December 16, 2004

Putin's Ukraine Agenda...and Ours

Jane's speculates.

According to JID's sources in Kiev, on 28 November the pro-Russian Yanukovych met in Severodonetsk with an aide of former Russian prime minister, and current Russian Ambassador to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, the mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov and the 16 oblast governors. Top of the agenda was a discussion on greater autonomy for the eastern and south-eastern oblasts of Ukraine.

Prior to the hotly disputed elections held on 21 November, Moscow had been offering the possibility of extending Russian citizenship to Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Eastern and Southeastern regions such as Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. The situation in the latter could prove particularly volatile, since the population is split between Russian and pro-Western Ukrainians and any efforts to achieve further regional autonomy could easily spill over into violence.

The Kremlin has been openly promoting a scheme to create a new economic power bloc consisting of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan that could function as counterbalance to the EU and the West in general. Russia and Kazakhstan has very substantial oil and gas reserves, while eastern Ukraine has tremendous coal reserves, as well as 13 Soviet-era steel mills that are still awaiting privatisation.

All quite plausible.

But, and well worth noting, things do look different in places like Dnipropetrosk than they do in Kiev. Read this for more:

These 10 million Ukrainians may be just as fed up as Kiev and Lviv are with the post-Soviet oligarchs and with the corrupt semi-authoritarian regime of Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president. They may have groaned at Putin's cack-handed appearances on the campaign trail and the blatant attempts to fix the vote for Yanukovich in the east (as also certainly happened in the west for Yushchenko). But are 10 million people who did not vote Yushchenko all to be dismissed as latterday Soviet clones? Do they only jerk into life when Putin and the revamped KGB press the remote control? What do they want? How do they think they are going to get it?

Virtually no one has bothered to find out. The entire western media coverage of the Ukrainian upheaval has been limited to Kiev. There have been few if any camera crews in the cities of Kharkov, Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk. These are streets through which western champions of the well-funded orange revolution should walk before declaring Yushchenko and his friends tribunes of freedom.

There is a faultline running through Ukraine that is a product of its history and people. To talk about the history of Ukraine as simply one of Russian occupation is to disenfranchise the voice and identity of a large chunk of its population. If you are not a Uniate Catholic from western Ukraine, you are likely to be Russian Orthodox from the east or south. Remember that Kiev was a Russian city - the Orthodox church traces its roots to the baptism of Kiev in 988 - before Moscow was even thought of.

If Ukraine's regional polarisation continues as a result of the political crisis, the future for Ukraine does not look bright or orange at all. One model for what could happen in Ukraine is Moldova, Europe's poorest state on Ukraine's south-western border. Two regimes - both now communist, but one facing westward to Romania and the other facing eastward to Russia - fought a bitter if brief war 12 years ago. The Romanian-speaking Moldova is largely a rural economy. The Russian speaking Transdniestr is an industrialised enclave. Twelve years on, two parts of a riven state are still staring sullenly at each other across a river, defying every conceivable formula for power sharing. This is not a path that Ukraine wants to travel.

If Yushchenko's revolution is to work, it will have to be one that works in all parts of Ukraine. Only by running Ukraine as a multi-ethnic state facing both east and west does it stand a chance of becoming a real democracy. But if the inheritors of the post-Soviet quagmire are using popular frustration as a cover for ethnic revenge, the fruits of this revolution will be sour indeed.

That's about right. The "Orange Revolution," like many revolutions, contains within it seeds of going forward oppression that must be kept well in mind--along with all the jubilant talk of liberation emiting from the streets of Kiev. Let's not get too carried away just yet (see Nick Kristof for an example of full-blown cheerleading from the scene). Don't get me wrong. I support the democratic revolution underway in Ukraine. But Russia has hugely significant historical links to eastern portions of that country, and many inhabitants located there feel more affinity to Russia than western parts of Ukraine. They have aspirations, fears, legitimate concerns too.

The U.S. and EU must be heavily involved in ensuring that those regions aren't cast aside or slighted should Yushchenko prevail. That will increase the chances that said regions don't separate via some deep autonomy arrangements or de facto secession so as to more fully enter Russia's orbit--a bad result for the U.S.--because, of course, we seek to limit Russia's control of its so-called "near abroad." That said, however, we cannot too fully rub Russia's nose in it. Put differently, declining powers must be managed with tact--overt humiliation of Russia on matters so important to their national interest (eastern Ukraine, parts of Kazakhstan, Belarus) might backfire in the not too distant future.

Bottom line: support Yushchenko, ensure eastern Ukraine's rights are fully respected going forward, allow Russia special trade/economic links in said areas, coordinate closely with Moscow and Brussels to maximize transperency so as to foster greater trust among the key parties. This is, after all, a very delicate period fraught with not insignificant risks that Ukraine could split in two-a result B.D. considers contra the U.S. national interest.

Posted by Gregory at 04:37 AM | Comments (6)

December 15, 2004

Middle East Democratization Watch

Ray Takeyh sent in the below piece today. Comments on it welcome (particularly as I've been meaning to blog about the status of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative for about a week now so feedback on Takeyh's take would be helpful in further forming my views). Be sure to read this too. Back later, but don't miss this either.

I'm particularly interested in the timing and relative weight as between economic versus political reforms in the region. Is the China model better--with economic reform preceding political? Or must political reform come first? I think the answer is that, given current realities on the ground (of which more later), we should concentrate on economic liberalization but with concommitant (if more modest, but still material) progress on political reform. But people like Takeyh, and others as one of the links showcases above, are very skeptical of such an approach. Here are some snippets from people who wrote in to the "Across the Bay" blog reacting to some relatively nascent and undeveloped B.D. musings:

"Well, of course the regimes will be comfortable with economic reforms since no one stands to benefit from such movement as much as they do--look at Gamal Mubarak. Economic liberalization without social and political reforms, in the PA oranywhere, is a potential disaster: there are no political reforms in the offing in places like Dubai. I think it's time we started hitting hard at both Arab and Western officials who think economic liberalization is a panacea; rather, it will just further consolidate the elites' hold on power."

And this:

"The paradigm of economic reforms coming before and paving the way to political reforms have been tried in Egypt, Jordan, and even Syria over the last few years, and did not work. Lack of public accountability and the corruption of the ruling elite made sure of that. The Morocco Forum is going to be a big failure because more emphasis is going to be put on economic reforms. Seeing that the Bush Administration is now adopting the economic approach, the Europeans can feel quite justified now with their approach to their Medditerranean partners which always emphasized economic reforms over everything else."

Lots to digest here. Here Takeyh's piece in full (which I think is in today's CSM). Throw it into the mix too and comment if inclined.

Flagging winds of American idealism across the Middle East By Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev

WASHINGTON - What a change two years have brought to the Bush administration's "forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East."

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, Ken Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, expressed his hope that it "emboldens leaders to drastic, not measured, approaches."

But now the long, hard slog in Iraq has tempered American enthusiasm for promoting massive revolutionary change in the greater Middle East. The significantly scaled-back administration hope was recently characterized this way by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz: "What you would hope is that governments can be encouraged on a path of gradual reform."

Washington has concluded that it is in no position to alienate existing regimes whose support it needs in pursuit of stability in Iraq, combating terrorism, and reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Arab kings and presidents-for-life who, 20 months ago, were excoriated as the biggest impediments to reform are now being embraced as agents of change.

The new approach was in full view at the Forum for the Future in Morocco last weekend, as Secretary of State Colin Powell met with 20 Arab counterparts to discuss democracy promotion efforts. In a dramatic retreat from previous grandiose claims, Washington is now concentrating on provision of technical and economic assistance, such as funds for small business development, microcredit aid to entrepreneurs, and a host of educational programs. Literacy campaigns and conferences on women's rights and the environment are to lead the region into a new democratic age.

At core, the basic assumption of the Bush team seems to be that the regional elites are anxious to promote structural economic reforms but simply lack the know-how.

The problem in the Arab world isn't lack of capital - certainly not in a region flush with energy income. Nor is the Arab world lacking the expertise to pursue reform. The 2003 UN Arab Human Development Report, compiled by leading Arab thinkers, pinpointed poor governance as the main source of the region's woes. The solutions they proposed have been left unimplemented because there is no will to pursue them, not because of a lack of trained personnel. The problem remains the entrenched elite who are determined to retain power and will neuter any reform effort before it encroaches on their prerogatives.

Genuine economic reform involves creation of a system based on the rule of law, with an independent judiciary prepared to enforce contracts and respect property rights - something that strikes at the heart of the crony system defining most Middle East economies. Real change would entail an end to official corruption and require the state to relinquish its most important lever for controlling society - its ability to subsidize consumer goods and offer deals to reliable, connected regime loyalists. Moreover, given these regimes' lack of political legitimacy, they're reluctant to undertake deep-seated economic reforms that initially may provoke domestic unrest.

This is why Egypt and Algeria experimented with limited privatization measures in the early 1990s - only to abandon them quickly when it became clear that the political foundations of their regimes would be undermined by such reforms.

The economic model for reform can only work if the US and Europe pressure these states toward viable change, and not remain content with a series of small-scale programs. Preferential trade agreements, foreign assistance, and access to US markets should be contingent on progress made toward meaningful reform. The US experience with Latin America - especially Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s - and that of the EU toward its eastern periphery, makes it clear that when political reform is linked to economic benefits, regimes can be induced to introduce changes that lay the basis for democratic transformation.

The West should link aid to reforms designed to reduce state controls over both political life and economy.

Following the fall of Baghdad, neoconservatives predicted that regime change in Iraq would unleash a tide of democratization that would not only wash over America's regional foes like Iran and Syria, but force even erstwhile allies like President Mubarak in Egypt and the princely class in the Gulf to embrace reforms. Now, Mr. Powell claims victory when Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are willing to take part in a conference like the weekend's forum.

The 9/11 attacks demonstrated that the root cause of Islamist terrorism was a dysfunctional political order that succeeded only in producing unpalatable dictatorships, stagnant economies, and militant ideologies. For a brief moment, the administration was transfixed by a vision of using US power to remake the Middle East. But a crestfallen America entangled in Iraq seems to have abandoned its idealistic aspirations to the point that it now favors working with the same unsavory regimes that promise the chimera of stability.

Ray Takeyh is senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Nikolas Gvosdev is a senior fellow at the Nixon Center.



Posted by Gregory at 11:36 PM | Comments (4)

December 12, 2004

Poisoned

I hope this trail doesn't lead to Moscow. If Moscow played pool that dirty, even via proxies, a fundamental reappraisal of the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship will be necessitated.

Posted by Gregory at 01:58 AM | Comments (7)

December 08, 2004

The Long Honeymoon Ends?

"I honestly say that I cannot imagine how elections can be organised under a full occupation of the country by foreign troops." "I also cannot imagine how you on your own will be able to restore the situation in the country and stop it from breaking up."

Jacques Chirac? Gerhard? Kofi? Nope, Vladimir Putin.

Ljubljana seems far away, doesn't it? Still bilateral relations, all told, are likely still pretty OK. That said, it has been a choppy couple of weeks...What do commenters think? Are U.S.-Russian relations a) set to steadily decline in Bush's second term, b) just going through a temporary hiccup born of a confluence of events (Ukraine, Iraq, etc), c) in reality just status quo behind the scenes or d) none of the above?

Posted by Gregory at 06:04 AM | Comments (24)

December 04, 2004

Was Yushchenko Poisoned?

Elisabeth Rosenthal (non-blogger!) is on the case:

New details of Mr. Yushchenko's hospital admissions in Vienna raise disturbing questions: Was the candidate poisoned or infected with some biological agent, and, if so, with what? What is his current state of health, in the middle of a pivotal battle for power?

In September, Mr. Yushchenko immediately said he had been poisoned, but that charge was lost among the heated political debates and demonstrations in the final weeks of the campaign, which culminated in the disputed election.

"Look at my face," Mr. Yushchenko told the Ukrainian Parliament on Sept. 21, after his first stint in the Vienna hospital. "Note my articulation. This is one-hundredth of the problems that I've had. This is not a problem of political cuisine as such. We are talking about the Ukrainian political kitchen where assassinations are ordered."

Opponents dismissively suggested that the cause of Mr. Yushchenko's hospitalization was bad sushi or too much alcohol; doctors here said there was no evidence of either. But some doctors point out that it is conceivable Mr. Yushchenko had the bad luck to develop a rare illness, difficult to diagnose, at the height of the campaign.

The issue has persisted because of the obvious disfigurement and discoloration of his face, which is swollen and pocked with large bumps and cysts, and is a dusky grayish color. The left eye is bloodshot and sometimes waters.

Last week a British toxicologist, Dr. John Henry, suggested that Mr. Yushchenko's symptoms were consistent with dioxin poisoning, which causes a severe form of acne called chloracne. The condition occurs months to years after exposure, when the body seeks to eliminate residue of the chemical through the skin. But cases of dioxin poisoning are extremely rare. Scientists debate whether a huge one-time dose could be delivered as a poison...

Political intrigue is not the norm at Rudolfinerhaus, an elite private hospital that caters to wealthy Austrians and foreigners.

Dr. Zimpfer provided extensive details of Mr. Yushchenko's hospitalizations. He arrived first on Sept. 10, severely ill and unable to walk, after five days of terrible abdominal pain. Initial testing showed that he had a high white-cell count and elevated liver and pancreas enzymes, suggesting inflammation of those organs. His tests were negative for all the obvious possibilities, like hepatitis caused by a virus.

Scans showed that his liver, pancreas and intestine were, indeed, swollen. Internal examinations of the intestine using an endoscope found he had ulcerations - essentially bleeding abrasions - of the stomach and throughout his intestine and bowel as well. Ulcers are typically not spread out in that way.

The doctors gave him supportive care, like intravenous fluid and a restricted food intake to rest the digestive tract. As he gradually recovered strength, he opted to get back to the campaign trail. Already, doctors noticed that he was developing odd lesions on his face and trunk.

Ten days later, the candidate returned, after three days of what he called excruciating back pain. Its source was again a mystery, since related lab tests and scans were normal.

The pain was so severe that doctors had to place a large intravenous line into Mr. Yushchenko's chest and essentially nearly anesthetize him with huge doses of opiates. Because opiates depress respiratory functions, his breathing rate slowed, and his vital signs had to be constantly monitored. More medicine would have required that Mr. Yushchenko be placed on a respirator, Dr. Zimpfer said.

Mr. Yushchenko and his doctors made a difficult choice: They decided to place an epidural catheter between his shoulder blades into the membranes of the upper spine so that medicines could be delivered to the nerves in his back without compromising his mental abilities.

Epidural catheters are common for pain relief in childbirth, but they are far riskier when they are placed for longer periods and in the upper back, closer to the brain and vital nerves.

Mr. Yushchenko was discharged three days later, leaving with a retinue of doctors and cartons of medical supplies. He was still on "plenty" of medication, said Dr. Zimpfer. They arrived in Ukraine, and, after a few hours, Dr. Zimpfer returned to Vienna, leaving Mr. Yushchenko in the care of another Austrian doctor.

"He was severely ill, but this does not all add up to a single disease or even a known syndrome," Dr. Zimpfer said. "At this point his diagnosis is just a description of all his symptoms."

Any M.D.s out there with thoughts? Anyone else have two cents to kick in? If so, comment below.

Posted by Gregory at 04:38 PM | Comments (8)

November 28, 2004

Ukraine Watch

I have been remiss in not discussing the significant events underway in Ukraine. Check out this FT piece on the latest developments today. The ramifications of such a move towards "autonomy" in the eastern part of the country will be broached over here at B.D. in the coming days. I'm on the road today and without access to a computer until at least tomorrow night. In the meantime, be sure to visit Dan who is on top of this story. Chrenkoff is following the Ukrainian (and Romanian) going-ons as well.

Posted by Gregory at 03:25 PM | Comments (3)

October 28, 2004

Arafat In Critical Condition--Some Insta-Analysis

I haven't blogged too much re: the Middle East of late (read: non-Iraq)--and feel pretty negligent about that. That said, this developing story re: Arafat is huge. Arafat's demise, assuming a credible leader emerges, will force the U.S. to re-engage more forcefully in the Middle East peace process (though much time will be lost through the election/ transition period--especially should Kerry win).

Arafat, love him or hate him, remained in pretty firm control of the organs of PA decision-making through his long confinement at the Mukata in Ramallah. Diplomats were frustrated trolling about PA precincts--because you had to spend days piecing together some "Palestinian" position through myriad interlocuters--who all nevertheless still reported to Arafat. All of this, mostly, was an elaborate fiction borne of various factors. Most prominently, of course, Bush's abject disdain of Arafat and consequent marching orders from the top-down--don't deal with Yassir under any circumstances. So no one on the U.S. (and, increasingly, EU) side of the fence would cut to the chase and contact him directly. Result? Well, aside from the obvious isolation and marginalization of Arafat from the global stage (which many were delighted about)--lots of wasted time too unfortunately.

Now, it appears, Arafat may be on his last legs. If he dies, we can be concerned about a bloody succession struggle and/or generally chaotic conditions in the Territories. Still, while Arafat has never groomed a successor, it appears he's got a committee (of sorts) teed up to handle affairs while he is incapacitated.

Ailing Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat is said to have formed a special three-man committee to run affairs in his absence, Palestinian sources said Wednesday night. The committee includes Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, and Salim Al-Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council, the 512-member Palestinian parliament.

I think the PA will end up rallying around a single successor without total chaos erupting in the Territories. And, assuming it's someone the U.S. can deal with like Abu Mazen or Qureia, we can expect a resuscitation of U.S.-Palestinian direct contact at the highest levels (or, at least, Powell)--which should facilitate forward movement on security protocols and such so as to move the road map back to life.

Bottom line: Arafat's death, which few will mourn in this country, would also likely prove a net positive for regional dynamics and the moribund peace process. Unless, of course, I'm wrong. And a bloody succession struggle erupts--perhaps with Hamas making a greater bid for popular support (arguing they were 'successful' in evicting Israel from Gaza--much like Hezbollah efforts in S. Lebanon--and will try to the same for their 'people' in the West Bank).

That said, re: the Hamas/Gaza angle, note another major potential impact of this story: Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan could be imperiled:

The claim that "there is no partner," which has formed the basis of Israeli foreign policy over the past four years and justified the refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, would depart together with him.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan would lose the central justification for its existence - the lack of a Palestinian partner.

Only one day after the Knesset approved the disengagement plan and the dramatic schism took place in the Likud leadership, all the circumstances appear to be suddenly changing.

Indeed. Anyway, we hope to keep a closer eye on this part of the Middle East over here in the coming days. Very much developing, as they say.

P.S. My money is on Mahmoud Abbas succeeding Arafat. In that vein, don't miss this JPost story that touches on succession scenarios:

Veteran PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who was long considered a natural successor to Arafat, has also been sidelined. Last year, following a high-profile confrontation with Arafat, Abbas resigned as prime minister, accusing the PA chairman of maintaining an autocratic style of rule.

Abbas, who has since been boycotting Arafat and the PA leadership, on Monday night visited the Mukata in Ramallah to inquire about the chairman's health and wish him a speedy recovery. It was the first time the two had met since the angry and deeply offended Abbas walked out to protest against his boss's performance.

A source close to Abbas said the visit did not have any political implications and was not an indication that the former prime minister was contemplating a comeback. Palestinian journalists camping outside Arafat's office over the past 48 hours reacted with cynicism to Abbas's courtesy call, joking that the real purpose of the visit was to see if the rumors about Arafat's death were true. [emphasis added]

UPDATE: Not so soon; perhaps.


Posted by Gregory at 12:34 AM | Comments (29)

September 28, 2004

Arabian Tall-Tales and Myths

In drawing what appeared to be the loudest cheer of the day, he faulted the Bush administration for protecting Saudi Arabia's interests despite allegations that the country has aided terrorists. The criticism suggested Kerry is not afraid to embrace one of the most stinging themes of the film Fahrenheit 9/11, produced by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore.

"I will grant no one, no country, no sweetheart relationship a free pass," he said. "As president, I will do what President Bush has not done; I will hold the Saudis accountable."

John Kerry, taking his foreign policy talking points, quite underwhelmingly, straight from the annals of Fahrenheit 9/11.

Enter Michael Doran-- Princeton prof, expert on all things Saudi, and, er, loyal B.D. reader--who helps to debunk this intellectually lazy and dishonest meme (Houses of Saud and Bush, arms akimbo and in deep cuddle, poring over EBITDA projections for defense contracting plays over at a private equity shop near you--and as Poppy gets richer; the Wahabist fanatics in the Kingdom do as they please--the better so as the greenbacks roll in more swiftly...)

Doran's has an op-ed in todya's Orlando Sentinel (registration required)--but here are some of the key bits for convenience:

It is true that Saudi Arabia has been a major supporter of al-Qaeda -- but it is facile to suggest that the Bush administration could have done much about it in a pre-Sept. 11 world. Radical Islam's roots extend deep into Saudi society. Al-Qaeda is, in a sense, a domestic Saudi political party, the most extreme wing of a reactionary clerical camp that seeks to halt all forms of Westernization in the country. Osama bin Laden's pool of Saudi supporters is located far beyond the reach of the United States. Al-Qaeda's final defeat, therefore, will take place only at the hands of fellow Muslims, not Americans.

At best, the United States must play a strong supporting role by creating a political context that favors al-Qaeda's local enemies. Bush's speeches have pointed us toward the correct tool for this job: political reform in the Middle East. If the Democrats were serious about the Saudi threat, then they would repudiate Moore and call for Bush to take his own words about Middle Eastern reform more seriously.

But candidate Kerry tells us today that, if elected, he will withdraw our troops quickly from Iraq. In that event, with Iraq threatening to disintegrate and Iran going nuclear, Kerry would himself confront the impossibility of divorcing the Saudis. He, like Bush, would have no choice but to look to Riyadh for help in stabilizing the Persian Gulf. The Kerry plan for Iraq, therefore, promises us a permanent return to the U.S.-Saudi relationship as it existed on Sept. 10, 2001.

The Bush administration has mismanaged some aspects of the war, and it has underestimated the cost of doing Iraq right -- to say nothing of carrying out broad reform in the Middle East. But in the arena of U.S.-Saudi relations, the president must be credited with a number of achievements: He pulled U.S. troops out of the kingdom; he forced Riyadh to get serious regarding terrorist financing; and he precipitated a clash between al-Qaeda and the Saudi regime. The Moore notion of a Bush-Saudi conspiracy ignores the distance that the administration has already placed between Washington and Riyadh, not to mention the changes in Saudi policy toward al-Qaeda that followed in train.

But more to the point, for all its problems (and they are many), the Bush solution of reforming the Middle East to combat terrorism is the only serious plan on the table. The Kerry team tells us only that Bush -- operating out of dark and nefarious motives -- got everything all wrong. Kerry, however, has not even begun to explain how he intends to do better.

Indeed. So we have more heated, bogus rhetoric from the Kerry camp on matters foreign policy (this latest Saudi Arabia)--with no provision of truly viable policy alternatives. But that's increasingly what we've come to expect, isn't it?

Empty talk (I'll get tough on the Saudis!). Chimerical policy options (Bring the Europeans into Iraq!). Panic-stoking (Nuclear nightmare in NoKo--would that we had pursued another Clinton 'deal'!). Intellectual laziness (we'll 'train and equip' better! We'll eradicate poppy better!) Pretension ('I have been to Paris'; I have a secret plan) 20-20 Hindsight (I'd have done almost all of it differently [ed. note: Hell, at least tell us you would have done it all differently!). And, if all else fails, repeat after me: Fallujah, Fallujah, Fallujah...

As I said, underwhelming.

Oh, and here's more Saudi-related-Moore-conspiracy think that had made the rounds post-pumping up of the latest Woodward oeuvre's sales with all the predictable, hyped discussion of the requisite Bandar-intrigues. But, er, WTF? Oil's around $50/barrel. What gives? Don't the Saudis know Georgie is up for re-election? Or did nettlesome negative externalities spoil all the price fixing fun? Fallujah, perhaps. Yes, it's Fallujah that's to blame. Calling Rand Beers...

Posted by Gregory at 12:12 AM | Comments (28)

September 23, 2004

Debunking Afghanistan Myths

I'm not some Rummy-on-Steroids type of guy who thinks we can walk, chew gum and, to boot, kick a little ass in NoKo and Iran too--before heading to the Taiwan Straits. Still, however, everyone should go read this Peter Bergen piece on Afghanistan in today's NYT--particularly given the constant carping from the Left that Bush has simply installed a Mayor of Kabul and that the rest of Afghanistan is going to hell--all because of his myopic obsession with Iraq (see Richard Clarke for the high-brow version of this meme--and Krugman, MoDo and Co. for the boiler-plate rehashing of it).

Money grafs:

As I toured other parts of the country, the image that I was prepared for - that of a nation wracked by competing warlords and in danger of degenerating into a Colombia-style narcostate - never materialized. Undeniably, the drug trade is a serious concern (it now compromises about a third of the country's gross domestic product) and the slow pace of disarming the warlords is worrisome.

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country's north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become. It's also promising that some three million refugees have returned to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, the capital, is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, with spectacular traffic jams and booming construction sites. And urban centers around the country are experiencing similar growth.

While two out of three Afghans cited security as their most pressing concern in a poll taken this summer by the International Republican Institute, four out of five respondents also said things are better than they were two years ago. Despite dire predictions from many Westerners, the presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, now looks promising. Ten million Afghans have registered to vote, far more than were anticipated, and almost half of those who have signed up are women. Indeed, one of the 18 candidates for president is a woman. Even in Kandahar, more then 60 percent of the population has registered to vote, while 45 percent have registered in Uruzgan Province, the birthplace of Mullah Omar. With these kinds of numbers registering, it seems possible that turnout will be higher than the one-third of eligible voters who have participated in recent American presidential elections.

Bergen concludes:

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

If the elections are a success, it will send a powerful signal to neighboring countries like Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, none of which can claim to be representative democracies. If so, the democratic domino effect, which was one of the Bush administration's arguments for the Iraq war, may be more realistic in Central Asia than it has proved to be in the Middle East. [my emphasis throughout]

A few quick takes. Bergen says a democratic domino effect might be likelier in Central Asia than the Middle East. Maybe. But some cautionary notes are in order: 1) I'm skeptical of 'domino theories' generally (state-specific factors can often trump region-wide trends); 2) Putin's expedited post-Beslan re-centralization of power is (at least) as important (and likely much more so in the -stans) a harbinger of going forward political trends in Central Asia than whatever happens in Afghanistan; 3) the U.S. is helping to prop up an authoritarian regime in Pakistan (largely, in my view, necessarily given regional and security imperatives); and 4) Iran is a special case (a nationalist backlash in Iran--particularly if Israel or the U.S. engages in military strikes--is at least as likely as an anti-clerical counter-revolutionary re-awakening).

Note too, Bergen says that the "Bush Administration's argument for the Iraq war may be more realistic in Central Asia that it has proved to be in the Middle East." Again, maybe. But let's see what Iraq looks likes in a year (once we've been there about as long as we've been in Afghanistan). "Tenuous stability," after all, may be in the offing (per the NYT's summation of the recently disclosed Iraq NIE). Not Luxembourg, mind you, but still real potential progress. After all, isn't such prospective stability better than living under the yoke of genocidaire-neo-Stalinist thuggery (yes, admitedly, the grim disintegration/civil war scenario would be worse)?

A last note. Will Bergen's piece (Bergen, of course, is no Bush apologist) be honestly appraised (or even mentioned) by a quorum of commentators on the Left? Or will they continue to trot out the tired and convenient shibboleth that Bush bungled Afghanistan because of the Iraq adventure?

True, fair-minded left bloggers have, if perhaps reluctantly, given Bush a 4 out of 10 on Afghanistan in the past. But Bergen's analysis, particularly keeping in mind how the Soviets got bogged down there, would have me scoring it at a more generous 7 out of 10 (Bush mostly loses points on UBL in my book). After all, a 4 out of 10 is a failing grade. Does unseating the regime you aimed to unseat, at lightning speed, constitute a failure? Still, Kevin Drum's a pretty fair-minded guy. More so, it seems, than John Kerry:

In Afghanistan, we have some NATO involvement, but the training of the Afghan Army is insufficient to disarm the warlord militias or to bring the billion dollar drug trade under control. This Administration has all but turned away from Afghanistan.

Er, we haven't "all but turned away" from Afghanistan. That's simply not true. Jamie Rubin and Susan Rice are gonna have to come up with better stuff than this (such untrue and/or hyperbolic criticisms)--at least if they want to persuade people Kerry has serious foreign policy alternatives to bring to the table re: issues like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Gregory at 09:59 AM | Comments (32)

September 06, 2004

The Beslan Tragedy and Putin's Speech

Putin's speech reacting to the senseless carnage of Beslan indicates that the tragedy, like 9/11 in the U.S., represents something of a pivot point in Russian history. To be sure, Russians are far less historically innocent than Americans given their much more brutal history through many centuries of strife. And they have been living with Chechen terror for a good while now. But, and even by harsh Russian standards, this past week has been hugely gruesome.

First, a Moscow bombing killed about 10. Soon thereafter, so-called 'black widows' (female Chechen terrorists), suicide bombed two jets killing another 90. And then, of course, the horrors of Beslan. The numbers alone shock. Likely over 500 Russians will have died in terror attacks in the space of a week. But, more than the sheer numbers, it is the death of so many score children in Beslan that has shocked Russia so deeply. And not just the Russian people. Its leaders, notably Putin, appear to view Beslan as something of an epoch-making event necessitating a materially new course of action for Russia:

As I have said on many occasions, we have faced crises, rebellions and terrorist acts many times. But what has happened now - the unprecedented crime committed by terrorists, inhuman in its cruelty - is not a challenge to the president, the Parliament or the government. This is a challenge to all of Russia, to all our people. This is an attack against all of us.

Indeed, the senselessness of the mass carnage in Beslan has led the Russian leader to speak very bluntly indeed:

There have been many tragic pages and difficult trials in the history of Russia. Today we are living in conditions formed after the disintegration of a huge, great country, the country which unfortunately turned out to be nonviable in the conditions of rapidly changing world.

Today, however, despite all difficulties, we managed to preserve the nucleus of that giant, the Soviet Union. We called the new country the Russian Federation.

We all expected changes, changes for the better, but found ourselves absolutely unprepared for much that changed in our lives. The question is why. We live in conditions of a transitional economy and a political system that do not correspond to the development of society. We live in conditions of aggravated internal conflicts and ethnic conflicts that before were harshly suppressed by the governing ideology.

We stopped paying due attention to issues of defense and security. We allowed corruption to affect the judiciary and law enforcement systems. In addition to that, our country, which once had one of the mightiest systems of protecting its borders, suddenly found itself unprotected either from West or East.

It would take many years and billions of rubles to create new, modern and truly protected borders. But even so, we could have been more effective if we had acted in timely and professional fashion. We have to admit that we failed to recognize the complexity and danger of the processes going on in our own country and the world as a whole. At any rate, we failed to react to them adequately. We demonstrated weakness, and the weak are beaten.

This extremely frank talk is quite astonishing fare coming from any leader-- especially a Russian leader accustomed more to Soviet modes of secrecy and ducking of responsibility for government failures. That said, of course, when Putin says that "we stopped paying due attention to issues of defense and security" or "we demonstrated weakness" he is in large part describing the chaotic, alcohol-laden Yelstin years. This is part of the reason that Putin talks about it taking "many years" to create secure borders, ie. he would have needed more time regardless given the lost Yeltsin years.

Still, however, this speech was an astonishing mea culpa by Russian standards. What does it all mean?

1) Russia will now look to re-assert its historic sphere of influence through the Caucasus (including, if to a lesser degree, the southern Caucasus).

One big loser will likely be new Georgian President Saakashvili. He can forget about any unfettered moves by Tbilisi to assert full Georgian control over South Ossetia. Putin will now make a bid to restore a quasi-hegemonic role through the Caucasus. This will lead to some tension with the Americans who are also vying for influence in the region--but such prospective tensions will be mitigated as Putin's moves will be pitched to Bush as necessary actions undertaken under the umbrella of the war on terror.

2) Putin will now look to spearhead a significant overhaul of Russia's intelligence services (not unlike the post 9/11 bureaucratic reorgs in the States). He will also be forced to move significantly more resources into the military/intelligence sphere--which likely means the risks of going-forward Yukos-style confiscatory actions will be increased given budgetary constraints.

3) While Putin did state that any governmental actions will remain within the confines of the Russian constitution (though it almost sounded like an afterthought in Putin's speech), you can be sure there will be additional constraints placed on civil liberties in the coming months and years. The Russian bear has been re-awoken--not only in terms of robust policing of the 'near abroad' but also in terms of promoting domestic 'cohesion':

Putin: "But what is more important is a mobilization of the nation before the general threat. Events in other countries prove that terrorists meet the most effective rebuff where they confront not only the power of the state but also an organized and united civil society." [ed. note: He's sounding like Zell Miller, no?]

4) Finally, note this part of the speech:

We cannot but see the evident: we are dealing not with separate acts of intimidation, not with individual forays of terrorists. We are dealing with the direct intervention of international terror against Russia, with total and full-scale war, which again and again is taking away the lives of our compatriots.

This is a signal to major powers that the gloves are going to come off--not in terms of Russia's prosecution of the Chechen war (the gloves have always been off there) but in terms of potential actions beyond Russia. Put differently, the mention of "international terror" signals that, much like the Americans will fight terror globally and even in preventitive fashion, so too will Russia now.

What's happening here is that, post 9/11, we see an increasing trend by which various nations seek to categorize their specific homeland security issues as part and parcel of the international war on terror. Israel has often, and quite succesfully, made the case that its security problem with groups like Hamas and Jihad Islami are directly analogous to the homeland security issues America faces with al-Qaeda. And now Russia, especially given ostensible al-Qaeda involvement in this latest brazen attack, seeks to also gain this kind of imprimatur of legitimacy in placing the conflict in Chechnya within the larger context of the global war on terror (the Indians re: Kashmir; and Chinese re: Xinjiang, do this kind of thing too).

There is a problem with all of this, of course. Each situation is materially different (though they all, of course, involve Muslims groups). While the tactics of indiscriminate terror are equally reprehensible whether done in NYC on 9/11, a Passover dinner in Haifa, or a school in North Ossetia--we need to analyze such attacks within the context of the specific dynamics at play. Put differently, the U.S. was not occupying Saudi Arabia when 15 Saudis crashed planes into the Towers (we had troops there at the invitation of the Saudi government). Contra this, the Palestinian terror groups are operating in the context of a war underway there since 1948. Similarly, Chechens and Russians have been in conflict, at least this last go-around, since the early 90s.

What's my point?

Well, it leads me to this little Matt-Glenn dust-up (or what the French might call a dialogue de sourds). Matt, clarifying his earlier post, writes:

What I was saying, in case this is for some reason genuinely unclear, is that to get Chechens to stop making war on Russia requires Russia to do something to resolve the underlying grievance -- Russia's mistreatment of Chechnya. At the same time, taking steps to resolve the underlying grievance would, under the circumstances, be just the sort of appeasement that would invite further attacks. Therefore, it's not clear what the Russian government can or should do in order to prevent future massacres like this.

A few thoughts on all this.

As I see it--there is never any justification for the purposeful slaughter of innocents--no matter how deep-seated and/or justified any group's political grievances. But, like it or not, and given the realities of asymetrical warfare and the success terrorists have had of late, these tactics are with us to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

We therefore need to a) make abundantly clear that such tactics are not, under any circumstances, acceptable to us (Glenn's point); but all the while striving to reach settlements that will help foster more peaceful conditions (Matt's point).

Let me put it differently.

Imagine an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in portions of East Jerusalem (with access to Muslim Holy sites under the aegis of Islamic authorities). Imagine further that Israel got to keep certain key settlements, certain strategic border buffer zones, and that the Palestinian state was largely de-militarized. Imagine too, and critically, that a major compensation fund were opened for '48 refugees and their descendants who can't go back to their original homes. (Please, no E-mails about my breathless naivete and the John Lennon song).

Now, most of the world would think this a pretty fair deal. Many irrendentists in Hamas and Islamic Jihad would not. But such groups would then be much more isolated then they are today. The vast majority of observers, including likely all of Europe, would feel that a decent deal had been struck. People would further recall that the U.N. authorized the creation of an Israeli state in the late '40s pursuant to real Jewish historical links to the region coupled with the grotesque crime of the Holocaust necessitating a national homeland for Jewry. In other words, history brought us to this difficult pass, a very fair deal was struck, and it's now time to move on.

Any further attacks by Islamic militants in Israel, after such a peace settlement, would be met with significantly more ire than currently (since many, like it or not, see such attacks in the context of a national liberation struggle). This increased ire would be shared amidst the vast majority of judicious governments and, yes, mainstream Islamic groups. There would no longer be any tolerance for, as it is often done by many Middle East observers, drawing distinctions between killing innocent discotequers in Tel Aviv versus killing innocent settlers in Hebron. IDF soldiers on the ground would now be patrolling internationally recognized borders rather than borders in dispute--so would not be considered 'fair' targets in the context of an independence struggle. And so on.

The effect of such a settlement would be to a) cut down Hamas and Jihad Islami's recruitment pool dramatically, b) leave said groups with no support from state actors (Syrian and Iranian support post such a settlement would largely dry up) and c), perhaps most important, lead to conditions where terror groups would meet ferocious and near unanimous condemnation across the globe if they continued to attack any targets in Israel within its '48 borders (or settlements retained as part of any deal and Jewish-controlled Jerusalem).

Ditto, of course, in Chechnya. Suppose Grozny were awarded some 'deep' autonomy where Russia merely kept certain border security/foreign policy levers. Chechens would have, let's say, their own currency, schools, municipal government, flag, and so on. Such a move would de-radicalize many Chechens just as a Palestinian state would de-radicalize many Palestinians. There would be fewer 'black widows'. Fewer thugs willing to slaughter innocent children. No, of course (like with Islamic Jihad, say) there would be absolutists who would view the Russian concessions as weak-kneed and would thus seek to inflict further terror blows to gain further concessions. But, such radicals would enjoy little support but from the most radical of terrorists (ie, the al-Qaeda theoratic barbarian crowd).

So, to wrap up. There can be no appeasement of gruesome international terror tactics. Not now, not later. But, we can't live in a bubble. These monsters who kill children in Beslan and Tel Aviv emerge from a climate of deep historical grievances, myriad outstanding claims and recriminations, long and bitter conflicts. In other words, and returning to Matt's point (if indeed this, er, is his point), we do need to work to reach negotiated settlements of the Kashmirs, Palestines, Chechnyas of the world. The sooner we can resolve those--the better to narrow down the battle to those who will never be satisfed by any reasonable concessions and attempts at rational compromise. Those, for instance, that hate the very idea of liberal democracy--particularly, its leading avatar America.

The hijackers who felled the Towers were, yes, likely motivated in part by the fact that Israel occupies the Territories, that Muslims were being killed in Chechnya, that American troops were in Saudi (or now, Iraq). But, more deeply, they hate us because of what and who we are--a hyper-modern, dynamic capitalist society that allows freedom of religion, a libertine popular culture, the free exchange of ideas. Such societies run contra the idealized visions of a utopic Islamic caliphate spanning from Andalusia to Indonesia.

Yes, we must do our part to signal to such groups that terror will never lead to achievement of their political goals. Yet, at the same time, we must be seen to be striving to resolve outstanding conflicts that help breed hatred. If nothing else, such efforts will help make smaller the recruitment pools of the terrorists.

You simply can't win the war on terror, long term, without resolving these outstanding conflicts, addressing economic development through the Middle East as well as providing alternatives to radical madrasas and such. At the same time, you need to be extremely robust in terms of cracking down on terror groups and states that symphatize with various terror organizations (as Putin put it plainly, "the weak are beaten"). It's not easy to do all this simultaneously--but we must. This is the challenge of our era. While terror has been with us for milennia--it has never had the chance to reap maximalist damage of the sort now possible via chemical or nuclear weaponry. So, no, we will not endlessly prattle on about 'root causes' and shy away from combatting international terror groups and states. But nor can we mount this campaign divorced from the realities on the ground that so often create the conditions that allow for terrorism to thrive (national humiliation, stagnant economies, corrupt authoritarian regimes, longstanding territorial conflicts).

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (27)