December 31, 2005

Khaddam Speaks Out

From the Beeb:

A senior Syrian official has said President Bashar al-Assad threatened former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri only months before his death.

Syria's former Vice-President, Abdul Halim Khaddam, said "Hariri received many threats".

The ex-Lebanese premier, who had become a critic of Syria, died in a bomb attack in Beirut in February.

A UN investigation has implicated Syria in the assassination. Syria denies it was involved.

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis said several sources had said they had been told by Mr Hariri that Mr Assad had threatened "to break Lebanon over [his] head", if he did not support the extension of Lebanese President Emil Lahoud's term.

Mr Khaddam told al-Arabiya television: "Assad told me he had delivered some very, very harsh words to Hariri... something like 'I will crush anyone who tries to disobey us'."

He said Syrian intelligence services could not have carried out such an assassination without the approval of Mr Assad, but he added: "We have to wait for the findings of the UN report." [my emphasis]

Former Syrian VP Khaddam is a long-time player in Syrian politics, indeed he's been active at the highest levels of government there for decades. Could this broadside signal the intensification of a power struggle, one that will increasingly take place in the public eye rather than in the shadows of Damascene court intrigues? Perhaps, and we'll have more on all this soon. Regardless, it's certainly not a good development for Bashar, who can now likely count more emboldened domestic opposition to his quite large list of woes, including the increasingly low esteem he's regarded with in precincts Washington, Paris (Hariri was very close to Chirac) and beyond.

Posted by Gregory at 11:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Goss, Ulfkotte, Erdogan (And A Military Option in Iran?)

Der Spiegel:

Recent reports in the German media suggest that the United States may be preparing its allies for an imminent military strike against facilities that are part of Iran's suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program...

...The most talked about story is a Dec. 23 piece by the German news agency DDP from journalist and intelligence expert Udo Ulfkotte. The story has generated controversy not only because of its material, but also because of the reporter's past. Critics allege that Ulfkotte in his previous reporting got too close to sources at Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the BND. But Ulfkotte has himself noted that he has been under investigation by the government in the past (indeed, his home and offices have been searched multiple times) for allegations that he published state secrets -- a charge that he claims would underscore rather than undermine the veracity of his work.

According to Ulfkotte's report, "western security sources" claim that during CIA Director Porter Goss' Dec. 12 visit to Ankara, he asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to provide support for a possibile 2006 air strike against Iranian nuclear and military facilities. More specifically, Goss is said to have asked Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of intelligence that could help with a mission.

DDP also reported that the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan have been informed in recent weeks of Washington's military plans. The countries, apparently, were told that air strikes were a "possible option," but they were given no specific timeframe for the operations.

In a report published on Wednesday, the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel also cited NATO intelligence sources claiming that Washington's western allies had been informed that the United States is currently investigating all possibilities of bringing the mullah-led regime into line, including military options. Of course, Bush has publicly stated for months that he would not take the possibility of a military strike off the table. What's new here, however, is that Washington appears to be dispatching high-level officials to prepare its allies for a possible attack rather than merely implying the possibility as it has repeatedly done during the past year.[emphasis added]

I'd take all this with a massive grain of salt, and also point out that some of this leakage may be purposeful (so as to remind people in Teheran a military option does remain on the table, and so try to put a bit more muscle into the Euro-troika's languishing diplomatic efforts on Iranian non-proliferation). Also, Der Spiegel, shall we say, has a tendency to engage in hyperbole when it comes to journalistic narratives about the rampant militarization of U.S. foreign policy and such. So color me pretty skeptical that the U.S. will be pursuing air strikes in Persia in the New Year, or later in Bush's term for that matter. Still, it's an interesting story, and I'd invite other thoughts on its level of verisimilitude in comments.

UPDATE: Nadehzda, in comments, points out that Darling was on this eons ago (blog-time-wise, that is).

Posted by Gregory at 11:23 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 29, 2005

In-House Note

Apologies for the light blogging, as I'm on a work trip. I hope to have fresh content up over the weekend, including perhaps a synopsis of American foreign policy over the last year--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Please feel free to drop issues/angles you would like me to address in comments.

Posted by Gregory at 11:23 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 27, 2005

The Law Lords on Torture

I'm on holiday and without regular Internet access (though back in NYC tomorrow), but I was able to peruse the fascinating opinion of the English Law Lords on the (in)admissibility of evidence extracted via torture. I highly recommend anyone with 20 minutes or so click through this link and read it in its entirety (particularly Charles Krauthammer!), but if you are not so inclined, here are some extracts for convenience.

81. On 23 August 1628 George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and Lord High Admiral of England, was stabbed to death by John Felton, a naval officer, in a house in Portsmouth. The 35-year-old Duke had been the favourite of King James I and was the intimate friend of the new King Charles I, who asked the judges whether Felton could be put to the rack to discover his accomplices. All the judges met in Serjeants' Inn. Many years later Blackstone recorded their historic decision:

"The judges, being consulted, declared unanimously, to their own honour and the honour of the English law, that no such proceeding was allowable by the laws of England".

82. That word honour, the deep note which Blackstone strikes twice in one sentence, is what underlies the legal technicalities of this appeal. The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it. When judicial torture was routine all over Europe, its rejection by the common law was a source of national pride and the admiration of enlightened foreign writers such as Voltaire and Beccaria. In our own century, many people in the United States, heirs to that common law tradition, have felt their country dishonoured by its use of torture outside the jurisdiction and its practice of extra-legal "rendition" of suspects to countries where they would be tortured: see Jeremy Waldron, Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House 105 Columbia Law Review 1681-1750 (October, 2005)

83. Just as the writ of habeas corpus is not only a special (and nowadays infrequent) remedy for challenging unlawful detention but also carries a symbolic significance as a touchstone of English liberty which influences the rest of our law, so the rejection of torture by the common law has a special iconic importance as the touchstone of a humane and civilised legal system. Not only that: the abolition of torture, which was used by the state in Elizabethan and Jacobean times to obtain evidence admitted in trials before the court of Star Chamber, was achieved as part of the great constitutional struggle and civil war which made the government subject to the law. Its rejection has a constitutional resonance for the English people which cannot be overestimated.

84. During the last century the idea of torture as a state instrument of special horror came to be accepted all over the world, as is witnessed by the international law materials collected by my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill. Among the many unlawful practices of state officials, torture and genocide are regarded with particular revulsion: crimes against international law which every state is obliged to punish wherever they may have been committed...

...Torture, one of most evil practices known to man, is resorted to for a variety of purposes and it may help to identify them to put this case into its historical context. The lesson of history is that, when the law is not there to keep watch over it, the practice is always at risk of being resorted to in one form or another by the executive branch of government. The temptation to use it in times of emergency will be controlled by the law wherever the rule of law is allowed to operate. But where the rule of law is absent, or is reduced to a mere form of words to which those in authority pay no more than lip service, the temptation to use torture is unrestrained. The probability of its use will rise or fall according the scale of the perceived emergency.

102. In the first place, torture may be used on a large scale as an instrument of blatant repression by totalitarian governments. That is what was alleged in R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No 3) [2000] 1 AC 147, where the picture presented by the draft charges against Senator Pinochet which had been prepared by the Spanish judicial authorities was of a conspiracy. It was a conspiracy of the most evil kind - to commit widespread and systematic torture and murder to obtain control of the government and, having done so, to maintain control of government by those means for so long as might be necessary. Or it may be used in totalitarian states as a means of extracting confessions from individuals whom the authorities wish to put on trial so that they can be used against them in evidence.

103. The examples I have just mentioned are of torture as an instrument of power. But the use of torture to obtain confessions was also sanctioned by the judiciary in many civil law jurisdictions, and it remained part of their criminal procedure until the latter part of the 17th century. This was never part of English criminal procedure and, as there was no need for it, its use for this purpose was prohibited by the common law. But warrants for the use of torture were issued from time to time by the Privy Council against prisoners in the Tower under the Royal Prerogative. Four hundred years ago, on 4 November 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested when he was preparing to blow up the Parliament which was to be opened the next day, together with the King and all the others assembled there. Two days later James I sent orders to the Tower authorising torture to be used to persuade Fawkes to confess and reveal the names of his co-conspirators. His letter stated that "the gentler tortours" were first to be used on him, and that his torturers were then to proceed to the worst until the information was extracted out of him. On 9 November 1605 he signed his confession with a signature that was barely legible and gave the names of his fellow conspirators. On 27 January 1606 he and seven others were tried before a special commission in Westminster Hall. Signed statements in which they had each confessed to treason were shown to them at the trial, acknowledged by them to be their own and then read to the jury: Carswell, Trial of Guy Fawkes (1934), pp 90-92.

104. This practice came to an end in 1640 when the Act of 16 Charles I, c 10, abolished the Star Chamber. The jurisdiction of the Privy Council in all matters affecting the liberty of the subject was transferred to the ordinary courts, which until then in matters of State the executive could by-pass. Torture continued to be used in Scotland on the authority of the Privy Council until the end of the 17th century, but the practice was brought to an end there after the Union by section 5 of the Treason Act 1708. That section, which remains in force subject only to one minor amendment (see Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1977, Sch I, Part IV) and applies to England as well as Scotland, declares that no person accused of any crime can be put to torture.

105. We are not concerned in this case with the use of torture for either of the purposes that I have mentioned so far. But they do not exhaust the uses for which torture may be sanctioned by governments. The use with which this case is concerned is the extraction of information from those who are thought to have something that may be of use to them by the security services. Information - the gathering of intelligence - is a crucial weapon in the battle by democracies against international terrorism. Experience has shown from the beginning of time that those who are hostile to the state are reluctant to part with information that might disrupt or inhibit their activities. They usually have to be persuaded to release it. Handled responsibly, the methods that are used fall well short of what could reasonably be described as torture. But in unscrupulous hands the means of persuasion are likely to be violent and intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. In the hands of the most unscrupulous the only check on the level of violence is likely to be the need to keep the person alive so that, if he has any information that may be useful, he can communicate it to his interrogators.

106. It was not unknown during the 17th century, while torture was still being practised here, for statements extracted by this means to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings to obtain the conviction of third parties. J H Langbein, Torture and the Law of Proof: Europe and England in the Ancien Regime (University of Chicago Press, 1977), p 94 has shown that a warrant was issued by the Privy Council in 1551 for the torture of persons committed to the Tower on suspicion of being involved in the alleged treason of the Duke of Somerset. The confession obtained from William Crane was read, in Crane's absence, at the Duke's trial: Heath, Torture and English Law: An Administrative and Legal History from the Plantagenets to the Stuarts (1982), p 75.

107. When the jurisdiction of the Star Chamber was abolished in England prisoners were transferred to Scotland so that they could be forced by the Scots Privy Council which still used torture to provide information to the authorities. This is illustrated by the case of Robert Baillie of Jerviswood whose trial took place in Edinburgh in December 1684. A detailed description of the events of that trial can be found in Fountainhall's Decisions of the Lords of Council and Session, vol I, 324-326: for a summary, see Torture [2004] 53 ICLQ 807, 818-820. Robert Baillie had been named by William Spence, who was suspected of being involved in plotting a rebellion against the government of Charles II, as one of his co-conspirators. Spence gave this information having been arrested in London and taken to Edinburgh, where he was tortured. Baillie in his turn was arrested in England and taken to Scotland, where he was put on trial before a jury in the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh. All objections having been repelled by the trial judge, the statement which Spence had given under torture was read to the jury. Baillie was convicted the next day, and the sentence of death that was passed on him was executed that afternoon. There is a warning here for us. "Extraordinary rendition", as it is known today, is not new. It was being practised in England in the 17th century.

108. Baron Hume, Commentaries on the Law of Scotland respecting Crimes (Edinburgh, 1844), vol ii, p 324, described the use of torture for the purpose of discovering transgressors as a barbarous engine. So it was. It had increasingly come to be recognised that there was a level beyond which, however great the threat and however imminent its realisation, resort to this means of extracting information was unacceptable. The need of the authorities to resort to extreme measures for their own protection had, of course, disappeared with the arrival of the period of stability that came with the ending of the Stuart dynasty. But one can detect in Hume's language a revulsion against its use which would have certainly been voiced by the judges of his time, had it been necessary for them to do so.

109. The threat of rebellion and revolution having disappeared, the developing common law did not find it necessary to grapple with the question whether statements obtained by the use of torture should continue to be admissible against third parties in any proceedings as evidence. There is no doubt that they would be caught today by the rule that evidence of the facts referred to in a statement made by a third party, however that statement was obtained, is hearsay: Teper v The Queen [1952] AC 480, 486, per Lord Normand. Alison, Principles and Practice of the Criminal Law of Scotland (1833), vol ii, 510-11 states that hearsay is in general inadmissible evidence. He bases this proposition on the best evidence rule, and declares that the rule is "firmly established both in the Scotch and English law". But we cannot be absolutely confident that judges in the latter part of the 19th century would have been prepared to rely on the hearsay rule to exclude such evidence. In R v Birmingham Overseers (1861) 1 B & S 763, 767, Cockburn CJ said:

"People were formerly frightened out of their wits about admitting evidence, lest juries should go wrong. In modern times we admit the evidence, and discuss its weight."

If, as this passage indicates, the hearsay objection went only to the weight of the evidence, the judges would have had to face up to the more fundamental question whether at common law it was an abuse of the judicial process to rely on it.

110. I think that it is plain that the barbarity of the practice, as Hume describes it, would have led inevitably to the conclusion that the use against third parties of statements obtained in this way as evidence in any proceedings was unacceptable. This would have been a modest but logical extension of the rule already enshrined in statute by section 5 of the Treason Act 1708, that no person accused of a crime could be put to torture. The effect of that section was to render confession evidence obtained by this means inadmissible. It would have been a small but certain step to apply the same rule to statements obtained in the same way from third parties.

111. This is the background to the ratification by the United Kingdom of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1984 and entered into force on 26 June 1987. The Convention was designed to provide an international system which denied a safe haven to the official torturer. But long before it was entered into state torture was an international crime in the highest sense, as Lord Browne-Wilkinson pointed out in R v Bow Street Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate, Ex p Pinochet Ugarte (No 3) [2000] 1 AC 147, p 198G. The rule set out in article 15 of the Convention about the use of statements obtained by the use of torture must be seen in this light. Article 15 provides:


"Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made."

112. This provision has not been incorporated into our domestic law, unlike the declaration that the use of torture is a crime wherever it was committed which was made part of our law by section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. But I would hold that the formal incorporation of the evidential rule into domestic law was unnecessary, as the same result is reached by an application of common law principles. The rule laid down by article 15 was accepted by the United Kingdom because it was entirely compatible with our own law. The use of such evidence is excluded not on grounds of its unreliability - if that was the only objection to it, it would go to its weight, not to its admissibility - but on grounds of its barbarism, its illegality and its inhumanity. The law will not lend its support to the use of torture for any purpose whatever. It has no place in the defence of freedom and democracy, whose very existence depends on the denial of the use of such methods to the executive.

113. Once torture has become acclimatised in a legal system it spreads like an infectious disease, hardening and brutalising those who have become accustomed to its use: Holdsworth, A History of English Law, vol v, p 194. As Jackson J in his dissenting opinion in Korematsu v United States, 323 US 214 (1944), 246 declared, once judicial approval is given to such conduct, it lies about like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need. A single instance, if approved to meet the threat of international terrorism, would establish a principle with the power to grow and expand so that everything that falls within it would be regarded as acceptable

Much more worth reading within the opinion, and note all bolded text is my emphasis.

Posted by Gregory at 12:27 AM | Comments (103) | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

End of the Year Mania

Between the (increasingly frustrating) transit strike, the end of the year rush at my job, holiday travel, and other assorted madness--there's just no time to blog. Hopefully back with a little Christmas blogging around the 24th/25th, but this likely rather on the limited side. Still, check in now and again through the next week and happy holidays to all.

Posted by Gregory at 03:31 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 21, 2005

Only in New York...

As most of you are doubtless aware, there's a massive transit strike underway in NYC. I got to work pretty smoothly in the A.M. (sharing the ride up to midtown with another passenger we picked up in the low 20s), but was concerned about how the evening was going to play out. With some trepidation, I left work wondering what chaos awaited on my trek back downtown. I managed to hail a cab after walking about 10 blocks, and just like my commute in the A.M., was sharing the cab with another passenger who had hailed the cab before I had gotten on. Then, lo and behold, we stopped for yet another passenger (I think cabbies can pick up three fares during the duration of this strike? Or is it four?). So, who gets in the front seat next to the driver? None other than Tom Friedman of the New York Times! Well, I introduced myself and we exchanged a few pleasantries, commented on Mike Bloomberg and other matters du jour, and then he got off near Union Square as I continued south...No, I didn't mention the Belgravia Dispatch or query him re: his views on the recent elections in Iraq. Next time, I guess. And, until then, here's his latest output from today's Times, with an excerpt for the non Times-Select-privileged below:

Everything now rides on what kind of majority the Iraqi Shiites want to be and what kind of minority the Sunnis want to be. Will the Shiites prove to be magnanimous in victory and rewrite the Constitution in a way that decent Sunnis, who want to be citizens of a unified Iraq, can accept? Will the Sunnis agree to accept their fair share of Iraq's oil revenue and government posts - and nothing more?

My own visits to Iraq have left me convinced that beneath all the tribalism, there is a sense of Iraqi citizenship and national identity eager to come out. But it will take more security, and many more Iraqi leaders animated by national reconciliation, for it to emerge in a sustained way.

Unlike many on the left, I'm not convinced that this will never happen and that all of this has been for naught. Unlike many on the right, I'm not convinced that it will inevitably happen if we just stay the course long enough. The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it - and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.

How will you know if things are going well? Easy. The Iraqi Army will suddenly become effective without U.S. guidance. It will know how to fight, because it will know what - and whom - it is fighting for.

"Guardedly hopeful..." Is that the same as B.D's oft-stated "cautious optimism"?

Posted by Gregory at 01:49 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

Quote of the Day

It is also important for every American to understand the consequences of pulling out of Iraq before our work is done. We would abandon our Iraqi friends — and signal to the world that America cannot be trusted to keep its word. We would undermine the morale of our troops — by betraying the cause for which they have sacrificed. We would cause tyrants in the Middle East to laugh at our failed resolve, and tighten their repressive grip. We would hand Iraq over to enemies who have pledged to attack us — and the global terrorist movement would be emboldened and more dangerous than ever before. To retreat before victory would be an act of recklessness and dishonor — and I will not allow it.

-- President Bush, speaking from the Oval Office tonight.

So what constitutes victory? The national strategy for victory document defined it thus:

In the short term:

An Iraq that is making steady progress in fighting terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency, meeting political milestones; building democratic institutions; standing up robust security forces to gather intelligence, destroy terrorist networks, and maintain security; and tackling key economic reforms to lay the foundation for a sound economy.

In the medium term:

An Iraq that is in the lead defeating terrorists and insurgents and providing its own security, with a constitutional, elected government in place, providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region, and well on its way to achieving its economic potential.

In the longer term:

An Iraq that has defeated the terrorists and neutralized the insurgency.

An Iraq that is peaceful, united, stable, democratic, and secure, where Iraqis have the institutions and resources they need to govern themselves justly and provide security for their country.

An Iraq that is a partner in the global war on terror and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, integrated into the international community, an engine for regional economic growth, and proving the fruits of democratic governance to the region.

Would it be reckless and dishonorable to leave before the "longer term" prong of the White House's definition of victory is achieved? Yes, in my view, and I assume Bush's (unless he's perhaps using the "medium term" as his goalpost?). But this is still years away. Isn't it better to just come out and say so? So that the public better grasps that building a sustainable central government, a multi-ethnic, cohesive national army (with attendant de-militiazation), ensuring adequate protection of minority rights, and fostering democratic national governance structures--that these objectives will likely not be fully realized by the end of Bush's term. (Indeed, it's becoming increasingly clear that the next President will most likely still be grappling with the Iraq situation quite intensely--whether it's a Democrat or Republican).

Still, I thought it was a pretty good speech, though he lost points for continuing to repeat the junk about flypaper. Oh, and what happened to the "rejectionists" (read: insurgents)? They featured relatively prominently in the victory strategy document, but any mention of them was omitted from this speech. Why? Probably because it's easier to put together a seamless 9/11 to Iraq narrative when we are just dealing with "terrorists" (and Saddamists). Muddying the waters with talk of insurgents would confuse the plot a bit too much for a primetime address to the nation, I guess. Call it a B-, all told--with points for him inviting honest criticism and taking it on the chin, again, on the WMD intel being wrong. What do commenters think?


Posted by Gregory at 02:28 AM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

The Torture Debate

I have to say I'm with Sullivan on this one. While I like and respect Glenn a lot, I can't help but conclude that Glenn has not taken the torture issue seriously. Yeah, he's against it and all, but you couldn't help feeling he didn't really care all that much about it over the past couple of years. When did I cross the rubicon on this issue vis-a-vis Glenn? Well, I guess it was when Glenn linked to this Roger Simon post as offering "perspective".

Simon had written:

Yes, yes, I know - all those horrors in Abu Ghraib... that dopey young lady playing S&M horsey games out of every other manga comic book in Shinjuku that sooooo offended some people. (I bet!) Meanwhile, in the real world, we all know the obvious truth about prison in every country - it stinks! Jail is lousy for everyone from Tashkent to Talahassee - even Martha Stewart. And I'd take my chances in a US Military prison over virtually all of them and so would (I'd bet again - in this case my house) almost all their critics, from the editors of the New York Times to the head honchos of Amnesty International. (How do those hypocritical buzzards feel about this new Congressional report, I wonder?)

As I wrote to Glenn sometime after that, I felt real dismay (I think I told him I felt a "pinch in my gut", if memory serves) when I saw that someone of Glenn's obvious intelligence, Yale Law pedigree, and blogospheric authority would point to such bull-crap as offering "perspective" on an issue of critical import to our national security. In this post, Roger later went on to the tired talking points about how great the menu and rice pilaf and other sundries were at Gitmo. The predictable, sophomoric fare. But as is readily apparent to those who took the time to pore through all the government reports on the matter, tactics that were developed for use at Guantanamo were a contributing, material factor in the abuse and torture that took place in detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. What may have 'worked' (though I think the abuses that took place in Guantanamo often went beyond the pale) under controlled circumstances at Gitmo, far from emotional conflict zones, with good guard to detainee ratios--led to horrific abuses and violations of basic norms of civilized behavior when they 'migrated' to the conflict zone. So you will forgive me if a little congressional visit to Gitmo didn't amount to a suitable all clear for me, as it did an eager crowd of torture and abuse apologists.

Frankly, I'm just sick and tired of the constant litany about whether wrapping someone up in the Israeli flag or menstrual blood constitutes torture, or abuse, or is no big effing deal, or something in between, or whatever. I'm sick of Rich Lowry getting all pissy-matchy with Sullivan about whether things like "belly-slapping" constitute torture or not. Or Mark Levin's sad series of apologias over at NRO (in these days of rather embarrassing K-Lo-esque buffoonery, said periodical has dropped, me thinks, far below Buckley-compliant standards of golden yesteryear).

On the Lowry front, for instance, he writes, re: his recent exchanges with Sullivan:

I asked if lapel shaking, belly slapping, and cold rooms are torture or cruelty and under what circumstances. He gives one circumstance. I guess we're supposed to conclude from that all cold rooms are therefore torture, no matter what the circumstance? What a joke. What about lapel shaking? Belly slapping (which is known to create an acute stinging sensation in the belly area and a loud “slapping” sound that increases the terror of this technique)? He won't say. Sullivan is afraid to admit that the McCain approach will effectively ban all coercive techniques, even ones that most reasonable people wouldn't consider torture or cruel.
Let me suggest to Rich Lowry that he go read Army Field Manual 34-52. It spells out the appropriate standards by which our armed forces should treat detainees in our custody. Physical torture is defined (see page 1-8) as including tactics such as "any form of beating" or "forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time". Such interrogation tactics have stood us in good stead for decades, including in terms of extracting intelligence information. Look at the distinguished military men and women who signed this letter, who know infinitely more than Rich Lowry or I about military matters. They write:
Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced. But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law. During the Second World War, General Dwight D. Eisenhower explained that the allies adhered to the law of war in their treatment of prisoners because "the Germans had some thousands of American and British prisoners and I did not want to give Hitler the excuse or justification for treating our prisoners more harshly than he already was doing." In Vietnam, U.S. policy required that the Geneva Conventions be observed for all enemy prisoners of war - both North Vietnamese regulars and Viet Cong - even though the Viet Cong denied our own prisoners of war the same protections. And in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States afforded Geneva Convention protections to more than 86,000 Iraqi prisoners of war held in U.S. custody. The threats we face today - while grave and complex - no more warrant abandoning these basic principles than did the threats of enemies past...

...A series of memos...prepared...in 2002 recommended official authorization of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding, feigned suffocation, and sleep deprivation. As with the recommendations on the Geneva Conventions, these memos ignored established U.S. military policy, including doctrine prohibiting "threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation." Indeed, the August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo analyzing the law on interrogation references health care administration law more than five times, but never once cites the U.S. Army Field Manual on interrogation. The Army Field Manual was the product of decades of experience - experience that had shown, among other things that such interrogation methods produce unreliable results and often impede further intelligence collection. Discounting the Manual's wisdom on this central point shows a disturbing disregard for the decades of hardwon knowledge of the professional American military. [emphasis added]

Lowry is concerned that moralist preening will end up costing American lives. God forbid, should there be a major terror attack that kills tens of thousands, we will see a chorus of complaints that Saint McCain helped spur on the massacre because of his too coddling approach to detainees. This is bunk. As McCain has said, if there is a real ticking time bomb scenario, the gloves will come off, but the interrogator will be responsible for his actions. In the meantime, we go forward preserving decades-long best practices that military officers have supported through myriad crises. They support it not least because they realize that they have been able to garner effective intelligence via the methods authorized in the manual, and because they further realize to muddy the waters with carve-outs and exceptions will lead to abuses--abuses that taint the repute of our armed forces and make it likelier that their men in the field will be tortured in turn.

And what of Mark Levin, another anti-McCain voice at NRO? Let's take a quick look at his output on this issue. Transparently trying to use the Reagan mantle to kind of out-national-glory-McCain, Levin writes:

Ok, let me throw this out there. I actually believe that John McCain is about to do as much damage to the CIA’s ability to function as Frank Church did in the 1970s.

I was prodded to do a little more research on the subject of the UN Convention Against Torture and the rest, and the Congressional Research Service noted that in his transmittal of the Convention for ratification, President Reagan provided that the definition of torture was to be interpreted in a “relatively limited fashion, corresponding to the common understanding of torture as an extreme practice which is universally condemned.” “… the State Department suggested that rough treatment falling into the category of police brutality, ‘while deplorable, does not amount to ‘torture’ for purposes of the Convention, which is ‘usually reserved for extreme, deliberate, and unusually cruel practices … [such as] sustained systematic beating, application of electric currents to sensitive parts of the body, and tying up or hanging positions that cause extreme pain.’”McCain’s Amendment flies in the face of the concerns President Reagan himself had with defining torture down–and in McCain’s case, defining it to include “undignified” treatment. Anyone who’s dealt with the DMV has been subjected to “undignified” treatment. I think Reagan was right, and McCain is wrong.

I'm glad Mark was "prodded" to do a bit more research on this score. And, while I can't opine on his DMV point, because I don't own a car and I don't drive, I can certainly report that Levin's "research" was rather, shall we say, undistinguished. Now it is true, as Levin writes, that the Reagan Administration defined torture narrowly in the U.N Convention on Torture ("CAT"). But there's quite a bit that Levin conveniently omits in his analysis, as you will see below.

Let's start by how torture is defined under the CAT:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Note, importantly, the "or mental" prong of the definition. It's important that we remember that it's not just putting the bodies through the Saddamite plastic-shredders and such that constitutes torture, per a convention that the Reagan Administration agreed to adhere to. But Levin is right that the Reagan team handling this wanted to ensure torture was viewed as severe, and that it was defined in “relatively limited fashion, corresponding to the common understanding of torture as an extreme practice which is universally condemned.” (source here, PDF). And it is also true that the Senate, in adoping the Convention, sought to better clarify what was meant by mental torture (it was basically undefined in the CAT). Thus the Senate clarified per the below:

With respect to mental torture, a practice not specifically defined by CAT, the United States understands such actions to refer to prolonged mental harm caused or resulting from (1) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain and suffering; (2) the administration of mind-altering substances or procedures to disrupt the victim’s senses; (3) the threat of imminent death; or (4) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality. But there is also Article 16 of the CAT, which Levin neglects to highlight.

Read "1" above, however. Remember things like the image that wounded the reputation of our country so profoundly? The hooded prisoner in Abu Ghraib, hauntingly poised on boxes with electric wires affixed to him, who likely thought he was about to be severely electrocuted? Do you think that man thought he was about to suffer "sever physical pain and suffering"? You betcha. Is this what Mark Levin is fighting to have allowed by the United States of America? How sad.

Levin's argument also touches on Article 16 of the CAT, which the above referenced report explains as follows:

Article 16 requires signatory States to take preventative measures to prevent “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” within any territory under their jurisdiction when such acts are committed under the color of law. CAT does not define these terms, and the State Department suggested that the requirements of Article 16 concerning “degrading” treatment or punishment potentially include treatment “that would probably not be prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.” Unlike in the case of torture, however, CAT does not expressly require States to criminalize acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment that occur within or outside their territorial jurisdiction.

Ah, you say, Levin's got it right! Even the pinstripe, cocktail sipping crew at Foggy Bottom thought Article 16 too loosy-goosy, with vague talk of "degrading" treatment (a footnote in this report states: "The State Department noted, for instance, that the European Commission on Human Rights once concluded that the refusal of German authorities to give formal recognition to an individual’s sex change might constitute “degrading” treatment"). Yes, Euro human rights commissions and sex changes, what risible fare! Thus the DMV crack, and good on Levin for pointing it out, right? Except that it's a gross distortion of what McCain has accomplished. Levin omits that the Reagan Administration and U.S. Senate decided to implement CAT's Article 16 in the following manner:

With respect to Article 16 of the Convention, the Senate’s advice and consent was based on the reservation that the United States considered itself bound to Article 16 to the extent that such cruel, unusual, and inhuman treatment or punishment was prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. According to U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence, whether treatment by public officials constitutes “cruel and unusual” treatment that is prohibited by the Constitution is assessed using a two-prong test. First, it must be determined whether the individual who has been mistreated was denied “the minimal civilized measures of life’s necessities.” This standard may change over time to reflect evolving societal standards of decency. Secondly, the offending individual must have a “sufficiently culpable state of mind,” indicating that the infliction of pain was “wanton” or, in the context of general prison conditions, reflected “deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety.” Given the Senate’s understanding that Article 16 was not self-executing and the fact that the United States did not adopt implementing legislation with respect to CAT Article 16, it appears that the United States agreed to bind itself to CAT Article 16 only to the extent that it was already required to refrain from cruel and unusual treatment or punishment under the U.S. Constitution and any existing statutes covering such offenses.

Got that? The U.S. agreed to be bound to CAT Article 16 to the extent that we honored our obligations under the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments. This is what the Reagan Administration agreed to. And this, precisely, is where John McCain fought the good fight, after the aberration of the Yoo memorandum and such, to get us back to. Yes, you read that right. This whole McCain Amendment hullabaloo was a fight to simply get us back to standards that the Reagan Administration had already advised and agreed the United States adhere to. Despite Levin's cherry-picking evasive tactics, this is the simple truth. Read the McCain Amendment people, the relevant language is here:

d) Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Defined.--In this section, the term ``cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment'' means the cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as defined in the United States Reservations, Declarations and Understandings to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment done at New York, December 10, 1984.

McCain has fought to protect Reagan's legacy on this issue, not dismantle it so as to endanger the polity, as Levin evidently purposefully distorts. Ah, but you say enemy combatants and military necessity and so on. But a fair reading of the CAT is to conclude an absolute prohibition on torture: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

But enough of these nettlesome legal details and tired old dragging out of Army Field Manual practice. All this is somewhat yawn-inducing, no? The bottom line here is that we are involved in a global campaign against terrorism where winning the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims, as Lee Kuan Yew points out in the current Forbes, will prove paramount. Like it or not, many Arab Muslims don't care for Israel much given the current state of conflict that exists between them and the Palestinians. So wrapping up detainees in the flag of Israel, while it's certainly not as gory as plucking away George Clooney's fingernails and such a la Syriana, just isn't very smart policy. Ah, and all this talk about menstrual blood. Like, what's the big deal, dude? In a society undergoing steady Las Vegasification and Paris Hiltonization, is it any wonder so few seem to give a shit that American female soldiers, due to tactics personally approved by our Secretary of Defense, would rub their breasts and pretend to smear menstrual blood in the face of detainees? Sounds almost fun, the lap-top brigades giggle on, sign me up for a lap-dance too! But it's all very ugly, in reality, as the foot-soldiers tasked with implementing Don Rumsfeld's dirty bidding well know. As I had excerpted here:

The struggle was lost during the interrogation of a 21-year-old Saudi. The man was believed to have taken flight training with two of the September 11th hijackers. Interrogators got nothing from him. After each gruelling session, he returned to his cell and prayed, but a female interrogator sought to break him by making him feel dirty before his God. With the prisoner shackled in an uncomfortable position, she unbuttoned her blouse and began rubbing her breasts against him. “Do you like these big American tits?” she asked. She made another sexually crude remark, then added, “How do you think Allah feels about that?”

The prisoner spat in her face. She grew cruder. She told him she was having her period, unbuttoned her military trousers and wiped what she said was menstrual blood on his face (it wasn't blood; it was from a red magic marker). He screamed but did not break. Outside the room, she began to cry. So too did Mr Saar. “I hated myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. He went home, and took a shower, but “there wasn't enough hot water in all of Cuba to make me feel clean.”

This is corrupting. And sickening.

So no Glenn, you win. Andrew is excitable, preening, inaccurate, pompous, hyperbolic and tiresome on this issue. So much so, indeed, that you wouldn't put yourself in a position to lend your significant intellectual gifts and authority (against your better instincts, I suspect), to call bullshit, loud and often, on a flawed policy that has harmed us immensely on the global stage. (Note: That said, Glenn does have a point. Why did Sullivan go after him so much on the issue, when it's true, he has stated he is against torture. I suspect it's because, like me, Sullivan respects Glenn, much more than many others who've been on the other side of this issue, and so has been frustrated he wasn't more proactive in condemning those who advocated codifying a right to torture in American law).

Look, when you talk to serious people, people who have run major embassies or who have multiple stars on their uniforms, they are outraged that we have had to have a three year long debate about whether Americans can legally be allowed to torture (or were attempting to define torture down so much that a 'humaness' standard, particularly in the context of a countervailing 'military necessity' test, became largely meaningless). As David Ignatius has written, torture related issues amount and evoke directly America's very "seed corn". We just don't do it. Ever. Why? Because it's against all the better instincts of our national character. We are a moral nation, so we don't stoop to the barbarism of our enemies. We are a pragmatic, utilitarian people, so we don't engage in tactics that will often lend to dubious information regardless. We are an intelligent people, and so we realize that the cost of allowing torture (whether by military personnel or CIA interrogators or other USG employees, putting the rendition issue aside for the moment) will do us tremendous harm in terms of our moral authority.

9/11 rattled a lot of nerves. I know, as I was in downtown Manhattan that day, and it remains a formative event in my life. Today, I live in the southern fringes of Tribeca, mere blocks from Ground Zero. I hope for the further rebirth of the community I live in, in this greatest of cities. So you will believe me when I say I harbor no sympathy for despicable, evil men like KSM, who planned this ghastly mass-murder. They are odious individuals that deserve to rot in hell. But, make no mistake, it is American heroes like John McCain that have dealt a blow to the KSMs and ilk this week. He's forced upon this White House a return to decency on an issue that is a hallmark of this nation. And by so doing, he's helped deal a real blow to al-Qaeda. They are seeking to tear apart the fabric of our society, our rule of law, what makes us special and distinguishes us as beacon of freedom in a still so dangerous world. They want to chip away at the wondrous civilization we've created, the better to hand propaganda gifts to them so they can better recruit and fan the flames of inter-civilizational hate.

What John McCain has accomplished was simply to re-assert that our policy remains compliant with what has stood us in good stead since the inception of these United States. Historian David Hackett Fischer writes, in his book Washington's Crossing (hat tip here): "Always some dark spirits wished to visit the same cruelties on the British and Hessians that had been inflicted on American captives. But Washington's example carried growing weight, more so than his written orders and prohibitions. He often reminded his men that they were an army of liberty and freedom, and that the rights of humanity for which they were fighting should extend even to their enemies. ... Even in the most urgent moments of the war, these men were concerned about ethical questions in the Revolution." This is what makes us different. Our seed corn. To dispense with this and call the criticism of the abuse and tortures that have taken place as mere preening or assorted pieties is to countenance a severe diminution of the moral fiber of this nation. But these should be inviolable, non-negotiatable tenets--not fodder for endless rounds of debate.

Charles Krauthammer writes:

Which brings us to the greatest irony of all in the torture debate. I have just made what will be characterized as the pro-torture case contra McCain by proposing two major exceptions carved out of any no-torture rule: the ticking time bomb and the slow-fuse high-value terrorist. McCain supposedly is being hailed for defending all that is good and right and just in America by standing foursquare against any inhuman treatment. Or is he?

According to Newsweek, in the ticking time bomb case McCain says that the president should disobey the very law that McCain seeks to pass--under the justification that "you do what you have to do. But you take responsibility for it." But if torturing the ticking time bomb suspect is "what you have to do," then why has McCain been going around arguing that such things must never be done?

As for exception number two, the high-level terrorist with slow-fuse information, Stuart Taylor, the superb legal correspondent for National Journal, argues that with appropriate legal interpretation, the "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" standard, "though vague, is said by experts to codify . . . the commonsense principle that the toughness of interrogation techniques should be calibrated to the importance and urgency of the information likely to be obtained." That would permit "some very aggressive techniques . . . on that small percentage of detainees who seem especially likely to have potentially life-saving information." Or as Evan Thomas and Michael Hirsh put it in the Newsweek report on McCain and torture, the McCain standard would "presumably allow for a sliding scale" of torture or torture-lite or other coercive techniques, thus permitting "for a very small percentage--those High Value Targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed--some pretty rough treatment."

But if that is the case, then McCain embraces the same exceptions I do, but prefers to pretend he does not. If that is the case, then his much-touted and endlessly repeated absolutism on inhumane treatment is merely for show. If that is the case, then the moral preening and the phony arguments can stop now, and we can all agree that in this real world of astonishingly murderous enemies, in two very circumscribed circumstances, we must all be prepared to torture. Having established that, we can then begin to work together to codify rules of interrogation for the two very unpleasant but very real cases in which we are morally permitted--indeed morally compelled--to do terrible things.

No. McCain is right. Torture can never be legally preordained as an acceptable tactic, even against the monsters we face. It must remain a crime to engage in it, without exceptions, and interrogators must be held accountable for their actions. They may, under the totality of the circumstances, be pardoned or otherwise excused when the full facts come to light. But ex post, not ex ante. Again, to enshrine a right to torture in the law, even under very limited circumstances, has terrible ramifications, as it violates core American values that have stood us in good stead since the very inception of the Republic. (And regardless, what is a "slow fuse" Mr. Krauthammer? One of the legions of Zarqawi lieutenants seemingly caught every other day in Iraq? A Fallujan who may know where the next IED is? What Cabinet Minister will we call to get permission to torture these individuals? Will we pull Condi Rice out of her ministerials to so authorize? This is not serious, I fear). No, the right course is the one the American legislature has taken on this issue contra Dick Cheney, and Krauthammer, and Levin, and so many others.

We must now prepare ourselves for the hysterical shrieks that will result when and if the next terror attack occurs, perhaps more terrible than 9/11, where people will cast about for those culpable. McCain will likely be pilloried by some, even if there is not a shred of credible evidence that some interrogation in Romania or such--had we been able to take the gloves off a bit beyond what Army Field Manual complaint doctrine allowed--would have averted the catastrophe. There will be new attempts, particularly if the crime is terrible in scope, to allow for a right to torture to be codified in American law. Fake arguments will be ginned up that, but for McCain, the plot might have been stopped! So, yes, this struggle against those who would set aside our best traditions--developed over the centuries and through many traumas indeed--will face many challenges ahead. But for the time being, the better argument prevailed. National honor was restored, and we are all the better for it. And, in the main, we have Senator McCain to thank for it. Thank you Senator.

UPDATE: God knows Glenn, I'm not "without flaw" either. Nor, by the way, did I mean to suggest that Glenn's view is that of Levin's. It is not.


Posted by Gregory at 11:50 PM | Comments (99) | TrackBack

We Get Comments

A commenter in a previous thread has some fun on B.D's account:

In a fog of cuteness comes a voice snippy and arch
Tis Belgravia Bob's latest snobbish demarche
It's not whether the troops are too many or too few
Nor whether we stay or simply skidoo
The matter is this, as simple as can be:
How today can I say I'm smarter than thee?
Complexity is better (even when it's invented)
Than anything optimistically presented
Even with analysis thin, and logic astray
And even when kissing up windbag Henry the K
So long as its fuzzily negative and not too specific
Andrew Sullivan might get others to click it.

Touche. We'll try to tone the pompousness and Henry the K wind-bag tendencies down a notch, promise!


Posted by Gregory at 11:35 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Chicago School

He writes about Nietzsche (or Simon May writing about Nietzsche) so deliciously.

Posted by Gregory at 04:34 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 15th 2005: A Day of (Cautious) Hope and Optimism

The big story today was Sunni turnout. It was very high, and despite all the immense challenges ahead, no judicious observer can deny that this December 15th has been a happy day in the history of Iraq. Ballot-boxes may prove to be but a short-term strategy for the Sunnis, and force of arms may be resorted to again in even greater number than in the past if developments deteriorate, but there is nothing inexorably negative about Iraq's future, it is worth recalling sometimes amidst all the strum und drang (though I can't stress enough again the enormity of the challenges that await). And it was telling to see today how Sunnis wielded their votes with pride and dignity. They plainly enjoyed this exercise of sovereignty, and the memory of that enjoyment has real value. To them, and to us. Still, we cannot really predict the future, except to have the humility to realize that random happenstance, good decisions and bad ones, the actions of states near and far, and myriad other variables--all will play their roles in the coming months as Iraq continues its voyage towards a variety of possible scenarios that remain unknowable at the present time. But in the immediate future, we must now wait and see how parliamentary representation is going to develop, and who the new leader of Iraq will be.

Some brave souls, like Bob Blackwill, have been courageous enough to offer up predictions earlier in the week:

ROBERT D. BLACKWILL: Well, first of all, I’d say that handicapping an election on Monday that’s going to take place on Thursday is probably not the smartest thing to do. But courage—I’ll proceed.

Just to remind you, there are 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament. In the last election, January election, the Shi’a Alliance got 140 seats, so an absolute majority in that election. The Kurds were at 75 seats, and Allawi’s party was at 40. And the Sunnis had, if I remember correctly, 16, because, of course, they didn’t participate. And it was a national election, one constituency, so it favored turnout.

This election will be quite different. It is organized by provinces. And of course the Sunni are—every sign—going to participate widely and enthusiastically in this election.

So let me take a guess here—as I say, somewhat foolhardy, but luckily, no one’s watching, and it’s not on the record, so what’s there to risk?

First, start with the Shi’a Alliance. All of the parties that are in the coalitions that I described before are going to have fewer seats, because the Sunnis are going to have more. So start there.

Yes, as you look toward Thursday and then afterwards, when the votes are counted, I think a crucial analytical question are—is the Shi’a Alliance over a hundred or under a hundred? And how much over a hundred? Question number one.

I was in Iraq two weeks ago, and this of course is the buzz around the country. But—so that’s question one.

If I had to guess, between 100 and 125. But of course it makes a lot of difference if it’s on the low end or the high end, with regard to forming a governing coalition.

The Kurds will be down, maybe in the 50s, low 60s, perhaps.

The—Allawi is coming on fast, apparently, in Baghdad, especially. So I don’t know whether it’ll be 40-ish. Could be lower. Could be somewhat higher.

And then the Sunnis, 40 to 50.

Now let me say that those are the numbers depending on you—how you count them—and then 15 or so other members of Parliament.

Depending on how you calculate them, you could just barely imagine a coalition being put together of other than the one led by the Shi’a Alliance. You could just barely imagine that.

If you were Ladbrookes and you were touting it today, you’d tout it that the next prime minister of Iraq is going to be from the Shi’a Alliance, if you had to guess. And if you had to guess, it would be Adel Abdul Mahdi, who is the current vice president of Iraq, the Shi’a vice president, a former finance minister, member of the Governing Council and so forth.

And what of Adel Abdul Mahdi?

Here's Blackwill's take:

I know him well and I have very high regard for Abdul Mahdi, very high regard. And he has had as a preoccupation Sunni outreach for a long time. It was difficult to find an instrumental way to pursue that as vice president of Iraq, since there are very few powers and authorities that reside in that office; and of course, as finance minister, even less. I think he’ll reach out. But again, the—as—if he is the prime minister, he’ll be the prime minister of a group, a substantial part of which is deeply emotional about the Sunnis and the terrorism that the Sunnis, in their view, visited on them for decades and decades and decades. So in that respect, he’s like a democratic politician trying to manage his base, if I may put it like that. And that will be no easy thing to do.

Because, as I say, when one discusses—as I have many, many times with Shi’a—the idea of outreach to the Sunnis, they instinctively say two things, neither of which is helpful to reconciliation. The first is, of course, the history; this dreadful history of tens of thousands and maybe even hundreds of thousands of Shi’a being in mass graves in the Iraqi desert. But the second is more recent, that is to say, the Sunni bombings of Shi’a mosques; and if one says to them, which they often accept, “Well, these aren’t even Iraqi Sunnis; these are others,” still doesn’t always carry the day with them. So he’s going to have a substantial challenge to face.

But at the same time, if the Kurds are in, and especially if Allawi is in, which is a possibility, and then, if the Sunnis are involved in the domestic politics, as they will be of Iraq, I’m hopeful that all those pressures together will—to finally like this—will help produce the outcome—which you imply and I think all of us would agree—is a much greater Sunni political participation in the government.

I will be surprised if the Sunnis are not represented in a substantial way in the government. Because for them to make the decision to forego any ministerial seats when the next election is not scheduled for four years, would be an enormous decision on their part, when there’s, again, not much of a tradition of the loyal opposition in Iraq, which, of course, in the Saddam period was murdered.

IGNATIUS: Perhaps since you do know Abdul Mahdi well, if you could share with us, you know, anecdote, just a sense of him as a person. He may soon be the decisive personality in Iraq. He’s not well known in this country. So much will be riding on him and his judgment, his personal qualities. Just say a little bit more about him, and why you think he might be an appropriate person.

BLACKWILL: Well, he’s French educated, has a couple of degrees in economics from French universities. He is a quiet, reserved person, so there’s no energetic flamboyance about him. He has spent, as many of these Iraqi figures have, in Saddam’s prison. He’s been tortured in Saddam’s prison system. He is very cosmopolitan, lived years of his life in Paris, and has been regarded inside Iraq as one of the very most competent people involved in the Governing Council, then in the Iraqi Interim Government and now as vice president.

My own view is that he is—he’s very competent. His political skills I think to some degree have yet to be tested in the way we were describing it because this will be a substantial political challenge. But, as I say, he is a formidable person.

Whoever wins, and forms a government, as Blackwill points out, will have to gain 2/3 parliamentary approval sometime in January of '06. This will force the key individuals forming the government to strive to be broad-based, though a risk still exists of some Shi'a-Kurdish condominium (or religious alliances, among other perhaps unsavory combinations). Still, however, I remain optimistic a decent Sunni contingent will be supportive of this new government, particularly if Sunnis are given some key ministries (I'd like to see them get the Ministry of Defense, for instance). All this said, as I've been writing of late, the obstacles facing this new government will be very considerable. There is the insurgency which, while weakened, still poses a real threat. There is Iranian trouble-making in the south (which will increase with American and British draw-downs), and continued Syrian reticence to make a truly serious attempt to make their border with Iraq less porous. And then, of course, there are several very fundamental issues facing the new Iraq which, while not intractable, pose immense challenges. Some of them are discussed here:

I would say the most critical issue is that which has been referred to as “federalism,” but goes much deeper than that and connects with all kinds of other issues. It really has to do with the relative strengths of the central government and of the regional and provincial governments. The constitution seems to tip the balance very much in the favor of the latter. I would say that’s connected to other issues: These include oil resources and revenues and how those are going to be distributed; the make-up of the security forces; and to even some extent, ethnic and sectarian issues. The provincial borders tend to reflect some ethnic and sectarian division in Iraq. There are some other issues that are controversial as well, such as those regarding Islam and the country’s identity and to what extent it can be described as an Arab country. But I would say the key, practical differences really relate to the division of powers between the center and regional governments.

So, to close, and with limited time to write more, let me say that I am in cautiously optimistic mood today--while positively thrilled to see the outpouring of joy and happiness and dignity of ordinary Iraqis exercising their right to vote. I am also very gratified to witness the continued fine work of our Ambassador to Baghdad, heartened by the appearance these past months of a significantly more sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign, happy to see the State Department explicitly handed the reins on reconstruction efforts (after the bumbling mishaps of the civilian leadership of the Pentagon), and not wholly unrelatedely by any stretch, I am so proud of Senator McCain (who never appeared more a shadow President than today, this was his biggest 'win' since New Hampshire) for dealing a defeat against al-Qaeda (yes, you read that right) of which I'll have and explain more over the weekend. This was a fine day indeed for those who believe our "better angels", as Lincoln put it, will prevail--both in Iraq and the United States. Despite all the massive challenges that await, let us put December 15th 2005 among the days that belong to hope and optimism, rather than dismay and fear.

December 15, 2005

Pamuk's Trials

Don't miss this interesting piece from Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk:

Last February, in an interview published in a Swiss newspaper, I said that “a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey”; I went on to complain that it was taboo to discuss these matters in my country. Among the world’s serious historians, it is common knowledge that a large number of Ottoman Armenians were deported, allegedly for siding against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and many of them were slaughtered along the way. Turkey’s spokesmen, most of whom are diplomats, continue to maintain that the death toll was much lower, that the slaughter does not count as a genocide because it was not systematic, and that in the course of the war Armenians killed many Muslims, too. This past September, however, despite opposition from the state, three highly respected Istanbul universities joined forces to hold an academic conference of scholars open to views not tolerated by the official Turkish line. Since then, for the first time in ninety years, there has been public discussion of the subject—this despite the spectre of Article 301.

If the state is prepared to go to such lengths to keep the Turkish people from knowing what happened to the Ottoman Armenians, that qualifies as a taboo. And my words caused a furor worthy of a taboo: various newspapers launched hate campaigns against me, with some right-wing (but not necessarily Islamist) columnists going as far as to say that I should be “silenced” for good; groups of nationalist extremists organized meetings and demonstrations to protest my treachery; there were public burnings of my books. Like Ka, the hero of my novel “Snow,” I discovered how it felt to have to leave one’s beloved city for a time on account of one’s political views. Because I did not want to add to the controversy, and did not want even to hear about it, I at first kept quiet, drenched in a strange sort of shame, hiding from the public, and even from my own words. Then a provincial governor ordered a burning of my books, and, following my return to Istanbul, the Şişli public prosecutor opened the case against me, and I found myself the object of international concern...

...The hardest thing was to explain why a country officially committed to entry in the European Union would wish to imprison an author whose books were well known in Europe, and why it felt compelled to play out this drama (as Conrad might have said) “under Western eyes.” This paradox cannot be explained away as simple ignorance, jealousy, or intolerance, and it is not the only paradox. What am I to make of a country that insists that the Turks, unlike their Western neighbors, are a compassionate people, incapable of genocide, while nationalist political groups are pelting me with death threats? What is the logic behind a state that complains that its enemies spread false reports about the Ottoman legacy all over the globe while it prosecutes and imprisons one writer after another, thus propagating the image of the Terrible Turk worldwide? When I think of the professor whom the state asked to give his ideas on Turkey’s minorities, and who, having produced a report that failed to please, was prosecuted, or the news that between the time I began this essay and embarked on the sentence you are now reading five more writers and journalists were charged under Article 301, I imagine that Flaubert and Nerval, the two godfathers of Orientalism, would call these incidents bizarreries, and rightly so.

That said, the drama we see unfolding is not, I think, a grotesque and inscrutable drama peculiar to Turkey; rather, it is an expression of a new global phenomenon that we are only just coming to acknowledge and that we must now begin, however slowly, to address. In recent years, we have witnessed the astounding economic rise of India and China, and in both these countries we have also seen the rapid expansion of the middle class, though I do not think we shall truly understand the people who have been part of this transformation until we have seen their private lives reflected in novels. Whatever you call these new élites—the non-Western bourgeoisie or the enriched bureaucracy—they, like the Westernizing élites in my own country, feel compelled to follow two separate and seemingly incompatible lines of action in order to legitimatize their newly acquired wealth and power. First, they must justify the rapid rise in their fortunes by assuming the idiom and the attitudes of the West; having created a demand for such knowledge, they then take it upon themselves to tutor their countrymen. When the people berate them for ignoring tradition, they respond by brandishing a virulent and intolerant nationalism. The disputes that a Flaubert-like outside observer might call bizarreries may simply be the clashes between these political and economic programs and the cultural aspirations they engender. On the one hand, there is the rush to join the global economy; on the other, the angry nationalism that sees true democracy and freedom of thought as Western inventions...

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 12:43 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Heck of a Job Brownie, Redux

Bush interviewed by Brit Hume on Fox:

HUME: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, thanks.

HUME: Good to see you, sir.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

HUME: I want to ask you about some of the people around you and your relationship with them and how they stand with you.

BUSH: Sure.

HUME: Secretary Rumsfeld, how does he stand with you?

BUSH: Good. He's done a heck of a job. He's conducted two wars, and at the same time is out to transfer my military from a military that was constructed for the post-Cold War to one that is going to be constructed to fight terrorism.

HUME: Is he here to stay, as far as you're concerned, until the end of your term?

BUSH: Yes. Well, the end of my term is a long time, but I'll tell you, he's doing a heck of a good job. I have no intention of changing him.

It's odd. Bush, of late, has risen somewhat in my esteem given that he's been significantly more candid regarding errors committed in Iraq. And then he has a 'heck of a job Brownie' moment, like this one re: Rummy, and I remember Harriet Miers, and Katrina, and the torture policy, and the blunders in Iraq and, well, I get all down on him again. It reminds me of a David Brooks comment about Bush on Meet the Press a while back: "...you always got to go back to competence. And sometimes in my dark moments, I think he's "The Manchurian Candidate" designed to discredit all the ideas I believe in." Meantime, this Fox interview doesn't bode well for my earlier prognostications here (although he does say the "end of my term is a long time...") Still, maybe I should get out of the prediction business on this one...

Posted by Gregory at 04:35 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

E-Mail of the Day

Matt Chanoff writes in with a very interesting note:

I’m new to your blog (directed there from Andrew Sullivan’s) and very much appreciate your commentary, particularly the piece highlighting Henry Kissinger’s views on Iraq. Kissinger’s point that, if we signal a withdrawal, “…the political factions in Iraq will maneuver to protect their immediate assets in preparation for the coming test of strength that will seem to them inevitable between the various groups…” is directly parallel to Kissinger’s experience in Vietnam in 72 – ’74. At that time it was called “planting flags.”

But this sort of commentary will do nothing to stop it. The political dynamic surrounding the war here on the home front is all about concretizing a plan for winning and leaving. The President is painting himself into a corner where, if he’s losing or proved clueless, he’ll need to defer to people who want a timetable, and if he’s winning, he’ll have to signal it by starting to incrementally withdraw troops.

The challenge is to figure out a way to transform the political dynamic here so that it doesn’t undermine the chance to actually win there. My thought is that maybe instead of a timetable, we propose a roadmap. Domestically, a published roadmap could benchmark progress in a way that allows us to evaluate the administration’s strategy, and alleviate pressure for symbolic troop withdrawals. In Iraq, it could co-opt many of the people who want the U.S. out.

I think this roadmap idea may have legs. Can commenters help sketch out what the major roadmap milestones would be, and can we put something together that makes sense and can maybe get pitched around to people who might be interested in such an effort? At minimum, it seems to me, we need to a) wait out the inevitable emergence of highly controversial constitutional amendments and such that will rear their heads; b) ensure the creation of a fully trained and equipped Iraqi National Army with a multi-ethnic officer corps, mixed units, and a proven track record of success operating against hardened insugents without significant U.S. military personnel embedded (but perhaps with U.S. logistical and air support still); c) ensure, to a reasonable degree of comfort, no super-regions or flash-points like Kirkuk set off crises impacting the integrity of a centralized state; d) fix oil revenue sharing in a manner that will not unfairly prejudice the Sunnis; and e) monitor relations with neighbors, particularly Iran, Syria and Turkey (because of the Kurdish issue) to an extent that the prospects of a regionalization of the conflict are deemed de minimis. This is rapid fire and off the top of my head, as the hour is late, but I want to get people thinking on what the key road map components would be, so am offering up examples. Time frames must be implanted in all this too, and I'd welcome suggestions on when the kinds of things sketched out above might be accomplished in reader's views.

Posted by Gregory at 05:10 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

[If the U.S. left Iraq now] "obviously, we know that there would be a civil war, and a civil war could escalate in several ways. One, in which the Kurds would move to take things into their own hands rather than follow what they have agreed to in the constitution. Out of that, regional conflicts could erupt. There's also the possibility that the sectarian war would intensify, and you could have the start of a major long-term Sunni-Shia war that could engulf the entire Middle East. You could also get an Al Qaeda rump state emerging in western Iraq, establishing a caliphate of some kind, a little Talibstan, exporting terrorism--and these scenarios are not mutually exclusive."

--Zalmay Khalilzad, United States Ambassador to Iraq, as quoted in a John Lee Anderson piece in the Dec 19th New Yorker.

Read this closely a second time. He is saying that a) "obviously" there would be a civil war if we pulled out now, b) without naming specific countries, he is strongly intimating that the chances of Turkish intervention are potentially quite high pending developments in Kurdistan, c) he is, it appears from the phrasing, saying that there is already a sectarian war, in effect, and one that could intensify (and mightily) if we drew-down precipitously, d) that Zarqawi and Co could carve out something of an embittered Sunni para-state in the wilds of Anbar whose inhabitants would be forced to bow to fanatical religious reactionaries bent on exporting Islamic revolution and e) that all this could happen simultaneously even. This is quite possibly the one man in the American government who understands best the full panopoly of issues and threats we face in Iraq at the present hour. Sure, it's in his interests to make the stakes seem high, as he needs all the help he can get. Sure, as Zbig Brezinski has pointed out, the 'caliphate' talk gets a bit hyperbolic. Sure, it would take a lot to get the Turks rushing across an Iraqi border against American wishes. Sure a Sunni-Shia schism, under pressure in Iraq, will not inexorably lead to a Middle East region in flames. But, make no mistake, there is also realism and sobriety in this analysis. It's not just rank hyperbole, by any stretch. We are left, of course, concluding Khalilzad clearly wants coalition troops to stay, so that he certainly doesn't view a precipitous draw-down as the right strategy. No, this isn't some big surprise, but it couldn't be clearer. (He's not just saying that Murtha is wrong, but also that the empty triumphalist bromides you will hear from many tomorrow in imbecilic quarters of the right must be ignored, lest they impact policy-making and lead to overly confident, and so faulty, decision-making on matters like force levels, as we are still in the very early stages of an immensely complex endeavour).

Lately, incidentally, I've been seeing more realism in Bush's speeches. He explictly said in his Philly speech that all won't be swell after Thursday, and he strikes me of late as a man who is getting data points from more sources than before (read: not just Dick and Don), and grappling (if still tenuously) with the enormity of what he has bitten off. Bush needs to continue to hear from responsible conservatives, and members of the opposition party who wish to see us succeed in Iraq, the hard truths. That a truly capable Iraqi Army is years away from fruition (read Fallow's must read piece in the Atlantic for more, he too concludes the only way we can succeed is if we stay for the long haul), and that helping midwife a viable and unitary Iraqi polity with a democratic orientation and central government of requisite credibility is likewise years away. Do I believe we can, perhaps, draw-down to 100,000 by year end '06? Perhaps, just. But this should not be some pre-ordained Rumsfeldian goal, and we should plan for contingencies that have us forced to maintain the rough status quo through '06 and '07 (and perhaps beyond).

Iraq is not ready for prime time, so painfully obvious to us all, and contra the Kevin Drums, I can assure you the aggravating factor is less the continued presence of American troops, but what would happen if said U.S. troops suddenly took flight. It would be a disaster, one far worse that anything we've seen to date. Not only that, the appearance of a hasty draw-down scuttles are policy goals too. Why, if smart money in the Shi'a south believes we will scale back to 70,000 by '07, and try to exit fully by '08--why would they take seriously the notion that an Iraqi national army is really going to be adequately developed, equipped, and trained? That there will really be a strong central state to pledge allegiance to and fight for? It's only the Americans who hold the glue that can keep the (relatively moderate segments) of Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds together so as to map out the myriad compromises necessary, to sit firm through the needed maturation of political governance structures, and so on. This glue so to speak, will take time to congeal. And it can only do so under the umbrella of a robust American security presence.

After all, if I were a young Shi'a man sitting in Basra who thought the U.S. was leaving next year, I would just play pretend, and slap on a national army uniform if need be for appearances sake, but in actuality remain loyal to Badr (or Mahdi) militia, to take an example. Put differently, local actors are more likely to pursue maximalist agendas if they think the Americans, who are currently acting as umpire and arbitrator and facilitator, are instead set to leave. And maximalist agendas evoke Khalilzadian scenarios, none of which are good for the American national interest. These are the difficult choices we face at this hour, and I'm afraid that none of the options are easy ones to contemplate. But the least bad, in my considered judgment, is to continue to stand strong, diplomatically, militarily, economically, and otherwise--so as to keep on helping an Iraqi democracy take root. One that is not governed by Makiya's "furies" (say crude Shi'a revanchism or Kurdish hyper-nationalism) but by national institutions that have been tempered and developed with the passage of time.

This is not to say we must remain there in some protracted 30-years war. But anyone who thinks 2006 will somehow be the seminal year in this conflict lacks historical perspective and/or simply doesn't realize the magnitude of the task at hand. Which is one of the reasons I was so saddened by the display of political cowardice, myopia and cheapness we saw in Washington with the resolution declaring said year to be The Big One (translation: yes, yes, get the job done--but, hey, even if it's not--start showing us you are moving on so are constituents are less pissed at us). Look, I have spent time in Washington. I know how the Hill works. I well understand the pressure our armed services are facing, the budgetary constraints, the short attention span of this country (Katrina, anyone?). But we owe the Iraqi people a real attempt to face a future not wracked by internecine conflict and Lebanese style civil war. Don't we?

Posted by Gregory at 03:57 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

December 13, 2005

That Special Fingerspitzengefuhl

"When we were dealing with the Soviets, we had a lot of Soviet experts writing policy and making policy, but now we are dealing with part of the world that is so complicated and with so many factors at play. An incredible amount of resources have been allocated to it and will continue to be for years to come. I think that we need to add people, get the very best available. We do have great people at the top--Secretary Rice and the national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who think strategically. You know, the Germans say you have a 'fingertip feel'--Fingerspitzengefuhl--the sense of a place, you know how a place smells, how it feels. A strategist who doesn't have that innate sense about the area he's working on is going to get us in trouble. The U.S. government doesn't have enough people at the top who have that special sense about Iraq and the Middle East on their fingertips. We have the very best people working on it, but, given its importance, we need more."

--Zalmay Khalilzad, our man in Baghdad, as quoted by John Lee Anderson in a fascinating New Yorker profile (sorry, no link avail).

Funny that there are a few "people at the top" that Zalmay Khalilzad doesn't deign to mention. I wonder, off the record, whether our Ambassador in Baghdad thinks, say, Don Rumsfeld has that special Fingerspitzengefuhl quality. I think I know the answer, and it's a resounding no.

Posted by Gregory at 11:02 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Mehlis, Tueni, Etc.

Nadezhda has some insta-analysis well worth reading.

In-House Note: I'm on the road again, but will likely be able to post new content late evenings East Coast time during the week.

Posted by Gregory at 11:00 AM | Comments (1)

RIP

I've just heard the awful news of Gibran Tueni's assassination today. I met him at a dinner in 2002 in Beirut, and my heart goes out to him and his wonderful family. May he rest in peace.

Posted by Gregory at 02:11 AM | TrackBack

December 12, 2005

Cease The False Declarations of Victory! (We Implore You)

Kissinger just nails it (hat tip: RCP):

The views of critics and administration spokesmen converge on the proposition that as Iraqi units are trained, they should replace American forces – hence the controversy over which Iraqi units are in what state of readiness. But strategy based on substituting Iraqi for American troops may result in confirming an unsatisfactory stalemate. Even assuming that the training proceeds as scheduled and produces units the equivalent of the American forces being replaced – a highly dubious proposition – I would question the premise that American reductions should be in a linear relationship to Iraqi training. A design for simply maintaining the present unsatisfactory security situation runs the risk of confirming the adage that guerrillas win if they do not lose.

The better view is that the first fully trained Iraqi units should be seen as increments to coalition forces and not replacements, making possible accelerated offensive operations aimed at the guerrilla infrastructure. Such a strategy would help remedy the shortage of ground forces, which has slowed anti-guerrilla operations throughout the occupation. While seemingly more time-consuming, it would in fact present better opportunities for stabilizing the country and hence provide a more reliable exit route.

The actual combat performance of new units cannot be measured by training criteria alone. The ultimate metrics – to use Pentagon jargon – is to what extent they are motivated toward ultimate political goals. What they fight for will importantly determine how well they will fight.

A responsible exit strategy can only emerge from a subtle interplay of political and security elements – above all, the consolidation of a national government. Real progress requires that the Iraqi armed forces view themselves – and are seen by the population – as defenders of the national interests, not sectarian or regional ones. They will have become a national force when they are able to carry the fight into Sunni areas and grow willing to disarm militias, especially in the Shia regions from which the majority of them are recruited.

To delegate to military commanders the ultimate judgments as to the timing of withdrawals therefore places too great a burden on them. Their views regarding security need to be blended with judgments regarding the political and collateral consequences that a major new initiative inevitably produces. Such a balance presupposes that all sides in our domestic debate adopt a restraint imposed on us by the consequences of failure.

For the decision to start withdrawals will have a profound psychological impact, the most immediate of which will be on the Iraqi political structure. Will the initial reductions – set to begin sometime after the December election – be viewed as the first step of an inexorable process to rapid and complete withdrawal or as a stage of an agreed process dependent on tangible and definable political and security progress?

If the former [ed. note: the likelier scenario, in B.D.'s view], the political factions in Iraq will maneuver to protect their immediate assets in preparation for the coming test of strength that will seem to them inevitable between the various groups. The incentive to consider American preferences for a secular and inclusive government in a unified Iraq will shrink. It will be difficult to broaden the base of a government at the very moment it thinks it is losing its key military support. In these circumstances, even a limited withdrawal not formally geared to a fixed timetable and designed to placate American public opinion can acquire an irreversible character. [emphasis added]

I've been chiming on for months about these themes but, alas, B.D's no Henry Kissinger and my soap-box is quite a bit smaller. But it's all here. The fact that 'as they stand up, we'll stand down' is bunk (it should be instead that, as they stand up, we'll stand up with them). The fact that even Henry Kissinger is telling anyone who will listen we had too few troops in theater, thus slowing down counter-insurgency efforts these past years. The thinly veiled criticism of our poorly performing Secretary of Defense, who (as is is wont, avoiding any real assumption of responsibility) wants to have the commanders advise when troop draw-downs can take place (Kissinger points out the obvious, that such decisions in the Iraq context constitute critical political judgments too, not ones that are solely for the purview of generals in the field). Kissinger also makes the point that local actors, if they see the Americans pursuing a hasty draw-down, will start planning for a post-American future, thereby no longer unduly concerning themselves with fostering a strong central government and enshrining minority rights.

Yes, all this 'stay the course' stuff is all hokum and wasted talk and disingenuous hemming and hawing if the Murthas are right, and this whole Iraq adventure was but 'flawed policy wrapped in illusion' and so on. But is it, really? I don't think so, not based on the merits to date anyway. I remain hopeful that a functioning democracy can take root in Iraq over the next decade or so. But, make no mistake, it will take massive American involvement to get us to that still so elusive finish line. Look at Bosnia, for example. We've had troops in that country for over a decade, not to mention varied (and quite activist) proconsuls manning the helm and getting recalcitrant parties (like Hercogovinian Croats and Serbs in Repulika Srpska) to play ball together. The situation in Iraq is much more complex and difficult than many of the matters Paddy Ashdown handled with such aplomb in Bosnia. And if we mean to accomplish two critical goals, a) helping midwife a strong central government (albeit with federalist arrangements) that is democratic in nature and truly respects minority rights, and b) putting together a truly national army, with a multi-ethnic, professional officer corps not loyal to Badr or Mahdi or peshmerga or some Sunni tribe, but the Ministry of Defense of the democratic government of Iraq based in Baghdad--you better believe we've got a long road ahead indeed.

As Kanan Makiya, a keen observer of the Iraqi political scene, who supported intervention in Iraq, put it:

The 2003 Iraq war has indeed brought about an irreversible transformation of politics and society in Iraq. But this transformation has not consolidated power, as the great revolutions of the past have tended to do (in France, Russia and even Iran), nor is it distributing power on an agreed upon and equitable basis, as happened after the American Revolution and as Iraqi liberal democrats like myself had hoped would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Rather, it is dissipating it. And that is a terrifying prospect for a population whose primary legacy from the Saddam Hussein era is a profound mistrust of government in all its forms.

By ceding and dismissing centralized power, Iraqis may end by ceding all their power. Iran in the short run, and the Arab world in the long run, will fill the vacuum with proxies, turning the dream of a democratic and reborn Iraq into a dystopia of warring militias and rampant hopelessness.

Later, Makiya speaks of the "furies" we've unleashed in Iraq. Managed over many years yet, with active American involvement helping sheperd the process through the many challenges to come, these furies might yet lead to a functioning (if often unwieldy) democracy in the heart of the Arab world. This would be an historic accomplishment of the first order. But we are still very far from this goal indeed, as people like Kanan Makiya and Henry Kissinger and John McCain and Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan and, yes, the proprieter of this blog--have been arguing frequently in varied fora. One of the key dangers in all of this, it might be pointed out, are false declarations of victory (that, in turn, help lead to too rapid deadlines that, despite attempts to conceal any linkage, are often really more related to American political calendars than actual conditions on the ground in Iraq). Come December 15th, if the elections move forward without catastrophe (which they will), there will be much euphoria about what a massive step has taken place, and there will be declarations of victory aplenty. But these triumphalist notes are dangerously premature indeed, as serious observers well realize. To be sure, who but the greatest cynics can remain unmoved at the specter of the veritable birth of modern, post-Saddam Iraqi politics, with myriad political parties sprouting up, and even formerly hostile Sunnis being urged to take up the ballot box rather than the gun (if only temporarily)? But still, minimizing the endemic violence, the myriad perils still facing Iraq, and just speaking breezily about a normalization of Iraqi politics (bombings happen a lot in the Arab world, after all!) is just bunk. Yes, it is irresponsible in the extreme to have already declared victory. And so I offer up Exhibit A, via various E-mails to me over the past two days, namely this gem from Australian blogger Richard Fernandez, known as Wretchard in the blogosphere, who writes about Iraq:

Victory when it came, was both greater and less; more partial and more complete than expected. It did not take the European form of parades down the Champs Elysee [sic], followed by a return to old and establish ways of governance. What the destruction of the Ba'athist regime did was reanimate long suppressed local and ethnic interests and channel them into competition through the ballot box -- with the occasional recourse to violence. Tremendous forces have been unleashed which critics of the war will point to as signs of an incipient civil war, but which supporters of OIF will describe as a newly liberated society feeling its way forward.

Now it's true, Fernandez, who in his evidently irrepressible optimism has become something of a Juan Cole of the Right (neatly inverting Cole's pessimisme de la gauche), I'm afraid to say, plays to an audience of commenters with names like "Pork Rinds for Allah" and "Vercingetorix" and other such farcical monikers that elicit giggles in more comme il faut company. They eagerly imbibe the ready dispensation of gravitas-infused essays from points Down Under, dressed-up with ponderous, near inscrutable sounding titles like the "Three Conjectures" (read it, it's the product more of schoolboy fantasy than policy analysis, replete with laugh-inducing numerical charts about "Islamic losses" vs. "Non-Islamic losses" in soi disant 'modeled' nuclear exchanges, and requisite mention of the dearth of a "red telephone," so that the crazy Ayatollahs can't be rung up to halt all the nuclear madness, alas, and intimations about all the "uncontrollable escalation" inexorably resulting in grim apocalypse for all the hapless Mahomedans in our midst). Through all this pulse-quickening fare, one espies a barely concealed Islamo-phobia of the most ignorant kind (Wretchard gravely advises his readers, in his latest declaration-of-victory-post, that "Arabs aren't all the same". Well no, they're not Wretchard, as we've known for some time now, just as Filipinos or Aussies, for that matter, aren't all the same either, I would have thought, no?). Said rank ignorance (or is the appropriate word in the lexicon dhimmitude, one forgets?) of the Arab world is crossed with rather wild Dr. Stranglovian speculations that would force even, say, a Charles Krauthammer to admonish a too excitable tutee about the perils of overly enthusiastic devotion to doctrinal exuberances.

But Fernandez does have a talent, it must be said, at dressing up such adolescent, under-informed, near hysterical cogitation into masters thesis sounding fare, the type that leaves more impressionable readers with the feeling of having been positively blinded by varied epiphanies about the Bold Steps so urgently needed--the better so that the Battle against Islamofascists can be bravely carried forth to final victory (you see, we've only won in Iraq, so far, alas). I mean, what does this sentence, haphazardly plucked from the Conjectures 'piece', bloody mean? "Due to the fixity of intent, attacks would continue for as long as capability remained. Under these circumstances, any American government would eventually be compelled by public desperation to finish the exchange by entering -1 x 10^9 in the final right hand column: total retaliatory extermination." Well, I've been careful here, even sat down and poured myself a stiff drink so as to steady the nerves, given the near panic-inducing import of all this heady algebraic-looking chart-making (maybe it's dark memories of high school pre-calculus that have me all in a tizzy!). And so, with some trepidation, I've just now taken another guarded peek at the chart, and I think it means this, in plainer English sans all the hifalutin' numbers: namely, that every Muslim in the world would be dead (that's the -1X10^9 position, folks). Why? Because they achieved nuclear capability, set off a bomb in Tulsa or something, and as no rational actors are sitting about the Kremlin chatting with POTUS sur le telephone rouge to calibrate all the tit-for-tat, we're all heading to hell in a handbasket, with Mecca in the cross-hairs as thrilling end-note coda. Or some such. But perhaps I'm missing something, and Pork Rinds for Allah or Vercingetorix or some other groovily-named commenter can educate naive simpletons like myself who Just Don't Get It, that is, all the thrilling high-jinx Bunker-Speak animating various swaths of the blogosphere.

But I digress. My point in this little spot of blog poo-pooing fun? Anyone who would declare victory at this juncture is either genuinely delusional, or the cheapest of hacks. On the delusional prong, others have put it far better than I. As a recent E-mailer put it to me: "When your ideology is a function of theology, reality matters not a whit. You create reality with language. We're seeing the consequences of faith-based warmaking". Yes, and faith-based blogging too, which depresses me so as, for months now, what I've tried to project in this blog is that real victory in Iraq cannot be measured for years yet, and patience and fortitude and the long view are absolute prerequisites to getting to the finish line. Empty talk re: how victory today doesn't include parades down the Champs Elysees, or defining victory down so that it constitutes little more than an Iraq wracked by endemic violence in some civil-war era Lebanon-like scenario, well it might earn Wretchard some kudos in his comments sections, and rah-rah and bully to him for it, but it's certainly not doing anyone favors in terms of serious policy debate in places like Washington and New York. Certainly not regarding how to carry this massive Iraq project--one still fraught with such peril--forward to a successful conclusion. Look, I've read some of Wretchard's previous writings with interest and, yes, occasional admiration. But I'm sick and tired of these fake declarations of victory, as I think they do a real disservice to prosecution of the war effort (they are the flip side of the coin, but not dissimilar in ultimate effect, to the defeatism of a Howard Dean). Thus my indignation, and my pot shots in the direction of precincts like the Belmont Club. We'll try to move back into non-rant mode tomorrow night...

Posted by Gregory at 12:30 AM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

December 11, 2005

Rummy's Final Act?

OK gang, I'm hearing from just about all over the place that Rummy's days are numbered. Recently, I was called a "tool" (nice!) in comments for having so ingloriously flip-flopped on being a (relatively) strong Bush supporter. The aggrieved commenter felt that I had, I guess, misled people in the pages of this blog (on predictions on how a second Bush term national security team would play out). Did I? I had predicted Doug Feith and Wolfowitz would get the heave-ho. They did. I had predicted that Rumsfeld would be out by '06 (I had hoped earlier), which he may very well (fingers crossed!). True, I had hoped Powell might stick around and Rumsfeld has out-lasted the former Secretary of State--and by a healthy margin too. Instead, Condi Rice got the nod and Powell exited stage left. But Condi's replacement at the NSC Steve Hadley is not a raving lunatic chomping at the bit to march into Damascus, and Condi (her recent somewhat wasted and tortured, pun intended, Euro tour aside) has been a relatively responsible player on the national security team. So yes, crucify me, I'd endorsed Bush on the basis of seeing through Iraq but have become increasingly disenchanted to the point, as I said, that his refusal to kick Rumsfeld out and rein in a wayward Cheney (on torture policy) forced me to no longer be a supporter. And yet. As I said, I am hearing Rummy might still get the heave-ho, and McCain and Graham and others are fighting the Veep valiantly on the torture issues (McCain has had numerous meetings with Hadley on this, and at least one with POTUS). Still, it's deeply shameful the Administration is being dragged along on this point so begrudgingly. I blame Cheney, bien sur. Indeed, my biggest error of judgment, in all this, was back in '04 when I still likely give Cheney too much credit as an ultimately relatively sober, judicious decision-maker. But, as Brent Scowcroft has said, Cheney's changed, materially, and not for the better (more here on this point worth a read). But from there to dismissing me as a misleading source of information on the back and forth of personnel in the national security ranks is a tad harsh, no?

But on to happier thoughts. I'm no Joe Lieberman uber-cheerleader, truth be told, and would rather see Gordon England promoted or maybe Sam Nunn (Gulf War I vote notwithstanding) replace Rumsfeld. But what other names are in the air as a possible replacement? I'm hearing that it might really happen, this time. True, Rummy said he has no plans to "retire." But no one expects Rummy to head off to the environs of Ft. Lauderdale to 18-hole it into the late sunset years. I attack him here a lot, but no one can doubt he works his ass off (at least on matters he cares about) and likes to be in the proverbial arena. So he could very well move on to another job (private sector or such), thus not retiring, really. Put differently, his recent comments may well be, to a fashion, a non-denial denial. The bottom line question is this: will he still be SecDef in 3-4 months? Smart money is increasingly betting no. Not least, he will be able to declare victory, of sorts, via the convenient vehicle of the Dec 15 elections (as his assorted minions and apologists and cheerleaders are already dutifully going about in the blogosphere). It's nothing of the sort, of course, but the key for the Bushies is that he not be seen to have been pushed out, and that he has a logical Big Date to say he was waiting for (again, Dec 15). Look, the world won't change the day he steps down. I know that. Rummy's exit is not some panacea that will allow for wondrous happenings being triggered through Iraq and the GWOT writ large. But we'll finally have had a belated accountability moment, and hopefully the individual who replaces him will actually focus on the war with more intent and seriousness than Rumsfeld has been able to muster. Anyway, what say you? And who should replace him? Yeah, I'll have a lot more egg on my face if I'm wrong on this (its happened before in other contexts!), and perhaps there is a good dollop of wishful thinking in the mix over here at B.D., but I really think this time he's moving off-stage. As I said, fingers crossed...

Posted by Gregory at 05:07 PM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Another Weekend Query

Truism: Saddam was one of the worst monsters of the latter half of the 20th Century, up there with odious genocidaires like the Ratko Mladics, Radovan Karadzics, Pol Pots, and those behind the grotesque carnage in Rwanda. So why is he being tried under increasingly carnival-esque conditions, rather than more, er, orderly proceedings at an International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, and why is the indictment based solely on crimes resulting from one solitary village (140 men allegedly slaughtered in Dujail) rather than items like what Samantha Power called the Kurdish Hiroshima (Halabja) or the great crimes perpetrated to the Marsh Arabs? To be sure, it is anticipated further going forward indictments are to be issued covering these even greater and more horrid crimes. But there is also much talk that the Dujail bill of goods was chosen as it is much more easily provable, and that a hasty death penalty judgement might be applied before Saddam is tried for war crimes like Halabja too. But wouldn't this be unfair to his thousands and thousands of other victims, should it come to pass in this fashion? Let's think big, and air the entire panoply of crimes in organized, methodical manner before the international community. Not least, it would remind many that a true villain had been removed from power. Yes, yes: it's is good the Iraqis themselves are manning the trial, we are advised. Healing the society and such, giving them a sense of vindication and justice to boot. But that would be truer if there was more something of a South African style Truth and Reconciliation Committee in place, no? The list of crimes and horrors is voluminous enough to so warrant. Further, the imprimatur of an internationally publicized trial emitting from the Hague, with defense counsel not being murdered hither dither, and more judicious application of judicial processes, would prove an ultimately more beneficial process for Iraqi society, I dare say. There is nothing magic about having the proceedings take place in-country, in my view. Especially if the indictment was more wide-ranging than the one currently on tap, which would likely require more time devoted to developing comprehensive indictments via systematic compilation of evidence and the like. Can we put this trial too in the category of disorganized, poor decision-making by U.S. and Iraqi policy-makers? Or am I missing something? Comment below, particularly any public international lawyers out there...

Posted by Gregory at 04:28 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Present at the Disintegration?

There are going to be a rash of victory declarations (brace yourselves!) in the advent of Thursday's elections. Before such cheery peeps get a bit too carried away, dare I suggest that they deign to read Makiya's must-read in the NYT today?

P.S. Tip for the uninitiated: Makiya was pro-war, so let's please not denigrate him as a hapless defeatist in comments.

Posted by Gregory at 03:33 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 10, 2005

A Saturday Query

I meant to ask this back on December 7th, but didn't have the time: 50 yrs or so from now--when major historians look back at the last 100-120 yrs of American history--what date will be deemed to have had a larger impact on the course of this nation's history, Dec 7, 1941 or Sept 11, 2001? There are a lot of angles to approach this essay at prognostication, but as 9/11 is so much fresher in all our minds, let me just remind readers of the critical import of America's decision to join the allies in WWII, ie. how the future of Europe was changed so materially, how an entire post-war security architecture was created by the likes of Dean Acheson that still exists to this day, how the post-war settlement helped lead to a fifty year Cold War with the Soviets, and so much more. Big stuff, all this, very obviously. There is also, of course, the post-Cold War era that lasted from the fall of the Berlin Wall to, I guess, 9/11 (though some would say the magnitude of 9/11, while huge, doesn't supersede the post-Cold War era so that, often, you hear that we are inhabiting both the post-Cold War and post-9/11 era, not merely the latter). Still, the post-Cold War era (remember Herbert Walker's New World Order?) now seems to have been relegated to something of footnote status, with the demons of unleashed nationalism that wracked the Balkans (and still do parts of the FSU), now so overshadowed by the reigning hegemon's robust pursuit of the global war on terrorism (nationalist fervor was often portrayed as one of the major potential perils stemming from the end of the Cold War). Comment away, please, and I hope to have analysis a bit down the road in terms of my take. Your input would be appreciated.

Posted by Gregory at 03:29 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

December 06, 2005

Blog Award Time!

Maguire:

She also saves us some research - Gregory Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch is in the running for Best Conservative Blog, and surely merits your consideration.

Oh, this just in - A closer reading of the Anchoress post reveals that I am in the finals against Mr. Djerejian and others. Troubling -as the Anchoress notes, it really is an honor just to be considered. On the other hand, I can't be endorsing someone else, now can I?

OK, forget Djerejian - he is even more off the reservation than I am, anyway, and doesn't even try to hide it. My new goal is this - I want to place high enough in this poll to play in a meaningful bowl game on New Years Day.

Heh. Off the reservation indeed. True-blue conservatives and Plameologists should vote Maguire then! Whoever you vote for, go here to do so. Last year I won "Best U.K. blog" (I was still living in London back then), this year maybe I'll get 14th place for "Best Conservative Blog" (if I'm lucky)! Go figure. [ed. note: Not exactly drumming up support in this category with posts like these, huh? Er, you think? But look at the bright side...my certain loss is another thing I can blame Don Rumsfeld for!]

P.S. I'm on the road again for work, this time on the West Coast. I frankly have no idea if I'll have time to blog, but if I do, it will be after 10 PM PST. Back in NYC late Thurs.

Posted by Gregory at 06:32 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

December 04, 2005

Memo to Secretary Rumsfeld: You Break It, You Own It

Our increasingly disgraceful Secretary of Defense at the podium last week:

Q If I may follow up. To what extent do you think these allegations of abuses by the Iraqi security forces, particularly some of the complaints and allegations from Sunni Iraqis that the largely Shi'a security forces are engaged in abuses, to what extent do you think that's an indicator that the Iraqi military -- Iraqi security forces are not yet ready to assume control of the country?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't think it is. I mean, you're going to have allegations back and forth. We're deeply concerned by -- that there could be conflict among the various elements in that country after the end of major combat operations, and there hasn't been, and that's a good thing. First of all, what we're doing is we're prejudging these remarks and allegations and reports, and I just can't do that. And what's going to happen is the Iraqi government is going to be formed after the December 15th election in two weeks -- whatever -- and it'll be seated by the 31st of December. The --

Q So it's your sense that these abuses are not a widespread problem that threaten the --

SEC. RUMSFELD: I -- my sense is I don't know. And it's obviously something that one has to be attentive to. It's obviously something that the -- General Casey and his troops are attentive to and have to be concerned about. It -- I'm not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away -- how many miles away? --

GEN. PACE: It's a long ways.

SEC. RUMSFELD: It's a long way -- 5,000, 6,000 maybe.

Yeah?

Q General Pace, there have been some critics who have said that you don't have enough troops to do this clear, hold and build strategy, especially along the border between Iraq and Syria. Do you --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Could I just -- stop right there. Please, let me just -- stop right there. Anyone who takes those three words and thinks it means the United States should clear and the United States should hold and the United States should build doesn't understand the situation. It is the Iraqis' country. They've got 28 million people there. They are clearing, they are holding, they are building. They're going to be the ones doing the reconstruction in that country --

Q Mr. Secretary, Senator --

SEC. RUMSFELD: -- and we do not have -- with 160,000 troops there -- the idea that we could do that is so far from reality. Nor was there any intention that we should do that.

Q Senator McCain suggested you don't have enough troops, U.S. troops and Iraqi forces that are qualified to be able to hold those areas, clear them and build them. Can you address that, and can you talk about perhaps some specifics in recent weeks where that may have been happening?

GEN. PACE: I think what you see most recently are the examples of the operations that have been taking place in the Euphrates Valley between Baghdad and the Syrian border. You're seeing the combination of U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces working side by side, many times with the Iraqi armed forces in the lead, taking cities from the -- I have to use the word "insurgent" because I can't think of a better word right now -- (soft laughter) -- take the --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Enemies of the Iraqi -- legitimate Iraqi government. How's that? (Laughter.)

GEN. PACE: What the secretary said. And then working along with the towns, leadership in those cities, to in fact have Iraqi police, Iraqi armed forces staying behind holding that territory for their government, and then the Iraqi government coming in and building up the infrastructure. So, very much along that model over the next coming months is what I believe we'll continue to see.

SEC. RUMSFELD: One of the biggest problems we have is, whether it's the Congress or the press or the American military --

Q How about the -- (word off mike)?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, forget the press then. Anybody. We have an orientation that tends to make us think that everything is our responsibility and that we should be doing this. It is the Iraqis’ country, 28 million of them. They are perfectly capable of running that country. They're not going to run it the way you would or I would or the way we do here in this country, but they're going to run it. And to suggest that every single thing that needs to be done in this country -- "Oh, the infrastructure's imperfectly protected; the Americans should do that, you don't have enough people to do that." Nonsense. We shouldn't have enough people to do that. It's the Iraqis' infrastructure. They're the ones who are going to suffer if the infrastructure isn't protected. "The borders can't be protected." Well, we can't protect our own border.

Q You make the point that --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Just a minute. Just a minute. Just a minute. Our problem is that any time something needs to be done, we have a feeling we should rush in and fill the vacuum and do it ourselves. You know what happens when you do that? First of all, you can't do it, because it's not our country, it's their country. And the second thing that happens is they don't develop the skills and the ability and the equipment and the orientation and the habit patterns of doing it for themselves. They have to do it for themselves. There isn't an Iraqi that comes into this country and visits with me that doesn't say that. They know that. They know that they're the ones that are going to have to grab that country. And it's time.

Q There's still a lot of training wheels on those bicycles.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure there are.

Q And you always talk about that holding the bike. But, I mean, there -- it doesn't seem like the numbers --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I think we've been passing over bases, we've been passing over real estate, we've been turning over responsibilities. I mean, what else can you do? Nothing happens at the same time in one fell swoop. This is hard stuff for them! It isn't going to be perfect. But by golly, the people who have been denigrating the Iraqi security forces are flat wrong! They've been wrong from the beginning! They're doing a darn good job and they're doing an increasingly better job every day, every week, every month, and they have to because it's their country.

Q Mr. Secretary, whenever you talk about security forces you focus primarily on the military. But what about the police? Reports that militia have either infiltrated or actually taken control of some police forces are really not a hypothetical, after all, the British had to shoot their way into Basra to retrieve a couple of their own soldiers. So what specifically is the U.S. military doing to help the Iraqis gain control of these militias within police forces and improve what has been described pretty much as an uneven performance by Iraqi police?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I forget when the Department of Defense assumed responsibility for the police.

GEN. PACE: About six months ago or so.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Maybe six months ago? So the data we have on it is nowhere near as good as the data we have on the Ministry of Defense forces. The Ministry of Interior forces, which the police are under, have been reporting up through the Department of State previously. And we're getting our arms around it. And some of the things that need to be done is to better connect the police with the Department of Defense forces so that they have a better connection. Some of the things that need to be done is to better connect the intelligence information with the police so that they can do a better job.

One of the big distinctions is the Iraqi military and Ministry of Defense forces have been hired nationwide and they're a mixture of Sunni and Shi'a and Kurds. The police forces function in a local area only, and they tend to be recruited from the local area. So there tends to naturally be a concentration of the population -- the nature of the population that exists in the area where that police district is. So that shouldn't come -- that's the same in our country. So that shouldn't come as a surprise. The police in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York tend to be people from that area. You know, the military in our country tends to come from all across the country, and that's a good thing.

Q And -- but fighting the insurgency --

SEC. RUMSFELD: But our data is not as good.

Q But aren't the police just as critical in fighting the insurgency?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. They're terribly important.

Q You have to begin at the street level, don't you?

SEC. RUMSFELD: They're terribly important, no question.

I've now come to the point where the continued inability of President Bush (who, after all, is our Commander in Chief) to fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for his repeated near dereliction of duty and (just shy of) criminal negligence have pushed me to a bursting point. It's not that I regret my criticisms of John Kerry, whom I believe never cared about the outcome of the war in Iraq in any serious, basic way and would have presided over a 'cut and run' as very quickly as possible. It's more that I should have remained on the sidelines, rather than support George W Bush in the pages of this blog. He didn't deserve my humble efforts here, I have learned the hard way. In the main, this is because of two major factors: 1) his inability to hold Rumsfeld accountable, and 2) his kow-towing to Dick Cheney on the torture issue where the clear way ahead is that of John McCain, and Victor Davis Hanson, and Thomas Kean, and so many other adult, responsible Republicans (who realize, if merely from an utilitarian perspective alone, putting aside the critical moral issues, what a disaster our detainee policy has been on so many levels). But look, through it all, my fundamental focus has been attempting to advocate policies that I thought would help us see through the war in Iraq to the very best of our abilities, and I've made my political and foreign policy choices based on my most considered judgments on this score. Even today, with Zalmay Khalilzad in Baghdad and Condeeleeza Rice at the State Department, and with our commanders on the ground in Iraq--I see significant improvement in the status of the so important train and equip program, in terms of gaining more Sunni buy-in into the political process, in terms of working with the Shi'a to attempt to enshrine basic minority rights and stave off crude majoritarianism, in terms of using Chalabi to rein in Sadr, in terms of keeping the sleeper issue of Kurdish federalism in check, in terms of containing flashpoints like Kirkuk. I see progress, real progress, put simply. Progress that was more likely under Bush than Kerry, and by a significant margin indeed.

But anyone who thinks we are now just in some 'closer' phase in Iraq--if only the Safireian nattering nabobs of negativism would just shut up domestically so we don't, as the saying goes, lose the war on the home front--well they've got their heads up their collective arses. The risks of defeat in Iraq are still very real--if we define defeat as falling short of our goal of leaving behind in Iraq a well-functioning, democratic polity that is unitary and viable. This is a still massively ambitious goal, with many years indeed left of real struggle if we mean to really secure it adequately. And we have someone manning the Defense Department in Donald Rumsfeld who clearly doesn't understand this (or if he perhaps does, as he's very intelligent, he nevertheless refuses to acknowledge it the better so as to facilitate a too hasty late '06/early '07 Iraqification--so he can pursue other pet projects and goals at the Pentagon). For this reason, of which more below, he must go.

Let's just take a quick look at this one press conference. Andrew Sullivan has already chronicled his far too sanguine and hands-off (if predictable) reaction to reports of torture taking place in facilities under the control of the new Iraqi government. Chairman of the Joints Chief Pace had to part company with Rummy on the issue, as the Sully quote well showcases. And another keen-eyed blogger sketches out Rumsfeld's disingenuousness and Clintonian-style word parsing here (Rummy and Cheney can swap word play parsing tips over their porches near Annapolis on the weekends, perhaps--I say 'last throes' Don, but you say 'enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government'!). But there is so much more in this press conference which is damning too, and I'd like to highlight it here today.

1) Rumsfeld doesn't even know when the Defense Department assumed responsibility for the Iraqi police--as the relevant portion of the press conference above indicates. He hasn't quite gotten his "arms around it", as he puts it, because, you see, State was running the ball before. Remember, the very kernel of our exit strategy is Iraqification, namely how quickly we have qualified Iraqi Army and Police forces able to maintain internal security there. Back in August, Rumsfeld didn't even know (or pretended not to as the number would have been so embarrasingly low) how many Iraqi Army units were capable of operating independently without any American support. Now this past week he basically doesn't have a clue when asked how to deal with the likely endemic militiazation of many Iraqi police force units.

But it's worse than this. It would be OK if we had a Defense Secretary who said it's going to be a bitch of a job, we have a tough task at hand indeed, I'm fully apprised of the situation, and I'm going to do all I can to get it done to the very best of my abilities. But Rumsfeld's default position is always to prefer to avoid any real responsibility. He seemingly revels in showcasing a certain nonchalance and what the French call je-m'en-foutisme. The Iraqi Army, you see, is doin' pretty hunky-dory. Cuz the Pentagon's been running that. But we've just gotten started with the Iraqi police forces, see, so the going is a bit rougher there. It's State's fault, really. Message: Kinda a drag, but we're (ugh) gonna start dealing with it--now that we have too.

But what bunk, all this, regardless! Rummy has had the main run of Iraq reconstruction until, finally, State was allowed to come and clean up some of his dismal messes after the first 18 months of the rampant clusterf*&k he presided over--often like a reckless, hubris-ridden amateur. Here is a Defense Secretary who didn't even game-plan for an insurgency (little wonder he doesn't like to use the word!). Here is a Defense Secretary who, when asked why he didn't want to pay the salaries of Iraqi government workers (so as to help stabilize some of the chaos that took root in post-war Iraq), responded that the images of rioting civil servants would have the salutary effect of causing the Euros to step in and pay their salaries instead! Here is a Defense Secretary who presided over the biggest moral disgrace to American forces in uniform since My Lai. Here is an occupation leader that declared 'stuff happens,' amidst the eruption of massive looting and chaos in the country's principal city, and was so tone-deaf as to only place American forces in front of the Oil Ministry! Yes, the catalogue of gross negligence is long, it's ugly, it's farcical Keystone Kops fare at times. So really, what is he still doing in his job? Who is kidding who here? Guess the sad joke is on us...

But there is more. Remember Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it. Same thing if you come in and disband it--like, say, the Iraqi Army (remember Bremer, who issued the order to disband the Iraqi Army, was a Rumsfeld-approved pick, and Bremer reported to Rumsfeld). Now a few years out Iraqi security forces, the main engine underpinning our exit strategy, are nowhere near being able to decisively prevail against the insurgents. On top of this, if we rush the job, we may be in reality training an Army that will then turn upon itself in a sectarian blood-bath, as Henry Kissinger and others have warned. Kenneth Pollack adds:

For Kenneth Pollack at the Saban Center that is not enough. He says Iraq has many other problems that are not being addressed because of the focus on the insurgency -- including, he says, growing organized crime, ethnic militias that harass and kidnap people from rival ethnic groups, and a corrupt and inadequate government structure that is incapable of keeping the troops supplied and combat-ready without substantial U.S. support.

"We are still years away from being at a stage where the Iraqi armed forces will be capable of handling the security missions in Iraq by themselves," he said.

Yes, years. If we had honest leaders they would just come out and tell us this. But we don't.

2) Then there are breath-taking comments like these: "We have an orientation that tends to make us think that everything is our responsibility and that we should be doing this. It is the Iraqis’ country, 28 million of them. They are perfectly capable of running that country. They're not going to run it the way you would or I would or the way we do here in this country, but they're going to run it. And to suggest that every single thing that needs to be done in this country -- "Oh, the infrastructure's imperfectly protected; the Americans should do that, you don't have enough people to do that." Nonsense. We shouldn't have enough people to do that. It's the Iraqis' infrastructure. They're the ones who are going to suffer if the infrastructure isn't protected. "The borders can't be protected." Well, we can't protect our own border."

Can you imagine the depth of the hubris and arrogance and shamelessness behind such comments? Securing the infrastructure of the country is a critical part of allowing for conditions of stability to take root there. And it's "nonsense" that we should "have enough people to do that"?!? No, I'm not saying we have to protect every last mile of pipeline there, of course. But you need to have at least adequately secured some of the basic infrastructure when you come in and occupy a country. No, this is just utter bullshit and abdication of responsibility on an epic, truly breath-taking scale. It's an international embarrassment is what it is. Again, folks, repeat after me: 'you break it, you own it'.

3) Relatedly, there is this bit: "Could I just -- stop right there. Please, let me just -- stop right there. Anyone who takes those three words and thinks it means the United States should clear and the United States should hold and the United States should build doesn't understand the situation. It is the Iraqis' country. They've got 28 million people there. They are clearing, they are holding, they are building. They're going to be the ones doing the reconstruction in that country...and we do not have -- with 160,000 troops there -- the idea that we could do that is so far from reality. Nor was there any intention that we should do that."

Rumsfeld might prefer to keep running McNamara-esque metrics and whack-a-mole in Mesopotamia, but the strategy of these United States, now that State has helped get a better counter-insurgency strategy in place is, lest we forget, as follows according to the President's very own Victory Strategy: "The Security Track involves carrying out a campaign to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency, developing Iraqi security forces, and helping the Iraqi government: Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven; Hold areas freed from enemy influence by ensuring that they remain under the control of the Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security force presence; and Build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society."

The Iraqis can't convincingly take the lead on this three-pronged counter-insurgency strategy just yet, alas, as serious observers well realize, so you better believe it's our Defense Department's responsibility to, at very least, clear and hold, and likely help build too. Again, however, no basic assumption of responsibility. It's like we are fighting a war with one arm tied behind our back, a recalcitrant Defense Secretary who wants nothing better than to get as many troops out as quickly as possible, results and policy objectives be damned, so as to move on to things more important in Rummy-land, whatever transformationalist nostrums du jour and what have you. Not only that, but we are also forced to be subjected to his messy try-outs of troop-lite strategy and skewed assumptions about nation-building that result from overly hyped concerns about fostering 'dependency'--among key actors in a state we are meant to secure and help democratize. (Let's worry about too much 'dependency' after we've better remediated conditions of rampant miliziation in Kurdish and Shi'a areas, resilient insurgency in Sunni ones, and frequent near-chaos in major urban centers).

4) Finally, at least in terms of chronicling the parade of horribles in this one press conference, there is this exchange: "It's [alleged Shi'a abuses/torture of Sunni detainees] obviously something that the -- General Casey and his troops are attentive to and have to be concerned about. It -- I'm not going to be judging it from 4,000 miles away -- how many miles away? -- GEN. PACE: It's a long ways. SEC. RUMSFELD: It's a long way -- 5,000, 6,000 maybe."

Translation: Abu Ghraib was far-away too. Thousands of miles. How can we, as leaders, be held responsible for the abuses of the troops under our command, or our local allies that we've similarly insufficiently trained and monitored. Why should I bother to seriously consider the massive harm such events have done to our international reputation and credibility? It's below me, you see? And I'm so far away anyway. Again, the Rumsfeldian default position: not my issue, not my problem. Simply not my responsibility. This is why I speak of near criminal negligence and dereliction of duty. Leaders, if the word means anything, must accept a modicum of responsibility for failures that occur on their watch--especially when so many of said failures result from muddled and erroneous policy-making stemming from the top-down. No, Rumsfeld needs to be fired. Until the President does so, and walks Cheney back on torture policy, he will not have this teensy-weensy blogger's support anymore. We've reached our bursting point, and we bid the Administration au revoir. This is not to say that I will not support Bush's efforts in Iraq, which I continue to maintain are superior to what the opposition party has on offer. But his seeming inability to call key subordinates to task--for shortcomings I truly believe are imperiling the war effort--forces me to part company. So, is it just 36 months to the next election?

Posted by Gregory at 07:11 PM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

Still Overselling?

From the Victory Strategy:

Significant progress has been made in wresting territory from enemy control. During much of 2004, major parts of Iraq and important urban centers were no-go areas for Iraqi and Coalition forces. Fallujah, Najaf, and Samara were under enemy control. Today, these cities are under Iraqi government control, and the political process is taking hold.

"(T)aking hold" is one way to put it, over Najaf way. That's one of the problems with the Victory Strategy doc. There's a bit too much over-selling for my taste sprinkled throughout the doc. After all, the reference to Najaf above as being under "enemy control" is, of course, a reference to when Sadr's insurrection was under way. But who really controls Najaf today? A pan-national multi-ethnic Iraqi Army, a bulwark of stability like, say, the Army in Turkey? Or mostly barely concealed Mahdi (with some Badr) militia whose basic allegiance runs to Sadr (or at least Shi'a rather than national interests)? My guess, alas, is more the latter.

And Fallujah? Surely great progress has been made there indeed. But is it "under Iraqi government control"?

WaPo:

A little more than a year ago, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops leveled much of Fallujah -- which had become Iraq's main insurgent stronghold -- in the largest offensive since the 2003 invasion. During two weeks of fighting, they established a strict cordon around the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad, establishing four heavily guarded entry points equipped with metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Following the assault, according to local politicians and military commanders, Fallujah had gradually become one of the safest and most stable cities in Anbar province, which spans the vast desert west of Baghdad to the Syrian border and is considered the heartland of the country's Sunni Arab-led insurgency. In August, 14 Marines were killed by a roadside bomb that tore apart their armored personnel carrier in the Anbar city of Haditha, but Fallujah has experienced little heavy fighting and few large-scale attacks in recent months.

The city's police force, disbanded before the offensive last year, has returned to duty and numbers about 1,200, local officials said. A pair of Iraqi army battalions now patrol much of the northern half of the city, together with a single battalion of U.S. Marines. And while turnout in Anbar for Iraq's October constitutional referendum was only about 40 percent, it topped 90 percent in Fallujah, a city of about 250,000.

"One year ago, major combat operations in Fallujah. And in the referendum, 200,000 folks voted in Fallujah," the main U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said at a news conference this week. "Great improvement."

On a visit to the city this week, the provincial governor, Mamoun Sami Rashid, spent the first half of a 10-minute speech praising the city's progress. "The first thing that came to my mind when I entered Fallujah is the stability," said Rashid, who rarely leaves the violence-plagued provincial capital, Ramadi, and has survived at least seven assassination attempts since taking office on June 1. "What you had before the invasion is what we have in Ramadi now."

But insurgents retained a strong presence and continue to operate in Fallujah, according to soldiers and Iraqi politicians and civilians interviewed there this week.

"We knew al Qaeda wouldn't leave the city, and it happened. They came back," said Khalid Muhsin, a preacher in a local mosque. "Now they attack in different ways. They kidnap and assassinate people. People in the city are tired of the fighting and want to rest."

On Tuesday, gunmen in a silver BMW shot dead Hamza Abbas Asawi, the city's mufti, or top religious cleric, as he was leaving an evening prayer service. Asawi was considered an ally by U.S. forces. A day later, two Marines were killed by small arms fire, the military reported.

The last lethal car bombing in Fallujah was in early summer, but roadside bombs and sniper fire are constant threats, said Lt. Patrick Keane, of Aberdeen, N.J. Keane is a member of the 8th Marine Regiment, which patrols the city.

"It's a whole lot quieter now than it was, even back in March," Keane said Tuesday during a visit to the city by U.S. diplomatic officials, Iraqi election workers and journalists to discuss plans for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. "But you can't say it's safe here."

Asked how many insurgents there were in Fallujah, a U.S. official said, "It's hard to say, but there's sympathy for the insurgency. Basically everyone here has the potential to be an insurgent."

Progress, to be sure. But not a done deal yet fellas. Not by a long shot. And not yet ready for hand-off to the Iraqis alone, I fear...

Oh, and Samarra? Real progress there too, but still "far from peaceful."

Real victory is still very far indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 04:46 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Bucharest Blues

Dinmore:

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, is expected to begin her trip to Europe next week with a forceful rejection of requests for information regarding alleged secret CIA prisons in Europe and clandestine transiting of war-on-terror suspects. Diplomats said that Ms Rice, who arrives in Germany on Monday and meets Chancellor Angela Merkel the next day, is not expected to reveal information – as formally requested by the European Union last week – but to defend the US need to obtain intelligence.

“Her response will be suitably diplomatic, but also forceful,” commented one envoy...

...While EU member states share no desire to have these sensitive issues aired openly, the mounting public attention threatens to undermine what diplomats generally regard as the positive trend in transatlantic relations driven by President George W. Bush in his second term.

Diplomats said there had been intense debate within the Bush administration over how to respond to the request penned last week by Jack Straw, the UK foreign secretary, for the EU presidency. In the end, an uncompromising stance appears to have prevailed.

Developing...poorly, it would appear.

P.S. Don't miss the last line of Dinmore's piece:

"Ms Rice is also due to visit Romania, Ukraine and Brussels."

Hmmm. Wonder what might be on the Romania agenda?

P.P.S. Yes, I know, the Euros are such hypocrites to not focus on human rights violations in parts of their near abroad, shall we say, like Sudan and such. But that doesn't change the immense irony presented by the sad fact that the pages of the FT are replete with stories about secret American detention centers in former Warsaw Pact nations. It's time for some smarter cost-benefit analysis in the halls of government, and we're still making the wrong calls, it would appear. Pity.


Posted by Gregory at 02:21 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

More on Syria

JPost:

Israel and the US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-Bashar Assad era, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

In a strategic dialogue held last week in Washington between the two countries, Israeli representatives warned that a future regime in Syria, should Assad lose power, might be just as problematic as the old one.

The Israelis projected three possible scenarios if the current regime does fall - all of them dangerous for the stability of the region.

The first was the possibility that Syria would deteriorate into total chaos and plunge into some sort of civil war; the second was that Assad would be succeeded by another member of the ruling Alawite sect who would be a hardliner like Assad; or, third, that an extreme Islamic regime would take over the country.

Sources briefed on the content of the talks said these Israeli warnings stood in stark contrast to the American view as it was presented in the dialogue. The Americans said they believed that, after Assad, Syria would go through an evolutionary process similar to the one Lebanon has experienced in the past year, and would transform into a free political society.

This optimistic scenario is based on the positive experience in Lebanon and the significant pro-reform forces already active in Syria.

The fact that Israeli and American officials were discussing "day after" scenarios for Syria does not indicate that the US has a plan for regime change in Syria, however.

According to the sources, the conversation was part of a joint attempt by Israel and the US to map out the long-term goals of both countries in the region and discuss future possibilities.

The two sides also discussed the wider issue of democratization in the Arab world and, here too, the Israelis said they were not as optimistic as the Americans regarding the prospects of promoting democratic reforms in the region.

Kiddies, let's not be more Catholic than the Pope on this one, OK? The Israelis know the local neighborhood, after all, better than a lot of chest-thumpers sitting in cubicles at our high-falutin' 'think'-tanks....and there are other outcomes besides, er, "evolutionary" ones that one can espy, alas...

P.S. More here, in case you missed it.

Posted by Gregory at 02:01 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day (II)

If by the end of March 2006, the international community does not manage to use diplomatic means to block Iran's effort to produce a nuclear bomb, there will no longer be any reason to continue diplomatic activity in this field, and it will be possible to say that the international attempts to thwart [Iran's efforts] have failed," Ze'evi said.

--Israeli Military Intelligence chief Major General Aharon Ze'evi, speaking last week.

Posted by Gregory at 01:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

From Haaretz:

I asked Shimon Peres to pick any job he wants," Sharon told a news conference in Jerusalem with Peres by his side. "Shimon can fulfil any post, I believe with great success. Regardless of the job Shimon picks, it is crystal clear he will be a full and central partner in the diplomatic process."
Posted by Gregory at 01:48 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Comments

Commenter George Hoffman, in a thread a couple posts back:

Arm-chair bloggers venting spleen on MoDo will not resolve the dilemma of sending our sons and daughters to Iraq. When General Eric Shensiki was retired early by Rummy for testifying before a Congressional committee in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq that a minimium of two-hundred thousand to three-hundred thousand troops would be needed to accomplish the pacification, the Bush Administration embarked on the yellow-brick road of delusional denial. And after three years and more than two thousand WIA's they have finally realized that they aren't in Kansas anymore. We have sqaundered the precious blood and treasure of our nation so that political hacks and PR operatives can plant stories in the Iraqi press for millions of dollars charged to the American tax-payers. This is democracy in action? If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell to you.

We have accomplished the worst mistake in war, going in with too few troops from a Secretary of Defense that treats the military like an arbitrager dismantling a company for profit. He has gone from calling the insurgents just a bunch of dead-enders to finally admitting to the press and the public that the insurgency may last anyway from one to ten years. I wonder how VP Cheney, who has stated the impartive of torture of suspected terrorists, can look at Senator McCain when the Prince of Darkness had not one but five deferments from the draft during his youth. I met a lot of wounded grunts in Vietnam with wives and children who would have liked just one deferment, let alone five.

I was for the invasion of Afghanistan, which was sanctioned by rooting out the terrorists and hijackers of the 9/11 attacks. But I was dead against this quagmire in the sand that we now find oursleves in Iraq, because I saw as a Vietnam Veteran what Yoggi Berra called deja vu all over again. I never bought into the bullshit arguments of Secretary of State Colin Powell's defense before the UN Security Council on the invasion. And I thought as I watched him hold up black-and-white photographs of the alleged Iraqi mobile germ laboratories about Adlai Stevenson's impassioned moral defense before that same body during the Cuban Misslle Crisis and how far we have sunk into the bog of merde.

Now I hope against hope that the Bush administration can pull off his stated goal of bringing some modicum of democracy to the Iraqis. Then I read about the torture chambers apparently run by members of Sadr Shiite militia in the Ministry of Interior against the Sunni Iraiqis. That just re-enforces to Sunni Iraqis that the so-called democratic government of Iraq will be business as usual without Saddam, who is on trial for among many crimes running torture chambers. That's the wonderful thing about this war: just when one thinks that it could not possibly get any worse, it does. Then I read that the Kurds have signed a deal with oil companies to explore for more oil reserves around Kirkuk and Mosul, and their supposedly fellow countrymen are angry, because they think that the profits from this national treasure will somehow not be shared with the entire country. Now if I had an oil well in my backyard, of course, I would share the profits with my neighbors on the street. Yeah, right. And if a pig had wings, it could therotically fly if you willingly suspend all the laws of aerodynamics and gravity.

Bloggers, wake up and smell the cordite from the latest IED explosion! All you have to lose is your naivete about human nature and how this misadventure is playing out to its sad denounement.

I don't agree with all of what Mr. Hoffman writes here, but he should rest assured I consider Donald Rumsfeld to be perhaps the most derelict man to serve in a key Cabinet position in my lifetime. I'll have more on why tomorrow.


Posted by Gregory at 04:59 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Uday Was a Water-Boarder Too!

I had been in Iraq less than two weeks when Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed in a safehouse in Mosul after an extended firefight with American soldiers. Uday in particular had been possessed of a psychotically cruel temperament. One of his former bodyguards, a bluff good-natured man named Emad Hamadi, told me a story to illustrate what it was like working for him. Uday was frolicking in a swimming pool one day with a group of young women. He summoned Emad, who was wading nearby in his swimsuit, to bring him a whiskey. As soon as Emad handed over the glass, Uday forced his head under water and pinned it between his knees. Emad knew that if he struggled at all it would be the end of his life, but the game went on and on, for half a minute, until he felt he was about to die anyway. Emad resigned himself to his fate, but as he started to lose consciousness his arm instinctively moved from side to side to indicate that he couldn't endure it any more. He felt himself released, and when he came to the surface, Uday was laughing along with his consorts. "You're a good man," said the heir apparent, and he insisted that Emad have a whiskey as well. Uday was probably the most despised man in Iraq--even more than his father, who at least had climbed on his own to the pinnacle of power and kept himself there with impressive mastery.

--from George Packer's excellent The Assassins' Gate, p. 163-164

Hey John Yoo, what's a spot of water-boarding among friends (or a 'slower-fuse high value terrorist', whatever that means!)?

P.S. Yes, yes--more serious treatment of Krauthammer to come...

Posted by Gregory at 02:45 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

A Quick Aside on MoDo

Times Select Hostage MoDo:

The National Strategy for Victory must have come from the same P.R. genius who gave President Top Gun the "Mission Accomplished" banner about 48 hours before the first counterinsurgency war of the 21st century broke out in Iraq.

It's not a military strategy - classified or unclassified. It's political talking points - and not even good ones. Are we really supposed to believe that anybody, even the most deeply delusional Bush sycophant, believes the phrase "Our strategy is working"?

The president talked about three neatly definable groups of insurrectionists. But as Dexter Filkins reported in yesterday's New York Times, there are dozens, perhaps as many as a hundred, groups fighting the U.S. Army in Iraq, and they have little, if anything, in common [emphasis added].

Oh Maureen. Here's what the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq document had to say on this front:

The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. These three groups share a common opposition to the elected Iraqi government and to the presence of Coalition forces, but otherwise have separate and to some extent incompatible goals.

Rejectionists are the largest group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to a democratically governed state. Not all Sunni Arabs fall into this category. But those that do are against a new Iraq in which they are no longer the privileged elite. Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests. We judge that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.

Saddamists and former regime loyalists harbor dreams of reestablishing a Ba'athist dictatorship and have played a lead role in fomenting wider sentiment against the Iraqi government and the Coalition. We judge that few from this group can be won over to support a democratic Iraq, but that this group can be marginalized to the point where it can and will be defeated by Iraqi forces.

Terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida make up the smallest enemy group but are the most lethal and pose the most immediate threat because (1) they are responsible for the most dramatic atrocities, which kill the most people and function as a recruiting tool for further terrorism and (2) they espouse the extreme goals of Osama Bin Laden -- chaos in Iraq which will allow them to establish a base for toppling Iraq's neighbors and launching attacks outside the region and against the U.S. homeland.

The terrorists have identified Iraq as central to their global aspirations. For that reason, terrorists and extremists from all parts of the Middle East and North Africa have found their way to Iraq and made common cause with indigenous religious extremists and former members of Saddam's regime. This group cannot be won over and must be defeated -- killed or captured -- through sustained counterterrorism operations.

Now, I actually thought the fact that the Bush administration finally got around to stating so openly that we weren't just talking about terrorists and Baathist dead-enders was a good thing. Finally, some straighter talk in the air! After all, if you listen to many Rummy aficianados--the only people we are facing down in Iraq are bearded meanies streaming in from Syria to stoke some jihadi fun and a few members of Saddam's old Tikrit circle ginning up some neo-Baathist thuggery. Now, it's true the term 'rejectionist' is a bit cute, as it appears to quite purposefully traipse around uttering the dreaded "I" word (it seems hot-shot Don doesn't like it, you see)--but it is still a move in the right direction to not only say that there are Baathist dead-enders and terrorists causing us trouble in Iraq, but also 'rejectionists', and, to boot, to further admit they constitute the "largest group" operating there (and terrorists the smallest). All this to say, the prominent mention of rejectionists in the Victory Strategy document was actually the most direct, high profile and detailed admission that we are facing a numerically significant homegrown rejectionist insurrection in Iraq (which I'd prefer to call an insurgency, but hey, you take what you can get these days).

So, you might hope against hope that MoDo would play it fair and give a smidgen of credit for this little bit of straight talk emitting from the Bush folk of late, no? Alas, it seems MoDo read Dexter Filkins and took him a little too much on faith, en passage displaying for all to see her rather ditzy understanding of the composition of the insurgency.

Filkins:

The Bush administration has long maintained, and Mr. Bush reiterated in his speech Wednesday, that the insurgency comprises three elements: disaffected Sunni Arabs, or "rejectionists"; former Hussein government loyalists; and foreign-born terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda.

Iraqi and American officials in Iraq say the single most important fact about the insurgency is that it consists not of a few groups but of dozens, possibly as many as 100. And it is not, as often depicted, a coherent organization whose members dutifully carry out orders from above but a far-flung collection of smaller groups that often act on their own or come together for a single attack, the officials say. Each is believed to have its own leader and is free to act on its own...

...A review of the dozens of proclamations made by jihadi groups and posted on Islamist Web sites found more than 100 different groups that either claimed to be operating in Iraq or were being claimed by an umbrella group like Al Qaeda. Most of the Internet postings were located and translated by the SITE Institute, the Washington group that, among other things, tracks insurgent activity on the Web.

Of the groups found by SITE, 59 were claimed by Al Qaeda and 36 by Ansar al Sunna. Eight groups claimed to be operating under the direction of the Victorious Army Group, and five groups said they were operating under the 20th of July Revolution Brigade.

Memo to MoDo: Most (if not all) of these groups mostly fall under one of the categories mentioned in the Victory Strategy--those in the terrorist grouping (certainly those claimed by Ansar al Sunna and Al Qaeda). There is nothing about the loose cell structure and variegated, diffuse locus of these individual cells that makes the description of the composition of the Iraq insurgency in the Victory Strategy document fraudulent or fake or some Big Lie. In other words, there shouldn't have been over 100 categories of insurgents detailed in the document--that would have been very silly indeed--as said small cells fit within the overarching rubric sketched out in the report. But Dowd's little screed is the second most E-mailed story of the day over at the NYT, and likely a lot of people are reading it and swallowing it hook, line and sinker through the Upper West Side and other such enclaves where foreign policy is imbibed through Hollywoodish, bubble-gum lens, in the main...

P.S. We'll have a substantive analysis of the so-called Victory Strategy document soon....a mixed bag, all told, but an improvement on what came before....

Posted by Gregory at 12:05 AM | Comments (52) | TrackBack

December 03, 2005

Quick Query

I'm working on a post that attempts to sketch out the main political positions that have been staked out on Iraq of late. So far I've got: 1) Murtha/Pelosi wing (six months and we're out); 2) Carl Levin wing (timetables, but would stretch out past 6 months); 3) Warner wing (2006 will be a very, very important year!); 4) McCain wing (no end but victory and such...). Am I missing any major categories? And which one is Bush in, in the view of readers? I've got him somewhere in between 3 and 4, with Rumsfeld pulling him three-ward....

Posted by Gregory at 06:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Cautionary Notes Re: Syria

I don't normally agree with Josh Marshall on a lot of stuff necessarily, but this catch was a very good one. There's more here too:

Despite sharing similar assumptions about the Syrian response to pressure, American and Israeli officials appear divided over whether regime change in Damascus would be the best outcome.

Israel is concerned about the chaos that could follow the collapse of Assad's regime. For Israelis, sources said, Assad is more than "the devil you know," he is the only Syrian that can maintain order.

But the Bush administration is becoming increasingly convinced that a change of government is needed in Syria, according to foreign diplomats and pro-Israel activists in Washington. "Now [the Americans] have given up on Assad," said a Washington insider who has access to senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "There may be some in the administration who are hoping for a transformed Assad, but most believe that it's not going to happen and that losing Assad may not be such a loss."

No U.S. policymaker is talking seriously about an invasion or other military steps to oust Assad. But, sources in Washington said, there are those who favor applying enough pressure on the young Syrian ruler to energize internal opposition that would topple him.

Heavy pressure on Damascus is expected when the special U.N. investigative commission, headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, publishes its report next month. According to various indications, including an October preliminary report by the Mehlis commission, the final report is expected to implicate senior officials in Assad's inner circle. On Tuesday, U.N. investigators reportedly questioned five senior Syrian officials in relation to the assassination.

Bush administration officials have indicated to congressional leaders recently that they may impose new sanctions on Assad's regime and could press for international sanctions on Syria.

The Bush administration generally avoids explicit calls for regime change in Damascus. But recently, in public and in private, administration officials have begun expressing a desire for Assad's regime to fall. The U.S. Agency for International Development's director of public diplomacy for Middle Eastern and Middle East Partnership Initiative Affairs, Walid Maalouf, who often speaks for the administration on Syria, recently came close to calling for regime change. In a November 18 speech at Syracuse University, Maalouf said, "The Assad Baath is like the Saddam Baath — enough is enough — freedom and democracy for the Syrian people from the Baath regime is a must."

In the past, administration officials wanted to make sure that pressure intended to change Assad's behavior did not cause the utter collapse of his regime. The administration has no clear alternative in mind to Assad's regime and had been apprehensive about destabilizing Iraq's neighbor. But administration officials recently told foreign diplomats, senior Jewish activists and other Washington insiders that the White House is less concerned than it was before about the repercussions of pressuring Assad.

In Israel, on the other hand, officials are still voicing concern about Syria's response. There is a great deal of apprehension in Israel that "international pressure will only amplify Assad's defiant mood," said Michael Herzog, a veteran Israeli intelligence officer who is now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

It's not shocking, of course, that there are many in the blogosphere who chant on about sacking Boy Assad without any serious regard for what ramifications would ensue should precipitous action to unseat him occur (the level of discourse could be summed up, perhaps, by 'just whack him dude', or slightly more developed variants thereto). After all, the vast majority of 'regime change now!' bloggers know little to nothing about the Middle East, as is painfully apparent from their incoherent ramblings, non-sensical fantasies, and manifest abject cluelessness. They read Mark Steyn, however, and get all excited and hot under the collar from their perches in New York and L.A. and Minnesota and belabor, if it weren't for the cowardice of men much weaker in resolve than they, how glorious a future awaits the region if only, say, we had the gumption to topple the House of Saud, Bashar, and, why not, mean Mubarak too (the better so that the Muslim Brotherhood rise to power more easily there!). But, as I said, that's standard operating procedure in large swaths of blogospheric foreign policy think, and we've become drearily acclimated and bemused by it over here.

What's more shocking, however, is that there are ostensibly intelligent people in Washington who (with nary a clue who would replace Asad yet--without even an Ahmad Chalabi to float to Judy Miller for Christ's sake!) are increasingly loudly muttering on about how rosy a post-Asad future could be if we only had the courage to grab it like non-girlie men. This, of course, while Iraq remains hugely unstable and potential crisis looms with Iran. Yes, yes--I know, Bashar has proven he can't be 'transformed,' and for an eye doctor he's been pretty blind to varied developments in his midst, but before we start supporting the dissident class that eagerly awaits our Walesa-like 'solidarity' support--might we not consider, very effing carefully this time, what a post-Saddam (sorry, post-Bashar) Syria would look like? Deliberately, without the peddling about of varied snake-oil and empty assumptions about the Washington-Damascus love-ins that would result but for that horrid Bashar.

The narrative, I'm afraid, is much more complicated than that. And it seems left to people like us, those who like to inject a dose of reality into our democracy exportation exuberances (think Fukuyamean cautionary notes), that have to play party pooper admist all the regime change fun and link-fests that get so many giddy. First off, for instance, let's keep firmly in mind that Syria is roughly 70% Sunni. Should Asad be pushed off-stage, it is not unlikely that a Sunni strong-man would take the reins. Would he be more favorably disposed to U.S. policy goals in Iraq? Color me skeptical. Next, keep in mind that many opposition forces in Syria, even those that are 'democratic' in nature, don't necessarily feel all warm and fuzzy when it comes to the U.S. Check out this old B.D. post from '03 for more on that score. There is also the long repressed Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, that Hafez Asad cracked down on with such viciousness in Hama in 1982 razing parts of the town (I've been there, and it still hasn't been reconstructed in full). This was a despicable and odious action, but let's not kid ourselves that the enemy of our enemy in this case is our friend: the Muslim Brotherhood is not going to play palsie-walsy with us, or our policy goals in Iraq, or our relationship with Israel, or pretty much the full panoply of Middle East positions we've often staked out over the years. These are just three (off-the-top-of-my-head) issues that we should consider, as we approach the Syria issue, with more seriousness than I've seen over in macho 'Damascus Spring!' land.

Look, are we at B.D. as frustrated as many others by Bashar's half-assed measures on the Syrian-Iraq border? You betcha. But regime change is not necessarily the panacea on this front. Until we have a credible opposition there, one we feel would materially impact U.S. national interests in beneficial manner if it assumed power, we need to work with the devil we've got. How to ratchet up the pressure? We've been doing a good job, alongside the French, on the UNSC/Lebanese front. I would also look for very stern responses, including providing diplomatic support to calibrated Israeli military ones on any remaining Syrian assets in Lebanon (but not in Syria proper), should Damascus open up the spigot on Hezbollah attacks over the Israeli border in the coming weeks in overly provocative fashion. And then, of course, there is the Mehlis report. As the issuance date of Dec 15 creeps up, a brief word. Anyone directly implicated in the murder of Rafic Hariri deserves the absolute opprobium of the international community. But rather than slap sanctions on the country writ large, which won't necessarily hurt elements within the regime and may stoke nationalist instincts instead, I'd suggest rather that those individuals directly implicated in Mehlis have a) all their financial assets frozen and b) a total ban on their right to overseas travel instituted. This is the kind of stuff that bites and bothers elites, not sanctions writ large that might well harm their country-folk (for whom they care little) more than the actual persons to blame for the cowardly and despicable murder of Hariri.

More on Syria around the time of the Mehlis report, as able...

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

We Get Mail

I feel like I'm back in elementary school again:

Dear Mr. Djerijian: I always cut bloggers some slack about their writing, because I know they're pounding out lots of words in a very short time. But I hope you don't mind a brief word of constructive criticism. Your writing in general is fine, but you have fallen into a chronic error that you could easily avoid. The fact that more and more people are making this mistake doesn't excuse it. It's this: the term should be "couple OF [something]," not "couple [something]." You make this mistake fairly often. For example, in your recent post defending Scowcroft, you wrote ". . . based on a couple really lame quotes ... " That should be "based on a couple OF really lame quotes." When you leave out the "of," you sound like a half-literate teenager, in my opinion. I am a professional writer and editor. It really grates and seems especially odd since, as I said earlier, your writing is generally fine. Nothing personal. In fact, if I didn't find your blog worth reading, I wouldn't spend time bringing this error to your attention. Yours for maintaining our English grammar in some semblance of health,

Fryar Calhoun

I actually get a decent amount of this kind of mail from the grammar police every now and again. I don't mind it, and the feedback is more than welcome, indeed appreciated (though I'd ask that the Calhouns of the world at least take the time to get the spelling of my surname right when castigating me for my grammatical shortcomings!). Still, we feel duly admonished over here, and we'll do our utmost going forward to stay above 'semi-literate teenager' status whenever we can. Based on a couple (of!) other E-mails, the time has indeed come to pay better attention to these sorts of issues chez B.D....

Posted by Gregory at 02:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 02, 2005

Jaw Jaw Time?

Well, lookie here...

The State Department confirmed Monday that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been authorized to hold talks with Iranian officials on issues related to Iraq. But U.S. officials are downplaying the broader significance of such contacts.

The State Department is confirming Mr. Khalilzad's own assertion that he has been authorized to meet Iranian officials, but it is dismissing the notion that such contacts amount to a break-through in U.S.-Iranian relations.

Mr. Khalilzad told Newsweek magazine that President Bush had given him the go-ahead to engage Iranian officials, and that the move was a departure in the relationship with Tehran.

Official relations between the United States and Iran were broken off after U.S. diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage during Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the two sides have had occasional political contacts through the United Nations or Swiss channels, and diplomats of the two countries have engaged each other at multilateral forums, including so-called six-plus-two talks involving neighboring states of Afghanistan, the United States and Russia.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Mr. Khalilzad's mandate with the Iranians would be very narrow and focus on Iran's relationship with an emerging, democratic Iraq.

"We believe Iran and Iraq should have the kinds of good relations that most neighbors enjoy, that those relations be governed by mutual respect and transparency," Mr. McCormack said. "So we would expect nothing less from Iran with respect to Iraq. I think that you have heard the same from the Iraqis as well."

I've been roundly mocked by the likely suspects, rather often, for daring to suggest that limited engagement with Iran might be advisable. As Churchill said, jaw jaw--under certain circumstances--trumps war war. So it's nice to see Zalmay Khalilzad has got the go-ahead from POTUS on down (via Condi, doubtless dealing a defeat to Cheney--with increasingly reined-in Rummy no longer a player on such issues). I also think it's significant we are talking, ostensibly, about pretty direct bilaterals here between US Emb Baghdad and Iran. This might allow for discussions to skirt around the edges of some non-Iraq issues, one surmises. More on that another time.

P.S. Recall that I had written, way back in July of 2004, as follows:

But, given the critical import of the Iraq project to U.S. foreign policy objectives--and given the immense trouble-making so many of Iraq's neighbors could cause there--I think it behooves us to start moving this "non-interference" idea along in a more institutional framework.

Especially as, when U.S. troop levels begin to diminish in Iraq, the temptation of Iraq's neighbors to fill the vacuum will be even greater.

Not least, of course, Iran's.

We need to start this "track" to see if Teheran, acting rationally in its national interest (rather than purely through ideological lens), will make real compromises here (recall they were helpful to us during the Bonn 'loya jirga' process re: Afghanistan).

Now, unlike the Task Force members, I'm not so sure that it is in Iran's interest to necessarily have Iraq remain unitary (might they not simply wish to carve out some Shi'a lebensraum instead?).

But chaos isn't in their interests either.

And given that many Iraqi Shi'a feel a sense of residual Iraqi nationalism--even among some of the more religious, pro-Iran crowd--carving out parts of Iraq is not necessarily in Iran's best interest given that real conflict could result between and among some Shi'a factions.

Yeah, B.D. was calling for a track with Iran to be opened on Iraq issues way back in the summer of '04. Michael Ledeen, doubtless, will view me as a 'useful idiot' (the phrase, if memory serves, that he's served up to describe the likes of Richard Haass and Christiane Amanpour). Well, if calling for dialogue with Iran on Iraq policy makes one a 'useful idiot', chalk me up in the 'useful idiot' column then. I trust Zal Khalilzad to make things happen in this channel, much more than 100 op-eds in NRO wailing on about how Bush is selling us out on the GWOT because he's playing too much footsie with the Mullahs. It's this type of impestuous absolutism and historical myopia and missionary zeal that has gotten us in too many messes of late, and with apologies to Michael with whom I correspond not infrequently, this type of AEI think on steroids has been more than discredited amidst the hard realities of the Iraq imbroglio, and it's high time Michael start grappling with that more complicated state of affairs if he wishes to persuade on the merits.

P.P.S. Before commenters freak out, let me say for the record that I think Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a very dangerous fellow indeed. These purges are only the latest example of his recklessness. But I think he is over-playing his hand, and a reaction is in the offing. Look for Rafsanjani's power to increase in the coming months, despite the recent election. This last is hardly a saint, but I think all but the Pletkas and such will agree he's an improvement on Ahmadinejad. Finally, I'd wager that opening up the Iraq track with certain elements in Iran may well help further diminish Ahmadinejad's power, provided we are playing our cards right.

Posted by Gregory at 01:02 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Cheney's Loss of Judgment

Lex nails it:

In one way, the idea that Mr. Cheney has undergone a personality change is unfair: he was always a belt-and-braces pessimist and ardent conservative. As a Wyoming congressman, he compiled a voting record to the right of Newt Gingrich's (he voted against the equal-rights amendment, for example); as defense secretary, he constantly found his most powerful prejudice confirmed, that the world is a very dangerous place. But even allowing for this, September 11th 2001 clearly changed him. As Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution points out, a pragmatic hardliner became an ideological hardliner. He lost his patience with the world's ditherers and debaters. And his world-view was sprinkled with neo-conservative pixie-dust.

Somewhere in this transformation Mr. Cheney seems to have lost his most prized political asset--his judgment. Whenever he had a chance on Iraq, he seems to have pushed the evidence further that it could reasonably be pushed. He not only argued that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction; he insisted that he was close to acquiring a nuclear bomb. He not only complained in private about the hand-wringers and poseurs in the United Nations; he suggested from the first that America could go ahead without the blessing of that body, as if international opinion is an irrelevance in modern warfare. Somehow, one of life's natural Hobbesians not only underestimated how difficult it would be to transform a Baathist dictatorship into a functioning democracy, but even bought the clap-trap about Iraqis greeting Americans with flowers. [emphasis added]

So true, and Lexington neglects to mention the 'last throes' crapola in this list, as well as Cheney's hugely misguided torture policy (among other things). Yes, alas, Cheney has lost his judgment too often these past months and years. A pragmatic hardliner (of which we need more), as Daalder says, has metamorphosized into ideological hardliner (of which we need fewer). I fear we're stuck with him, as Bush without Rumsfeld is perhaps conceivable, but without Cheney is near impossible to fathom. But we need to fight tooth and nail through 2009 to ensure Cheney doesn't do more damage to the polity, and help saner voices (Condi Rice, Steve Hadley, non-Addington deputy-spheres) win the policy battles. It ain't pretty, but that's the job at hand. In this effort we can, I hope, look to (the very few) congresspersons of caliber that can assist on this front, people like McCain, Graham, Warner and Hagel. As well as the flicker of hope that Bush will come to realize more and more that Vice is providing materially diminishing returns, and act accordingly.

Posted by Gregory at 12:27 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Smaller Footprint Watch: Iraqis Doing the Oil Spotting?

Peter Spiegel, the FT's estimable Defense Correspondent:

Several US commanders, however, have argued that Mr Krepinevich's views, while compelling, are only a repeat of strategies already implemented by coalition forces. Brig Gen Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director for plans at US Central Command, said there were "a lot of people arguing about the oil-spot strategy", but insisted that the current practice of bringing Iraqi forces in to secure and stabilise urban areas after US raids illustrated that coalition commanders had already shifted away from "search and destroy" tactics.

"We don't want to say, okay, Krepinevich you're right: let's all pull back into cantons and start over," Brig Gen Kimmitt said. "The coalition forces are providing a thin protective shield, to some extent, over the country at large. It's not perfect, but what it then allows is to set the condition for the Iraqi forces to be the oil spot. The goal is that the oil spot, in fact, are the Iraqi forces who establish control, maintain control, and then get larger and larger."

Indeed, Maj Gen Douglas Lute, the operations director at Centcom, said such recommendations as embedding US forces into Iraqi units began early in the year, well before Mr Krepinevich began advising Mr Khalilzad. Such embeds, largely in 10-man "coalition assistance teams", enable Iraqi officers to have direct battlefield contact with coalition intelligence and airborne weapons, a practice that military leaders said has greatly contributed to Iraqi effectiveness.

"Here you have an Iraqi battalion in contact [with enemy forces], the Iraqi battalion commander turns to one of these 10 guys who is trained in close-air support, and F-16s or Tornados are dropping precision munitions in support of that Iraqi formation," said Maj Gen Lute. "It accelerates the hand-off of battle space to the Iraqis, and second of all, just imagine the psychological effect for that Iraqi battalion commander."

All this Krepinevich compliant doctrine sounds pretty hunky-dory, but I am concerned about having the Iraqis "be the oil spot" (especially if barely disguised Shi'a militia are oil-spotting Sunni areas, say). Also there's been a lot of scuttlebutt about more U.S. action from the air, as the baton is more and more handed off to Iraqis on the ground. This is not a risk-free strategy either (erroneous targetting will refresh the ranks of the insurgents). Still, however, the status of the overall counter-insurgency effort is much, much better than it was even 12 months ago--and we should be grateful for such improvements rather than merely bitch and wail from the sidelines day in, day out. Much more on the state of the war effort, I hope, over the weekend. And yet still a good amount of it quite gloomy I'm afraid.

Posted by Gregory at 12:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Farce

Q Mr. Secretary, I want to get your reaction to the 79-9 vote that just took place in the Senate on the authorization committee.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I wasn't aware of it.

Q Well, your legislative guy should have told you. (Laughter.) It was basically that the Senate --

SEC. RUMSFELD: No, they're busy. They can't follow every thing every second, now. Don't pick on them. I -- say I should have known. (Laughter.)

Q The bottom line, though, it's a sense of the Senate on the war requiring the Pentagon and the administration to file more complete, regular progress reports. And it pressed the Pentagon --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Is this the one that was pending by Warner and somebody --

Q Yeah, and Frist.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Frist.

Q And here's my question. Looking back as a former member of Congress, does this signal to you a growing impatience in the U.S. Senate similar to the early '70s debates on Vietnam?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I wouldn't go down that road myself. It's understandable that the American people and the Congress are interested in knowing as much as possible about a war. A war is an important thing. It's a serious thing. It's a dangerous thing. People die, and we know that, and it's heartbreaking.

I was reading a book last night, Winston Churchill, and he said the problem is not winning the war but persuading people to let them -- let him win the war, he said. In a free system like we have -- these situations don't evolve in a dictatorship. It's only in free systems that we have these kind of open, public debates and discussions.

Just a piece of factual information. I'm told that the Department of Defense and the Department of State send literally dozens of Iraqi-related reports to Congress each year already. Seven are required reports. We have seven voluntary briefings. We have 28 IG reports, 52 GAO reports, and regular classified updates on the Iraqi security forces, which I believe go up there every month. Many of those things address what, as I recall, an earlier draft of that amendment may have covered. And that's fine. I mean, that's all part of the interaction between the executive and legislative branch. And they have every right to ask for reports, and we send, I don't know, it's something over 900 reports total every year from the Department of Defense to the Congress. I hope someone reads them.

But no, what it reflects to me is that this is a serious business and these are serious people and they're interested in having as much information as possible.

I was struck by what someone told me about another amendment, where Senator Lieberman spoke and pointed out that he was concerned -- I think he said, quote, that it seems to be -- you don't want to -- he said one of these amendments would send "a message that I fear will discourage our troops because it seems to be heading to the door. It will encourage the terrorists and it will confuse the Iraqi people and affect their judgments as they go forward." And I mention that because another one that's pending involves deadlines, as I recall, or timetables of some sort.

Q That was shot down.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Was it?

Q Yes.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Good.

How cretinous a Pentagon press corps we have to let this failed Secretary dick them around so. What a sad, sad joke. I mean, how credulous, gullible and plain dumb does one have to be to be played so? This is too the cheap jocularity and fake insouciance and ignorance of the middle-brow, frat-like Princeton of Rummy's wrestling pass-through. Sadly, Bush must just love it. Farce.

Oh, on the Rummy front, don't miss this take-down of this increasingly embarrassing figure here. Yep, what he said.

Posted by Gregory at 04:26 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005

A 7th Floor Meeting of Note

Passing through Heathrow I see this from Ignatius (via the indispensable aggregators at RCP):

Condoleezza Rice had an interesting office visitor on Monday -- none other than her old mentor and the nation's realist in chief, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. It was the first serious chat they've had after many months of strained relations, and it may be a symbol for a subtle shift that has been taking place at Rice's State Department.

After the Jeffrey Goldberg New Yorker article on Scowcroft there appeared a veritable mini-cottage industry of Scowcroft-bashing in various quarters (based on a couple really lame quotes in the piece, that presented easy straw-man style targets, like the '50 yrs of peace' line and such). This 'open season on Scowcroft!' moment was mostly borne of breezy over-simplifications and cheap shots, and I'll have more explicating why in the coming days. In the meantime, it's good a Condi-Scowcroft rapprochment appears in the works, at least imho. Grotesquely over-simplified missionary-style nostrums, and warmed-over faux-Churchillianism (think VDH-fare and myriad off-spring) are getting very tiresome indeed, and adult advice is desparately needed at the highest levels in Washington.

P.S. I've read the Bush Iraq plan now (it's a lightning fast read, the whole thing reads like an exec summary), and I'll have thoughts on it in the coming days. I think its existence is a net positive, all told, by the way--but will have critical comments too. But we see a more forthright approach to the state of the war effort peppering the bullet points sketching out the 'Eight Pillars', and that's better than cluelessness and denial, isn't it?

P.P.S. Coming soon too, we hope, reax to Krauthammer's lengthy discourses on torture in the Weekly Standard (mostly tweakage/variation on the Derschowtizian torture warrant theme, in the main when you get right down to it, but worthy of a response for a variety of reasons nonetheless).

O.K., off to boarding...

Posted by Gregory at 02:58 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack
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