May 22, 2007

The American Way: Induced Hypothermia, Sleep Deprivation and Water-Boarding?

Tom Maguire writes:

...Cecil Turner dropped this ABC News article on torture on me - apparently the CIA has used its full menu of approved techniques on roughly 12 terrorists. That is more than one in a million, but pretty rare.

And the menu is hair-raising - the open hand face slap, the attention-gaining shirt grab, the pink belly (OK, they call it the open hand belly slap, but I remember 4th grade), and a few more dramatic techniques (standing, sleep deprivation) culminating in waterboarding. Sorry, no wedgies or swirlies.

This medieval torture exhibit is a lot scarier and does emphasize the value of defining one’s terms for the sake of a rational discussion. Presupposing people are seeking a rational discussion, of course.

I quote the above, not to embarrass Tom Maguire, but as his comment is rather evocative-- in its striking juvenilia--of the quality of the debate in the right blogosphere about torture. As there is no medieval rack involved, nor "wedgies or swirlies,” the various “enhanced interrogation techniques” are deemed totally acceptable, and it can only be preening moralists or hysterical anti-American leftists that could possibly be opposed to use of same. From this flawed premise, millions of Americans are now endorsing actions that are tantamount to war crimes (by a plain reading of applicable international treaty law, Article III of the Geneva Convention, and constitutional standards, see more below) in the form of government sanctioned torture. After all, the tactics Tom Maguire argues CIA interrogators have a legal right to employ include the following:

Long Time Standing: Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

Let’s take each of these in turn.

1) Long Term Standing, as the CIA is using it per the above, is basically a particularly harsh form of sleep deprivation, combined with a 'stress position'. Menachem Begin, Israel’s former Prime Minister, was tortured using sleep deprivation by the Soviet Union. He described it in this fashion:

In the head of the interrogated prisoner a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep, to sleep just a little, not to get up, to lie, to rest, to forget....Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger or thirst are comparable with it…I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them. He did not promise them their liberty. He promised them—if they signed—uninterrupted sleep! And they signed....And having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days....The main thing was—to sleep.

This is torture, as practiced during the Cold War by the KGB, and Tom Maguire stands four-square behind it, indeed deems it appropriate to joke about.

2) The Cold Cell, otherwise known as induced hypothermia. As the NGO Physicians for Human Rights has pointed out, “The Cold Cell” technique can lead to “reduced psychological function and mental capacity; loss of muscle function, harm to the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems; and even death.” Indeed, detainees in U.S. captivity have died as a result of hypothermia.

Again, this is torture, and Tom Maguire supports it with barely contained glee, if the comment quoted above is any indication.

3) As for water-boarding, forget about its origins during this or that Inquisition, let us instead look at more recent history, and recall how it was condemned by U.S. personnel in previous wars:

Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago. A photograph that appeared in The Washington Post of a U.S. soldier involved in water boarding a North Vietnamese prisoner in 1968 led to that soldier's severe punishment. "The soldier who participated in water torture in January 1968 was court-martialed within one month after the photos appeared in The Washington Post, and he was drummed out of the Army," recounted Darius Rejali, a political science professor at Reed College. Earlier in 1901, the United States had taken a similar stand against water boarding during the Spanish-American War when an Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding an insurgent in the Philippines. "Even when you're fighting against belligerents who don't respect the laws of war, we are obliged to hold the laws of war," said Rejali. "And water torture is torture."

In short, Maguire approves, indeed proudly cheer-leads, the use of torture such as protracted sleep deprivation, induced hypothermia, and water-boarding, as a regularized policy to be undertaken under the auspices of the C.I.A. In this, he differs even from Glenn Reynolds, who had written: "But regardless of what rules Congress adopts, I'm certainly against the Cheney proposal to exempt the CIA. First of all, if this sort of thing is too wrong for Americans to do, it's too wrong for any Americans to do, period. Right?” (Yet Reynolds, given his incessant joking about Guantanamo, the detention center that is in many ways emblematic of how deeply flawed interrogation tactics took root during the Bush Administration, and given his oft-stated musings about whether ‘torture-lite’ really constitutes torture, has very little credibility as an intellectually honest opponent of torture, despite his protestations to the contrary).

But for Maguire, the CIA carve-out is just fine. Given this stance, in effect, he wants us to join countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Chile and Afghanistan who have historically used sleep deprivation to torture prisoners:

• In Saudi Arabia in 2001, seven foreign nationals, including Canadian and British citizens, who were accused of planting bombs, were subjected to sleep deprivation while undergoing interrogation, as reported in press stories around the world, which eventually led to false confessions. • In Iran, political prisoners are commonly subjected to sleep deprivation, according to the U.S. State Department and recent Human Rights Watch research. • In Chile, during Pinochet’s reign in the 1970’s, detainees were often kept sleep deprived. Human Rights Watch (then Americas Watch) reported the allegations of a community leader who was kept awake for 48 hours continually. • In Afghanistan, Soviet forces and their allies deprived detainees of sleep for days on end during interrogations (Source: Human Rights Watch).

Many of these same countries have used water submersion techniques, as well as induced hypothermia, of course. The use of such tactics, as has been well documented, puts us in sharp violation of existing legal and treaty obligations. In short, it turns the U.S. from a leading protector of human rights on the world stage to something of a rogue nation, at least when it comes to torture policy.

For instance, the United States is a signatory to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”). It defines torture as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

When the U.S. ratified CAT, the Senate defined "cruel, inhuman and degrading" as any practice that would violate the Fifth, Eighth or 14th amendments. Secretary of State Condi Rice has reportedly assured some of her European counterparts that, pursuant to such an interpretation, techniques like water-boarding, cold cell and long-time standing would no longer be permissible. However, Administration lawyers like David Addington have made the argument that some of these tactics are permissible under a 'shocks the conscience' reading of the U.S. Constitution, and so it is all but certain these techniques remain in active use by CIA interrogators today. Related, these techniques are in violation of Article III of the Geneva Convention. As the Washington Post previously editorialized:

Common Article 3, which prohibits cruel treatment and humiliation, is an inflexible standard. The U.S. military, which lived with it comfortably for decades before the Bush administration, just re-embraced it after a prolonged battle with the White House. The Army issued a thick manual this month that tells interrogators exactly what they can and cannot do in complying with the standard. The nation's most respected military leaders have said that they need and want nothing more to accomplish the mission of detaining and interrogating enemy prisoners -- and that harsher methods would be counterproductive.

Mr. Bush wants to replace these clear rules with a flexible and subjective standard -- one that would legalize any method that does not "shock the conscience." What shocks the conscience? According to Mr. Bush's Justice Department, the torture techniques described above -- and at least in the past, water-boarding -- do not, "in certain circumstances." So Mr. Bush's real objection to Common Article 3 is not that it is vague. It is that it will not permit abusive practices that he isn't willing publicly to discuss or defend.

The position that Tom Maguire advocates, under a plain reading of either CAT or Article III, has us running afoul of both, with terrible ramifications for our international reputation. This is why five of the former Joints Chief of Staff, as well as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of State George Schultz, all stood behind McCain in attempting to preclude the watering down of Article III (note even with regard to so-called 'enemy combatants' rather than POWs, most if not all of these leading observers would have Article III apply fully to them as well, given the Geneva Convention requirement they too "be treated with humanity").

I’d stand with these men, before I’d stand with Mitt Romney, Richard Cheney or John Yoo. Wouldn’t you? But, you say, than we’ll have no good intelligence? The chances of my home being vaporized in a nuclear dust-cloud will have just ratcheted up, just so human rights purists like you sitting in Manhattan can keep their hands lily-white? Well, no, this is bunk. As Army Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Lt. General Jeff Kimmons put it:

No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that. And, moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques, would be of questionable credibility, and additionally it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there. Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been-in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them, have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized humane interrogation practices.

Indeed, we’ve had in effect Army Field Manual 34-52, which governs intelligence interrogation methods, a manual that has stood us in good stead for many decades. And we’ve been able to garner huge amounts of intelligence using said methods. As it states:

While using legitimate interrogation techniques, certain applications of approaches and techniques may approach the line between lawful actions and unlawful actions. It may often be difficult to determine where lawful actions end and unlawful actions begin. In attempting to determine if a contemplated approach or technique would be considered unlawful, consider these two tests: 1) Given all the surrounding facts and circumstances, would a reasonable person in the place of the person being interrogated believe that his rights, as guaranteed under both international and US law, are being violated or withheld, or will be violated or withheld if he fails to cooperate; [and] 2) If your contemplated actions were perpetrated by the enemy against US PWs, you would believe such actions violate international or US law. If you answer yes to either of these two tests, do not engage in the contemplated action. If a doubt still remains as to the legality of a proposed action, seek a legal opinion from your servicing judge advocate.

Why can’t these guidelines, well enshrined in law and prior practice, and in keeping with America’s best historical values, still be the undisputed standard by which all government agencies conduct themselves when interrogating detainees in their charge? Why instead, through dubious legal machinations that may yet be overturned, have CIA interrogators been potentially exposed to actions that could be categorized as war crimes? Why, in short, is the current sitting President of the United States very likely allowing war crimes (at least by the standards of commonly accepted international treaties and protocols) be conducted by special CIA interrogators?

Look, if we’re going to have this debate, let’s have it, but let’s have it honestly. Let’s not hide behind Orwellian fudging and obfuscatory verbiage. Reporters need to ask the serious candidates, which is to say, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards—are you in favor of allowing the use of sleep deprivation, induced hypothermia and water-boarding by agencies of the U.S. Government? Under a current reading of Article III of the Geneva Convention and CAT, do you believe these techniques violate either of them, in the context of the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution? If no, explain how they don’t, and let us judge the persuasiveness of the defenses of the pro-torture right, but in front of the entire nation and world.

Meantime, let the Democratic candidates (and perhaps John McCain) explain how these techniques do violate these basic international human rights standards. And then let us see whether the Republican Party can win the 2008 election on the basis of fear, on the basis of a platform that allows for freezing people to the point their life is imperiled, or inducing the feeling in detainees they are drowning to death, or depriving them of sleep for such protracted periods that long term deleterious mental health impacts may result. Yes, let us debate these issues, but clearly and out in the open.

To the press corps, I say, the next time a Presidential candidate says “I’m not for torture, only enhanced interrogation techniques”, ask them whether induced hypothermia, sleep deprivation and water-boarding are torture? Then remind them of our treaty obligations under CAT. Ask them whether they think the "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be acceptable pursuant to Article III of the Geneva Convention? Do they wish to repudiate them? Or do they think we can do these things and not run afoul of these standards? Again, how? What will become increasingly clear is that leading Republican candidates are running on a platform that has us repudiating our treaty obligations and watering-down our constitutional standards.

So the American people will have a choice: are we to slide towards rogue nation status on such issues, or repudiate the profoundly damaging legacy of the last 6 years and regain the mantle of leading avatar of human rights in the international arena? I hope and trust Abraham Lincoln’s ‘better angels’ of human nature will prevail in this great country, and no major political party will be voted into power that is in favor of authorizing the use of techniques--by any instrumentality of the US Government--that constitute torture under internationally recognized norms.

Put differently, how many well-meaning Tom Maguire's are out there, thinking they're doing the right thing, but unaware of the gravity of the issue? I don't know, but deep down, I still trust in the fundamental decency of the majority of the American people. They will see through the hyperbole of the 'ticking-bomb' scenario, they will realize that a legal right to torture by any Government agency will reverberate through others, they will understand that our previously acceptable interrogation tactics are more than adequate to the job. In short, they will be judicious and reasonable and pragmatic. They will act like Americans often have, since the inception of the Republic, which is to say, with honor and fearlessness, not ugliness and cowardice.

Posted by Gregory at 12:05 AM | Comments (320)

May 21, 2007

Oh My

Isn't this interesting (albeit woefully predictable)? And this? Oh, and I know Fred Kagan says the surge is going rather swimmingly (coming out of his Prince Myshkin moment), but others (with far more credibility) evidently disagree.

Commentary on all these related items as soon as time allows. I'll try not to be overly scathing, though it's increasingly hard not to be when dealing with a hugely incompetent "banana republic" Administration (noted crackpot lefty & America hater George Will's phrase on This Week w/ George S. yesterday), that must be dragged kicking and screaming--much like an indignant child--towards rational policy decisions. As a result, it's always too little, too late. And we, the American people (not to mention the rest of the world), prove the consistent losers. Not to mention, of course, the 21 American servicemen who've died over the past 72 hours, dying for a chimerical "victory" plan that is unrealizable, one ginned up amateurishly at a discredited think-tank.

We want to "win" this war and control the battle-space convincingly? Show me another 200,000 troops then, if this is WWIV, and re-institute the draft while you're at it too, but don't insult us with a 28,000 drop in the bucket, so we keep playing whack-a-mole and men die while Washington fiddles disgracefully ferreting about for a war 'czar' (isn't this the Commander-in-Chief, aided by his NSC Advisor?), still with no overiding strategy (within Iraq itself, or regionally) to exit a failed intervention. As I said, more soon, including why our vital interests (no genocide, no regionalization of the conflict, no al-Qaeda sanctuary--none of them require this ill-fated surge).

Posted by Gregory at 01:23 PM | Comments (57)

May 19, 2007

Maguire's Flim-Flam

Andrew Sullivan beat me to the punch with this post. Look, in my view, supporting torture is somewhat akin to, say, still being in favor of slavery. Which is to say, re-institution of torture should simply be considered beyond the pale in any leading Western democracy in the post-Enlightenment era. I'm saddened to see Tom Maguire endorses it, and further regret that he appears to think this debate is something akin to a ribald game where the key is to score debating points (look, St. McCain would be for it too, in the obscenely low on the probability cure ticking-bomb hypo!). McCain had fought tooth and nail against torture, and reluctantly conceded the CIA carve-out last year (in a terribly dissapointing bow to political realism, given his Presidential run) which I'm confident he'd reverse were he to gain the Presidency.

(As for Glenn Reynolds, who links Maguire's "St. McCain" post with the usual lame non-endorsement/endorsement link, the better so he can assure the old Yale Law crowd later he's not pro-torture, the less said, the better. Suffice it to say though, I cannot take his views regarding national security matters with the slightest shred of seriousness anymore. Space and admin law, perhaps. Foreign policy, not in a million years).

P.S. I do want to quickly address this Maguire comment left at my blog, if I might. Maguire writes:

I think we are debating whether, for example, playing loud music is "torture". I don't believe any of the Republican candidates would favor electric shocks, dismemberment, or beatings, for example. Is waterboarding, which is scary but part of SERE training for our own troops, "torture" in the medieval sense? I don't know why we can't debate that. And the debate moderator did posit a ticking bomb scenario.

Tom, why does torture have to be "in the medieval sense" to be torture? This seems to be a common misperception among the frothing right blogospheric goose-steppers eager to describe anything short of the rack as non-torture. There are various generally accepted definitions of torture. So I don't appear a sissy and quote U.N. Conventions (god forbid!), here's 18 U.S. Code § 2340, which is to say, binding U.S. law:

"As used in this chapter— (1) 'torture' means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

(2) 'severe mental pain or suffering' means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from— (A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering; (B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality; (C) the threat of imminent death; or (D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality; and

(3) 'United States' means the several States of the United States, the District of Columbia, and the commonwealths, territories, and possessions of the United States."

If Maguire doesn't think protracted sleep deprivation, long exposure to frigid temperatures, water-boarding, and other such tactics constitute torture, well, I'm afraid I can't take his views in good faith anymore and would lose much respect for him. But Tom aside (we're just unimportant wee little bloggers, after all), our press corps, if they're capable of it, need to ask Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani (let's not waste time with cretins like Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo), whether mock execution (which is what water-boarding is) constitutes torture. We know Mitt, eager to please the legions of rabid LGF/Hewitt/Reynolds types, would likely tell us he'd double the number of water-boarding interrogations, but I'm curious to know what Rudy meant at the recent presidential debate when he said:

In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know there's going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. It shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of --

MR. HUME: Water-boarding?

MR. GIULIANI: -- and I would -- and I would -- well, I'd say every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that because I've seen what -- (interrupted by applause) -- I've seen what can happen when you make a mistake about this, and I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or any place else.

"Every method they could think of", eh? And Maguire tells us he doesn't think Rudy had "beatings" in mind. Smells disingenuous, doesn't it? Oh, and memo to Tom: SERE training is, you know, training. People know it's, er, not real. When you're a captive at a secret detention center in Romania and you're being water-boarded, you don't have a effing clue if it's real or not. You think you might die. This isn't a Steve Harrigan stunt, for ratings and assorted hoopla. Again, it's a mock execution. Did we win the Cold War so we can perform mock executions in penal colonies in Castro's Cuba or post-Ceausescu Romania? How sad, if so.

Tom, in his comment, continued:

As to the corrosive effect of the use of "torture" - I agree that Rumsfeld messed up the distinctions with Abu Ghraib, but - I don't know why we can't have a "No Enhanced Techniques" rule for the military and separate rules for special prisoners in special CIA prisons. That was the plan in Iraq, as I understand it - Krulak/Hoar say a breakdown in discipline is inevitable, but I don't see why. What happendd to "People follow orders or other people die"?

Cute use of quotation marks Tom, around "torture". And Rumsfeld didn't just "mess up" distinctions, he basically instructed a general in his chain of command to 'Gitmoize' Iraq detainee centers. What arguably "worked' at Gitmo, far from a conflict area and with good guard to detainee ratios, well, near 'hot' battle zones, where people's buddies are getting killed, and mortar shells are flying in, use of dogs, sexual abuse, even death--all these things resulted from said 'mess up'. Oh, and our soft power around the entire god damn globe took a massive hit, but hey, no biggie. The distinctions just got a tad blurred, see?

Tom, you might not think much of Krulak and Hoar (and you're right to suspect they'd think little of you), but it is quite a lot to ask a 19 year old from Idaho in the middle of Mesopotamia with his life on the line daily to understand distinctions between what the CIA can do and the Army, or whether one is an enemy combatant or a POW, and so on. Thus the former commander of the Marine Corps, and Colin Powell (another cheap "saint", for Tom, I suspect), and Jack Vessey, and so many others--they all want a bright line prohibiting torture period. The stakes for our national reputation, for our armed forces, for our dignity, for our democracy--they are unacceptably high--if we allow a right to torture (even if limited to the CIA), which again, includes "enhanced interrogation techniques" like waterboarding.

Maguire concludes:

Anyway, this from Krulak/Haor is laughable:

"Right now, White House lawyers are working up new rules that will govern what CIA interrogators can do to prisoners in secret. Those rules will set the standard not only for the CIA but also for what kind of treatment captured American soldiers can expect from their captors, now and in future wars."

Check a few beheading videos and tell me whether the enemy really needed our use of torture as their motivater.

Maguire, alas, misses the point. Of course al-Qaeda will chop off heads Nick Berg style whenever they deem appropriate. But there will be other wars, with other foes. Some of our enemies will be just as brutal, others perhaps less so. Regardless, we need to retain the moral high ground, so we can proceed with unimpeachable confidence--and so that not a single credible and serious government can accuse us of hypocrisy--that only the enemy is torturing, because we are better than they. Isn't that what this entire struggle is about, finally? Civilization, versus barbarism? With us ostensibly representing the former? Tom, a final plea, come back to the light--buck the commenters who pollute your site fanning their small fears and pro-torture hysterics. Lead, don't follow.

UPDATE: Maguire has responded to Sullivan (scroll to bottom), and writes, "I question "routine", and "cadre" seems awfully melodramatic - can't we just call it a Brute Squad?" I'm guessing we're not going to have a serious discussion here, as Bruce Moomaw suggests in comments. As Nietzsche once put it, "a joke is the epigram on the death of a feeling." The feeling here being, I'd suggest, caring two whits about America's (heavily diminished, alas) reputation as leading avatar of human rights on the global stage. Tom doesn't get the stakes, I fear, and so simply isn't serious on this issue, and therefore, not particularly credible either.

Posted by Gregory at 09:03 PM | Comments (151)

La Nostalgie (WWII Department)

Gideon Rachman:

Faced with the most deadly attack ever against the American mainland, it was natural that the president's mind should turn to the great conflicts of the past. But, in evoking the memory of the second world war, Mr Bush was tapping into a wave of nostalgia for the heroism of 1939-45 that had been building up for a decade.

Hollywood rediscovered the second world war in the 1990s. In the 1970s and 1980s, the war films that carried off the most prestigious Oscars for best picture and best director were about Vietnam: The Deerhunter (1978), Apocalypse Now (1979), Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). But in the decade before 9/11, Vietnam went out of vogue and films set during the second world war were winning Oscars: Schindler's List (1993), The English Patient (1996) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).

Second world war nostalgia was also a literary phenomenon. Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation was published in 1998 and sold more than 1m copies in hardback alone. It implicitly contrasted the fecklessness of the Clinton years with the heroism of the generation that won the second world war. The most prolific American popular historian of the 1990s was the late Stephen Ambrose, who churned out uplifting tales of American heroism in the second world war with titles such as: D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II and The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys - the Men of World War II.

It was Band of Brothers, however, the story of a company of American paratroopers, that probably had the greatest impact because it was made into an award-winning television series - directed by Steven Spielberg and co-produced by Tom Hanks. The first episode aired on September 9 2001 - just two days before the planes hit the World Trade Center.

Band of Brothers was running on American television throughout the traumatic months that followed 9/11. Dexter Fletcher, an actor who starred in the mini-series, summed up its moral: "As a man of 20 I don't know if I'd have been able to do it. It's hard for people of our generation to imagine what it must have been like, but hopefully the series captures some of it and will make people today think: 'Could I have handled that?' "

The yearning for a heroic challenge, after the ease and corruption of a long period of peace and prosperity has been seen before. It is reminiscent of the mood in Britain and Germany before the first world war. Rupert Brooke, a British poet who died in that conflict, saw his generation reacting to the outbreak of war in 1914 "like swimmers into cleanness leaping".

And, on cue, Fred Kagan:

From time to time, nations face fundamental tests of character. Forced to choose between painful but wise options, and irresponsible ones that offer only temporary relief from pain, a people must decide what price they are willing to pay to safeguard themselves and their children and to do the right thing. America has faced such tests before. Guided by Abraham Lincoln, we met our greatest challenge during the Civil War and overcame it, despite agonizing doubts about the possibility of success even into 1864. The Greatest Generation recovered from the shock of Pearl Harbor and refused to stop fighting until both Germany and Japan had surrendered unconditionally. A similar moment is upon us in Iraq. What will we do?

America has vital national interests in Iraq. The global al Qaeda movement has decided to defeat us there--not merely to establish a base from which to pursue further tyranny and terror, but also to erect a triumphant monument on the ruins of American power. Al Qaeda claims to have defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and its recruiting rests in part on that boast. If America flees the field of battle against this foe in Iraq, al Qaeda will have gained an even more powerful recruiting slogan. That is why al Qaeda fighters from across the Muslim world are streaming into Iraq and fighting desperately to retain and expand their positions there. Al Qaeda does not think Iraq is a distraction from their war against us. Al Qaeda believes Iraq is the central front--and it is. To imagine that America can lose in Iraq but prevail in the war against jihadism is almost like imagining that we could have yielded Europe to the Nazis but won World War II.

P.S. Don't miss Fred K's schmaltzy travelogue coda, by the by. Clearly Kagan hasn't been to many war zones, where children suffering through the most dismal conditions will always look wondrously at foreign visitors--not because they expect deliverance from visiting 17th Street surgists--but because a war that continues to be cheer-led by the AEI scriveners has visited untold horrors on them and so they cast about with jealous curiousity at anyone passing through not condemned to their sorry fate (it's nice to have a passport home, isn't it?):

But to my amazement, we also saw children in those streets who did not glare or run or stand dourly as the occupiers passed. Instead they smiled and waved, asking for candy or just saying hello. Even in the worst places in Iraq, we have not lost the children. They still look to us with hope. They still expect us to deliver them from death and violence. They still believe that we will honor our commitments to their parents.

What will happen if we abandon these children? Death will stalk them and their families. Al Qaeda will attempt to subjugate them. Shia militias will drive them from their homes or kill them. And they and their neighbors, and everyone in the Middle East, will know we left them to their fate. Everyone will know, "Never trust the Americans." Everyone will warn their children, "The Americans will only betray you." We will cement our reputation as untrustworthy. We will lose this generation not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. And we will have lost more than our reputation and our ability to protect our interests. We will have lost part of our soul.

Dear readers, this cheap adolescent drivel was written by one of the key architects of the surge. These are the basic intellectual parameters being brought to bear in terms of policy-making assumptions regarding the war (we haven't lost the children yet!). And this is what passes for "analysis" in the Weekly Standard, that is to say, Murdochian propaganda masquerading as maudlin cri de coeur. Be afraid, be very afraid.

This is faith-based adventurism, little more, and another eight of our young men died in pursuit of such a "policy" over the past 48 hours. When will the likes of John Warner defect and tell the President to wholeheartedly adopt the ISG recommendations (rather than in piecemeal fashion, dragged kicking and screaming) and stop this madness? Once we're embroiled in renewed large-scale fighting with Shi'a militias? Once Kirkuk implodes? After we lose scores more in Diyala and Mosul worsens, because we continue not to have enough troops in theater (and never will), so are still playing whack-a-mole? Where are the grown-ups not dwelling in fantasy land--apparently deriving their inspiration like teeny-bopper war tourists--because Iraqi kids smiled and asked them for chewing gum (sorry, just to 'say hello')? The time for gauzy sentimentalism passing as policy has long since passed. Been there, done that. It didn't work then, and it won't now.

Posted by Gregory at 04:06 AM | Comments (5)

Preach It, Brother!

May I just say "amen" to this, and that I further fully emphatize with one's compulsion to create a new "category" as per here. Bravo John! One must keep sane somehow these heady days, as the Hewittian carnival convulses in noisy, unseemly spasms.

Posted by Gregory at 03:18 AM | Comments (1)



Who would have thunk it? Sarko's FM is a gauche caviar who is pro-Turkey's accession to the EU! I suspect Sarkozy will be full of such surprises. Elaine Sciolino has more here. I've admired Kouchner's work w/ MSF, and it will not be uninteresting to see what French foreign policy will look like, particularly re: issues like Iran, with a Foreign Minister whose paternal grandparents were massacred at Auschwitz. All told, I find it a good appointment, though dissenters in comments welcome.

Posted by Gregory at 02:52 AM | Comments (0)


Dear Subscriber,

Can you keep a secret? OK, there are no secrets on the Internet. But I am excited to divulge to you the first word of an intellectual explosion that The New Republic will case in our June 4 issue. Paul Berman has written a 28,000 word essay--an incendiary pamphlet, really--about the extraordinary -though exemplary- case of the Islamicist thinker Tariq Ramadan, who has become the darling of liberal commentators in Europe and increasingly also in the United States. Berman's essay is a detailed examination of not only of Ramadan's thought, but more generally of Islamicist thought since the 1920s--and more, of the bizarrely cordial reception that certain strands of Islamicist thought have recently found in the West. Berman's essay is erudite and vivid, a model of the history of contemporary ideas. And a model also of the battle of ideas: Berman has written a stirring defense of the liberal ideal against its enemies (and even against some of its friends)--an unforgettable call to intellectual responsibility. People will be arguing about it for a very long time. Do not miss it.

You may recall Berman's 2004 book, Terror and Liberalism, which was on the serious best-seller lists for months and months, and began the intellectual debate in which we are all, willy-nilly, now unavoidably ensnared. Reading his essay in our upcoming June 4 issue will be both a responsibility and an opportunity.

Martin Peretz
The New Republic

For a second, when this hit my in-box, I thought it might be a parody. But no, I see I've been served rather a treat (distinguished TNR subscriber that I am), that is to say, advance notice of an imminent "intellectual explosion" (sorry, "incendiary pamphlet"). Yes, before it hits the newstands! Forgive me Marty P, but this read rather more like an unfortunate example of the middlebrow-ization of the New Republic, than uber-titillating fare warranting rushing to the newstand on 52nd and Lex for hard-copy. More Atlantic for me, I guess, going forward!

Posted by Gregory at 02:05 AM | Comments (6)

May 17, 2007

Krulak on Torture (Sorry, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques)


The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. Regrettably, at Tuesday night's presidential debate in South Carolina, several Republican candidates revealed a stunning failure to understand this most basic obligation. Indeed, among the candidates, only John McCain demonstrated that he understands the close connection between our security and our values as a nation.

Tenet insists that the CIA program disrupted terrorist plots and saved lives. It is difficult to refute this claim -- not because it is self-evidently true, but because any evidence that might support it remains classified and unknown to all but those who defend the program.

These assertions that "torture works" may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences.

As has happened with every other nation that has tried to engage in a little bit of torture -- only for the toughest cases, only when nothing else works -- the abuse spread like wildfire, and every captured prisoner became the key to defusing a potential ticking time bomb. Our soldiers in Iraq confront real "ticking time bomb" situations every day, in the form of improvised explosive devices, and any degree of "flexibility" about torture at the top drops down the chain of command like a stone -- the rare exception fast becoming the rule.

To understand the impact this has had on the ground, look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.

This has had disastrous consequences. Revelations of abuse feed what the Army's new counterinsurgency manual, which was drafted under the command of Gen. David Petraeus, calls the "recuperative power" of the terrorist enemy.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its "recuperative power."

The torture methods that Tenet defends have nurtured the recuperative power of the enemy. This war will be won or lost not on the battlefield but in the minds of potential supporters who have not yet thrown in their lot with the enemy. If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it.

This is not just a lesson for history. Right now, White House lawyers are working up new rules that will govern what CIA interrogators can do to prisoners in secret. Those rules will set the standard not only for the CIA but also for what kind of treatment captured American soldiers can expect from their captors, now and in future wars. Before the president once again approves a policy of official cruelty, he should reflect on that.

It is time for us to remember who we are and approach this enemy with energy, judgment and confidence that we will prevail. That is the path to security, and back to ourselves. [emphasis added]

Charles Krulak (whom I met at an informative CFR event in London a few years back where he discussed the so-called "three-block war") was commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999, and Joseph Hoar was commander in chief of U.S. Central Command in the early 90s. These are honorable military men of long experience and proven courage, not hacks playing to a peanut gallery for predictable applause from fearful masses looking for state protection under the guise of absurdly misguided notions of doubling Gitmo or taking the gloves off Jack Baeur style.

Indeed, those who would glibly declare "whatever" as they jump on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" bandwagon would do well to weigh people like Krulak and Hoar's thoughts on the matter, for they have far more standing, gravitas, and insight into the issue than such bloggers, not to mention Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani (this is nothing personal to Tom M, with whom I've been friendly, I just happened to pop over to his site and caught sight of the 'whatevs' post, and I guess it struck me as rather glib).

Meantime, I would urge all my readers to follow this old link and take the time to read the linked opinion (or at least the excerpted portions which, in particular, shed more light on the bolded portion of Krulak's piece above, which is to say, there is no such thing as a little torture, as the Law Lords wrote: "Once torture has become acclimatised in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease, hardening and brutalising those who have become accustomed to its use").

Or as Justice Jackson put it in his Korematsu dissent:

"...once judicial approval is given to such conduct, it lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. A single instance, if approved to meet the threat of international terrorism, would establish a principle with the power to grow and expand so that everything that falls within it would be regarded as acceptable."

This nation went through a very painful trauma with 9/11. But we cannot allow a combination of slavish faith in government protection via torture (or torture-lite), pop culture (see "Jack Bauer" anesthetizing dumbed-down television viewers to the horror of what state-sanctioned torture represents), and racially-tinged Islamophobia to lead us to accept a Romney-esque stance, which is to say, throw more of the assorted brownies into extra-territorial cages where basically all detainees are considered ticking bombs (when instead none really are, this is rather Hollywood scripted fare, truly one in a million stuff on the probability curve--as al-Qaeda operational cycles take years from planning to execution--so one has ample time to pursue more reliable interrogation tactics), and so it's off to the Gitmo races with water-boarding, sleep deprivation and menstrual 'blood' swabbing galore.

Some might be OK with the America this represents in the mirror, but I'm not, and nor are most of our leading uniformed men who've actually served and better understand the implications of tossing aside "quaint" notions like Geneva Convention norms, even if (supposedly) only within the rubric of CIA rather than US Army interrogation programs. I can't say it better than the Law Lords here:

That word honour, the deep note which Blackstone strikes twice in one sentence, is what underlies the legal technicalities of this appeal. The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride and the admiration of enlightened foreign writers such as Voltaire and Beccaria. In our own century, many people in the United States, heirs to that common law tradition, have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal "rendition" of suspects to countries where they would be tortured: Just as the writ of habeas corpus is not only a special (and nowadays infrequent) remedy for challenging unlawful detention but also carries a symbolic significance as a touchstone of English liberty which influences the rest of our law, so the rejection of torture by the common law has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system. Not only that: the abolition of torture, which was used by the state in Elizabethan and Jacobean times to obtain evidence admitted in trials before the court of Star Chamber, was achieved as part of the great constitutional struggle and civil war which made the government subject to the law. Its rejection has a constitutional resonance for the English people which cannot be overestimated.

Frankly that in the 21st Century we here in the United States are debating the merits of habeas corpus and torture is profoundly shocking, and brings to mind Settembrini and Naphta's exchanges in Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, which is to say, history doesn't advance in linear fashion defined by consistent progress, but perhaps moves more cyclically, with advances in human civilization constantly threatened by reverses. Or, as Dostoevsky put it in The Idiot: "Yes, the laws of self-preservation and of self-destruction are equally powerful in this world." Tom Tancredo, the crudest proponent of torture at the recent Republican Presidential debate, inadvertently stumbled upon this more profound issue, when he said (to cheap applause and laughter):

Well, let me just say that it's almost unbelievable to listen to this in a way. We're talking about -- we're talking about it in such a theoretical fashion. You say that -- that nuclear devices have gone off in the United States, more are planned, and we're wondering about whether waterboarding would be a -- a bad thing to do? I'm looking for "Jack Bauer" at that time, let me tell you. (Laughter, applause.)

And -- and there is -- there is nothing -- if you are talking about -- I mean, we are the last best hope of Western civilization. And so all of the theories that go behind our activities subsequent to these nuclear attacks going off in the United States, they go out the window because when -- when we go under, Western civilization goes under. So you better take that into account, and you better do every single thing you can as president of the United States to make sure, number one, it doesn't happen -- that's right -- but number two, you better respond in a way that makes them fearful of you because otherwise you guarantee something like this will happen.

Western civilization would indeed be grievously threatened by a terrorist nuclear attack in a major city, to be sure, but today we are perhaps at greater threat of imperiling Western civilization by contemplating discarding legal protections that have been with us since the Magna Carta was enshrined in 1215 (habeas corpus) or having the leading democracy on the planet accept torture as a legitimate tool of state power, which reverses basic human advances secured in the Enlightenment. Indeed, a nuclear attack, apart from the human carnage, would be equally threatening because it would doubtless lead to the erosion of bedrook legal principles that secure the basic democratic governance structures of this country. This is why Phil Bobbit spoke of 'stockpiling laws' (like we do vaccines) in this interview with the Spectator a few years back:

Secondly I think when you go to weapons of mass destruction you’re talking about just a completely different level of horror and disruption. And I think that these debates now, although I’m perplexed sometimes by the course they take, are really very, very important. We must come, as societies, to some understanding of what we’re facing, and in these times of tranquillity organise ourselves and debate about what we will do if a catastrophe should come to pass. We should stockpile laws for such an eventuality, just as we stockpile vaccines. Then I think we have an excellent chance of getting through these attacks with systems of consent in place. But if we don’t do that, if we say oh, get real, this isn’t another second world war, surely you’re exaggerating the threat, this couldn’t possibly threaten our society now! It hasn’t yet! And if you don’t use the democratic process to put laws in place now, then in a way you become the ally of the terrorists because when a truly terrible series of mass atrocities really does occur and you don’t have anything to fall back on, that’s when you get martial law, that’s when you get the system that’s in democratic collapse, and you become the source of terror yourself. No, Bin Ladin isn’t going to invade and occupy Westminster and put Mullah Omar in the House of Lords, he’s not going to take over. If Britain becomes a state of terror it will be because we did it to ourselves and we did it because we did not prepare when we had the time and the peace to do so by law and by consensual systems.The United States can do the same thing. If we are busy throwing away laws, the one steady craft we have to get through this, Washington will turn us into a state of terror, we’ll do it. We’ll embrace it enthusiastically.

These, really, are the stakes.

Posted by Gregory at 01:30 PM | Comments (44)

May 16, 2007

Department of Sickbed Visits


Describing the events as “the most difficult of my professional career,” Mr. Comey appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its inquiry into the dismissal of federal prosecutors and the role of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Several lawmakers wanted to examine Mr. Gonzales’s actions in the N.S.A. matter, when he was White House counsel, and cited them to buttress their case that he should resign.

Mr. Comey, the former No. 2 official in the Justice Department, said the crisis began when he refused to sign a presidential order reauthorizing the program, which allowed monitoring of international telephone calls and e-mail of people inside the United States who were suspected of having terrorist ties. He said he made his decision after the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, based on an extensive review, concluded that the program did not comply with the law. At the time, Mr. Comey was acting attorney general because Mr. Ashcroft had been hospitalized for emergency gall bladder surgery.

Mr. Comey would not describe the rationale for his refusal to approve the eavesdropping program, citing its classified nature. The N.S.A. program, which began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks and did not require court approval to listen in on the communications of Americans and others, provoked an outcry in Congress when it was disclosed in December 2005.

Mr. Comey said that on the evening of March 10, 2004, Mr. Gonzales and Andrew H. Card Jr., then Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, tried to bypass him by secretly visiting Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Ashcroft was extremely ill and disoriented, Mr. Comey said, and his wife had forbidden any visitors.

Mr. Comey said that when a top aide to Mr. Ashcroft alerted him about the pending visit, he ordered his driver to rush him to George Washington University Hospital with emergency lights flashing and a siren blaring, to intercept the pair. They were seeking his signature because authority for the program was to expire the next day.

Mr. Comey said he phoned Mr. Mueller, who agreed to meet him at the hospital. Once there, Mr. Comey said he “literally ran up the stairs.” At his request, Mr. Mueller ordered the F.B.I. agents on Mr. Ashcroft’s security detail not to evict Mr. Comey from the room if Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card objected to his presence.

Mr. Comey said he arrived first in the darkened room, in time to brief Mr. Ashcroft, who he said seemed barely conscious. Before Mr. Ashcroft became ill, Mr. Comey said the two men had talked and agreed that the program should not be renewed.

When the White House officials appeared minutes later, Mr. Gonzales began to explain to Mr. Ashcroft why they were there. Mr. Comey said Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed, but in strong and unequivocal terms, refused to approve the eavesdropping program.

“I was angry,” Mr. Comey told the committee. “ I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me. I thought he had conducted himself in a way that demonstrated a strength I had never seen before, but still I thought it was improper.”

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card quickly departed, but Mr. Comey said he soon got an angry phone call from Mr. Card, demanding that he come to the White House. Mr. Comey said he replied: “After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness, and I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.” [emphasis added]

I've thought of late that I'd mostly lost any capacity for surprise--when it comes to varied Bush Administration incompetence and/or chicanery--but the sleaze-o-meter really went off the charts with this one. This said, the titular right over in Great Leader la-la land will doubtless cheer Andy Card and Alberto Gonzalez's bed-side visit, as a veritable paragon of courage and patriotism. After all, the nation was imperiled if the Acting Attorney General didn't cease and desist from carping on about nettlesome, inconsequential legalisms. It took balls and fortitude to try to get Ashcroft to do the right thing, even if he was "extremely ill and disoriented" and his wife had barred visitors so as to preserve his energy and aid recovery. Me? I'm disgusted, and somewhat surprised Andy Card would have stooped this low. Gonzalez, par with the course, of course. The only question is, will he or Wolfowitz end up having to step down first? Unlike some, I don't think Alberto has quite "weathered the storm" just yet...and this, shall we say, unsettling vignette isn't going to help much....

Posted by Gregory at 05:41 AM | Comments (21)

Torture Party

Mitt Romney, at tonight's Republican Presidential debate:

"You said the person is going to be in Guantanamo. I'm glad they're at Guantanamo. I don't want them on our soil. I want them in Guantanamo where they don't get the access to lawyers they get when they're on our soil. I don't want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is, we ought to double Guantanamo."

Rudy Giuliani, at the same debate:

"In the hypothetical that you gave me, which assumes that we know that there's going to be another attack and these people know about it, I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they could think of. Shouldn't be torture, but every method they can think of," Giuliani said, adding that that could include waterboarding. "I've seen what can happen when you make a mistake about this, and I don't want to see another 3,000 people dead in New York or anyplace else."

Not to be outdone, Duncan Hunter, in uber-lame fashion, offered up (note cool use of SecDef locution!):

"Let me just say, this would take a one-minute conversation with the secretary of defense," said California Rep. Duncan Hunter. "I would call him up or call him in, I would say to SecDef, in terms of getting information that would save American lives even if it involves very high-pressure techniques, one sentence: 'Get the information'.

Save McCain and Ron Paul (though McCain loses many points for the demagoguery of his oft-repeated 'the terrorists will follow us home if we leave Iraq' line) all the candidates were jumping over themselves, like Pavlovian dogs, to outdo each other regarding their alacrity to pursue, yes, 'enhanced interrogation techniques'--in response to Brit Hume's ticking-bomb hypo. Putting aside for now how low on the probability curve such a scenario would be, it was only McCain and Paul who stood firmly against torture (later the minor candidate Gilmore in Q&A on Fox said he was not for torture). With Hagel and Bloomberg not in the race, Paul a quixotic candidate, and McCain touting a variant of the flypaper fiction, while not yet grasping that regional crisis management must trump chimerical calls for victory in Iraq now, I find myself increasingly focused on Barack Obama (I am uncomfortable with another quasi-dynastic succession a la Hillary). I hope to analyze some of his foreign policy speeches in this space soon.

Posted by Gregory at 04:23 AM | Comments (7)

A Case for Withdrawal

Rory Stewart:

What would I do in Iraq now? I am not an expert, but I believe that the time has come to withdraw, that our presence is infantilizing the Iraqi political system. That we're like an inadequate antibiotic. We are sufficiently strong to have turned what might have been a conventional civil war into a highly unconventional neighborhood conflict. But we're not strong enough to eliminate it entirely. At the same time I fear that, without intending to, we have discredited democracy in the eyes of many Iraqis. We have created a situation in which many Iraqis now feel that the only way to keep security is to bring back a strongman. They are extremely skeptical of our programs and suggestions for development.

I think that Iraqi politicians are considerably more competent, canny, and capable of compromise than we acknowledge. Iraqi nationalism, in my view, can trump the Shiite–Sunni divisions. Our continuing presence is encouraging Iraqi politicians to play hard-ball with each other. Were we to leave, they would be weaker and under more pressure to compromise. In our relations with the Iraqis we often blocked negotiations with Moqtada al-Sadr or Sunni insurgency leaders, or the offer of troop withdrawals and amnesties for former Baathists and insurgents, among others. Yet these will probably be elements in any kind of settlement.

And therefore, my belief—and I emphasize this is my belief, not a certainty—is that were we to withdraw, things would improve. I say belief because that may not be the case. I can't predict the future. Iraq and its neighbors and its internal forces are extremely difficult to understand. In a single province in Iraq fifty-four new political parties emerged after three months following the invasion. And even Iraqis struggle to distinguish between the parties called the Islamic Call Movement, the Islamic Call Tendency, and the Islamic Call Muslim Party. All the parties that call themselves Hezbollah or Hamas have nothing to do with their namesakes on the other side of Arabia.

So I cannot guarantee that the situation will improve following a withdrawal. In some countries, civil wars do indeed continue for a very long time. Whatever government emerges after our departure is likely to be Islamist and authoritarian. People talk sometimes too easily about choosing between lesser evils. In this case the choices may be genuinely evil. But I am certain that our presence is not improving things. Despite some claims to the contrary, there is not a single indicator of significant, overall improvement I know of over the last four years, neither in electricity, nor in education, nor in police training, nor in the military. You might be able to achieve a temporary blitz, a temporary numerical drop in the number of security incidents, through deploying 20,000 troops into Baghdad, but this is not sustainable. There is no evidence I have seen that either the Iraqi police or army is prepared to take over our role, so long as we stay. In this situation there is simply no point hanging around. It would seem to me that starting to leave tomorrow, as opposed to in two years' time or six years' time, would make no difference; the situation would be the same. And there cannot be a justification for continuing, day by day, to kill Iraqis and to have our own soldiers killed in this kind of war.

There are problems with Stewart's argument (though having just taken in the Republican Presidential debate, I'd point out that the terrorists will "follow us home" if we leave isn't one of them, at least not a serious non-demagoguing one). What do readers think of Stewart's analysis? Does he underestimate how much greater the chaos would be in the event of a U.S. withdrawal in the very near term? Is he right that if we start to leave tomorrow, it would be the same as if we left in 6 years? None of us can really know, of course, but it is increasingly clear that a phased redeployment will prove ever more critical if (when?) the surge fails.

In other words, the much derided Iraq Study Group will end up having proven rather prophetic, not only in terms of U.S. forces diminishing their combat roles in Iraq, but also given the increasing momentum to engage Syria (at the Foreign Minister level) and Iran (for now, at the Ambassadorial level), while in terms of the overall neighborhood stressing too the importance of a renewed push on the Arab-Israeli front. As usual, however, the Administration (much like an indignant child) must be dragged kicking and screaming towards broaching such a judicious course (one where a bipartisan consensus could likely have been struck, at least outside the McCain-Lieberman wing), while meantime--riven by halting half-measures and endemic internecine squabbles--the Administration has effectively scuttled the chances of any truly viable course correction. Woefully predictable, but still depressing as hell.

Posted by Gregory at 03:54 AM | Comments (6)

May 15, 2007

Enquiring Minds Wanna Know.....

Why haven't we had our own Winograd Commission over here?

Posted by Gregory at 04:45 AM | Comments (6)

Rosen on the Iraq Refugee Crisis

Nir Rosen:

At a meeting in mid-April in Geneva, held by António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, the numbers presented confirmed what had long been suspected: the collapse of Iraq had created a refugee crisis, and that crisis was threatening to precipitate the collapse of the region. The numbers dwarfed anything that the Middle East had seen since the dislocations brought on by the establishment of Israel in 1948. In Syria, there were estimated to be 1.2 million Iraqi refugees. There were another 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon and 10,000 in Turkey. The overall estimate for the number of Iraqis who had fled Iraq was put at two million by Guterres. The number of displaced Iraqis still inside Iraq’s borders was given as 1.9 million. This would mean about 15 percent of Iraqis have left their homes.

Most of this movement has occurred in the last two years. An outflow began after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. But since the upsurge of violence following the bombing of a Shiite holy site in Samarra 14 months ago, the flight has been large and constant. It now reaches a rate of up to 50,000 people per month.

In short, we have the largest refugee crisis since 1948 in the Middle East, one directly caused by the dismally under-planned U.S. invasion, which allowed for conditions of endemic sectarian conflict to take root, and thus large-scale refugee flows. I don't know what's more depressing, the predictably callous neo-primitive reaction (John Bolton: "Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war...Helping the refugees flies in the face of received logic. You don’t want to encourage the refugees to stay. You want them to go home. The governments don’t want them to stay") or the institutional cowardice and cheap denialism of State Department functionaries/Washington officialdom (see immediately below on this last).

The United States is really just beginning to grapple with the question of Iraqi refugees, in part because the flight from Iraq is so entwined with the vexed question of blame. When I read John Bolton’s comments to Paula Dobriansky — the undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs — and her colleague Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, they mainly agreed with him. Sauerbrey maintained that “refugees are created by repressive regimes and failed states. The sectarian violence has driven large numbers out. During the Saddam regime, large numbers of Iraqis were displaced, and the U.S. resettled 38,000 Iraqis. We would take 5,000 a year at given points in time. After 2003, there was great hope, and people were returning in large numbers. The sectarian violence after the mosque bombing in February 2006 is what turned things around. The problem is one caused by the repressive regime” of Saddam Hussein. She did add, “We take the responsibility of being a compassionate nation seriously.”

What that has mostly meant is that the Bush administration has left the task of dealing with Iraqi refugees to Iraq’s neighbors. On a recent trip to the region, Sauerbrey pressed the Syrian government to keep its borders open. “That was a major part of my visit,” she told me. “Not only to keep borders open but not forcibly return them” — that is, the refugees. Dobriansky told me, “What we have asked for Iraq’s neighbors to do is maintain secure but open borders, allow Iraqis access to vital services and facilitate assistance.” The United States is helping to provide some of this assistance. Sauerbrey mentioned a program involving schools in Jordan, where, she said, there were as many as 200,000 Iraqi children of school age but only 14,000 attending school: “The parents are afraid to send their children to school because if they are noticed, there is a danger they might be sent back,” she told me. “Jordan has made it very clear they don’t want a separate school system for Iraqi children. We have to make sure that the Jordanian government is creating conditions where Iraqi families feel safe.”

There was only one category of Iraqis toward whom both Dobriansky and Saurbrey did acknowledge a specific American responsibility: interpreters and facilitators. “We are committed to honoring our moral debt to those Iraqis who have provided assistance to the U.S. military and embassy,” Dobriansky said.

That will leave everyone else to fend pretty much for themselves and depend on the kindness of Iraq’s neighbors. Barbara Bodine, a longtime U.S. diplomat in the region who was brought in to be the temporary “mayor” of Baghdad in 2003, told me there was a simple reason for the White House’s denial of a refugee crisis: “When you affirm you have refugees and I.D.P.’s” — internally displaced persons — “you are admitting that the average Iraqi has little or no expectation that Bush’s surge can reverse a security situation that has spun utterly out of control. This is not a loss of faith in Iraq, per se, but in the current governments of Iraq and Washington.”

As Richard Holbrooke writes:

The situations brave men such as Wallenberg, Sousa Mendes, and Bingham faced are not just ancient history. They are similar to what is happening now in Iraq. Since the 2003 invasion, the U.S. government has allowed only 466 Iraqi refugees to enter the United States, even though more than two million have fled the country (mostly to Jordan and Syria). Among those desperately seeking safety are thousands of Iraqis who worked with or supported U.S. personnel in Iraq. They are at the greatest possible risk. In an embarrassing interview recently, Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, told 60 Minutes that the small number and slow processing is the result of new, post-9/11 security requirements. Even Iraqis who were given security clearances to work with U.S. troops in sensitive positions in Iraq have to wait several years to get approved. Sauerbrey boasted about increasing this year's Iraqi refugee quota to 7,000 -- still a pathetically small number given U.S. responsibility for the desperate plight of fleeing Iraqis. Under similar circumstances, between 1975 and 1980, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter took in over 500,000 refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. Those refugees were initially put into camps of "first asylum" for security screening before being permitted to settle in the United States, where today they are a vibrant part of American life.

In fact, if it were not for Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who has made refugees a prime concern for over 40 years, the Bush administration would probably still be ignoring the issue; President George W. Bush has yet to mention it in public. That the sorry story of the 1930s is being repeated -- with so little public outrage -- is more than disturbing; it is shameful. Why is the White House doing so little? And where are the Binghams and Sousa Mendeses of 2007?

Every age will present people in positions of authority with similar difficult dilemmas. The details will vary, but the challenge will be the same. If you were in such a situation, would you realize it? And if you did, what would you do?

But there is no shame in today's Washington. Our political class shirks responsibility whenever and wherever possible (after the obligatory, and hugely disingenuous, rote statements that they "take full responsibility" or some such for whatever l'affaire du jour). The fact that there are approximately 4 million refugees and internally displaced as a result of the Iraq War, and that we've only resettled some 400 of them in this country, the very country that directly precipitated this refugee tragedy, well, why should anyone be outraged? Didn't Al Sharpton just diss Mitt? Imus a women's basketball team, causing our 'elite' commentators to opine endlessly regarding same on august shows like Meet the Press? Isn't Paris going to jail for 40? And wasn't there a super simpatico white tie fete with the Queen recently, where the White House flower arrangements proved just lovely? Move on party pooper, freedom is messy, see?

Posted by Gregory at 03:35 AM | Comments (7)

May 14, 2007

Hair Tearing Memories


Tony Blair was "tearing his hair out" over his inability to influence the Pentagon over postwar planning in Iraq, Lady Morgan, his former political secretary, has said in an interview with the Guardian.

"We could talk to the US state department and to the president, but we had no leverage over the defence department, and he [Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary] had been given the power to make decisions," she said.

"It was up to Bush to do the right thing and be in charge, but he was not. Sometimes he [Blair] was tearing his hair out".

Lady Morgan said George Bush was "straight to deal with", and many of the best meetings with him were when he and Mr Blair were one to one."

She added: "That is why Tony went to Washington so much. The video conference was no substitute."

Leading Labour figures spoke openly yesterday for the first time about Iraq as Mr Blair set out his departure timetable.

Lady Morgan said Mr Blair thought hard about postwar planning and was not so distracted by the need for a parliamentary majority for the war that he did not consider what might happen in Iraq after the war. "Tony gripped himself about this. He had a feel for it," she said. "I think he thought that ... if he had been in charge, we would not have been in this mess. He could see what needed to be done but he did not have the levers."

Lady Morgan said Mr Blair thought about resigning because he could not see himself ever being freed from allegations that he had deliberately misled the public over the war.

Mr Blair's officials have previously been reticent about discussing disputes between him and Mr Bush over the war. The two men will meet in Washington next week to discuss the situation in Iraq.

In a separate interview for Radio 4's World at One, Lady Morgan said: "The actual operation of the war and the postwar planning was done by Donald Rumsfeld and I don't think George Bush was running Donald Rumsfeld ... The fundamental problem is that it [Iraq] has become a place where terrorists from every major group are now operating."

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's former director of communications, also conceded, for the first time, that postwar planning had gone wrong. "The military part was done well. Subsequent to that there have been enormous difficulties. I would put that down to Donald Rumsfeld," he said. But he added that the buck in any country stopped with the leader. [emphasis added]

But Dubya is Harry Truman, didn't you know?

Posted by Gregory at 11:28 PM | Comments (5)

May 12, 2007

Another Vilnius Moment, This Time From the USS Stennis

Recall Richard Cheney's memorable broadside aimed at Moscow last year, from nearby Vilnius? We were just treated to something of a repeat, alas, only this time from a naval carrier in the Gulf, and aimed at Teheran.

Sanger in the NYT:

Vice President Dick Cheney used the deck of an American aircraft carrier just 150 miles off Iran’s coast as the backdrop yesterday to warn that the United States was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting oil routes or “gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”

Mr. Cheney said little new in his speech, delivered from the cavernous hangar bay of the John C. Stennis, one of the two carriers in the Persian Gulf. Each line had, in some form, been said before at various points in the four-year nuclear standoff with Iran, and during the increasingly tense arguments over whether Tehran is aiding insurgents in Iraq.

But Mr. Cheney stitched all of those warnings together, and the symbolism of sending the administration’s most famous hawk to deliver them so close to Iran’s coast was unmistakable. It also came just a week after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had talked briefly and inconclusively with Iran’s foreign minister, a step toward re-engagement with Iran that some in the administration have opposed.

Mr. Cheney’s sharp warnings appeared to be part of a two-track administration campaign to push back at Iran while leaving the door open to negotiations. It was almost exactly a year ago that the United States offered to negotiate with Iran as long as it first agreed to stop enriching uranium, a decision in which Mr. Cheney, participants said, was not a major player.

Senior officials said Mr. Cheney’s speech was not circulated broadly in the government before it was delivered. A senior American diplomat added, “He still kind of runs by his own rules.”

For some reason T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men" sprang to mind upon hearing this latest Cheneyesque bluster. Look, the Iranians are not idiots. They know we're mired in Iraq. They know, for instance, that one of the the main reasons the situation in Anbar is improving somewhat is because Sunnis there are stricken with fear a wave of Shi'a revanchism will visit them with ferocious strength, so they are increasingly looking to the Americans for protection (to stress, not out of deep affection, mind you, but because of sheer survival instinct). Iran knows too, with the situation in Baghdad still so critical (don't believe propagandists at Murdochian rags like the Weekly Standard, the situation in Baghdad is as dire as ever), and with too few troops still in Iraq (see Diyala, and likely increasingly soon, Kirkuk and Mosul), that America is barely hanging on in Iraq. Nor does the above reflect the real and growing possibility of renewed large-scale fighting with varied Sh'a militias, which would only put the American Army under even greater strain in Mesopotamia.

From this position of strategic weakness (let me not detain readers with the abysmally horrid decline in our soft power through all this period too, whether because of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, or are incapacity to lead a serious peace process forward in the Middle East), a U.S. strike on Iran (or a common perception that the U.S. has provided tacit approval of an Israeli strike there), will lead to severe repercussions throughout the globe, but first and foremost will endanger thousands of U.S. servicemen in Iraq. It would be an act of irresponsible folly, one that would enjoy little to no support from most of Congress (even this perennially castrated branch of government, at least of late, has summoned up mini-doses of free-thinking and occasional gumption in the face of varied crude foreign policy diktats emitting from 1600 Pennsylvania), nor the majority of the American people. Then too, there is the widespread international opprobrium that would result, not only from Moscow and Beijing and such, but also likely from Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy, push come to shove, as saner leaders like them stopped to think through the consequences of what another military adventure in the Middle East would reap in its midst.

But regardless of the risk of war, let us think more long-term and strategically for a moment. We want Iran not to go nuclear, as we believe this will present a threat to our allies in the region (Saudi Arabia, Israel), and that it will set off an arms race (Egypt, Turkey, Saudi). Does Cheney playing pugnacious showman on the Stennis help concentrate minds in Teheran? Does it cause the Iranians to retrench from trying to go nuclear, or does it only make them more hell-bent to press on? Wouldn't more disciplined and assiduous regional crisis management, involving adoption of many of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, and even (however utopic sounding) dangling the prospect of talking to the Indians, Pakistanis and Israelis about reduction of their nuclear capacities (say, accompanied by major initiatives on Kashmir and Palestine), with the ultimate objective of a WMD free zone in the Middle East (even if decades hence), wouldn't this get Iran's attention more effectively?

Or still, if Iran going nuclear becomes increasingly certain in the next decade, shouldn't we be spending more time systematically building a regional security architecture to better contain Iran holding the region hostage, rather than gin up some hastily conceived anti-Iranian Sunni bloc that might end up, rather than helping in any meaningful fashion stave off an Iranian bomb, instead spur on the dissolution of the Iraqi nation-state, as Sunni states arm up their local proxies, and Iran does the same with her Shi'a ones? (Not to mention, today's good Sunni "muj", after all, can become tomorrow's baddies, as Afghanistan circa 1980s might serve to remind our varied policy-making notables in Washington).

And strategy aside, on a tactical level, Cheney's bluster unfortunately makes Condi Rice's half-hearted quasi-rapprochment around the Middle Eastern conference tables of late look even more halting, reluctant and disingenuous. But no, you say, this is all deliberate. The Iranians must be fearful, they must respect us, before they might come to the table to make a deal, before they might consider suspension of uranium enrichment. Sure, we can let Ryan Crocker talk the Iraq dossier w/ some Iranian diplomats, but big picture, they must realize the Gulf isn't some Persian pool in their backyard, that we won't tolerate them going nuclear, that we have the will and staying power and cojones to attack them too if we deem fit.

Sounds quite grand and macho, but it's mostly rubbish, I'm afraid. Why? In the main, because we've little to no credibility. After all, we've handed the Iranians at least four huge gifts these past few years, first sacking the Taliban (justifiably), then getting rid of Saddam, then cheerleading for elections in Palestine that put Hamas in power, and finally giving carte blanche to the Israelis to attack Lebanon with a half-assed "war strategy" (if we dare mention the word strategy in these heady post-Winograd days). In short, we've been so blunderingly dumb and presented Iran so many presents on mounted platters, that a theatrical broadside from a naval carrier is seen as little more than unconvincing Wyoming bombast, rather than some significant strategic threat, so piss-poor has been the policy execution these past years.

In short, the Putin quip about Cheney's speech in Vilnius--that it was akin to an "unsuccessful hunting shot"--well, it might well describe too this showboating in the Gulf that is ultimately so hollow. Putin was right, no? A good hunter shoots straight, and consistently. When Cheney was hypocritically carping on about Russia's anti-democratic behavior (from such a poorly chosen venue, George Kennan would have been mortified at the cheaply provocative nature of it), he might have picked a better time than when he was about to traipse over to toast Nazarbayev.

As the IHT put it at the time:

Still, however much we agree with the content of Cheney's remarks, the unavoidable reaction is to question their motives, provenance and usefulness. There was a time when a strong statement from Washington in support of human rights and democratic behavior carried real authority. But of late the human-rights record of this U.S. administration has seriously eroded its moral authority, and Cheney is closely associated with some of its most offensive policies. Straight from Vilnius, Cheney travels to oil-rich Kazakhstan to make nice to President Nursultan Nazarbayev, a leader with an awful human-rights record whose recent re-election was fraudulent. A week ago, President George W. Bush received a similar autocrat, President Ilham Aliyev of oil-rich Azerbaijan, in the White House. Given the global scramble for energy, there is an obvious self-interest for Washington on courting these secular leaders of Muslim nations. But spearing Russia while flirting with its even more undemocratic neighbors does confuse the message, to put it mildly, especially when done by a vice president closely identified with oil interests.
And now, after pronunciamentoes about "delivering justice to the enemies of freedom" from the deck of the Stennis (what emptily messianic hogwash), and from a character who's done his utmost to put the authoritarian back in the Executive, it's off to Riyadh to talk turkey with the freedom loving Royals there! The hypocrisy is rich. I could tolerate it frankly, if the varied pharisaism (the galling impieties this Administration visits on our grand religion "freedom"!) were being enlisted in the pursuit of an intelligent policy that actually bolstered the U.S. national interest. But not when it's just ham-handed fist-thumping with no strategic direction or gravitas. Six years of that has been quite enough, thank you. Basta.
Posted by Gregory at 06:36 PM | Comments (7)

Oh Fun, "Process for the Sake of Process"


The Bush administration is undertaking much of its current Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy to appease the Arabs and Europeans, a top White House official told a group of Jewish Republicans recently, according to those present.

Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams said much of the heightened State Department activity with the two parties was "process for the sake of process" and being done to "assuage the Arabs and the Europeans, who haven't been happy with the United States [and are] happy to see that there's at least an attempt or energy being put into the peace process," according to one attendee at the closed-door meeting.

In response to a question raised at the event about whether "European and Arab pressure could put Israel in a corner," the National Security Council issued a statement saying that "ultimately, the United States provides an emergency brake."

Abrams also told the meeting that he would guard against the bureaucrats at the State Department taking over American Middle East policy, as well as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice falling into the "Clintonian mode" of needing to point to achievements to secure her legacy as her term concludes, according to someone at the discussion.

The source was referring to the increased pace of diplomatic arm-twisting in search of peace between Palestinians and Israelis on the part of president Bill Clinton in the waning days of his time in office.

Here we go again, as they say. One would yawn at the predictability of this lameness, if the stakes weren't so high. After all, it's a critical American national security interest that we make real forward movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front. But rather than the Administration work together in concerted manner, we have, at best, an amateur 'good cop, bad cop' routine going on, and at worst, wholly uncoordinated policy-making that sends conflicting messages to the key actors in the region.

I wonder how long Henry Kissinger or James Baker or George Schultz would have tolerated such crap emitting from an NSC staffer, even one who's been poking about the Beltway since Iran-Contra days. I think I know. Not for a moment. But, of course, we know where the real problem lies. It's Dick Cheney, and a President who still extends the benefit of any credence to Mr. Last Throes, and so too his coterie of post-Libby survivors still eking it out in DC.

P.S. Someone clue in Elliott that his shenanigans don't accrue to the long-term benefit of the Israelis either. The tiresome tripe he trots out might make for good show with various domestic constituencies, but "process for the sake of process" isn't going to help those actually living in Israel, or Palestine, over the long haul, not to mention the overall U.S. national security interest. But hey, who cares, let's play Potemkin shuttle and run the clock some, -k?

Posted by Gregory at 03:53 PM | Comments (5)

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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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