January 31, 2005
Quote of the Day
"A hundred names on the ballot are better than one, because it means that we are free."
An Iraqi voter, as quoted in this John Burns dispatch.
MORE: Another quote, from the WaPo: "Whatever they would do, I would still vote...Even if I was dead, I would still participate. The vote comes from the bottom of my heart."
Officials loosely estimated voter turnout at 60 percent nationwide -- a figure that, if accurate, would make Sunday's vote perhaps the freest, most competitive election in an authoritarian Arab world and a rare victory for the Bush administration in Iraq. U.S. and allied Iraqi leaders had looked to the vote as a turning point in a troubled two-year occupation beset by almost daily carnage, rampant crime and deep disenchantment with the United States. Those officials had expressed hope that a strong turnout would deliver elusive legitimacy to the new government, enabling it to defeat the insurgency in Sunni regions and begin a long-awaited economic revival....
B.D.'s Moving Back to the Big Apple
A little in-house news flash. B.D. will be relocating back to New York City after just shy of two years in London. We had a great time in olde London town, but are tremendously excited to be returning to our favorite city in the world. I'm going to keep the same name for this blog, however, despite the relocation back home (though we'll, of course, indicate somewhere that we're no longer blogging from the UK). It's a) way too much of a hassle to change the name after all of you kind souls who have blog-rolled me out there, and b) truth be told, I don't think I would have started this blog if it hadn't been for the move to London. So I'll always be grateful to Belgravia for that! As some of you out there might know, Belgravia is a pretty, er, quiet neighborhood. This, and the often dank, rainy London nights often lent themselves to staying in and hysterically pontificating about international affairs (so did relatively early pub and bar closure hours!). New York, more mad-cap and frenetic pace-wise, is not exactly the most amenable environment for blogging, perhaps. Still, I'm confident we'll be able to carve out the time to keep this blog well alive in the Big Apple. I'm touching back down sometime in mid March to April. Until then, recall, I'm in the Carribbean on temporary assignment on a deal. Blogging, during the week, should continue to occur 9-10PMish EST and on (likely similar when I get to NYC). Really then, not much will change for readers, I guess. This is really just an FYI.
Sunni Turnout Higher Than Expected Too
The chairman of the Independent Election Commission of Iraq, Fareed Ayar, said as many as 8 million people turned out to vote, or between 55 percent and 60 percent of those registered to cast ballots. If 8 million turns out to be the final figure, that would represent 57 percent of voters.
Make no mistake, and ignore anyone who plays the 'I thought it was 72% game' tomorrow. These figures, and the relatively robust Sunni turn-out, are truly wonderful news--and, it appears, in line with B.D.'s pre-election estimates.
Arab Press Watch
Sometime after the first insurgent attack in Iraq this morning, news directors at Arab satellite channels and newspaper editors found themselves facing an altogether new decision: should they report on the violence, or continue to cover the elections themselves?
Of course, if you're Juan Cole, Bahrain '02, say, was more of a democratic event than today's historic elections. And, if you're Atrios, it's the Hercules. It's good to see Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera's coverage is more judicious.
January 30, 2005
The Deafening Silence of the Left Blogosphere
It's Hercules day over at Atrios (bad news for Blair!). Memo to Duncan Black: Lots of other stuff went down today too. Get your head out of your rear end. Meanwhile, over chez Kos, the silence is rather deafening, isn't it? Doubtless Kos would have emerged from his Sunday slumber if the requisite amount of fatalities and assorted 'bad news for Chimperor' made it worth it. Instead, it's a quiet day over in Cali for the bitter Kossacks. Good.
Meanwhile, I got this E-mail from a fan of Duncan Black's a couple days back:
With all due respect I think you are being unfair to Duncan Black (Atrios). As a reader of his site, I have no reason to believe that he's hoping for elections to go badly tomorrow. More generally I think the skepticism expressed by the mainstream blogospheric left (I'm excluding some of the Daily Kos comment-section participants, etc) isn't aimed at undermining the election, though perhaps it's occasionally poorly articulated. Instead, whether you agree with them or not, they're emphasizing two relevant points:
With apologies to my reader, I'm just not buying. Kos and Atrios can wail and bitch all they want about the varied missteps of the Bushies. But at least he is in the arena, making hard choices, pushing this nation-building exercise along. Look, this blog has never been shy about taking the Administration to task for poor post-war planning and assumptions. But the point here, and it's showcased today in spades, is that neither of these leading left blogosphere entities really give a damn about Iraqi democratization. If they did, they would have shown some integrity and deigned to show a modicum of interest by mentioning that the elections went, all told, much better than the large majority of analyst's most optimistic prognostications foretold.
Instead, as I mentioned, it's the downed UK aircraft that's the lede over at Eschaton. Yes, that's a tragedy for all involved. But it's not the big story today, of course. Unfortunately, however, Kos and Atrios can't broach the big story, at least if it's a positive one, because they are merely playing to rabid partisan audiences and so are stuck tiresomely dwelling in their own provincial echo chambers. History moved forward today (though the road ahead remains fraught with peril, to be sure, and the Administration is well aware of this); and they remained silent or blogged diversionary side stories. That speaks volumes, doesn't it?
Americans expect optimism and bold, positive policy directions from their Presidents. They like their Reagans, not their Carters. If the Duncan Black's and Marcos Zuniga's represent the future of the Democrat party, rest assured the democrats will be out of power for a good long while yet. And that would be a good thing if these are the people who get the pulse of the party's activists racing. They are simply too busy carping from the sidelines to put forward serious alternative ideas about America's role in the world today. What should we do, really, about the threat of radical Islam? What would they have done so differently in Afghanistan? Why was Iraq such a mega-blunder, if a viable democracy can take root there? What would they be doing better against al-Qaeda? (let me guess, Gore would have nabbed UBL right out of the gates, right?) They have little on tap on all these matters of any note, truth be told. I sense, in all this, an unconcern about the greater world outside the United States (particularly with Black) and a good deal of intellectual laziness. Tant pis, I guess.
P.S. To Kevin Drum's credit, he calls the election "good news." To paraphrase Jose Aznar's statement to Bush ("more Powell, less Rumsfeld") I say, more Peter Beinart, more Kevin Drum; less Atrios, less Kos. Oh, and more of the (very under-appreciated) Praktike (of the aptly named "Liberals Against Terrorism") and Eric Martin too.
P.P.S. And add the estimable Brad DeLong to the honorable ranks of the, er, reality based left-bloggers acknowledging that, as Brad titles his post, "Iraqi Elections Going Well."
"We cannot, of course, command our friends to write something about today's momentous events, but it would have been nice to think that they would have mustered up the energy to make some sort of comment. Betcha that if things went badly, they would have been blogging up a storm."
Heh, ya think?
Cole's Sad Defeatism
Although the violence and attacks have been extensive and took place all over the country, the security measures put in prevented massive loss of life. Suicide bombers clearly could not get close enough to crowds to take a big toll. [emphasis mine]
Juan Cole, writing today in his blog "Informed Comment." Professor Cole, alas, can't quite bring himself to come out and state the obvious. Which is that the insurgents suffered a major blow today--because Iraqis courageously came out in droves to vote and because there were far fewer insurgent attacks than anyone dared hope. And note the italicized portion quoted above. Is it just me, or does one almost espy a sense of regret that the security measures, you know, worked? [ed. note: Why do I still blogroll this guy? I respect his regional expertise--but I fear he's too knee-deep in Ward Churchill disease. Perhaps I'll have to remedy this during the next blog-roll cleanup.]
UPDATE: I'm getting some mail along the lines that I'm unfair to Cole by suggesting he might derive pleasure from the deaths of innocents. That's not what I'm saying above. Cole cares about the region and its inhabitants, quite passionately. What I'm saying is that his quasi-pathological distrust and hate of the Bushies has greatly reduced his credibility. Why? Because he too often appears to be rooting for this Administration's policy objectives to fail (witness the almost monomaniacal obsession with each and every setback--day in, day out-- at his blog (never a good day, Juan, just one?). And also, people, because Bush is simply not the devil incarnate. Believe it or not, some of his policy moves can and do advance the cause of human liberty every now and again. Today was such a day. Cole would have done himself a favor by showing some magnanimity and judiciousness by acknowledging that. Instead, he's further embarrassing himself by penning such sour drivel:
I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.
"All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it..." How shabby, ungenerous and low. Meanwhile, I would look forward to an explication of Cole's methodology regarding how each of the Pakistani election of 2002 and the Iranian one of 1997 were "much more democratic" than today's in Iraq. Regardless, read all of Cole's post to get a full flavor of the hoops he will jump through to deny Bush any credit at all for what took place today. It's quite, er, breathtaking.
Quote of the Day
--Iraqi blogger Rose, a female civil engineer in Baghdad with a three year old daughter, in a post entitled "I Did It, I Voted."
So did many others (perhaps 60-72% turnout). We will have to wait a few more days for the final, official numbers and there will be the inevitable disputes about methodology, or whether enough voters had been registered, or whether the relatively light turn-out in places like Fallujah (though some people voted there too) have a material impact on the election's legitimacy. But any judicious observer, in my view, must be awed and humbled by this wondrous spectacle of Iraqis exercising their vote in such large numbers--in the face of a fanatical campaign of fear and intimidation. As Michael Ignatieff wrote today:
The election in Iraq is without precedent. Never, not even in the dying days of Weimar Germany, when Nazis and Communists brawled in the streets, has there been such a concerted attempt to destroy an election through violence - with candidates unable to appear in public, election workers driven into hiding, foreign monitors forced to 'observe' from a nearby country, actual voting a gamble with death, and the only people voting safely the fortunate expatriates and exiles abroad.
Indeed. Which makes the turnout all the more impressive (and the relative indifference to it in parts of Europe, and certain quarters in America too, particularly underwhelming and sad). We have become spoiled in the West--but other peoples, less blessed with the fruits of liberty now taken for granted by so many--they have again shown today that they will risk their very lives to exercise universally desired rights if only given the opportunity. What a tonic such noble courage--particularly in these cynical times in which swines like a Michael Moore are feted in places like the dumbed-down precincts of Cannes.
All these electoral going-ons in Iraq reminded me of a brief break in law school, when I went back to Bosnia (I had worked in the Balkans in the mid-90s) for a stint as an election monitor in 1998. I was assigned to a town in a corner of northwestern Bosnia called Velika Kladusha. Balkan hands will recall some intra-Muslim struggles had occurred there as between local warlord Fikrit Abdic's militia and Alija Izetbegovic's central party in Sarajevo. I was taken aback by the numbers of people who came out, who hungered for their right to vote. We had to toss bottles of water out to the thirsty crowd that had waited for hours as we registered them at the polling station. It began to rain and the crowd rushed to a covered alcove just outside the door--pushing against a large window-pane that ran the length of the entrance--so that the glass appeared to sway under the pressure of dozens of bodies pressed against it. I was worried the window would shatter--injuring many and making a tense situation much more so. But, I remember thinking, how powerful an image! A press of human bodies, braving local thugs, the inclement weather, the long wait and thirst--to the point that a large window would burst from the sheer human weight--well symbolizing their so tangible desire to vote.
We have seen such tenacity, courage, and optimism today in Iraq--only ten times over. Today, it is not hyperbolic to say, what Abraham Lincoln called humanity's "better angels" triumphed against a fascistic campaign of terror. The ink-stained fingers, proudly displayed by Iraqi voters exiting polling stations, now joins the pantheon of images in the iconography of human freedom's long and perilous voyage. Today is a day of hope, a day of exaltation, a day, above all, where we in the West should be humbled by the courage of the Iraqi people.
UPDATE: An American contact on the ground, closely involved with the elections process, E-mails:
Best anecdote of the day: in Qadissiyah, voters waiting in line fled when an insurgent arrived on the scene with an RPG. He fired and missed. An hour later, the same voters--with more neighbors, friends and family, came back to finish the job. That's why the bad guys lost today.
Yep, it sure is. The bad guys lost because the power of human courage never ceases to amaze. And, of course, because coalition forces (and nascent Iraqi ones) helped make it all possible.
January 29, 2005
More Reader Mail on Ward Churchill
Zena Hitz writes in:
I meant to write to you earlier today about your Churchill post, but others I see have beat me to it. Still, I have somewhat different criticisms. So I agree with you about the shocking degree to which views like Churchill's are widespread. I remember similar conversations after 9/11. But I disagree a) that they all originate in a love of irony and b) that this attitude is behind Bush hatred. First of all b) I know so many people who had the same reaction to 9/11 that you and I had, and who hated the Churchill people as much as anyone, who are clear and violent Bush-haters. As I remember it the Iraq war was really what set the fire. These people are not overly ironic or cynical or relativistic. But they felt (rightly or wrongly) that the Iraq war was wrong and worse, that it was dishonestly pursued and exploited 9/11 for purposes quite foreign to it. I don't agree with this view, but it doesn't fit into your picture, and anecdotally speaking it is extremely common.
I didn't mean to indicate that the prevalence of irony in the postmodern millieu was the only variable causing much of the Bush hatred. Far from it, of course. Still, I take Zena's points. (NB: Speaking of irony--isn't it ironic that cretinous Ward's surname is Churchill?)
Meanwhile, another reader writes in from Ann Arbor:
I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the Univ. of Michigan, and people here are very proud of the fact that the SDS and Tom Hayden got their start here at the univ. There are quite a few morons like that [Ward Churchill] here in University faculty, and among the grad and undergrad students, plus among this town's population of ageing hippies.
Can't say I'm surprised...send in your war stories from Cambridge and Berkeley too!
Iraqi Elections Special
Some assorted quotes from Iraqis on the eve of elections:
I voted under Saddam--it was bogus and now I am ready for a real election...Everyone in the neighborhood is going to vote."
"Inshalla,...we will go to the poll center...My mother, she's an 80-year-old woman, but she will go vote."
God willing, I will not be voting...Our religious leaders have not told us to vote."
All these quotes come from a couple Dexter Filkins dispatches from Iraq. Note that the NYT's lead story through the night (on-line) was the gloomier of Filkins' pieces (featuring the quote from the non-voting, Sadr supporter) as compared to Filkins' later article which is now the lead and which features the two rosier quotes. Let's briefly check out this snippet from Filkins' gloomy piece:
Less than 48 hours before nationwide elections here, Nasir al-Saedy, one of the city's most popular Shiite clerics, stood before a crowd of 20,000 Iraqis and uttered not a single word about the vote.
Compare this with the more, er, nuanced (especially the last bit about Sadr's pamphleteers...) reporting of the FT:
At noon prayers in the Buratha mosque, a gathering-place for mainstream Shia parties, preacher and candidate Jalal al-Din al-Sagheer issued a rousing call to the faithful to go to the polls in spite of the risks.
Look, the point here isn't another blogospheric beat-up routine of the big, bad NYT meanies of the MSM. Filkins' reporting feels a bit schizoid because, well, no one knows really, how tomorrow is going to go (though I think the attempt to represent that Shi'a turnout will be significantly lower than expected is inaccurate and a bit disingenuous). But let's put all this parsing of the media aside and look at the bigger picture. Andrew Sullivan asks:
How do we tell if the Iraqi elections are a success? That they happen at all? Surely we should have a higher standard than that. Here are my criteria: over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered. Any other suggestions for relevant criteria? Am I asking too much? I'm just thinking out loud. But it makes sense to have some guidelines before Sunday so we don't just fit what happens to our pre-existing hopes or rationalizations.
I think Andrew had started with 1,000 dead, which he revised down to 500. Then, today, he updates: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?" Truth be told, I don't really think we should be handicapping, say, how many innocents will be slaughtered tomorrow like some kind of sports game. But, that said, let me hazard a few voter turnout predictions of my own on the cusp of this historic event--which are a little more optimistic than Andrew's (keeping in mind that the Administration would probably prefer that its allies in the commentariat lowball their turnout estimates so as help define success down--here, I'm just giving you my best quasi-educated guess--so, any lefties out there, this isn't some spin exercise).
1) Shia and Kurdish turnout will be well north of 50% (perhaps as high as 60%-65%...and many Sadr supporters will vote too).
2) Sunni turnout will likely push 30% (fingers crossed!)
As for Andrew's speculations re: casualty counts--I, of course, don't know how many people are going to die tomorrow at the hands of anti-democratic fanatics (I don't think Iraqi nationalists angered at the American occupation are the ones intent on blowing up polling stations and their own countrymen--those are only the radical jihadists and Baathist restorationists). But what I do know, thanks to an on the ground source close to the elections (who sent me some polling data today), is that 45% of persons polled believe the elections will help to bring positive gradual change, while just over 30% expect a dramatic improvement as a result of the elections tomorrow. So, and unlike the people at the Nation and blase "wankers" like this (doubtless, and ever so shallowly and short-sightedly, rooting for a bad day tomorrow just because it's bad for Chimpie-in-Chief), it appears a good 75% of Iraqis appear to think the elections are going to start getting them on the right track (with a sizable chunk expecting an immediate dramatic improvement). Which leads me to another point, also made by Steve Hadley in a kind of coming-out as National Security Advisor in today's WaPo--the elections really represent just the beginning of real, tangible moves forward on the path to democratization and viable sovereignty:
The critics also seem to forget that the assembly elected tomorrow will be a transitional body--only the most recent step on the road to Iraqi democracy. Iraq will move from the appointed government that it has today to an elected one. This assembly will select a government and draft a permanent constitution, which will be ratified by a popular referendum and under which a new round of elections will be held in December. Eligible Iraqis who choose not to vote tomorrow will be able to participate in that process and vote later in the year.
Another issue to keep in mind tomorrow? How many Sunnis, if the security environment were better, would have braved the polls? On this, note that the aforementioned polling data sent on to B.D. indicates that when Sunnis were asked how likely it is that they will vote, they responded thusly:
21.50% Very Likely
Now, if you strongly believed the entire elections process was rigged and illegitimate, you'd doubtless be part of the 28.50% who say they are very unlikely to vote. But think of the 28.20% that say they are somewhat likely. Why only "somewhat"? The lack of security is doubtless the biggest reason--not that they think the whole process is corrupt and illegitimate. No, this isn't a defense of the Administration. Of course it would be better if Anbar Province, say, had been secured via application of the requisite manpower. But the point is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want to vote--as Hadley points out too. And, that the U.S. is engaged in a struggle to help them exercise that right--one they mostly cherish and are hankering for. Put differently, we are not in Iraq to rape, to plunder, to conquer--but to get a constitution and viable government in place. No, I'm no naif. I know that our presence there involves extending our sphere of influence to a region critical to our national interest. But, say, if Iraqis don't want to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, or want no permanent U.S. military bases there--we will respect their will. This is to say, we are now fighting, in the main, for the Iraqis to have a right to assert a national will and so as to support them on their journey towards sustainable political governance structures. What, really, is so horrible about that? No, we should be proud of our struggle there, particularly given that we unseated a leading genocidaire of the late 20th Century to boot. God speed tomorrow, I say! Or, as they say, Inshallah turnout will be relatively high (near or above 60% for non-Sunnis; pushing 30% for Sunnis) and the fascistic, vicious carnage relatively low. Here's hoping.
P.S. Henry, did Dan Drezner put you up to this?
January 28, 2005
Hey. I am an avid reader of your blog, and I wanted to say thank you for your excellent writing, and for your integrity.
And here's another:
I was moved to write you for 2 reasons today. First of all, congratulations on making it through your second year. Second, and more importantly, thank you for your comments today and your support for the Bush Doctrine and the war on terror over the years. Many people seem not to understand the urgency or the importance of the threat. You always seem to get it and I wanted to thank you for that and encourage you to continue the great work. Many people seem to idly use the phrase "post 9-11 world" without understanding the magnitude of what happened that day. In my opinion, as someone who lost a younger brother on that awful day, Bush was moved in a way that few who did not experience loss first hand ever can be. He became a President sure of his convictions, comfortable with his decisions, and confident that he was right. To me these are important qualities in a leader. Maybe the most important.
Neither reader requested I treat their E-mail anonymously but, given that they felt somewhat personal, I have.
More Bad News From the Middle East
...well, not really. Prediction: Condi Rice will announce resumption of bona fide "road map" discussions when she gets to Israel and Palestine in early Feb (assuming no terror attacks occur before her visit).
Moronic Tales from Academia
Who is this man?
Via Andrew Sullivan, we hear of this (quite photogenic!) Professor at the University of Colorado, a Ward Churchill, who had some particularly noxious comments to make about 9/11. Churchill has a scheduled speaking engagement at Hamilton College on February 3rd that some there are protesting to have cancelled. Sullivan quoted Churchill as saying:
"As for those in the World Trade Center, well, really, let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break." He also called the victims of the WTC disaster "little Eichmanns." This was all way beyond the pale, and more shocking than Sullivan's typical "Moore Awards," so I did a little further googling out of morbid curiousity.
It turns out these passages come from an essay (if we can call it that) that Ward Churchill penned called "Some People Push Back." Despite Sully just blogging it yesterday(it's making headlines now because of the controversial Hamilton speaking engagement), Churchill penned this nasty piece on--I kid you not--September 12, 2001. Sullivan, truth be told, probably didn't point out the most galling passages. There are many, but this one left me incredulous. It's from a section of the essay entitled "The Makings of a Humanitarian Strategy":
In sum one can discern a certain optimism–it might even be call[ed] humanitarianism–imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11. Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name – indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it – mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end.
Oh, you ask, why is B.D. wasting his time with this washed-out, Grade A ass? He's clearly out of the mainstream, underwhelming in the extreme, and barely worth the attention Sully has already given him. And, really, who cares if the person who equates the intentional mass murder of innocents with "humanitarianism" occupies a Department Chair at an American university of some repute? Or that he would be invited on speaking tours to bestow his words of wisdom on impressionable undergrads? Or that the slaughter of 3,000 individuals is, for this imbecile, a form of "reality therapy", "medicine," "coaxing" even. And, of course, it has become tired to point out the capacity for soi disant intellectuals to so breezily rhapsodize in grotesquely relativistic fashion. Still, let's look at the full passage that Sullivan had quoted from while we're at it:
There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . . Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire–the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved–and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance"–a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore"–counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in–and in many cases excelling at–it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.
The relativistic mish-mash and garbage contained above, the laughably simplistic narrative underpinning talk of some nefarious "global financial empire,"--all are shibboleths of 60's group-think, prevalent among a significant number of baby boomer generation academics, taken to parodic extremes (American capitalism bad, the nefarious "military-industrial" complex a product thereto, anyone working in lower Manhattan near evil Wall Street therefore complicit (part of a nefarious "technocratic corps" with blood on their hands), and thus getting their just deserts (does Ward Churchill even know that the WTC was a 'back-office', of sorts, servicing the Gordon Gekko "Master of the Universe" players more likely to work on the 30th floor of 85 Broad or in office buildings lining Park in the high 40s and low 50s?)
But let's put all this aside. The reason I blogged this tonight, is because, truth be told, these views (if somewhat less extreme manifestations) are much more widespread than we might think. In New York, just a month after 9/11, a leftist female acquaintance of mine (an American!) admitted (with some shame, it should be said) that she felt a tinge of joy in her stomach when she digested the news. America had humiliated so many societies, her thinking went, here's a comeuppance, of sorts. Relatedly, I remember talking about what percent of Chinese and Russians and assorted other countries, on some level, were, shall we say, not unhappy that the 9/11 attacks took place. A buddy fluent in Mandarin had been cruising Chinese Internet chat forums. It was party time over in those chat-rooms, he relayed, with nationalistic, smart Chinese youth pretty psyched that the Towers were taken down. Another day, around a Kazakh friend (of Russian ethnicity), clumsily, I speculated that maybe 25%-33% of Russians likely felt we got our "just deserts" on 9/11 (I had a poll to that effect at the time, I seem to recall, that I had seen on Johnson's Russia List, though I honestly forget). The Kazakh didn't speak to me for weeks--so angry that I would so intimate.
Those were emotional times in the city. Stupidly, I had gotten dragged to a dinner in the Village where the talk of the night seemed to be whether UBL was really culpable for the 9/11 attacks. Elite big firm lawyers were demanding I provide more convincing proof that he was responsible. I couldn't help feeling they felt real sympathy for Osama and his varied projects. Why, I wondered, (quite angrily, truth be told)? Beyond Russia and China (or the Village), a French woman told me that within a day of the attacks, at an elite U.S. law firm's office in Paris, ironically known for helping foster Franco-American ties because Atlanticist George Ball had worked there (Cleary Gottlieb), the joke was that UBL and Bush were playing chess. And that Osama was up two rooks (the word for rooks in French is "tours" or Towers). Funny, eh?
What of the Middle East? In October '01, I had to travel to Dubai on business. It was a pretty surreal flight, starting at Kennedy (for a while, you really did check in 3 hours before, and they opened and all but squeezed the toothpaste out of your toiletries bag), with the flights more than half-empty, stewardesses still looking freaked out--a sense of angst and Something Really Big Just Happened still very palpable. Once in Dubai, things got even stranger. Of course, everyone wanted to ask the visiting New Yorker about what had just gone down. But I felt less sympathy, really, than a clinical curiousity--one tinged with a good dose of remove and chillness. The wife of a locally prominent lawyer, of Pakistani extraction, told me that the attack on the Pentagon was legitimate. Oh, hell, I thought--let her call it legit as an attack on a military target without too much of a fuss. But, I asked, what of the massive slaughter of civilian innocents at the World Trade Center? She paused, mulled that over a bit, and, incredibly, in near perfect English, said: "maybe they should have attacked [the Towers] on a weekend when there would have been less people there." Boy, I thought, get me on the next flight outta here! (As Bob Dylan once put it, "I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.”)
How are all these little vignettes connected to the idiocy and amoral musings of a Ward Churchill? Only to the extent that I suspect that a byproduct of the 60's, that is to say a heightening of a postmodern condition characterized by incredulity to metanarratives, rank skepticism regarding the existence of Truth capital T; the moronic obsession with political correctness and debunking the baddies of the dead, white, male canon, the obsession with rights, rights rights! (but never talk of corollary responsibilities), and so on--all contribute to an intellectual climate characterized by Derrida-like gaming about, pastiche and bricolage, relativism and innate distrust of 'power structures', a detached, ironic stance. You see much of such trends, taken overboard in cretinous fashion, in Ward Churchill's 'essay' quoted above. But, and this is a somewhat different point, I firmly believe that one of the reasons that Bush is so unpopular is, simply, that he is so totally unironic. To Clinton's glib, smirkily-delivered "it depends on what the meaning of is is"--Bush speaks of the United States' mission as ending tyranny on the planet (and he really means it!). In an era permeated by cynicism (Peter Sloterdijk has, in another context, talked about an "enlightened false consciousness")--Bush is unabashedly appealing to what seems like a philosophically incorrect and almost embarrasingly retro idealism to marshall against fanatical terrorists. And, complicating the sell and task, and unlike the struggle against communism under Reagan, terrorism is not considered as pressing a challenge as the Soviets were by many in large swaths of Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
So Bush is attempting to hoist a bold, meta-narrative on a highly dubious international community (who breezily equate, carping from the sidelines at the primitive antagonists--his robust idealism with the fanatical nihilism of our foes--as too many have become overly unmoored from making value judgements as they dwell in a cynical, postmodern millieu). Put differently, such broad, meta-narratives aren't even supposed to exist anymore. Whether the destabilizations borne of WWI or, relatedly, Picasso's cubism, or, much later, Watergate-era cynicism, or even the late 19th Century developments with Nietzsche, Kierkegaard or Dosotoesky's revolutionary subjectivism--the canvas is supposed to be disconcerted, chaotic, ever-changing--John Coltrane to a Beethoven Symphony. And, like some odd Prophet from another era, Bush bangs on about freedom in our time and an end to tyranny--appearing an odd relic (almost like Solzhenitsyn did at Harvard in '78 when he gave his famous commencement address). It's just not how things are supposed to be per the vantage point of East Berlin, say, (see a recent Tom Friedman op-ed on this), where the hip, young Berliners expect the Hollywood vision of a loose, hyper-secular, pop culture obsessed, inward-looking America--one not meant to be waging a concerted ideological struggle in Mesopotamia. So, to put in vernacular, Bush is freaking people out, to a fashion, because of some of the above factors (though there are others, of course, of which more another day).
One last thing, though, about those "little Eichmanns" that the aforementioned cretin from U Colorado called the victims of 9/11. Here's one of them--from my high school class. I didn't know him well--but remembered him to be of generous spirit and with a kind heart. He worked his way out of the Bronx to a bright career at Cantor Fitz. The result of the "humanitarianism" of Mohammed Atta is that he is dead today. What was his crime?
January 27, 2005
B.D.'s Second Blogiversary
Hard to imagine, but yesterday marked the two year mark since inception of this blog. Thanks to everyone for their continued support, links, encouragement, comments, E-mails, readership etc etc. It's appreciated. Somehow, we'll try to keep this little show going for another year! Now, off to sleep...
P.S. If you read me, and have a blog, consider blog-rolling me (or updating your links to my old blogspot site). And if you have any suggested improvements to the site (whether related to appearance, content, stories I ignore, whatever) drop a comment below. Let me also take this opportunity to thank my site designer Thomas Eberle. I simply don't have the time to deal with all the technical complications that arise in running such a site (comments get spammed, the server crashes, archives get lost, and so on). Thomas helps make this blog possible, therefore, by allowing me to actually put up substantive content during the little windows I have to do so---rather than waste precious time dealing with site maintenance. Contact me for his coordinates if you need similar expert backup on tech support issues. And keep reading!
A Gloomy Baghdad Dispatch from John Burns
Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military.
John Burns, in the NYT.
Just because John Burns says it's so bad doesn't make it so etc etc. But it means a hell of a lot more than, say, if Maureen Dowd did. As regular readers know, I firmly believe Burns is the best reporter the New York Times has in its employ. Indeed, I have the much faith in his abilities as a reporter to capture the realities of his environs with judiciousness and considerable intelligence. Still, I remain more optimistic of electoral turnout, even in non-Sadr City parts of Baghdad (turnout is likely to be highest there), than the article seems to allow. Well, we'll know soon enough, won't we?
But, and it bears stressing, articles like this should make manifestly clear that, if we are serious about Iraqi democratization, the effort (and significant committment of U.S. blood and treasure) is still to be measured in years (perhaps many), not months. I've seen some quite underwhelming blogospheric discourse here and there about a big draw-down of U.S. troops now being possible because we have upwards of 125,000 odd Iraqi forces trained. That number, in terms of truly trained forces that would really stand and fight when the shit hits the fan is much, much lower. More on the status of 'train and equip' here. Yes, things have gotten better since Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus arrived on the scene. But we are not where an increasingly ineffective Rumsfeld tries to portray we are during his entertaining little press gaggles.
January 26, 2005
Poor Prognostications Watch
I'm a big fan of Laura Rozen's excellent War and Piece blog (and we even share the same site designer!). But her Beltway prognostications, over the past election seasion, have, er, been pretty 'out of touch' (to use a phrase she likes). We were ominously warned by Laura that Danielle Pletka might (gulp) run Middle East policy at State. But, and as B.D. predicted, David Welch (the current US Ambassador to Egypt) is set to get the job. Laura strongly suggested that John Bolton was going to get Deputy Secretary of State (or even National Security Advisor, that is, if Wolfy didn't get it first!). But Bolton didn't get DepSec, Zoellick did. As for NSA--that's Steve Hadley, not Wolfowitz, of course. And too, lest we forget, Laura wasn't above intimating Doug Feith would be staying on through Bush's second term. He's not. Now, however, Laura's speculating that Lewis 'Scooter' Libby is perhaps to replace Doug Feith (he won't).
It's always like this with Laura, isn't it? The neo-cons are coming! Really! Run for the exits! But no judicious observer can now deny that the neo-con ascendancy, especially strong just after 9/11, is in abeyance. We are witnessing a Thermidor, of sorts, and the new fulcrum of foreign policy power in this new Administration will be Condi's State Department--which will be mostly realist in practice (if more idealist in tone than during Powell's stewardship). No, Zeollick isn't some uber-realist who doesn't give a damn about democratization--but he's not of the chest-beaty school that thinks we can afford new adventures in Syria and Iran right now (though U.S.-Syrian relations are going through a quite prickly patch just now and Iran, perennially, remains A Big Deal).
I know a lot of this is kinda inside baseball and may not interest too many non-Beltway types. But it matters, as individuals set policy direction, and it bears repeating that evil Straussians haven't taken over the apparatus of government--hoodwinking a bovine Bush in the process. That's the story Laura's been selling for a while now--but it's just not how the narrative is playing out.
Why Continued Optimism on Iraq?
The reaction to intransigent Sunni brutality and the relative Shiite quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shiite rule. The American experience with Shiite theocracy in Iran since 1979 does not inspire confidence in our ability to forecast Shiite evolution or the prospects of a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean. A thoughtful American policy will not mortgage itself to one side in a religious conflict fervently conducted for 1,000 years.
Henry Kissinger & George Schultz, writing in the WaPo.
A few quick points. I wholeheartedly agree that we must not allow relative Shi'a quiet (or quietism) in Iraq to, rather fancifully, have us breathlessly cheerleading some grand era of friendly Shi'a reawakening through the Middle East as necessarily a positive for the U.S. national interest. That said, I find the talk of some Shi'a bloc extending towards the shores of the Med rather hyperbolic (Iran to Baghdad to Alawite Damascus (Allawites considered Shi'a friendly as both sects are worried about Sunni majoritarianism) and so (via Syria's domination of Lebanon) extending onwards to Beirut's southern slums. But the bottom line is as Kissinger and Schultz state: we shouldn't put our chips wholly on either side of the Shi'a or Sunni divide (some observers seem, because of their disquiet with the Sunni in Iraq, to be getting a bit carried away about how cozy and swimmingly all would be should the Shi'a get to flex all the muscle). Note, thankfully, Negroponte and Co. are not going down this foolhardy road. Wisely, we appear to be ensuring there is real Sunni political muscle at play post Jan 30th.
I'd also like to echo Kissinger and Schultz's prioritization of the four issues they list re: the U.S. exerting its leverage post elections. It's indeed critical to stave off the perils of a crude Shi'a majoritarianism (whether theocratic, indigenous, or Iranian-backed); to ensure no Taliban-like zones of operation a la Fallujah take root again; to prevent any one political grouping from amassing a Baathist-style monopoly on power; and, finally--to ensure some 'breathing space' via regional autonomy arrangements and the like--so as to maximize the chances of a unitary polity remaining extant.
Why do I remain, despite it all, quite optimistic about Iraq? Because, truth be told, I still think the "silent majority" (stifle your laughter skeptics!) of Sunnis are in our camp. Put differently, I think that there are more Sunnis who are interested in modernization stemming from reconstruction and secure conditions than those who are dedicated to Baathist restorationist projects, or jihadist tenets, or terror tactics aimed at scuttling a democratic exercise. How about the Shi'a front? I think many Iraqi Shi'a don't want to see Sadr like theocratic encroachments within political governance structures, or Persian Shi'a overly influencing the going-ons in a predominately Arab Shi'a country. And in the North? Because the Kurds know that independence will, in all likelihood, lead to a Turkish intervention in Kurdistan. What do I mean by all this? That each main Iraqi faction understands that a full-blown anti-American posture, or relatedly, the lure of radical and/or maximalist positions--such postures would in all likelihood backfire on the ultimate interests of each of their respective communities. Which is why I think, despite the hard, difficult story of this difficult occupation to date--that we are still on the right course with better than even odds of prevailing.
I'm not alone:
I remain--optimistic may not be right word for it--but it seems to me the strategic architecture or maybe geography of Iraq continues to favor the United States' purposes there. That is to say, it's rather clear that a very large majority of Iraqis would like to go down the path the United States would like them to go down. The Shiite clergy, in particular, remain committed to, essentially, the kind of program we wish reformers would adopt for Iran, which is to say a republic profoundly influenced by the Muslim faith of the overwhelming majority in Iraq, but one in which clerics do not assert dictatorial power over decisions made by voters.
I think that's about right.
A cautionary note, and then I'll stop for tonight. Note this snippet from the Kissinger/Schultz oped:
An exit strategy based on performance, not artificial time limits, will judge progress by the ability to produce positive answers to these questions. In the immediate future, a significant portion of the anti-insurrection effort will have to be carried out by the United States. A premature shift from combat operations to training missions might create a gap that permits the insurrection to rally its potential. But as Iraqi forces increase in number and capability, and as the political construction proceeds after the election, a realistic exit strategy will emerge. [emphasis added]
I don't want us to get too carried away by 'train and equip' as the short-term exit and panacea (though it likely is the mid-term one). There is still much hard work to be done in beating back the insurgents. And by us--not by too hastily trained Iraqi forces. Also, check out this quite alarming data. Remember your 6 P's in all of this. Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. We can't rush this 'train and equipping' effort. If we do, trust me, it will backfire on us big time. Snippets from the CFR Q&A--but be sure to read the whole thing:
Is it possible to measure the level of infiltration?
Given such realities, I wouldn't be surprised if maintenance of 50,000-100,000 American GIs will be necessitated in Iraq through at least the end of Bush's second term. Nor, frankly, would I be surprised to hear that, behind the scenes and in private, many Iraqi factions would welcome such a continued presence. More on all this soon.
January 25, 2005
John Yoo's Very Expansive Read of Section 2340A
"What the administration is saying is we're not going to torture people," said John C. Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor who, as a deputy assistant attorney general during Bush's first term, worked on torture policies.
--John Yoo, quoted in the L.A. Times, doing his damnedest to define torture down (again).
You know, I really wish John Yoo would hush up a bit. Let me explain. I have it on good authority that Judge Bybee, who technically authored the 'how-to-define-torture-down' memo, is a tad, er, on the dim side (and so was ingloriously shipped off to the 9th Circuit). Reportedly, Yoo was the guy who actually got in the weeds and drafted the now notorious memo. Then dim Bybee kicked it up the flagpole to an eager yes-man White House counsel (alas, we are far from the days of Dean Acheson, friends). We've previously discussed why lynching Gonzalez isn't the best way forward. But, that aside, might Yoo not show a little chagrin for having written an opinion so stock-full of poor legal reasoning (not to mention ethically defunct advice)--rather than mouth off to the L.A. Times? Or else, perhaps we'll have to camp outside his Boalt fac chambers and keep the rascal up for 4 days (but, God forbid, not five!)--maybe intermittently blasting Eminem in his face and putting a mean dog up near his private parts--when not having fun with a spot of "waterboarding." You know, just for kicks, because torture this isn't depending on, perhaps, how how loud Yoo would have to listen to the mellifluous Marshall Mather's, with what intensity and length of time his head is dunked under the water (let's get a manual on the red-lines here, shall we, so that the 19 year old reserve kids from Peoria know they are playing it straight and narrow the Yoo way amidst the 'boarding), or, even, (though I take it canines are disallowed now...though Woo perhaps rues such effete pull-back) how close the dog gets to drawing blood (note the now iconic pictures depicting odious scenes of groomed attack dogs approaching cowering and dehumanized detainees instinctively covering their genitalia--is this what we want to allow in our military detention centers?). See Mr. President, no harm, cuz no organ failure!
Here's a snippet of Woo-think (one positively marvels at what a bright meritocrat will do to get ahead and please his elders!), disected by B.D.:
Through some pretty shoddy analysis, the DOJ lawyers conclude that for torture to rise to a threshold proscribed by Section 2340 of the USC--it must "be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, even death." [my emphasis]
Woo's smart (summa Harvard; YLS, etc etc). But he's got nothing to be proud of here. Nothing at all. He should be ashamed--rather than preening over at the LA Times. After all, the Administration has repudiated much of the legal argumentation he drafted. Section 2340A, which refers to the provision of the U.S. code that incorporates the international Convention Against Torture, has much wider applicability than Woo argued--the Administration has belatedly concluded.
Ultimately, I lean towards agreeing with McCain and Lieberman, that the standard for treatment of alien detainees should be that: "No prisoner shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment that is prohibited by the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States." Maybe we should start a "Conscience Caucus" over here or something... take the pledge Alberto!
CLARIFICATION: Writing the above in haste, some of my language in the immediately preceding paragraph was unclear (as commenter "Al" points out--somewhat uncharitably.) I've tweaked for clarity.
P.S. But should Derschowitizian "torture warrants" be issued for the KSMs of the world?
Machiavelli famously said that good men bent on doing good must know how to be bad. And because we all share a social world, he goes on, the virtue of a policy maker resides not in his moral perfection but in the communal result of his act. If one is not already ill at ease with such maxims, consider this: In the ultimate hypothetical case, if a terrorist with hard intelligence about an impending large-scale terrorist strike could be broken by torture, shouldn't it be used? That nauseating question forms the theme of ''Torture: A Collection,'' edited by Sanford Levinson, a professor of government at the University of Texas. What's most striking about these essays is that despite their abstract and theoretical content, they generally do not contradict the depiction of actual interrogators described by Mackey and Miller. The wall between the liberal campus and a conservative, utilitarian-minded military breaks down because the questions are so serious that few of this book's contributors want to engage in polemics, and few -- to their credit -- ever seem completely comfortable with their own conclusions.
These are all tough questions. Commenters are invited to share their views as we form a position over here. My concern with the McCain-Lieberman standard is the "ticking bomb" hypo--assuming torture can be used efficaciously to stave off a 9/11 (rather than just have the detainee utter something, anything--to stop the torture. Put differently, how effective, really, is such cruel and inhuman treatment?) On the other hand, the "slippery slope" is well illustrated by the so eager legal memoranda churning of the John Yoos of the world. Look, there are no easy answers to these questions. But discuss below, as able, if you think you've got 2 cents worth kicking in.
MORE: Please go read Matt too. Matt sees no need for exceptions, and writes:
Knowing what we know about human behavior and the sort of people who make careers in the law enforcement and intelligence communities, it's a bit absurd to think that an interrogator would ever let, say, a nuclear bomb go off and destroy Chicago when he could have stopped it with a little torture, just because the Geneva Conventions said he shouldn't torture anyone. The world just doesn't work like that.
Read the whole thing.
January 24, 2005
I take it my blog design guy has enabled trackback. Thanks much to Thomas for getting this done speedily.
More on the Inaugural Speech
To be sure, on the right, and critics like Peggy Noonan aside, there have been quite a few breathless paeans to Bush inaugural speech of late. Here's one classic in the genre:
There is no concession in this to the complaints of his critics, no defensiveness about the course of events, no reference to the counsels of sophisticated nuance. He set out a breathtakingly ambitious goal: to bring democracy to the entire world. One would like to know the reaction of Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Or the Iranian mullahs. Or Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Or China's rulers.
Sorry, and maybe it's just me, but I don't think Bandar was quaking in his boots as he took in the speech--perhaps from the ski slopes of Aspen. Such hyper-cheerleady treatments of the inaugural aside, however, there have been more, er, nuanced analyses of the inaugural speech on the center-right to right too. The best I've seen so far are by Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol and Fareed Zakaria.
First, Zakaria. His point is simply that, per Freedom House rankings and such, the world is already freer than its ever been. The goal of democratization remains important and noble, to be sure--but, Zakaria argues, let's not necessarily get too caught up with exporting democracy to Cuba and Belarus at the expense of other mega issues like "civil strife, extreme poverty and disease." This, to an extent, is a fair point--and needs to be kept in mind--particularly given the role of failed states in fostering conditions that provide fecund conditions for terrorist bases, recruitment, and so on. Put differently, in our lust for exporting freedom hither dither, let's not forget the basic need for order either.
Next, Bob Kagan sees U.S. foreign policy as having moved through three phases since Bush assumed the presidency. First, pre-9/11, a "realist retrenchment" (ie, no more kindergarten building). All this changed on the "day of fire," 9/11--when the war on terror became the dominant paradigm, of course. Now, pace Kagan, we are entering a third phase:
[Bush] has grounded American foreign policy in universal principles, in the Declaration of Independence and what Lincoln called its "abstract truth, applicable to all men at all times." The goal of American foreign policy is now to spread democracy, for its own sake, for reasons that transcend specific threats. In short, Bush has unmoored his foreign policy from the war on terrorism.
And, yes, while Kagan allows that we can be cynical (Karimov! Musharraf! Abdullah!) he neverthless points out:
I believe Bush understands the implications of his universalist rhetoric. In Ukraine, Bush chose democracy over his relationship with Putin -- a first example of a paradigm beyond the war on terrorism. In Asia, too, we may be on the threshold of a strategic reevaluation that places democratic allies, not China, at the core of American strategy.
Kagan doesn't mention it, but, with Ukraine, Bush also chose to support a leader who was likelier to pull troops out of Iraq--displaying a non-Ahab like obsession with the war in Mesopotamia. This aside, Kagan believes what he calls this new "higher realism," while discomforting to some in the realist community, will nevertheless likely appeal to a greater world audience as it moves U.S. objectives away from the sole prism of the war on terror--thereby better appealing to universalist aspirations.
I think Kagan and Zakaria both make very good points. Zakaria, in paticular, is right that we must think of issues beyond exportation of freedom and the war against terror (development, poverty, disease etc.) The tsunami certainly reminded us of that. And Kagan is right that appealing to publics by going beyond the war on terror is likelier than not good strategy.
Expansive does not mean reckless. Bush avoids John Kennedy's impressive but overly grand, "pay any price, bear any burden" formulation. Bush states that military force will of course be used to "protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats," and that "we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary." But he explains that the task of ending tyranny around the world is not "primarily the task of arms." The goal of ending tyranny will be pursued through many avenues, and is the "work of generations."
I'll have more on this in the days ahead. But the point is that Bush is marrying realism with universalist, neo-Wilsonian (though, unlike Wilson, it's America and not international organizations that would appear to have the lead role in all this) idealism in pragmatic (if grandiose sounding) fashion. Realism is still alive and well. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:
Critics of the president's inaugural speech are, I think, misunderstanding it. It's not a program; it's not a New Year's Resolution that will revolutionize America's relationship with every major country. It was a thematic speech. That's all. It's an attempt to provide the president's own melody to the chorus of his administration. A brief look at the Bush administration's first four years does not reveal naive utopianism with regard to unfree countries. Fareed Zakaria usefully points this out:
Put differently, Rice and Zoellick have to implant more Fukuyama, more Gaddis--less Krauthammer, Barone. The nuts and bolts, the hard work of forging democracy, none of it is easy. The aspirational narrative Bush delivered to the nation in his inaugural was noble and essentially right. But it must be married to pragmatic tactics and methods, the revolutionary fervor will have to be calibrated, and trade-offs between pursuing democratization with maximum alacrity and the pursuit of national security interests will often still need to be made.
A Secular Iraqi Shia Face
With the Shiites on the brink of capturing power here for the first time, their political leaders say they have decided to put a secular face on the new Iraqi government they plan to form, relegating Islam to a supporting role.
Une bonne nouvelle, as the French would say.
This, however, remains an alarming wild card. Though my money, all told, is still on the Shi'a establishment keeping Sadr on the plantation (but it's a close call).
Iraqi Elections Watch
Chrenk is rounding up a "who's who of Iraqi parties and lists". Lots of good links at the bottom of the post worth checking if you want to be in the thick of media reporting of these critical elections.
MoDo, writing in today's NYT:
The vice president told Don Imus that Iran was "right at the top of the list" of trouble spots, and that Israel "might well decide to act first" with a military strike.
Maybe Maureen's been reading too much David Sanger of late. Or, alas, she simply hasn't bothered to read the full transcript of Cheney's interview on Imus, or alternately, she did read it, but decided to "Dowdify" (ever so conveniently truncate quotes to fit the preordained meme) so as to purposefully misrepresent Cheney's Imus interview. After all, the column has less juice if you can't make it look like crazy Dick is about to send our boys into Teheran, doesn't it? Or that varied Likudniks, perhaps with Larry Franklin and assorted AIPAC-ers along for the ride, are about to launch an assault on the Mullahs--all with Dick's blessing bien sur (and so hapless Georgie's too). Except, of course, that it's all mostly hyperbolic B.S. if you bother to read what Cheney really said.
Cheney on Imus:
IMUS: Back to not Iraq, but Seymour Hersh, in the current issue of The New Yorker, suggesting that you all are up to something in Iran, and I guess my question is—I don’t understand that much about it, but my question is, are we trying to determine what they have? And if we find out that they have a nuclear program, then what?
Here's the deal folks. Cheney is saying a) he wants to handle Iran diplomatically at this juncture, likely through continued employ of the Euro-troika (the UK/German/French foreign ministers) and b) if that doesn't work, the next step would be to seek sanctions at the UNSC (how militaristic and unilateralist!). Then, goaded by Imus ("why don't we make Israel do it?"), Cheney makes it clear that he wouldn't be particularly thrilled by such an Israeli action (ie, the "worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards" part). Finally, for avoidance of doubt, Cheney puts it pretty plainly: "everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically." "Everybody." I guess that means the Israelis too...
Got it? It's not bombs away over Teheran in Cheney-land. But, without the benefit of the full Cheney-Imus exchange, if you're just casually breezing through MoDo's latest in the Sunday Times--already worried that the hyper-militaristic, freedom-exportation obsessed, in-bed-with-Arik-crew is marching off to yet another land war in the 'region'--your worst fears appear to be confirmed. Yet again, as is her dreary wont, MoDo clips the quotes to fit her tiresome story line. Pray tell, when are the grown-ups going to put an end to all this bricolage fun over at W.43rd? Doesn't their reading public deserve a bit better than this so transparent distortion of a Vice President's statements on an issue of such major geopolitical import? I've said it before, but I don't think Jim Hoagland or Dave Ignatius would get away with these consistent misrepresentations. So why does Shipley give Maureen this carte blanche? Maybe he thinks her ribald, breezy-with-the-facts style moves paper. Call it the Fox-ification of the NYT. But isn't the Gray Lady supposed to be above the crude machinations of a Roger Ailes?
UPDATE: Hey, look who is playing the story the same way! [ed. note: why the exclamation point? It's not really surprising, is it?]
STILL MORE: A reader writes in:
"Be advised...that the site you linked to is not the real Al Jazeera, but an annoying imposter site. Actual AJ is [here]. No, we don't agree with it, but if you really want to see what they're saying..."
Thanks to Tim Usher for the clarification. And apologies for any confusion. But, as it turns out, the real Al Jazeera is playing the story, in the main, the same way too (truncated Imus quote and, for good measure, the requisite Sy Hersh regurgitations). It's a bona fide party, it seems!
January 22, 2005
The (Profoundly Sick) Serbian Literary Scene
Nicholas Wood in the NYT:
Milorad Ulemek is Serbia's most infamous paramilitary soldier, a man who rights groups say was responsible for some the worst atrocities in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990's. He is more commonly known by his nom de guerre, Legija - literally "of the legion," from his time in the French Foreign Legion. He also occasionally adopts the surname Lukovic, which he took from his former wife.
It is beyond belief that, now 10 years on from Dayton, the odious genocidaire Radovan Karadzic is still afforded the luxury, perhaps in some rustic lair not too far from Pale, of penning novels that are being bandied about for literary awards in the salons of Belgrade. It's indeed truly sad and, of course, increasingly a profound embarassment to the (previously NATO, now EU-led) peacekeeping mission there. Someone must ask, why is the apprehension effort not being pursued full-bore? Is it because of fears of societal dislocations in Republika Srpska? If so, one might fairly ask, should war criminals gain de facto permanent amnesty simply because the commands and civilian leadership of peacekeeping forces lack the strength and conviction to see critical parts of their mandates, despite the real risks of complications to the mission, through? The answer must be no. Justice demands it. Great crimes were committed here. B.D. will never forget the fall of Srebrenica, seen from the vantage point of Zagreb in the summer of '95. My heart sank, as I knew thousands of innocents were about to be slaughtered. And, too, my disgust at Clinton's fecklessness and ineffectual attention to the conflict, pre-insertion of Dick Holbrooke, grew mightily as well. Yes, this is all ancient history for many of us now. But the victims of the seige of Sarajevo, of the slaughter of Srebrenica, of the horrific detention camps around Prijedor--they all still hunger for justice. Let us not let them down. They deserve better.
Misleading Lede Watch
If you read the headline to this Dave Sanger piece, you'd think Dick Cheney was encouraging an Israeli strike on Iran. But--as you burrow through the article--you see that, well, he's not.
More on the Inaugural
More on the speech here.
A day after President Bush's inaugural speech vowing to spread freedom in the world, administration officials said Friday that Mr. Bush was setting a long-term goal that did not portend dramatic changes in American foreign policy but rather an expansion of existing approaches. A senior official said that the speech signaled Mr. Bush's intention to raise the need to expand freedoms in Russia, China and the Arab world but that this did not mean that such pressure would become the only factor in these relationships.
I think that's about right. Hyper-feverish, neo-Wilsonian messianism is not nigh. Reminder: My take on the speech, from yesterday, here.
P.S. On the Euro-rapprochment meme, don't miss this either:
A rapprochement with Germany comes naturally to Ms. Rice and her selected deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, both of whom were involved in the country's unification in 1990, an example of transformational diplomacy that left a lasting impression on the incoming secretary of state. The likely No. 3 at the State Department, R. Nicholas Burns, who is now ambassador to NATO, is also a committed Atlanticist.
UPDATE: More support for B.D.'s thesis here.
Bush's speech appeared to put the United States on a course in which moralism and idealism, rather than realpolitik, form the philosophical foundations of foreign policy. But White House officials said that is a misreading of how Bush operates. "His goals are deeply idealistic," Gerson said. "His methods are deeply realistic. In fact, that was one of the themes of the speech, that this traditional divide between realism and idealism is no longer adequate for the conduct of American foreign policy."
Be sure not to miss this interesting snippet from the WaPo piece:
One meeting, arranged by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, included military historian Victor Davis Hanson, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, according to one Republican close to the White House. White House senior adviser Karl Rove attended, according to one source, but mostly listened to what became a lively exchange over U.S. policy and the fight for liberty.
So, who says Bush can never listen to critics!?! I had blogged Gaddis' piece here, btw.
Clearly the folks at the Nation are chomping at the bit to declare the Iraqi elections a failure. In this vein, the editorial is comical, to a fashion. You do, if barely, espy that the Nation's editorialists know the elections still haven't happened ("in the run-up", "upcoming poll") and are still 10 days away. But, via Laphamization, they appear to have made up their minds the elections shall prove an abject failure. Indeed, via clever phrasing, use of tense, and the like--one can skim the piece and really get the feeling the elections have already taken place. And, of course, proven a total failure. I particularly like the first sentence of the second graf ("As conditions deteriorated, it became harder for the Bush Administration to spin the upcoming poll to choose an Iraq National Assembly as a major step toward restoring security"). "As conditions deteriorated." How retrospective! And, some "poll" (you mean, the elections that still haven't happened yet?). It feels like we are casting our eyes backwards, with sorrow alas, at the grisly specter of the apres-"poll" postmortem. Then, quite neatly, the last graf of the piece takes us into February. The Chimp, it seems, is out and about to "demand" another big supplemental from Congress. And by screaming "no more money for war", pace the good folks at the Nation, we would provide the "best example of democracy we could offer the Iraqi people." Those not left to be slaughtered like lemmings, that is, by assorted Baathists, jihadists, terrorists and radicalized militia groupings--given the massive power vacuum that would ensue should American forces pull out precipitously (sorry, in "orderly" fashion) as the Nation--and, reportedly, Ted Kennedy--would recommend.
January 21, 2005
Axis to Outposts
Have I mentioned that I think "axis of evil" was purposefully transmogrified into "outposts of tyranny" so "evil" looked less a synonym for Islam? After all, NoKo looked a bit an afterthought what with all the going-ons in Iraq and Afghanistan (sandwiching Iran to boot!). The 'outposts' look and feel more Benetton-y and 'we are the world', no?
...Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe...but somehow I think Teheran, among the outposts, is looking at the tea-leaves about the Potomac a bit more intently than Yangoon, Harare, or Minsk.
So I guess some of my readers have a different view of Bush's Inaugural speech than B.D.'s.
Here's one E-mail I just got:
I thought Bush's inaugural speech was the height of Orwellian hypocrisy. So our President has "freedom" on his mind, eh? If Bush ever gets around to holding another news conference during the next four years, perhaps some clear-thinking reporter might ask him the following: When will he also call for democracy in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Pakistan, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain? Each of these is an autocracy or a theocracy ruled by either a general, a king, or a family. And there's just one little problem: Each is a strong ally of ours. One of our strongest allies, Jordan, has been ruled for decades by a single family notorious for its use of torture--to such an extent that during interrogations, we often tell our captives that we will send them to be interrogated in Jordan in an attempt to scare them into divulging information. Similarly, Egypt, which has been ruled for decades by the same man, is notorious for its corruption, use of torture and lack of due process.
Hey, tell me what you really think! As ever, sober reader feedback, both via comments and E-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) welcome. My take on the inaugural speech here. It's rather different, of course--though I think we do share some similar concerns in part.
UPDATE: Pej, in comments: "Perhaps you could tell your correspondent that it would help his/her credibility if he/she knew that Iranians aren't Arabs and that Iran is not part of "the Arab world." Indeed, that's quite a whopper. And it's something that is quite often overlooked or, even worse, simply unknown (by many). P.S. Estimable blogospheric personages have committed this sin w/r/t to "Arab" Pakistanis, too.
The Inaugural Speech
Number of times the words free, freedom or liberty was used in Bush's inaugural? 49! Throw in "democratic" and "reforming" and we cross 50 (to 53)! Hey, the fifty states; plus Afghanistan, Iraq, and...[insert your favorite "outlaw regime" here!]? Speaking of, they were surely listening in such "outposts of tyranny"! (oh wait, correct link here). (But are they listening in 'friendly' Tashkent, Riyadh and Islamabad?)
More seriously, some passages from the speech worth mentioning:
We have seen our vulnerability and we have seen its deepest source. For as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder, violence will gather and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom. We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.
Yes. In this age of potential miniaturization of nuclear weaponry, of growing biological and chemical weapons development prowess in far-flung spots--all these worrisome trends married to nihilistic, fanatical ideologies--this is the crux of the critical challenge that will need to be fought, marshalling all resources of our national power (including, perhaps mostly, non-military ones), for decades to come. Is Freedom some mega-panacea? No. But societies not simmering in atrophying autocracies, it is safe to say, breed fewer radicals. There is no doubt about that. We might, therefore, do worse than a forward strategy of democracy exportation (pursued more intelligently than in Iraq, however, hopefully with the employ of quite a few 'lessons learned').
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary.
Translation: This document is still live policy in Bush II. Though I don't think that means GIs will be milling about Teheran or Damascus in the printemps.
The great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations. The difficulty of the task is no excuse for avoiding it. America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed, America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause.
Translation: I may sound life Paul Wolfowitz on steroids--but I realize American power has real limits and that the spread of freedom, as worthy a goal as it is, will not be miraculously accomplished, in toto, by 2008. Yes, a realist side, too (that Condi/Zeollick will bolster).
We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies. Yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.
"Grudging concessions of dictators..." A good line. Translation: Not just horse-trades by Kissingerian realpolitikers with the Fahds of the world. Real, no B.S. efforts to see bona fide democratization initiatives--ones that actually impact populations--are on the agenda.
Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.
The democratization, post WWII, of large swaths of the Eurasian landmass is indeed an awesome historical accomplishment. That a land war among major European powers, say, is wholly inconceivable today (though who knows what might happen should unemployment, in a major economic crisis, head north of 20%...) is impressive indeed. Bully for Bush to bolster the optimists among us who think the same could happen in the Middle East (where admitedly, pre-Enlightenment societies have far fewer democratic traditions to speak of than Mitteleuropa did).
The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people, you must learn to trust them. Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side. And all the allies of the United States can know: we honor your friendship, we rely on your counsel, and we depend on your help. Division among free nations is a primary goal of freedom's enemies. The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies' defeat.
Translation: Germany (hell, even France) get back on board! Don't let dictators divide us. And, yes, we'll listen a bit more even. By the way, the "walk at your side" line part at the beginning of this passage was good too. The message there? Quasi-autocrats with vested interests, a bit reticent to move more towards democratization, take the plunge! We'll help.
I give the speech a B plus. What kept if from an A? B.D., like Francois Lyotard, say, might fairly be accused of occasional bouts of incredulity vis-a-vis too simple, hyper-idealistic meta-narratives. We need a little more gray this second term--a bit of a Thermidor (think Fukuyama more than Krauthammer). Still, his heart and instincts are in the right place--especially if they are increasingly tethered to pragmatic advice. Good luck to him in what is sure to be an eventful four years.
UPDATE: Safire was counting too--and our numbers match!
Rumsfeld Out In Not Too Distant Future?
How President George W. Bush fills the key post of secretary of defense will be one of the pivotal decisions defining the second term he inaugurates with pomp and pizzazz in Washington Thursday, January 20. Much as he may praise Donald Rumsfeld for his “excellent job”, the secretary is believed by...Washington sources to be on his way out. The timing of his resignation – certainly not before Iraq’s January 30 election - depends on a choice of successor, for which the White House has been holding discreet contacts for weeks. That choice in turn depends on the president defining his end-game for Iraq and laying it out in clear policy guidelines.
Yeah, it's Debka. So take it with, er, a pretty big grain of salt. [ed. note: Does this mean some Israelis want Rummy out too? Well, most Israelis, I'd think, want us to win, really win, in theater, right? So maybe. I continue to quite firmly believe his removal could prove a boon to the war effort there--for reasons I've extensively blogged previously]. Anyway, here's hoping this story has some legs. To repeat (and I've blogged this before too), I don't think Rummy will still be in his job by latter half of '06--and there could be an exit well earlier. You'll have heard it here first.
Axis of Evil, Redux
I've been declared "evil" by an Iranian (or something like that)!
January 20, 2005
Notes From The Condi Hearings
Listening to (or, rather, reading the transcripts of the Condi hearings) John Kerry and Joe 'the Blowhard' Biden question Condi Rice was kinda like hearing Fat Joe and Ashanti chanting "Who the Mack Now" (from "What's Luv")--over and over and over.
Paraphrasing (when language isn't in quotes): Kerry: See, Mubarak told me that.. ("Every Arab leader I asked, do you want Iraq to fail, says no")....Biden: "That's not what Qadhafi told me" about why he gave up his WMD...Kerry: Just back from Fallujah ("haven't been as many times as Joe"), and lemme tell you...Biden: Wait, in Erbil the Kurds told me (after a seven hour ride into the hills!) "the mountains are [their] only friends"...Kerry: Kirkuk! Mosul! (merely letting these cities names roll off one's lips, it appears, make all the senatorial oratory somehow, um, studlier). Or, Kerry: "The Germans say they could do more." Biden: What about the "5,000 European paramilitary police types"? And then, Biden: Hell, did I mention I'm almost not going to vote for you? Kerry: Well, I'm not voting for you. I'm the Mack. No, you're the Mack. [ed. note: What a team these guys would have made!]
Well, as it turns out, someone else was the Mack (apart from Condi, who performed more than adequately). So, who asked the best questions of Condi, rather than tiresomely showboat (Biden) or display encroaching symptoms of Gore-itis (Kerry)? Barack Obama, that's who. [ed. note: What's Gore-itis? Er, not dealing too elegantly with loss (though, and I say this sincerely, I can emphatize with what a crushing blow 2000 must have been for someone who wanted the job ever since St. Albans days].
OBAMA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, members of the committee, Dr. Rice. First of all, let me say how grateful I am to have the opportunity to serve on this committee. I know that it has a wonderful reputation for bipartisanship. And that, I think, is partly due to the excellence of the chairman and the ranking member and the degree to which you both work together extremely closely. So I'm looking forward to my service here. Dr. Rice, it's wonderful to see you here. And I've been very impressed, obviously, with your mastery of the issues. Since it's the day after King's birthday, obviously, 20 or 30 years ago, it's unlikely that I'd be sitting here asking you questions. And so I think that's a testimony to how far we've come, despite how far we still have to go. And I think everybody rightly is extraordinary impressed with your credentials and your experience in this field. I've got three areas I'd like to explore that have already been touched on to some degree. I want to try to see if I can knock out all three of them with the time that I have remaining. The first has to do with the issue of nuclear proliferation, which has already been discussed. But I think it's important to note that in the midst of what was sometimes a very divisive campaign, there was strong agreement between President Bush and Senator Kerry that our number one priority, that our single greatest challenge is keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. And there has been enormous leadership on the part of this committee, and Senator Lugar in particular, working with former Senator Nunn, to move the process forward of securing nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I am still concerned that less nuclear material, as I understand it, has been secured from the former Soviet Union in the two years after September 11th than the two years prior to September 11th. Now, it may just be that there was low-hanging fruit initially and it starts getting harder as time goes by. But I'm also concerned of the fact that we've never fully funded, it appears to me, the Nunn-Lugar program. I know that Senator Lugar is going to be presenting an amendment that gives your office more flexibility in this area. I'm hopeful that I'm going to have the opportunity to work with him and my colleagues on this piece of legislation. I guess my question is: How are you going to use this flexibility? Number one, are you going to be seeking full funding? Number two, beyond the existing mechanisms to lock down existing nuclear material, what else are we doing, for example, to make sure that Pakistan has a mechanism in place to ensure that those nuclear weapons or that technology is no longer drifting off into the hands of hostile forces?
First, kudos for talking about the nuclear proliferation issue. There is no more critical foreign policy challenge impacting our national security. But, of course, everyone knows that. It's the part about the "low hanging fruit" that got me. Obama's obviously thought through these issues--he's not just going through the motions and scoring cheap points. We can quibble about the stats and methodology behind deeming nuclear material secured and such. But Obama was gracious, and showed he knew what he was talking about, by making the important point that it gets harder and harder going forward to secure nuclear materials after the "low hanging fruit" have already been accounted for (don't miss Obama's good follow up question on this issue either).
Next, Obama turns to the "train and equip" effort in Iraq--another immensely important issue. He concludes:
OBAMA: Mr. Chairman, I know my time up. I would just make this note, that if our measure is bring our troops home and success is measured by whether Iraqis can secure their own circumstances, and if our best troops in the world are having trouble controlling the situation with 150,000 or so, it sounds like we've got a long way to go. And I think part of what the American people are going to need is some certainty, not an absolute timetable, but a little more certainty than is being provided, because right now, it appears to be an entirely open-ended commitment.
Well, he's right. And he strikes the right notes. The American people can't tolerate an open-ended committment, of course, without feeling the government is playing it straight and has a real plan to train and equip Iraqi forces. But, unlike many in his party (Kerry all but did this in the campaign), he wisely states we can't expect an "absolute timetable"--ostensibly for either withdrawal of U.S. troops or an Administration declaration regarding when the "train and equip" effort would be finalized (we just can't know yet).
Next issue Obama broaches? AIDS--but with a twist.
Dr. Rice, I appreciate your stamina. I've got one very specific question that I'd like maybe a brief answer to so that -- even though it's a large question, and then maybe I want to engage with you a little bit on this public diplomacy issue.
Again, no cheap soundbites about "where's the other 13 Bil"? Instead, a sophisticated understanding about how aid monies much be disbursed with care, not "willy-nilly," and the cogent apercu (if somewhat obvious but under-appreciated as an issue) that no follow through means no street cred on these issues.
Finally, Obama turns to public diplomacy:
The broader point I think draws on a number of themes that have been discussed earlier. The issue of public diplomacy, some of it is technique, it's technical. Do we have the equivalent of a Radio Free Europe in the Middle East that's effective?
Yes, the public diplomacy initiative cannot be unmoored from more substantive changes in our policies. Matt Yglesias makes this point well here--and you should definitely go check it out (unlike Matt, I guess, I think Condi's smart enough to get this and, further, will be empowered, as and when appropriate conditions allow, to make substantive policy adjustments too--particularly on Israel-Palestine and treatment of Gulf Arab autocracies).
I haven't followed Obama much, and I will have to keep more of an eye on him to form a fuller view, but I think it's fair to say that he's a real star. Who knows? Will America be ready for such a post-racial, cerebral HLS grad for the big job circa. 2012 or 2016? We'll see. One thing is for sure. There's a bigger chance B.D. would vote for a more seasoned Obama than the sometimes insufferably self-aggrandizing Kerrys and Bidens.
P.S. Is it just me, or is it a testament to a certain meritocratic grandeur we have in this country, that the two people at the top of their game during these hearings (a star freshman senator and the first minority female Secretary of State) were both African-Americans?
Incidentally, methinks Boxer and Kerry looked pretty low with their no votes, no? Especially the latter, as it smelled of sour grapes, and his background of privilege is in sharp contrast to Condi's. Underwhelming display, I'd say, all told. But they'll tell you it was all about "principle" or such. I don't buy it. With Boxer, it was faux indignation (with a good dose of foreign policy cluelessness thrown in--her attempted analogizing of the Milosevic and Saddam situations particularly sad). For Kerry, a hodgepodge of conflicting impulses (wasn't it always?), but in the main: looking more Dean-y (the better to get the Kos-troops and such underwhelming gaggles all giddy in case a "New" Kerry is to be trotted out in '08), the aforementioned Gore-itis harming best judgment and mitigating the usual, if very practiced, noblesse oblige, and all this with some good ol' fashioned showboaty theater thrown in after the Big-Euro-Middle East-Tour (but Gerhard and Hosni say...!).
Holbrooke Digs Condi's Picks
With much of the world wondering what President Bush will do in his second term, perhaps the best place to search for early clues is personnel. Nothing is more revealing, and, in the long run, nothing may be more important.
No such purges are in the offing. And I'd previously addressed Gingrich's (quite silly) hyperbole, many months back, here.
As for Holbrooke's questions:
These putative appointments raise several key questions: First, do they foreshadow a major second-term movement toward, if you will, a kinder, gentler foreign policy? Second, will counterbalancing senior State appointments -- especially the high-profile ambassadorship to the United Nations -- be given to allies of Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? Third, will there be continued internal warfare pitting State against Cheney and Rumsfeld, or will a more pragmatic, mainstream approach -- favored by Powell but never quite successful -- prevail under Rice? Finally, will President Bush, who tolerated (and often seemed to ignore) that internal conflict in his first term, allow it to continue?
B.D.'s two cents: 1) Yes. 2) No (and particularly not w/r/t USUN). 3) Some, but materially less so, partly as Rumsfeld is, truth be told, kinda just hanging on to his job right now (and Bush will browbeat him if he tries to scuttle Condi high-handedly). 4) See paranthese to answer 3 above.
January 19, 2005
Tales from the Front
A friend in Baghdad writes in....after a bloody day of suicide bombings in the capital city:
“We, we lucky few.” -Henry Vth
I think I understand his emotion. And here's hoping he gets to soak "in the exuberance of life's extended lease" as many more times as needed before his time there ends.
January 18, 2005
Sorry about the limited blogging. Simply no time right now. A recent spike in Iran-related stories, as well as Condi Rice's testimony, however--all are on the blog agenda as soon as time allows. With some luck perhaps late evening Wednesday.
January 17, 2005
Bush's War Leadership
Bush has in the past used presidential speeches to rally the country, but he has failed to follow through on the promise of his rhetoric. After 9/11, like Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy upon assuming office, Bush lifted our spirits and brought much of the world to our side. He quickly defined what had happened -- War! -- and so readied us for sacrifice while warning friend and foe alike of our resolve. In a bold campaign, he overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and put al Qaeda on the run. Those first months were the high point of leadership for a president fond of talking about himself as a leader.
Richard Kohn, a former chief of history for the U.S. Airforce, who is working on a study of presidential war time leadership, writing in the Washington Post.
Kohn is somewhat more critical of Bush than I'd be (Bush has made strategic readjustments, when necessitated, so that the consistency as fetish charge is a tad overblown. Witness ditching Garner for Bremer, giving the U.N. and Brahimi a major role in structuring Iraqi elections, negotiating with Sadr rather than pursuing all out assaults in places like Najaf). Nor do I think Bush should be, as a tortured, micro-managing LBJ was, hunched over picking specific bombing targets late night at the White House. And Kohn is more pessimistic on Iraq than me too (I'm not sure Iraq, per Kohn, is moving from insurgency to civil war-as I've previously analyzed here). But I do think Kohn makes some fair points about rhetorical excesses muddying the parameters of the struggle we are engaged in. For instance, I'm veering towards liking the term the "Global War on Terror" less and less. Like LBJ's war on poverty or Reagan's war on drugs--it sounds more like an amorphous soundbite than a specific enunciation of the strategic threat we face. On the other hand, calling the conflict, say, a war on radical Islam is, not only a bit clunky, but also too reminiscent of the Crusades. Aside from this arguably trival word parsing, however, the point is that the expansive rhetoric ("global war on terror", "good and evil" etc), while somewhat reassuring in terms of moral clarity (if the purposeful indiscriminate slaughter of innocents isn't evil, well, what is?) likely confuses monitoring progress in this struggle and stokes not inconsiderable confusion with allies about our objectives.
The closest analogue to Bush's present challenges, per Kohn, is probably Truman:
As his second term begins, Bush has few precedents on which to draw. His war resembles the Cold War more than any previous shooting war, making perhaps his closest analogue Harry Truman in 1949: winner of a narrow election victory; lacking in respect at home and abroad; facing a conflict and an enemy that is both unclear and elusive. Then as now, U.S. relationships with many countries were in transition, and the winds of change -- social and technological as well as political and economic -- were sweeping the world in the wake of a cataclysm that had remade the map. Just as in the Cold War, this fight is for people's loyalties and interests, ideologies and beliefs.
In this vein too, Bush must more effectively communicate to the world audience the nature of his global war on terror. Between a widely (though, it should be noted, not quite as widely as sometimes suggested) supported Afghanistan campaign and the so controversial war in Iraq--America's war on terror lost much support in the court of international opinion. I'm not talking here of the cheap Euro-Gaullist broadsides about Iraq simply consituting a bid for hegemony in the Middle East, or for access to cheap oil (that worked out well, eh?), or simply a dynastic clean up of Poppy's unfinished business. But the reality is, of course, that there exists much misapprehension and confusion about why, for Bush, the war in Iraq has been conflated with the war on terror. Bush must now, as his second term begins, communicate better what he means when he says Iraq is now the "central front" in the war on terror. This is particularly critical in the conspiracy-ridden Middle East. On that front, Bush (and, perhaps more important, his Arab-speaking diplomats) must increasingly pound in the message that: a) Iraq is already sovereign, is embarking on historical elections, and that a national assembly and consitution will take shape thereafter, b) U.S. forces remain in theater solely to help bring about the successful conclusion of this hugely difficult political process (but won't be rushed out until such goals are accomplished), c) that no permanent American bases will remain in Iraq, d) Iraq will have its own independent foreign policy (even an anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian one, if that's how things pan out, though I don't think they necessarily will); e) the perpetrators (at least the direct ones) of Abu Ghraib are being tried and jailed--in sharp distinction to the treatment afforded Saddam's torturers)--and that all efforts will be made to ensure no repeats of such horrific human rights violations, f) America's move to pressure the Arab world to democratize is not an exceptional singling out of that region--indeed it represents the reversal of a pre-existing 'democracy exception' whereby we didn't spearhead democracy there (unlike our democracy-promotion initiatives through the Cold War in Latin America and Asia) g) America has supported Muslims from Aceh to Zepa in the past odd decade and h) the U.S. will more forcefully re-engage in attempting to bring about a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
As Kohn points out, Bush has, of late, shown a greater grasp of what the war on terror portends. For instance, Bush has grasped that the war on terror is not a war that can be "won"--at least in any conventional sense. Nor, however, is the goal merely a Kerry-esque reduction of terror to mere "nuisance" levels--a locution that reveals a lack of comprehension regarding the massive security challenges America faces from the intersections of transnational terror groups, WMD proliferation, and radical Islam's pervasive appeal. It's a systematic, decades long endevour that aims to reduce the appeal of radical Islam to millions of potential adherents. As I've written before, a comprehensive strategy would include (in no particular order): peaceful progress towards promoting counter-revolutionary tendencies in Iran; stabilizing Iraq (as a unitary non-theocratic state); admitting Turkey into the E.U. (this would help constrain any potentially nefarious behavior from Ankara), robust counter-proliferation efforts (the goal should be a WMD-free zone a couple decades out, however utopian this may seem now); increased democratization of key governments (not at the barrel of a gun and at a realistic pace) like Saudi Arabia and Egypt; forging a just two-state solution for Israel-Palestine (yes this means most settlements need to be dismantled--as well as portions of the security fence--and that the Palestinians finally need to overhaul their security apparatus and do their damnest to put an end to the scourge of suicide bombings); getting the Israeli-Syrian track resolved; resolution of the Pakistani and Indian divide over Kashmir; increased state-support for moderate madrassas; better monitoring of financial flows to dubious charities serving as fronts for terror outfits; continued eradication of groups like al-Qaeda and staunch opposition to all radical jihadist groups and, finally, well thought out initiatives on preserving/distributing scarce water resources, fostering economic development and related issues.
Put simply, the time for a detailed, sober and intelligent delineation of our goals in this global campaign on terror has come. From such a wide-ranging exposition of our war aims we can better understand how best to translate and enunciate our objectives to the international community. This is part of what I hope people have in mind when they speak of their hopes for a "transformational diplomacy" in Bush's second term. This would involve a reassessment of grand strategy, ensuring it is married to concrete achievable ends, and that it is better communicated to key consituencies. Such parties include a) Americans, who must begin to think of this conflict along the lines of an long-term ideological struggle that will take place over decades, b) Europeans, who must be disavowed from the notion that we are simply in brutish, militaristic preemption mode, and who must be reassured that our actions are being coordinated strategically in order to achieve real ends, and c) to the Arab and Muslim worlds, we must be sure to stress, at every opportunity, that it is fanaticism and nihilism we combat--not one of the three great monotheistic religions of the world--which has been crudely hijacked by too many theocratic barbarians. (Also, I'd be remiss in not noting the increasing importance of Asia as a major force in world politics--and thus the need to better understand how best to communicate our objectives there too).
Is all this the kind of thing Bush has in mind? I'm unsure. Kohn sees some hopeful signs:
There are signs that Bush is moving to meet these challenges. Two new Cabinet choices promise less divisiveness and more effective management. Alberto Gonzales, a loyalist who exudes caution and cooperation, replaces the clumsy ideologue John Ashcroft at Justice. Michael Chertoff, who expresses sensitivity to the conflict between liberty and security, replaces the colorless (except for his warning system) Tom Ridge, whose Homeland Security department's disorganization calls to mind the chaos of World War I and "the mess in Washington" notorious during World War II. In Iraq, the unwavering march toward elections and "Iraqification" indicates that an exit strategy is in place.
Meantime, I was happy to see this snippet from Bush's interview with the WaPo:
Well, you know, it's interesting. The people of Afghanistan, which is a part of the Muslim world, are really happy that the government of the United States, along with others, liberated them from the Taliban. I suspect that people in the Muslim world, as we speak, are thrilled that supplies are being delivered by U.S. servicemen and women. The Iranians -- the reformers in Iran are, I suspect, very hopeful that the United States government is firm in our belief that democracy ought to spread. In other words, there are some places we're not popular, and other places where we're liked.
I am happy to see the President state that he views public diplomacy as a priority for Condi Rice. By the way, and speaking of Condi Rice, she appears to view the Truman analogy as apropos too:
In campaign speeches for President Bush last fall, Ms. Rice likened the current world climate, including the daunting insurgency in Iraq, to the period of skirmishing that followed World War II, when the United States took the lead in establishing international institutions and the policy of containing the Soviet Union that rebuilt Europe and Asia and won the cold war.
Oh, and here's my 'I told you so' for the evening:
Even some foreign policy experts who have been critical of Ms. Rice in the past say they see her selection of Robert B. Zoellick, the administration's top trade negotiator and a veteran diplomat, as deputy secretary of state as a sign that she intends to pursue a pragmatic, traditional Republican internationalist approach.
Gentlemen, Let's Not Call Names!
A tad bored this Sunday eve? Look no further than this golden oldie.
(Hat Tip: Ross Douthat, who remarks, "you really can find anything on the Internet these days...").
The Army is engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over how to organize troops for "nation-building," a growing problem for the military as it settles in for lengthy occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly other countries.
To be sure, of course, Special Operations personnel need to be well versed in killing HVTs. But, at least equally important, they also need expertise, as the article puts it, in "less dramatic missions" that support nation-building efforts. After all, we know that failed states--whether located in the Horn of Africa, the Middle East, or the Caucasus--will continue to be one of the most critical challenges in the stuggle against terrorist groupings in terms of denying them safe havens. Nation-building will, therefore, remain a strategic imperative for many decades to come. On some levels, transfering civil affairs guys out of Special Operations to the regular Army Command sounds like a good idea and one that B.D. would favor (on the theory that the regular Army needs to get more experience in security and stabilization tasks). But, managed like this, I agree with the disgruntled brass who leaked to the Washington Post. Why? Because many regular Army commanders likely don't know how to use these civil affairs units yet (as someone interviewed for the article pointed out). The net effect could well be a further diminishment, at least in the short term, of effectively pursued nation-building efforts in places like Iraq. I could be wrong on this one, and I'm open to hearing from any of you out there with relevant military experience, but I don't think this proposed bureaucratic reorg is a good idea. And I agree with Col. Michael Hess' assessment that, at least in part, this reorg is being pushed by Rumsfeld because he doesn't really take nation-building all that seriously. It smells a bit of get the wussies and kindergarten-builders out of Special Ops--without, unfortunately, having really diligenced how well they will fit into the regular army corps.
On a related topic, read this earlier post too.
January 15, 2005
Peace Process Watch
I'm not terribly concerned about Arik Sharon's decision to cut off contact with the P.A. just as Abbas assumes its Presidency. This plays well to the broad center-right swaths of post-al Aqsa intifada Israeli politics--signaling that Abbas won't benefit from some artificial honeymoon short of real moves to assert control over the PA's security apparatus. Meantime, truth be told, Abbas could benefit from some time spent consolidating his position post-election (more tenuous than the results show) and ensuring he's got his own backyard in better order. In fact, a Sharon-Abbas summit, right out of the gates, would have accomplished little and proven, mostly, political theater. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if Sharon's move to suspend contacts was communicated to Abbas through back-channels well before the public announcement. Let's see how things stand two to three months out into Abbas' Presidency.
Are B.D.'s anti-Kerry musings vis-a-vis the candidate's meekness in taking on Dubya on Abu Ghraib contradictory and ultimately unpersuasive? So sayeth Mark K. But, deep down, he wanted to see more "guts" too.
January 14, 2005
...are down. Sorry. I've sent an E-mail to my software guy. Hopefully it will get fixed relatively soon.
UPDATE: So they're back up. Thanks to web-designer Thomas Eberle for dealing with this on a weekend.
The Emptiest Words
"Nous approchons, avec les élections du 30 janvier, d'une étape capitale pour la réussite de ce processus. La France souhaite qu'elle soit franchie avec succès", a déclaré Jacques Chirac lors de son entretien avec Ghazi Al-Yaouar, dont la présence constitue une première, les registres de l'Elysée ne portant aucune trace d'une précédente visite d'un président irakien en France.
-- Jacques Chirac, expressing France's hope that Iraqi elections prove a success, as quoted in today's Le Monde.
The Three Block War
Don't worry, this isn't a post about too few troops in Iraq (OK, we touch on it a tad--but, really, it's not the main theme). Reading a thought-provoking post over at the Belmont Club, I stumbled upon this Robert Kaplan article, entitled "Indian Country." It's worth quoting at some length:
The American military now has the most thankless task of any military in the history of warfare: to provide the security armature for an emerging global civilization that, the more it matures--with its own mass media and governing structures--the less credit and sympathy it will grant to the very troops who have risked and, indeed, given their lives for it. And as the thunderous roar of a global cosmopolitan press corps gets louder--demanding the application of abstract principles of universal justice that, sadly, are often neither practical nor necessarily synonymous with American national interest--the smaller and more low-key our deployments will become. In the future, military glory will come down to shadowy, page-three skirmishes around the globe, which the armed services will quietly celebrate among their own subculture.
I don't buy Kaplan's idea that troop-lite is always better than lots of boots on the ground. A glance at the reader-supplied chart over at Wretchard's conveniently summarizes troop to population ratios in various occupations and showcases that Iraq is on the low end (particularly where one faces a significant insurgency). Here's more in that vein:
When NATO forces went into Kosovo in 1999, they followed the same proven formula: 50,000 troops for a population of 2 million, one soldier for every 40 inhabitants. A recent Rand Corp. study by military analyst James Quinlivan concluded that the bare minimum ratio to provide security for the inhabitants of an occupied territory, let alone deal with an active insurgency, is one to 50.
But, as I said above, this isn't really a post about the scarcity of sufficient troops in Iraq. Rather, it's about the lack of a sufficient mix of U.S. forces in our armed forces generally.
General Charles Krulak, whom I heard speak in London last year at a CFR shin-dig, has talked about the need to have U.S. forces ready to fight what he calls the "three block war":
Modern crisis responses are exceedingly complex endeavors. In Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia the unique challenges of military operations other-than-war (MOOTW) were combined with the disparate challenges of mid-intensity conflict. The Corps has described such amorphous conflicts as -- the three block war -- contingencies in which Marines may be confronted by the entire spectrum of tactical challenges in the span of a few hours and within the space of three contiguous city blocks. The tragic experience of U.S. forces in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope illustrates well the volatile nature of these contemporary operations. Author Mark Bowden's superb account of "The Battle of Mogadishu," Blackhawk Down, is a riveting, cautionary tale and grim reminder of the unpredictability of so-called operations other-than-war. It is essential reading for all Marines.
I know that some members of the active services fear that some kind of "warrior ethos" in soldiers will suffer if they are primed for humanitarian assistance and peacekeeping (or even peacemaking) duties. Building kindergartens and stuff--not good for guys who need to go out and kill. Indeed, I've spoken to West Pointers far from enamored by the prospects of confronting such tasks. Unfortunately, however, our times demand that very junior soldiers become increasingly sophisticated in their ability to hug babies one minute, kill a jihadist the next, and control a riot or separate belligerents the next (I'm exaggerating about the hugging babies part--but you get my point).
This is where Kaplan's notion of fusing elements of State and Defense is quite interesting. Particularly, as Wretchard touches on too, given the manifest need for strategic communications to accompany military actions--particularly in the age of satellite television, far-flung media networks, the Internet:
Strategic communication -- which encompasses public affairs, public diplomacy, international broadcasting, information operations, and special activities -- is vital to America’s national security and foreign policy. Over the past few decades, the strategic communication environment and requirements have changed considerably as a result of many influences. Some of the most important of these influences are a rise in anti-American attitudes around the world; the use of terrorism as a framework for national security issues; and the volatility of Islamic internal and external struggles over values, identity, and change. ... America needs a revolution in strategic communication rooted in strong leadership from the top and supported by an orchestrated blend of public and private sector components.
On Iraq, would a Colonial Corps, say, back-stopped by State guys with more regional experience spearheading the strategic communications and the like, and with military officers (including junior ones) trained in 'three-block wars' to boot--would any of it had made a difference? You betcha. But such a sophisticated force mix would take years and years to train. And, contra Kaplan, I still think we would have needed to send many of them; not just a few gaggles. Lots of people point to Afghanistan as an example of troop-lite working out pretty O.K.--arguing for the same in Iraq. That's not apples to apples. Afghanistan had and has major warlords still in control of their fiefdoms (Khan in Herat, Dostum in the North, for instance). Iraq had one warlord--Saddam's Baath party. When he and his party were unseated--a mega-security vacuum resulted. This kind of power vacuum was much less significant in Afghanistan with the exception of southeastern parts of the country--where, not coincidentally, the violence is the worst. This debate aside, however, Kaplan, Krulak, Chester and Wretchard all make important points that, pun intended, need to be thrown into the 'mix' as we think about the future of the U.S. military in an era that looks to be defined by a Long War.
January 13, 2005
Sullivan Reviews Danner
Andrew has an excellent piece up on the torture/abuse scandals in the New York Times book review. Don't miss his conclusion:
American political polarization also contributed. Most of those who made the most fuss about these incidents - like Mark Danner or Seymour Hersh - were dedicated opponents of the war in the first place, and were eager to use this scandal to promote their agendas. Advocates of the war, especially those allied with the administration, kept relatively quiet, or attempted to belittle what had gone on, or made facile arguments that such things always occur in wartime. But it seems to me that those of us who are most committed to the Iraq intervention should be the most vociferous in highlighting these excrescences. Getting rid of this cancer within the system is essential to winning this war.
By the by, Kerry's manifest meekness in not effectively joining this issue in the campaign was a major reason I felt he did not deserve my support. He acted the hyper-cautious poll-watcher without any real moral compass. Rumsfeld had 70% support circa. Abu Ghraib, I could hear Kerry thinking. Let's not rock the boat and risk getting goose-hunting, red staters in a tizzy. Except that the patriotic thing to do, of course, was to condemn loudly that inmates in U.S. captivity were beaten to death on several occasions (I'm so sick of hearing about panty-hoses, human pyramids, Eminem appreciations amidst the cranked up AC--people, er, died--they didn't just listen to music, chill out, and play costume party and pile on up on each other for a 'lil giggle).
P.S. Spare me the flames that my position is absurd--ie, voting for the guy who presided over the torture mess--and against his opponent, simply for not condemning it more loudly. This episode was merely one of many (if a significant one for me) revelatory of Kerry's character. Here, in case you missed it then, is a piece on why I supported Bush contra the Massachusetts Senator.
The Plot Thickens
For months, the US Congress has been investigating activities that violated the United Nations oil-for-food programme and helped Saddam Hussein build secret funds to acquire arms and buy influence.
You know, the U.N. has problems. Lots of them. But they are not the sole repository of evil scams on the planet. And Kofi isn't the devil incarnate. Also, of course, the story reminds us that the U.N. is really just a manifestation of the myriad machinations underway by its member states in any given week. All told, it will likely be proven out that very few of the states involved in 'oil for food' covered themselves with much glory through it all. Perhaps, the U.S. included. Though, and despite my respect for the FT, I suspect this is a story that will need a little more flesh on its bones by way of additional detail before any 'gotcha' pronouncements can be loudly, confidently proclaimed.
A reader who wishes to remain anonymous, reacting to this earlier B.D. post, writes in:
Your posting on the new "ism" and the need for a cultural and intellectual persuasion is very apt. During the Cold War, magazines such as Encounter provided an intellectual platform for intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to share views and develop a common agenda. Unfortunately, Encounter turned out to be subsidized by the CIA and therefore lost its legitimacy when this was disclosed. The concept, however, remains valuable, and long before 9/11, there has been a need for shared intellectual and cultural ventures that encourage ideals of tolerance and freedom across conventional national and religious boundaries.
Speaking of the mailbag, I'm somewhat behind on the blog-mail. Please be assured I read everything that comes in--but don't appear to have time to reply to all of it on a consistent basis. My apologies, but do keep it coming. I like the feedback and, to stress, do read it all (as with all comments, btw).
A World Without Israel
So, would the world be so different? Well, no. Josef Joffe explains.
I don't like to pick on a young guy forced into the Royal follies. But this is really, really dumb. It's kind of sad to see aristocracies, unmoored from traditional private safe-havens and lofty pedestals, subject to the mad-cap, brutish media cycles of 21st Century democracies. They come off looking all too mortal, I'm afraid. And, in this case, insensitive in the extreme:
PRINCE HARRY apologised last night to the Prince of Wales after attending a fancy dress party wearing a red Nazi swastika. Prince William was with his brother at the party, which was held by Richard Meade, the triple Olympic gold medallist, who is a close friend of the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.
Annals of Unsolicited Insta-Linkage
Glenn increasingly linking me without my having sent in a link to him for the all important Roman amphitheater-like Reynoldsian thumbs up or down! Surely this is a sign that I've now arrived in the blogosphere? Or maybe Glenn is just having a slow night...
Pray Tell, What Is an Emo-Anchor?
CNN's new President, Jonathan Klein, moving the network towards the brave new world of "emo-anchors" and news-readers metamorphosing into poets:
Invigorated by CNN’s coverage of the tsunami disaster, Mr. Klein dissolved the network’s trademark political talk show, Crossfire, while proclaiming a healthy future for "storytelling"—old-fashioned news, soaped up with reality-TV drama and delivered by emo-anchors like Anderson Cooper, the gray-ghost newsman who is becoming the embodiment of the new CNN. It seemed to be Mr. Cooper that Mr. Klein considered the exemplar of what CNN now stood for: a reality-TV "authenticity," with human dimensions, rather than the stentorian, scripted authority of the network era...Anchor-poet Aaron Brown’s first-person commentary seemed to be another model of the kind, with Mr. Klein describing his reporting on the tsunami as having "almost reached the level of literature." [emphasis added]
You can't make this stuff up. For my (and my commenters) take on literary lion/poet Aaron--go here.
The dumbing down of CNN domestic (CNN international remains tolerable) is truly staggering. The hoisting up of anchors uber-theatrically rippling forth with fake notions of Heideggerian authenticity is risible and part of the problem, of course. So is the conceit that reading the news has anything to do with literature or poetry. Do media executives really believe the American people have become so dumb so that they might, with credulity, imbibe such nakedly self-aggrandizing B.S.? But Klein is feeling cocksure, it seems, what with his snotty put-downs of the blogosphere:
I don’t think that blogging, which is, you know, glorified Web-site hosting—that’s what it is. I had a blog for a while, but I just didn’t have time," he said. "I don’t think that blogs topple news organizations because of the difficulty of sifting through reliable information and mere opinion. But they certainly have arrived on the scene as a player."
If blogging is "glorified Web-site hosting"--what is "emo-anchoring" or absurd pretenses to poetry from the anchor seat? A farce. And a sad testament to the era of reality television and 'interactivity' clumsily forcing itself into the cable news space--so that the President of CNN would deem it important to tell the NYO that Anderson Cooper "felt the tsunami story in his bones, not as a journalist even. It wasn’t a professional curiosity he had, it was a human connection to the suffering. He’s that kind of guy. And you saw it from the anchor chair, which I’ve never seen before, because usually those lights and makeup add a layer of filtration."
Sorry, but who the F cares whether Anderson Cooper felt the tsunami disaster "in his bones"? Perhaps, eventually, 300,000 dead in this massive tragedy and this is what Jon Klein finds memorable and worth discoursing about vis-a-vis his networks's coverage of the story? Makeup and an extra "layer of filtration", alas, too often keeping the "emo" out of the anchoring? This is truly the triumph of imbecility, solipsism, extreme self-importance and indulgence. Welcome to the new CNN.
More on "Death Squads" and Gaddis
UPDATE: Eric Martin has more too.
January 12, 2005
The Palestinian Elections
Good news from Palestine:
Most of all, everywhere throughout the territories, there were groups that broke out of Fatah, ignoring the movement and the PA, making their own laws. These turned into local branches of Tanzim (the political apparatus), armed groups of Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, and local gangs like the Abu Rish gang in Khan Yunis, Zakariya Zubeidi in Jenin, and the Abu Samhanda clan in Rafah. The heads of the Palestinian security forces, all Fatah men, fought among themselves like gangsters: extortion, shootings, murders and kidnappings became the modus operandi. It seemed that Yasser Arafat was the only remaining glue that held together all the factions and groups within Fatah, and that upon his death, the movement would disintegrate entirely.
I think Bush has the best chance, given Arafat's passing from the scene, to forge a Middle East peace settlement in a very, very long time. He will delegate it to Condi, and not waste precious Presidential coin as Clinton did (in what too often smelled a legacy hunt)--but Bush will doubtless make himself available at critical junctures. Do I think there will be a Palestinian state in '08? I don't now. But, what I do know is that it's likely no worse than 50/50 odds that one might be in the offing.
Iraq, while so difficult, has not opened up the proverbial gates of hell through the region as doomsayers loudly predicted. Indeed, progress in the larger region is readily apparent to fair observers. Relatively successful elections in Afghanistan took place after the unseating of theocratic fanatics unpopular with the vast majority of that country's populace. Elections in Palestine have empowered a moderate that Sharon can do business with. Iraqi elections, fingers crossed, might prove a pivot point in Iraq's long journey towards democracy (or, alternately, a harbinger of 'incipient' civil war or such--though I still tilt optimistic on Iraq). Iran, while still a massively complex foreign policy challenge, hasn't attempted to brazenly scuttle U.S. objectives in Iraq. Meanwhile, their Hezbollah proxies in southern Lebanon have not acted overly rashly of late. Their nuclear capability, of course, remains a major concern. But disingenuous chit-chat by Iraq war opponents that we are now hampered from doing anything in Iran because of an ill-fated Iraq adventure are full of it. Name me an anti-war Democrat who would have advocated military action in Iran, seriously and convincingly. There are none. Syria, while often frustrating, has certainly not allowed a Ho Chi Minh trail to run from Damascus to Mosul. Saudi Arabia is engaged in a not unserious crackdown on Islamic radicals in their midst (they got more proactive when they belatedly realized that said radicals would not, in the least, hesitate to brazenly attack targets near and dear to the House of Saud). There have been libertine whisps in precincts Cairo. Libya's continues to enter into the international community of nations. Worth mentioning, lest it be taken for granted, Musharraf has survived both the unseating of the Taliban and Saddam (recall the voices that an Islamic bomb would be created by unruly jihadist mobs in Islamabad the moment Bush sent GI's past Basra).
Yes, we've got many problems in the region. I'm concentrating on the good news above, needless to say. But, assuming Iraq doesn't degenerate into utter failure, it is fair to say that there are no evident catastrophes in the offing. Really, if anything, more upside than downside as we look ahead over the next few years. That's good. And not really talked about too much on the evening news...
Annals of Modern Culture Department
As it turns out, an important moment in the annals of modern culture may have occurred when Jon Stewart of Comedy Central went on CNN's "Crossfire" last October and decided to be serious.
From a New York Times masthead of a couple days back.
An "important moment in the annals of modern culture"? Heh. Sad, sad times we dwell in. Would that the NYT's unintentional hilarity been meant intentionally. Alas, they were deadly serious.
The Salvador Option
Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing yesterday (with his Russian counterpart Sergey Ivanov):
SEC. RUMSFELD: The -- on the subject of Iraq, I also have been reading and hearing about this so-called Salvatore -- Salvador option, I think it's called. And I looked all through Newsweek, which apparently was the place it supposedly had appeared. I couldn't find it. But everyone's talking about it, and it's nonsense.
When I first read this Newsweek piece, my reaction was much like Glenn's. It's such a transparent effort to put the words "John Negroponte", (evil man!) "death squads", (again!) "Syria," (cross-border incursions!) "Kurdish peshmerga," (brutal paramilitaries not of the people!) and "Salvador Option" (sounds racier than tired Vietnam comps!)in one article. What horrific flashbacks! The war must be lost! (As John Negroponte commented to the journalists who put this quite absurdist piece together--the inclusion of his name was indeed "utterly gratuitous." Or, at least, gratuitous sans utterly.)
But here's what gets me. Read Rumsfeld's jocular musings above again. It's the same breezy, press-baiting, cocksure crapola. He could have shot down the story--decisively--with purpose and gravitas. Instead, in the course of a single minute or so, he manages to do the following: 1) tell the assorted press corps he hasn't even read the Newsweek article (memo to Rummy: some articles just appear in the on-line editions--is his staff too incompetent to print a copy out for him--or can he simply not be bothered to request they do so before he goes before the press gaggles which seem to delight him so?); 2) as he hasn't read the story--his denials are not as firm and authoritative as, say, those that would have been forthcoming from real pros like Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger; and 3) by stating that the "Pentagon doesn't do things like are described in the reporting on the story [emphasis added]" he likely keeps the story alive by causing people to wonder if the CIA is spearheading the effort instead (from the Newsweek article: "Also being debated is which agency within the U.S. government—the Defense department or CIA—would take responsibility for such an operation.").
Again, even where I agree with Rumsfeld (yes the Newsweek story appears hugely hyperbolic), I feel he does his best to bungle the damage control. I'm underwhelmed. And increasing amounts of Bush supporters (who lent time and money to his campaign) are too. My prediction: Not more than six to nine months post Iraq elections he will, to a fashion, declare his stewardship of the conflict successful and depart (note he hinted that today with this snippet: "I want to add a brief note about the Iraqi elections that are coming up, about three weeks away. On January 30th, the Iraqis will finally have an opportunity to choose their own leadership and to take charge of their own future. This has been the coalition's goal -- an Iraq run by Iraqis and secured by Iraqi security forces.")
He is defining victory down, of course. After all, the coalition's goal has been to forge a democratic, viable unitary Iraq. An "Iraq run by Iraqis...secured by Iraqi security forces" is not necessarily the same thing. Not that Rumsfeld really cares. His management of the war all but proves he doesn't. You are likely tired of hearing me wail on about it; but the laundry list of his insouciance bordering on dereliction of duty in seriously managing this war effort just keeps getting longer and longer, alas. But if his defining victory hastens his exit by providing him the false comfort of having seen a successful mission through--then, by all means, let him define it down to his heart's content. Faster, please--as they say.
UPDATE: On the other hand, Matt Yglesias thinks Rumsfeld pretty definitively shot the story down. I report, you decide.
What Bismark Can Teach Bush
Below some highlights from an excellent John Lewis Gaddis piece in the current Foreign Affairs.
First, note that Gaddis appears, if with major caveats, to be pretty impressed with major components of Bush's prosecution of the war on terror to date:
Connecting causes with consequences is always difficult--all the more so when we know so little of Osama bin Laden's intentions or those of his followers. Perhaps al Qaeda planned no further attacks. Perhaps it anticipated that the United States would retaliate by invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban. Perhaps it foresaw U.S. military redeployments from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq. Perhaps it expected a worldwide counterterrorist campaign to roll up substantial portions of its network. Perhaps it predicted that the Bush administration would abandon its aversion to nation building and set out to democratize the Middle East. Perhaps bin Laden's strategy allowed for all of this, but that seems unlikely. If it did not, then the first and most fundamental feature of the Bush strategy--taking the offensive against the terrorists and thereby surprising them--has so far accomplished its purposes.
And, while Gaddis is critical of much related to our Iraq involvement, unlike people like Brad De Long, say, he does agree with B.D. that we made a real, good faith effort to secure viable, multilateral involvement in Iraq (if occasionally ham-handed in execution):
However shocking the September 11 attacks may have been, the international community has not found it easy to endorse the Bush administration's plan for regaining security. Bush and his advisers anticipated this problem. After brushing aside offers of help in Afghanistan from NATO allies, the administration worked hard to win multilateral support for its first act of pre-emption for preventive purposes: the invasion of Iraq. It expected success. After all, who, apart from the United States, could organize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a dictator who had abused his people, started wars, flouted UN resolutions, supported terrorists, and, in the view of intelligence agencies everywhere, probably possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? The use of U.S. power to depose such a monster, Bush's strategists assumed, would be welcomed, not feared. [emphasis added]
Gaddis, however, and rightly in my view, believes our sheer military power will ultimately prove ineffective without being joined to softer persuasive powers aimed at getting more nations to act with us on a consensual basis:
It is easy to say that this does not matter--that a nation as strong as the United States need not worry about what others think of it. But that simply is not true. To see why, compare the American and Soviet spheres of influence in Europe during the Cold War. The first operated with the consent of those within it. The second did not, and that made an enormous difference quite unrelated to the military strength each side could bring to bear in the region. The lesson here is clear: influence, to be sustained, requires not just power but also the absence of resistance, or, to use Clausewitz's term, "friction." Anyone who has ever operated a vehicle knows the need for lubrication, without which the vehicle will sooner or later grind to a halt. This is what was missing during the first Bush administration: a proper amount of attention to the equivalent of lubrication in strategy, which is persuasion.
I firmly believe that Condi Rice and Bob Zoellick will make this aim of reinvigorating multilateral support for U.S. geopolitical objectives a major goal in Bush's second term. (See the FT article linked here for more on this). And yes, as Gaddis points out, this effort will require better "manners" and "language" (see his article for more at page three here). More important, however, is "vision". As Gaddis describes it:
The terrorists of September 11 exposed vulnerabilities in the defenses of all states. Unless these are repaired, and unless those who would exploit them are killed, captured, or dissuaded, the survival of the state system itself could be at stake. Here lies common ground, for unless that multinational interest is secured, few other national interests--convergent or divergent--can be. Securing the state will not be possible without the option of pre-emptive military action to prevent terrorism from taking root. It is a failure of both language and vision that the United States has yet to make its case for pre-emption in these terms. [emphasis added]
Commenters are invited to think about how, specifically, Condi Rice and her team can best make this critical case to an international audience in the next four years. To get juices flowing, here are some initial ideas Gaddis offers up:
There are opportunities, then, for a renewed U.S. commitment to the task of keeping WMD out of the hands of tyrants and terrorists--by multilateral means. The prospects for such an effort, like those for the Iraqi occupation, are better than they might at first seem. UN sanctions do appear to have prevented the rebuilding of Saddam Hussein's WMD after the Gulf War. That organization has shown itself effective as well in publicizing, if not resolving, the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Cooperative initiatives elsewhere have also shown promise: examples include the Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle nuclear stockpiles, the Proliferation Security Initiative to intercept illegal weapons shipments, and the tacit agreement North Korea's neighbors have reached that none has an interest in seeing Pyongyang develop the capacity for mass destruction.
Frankly, I think Gaddis makes way too much of the U.N.'s supposed success in Iraq and/or Iran. But he does have a point on Nunn-Lugar or the Proliferation Security Initiative. And it's not so much that we haven't necessarily been cooperating with such multilateral initiatives--indeed Bush has spearheaded the latter--it's that the world often doesn't hear it. Part of the reason why, of course, is that they don't want to hear it. The caricature of the U.S. as rank rogue and crude cowboy is too easy and tempting a target. But we have made the problem worse too through all the Rumsfeldian bluster, occasional high-handedness, gratuitous rubbing of noses in it. It's time to dampen such tendencies and get more sober, coherent and professional in the conduct of our diplomacy (reining in the Pentagon will go a long way towards achieving such goals). As Gaddis suggests, one place to start might well be a systematic enumeration of what multilateral security initiatives we want to be involved with, which not, and why. And not only security issues, by the way. Don't like Kyoto, say? Well, by all means, reject it. But suggest a viable alternative--especially if you said you were going to.
Finally, Gaddis suggests, remember your Bismark:
...one apparent assumption that runs through the Bush grand strategy deserves careful scrutiny. It has to do with what follows shock and awe. The president and his advisers seem to have concluded that the shock the United States suffered on September 11 required that shocks be administered in return, not just to the part of the world from which the attack came, but to the international system as a whole. Old ways of doing things no longer worked. The status quo everywhere needed shaking up. Once that had happened, the pieces would realign themselves in patterns favorable to U.S. interests.
Put differently, real 'shock and awe' involves much by way of bricks and mortars, generational attention, the fostering of consensually-based norms and behavior, the patience of Job. Is Bush up to it? Time will tell; but I remain hopeful that, after the understandable excesses of the immediate post 9/11 era, marred by horrifically poor post-war assumptions at the Pentagon, new found sobriety, renewed seriousness and discipline, more attention to our friends--all are in the offing.
January 11, 2005
More In-House News
Assorted server crashes, incipient flu, a pretty crushing workload at the day job, Internet access issues at a hotel I'm temporarily living at--all are conspiring to force a little blog hiatus, I'm afraid. I'll try again tonight...
Posted by Gregory at 03:20 PM
January 10, 2005
Server's back up
We experienced site problems the past 3 Days. First we thought the site went down with all the other sites hosted by Hosting Matters due to an DDoS attack. But after looking in all the wrong places I found that we simply ran out of Disk Space. This had the effect that MT created empty HTML pages.
Now that we have bought a couple hundred more MBs of disk space you can expect plenty of blogging in the year 2005. Stay tuned...
UPDATE: Thomas, thanks for this explanatory note and, more important, helping to get B.D. back up. Readers: I should be back blogging late evening with fresh content. Thanks for your patience.
Posted by teberle at 04:37 PM
January 09, 2005
It looks like B.D. has been inaccessible since at least Saturday P.M. The server appears to have suffered some kind of crash. I've E-mailed my software design guy but, given that it's the weekend, don't know when the site will get some attention and get back up. Meanwhile, I'm not sure anyone will see this message either but here goes...
P.S. It appears some comments have been deleted. For the record, I haven't deleted anything. They appear to have been lost when the server went down.
January 07, 2005
Rumsfeld Watch: Passing The Buck (Yet Again)
One place the buck doesn't stop in Washington DC? Don Rumsfeld's desk, that's where. Check out this little gem:
"He [Gen. Gary E. Luck] will have a very wide canvas to draw on," said Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman. Mr. Di Rita emphasized that Mr. Rumsfeld was very satisfied with his commanders in Iraq, but wanted to give them all the help they needed in assessing "the very dynamic situation."
Heh. I'm happy Rumsfeld is "satisfied" with his commanders. I wonder if they're satisfied with him? Doubtless they appreciate the "very dynamic situation" and "wide canvas" though...cuz stuff happens when troop-lite don't pan out, eh?
Meanwhile, four of Iraq's provinces have been declared not secure for elections by Gen. Metz. Ah, but all is swell in the south and north you say--14 provinces are fine and dandy--so quit your whining. Except that those 4 provinces include the capital city (Baghdad), the third largest city (Mosul), and half of Iraq's population. Look, my gut and head still tell me we have to push this vote through Jan 30--lest the flood gates of Shi'a disgruntlement open up and Sunni insurgents spin a propaganda victory. But, make no mistake, this is a big gamble--and it's a very close call whether or not to go forward with elections as scheduled (a major security melt-down on election day could be a bigger victory for the insurgency than a delay in voting of two to three months).
Bottom line: we have to hang tough--but it's going to be mighty messy. And it's going to stay that way for a good while after the elections. The $64,000 question is whether it will start getting better or will instead get worse after Jan 30th (possible downside scenario: elections that are viewed by too many as illegimate help spur on ramped up sectarian discord). The jury is still out and I guess we all just have to wait and see. I still, yes, remain optimistic things will get better rather than worse after the elections. Regardless, and needless to say, we'll be following all this real closely over here at B.D. through the pre and post-election period.
NB: One reason I remain optimistic. I think that Negroponte and Co. have likely given much thought and done much preliminary footwork with regard to preparing for the Shi'a ascendancy--and we've got a good number of carrots/sticks to bring to bear to stave off so-called crude Shi'a majoritarianism--critical in getting disaffected Sunnis to participate more fully in the post-Saddam politicking arena. And, of course, in staving off the specter of a civil war.
MORE: On Iraqi elections tucked into this must-read John Lewis Gaddis article (of which more later):
Victory, in the end, will go to the side that can rally the "silent majority" of Iraqis who have so far not taken sides. Here an advantage lies with the Americans and their allies, for they can offer elections. The insurgents cannot. Opportunities to vote in equally dangerous circumstances--in El Salvador, Cambodia, and most recently Afghanistan--have punctured the pretensions of terrorists by diminishing the fears on which they depend. There are, to be sure, no guarantees. Elections could produce governments that are weak, incompetent, unrepresentative, brutal, or even fanatically opposed to the occupiers themselves. The risks of holding them, however, are preferable to the alternatives of swamping Iraq with U.S. troops or abandoning it altogether....
Zoellick Gets DepSec; Bolton Exits
Zoellick's expected appointment provides the first insight to the team Rice hopes to assemble at the State Department, which has often been a dissenting voice within the administration on Iraq and other key foreign policies. Outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other State officials have promoted diplomacy and cooperation with the United Nations, clashing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and administration neoconservatives who have often favored a more unilateral approach on foreign policy.
Oh, and Bolton looks set to go:
Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a leading hard-liner on nuclear nonproliferation who has raised hackles among America's allies as well as its adversaries, is expected to quit the Bush administration, sources said on Thursday.
MORE: From the FT:
Mr Zoellick, 51, regarded as a tough, effective negotiator, has had wide experience dealing with multilateral institutions. He served in the Treasury in the 1980s and was the chief US official handling the unification of Germany and the cold war aftermath, when he worked closely with Ms Rice under President George H.W. Bush.
Make no mistake. Rumsfeld's Pentagon is on the mega-defensive (big-time, as they say); while Condi's State on the rise (she's got the all important direct channel to POTUS and is in honeymoon mode--while Rummy is busy saving his job)--trust me, she won't be taking her marching orders from Don 'So-Called Occupied Territories' Rumsfeld (he can't try to play both SecState and SecDef this go-around and will shut up on things that, er, affect the Middle East peace process, say--or Bush/Condi will rein him in might quick). That's good folks, that's good.
January 06, 2005
Dude, the Tsunami was Rigged!
Lots of developments:
1) Army doctors may have been involved in torture:
Medical personnel helped tailor interrogations to the physical and mental conditions of individual detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the report. It says that medical workers gave interrogators access to patient medical files, and that psychiatrists and other physicians collaborated with interrogators and guards who, in turn, deprived detainees of sleep, restricted them to diets of bread and water and exposed them to extreme heat and cold. "Clearly, the medical personnel who helped to develop and execute aggressive counter-resistance plans thereby breached the laws of war," says the four-page article labeled "Perspective."
2) More developments on the "rendition" practice front:
On Oct. 5, 2001, Pakistani authorities seized Habib, and over three weeks, he asserts in a memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, three Americans interrogated him.
3) Then there is this NYT piece. Not suprisingly, it's a classic Times piece scheduled, shall we say, for the 'right'time (gettin' everyone ready for ye olde Gonzalez hearings). Put differently, and unlike the WaPo pieces, there is nothing really new in it. It's about the "migration" issue (Gitmo to Bagram to Abu Ghraib) and the FBI reports I've blogged earlier. Still, consider it a refresher and go read it.
4) Speaking of Gonzalez, don't miss this piece:
Alberto R. Gonzales, who goes before the Senate on Thursday as President Bush's pick for attorney general, plans to offer an unapologetic defense of a draft memorandum he wrote in 2002 describing parts of the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and "obsolete," administration officials said on Wednesday. Critics of the Bush administration, who stepped up their attacks Wednesday on Mr. Gonzales, the White House counsel, have called on him to repudiate the memorandum, which held that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to prisoners taken in the war in Afghanistan.
Here's the part of the text that matters:
As we fight the War on Terror, we must always honor and observe the principles that make our society so unique and worthy of protection. We must be committed to preserving civil rights and civil liberties. I look forward if I am confirmed to working with this Committee, the Congress, and the public to ensure that we are doing all we can to do so. Although we may have differences from time to time, we all love our country and want to protect it while remaining true to our nation’s highest ideals. Working together, we can accomplish that goal.
I'm sorry, but that's a tad too breezy and unapologetic for me. Regular readers will recall that I had a very visceral (and, in parts, admitedly sophomoric) reaction to the Gonzalez-approved August 1, 2002 memo that, as I wrote then, basically defined torture down. Put simply, I was disgusted by the memo on both a visceral and intellectual level. Anthony Kronman's thesis, in terms of the dearth of any true lawyer-statesmen still around, seems well borne out by such episodes. Gonzalez smelled too much like a dutiful yes-man, divorced from a moral ballast and his duty to provide both legally and, yes, ethically coherent advice. As others have previously written:
It's hard to believe that the memo was poorly researched, so it makes one wonder whether the Justice Department was being disingenuous. A lawyer who is arguing to a court is allowed to be disingenuous because it is up to the judge to evaluate that argument against the adversary's and decide what the law is. But a lawyer who is writing an opinion letter is ethically bound to be frank.
Gonzalez, as White House counsel, is complicit in Judge Bybee's scummy memo. And yet. Glenn is right that true opponents of torture might not be best served by using the Gonzalez hearings as a lightning-rod-under-the-klieg-lights-full- blown-gotcha-exercise. Why? The story line will go something like this. With fellow Hispanic (and conveniently Democratic) Ken Salazar introducing him (no divisive Ashcroftian biblical-looking scowling white man he!), talk will swiftly turn to the immediate post 9/11 climate of hysteria and panic. The constitution (and treaties!) aren't a suicide pact and all that. Orrin Hatch is on the record Gonzalez will get confirmed. Specter will probe, as will other moderate Republicans, but their will be no fatal blows landed likely. And this whole massively important torture scandal will degenerate into political gotcha, spin, the worst Washington shenanigans and tiresome C-SPAN preening, talk show crapola, assorted bullsh%t. But all this is just too important for it to be handled in such manner. Gonzalez must be asked probing questions and pushed hard, of course. But let's not make this hearing a referendum on the torture scandals that continue to grow and grow. Such a spectacle will cheapen events of mass import to our moral fiber, our ethical moorings, America's conduct in the war.
Like Andrew, regular readers know I long ago discounted the risible
Let's retire at the start the notion that the only torture that has been used by the U.S. has been against known members of al Qaeda. This is not true. Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in "stress positions"), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay. Abu Ghraib is but one aspect of a pervasive pattern of torture and abuse that, in my view, is only beginning to sink in.
Indeed. And see Anne Applebaum too:
Although many people bear some responsibility for these abuses, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is among those who bear the most responsibility. It was Gonzales who led the administration's internal discussion of what qualified as torture. It was Gonzales who advised the president that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in Afghanistan. It was Gonzales who helped craft some of the administration's worst domestic decisions, including the indefinite detention, without access to lawyers, of U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
My heart yells out in agreement with Applebaum; my brain gives me pause for a couple reasons. One, Arab states have so often been involved in grotesque torture that Abu Ghraib, while not exactly a vote-getter for us or Ayad, has not resonated as much in the Arab world as one might think--so that the tactical setback vis-a-vis our conflict with radical Islam (in relation to the torture scandals) is not as dramatic as Applebaum portrays. And the accountability, while not having gone high enough in the chain of command (Karpinski'd should become a new word--short-hand for ass-covering higher ups--as in, 'He got Karpinski'd--she took the bullet for him!) has differentiated American democracy from Arab autocracies in terms of the reaction to the scandal. This, to a fashion, has been noted in the region. Second, I am a pragmatist. I know and feel Gonzalez is going to get the nod. To pillory him and make his hearings an anti-torture crusade, spearheaded by everyone from the ACLU to a few rogue Republican senators--and then still have him confirmed, well, it will accomplish little. What is needed is a dispassionate hearing that neverthless delves deeply into the issues raised by, for instance, the August '02 memo. But this torture story is so much bigger than Alberto Gonzalez. Trust me. Let's not make his (non)confirmation a referendum on whether organ failure has to occur for something to be called torture. Gonzalez should never have lent the White House Counsel's office to such morally defunct and, too boot, poor legal advice. But there aren't any Dean Achesons around, alas. And trying to Bork Gonzalez in some Washington firestorm simply isn't the best way to get to the bottom of the torture scandals that look to grow and grow. Put differently, and if you were really looking to go for the jugular, this just ain't the right time for an attempted TKO. Keep (at least some) of the powder dry--or risk a setback in getting to the real bottom of how widespread torture has been during the post 9/11 era through Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and likely points beyond.
Aaron Brown: insufferably smug, frustratingly arrogant and suspiciously faux--or a beacon of light, intellect and civilization in what is otherwise a primetime cable news desert? I've been struggling with this one for a while--so any feedback more than welcome.
...for the server crash. I guess a little spot of Le Monde bashing is, er, dangerous to your bandwith. Back later tonight with new content.
UPDATE: Or maybe it was just that Hosting Matters was down....
Posted by Gregory at 01:57 AM
January 05, 2005
The Tsunami Disaster As Seen From Le Monde
Caption reads (translation): "Let me handle it. I know the country well."
The execrable cartoonist of Le Monde, Plantu, hitting yet another low. Over 155,000 people have died in this massive tsunami disaster. The U.S. is spearheading critical aid efforts in the region. Little matter, of course. Better to make snide commentary along the lines that, hey they destroyed Iraq--and so are well suited to handling such calamities. Sick thought process, no?
Note the cartoon is linked to this story entitled "How the U.N. is Coordinating Aid to a Devastated Asia." What's it about? Basically, French resentment that the U.S. is making a bid at being the leader of a "humanitarian coalition" assisting the hundreds of thousands devastated by the massive seaquake. The short article is, encore, obsessed with the U.N. (read: France) having a major role! Yawn.
It gets worse. In an article on the American humanitarian effort in Indonesia, after a lengthy preamble about how unpopular the Iraq war effort was in Indonesia etc etc., this gem:
Colin Powell, qui se trouve à Bangkok et doit se rendre à Djakarta, essaie de faire comprendre le sens de la démarche : "Nous ne recherchons aucun avantage politique", assure le secrétaire d'Etat américain. "Nous n'essayons pas de nous faire mieux voir par les musulmans, affirme-t-il. Nous le faisons parce que des êtres humains en ont besoin, en ont même désespérément besoin." Autrement dit, même les avions de reconnaissance américains P-3 Orion qui survolent Atjeh ne cherchent qu'à repérer les destructions pour faciliter l'aide humanitaire.
Translation: Colin Powell, who is in Bangkok and is on his way to Jakarta, tries to make sense of the [U.S. initiative]: "We are not looking for any political advantage," assured the U.S. Secretary of State. "We are not trying to make ourselves look better in the eyes of Muslims," he affirmed. "We are doing it because human beings need it, even desperately need it." In other words, the P-3 Orion American reconnaissance planes that are flying over Aceh are only surveying the destruction to facilitate the humanitarian effort. [emphasis added]
Note the staggering sarcasm. We are doing recon over Aceh, not really to help (wink wink) but to perhaps prepare another oppressive, anti-Muslim adventure we've got up our sleeve. Absurd and insulting. Memo to Le Monde and their ilk: Get over yourselves. You are a middle power, lucky to have a U.N. Security Council seat still, and with little resources to mount the kind of operations the U.S. is currently pursuing in places like Indonesia.
Rather than commend the U.S., if just for a moment in the midst of this immense tragedy, Le Monde's journalists and cartoonists prefer to insinuate that the U.S. has nefarious motives in Indonesia, or make crude fun of the difficulties in Iraq having 'prepared' us for Indonesia's blight. Such sad fare isn't just wrong, tasteless, petty and rancidly provincial. It speaks of a society, like contemporary Germany, that is ailing and so needs scapegoats. It's not politically correct to look internally for them anymore. So everyone loves to beat up that favorite bogeyman--the U.S.--out of a mixture of incomprehension, envy, fascination, stupidity and crude stereotyping. It's sad really.
Look, don't get me wrong. I love many things about France. And we cooperate with them in places like Haiti, Afghanistan (though their contribution there is rather paltry), critical intelligence sharing on terror. But France has become a society in desperate need of fresh thinking, different directions, new horizons. Sarkozy would help--though there is no easy panacea. After all, this kind of myopic, obnoxiously self-interested news treatment of this massive tragedy speaks volumes, doesn't it?
Transformationalism Takes a 'Lil Breather
Rising war costs and a stubborn budget deficit have forced the Pentagon to propose billions of dollars in cuts to advanced weapons systems, as the military refocuses spending from its vision of a transformed fighting force to the more down-to-earth needs of its ground troops.
As Warren Buffett put it when some people were, er, likewise getting a little carried away by their over-enthusiasms: "I will tell you now that we have embraced the 21st century by entering such cutting edge industries as brick, carpet, insulation and paint.... Try to control your enthusiasm..." Like those swooning before the mighty NASDAQ 5000; ditto for Don Rumsfeld and his transformationalist excesses. More tank treads and armor--less hifalutin' high-tech grandiosity. You know, I smell a tad less stubborness in Rummy of late. He probably sensed his job was in real peril over the past months. He's decided to "listen" more; as Richard Lugar recently suggested he do. That's good. He should keep listening--as he's made a helluva lot of errors. A little humble pie wouldn't hurt him now and again. To say the least.
Belated Blogroll Update
For some reason updating blog rolls seems tremendously tedious (that must be why Glenn still hasn't blog-rolled me!) but, given the New Year, now seems a good time to finally get around to it. Joining the blogroll, effective tonight, and in no particular order, are the following blogs: 1) The American Scene (they were generous enough to link me in my early days and I had then de-linked them when they appeared to stop blogging! Their recent gig over at Sully's space reminded me how good they were and are); 2) the indefatigable Arthur Chrenkoff, who blogs the good news (intelligently, exhaustively, consistently) from Down Under--thus helping provide a good counter-point to much of the MSM's knee-jerk negativism--see this B.D. thread for a lively discussion on Chrenkoff's ouevre); 3) Jon Henke of Qando, a sincere and straight-shooting blogger who has the integrity to call torture torture from the right showcasing he isn't in constant hyper-spin mode like too many of his peers; 4) the seemingly omnipresent blogospheric personage known as Praktike, who makes his home here (or is it here?) and is the type of guy who walked the Peter Beinart talk a long time ago; 5) the very smart and majorly underappreciated (at least from how rarely I see him linked in left blogs) Eric Martin of Total Information Awareness; and finally (drum-roll please!) 6) the requisite "reality based" Harvard Ph.D--the mighty Mark A.R. Kleiman.
I said these blogs were in no particular order. But, coincidentally, it's worth noting that (1)-(3) are commonly viewed as right blogs; and (4)-(6) as left ones. This isn't because of some forced drive for artificial 'balance' over here at B.D.--it's just that I think all these guys (ed. note: yeah, all guys! But don't miss excellent x-chromosomers like uber-sleuth Laura, Nationista Katrina, the irrepresible Wonkette--all already blog-rolled over to the right) are very much worth reading.
Worth mentioning too, although they're not really a blog, we will also be adding that must-read daily meta-compilation of all the collected wisdom of the political commentariat -- Real Clear Politics. (Like Dan Drezner, I want to get linked more by them this year too!).
OK, so now the tedious task of adding all these people in. Back later...
P.S. While I'm at it, did I mention I'm adding the excellent Winds of Change too?
Just a reminder that B.D. is no longer on holiday hours (ie, no more random blogging during the day as during the Christmas/New Year period). I'm still temporarily relocated out of London, on East Coast time, so please check in for new content evenings typically post nine P.M. EST. Back a little later tonight.
January 03, 2005
More Ripple Effects from Iraq?
In a country where public discussion of the president and his powers has been traditionally off-limits, activists are breaching a red line in ways that would have been unthinkable two years ago.
(Hat Tip: UK Blogger Monty)
Look, I don't want to sound silly over here so that, everytime some street protest or call for constitutional reforms occurs in the greater Middle East, we dutifully describe it in this space as another wondrous result of Iraq (the possibility of some arranged Gamal Mubarak succession seems to be the immediate catalyst spurring Egyptian discontent--but would protestors be quite so brazen in the absence of U.S. spearheaded democratization initiatives in the region?).
In October, 26 civil society groups launched a petition demanding constitutional reforms before the expiry of the president's mandate. Mr Mubarak's government is also talking about reform They continue to collect signatures, and say they will eventually present the document to parliament.
It seems clear to me that pressure to liberalize societies in the region is being materially spurred on by things like the historic elections in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine and the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. And that's, all told, a net positive--unless radical Islamists were likely to get voted in through free elections. Which I think is unlikely.
January 02, 2005
Powell on the U.S. Tsunami Relief Effort
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, there's been a lot of discussion about the administration and its response to this crisis. The New York Times on Thursday wrote this editorial. "We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world's poor countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world's richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That's less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities."
The Administration has, within a week, gotten on top of the massive scale of this humanitarian disaster. Indeed, we are involved in the largest military operations in East Asia since the Vietnam War. And, of course, we've raised our intial pledge from $35MM to $350MM. Powell is right that the American people can now be proud of the efforts its government has undertaken in response to this calamity.
The efforts and resources, of course, are desparately needed:
Helicopter crews operating from the United States Navy's Abraham Lincoln reported seeing bodies in the sea more than 20 miles off the coast of Sumatra. Starving people besieged helicopters carrying the first aid to remote Indonesian towns today, the Reuters news agency reported. Hungry crowds swarmed the Seahawk helicopters that had started ferrying supplies to devastated communities along the coast.
UPDATE: Fareed Zakaria has more.
A Gloomy Appraisal of Counter-Insurgency Efforts in Sunni Areas
The Economist has a rather depressing article (subscription required) on the state of U.S. counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq. Apart from wishing everyone a Happy New Year, I should note I've been a tad glib of late (for instance, in some exchanges with Brad De Long) about, for instance, the need for military police in Iraq. It's not that I don't think a bitter mix of forces in theater has been critical all along--it's that Brad sometimes appears to suggest that, by simply waving a wand, myriad European and Arab nations would have contributed major troop/military police deployments. I think a sober analysis of the pre and post war diplomacy manifestly shows we provided our non-participating allies enough openings to make real contributions. It is too often assumed that the effort to get troops was one simply of coercion and bribery, a la Michael Moore school, along with the requisite mention of high-handed unilateralist methods (this is where I think Brad is overly simplistic in his analysis).
Anyway, back to the Economist piece, some keys excerpts below:
There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”
This last sentence sounds like one of those cheap gotcha quotes one often reads in, say, the Guardian--aimed at showcasing how brutish the Yank troops are in Iraq and how they are mucking up the effort--an effort British forces are handling so much better, or so the story goes. But the Economist, of course, is an Americophile publication of high repute. I doubt the correspondent would have used this quote unless he felt it fairly conveyed the spirit of how U.S. forces on the front-lines are handling attempting to defend themselves amidst a vicious, unconventional guerrilla campaign.
Since September 1st, when the battalion's 800 men were deployed to Ramadi, they have killed 400-500 people, according to one of their senior officers. A more precise estimate is impossible, because the marines rarely see their attackers. When fired upon, they retaliate by blitzing whichever buildings they think the fire is coming from: charred shells now line Ramadi's main streets. “Sometimes it works in the insurgents' favour,” admits Rick Sims, a chief warrant officer. “Because by the time we've shot up the neighbourhood, then the guys have torn up a few houses, they're four blocks away, and we just end up pissing off the locals.”
But, as the article goes on to argue, where we show real skill in war-fighting we are coming up short in peacekeeping (or peacemaking, we might say).
Yet armies can be good at war-fighting or good at peacekeeping but rarely good at both. And when America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise. At peacekeeping, peace-enforcing or policing, call it what you will, they are often inept. Even the best of them seem ignorant of the people whose land they are occupying —unsurprisingly, perhaps, when practically no American fighters speak Arabic. And, typically, the marine battalion in Ramadi has only four translators. Often American troops despair of their Iraqi interlocutors, observing that they “are not like Americans”. American marines and GIs frequently display contempt for Iraqis, civilian or official. Thus the 18-year-old Texan soldier in Mosul who, confronted by jeering schoolchildren, shot canisters of buckshot at them from his grenade-launcher. “It's not good, dude, it could be fatal, but you gotta do it,” he explained. Or the marines in Ramadi who, on a search for insurgents, kicked in the doors of houses at random, in order to scream, in English, at trembling middle-aged women within: “Where's your black mask?” and “Bitch, where's the guns?” In one of these houses was a small plastic Christmas tree, decorated with silver tinsel. “That tells us the people here are OK,” said Corporal Robert Joyce.
B.D. has previously discussed here why I think we aren't getting the full scoop on how the insurgency's ranks have deepened and broadened over the past year--and that it consists mostly of Iraqis rather than legions of foreign terrorists and jihadists.
According to official American reports, the insurgency is relatively concentrated: 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are said to see fewer than four attacks on coalition forces per month. But this includes several potentially volatile Shia provinces, like Dhi Qar and Maysan, parts of which are run by the still-armed Mahdi Army militiamen loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric who made mayhem between April and August. Only four provinces—Baghdad, Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninewa—see many more attacks. But as they include the capital city, the third-biggest city (Mosul) and the homeland of most of the country's Sunnis, they are no small problem: the equivalent in the United States might be an insurgency raging in those states that voted Democrat in November, and sporadic lawlessness in many of the rest.
Again, insurgents will flock to areas not under robust American control--ie, where we have too few boots on the ground. As General Abizaid just mentioned last week--he counts Mosul in the 'too few boots on the ground' column.
Finally, the Economist article goes on to quote a leading military commander in Iraq to the effect that we've been forced to de-prioritize the struggle for "hearts and minds" right now:
Thus harried, American commanders have abandoned the pretence of winning the love of Iraqis ahead of the scheduled vote. “Our broad intent is to keep pressure on the insurgents as we head into elections,” says General Casey. “This is not about winning hearts and minds; we're not going to do that here in Iraq. It's about giving Iraqis the opportunity to govern themselves.”
But that goal is not easy to achieve either:
That could be possible if Iraqis would only accept the opportunity America is offering—which is not the case in Ramadi, for example. Though the city has more than 4,000 police, they refuse to work alongside American forces. According to the marines, the police's sole act of co-operation is to collect wounded insurgents from their base. For most of the past four months, Anbar has had no provincial administration, since the governor resigned after his children were kidnapped. Elsewhere, America's forces are incapable of giving Iraqis the security they crave because, quite simply, there aren't enough of them.
I've not the excerpted article in full, so click though and read the whole thing if you're a subscriber. It ends on this rather gloomy note:
Little surprise that the Americans had not visited the nearby smugglers' town of Baij in force for three months, until they rode there one recent night in a convoy of 1,000 troops, with Apache attack helicopters flying overhead. The target was three houses in the town centre which signal intelligence had linked to Mr Zarqawi's group. The Americans had no further intelligence to support their mission except that provided by an informant from the local Ayzidi tribe, America's main ally in the area. This source claimed there was a wounded Yemeni rebel in the town. “I think it should be a great operation,” said Colonel Robert Brown, beforehand. “I think a lot of folks from Fallujah have gone there and we need to go there.”
We will be looking at some of the issues raised in this article in greater detail in the coming days.
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