October 27, 2007
Aznar: In reality, the biggest success would be to win the game without firing a single shot while going into Baghdad.(Here, along with an excellent introductory essay from Mark Danner).
The Sartre of Tysons Corner
The most complicated question is why, as a rather serious-minded conservative, I am often found in bohemian coffeehouses, comfortable among the revolutionaries. Maybe it is because politics doesn't always predict lifestyle. Maybe because there is a bohemian impulse inside every writer, searching for a little quiet rebellion. Maybe I just like good soy lattes. Whatever the reason, and whatever the T-shirts say, I'll be back.
--Michael Gerson, posing in the Washington Post.
You know, it's funny. I was thinking of some of Bush's speechwriters recently, after watching an excellent Frontline documentary on Iran. It reminded me that the phrase 'Axis of Evil' (originally coined by David Frum as "Axis of Hatred", apparently, before getting tweaked, perhaps by Gerson) had very real world negative consequences vis-a-vis the Iranian reaction. Then you think of the men actually cobbling together these lines, perhaps from a coffee-shop near you, and can't help being staggered by the tawdry mediocrity of it all. In this vein, don't miss this golden oldie either, from back in the day, where the frissons of excitement at divining such a catchy turn of phrase seems really to have gotten the home fires burning. What desperately underwhelming times.
UPDATE: Related, Daniel Larison asks: "(W)hat does one make of statements like this"? I'm really not sure either. Perhaps Gerson might read this article for additional context about the so-called 'buzz-cut' set.
Like Hardy Perennials, The Bad Ideas Linger On...
George Packer asks a very good question: "Every now and then, a discredited official leaves the Administration, but why doesn’t a discredited idea ever get fired?"
Yes, the Wurmsers come and go, talking of (Arab Shi'a) risorgimento (with apologies to T.S. Eliot) , but the ill-advised policies live on. There are many possible reasons why, but among them dim-witted denial must rank highly. For an excellent example, see N-Pod getting the M. Kakutani treatment here:
Often the reasoning in this book is downright perverse. For instance Mr. Podhoretz contends that the continuing violence in Iraq is actually “a tribute to the enormous strides that had been made in democratizing and unifying the country under a workable federal system.” He continues: “If the sectarian militias thought that unification was a pipe dream, would they be shedding so much blood in the hope of triggering a large-scale civil war? If the murderous collection of die-hard Sunni Baathists, together with their allies inside the government, agreed that democratization had already failed, would they have been waging so desperate a campaign to defeat it?”
Remember now, the President and his Vice-President take the counsel of such men very seriously. When cretinous friendly 'journalists' aren't being brought around for a pep talk, it's deep think with the VDH, Bernard Lewis and N-Pod ranks that passes for grand strategy 'think time' in today's White House. And it's just one reason (feel free to list others) that discredited ideas aren't getting "fired", per Packer's well-turned formulation. Put differently, it's Alice in Wonderland la-la land over in the Oval Office, and the patient ministrations of Bob Gates and the like notwithstanding, that's not going to change much these next 15 or so months. Which means the prospects of a strategic revamping of our posture in the Middle East (or anywhere else, for that matter) before the end of this Administration hover somewhere between less than zero and nil.
October 25, 2007
The cost of the US’s operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with wider efforts in the “war against terror”, could reach $2,400bn (£1,175bn, €1,700) over the next decade, with interest payments representing more than a quarter of the total, the US Congressional Budget Office said on Wednesday.
I'm no isolationist, but expenditure of multiple trillions in this fashion is obscene. As I wrote a few weeks back:
...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?
Put differently, there is a reason NATO is floundering in Afghanistan. Deep down, most member states don't see truly vital interests at play (at least now with al-Qaeda's senior leadership mostly in Pakistan). This logic applies doubly so in Iraq, after all, what al-Qaeda leaders there threaten our shores (especially now that the Sunni tribes love us so!)? As for an Iranian missile threat to Europe, such hysteria is also not being taken seriously--not only by Putin--but others too. And if an Iranian nuclear weapon is tantamount to WWIII (per the President's astoundingly sloppy rhetoric, more reminiscent of a drunk kicking around a bar-stool), let's please have a draft in this country. If the stakes are so high, the times simply demand it. Seriously.
P.S. Readers are invited to suggest better uses for this 2.5 trillion folly-like expenditure. Here's one critical need that has languished of late. There are others, not only domestically (lest, again, I be accused of isolationist tendencies) but also overseas too. Not only are we spending like drunken sailors, but we're spending dumb to boot. This is a recipe for hard reckonings to come, with ever stronger encroachments by rivals like China gaining strength in the meantime. Anyone who flies routinely through increasingly third-worldish U.S. airports will understand what I'm getting at here...
Department of Delicious Ironies
Bob Gates, speaking to reporters after NATO meetings in The Netherlands, in an attempt to further dissuade Ankara from a large-scale incursion into northern Iraq:
"Without good intelligence, sending large numbers of troops across the border or dropping bombs doesn't seem to make much sense to me."
Pity Mr. Gates wasn't around in March of '03 dispensing such wisdom!
October 24, 2007
They Write Letters...
UPDATE: Specter is actually speaking up a bit too.
Norman Podhoretz believes that America needs to go to war soon with Iran. As far as he knows, Rudy Giuliani thinks the same thing.
Notice the language Podhoretz uses. "Draining the swamps". "Clearing the ground". A "five-act" play. This is like a breezy parlor game, isn't it? Here we are, approximately 5,000 dead Americans (including contractors) in Iraq, over a hundred thousand dead Iraqis, 4 million displaced or refugees, $500 billion plus down the hole, the peace process moribund (Annapolis, if it comes to pass even, will be a risible affair), Afghanistan faltering, ditto Lebanon, Pakistan under significant strains, and so on (believe me, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list)--and amidst this chaos we have the leading Republican Presidential candidate being briefed by his chosen eminence grise (as the Observer article notes, the Giuliani campaign has become "something of a lifeboat for neoconservatives shipwrecked after the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq") that we are just starting Act II (Afghanistan & Iraq ostensibly just Act I), and must proceed to Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia and Egypt?
Imagine such insane policy prescriptions being (even remotely) implemented as foreign policy, let alone by a man with well noted authoritarian tendencies, and to top it off, with the policy execution being delegated to Bernie Kerik caliber pit-bulls? This is a recipe for a Presidency exponentially worse than even Bush 43's (yes, I know, it's hard to imagine). Look, if this means holding one's nose for another dynastic turn with Hillary so be it, even if we need to suffer though the Michael O'Hanlon gaggles advising her on the deep nuances of Iraq 'bottom-up' reconciliation ad nauseam. The alternative is simply unthinkable, and cannot be allowed to pass.
Put differently, let's all be careful not to think of N-Pod as some adorable, avuncular mensch sparkling with apercus in a book-lined UES apartment, one whose ideas deserve serious attention. His policy recommendations, if we can call them that, are more reminiscent of the brutish tactics of street gangs battling for turf. It is shocking more sane individuals aren't shouting same from the rooftops. Especially as, transplanted from street corners to the global stage, this parody of principled pugnaciousness amounts to madness. Thuggish madness.
After all, the teeming masses in Teheran, Cairo and Damascus don't want to be bombed into freedom because of the dying schoolyard fantasy-like gasps of a totally discredited intellectual movement.
October 21, 2007
Vice-President Cheney, in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
Across the Middle East, further progress will depend on responsible conduct by regional governments; respect for the sovereignty of neighbors; compliance with international agreements; peaceful words, and peaceful actions. And if you apply all these measures, it becomes immediately clear that the government of Iran falls far short, and is a growing obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
Make no mistake, Dick Cheney is directly threatening war against Iran. Why do I say this? For perspective, note this is not the first time he's used the phrase "serious consequences." For example, see here a speech to Heritage back in October of '03.
Twelve years of diplomacy, more than a dozen Security Council resolutions, hundreds of U.N. weapons inspectors, thousands of flights to enforce the no-fly zones, and even strikes against military targets in Iraq -- all of these measures were tried to compel Saddam Hussein's compliance with the terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire. All of these measures failed. Last October, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Last November, the U.N. Security Council passed a unanimous resolution finding Iraq in material breach of its obligations, and vowing serious consequences in the event Saddam Hussein did not fully and immediately comply. When Saddam Hussein failed even then to comply, our coalition acted to deliver those serious consequences. In that effort, the American military acted with speed and precision and skill. Once again, our men and women in uniform have served with honor, reflecting great credit on themselves and on the United States of America.
And here is Cheney before the Iraq War, on Meet the Press back in March of '03, threatening "serious consequences." In other words, if you get the feeling an old play-book is getting trotted out, well, it's because it is.
There are other examples, but the upshot is clear, we must brace ourselves for the real possibility that this Administration will launch massive airstrikes on the Islamic Republic of Iran, with untold consequences. And while these threats apparently garnered applause among the audience at the Washington Institute, I find myself less impressed by such reckless jingoism. Hopefully the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense will issue similar cautionary notes to the President, because we can now be surer than ever that the Vice-President will try to goad his nominal superior into a conflict with Iran. He caught the "fever," all right, and men who previously collaborated with him during the Bush 41 years reasonably well (think Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell) I strongly suspect in private view him now as a genuinely dangerous national security player.
P.S. Don't miss this gem from the Vice-President's Washington Institute speech either:
As time passed, the terrorists believed they'd exposed a certain weakness and lack of confidence in the West, particularly in America. Dr. Bernard Lewis explained the terrorists' reasoning this way: "During the Cold War," Dr. Lewis wrote, "two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: 'What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?'" End quote.
It's really an appallingly strange time in our country. We have a singularly powerful Vice-President (compared to any of his predecessors)--openly quite enamored by the tactics employed by the Soviet Union--our former arch-foe whose human rights standards we derided. Indeed, we fought a decades-long Cold War so that Western style constitutional freedoms would trump Soviet authoritarianism. But yes, from this Sovietophile posture, use of torture and black-sites and detention without habeas corpus protections makes all the sense in the world, doesn't it? Because we have a Vice-President all but openly emulating and cheer-leading the tactics of the KGB, not in the wilds of Wyoming, but to a soi disant sophisticated audience in Washington DC. Put differently, he is very proud of his world-view, indeed eager to share it with Beltway 'elites'. Who will clear this dangerous rot out of Washington and help us restore our good name? The stakes are high, that is, the preservation of the American democratic model as a leading force for moderation and rule of law on the world stage.
I actually believe Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan would really prefer not to have to mount a major cross-border incursion into Kurdistan, but to better understand the pressure he's under of late this quote from a retired Turkish General is rather instructive: "(w)ith this incident, the arrow left the bow, and no room is left for the government to hesitate, postpone or fail to launch a cross border operation...If the government resists ordering a military operation, such a step would endanger its existence and credibility." And while it's true that Armagan Kuloglu (the quoted analyst & former military man) has tended to want to have a strong Turkish presence in the north of Iraq for quite some time now, I very much suspect his sentiments are shared by most currently serving members of the Turkish General Staff (for those who might not follow Turkey much, suffice it to say--and this is an understatement--the views of the Turkish military on such matters are quite consequential). So while Bob Gates might just be right that a major Turkish response isn't "imminent", no one can plausibly deny that Iraq's northern frontier this Sunday evening is rather on a knife's edge.
In short, the negative regional implications of the Iraq disaster continue to proceed apace. Instead of trying to contain the growing conflagration per the Baker-Hamilton approach, we're pursuing 'bottom-up' victory-is-near-maximalist 'surge' nonsense in tribal lands west of Baghdad (I'll have an interesting side-note on this soon, I hope). Meantime innocent Shi'a children are reportedly being killed in Sadr City because of too indiscriminate use of American air-power. It's not too hard to see the Kurds and Shi'a turning on us down the road, no? The former as we'll mostly side with Ankara's crack-down on the PKK, which could well escalate so as to drag the peshmerga in (who in turn will increasingly resent tacit American support of the Turks), while the Shi'a will get more frustrated with our attempts to blunt crude Shi'a majoritarianism to protect our new Sunni friends in Ramadi, not to mention too growing hostility resulting from more frequent episodes of "collateral damage" (think of Sadr City as our very own Gaza, you might say).
This adventure has proven to be rotten from the very get-go, and I fear it's going to end even more nastily than all the collected tragedy and folly we've witnessed to date, unless dramatic course corrections are implemented with great skill, both within Iraq and regionally, and soon. But there's a fat chance of that happening, not only with this Administration, but also with many of the potential successors too. Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark. Such a confluence of gross incompetence, vapid chest-beating, manifold ignorance and provincial paranoia doesn't conspire to create such abysmally poor policy every day, after all...
October 15, 2007
Enough Denial, Please
Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.
Who cares about torture? They're brown and different looking and the markets are up...
Tanya Lokshina, the chairwoman of a Russian human rights organization, the Demos Center for Information and Research, was among those who met with Ms. Rice on Saturday. She said that given the focus on security matters, the meeting with rights campaigners had been mostly symbolic.
Oh you bet we have Ms. Secretary. Start with a war of choice based on false premises that has led to tens of thousands of deaths and millions displaced. Throw in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and secret detention centers in Eastern Europe. Look at the banana republicanism evinced by Administration lawyers during midnight sick-bed hospital visits. Think about the hypocrisy of calling for elections in the Palestinian territories and then cutting off aid to the victors, at least as seen from the vantage point of a region vastly skeptical of our democracy-promotion agenda. The list goes on and on.
We need to wake up and smell the coffee for heaven's sake. We've lost a huge amount of the moral high ground. And much of the blame lies with Secretary Rice, frankly. As National Security Advisor, she meekly facilitated a dysfunctional foreign policy basically run by a two-pronged cabal centered on Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld.
So enough denial and spin. Wouldn't it be nice if someone, at least now and again, had the courage to issue a mea culpa and be honest with themselves, and the nation? No, I don't necessarily expect it now, when say a Condi Rice is still in office. But I don't expect it later either, when she and other former Administration leading lights move on. Instead, memoirs will doubtless chronicle success after success, as per some bizarre alternative universe where a confluence of a myopic world-view, denialism, and self-serving spin have these discredited players portraying their noble service to an Administration stoking the fires of freedom from Rangoon to Havana with unbridled fortitude and vision. No one seems to take responsibility anymore, no one admits error. I mean, how can one take seriously someone who, after all the blunders listed above, bristles emotively saying we have "never lost the moral high ground"? Not even a little? This is not serious. And it is a symptom of insecurity and mediocrity, not strength and leadership.
October 13, 2007
Our Sunni BFF's (Or Perhaps Not...)
(Via The Economist)
Brutish Nightmare, or Kaganite Reverie?
Dear NYT Editor,
I find it very distressing that all these generals crawl out of the woodwork and have the temerity to call the surge effort underway akin to an act of desperation. For those of us outside the Beltway who aren't schooled in all this hifalutin' foreign policy stuff, this blistering negativism is particularly puzzling because assorted Washington notables like Frederick Kagan and Michael O'Hanlon assure all is going just so with the surge.
Can someone please explain this baffling and troublesome disconnect?
P.S. From the linked Sanchez article:
Michael E. O’Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, criticized General Sanchez for implying in his speech that the current military strategy of relying on additional troops and on protecting the Iraqi people is little different than the strategy employed when he was in command.
Chutzpah! Pity we don't have more people with Michael's moral courage in the chain of command. There's just been far too much "condoning" these past years...I'm plain fed up with it too, but take comfort that our best and brightest at Brookings are speaking up--it takes real balls, after all.
October 12, 2007
Cooling Your Heels at the Dacha...
Mr. Putin himself set the tone for the day when he kept Ms. Rice and Mr. Gates waiting 40 minutes for a morning meeting at his suburban residence, or dacha, and then surprised them with a derisive lecture in front of the television cameras.
Can you imagine Kissinger or Baker or Schultz getting such treatment? Then again, the international community respected them as competent practitioners....
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a last-minute decision to offer new U.S. proposals on missile defense and arms control just before meeting their Russian counterparts and President Vladimir Putin.
This mostly reads like unconvincing damage control to me. Notice too that Putin's Azeri gambit is getting legs, and now there is also a location in Russia being discussed (whither Poland?). Regardless, Putin must be a good actor indeed if Bob Gates found him "intrigued" by a proposal that would have a radar site located in the Czech Republic...
Thanks, But No Thanks...
Robin Wright reports in the Washington Post:
More than two dozen Iranian American and human rights groups have launched an appeal to Congress to reduce or eliminate new financial support of up to $75 million aimed at promoting democracy inside Iran.
Heckuva job, Condi!
(Thanks to SP for the link)
P.S. More worth reading here.
October 11, 2007
My own think-tank slogan is: "No one knows when the Berlin Wall will come down." It is imperative to maintain intellectual sanctuaries in a world where Harvard University forbids the discussion of certain important issues and Columbia University welcomes the contributions of a master terrorist. Our sanctuaries have been instrumental to the expansion of human freedom in recent decades. We are laying the groundwork for further advances--as opportunities arise, as they surely will.
Christopher DeMuth, President of AEI, in a valedictory op-ed in today's WSJ (subscription only).
"Mr. Secretary, I Got An Interesting Question..."
A golden oldie made more topical given the recent Blackwater going-ons. Try not to wince too much...
(Thanks to reader AE)
October 10, 2007
Speaking of "Mission Accomplished", it's rather cheeky of Bartle Bull to declare another USS Abraham Lincoln moment on the basis "Muqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's most successful, popular and important politician, has underwritten Iraq's progress towards legitimate politics since late 2004." (Hat Tip: Gideon Rachman) This is why 200,000 plus Iraqis died, several thousand U.S. troops as well, 4 million refugees and IDPs are struggling, and half a trillion dollars (and counting) was spent? C'mon!
P.S. Though yes, ironic isn't it, if we're looking to maximize the chances of a unitary Iraqi state, and minimize Iranian influence, we'd be less keen to hop in bed with Dawa and SCIRI and more apt to forge understandings w/ Sadr. But he's a "bad guy", Hez-lover type and all, so don't hold your breath...My larger point, however, is that any rational cost/benefit analysis of this bungled adventure (Saddam out, Sadr in!) would have had us staying well clear of this fiasco...
Mission Accomplished: Contented Officialdom!
Andrew Bacevich, en passant, shows Moveon.org how it's done.
NB: Related, my longer take here.
October 09, 2007
Force of Example Vs. Preaching Under the Barrel of a Gun
...this whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the rest of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable. If you think that our life here at home has meritorious aspects worthy of emulation by peoples elsewhere, the best way to recommend them is, as John Quincy Adams maintained, not by preaching at others but by the force of example. I could not agree more.
--George Kennan, responding to a question in an old NYRB interview.
I suspect many abroad are tired, very tired, by our increasingly thuggish class of rightist foreign policy savants in Washington chiming on about "freedom" with gleeful disregard to their manifold hypocrisies, incredible glibness, and overall loutishness. It's quite a spectacle, it must be said. I'm surprised more people aren't outraged, to be honest.
The Forgotten, Forgotten War
For a hint as to why things aren't going particularly swimmingly here recall that the North Atlantic Treaty was consummated back in 1949--with the main goal having NATO, of course, serve primarily as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Article 5 states:
The Parties of NATO agreed that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence will assist the Party or Parties being attacked, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
But not a single one of the original signatories in a million years would have imagined half a century on that this provision would be invoked to engage in decades-long nation building efforts in the wilds of Kandahar. Don't get me wrong. Invoking the collective security provision of NATO's charter— that any attack on a member state would be considered an attack against the entire group of members--was an understandable reaction to the 9/11 attacks. But decimating al-Qaeda's encampments and capturing its top leadership (which we've still failed to do, incredibly) should have been accomplished with exacting, rapid-fire precision--with the alliance than focusing anew on its primary area of responsiblity, which is to say, preservation of stability in Europe and the broader Atlantic Community.
Given the death of the Soviet Union (Fred Thompson aside) and Warsaw Pact--and prodded along by the events of 9/11--NATO is casting about somewhat clumsily for a new role, perhaps akin to some pan-global 'missionary-style' force for long-term peace and security. And amidst this muddled, to be determined mandate, there's seems to be quite a bias towards further expansion. There's the Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Individual Partnership Action Plans, not to mention a couple "dialogues" underway (Mediterranean, Intensified). Where will all these exciting dialogues lead, one wonders? Likely the steady deterioration of a cohesive NATO alliance, I'd wager, if for no other reason than it gets gradually rendered irrelevant and/or becomes overly unwieldly given all this dilution...still, it's really cool the Georgians (that's one of the "Intensified Dialogues", mind you) are helping protect us against the Iranian threat... Very serious!
P.S. Tangential, I guess, if somewhat related, but of all the many photographs we've seen of the Iraq War, this one is well up there for most surreal espied to date...
Policy-Making as Travesty
Go read this excellent FT reporting from Iran. Then try to chronicle in your own mind all the errors our Washington grandees are making in executing a coherent Iran policy. Frankly, given all the woefully basic foreign policy execution blunders these past years, I'm surprised more FSOs haven't resigned in protest. Certainly this seemingly endless parade of group-think and amateurism--not to mention the attendant costs to the U.S. national interest--now well rival Warren Christopher's gross inattentions to the horrors of Bosnia (the last time a large group of FSOs resigned in protest). Perhaps people's standards have lowered...
The Northern Front (Cont'd)
I haven't seen this widely reported in the U.S. press, but 15 Turkish soldiers were killed by PKK forces in the past 48 hours. Suffice it to say, it's getting quite a bit more attention in the Turkish press...
UPDATE: Oh my.... Turkish intervention in northern Iraq is looking likelier and likelier, isn't it? No worries though, 'bottom-up' reconciliation is proceeding apace in Ramadi...
October 07, 2007
Tony Judt writes in the NYT today: "...the next time someone waxes lyrical for armed overseas intervention in the name of liberal ideals or “defining struggles,” remember what Albert Camus had to say about his fellow intellectuals’ propensity for encouraging violence to others at a safe distance from themselves. “Mistaken ideas always end in bloodshed,” he wrote, “but in every case it is someone else’s blood. That is why some of our thinkers feel free to say just about anything.” You might well read Judt's op-ed in conjunction with this piece by Christopher Hitchens. Or as Paul Johnson put it in similar vein in "The Intellectuals": "(a)s the cases of Sartre and Edmund Wilson suggest, there is a common propensity among radical intellectuals to demand ambitious government programmes while feeling no responsibility to contribute to them."
A quick additional word or two--as someone who supported U.S. intervention in Bosnia and spent two years living in the former Yugoslavia during the conflict there--I'd like to quote Judt re: the Balkans too: "(t)he case for liberal interventionism — “taking a stand” — had nothing whatever to do with the Iraq war. Those of us who pressed for American-led military action in Bosnia and Kosovo did so for several reasons: because of the refusal of others (the European Union and United Nations) to engage effectively; because there was a demonstrable and immediate threat to rights and lives; and because it was clear we could be effective in this way and in no other." I think that's quite right re: the Balkan interventions. And re: Iraq , I supported the war based on realist grounds, believing erroneously that Saddam had a significant WMD program and (drawing inspiration from al-Qaeda's dramatic attack in NYC) would perhaps funnel biological or chemical agents to transnational terror groups despite not having had material links to such organizations before then. I was wrong, like many, about the WMD, and I will not revisit my mea culpas here (regular readers are likely tired of them, as there have been many in this space).
This being said, let us not kid ourselves our intervention in Iraq had anything to do, at least in the main, with mainstream 'liberal hawk' views (whatever we might make of them). If so, we'd have sent in the cavalry during Halabja, or when Marsh Arabs were being massacred. Or, perhaps, more people would be hankering for international intervention regarding these unspeakable crimes. We blundered into Iraq with criminal negligence after the staggering shock of 9/11, and we are there still not because it represents a direct national security threat to us, or because of deep humanitarian impulses, but because we have leaders (apparently on both sides of the aisle) incapable of extricating us in organized fashion.
P.S. Incidentally and as a brief aside, I think it's high time our 'liberal hawk' friends speak up more about the 2 milliion refugees outside Iraq, or the 2 million internally displaced. As often in war, the refugees end up the unsung victims of the carnage and its aftermath, and the 'humanitarians' among us might well pay greater attention to this unfolding situation (which may have destabilizing impacts on countries like Jordan and Syria), the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East since 1948, after all...first however, we'll need to stop speaking about flag-pins and General Betray-Us...
October 06, 2007
Andrew Sullivan (and Peggy Noonan) make some very good points here (related, Cunning too had a good turn of phrase recently, speaking of "the backdrop of a Bush-Clinton dynastic perpetuation"). Yes, these de haut en bas revolving restorations are growing tiresome, aren't they? Speaking of, did anyone catch Bill Clinton's MTP interview last weekend, when we were treated to the former President expounding on one Jack Bauer, and how the commoners among us would do the right thing in the fancifully hotted up adolescent 'ticking-time bomb' hypothesis (which then slippery slopes into lugubrious Krauthammer's KSM carve-out and so on and on...) so as to protect regal POTUS from such assorted pre-Enlightenment ugliness (go to the 3:45 mark).
As reader MR wrote in (who flagged this for me):
I haven't checked the blogs, but has anyone been talking/commenting on Bill Clinton's meet the press interview on sunday where he discussed Jack Bauer in detail as a model of how torture should be handled, the Commander in Chier "opposing" it, but then hoping that "rogue" officers will step up, do their duty, and understand the (prosecution even) consequences? It has to be seen/discussed as the absolute height of hypocrisy/confusion from those who formulate/lead on the wrenchingly difficult issue, and the 2 standards applied for those who are in charge vs. those who are to carry out/defend. Its just like throwing American troops to the cannon fodder, really. The "class" and hierarchy implications of this kind of talk are endless, ultimately a complete corrosive, imho.
Indeed. For 'let them eat cake', why not allow (wink-wink) the underlings a little spot of torture, some Yoo-style organ failure, say (but only as strictly necessary, of course), the better to ensure the Oval Office isn't tainted by such nastiness (Mr. Clinton might have instead broached how standard Army Field Manual interrogation tactics work better than the fantasy-land of such Bauerian excesses, but no, better to divine policy re: issues of critical import like torture via cheap resort to such reality-style television claptrap).
Still, I guess HRC at least is on the right side of this issue, so kudos to her on that score. And the former President also is legions ahead of the Rudyesque gaggles eager to get their legally-enshrined 'enhanced interrogation' on, or still the outlandish fare of Mitt "Double Gitmo" Romney and ilk. After all, Bill Clinton at least pointed out that no ticking-time bomb scenario occurred on his watch, nor The Decider's. That's because it's dressed-up sci-fi type fare, not real world. Still, there are unintended benefits for us amidst all these feverish cogitations, it does allow Alan Dershowitz to pen bien pensant pieces about: 'torture warrants' and the like...yippie!
The Flag Pin Follies
Back from a business trip this weekend I see that Fox News and other outlets are in a tizzy about Barack Obama's flag pin statement. What infantile inanity, even by today's wretched standards. Look, I remember walking down 5th Avenue in the low 50s on 9/14/01 (or thereabouts, I seem to recall it was the Friday after the attack). A guy was selling the flag-pins, and spontaneously I pulled a couple bucks out of my pocket and made the impulse buy, immediately putting it on the lapel of my suit. The hazy dust and stench of death still enveloped my downtown neighborhood, and it felt like the right thing to do. But, you know, by November of that same year, pre-Thanksgiving even (I know, shocking!), many of us moved on and took the pins off. This is because real patriotism isn't wearing a flag-pin on your lapel, it's defending the basic values of our constitutional democracy against our foes, whether foreign ones or self-inflicted wounds. Re: the latter, the myriad hustlers in our midst bowing down with servile complaisance to the neo-monarchist banana republicanism of the Bush 43 era have done us untold harm these past years, with many of these very same blow-dried mediocrities sporting their merry pins like pitiably self-contented buffoons. Enough of this nonsense, please (this includes Hillary Clinton's nauseatingly didactic tutorial on the many ways we happy villagers can showcase our patriotic verve...)
October 05, 2007
Genocide a la Carte!
"When Bush says that there should be more “historical inquiry” into the matter, what other politician does he sound like?"
Good question, Daniel.
(Be sure to keep scrolling when you get to Larison's place, there's much, much more well worth reading).
October 03, 2007
What a Month: A Depressing September
Observing events in the U.S. this past September, I’ve rarely found myself so distressed by the sad state of the American polity. The festivities kicked off when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker came to Washington to testify on the state of the Iraq effort. Given the rapturous acclaim and media circus that resulted, one might have been forgiven for thinking reincarnations of Napoleon and Talleyrand themselves had repaired to Congress to lend a steadying hand to the Iraq nay-sayers getting overly weak in the knees. The thunderous spectacle was even scheduled to take place on September 10th and 11th, in case anyone dared underestimate the critical import these testimonials on the Hill meant for the Global War on Terror (or as Rudy Giuliani has taken to calling it, the “Terrorists’ War on Us.”)
Public servants, not least in an era of unprecedented compensation on Wall Street (one seemingly uninterrupted by the merest pause to reflect on issues of grave import that have severely wounded our national reputation) should be honored for their service. And so like virtually every Congressperson and Senator, let me also say here at the outset that Petreaus and Crocker are trying mightily to do the best they can on the ground, despite the strategic vacuum they are operating within, not least given the mammoth ineptitude of their superiors. But while we may respect their service, we also have the right to question the accuracy of their testimony, to include criticizing them for too often putting the best light on a still awful situation without providing enough context and caveats. This does not mean they are cheap spin-meisters. They are not. They are able professionals. But it does mean they are working on behalf of an Administration and they must report within their respective chains of command, so it is only natural that they filter their data points in a manner that lends itself to a generally positive narrative.
Each of Petreaus and Crocker had a couple of core messages. For Petreaus, the “bottom line up front” was that the “military objectives of the surge…in large measure” were being met. And that to scale down overly precipitously or to re-orient the mission from population security to a more ‘over the horizon’ role would imperil the supposed gains effectuated to date. Regarding this last, Petreaus at least once mentioned the judgment of the August ’07 released NIE which stated: “(w)e assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safe haven would erode security gains achieved thus far.” But what Petreaus failed to mention was that the NIE went on to say: “The impact of a change in mission on Iraq’s political and security environment and throughout the region probably would vary in intensity and suddenness of onset in relation to the rate and scale of a Coalition redeployment. Developments within the Iraqi communities themselves will be decisive in determining political and security trajectories.” In other words, no matter what localized improvements may result by surging men into Anbar Province, say—ultimately it is what happens politically that will determine whether longer-term stability is achievable (nor did the NIE seem to preclude a more gradual approach to a draw-down, and by “more gradual”, I don’t mean pre-surge levels a year from now, but something more expedited).
This in turn brings me to Ryan Crocker’s testimony, which despite the greater attention arguably paid to Petreaus’, was ultimately the more important of the two. His core messages were that success in Iraq was still achievable, defined as “a secure stable democratic Iraq at peace with neighbors”, and to help Iraq reach this stability “abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts” would assure an even greater debacle, meaning a failed state (rather than merely a “dysfunctional” one, ostensibly?), greater humanitarian catastrophe, larger risk of nefarious interventions by Iraq’s neighbors, and perhaps creation of an al-Qaeda safe haven on par with those existing in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Combining Petreaus and Crocker’s messaging the upshot was clear: population security is a prerequisite for political reconciliation efforts. And while the flailing Iraqi Government was failing virtually all the benchmarks (recall, these so-called benchmarks where the Administration’s, developed in consultation with Maliki’s government, not standards imposed by the Democratic majority on the Hill), both men urged that a not overly rigid approach be applied in judging the progress on matters like oil revenue sharing or re-Baathification (read: we’ve essentially failed our own tests, but give us more time…). In a word or two, you might say, ‘strategic patience’ was being urged, even at the cost of 60-80 American lives per month, and billions more out the door, with convincing ‘success’ a distant mirage at best.
If one had to pick one word that was used the most throughout each man’s testimony, it might well have been “Anbar.”(At one point, under questioning by Senator John Kerry, Crocker said: “(in) terms of Anbar—and not to overemphasize that one particular province, but there are things of broader significance…” which showcased well how Crocker realized much of his testimony was based on vague aspirations that the ‘Anbar Awakening’ could spell good news for the country generally). Yet the reality is likelier quite the opposite. The experience in Anbar points to how Balkanized the country has become. Local police forces that have been developed there are essentially ex-Baathists and/or Sunni insurgents who are now more concerned by al-Qaeda excesses, or the specter of Shi’a revanchism, so that they have forged a temporary entente cordiale with American forces. But if they do not receive requisite resources from the central government, in frustration they will most likely revert to a more aggressive posture (meaning as per Sunni radicals more of the al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia variety), which will have them pointing their guns anew at the Americans (this time better trained, however), and/or of course, their Shi’a foes.
Related, and excuse the colloquialism, but Crocker basically put lipstick on the proverbial pig by dressing up the thin gruel that is virtually non-extant relations between the secretive, conspiratorial minded Shi’a Dawa government sitting in Baghdad and provinces like Anbar. How many times did we hear that the Central Government was going to increase the budget for Anbar Province by $70MM for ’07, or that $50MM had been pledged for compensation for losses in Anbar suffered as a result of battles with al-Qaeda (an intrepid reporter should circle around and see if there is real follow through here?). At one point Crocker stated: “(n)o longer is all-powerful Baghdad seen as the panacea to Iraq’s problems”, saying that “those living in places like Anbar and Salahuddin are beginning to realize how localities having more of a say in decision-making will empower their communities.” Sounds great, yet as Crocker admits: “(o)ne of the key challenges for Iraqis now is to link these positive developments in the provinces to the central government in Baghdad. Unlike our states, Iraqi provinces have little ability to generate funds through taxation, making them dependent on the central government for resources.” And there’s the rub. Despite all the talk of ‘bottom-up’ reconciliation, you still need a real central Government if you want to avoid an increasingly failed state, one that is cooperating well with the provinces. To this end, and despite the admirable exertions of Crocker’s Embassy, the bridging of the divide between the center and provinces like Anbar has proven rather pitiable.
There was much more by way of, at best, incomplete testimony. Why did no one more readily acknowledge that the Anbar Awakening would have occurred even without the surge, even if admittedly on a shakier foundation? Why did no one acknowledge that the experience of Anbar, even if you thought it positive in terms of ultimately helping lead to a central government via the pain-staking ‘bottom-up’ process (which I don’t), wasn’t necessarily exportable nation-wide? In Diyala, for instance, where the sectarian mix is more complex so that competition for local resources is more of an issue than in Anbar, ‘success’ along the lines we saw in Anbar is proving more difficult:
U.S. effort to recruit former Sunni insurgents north of Baghdad — considered crucial to expanding the fight against extremists — is in danger of collapse because the government has been unable or unwilling to accept the volunteers into Iraqi security forces.
This very same pattern could well re-emerge in Anbar as well, once local resources increasingly get exhausted and if significant funds from the central government don’t replenish local Anbari coffers. And, of course, we are discussing here the relative success stories, namely Anbar and, per Crocker, nascent Anbar-style progress in Diyala. Note however that there was little talk about the south of Iraq, say, where the four provinces are effectively not under any centralized authority, whether Muthanna (where the Governor was recently assassinated), or Dhi’Qar (where Petreaus in his testimony acknowledged coalition air support is still required to back up local authorities), or Maysan (where the Marsh Arabs don’t answer to central government directives), or Basra, where the British have essentially been defeated and the Fadhila Party, Badr Corps, Mahdi Militia and others vie for power in a unruly struggle. (Petreaus waved these issues in the South aside, stating: “(t)hese are Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems”). Fair enough, but this doesn’t address ensuring a viable state via sound central government-periphery relations, and begs the question why “Iraqi solutions” might not be applied to other parts of the country too (though admittedly conditions are arguably even more challenging where the ethno-sectarian mix is more complex).
There were many other issues with their testimony. We heard on multiple occasions that while immunity hadn’t been granted to most former Sunni insurgents (per the benchmark requirement), de facto “conditional immunity” had occurred with the 1,700 former Sunni insurgents in the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad reportedly accepted into the police force by Shi’a dominated authorities. (Speaking of police forces, why did neither Crocker nor Petreaus deign to mention the police was meant to be a national force, but that even despite possible salary payments emitting from the central government the ‘concerned citizens’ committees’ sprouting up were anything but ‘national’ in spirit?) Or that progress on oil revenue sharing was afoot, when in reality the first U.S. oil contract with Iraq runs at cross-purposes with our strategy given its Kurdish-centric approach. Why did Crocker make such a big deal of the August 26th communiqué among Iraq’s “five most prominent national leaders”, when it was painfully apparent this was mostly eyewash these Iraq actors had reluctantly offered Crocker just in time for his testimony, and that no real movement buttressed this Potemkin exercise? Why did no one deign to mention that ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad might arguably have lessened, not least, because massive ethnic cleansing had already taken place, some Sunni neighborhoods were walled off, and so on. Why was the existence of some 2 million internally displaced and another 2 million refugees worth nary a mention (and that such displacements were continuing post-surge?). Or that Mahdi militia controlled large swaths of Baghdad still? And, most important perhaps, why didn't anyone mention the prospect that our rapprochement with Iraqi Sunnis will likely lead to greater tension with the majority Shi'a, including even a renewed conflagration?
And so it went, with the fundamental strategic reality little acknowledged, namely, that Iraq cannot be stabilized without political reconciliation between Sunnis and Shia, that Kurdish federalism (notably Kirkuk) remains a massive sleeper issue, and that no regional diplomatic approach to integrate our Iraq efforts into the larger strategic situation was being addressed with requisite seriousness. But little matter, Petreaus festooned with medals looked good, as did the no-nonsense demeanor of Crocker. The upshot: we’d keep surging then (like the gravity-defying markets, no one can keep Surge Nation down)!
Time constraints prevent me from discussing further depressing episodes that occurred this September past, whether the Brezhnev-era type Brit Hume interview of the two men, the mostly lame Congressional interrogatories of them, the sad MoveOn.org ad that precipitated so much attention from our representatives, as bills on little matters like the restoration of habeas corpus and Iraq troop deployment levels almost seemed to languish attention-wise compared to the mindless harrumphing surrounding the asinine ad, with all of this capped off with the hysterical over-reaction to Ahmadi-Nejad’s New York visit (this last I do plan on addressing shortly in more detail). Anyway, and as I say often, more soon, I hope. (Regulars may have surmised I'm under intense time pressures on various fronts, thus the very light blogging...).
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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