March 31, 2004

The Partisan Agenda Of Against All Enemies

The very first lines of the preface to Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" bear repeating:

"From inside the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon for thirty years, I disdained those who departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it. It seemed somehow inappropriate to expose, as Bismark put it, 'the making of sausage.'

So why the book? And why shouldn't people disdain Clarke per his own criteria?

Because, per Clarke's conceit, History (the capital H kind) demanded his tale be published:

"Nonetheless, there are some conversations that must be recalled because the citizenry and history have a justifiable need to know."

Very convenient. But misleading.

Rather, a primary reason the book was penned was likely simply in pursuit of aggressively partisan ends (rather than some noble dispensation of historical verities, as Clarke would have it).

Ironically, however, Clarke's account isn't hurting Bush's poll numbers--as Americans are smelling out Clarke's barely concealed partisan agenda (and significant biases).

Am I being unfair to Dick Clarke?

Here's a sampler from the book.

Lynne Cheney is a "right-wing idealogue" (p.18) and Dick Cheney is a "radical conservative[s]" with "almost extreme beliefs." (p.19)

Laurie Mylroie's account of the '93 WTC bombing "gathered a small cult following" consisting of people like Paul Wolfowitz and "cabalist" James Woolsey. (p.95)

"Republicans in the Senate, such as Orrin Hatch," are held culpable for opposing legislation that sought to expand use of the organized crime wiretap provisions to terrorist suspects. (p.99) (Trust me, it wasn't just Republican types who opposed the legislation).

But Clarke is just getting warmed up.

FBI Director Louis Freeh, who, er, Clarke isn't a big fan of:

"His back channels to Republicans in the Congress and to supporters in the media made it impossible for the President to dismiss him without running the risk of making him a martyr of the Republican right..." (p. 117)

Ah yes, that fearsome Republican right wing conspiracy! (Freeh is a particular target of Clarke's. Later, Clarke even ominously informs us Freeh is alleged to be a member of Opus Dei).

On John Ashcroft, Clarke approvingly quotes someone saying this about the Attorney General:

"He can't really be that slow, can he? I mean, you can't get to be the Attorney General of the United States and be like that, right?" (p. 256)

Clarke's response: "...he did lose a Senate relection to a dead man."

Indeed, few senior members of the Bush Administration are spared.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld is painted in dark, Nixonian colors:

"There are probably days when Donald Rumsfeld thinks lots of Americans in America are enemies...but that should not give him the authority to lock them up without recourse." (p. 257)

Clarke could have made a sober point here (he was discoursing on the Jose Padilla arrest--intelligent people can disagree on the merits).

Instead, as so often in his book, his naked partisanship overcomes his judiciousness.

Contrast all this with his defense of Bill Clinton:

"I was angrier, almost incredulous, that the bitterness of Clinton's enemies knew no bounds, that they intended to hurt not just Clinton but the country by turning the President's personal problem into a global, public circus for their own political ends." (To hell with any violation of Paula Jones' civil rights!)

Or this gem:

"Ironically, Clinton was blamed for a 'Wag the Dog' strategy in 1998 dealing with the real threat from al-Qaeda but no one labeled Bush's 2003 war on Iraq as a 'Wag the Dog' move even though the 'crisis' was manufactured and Bush political advisor Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war.' (p. 242)

Talk about spin! Paul Begala (even evil Karl Rove) would blush at this one!

There's more, of course.

The war in Iraq was simply "gin[ned] up."

The view of Bush as a "dumb, lazy rich kid" was only "somewhat off the mark." (Which part was on the mark, the reader is left to wonder?)

Clarke approvingly quotes a journalist as describing the Bushies as "more vindictive than the Mafia."

Amidst all of this partisan vitriole, Clarke depicts Bill Clinton as a quasi-angelic figure, oozing empathy--when, that is, not mastering intricate policy details, perusing Gabriel Garcia Marquez' galleys (the man devoured Latin American magical realism, even before its publication, we are breathlessly informed) or not (ever so precociously) prosecuting the real War on Terror with resolute aplomb.

Clarke dutifully trots out several Clinton anecdotes that favorably showcase his empathy--particularly after terrorist incidents.

"He's so kind," a "grieving mother" is quoted as describing Clinton after the TWA 800 disaster.

Maybe, but Bush has comforted grieving families too.

Just don't look to Clarke to fill you in on the details.

Meanwhile, Al Gore comes off as a robust, Theodore Roosevelt type.

Amidst a debate regarding the merits of "snatch" operations, then White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler was advising Clinton such operations ran afoul of international law.

Enter Teddy Roosevelt (sorry, I mean Al Gore):

"That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass." (p.144)

One almost pictures Al Gore, amidst all the Rough Riders, rushing San Juan Hill!

Later, Leon Fuerth, Gore's National Security Advisor, is described thusly: "Feurth understood security and terrorism issues as well as anyone I knew." (p.97)

Question.

Is it just me, or do you think Clarke was bummed out about the Florida recount results?

Listen, Clarke is a smart, talented and highly experienced bureaucrat who is passionate about America, its security, the pursuit of our national interest generally.

His views therefore merit real and protracted attention.

In that vein, I'll be analyzing some of the policy points made in his book in a follow-on post soon.

But you can't divorce his policy analysis (about how best to prosecute the war on terror) from the unfortunate revisionistic tendency (Bush=Bad; Clinton=Good) he falls prey to so often given his rapacious partisanship.

And that's probably why his book (and the accompanying media feeding frenzy) isn't likely to materially hurt Bush politically.

Put simply, the American people are too smart to be spun this transparently and brazenly.

Finally, like Clarke, most Americans will likely end up disdaining someone who "departed government and quickly rushed out to write about it."

Put differently, and returning to Clarke's Bismarkian allusions, one shouldn't air the sausage-making so.

It ends up smelling pretty putrid.

[Note: Any emphasis above mine]

Posted by Gregory at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2004

Against All Enemies

I'm halfway through the book so far. Three main takeaways to date: 1) Clarke thinks (erroneously, I believe) that decisive blows were dealt Iran and Iraq by the Clinton Administration that deterred said states from pursuing terrorism against the U.S., 2) he is highly partisan, and 3) his ego, even by Washington standards, is healthy.

Given time constraints, I want to mostly focus on Point 1 above just now.

I'll have more on the other points (and the rest of the book) soon.

My post yesterday elucidates why Clarke believes that Iraq had been dealt a blow that would deter it, going forward, from any troublemaking against the U.S. And why, particularly given the changed strategic environment post 9/11, I don't find his argument particularly persuasive.

On Iran, Clarke writes how, post-Khobar towers, an anti-Iranian "intelligence operation" was mounted by the Clinton team.

But as even Clarke concedes: "(u)nfortunately, it would take months to put CIA assets in place to choreograph a more or less simultaneous series of intelligence actions around the world."

And regardless, we are left wondering what those actions really consisted of as Clarke doesn't provide much by way of detail.

The post-Khobar Iran discussion part of the book is quite telling as it helps showcase my three main take-aways to date, namely, Clarke's outsize ego (much ado about his key role), partisanship (attacks on Louis Freeh), and (I would argue) worrisome sanguinity re: state sponsors of terrorism.

Recall that the U.S. held Iran responsible for the bombing of the Khobar towers.

The Saudis (for a variety of reasons) dragged their feet, very significantly, on cooperating with the U.S. investigation.

Clarke puts much of the blame at then FBI Director Louis Freeh's feet--painting him as something of a provincial Keystone Cop in over his head in the complex world of international relations.

"Bandar [the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.] facilitated meetings in Saudi Arabia for Freeh, who went there to coordinate the investigation personally. John O'Neill accompanied Freeh to the Kingdom. O'Neill told me he was struck by the contrast between the fawning protocol the Saudis showed to Freeh and their mendacity whenever the conversation got around to the investigation. Freeh, according to O'Neill, did not seem to detect the duplicity."

While Freeh was getting bamboozled by the Saudis (or acting like he was in the pocket of Congressional Republicans), Clarke's account goes, the White House was getting ready for war with Iran.

Bill Clinton declaimed: "I don't want any pissant half-measures."

Enter Clarke to save the day with robust (yet sane) measures:

"What about the old nuclear strategy concept of escalation dominance," I asked, "where you hit the guy the first time so hard, where he loses some things he really values, and then you tell him if he responds, he will lose everything else he values?"

From this the myriad "intelligence actions around the world" unfurled.

Clarke then states that because of this (and unspecified "other reasons") Iran "ceased terrorism against the U.S."

Just like that, Clarke's story goes, Iran was no longer a real threat to the U.S.

But is this really true?

As even Clarke's book states, Iranian security services continued to allow "al Qaeda safe passage and other support."

Given how Clarke views al-Qaeda as the strategic peril to the U.S.--wouldn't a state that still supported al-Q manifestly still be a real threat to the U.S. (even if its security forces weren't supporting specific terror actions like Khobar)?

And, rather than al-Qaeda using Bosnia as a beachhead to export Islamic fundamentalism (and speaking as someone was was on the ground in the Balkans for two years and later worked on the "train and equip" program for the Bosnian Federation military) it was likely more Iran that sought to infiltrate the "train and equip" program and generally scuttle U.S. objectives in the region.

For these couple of reasons alone (among others), I disagree with Clarke that Iran was sufficiently deterred by the U.S. So, put differently, didn't Clarke's (and Clinton's) policy actually fail then?

Note, of course, that this is a similar point that people like Richard Perle, even per Josh Marshall, are making in judicious, non-ad hominem manner.

Finally, a couple more points.

As this book review makes clear, parts of Clarke's memoirs make for riveting reading.

The problem is, however, that Clarke appears to over-dramatize his role.

Others are now disputing parts of his (somewhat self-aggrandizing) account of the events surrounding 9/11.

I'll have more on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2004

The Apogee of Dawdling

"As it happened, I was the one in Washington who first saw evidence of a true act of terrorism by Saddam against us, and the irony is that President Clinton's response to it successfully deterred Saddam from ever again using terror against us."

--Richard Clarke, writing in "Against all Enemies" about the Clinton Administration's reaction to the attempted assassination of George H.W. Bush, and appearing a tad sanguine about Saddam's going forward intentions (particularly given a post-9/11 risk matrix)

The response to the anticipated assassination of Herbert Walker, per Warren Chistopher's dogged lawyering-down, was a one-off cruise missile attack against the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence (on a Saturday night to minimize any casualties).

Once the cruise missiles were launched, Clinton asked Clarke:

"We can't communicate with the missiles? What if I wanted to turn them back?" (p. 83, "Against All Enemies).

I think we have a new contender for what POTUS utterance best sums up the serial irresolution of the Clinton years (the other, of course, being: "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is").

But remember, per Clarke, Clinton was giving terrorism issues an "extraordinarily high" priority.

If only he could have had a third term! How much safer we would have all been!

Note: We'll have much more on the book shortly.

Posted by Gregory at 01:37 PM | Comments (5)

The Merchandising of 9/11

"Al Qaeda's attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, will forever be a national tragedy and a moment of history shifting its gears irrevocably. But 9/11 is becoming something else as well: a consumable product to be packaged and merchandised for use by American politicians, bureaucrats, celebrity-mongers, journalists and others.

Self-serving memoirs, evasive or opaque testimony to a 9/11 investigatory commission, White House media briefings that degenerate into character assassination and highly selective media coverage of those and other events would not have been among Osama bin Laden's dreams of shaking America to its core. But the Saudi mass murderer is getting all that and more."

And more:

"But since 9/11, Bush has shown leadership in foreign affairs. You may consider the results disastrous. But it is a leadership that contrasts vividly with the vacillations and vacuums on terrorism policy of Bill Clinton's last two years, as the hearings demonstrated.

That is why there is now a rapidly developing merchandising of 9/11 as a campaign tool against Bush. It is as partisan and petty as anything the White House offers. Bin Laden can only be cackling in his cave over how he has set Republicans and Democrats, Kerry-bashers and Bush-haters, at each other's throats."


Jim Hoagland, writing in the Washington Post.

I don't agree with the entire op-ed--but it's worth reading in its entirety.

Posted by Gregory at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

Travel

I'm off to the perfidious precincts of Paris for the weekend.

That said, I've (with mixed feelings) just picked up a copy of Richard Clarke's "Against All Enemies" [ed. note: I doubt it will be as fun as Alan Clark's Diaries].

I guess I'll be reading it on the Eurostar.

Look for some initial reaction Monday night London time.

Sadly, my read won't be quite as dramatic as those who get to digest Clarke's tome per a "Washington read."

THOMPSON: Would it cheer you to know that in more than a year that this commission has been in operation we've never taken a partisan vote?

ARMITAGE: I'm not surprised.

THOMPSON: Have you read this book?

ARMITAGE: I'm the only honest person in Washington.

(LAUGHTER)

I gave it the Washington read.

THOMPSON: You looked in the index to see if your name was in it?

ARMITAGE: And then what was said about me.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMPSON: I think I ought to quit there, Mr. Chairman.

Heh.

Posted by Gregory at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

TNR Floods the Zone

It's the Richard Clarke issue over at TNR.

And, with the exception of a Larry Kaplan piece (subscription required for all articles linked throughout save &C's), it's pretty bad reading for those of us who believe that Richard Clarke has materially changed both the style and substance of his analysis of the Bush Administration's handling of al-Qaeda.

Before we turn to the depressing stuff, however, here are a few key grafs from Kaplan's piece:

"There is, to begin with, the small matter of the Clinton administration's pitiful record on the issue, about which the Clarke book and the hearings have already offered an opportunity for Republicans to remind the public. Dick Cheney, for one, promptly raised the question of what the Clinton team was doing during the "years going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center, in '98 when the embassies were hit in East Africa, in 2000 when the USS Cole was hit." The short answer is nothing. Despite a clear evidence trail leading back to Al Qaeda, the administration failed to respond to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and vetoed proposals to dispatch Special Forces in the hunt for bin Laden. It never responded to the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, despite (or because of) evidence of involvement by Iran, which the Clintonites were then attempting to "engage." The administration's response to the bombing of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998 was to fling a few missiles at a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan on the eve of Clinton's impeachment. The Clinton team even gave state sponsors of terrorism a linguistic cleansing, changing their official title from "rogue state" to "state of concern."

True, the Clinton administration was not imprisoned in the "cold war" mindset in which Clarke accuses the Bush team of being entrapped. Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbot, for instance, located national security challenges "from the floor of the stock exchange in Singapore to the roof of the world over Patagonia where there is a hole in the ozone layer." Terrorism, alas, was not at the top of the list. Indeed, during the Clinton years, there was a visible shift away from the Reagan-era practice of holding states accountable for the deeds of their agents to a policy that viewed terrorists as criminals. "We are not a nation that retaliates just in order to get vengeance," Madeline Albright proclaimed in 1998, "nor do we forget our own legal system while searching for those who harmed us." Her successors may prefer to respond to terror with the long reach of American military power, but Albright mostly deemed it a matter for the "long reach of our nation's law enforcement."

Not surprisingly, this understanding of Clinton-era counterterrorism policy has undergone a profound revision at this week's hearings, with Albright now claiming, "We need to remember that Al Qaeda is not a criminal gang," and her colleagues faulting Bush for having paid insufficient attention to the terror threat. But to imagine charges that Bush has bungled the issue will somehow create the impression that his opponents did, or will do, otherwise is to subordinate fact to wish."

Indeed.

Spence Ackerman has two pieces up too.

One takes Colin Powell to task for, per Ackerman, contradictory testimony borne of carrying so much water for the Bushies that he is soaking wet and, the next time he trots over to the Hill, Ackerman avers, he should bring his swimming trunks.

But the more important (and potentially damning, at least for us Administration supporters) Ackerman piece focuses on showcasing how Condi Rice's credibility is in tatters while Richard Clarke's, meanwhile, is pretty impeccable.

It's worth a closer look--because, imho, there are a lot of problems with Ackerman's arguments.

Recall that Richard Clarke explained the reason for the differences as between his book and pre-book descriptions of Bush's policy (particularly per the Fox-leaked background briefing) as stemming from requests from the Bushies to "highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done."

From this, Ackerman's gallops ahead to describe the Clarke testimony thus:

"In one fell swoop, Clarke had turned an attack on his credibility into an attack on the Bush administration's credibility. Then Clarke twisted the knife. In the 2002 backgrounder, he had said that before 9/11, the Bush administration "changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda." Now Clarke explained that in fact, the "change" he was referring to was his victory in inserting the word "elimination" into a draft of the National Security Presidential Directive on terrorism that President Bush signed just before September 11. Why was the semantic shift to "elimination" a victory for Clarke? Because the Bush administration was initially uncomfortable with the harsh language of "elimination" and had sought to keep it out. "I tried to insert the phrase early in the Bush administration in the draft NSPD that our goal should be to 'eliminate' Al Qaeda," he said. "And I was told by various members of the deputies committee that that was overly ambitious and that we should take the word 'eliminate' out and say 'significantly erode.'" Beyond debates over word choice, the substance of the actual policy adopted by Bush in September 2001, Clarke explained yesterday, was "to roll back Al Qaeda over the course of three to five years so that it was just a nub of an organization like Abu Nidal that didn't threaten the United States." That policy was initially worked out by Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group beginning in 1998 and updated after the October 2000 Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole--that is, during the Clinton administration." [my emphasis added throughout]

So let me understand.

Ackerman makes a big deal about the deputies committee parsing whether to use the word "elimination" or "significantly erode" in its description of al-Qaeda.

But the real news item here is that the Bush Administration actually adopted some of Clarke's more muscular policy proposals.

Ackerman dances around that by talking about how Clarke had "worked out" the policy in 1998 and that it was "updated" in 2000 "during the Clinton Administration"--but, of course, and most critically, it was never adopted during the Clinton years.

Don't believe me?

Here's Richard Clarke himself (from the background brief):

"QUESTION: Are you saying now that there was not only a plan per se, presented by the transition team, but that it was nothing proactive that they had suggested?

CLARKE: Well, what I'm saying is, there are two things presented. One, what the existing strategy had been. And two, a series of issues--like aiding the Northern Alliance, changing Pakistan policy, changing Uzbek policy--that they had been unable to come to um, any new conclusions, um, from '98 on.

QUESTION: Was all of that from '98 on or was some of it ...

CLARKE: All of those issues were on the table from '98 on.

ANGLE: When in '98 were those presented?

CLARKE: In October of '98.

QUESTION: In response to the Embassy bombing?

CLARKE: Right, which was in September.

QUESTION: Were all of those issues part of alleged plan that was late December and the Clinton team decided not to pursue because it was too close to ...

CLARKE: There was never a plan, Andrea. What there was was these two things: One, a description of the existing strategy, which included a description of the threat. And two, those things which had been looked at over the course of two years, and which were still on the table.

QUESTION: So there was nothing that developed, no documents or no new plan of any sort?

CLARKE: There was no new plan.

QUESTION: No new strategy--I mean, I don't want to get into a semantics ...

CLARKE: Plan, strategy--there was no, nothing new.

QUESTION: 'Til late December, developing ...

CLARKE: What happened at the end of December was that the Clinton administration NSC principals committee met and once again looked at the strategy, and once again looked at the issues that they had brought, decided in the past to add to the strategy. But they did not at that point make any recommendations.

QUESTIONS: Had those issues evolved at all from October of '98 'til December of 2000?

CLARKE: Had they evolved? Um, not appreciably.

ANGLE: What was the problem? Why was it so difficult for the Clinton administration to make decisions on those issues?

CLARKE: Because they were tough issues.

Pretty damning, isn't it?

Guess Clinton was busy, er, with other things.

Ackerman then writes thus:

"This was too much for Thompson. "It suggests to me that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America," he said. To which Clarke delivered his coup de grace, clearly directed as his former bosses in the administration: "I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics." As soon as the words left Clarke's lips, the first three rows of seats in Hart 216 exploded with applause. That's applause the White House has reason to fear: Those three rows were reserved for family members of the September 11 victims. By and large, they said yesterday that they hold Clarke in high esteem. "He kept his integrity. His story didn't change," noted Rosemarie Dillard, who lost her husband on Flight 77. "He's laying the facts on the table," said Mary Fetchet, who lost her son in Tower Two and is now a member of the informal 9/11 Commission watchdog group known as the Family Steering Committee."

Excuse my French, but what "coup de grace"?

As what I wrote above indicates, there is no way that Clarke's testimony can be reconciled with his previous statement in August of 2002.

To dismiss this as merely a "question of politics" is highly disingenous.

This essential weakness in Ackerman's argument is why (quite unfortunately in my view) his piece becomes based on something of a popularity contest.

Ackerman makes big hay that the 9/11 families burst into applause for Richard Clarke.

But we can't confuse sentiment and emotion (the 9/11 families in the audience were grateful for Clarke's apology) with the facts.

And, unfortunately for Spence Ackerman, the facts are contra his argument.

Once Ackerman is done deifying Clarke for his political "jujitsu" skills and popularity with the 9/11 families--he next tries to twist his rhetorical knife into Condi Rice:

"But someone to whom the charge of duplicity might very well stick is Condoleezza Rice. On Monday, The Washington Post published an op-ed from Rice attempting to rebut Clarke's accusations. She wrote first that "No Al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration" by Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group at the end of the Clinton administration--only "several ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been adopted." While "several" of these ideas were subsequently adopted, she explained, "we quickly began crafting a comprehensive new strategy to 'eliminate' the Al Qaeda network." That strategy "marshaled all elements of national power to take down the network, not just respond to individual attacks with law enforcement measures. Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets--taking the fight to the enemy where he lived."

"According to information released at the 9/11 Commission hearings, this appears to be a very misleading description of Bush's strategy, known as National Security Presidential Directive-9 (NSPD-9) and completed days before the September 11 attacks."

Why does Ackerman describe Rice's oped as misleading?

Because, per Ackerman, the NSPD-9 plan adopted by the Bush Administration before 9/11 (that the Clinton team, recall, never got around to adopting) is a far cry from Rice's description of a plan that "marshal[ed] all elements of national power," most significantly, "military options to attack Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets--taking the fight to the enemy where he lived."

But, as Ackerman concedes, NSPD-9 is still classified.

We have to rely, therefore, on 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick's description of the document:

"But as I understand it, it had three stages which were to take place over, according to Steve Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, over a period of three years. The first stage was, we would warn the Taliban. The second stage was we would pressure the Taliban. And the third stage was that we would look for ways to oust the Taliban based upon individuals on the ground other than ourselves, at the same time making military contingency plans."

Question for Spence Ackerman.

Given that none of us have read NSPD-9, and so can only rely on synopses like that of Gorelick's, what is fundamentally contradictory as between Rice's statement that the new Bush strategy would "marshall all elements of national power," including military options, and Gorelicks description of NSPD-9 that makes mention of "military contingency plans"?

Indeed, Gorelick's description of the document holding out the prospect of "military contingency plans" comes after discussion of ousting the Taliban, on the ground, by non-U.S. forces.

The inference, therefore, is pretty clear.

The "military contingency plans" might well involve United States forces.

Ackerman:

"Rice says NSPD-9 included "ground forces"--by not saying what kind, she implies that she is referring to American ground forces. Gorelick is talking about NSPD-9 using "individuals on the ground other than ourselves," which means, principally, the Northern Alliance. And what Gorelick describes as "military contingency plans" means, basically, that the military would consider future options as they developed--presumably, that's where Pakistan and Uzbekistan would kick in. So, Rice's references to "ground troops" who will "take the fight to the enemy where he lived," if they mean anything at all, really mean using forces other than our own That sounds pretty similar to the 1998 and 2000 plans--sorry, "ideas"--Clarke had developed, which were themselves improvements on Clinton administration policy."

But wait, how does Ackerman know that the "military contingency plans" are where "Pakistan and Uzbekistan would kick in"?

Answer: he doesn't.

And, let me stress again, at least the Bush Administration formally adopted the Clarke plan (or Clark "ideas", ruminations, whatever).

Ackerman's most powerful argument, in terms of Condi Rice's credibility, is this part of Deputy Secretary of State Armitage's testimony under questioning by 9/11 Commissioner Gorelick:

GORELICK: So I would ask you whether it is true, as Dr. Rice said in The Washington Post "Our plan called for military options to attack Al Qaida and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy, where he lived"? Was that part of the plan as prior to 9/11?

ARMITAGE: No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11.

But let's take a look at the full context:

GORELICK: Now, you all, the deputies committee and ultimately the principals committee, worked for seven-plus months on NSPD-9, as we've been talking about. That's the policy that went to the principals on September 4th of '01.

And as we see it, it had three elements. The first stage was warning the Taliban in no uncertain terms. The second stage was pressuring the Taliban, diplomatic pressure, other pressures on the Taliban. And the third was trying to figure out a way to oust the Taliban, but not with our boots on the ground -- with somebody else's boots on the ground.

And then have some contingency planning, although, as Dick Clarke said, that was part of the usual process, to have contingency plans in the wings. You just said that you might have suggested, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, that the president could have, should have, advocated to Congress and to policymakers putting boots on the ground. I don't see any boots on the ground in NSPD-9.

GORELICK: Is that correct?

ARMITAGE: First, it's not necessarily correct that I would advocate putting boots on the ground.

GORELICK: I didn't mean to put words in your mouth.

ARMITAGE: No, but it's an important point. As far as this citizen is concerned the decision to commit men and women, who are also sons and daughters, to combat is an extraordinarily important one and not to be done to just feel good; to be done to absolutely accomplish a mission.

Now, sometimes I'm accused of being a foot-dragger, not wanting to go along with the force. But I'm sorry, that's my view.

Having said that, the Taliban, for a lot of reasons we were handling them somewhat gently. Some of our citizens were still there. Some of our NGOs were the only thing keeping some segments of the Afghan population alive and feed programs and things of that nature. So you don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, generally.

And so the question of the Taliban is a tough one. There was no question about, I think, in anybody's mind about the desirability of putting soldiers on the ground if we could catch or capture or kill bin Laden. But as a discreet element.

GORELICK: I'm talking about an invasion of the sort that we did post-9/11. And there is nothing in the NSPD-9 that came out of September 4th that we could find that had an invasion plan, a military plan. And even that plan of Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley said was contemplated to take three years.

ARMITAGE: Right.

Armitage, albeit as a "discreet element," makes it clear that the Bush Administration would have, as one "contingency", been willing to put U.S. forces on the ground to apprehend UBL.

True, of course, the plan was strengthened massively after the horror of 9/11.

But, at least, the Bush Administration had a plan.

One that, one could credibly argue, marshalled a wide cross-section of U.S. national power.

So, contra Ackerman, I don't think he's caught Condi Rice in a Big Lie.

Indeed, all things considered, I would have to say that Richard Clarke's credibility is at a lower ebb than Condi Rice's--at least where we stand today.

INTERESTING UPDATE:

Reader MP writes in: "Once upon a time, they [TNR] had a different take on the subject."

The New Republic, Nov 5, 2001 p14

White House Watch: Backfired. (Richard Clarke demoted, Wayne Downing appointed as anti-terrorist staff) Ryan Lizza.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2001 The New Republic, Inc.

"It's not often that the White House holds a press conference to announce a demotion. But that's what happened on October 9, when Tom Ridge, President Bush's new homeland security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, his national security adviser, introduced the administration's newest anti-terrorism staffers. At a sterile ceremony in the fourth- floor briefing room of the Old Executive Office Building, Ridge and Rice announced that Richard Clarke, a pale, gray-haired man sitting on stage in an ill-fitting suit, would be the special assistant to the president for cyberspace security. It's an important job, and insiders say Clarke wanted it. But it's also a step down: For the last three years Clarke has held the more exalted title of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism-- America's terrorism czar. Sitting next to Clarke at the ceremony was the new czar, Wayne A. Downing, a retired four-star general who will report to both Ridge and Rice and hold the rank of deputy national security adviser. The shift from Clarke, the bureaucratic insider, to Downing, the Army general, signals something important: The war on terrorism will no longer be directed by people who specialize in politics; it will be directed by people who specialize in war.

For almost three decades Clarke mastered official Washington. What he didn't master was counterterrorism. His first brush with notoriety came in 1986 when, as one of the State Department's top intelligence officers, he hatched a bizarre scheme to incite a coup against Muammar Qaddafi in retaliation for the Libyan strongman's support of terrorism. Clarke's plan called for American planes to produce a wave of sonic booms over Libyan airspace while empty rafts washed ashore--not to attack, but to create the effect of an attack, which would spur Qaddafi's enemies to move against him. The plan became public, was scrapped, and created a small scandal for the Reagan White House. Then, in 1992, Clarke's State Department career abruptly ended when the inspector general accused him of failing to stop illegal transfers of sensitive U.S. military technology to China. Clarke strongly denied the accusations but fled State and landed at the National Security Council.

Things didn't go much better there. In 1993 he oversaw Somalia policy during the American intervention, the greatest military debacle of the 1990s. Clarke was also in the middle of the botched effort to get Osama bin Laden in 1996, when the Clinton administration rejected--as The Washington Post recently revealed--a Sudanese offer to hand him over. Then, in 1998, he played a key role in the Clinton administration's misguided retaliation for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which targeted bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Clarke reportedly steamrolled intelligence officials who doubted (correctly) the evidence linking the Sudanese factory to either bin Laden or chemical weapons.

Those strikes, we now know, were primarily dictated by political rather than military concerns. They were coordinated because the United States wanted to prove we could hit two far-flung targets simultaneously (the attacks were dubbed "Operation Infinite Reach") and perhaps even because some U.S. officials believed (erroneously) that the Sudanese had attempted to assassinate Tony Lake. And the search for a proper target in Sudan got further bogged down in an attempt to limit civilian casualties. The White House made a fateful decision to strike at night when no workers would be present. The result, as a little-noticed report by CNN recently explained, was that both attacks were delayed just long enough so that bin Laden left his Afghan camp an hour or two before the missiles landed. An uncharitable assessment might suggest that, for the second time in two years, Clarke was central to a decision that led to bin Laden's escape.

But even as these decisions were backfiring, Clarke was demonstrating his real skill: political survival. He is the longest-serving member of the NSC. Universally described as a master of bureaucracy, he made himself indispensable to the NSC transition teams of both the Clintonites and the Bushies. He thus became the only NSC staffer from the first Bush administration retained by Clinton, and one of the only Clinton staffers kept on by the younger Bush. "Dick Clarke is the ultimate survivor," says Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and counterterrorism official at the State Department. "He is a bureaucrat's bureaucrat. He knows how to write memos, move the paper. The guy's a master."

And it's in political fights that Clarke has had his greatest triumphs. He worked the budget process to increase counterterrorism spending from $5.7 billion in 1995 to $12 billion in 2001. He helped lead a successful administration campaign to oust Boutros Boutros-Ghali as secretary general of the United Nations in 1996. More broadly Clarke tried, at the end of Clinton's term, to formulate a new U.S. terrorist doctrine not dissimilar to the one now articulated by Bush--that the United States would not distinguish between terrorists and the states that harbor them. "We may not just go in and strike against a terrorist facility; we may choose to retaliate against the facilities of the host country, if that host country is a knowing, cooperative sanctuary," he told the Associated Press in 1999. But nobody remembers this because Clarke didn't have the stature to put counterterrorism policy on the front page.

His successor, needless to say, won't have that problem. For William Downing there is nothing metaphorical about the "war" on terrorism. Downing is a highly decorated soldier who graduated from West Point and served several combat tours in Vietnam. He directed special forces in Operation Just Cause, which snatched Manuel Noriega from Panama in 1989. He also led them during the Gulf war. During Somalia, while Clarke coordinated policy from the White House, Downing commanded the elite U.S. troops on the ground. The 18 Americans killed in the October 1993 raid to capture warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed were directed by Downing, whose request to use AC-130 gunships for support was turned down by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell--a debate that could be a harbinger of things to come in the current administration.

Since his retirement in 1996 Downing has been known mostly for his unvarnished views about how to fight terrorism. In a frank report on the Khobar Towers bombing, requested by the Pentagon, he blamed the general in charge of the facility for failing to take proper security measures. The general resigned. In the same report he called terrorism "a form of warfare," and he explicitly rejected the idea of pursuing terrorists as we pursue criminals: "These terrorists are not criminals in the conventional sense. They must be seen as `soldiers.'" Downing noted as far back as 1996 what September 11 has made a cliche: You can't fight terrorism without much better human intelligence. He also sat on the 1999 National Commission on Terrorism, which recommended many of the anti-terrorism measures now being rushed through Congress (see "Sin of Commission," by Franklin Foer, October 8).

With respect to the ongoing debate within the administration about whether to target Iraq after operations end in Afghanistan, there's no question about Downing's views: He literally wrote the battle plan for overthrowing Saddam. Besides Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and Richard Perle, a formal Pentagon policy adviser, few in Washington are identified as closely with replacing the current Iraqi regime. For the last few years Downing has advised the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress. His overthrow plan--unveiled to think tank conservatives and members of Congress--called for U.S.-armed and - trained rebels to launch an attack from safe zones within Iraq that are protected by American air power.

Clearly Downing possesses the right qualities for fighting a war on terrorism. The big question will be how well the four-star general maneuvers the internecine politics of the federal bureaucracy. Perhaps he should stop by Clarke's office for some tips."

Hmmm.

Once someone allegedly scores a good hit or two on evil Georgie (with some help from the press)--their popularity rises, doesn't it?

[my emphasis throughout]

Posted by Gregory at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

Bush Humor Watch

This may be the first time I agree with something penned in the Nation (Hat Tip: Josh Marshall).

If, as the old Nietzsche aphorism runs, "a joke is an epigram on the death of a feeling," what "feeling" does Bush kill off with these comments?

For one, that near 600 U.S. servicemen and women (and other coalition forces), not to mention the thousands of Iraqis, have been killed because of a war fought on the grounds that Saddam was pursuing a WMD program that put him in violation of Resolution 1441.

So sorry, cracks about no WMD stockpiles having turned up are simply not a laughing matter--even for people, like me, that continue to believe we had a valid and legal casus belli based on what was learned in the Kay Report.

And besides--even in the context of the annual Radio and Correspondents Association dinner--it's just not "Presidential."

Don't you think?

Posted by Gregory at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Media Bias Watch

A couple Clarke-related beauts on tap today the day after his testimony.

First, this New York Times masthead which surely will be considered a classic in the anti-Bush genre.

Richard Clarke, fresh from his testimony, is portrayed as something of an angelic figure:

"Richard Clarke, the former antiterrorism chief in the Bush and Clinton administrations, opened his testimony by apologizing to the families whose loved ones died in the terror attacks. The government, Mr. Clarke said, had failed them, "and I failed you." He added, "We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed." It suddenly seemed that after the billions of words uttered about that terrible day, Mr. Clarke had found the ones that still needed saying....The only problem with his apology was that so few of those failures really seemed to be his."

Don't get me wrong--I think it's commendable for Clarke to have apologized to the 9/11 families.

But it's somewhat sleazy of the NYT to take his apology and then crudely intimate it was Bush and Co. that should have been doing the real apologizing.

Then there's this part of the masthead:

"Mr. Clarke is clearly haunted by the thought that if things had gone differently, the attacks might have been averted. That seems like the longest of long shots. But there are still plenty of questions to be answered about what happened, particularly about the apparent lack of urgency in the Bush administration's antiterrorism efforts before 9/11. The Clinton administration also made mistakes."

You don't say! Clinton committed errors as well? I mean, who would have thunk it?

In fairness to the Times, they make some of same points I made here (that the Bushies were probably too focused on state actors and that the Clinton Administration never got around to having a coherent, effective strategy on al-Qaeda).

But, in essence, they pretty much take Richard Clarke's testimony and turn it into their masthead (what about all the other testimony yesterday guys and gals?).

The bottom line on W. 43rd St. is thus: Clinton took al--Q seriously, Bush didn't.

And, frankly, I just can't take that spin seriously.

My view of much of the Clinton foreign policy during the 90s (the abject failure to intervene in Bosnia for 3 long years during the largest scale slaughters in Europe since the Nazis stalked the continent, the inaction in Rwanda, the bungling of Somalia and Haiti, and, yes, the episodic and disorganized and ultimately, of course, tragically ineffective combatting of al-Qaeda--after all, 9/11 was being planned well before Bush got into office) bring to mind this W. H. Auden poem that Andrew Sullivan had quoted back near 9/11:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odor of death
Offends the September night.

Amidst all the interns and IPOs it was difficult to concern oneself about genocides and brewing threats far from the shores of the distracted, buffoonish and solipsistic American polity of the 90s.

Oh, don't miss Dana Milbank in the WaPo either.

He's writing all about a cool as a cucumber star witness Richard Clarke:

"The gallery drew quiet when Lehman questioned Clarke. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he began, and then he said how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman said, suggesting it was a partisan tract.

Clarke was ready for that challenge. "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he said, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke said. "So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one."

When Clarke finished his answer, there was a long pause, and the gallery was silent. Lehman smiled slightly and nodded. He had no further questions."

Milbank paints something of a showdown at the OK Corral here.

With Clarke, gun still smoking, silencing his critics with his deadpan answers and cool under fire.

But the stunned silence, if anything, was probably more a result of how breathtaking Clarke's deflection of Lehman's interrogatory was.

Lehman hadn't asked him if he was auditioning for a job with John Kerry, he asked thusly:

"Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush.

That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us.

And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem.

And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book."

Clarke answered this question by erecting something of a straw man argument.

Instead of directly addressing the credibility gap as between his previous statements/testimony and the allegations in his book (the thrust of the question)--Clarke instead takes a different tack.

He argues that--as he doesn't aspire to be John Kerry's terrorism tsar or such-- his motives simply can't be impugned.

So he discourses about a class he co-teaches at Harvard with a prof who moonlights for the Kerry campaign. Or he says he had "asked for a Republican ballot" during the 2000 Presidential election.

But who cares really?

The only time he tries to directly address the gaps in his statements between the book and pre-book (call it the B and P.B. eras)--well, per Clarke, all the differences simply result solely from Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

So only Iraq (how convenient, politically and otherwise!) explains the meta-change in tone (even Clarke calls his B tone "strident").

But this too is a deflection.

Why?

Because Clarke didn't just change his tone between P.B and B--he changed the substance of his comments too.

If anything, therefore, the "stunned silence" Milbank describes resulted from how adeptly Clarke ignored the real thrust of Commissioner Lehman's query.

Put differently, the silent ohs and ahs were more in the nature, I'd wager, of awe-struck encomiums to Clarke's evasiveness.

Oh, and finally, don't miss what is surely the most nausea inducing sentence of the week penned by (who else?) Maureen Dowd:

"As the White House was sliming Richard Clarke, the 9/11 families were stroking him."

Gross, isn't it?

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who wrote in to tell me Dana Milbank is a man. I actually knew that--but the Dana part always throws me off. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 09:47 AM | Comments (0)

Unsolicited Advice Watch

"Today the sad fact is that Arthur Sulzberger, who was my partner in the great enterprise of revitalizing the Times, and who remains my friend, may no longer be in a strong enough position internally to push all the reforms we felt were essential. Although there are signs that the front-to-back improvements we sought are beginning to move forward in a piecemeal fashion, for the time being Arthur and his top editors seem to be picking their way across a minefield, having seen the destructive power of a change-resistant newsroom. After months of deliberation and many invitations to write about the Times, I have chosen this forum to tell my former colleagues at the paper and its many devoted readers exactly where I think the paper needs to go. My views were shaped by a small group of strategists that Arthur had painstakingly assembled. That little round table is now broken, but there's no reason a new one can't be brought together to advance the goals we set. No one inside the Times can speak right now as candidly as I to the full extent of that strategic vision."

--the, er, indefatigable Howell Raines, writing in the Atlantic (Hat Tip: Howie Kurtz).

Bill Keller must be happy he's holidaying in the Carribbean!

Posted by Gregory at 09:27 AM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2004

Live-Blogging Clarke's Testimony

The Clinton Administration, per Clarke, gave terrorism issues an "extraordinarily high" priority. Nothing was given higher billing.

Only some other critical matters, Clark says, were treated at an "equal" level (Clarke mentions the Middle East peace process in this context--another, not so subtly veiled, attack on the Bush Administration).

The Bush Administration, again per Clarke, merely considered terrorism issues "important but not urgent."

Clarke was then asked to speculate, if he had gotten a high-level briefing with the President back in February of 2001 (he didn't), whether he might have been able to materially change our pre 9/11 terrorist threat posture.

Clarke says he would have planned to relay to Bush that the state of al-Qaeda was "strong."

He complained that he had a "strategy ready before [Bush's] inauguration," but that delays prevented it from getting to the President's desk.

The intimations are clear. Bush didn't care. And so thousands may have needlessly died.

I have a question for Richard Clarke.

If the Clinton team handled terrorism as an "extraordinarily high" priority--why the need for a major new strategy when Bush came in?

Why hadn't it already been implemented?

And why was the state of al-Qaeda "strong"?

Just asking.

UPDATE:

Richard Ben-Veniste asking Clarke about the differences between Clarke's access to Clinton era NSC advisors as compared to Condi Rice.

Clarke complains that he was told that "..policy development on counter-terrorism would be best done at [the] Deputy National Security" level rather than at the NSC advisor level.

One potential sour grape?

Listen, Clarke is an estimable former civil servant.

But no high-level bureaucrat ever enjoys a de facto demotion like that.

None at all.

We can look at the merits of whether meeting at the Deputies rather that Principals level might have had a material impact on counter-terrorism policy.

But, given some of his pretty inflammatory rhetoric lately, one wonders if this factor might be motivating him at some (even if subconscious) level.

MORE:

Clarke being asked about the content of his press briefing in August 2002 as compared to the incendiary allegations in his book.

Why the differences?

In '02 briefing, he said, for instance, that Bush administration was "vigorously pursu[ing] the existing [Clinton] policy."

Of course, that's not at all what he says in his book.

Was he lying, he's asked?

No. Clarke says he briefed the press thus back in '02 because he was asked to stress the positive and downplay the negative by the Administration.

And that special assistants to Presidents are often asked to do that type of thing (now that's a fair point!).

Still, Clarke's a damn good spinner, isn't he?

MORE:

Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler quotes Condi Rice to the effect that the Bush plan went beyond law enforcement type action vis-a-vis al-Qaeda and marshalled all means (including military).

Is this true, she asks Clarke?

No, he responds.

AND MORE:

Clarke is suggesting we act on threats before we see them--even it if requires "boldness".

Another supporter of preemption, one might ask?!?

And while critiquing America's lack of robust preemptive style action earlier--Clarke rationalizes it didn't occur because we "couldn't see the threat because it hadn't happened" yet.

So much for all the al-Qaeda attacks of the 90s....

STILL MORE:

John Lehman:

Lehman sarcastically says he's "green" with envy at how easy the PR job must be going for Clarke's book. He even mentions forthcoming movie rights for the book.

And asks Clarke to apologize to the families for the "tremendous difference" in his disclosures in the book as compared to what he was saying pre-book.

Lehman goes on to say that Clarke has a "real credibility problem."

Wow. The gloves are off.

Clarke responds:

There was a "very" good reason for the differences between his previous testimony to the 9/11 commission and his allegations in the recently published book.

The reason that he is now "strident" in his criticisms is the invasion of Iraq.

Because the President has "greatly undermined" the war on terrorism as a result of going into Iraq.

But Clarke had told 60 Minutes that Bush flat out "ignored terrorism"--not just undermined it because of too much attention to Iraq.

Might he not have mentioned such a shocking dereliction of duty in previous testimony to the Commission, the committee members are basically querying?

Even as someone asked to, er, stress the positive?

Clarke is basically defending the differences in his previous testimony/press statements--as compared to the allegations contained in the book--by saying he had to act like an Adminstration flak.

But if Bush really had dropped the ball so flagrantly, imperiling the ship of state, one has to keep their integrity in mind too--a committee member just suggested to Clarke.

Not a bad point. [emphasis added]

ROUND TWO QUESTIONS BEGIN:

Clarke:

The Sudanese plant was a valid, terror target.

Critics mocking the operation as merely hitting a pharma plant and such are "wrong."

MORE:

Former Nebraska Senator Kerry: states he has no problems with Clarke's integrity.

And criticizes Fox news for leaking the 'background' press briefing linked above.

MEDIA UPDATE:

Guess how W. 43rd St. leads the story? [ed. note: But that's your lead too? Yes, but I view it as a howler--the Times will headline it (Clinton's handling of terror treated as "extraordinarily high", Bush's merely "important") with quiet approval.

Richard Ben Veniste:

No "substantive differences" between what Clark said in previous testimony and his published work.

Guess it depends on what the meaning of is is. I'm getting Clinton flashbacks.

AND FINALLY:

Kean is wrapping it up and thanking Clarke for his testimony.

Note: Live-blogging, I've just discovered, is pretty exhausting.

And I've got a friend in from New York who wonders why we haven't had dinner yet.

So analysis to follow later.

Posted by Gregory at 06:59 PM | Comments (0)

Let's Fall in Love Again?

It's not just the Israelis and Palestinians that need a roadmap.

Posted by Gregory at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2004

Clarke Watch

"Richard Clarke, the country’s first counter-terrorism czar, told me in an interview at his home in Arlington, Virginia, that he wasn’t particularly surprised that the Bush Administration’s efforts to find bin Laden had been stymied by political problems. He had seen such efforts fail before. Clarke, who retired from public service in February and is now a private consultant on security matters, has served every President since Ronald Reagan. He has won a reputation as a tireless advocate for action against Al Qaeda. Clarke emphasized that the C.I.A. director, George Tenet, President Bush, and, before him, President Clinton were all deeply committed to stopping bin Laden; nonetheless, Clarke said, their best efforts had been doomed by bureaucratic clashes, caution, and incessant problems with Pakistan."

--Richard Clarke, per the August 4th 2003 issue of the New Yorker.

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

--Richard Clarke, on 60 Minutes, March 21, 2004.

Hmm. What's changed I wonder? (Hat Tip: Reader DA)

Two caveats.

The first passage, that reader DA pointed out to me, is not a quote but rather a journalistic account of an interview of Clarke (Jane Mayer is an experienced journalist, however, and I doubt she would have gotten such an important part of her interview with Clarke wrong).

Second, anyone who describes Clinton's efforts to stop UBL as "deeply committed," well, I guess that casts some doubt on their similar judgement of Bush's performance too.

And yes, I mean that despite this part of the article:

"...C.I.A. officials went to the White House and said they had “specific, predictive, actionable” intelligence that bin Laden would soon be attending a particular meeting, in a particular place. “It was a rare occurrence,” Clarke said. Clinton authorized a lethal attack. The target date, however—August 20, 1998—nearly coincided with Clinton’s deposition about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clarke said that he and other top national-security officials at the White House went to see Clinton to warn him that he would likely be accused of “wagging the dog” in order to distract the public from his political embarrassment. Clinton was enraged. “Don’t you fucking tell me about my political problems, or my personal problems,” Clinton said, according to Clarke. “You tell me about national security. Is it the right thing to do?” Clarke thought it was. “Then fucking do it,” Clinton told him."

They did "it" all right.

They hit a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, that is.

But, much more important than these tired stories, with regard to the current controversies swirling about Washington, note the below.

And as you read the passages I quote, note the issue described as having "reached a head" relates to the use of Predator weapons, which had provided a breakthrough, of sorts, by allowing the U.S. government to observe terrorist training camps at close hand (even the specific movements of a tall individual thought to perhaps be UBL).

These Predators, reportedly due to the fervent (and admirable) efforts of Clarke, had been rapidly rejiggered so that they could be armed--way ahead of schedule.

Now they could not only serve as a means to observe UBL's movements but also to perhaps kill him too.

The key parts:

"On September 4, 2001, all sides agree, the issue reached a head, at a meeting of the Principal’s Committee of Bush’s national-security advisers, a Cabinet-level group that includes the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the director of the C.I.A., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Attorney General, and the national-security adviser. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also attended that day. As Clarke, who was there, recalled, “Tenet said he opposed using the armed Predator, because it wasn’t the C.I.A.’s job to fly airplanes that shot missiles. The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.”

“There was a discussion,” the senior intelligence official confirmed. “The C.I.A. said, ‘Who’s got more experience flying aircraft that shoot missiles?’ But the Air Force liked planes with pilots.”

A week later, in the worst terrorist attacks in history, which were carried out at bin Laden’s direction, nearly three thousand Americans were killed.."

Question for readers.

What seems to have caused this lack of a "can-do" attitude re: going after al-Qaeda?

George Bush's myopic obsession with Iraq?

Paul Wolfowitz's?

Or instead, per Clarke's retelling in the New Yorker interview, issues like the controversy between the Air Force and Langley as to who would actually operate the Predator?

I don't say that to place blame with George Tenet or the Air Force Chiefs.

And I'm certainly not saying this was the only issue.

But the policy debate Clarke relayed to the New Yorker interviewer, I'd wager, accurately evokes the kind of issues that were being batted around in policy pow-wows about how to combat al-Qaeda.

Put another way, a wild-eyed Paul Wolfowitz wasn't describing UBL as a peace-loving flower child that merited zero attention--with Saddam the end all and be all of his analysis of the strategic threats facing the U.S. in 2001.

Hindsight, as is so often said, is 20-20.

It's easy to beat up on policymakers about how 9/11 could have been prevented (nor would killing UBL on September 4th, 2001, even if it had been achievable, likely have meant 19 hijackers wouldn't have slammed planes into the WTC, Pentagon and Pennsylvania countryside a week later).

But I trust most Administration critics, when they are alone and taking a real, honest look at themselves in the mirror, would admit that we were all tragically caught off guard on 9/11.

From George Bush, George Tenet and Paul Wolfowitz; to Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and Al Gore; to a Cantor Fitz trader, a FDNY firefighter, or an illegal Honduran busboy working in Windows on the World.

Given this reality, it's hugely unfortunate that one of the biggest tragedies in American history is metamorphosizing into a political foodfight.

Why not call an end to all the partisan rancor and conclude, roughly, thus:

The Clinton Administration's approach to al-Qaeda was too timid, too legalistic, too episodic.

The Bush Administration's (pre-9/11) approach to al-Qaeda was likely overly influenced by traditional realist security hawks (with a dollop of neo-con thinking thrown in) overly emphasizing state actors as compared to stateless transnational terror groups.

Put differently, there's enough blame to go around.

But don't be surprised if we get attacked again, especially post-Madrid precedent, whilst we engage in all this cheap, partisan sniping.

Who will we blame then?

Posted by Gregory at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)

That's Not The Real Story

Steve Weisman writing in the NYT:

"In a startling sequence of events unusual even for the ups and downs of Middle East policy, the administration began the day by avoiding direct criticism of Israel after the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.

Instead, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said in a morning television interview that Hamas was a terrorist organization, that Sheik Yassin had been involved in terrorist actions and that it was "very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region."

Only later in the afternoon did the administration shift tone and criticize Israel's action as harmful to the cause of bringing peace to the region.

"We're deeply troubled by this morning's events in Gaza," said Richard A. Boucher, the State Department spokesman, adding that all sides, including Israel, should now "exercise maximum restraint" and "do everything possible to avoid any further actions that would make more difficult the restoration of calm."

An administration official acknowledged that a change of tone was chosen only after a torrent of criticism erupted throughout the Arab world, and was then joined by condemnations from the European Union and Britain, Washington's closest ally in the Iraq war." [emphasis added]

Oh Steve, one is wearily tempted to say, there was nothing "startling" or "unusual" about this story.

The real story is that this Administration has been riven by internecine warfare from Day 1 re: the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

No coherent policy has emerged partly because of this virtually incessant bureaucratic battling.

And because, more specifically, we don't have a NSC advisor who is capable of exerting enough pressure to proactively broker disputes (like, say, a Brent Scrowcroft did) as among Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and, er, a more powerful than is typical Veep.

In fairness to Condoleeza Rice (who, incidentally, has been meeting a lot of Israelis recently), the battling between State and Defense has been particularly vicious. And not just on the Arab-Israeli issue (see also NoKo, Iran).

But this White House--so often hyper-disciplined and "on message"--drifts about without direction on the Middle East peace process.

When a Secretary of Defense, with impunity, can refer to the "so-called" Occupied Territories--one is forgiven if confusion about U.S. policy in the region results.

Such statements, after all, call into question the fundamental "land for peace" framework that has underpinned our diplomacy in the region for decades.

This is where a Brent Scrowcroft would have picked up the phone and told the Secretary of Defense to get back on the plantation.

But, alas, Condi doesn't really have the muscle to make such calls.

The latest result of all this pitiable policy drift?

Sheikh Yassin's assassination wasn't condemned by the United States.

It was only condemned by the State Department.

The White House (wink wink) doesn't really find the killing "deeply troubling." (Would they Arafat's assassination, one wonders?)

That's no way to run a disciplined, serious foreign policy on an issue of critical import to the United States.

Put another way, at least settle on one policy for the entire Administration and go with it in organized fashion.

The policy drift hasn't worked. It has failed. Miserably.

Isn't this clear to all?

Note: I'll have more on all this, including a discussion as to why I don't find the Arafat as UBL (Yassin as UBL is a different matter) analogies persuasive, late evening London time).

Posted by Gregory at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2004

Sheikh Yassin Assassination

Ultimately, my views on the IDF's operation haven't changed much from when I wrote this back in January.

Ze'ev Schiff has cogent analysis on the operation:

"The message that Israel sent out by assassinating Sheikh Ahmed Yassin is that, when the disengagement from Gaza is finally implemented, Hamas will not be able to claim that the withdrawal was prompted by the group's terrorist operations and that if these attacks continue, they will lead to a complete Israeli withdrawal.

The killing of Yassin is part of the Israeli offensive ahead of the disengagement. The danger is that the Gaza Strip will be consumed by anarchy, and that Hamas will take control of the street, preventing the more pragmatic Palestinian Authority forces from imposing law and order
." [emphasis added]

With Yassin "martyred" by the IDF--look for Hamas to gain increased support through Gaza and, likely, the West Bank as well. This worrisome trend will intensify in the coming months.

The merits of this operation are difficult to gauge. On the one hand, it is reprehensible for a man of religion to lend moral authority and blessing to the scourge of suicide bombing.

One can certainly understand how a typical Israeli views Yassin as "their" UBL given the innocent blood spilled in pizzerias, discos and buses for so many years now.

On the other hand, I don't believe Yassin exerted any operational control on Hamas suicide bombers. In addition, and unlike al-Qaeda, Hamas has a political wing that provides much needed social services to Palestinians living in truly abysmal conditions in places like Gaza. Put differently, the group doesn't only enjoy support from theocratic fanatics.

Most important, really, is to ask whether his "spiritual" presence really contributed to increasing the potential pool of suicide bombers? I doubt it finally--though am open to contrary arguments.

And so I think this operation, all told, was a mistake, especially if the goal was to hurt Hamas (if Sharon's strategy is simply to forment near anarchic conditions in the Territories this is another question).

Such graphic reports will, of course, reverberate in the coming days and weeks:

"Israeli AH-64 Apache helicopters fired three missiles at Yassin just outside the mosque, killing the partially blind and paralyzed Hamas leader, along with seven other people, including three bodyguards. At least 15 other people were wounded, including two of his sons, according to hospital officials.

"His body is in pieces," hospital director Ibrahim Habbash said, describing Yassin's wounds. "His head can't be seen because the rocket was shot at him directly."

Or as the Polish Foreign Minister put it succinctly:

"I understand that Israel defends its own country. However the picture of a wheelchair-bound person who was killed with a rocket is probably not the best way of promoting Israeli security," Cimoszewicz said."

Britain and France also condemned the attack.

Germany, as is its custom given its special historical burden born of the Holocaust, issued a neutral comment calling for restraint on both sides--as did the State Department (I'm sure Foggy Bottom's call for "restraint" will be closely heeded in Gaza in the coming days).

Given Sheikh Yassin's importance as the leader of Hamas--the shock waves stemming from this attack will also likely lead to the following:

1) Hamas will look to begin attacking Jewish targets outside of the region and look to intensify contacts with global terror groups like al-Qaeda, as market sentiment seems to be picking up on;

2) As the U.S. isn't enforcing "red lines" on Sharon's behavior, Hamas' analysis will go, they will more loudly urge attacks (and perhaps attempt an attack themselves) on American targets worldwide (though their capacity to actually launch such an attack is likely quite limited and they will, of course, continue to overwhelmingly focus on Israeli targets);

"The group vowed that Islamic groups around the world will join together to retaliate for the assassination and implied that the United States could be a target.

"The Zionists didn't carry out their operation without getting the consent of the terrorist American Administration, and it must take responsibility for this crime," Hamas said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. "All the Muslims of the world will be honored to join in on the retaliation for this crime," the statement said."

and, finally;

3) regional dynamics will nose-dive further:

"Mubarak termed the killing "regrettable and cowardly" when he spoke to reporters after meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy William Burns. Asked about the killing's likely impact on the peace process, Mubarak replied: "What peace process?"

All in all, not a good day for anyone in my view--Israelis, Palestinians, or interested third parties.

UPDATE: The head of Shin Bet was against the operation as well.

From the Haaretz ticker:

20:00 "Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter opposed killing Yassin, argued in gov`t meeting that it would cause more harm than good"

Posted by Gregory at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

Who Won the Elections?

"The Madrid bombings, which killed 202 people and wounded 1,700, suggested that terrorists linked to Al Qaeda could not only modify their tactics, but also adopt a mind-set different from the one investigators thought they knew.

Suicide bombers were replaced by triggering devices engineered with cheap cellphones. While disciples of Osama bin Laden are known for favoring symbolism in their targets, these plotters seemed more political. The Madrid attackers struck just three days before the Spanish elections, which dislodged a government that supported the American-led invasion of Iraq. When Mr. Zougam arrived in court after five days incommunicado, he reportedly asked the clerks, "Who won the elections?" [emphasis added]

Jamal Zougam, one of the principal 11-M suspects, as quoted in a must-read NYT article.

Posted by Gregory at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2004

Kerry Watch

"Can it really be said that we are building a new world order when it is almost exclusively the United States who will be fighting in the desert, not alone but almost, displaying pride and impatience and implementing what essentially amounts to a pax Americana?" he asked. "Is that a new world order?" [emphasis added]

John Kerry, January 11th 1991, speaking just five days before the beginning of Desert Storm hostilities.

Of course, we weren't fighting almost "alone." Some 34 nations had joined the war effort by then.

The non-U.S. component of coalition forces put in 160,000 men, roughly 25% of the total.

Hardly de minimis stuff, huh?

And the arrogant American hegemon had even managed to secure Syrian, Egyptian and, er, French support to boot!

More swashbuckling Bush unilateralism, only this time it was Bush pere!

A couple more gems from the WaPo's Kerry story:

"In 1995, Kerry was one of 29 senators who voted against lifting an arms embargo on Bosnia. He argued the congressional action was unacceptably unilateral and had not been coordinated with European allies."

Again, we would be wielding a too "arrogant club" pace Kerry.

Remember, this is post--Srebrenica massacre, where some 8,000 human beings were slaughtered.

No matter. Vote to keep the Bosniaks virtually defenseless because of the arms embargo that the bipartisan Dole-Lieberman bill sought to lift.

Recall that U.S. policy had been hugely limp-wristed through the '90s before Richard Holbrooke's involvement at Dayton.

Warren Christopher had tried to persuade the Europeans to pursue the "lift and strike" option (lift the arms embargo and use NATO to attack Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing "safe" areas like Sarajevo) in a trip to European capitals in 1993.

But Paris and London (because of a good dollop of residual world-war era Serbophilia) and Germany (looking to flex their new post-unification muscle by supporting the Croats) weren't interested in empowering Muslim Europeans who were being slaughtered in appalling number.

Christopher returned home empty-handed saying an "exchange" of views had occurred.

One had, as people quipped in Washington. He went to Europe with an American view and came back with an European one.

And, given how short attention spans were in the Clinton Administration, the policy goal of lifting the arms embargo was, just like that, ingloriously dropped.

Kerry, doutbless, would have been proud of this lack of arrogance and display of American humilty.

You know, I also believe American power must be pursued with greater humility on the world stage. Given our hyperpuissance status--communicating our message in non-arrogant manner will become increasingly critical.

But not at the expense of sacrificing the efficacy and purposefulness of our foreign policy. Which is what I'm worried a Kerry Presidency (even with Richard Holbrooke at Foggy Bottom--unless he gets to run the NSC too!) might well result in.

Another worrying example of Kerry's "humility" from the WaPo piece.

Here's Kerry on NoKo:

"He declared that North Korea "took some remarkable steps, heretofore unimaginable steps" under a 1994 agreement with Clinton, and that the United States should not be "sending them a message that may, in fact, make it months later and far more difficult before we can do so." [emphasis added]

"Unimaginable steps"? Way to signal to Pyongyang that they've conceded too much already (of course, Kim Jong was merrily violating the Clinton "agreement" all along--when not, that is, dishing up "unimaginable" concessions).

Oh, and might one file this one under the 'he doth protest too much' category?

"Kerry added that he is incensed at a Bush campaign ad saying he seeks U.N. approval to defend the United States. "Never. Never have. Never ever, ever in my life in the United States Senate have I ever ceded our authority to the U.N. or have I recommended it," he said. "Never. Not once in one vote; not in one speech. Never. That is a lie."

Nothing like faux haute-Brahmin indignation to greet you on a Sunday morning, huh?

Posted by Gregory at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

Wanted: Alive or Dead?

Milt Bearden on why it might be better to capture UBL alive.

Either dead or alive, best to get the job done pre-October.

If not, the Madeline Albrights of the world will cry "surprise"!

Moronic street sentiment appears geared up for such allegations too.

"Bush! Bin-Laden! They been plottin'!"

Posted by Gregory at 09:37 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2004

Picture Time

I don't normally do this, but I thought this was a pretty cool pic.

The mountains in the background, beyond the river Arax, are in Iran (I was recently visiting the southeastern tip of Armenia which borders Iran).

Here's another shot of me in Armenia--a country of rugged beauty and amazing churches.

Happy weekend to all.

UPDATE: Some readers were curious about the churches I described above. Here's one (pic taken by crack photographer Steph P).


Posted by Gregory at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

The Current Economist Cover

Depressing, isn't it?

Still, don't count out any of the three remaining Aces just yet.

And read the Economist's comment:

"Would new governments, led by John Kerry, Mark Latham (in Australia) and Michael Howard (in Britain), do better? It is premature, in all three countries, to judge. No doubt, all would find the reality of government tougher than the theory of opposition. What is clear, though, is that the challenge is the same whether these countries elect new leaders or stick with the old ones: it is to combine the immediate task of detecting and punishing terrorism with the broader, longer-term tasks of blocking weapons proliferation and persuading the Muslim world to modernise. That will require a greater effort to capture al-Qaeda's fugitive leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan, involving even more pressure on Pakistan's government to catch those terrorists and at the same time to prevent its own nuclear secrets from being sold to them or to other countries. It will require some new version of the tentative “Greater Middle East Initiative” for democratic reform just floated and then withdrawn by the Bush administration. And it will require a big new push on Israel and Palestine.

It is fashionable to argue that all this will require greater co-operation, on a multilateral basis, than the Bush administration has managed to achieve during the past three years, and more emphasis on the “soft” power of persuasion and influence. That is true, but it will also require military toughness, redoubled intelligence efforts and intensified security. This is no time for weakness or appeasement. That is the ultimate lesson from Madrid." [Emphasis added]

Soundbite: Don't go wobbly.

NB: The King of Hearts still looks to be on board.

Posted by Gregory at 03:32 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2004

Marshall on Marshall

"Classic. The facts don't mesh with our theory, so let's get new facts."

-- Josh Marshall, in another Richard Perle hit piece, inadvertently describing his own fact-avoidance tactics rather than those of the so nefarious neo-con Capo.

Marshall writes:

"Last night Richard Perle was on Chris Matthews Hardball show and Matthews pressed him on the results of the new Pew poll which appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States."

But wait, that's not what the Pew Research Center Poll says:

"In the predominantly Muslim countries surveyed, anger toward the United States remains pervasive, although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up."

Note, per my link immediately above, as compared to May '03, the March '04 polling data (ie, post-Iraq war) actually has a higher favorable rating for the U.S. in Pakistan, Jordan, and Turkey (in Morocco the favorability ranking remained the same in '04 as it was in '03).

Even Susan Sachs reluctantly concedes this in the NYT:

"In some predominantly Muslim countries, where negative attitudes toward American policy have prevailed for years, disapproval of the United States persisted over the past year, although at a less intense level that Mr. Kohut described as anger rather than hatred.

Still, the survey found, people in Jordan, Pakistan and Morocco tended to view other outsiders with almost the same degree of ill will and distrust as they did the United States. Opinions about the European Union and the United Nations were generally unfavorable or ambivalent at best, a sharp contrast to opinion in Europe and Russia where attitudes toward those institutions were positive."

If Susan Sachs can read the Pew Center poll accurately, why can't Josh?

Maybe because, quoting Josh's intemperate smear of Perle (and assorted unnamed "folks"): "it's the essence of how these folks think, how they deceive themselves when they're not busy deceiving others."

O.K. sure, but let's agree that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

So we're not done just yet.

Let's take a look at the Hardball transcript for Matthews' interview with Perle:

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I'm back with Richard Perle.

According to a new Pew Research poll, 70 percent of Jordanians and 66 percent of Moroccans think suicide bombings against American and other Westerners in Iraq are justifiable.

Does that surprise you? These are the moderate states of the Arab world.

PERLE: The governments are moderate. I don't know that the sentiments of the public--and, obviously, if those figures are right, the sentiments of the public are anything but moderate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: But that means the people in the cafes are sitting there picking up their newspapers and going, hey, look at this. They blew up a bunch of Americans. This is good stuff. Check this out. Is that the Middle East you know?

PERLE: It is appalling and it is very dangerous. It shows you what happens when you allow suicide bombing to go largely unresponded to for as long as we did.

We had a decade in which we were attacked again and again and we didn?t respond. And, eventually, these thing become entrenched and even fashionable.

MATTHEWS: But you said last year, in 2001, right after 9/11, that if we go in, the idea that it is going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense. You think that our going into Iraq has not stimulated a higher level of hostility to us that would support this kind of horrible attitude toward our deaths?

PERLE: Because the Arab world was on Saddam's side? What is the logic of that? That they object to the fact that we've liberated 25 million Iraqis?

MATTHEWS: No. They've objected perhaps to the fact that we've invaded their part of the world and that we?re starting to dictate what they should do over there. That's another interpretation.

(CROSSTALK)

PERLE: We're not dictating to anyone. There's a great deal that is believed in the Arab world that is obviously wrong, the idea, for example, that we went into Iraq for oil, the idea that we're there with imperial ambitions. And that will become very clear when we leave.

MATTHEWS: But David Ignatius, who has just come back from "The Washington Post,2 is going to be on the show tonight, has talked in his column about the fact that it was a mistake to believe that simply because people didn't like their tyrant dictator, in this case, Saddam Hussein, that they would welcome outsiders to come in and start calling the shots.

PERLE: But there are polls in Iraq, among Iraqis, not among Moroccans or Jordanians, Iraqis in Iraq, and the overwhelming majority are grateful that they have been liberated and they look forward to a much better future than they had any reason to anticipate under Saddam.

The bolded exchange is what had Josh writing about Perle:

"In other words, the facts don't make sense to me so they're not facts."

But that's not at all a fair or accurate representation of the Perle interview.

Matthews had asked Perle whether, in his view, he thought the U.S. invasion of Iraq had caused a higher level of anti-American hostility in the Muslim world.

Perle simply answered by challenging Matthews to the effect that he thought the war hadn't led to greater Muslim ill-feeling against the U.S.

And, of course, as I blogged above, the polling data bears Perle out, contra Marshall.

Moreover, note too that Arab/Muslim sentiment (the countries polled included a non-Arab nation, Pakistan, though Marshall simply describes them as "Arab" states), per the Pew poll, was also strongly unfavorable towards the U.N. and EU.

Said entities, er, not closely associated with the Iraq war effort--particularly per the worldview of your typical TPM reader railing at Bush's "unilateralism".

Listen, I'm not a water carrier for the neo-cons. I believe that they too often downplay the importance of maintaining our "honest broker" role in the Arab-Israeli dispute. And some of the neo-cons, via Scoop Jackson via Woodrow Wilson, get a bit too exuberant about democracy exportation exercises.

In addition, anti-Americanism in the Arab world has indeed reached shocking levels. But not, in my view, because of Iraq per se.

Rather, many observers believe, because of our perceived bias on the Arab-Israeli issue.

And a prevalent longstanding view that we have pursued somewhat of a "democracy exception" (Richard Haass' phrase) in the region by too often staunchly supporting autocrats (not to mention other, non-Iraq related, factors besides).

But finally and most importantly, what Marshall misses is that Arabs and Muslims, while often deeply humiliated, resentful and suspicious with respect to U.S. policy and motives in the region--are also fascinated, curious and eager to see how Bush's huge Iraq gamble develops in the coming months.

Put differently, they are intrigued to see if a democratic, unitary Iraqi state can rise from the ashes of Saddam's Iraq. The democracy exception policy, at least with regard to Iraq, just took a body blow.

And many Arabs/Muslims are busily digesting this complex reality--and waiting to see how the Iraq project proceeds--without yet having formed a definitive view.

This, at least partially, explains why American favorability rankings in the Muslim world have actually improved since the Iraq invasion per the Pew poll.

But when "the facts don't mesh with our theory...let's get new facts," right Josh?

As I said, goose/gander.

Posted by Gregory at 11:14 PM | Comments (0)

Spinning Duck-Hunting

Straight-forward reportage from the WaPo on Justice Scalia's refusal to recuse himself.

Compare it with the Dowdian hype the NYT throws at the story:

"Justice Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court bluntly rejected demands today that he step aside in a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, mocking criticism that a duck hunting trip that the two were on together in January indicated possible favoritism for his longtime friend.

"If it is reasonable to think that a Supreme Court justice can be bought so cheap, the nation is in deeper trouble than I had imagined," Justice Scalia wrote in a 21-page memorandum bristling with defiance and offering lessons in the ways of Washington
."

Mocking criticism? Bristling with defiance? Offering "lessons in the way of Washington" (whatever that means)?

Here's what Scalia really did.

He protected the Court from a veritable Pandora's Box of going forward recusal requests because, whether over a duck-hunting expedition or some Georgetown cocktail party, a Justice had had the misfortune to brush elbows with an individual named in a lawsuit before the Court.

Scalia further defended the Court from the loutish, 'gotcha' press banging down the gates of the Justice's social lives like buffoonish tabloid hacks (had Scalia recused himself, reporters would have had a whole new beat covering the social lives of the Justices: "Justice Ginsberg spotted at a Hillary Rodham Morningside Heights fete! Justice Breyer spotted dining with Gore daughters! Souter Dines Alone, Again!).

And what of that famous duck hunt Maureen Dowd loves to write about ad infinitum (the Times story, conveniently, excises much of the below detail carried in the WaPo piece, the better so you are left with Dowdian imagery of Nino and Dick in deep cuddle, rifles akimbo, swapping tales about preemption and/or why Roe is such bad law)?

"The hunting trip itself "was not an intimate setting," he said. The group hunted on a Monday afternoon and on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. "It fished (in two boats) Tuesday afternoon. All meals were in common. Sleeping was in rooms of two or three, except for the Vice President, who had his own quarters."

Hunting, he said, "was in two or three man blinds. As it turned out, I never hunted in the same blind with the Vice President. Nor was I alone with him at any time during the trip, except, perhaps, for instances so brief and unintentional that I would not recall them. . . . Of course we said not a word about the present case."

Scalia said he stayed to hunt for two days after the vice president left on his own.

"My recusal is required if, by reason of the actions described above, my 'impartiality might reasonably be questioned,'" Scalia wrote.

"Why would that result follow from my being in a sizable group of persons, in a hunting camp with the Vice President, where I never hunted with him in the same blind or had other opportunity for private conversation?"

Did Scalia see any merit in the Sierra Club's recusal request?

"The only possibility, Scalia said, "is that it would suggest that I am a friend of his. But while friendship is a ground for recusal of a Justice where the personal fortune or the personal freedom of the friend is at issue, it has traditionally not been a ground for recusal where official action is at issue."

A critical distinction.

And this important, material point is not even mentioned in the NYT piece!

Think there's an anti-Scalia agenda at play here, just perhaps?

UPDATE: Daily Kos is busy collating statutes that purport to evidence Scalia's need to recuse himself.

The only problem is that the statutes and/or case law all require an evidencing of reasonable doubt re: the judge's impartiality.

And, per Scalia's de minimis duck hunting contacts with Cheney, I don't think such reasonable doubt can fairly be established.

Not by a long shot really.

MORE: Bill Keller, it appears, now got the Times to put up a more grown-up version of the story,

Posted by Gregory at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

Buried Lede Watch

Well, not that buried.

Still, the real news is down in paragraph four.

Posted by Gregory at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

Cheney Conspiracy Watch

More preferential treatment for Halliburton. Or not.

Posted by Gregory at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

The Turtle Bay Mentality

"As for the argument that war was the only way to remove Saddam Hussein, no human being lasts for ever. Saddam was very weakened. I have spoken to officials from his former regime who said at the end other senior officials, including Tariq Aziz (Saddam's foreign minister) and General Ali Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali), were running the country in the last 12 months....Yes Iraqis suffered under this man, but people in Iraq are not suffering any less in their daily life now, what order there was - even under a dictator - is gone. Whatever we see now is no fundamental improvement..."

Hans von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, expressing a degree of nostalgie for the "order" that prevailed during the Saddam era.

Note: In fairness, I believe the quasi-anarchic conditions that exist in parts of Iraq are, of course, a major shortcoming of the occupation (see much of the content of my posts below).

But I recoil at barely disguised sentiments that intimate it was all better under Saddam.

The vast majority of Iraqis would disagree--even if Mr. von Sponeck feels contrary--and despite the random violence that continues, tragically, in Iraq.

For one, 300,000 plus individuals haven't been systematically murdered by a craven dictator since the coalition took control. Nor are Kurdish Hirosimas, to use Samantha Power's phrase, underway.

I'd say that constitutes some modest improvement, no?

Posted by Gregory at 05:26 PM | Comments (0)

Reader Input

Regarding my last post, reader PH writes in:

"As a retired military officer (Army infantry) I totally agree with your latest post about the need for more troops in Iraq and how we need different types of formations, as the unnamed former Marine commander told you.

Kerry has made a comment recently about how the end strength of the Army needs to be increased (he suggested 40,000). Whether he really means it, or is just saying it to look tougher than Bush, is another matter. I'm not optimistic enough to think that he is really committed to such a thing and would actually work towards this, so I can't imagine that I would vote for him.

But I think you'd find that a heck of a lot of the USA/USMC general officer corps agree with you. Rumsfeld is totally opposed, and obstinately so, from what I gather from my reading/TV.

My (first) specific suggestion is to watch for retired Gen McCaffrey (retired Army infantry officer & Clinton's drug czar in the mid 90's after he retired from active service).

I think he is now a permanent professor at West Point. He appears as an NBC analyst, and therefore also frequently on MSNBC/CNBC news analysis shows. He's very articulate on this subject, and will allude to very specific measures that ought to be taken (he does it very briefly because he's always short of time on the air, but he may have articles out there on line. I know he has written for Wall Street Journal editorial page in the past).

I had personal contact with him when I was on active duty and he is one of quickest people on the uptake I have ever seen. He's like Rumsfeld in that he doesn't suffer fools gladly, and I'm sure he is disliked by Rumsfeld since they totally disagree on this. McCaffrey isn't afraid to publicly disagree with the current administration.

(BTW, critics of McCaffrey may see him as a Wesley-Clark type figure who is a partisan opponent of the Bush admin -- I totally disagree, based on what I have seen of him on the air and my personal experience working around him many years ago. I think he takes a totally nonpartisan view of this subject and it has nothing to do with politics for him).

McCaffrey's background is ground combat, to include time in Vietnam as an infantry lieutenant, and one of his sons is a serving up-and-coming infantry officer.
Rumsfeld's personal service time was as a Naval aviator in the mid 50's.

I've always found that early experiences are formative in leaders' views on issues later on life, and to me this case is no exception.

So my second suggestion is that you look for the amount of time and depth of personal experience leaders bring to this subject, when in the future you compare/ contrast views on this critical subject.

My own vague thought is for quickly deployable future large formations of military police, military engineers, civil affairs personnel, and foreign language speakers, who can go into an area and cope with civil unrest and insurgency such we have currently in Iraq -- but also can deal with policing, governance, and rescue type operations for natural disasters (such as the recent earthquake in Iran).

Conceivably such formations could be available for US domestic use in natural disasters as well (remember the way battalion formations of the 10th Infantry (Mountain) Division were sent down to devastated areas of south Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 to supplement local police and firefighters).

I recall some of these soldiers even ended being assigned on an individual basis to help homeowners with damaged homes, for a specific period. Project this out to such scenarios as a future devastating earthquake in the US (ie SF 1906) -- massive fires in southern California -- etc.

I think such formations would find themselves well and gainfully employed and not be a waster of the taxpayers money. They'd ease the strain on our current combat-oriented force considerably. But whether anyone else out there on active service in DoD is proposing such an idea, I don't know."

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman thinks we need more troops in Iraq too.

Frankly, I'm surprised the John McCain's and Bill Kristol's of the world aren't speaking up more loudly re: this issue.

A real debate needs to take place re: troop levels and on an urgent basis--particularly, as I detailed yesterday, given the difficulties with Iraqification efforts to date.

UPDATE:

Note too, of course, that an increase in our troop deployment levels would be the strongest possible signal to assorted jihadists, Baathist die-hards, and al-Qaeda and Co. types active in Iraq that we were in for the long haul and had the requisite intent to finish the job.

Or as Pickering's CFR task force put it, "reaffirming a commitment to the future of Iraq."

MORE:

Reader KS writes in:

"Question: Would more US troops have prevented the bombing of an obscure location like the Lebanon Hotel in Baghdad? What about any other soft target anywhere, anytime?

That's the bottom line in the "police blotter" event line which dictates the popular perception of success in Iraq.

Common Sense (a dirty little phrase in academic circles): It's past time for more troops. The only task left is to train Iraqis to police themselves. There are 100,000 troops now in Iraq. How many US soldiers does it take to perform recruiting and training programs while the rest maintain a showy "presence" for general stability.

What exactly would the extra troops do?

How many "troops" did the Spanish have on their own soil? In Madrid? Did that stop the train bombing?

Of course we all know that the "more troops" argument is simply a hallow feel-good solution for the home audience
."

This is pretty typical of a lot of the mail I get from those who think more troops is a dumb idea.

Sure, of course, the fact that we might have 300,000 troops in Iraq rather than 130,000 doesn't mean some obscure hotel wouldn't have been blown up yesterday.

But surely, in the Sunni Triangle, there are parts of Ramadi and Fallujah that, I'd wager, coalition forces rarely patrol.

Are their bomb factories there? Are explosives being stored there? Do some members of the diffuse Iraqi 'resistance' operate with relative impunity in such areas? Is that allowing for more bombs to be produced and planted? More I.E.D.s?

Yes, to all the above, I'd wager.

Read this too:

Money grafs:

"Rotation will begin at the same time as the American primary season and will last about as long. So, just as the winds of politics really pick up, decisions on how to provide for the next rounds of rotation (OIF-3 and OIF-4) will be made. The preferred course will likely be to simply extend our current underwhelming commitment in Iraq. Our military strategy will continue to be determined by force-structure decisions made decades ago. After all, the Defense Department still refuses to accept the connection between Iraq and the larger war. It also pretends to believe that the current level of operations is just a temporary spike when it clearly marks the beginning of a new norm.

Last week Sen. John McCain observed, "The simple truth is that we do not have sufficient forces in Iraq to meet our military objectives." Noting the rising number and increasing sophistication of guerrilla attacks and the pitfalls of hasty "Iraqification," McCain tried to tell the Pentagon and the president what senior military leaders say in private, but are too cowed to say out loud.

If the mission in Iraq does not soon become a driving force for transforming the U.S. military and, in particular, the U.S. Army, then the promise to "do what it takes" in Iraq will have meant very little. What it takes is more soldiers, now and for the future." [emhasis added]

Oh, and go read this too.

All this needs a much wider airing than, certainly, this humble, little blog can provide.

The best hopes I've got on that score are likely McCain and Kristol.

The CFR Task Force report I blogged yesterday didn't quite come out and say, loudly, that we need more troops in-country (though they indiciated strongly that they'd love to see new NATO divisions come in, as well as beef up constabulatory forces).

Developing (badly, at this stage, sadly).

Posted by Gregory at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004

Iraq: One Year After

An excellent report put out by the Council on Foreign Relations and chaired by veteran diplomat Tom Pickering.

Reading between the lines, I sense that the Task Force members have very real concerns about the status of the U.S. nation-building effort in Iraq (more than one might surmise from reading the somewhat gloomy report even).

The Task Force contains many recommendations and you should read the whole thing.

They lead off by recommending "sustaining political will and reaffirming a commitment to the future of Iraq."

It's telling old pros like Tom Pickering would lead off with this.

They even specifically mention that John Kerry (described as the "presumptive Democratic nominee for president") should, alongside Bush and senior members of Congress, reaffirm their commitment re: "key elements of U.S. engagement in Iraq, notwithstanding disagreements on other aspects of Iraq policy."

In other words, our will is being tested. The international community is taking stock. We can't cut and run. And some elites, evidently, are worried that Kerry (or Bush) might do so.

The $64,000 Question: Security

But the biggest take-away from the report has to do with the security situation in Iraq.

It's still woeful, of course, and not just because of tonight's bombing.

Barely a day goes by without I.E.D.s felling U.S. soldiers, NGO workers being ambushed, coalition forces under pressure, myriad innocent Iraqis slaughtered.

Yes, as the report points out, "significant progress" in Iraq is taking place:

"Iraqi ministries are functioning, laws regulating business and finance have been promulgated, and there is considerable economic activity in Baghdad as well as provincial cities."

But ultimately this will mean little unless we get the security situation under control.

Put differently, security is the "critical enabler for all of the coalition's goals in Iraq, including free political debate, reconstruction and other economic activity, and a successful political transition process." [emphasis added]

No to Too Hasty Iraqification

Like B.D. argued back in October, the Council Task Force members are worried that Iraqification of security tasks may be proceeeding in premature fashion (though the Task Force rightly supports Iraqification in principle).

For some of the problems related to Iraqification, go here. (More here too).

Soundbite: Training has been haphazard, Iraqi recruits have been poorly paid and treated (half the first battalion therefore resigned), the command has been exclusively American (not even an Iraqi Defense Minister for political oversight purposes), instruction has been curtailed in many cases, and recent ideas to draw on pre-existing politically affiliated militias have lead to fears of privatization, amotization and politicization of security institutions.

I believe too rapid Iraqification, far from being a panacea, could prove a death knell with regard to the "critical enabler" of providing real security--the keystone to success in Iraq.

This means, of course, that we likely (as I've argued for many months) need more troops in theater rather than fewer.

Especially as our new prioritization of "force protection" impacts the efficacy of the Iraqification effort itself. One way to train Iraqi troops, after all, is to have them accompany U.S. forces on patrol or engaged in counter-insurgency operations. That will obviously happen less frequently if many of our troops are too often hunkered down in bases.

(Note, relatedly, that the Task Force makes another apropos recommendation: "The U.S. military should continue and accelerate partnering with Iraqi forces and should link the pace of any U.S. troop withdrawals to clear criteria that includes ongoing risks to Iraqi civilians as well as their perceptions of their own security.")

Force Posture Issues

All this argues for the need to have more rather than fewer troops in Iraq at this juncture. Of course, that doesn't appear to be in the cards.

So we need to make concerted efforts to get more constabulatory forces in theater (from the U.N. and/or NATO) in parts of the country outside of the Sunni Triangle that are relatively peaceful.

This would, in turn, free up some troops for robust counter-insurgency operations (that limit harm, as much as possible, to innocent locals, so as to mitigate loss of proverbial 'hearts and minds') in the Sunni Triangle and large cities where urban guerrilla warfare is increasingly brewing.

I'm not a military man and don't want to play armchair general and opine on troop mix/number issues and such.

But it bears mentioning, as the Task Force does, that in Kosovo, for instance, a more developed country about 1/10 the size of Iraq, we have 4,000 international civilian police in active service.

In Iraq, maybe 1,500, at the very most.

Ditto traditional non-constabulatory troops, per the numbers of our deployment in Bosnia, would have argued for a troop presence of 300,000-450,000 in Iraq.

I'm not sure this would do the trick. Readers, when I've writtten this in the past, tell me more troops would be a disaster (more sitting ducks, not needed anyway, better intelligence the key not more boots on the ground etc).

But we are failing, pretty dismally, in terms of the "critical enabler" of providing security for Iraqis. And Iraqis are getting angry at us because of it.

Present and Future Challenges: The Three-Block War

Some final thoughts.

I recently heard a former Marine Commander discuss something he called the "three-block war."

In a nutshell, he believes we need soldiers who can perform nation-building style gendarmarie duties one day, separate belligerents the next as peacekeepers, and engage in active combat the day after that.

He didn't buy the argument that an amorphous warrior ethos suffers when soldiers are called to so multi-task.

For him, the future of warfare is Iraq.

The enemy will bomb hotels and ICRC HQs willy-nilly, attempt to stoke civil war among different sects, plant I.E.D.s, ambush soldiers, hide amidst families in villages.

The U.S. soldier of the 21st Century, his thinking goes, needs to be able to handle all such challenges pretty much simultaneously.

We don't have such soldiers available yet in requisite numbers. But we might as well enhance our troop mix in country so as to better facilitate having the optimal force mix on the ground that best allows handling these varieagated challenges. I'm not sure we've really given that enough serious thought.

I suspect, deep down, most Iraqis don't want U.S. troops to leave yet because there is still some residual good will stemming from our unseating of Saddam and, perhaps more important, many fear internecine score-settling will pick up pace as soon as the G.I.s vacate the country.

So we need to stay. But, if we can't provide security, we will be resented more daily.

And to achieve security, we need to risk more of our soldiers lives in robust counter-insurgency efforts (rather than rush Iraqification) and do so in a way that doesn't overly alienate locals--a highly difficult balancing act.

It was never going to be easy. The post-war, as many observers noted even before the war, was always going to be infinitely more complex than the major combat phase of the conflict.

But now we are there and need to make all best efforts to eventually prevail and allow for a unitary, democratic Iraqi state to emerge.

Like with the moribund Israeli-Palestinian "peace process", I'm smelling some policy-making fatigue in Iraq too.

We simply can't afford such policy stagnation, however. The stakes are just too high.

I don't have any concrete answers.

Finally, I'm just throwing out ideas that I believe merit a wider airing--even if just in the relatively modest precincts of the blogosphere. E-mailed feedback welcome.

Posted by Gregory at 10:26 PM | Comments (0)

Campaign Tactics

"In the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Bush showed a flash of how confrontational he planned to be on Mr. Kerry's foreign affairs record. With the Dutch prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, at his side, Mr. Bush demanded that Mr. Kerry provide evidence to support his suggestion last week that foreign leaders want to see Mr. Bush defeated.

"If you're going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you've got to back it up with facts," Mr. Bush told reporters on Tuesday."

From the NYT.

I don't like this.

Bush is cheapening the incumbent Presidential coin.

Coming out swinging like this, still pretty early, and during a press conference with a foreign PM, strikes me as too fast, too hard, too undignified.

I mean, what next?

Bush turning to the Dutch PM and ask him if Kerry's contentions were true, ie. does Mr. Balkenende want Kerry to replace Bush along with all those other anonymous "foreign leaders"?

Does Karl Rove get this?

He needs to keep Dubya above the fray in these types of forums--statesmanlike and all that.

I get the feeling the White House has internal numbers that are getting them worried.

And Bush is reacting somewhat emotively to them, perhaps.

Bush should slow down. And get his jabs into Kerry at the right time.

More often than not, he should let his T.V. ads and surrogates do the talking.

And, yeah, he should remember that November is still a ways away.

Posted by Gregory at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

It's Iraq, Stupid

Ou peut etre pas.

Meanwhile, Italy digests Madrid.

The next months will be a tough slog for Silvio Berlusconi.

But some in Italy, at least, have a "strange feeling of pride" about Italy's robust anti-terror stance.

Stay tuned.

Posted by Gregory at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)

Playing Footsie Over at the Conde Nast Building

"It's about time Americans stopped worrying about the Baathists, Shiites, and Islamists playing footsie with free elections in Iraq, and paid attention to more pressing electoral problems we have here at home."

--Graydon Carter, in the opening graf of his April Editor's Letter of Vanity Fair, displaying a vacuity so breathtaking it might even attract tinges of disapproval from assorted Conde Nast interns blankly sashaying about the Big City.

PS: At least he's not calling Islamists "Islamics" any more.

UPDATE:

Andrew thinks the above may merit a "Prodi Award".

I doubt Graydon Carter penned this particular deep-think before 11-M, but his Editor's Letter certainly fulfills Andrew's criteria that the award be granted to those whose "response to terror is immediately to run away, concede critical issues, and generally appease."

In case you don't have the issue of Vanity Fair (no web-link available), don't miss Carter's final graf either.

There he discourses on how voting machines are being "outsourced to private concerns" (outsourcing is so au courant, didn't you know?) thus imperiling the God-given rights of Americans to go to the ballot box without assorted RNC types, cocaine traffickers, and Bush "pioneers" conspiring to cheat you of your vote.

Carter's solution?

"The situation is such that having the United Nations monitor the presidential election is not all that far-fetched an idea. We could alternately bring in former President Jimmy Carter's organization. But it only oversees elections in developing countries. So for now we're stuck with the sort of people in charge of the voting machines and the sort of machines that will be registering your vote on November 2. Have a nice day."

I'll try Mr. Carter, I'll try.

But the state of American middlebrow journalism (the wide sub-TNR swaths of print), where a major magazine editor can routinely pen such babble, might make it hard going.

But at least it's not raining in sunny, May-like London town this morn.

We'll count our little blessings over here at B.D.

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

Euronews Watch

Many of my U.S. based readers probably don't know about this pan-European T.V. news station.

They tend to be, if just, a bit to the left of the Beeb.

Just now, in a story on the climate for Muslims in Spain post 11-M, I overhear (and paraphrase closely):

"...there are fears of a backlash against Muslims similar to that in the U.S. after 9/11."

Come again?

In New York City, after more than 2,700 were felled, there were no widespread attacks on Muslims.

No Muslim storefronts torched, turbaned cabbies attacked, vigilante attacks on mosques, random violence in heavily Arab-American neighborhoods like Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn.

I was so proud of this as a New Yorker living through those horrific times.

The city, so often criticized for its alleged widespread uncivility, retained its cosmopolitan, democratic moorings during a time of immense crisis.

And then Euronews comes cheaply along and evokes some kind of fictitious anti-Arab Kristallnacht in New York after 9/11.

Shameful really.

UPDATE:

Please spare me the E-mails about myriad unlawful detentions and how the Constitution has been ripped to shreds. That's another (overly hyped) debate.

To an ill-informed European viewer that might be inclined to believe the worse about brutish Cowboys in the New Country--the Euronews language evoked Arab neighborhoods in, say, Cleveland becoming a Warsaw Ghetto or such.

It's a bogus claim and judicious readers know it.

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

March 16, 2004

Bombs and Ballots

EU states/candidates with troops in Iraq and elections within approx. 2 years (date of elections noted below):

Czech Republic, November 2004
Denmark, November 2005
Hungary, June 2005
Italy, May 2006
Lithuania, October 2004
Poland, September 2005
Portugal, January 2006
Romania, November 2004
Slovakia, April 2004
U.K., May 2005 (might be delayed until June '06)

I suspect al-Qaeda would very much like to hit London, Rome or Warsaw next (in that order).

London looks pretty certain.

(Hat Tip: WSJ Europe)

NB: The Dutch don't have elections in the next two years.

BTW, that's a lot of European states with troops in Iraq, isn't it?

But all this is "unilateral", lest you forget.

Posted by Gregory at 08:49 PM | Comments (0)

The World As Espied from Ann Arbor

"Since Bush administration militarism and desire to go about overthrowing most of the governments in the Middle East actually was highly destabilizing and created enormous numbers of potential recruits for al-Qaeda, the Spanish actions are a great victory for the counter-insurgency struggle against al-Qaeda." [emphasis added]

Juan Cole, concluding a long screed denigrating those who might have the temerity to view the Spanish electoral results as a strategic victory for al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, over in, er, the real world, Robert Kagan gets it about right (though is a tad hyperbolic):

"The terrorist attack in Madrid and its seismic impact on the Spanish elections this past week have brought the United States and Europe to the edge of the abyss. There's no denying that al Qaeda has struck a strategic and not merely a tactical blow. To murder and terrorize people is one thing, but to unseat a pro-U.S. government in a nation that was a linchpin of America's alliance with the so-called New Europe -- that is al Qaeda's most significant geopolitical success since Sept. 11, 2001." [emphasis added]

I'm not quite sure Euro-American relations are at the "edge of the abyss."

Note, for instance, that many European nations continue to have troops in Iraq and, post-Madrid, have no plans to pull them out.

But the ramifications of the Spanish vote are having effects in world capitals far removed from Europe even.

Domestic pressure to reduce cooperation with the U.S. will likely increase vis-a-vis allied governments like Britain, Italy and Australia in the coming days--even if London, Rome or Canberra aren't attacked (though an anti al-Qaeda backlash is possible too--borne of renewed revulsion at their malicious tactics).

In places like Ann Arbor and Berkeley, this is being hailed as good news.

Indeed, a "great victory."

Why?

Let's briefly summarize Cole's argument.

1) The Iraq war diverted critical resources from the Afghanistan effort--the real war on terror.

Listen, flip triumphalist assertions that the U.S. can walk and chew gum at the same time are bogus and the stuff of ill-informed Fox green room rants.

Of course, resources were diverted, in material fashion, from the Afghan war effort.

That said, through the Iraq war, I believe we continued to exert very significant pressure on al-Qaeda and neo-Talib forces throughout Afghanistan and Afghan-Pakistan border areas.

But let's concede this point to Cole regardless.

2) Bush is a clueless provincial who, under cover of 9/11 and pulled along by a cabal of neo-cons hell-bent on protecting Israeli settlers in Gaza and Hebron, recklessly invaded Iraq with disastrous results.

Cole, like so many, continuously overstates the neo-con influence in Washington DC.

If Richard Perle and Doug Feith are so omnipotent amidst Beltway precincts, why aren't U.S. GIs encamped in Teheran and Damascus by now?

3) The Bush administration's strategic doctrine and tactics are the stuff of folly and go well beyond Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz, pace Cole, trolls about for "coalitions of the willing" like Hugh Hefner casting about for his next pair of 36-Ds--hell-bent on pushing a "Perpetual War" down the world's collective throat.

And, thanks be to Dios, the Spanish voter is putting an end to the madness!

The voters have spoken and are beginning to create pressure, the theory goes, to force a renunciation of Bush's perilous perma-militarism.

Of course, Cole ignores diplomatic efforts currently underway, rather than the alleged "Perpetual War", in Tripoli, Damascus, Teheran and points beyond.

He feeds us more of the steady diet of hyperbolic musings propagated by the Paul Krugmans, Maureen Dowds and George Soros' of the world (a happy billionaire, I guess, unlike Cole's fictitious legions of "unhappy" ones who control the world press).

To be sure, Juan Cole is a passionate and informed observer of the Middle East scene.

But his analysis of the Spanish election is an embarrasment which brings to mind an old William Buckley quip about preferring to have the U.S. government led by the first thousand or so names randomly plucked from the Boston phone book--rather than by the estimable ranks of the Harvard faculty.

I'm not trying to score cheap partisan points here or attack a blogger I read often and respect. I'm merely issuing a call for a modicum of common sense when taking in the geopolitical scene.

To say that 11-M didn't represent the biggest tactical victory for al-Qaeda since 9/11 is to be blind--either out of myopic partisan bias or out of a woeful inability to judiciously digest the strategic impact of the attacks in Madrid.

After all, al-Qaeda just pulled off something of their own version of a regime change in Spain. Is that a "great victory" for those combatting the terrorist organization?

Of course it isn't.

Posted by Gregory at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

Euro-Cohesion Watch

A rush of 9/11 fellow-feeling sweeping the Continent post 11-M?

Not quite.

Instead, sadly, recriminations against the ousted Spanish Popular Party instead.

I've already discussed how I don't believe Aznar's government tried to pull a Big Lie re: the perpetrators of the Madrid bombings.

After dealing with ETA for many long decades, they might have been forgiven for jumping (albeit with a bit too much alacrity) to conclusions placing responsibility for the carnage on the Basque separatist terror group.

The most damning information, for those who don't think the Popular Party purposefully misled the Spanish public, is a report that Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio's Ministry issued a directive to all Spanish missions worldwide.

According to the NYT, relying on left-leaning El Pais' reporting:

"Ms. Palacio sent directives to all Spanish embassies around the world urging her country's diplomats to stress the ETA connection, European officials said.

You should use any opportunity to confirm ETA's responsibility for these brutal attacks, thus helping to dissipate any type of doubt that certain interested parties may want to promote," her memo said, according to the daily El Pais.

Ms. Palacio, who said she had not seen the message before it went out in her name, acknowledged that such a message was sent but said it happened early on Thursday "because all the embassies were asking for guidance."

"We just sent what we knew," she said. "It would have been so stupid for us to manipulate. When the minister of the interior came out with additional information, we were as bewildered as everyone else."

Not wise to have sent that directive, yes.

But a purposeful hoodwinking to help the Popular Party stay in power?

I think not.

Remember, as soon as evidence emerged regarding the involvementof Moroccan nationals, the government released the information, before the election.

And even after the election, Palacio continues to believe that possible ETA involvement in the attack (perhaps in collaboration with al-Qaeda) remains a real possibility.

Hardly the stuff of Francoist dissembling.

UPDATE: More on a possible ETA-al-Qaeda link. Go read it.

Posted by Gregory at 09:00 AM | Comments (11)

Keller Watch

Hans Blix is back:

"Mr. Blix, 75, a Swedish constitutional lawyer and the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997, came out of retirement three years ago to head up the United Nations inspection team in Iraq.

In the book, written in the same judicious and patient style that Bush administration officials disparaged when they criticized his approach to inspections, Mr. Blix concedes that as late as a month before the war, he still thought the Iraqis were concealing banned weapons." [emphasis added]

Here is some typical Administration reaction to Blix team's work--from back before the war (note even Blix said cooperation by Iraq existed more on the level of "process" than "substance").

Is this constitutive of disparagement? I think not.

Posted by Gregory at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

Galloway's Cost-Benefit Analysis

Is George Galloway more shameless than, say, Jayson Blair?

Yeah, probably, though it's close.

"You have to adopt a cost-benefit analysis. The one benefit is the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Baghdad, but the costs of that so massively outweigh it that the enterprise must be judged a failure and bankrupt." [emphasis added]

Saddam's removal a benefit?

But how will Galloway now pay the bills?

Posted by Gregory at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

Flags at Half-Mast in Belgravia

Touching back down in London today I got in a cab at Heathrow and gave the cabbie my address. He paused and said "oh yes, that's near the Spanish Embassy."

Distracted and tired, I replied "yes, but it's even closer to the German Embassy," just to make sure he knew exactly where we were headed.

A couple seconds later, I suddenly realized what he meant and we talked about memorials that had taken place at the Embassy since 11-M.

Later, walking to my office in Mayfair I strolled by the Embassy (it's a stone's throw from my apartment) on Belgrave Square.

A guard solemnly stood in front of the Embassy, gate open, so that individuals could place flowers at the front door.

Across the street from the Embassy, dangling off the gates of the Belgrave Square gardens, a white sheet with some illegible, from afar, scribblings.

So I walked over to take a closer look.

A series of numbers on a white sheet.

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

And so on. Number by number.

All the way to 198. 199.

And then, "200..."

The last figure, scrawled by what appeared to be another hand than the previous numbers, and in a different colored marker, with three dots indicating the number would likely go up still more. [UPDATE: It's 201, now].

It had become an interactive memorial, of sorts, and my mind flashed back to Union Square during the weeks after 9/11.

Further about Belgrave Square, most Embassies were flying their flag at half-mast in solidarity with Spain.

A country that had just suffered a heavy blow indeed.

The population of Spain is about 40 million, about 1/7th of the population of the United States.

That would mean 11-M, with its 200 fatalities, would equal approximately 1,400 dead.

And, again proportionally, approximately 10,500 wounded (9/11, a massive crematorium of sorts, was too apocalpytic in nature to allow for wounded).

Make no mistake, this was a big one.

Its impact in terms of lives lost and shattered, of course, enormous.

But, beyond that, al-Qaeda (if they indeed committed this cowardly slaughter) timed this attack particularly well in terms of turning an American ally's party out of power.

The Depressing Election

Of course, one is depressed to see the Spanish voters punish Aznar's party.

Bush, Blair and Aznar didn't instruct their agents to call bomb-rigged cell phones so that scores of innocents would be felled.

Al-Qaeda did.

But Spanish voters didn't buy into that reality.

Their rationale, instead, was encapsulated by one female protestor who held up a picture of the Azores summit--with Bush, Blair and Aznar pictured strolling to (or from?) podiums.

She had added a caption: "Was this picture worth 200 lives"?

Many of us are frustrated with this mentality. But these sentiments, sadly, tipped the election.

With hindsight, I believe Aznar's government made a mistake the day of the attacks with their strong statements that ETA had almost certainly been responsible for the attack.

It would have been better if they had said that it might be ETA, it might be al-Qaeda, it might be yet another group--and that the investigation would proceed with utmost vigor and transparency.

But, and this before election night, Spain's Interior Minister promptly announced the detention of Moroccan and Indian (ostensibly Muslim Indian) suspects.

This certainly wasn't information that would bolster the ETA theory.

But the government nevertheless publicized it speedily.

So I think it's unfair to say, as Juan Cole does (when not smearing neo-cons as fascists) that Aznar, in Francoist fashion, manipulated information.

Al-Qaeda's Coup

But these are all somewhat moot debates.

Significant numbers of the Spanish public calculated that, had Aznar not gone into Iraq, 200 Spaniards would still be alive today.

Enough reason, with an alleged governmental cover-up thrown in to boot, to turn out Aznar's party.

And cause glee amidst the theocratic barbarians of al-Qaeda who will relish their first ever decisive impact on the elections of a major European nation-state.

And quietly mock the naivete of the aggrieved Spaniards who believe, for instance, that France and Germany are not on the terrorist radar because they weren't involved in the Iraq war.

After all, did Turkey fight in Iraq? Did Morocco? Did Saudi Arabia?

But these queries didn't detain Spanish voters who instead chose a policy of isolation and appeasement.

A depressing day, indeed.

Any silver linings?

The Socialists might not, for sure, pull out the 1,300 Spanish troops out of Iraq on June 30th.

There is a window of opportunity and diplomatic wriggle room. Should the U.N. role be materially more significant by June, and sovereignty return to Iraqis--Spanish forces might stay in Iraq--the new PM appears to be signalling.

But, at least today, this is pretty thin gruel indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 09:53 PM | Comments (0)

Unrest in Syria

Some in the blogosphere appear to be getting excited that a Kurdish uprising may be occuring in Syria.

Thankfully, it appears some people in Washington realize a major conflagration in Kurdish areas of Syria is one of the last things the U.S. needs to be cheerleading right now.

We've already got our hands full trying to stave off any Iraqi Shi'a-Sunni internecine warfare. Let's please not throw ramped up Kurdish irredentism into this already toxic mix.

The prospects of local Syrian Kurds vying to be 'annexed' by Iraqi Kurdistan is a threat to the U.S. policy goal of preserving a unitary Iraqi state in its present borders.

And it also increases the chances of more muscular Turkish machinations in the north of Iraq aiming to stave off similar Kurdish nationalist enthusiams in eastern Turkey.

Which, in turn, heightens the chances of peshmerga and Turkish troops squaring off--another Iraq worst case scenario.

Let's hope the U.S. 'delegation' in Syria will help dampen down the situation.

A Syrian Hama style crackdown will beg major Kurdish resistance (and cross-border infiltrations) setting off a series of events that will spell significant trouble for coalition efforts in Iraq.

Aside from the horrible human rights implications that another Hama evoke.

Posted by Gregory at 09:25 PM | Comments (0)

Back in London

Apologies for the light blogging. I've been on the road and my schedule remains hectic. That said, I will have some additional thoughts on Madrid (including the depressing election results) later tonight London time.

Posted by Gregory at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2004

Books Corner

The NYT reviews Jayson Blair's "Burning Down My Masters' House."

They are not kind to their old employee:

"Although Blair wrote more than 600 articles at The Times, he never communicates much in the way of great satisfaction in a piece well done or a scoop scored. His real enthusiasms seem to be barhopping, Scotch swilling, partying, cocaine scoring and snorting, joy riding the streets of New York City in the Times company car, and playing the toadying, push-and-shove high-risk game of office politics."

The paper is (a bit too) eager to point out that not only the NYT got hoodwinked by the shameless charlatan:

"After The Times uncovered Blair's deceptions, The Boston Globe reviewed his work there and found numerous examples of journalistic perfidy. Blair concocted news sources. He stole quotations from other newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun. He invented quotations and stuck them into the mouths of real people, and appears to have made up a source out of whole cloth. And according to his former student journalist colleagues, Blair appears to have plagiarized The Associated Press in the school paper at the University of Maryland."

And the scope of the review is, er, a bit limited:

"Whether Blair got away with it because he was a clever cheat, or because The Times patronizes African-American employees, or because Gerald Boyd and Howell Raines were guilty black and white liberals, or because the newspaper became too invested in Blair's recovery from drugs and alcohol, is beyond the scope of this review." [emphasis added]

Still, Jack Shafer is right when he writes:

"The Times is a flawed, human institution that deserves every brick tossed at it except this one. Jayson Blair is a confessed con man, and ''Burning Down My Masters' House'' is just another installment in his ongoing con."

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday Outlook

Fareed Zakaria and Jim Hoagland both have op-eds up this Sunday worth reading.

Posted by Gregory at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

Proliferation Watch

While world attention is focused on Madrid--Teheran ups the ante in its high-stakes game of chicken with the IAEA.

So far the Iranians are outfoxing the international community, I'd say.

Posted by Gregory at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

Kurdish Nationalism Watch

You can be sure Ankara, and not just Damascus, is taking a close look at these unfolding events.

Posted by Gregory at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

Eurocrat Watch

Will the carnage in Madrid be viewed as a pan-European event, a Euro-wide 9/11, of sorts?

Doubtful.

"While three days of mourning had commenced in Spain, the commission's spokesman, Reijo Kemppinen, conducted his daily noon briefing. He announced a proposed "directive on statutory audits in the European Union" as well as an upcoming press conference on "aid to cinemas."

Another spokesman said that the commission had "adopted a proposal which would help to make the Internet a safer place for children and for adults."

When it came time for questions about the attacks at the briefing, the situation in Madrid was described in the cold and technical lingo of Brussels.

Pietro Petrucci, a spokesman who specializes in judicial and police matters, said his boss, Antonio Vittorino, would soon "brief the college of commissioners, and the college of commissioners will have chance of discussing what is to happen."

There were mentions of committees like Coreper - a grouping of EU ambassadors - that most Europeans don't know exist."

That said, European security officials (yes, in France and Germany too) believe that further attacks are quite likely.

"The French counterterrorism official, speaking in an interview before the Madrid attacks, said that his colleagues around Europe were seriously concerned about a biological or chemical attack in the subway system or aboard a passenger train. "And we worry about bombs, too," he added.

Meanwhile, Bavaria's interior minister, Gunther Beckstein, said Friday that he believed Al Qaeda could be responsible for the Madrid attacks, and that Germany, like Spain, was especially vulnerable to a terrorist strike because German troops were now serving in Afghanistan."

Spaniards holding Aznar responsible for the March 11th attacks would do well to keep the Bavarian Interior Minister's comments in mind.

German involvement in Afghanistan, even in post-conflict multilateral NATO guise, in a war fought because the Taliban refused to hand-over the perpetrators of the mass slaughter of 3,000 invididuals, appears to constitute cause enough for the theocratic fanatics of al-Qaeda to slaughter wholly unconnected innocents a continent away.

Of course, much of the Euro-left will blame Aznar (read: Bush) for the Madrid carnage. And thus sadly evidence that they still don't understand the nature of the battle we are engaged in.

Posted by Gregory at 06:11 AM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2004

The Madrid Bombings

Some Spanish commentators believe that ETA has purposefully adopted al-Qaeda tactics to put Spaniards on notice that the organization is still very much alive.

Whether ETA is definitively responsible, as the Spanish government appears convinced, will be borne out in the coming days. What seems clear regardless, however, is that this gruesome attack will serve to reduce to near nil any sympathy that the Basque nationalist movement previously may have enjoyed among San Sebastian aficianados and the like.

ETA, by adopting such mega-terror tactics (if this attack was indeed orchestrated by them), has permanently stained the reputation of the Basque nationalist movement with this horrific terror attack today.

A final point. Such attacks reinforce the need to prosecute the war against al-Qaeda with steely resolve.

Why?

Because terror groups like ETA may increasingly feel compelled to 'keep up' with al-Qaeda and not be overshadowed by attacks like 9/11, Bali, and Istanbul.

Which is all the more reason why all efforts need to be made to diminish al-Qaeda's operational capacity so it can not continue to serve as a grotesque 'inspiration' for other terror groups going forward.

Put differently, al-Qaeda has defined terrorist deviancy up. One result is that we have today seen a non al-Qaeda affiliated terror organization likely launch the biggest terror attack in modern Spanish history.

Tell me again that there isn't a global war on terror underway?

UPDATE: Yes, of course, this may have been an al-Qaeda attack. I don't think that necessarily makes my analysis above moot--but it will surely signal that al-Qaeda can still mount operations outside the Islamic world and will dramatically change the reaction to the attacks both within Spain and across the globe.

I'm out of Internet range for a few days so look to other blogs, like Iberian Notes, for ongoing Madrid coverage.

Posted by Gregory at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2004

Beeb Watch

The Beeb has been in spanking top form through the past week or so.

When there were last minute snags with the Iraqi interim constitution late last week--the BBC's correspondent reported from Iraq as if the sky had fallen in.

A mega-embarrasment for the U.S. Pretty much an unadulterated disaster. The Beebenfreude was barely concealed.

There was not even the slightest speculation regarding what any seasoned (or not so seasoned) negotiator would tell you about the break-down in the eleventh hour constitution-building negotiations.

Last minute walkouts (as by the Shi'a delegation) are a classic tactic used in difficult negtiations to, you know, raise the ante, increase negotiating leverage, generally enhance the aggrieved parties position so as to try to get as close as possible to the relevant parties' desired outcome.

So you can be sure Jerry Bremer's weekend didn't involve sight-seeing down by the picturesque marshes of southern Iraq. He was doing his best to get the Shi'a back on board and get an interim constitution signed. And he did.

None of these obvious machinations surrounding the negotiations were discussed during the hyper-gloomy and wearily predictable Beeb set theming last Friday. The theme, of course, was the omni-prevalent Beeb-land speciality that I'll refer to as the 'the Americans are cocking it up' genre.

The Beeb's methods are simple. When the story bolsters said theme--downplay any nuance and run it loudly and repeatedly--secretly relishing another 'humiliation' for the bufoonish, hapless Yanks running about the globe, willy-nilly, like clueless preemptive cowboys.

When the story conflicts with the pre-ordained theming--downplay the story writ large and speak of, as with the signing of the interim constitution, the manifold going forward problems still facing "the Americans."

Of course, as mentioned above, come the dawning of Monday and the new week, an interim constitution was signed.

Not suprisingly, the Beeb continued to downplay the story. And no mea culpas about their hugely negative (and devoid of nuance and judiciousness) Friday coverage.

I'm on the road (thus catching BBC World late night at my hotel), a bit weary, and wouldn't have necessarily blogged this.

Until I caught this classic Beeb "Hardtalk" interview of Henry Kissinger.

Go watch it (the Beeb summation, if you don't watch the video, does no justice to the interview).

See Kissinger's, alternately, frustration, disbelief and tinges of derision in reaction to the Beeb questioner's (one Jon Sopel) ill-informed, risibly anti-American, and nakedly 'gotcha' style of questioning.

It's a must-see and, pretty much, sums up much of the Beeb's coverage.

At one point, if recollection serves, Kissinger exclaims to the questioner (who is tiresomely trotting out Salvador Allende to make non-cogent points about our supposed overarching "policy" of preemption) in exasperation:

"You have no idea what you are talking about."

It took the good doctor to so aptly sum up large swaths of the Beeb's geopolitical coverage.

Bravo!

Posted by Gregory at 05:18 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004

Disengagement Watch

More developments regarding a prospective Israeli pull-back from Gaza.

Note: B.D. will be without Internet access until this Tuesday.

Posted by Gregory at 05:48 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

The Scourge of I.E.D.s

Heightened measures to combat the gruesomely effective Iraqi guerrilla tactic of using improvised explosive devices ("I.E.D.s") to kill/wound U.S forces in Iraq are underway.

As commander Abidzaid put it in Congressional testimony: "The I.E.D. continues to be the greatest casualty producer among our troops in the field..."

Two days ago I was on a plane that was making a stop in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There were a few G.I.s on the flight transiting to Afghanistan via the U.S. base in southern Uzbekistan.

I spoke to one of the G.I.s at length. He was firmly in favor of the war in Aghanistan and we talked about conditions there ("still tough") at some length. By the way, he does believe resources were diverted, in material fashion vis-a-vis the Afghan war effort and UBL hunt, during the peak period of the Iraq conflict.

Put differently, he didn't buy the 'we can walk and chew gum at the same time' line.

On Iraq, he had very strong feelings. He was against the war, had lost friends from First Cavalry in it, thought a civil war was a sure thing (after all the Shi'a killed by Saddam, and that long memories pervade the region, he saw it as a no-brainer that as soon as we leave, score-settling begins; and that, the more we stay, the more we are resented), and believed we had Saddam boxed in anyway.

He then asked if Iraq was worth "the 600 lives lost." It's harder to talk about the perilous intersection of WMD, rogue regimes and transnational terror groups as a valid casus belli when you are talking to a man who actively serves in U.S. forces and has lost friends in Iraq.

That said, we talked at length about Saddam's non-compliance re: 1441, his pattern of regional aggression, his WMD programs and widespread belief in the intel community that he possessed stockpiles too. It was a respectful and full exchange--but neither of us changed the mind of the other.

Why do I mention all this in this post, however?

Back to the I.E.D. issue.

"Man," he said, and here I paraphrase, "it's one thing to die in a fire-fight in a live battle, but it's very different to be randomly blown up by a roadside bomb. That's just scary."

I'm sure a lot of G.I.s in Iraq feel similarly. It's must be harrowing driving around not knowing when you might hit an I.E.D.

Here's hoping Abidzaid's and Co. initiatives save many lives in the months and years ahead.

Posted by Gregory at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

Brazen Lying Watch

Er, yeah, right.

P.S. Even in a document, that purports to tell the Shi'a they are al-Q's best buddies or such, the author can't refrain from using this tone:

"Oh heroic people of Iraq. The mujahideen are a people who love Allah and His Messenger and only do what pleases Allah, and they do not slay such life as Allah has made sacred, except for just cause."

"This includes the heretic Shia groups that do not insult the companions of Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and do not contravene the Koran and do not tamper with Allah's shari'ah..." [emphasis added]

Which Shi'a might occupy such category of the blessedly spared ("Muhammad's companions") per Zarqawi's worldview?

Not many, one suspects.

Posted by Gregory at 02:24 PM | Comments (0)

"This is War"

"Adil Abdul Mehdi, a senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, one of the largest Shiite political parties, called for the deployment of its militia, the Badr Organization. Ahmad Chalabi, a leader of Iraqi National Congress, called on the United States to speed up the integration into Iraqi security forces of the "thousands" of armed Iraqis at his group's disposal.

Echoing the anger expressed by many Iraqis, Mr. Mehdi said he had lost confidence in the ability of American forces to protect the Shiites. His own forces, he said, could step into what he described as the security vacuum that the assaults had exposed.

"The Americans cannot protect us," said Mr. Mehdi, whose militiamen are thought to number in the thousands. "We cannot live our lives like this. The policy has to change. This is a war." [my emphasis]

It's frustrating, of course, to have the U.S. held responsible for the mass carnage at Shi'a shrines a couple days back. But one thing for sure, I can emphatize with Adil Abdul Mehdi's statement that "this is war."

I'm not, at all, suggesting we are necessarily on the brink of a civil war in Iraq. But I am saying that, just like I felt the "this is war" emotion in downtown Manhattan on 9/11--and particularly keeping this Josh Marshall post in mind--you understand the deep anger and frustration of the Shi'a leader quoted in the NYT piece.

Which will make our job in Iraq all the harder in the coming days. That said, I'm heartened to hear U.S. commander John P. Abizaid (on various newscasts) state that, despite a scaled down U.S. troop presence in major population centers of Iraq, the U.S. is aware that overly hastily conscripted/"trained" Iraqi forces won't be up to the job.

Too great a focus on force protection with barely trained Iraqi forces running about would be a disaster. Here's hoping that's not what we've got in store.

Posted by Gregory at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)

Operation Mont Blanc

Don van Natta and Desmond Butler have an interesting story up on key Swiss efforts that helped to bust up various al-Qaeda plots.

You know, I've heard some informed observers speculate that the 19 9/11 hijackers were al-Qaeda's "A" team and they don't have a lot of other people of that caliber (ie, Westernized, some English speakers, able to keep their cool, remain pretty discreete, blend into Florida communities and gyms).

I'm not so sanguine. Not by a long shot.

But I am happy to see al-Qaeda operatives make stupid mistakes like the ones detailed in the NYT piece:

"Last year, Switzerland's legislature passed a law making it illegal to purchase cellphone chips without providing personal information, following testimony from a Swiss federal prosecutor, Claude Nicati, that the Swisscom cards had become popular with Qaeda operatives. The law goes into effect on July 1.

One senior official said the authorities were grateful that Qaeda members were so loyal to Swisscom.

Another official agreed: "They'd switch phones but use the same cards. The people were stupid enough to use the same cards all of the time. It was a very good thing for us."

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

Be Careful What You Wish For Department

Washington's emphasis on democratizing the Middle East region is beginning to receive greater attention from local leaders. Not surprisingly, they are feeling somewhat threatened and are stressing that any reforms need to be home grown and not imposed from the outside. Relatedly, many Arab leaders wish to maintain the focus on the Arab-Israeli issue.

That said, there seems to be a bit of a divide opening up as between moderate Gulf states, as compared to Egypt or Syria, on how best to approach Washington's initiative:

"But the current debate within the Arab League is over to what extent the Arabs need to come up with a vision of their own to counter a proposal from Washington. "We must not reject something that we don't know about," Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, told reporters. "If this initiative contains positive points, we have to be associated with that, and if it contains negative aspects, we have to specify which ones." But larger states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria have rejected any American intervention in the reform process."

As I've blogged before, the Europeans should likely become increasingly involved in this effort. And rather than stressing, say, regime change--an initial focus should be on economic liberalization, for instance.

Put differently, this process needs to be handled in sober fashion (please keep the neo-Wilsonian chest-beating under control) so as to best preserve the pursuit of the U.S. national interest.

What do I mean?

Well, note this part of Macfarquhar's article:

"Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist group in Egypt, made a bold public demand Wednesday for change while also criticizing American interference, calling for reforms like limiting presidential terms, allowing political parties and ending the central role of the military in picking the country's rulers."

It's ironic. The U.S. spearheaded democraticization initiative already has dissident groups speaking up for reforms (Mubarak out!).

But, of course, their agenda is fervently anti-American.

For more on the potential pitfalls of an ill-handled democratization initiative go here.

Finally, note that it would help greatly if forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process be made, contemporaneously, as we pursue the democratization initiative. This would reduce the pool of malcontents willing to engage in radical jihadist-style adventures and go a long way towards debunking myths in the Arab world that the U.S. is seeking to impose some nefarious Zionist hegemony on the area.

Posted by Gregory at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2004

Overheard on CNN

Joe Klein on Wolf Blitzer's show parsing the Bush-Kerry race.

Bush will have to do some explaining to do re: "Vie...Iraq," Klein opined.

Vietnam and Iraq comparisons, amidst the serried ranks of large swaths of the press commentariat, always, er, a tip of the tongue away.

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

NYRB Watch

Is Richard Perle a Scoop Jackson Democrat, a realist, or something called a "hard-liner"?

These all appear, per Thomas Powers, to be synonyms.

Posted by Gregory at 01:59 AM | Comments (0)

Group Think Watch

Edwards is out.

It's Bush-Kerry.

And someone at the Nation has circulated the memo-- time to close ranks!

They really mean it.

Posted by Gregory at 01:33 AM | Comments (0)

"Sea Change"

Here's one reason why it's often so difficult to take certain U.N. agency proclamations seriously.

Post-9/11, I m not comfortable having the likes of the IAEA give the all clear.

Are you?

Posted by Gregory at 01:07 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

Shi'a Shrine Bombings

Yesterday we bloggers were writing up some good news from Iraq--today the news is very bad.

In apparently coordinated attacks, while many thousands of Shi'a worshipers were in the streets of Karbala and Baghdad for the climax of the Shiite Ashura festival (being celebrated for the first time in decades), what appears to be a combination of suicide bombs and mortar shells felled perhaps over a hundred Iraqi (and perhaps some Iranian) Shi'a.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised. The strategy was outlined in Jordanian-born terrorist Zarqawi's memo about a month ago.

It's worth quoting at some length--and noting (as I've stressed in the past) that some al-Qaeda fanatics appear to detest Shi'a Muslims (as cowardly fifth columnists) more than even the dreaded Zionists and Christian infidel interlopers.

Consider this part of Zarqawi's memo:

"The American army has begun to disappear from some cities, and its presence is rare. An Iraqi army has begun to take its place, and this is the real problem that we face, since our combat against the Americans is something easy. The enemy is apparent, his back is exposed, and he does not know the land or the current situation of the mujahidin because his intelligence information is weak. We know for certain that these Crusader forces will disappear tomorrow or the day after. He who looks at the current situation [will] see the enemy?s haste to constitute the army and the police, which have begun to carry out the missions assigned to them. This enemy, made up of the Shi`a filled out with Sunni agents, is the real danger that we face, for it is [made up of] our fellow countrymen, who know us inside and out. They are more cunning than their Crusader masters, and they have begun, as I have said, to try to take control of the security situation in Iraq. They have liquidated many Sunnis and many of their Ba`th Party enemies and others beholden to the Sunnis in an organized, studied way. They began by killing many mujahid brothers, passing to the liquidation of scientists, thinkers, doctors, engineers, and others. I believe, and God knows best, that the worst will not come to pass until most of the American army is in the rear lines and the secret Shi`i army and its military brigades are fighting as its proxy. They are infiltrating like snakes to reign over the army and police apparatus, which is the strike force and iron fist in our Third World, and to take complete control over the economy like their tutors the Jews. As the days pass, their hopes are growing that they will establish a Shi`i state stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon and ending in the Cardboard Kingdom of the Gulf. The Badr Brigade entered carrying the slogan of revenge against Tikrit and al-Anbar, but it shed its garb and then put on the emblem[s] of the army and police to oppress the Sunnis and kill the people of Islam in the name of law and order, all under cover of smooth talk. The noxiousness of falsehood rides the horse of dissimulation. Their Ghunusi religion (one based on special personal enlightenment) veils itself with lies and covers itself with hypocrisy, exploiting the naivete and good-heartedness of many Sunnis. We do not know when our [Islamic] nation will begin to learn from historical experience and build on the testimony of the empty eras. The Shi`i Safavid state was an insurmountable obstacle in the path of Islam. Indeed it was a dagger that stabbed Islam and its people in the back. One of the Orientalists spoke truth when he said that had the Safavid state not existed we in Europe would today be reading the Qur?an just as the Algerian Berber does. Yes, the hosts of the Ottoman state stopped at the gates of Vienna, and those fortifications almost collapsed before them [to permit] Islam to spread under the auspices of the sword of glory and jihad all across Europe. But these armies were forced to return and withdraw to the rear because the army of the Safavid state had occupied Baghdad, demolished its mosques, killed its people, and captured its women and wealth. The armies returned to defend the sanctuaries and people of Islam. Fierce fighting raged for about two centuries and did not end until the strength and reach of the Islamic state had waned and the [Islamic] nation had been put to sleep, then to wake up to the drums of the invading Westerner."

More:

"These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies ? and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans. Despite their weakness and fragmentation, the Sunnis are the sharpest blades, the most determined, and the most loyal when they meet those Batinis (Shi`a), who are a people of treachery and cowardice. They are arrogant only with the weak and can attack only the broken-winged. Most of the Sunnis are aware of the danger of these people, watch their sides, and fear the consequences of empowering them. Were it not for the enfeebled Sufi shaykhs and [Muslim] Brothers, people would have told a different tale.

This matter, with the anticipated awaking of the slumberer and rousing of the sleeper, also includes neutralizing these [Shi`a] people and pulling out their teeth before the inevitable battle, along with the anticipated incitement of the wrath of the people against the Americans, who brought destruction and were the reason for this miasma. The people must beware of licking the honeycomb and enjoying some of the pleasures from which they were previously deprived, lest they surrender to meekness, stay on the[ir] land, prefer safety,, and turn away from the rattle of swords and the neighing of horses." [my emphasis throughout]

Ignore all the bad prose about the "neighing of horses" and such. Focus instead on the nefarious strategy.

The blueprint of these fanatic al-Qaeda operatives (and doubtless some criminals, Baathist remnants and radicalized Sunnis helping them) is now most assuredely to try to stoke a civil war in Iraq.

They likely, given that American forces are withdrawing more from the cities, know they can't kill enough Americans to force Bush out (he's not Clinton).

So they are shifting tactics. And they've gone fully operational today.

The objective?

The specter of inefficacious Iraqi police forces being killed in good number once U.S. troops "retreat" to their bases.

Of diminishing U.S. led counter-insurgency operations replaced by American forces being forced to separate ethnic groups who have fallen into the morass of inter-communal violence by such terror attacks.

Put differently, the objective is a quasi-anarchic environment in Iraq marked by little to no order--perfect conditions for groups like al-Qaeda.

And, consequently, a resounding humiliation and defeat of the United States in the heart of the region that will represent our key foreign policy challenges for decades to come.

The Blame Game

You know, it's easy to beat up on our coalition commanders.

How could this have happened, frustrated onlookers will wonder?

We all knew these Shi'a rituals were going to occur. I mean, the Zarqawi memo telegraphed the al-Qaeda and affiliates strategy.

But even news outlets like the Beeb, on their A.M. broadcasts, stated that the coalition had stepped up security.

There were many checkpoints on the road to Karbala. Reports indicate that individual's cars were being checked.

Nor do you want G.I.s from Idaho camped out in the sensitive shrines themselves, do you? So, as has been occurring more often these days, most security duties were handed over to Iraqi forces.

But, as the Beeb correspondent pointed out, the sheer mass of people moving about makes such security operations far from fail-proof. And, of course, there is no way to ensure fail-proof security anywhere in the world--and certainly not in an Iraq still wracked by violence.

Still, one must be dismayed by how poor, almost a year out now since U.S. troops entered Iraq, the security situation remains and how vulnerable people there (these days less our soldiers, but rather Iraqi civilians) remain to suicide bombs or mortar attacks.

The Stakes

This is all so very critical. People will always prefer order to anarchy. Put differently, authoritarian order is considered preferable to the law of the jungle. I'm certainly not saying there is Saddam nostalgia sweeping the land. Not at all.

But I am saying that Americans, as unfair as it may seem, will be held culpable by many Shi'a (as those who should be the custodians of order given that they occupy the country) for today's carnage.

And, to say the least, that's not winning us any friends in places like Najaf and Sadr City.

So we must do a better job of establishing secure conditions in Iraq. This is paramount. We face a persistent enemy who will do everything in their power to scuttle U.S. efforts to create secure conditions.

Robust counter-insurgency efforts and better training of Iraqi military police must be uppermost on policymaker's agendas. The Iraqi forces simply aren't ready for prime time.

A rush to Iraqify, with U.S. troops hunkered down in bases, might have these very same U.S. forces having to emerge to separate warring Iraqi communities who have fallen prey to the vicious strategy of stoking a civil war.

This is the nightmare scenario. American policymakers must do everything in their power to make sure this doesn't occur.

Yes progress is being made. In large swaths of the country, encroachments of 'normal' life are moving afoot. Electricity production is back up. So is oil production. U.S. troops casualities are down. Constitution-drafting is successfully (at least for now) moving ahead.

But without order all this really doesn't matter much.

Getting the Message Out

Finally, there is, of course, a PR component to all this. Jerry Bremer needs to make sure Shi'a leaders, rather than lash out at the Americans for 'letting this happen,' also speak to their constituencies about the real perpetrators of these attacks.

These attackers are, most likely, some Iraqis. But they pick their targets based on recommendations from a foreign born terrorist who outlined the strategy in the memo quoted at length in this post.

That point should be made forcefully in the coming days. In Arabic, by local leaders, with conviction.

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

March 01, 2004

Democratization Watch

What to do about this, this and this amidst the region-wide democracy-building push?

No panaceas, of course.

Foster such movements, closely monitor "charity" disbursements, push for more such elections (with fingers crossed re: who might get voted in!).

Note: In case you missed it when I originally linked it, go read this excellent primer on the current power struggle underway in Saudi Arabia.

Question to U.S. policymakers: How best to bolster Abdullah, whilst of course pursuing our critical anti-terror cooperation, without looking like we are medding too much in 'internal' Saudi affairs (and thus risking a pro-Nayef backlash)?

Posted by Gregory at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

Most Influential European?

The FT's Paris bureau chief makes the case for Bernard Kouchner. French, socialist and, yes, in favor of the war in Iraq.

Bucking herd instinct can earn kudos here and there, can't it?

Posted by Gregory at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

Afghan Neo-Realist Film Watch

Not sure you want to shell out the ten or so bucks to catch Mel Gibson's sell (or porn)-out?

You might check out a film set in Afghanistan, called Osama, that's about--not UBL--but a 12 year old girl living under Taliban rule.

Posted by Gregory at 08:29 PM | Comments (0)

An Estonian Fatility in Iraq

Estonia's first soldier felled by hostile action since its independence.

Maureen Dowd likes poking fun at the notion of the likes of Salvadoreans or Latvians serving in Iraq.

But these are real sovereign governments that, per their independent analysis of their national interest, sent real people to Iraq.

And some of them, tragically, die.

Their sacrifices cheapen Dowd's juvenile rhetoric about brash unilateralists Don, Dick and Georgie.

Posted by Gregory at 08:10 PM | Comments (0)

An Egyptian Role in Gaza?

Some good news in relation to continued indications that Israel will pull out of Gaza.

Common Egyptian-Israeli interests are helping along the cooperation:

"Israel is concerned that the Islamic militant group Hamas will take over in Gaza if Israel withdraws, making the flow of illicit arms impossible to control. Egypt is also reportedly worried that the spread of Hamas' power in Gaza will influence Islamic fundamentalists in Egypt and destabilise Hosni Mubarak's government. Former Israeli Defence Minster Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Egypt had promised to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza if Israel pulled out, Israel radio reported."

Posted by Gregory at 08:01 PM | Comments (0)

French Daily Liberation on Gibson's Passion

Interesting review of Mel Gibson's movie (which hasn't rolled out to these backwards provinces just yet) that well showcases the leftish, ultra-secular and relativist worldview of your typical Liberation reader:

"Sa Passion semble tirée d'un Evangile apocryphe, selon saint Donatien (de Sade). Sa foi est une variante chiite du christianisme. Sa religion intégriste, imbibée de sang et de douleur, réduit le message du Christ ą sa mort sous la torture. Cette mystique doloriste, qui a marqué jadis l'iconographie et les rites de l'Eglise, du Moyen Age ą la Contre-Réforme, a aussi servi ą légitimer certains crimes de l'Eglise, dont l'antisémitisme.

Le culte du martyre est un combustible dangereux dont brělent les fanatiques, comme en témoignent les kamikazes islamistes d'aujourd'hui. Il peut alimenter intolérances et guerres de religion. A l'heure oĚ Bush parle de croisade et d'axe du Mal, le succŹs de la Passion est un symptôme de la virulence de ces intégrismes qui, partout, livrent un combat d'arriŹre-garde contre une modernité laēque, agnostique, ou simplement rationnelle, ouverte et tolérante."

Partial Translation: ...His (Gibson's) faith is a Shiite variant of Christianity. Its fundamentalist religiosity, embued with blood and pain, reduces the message of Christ to his death under torture....At a time when Bush speaks of a crusade and the axis of Evil, the success of Passion is a symptom of the virulence of these fudamentalisms that, everywhere, are involved in a rear-guard struggle against a secular modernity, agnostic, or simply rational, open and tolerant."

Put differently: Shi'a radicals, al-Qaeda fanatics, popcorn chomping Passion-viewers in the environs of Crawford (ie., Georgie and his ilk) are of the same stripe--religious fanatics all.

It's amazing how widespread the view of Bush as theocratic radical is in Europe. I guess you let slip the word "crusade" once and speak of an "axis of evil" (rather than, say, an "evil empire") and you are branded a religious fanatic these days.

His stance on gay marriage won't help the perception, of course. Nor does his personal history of swearing off the Jack Daniels (after some form of personal encounter with a higher being) go down well in some of these more libertine Euro-climes.

But as I've argued from the very inception of this blog, to view American foreign policy as motivated by religion is, at best, an ill-informed misconception/over-simplification and, at worst, a purposeful (popular among European intellectual circles) attempt to relativize Bush as just as bad as Bin Laden and Co. (let's be careful to distinguish slightly over-zealous manifestations of neo-Wilsonianism (see Wolfowitz), fused with notions of American exceptionalism, from an actually religiously-motivated foreign policy (UBL and the Teheran Mullahs, not Bush)

It's time to reach out to the great European and Arab publics, I suspect, and cut through the left-leaning media hyperbole and distortions.

Couldn't some of Bush's advisors (or better yet, the President himself) explain (often and loudly) that U.S. Middle East policy isn't, you know, driven by Holy Scripture?

Posted by Gregory at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)

Eastern Europe Watch

"Creeping authoritarianism" in Eastern Europe and "Ukraine fatigue"?

Read all about it here:

"Some administration officials have been working on the problem, and a meeting of the "deputies" group of senior foreign policy and defense officials recently considered what the United States might do this year to promote freedom in Ukraine and Belarus. But the administration's focus on the "greater Middle East" has tended to shift attention and resources from the borderlands of Eurasia. And some administration officials remain reluctant to pursue any policy that risks a fight with Putin.

In fact, the Bush administration has a better chance of stopping the creeping authoritarianism of Eastern Europe here than it does in Moscow. Putin angrily dismisses complaints about his consolidation of power, but a slap by the Council of Europe prompted Kuchma to revise the constitutional amendment he is pushing in parliament -- though not by enough. While they may admire Putin's strongman model, Kuchma and his gang fear rejection by the West and the complete subjugation to Moscow it could lead to. "The regime is afraid of one thing: the reaction of the West to what is happening in Ukraine," says Yushchenko. If they hear more of it in the coming months, democracy here might still be saved." [emphasis added]

Imagine.

A U.S. administration more focused on building democracy in the Middle East than in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. How the wheels of history turn!

Posted by Gregory at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

Good News from Iraq

On the constitution-building front:

"The country's 25-member, U.S.-appointed Governing Council reached consensus on the 63rd and final article of the document at 4:20 a.m. local time, after more than 10 hours of almost nonstop negotiations mediated by the American administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, people involved in the meeting said.

"It's a historic document," said Faisal Istrabadi, one of the lead drafters and a senior aide to council member Adnan Pachachi. "Every single article, and each subparagraph, had the consensus of all 25 people in the room. . . . In the best tradition of democracies -- granted, we are an aspiring democracy -- we all compromised."

The document, which will provide a legal framework for Iraq until elections are held and a permanent constitution is drafted, grants broad protections for individual rights, guaranteeing freedom of speech, assembly and religion, and other liberties long denied by the Baath Party government of former president Saddam Hussein. In an unprecedented step toward gender equality in the Arab world, the document sets aside 25 percent of the seats in the provisional legislature for women, council aides said."

And more good news on the oil production and electricity generation fronts.

Posted by Gregory at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

Transatlantic Relations

A flurry of activity on this front recently, mostly positive.

First, U.S.-German relations are warming up a bit.

John Vinocur has a round-up post the Bush-Schroder lunch.

The article makes clear that schadenfreude has its limits:

"Schröder was dealing with the reality of his party's dismal standing in German public opinion, and a poll last week of Germans showed that 90.4 percent thought good trans-Atlantic relations were important (if 71 percent also felt the United States selfishly and inconsiderately defends its own interests). He was also trying to readjust the widespread view at home that his break with America on Iraq significantly lamed Germany's successful postwar formula for international relations: equally strong and balanced ties with the United States and France.

And that the Schroder-Chirac love-in and perma-bear hug is somewhat in abeyance:

...And Schröder, in turn, threw more forthcoming details into the pot: a reaffirmation, in the light of Europe's efforts to strengthen its own military autonomy, that NATO was "the anchor of our collective defense." In talking to German reporters, the chancellor also furnished a line about not wanting to hear talk of "polarization," a reference to the French government's vision of a multipolar world in which, to the distaste of both Republicans and Democrats, a unified Europe would operate as a counterweight to the United States."

Schroder parted company with the French later too:

"In pushing its position forward in collaboration with the United States, and in emphasizing NATO and the unique aspect within Europe of its own confident relations with both the Israelis and Arabs, Germany seemed to have differentiated itself from the French viewpoint. Last week, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France, seemingly upset by the German approach, questioned whether a NATO involvement would be "a complication" that could be seen "by certain countries in the region as an aggression."

In what might have been a response to Villepin, Fischer in an interview with Al Jazeera television justified his use of the term "jihadist terrorism," insisted that such terrorism must be fought and defeated, and said that "I do not understand the fear of many Arab friends" of efforts in the West to create what he called a real partnership."

Schroder's words help showcase that Bush's "Greater Middle East initiative" is being viewed with increasing seriousness throughout Europe. Not only because it is viewed as a critical effort in its own right, but also because U.S.-European cooperation on the initiative is viewed as a major engine in helping foster a transatlantic detente.

More specifically, NATO is, more and more, being viewed as the key motor of renewed cooperation. This makes sense for several reasons, not least that, ever since the defeat of the Soviet Union, the alliance has been casting about for a renewed mission (aside from putting out nationalistic conflagrations in the Balkans).

Rather than concentrate solely on NATO's military role some, like Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, are talking about ratcheting up NATO's "soft power" components:

"Italy believes that the next phase of transformation should take place in NATO's political dimension. The alliance prevailed in the cold war by employing a dual-track strategy of military deterrence and orchestrated political engagement. In today's security situation, NATO's political role has become - at least potentially - more important than ever. It will take a broad range of policies and initiatives to deal with the new threats.

NATO needs not only the military capacity to respond rapidly to crises once they arise, but also an overarching political strategy for the use of "soft power" tools in preventing such crises altogether. Such a strategy should bring together all the issues on NATO's radar screen - the unfinished business on its post-cold war agenda as well as the new challenges of the 21st century."

The foreign minister's proposals are somewhat light on detail--but one speculates that some of the "soft power" worth bringing to bear is communicating effectively to the Arab world that the Atlantic community, while intent on democratization in the region, would prefer to see it come about organically (and through economic liberalization and such, see the "Barcelona Process") rather than through the barrel of a gun.

And there needs to be a strong public diplomacy component to allied efforts in the region. Key messages that need to be stressed: a) America is not planning a long-term occupation of Iraq, b) there is no religious 'crusade' underway (at least not one from the Crawford side of the fence), and c) the U.S. remains committed to acting as the 'honest broker' as between the Arabs and Israelis.

The British, as is their wont, are acting as the go-betweens re: a renewed purposefulness in the Middle East (with the Germans now showing more vigor, ie. Schroder's broad hints that NATO will play an integral role in the Greater Middle East Initiative).

Sadly, Chirac and de Villepin appear to remain focused on pursuing a neo-Gaullist agenda (with a good dose of Napoleonic romanticism thrown in) of constraining American power (see the reticence to see an expanded NATO role in the Middle East, the ongoing talk re: multipolarity that Schroder poo-pooed, preservation of a special French 'Araby policy).

One other point I've been hearing.

While many European elites are gearing up to cooperate with the U.S. on the Middle East initiative--one common gripe continues to make the rounds in widespread fashion.

No such initiative can succeed without resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict--many European leaders rightly believe. And the Bush administration is not applying enough pressure on both parties to sustain forward momentum on that front.

A representative view is that of the Italian foreign minister:

"To defeat terrorism and the threats associated with it, Europe and America have a powerful common interest in fostering democracy, stability and economic development in this entire region by means of a comprehensive approach. These goals can be reached only through positive dialogue and cooperation with all the countries in the region, not paternalistic imposed solutions. For such goals we need a shared vision. A successful Israeli-Palestinian peace process will continue to be the most important element of this vision."

Posted by Gregory at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)
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