November 21, 2005
Its been a hectic weekend, and I am about to board a couple long flights. So apologies for the light blogging. For the next ten or so days, I'll be 9 hours ahead of NY time. If I had to guess, therefore, new content will typically come on line, as able, around 2 PM East Coast time. So see you in a day or so, perhaps earlier if any airport-blogging opportunities present themselves.
UPDATE: I want to apologize for the dearth of blogging, I've been totally swamped on this trip since the moment I touched down. With some luck, I hope to get some content up on Saturday.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Saturday didn't happen, did it? Rather than continue to make erroneous predictions about when I can get back to this website, I'll just stay silent and simply post content when I have an opening in the coming days. Maybe a good sign? I return to New York City late tomorrow, and perhaps being back on ye olde home turf might inject a little normalcy into all the madness. Let's see how it goes...
In the meantime, I might add that this somewhat unexpected blog hiatus might, in some fashion, lend itself well to better analyzing the dizzying back and forths on the domestic Iraq policy debate of the past weeks. When I finally get back to the blog, perhaps having been forced to take a two week pause will provide a bit better perspective on it all. We'll see, and hope to see you soon...
November 19, 2005
Another Presidential Pop-Over On Turkey Day?
After the requisite Murtha-mention (a relatively polite one, though I'm as disgusted as Sully about other comments making the rounds, despite my obvious total disagreement with Murtha's Iraq prescriptions), the WSJ editorial page today opines:
We'll grant that the White House could do a far better job of reassuring Americans and thus providing political cover for Congress. It has finally begun to fight back against the Democratic lie that it was "lying" about prewar intelligence. But what's really needed are continued explanations of why the war is justified, the consequences of defeat, and above all repeating again and again a strategy for victory. Among other things, Mr. Bush could draw attention to progress in Iraq by visiting there himself.[emphasis added]
Note, like B.D., the WSJ agrees Bush should be focusing, not on refutations of the Bush Lied! meme, but rather "repeating again and again a strategy" for victory. And, as I've said, its gotta be more than: "As they stand up, we'll stand down".
Meantime, note the WSJ's cogitations about the supposed beneficial impact of a Presidential visit to Mesopotamia. Hey, could another Thanksgiving pop-over be far away? Even money there's no overnight, though, despite that we're in the "last throes..." But hey, if it boosts the moribund polls!
P.S. To head off the hate mail, let me point out right away that I'm not intrinsically opposed to Bush spending, say, 5 or so hours (double the last time!) in Iraq. It does boost the morale of troops in theater, and it is good for the Commander in Chief to spend time with the soldiers under his command. But, let's talk turkey, as the saying goes. The grand aggregated time spent in that country by, say, the two Secretaries of State (Powell and Rice), Don Rumsfeld and the President (has Cheney even been, hasty googling uncovers nada?)--well, it's probably not even 60-80 hours. Given that this is the central front in the war on terror, that almost 2,100 U.S. soldiers have died there, and that we've pumped in hundreds of billions--you wonder if more hands-on attention might not be warranted, no? Yeah, even a good CEO gets his hands dirty and kicks the tires once in a while down on the factory floor...
P.P.S. Remember Richard Nixon's "Silent Majority" speech? Nixon said:
The Vietnamization plan was launched following Secretary Laird's visit to Vietnam in March. Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of South Vietnamese forces. In July, on my visit to Vietnam, I changed General Abrams’ orders so that they were consistent with the objectives of our new policies. Under the new orders, the primary mission of our troops is to enable the South Vietnamese forces to assume the full responsibility for the security of South Vietnam.
Will history repeat itself, with some 'Iraqification' policy declaration, perhaps issued with Bush standing near (very carefully vetted and screened!) newbie Iraqi recruits (bonus points: 'these units helped free Tal Afar'!)? Or will Bush confine himself to handing out the turkey, stuffing and cranberry topping to G.I.s again, amidst 'stay the course' bravura? Maybe both, even? But, for that, Bush would have to top the 2 and a half hours he spent there last time...
I speculate, you opine!
November 17, 2005
Whither the Press?
One of my very favorite bloggers, TCR, writes:
A few nights ago, I had dinner with a friend of mine who used to be a reporter at a big city daily and has since moved on to another line of work. He said he recently visited his former colleagues at the paper and that it was like returning to the salt mines: malaise and despair was the mood there, with everyone looking for a way out. On one hand, I say screw 'em---in large measure, they've done it to themselves by putting the reader at the bottom of the totem pole (one reason why, beyond Gretchen Morgenson, I rarely read the New York Times now after doing so daily and obsessively for many years). But I also think the deterioration in both journalistic standards and the industry's financial viability is incredibly dangerous. Now more than ever, we desperately need the type of reporter Bob Woodward was thirty years ago when---instead of becoming venture capitalists or investment bankers---the smartest and most ambitious students wanted to be journalists. We seem to be in a "tweener" period for the news media; the old guard has gone insider and abdicated for the veneer of personal and professional stability provided by corporate ownership, but nothing has quite stepped up to fill the role that is absolutely crucial to any democracy. Are blogs part of the answer?
Interesting question. Color me skeptical, re: blogs, at least at this juncture. The most talented writers (guys like Kaus and Sullivan) can doubtless chase a story and hold people's feet to the fire. And you have interesting speciality blogs here and there adding important voices. But the vast majority of the blogs are just hysteric, polemical noise. And how that noise could credibly fill the dangerous void TCR sketches above I really don't see. You need top-flight reporters, at the end of the day, and they can't be sitting around their flats staring at the monitor. They need to be in the field, the real field, chasing down the story. And the real journalists themselves? For every national treasure like John Burns, you've got many less impressive correspondents (see Judy Miller) who are much more easily hoodwinked. And, yes, there is a corporate coziness one espies among the Woodward's, as TCR explains it. All this aside, I have found the universe of quality reporting to be declining steadily (I try to very rapidly scan the FT, WSJ and NYT daily, and the WaPo several times a week, and generally find the FT leads the pack)--and there's little reason to be particularly optimistic about the situation going forward. Might one hope the combined might of Jayson Blair, Judy Miller and other assorted Plame shenanigans could shame management and editorial boards and ombudsman and so on into better shape.? Dunno...but I doubt it. There's no shame, really, left in American life. Pseudo-penance and faux-contrition, are the order of the day, followed then by a rapacious focus on second, third and fourth acts (profitable ones!). Triste.
The Other View
Commenter Dan Larsen, disagreeing with some of my posts immediately below, writes:
I have to disagree with you....that Bush and Cheney should stay above this. The "lies" propaganda peddled by the Democrats has taken such root in the public's consciousness that the efforts of Ken Mehlman and Congressional attack dogs would be utterly impotent against it. Fifty-seven percent--57%!--of Americans believe that Bush "deliberately misled" the country into war, according to recent polling (WSJ-NBC). The administration is facing a credibility crisis over this issue (well, they're facing one in general for plenty of reasons, but this is at the root of a good deal of it, and, I think, the most dangerous part of it). Assigning Ken Mehlman and other people most Americans have never heard of to fight the Democrats on this issue would be like assigning a handful of men with fire extinguishers to fight a forest fire. They simply wouldn't be able to move the numbers in a meaningful way. Restoring the Administration's credibility and Bush's personal resputation begins with convincing the American people that the most important decision of Bush's presidency was not built on a conspiracy of intentional deception. Only Bush and Cheney have any chance of being able to do this.
Is Bush Dowdifying?
Another problem with sending the go*&amn President of the United States of America (what a cheapening of the office!) around quoting CNN appearances of circa 2002 by the Senator Levins etc? Well, you get the President, at the very moment he's trying to look like he's mightily calling B.S. and talking the truth or some such, you have him instead looking on par with the Maureen Dowds' of the world. Witness, via Ryan Lizza:
Pre-war Democratic quotes are now central to Bush's defense. The old White House strategy was for Republicans to use any statement ever uttered by a Democrat that expresses reservations about war with Saddam as a cudgel to hammer the party as hopelessly weak and uninterested in protecting America. The new strategy is to use any statement ever uttered by a Democrat that expresses concern about Saddam as a cudgel to hammer Democrats for hypocrisy. Now, Bush insists, most Democrats got the war right. "They spoke the truth then, and they're speaking politics now," he said yesterday.
Yeah Levin was being somewhat weasily and evasive. But it is manifestly clear, from Lizza's piece, that the President is distorting, via Dowdification, the Senator from Michigan's words. How very, very weak. Not only that this whole sad strategy is being rolled out to begin with, not only that it's the President doing it rather than surrogates as would be more appropriate if (ugh) we've got to go ahead with it, but that on top of it POTUS himself is being reduced to utter such petty, disingenuous Dowdified fare. Make no mistake, if this is what is meant as strategy to resuscitate his poll numbers, it ain't gonna hack it. I'm no pollster or Rovian 'genius,' to be sure, but I'd be very surprised if Bush got anything more than a teeny upward blip (3-4%) that dissipates within weeks if not sooner.
Hat Tip: Michael Signer, who writes: "But the President's current communications offensive is offensively poor -- intern-level, at best. Yes, Bill Clinton fooled around with his interns; but at least they weren't writing his talking points."
Look, regular readers know I view Clinton's anti-terrorism policy as having been grotesquely negligent. I quote Mike's bon mot in this context--I hold Clinton, particularly on pre-Dayton Bosnia policy, in tremendously low esteem. But I link Mike to also make the point that this much bally-hooed offensive (ie, publicizing all the statements the Democrats made back in '02/'03 that sounded so jingo-off-to-war-we-go)--is amateur, is tone deaf, is simply half-assed. What the American people want to hear from the President is why we are in Iraq, and (more important) how we're going to win in Iraq, and yeah, what he's going to do about high oil prices and such. They don't give a flying eff about who said what when in 2002 about the merits of going to war in Iraq (stuff like the Butler Report and Niger forgeries are inter-elite squabbles among Beltway cognescenti). They instinctually realize that the broad political class, emerging from the trauma of 9/11, was for the war effort. And that the Democrats are full of it now with their transparent and so convenient and, yes, quite cowardly distancing themselves from the difficulties in Iraq (Democrats, not that I'm in the advice business, should be attacking Bush, not on the hyped intel, but on the incompetence of the first two years of the war, by the way).
Put differently, the American people don't want to see Cheney and Bush running around quoting Nancy Pelosi's CNN appearances for God's sake. They want to feel we have a success strategy in Iraq and that our boys aren't dying, several a day, for no reason. Bush's breezy stump speeches (again, his last was an improvement, but still weak on the means) have worn thin, and people are tired of Cheney and his bunker-like M.O., and a major overhaul is manifestly needed. So I'm sorry, but playing gotcha with Carl Levin (with false facts, to boot) isn't the way forward. I don't think Ronald Reagan would have stooped to these sad recriminations and partisan gotcha-fests, but then again Ronald Reagan had a plan to salvage his Presidency after Iran-Contra. I don't see one yet from this White House--reeling post-Katrina, post-Brownie, post-Harriet, post-Libby, post-detainee policy debacles (thank God for Alito and Bernake). It feels like amateur hour right now. A vindictive, petty, un-statesmanlike one. But we have to live with this Administration for another 38 months, and we had no serious foreign policy alternative anyway in '04. So how to make it better? I'm losing hope, to be honest. Bush's sad unwillingness to ditch Rumsfeld, and rein in Cheney, spell more of the same, I fear. It's sad, it's worrisome, and I don't know who can persuade him to change course and do what needs to be done: namely, get a new Chief of Staff, the better to execute a major house-cleaning (not least at the very top of the Pentagon), and make bold moves in terms of moving back to the center on issues like detainee policy, better explaining the road to success in Iraq (translation: more than 'as they stand up, we'll stand down), and generally showing some independent leadership. Or at least leadership born of advice from different quarters other than the Veep's office (yes, of course, people like Condi have a lot of sway too. But Cheney's influence is still dominant, at the end of the day, and the President needs fresh advice. Quite desperately, in the view of many who care about these things and aren't dwelling in la-la land where, if we just keep on our present course, springtime looms in Damascus and Teheran and all is hunky-dory). Can it really be that Bush is wholly dependent, in the main, on Don and Dick? If so, what a pity. I knew he wasn't an intellectual, to say the least, but I thought he would delegate power wisely as Reagan did often (and anyway, I'm far from convinced intellectuals are particularly well suited for positions of political power). But Cheney has caught the proverbial 'fever' and is running around on things like detainee policy quite recklessly, and Rumsfeld, well, he's flat-out been an international disgrace and embarrasment for far too long now. Bottom line: unless Bush can unshackle himself from these two, or at least rein them in a good deal, I don't see how he can resucitate his Adminstration.
Outta The Bunker; On the Attack
Cheney, excerpted prepared remarks, to be delivered tonight:
As most of you know, I have spent a lot of years in public service, and first came to work in Washington, D.C. back in the late 1960s. I know what it's like to operate in a highly charged political environment, in which the players on all sides of an issue feel passionately and speak forcefully. In such an environment people sometimes lose their cool, and yet in Washington you can ordinarily rely on some basic measure of truthfulness and good faith in the conduct of political debate. But in the last several weeks we have seen a wild departure from that tradition. And the suggestion that's been made by some U.S. senators that the President of the United States or any member of this Administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city.
UPDATE: I symphatize with those in the Administration who want to attack Democrats for their manifold hypocrisy on this issue. I really do. But I've made it clear I think the messengers should be the Ken Mehlmans, Congressional attack dogs, and such--not the President, Vice President, other very senior Administration officials. It makes them look cheap, vindictive and petty--exactly what they are accusing the Kennedys and Pelosis and so on of being. Look, when it comes to Iraq, they should be focusing on devising a winning game plan in Iraq. Period. Oh, and one last bone to pick with Cheney, who says: "We're going to continue throwing their own words back at them." If we're going to play that game, let's throw the "dictionary meaning" of "last throes" back at him. Let's ask ourselves, would public support for the Iraq war be flagging so, if there wasn't an elemental lack of faith in the honesty and ability of those prosecuting the war. Sure, the Dems are hurting the effort by screaming on and on about the Big Lies, but they're not alone in their duplicities and hypocrisies. Let's remember that too. After all, ask yourself, how many Americans have died to insurgent attacks since May 30th, when Cheney uttered this 'last throes' nonsense?
McCain on the Congressional Iraq Going-Ons
Mr. President, the Iraq amendment under consideration today constitutes no run-of-the-mill resolution and reporting requirement. It is much more important than that, and likely to be watched closely in Iraq – more closely there, in fact, than in America. In considering this amendment, I urge my colleagues to think hard about the message we send to the Iraqi people. I believe that, after considering how either version will be viewed in Iraq, we must reject both.
What a pity a man of John Warner's distinction leant his prestige to this lame resolution. March Rumsfeld over to the Congress and ask him hard questions--week after week if need be--to gauge progress on the war. But don't send a weak message to our enemies that reeks of eroding resolve. While I've been with Kos on torture, I'm with Hugh Hewitt on this one. Pathetic, indeed.
November 16, 2005
The Costs of Premature Withdrawal
An Interior Ministry statement said flatly that torture had occurred and that "instruments of torture," which it did not describe, were found in the building.
FYI, if we pull out precipitously, as everyone from Nick Kristof to John Warner seems to wish these days, this sorta thing will happen much more often. And Zalmay Khalilzad's leverage to force the Iraqi leadership to do the right thing, whatever the crisis, whoever the leaders in power, will diminish mightily (roughly in tandem with the amount of U.S. forces being drawn-down). I continue to believe that a rapid pull-out, or too rapid Iraqification process--could leave Iraq in the throes of civil war. The Jacksonian/Rumsfeldian wing will then say, tant pis, we tried to help those ingrates and savages but they couldn't pull it together. Everyone will move on to the Next Thing. But history will record that we didn't finish the job, and lied to ourselves that we had made a real go of it. I'm not saying this is going to happen. But this kind of talk makes me nervous:
Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee who wrote the proposal based on a Democratic plan, said the push on the Iraq policy was not meant as criticism of the administration but was a signal to the Iraqi people.
Sorry Senator, but that's bunk. We haven't done our share. We've largely flubbed the occupation and, just recently, started getting our act together. Intimating we will high-tail it out sometime in, say, '07 (the Republican sponsored resolution, at least better than the Democrat's alternative of rigid timetables, urges that 2006 "should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," with Iraqi forces taking the lead in providing security to create the conditions for the phased redeployment of U.S. forces) merely provides succor to insurgents, and has all the local parties planning for the post-American future (kiss a multi-ethnic Iraqi Army good-bye, and further militiazation and local self-defense initiatives hello).
Lindsey Graham, at least, is more honest:
I think it speaks to a bit of nervousness about public perception of how the war is going in terms of '06 elections," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, one of 13 Republicans who joined 6 Democrats in opposing the proposal. "And to be honest with you, the war is going to be going on long after '06. I'm more worried about getting it right in Iraq than the '06 elections.
Yeah, this was a cheap political spectacle more about ass-covering and '06 than trying to find a real success strategy in Iraq. It's sad, but drearily predictable. Our political class is mostly populated by cowards and mediocrities, and cowards and mediocrities have no compunction about deluding themselves that their cynicism and self-interest is actually instead really noble and enlightened leadership.
Anyway, here's the roll call. And congrats to Graham and McCain for voting "no." (Kerry and Kennedy, of course, voted no for other reasons...)
P.S. This is also bad news for Bush. The Fristian/Warnerian spin will be that this was a pro-White House resolution, beating back the timetable the Democrats were pushing. But Dan Balz has it right here:
For the past three years, President Bush has set the course on U.S. policy in Iraq, and Republicans in Congress -- and many Democrats, too -- have dutifully followed his lead. Yesterday the Senate, responding to growing public frustration with the administration's war policy, signaled that those days are coming to an end.
All this is a pity, as this is one issue where Bush has it right, and his political weakness is unfortunately reducing our chances of successfully seeing through a major foreign policy challenge. This said, the resolution doesn't really have much teeth to it, at the end of the day. Updates will be provided, quarterly or otherwise, and life will go on. I suspect Bush will still, if he understands the situation on the ground is far from settled, not cut and run. But there has been, as James Lindsay says, a tangible shift in the debate. It's increasingly about an exit. What Bush (with McCain's help) must do is speak of a success strategy, not an exit one--even if we are still in Iraq in significant numbers when he hands the baton to his successor in January of 2009.
Good deeds in the Holy Land. Note too, Sharon's tacking to the center is reaping dividends. Still, the future of the peace process remains very much up in the air. For one, there is speculation that Sharon's latest concession, a not insignificant one, is part of his "Gaza First, Gaza Last" playbook. And, on the other side, we can expect several Palestinian factions to attempt to play spoiler, particularly by abusing the Rafah border crossing to move materiel used in terror attacks. Analysis will have to wait until another night, but just a quick note to congratulate Condi Rice on a job well done. I'm still dubious in the extreme we will get to final status talks by '08, but at least we've got a little shot in the arm for a change rather than peace process drift & decay.
Electric Boogaloo Excitement!
Sadly, I had missed this Wolcottian epingle from many moons ago, and just found it recently amidst the happenstance of late night self-googling (yes, it happens to the best of us).
What exquisite timing. Right on schedule, Bibi Netanyahu hit the cable talkshow rounds Friday, the day after Bush's inaugural address to a sea of cowboy hats and mink coats. He appeared on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC, and may have dropped in at ESPN's Sportscenter to offer his playoff picks for all I know--I can only monitor so much. Bush's vainglorious call to bring freedom and democracy to the countries we don't like was greeted with electric boogaloo excitement by neoconservatives and warbloggers such as Michael Ledeen, Victor Davis Hanson, the chap who posts at Belgravia Dispatch, Fred Barnes, and the branch office of the Likud Party known as the New York Sun. To them, this speech was a wet dream with warheads. It was now Bibi's cue to make the rounds and reinforce the Bush Doctrine from an Israeli perspective ("Bush was on to something profound" he told Fox), and begin to gin us up for war against Iran, or at least a very stern scolding accompanied by bombing runs.
I guess this was the "wet dream with warheads" Wolcott was referencing. Well, yes, a tad boisterous and eager, in parts. But I espy 'nuance' too! (Memo to James: the first graf of this post was meant ironically, I trust you gathered?)
Ah, well, it's hard to be beat up by both the Left and Right, no? Kicking around other blog comments sections now and then, I rarely see the authors attacked so vehemently as I am here, seemingly daily. Is it because my posts suck? People hate my guts? People are singularly pissed off regarding my steady disenchantment with Bush? Or is that the disenchantment hasn't been rapid and strong enough? Frankly, I've got enough concerns (yes, piddling, minor ones--in the scheme of things) wondering how many investment bankers and lawyers and private equity guys I work with stumble across this site and wonder: "Is Djerejian nuts?" What the hell is he up to on his off hours? And, to boot, I have to be concerned they wade through the comments and think: "Djerejian puts up with this s*&%t? Yeah, he really is certifiably nuts!" Well, maybe I am, and should hang up the blog-gloves, I sometimes wonder....and then the blogoholic emerges, and it's off to the races again...
I should also note, (and this will sound snooty, so be warned), I have been tremendously underwhelmed by the discourse contained in myriad blogs of late. The France coverage was just risible, for instance, and so is much of what passes for deep think on the GWOT (despite much self-congratulatory harrumphing and excitement and link-stroking in the 'sphere, it seems to me, no one has yet penned the "X" telegram explicating the GWOT that I've yet seen [ed. note: Yeah, including the proprieter here, alas]). And yet, the level of dialogue and debate is still much more intriguing than most of what I find in the MSM, and so the show trundles along, to what end I'm not really sure...
November 15, 2005
The Freedom Mono-Narrative
More from Packer's Assassins' Gate (p. 59):
If the war against radical Islamism must ultimately be a war for liberalism, the West's own history should be taken as cautionary. Liberalism didn't suddenly appear "one scorching July day in France in 1789," Leon Wieseltier...told me. It was a "violent rupture" after centuries of conflict within Western theocracy and autocracy. Liberalism is, by definition, difficult and destabilizing. It shouldn't be undertaken with missionary zeal. The attempt to bring it to the theocratic and autocratic Middle East from outside, by force, on the simple faith that people everywhere long to be free, end of story--this was a profoundly unliberal idea. "If there's one thing that liberalism has no time for, it's an eschatological view," Wieseltier said. "Liberalism is an essentially anti-eschatological view of the world. And now that various people have woken up to the rough political and philosophical realities of most of the world, the idea that the United States must send it troops everywhere to fix the world once and for all is stupid. They want a final answer. They want it over. And there is no final answer. There's slow, steady, fitful progress toward a more decent and democratic world." Nonetheless, Wiseltier supported a war, on the only grounds the administration gave for waging it: the threat from Saddam's arsenal of unconventional weapons and his history of using them.
I supported this war because I believed Saddam had chemical and biological WMD, and in a post 9/11 environment I thought he might be emboldened to use such stockpiles against the United States (either via Iraqi secret services or through proxies and assorted allies of convenience like, despite the obvious and massive ideological differences, al-Qaeda). In addition, and we forget this, Saddam was a monster on par with Radovan Karadzic or Slobodan Milosevic. He had engaged in genocidal actions against both the Kurds and the Shi'a Marsh Arabs. He must be counted among the most odious characters of the 20th Century (I think we are screwing up the way we are trying him, by the way, of which more another time). But I must say, the incessant talk of freedom being God's gift to the world, and the incredible talk that still persists in swaths of the right commentariat (on to Damascus and Teheran!) strikes me as hugely underwhelming. History is far more complex than the breathless mono-narratives offered up by so many in the Beltway these days. And we are increasingly, I fear, paying a price for the often so shallow national security prescriptions on offer by varied analysts and commentators.
Take Asia policy, for instance. We are losing influence to China through the region, not least because we march around the region speaking about America's interests in the war on terror, and America's interests in terms of exportation of freedom, and America needs this and America needs that. But we must speak of common interests too, if we wish to gain people's attention and amity and respect. We must still wade about in multilateral fora, doing the hard work of cobbling together alliances and regional understandings, and we must listen to our friends more. There has so much myopia and self-righteousness and hubris and arrogance these past years. People are uppity if they dare oppose us! Or ingrates! Or rank morons and asses! How dare they not join our noble campaigns? Yes, we were profoundly wounded by nihilistic monsters on 9/11. And yes, robust remedial action was and remains necessary. But Bush's Administration is always touting one Big Idea. Freedom! For everyone! Well, great. But we will never be able to pursue an unadulterated freedom strategy. We have interests with China, with Russia, with Egypt, with Pakistan, other countries besides. These countries are not democracies. And yet we must work, with each of them for different reasons, very closely indeed. This is not to say we do not pressure them and dialogue with them and move them towards greater liberalization. But we must still come up with a more adult, mature foreign policy--one that moves beyond breathless recitations about freedom for everyone everywhere for evermore. I see four main components: 1) realist underpinnings defined by the sober pursuit of the national interest, 2) some Wolfowitizian idealism thrown in, but not pursued in over-exuberant fashion (ie, too frequent resort to unilateral and/or military action), 3) "2" above must be tempered with Holbrookian multilateralism (moderate, reasoned neo-Wilsonianism, you might say), and 4) more McCainite (Reaganite?) 'national greatness' style foreign policy (increase our taxes if need be for the war, and the size of the army, and so on--treat us like adults prepared to sacrifice for the greater good, rather than minimize the 'last throes' in the far away so that all feels swell).
Just quick riffs here, but my point is that we really need to poke beneath the so thin veneer of 'freedom' as some grand cure-all for all that ails the earth. It's just not that easy. This is not to say that the spread of political liberties has not been one of the most awesome and significant stories coming out of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment through to the present day. Great progress has been made, and we are now trying to spread such democratization and liberalization to new regions that never even experienced the Enlightenment. But we cannot expect it to be easy, and we must be prepared to do things (like nation build) that was poo-pooed as 'doing kindergartens' by many in neo-conservative (cakewalk!) and Jacksonian (stuff happens! freedom is messy!) circles. Put differently, if we're going to take on massive, generational challenges, we must 1) be honest about the scope of the challenges, 2) devote adequate resources thereto, 3) seek out friend and allies in more than cosmetic, often haphazard guise (Ulan Batar is with us!), and 4) realize that no people have a monopoly on "good" or "morality" or "greatness".
Yes, there is something 'exceptional' about America's fine journey though the past two odd centuries, much to be proud of indeed (and dark chapters as well, to be sure). But we have to temper our crude idealist impulses now and again (unvarnished mega-boosting of variants of American exceptionalism, for instance), lest we buy into too much bluster and easy talk about how easy it would be to fix the problems of the world but for another regime change here or there. I am not writing this because I think disaster is necessarily nigh. The difficulties in Iraq, if not causing some springtime for realism, are at least causing a reassessment of the snake-oil that was and is being peddled about by some of our more deluded, simplistic and exuberant think-tankers and opinion leaders. And things are getting, if still very tenuously, better in Iraq. After grotesque mishaps, we are continuing to mount an increasingly sophisticated counter-insurgency in Iraq (more 'clear and hold', of late, and perhaps ink-spotting). Zalmay Khalilzad is keeping Kurdish federalist demands within reason (as are, doubtless, the Turks behind the scenes, via the thinly veiled threat of intervention), and Sunni buy-in to the political process seems to be improving of late. The Shi'a are remaining relatively well behaved, and one surmises Chalabi is back in vogue not least because he is helping (along with Sistani) to keep Sadr in check. So Bush can get plaudits for, in the face of 36% polls, sticking to the hard job at hand in Iraq.
But we have entered another sad political silly season, of course. Democrats are attacking Bush (he lied!) despite their votes for the war. Bush is stupidly taking the bait--resorting to petty counter-argumentation (will he clue us into to Nancy Pelosi's House floor comments, circa February 2003, in his next big speech?)--to the cheers of those who want him to 'fight back'. But he should instead remain above the fray, allowing lieutenants to respond to the embarrasingly empty revisionism of empty suits like John Edwards, and rather follow McCain's lead--and spell out, not only the stakes (which Bush did pretty well in a recent speech) but more detail on what exactly our success strategy is on the ground in Iraq (only McCain, it appears, can move beyond rote Iraqification talking points of 'as they stand up, we'll stand down'). Bush should also finally jetisson Cheney on the torture issue, and start becoming his own man on matters of critical import to our moral fiber. His Vice President has given him very bad advice, and I think part of the reason Bush's numbers are in the tank is that he looks weak--dependent on Rumsfeld and Cheney. He needs to break out and forge a decent path, the one that McCain is urging, on standards of detainee treatment. This, with more elaborations on our success strategy in Iraq, sheperding Alito through, and perhaps some staff re-shuffles--all might help him as we get towards 2006. Here's hoping someone's listening...if not, Bush supporters like me will have to abandon him and seek other pastures. Yes, the war is important, critical even. But I will not stand with an Administration that seeks to codify the allowance of torture tactics by agencies of the United States goverment. We as a people cannot stand for this. It is a drop-dead red-line.
Words I Never Thought I'd Write...
All Power to King George!
Don't miss David Cole's article on John Yoo in the current New York Review of Books.
I'm reading an excellent book at the moment, George Packer's Assassins' Gate. It's the best book I've read on Iraq yet, and I recommend it highly. Packer doesn't come off as someone trying to take cheap shots, which makes portions of the book even more damning. I'm travelling now outside the U.S., and I'm tight on time, but I wanted to share a few portions tonight. For one, can someone explain to me why some neo-cons seem to have embraced a quite odd Shia-philia? Was it just Chalabi's influence? Or what?
Packer, p. 31:
Wurmser elaborated the theory in his 1999 book Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein, published by the American Enterprise Institute...[the book] reads as if a graduate student were feverishly trying to apply the half-digested concepts he'd learned in a class with Leo Strauss to subject matter he'd learned in a class with Bernard Lewis. There's an undercurrent of deep distrust of the modern world: Modernity gave us totalitarianism, therefore modernity must be undone. Wurmser wanted to return Iraq to traditional values, especially to Shiite religious tradition (about which he knew almost nothing). "The root of the violence is a century-old radical attack on the Arab world's traditional elite," he wrote. "Proponents of the secular ideology assumed the prerogative to shape and reshape mankind according to their concept of perfection." Dostoyevsky's anti-revolutionary novel Demons is invoked; the political ideas of Wurmser and a few other proponents of American intervention in the Middle East were closer to Dostoyevsky's religious authoritarianism than to John Stuart Mill's secular liberalism. They advocated democracy, but at bottom they were anti-Enlightenment. [emphasis added]
Now, to be fair, I didn't read Wurmser's book, and in passing I'll mention I think Packer over-simplifies Dostoyevsky by describing him merely as a religious authoritarian, but if Packer is right that Wurmser was advocating a return to traditional Shiite religious tradition, well, why in the world would he do such a thing one wonders? It's quite baffling, isn't it? Just Chalabi's influence? Or despising Baathist totalitarianism so deeply (and for good reason) so as to erroneously espy some Iraq panacea via the vessel of Shi'a resurgence (no thought to the dangers of Shi'a crude majoritarianism, revanchism, support to Hezbollah, etc etc). Can any commenters help?
November 14, 2005
M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks, writing in the New York Times:
Fearful of future terrorist attacks and frustrated by the slow progress of intelligence-gathering from prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Pentagon officials turned to the closest thing on their organizational charts to a school for torture. That was a classified program at Fort Bragg, N.C., known as SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Based on studies of North Korean and Vietnamese efforts to break American prisoners, SERE was intended to train American soldiers to resist the abuse they might face in enemy custody.
Torture is a moral disgrace. On top of that, from a utilitarian perspective, it is often of dubious intelligence-gathering value. So why is the President squandering so much political capital fighting this despicable fight? Because Dick Cheney stays up at night thinking of the KSM ticking bomb hypo? But we know what will happen if a terrorist likely has information that Manhattan is about to be nuked. All efforts, the law be damned, will be taken to get the requisite information. And the interrogator will likely be pardoned, if even charged with any crime. But we don't codify CIA torture carve-outs, so that they enjoy an added imprimatur of legitimacy from the legislature courtesy of Ted Stevens, the better to sully our moral authority on the global stage. Why is this so hard to get? And why can't someone get Bush's ear on this and pull him out of Cheney-Addington bunker-land?
November 13, 2005
The State of Rumsfeld, 5 Years On
A major piece in the WaPo today. Below, a key passage excerpted:
Buoyed by early successes of Special Ops forces and satellite-guided bombs in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld turned the run-up to Iraq into a transformation workshop. The Pentagon already had a plan for the possible toppling of Saddam Hussein; it was now taken from the shelf and completely remade under Rumsfeld's steady pressure. Generals and civilians involved in the process endured Rumsfeld's favorite management technique -- a brand of relentless interrogation known as "wirebrushing." Many grew frustrated at the fact that Rumsfeld always had a million questions -- but rarely said openly what he wanted or believed.
Quite a gamble indeed.
Interestingly, perhaps, I recently asked a very high level former national security player who, given that Bush has seemingly deputized the entire prosecution of the Iraq war to Rumsfeld, could be brought in in his place (just if, by some miracle, Bush was finally able to wean himself from his sad dependency on Rumsfeld). He said that was an excellent question, paused for a good while, and appeared to draw blanks at first. McCain would never take it (nor would Bush offer him the job), given his highly visible senatorial perch. And why should he come in and clean up Rummy's mess anyway? Some retired military officials would make sense, but this would cross critical red-lines given the hugely important factor of ensuring the military be seen to fully remain under civilian control. We were both left with Sam Nunn. He has unimpeachable [Update: I neglected to recall his worrisome vote against Desert Storm, see first comment below] national security credentials, there is ample precedent for choosing a Secretary of Defense from the opposition party (see Bill Cohen under Clinton), and it might even be a good stroke politically. It would signal a demarcation point away from the awful disasters Rumsfeld has helped preside over (detainee policy, high among them), and would provide a sense of bipartisan consensus regarding the critical import of seeing the conflict through successfully. Of course, Bush appears to lack Reagan's good sense to pursue a thorough house-cleaning, by replacing his Chief of Staff, so as to then orchestrate putting new people at the head of key positions like SecDef. But I can still hope, and would invite commenters to provide alternate suggestions, apart from Sam Nunn, for possible Secretaries of Defense.
P.S. Tomorrow I hope to comment on Bush's recent speech on the war on terror, as well as 'shadow President' (to use Andrew Sullivan's phrase) John McCain's.
November 09, 2005
Djerejian (Pere) On Public Diplomacy
A little while back, I mentioned my father (a retired diplomat, and currently the Director of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University) would generously agree to post a couple items here at B.D. related to the topic of public diplomacy. It's an issue that I believe doesn't get the requisite amount of attention it merits, for a variety of reasons I'll get into another time. For now, however, please find installment one of my father's guest post!
One of the most important challenges that the United States and international community face is the struggle for ideas within the Islamic world between the forces of moderation and extremism, particularly Islamic Radical Jihadism. While our foreign policy is the major instrument to address this challenge, public diplomacy plays a very important role in this struggle for ideas.
However, the United States today lacks the capabilities in public diplomacy to meet the national security threat emanating from political instability, economic deprivation, and extremism, especially in the Arab and Muslim world. Public diplomacy is defined as the promotion of the national interest by listening, understanding, and then informing, engaging, and influencing people around the world. Public diplomacy helped win the Cold War, and it has the potential to help win the war on terror and the struggle for ideas we now face. In the National Security Strategy statement of the United States in 2003, President George W. Bush recognized the importance of adapting public diplomacy to meet the post-September 11 challenge: "Just as our diplomatic institutions must adapt so that we can reach out to others, we also need a different and more comprehensive approach to public information efforts that can help people around the world learn about and understand America. The war on terrorism is not a clash of civilizations. It does, however, reveal the clash inside a civilization, a battle for the future of the Muslim world. This is a struggle of ideas and this is an area where America must excel."
But a process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread negative attitudes and even hostility toward the United States and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety. The bottom has indeed fallen out of support for the United States in polls taken in Arab and Muslim countries over the past several years. America's position as, by far, the world's preeminent power may well contribute to the animosity, but it is not a satisfying explanation. The United States enjoyed the same level of relative power after World War II, for example, but was widely admired throughout the world. Arab and Muslim nations are a primary source of anger toward the United States, although such negative attitudes are paralleled in Europe and elsewhere.
Since September 11, 2001, the stakes have been raised. Attitudes toward the United States were important in the past, but now they have become a central national security concern. Although the objective of foreign policy is to promote our national interests and not, specifically, to inspire affection, hostility toward the United States makes achieving our policy goals far more difficult. The Defense Science Board reported nearly three years ago that effective "information dissemination capabilities are powerful assets vital to national security. They can create diplomatic opportunities, lessen tensions that might lead to war, contain conflicts, and address nontraditional threats to America's interests." Achieving our interests is far easier if we do not have to buck a tide of anti-Americanism in addition to considered policy opposition.
Today's public diplomacy has proven inadequate to the task. The creation of the United States Information Agency (USIA) 50 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, was a recognition that traditional state-to-state diplomacy alone could not achieve U.S. interests in a world of fast communications and sophisticated propaganda. Government is only one player among many trying to influence the opinions of people in other countries, and state-to-state diplomacy alone will not improve negative attitudes of citizens. Part of this inadequacy is the result of a lack of proper resources, both human and financial, but much of it is the result of insufficient strategic coordination at the top and a management structure that lacks flexibility and limits accountability.
Overall, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, our efforts at public diplomacy, especially in the Arab and Muslim world, have proven severely wanting. But with greater focus, commitment, and changes in management structure and resources, real progress can be made. What is needed is a consistent, strategic, well-managed, and properly funded approach to public diplomacy, one that credibly reflects U.S. values, promotes the positive thrust of U.S. policies, and takes seriously the needs and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims for peace, prosperity, and social justice.
It is important to separate questions of policy from questions of communicating that policy. Surveys show clearly that specific American policies profoundly affect attitudes toward the United States. That stands to reason. For example, large majorities in the Arab and Muslim world view U.S. policy through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arabs and Muslims overwhelmingly opposed the post-9/11 U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, as well as the use of force against Iraq, and question the political motivations behind the war on terrorism in general. Further and equally important, many Muslims live in countries that lack representative political participation and economic opportunity. These political and economic grievances against their own regimes are often translated into negative attitudes toward the United States because many of these "electoral autocracies" are supported by the United States. While the United States cannot and should not simply change its policies to suit public opinion abroad, we must use the tools of public diplomacy to assess the likely effectiveness of particular policies. Without such assessment, our policies could produce unintended consequences that do not serve our interests. Public diplomacy needs new and efficient feedback mechanisms that can be brought to bear when policy is made. Separating simple opposition to policies from generalized anti-American attitudes is not easy. The two kinds of animosity interact and amplify through feedback loops. For example, a single word from the President of the United States (or from a congressman or even an American entertainer) can harden into formidable antagonism the view of an Arab citizen who was wavering on a policy question.
Americans are often perplexed by such antagonism. Unlike powerful nations of the past, the United States does not seek to conquer and colonize, but to spread universal ideals: liberty, democracy, human rights, equality for women and minorities, prosperity, and the rule of law. Specifically, according to our values and principles, the American vision for the Arab and Muslim world is for it to become a peaceful, prosperous region working toward participatory government, with democracy, social justice, human dignity, and individual freedom for all; a region where extremism, in either a secular or religious cloak, is marginalized and where the zone of tolerance is expanded.
In more concrete terms, stated American policy toward the Arab and Muslim world on issues like those below, needs to be more fully communicated:
-- peaceful settlement of conflicts between the Arabs and Israelis, in Kashmir, and in Western Sahara;
-- security, political stability and political and economic
-- regional security cooperation;
--global energy security;
--free, open, representative, and tolerant political systems;
--economic growth through private market economies, free trade, and
--education systems that prepare students to participate constructively in civil society and the global marketplace;
--a free press, with public and private media that educate, inform, and entertain, with careful attention to accuracy and respect for the diversity of the region;
--full participation of women and minorities in society.
Our values and our policies are not always in agreement, however. As mentioned above, the U.S. Government often supports regimes in the Arab and Muslim world that are inimical to our values but that, in the short term, may advance some of our policies. Indeed, many Arabs and Muslims believe that such support indicates that the U.S. is determined to deny them freedom and political representation. This belief often stems from our own ambivalence about the possibility that democracy's first beneficiaries in the Arab and Muslim world will be extremists. It has caught us in a deep contradiction - one from which public diplomacy, as well as official diplomacy, could extricate us. But we must take these key policy challenges in the region seriously, and we must minimize the gap between what we say (the high ideals we espouse) and what we do (the day to day measures we take). We must underscore the common ground in both our values and policies. But we have failed to listen and failed to persuade. We have not taken the time to understand our audience and its specific culture, and we have not bothered to help them understand us. We cannot afford such shortcomings. Surveys show that Arabs and Muslims admire the universal values for which the United States stands. They admire, as well, our technology, entrepreneurial zeal, and the achievements of Americans as individuals. Arabs and Muslims, it seems, support our values but believe that our policies do not live up to them. A major project for public diplomacy is to reconcile this contradiction through effective communications and intelligent listening.
In order to work toward these first and foremost public diplomacy requires a new strategic direction informed by a seriousness and commitment that matches the gravity of our approach to national defense and traditional state-to-state diplomacy. This commitment must be led by the political will of the President and Congress and fueled by adequate financial and human resources. This effort is underway and specific recommendations on how to proceed have been made to the Administration, including the report of the congressionally mandated Public Diplomacy Advisory Group "Changing Minds, Winning Peace" (ed. note: PDF, but worth the click-thru!) which I chaired in 2003 at the request of then Secretary of State Colin Powell. A positive factor is that a real effort is being made by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes to address these issues across the board.
[ed. note: Second installment to follow in coming days]
I will send my father any and all constructive, polite comments--so please feel free to share observations and/or ask him any questions and such in comments below. And thanks again, Dad, for contributing to a nice father-son moment amidst the wilds of the foreign policy 'sphere.
Its gone largely unnoticed in the blogosphere (as far as I can tell) but Glenn Reynolds has come out in favor of the McCain Amendment (sans the Cheney CIA carve-out). Bravo to Glenn for lending his keen mind and blogospheric authority to this noble fight. Another intelligent conservative with a robust conscience (not to mention rational antenna looking at this issue through a sober prism of cost & benefits too, including how the ticking-time bomb hypo would really play out), is Ross Douthat. Ross, albeit with some reticence, agrees that the McCain Amendment is the way to go. And Ramesh Ponnuro distances himself from a NRO editorial on the issue (a sad, sad moment in the history of that estimable periodical).
I'll have more information soon on why certain revisions to the McCain Amendment under discussion, some of which will be portrayed as the very height of innocuous tweakage, would actually defang the McCain Amendment and leave it without any real import or substance. In other words, passage of a (poorly) revised McCain amendment might even make things worse than they currently are, ironically. So stay tuned.
I'm too busy to blog just now, but I want to share this several months old Adam Gopnik article (helpfully re-posted by the New Yorker recently) with B.D. readers. Do read the entire article, but be sure not to miss this portion:
France is the victim of her two demons,” he explains, “the left neo-Bolshevism that derives from the egalitarianism of the Revolution and still dreams of a great night of anti-capitalist massacre, and the right-wing xenophobic nationalism that was nourished by a long modern tradition running from Boulanger”—the French reactionary general who nearly took power in the late nineteenth century—“to Le Pen. These two currents fused perfectly in this campaign, each returning to its ancient tasks and tactics, but happily sharing the same enemies: the Polish plumber, the immigrants from the east, and, above all, ‘Anglo-Saxon liberalism’ and ‘ultra-liberalism.’
Mainstream French politicians need to provide tangible, pragmatic, serious solutions to the societal dislocations we've witnessed these past two weeks soon--or the risk of "ancient demons" rearing their ugly head will get more and more real. In my view, Le Pen and ilk benefit more from the recent scenes of societal disarray that the Trotskyite hard left--but, regardless, either party's increased visibility and power would be potentially ruinous for France's near term future. We're not there yet, and the mainstream politicians cannot yet be relegated to the dustbin (indeed, we'll have more on the nuances as between the de Villepinian versus Sarkozyian view of the riots soon). But time is short, and the crisis of confidence is quite deep. Meantime, while these riots are not being propagated by nefarious al-Qaeda operatives or Jihad Islami sympathizers, it's no secret that Islamist groups will attempt to lure rioters towards piety and rigid Islamism, as supposed safe harbor from the bleak desolation and feelings of 'otherness' resulting from endemic racism, unemployment, and poverty. Indeed, they are always busily attempting to recruit (often with quite mixed results) in economically destitute areas. Still, the riots would seem to point to a breaking-point that will result, at least in the short-term, in even greater feelings of alienation. So it's certainly a further opening for Islamists, to be sure, to go about ratcheting up their recruitment efforts. All this said, let's please not hysterically presume legions of young banlieu-dwellers are just hankering to join UBL's French subsidiaries so as to turn Paris into some Talib-like millet of the grand pan-Eurabian caliphate or some such. C'est pas serieux. Back soon w/ more.
P.S. As for Chirac, someone pronounce him dead already, OK? The poor man has made Dick Cheney look like a brazen exhibitionist (for the first 10 or so days of the rioting when he was nowhere to be seen) and, when he finally deigned to muster up a statement near the two-week mark, he unfortunately looked like something of a walking corpse.
UPDATE: This commenter to my previous post on France just nails it. I guess this is why I keep comments up and running over here despite how often they descend into, shall we say, something of a 'moronic inferno' (Martin Amis' memorable phrase) of cheap cat-calls, empty under-informed rants, and braggadocio-infused claptrap. Then again, I'm sure a not insignificant amount of people feel that way about the blog itself! Back later.
November 06, 2005
France: A Time of Troubles
We might say that the vandalism, mayhem and car-torching that have wreaked havoc through the Parisian suburbs over the past ten nights, increasingly spreading to other regions, penetrating the very central 3rd and 17th arrondisments Saturday night (and reportedly tonight resulting in some ten police officers being wounded), represent something of an apogee for a 'time of troubles' that has afflicted France of late. The list is long, but a hastily put together incomplete one would have to include the stunning popular defeat of the European Constitution (by the very country most closely associated with spearheading European unification since the time of Jean Monnet), the painful loss of the 2012 Olympic Games to London, Chirac's geopolitically inept and disingenuous ginning up of a rift with the U.S. (mostly as transparent ploy to buttress his sagging popularity via faux and pitiable neo-Gaullist swagger--rather than as a result of true conviction, that is, beyond being enamored with a quite putrid, Pasqua-esque status quo), the now even more apparent alienation of disaffected youth grappling with high unemployment, endemic racism and feelings of 'otherness'--all these bad tidings have now culminated in a very dramatic break-down of basic law and order through significant swaths of France. No, the Bastille is not about to be stormed, and if you're staying at the Crillon for a spot of shopping off the Place de la Concorde you can still rest (somewhat?) easy--but one certainly surmises that long simmering frustrations have now reached the proverbial boiling point. Having taken in a good deal of the French press this Sunday--I sense that there is a genuine sense of crisis and helplessness and demoralization at the current hour through the French polity.
Why? Perhaps more than anything, even more than the violence itself, because there are simply no leaders to speak of on the scene who might, just perhaps, provide real confidence that the situation is under control, save perhaps Sarkozy (of which more below). President Jacques Chirac has been largely silent, until this Sunday night, when he belatedly convened his internal security council. After said meeting, he issued the following terse statement: "la priorité est le rétablissement de la sécurité et de l'ordre public" ("the priority is the re-establishment of security and public order"). To which one might react, not unfairly, with a resounding DUH! French Prime Minister de Villepin, meantime, is busily announcing that new plans are in the offing (swell!), when he's not in 'consultations' with religious eminences and disgruntled delegations of youth groups who come calling at Matignon. Meantime, the Socialist Party is complaining that Chirac has been asleep at the switch (Katrina-esque echoes, to be sure), but has itself nary a solution in sight (save fantasies about somehow turning the bleak projects ringing Paris into some approximation of the swank 8th arrondisment overnight). But it gets worse. During a time when national unity might be demanded, with parts of the country literally in flames, the public is left to ponder the sad reality that de Villepin and Sarkozy are still going about their inter-elite squabbles and maneuverings in advance of the next presidentials. Put differently, the soap opera like intrigues of the last months, alas, have not yet been shelved (even temporarily) during this time of grave crisis. The bickering and positioning and back-stabbing continues to hamper the chances of a unified, robust response to the spiralling violence. This is not solely based on amibition and political primacy, but also on substantive disputes. De Villepin doubtless wishes more for 'dialogue' and such. Meantime, Nicolas Sarkozy, of course, is being beaten up in all the predictable quarters. You see, he had the temerity to use colorful (if unfortunately unpresidential) language to describe some of the vandals--so culpability for the violence is being laid squarely on his doorstep by many in France (it's Sarkozy who really burned this school, and so on, the protestations go!). But it seems that de Villepin and Chirac have come around to the Sarkozyian view (if eleven days too late)--ie., public order must indeed be the first priority in the midst of such a cascading crisis.
Now, I am not one who believes that some pan-Eurabian intifada is in the offing, or that the implications of these riots rival 9/11, or that Shamil Basayev's guerilla tactics are being adopted off la Place de la Republique--as breathless, under-informed 'commentary' has it in some quarters of the blogosphere. But we certainly have a pivot point here, one where the ruling elite's inefficacy and ineptness is being laid crudely bare for all the world to see. They have been tone-deaf and caught off guard by the depth of the alienation in their midst, and it has now caught them very much unawares and seemingly clueless on how next to respond.
The scope of the problem is quite daunting, as this excerpt from a Washington Post article makes clear:
While French politicians say the violence now circling and even entering the capital of France and spreading to towns across the country is the work of organized criminal gangs, the residents of Le Blanc-Mesnil know better. Many of the rioters grew up playing soccer on Rezzoug's field. They are the children of baggage handlers at nearby Charles de Gaulle International Airport and cleaners at the local schools.
It is indeed sad when a country's citizens have become so removed from an esprit of fellow-feeling with their common citoyens that they must lash out in anarchic fashion to get attention and communicate. But this is where France now finds itself, as it wakes up Monday morning wondering where the tumult and mayhem may hit next. No, what is needed now is honesty and straight-shooting and a real sense of urgency. The violence the roving gangs of youth are engaging in is borne of various causes and grievances. This profound alienation needs to be analyzed, to be sure. And at the end of the day, while there is some room for jihadist radicals to play on these sentiments to lure more towards piety, the book and perhaps terror--what this is really about is not some religiosity-infused intifada on the Seine but bread and butter issues of jobs and racism. Sarkozy is right that so called positive discrimination (affirmative action), at least in calibrated fashion, needs to be experimented with. But he is also at least equally right that criminals, even young ones just 18, must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Stoking mayhem cannot be rewarded. Such 'chantage'-like tactics should not be in the cards. And yet, there is reason for some of the fury, and I'd hazard most of it stems from unemployment in the 30% zone among many in their early 20s. This is likely the largest variable that must be addressed head-on, but also, let us be honest here, the feelings of 'otherness' that stem from largely North African communities believing they are viewed by many as, more or less, barbarians at the gates--too near the prim and proper bourgeois districts of the fabled capital.
Alas, however, rather than hard-headed realism about what ails France, center-left elites are busily waxing rhapsodic about the 'meaning' of all the frenzied violence. Since such de haut en bas figures appear to suggest that we are on the brink of some noble, quasi-revolutionary moment, it is perhaps helpful to dispel some myths. For one, this is not May 1968 all over again. Le Monde, in an amusing editorial, appears to espy shades of noble protest in the air amidst all the car burning and cop shooting--with memories and comparisons to those heady May days peppering the piece. But this violence is less utopic and ennobled fare, alas, than the so mythologized days of the student ressentiments of May '68. It's more a tragic result of a Hobbesian, gritty life in satellite towns devoid of hope and jobs and dignity--where youth feel disenfranchised, unmoored, without a nation really. Indeed, too many of the young see themselves as 93'ers (the postal code most afflicted by the violence to date)--before they are Frenchmen. Somehow, this must change. Part of such change must be ensuring that moderate Islamic tenets are allowed a place at the table in modern France. Part of it is dealing with the racial aspects of ensuring Arabs and Africans are not thought of as second class citizens. Part of it is jobs, obviously. And a sense of dignity. But there must also be a sense of responsibility in all of this. Not just cries about rights, in other words. A nation that takes in immigrants, provides housing and welfare and other assistance, will not sit contently while it is spat on in return. Charges of ingratitude, even if unfair, will ratchet up. And openings for the far right, it is not hard to see, will therefore present themselves. It is little wonder that Jean Marie le Pen, of course, has been quick to issue this rather fiery statement:
Le gouvernement est fatalement incapable de faire face à la situation insurrectionnelle qui se répand dans les zones de non-droit, puisqu'il en est le principal responsable, et toute la classe politicienne avec lui.
(Translation: The government is fatally incapable of facing the insurrectionary situation that is reverberating through the anarchic zones, because the government itself is the primarily responsible party, and the entire political class with it. This government is not even capable of maintaining an appearance of cohesion. These internal ruptures are for the insurrectionists an enticement to profit from the too obvious fragility that, in a time of crisis, becomes a grave peril for all of society. Because, through the agents and symbols of the state, it's France herself that is attacked, by hordes that the so-called anti-racial laws prevent us from designating as foreigners. As for the sad Sarkozy clones that, to give themselves publicity, stroll around the burned suburbs whilst reciting in 'play back' the positions of the National Front, their protestations are indecent and low.)
Meantime, his daughter calls for the institution of martial law in the affected zones. Many (more than 20% say), particularly after these so violent disturbances, will be favorably inclined to this message. Which is why the ceaseless and risible Matignon machinations (Sarko!, Dominique! Jacques!) must now come to an end. The long, lazy summer characterized by soap operatic political going-ons--providing much fodder for Paris Match readers (whither Sarko's marriage?)--now must retire to the harsh realities of a cold autumn marred by large-scale violence. The government must muster up unity and resolve and, yes, signal compassion too. The message must be that such criminal behavior is beyond the pale, and will be strictly prosecuted--but also that the political class takes some responsibility for its manifest weakness in, for far too long, simply wishing, somehow, that the problems of the banlieu would just go away. Yes, it's beyond time to face some hard realities. No more beating up on the lame Anglo-Saxon 'model' then, or cowboy brutes in Mesopotamia killing innocents, and so on. It's time to shine a strong light right there at home, put aside the defensive, diversionary pseudo-narratives and deceptions, and get to the hard work of putting the nation on a better course (particularly the dismal employment picture). If not, openings to more radical avenues will likely result--whether of a rightist or leftist variety (more likely the former, I'd say). Oh, and I suspect talk of racial inequalities being so atrociously bad in the U.S., not an insignificant talking point in Parisian salons around the time of Katrina, perhaps such talk will abate a tad given recent events.
November 03, 2005
Old college bud Noah Shachtman (of the excellent Defense Tech) spent a good chunk of the summer in Iraq. A chronicle of his time spent there
November 02, 2005
The Article 3 Chronicles...
Many officials said Mr. Addington, who helped create the legal framework after 9/11, remains a bulwark in support of those policies, deftly blocking or weakening proposed changes. Nonetheless, the internal politics of those issues have begun to shift in Mr. Bush's second term.
A central player in the fight over the directive is David S. Addington, who was the vice president's counsel until he was named on Monday to succeed I. Lewis Libby Jr. as Mr. Cheney's chief of staff. According to several officials, Mr. Addington verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft, objecting to its use of language drawn from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
I've heard Waxman is a very bright guy (if quite a bit younger than Addington). So I'm sure he can more than hold his own. It would be nice, however, to see Condi and Hadley and England weigh in more. If Rumsfeld is ultimate arbitrer, I think I know where the decision point ends up. Over in 'cabal'-zone, of course. More on all this soon, and don't miss a somewhat related story here. As I said, we'll be analyzing the whole proposed Artice 3 lift in more detail. Remember, Addington and Cambone and Haynes and ostensibly Cheney are fighting this Geneva language insertion even though it's only a policy directive (not necessarily legally binding) and doesn't even apply to detainees in CIA custody (another problem, as the related story link showcases). Recall too, the uniformed service lawyers are for the rewrite--as they better understand the harm this is doing to us in the war on terror. The costs outweigh the perceived benefits. Big time, you might say. But they need a major ally in the Adminstration to tip the scales. Could it be Condi/Hadley (with assorted DoD allies, particularly in the brass), squaring off on an issue of national import with Rumsfeld and Cheney? I am doubtful, but hope remains alive, and McCain has put some wind in the sails...
Taking Stock: The State of the Bush Doctrine
Commentary magazine, to commemorate its 60th anniversary, is asking 36 "leading thinkers" the following Qs:
1. Where have you stood, and where do you now stand, in relation to the Bush Doctrine? Do you agree with the President’s diagnosis of the threat we face and his prescription for dealing with it?
Link here. We'll be exploring in more detail soon. In the meantime, readers are invited to note what analysis is closest to their own view, and why. (Hat Tip: Reader 'sbahadir')
November 01, 2005
A belated and very sincere thanks to the two guest bloggers who covered for me while I was away for a good part of October-- Dan Darling and Eric Martin. Both of them put up a lot of great content over here, and it was greatly appreciated. Also a brief apology to them (really, Dan) for some of the rude commenters...let's just say that if I've invited someone to blog in this space it's because I think they are more than qualified to do so.
B.D. had been leaning Luttig, but I think Alito is a very good choice. And I think he'll make it, though it won't be as easy as Roberts--not least because of the perceived similarities to Scalia (a somewhat superficial and overly simplistic view, of course). If Miers was a D- (at best); Alito is solidly in the 'A' range. I've beaten up on Bush in this space a good bit of late--but Roberts, Bernanke and Alito are all very solid nominations. He deserves some kudos on this score. Pity we had to go through the Miers nightmare...
Judge Alito's jurisprudence has been methodical, cautious, respectful of precedent and solidly conservative, legal scholars said. In cases involving the great issues of the day - abortion, the death penalty and the separation of church and state - Judge Alito has typically taken the conservative side.
I think most of the Gang of 14 will be with this guy. And rightly so.
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Another Presidential Pop-Over On Turkey Day?
Whither the Press?
The Other View
Is Bush Dowdifying?
Outta The Bunker; On the Attack
McCain on the Congressional Iraq Going-Ons
The Costs of Premature Withdrawal
Electric Boogaloo Excitement!
English Language Media
New York Times
The New Yorker
Real Clear Politics
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
Katrina vanden Heuvel
The American Scene
Winds of Change
The Reliable Source
Law & Finance
Bull and Bear Wise
Corporate Counsel Blog
Corp Law Blog
Deal Lawyers Blog
New York Observer
Central and Eastern Europe
Across the Bay
Bliss Street Journal
American in Lebanon
B.D. In the Press
The Sunday Times(UK)"If It Makes America Look Bad It Must Be True, Musn't It?"
The Guardian "Trial and Error"
Online Journalism Review "Feeling Misquoted? Weblogs Transcripts Let the Reader Decide"
Online Journalism Review "Bloggers Rate the Most Influential Blogs" (see chart)
The Sunday Times (UK) "Rise of the Virtual Soapbox"
Middle East-Peace Process
U.S. Foreign Policy