June 29, 2007

In-House News (Cont'd)

Still busy in 'Old' Europe, and so the latest blog hiatus looks to continue a bit longer. This reminded me that, last time I had to stop writing in this space for a month or two, I had returned to a blogosphere where many of my favorite bloggers had suddenly (or so it seemed, at least) hitched up with magazines. You had Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat shacking up at the Atlantic (joining Andrew Sullivan and along with James Fallows and Marc Ambinder, I think collectively making up the best overall blog roster of any U.S. magazine), Clive Davis had landed at the Spectator, Blake Hounshell was at F.P., Glenn Greenwald decamped to Salon, Scott Horton dutifully began chronicling varied horribles at Harper's, Cunning was penning pieces at AmCon, and now, last but certainly not least, I see that George Packer is writing from new blog-digs at the New Yorker. When I can, I'm reading all these guys, and I'd point readers still popping by B.D. during this slow-down to re-direct their browsers to any and all of these various sites (if they aren't already), not to mention the newly revamped American Scene. As for this space, I'll be back as soon as able...

Posted by Gregory at 12:53 PM | Comments (11)

June 15, 2007

In-House News

On the road in Europe and hard to tell when exactly I might get a chance to get back to this space...I'm hoping relatively soon but can't be sure. Just a heads up for regulars...

Posted by Gregory at 12:17 PM

June 08, 2007

Wily Vladimir

PUTIN TO BUSH: So, what's so special about putting the interceptors in Poland? (Putin and Bush comment here).

Putin, I think it's fair to say, rather outmaneuvered Bush on this issue at the G-8 meeting, first by making the case there's nothing particularly magic about the Polish and Czech locations, second by making the point those locations leave countries like Russia (and thus other countries east of Poland, like say Ukraine) exposed to the supposed Iranian missile threat to Europe, third by looking like he's in good faith trying to work with the U.S. on a responsible collective security posture, while nevertheless rejecting key elements of the U.S. approach (which now no longer enjoy quite the same trappings of constituting a fait accompli), fourth by appearing now like he's acted in good faith to broach a compromise so that when the U.S. essentially rejects in large part (as is ultimately likely) the Azeri option, Putin doesn't appear the bad guy, and therefore, allows himself room to more robustly counter the ultimate American decision made (particularly re: the interceptors in Poland), so that he'll be on firmer footing to showcase his disgreement. (Meantime, and under-reported, the Azeri option would likely also have significant implications for Iranian-Azeri relations--keeping in mind there is a somewhat restive Azeri minority in parts of Iran's north--probably none of them particularly good ones).

Regardless, my gut tells me Putin floated this option, in the main, as a short-term tactical move (one appropriate for a wily KGB alum & judo-aficionado), mostly meant to throw the U.S. team off-balance at the summit, and not because he thinks the Azeri location necessarily has real legs as a viable option. But as U.S. and Russian technical teams now bore into the detail to study the proposal, and combinations as between the U.S. and Russian approaches, as I said, interceptors in Poland and radars in the Czech Republic no longer quite have the same aura of inevitability they did just a couple weeks back.

In short, Russia, now really just a middle ranking power, has (at least temporarily) deftly ham-strung the hyperpower some on its missile defense plans. And while said plans may ultimately go forward nonetheless (not that I think they're a good idea as presently constituted), Putin has at least accomplished, via a combination of saber-rattling (we'll turn our missiles on Europe!) and impressive tactical skill (Azerbaijan, anyone?), catching the Americans by surprise, and throwing them for something of a loop. It's another example why Putin is likely one of the very most competent leaders on the global stage of these past years (which somewhat pains me to say, given Putin's many, shall we say, authoritarian tendencies). Sure, high energy prices haven't made his job any harder, but he's a skillful practitioner of statecraft, to be sure, as this latest episode showcases rather well. So, at least on this last missile defense round, (soulful) Pootie-Poot-1; Dubya 0.

P.S. Daniel Larison chimes in, rather more succinctly, here.

Posted by Gregory at 03:53 AM | Comments (21)

June 07, 2007

Freedom in Every Pot, Liberty in Every Garage

Quick count, but I think the President used the word "freedom" some forty times in this Prague speech. That a record? ("Liberty" got but a relatively paltry eight mentions).

P.S. Ayman Nour merited a fleeting mention, though oddly enough, none of these folks. Wonder why? Meantime, Bush didn't deign to mention that the "freedom" his dismally planned Mesopotamian adventure has supposedly spurred on includes the grim specter of refugees having to prostitute themselves in the streets of Damascus (quite literally).

After all, it might bear mentioning that it's not all 'purple fingers' as we wax rhapsodic about noble democracy exportation exercises in pretty Prague with Sharansky in the audience, no?

Posted by Gregory at 05:08 AM | Comments (15)

Turks and Kurds

Some analysis here. I think the chances of a significant incursion, meaning beyond what we've recently seen reported of late (and beyond what we saw on and off in the 90s), is trending north of 50/50, perhaps as soon as this summer/fall.

Posted by Gregory at 04:44 AM | Comments (3)

A Sham Wrapped in A Farce Inside A Travesty

Gitmo, that is. As the FT editorializes:

For five years, the administration of President George W. Bush has sought to weave a cloak of legality to clothe the wrongs it has committed in the “war on terror”.

Earlier this week, that threadbare veil was pierced yet again – as it has been so often in the past – when two military judges at the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba rebuked the administration for failing to follow the law.

Civilian courts, including the US Supreme Court, have long looked askance at the way the administration has warped and twisted national and international law to give it a free hand to combat terrorism. Now military judges seem in no hurry either to play their part in this absurd charade of justice.

This week’s rulings are, on the face of it, merely technical: according to a new law rammed through Congress (with bipartisan complicity) last year, the alternative justice system at Guantánamo Bay can only try “alien unlawful enemy combatants”. But the administration failed to comply with that law when it brought two Guantánamo detainees before military tribunals on Monday. Even though the administration all but wrote the relevant provisions of the law – and must have been familiar with what it required – the government did not classify the two men as “unlawful” combatants, as the law demands. (The law does not cover “lawful” combatants, such as uniformed government soldiers.)

It is unclear whether this blunder reflects stunning incompetence or arrogant disregard for the law, but either way it could prove very costly. There can be no further military tribunals until the government either gets the law rewritten, gets a special appeals court (that has not yet been created) to reinterpret the law, or takes other cumbersome steps to recharge the suspects. Either way, there will be more delays, and the path to spurious justice will again be blocked.

Taking the law back to Congress for revision could be risky for the administration: opponents of the court-stripping provisions of the law might seize this opportunity to try to rewrite that part too.

It is high time Mr Bush faced reality. For five years he has struggled to construct an alternative justice system for foreign terrorism suspects. Yet in that time he has convicted no one – and dragged America’s reputation through the dirt.

Mr Bush should abandon this farce and bring the suspects before traditional courts martial. That will doubtless be harder than trying them in kangaroo courts. But it is his only hope of salvaging even a shred of credibility. [emphasis added]

As between "stunning incompetence" and "arrogant disregard for the law", I'm gonna say a good dollop of both. Frankly, not a bad epitaph for much of the Bush 43 years, all told.

Posted by Gregory at 03:26 AM | Comments (5)

June 06, 2007

Zalmay's Honeymoon


One by one, the ambassadors at an unusually jolly diplomatic dinner last month rose to pay tribute to the new American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.

He was a needed “breath of fresh air,” said one. Another described bonding with him on a Security Council trip the way a child might talk up a new friend at summer camp. A third said that while no one expected disagreements with American policy to end, he liked the “sensitive” way that policy was now presented.

His turn to respond, Mr. Khalilzad stood and said, “I have discovered from your comments that the best thing I have done was to choose my predecessor.”

It's nice to see he's been able to maintain his sense of humor post-Baghdad...

Posted by Gregory at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

McCain's Debate

I fully agree with Andrew that this was McCain's night. The moment he differentiated himself from the pack was when he rose to his feet and responded to the woman who lost her brother to the carnage in Iraq (at current death rates, assuming they don't intensify further, we'll have lost over 6,000 soldiers by the time Bush's term ends, just in Iraq alone, so many families are grieving in this nation).

Problem is, despite McCain's courageous life, essential dignity, and basic honesty (I deeply respect him as a man), I believe he's wrong on the key issues facing us with the Iraq War. Which is to say, I believe he's wrong that the surge can succeed (in terms of securing something akin to "victory"), I believe that he's wrong that the (relatively few) foreign jihadists entering Iraq will 'follow us home' if we follow the Baker-Hamilton approach on Iraq, and I believe he would risk conflating Shi'a and Sunni extremism in a manner that would overly risk a conflagration with Iran. Nor am I persuaded he fully appreciates the criticality of restoring an American 'honest broker' role on the Arab-Israeli side of the equation, while having doubts too about the broad contours of a potential McCain policy towards Russia and China.

As for Giuliani, while his impassioned defense of (legal) immigration was heartening (how sad Tancredo's nativism even necessitated such a rebuttal), his foreign policy views are far too crudely simplistic, and I believe he'd be exceedingly dangerous to the foreign policy direction of this country. (Re: Romney, his hugely transparent clutching for the mantle of Reaganesque optimism very much showed. And after his "double Gitmo" comment in the last debate, how can one respect this man who will seemingly say anything he deems convenient at the moment? He's a great salesman, not much more, it would appear).

So, McCain's night, but I'm afraid his overall strategic posture on key foreign policy issues still has me ultimately believing we need to wholly clear out the rot of the neo-conservative excesses by bringing in fresh Democratic national security teams with fewer affiliations to a foreign policy community that has proven recklessly misguided, and perhaps just as important, unrepentantly so. (Knowing that McCain would probably reverse the CIA torture carve-out makes it even harder to not be able to support him, but there it is).

No, neither a Clinton nor an Obama Administration will necessarily solve all our foreign policy headaches, or prove heady exemplars of exceedingly competent statecraft (though a very hands on Secretary of State like Richard Holbrooke could prove a major improvement), but regardless, we need a full-blown re-calibration of our strategy, and one of the leading Democratic candidates will be far better positioned to pursue it. As the ISG said, more politely than the Winograd Commission, the situation we face today in Iraq (and, really, the region) is "grave and detiorating" (but yes, it's really more of a "severe failure", but the ISG was too establishment a group to so declare). The need for comprehensive and serious diplomatic initiatives (not to mention having them pursued non-grudgingly, and sans backroom Abrams/Wurmser/Hannah scuttling), accompanied by a gradual extrication of U.S. forces from what has essentially become a civil war in Iraq, have become the compelling issues we must confront full-bore so as to inject new oxygen, life and direction into American foreign policy, and thereby begin to restore our international position. Unfortunately, McCain doesn't get this, I fear, still believing some classic 'victory' can be secured. This is too serious an error in judgment in my view (though I can see how his years of military service have him hankering for a traditional battlefield triumph), and thus likely disqualifies him for the Presidency, at least in the humble opinion of this blogger.

P.S. I think this bit from Ron Paul at tonight's debate is worth highlighting too:

Congressman Paul, what’s the most pressing moral issue in the United States right now?

REP. PAUL: I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that’s part of the American tradition. We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid somebody, but now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war. We have rejected the just-war theory of Christianity. And now, tonight, we hear that we’re not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security! I mean, we have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our Constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights, but not to think that we can change the world by force of arms and to start wars. (Applause.)

Posted by Gregory at 02:25 AM | Comments (30)

June 05, 2007

More Birth Pangs


Crisis usually defines Lebanon, but these days, the country is navigating threats that many describe in existential terms: a battle, entering its third week, between the Lebanese army and al-Qaeda-inspired fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp; a seemingly intractable and altogether separate confrontation between the government and opposition that has paralyzed the state and closed part of downtown Beirut for more than six months; and, as important, deadlock over the choice of the next president by November. Since last year's war in Lebanon between the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah and Israel, the United Nations has stepped in twice to assume responsibilities usually left to a sovereign state, forming a court to try the suspected killers of a former prime minister and dispatching an international force to keep peace in the country's south.

While some analysts see the military's battle against the militants as a way to forge a stronger state, others worry about the prospect of its failure. The threat of civil war still looms large over this always fractious country, but the violence and paralysis may suggest a broader breakdown: not civil war, but entropy, where the country becomes hopelessly mired in instability.

"I can't say we're now in a failed state, but we could become a failed state if assassinations resume, we see more car bombs and if you see no political solution and no president elected in due time," said Sarkis Naoum, a columnist for al-Nahar newspaper. "If all this happens between now and November, it means we're in a big mess. And after that, you can say it's a failed state."

(Sarcasm alert) It's all solely the Syrians fault, of course. Bomb Damascus and the salubrious birth pangs will return! Oh, "eradicate" Hezbollah too (supported by about a third of the Lebanese people, and growing likely), perhaps by substituting Shi'a Lebanese males for Sunni Iraqi ones, per this classic J-Pod punditry. And, as added bonus (goodie!), once the Hezb and 'Syran' beasts have been slayed, Teheran will be appropriately isolated, weakened enough regionally so that they'll play ball on Iraq. The Cedar Revolution will have been saved, and Iraq too!

You see, it's all so simple, if only Bush had the courage of his convictions....and just think, then we'd all be able to cherish the hard-earned 'birth pangs', indeed, the world would jubilate at America's latest democracy exportation triumph--and statues of Charles Krauthammer would be erected around the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, for nobly helping steer the Administration towards a course of steely, bold action.

It's all so neo-con play-book 101, isn't it? Problem is, it's kindergarten fare, and totally removed from complex reality. It's airily aspirational Trotsky meets Partisan Review meets Scoop Jackson meets I don't like Arabs much meets faux national greatness let's (unconvincingly) play pretend I've got the biggest cojones on the block. It's utopic, hugely under-informed travesty masquerading as convincing policy. Time to (more decisively) throw out the old playbook, I guess, and get real. Sooner rather than later. More failed states could be around the corner, after all...the clock's ticking.

Posted by Gregory at 12:47 PM | Comments (7)

Reverse Triangulation


China joined Russia on Tuesday in criticizing a U.S. plan to build a missile defense system in Europe, saying the system could set off an arms race.

The White House plans to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland -- two Eastern European countries that were in the Soviet orbit during the Cold War era.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said the plan had ''aroused great concern and attention.''

''China believes that the impact of a missile defense system on strategic defense and stability is not conducive to mutual trust of major nations and regional security,'' she said. ''It may also give rise to a proliferation problem.''

OK, I'll admit it. I've been feeling rather nostalgic for Richard Nixon of late. Go figure.

P.S. Bush, today:

''My message will be Vladimir -- I call him Vladimir -- that you shouldn't fear a missile defense system. As a matter of fact, why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system. Why don't you participate with the United States."

Heh, as they say. Somewhere, George Kennan is rolling over in his grave.

Posted by Gregory at 12:38 PM | Comments (16)

Torture Corrupts, Absolutely


"All of Iraq was a ticking time bomb," Lagouranis said, downing his fourth of seven beers. He had joined the Army before 9/11 to learn Arabic. He didn't expect to go to war.

He was sitting on a night off at the California Clipper bar, where he works as a bouncer. The bartender joked that Lagouranis should be tougher on customers: "You should 'go Abu Ghraib.' "

At Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, the site of the 2003-04 abuse scandal, Lagouranis used to relax in the old execution chamber. He and a friend would sit near the trapdoor and read the Arabic scratched into the wall. They found a dirty brown rope. It was the hangman's noose. "If there is an evil spot in the world, that was one of them," Lagouranis said.

At Abu Ghraib and sometimes at the facilities in Mosul, north Babil province and other places where Lagouranis worked, the Americans were shot at and attacked with mortar fire. "Then I get a prisoner who may have done it," he said. "What are you going to do? You just want to get back at somebody, so you bring this dog in. 'Finally, I got you.' "

Lagouranis's tools included stress positions, a staged execution and hypothermia so extreme the detainees' lips turned purple. He has written an account of his experiences in a book, "Fear Up Harsh," which has been read by the Pentagon and will be published this week. Stephen Lewis, an interrogator who was deployed with Lagouranis, confirmed the account, and Staff Sgt. Shawn Campbell, who was Lagouranis's team leader and direct supervisor, said Lagouranis's assertions were "as true as true can get. It's all verifiable." John Sifton, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the group investigated many of Lagouranis's claims about abuses and independently corroborated them.

"At every point, there was part of me resisting, part of me enjoying," Lagouranis said. "Using dogs on someone, there was a tingling throughout my body. If you saw the reaction in the prisoner, it's thrilling."

In Mosul, he took detainees outside the prison gate to a metal shipping container they called "the disco," with blaring music and lights. Before and after questioning, military police officers stripped them and checked for injuries, noting cuts and bumps "like a car inspection at a parking garage." Once a week, an Iraqi councilman and an American colonel visited. "We had to hide the tortured guys," Lagouranis said.

Then a soldier's aunt sent over several copies of Viktor E. Frankel's Holocaust memoir, "Man's Search for Meaning." Lagouranis found himself trying to pick up tips from the Nazis. He realized he had gone too far.

At that point, Lagouranis said, he moderated his techniques and submitted sworn statements to supervisors concerning prisoner abuse.

"I couldn't make sense of the moral system" in Iraq, he said. "I couldn't figure out what was right and wrong. There were no rules. They literally said, 'Be creative.' "

Lagouranis blames the Bush administration: "They say this is a different kind of war. Different rules for terrorists. Total crap." [emphasis added]

Well yes, one would start casting about at the Nazis for inspiration, once you're onto sleep deprivation, stress positions, and induced hypothermia as accepted 'enhanced interrogation' techniques. It's the "Verschärfte Vernehmung" way, after all. And Donald Rumsfeld's. I'll say it again, but if I were a CIA interrogator tasked with conducting one of these interrogations, I'd think long and hard indeed about employing these tactics, even if ordered to do so by superiors. Because they constitute war crimes under various internationally recognized norms, even if John 'we can crush testicles' Yoo doesn't think so, and "I was just following orders" can ring rather hollow, especially with the passage of time (and despite hastily passed immunity carve-outs).


We've sunk to depths I could never have imagined. And the Republican field, in the main, promises more of the same. As Fareed Zakaria writes about Mitt Romney:

The competition to be the tough guy is producing new policy ideas, all right—ones that range from bad to insane. Romney, who bills himself as the smart, worldly manager, recently explained that while "some people have said we ought to close Guantánamo, my view is we ought to double [the size of] Guantánamo." In fact, Romney should recognize that Guantánamo does not face space constraints. The reason that President Bush wants to close it down—and it is he who has expressed that desire—is that it is an unworkable legal mess with enormous strategic, political and moral costs. In a real war you hold prisoners of war until the end of hostilities. When does that happen in the war on terror? Does Romney propose that the United States keep an ever-growing population of suspects in jail indefinitely without trials as part of a new American system of justice?

Its become a race to the gutter on supposed macho toughness in the Republican camp. Put simply, the party has lost its decency and honor. I wondered, during the first debate, how much more effective Chuck Hagel would have been in Ron Paul's shoes, calling B.S. at the cheap bamboozlements of the 'double Gitmo' crowd. Alas, it wasn't to be. But we could sure use a standard-bearer who'd stand for the more sober, rational Republican Party of yesteryear, a leader who would appeal to the courage and decency of Americans, not their prejudices and fears. What we've got instead is Rudy telling us Democrats in power would mean another 9/11 is likelier, or Mitt's "Double Gitmo", or John McCain's bogus 'leave Iraq, they'll follow us home.' This is no longer Ronald Reagan's party showcasing optimism and "Morning in America", this is a party that simply aims to stoke fear in the masses so as to be returned to political power. We've seen these types of tactics before. I hope this strategy fails, and miserably.

NB: Do note "1" in the Gestapo directive above. Interesting that "sharpened interrogation" was to be used, according to the instructions at least, only if the detainee was thought to have compelling information regarding hostile plans imperiling the state, and initial interrogation tactics hadn't worked. One can almost imagine Rumsfeld scrawling in the margin something of a protest akin to: "I stand for eight to 10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours", no? You know, who needs probable cause to use more onerous interrogation methods, and why waste time with 'non-enhanced' techniques? Time is of the essence, after all.

Posted by Gregory at 04:18 AM | Comments (42)

Bush's "Amazing Achievement"

Jonathan Freedland:

One of the few foreign policy achievements of the Bush administration has been the creation of a near consensus among those who study international affairs, a shared view that stretches, however improbably, from Noam Chomsky to Brent Scowcroft, from the antiwar protesters on the streets of San Francisco to the well-upholstered office of former secretary of state James Baker. This new consensus holds that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a calamity, that the presidency of George W. Bush has reduced America's standing in the world and made the United States less, not more, secure, leaving its enemies emboldened and its friends alienated. Paid-up members of the nation's foreign policy establishment, those who have held some of the most senior offices in the land, speak in a language once confined to the T-shirts of placard-wielding demonstrators. They rail against deception and dishonesty, imperialism and corruption. The only dispute between them is over the size and depth of the hole into which Bush has led the country he pledged to serve.

Last December's Baker-Hamilton report, drawn up by a bipartisan panel of ten Washington eminences with perhaps a couple of centuries of national security experience between them and not a radical bone in their collective body, described the mess the Bush team had left in Iraq as "grave and deteriorating." The seventy-nine recommendations they made amounted to a demand that the administration repudiate its entire policy and start again. In the words of former congressman Lee Hamilton, James Baker's co-chair and a rock-solid establishment figure, "Our ship of state has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward."

Well, getting Noam Chomsky and Brent Scowcroft on the same page is something of an achievement, no?

Posted by Gregory at 03:36 AM | Comments (13)

June 04, 2007

A Region In Crisis

From the Subcontinent to the Levant, large swaths of the Middle East and South Asia are in turmoil. What follows are (somewhat random) dispatches meant to give a sense of the depth of the multiple crises that are contributing to a destabilization of the wider region.


Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president-in-uniform, is facing the most serious challenge to his authority since he seized power in a military coup in 1999. Weakened by unexpectedly strong opposition to his crude attempt to sack the country’s top judge and by widespread anger at his subsequent failure to prevent a bloodbath on the streets of Karachi this month, he may not be able to ride out the storm. The decisions he makes now will be critical not just to his own chances of survival but also to those of Pakistan itself.

In India, Nick Burns reportedly couldn't cut a deal:

India and the United States failed to resolve differences over an American offer to share nuclear know-how and fuel, ending three days of negotiations Saturday that were intended to seal a deal seen as the cornerstone of an emerging partnership.

On Turkey's border w/ Kurdistan, tensions continue to brew, and a conflagration between Turkish forces and the PKK (and perhaps more mainstream Kurdish militias) grows ever likelier:

Turkey's government is pondering an attack on Kurdish separatists based in northern Iraq, raising fears among people along the frontier that military action will scuttle cross-border trade and wreck the region's rejuvenated economy.

The economic fallout could be huge: The value of goods passing through this border crossing each year is more than $10 billion.

"This border is my only hope," said truck driver Suleyman Gidim, who was ferrying gasoline to U.S. troops in Iraq and has a family of seven to feed.

The Turkish military has been massing troops along the porous border, where separatist rebels cross from safe havens in Iraq to stage attacks in predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

In Afghanistan, the conflict between the Taliban and NATO rages on.

In Gaza, al-Qaeda is gaining a toe-hold to the extent now a Palestinian official says: "The day will come when we will miss Hamas. These are extremely dangerous groups that are trying to take Palestinian society back to the Dark Ages."

Up to the north in Lebanon, Fatah al-Islam (another al Qaeda affiliated group) has caused a security crisis for the Siniora government.

In Syria, I'm told by (admittedly biased, somewhat skittish Christian minority sources) that something of an Islamist resurgence is taking place in major cities like Aleppo, with increasing numbers of majority Sunnis getting radicalized, another reason sane Israelis don't salivate at the prospects of unseating minority Alawite Bashar Assad, unlike fevered dead-ender neo-con types in Washington.

Speaking of neo-con exuberances, and turning to Iran, Helene Cooper reports in the NYT that some in Cheney's circle are leaking to outsiders "that Mr. Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless, and is looking for ways to persuade Mr. Bush to confront Iran militarily." Who so leaketh? Speculation centers on David Wurmser who, as Kevin Drum reminds us, is the same deep strategist who suggested we retaliate in South America for 9/11 as "a surprise to the terrorists". Jokes Kevin, Wurmser is "((t)he guy who keeps Cheney bucked up when things look bad."

Funny, but more seriously one might ask--why is David Wurmser still in the employ of the U.S. government as principal deputy assistant to the Vice President for national security affairs? Given the President and Secretary of State's public positions on Iran stressing the diplomatic option, this strikes me, if indeed these reports are true, as (drearily Bolton-like) insubordination. After all, this isn't Rumsfeld era Washington anymore, where people could spout off about the "so-called Occupied Territories" and "Old Europe" and such with ribald impunity. There is supposed to be a smidgen of message discipline with Bob Gates at the Pentagon, and Condi Rice, Presidential intimate that she is, at State. So, if Don Rumsfeld, Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz merited defenestrations (the latter now twice), why not Wurmser (and while we're at it, throw out the horrid Addington too). Incidentally, and only for the comedic burlesque of it, note this priceless quote from Wurmser's wife (Meyrav Wurmser) to the Israeli Yediot newspaper:

I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians [during last summer's war in Lebanon]. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah. They hoped Israel would do it [attack Syria]. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests. The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit."

Charming. David Wurmser is not his wife, of course, but you can (grimly) imagine the assorted frissons of excitement that doubtless resulted from all the grandiose regime change pillow talk at the Wurmser residence, no? As I said, burlesque fare, but (incredibly) men like Wurmser continue to have real influence with the most influential Vice President in history. Yes, something is indeed rotten in Denmark.

But I digress. The main insight of the Iraq Study Group, and why they called for a major "diplomatic offensive" throughout the region, is not because they think hapless Clintonian peace shuttling between Tel Aviv and Ramallah has anything to do with, or will solve, the brewing Shi'a-Sunni civil war in Iraq. Poo-pooing this linkage has become a favorite of AEI types, eager to just see Elliott Abram's "process for process sake" on the Israeli-Palestinian front. Nor, while we're speaking of straw men, does the ISG mean to cheerlead harried American envoys, a la Warren Christopher, visiting Damascus 26 times to prostrate themselves in the Court of Assad as perennial supplicants. This all makes for heady fare and polemical low-brow harangues chez the Mark Steyn's of the world, but it's all rather a red herring.

For here's the rub. When you have a region in the grips of growing chaos, you don't spout on about maximalist victory like an over-your-head well-meaning but grotesquely under-informed genus suburbanite like Joe Lieberman, or a Kiplingesque Arizonian like John McCain enamored by a chimerical victory that is simply unattainable under present conditions (meaning fewer than 400,000 men who aren't deployed for at least another decade). With al Qaeda and its sympathizers gaining influence in Lebanon, Palestine, and Pakistan, and with radical Shi'a militias like JAM deepening their base of support in Iraq, with a Turkish strike in Kurdistan looming ever likelier, the entire region is facing greater instability, and thus the specter of greater radicalism. And yes, a redeployment of U.S. forces out of places like Baghdad will help, not hurt, lessen the radicalization.

No, George Bush is not to blame for each and every issue in this parade of horribles, and there are specific, localized variables at play with each of these crises, many of which are beyond the control of any one country, even one as powerful as the United States. But Iraq hasn't helped, to put it mildly. Our intervention there was meant to lead to a glorious new Middle East, with all the corrupt satrapies inexorably entering the ash-heap of history, fresh on the heels of a jubilant Iraqi democratization that would reverberate through the region. Arab democrats, freed from the clutches of the horrid Hosnis and Bashars, would then make nice with the Israelis, and all sing kumbaya--with a Pax Americana ensuring none of the bad guys (a phrase tossed around with alarming regularity by the bien pensant Manichean set in the Beltway) tried to spoil the party.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way, did it? Instead, we've set back democratization in the region dramatically (at least of the non-Islamist variety). Rather than pursue reform in the region more modestly, via conflict resolution initiatives, economic liberalization, and pressing incremental political reform, we rolled in militarily in a preventative war of choice that has delivered multiple body blows to our reputation in the Middle East (and everywhere else, really). We upped the ante by providing the Israelis something of a carte blanche (remember Condi's disastrous Rome summit, where almost quite literally the entire world disagreed with our ‘bombs away’ position?) to overreact to the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers by bombing entire Beirut neighborhoods to rubble, and imposing a comprehensive naval and air blockade on Lebanon writ large, rather than concentrating efforts south of the Litani River against Hezbollah cells, a war so dismally prosecuted and counter-productive to the Israeli national interest that the Winograd Commission categorized it as a "severe failure". Meantime, Guantanamo, where inmates with increasing frequency commit suicide after languishing a half decade in captivity without charges being pressed, acts as a nonpareil recruiting tool for Islamic jihadists from Kuala Lumpur to Hamburg, as did the 'Girls Gone Wild' dog-leashing & porn rituals of Abu Ghraib (that is, when detainees weren't being sodomized or killed), an incredible breakdown in military discipline, speaking to a totally ineffective chain of command, from top to bottom. (Any decent President would have frog-marched Donald Rumsfeld out of the Pentagon the day after the incidents came to light, and razed the prison, in the hopes of immediately starting to put the abysmal episode behind us).

Given these massive blows to our nation's international standing, what the ISG Report basically says is, cease the fancifully adolescent (Walt Rostow and Joe Alsop on steroids, and without the elegance) talk of "victory" (whatever that means in the context of mediating civil war violence in Iraq) and attempt to take the temperature down throughout the region. This means making real progress on the Arab-Israeli front so that extremists like al-Qaeda and the military arms of Hamas don't see their influence continue to grow. Related, this means when you aim to resuscitate the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, you don't hastily conclude the Jerusalem summitry only to leave in your wake instead waves of rocket attacks into southern Israel and increasing talk of another Israeli push into Gaza (but for Israel being concerned this will leave their northern flank too exposed in case of a Syrian misadventure, or more trouble-making by Hezbollah). This means focusing like a laser on what is underway on the Kurdish border now, and coordinating with Ankara closely to prevent a major incursion that throws Kurdistan into chaos. This means acknowledging that Musharraf is tottering of late, and better thinking ahead about the possible ramifications, including power-sharing arrangements with elements of the (quasi-exiled) opposition. This means, when nuclear proliferation is a defining issue of the age, ensuring high level talks with Delhi on related issues don't flounder because of lack of high-level attention. This means a failing surge isn't lauded by discredited figures who two years before spoke of "last throes", but instead means reckoning with a veritable cauldron of competing groups vying for supremacy in Iraq who continue to wreak havoc through that nation, and understanding there’s increasingly little we can do about it, short of ending up taking arms against the Shi’a when they lose patience with our role protecting the Sunnis. This means not reducing the problems of Lebanon to the 'bad Syrians' and 'good March 14ers', and realizing it's a tad more complex than such a narrative would have it. And on and on.

And, dare I say, this means the Secretary of State should not be wasting time her time on opening an Iranian art exhibition, or at pressers regarding something called the "Women's Empowerment Network" for "Peace and Security in the Middle East", but instead be traveling to Delhi, Islamabad, Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Beirut, and, yes, Damascus--trying to put out various fires and urgently remedy some of the greatest foreign policy blunders in American history since the inception of the Republic. It's called statecraft, and previous Secretaries of State have deigned to do it. It's hard work, all right, and sometimes you even have to meet with people you don't like much, but by golly, it's a big, mean world out there. Yes it's well past time to get serious, and while we're at it, let's not forget relations with Russia are at their worst since, oh I don't know, the Chernenko era? I know we don't have a Middle East specialist at the helm, but surely we'd do better with a former Soviet expert on the Russian side of the equation, no? Anyway, excuse the longish rant, I’m still hankering for a competent national security team, I guess.

P.S. Well, hell, at least Steve Clemons is more optimistic, and he's a straight-shooter whose antenna are often right. I'll chew over his rays of sunshine this week and try to cool down some...

Posted by Gregory at 04:23 AM | Comments (29)

American Casualties Intensifying

15 more American soldiers dead the first 3 days of June, on top of 127 dead in May (I believe the third deadliest month of the war for U.S. servicemen). I know Glenn Reynolds thinks the streets of Phillly are deadlier and all, but lemme tell you, this death rate is simply untenable in the absence of any convincing progress on the ground. (Note ICC has the tally as 17 dead the past 72 hours).

Posted by Gregory at 03:55 AM | Comments (0)

More Peretz

Marty Peretz:

Frankly, I don't have much sympathy for Alan Johnston, who is among the people he loves, the people for whom he did the kind of propaganda in which the BBC specializes, authoritative in voice, lachrymose in message, banal in argument. And I don't think that his taped message to the world is one of those pathetic instances of the Stockholm syndrome in which people have been won over by their captors. His captors, who call themselves the Army of Islam (what else?), may not be poor Johnston's friends. But, in the objective sense, he is theirs. Unless, of course, when and if they release him into the arms of the British National Union of Journalists, which has pronounced an interdict against Israel, his three months as a prisoner may have swayed him a bit towards understanding that a cause that incarcerates innocents (and sympathetic innocents, no less) is not a just cause at all.

In any case, as an AP dispatch in Ha'aretz makes clear, Johnston has blathered the entire line--both narrative and sentient--of the terror international and its armed divisions in Gaza. The only problem he had was distinguishing who was responsible for what. There were three guilty parties in his recitation: Israel, America and Great Britain. The Brits took the brunt of his critique. Why not? He's a Brit himself. You can't prove your fidelity to fanatics these days simply by mouthing slogans at Israel and at George Bush. You have to kick your mother.

(Hat Tip: David Rieff, in conversation this afternoon).

You'd expect this fare at thinly veiled hate mongering sites like Little Green Footballs, but it's really quite something to see the editor-in-chief of The New Repubic spout on like this. I'll call it a new low, but Peretz has had so many of late I've frankly lost track. Related, it's sad when a 70 year old man is reduced, much like an incontinent prig, to jousting (and poorly) with a 26 year old (is that how old Matt Yglesias is?) blogger. Can Franklin Foer (or CanWest?) do something about this growing train-wreck? This is getting rather embarrassing for TNR, I'd think.

Posted by Gregory at 02:25 AM | Comments (4)

June 03, 2007

The State of Sadr

Much of what Bartle Bull writes here is dead on, but he neglects to mention the 800 pound gorrilla in the room, which is to say, every day we remain in Iraq--in large part attempting to temper Shi'a domination and revanchism by power-balancing on behalf of the Sunnis--the risk of a renewed conflagration with JAM increases. But, yes, he's spot on in focusing on Sadr as a canny Iraqi nationalist with much grassroots support among impoverished Iraqi Shi'a (rather than merely an Iranian agent, as lamentably under-informed U.S. bloggers would have it), and his observation that Sadr delivered his sermon from Kufa rather than Najaf is well taken in this context. Meantime, it's smart that General Odierno is putting out more direct feelers to Sadr, though I think the overall trend-line over the next months/years will be one of worsening relations between U.S. forces and JAM, not increased comity (unless we went for the so-called 80% solution, which of course would lead to an entire other set of massive headaches).

Posted by Gregory at 03:21 PM | Comments (2)

7000 Years of History, Pitted Against a Pitiable Surge

Edward Wong on the "act of sahel", or "the day the bodies will be dragged through the streets."

Posted by Gregory at 03:50 AM | Comments (4)

Zakaria's Latest

Fareed Zakaria looks "Beyond Bush". It's a wonderful piece, and I agree with every word. Rather than excerpt it (there are too many passages worth reading), I'd urge any interested readers who haven't seen it already at Newsweek to click through the link.

Posted by Gregory at 03:16 AM | Comments (2)

June 02, 2007

6 out of 100

NYT Magazine, in an article about HRC:

Senators were able to access the N.I.E. at two secure locations in the Capitol complex. Nonetheless, only six senators personally read the report, according to a 2005 television interview with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia and then the vice chairman of the intelligence panel. Earlier this year, on the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, Clinton was confronted by a woman who had traveled from New York to ask her if she had read the intelligence report. According to Eloise Harper of ABC News, Clinton responded that she had been briefed on it.

“Did you read it?” the woman screamed.

Clinton replied that she had been briefed, though she did not say by whom.

The question of whether Clinton took the time to read the N.I.E. report is critically important. Indeed, one of Clinton’s Democratic colleagues, Bob Graham, the Florida senator who was then the chairman of the intelligence committee, said he voted against the resolution on the war, in part, because he had read the complete N.I.E. report. Graham said he found that it did not persuade him that Iraq possessed W.M.D. As a result, he listened to Bush’s claims more skeptically. “I was able to apply caveat emptor,” Graham, who has since left the Senate, observed in 2005. He added regretfully, “Most of my colleagues could not.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2002, Senate Democrats, including Clinton, held a caucus over lunch on the second floor of the Capitol. There, Graham says he “forcefully” urged his colleagues to read the complete 90-page N.I.E. before casting such a monumental vote. [emphasis added]

This article just happens to be about Hillary. But the larger point, and why I excerpt this, is to query--how is it possible that only 6 of our 100 Senators deigned to even read the N.I.E. before casting said "monumental vote" (and this is our distinguished legislative upper house, forget about the pitchfork-wielding gaggles in the lower chamber)? This is an incredible abdication of responsibility, now with 3,500 Americans dead and counting, partly as a result of such a breezily passed war authorization.

Now, it's easy to forget the mood in the country at the time. And many of us have castigated ourselves for our myopic cheerleading for Saddam's head, given that we believed he possessed chemical and biological agents, and further believed the risk posture post 9/11 had materially shifted so that he should be compelled to disarm. But still, the bloated commentariat dumping reams of ink in the echo chamber is not supposed to be quite the same as being a U.S. Senator, after all, said dignitaries ostensibly meant to grapple with weighty matters of state, like war and peace, with the utmost seriousness, professionalism and careful deliberation. Not to mention, you know, that they have access to little things like the N.I.E., while those on the outside do not.

Sometimes one is forced to conclude we simply don't live in a serious country anymore. How did that happen, if so? And what can we do to fix it? I honestly wonder, on occasion, whether we shouldn't triple the salary of our legislators, to at least make them on par w/ 3rd year bulge bracket investment bankers fresh out of B-School. If we can blow half a trillion dollars of taxpayer money in the Mesopotamian bog, surely we can pay the incremental costs of a couple million bucks per annum to boost public service pay, even if only in a chimerical quest to get better people to run for high office. Yes, I know it's not supposed to be about the money, and many feel the call of public service without such inducements, but really, gross negligence on such an epic scale makes one wonder whether the legislative oversight function isn't fundamentally flawed. And so you cast about for solutions of some sort or another...any other ideas out there, aside from throwing money at it, which likely wouldn't really make the difference, all told, and is tossed out more in quasi-jestful desperation? Or, more seriously, has the political class become so incompetent, with the best and the brightest (meant in a non-Halberstamian way, if you know what I mean) most often heading into private equity, hedge funds, and investment banking, that boosting public salary pay is actually becoming increasingly imperative?

Posted by Gregory at 06:27 PM | Comments (11)

The Axis of Competence...

...has now gained another member (see too Hank Paulson, Bob Gates--though this last may yet still see his reputation tarnished if the residual die-hards of the Cheney/Wurmser/Abrams variety prevail on any major going forward policy debates related to the Middle East). There have been very few these past 6 years, so let's take 'em whenever/wherever we can. Speaking of gross incompetents, can we stress again how pitiable it is that Alberto Gonzalez remains Attorney General at this advanced hour. As the FT editorialized recently:

A Senate vote of no confidence is a rare thing. But Mr Gonzales is qualified for the distinction. The still mounting evidence of his unfitness suggests that he is not so much a conscientious opponent of the constitution and the rule of law, but rather a shambling incompetent who may very well fail to understand the dereliction of duty that is apparent to every other qualified observer.

His newest embarrassment concerns his flagrantly improper attempt in 2004, as White House counsel, to get a hospitalised John Ashcroft (his predecessor as attorney-general) to reverse a ruling on the illegality of an eavesdropping programme. Then and later, as attorney-general, Mr Gonzales blithely rubber-stamped all of the president's claims of virtually limitless war powers, the use of torture, indefinite detention without trial, warrantless surveillance and more. The top ranks of the justice department have been emptied of almost every self-respecting professional, and inexperienced political hacks have assumed positions of responsibility. In the scandal that followed the firing of US attorneys last year, Mr Gonzales shocked Congress with memory lapses, contradictory statements and disavowals of responsibility that were outrageous even by Washington standards.

After that lamentable display, which left Republican loyalists with their heads in their hands, the president said Mr Gonzales had "increased my confidence in his ability to do the job". That was political theatre too: broadest farce. Let the Senate, in return, say what it thinks of Mr Gonzales.

Then again, perhaps Alberto is just the right kind of AG for the banana republic spectacle that is this 'Decider' Administration. As George Will recently put it on This Week w/ George S. (audio here):

It was a thriller set in a banana republic. I mean. Here you have the Acting Attorney General—the powers of Ashcroft had been given to this man, the White House had been notified of that by the documents. You have FBI Director Mueller calling ahead to the FBI agents who are protecting Ashcroft in the intensive care ward at George Washington Hospital telling the FBI agents to not allow White House Chief of Staff and White House Counsel to expel from the room the man who had the powers they were trying to get Ashcroft to exercise.

Re: the former White House Chief of Staff, and no matter how nice a guy Andy Card might be, these type of shameful Presidential lap-dog interventions merited the rather stern repudiation he received here. At some point, we must demand more than loyal, simpatico types serving the President, the law be damned. Public servants must uphold our Constitution too, after all, and not just the l'etat c'est moi Yoo-ian interpretation of it. As I said, may the axis of competence grow. From such greater competence may come too more dignity and integrity and, dare I say, no more night-time sick-bed visits aimed at end-running the person then authorized to act as the nation's top lawyer. Yes, it's indeed attention-grabbing when John Ashcroft appears the noble hero in this comedy of errrors, set not in some island dictatorship per a cheap pulp novella, but very much in the here and now, in a swampy, banana-republic like Washington. But there it is.

Posted by Gregory at 02:25 PM | Comments (1)

More 'Media Watch-Dog' Heroics!

John Cole performs a wondrous public service by succinctly stating, well, the blindingly obvious. The dyspeptic tone is well merited, alas. We are increasingly awash in Taranto-esque buffoonery coming at us from so many quarters, and so it understandably rankles more and more, causing such Coleian outbursts. Related, Glenn Greenwald somehow summons up the fortitude and stamina to expound further (w/ the dreary bill of particulars), though as he points out, Cole's pretty much got it all covered w/ his 3 sentence reference to cat dung. Oh dear Lord, spare us more of these noble 'media-watchdog' spectacles, we beseech you! The giddy imbecility of it all is just so blogosphere circa. 2003, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

Myth vs. Reality

First the myth part, via Kristol/Kagan: "This is no time to hedge or hesitate. Now is the time to put everything behind making the president's strategy--which looks to be a winning strategy--succeed."

Now, alas, grim reality:

The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported another soldier was killed in a roadside bombing Wednesday in Baghdad, raising to at least 127 the number U.S. troop deaths in May, the third-deadliest month for American forces since the war started in March 2003. It followed April 2004, when 135 Americans died and November 2004 with 137.

May also was the third-deadliest for Iraqis since The Associated Press began tracking civilian casualties in April 2005. At least 2,155 Iraqis were killed last month, according to the AP count. Interior Ministry officials said the Iraqi government put the number at 2,123.

The deadliest months in the past two years were December 2006, when at least 2,309 were killed, and November 2006, when at least 2,250 were killed.

The number of bodies found -- usually attributed to sectarian death squads -- dipped slightly in February 2007, immediately after the Baghdad security crackdown began Feb. 14, but has been steadily increasing in recent weeks. Since April 1, at least 1,974 bodies have been found across Iraq. At least 1,186 of these were found inside Baghdad, and 788 outside the capital.

Meantime, don't miss Greg Jaffe and Yochi Dreazen's article in this week's Wall Street Journal, "Can the Iraq Surge be Salvaged?" What, you protest? The 'surge' needs to be "salvaged"? But no less a Beltway notable than Bill Kristol avers we are witnessing a "winning strategy" unfurl. What gives?



P.S. More very soon, on related topics, I hope.

P.P.S. Non-utopic Brits who tend not to drag the pom-poms out every week in the yellow press say the surge is failing too.

No one is happy about this, mind you (save our enemies), but the first step towards a whole-scale, fundamental re-calibration of our policy is to grapple with the actual realities before us, rather than fanciful aspiration masquerading as judicious analysis. I thought we'd learned this the past 6 years, but evidently many among us still haven't. As I said, more soon (time permitting), including more detailed analysis of the state of the surge in Baghdad, as well as dynamics in Kurdistan, the Shi'a south, Diyala, and Anbar, etc.

Posted by Gregory at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

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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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