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.
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.
Goss, Ulfkotte, Erdogan (And A Military Option in Iran?)
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...
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.
December 29, 2005
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.
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:
...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.
Much more worth reading within the opinion, and note all bolded text is my emphasis.
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.
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?
"Guardedly hopeful..." Is that the same as B.D's oft-stated "cautious optimism"?
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:
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?
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...
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'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?”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?
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.
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
Touche. We'll try to tone the pompousness and Henry the K wind-bag tendencies down a notch, promise!
He writes about Nietzsche (or Simon May writing about Nietzsche) so deliciously.
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.
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.
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
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.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
Heck of a Job Brownie, Redux
HUME: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.
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...
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
December 12, 2005
Cease The False Declarations of Victory! (We Implore You)
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.
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.
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...
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...
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...
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.
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.
December 06, 2005
Blog Award Time!
She also saves us some research - Gregory Djerejian of Belgravia Dispatch is in the running for Best Conservative Blog, and surely merits your consideration.
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.
December 04, 2005
Memo to Secretary Rumsfeld: You Break It, You Own It
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?
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.
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?
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"?
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.
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.
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.
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.
More on Syria
Israel and the US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-Bashar Assad era, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
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.
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.
Quote of the Day
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."
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.
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.
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...
A Quick Aside on 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.
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.
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.
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.
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....
December 03, 2005
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....
Cautionary Notes Re: Syria
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.
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...
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,
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....
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.
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.
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.
Cheney's Loss of Judgment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
December 01, 2005
A 7th Floor Meeting of Note
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...
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Khaddam Speaks Out
Goss, Ulfkotte, Erdogan (And A Military Option in Iran?)
The Law Lords on Torture
End of the Year Mania
Only in New York...
Quote of the Day
The Torture Debate
We Get Comments
English Language Media
New York Times
The New Yorker
Real Clear Politics
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
Katrina vanden Heuvel
The American Scene
Winds of Change
The Reliable Source
Law & Finance
Bull and Bear Wise
Corporate Counsel Blog
Corp Law Blog
Deal Lawyers Blog
New York Observer
Central and Eastern Europe
Across the Bay
Bliss Street Journal
American in Lebanon
B.D. In the Press
The Sunday Times(UK)"If It Makes America Look Bad It Must Be True, Musn't It?"
The Guardian "Trial and Error"
Online Journalism Review "Feeling Misquoted? Weblogs Transcripts Let the Reader Decide"
Online Journalism Review "Bloggers Rate the Most Influential Blogs" (see chart)
The Sunday Times (UK) "Rise of the Virtual Soapbox"
Middle East-Peace Process
U.S. Foreign Policy