June 30, 2004

All Mixed Up

Harold Meyerson:

Kerry is rightly concerned, of course, that his vice presidential pick have credibility in matters of national security. The mystery is that anyone still feels that Cheney, and his boss, have any. They invaded Iraq because they believed erroneous evidence (and may still believe it, all actual evidence to the contrary) or, more plausibly, because they could, because they knew they'd feel better afterward.

Wait, I thought that was someone else's line!

P.S. By the by, can't Meyerson do better than recycling old MaDo lines?

Posted by Gregory at 11:35 PM

Why Do I Like Nicolas Sarkozy?

Because he says things like this:

"Chirac doesn't hate me. It's worse. He fears me."

Bravo, Sarko!

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 PM

We Get Comments

In fairness to Michael Ledeen, whose Iran policy prescriptions I've been critical of of late, I should point out he's commented at my original post here:

Part of Ledeen's note excerpted:

On Iran, it is not fair to suggest that I am inciting the students. I am trying to incite my government to support the students and others who have often demonstrated their contempt for the mullahs. And while you are, God knows, quite right to say I have been compulsive/obsessive about Iran of late, this is the view I have always held toward people living under tyranny who wish to be free. We should help them.

My issue is, given that we simply are not marching into Teheran anytime soon (for a variety of reasons), I'd be curious to hear specifically how we can apply pressure to Iran to democratize in a fashion that will not imperil the lives and futures of the students (and also, it bears mentioning, without Iran more actively sabotaging us in Iraq).

Also, of course, there is the 800 pound gorilla of the nuclear question looming in all of this too.

So let's maybe put the question a bit differently.

What is more important to the American national interest right now?

A democratic Iran?

Or a nuclear-weapons free Iran?

We might, God forbid, not be able to have both (or either!) just now--indeed achieving just one might prove very, very hard.

I'd suggest we should be concentrating, very intently, on Iran's nuclear capability right now (less so on their support for Hezbollah, their domestic policies, the latest clerical rabble-rousing pronunciamentos).

Laura Rozen is right--this issue (barring NoKo testing a nuke or total melt-down in Iraq) will likely be the issue of '05 (particularly given Iran's attendant trouble-making capabilities in Iraq).

Are policymakers ready? Er, not by a long shot.

P.S. Someone over at the FT recently opined we need a Bosnia style "contact group" to address Iraq (by way of making Chirac step up to his obligations and provide a specialized high profile multilateral fora to handle matters Iraq).

Question: might we need one, more urgently, for Iran instead?

UPDATE: Don't miss Ardeshir Zahedi's (no link available) Iran op-ed in today's WSJ-Europe. Zahedi, a former pre-revolutionary Iranian Foreign Minister, makes some pretty succinct points. He structures the op-ed by trying to answer the question "what is to be done" by first addressing what can't.

In this latter category: 1) Iran "cannot be forced to unlearn knowledge accumulated since the 1950s" (nuclear physics etc); 2) Iran must have the right to develop nuclear energy (with Iran's economy growing at 8%/annum all of Iran's oil production might be needed for domestic consumption by 2010); 3) we cannot force Iran to separate its nuclear technology into two halves (civilian/military) as all nations "with a civilian nuclear base are capable, if they so decide, of moving into the military sphere of nuclear technology as well."

Zahedi than basically goes on to say that the Soviets and Americans had been pretty sanguine about letting the Shah potentially develop a "surge capacity" (know-how, infrastructure and personnel to develop a nuclear weapon in a very short time frame without actually doing so) as, per Zahedi, Iran under the Shah was viewed as a pretty well behaved nation-state (no land war since encroachments on Herat in the 1850s!).

So, much like Michael Ledeen, Zahedi then poses the question thus:

Anyone with any knowledge of Iranian politics would know that the present regime in Teheran is strategically committed to developing a nuclear "surge capacity" if not a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. The real question, therefore, is whether the region, and the rest of the world, feel comfortable with the idea of a revoluntionary regime, claiming a messianic mission on behalf of Islam, arming itself with nuclear weapons.

Per Zahedi, a 'peaceful' Iran with nukes would be as inoffensive as England with nukes. This is Zahedi's way of saying--this isn't about Iran's nuclear capabilities writ large--it's about those brutish Mullahs.

So, in the evolving, what the f%&*k to do about Iran debate--look to see the Ledeen-Perle-Zahedi wing argue that, at the end of the day--it's all about regime change, stupid.

Le plus ca change.....

P.S. This begs the question, do we hint to the great Iranian public that we would accept a nuclear Iran, were it not for the presence of those dastardly Mullahs?

Posted by Gregory at 01:25 PM | Comments (19)

June 29, 2004

NATO In Iraq: A Coalition of the Willing Within NATO?

So, to what extent will NATO be getting involved in Iraq?

Optimists (and pessimists!) point to the NATO statement on Iraq announced in Istanbul.

Here's the text of the statement with the key language highlighted:

We, the 26 Heads of State and Government of the nations of the Atlantic Alliance, meeting in Istanbul, declare our full support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq and for strengthening of freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law and security for all the Iraqi people.

We welcome the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1546 under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations as an important step towards Iraq's political transition to democratic government. We pledge our full support for the effective implementation of UNSCR 1546.

"We are united in our support for the Iraqi people and offer full cooperation to the new sovereign Interim Government as it seeks to strengthen internal security and prepare the way to national elections in 2005.

"We deplore and call for an immediate end to all terrorist attacks in Iraq. Terrorist activities in and from Iraq also threaten the security of its neighbours and the region as a whole.

"We continue to support Poland in its leadership of the multinational division in south central Iraq. We also acknowledge the efforts of nations, including many NATO Allies, in the Multinational Force for Iraq, which is present in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546. We fully support the Multinational Force in its mission to help restore and maintain security, including protection of the United Nations presence, under its mandate from the Security Council.

"In response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government, and in accordance with Resolution 1546 which requests international and regional organisations to contribute assistance to the Multinational Force, we have decided today to offer NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces. We therefore also encourage nations to contribute to the training of the Iraqi armed forces.

"We have asked the North Atlantic Council to develop on an urgent basis the modalities to implement this decision with the Iraqi Interim Government.

"We have also asked the North Atlantic Council to consider, as a matter of urgency and on the basis of a report by the Secretary General, further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546.

The italicized language above, of course, means nothing.

It's merely an expression of solidarity with the Poles and other NATO member countries that happen to be on the ground in Iraq already.

It involves no explicit nor implicit going forward obligation on behalf of NATO.

That said, the bolded language does mean something.

What, skeptics ask?

Well, NATO has at least now formally met and adopted a policy that explicitly calls for offering "NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces."

Some observers are poo-pooing this as mere political theatrics.

Here's Ivo Daalder as quoted in the New York Times:

It's a political declaration with no real practical meaning. Countries that will provide training were doing so before the declaration, and I doubt that countries that were not will now be so inclined.

Is Daalder right?

The French view, as showcased over at Le Monde (French language), would seem to bolster Daalder's view.

In that article, entitled "A Minimal Accord Found at NATO to Assist Iraq," the view from Paris is basically thus: 1) the French pushed for "as little NATO as possible" and got it; 2) aid/training to Iraq forces was approved in principle, but the modalities will need to be worked out in future meetings (and are still open for debate); and 3) there is concern in the French delegation of "slippage," ie. technical/training support leading to actual bona fide troop committments.

Here is a quote from a member of the French delegation that highlights perhaps the key issue: "La mission de formation revient aux Etats ; ce texte ne lance pas une opération collective qui aurait permis dŹs aujourd'hui de planter le drapeau de l'OTAN en Irak."

Paraphrasing, from the French perspective then, NATO has assumed no collective obligations post-Istanbul regarding Iraq (including training of Iraqi forces). Rather, such obligations merely run to individual states within NATO so that "no NATO flag is planted in Iraq."

That's really the core issue in all of this, isn't it?

Is NATO a collective alliance that undertakes actions jointly (albeit with specific troop country mixes and numbers etc hammered out case by case)?

Or are we defining the alliance down whereby empty declarations are made (often for domestic political reasons) that don't have any material carry-on effect in the real world?

In my view, and perhaps I'm being too optimistic, I think NATO is still more the former than the latter.

Put differently, I don't necessarily think NATO is dying a slow death because of the end of the Cold War (no Soviet threat), the faltering NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the lack of more NATO involvement in Iraq.

More specifically, and re: Iraq, I suspect Daalder is likely wrong that no new countries will enter the mix.

While Schroder and Chirac nixed the idea of sending any German or French forces (under a NATO flag or otherwise) to Iraq to train Iraqi forces--they have confirmed they will train Iraqi police (France) and Iraqi officers (Germany) in locations outside Iraq (at least per the Le Monde article linked above).

Also worth bearing in mind? Recently, elite opinion on both sides of the Atlantic continues to focus on the need for a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

And I'd wager that a post-Istanbul consensus is going to emerge that has the proving ground for achieving such cooperation being material assistance for training of Iraqi forces.

To help constitute an effective rapprochment, such training will need to be undertaken by many NATO members--if to varying degrees--but in a manner that looks to be the product of a collective, coordinated, cohesive alliance at work.

I still think that will be the likely outcome once all the details get hammered out in Brussels.

Put differently, and per my title to this post, I don't think we are now merely casting about for coalitions of the willing within NATO.

P.S. NATO needs urgent help in Afghanistan too. The parties (like France and Germany) that look to just be making modest contributions in Iraq should step up more significantly in Afghanistan.

There are more than two million military personnel in the forces of the European NATO allies," Bereuter said, "yet only two percent of those forces are deployed on NATO missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

"The NATO allies have promised to make more than 1,000 infantry companies available for NATO missions. They have promised to make more than 2,000 helicopters available for NATO missions. They have promised to make almost 300 transport aircraft available for NATO missions. Yet, for the mission in Afghanistan, the allies seemingly cannot find a few more infantry companies, cannot find a few more helicopters, and cannot find a few more transport aircraft that are essential to avoid failure.

"This is a failure of political will, pure and simple," Bereuter said. "It is a failure that jeopardizes the success of the mission in Afghanistan and jeopardizes the very credibility of the Alliance."

Pas serieux, as the French might say.

That said, per the NATO summit in Istanbul, a little more help is on the way (text from NYT article linked above):

NATO leaders also announced Monday that the alliance would expand its security role in Afghanistan, fulfilling a political pledge the alliance made months ago. They have cobbled together enough forces and equipment — including helicopters, cargo planes and quick-reaction forces — to honor the agreement. Under the plan, NATO would expand to about 10,000 troops from the 6,500-member force in and around Kabul, the Afghan capital, to operate a total of five provincial civilian-military reconstruction teams.

Developing.

Posted by Gregory at 11:06 AM

June 28, 2004

Coup de Theatre?

A Parisian source informs me that Radio France International's breaking news bulletin on the early sovereignty handover declared it a coup de theatre.

Maybe, but a helluva smart one.

Attacks (bloody ones) will neverthless doubtless occur through the week and beyond.

But if anyone was planning some mega-attack on the Green Zone Wednesday--hoping to somehow scuttle the handover (or, more likely, simply to overshadow it)-- they have just been outsmarted rather handily.

It's been a good week for Bush, I'd say.

On top of this smart move on the handover, NATO looks to be getting involved, perhaps in significant fashion, with the Iraq troop training effort (btw, why don't we ask the Turks to let NATO train Iraqi forces in Turkey if NATO members like France and Germany don't want to do it in Iraq itself--and if Jordan and the UAE don't want too many more Iraqi trainees milling about?)

Of course, no one should get carried away about what the handover means.

As Richard Murphy puts it well:

Washington has oversold the significance of the June 30 handover and must now work to give substance to this symbolic step. Our problem is that the Iraqi people still perceive little improvement in their personal lives and no end to violence in their country. Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda's leading associate in Iraq, months ago advocated sparking a Sunni-Shiite civil war before July 1. We can assume that he and his followers will continue to decry the American occupation and, now, the "American transitional government."

All very true.

Still, all told, a pretty good week for the U.S. in Iraq.

And it's good to see that Dubya is looking to avoid a Houston '92 redux for the Republican Convention.

He's certainly trying hard to avoid repeating his father's mistakes.

Posted by Gregory at 10:24 AM

June 27, 2004

Joe Wilson: A Botched Niger Mission?

Remember Joe Wilson, he of the cheesy V.F. photo shoot that seemed meant to evoke an aura of Gatsbyesque grandeur and Viennese espionage derring-do (rather underwhelmingly, I'd have to say)?

untitled.bmp

Recall Wilson had this to say about his trip to Niger:

I spent the next eight days drinking sweet mint tea and meeting with dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country's uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place....

...If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand (though I would be very interested to know why). If, however, the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.

Might Wilson have spent a tad too much time sipping all that tea?

Check out this, quite interesting, piece from today's FT.

To be sure, as the FT article reminds us, some documents that detailed alleged uranium transfers as between Niger and Iraq have indeed proved fraudulent.

So why then, now many months out, is British intelligence still sticking by the story, despite the embarrassing forgeries?

Here's why:

However, European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.

These intelligence officials now say the forged documents appear to have been part of a "scam", and the actual intelligence showing discussion of uranium supply has been ignored.

More:

The FT has now learnt that three European intelligence services were aware of possible illicit trade in uranium from Niger between 1999 and 2001. Human intelligence gathered in Italy and Africa more than three years before the Iraq war had shown Niger officials referring to possible illicit uranium deals with at least five countries, including Iraq.

This intelligence provided clues about plans by Libya and Iran to develop their undeclared nuclear programmes. Niger officials were also discussing sales to North Korea and China of uranium ore or the "yellow cake" refined from it: the raw materials that can be progressively enriched to make nuclear bombs.

The raw intelligence on the negotiations included indications that Libya was investing in Niger's uranium industry to prop it up at a time when demand had fallen, and that sales to Iraq were just a part of the clandestine export plan. These secret exports would allow countries with undeclared nuclear programmes to build up uranium stockpiles.

One nuclear counter-proliferation expert told the FT: "If I am going to make a bomb, I am not going to use the uranium that I have declared. I am going to use what I acquire clandestinely, if I am going to keep the programme hidden."

As the FT wryly closes its piece:

Mr Wilson was critical of the Bush administration's use of secret intelligence, and has since charged that the White House sought to intimidate him by leaking the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA agent.

But Mr Wilson also stated in his account of the visit that Mohamed Sayeed al-Sahaf, Iraq's former information minister, was identified to him by a Niger official as having sought to discuss trade with Niger.

As Niger's other main export is goats, some intelligence officials have surmised uranium was what Mr Sahaf was referring to.

Goats, yellowcake, sweet tea--what's the difference?

It's all about "false pretenses" and a mad rush to war!

UPDATE: The FT is now giving this story bigger coverage and has a second (lead) story up:

Intelligence officers learned between 1999 and 2001 that uranium smugglers planned to sell illicitly mined Nigerien uranium ore, or refined ore called yellow cake, to Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq.

These claims support the assertion made in the British government dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme in September 2002 that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from an African country, confirmed later as Niger. George W. Bush, US president, referred to the issue in his State of the Union address in January 2003.

The claim that the illicit export of uranium was under discussion was widely dismissed when letters referring to the sales - apparently sent by a Nigerien official to a senior official in Saddam Hussein's regime - were proved by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be forgeries. This embarrassed the US and led the administration to reverse its earlier claim.

But European intelligence officials have for the first time confirmed that information provided by human intelligence sources during an operation mounted in Europe and Africa produced sufficient evidence for them to believe that Niger was the centre of a clandestine international trade in uranium.

Well, I guess that's one fewer "lie" to throw at the feet of the Bushies.

But, of course, in the cretinous intellectual and political climate we inhabit (where the likes of Michael Moore parade about playing pretend noble dissident and are applauded by our estimable "cultural" arbitrers--from Tarantino's Cannes to Weinstein's Ziegfeld bash)--how many will read this critical update to the yellowcake chronicles in the august pages of the FT (or Instapundit!)?

Too few, doubtless.

Oh, and might Sy Hersh want to clarify his earlier New Yorker reporting on this matter?

The Bush Administration’s reliance on the Niger documents may, however, have stemmed from more than bureaucratic carelessness or political overreaching. Forged documents and false accusations have been an element in U.S. and British policy toward Iraq at least since the fall of 1997, after an impasse over U.N. inspections. Then as now, the Security Council was divided, with the French, the Russians, and the Chinese telling the United States and the United Kingdom that they were being too tough on the Iraqis. President Bill Clinton, weakened by the impeachment proceedings, hinted of renewed bombing, but, then as now, the British and the Americans were losing the battle for international public opinion. A former Clinton Administration official told me that London had resorted to, among other things, spreading false information about Iraq. The British propaganda program—part of its Information Operations, or I/Ops—was known to a few senior officials in Washington. “I knew that was going on,” the former Clinton Administration official said of the British efforts. “We were getting ready for action in Iraq, and we wanted the Brits to prepare.

Hersh might owe British intelligence a little apology, no?

After all, he accused them of cooking the books on Niger.

"Sexed up" intel and all that.

But, rather, it looks like, if anything, the story was a lot bigger than what Hersh derisively accused the Brits of hyping.

It, reportedly, wasn't just Iraq that may have trying to obtain uranium from Niger.

For good measure, throw in China, NoKo, Libya, and Iran too.

So who comes off looking more credible in this whole affair: Bush/Blair--or Hersh/Wilson?

I report, you decide.

N.B: But, as you do so, recall Wilson went out to Niger and sent back the 'all clear' to HQ on the yellowcake front.

He'll have a lot of egg on his face if it turns out Niger was, per the FT, at the "centre of a clandestine international trade in uranium", no?

But, then again, he was never the spy in the family!

STILL MORE:

Josh Marshall appears to intimate the FT has been peddled some misinformation.

He mostly ignores the FT's main revelation (that Niger may have been at the center of a clandestine international trade in uranium) and instead focuses on the identity of the forger.

Marshall all but formally announces he's got a mega, air-tight story in the works that will apparently point to a different person or persons or organizations (ie, not the unnamed Italian businessman) regarding the "origins of those forged documents and who was involved."

He then provides this "hypothetical" to put the FT piece in context:

Let's say that certain individuals or organizations are responsible for some rather unfortunate misdeeds. And let's further postulate that such hypothetical individuals or organizations find out that some folks are on to them, that a story is in the works -- perhaps more than one -- and that it's coming right at them. Those individuals or organizations -- as shorthand, let's call them 'the bad actors' -- might well start trying to fight back, trying to gin up an alternative storyline to exculpate themselves and inculpate others. If that story made its way into the news, at a minimum, it might help the bad actors muddy the waters for when the real story comes out. You can see how such a regrettable turn of events might come to pass.

Developing...TPM versus the Financial Times!

(Or is it TPM--or some other media outlet Josh may be working on the story for singly or jointly with others--versus "the bad actors"?)

I wish Josh the best of luck if he's got a scoop of this size.

He would become a launched journalistic brand.

But, it's worth bearing in mind, the FT isn't stock-full of gullible hacks.

And there's still the matter, quite aside from the identity of the forger(s), of whether Niger sat at an epicenter of major cross-border trade in uranium or not.

We can't just sweep that issue aside, can we?

Posted by Gregory at 10:44 PM

June 25, 2004

Weekend Reading

I'm on the road tomorrow and blogging looks to be light to non-existent over the weekend. So here's a little compilation of items well worth reading until I'm back in circulation.

A Q&A on al-Qaeda.

A veritable Saudi-rama over at CSIS.

Missing missiles in Ukraine.

Tony Lewis on Abu Ghraib over at the NYRB:

Another Iraqi officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kareem 'Abd al-Jalil, died on January 9, 2004, while at an interrogation facility. The original death certificate said he died of "natural causes... during his sleep." After stories in the Denver Post and on German television indicating that American soldiers had "danced on his belly," the Pentagon issued a new death certificate describing his death as a homicide from "blunt force injuries and asphyxia." Those two were regular Iraqi officers, not terrorists. In American history, until now, flag and field officers of opposing armies were given great respect when captured.

And don't miss Michael Ignatieff's contribution to a "What We Think of America" issue over at Granta:

On another wall of the monument, you could just make out the words from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, written as the Civil War advanced to its terrible victory:

'With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.'

He was a country lawyer, and the language that was native to him came from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Shakespeare’s plays and the Old Testament prophets. Out of these elements, forged together in a hundred stump speeches to his fellow citizens, he created American scripture, the prayers the country offers to believe in itself.

The invention of American scripture is not the prerogative of presidents. In 1945, on the battlefield of Iwo Jima, a rabbi from the US Marines buried his marines with these words:

'Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it die barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: it shall not be in vain. Out of this will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.'

The rabbi was burying Jews and Christians in the same soil. He was burying blacks and whites who had served in a segregated army. He knew, as Lincoln had known, that if citizens are willing to die together, then their descendants must live in freedom together.

I teach students from twenty countries in my class at Harvard. During this autumn of September 11 I thought they should hear American scripture. I played them the speech that Martin Luther King gave on the steps of the courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, after he had led his people to the end of the Selma March to secure their rights as American voters:

'I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon: however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because the truth pressed to earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you will reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. How long? Not long, cause mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored. He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword. His truth is marching on… Be jubilant my feet. Our God is marching on.'

The power of American scripture lies in this constant process of democratic reinvention. First a wartime president, then a battlefield rabbi, then a black pastor—all reach into the same treasure house of language, at once sacred and profane, to renew the faith of the only country on earth that believes in itself in this way, the only country whose citizenship is an act of faith, the only country whose promises to itself continue to command the faith of people like me, who are not its citizens.

Have a good weekend.

UPDATE: Don't miss this piece.

Sounds like "contacts" to me--whether "collaborative" or not.

Posted by Gregory at 12:19 AM

June 24, 2004

A Critical Moment in Nuclear History

Brent Scowcroft is right, of course.

We are at a critical juncture:

The absence of an effective international response to North Korean efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability may already have resulted in the entry of another country into the ranks of nuclear-capable powers. North Korea not only can be presumed to have reprocessed enough plutonium this year for an additional six to eight nuclear weapons, it reportedly also is working on a uranium enrichment capability to accompany its existing ability to reprocess plutonium from spent fuel rods.

Should Iran now be permitted to develop the capability to enrich uranium, it is almost impossible to imagine that other countries could be dissuaded from creating their own enrichment capabilities and consequently the capacity to produce weapons-grade material for nuclear weapons.

We are at a critical moment. Are we serious in our efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, or will we watch the world descend into a maelstrom where weapons-grade nuclear material is plentiful and unimaginable destructive capability is available to any country or group with a grudge against society?

Good questions all.

Similarly to North Korea, and despite the lack of material progress in forcing concessions from Pyongyang so far--we need to now present a very serious and united front to Iran consisting of a joint U.S., U.K, Russian, French and German position (well beyond ad hoc Euro ministerial troikas jetting about willy-nilly).

And we must de-link the issue of Iran's nuclear program from all the other (very important) aspects of our bilateral relationship with Iran (terrorism, Iraq, reform, etc).

The nuclear issue is simply too critical. Right now, we have to live with their trouble-making in Iraq and elsewhere and concentrate, like a laser, on the nuclear issue.

Also, of course, we need to deal with the Brazilian uranium enrichment issue that Scowcroft also mentions.

Why? The international community must understand that we (or, indeed, the above named concert of powers, perhaps with China and India added) are serious about not letting any other power develop nuclear weapons that doesn't already possess them.

Call it a nuclear domino theory.

For instance, if Iran goes nuclear, there will be a huge hankering for an "Arab" bomb (Egypt? Saudi?) to enhance the two "Islamic" bombs of Pakistan and Iran.

There will also be more movement in Asia (see Japan) to perhaps go nuclear given China and North Korea's capabilities.

Brazil (and, perhaps, Argentina) will then also be sure to pursue their nuclear programs with more alacrity.

A contrarian might think that we should replicate mutually assured destruction type nuclear parity (ie, U.S.-Soviet Union) through various regions (Asia: Japan/China); (Middle East: Iran/Israel); (Lat Am: Brazil/Argentina).

But there are too many terror groups out there and too many seepage issues--even assuming rational actors would always be at the helm of the governments of a materially larger nuclear club (an assumption that I wouldn't bet a dime on).

Let's also not forget that terrorists almost killed 20,000 people (at least, I've heard King Abdullah put the figure closer to 80,000) in a chemical bomb plot in Jordan recently.

They would, of course, kill millions in Manhattan or London the moment they could.

Keeping the nuclear club capped would be a major part of helping avoid such a horrific calamity that might throw the world into decades long turmoil--at least on par (and likely worse) than the horrifically bloody centuries of past.

As always, some will point to double standards (if Israel can have nukes, why not Brazil? Or Iran--especially if a democratic goverment were ushered in going forward?).

Ideally, we should have a WMD-free zone (ultimately including Israel) in the Middle East.

But Israel faces existential theats on varied fronts.

And, bottom line, history has marched on. It has nukes--period.

We can't reverse this development. Ditto Pakistan and India.

Israel could only be asked to pursue a nuclear disarmament move, in my view, pursuant to a comprehensive generalized mega-Middle East peace settlement--one presided over and monitored by the full range of fora of the international community.

And, needless to say, we aren't there by a long shot.

An aside. A British man recently touted to me the party line that Blair is lost and lonely because of Iraq. That history will simply remember him for kow-towing to Bush.

No, Blair will be remembered by history as the leader who, perhaps in a more intellectual, nuanced and pragmatic manner than Bush, realized that the threat of the 21st century is and will remain transnational terror groups getting their hands on WMD.

This concern, includes, of course, nuclear weapons that are, for instance, provided by disgruntled intelligence services of a country (like Iran, Pakistan, NoKo) that want to try to bring the U.S. or U.K. to its knees with a devastating blow to one of their major metropolises.

Scowcroft's op-ed reminds us (it's shocking, really, that we need reminding) again of these stakes.

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Gregory at 01:20 PM | Comments (5)

June 23, 2004

Some Brass Tacks Common Sense--From Michael Ledeen!

Here and there, I've taken a little pot shot at Michael Ledeen in this blog.

My biggest gripe(s)?

I'm worried about those who, in tiresome fashion, cheerlead the need for a "regional war" (especially when we don't have the resources to conduct one-- even if it were smart policy--which it isn't).

Or those so obsessed with the Iranian angle (the "terror masters", in Ledeen lingo). For Ledeen, the entire apparatus of Middle Eastern terrorism appears run out of a couple offices in downtown Teheran.

Are there no other terror hotbeads? Does Teheran control the Salafists in Algeria? GIA? Abu Sayyaf?

And isn't it a bit much to espy a Caracas-Teheran terror axis (it's not just B.A. and Mexico City!)

Or that a Chalabi-cheerleader can say something like this (seemingly straight-faced and without blushing):

..the refusal of the American government to provide Chalabi with support and protection for the past decade is what drove him to find a modus vivendi with Tehran in the first place.

Pretty rich, huh?

But really, I can live with all that. To each their pet projects, concentrations, world-views.

What really gets me, though, is those who will boisterously talk up fanning student revolts in Iran to overthrow the mullahs.

While I emphatize with reformist students, applaud their courage, and wish them every success in their endeavors-I am, finally, very scared that we get them too excited the cavalry is coming in and then leave them in the lurch.

Because, as we all know, there is no cavalry to send in right now unless we are planning further troop reductions from South Korea or such.

You know, it's easy to sit around Dupont Circle (or your favorite blogging terminal or station) saying/keyboarding: More support for the students! Beam in VOA! Send cash!

But, at the end of the day, if such a movement caught fire, the Mullahs would get very nervous. And likely engage in Tiananmen style crackdowns.

Quite bloody ones, in fact.

And while the student's blood would be getting spilled in the streets of Iran, we could continue attending little conclaves at AEI or hitting the keyboard in Belgravia.

And, finally, I think that is reckless and morally defunct.

Regardless, the students in Iran are smart. They realize that, after their initial euporia/emboldenment resulting from having major U.S. troop deployments to both their West and East, that we are busy on both the East Front (whither UBL? A find that could decide the election) and West Front (security as 'critical enabler' in Iraq). So they are lying low right now.

You know, if things had gone swimmingly in Iraq; perhaps I'd be the first person calling for more robust encouragement of student dissent in Iran.

But we're not there right now. And, of course, students need to attract labor and other societal segments to their camp. Many of Ledeen and ilk's policy prescriptions make it so very easy for the Mullahs to tar the students as traitors and American agents.

But, as the title of this post suggests, I actually have something nice to say about Leeden!

Here's something that Leeden wrote that I can definitely agree with:

First, the matter of the "abuses" of the prisoners. Maybe the temperature of the rhetoric has cooled enough for us to address the most important aspect of the debacle: Torture and abuse are not only wrong and disgusting. They are stupid and counterproductive. A person under torture will provide whatever statements he believes will end the pain. Therefore, the "information" he provides is fundamentally unreliable. He is not responding to questions; 99 percent of the time, he's just trying to figure out what he has to say in order to end his suffering. All those who approved these methods should be fired, above all because they are incompetent to collect intelligence.

Torture, and the belief in its efficacy, are the way our enemies think. And remember that our enemies, the tyrants of the 20th century, and the jihadis we are fighting now, are the representatives of failed cultures. Our greatness derives from the superiority of our culture, and we should, as the sports metaphor goes, stick with what got us here.

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 11:34 PM | Comments (5)

Who Else Is In the Crowd?

In the midst of his swearing-in ceremony this quick aside from John Negroponte:

AMBASSADOR NEGROPONTE: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, Ms. Rice, Minister Rend al-Rahim, other colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps who have already been recognized by Secretary Powell, distinguished guests and friends, I guess I would like, first of all, just to acknowledge the presence of one other person who is here today and with whom I look forward to working extremely closely in the months ahead, and that is General George Casey who has just relinquished his or is about to relinquish his duties as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army to come out to be the Commander in Iraq. So I just wanted everybody to know that George is here as well.

Yeah, not your typical Ambassadorship. George Casey is, indeed, "here as well."

And while Negroponte opened by mentioning the U.S. commander who will lead 130,000 U.S. G.I.s on the ground, he ended by addressing the U.N. community:

I would also like to honor our fallen colleagues from the United Nations, notably Sergio Vieira de Mello and to thank United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and his Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi for guiding the political process that has led to the interim Iraqi administration. I look forward to continued collaboration with UN colleagues in the months ahead.

Watch Negroponte pull off a degree of U.N. involvement, assuming the security situation materially improves, that well exceeds Nancy Soderberg's (a passionate and smart observer of the U.N. scene) somewhat pessimistic take.

P.S. Note too, per Powell's remarks, his mention of sitting Ambassadors that have stepped down to serve as "DCMs" or Deputy Chiefs of Mission under Negroponte.

Once you become an Ambassador, you normally don't downgrade back to DCM status.

But, of course, this is probably the most critical Embassy to serve at since Saigon in the late 60s and early 70s.

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

No Immunity

Another unintended consequence of Abu Ghraib.

They'll likely be many more.

This wasn't about Kofi Annan's speech.

It was about not having gotten on top of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

If we had, we could have more effectively lobbied the UNSC and prevailed on this resolution, I suspect.

Posted by Gregory at 09:11 PM | Comments (12)

June 22, 2004

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Ouch.

But this is better news for Dubya.

Here's the lead WaPo story.

You know, I'm a bit of a skeptic when it comes to polls.

For instance, how can this be right?

The president is viewed as a stronger leader than Kerry and as the candidate who can be most trusted in a crisis. He is also seen as best able to "make the country safer and more secure" and the one who "takes a position and sticks with it."
But by 52 percent to 39 percent, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy -- a troubling finding for Bush, whose truthfulness before the war in Iraq has been called into question.

The two bolded parts appear a bit contradictory, don't they?

Here's the specific polling data:

1) Kerry more honest; BUT

2) Bush can be trusted more in a crisis...

Hmmmm....work that one out for me? My guess:

Bush is seen a strong, principled leader--but all the (mostly hyped) stories about how Bush ginned up al-Q/Saddam links have hurt him (ed. note: If so many Americans think they were misled on this score; someone please explain this poll result to me?)

Again, lies, damn lies, and statistics.

So you throw in a good dollop of media stories about all the space between avuncular Tom Kean/Lee Hamilton and messianic 'damn the evidence' Dubya and Cheney--you get a disconnect where most Americans (over 60%) believe or suspect Saddam had cooperated with al-Q historically--but a full 48% nevertheless believe they were misled on said alleged links.

How about the critical economy?

Well, are you better off than you were 4 years ago?

Well yeah, or at least the same ....

Not bad given one of the most absurd bubbles in financial history had just popped as Dubya came into office.

And, importantly, it appears most people think the economy is going to be on an uptick going forward.

So here's the deal folks.

Pretty much, people are evenly split on whether Bush or Kerry would handle the war on terror better (48% Kerry to 47% Bush).

But by a margin of 54% to 40% people think Bush will make the country safer and more secure (second link at top of post).

And Bush beats Kerry on having a "clear plan" on terrorism 55% to 42%.

More Americans trust Bush in a crisis (but perhaps trust Kerry more during quotidian times?) (again, per above links)

More Americans think Bush has a clear plan for Iraq than they believe Kerry does (48% to 42%).

Oh, and this strikes me as important.

So tell me, please, why does the WaPo headline blare: "Bush Loses Advantage in War on Terrorism"?

Just asking.

P.S. Not a sole query on Abu Ghraib? All Lottian insouciance, I reckon, even amongst the pollsters and the great public....

UPDATE: Jon Henke and Robert Tagorda have more on this. Tagorda's post has an interesting take on why the WaPo's unnuanced lede (the 21% drop in Bush's war on terror approval rating) has occurred.

Posted by Gregory at 12:58 PM | Comments (4)

How Low the Bar?

We often think of lawyers as advocates, such as courtroom lawyers who make zealous arguments that may or may not convince a judge. But the Department of Justice lawyers who wrote the memo on interrogation and torture were acting as advisers. As such, their responsibility was to advise their "client," the executive branch, as to what the law requires. Lawyers routinely provide clients with such "opinion letters" to help sort out whether proposed conduct is legal, illegal or somewhere in between.
The Justice Department memo assured the Bush administration of three things: First, that interrogators could cause a lot of pain without crossing the line to torture. Second, that even though the United States criminalizes torture and has signed a treaty outlawing it, interrogators could torture prisoners as long as the president authorized it. Third, that even if those interrogators were later prosecuted for engaging in torture, there were legal defenses they could use to avoid accountability.

-- Kathleen Clark and Julie Metrus writing in Sunday Outlook.

Read the whole thing.

The final two sentences might be most important.

But we don't really live in that kind of era anymore, do we?

Posted by Gregory at 12:57 AM | Comments (1)

Kurdish Intrigues

Israel's Plan B? So sayeth Sy Hersh.

Laura Rozen is right, however, to inject a contrarian note given robust Israeli-Turkish relations.

If not, can a Syrian-Turkish rapprochment be far behind (you gotta Kurdish problem? No, I've gotta a Kurdish problem....)

P.S. Don't forget us!

Oh, don't miss Turkish Foreign Minister's Abdullah Gul's non-denial on the Israel-in-Kurdistan story:

Reminded of New Yorker magazine's claim about Israel's joint activities with Kurds in north of Iraq, Gul said, ''we have been closely monitoring all developments in Iraq. Several news and information come from time to time. We make necessary warnings about them. Everybody knows about our sensitivities especially regarding Kirkuk. Everybody knows well that we absolutely won't allow any fait accompli there.''

"Everyone", in roughly descending order of concern (in terms of their current influence/roles) for Gul, are likely: 1) Americans; 2) Kurds; 3) Shi'a and Sunni (vis-a-vis contributing to a unitary state outcome); 4) Iran (as 3); 5) Israel; 6) Syria; and 7) Turkomen (don't get in trouble brothers!).

Posted by Gregory at 12:00 AM

June 21, 2004

Game Time!

Let's play a little game.

Read this veritable opus over at the Guardian entitled: "9/11: At Last the Full Story Has Been Told."

Then spot (or comment, if inspired) the melodramatic language, manifold distortions and factual inaccuracies that riddle the piece (there looks to be almost one every other graf!).

Extra points for ones that make Bush (or Cheney) look bad and Clinton (or Richard Clarke) good.

And don't miss this beaut:

"Some, such as Osama bin Laden, tall, handsome scion of one of the Gulf's richest families, were minor celebrities. Others, such as Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, a tubby young Pakistani engineer, shunned the limelight."

They sound almost cute these two mass murderers, eh?

I mean, you almost wanna cuddle up with KSM, don't you?

You know, it's sad the U.K. has so few serious papers.

The Guardian, like the ultra-left Independent, is a tabloid, basically.

Stories like this one showcase that sad fact.

The mid to high-Tory musings of the Daily Telegraph are, truth be told, often suspect too. Nor is the Times hugely impressive ( Sarah Baxter, notwithstanding!).

Aside from the FT--it's quite grim over here--in terms of dailies.

Why can't the home of the best general circulation newsweekly in the world (the indispensable Economist) do better on the dailies front?

Beats me.

You know, this blog often criticizes the NYT. But, truth be told, it's mostly a labor of love. I consider it a national treasure (post-Raines, bien sur).

Ditto, the WaPo has a long and illustrious history. And the WSJ is pretty damn solid too.

Pity the Brits come up so short on this front, don't you think?

Posted by Gregory at 11:39 PM | Comments (19)

June 20, 2004

Warren Christopher's Back!

THE BUSH administration is waking up to Darfur, the western Sudanese province where Arab death squads have herded African villagers into refugee camps and are waiting for them to die. Two weeks ago Andrew Natsios, the administration's top aid official, estimated that at least a third of a million refugees are likely to perish for lack of food or basic medicines, and earlier this month Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged to the New York Times that the death squads have been supported by Sudan's government. Mr. Powell added that State Department lawyers are determining whether the killing, which the administration has already characterized as ethnic cleansing, may qualify for the term "genocide" -- a determination that would impose moral, political and arguably also legal obligations to intervene in Darfur.

From a WaPo masthead today.

Sound familiar?

Next thing you know someone will call Darfur a "Problem from Hell."

UPDATE: Link fixed.

Posted by Gregory at 11:19 PM

The "Transformationists": As Reckless as Saddam?

How ticked off are intelligent pro-war people about the Administration's post-major combat phase handling of Iraq?

This T.O'd:

The willingness of members of the Bush administration to abandon their past records of prudence and match Saddam's reckless and delusional behavior with their own may have been the most important element missing from my own thinking about the war.

Alexander Cockburn? Robert Fisk? Noam Chomsky?

Nope, Ken Pollack!

Pollack is clearly torn on Iraq now well over a year out.

He rues the fact that Powell didn't have more influence re: Iraq policy-making and, correctly, states that one might have thought he would have around the time he was spearheading passage of 1441.

And Cheney, whom Pollack doesn't talk about quite as much, had as 41's SecDef shown a willingness to mount a war effort in the Gulf with 28 coalition partners and a high troop count.

But, of course, this was pre-9/11 Cheney.

He hadn't yet caught the "fever"!

Pollack doesn't mention Wolfowitz at all and mentions Rummy just once (unless you count the reference to the "transformationalists").

But, of course, everyone knew that those two would be key players in any prosecution of the Iraq war. And, it bears noting, they weren't necessarily known as the most cautious, realpolitik types in the Beltway.

What we didn't know, I guess, was that State was going to get so firmly shut out of the process and, most important, that the Pentagon would be flat out unwilling to put enough boots on the ground to create secure conditions.

That, ultimately, was the biggest F up (with the related disbanding of the Iraqi army writ large with the requisite Jacobin fervor amidst all the de-Baathification chest-beating).

Does this mean Wolfy (or Rummy) pace Pollack, were (are?) as "reckless" as Saddam?

No, that's a tad exaggerated, don't you think?

But it does mean they imperiled a nation-building excercise with their stubborn refusal to pursue real 'shock and awe'--at least 300,000 troops patrolling that country, securing supply lines; specialized constabulatory units policing less 'hot' areas; more marines; fewer reserves; more effective intelligence gathering (sans Ghraibian truncheons) fewer lugubrious 'sack-hoods' and razor-wire; fewer I.E.D's and terror bombings.

Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria wishes we had done Iraq more like we did Afghanistan:

Why has Afghanistan been more successful than Iraq? In Afghanistan, the Bush administration adopted a version of postwar policies developed over the '90s. After the war, it handed the political process over to the United Nations and directed its military efforts through nato. The United Nations was able to structure a political process (the loya jirga) that had legitimacy within Afghanistan as well as internationally. With some massaging, it produced a pro-Western liberal as president. Making the military efforts multinational has meant that today, the European Union spends about as much on Afghanistan as the United States and that the new Afghan army is being trained jointly by the United States and ... France.

Of course, loya jirgas are a bit harder to pull off when two ethnic groups in a country have been victims of genocidal policies by another.

Put differently, I'm not so sure Zakaria is right that Afghanistan was perhaps a more complex state-building exercise than Iraq.

Iraq is plenty hard folks. Probably, all told, harder.

Even if we had NATO and, er, the French there (who, incidentally, have likely let Radovan Karadzic slip through their gallant Gallic fingers more than once--so aren't necessarily the most, er, morally upstanding peacekeeping partners to be in bed with).

Posted by Gregory at 04:42 PM | Comments (11)

Why Is This So Hard?

After the commission staff released its findings Wednesday that there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda -- challenging an assertion Bush and Vice President Cheney have made for the past two years -- Bush declared again that there was, in fact, a relationship.

Dana Milbank in today's WaPo.

Look, you don't have to be a charter member of the Laurie Mylroie crowd, spouting off about Prague intrigues, to accept that Bush/Cheney aren't lying on this issue.

Here's 9/11 Commission vice-chair Democrat Lee Hamilton:

I must say I have trouble understanding the flack over this. The Vice President is saying, I think, that there were connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government. We don't disagree with that. What we have said is what the governor just said, we don't have any evidence of a cooperative, or a corroborative relationship between Saddam Hussein's government and these al Qaeda operatives with regard to the attacks on the United States. So it seems to me the sharp differences that the press has drawn, the media has drawn, are not that apparent to me.

Again, why is this so hard?

Do I think Cheney should cool it a bit on Prague/Atta?

Yeah, probably.

But do I think he was right to lambast the NYT's earlier handling of this story?

Yeah, I do.

Their treatment of the story was constitutive of hyperbolic media bias--pure and simple.

By the way, back over at the WaPo, Milbank goes on to suggest that Kerry might use some of the 9/11 Commission findings to wound Bush politically.

I'm not so sure.

9/11 was the biggest tragedy to hit the continental United States since the Civil War.

It's not a political football--particularly as the attack was being planned during Clinton's time in office.

Kerry should tread very carefully on this issue, in my humble opinion.

UPDATE: A NYT retraction, of sorts!

Posted by Gregory at 02:00 PM | Comments (6)

Reverse Augustinianism

"It is important to remember that freedom is not the same thing as democracy. When people are liberated, they become free to be what they already are. They almost never are already a democracy. Democracy is an elaborate structure of principles and institutions. It is built, not found. The liberation of Iraq is only a condition for the democratization of Iraq. Finally the fate of Iraq is in the hands of Iraqis. If Iraq becomes a theocracy, or succumbs to a strongman, or collapses as a state, all this, too, will be the work of a free Iraq. For this reason, it is important to remember also that democratization is essentially a policy of destabilization. It demands the overthrow of one political culture so that another political culture may take its place. (That is why the outrages at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere are not only repugnant but also disastrous: "Hearts and minds" are precisely the field upon which democratizers make their stand. In this regard, nothing could be more damaging to the future of Iraq than Iraqi anti-Americanism.) It is absolutely astonishing that the planners of this war expected only happiness in its wake. Their postwar planning seems to have consisted in a kind of reverse Augustinianism: goodness is the absence of evil, Saddam is evil, Saddam's absence is good. They failed to intuit all the other evils that would emerge in the absence of this evil. They did not recognize the multiplicity of Iraq's demons; which is to say, they did not recognize Iraq. Here, too, they operated unempirically, in a universe of definitions and congratulations."

--Leon Wieseltier, writing in TNR.

Read the whole thing.

There are so few journalists of his caliber.

And don't miss John McCain (also writing in TNR's special Iraq issue) either:

Should we have done things differently? Of course. We should have worked harder before the war to get more European allies on board and offered greater political support to those nations that did join our coalition. We should have invaded with more troops, acted more quickly to stop looting, stabilized key cities, secured arms depots and borders, and established checkpoints in key areas. We should have handed power more rapidly to Iraqis. But were we wrong to invade? No. On the biggest question of all--whether Saddam had to go, by force if necessary--we were right. I would do it again today.
Posted by Gregory at 02:51 AM

B.D.'s Baghdad Correspondent Writes In

What's it like 10 days before the handover over in Iraq?

Here's one glimpse into the pre-handover craziness from someone who has been in Baghdad for several months.

There is an interesting part where my (somewhat cantekerous) correspondent is exasperatingly attempting to describe the electoral process to a Fallujan who is less keen on the ballot-box.

Not always an easy co-habitation this whole democracy-building thang.

Exasperated American meets Fanonian Fallujan.

Earlier this week, a car bomb on Tahrir Square in Baghdad blew two GE contractors to bits and killed or hurt a lot of other people. The post-carnage crowd was angry, blaming Americans, or Jews, or both, for the vicious act that clearly had nothing to do with either party. The one driver in our crew whom I’ve become most fond of had been sprung loose for a few days, largely because a few of his neighbors—working class Iraqis who laid cement—were recently slaughtered by terrorists in retaliation for “working for Americans,” i.e., trying to fix broken buildings. He needed a few days to sort his head out and soothe his worried family’s nerves, so he was cruising the downtown looking for car parts when the blast went off. He ran into the crowd, fast becoming a mob, and, with what few dinars he had in his pocket, purchased the non-obliterated personal effects of one of the contractors from a looter so they wouldn’t be desecrated in the melee that ensued. These have been conveyed to the CPA who, in turn I trust passed them back to the bereaved families at home. Since those electrical power workers were killed earlier this week, the electricity supply has gotten worse, and the power goes out for a few minutes several times an hour now. I wonder if there is a correlation.
Today, we hit Fallujah with an aerial bombardment aimed at a “safe-house” where members of Al Qaeda operative Zakawri’s network were said to be making bombs. The strike resulted in a series of secondary explosions, which suggests we were dead-on right. I say “we” advisably, and well out of context, literally, anyhow. A couple days ago I was cornered at a conference by a man from Fallujah.... He wanted to talk about the resistance, and it soon became apparent he was one of them, if not simply a wildly-sympathetic idiot. “You will come to Fallujah and negotiate between us and the Coalition Forces,” he said, as if he were speaking prophesy. I tried to set him straight on what I did here, and he looked both confused and angry, re-phrasing his thesis as best I could tell, in elementary Arabic. “Resistance is power, and without us the new government will be nothing,” he said, as if he were talking to someone who mattered. Realizing he’d skipped the first few lectures, I tried to explain what elections were all about. “But resistance is power,” he countered, all the more irritated for his efforts. Later that day, the translator who had facilitated this exchange approached me in state of obvious concern. Do you remember that man’s face, he asked? Please do, he continued—try hard—because if you don’t see me on Monday, he is the reason why.
With eleven (or in a few minutes, ten) days left to go before hand-over, people are wondering whether this will all work. Would I stake my sacred honor on the proposition that it will? With the right support, yes, it will work out. One way or the other.
Nearly 90% of Iraqis say they will vote at the end of this year or early next, a soon-to-be released poll we conducted over the last several weeks indicates. First elections usually do have a big turnout. Projected figures, which may well be discounted by ten or so points, still predict that participation in the December/January election for a Transitional National Assembly will double average turnout in the United States (in a non-presidential year). Despite the death threats voters will receive, I am confident a substantial number will all the same brave next winter’s poll. If, that is, the men with guns are resolute in their will to allow the election to happen and provide security for the millions who take the chance. Even without the guns, I think these people will vote. We simply have a moral obligation to ensure they get home safely afterwards.
Less disconcerting than my Fallujah interlocutor this week was a young man from Sadr City after I conducted a role-playing exercise with 57 political parties, movements and clerical associations on coalition-building. The game had been predicated on that day’s news that renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr would dissemble his militia and form a political party to take part in said elections. The loose rules required everyone else to react accordingly and, as the proverb goes, get their act together (they did, ultimately coalescing into three distinct electoral blocs). When the fun was over, this young fellow took me aside, explaining that he was a representative of al-Sadr, that the Saeed was most serious about his electoral intentions, wanted peace with CF, and would assure me safe passage to and from Najaf for a meeting. I told him I’d take this under advisement and thanked him for his candor. For each of the subsequent three days, this young man returned to the lectures and games and would make a point of looking meaningfully in my direction. I can only assume he is serious.
In a Washington Post piece today, a former CPA advisor argues against party-slate elections in favor of single-mandate ones, apparently having missed the point about the mixed system that was proposed by the United Nations (though yet to be clarified to the ordinary Iraqis who don’t read The Post, or would understandably be ill-equipped to counter its errors, too technically construed to be worth correcting). The simple fact is this: people who did not have a choice will soon get one. It is Allah’s will that they will have at their disposal sufficient means to make it. And at this point, now ten days out, one hopes the means justify the end.
Posted by Gregory at 12:12 AM

June 19, 2004

Why Has Britain Become Less Cool? Iraq, Of Course!

"Every British prime minister faces dark hours, but for Tony Blair it seems as if time has stood still at the nadir of his political career. The slump in his popularity brought on by the war in Iraq stubbornly will not come to an end.

Mr. Blair bounded into the top floor conference room at No. 10 Downing Street this week, radiating his trademark charm and sunny disposition to 100 reporters gathered for his monthly news conference.

"Iraq has dominated the agenda over many months and there is no point pretending otherwise," Mr. Blair told them pre-emptively. "But I should say to you that I believe every bit as passionately now that rogue states, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are indeed the security threat of the 21st century, and we have to confront them."

It was an assertion that did not carry the weight it did 16 months ago when he took the nation to war....

...The era of a cooler and hipper Britannia seems now lost to the rancor of a thousand political battles, but most overwhelmingly to the war in Iraq."

An op-ed in the Guardian?

A "news analysis" over at the Times?

Nope, just a straight piece of news reporting from Pat Tyler.

Note the (somewhat awkward) use of the word "pre-emptively."

Cute, huh?

Iraq isn't only to blame for making the U.K. less hip.

It also "pulls like the millstone around Mr. Blair's neck, and its weight has undermined his role as the pivotal prime minister, one whose leadership in Europe was supposed to give him more leverage over the Bush administration, and whose influence in Washington was supposed to strengthen Britain's hand in Europe."

Memo to Pat Tyler--it's not quite all that bad over here for Mr. Blair.

After all, polls wouldn't have Blair easily winning a third term if all were so doom and gloom.

But you wouldn't know that sitting in the Upper West Side perusing the "news" in the New York Times, would you?

Posted by Gregory at 11:01 PM

Abu Ghraib: Then and Now

A B.D. post from March 2003:

When Saddam suddenly ordered the release of tens of thousands of prisoners from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison last fall, the surge of inmates from within the walls and family members from without overwhelmed prison guards and crushed a number of people to death at the very moment of freedom. Reporters who ventured into the bowels of the prison were struck by the appalling odors of long human confinement. When the seal on Iraq is broken, the surge will be just as intense, and the smell of decades of repression just as rank. ''With the removal of the dictator,'' says Thomas Carothers, a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ''political life will begin immediately,'' and unless American troops are able to provide civil order while they hunt down weapons depots and resisting units of the Special Republican Guard, it will initially look more like vigilantism than party-building.

Leave aside the second part of this quote; which might get me boring my readers again about how we screwed up by not having at least double the troop count in Iraq back in April of '03 (real 'shock and awe'--ie., overpowering force and manpower throughout the country from Day 1).

Concentrate instead on the ironies surrounding the Abu Ghraib debacle--freed detainees ecstatic at leaving Saddam's torture chambers--and now a torture scandal, at the same jail, involving the United States.

Le plus ca change Euro-sophisticates are doubtless hemming and hawing over a good bottle of Pommard.

There have been tremendously worse and galling ironies, of course, not least on the European continent.

After all, the apogee of cruel irony--which significantly contributed to the cynicism infused post-modern era we inhabit--must be the infamous sign above Auschwitz:

"Arbeit Macht Frei", or "Labor is liberating."

The cynical, Abu Ghraib narrative prevalent in Europe and the Arab world (torture redux, new management) isn't, of course, even remotely of the same scope or nature as the hideously ironic import of that sign that loomed above Auschwitz--the site of one of humanity's greatest horrors and enduring shames.

But, alas, there are still ironies aplenty here.

Abu Ghraib now, in the world's popular imagination, whether fairly or not, is simply viewed as a longstanding penal colony that has simply come under new management.

New management that proclaimed they were coming to bring democracy and constitutions--rather than aberrations of said constitutions (such as supposedly Geneva Convention-compliant torture-lite--borne of suspect, mediocre and morally defunct legal analysis.)

Another irony is that I suspect many Iraqis are less concerned about Abu Ghraib than many outraged Western commentators.

Mostly because they know that, even given that some detainees may have been purposefully killed during U.S. captivity there, the mostly mock executions, sexual humiliations, menacing canine tactics, all told, don't come close to comparing with Saddam-era stewardship of the jail.

It Doesn't Really Matter that Saddam Did Worse

You know, a lot of people supporting the administration on this issue are talking these days about how Abu Ghraib was much worse under Saddam (including people I like and respect like Nick Schultz and Glenn Reynolds).

And, of course, they are (mostly) right. [ed. note: Why the "mostly"? Well, when you die because your skin has been peeled off or you die because you were conventionally beaten to death, the ultimate result is the same, isn't it?]

Still, of course, sexual humiliation and mock executions do not come close to the medieval-style, odious tortures perpetrated by Saddam's brutes at Abu Ghraib (that are hard even to read about--see Nick Schultz's piece for descriptions of the horrific tortures).

But folks, people like Glenn and Nick miss the point here.

We all know Saddam was a monstrous, neo-Stalinist thug.

To intimate, hey, he treated people worse than us--so our behavior is kinda not all that big a deal--that argument shouldn't be allowed to fly.

Especially given the alacrity by which legal grey zones were being found by which to push our obligations under the Geneva Conventions, pretty much, aside.

Especially given the undertow of anti-Arab racism (I get mail from people about how the "Arab culture is less free with the naked body" and such. The import is, why all the fuss about a naked pyramid stack or two?)

As I've said before, we wouldn't have treated Serbian POWs like this. To deny there is a racial aspect to our poor treatment of Arab detainees (and some Afghans) is farsical.

And especially too given the failure of the Administration to digest and understand the full impact of Abu Ghraib in terms of its impact on our moral standing and ability to demand greater human rights standards of others--from Burma to Venezuela; from Cuba to Zimbabwe.

What We Should Have Done; But Haven't To Date

We needed a major Presidential address on this scandal--announcing a thorough, full-blown investigation into U.S. policy on detainees worldwide--from Gitmo to Bagram and everywhere in between.

We needed (need?) Rummy to go--especially given his continued arrogance in addressing the full impact of the scandal ( Drezner pointed out one particularly good example here).

We needed to raze the jail (Christ, we invaded Iraq; now we need Iraqi permission to raze the jail? What B.S.! And regardless, who in the new Iraqi government would want to keep the bloody jail around anyway?)

We needed to release all pics and videotapes--rather than, as will doubtless occur going forward, having them come out piecemeal in the coming days and weeks.

The lack of disclosure lends to a feeling that there is much more to hide. And it aggravates the issue because people are continuing to wait for worse outrages to become public.

The better to get it all out in front per John McCain's suggestion.

After all, if we are going to clamor for the media to show us the barbaric reality of the Nick Berg and Paul Johnson beheadings--well, let's clamor for all the Abu Ghraib pics to be released too, no?

Needed: Real Leadership

Look, we ran Abu Ghraib (and seemingly other detention centers) in clear contravention of international norms we agreed to be bound by. And therefore, in my view, we ran afoul of both the letter and spirit of the U.S. constitution--notwithstanding "defining torture down" DOJ memoranda.

There really isn't any way around this.

No way around, either, the fact that Saddam invaded the Irans and Kuwaits of the world in naked self-interest--land and oil grabs.

Certainly not per any democracy exportation excercise.

We, on the other hand, claimed one of the reasons we went into Iraq was to forge a democracy. And, it bears noting, we may still do so. Despite the very difficult going so far, it's not inconveivable that a unitary, democratic Iraqi polity will still emerge.

But sadly, because of Abu Ghraib and the Administration's still sub-par handling of the scandal, we are showing ourselves to be less than ideal messengers of democratic tenets of accountability and the like.

This scandal is simply too big for Administration's handling of it--and not merely because the NYT and WaPo run stories on it day in, day out. It has got real, deep legs and is going to keep drip-dripping along.

The court martials of the low-level 'bad apples' should be suspended pending an independent investigation of top-down Administration action on our policy on torture and our detention centers worldwide.

To avoid all the partisan rancor and sniping that inevitably accompanies Congressional going-ons--I would propose a blue-ribbon style commission, with subpoena power, and staffed with leading elder statesmen (to the extent there are any left).

Think Cy Vance/Henry Stimson types.

People who aren't going to buckle under a Don Rumsfeld. Sam Nunn. James Baker. Brent Scrowcroft. Warren Rudman. And so on.

Allowing such a process to proceed would signal to the world that we take Abu Ghraib damn seriously.

And that a fully transparent investigatory process is underway.

Responsible, thorough, turn-over-every-rock kind of stuff.

Finally really, what we need is real leadership on this situation.

Empowering such a commission would signal that Bush gets the stakes and is willing to let the chips fall where they will.

You say, but investigations are proceeding. Court processes are afoot. Rummy has apologized. Generals have been suspended. Why the handwringing and hysterics?

I say, not good enough.

Not when the investigatory processes underway are too limited in scope and sometimes smell more like they are aimed at damage control than a thorough investigation of how systemic the problems of Abu Ghraib were and are.

And, not least, not when the Defense Secretary gets to appoint a key investigatory panel looking into the entire matter himself.

That, of course, signals and assumes that ultimate culpability should reside below the level of SecDef.

And, in my view, we simply don't know that just yet.

Posted by Gregory at 04:15 PM

Pootie Does Bush A Favor

Vladimir Putin making public that Saddam's Iraq was planning attacks against U.S. targets:

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services, the intelligence service, received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests.

Note the NYT does its best to pour cold water on the story via a State Department source expressing bafflement ("everyone's scratching their heads") at the revelation.

Obviously lots of people might speculate that Bush asked Putin to make this public now given the whole Iraq-al Q "connections" maelstrom and that the principal rationale for the war (Iraqi WMD) has not proven to be quite the slam dunk advertised.

It's a way of reminding people that there was a realist (a word quite in vogue these days) justification for going to war beyond WMD.

Put differently, Saddam might have been inspired and emboldened by al-Qaeda's success on 9/11. It's not a stretch to think a man who had tried to assassinate a U.S. President and started two regional wars might derive nefarious lessons from 9/11--including the pursuit of more ambitious anti-U.S. terror operations.

But why does Putin have such an ambiguous timeline (sometime between 9/12 and March '03)?

There are two main ways to interpret this ambiguity.

One, and like Gulf War I in '91, Saddam was trying to hit U.S. interests before the U.S. invaded. As the armada arrayed against him got bigger and bigger and closer and closer--it wouldn't be a stretch to see Saddam trying to attack U.S. targets--likely in the region but, perhaps, even in the U.S.

This would argue Saddam was planning an attack late '02 or early '03.

Also, it's worth noting, it's an interpretation that doesn't help Bush as much.

After all, if someone has a gun to your head--well, you might just take a shot first as, when and if able.

The other way to view this is that Russian intelligence had information about a potential Iraqi attack on U.S. interests closer to the 9/11 timeframe.

Here one would speculate more, per what I indicated above, that Saddam had been inspired by UBL and was looking to pull off a horrific 'spectacular' style attack.

I'd prefer (in the sense that we had another compelling justification to unseat Saddam) to think that the second interpretation is more likely--but, all told, I suspect it is likelier the former.

Otherwise the Russian leader would probably have provided greater details as to timing and location.

Bottom line: Pootie was just doing his buddy George a little favor coming out with this story at this time.

P.S.

For the record, I suppose I should say that a "realist" justification for the war continues to exist in my view--apart from this whole Putin story--and despite no WMD stockpiles turning up.

I supported the war and still do to this day--primarily on realist grounds (truth be told, with whispers of neo-Wilsonian/neo-con exuberance thrown in for good measure).

I never believed that Saddam was close to going nuclear.

But I was very concerned about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capability--whether potential stockpiles or programs (even semi-active or paused ones).

Post 9/11, whether Saddam was in bed with UBL or not, I simply felt the burden of proof was on regimes that had flouted international inspections regimes to say--loudly, transparently and without any obfusaction--look 'ma (or Kofi); all clean!

Saddam didn't do that per 1441. And so I believe he was in material violation of that resolution.

And, even if links with al-Q were de minimis--I think he might have still have provided anthrax or botulinum toxin agent, say, to enemies of the United States hell-bent on inflicting harm to our interests--particularly given the success of 9/11 and how it defined terrorism up.

As George Tenet put it in a speech back in February:

As David Kay reminded us, the Iraqis systematically destroyed and looted forensic evidence before, during and after the war. We have been faced with organized destruction of documentary and computer evidence in a wide range of offices, laboratories and companies suspected of weapons of mass destruction work. The pattern of these efforts is one of deliberate, rather than random, acts. Iraqis who have volunteered information to us are still being intimidated and attacked.

Put simply, he was still obfuscating and needed to be brought to task by the international community.

That said, I am hugely upset about Abu Ghraib (particularly the reticence of key Administration players to show some honor and accountability in this sad affair) and the handling of the post "major combat operations" stage of the conflict (and it's not all Monday morning quarterbacking, I fear).

Posted by Gregory at 02:47 PM

June 18, 2004

Diplomats for Change

More disgruntled former diplomats!

Read their manifesto. Here's the link to their main site.

Look, anyone who describes this bunch as merely consisting of the serried ranks of lily-bellied, cocktail-sipping, pin-striped appeasement aficionados (you know, those cowardly Foggy Bottom folks out there serving in places like Riyadh, Amman and Jakarta day in, day out) hasn't a clue of what they speak.

This is mostly a very estimable bunch of former diplomats who have affixed their names to this letter.

Chas Freeman, for instance, is generally considered one of the top-notch intellects to have served at State for decades.

Jack Matlock, Princeton Lyman, William Crowe, Stansfield Turner, Robert Oakley--these are seasoned, non-partisan folks (indeed many of them, I suspect, veer towards the Republican side of the ledger).

Does that mean that I agree with their contention that:

Never in the two and a quarter centuries of our history has the United States been so isolated among the nations, so broadly feared and distrusted.

Oh, I don't know.

We certainly haven't always been loved by legions of gratitude-infused folks throwing garlands at the benevolent altar of the rosy, post-war Achesonian order.

And the death of the Soviet Union sure makes (risk-free) America-bashing lots easier to indulge in in all the predictable quarters, to be sure.

Note the "Diplomats for Change" group actually made public this letter a couple days back in Washington. So I'm a little late to the party.

I checked out the video of their public roll-out of the initiative at the National Press Club late last night off an Internet feed.

A couple people made comments that were, shall we say, a tad too emotive (it happens!).

But there were a lot of serious points.

Here are four takeaways of note:

1) The former diplomats and military officials were asked whether they thought U.S. policy had been hijacked (you know, the neo-con cabal that was steering hapless Georgie around so Sharon could annex the West Bank and such)?

Nope, they responded. That wasn't their take.

Dubya is a strong leader, they said. He knows what's he's doing.

He knows what policy direction he wants to move towards.

He's listening to the advisors he wants to hear from, on the issues he cares about, per his priorities, per his worldview, per his desired outcomes.

I think that's about right--though Cheney did often loom large, doubtless.

Another way to look at this, of course, is to ask whether Rummy/Cheney (and so Libby, Wolfy, Feith) ran circles around Powell/Armitage/Grossman.

I don't think so--but would note the Veep likely influenced Bush heavily where close calls needed to be mediated and Condi didn't step into the breach.

And that, per Woodward's book, Powell never really bonded with POTUS like he wanted to--which likely impacted at least some of the bureaucratic battling on NoKo, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel-Palestine, how pissed to be at Chirac (ok, everyone was pissed at Chirac) etc. etc.

Well, we'll know more about all this a few years hence, doubtless (Powell's memoirs will not be, er, uninteresting).

2) Robert Oakley made the point that, over the past six weeks or so, realism is creeping back into Iraq policymaking (see Fallujah, Najaf, Brahimi, Chalabi, and so on).

So why did they all sign this letter, given such positive trends?

It appears they believe that a full-blown newbie team is required--even with such 7th inning corrections as have been occuring of late.

Too little, too late, I guess, is how the Jack Matlocks and Phylis Oakley's are taking stock of the situation.

I'm not so sure they should be quite so disconsolate--particularly given the aforementioned mid-stream policy corrections.

But, of course, I'd be surer if Dubya had, for instance, sacked Rummy post Abu-Ghraib (or hinted he needed to fall on his sword) and put John McCain in to replace him (ed. note: boring and predictable recommendation, you sigh...Yeah, but it would make a real difference and signal a corrective course, wouldn't it?)

3) Former Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak made the (screamingly obvious for so long) point that we needed to double (at least) the troop head count in Iraq.

Remember, security is the "critical enabler" for everything else we wish to achieve in Iraq. Sure, Fallujah and Najaf have quieted down (at what price is yet to be determined).

But car bombs going off willy-nilly slaying scores week in, week out--it certainly doesn't gain us too much by way of gratitude by beleaguered Iraqis, does it?

Of course, more troops are and were never going to be a panacea. Not by a long shot.

But it was likely smarter to have about 275,000 boots on the ground while not disbanding the entire Iraqi Army--than having 130,000 troops coupled with all the Jacobean fervosity surrounding de-Baathification efforts.

Would all have been rosy with more troops? No, of course not. But would things have been materially better? Yeah, I'm pretty confident they would have.

4) Chas Freeman, at the press club rollout, had some fun dissing Cheney. He quipped that yeah there was a nexus between int'l terror/al-Q and Saddam and the Baathists.

Because of the war, he went on, Hamas was helping the Sunni, Hezbollah the Shia, al-Q/jihadists helping the Baathists. Perhaps that was what Cheney was referencing, went the crowd-pleaser (judging from the chuckles among the assembled press corps)!

Still, of course, the 9/11 commission does state, as Lee Hamilton has pointed out, that "connections" between Saddam and al-Q had occurred in the past.

9/11 related contacts no (it's time for Cheney to drop Atta/Prague); but general contacts yes (so Cheney is right to scold the NYT re: their skewed coverage of this nuanced issue).

And, in a post 9/11 world, the fewer states with any links to al-Q, the better. (Note: Adesnik is less impressed).

More on related topics over the weekend.

Note: Katrina vanden Heuvel has the view from the Nation.

Posted by Gregory at 11:11 AM

Sid Vicious

Sidney Blumenthal, writing in the Guardian:

I joined a boisterous reunion of more than 200 former cabinet members (a cabinet that looked like America), advisors, staffers, friends, and Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul of Miramax. Hardly any of us had set foot in the White House since Clinton had departed. We felt completely at home, yet out of place. We had worked here every day for years and were now infidels in the temple.

The ceremony was like a Christmas truce in the trenches during the first world war. Bush, who had previously denigrated his predecessor, now graciously paid tribute, listing attributes that inevitably created comparison with himself, but different from Reagan: "A deep and far-ranging knowledge of public policy, a great compassion for people in need, and the forward-looking spirit that Americans like in a president."

Gosh, sounds like poor Sid Blumenthal was forced to hunker down with UBL himself in remote Baluchistan or such.

And doubtless Harvey Weinstein's presence added to the blush-cheeked, boisterous, apple-pie chomping American air...

Or, at least, this America.

P.S. Lighten up Sid; this wasn't a WWI Christmas Armistice--it was a portrait unveiling...

I mean, even MaDo thought Dubya was pleasant enough with Bill and Hillary!

Posted by Gregory at 10:51 AM

The New Site

So, now that the Instalanche has abated, I invite regular readers to please comment on the new site.

Good, bad, ugly? Any cross-browser issues? Some people say the font isn't too easy to read? Some, I gather, want me to juggle the positioning of some links.

Lemme know please. Comments enabled.

P.S. Thanks to Glenn for posting the move. Now that it has been mentioned over at Grand Central Station--I feel like, you know, the move is real.

Posted by Gregory at 10:41 AM | Comments (7)

Accountability Watch

President Bush yesterday on Don Rumsfeld:

QUESTION: Given your administration's assertions that it works closely with the International Red Cross, are you disappointed that Secretary Rumsfeld instructed military officials in Iraq to hold a member of Ansar al-Islam without telling Red Cross officials?

BUSH: The secretary and I discussed that for the first time this morning, and he's going to hold a press conference today to discuss that with you.

I'm never disappointed in my secretary of defense. He's doing a fabulous job and America's lucky to have him in the position he's in.

But the secretary will hold a press conference today and you might want to ask him that question at his press conference.

Never ever ever? Not even an entsy weentsy little bit?

Put differently, does the McNamaraesque cocksure, hubris-laden insouciance of such responses to the press not merit gentle admonishment from POTUS, just every now and again?

I mean, c'mon folks.

P.S. Or how about when Rummy referred to the "so-called Occupied Territories"?

If we had an NSC advisor who more proactively brokered (a la Scrowcroft) inter-agency disputes (so as to prevent policy drift and confusing signals sent to varied world capitals) she would have picked up the phone and said (oh I don't know):

" Don, you're Secretary of Defense--not Secretary of State. Stay the F out of the Middle East Peace Process, OK? The President doesn't appreciate it. You've got your hands full prosecuting two wars right now anyway. Isn't that keeping you busy enough?..."

Or some such...

Posted by Gregory at 10:32 AM

June 16, 2004

B.D. Has Moved!

Welcome to Belgravia Dispatch’s new site!

We’ve moved to MT and will still be getting accustomed to it over the coming days. So please be patient as new content comes on-line!

That said, please do update your blog-roll links and bookmarks.

Please note that I’ve added search functionality, RSS/XML/RDF feeds, and what I hope is easier to read text.

The world leader pics, in theory, will change every few months to reflect those individuals most influencing the news at the time.

Other graphical enhancements, like the map logo reflecting my London neighborhood, I hope you find pleasing to the eye.

Comments, while not enabled on a default basis, will occasionally be opened up to allow for reader input regarding certain posts.

Many thanks to ace web-designer Thomas Eberle for all his help setting up this site.

Finally, expect similar content as before--a mix of foreign policy analysis, media monitoring, occasional cultural commentary—just in what I hope you agree are better digs!

Posted by Gregory at 01:22 PM

June 15, 2004

Rudy Giuliani

Two interesting Rudy quotes from a recent talk:

"So, to many people, the world is a lot more dangerous than it was before September 11, 2001. I have exactly the opposite opinion. I believe the world is safer than it was before September 11th, 2001, and I believe it's safer in very realistic ways-in ways that it wasn't before that...."
"...On September 20th, 2001, and that's the date that I usually set for the change in policy, President Bush changed the policy of this government, and changed the approach, at least of those in the world who will follow us, will take to terrorism. He said very clearly in his address to the joint session of Congress, we are going to confront world terrorism, we are going to confront global terrorism, and we are going to try to destroy it before it destroys us. Instead of playing defense, we're going to play offense as well as defense, and we're going to do everything that we can to destroy it."

All told, this is still Bush's strongest card to play (along with an improving economy) in the impending elections.

This part of Giuliani's comments, however, rings more hollow given recent DOJ memos:

"I think, I think the way in which we're approaching it is the only way that we can, which is to investigate it, investigate it openly. If charges are going to be brought-and I don't want to assume they will or they won't because I'm not investigating it-but if charges are going to be brought, then figure out who's accountable for it, who's responsible for it, and punish them for it.

On the other hand, this is-this should not be seen as the general method or the general reaction of the American military. It's just the opposite. The American military is very humane, very decent, very well trained. This is not the desire, obviously, it's not the desire of the [Bush] administration. But even going beyond the administration, it's not the desire of the United States military. Whatever this turns out to be-and it's unfair to prejudge it-but whatever it turns out to be, this is going to be the actions of people who were acting improperly, against the rules, against the regulations, against. I was just at [the United States Military Academy at] West Point, giving a speech to their law class, and it was very, very inspiring. I try to do that as often as possible. It's very inspiring to talk to the cadets. But the colonel who runs the law program pointed something out to me that I knew, but he reminded me of it.He said that every cadet at West Point is required to take [a course on] constitutional law. And they have about a hundred [students] that are actually law majors, but everyone is required to take constitutional law. And they prefer that they take it in the last year. And they prefer that they do that because very soon now, a number of them are going to put up their hands and swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and it's a good idea, he says, that they learn it before they swear to uphold it."

Such legal analysis goes some way towards tarnishing Rudy's (good) thoughts about West Point ConLaw classes, doesn't it?

Put differently, was what was going on in Abu Ghraib really against the (new and improved) rules?

The rules Giuliani assumes were merely broken by some 'bad apples'?

Posted by Gregory at 09:05 PM

Another October Surprise?

No, not UBL. But an Iran with nuclear weapons?

Well, all told, likely not on such an expedited time frame. But issues surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions are shaping up to likely be the next major foreign policy challenge Bush (or Kerry) will have to face.

In some quarters, I suspect, there are already whispers that a nuclear Iran might be becoming something of a fait accompli...

UPDATE: Hoagland has more:

With no obvious workable military option, the next American president will be confronted with a growing feeling among Europeans that the best available strategy may be to try to keep an Iranian finger off the trigger of fully developed and deployed nuclear weapons.

Iran would then come to resemble Pakistan, which froze its development at the screwdriver stage in 1989 and then exploded its first device nine years later to respond to India's nuclear testing. The thrust of international diplomacy since the 1998 tests has been to prevent deployment of nuclear weapons by India or Pakistan.

Iran is a living, moving foreign policy quandary that is just over the horizon in voters' concerns. Kerry and Bush should move now to spell out the actions that would prevent this crisis from worsening as the campaign proceeds. That forces each candidate to think about the future and gives voters a chance to see each's judgment at work in real time.

Posted by Gregory at 09:04 PM

One Reason Joe Biden Should Not Get Secretary of State

John Kerry could field top-notch folks like former U.N. Ambassador and Bosnia peace shuttler Richard Holbrooke to the 7th Floor at State should he win the election.

But putting in Senator Joe Biden, as has been rumored in some quarters, would likely be a major mistake. For one, the guy (with all due respect)--is just too much of a blowhard.

Check out these utterances from a CFR Campaign 2004 debate (Chatham House rules do not apply--as this meeting was on the record!):

"And we squandered an opportunity for legitimacy by deciding that [Iraqi National Congress leader]Ahmad Chalabi should be airlifted into Basra and that the Shi'a would march into Baghdad like Christ went into Jerusalem before he was crucified. The crucifixion took place early."

A couple problems with this--aside from the absurd evocation of crucifixion imagery.

Chalabi was airlifted into Nasiriyah--not Basra (details matter when you are Secretary of State).

And we didn't march Shi'a into Baghdad! Hundreds of thousands already lived there in teeming slums like Saddam City (now called Sadr City, as we are all painfully aware).

Shouldn't Biden know all this? And, if he doesn't, shouldn't he be a little more, er, quiet?

Posted by Gregory at 09:03 PM

June 14, 2004

Defining Torture Down

DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel wrote a highly depressing memo for White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez which, in turn, led to this memo to POTUS.

In two PDF attachments, here and here, the WaPo has made public the memo.

A few general points.

Whoever marked up the document that the WaPo got their hands on is not a friend of the Administration. The highlighted areas are, typically, those most damning to the White House (UPDATE: Tom Maguire informs me the WaPo's Dana Priest marked up the memo; according to a Washington Post chatroom discussion).

Second, I was surprised to see a blatant typo in a legal memorandum addressed to the White House counsel. Sloppy!

Third, and much more important than one or two, the memo is repugnant and showcases why so many authoritarian brutes have law-related educational backgrounds (think Milosevic, for instance).

The analysis is chillingly clinical--with nary a thought for the moral ramifications of what is being recommended. No wonder intellectuals like Solzhenitsyn pity a society that is overly emasculated by the rule of law--with little by way of spiritual moorings.

One can rationalize so much wanton cruelty under the cover of expansive and/or creative interpretations of statutory and/or common law (you'll see how below)...

I don't say this as a naif. I'm a corporate lawyer--I do this type of thing for a living (no, not writing how-to-legally-torture memos--but scrutinizing finance documents with utmost scrutiny day in, day out).

And, as regular readers of my blog know, I support pretty robust prosecution of anti-terrorist actions worldwide.

Neverthless, I find this memo disturbing on a variety of levels.

It's not particularly convincing, for one thing, simply on a legal analysis level.

It's, as mentioned above, devoid of any moral compass. And it has worrisome connotations regarding the breadth of the Abu Ghraib scandal.

And, of course, it represents yet another stain on the U.S.' reputation as primary avatar of human rights, I fear.

Can Abu Ghraib Democrats (the flip side of 9/11 Republicans) be far behind?

Anyway, back to the memo.

There are five main parts to the memo.

Part I deals with defining (down) standards of conduct as set out under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment as implemented by Section 2340 of the US Code.

Part II focuses more on the Convention itself (rather than the implementing statute in the USC).

Part III is a chilling (that word again!) analysis of the Torture Victims Protection Act, 28 USC Section 1350.

Part IV looks to best practices re: sensory deprivation tactics in places like 'time of troubles' era Ireland, 'intifada' Israel and so on.

Part V--USC 2340(A) is deemed (surprise!) likely unconstitutional as an infringement on the President's GWOT-era duties.

And, oh yeah, there's a Part VI--how necessity or self-defense can be used as a defense against a violation of 2340(A) (a particularly gross little section of which more later).

Part I: Through some pretty shoddy analysis, the DOJ lawyers conclude that for torture to rise to a threshold proscribed by Section 2340 of the USC--it must "be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, even death." [my emphasis]

From where is such comfort drawn? The drafters of the memo pluck out statutory law dealing with "severe pain" in the context of emergency medical conditions necessitating provision of health benefits!

And, hot damn, "severe pain" in this context, for a "prudent lay person," would involve, shall we say, near death experiences. This is not only morally defunct analysis when exported into parsing acceptable thresholds for savage tortures--but it's also just plain crappy legal analysis.

Imagine what David Boies would make, for example, of the use of a 'severe pain' definition used in the context of statutory laws dealing with health benefits for emergency medical conditions being shoehorned into the context of interpreting torture law!

There is also a long (and sadly underwhelming) discussion on intent. You see, per Section 2340, "specific intent" to cause "severe pain" needs to be shown. But, please note, the "infliction of such pain must be the defendant's precise objective." [emphasis added]

If the defendant was merely reasonably likely to know severe pain was in the offing, this scummy memorandum goes on, this is but general intent.

See 'ma, no violation of 2340 (I wasn't quite sure these blows to the head would kill the guy)!

Look, I went to law school. I know that mens rea is a big deal.

But these are pretty tortured (pun intended) arguments. And, even if you want to argue that the legal analysis is at least arguably sound (if aggressive, but hey these are special times!)--they are nevertheless shameful and repulsive, imho.

Oh, despite all the difficulties in establishing specific intent, what if (God forbid!) it's proven anyway?

Well, helpfully, the crack-team at DOJ spells out the defense. If the defendant had a good faith belief that the acts perpetrated wouldn't be violative of the statute--then, hell, he lacks the mental state required for his actions to constitute torture and, voila, no prob! (Translation: Sh*t, man; I didn't know the dog would, like, bite! And so on.)

How about use of drugs (one of four 'predicate act' examples in the memo)? Not suprisingly, a wide berth (in terms of acceptable usage) here too.

Such use of drugs, to constitute torture, must rise to the level of "disrupting profoundly the senses or personality" (yeah, that means more than a particularly good joint washed down by a Napa red on the veranda in the 'burbs).

Not only must such profound sensory distortions be in the offing--the defendant must consciously have "designed the acts of administering the drug to induce such an effect" (whatever that means).

And what example is used to showcase what might constitute such a grave, sensory impact?

A full-blown "drug-induced dementia," for one. Helpfully, we are allowed that the onset of "brief psychotic disorder" would torture make too (the writers probably debated the "brief" part, one suspects, only relunctantly inserting it after fevered debate...)

I'll spare you more of this (though I could go on).

But Part I of the memo is drawing to a close, and I can't sum it up better than the memo writers themselves conclude in said document:

"...Each component of the definition emphasizes that torture is not the mere infliction of pain or suffering on another, but is instead a step well removed. The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in the loss of significant bodily function will likely result."

As I said, disgusting.

We will have more on Parts II-VI in the coming days. Some of it, in my view, is worse than what I've summarized per Part I.

Deep down, I know this President can stand up, loud and clear, and scream from the bully pulpit that this was all FUBAR.

Sure, we can entertain Alan Derschowitz like suggestions to have torture warrants issued under exceptional circumstances when we might have a guy who knows where and when the next 9/11 is going to happen and won't talk.

And he's just gotta speak.

Let's, by all means, have a way to help make that happen.

But to write memos like these (meant for general application and going forward scope rather than specific exceptions when the Republic is seriously imperiled); memos that define torture down so amorally, is (I like to think) un-American. Even in the context of particularly perilous GWOT-times.

Don't you agree?

Posted by Gregory at 09:03 PM

Le Business

Who knew?

"France and Israel are expected to announce the signing of the biggest weapons deal between the two countries since the French embargo on weapons sales to Israel prior to the Six-Day War...

And this is amusing:

"...Israeli security sources emphasize that in contrast to relations with the French Foreign Ministry, relations between the defense establishments of the two countries have been on the upswing since the mid-1990s."

Posted by Gregory at 09:02 PM

Euro-Elections

Blair and Berlusconi fared poorly at the polls.

It must be the Iraq "shadow", of course!

Except, of course, that Schroder and Chirac's parties fared just as poorly (if not worse, it's a close call).

In the U.K, it bears mentioning, the nefarious specter of Brussels appeared, by far, a bigger factor than that of Baghdad.

And don't miss this gem:

"Despite the reverse, President Jacques Chirac and Jean-Pierre Raffarin, his prime minister, are expected to exploit the historically low turnout to play down the extent of the UMP's poor performance. Before the vote Mr Raffarin observed the vote could not be construed as aimed against the government: "It is Europe which is in question: the response will be one of mistrust or trust towards Europe...."

"As an indication of popular priorities, TF1, the main TV channel, cut its usual practice of devoting an entire evening to election results.

Instead it mixed election results with its main news for half an hour and then went on to transmit the France-England game in the group stage of the Euro 2004 football championships
."

Leaders rubbish sentiment towards Brussels to explain away their poor electoral showings while, meanwhile, the masses are more keen to take in the soccer games unfolding in Portugal.

You think, perhaps, that the long-term success of the supra-national EU project might appear in some doubt (that's a rhetorical question)?

Note, of course, that EU unification was always more of a top-down, elite-driven project.

So the fact that Raffarin is so quick to poo-pooh sentiment towards Euro-land--to explain away his own parties' electoral shortcomings--well, it speaks volumes.

Note too, of course, that structural unemployment and reforms contributed to the Euro-wide protest vote.

Posted by Gregory at 09:01 PM

June 13, 2004

Rainesian Encroachements

Tucked into a Jeffrey Gettleman New York Times article today, the U.S. Embassy is described thusly: "a large United States Embassy is being built on the grounds of the occupation authority in central Baghdad, essentially to serve as a shadow government."

Remember, this isn't a news "analysis" piece--just straight reporting from Iraq. Per this description, John Negroponte would appear to simply be a Jerry Bremer-lite--operating in the shadows, murky, Tegucigalpa-style.

Of course, it would be disingenuous to claim that with billions of dollars being distributed, 140,000 men on the ground, and a massive Embassy with thousands of employees--that the U.S. won't be retaining a massive influence in Iraq post-sovereignty handover.

But to simply describe the future U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as a "shadow government" ignores tangible and verifiable handing over of real powers to the new Iraqi government.

Such casual turns of phrase help reinforce a skeptical Arab/Euro-narrative that the Iraq war was all about a neo-colonialist land grab for a piece of strategic real estate and oil.

After all, and as even Gettleman's piece mentions, when key Iraqi Ministries like oil, foreign affairs, and transport have been turned over to Iraqi management-well, that's pretty significant.

Or when, even before the sovereignty handover, Bremer's top choice for the Iraqi presidency (Adnan Pachachi) is spurned in favor of Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar--well, that's a pretty big decision that the Iraqis took in direct opposition to a clearly enunciated U.S. preference.

Hardly the stuff of a domineering, 'shadow' government, no?

Posted by Gregory at 09:00 PM

Reagan's Heir

...is in Sacremento not Washington, says Joel Kotkin.

Posted by Gregory at 08:58 PM

June 10, 2004

Hersh Watch

Brad DeLong has been getting E-mail.

Some of Hersh's alleged statements, it needs to be said, are risible: "NATO's falling apart in Afghanistan now." Or: "We're basically in the disappearing business."

But this is worrisome:

"He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

DeLong's correspondent relayed that Hersh, uttering this last, appeared "frightened."

There is probably a good deal of Hershian hyperbole in quotes like these, of course.

Still, I'm sure the videotapes display some odious scenes well beyond what we've seen to date.

It's all likely to get worse before it gets better (on top of all the crack-lawyering time spent casting about for various penumbras in torture-land).

Sadly, none of my Abu Ghraib recommendations (from back on May 12th) have yet been followed.

I still think each one would prove a net positive for Bush.

For instance, take one of my recommendations: that POTUS utter an unfettered, unambiguous, full-blown apology.

Think of it in conjuction with this WaPo masthead. Money graf:

"There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice. Even on paper, the administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to go on torturing and killing detainees."

Bush will gain status and more traction in the polls if he apologizes in the context of the above stakes--loudly and proudly reminding the world of our primary role as a beacon of liberty through the post-war years.

Strong leaders have to admit mistakes and move on. Bush hasn't, really, done so vis-a-vis Abu Ghraib. He needs to (think Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra mea culpa).

You know, I used to gain comfort that Kerry wasn't talking about Abu Ghraib much. Meek, I thought. He has an opening and won't use it. He's worried about appearing a Kucinich like wimp on matters national security.

But I'm starting to think Kerry is betting Bush is simply self-destructing on Abu Ghraib. And when that happens to a candidate on some issue--you usually just shut up, step aside, and let the melt down continue.

I could be wrong, of course. Polls have indicated that the scandal left many relatively undisturbed thinking it the actions of simply a few young "bad apple" grunts (devilishly smart ones; when it comes to 'humiliating' Muslim male detainees!)

Still, why do 58% of the American people think the U.S. is on the wrong track?

Because employment numbers are up? Because the economy is picking up steam?

Or, rather, because of a reticence to say, loudly and clearly, that we occasionally screwed up big time at Abu Ghraib (and likely Bagram, Gitmo, other Iraqi jails) and need to take dramatic steps (raze jail, have senior people held accountable, release all pics/videotape--rather than let Hersh types go on about how heinous the videos are--thus fueling the scandal and lending all this an air of the cover up).

There is, instead, a perception of a rather chaotic series of investigations and panels operating hither dither. And a good deal of ass-covering. And no one taking responsibility up the chain.

In short, it's the big issue that's not going away (well, there's, er, the economy and Iraq too).

Unless Bush steps up to the plate and makes it go away.

Even if he has to risk people very near him getting caught up in the tail-winds. It's that important.

Posted by Gregory at 08:58 PM

June 09, 2004

Reagan at the Rotunda

I watched the moving state funeral last night in London. Most European news networks (the Beeb, Euronews, ITN, etc) covered the entire event live.

These Euro-news outlets understood, and frequently commented upon, how this state funeral was the most important Presidential memorial in America since JFK's.

In part, we can thank Nancy Reagan for this (reports indicate she was heavily involved in the planning--such as the riderless horse with the boots mounted in the stirrups).

To this day, she continues to assist her husband vis-a-vis the restorative role he played in buttressing the Presidency of the United States. It had been buffeted by many blows--through JFK's assassination, Nixon's impeachment, Carter's 'malaise.'

As Cheney put it well in his moving remarks at the Rotunda:

"We think back with appreciation for the decency of our 40th president and respect for all that he achieved. After so much turmoil in the '60s and '70s, our nation had begun to lose confidence. And some were heard to say that the presidency might even be too big for one man. That phrase did not survive the 1980s."

Indeed, it didn't.

The Challenger Disaster

All this brought back another memory for me too. My father, a retired career diplomat, had been seconded to the White House's press office during the Reagan years. He happened to be with President Reagan and his top staff when the Challenger shuttle blew up.

A White House phographer had captured the moment when they all first heard of the tragedy. As is often the case, all those photographed would later get the picture as a memento of their service to the President.

My father had the picture blown up and it had found its way into our Bethesda basement. On breaks from school, I would often go downstairs and linger over that picture.

And on the facial expressions worn by men like Don Regan, Larry Speakes, Bud Macfarlane. And, of course, the President's--as they all stared at the breaking news reports on television.

All individuals were moved, of course. But Don Regan, say, still looked more imperious than saddened. And you could see other senior aides (a Bud Macfarlane or Larry Speakes, for instance) distraught, to be sure, but also thinking through the political implications of the disaster.

Only the President (and, of course, I like to think my father too) appeared just flat out devastated. But it was really Reagan's face that stood out all on its own.

Why does his visage in that photograph remain so firmly etched in my memory now a decade and a half later?

Because his sadness was so genuine, so simple, so real.

This was such a decent man; such a modest, self-effacing, gentle man.

Would that more of us were like him.

The Importance of Conviction

He was too, of course, a man of bed-rock firmly held conviction. He realized two main things: 1) that too many encroachments of emasculating statism were suffocating the creative and economic power of the American polity; and 2) that the Soviet Union was a bona fide evil empire that needed to be confronted square on.

In large part because of his foreign and economic policies, the Soviet Union met its end and a huge bull market was unleashed.

He was President during my boarding school days up at Andover. We used to pass around the dorm, like hot cakes, books that defined the era like Barbarians at the Gate and Liar's Poker (my initial Trotskyite affectations, beleguered Leon slaying Stalinist distortions of noble Marxist dogma and such, were in remission by senior year).

Whatever you make of the capitalist excesses described in the books, entire industries like private equity and complex mergers and acquisitions work wouldn't even have existed, in their present form, were it not for Reagan.

He ushered in an era of efficiency, daring, and ingenuity into our financial system.

We had been unshackled, to a fashion.

See the Bull soar!

And, of course, Reagan is a hero to the tens of millions who dwelled in the gray, decaying zones of Bucharest, Warsaw, Sofia.

These populations are now in the process of being integrated into a whole and free Europe. Reagan's actions (and Bush 41's gingerly handling of German reunification) are the main reasons for this unprecedented peace and prosperity.

A storied Continent, torn asunder, had been reunited.

A Mixed Legacy

Some say he was just an empty-headed, index-card reading Teflon President.

One whose economic policies led to large deficits, who didn't care about the poorest among us.

The deficits were indeed staggering (Clinton's Rubinesque economic policies the Thermidor vis-a-vis some of the Reagan revolution's excesses on this score).

The apocryphal "ketchup" classified as vegetable tale pointed to the real disquiet of many regarding his alleged disinterest in the inner-city poor.

And, yes, there is some truth to all this.

But still, by the end of his term, more Americans had more money in their pockets and more jobs to go to (and not just the Sherman McCoys of the world).

To be sure, his legacy will likely also prove more complex than is commonly perceived.

Huge military spending made him somewhat of a de facto Keynesian rather than an unadulterated supply-sider.

Beirut was a painful fiasco. Iran-Contra a blow to our foreign policy credibility.

No, this was not a perfect man. Not some deity.

A Debt of Gratitude

But he was a uniquely American phenomenon with two great insights: 1) robustly beat back Communism, a defunct ideology; and 2) roll-back stagnating statism.

He was on the right side of these two big, critical issues; and his gutsy purposefulness secured victory on both of these key fronts.

He is responsible for the great, largely peaceful years (carnage in Rwanda and the Balkans aside) we were privileged to live in from the fall of the Berlin Wall through to September 11th.

We are in a new era now, of course, faced with unprecedented perils presented by the specter of mass casualty terror.

But we still inhabit a planet that remains, largely, shaped by Ronald Reagan.

Europe and Asia continue to move towards liberalization of their economies (Russia and China included).

Communism is widely percieved as a dead ideology.

Robust foreign policies brought to bear against forces of evil (those who would indiscriminately and purposefully kills millions) remain of utmost import.

Yes, we owe this man a deep debt of gratitude indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 08:57 PM

Abu Ghraib

The drip drip continues. Surely no one at the White House actually thinks this scandal is just going to peter out, do they (not when the Wall Street Journal is giving it new life...)?

They need to get out in front of this scandal rather than have more revelations hit the airwaves in late September/October.

It is a Washington axiom that it is always the cover up that gets you (spare me E-mails about myriad investigations underway and how transparently Abu Ghraib is being handled).

Neither morally (nor, if you care more, tactically) have the Bushies gotten in front of this scandal effectively. They need to, and soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:56 PM

Linkage Revisited

Remember linkage?

Saddam would try to link (disingenuously) his 1990 invasion of Kuwait to Palestinian rights.

Or UBL would, in various taped messages, try to link his theocratic fanaticism to the status of long exiled Arab residents of Haifa or such.

Well, there appears to be a new variant in the air--progress on the Arab-Israeli front is being explicitly linked to President Bush's Middle East democratization initiative.

From today's joint G-8 statement:

"Our support for reform in the region will go hand-in-hand with our support for a just, comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli-conflict" based on U.N. resolutions, said a statement issued by the G8 major industrial nations at their summit in Sea Island, Georgia."

So, skeptics will say: just words. Will the peace processing really become more intense in disciplined (read: non-episodic) fashion?

Well, perhaps not.

But note that the Bush Administration is recently putting more pressure on Israel to start making tangible concessions.

Typical CW is no pressure on Israel during an election year. I wouldn't be so sure.

Bush is serious, to a fashion at least, about pursuing a region-wide democratization effort. And it appears that the Joshka Fischers and King Abdullahs of the world have persuaded him that forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process front is critical in this regard.

So, wondering how the Broader Middle East and North Africa ("BMEI") initiative is going? [ed. note: You mean the Greater Middle East Initiative? No, I don't, see below for more]

This ICG report gives you a good flavor. It also describes and reminds us about how the U.S.-led democratization initiative initially got such a chilly reception in most Arab and Euro quarters.

And so there has been a lot of effort exerted of late, mostly by Foggy Bottom, to get the reform initiative back on track.

Several such compromises (smart ones, in my view) confirm my "linkage" analysis above:

"U.S. diplomats have been active in the nearly four months since the leak of their initial working paper, and some of the early damage has been repaired. In particular, extensive consultations have been conducted with both Europeans and regional states. Suspicions remain on all sides but it appears likely that enough common interest -- or at least common words and procedure -- have been identified to allow the BMEI to play out reasonably smoothly during the busy diplomatic month of June 2004.

With Europe, the effort was primarily to demonstrate sensitivity to the EU conviction that a democratisation initiative required linkage to the Arab-Israeli crisis. A number of EU member states, including Germany, whose foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has repeatedly declared himself interested in reform issues, were insistent on this to the point of proposing draft language for the projected G-8 declaration. It was relatively easy for Washington to repair this omission in the working paper by accepting a reference to the problem, though not one that implied any change in either the substance or the intensity of the U.S. policy.

A second repair exercise required the Americans to address a deep-seated EU suspicion that, in a phrase heard frequently around Brussels, ďthey want us to write the cheques and leave the policy direction to themĒ. The U.S. has appeared to want both parties to place their ideas and programs on the table to be examined for complementarity or duplication, after which they would be moved under a single, BMEI umbrella and focussed more explicitly on core reform issues in a manner that would make the total greater than the sum of its parts. There are, however, disparities in the resources the U.S. and the EU have devoted to these purposes. While U.S. spending under the MEPI since 2002 and projected spending at least in the initial phase of the BMEI is at most in the low hundreds of millions of dollars, the EU has pursued its Barcelona Process, or Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, with the littoral states since 1995. During that period it has spent more than the U.S. on technical and financial measures -- and with a single, integrated concept -- to promote economic, social and political reform, though, as discussed below, often with disappointing results.

Against this background, the Europeans were naturally cautious that they not compromise such political standing in the Middle East as their major efforts over a decade have brought them. EU officials insist that they have resisted and will continue to resist anything that implies loss of independence for their policy instruments. The final results will not be known at least until the various summits are concluded, but it appears the Americans have had to pull back from any idea they may have once entertained of merging programs and sharing management or even strategic decisions to the softer ground of pledges for more regular information exchange

A third topic requiring diplomatic finesse has been the geographic extent of the BMEI. All appear to agree that it should be more extensive than the boundaries of the EU's Barcelona Process, which does not (yet) include Libya, much less other obvious members of the classical Middle East such as Iraq and Iran. The EU is sceptical of the utility of adding Afghanistan and Pakistan, as the U.S. desires, pointing out that those two countries have political dynamics that are distinctive from the more traditional Middle East and only one fundamental characteristic in common -- religion. They argue sensibly that joining them to the initiative on this narrow basis would strengthen suspicion in the region that the BMEI is directed against Islam. The likeliest solution will be that the area of coverage will be left undefined, purposely blurred at the edges.

U.S. diplomats made up for lost time by taking extensive soundings within the region. The operational purpose was to elicit a statement of interest in reform that could then be used to explain subsequent policy announcements at the G-8 and elsewhere as, in effect, a response to a home-grown endeavour, if not a specific request. The kind of essentially empty rhetorical flourish about the peace process that was offered to the Europeans was obviously of no more than minimal value with the Arab states. The suspicion must be that the primary assurance on offer was to the effect that the U.S. would move cautiously in promoting reform and would not put at risk its relationship with non-democratic but cooperative governments
."

Hmmm. Who says Bush isn't capable of "gray" policy (his hair is sure turning grayer)?

A second Bush Administration, in my view, will prove more nuanced in much of its diplomacy (but still robust and conviction-driven in neo-Reaganite fashion).

That's a strong combo. And, deep down, I suspect Rand Beers knows that.

Still, of course, the G-8 statement is merely that, a non-binding declaration. Real linkage between democratization in the Middle East, proceeding concomittantly with progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process, requires follow-through on both fronts. And it won't be easy!

Mubarak and such will doubtless ask Bush why he is so cozy with Musharraf and Karimov if he is on a democratization kick. Sharon will complain of not appeasing the Arabs on the backs of Israelis. The Saudis will likely be given a pass arguing that loosening of governmental controls at this stage might push the Kingdom towards more anarchic conditions. And so on.

All told, this will be tougher than European unification and healing Cold War divides in Europe. The Enlightenment never touched the BME (or Broader Middle East). There is an American history of propping up (rather than fighting) dictators in the region (unlike in Europe and until Saddam). Abu Ghraib doesn't help. And many Muslims fear the U.S. is hostile towards Islam. Yep, it's a generational challenge all right.

Posted by Gregory at 08:55 PM

June 08, 2004

Saudi Arabia: Four Scenarios

What's next for Saudi Arabia (in descending order from worst case to best case)?

A) Is revolution nigh, ie. will members of the House of Saud be forced to flee the Kingdom like the Shah fled Iran?

"For some experienced Middle East analysts, there are significant parallels between the current situation in Saudi Arabia and the final months of the Shah of Iran before his flight into exile, followed by the Islamic revolution which swept the ayatollahs into power (and cost the USA one of its key regional allies). As one foreign policy veteran told JID: "The collapse of authority tends to be the end result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once there is the perception that the old regime is doomed, it is usually a matter of time before it actually collapses. We saw precisely this sequence of events in Iran in 1979."

B) Or will an Algerian-style Islamist movement continue to take the battle to the Royal Family for years hence?

"The insistent claim of traditionally secretive Saudi authorities that a series of violent incidents across the Kingdom in recent months was the work of criminal gangs is becoming extremely threadbare.

With the assassination of a district police chief in the northern province of al-Jawf, a hotbed of Islamic opposition to the monarchy, on 20 April it seems to be increasingly clear that the violence is politically motivated, in all likelihood by supporters of Osama bin Laden.

Diplomats in Riyadh link the violence to mounting anti-Western hostility in the kingdom, the birthplace of Islam. This has been intensified by the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Arab world's inability to prevent it. Saudi leaders are being forced to admit that they face a growing challenge to their authority, one they have sought desperately to deny since a car bombing in Riyadh in which seven foreigners, five of them US citizens training the National Guard, were killed in 1995. The London-based Saudi opposition group, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, has reported that Islamic militants have opted for armed confrontation with the monarchy, following "at least nine armed clashes in the last six or seven months" authorised by fatwas (religious decrees) issued by Muslim clerics
."

C) Will, roughly, the status quo prevail (ie, some uptick in expatriate flight but no mass exodus, key oil production facilities not successfully attacked, occasional fire fights between al-Qaeda affiliates and Saudi security forces)?

"While details of the Saudi security budget are classified, it is estimated to have been around US$5.5bn in 2003, increasing by 50 per cent for 2004. Over the past two years, the Saudi government has also allocated an extra $750m to enhance security at all of its oil facilities. At any one time, there are up to 30,000 guards protecting the Kingdom's oil infrastructure, while high technology surveillance and aircraft patrols are common at the most important facilities. Anti-aircraft installations defend key locations."

D) Or are the Saudi Royals robustly and smartly getting a firm handle on al-Qaeda & Co. and, indeed, quashing them?

"Only one Al-Qaeda cell remains operational in Saudi Arabia, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence and current ambassador to the UK, told JIR in May.

He said that there had been five active Al-Qaeda cells in Saudi Arabia in recent years but four have now been broken up: "There remains only one cell - even now it is in the process of being dismantled
." [ed. note: De Nile ain't just a river in Egypt...]

Well, who knows, right? (Jane's certainly doesn't have a consistent narrative to share with its defense-wonk readers!)

But smart money, at this point, might put the odds thusly (say over a two year time horizon):

Scenario A: 15%
Scenario B: 25%
Scenario C: 45%
Scenario D: 15%

So I guess I'm still tilting a little optimistic/status quoish (60%); but have a strong 40% espying potential Algeria or Iran 79ish scenarios. [Note: The odds of the negative narratives prevailing likely go up looking further out beyond two years--especially if the Iraq project worsens]

Just to be clear, this post isn't meant to, er, reassure or cause Saudi-watchers to be sanguine. Forty percent is high, way too high.

Readers are invited to write in and tell me I'm being too pessimistic (or, for that matter, optimistic). And, of course, to provide ideas on how to boost the odds of Scenario D (or even C) from prevailing rather than A or B.

UPDATE: One reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, sends in a fifth scenario:

"Regarding your outlook for Saudi Arabia, you mentioned 4 scenarios which could be summarized as follows:

1. House of Saud overthrown in a revolution
2. Algerian-style civil war with Islamists
3. A sporadic but low level of violence that ultimately doesn't threaten the Saudi leadership or oil supplies.
4. Islamic militants crushed in Saudi crackdown.

I think there is another possibility as well: Al Qaeda sympathizers within the royal family gain the upper hand in the ongoing power struggle and make more backroom deals with the Islamists. Spectator columnist Mark Steyn made a similar observation in a recent article:

"Itís a mistake to think Saudi Arabia can only be lost when President bin Jihad takes over in a revolution. There are all kinds of intermediate stages at which you can lose the country, and the House of Saud is still nominally in charge. Indeed, you can make the case that weíve already crossed most of them."

The violence may die down in the medium term, making it appear that scenario 4 has prevailed, but something more like scenario 1 may in fact have taken place. Of course, more Saudi double-dealing with Al Qaeda would risk angering the U.S., but desperate times could call for desperate measures. One should keep in mind that things may not be as they appear
."

Posted by Gregory at 08:53 PM

Unilateralism Watch

More rigid, militaristic preemption.

You know, another (likely to be unanimously passed) U.N. resolution on Iraq.

Clauses 8-12 are the key ones (security, security, security). Otherwise all the other rosy prognostications/plan re: elections and such will flounder.

And 8 (relatedly 16 too) likely the hardest to achieve.

Note Clause 13 should be called the Sergio Viera de Mello clause.

Posted by Gregory at 08:51 PM

June 07, 2004

New York Times Endorses Kerry Early!

Well, not quite.

But the Times all but shoehorns a Kerry endorsement into their obit masthead on Reagan (see last couple of lines).

Classy, huh?

Posted by Gregory at 08:50 PM

A Farewell to the Gipper

George Will has some thoughts on America's greatest post-WWII President:

In the uninterrupted flatness of the Midwest, where Reagan matured, the horizon beckons to those who would be travelers. He traveled far, had a grand time all the way, and his cheerfulness was contagious. It was said of Dwight Eisenhower -- another much-loved son of the prairie -- that his smile was his philosophy. That was true of Reagan, in this sense: He understood that when Americans have a happy stance toward life, confidence flows and good things happen. They raise families, crops, living standards and cultural values; they settle the land, make deserts bloom, destroy tyrannies.

Reagan was the last president for whom the Depression -- the years when America stopped working -- was a formative experience. Remarkably, the 1930s formed in him a talent for happiness. It was urgently needed in the 1980s, when the pessimism of the intelligentsia was infecting people with the idea that America had passed its apogee and was ungovernable."

Indeed.

Here's the text to one of his more memorable speeches.

And don't miss his farewell address delivered after serving out his two terms:

"I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

We've done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all."

No, not bad at all.

My thoughts are also with Nancy Reagan--his only real friend and life partner.

She will doubtless be consoled in knowing that, just as her husband smiled down on us; History will smile down on him.

Posted by Gregory at 08:47 PM

June 04, 2004

California Dreaming

Just touched down in San Francisco in transit to Monterrey to assume groomsman duties at a wedding.

Back in London Monday. Little to no blogging until Monday night (energy levels permitting!)

Posted by Gregory at 08:28 PM

June 03, 2004

Tenet's Resignation

I can't get excited by the Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan Tenet-resignation cheerleading.

Contra Sully, 9/11, in my estimation, can't be laid at his doorstep. Yeah, to be sure, it's a complex question with myriad variables at play. But putting 9/11 on Tenet's back is bunk.

Just as bad a canard, pretty much, as Richard Clarke pinning 9/11 on Bush. It smells, frankly, of cheap scapegoating tactics.

Ditto, if we are going to beat up Tenet on Iraq WMD--why aren't Glenn and Andrew taking, say, Dick Cheney to task?

If anything, people over at Cheney's shop reportedly wanted Tenet's guys to look at the intel a bit more aggressively--even though Tenet had already proclaimed Saddam's possession of WMD a "slam dunk."

Want to mock Tenet for his slam drunk pronouncement?

Well, pretty much every other intelligence service under the sun was caught flat-footed too, no?

And, of course, Saddam did have WMD-related programs, in various states of development, that were violative of the letter and spirit of 1441.

"Personal reasons"?

Wow, that's a tough one to swallow.

Like the President, I guess, I'm "sorry he's leaving."

Clarification: I wish I could buy that this was simply about Tenet wanting to spend more time with his high school aged kid (per his choking up at the Langley farewell address).

But, I suspect, this is more about Colin Powell getting in front of the U.N. (with Tenet behind him in the Security Council chamber) and talking up alleged bioweapon labs and such that ended up proving false.

What angers me, I guess, isn't that Tenet has to fall on his sword because his agency f*&%cked up. That's one of the reasons, in my view, that Rummy should have stepped down after Abu Ghraib.

What does get to me, however, is that people hyping intel more than Tenet are still, you know, on the November ticket and such. But hey, it's not the Veeps's beat. So Tenet takes the fall.

Still, we're all adults here. These are, roughly, the rules of the game.

You wanna friend in DC? Get a dog....

UPDATE: Capt'n Ed, while more generous than Glenn and Andrew, still depicts Tenet as some kind of moribund uber-bureaucrat who didn't have the requisite mojo.

That he wasn't a "wartime consigliere."

I'm a bit puzzled as to why Tenet is portrayed as lacking the requisite daring and moxie to have fulfilled his job at DCI.

What am I missing over here in London?

UPDATES:

Capt'n Ed writes in:

"I guess what we feel over here is that Tenet is great at apologizing, but he gets too much practice at it. It's actually difficult to put my finger on the specific problem. I'm not one of the people who called for someone's head to roll after 9/11, mostly because I think that 9/11 was more of a political than intelligence failure. I think the "slam-dunk" WMD case, though, was an intelligence failure, and even though I believe they existed (and still do), it sounds like Tenet was cheerleading more than analyzing. The impression I get is a decent guy who spends a lot of time trying to maintain bipartisan fellowship.

I don't think that Tenet was a bad DCI, but I think that it's time to look for someone less interested in politics and more interested in mission. Again -- I'm presenting a voter's opinion, not an intelligence expert. I could well be wrong, but at least I've got company if I am."

Fair enough, though I think Tenet did much more analyzing than cheerleading. And if cheerleading Iraq related WMD intel is cause for applauding a resignation (whether volitional or requested); well, there are a lot of other people who were cheerleading the intel with more alacrity than the DCI.

And Brett Eagen writes in:

"I have a couple of thoughts on the next DCI. From the president's
statement, I gather that we will be waiting until after then election
for confirmation hearings, with DDCI McLaughlin at the helm. Fox News
has already touted Porter Goss as an excellent choice, and I believe he
is, but what do you think of Dick Armitage taking over? He has certainly
done a lot of heavy lifting over the past few years, knows how to stand
up to the neocon crowd (a valuable trait when the inevitable Intel
Community restructuring comes), and has a fairly deep background in
intel given some of his activities in SE Asia during the Vietnam wind
down. He breezed through confirmation for his current post, but that may
have been a Powell coat tail thing. Granted, there are a few skeletons
in his closet, but I think he would be an interesting choice. I would
love to hear your thoughts on this
."

I'm a big Armitage fan--and am not aware of any skeletons!

For the record, I think Porter Goss would be good too.

Posted by Gregory at 03:34 PM

Stand by Your Man

Tammy Wynette is back in vogue.

WaPo version:

"Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and a longtime supporter of Chalabi's, said yesterday he found it "impossible to believe" that Chalabi is accused of informing the Iranians about U.S. code-breaking and the station chief "would use a compromised code to report to Baghdad when he could convey it in 2 1/2 hours by car." Perle added: "It would be a tragedy if we jettisoned an Iraqi leader on such a hairy story."

NYT Version:

"Richard N. Perle, the former chairman of the Defense Policy Board and an influential Chalabi supporter, said Wednesday that the notion that Mr. Chalabi would compromise the American code-breaking operation "doesn't pass the laugh test." Mr. Perle said it was more plausible that the Iranians, knowing already that the United States was reading its communications, planted the damning information about Mr. Chalabi to persuade Washington to distance itself from Mr. Chalabi.

"The whole thing hinges on the idea that the Baghdad station chief of the MOIS commits one of the most amazing trade craft errors I've ever heard of," Mr. Perle said, referring to Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security. He said it defied belief that a seasoned intelligence operative would disclose a conversation with Mr. Chalabi using the same communications channel that he had just been warned was compromised.

"You have to believe that the station chief blew a gift from the gods because of rank incompetence," Mr. Perle said. "I don't believe it, and I don't think any other serious intelligence professional would either." [emphasis added]

Perle is really going out on a limb here. If the specific charges against Chalabi are true--Perle's reputation will take a major blow.

Listen, Perle is a very smart Beltway operative of long-standing. For him to pitch his tent so directly to Chalabi's (in the face of the gravest accusations) indicates to me that Chalabi has personally denied the allegations to Perle in the strongest terms.

So, you ask: could Perle really be getting so ingloriously bamboozled by Chalabi?

Perle haters (and there are many, of course) will say, well yeah, duh.

After all, Chalabi (aka the Iraqi George Washington) was simply swiftly to, post-Pentagon Nasariyah fly-in/drop-off, lead legions of gratitude-infused Iraqi liberated to engage in en masse flower tossing rituals at the feet of coalition GIs moving northwards to the sounds of hearty encouragement (Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy! Oh, and 'Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel forevermore!' 'What's up with those crazy Mullah's next door!' 'Bashar sucks, can't he close up that dastardly porous border! And so on.).

Talk about getting bamboozled!

But lots of smart people thought the going in Iraq might be a bit easier than its proven to be. And it wasn't just Chalabi and Perle (or other assorted nefarious neo-cons or Rumsfeldian troop-lite, 'shock and awe' proponents) who thought so.

But this unfolding Chalabi situation is different.

A guy heavily hyped by leading architects of the Iraq war is being accused of betraying U.S. intelligence services in favor of an Axis of Evil government--one, it bears repeating, that is pretty hell-bent on going nuclear asap.

Talk about having to wipe lots of egg off one's face if you thought the individual in question should have been leading Iraq!

So yeah, given this, of course, the question on everyone's mind is--did Chalabi actually hand over the goods (the codes) to the Iranians?

If so, it appears he is either a) baldly lying to Richard Perle or b) Perle is deluding himself and entering Leeden or Mylroie terrain (which I don't believe is the case).

But if not--if the charges against Chalabi prove a CIA-concocted canard or such (which I strongly doubt too, btw)--the story certainly doesn't end there.

Chalabi As Pawn Amidst Titanic Bureaucratic Battles Underway?

Part of all this, of course, is that State and CIA (feeling newly ascendant given the Pentagon's piss-poor handling of post-war Iraq) are hitting back at the civies at Defense.

Those aren't pen-knives flying around Washington these days.

Those are Crocodile Dundee-size cutlasses being hurled around town.

Chalabi, obviously, is one pawn (or, hell, bishop or rook) in all of this.

But I just can't see George Tenet allowing his Agency to go out and falsely frame Chalabi.

Still, in the heated atmosphere of Washington with recriminations flying about, one could see how the charges against Chalabi are getting fanned beyond his actual culpability in the affair.

Chalabi Willfully Framed By Iranian Intelligence?

Another theory has been making the rounds--courtesy of Perle and like-minded souls.

It's being suggested that it may have been in the Iranian interest to scuttle Chalabi because the Iranians (at least the hardline clerics) view Chalabi's secularist Shi'a orientation as a threat to their more theocratic agenda.

Josh Marshall, in an interesting post, doesn't buy that line of argument.

He writes:

"This new line of reasoning is either disingenuous or truly sad, and perhaps both.

I'm not at all convinced that Chalabi was a spy per se. From all we know about the guy I think it far more likely that he was just playing both sides and only truly working for himself. As our star waned in Iraq and Iran's waxed, he probably did more and more to curry their favor. And that may have led to sharing some of our prized information with them. I also don't completely discount the possibility that much of Chalabi's current problems are the result of a bureaucratic war being fought against his supporters in the administration. People can, after all, be both framed and guilty. Finally, perhaps the Iranians sent this some disinformation back to us simply to sow confusion in our ranks, notwithstanding who it might hurt in Iraq.

But the idea that they see Chalabi as a threat because he's likely to light the region afire with democracy is a sad misreading of which way the wind has been blowing of late. Set aside whether Chalabi compromised this piece of highly classified information. He has quite openly been courting Islamist groups in the country, setting up his Sharia caucus, hobnobbing with Iraqi Hezbollah, strengthening his ties to the Iranians and pro-Iranian groups..."

By "Sharia caucus," I presume Josh means the Shiite Caucus (I've also seen it referred to as the "Shite Political Council").

Either way, Marshall's point is clear.

Chalabi has been getting mightly cuddly with lots of Shi'a actors in Iraq whose interests, er, aren't necessarily in alignment with Washington's.

Put differently, Chalabi might not be prima facie lying that he didn't actually hand over the codes. But he's been getting in bed (or at least flirting heavily) with lots of constituencies that aren't friendly to the United States.

Still, regarding the codes, there's a helluva lot of smoke in the air, isn't there?

But part of the smoke, as indicated above, likely results from the sheer chaos of the madcap, furious political machinations underway in Baghdad.

You Tilt Too Far Towards Teheran; We'll Drop You Hard

Anyway, back to the larger picture.

Check out this analysis from Stratfor.

I think, while quite aggressively anti-Chalabi, it's a pretty persuasive take on what Chalabi has been up to over the past few weeks/months (and why lots of people in Washington want his head on a pike):

"Iraq’s al-Dustour newspaper reported on May 17 that a new Shiite political entity had been launched in the country. This umbrella body, called the Shiite Political Council, consists of four members of the Iraqi Governing Council and 18 other unnamed political groups.

The four named members included former U.S. Department of Defense favorite Ahmed Chalabi (representing the Iraqi National Congress) and Abdel-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, representing Hezbollah. Also named as members were Ahmed al-Barak (an attorney from Babylon) and Salama al-Khafaji (professor of dentistry at Baghdad University). Al-Khafaji is a newcomer to the IGC, replacing Aquila al-Hashmi, who was shot dead in Baghdad in September 2003.

To cut to the chase, Chalabi is in a political coalition with a representative of the Iraqi Hezbollah. Given where we were a year ago, that is a pretty startling evolution....Chalabi’s game with the United States is up. If he is to be a political power in Iraq, he will have to do it on his own.

He has significant challenges in achieving this. The biggest one is that Shiite political power is centered in the Islamist parties: the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Hizb al-Dawah. There are also the Hawza, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and Iraq’s clerical establishment based in An Najaf. Chalabi’s group is an attempt to promote a Shiite political party that does not have the support of the clerics, yet has an Islamist element, given the presence of the Iraqi Hezbollah group.

Chalabi will be a footnote to history. What is important to note is the degree to which currying favor with the Americans is declining as a major political consideration in Iraq [ed. note: My immediately prior post make this point less persuasive]. As the United States presses for some sort of transfer of power on June 30 — and as political and military turmoil in Iraq buffet the United States — the Americans are loosening their grip on the political process....

From Chalabi’s point of view, an alliance with the United States is a liability. In Iraq, he is content to be seen as the man who led the United States by the nose to destroy Saddam Hussein, and having achieved that goal, is not only independent of Washington, but also is actually critical of and opposed to the Americans.

Chalabi, of course, has little trust in Iraq. Whatever his secret relations might be with the Shiite establishment and the Iranians, Chalabi is used goods. Nevertheless, as a seismograph of Iraqi politics, it is interesting to watch him chart his course far away from his American moorings."

Chalabi, I sense, is a wily opportunist and intriguer--one of the key reasons I never really trusted him.

In the end, I suspect, the most charitable Chalabi analysis is that his too ambitious navigating of the immensely complicated currents buffeting the Iraqi political process did him in.

Basically because he became too associated with a pro-Iranian agenda.

Even if he didn't actually hand over the codes to the Iranians.

All this begs a much larger question, of course.

How much influence is Teheran going to wield in Iraq, say, a year hence--once all the various Shi'a groupings have consolidated their power and begin flexing their muscles with fewer Bremerian restrains in their midst?

In other words, to what extent are all the assorted furies, reprisals and allegations surrounding one dubious character (Chalabi) foreshadowing much bigger questions coming down the pike?

Posted by Gregory at 11:13 AM

Brahimi-Speak

More colorful utterances from Lakhdar Brahimi--from "poison" to "dictator":

"He suggested that the occupation authority, particularly U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, wielded significant influence over the process. "I sometimes say -- I'm sure he doesn't mind me saying that --that Bremer is the dictator of Iraq," Brahimi said. "He has the money. He has the signature. Nothing happens without his agreement in this country."

Read the whole article in conjunction with this post (click through links) from Glenn.

Question: Would a prospective John Kerry team have handled, this adeptly, strongly influencing the Iraqi government selection process whilst giving the appearance of a U.N. leadership role in the process?

Answer: I highly doubt it. Bremer (or a successor) would likely have been reined in (so as to better "internationalize") with Brahimi running circles around him--rather than vice versa.

Posted by Gregory at 11:02 AM | Comments (1)

June 02, 2004

Enlightened Authoritarianism

Pervez Musharraf argues that the Muslim world must move towards what he calls "Enlightened Moderation":

"The stark challenge that faces anyone with compassion for the common heritage of mankind is determining what legacy we will leave for future generations. The special challenge that confronts Muslims is to drag ourselves out of the pit we find ourselves in, to raise ourselves up by individual achievement and collective socioeconomic emancipation. Something has to be done quickly to stop the carnage in the world and to stem the downward slide of Muslims.

My idea for untangling this knot is Enlightened Moderation, which I think is a win for all -- for both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. It is a two-pronged strategy. The first part is for the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism and adopt the path of socioeconomic uplift. The second is for the West, and the United States in particular, to seek to resolve all political disputes with justice and to aid in the socioeconomic betterment of the deprived Muslim world...

...I say to my brother Muslims: The time for renaissance has come. The way forward is through enlightenment. We must concentrate on human resource development through the alleviation of poverty and through education, health care and social justice. If this is our direction, it cannot be achieved through confrontation."

Good thoughts, doubtless.

But I can't help thinking what the General is really doing is trying on for size appearing something akin to the Pakistani version of a very famous Prussian. (Hat Tip: An underwhelmed David Adesnik).

Still, Musharraf is right that we need to "seek to resolve all political disputes with justice" (read: move Kashmir and Palestine towards fair settlements) and concentrate on "poverty alleviation" and such.

Policy Needs to be Reinvigorated

I've asked before, but do again today: who in Washington is giving serious thought to pursuing a grand project of economic liberalization through the Arab world--in concert with the European Barcelona process (the better to have a common project by which to patch up the strained trans-atlantic relationship)?

Jeffersonian democracies (or, for that matter, Hamiltonian or Jacksonian ones), as Iraq makes pretty clear, are not necessarily going to sprout out hither dither amidst the less than fecund soil of the Levantine, Mesopotamian and Arabian land masses.

But a focus on economic liberalization (with carrots dangled as ossified and atrophying economies liberalize--and biggers carrots proferred as and when roughly concommitant political liberalization follows), undertaken in tandem with conflict resolution initiatives, offers a pretty decent way forward.

After all, despite all the chest-beating about all the bad guys in Amman, Riyadh and Cairo--if Mubarak and Abdullah (whether the plucky King or the Crown Prince) dissapeared tomorrow--methinks their prospective successors likely wouldn't be rushing to empower newly formed bicameral legislatures.

Why not, in the spirit of impending D-Day remembrances and such, call for a major international conference to discuss how the U.S. and Europe can spearhead real movement on the economic liberalization front in the region--as a way to mitigate the crisis of radical Islam's toxic potency?

Musharraf (hell, Mahatir too) would attend. So too would key Arab leaders (and Sharon, or at least, Shimon Peres!).

Throw in Gerard, Jacques, Vladimir, Tony and Dubya.

A meeting just for meeting's sake, you skeptically query? Perhaps.

But why such a lack of imagination, verve--why so much timidity of realistic vision?

So little political will mustered towards achievable ends? So little creative Beltway-think in terms of the art of the possible (as compared to, say, Mike Leeden think)?

The Ideas Deficit

Partly because policymakers in Washington are hunkered down in operational crisis mode with little time to cogitate about the big picture.

And, despite good folks like Dan Drezner, too many social science academics are bogged down in petty debates about methodology and statistics.

Want tenure, you say?

Well, as I've heard someone quip recently, pick as obscure a topic as possible.

To be sure, there is an ideas deficit right now amidst policy and academic elites.

There is no Kennan-like X telegram. No Huntingtonian or Fukuyamaean take on the post 9/11 world.

There is, to be sure, lots of partisan rancor and hyperbolic rhetoric (Kerry simply as a noxious hybrid of hyper-liberal Kennedy and feckless Clinton; Bush as militaristic cowboy rueful that he couldn't march into Damascus and Teheran because the going in Iraq got a tad rough...)

Sadly, too, many think-tanks are split along pretty rigid party lines.

When is the last time someone at Heritage dared to suggest that John Kerry had a decent idea that might not imperil the Republic's future?

Or someone at Brookings talked up Bush's (quite multilateral) handling of counter-proliferation efforts?

With policymakers a tad busy; think-tanks politicized; academics squabbling over methodology and such--we do face somewhat of an ideas deficit.

And we need fresh thinking desparately, don't we?

Readers are invited to suggest who might pick up the slack.

I'm thinking some of us folks (at least ones smarter than me!) in the private sector--but, you know, we're a tad busy too...

UPDATE: We get mail from Heritage linking this "WebMemo". Seems said think tank has suggested Kerry had an idea that didn't necessarily imperil the Republic. I stand corrected!

And Drezner kindly links commenting:

"In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle." [emphasis added]

Countless others? Really?

And the mere fact that there is such a bouillabaisse of attempted "grand strategy" iterations actually helps support my point that fundamental policy re-thinks are necessitated.

Bottom line: None of these guys "approximate the Kennan mantle." They all fall short.

If one did, Drezner wouldn't have to ask his readers whether Zakaria, Kagan, Nye, Gaddis, Mandelbaum, Mearsheimer, etc deserved the Kennan-mantle.

Rather, a clear victor would have emerged.

Put differently, none of the works Drezner mentions come close to providing an overarching foreign policy vision that would guide (as did Kennan's X telegram) US policy for many decades.

True, perhaps, the bipolar division of power Kennan grappled with was less complex than today's geostrategic environment. But I would still hope academics, think-tankers, policymakers etc could do better.

Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" might come closest to assuming the Kennan mantle (and it is tempting to view as still relevant post 9/11)--but it doesn't do the trick in my view. I hope to have more on why soon.

Posted by Gregory at 10:49 AM | Comments (5)

Optimism on Iraq?

Things have been looking a bit better over the past few weeks in Iraq, no?

Fallujah has quieted down, we are beating back Sadr's insurgency, a government that smells somewhat homegrown and legitimate (the new Sunni President even has the requisite mustache!) is in the process of assuming power.

Needless to say, manifold pitfalls loom. But developments have taken a turn for the better of late.

Smart people (and frequent Administration critics) like Fareed Zakaria are happier too.

Zakaria, writing in today's WaPo:

"The administration had stubbornly insisted that no more troops were needed in Iraq. But today, there are 20,000 additional soldiers in the country.

• From the start it refused to give the United Nations any political role in Iraq. Now the United Nations is a partner, both in the June 30 transition and in preparing for elections. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was the "quarterback," Bush said yesterday.

• Radical "de-Baathification," the pet project of the Pentagon and Ahmed Chalabi, has been overturned. The army that was disbanded is being slowly recreated.

• Heavy-handed military tactics have given way to a more careful political-military strategy in Fallujah, Karbala and Najaf that emphasizes a role for local leaders."

Yeah, adult supervision is back at the helm. Rather than utopian hail mary passes--we are now smartly navigating the rocky shoals of post-war Iraq in realist vein.

Better late than never.

And it shows that Bush is not some bull-headed, clueless messianic figure.

There is some pragmatism in those genes (Poppy, surveying the scene from Kennebunkport, is doubtless happier of late too)!

Posted by Gregory at 08:33 AM | Comments (4)

Chalabi's Fall

On one level, this story is as much about State and CIA flexing their muscles now that formerly ascendant neo-con hawks at the Pentagon are on the defensive. Chalabi, of course, was their baby and now appears to have proven something akin to a traitor of sorts.

I never much liked Chalabi. He had no grass roots support among the Shi'a and, I suspected, was more interested in intrigues and obtaining power than really fostering democracy in Iraq. The allegedly shady dealings in Jordan didn't help either.

But what the Times is reporting crosses all bounds of acceptable behavior:

"American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said.

American officials reported that in the cable to Tehran, the Iranian official recounted how Mr. Chalabi had said that one of "them" — a reference to an American — had revealed the code-breaking operation, the officials said. The Iranian reported that Mr. Chalabi said the American was drunk."

If this story proves true and is fully corroborated--it's not just Chalabi's reputation that will nose-dive. His more ardent Beltway supporters will have to explain their misjudgement in providing a potential quisling with funds, political support, and assorted accolades over many long months.

Needless to say, Chalabi is pretty radioactive now. Check out this beaut from Bush:

"In the past two weeks, the administration has moved to sever its close ties with Mr. Chalabi, whose group received more than $4 million a year from the Defense Intelligence Agency, and who sat behind Laura Bush, the first lady, at the State of the Union address earlier this year.

Nevertheless, at the White House on Tuesday, President Bush sought to play down the role of Mr. Chalabi and his group as a source of information in his administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. "My meetings with him were very brief," Mr. Bush said, saying that he might have met with Mr. Chalabi at the State of the Union address as part of a "rope line" greeting. "I haven't had any extensive conversations with him." [emphasis added]

Heh.

Just a rope-line thang....

Posted by Gregory at 08:07 AM | Comments (4)

June 01, 2004

Kerry Suck Up Watch

Part 1--

"It isn’t every day that the Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party is a junior senator from Massachusetts who was educated at an élite boarding school and an Ivy League college and whose political career was founded on his war heroism as a young Naval officer in command of a small boat and who has family money and a thick shock of hair and a slightly stiff manner and beautifully tailored suits and an aristocratic mien and whose initials are J.F.K. So rare is this phenomenon that the last time it happened was fortyfour years ago, way back in 1960."

Hendrik Hertzberg, writing (where else!) in the New Yorker.


Part Deux--

"I knew Kerry a little bit at Yale. We all looked up to him. He was head of the political union, and he was almost presidential material then. He looked like Abraham Lincoln."

Oliver Stone, as quoted in a Time Magazine interview.

Perhaps Joe Biden will do them one better?

Posted by Gregory at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)
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