February 09, 2007

In-House News

UPDATED BELOW

Regular readers may have noticed that the frequency of posting in this space has diminished significantly of late, and when posting occurs, it tends to be more by way of rapid links to other articles/analyses, rather than original content. The fact is that maintaining this blog, always a major struggle given time pressures, has become much harder recently. Not only does my day job continue to involve long hours and frequent travel, but my wife and I recently had a child, so my few off-hours are under even greater pressure. I don't know whether I'll be able to strike some new balance and get back to somewhat regular blogging in this space sometime in the future, but I thought I'd point out that, for the foreseeable future at least, blogging will necessarily be quite episodic. Apologies, as I would have put up a note earlier, but didn't have the time to put up a rapid blurb to this effect. In the meantime, please enjoy all the excellent blogs listed to the right, and don't give up on me totally (at least not just yet!).

UPDATE: Just thought I'd put a quick update up, as even close friends of mine are writing in, wondering if this blog is a thing of the past. I'm been working non-stop on a transaction for almost two months--away from my family during the week--commuting back to be with them during the weekends. The marathon work days and rushed travel back home mean there's precious little time to spend with the new baby and my wife, so blogging time is simply non-existent, even on weekends. l hope to be back in this space sometime in April, however, but frankly can't be sure given the intense pace at work, continued significant travel, and other time constraints. We'll see....There's quite a bit afoot on the foreign policy front I'd be interested in broaching here, but there are simply not enough hours in the day right now....Bottom line: back when/if/as able.

P.S. I did also want to add that I found the time to read this engrossing George Packer piece on a recent flight. It's long, but worth reading in full. I highly recommend it.


Posted by Gregory at 11:21 PM | Comments (47)

February 04, 2007

Guilty as Charged

Yeah, I guess this blog has been guilty of this some as well...

Posted by Gregory at 05:07 AM | Comments (39)

February 01, 2007

The Perils of Crude Exceptionalism

William Pfaff:

Bush administration policy continues to reflect the influence of cold war ideology, which in Dulles's case revealed the influence of the world-historical thinking of the Marxist enemy as well as personal religious assumptions about the meaning of history. The neo-conservative, "neo-Wilsonian" ideological influence on Bush's thinking, that history's course is moving toward universal democracy, was reinforced by the President's encounter in 2004 with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident. Sharansky's argument that international stability is possible only under the rule of democracy was reflected in the President's second-term inaugural announcement that America's foreign policy objective had become "ending tyranny in our world." This amounted to a naive instance of what the British-Austrian political philosopher Karl Popper called "historicism," meaning faith in large-scale "laws" of historical development. The Bush vision is of a vast struggle between democracy and an effort by "the terrorists" to establish an oppressive Muslim caliphate of global scope. (How they are to do this against the opposition of the industrial West and non-Muslim Asia has yet to be given a persuasive explanation.)

The Bush administration and its sympathizers thus see themselves supporting the dominant force in history's development. If history's natural trajectory is toward democracy, US policy is simply to accelerate the inevitable. When, as in Iraq, this does not turn out to be so simple, a political equivalent of the economist Joseph Schumpeter's argument concerning "creative destruction" can be evoked, which says that destruction (in certain circumstances) clears the way for progress. Schumpeter describes a mechanism of the market economy, but when applied to the development of human society it reduces to a matter of secular belief in progress—which is a question of faith, not evidence...

...Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins recently asked why, if other nations really objected to an American effort to establish a new international hegemony, there has been no effort to build a military coalition to oppose it. He describes the United States as already dominating the world, much as the elephant (in his genial comparison) dominates the African savanna: the calm herbivorous goliath that keeps the carnivores at a respectful distance, while supporting "a wide variety of other creatures—smaller mammals, birds and insects—by generating nourishment for them as it goes about the business of feeding itself." Everyone knows the United States is not a predatory power, he says, so everyone profits from the stability the elephant provides, at American taxpayer expense.

Elephants are also known to trample people, uproot crops and gardens, topple trees and houses, and occasionally go mad (hence, "rogue nations"). Americans, moreover, are carnivores. The administration has attacked the existing international order by renouncing inconvenient treaties and conventions and reintroducing torture, and arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, into advanced civilization. Where is the stability that Mandelbaum tells us has been provided by this American military and political deployment? The doomed and destructive war of choice in Iraq, continuing and mounting disorder in Afghanistan following another such war, war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as between Hamas and Fatah, accompanied by continuing crisis in Palestine, with rumbles of new American wars of choice with Iran or Syria, and the emergence of a nuclear North Korea —all demonstrate deep international instability...

Posted by Gregory at 05:14 AM | Comments (70)

Ignatius on Rice

David Ignatius: "But as with any strategy, Rice's realignment idea has the virtue of offering a basis for discussion and careful thinking about a region perched on the edge of a volcano." Ignatius, sorry to say, is too easily impressed here. Snippets:

Rice said the new approach reflects growing Arab concern about Iran's attempt to project power through its proxies: "After the war in Lebanon, the Middle East really did begin to clarify into an extremist element allied with Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. On the other side were the targets of this extremism -- the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians -- and those who want to resist, such as the Saudis, Egypt and Jordan."

The Secretary of State, some day at least, is going to have to graduate beyond evangelically-tinged provost talk about "clarifying moments" and the like and grapple with the world as it is, not as her airy aspirational vistas would have it. Indeed, the narrative she sketches out is simply laughable in its gross over-simplifications. After all, likely at least a good 40% of Lebanese, well over 50% of Palestinians, and a plurality of Shi'a Iraqis too (back of the envelope number-crunching, but you get my point, I think), none of them would even begin to agree with her simplistic description that they are "targets" of Iran. And Cairo, Riyadh and Amman want to "resist"? Is Condi going to cheerlead the 'resistance' of Sunni autocrats to growing Shi'a influence in the region? Is this what America's Middle East policy has become? This is farcical stuff, in its blundering amateurism.

More:

The Bush administration's thinking about realignment helps explain why it has resisted engaging Syria and Iran, as recommended by the Baker-Hamilton report. As Rice put it, "You have a 'pan' movement, across the region. The war in Lebanon crystallized it for everyone. You can't just leave it there. . . . If you concentrate on engaging Syria and Iran, you may lose the chance to do the realignment."

Pray tell, and forgive my ignorance, but what is the "pan movement"? And how was it "crystallized"? And too, what does it mean "to do the realignment"? Are we speaking here of stoking a decades long Shi'a-Sunni struggle? Or enlisting the Egyptians, Saudis and Jordanians to help us contain Iran? If so, how? Save a few Saudi cards, I'm hard-pressed to see what Amman and Cairo can really bring to bear on that front, for instance. And, let me tell you, Mubarak would be horrified if we attacked Iran, as he'd face massive domestic anger the moment the bombs started dropping on Teheran.

Yet more:

On Syria, Rice said the administration is seeking a change of policy rather than regime change. Asked about an offer made in an interview with me last month by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem to help the U.S. provide greater security in Iraq, she said: "If the Syrians want to stabilize Iraq, why don't they do it?" As for Israeli interest in exploring the Syrian initiative, she noted recent private peace feelers between Syrians and Israelis and suggested that if the Israelis decide there is something important, they will pursue it.

"If the Syrians want to stabilize Iraq, why don't they just do it"? Yeah, that's the ticket. Just do it! Nike style. This is a cool new variant, I guess, to her old: "they know what they need to do". And "if the Israelis decide there is something important, they will pursue it"? Talk about an abdication of American leadership on the Arab-Israeli peace process!

As I said, Ignatius seems too easily impressed by, at best, nascent ill-formed policy, and at worst, tremendously vacuous fare with potentially very dangerous consequences.

P.S. I should add, somewhat related to this 're-alignment' talk (which risks the blundering U.S. behemoth stoking a wider Shi'a-Sunni conflict, especially if the Arab Shi'a of Iraq become even closer to Iran), the following passage from Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman's excellent "Ethical Realism":

On occasion...it is suggested....that the United States should not worry about civil war in Iraq or regional war in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shi'a. On the contrary, these people say, we should encourage this, just as we encouraged the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. The reasoning is that such a conflict would probably last decades, would hopelessly split the Muslim world, and would tie down both Sunni and Shi'a extremists and prevent them from attacking Western targets.

To this a number of replies are possible. From a realist perspective, we can rightly say such a conflict would probably lead to radical increases in oil prices and instability in oil markets, with severe effects on the world economy; that it might indeed lead to a Shi'a revolt in the oilfields of Saudi Arabia, knocking the very bottom out of world oil supplies, that al-Qaeda is bound to benefit from such chaos in terms of recruitment; and that far from preventing anti-Western terrorism, it would probably encourage it, as Western states would inevitably be drawn in and would then be attacked by the other side. And if the past is anything to go by, the violent radicalization of huge numbers of Sunnis and Shia would inevitably sooner or later take an anti-Western form.

All of this is true, but none of it is our most important reason for opposing this kind of thinking. The chief reason we oppose it is that it is morally foul. If after everything American leaders have said about freedom, morality and peace the United States were to adopt such a strategy, it would damn itself in the eyes of the world.

I'm not saying Condi Rice is trying to stoke a Shi'a-Sunni region-wide civil war, of course. But this idiotic 're-alignment' policy, as well-intentioned as it may be, is spectacularly misguided (where are NEA or NSC staffers with brains to walk her back from such ham-handed "policy"?) in that it could well end up fueling even greater Shi'a-Sunni tension in a region already greatly concerned about Iran's rise. And rather than try to cool the regional temperature, via urgent diplomatic 'containment'-style initiatives, we appear to be raising the ante. This is dangerous, especially when mediocrities and/or those without regional expertise hold the levers of power.


Posted by Gregory at 03:12 AM | Comments (24)

About Belgravia Dispatch

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


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