May 31, 2005

Berman's Bases: Blast Proof Barracks Bad?

Ari Berman, busily cheerleading abdication and retreat from Iraq, adds:

Rather than prepare an exit strategy, the US military is instead planning to consolidate its forces in four massive American bases in Iraq. The move is not part of a plan to establish a permanent US military presence, officials assured the Washington Post. But the structures have distinctly permanent characteristics, replete with blast-proof barracks. The funding came as part of the $82 billion supplemental approved a few weeks back. Congress, to be sure, raised nary a peep.

"Replete with blast-proof barracks?" "Congress...raised nary a peep." Excuse me while I stifle a giggle. Would Berman be happier if we didn't make the barracks blast-proof? You know, just for appearances sake. That way perhaps, Berman and Co. wouldn't tediously go on with these dark intimations about permanent garrisons being erected through Mesopotamia. And I'm sure our soldiers in theater would be only too happy to oblige with anything that might help the bases look a bit less permanent, lest any good folk at the Nation be offended. After all, it's not like blast-proof barracks might be a good idea these days in Iraq...

But it's not all this out and out pitiable at the Nation this week. Katrina vanden Heuvel has some helpful links to Iranian blogs.


Posted by Gregory at 06:13 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Recommended Reading

Phil Carter has contributed to a "new interactive jurisprudence feature" on the detainee torture/abuse scandals up at Slate. I might not have called it "torturepalooza" (perhaps a tad glib!) but it certainly appears a very solid resource for those interested in accessing additional information in one convenient location.

Speaking of, don't miss this must-read post on the whole prisoner abuse scandals either. It's really sad that such a judicious post gets so many torture apologists up in arms in comments. Sad, but unfortunately not surprising any more. That worries me. But I am heartened there are conservatives like Jon Henke out there fighting the good fight on this issue. Truth be told, it sometimes feels a bit lonely. And it shouldn't. Investigating and/or writing about the murder of prisoners in U.S. military custody is not unpatriotic, is not an attack against the military, is not a cheap, partisan broadside against POTUS. It's about defending the basic moral values and legal norms underpinning our society. The fact that this is even mildly controversial among ostensibly serious people is quite astounding to me.

Posted by Gregory at 05:36 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Contagion Effect

"A risk of contagion". Next stop:

Dutch supporters of the European Union constitution conceded on Monday they were fighting a losing battle, saying it was all but certain that Sunday's No vote in France would be mirrored in a referendum in the Netherlands on Wednesday.

Michiel van Hulten, a former European parliamentarian who heads Better Europe, a foundation established by Dutch politicians to mastermind the Yes campaign, told the Financial Times: “Realistically it is very likely that the Dutch will now vote No.

“It had been clear for some days that we needed a positive vote in France to boost the Yes vote here. Now a lot of Yes supporters will feel that it no longer makes sense to vote at all, while the No campaign will feel emboldened.”

Pollster Maurice de Hond echoed that view, suggesting that the French result could trigger a landslide No in the Netherlands. A second No vote from one of the EU's founding members would put the treaty beyond resurrection and plunge the 25-nation bloc into a massive crisis of confidence, EU leaders believe.

I think we're already there; but a second no certainly won't help.

Posted by Gregory at 04:38 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Iraq: Troop Levels

John Burns, reporting on the major counter-insurgency operations underway in Baghdad:

The violence, including at least four suicide car bombings, was a bloody start to an operation that Iraq's new Shiite-majority government had presented as a new get-tough policy toward Sunni Arab insurgents, first in Baghdad and then countrywide. The government has said it will commit 40,000 uniformed Iraqis to the Baghdad operation in an effort to crush insurgents who reacted to the government's swearing-in four weeks ago with one of the war's biggest rebel surges.

The Baghdad toll was part of another day of bloodshed across Iraq. In total, at least 34 people were killed, including a British soldier caught by a roadside bombing near the town of Kahla that broke a protracted period of calm in the Shiite-dominated south.

A statement from the Second Marine Expeditionary Force said a marine was killed Saturday when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb near Haqlaniya, about 90 miles northwest of Baghdad.

At least initially, the crackdown in Baghdad appeared to have been met by a stiff, coordinated response that brought the toll to about 700 from the intensified rebel attacks this month. The heaviest battle raged across the districts of Abu Ghraib, Amariya and Khudra on the capital's western edge.

In the space of 30 minutes in midafternoon, the insurgents answered attempts by government forces to cordon off the districts with a sequence of attacks. They appeared to catch Iraqi forces by surprise, and prompted commanders to call for backup from American troops garrisoned nearby. Iraqi witnesses said Apache attack helicopters with loaded missile racks swooped overhead as the insurgent attacks flared into protracted gun battles below. [emphasis added]

I'm not into blogospheric pissing matches, and I'm a real fan of Matt Yglesias, but I can't help wondering if Matt now agrees with me that the time wasn't ripe to start drawing down U.S. forces? Make no mistake, we've got a long road ahead. This is particularly true given information like this:

Even before the fighting on Sunday, the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari appeared to have opened a new and potentially hazardous chapter in the war. Announcing the crackdown last week, government officials said the operation would move Iraqi troops "from the defensive to the offensive" in the war, and show Iraqis that the leaders they elected in January were capable of providing the security that just about every opinion poll in recent months has shown is their highest priority.

For one thing, few believed the government could commit the 40,000 soldiers and paramilitary police officers it had promised, since the American command's latest official count of the number in Baghdad Province, reaching deep into the countryside beyond the capital itself, totaled only slightly more than 30,000. Many Iraqis said they suspected that the government was overstating its abilities in the hope of stemming rising popular anger in the face of the new insurgent offensive. [my emphasis]

Train and equip is still not ready for prime time. Which is another reason American troops, in large number, must remain in theater during this immensely difficult and tragic period. It is quite clear that the post-election lull in violence has now been overtaken of late by a very significant uptick in insurgent activity. I don't know if this is the insurgents giving it their very all, desperately pursuing an all out effort to destabilize the newbie Jaafari government. I suspect that they could well be dealt severe strategic setbacks over the coming weeks but, unfortunately, still be left with a good deal of their powder dry left-over to fight another day still. What is clear regardless, however, is that troop draw-downs at this juncture would be all but inconceivable and grotesquely irresponsible. Indeed, it looks like troop levels are actually heading up instead. That's not something John Kerry would have done, of course. We'd have been beginning significant troop draw-downs soon, if not already, likely. And what a disaster that would have proven.

Posted by Gregory at 02:27 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

May 30, 2005

The Day After the Non: Some Initial Takes

John Vinocur:

In the end, democracy came and mocked the European mystique, its notions of ever-greater union, a European Us, its self-portrayal as the Righteous Power, its exalted but hollow pretensions to project to the world a will and a strength that is not yet and may never be its own. If anything, the massive rejection by France of the European Union's constitution in a national referendum, says stop. The EU can go nowhere, in its current phase, without the regenerated support of its voters, or a deep re-examination of its ambitions, largely pushed forward by elites - and ridiculously out of touch, we now know, with the electorate of its quintessential nation. France's no to this Europe, most likely to be joined by the Netherlands before the week is out, is not to be minimized. It was more than a crazy quilt of local grievances and obsessions, flecked with the normal dissatisfactions brought about by high unemployment and minuscule growth. Or the incoherent-sounding economics and politics of Jacques Chirac, telling France that the constitution assured both no inconvenient changes at home and big-hitter status around the globe. Rather, with the stakes perfectly clear - a French no would kill the European Constitution - French voters signaled that even at absolutely no real cost to them, when it came to matters of the heart, Europe doesn't matter enough to say yes to. Bam! Pow! After all, think of the context: a united, integrated Europe, acting largely as one, had been a near spiritual conviction for the generation that grew up after the tragedy of World War II. Now go and find that belief and sense of European mission today. France has laughed at it. Angry with Europe's refusal to adopt its questionable social model, and unwilling to meld French identity into a greater European whole, France said to hell with the noble undertaking stuff. Adding the rationale that it was all the elites' Big Fib anyway. But the truth is that this was no bolt from the historical blue. If the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's Humboldt University speech in 2000, advocating a genuine federalist future for Europe, is taken as a high-water mark for the ambitions of European integration, then the path since has been straight downward. Culminating in the referendum, the trail was one of dysfunction, hubris and delusion. Over the last years, Fischer backed off from his integrationist preaching. An EU draft constitution came to life, written not with a hand of a Locke or a Montesquieu, but as if slapped together during a six-week conference call by actuaries.
Ouch. This is all pretty harsh fare, but quite accurate. Let's take a quick step back--as the dust begins to settle ever so slightly--and take an initial look at the historic events of yesterday. We might begin by looking backwards a bit. Recall that French political elites have been intimately involved in cobbling together this project of European unification for over half a century now. I mean, it's not as if little Portugal or Denmark said no thanks. France did! As Vinocur says, perhaps the "quintessential" European nation. What a crushing (if not fatal, at least yet) blow to the European project. Think about it. The name Jean Monnet, for instance, is synonymous with the very cause of European unification. All this started way back in 1950, when the French and Germans agreed to put their coal production facilities under common administration. Adenauer had then told Monnet: "If this task succeeds, I will not have wasted my life." How crushed he'd be today (as Schroder must be, the leader for whom the "non" vote is doubtless the most devastating the day after--save Chirac himself, perhaps). Or Valery Giscard d'Estaing. This grandee of the French political scene, and the drafter-in-chief of the now failed Constitution himself ( "The European Constitution is as perfect as that of the United States, if perhaps a bit less elegant".) Heh. Giscard d'Estaing must have been thinking of provisions like the surely heavily negotiated Article III 184 concerning deficits linked here. All the talk about 'blocking minorities,' 'excessive deficit procedures,' 'reference values,' 'ratios'-these sound pulled more from a heavily negotiated merger document at Wachtell Lipton than from some grand Constitutional exercise meant to unify and excite a storied continent behind a major supranational enterprise.

Titans of French political life like Monnet and Giscard d'Estaing aside, the entire mainstream political class in France (excepting "non" advocates like Laurent Fabius) emerges discredited and spurned. None more so than Jacques Chirac, of course, his approval rankings already dismally low in the 30 percent range. But these figures are higher than Prime Minister Raffarin's (in the 20s!), however, and we will likely now see Chirac lamely sack Raffarin in a prime ministerial reshuffle. It is likely Chirac loyalist Dominique de Villepin who will get the nod and replace Raffarin, though the crisis is so grave one wonders whether Chirac might actually bite the bullet and hand the post to his former protege and now bitter rival Nicolas Sarkozy--in some recognition of the stunning scale of this setback (he's likely too petty to, however). Meantime, a schism may loom in the Socialist Party, with Laurent Fabius spearheading a rejectionist harder left flank. And, of course, nationalists like de Villiers and neo-fascists like le Pen emerge emboldened. Quelle mess!

What's more, it appears wider European elites, rather predictably, have been stunned into denial and are continuing forward somewhat divorced from reality. Witness:

The European Union's embattled leaders rushed to shore up confidence in European integration on Monday after France's overwhelming dismissal of the constitutional treaty pushed the EU toward a period of crisis and uncertainty. EU officials braced as well for a second rejection in a referendum Wednesday in the Netherlands. Saying the treaty's ratification process must continue despite the French no, Europe's leaders sought to deflect what appeared to be the referendum's strong message of gathering hostility toward the Union. "The treaty is not dead," said Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg and current holder of the European Union presidency, at an emotional press conference late Sunday night in Brussels. "The European process does not come to an end today," he said. [emphasis added]
Wasn't it another Luxembourgian, former Foreign Minister Jacques Poos, who had famously intoned in the early 90s that: "[T]his is the hour of Europe"? Except it wasn't, as all the Presidents, Ministers, Royalty and Assorted-Euro-Notables couldn't stop the genocidal violence occuring on their very doorstep. This task was instead left to a relatively lowly American Assistant Secretary of State, plugging valiantly away in a remote Air Force Base in remote Dayton, Ohio--far from the pomp and pageantry of the palaces of Luxembourg and Versailles. Well, ten or so years on, another memorable utterance by a Luxembourgian pol. No, perhaps the "treaty is not dead." But it is on life support now, and lame denial-ridden soundbites are not what will get it off the mat.

Finally, at least for now, there are the delicious ironies. Take French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier's comment to Eastern Europeans that they lacked a "European reflex."

The relationship between France and Eastern Europe has sometimes been compared unflatteringly to a professor and his students. Poles are quick to remember the infamous incident during the run-up to the American-led invasion of Iraq when Jacques Chirac, the French president, advised U.S. allies in the region to keep quiet. More recently, Michel Barnier, now the French foreign minister, lectured east European governments for lacking a "European reflex." So as reports of strong French opposition to the European Union's constitution have filtered out in recent weeks, the students have become restless, confused and smart-alecky. Some in Poland were baffled by the idea that Europe's constitution, a document that was drafted by a former French president and codifies laws in a Napoleonic style, could be undone by the French themselves. It was roundly defeated Sunday, with more than 57 percent voting against it, according to Interior Ministry projections. "This is beyond the possibility of understanding for the typical Pole," said Tadeusz Iwinski, a member of Parliament reached by telephone as he toured his constituency north of Warsaw. "They say, 'How can the people who invented the EU and even to some extent who imposed the text of the constitution on us, now be against it?

That's a very good question. The ultimate answer, at the risk of sounding too simplistic, is that not enough French people believe in a Greater Europe deep in their bones. Great leaders might have persuaded them through honesty and passion and charisma, but such leaders were manifestly not present. Now an era of confusion and flux looms for Europe. It is not a happy result, perhaps. But it is the reality that must be forcibly understood by European leaders if they can hope to turn around this debacle. If instead they insist on saying: "these were but French domestic troubles", "the show goes on after a spot of reflection", "it was but a plebescite on Jacques" and so on--it will mean yet again that no one is fundamentally addressing the basic issues that must be confronted head on. Why a Greater Europe? For what end? What does it mean, really, for the man on the street? Why should he support it? Because the old demons of intra-European wars could be resucitated if he doesn't? But this scare mongering falls flat. This is too unthinkable in today's Europe (though, of course, who knows what the future may hold...). To face off against the dastardly Americans and Chinese? Perhaps, but first how about a steady job, frank talk about crime and immigration issues, better than anemic economic growth, etc. etc. seems to be the retort.

Never in recent European history has the need for fresh leadership and real statesmanship cried out as it does today. It's well past time to shed the tired nostrums about "multipolarity," and "humanism" and the savageries of les Anglo-Saxons. What is needed now is courageous leadership, frank talk, significant economic reforms. But there are too few leaders willing or capable of bringing this about, I fear. In the alternative, then, more drift and discontent appear to loom. This can only really help the hard left and hard right, over the long term. No one should wish this. In the short term, I guess, many will simply keep their fingers crossed and await the emergence of potential saviors like Angela Merkel in Germany or Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Should they assume power in the coming months and years, they will certainly have their work cut out for them. The task of putting the European project back on track will be monumental (This wasn't a mini-hiccup. It was a massive setback). And must likely first start with putting right the stagnation afflicting the two continental European behemoths--Germany and France. Yes, all politics are local. Get your hands dirty and fix up here first, the voters seemed to say, before turning to the grand and utopic designs of constructing a 25 nation-bloc Euro-zone. They said this loudly, they said this in large number, they said this quite convincingly. Do the removed European political elites, huddled in conference rooms in Lisbon and Brussels and Strasbourg, do they get this? I'm not convinced they do, but I certainly hope so. If ever there were a time for reinvigorated, intelligent leadership--the time is now. And especially in France and Germany. The current leaders there have simply failed their peoples. They need to go. Soon.

Posted by Gregory at 11:35 PM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

May 29, 2005

C'est Non!

A rather resounding non. In transit airport blogging, but commenters are invited to ponder the ramifications of this "stinging repudiation." I mean, what next?

UPDATE (flight delayed): More from Le Figaro:

Le non historique du 29 mai

...selon les première estimations, près de 55% d'entre eux ont dit non au Traité constitutionnel européen lors de ce référendum qui a largement mobilisé les Français. Le chiffre de participation atteint des records à près de 70%, largement plus que pour le précédent référendum européen sur le Traité de Maastricht. Ce non massif résonne comme un coup de tonnerre au-dessus du paysage politique français, dont les principaux courants s'étaient engagés pour le oui.

Translation (a hasty one!): According to the first estimates, close to 55% of [French voters] said no to the European constitutional treaty during a referendum that largely mobilized the French public. Voter participation reached records approaching 70%, significantly higher than the previous referendum on the Treaty of Maastricht. This massive no resonates lack a thunderclap across the French political landscape....[emphasis added]

It sure does. And it's certainly not a great day for Jacques Chirac, is it? One might say that he's now completely damaged goods. Pity. Meantime, let's now keep an even closer eye on Sarkozy as '07 looms. Truth be told, it's silly and sophomoric to emptily cheer-lead this historical repudiation of the EU constitution solely because it's such tremendously poor news for Jacques. This story, after all, is much bigger than him, and the ramifications of the "non" vote are not necessarily all positive from a U.S. perspective (much of the opposition to the treaty was from gauchiste free market skeptics; or rightist bigots like Le Pen). What is quite clear, however, is that this referendum is a massive setback to the prospects of a cohesive Euro-zone taking form in the near term (Henry Kissinger would have been able to call a single European Foreign Minister per the rejected Consitution!). Is it a death knell? Oh, who knows? There will doubtless be yet another referendum a few years hence on the issue. Giscard d'Estaing, for instance, is already on the record stating there will have to be a re-vote going forward. But this is a tremendous setback indeed to the entire process of European integration, of course, and it also showcases a massive failure of leadership by the Chirac Administration. They simply were not able to convince their country on the merits of their vision of Europe's future. And carping on about "multipolarity" and the big, bad Anglo-Saxon meanies didn't do the trick, it seems. Tant pis.

Clarification: Yes, I realize that a soundbite for the "non" camp was fear mongering about the savages of Anglo-Saxon style capitalism. My last point above, really, was more to say that Chirac's tactics of drumming up support for a "oui" vote by speaking of a resurgent, unified Europe squaring off against the U.S. didn't bear fruit. In the context of proponents of the "non" vote using the "Anglo-Saxon" soundbite I apologize if my choice of words was confusing to some readers (I've gotten some E-mail on this score). This said, given the massive Germano-French love-fest of late--what with all the bear hugs between Gerhard and Jacques these past years--it was not a stretch to suggest that Chirac's "oui" campaigning often had the look and feel of an attempt to create a German-French union that, in turn, would lead the 'lesser' Europeans. And if the Anglo-Saxon Brits wanted to stay out, so be it. The motor of French-German leadership would have provided the requisite 'multipolar' counterweight against the much pilloried American behemoth, or so the thinking went. Hope that's clearer, and apologies also for a somewhat clumsy translation as a commenter points out. That's what happens when you hastily blog between flights!


Posted by Gregory at 09:23 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

May 27, 2005

Why the Likely Non?

It's becoming increasingly clear that France will vote no to the EU constitution this coming Sunday. Yes, B.D. has proven to be an immensely poor prognosticator in the past, but I'm pretty sure that's the way it's going to go. For one, the nasty recriminations are already starting to flow. Witness, from the FT (subscription required):

France's Yes campaign descended into recrimination yesterday amid pessimism that voters will reject the European constitutional treaty in a referendum on Sunday. Valery Giscard d'Estang, the former French President and author of the European constitution, yesterday blamed the government's lack of conviction on Europe for the failure to halt the advance of the anti-treaty campaign.

Just days before France holds its referendum on the European treaty on May 29, polls shows an almonst daily increase in the No vote. Paris Match, the weekly magazine, yesterday published a survey showing 54 per cent against the treaty.

In an interview with Les Echos, the French financial newspaper, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said France's political leaders were "used to the idea of Europe", but he said they were not deeply motivated by it. "When we meet difficulties they often blame Europe. So how can we be surprised then that the French have a bad idea of Europe?" he asked.

Mr. Giscard d'Estaing said it would have been better for politicians to say out of the campaign, leaving academics, business and the media to do the job. "We know that in France referendums almost automatically slide towards becoming plebescites [on the government]. It would have been better for the public powers to keep their distance, to avoid that temptation."

The standard reason we often hear that the European project is endangered (of which the Constitution is such a critical part) is that it is viewed as a pet project of the political elites, seeking to impose a supranational Brussels Eurocracy, issuing diktats willy-nilly to the skeptical masses who, on the Left, are suspicious Thatcherite liberalism will be shoved down their collective throats, and on the Right, are concerned that ancient repositories of national gloire and patrimoine risk bespoilment amidst all the worrisome supra-national centralization. There is some of all this, to be sure. And relatedly, but in more general vein, it is worth seeing how Anatole Kaletsky puts it a bit differently in The Times (London):

What people are voting against is not just one or other particular clause of the constitution, nor even its general tenor, whether this is too liberal or insufficiently so. The real bugbear is the idea of any unified constitution that attempts to impose a single system of government on the whole of Europe and purports to harmonise away the political philosophies, economic preferences and social traditions developed in different nations over hundreds of years.

But if Giscard d'Estaing is right, and the reason the Yes camp is having such a hard go of it is the unpopularity of the current government, what more does that tell us about why the EU Constitution might bite the dust on Sunday in France? Well, in large part, it's the economy stupid, per Anatole Kaletsky:

The people of France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands may be angry about globalisation or ultra-liberalism or immigration, but this reflects a deeper malaise. Their living standards are falling, their pensions are in danger, their children are jobless and their national pride is turning into embarrassment and even shame. In sum, they feel that their countries, which numbered among the world’s richest and most powerful nations as recently as the middle of the last decade, have gone to the dogs under the leadership of the present generation of politicians. And, at least in the economic sense, they are absolutely right.

The relative economic decline of “old” Europe since the early 1990s — especially of Germany and Italy, but also of the Netherlands and France — has been a disaster almost unparalleled in modern history. While Britain and Japan certainly suffered some massive economic dislocations, in the early 1980s and the mid-1990s respectively, they never experienced the same sort of permanent transformation from thriving full-employment economies to stagnant societies where mass unemployment and falling living standards are accepted as permanent facts of life. In Britain, unemployment more than doubled from 1980 to 1984, but conditions then quickly improved. By the late 1980s it was enjoying a boom, the economy was growing by 4 per cent and unemployment had halved. In continental Europe, by contrast, unemployment has been stuck between 8 and 11 per cent since 1991 and growth has reached 3 per cent only once in those 14 years.

This dreadful economic performance is more than enough to explain the political angst among Europeans. But what does it mean for the future of Europe? If Europe’s economy remains paralysed, then the federalist project is clearly dead, as are all hopes of further significant EU enlargement. But if the economy recovered, the disillusionment with EU politics might quickly vanish.

Incidentally, Kaletsky thinks the only way to resuscitate the European project is to devalue the Euro and lower interest rates to so as to jump-start real, sustainable economic growth through the big, motor economies of Euro-Land. But I'll leave that issue for another time and focus instead on a post-mortem (hopefully not an embarrasingly premature one!) of the likely No vote Sunday. Like so often in history, I suspect the reason the EU constitution will be voted down in France on Sunday is due to multiple variables, a confluence of factors--not necessarily one dominant monocausal narrative.

To recap, then: the Left views EU-Land as an Anglo-Saxon encroachment on their cherished (and embarrasingly scelerotic) social welfare state. The nostalgic Right misses things like de Gaulle's timarchic evocations of France's force de frappe and wonders worriedly about what servility to the Bruxellian yoke would mean. Yes, of course, the economy looms large too. It has been stagnant for years, and chronic unemployment rankles, humiliates, angers even. There are also the problems associated with integrating immigrants from North Africa and points beyond. Such efforts at integration have gotten trickier of late, as violent events in iconic havens of libertinism like Amsterdam have showcased. It's not far-fetched in the least to see more nativist backlash taking root in the years ahead. This too will likely have unfortunate economic ramifications. And, lest we forget, there is d'Estaing's point about the No's gaining strength because the vote is basically a plebescite on Chirac's government. No surprise, that. Chirac has increasingly become a discredited figure, peddling a transparently cheap version of neo-Gaullism (along with his old cohort Dominique de Villepin proferring whimsical, Boucherian-like dandyism, mixed with doses of theatrical neo-Napoleonic grandeur--meant to be taken seriously so as to pass for a real foreign policy). Corruption charges persistently nip at and dog Chirac too, of course. And much like another discredited figure, Gerhard Schroder, Chirac resorted to a paltry anti-Americanism (so soon after the death of 3,000 from that country in the largest terrorist attack in history); mostly because he had little but this diversion to peddle to his disillusioned public so as to distract them from a moribund economy, their manifold doubts about centralization of power in Brussels, their immigration fears, the specter of a political life in growing decay with charisma-less mediocrities like Lionel Jospin on the Left and too charismatic neo-fascists like Le Pen on the Right. (Worth noting, despite all the negativity, leaders like Tony Blair who took the harder road still end up, ultimately, being rewarded by their publics. People smell out character and conviction; just as they smell out opportunists and cads).

So here we are. We might say it has been an ugly few years for France, set to get worse as the discord and recriminations and confusion stemming from a referendum defeat on Sunday looms so large. I can't say I'm surprised, truth be told. More and more, I think of France more as a country to visit simply to enjoy the great wines (yes, they are better than their Californian cousins), the surf of Biarritz, the sunny decadence of the Riviera, the "elegant third world" (Baudrillard's memorable description of how Los Angelenos view old European cities like Paris) of that most beautiful of capitals, the Grand Marnier soufles, a good drink at the old Ritz bar off Place Vendome. But I don't look at her as a real leader now or in the forseeable future. Intellectually, militarily, culturally, or otherwise. C'est triste, non? Do I have any hope for the future? Yes, Nicolas Sarkozy assuming the Presidency and instituting some form of 'shock therapy' along the lines Kaltesky suggests. But we're not there yet. And would the French people even be bold enough to go along with such an ambitious project? Or will they instead continue to languish amidst the quaint comforts of their perennial labor strikes, their risible 35 hour weeks (that's less than half a typical week in large swaths of Manhattan, friends!), their bloated pension system? Developing, as they say. And pour le pire, at least in the short term, alas.

Posted by Gregory at 03:52 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Where's the Beef, Steve?

Steve Clemons, "dizzy" and in need of a drink (his words, not mine!), is in jubilant mood (seemingly merely because John Bolton's confirmation as United States Ambassador to the United Nations will be delayed a week or two). Earlier today, Steve linked to a Mike Isikoff (you'd think he'd chill for a week or two, no?) piece in yet another of a seemingly interminable series of breathless TWN posts that might best be described as falling within something of a faux Bolton-gotcha genre. Just mention the words NSA intercept, John Bolton and, oh I don't know, "official"--and the Mustachioed One must be up to nefarious foul play if you hang your hat in TWN-land. Except there's nothing much to this story--even per the Isikoff treatment Steve approvingly links:

Later, the State Department sent Dodd a letter disclosing that Bolton had in recent years requested that the NSA unmask American names in 10 raw-intercept reports. The State Department as a whole had requested similar information from the NSA nearly 500 times since May 2001. In this context, Bolton supporters argued, Bolton's 10 requests for unedited NSA intercepts were statistically insignificant.

Bolton's Democratic critics on the Foreign Relations Committee nonetheless continued to press the administration for further details on Bolton's dealings with the NSA. One committee member, Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, placed an informal "hold" on floor debate on Bolton's nomination until the administration provided more information.

In an apparent response to congressional pressure, Gen. Michael Hayden, NSA's outgoing director, who is now principal deputy to John Negroponte, the administration's new intelligence czar, subsequently gave a top-secret briefing to Rockefeller and the Intelligence Committee's GOP chairman, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, about Bolton's dealings with the NSA. In this briefing, according to Rockefeller's letter to the Foreign Relations Committee, Hayden allowed Rockefeller and Roberts to review the NSA intercept reports at the center of the Bolton controversy. However, according to Rockefeller, Hayden did not share with Rockefeller and Roberts the names of the Americans that the NSA had provided to Bolton. In all, Rockefeller said, Bolton's requests for 10 uncensored NSA reports would have involved the unmasking of the identities of "nineteen U.S. persons."

In his letter, Rockefeller said that based on the briefing he had received from General Hayden, he found "no evidence" that there was anything "improper" about how or why Bolton made his 10 requests for the NSA reports in which American names were uncensored. However, Rockefeller said that he was "troubled" by how Bolton had handled the uncensored NSA information after receiving it.

According to Rockefeller, in an interview with Intelligence Committee officials, Bolton's acting chief of staff, CIA analyst Frederick Fleitz, said that on at least one occasion Bolton allegedly shared the "unminimized identity information he received from the NSA" with another State Department official. Fleitz told the committee that Bolton "used the information he was provided ... in order to seek out the State Department official mentioned in the report to congratulate him." According to a congressional investigator working with Bolton critics, the substance of the NSA intercept report included a discussion between two foreigners who were discussing how an American official—presumably the one Bolton congratulated—had given them a hard time.

Got that, folks? Bolton foe Rockefeller himself says that there is no evidence Bolton did anything "improper" with regard to his request for the NSA intercepts. Ah, but Rockefeller is "troubled" by how Bolton handled the information after he got it. Why? It seems bully John had the temerity to actually call an official and congratulate him for the way he handled discussions with a couple "foreigners"--as per the information contained in the NSA intercept. Compris? Bolton wasn't using the information from some rogue intercept to go ruin yet another career in dark Nixonian vein. He simply used it to praise someone. Outrageous! So what's the pitiable line of argument on the much ballyhooed NSA intercept story Bolton opponents are reduced to? Simply this:

In his letter to the Foreign Relations Committee, Rockefeller indicated that he believes Bolton's use of the uncensored NSA information to congratulate a State Department official was "not in keeping" with Bolton's declaration to the NSA that he only wanted the censored information so he could better understand the meaning of the original intelligence report. Two congressional officials involved in Senate investigations of Bolton said that the underlying argument now being made by Bolton's critics was that if he was willing to ignore NSA rules and use uncensored NSA intercept information on Americans to congratulate someone, he might be equally willing to use similar top-secret information to undermine the work of a bureaucratic rival.

What thin, thin gruel, eh? But you protest--hasn't he still broken the rules dammit?!? Who cares whether he used the information to praise someone or to ruin someone. Same difference. The rules are the rules. Didn't he break them? Well, no.

Back to Isikoff:

In support of Bolton's nomination, Intelligence Committee Chairman Roberts also sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee declaring that there was nothing irregular in Bolton's requests for uncensored NSA intercepts. Roberts said that his investigation indicated that Bolton had only discussed the uncensored NSA information with "one other individual”—the American named in the NSA report—who was a person who "worked directly for Under Secretary Bolton, possessed the necessary security clearances, received and read the same intelligence report in the course of his duties, and understood that he was the 'U.S. person' referred to therein."

Moreover, Roberts's letter suggests that any misunderstandings about how Bolton handled the NSA information—and about whether he should have requested prior NSA permission before discussing it with his colleague—were the product of lax State Department procedures. According to Roberts, the State Department's intelligence bureau, which processed Bolton's requests for NSA data, did not normally supply people like Bolton with NSA memoranda specifying how the data should be handled. In fact, Roberts said, even though it was Bolton who requested one key uncensored NSA intercept, the State Department's intelligence office actually turned the document over to someone in Bolton's office, which was a technical violation of NSA rules. Roberts blamed the State Department’s alleged procedural failings on Carl Ford, a former head of State Department intelligence. (Coincidentally or not, Ford was the only witness to give scathingly critical testimony against Bolton at his public confirmation hearing.) Roberts concluded that he could find "no evidence that there was anything improper about any aspect of Mr. Bolton's requests [from NSA] for minimized identities of U.S. persons."

So Bolton relayed the information he heard to someone who had the requisite security clearances to begin with. And it was likely the State Department's own procedures that were lax--not necessarily Bolton's handling of the information. Not only that, but one of the individuals who may have actually been culpable for the procedural shortcomings re: NSA rules, according to Roberts, happens to be one of Bolton's most vociferous critics.

To recap and review the bidding friends: Even Rockefeller says that Bolton's request for the NSA intercepts was proper. But he is "troubled" (standard Senatorial parlance for 'I got no juice but want to, er, filibuster or such a spell') about Bolton's handling of the information after he listened to the NSA intercept. Why? Because Bolton has the temerity to praise an official based on information he had overheard on the intercept. An official who apparently already had a security clearance allowing him to access the very same NSA intercept! On top of all this, it was reportedly the State Department protocols on handling of NSA intercepts that were lax and confusing--not Bolton's actions. Indeed, a Bolton foe may be to blame on this score. All of which is to say, where's the beef Steve?

Steve knows I respect his evident passion that Bolton isn't the right guy for USUN. But the problem that occurs when a blog becomes a monomaniacal crusade is that you can get a little (or a lot) carried away. Regular readers know my support of Bolton has been caveated. I won't rehash the reasons for my previous reservations now; or the reasons I ultimately endorsed him (if you're curious just click through the links). But the point here is that Steve has been darkly hinting that this NSA story was a huge horror for weeks now. But, at least as best I can tell, it really has no legs. I won't comb through Steve's archives and point out all the rank hyperbole surrounding his treatment of this non-story for many weeks. Frankly, I've got better things to do. And archive-hunting to play gotcha is hugely lame. But I'd say to Steve, as he celebrates the prospect of another week or two of Boltonpalooza over at TWN--get some perspective friend. The Republic itself won't flounder if this man gets to the United Nations. Truth be told, the difference between a Paula Dobriansky versus a John Bolton at the world body won't be nearly as large as Steve imagines. Again, please, perspective. Bolton is not the devil incarnate. He won't bring the wrecking ball to the international system. Or to the United Nations. And there is no plot to dismantle said world body cooked up between neo-Straussians and neo-primitives. Trust me, it will be O.K., even if Steve will predictably paint every Bolton move in a prospective "Bolton Watch" in the darkest of colors going forward.

Posted by Gregory at 02:07 AM | Comments (35) | TrackBack

May 26, 2005

C'est Non!

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a French non. More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 05:10 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

B.D. Endorses Bolton

Prak links to Larry Johnson:

The nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the UN is another body blow to the intelligence community and sends a clear message to analysts that speaking up about political pressure will only damage your career.

Hyperbole. The nomination of John Bolton as Deputy Secretary of State would, arguably, have been a "body blow to the intelligence community." His nomination to be our Ambassador to the U.N. is not. Everyone who matters in Washington knows what job Bolton really wanted. That's the one Robert Zoellick currently occupies. The reason he is going to be at Turtle Bay rather than the 7th Floor is because of his alleged insubordination, his aggressive reading of intelligence, his occasional undiplomatic behavior. He's being punished, in other words, to a fashion. Add to this that he won't be in a position to adopt his preferred reading of the intel at Turtle Bay (he will present to the world community the intel he is told to present by Washington), that he is bright, that he is the President's nominee and that the President should get deference in his personnel selections (particularly in foreign policy) barring manifest showstoppers (I've read TWN pretty regularly; and haven't see one yet), that he can do a "Nixon goes to China" at the world body (one in dire need of straight talk and reformist action)--given all this I think the pendelum of opinion is swinging towards Bolton among mainstream, internationalist Republicans. Yes, John Whitehead and some Manhattan Old Guard types are discomforted. But Bolton has gotten support from quite a few moderate quarters (see Eagleburger, Jim Baker, among others). Yes, I might have preferred other picks. Yes, I had a Voinovich moment. On April 24th, I wrote:

Bottom line: At this stage, weighing all the considerations as judiciously as I can, I'd probably still lean supportive of Bolton all things considered. But if a more pervasive pattern emerges in the next couple of weeks of more Category 4 abuse of sober, justifiable dissent on intelligence related matters (especially where the analysts, and not Bolton, were ultimately right)--I might start leaning in the "no" direction. Why am I still leaning Bolton? I do think a President should get much deference on picking his national security team. I think tactically it might be good for moderate Republicans to let him get the job. I think he's smart and could be a helpful voice in term of U.N. reform and assorted reality checks the world body needs. And I think he will be relatively contained within the confines of Turtle Bay.

Let's not, in all of this either, lose site of the big picture. The U.N. is going through something of a time of troubles--and frank talk and action is required, big time. Still, like Chafee, Voinovich, Murkowski, Hagel (and non-committee Republicans like Specter) I am, shall we say, concerned. I want to know more. The challenge will be to be fair to Bolton and wade through the information over the coming weeks with sobriety and judiciousness.

I've waited, I've tried to be judicious as I can, I've weighed the evidence. I've seen the Bolton brouhaha get increasingly shrill, partisan and nasty. I've seen dark, sleazy, inappropriate intimations about his personal life. I've seen a few more tales of aggressive handling of intel here and there. Yes, Armitage had to contain him robustly. He was a Cheney mole at State. But that's not an issue anymore. It's moot, really. In all this, I've seen no disqualifying smoking gun. Would I support this man for Deputy Secretary of State? No, I wouldn't. Do I think he may make a decent UN Ambassador? Yes, I do. Therefore, for what it's worth, count B.D. as a Bolton supporter as the vote nears.


Posted by Gregory at 04:41 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Iran Diplomacy Watch

"Iran nuclear breakthrough? A temporary one, perhaps."

Well, yes, "temporary" is certainly one way to put it. Very temporary, I'd suspect. The bottom line is that Teheran is playing for time--whilst trying to get more concessions out of the Euro-troika to boot--and no one has any better options at present than to play along for now...

Posted by Gregory at 04:35 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Don't Preach To Us Either

From an excellent profile of John McCain in the current New Yorker (not available online; but here is a related interview of the author of the New Yorker piece):

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German Ambassador to the United States, who attended the conference in Munich and listened with interest to McCain's speech, tried to explain the view from the other side. "As older societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world...In the last year or so, as we've engaged in discussions about the transformation of the Middle East and democracy, I have told my American friends that the region in this world that has seen the most transformation and change is Central and Eastern Europe--without shedding a drop of blood. So don't preach to us. And don't think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues--we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let's solve the problem in the next four years!"

Mark Udall, a Democratic representative from Colorado, and the son of McCain's friend and mentor Mo Udall, the longtime congressman from Arizona, was a member of the congressional delegation in Munich. "John likes to challenge friend and foe," Udall said. But the breakfast was surprising even by McCain standards. "I hadn't seen him quite as fierce as he was at that breakfast," Udall, who has attended the conference for the last several years, said. The German official who was involved in the negotiations with the Iranians was describing the process, Udall recalled, "and John interrupted him on two or three occasions, saying, Why are you doing this, why are you doing that, and it was borderline rude. He even pushed the diplomatic protocol there. But I think he was trying to make a point that this was very serious, and that just talking to the Iranians was not going to get the job done."

One of the Germans who was present recalled, "John McCain spoke more than any other participant at the breakfast. He was the leader. He said, 'Why don't you guys help us out in Iraq?' And one of our guys said, 'But we have, we have trained police.' McCain said, 'That's laughable!' He crushed them. But it was a battle of people who were not equals--a U.S. senator and Presidential candidate, full of self-confidence, and a bureaucrat, extremely restricted, with instructions about what he can say. It was not a fair match.

"Was it helpful?" the German participant asked. "Surely not. I don't think he was interested in listening to why we believe this is the best way forward. John McCain is like a charging bull. He loves to fight," the official added. "That morning, it didn't win him new friends." [emphasis in the original]

Oh, what a pity. I'm sure McCain would be devastated to hear this. I have to say, reading this kind of risible crap gets me in the mood to say let's all get behind John Bolton, shall we, and send him to USUN soonest. Particularly the comments of the German Ambassador to Washington, Wolfgang Ischinger, so dripping with condescension, disingenuousness and hypocrisy: "we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve," "(t)his is very complicated, "(c)hanging the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues...Americans think, Let's solve the problem in the next four years!" I mean, how many silly, tired, protest-placard stereotypes can the good Ambassador mutter on about in one short interview with the New Yorker? Or does he seriously believe Washington policymakers aren't aware that democratization of Iraq isn't a long, multi-year (perhaps generational) task? Or that people in the Beltway are unawares that, er, religious and cultural factors play a role in the Iraq effort? Has he followed the roiling debates about a Sistani or a Sadr amidst U.S elites and commentariat (whether in think-tanks, in newspapers, in the blogosphere, even, on occasion, on television)? Does he appreciate the complex nature of the American effort currently underway to cobble together national governance structures in Iraq--with all the attendant balancing of ethnicities and assurances of minority rights? Or would the Germans (always so delicate when dealing with such things)--would they be so much more nuanced and refined? Are we such primitives toiling away in Manhattan and NW Washington? Are Zal Khalilzad, John Negroponte, Paul Wolfowitz, Condi Rice, Bob Zoellick--are they all this effing dumb? C'mon, let's get serious, OK? Look, this might play well in the streets of Hamburg or Cologne, but it shouldn't be uttered by a German Ambassador to the United States. Not one that wishes to be taken seriously in his host country, that is.

But what really got me was the breezy evocation of the contemporary history of Central and Eastern Europe as a way to teach us boorish Americans how it is done. Without firing a shot, see! No bloodshed, no Iraq style carnage! Think of the ironies contained in the statement. Let's review the bidding a bit, just as a form of reality check, no? Speaking of Central and Eastern Europe, why not start with Hitler's invasion of Poland and the Sudetenland? Followed, heuresement, by the U.S. led victory over the scourge of National Socialism during WWII. Then America's long struggle against Soviet Communism that, finally in the early '90s, led to the dissolution of the Soviet hegemon. On the heels of this victory (yes, it took quite a bit of effort!), a skillful handling of German reunification in the early 90's by the Bush 41 administration to ensure a relatively smooth post-Cold War European transition. All this was part and parcel of bringing about a peaceful Central and Eastern Europe, no? Not to mention American economic assistance with the transition to free market economies in the 90s that continues until today, a lead American role in the troubled Balkans helping ensure stability in Central Europe, and much more. Sorry to be so undiplomatic here at B.D., but let's all call mega-bullshit on Wolfgang, shall we? And say in unison: don't preach to us! At least if the preaching is going to be of such mediocre quality, positively reeking of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty as it does. Oh, and yes my German friends, training a few Iraqi police units is laughable. If it weren't so sad an abdication of a responsible leadership role on the international stage. More on the growing European malaise and crisis of leadership later tonight, time permitting.

Posted by Gregory at 01:45 AM | Comments (81) | TrackBack

May 24, 2005

Who's Afraid of the Islamists?

SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM, in a must-read NYT op-ed of a couple days back:

IN last month's Saudi Arabian municipal elections, the nation's first experiment in real democracy, many were worried because Islamic activists dominated their secular rivals. Indeed, we have seen a similar trend in Turkey, Morocco and Iraq in the last few years; and we can expect it in the coming Lebanese, Palestinian and Egyptian elections. Yet, while this Islamic trend can no longer be ignored, neither should it be a source of panic to Western policy makers and pundits.

Based on my 30 years of empirical investigation into these parties - including my observations of fellow inmates during the 14 months I spent in an Egyptian prison - I can testify to a significant evolution on the part of political Islam. In fact, I believe we may be witnessing the emergence of Muslim parties that are truly democratic, akin to the Christian Democrats in Western Europe after World War II...

...Repression has had high costs. Where Islamist groups are denied access to political space, their cause takes on an aura of mythical martyrdom, and their abstract calls for a return to Islamic principles of governance are not put to the test. A phrase like "the meek are the inheritors of the earth" resonates with the masses, though it is empty of any practical content. As long as these groups don't have to deal with the complicated business of forging actual political policies, their popularity remains untested. The challenge, therefore, is to find a formula that includes them in the system, but that prevents a "one man, one vote, one time" situation.

One fairly successful attempt at such a formula was coordinated by King Hussein of Jordan, after widespread riots in 1989 over food shortages in his traditional stronghold in the south. Needing to engage the people more directly in the tough economic decisions that had to be made, he opted for a new constitutional monarchy. He brought all the political forces in the country together in a national congress, in which the rules of the democratic game were enshrined in a national charter. The Islamists signed on.

Since then, there have been several elections to this body in which Jordan's Islamists have participated, but in only the first did they gain a plurality. Once in power, their sloganeering was put to the test, and voters were not terribly impressed. In the four ministries they held, the Islamists imposed heavy-handed restrictions on female staff members, setting off protests that eventually forced the cabinet members to resign.

Shortly after the Jordanian experiment, King Hassan II of Morocco followed suit with a similar revision of his nation's Constitution, and despite recent terrorist attacks the country seems set on an increasingly democratic path. In 2002, the Turkish Justice and Development Party won the parliamentary elections and formed a government and - to the surprise of many - it wasn't the end of the world. In fact, the Islamists emerged as more pragmatic than their secular predecessors in tackling some of Turkey's chronic problems: they softened restrictions on the Kurds, looked to make compromises over Cyprus and began a successful campaign to make Turkey eligible for eventual membership in the European Union.

And consider what has happened in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, has been the savior of President Bush's policy in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Without his unwavering backing of the January elections, the Arab world would not have seen the stirring images of millions of men and women braving their way out to vote despite threats and suicide bombers. [emphasis added]

One could easily argue that Ibrahim is being too sanguine about the impact of greater Islamist influence in various governments. Sistani, of course, had reasons to cooperate with the U.S. with regard to the elections and it is a bit rich and overly breezy to call him the "savior of President Bush's policy in Iraq." Shi'a moderation may have been feigned merely so as to gain a resounding victory in the ballot-box and could prove to be short-lived (though I think Shi'a moderates will prevail in Iraq, not conservative Iranian style theocrats). And Turkey's Islamists have typically been more Europeanized (ie, social welfarish), shall we say, than those in Saudi, for instance. Meantime, Jordan and Morocco have enjoyed relatively stable political currents, in the main, under the reign of moderate constitutional monarchs. It may not be suprising, therefore, that Islamists have proven relatively moderate (or of limited influence) in places like Jordan. Still, I think Ibrahim has the overall narrative pretty much correct. And he is likely right when he writes: "For me, however, something about events of the past few months feels new and irreversible. Too many people in too many places - Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and elsewhere - are defying their oppressors and taking risks for freedom. Across the region the shouts of "Kifiya!" - "Enough!" - have become a rallying cry against dictators." Yes, I think and hope the Ibrahims and Ajamis may well be right that a new era beckons in the Middle East.

More on why another night, but tonight allow me a brief digression. For me, this evocation of "Kifiya" brings to mind the haunting final scene in the masterful movie Battle of Algiers. As anti-French riots break out in downtown Algiers, one hears French military personnel holler: “What do you want?". And from the assembled crowd one hears a cacophany of responses: “Independence!” “Liberty!” “Long live Algeria!”. Meantime, the camera slowly pans towards a solitary woman waving an Algerian flag. She shrieks almost hysterically, seemingly ecstatic to be confronting the foreign interloper. Yet while her movements are fever-pitched, there is an almost ethereal (if simultaneously haunting) realism in the beautifully shot imagery that all but hypnotizes the viewer. It has become a bit of a cliche to say so, and movies perhaps rank relatively low on the hierarchy of great art all told, but the best films do approach great literature in their complexity and artistic value. In 400 Blows, for instance, Truffaut's masterful final scene (scroll to bottom of link for the footage) well encapsulates an entire existentialist zeitgeist better than many novelists have been able to accomplish (a young adolescent from a troubled family flees a center for 'difficult' youth by running to a nearby beach, where he scampers care-free amidst the surf for a fleeting moment or two--before reality sets in and his face, suddenly so wise for his age, grasps that some Foucault-like penentiary alas looms again too soon). Gillo Pontecorvo's impressive final scene in Battle of Algiers similarly showcases an overarching zeitgeist--here the pride and jubilance stemming from the great era of decolonization that unfolded through the 50's, 60's and 70s. It is the jubilance of being unshackled. Of being made free. In the shouts of "Kifiya" we hear this hope again, only in a new manifestation. Skeptics ask: Is History not simply repeating itself, another blundering power colonizing locals who stifle and brew resentment under the boot of foreign occupation? Optimists retort: did not the glorious sight of eight million flocking to polling places reassure many (not least, the Iraqis themselves) that the American intervention was something other than yet another blundering, brutish neo-colonialist adventure; but rather a complex exercise in democratizing an Arab state subdued by decades of Baathist excess and thuggery?

My money is on the latter, and I still think we will slog through and make Iraq a success in the coming years. I believe the Middle East may have passed a tipping point with peoples increasingly demanding political breathing space. We are seeing it in Kuwait, in Lebanon, in Syria, in Egypt, in Iraq, in Iran, in Bahrain. Just about everywhere, really. It is the dominant narrative at this juncture. What responsible actors in the U.S. must do is figure out how best to maximize the chances of these trends taking root over the long-term and in a manner beneficial to the U.S. national interest. We should not recoil in fear, for instance, whenever we hear the word Islamists. If moderate Islamists were to take control in certain countries (though I think their popularity is often overstated) and guide stable polities, this will prove better than secular butchers like Saddam. We must be careful, however, to ensure that foreign influence is wielded in a manner calibrated to not lead to nationalist backlashes or radical Islamist reaction.

This is why B.D. is so sensitive to tales of torture, of denigration of Islamic tenets in detainee treatment, and so on. This is not born of squeamishness; but of realism. An important element in securing a long term victory in this struggle against extremist terror is denying the enemy propaganda tools. Where are our fluent Arabic speakers on al-Arabiya explaining what legal reasons compelled us after 9/11 to have a detention center in Guantanamo for fanatical al-Qaeda detainees? Where are our spokesmen apologizing for the death of detainees in Bagram and Abu Ghraib who perished under U.S. custody? Loudly, repeatedly, in Arabic? Where are our spokesmen in spelling out the disciplinary measures that have been taken, the corrective measures that are being instituted, the red-lines that have been communicated to grunts in the field as to what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to treatment of POWs? Where are our spokesmen in explaining that it was the United States that led efforts in tsunami relief (inclusive of in kind contributions) that struck and killed so many thousands of Muslims (whilst showcasing the embarassingly paltry Saudi contributions)? That it was the United States that pressed intervention (if belatedly) to save ravaged Muslim Sarajevans and, later, Muslim Kosovars? Where are our spokesmen in explaining that we understand the hopes of those who aspire to Palestinian freedom as much as we understand the hopes of those who hope for a secure Israel? Is it just me, or are we behind in getting these messages out? If so, why?


Posted by Gregory at 03:10 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Robust U.N. Peacekeeping?

When most of hear the phrase "U.N. peacekeeping" we think of fiascos such as Rwanda or Bosnia, or even tales of sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children. But could progress be in the air in the Congo of all places? Details here:

The United Nations, burdened by its inability to stave off the mass killings in Rwanda in 1994 and by failed missions in Bosnia and Somalia, is allowing its peacekeepers to mount some of the most aggressive operations in its history. The change has been evolving over the last decade, as the Security Council has adopted the notion of "robust peacekeeping" and rejected the idea that the mere presence of blue-helmeted soldiers on the ground helps quell combat.

It is most obvious in Congo, which commands by far the largest deployment of United Nations troops in the world. Peacekeepers in armored personnel carriers, facing enemy sniper attacks as they lumber through rugged dirt paths in the eastern Ituri region, are returning fire. Attack helicopters swoop down over the trees in search of tribal fighters. And peacekeepers are surrounding villages in militia strongholds and searching hut by hut for guns.

"The ghost of Rwanda lies very heavily over how the U.N. and the Security Council have chosen to deal with Ituri," said David Harland, a top official at the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York.

A turning point came in 2000 after rebels in Sierra Leone killed some peacekeepers and took hundreds more hostage. The United Nations commissioned a review, headed by Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, which called for troops to be deployed more rapidly in peace enforcement operations. "No amount of good intentions can substitute for the fundamental ability to project credible force," the so-called Brahimi Report said.

Recently a commander in eastern Congo, a Bangladeshi colonel named Hussain Mahmud Choudhury, pointed at a huge map in his office in Bunia, the regional capital, to show a reporter where his troops had been chasing the militias. "Here, here, here," he said, banging on the map.

"If we hear they are somewhere, we move in," he said. "We don't get them all the time, but they have to run. Their morale is shattered, and from a military point of view, that is everything."

The prospect of more robust U.N. peacekeepers (peacemakers, we might call them), willing to invoke Chapter VII of the Charter (rather than hide under the fig-leaf of "neutrality"), would be a welcome development indeed. Still, color me skeptical for now. And, truth be told, the fact that Western countries make up increasingly little of the troop contributions worries me some on a going forward basis.

The operation in Congo began as a modest observer mission in 1999. It has mushroomed, now commanding 16,500 soldiers - but is still regarded as understaffed by United Nations officials in New York.

After the failed missions of the 1990's, Western countries began contributing significantly fewer troops overseas. In 1998, about 45 percent of peacekeepers came from Western armies. The figure is now less than 10 percent; most now come from the developing world.

In Congo, most of the peacekeepers are Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Nepalese.

As they root out the insurgents who prey on Ituri's population, United Nations soldiers in the east have at their disposal tanks, armored personnel carriers, Mi-25 attack helicopters, mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers - all of which are getting heavy use. [emphasis added]

Perhaps U.N. gurus like Suzanne Nossel have additional thoughts on this. I know Suzanne and B.D. would both welcome additional international fora/actors truly able to engage in effective multilateralism. But would we really, for example, be willing to entrust missions of utmost import to our national security (Iraq, Afghanistan) to U.N. peacekeeping forces as they are currently configured? I am quite dubious that assorted Bangledeshi battalions, say, would inspire tremendous confidence when it came to areas of truly critical national security import (even during the post-conflict stage). Others have spoken of having a permanent corps of several brigades/batallions of U.N. peacekeepers, with donor nations including the likes of the U.S., U.K., Japan, France, Germany, Russia and China. It seems to be an idea that, while kicked around a lot, never seems to get any real legs. All this said, it is likely a good thing that U.N. peacekeeping missions are starting to treat their mandates with more resolve and seriousness. But they are not substitutes for determined nation-states busily pursuing their national interests--not by a long shot just yet; and perhaps not ever.

UPDATE: Blogger Daniel Starr has related thoughts; in more optimistic vein perhaps.

Posted by Gregory at 01:29 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Adieu New Haven

B.D.'s back from a wonderful commencement weekend up at Yale. While the skies looked threatening all morning, sunshine prevailed and all were happy. Some estimable personages were awarded honorary doctorates today including such giants as Paul Samuelson. So did my old boss Bob DeVecchi-a wonderful man who has devoted his entire career to helping refugees and the displaced the world over (most notably when he ran this excellent organization). Kudos to all, not least B.D. little sis Francesca Djerejian Yale '05!

On another matter, thanks to all who have provided input on regional and/or country specific blogs. I hope to start adding at least some initial countries this evening. Many thanks again.

Posted by Gregory at 01:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 20, 2005

Info Request

See update to this post. Yes, I need your help and feedback. Help, please! NB: Comments off here so you instead comment at linked post. Thanks again for any help.

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 AM | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Can't We All Just Get Along?

There's an increasingly nasty spat brewing between Andrew and Glenn. As these are my two favorite bloggers, all told, I'm a tad saddened they are quarreling so. Andrew today calls Glenn a "shill" for the Bush Administration. Meanwhile, Glenn simply writes: "I find the question of what Andrew thinks less pressing than I used to." Ouch. What's a pity here is that, deep down, I suspect Glenn still does value Andrew's opinions and that, similarly, Andrew doesn't view Glenn as a rank patsy for the Bushies. But here we are in this escalating war of words. What to make of this internecine blogospheric fracas?

Putting aside the silliness regarding whether Andrew said or didn't say that wrapping someone in an Israeli flag constituted torture, what's really going on here? First, let's take a look at Glenn's beef with Andrew. Sullivan appears to have raised Glenn's derisive ire, somewhat fairly in my view, partly because he is being a bit too easy on Newsweek, perilously flirting with the "it's fake but accurate" meme, busily linking the Kos-site and such to find examples of ostensibly corroborating Koran-abuse, etcetera (As it turns out, there seems to have been all kinds of things going on with Korans--with detainees reportedly defiling them too). Yes, Andrew has a point. The abuses and torture that have occurred through Iraq and Afghanistan and Gitmo and rendition-points-beyond certainly lend credence to Koran desecration having perhaps occurred on occasion. But the bottom line here is that Mike Isikoff, as is his wont, was looking to nail a big story. He rushed, he sourced it too thinly, Newsweek was irresponsible to run with the copy as hastily as they did, showboat Imran latched on to it so as to appear Defender-of-the-Book, in the process riling up varied Islamists thus setting off a chain of events that resulted in, you know, people dying and such. This strikes me as a pretty big deal, no? Doesn't Newsweek merit a comeuppance for this sloppiness? And a good deal of criticism indeed? (Yes, Andrew does say they should not be "let off the hook," but in the context of a post mostly devoted to skewering misguided blogospheric hysteria about the Newsweek error).

I also understand Glenn's frustration with a MSM that appears so intent on always assuming the worst about the government. But this is a post-Watergate phenomenon that has been a thorn in the side of both Republican and Democrat administrations. The rosy, care-free days of a press corps "in the sack with Jack" are long gone. Worth noting too, of course, Isikoff did his damndest with hounding Clinton on the Monica going-ons. He's somewhat of an equal opportunity pain in the rear end. Yes, this latest is about a likely decades long conflict of utmost import--not Oval Office fellatio and civil suits from the wilds of Arkansas. People died. Still, you get my point. Also, of course, it is silly to ignore the larger context in all this. Not only that abuse and interrogation tactics specifically designed to humiliate Muslims (the fake menstrual blood and such grotesqueries) has occurred often since 9/11, but also that there are deeper reasons those listening to an Imran Khan were happy indeed to believe the very worst they could about the U.S. We do have a major issue with public diplomacy in the Middle East and, incidentally, Glenn appears on the record so agreeing. So, bottom line, Glenn is right that Andrew is not taking l'affaire Newsweek as seriously as he might. But, that said, mightn't Glenn take some of Andrew's concerns (on detainee abuse and torture, for instance) more seriously?

Which leads me to Andrew's gripes re: Glenn. Andrew received an E-mail from a social scientist reader who compared Glenn's posting activity during Abu Ghraib as compared to the Newsweek fiasco. The E-mailer concludes:

Reynolds' treatment of the real torture story was almost indistinguishable from his treatment of the fake torture story. For Reynolds, a false report of torture represents the same, basic problem as its demonstrable, photographic truth: namely, the subordination of the media's liberal agenda to that of the U.S. in wartime. This, it seems to me, is the real implication of the notion of "the press's Abu Ghraib": the tendency to view The News, not by the criteria of empirical validity, but by the patriotism and political pragmatism of its consequences.

To which Andrew added: "I think the emailer is being too kind. Instapundit's coverage suggests that he believes that the erroneously-sourced Newsweek story is actually more offensive and important than what happened at Abu Ghraib."

This is really what gets Andrew's goat, isn't it? That Glenn doesn't give two shits, really, about prisoner abuse and torture. But that he will get all hot under the collar about a Dan Rather, an Isikoff--whatever leftist MSM-scalp du jour the blogosphere helps take down. Does this simply mean Glenn has to blog more about torture to make the Andrews of the world happy? No, of course not. It's silly to count posts a la social scientist and draw, er, conclusions, about one's world-view on such a flimsy basis. Still, is Glenn downplaying the torture/abuse issue somewhat? Look, like Glenn wrote, I agree that every war will have its Abu Ghraibs and, yes, even worse, its Atlantas and its Dresdens. War is hell. Grown-ups get that. Nasty things happen. They always will. But what bothers me about Glenn is when he writes a sentence like this:

"When Andrew was a champion of the war on terror, writing about martial spirit and fifth columns composed of the "decadent left," did he believe that nothing like Abu Ghraib would happen, when such things (and much worse) happen in prisons across America (and everywhere else) on a daily basis? If so, he was writing out of an appalling ignorance" [emphasis added]

"Much worse" happening on a "daily basis" in "prisons across America"? C'mon Glenn. Let's call a spade a spade, shall we? Here's some of what happened at Abu Ghraib:

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees;

Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol;

Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;

Threatening male detainees with rape;

Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell;

Sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick;

Using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

Oh, and someone was beaten to death too. Call me naive, but I doubt Martha Stewart witnessed such going-ons during her time in an American prison. Maybe it's worse at Rikers, though I doubt people get beaten to death there either. Certainly not by the guards. Imagine the law suits! Or have wounds stiched up without proper anesthesia after being slammed into a wall (again, by guards!) Or get sodomized with chemical lights (those dastardly guards again!). And so on. Make no mistake. It's effing disgraceful such activities have occurred at U.S. detention centers--whether we are going to call it abuse, felony abuse, torture, or whatever. And it's disgraceful, if in a different way, that many on the right speak of just-a-few-bad-apples-on-the-graveyard [no pun intended!]-shift in Abu Ghraib (I don't count Glenn among this sorry crew of torture and abuse deniers; but we all know who they are). To deny that the problems were not more systemic is to not be serious or to be in denial or to be purposefully spinning. So yes, Glenn has said that torture and abuse is bad and wrong--but his seriousness in so condemning is put into question somewhat when he says "much worse" prison abuse happens daily in American jails. Much worse than what Glenn? Than beating someone to death?

In closing, a few final thoughts as I presumptuously play umpire between these two blog titans. Glenn criticizes Andrew for being too monomaniacal when it comes to things like Abu Ghraib so that the wider war on terror becomes viewed through an overly myopic prism. There he goes again. "Excitable" Andrew as "Emoter-in-Chief". But in defense of Andrew and as a regular reader of his, I don't get the sense he's ever been so monomaniacal when it came to Abu Ghraib that he's lost sight of the Big Picture. I thought his Kerry endorsement was reckless in the extreme, yes, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a major disapointment. But has he really gone soft on the war on terror, as Glenn intimates? I don't think the evidence really bears that out. And, in defense of Glenn, I'd say that he has every right to focus on the topics he wishes to broach more energetically, that it is unfair to call him a shill for the Bushies (he's criticized this Administration's policies in the past more than once; witness the Schiavo madness, most recently), and that he is at least on the record condemning torture and abuse of detainees (but yes, not as loudly as B.D. would like, though I certainly won't start number-crunching his posts anytime soon; just as I'd suspect Andrew wouldn't like such lame archive searching done to him, I'd suspect...).

Andrew writes about the entire Koran-flushing brouhaha:

"Three factors interacted here: media error/bias, Islamist paranoia, and a past and possibly current policy of religiously-intolerant torture. No one comes out looking good. But it seems to me unquestionable that the documented abuse of religion in interrogation practices is by far the biggest scandal. Too bad the blogosphere is too media-obsessed and self-congratulatory to notice.

It's seems a good deal of the Glenn-Andrew discord is born of the respective weight they are putting on two of these variables. So I'd close by saying, I guess, that Andrew might have helped himself by more loudly making the case that the media error was quite a doozy indeed; and Glenn might have helped himself by acknowledging that it's not just about disproving the specific Koran-flushing tale and cheerleading on the Newsweak! gotcha brigades--that all this occured amidst a larger context and backdrop of religiously intolerant detainee abuse and/or interrogation tactics. (Oh, please spare me the comments about how no one got decapitated at Abu Ghraib just for being Christian. And that Abu Ghraib was worse (so much, dude!) when under Saddam's stewardship. And that we treat 'their' Holy Book better than they'd ever treat 'ours'. And so on. We are better than our heinous, barbaric enemy; and so must have hugely higher standards). Finally, I think we can all agree there was much Islamist paranoia in all of this too, as Sully points out. Paranoia made worse by the Imran Khan's of the world--so Holy and God-fearing--when not tut-tutting about Knightsbridge, that is.

All this said, is it just me, or is there really not that much really separating Andrew and Glenn re: all the above? Might (gulp) a little ego be intruding a bit into all the to and fro? I mean, can't we all get along? There's a war on, right? The goal is to defeat extremist, jihadist terror. Newsweek screwed up. Rumsfeld's Pentagon screwed up too, in fostering insouciance about Geneva norms, in allowing overly aggressive and humiliating interrogation techniques, in not exerting appropriate control of poorly trained junior staff charged with the handling of detainees. There's enough blame to go around. Let's stop the carping and point scoring and move on, OK?

Posted by Gregory at 01:29 AM | Comments (96) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Blogroll Restructuring

Over the coming weeks and months I am going to be putting up speciality sub-categories of blogs over to the right below the main blog-roll. There will be new subject matter categories (like finance-related themes) that I will be putting up, not only for my readers, but also for my own convenience. Most prominently, however, I will be looking to create clusters of regional or country-specific blogs. This will allow, say, a Russia follower to spend fifteen minutes or so browsing a half dozen or dozen Russia-related sites conveniently clustered together here.

So I figured I'd open up the floor to readers writ large for suggestions. I'm looking for recommendations re: excellent blogs that cover and/or are based out of places like Russia, China, India, Syria, Iraq, Georgia, Israel, Armenia, Japan, South Korea (are there any in the North?) Iran, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, U.K, France,(like this excellent, if left-leaning one), Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt. I realize too, of course, that there are excellent "area" blogs like, say, this one. We'll figure out how to categorize these too. My point being that if a blog covers the CIS writ large, not just Russia specifically, that's just fine and we'll figure out how to group it. I'll start out with countries that are of particular interest to B.D. (some initial ones listed above) and perhaps some others that B.D. readers think merit inclusion. Your suggestions for both what blogs to include and what other countries (and even re: any speciality subject matters beyond what's here now and finance) are greatly appreciated.

No, we don't have time for a B.D. "cafe" or "lounge" product just yet. But we are nevertheless going to keep doing our best, given time pressures and the like, to keep this site new and interesting. Freshness counts in this medium--and people smell staleness quickly and start deserting. I suspect this applies not just to the all important day in; day out content, but also things like changing the pictures every once in a while (it has been a while, no?) or updating the blog-roll. I think re-working the side-bars to the right in a way that might help readers (including any regional specialists out there) access helpful information about Georgia, for example, and in one centralized space--would be helpful indeed. So thanks to all for your help in advance. We'll be back later tonight, and if I'm getting good feedback, perhaps we'll even start the blog-roll update tonight (perhaps with Russia, say?). Drop recommendations in comments or at Belgravia's hotmail address. Thanks again.

UPDATE: Can you all please indulge me in a little whine for a second? I bust my chops about 12 hours daily at the day job, on average, and then spend a couple hours more on top of that trying to keep this space interesting. It's really fatiguing, trust me. And I don't ask for anything in return (indeed my only reward is the vitriole often heaved at me in comments! ed. note: Yes, I like the feedback, well, most of it). Save, occasionally, I post a request for info like this. Can't we do better than a dozen responses? Put differently, can't a few more of you get off your duffs and give me a little more feedback? I really want to get some good suggestions and I know there are more of you out there with interesting leads/links and so on. And a hearty thanks to all who have emailed or commented so far. Back likely post 10:30 PM...and, yes, mini-whine over.

MORE: Re-reading this today; I apologize for the whiney tone. It's not like I'm doing anyone any grand favors over here. I write, you maybe come, you maybe comment, you maybe don't comment, we are all busy, life goes on...etc etc.

But I'm updating really just to point out the anti-spam software I have has the rather lame effect of sometimes (though rarely, it's pretty good at smelling out the real spam) putting people's comments "on hold" (especially first time commenters). Please comment away, however, as your time will not have been spent in vain. I can, once daily or so, check the comments and get the non-spam on the main page. Meantime, I'll try to finesse this issue with my software guy.

Also, a head's up that blogging will be intermittent over the next few days. My younger sister is graduating Yale this weekend--so the family will be up in New Haven celebrating this wonderful accomplishment! I might sneak over to the keyboard at some point however...OK, see you soon.

Posted by Gregory at 11:41 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

A Reality-Based Democrat?

Kudos indeed.

P.S. Enquiring minds wanna know: do some of his big fans (and ilk) agree too? Kidding aside, I agree with Pej when he writes: "We can have our disagreements--and we no doubt will--but there are disagreements that can and should be bridged, after all." Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 11:16 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Spot the Typo

...in the third line just before the word "diplomacy". Now Suzanne, was this conscious or unconscious?

P.S. More on a related subject, in the context of the Glenn/Andrew spat, in more serious vein later tonight.

Posted by Gregory at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vichy's Rebellious Streak!

Is this the behavior of a "Vichy surrogate"? Hosting the foreign minister of a charter axis of evil foe of the American Fuhrer himself? Methinks not.

The arrival of the Iranian, Kamal Kharrazi, underscored changes in the political landscape that many Iraqis find dizzying: almost 25 years after Iraq and Iran started an eight-year war that left a million people dead, the government in Baghdad is now led by officials with close personal, religious and political ties to Iran's ruling Shiite ayatollahs.

Iraqi officials who greeted Mr. Kharrazi acknowledged that the timing of his arrival, so soon after Ms. Rice's 12-hour visit on Sunday, was not chance. "The political message of this visit is very important, notably in its timing," said Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari of Iraq, who at one point broke into fluent Persian, Iran's principal language, during a news conference with Mr. Kharrazi.

For his part, Mr. Kharrazi appeared eager to put the United States on notice that Iran expects to wield influence in Iraq, especially in the long term, that will match or outstrip the United States'. At one point, standing beside Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraq's new prime minister, Mr. Kharrazi fielded a reporter's question about the competition for influence in Iraq between Washington and Tehran with a reminder of what he described as the geographical realities.

"Let me add that the party that will leave Iraq is the United States, because it will eventually withdraw," he said in English, referring to the 138,000 American troops here. "But the party that will live with the Iraqis is Iran, because it is a neighbor to Iraq."

And before some commenter yelps on about how we went to war and lost thousands solely to give Iran free rein in Iraq, don't miss this part of Burn's dispatch either:

But Western scholars interviewed by telephone as Mr. Kharrazi began his visit cautioned against seeing the new Iraqi leaders as necessarily pliable in their relations with Iran and against any assumption that Iranian and American interests in Iraq are strongly opposed, at least as long as the Sunni insurgency here continues.

Shaul Bakhash, an Iran scholar at George Mason University in Virginia, said Mr. Kharrazi's visit showed that Iraq's leaders were eager to recognize the importance Iran, with its 800-mile border with Iraq, its trading possibilities and its Shiite faith, will have in Iraq's future.

But he said Iraq's Shiite leaders would not be pawns of the Iranians. "They are Iraqi nationalists, and now that they're in power, they're less dependent on external support than they were as exiled opposition groups," he said.

Other experts said Iran shared the United States' aim of vanquishing the Sunni insurgency in Iraq - a point Mr. Kharrazi alluded to after meeting with Dr. Jaafari, when he said Iran was ready to offer aid to Iraq on matters of security.

Fred Halliday, an international relations scholar at the London School of Economics, said: "Both Iran and the United States want to see Sunni insurrection defeated. Both will suffer if there is civil war in Iraq. The Iranians do not want to see a complete American troop withdrawal now."

I think it was a very good move to have the Iranian Foreign Minister come on the heels of Condi's visit, by the way. It signals to ordinary Iraqis that Iraq will follow her own interests in its foreign policy. And that, of course, involves dealing with its huge neighbor to the East. Another reason? The proximate timing of the two foreign ministers visits symbolizes that Iran and the U.S. do share some interests in common (in Iraq, for instance). Yes, the nuclear crisis continues to brew. But I believe fervent diplomatic efforts are ongoing (particularly with the London-Teheran channel of late)--and that these tightly coordinated high-level visits to Iraq, if only of symbolic value, were nevertheless not coincidental.

Posted by Gregory at 04:44 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Bush's Long Shadow: In Uzbekistan?

We've all now heard of the despicable massacre of hundreds in the town of Andijon:

Uzbekistan acknowledged Tuesday that its crackdown last week on an antigovernment demonstration and a prison break had been far more violent than it previously described, saying 169 people had been killed, including 32 government troops.

President Islam A. Karimov said Saturday that only 10 soldiers and a larger but unspecified number of "rebels" had been killed.

Despite the big increase in the casualty figures, announced at a news conference in Tashkent by Mr. Karimov and Prosecutor General Rashid Kadyrov, the government's total still was far below the estimates of survivors and witnesses, who have put the death toll in the hundreds.

One opposition party, for example, said Tuesday that it had compiled a list of 745 dead.

While Mr. Karimov and Mr. Kadyrov offered a more complete picture of the disorder than before, they also insisted that government troops had not deliberately fired on or killed any civilians. Their assertion contradicted the accounts of many survivors, who have said troops and armored vehicles rushed a public square in the northeastern city of Andijon and fired indiscriminately.

As soon as I heard about this story, after my initial shock at the bloodshed, I next thought that some on the left would grab on it to point out Washington's hypocrisy in being, shall we say, selective in picking its democratization venues. Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, certainly doesn't let us down on this score:

When crowds demonstrated in Lebanon, Ukraine and Georgia, the Americans welcomed it as "people power". But the brave stand in Uzbekistan brought a different response. Washington called for "restraint" from both sides, as if the unarmed civilians were just as guilty as those shooting at them. In the past couple of days, the tune has changed slightly. Now the state department wants Tashkent to "institute real reforms" and address its "human rights problems". It is at least possible that Washington may soon decide Karimov has become an embarrassment and that he should be replaced by a new, friendlier face - but one just as reliable. Less of a sonofabitch, but still ours.

Sonofabitchism has always been an awkward business, even in Roosevelt's day; it hardly squares with America's image of itself as a beacon in a dark world. But the contradiction - some would call it hypocrisy - is all the greater now. For this is the Bush era, and the Bush doctrine is all about spreading democracy and "the untamed fire of freedom" to the furthest corner of the globe. If that's the rhetoric, then it's hard to reconcile with a reality that involves funneling cash to a man who boils his enemies.

It's a predictable narrative, of course, and I want to point out a few issues with Freeland's thesis. Before I do that, however, let me remind readers that I too have called for stronger U.S. democracy advocacy vis-a-vis Uzbekistan in the past.

This said, here are my issues with the Guardian piece:

1) The U.S. has supported democracy initiatives throughout the post 9/11 period in Uzbekistan--not solely focusing on security cooperation;

2) For instance, note the State Department awarded its 2004 Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award to an individual active in just these types of efforts:

Michael Goldman of Embassy Tashkent was selected as winner of this year's award for exceptional achievement in the field of human rights and democracy. Mr. Goldman was selected from an impressive group of nine candidates nominated by their Ambassadors in a year in which issues of democracy and human rights moved even further to the forefront of the foreign policy process.

In the challenging human rights environment of Uzbekistan, Michael Goldman succeeded in advancing the U.S. human rights agenda. Ambassador Purnell wrote: "the fact that there has been progress at all is a testament to Mike’s energy, creativity and diplomatic skills." Michael’s cables on wide-ranging abuses, arbitrary arrests, renewed harassment of the opposition and imprisonment of political and religious leaders led to the Secretary’s determination in July that Uzbekistan had not made sufficient progress in meeting its obligations under the 2002 Strategic Partnership Declaration. His reporting on female members of the banned Party of Islamic Liberation and other developments provided the United States with insights into the complexity of the Government of Uzbekistan’s handling of democratic issues. Mike facilitated a series of lunches between Freedom House’s director and the Ministry of Internal Affairs that led to an unprecedented roundtable on torture between law enforcement officials and human rights advocates. His efforts also led to the release of independent journalist Ruslan Sharipov, and he is currently working on the establishment of an inter-ministerial investigative commission on human rights.

3) Nor was the U.S. democracy advocacy in Uzbekistan solely limited to relatively low ranking diplomats at the Embassy in Tashkent. The Acting Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, for instance, has even visited the city that was the site of the slaughter:

In promoting human rights, the United States has sought to engage with Uzbekistan on two levels. On the first level, the United States maintains a vigorous bilateral dialogue with the Uzbek Government on a host of issues, from democratization to religious tolerance, and from legal and penitentiary reform to advocacy on behalf of specific prisoners of conscience. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) Michael Kozak visited Uzbekistan in November, meeting with officials in Tashkent, Namangan and Andijon to highlight ongoing U.S. concerns about human rights and democracy. Human rights and democracy also featured prominently in the July visit of Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) Beth Jones and the November visit of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for EUR Laura Kennedy. The Ambassador and his staff treated the promotion of human rights and democracy as a major U.S. priority in Uzbekistan and incorporated these goals in discussions with officials at all levels of government. In Washington, then-Assistant Secretary for DRL Lorne Craner and Assistant Secretary for EUR Beth Jones twice provided Congressional testimony on U.S. efforts to engage the Government of Uzbekistan on U.S. concerns about human rights and democracy.

The second level of the U.S. strategy focuses on the development of civil society. Working with NGOs and individual Uzbeks, the United States seeks to expand the ability of local organizations to affect positive change in society, to develop the foundations of a free press, and to create space for human rights activism and independent political expression. The United States places particular value on exchanges and training, in order to provide the next generation of Uzbek citizens with the tools necessary to move their country’s politics and society out of the shadow of its Soviet past. All programs operated by the Open Society Institute (OSI) were forced to close when the Uzbek Ministry of Justice (MOJ) refused to reregister OSI, effectively shutting it down. In February, the Government issued a decree making it more difficult for foreign entities to fund the activities of their local NGO partners. The United States has devoted considerable attention to this issue and is working to ensure that local organizations are able to continue their work. [emphasis added]

4) Finally, at least for tonight, there is this tantalizingly interesting story floating about the American-expatriate-in-Russia-blogosphere . Can it really be that Karimov himself, aside from blaming Islamist agitators for the carnage, has actually blamed Bush too for causing some of the rumblings of domestic discontent?

Karimov thinks that the sources of this operation are outside of the country, and that there are forces which have an interest in destabilizing the situation in Uzbekistan. These are not only Hizb ut Tahrir, but the United States as well. Karimov made it clear that the "leader of a large superpower, who just completed a tour of the CIS nations" is inclined to forcibly implant democracy in the post-Soviet space..

Hmmm. I wonder who the "leader of a large superpower [ ed. note: don't miss the plausible Karimovian phraseology that appears crafted to not offend the, er, 'other' superpowers, that is China and Russia] who just completed a tour of the CIS nations" is?

Regular readers may recall that I speculated things like the Tbilisi stopover might have wider regional implications. Frankly, I don't think it's too much of a stretch at all to assume some of the increased civil protest in the air in Uzbekistan is a result of Bush's forward democratization strategy including his high profile visits to places like Georgia. All this said, of course, we've had a massacre of perhaps upwards of 700 individuals in Uzbekistan this past week. Business as usual now, and this includes sending in Assistant Secretaries to rap knuckles, would not be good enough. It would be too perilously close to Freeland's "sonafabitchism." Which means we need to, likely in tandem with Jack Straw, force Karimov to allow for a full unfettered investigation of the killings (with international observers), free movement of journalists, and more. No, immediate regime change isn't an option. But should a judicious investigation show that command authorization allowed for the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians--a fundamental reappraisal of our Uzbek policy will certainly be required. To be a bit more blunt, Condi will have to ratchet up the pressure more than this:

Nobody is asking any government to deal with terrorists," she said Tuesday evening at a news conference in Washington. "That's not the issue. The issue, though, is that it is a society that needs openness, it needs to reform, and again, I think if you look at the record, we have raised that with the government of Karimov for quite some time."

That's true, but if the massacre that occurred looks to have been a purposeful Uzbek Tiananmen-style massacre, we're going to have to be quite a bit more forceful in our criticisms than this. Developing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 03:20 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 17, 2005

A Forgotten Villain of l'Affaire Newsweek

No, not Mike "Gotcha" (or not!) Isikoff. But re: the Newsweek scandale, and before a more thorough analysis (hopefully, as stated, tomorrow), can I just point out one villain in all this that has so far escaped criticism in the blogosphere? That's Imran Khan, darling of a certain London social set that the likes of Taki tend to go a bit gaga for. Recall that it is our hero Imran--nobly upholding the honor of the Islamic Holy Book--who jumped on the erroneous (or should I say instead too, er, prematurely penned?) Newsweek report to helpfully fan the waves of initial discontent in Pakistan. As the NYT details:

The outcry over the Newsweek article apparently began in Pakistan, when Imran Khan, the legendary cricketer turned opposition politician, summoned reporters to a press conference on May 6 to draw attention to it. Once close to the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and a onetime crusader against corruption, Mr. Khan has been vocal in recent years against United States strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Islam is under attack in the name of the war on terror," Mr. Khan, now one of General Musharraf's most stalwart critics, told reporters. He pressed the Musharraf regime to demand an apology from Washington.

For the next several days, the report dominated the front pages of English and Urdu-language newspapers in Pakistan and became the center of debate in the Pakistan Parliament. Predictably, a coalition of Islamist parties seized on the Newsweek report to excoriate General Musharraf's government for colluding with the West against Islam. But the criticism was not limited to the religious right. Legislators from across the political spectrum denounced the reported desecration, and by Friday, May 13, Parliament had passed a unanimous resolution condemning it.

All this brings to mind a few old memories. Quite a few moons back I was in New Delhi having breakfast with a senior U.S. diplomat. An impressionable FSO, who had spent time at the U.S. Consulate in Lahore (Imran's home base), was waxing rhapsodic about just how smashing and dandy Imran the Great Cricketeer, Great Humanitarian, Great Ladies Man (and so on and on) was. The much more experienced diplomat cut this smitten junior down at the knees mighty quickly. With Imran, he intoned (and I paraphrase) it's always about the cult of self. I am the best cricket player! The best with the girls! The most noble humanitarian! A budding politician of note! But there are no core convictions or beliefs behind the man, or so this American diplomat opined quite persuasively.

Yes, it was a harsh judgment indeed that was passed on. But, truth be told, I suspected he was right. Not least, I found his too frequent appearances in society pages bespoke a certain shallowness of character. And really, save a sorry solipsism, did Mr. Khan have any core beliefs of note? No, I suspected, he merely shifts ever so easily with the prevailing winds, and always ostensibly with one concern in the main, namely: what's in it for Imran?

All this said, I'd never planned on recounting this little vignette from a long ago trip to Delhi. Personal epingles and jabs, despite the few I spew out at the Atrios' and Kos' now and again, are not really B.D.'s thing. But Khan's rank opportunitism in leaping on this thinly sourced Newsweek piece, his taking advantage of the poverty and frustration and ignorance of easily riled Islamists in the streets of inflammable Pakistan--and this only to benefit himself politically--it was all too naseautingly opportunistic and smacking so deeply of faux outrage. And, it bears mentioning of course, people died partly as a result of his hyperbolic fanning of the flames. So yes, all this pushed me to scribble down these hasty reminiscences and thoughts, though I would have preferred not to frankly.

Regardless of all the above, this last episode standing alone has certainly not been a proud one for Khan and, I think it's more than fair to say, it will not have won him many friends in the places that count in Washington. And, lest we forget, Islamabad power brokers know well that a good relationship with Washington (even in the pre-9/11 days) is imperative for many strategic Pakistani reasons and will continue to be so for quite a few years to come. So it wasn't even a smart move politically (he will be taken less seriously by the Pakistani Army, for one, as well as other key players in the Pakistani capital)--putting aside the hypocrisy, the loss of life, the disingenuousness of it all. Not only morally defunct, but tactically stupid. Which is another way of saying: I'm quite sure he's not ready for prime time (outside of the cricket fields, that is).

Posted by Gregory at 04:21 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Thanks

...to Joseph Britt for all his excellent blogging in this space over the past few weeks. Assuming Joe doesn't start his own blog (which I see a few commenters have been egging him on to do) he's welcome anytime to come do another guest-blogging stint over here. As for me, I'm well aware there's a lot afoot of late (the Newsweek-Koran caper; Uzbekistan, Condi in Iraq, etc etc) and hope to turn to some of it tomorrow night. See you then.

Posted by Gregory at 01:49 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 15, 2005

Signing Off

Well, folks, that's it for me. Greg Djerejian will be resuming solo blogging shortly, and may have other plans for the BD site that he will disclose in due course. I want to thank Greg for thinking of me to guest-blog while he attended to the many demands of his non-blogging life, and thank as well BD's readers for their attention and indulgence. I hope I haven't made too many of them question Greg's judgment or sanity in turning his blog and the dedicated and discerning audience he has built over to me for the last few weeks.

I want to leave by directing those interested to a purely local item, an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today by a University of Georgia professor named James C. Cobb about the latest effort by Atlanta to define itself. Cobb writes perceptively though rather cynically about "...the longstanding association between Atlanta's identity and the pursuit of somebody else's money," but the best part of the piece comes at the end, as AJC readers offer their own ideas for a "Brand Atlanta" slogan. Choice samples include:


* "Atlanta: mountains to the north, mullets to the south."

* "The city too busy to shut the hell up in the movie theater."

* "Atlanta: Not too bad north of I-20, east of I-75 and south of the top-end Perimeter." (If you don't listen to radio traffic reports this one will make no sense)

* "Atlanta: where slogans are needed to divert attention from reality."


To me, it's not Wisconsin, but it's not that bad.

Posted by at 03:59 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

What Is World Order For?

How should the United States approach problems overseas that in the short term affect our interests only indirectly or in a minor way, but in the long term may become serious issues?

A temptation in such cases -- it is not unique to American officials -- is to do and say the minimum possible. Especially in administrations focused on the requirements of domestic campaign politics, the exercise of leadership is not often thought worthwhile if it does not bring some kind of domestic political return. A second temptation is to "stand on principle," the operative word in that expression being the verb. Sometimes there is no alternative to this, but standing in place as it involves taking no action and no risk is no more attractive when it is wise as when it is merely easy.

A final temptation is to treat each problem as a case, unrelated to anything else and to be resolved or not depending primarily on what the United States does about it directly. Henry Kissinger among others thought lawyers were particularly apt to look at foreign policy in this way, perhaps because in his own experience as National Security Adviser his chief bureaucratic obstacle was an able and dignified but somewhat obtuse former Attorney General. But arguably the most successful Secretary of State in our modern history, Dean Acheson, was a very good lawyer, a protege of Brandeis and Frankfurter. Proving, I suppose, that even those most subject to temptation needn't yield to it.

Resisting these temptations can leave one open to the wisdom that everything in foreign policy is related to everything else, and that while there are many things America cannot do itself we may be able to cause others to do some of them.

Let's first of all be clear about what this does not mean. It does not mean looking to the UN or any other international organization as the essential part of a solution to every problem. I am not anti-UN; I think it can be an aid to diplomacy, and a means for diverse countries to address technical issues or those involving no major controversy between nations. But that's about it. Count on the UN to address controversial, pressing international problems and you'll be waiting till doomsday.

Nor should we count on a more generally defined "world community" and its conception of international law. International law, like the UN, has its uses, removing from the realm of the political any number of routine disputes that it is more convenient to resolve through appeal to rule and precedent. But law to be effective must reflect shared values, and to be just cannot restrain only the powerful while leaving the wicked to do as they please. It now gratifies the vanity of the French buristocracy and its European disciples to think of both the UN and international law primarily as tools with which to constrain the options of the United States. In some circumstances they might be of some use in addressing difficult and disruptive regional situations, but their advocates in Europe are not interested.

Finally, it does not mean predicating every American effort to cooperate with another country on whether we approve of its domestic political arrangements. It never has before, and perhaps this point may seem so obvious as to not require restatement. The current bipartisan enthusiasm for democratization in all countries around the globe, however, leaves me in some doubt as to whether everyone in Washington has this clearly in mind.

The domestic arrangements of some countries, of course, are matters of legitimate American and international concern. Fifteen years ago Zimbabwe could feed itself, and even export food; it was an example other small African countries seeking to develop could hope to emulate. Now it is a basket case, its government dependent on international handouts to keep part of its population from starving to death and willing to use its food aid as a political weapon. Sudan is expelling refugees by the tens of thousands while killing many of those left behind; it has done this, in different parts of its territory, for about two decades now. And of course North Korea is seeking a nuclear arsenal even as its government's policies drive its people toward starvation and itself toward collapse.

These situations ought to concern us. They ought to concern other countries even more, though, and we do not use that fact to our advantage nearly as often as we could. It is too glib to say that the solution to the Zimbabwe problem has to go through South Africa; to Sudan, through Egypt; to North Korea, through China. Each of the larger countries in these instances have reasons for the actions they have taken, or rather and for the most part have not taken. But in each case those reasons have led them to follow a course fraught with indignity, dishonor or great physical risk. Other governments are no less likely to do foolish things than ours is, and as we are able to correct our mistakes, so are they.

North Korea is the most urgent problem for the United States, both because a North Korean nuclear arsenal is a grave regional threat and because our relations with China are involved. China has supported North Korea over the years for reasons touching on the internal politics of the Chinese Communist Party, and has been rewarded not only by the current nuclear crisis but by the threat that a North Korean collapse could bring a flood of refugees and turmoil to China's northeastern provinces. Understandably but unwisely China has sought to sweep this latter problem under the rug and hope that time eases the threat. It won't. The Chinese leadership may also consider that even a nuclear-armed North Korea would not provoke the Japanese into seeking their own nuclear deterrent, which is probably wrong also. Finally, China has something of an international reputation for indifference to human suffering, a reputation that would get much worse should North Korea's internal situation deteriorate suddenly and an unsympathetic Chinese response be widely publicized.

Propping up a Communist government does give nominal Communists in Beijing such gratification as they can find in a regime that daily shakes rhetorical fists at the United States. But from the standpoint of China's own interests its government's policy toward North Korea -- not just the regime's nuclear program, but the regime itself -- has been massively unwise. It could not hurt for the American government to make this diagnosis public, and in private offer its prescription: Chinese cooperation in stopping North Korea's nuclear program, and steps by Beijing to remove the current North Korean leadership and replace it with one amenable to Chinese direction on developing the country and keeping its population where it is, in which cause the United States would be willing to provide assistance.

There are many potential difficulties in this course of action. China's historical memory of foreign interference in its own affairs, the bloody history of the Chinese Communist senior leadership that -- let us be frank -- makes it less sensitive than Westerners are to the vast human suffering in North Korea, and the temptation for Chinese officials faced with many other difficult issues to wait for the United States to solve China's North Korean problem for it somehow are all reasons or at least excuses for Beijing to kick this problem down the road as far as it can, and worry about a North Korean collapse when it happens.

The problem for China is that it will happen, and when it does it will not happen quietly. Pyongyang has already demonstrated that it is likely to break any agreement it reaches with the United States on nuclear weapons, and if Kim Jong-il had ever wanted to take his country in a direction that didn't put it on a course for economic collapse he would have done it by now. By waiting on the United States to negotiate a settlement of the nuclear question while ignoring the threat to regional stability posed by the Pyongyang regime's internal policies the Chinese are liable to end up with faced with both problems at once. We cannot force Beijing to act to avoid them, but we can encourage it.

I have already written several times here about Darfur and its relation to our problems with the broader Arab culture. Quite evidently I am in a small minority that even acknowledges there might be such a relation and is not concerned that mentioning the possibility is unforgiveably impolite. I will not reprise the arguments on this subject other than to express doubt that an Arab culture indifferent to genocide will ever be reliably hostile to terrorism. That is the implication of Darfur of most immediate concern to us.

But for Egypt in particular there is another implication of the interminable fighting in Sudan, having to do with Egypt's position as a leader in the Arab world. To be honest I don't know if Egyptians today even want such a position, and in particular if their government has any ambitions beyond continuing its own existence with as little change as possible. At one time, though, Egypt sought with great energy, and was willing to pay a heavy price for the role of Arab leader -- in the '50s and '60s on behalf of romantic objectives of dubious worth, and with more calculation under Sadat in the 1970s. There is some truth in the idea that within the Arab world Egypt is the only nation amidst a collection of tribes, and it may strike Egyptians as something of an indignity that its government's official statements on the crisis in Darfur parrot those of the notoriously bloodthirsty government in Khartoum. Then, too, the victims are Darfur are almost all fellow Muslims; their killers presumably have reasons for killing them, but these can't mean anything to Egyptian Muslims. Finally Egypt could lead other Arab governments troubled by American pressures to democratize and wishing to buy some time, to distract their people with a worthy and pious cause that would not for a change involve clashes with the West. Quite a bit of time could be bought through an Egyptian-led campaign to end genocide against African Muslims.

Obviously, if this were an easy call for the government in Cairo it would have happened already. Governments that rule in defiance of public opinion are not always good at manipulating it, and sadly it is also true that while Arabs tend to expect that their problems should be the problems of all Muslims they do not expect that the reverse is true at all. And is it really true that Egyptians can believe that before Egypt can be free she must be great?

What we do know is that the West cannot end the genocide in Sudan without the help of the Arab countries, and that the Arab countries, led by Egypt, could end the genocide without help from the West beyond the humanitarian activities underway now. And we have seen, within living memory, an Egyptian leader who conducted himself the way he thought the leader of a great nation should. We will not know what is possible unless we ask.

Zimbabwe should be the easiest case of all. South Africa's economy has been hurt by the politically-imposed economic collapse of its northern neighbor; a steady stream of economic refugees flows across the border every day. Hardly anything done by Robert "The Beast" Mugabe's government over the last five years or so has benefited South Africa at all, and South Africa has many means of pressuring the government in Harare economically. Outside of Africa, most powerful countries are sympathetic to South Africa and regard Mugabe with distaste; they would prefer that the strongest country in the region lead the way in promoting stability where it is needed so desperately.

Unfortunately South Africa, while a democracy, is effectively a one-party state. Its leaders, particularly President Thabo Mbeki, identify with other leaders of the long struggle against minority white rule that ended for them only fifteen years ago, and being somewhat less than vigilant against protecting their own people against deadly threats such as HIV/AIDS are hardly more concerned about the plight of ordinary people in another country. Add to that the legacy of the former Pretoria government's frequent and usually unhelpful interventions in the politics of countries throughout the region and you have most of the explanation for why the promising Zimbabwean experiment can be allowed to disintegrate amidst great hardship while the only country in the region with any real strength refuses to use it.

In all these cases, but especially the last two, an honest assessment of American national interests would have to conclude that a policy of benign neglect has much to recommend it. The North Korean nuclear situation is a serious issue, but unless Pyongyang's nuclear weapons were exported or made deliverable over long distances -- both of which we should be able to prevent -- even a North Korean nuclear arsenal, by itself, is something we could probably live with. What happens to North Korea's people does not effect us. Genocide in Rwanda didn't inflict much damage to American interests; genocide in Darfur isn't either, and apart from tourists and the makers of wildlife documentaries Zimbabwe's long slide out of the light isn't even an inconvenience.

Beyond the calculation of immediate national interest there is the matter of timing. In each of the three cases I have mentioned enormous, deliberately inflicted suffering has already happened. If Robert Mugabe dropped dead tomorrow, Sudan's Arab tribes retreated to the lands they occupied three years ago and Kim Jong-il's government disappeared, Zimbabwe would still take years to recover, Darfur decades, North Korea centuries. The effort required to make painless gestures toward easing suffering in such places is minimal; the effort, and the risks, involved in doing something serious to stop it could be pretty large.

One of those risks in the course I am suggesting -- deliberate American encouragement of regional powers to lead the way in quelling or preventing upheavals in smaller neighboring states -- ought to be clear enough. It is a policy that could be deliberately misinterpreted: by China with respect to Taiwan, by Russia with respect to several of its neighbors, by any number of African countries. An even more obvious risk is that this course just wouldn't work: if a free and prosperous Zimbabwe really does mean less to South Africa's leadership than its solidarity with Harare's "big man" or Arab Muslims really do think that mass murder of non-Arab Muslims is just not that big a deal our trying to shame or otherwise encourage them to action would get nowhere and risk making us look ineffectual.

Should that be the last word? Most of the factors I'm aware of suggest it should be, and will be. Asking any of the larger regional powers named above to assume a role similar to or even greater than that the Australian government played in the East Timor situation is asking a lot. But if we are working toward some kind of world order -- however one chooses to define it -- what is it for? How useful or durable is it likely to be if when presented with the very worst cases of human suffering and wasted potential the first things it looks for is excuses not to do anything about them? Europe quailed at the legal justification for America's overthrowing one of the vilest governments in recent history two years ago; to listen to discussion in the United States one would think that whether Egypt permits a few free labor unions eventually is more important than whether it does anything about genocide just across its border right now. Is this really the best we can do?

If mass murder and deliberately created famines don't always do the wider world direct harm -- millions starved during China's Great Leap Forward and the outside world barely knew it was happening -- they surely don't do it any good. It can't be to anyone's advantage that Africa is a perpetual basket case, ridden with incredibly violent conflicts and diseases much of its political leadership is hardly able to keep up with even when it is interested. North Korea's government is not just a menace to its neighbors because of its nuclear program, but is laying the groundwork for a human catastrophe that will burden at least two of the world's leading economies -- South Korea's and China's -- for years. Surely there is sense in using some ingenuity to induce neighboring countries that, left to themselves, may not be overly concerned with human suffering on a large scale to do something about it anyway.

If there is to be a stable, multipolar world order some of the poles in it will have to play a larger role than they do now, or than they are now inclined to do. I am skeptical of the value of pressing countries around the world to become democracies whether their people and cultures are advanced enough to adapt to this very demanding form of government or not. There are cases in which pressing nations to alter their foreign policies to serve the interests of civilization seems a more promising means of making this world a less brutal, a less morally degraded and perhaps a less dangerous place.

Posted by at 02:12 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 13, 2005

Bolton and Voinovich

It was suggested to me a while ago, by someone who knows that in a past life I worked under George Voinovich when he was Governor of Ohio, that I might say something about his role in the controversy over John Bolton's nomination to be UN ambassador. Let me state up front that while not close to him personally (or physically, since I worked out of the state's Washington office) I liked Voinovich and thought him a good, conscientious governor.

I don't really have a lot to say; my thinking on Bolton is not that far removed from Voinovich's position. Bolton, though I recognize his abilities and past accomplishments, would not have been my choice for the UN post. Unlike Voinovich I don't think the case against him is strong enough to justify denying the President his choice. I did not support Bush during the 2000 Republican primaries, after all, and my evaluation of his administration (even just the foreign policy part of it) would be considerably less enthusiastic than Greg's posted here last Thursday. I have thought Bush's nominees were the best available perhaps a third of the time. But he is President, and barring something disqualifying in a nominee's background or grounds to believe mjaor damage will result from his appointment I incline toward giving a President the team he wants.

I was frankly a little disappointed to see a couple of things about Voinovich's participation in this controversy. The first was the way he sprang his doubts about Bolton on the Foreign Relations Committee just before the scheduled committee vote back on April 19, after not having spoken up in hearings the preceding week. This I thought was less than considerate of committee Chairman Richard Lugar, whose job between this administration and hostile committee Democrats is difficult enough without surprises of this kind from his own side.

The main thing for me, though, is the need for timely decision on important nominations. If Bolton gets blocked in committee, the President can get started on another nominee. If he gets approved, he can get right to work -- provided of course he doesn't run afoul of Sen. Frist's plan to make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, starting next week. How about if Bolton stays in limbo for another month or two, during which time the United States will have no ambassador to the UN? What kind of message does that send about how America regards the United Nations, and if Bolton does finally get confirmed after such a protracted ordeal how effective is he likely to be?

Frankly, I could see Bolton's opponents going to the lengths they have to block his nomination only if they expected that upon confirmation he would go to New York, seize an axe, and start bashing in the UN's front door while yelling "here's Johnny!" But if Voinovich believes all the things he said about Bolton yesterday, then he ought to have voted that way, killed the nomination, and let everyone move on so this position could get filled in a timely manner. If not, he should have voted for it -- back in April, actually -- with whatever reservations, and confirmed Bolton for what after all is only an ambassadorship the holder of which is charged with implementing policy made in Washington. I've noted before that the Bush administration has a tendency to leave important posts unfilled at inopportune times. Usually it has itself to blame, as with the embassy in Baghdad and the public diplomacy position at State, but not this time.

"I'm not so arrogant" said Voinovich on Thursday, "to think that I should impose my judgment and perspective of the U.S. position in the world community on the rest of my colleagues." Sorry, boss, but a United States Senator is liable to find himself imposing his judgmemt on his colleagues during any close vote. It's part of the job description. You either accept the responsibility, or you don't.

Posted by at 11:59 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Books

You wouldn't think that after all this time there'd be anything new to say about Theodore Roosevelt, but last year a reporter for the Albany Times Union named Paul Grondahl published a nifty little biography called I Rose Like A Rocket with an angle I hadn't seen before.

This was the importance to Roosevelt's career of his political education in -- wait for it -- Albany, first as an Assemblyman for three years in his early 20s and later as Governor after returning from Cuba. Grondahl doesn't cover just those five years, and the book recycles some familiar material about Roosevelt's time in the Dakota territory and in Washington. He does a pretty good job, though, of showing the importance of Roosevelt's experience as a professional politician to his development as a statesman. A flavor of the book can be picked up in this chat transcript from last July.

Roosevelt was a polymath, a rare type even in his time, who earned his living at various times by selling cattle, books and articles on an astonishing variety of subjects. But for most of his adult life before 1901 he was a professional politician, who ran for office when he thought there was one he could win, sought appointments to government jobs when he didn't, and learned a lot of his lessons on what did and did not work in government and politics the hard way. Long ago some focus group reacted badly to the word "politician" and ever since candidates have appealed to voters on the grounds that they were different; they were not professional politicians, but people from some other field come to clean up politics with the allegedly unique wisdom they absorbed in their former life. It would be entertaining to listen to Roosevelt's reaction to appeals for support from such modern-day unprofessional unpoliticians as Wesley Clark (Army), John Edwards (personal injury law), and Bill Frist (heart surgery). Reading Grondahl's book makes one wonder if any of these guys could have learned as much about making government work as Roosevelt did in three years as a junior assemblyman in the New York state legislature.

Roosevelt, the only President born in New York City, also left a mark as a Police Commissioner there in the 1890s. I particularly enjoyed Grondahl's retelling of a familiar story about a debate between Lincoln Steffens and Jacob Riis on whether their favorite police commissioner could become President. When they took their argument to Roosevelt he roared at Riis for even suggesting the idea, and then said


"Never, never, you must never either of you remind a man at work on a political job that he may become President. It almost always gives up the very traits that are making him a possibility. I, for instance, I am going to do great things here, hard things that require all the courage, ability, work that I am capable of...But if I get to thinking of what it might lead to...I must be wanting to be President. Every young man does [Roosevelt was 37 at the time]. But I won't let myself think of it; I must not, because if I do, I will begin to work for it, I'll be careful, calculating, cautious in word and act, and so--I'll beat myself. See?"


It's easy enough to see the truth of this coming from Roosevelt. I wonder how much truth it holds for some of our modern Presidential aspirants. Suppose that, say, John Kerry or Bill Frist did decide not to listen so carefully to the advice of their campaign consultants and made their appeals to organized interest groups in a less calculated way. Suppose they were less cautious about offending any group whose support they might win. Would we be able to tell?

My other book this week is Jeffrey Birnbaum and Alan Murray's congressional classic Showdown at Gucci Gulch, which tells the story of the 1986 Tax Reform Act's long march from conception to enactment. It was always an absorbing read, but it has a melancholy edge to it now, ten Congresses and almost twenty years after President Reagan signed the TRA into law.

Politicians' zeal to help special interests and collect campaign cash didn't just develop yesterday. For many years prior to the TRA the tax code had been the vehicle not only for social engineering but for rent-seeking and vote buying, sometimes decorously concealed and sometimes not. Washington wisdom, supported by most interest group representatives, was that this was the way it had always been and always would be. Political wisdom, somewhat sketchily supported by opinion polling, was that the public was discontented with a tax system that allowed rich people and large companies to get away from paying their fair share by taking advantage of shelters for passive losses and the myriad other tax breaks Congress had put into the code over the years.

Eventually, led by some very unlikely champions in the Reagan administration and the Congress, especially the Senate, tax reform survived all the furious assaults on it by lobbyists and their champions on the Hill. The 1986 TRA slashed individual income tax rates, ended dozens of shelters, took millions of low-income earners off the tax rolls and raised corporate taxes substantially. It was a signature and fully bipartisan accomplishment for the Reagan administration that probably could not have been enacted under any other modern President. And it started to decay almost immediately.

What we know now that Birnbaum and Murray could not have was that President Reagan's fading energy and his preoccupation with the Iran-Contra scandal would combine with the Republicans' loss of the Senate in the 1986 elections to weaken an essential element in the success of any legislation: entrenched opposition to the idea of undoing it. Beginning in 1987 the newly Democratic Congress began making new proposals to use the tax code to promote various causes. With Reagan's departure from the White House in 1989 the current Dark Age of the American Presidency began, an age characterized by mediocrity, fecklessness, self-absorption and incidentally a thoroughgoing lack of interest in keeping a simplified tax code that required similar taxes from people with similar incomes. By 2000 both major-party Presidential candidates were running on tax programs that promised a plethora of new tax breaks, and Congress has added more in every year since.

Bad luck accounts for some of this. Faulty political calculation does as well; Americans may have been fed up with the pre-TRA code, but that didn't mean they'd be willing to reward politicians committed to simplifying it. What Americans want most is lower taxes, not simpler ones, and if their own taxes are lower they aren't so concerned about whether everyone else's are fair. As a vote winner, tax reform never paid off. And of course while the tax reform coalition was weakening after the 1986 elections the lobbyists who never wanted reform in the first place weren't going anywhere.

Still, there is something inspiring in the story of a diverse group of people striving jointly, and succeeding for a while, to establish policy over a vast area of government activity that aimed at fairness and rules of the road that everyone could understand. Showdown is also a timely reminder of how much Congress has changed. Birnbaum and Murray include an anecdote about the prior tax bill, in 1984, when Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Dole tried to cut the federal deficit by reducing the size of some vast tax breaks the real estate industry had been given in 1981. This industry, then as now was very well represented on Capitol Hill; its lobbyists fought furiously against Dole's plan, and won. This was the reaction they got from Dole:


"They have been camping on our doorstep. They have been in the gallery. They have been in the elevators...I know the precise office this storm has been created by. There will be another day."


The 1986 tax reform eliminated tens of billions of dollars of real estate shelters; no industry was treated more harshly. You can imagine a few people in Washington today, a couple of them in Congress, who would signal a powerful organized interest that it was now in the crosshairs: if the interest only supported politicians of the other party, for instance, or if it was threatening to complicate some campaign position of the President's. But for blocking action on a policy issue unrelated to an upcoming campaign? That would never happen today.

Posted by at 10:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Last Word on Abu Ghraib

Suzanne Nossel closes our exchange over how the prisoner abuse scandals by reiterating a point no one can argue with: that these make it harder for the American government to implement its policies overseas. No doubt about it (though see Suzanne's comments for an amusing sidebar on the alleged Koran-flushing incident. Maybe if you put it on a CD, and crumpled it up...). About this aspect of the prisoner abuse scandals I have nothing more to say, and only one thing more to say about foreign perceptions of the United States in general.

This is that, sometimes, part of the problem when other people suspect you of not being what you purport to be is what you purport to be. If American officials from the President on down continually present the United States primarily as a beacon of freedom and champion of democracy -- because they are speaking primarily to their domestic audience -- inconsistencies and betrayed ideals will all but leap out at foreign audiences. The fact is and always has been that the United States is a nation with national interests, many of which have nothing to do with spreading freedom and democracy.

There is nothing wrong with being frank about that, and quite a few things wrong with pretending that it isn't true. Naturally we want our southern neighbors to be free and prosperous, but what we need is for them to stop sending so many illegal immigrants to the United States. Absolutely we support democracy in Iran because the Iranian people have universal human rights, but mainly the dominant forces in the current government are violently hostile to the United States and likely to remain so. Of course we would like to see more freedom in a country like Egypt, but what we need is for Egypt not to export terrorists (and, by the way, it would be nice if Egypt could exert its influence to stop the genocide going on just over its southern border. As far as I'm concerned, if Mubarak would do that he could arrange his next ceremonial reelection any way he liked).

Additional examples could be multiplied many times over. With respect to Iraq alone there must be about twenty of them. Other nations expect the United States to pursue its interests, because it is what they do. They recognize that in addition we will encourage, exhort, warn and otherwise promote our political ideals, but continual proclamations that we are mostly about ideals and only secondarily about interests all but guarantee confusion and disillusion in almost every foreign country. Sooner or later foreign audiences discover that we aren't, even if many Americans never get the message.

Posted by at 11:59 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Blog Query

A quick query. I've seen much blogospheric chit-chat of late that Sitemeter undercounts visitor hits. Is this true? Why? Is there better and/or more accurate software avail? Input appreciated.

Posted by Gregory at 03:42 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Ethnic Parastates Bad

Can I just say that I agree with Heather Hurlburt here (and Juan Cole!). B.D. has blogged this meme previously here, here, here and here.

P.S. Oh, and can someone please inform Michael Signer that ethnic partitioning is not a "quintessentially American" value. Thanks.

Posted by Gregory at 03:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Duncan & Larry: Birds of a Feather

Atrios (I won't link the specific post here) is busy sending his readers to accounts of unsubstantiated smut re: Bolton straight from Hustler-land and Larry Flynt. Does this beat "screw them" as a new low for the blogosphere? I think...yeah, maybe. Especially as this has to do with the personal lives of individuals Black has no (repeat, no) business digging into. I suppose he feels manly and all Lee Atwater-y (look 'ma; we can play hardball too!) but it's very, very low indeed. Of course, he won't be embarrased a smidgen. I'm just pointing it out, you know, for the record.

P.S. I've gotten Google hits all night to B.D. from such searches: "Bolton family life" "Bolton first wife" etc etc. That's not what this nomination is about. By having moved into this terrain Bolton's opponents have blundered. As I said, the Chafee's and Murkowski's and Hagel's etc are going to get turned off by these repulsive scorched earth tactics. Or, at the very least, it will give Cheney some talking points when he calls them up before the full floor vote (look at the cruel character assassination afoot! support our President's nominee against this trash!)

P.P.S. Shame on Steve too for going down this road. After all, not posting about the "insidious rumors" on his "front page"; but linking to comments that have all the gory details--well, it's cute and ingenious, perhaps, but not all that different than what Atrios has done. Steve could have deleted the comment or, at the very least, not pointed people to it. As a fan of his, I feel let down.

I'll have more on Bolton soon, including my final views on the merits of his nomination.

Posted by Gregory at 03:15 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Syria's Role In Iraq

I was surprised to read this recently in the WaPo:

Suicide attacks are not, in all likelihood, Iraqi operations. "Thirty-five years of Saddam's brutal repression did not produce a single suicide bomber," says a former military officer who is now working as a driver.

Syria has been an important base and way station for these foreign fighters. Interviews with arrested "jihadis" and transcripts of interrogations obtained from Iraqi security and intelligence show that a typical jihadi's journey from his city in Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen or any other Arab country until the moment he blows himself up goes something like this: After deciding that he wants to fight the Americans in Iraq, he contacts mosques in Damascus known for recruiting mujaheddin for the holy war in Iraq. Often these recruitment campaigns are funded by senior Syrian officials.

After deciding that a person is fit to conduct a "martyrdom operation," Syrian intelligence trains him on how to disguise his identity and how to handle explosives and ammunitions. Radical mullahs supplement this with heavy doses of hard-line religious teaching. The volunteer is then taken across the desert in eastern Syria, through the porous borders, into the Sunni triangle in Iraq, where he is housed by members of the former Baathist intelligence and security network. The second leg of the journey is to a safe house in Baghdad, where he is assigned a target to blow up or sent to certain areas to fight the Americans or the new Iraqi army and police forces.

Last year, the Iraqi government published a list of foreign fighters caught in Iraq. The father of one of the fighters contacted one of the ministers and said that when his son left home he told his parents he was going to Syria for a holiday. A month later he called his parents and said that he was in Fallujah for jihad against the Americans.

Before the American offensive in Fallujah, foreign militants used to go there to join the local insurgency in conducting conventional attacks on Iraqi police, national guards and the U.S. military. Iraqi journalists working for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) reported that Syrian militias were openly operating in various areas of the Sunni triangle. One Syrian combatant told a reporter, who was posing as a local resident, that he was in Iraq fighting the United States because "if we don't fight them here, we will have to fight them in Syria."

Money also flows in from Syria. I spoke with an Iraqi journalist who recently visited Syria. He said being there felt like being back in Saddam's Iraq. "The place was heaving with sons of Baathists and former regime officials," he observed. [emphasis added]

Hiwa Osman, who penned this op-ed, is an Iraqi Kurd and thus likely not an unbiased source (Kurds aren't the biggest fans of the Syrians, of course). Still, he works for the IPWR which is a pretty reputable outfit. But to contend that Syrian intelligence is training suicide bombers headed for Iraq is a pretty damning charge. Has it been substantiated? I haven't seen such evidence, and would welcome any additional detail (in comments or via E-mail at belgraviadispatch-AT-hotmail.com) on this point.

B.D.'s view of the Syrian angle of late? First, I think it's fair to say that the U.S.-Syrian relationship has been at something of a crossroads in recent months. A major issue was the significant misapprehension and anger resulting from the often stated accusation that Syria's border with Iraq was purposefully being left overly porous--a charge Bashar routinely denied (not always particularly convincingly). And there was the Hariri assassination, of course, which many in Washington presumed the Syrians were behind. Bashar has survived the Lebanon crisis by pulling his military and secret services out of that country. This move reduced some of the U.S. pressure on Damascus (and was certainly enough to get the French, who had been cooperating with the U.S. on the Syria account, off of Bashar's back pretty much in toto).

This leaves (putting more Israeli-centric issues like Syrian support to Hamas and Jihad Islami aside) the issue of how and whether and to what extent Syria is supporting the insurgency in Iraq. I have no doubt that Syrian Baathists have given refuge to many Iraqi Baathists, and have significant sympathies with their beleagered ideological Baathist brothers (despite the very cold relationship that prevailed between Hafez Asad and Saddam). That said, B.D. never counted himself as one who believed that some Ho Chi Minh trail was running between Damascus and, say, Fallujah. Nor was I alone in this assessment. Funnily enough, given the Bolton brouhaha of late, it bears mentioning I even got abrasive Bully John to back-down, during Q&A in London, on the extent of Syrian trouble-making in Iraq.

My bottom line on Syria? It's hard to say without access to the intel. As best I can piece information together from the press, however, I figure that Bashar could probably be doing more to make the border with Iraq less porous. That said, I'd be surprised if Syrian intelligence officers were involved in training jihadis bound for Iraq. Further, I do think Bashar has tried to make the border less porous. Even Bolton, no fan of Syria, acknowledged that to me in London. (Though this information may now be outdated as Bashar may have since changed tack. Bolton conceded that Bashar had exerted more control over the border after so-called major combat ended in Iraq. But this is an assessment now over a year old).

Finally, at the end of the day, I think Bashar is trying to please various constituencies. As a minority Alawite, he faces many resentful majority Sunnis who wish to protect their Iraqi Sunni "cousins." There are also old guard Baathists friendly to aspects of the Baathist restorationist agenda. On the other hand, the Alawite (viewed, like the Shi'a, as heretics by many Sunni) have sometimes found common cause with the Shi'a (witness Hafez al Asad's warm relationship over the years with predominatly Shi'a Iran). And, of course, Bashar must be sure not to cross any red-lines with the Americans (training insurgents, I'd have to think, is one--which is another reason I'm skeptical he would allow that). Mix all these variables up and you have, pretty much, what we are witnessing today in terms of Syrian behavior. Feelers are out to the new Shi'a-led government in Iraq, as well as Iran, doubtless. At the same time, the border is left a tad open now and again to maintain street cred with the Baathist old guard and disgruntled Sunni. Overall, however, the border is more tightly controlled than at times in the past so as to not risk incurring the wrath of the U.S., in B.D.s view (though I am open to contrary information on this score). At the same time, Bashar may be smart enough to realize that U.S. forces may, in the not too distant future, actually be protecting Sunnis from Shi'a revanchists. It's a complex brew; and there are no easy take-aways here. But I guess, in a way, what I'm saying is that I find Osman's narrative from the WaPo piece suspiciously simplistic. Alternative analyses welcome, as always, in comments.

Posted by Gregory at 02:13 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

May 12, 2005

DA on BD on DA

Per Suzanne Nossel's reply on the Democracy Arsenal site to yesterday's post about the impact of the prisoner abuse scandals, it appears that I was not wrong about what she was trying to say and she is mostly right about what I was trying to say.

I say mostly only because I'm not sure Suzanne fully appreciates that the American ideals we celebrate will be set in the minds of others against some aspects of our culture that may not appear all that attractive; that the ugly sexual behavior by guards at Abu Ghraib, for example, may be seen not as a betrayal of American values but as confirmation of what some people already think they are.

They won't get this impression from Europe or Canada, and this is just one example of why we need to make a greater effort to assess opinion in the countries we are trying to liberalize (or democratize, or whatever one wishes to call it), rather than just assume that the opinions of foreigners we know will be reflected elsewhere. Here's another: if Newsweek had run a story about an Afghan prisoner being beaten up at Guantanamo because he mouthed off to a guard, would that have sparked a riot in Jalalabad? Probably not, but a story about a Koran being flushed down the toilet seems to have had that effect. To a Canadian or a Swede, just as to an American, this is bound to seem pretty goofy; to many Afghans it makes perfect sense.

This certainly doesn't mean there is nothing we can do to influence perceptions of America in Iraq, Afghanistan or other Muslim countries. It doesn't mean that "respectable" Western opinion can't be influential there either, especially on perceptions of events in which Americans and Muslims don't interact with one another directly (the leading example here, obviously, involves Israel, European hostility to which, however feckless and ineffectual, is bound to be seen by many Arabs as a vindication for their own hatred of the Jewish state and resentment of its American ally). Finally -- and this should go without saying -- it doesn't mean Abu Ghraib and other prisoner abuse scandals haven't done terrible damage to American purposes abroad.

What it does mean is that we need to be careful of assessing that damage too quickly in terms of the things that matter most to us and the foreigners we are most familiar with. Such an assessment is too easy to be reliable.

Posted by at 03:13 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bush in (Early) Autumn

The Past as Prologue

There have been some whispers that encroachments of early lame duckdom are impacting George Bush. Witness problems getting traction for his preferred vision of social security reform, for instance. I don't buy much of this premature lame duck talk; and it bears mentioning that Bush still has well over three years in office left. That said, it might be said that we are now beginning to pass through the early autumn of Bush's Presidency. It has been a tumultous near five years, and a quick look at his foreign policy performance to date is probably not unwarranted at this juncture.

Bush, of course, came into office after a hugely contentious 2000 election. He ran competently--if not in awe-inspiring fashion--but well enough to prevail in the electoral college. He was helped, not least, by what a poor figure Al Gore cut as a candidate. Despite presiding over a rosy (if tottering) economic expansion--Gore dropped the ball because of a combination of huffy arrogance, a transparent sense of entitlement (a too ambitious one, in contrast to Bush's fraternity-like insouciance which came off more populist), a strong dose of wonky dorkiness and, finally, a sense that he wasn't too comfortable in his own skin. Enough voters instinctively felt this, very unfortunately for him, as otherwise he would have likely been a shoo-in. The electorate vote their pockets-books, after all, and there was much easy money and good economic cheer amidst the Clintonian fin de siecle froth and revelry. The debacle for the Democrat party only turned worse in the weeks after the election. Gore's disavowal of his initial concession on election night, coupled with his aggressive preemptive legal posturing in Florida, further bloodied the battered party.

Still, the sad spectacle of election workers attempting to gauge the intent of voters by peering at, as in some gruesome parody, hanging and dimpled chads left Bush a weakened figure. He inherited a divided nation, and expectations for his Presidency, it is probably fair to say, were rather on the low side. B.D. supported Bush, despite concerns that there was too much faux machismo in the air about not "doing kindergartens" (the Bushies showed an early aversion to nation building) mostly because the Clinton-Gore foreign policy had been marked by real amateurishness, episodic attention to varied crises, and even occasional recklessness. Yes, there were some notable exceptions, like Richard Holbrooke's bravura performance at Dayton, but they were too far and few between. After all, who will remember Warren Christopher or Madeline Albright (gender path-breaking aside) fifty years hence? "Cojones" and the "problem from hell"? Thin gruel, indeed.

Another reason I supported Bush was because military morale was gutter low during the Clinton years. Indeed, my military contacts relayed that most enlisted personnel were desparately hoping adults would return to the helm at the Pentagon. Bill Cohen was competent, but putting it plainly, POTUS didn't really give two damns about the military. The thinly veiled hostility to things military was evident from the get-go among a wide swath of Clintonites (recall the emblematic tale of a young White House employee, circa '93, disparaging a uniformed member of the services for having the temerity to walk around the West Wing in uniform). And, whatever your stance on gays in the military, was it the first major military-related issue that merited being broached head-on; rather than, say, a major post-cold war re-appraisal of the military's modernization needs? Well no, of course not.

But I digress. Bush won, happily for me, and appointed Colin Powell Secretary of State and Don Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense. Truth be told, and rather suprisingly given all the vitriole I've heaved at Rummy, I was pleased by both picks. Rumsfeld's experience was vast, he had served in both the public and private sectors with great distinction, and having a Secretary of Defense who had held the very same post some three decades before struck me as providing the requisite confidence that real experience was being brought to the helm. This was only reinforced by having Dick Cheney as Veep, given that he had ably served as Bush 41's SecDef and was keenly interested in the military. As for Powell, I was delighted that he would man the State Department after the depressing tenures of Warren Christopher and Madeline Albright. Foggy Bottom was in dire need of a morale boost, and this American hero was just the man to deliver it. His individual story was inspiring, rising from the South Bronx to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and he had the political heft to defend the building's interests on the Hill, at the White House, and indeed through all the key Washington ports of call.

Truth be told, one doesn't necessarily recollect the early days of Bush's foreign policy pre-9/11 particularly well. There was the awkwardness with China over the downed plane in Hainan--which Armitage and Powell handled with aplomb. But the episode seems pulled out of yester-year given all that has transpired since. Critics have later made a big deal of missed opportunities re: al Qaeda; but the reality is pretty clear: from Carter, to Reagan, to Bush I, to Clinton--no one took the threat of terrorism seriously enough. Carter presided over the Teheran hostage taking fiasco, responding in depressingly meek fashion which, of course, did not go unnoticed around the globe. Reagan pulled us out of Lebanon after the Marine barracks bombing--but at least he was going about the business of robustly expediting the demise of the Soviet Union (then a greater peril than terror). Bush I never really focused too much on transnational terror threats; pre-occupied with managing the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the re-unification of Germany. True too, al-Qaeda had not really begun full-blown, routine terror operations until Clinton came to power. I will not re-appraise Clinton's record on al-Qaeda in any detail here. Suffice it to say, in my sober view, he was pretty much asleep at the switch. Richard Clarke's protestations and pin-prick cruise missile attacks, hither-dither, aside. It was not a record he should be proud of. I doubt, when he is alone and honest with himself (if he is so capable), that he is either.

So the terrorist threat gathered through these decades, Bush beat Gore, Hainan came and went, Rummy was going to modernize the military, and then...and then the morning that changed everything.

What Bush Has Accomplished Since 9/11

Within a week after the WTC was felled, Bush had enunciated a new and broad strategic doctrine. We were, he announced, 1) in a global conflict with terrorists, those who would pursue their political grievances through the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, and 2) so importantly, he cautioned that states that harbored terrorists would be held as accountable and culpable as the terrorists themselves. There was nothing inevitable or so obviously intuitive regarding either prong above. I believe a Gore Administration, quite likely, would have considered the 9/11 attacks a matter to be pursued via judicial means. A criminal act (however horrific) had occured, the reasoning may well have gone, the perpetrators would need to be caught and brought to justice. There would have been debates about getting U.N. authorization to go into Afghanistan, perhaps, and the ultimatums to the Taliban would likely have been less demanding, and so on. But let's say, in fairness, perhaps not. Perhaps given the scale of the tragedy, Gore would have sprung into action and declared war on al-Qaeda. All out, full-blown war. Let's go ahead and assume so, shall we?

While I doubt this even, what I can certainly doubt unequivocally is that Gore would have adopted the second prong of the Bush Doctrine dealing with states that harbor terrorists. And therein Bush's first accomplishment. By not only declaring war on al-Qaeda, but also putting all states that have had ties to terrorist groups on notice that their previous routine behavior was now unacceptable, Bush was signaling that a more fundamental re-adjustment of the international system was in the works. He was saying loudly and clearly: something epoch-making occurred when those Towers came down. The world has changed. The status quo is no longer acceptable. Change is the order of the day. There are new rules. Civilized societies will no longer tolerate regimes that aid and abet the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents with purpose and intent. No, not wild Robespierrian excesses, necessarily. Not unbridled freedom is on the march! But a new measuring stick, tempered by realpolitik (see Uzbekistan, Russia, Pakistan etc). States must cut ties to terror, aid the international community in prosecuting terror to the fullest, and liberalize their societies. This last, one might say, is the third prong (and most neo-Wilsonian one) of the Bush doctrine. In fairness, it should be mentioned, it rose to the fore after no WMD turned up in Iraq. But more on that below.

But Bush was not just busy enunciating a powerful new doctrine within a week of the worst surprise attack in United States history. Within days of 9/11, the Pentagon, State Department and CIA were coordinating how best to ensure Northern Alliance cooperation against the Taliban. Special forces were inserted in theater. By October, the Taliban had been joined in battle. By November, they were being routed. These were not easy tasks. They were not foreordained by the sheer might of the American imperium (the British and Soviets had floundered here). Indeed, by the beginning of 2002, Bush had already denied al-Qaeda their key state sanctuary. They were on the run. No, UBL was and isn't in custody. But he can only be providing spiritual, and not strategic, support to his varied followers today. Make no mistake, he is under immense pressure. And, more likely than not, he will be apprehended or killed soon enough.

Let's pause here for a second and make an assumption. Let's say, despite B.D.'s take, that Gore would have done all this. He would have enunciated a robust post 9/11 doctrine, he would have (mostly) quashed the Taliban, hell, he would even have caught Osama himself in the mountains of Tora Bora. But one thing that we can all agree on, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that Al Gore would not have gone into Iraq. Ah you say, damn straight! And how better off we'd all be. We would have 1,600 more of our country-men still with us; 15,000 or so unmaimed; seemingly countless Iraqis not killed in collateral damage and daily suicide bombings; none of the painful transatlantic discord of the past years; US $ 200BB and counting still in the Treasury, and so on. How better off we'd be!

Except that we wouldn't be. To appreciate this, we must recall the second (and nascent third) prong of the Bush doctrine. Saddam may not have had collaborative, operational links with al-Qaeda; but he had clearly harbored terrorists in Baghdad in the past. He had also provided funds to the families of suicide bombers in the Occupied Territories. While this was a cheap propaganda ploy, it showed that Saddam didn't care a whit about the life of innocents. He was happy to massacre Kurds in the 'Kurdish Hiroshima' of Halabja to 'Arabize' Kurdistan, he was happy to lob Scuds into Saudi and Israel, he was happy to send funds to those would send their children to blow up other people's children. Unlike Kim Jong II or the Iranian Mullahs, Saddam had started two wars and massacred perhaps hundreds of thousands of his own people. He was a unique danger, a sadistic strategic blunderer perched in the middle of one of the most volatile regions in the world. To not have gone after him in a post 9/11 world, after he refused to bow to the will of extant U.N. resolutions, would have been to give the lie to the seriousness of America's intent in a new and dangerous era. In an era marked by the perils of the intersections between WMD, transnational terror groups, and rogue states--the burden was on Saddam to come clean, to cooperate, to turn a page. He and his regime remained obfuscatory, uncooperative, unrepentant. Inaction in the face of this would have been an abdication of the seriousness of purpose our national security needs demanded in a post 9/11 world.

So my point is that Bush's conviction and strength of character to go through with the Iraq war put the truth to his doctrine. America would not just prosecute terrorists; but terror-supporting regimes too. And by picking Iraq, perched centrally in the middle of the critical Middle East, Bush has sent the entire region into a period of great flux and opportunity (and, admitedly, danger too). As I mentioned earlier, that lack of WMD forced a revisionistic lifting of democratization to the top of the Bush agenda. But this mantra, which sounds Dantonesque to some Burkeans, or bullheaded dumb Texan to assorted lefties scared of Chimperor's antics, actually makes realist sense. Terrorist states, failed states, authoritarian states--they are often unstable in the extreme. And this instability breeds extremism. Which in turn leads to terrorism. Imagine the pent up frustrations of a young, secular Lebanese fellow living under the Syrian yoke as that country's intelligence services massacred various local political leaders one after the other? Imagine the frustations on the street, decade after decade, of the Pharoah-phenomenon of perma-leaders in Egypt? Imagine the anticipation resulting in at least having the prospects of reform there? And does anyone doubt the students in Iran, with thousands and thousands of American troops on their East and West (Afghanistan and Iraq) were not emboldened to take to the streets because of these interventions in their immediate neighorhood? Can anyone deny that the spectacle of millions of Iraqis, braving the fanatical scourge of car bombs, coming out en masse to vote--can anyone deny this has not inspired, fascinated, made curious the millions tuning into al-Arabiya or al-Jazeera?

Yes, with all great opportunities lies great danger too. The U.S. has pushed aside it's so-called "democracy exception" policy in the Middle East. It had previously existed for a reason. Not least, stability. Now there is not as much cuddle cuddle with the Hafezes (or Bashars) and Hosnis and, yes, Saddams. We have begun to toss our lot with the lot of reformers now, although sanely and without foolhardiness, so as to be pragmatic and manage this democratization process in conjunction with the Abdullahs and Mubaraks still. But the die has been cast; great changes are in the air; and none of them would have occurred to this extent if Bush had, not only gone into Iraq; but stayed the course for two years now standing shoulder to shoulder with Iraqis still hoping to live in a viable, unitary pluralistic state with democratic trappings.

The wishes of these Iraqis are the wishes of many Egyptians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Lebanese. And, to date, we are keeping our trust with them. The road has been hard and bloody, massive blunders have been committed, we have often been dismayed and consumed by worry these past five years. But at the autumn of Bush's Presidency, the world moves generally in positive direction. Haphazardly, and with cruel reversals, but great times and events are marked by peril and flux in abundance. Now is a time for resoluteness and steadfastness in Iraq and the wider region. This is our best chance of moving this region into modernity, with polities influenced by Enlightenment values, so that the lure of radicalism can fade as people are provided political breathing space and the nascent fruits of liberty. Will this be Bush's legacy? Will a New Middle East arise 10, 20 years hence? We don't know yet. But now in early autumn, it may still. And that alone is no mean accomplishment.

Posted by Gregory at 01:40 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

May 11, 2005

Questions About Prisoner Abuse

Suzanne Nossel is blogsitting on Dan Drezner's site this week, and has interesting questions about the long term impact of the prisoner abuse scandal:


"Do you believe that in order to effectively promote goals like democratization and human rights around the world, the U.S. must itself be seen as an exemplar of these values? Do you believe that our status as a standard-bearer of justice and liberty is so well-entrenched that revelations like the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo won’t negatively affect it?

...One of the most serious consequences of the U.S.'s lapses in upholding the human rights and related standards that we purport to represent is that we play into the hands of those who claim that our ideals are empty or hypocritical. We allow them to call into question the promise that our principles signify in the minds of their populations. We sow doubts in the minds of people that would otherwise tend to cleave in the values the U.S. stands for, rather than listening to the promises of corrupt leaders.

We can write off Abu Ghraib as the work of a few misfits. But in the eyes of much of the rest of the world the abuses were linked to a pattern of disregard for international norms governing the treatment of detainees.

Particularly given our under-investment in public diplomacy, we have limited ability to shape how our actions are seen from the outside. When we are seen as not taking the problem seriously, that adds further fuel to the fire of those trying to fan skepticism about American motives.

Though we may not always see the link, I suspect we will be living with the consequences of Abu Ghraib for a long time to come in the form of charges of hypocrisy, doubts about American sincerity, and a sense around the world that America does not hold itself to the standards it would impose on others."


I've written before about one discouraging aspect of the prisoner abuse issue, the Army's failure to hold more than a few junior personnel responsible for the Abu Ghraib disgrace and other instances of prisoner abuse. To expect the message that sends to be received positively anywhere would be to expect a lot. More broadly, though, I share Suzanne's point of view, with a caveat I'm not quite sure how to express.

Let's start with an obvious point -- by "much of the rest of the world", the nations up in arms over a pattern of disregard for international norms concerning the treatment of prisoners, Suzanne is referring mostly to nations with which the United States is highly unlikely ever to be in armed conflict, primarily European countries, Canada and a few others. Few of these countries have to attend to prisoners of war in large numbers; few of the countries that do would not accord prisoners much worse treatment than was the norm at Abu Ghraib. Arguments for following the Geneva Convention in this country often begin with the assertion that we need to do this to assure good treatment of American prisoners, but the sad fact is that the last American enemies to even make an effort to observe Geneva with respect to our prisoners were the Nazis.

None of this argues against Suzanne's case about prisoner abuse: it was wrong (the main reason it should not have happened) and inexpedient (a secondary but still very important reason). I think it is useful, though, to distinguish between what we or the foreigners we are most familiar with think is hypocrisy, lack of sincerity and so forth, and what the rest of the world thinks.

Take Abu Ghraib and the infamous photographs. Humiliating, degrading, an example of American hypocrisy -- I can see Arabs in particular calling it all these things. What about typical of Americans, not that different from the kinds of things they put in their movies, especially those generated by America's enormous pornography industry? We would say that is ridiculous; people who know us only by the products of our entertainment industry might doubt that.

It is a bitter thing to say, but the specific things done at Abu Ghraib, and many of the things said to have been done at Guantanamo and elsewhere, would probably not have been done by American soldiers of the World War II period. Direct brutality might have been more likely then, especially to Japanese prisoners or prisoners taken in the heat of battle; but sexual humiliations of various kinds and sustained torture to no purpose is pretty clearly repugnant to Christian beliefs much more pervasive in our culture then than now. It's absurd, to us, to suggest that American culture produced something like Abu Ghraib. But if some Iraqi or other Arab were to charge that American culture contributed to it I would not know how to respond.

What I'm suggesting is that Suzanne's view of the prisoner abuse scandal essentially as a series of policy errors damaging to America's image overseas most accurately reflects opinion in countries other than the ones we are now trying to spread freedom and liberty in. In many of these, America is distrusted not only because it seems we do not mean what we say but also because it seems that we do; not all the things they dislike or distrust about us are the things we think they might or ought to.

I've already made clear my rather limited enthusiasm for the President's great democratization binge, or campaign, or whatever. I believe in focused effort on fights we can win; I believe in taking on tasks we can afford to pay for, in not making promises we won't be able to keep, and in exercising some common sense about priorities. I'm not sure President Bush, or his liberal critics, even think about these things. I don't want to hit this point too hard, because I disagree with little Suzanne Nossel has to say about the damage the prisoner abuse scandal has done to American credibility in all sorts of ways, damage we will be repairing for years to come. It's just that if we're looking for the main reason democratizing the Arab world proceeds slowly or seems to grind to a halt we won't find it here.

Posted by at 11:59 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

A Good, Old School Republican Post

Veteran Republican PR guy Rich Galen is a talented, observant and often highly amusing writer who to my regret usually employs his skills delivering a more articulate version of the RNC message of the day to people who already agree with it. But he had an old-school Republican post last week that I promised myself I would write about.

Let me say up front that you'll never hear me calling myself a "small-government conservative Republican." The United States, with close on 300 million people, is a very big country; naturally we need a big government. We need a government able to do the things we ask it to do with energy, initiative and skill; sometimes we will need it to do things it has not done before. And we need government to do what we ask it to within the limits of what we are willing to pay in taxes. That requires that at least some people in Washington have the ability to say no, not only to new spending programs but to the inertia that keeps old spending programs going whether they make sense any more or not. It's been a generation at least since anyone in the Democratic Party had that ability, and almost all the Republicans who had it up until 1994 have lost it since.

Galen's post is about the perhaps inappropriately-named Small Business Administration, and deserves to be read in full, as does his follow-up reporting reader reaction. Now personally I'm with the readers who think SBA has outlived its usefulness, as of about 20 years ago. Creditworthy small businesses don't need it, and the federal government should only be backing more risky ventures if it has extra money to throw around, which it doesn't right now. Plus, doing away with SBA would allow Congress to disband the two committees with perhaps the highest ratio of fluff to substance.

At a minimum, SBA certainly shouldn't be catering to very large businesses to the extent that very large businesses are willing to cater SBA functions. Or hiding the extent of the catering from the public (this just completely frosts Galen, and I can understand why). To me, though, the minimum really isn't good enough. Major comets pass near the earth more often than minor federal agencies lose their funding, which would be OK if the government were taking in enough in taxes to pay for them without going hundreds of billions a year further in hock to Asian central banks. It isn't.

Is there, as one economist suggests, just a lack of seriousness in Washington about the federal deficit? You could say that. The White House has its approach, which is to support freedom around the world, remember 9/11, and be on the lookout for any GOP campaign contributors who have somehow not yet been rewarded with a cut in their taxes. The Democrats have their approach, which is restricted to criticizing anything the White House does as an attack on the middle class and denying that they want to raise taxes. It isn't even hard to find people willing to talk about extending the commitment in Iraq, which has already cost over $300 billion, into the indefinite future as if this were an option.

Well, it isn't. I don't care how right and noble and inspiring your cause is, you can't do things you aren't willing to pay for. Most Democrats in the backs of their minds think that this really does mean we need to raise taxes, not just for Iraq but to fix Social Security, ensure Medicare's solvency, deal with the Alternative Minimum Tax problem, pay for military transformation, insure the uninsured, bail out more private pension funds, pay for whatever help the Small Business Administration needs to give to Sam's Club and cut the current deficit. We'd end up with tax rates as high as Sweden's.

Which means that Republicans, if they want to avoid this, had better come up with some alternatives. There isn't any question that Washington will need to raise more revenue in taxes than it is right now; no one is contemplating and no one is suggesting cuts in federal spending large enough to make higher taxes unnecessary. The question is whether higher taxes are to be the only tool we will use to correct the current enormous fiscal imbalance. Would proposing spending cuts be popular? Well, no. But it is easier to make good policy ideas popular than it is to make bad but popular ideas good policy.

Posted by at 03:59 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Fissures within al-Qaeda?

An al-Qaeda schism?

The Uzbeks and other Central Asians found themselves competing with Arab members of al-Qaida for hideouts and resources with Arabs having the political and economic advantage, Katzman said.

Adding to the tensions was a lack of trust by senior al-Qaida figures in the Central Asian fighters, said a senior Pakistani Interior Ministry official.

Another Pakistani security agent said the Central Asians "were al-Qaida's foot soldiers, but they were never promoted. They felt ignored. The Central Asians were not happy," he added. "Osama bin laden and (his Egyptian deputy) Ayman al-Zawahri only trusted Arabs."

Increasingly, the two sides began operating independently, often competing for the same money, weapons and dwindling areas of influence among the Pakistani tribesmen. Captured Uzbek, Chechen and Tajik fighters felt far more loyalty to Yuldash than to the Arab al-Qaida men.

The Pakistani intelligence official said it was difficult to get captured Uzbeks to talk about Yuldash, "but it was a lot easier to grill them for clues about the Arabs and their possible hideouts. They felt far less loyalty."

As Glenn might say, this strikes me as good news. The capture of Abu Farraj al-Libbi--reportedly perhaps partly as a result of such intra-al Qaeda squabbling--is certainly a nice bonus too. Particularly given that it could well help further tighten the noose around UBL's neck:

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, will we ever capture Osama bin Laden?

MR. SCHROEN: I think with the capture of Al-Libbi recently--gives some hope that the Pakistanis will cooperate if we put enough pressure on them, and maybe we end up doing it unilaterally but I think we're going to get him within the next three to four months.

MR. RUSSERT: Three to four months.

MR. SCHROEN: Well, that's my hope.

MR. RUSSERT: From your lips to God's ears.

Indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 04:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Self-Awareness Watch

I think I know the feeling too....

Posted by Gregory at 04:16 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Rummy Chronicles

You have to say this about Don Rumsfeld--the old tiger just doesn't give up. I guess that does count for something. He's a survivor. One of the very best the Beltway has ever seen. I have to give him that much.

P.S. But, yes, I stand by all of my earlier criticisms of Rumsfeld over the past couple of years.

Posted by Gregory at 04:08 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 10, 2005

Excuse Me....Yalta?

I have nothing but praise for President Bush's visits to Latvia, Russia and Georgia this week and the statements he has made in each place -- especially for stating so forthrightly the truth about the postwar occupation of Eastern Europe by the Red Army -- with one exception.

Was the reference to Yalta, in Riga of all places, really necessary? An argument could be made -- not one I'm persuaded by at all, just a plausible argument -- that Roosevelt at Yalta and Truman afterward could have pressed Stalin harder, and successfully, to prevent the absorption of Poland into the Communist bloc. But the Baltic states? How exactly was Roosevelt supposed to prevent Stalin from keeping his armies in countries that far behind the lines and hundreds of miles from the nearest American army?

I dislike bad history, but frankly what bothers me more is this President's tendency to casually trash decisions made by his predecessors. He's already done this with respect to the Middle East, ascribing to American policy the lack of freedom in a part of the world where water has, historically, been more common than freedom and in which the least free states were almost all Soviet clients, not American ones. If he were going to apologize for anything a former President has done, he ought to have apologized for his father's historic loss of nerve and wretched judgment in unilaterally declaring an end to the Gulf War in 1991. So many of the problems we are having in Iraq now are traceable to what the elder Bush did then.

But as a rule I think it's a good idea for American Presidents to get cheer lines for foreign audiences in some other way than inventing things to apologize for. When he becomes a former President himself, Mr. Bush may have cause to agree with that.

Posted by at 06:59 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

More War Stories

Outstanding reports from embedded reporters today describe some of the difficulties being faced by the Marines attacking insurgent forces in western Iraq, near the Syrian border.

Solomon Moore recounts some anecdotes from action that occurred over a large area around the Euphrates River for the Los Angeles Times. The Chicago Tribune's James Janega has a story focused on fighting around the town of Ubaydi. Both deserve to be read in full. As Eric Umansky notes on his blog, the Post and NYT have no reporters filing from the combat area, and base their far less detailed coverage on military briefings in Baghdad.

A few comments:

* Janega observes about the enemy in Ubaydi that the Marines had not expected to find them there (obviously the Marine who wrote this story last month wasn't able to tip them off), certainly not in prepared positions. This has obvious implications as to the relative state of American and enemy intelligence in the area.

* Both stories imply and Janega's suggests directly that the enemy casualty figures released by the military in Baghdad may be high, or may just be guesses. From Janega's story, which quotes a Marine colonel:


"Though military commanders in Baghdad announced that 100 insurgent fighters were killed in the early fighting, along with three Marines, Davis' figures were lower. He said "a couple of dozen" insurgents had been killed in Ubaydi, about 10 at another river crossing near Al Qaim, and several who were killed by air strikes north of the river.

Other commanders said they had recovered few bodies but had seen blood trails that suggested insurgents were dragging away wounded or dead fighters."


* Moore cites an Marine official's observation that the Corps is stretched pretty thin in Anbar Province:


""We require more manpower to cover this area the way we need to," said one military official, who requested anonymity.

The Marines have three battalions in Al Anbar, one fewer than six months ago — and each of those battalions is missing a company, say military commanders. A battalion consists of about 1,000 Marines and a company generally has about 150 troops."But for another battalion or two, we would have crossed that river [i.e. the Euphrates] Sunday," the military official said."


* Both stories note the Marines' reliance on tactical air power in situations where artillery could respond more quickly if it were available.

* Both stories report what Marine officers call a high level of enemy coordination and tactical skill. Moore hints that some insurgents are using night vision equipment; Janega reports enemy casualties recovered wearing flak jackets, to the Marines a sign that they are not Iraqis (presumably this means the flak jackets are different from the ones American troops use and have distributed to some Iraqi government forces). Finally, both stories report intelligence that insurgents are being trained outside Iraq.

For what it is worth, my sense has been for some time that though most of the insurgents in Iraq are Iraqi Sunni Arabs, the number and importance of foreign fighters to the insurgency is growing. With the long-planned Marine offensive in northwest Iraq expected to continue for some time, it may be only a matter of days or weeks before we have a better idea of which countries these people are coming from and where they are getting trained. With that said, the thing I take away from these stories is that in this crucial area of Iraq at least American forces are spread pretty thin. I understand how important it is to the country that the Secretary of Defense not have to concede any errors in assigning troops to Iraq -- I know our Marine officers in Iraq appreciate as much as anyone how damaging it would be for Sec. Rumsfeld to admit he's made a mistake -- but it sounds like the Marines could hurt the enemy a lot worse if they didn't have quite so much ground to cover.

Posted by at 01:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Fukuyama and Abe Simpson

I thought The End of History was one of the most fatuous things I'd ever read, and I'm not sure I'd use it to explain Europe today or anything else. On the other hand I recall seeing an episode of The Simpsons in which old Abe Simpson resolves to go out and paint the town, then opens his door and says, "I don't like the look of those teenagers," before going back inside. Now that might explain something.

Relative to the rest of the world, Europe is old. It is also prosperous, and has been for quite a long time. I don't know that we should expect any society of which those two things can be said to display much enthusiasm for new conquests or adventures. It looks to me as if what Europeans want more than anything else is a quiet life (in this at least, as I observed in an earlier post, the British are already thoroughly European), which might explain some of Tony Blair's problems as well as Jacques Chirac's. And George Bush's. And maybe Pope Benedict's also.

An aging, tired and contented people are not much more likely to be up for moral adventures than for physical ones. If they recoil from the idea of crusading against evil in the Middle East or sacrificing to create a new European superpower, they are at least equally repelled by the thought of changing their lifestyles to meet the demands of religion (or, for that matter, children). What they want is for things to stay the same; they want to live quietly and well, grow old, and die in bed.

Plenty of people in America want the same things (well, except for the growing old part). It's a natural desire, albeit not one that history accommodates all that often or for very long. To overcome it and stir contented people nervous about change to support great projects requires leadership inspiring an unusual level of trust, as well as the ability to effectively promote the idea that the things people value most are at risk if action is not taken. That's going to be a tall order for any President, Prime Minister or Pope.

Posted by at 10:59 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The Dialectics of the Neo-Liberal Firmament (Oil and Vichy Too!)

Poseur alert:

This is the proper frame for understanding what has happened in Iraq. It is only as part of this neo-liberal firmament, in which a dominant capitalist core has begun to find it harder and harder to benefit from ‘consensual’ market expansion or corporate mergers and asset transfers, that the preference for the military option makes sense.

Marx had no illusions about the role of force in his own time. But he did seem to believe that the age of violent expropriation was at an end. It was capitalism’s strength that it had internalised coercion, so to speak, and that henceforward the ‘silent compulsions of economic relations’ would be enough to compel the worker to ‘sell the whole of his active life’. We are not the first to think Marx too sanguine in this prognosis. In fact it has turned out that primitive accumulation is an incomplete and recurring process, essential to capitalism’s continuing life. Dispossession is crucial to this, and its forms recur and reconstitute themselves endlessly. Hence the periodic movement of capitalism outwards, to geographies and polities it can plunder almost unopposed. (Or so it hoped, in the case of Iraq.)

Will military neo-liberalism endure? With the US deficit rolling along at $600 billion annually, and the national debt rising to $2.5 trillion, the cost-benefit balance of the strategy looks dubious. And, two years after the tanks rolled across the Euphrates floodplain, the occupation and its Vichy surrogate barely have control of Baghdad.

Vichy surrogate! Nice touch. (And note the barely concealed glee of the "or so it hoped" in the parenthetical above). The neo-Marxist jargon continues to come fast and furious, and the high-brow Mooreians tell you why it's all about oil here. The LRB should open up to a wider range of views a bit more often, no? It's becoming something of a ragsheet for the tired bromides of hyper-incestuous, rather disconsolate left academia. But I guess it moves the requisite paper in Islington and Clerkenwell. Everyone needs to stoop to the crudities of neo-liberalism now and again, alas. More seriously, why are these self-described "writers and activists" comparing a fledgling government made up of moderates seeking a pluralistic society--and involved in a bloody struggle against fanatical radicals indiscrimately killing thousands via the scourge of terror tactics--to cowards who collaborated with Nazi Germany? What have I missed, apart from their dark relativism and deep ignorance?

Posted by Gregory at 05:39 AM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

L'Ennui C'est Moi

How much of a motor force of history is, putting it plainly, boredom? One wonders, sometimes...as a non vote on the EU Constitution may, at least partly, result from a sense of continental ennui.

Perhaps an explanation for the current European spiritual condition was provided in that famous 1992 essay by Francis Fukuyama, who argued that history has ended. His idea was that the last great ideological struggle ended with the fall of Soviet Communism and the triumph of the liberal democratic idea, and that there could be no more advanced idea.

That is a cause for rejoicing. But as Mr. Fukuyama wrote, there was also something dispiriting about a post-historical world in which the Big Question no longer revolves around freedom but over how much New Zealand butter a nation could import.

"It is obvious by now that the European Union has become the framework for the disappearance of centuries of belligerence, and that's a fact," Michael Naumann, publisher of the German weekly Die Zeit, said. "But it has become so totally accepted that we won't go at each other's throats any more that people get bored."

In this sense, the European Union, which will include 27 countries and more than 500 million people by 2007, was made to be boring. Europeans have had more than their share of history - two world wars, dictatorships, German divisions, Soviet occupations - and there is no great appetite here for more of it.

" 'The rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air,' sounds pretty good to an American," Mr. Gedmin said. "We say it at baseball games. But Germans don't want to hear about bombs bursting in air. They had that at Dresden."

So it is natural that the Europeans would focus on narrow matters of economic interest. "The dearth of ideas is the really true part of Fukuyama," Pierre Hassner, a French political philosopher, said recently. "In this sense, history really is finished."

But he and others disagree about the end-of-history argument; or, at least, they feel Europe doesn't represent the end of history Mr. Fukuyama had in mind. Even if he felt bored by New Zealand butter, his end of history was essentially a happy situation.

Europeans aren't happy. They are anxious, threatened not just by the Brussels bureaucracy but by immigration, economic stagnation and unemployment. "It's a nightmare of the end of history," said Alexander Adler, a commentator at Le Figaro, the French daily. "I don't think that Fukuyama thought it would lead to a foundering of historical optimism."

Mr. Hassner added to this idea: "The mood is not one of satisfaction or boredom but one of threat."



Yes, Brussels doubtless bores to tears. There is, after all, so little gloire amidst the Eurocrats milling about issuing regulations on tariff rates for goods being shipped in from outside the 'Zone. Meantime, it's getting increasingly ugly in places like the streets of Amsterdam. Thus might boredom wane and threat rear its ugly head more and more going forward, one fears. I've seen such street hooliganism increasingly in quite a few parts of Europe (and yes, north of the Danube--so not just in the land of Kusturica's Slivovitz-downing brigands.

But, for now, mostly I see a post-historical generation sometimes scared (Madrid bombings, chronic unemployment) but also (due to relative peace and prosperity) occupied by trifles (a belly-ring, say, or nose-ring? A secular marital compact rather than a traditionally religious marriage? Perhaps Buddhism a la Gere? Much deep self-exploration afoot...). An aside, that I may have touched on before. A day or two after 9/11 and I'm in Union Square. Spontaneous gaggles of perfect strangers were passionately debating back and forth. What Next? A young Spanish tourist, maybe mid-20s, the kind of guy who was in town to mill around some of the slightly boho quarters of mallish/Euro-thrashy Soho (think W. Broadway & Grand) or the meatpacking district. Doubtless a bit of clubbing fun had been on the pre 9/11 agenda at mega venues in the far W. 20s. But now wild talk of war was in the air. What was the Spaniards view, someone asked? War is "creepy" he opined. The word kind of lay out there for a while. He said it awkwardly, almost apologetically, doubtless innately understanding the world had been inexorably thrown into conflict the moment the Towers crumbled.

That's the state of post-historical, young Europe, isn't it? Defeatism, languor, belief in little worth rushing the ramparts for, a disingenuous faux-idealism. A queasy, discomforted perplexion. Boredom, really. After all, yes of course, war is a hellish nightmare. But pacifism in the face of great horrors becomes its own form of bovine fanaticism, doesn't it?

But enough Euro-bashing. And we will save a rant for the dumbed-down precincts of our own shores for another night. Suffice it to say that CNN's primetime line up: Nativist Lou! Anderson Emoting! Nanny-in-Chief Paula! Softball Larry! Insufferable Aaron! leaves me troubled for the fate of the polity. More on that another time.

Posted by Gregory at 03:51 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Recommended Reading

The "Cunning Realist" (ed. note: is that a more pompous title for a blog than Belgravia Dispatch? I think it just might be...) is blogging up a veritable storm. I'm not sure I agree about the "FUBAR clusterfuck" or some too earnest over-simplifications here--but at least he's calling 'em like he seems them and not dwelling in mondo-spin. Meanwhile, I can certainly agree with him on the topic of the perils of unmitigated piggishness.

Posted by Gregory at 03:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tbilisi George: Regional Implications?

The scene in Tbilisi:

After arriving here Monday night, Bush and his wife, Laura, received an extraordinary welcome in the city's Old Town. It was a lively scene as Georgian dancers costumed in red-black-and-white and colorful headscarves performed dozens of routines around Bush, who smiled, clapped and even shook his hips.

Bush, who stayed longer than the 20 minutes allotted by the White House, was caught up in the enthusiasm, which contrasted sharply with the unfriendly protests that have greeted him in some other countries.

As dancers leapt, whirled and stomped their feet, children performed acrobatic feats and others danced to more mournful tunes. The event was capped by a fireworks show above an ancient church on a hillside.

Afterward, Bush and his entourage dined at an Old Town restaurant and emerged to another fireworks show.

``It was great food, really good food,'' Bush said, rubbing his stomach. ``I recommend getting a bite here.''

I think I've eaten at that restaurant--and I can echo Bush that it's definitely worth grabbing a bite there. Any chow-hounds out there; please duly note that Georgian fare is tasty indeed. But that's a story for another time. I link this boiler-plate, analysis-free AP dispatch merely to point out possible regional implications stemming from the rapturous crowds that greeted Bush in Tblisi. Readers have probably espied from my surname that I'm of part Armenian heritage (there's also some, er, French in there! ed. note: Yes, that should help explain all the annoying French words thrown into seemingly every post over here). I don't generally blog about the Caucasus because I'm involved in philanthropic activities in Armenia. As part of these activities, I meet with the leaders of the Armenian government routinely. I've decided, frankly, that I can help the average person out more by rolling up my sleeves on the philanthropy side of the fence rather than penning scathing critiques of Armenian elites or the like. Hey, life's full of trade-offs. But I did want to note that I believe Bush's forward leaning democratization strategy, exemplified by trips like this one to Georgia, could well reap some dividends in Yerevan and Baku. The stagnation born of the Nargorno-Karabakh conflict, of course, acts as a powerful brake for forward reformist movement in these countries. But cosmopolitan Yerevanis and doubtless some activists in Baku are increasingly getting quite restless. And there's a reason the U.S. is building a huge Embassy in Yerevan. Policymakers see a real opportunity there for further democracy-building and economic revitalization. Also, rather obviously, and partly born of the war on terror (sorry, extremism!), we've become increasingly intent on wielding major influence through the trans-caucasus for strategic reasons (the region straddles the nether regions between Russia and Iran and Turkey). Armenia is trickier to influence than Georgia (a young NY trained lawyer at the helm!) or Azerbaijan (well known to U.S. multinationals because of oil reserves in the Caspian), and partly as the Christian Armenians have historically looked to co-religionist Mother Russia for protection against the Turkic hordes to the south. But smart Armenians know well that the Russians would, if pressed, sell them down the river rather quickly indeed. A smart insurance policy, therefore, is improving relations with the U.S. Bush's presence in nearby Tbilisi, I suspect, will not be without some influence in Yerevan itself (unless reformist elites have flat-out become too cynical). I'll get a better feel as I'm heading out there in early June. Perhaps more on this then.

P.S. On another topic, who will have to do the necessary task of deflating Praktike's poo-pooing of the state of Egyptian democratization efforts? Will this dreary task have to fall to B.D.? Jokes aside, I hear the uber-commenter (lately given to tinges of nostalgic sentiment) is off to Egypt shortly. Could he drop me a line as I've got a query or two for him? Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at 02:14 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 09, 2005

Credit Where It's Due

Latin America should be easy.

Compared to most other areas of the world, Latin America presents us with far less terrorism than the Middle East, many fewer national basket cases than Africa, far less economic tension and incipient great power rivalries than east Asia, and no embittered former empire as in Europe (and, by the way, all my best to you too, Vladimir). We have problems with immigration and illegal drugs, as much because of what Americans do in America as of anything done south of the border. We have the Cuban issue, which is annoying but manageable; we have the clown prince of Venezuela to deal with. We have some important environmental concerns, especially with Brazil, and a somewhat lengthy list of trade disputes that will take time to resolve as trade disputes always do. But the number of issues on which American vital interests and those of Latin American countries clash in ways that patience, flexibility and goodwill cannot cope with is thankfully very small.

I have not been an especial admirer of Secretary of State Rice, regarding her as a match for her responsibilities only in the area of public relations. But I have no stake in being right about something like this, and am happy to acknowledge that Jackson Diehl's summary of an early success of Rice's in ending a disagreement over a new Secretary General for the Organization of American States is testimony for the opposite point of view. It's true this dispute, which began last year, probably shouldn't have happened in the first place, and with a State Department firmly under the control of its Secretary it might not have. But we shouldn't underestimate the importance of fixing problems before they have time to fester, or of getting the (relatively) easy stuff right.

Posted by at 02:59 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Not Such a Priority After All

Per an earlier post about public diplomacy, the exciting new era that will begin when the legendary Karen Hughes takes charge as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs will not be getting underway right this minute.

Maybe by the end of the summer. Said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher last April 18:


"We're not just dealing with slots and bodies and we have to take into account the individual's circumstances and wishes. We have a very strong public affairs and public diplomacy team now....We are reinforcing the team and that team will be further reinforced when Karen Hughes arrives."


Translation: Karen Hughes is a big shot from the campaign, she's tight with the President, and that means she gets here when she gets here. When her son's graduation is over, or she's moved him into his freshman dorm at college, or whenever.

One nice thing about nominations in the Bush administration: they sometimes generate fireworks once they get to the Senate, but before they arrive there you have plenty of time to comment on them if you missed the announcement for some reason.

Did I mention I wasn't too excited about this particular nomination? The impression I've had is that we've had some public diplomacy failures in this administration, and that both its supporters and critics are agreed that public diplomacy needs to be a priority. To be honest, I've also had the impression that to the President himself public diplomacy is just one of the things that the bureaucracy does, and it is just really neat that a friend of his recognized by all of political Washington as a big shot wants to try to make it better by sharing


"...the America I know with the people of the world, a country whose strength is our goodhearted people, a country where children, including my granddaughter, went door to door to collect money to help victims of the tsunami half a world away, where volunteers deliver meals to shut-ins and offer food to the homeless and visit prisoners, and where our government contributes billions to fight AIDS and improve basic services like water, electricity and health care that touch people's lives throughout the world."


But Ms. Hughes isn't quite ready to start sharing yet, which is OK because we have a very strong public diplomacy team at the State Department. Not strong enough that it couldn't stand further reinforcement whenever she decides she wants to show up, but really, really strong nevertheless.

Posted by at 05:40 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Let's Re-Adopt the Failed Clinton North Korea Policy!

Suzanne Nossel, guest-blogging chez Dan, is talking NoKo and heaping scorn on the hapless Bushies:

So here's the question? Will an Administration that has been loath to even privately concede failure or make mid-course policy corrections have the initiative and the flexibility to innovate on its North Korea policy now that it has to?

This has the potential to be an important test of what the consequences are of the kind of rigidity and unwillingness to concede error that has been a unique hallmark of this Administration.

All the more so because it isn't obvious what would work better than the Administration's steadfast refusal to deal bilaterally with the North Koreans, its attempt to outsource leadership over the negotiations to China, and its position that the North Koreans need to commit to dismantling their program before any incentives are put on the table.

But when a policy on something as vital as North Korea is clearly, it is incumbent on an Administration to pursue other options.

In this case, one of the few routes conceivably open is to try to build an international consensus, probably in the form of a UN Security Council resolution, that North Korean proliferation is intolerable. That would allow us to mount an internationally credible effort to verify exactly what the North Koreans are up to.

But the consensus isn't there right now. Too many countries believe, rightly or wrongly, that the U.S.'s unyielding policy bears some of the blame for escalation, and that if we approached things differently crisis could be averted.

So to get to international consensus it looks as though the U.S. will first have to agree to try bilateral talks, if only to convince likely UN Security Council hold-outs in Moscow and Beijing that every alternative to UNSC action has been exhausted. This doesn't mean abandoning the six party framework (which has largely been abandoned already) but it does require augmenting it. [emphasis added]

So let me get this straight. Suzanne wants the U.S. side to make a major concession (in return for what, pray tell?) by entering into direct bilateral negotiations with the North Koreans. But for what purpose would we go down a road that all but begs further American concessions (bilateral negotations usually force horse-trading right out of the gates)? To go the extra mile to persuade China and Russia that we've exhausted every diplomatic alternative so as to get a UNSC resolution teed up! So sayeth Suzanne. But, er, what's the point of all this?

Cue a succinct Anthony Cordesman:

"What's the U.N. going to do? Pass a Security Council resolution saying that it's a bad idea for North Korea to proliferate? I don't want to say, 'So what?' but it's pretty close."

Indeed. Put differently, why would Kim Jong II listen to the policy pronunciamentos emiting from Turtle Bay if he's, all this long time, been giving short shrift to major regional players like Russia and China? There are other problems with Suzanne's post (aside from her use of Kerryesque soundbites about 'outsourcing' NoKo policy to Afghan warlords..wait, sorry, to China...). Suzanne, rather conveniently, doesn't deign to mention how the Clinton Administration was bamboozled by the North Koreans with the '94 Framework Agreement. Kim was only too happy to pretend to play ball, and many naifs in Democrat national security circles got all excited that progress and compliance was in the air. Diplomacy works! Such giddy cheer was premature in the extreme, of course, and you'd think that Democrats would be careful to not carp from the sidelines too breezily (see Suzanne: "what's missing from the Administration's non-proliferation strategy[?]...in short, a strategy")) on North Korea policy given the rank fiasco they so recently presided over.

Incidentally, it's quite possible that Kim Jong Il is bluffing with regard to the latest prospective test going-ons:

North Korea has been known for its elaborate bluffs, and the activity at Kilju could merely be a ruse. The United States gave North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food aid in 1999 in exchange for permission to inspect an underground site at Kumchang-ri suspected of being a nuclear facility. The tunnels were found to be empty.

Also, note some South Koreans have expressed some skepticism (and isn't the bit about the reviewing stand a tad rich?):

The official cited "construction activity" and "flows of supplies" to a tunnel that could be used in an underground detonation. He emphasized, however, that data from overhead imagery is inconclusive and that the purpose of the construction could be shoring up or extending the tunnel for other purposes.

The New York Times reported Friday that the North Koreans appeared to have built a reviewing stand, prompting fears of an imminent test.

South Koreans have been more cautious in their assessments. They note that Kilju is a heavily populated area, making it a poor choice for a nuclear test. The Defense Ministry told reporters this week that Kilju had been under scrutiny since the late '90s for signs of unusual activity. Other South Koreans have said it is one of several sites in North Korea that could be used to test atomic weapons.

What might the North Koreans be up to? Hoping that, with alarm bells ringing around the Beltway, Bush will decide to do something to keep the apocalpytic nuclear test at bay. Suzanne and the Democracy Arsenal types would have us jump--pretty much at Kim Jong's bidding--into bilateral negotiations to break the impasse. This has failed as a strategy before; and I'd be very hesitant to go down that road again. B.D's thoughts? Consider trilateral break-out sessions during the next six-party talks among China, the U.S. and North Korea. Such a forum would allow for exploration of potential areas of compromise and perhaps allow for some headway (assuming the Chinese are not secretly signaling, wink-wink, to Pyongyang that they don't mind the rough status quo). Regardless, at least such an informal, trilateral break-out wouldn't reward the North Koreans with the major concession they have been hankering for for years (bilateral negotiations) just because the New York Times banners a lede about a possible reviewing stand going up around Kilju and the Brookings gang gets atwitter that something be done. Frankly, Suzanne's handwringing that we must be seen to have turned over every rock so as to get Beijing and Moscow ready to play tough at the UNSC strikes me rather a waste of time and a pretty futile exercise all told. Is all this but an "ABC" diatribe (Anything But Clinton?) from the right? No, not really, though I will say Clinton's North Korean policy was really quite sad indeed.

Note too, the Carnegie Report that Derek Cholett approvingly points to here doesn't really move the North Korea policy debate forward much. Oh yes, go ahead and develop an "international consensus" at the UNSC. Yes too, throw in a special envoy while you're at it who is "empowered" (and what of poor Chris Hill?). "Further enhance" our relations with Seoul and Tokyo too! And so on. Nothing really new here, folks. And the Carnegie etude ducks the Big Question of whether talks need be bilateral. Bottom line: Bush is handling an immensely complex North Korean situation about as well as could be. The sniping from Suzanne notwithstanding. Oh, ok, I'll concede there's been a scent of drift in the air of late. But at least Bush hasn't been proferring carrots, willy-nilly, while the recipient of all the largesse cheats and makes a mockery of all the agreed-frameworking in the air...that, of course, was the record of the Administration Suzanne served.

UPDATE: Rotating trilaterals. Now that's the ticket!. Meanwhile, Prak is sticking up for bilaterals. Now we know why....! Heh.

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Botero's Empty Outrage

I've never been a huge fan of Fernando Botero's rotund, distorted sculptures (so wasn't particularly thrilled when Park Avenue was pock-marked with them back in '93) but this is just absurd. Botero, we learn, is up in arms about the "great crime" of Abu Ghraib:

Now, Mr. Botero, 73, who lives in Paris and New York, has taken on an even more explosive topic: the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Forty-eight paintings and sketches - of naked prisoners attacked by dogs, dangling from ropes, beaten by guards, in a mangled heap of bodies - will be exhibited in Rome at the Palazzo Venezia museum on June 16.

"These works are a result of the indignation that the violations in Iraq produced in me and the rest of the world," Mr. Botero said by telephone from his Paris studio.

"I began to do some very fluid drawings, and then I began to paint and the results are 50 works inspired by this great crime."

Here is one offering:

08botero.1841.jpg (click through the NYT article for additional "art" samples from Botero's Abu Ghraib series).

Look, regular readers know how horrified I was by the torture scandal of Abu Ghraib. I've condemned it loudly and clearly. I'm even on the record in the pages of the New York Times stating that Abu Ghraib had me reconsidering whether to support Bush. But let's get a reality check here, shall we? Botero has been active for decades now (since the 1950s) and, with the exception of his native Columbia, has always shied away from political subjects. During these long decades since Botero began his artistic career, genocides have occurred in Cambodia and Rwanda. Genocidal policies have scarred Kurdistan, Bosnia and Kosovo. We have witnessed the massacres of students in Tiananmen Square whose only crime was a hunger for liberty. Kim Jong Il presides over a, yes, 'hellish nightmare' of a state that has his people wallowing in near-starvation. I could go on. And the "great crime" that pushed Botero to broach a political subject, through all these long decades of turbulent post WWII history, was a torture scandal in an American prison during war-time? Ah, but this rare foray into politically-oriented art is because he holds the U.S. in such high regard, doubtless. Fernando was let down, you see. But the hundreds and hundreds of thousands slaughtered by Pol Pot, by Karadzic and Mladic, by Rwandese genocidaires--there were not "great crimes" that provoked sufficient outrage. Call it the Cannes-ization of the art world. Bashing the brutish American imperium is sexy and subversive and chic and comme il faut. Also so often empty, hyperbolic, dishonest, and increasingly tiresome.

Posted by Gregory at 12:59 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

May 08, 2005

Mailbag

A reader, on the ground in Iraq with Centcom, sends in the below:

Gregory, I was just reading your comments on "A Brief Note on Iraq" and the return of Leslie Gelb from a ten-day fact finding trip to Iraq. I've been here for about the last fifteen months or so. I'm not sure after fifteen months of fact-finding I really understand Iraq either. Of course, I am not talking to 75% of the leadership, but I do have eyes and ears to help gauge the situation. I don't want to point by point with the interview, it isn't useful and I don't think it would accomplish much. Gelb does say, however:

"One of the main conclusions I came away with from the trip was that we hardly know what is going on. I spent 10 very intensive days there. . . .. I spent a lot of time talking to Iraqis, listening to them, and I don't feel I know what was going on there."

Maybe I am picking at bones. But isn't it rather clear what is going on? I mean it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there are some that hope to use fear and violence to snuff out the fragile electoral process. The number of attacks go up and the number go down. If you look at the attacks over say, the last eight months or so, you'll see that the number has remained relatively constant, between fifty and a hundred a day, except for two peaks (Ramadan and the run up to the elections). Meanwhile, the enemy is using up personnel right and left and gaining no traction among the populace. What did Iraqis see just before the election in the OBL to Zawaquiri letter? They saw a Saudi telling a Jordanian to kill Iraqis. Yeah. That will gain a lot of support in Iraq. Yep.

I think the enemy is getting desperate. They are trying a number of different techniques attempting to find one that will give them some traction. They've tried the big attacks at the AG Prison and out west on the Syrian border. Both failed. They were routed at the lakeside camp a month ago. They were rolled up in Fallujah last November. They continue to try to spark a religious war between the Shia and Sunni, and it is not working. A recent internal letter says that they are becoming de-moralized. You know, the largest battles of the Pacific campaign in WWII came just before the end of the war. So too it seems we are seeing that sort of desperate effort now. Yes, the body count is high, the enemy is going after very soft targets. But every day, volunteers line up for Police training, Army training, National Guard training or other support for the new government. And, the enemy know it. The enemy knows that success here means even more 'problems' for their home countries. You know, suicide (homicide) bombings are not part of the Iraqi culture. What does that tell you? You've heard, no doubt, that some of these VBIED drivers have been chained to the steering wheels. . . You can't make this stuff up.

One can hope the recent uptick in violence in Iraq is born of a last ditch "desperate effort." And, of course, my correspondent has a better feel for the general situation--from his on the ground vantage point for over a year--than B.D. does blogging from London or New York. The biggest factor in our favor (which he and Les Gelb both point out), in my view, is simply that the fanatical tactics of the insurgents are simply not winning the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Assuming that train and equip proceeds apace, and that we have an Iraqi Army willing to effectively fight and die for the New Iraq, I remain reasonably confident that the insurgency will ultimately be vanquished. The next major challenge, in all likelihood, will be a U.S. stablization role with regard to increasing Sunni-Shia tensions (while political governance structures hopefully continue to take root that allow for moderates to inhabit the fledging national institutions).

From the NYT:

Sunnis also largely boycotted the January elections, a decision that many of them now regret. With only 17 representatives in Iraq's 275-member National Assembly, they are entirely dependent on the good will of the Shiites and Kurds for any role in the new government.

A further problem is the lack of any cohesive Sunni political bloc. When negotiations over the Defense Ministry and other cabinet posts opened, several Sunni groups put forward separate lists of cabinet nominees instead of banding together on one.

The lack of unity arises from several factors. Sunnis in Iraq were in charge and never had to take shelter in communal loyalties, as Shiites and Kurds did. Sunni Islam does not have the kind of religious hierarchy that makes Shiites rally around their ayatollahs. As a result, many Sunnis still do not take their primary sense of identify from their religion. More than their Kurdish and Shiite counterparts, they have resisted the sectarian trend that has swept Iraq over last two years, and prefer to call themselves simply Iraqis.

But that is starting to change. Even cosmopolitan figures like Adnan Pachachi, the 81-year-old Iraqi elder statesman, have begun to drop their secular language and cast themselves primarily as Sunnis. Mr. Pachachi now says he hopes to build a Sunni political and religious coalition that might rival the Shiite alliance formed under Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Mr. Qaisi, as it happens, conceived the idea of uniting Iraq's Sunnis in early 2003, during a trip to Mount Ararat, near Mecca. Within a few months he had gathered 85 leaders of Sunni groups across Iraq, secular and religious. But that group eventually fell victim to partisan bickering. Last year Mr. Qaisi tried again, forming his current coalition, the National Dialogue Council.

Mr. Qaisi says he believes in nonviolence. His three wives are all Shiites, he says, so he understands the Shiite point of view.

Still, his Sunni nationalism has taken on a darker edge. Where he and other Sunnis once reserved most of their bile for the American occupation, he is now much angrier about Iraq's Shiite leadership.

During a raid on his house last year, American soldiers threw his pregnant daughter to the floor, and she later miscarried, he said, and his son was so frightened that he has become mentally ill. But Mr. Qaisi seems far less angry at the American troops than at the Shiite militia members who were also in on the raid.

"If the U.S. troops came alone, we would shake their hand," Mr. Qaisi said. "But they brought our enemies with them."

Behind the Shiite religious parties, Mr. Qaisi sees a darker foe: Iran. Like a number of other Sunni politicians, he has taken to calling the Shiite leaders "Safawis" - an allusion to the Safavid rulers who came from what is now Iran to conquer Iraq in the 17th century.

Most tellingly, Mr. Qaisi has a perception of Iraq's most fundamental realities that is utterly opposed to that of the Shiites. He and many other Sunnis believe that much of the terrorism ostensibly carried out by Sunni fighters is in fact directed and financed by Iran. He even says that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist whose network often attacks Shiite mosques and civilians, is largely a front for Iran's Shiite government.

Mr. Qaisi refuses to believe that Shiites make up 60 percent of the population, the figure that has been widely accepted inside and outside Iraq for a number of years. Instead, he believes they are closer to 30 percent - less, he adds, than Iraq's Sunnis.

B.D. has previously predicted that an important phenomenon to monitor will increasingly be that of growing Shi'a hostility towards U.S. forces with, concomitantly, less Sunni belligerency aimed at the Americans. Much like, say, in Kosovo--today's liberators quickly become tomorrow's oppressors (recall how quickly the Kosovo Liberation Army turned from jubilance at the arrival of the NATO cavalry to attacking those same forces once they were perceived to have gone from liberators to protectors of Serbian minority rights). Many Shi'a (Sadrists aside) were thrilled that the Sunni-centric, Saddamite yoke was lifted by the U.S. invasion. Down the road, however, as the U.S. takes a lead role in ensuring minority rights are respected and that Sunnis wield real power in the national government, we may well see Shi'a appearing the ingrates rapidly indeed as they rail against American forces holding them back from their maximalist goals vis-a-vis their previous Sunni oppressors. This is a hugely important dynamic that will need to be monitored closely in the months ahead. And it's also a reason a significant presence in Iraq must continue to be counted in years not months. B.D. does not count himself as one that believes an Iraqi civil war is inevitable. But a precipitous drawing down of U.S. forces would certainly increase the chances of sectarian discord scuttling the democratization process in Iraq.



Posted by Gregory at 07:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Blind Spots and The Politics of Faith

I'd wanted to wait a couple of days before giving a conservative take on the Washington Monthly's panel on Middle East Democracy. Kevin Drum organized an online discussion with Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch on the Political Animal site: he summarizes the exchange in this post that contains all the necessary links, but both it and the pieces by a panel that included Sen. Biden and Wes Clark are worth reading in full.

The discussion is intended to be one among Democrats, and touches on who should get the credit for recent encouraging developments in the Middle East and what their lessons are. Generally, except for Dan and Jonathan Clarke, the consensus is that President Bush does not deserve credit, or if he does deserves it for his rhetoric and not for the Iraq invasion. Absolutely, positively not for the Iraq invasion.

There is some good stuff here, and much that I agree with. I was impressed, though, that such a large, diverse and experienced panel should have some really notable blind spots -- by which I don't really mean areas about which I think they are mistaken, but subjects they just miss completely. Recent readers of this blog can probably guess one of the subjects I'm referring to, but I'll get to that in a moment.

The first and most surprising blind spot for this group is the American people. Everyone in the WM group has thought about how "we" ought to talk to the Arabs, and non-Arab Muslims, and various other foreign audiences. Which is fine, except that in a political environment dominated by the permanent campaign foreign audiences are almost never the primary ones for the President and his senior officials. They certainly are not in a campaign-centered, message discipline-oriented administration like this one.

For me this has always been one of the least admirable -- actually infuriating -- things about George W. Bush. Of course a President must speak to his domestic audience, even if he isn't campaigning. Foreign policy that has no domestic support can't be long sustained, and foreign policy that is not explained to the public won't attract much enduring support. Some Presidents, for example Truman and Nixon, excelled at building domestic support for their foreign policies even when they themselves were personally far more unpopular than Bush is now, while leaving foreign audiences in no doubt about American goals and intentions. But Bush's rhetoric about freedom and democracy, obsessively echoed by his senior officials, is mostly a collection of cheer lines aimed not at explaining or justifying American foreign policy but instead at proclaiming sentiments he knows his domestic audience will share and pointing to encouraging trends he hopes they will associate with him.

"Freedom is on the march." How many times have we heard that line and others like it from this President? What does it mean? What it is supposed to mean is that a value all Americans value -- freedom -- is advancing, and Americans should feel good about that. What it means to Arabs or anyone else beyond our shores is an afterthought.

One could argue that his rhetoric shows that the President recognizes something essential about American attitudes toward democratization anywhere, including the Middle East: namely, that they think it is or would be a good thing, but are not that interested in the specifics of how other countries govern themselves. I'd like it if he did, and if his Democratic critics did, but it may just be a coincidence.

Two other things about the WM groups' blind spot for the American people: Bush is exceptional among American politicians in this focus on the domestic audience only because he is President. And in all their discussion of Arab attitudes toward the United States the WM's panelists spared no time to consider American attitudes about Arabs.

These are buffered, as is the case with people in most very large countries, by distance and the press of business with more immediate impact on people's lives than foreign affairs. That said, no one in this country has forgotten where the 9/11 hijackers came from; Palestinians are widely identified with terrorism and suspected of being much more interested in killing Jews than in peace; when the federal building in Oklahoma City was blown up in 1995 the immediate public reaction was that someone of "Middle Eastern origin" had to be behind it. Generally speaking, American public attitudes about Arabs and particularly Arab leaders are strongly negative, and if the Arab genocide in Darfur were more widely publicized they would be even worse. In the Arab press you can find any number of imaginative and occasionally delusional explanations for this, often having to do with Jewish control of the media or racism of some kind: explanations that most Americans, rightly, would regard with contempt. Since they never address the subject it's hard to say, but I certainly hope none of the WM's panelists have any thought that American efforts to make the United States less disliked in the Arab world can be anything other than one lane of a two-way street.

A second blind spot for this group concerns the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obviously the elections in Iraq could not have taken place without the American invasion; but since 1991 American military action has either removed from power or heavily damaged three forces that certainly would have opposed democratization had they remained, these being Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and the Taliban roughly in that order. The failures in planning for and execution of the occupation in Iraq have undone some of that good work, but I wonder if the WM's panelists really think that the positive developments in the Middle East they believe Bush deserves no credit for would have been quite so positive in a region that still had all the regimes that were in place four years ago.

There is another aspect to this, of course, one that reflects far less favorably on administration policy toward Iraq in particular. Operations in Iraq have and are being paid for entirely with borrowed money, billions upon billions of dollars borrowed from Asian central banks. This can't continue indefinitely. The cost for this noble democratization mission (as it now is, even if that was not the original reason for it) was not counted beforehand, and even its critics seem not to be focused on this. "We must succeed in Iraq," is Sen. Biden's sentiment, with which I am in full sympathy. But our present commitment to success in Iraq and the Middle East, as both the administration and most of its critics have defined it, will make it more difficult for the United States in other parts of the world, where we also must succeed. Almost all of those regions -- Latin America, Europe, certainly the Pacific -- are more central to the great destinies of this country than is the Middle East. I'm all for "standing with" aspiring democrats in that region, but I also don't believe in making promises we can't keep. The question of available resources is certainly relevant here.

The last of the WM panel's blind spots is Darfur. I don't think any of the contributors even mention it. This is really remarkable for a group of Democrats eager to proclaim their superior morality on the subject of human rights. One of them needs to explain to me what possible difference it can make for the United States to take some marginal steps to encourage labor unions in Egypt or NGOs in Saudi Arabia when Arabs as a whole are indifferent or worse to genocide being committed by other Arabs right under their noses.

Sustaining representative democracy is about more than one free election. It is also about more than building institutions either public or private. Fundamentally, democracy in any country places great demands on that country's people as well as on their leaders. How do we know if the people of, say, Saudi Arabia or Egypt will be able to meet these demands? Their attitudes and actions toward some disaster in a distant land that victimizes people with whom they have no connection may not be a good indication; but when the disaster is inflicted by people of their own race and religion in a neighboring country -- and on people of their own religion, no less -- and they say and do nothing, that ought to give us pause.

So those are the WM panel's blind spots. There remains the question of its politics of faith. As Heather Hurlburt points out, these have been best expressed by someone who shares them completely, George Bush:


“It should be clear to all that Islam—the faith of one-fifth of humanity—is consistent with democratic rule.... Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe—because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”


Now, one can quibble with this sentiment; "consistent" should be replaced with "compatible," since the case that Islam actually contributes to democracy as opposed to being an obstacle that can be overcome under the right circumstances does not appear strong. One can also heckle it; in the long run we're all dead, and stability adresses present needs. America always talked about freedom in Eastern Europe, after all, but for almost half a century we acquiesced in the Soviet occupation, recognizing that the alternative to stability was not liberty but war.

But the important thing to observe about this declamation is its faith. This includes faith that democracy is possible now, everywhere; that people who have never known either liberty or democracy as we understand these terms not only desire them but are capable of seizing and holding them; that where liberty and democracy have not taken hold this must be because American policies were mistaken; and that setting a new, moral course will steer us clear of the difficulties that must have been caused by our old, amoral policies.

The nature of faith is such that it cannot always be argued against. Historical evidence that repressive regimes "propped up" by the United States would have muddled through without American support, or else evolved rapidly into something much worse, doesn't matter. Current limitations on our political system's capacity to produce leaders who do not spend almost all their time addressing their domestic audience don't matter. The American public's limited interest in promoting political change in other countries, restrictions on the resources available to do this, and the many more important if not more urgent claims on America's foreign policy attention don't matter. The idea -- no, the fact -- that there are worse things in this world than a lack of democracy doesn't matter. And that key equation between promoting freedom and reducing the appeal of terrorism against Americans to people motivated by religion is assumed as a matter of course.

The ablest, shrewdest, and most successful practitioners of modern American foreign policy -- Theodore Roosevelt, Marshall, Acheson, Kissinger -- would all have regarded this kind of faith as a poor guide to action. We should, too. A foreign policy that measures its success by the amount of political change it produces in other societies is a policy doomed to disillusion, disappointment, and imprudent disregard of vital American interests. That is the charge against President Bush's policy in the Middle East, and if his Democratic critics took over direction of that policy tomorrow, the same charge could be made against them.

Posted by at 01:59 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Laura's Iran Musings

Laura Rozen has a post up on the state of our Iran policy well worth your time. I don't agree with all her points, but it is hard to disagree with her general concern that our Iran policy is not achieving great results just now. Putting the quite farsical Beltway blame game to the side (would Kerry have done better? Did Bush's Iraq war ruin the prospects for an effective Iran strategy? [ed. note: No, and no, B.D. would answer) commenters are invited to chime in regarding what they would recommend on Iran policy. Pollack/Takeyh style incentives? Direct bilateral negotiations? Immediate move to sanctions and such? More vigorous saber-rattling? Ledeen-style fanning of more muscular counter-revolutionary sentiment? What to do? As with North Korea, one can't help feeling our policy is drifting and ineffective of late. We seem to have sub-contracted Iran policy (to the Euro troika) and N. Korea policy (to China, in the main) in the hope that Teheran or Pyongyang will see reason via messages from our proxies. But I'm not persuaded either will; and I'm not quite sure what our back-up plans are...

Posted by Gregory at 12:56 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

May 07, 2005

Ogata's UNHCR

Of all the U.N. agencies, it is the UNHCR that I've had the greatest respect for over the years. This is, in no small part, due to Sadako Ogata's capable stewardship of the agency as High Commissioner during the 90s. Brian Urquhart reviews her recently published book "The Turbulent Decade: Confronting the Refugee Crisis of the 1990s" here. Don't miss this part:

Ogata argues that while large humanitarian operations cannot solve political or military problems, they can sometimes serve as a pretext for the Security Council and its member nations to avoid the more forceful intervention that the situation calls for. David Rieff describes the paradox:

For the Bosnians, UNHCR's success in carrying out the role the great powers had assigned it represented both a triumph and a tragedy. Fundamentally, the better the job UNHCR and the NGOs that worked with it did in Bosnia —and, given the appalling, impossible circumstances, the job they did was magnificent—the more cover they provided for the great powers to avoid doing anything to stop the slaughter.

There is now much talk about reforming, or rehabilitating, or even saving the United Nations. Of the many proposals being made, some will no doubt be adopted. Little or nothing, however, is being said about the basic political problems that are often responsible for an inadequate Security Council response. On the whole, the US and the rest of the world's powerful nations avoid discussing the periodic inability of the Security Council to agree on much-needed action, and the reasons for it. The members of the Security Council, and especially the permanent members, sometimes lack the sense of urgent international responsibility that, in situations when action is desperately needed, could, at least for a short time, override their disagreements or intransigent national policies. Nor do they want to consider the need for a standing UN rapid deployment force, although one is often urgently needed to tackle a problem before it grows into a nightmare. The disaster in the Great Lakes region, which continues despite the belated presence of a UN peacekeeping force, is a somber reminder of what happens when there is no forceful intervention at a critical moment.

I agree that amidst all the breathless talk of U.N. reform (truly critical and imperative, yes); we often forget that all the problems of the U.N. don't just stem from fils Kojo Annan. Indeed, this is why I have often been a U.N. skeptic. There was no real action or unanamity of resolve with regard to massive humanitarian tragedies like Rwanda, Bosnia or Kosovo through the 90s in the halls of the United Nations. Which is what so often put the lie to the hyper-legalistic reasoning of those who opposed the war in Iraq because it didn't get a second UNSC resolution (witness, in the UK, the faux-debate of whether the Iraq war was "legal" or not). If the war in Iraq was illegal, well, so were the NATO interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo. But that didn't make those actions morally dubious and worthy of round castigation as Iraq was greeted in so many quarters. There are many reasons for this, of which more another day. But Saddam Hussein was every bit as monstrous a leader (if not worse) than Slobodan Milosevic or Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic. We shouldn't forget this.

Posted by Gregory at 04:56 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

B.D. Going-Ons

After an extremely intense work schedule this past month or so--B.D. can finally come up for a little air! It has been a tremendously exciting period professionally but, yes, I missed the blog here and there (but boy did I need the blog-break...) Anyway, I hope to get back to at least quasi-regular blogging over the coming weeks. Joe Britt will co-blog with me through Sunday May 15th--at which point this will become a solo gig again (or be handed off to another guest blogger--the Paris-based expat attorney mentioned earlier is unavailable until at least then, however). As I told Joe in an E-mail, I found his blogging superb and really appreciated his efforts here. And, of course, you can still catch his writing through next Sunday (albeit interspersed with my shrieks, assorted shout-outs, and hysterics). Two for the price of one! Speaking of, I'm reticent to turn this into a group blog just yet. Truth be told, I like having my own little soap-box to the cyber-world over here and am not yet ready to diversify. That said, should I go the group route (which neverthless remains a possibility despite woeful monopolistic tendencies), Joe will be front and center on the list of potential co-bloggers. That is, if he doesn't start his own blog post guest-blogging here...

Back later. We're just finishing up BHL's Atlantic essay and might have a comment or two later.

UPDATE: I start blogging again and the site promptly crashes for an hour. An omen to stay away? I think a comment or two got lost in the shuffle too...apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 02:33 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Department of Beltway Machinations

Er, is it just me; or does someone want to keep his bona fides with POTUS on the up and up so as to be well positioned to replace Rummy?

Well, it's not just me (see point No. 3)...

P.S. I'd ship Bolton up to USUN as a trade for Armitage replacing Rumsfeld. Any. Day. Of. The. Week.

Posted by Gregory at 02:20 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A Brief Note on Iraq

Les Gelb (who just came back from a good ten days in Iraq) remains humble in opining confidently on what the take-aways from his trip are:

I don't know. It is so hard to tell. One of the main conclusions I came away with from the trip was that we hardly know what is going on. I spent 10 very intensive days there. That's far longer than administration leaders who have gone there, like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for half a day, or congressional delegations for half a day. I spent a lot of time talking to Iraqis, listening to them, and I don't feel I know what was going on there.

I know a lot more facts, but I am not sure that I understand the rhythms and trends much better than I did before. And I don't think the Iraqis do, and I don't think the Americans there do, and, for the most part, they are rather humble and careful about this. It's hard to judge. Everybody tries to find some excuse. They say, "Oh, it's because the government wasn't formed." But the people I spoke with there, in the U.S. Embassy, and Iraqis, they couldn't figure out why there had been a lull in violence for the last few months and then an eruption, what was going on with the various insurgent groups, and when it would end, or why it would end. They were guessing, too.

I think we are all guessing right now. I'm just coming off the blogging hiatus and so am particularly out of the loop (I have had no time to follow developments in Iraq as closely as I'd like). But I do know one thing. There has been a very serious uptick in insurgent violence over the past weeks as the insurgency puts pressure on the fledging Iraqi government. And as I've written pre-hiatus contra Matt Yglesias (too snarkily for which I've expressed regret!); this is most assuredly not the time to pull out any U.S. forces.

Back to the Gelb interview:

Q: There is no Sunni leader who can order the insurgents to stop?

Gelb: No. The insurgents are calling the shots. There are two powers in Iraq today: the United States military and the terrorists. The Iraqi political leaders are caught in between. The only power they have is to ask the United States to leave, if they dare. And they don't dare. In fact, even the Muslim Brotherhood people are no longer calling for an immediate American withdrawal. Even they understand that would bring utter chaos to their country. [emphasis added]

It sure would. Which was my point a few weeks back...

P.S. We'll have much more on Iraq in the weeks ahead.

P.P.S. Don't miss this critical snippet from the Gelb interview either:

Anyone who knows the history of insurgencies knows you can't win a military victory over an insurgency; the route to victory is in political legitimacy. You have to have a government and a cause people are willing to fight and die for. I think the people and armed forces would be willing to fight for a whole Iraq where the parts take responsibility for most of their own lives.

One of the things that struck me [in Iraq] was that, for all the frustration and anger there is toward the United States, there is real hatred toward the terrorists and what they are doing to Iraq. And if there is a government that is reasonably democratic, that conducts open politics, that is not too corrupt--corruption is a terrible problem--the vast majority of Iraqis would prefer it to any leadership by these terrorists and insurgents. [emphasis added]

There is real hatred among ordinary Iraqis towards the grotesque, indiscriminate violence stoked daily by Zarqawi and Co., assorted jihadists, varied Saddamites, and so on. And therein, of course, lies a critical opportunity. The tactics of beheadings, massive car bombings, mowing down Iraqi police recruits (is it true that some 1,900 Iraq police have been slaughtered to date!?!)--these are not values that appeal to basic human dignity, hope, fellow-feeling. And Iraqi moderates, if they can somehow regain the kind of relatively secure conditions that prevailed after the January 30th elections (and, make no mistake--it is the U.S. that remains the critical factor on the security front--not nascent Iraqi forces just yet), said moderates must use every opportunity to achieve political legitimacy by, not least, pointing out the nihilistic violence that their opponents are proffering and contrasting it with their vision of a modern, pluralistic Iraq. That is the only long term solution that will serve to beat back a viciously brutish insurgency and the chaos they stoke in the hope that it will engulf the still so nascent democratization effort. The task remains ambitious and challenging in the extreme (not least because of the perils of long repressed potential Shi's revanchism)--but there is no choice but to try to see it through. This is the least we owe the many victims of this difficult war which has caused such discord, bitterness and confusion around the globe. Yes, the goal remains noble. It is about human progress and liberty, about modernity versus medieval fanaticism, about a society ruled by law and basic dignity rather than neo-Stalinist thuggery. And yes, about signaling that U.N. resolutions are meant to be enforced, rather than chattered on about in the halls of Turtle Bay, by nation-states that take international security serously. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 01:20 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

May 06, 2005

On The Road Again?

The central front in the war on trade barriers is the Doha round of talks, much delayed but still the object of hope. People will have to judge for themselves how realistic that hope is based on the reaction to this week's agreement in Paris about how to calculate the value of tariffs on farm products.

This subject is just as technical and tedious as it sounds. Obviously, though, you can't reach agreement on how to reduce tariffs without common measures of how much they are worth, so from that standpoint the Paris agreement removes a major obstacle to putting together the outline of a trade liberalization agreement by the time representatives of the 147 countries participating in the Doha round meet in Hong Kong in December.

But additional obstacles loom in the areas of agricultural production and export subsidies and import quotas, manufacturing, and services that look more formidable than the disagreements about how to value farm tariffs. Optimistic takes on the Paris agreement come from the new US Trade Representative, Rob Portman , who seems to be off to a good start, and the pro-free trade Economist. A more restrained appraisal appeared the other day in the National Business Review of New Zealand. The Deadline of Deadlines for a final agreement, according to the Economist, is July 2007, when President Bush's grant of "fast-track" negotiating authority from Congress expires.

Posted by at 01:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 05, 2005

Baghdad Embassy Update

I mentioned in an earlier post that confirmation hearings for Zalmay Khalilzad as the new Ambassador to Baghdad had not been scheduled in the Foreign Relations Committee. That observation is still true but, apparently, unfair to the Committee. Khalilzad's name does not appear among the nominations submitted to the Senate by the President in April.

The President's intent to nominate him was announced on April 5. I have no explanation for the delay. It should be noted that former Ambassador Negroponte presented his credentials in Baghdad fully six weeks after his confirmation by the Senate. So at the very least it looks as if we will be without an Ambassador to Iraq for some considerable time. Surely the disadvantages of this situation are evident enough not to require comment.

Congress being in recess until next Monday, President Bush could make Khalilzad a recess appointment. This would allow him to serve until the current session of Congress ends this fall. I would not suggest this step if the need were less pressing, but Khalilzad is well known to the Senate and an arrangement to appoint him permanently, with the normal confirmation procedures, later in the year could be made.

Posted by at 09:59 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Hidden in Plain Sight

Tom Friedman had one of his culture analysis pieces in the Times yesterday, relating the thoughts of a friend of his resident in Cairo about Arab terrorism as


"...the modern incarnation of several deeply rooted and interlocking wars. These are, he said, the war within Islam between Traditionalists and Rationalists, which dates back to Baghdad in the ninth century; the struggle between ardent Sunnis and Shiites, which dates back to succession battles in early Islam; and the confrontation between Islam and the West, which dates back to the Arab conquests of the seventh century and the Crusades."


Yeah, whatever. I mean, I'm sure that in Cairo this is a more politic analysis than the one that ascribes suicide bombings and periodic massacres to the unusually prominent place in Arab culture of simple barbarism or the ease with which Islam lends itself to violence of the most vicious kind. Or both. There is probably some truth in it, too, but before entertaining that possibility I'd like Mr. Friedman to get back to his friend in Cairo with this question:

If this explains terrorism, does it also explain Darfur?

Friedman doesn't mention Darfur in this column. By contrast, his fellow Times columnist Nick Kristof writes frequently about Darfur without mentioning any Arab country or government other than Sudan's. This is a remarkable coincidence, at least to an admitted layman to whom one slaughter looks much like another. Arabs in Darfur seem to use rape as a weapon more often than Arabs from Saudi Arabia or Ramadi, and explosives not as often. But these look like details to me, a case of different people relying on different chapters of The Savage's Handbook.

I know all the likely rebuttals to this deliberately brutal and inflammatory language. None of them explain the Arab genocide in Darfur; the silence of other Arabs about Arab genocide in Darfur; or the Western media's silence about Arabs' silence about Arab genocide in Darfur. Friedman, for example, seems oblivious to the subject. Kristof, who is not, follows the conventional practice of American journalists witnessing something awful. This is to demand that the American government do something about it.

Well, this is fine. We'd all like Washington to put out this particular fire before it burns itself out, and I don't really object to any of the specific steps Kristof recommends in this case. As a practical matter, though, this habitual treatment of every actual or potential disaster around the world as primarily an American problem is a good way to ensure that actual disasters get worse and potential disasters turn into real ones.

We all saw in the last decade how many people in the former Yugoslavia had to die while European powers fiddled around waiting for the Americans. Europe had the means to stop the fighting sooner, but not the will. At least European countries provided relief to the surviving victims of warfare and ethnic cleansing, and eventually sent large numbers of peacekeepers to Bosnia and Kosovo once it was clear the risk of actual combat was low. Also, European media covered the Balkan wars extensively from beginning to end. At the end of it all European governments had the grace to show some sense of guilt and remorse about the whole sorry business.

The Arab world isn't even doing that about Darfur. No peacekeepers, no aid, no media coverage, and for damn sure no guilt. Does Tom Friedman during all his earnest chin-stroking about the problem of terrorism and Arab culture pause to consider that this might be related somehow? Saudi imams get young men inspired to blow themselves up in the middle of Iraqi crowds, but we sure don't hear too many reports of young Saudi men risking death to stand between Muslim villagers in Darfur and the janjaweed.

What about Nick Kristof, who has access to the same maps of Africa that the rest of us do? Does he wonder that the largest Arab country, directly north of Sudan with a large army and an air force hundreds of planes strong, has never made a move toward establishing, say, a no-fly zone over any part of Darfur? Demanded UN sanctions against Sudan, or imposed any of its own? To be honest, I doubt the idea has even crossed his mind.

You don't need to be a master geo-strategist or have a doctorate in comparative anthropology to figure out that a culture and religion indifferent or worse to murder on a large scale is going to be a problem for the civilized countries. Egyptian, Saudi, and other Arab Muslims who object to this characterization of them have it within their power to prove me wrong, or not, by what they finally do about Darfur. Journalists like Friedman and Kristof can make their contribution by writing about it, even if it does mean they have to pick up a few checks the next time they're in Cairo.

Posted by at 07:59 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Jacob Weisberg, Off-Message

Slate's editor apparently never got the memo that Republicans are motivated by ideology. They are extreme, except when they are very extreme. They are to be referred to in a tone of voice suggestive of a timid housewife discovering a mouse in her pantry (Eek! Eek! The Radical Right! Theocrats! Eek! American Taliban! Neoquasifascistnazis! Eek!).

It's not as if I'm arguing with Weisberg's Big Idea (I'm not being snide, it's the name of the Slate feature he's writing for) that interest group conservatism has grown like kudzu in the summertime since Republicans got control of Congress. I do think he misses a few important details, such as

* A number of Congressional Republicans are R-squareds, Recent Republicans produced by the exodus of southern white voters from the Democratic Party since the early 1970s. Conservative these folks are in many of their social views, but they aren't anti-spenders any more than their Democratic predecessors were 20 and 30 years ago. They're keen on using the tax code to deliver for favored interests and constituents, too, much as Southern Democrats like Russell Long and Lloyd Bentsen were.

* The focus of interest group conservatism has been on the budget and the tax code until fairly recently. That's where the money is; that's where interest groups get paid off. There is some action, it is true, on other kinds of legislation. Except for the abortion issue, though, most of this has a high ratio of symbolism to substance: school prayer and gay marriage amendments that everyone knows have no chance of becoming part of the Constitution, symbolic repeal of the symbolic assault weapons ban and so forth. Weisberg gets distracted by a lot of this symbolic stuff. So the FCC is enforcing regulations against foul language on public airwaves; big deal. If the agency ignored its regulations Weisberg wouldn't be accusing it of doing the bidding of Howard Stern.

There is, of course, the judiciary. Interest groups on both sides have taken an increasing (and by now occasionally all-consuming) interest in judicial nominations. For conservative groups, waging rhetorical battles against liberal activist judges to energize the base and promote fundraising comes first, though some of them have shown an interest in legislating from the bench on behalf of their views. For liberal groups the priorities are reversed; even liberal politicians sympathetic to abortion rights and hostile to state morals laws can't get away with criticizing the legal reasoning behind, say, Roe or Lawrence, two of the more egregious acts of judicial usurpation in recent history. They couldn't even get away with saying the Massachusetts Supreme Court had no business deciding that a definition of marriage in place for centuries suddenly violated that state's constitution.

* This leads to the last point Weisberg missed: interest-group liberalism hasn't gone anywhere. Those Democratic Presidential candidates in Iowa last year competing with one another to repeat interest group talking points about everything from education to race didn't think interest-group liberalism had declined. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee today certainly don't. Why can so few Democrats in politics demonstrate mastery of foreign policy and national security issues? Because none of their "groups" care about any of them, except for the ones who care about Israel, neither do they.

Weisberg is just spinning here, on behalf of a Clinton administration that adapted first to low approval ratings and later to a Republican Congress, but otherwise did little to break "the groups'" hold on the Democratic Party. I'll grant that Clinton had opportunities to do this, but after he made it through his reelection he had, ahem, other priorities, and his influence faded.

I should also say something about John McCain. Like a lot of leftish journalists, Weisberg adores McCain. He thinks the Arizona Senator can be a counterweight to interest-group conservatives, or could be if he weren't so disliked by the Republican establishment. I'd like to believe this, and McCain may believe it, but it's still wrong. John McCain is a guy I like and admire, who ran for President in 2000 like a man playing out the last act of his public life, only to find the lights still on and the crowds still cheering at the end. He will be 69 this year; his legislative agenda is all odds and ends apart from campaign finance and what he does for Arizona. He has been and remains weakly staffed for someone seeking to put together a reform Republican platform, and this is unlikely to change. He's a voice, but not a force.

What Weisberg is right about is that, as he says, "...the entire enterprise of running Washington as a special-interest spoils system breeds a bloated, ineffective government." People will put up with this kind of government in good times, but eventually it will breed discontent and cynicism directed at the party in power.

The central political problem in America today is that the business of government has been overwhelmed by the business of getting elected. It's why interest-group conservatism, and liberalism, have burst their banks and inundated the political landscape. Eventually, though, there is always a high political price to be paid for bad, corrupt, feckless government -- sometimes not exacted from the politicians most responsible or in a timely manner, but nonetheless certain. Because they now control both the White House and the Congress the Republicans are running up the biggest tab.

Posted by at 03:59 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 04, 2005

The British Election

"Great Britain has lost an empire and has not found a role."

Dean Acheson stirred up a trans-Atlantic controversy in late 1962 by making a speech containing this observation, which was cruel, painful, and completely true. Part of Tony Blair's problem right now is that it still is.

I haven't posted on the British election before now mostly because I suspect it will turn primarily on domestic and economic issues, as most elections do. About these I have only one not terribly original observation, which is that having long since decided that Thatcherism was no ideology for gentlemen the Tories are stuck with "me, too-ism" and "yes, but-ism." You only win elections on that sort of platform if your opposition is an obvious failure or enmeshed in a particularly lurid scandal of some kind, and Blair is neither. So at this writing Blair's Labor Party is expected to win easily, though perhaps not as easily as it did four years ago.

Blair is the object of much discontent over foreign policy, primarily for his leadership in the Iraq war. Let me say that I think his critics are perfectly sincere in saying that what they object to is Blair having exaggerated the former Iraqi government's weapons of mass destruction programs and shifted his rationalization for Britain's involvement in the war. I also think their discontent has deeper roots than that.

Blair, to his credit, has his own ideas of what Britain's world role ought to be -- a champion of freedom, a foe of poverty and disease (particularly in Africa) and an advocate for the global environment, more or less in that order. It's not an unworthy vision, nor does it represent a radical departure from that of earlier British Prime Ministers, particularly Thatcher. Thatcher, though, had two great advantages that Blair does not. One was a familiar enemy, the Soviet Union that only dissolved the year after Thatcher left office. The other was the Falklands War.

Blair close collaboration with the United States, especially during the Presidency of the very unpopular George Bush, has inevitably created some confusion over whether he is serving British interests or American ones. His answer -- and that of every other Prime Minister since Churchill, with the possible exception of Edward Heath -- would be that these are not inconsistent. But there is no getting around the fact that British forces would never have gone into Iraq except at the side of the Americans. Thatcher was able to inoculate herself against similar confusion by sending a task force to throw the Argentinians off British territory, an exclusively British operation for an exclusively British interest (for all that it could not have been carried out without discreet logistical cooperation by the United States). After the Falklands, no one accusing Thatcher of being an American toady could be believed.

But besides that, Blair inherited Britain's chief post-imperial liability: it isn't large enough, or rich enough, or strong enough to be decisive on any of the issues he thinks are important, not without enormous effort and sacrifice and in most cases not even with them. Britain can be America's junior partner, or it can be a scold on the subject of Western aid to poor countries, like a big Canada or Norway. Or it can be part of Europe.

There was little ambiguity in Thatcher's thinking about that last option: No. Blair's priorities make working with Europe (or at least trying to) unavoidable; anything closer than that will have to wait on events. He still sees Britain as a leader on his great causes, if not materially then morally.

The bottom line is that his causes are not really that dear to the British people today. They are for freedom, against poverty, and for the environment -- but if their Prime Minister is up for a crusade on any of these subjects, they are not. In important ways Britain is already part of Europe: an aging society, enjoying its prosperity, troubled by change, desirous above all of a quiet life.

This is not a criticism, merely an observation. British voters might well ask why British troops are in Iraq; whether Saddam Hussein's regime continued, even whether he eventually got and used weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors, was not a terribly high priority to the British public. Blair will find, in his third term as Prime Minister, that his other foreign priorities really aren't either. The public will go along with them, but without Blair's enthusiasm or moral fervor and certainly without any great willingness to disrupt their lives on behalf of his goals. He will probably retire before he reaches the point of being forced out by a people or party grown tired of him as Churchill and Thatcher were. But at least where foreign policy is concerned, tire of him they will.

You can only lead to the extent people are willing to follow you. Tony Blair has had his frustrations on that score with the Americans, with the French and other Europeans, but his greatest and growing problem is with his own people. Britain still has not found a role, and the one Blair wants for it British voters are just not that interested in.

Posted by at 03:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Modest Proposal for China

The Chinese government in Beijing has evidently decided to try influencing domestic Taiwanese politics by openly showing its favor to Taiwan's opposition parties, the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party and the smaller People First Party. The apparent idea is to isolate Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian and his governing Democratic Progressive Party until they amend its platform in accord with Beijing's wishes.

Whether this will work or not I don't know; it could conceivably spark a popular backlash against the Nationalists, but perhaps not. At any rate there is an easier way for Chinese President Hu Jintao to advance Beijing's "one China" policy, and advance the cause of an authentically Chinese democracy at the same time.

Hu could resign as President of China, in favor of the man who got the most votes in the last free and fair election in China, Chen Shui-bian. In addition, the Chinese Communist Party could give up its monopoly on power in China; members of the military could be required to renounce membership to any political party, and perhaps China could transfer some of its government ministries from Beijing to Taipei as a goodwill gesture.

Freed from his duties as President, Hu could spend his time attending to the long-overdue task of revising Chinese textbooks to reflect Communist support for aggression and terrorism in Korea and Indochina, for the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, for the sale of weapons to every tinhorn dictator and guerilla group who wanted them; and reflect as well Communist responsibility for the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward, the repression of the Cultural Revolution, and the 1989 massacre at Tien An Men Square. Just preparing a proper list of people to apologize to could provide gainful employment to Hu for the rest of his natural life.

Of course this course of action would involve some small sacrifices. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. But surely restoring Taiwan to China, and vice versa is worth paying a small price, no?

Posted by at 10:59 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Extended Debate On The Big Blogs

An earlier post on "dull-witted, bovine majoritarianism" provoked enough pawing of dust and stampede-like activity in the Comments section to make some further remarks about the Senate filibuster as it applies to judicial nominations seem worthwhile.

Glenn Reynolds and Mickey Kaus have been having a back-and-forth on this subject. Glenn took it up after an earlier discussion on the Tigerhawk blog.

Tigerhawk's original suggestion was that Senators threatening extended debate on a judicial nomination (or, presumably, any other matter before the Senate) should be required to put up or shut up. That is, the Senate would not proceed to other business and let the nomination threatened with a filibuster hang, but would force those Senators who wanted to talk the nomination to death to do so. Glenn mostly agrees with this; Mickey hems and haws in the manner with which regular readers of his will be familiar, and finally declares his belief that a genuine filibuster would work to the advantage of the minority Democrats. This conclusion I regard as obtuse and wrong, for reasons I'll explain in a moment.

At the core of this dispute is Senate Rule XXII, regarding precedence of motions, which lays out the rules for ending debate "...upon any measure, motion, other matter pending before the Senate." The procedures outlined in Rule XXII are arduous, but genuine extended debate is much more so. First, it requires a filibustering senator or senators to talk for long periods of time, relieving one another by means of one Senator yielding to another without the first Senator losing his right to the floor. In the current situation, since Democrats have more than enough votes to defeat a motion to limit debate, Senators might keep a filibuster going by serially seeking recognition from the chair in the usual way.

A real filibuster also requires a quorum in the Senate, 51 members for this purpose. Theoretically one or two Democratic Senators could hold the floor while 49 Republican Senators had to sit there and listen to them. Business in the Senate is routinely conducted without a quorum, but only by unanimous consent. Without a quorum any member can "suggest the absence of a quorum," requiring the roll to be called and absent Senators summoned -- in other words, a delaying tactic that could give filibustering Senators a break. Jeffrey Toobin in his recent New Yorker article "Blowing Up the Senate" quotes a Republican Senate aide on the reasons Republican Senators don't want to force a genuine filibuster


"The Democrats could keep one or two of their people on the floor, talking all night, and they could request a quorum anytime they wanted. We’d have to keep fifty-one of our people there all night, and our people wouldn’t do it. Some of them are old. Some are sick. And it wouldn’t break the filibuster anyway. That’s why the filibuster is so effective.”


In my previous post on this subject, I noted that there are 16 Republican Senators in their late 60s or older; 12 of them are past 70. Of course, age and infirmity aren't the only factors here. Toobin's Republican aide neglected to mention that most Senators have fundraisers and receptions scheduled every night they are in Washington while Congress is in session, even better reasons as they see it not to have to stay near the Senate floor. As well, most recently elected Republican Senators came to the Senate from the House -- not the pre-1994 House, where Democrats had all the power and Republicans were an afterthought. Their experience has been instead in the GOP House, where Republican members vote the way the leadership tells them to and always win if they stay with the herd, ah, if they stick together. It's what they are used to, and they like it.

Add to that the fact the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is not Howard Baker or Bob Dole. He is anxious, almost desperate actually, to be viewed as President Bush's man in the Senate, seeing this as crucial to a future bid for the Republican Presidential nomination. Frist has been given his instructions: the White House wants all its judicial nominations confirmed, without hassles. All these factors together explain Senate Republicans' support of changing Senate rules to limit debate on nominations.

But in fact forcing the Democrats to mount a real filibuster of an appeals court nomination would effectively discourage future threats of extended debate on all but the most vital issues. In the first place, to most Americans a seat on an appeals court is just another judgeship. Of course the organized interest groups driving this controversy see things quite differently, but bringing Congress to a halt over one judgeship is bound to appear excessive to the general public. Second, the famous filibusters of an earlier era took place off-camera; that Republican aide's gloomy scenario of one Democrat talking endlessly while a quorum of Republican Senators waited to do Senate business would make for terrible visuals -- for the Democrats. They would need to hold most of their Senators on the floor to avoid having it appear that they were just goofing off, and this inconvenient requirement would undermine the unanimity within the Democratic caucus that filibustering a nomination requires.

Third, Democratic Senators' heavy reliance on "the groups" (as Zell Miller calls them) to help them decide which nominees to filibuster is a point of vulnerability that can be attacked during the course of the inevitable marathon media coverage, if not on the Senate floor then off it. Some of the ten nominees theatened with filibuster are more presentable than others; the first attempted filibuster -- the one that matters in shaping public perceptions -- would be bound to focus on the one nominee being blocked, rather than the other nine whose nominations are not being considered. The image of Senators blocking a qualified, inoffensive-looking nominee at the behest of vocal interest groups whose talking points a filibuster would require them to repeat over and over on the Senate floor is not an appealing one. If it could be conjured up once, the allure of additional filibusters would be greatly reduced. And even a successful filibuster, if forced to continue long enough, would be an unpleasant enough experience that Senators would hesitate before starting another one.

This could be an important gain for the Senate as an institution. The threat of extended debate, sometimes on measures of minor importance, has long made the conduct of Senate business more difficult. Using this threat Senators of both parties have been able to delay or block legislation -- and now, nominations -- at no cost to themselves, because their bluff was never called. This is an abuse of the Senate's tradition of unlimited debate; it started to undermine the comity essential to the Senate's functioning as it was intended long before the current era of thoughtless, interest group-driven partisanship began.

The White House alternative that Senator Frist is trying to scare up votes for does not and isn't intended to do anything for comity in the Senate, or the efficient operation of the Senate, because the White House only cares about what the President wants right now. Its effect would be to make the Senate more like the House of Representatives, which one might think would be appalling to men who spent years of their lives trying to escape the House and get elected to the Senate. As noted above there are Senators to whom the easy life of a corn-fed Congressman is something they actually want to bring with them to the north side of the Capitol. I doubt that they can be argued out of that.

But if there are arguments against forcing a genuine Senate filibuster, they shouldn't include the idea that it would damage Republicans more than Democrats. In American politics the onus of explaining any unusual, awkward-looking step is almost always on the people playing offense -- the people who are trying to change customary procedure. During the government shutdown of 1995, it was the Gingrich-led House Republicans; in a debate over changing Senate rules on the filibuster, it would be the Senate Republicans. But in an actual filibuster over a single nomination it would be the Democrats. Provided the nominee in question is not a raving nut case (yes, I do know this is obvious. I'm just saying), a genuine filibuster would make the Democrats look like petty, group-driven obstructionists even if they won, and would be such an ordeal most Senators would shy away from inviting another one.

Posted by at 09:59 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

May 02, 2005

A Small Heresy

If you want to murder someone and get away with it, you could pick a worse place than Washington, DC.

OK, so this case, involving the murder of a District community activist and reported by Colbert King, may be exceptional. Not all American murder cases get bobbled around for six years and counting despite strong physical evidence; most of them get wrapped up in three years or so, easy. Unless the defendant gets sentenced to death or has unusually competent counsel, in which case all bets are off.

We have this small lacuna in our conception of justice, the idea that on the list of things required to produce justice timeliness is right at the bottom if it appears at all. By "we" I don't just mean Americans, either. In Europe the trial of Slobodan Milosevic is still dragging on a full decade after Srbenica; to date this proceeding has been criticized more often for alleged bias than for the likelihood that Milosevic will be dead from natural causes before it ends.

These are the glories of the rule of law the international community, with the support of the Bush administration, wants to make sure is impressed on Iraq. They come with a price. Take the trial of Saddam Hussein. It has now been almost eighteen months since he was apprehended, the best guess today is that it may take another twenty-four before his trial even starts.

Saddam Hussein is perhaps the only man, thing, or concept less popular in Iraq than the occupation. Whatever the gain to our ideas of justice in his individual case from keeping him out of sight and out of mind as far as the Iraqi people are concerned, the political price has been enormous. Speeding up Saddam's trial could have made it difficult for the Iraqi insurgency to pretend it was not fighting to restore the police state he ran; it could have focused Iraqis' attention on the need to complete the journey from Saddam's Iraq to the Iraq they want, rather than blaming the Americans for everything that is wrong now. It might even have contributed to fewer Iraqis and American soldiers getting shot and blown up over the last year.

We may as well be frank: to the extent our intention is to demonstrate to Saddam's Arab admirers that he is being treated fairly we are embarked on a fool's errand. One might as well try to persuade them that the Mossad did not blow up the World Trade Center or that Arabs have been committing genocide against other Muslims in Darfur for the last two years. Any verdict against Saddam will be seen by many as victor's justice regardless of how his trial is conducted. Since justice of any kind could not have happened unless Saddam had lost the war, this is not something we ought to fear.

The length of time Saddam Hussein has been in custody was about how long it took between the time senior Nazi and German military officials surrendered to Allied forces and the end of their respective trials at Nuremberg. In the cases of ten senior Nazis sentenced to death, a little over two weeks elapsed between delivery of verdict and execution of sentence. With all respect to today's international legal community and its dream of perfect justice for all and full employment for lawyers, the trials given the Nazis were good enough.

The project to bring democracy and the rule of law to Iraq had very long odds against it to begin with. The odds have been made longer in this case through our embrace of one of the worst aspects of Western legal practice, the idea that justice delayed is no big deal.

Posted by at 01:59 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

May 01, 2005

One More From the Weekend

From former CBO head Dan Crippen, a capsule summary of why Medicare finances are heading for trouble:


"First, the lion's share of Medicare spending is going for a relatively small number of people. Second, we are wasting time and money by not having a coordinated care system for these big users. Third, we lack the information needed to guide our caregiving. Fourth, we continue to drive up costs by overusing hospitals and preventing nurses and technicians from doing routine work that doctors now needlessly perform."


Despite the headline assigned to his piece, Crippen is talking about how to fix Medicare, not the health care system as a whole. It's not hard to see why Medicare's problems would be harder to craft a legislative fix for than Social Security's, yet offer more room to save money without radically altering the service provided by the program.

Posted by at 11:59 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

When They're Right, They're Right

A few notes from the weekend newspapers, about observations made by people I either don't usually agree with or don't think very much of for other reasons, that nonetheless strike me as quite true:

* The people who write editorials for The New York Times and I agree regularly on just one subject, international trade. An editorial about homeland security spending (registration required) today, though, makes very sound observations about Congress slighting areas of the country at greatest risk of terrorism (like New York City) at the expense of the Congressional pork barrel. Of proposed changes to the current formula that allotted Wyoming seven times as much homeland security aid per capita as New York, the NYT says


"...Congress is now considering two bills that have come out of committee, one in the House and the other in the Senate. Both are disappointments. Each of the bills includes guaranteed minimum financing allotments for every state, regardless of the risks or threats they face....Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, recently argued that "an attack in Little Rock has the ability to deliver the same impact to our psyche, financial security and overall ability to function as a country as would an attack in Los Angeles or New York."


An arguable point, that. My question is why the Bush administration, which campaigned on homeland security, is leaving this to Congress to sort out for itself. I don't expect Presidential involvement while the latest campaign is still going on, but surely seeing that security spending isn't wasted on uniforms for first responders in Des Moines is one of the things we have a Homeland Security Secretary for.

* Also from the NYT, David Brooks discusses the judicial filibuster issue, making this dead-on statement as to what is fueling this controversy:


"Right now, most senators want to avoid a meltdown. It's the outside interest groups that are goading them into the fight.

Of course the groups want a fight. The activists get up every morning hoping to change the judiciary, dreaming of total victory. Of course they're willing to sacrifice everything else for that cause."


Zell Miller was basically right about the Democratic Party; it is run by "the groups," organized interests that have specific agendas including stirring up issues they can use in their fundraising, and that demand 100% loyalty from Democratic elected officials. They get it, too, not just from a staff-driven dinosaur like Ted Kennedy or an invertebrate like Patrick Leahy but from every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The groups -- NARAL, People for the American Way, the Alliance for Justice, the NAACP, a few others -- decide which nominees get opposed, and Democratic Senators fall into line.

This is the example the Republicans want to emulate. The Democrats have their base to keep excited and mobilized and sending in contributions, and now so do the Republicans. The Bush White House has a little more influence over the GOP's groups -- in this controversy the evangelicals are most important -- but that may only be because some of the conservative groups haven't been at this as long as the liberal ones.

Brooks isn't the first commentator to notice what is going on. David Broder, another pillar of Washington conventional wisdom, wrote a few days ago


"...the interest groups that have mobilized over the judiciary find it very useful to broaden the battleground beyond the Supreme Court....Supreme Court vacancies are sporadic; none has occurred since 1994. To maintain their supporters' interest -- and the flow of contributions that finance their staffs -- the interest groups need more fights. And that is what the regular turnover in the ranks of the appeals courts provides.

It matters not to these groups how much or how little the broad public knows of the records and personalities of these appointees. As long as activists can be convinced they are threats to the system -- or martyrs -- that will suffice."


Now, Brooks criticizes Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist for not accepting an offer from Minority Leader Harry Reid to settle the impasse over judicial nominations short of a smashup over changing the Senate's rules on extended debate. I can't comment on the terms of the deal Reid is said to have offered because I don't know if Brooks' source is right, but what seems crystal clear is that if Frist turned Reid down he did so on instructions from the White House. His determination to be seen not only as the evangelicals' champion but as President Bush's man in the Senate makes it highly unlikely he'd make a decision like this on his own.

* The trouble for politicians inclined to devote themselves to this kind of obsequious water-carrying is that it isn't enough to ensure the favor of groups that demand politicians be with them all the time. Witness what Pat Robertson had to say this morning on ABC's This Week when George Stephanopoulos asked him about potential Republican Presidential candidates in 2008. No transcript is available at this writing, but Robertson mentioned Sen. Brownback of Kansas and Sen. Allen of Virginia. What about Bill Frist?

Robertson just blew him off. He didn't think Frist would be a candidate, and didn't think he'd be a good candidate. Stephanopoulos was rightly astonished at the first observation. But the second is quite right. I'm sure Frist is personally a nice guy, but he's seeking to move up in exactly the same way Democratic Presidential candidates usually do, by trying to assure activists that he is theirs. And just as Democratic Presidential candidates usually do, he looks weak.

* Lastly, on a completely different subject, the NYT Magazine asked Ted Koppel what is wrong with network TV news. Said Koppel:


"That they're giving up some of the very things that can differentiate them from the bloggers and other groups that are getting into journalism. They're giving up, for the most part, on overseas coverage. A lot of it is now being done just on the basis of video that comes in from APTV or Reuters Television, and then some guy sitting in London does a voice-over. That's not the smartest thing in the world."


That's absolutely true. It isn't just the networks that do this, either. The blogosphere rags on the television news operations a lot, often with justice, but in perfect fairness all the network news superstars -- Koppel, Peter Jennings, even Dan Rather -- have shown often enough they know the biggest reason television news is so superficial. It's that the networks don't care that much about news.

Posted by at 07:59 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Sign of the Times

Some people, of late, have been landing at B.D. via this Google search. Now we know why. Yes, the knives are out--and people are looking for dirt. It's not surprising, of course, but it's worth pointing out nevertheless. Clearly some oppo research types are looking around for Bernie Kerik style disqualifiers. Too often with these nomination fights--debates over substance get lost and cast overboard in favor of dirty laundry and the sensational. That's very unfortunate; albeit woefully predictable. Steve Clemons claims he doesn't want to play this game. Look, I have to say I've been impressed with TWN's monomaniacal coverage of the Bolton going-ons. Some of his stuff has likely even been a contributing factor spurring on B.D.'s Voinovich moment. And Steve's sincerety and passion are obvious. To be sure, a good deal of his coverage--perhaps predictably given his rather obsessive treatment of it--has veered into the hyperbolic. Witness: "That is why beating John Bolton is so vital. It is....all about saving our democracy." Er, let's get serious, shall we? This said, all in all, I think Steve has been a pretty responsible and intelligent voice throughout l'affaire Bolton.

But now Steve is taking things to a different level. And while this might earn him some plaudits amidst some of the Kos-like nasties on the hard left (read some of the comments generated by his post..."whatever it takes to take him down" pretty much sums it up)--I don't think it's going to do him favors in more sober circles.

Steve:

What happened to the first wife, Christine Bolton?

I have not spoken to Christine, but she seems to be a non-entity in the many proliferating Bolton profiles, but at the same time she is clearly a well-thought of person and friend to some of Washington's most distinguished personalities. I have dozens of messages from people noting what a wonderful person she is, and in sort of a hush-hush, you-know-what-I-mean, kind of tone, these friends of the first Mrs. Bolton imply a brutal, complicated, abusive marriage.

I want to know more of the facts because if Mr. Bolton has had a hard time controlling himself over the years, the evidence might reveal itself in his first marriage to a woman who was also a professional and who apparently worked at the Department of Commerce.

Steve structures his post as something akin to a warning shot across the bow. Wanna talk about how nice a guy John is on a personal level? Well, don't open that Pandora's Box he ominously avers. But this is constitutive of the rankest smut-peddling, sadly. After all, the mere fact that a Danielle Pletka or Veronique Rodman is on the record saying that Bolton is nice to the computer guys at AEI isn't an invitation for bloggers like Steve to start digging up dirt on Bolton's first marriage. That's just despicable, and while Steve says he's not going to go down that road, he very unfortunately enthusiastically invites others to do so:

But at this time when the hyper-conservative John Bolton was developing his political base, he was also allegedly involved in somewhat risque private behavior -- that I hesitate to say more about here. Those close to his former wife have alluded to it, and I believe that the Morally Intolerant Right Wing of the Republican circuit that is now pushing hard for John Bolton would back off if details of Bolton's off-line behavior that involved his then wife were known.

The problem that the White House faces with Mr. Bolton is that he has now become a known face, remembered, and those with memories of him and his past are out there.

I'm not going to say more about this now. If I have stumbled across these stories, others have as well -- and I have worked hard to validate that there was something real to them and have learned that to be the case... [ed. note: Does it sound to you like Steve has, just like that, "stumbled" across these stories? What with all the hard work validating and such...?]

...The personal stories abounding in the press now are an effort to white-wash some of the concerns about and "humanize" the Bolton we have seen operating the last four years in the Bush foreign policy team. But if personal tributes are going to start abounding, then the picture needs to be complete.

The media should investigate questions about his first wife, their marriage, and what some of their friends consider to be quite cruel treatment by him of their relationship. This is a story that others should pursue. I cannot.

Well how noble of Steve! And disingenuous in the extreme. After all, and as far I can tell, Steve is the first individual with quasi-respectable credentials to have published information that John Bolton may have some major personal skeletons. This has nothing to do with his ability to serve as our Ambassador to the U.N., of course, and everything to do with trying to kill off his nomination via some sensationalistic National Enquirer-ish media maelstrom played out amidst the increasingly cretinous media organs that bless our shores. Steve has today basically come out to invite the press and other bloggers (but, bien sur, not high-brow Steve!) to dig into Bolton's personal life. But you can't have it both ways Steve. Egging on the sleaze mongerers is pretty much just the same as sleaze mongering yourself. And you're better than that, right?

Look, for me, the Bolton nomination comes down to two or three things, in the main. One, has he showed a pervasive pattern of unfairly disciplining those who disagreed with him on intel assessments (especially when those he allegedly threatened were right on the facts)? He certainly didn't cover himself with glory on the Cuba front. He was aggressive on Syria and Iraq. Was it totally over the top? I'm not persuaded yet. Two, is there a pattern of insubordination more profound than a few fist-fights with Richard Armitage as Dick Cheney's mole at State? Maybe, as I've broached a bit before. Let's dig into that a bit more--keeping in mind he's very far from the 7th Floor at Turtle Bay so there will be much less room for going forward insubordination. Three, and I think it's fair, at least to some extent, to characterize the concerns of the John Whitehead Manhattan establishment types like this--is this gruff, sometimes intemperate, stand-with-Jesse-at-the-gates-of-hell, aggressively-moustachioed son of a Baltimore fireman the right man for us at USUN? Well, hell, he just might well be... a la son of Hell's Kitchen Daniel Patrick Moynihan! Still, can he be a bit too much of a loose canon causing difficulties at sensitive junctures with allies as during, reportedly, the Libya/UK situation? Maybe, but such inquiries have to play out solely as related to his professional, work-place conduct. These are the factors that have B.D. witholding a final judgment for now. But, certainly not, Mr. Bolton's first marriage. Shame on Steve for inviting the press to dig into this non-relevant fare. It's quite slimy, I'm afraid.

Posted by Gregory at 07:11 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack
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