September 30, 2004

In-House News

I'm pretty much in round the clock meetings (East Coast time)--though I am trying my best to see the debate tonight. I won't be able to blog it in real time, however. Hopefully comments sometime Saturday.

UPDATE: Yeah, Saturday didn't happen, did it (and not because I'm hiding from bad news, promise!)? Anyway, rest assured this blog is still alive--I'm just completely buried right now. Production should be better towards mid-October--when madcap travel looks set to diminish a tad (er, why aren't planes equipped with wireless internet connectivity)?

September 29, 2004

No Kerry Honeymoon in Old Europe

Or, at least, not one with any real legs to speak of:

A participant on the sidelines of talks in Berlin between Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Richard Holbrooke, a would-be secretary of state in a John Kerry presidency, told a story about the meeting and the theme of how a Kerry-friendly Europe would leap to America's aid in bringing stability to Iraq. (Or maybe hide under the bed.)

"Schröder," the American said, "asked Holbrooke what Kerry would do if he were elected. Holbrooke replied one of the first things would be to get on the phone and invite him and President Jacques Chirac to the White House. The chancellor laughed out loud. Then he said, 'That's what I was afraid of.'"

The participant recalled the moment as very jolly. Everybody in the chancellor's office, including Holbrooke, a former ambassador to Germany, joined in the chuckles.

That was in June, when the subject was still handled elliptically. Early in September, a German official, asked privately by a visitor if Kerry's claim of good relations with Europe could get him a German military presence in Iraq, stifled a guffaw; an explicit response, but wordless, and difficult to transcribe.

Read the whole thing. It's pretty damning.

(FYI, I'm on the road--blogging may be intermittent over next few days).

Posted by Gregory at 02:59 AM | Comments (8)

September 28, 2004

Arabian Tall-Tales and Myths

In drawing what appeared to be the loudest cheer of the day, he faulted the Bush administration for protecting Saudi Arabia's interests despite allegations that the country has aided terrorists. The criticism suggested Kerry is not afraid to embrace one of the most stinging themes of the film Fahrenheit 9/11, produced by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

"I will grant no one, no country, no sweetheart relationship a free pass," he said. "As president, I will do what President Bush has not done; I will hold the Saudis accountable."

John Kerry, taking his foreign policy talking points, quite underwhelmingly, straight from the annals of Fahrenheit 9/11.

Enter Michael Doran-- Princeton prof, expert on all things Saudi, and, er, loyal B.D. reader--who helps to debunk this intellectually lazy and dishonest meme (Houses of Saud and Bush, arms akimbo and in deep cuddle, poring over EBITDA projections for defense contracting plays over at a private equity shop near you--and as Poppy gets richer; the Wahabist fanatics in the Kingdom do as they please--the better so as the greenbacks roll in more swiftly...)

Doran's has an op-ed in todya's Orlando Sentinel (registration required)--but here are some of the key bits for convenience:

It is true that Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of al-Qaeda -- but it is facile to suggest that the Bush administration could have done much about it in a pre-Sept. 11 world. Radical Islam's roots extend deep into Saudi society. Al-Qaeda is, in a sense, a domestic Saudi political party, the most extreme wing of a reactionary clerical camp that seeks to halt all forms of Westernization in the country. Osama bin Laden's pool of Saudi supporters is located far beyond the reach of the United States. Al-Qaeda's final defeat, therefore, will take place only at the hands of fellow Muslims, not Americans.

At best, the United States must play a strong supporting role by creating a political context that favors al-Qaeda's local enemies. Bush's speeches have pointed us toward the correct tool for this job: political reform in the Middle East. If the Democrats were serious about the Saudi threat, then they would repudiate Moore and call for Bush to take his own words about Middle Eastern reform more seriously.

But candidate Kerry tells us today that, if elected, he will withdraw our troops quickly from Iraq. In that event, with Iraq threatening to disintegrate and Iran going nuclear, Kerry would himself confront the impossibility of divorcing the Saudis. He, like Bush, would have no choice but to look to Riyadh for help in stabilizing the Persian Gulf. The Kerry plan for Iraq, therefore, promises us a permanent return to the U.S.-Saudi relationship as it existed on Sept. 10, 2001.

The Bush administration has mismanaged some aspects of the war, and it has underestimated the cost of doing Iraq right -- to say nothing of carrying out broad reform in the Middle East. But in the arena of U.S.-Saudi relations, the president must be credited with a number of achievements: He pulled U.S. troops out of the kingdom; he forced Riyadh to get serious regarding terrorist financing; and he precipitated a clash between al-Qaeda and the Saudi regime. The Moore notion of a Bush-Saudi conspiracy ignores the distance that the administration has already placed between Washington and Riyadh, not to mention the changes in Saudi policy toward al-Qaeda that followed in train.

But more to the point, for all its problems (and they are many), the Bush solution of reforming the Middle East to combat terrorism is the only serious plan on the table. The Kerry team tells us only that Bush -- operating out of dark and nefarious motives -- got everything all wrong. Kerry, however, has not even begun to explain how he intends to do better.

Indeed. So we have more heated, bogus rhetoric from the Kerry camp on matters foreign policy (this latest Saudi Arabia)--with no provision of truly viable policy alternatives. But that's increasingly what we've come to expect, isn't it?

Empty talk (I'll get tough on the Saudis!). Chimerical policy options (Bring the Europeans into Iraq!). Panic-stoking (Nuclear nightmare in NoKo--would that we had pursued another Clinton 'deal'!). Intellectual laziness (we'll 'train and equip' better! We'll eradicate poppy better!) Pretension ('I have been to Paris'; I have a secret plan) 20-20 Hindsight (I'd have done almost all of it differently [ed. note: Hell, at least tell us you would have done it all differently!). And, if all else fails, repeat after me: Fallujah, Fallujah, Fallujah...

As I said, underwhelming.

Oh, and here's more Saudi-related-Moore-conspiracy think that had made the rounds post-pumping up of the latest Woodward oeuvre's sales with all the predictable, hyped discussion of the requisite Bandar-intrigues. But, er, WTF? Oil's around $50/barrel. What gives? Don't the Saudis know Georgie is up for re-election? Or did nettlesome negative externalities spoil all the price fixing fun? Fallujah, perhaps. Yes, it's Fallujah that's to blame. Calling Rand Beers...

Posted by Gregory at 12:12 AM | Comments (28)

September 26, 2004

MoDo is the Marionette

I used to respect MoDo's keen wit and fierce independent streak. But sadly, over the past couple of years, she's wholly swallowed a far-too-easy, breezy quasi-Mooreian narrative that has transformed her into a willing and increasingly shrill mouthpiece for anyone with a bone to pick with the Bush Administration. In this so-simple, dumbed-down world--Rummy and Cheney baby-sit kid Georgie, the neo-cons hijacked U.S. foreign policy and imposed a loony doctrine of pre-emption that has grossly unsettled a heretofore peaceful and idyllic international system, and the Administration is full of moronic Panglossians who think all is going smashingly swell in Mesopotamia.

Today, in the most widely read and prestigious opinion page in American print media (the Sunday New York Times), she simply parrots Joe Lockart's 'Allawi-as-Bush-parrot' slur--unwittingly showcasing that she is much more of a marionette and puppet than the Iraqi PM--given how slavishly she goes about doing Joe Lockhart's bidding without even a hint of judiciousness or fair play. It's worth quoting at some length:

President Bush has his own Mini-Me now, someone to echo his every word and mimic his every action.

For so long, Mr. Bush has put up with caricatures of a wee W. sitting in the vice president's lap, Charlie McCarthy style, as big Dick Cheney calls the shots. But now the president has his own puppet to play with.

All last week in New York and Washington, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi of Iraq parroted Mr. Bush's absurd claims that the fighting in Iraq was an essential part of the U.S. battle against terrorists that started on 9/11, that the neocons' utopian dream of turning Iraq into a modern democracy was going swimmingly, and that the worse things got over there, the better they really were.

It's the media's fault, the two men warble in a duet so perfectly harmonized you wonder if Karen Hughes wrote Mr. Allawi's speech, for not showing the millions of people in Iraq who are not being beheaded, kidnapped, suicide-bombed or caught in the cross-fire every day; and it's John Kerry's fault for abetting the Iraqi insurgents by expressing his doubts about our plan there, as he once did about Vietnam....

Just as Mr. Cheney, Rummy and the neocons turned W. into a host body for their old schemes to knock off Saddam, transform the military and set up a pre-emption doctrine to strike at allies and foes that threatened American hyperpower supremacy, so now W. has turned Mr. Allawi into a host body for the Panglossian palaver that he believes will get him re-elected. Every time the administration takes a step it says will reduce the violence, the violence increases.

Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet - which is the only way he can gain any credibility to stabilize his devastated country and be elected himself.

Actually, being the president's marionette is a step up from Mr. Allawi's old jobs as henchman for Saddam Hussein and stoolie for the C.I.A.

It's hilarious that the Republicans have trotted out Mr. Allawi as an objective analyst of the state of conditions in Iraq when he's the administration's handpicked guy and has as much riding on putting the chaos in a sunny light as they do. Though Mr. Allawi presents himself as representing all Iraqis, his actions have been devised to put more of the country in the grip of this latest strongman - giving himself the power to declare martial law, bringing back the death penalty and kicking out Al Jazeera. [my emphasis throughout]

I don't think I've ever read a more cretinous screed in the New York Times--which I've been reading for about 15 years virtually daily. Let's pause and take in a bit of Dowd's intellectually lazy and (even) morally defunct Sunday musings.

1) First, let me explain what I mean about the morally defunct part. MoDo castigates Iyad Allawi for "bringing back the death penalty." Bringing it back? Herein Dowd's absurd adoption of the moronic Moore-like narrative that depicts Saddam-era Iraq as a rosy socialist playground full of kite-flying, cheery weddings, equal wages for all(!)--a Titoist Yugo-paradise of sorts. Maureen Dowd should take time out of her busy schedule and read Samantha Power's excellent "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide"--focusing, in particular, on what Power calls the "Kurdish Hiroshima"--the horrors of Halabja. She should read over such accounts of Saddam's massacres of Kurds and (relatedly) Shi'a Marsh Arabs. Power puts Saddam's actions in a narrative of 20th Century genocides that begins with the Armenians, proceeds to the Jews, and continues on with the Cambodians, Iraqis, Rwandans, and Bosnian Muslims. Saddam's crimes rank among the greatest of the 20th Century. Dowd's fevered insinuations that Iyad Allawi is a thug on par with Saddam are, truly, morally corrupt allegations--and wholly divorced from reason and fact. But her (and Dave Shipley) don't appear to give a shit. Well, too bad, I guess.

2) Related to 1 above, this grossly hyperbolic relativizing of Saddam with Allawi, she describes the new Iraq PM as formerly a Saddam "henchman." Of course, anyone with any ambitions in 70's era Iraq would (much like joining the Communist Party in the Soviet Union) have had brief flirtations with the Baathist Party. From Nasser's Egypt, to Asad's Syria, to Iraq--the prevalent political philosophy of the day in the region was a Baathist-like fusion of Arab nationalism and socialism.

So was Allawi some noble Solzhenitsyn or Sakharov-type? No, of course not. But was he simply a Saddam henchman? Equally forcefully, one must conclude no. Which is why he was forced into exile in the U.K. in the 70s. And why he was almost axed to death by, yes, Saddam's real henchmen--and had to endure a lengthy period of convalescence. Isn't it revolting that MoDo would describe a man who almost died at the hands of this brutish tyrant as one of his very own henchmen?

3) Finally, this whole puppet thing--that MoDo tries to turn around on Bush ("Mr. Bush doesn't seem to care that by using Mr. Allawi as a puppet in his campaign, he decreases the prime minister's chances of debunking the belief in Iraq that he is a Bush puppet"). Dowd appears to charge Allawi with being a Bush mouthpiece because a) he indicates all is rosy in Iraq, b) appears so appreciative of Bush action's in unseating Saddam, and c) conflates the fight against terrorists and insurgents with the global war on terror.

Let's take each allegation in turn. Re: (a) above, and as anyone who read Allawi's speech is well aware--it wasn't all rosy, sunshine ("I know, too, that there will be many more setbacks and obstacles to overcome.") And, re: (b) above, frankly, why can't Allawi show some gratitude to the American government and people for unseating a bloody tyrant responsible for the death of hundred of thousands of his country-men? Really, why?

And, finally, yes--Allawi's speech placed the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq within the larger context of the post-9/11 global war on terror. But these comments weren't meant to reinforce wild Myloriean-style claims that Saddam personally planned 9/11 and dispatched Iraqi intelligence agents to Prague to hobnob with Mohammed Atta. Allawi's comments were meant differently, of course. After all, he is hardly alone in describing his government's goals as part of the larger war on terror. So does Vladimir Putin and Arik Sharon. So does New Delhi and Islamabad. So does Karzai. And so will other countries going forward. Everyone and their mother are now using the war on terror as a kind of rationale for facing down domestic opponents and varied geopolitical threats. Each case must be viewed on its merits (for instance, Putin's conduct of the Chechen war has been extremely brutish--to wholly accept the placing of his efforts there within the rubric of the GWOT sullies the moral integrity of the struggle).

But the point here is that, yes of course, Allawi is going to place his difficult counter-insurgency efforts as part of the larger struggle between barbaric fanaticism and civilization. And, while you can disagree, he is doing this because he is faced with mammoth challenges and wants to succeed and garner as much international support as possible--not because he is some Bush stooge, parrot, marionette. No, the real puppet here is an increasingly lazy Maureen Dowd--who is simply rounding out the next inning of Lockhart's puppet slur to give it greater exposure and willingly play campaign flak for Kerry. It's the type of rank partisanship more nuanced and serious op-ed writers like Jim Hoagland, Dave Ignatius or Anne Applebaum would never stoop too--but that has become the increasingly routine, tiresome, and twice-weekly gruel she dishes up for all her cheerleaders in precincts Upper West Side and Berkeley. It's a pity--because she's better than that. But, like so many others, irrational Bush-hatred has gotten the better of her so that she is now simply embarassing herself.

MORE: Yes, I know the CPA abolished the death penalty--but such a hugely disingenuous technical reading would make a Bill Clinton blush and, of course, doesn't change the above analysis a whit.

Posted by Gregory at 11:01 AM | Comments (45)

September 24, 2004

Krugman Channels Kerry

"Realistic goals".

Read: A mammoth abdication of responsibility and the biggest blow to American credibility in the international arena since Vietnam.

Make no mistake--this is what Krugman is advocating. And, I strongly suspect, this is the face of a prospective Kerry Iraq policy too. Once you strip away all the "nuance." Certainly his embarassing performance yesterday would tend to reinforce such a view, no?

MORE:

Joe Lockhart, a top advisor to Kerry's campaign:

“The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips,” said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.

Disgraceful. (Hat tip: Glenn).

Remember, Kerry may need to work with this so-called "puppet" in the future. Regardless, this is astonishingly irresponsible campaign rhetoric from a key member of the challenger's campaign team. To malign the serving PM of Iraq as appearing a "puppet" plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq. I'm truly shocked Kerry would ostensibly authorize such an inflammatory statement (ie., not in the Casablanca 'shocked, shocked' kinda way).

STILL MORE: I'm not the only one who is using the "D" word this week.

Meanwhile, W.43rd St. is dutifully playing Kerry campaign defense--reporting this straight-faced without any, er, blushing:

Mr. Kerry's campaign replied that he had not insulted Dr. Allawi but was just questioning his outlook.

Heh. As Sully puts it: I link, you decide. Lockhart's statement wasn't meant as an insult to Allawi? C'mon-- Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin' eyes?

Posted by Gregory at 01:10 PM | Comments (95)

Muzzle Rummy

"Let's say you tried to have an election and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country. But in some places you couldn't because the violence was too great." "Well, so be it. Nothing's perfect in life, so you have an election that's not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet."

Don Rumsfeld, testifying on the Hill yesterday.

Oh, Mr. Rumsfeld--you are such the anti-Girlie Man. You are so macho-swagger and straight, no-bullshit talk. You are, to a fashion, the very evocation of the Nietzschean ubermensch. You impress all of us so over here in London--the town is all atwitter with your latest barnburner of no-nonsense Congressional testimony. How impressive!

You can stand 10 hours a day ("However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?)--making all those weak-kneed Gitmo detainees look like a bunch of wusses--what with their risible complaints about stress-positions and such. You are so very busy-- too busy, in fact, to read the Taguba report in its entirety. A report detailing one of the most horrific stains on the repute of the U.S. military in its long, illustrious history--a shameful episode that occured on your watch and arguably partly because of your arrogant insouciance and barely hidden denigrations of Geneva norms. (Rumsfeld: Yeah. You're -- I think you're talking about the executive summary. That's -- I've seen the executive summary, the – Q: Have you read through it, sir? Rumsfeld: I've been through it. Whether -- have read every page -- no. There's a lot of references and documentation to laws and conventions and procedures and requirements. But I have certainly read the conclusions and the other aspects of it.)

And now, all big-uncle-like, you want to clue all of us little kiddies into the fact that elections may not take place in one-fourth or one-fifth of Iraq come January. Fair enough, we need a reality check. We need straight talk (more from POTUS too, while we're at it). But don't, emiting such uber-hubris and a 'whatever' type vibe-tell us that "nothing's perfect in life." We already know that. After all, you're SecDef. How's that for an imperfection?

Memo to Rummy: Your awe-shucks 'I tell it like it is' schtick is running thin. You're not on the Princeton wrestling squad anymore. These impending elections are of the most immense importance. So, tell us, instead:

Having elections proceed in January is absolutely critical. To delay them would represent a victory for the Baathist dead-enders and terrorists who wish to scuttle the movement towards democracy in that country. We're simply not going to let that happen. We are pursuing a robust and sophisticated strategy, using all the tools in our arsenal, to ensure that as many populations centers are under Iraqi goverment control by the time of the elections as possible. As Prime Minister Allawi has indicated, we are succeeding in this strategy--despite the occasional setbacks. To the extent, if any, that the Iraqi government cannot exert effective sovereignty over all population centers by January--though we hope and trust they in large part will--elections will likely have to be postponed in those areas. We, of course, realize this issue is of utmost strategic import--and I am obviously treating the issue as one of my highest priorities. This is because--to the extent we may need to bypass some areas in January and not hold balloting there--our enemies and critics will be further emboldened to attack the legitimacy of the elections. These elections are a critical step in Iraq's political evolution--a "giant step"--as Prime Minister Allawi has put it. So, rest assured, this is topping our agenda. I will keep Congress apprised of our progress during the coming months.

Or, er, something like that.

Put differently, Rummy could have sounded more like Allawi during his wonderful speech of yesterday:

They are offering amnesty to those who realize the error of their ways. They are making clear that there can be no compromise with terror, that all Iraqis have the opportunity to join the side of order and democracy, and that they should use the political process to address their legitimate concerns and hopes. I am a realist. I know that terrorism cannot be defeated with political tools only. But we can weaken it, ending local support, help us to tackle the enemy head-on, to identify, isolate and eradicate this cancer. Let me provide you with a couple of examples of where this political plan already is working. In Samarra, the Iraqi government has tackled the insurgents who once controlled the city.

Following weeks of discussions between government officials and representatives, coalition forces and local community leaders, regular access to the city has been restored. A new provincial council and governor have been selected, and a new chief of police has been appointed. Hundreds of insurgents have been pushed out of the city by local citizens, eager to get with their lives. Today in Samarra, Iraqi forces are patrolling the city, in close coordination with their coalition counterparts. In Talafa (ph), a city northwest of Baghdad, the Iraqi government has reversed an effort by insurgents to arrest, control (inaudible) the proper authorities. Iraqi forces put down the challenge and allowed local citizens to choose a new mayor and police chief. Thousands of civilians have returned to the city. And since their return, we have launched a large program of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.

But no, instead more of the predictable braggadocio and swagger. Don't get me wrong--there is a lot to praise in Rummy's stewardship of the Pentagon over the past three years. But the minuses materially outweigh the pluses. If I were Bush, I wouldn't give him a second bite at the apple. Calling John McCain...

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (30)

September 23, 2004

EU Enlargement Watch

--"Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?"

Jorg Haider? Jean-Marie Le Pen? Silvio tipsy in Sardinia?

No, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in an interview published today in the WSJ-Europe.

Posted by Gregory at 10:56 PM | Comments (12)

Allawi's Speech

Wow. Strong speech. Advantage Allawi (and Bush).

Kerry looks, er, very small today. I mean, was this statement for real? In its discombobulation, utter lack of grace (all but calling Allawi a liar--a man almost axed to death by Saddam's henchmen in the U.K. and under constant threat of assassination today), near absurdities ("Let me tell you, if the 4th Infantry Division and the diplomacy had been done (ed. note: whatever "done" means) with Turkey, you wouldn't have had a Fallujah"), pleading tone ("And ask the military leaders. Go ask the military leaders")--it reads more like a bona fide Deanian (or Goreian?) meltdown than a serious policy statement/press conference.

And am I the only one concerned that Kerry opened his remarks by proclaiming: "I want victory. I want to win." Er, shouldn't that go without saying? Why does a candidate for the U.S. Presidency even need to say that? How very odd. Of course, if he is serious about us winning--he should instead act like a statesman, head to Washington, and assure the new Iraq PM that there is a bipartisan consensus to support Iraq during its perilous path towards democracy whoever wins in November.

But no. Instead, a sour, rambling statement from the sidelines. As I said, small. Very small. I'm tempted to say he needs new advisors--but he's already gone through quite a few batches. At some point, the buck stops with the principal, no?

More on the Allawi speech and Kerry's remarks hopefully later tonight London time.

UPDATE: Heh. Matt Yglesias has a slightly different take (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). Needless to say, I guess, I think Matt's being a tad generous to Mr. Kerry. Or maybe, as one of B.D.'s smartest commenters (who runs an erudite left-of-center blog) contends--I'm being unfair to the Senator.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just got off a special dial-in teleconference to hear Iyad Allawi speaking at the CFR (I trust it's on the record as the Council's main webpage mentions it is to be broadcast live on C-SPAN). Someone in the audience pointedly asked Allawi about Kerry's comments that I blog above--ie, that Allawi was in heavy-spin mode to give Bush political cover. Allawi responded: "I'm a tool of nobody." And then something about not getting involved in the internal politics of the U.S., that it's "none of our business."

He's better at all of this than Kerry, isn't he? And, apparently, more gracious too.

Posted by Gregory at 09:09 PM | Comments (50)

Debunking Afghanistan Myths

I'm not some Rummy-on-Steroids type of guy who thinks we can walk, chew gum and, to boot, kick a little ass in NoKo and Iran too--before heading to the Taiwan Straits. Still, however, everyone should go read this Peter Bergen piece on Afghanistan in today's NYT--particularly given the constant carping from the Left that Bush has simply installed a Mayor of Kabul and that the rest of Afghanistan is going to hell--all because of his myopic obsession with Iraq (see Richard Clarke for the high-brow version of this meme--and Krugman, MoDo and Co. for the boiler-plate rehashing of it).

Money grafs:

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. Undeniably, the drug trade is a serious concern (it now compromises about a third of the country's gross domestic product) and the slow pace of disarming the warlords is worrisome.

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country's north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become. It's also promising that some three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, the capital, is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with spectacular traffic jams and booming construction sites. And urban centers around the country are experiencing similar growth.

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar. With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections.

Bergen concludes:

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

If the elections are a success, it will send a powerful signal to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of which can claim to be representative democracies. If so, the democratic domino effect, which was one of the Bush administration's arguments for the Iraq war, may be more realistic in Central Asia than it has proved to be in the Middle East. [my emphasis throughout]

A few quick takes. Bergen says a democratic domino effect might be likelier in Central Asia than the Middle East. Maybe. But some cautionary notes are in order: 1) I'm skeptical of 'domino theories' generally (state-specific factors can often trump region-wide trends); 2) Putin's expedited post-Beslan re-centralization of power is (at least) as important (and likely much more so in the -stans) a harbinger of going forward political trends in Central Asia than whatever happens in Afghanistan; 3) the U.S. is helping to prop up an authoritarian regime in Pakistan (largely, in my view, necessarily given regional and security imperatives); and 4) Iran is a special case (a nationalist backlash in Iran--particularly if Israel or the U.S. engages in military strikes--is at least as likely as an anti-clerical counter-revolutionary re-awakening).

Note too, Bergen says that the "Bush Administration's argument for the Iraq war may be more realistic in Central Asia that it has proved to be in the Middle East." Again, maybe. But let's see what Iraq looks likes in a year (once we've been there about as long as we've been in Afghanistan). "Tenuous stability," after all, may be in the offing (per the NYT's summation of the recently disclosed Iraq NIE). Not Luxembourg, mind you, but still real potential progress. After all, isn't such prospective stability better than living under the yoke of genocidaire-neo-Stalinist thuggery (yes, admitedly, the grim disintegration/civil war scenario would be worse)?

A last note. Will Bergen's piece (Bergen, of course, is no Bush apologist) be honestly appraised (or even mentioned) by a quorum of commentators on the Left? Or will they continue to trot out the tired and convenient shibboleth that Bush bungled Afghanistan because of the Iraq adventure?

True, fair-minded left bloggers have, if perhaps reluctantly, given Bush a 4 out of 10 on Afghanistan in the past. But Bergen's analysis, particularly keeping in mind how the Soviets got bogged down there, would have me scoring it at a more generous 7 out of 10 (Bush mostly loses points on UBL in my book). After all, a 4 out of 10 is a failing grade. Does unseating the regime you aimed to unseat, at lightning speed, constitute a failure? Still, Kevin Drum's a pretty fair-minded guy. More so, it seems, than John Kerry:

In Afghanistan, we have some NATO involvement, but the training of the Afghan Army is insufficient to disarm the warlord militias or to bring the billion dollar drug trade under control. This Administration has all but turned away from Afghanistan.

Er, we haven't "all but turned away" from Afghanistan. That's simply not true. Jamie Rubin and Susan Rice are gonna have to come up with better stuff than this (such untrue and/or hyperbolic criticisms)--at least if they want to persuade people Kerry has serious foreign policy alternatives to bring to the table re: issues like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at 09:59 AM | Comments (32)

September 22, 2004

Bush's UNGA Speech

And today I assure every friend of Afghanistan and Iraq and every enemy of liberty, we will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled. These two nations will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice.

Er, guess Bush hasn't seen the Novak story--or, in this post-Clintonian era, perhaps we need to inquire about what the meaning of "stand with" or "fulfilled" is. That said, I'm not so sure such an uber-skeptical inquiry is warranted just yet--Novak story or no Novak story. Bush might not be as smart as Clinton--but I trust him a helluva lot more (let the Atrios crowd denigrate us types as bovine, imbecilic apologists for the Chimp-in-Chief--they well know, if beneath so many layers of tiresome and showboaty sarcasm, that it's prima facie evident that Bush is more of a straight-shooter than his predecessor).

Oh, don't miss this portion of the speech on the "little graves." Quite powerful.

In the last year alone, terrorists have attacked police stations and banks and commuter trains and synagogues and a school filled with children. This month in Beslan, we saw once again how the terrorists measure their success: in the death of the innocent and in the pain of grieving families. Svetlana Deibesov (ph) was held hostage, along with her son and her nephew. Her nephew did not survive. She recently visited the cemetery and saw what she called the little graves. She said, I understand that there is evil in the world, but what have these little creatures done?

Members of the United Nations, the Russian children did nothing to deserve such awful suffering and fright and death. The people of Madrid and Jerusalem and Istanbul and Baghdad have done nothing to deserve sudden and random murder. These acts violate the standards of justice in all cultures and the principles of all religions. All civilized nations are in this struggle together, and all must fight the murderers. We're determined to destroy terror networks wherever they operate, and the United States is grateful to every nation that is helping to seize terrorist assets, track down their operatives and disrupt their plans.

More commentary (in more critical vein) on the U.N. address soon.

MORE:

I've noted Bush's obvious penchant for simple, broad narratives in the past. If you like that kind of thing--his UNGA speech didn't disappoint:

For decades the circle of liberty and security and development has been expanding in our world. This progress has brought unity to Europe, self-government to Latin America and Asia and new hope to Africa. Now we have the historic chance to widen the circle even further, to fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity, to achieve a true peace, founded on human freedom.

Translation of "widen the circle even further" means Iraq and the broader Middle East. All this is wonderful, of course, particularly if such a vision weren't so often blemished by all the assorted imperfections of human nature, inconsistencies in the selection of where we choose to pursue our democracy exportation exercises, and (what often seems like) myriad errors in the execution of such efforts.

Still, it is clear that Bush was digging deeper in this speech. Check this part out:

Because we believe in human dignity, peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy. No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace. We've witnessed the rise of democratic governments in predominantly Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian cultures.

Democratic institutions have taken root in modern societies and in traditional societies. When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom and worthy of freedom. Finding the full promise of representative government takes time, as America has found in two centuries of debate and struggle. Nor is there only one form of representative government because democracies, by definition, take on the unique character of the peoples that create them.

Democracy can not only work and take root in the Islamic world; but also in "traditional" societies. Message: Democracy can take root in the Shi'a hinterlands around Basra or the tribalistic swaths of the Sunni Triangle. Is Bush right? Well, it's possible, isn't it? And we can at least admire him the courage to essay such a historic task. One a John Kerry, rest assured, wouldn't.

All this is linked, of course, to what his critics view as his messianic preoccupation with "freedom."

Yet this much we know with certainty: The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls or martial laws or secret police; over time and across the Earth, freedom will find a way. Freedom is finding a way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must continue show our commitment to democracies in those nations. The liberty that many have won at a cost must be secured.

Norm Podhoretz would be pleased. And note the bolded part--more anti-Novak talk.

But, as so often in life, the devils are in the details (the grays I often worry Bush doesn't see). Right now, democracy in Iraq is deeply imperiled. We are at the very beginning of this effort--not nearing the end. Bush needs to tell us this loudly and directly--so we are reassured the Novaks are wrong. And he then needs to tell us, in some detail, what specifically he is going to do to a) improve the dreadful security situation for ordinary Iraqis b) beat back the insurgency and c) get the reconstruction effort back on tap.

Put differently, the too often utopic meta-narrative needs to be embroidered with more of the gritty, pesky details. Call it, perhaps, a Fukuyama-induced Thermidor after too much excessive Jacobin zeal. We need a bit of that, I fear...on which, more soon.

Posted by Gregory at 12:36 AM | Comments (61)

September 21, 2004

Novak Redux

The point is that by winding down America's military presence, while promising aid to those who don't harbor anti-American terrorists and retaliation against those who do, the U.S. can probably leave behind an Iraq that isn't an American ally, but isn't a threat either. And that, at this point, is probably the best we can hope for.

Steve Hadley, Condi, or a chastened Wolfy?

Nope. Paul Krugman, writing in today's NYT.

Krugman doesn't work for Kerry (officially, at least!). But you can be sure that his comments reflect a large swath of Democrat-think on going forward Iraq policy. My gut tells me more senior elite Democrat foreign policy-makers are thinking along these lines (hell, Kerry would never have gone in to begin with per his upteenth latest Iraq position) than Republican ones--despite Bob Novak's story (which I am even more dubious about today than I was yesterday).

I think Novak's (so thinly sourced and speculative) story was mostly a variegated combo of: 1) paleos enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the neo-con's expense; 2) trial ballooning Condi and Steve Hadley for promotions; 3) helping pre-emptively (pun intended) abort Wolfy-as-SefDef speculation (related to 1 above); and 4) injecting a reality check into the Iraq debate--message: if we want to turn Iraq around; more resources and resolve are going to be needed.

1 and 3 don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Let Novak and Pat Buchanan have a laugh at the neo-cons expense (perhaps Taki can join them, now that the Athens games have concluded, for a giggle). On 3, let people better understand that Wolfowitz is likely not confirmable as a Rummy replacement (er, isn't that just stating the obvious; or am I losing by Beltway prognostication skills over here in far-away London?).

2 and, in particular, 4 do matter. On 2, I wonder if Condi as SecState and Hadley at the NSC is the smartest Bush II team. Bush should at least consider Hagel and Lugar for State too (after all, it shows confidence to bring occasional critics into your tent). Plus, I think the President is comfortable with Condi near him--why move her to Foggy Bottom? And, looming in all of this, we need a new Secretary of Defense, imho.

Mr. President--announce in one of your impending debates that, having loyally and ably served, Rummy will be returning to the private sector--and McCain will take over the Pentagon in your second administration. McCain will, all told, be loyal and controllable--if a bit blustery sometimes. But, and most important, he will signal to your war supporters that you are serious about seeing Iraq through!

Which leads us to the all important Point 4 above. The biggest one of all. Novak's story, while highly dubious in large part, will at least likely have the beneficial effect ( perhaps intendedby some) of throwing into the open how mammoth a challenge Iraq presents--and forcing the President to reassure his war supporters that he will not pull a stealth Kerry (Kerry, I am convinced, is not taking Iraq seriously enough--his foreign policy team has woefully underperformed in terms of thinking of real options there (the Euros will come!); leading me to believe he will, as he's all but said openly, cut and run by the second half of '06).

Bottom line: The President can stay on his basic Roveian message about the march of freedom if he wishes (Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Fallujah etc. aside). Many voters like such straight-forward, simple narratives--it's probably good politics. But, at the same time, he must at least signal to his supporters that he a) knows it's tough in Iraq right now (and not just b/c of Anbar Province and Steyn-in-Surrey crapola) and b) he's going to try to make it right, even if it involves (gulp)--more troops, more money, more time.

If Novak's article helps elicit such statements of resolve from the White House--he will have done his good deed for the day--even if his real motive was to rub a little mud in the faces of the (increasingly utopic) non-Fukuyamaites neos.

P.S. People have written in to say I'm being hard on Wolfowitz. Er, check the "B.D. in the Press" section to the right below. I've defended Wolfowitz in the past--and admire his intellect. But a lot has happened over the past three odd years and, like it or not, it hasn't made any going forward Senate confirmation hearings for him any easier (putting it delicately).

Posted by Gregory at 02:08 PM | Comments (27)

September 20, 2004

Jaw-Dropping Fare Indeed

Via Sully, this (almost) unbelievable Novak piece:

Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.

I have grave doubts about the accuracy of Novak's story. I think it might be some Wolfowitz enemies leaking it so that the resulting firestorm forces people in the Beltway to see that Wolfy is radioactive and not confirmable as SecDef. (There are also doubtless people trial-ballooning Condi at the 7th Floor and Steve Hadley succeeding her at the NSC).

I'm also very dubious about Novak's reporting that Bush has pretty much decided he will pull out of Iraq in '05. Still, what makes me think there may be more than a smidgen of truth to it?

This part of Novak's piece (which you need to read in full):

This messy new Iraq is viewed by Bush officials as vastly preferable to Saddam's police state, threatening its neighbors and the West. In private, some officials believe the mistake was not in toppling Saddam but in staying there for nation building after the dictator was deposed.

I can see, just maybe, Bush falling for this line of argument, ie. that evil sonafabitch Saddam is gone--so we are leaving something better in our stead (and Iraq will be hobbled by internal dissension and not able to threaten neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Israel). What the hell--let Allawi sort it out with his new Army--we aren't a stabilizing factor over there anymore anyway.

What a massive, breathtaking and morally defunct abdication of American leadership that would be! I would have to hold my head in deep shame for having supported this Administration's Iraq war. Say it ain't so!?!

Well, I think not. If it were, why would Kerry be attacking Bush on supposedly hiding plans to send reservists to Iraq post-election?

As part of a strategy to sharpen differences with Bush, Kerry told voters that the president refuses to come clean about growing problems in Iraq and a hidden strategy for a post-election deployment. ``He won't tell us what congressional leaders are now saying: that this administration is planning yet another substantial call-up of reservists and Guard units immediately after the election,'' Kerry said. Bush is trying to ``hide it from people through the election, then make the move.''

Doesn't sound like a guy who is going to cut bait, does it? Meanwhile, back in mondo Kerry--it's pretty amateur hour:

The Kerry campaign, realizing that its only hope is to attack Bush for his Iraq policy, is not equipped to make sober evaluations of Iraq. When I asked a Kerry political aide what his candidate would do in Iraq, he could do no better than repeat the old saw that help is on the way from European troops. Kerry's foreign policy advisers know there will be no release from that quarter.

Yeah, Kerry is aiming to get out soonest--that's pretty clear.

But Bush too? If I see convincing evidence that this is true--I'll have to go all Dan Drezner on you and start fence-sitting. Or, more likely, abstain and hope and pray for real leaders with sincerity, honor and courage in '08.

As Powell told Bush--re: the Pottery Barn rule--you break it, you own it. And so we do. Now, and therefore, we damn well owe the Iraqis a real, full-blown effort to forge a viable state there. Let's not B.S. ourselves. If we leave that country (at least within the next 18 months) all hell is going to break loose. We need to guarantee that the Shi'a don't engage in massive score-settling with the Sunnis. That the Kurds and Turks don't get into a major firefight. That internecine warfare doesn't erupt between fundamentalists and more secular-minded Sunnis. And so on. This is generational stuff, people.

And does anyone really believe that a nascent Iraqi Army (probably busily being infiltrated by Iranian agents and radicalized Sunni fanatics as we speak) is going to do the trick? Er, no f'ing way. Bottom line: We need to be there for a while, folks--if we're serious. If we're not serious--well, why the hell did we go in the first place?

Commenters are invited, in particular, to evidence as much as possible why they feel comfortable that Bush will keep a significant troop presence in Iraq well into '06--only then beginning to gradually scale down our presence there. Or, alternately, to tell me the reasons Novak is right...Smart money is still on the former, I'd wager.

Posted by Gregory at 06:23 PM | Comments (41)

September 19, 2004

"Old Europe Is as Good as New"...

...was the contrived soundbite that new Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero had all teed up for the love-in summitry with French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroder this past week:

Calling himself and his guests "fervent pro-Europeans," Zapatero said that Germany, France and Spain had agreed to jointly begin a public-awareness campaign on the EU constitution and are committed to building a strong and unified Continent.

But in many ways symbolism appeared to be more important than substance on Monday night.

The 44-year-old Spanish prime minister summarized the talks by referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of France, Germany and other nations opposed to the Iraq campaign as "the old Europe."

"If I had to describe the atmosphere of this meeting in just a few words, I would say 'the old Europe' is as good as new," Zapatero said during a joint press conference following the talks.

Chirac pointed out that none of the three leaders intended to change their position on Iraq. "We have opened a Pandora's box in Iraq that we are unable to close," he said. "The situation is very serious and it is not getting better."

Put aside Chirac's naseauting statement (the disingenuous evocation of the royal "we"; the schadenfreude-laden Pandora's Box reference, the obligatory it's serious and getting worse hand-wringing, and the, just in case you were wondering--we don't plan on helping any with this big Anglo-Saxon generated mess).

Focus instead on what else these three estimable leaders (who seemingly hadn't deigned to invite Tony and Silvio to their little shindig) were cooking up last Monday. Well, this, for one.

Speaking to reporters at the EU meeting, France's defense minister restated Paris' doubts about training Iraqis in Iraq.

"We in France continue to believe that this training should be done outside Iraq," Michele Alliot-Marie said. "Iraq has to find its own sense of identity and I don't think the addition of more foreigners in uniform will help that."

Diplomats said French concerns focused on whether U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the American training operation in Iraq, also could head the NATO mission under a "double-hat" arrangement allowing him to report back to alliance headquarters.

French diplomats last week expressed concern about the alliance operation becoming "subservient" to the U.S.-led coalition.

Belgium mostly was concerned about how to share the costs of the mission, wanting more of the expenses to be covered by participating allies and not common NATO funds.

Belgium, France, Germany and Spain have said they will not send instructors into Iraq.

However, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said German military experts would instruct Iraqi military engineers and vehicle maintenance units in the United Arab Emirates. He said further training on mine-clearance likely would be conducted in Germany.

Think about all this for a second. Germany, quite disingenuously in my view, is trying to play a more 'transatlantic friendly' policy by training a few vehicle maintenance units in the environs of Dubai (see, we are being more helpful than the French!) Spain votes for nada help in Iraq. France quibbles about chain of command issues (surtout pas de 'subservience'!) and wants to avoid any NATO 'flag' in Iraq. And Belgium, incredibly, is quibbling over a few Euros regarding whether funds for such a training mission would come from national budgets or pooled NATO funds.

I have to say, even as a pretty committed trans-atlanticist, this gets me pretty steamed. Bear with me, just for kicks, and take a brief moment to recall all the U.S. assistance to Europe in the past odd century. The Doughboys in St. Ettiene during WWI. The shores of Normandy in the Second World War. Think about the almost five long decades of the Cold War as the Soviet Union loomed over Berlin. Think about the horrific carnage in Bosnia that the European governments couldn't solve until the U.S. intervened. Think about the mammoth Marshall Plan and the lead American role in NATO which, lest we forget, served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism for these long decades too.

Now recall the death of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania three years back. Think also about, if 3,000 had been slaughtered in Berlin or Paris, how their leaders might have reacted. Might not, even a feckless figure like Chirac, thought of potentially employing preventive means against an enemy that had tried to kill one of his predecessors, had used WMD against his own people, had started two wars in a region critical to his national interest, had ties with terror groups (even if no operational ones with the group responsible for the immediate massacre), had not expressed any regret about said attacks and was thought to possess stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that might be transferred to terror groups? Might not, for argument's sake, it be possible that Germany or France might have, just maybe, gotten a little 'carried away' after such a national trauma in their leading city and gotten deeply involved in a country like Iraq?

Look, whatever you make of the Iraq mission, it is beyond doubt that success there is critical to the stability of the vastly important Middle Eastern region and beyond. This is a point Tony Blair made forcefully today during Iyad Allawi's visit to London. And, of course, training and equipping a viable Iraqi Army is a major component of trying to make the Iraq project successful. Can we not expect more from our European 'allies' in assisting this effort?

Well, not much; not much at all (though ultimately they will likely concede enough to allow a de minimis NATO train and equip effort in and around Iraq). Instead, it's pretty clear what's going on. Germany is offering up a 'vehicle maintenance' program to curry favor with naive Washington players who think Berlin is playing nice-nice to France's inglorious repudiation of any responsibility in trying to resuscitate the imperiled Iraq project. Belgium, as Eurocrats are wont to do, is busy pinching pennies (sorry, Euros). Zapatero is playing young, poster-boy puppy to Gerard and Jacques to rejuvenate Old Europe with a breath of Spanish 44-year old (and quite underwhelming) panache. And Chirac is rubbing Bush's nose in the Iraq imbroglio--fighting a rear-guard action to try to help Kerry get in. If Kerry does prevail, Chirac will receive him regally in Paris ("I have been to Paris" the Senator will doubtless solemnly intone again). Paris will finally offer up some cosmetic assistance with more alacrity--some gendarmerie will be trained in a neighboring country or (even!) Iraq itself perhaps. There will be talk of rapprochment in the air.

You know, rather than have our Ambassador to NATO have to endure this cheap and disheartening carpet-bazaar bartering process in Brussels--perhaps his time would be better spent focusing instead on pushing through a dramatic overhaul of NATO. The Soviet Union no longer menaces Western Europe, of course. The new perils of this century are that of asymmetric warfare, global terror, rogue nations and transnational terror cells. Sure, anyone has the right to disagree with the merits of the Iraq war--but no one can seriously deny that international terrorists like Zarqawi are now operating there. A serious French leader (like Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance) would understand this and put an end to this tedious 'will we, won't we' debate on the minute NATO assistance being offered up on training of Iraqi forces.

In the absence of real help and while a reinvigorated NATO is forged, we should query the French (and Belgians) regarding whether they really wish to remain in the alliance. The HQ in Brussels, after all, can be moved to Warsaw, Milan, or hell, Manchester. And those who might choose to remain in the soi disant alliance, like the Germans, would have to offer up a little more than vehicle maintenance units and such.

After all, many are likely happy to see NATO wither away into irrelevance it seems:

...NATO has failed the most important test, namely to ensure that its members continue to see its success as essential to their interests.

That they no longer do so is deeply disturbing. It reflects less on the shortcomings of the organization than on the shortsightedness of its members. True, their security from military attack is currently no longer at stake. But NATO is more than just a defense pact.

Like no other institution, NATO embodies Atlantic cohesion, something that remains essential for any Western effort to promote a degree of international order. NATO links Europe to the world's most powerful country and uniquely ties the United States to a common procedure of consultation and cooperation. Moreover, it is the only organization capable of generating international military operations for the many stability-building tasks that lie ahead.

European governments, therefore, are crazy not to support NATO. To watch it wither is at best frivolous, at worst dangerous. Instead of blaming the Bush administration and hoping for a change of government in the US, European members need to make NATO their own concern again. This does not imply kowtowing to every American view and whim or foregoing efforts to strengthen European defense cooperation. It does mean undertaking to make NATO again the place where both sides of the Atlantic develop a common approach to the dangers of this world.

Unfortunately, most European governments merely shrug their shoulders when the issue is raised. That dangerous indifference is the most serious sign of NATO's crisis.

Indeed.

Look, allies, like good friends, have occasional disagreements. But they do not try to block at every turn. Yes, it's true--we didn't want NATO to come into Afghanistan initially. We had just lost 3,000 of our civilians--and speed was of the essence. Friends, of course, might understand this. Now speed is less critical in places like Afghanistan where we are engaged in a long-term nation-building exercise. And so, yeah, we'd love to have a greater NATO presence there now--preferably without needing to have the NATO Secretary-General beg for every other helicopter or extra troop contingent with cup in hand. Or beg for a few trainers to teach Iraqi police (let alone army) recruits. At some point, enough is enough--you have to call a spade a spade. If some in Europe want to relegate NATO to irrelevance--perhaps we should help the process along. A 'new and improved' NATO, leaner (sans the likely candidates) and more attuned to the panoply of threats confronting us in the 21st century might be a good start.

Or, people need to get serious, and fast. Assuming basic alliance responsibilities would be a good start. After all, two alliance members alone have about 150,000 troops on the ground in Iraq right now. And NATO, to date, has only assisted with some logistical support to a Polish-led multinational contigent. That's just not going to cut it. If key NATO country leaders don't get this--we should give them a last chance to better understand the dynamics at play--and what all of us in the Atlantic Community lose if they don't better assume their responsibilities. If they aren't willing to help, or don't care, well (and with regret), we'll have to draw the obvious conclusions and move along. History, and alliances, are always in flux. As Palmerston said, "there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests." Perhaps the interests of Brussels in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 era simply are no longer those of Washington (ironically, post-Beslan, anti-NATO Russia's are likely closer to Washington's than the likes of Belgium's are...).

NB: On a slightly different topic, I'll have more on growing U.S.-Russian cooperation (including the potential perils thereto) in the security sphere soon.

Posted by Gregory at 06:04 PM | Comments (46)

September 17, 2004

Fatalities in Iraq

There has been a lot of talk of late in the blogosphere about what Iraq casualty rates (both in terms of location and number) tell us about how the war is going. In an interesting post, Belmont Club espied reasons for optimism.

Then Andrew Sullivan wrote:

But it also seems to me that military deaths may not be the best way to analyze this. After all, the White House may well have been withdrawing troops from sensitive areas in order to minimize casualties in the run-up to elections (perhaps prior to an attack on Fallujah in November?).

To which Belmont responded:

How to square this [Sullivan's argument] with observed events? The best way to minimize American casualties in the short term would have been to withdraw them from high-combat areas like Al-Anbar Province and Sadr City and fall back onto solid perimeters or bases in the open desert. That would cut US casualties by a dramatic percentage. The empirical problem with Sullivan's hypothesis is that of the 52 Americans who have died in September the vast majority were killed in patrols, "stabilization operations" or convoys in Al-Anbar which are offensive operations (although any good defense has active patrolling). [emphasis added]

I gotta side mostly with Sullivan on this one. What the Belmont blog misses is that while offensive operations in places like Anbar Province are indeed where most of the casualties are occuring (ie, we are taking the fight to the enemy pace Belmont and contra Sullivan)--we also need to note that the scale and pace of our counter-insurgency effort has slowed down considerably--and yet casualties are still occurring at a relatively high rate.

We'll look at casualty trends below, but for now note that it's beyond doubt that there have been fewer, major counter-insurgency actions in Iraq of late. Indeed, that's been part of our new declared strategy:

"The goal is to help the Iraqi interim government gain control of those cities as soon as possible" while at the same time "we make every effort to avoid major military confrontations," says Brig. Gen. Erwin Lessel, deputy director for operations of the multinational forces in Iraq. "The more reconstruction and economic progress you have, the population migrates towards the government and away from supporting the anti-Iraq forces."

Note too, relatedly, that we are relying on airpower more (a tactic, incidentally, that often causes more undesired collateral damage than do on-the-ground counter-insurgency operations).

Indeed, when we were more robustly fighting in the Sunni Triangle back in April--we lost 140 men that month. After April, we decided to scale back from such operations for varied reasons (losing too many soldiers, international outcry if we flattened Fallujah, election(s) nearing etc). And, perhaps most important, the Army (as opposed, reportedly, to the Marines) started buying into such arguments:

...there is an innate disconnect between the requirement for security that the coalition forces must stay to implant, and the instability that the presence of these same forces causes. This disconnect will continue to grow. With the military setbacks of Kufa, Najaf and Fallujah, in which insurgents and irregular forces skillfully combined fanatical, if militarily unskilled fighting, with the use of religious terrain to battle the coalition to a standstill, Iraqis now know that the U.S. can be beaten. This combines with the inflammatory photos from Abu Ghraib to ignite widespread willingness to fight the coalition, or at least to give sanctuary to those who fight. This trend of increasing combativeness will likely grow, loosely coupled with the growing desire of foreign fighters to see the coalition, and anything associated with it, fail.

In other words, some experts advised the Army that is was better for us to a) pull out of major population centers, b) train Iraqi forces, c) have Alawi try to get some regions/towns under government control peacefully and d) failing (c), use (b) to regain said regions/towns later--rather than U.S. forces.

The problem with all this? What if doesn't work? What if the so-called ink-blot strategy is working better instead?

Look, to be sure, as Wretchard indicates, we are still engaging in a good number of offensive operations--but I think I've made it more than clear that our force posture has been materially more conservative and protective post-April. Indeed, this is likely the main reason why fatality rates have been lower in June and July--we lost almost two-thirds fewer men in those months than we lost in April.

While that's great on the level of losing fewer of our troops--it's begs a $64,000 question. That question is, if we really needed to get back into towns like Fallujah--would we be losing more troops now than we did back in April because the insurgents have re-grouped, strengthened, and are becoming (that dreaded, over-used word so loved by the New York Times!) more "sophisticated"? Unfortunately--and this goes more to Sully's point than Wretchard's--I fear the answer is yes. (Or, put another way, given the limited scope of our counter-insurgency efforts over the past summer--are we losing too many soldiers given the relatively smaller scale of our operations? Again, I think the answer is, unfortunately, yes).

P.S. Also, folks, a capital city like Baghdad is critical in all of this. You can't have foreign nationals, willy-nilly, being kidnapped from the Mansour neighborhood smack dab in the morning on their way to work. You can't have myriad suicide car bombings slaughtering new Iraqi police recruits seemingly every day. You can't have the effing perimeter of the Green Zone unsecured at this late juncture. Not only is it critical to exert real control over the capital as a strategic matter--it's also of hugely symbolic import--for us, for the international community and, yes, for the insurgents.

Listen, we're all in this together. Suger-coating and potentially dubious number-crunching exercises aren't going to win this war. Understanding (at least as best as one can judiciously ascertain) where we are right now, however, might help. And, truth be told, it ain't all that pretty. No, it's not Tet, not by a long shot. But it's not a rinky-dink little insurgency fully contained and emasculated in Anbar province either. It's something in between, and the sooner we accept that, the better for all of us.

Posted by Gregory at 03:01 PM | Comments (35)

September 16, 2004

Kerry Watch

Kerry's doing better in the latest polls--and is also looking better on the campaign trail than I've seen before. I just caught him on Fox over here now back in London. Here's where he sounded, er, like he actually had some combination of balls, gravitas, and conviction (text at this NYT article):

He [Bush] did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings," the senator said. "He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder — that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away.

Now, all this is easy carping from the sidelines. And it doesn't get me even remotely close to thinking Kerry is sincere about trying to see the Iraq project through. But it might, just perhaps, lead Bush to have to play defense a little more on the Iraq issue than he has to date.

You know, that's probably good--if it comes to pass. Bush needs to reassure people that he gets how complex and fraught with danger the situation in Iraq is. It wasn't (and isn't) just a miscalculation here and there. It's a project that, while still salvageable, is today imperiled in very real fashion.

So Mr. President--tell it like it is. We're grown-ups--we can handle it. More important, clue us in (at least in a couple speeches--let the listening crowds eyes glaze over if need be)--to what your game plan is if elections can't happen and Sistani goes ballistic (Shi'a crude majoritarianism held at bay!), or elections happen but hundreds get bombed to death at polling stations dotting the land, or the Sunnis refuse to abide by the results, or Kurdish-Shi'a tensions burst to the fore post-elections.

Now, I know this President has doubtless been counseled by Karl Rove to play to his strength--projecting simple, rock-ribbed conviction--so that speeches getting him caught up in such details would not necessarily play well in Peoria or might have him stumbling over his lines. But he, or surrogates like Powell or Condi, need to start giving us more than we've been getting: 'freedom is on the march'! 'elections coming up in January'! more kindergartens opening! (now that we, er, do kindergartens...)

I believe it will be a net gain if Bush hits back at Kerry hard on this latest line of attack--despite Roveian 'keep it simple' guidelines. Bush should go beyond the standard lines mocking Kerry's flip-flopping (it might get stale). He should also say that it's easy to whine from the sidelines--but Kerry has still not offered any cogent, real, intelligent policy alternatives on Iraq. And then (if only!), how wonderful it would be to see Bush begin to chart a more detailed road ahead showing that a) he's more in touch with reality and not too far in the bubble and b) he is thinking more proactively than Kerry and his foreign policy advisors (not a hard thing to do!)

UPDATE: Polls are really all over the map right now. I can't really make much sense of them...though I suspect campaign internals would show a continuing post-convention lead for Bush of 3-5% pts. Not huge--but not statistically irrelevant either. Incidentally, per some e-mails, I gather some of my readers think my recommendations above are poppycock--that Bush should keep it real simple and 'on message' re: Iraq barring massive disaster there between now and November. I still think, all told, that he should level with us more re: the real challenges taking place there. Seeing POTUS more apprised and engaged with the issues might help make some fence-sitters think a Bush II will be less flat-footed in terms of making breezy, erroneous policy assumptions about complex conflict situations.

MORE: Others were less impressed by the Senator from Massachusetts:

The convention of more than 4,000 Guard officers responded far more coolly to Mr. Kerry than it had to Mr. Bush. The hall, which had been full on Tuesday, had scattered empty chairs on Thursday as Mr. Kerry arrived, and the group, which repeatedly interrupted the president's speech with standing ovations and hoots of approval, offered Mr. Kerry a polite but quieter reception.

At the point that Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush had not told the convention the truth, a man shouted out "No!" As Mr. Kerry finished speaking, a few officers sat in their chairs, arms crossed. Col. Joanne F. Sheridan, of the Louisiana National Guard, got up and walked out before he was done.

"Mine was a silent protest to what he was saying," Colonel Sheridan said later. "What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq - I just don't believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn't believe what Kerry was saying. Here, he came before a military audience, but he said what he said for the media, for the television cameras - not for us, that's for sure."

Posted by Gregory at 11:54 PM | Comments (5)

Revisionist History Watch

During long plane rides of late I've been digging into the IHT (I stopped reading it, in the main, once WaPo stories were dropped--what's the point if you read the New York Times daily online?). Anyway, I had a chance to stumble across this Mark Brzezinski and Eric Rosenbach piece there.

The main thesis? Bosnia was a model in post-conflict reconstruction--and the Bush Administration has bungled Iraq largely because it has not learned the lessons of the Bosnia experience:

In Bosnia, the Clinton administration led a collective effort with NATO and the Russians to rebuild a destroyed country that had suffered massive human-rights abuses. The legitimacy of that alliance was essential, but the allies' most important contribution was added "boots on the ground." The United States convinced allies that a high number of soldiers and specialized police forces would ensure success.

When 60,000 troops initially crossed the Sava River, the security environment in Bosnia quickly and dramatically improved. In contrast to the anarchy experienced by Iraqis, Bosnians saw soldiers on nearly every corner. For the first time in more than five years, their neighborhoods were safe. Equally important, the size of the force protected American soldiers, too.

The second key ingredient in Bosnia was the handling of former combatants. After entering the country, NATO commanders realized that to prevent violence among the former warring factions and militaries, control had to be exercised over them. The Stabilization Forces in Bosnia, or SFOR, required all soldiers to report to duty every day, and they paid them as well. Happy just to have a salary, most soldiers spent their time playing cards and drinking slivovitz in their barracks.

The root of the difference between the Bosnian and the Iraqi experiences is arrogant civilian leadership in the Pentagon. The lessons learned from peacekeeping in the Balkans were clear. The Bush administration's failure to follow them is inexcusable, and has directly resulted in unprecedented failures and unnecessary casualties in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Several quick points on all this. While I agree with the authors of this piece that we should never have disbanded the Iraqi Army as we did--and that we never had enough coalition forces on the ground to begin with--I can't let such a blatantly rosy, revisionistic take on the Bosnia experience go unchallenged.

Let's remember a few things, shall we?

1) The Clinton Administration didn't act in Bosnia until many tens of thousands of innocents had been slaughtered and millions displaced.

2) When he finally did act (via the indefagitable efforts of Dick Holbrooke at Dayton--rather than any noble instincts by distracted, 'pizza delivery' receiving POTUS), we found a nation (indeed, a region) deeply exhausted by a near half-decade of vicious fighting. What's my point? That many in the Balkans were well ready to put down their arms if only out of sheer exhaustion. Compare that to the state of Iraqi forces post the speedy, 3-week so-called 'catastrophic victory' blitzkrieg into Baghdad.

3) The U.S. led NATO force in Bosnia was not weighed down by historical grievances harbored against them by local forces. While Serbs distrusted Germans (historic protectors of the fascist Ustashe in Croatia), Croats the French and British (residual Etonian and Quai d'Orsay Serbophilia), and Bosniaks most Christian Europeans writ large--all of the factions, with the possible exception of particularly hard-line Bosnian Serbs, were pretty much O.K. with the Americans. After all, the U.S. hadn't really had a history of picking favorites in the region.

In Iraq, of course, given Gulf War One (Shi'a and Kurds feeling abandoned; Saddamite Sunnis suspicious), the U.S. was much more suspect. Not to mention general anti-American sentiment in the region resulting from our stolid support of Israel, almost as stolid support of the corrupt Gulf monarchies, and so on.

4) The ethnic mix (yes, believe it!) is likely more complex in Iraq than in Bosnia. In fact, the situation in Iraq is more akin to Kosovo than Bosnia. Why? Because, in Bosnia, all three warring factions were of the same ethnic background. The Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks were all South Slavs. It was only their religion that differentiated them, ie. Christian Orthodox Serbs, Roman Catholic Croats, and Bosniaks who had converted to Islam under the Ottoman yoke.

That's why many long-time Balkan observers view the Kosovar-Serb dispute as ultimately more difficult to resolve. Correctly, in my view (Albanian Kosovars are not South Slavs). And, lest we forget, Kurds are not Arabs. And the Shi'a and Sunni, while ethnically of the same stock--face a sectarian divide likely worse than those in the former Yugoslavia. Put simply, the ethnic/religious mix is more difficult in Iraq than it was in Bosnia.

So, er, let's not say if we had just teed up a NATO force (leaving aside that that was a non-starter in Berlin and Paris, of course) of sufficient size--and had simply kept the Iraqi Army extant--all would have been swell. And that the Clinton Administration has major lessons to bestow to the hapless Bushies on nation-building (see Haiti, Somalia, pre-96 Bosnia).

It's just not that simple.

Posted by Gregory at 10:38 PM | Comments (5)

September 14, 2004

More on Iraq

As we are all painfully aware, it has been an exceptionally bloody period of late in Iraq. And, of course, we are in the middle of the political silly season--so very few people are addressing the massive challenges facing us there head-on. As Jim Hoagland put it:

It is especially hard for spies, generals and policymakers to reexamine, recognize and correct mistakes and assumptions as the U.S. presidential campaign roars into full fury: The incumbent is unable to allow himself to consider -- much less admit -- error. The challenger is unable to see anything but error on his foe's part. September's final small cruelty is to lock the candidates and those who work for them into imaginary omniscience until Nov. 2.

That said, between Coleian doom and gloom and unmitigated Panglossian sunshine ( Chrenkoffian, I might say in the blogosphere!) there is still some room for cautious and limited optimism.

For one thing, Iraq isn't Vietnam (yet).

Fareed Zakaria:

But for all its resilience, the insurgency has not spread across the country, nor is it likely to. Its appeal has clear limits. While it has drawn some support from all Iraqis because of its anti-American character, the insurgency is essentially a Sunni movement, fueled by the anger of Iraq's once-dominant community, which now fears the future. It is not supported by the Shiites or the Kurds. (The Shiite radical Sadr has been careful not to align himself too closely with the insurgency, for fear of losing support among the Shiites.) This is what still makes me believe that Iraq is not Vietnam. There, the Viet Cong and their northern sponsors both appealed to a broad nationalism that much of the country shared.

That's exactly right. Read all of Zakaria's piece, by the way. He's rightly concerned that policymakers, throwing their arms up in frustration given going-ons in the environs of Fallujah, will pursue a so-called Shi'a strategy:

Such an approach would view the Sunni areas in Iraq as hopeless until an Iraqi army could go in and establish control. It would ensure that the Shiite community, as well as the Kurds, remained supportive of Allawi's government and of the upcoming elections. It would attempt to hold elections everywhere -- but if they could not be held in the Sunni areas, elections would go forward anyway. That would isolate the Sunni problem and leave it to be dealt with when [Iraqi] forces become available.

Tempting, of course, but not good policy. We need to start thinking (comments welcome) on innovative formulas to have nation-wide elections take place on schedule (ie, January) despite the existence of pockets of insurgent controlled enclaves:

Another ominous sign is the growing number of towns that U.S. troops simply avoid. A senior Defense official objects to calling them "no-go areas." "We could go into them any time we wanted," he argues. The preferred term is "insurgent enclaves." They're spreading. Counterinsurgency experts call it the "inkblot strategy": take control of several towns or villages and expand outward until the areas merge. The first city lost to the insurgents was Fallujah, in April. Now the list includes the Sunni Triangle cities of Ar Ramadi, Baqubah and Samarra, where power shifted back and forth between the insurgents and American-backed leaders last week. "There is no security force there [in Fallujah], no local government," says a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "We would get attacked constantly. Forget about it."

So, and before January, we need to focus on a) getting that inkblot smaller and (perhaps more important especially if "a" continues to prove so difficult) b) figuring out innovative ways to delay and/or hold election in such places in a manner that makes non-radicalized Sunnis not feel they are getting the heave-ho. Policymakers should be focusing on that right now (as mentioned above, thoughts on that would be most welcome). One thought might be to have remote balloting done in a manner insurgents wouldn't know who had voted at, say, a polling station smack dab in the center of Fallujah--particularly given that many residents would likely be too scared to vote fearing death at the hands of insurgents for "collaboration". Said ballots could be matched against population registries to ensure they were not fraudulent or duplicative. Another thought is to have phased elections in problematic Sunni areas. Perhaps municipal elections could take place first--showcasing how the electioneering process is not prima facie nefarious. But these are just random thoughts that may nor may not make any sense in terms of the real situation on the ground.

Regardless of all this, State has decided (note, not the Pentagon, which is losing influence on Iraq policy) to move more money into the security budget right now. That's smart and good--but isn't going to be enough to solve our Fallujah/Samarra/Baqubah problem by January. Negroponte and Grossman therefore also need to be thinking hard about innovative election modalities too in case our counter-insurgency efforts don't have us back in control of major Sunni population centers by the elections.

Anyone out there have some smart ideas?

MORE: Thanks for all the excellent feedback. In particular, don't miss Point 2 of this comment, why successful elections in Iraq aren't necessarily a panacea, an argument countering that last fear, and a reminder about the nature of some of our enemies in Iraq.

Appreciate it, folks--I'm blessed with smart commenters (perhaps I should turn over the keys to them!) Still, I think we need to push further and more 'out of the box' on elections related ideas. I'll be giving it more thought when time allows--as well as trying to address developments in Russia, Turkey (vis-a-vis their Iraq policy) and, er, the Balkans (remember them?).

Posted by Gregory at 10:39 PM | Comments (34)

September 12, 2004

Travel

I'm too busy to post right now--but did happen to get down to Ground Zero today (I'm in New York). I'll have some thoughts on that visit (and, more generally, where we are at 3 years into the 'global war on terror' that began there) soon.

Posted by Gregory at 12:55 AM

September 09, 2004

What to do in Iraq?

Andrew Sullivan writes, in post entitled "Going Backward in Iraq?":

That's part of the extremely depressing message from the latest CSIS report on the liberation. Reconstruction is pitiful; the Shi'a and Sunni insurgencies remain intact; there is growing restlessness in the north. I don't think CSIS has an ax to grind; and their report is chock-full of data and interviews and on-the-ground reporting. It seems to me that the question of how we turn things around should be the most important question of the campaign. And yet it's barely mentioned.
[emphasis added]

He's absolutely right--the biggest question of the campaign isn't even close to being adequately addressed by either campaign. Let's take a closer look--starting with Kerry's plan:

John Kerry and John Edwards will make the creation of a stable and secure environment in Iraq our immediate priority in order to lay the foundations for sustainable democracy. They will:

Persuade NATO to Make the Security of Iraq one of its Global Missions and to deploy a significant portion of the force needed to secure and win the peace in Iraq. NATO participation will in turn open the door to greater international involvement from non-NATO countries.

Internationalize the Non-Iraqi Reconstruction Personnel in Iraq, to share the costs and burdens, end the continuing perception of a U.S. occupation, and help coordinate reconstruction efforts, draft the constitution and organize elections.

Launch a Massive and Accelerated Training Effort to Build Iraqi Security Forces that can provide real security for the Iraqi people, including a major role for NATO. This is not a task for America alone; we must join as a partner with other nations.

Plan for Iraq’s Future by working with our allies to forgive Iraq’s multi-billion dollar debts and by supporting the development of a new Iraqi constitution and the political arrangements needed to protect minority rights. We will also convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq's borders and non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

All this sounds swell. But there are lots of problems with it. The biggest one, in my view, is that nearly all of this is already being done by Bush. Bush has already reached out to NATO most recently during the Istanbul summit this past summer. An initial NATO mission is already on the ground analyzing how best to assist the 'train and equip' effort. Yes, it's pretty de minimis fare. But why should we believe John Kerry will be able to secure massive German and, particularly, French participation in a NATO-led 'train and equip' effort (let alone providing large troop contingents)? Simply because he isn't Bush and Berlin and Paris will like the smell of him better? Or because he will dangle a few more reconstruction contracts there way? Sorry, but I'm not buying.

And regardless, how will a more significant NATO presence really help us in Iraq vis-a-vis quashing the insurgency? Will more largely Christian, European soldiers change the dynamics of the war underway? Would it allow us to withdraw troops? Probably not, as we are already thin so new contingents would be more by way of supplementing forces already on the ground. Kerry also suggests a bigger NATO role would, in turn, allow for greater international involvement for non-NATO countries. But Powell has already been working on getting Islamic nations to contribute. Again, what will Kerry do differently here? Will Joe Biden wave a magic wand so that Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco, Bangladesh and Malaysia will be rushing to line up to send in contingents?

Kerry also talks about internationalizing the reconstruction personnel (more Nepalese perhaps?), forgiving Iraqi debt (James Baker III is already working this issue), and calling for a regional conference to secure a plege of non-interference by neighboring countries (a Les Gelb idea, largely a good one, but would Iranian (the country of most concern on porous border issues, at least currently) pledges of non-interference really be worth the paper they were written on?).

Bottom line: Kerry offers little new--and is now, post-Clinton sick bed consultation, talking more about the squandered $200 billion (with Deanesque touches of how wrong it all was to go in and how we have to get out of there as quickly as possible).

So would you forgive me that I'm a skeptic on Kerry and Iraq? He's proposing ideas that are largely already being implemented by Bush and screaming on about getting out of Iraq within four years. It doesn't sound to me like a man who has the will, perseverance or desire to see Iraq through.

And yet, as Fareed Zakaria reminds us, perseverance (Bush's strong suit) has its limits:

Bush's attitude is partly responsible for the problems in Iraq. Perseverance is a good quality, but one can sometimes persevere in error. Months into the occupation, the administration stubbornly insisted that there was no insurgency, that no more troops were necessary, that the Governing Council had widespread support and that disbanding the Army was the right thing to do. It could not accept the inconvenient facts.

I've defended Bush from such criticisms in the past--most recently in the context of Andew Sullivan describing him as something of a stubborn, bull-headed "religious visionary". And yet, talk of seeing Iraq through--devoid of greater detail--is pretty empty talk. Still, make no mistake, it's better to talk in vague terms about seeing Iraq through (Bush)-- than increasingly engage in barely concealed talk of cutting and running (Kerry).

Yet Bush can and must do better. Right now, the January elections are in deep peril of being judged illegitimate because large swaths of Sunni Iraq are no-go areas. This may not concern many Shi'a or Kurds--but would render the electoral results highly problematic. If population centers like Samarra, Falluja and Ramadi simply can't vote--well, Sunnis will be forgiven for thinking that they have now been disenfranchised not only figuratively but literally too. Such an outcome will allow for even riper conditions for insurgency to develop in large swaths of the Sunni triangle.

And yet, the answer is not to flatten Fallujah so as to set up a heavily guarded polling station there. You can't destroy the village to save it. You can't kill hundreds and hundreds of Fallujans so that shattered, grieving families can then 'vote.' That's, of course, dumb policy.

So, what to do? The first step is to better understand just exactly who you are fighting. On that score, check out this primer:

The insurgency is now driven mainly by Islamists,” says Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service. “There are some foreign fighters, but the engine of this is Iraqi Islamists mirroring the tactics of al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah.” The Islamists kidnap and behead Americans, Iraqis, and foreigners working with them; detonate suicide car bombs; and set off roadside explosives. They have instituted “Taliban-like rule” in Falluja, according to The New York Times. Also active in the insurgency are Baathists, who a year ago were believed to be leading the effort, but “are in a subordinate position right now,” Katzman says. Overall, the insurgency in Anbar is growing in strength and resourcefulness. “The enemy is becoming more sophisticated in his efforts to destabilize the country,” said General Richard Myers, commander of the joint chiefs of staff, at a press briefing September 7.

So this is no surprise. Islamists and Baathists are the enemy, right? It's like Rummy and Bush have been saying all along--we are merely fighting terrorists (read: beheading Islamists) and 'dead-enders' (unseated Baathists and their closest sympathizers).

Well, not quite (and here is where an opportunity exists for us to mount a more intelligent counter-insurgency operation). Also fighting us:

A broad mix of fighters who resent the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. Pamela Hess, reporting for United Press International from Ramadi, wrote that among the insurgents were “smugglers whose economic lines are getting severed by coalition patrols; tribal sheiks angry over their loss of power with the ouster of their patron Saddam Hussein; jihadists of various nationalities who flock to Ramadi ’to get their war on’; nationalists who resent the occupation; citizens who lost friends or relatives in the war or post-war and are seeking revenge; and mercenaries—desperately poor Iraqis who have no hope of jobs in the shattered economy who get paid $50 or $100 to shoot at Americans.”

Check out the motley crew I've bolded. Aggrieved families, mercenaries, tribal sheiks, smugglers, Iraqi nationalists. These are the constituencies that we must have, if not out and out falling in love with us, at least not actively combatting us. As I've argued before, what we need to do when fighting terror and terror-enablers is foster conditions that leave all but the die-hards (in Iraq: Zarqawi's crowd, foreign jihadists, and ex-Baathists) to confront. We need to methodically and ruthlessly isolate our real existential enemy and then confront him head on.

So how to make these other constituencies like us more? Two things, in the main. Security Security Security. And Reconstruction Reconstruction Reconstruction.

Security means different things in different places. In Fallujah--it means not having your house mistaken for a Zarqawi safe-house and bombarded from the air. In Baghdad (outside of Sadr City) it means not being blown up by an errant car bomb. In Sadr City--it means not getting caught up in the cross-fire between U.S. forces and Mahdi Army types. In Mosul and Kirkuk--it means police stations not getting routinely blown up.

Regular readers of my blog know that I've complained a lot about us never having sufficient troops in theater to create secure conditions. This remains true, in my view. That said, that debate has, to large extent, become stale now. We have a pretty conservative force posture in country and are massively involved (did Kerry hear?) in training and equipping new Iraqi forces. There won't be a GI on every street corner now. So we must, at least, get smarter in terms of ensuring security in conjunction with our new Iraqi allies.

For instance, check out this part of a (even more Kurdophile than usual!) Peter Galbraith piece in the NYRB:

Allawi's tough-guy approach has won him admiration not just in official Washington but in Iraq as well. Many Iraqis are fed up with the insurgencies, and citizens of Baghdad appreciate his efforts to deal with that city's kidnappings and armed robberies, which have gone out of control. (Allawi rounded up more than five hundred known criminals, a move that apparently never occurred to the American occupation authorities, since crime was not a problem in the highly fortified Green Zone.)

Well, that's dumb. The fact that many Iraqis are fed up with insurgencies is a major opportunity. So, with the limited resources we have available, let's be smarter about providing security (you know, get off our duffs, before Allawi had to do it, and go and apprehend known criminals enjoying free rein in Baghdad).

The other major part to all of this is the flailing reconstruction effort:

U.S. authorities are planning to shift about $3 billion of the $18.4 billion in reconstruction funds granted by Congress last fall away from major reconstruction projects and to programs designed to build Iraqi security forces and create short-term jobs. As of September 1, $886 million of those funds had been spent. Iraqi unemployment currently stands at between 30 percent and 40 percent.

Unemployment was 25% at the height of the Great Depression in the U.S. Is it any surprise that a country with 40% unemployment will provide succor to myriad insurgents?

So, how likely it is that more short-term jobs (many of them military) will prove helpful in giving Iyad Alawi something to work with to get the tribal shieks, smugglers, nationalists, and so on to give up their arms (or at least stop helping those that won't give them up--the die-hard Baathists with nothing to lose and the fanatical Islamists).

It’s unclear. General William Nash, the director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that the United States and Iraq have to succeed in “the long, slow battle of economic and political reconstruction.” His long-term strategy for ending the insurgency includes giving more authority and resources to the Iraqi government so it’s clear that it is in charge, and waging an information campaign to convince the Iraqi public that the insurgents “are not fighting the Americans, they’re fighting Iraq.” The focus of Nash’s plan—and the “hearts and minds” strategy being pursued by U.S. military commanders—is to win over the majority of Iraqis by showing them they can have a future in the new Iraqi state. A September 2 International Crisis Group report also emphasizes the importance of reconstruction. “Iraq desperately needs an economic recovery strategy to escape its vicious circle of hardship, discontent, and violence,” it says.

It's time to stop the Rumsfeldian-Politburo style recitations about how many schools or hospitals are being built. Let's be plain Mr. Rumsfeld. Large parts of the country remain in dismal shape.

The ICG, as is typical, makes some very smart recommendations, including:

"Address immediate socio-economic needs by:

(a) designing projects with a visible, direct impact and significant employment potential, such as street cleaning, garbage collection, sewage systems repair and local byroads repair;

(b) retraining former members of the Iraqi armed forces and employing them in state-owned enterprises;

(c) offering credit facilities for housing construction and repair;

(d) providing farmers with subsidised agricultural inputs; and

(e) generally consulting with Iraqis, in particular associations, labour unions, and groups representing the unemployed, on the design and implementation of projects."

And also:

1. Produce, in cooperation with the donor community, a comprehensive plan for reconstruction, including:

(a) a strategy for economic diversification that gradually steers the country away from its dependence on oil revenues;

(b) active support for the industrial and agricultural sectors; and

(c) postponed privatisation of state companies until market conditions and institution-building show considerable improvement.

I've bolded this last portion of an ICG recommendation because it reminds us how utopic people like Ken 'Cakewalk' Adleman were before this war. Privatize large industry Polish 'shock therapy' style! Get the oil on tap to pay for all the reconstruction soonest! Free and fair elections under the aegis of Great Leader Ahmad!

Democracy! Whiskey! Sexy!

Look, there is a lot of blame to go around and hindsight is 20-20. But as someone who has worked for some of the neo-cons now working in or around the Pentagon (in the context of the morally justifiable and critical 'training and equipping' effort of the Bosnian Federation Army), I have to say (with genuine regret because I sometimes share their idealism and moral neo-Reaganite shadings) too many critical errors of judgment were made. Errors that, finally, showcase a dismal lack of understanding of the full complexities of both nation-building generally, and the region and Iraq specifically. For me to feel more comfortable supporting George Bush--I need to know that new policymakers are going to be in lead positions on Iraq policy in any Bush II (I'll be following that issue very closely here over the next couple of months). Early indications are that's the case--which makes it easier for me to support Dubya over what appears to increasingly be a 'cut and run' Kerry Iraq policy largely staffed with Clinton alums that I find underwhelming as foreign policy practitioners.

(Note: I've written this in great haste before a full day of meetings. Forgive me awkward sentences and typos!). More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 AM | Comments (49)

September 08, 2004

Kerry's August

August was a very bad month for John Kerry--and not just because of the Swifties:

"If you were to say what was the pivotal moment in August, I don't think it included Swift boats," Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman said. "I think it was the back-and-forth between the president and Senator Kerry over Iraq."

Though Kerry is correct when he says he always held a different view on Iraq, especially an unwavering insistence that the United States should have built a much broader international coalition before attacking Hussein and occupying a foreign country, the candidate's comments throughout August served only to complicate his case, several Democratic operatives said.

In addition to the debate over the Iraq vote, Kerry was reluctantly pulled into a broader discussion during the first two weeks of August over whether he, like Bush, would have gone to war with Iraq if he were president now. At first Kerry said maybe. Then Jamie Rubin, the candidate's national security adviser, said that "in all probability" a Kerry administration would have waged war to depose Hussein by now. Several Kerry friends and advisers considered Rubin's comment a mistake, but the campaign did not issue a retraction until weeks later -- on Aug. 24.

Tony Coelho, who chaired Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, said he was "very disgusted" by how Kerry's top advisers handled the Iraq debate last month. "You are paying these guys a lot of damn money. If Kerry is screwing up, where is our Karl Rove?"

Er, non-extant, I guess.

Meanwhile, Kerry's latest (I've honestly lost track) position on Iraq is very Howard Deanesque--the boys are gonna come home by the end of his first term.

If you've been reading B.D. over the past months--you know that I have pretty much believed that to be Kerry's going forward Iraq position all along. This isn't because B.D. is a great reader of tea leaves and such. After all, he was saying stuff like this back in early August:

In interviews on television talk shows, the Democratic presidential nominee said that he saw no reason to send more troops to Iraq and that he would seek allied support to draw down U.S. forces there. "I will have significant, enormous reduction in the level of troops," he said on ABC's "This Week." Kerry accused President Bush of misleading the country before the war in Iraq, burning bridges with U.S. allies and having no plan to win peace. But when questioned about saying Thursday in his acceptance speech, "I know what we have to do in Iraq," he would not tip his hand.

"I've been involved in this for a long time, longer than George Bush," he said. "I've spent 20 years negotiating, working, fighting for different kinds of treaties and different relationships around the world. I know that as president there's huge leverage that will be available to me, enormous cards to play, and I'm not going to play them in public. I'm not going to play them before I'm president."

Reminded that he sounded like Richard M. Nixon, who campaigned in 1968 by saying he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam, Kerry responded: "I don't care what it sounds like. The fact is that I'm not going to negotiate in public today without the presidency, without the power."

Kerry previously has discussed his desire to reduce U.S. forces in Iraq but declined to attach any timetable to that goal.

Now, of course, Kerry has gone further:

Asked about Iraq, Mr Kerry declared it to be “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”, and Mr Bush’s “most catastrophic” wrong choice. Although he said recently that he hoped to bring a “significant number” of US troops home from Iraq in his first term as President, Mr Kerry went much farther. “My goal would be to bring them home in my first term, and I believe that can be done,” he said. Mr Kerry has repeatedly criticised Mr Bush’s handling of the war but has struggled to explain why he voted to give Mr Bush the authority to invade Iraq before voting against an $87 billion (£49 billion) request to fund troops and reconstruction costs.

Last month he perplexed many Democrats when he said that he would still have voted to authorise Mr Bush to invade even had he known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found.

Look, we all want the G.I.s back home. And, of course, it might be helpful (to a fashion) to signal that the U.S. does not intend to keep U.S. forces in Iraq on a quasi-permanent basis. For instance, some in the Arab and Islamic world (not least Iraq)--to the extent they bought into Kerry's comments--would have one fewer conspiracy theory to help stoke some of the anti-Americanism in the region (namely, that the U.S. invaded Iraq to maintain permanent military bases in the region). But, of course, the much more likely impact of such statements, in highly problematic places like Anbar province or increasingly Beirut-like Sadr City, is to smell weakness and, as Sully put it, make possible failure in Iraq a "self-defeating prophecy." You simply don't, in the middle of a war, announce a withdrawal timetable like this (Nixon's 'peace with honor' was much further into the Vietnam conflict).

You know, Kerry, after getting advice from Clinton's sick-bed, was supposed to drop Vietnam and move the debate to domestic issues (traditional soi disant "Democrat" issues like the economy and health care). One ingenious way to do this was Kerry's new line about the $200 billion allegedly squandered in Iraq and how these funds could have been used for more critical domestic needs.

But, as is his wont, Kerry effed it up. Instead of sounding like Clinton--he took Clinton's advice and came off sounding like Howard Dean. It's not just, per Tony Coehlo, that Kerry has no Karl Rove. The candidate himself is making, repeatedly, serious mistakes. You can't just blame the dearth of Dem Karl Roves for all these going-ons.

One final note. There was a little brouhaha last night about Cheney's comments about the perils of a Kerry victory. As I'm in the States, I caught Edward's reaction last night on a cable news show. Whatever you make of Cheney's comments, Edwards (during his response) looked young, under pressure, and even a tad panicky. It was not an impressive performance--the seasoned, silver-tounged, smart trial lawyer this wasn't. Instead, he looked fidgety and non-convincing. Not a major Kerry asset right now, I'm afraid.

Make no mistake. This is a campaign in pretty serious trouble right now. If they're going to turn it around--they need to do so damn quickly. But I'm not sure the candidates or their advisors have the requisite street smarts, conviction on key foreign policy issues, and general mojo to pull it off right now.

MORE: There might be hope for Mr. Kerry. Nicholas von Hoffman thinks he's in trouble--so maybe all is well!

Meanwhile, NY money is getting worried too.

Just to clarify. Yeah, I obviously think Kerry is in real trouble. But Bush's lead in polls is most recently looking to only be around 2-3% (the post-convention bounce is diminishing quite rapidly). It is still anyone's race...

Posted by Gregory at 04:48 AM | Comments (17)

September 07, 2004

Sullivan's Loss of Faith in Bush

Andrew Sullivan:

I agreed with almost everything in the foreign policy section of the speech, although the president's inability to face up to the obvious sobering lessons from Iraq is worrying. I get the feeling that empirical evidence does not count for him; that like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality. It won't. We heard nothing about Iran, North Korea or even anything concrete about Iraq. We heard no new bid to capitalize on the new mood in France or to win over new allies in the war on terror. We heard nothing about intelligence reform. And the contrasts with Kerry were all retrospective. There was no attempt to tell us where Kerry and Bush would differ in the future over the Middle East, just easy (and justified) barbs about the past. But Bush's big vision is, I believe, the right one. I'm just unsure whether his profound unpopularity in every foreign country has made real movement more or less likely. I do know that the rank xenophobia at the convention did not help American foreign policy or American interests.

You know, I've often felt grateful to Sullivan for his passionately intelligent writing or, perhaps, a poem he digs up that well reflects the national mood. Two days after 9/11, he posted this poem on his blog:

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand;
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand

This Melville poem, somehow, provided some much needed strength that day. I remember scrawling the poem down on a piece of paper and placing it in Union Square just days after the attacks.

Um, so what's my point? Well, I view Sullivan as someone who has a lot of integrity (for example, he rightly and forcefully called this Administration to task for the FUBAR going-ons at Abu Ghraib). And so, I guess, I was particularly saddened to see him fall (if in limited fashion) for the relativistic argument peddled in large swaths of lefty-Europe that Dubya is as much of a religious nutter as UBL ("...like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality.")

Sorry, but Bush is much more pragmatic than that. He has shown such pragmatism (put differently, a willingness to learn from his mistakes and engage with reality) repeatedly in Iraq. When Garner wasn't up to the job; he canned him and put in Bremer. After giving the U.N. short-shrift; Bush later gave Brahimi and the U.N. free rein to help broker Iraqi electoral modalities. He refused to flatten Fallujah, like a religious visionary might have done, in favor of sending in Iraqi forces (a strategy that looks to be proving highly problematic; though likely less problematic than if Bush had simply carpet-bombed said town). Similarly, the Sadr situation was handled, all told, with some subtlety (the Imam Ali mosque stands, Sadr hasn't been made a martyr, a political space for Sadr might still be allowed going forward). Some of the worst excesses of de-Baathification have been reversed. Rapprochment with Ankara and Berlin has proceeded apace. And so on.

Are these the actions of a wild-eyed, religious visionary? Well, no, of course they aren't.

And what of this "new mood" in France that Andrew espies? Right now, Le Monde's chat rooms are in full-blown schadenfreude mode that seven Marines died today, speculation that the CIA is behind the taking of the two French hostages (to drag the French into the Iraq imbroglio!), and that the U.S. is imperiling the freeing of the two French hostages.

Chat rooms certainly aren't scientifically accurate gauges of the national mood--whether in the U.S. or France. Still, they provide a window into some of the to and fro of national sentiment and debate. Relatedly, check out this article:

La concomitance de l'assaut contre Latifiya, décidé par le premier ministre Iyad Allaoui, et des négociations, trŹs délicates et trŹs médiatisées, relatives aux otages franćais n'est pas passée inaperćue ą Bagdad.

Lors d'une conférence de presse, dimanche, le cheikh salafiste Mahdi Al-Soumeēdaē, en annonćant qu'il avait "promulgué une fatwa - décret religieux - appelant les ravisseurs des deux journalistes ą les libérer immédiatement", a estimé que l'opération de Latifiya a "perturbé le processus de libération".

Translation: The occurence in connection with one another of the assault against Latifiya, decided by Prime Minister Iyad Allaoui, and very delicate...negotiations regarding the French hostages did not pass unnoticed in Baghdad. During a press conference on Sunday, the Salafist Sheikh Mahdi al-Soumeidai announced that he had "promulgated a fatwa--a religious decree--calling on the kidnappers to liberate the two journalists immediately," and averred that the Latifiya operation has disturbed the liberation of the hostages."

Similar stories are appearing in the leading center-right French daily Le Figaro--strongly suggesting that the U.S.'s latest military actions are risking scuttling the hostage release deal.

Now, is it possible that joint U.S.-Iraqi counter-insurgency operations are having a negative impact on the hostage release negotiations? Oh, maybe. But might not it be more warranted for the French press to, just perhaps, instead explore with more vigor the fanatical Islamic group's culpability in this whole sad affair? Instead of the old and tired 'blame the brutish Americans' song and dance? (Regardless, someone will have to clue in the French government that U.S. military actions in Iraq will not be calibrated and timed so as to ensure optimal conditions for various Salafist sheikhs to deem the time ripe for release of their two nationals. Fair, non?)

My point? There really isn't a "new mood" in France for Bush to have capitalized on. Any appeals by Bush to France in his Convention speech would, more likely, and I say this with real regret, have been met by Gallic scoffs, scorn and mockery rather than truly open and receptive ears.

Sullivan also complains that detailed Iran and NoKo plans weren't put on the table at MSG. But is a convention speech really the time to say:"..and if Iran doesn't cooperate with the latest IAEA requests I plan to ask my Euro-troika counterparts to bring this matter to the UNSC for consideration re: bringing punitive sanctions to bear on Iran"? Eyes would glaze over; the bounce would be smaller, and anyway, Bush would be castigated for going foward war-mongering.

Instead, as Sullivan admits, Bush made a powerful speech largely about the civilizational nature of the struggle we are involved in (the "big vision"). A speech that sounded, in parts, similar to this passage:

The forces of barbarism have clearly struck an extraordinary blow against freedom this morning. This is not about the United States alone. It is about the survival of free societies in an open, interconnected world where forces deeply hostile to freedom can wage a new kind of war against our humanity and our success. Words fail me. But my hope is that this will awaken the sleeping tiger. When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving. The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. This is the single most devastating act of war since Nagasaki. It is the first time that an enemy force has invaded the precincts of the American capital since the early nineteenth century. It is more dangerous than Pearl Harbor. And it is a reminder that the forces of resentment and evil...can no longer be appeased. They must be destroyed - systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

The author? Andrew Sullivan, writing the day of 9/11. I wonder if Andrew, in his heart of hearts, truly believes Kerry will "summon the will to do it"?

I doubt he does. And, I suspect, many of my and his readers do to.

A final note. My Beltway spies tell me that a Bush II team (even sans Colin) will have a more pragmatic, realist tilt. Wolfy/Feith are not in the ascendancy anymore. Put differently, regime change is not coming to Iran in February of '05 in any Bush II (Bush just hinted at this strongly saying diplomacy had been given 12 years in Iraq; just one so far in Iran...)

Now, don't get me wrong. There's not going to be any Poppy restoration with Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker rushing about hither dither. But a Bush II team is likely going to feature foreign policy practitioners more tethered to reality than some in Bush I. If nothing else, people are going to have learned from their mistakes. Wars (particularly securing the peace) takes soldiers. Lots of them. Intel needs to be judiciously and cautiously examined without histrionics and hyperbole. People, once liberated, turn on liberators quickly (ingrates abound in this world, let's never forget!). Exiles, particularly of the Knightsbridge variety, twist and turn with the winds with breathtaking gall.

Compare a more sober and realist Bush II team to Kerry's prospective line-up. Holbrooke might do a great job--but who will occupy the vast sub-Holbrooke ranks at State (key 6th floor appointees and such)? Who will man the Pentagon?

The bench is light, I fear. More on that soon.

UPDATE:

A reminder. Comments are often unmonitored and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author of this blog. That said, I will exercise, at my sole discretion, the right to delete any and all posts that I view as off-topic, hateful, or otherwise offensive (even by regular commenters whose views I might often value). Thanks for your understanding and patience--even if I've deleted a comment of yours that you might have viewed as within the confines of appropriate discourse. Sometime it's a close call--but my space, my rules.

As for Kerry's prospective foreign policy team--check this article out. Sorry, but I'm just not that impressed (some quite junior people are being touted as heavy-weights-to-be). This link is registration required; so go check this out too.

As I said, more on this soon. I'm traveling on business to the States all week. Blogging may occur but will be somewhat irregular, erratic etc. Thanks for your patience.

STILL MORE: On France's current take on the hostage crisis, don't miss this either:

Frustration in Paris at delays in releasing the hostages kidnapped in Iraq is leading to suggestions that military action by the US-led coalition is undermining diplomatic efforts and jeopardising the lives of the captives.

Fouad Alaoui, secretary-general of the Union of French Islamic Organisations, said new US military operations might have made it harder to arrange a handover. "I think that it is making the mission difficult," said Mr Alaoui.

In an implicit criticism of the coalition's post-war planning, Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, told LCI television: "This country [Iraq] is in complete chaos, so that poses major difficulties."

A British diplomat in Paris yesterday said: "The current coalition operations are part of regular ongoing activity and have no connection with the French hostages. We continue to offer the French our full support."

This isn't from a Le Monde chat room. It's a statement from the French Minister of Defense.

Again, where is the "new mood"? Why are French government ministers suggesting the U.S. is to blame for the plight of their nationals--rather than the fanatical terrorists who have kidnapped and threatened to kill them? Really, why?

Posted by Gregory at 01:02 AM | Comments (28)

September 06, 2004

The Beslan Tragedy and Putin's Speech

Putin's speech reacting to the senseless carnage of Beslan indicates that the tragedy, like 9/11 in the U.S., represents something of a pivot point in Russian history. To be sure, Russians are far less historically innocent than Americans given their much more brutal history through many centuries of strife. And they have been living with Chechen terror for a good while now. But, and even by harsh Russian standards, this past week has been hugely gruesome.

First, a Moscow bombing killed about 10. Soon thereafter, so-called 'black widows' (female Chechen terrorists), suicide bombed two jets killing another 90. And then, of course, the horrors of Beslan. The numbers alone shock. Likely over 500 Russians will have died in terror attacks in the space of a week. But, more than the sheer numbers, it is the death of so many score children in Beslan that has shocked Russia so deeply. And not just the Russian people. Its leaders, notably Putin, appear to view Beslan as something of an epoch-making event necessitating a materially new course of action for Russia:

As I have said on many occasions, we have faced crises, rebellions and terrorist acts many times. But what has happened now - the unprecedented crime committed by terrorists, inhuman in its cruelty - is not a challenge to the president, the Parliament or the government. This is a challenge to all of Russia, to all our people. This is an attack against all of us.

Indeed, the senselessness of the mass carnage in Beslan has led the Russian leader to speak very bluntly indeed:

There have been many tragic pages and difficult trials in the history of Russia. Today we are living in conditions formed after the disintegration of a huge, great country, the country which unfortunately turned out to be nonviable in the conditions of rapidly changing world.

Today, however, despite all difficulties, we managed to preserve the nucleus of that giant, the Soviet Union. We called the new country the Russian Federation.

We all expected changes, changes for the better, but found ourselves absolutely unprepared for much that changed in our lives. The question is why. We live in conditions of a transitional economy and a political system that do not correspond to the development of society. We live in conditions of aggravated internal conflicts and ethnic conflicts that before were harshly suppressed by the governing ideology.

We stopped paying due attention to issues of defense and security. We allowed corruption to affect the judiciary and law enforcement systems. In addition to that, our country, which once had one of the mightiest systems of protecting its borders, suddenly found itself unprotected either from West or East.

It would take many years and billions of rubles to create new, modern and truly protected borders. But even so, we could have been more effective if we had acted in timely and professional fashion. We have to admit that we failed to recognize the complexity and danger of the processes going on in our own country and the world as a whole. At any rate, we failed to react to them adequately. We demonstrated weakness, and the weak are beaten.

This extremely frank talk is quite astonishing fare coming from any leader-- especially a Russian leader accustomed more to Soviet modes of secrecy and ducking of responsibility for government failures. That said, of course, when Putin says that "we stopped paying due attention to issues of defense and security" or "we demonstrated weakness" he is in large part describing the chaotic, alcohol-laden Yelstin years. This is part of the reason that Putin talks about it taking "many years" to create secure borders, ie. he would have needed more time regardless given the lost Yeltsin years.

Still, however, this speech was an astonishing mea culpa by Russian standards. What does it all mean?

1) Russia will now look to re-assert its historic sphere of influence through the Caucasus (including, if to a lesser degree, the southern Caucasus).

One big loser will likely be new Georgian President Saakashvili. He can forget about any unfettered moves by Tbilisi to assert full Georgian control over South Ossetia. Putin will now make a bid to restore a quasi-hegemonic role through the Caucasus. This will lead to some tension with the Americans who are also vying for influence in the region--but such prospective tensions will be mitigated as Putin's moves will be pitched to Bush as necessary actions undertaken under the umbrella of the war on terror.

2) Putin will now look to spearhead a significant overhaul of Russia's intelligence services (not unlike the post 9/11 bureaucratic reorgs in the States). He will also be forced to move significantly more resources into the military/intelligence sphere--which likely means the risks of going-forward Yukos-style confiscatory actions will be increased given budgetary constraints.

3) While Putin did state that any governmental actions will remain within the confines of the Russian constitution (though it almost sounded like an afterthought in Putin's speech), you can be sure there will be additional constraints placed on civil liberties in the coming months and years. The Russian bear has been re-awoken--not only in terms of robust policing of the 'near abroad' but also in terms of promoting domestic 'cohesion':

Putin: "But what is more important is a mobilization of the nation before the general threat. Events in other countries prove that terrorists meet the most effective rebuff where they confront not only the power of the state but also an organized and united civil society." [ed. note: He's sounding like Zell Miller, no?]

4) Finally, note this part of the speech:

We cannot but see the evident: we are dealing not with separate acts of intimidation, not with individual forays of terrorists. We are dealing with the direct intervention of international terror against Russia, with total and full-scale war, which again and again is taking away the lives of our compatriots.

This is a signal to major powers that the gloves are going to come off--not in terms of Russia's prosecution of the Chechen war (the gloves have always been off there) but in terms of potential actions beyond Russia. Put differently, the mention of "international terror" signals that, much like the Americans will fight terror globally and even in preventitive fashion, so too will Russia now.

What's happening here is that, post 9/11, we see an increasing trend by which various nations seek to categorize their specific homeland security issues as part and parcel of the international war on terror. Israel has often, and quite succesfully, made the case that its security problem with groups like Hamas and Jihad Islami are directly analogous to the homeland security issues America faces with al-Qaeda. And now Russia, especially given ostensible al-Qaeda involvement in this latest brazen attack, seeks to also gain this kind of imprimatur of legitimacy in placing the conflict in Chechnya within the larger context of the global war on terror (the Indians re: Kashmir; and Chinese re: Xinjiang, do this kind of thing too).

There is a problem with all of this, of course. Each situation is materially different (though they all, of course, involve Muslims groups). While the tactics of indiscriminate terror are equally reprehensible whether done in NYC on 9/11, a Passover dinner in Haifa, or a school in North Ossetia--we need to analyze such attacks within the context of the specific dynamics at play. Put differently, the U.S. was not occupying Saudi Arabia when 15 Saudis crashed planes into the Towers (we had troops there at the invitation of the Saudi government). Contra this, the Palestinian terror groups are operating in the context of a war underway there since 1948. Similarly, Chechens and Russians have been in conflict, at least this last go-around, since the early 90s.

What's my point?

Well, it leads me to this little Matt-Glenn dust-up (or what the French might call a dialogue de sourds). Matt, clarifying his earlier post, writes:

What I was saying, in case this is for some reason genuinely unclear, is that to get Chechens to stop making war on Russia requires Russia to do something to resolve the underlying grievance -- Russia's mistreatment of Chechnya. At the same time, taking steps to resolve the underlying grievance would, under the circumstances, be just the sort of appeasement that would invite further attacks. Therefore, it's not clear what the Russian government can or should do in order to prevent future massacres like this.

A few thoughts on all this.

As I see it--there is never any justification for the purposeful slaughter of innocents--no matter how deep-seated and/or justified any group's political grievances. But, like it or not, and given the realities of asymetrical warfare and the success terrorists have had of late, these tactics are with us to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

We therefore need to a) make abundantly clear that such tactics are not, under any circumstances, acceptable to us (Glenn's point); but all the while striving to reach settlements that will help foster more peaceful conditions (Matt's point).

Let me put it differently.

Imagine an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in portions of East Jerusalem (with access to Muslim Holy sites under the aegis of Islamic authorities). Imagine further that Israel got to keep certain key settlements, certain strategic border buffer zones, and that the Palestinian state was largely de-militarized. Imagine too, and critically, that a major compensation fund were opened for '48 refugees and their descendants who can't go back to their original homes. (Please, no E-mails about my breathless naivete and the John Lennon song).

Now, most of the world would think this a pretty fair deal. Many irrendentists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not. But such groups would then be much more isolated then they are today. The vast majority of observers, including likely all of Europe, would feel that a decent deal had been struck. People would further recall that the U.N. authorized the creation of an Israeli state in the late '40s pursuant to real Jewish historical links to the region coupled with the grotesque crime of the Holocaust necessitating a national homeland for Jewry. In other words, history brought us to this difficult pass, a very fair deal was struck, and it's now time to move on.

Any further attacks by Islamic militants in Israel, after such a peace settlement, would be met with significantly more ire than currently (since many, like it or not, see such attacks in the context of a national liberation struggle). This increased ire would be shared amidst the vast majority of judicious governments and, yes, mainstream Islamic groups. There would no longer be any tolerance for, as it is often done by many Middle East observers, drawing distinctions between killing innocent discotequers in Tel Aviv versus killing innocent settlers in Hebron. IDF soldiers on the ground would now be patrolling internationally recognized borders rather than borders in dispute--so would not be considered 'fair' targets in the context of an independence struggle. And so on.

The effect of such a settlement would be to a) cut down Hamas and Jihad Islami's recruitment pool dramatically, b) leave said groups with no support from state actors (Syrian and Iranian support post such a settlement would largely dry up) and c), perhaps most important, lead to conditions where terror groups would meet ferocious and near unanimous condemnation across the globe if they continued to attack any targets in Israel within its '48 borders (or settlements retained as part of any deal and Jewish-controlled Jerusalem).

Ditto, of course, in Chechnya. Suppose Grozny were awarded some 'deep' autonomy where Russia merely kept certain border security/foreign policy levers. Chechens would have, let's say, their own currency, schools, municipal government, flag, and so on. Such a move would de-radicalize many Chechens just as a Palestinian state would de-radicalize many Palestinians. There would be fewer 'black widows'. Fewer thugs willing to slaughter innocent children. No, of course (like with Islamic Jihad, say) there would be absolutists who would view the Russian concessions as weak-kneed and would thus seek to inflict further terror blows to gain further concessions. But, such radicals would enjoy little support but from the most radical of terrorists (ie, the al-Qaeda theoratic barbarian crowd).

So, to wrap up. There can be no appeasement of gruesome international terror tactics. Not now, not later. But, we can't live in a bubble. These monsters who kill children in Beslan and Tel Aviv emerge from a climate of deep historical grievances, myriad outstanding claims and recriminations, long and bitter conflicts. In other words, and returning to Matt's point (if indeed this, er, is his point), we do need to work to reach negotiated settlements of the Kashmirs, Palestines, Chechnyas of the world. The sooner we can resolve those--the better to narrow down the battle to those who will never be satisfed by any reasonable concessions and attempts at rational compromise. Those, for instance, that hate the very idea of liberal democracy--particularly, its leading avatar America.

The hijackers who felled the Towers were, yes, likely motivated in part by the fact that Israel occupies the Territories, that Muslims were being killed in Chechnya, that American troops were in Saudi (or now, Iraq). But, more deeply, they hate us because of what and who we are--a hyper-modern, dynamic capitalist society that allows freedom of religion, a libertine popular culture, the free exchange of ideas. Such societies run contra the idealized visions of a utopic Islamic caliphate spanning from Andalusia to Indonesia.

Yes, we must do our part to signal to such groups that terror will never lead to achievement of their political goals. Yet, at the same time, we must be seen to be striving to resolve outstanding conflicts that help breed hatred. If nothing else, such efforts will help make smaller the recruitment pools of the terrorists.

You simply can't win the war on terror, long term, without resolving these outstanding conflicts, addressing economic development through the Middle East as well as providing alternatives to radical madrasas and such. At the same time, you need to be extremely robust in terms of cracking down on terror groups and states that symphatize with various terror organizations (as Putin put it plainly, "the weak are beaten"). It's not easy to do all this simultaneously--but we must. This is the challenge of our era. While terror has been with us for milennia--it has never had the chance to reap maximalist damage of the sort now possible via chemical or nuclear weaponry. So, no, we will not endlessly prattle on about 'root causes' and shy away from combatting international terror groups and states. But nor can we mount this campaign divorced from the realities on the ground that so often create the conditions that allow for terrorism to thrive (national humiliation, stagnant economies, corrupt authoritarian regimes, longstanding territorial conflicts).

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (27)

September 03, 2004

In-House News

No time to blog Bush speech. Hopefully some comments Sunday night.

Posted by Gregory at 02:45 PM

September 02, 2004

Bush, Kerry and Iraq

Walter Russell Mead:

For Bush, I think you would have to talk about an overall average. There are so many things. I'd give him a solid B to B+ in terms of managing relations with the great powers; that is to say, Russia, China, India, and Japan. I'd give him an A in South Asia. Bush gets points for the combination of dealing with President [Pervez] Musharraf--and getting Pakistan, which had been a Taliban backer, more or less on course--and preventing a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

[Concerning] Iraq, I guess I would divide between effort and achievement. I'd give an A for effort. I would also say that the administration made the right decision that Saddam Hussein was the next address to visit, but I think the administration obviously did not do a very good job of building international support before the war, and [it] clearly underestimated the risks and difficulties that would follow afterward. [Administration officials] also didn't take advantage of some of the planning that their own State Department was doing for postwar reconstruction. They have to lose some points there. I guess you are stuck with a C-.

Q: So you give him an A in Iraq for effort?

A: Yes. But in terms of achievement, just a C-. Saddam Hussein is gone, so you can't flunk him. But you might also say "incomplete." If six months from now, a year from now, we are looking at an Iraqi government that more or less has a security system evolving, if the Shiite situation has calmed down a little bit and [the government is] able to concentrate on the more dangerous insurgency in the north within the Sunni triangle, and if Iraqis are more and more taking the lead politically, well maybe it works out. But it is too soon to tell.

Yeah, that's about right. And don't miss this interesting part:

Q: The Kerry campaign is making much of the Bush administration's strained relations with European powers--other than Britain--and it is clear Kerry is mostly concerned about France and Germany. Would the French have been involved normally?

A: If you are going to fail Americans for not having good relations with France, then a lot of our presidents would have to come down in their grades, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, who failed to have good relations with [Free French President] Charles de Gaulle even when we were in the midst of physically liberating France from the Nazis. I do think that the Bush people probably thought that in the end France will do what it so often does, which is sort of pounce and prance and drive everyone crazy and get all the limelight and then at the end of the day go along.

The real problem was Germany. It is interesting that the Kerry people have not made U.S.-German relations more of a focus, because, in fact, what has changed is that Germany sided with Paris rather than with Washington in this latest round. There are a lot of factors there, but I think the reality is that even before the invasion of Iraq, when Gerhard Schroeder was re-elected chancellor on a pledge to oppose Bush's policies no matter what, the die was cast. Bush at that point had not taken a lot of the steps seen as so provocative later...

Q: So, a B or a B- for relations with Europe?

A: Probably a B because, at the end of the day, the biggest loser of the past year was France, not the United States. A year ago, France was defying America and leading a worldwide coalition against us. Now, after failing to influence the leader of the new EU [European Union] Commission, it is stuck with the transport portfolio in the new EU Commission. So, in a sense, France paid a much higher price for this than Bush did.

They sure did.

Which brings me to my post of earlier today. There I asked whether Kerry's statement that "(w)hen it comes to Iraq, it’s not that I would have done one thing differently, I would’ve done almost everything differently" was more by way of honest, serious criticism or more merely evocative of the phenom of hindsight being 20-20.

To explore this issue, it helps to take a look at some of Kerry's contemporaneous policy statements re: Iraq just before the war.

Here's a pretty typical one from a few months before the war (January '03):

...we need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He is a brutal, murderous dictator, leading an oppressive regime. We all know the litany of his offenses.

He presents a particularly grievous threat because he is so consistently prone to miscalculation. He miscalculated an eight-year war with Iran. He miscalculated the invasion of Kuwait. He miscalculated America's response to that act of naked aggression. He miscalculated the result of setting oil rigs on fire. He miscalculated the impact of sending scuds into Israel and trying to assassinate an American President. He miscalculated his own military strength. He miscalculated the Arab world's response to his misconduct. And now he is miscalculating America's response to his continued deceit and his consistent grasp for weapons of mass destruction.

That is why the world, through the United Nations Security Council, has spoken with one voice, demanding that Iraq disclose its weapons programs and disarm.

So the threat of Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction is real, but it is not new. It has been with us since the end of the Persian Gulf War. Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies. When it finally did speak, it was with hasty war talk instead of a coherent call for Iraqi disarmament. And that made it possible for other Arab regimes to shift their focus to the perils of war for themselves rather than keeping the focus on the perils posed by Saddam's deadly arsenal. Indeed, for a time, the Administration's unilateralism, in effect, elevated Saddam in the eyes of his neighbors to a level he never would have achieved on his own, undermining America's standing with most of the coalition partners which had joined us in repelling the invasion of Kuwait a decade ago.

In U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, the United Nations has now affirmed that Saddam Hussein must disarm or face the most serious consequences. Let me make it clear that the burden is resoundingly on Saddam Hussein to live up to the ceasefire agreement he signed and make clear to the world how he disposed of weapons he previously admitted to possessing. But the burden is also clearly on the Bush Administration to do the hard work of building a broad coalition at the U.N. and the necessary work of educating America about the rationale for war.

As I have said frequently and repeat here today, the United States should never go to war because it wants to, the United States should go to war because we have to. And we don't have to until we have exhausted the remedies available, built legitimacy and earned the consent of the American people, absent, of course, an imminent threat requiring urgent action.

The Administration must pass this test. I believe they must take the time to do the hard work of diplomacy. They must do a better job of making their case to the American people and to the world.

I have no doubt of the outcome of war itself should it be necessary. We will win. But what matters is not just what we win but what we lose. We need to make certain that we have not unnecessarily twisted so many arms, created so many reluctant partners, abused the trust of Congress, or strained so many relations, that the longer term and more immediate vital war on terror is made more difficult. And we should be particularly concerned that we do not go alone or essentially alone if we can avoid it, because the complications and costs of post-war Iraq would be far better managed and shared with United Nation's participation. And, while American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution's decision, I say to the President, show respect for the process of international diplomacy because it is not only right, it can make America stronger - and show the world some appropriate patience in building a genuine coalition. Mr. President, do not rush to war.

And I say to the United Nations, show respect for your own mandates. Do not find refuge in excuses and equivocation. Stand up for the rule of law, not just in words but in deeds. Not just in theory but in reality. Stand up for our common goal: either bringing about Iraq's peaceful disarmament or the decisive military victory of a multilateral coalition.

Wow, where to start will all this (it's a bit like reading Derrida, no)?

How about here:

"Regrettably the current Administration failed to take the opportunity to bring this issue to the United Nations two years ago or immediately after September 11th, when we had such unity of spirit with our allies."

And, just after:

"Mr. President, do not rush to war."

It's Kerry vs. Kerry again.

I mean, which is it?

On the one hand, Kerry ostensibly seems to have wanted that Bush bring the Iraq matter to the UNSC (which could quite likely, even per Kerry above, have led to war given Saddam's history of obfuscation) right after 9/11 (er, and what about that little Afghan 'thang?).

But, on the other hand, a bit later it's the 'don't rush to war' theme.

As a Kerry foreign policy team will largely prove a Clintonista reunion of sorts--the above approach makes perfect sense.

Send mixed (but jingo!) signals borne of confusion and amateurism (the cavalry is coming to Sarajevo soonest!)--and then slow down so as to give more time for diplomacy and the 'process' (contact group, Yasushi, and so on)--since, of course, there was no real resoluteness or intent to go to war in the first place.

Result? All the attendant lack of policy direction, confusion in world capitals, whispering campaigns about a lack of American resolve--you know, perfect conditions for al-Q to flourish (or the Bosnian Serbs to massacre residents of Gorazde and such).

But back to the Walter Russell Mead interview and Kerry's contention that he would have done it all differently vis-a-vis Iraq.

The reality is, with Chirac and Schroder in power, a President Kerry (or Gore) would very likely not have gotten them on board the Iraq war effort either. So all this talk about working the U.N. and massaging the allies rings pretty hollow, doesn't it (especially given Colin Powell's yeoman's effort in gaining unanimous passage of 1441)?

In fairness, Kerry talks a lot about the importance of not ignoring post-war planning. Winning the peace is indeed critical. But this is pretty empty talk, isn't it?

Let's be plain.

Would Kerry have committed the 350,000 odd troops to theater that would have been required to truly help secure that country to get the reconstruction moving in earnest?

Would Kerry have oh so adeptly avoided all the pitfalls of disbanding the Iraqi Army?

Would his de-Baathification effort have been just-so; what Les Gelb calls (in a different context re: his confederation proposal) the 'Goldilocks' approach (not too much, not too little--just right).

Would legions of Arabists and other regional specialists have flooded the Green Zone, supplanted all nefarious Pentagon influence, and made all Najafians and Fallujans happy that we understood the regional dynamics to a tee, were there to help, and would not besmirch their national dignity?

Put differently, would we, to paraphrase Rodney King, have all gotten along swimmingly straight out of the gates?

Would Kerry have gotten Turkey on board in time for 'major combat operations' too?

Would thousands of Blue Helmets be assisting with patrolling Ramadi and Kufa (remember now; France would almost certainly not have approved a UNSC resolution authorizing such a deployment)?

Would specialized constabulatory forces be in country--helping minimize any alienation of the local populace--to help complement an extremely sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign expertly managed by a Les Aspin type?

I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong.

Kerry might have done a few things better here and there in Iraq.

But, I'd wager, the biggest difference between Kerry and Bush on Iraq is pretty simple. It's that Kerry would never have gone to war with Iraq in the first place (despite all the tough talk, war authorization vote, etc)

Now, you might think that's great.

But for those of us who think, given what we thought the intel was at the time, that it was a necessary war to wage in the post 9/11 era--that's ultimately the big difference between Kerry and Bush you should focus on as you make your pick come November.

So, back to Walter Russell Mead's grades. If Bush deserved an A for effort on Iraq--what would Kerry merit? Oh, say a C-/D+ in my book. And, as the effort grade is likely so pitiable, well--there's really no point in giving a grade to Kerry for 'execution' or 'achievement' is there? I mean, there wouldn't really be anything to achieve...

Posted by Gregory at 10:25 PM | Comments (55)

French Hostages Update

The French hostages are safe, being treated well, and likely to get released, Le Figaro is reporting. I was pretty sure this would be the outcome a few days back. Too many Islamist groups (including some pretty radical ones) are keen to propagate the absurd myth that a nation's non-involvement in Iraq provides its citizen's security from fanatical Islamist terror (the 'ol UBL 'divide and conquer' strategy--Spain's behaving, Italy next!).

Or, put differently--Iraq first; headscarves later...

So, let's just say, a full court press to get these two French journalists sprung has been going on overtime--including by some pretty nefarious actors. While I truly rejoice for these two hostages (assuming they do make it)--I suspect that many in France (and Spain, Italy etc) will draw the wrong lesson (stay out of Iraq; and--voila--Islamist terror averted).

Put differently, Sully's hoped for French awakening, of sorts, ain't gonna happen.

And then there's this beaut from the (French language) article. A member of a French Muslim delegation (that traveled to Iraq to try to gain the hostages release) states:

Nous repartons avec confiance et beaucoup d'espoir. Il y a une volonté des ravisseurs de les libérer mais ils ne savent pas comment le faire, car ils ont peur des Américains. C'est le principal obstacle ą leur libération.

Translation: "We leave with confidence and much hope. There is a willingness by the kidnappers to free them [the hostages] but they don't know how to do it, because they are scared of the Americans. It's the principal obstacle to their being released."

Hey, it America's fault! Mais bien sur....

You can't make this stuff up, can you?

Posted by Gregory at 07:53 PM | Comments (1)

Fair and Valid Criticism; or a Case of 20-20 Hindsight?

"When it comes to Iraq, it’s not that I would have done one thing differently, I would’ve done almost everything differently."

-- John Kerry, speaking yesterday.

More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 01:50 PM | Comments (11)

September 01, 2004

Winning the War on Terror

So there has been a big hullabaloo about Dubya's comments that we might not "win" the war on terror:

"I don’t think you can win it (i.e., the war on terror). But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are — less acceptable in parts of the world."

Reacting to this, grown-ups on the other side of the aisle might have issued a joint statement saying:

"We are glad that the President is signaling that the campaign against terrorism is more than just a military effort. That we will need to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world, resolve outstanding territorial conflicts that fuel hatred against us and our allies, provide greater economic opportunities for citizens throughout the Middle East region. So we are heartened to see the President moving in a more sober direction and seeming to move away from his unfortunate focus on a rigid, militaristic doctrine of preemption. We need to use all the tools in America's arsenal--including soft power, public diplomacy, and more economic assistance."

Or something like that.

The Kerry-Edwards reaction?

Cherub-like Edwards disingenuously enthuses:

What if President Reagan had said that it may be difficult to win the war against communism?" Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said on ABC. "The war on terrorism is absolutely winnable."

Better to spread the empty talk around, eh?

And then there's this cheap shot:

"This president has gone from mission accomplished to mission miscalculated to mission impossible on the war on terror," said Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer.

Glad to see the Democrats are taking the high road--casually tossing around movie name soundbites re: the biggest issue of the day.

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

An on the ball commenter writes in:

Gregory:

I encourage you and readers to visit Michelle Malkin's web site. She describes how President Bush's remarks were taken out of context.

Dialogue:

Lauer: “You said to me a second ago, one of the things you'll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?”

President Bush: “I have never said we can win it in four years.”

Lauer: “So I’m just saying can we win it? Do you see that?”

President Bush: “I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world –- let's put it that way. I have a two pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us, and that's necessary. I’m telling you it's necessary. The country must never yield, must never show weakness [and] must continue to lead. To find al-Qaida affiliates who are hiding around the world and … harm us and bring ‘em to justice –- we're doing a good job of it. I mean we are dismantling the al-Qaida as we knew it. The long-term strategy is to spread freedom and liberty, and that's really kind of an interesting debate. You know there's some who say well, ‘You know certain people can't self govern and accept, you know, a former democracy.’ I just strongly disagree with that. I believe that democracy can take hold in parts of the world that are now non-democratic and I think it's necessary in order to defeat the ideologies of hate. History has shown that it can work, that spreading liberty does work. After all, Japan is our close ally and my dad fought against the Japanese. Prime Minister Koizumi, is one of the closest collaborators I have in working to make the world a more peaceful place.”

It is much different when taken in proper context.

Indeed it is.

Posted by Gregory at 01:00 AM | Comments (32)

The Coach is Dropping the Ball

For someone who has often disagreed with TPM--I gotta say Josh Marshall is dead on on this one. Denny Hastert (aka the "Coach") should immediately put up or shut up. He can't do the former, of course, because his wild claims are totally bogus. So shutting up would be smart--before Soros starts getting some really good defamation lawyers teed up (yeah he'd likely be considered a 'public figure'; but proving malice might be doable under these circumstances).

Here's the language in question:

"You know, I don't know where George Soros gets his money. I don't know where - if it comes overseas or from drug groups or where it comes from," Hastert mused. An astonished Chris Wallace asked: "Excuse me?" The Speaker went on: "Well, that's what he's been for a number years - George Soros has been for legalizing drugs in this country. So, I mean, he's got a lot of ancillary interests out there." Wallace: "You think he may be getting money from the drug cartel?" Hastert: "I'm saying I don't know where groups - could be people who support this type of thing. I'm saying we don't know."

"Drug groups" is vague language (is he talking the Escobar Brothers or Merck?) And he ultimately says "we don't know." So he's got ample wriggle room in any defamation action.

But, legal parsing aside--it's certainly sleazy. Not what I'd like to see in a Speaker of the House. But, truth be told, I'm not that surprised. Rhetoric emitting from Congress (especially the House) is often deeply underwhelming, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 12:25 AM | Comments (16)
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