September 25, 2007

Podium Drama in Morningside Heights!

We at this university have not been shy to protest the challenge -- and challenge the failures of our own government to live by our values, and we won't be shy about criticizing yours. Let's then be clear at the beginning. Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator...

...Let me close with a comment. Frankly -- I close with this comment frankly and in all candor, Mr. President. I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions. But your avoiding them will in itself be meaningful to us. I do expect you to exhibit the fanatical mindset that characterizes so much of what you say and do. Fortunately I am told by experts on your country that this only further undermines your position in Iran, with all the many good-hearted, intelligent citizens there. A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country, as at one of the meetings at the Council on Foreign Relations, so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more. (Applause.) I am only a professor, who is also a university president. And today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.

--Columbia University's President Lee Bollinger, introducing Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad yesterday.

At the outset, I want to complain a bit on the person who read this political statement against me. In Iran, tradition requires that when we demand a person to invite us as a -- to be a speaker, we actually respect our students and the professors by allowing them to make their own judgment, and we don't think it's necessary before the speech is even given to come in -- (applause) -- with a series of claims and to attempt in a so-called manner to provide vaccination of some sort to our students and our faculty. I think the text read by the (dear ?) gentleman here, more than addressing me, was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here, present here. In a university environment, we must allow people to speak their mind, to allow everyone to talk so that the truth is eventually revealed by all. Most certainly he took more than all the time I was allocated to speak. And that's fine with me. We'll just leave that to add up with the claims of respect for freedom and the freedom of speech that is given to us in this country. In many parts of his speech, there were many insults and claims that were incorrect, regretfully. Of course, I think that he was affected by the press, the media and the political sort of mainstream line that you read here, that goes against the very grain of the need for peace and stability in the world around us. Nonetheless, I should not begin by being affected by this unfriendly treatment.

--President Ahmadi-Nejad's response to Bollinger's 'introduction'.

(Source here).

Who did this particular round go to, do you think?

P.S. More on the Iranian President's NYC pass-through soon, I hope.

Posted by Gregory at 09:53 AM | Comments (61)

September 20, 2007

Amusing Letters to the FT...

...here's a particularly humorous one from yesterday, from Zuhair Khan writing in from Tokyo:

The punch is spiked – so let’s party on down!

Sir, It has officially been confirmed: the Bernanke Put is AAA rated and can be counted on by investors the world over. There is no risk of default on this instrument.

The party is going to get hotter as Ben Bernanke has added vodka to spike the punch! I think it is time to buy a condo in the ultimate party town, Las Vegas, using a NINJA AAA Mortgage (No Income, No Job, No Assets, Alt-A Adjustable rate Mortgage).

They are back on offer again, aren't they?

And more for bears (or curious bulls) to mull over here (money quotes excerpted below for those too lazy to click through).

Although subprime U.S. loans seem like small change in the context of the multitrillion-dollar debt market, it turns out that these high-yield instruments were an important part of the machine that Das calls the global "liquidity factory." Just like a small amount of gasoline can power an entire truck given the right combination of spark plugs, pistons and transmission, subprime loans became the fuel that underlies derivative securities that are many, many times their size.

Here's how it worked: In olden days, like 10 years ago, banks wrote and funded their own loans. In the new game, Das points out, banks "originate" loans, "warehouse" them on their balance sheets for a brief time, then "distribute" them to investors by packaging them into derivatives called collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs, and similar instruments. In this scheme, banks don't need to tie up as much capital, so they can put more money out on loan.

The more loans that were sold, the more they could use as collateral for more loans, so credit standards were lowered to get more paper out the door -- a task that was accelerated in recent years via fly-by-night brokers that are now accused of predatory lending practices.

Buyers of these credit risks in CDO form were insurance companies, pension funds and hedge-fund managers from Bonn to Beijing. Because money was readily available at low interest rates in Japan and the U.S., these managers leveraged up their bets by buying the CDOs with borrowed funds.

So if you follow the bouncing ball, borrowed money bought borrowed money. And then because they had the blessing of credit-ratings agencies relying on mathematical models suggesting that they would rarely default, these CDOs were in turn used as collateral to do more borrowing.

In this way, Das points out, credit risk moved from banks, where it was regulated and observable, to places where it was less regulated and difficult to identify.

The liquidity factory was self-perpetuating and seemingly unstoppable. As assets bought with borrowed money rose in value, players could borrow more money against them, and it thus seemed logical to borrow even more to increase returns. Bankers figured out how to strip money out of existing assets to do so, much as a homeowner might strip equity from his house to buy another house.

These triple-borrowed assets were then in turn increasingly used as collateral for commercial paper -- the short-term borrowings of banks and corporations -- which was purchased by supposedly low-risk money market funds.

According to Das' figures, up to 53% of the $2.2 trillion of commercial paper in the U.S. market is now asset-backed, with about 50% of that in mortgages.

When you add it all up, according to Das' research, a single dollar of "real" capital supports $20 to $30 of loans. This spiral of borrowing on an increasingly thin base of real assets, writ large and in nearly infinite variety, ultimately created a world in which derivatives outstanding earlier this year stood at $485 trillion -- or eight times total global gross domestic product of $60 trillion.

Without a central governmental authority keeping tabs on these cross-border flows and ensuring a standard of record-keeping and quality, investors increasingly didn't know what they were buying or what any given security was really worth.

I really don't envy the next President. He or she is likely going to have to grapple with, not only 100,000 plus soldiers in Iraq, but a rather frightful recession too (or a difficult post-recessionary environment, if this giant Ponzi-like liquidity bubble unwinds faster, despite Central Bank interventions). As for the housing sector, depression might be a better word. Hey, look at the bright side: there's always cash and gold, of course!

Posted by Gregory at 09:29 PM | Comments (20)

Great Moments in Public Diplomacy

This is really so sad. "People who want to be Cal Ripken in Pakistan", says Condi (save the detail they are cricket crazy, not baseball, of course!). Yes, that will materially impact our global reputation. Don't get me wrong. I know Cal Ripken is a good guy. I know baseball is our great national past-time. I'm happy Karen and Condi are sports fans. But does anyone seriously believe Cal Ripken regaling young Indonesian, Pakistanis or Saudis with tales of his RBI averages, interspersed with talk of 'character' and 'leadership' and such, is going to make one iota of difference for us strategically vis-a-vis our public diplomacy efforts?

No, it's all on par with Zathras' comment here regarding the celebrification (is that a word(?), if not, it should be...) of policy players etc. Why be surprised? It's well in keeping with this cheapened era. For Brooke Astor, we have a new breed of socialite that enjoys moonlighting as porn-star. For Secretary of States we have Ms. Wiesbaden Uber-Boots strutting her stuff. For public diplomacy tsarina we have an old Texan friend of the Decider who doesn't know squat (sorry...) about the Middle East.

Look, if we were at all serious about public diplomacy, we'd have had all our regional experts who speak Arabic flooding the airwaves apologizing for Condi's immensely tone-deaf "birth pangs" comment during the Lebanon-Israeli war the summer before last, when the entire Islamic world was enraged by images of cluster munitions being littered willy-nilly through south Lebanon, not to mention the horrific incident at Qana. Or she would follow her predecessor Colin Powell's recommendation to close Guantanamo without delay, by having a come to Jesus w/ the Decider about how the Cuban penal colony (along with the hooded man at Abu Ghraib) was overshadowing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America among many around the world.

These would be the makings of a serious public diplomacy effort, not this breezy, palsy-walsy festiveness with Cal. But what good does it do to scream on like this? You do public diplomacy with the public diplomacy team you have....

P.S. Did anyone notice how relaxed and happy Condi looks in the YouTube above? I couldn't help wondering, she really might well be happier as NFL Commissioner, and is just (mostly) treading water until '09....

P.P.S. For avoidance of doubt and spurred on by this commenter at Yglesias' place, I want to be clear. I'm not a big baseball fan, but from the little I know of him, I think Cal Ripken is a great guy. I really do. So yeah, good on him to want to pitch in and try to help. Nor am I trying to cheaply beat up on Rice or Hughes, as all told (and relatively speaking given the awfulness of this Administration), they too are trying to help on the margins. My point is just that we're grossly in over our heads, that's all...and not enough people are pointing it out.

MORE: Alex Massie weighs in:

Equally tellingly, you'll notice that Dr Rice doesn't mention the one country where Mr Ripken might conceivably (and even then it's a stretch) do some good for the Yankee image. That would, of course, be Venezuela - the one South American country that considers baseball, not soccer, its national sport. But then again, why would you want to engage with the Axis of Evil's Junior Varsity skipper?

Send Cal to Caracas!

Meantime reader SG writes in: "You didn’t have to mention you were not a big baseball fan; your use of the phrase “tales of his RBI average” does that for you. You could have said batting average or RBI totals..." Forgive my mortifying ignorance! With apologies...

Posted by Gregory at 11:20 AM | Comments (17)

Dear Tzipi: Muzzle Gillerman, It's Getting So Tiresome

"It is the obligation of the American legal authorities to prevent his entrance into the United States and if he does enter, to arrest him and try him for incitement to genocide and aiding and abetting terrorists who kill American soldiers in Iraq"

--Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, as quoted in Haaretz

It is truly embarrasing that a smart woman like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni doesn't better place Gillerman on a leash (it's kind of reminiscent of the Rice-Bolton dynamic, no?), as this is pretty outrageous fare, even by the standards of gross rhetorical overreach we've all been subjected to these past years from various capitals/chancelleries.

Memo to Dan: New York City is where the United Nations sits. As part of the deal therefore, leaders of sovereign nations that are members of the General Assembly get to visit and such. So, alas, unsavory world leaders will come here rather often for UNGA meetings and the like. Moreover, Ahmadi-Nejad has not commited genocide (indeed 25,000 ethnic Jews live in Iran, the largest population of Jews in the Middle East outside of Israel). If he is the new Hitler, why haven't they been slaughtered? As for incitement to genocide, whatever that means precisely, by such flimsy standards of dubious translations getting turned into hyberbolic journalistic copy then dutifully fanned by the usual suspects, we could likely indict rather a large cast of characters indeed.

P.S. Please spare us advice regarding what the "obligation(s) of the American legal authorities" are, OK? That's the U.S. Government's call, not yours (though God save us if Mitt or Rudy come to power in '09, the U.N. will likely end up having to move to London or something...)


Posted by Gregory at 01:35 AM | Comments (7)

September 19, 2007

God-Send Gates!

Regular readers know well my detestation for the abysmal Rumsfeld, now scampering merrily about Taos and St. Michaels with not the merest smidgen of shame, spouting inanities to GQ journalists. So as someone who feted Gates' arrival on the scene, he's the last player in this Administration I'd want to criticize, to be honest. Still, however, allow me to briefly dissent on ye grand Williamsburg speech here. I speak of remarks Gates made on Monday in Virginia, of which the hagiographic treatment of same has been quite something. Le tout Washington is seemingly riveted by such apercus:

Over the last century, we have allied with tyrants to defeat other tyrants. We have sustained diplomatic relations with governments even as we supported those attempting their overthrow.

We have at times made human rights the centerpiece of our national strategy even as we did business with some of the worst violators of human rights. We have worked with authoritarian governments to advance our own security interests even while urging them to reform.

We have used our military to eliminate governments seen as a threat to our national security, to undo aggression, to end ethnic slaughter, and to prevent chaos. In recent times, we have done this in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans, Haiti, Afghanistan, and Iraq. In the process, we have brought the possibility of democracy and freedom to tens of millions more who had been oppressed or were suffering.

To win and protect our own freedom, the United States has made common cause with countries that were far from free – from Louis XVI, to one of history’s true monsters, Joseph Stalin. Without the one there is no American independence. Without the other, no end to the Third Reich. It is neither hypocrisy nor cynicism to believe fervently in freedom while adopting different approaches to advancing freedom at different times along the way – including temporarily making common cause with despots to defeat greater or more urgent threats to our freedom or interests.

Now I know, in a cretin-infested Washington, these rays of common-sense appear the second-coming. But really, friends, come now. Of course you need to speak to the "bad guys" at times. Of course democracy takes time. Of course we aren't going to end tyranny in the world under the Decider's watch (reinstituting habeas corpus in this country would be a good start, however). Again, we had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union throughout the entire Cold War. Nixon and Kissinger opened up dialogue with Red China. But the gang of mediocrities in Washington spend time coaxing Olmert not to speak to dastardly Bashar, because agenda-ridden third-tier players like a Dave Wurmser would get bummed out. In similar vein, we have a Mitt Romney (showing that success in private equity can still have you proving a reckless simpleton on foreign policy) clamoring for an Alan Dershowitz or John Bolton to serve process to Ahmadi-Nejad when he gets off the tarmac at Kennedy for the UNGA. This type of ribald fare is turning this country into a provincial-looking laughing-stock. But yes, OK, god speed to Gates. I can protest Foreign Policy 101 being heralded as some great new hybrid of 'realism and idealism' or such, but still, I'll take a sane SecDef over a criminally negligent one any day of the week.

P.S.David Brooks writes about Gates today: "(o)ver the long term, Gates represents a shift in the foreign policy center of gravity. Over the short term, he is, to use a phrase he borrows from the historian Joseph Ellis, “improvising on the edge of catastrophe.” Perhaps, given the enormity of the disaster in Iraq, but what Gates is simply trying to return us to is basically the entire thrust of post-WWII foreign policy in this country, interrupted by a confluence of 9/11, a hugely underqualified President, pugnacious nationalists (and their know-nothing 'more rubble, less trouble' allies), and fantastical neo-cons. It ain't rocket science, it's called common sense, deal-making, sanity, etc etc. Why this Thermidor need take place over the 'long-term' is beyond me. It needs to happen today, better yesterday even.


Posted by Gregory at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

September 18, 2007

Plummeting Prestige

Adam Gopnik, in a New Yorker profile of Nicolas Sarkozy, points out something I've increasingly noticed of late:

The catastrophe in Iraq has had an unlooked-for effect: not to stoke anti-Americanism in a new generation but to make America seem almost marginal. For almost two hundred years, Americanization in Europe has been synonymous with modernization—that’s why the Statue of Liberty stands in New York Harbor, as a gift of the Third French Republic, the fraught state that appeared after Louis-Napoleon’s Second Empire failed. It was a gift not from a complacent old world to a nascent new one but from a newborn republic to one that, after its civil war, was firm and coherent. The point wasn’t that Europe would not abandon us; it was that we would not abandon old Europe to the despots.

Now, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine modernization as something independent of Americanization: when people in Paris talk about ambitious kids going to study abroad, they talk about London. (Americans have little idea of the damage done by the ordeal that a routine run through immigration at J.F.K. has become for Europeans, or by the suspicion and hostility that greet the most anodyne foreigners who come to study or teach at our scientific and educational institutions.) When people in Paris talk about manufacturing might, they talk about China; when they talk about tall buildings, they talk about Dubai; when they talk about troubling foreign takeovers, they talk about Gazprom. The Sarkozy-Gordon Brown-Merkel generation is not unsympathetic to America, but America is not so much the primary issue for them, as it was for Blair and Chirac, in the nineties, when America was powerful beyond words.

Our prestige has taken multiple body-blows these past years. Meantime, rather than re-energize and focus anew on epochal shifts like China and India's rise, to take an example or two, our policy-making class instead remains almost wholly bogged down speaking about 'bottom-up reconciliation' in the wilds of Anbar and Diyala. (This is not to say we musn't spend significant time focused on carefully managing a gradual exit from Iraq, but anyways effectively doing so is something largely beyond the skill-set of the current national security team, and not the topic of this post besides).

More on this theme of declining American prestige here.

The US has suffered a significant loss of power and prestige around the world in the years since George W. Bush came to power, limiting its ability to influence international crises, an annual survey from a well-regarded British security think-tank concluded yesterday.

The 2007 strategic survey from the non-partisan International Institute for Strategic Studies picks the decline of US authority as one of the most important security developments of the past year - but suggests the fading of American prestige began earlier, largely due to its failings in Iraq.

John Chipman, the institute's director-general, said the "authority, prestige and reputation of the US is not what it might have been four or five years ago".

The deterioration of American power had led to a "non-polar" world in which other actors, such as Russia, had been able to assert themselves. [ed. note: This descriptive 'non-polar' might be slightly exaggerated, but certainly the moment of giddy, undisputed mid 90's unipolarity has passed us by].

The report says the US failure in Iraq had meant the Bush administration suffered from a much-reduced ability to hold sway in both domestic and international affairs.

This was evident, it says, from the president's failure to push through a new immigration bill, to the scant regard paid to US efforts to influence Israeli-Palestinian developments [ed. note: What U.S. efforts?] and Mr Bush's sudden acceptance of the need for action on climate change.

But a more fundamental loss of clout occurred at a strategic level. "It was evident that exercise of military power - in which, on paper, America dominated the world - had not secured its goal," the survey says. The failings in Iraq created a sense around the world of American power "diminished and demystified", with adversaries believing they will prevail if they manage to draw the US into a prolonged engagement.

We must be careful not to over-exaggerate any perceived American decline in power. Despite increasingly worrisome recessionary pressures (not to mention the still extant specter of inflation, the sanguine-seeming Bernanke 'put' of yesterday aside) the U.S. remains the world's economic powerhouse. Ditto militarily, despite being bogged down in Iraq, we can project force throughout the world in unparalleled manner. Still, the dollar is quite weak, stagflation could loom, economic competitors are rising, and on the national security front, the Iranians, for instance, have seen how our military fared poorly in Iraq, and to an extent, in Afghanistan too. We are not necessarily some pitiable paper tiger, but we've taken quite a few good upper-cuts of late, resulting in many a bloodied nose. And certainly, if we speak of "soft power", which I know is something sane players in the Bush Administration (read: Bob Gates) realize is critical, our reputation has cratered to an extent the damage done simply won't disappear just because Hillary Clinton comes into office, say. Said damage is real, and it will take a long time to fix, even assuming we don't careen off towards greater misadventures pre '09.


Posted by Gregory at 09:44 AM | Comments (4)

September 17, 2007

Lugar States The Obvious, Yet Again...

Richard Lugar during the SFRC hearing last week:

... the pace and intensity of American regional diplomacy to Iraq has failed to match the urgency and magnitude of problems. Although Secretary Rice and her team have made some inroads for the Gulf nations and other players, we still lack a forum to which to engage Iraq's neighbors on a constant basis. We're allowing conditions in which miscalculation can thrive. Every nation surrounding Iraq has intense interest in what is happening there. Yet the three Iraq regional working groups established the Sharm el-Sheikh conference in early May have met only once since then. A broader regional conference such as the one that took place in Baghdad this past weekend also have convened so infrequently they've had little positive impact on Iraq's status. An expanded ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors is scheduled to occur at Istanbul next month.

This is positive, but it's not a substitute for a continuous, visible forum in which we ensure the transparency of national interests and actions. Bold and creative regional diplomacy is not just an accompaniment to our efforts in Iraq, it is a precondition for the success of any policy. We cannot sustain a successful policy in Iraq unless we repair alliances, recruit more international participants in Iraq, anticipate refugee flows, prevent regional aggression, generate new basing options and otherwise prepare for future developments. If we have not made substantial diplomatic progress by the time a post-surge policy is implemented, our options will be severely constrained and we will be guessing at a viable course in a rapidly evolving environment. [my emphasis]

Prediction: we'll continue to bumble along in mostly ad hoc manner on the regional diplomatic front. Or worse, even. We're that bad.

Posted by Gregory at 09:42 PM | Comments (16)

September 16, 2007

Water-Boy Central

This week, America heard about Iraq from two serious men, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. They understand Iraq in all its complexity. They have an astonishing mastery of the details of what's going on in almost every part of the country and an amazing grasp of virtually every aspect of a complex war, a multilayered society, and a new and fluid polity. They have clearly thought about the policy options before us with a seriousness appropriate to individuals who, every day, exercise considerable authority and bear great responsibilities. Last week, they were able, despite the comparative shallowness and guile of their questioners, to explain the choices we face with clarity and honesty at a critical moment in our nation's history.

--Bill Kristol and Fred Kagan, writing in the Weekly Standard.

Posted by Gregory at 09:16 PM | Comments (6)

In-House Note

In case anyone has stumbled back on this blog and is wondering what's going on, I'm simply working my way through the Petraeus & Crocker testimony, and then posting snippets of interest. Once I've digested all of it, I plan to sum up the testimony, their interview w/ Hume, the state of play on the Hill, Bush's Thurs night speech, etc etc. Can't be sure when, but I'm doing my best. Just a quick note for anyone confused by all the random postings put up Sat night/Sunday AM. Thanks (P.S. I'm done with the Senate Armed Services testimony, turning to the SFRC next, probably this evening...)

P.S. On a slightly different topic, I'm also thinking of turning off comments over at B.D. Given how intermittent my posting can be (professional and family commitments), we've never really developed a 'community' of commenters here, I don't think. Occasionally very instructive comments are put up, but lots of it of late appears more by way of drive-by emoting. This could be my fault as much as anyone visiting here (you might say my blogging style isn't too different, of late), but be that as it may, I've found comments less interesting recently. If anyone has strong views on this please drop a comment below. I would of course still welcome E-mails and publish ones of general interest.

Posted by Gregory at 12:37 PM | Comments (14)

Self-Parody Watch

SEN. INHOFE: I was really shocked when I saw the article in the paper by Mike O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack in the New York Times, on the 30th of July, but these are two journalists, fine people and all that, with the Brookings Institute, but they've been very critical. They came back and wrote the article, A War We Just Might Win. I was in shock to see that. Katie Couric, has certainly been no friend of the president's or this effort, came back from actually going over visiting -- and I'm going to get this into the record.

Fallujah was one of the deadliest cities in this country, with terrible fighting. But what happened is al Qaeda came in; the tribal leaders realized they did not want to live under a brutal al Qaeda regime, so they enlisted the help of the U.S. soldiers.

Suddenly, these former enemies had a common enemy, worked together, and now Fallujah is relatively calm. Reconstruction efforts are under way. And it is really being considered a crowning achievement.

And I can't help but think -- I would suggest that both Senator Kennedy and Senator Byrd go over there, and they may experience the same type of conversion.

Now, when the statement that was made, trying to draw a relationship, or trying not to draw a relationship between Iraq and 9/11, I think it's important to bring out the fact that there were very major terrorist training camps in Iraq in places like (inaudible) Ramadi, Samarra, Salmanpak. In Salmanpak, it was a training camp where they actually had a fuselage of a 707, training terrorists how to hijack airplanes.

There's no evidence that 9/11 -- those who performed that duty on 9/11 were trained there. But nonetheless, these were terrorist training camps.

Are there any left in Iraq now?

GEN. PETRAEUS: There are certainly areas in which al Qaeda still has local sway, if you will. But one of the big efforts during the surge has in fact been to wrest control from them of many of the areas that were formerly sanctuaries, including also Ramadi, Baqouba, Arab Jabour, a number of other neighborhoods in Baghdad and so forth.

Inhofe's just a non-entity, of course, but a better man might have provided him more context in the response, rather than play charade that the 'former sanctuaries' had any linkage to 9/11 or (pre-Iraq invasion) al-Qaeda activity of any kind. Sad.

Posted by Gregory at 12:32 PM | Comments (4)

Awesome Humor on the Hill!

"I'm not so sure two days of this is Geneva Convention compliant, but we'll keep going."

--Senator Lindsey Graham, commenting on the arduous nature of Petraeus & Crocker having to spend a day or two testifying on the Hill.

Lindsey's just one hilarious little bundle of Carolina sunshine, isn't he?

Posted by Gregory at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)

Not Sure It's Making Us Safer, But It's Certainly In the National Security Interest...

SEN. GRAHAM: So you're saying to the Congress that you know that at least 60 soldiers, airmen and Marines are likely to be killed every month from now to July [2008], that we're going to spend $9 billion a month of American taxpayer dollars, and when it's all said and done, we'll still have 100,000 people there, you believe it's worth it in terms of our national security interests to pay that price.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I wouldn't be here, and I wouldn't have made the recommendations that I have made if I did not believe that.

Juxtapose with:

WARNER: Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy do you feel that that is making America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

SEN. WARNER: Does that make America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind. What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the Multi-National Force-Iraq.

I have not stepped back to look at -- and you've heard, with other committees, in fact, you know, what is the impact on -- I've certainly taken into account the impact on the military. The strain on our ground forces, in particular, has very much been a factor in my recommendations.

But I have tried to focus on doing what I think a commander is supposed to do, which is to determine the best recommendations to achieve the objectives of the policy from which his mission is derived. And that is what I have sought to do, sir.

SEN. WARNER: Well, once the president makes his statement, I hope you do consider it very carefully, as I know you will.


Posted by Gregory at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

Anyone at 1600 Penn. Part of the "Brain Trust"?

SEN. INHOFE: Ambassador Crocker, you talked about some of the economy victories that were there. You talked about the markets, about the kids, and the playgrounds, and these things. Some of us have been there and gone through the markets and so we know that those successes are very real.

And I have to say that -- to apologize to the two of you for what you've had to undergo. The move on.org was bad enough, but I think we know what's behind that. But when my old friend, Tom Lantos, came out and says, we cannot take any of this administration's assertions about Iraq seriously anymore. No amounts, charts, or statistics will increase its credibility.

I think it's appropriate for you to repeat something you're probably tired of repeating, and that is the report that you brought to us and to the American people and to Congress that you've been able to articulate in the last couple of days, just explain -- one more time, tell us the genesis of that report.

Who put it together and who's responsible for that it?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Senator, I've got a brain trust of bright guys. They wrote two drafts of it. And I took control of the electrons last week or two weeks ago and basically rewrote it and wrote that myself.

Obviously, I shared it back and forth with them, but what I delivered here today was very much, by and large, my testimony. And it certainly had not been cleared with nor even shared with anyone.

SEN. INHOFE: With the Pentagon or the White House?

GEN. PETRAEUS: With the Pentagon or Congress.

Is it just me, or does one get the sense the White House got to eye-ball a little advance copy here and there?

More here:

Despite Bush's repeated statements that the report will reflect evaluations by Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, administration officials said it would actually be written by the White House, with inputs from officials throughout the government.

And though Petraeus and Crocker will present their recommendations on Capitol Hill, legislation passed by Congress leaves it to the president to decide how to interpret the report's data.

The senior administration official said the process had created "uncomfortable positions" for the White House because of debates over what constitutes "satisfactory progress."

During internal White House discussion of a July interim report, some officials urged the administration to claim progress in policy areas such as legislation to divvy up Iraq's oil revenue, even though no final agreement had been reached. Others argued that such assertions would be disingenuous.

"There were some in the drafting of the report that said, 'Well, we can claim progress,' " the administration official said. "There were others who said: 'Wait a second. Sure we can claim progress, but it's not credible to . . . just neglect the fact that it's had no effect on the ground.'"


Posted by Gregory at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

Hey, Just A Casual Lift to Tikrit...

SEN. BILL NELSON: Do you see any indication, thus far, of political reconciliation?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, what I have seen again, as I mentioned earlier, Senator, is the prime minister himself and his office reaching out, again, to Sunnis in Anbar province. We haven't talked at all about what he did in Salahuddin province.

We actually flew him up to Tikrit the other day. He got off and went and met with a number of sheiks up there and had a similar initiative of to what has gone on in Anbar province. [my emphasis]

"We actually flew him up..." I bet we did. One reason, of course, is that if he hadn't been accompanied by a U.S. security cordon he'd have likely been assassinated. Another is he doesn't have his own airforce assets to get him up there timely and securely. But still General, let's mask Maliki's total dependence on us just a wee bit better...after all, he is the Prime Minister of a sovereign nation, yes?

P.S. Later in the testimony to the Armed Services Comittee Crocker touts this furtive trip to Tikrit as another example of improving relations between the central government and the provinces. Talk about weak fare...

Posted by Gregory at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

Comedy Central: Georgia & The Revolutionary Guards...

SEN. CHAMBLISS: General Petraeus, what about from a military standpoint? Obviously, there is a very long border between Iran and Iraq.

What action are we moving on to try to make sure that we slow down the shipment of arms from the Iranians to the Iraqis?

GEN. PETRAEUS: First of all, Senator, we have conducted a number of operations against individuals connected with the EFP shipment process. In fact, we captured the Iraqi head of the Shaibani network, as it's called. That is one of the major arms smuggling networks. A number of others along the way -- in fact, we just picked up a large EFP cache in the last 24 or 36 hours.

In addition, obviously, we are focusing a good deal of intelligence on this and we are working very closely with the Iraqi security forces and...now the Georgian brigade, the country of Georgia, not to be confused with your great home state. But the country of Georgia that has just deployed a brigade into Iraq -- very keen to operate outside the wire. And it is going to work hard to interdict and disrupt the flow of weapons and other assistance from Iran.

They are in a strategic location in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, astride the road that comes up from Maysan and also in from the border crossing that is to the east of Kut. And that, we believe, can have a positive effect, as well, and very much thicken and reinforce the actions of the Iraqis in that area.

Tblisi to the rescue! Saxby probably got a bit confused for a little there...

Posted by Gregory at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)

"See What Might Develop Out of That"

AMB. CROCKER: Again, Senator, it's hard to do nation-building or reconciliation in the face of widespread sectarian violence, which has been the situation over the last 18 months.

And, as you've seen from General Petraeus' charts, it's really just been in the last few months that we've seen a significant reduction in that.

I think that nation-building, reconciliation in Iraq is going to take a lot of forms. In certain areas, the tribal dimension is key. If you're dealing with Anbar, you're dealing tribal terms.

And what is interesting and somewhat encouraging to me there is those tribal elements that have emerged have shown a considerable interest in linking up with the central government in Baghdad.

About 10 days ago, the leader of the Anbar awakening, Sheik Abdel Sittar came to Baghdad. I spent some time with him. His main purpose, though, was to meet with the prime minister and kind of establish a relationship and see what might develop out of that.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Posted by Gregory at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

SEN. REED: General Petraeus, have you ever recommended or requested the extension of tours to 18 months for the accelerated deployment of Guard and Reserve forces?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I have certainly never recommended extension beyond 15 months. In fact, General Odierno and I put out a letter that said that, I mean, unless things got completely out of control, that we would not even think of extending beyond 15 months.

SEN. REED: Having done that, doesn't that virtually lock you in to a recommendation of reducing troops by 30,000 beginning in April and extending through the summer, regardless of what's happening on the ground?

GEN. PETRAEUS: It, depending -- except depending on what can be taken out of the reserves. Again, I don't know what is available in the National Guard and the Reserves. I do know that the active army, in particular, that the string does run out for the army to meet the year-back criteria.

Now, what we have done, of course, as I mentioned, Senator, is actually, in fact, to take some elements out short of their 15-month mark because of our assessment of the situation...

SEN. REED: I understand that, but -- and I think, basically, my sense is that the overriding constraint you face is not what's happening on the ground in Iraq, but the reality, unless you did recommend, request and then succeed that unless tours were extended, 30,000 troops are coming out of there beginning April of next year, regardless of the situation on the ground.

GEN. PETRAEUS: Again, certainly, the active brigade combat teams were going to come out of there. Again, I am not aware of what is available in terms of battalions, brigades or what have you...

SEN. REED: My sense is that the Reserve and National Guard forces are not available to replace this.

GEN. PETRAEUS: I think that's the case. But, again, I don't know because I have not asked.

Let's just file this little exchange away (for now)...

Posted by Gregory at 12:05 AM | Comments (2)

September 15, 2007

Warner Elicits A Smidgen of Truth

SEN. WARNER: I want to ask one last question to the general.

Again, my respect for you and how I've come to know you, you feel very, very deeply, every single soldier, airman, Marine, sailor that you have under your command. And I think back about George Marshall in World War II when he was faced with decisions. In every respect you face the same tough decisions that he and Eisenhower and others faced in that period.

And he said in his diary, I was very careful to send to President Roosevelt every few days a statement of our casualties. I tried to keep before him all the time the casualty results, because you get hardened to these things, and yet you have to be very careful to keep them always in the forefront of your mind. End quote.

Interesting. Fascinating.

I'm confident that you do that. And you're advising our president now on a strategy. We don't know what it'll be. But I hope that if in any way you disagree that you will so advise him.

And secondly I hope in the recesses of your heart that you know that strategy will continue the casualties, stress on our forces, stress on military families, stress on all Americans.

Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy do you feel that that is making America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

SEN. WARNER: Does that make America safer?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Sir, I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind. What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the Multi-National Force-Iraq.

I have not stepped back to look at -- and you've heard, with other committees, in fact, you know, what is the impact on -- I've certainly taken into account the impact on the military. The strain on our ground forces, in particular, has very much been a factor in my recommendations.

But I have tried to focus on doing what I think a commander is supposed to do, which is to determine the best recommendations to achieve the objectives of the policy from which his mission is derived. And that is what I have sought to do, sir.

SEN. WARNER: Well, once the president makes his statement, I hope you do consider it very carefully, as I know you will.

Very politely, but in a manner I suspect shook Petreaus some given Warner's stature, the Senator from Virginia was warning Petreaus not to be overly "riveted" in myopic fashion (rather like a very 'goals-oriented' ambitious careerist, fitting for a Ph.D from Princeton) on a specific mission, to the detriment of the broader national interest. He also intimated he speak truth to power to the President when necessary (asking him, in essence, not to be a shill), suggesting Warner has some concern on this score. As for Warner's intimations about whether the human toll was worth it, given that the person spearheading our Iraq effort couldn't even say if the war in Iraq was making America safer, when put on the spot in such manner, one must conclude the answer is no, ultimately. It saddens me that men like Warner haven't broken with the President's failed policy more dramatically, a la Hagel. In their hearts, they know this is an irreparable disaster, and yet they can't bring themselves to declare so more forcefully.

Posted by Gregory at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

Spin City

SEN. BYRD: General Petraeus, you've touted success in Anbar province. Just a few months ago, the tribes in Anbar providence were shooting and killing Americans.

Recently they decided they disliked the terrorist there more than they dislike Americans, so they're cooperating with us, for the time being, while we give them money and arms. This recalls in my mind our policy in the 1980's in Afghanistan of arming the Taliban to fight the Soviet Union. We all know how that short-term policy hurt our long- term interest.

What guarantee can you give us that the tribes in Anbar are not going to turn around and use the guns we gave them against our troops once they feel we no longer serve their interest?

Isn't that a short-sighted policy?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Senator, first of all, we are not arming the tribes. We have not provided weapons to them.

What we did initially is basically give a thumbs up when they asked if it would be OK if they pointed the weapons they did have, they were already well-enough armed, at al Qaeda because they had come to reject the Taliban like ideology and barbarity of al Qaeda in the Euphrates River Valley.

And at this point, their salaries in Anbar Province, of the vast majority of these individuals are being paid by the central Iraqi government because they have been picked up as members, have either joined the army or joined local police forces up and down the Euphrates River Valley.

So, there is a connection to a national chain of command and to a national salary structure that does give considerable leverage to the national government over those individuals. [my emphasis]

"Considerable leverage", eh? That's rather ludicrous, I'm afraid.

Posted by Gregory at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

McCain: Steady Deterioration

"The distinguished strategist Ralph Peters summed up the state of affairs well in a column today, noting that Congress' failure to support General Petraeus, quote, would be a shame, since after nearly four years of getting it miserably wrong in Iraq, we're finally getting it right." [my emphasis]

I don't know what's more shocking, referring to Ralph Peters as "distinguished", or these wild rambings (Hat Tip: Cunning)? What happened to the Senator from Arizona?

Later, he says: "We cannot allow an Iranian-dominated Middle East to take shape in the context of wider war and terrorist safe havens. All of us, all of us want our troops to come home, but we should want them to return to us with honor, the honor of victory that is due all of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice."

It will be difficult, I think, for Iran to dominate the Middle East simply if we gradually withdraw from Iraq. After all, there are regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan in the neighborhood too. This amateurish-like unseemly panic doesn't befit McCain, but there it is.

Posted by Gregory at 09:32 PM | Comments (0)

Cheap and Cheaper

Joe Lieberman, on 9/11, at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

I mean, you've said to us the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met, and as a result, the forces can be reduced by 7,500 troops by the end of this year and 30,000 by about -- less than a year, by next summer, without jeopardizing, I'm quoting you, General, the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve. I suppose one of the things that has most surprised me over the last two days is that every member of Congress, regardless of our opinion about the way forward in Iraq, hasn't cheered when you said that, thanked you for it, because I can tell you that the 30,000 troops and their families are thrilled to hear that announcement.

I'll leave it to commenters to dissect the multiple layers of shameless tawdriness contained in the above quote, though it largely speaks for itself, I think.

Posted by Gregory at 09:20 PM | Comments (2)

Quotable

George Perkovich:

"If I were the Iranians, what I’d be freaked out about is that the other Arab states didn’t protest” the airstrike, said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The Arab world nonreaction is a signal to Iran, that Arabs aren’t happy with Iran’s power and influence, so if the Israelis want to go and intimidate and violate the airspace of another Arab state that’s an ally of Iran, the other Arab states aren’t going to do anything.”

"Freaked out" is rather strong, but certainly Damascus and Teheran have taken note. Be assured the lack of protests (at least significant, public ones) emitting from Cairo, Riyadh and Amman will be grist for the mill for the Cheneyites pushing for more of same, whether in Syria, or Iran.

Posted by Gregory at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

Republican Guards, or Revolutionary?

A quick query: did others notice this slip of the tongue by Petraeus during his 9/10 interview w/ Hume?

HUME: What's the Quds force, for those who may not know?

PETRAEUS: This is an element of the Iranian Republican Guard's Corps, a separate element, that essentially, by the way, controls the foreign policy for Iraq and for a couple of other key countries. In fact, the ambassador...

HUME: The foreign policy of Iran.

PETRAEUS: ... of Iran, for Iraq, the ambassador with whom Ambassador Crocker has met, for example, the ambassador of Iran in Baghdad is a Quds member. It's well-known, but he is, in fact, the ambassador to Iraq.

As I said, it was just a slip of the tongue, but it was somewhat amusing to see Petreaus describe the Quds force as an "element" of the Republican, rather than Revolutionary, Guards (Hume, predictably, missed that part of the slip-up). Of course, the Quds Force is a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the Republican Guard was one of Saddam's more loyal military branches. It was all on par with the cheery conflating of varied bad guys that passes as policy in this Administration. And note too Petraeus felt compelled to mention that Crocker's intermediary in Baghdad, the Iranian Ambassador there, is a member of the Quds Force. This was meant to signal in a very public forum that Crocker's dialogue with his counterpart amounted to speaking with a prominent terrorist (seemingly anyone our Beltway notables don't like these days, from Sy Hersh to Walid Mouallem, say), should the designation of the Revolutionary Guards (or merely the Quds Force, if the 'moderates' in DC win the debate!) as a "specially designated terrorist" occur. Indeed, I couldn't help thinking Petraeus was falling somewhat into the Cheney camp on Iran policy. Witness:

PETRAEUS: So Iran's role in Iraq is very destructive. It is something that Iraqis certainly would hope would be much more of a normal role among countries, but one about which they have become very concerned in recent months as they, along with us, have learned the extent of Iranian involvement.

HUME: Do the rules of engagement that you're operating under allow you to do what you think needs to be done to suppress this activity on the part of Iran? Or perhaps do you need assistance from military not under your command to do this?

PETRAEUS: Well, they allow us to do what we need to do with inside Iraq.

HUME: Right.

PETRAEUS: Beyond that...

HUME: Is that enough, in your view?

PETRAEUS: Well, that's what I'm responsible for. And, again, when I have concerns about something beyond that, I take them, of course, to my boss, Admiral Fallon, who is the regional commander. And, in fact, we have shared our concerns with him and with the chain of command. And there's a pretty hard look ongoing at that particular situation.

It fell on Crocker to then state:

CROCKER: Well, I have had a couple of meetings now with my Iranian counterpart, in which we've laid out very clearly what our concerns are, and said that what they need to do is align practice on the ground with their stated policy of support for a stable, democratic Iraq.

HUME: You have said, by the way, today that you thought that they believe that a stable, democratic Iraq was in their interest. And at the same time, though, you said that if it all went to hell over there, that it would be — that they would be, as you put it, a big winner. Which is right?

CROCKER: Well, I think you see a collision in Iran between their long- term strategic interests and their narrow tactical desires. Their narrow tactical desires I would define as trying to administer a defeat to the U.S. in Iraq. The problem they've got is that, if they are able to create circumstances that cause us to reconsider our commitment, the result is going to be a chaotic Iraq that, over the long run, could potentially be dangerous for them, as well. [my emphasis throughout]

Crocker just speaks of his "Iranian counterpart", not following the more inflammatory thrust of Petreaus's description of him as a leading Quds player. And he stresses that a total melt-down in Iraq is not in Iran's interest, as have other sane observers very often. Again, this post was just meant as a quick aside to point out Petreaus' somewhat sloppy mix-up here. Still, I found it worrisome to see Petreaus almost taking a Cheney-esque line on Iran. Hopefully Foggy Bottom and Admiral Fallon (and hopefully Gates and some of the Joint Chiefs) will continue to keep more catastrophic adventurism at bay, though of course, The Decider looms large in all this, via Cheney's noxious interventions, as we're all painfully aware.

Posted by Gregory at 07:53 PM | Comments (1)

A Quick Word On The Hume Interview

While I didn't have time to write about it at the time, catching the Hume interview of Petraeus and Crocker was really a downer. The first 17-18 minutes (I timed it) was simply given over to Petreaus walking through his charts. Then Hume did his merry best to conflate the war in Iraq with our struggle against al-Qaeda. Worth noting, his guests didn't appear particularly interested in dissuading him from such excesses. Ditto the jingoistic beating of the Iran war drums. It all smacked of Brezhnev era propaganda (I may have been young, but I lived in Moscow at the time). Don't get me wrong. The "Betray Us" nonsense was ham-handed over-reaching (I don't doubt Petraeus or Crocker's basic professionalism or character), but it was nonetheless painfully apparent each was in spin-mode. This was partly, of course, because they are in the trenches and so understandably grasping at whatever perceived positives. More worrisomely, however, and particularly with Petraeus, I got the sense he really believed that because "ethno-sectarian" violence was down in Baghdad (to the extent this is true, more because ethnic cleansing has reduced the number of 'mixed' neighborhoods and so too the opportunity to engage in such wanton killing sprees, not to mention the 'security-barrier' walls we're erecting about town), and further because Anbar's security situation had improved, we had really turned a corner. History will show who is right on this score, but suffice it to say I suspect Petraeus is yet another man who will ultimately see his reputation suffer mightily as a result of the Iraq imbroglio. As for Crocker, as I hope to analyze a bit later, the thin gruel he served up about benchmarks not technically being met but that nevertheless real progress on center-provincial relations was being made was unconvincing in the extreme.

Posted by Gregory at 06:27 PM | Comments (1)

September 13, 2007

In-House News

I'm sorry about being so out pocket during this eventful week. Major time commitments all around. Oh, and I'll confess, I think when I was able to find a spare moment here and there, I was too depressed by the overall spectacle to write (of which more later). Anyway, I plan to try and broach the Petraeus going-ons shortly. Do readers know if the entirety of the Congressional testimony is available via readily accessible links (if so, please drop a url in comments, or mail to belgraviadispatch@hotmail.com)? Also a link to the text of Brit Hume's interview of Petraeus and Crocker (which I did catch in real time, and was one of the items that depressed most....) would be very much appreciated. Back as soon as able, hopefully sometime this weekend.

UPDATE: Thanks for your E-mails and comments left below. I think I've got what I need now, save if anyone has the entire House side testimony (preferably in Microsoft Word), per chance. Thanks again.

Posted by Gregory at 05:04 PM | Comments (3)

September 06, 2007

The Coming Iraq Extravaganza on The Hill

Bruce Ackerman, writing recently in the FT:

President George W. Bush’s campaign to stay the course in Iraq is taking a new and constitutionally dangerous turn. When Senator John Warner recently called for a troop withdrawal by Christmas, the White House did not mount its usual counterattack. It allowed a surprising champion to take its place. Major General Rick Lynch, a field commander in Iraq, summoned reporters to condemn Mr Warner’s proposal as “a giant step backwards”.

It was Maj Gen Lynch who was making the giant step into forbidden territory. He had no business engaging in a public debate with a US senator. His remarks represent an assault on the principle of civilian control – the most blatant so far during the Iraq war.

Nobody remarked on the breach. But this only makes it more troubling and should serve as prologue for the next large event in civilian-military relations: the president’s effort to manipulate General David Petraeus’s report to Congress.

Mr Bush has pushed Gen Petraeus into the foreground to shore up his badly damaged credibility. But in doing so, he has made himself a hostage. He needs the general more than the general needs him. Despite the president’s grandiose pretensions as commander-in-chief, the future of the Iraq war is up to Gen Petraeus.

The general’s impact on Congress will be equally profound. If he brings in a negative report, Republicans will abandon the sinking ship in droves; if he accentuates the positive, it is the Democrats who will be spinning.

In fact, if not in name, it will be an army general who is calling the shots – not the duly elected representatives of the American people.

Wars are tough on constitutions, but losing wars is particularly tough on the American separation of powers. Especially when Congress and the presidency are in different hands, the constitutional dynamics invite both sides to politicise the military. With the war going badly, it is tempting to push the generals on to centre stage and escape responsibility for the tragic outcomes that lie ahead. But as Iraq follows on from Vietnam, this dynamic may generate a politicised military that is embittered by its repeated defeats in the field.

From this perspective, the US owes a great debt to Harry Truman. It would have been politically convenient for the president to defer to General Douglas Mac­Arthur’s advice and invade China in the Korean war. But Truman fired MacArthur instead, opening the way for General Dwight Eisenhower to win the next election. While the Democratic party was a big loser, the principle of civilian control remained intact.

Mr Bush is no Truman. He has used Gen Petraeus as a pawn in a game to defer congressional judgment from the spring to the autumn. Now he is transforming him into a mythic figure, scheduling his report to Congress for September 11. As the nation pauses to remember that terrible day in 2001, the president wants his general to appear on television as the steely-eyed hero of the hour, leading the country to ultimate victory in “the war on terror”.

This puts Gen Petraeus in a difficult constitutional position. Paradoxically, it is now up to a military man to defend the principle of civilian control. Gen Petraeus should make his priorities clear by immediately disciplining Gen Lynch for his thoughtless breach of constitutional principle. When his moment of truth comes, he should make every effort to avoid being a shill for either the Republicans or the Democrats – emphasising that the important questions are political, not military. He should restrict himself to an impartial statement of the facts and refuse to judge the success of the surge.

Petraeus increasingly risks looking like a propagandist, especially given that there is a lot of O'Hanlon-esque selective number juggling going-on these days. I hope he does make every effort to "avoid being a shill" for his CINC, however, and I'll of course withhold judgment and analyze his and Crocker's testimony before making any definitive conclusions, but the mere fact even of having some of this testimony occur on 9/11 I find reprehensible.

Related, Petraeus' hyper-assiduous courting of the media (most recently, the 'reverse Cronkite' schmooze-fest with an impressionable Katie Couric) has one concerned we have a man who is beginning to believe some of the 'Gettysburg hype' (read: fantastical scenarios re: Iraq's future, rather than the more tepid 'strategic patience' line, itself something of a hail mary, but one that has dutifully made its way from the field to Tony Cordesman's trip report and now, rather too uncritically, to Roger Cohen and David Brooks' op-ed copy). After all, he's prosecuting the effort himself, perhaps it's going better than expected?

Meantime, don't miss this piece:

Iraq's army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven," according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is "dysfunctional" and is "a ministry in name only." The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

Although citing recent "tactical success" and favorable "strategic implications" resulting from the Bush administration's current war strategy, the commission recommends that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning internal security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies.

The assessment by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq is one of several independent progress reports ordered by Congress for delivery before the administration presents its own scorecard next week. Members of the 20-member group, headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, traveled throughout Iraq over the summer and met with hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi officials as well as leading nongovernmental experts on the Iraqi forces. Jones will present the 152-page document, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, in testimony today before the Senate and House Armed Services committees. [my emphasis throughout]

"Retasked", eh? Where have we seen that recommendation before, I wonder? And how many men have died in the meantime, and will still in coming days, before we fall into a more intelligent force posture on the ground, one grounded in strategic reality rather than utopic hope?

Posted by Gregory at 12:54 PM | Comments (24)

September 05, 2007

Syria Hysteria, Postscript

"We believe that there have been fewer suicide bombers coming through Syria, and we are cautious about this assessment, but we do think that the Syrians may have been taking more active steps against al Qaeda, which is understandable...I mean, if al Qaeda were ever to succeed in Iraq, the next thing they'd do is turn … [to] Damascus. I can assure you." [emphasis added]

-- General Petraeus, speaking yesterday.

Quick, someone tell Joe Lieberman, Max Boot, and Michael Gerson that Saint Petraeus apparently disagrees with their hysterical hyper-ventilations, OK?

P.S. Note my bolds above, Petraeus is making the same 'blowback' point I had made in my recent post on Syria (linked again above). My aim in writing the post was to provide historical context and suggest that the Syrian regime would face real security risks of its own if it were truly acting as al-Qaeda's main travel agent in the region (the main thesis of Lieberman's embarrassingly asinine op-ed in the WSJ). This is the same trope agenda-ridden ideologues (or perhaps more charitably, simply myopic simpletons), shop around credulous media outlets ad infinitum. Namely, they conflate all the brown-lookin' terruhists from south Beirut to NWFP Pakistan, seemingly having difficulty grasping that, say, Syria's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine doesn't automatically translate into support for al-Qaeda. Of course, for analysts of this stripe, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, al-Qaeda, Mahdi Militia etc etc are all just operating under one big banner. It's easier to wrap one's head around such exciting meta-narratives, eh? But remember gang, divide and conquer!

Posted by Gregory at 01:07 PM | Comments (3)

September 04, 2007

Random Musings....Put Up Over at BD

(Thought I'd put up my last post from my guest-blogging stint at Andrew Sullivan's place here for anyone wishing to comment).

I’ve been following some of the recent back and forth on Andrew’s site regarding whether al Qaeda is a totalitarian organization or not. Putting such classifications aside, and forgive me for stating the obvious, al Qaeda is simply a transnational terrorist organization that enjoyed a spectacular success on 9/11, on the heels of prior terror operations mostly centered in East Africa and the Gulf Region. In hindsight, we know that by declaring something of a global crusade against them and their supposed fellow-travelers (the so-called “GWOT”) we played directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, in effect putting him and his organization on equal par with the President of the United States (‘wanted, dead or alive’), as well as the greatest superpower on earth. This was something of a propaganda coup for bin Laden, and ended up facilitating him turning his organization into a massive franchise operation whereby myriad committed jihadists could adopt the al-Qaeda banner in de-centralized manner, complicating the threat environment for the U.S. and its allies.

We then embarked on a legitimate invasion of Afghanistan given that the Taliban refused our entreaties to hand over bin Laden and other ‘Arab Afghans’. This mission supposedly achieved, we misguidedly launched a war on Iraq. This last conflict has proven an epic blunder, one we risk exacerbating even more--despite the hard lessons learned and great blood and treasure spent--by conflating Syrian and Iranian regional objectives into one simplistic, overarching categorization of radical Islam that has us seemingly marking our foe as anyone from the southern suburbs of Hezbollah controlled Beirut to the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Beyond this generally accepted narrative, let us ask ourselves: is it the remote villagers of southeastern Afghanistan that pose a grave security threat to those of us living in the West? Is the perennial weaning away of Pashtun tribes from neo-Taliban influences a vital national security interest of Washington’s? Or getting Sunni tribes in Anbar Province to work with the central Shi’a led government in Iraq? Or propping up Dawa or SCIRI in Iraq, against Sadr’s men? Put differently, how did the attack on downtown Manhattan lead us to become involved in ostensibly decades long nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps to come, a bombing campaign that would likely lead to a full-blown conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In my view, the greatest threat we face in the post 9/11 era are radicalized Islamists of mostly lower to middle class background who have grown up or emigrated to cities like Madrid, London, Paris, Hamburg, Milan. Don’t get me wrong. The comical shrieking about “Eurabia” and such is but thinly veiled Islam-bashing by primitives in the U.S. know-nothing media. But this moronic hyperbole aside, the radical Islamists who threaten us the most are those who have become technologically sophisticated, who perhaps speak our language, who can more easily appear ‘Westernized’, and meantime have become highly alienated by the West, basically the Mohammed Atta type. Which is to say, not rural peasants in the environs of Kandahar or impoverished Shi'a slum-dwellers south of Baghdad (nation-building efforts are not required to destroy any potential al-Qaeda sanctuaries, rather targeted military and intelligence efforts, and regardless the biggest such sanctuary is currently located within our ally Pakistan's territory).

If we think of the GWOT (which is indeed an empty slogan, ultimately, as the struggle we face is more by way of a complex counter-insurgency campaign for the hearts and minds of young Islamic youth, one where by declaring “war” we are immediately ensuring alienating a large number of them) as mostly geared towards de-radicalizing Muslims to better ensure the demographic boomlet of hundreds of millions of young in the Middle East pursue a moderate, non-violent politics, how exactly does occupying Islamic nations or regions help in this goal? We’ve seen the hate engendered among Chechens of the Russians, or Pakistanis at India over the Kashmir dispute. We’ve seen how Israel has been bogged down in multiple wars since its founding in 1948. We see how Hezbollah significantly gained in popularity in Lebanon because of fall-out from Israel’s disastrous 1982 invasion. We are all familiar with the French experience in Algeria. Is it not the images of ‘collateral damage’ in Gaza, or a razed Grozny, or increasingly now Shi’a civilians being killed by U.S. air-strikes in places like Sadr City, is this not what poses a greater threat? These are the images that future Mohamed Atta’s might pass around the Internet cafes of the Parisian banlieu, or neglected corners of East London, helping precipitate further 9/11s.

These fundamental misconceptions regarding how best to prosecute a complex campaign against international terrorists are part of the reason why I believe there is a strong yearning in the United States for fresh thinking on foreign policy. This too, in turn, is why more ‘iconoclastic’ foreign policy experts are supporting Barack Obama, I suspect. Putting aside the unbridled militarism that many of the Republican Presidential candidates are offering up, one senses discomfort that Hillary Clinton will be something akin to a ‘neo-con lite’ in terms of her foreign policy orientation (for instance, see this Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan effort, Daalder ostensibly a potential Clintonite, where they hanker for something called a “Concert of Democracies”--apparently because people are unhappy about the reality that Moscow and Beijing, for example, view the world differently than Washington, and that hard work is required to consensus-build given such starkly different world-views. Another example of this 'neo-con' lite group-think is Pollack and O’Hanlon breezily assuming we’ll need 100,000 or so troops in Iraq even into 2011).

With Obama there is a sense of an unscripted candidate who will go beyond 'focus group' think. Yes, this has led to some errors in judgment. For instance, the notion of attacking Pakistan without coordinating with whatever Government is in power there is reckless. Hard-core Islamists in Pakistan probably only represent about 10-12% of the population, but U.S. bombing raids on Pakistani sovereign territory without coordination with whatever government sits in Islamabad would all but guarantee radicalizing a significantly greater percentage. Meantime, while Obama is right we should be prepared to dialogue directly with our enemies at the highest levels, he might have answered the question with at least a gating caveat or two. Ditto the issue with use of nuclear weapons, where a more ambiguous statement regarding our nuclear deterrent capabilities and intentions might have been more appropriate. And yet the foreign policy missteps committed these past years have been so egregious, one senses a real hunger for a dramatic change of course. While foreign policy thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski or Tony Lake might have their limitations, they will at least better be able to grasp the critical need for a massive course correction than many in Clinton’s circle (though one feels compelled to note her husband could make a very energetic Middle East envoy, and Richard Holbrooke has proven to be very talented in the art of conflict resolution).

Still, given the moral calamities of legalized torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and so much more, having a man whose last name rhymes with our collective, demonic arch-villain, and a middle name the same as the surname of the Saddamite monster dethroned--not to mention the paradigm-shifting nature of having a first African-American President--all of this would certainly force the world to stand up and take notice that a significant change had taken place, and that a dramatic course correction was imminent. That said, pragmatism cautions not dismissing Hillary, whose foreign policy views are, as I indicated above, at least far superior to the craven militarism on tap by all the leading Republican candidates, and who’ll have a deep bench of foreign policy advisors on her team. Nonetheless, there is a sense of hope and possibility and freshness with Obama, and above all authenticity, that has me rooting for him somehow, despite whatever 'rookie' foot-faults (as the Beltway CW has it) and the rest of it. It’s almost as if he’s too honest and compelling for his own good, however, that something about how the American political system stacks up leads one to strongly suspect he won’t ultimately be able to prevail.

UPDATE: A reader points out Ivo Daalder is actually with the Obama campaign! My bad, with apologies.


Posted by Gregory at 01:48 PM | Comments (6)

About Belgravia Dispatch

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


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