals ranging from the disarming of militias to agreeing an equitable oil revenue sharing scheme, so that some Republicans might see some value in it.

All the above aside, however, I will stress again in these cyber-pages that a dramatic move to regionalize our approach to the Iraq issue is desperately needed. Not only will this signal to the American public that ‘stay the course’ is over and done with, it will also convince skeptical European capitals and chanceries that we are truly moving in a new direction, not merely providing a fig-leaf for a sequenced withdrawal that does not constitute a convincing new plan (offering Europeans and others non-discriminatory access to reconstruction bids is also advisable on this score). In my view, and as I’ve previously stated, we should convene a major Iraq Contact Group consisting of the Americans, British, Germans, French, Russians and Chinese—with full participation 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 some of the very best envoys the country has at its disposal.

One critical priority must be addressing directly the wider regional tensions Iraq has exacerbated so that the conflict does not spill over 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 (still not convincing enough) efforts to 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) engage 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 worst of the Shi’a militias (lately groups splintering away from Moktada-al-Sadr), 5) dialogue more closely with Turkey to assure that her vital interests are not being imperiled by Kurdish resurgence, and 6) get 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 Iraq crisis.

Many readers ask: what will we gain from direct discussions with Syria and Iran? I can think of several actions, without limitation, that the Syrians could take if we extended various carrots to them (such as facilitating a return to negotations with the Israelis over the Golan Heights issue), including: 1) making the Syrian-Iraqi border less porous, 2) reducing Iraqi Baath money floating about Syrian banks and thus ultimately getting to insurgents, 3) cutting down on former deviationist-type Iraqi Baath who fled to Syria during Saddam's regime trying to cut a non-Saddamite, neo-Baath resurgence in Iraq, and 4) inducing Damascus to be more cooperative with Maliki's government so as to help stabilize the national government in Baghdad. As for the Iranians, it's no secret they are hedging their bets and, not only supporting Shi'a militias, but also Sunni insurgents. Similar inducements (mixed with the specter of punitive actions) could get the Iranians to reduce support to some of the groups causing us the worst problems, whether Sunni or Shi'a. Neither Damascus nor Teheran want a total meltdown in Iraq--which would also involve large refugee flows to both their countries--countries with their own somewhat disgruntled minorities (Azeris in Iran) or indeed majorities (Sunnis in Syria). In diplomacy, as in life, you talk to your opponents on occasion to get results. Hope and 'they know what to do' isn't a plan.

In the above context, I also believe it is high time for America to reclaim the mantle of “honest broker” in the Arab-Israeli dispute, not only to reduce the horrific human suffering on both sides in the Holy Land (but of late particularly among the Gazans), but also to help provide for improved regional dynamics that would better allow important countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to more easily align themselves with American objectives in the region. The most critical objective, of course, is to stabilize Iraq, which is closely linked to a related goal of preventing an overly resurgent Iran from wielding too much power as something of a local hegemon bestriding the Persian Gulf via too much lebensraum in Iraq. In this, our Arab allies can probably be doing more to help us, if we do a bit more to help them. This does not mean appeasing the Arabs on the backs of the Israelis, however. American Administrations across both parties remain steadfastly committed to Israel’s existence and security, and nothing I recommend here would jeopardize these strong bonds. If anything, Israel’s security would actually be enhanced if the peace process were to make progress so as to improve dynamics between the parties, to include allowing for a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt, better relations with a potential national unity government in Ramallah, and even improved relations with Damascus and Beirut.

In short, a final and convincing attempt to stabilize Iraq, via a combination of autonomy devolving to the regions but with powers related to border control, national defense, oil revenue sharing, and foreign policy all remaining the province of a sitting national government in Baghdad--one strongly backed by the collective might of the international community--must be seriously considered (to include a convincing road-map for the regions to move towards greater centralization at a future date, of which more another time). This will require troop increases in the Baghdad area (but with the introduction of benchmark concepts as palliative for Democrats) which, make no mistake, will be difficult to ask the American people—exhausted by three plus years of war and increasingly uncertain of Iraq's broader utility in the war on terror (itself a concept in need of a significant rethink).

As mentioned, some ideas will appeal better to Democrats, others to Republicans. But the broad center of American society likely realizes that a rapid-fire withdrawal from Iraq will lead to a massive, full-blown civil war that will lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands more Iraqis, perhaps even ultimately millions. Can America allow that country to erupt into total chaos? What would it mean for the region’s stability? What would it mean for the reputation of this country? What of all the blood and treasure that has been expended these past years? Will it have been for naught? Yes, who are we in the cheap chattering classes to ask another soldier, to paraphrase John Kerry, to be the last man to die for a mistake? But can we be sure one last attempt to stabilize Iraq, undertaken on a broad bipartisan basis, might not be the best way to honor, not only our fallen men and women, but also those still serving in this so difficult war, and those who might be deployed in a final push for victory through 2007? And do we not owe the Iraqis, who lost a horrid dictator only to gain anarchy and mass carnage--do we not owe them one last attempt at establishing a semblance of order and the serious prospect of a viable polity there?

Posted by Gregory at 05:37 AM | Comments (216)

November 12, 2006

Against Troop Increases Before He Was For Them...

It's amusing to see Glenn Reynolds breathlessly linking to this Bill Stuntz piece calling for more troops in Iraq. Back in the day, of course, Reynolds was busily carrying water for Rumsfeld and tut-tutting that more troops weren't the answer.

Glenn Reynolds: against troop increases in Iraq before he was for them! Anyway, it's good to know that the 'more rubble, less trouble' crowd is re-appraising its stance on our troop posture in Mesopotamia--a good 2-3 years late. Good show, Glenn!

Posted by Gregory at 04:35 PM | Comments (53)

The Post-Election Hammer

At the end of a Michael Abramowitz/Thomas Ricks piece on the ISG, this interesting snippet:

[Bill] Kristol related a curious anecdote from his September appearance before the panel to promote a plan to provide more troops for security in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Then-panel member Robert M. Gates--who quit the group Friday after Bush nominated him as defense secretary-- asked Kristol why he thought the president was so determined to stick with Donald H. Rumsfeld as the Pentagon chief.

Kristol replied that he was mystified -- at which point, as he recalled it, Baker interjected with the comment, "Well, you can't expect the president to do anything until after the election."

Guess not.

P.S. I'll have more on certain facets of this Ricks' piece shortly.

MORE: Sanger/Shane in the NYT:

President Bush selected Robert M. Gates as his new defense secretary in part to close a long-running rift between the Defense Department and the State Department that has hobbled progress on Iraq, keeping the two agencies at odds on issues ranging from reconstruction to detaining terrorism suspects, according to White House officials and members of Mr. Gates’s inner circle.

While Mr. Gates, a former director of central intelligence, had long been considered for a variety of roles, over the past two months Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, quietly steered the White House toward replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld with Mr. Gates, who had worked closely with Ms. Rice under the first President Bush. One senior participant in those discussions, who declined to be identified by name while talking about internal deliberations, said, “everyone realizes that we don’t have much time to get this right” and the first step is to get “everyone driving on the same track.”

White House officials said that goal may be difficult to accomplish in the seventh year of an administration. Ms. Rice and Mr. Rumsfeld never managed to resolve their differences, especially after their arguments over the handling of the occupation came into public view in late summer 2003. As national security adviser during Mr. Bush’s first term, Ms. Rice was unable to halt a war between the State Department and the Pentagon that put senior officials in the departments in a state of constant conflict.

The question now is whether it is simply too late to achieve President Bush’s goal of a stable and democratic Iraq, even if Mr. Gates and Ms. Rice are able to work together as smoothly in altering policy as they did 15 years ago on a very different kind of problem, managing the American response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Posted by Gregory at 03:49 PM | Comments (17)

Quote of the Day


"The tears of the world are a constant quality. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh."--Samuel Beckett

(Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson)

Posted by Gregory at 03:46 AM | Comments (2)

All Quiet On the Northern Front?

Well, watch Kirkuk, of course.

Posted by Gregory at 03:17 AM | Comments (4)

November 11, 2006

B.D.'s Party Allegiances

I've been getting a lot of accusatory E-mail to the effect that I was never a Republican, that I'm a "Soros Democrat" (whatever that means), that I should cease and desist from proclaiming some feigned 'come to Damascus' moment of chastened conversion on these blog pages. Well, hate to break it to you, but that's just not right. While, 'tis true, I am not some hyper-partisan loyalist who'll support a specific party come what may (I tend to support specific candidates rather than the party line ticket), as it turns out, and at least for the Presidentials, I did end up supporting Reagan in '80/'84, Bush 41 in '88 and '92, Dole in '96, and Bush 43 in 2000 and (gulp) 2004.

So my rooting for a Democratic Congress was not borne of my being a stealth Democrat, but rather because I thought we had an Administration that had manifested itself to be uniquely reckless, at least as compared to predecessor Administrations I'd seen in my political lifetime (I was too young for Nixon, but suffice it to say that while he committed some mega-missteps, at least he and Kissinger had brains). And still in 2008, I'd likely rather support a Chuck Hagel, say, than a Hillary Clinton, all things considered, though I am open to analyzing Hillary's bid (McCain's increasingly worries me, for reasons I'll be detailing doubtless with much frequency as '08 approaches, though if he credibly advertises that he'll revise the CIA torture carve-out and evidences sanity on prospective future foreign adventures, I might end up supporting him), but the problem is Hagel types are considered weak-kneed appeasers by our Beltway party commissars, so busily apportioning out acceptability ratings based on litmus tests linked to requisite levels of mad-cap hawkishness (speaking to Damascus, minus 10 pts, to Teheran, minus 50, and so on). Anyway, call me mean names if you must, but the accusations that are steadily growing in my mail-box are rather bogus, I'm afraid.

In addition, as further evidencing that I trended heavily Republican in the past, below you'll find a picture of me with Bush 41 I thought not inappropriate to post on this Saturday, what with all the heady Poppy-esque Restoration talk in the air (the picture was taken at a London fund-raising event). Yes, I'll admit it, I was and am a fan of decent men like George Herbert Walker Bush. They are not rapturist end-comers a la frothing Schiavo brigades, they are not fanciful neo-con utopians, they are not rabidly under-informed 'more rubble, less trouble' know-nothings, they balance democratization objectives with the realist insight that other priorities like order and security and basic economic necessities and settlement of regional conflicts might sometimes be even more critical than that which we breathlessly call 'freedom' (a seemingly magical elixir we are so hell-bent on introducing on the front-end of a Bootian neo-colonialist bayonet to those we are so intent on saving from themselves), and they display a Burkean respect for tradition and occasional incrementalism rather than permanent revolutionary zeal.

As for all the related poo-pooing I've espied of late of Brent Scowcroft (another predictable target as the Bush 41 restoration gains speed), as someone in love with coddling dictators, this is a rank straw-man, one that commenters here like to lob about playing Peter Beinart (but with less brains). Scowcroft is much more complex than this caricature, not that I care too much about persuading the amusing legions of Scowcroft-bashers otherwise, frankly, who appear to be dusting off their blowhard talking points on this with increasing frequency of late in the talk-radio-like swaths of 'right' Blogistan (lest we forget, he nailed Iraq and how it would play out pretty solidly before the war in the pages of the WSJ, didn't he)? Well regardless, please just chalk this up as another rant in reaction to my mailbox and various comments, with apologies for my navel-gazing (particularly as I've been giving others a hard time of it of late...).

Meantime, your blogger below, with a political leader that seems to harken back, at least for me, to a more decent, measured, judicious time with regard to foreign-policy making. Doubtless this tars me as some paleo-like nostalgic in love with dictators, for the Right, and a feckless establishmentarian coward, to the Left, n'est ce pas? Or is it perhaps the other way around? I've lost track, really, but I merely plead attempting to balance the national interest soberly with democratization initiatives that are reality-based, not chimerical neo-Wilsonian fancy and 'creative destructionist' faith-based joy rides that have us happy to go 'bombs away' with amazingly casual swagger, come what may and wherever the chips might fall, even if it means tens of thousands of civilians killed, not to mention thousands of our own troops. In short, it's time for some sanity in Washington foreign policy circles, and if James Baker and Bob Gates and Lee Hamilton can help deliver it, more power to them.


MORE: Early reaction from the mailbag:

Please do not let the Republican fundamentalist criticisms get you down. I am a Republican who worked opposition research for Bob Dole's presidential campaign and also worked as a law clerk on the Senate Judiciary Committee for [ed. note: a prominent Republican Senator, but I've omitted for privacy] - but the Republican party we have today is not a Republican Party I can recognize as my own any more (and for all of the reasons that you have so eloquently stated at Belgravia Dispatch). Reading your blog has given me the comfort of knowing that there are Republicans out there who think like I do - and who are sick and tired of the simplistic sloganeering that passes for foreign policy these days. Keep up the good work!


Thank you so much for your recent post, Party Allegiances. Having been a libertarian for the past 40 years and voted Democrat for the very first time, I've been taking a lot of heat here in South Texas for actively campaigning for Democratic office contenders. In trying to explain why to my conservative colleagues the only words that come out of my mouth sound like clichés but in reality they are true. I'll vote for Republicans again when they start acting like conservatives. However, for a more thorough explanation I plan to refer them to your website.

Nope, I'm not alone, apparently. Keep your notes coming, they are appreciated, or drop your view in comments.

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 PM | Comments (38)

The Woes of the Overcome Administrator

Andrew Sullivan digs up a marvelous quote from Tolstoy's War and Peace, which Andrew raises in the context of Donald Rumsfeld's exit:

It seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labour and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding on with a boat-hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat-hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the adminstrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, feeble man...

The same goes for Dick Cheney too, by the way. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for Mssrs. Last Throes and Stuff Happens. On television of late, when I glimpse footage of Cheney, it's not hard to see through his unpersuasive attempts to project the old swagger and 'steady at the helm' authority vibe. Its instead been replaced by a certain nervous skittishness, as events have totally overtaken his rosy nostrums, leaving him an immensely discredited national security player. And talk of things going "remarkably well" in Iraq (at the very time it descends into deeper civil war), not only provides rich fodder for late night comedians, but only further reinforces the insignificance of the now so discredited, overcome 'administrator' (to use Tolstoy's descriptive). Yes, these men have become much smaller given the fiasco of Iraq, as has their legacy. They are deeply diminished figures, and history will record this with penetrating, almost cruel, exactitude, one suspects.

Posted by Gregory at 02:28 PM | Comments (6)


A quick aside: while I made it clear I was rooting for Santorum and Allen's defeat, and I'm very happy that's how it played out, I do feel compelled to note that I found both their concession speeches very gracious (at least the snippets I caught). We get nasty in politics, and in blog polemics, and amidst the internecine carping, and so on. So it bears noting, even if only once in a while, that human beings (including some we dislike tremendously) are capable of impressive displays of character and dignity. This is perhaps true more often than we acknowledge, particularly in this rather hurly-burly medium.

Posted by Gregory at 06:19 AM | Comments (30)

More Corner Follies.....

With the exception of Stuttaford and Brookhiser (oh, and getting to read the Administration talking points Lowry dutifully passes on), I only read The Corner for its comedic factor these days (Bill Buckley, in private moments, must be dismayed by the ludicrousness of it all). But, it must be said, the burlesque has really been quite something of late, not bad as cheap entertainment, as far as it goes. Why, even Michelle Malkin has felt compelled to comment on some of the passing show, addressing Michael Rubin's latest high-brow musings. She called them silly, in fact, which is rather a damning charge coming from Michelle. But yes, as Malkin points out, mistaking run of the mill forum shopping for some dark Teuton stab in the back (pull our bases East to Bucharest!) is rather silly, indeed idiotic. Perhaps it's just that Michael is still traumatized somewhat by his tempestuous Icelandic passage? I know Michael, it's a big, scary world out there, isn't it? But please, let's separate navel-gazing umbrage from policy recommendations, OK?

Posted by Gregory at 05:00 AM | Comments (3)

In-House News

In a potentially positive development for B.D. readers, I find myself randomly re-reading this book. Why some of you who regularly point your browsers here might be pleased to hear I'm dusting it off is well apparent from the very first paragraph of Chapter 1:

We lawyers do not write plain English. We use eight words to say what could be said in two. We use arcane phrases to express commonplace ideas. Seeking to be precise, we become redundant. Seeking to be cautious, we become verbose. Our sentences twist on, phrase within clause within clause, glazing the eyes and numbing the minds of our readers. The result is a writing style that has, according to one critic, four outstanding characteristics. It is "(1) wordy, (2) unclear, (3) pompous, and (4) dull."

Guilty as charged, I'm afraid!

Posted by Gregory at 03:27 AM | Comments (12)

November 09, 2006

Rumsfeld Out, Gates In

Donald Rumsfeld, tremendously belatedly, has finally been pushed out of office. It took the loss of the Congress to ultimately force Bush's hand. Well, better than late than never. We now have a chance, under Bob Gates, for a fresh top-to-bottom review of Iraq strategy. We now can hope that new civilian leadership in the Pentagon--not wedded to the disastrously failed policies of the past--can take a meaningful fresh look at Iraq war strategy. Is this some panacea? No, of course it is not. Will the situation in Iraq likely deteriorate further, making Gates’ job even harder by the time he assumes office around January? Likely, yes.

But, as I said, at least there is hope now. We will have a Secretary of Defense who displays pragmatism and humility, not recklessness and hubris. We will have a Secretary of Defense in favor of occasionally speaking to our enemies, not intimating mindlessly and unpersuasively that the war might be expanded to new theaters willy-nilly (see Gates' co-chairing an excellent CFR task force calling for dialogue with Iran back in '04). We will have a Secretary of Defense who would never play Secretary of State, needlessly alienating allies with talk of "Old Europe", or battering our reputation in the Middle East by using gratuitous phrases like the "so-called Occupied Territories". We will have a Secretary of Defense who will display a much more sophisticated understanding of the myriad challenges presented in Iraq and Afghanistan--not to mention the war on terror more generally (an increasingly empty phrase in need of a radical rethink, of which more soon). And, not least, we will have a Secretary of Defense who understands the import of the Geneva Conventions, of the advisability of treating detainees in our custody with respect and dignity, in accordance with what we used to call American values. In short, we will have a competent pragmatist armed with fresh strategic lens, not an arrogant well past his prime and beholden to the failed policies of the past.

I will have more on Rumsfeld another day, but suffice it to say I take no particular joy in beating up on him on the day he has finally stood down. I am too despondent about the war, and feel too much disgust at his handling of it to feel any giddy euphoria really (though, of course, I am hugely gratified by this development today). What is clear is that history will remember him as a hubris-ridden figure who abjectly bungled the Iraq war. Given his obvious talents and accomplishments manifested earlier in his career, it is sad for him that these will be but footnotes now (as will be the fact that he will become the longest serving Defense Secretary ever next month), with his epitaph now mainly the massive carnage his flawed strategy unleashed in Iraq.

Regardless, what we saw yesterday was American democracy at its finest. We saw the public mount a critically needed intervention, because without it a President well beyond his depth would have likely continued to cast his lot with discredited cocksure ideologues and/or Jacksonian nationalists like Rumsfeld. In Gates, we have an anti-ideologue and a realist. In his role with the Baker-Hamilton commission (a welcome dose of bipartisan sanity in an increasingly moronic Washington, media and blogosphere), he will have had access and been influenced by distinguished peers grappling with what to do next in Iraq in a climate characterized by sober appraisal of the national interest, rather than the agenda-driven hysterical harrumphing afoot in all the usual quarters.

There is a final irony worth noting too, perhaps. With pragmatists and Bush 41 alum like Baker and Gates rising to the fore, the son who marched headstrong into Iraq (like the father wouldn't after liberating Kuwait) is now being forced to lick his wounds and crawl back towards the protective umbrella of his father's former advisors. Neo-con exuberances, faith-based adventurism, and utopian aspiration passing for persuasive policy are now necessarily going to be relegated to the back-seat, in favor of essentially needed sobriety and realism (Gates is far closer to Scowcroft, say, than ribald fraudster types spouting off endless inanities at NRO and the Standard). While it is true Cheney is still around (one of his father's advisors too, but a changed man now no longer respected by his former colleagues in Bush 41), he is a much diminished figure who, to boot, just lost his main ally today.

This too belated Thermidor will now have key players like Gates grappling with how to salvage a viable Iraqi state and revitalize America's standing, power, and image on the global stage. This will likely mean talking to Iran and Syria, while resuscitating the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process (just today 18 Palestinians met a brutal death in Gaza, so that it is high time that American diplomacy ratchet up its efforts to stem the endless cycles of bloodshed in the Holy Land--as Presidents across both parties have traditionally assiduously attempted for decades-- rather than continue to throw up our hands in hapless, ineffective inertia). There is also a volatile situation in East Asia which calls for seasoned, sustained crisis management (rather than absurd calls to arm Japan with nukes and other such claptrap being peddled about by varied hacks). Related, we must look to reappraise and fine-tune our relationships with the Chinese and the Russians, as well as other key countries like Pakistan and India (with all due respect, our Secretary of State rather urgently needs a talented Deputy Secretary to back her up in this).

All this to say, while the damage done has been huge, our country has faced dark hours before, and she has persevered. As I said above, Bush’s move today was no panacea, and he reluctantly took this step because of the ‘thumping’ he received--as tactical maneuver to deflate some of the Democrat’s momentum—not out of some sudden burst of profound sagacity. But still, he did it, and we must all hope that, now with the seismic shift in Congress and a new Defense Secretary, we just might have a sliver of hope that America's global position can now be ameliorated, both in Iraq and elsewhere, something so critically needed after the gross missteps commited these past years that have caused such a grevious loss of blood and treasure, as well as deep blows to our moral standing and repute.

Posted by Gregory at 02:05 AM | Comments (46)

November 07, 2006

Election Thread

No time to blog extensively but, in short, I'd just say that while I'll doubtless have many differences with Democrats on the Hill (including on Iraq policy) I couldn't agree more with Andrew Sullivan when he writes: this election, I think it's vital if you're a true conservative or independent to grit your teeth and vote Democratic. This White House does not respond to measured or reasoned criticism. They need a metaphorical two-by-four in the face.

And while I don't want to get too deep into the 'expectations trap' that the Democrats just eking out the House and not gaining control of the Senate would be some massive defeat for them, nevertheless to me a "metaphorical two-by-four in the face" is probably something roughly akin to +25 Democratic gains on the House side, and +5 on the Senate side (hopefully +6, not least given Cheney's tie-breaking vote and Lieberman's likely amorphous allegiances, but you take what you can get in these tight races). Oh, and I'll repeat: I'd particularly like to see Rick Santorum and George Allen defeated, and wish Casey and Webb the very best of luck today. Anyway, feel free to comment below on how events develop through the day....

UPDATE: Dems take House per CNN projections, Santorum down (to his credit, he gave a gracious concession), Webb up by sliver w/ 99% of precincts in (recount likely?), Lieberman prevails (it's a bad night for Republicans when their biggest win of the night is a Democrat, no?). A massive tsunami? Maybe not. The metaphorical two-by four in the face? Yeah, looks it.

Posted by Gregory at 01:45 PM | Comments (42)

November 06, 2006

Sound Military Doctrine

Michael Lind:

The “Powell doctrine” holds that the US should go to war only as a last resort and then only with overwhelming force. In his article “US Forces: Challenges Ahead” in Foreign Affairs in 1992-93, Mr Powell posed a number of questions to be asked by US policymakers before launching a war. Is a vital national security interest threatened? Do we have a clear, attainable objective? Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analysed? Have all other non-violent policy means been exhausted? Is there a plausible exit strategy? Have the consequences been fully considered? Is the action supported by the American people? Does the US have broad international support? The Powell doctrine developed similar principles laid out by Caspar Weinberger, defence secretary during the Reagan administration. Mr Powell, like Mr Weinberger and much of the US military, was determined to avoid large-scale debacles such as the Vietnam war and minor disasters such as the Somalia intervention in 1992-93.

The first big war of the post-cold war era, the Gulf war of 1991, exemplified the logic of the Powell doctrine. President George H. W. Bush limited the goal of the war to the one with the greatest international support – the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait – rather than the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Under Mr Powell’s leadership of the joint chiefs of staff, the US used overwhelming force to achieve that aim.

Following the Gulf war, however, the Powell doctrine was rejected by two groups: liberal humanitarian hawks and neo-conservatives. The humanitarian hawks, exemplified by Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, argued that the doctrine set the bar for US military intervention too high and would exclude “humanitarian interventions” to end ethnic conflict or protect human rights in places such as the Balkans or Sudan.

On the right, the neo-conservatives rejected Mr Powell’s cautious approach to the use of force in favour of what the journalist Max Boot hailed as “the new American way of war”, which would send small forces equipped with high-technology firepower on semi-colonial missions, including “wars of choice” intended to produce “regime change” such as in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, and his civilian aides have struggled to impose this approach over the opposition of the career military, who tend to share the views of Gen Powell.

The George W. Bush/Rumsfeld doctrine was put to the test in Afghanistan and Iraq. It flunked. Determined to invade Iraq quickly after deposing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Bush administration split US forces and put the lion’s share in Iraq. In both places, the result has been the worst of all worlds – insufficient conventional forces for effective pacification, but enough to inflame local hostility and provide targets.

Donald Rumsfeld may have outlasted Colin Powell in the upper councils of the Bush Administration--but the Powell Doctrine will far outlast the Rumsfeld Doctrine as persuasive, coherent military strategy.

Posted by Gregory at 01:22 PM | Comments (45)

November 05, 2006

Quote of the Day


Hans Morgenthau:

Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. As it distinguishes between truth and opinion, so it distinguishes between truth and idolatry. All nations are tempted--and few have been able to resist the temptation for long--to clothe their own particular aspirations and actions in the moral purposes of the universe. To know that nations are subject to the moral law is one thing, while to pretend to know with certainty what is good and evil in the relations among nations is quite another. There is a world of difference between the belief that all nations stand under the judgment of God, inscrutable to the human mind, and the blasphemous conviction that God is always on one's side and that what one wills oneself cannot fail to be willed by God also.

The lighthearted equation between a particular nationalism and the counsels of Providence is morally indefensible, for it is that very sin of pride against which the Greek tragedians and the Biblical prophets have warned rulers and ruled. That equation is also politically pernicious, for it is liable to engender the distortion in judgment which, in the blindness of crusading frenzy, destroys nations and civilizations-in the name of moral principle, ideal, or God himself.

Posted by Gregory at 05:38 AM | Comments (34)

Dear Decider....

...a message from the Army Times:

Now, the president says he’ll stick with Rumsfeld for the balance of his term in the White House.

This is a mistake. It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.

These officers have been loyal public promoters of a war policy many privately feared would fail. They have kept their counsel private, adhering to more than two centuries of American tradition of subordination of the military to civilian authority.

And although that tradition, and the officers’ deep sense of honor, prevent them from saying this publicly, more and more of them believe it.

Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.

This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth:

Donald Rumsfeld must go.

Meantime Glenn Reynolds, continuing his sad descent into abject insta-hackery, does his best to continue to carry water for Rumsfeld. One of the few criticisms he musters up linking is (drum roll, please...) from Mike Ledeen! Glenn writes, (unintentionally) hilariously: "Rumsfeld's a polarizing figure, and antiwar people have been talking smack about him for so long that legitimate criticism tends to get lost in the fog of politics. But this critique of Rumsfeld's management style from Michael Ledeen is more troubling, because it's specific." Heh, as they say. These critiques were not specific Glenn? Or these? (More background here). Let me guess, these Generals were, er, anti-war people? It's risible Glenn will finally take criticism of Rumsfeld seriously because Ledeen pens a few complaints in the ribald pages of The Corner. Risible, but woefully predictable.

One thing is for sure, Glenn cannot be taken at all seriously on foreign policy or national security matters anymore. Yet another example why comes today, when Glenn approvingly quotes this E-mail he received (in the same post linked above):

There is no "loss of momentum" in Iraq.

The deliberate, carefully thought-out mission there is to force the Iraqis to build up a military/security apparatus strong enough to defend the country. If we try to "crush" the insurgency ourselves, the Iraqis will have no incentive to fight. They will sit back and let us battle the unending waves of jihadis, Ba'athists, and Shi'ite militias. We will have to stay there forever while the government enriches itself in the traditional Arab style.

The ball is in the Iraqis' court. We took away the obstacle to their freedom. If they choose to embrace death, corruption, incompetence, lethal religious mania, and stone-age tribalism, then at least we'll finally know the limitations of the people in that part of the world.

The experiment had to be made.

To which Glenn ponderously notes: "Hmm". Yes Glenn, it has all been an exercise in perfectly calibrated, controlled chaos. We wanted Iraq to descend into civil war and anarchic killing fields--the better so that the Iraqi Army could lead the fight, so as not to run afoul of Rumsfeld's 'dependency' nostrums (Glenn's correspondent also conveniently ignores why then we made such a hash of the T&E effort too).

I could be more rude, but I'll restrain myself because I used to be friendly with Glenn. But don't miss this topper, which Glenn goes on to write in the same post:

On the other hand, it's also true that if democracy can't work in Iraq, then we should probably adopt a "more rubble, less trouble" approach to other countries in the region that threaten us. If a comparatively wealthy and secular Arab country can't make it as a democratic republic, then what hope is there for places that are less wealthy, or less secular?

"(M)ore rubble, less trouble", huh? Is that little rhyming jingle code for 'bombs away' in those faraway Arab Lands? Poor Glenn, and poor us, that tens of thousands read what he says on such matters with the slightest credulity and seriousness. Glenn might consider stopping to play pretend that he has any serious contributions to make with regard to Middle East policy, no?

Posted by Gregory at 03:03 AM | Comments (18)

Ahmad Amidst the Ruins

Ahmad Chalabi:

The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz...They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out...We would have taken hold of the country...We would have revitalized the civil service immediately. We would have been able to put together a military force and an intelligence service. There would have been no insurgency. We would have had electricity. The Americans screwed it up...In Wolfowitz’s mind, you couldn’t trust the Iraqis to run a democracy... We have to teach them, give them lessons....We have to leave Iraq under our tutelage. The Iraqis are useless. The Iraqis are incompetent [in Wolfowitz's mind]....What I didn’t realize was that the Americans sold us out.”

Lots of selling out going on, looks like...

Posted by Gregory at 02:49 AM | Comments (1)

November 04, 2006

Frum's Greatest Hits

Two beauts:


Consider the hypothetical case of two men. Both are inclined toward homosexuality. Both from time to time hire the services of male prostitutes. Both have occasionally succumbed to drug abuse.

One of them marries, raises a family, preaches Christian principles, and tries generally to encourage people to lead stable lives.

The other publicly reveals his homosexuality, vilifies traditional moral principles, and urges the legalization of drugs and prostitution.

Which man is leading the more moral life? It seems to me that the answer is the first one. Instead of suggesting that his bad acts overwhelm his good ones, could it not be said that the good influence of his preaching at least mitigates the bad effect of his misconduct? Instead of regarding hypocrisy as the ultimate sin, could it not be regarded as a kind of virtue - or at least as a mitigation of his offense?


"I always believed as a speechwriter that if you could persuade the president to commit himself to certain words, he would feel himself committed to the ideas that underlay those words. And the big shock to me has been that although the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas. And that is the root of, maybe, everything."

Oh my, rather rich fare, wouldn't you say? And the comment "(a)nd that is the root of, maybe, everything" is just gut-splitting in its self-importance, sophomoric inanity, and divorce from reality. We need serious people in Washington again, rather desperately, I'd think.

Posted by Gregory at 03:47 PM | Comments (11)

Carnival of the Vanities

Come now gentlemen, not even a word or two about your own roles in this sorry affair? Of course, no one would have expected this crowd to prostrate themselves in protracted mea culpas or such (it's always someone else's fault, of course), but how about just a wee little smidgen of honor?

P.S. Just in case we had any doubt at all re: the above, David Frum elucidates: "Nothing exclusive there [ed. note: he's speaking of the VF piece linked above], nothing shocking, and believe me, nothing remorseful." Let's remember that utter lack of remorse friends, with nearly 3,000 Americans dead, not to mention tens if not hundreds of thousands of Iraqis too, as well as the hundreds of billions squandered to boot.

Posted by Gregory at 03:35 PM | Comments (6)

November 03, 2006

Plotting the Neo-Con Comeback!

This little piece makes for riveting reading, in a deliciously sublime kind of way. What makes it particularly entertaining is that, as far as I can tell, the author is not being ironic in the least, but rather is being drop-dead serious. Do go read. Special props to the commenter who best persuades his peers what statement in the piece is most jaw-dropping in its total remove from reality. I'll open the bidding with this one:

"The Bush administration deserves criticism for its failure to repair America’s public diplomacy apparatus. No group other than neocons is likely to figure out how to do that. We are, after all, a movement whose raison d’être was combating anti-Americanism in the United States. Who better, then, to combat it abroad?...Some Foreign Service officers should be offered specialized training in the war of ideas, and a bunch of us neocons ought to volunteer to help teach it."

What else?

UPDATE: As if on cue, Michael Rubin comes to the rescue on the public diplomacy front!

Unfortunately, our public diplomacy is failing. MEMRI had just issued a report showing how many Turks perceive the US Ambassador, Ross Wilson, to support the Islamists. It’s been almost a year since Wilson arrived in Ankara. Diplomacy is not about doing the ostrich-head-burying routine.

Per Joshua Muravchik, let's quickly round up some Foggy Bottom tutees so Michael can lecture about the ostrich-head-burying thingamajigy, yes?

Posted by Gregory at 01:28 AM | Comments (36)

November 01, 2006

Powerpoint Gloom


More here. Heckuva job, Rummy! Will he stay on until we're more firmly in the "chaos" zone, or do us all a mega-favor and finally step aside after Nov 7 so as to allow new civilian leadership a shot at remedial strategic oversight of this bungled war? We know what Cheney thinks, of course, which is that things are going "remarkably well" in Iraq. So why shake up a good thing with a new Secretary of Defense not wedded to a failed strategy then? Everything is A-OK. We're moving well beyond fiasco here, but to what, I'm not quite sure yet. Surely this is the most incompetent Administration we've seen since, well, since when? Commenters historical perspective welcomed below...

Posted by Gregory at 01:26 PM | Comments (42)

Jonah Goldberg Gets Mail...


I was recently reading Richard Norton Smith's biography of Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune. It seems that when McCormick was a student at Groton he was subjected to the school tradition of "pumping." In this quaint ritual the initiate had his head held under a pump and water was forced over him until he felt as if he were drowning. Waterboarding isn't torture, its just part of the New England patrician experience. A more recent Groton alum tells me that with the advent of indoor plumbing the pump is no longer used. The initiate has his head held in a toilet and is flushed instead. Just thought it might add something to the debate..

Man, I've read a lot of excrement in the blogosphere, but this item just might take the cake (though Glenn Reynolds' comparison of Iraq to South Philly gives a good run for the money). I mean, "(w)aterboarding isn't torture, its just part of the New England patrician experience"? How stupefyingly inane can these clowns get? Goldberg says he is posting this "without comment". Permit me to comment then Jonah: your correspondent is a total idiot, and it's risibly boorish and outrageously inane for you to even begin to take your pen-pal seriously, as evidently you do, having put this claptrap on your main page. But perhaps I'm surprised because I went to Andover, where quaint Grotonian mores of proctors waterboarding students never quite took off. Yes, Groton was always a tad too British, if you know what I mean, what with all the canings and such, so that perhaps your correspondent is on to something--it's important that we build character among our Boston Brahmin youth, after all, when not extracting actionable ticking time bomb intel from KSM, that is... (Hat Tip: Cunning).

Posted by Gregory at 05:51 AM | Comments (16)


An academic who knows Michael Rubin writes in, in reaction to this post where I beat up on Rubin some:

I recently read your post regarding Mike Rubin's attack on the Baker-Hamilton commission. I don't care to get into the nuances of the spat, because Mike has bones to pick and is thoroughly disgusted with a great many people in Washington, as are you. Your comments about Mike's piece are informative and certainly worthy of discussion. But I thought I should correct you on the imputations in your piece that Mike is being hypocritical for criticizing those who do not leave the Green Zone.

I know Michael, not from his time in Washington but because we were at Yale in graduate school together. I do not share his political views, and when I write this I do so not an apologist for his role in the Office of Special Plans or support of the administration.

Mike is no stranger to danger in the region, as even his critics would concede. He spent two summers as an intern in the 'Stans with the State Department in the 1990s, at a time when everyone--including the interns--had security escorts. Mike even grew his beard out and in 1999 or 2000 (I cannot recall now) went on his own to Kabul for research. While there he repeatedly violated the Taliban's requirement that foreigners have Taliban escorts, and, ditching the escorts waiting at his hotel, repeatedly explored Kabul on his own. That was an extraordinarily dangerous thing to do (especially for someone with a last name of "Rubin" on a passport) before 2002. And, as you point out, he spent a considerable amount of time in Kurdistan, as well as a few other places in the region that I won't go into.

All of this is to say that while you're spot on to criticize what he wrote, the pissing match over danger is unnecessary.

Look, as someone who has been to the 'Stans in the '90s (Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, to be precise, all of which seemed perfectly safe to me!) and been to places like Peshawar (if memory serves, even sporting a few days stubble!) in that time frame too, I'm not particularly impressed by this recitation above, but regardless, I don't doubt Michael has been in some hairy parts of the world. Good on him! But the fact remains he opened himself up for this criticism, by opining that the Baker-Hamilton Commission folks dropped the ball by not leaving the Green Zone (especially given the Red Zone was much safer when Rubin was living in Iraq). But look, was my correspondent's letter really necessary? After all, I wrote in my post I was not interested in a pissing match about time logged in the Green or Red Zones, and I wasn't trying to paste some chickenhawk label on Michael Rubin. It must be said, however, it takes quite a bit of cheek, especially for someone quite closely associated with the failed war policy that got us into this mess like Michael, to preemptively piss on the Baker-Hamilton Commission--a congressionally mandated bipartisan effort meant to try to find ways to extricate us from this blunder without Iraq capsizing into total chaos (if that's even possible). In the main, that was my point. Sorry if it got a tad garbled amidst the exclamation points, profanity, and heated asides--but I'm only human--and I think Rubin was way out of line (and, btw, some very senior Republican and Democrat foreign policy figures have indicated to me they agree).

Meantime, another reader writes in:

Good stuff on Michael Rubin. I've followed his work for a while now and have long found him to be a deeply silly and superficial man - and an irritating hypocrite to boot. A good friend of mine who shall remain nameless but who occupies a fairly senior position at [ed. note: omitted for privacy] has had stand up rows with him a couple of times and notes that he displays the dangerous combination of intelligence coupled with arrogance and a complete lack of judgement.

Keep up the good work - you may take a bit of a hammering for it from the ideological types, but in my experience most of the real grown-ups (including those who initially supported the war) would find little to disagree with in the points you've made recently.

I know a lot of the "ideological types" aren't big fans of mine. But frankly, I don't give a damn. Having seen how their ideological blinkers and faith-based utopic adventurism have rendered them delusionally incorrigible and indeed radically wedded to profoundly misguided foreign policy prescriptions, I would in no way wish to be affiliated with them ever again, despite the fact that I felt the neo-cons were very much on the side of justice during the Bosnia imbroglio. As I worked in that region for two years during the conflict, and the carnage profoundly disturbed me, I grew to respect various neo-cons who at the time were calling for the U.S. to lift the arms embargo on the Bosniaks and use robust NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing so-called 'safe havens' like Sarajevo and Gorazde. But no more. The sane ones, like Fukuyama, have fled. The ones still hanging around the Standard and NRO and such are hugely discredited. Indeed, I consider it quite important we try to keep them far from any policymaking levers going forward. They've well proven they don't deserve our trust or respect.

MORE: David Rieff writes in:

This is absurd. I was frequently in Central Asia in the 90s (as you know) and every foreigner there---and there were many more than your interlocutor seems to think---laughed at the Americans' security precautions and at the sight of young interns going around protected by Marines or DOS guards when there was no danger whatsoever. As for Rubin's intrepid trip to Kabul, again, such venturing out without Talib minders was absolutely standard at the time. We all did it and, as far as I know, nothing untoward befell anyone who did. In any case, the worst that would have happened to Rubin would have been that he would have been expelled (yes, even with his last name---whatever your interlocutor may imagine).

I couldn't agree more.

Posted by Gregory at 04:27 AM | Comments (1)

Kerry's Gaffe


"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Mr. Kerry said that he botched a joke that his aides said had been prepared as follows: “Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”

Mr. Bush, speaking to a cheering crowd at a campaign rally late Tuesday afternoon in a half-empty arena at the Georgia National Fairgrounds in Perry, said that Mr. Kerry had insulted the intelligence of Americans troops.

“The senator’s suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and it is shameful,” he said. “The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave, and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.”

Kerry then raised the temperature with this statement:

If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they're crazy. This is the classic G.O.P. playbook. I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.

I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium, or doughy Rush Limbaugh, who no doubt today will take a break from belittling Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease to start lying about me just as they have lied about Iraq . It disgusts me that these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country lie and distort so blatantly and carelessly about those who have.

The people who owe our troops an apology are George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it. These Republicans are afraid to debate veterans who live and breathe the concerns of our troops, not the empty slogans of an Administration that sent our brave troops to war without body armor.

Bottom line, these Republicans want to debate straw men because they're afraid to debate real men. And this time it won't work because we're going to stay in their face with the truth and deny them even a sliver of light for their distortions. No Democrat will be bullied by an administration that has a cut and run policy in Afghanistan and a stand still and lose strategy in Iraq."

Putting aside what Kerry meant or didn't mean--does anyone think his gaffe could impact the Democrat's momentum going into November 7th? Tilt any close races (say Virginia)? Or is this a 24-48 hour story that will blow over? And should he keep firing back, or quickly apologize (even if he believes there is no reason to) and disappear for a week?

Posted by Gregory at 03:07 AM | Comments (38)

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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