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...
--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'.
Who did this particular round go to, do you think?
P.S. More on the Iranian President's NYC pass-through soon, I hope.
September 20, 2007
Amusing Letters to the FT...
The punch is spiked – so let’s party on down!
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.
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!
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...
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"
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...)
September 19, 2007
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.
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.
September 18, 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.
Prediction: we'll continue to bumble along in mostly ad hoc manner on the regional diplomatic front. Or worse, even. We're that bad.
September 16, 2007
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 , 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.
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?
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.
Is it just me, or does one get the sense the White House got to eye-ball a little advance copy here and there?
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.
Hey, Just A Casual Lift to Tikrit...
SEN. BILL NELSON: Do you see any indication, thus far, of political reconciliation?
"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...
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.
Tblisi to the rescue! Saxby probably got a bit confused for a little there...
"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.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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?
Let's just file this little exchange away (for now)...
September 15, 2007
Warner Elicits A Smidgen of Truth
SEN. WARNER: I want to ask one last question to the general.
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.
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.
"Considerable leverage", eh? That's rather ludicrous, I'm afraid.
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]
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.
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.
"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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 13, 2007
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 email@example.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.
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”.
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.
"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?
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]
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!
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.
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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