April 29, 2004

On the Road

Limited to no blogging through Monday.

UPDATE: At an airport lounge in Heathrow (with a delayed flight) so a few quick thoughts on the Damascus attacks that I hadn't previously had time to blog before I get on a flight.

Here's today's NYT story on the attacks in Syria:

"Western and Arab analysts said they were puzzled over what could have been a motive for a terrorist attack on Syria, which fiercely opposed the American-led war in Iraq and has praised the violent insurgency there as legitimate resistance to an occupying force.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood clashed violently with the government in the past, but it has been quiescent since the early 1980's. The shooting appeared ill prepared, the analysts said, compared to recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

Quiescent since the early 1980's?

That's a good one.

Might the Times, in passing, have mentioned that wee bit little event back in 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood was ruthlessly quashed in Syria with around 20,000 fatalities in Hama? (Indeed a phrase, "Hama Rules"--courtesy of Tom Friedman--entered the Middle East watchers' lexicon as a result of the crackdown--code for, basically, taking a, er, harsh line vis-a-vis domestic troublemakers).

Hafez Asad had then made the strategic decision to, once and for all, ensure secularism reigned in Syria rather than Sunni-led Islamism a la Muslim Brotherhood (Asad is from a minority religious sect, the Alawites, who aren't held in particularly high regard by many Sunnis in Syria--religious ones because they view Alawites as belonging to a somewhat unorthodox sect; more prosperous and/or secular Sunnis simply resentful Alawites run the country rather than Sunni elites).

So what happened in Damascus will be very worrisome to Bashar Asad.

Nothing ever happened in Syria, since 1982, without the secret police (the much feared mukhabarat) knowing about it.

Until a couple days ago, that is.

Now it could be an al-Qaeda operation, of course (good to know they might target former U.N. and Canadian installations these days too, huh? Guess said entities weren't part of the European peace proffer or such...)

But I think smart money is on restless Muslim Brotherhood types, smelling weakness in the Bashar fils regime, having mounted the operation.

He's got 135,000 U.S. soldiers to his east (with Rummy periodically making noises about Syrian troublemaking in Iraq). He's got Arik Sharon probably near assassinating Hamas figures in downtown Damascus. Needless to say, the Turkish-Syrian bilateral relationship isn't all roses.

Put differently, and with all the U.S. congressional Syrian sanctions bluster and such, it's not an easy time for boxed-in young Bashar.

And, when domestic malcontents (angered too by U.S. forces next door and probably wanting Asad to take a harder pro-Iraqi insurgent stance) smell weakness--they tend to start causing trouble.

Which makes it likely the final description in this time line of Muslim Brotherhood activity in Syria is now no longer accurate.

This is not the time either, btw, to hope for violent Kurdish rebellion in the north of Syria.

It's not currently in the U.S. national interest for Syria to start teetering out of control.

For avoidance of doubt--let's be more clear.

An emboldened Muslim Brotherhood in Syria is, very obviously, not in America's national interest.

Nor is Kurdish irredentism with Iraqi and Syrian Kurds moving towards a united Kurdistan across that border.

That will make the (already) edgy Turks--much, much edgier.

And the last thing we want right now is trouble in the third Iraq sector, right?

All this to say--perhaps it's time to tone down some of the Bashar-bashing a bit here and there.

Condoleeza Rice should make sure the Secretary of Defense is, er, on board.

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

April 28, 2004

A Decline in Courage

What do Pat Tillman and Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn have in common?

More than you might think.

Read this USA Today piece on Tillman first.

Some key grafs (my emphases throughout post):

"We didn't know him. Before he enlisted, even football fans would have been hard-pressed to identify the Cardinals' safety. But when a man walks away from a millionaire's life and puts himself in harm's way under our country's flag, we rise and cheer. For he is a better man than most, a man who could be true to himself only by laying himself on the line at its greatest point of peril.

Even as a New York Giants quarterback toyed with blondes on the television show The Bachelor, Tillman shipped out to Afghanistan.

"All deaths are tragic," said John Lock, a military historian and retired Army lieutenant colonel, a Ranger himself. "But some seem more tragic than others: 'An American Warrior, Ranger Pat Tillman, Killed in Action on the Field of Battle, 22 April 2004.' When one dies so tragically young, there is no finer epitaph. And my heart swells with pride knowing that this nation still produces such fine young men."

And later:

"John McCain also noticed that. The U.S. senator from Arizona, five years a prisoner of war in Vietnam, called himself "heartbroken" by the Ranger's death. He said he saw in Tillman's choice of duty "an inspiration to all of us to reclaim the essential public-spiritedness of Americans that many of us ... had worried was no longer our common distinguishing trait."

Indeed.

Compare some of these Tillman-related thoughts with Solzhenitsyn's famous (and still very topical) Harvard commencement address in 1978.

A key graf:

"A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?"

Yes, there has been something of a courage deficit among too many of our intellectual elites over the past decades (think of the moronic excesses of political correctness, of Clintonian pinprick attacks on pharmaceutical plants in Kharthoum, of the fanciful notion of zero-casualty wars...)

This is linked to a real dearth in public spiritedness in today's America (indeed, in the West generally).

Think of how Western society has become overly emasculated by legalisms, by bouts of boredom (often borne of material wealth) helping lead to a buffoonish culture--as evidenced by reality television (look 'ma--danger afoot!), legions of clueless commentators (on both sides of the political spectrum) flooding the airwaves and spouting off imbecilities with breathless abandon, flourishing cottage industries supplying botox injections and chin tucks, and so much more deeply underwhelming fare we are (all but) forced to imbibe daily.

It is, for instance, truly staggering that millions will tune in to spectate as some risible character looks to find his gold-digging bride on shows like The Bachelor.

Much of this, of course, derives from an obsession with self (often under the guise of misguided notions of 'self-improvement').

As Solzhenitsyn put it:

"When the modern Western States were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration). Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?"

Why indeed?

But Pat Tillman did, and he deserves to be honored for it.

Listen, I'm no shill for Solzhenistsyn.

He can get carried away at times (see some of his autocratic and overly religious reveille tendencies)--he might even be, all told, considered a flawed thinker (btw, he is widely mocked and viewed as irrelevant in today's Russia--albeit often unfairly, in my view).

But there is a lot to digest with respect and attention in his thought and literature.

I hope to have more on him soon.

Posted by Gregory at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

Self-Awareness Watch

"In art the mass of people no longer seek consolation and exaltation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which have passed through my head, and the less they understand me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited them as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere."

--Pablo Picasso, Jardin des Arts (March 1964), trans.

I wonder what Picasso would make of faux contemporary "artists" like John Currin?

Not much, I'd wager. Likely he'd put such work in the prima facie fraudster category rapidly indeed.

And, unlike many contemporary artists today hustling about 10th Avenue like midtown dealmakers--at least Picasso had the integrity to engage in some severely honest navel gazing.

I doubt many so-called artists today have either the integrity or range to rustle up the emotional and intellectual resources necessary to pursue such a rigorous self-appraisal.

But why spoil the fun when you can instead be noshing down at the canteen catching a glimpse of Anna Wintour and such?

Posted by Gregory at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2004

A Whitehall Rebellion!

Has Britain's foreign policy establishment turned on Tony Blair (via a signed letter delivered to the PM)?

That's how the FT is reporting the story.

Here is the text of the letter.

I excerpt it here (with my emphasis) for reader convenience:

"Dear Prime Minister: We the undersigned, former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in Parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a "road-map" for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well-established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the "road-map" merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when, rightly or wrongly, we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the President have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the United Nations to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Fallujah, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total between ten and fifteen thousand (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Fallujah alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice", apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British Government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

Yours faithfully, Sir Brian Barder, former high commissioner, Australia; Paul Bergne, former diplomat; Sir John Birch, former ambassador, Hungary; Sir David Blatherwick, former ambassador, Ireland; Graham Hugh Boyce, former ambassador, Egypt; Sir Julian Bullard, former ambassador, Bonn; Juliet Campbell, former ambassador, Luxemburg; Sir Bryan Cartledge, former ambassador, Soviet Union; Terence Clark, former ambassador, Iraq; David Hugh Colvin, former ambassador, Belgium; Francis Cornish, former ambassador, Israel; Sir James Craig, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Sir Brian Crowe: former director-general, external and defence affairs, Council of the European Union; Basil Eastwood, former ambassador, Syria; Sir Stephen Egerton, diplomatic service, Kuwait; William Fullerton, former ambassador, Morocco; Dick Fyjis-Walker, ex-chairman, Commonwealth Institute; Marrack Goulding, former head of United Nations Peacekeeping; John Graham, former Nato ambassador, Iraq; Andrew Green, former ambassador, Syria; Victor Henderson, former ambassador, Yemen; Peter Hinchcliffe, former ambassador, Jordan; Brian Hitch, former High Commissioner, Malta; Sir Archie Lamb, former ambassador, Norway; Sir David Logan, former ambassador, Turkey; Christopher Long, former ambassador, Switzerland; Ivor Lucas, former assistant secretary-general, Arab-British Chamber of Commerce; Ian McCluney, former ambassador, Somalia; Maureen MacGlashan, foreign service in Israel; Philip McLean, former ambassador, Cuba; Sir Christopher MacRae, former ambassador, Chad; Oliver Miles, diplomatic service in Middle East; Martin Morland, former ambassador, Burma; Sir Keith Morris, former ambassador, Colombia; Sir Richard Muir, former ambassador, Kuwait; Sir Alan Munro, former ambassador, Saudi Arabia; Stephen Nash, ambassador, Latvia; Robin O'Neill, former ambassador, Austria; Andrew Palmer, former ambassador, Vatican; Bill Quantrill, former ambassador, Cameroon; David Ratford, former ambassador, Norway; Tom Richardson, former UK deputy ambassador, UN; Andrew Stuart, former ambassador, Finland; Michael Weir, former ambassador, Cairo; Alan White, former ambassador, Chile; Hugh Tunnell, former ambassador, Bahrain; Charles Treadwell, former ambassador, UAE; Sir Crispin Tickell, former UN Ambassador; Derek Tonkin, former ambassador, Thailand; David Tatham, former governor, Falkland Islands; Harold "Hooky" Walker, former ambassador, Iraq; Jeremy Varcoe, former ambassador, Somalia.

Leave aside that one of the signatories goes by the moniker "Hooky"--conjuring up the images (and sounds) of Jerry Garcia's voice emiting the dulcet tunes of Scarlet Begonias to happy revelers arrayed about Haight-Ashbury.

This is serious stuff--as other Blair critics are pointing out.

What appears to have raised the collective ire (and served as the main catalyst for writing the letter) of the former senior officials was Blair's acquiescence to the Bush-Sharon understandings.

On the whole, as my previous analysis might indicate, I don't disagree with the British diplomats analysis here.

I would caution them, however, to not make too much of Clintonian peace processing diplomacy.

The letter-writers put it thusly: "[Clinton] had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well-understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved."

Would that it were so easy!

To be sure, Clinton did grapple with Middle East peacemaking efforts.

But he grappled in vain.

There is a lot of blame to go around for that--but much of it must be placed on the Clinton team.

Note the Camp David II negotiations were classically Clintonian--18 hour marathon negotiating sessions, doubtless Domino's pizza boxes liberally strewn about, yardsticks getting pulled out to measure side-alleys in Hebron.

While, so often, the devil is indeed in the details--the lack of effective backstopping by the Clinton team (particularly with regard to potential Jerusalem concessions) with Crown Prince Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak, for instance, limited Arafat's room to maneuver.

Put differently, Arafat realized that any concessions he made on Jerusalem impacted not only his Palestinian constituency, not only the Arab region, but the entire Islamic world.

So it would have helped if the Clinton team had been more organized in marshalling support in Riyadh and Cairo, to name a couple key capitals, to help push Arafat along.

Old news and sour grapes?

Maybe, but it bears mentioning that all was not necessarily rosy with the Middle East peace process back when the Nasdaq was at 5000.

That said, things are pretty unequivocally dismal now.

Bush did go too far on concessions with Sharon.

And it is (very, very) hard to reconcile the roadmap with the Bush-Sharon understandings (though it's not impossible, in my view, a nuance the British diplomats ignore--particularly if robust pressure on final status issues is applied on the Israelis going forward).

Also worth noting--I'm not so sure this part of the letter is strictly accurate: "(h)owever much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America."

Really? I'm not so sure.

Yes, democracy imposed under the barrel of a gun with scores (if not hundreds) killed in Fallujah is a naive hope indeed. But Fallujah isn't all of Iraq (nor are military targets in and around Najaf all of Iraq either).

And it's not strictly and exclusively the coalition that is striving to create a democracy in Iraq.

The interim authority is involved. Other Iraqi actors are too.

So, of course, is the U.N.

Put differently, the gig isn't up just yet. Iraq hasn't been relegated to a failed state, a Taliban-like state, a state consumed by civil war, or a state disintegrating into ethnically and/or religiously homogenous para-states.

Patience, fortitude, and a smidgen of optimism friends!

Things are never quite as bad (or good) as they may appear...

All this said, Blair will need to defend himself forthrightly shortly. Developing, as they say...

Note: Don't miss the use of the word "poisoned" in the letter above. Appears Brahimi's descriptive language is spreading beyond French radio....

Posted by Gregory at 07:59 PM | Comments (0)

Times Watch

"Whenever I read anything in a newspaper about which I know something, I find they get it wrong. So why should I believe them on subjects about which I know very little?"

An eloquently-put query, I'd say.

Patrick Belton has more.

Posted by Gregory at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

Plan of Attack

I've pretty much finished the book but haven't had time to blog it yet.

Frankly, I didn't find it nearly as interesting as Clarke's Against All Enemies.

The book, especially the first half or so, became a bit mind-numbing after a while.

At times, it appeared to be solely comprised of Don Rumsfeld asking Tommy Franks to improve the Iraq war plan.

Again. And again. And once more!

I got tired after a while...[ed. note: was it just me?]

Speaking of Tommy Franks, it's not just State and Pentagon that were tussling over Iraq policy.

Here's a little snippet that hasn't gotten too much coverage in the main media:

"I have to deal with the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth almost every day."

That's reportedly Tommy Franks describing Doug Feith in, er, pretty blunt terms.

Somewhat surpisingly perhaps, the most acrimonious relationship appears to be (with the ostensible exception of Franks-Feith!) that between Dick Cheney and Colin Powell (rather than Rumsfeld-Powell).

I'll have more on the book (I'm not quite as sure as Sully that Bush comes off so swimmingly in it) in the coming days.

Also look for negative analysis (surprise!) of Chirac and de Villepin's roles during the advent to war--as well as some interesting (isn't it always?) Bandar related material.

More soon.

UPDATE:

This classic Richard Armitage dressing-down shouldn't be missed either:

"A newly appointed assistant secretary of state who had worked for one of the conservative think tanks in Washington had come to see Armitage his first day of the job. 'I think with my contacts I'll really be able to fix the relationship and act as a bridge between Defense and State,' the new man said.

'You're on our team,' Armitage told him, realizing that he was ripping the poor man's head off. 'You don't bridge shit. I've known all those fuckers for 30 years. You ain't bridging shit.'

Lucidly put, no?

Consider it a little cautionary tale for any of you out there desirous of someday doing a stint in the Beltway--particularly if you have, er, a tendency to overestimate your importance now and again...

Posted by Gregory at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

Taxi Rate Hikes

Heh.

In my view, the long beleaguered NY cabbie very much merited this too belated raise (much more than his grossly overpaid London counterparts).

True, in London you have more leg room and the cab often, er, smells better--but the shortest hop and a skip often runs you what you'd pay to go to, say, La Guardia.

And am I alone in being somewhat annoyed that septuagenarians often appear to be behind the wheel of London's black cabs?

It slows one down a bit, doesn't it?

Give me a daredevil-like emigre from points Rawalpindi flying perilously down 7th Avenue any day.

[ed. note: Off-topic? Sure. But allow me a little mini-rant here and there, O.K.? Its been that kind of week so far...].

Posted by Gregory at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2004

Galbraith in the NYRB

Peter Galbraith has a must-read in the NYRB.

Money grafs:

"Last November, Les Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, created a stir by proposing, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece, a three-state solution for Iraq, modeled on the constitution of post-Tito Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav model would give each of Iraq's constituent peoples their own republic.[*] These republics would be self-governing, financially self-sustaining, and with their own territorial military and police forces. The central government would have a weak presidency rotating among the republics, with responsibilities limited to foreign affairs, monetary policy, and some coordination of defense policy. While resources would be owned by the republics, some sharing of oil revenues would be essential, since an impoverished Sunni region is in no one's interest.

This model would solve many of the contradictions of modern Iraq. The Shiites could have their Islamic republic, while the Kurds could continue their secular traditions. Alcohol would continue to be a staple of Kurdish picnics while it would be strictly banned in Basra...

Because of what happened to Yugoslavia in the 1990s, many react with horror to the idea of applying its model to Iraq. Yet Yugoslavia's breakup was not inevitable. In the 1980s, Slovenia asked for greater control over its own affairs and Milosevic refused. Had Milosevic accepted a looser federation, there is every reason to think that Yugoslavia?and not just Slovenia? would be joining the European Union this May.

Still, a loose federation will have many drawbacks, especially for those who dreamed of a democratic Iraq that would transform the Middle East. The country would remain whole more in name than in reality. Western- style human rights are likely to take hold only in the Kurdish north (and even there not completely). Women's rights could be set back in the south, and perhaps also in Baghdad."

Given Galbraith's extensive experience in Kurdistan and his spirited tour as U.S. Ambassador to Croatia--his views merit serious attention.

That said, I'm still very uncomfortable with talk of having the U.S. preside over a three-way partitioning of Iraq.

A while back, I described a similar proposal as a "very, very bad idea."

I'm not sure my views have changed much--despite the continuing difficulties in Iraq.

Still, Galbraith's piece appears to emphasize a confederation--rather than three outright independent states--as Leslie Gelb's proposal appeared to lean towards more forcefully.

But one fears this would merely become an issue of semantics--with the confederated entities, for all extensive purposes, constituting independent entities.

An quasi de jure independent Kurdistan would make Ankara very nervous--so U.S. troops would have to stay in Kurdistan to assuage Turkish concerns about pan-Kurdism (Galbraith thinks that's where U.S. troops are best based anyway, as they get the friendliest reception there, but not if they stay for years and are viewed by more hot-headed peshmerga as hampering irrendentist Kurdish aspirations!)

And, with regard to the prospective Shi'a entity in the south, one wonders whether it might risk becoming overly influenced by Iran. There is some residual Iraqi nationalism, of course, among Iraqi Shi'a.

But a relatively small Shi'a para-state, sharing a long border with Iran, might be viewed by many Sunnis (in places like Saudi Arabia), as something of an Iranian proxy.

Meanwhile, Sunni territory would appear too much the land-locked, rump-state--aggrieved and too bent on going-forward trouble-making, I fear. It's not hard to see Sunni rabble-rousing in mixed and disputed Sunni-Shia or Sunni-Kurdish regions, for instance.

Given the temptation, among many Shi'a, to engage in some score-settling against Sunnis--one fears that the prospects for a civil war might be heightened by Galbraith's confederation scheme.

Why, you ask?

Why not better to separate prospective belligerents?

Because Galbraith's federation proposal fosters, perhaps more than currently exists, the creation of three distinct national identities. While the Kurds, of course, have always had one--the Shi'a and Sunni communities have not infrequently historically displayed a distinctly Iraqi national identity (we have recently seen Shi'a-Sunni expressions of fellow-feeling--forged via anti-Americanism born of the Fallujah situation, ironically).

So, and despite the fact that one variable bringing together Sunni and Shi'a today is anti-American sentiment (the scale of which is being somewhat hyped by some media)--it's still too early to declare American efforts to forge a unitary Iraqi state dead, at least in my view.

Not to mention how awful the specter of U.S. forces presiding over population transfers--in an effort to create ethnically/religiously homogenous entities--would look. Hardly the stuff of Jefferson enthusiasts!

And, of course, what to do with Arabs in Kirkuk, Shi'a in Baghdad, and so on?


UPDATE: Matt Yglesias is correct to point out that there is a good dollop of Galbraith the Kurdophile running through this piece too.

Oh, and I agree with him that the handling of the Iraqi flag issue has been risibly poor.

My reaction as I read such accounts was, pretty much--WTF?

Posted by Gregory at 11:50 AM | Comments (0)

Troop Deployment Watch

Tony Blair might have British troops replace the departing Spanish ones.

Who will History remember more kindly: Blair or Zapatero?

Posted by Gregory at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

Bush's Gaza Problem

"These chickens will come home to roost in early May, when the president convenes a meeting of "the Quartet" (the United States, the EU, the United Nations and Russia) to seek their tangible support for the Gaza initiative. What he is likely to discover then is that his partners will demand their own letter of U.S. assurance as recompense for their involvement. King Abdullah of Jordan, who will be meeting with the president in early May, has already opened the bidding in this regard. And Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak can be counted on to add to these demands.

Since Bush has already opened the final status issues by assuring the Israelis about borders and refugees, backers of the Palestinians can now demand elaboration of the U.S. positions on other final status issues. They will ask questions such as: If the United States is ready to recognize border adjustments for Israeli "population centers" in the West Bank, will it also endorse "territorial compensation" for the Palestinians?

Then Bush will confront his ultimate political dilemma: In an election year, can he afford to water down his support for Israel for the sake of ensuring the international involvement that he needs in order to prevent a failed terrorist state from emerging?

Welcome to Gaza, Mr. President."

Martin Indyk, asking some difficult questions in the WaPo.

Meanwhile, don't miss discussion here and here on Israel's assassination policy.

And Saeb Erekat asks: "(w)hy did Bush take my job"?

Posted by Gregory at 11:02 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2004

Brahimi Watch

"The biggest poison in the region is the policy of Israeli power and the suffering of the Palestinians," Brahimi was quoted as telling a French radio station. The UN envoy, who is from Algeria, reportedly said many people both in the Mideast and outside it agree with the statement." [emphasis added]

Lakhdar Brahimi as quoted on French radio.

Does John Kerry agree?

For the record, as my regular readers know, I'm pretty concerned about Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians too.

But "biggest poison" is pretty strong language (particularly for a top diplomat, serving in such a sensitive post and at such a critical juncture), isn't it?

Then again--maybe he said it on purpose to enhance his street cred with Sistani and Co.

Which leads me to another point.

Iraq might yet (we intensely hope) become a viable, unitary democratic state.

But don't expect a democratic Iraq to have a lovie-dovie relationship with Israel (that said, it probably won't be hurling SCUD missiles at it either...)

Posted by Gregory at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

De-Baathification Watch

"Baathists in name only" can now rejoin the Iraqi government payroll.

Smart, (if belated) move.

Posted by Gregory at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

Yes to Jihad, Just Not in My Backyard

Fascinating Riyadh dispatch from Neil Macfarquhar over at the Times.

Read the whole (depressing) thing.

Posted by Gregory at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2004

Book Review Department

Oh no, I bought it!

Like Drezner, and particularly given the sad state of affairs with the dollar-pound exchange rate these days, let me also complain a bit about somewhat exorbitant book prices.

Plan of Attack (in the UK, btw, the cover pic is of Bush and Blair) ran me just shy of $40 at a bookstore near my office in Mayfair.

But hell, some of us need to roll up our sleeves and help roll-back such prattle. (Not that I'm prejudging my read, mind you!)

Analysis over the coming days.

Posted by Gregory at 07:29 PM | Comments (0)

Proliferation Watch

"They are very clever cheaters."

--A senior French official, describing Iranian non-compliance with the IAEA process.

I have thought all along that the European Foreign Ministerial troika was, pretty much, getting bamboozled by the Iranians.

And, of course, an extremely punitive course spearheaded by Washington (above and beyond a condemnatory UNSC resolution) will lead the Iranians to cause us more trouble in Iraq.

In fact, Teheran is likely calculating now is an optimal time to try to achieve nuclear capability as Washington has its hands, er, full in Iraq (and, of course, it's an election year).

I'm afraid there are simply no good options here.

Continued diplomacy will, probably, allow the Iranians to go nuclear (unless the region became a WMD-free zone; good luck getting Israel to give up her nukes, Syria to give up her chemical capability; and so on ).

An Iranian Osirak spearheaded by Sharon would get the job done (at least for some time assuming Israelis are aware of all the key nuclear production locations).

But regional dynamics would take another massive blow and Iranian trouble-making (via Hezbollah in Israel and via other proxies in Iraq) would mount considerably.

And, of course, Iran could still eventually go nuclear.

Do any readers have better ideas? If so, please clue me in....

UPDATE: Porphy has more.

Posted by Gregory at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

Bush's Middle East Diplomacy

"Diplomatically inept", says Rachel Bronson--echoing some of my concerns developed in this (too!) lengthy post.

Meanwhile, here's more from Walter Russell Mead worth reading:

"The first piece of advice would be that the United States doesn't need to be less pro-Israel, but we do need to figure out a way to be more pro-Palestinian...My clear impression is that most people in the region now understand that Israel is here to stay. They understand also that Palestinians are not in large numbers going back to the lands which are now part of Israel. And most people are ready to move beyond that. But what they find unaccountable is that the peace process, both at Oslo [the peace accord that grew out of secret Israeli-Palestinian talks in 1993] and since then, has talked so little about the Palestinian people. That is to say, U.N. resolutions talk about compensation for the Palestinians [who lived on land now inhabited by Israelis]. Really no work has been done on how to set up the tribunal that will certify these claims. Where's the money going to come from to pay them? What are the legal precedents in all of this? That should be part of a comprehensive peace process, and there is no reason the United States can't take the lead on that." [emphasis added]

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2004

Gilligan's Back!

No, not this one.

This one.

He's in Baghdad writing for the Spectator as their "defence and diplomatic" editor.

In a piece entitled "The Smell of Napalm in the Morning" (sorry, I meant the "Sound of Rockets in the Morning") Gilligan helps showcase why he got the Beeb in such trouble (subscription required):

1) Knee-jerk anti-Americanism:

"The Americans’ new Clerical Enemy No.1, Muqtada al-Sadr, might also come into the category of a manufactured difficulty...Stern pictures of al-Sadr holding up an admonishing index finger decorate many public buildings in Sadr City. You do wonder how anyone who can allow himself to be depicted in so cheesy a manner can become such a big deal. The answer, of course, is the Americans."

Of course, I mean, who else!

2) Dripping condescension:

"Later, in a different part of town, I have a chance to observe the truth of this maxim for myself. I am at the al-Mustansria University when it is raided by the Americans for the second time that day. Sausen al-Samir, the head of the English department, is showing me the damage they did on their first visit — smashed doors and windows, broken furniture, a trashed photocopier — when the campus is again surrounded and men in boots burst up the stairs. ‘F—ing get out of here,’ screams one of the soldiers, pointing his gun at us. ‘This is a Coalition operation.’

Al-Samir, furious, stands her ground, demanding to be taken to the commanding officer, Major Williams. ‘I want an apology for this morning,’ she says. ‘Ma’am, I’m not in the apology business given what we found here,’ he replies. Later the major takes me aside and shows me the haul: nine Kalashnikovs, a pistol, a rocket-propelled grenade and leaflets calling for violence against the Coalition. The raid is perfectly justified, but you can’t help thinking they could have done it more politely. Was it really necessary to break all the doors down? Don’t the university staff have keys? How do the soldiers know that the leaflets were produced on the photocopier they smashed — and anyway, don’t rather a lot of other people need the copier, too? ‘We will look into all that, sir,’ says the major. ‘But you do see what we’re up against.’ I do, which is why it makes sense not to manufacture even more difficulties for yourself."

Don't you wish you were that Major and had, er, a different answer to relay to so pompous and self-righteous Gilligan?

3) Finally, Gilligan (who is only about 35 years old), inadvertently describes himself (via a description of Moktada Sadr!):

"Rather like a Western supermodel, though of course in reverse, it is impossible to obtain an accurate report of his age. His followers claim he is 32, but unkind critics say he is only 24. Like so many other kids these days, al-Sadr may be a little low on all that religion stuff, but he does understand the virtue of branding."

To be sure, like so many "kids" these days--Gilligan understands the power of branding too.

He's branded himself as something of a martyrized ex-Beeb hack who remains valiantly bull-headed in reporting the unvarnished truth--as long as said "truth" makes George Bush (or Tony Blair) look as bad as possible.

The martyr:

"Looking at things from a distinctively Iraqi perspective, they all seemed convinced that the British government had put me in prison. I had to reassure them that Lord Hutton did not have quite such impressive powers as Saddam Hussein."

And the almost irrational Bush-Blair animus:

"The insurgents, on the other hand, know exactly when the US and British elections are going to be. There are now 40 hostages, of 12 different nationalities, held in Iraq. But the real hostages are George Bush and Tony Blair."

Incorrigible, no?

Posted by Gregory at 04:38 PM | Comments (0)

The Bush-Sharon Summit

I was traveling the day after the Bush-Sharon summit and for a while thereafter.

So apologies if I'm a little late to this party.

The morning after their meetings, at a train station on my way to catch a flight, I caught glimpses of the headlines from the Guardian and the Independent.

The Guardian had a banner about Bush and Sharon simply ripping up the roadmap.

The Independent had Bush and Sharon reaching their own, private "settlement" [ed. note: cute, isn't it?] on Israel.

Their big headline was accompanied by a huge picture of Sharon and Bush walking towards the podiums at the White House--with Sharon pacing purposefully ahead appearing to lead the neo-conned kid down some special (and so private) lane of the road(map).

With both men dressed in white shirt and blue tie (matching the colors of the Israeli flag!) and flag-pins dutifully affixed to their respective lapels--it was too good a picture to pass up...

And if the British press was having such a field-day--imagine how it was all going down in Riyadh, Cairo and Damascus!

Of course, as Oxblogger David Adesnik has pointed out cogently, the reality is much more complex.

But still, this time, there was more than just the merest grain of truth to how lefty anti-Israel British media outlets played the story (see below).

Unfettered right of return, as we've all known for years, means no more predominately Jewish Israeli state--so has always been a show-stopper from Tel Aviv and Washington's perspective.

Ditto the '67 borders were always going to be open to some territorial adjustments--including the likely fact key settlement blocs would remain under Israeli control.

And, as Colin Powell and Richard Armitage have stated, you can perhaps (if barely) reconcile Bush's blessing of Sharon's Gaza pull-out plan and statements on the right of return and settlements with the roadmap (more on that below too).

But there are two major issues with all of this that have barely been discussed in the blogosphere: 1) the role of the U.S. as "honest broker" and 2) the role of "creative ambiguity" in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The Honest Broker Role

Let me put the first one this way to all you peace process junkies out there:

What do Madrid, Oslo, the '94 Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Oslo II, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum, Camp David II and Taba all have in common?

They were all multiparty talks with the U.S. (or other third parties) shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis as something of an honest broker.

Now, flash back to the Bush-Sharon meetings of last week.

Forgive me if I've got this wrong--but I'm under the impression that the Palestinians were not even consulted about the outcome of the Bush-Sharon meetings.

Given how, as Walter Rusell Mead writes today in the NYT, it is widely perceived in the Middle East that we don't give two damns about the plight of the Palestinians (this is also the key reason theocratic barbarians like UBL, who themselves really don't give two damns about the Palestinians, are blessed with a larger recruitment pool), might not it make sense to at least inform the Palestinians about highly material changes to the roadmap?

Now you can tell me Arafat is a horrific terrorist kingpin not worth talking too.

And that you don't like the smell of Qurei much either (though Dennis Ross appears to like him!)

But folks, sooner or later, you have to make a good-faith serious effort to find Palestinian interlocuters and clue them into your plans rather than strike side-deals with the Israelis.

Otherwise, how can you be viewed as an impartial and effective middle-man for both parties?

Forget Arafat--who, as the old quip goes, "has never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity."

Might Bush not have found a couple persons in the Palestinian Authority worth, at the very least, clueing in regarding his new understandings with Sharon?

Just, you know, to ensure all parties (even if they didn't agree), were at least being informed about material changes to the roadmap regarding highly sensitive so-called final status issues like settlements and right of return.

The Role of Creative Ambiguity

Dan Drezner, also reacting to David's excellent post, writes:

"Here's the question -- in matters of diplomacy and world politics, is it always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit?

One can make the case that an end to hypocrisy is an intrinsically good thing in world politics. However, international relations is also an arena where -- in the short term -- perception matters just as much as reality. While consistency and clarity can bolster an actor's reputation in world politics, ambiguity and, dare I say, nuance also have their advantages in bargaining and power projection. There are clear tradeoffs at work here." [emphasis Drezner's]

Well of course it's not always the right thing to make explicit what had been implicit.

Think "creative ambiguity" in the Kissingerian mold.

A paradigmatical example is the 1972 Shanghai Communique.

For instance, even some who view the "one China" formulation as an absurd fiction agree that it served its purposes during the Cold War:

"Beginning with the Shanghai Communique of 1972, the United States declared its understanding that both sides of the China-Taiwan dispute agreed that there was but one China. At the time of the Shanghai Communique, this was true in an odd sort of way. Both the Communist government of Beijing and the authoritarian government of Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang agreed that there was one China, and they both insisted it was theirs. The United States used this cute "one-China" formulation as a way of avoiding the issue. Anyway, the Cold War was on, and U.S. officials believed they needed China's help in containing the Soviet Union. If the price was a certain ambiguity and even some deception on the subject of Taiwan, so be it."

As diplomats-in-training are often thought, "creative ambiguity" is often critical in breaking deadlocks.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the biggest example of "creative ambiguity" is, as is well known, simply the omission of the particle "the" in a key part of Resolution 242:

"Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

1. Affirms that the fulfilment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict..."

Note the reference is simply to "territories," not "the territories."

Palestinians and Israelis have, for decades now, both accepted 242 as the basic "land for peace" formulation that butresses both pre and post-Madrid negotiations.

The former read it to mean all the Territories occupied in 1967.

The latter, of course, only some of the Occupied Territories.

And such ambiguity has allowed, over the years (hard to imagine where we sit today), a good deal of forward movement on the peace processing front.

If we had been explicit, back when 242 was being debated, that major settlements would remain--well, does anyone believe 242 would have passed?

That the Soviets would have gone for it?

Or the Palestinians?

Another example of such ambiguity, of course, deals with the right of return.

A thoughtful reader once asked me what the difference was between Taba 2001 and Geneva 2003. I responded many months back--but here is the key part exerpted below that is relevant for today's discussion:

"There are two main differences. First, and unlike at Taba, the so called "right of return" issue was settled. At Taba, both sides read into the old UNGAR 194 per their respective biases with the Israelis stressing the Palestinians "wishing" to return (per the actual text) to Israel proper (1948 borders) with the Palestinians speaking (per subsequent resolutions) of an inalienable right of return. That critical issue had been left unresolved at Taba."

Now, of course, Drezner (or, more precisely, some of his commenters--Drezner doesn't give us his view) might say that it's good that there is no longer such ambiguity.

Now the Palestinians know that the right of return ain't happening.

And that some settlements will remain beyond the Green Line post any general settlement.

What refreshing honesty and lack of "hypocrisy"!

The Palestinian Reaction

Problem is, of course, that the Palestinians aren't going to suddenly, all jolly-like, roll up our sleeves and now get around a more pragmatic negotiating table.

The thinking won't be, great, Bush and Sharon have been good enough to clarify the parameters of a future deal! And they even let us know about it in a public press conference too--how sweet of them not to keep it under wraps!

Especially since there were more creative bridging proposals, that would not have threatened Israel's existence in its 1948 borders, on right of return that now appear dead or palpably ignored (see my earlier post on Yossi Beilin's Geneva proposal and/or a compensation fund for '48 refugees).

Another major problem?

Well, per the very text of the "Road Map" itself, Bush and Sharon appear to have pre-empted (at the very least per the agreed stages of the roadmap if not the ultimate substantive arrangements reached) the previously agreed framework whereby, per the Phase III of the Roadmap and pursuant to a Second International Conference, the parties were to:

" endorse [an] agreement reached on an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and formally to launch a process with the active, sustained, and operational support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria, to be achieved as soon as possible." [emphasis added]

Right now, of course, the "provisional borders" of a prospective Palestinian state are simply a little piece of real estate called Gaza.

And yet Sharon has gotten concessions (or at least U.S. blessing of them), seemingly in exchange for the Gaza pull-out, on settlements and right of return.

Now, you can say that the Palestinians inability to effectively reform their security institutions is to blame for stalling the roadmap (I would argue that Sharon's unhelpfulness in making more concessions during the Abu Mazen period played an important role too).

But still, if you are going to speed down the roadmap thus (skip forward to Phase III, at least to some degree, re: settlements and refugees without serious, commensurate movement on the provisional borders issue) don't you at least coordinate such a move with the other party to the dispute?

The Stakes

Of course you do--especially at a time when America's reputation in this critical region is at such a lowpoint.

Not because of Iraq (even post-Fallujah), as I've written before contra Josh Marshall.

But mostly, as Walter Russell Mead pointed out today, because of a widespread perception in the region that we don't care about the Palestinians (whether their national aspirations or their "plight," code for house demolitions, curfews, targetted assassinations that often fell innocents in dense urban areas like Gaza, and so on).

Bush and Sharon's summit last week won't help us much on this score, I fear.

Put differently, the road to Jerusalem (read: peace in the Holy Land) doesn't run through Baghdad.

And peace between Israelis and Palestinians is critical to the U.S. national interest--particularly post 9/11.

And, it bears mentioning, just like American and British interests aren't always exactly aligned--neither are U.S. and Israeli ones always in perfect alignment either.

That's not to say Bush gave Sharon everything he asked for.

But he sure gave him a lot of what he asked for.

And he gave it in a manner that further sidelined the Palestinians.

So, all told, I think the Bush-Sharon summit (unless followed by fervent post Gaza-withdrawal diplomacy to get the roadmap moving again) was not in the best interests of the United States--assuming our main goal is to achieve, as expeditiously as possible, a general peace settlement in the region between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and Syria/Lebanon.

A settlement that guarantees Israel's security while providing Palestinians with a real national homeland that merits the appellation of a nation-state.

Otherwise, as conflicts like Israel-Palestine and Kashmir simmer on, the pool of potential recruits who might be lured by UBL's fanatical ideology remains too uncomfortably large (at least for my tastes).

I'm not talking about the theological radicals who want every nefarious infidel out of a region spanning Tangier to Jakarta in some kind of glorious pan-Islamic, Taliban-like Caliphate.

I'm talking about the Mohammed Attas of the world--relatively educated, middle class Cairenes and the like.

It's not just the Palestinian situation that makes their blood boil, of course. It's also limited economic opportunity, autocratic regimes, and so on.

But to think the Palestine situation doesn't have a material impact on al-Qaeda's recruitment pool is to deny reality.

And, therefore, to scuttle effective forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process is not in the national interests of the United States (or, by the way, Israel's either).

Let's hope that post-Gaza withdrawal Bush uses that momentum to a) ensure Palestinians don't use the Gaza Strip to launch attacks on Israel proper and b) assuming "a", gets the Israelis and Palestinians together to forge better understandings on settlements and right of return that are jointly agreed, in principle, by both parties.

Yes, even if some of the understandings are a bit, er, implicit. And ambiguous.

It will likely prove better all around.

UPDATE:

Ze'ev Schiff provides further clarity:

"For Sharon, that is an accomplishment because he does not want to conduct direct negotiations with the Palestinians. In the current circumstances, he can claim that Arafat, and with him the entire Palestinian leadership, are not credible partners for negotiations. Sharon even rejects moderate proposals, like the one formulated by the British and Palestinians and meant to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, albeit through contacts with Arafat. Even when there is a tempting security program, but one that requires some negotiations, it will be rejected by Sharon on the grounds it involves Arafat.

That has allowed Sharon to raise his proposals for unilateral steps, like the disengagement from Gaza and the northern part of the West Bank. After all, if Arafat is removed and an alternative Palestinian leadership emerges, there won't be any logic to unilateral steps. If a pragmatic, stable Palestinian leadership comes to power, Israel will not be able to argue it cannot negotiate with it. It's obvious to Sharon that with the rise of such a different leadership, pressure will form, including from Washington for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Such pressure will not come as long as Arafat is in control. Everyone will talk about the road map but its execution will take place in unilateral steps. Therefore, Sharon's insurance policy from pressure is Arafat's continued rule and his continued presence in the territories. So why expel him?

Negotiations would mean large and painful concessions for Israel, far more than the evacuation of four settlements in Samaria, as Sharon proposes in his disengagement plan. That will certainly be the situation after the completion of the separation fence. In such negotiations, Jerusalem, the large settlement blocs, and the dozens of other settlements will certainly come up for discussion. The Palestinians will win much more international support in such negotiations. Washington would also not be able to make do with what appears in the current disengagement plan. That is what Sharon wants to avoid or postpone for as long as possible. With his presence in the territories, Arafat is a pawn on Sharon's chessboard."

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

Bremer's Biggest Mistake

Yeah, yeah; this is C.W. now.

But this isn't just a case of hindsight being 20-20.

A joint CFR-Baker Insitute report was recommending that the Iraqi army not be disbanded before the war.

And, to a fashion, so was B.D.

Posted by Gregory at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

Syria Policy Watch

Juan Cole gets a bit carried away comparing American foreign policy-making to Iran's (Rummy like the hard-core Mullahs controlling the military; Powell like the reformist Khatami controlling much foreign-policy making).

But, despite some of his hyperbolic rhetoric (the "Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde American hyperpower that rages about an axis of evil and goes about preemptively invading countries on the one hand and then comes politely, hat in hand, to request selfless assistance on the other") Cole does have a point.

Consider this excellent NYT article from today co-written by ace reporter Desmond Butler (an old high school buddy):

"The security of Syria's border is already the source of considerable tension between Washington and Damascus. In recent days, Syrian and American officials have disagreed about whether Damascus is committed to tightening its borders with Jordan and Iraq.

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said Monday that President Bush had sent a letter urging the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, "to work closely with the rest of the international community to promote a stable Iraq." Another official said that the administration was also concerned about terrorist infiltration into Jordan.

But Syrian officials and a former American ambassador to Syria said that Damascus had gotten no response from recent overtures to work more closely with the United States on border security.

"I believe the Syrians have on at least two occasions indicated a desire to discuss cooperation across its borders in a serious way," said the former ambassador, Theodore Kattouf, who met with President Assad in Damasucs last month. "I'm unaware that the administration has accepted such an offer." He said Mr. Assad had told him that within the last year Syria had arrested 1300 people for trying or helping others try to cross the border into Iraq.

An American official acknowledged the Syrian overtures but said the administration was not convinced of their seriousness.

The Bush administration is preparing to impose new sanctions against Syria, which it says is a supporter of terrorism. Several officials said yesterday that the administration could announce the sanctions as soon as this week.

Two weeks ago, the administration sent another signal of its displeasure when the Pentagon transferred jurisdiction for Syria and Lebanon, in which Syrian forces have been stationed for years, from its European command to the Central Command, which coordinated the invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It was a not very subtle signal," one defense department official said."

[emphasis added]

I'd love to think all this (Bush playing pen pal with Bashar; the Pentagon transferring Syria jurisdiction to CentCom) was some coordinated policy move ingeniously combining the use of Powellian carrot with Rumsfeldian stick.

But, er, I think not.

Posted by Gregory at 07:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2004

Middle East Peace Process Watch

Back in London.

Reaction to David Adesnik's analysis of the Bush-Sharon going-ons sometime tonight.

Posted by Gregory at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2004

On the Road

Travel through next Tuesday--limited to no blogging until evening of 20th.

Reaction to the Bush-Sharon meeting will have to wait until then.

As I'm heading to sunny climes far from London, this little Ezra Pound poem, entitled "Aux Belles de Londres" sprung to mind:

"I am aweary with the utter and beautiful weariness
And with the ultimate wisdom and with things terrene,
I am aweary with your smiles and your laughter,
And the sun and the winds again
Reclaim their booty and the heart o' me."

Or, er, something like that.

Back soon.

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

April 14, 2004

Religion and Bush

Remember the part of the President's press brief last night when he said:

"Because I've seen freedom work right here in our own country. I also have this belief, strong belief that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world.

And as the greatest power on the face of the earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom."

I knew then, that the following day, certain press outlets would say this type of thing:

"Drawing later on a line he often slips into his campaign speeches, he reminded a global audience that "freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. And as the greatest power on the face of the Earth, we have an obligation to help the spread of freedom."

With those words, Mr. Bush drove home the singlemindedness that has become the hallmark of his presidency, his greatest strength in the eyes of his admirers and a dangerous, never-change-course stubbornness in the eyes of his detractors. He could have simply talked Tuesday evening about the crimes of Saddam Hussein or the fear that chaos in Iraq would breed terror in one of the most volatile corners of the world.

But he did far more, reaching for the kind of language about America's moral mission in the world that seemed drawn from the era of Teddy Roosevelt, whose speeches he keeps on the coffee table of his ranch in Texas. He described an America chosen by God to spread freedom. He never used the word "crusade," which touched off a firestorm of criticism in the Muslim world when he uttered it soon after Sept. 11, 2001. But he described one." [Emphasis mine]

This kind of analysis has disturbed me for a good while now.

Why?

Because intellectual elites, on both sides of the pond, often attempt to portray Bush (or, often, Wolfowitz) as messianic personages.

Bush, in particular, is often described as being consumed by some kind of religious fervor (any recent traveler to Europe will have seen myriad magazine covers fronting an image of Bush--mega-cross behind him in some church--with the photograph chosen at the very moment Bush's facial contortions best approximate the Spanish Inquisitioner look.

The intent of such portrayals is pretty clear. It's based on a gross relativism that attempts to portray George Bush as a theocratic barbarian on par with Osama bin Laden--ie., they're both zealots, they both need reining in, when will secularist, rational actors (read: John Kerry) please come onto the stage and save the world from apocalypse?

But parsing Bush's speeches and comments for religious themes and saying (like David Sanger did today in the NYT), that he called for a "crusade" ignores a rich tradition of American Presidents using religious imagery in their speeches.

And it's not just Jimmy Carter and/or Woodrow Wilson.

Check out, for instance, JFK's inaugural address:

"And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God."

Here's LBJ's "We Shall Overcome" speech:

"Above the pyramid on the great seal of the United States it says in Latin: "God has favored our undertaking." God will not favor everything that we do. It is rather our duty to divine His will.

But I cannot help believing that He truly understands and that He really favors the undertaking that we begin here tonight."

Or FDR in the "Four Freedoms" speech:

"This nation has placed its destiny in the hands, heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory."

Were these speeches, by some of the titans and greatest leaders of the Democratic party ever to occupy the Presidency, constitutive of "crusades" too?

Or does hapless Georgie the evangelical have a monopoly on all the radical religiosity in the air?

Next thing we'll hear is that he's pursuing a Crawford caliphate--spanning from the Rio Grande to Northeast Harbor--where non-born-agains needn't apply for residency.

And if any infidels dare stalk the sacred Texan ranch-land--off to Mecca and Medina he'll go--guns-a-blazing.

Posted by Gregory at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

Terror Averted

He looks to become as plucky as his father--and appears to have dodged a helluva big bullet.

Posted by Gregory at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

Our Man in Baghdad

Yglesias takes a potshot at John Negroponte-- but his prospective appointment is actually a victory for key Administration moderates like Colin Powell:

"The likely choice of Mr. Negroponte is being seen as a victory for Mr. Powell, who argued that the job required a candidate with diplomatic experience, bureacratic skills and experience dealing with military commanders, as well as someone who could quickly be confirmed, administration officials said....

Mr. Negroponte is widely regarded as a cool-headed professional who has been involved in sensitive matters in the past. He is experienced in dealing with European and Arab diplomats and top officials at the United Nations, whose support is considered crucial for the stability of Iraq."

Put simply, his appointment is a good call.

Don't buy into the recycled "death squad" hype.

Even his most vocal Congressional critics, like Chris Dodd (whom Matt quotes), opined thus during past confirmation hearings:

"Having said that Ambassador Negroponte has had a distinguished career and on balance has discharged his responsibilities ably and honorably. For that reason, I intend to give him the benefit of the doubt in light of how extremely polarized relations between the Congress and the Executive were over U.S. policy in Central America when he was serving as Ambassador in Honduras. I will therefore support his nomination to the position of the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations."

Posted by Gregory at 10:43 AM | Comments (0)

The Fruits of Appeasement

"The bombers were plotting new attacks because, it appears from evidence found in the apartment, they were unhappy with suggestions by the newly elected Socialist government that it would double the number of Spanish soldiers in Afghanistan to 250.

José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who will be sworn in Friday as prime minister, has pledged repeatedly since his election victory that he will remove Spanish troops from Iraq unless they are placed under a United Nations mandate by June 30. But he told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at a meeting here on March 24, for example, that Spain was prepared to play a bigger role in Afghanistan, and other leading Socialists have said that the plan is to double Spain's troop strength."
[emphasis added]

-- Elaine Sciolino, writing in the NYT

As Churchill put it:

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 09:38 AM | Comments (0)

What If...

...say, Maureen Dowd (or some like-minded soul), in full-quotes-be-damned; long-live-endless-ellipses glory--had the run of the August 6th PDB?

She might have come up with something like this:

"...Bin Ladin wanted to hijack...US aircraft to...attack...World Trade Center...with explosives..."

I mean, the recriminations would almost be "thermonuclear" or some such.

(Hat Tip: A commenter at The National Debate)

Come to think of it, having just returned from a weekend in France, I can report that that's pretty much how august outlets like Le Monde have been reporting the August PDB.

And, of course, it's not just in France.

Small wonder significant segments of the German public believe the U.S. government had a hand in orchestrating 9/11.

With all the hyperbolic claptrap about the August 6th PDB being fanned in the predictable quarters--expect such lugubrious conspiracy-think to flourish further amidst the fecund fields of the America-bashing gruppen.

A quick related note on this August 6th PDB business:

Remember this part of the PDB?:

"We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ... (redacted portion) ... service in 1998 saying that Bin Ladin wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Shaykh" 'Umar 'Abd al-Rahman and other US-held extremists."

I ask you: how would a typical POTUS digest this information?

That the likelihood of a hijacking occurring (even of the straight-forward, plain vanilla variety, mind you) was, by itself, deemed to be uncorroborated and "sensational" in nature.

Put differently, a rational consumer of the intel would conclude that Langley didn't consider it likely to happen.

And recall, hijacking (not the suicidal missile kind but the take hostages and extract concessions kind) was at least a two decades old phenomenon in international terrorism.

So Bush, even if he decided the threat report wasn't "sensational" would then, reasonably, have thought UBL and Co. might simply try to hijack a flight and then use the passengers/aircraft as collateral to blackmail the U.S. authorities into releasing Sheik Rahman.

But how could his imagination be so greviously limited?!?

Surveillance was underway at "federal buildings in New York" (city, ostensibly)!

"Explosives" use might be contemplated!

Ergo, of course, two planes would be used as missiles to reduce the World Trade Center to the rubble that was Ground Zero (and, for good measure, one would bang into the Pentagon too!)

It was all so clear--had hapless Georgie not been so dim, so AWOL, so dismissive of the bureaucratic uber-mensch (turned consultant!) Richard Clarke.

Bottom line about the August 6th PDB: much ado about nothing folks.

That's why John Kerry doesn't talk about it.

He's smarter than those on the Left rattling on about it.

Posted by Gregory at 12:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2004

Poseur Alert

"We are a culture insulated from our own basis. It is a condition of metropolitan modernity, more so even of post-modernity. In a consumer society, where general-purpose money has eaten away every bond of community, where alienation -- and even narcissism -- is defined as normalcy, where nature is seen as something apart from and below us, the very personhood of each of us is deracinated and left to drift through the retail landscape like a grieving banshee. Planned obsolescence applies even to our identities.

We really have no idea who pays for this privilege of superficiality, but those billions who are doing the paying -- far out of our reified view -- are getting a clearer idea all the time.

Of course, this culture is pure charade. We can pretend we are as disembedded as we like, but we are invariably physical -- diaphragms heaving incessantly, articulating gases in our guts, dissipating heat, concentrating urine, sloughing off dead cells, yawing and eating and scratching and sleeping and fucking and finally, dying."

--a Stan Goff, penning a piece that will doubtless get appreciative guffaws from the dimmer segments of the Frederic Jameson and Stanley Fish constellations.

Note: It gets more, er, embarrasing:

"I study Rosa Luxemburg, Alf Hornborg, Robert Connell, Joy James, Robin D. G. Kelley, Mao Zedong… and I study the academic research and the social theory and science and philosophy. Because simply understanding the final argument of the gun is not enough. We soldiers need to understand before and after the gun, and we need to understand -- as much as we can -- where our personhood is rooted in social constructions and where society is rooted in the biosphere and how there is no clear line of demarcation between biology and symbols. We need the context.

So as a leftist I build this bridge toward my brothers and sisters under arms. I don’t judge… I can’t."

Don't, dear sir, don't!

Posted by Gregory at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

In-House Query

Can anyone recommend a top-notch web-design firm that is not Sekimori?

Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at 02:46 PM | Comments (0)

Kerry: Turn Iraq Over to the U.N.

This is the best Randy Beers can come up with?

Sadly, it barely merits a substantive response.

The money graf:

"In recent weeks the administration -- in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts -- has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. The United States can bolster Brahimi's limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police."

Kerry isn't even gracious enough to praise Bush for letting U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi run the ball a bit on developing a "formula for an interim Iraqi government."

So there is the little verbal epingle about "acknowledging the failure of its own efforts"--rather than flatly stating the Adminstration is moving in the direction that Kerry desires.

But second, and quite damning, Kerry would have us state in advance that we will support any Brahimi plan.

What if, for instance, Brahimi's deal with Sistani and Co. calls for a draw-down of U.S. troops to levels inconsistent with ensuring Iraqi security during the nascent days post-sovereignty hand-over?

Or does too little to protect minority rights allowing for a crude Shia majoritarianism to emerge (to compensate, perhaps, for his perceived pro-Sunni leanings)?

No matter.

Kerry's policy prescription would leave us high and dry without recourse.

Turtle Bay (or the French and Germans) will decide for us how best to manage our exit and the key electoral modalities.

So basically, Kerry is calling for two handovers then.

First, handover sovereignty to the Iraqis (per Bush's plan) and, second--handover U.S. decision-making on Iraq to the decisive, resolute club over at United Nations Plaza.

But Kerry, who doesn't quite come out and say it in his WaPo piece, really aims to do one better.

He simply wants to replace Jerry Bremer with Lakhdar Brahimi!

Don't believe me?

How else to analyze his policy when you look at this news ticker item I pointed out yesterday (about Kerry wanting to replace Jerry Bremer to de-Americanize the occupation) with this NYT article.

Key graf:

"Asked what he would do in Mr. Bush's place, Mr. Kerry pointed to the presence in Iraq of Lakhdar Brahimi, a top adviser to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

"He's one of the most skilled and capable people with respect to Iraq and the Middle East," Mr. Kerry said. "He can talk to all the parties. He would be a perfect example of somebody to whom you could ask to really take over what Paul Bremer's doing, de-Americanize the effort and begin to put it under the United Nations umbrella."

Kerry's Iraq policy then, cutting through all the chaff, is pretty simple: Bremer out, Brahimi in (read: U.S. out, U.N. in).

Put differently, let the U.N. have veto power over key issues that will determine the outcome of the most critical American foreign policy challenge facing the United States in recent memory.

As someone who kicked around Croatia and Bosnia through the 90's, observing the impotence of the United Nations at close hand as "safe" havens like Zepa and Srebrenica so ingloriously fell to Bosnian Serb genocidaires, I'd have to advise Randy Beers and John Kerry that this proposed "policy" is a non-starter among those who seriously care about stolidy pursuing the objective of a viable, unitary and democratic Iraqi state.

Put differently, if you care about the future of Iraq, a Bush vote is looking better than a Kerry vote right now--despite all the recent difficulties, despite the fact that Bush didn't put in enough troops early on, despite not having enough constabulatory forces on the ground (including better trainers for nascent Iraqi forces), despite early errors like disbanding the entire Iraqi army.

You know, I would have respected Kerry more, for instance, if he developed a serious argument as to why the sovereignty handover needs to be delayed, about some joint U.S.-U.N. transition period to allow for more time to get the security situation under control--whilst negotiating voting arrangements and the like with Sistani and other key Iraqi leaders with such increased U.N. cover in place.

But Kerry appears more amenable to peddling a chimerical 'solution' of simply handing over the mess to the U.N.--a recipe for disaster.

Kerry also writes:

"We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers."

Of course it would.

Which is why Colin Powell has already been working this issue since at least the beginning of this year.

Ditto this:

Kerry:

"But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them."

Again, of course. Don Rumsfeld has already been saying this ad naseum for at least a year.

Now maybe he didn't really mean it (I have know way of knowing).

But regardless the Bush team is now addressing this issue (if belatedly and in too few number).

So Kerry's Iraq policy (if you can call it that) boils down to this: 1) proposing policies that Bush's team already have in place while 2) proposing to handover our policymaking authority to the U.N.

Put differently, where's the beef?

Answer: There isn't any--except for expropriating currently existing Bush policy (and pretending it's a new Kerry idea) or suggesting we handover decision-making, re: the most critical foreign policy challenge on our plate, to the United Nations.

It's not pretty, is it?

A final note.

While Kerry has very little of note to say-- Dave Ignatius has a piece in the same WaPo space worth reading today on how a 'New Deal' for Iraq is urgently needed.

UPDATE:

Reader DA writes in:

"The UN Food for Oil Scandal should make EVERYONE much more skeptical about ANY role for the UN ANYWHERE -ESPECIALLY IRAQ!"

Not a bad point.

MORE:

Several readers have pointed out this passage from Kerry's op-ed to me:

"The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility." [emphasis added].

True, Kerry says the U.S. must retain the "primary responsibility for security."

But I remain fearful that his inclination to allow U.N. negotiators free rein in hammering out going forward nation-building arrangements will have collateral impact on our security posture in country that Washington won't necessarily fully control.

STILL MORE:

Reader ML writes in:

"I do wish that Kerry and others would not use words like "restore," "rebuild," and "re-create" rather than "develop," "build," and "create" in passages such as the following:

The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people.

Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but I think the sense such statements leave is that we have destroyed all these things. I especially take issue with "re-create a sense of hope and optimism."

Next there will be talk of beating back Iraqi national malaise or bringing myriad misery indicia to bear to better gauge the situation...

Posted by Gregory at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

B.D. Gets Results!

A few days back we noted this.

Today, Glenn reports this.

Good on Okrent and Dowd.

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

April 12, 2004

Back in London

I'll have more on the PDB madness soon.

In the meantime, I note a couple items of interest from the Haaretz news ticker tonight:

"Diplomatic sources: U.S. envoy to UN John Negroponte emerging as front-runner to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq."

Negroponte is an old pro--and obviously knows how to work the back corridors of the U.N.

Part of the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq's mandate will be to help 'internationalize' the effort. In that vein, John Negroponte would be a good choice given his extensive contacts over at Turtle Bay.

Here's the other item of interest from the Haaretz ticker:

"John Kerry says U.S. needs to `de-Americanize` Iraq transformation by replacing U.S. official Paul Bremer."

How, er, cosmetic.

Kerry's going to have to come up with deeper policy re-thinks than this to get serious people to give him a real look as a viable alternative to Bush on the Iraq policy front.

Posted by Gregory at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2004

Travel

I'm off to the Basque Country over Easter weekend (mostly on the French side--though will likely get to Bilbao and San Sebastian too). Limited to no blogging through Monday night. Happy Easter to all.

Posted by Gregory at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

Condeleeza Rice Testimony Before the 9/11 Commission

As I mentioned yesterday, Condeleeza Rice hit at least a clean triple yesterday in her testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

This is true both in terms of her style--her poised, controlled delivery--as well as the substance of her remarks.

The Tactics and Style

First, let's look at her style and tactical performance.

For one, she avoided the mawkish, Richard Clarke apologia to the 9/11 families.

Instead, with more discretion and not under the klieg lights of her live testimony, she commiserated with the 9/11 families after concluding her remarks and answers to the Commissioner's interrogatories.

Put simply, a class act--particularly given that she didn't take any jabs at Clarke.

9/11 families still have many questions and concerns, to be sure, but they appeared grateful and appreciative of the time Condi Rice spent with them.

She, not suprisingly, remained her hyper-poised, professional self throughout her testimony.

But, if only rarely, she was willing to let down the veneer of Beltway toughness and speak from the heart.

Discussing how, historically, it is so difficult to build a democracy Rice said:

"When our Founding Fathers said We the people, they didn't mean me. Its taken us a while to get to a multiethnic democracy that works. But if America is avowedly values-centered in its foreign policy, we do better than when we do not stand up for those values. So I think that it's going to be very hard. It's going to take time. We - one of the things that we've been very interested, for instance, in is issues of educational reform in some of these countries. As you know, the madrassas are a big difficulty. I've met, myself personally, two or three times with the Pakistani - a wonderful woman who's the Pakistani education minister. We can't do it for them. They have to do it for themselves. But we have to stand for those values. And over the long run, we will change - I believe we will change the nature of the Middle East, particularly if there are examples that this can work in the Middle East.

And this is why Iraq is so important. The Iraqi people are struggling to find a way to create a multiethnic democracy that works. And it's going to be hard. And if we stay with them and when they succeed, I think we will have made a big change. They will have made a big change in the middle of the Arab world and we will be on our way to addressing the source."

Indeed.

And while Condi might, back a couple centuries, have been counted as 3/5th of a Bob Kerry or Ben-Veniste--today she blew both of them out of the water.

Tactically, she was superb.

Look how she handles Richard Ben-Veniste's bullying prosecutorial performance (pity we have so few lawyer statesmen left, say like a Cy Vance, who can rise above such crude and naked Veniste-like partisanship):

BEN-VENISTE. Isn't it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the Aug. 6 P.D.B. warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that P.D.B.

RICE. I believe the title was Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States. Now, the P.D.B. -

BEN-VENISTE. Thank you.

RICE. No, Mr. Ben-Veniste -

BEN-VENISTE. I will get into the -

RICE. I would like to finish my point here.

BEN-VENISTE. I didn't know there was a point.

RICE. Given that - you asked me whether or not it warned of attacks.

BEN-VENISTE. I asked you what the title was.

RICE. You said did it not warn of attacks. It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information. And it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.

Note Ben-Veniste's sleazy performance.

He asked Rice about the title of the PDB and whether it warned of possible attacks.

But Ben-Veniste, of course, was only interested in a theatrical showcasing of the title of the P.D.B. (and who cares, finally, what it was called?)

Instead, of course, the key question was whether it included any new information regading going forward attacks.

Ben-Veniste, a tad sloppily, raised that question too initially (he probably didn't mean to--but it likely came out in an unguarded moment of uncontrolled spontaneity as even he realizes, of course, that that's the question that matters).

But, realizing his error, he tried to limit (and thus acted highly disingenuously) Condi's answer to solely the title of the P.S.D.--intimating that had been his sole query and attempting to bully Rice by saying "I didn't know there was a point."

Condi didn't get bullied. She held her ground against a seasoned prosecutor.

And by so doing, she showcased the theatrical, hyperbolic and, ultimately, empty portent of Ben-Veniste's line of questioning.

What mattered, of course, was that the PDB of August 6th was not the 'silver bullet' that would have prevented 9/11.

And Rice made that pretty darn clear.

Did Rice's Testimony Insulate Bush Re: the 9/11 Canard Going Forward?

Sure, as a pretty fair WaPo piece points out, there will be some "residual fodder" to kick around.

Democrats will continue to ask that the August 6th PDB be released and such.

The White House will probably do so. And so the lack of any 'silver bullet' will be evidenced further.

But we're pretty much already there. There's simply not much ammo (silver bullet or otherwise) for the Democrats here.

They're going to have to move on soon--and, frankly, they should have never entertained pinning the Bush team with responsibility for 9/11.

For one thing, it's grotesque to turn this massive national tragedy into a political pinata.

And, for another, if you're going to get dragged into the politics of it, most Americans smell out the basic fact that Clinton had eight years to handle the al-Qaeda threat and Bush but eight months.

And no concrete, actionable intelligence, Rice's testimony made clear, arose during Bush's short pre 9/11 stewardship that would have provided the Bush team a chance to prevent the attacks (see below how "structural" deficiencies regarding the (lack of) coordination between the F.B.I. and C.I.A. were the only thing that might have materially impacted, just perhaps, preventing the 9/11 attacks).

Press Treatment

The New York Times, unsuprisingly, gets tabloid-like (as compared to the Washington Post, for instance) in its coverage of Rice's testimony. Consider this piece:

"In her long-awaited sworn testimony before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Rice acknowledged that the special intelligence briefing that had been requested by Mr. Bush and presented to him on Aug. 6, 2001, at his Texas ranch had carried an ominous title: "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

"Acknowledge." "Ominous." A casual NYT reader would be forgiven for thinking that the Bush team dropped the ball--big time.

But a judicious examination of Rice's testimony, as explained above, makes it clear that simply wasn't the case.

Then there's the Times' masthead:

"The administration argument that it had only gotten intelligence about potential terrorist attacks abroad in the summer of 2001 was rather drastically undermined when Ms. Rice revealed, under questioning, that the briefing given Mr. Bush by the C.I.A. on Aug. 6, 2001, was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States." Ms. Rice continues to insist that the information was "historical" rather than a warning of something likely to occur."

What utter nonsense. Nothing was "drastically undermined."

W. 43rd Street is simply playing ball with Richard Ben-Veniste's theatrical, incendiary tactics.

I'm shocked, shocked (though, given that the NYT is NYC's main paper, and given the immense pain caused the Big Apple by 9/11--you might have hoped for more responsible treatment of the story--rather than hyped up partisan cheap shots).

Meanwhile the Times cheerleads Clinton's testimony yesterday--and provides some helpful space to now paid ABC consultant Richard Clarke.

The Times chooses this quote to end their piece on Clinton's testimony:

"He was exceedingly generous with his time, very candid in his discussions of even the most delicate kinds of relationships — for example, the relationship with several foreign countries and specifically several foreign leaders," Mr. Hamilton said.

"He had a lot of very constructive suggestions to us as to how to put the report together and what kinds of recommendations to make," he continued, speaking on "Newshour."

It's a bona fide love in, isn't it?

Final Points

On a substantive level, and I write in haste, as even the Times concedes:

"Ms. Rice's strongest moments came when she made the case that a month and a half after settling into her office, she started developing a comprehensive--if long-range--strategy to upend Al Qaeda. She argued that the man who has been her harshest critic, Richard A. Clarke, had not left her with a plan, but rather a series of steps to lash out at Al Qaeda. She said that "we might have gone off-course" if the administration had pursued the group without trying to line up Pakistan and other key players."

And all but the most bitter partisans will give the Adminstration a pass on the "structural" problems related to the interfacing between the CIA and the FBI--a problem that plagued the Clinton team too.

This is the only issue that may have had a material impact on, just perhaps, preventing 9/11--that wasn't acted on by the Bush team.

Here's Condi's take:

HAMILTON. Well I thank you for a careful answer. Another question: At the end of the day, of course, we were unable to protect our people. And you suggest in your statement, and I want you to elaborate on this if you want to, that in hindsight it would have been - better information about the threats would have been the single most important thing for us to have done, from your point of view, prior to 9/11 would have been better intelligence, better information about the threats. Is that right? Are there other things that you think stand out?

RICE. Well, Mr. Chairman, I took an oath of office on the day that I took this job, to protect and defend. And like most government officials, it take it very seriously. And so as you might imagine, I've asked myself a thousand times what more we could have done. I know that, had we thought that there was an attack coming in Washington or New York we would have moved heaven and earth to try and stop it. And I know that there was no single thing that might have prevented that attack.

I - in looking back, I believe that the absence of light, so to speak, on what was going on inside the country - the inability to connect the dots - was really structural. We couldn't be dependent on chance that something might come together. And the legal impediments and the bureaucratic impediments. But I want to emphasize the legal impediments. To keep the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. from functioning really as one so that there was no seam between domestic and foreign intelligence was probably the greatest one. The director of central intelligence and I think Director Freeh had an excellent relationship. They were trying hard to bridge that seam. I know that Louis Freeh had developed legal attaches abroad to try to help bridge that. But when it came right down to it, this country, for reasons of history and culture and therefore law, had an allergy to the notion of domestic intelligence. And we were organized on that basis. And it just made it very hard to have all of the pieces come together. We've made good changes since then.

I think that having a homeland security department that can bring together the F.A.A. and the I.N.S. and Customs and all of the various agencies is a very important step. I think that the creation of the Terrorism Threat Information Center, which brings together all of the intelligence from various aspects is a very important step forward. Clearly, the Patriot Act, which has allowed the kind of sharing, indeed demands the kind of sharing between intelligence agencies, including the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., is a very big step forward. I think one thing that we will learn from you is whether the structural work is done.

Of course, a lot on the Left still have an "allergy to the notion of domestic intelligence"--but let's leave that aside for the moment. The point here is that, with 20-20 hindsight, it would have been wonderful if the FBI and CIA were coordinating closely. Alas, they weren't. But no one can fairly blame Bush for this, no?

Finally, I think this WaPo piece gauges the impact and caliber of Condi's testimony best:

"If it were to be viewed as a battle, or a sporting event, or a contest -- and of course that would be wrong -- then Condoleezza Rice won it. Indeed, the national security adviser did so well and seemed so firmly in command of the situation yesterday, when she testified under oath before the 9/11 commission, that one had to wonder why the White House spent so much time and energy trying to keep her from having to appear."

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 09:40 AM | Comments (2)

Good Friday

A beautiful Good Friday in London--so I took my bike out into Hyde Park early enough so that there was still dew on the grass.

Rode through to the Italian Fountains near Notting Hill, over towards Kensington, and then back towards Knightsbrige/Belgravia circling back down via Park Lane.

Not a bad way to start the Easter break.

Condi-blogging underway now before I rush to catch a flight.

Posted by Gregory at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2004

Condi Rocks!

Or at least she hit a solid, clean triple.

Frankly, I feel bad about having blogged negatively about her in the past (though, all told, I stand by my original comments).

And believe her performance was, er, SecStatish (though she appeared a tad too nervous at times).

Detailed analysis tomorrow A.M. London time.

In-house note:

Apologies for unanswered E-mails over the past several weeks.

A deal I was on just closed today, and given lots of travel coming up, I'm focused solely on getting posts up whenever time allows.

Posted by Gregory at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

Red Ken

Imagine, er, the Mayor of New York City opining thus.

Oh, and he'd like to see the Saudi royal family "swinging from lamp-posts."

Jeffrey Archer would have been better.

Posted by Gregory at 08:36 PM | Comments (0)

Fact Checking MaDo

In the middle of another hastily scrawled screed Maureen Dowd writes:

"But in the wake of the Falluja horror and Shiite uprising, civility must take a back seat to stomping.

The marines had to fire rockets at a mosque in Falluja used by the Shiite followers of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and the hospitals are filled with civilians."

But wait.

Fallujah, of course, is a major Sunni stronghold full of Baathist sympathizers.

Indeed, it's viewed as a key religious center for Sunnis in Iraq:

"The city of Fallujah is well known through out the country for being a religious city. Some of its citizens even speak of becoming the religious headquarters for the Sunni Muslims in Iraq. It religious schools and religious clerks and the role they play is very significant in producing religious advisory opinions and religious books. Among the citizens of this city who were well know and their reputation far exceeded the city and even the county are Dr. Ahmad Al Kabissi and Sheik Abdulaziz Al Samarrai." [emphasis added]

Put differently, the Abdel-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque complex was most definitively not being used by "followers of the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr."

Like Manolo Blahniks or Prada garb, however, Moktada al-Sadr is the flavor of the week.

So MaDo, forgive her, got a little tripped up in her rush to belittle the Bushies.

Are such erroneous scribblings a la hauteur, as the French would put it, of a columnist at America's leading newspaper?

Jim Hoagland, Dave Ignatius, Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum etc are increasingly running circles around the tiresome and predictable fare of Dowd, Krugman, Herbert (and, to a lesser extent, Safire and Friedman too).

Memo to Bill Keller--your op-ed page needs a revamp.

Or at least more robust, er, oversight.

I mean, next week Dowd might be telling us that Baathist dead-enders and assorted Saddamophiles have decamped and taken over Najaf and Sadr City.

These aren't just minor, petty quibbles.

The nightmare scenario for Iraq, right now, is that Shi'a and Sunni merge forces and a pan-Iraqi anti-American conflagration takes root.

Maureen Dowd's sloppiness, in a way, helps suggest this has already taken place.

It might going forward.

But it hasn't just yet.

Put differently, facts matter--even in opinion columns.

Perhaps Daniel Okrent will begin to take these issues more seriously going forward.

After all, his somewhat flippant tone doesn't get us quite where we need to be--in terms of taking the increasingly routine commission of factual errors by New York Times columnists seriously:

"And Maureen Dowd is followed faithfully around the Web by an avenging army of passionate detractors who would probably be devastated if she ever stopped writing."

As I said, pretty flippant.

And, alas, Okrent's optimistic prognostications appear to be falling short too:

"In the coming months I expect columnist corrections to become a little more frequent and a lot more forthright than they've been in the past. Yet the final measure of Collins's success, and of the individual columnists, will be not in the corrections but in the absence of the need for them."

Well, unfortunately, one is needed today, isn't it?

Wouldn't it be nice to see a prominent correction at the bottom of Dowd's next column?

One saying she mixed up her Sadr with her Samarrai; her Shi'a with her Sunni; her, er, Jimmy Choos with her Blahniks.

UPDATE:

A journalist at the NYT writes in:

"So that you can lead your MaDo jihad with more authority, here's a correction:

[You write]: Memo to Bill Keller--your op-ed page needs a revamp.

[But] only the Publisher can hire and fire columnists or veto content. Keller, I believe, has no direct influence over what they publish."

Posted by Gregory at 08:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2004

It's Not 1920 All Over Again

This isn't a pan-Iraqi uprising as confronted Britain in 1920--at least not yet.

Indeed, it's not even a pan-Shi'a uprising. (UPDATE: More pessimistic analysis here).

On this, check out the below relevant portions of profiles of Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Jazeera's profile here:

"He is seen by many Shia and politicians as a zealous leader who has chosen the wrong time for this escalation of protests."

More from the Guardian:

"Yesterday, hundreds, if not thousands, of people showed their support for Sadr in Baghdad, Nasiriya and Amara. Arguably his greatest popularity is among the young unemployed in deprived areas of Baghdad.

But it is important not to overstate his influence. Many Shia are opposed to the idea of militancy when they are likely to get a great deal of power anyway in coalition-backed elections.

Few Shia Muslims are in a mood to approve the idea of an armed confrontation with the highly respected Ayatollah al-Sistani, who is the most powerful Shia leader in Iraq, and who is, for the most part, engaging with the coalition timetable for elections."

(Hat Tip: Bernard Gwertzman)

Remember, you're reading such analyses in al-Jazeera and the Guardian--not watching them on Fox or reading the WSJ's editorial pages.

The Beeb too states clearly we are not facing a generalized Shi'a uprising.

The key goal for the U.S. right now is to prevent a too ham-handed crackdown on Sadr from igniting pan-Shi'a sentiment (spare the mosques in Sadr City, please) leading towards a generalized Shi'a rebellion.

Relatedly, we must ensure that Shi'a and Sunni don't begin to collaborate against a common foreign occupier as they did back in 1920 (remember, what seems like a couple moons back, when concerns centered on the prospects of Shi'a and Sunni taking up arms against each other--rather than against the U.S?).

Sadr's Gamble

Who do you think is more nervous right now Muqtada Sadr or, say, Jerry Bremer?

The former, I'd wager.

He's involved in a very high stakes gamble.

He's gambling his rejectionist anti-american stance will spur an uprising that will spread like wild-fire through the country.

And that he will gain street cred by being viewed as the first Shi'a to stand up to the increasingly resented (because they haven't provided security) Americans.

As Mike Peters put it:

"In a sense, while the immediate targets are coalition forces, the real political target for this uprising is the loyalty of the Iraqi people. It is obviously a high-risk strategy for him and for the coalition. It remains to be seen whether Sadr will be successful in rallying the Iraqis to his cause. If he does so, it will be a very substantial setback to the coalition."

Smart money, at least where we stand today, is that Sadr won't gain the loyalty of the Iraqi people (which means his rebellion could be quelled rapidly indeed--as his hard-core supporters are quite limited in number).

Yeah Sistani's not our best buddy.

But he knows the Shi'a, based on demographic factors, will be in a dominant position come elections.

Why get involved in a war with the Americans on the cusp of achieving power through the ballot box? (put differently, he's not a 30 something hothead and knows how to bide his time)

What Next?

Of course, the situation is incendiary and anything can happen yet.

But it's time for all of us to keep our cool.

We have not created a failed state like Haiti or Somalia in Iraq-- contra Juan Cole.

Nor is this, of course, Vietnam.

As John McCain pointed out today--there were single weeks in Vietnam where we lost more men than we have all year in Iraq.

And we were in Vietnam for 10 years--we've barely been in Iraq a single year.

Senators Byrd and Kennedy lose credibility when they make such analogies.

But, on the other hand, it's certainly not time for cockiness, chest-beating, and talk of razing Fallujah, Sadr City, Najaf and such claptrap.

It's time for intelligent, methodical counter-insurgency operations--backed up by more troops.

And it's time to begin considering pre-emptively broaching with Sistani discussions regarding pushing back the sovereignty handover date:

"As intolerable as Sistani has found the occupation, he may well see Sadr-inspired chaos and radicalism as harmful to the interests of the Shia. Sistani has been a good-faith negotiator--he always gives the CPA a chance to meet his demands and never abruptly imposes a fact on the ground--and he may be receptive to the argument that the instability fostered by a weak interim government will benefit the Sadrists and invite meddling from Iraq's Sunni neighbors like Saudi Arabia."

I'm not as sure as Spence Ackerman that this is a must just yet.

And given that Sistani will be coming under pressure from hard-line Shi'a to get tougher with the Americans--particularly as Sadr's militia (and innocents in densely packed residential zones) get killed during counter-insurgency operations--well, it makes it all the harder for Sistani to agree to push back the handover date.

But we might find ourselves in a position where we will have to try to persuade him to do so.

Put differently, we have to potentially tee up his acquiesence to a delay in the handover if, come late May, the situation in Iraq remains so unstable that a sovereignty transfer would appear a risible notion to anyone who cares about pursuing a unitary, democratic Iraqi state.

Another carrot to dangle to Sistani should we need to persuade him to delay the handover--one not mentioned by Ackerman?

That U.N. blue helmets and/or NATO forces would be brought in during the months after the initial handover date so as to make the occupation look less distinctly American.

There may be a limited appetite for that in places like Paris, Berlin and Turtle Bay.

But the state of the Atlantic Alliance is not quite as dim as many think.

And preventing Iraq's descent into anarchy or civil war is in the interests of all these parties--no matter the previous trans-atlantic discord of '03.

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 PM | Comments (0)

Reality Check

Sorry, but 10,000 Turkish troops isn't going to cut it.

For more on why Turkish troops are a really bad idea--check out this old (but still relevant) B.D. post from a few months back.

Note: And Safire should do better than this:

"The Kurds, who have patched things up with Ankara and know which side of the two-front war they and we are on, would withdraw their ill-considered earlier objection."

Yeah, and Arik Sharon and Abdul Aziz Rantisi are getting along just swell too.

Posted by Gregory at 09:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2004

Troop Levels Watch

Q Mr. Secretary, I know you're in regular contact with General Abizaid about the force level. Could you tell us if there's been any change in the last 24 hours? Are we still looking at adhering to the plan to bring forces down to 113 (thousand), 115,000 range?

SEC. RUMSFELD: The circumstance we were in when the latest flare-ups occurred was that we had been in the process of bringing in additional forces and beginning to move forces out. And it was planned to be over about a four- or five-month period, where some 115,000 would go out and 115,000 would go in, but they'd overlap for some extended period so that you would end up transferring the knowledge and the situational awareness that's so important and do what they call a left seat, right seat, and then right seat, left seat pass off.

At the present time we have about not 115,000, but something like 135,000 troops in the country. We're at an unusually high level, and the commanders are using the excess of forces that happen to be in there because of the deployment process. They will decide what they need and they will get what they need. At the present time they've announced no change in their plans. But they could make such a request at any time, and needless to say we would -- we've asked them periodically if they feel they have the capabilities they need, and that's something that they review on a fairly continuous basis. [emphasis added]

Donald Rumsfeld, speaking at a press conference today.

I have to say, seeing this clip over here in London, it wasn't the old cocksure Don Rumsfeld.

Instead, he looked pretty ashen faced. And there were some subtle changes in emphasis. In the past, Rumsfeld hasn't stressed that ground commanders could "make such a request [for a greater troop deployment] at any time." Usually, he would instead stress that they hadn't made such a request and would leave it at that.

And all the talk about 135,000 being an "unusually high level" of troops, or the "left seat, right seat" "pass off(s)"--all that can't disguise a simple reality.

It appears we lost approximately 20 U.S. soldiers over the past 24 odd hours.

That's just not acceptable.

We, as people like McCain have been saying for a while now, need more troops in Iraq--to fully prosecute a robust counter-insurgency campaign that won't allow such "flare ups" to occur with any regularity going forward, to signal real resolve to get the job done, to bolster moderate Shi'a and Sunni who are reticent to take arms or otherwise find common cause with the insurgents--but need to trust the U.S. is not going to hand over sovereignty, 'Iraqify,' and cut and run.

Words matter. But actions speak louder.

So what's the President's thinking on the matter?

From the White House press brief today:

Q What's the possibility of sending more troops to Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, as we've always said, those are decisions that the President leaves to military leaders to make. And the President always wants to make sure that our military has all the resources they need to do their job. But in terms of decisions about troop levels, those are decisions he leaves to the military leaders who are in the best position to make those decisions.

Q Have they made a request of that nature?

MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct those questions to the military. I've seen a lot of different reports on that today.

Q Has the President expressed any concern to defend Secretary Rumsfeld or to any of the military commanders that perhaps the drawdown was premature?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking about troop level support; those are questions to direct to the military --

Q I'm asking about the President's view of this.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- and I'm telling you the President's view. Those are decisions he believes should be left to our military leaders who are in the field and in the best position to make those decisions. And our -- the President's role is to make sure that our troops have all the resources to do their job.

"A lot of different reports"? That's interesting--and appears to intimate a significant additional troop deployment is becoming a real possibility.

Put differently, I think Bush is beginning to give serious thought to approving new deployments.

Admirable, particularly in an election year (Ted Kennedy will scream Vietnam even louder).

But the right thing to do.

Developing.

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

Anglo-American Discord?

This is interesting:

"The departing British envoy in Baghdad, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, had expressed concerns to his colleagues about Mr. Bremer's style in running postwar Iraq, particularly in closely controlling decision-making with minimal input from Iraqis and other voices, including Sir Jeremy's, said officials who declined to be identified because of the confidential nature of diplomatic communications.

Sir Jeremy served as Britain's ambassador to the United Nations. He has returned to England after a six-month assignment that was very frustrating for him, British officials said. He could not be reached for comment on Monday.

With his departure, Britain effectively downgraded its representation in Baghdad by appointing David Richmond as the senior British representative. Mr. Richmond, a career Foreign Service officer, served in a more junior capacity in Baghdad last year."

More soon.

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

Maggie Thatcher's Back


Well, sort of:

"We are both reminded that neither of our two great nations, nor Europe, nor the wider western alliance, can afford the luxury of short-term division or discord, in the face of the threats to our security and prosperity that now challenge us all."

Posted by Gregory at 04:51 PM | Comments (0)

Identical Headline Watch

"Iraq on the Brink of Anarchy" banners the Independent (no on-line pic yet available, but, trust me, the paper edition is a big banner that headlines Fisk's hyperbolically titled piece).

Iraq, "On", er, "the brink of anarchy" shouts the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Jerry Bremer is "deliberately pushing Shia's Iraqi south into all-out chaos" writes a commentator in the Guardian:

"Washington has given up on its plans to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government on June 30, and is creating the chaos it needs to declare the handover impossible. A continued occupation will be bad news for George Bush on the campaign trail, but not as bad as if the hand-over happens and the country erupts, an increasingly likely scenario given the widespread rejection of the legitimacy of the interim constitution and the US- appointed governing council."

Wow--talk about conspiracy-think!

Welcome to the heretofore quasi-respectable British lefty press.

More on the tabloidization of UK media here.

And see post immediately below that goes some ways towards showcasing how today's Guardian and Independent headlines are hyperbolic given the complexities of the Iraq situation.

You will see that I'm not Panglossian, not by a long shot--but between deluded and naive optimism and pronouncing that Iraq is on the brink of full-blown anarchy there is a lot of middle room.

So it's pretty clear the identical headlines are designed more to move papers for sale than to accurately convey the full complexity of the going-ons in Iraq.

But that's old news, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 02:01 PM | Comments (1)

April 05, 2004

Why Iraq Isn't Ready for Iraqification

Exhibit A:

"The signs of the battle indicated that the success of the plan for American-backed Iraqi police to take control of the city was uncertain. "Mahdi Army men took over the police station," a young man who gave his name only as Mohammad said, speaking of the militiamen. "The Iraqi police don't like problems. So they stepped aside and said "Welcome.' "

-- Christine Hauser, writing in the NYT.

And then, John Burns, with Exhibit B:

"Taking advantage of an American policy that has largely kept American and other occupation troops out of volatile Shiite population centers like Sadr City, Najaf and Kufa, the militiamen succeeded in taking control of checkpoints and police stations in all three cities that had been staffed by the new Iraqi-trained police and civil defense force.

Residents in the three centers said the Iraqis had abandoned their posts almost as soon as the militiamen appeared with their weapons, leaving the militiamen in unchallenged control — and punching a huge hole in American hopes that American-trained Iraqis can be relied on increasingly to take over from American troops in providing security in Iraq's major cities."

Methinks the Iraqi police ain't ready for prime time (as I blogged back in October of 2003).

The Challenge of Moktada al-Sadr

But don't panic (yet) about the Sadrist insurrection.

Sistani may yet exert some form of moderating influence helping prevent the great Shi'a majority from getting overly 'Sadrized'. (Yes, I'm conscious that pinning hopes on Sistani's munificence vis-a-vis the Coalition is a pretty thin reed).

It's also worth noting, not all Shi'a, even in Sadr strongholds, are cheerleading a revolt (though they espy ominous times ahead):

"Mr. Sadr's men may be eager for a showdown. But many Kufa residents are dreading it. At a kebab stand in front of the grand mosque, a man winced as truckloads of armed young men whizzed past.

"This is bad," said Adil Sahab, a doctor's assistant. "Look at how idle these boys are. Trouble is coming. Can't you feel it?"

Let's be clear. The big news of the past 36 odd hours is that a second front has just opened up--one outside the "Sunni Triangle."

Relatedly, we can't have major parts of, say, the capital city become no-go zones for coalition forces.

That would promptly give the lie to the notion that we control the situation in Iraq.

So it is critical that we robustly beat back these two main resistance forces--while somehow avoiding, as much as possible and in very difficult conditions--further alienating Sunnis in places like Fallujah or Shi'a in Kufa.

A huge challenge? You bet.

Impossible? Not just yet.

The Case for More Troops

But given that, as we saw above, Iraqification efforts are not ready for prime time--now is most assuredly not the time for troop reductions.

Quite the opposite is required. [John McCain, speak up (very) loudly now.]

Order and security are absolutely critical to the democracy-building effort.

Security, as a CFR report recently put it, is the 'critical enabler' for all else we hope to achieve in Iraq.

And right now, we don't have the overwhelming force required to get the job done properly.

Put differently, now is not the time for experiments in 'light' manpower operations and speculative forays into reduced forced structures and such.

It's a time for overwhelming force, intelligently and, as much as feasible, humanely applied.

And quite apart from debatable notions of how best to maximize operational efficacy--increasing our troop committment in Iraq now will signal to the entire world (not least hostile combatants in Fallujah and Sadr City) that the United States is intent on 'staying the course' in Iraq (another key recommendation from the CFR report, one that sounds blindingly obvious, but that bears repeating from the Presidential level on down to signal our resolve to all relevant parties).

All efforts to forge a viable, democratic, unitary Iraqi state must now be vigorously pursued to the fullest--whatever the requirements.

Otherwise the Middle East region is in for an awful chapter indeed (yes, it can get worse, much worse).

I won't bore readers with musings about the trouble-making potential of Iraqi neighbors like Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia should Iraq capsize into para-states defined by internecine warfare.

Suffice it to say, the repercussions will be felt from Jakarta to Tel Aviv to Los Angeles to myriad points beyond.

Other Regional Factors

Oh, memo to Arik Sharon:

Now is most assuredly not the time to kill Yasser Arafat. (or Sheikh Nasrallah, for that matter).

Note that I'm not necessarily reassured that Sharon's spokesman has said that Sharon's recent comments are meant as: "more of a deterrent measure than an operational message."

Legions of Hamas sympathizers want nothing more than to blow themselves up in a crowd of Israelis in revenge for Sheikh Yassin's killing (yes, of course, many wanted to blow themselves up before the killing too).

Does any suicide bombing in the days ahead, even if Hamas or Jihad Islami (and, holed up in the Muqada, does Arafat even control al-Asqa Brigades these days, really?) mean Sharon can move to kill Arafat?

He's a sovereign leader who will have to make up his mind.

But he should bear in mind that it's not in the current American national interest for him to kill Arafat.

Let's hope that's part of his calculus--and that, if it isn't, that Bush is reminding him to plug in that variable into his decision-making process.

The 'region' can't take too many more inflammatory actions right now. The cup is running pretty full already.

And this isn't a case of asking Sharon to pursue an appeasement strategy so Bush can play cuddle with Prince Bandar in Washington.

Not killing Arafat is in Israel's long term interest too.

It might make the broad center to hard right of the Israeli body politic feel good to kill Arafat.

But it won't materially enhance their security situation (anarchic conditions in the Territories will not present a net gain, security-wise, to the Israeli people).

And many informed Israelis working in places like Shin Bet know that.

Here's hoping Sharon is listening to them.

UPDATE: George Bush, echoing a key recommendation from Ambassador Pickering's ably run CFR task force report, says the U.S. is intent on "staying the course."

Let's now see if he will back such pronouncements up with more troops--a recommendation his key force commander appears more likely than ever to make.

Democrats like Ted Kennedy will score cheap partisan points and, should Bush increase troop deployment levels, cry Vietnam ever more vociferously.

But Bush can't allow that to be a factor in his decision-making--despite the impending election.

And to the extent Kerry teams up with Kennedy on such attacks--his seriousness as a potential alternative to Bush will be diminished.

Nor is this Kerry quote much help at the present hour:

"He called the absence of Arab neighbors as part of the stabilization force "staggering," saying, "All have a major stake in not having a failed Iraqi state, no matter how they feel about our getting there."

No neighboring countries should be allowed in.

If a Syrian, Jordanian or Saudi role is allowed--what's to stop Turkey from entering Kurdistan or Iran more vigorously pursuing its interests through large swaths of Shi'a territory? This would be a disaster.

Sure, some Morroccan or Egyptian forces, who speak the local language, wouldn't hurt.

But there impact, all told, would be pretty de minimis right now.

Kerry needs to suggest real, viable policy alternatives rather than let Ted Kennedy cry Vietnam for him while calling elements of U.S. policy 'staggering[ingly]" incompetent when, in fact, they actually make good sense.

Posted by Gregory at 11:54 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2004

The Clarke-Keller Cycle

You'd think Bill Keller and Richard Clarke have been spending a lot of quality time together recently.

Consider today's New York Times.

A prominently featured article with the catchy title: "Uneven Response Seen on Terror in Summer of 2001." (There's even an accompanying graphic called, you guessed it, "A Stream of Threats." One wonders how significantly more voluminous such a graphic would have been for the '93-'00 period?).

Then this beaut from Elisabeth Bumiller:

"It is not a cliche to say that on Thursday, when Ms. Rice publicly testifies to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, she will have to turn in a show-stopping performance as the woman on whose shoulders the credibility of the Bush administration now rests."

Translation: The Bush Administration's credibility, post-Clarke revelations, is in tatters.

I mean, if that's what W. 43rd St. feels, shouldn't we all?

But the Times has more on tap this Sunday.

There's MaDo's predictable two cents, of course:

"The Bushies are busy putting a retroactive glow on their terrorism efforts, asserting that their plan was more muscular and "comprehensive" than Mr. Clinton's. To support that Panglossian view, they held back a load of Clinton documents on terrorism from the 9/11 commission."

Finally, the Times (so helpfully) opens up its op-ed page to fifteen questions for Condi Rice per her impending testimony before the 9/11 commission.

Terrorism expert Peter Bergen has nine Qs.

And Scott Armstrong has another six.

Since we're all so busy asking questions, I thought I'd get into the game as well.

Instead of queries for Condi Rice, however, I've got a few for Richard Clarke. Twenty in fact (five more than the Times gears up for Condi!)

So here goes.

Twenty Questions for Richard Clarke

1) On page 134 of your Against All Enemies, you write: "(b)y 1997, the two hostile intelligence services had been checkmated by our bombing of Iraq's service headquarters, and by the intelligence operation against Iran."

But on page 284 of the same book, you write: "(w)hile the 'ties' and 'links' between al Qaeda were minimal, al Qaeda regularly used Iranian territory for transit and sanctuary prior to September 11th."

And later on the same page, you write: "Any objective observer looking at the evidence in 2002 and 2003 would have said that the U.S. should spend more time and attention dealing with the security threats from Teheran than those from Baghdad."

My question is, therefore, how then can we seriously take your claim that Iran was "checkmated" back in 1997?

Or Iraq, for that matter--as your estimation of the Iran threat appears erroneous.

2) On page 84, you say that the October 1993 Battle of Mogadishu may have involved an "al Qaeda role in an attack on Americans."

Later, President Clinton is quoted as saying to you: "I want us running this, not the State Department or the Pentagon. No more U.S. troops get killed, none. Do what you have to do, whatever you have to do."

Given that al Qaeda had been sending advisers to Somali warlord Aideed and may have been involved in the shootdown of U.S. helicopters, and given Clinton's casualty-averse posture regarding Somalia, do you believe that Clinton signalled U.S. weakness to al-Qaeda?

3) Related to number 2 above, you write that, al-Qaeda had indeed perceived a U.S.' cut and run' from Somalia. You ask: "Was Clinton right not to respond with some large-scale retaliation to the murder of eighteen U.S. commandos? "I was not sure then and I am not sure now."

Have you now been able to give this matter further thought? Do you have more concrete views on the matter?

4) You express frustration in your book about how, if the "NSC was going to coordinate counterterrorism policy and keep the President informed about what needed to be done, we needed to know what the FBI knew."

To that end, you describe a meeting between then NSC advisor Tony Lake and then AG Janet Reno to enhance inter-agency cooperation. You quote Reno as saying: "If it's terrorism that involves foreign powers or groups, or if it could be, the Bureau [FBI] will tell a few senior NSC officials what it knows."

You then write: "Lake and Reno agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") enshrining that principle. They never did. FBI and Justice Department lawyers slow-rolled the document for years."

You then complain that, usually, "the FBI acted like Lake-Reno was a resort in Nevada."

Question: If President Clinton had exerted his direct authority on FBI and DOJ lawyers, signalling that effectuation of this MOU was a real, personal priority for him, might the "slow-rolling" have been overcome?

Might this have had a material impact on the effectiveness of the Clinton Administration's handling of al-Qaeda through the 1990s?

5) You write that, in September of 1996, Clinton "formally requested $1.097 billion for counter-terrorism related activities."

Why did it take the Clinton Adminstration three years to make such a funding request if terrorism was treated, as you have said, as an "extraordinarily high priority" by the Clinton team?

6) On page 131 of your book, you write:

"The Secret Service and Customs had teamed up in Atlanta to provide some rudimentary air defense against an aircraft flying into the Olympic Stadium. They did so again during the subsequent National Security Special Events and they agreed to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. Unfortunately, those two federal law enforcement agencies were housed in the Treasury Department and its leadership did not want to pay for such a mission or run the liability risks of shooting down the wrong aircraft. Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overfule them came to naught."

Can you please detail your efforts to gain approval, within the White House, for an air defense unit?

Was it "nixed" by someone there too? Or merely ignored?

Why, exactly, did your efforts come to "naught"?

7) On page 145, you write:

"Whether it was catching war criminals in Yugoslavia or terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, it was the same story. The White House wanted action. The senior military did not and made it almost impossible for the President to overcome their objections."

Mr. Clarke, who is the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces?

Who has the ultimate authority to order the military to engage in "snatch" operations, whether in the environs of Pale or Kandahar?

8) On p. 146 of your book, you write:

"EMPTA is a compound that had been used as a prime ingredient in Iraqi nerve gas. It had no other known use, nor had any other nation employed EMPTA to our knowledge for any purpose. What was an Iraqi chemical weapons agent doing in Sudan? UNSCOM and other U.S. governement sources had claimed that the Iraqis werre working on something at a facility near Shifa. Could Sudan, using bin Laden's money, have hired some Iraqis to make chemical weapons? It seemed chillingly possible."

Mr. Clarke, please see question Number 1 above.

I thought Iraq, post our pin-prick Saturday night attack on their intelligence headquarters in 1993, had been decisively "checkmated"?

Why then, fully five years later, were you worried that Iraqi intelligence might be supplying Sudan with chemical agent?

9) You describe Muhammad jamal Khalifa, as "one of bin Laden's brothers-in-law, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, [who] moved money to terrorist groups like the bag carrier in the 1950s television show The Millionaire."

You then go on to say that DOJ couldn't "generate an indictment" against him.

Were you concerned, at any point during your service during the Clinton Administration, that our approach towards al-Qaeda was too timid and legalistic?

10) At p. 149 of Against All Enemies, you describe a prospective operation you and George Tenet vetoed against al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan circa 1997.

While you make a fair point that the operation was risky and might have resulted in "getting all our our Afghan assets killed for nothing," do you, in hindsight, believe we may have missed an opportunity to kill UBL?

Do you sometimes regret that we didn't pursue that operation--despite the risks?

11) When, also in 1997, you say we "had no other option available" but to request the Emir of Qatar's authority to "snatch" al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheik Muhammad (the mastermind of 9/11), and that someone in Qatar promptly leaked to KSM the existence of the operation, allowing him to escape--is it really true "we had no other option" but to tell the Emir?

Put differently, couldn't we have pursued a snatch operation without the approval of the Emir?

What impact, if any, might a successful snatch operation against KSM have had on the 9/11 plot?

12) On p. 170 of your book, you complain:

"Some czar...I now had the appearance of responsibilty for counterterrorism, but none of the tools or authority to get the job done."

But wasn't the Clinton Admistration treating counterrorism as an "extraordinarily high" priority?

How does this jive with your description of your limited powers as the terror czar?

13) On p. 171 of your book you described how the Clinton Administration had a week-long series of "Theme Days" with "show and tells" about Clinton's budget priorities.

On the counterterrorism "theme" day, when you were invited to brief the President, you say he "chose to discuss the problems facing his cousin, a woman who administered public housing in Arkansas."

Do you think your counter-terror "theme" got the proper kick-off it merited within the Beltway?

14) On p. 185 of your book, you write:

"We had been dealing with al Qaeda as one of several terrorist threats. Now [after the East Africa 1998 Embassy bombings], I hoped we would gain interagency agreement that destroying al Qaeda was one of our top national security objectives, and an urgent one."

Why did it take until 1998 for the Clinton Administration to even consider treating al Qaeda as "one" of the most urgent national security priorities facing the U.S. (particularly given previous al-Qaeda terrorist actions against U.S. targets through the early 90's)?

15) Mr. Clarke, you devote an entire chapter to the "Millennium Alert."

Wasn't our cracking the LAX plot simply a result of amazingly good luck, resulting from the fact that Customs Agent Diana Dean apprehended Ahmed Ressam coming in to Washington State on a ferry from British Columbia, rather than a result of comprehensive Clinton Administration anti-terror measures?

16) Did Bill Clinton read Against All Enemies before it was published?

If not, Mr. Clarke, how did you source this passage from your book at p. 225?

"Why was Clinton so worked up about al Qaeda and why did he talk to President-elect Bush about it..."

17) You write: "Any leader whom one can imagine as President on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary by invading....Exactly what did George Bush do after September 11 that any other President one can imagine wouldn't have done after such attacks?

But how can you be so certain that a President Al Gore would have held the Taliban (as the government of a 'terror state' harboring al-Qaeda--a key innovation of the Bush doctrine) as culpable as al-Qaeda themselves?

Therefore, how can you be so sure "any leader one can imagine as President" would have effectively "ended the Afghan sanctuary"?

18) On p. 267, you write:

"Never did I think the Iraqi chemical or biological weapons were an imminent threat to the United States in 2002."

Who exactly in the Bush Administration did say that the threat was "imminent", per se?

19) You write:

"When Prime Ministers wonder in the future if they should risk domestic opposition to support us, they will reflect on Tony Blair in the UK and how he lost popularity and credibility by allying himself so closely withi the U.S. administration and its claims."

How can you be so sure future political leaders around the world will view Tony Blair's legacy per your analysis? Will some, instead, be impressed by his consistently strong conviction in the face of domestic opposition?

And finally,

20) You write, at p. 283:

"Indeed, because the U.S. apparently believes in imposing its ideology though the violence of war, many in the Arab world wonder how the United States can criticize the fundamentalists who also seek to impose their ideology through violence."

Mr. Clarke, do you view America's current prosecution of the global war on terror as analogous to Islamic fundamentalist terror?

Put differently, do you agree with the "many in the Arab world" you purport to opine for above?

UPDATE: Tom Maguire writes in with an "addendum" to question No. 6 above:

"What steps were taken from 1996 to January 2001, when no subject had a higher priority than terrorism, to prevent such hijackings? Did the Clinton Administration implement measure(s) such as stronger cockpit doors? And for years, the standard advice had been to cooperate with hijackers - was this modified after 1996? What procedures did the government adopt to address this new tactic?

Finally, it has been reported in the Times that you, Richard Clarke, chaired the July 5, 2001 meeting intended to coordinate our domestic response to the enhanced terrorist "chatter". At that meeting, which you chaired, did you advise the FAA of the possibility that hijacked planes might be used as missiles? Is the Times in error when it reports that the FAA released a bulletin advising of an increased risk of hijackings intended to release prisoners? Did the FAA have in place procedures and policies to deal with the hijack/missile scenario, and if not, why not?"

Good questions all. Thanks Tom.

Posted by Gregory at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

Baghdad Dispatch

One of my oldest and dearest friends (I was best man at his wedding) is currently serving in Baghdad with an organization that seeks to help along the democratization process.

He sent the below E-mail to me overnight which I think well showcases some of the main challenges we are facing in the new Iraq.

Read the whole thing.

"According to ancient custom, in cities which submitted peacefully to the rule of Islam, the preacher carried a staff. In those that were conquered by force, he carried a sword." --Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam

"Of course I know what federalism means," the cleric scoffed, "it comes from the Greek root meaning unitary state." Unclear on the precise etymology myself, I let this slide, and tried to get back to the principle of our discussion. So it's a good thing, I prompted, don't you think? The room erupted again into unhappy murmers, and he stared back at me with a stony look that let me know I'd missed the apparently classic Arab double-entendre. Oh, I continued as if I'd just stumbled on the actual meaning of the word, you mean it's actually a backroom deal, reached conspiratorally, that ensures a tyranny of the minority? His face lit up and his eyes warmed considerably. The growing roar of murmers ebbed back to silence, broken only by the angry footsteps of a Kurdish participant who got up and left. Things were going badly--I should have guessed this by my translator's increasing nervousness and the growing visibility of our plainclothes security staff around the exits of an otherwise sleepy Baghdad auditorium--but I pressed on. Can it really mean both things? Why don't you just tell me what you really think? An impolitic question, sometimes, in the New Iraq.

Old men here can be generous. Younger ones can be less so. A fiery youth cut to the chase: "why do I need your democracy when I have other options?" he shouted. I didn't need to ask what those other options were. Time to get back to my prepared text on the wisdom of James Madison, and quickly.

Word travels fast on the Arab street, and talking points distributed via xerox by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani have penetrated deeply, I've come to learn. The Transitional Administrative Law, agreed to last month by Iraq's Governing Council, calls for constitutional assembly that gives veto power to any three of the country's 18 districts should they object to the will of the Shia majority, for whom the native Iranian Sistani is a key opinion-shaper. They're throwing the virtues of majoritarian rule--a democratic principle it seems--back at us without a great deal of concern for protecting minority rights. Don't worry, I've heard time and again, Islam accounts for protecting these rights in its own way.

An evening pow-wow in a gilded hallway beneath the dome of what was once Saddam Hussein's palace number one was feverishly focused on how to respond to Sistani's criticisms and highlight the benefits of the interim constitution. People serving the Coalition Provisional Authority here word hard, very hard, and frequently through the night. As the countdown to the June 30th hand-pover of sovereignty ticks down, every hour matters. I was glad my colleague pulled me into this meeting for two reasons. Firstly, it was interesting. Secondly, the fifteen minute delay it forced on our leaving the Green Zone this evening allowed Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles to close down the main road and me to miss by minutes the eruption of a firefight on the bridge over the River Tigris.

As a college student, I did my best not to find our founding fathers' wordy polemics on federalism, factions and foresight to be painfully dull. Here, today, the issues are vividly real and pressing. Iraqis overwhelmingly do believe in a unified state. This is not Yugoslavia. Getting from the graveyard of these buried animosities to a working union, though, is another matter entirely. It calls for bigger ideas and persuading the good people of this sometimes fractious nation to buy into them. We all want the same thing, a Communist organizer told me this afternoon, so why do we have such problems settling an a common course. Odd though it may be, after nearly three years of trying to advance democracy in Russia, I found the company of this union activist quite comforting indeed.

The contradictions here are sometimes searing: End the occupation, but keep us safe. Give us democracy, right here and right now (if not yesterday). Transfer sovereignty--but to whom? The response of the CPA is not to get stymied by and indignant at the seemingly defeatist parodoxes, but rather to work harder to carry them through to clarity. I have never seen my government work harder. And I have never felt more proud to be an American.

After three weeks in Baghdad, my Arabic comprehension remains more or less de minimus. But there is one word that seems to seep into almost every sentence, sometimes repeatedly: "Mun'kin." A young friend of mine in Bangor [Maine] used to use this as a contraction for "monkeying around." Here, in Arabic, it means that which is possible. Enchallah. [my emphasis throughout]

Martin Indyk made the same point about Iraq not being Yugoslavia (we certainly hope--in terms of avoiding the specter of civil war) that I blogged about here.

And I've previously discussed why I think the creation of three separate para-states (or a "deep" confederation) is a dismal solution.

And note my friend's point about never having seen his "government work harder."

This includes, of course, people working in conjunction with the U.S. government--such as NGOs, various sub-contractors, U.N. and coalition personnel.

I'm proud to hear that, aren't you?

Remember that the next time a petty member of the "laptop brigade," ensconced in sunny Cali or such, disparages the memory of some of the courageous individuals working to make the most critical American foreign policy challenge currently on our plate a success--against very difficult odds and in highly dangerous conditions.

Posted by Gregory at 09:18 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2004

Remember the Passion?

"If you relish the sight of a healthy male body being systematically demolished, beyond the farthest reach of plausible endurance, The Passion of the Christ is your movie. It is not simply the scourging scene that is at issue, though that deals out an unspecified number of stripes—more than sixty and still counting, half of them inflicted by whips that have been made into multiple-hook tearing instruments. Even earlier, at the arrest of Jesus, he is chained, beaten over and over, thrown off a bridge to crash below. He arrives at his first legal hearing already mauled and with one eye closed behind swollen bruises. From then on, he is never moved or stopped without spontaneous blows and kicks and shoves from all kinds of bystanders wanting to get in on the fun. On the way to execution, he is whipped while fainting under the cross. A soldier says to lay off or he'll never make it. But the crowd just keeps whipping and beating him all the rest of the way.

My wife and I had to stop glancing furtively at each other for fear we would burst out laughing. It had gone beyond sadism into the comic surreal, like an apocalyptic version of Swinburne's The Whipping Papers." [emphasis added]

Heh.

-- Gary Wills, writing in the NYRB.

Posted by Gregory at 10:45 PM | Comments (0)

For the Record

We remember the Fallujah victims.

Permit me to echo both the thoughts of Glenn (particularly his use of the word "rot") and Tacitus (particularly his thoughts on "small men" and the memorial fund).

I should add that after reading these petty, narcissistic and moronic musings, I wanted to take a shower.

An U.S. citizen who reacts to the charred limbs of Americans being hung for display after being mutilated with a "screw them" is bad enough.

But that a major blogger would follow this up with such nauseatingly petty discourse, in the context of this gruesome human tragedy, regarding the (non)-impact this sad, little imbroglio had on his blog-ads cheapens the entire blogosphere.

Note:

On a related topic, read this too (subscription required):

"Perhaps the single most disturbing image from this week's riot in Fallujah--in which four American contractors were shot, burned, and dismembered by a joyous mob--was of an Iraqi twenty-something beating a smoldering torso with a long, lead pipe. He rained blow after blow on the charred corpse, which lay on the ground where it had fallen from a car. It was a profoundly wretched scene--and one that, because of editorial decisions made by newspapers and television stations, few Americans saw in full. Many medium- and small-market newspapers led with images of burning SUVs, while burying inside the paper the grislier photos of flesh strung up on telephone wires and bridges. Evening newscasts--those that broadcast the images at all--blurred parts out. Few if any television stations showed the enraged pipe-wielder or another harrowing sequence, in which a red sedan dragged an American's remains through the street, with cheering Iraqis running alongside."

And later:

"But the duty of reporters, producers, and editors is not to soothe their consumers or protect them from cruelty. It is to convey facts--and the most important facts of this week happened to be hanging bits of blackened flesh and a man with a pipe. Often during wartime, the facts are disquieting; at times, they are revolting. None of this changes the U.S. public's need to know. Indeed, the Fallujah riots reveal something fundamentally amiss in American journalism--that an instinct to protect viewers is trumping an instinct to inform."

Indeed.

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

April 02, 2004

In-House Note

A quick note to my regular readers who may be somewhat perturbed that this blog seems to have become something of a non-stop Clarke-o-rama.

Please be assured I'll be turning to other matters soon.

The Clarke story really got to me, I guess, because I didn't want to see 9/11 get politicized.

Having lived through 9/11 in NYC, I vividly recall the massive fellow-feeling that descended on the city and nation.

It's now, sadly, been lost is a sea of recriminations.

And Clarke's book, along with the fact that we are in an election year, are likely the biggest reasons.

I believe, quite fervently, that everyone was massively taken by surprise by the events of 9/11.

That was part of the evil genius of the attack.

Who can forget the massive incredulity we collectively felt as the Towers actually crumbled around us?

No one imagined an attack of such devastating magnitude and epoch-shaping scope.

Including Richard Clarke.

In his book, he writes, re: the first chance he had to actually collect his thoughts on the day of 9/11:

"..I caught my breath for the first time that day:

-This was the "Big al Qaeda Attack" we had warned was coming and it was bigger than almost anything we had imagined, short of a nuclear weapon. With the towers collapsed, the death toll could be anywhere from 10,000 to maybe as high as 50,000. No one knew. And it wasn't over. I kept hearing in my mind Marlon Brando's whispered words from Apocalypse Now, "The horror, the horror...."

--Now we would bomb the camps, probably invade Afghanistan. Of course, now Bin Laden would not be at the camps. Indeed, by now the camps were probably as empty as the White House. We would begin a long fight against al-Qaeda, with no holds barred. But it was too late. They had proven the superpower was vulnerable, that they were smarter, they had killed thousands.

--The recriminations would flow like water from a fire hose. There was no time for thinking like that. Not now. We had to move fast. Other attacks were probably in the works and had to be stopped. The country was in shock. The government had largely fled Washington. The nation needed reassurance. We needed to find our dead."

[emphasis added]

Note that Clarke basically admits, short of a nuke, that he hadn't conceived of an attack of this scope himself.

That's not to say, of course, that more robust anti-terror action by both Administrations (though one was in power for eight years and the other a mere eight months) might have harmed al-Qaeda's operational capacity (or exposed the 9/11 cell members) so that, just perhaps, we might have been spared the horrors of 9/11.

But I doubt it. We, none of us, fully comprehended the nature of the threat.

A clinical examination of that possibility (that 9/11 may have been avoided) might be called for, going forward, by a judicious top-rank historian (doubtless many historians will broach the topic in the years ahead). But we, meaning the American public generally, didn't deserve Clarke's highly partisan 'blame game' tome.

That much, at least, I'm pretty sure about.

Note too, by the way, the bit quoted above from Against All Enemies about how the "recriminations would flow like water from a fire hose."

Recriminations?

I must confess, I certainly didn't feel that emotion on the day of 9/11 or for a long time after.

And so it's worth noting, even as he raced about the White House grounds at one of the epicenters of national crisis management (Rudy Guliani and the FDNY manning the epicenter down at Ground Zero)--that this thought even crossed his mind.

Perhaps, as a bureaucrat entrusted with leading counter-terrorist efforts, one might have had a passing thought about recriminations coming down the pike.

But on that day? With all the meta-events unfolding so dramatically around him?

I would have thought there was a lot else to think about other than recriminations.

Finally, though, I'm saddened a highly talented bureaucrat would, because of somewhat delusional pretenses that his account is so especially critical towards setting the historical record straight (whether because of disatisfaction stemming from the allegedly AWOL-on-al-Q-front first eight first months of Bush's Administration or the war in Iraq), ascribe blame, in highly partisan fashion, regarding 9/11.

So the above by way of explanation on why there's been so much Clarke-blogging over at B.D.

And coming soon, a final review or two of Clarke's book that I think will be well worth reading.

And then, I promise, on to new topics!

Posted by Gregory at 10:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2004

And Now, Richard Clarke, the Movie!

Oh, no.

This could be much worse than your, say, typical Oliver Stone flic:

"For his part, Mr. Sherman is now angling to sell the movie rights to Mr. Clarke’s book. "We’re starting to get those calls, and we’ll see where it leads," Mr. Sherman said. "I’d be very surprised if something didn’t happen." For movie rights, Mr. Sherman is working with a co-agent, Ron Bernstein at ICM. "He did Black Hawk Down and understands this better," Mr. Sherman said. Mr. Sherman then riffed on how Hollywood would treat Mr. Clarke’s book. "It’s part Jack Ryan, part George Smiley!" he said in mock Hollywoodese. "It’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, without the naēveté." He seemed to be enjoying himself. "It’s like All the President’s Men or Patriot Games!" he continued. "Can Toronto look like Kabul?"

(via the NY Observer)

How awful this would be, no?

Richard Clarke's highly partisan account meets the imbecilic, Barbara Streisand precincts of Left Coast limousine liberalism.

Surely Mr. Clarke--a respected Washington player who enjoys a certain amount of gravitas among both current and former senior policymakers--surely he wouldn't go down this road?

Or would, again, "the citizenry and history have a justifiable need to know" the real story?

This time, via the (lucrative) Big Screen.

I've heard Clarke say he won't take a job in any prospective Kerry Administration.

I'd like to hear him say he won't allow for a hyper-simplified, Hollywood style movie to be made (yes, even if he gives the money from the proceeds to 9/11 families or such) about American terrorism policy through the Clinton and Bush years.

Firstly, the treatment of a critical episode in American history that merits judicious examination would instead, judging by his book, be treated in highly partisan fashion.

But second, imagine a movie version of the book?!? With the mega-dumb-down factor thrown in?

Hopefully Richard Clarke won't tarnish his government service so?

Developing, as they say.

Note: Richard Clarke, by the way, should steer clear of movies and related commentary.

In Against All Enemies, he discourses on the film classic "Battle of Algiers" describing it as "an old black and white French film."

But it's actually an Italian movie.

It's about the French experience in Algeria. (Incidentally, it's one of my very favorite movies, simply an amazing work, truly a 'must-see').

More important than the nationality of the director and such, however, Clarke's comparison of what is today happening in Iraq with the French experience in Algeria per Battle of Algiers falls short (for reasons I'll detail shortly).

Posted by Gregory at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
"Awake"
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Always Thoughtful"
--Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
Search
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Western Europe
France
United Kingdom
Germany
Italy
Netherlands
Spain
Central and Eastern Europe
CIS/FSU
Russia
Armenia
East Asia
China
Japan
South Korea
Middle East
Egypt
Israel
The Head Heeb
Lebanon
Syria
Columnists
Think Tanks
Security
Books
B.D. In the Press
Archives
Categories
Syndicate this site:
XML RSS RDF

G2E

Powered by