December 27, 2003

Fog of War I just

Fog of War

I just saw this excellent Errol Morris documentary yesterday. Fog of War is an exploration of the moral ambiguities surrounding armed conflict undertaken through the prism of a series of interviews with former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The film proceeds roughly in chronological order chronicling McNamara's life in the context of eleven lessons.

They are:

1) Empathize with your enemy.
2) Rationality will not save us.
3) There's something beyond one's self.
4) Maximize efficiency.
5) Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
6) Get the data.
7) Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
8) Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
9) In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil.
10) Never say never.
11) You can't change human nature.

As you might imagine, this isn't your typical Hollywood fare. For what it's worth, I highly recommend it, particularly because (somewhat surprisingly, at least to me) not too many cheap anti-McNamara points were being scored. I found it, by the standards of this documentary genre, a pretty nuanced and judicious examination of a complex man navigating hugely complicated national security issues.

As I saw it at the Angelika, there were occasional guffaws emiting from the audience at the predictable junctures where Rummy-McNamara (read: exagerrated Iraq as Vietnam) analogies were (if unfairly) easy to draw.

Still, all but the most partisan individuals will have left the theater appreciating the complex moral issues at play. Issues and ethical questions that still clearly haunt McNamara to this day.

A final thought. Regular readers know that I have often tried to put the lie to Iraq as Vietnam analogies that often appear (thinly veiled) in places like the New York Times.

But one point related to this in the movie is worth keeping in mind. In the mid-90's, McNamara goes back to Vietnam to talk to senior leaders of the Viet Cong who had been his counterparts on the other side of the conflict.

The gulf between what the Americans thought they were doing (defending freedom, containing totalitarianism, protecting the Vietnamese from the Soviet yoke and so on) and the Vietnamese perspective (Americans as the latest colonialist occupiers, willingness to fight the invader to the bitter end) bears remembering as we proceed in Iraq.

Not because the situations are directly analogous--they aren't. But because it serves as a cautionary tale re: the limits of human reason and how that impacts a judicious appraisal by each belligerent of the other party's goals.

We know, of course, that we didn't go into Iraq for the oil or to stay for twenty years in some neo-colonialist land grab.
And most Iraqis, I think, know that too.

But we have to remain very sensitive to the potential for large gulfs (in terms of misunderstandings of the other side's intentions) to emerge. Such gulfs can obviously rear their heads in such complex interventions--particularly when they drag on for longer than expected.

Such after all, is the 'fog of war.'

Note: A quick note to let readers know I'm off traveling to Brazil through the week of January 5th. Minimal blogging until then. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 04:41 PM | Comments (4)

December 26, 2003

NGO Watch I really dislike

NGO Watch

I really dislike this meme--that the big, bad NGOs often harbor nefarious political agendas and need to be reined in and policed soonest. And the often related argument that the corruption in said charitable entities is worse than the Enrons, Parmalats and Worldcoms of the world is laughable.

Don't believe me? Click on the links and, employing that old adage that money talks and B.S. walks, take a look at the aggregate dollar amounts at play (in terms of the specific fradulent activity rather than the total bankruptcy figures) for some of the recent private sector scandals.

I challenge anyone to point me to systemic corruption on that scale in the NGO world. (I mean, the dollar amounts associated with Enron's legal fees alone are likely higher than much of the alleged naughty shenanigans afoot in NGO-land).

I may be biased on this point. I worked for two years in the Balkans for the International Rescue Committee (founded, at Albert Einstein's urging, to assist Jewish refugees fleeing 30's Europe).

When I worked at the IRC, it was headed up by the very able and compassionate Robert DeVecchi. I know, from conversations with DeVecchi, that the IRC prided itself on how little of its total donor funding went to administrative costs, related overhead, or fundraising. This metric is known as "charitable committment" in the trade.

Put simply, the major lion's share of the income coming in went directly to humanitarian relief programs and the like. And it's not just the IRC.

Check out this compilation (from that NGO-friendly, socialist ragsheet Forbes) for a long list of worthy charities/foundations whose "charitable committment" rankings give the lie to the thesis that this sector is worse than our friends (almost literally) pissing away cash for grotesquely crass Sardinian soirees (Tyco), looting the company store (Adelphia), and taking aggressive accounting to new and riveting vistas (Enron, Worldcom etc--see above).

But permit me to briefly return to my specific old neck of the woods out of old institutional loyalty. Note that Forbes has granted the IRC top honors in terms of this charitable committment metric.

More important than all this, of course, is the actual work performed on the ground by groups like the IRC. Very literally, the IRC saved many lives in places like the besieged "safe" havens in Bosnia (for instance, Fred Cuny, who tragically disappeared later in Chechyna, just about single-handedly restored the water supply to Sarajevo in cooperation with the IRC).

Sure Glenn is right to say, like any sector, that NGO's need to be more closely monitored (ed. note: maybe after we're done with hedge funds and derivatives? To be sure, these are complex issues too and I would err on the side of keeping the regulatory burdens as de minimis as is responsible).

But it would be gracious of him to make mention of the amazing work they perform day in, day out--from some of the most miserable corners on Earth.


Glenn has more and writes:

"Greg Djerejian, who works in NGOs, says I'm wrong to compare NGO corruption to Enron and Parmalat. (Though his suggestion that we should compare dollar amounts seems to miss the point.)"

I was merely reacting to Glenn writing this: "The kind of financial shenanigans that go on in this world make the for-profit business scandals look minor." [emphasis added]

Reading that, I thought it was pretty fair to use a dollar metric to compare and contrast without missing the point.

That said, the old TNR article Glenn quotes at length is certainly of interest, particularly this part:

"Foundations enjoy their present tax-free moorings because they claim to operate as a nonpartisan force dedicated to the pursuit of innovative solutions to our pressing social ills, sheltered from the shifting partisan winds. The preponderance of foundation grants to advocacy groups, however, suggests that foundations are less devoted to the reasoned pursuit of the public good than to the multiculturalist dogmas propounded by their staff...."

But you can certainly still argue that, in terms of necessary regulatory attention now and going forward, the Enrons are more critical to the general American national interest than, say, the Ford Foundation issue Glenn blogs about (unlike Paul Krugman, however, I would never make the absurd claim that Enron will have a greater longer range impact on the U.S. than 9/11, or related claptrap).

Anyway, I agree this is an issue of some concern. And that more monitoring is a good idea.

Glenn's take on the TNR piece author's concerns:

"Samuels isn't so much concerned with bags-of-cash corruption, exactly, as with the pumping of huge amounts of money into politics instead of actual effort to help people, and he notes the way in which many foundations have abandoned, or shifted, metrics for "success" so as to make real accountability difficult. Though that's a form of corruption in itself, and it tends to lead to more traditional kinds of corruption, as well."

What make me somewhat concerned is the pumping of cash, surreptitiously, into politics. At this point, I guess, I'm more sanguine than Reynolds on the perils of the metrics of "success" shifting and that then leading to more 'traditional' corruption.

Posted by Gregory at 05:46 PM | Comments (4)

More on Air France/LAX Le

More on Air France/LAX

Le Monde continues to provide information on the whole Air France/LAX situation that I haven't seen reported in the U.S. press yet. Today they have a piece up that reports that about ten individuals scheduled to be on the L.A. bound flights in question were considered suspicious by Washington.

French authorities searched them and all their luggage, checked into their backgrounds, and interrogated each individual about the purpose and duration of their prospective stay in the U.S.

Le Monde says this effort was in "vain" with nothing suspicious turned up.

There was also mention of a Tunisian national scheduled for the 13:35 flight to L.A. He was traveling to L.A., via Paris, having originated in Tunis. His frequent trips to the U.S. and especially his pilot's license had "attracted suspicion," aoccording to Le Monde.

But this individual never checked in at the gate in Tunis. Paris went ahead and checked with Tunisian authorities and "no compromising" information was found re: the individual in question, ie. he was unknown to anti-terrorist agencies and not on any lists of Islamic activists.

Le Monde concludes:

"S'il fallait une preuve supplémentaire du peu de crédit accordé par les autorités franćaises aux craintes américaines, en l'absence d'éléments matériels probants, la section antiterroriste du parquet de Paris n'a pas jugé nécessaire d'ouvrir une enquźte préliminaire. L'annulation a été décidée selon d'autres critŹres. "Nous avons tenu compte de la qualité de leurs services de renseignement et de la mobilisation ą Washington autour de cette question, explique-t-on au ministŹre de l'intérieur. Les Etats-Unis vivent toujours dans le traumatisme du 11 septembre, c'est un élément qu'on oublie souvent de prendre en considération, en France." Une nouvelle réunion devait se tenir ą Matignon, vendredi 26 décembre, dans la matinée, sur les mesures de sécurité aérienne."

I've copied the text from the original article for the benefit of French readers.

But the down and dirty translation is that the French authorities have given so little credence to the American fears that they see no need, at least at this juncture, to even pursue a preliminary inquiry about the whole episode.

Thus the cancellation of the flights was merely justified on grounds put thus by one French Ministry of Interior official:

"We took stock of the general quality of their [the U.S.'] intelligence services and the mobilization in Washington around this issue... The U.S. is still living under the trauma of 9/11, it's an element we often forget to take into consideration in France." [emphasis added]

Well, it would be nicer if the French official quoted above was more in outright agreement with his American counterparts about the needed for utmost scrutiny of flight passenger manifests and such, as well as the need for the occasional cancellation of flights.

This would point to a better understanding of the general post 9/11 terror environment. It would provide more convincing proof that the Europeans had moved, along with the U.S., into a post 9/11 posture (some have, particularly Aznar and Blair who are well acquainted with the brutish means terrorists employ and better understand how the added variable of WMD use could fell tens of thousands or more).

But, that said, it's better than nothing to see that the French official at least shows an understanding and cognizance of the American psyche post 9/11. It's pretty clear that we are still a nation traumatized by the mass carnage of 9/11.

And that's certainly nothing to be embarrassed about as long as we don't become wildly irrational in our fears. So far, I've seen no evidence of that.

A digression.

Michael Moore, in his pretty imbecilic (and utterly classless, think of his crude stalking of Charlton Heston in his own house) documentary "Bowling for Columbine," sought to paint America as a nation that is risibly easy to scare.

Like many such gross stereotypes, there's a grain of truth to it. You know how the thinking goes. We've been protected by a large continental land mass and flanked by two oceans so have been (mostly) spared the visitations of world war, plague, ethnic purges.

So, Moore's hyperbolic treatment goes, we get all in a tizzy about "African" killer bees, "Asian" flu strains, and so on. He paints us a land of fearful, boorish xenophobes--guns at the ready to fight off foreign (very broadly defined to mean someone from beyond the environs of one's immediate homestead) interlopers.

No wonder the movie is so wildly popular in Europe. Add it to the shockingly widespread view (see Germany) that the American government orchestrated 9/11 (so as to justify neo-imperialist land graps hither dither and to pass the Gestapo-like Patriot Acts I and II to cow the now panicky and scared American masses into submission and con them into erecting a Yankee version of the Third Reich) and, voila, you've got a roadmap for world dominion as methodically planned by the fearsome triumvirate of Wolfowitz-Rove-Georgie.

Said junta, of course, representing a clear and present danger to the future of these Americas as a democratic polity (thereby keeping self-appointed stewards of the vessel of state like Gore Vidal tossing and turning late into the night).

But back to the French official at least being cognizant of the emotional impact of 9/11. To me this is a positive. Sure there will be some snickering, a la Moore thesis, in the backhalls of various ministries in Paris of our 'panicky' overreaction to the whole LAX situation.

But broadly speaking, I think we are getting pretty sincere (if a tad halting) cooperation on intelligence and varied risk mitigation actions with the main counterparts in Paris.

All this reminds me of an event a group I work with in London had scheduled for September 12, 2003. I mentioned to a partner at a major City law firm that we had moved it forward a day so as not to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. With nonchalance and some befuddlement the partner muttered something along the lines that "he had forgotten all about that."

Well, we certainly haven't forgotten all about "that" in the proverbial 'over here'. And at least, if not in full-blown cooperative mode, some French officials ostensibly haven't either.

As long we we remain sober in our analyses of the threat environment (put differently, don't 'cry wolf' too often)--we should have the right to expect continued cooperation and understanding of our security concerns going forward--at least from all intelligence services not actively opposed to American interests.

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 PM | Comments (4)

December 25, 2003

Holiday Greetings Merry Christmas to

Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas to all from New York. The weather here has taken a turn for the better (yesterday was rainy and particularly nasty, ie. quite London-like).

So surely the legions of Brits visiting New York (per the linked article, the top U.K. traveller destination this Christmas) will be cheered up to see the sun poking about a bit today.

Again, best holiday wishes wherever you are reading from.

Posted by Gregory at 06:24 PM | Comments (3)

Devaluation of WMD? An interesting

Devaluation of WMD?

An interesting piece up in Haaretz.

"The Libyan transformation is the first case of a comprehensive change in stance with regard to WMDs that was not accompanied by a move toward democracy. Without reference to the motivation behind Gadhafi's turnaround - whether the victory of Bush's unilateral doctrine or multilateral sanctions - his move has potentially far-reaching normative significance for both the region and the world.

Perhaps the greatest significance is that status of WMDs may be undergoing a process of devaluation. The first signs of this devaluation may have even preceded Gadhafi's move. Iraq seems to have given up its WMD projects after its defeat in the Gulf War, but Saddam was afraid to declare it publicly."

Posted by Gregory at 04:49 PM | Comments (4)

The World According to Powell

The World According to Powell

A little while back here there was a discussion about whether a preemptive posture (though one with built in caveats and limitations) might simply represent a common sensical, prudential policy stance post 9/11.

We will have more on all this as time allows. But in the meantime, it appears Colin Powell (no messianic neo-con he) would agree:

"It is somewhat odd, therefore, to discover that our foreign policy strategy is so often misunderstood by both domestic and foreign observers. U.S. strategy is widely accused of being unilateralist by design. It isn't. It is often accused of being imbalanced in favor of military methods. It isn't. It is frequently described as being obsessed with terrorism and hence biased toward preemptive war on a global scale. It most certainly is not.

These distortions are partly explained by context. The NSS made the concept of preemption explicit in the heady aftermath of September 11, and it did so for obvious reasons. One reason was to reassure the American people that the government possessed common sense. As President Bush has said -- and as any sensible person understands -- if you recognize a clear and present threat that is undeterrable by the means you have at hand, then you must deal with it. You do not wait for it to strike; you do not allow future attacks to happen before you take action." [emphasis added]

Posted by Gregory at 04:15 PM | Comments (3)

Musharraf Watch Someone is way

Musharraf Watch

Someone is way too well acquainted with the Pakistani President's movements.

Meanwhile, the WaPo has an article up that points to some significant shortcomings in Musharraf's implementation of democratic norms.

Posted by Gregory at 04:06 PM | Comments (4)

Paris-LAX Josh Marshall worries that


Josh Marshall worries that "choppy political waters" may be impeding Franco-American cooperation on anti-terrorist initiatives. Indeed, as Josh writes, there is a muddied 'fog of war' aspect to the intensive (and often contradictory) media coverage surrounding the cancelled Air France flights that were destined for L.A.

Per this Beeb story, American officials are reportedly unhappy that the information about the cancelled flights became so public.

Josh also links this story suggesting that the French weren't immediately convinced of the need to cancel the flights so that the Americans had to threaten to refuse the flights landing rights.

There is also a very interesting article in Le Monde today. The French currently appear most intent on dispelling the news, reported in some outlets, that al-Qaeda may have actually infiltrated Air France's staff. Such theories are even getting aired in the august pages of the FT.

Here's what Le Monde reports:

"A l'ambassade de France, ą Washington, comme ą la direction des services de police, ą Los Angeles, cette hypothŹse a été démentie. Il a été précisé que les préoccupations américaines concernaient les listes de passagers des vols en question et non les pilotes ou les personnels de cabine. Interrogé sur CNN, Jean-Claude Mallet, secrétaire général de la défense nationale, a déclaré qu'il n'avait "rien de ce genre dans -ses- dossiers".

Translation: "At the French Embassy in Washington, as with the head of police services in L.A., this hypothesis [that Air France staff has been infiltrated by al-Qaeda] has been denied. It was specified that American concerns are about the passenger lists of the flights in question rather than pilots or cabin crew. Interviewed on CNN, Jean-Claude Mallet, secretary-general of national defense, declared that there wasn't "anything of that type in his files."

This comprehensive MSNBC roundup appears to support the French contention that the U.S. was more concerned about al-Qaeda terrorists boarding the flights as passengers rather than as pilots and/or flight crew.

That aspect of the story aside, here's some interesting information that sheds lights on the extent of cooperation as between the French and American authorities:

"Les autorités américaines ont demandé ą Paris de prévoir la présence d'agents armés ą bord de plusieurs vols considérés comme d'éventuelles cibles des terroristes. Les procédures franćaises ne comportent pas ce type de mesure, mais la requźte de Washington a été prise en considération par les services concernés, et une réunion interministérielle a été organisée, mardi, sur ce sujet. A la suite de cette réunion, l'ambassadeur franćais, Jean-David Levitte, a informé Condoleezza Rice, conseillŹre du président George Bush pour la sécurité nationale, que des fonctionnaires armés prendraient place dans ces avions.

Mercredi matin, l'ambassadeur américain ą Paris, Howard Leach, a indiqué aux responsables franćais que son gouvernement préférait l'annulation pure et simple des vols menacés. AprŹs avoir retardé un premier vol, Air France l'a annulé."


"The American authorities asked Paris to allow armed agents on board several flights considered eventual terrorist targets. French procedures don't conform to this type of measure, and an inter-ministerial meeting was organized, Tuesday, on this subject. After this meeting, the French Ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, informed Condoleeza Rice...that armed agents could board the planes.

Wednesday morning, the American Ambassador to Paris, Howard Leach, indicated to the responsible French officials that his government would prefer the cancellation, pure and simple, of the threatened flights. After delaying the first flight, Air France eventually cancelled it."

What surprises me about all this is that there appears to have been significant French resistance to the notion of having armed agents board the flights. It's not as if the U.S. has asked to do this routinely. And, particularly given the episode with shoe-bomber Richard Reid (who boarded his Boston-bound flight in Paris), as well as what appears to be very specific intelligence about particular carriers and flights, it's somewhat unfortunate that the French would have dragged their feet on all this.

Especially if there was a sense among some in the French government that the Americans were being too panicky and overreacting to raw intelligence reports. This would seem to evoke the pre-9/11 mentality I've written about previously, among some in Europe, in terms of underestimating the mayhem terror strikes can cause. In turn, this can lead to intelligence services being too sanguine about potential threats.

Regardless, the flights were cancelled pursuant to U.S. Administration request. Overall, ths episode points to continued cooperation on intelligence sharing and security measures as between France and the U.S.

Still, however, some friction appears to be acting as an irritant thus slowing somewhat the decision-making process on what specific anti-terror measures might be required. That needs to be remedied soonest given the current threat environment.

Posted by Gregory at 03:30 PM | Comments (4)

December 23, 2003

Saudi Schisms Reader MD kindly

Saudi Schisms

Reader MD kindly forwards an article that will be appearing in the next issue of Foreign Affairs.

Doran well sketches out the split between reformist oriented Crown Prince Abdullah and Interior Minister Nayef (who controls the secret police). Doran indicates the key flashpoint dividing the two camps revolves around "a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment."

On that score, note this interesting part of Doran's article (that policymakers need to grapple with more):

"According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub." [emphasis added]

This schism is worth keeping in mind too:

"This is particularly true of the Shi`ite question in Saudi politics. Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all." [emphasis added]

Look for potential troublemaking, by some in Saudi, should a crude Shi'a majoritarianism emerge in Iraq (particularly one with major religious stripes). This would then in turn, of course, precipitate heightened Iranian-Saudi Arabian frictions/rivalries in the region.

Anyway, be sure to read all of MD's piece.

UPDATE: More from Saudi here:

"Saudi Arabia's crackdown on terrorism will be tested as militant Islamic groups apparently shift focus from foreign to domestic targets, officials and diplomats in the kingdom say.

The shift was underscored on December 4 when a group called the Two Holy Mosques Brigade claimed to have shot Brigadier General Abdulaziz al-Huwairini, a senior interior ministry official involved in the counter-terrorism campaign, while he was driving his car. The attack has not been officially confirmed.

The group has since declared in a statement that "since our brothers in al-Qaeda are busy fighting the crusaders, we took it upon ourselves to cleanse the land of the two holy mosques of the crusaders' agents" - a reference to the Saudi government.

Experts conclude from this that parallel groups may be active in Saudi Arabia, with varying ties to al-Qaeda. "Earlier al-Qaeda statements had referred to purifying the kingdom of crusaders. This statement suggested that they had shifted their campaign to targeting the 'tyrants'," a diplomat said."

Posted by Gregory at 03:28 PM | Comments (5)

December 21, 2003

Bush Doctrine Dana Milbank writing

Bush Doctrine

Dana Milbank writing in the WaPo:

"It has been a week of sweet vindication for those who promulgated what they call the Bush Doctrine.

Beginning with the capture of Saddam Hussein a week ago and ending Friday with an agreement by Libya's Moammar Gaddafi to surrender his unconventional weapons, one after another international problem has eased.

On Tuesday, the leaders of France and Germany set aside their long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq and agreed to forgive an unspecified amount of that country's debt. On Thursday, Iran signed an agreement allowing surprise inspections of its nuclear facilities after European governments applied intense pressure on the U.S. foe. On Friday, Libya agreed to disarm under the watch of international inspectors, just as administration officials were learning that Syria had seized $23.5 million believed to be for al Qaeda."

Later in the article (well worth reading in full) Milbank writes:

"Those who developed the Bush Doctrine -- a policy of taking preemptive, unprovoked action against emerging threats -- predicted that an impressive U.S. victory in Iraq would intimidate allies and foes alike, making them yield to U.S. interests in other areas." [emphasis added]

This is how the Bush Doctrine is oft-described by people like Paul Krugman, George Soros, and Maureen Dowd. But the reality is more complex, as the National Security Strategy document that outlines the new doctrine makes clear:

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will: build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge; coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results.

The purpose of our actions will always be to eliminate a specific threat to the United States or our allies and friends. The reasons for our actions will be clear, the force measured, and the cause just
." [emphasis added]

Note the references to a "specific threat," "common assessment of the most dangerous threats," (to be sure, such a consensus didn't occur on Iraq) "anticipatory action to defend ourselves," acting "deliberately" (for instance, getting a unanimous Resolution 1441 at the U.N. holding Iraq to task for its 12 year long violations of post Gulf War I undestandings and such).

Note too, the strategy document enunciates key, common attributes of rogue states:

--brutalize their own people and squander their national resources for the personal gain of the rulers;
--display no regard for international law, threaten their neighbors, and callously violate international treaties to which they are party;
--are determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction, along with other advanced military technology, to be used as threats or offensively to achieve the aggressive designs of these regimes;
--sponsor terrorism around the globe; and
--reject basic human values and hate the United States and everything for which it stands

In other words, the new national security posture is not one of "unprovoked" preemption. The neo-cons (whose influence is overstated, as is the fashion these days, in Milbank's article) haven't hoisted a foreign policy on us that allows for myriad interventions pursued will-nilly, for the hell of it, or just for kicks.

There is actually some pretty sober thinking that's gone into what kinds of threats, post 9/11, are constitutive of a danger that might, under certain parameters and analyzed deliberately, occasion the need for some form of preemptive action.

Remember too that we are talking of very few states about which some form of premptive action has even been discussed--and this only in limited locales like the hallways of AEI.

Put differently, even if the post-major combat in Iraq had been as easy as the main combat stage, we weren't rushing on to erect new imperial garrisons in Tripoli, Teheran, Damascus and Pyongyang.

Tripoli shows the U.S. can still can pull off good cop/bad cop diplomatic initiatives with allies like the Brits to bring pressure to bear on dictators. We are giving China a big hand in multilateral negotiations on North Korea. A Euro foreign ministerial troika was dispatched to Teheran. Cooperation, despite rough patches, continues with Damascus.

Is this the "rigid doctrine of military preemption" that people like John Kerry speak of?

"Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), a presidential aspirant, portrayed the success with Libya as an exception to the Bush Doctrine. "Ironically, this significant advance represents a complete U-turn in the Bush administration's overall foreign policy," he said in a statement Saturday. "An administration that scorns multilateralism and boasts about a rigid doctrine of military preemption has almost in spite of itself demonstrated the enormous potential for improving our national security through diplomacy."

Memo to Kerry: Such tortured reasoning and almost absurdly hyperbolic campaign rhetoric is part of the reason your campaign can't get any traction.

Posted by Gregory at 03:22 PM | Comments (5)

A Slight Omission Over at

A Slight Omission Over at Talk of the Town

Philip Gourevitch, writing in the New Yorker.

"When an American adviser in Iraq speaks of a new strategy of “terrorism versus terrorism,” as Seymour M. Hersh reported in these pages last week, and an American lieutenant colonel tells the Times, “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,” one may be forgiven for concluding that the enemy is defining the terms of the fight to his advantage."

B.D. had already touched on the above (quite incendiary) quote from Sy Hersh's article.

Which helped spur recollections that Gourevitch's piece does omit this part of Hersh's article:

"Told of such comments, the Pentagon adviser, who is an expert on unconventional war, expressed dismay. “There are people saying all sorts of wild things about Manhunts,” he said. “But they aren’t at the policy level. It’s not a no-holds policy, and it shouldn’t be. I’m as tough as anybody, but we’re also a democratic society, and we don’t fight terror with terror. There will be a lot of close controls—do’s and don’ts and rules of engagement.” . [emphasis added throughout]

(Via Marshall)

Posted by Gregory at 01:47 AM | Comments (5)

Poor Prognostication Department Thanks to

Poor Prognostication Department

Thanks to reader AM for sending this in in response to my earlier post on Fisk.

Keep it in mind when thinking of his contention that "all hopes" that the Iraq resistance might collapse are, without a doubt, doomed.

Posted by Gregory at 12:12 AM | Comments (13)

December 20, 2003

Chalabi Profile in the FT

Chalabi Profile in the FT

Chalabi discourses on the "shit hole that has become famous" (in case you're curious, that's Fallujah...guess he's not going for the Sunni vote!), his contention that Jerry Bremer viewed him and other exiles as "nincompoops", and more.

Posted by Gregory at 11:32 PM | Comments (4)

Sweatshop Watch Any lawyers out

Sweatshop Watch

Any lawyers out there feeling underappreciated and worked too hard during this cold, Ebeneezer-like bonus season? The Nation has got your ticket.

Posted by Gregory at 07:41 PM | Comments (2)

Of Causation (Libya) Gadhafi's son

Of Causation (Libya)

Gadhafi's son says that the Iraq conflict was irrelevant to the Libyan offer on WMD disarmament. Sure, and the Reagan administration's "robust" (to use a word that's been making the rounds lately) anti-Soviet stance had nothing to do with the defeat of the U.S.S.R. and end of the Cold War either.

UPDATE: Andrew quips that Howard Dean would have sent Warren Christopher instead.

Remember back when Clinton dispatched Christopher to get the Euros on board to lift the arms embargo on the Bosniaks and use NATO to strike Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing U.N. "safe" areas like Sarajevo?

He didn't quite pull it off and reported back that there had been an "exchange" of views.

Someone (I can't recall who though it may have been "acerbic" Richard Perle) quipped to the press that, yeah, an exchange of views had occurred all right. Christopher went to Europe with a U.S. view and returned with a European one.

Look for more such "exchanges of views" if Dean (or Clark or Gephardt) make it to 1600 Pennsylvania.

UPDATE II: Tagorda has more.

UPDATE III: Of course, the Iraq factor wasn't the definitive one at play. But it, doubtless, helped focus minds in Tripoli. Still, like most historical events, this one was multi-causal:

"What forced Gaddafi to act was a combination of things -- U.N. sanctions after the Lockerbie bombing, his international isolation after the Soviet Union's collapse . . . and internal economic problems that led to domestic unrest by Islamists and forces within the military," said Ray Takeyh, a Libya expert at the National Defense University."

But note too:

"Whether by coincidence or fear that Libya might be targeted, Gaddafi's envoys approached Britain on the eve of the Iraq war to discuss a deal, U.S. officials said.

"The invasion of Iraq sent a strong message to governments around the world that if the United States feels threatened by weapons of mass destruction, we are prepared to act against regimes not prepared to change their behavior," said a senior State Department official who requested anonymity."

Posted by Gregory at 06:14 PM | Comments (10)

Euro Gravitas Summitry Watch "ON

Euro Gravitas Summitry Watch

"ON DECEMBER 12th European leaders sat down to lunch expecting to thrash out final details of a constitution for the European Union. But the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who was in the chair, had other ideas. “Let's talk about football and women instead. I know a lot about women, I've even featured in the pages of Playboy, but I know there are other people around this table who know even more,” he said. Turning jovially to the German chancellor, Mr Berlusconi remarked: “Gerhard, you have had four wives—what can you tell us about women?” Neither Mr Schröder nor any of the women at the table was amused. It was an inauspicious opening. A day later Mr Berlusconi reported to a reconvened group that the talks had failed."

From the Economist.

Not exactly the Philadelphia Convention, huh?

Posted by Gregory at 03:49 AM | Comments (3)

December 19, 2003

Freedom Tower Update The plans

Freedom Tower Update

The plans are coming together.

"At a news conference to unveil the design, Childs said the tower must be "simple and pure in its form, a memorable form that will reclaim the resilience and the spirit of our democracy."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the tower -- to be the world's tallest -- would "dramatically reclaim a part of the New York City skyline that was lost on 9-11."

You know, I was in a taxi a few weeks back in Geneva speaking in French to a cabbie. The guy asked me what the plans were for Ground Zero when he heard I was from New York.

I basically told him that, the concept was being finalized, but that the building, when complete, would be the tallest in the world. This wasn't said in triumphalist tone. I said it in matter of fact fashion.

His reaction was quite telling. And quite revelatory of pretty common European attitudes about the American hyperpuissance.

Basically, I got the rolled eyes and "they'll never learn" vibe. The primitives have to, arrogantly, erect another big tower downtown.

You could tell, if those were ever to go down too, he'd be saying "I told you so." And that he wouldn't be too unhappy about it either.

These types of sentiments don't exist because we didn't have UNSC unanimity during the last go-arounds over Iraq at the United Nations. Or because of Kyoto or the ICC.

There are much deeper emotions at play. Mixtures of fear, resentment and envy in the face of the American behemoth.

To be sure, we should communicate our aims better in the New Year (particularly that we haven't embarked upon a revolutionary usurpation of the Achesonian post-war order, ie, the Krugman meme).

We need to reassure the world, in effect, that we remain multilateralist precisely because of 9/11. That, post 9/11, we are all multilateralists.

We need the cooperation of other countries to do the financial detective work, to share the intelligence on al-Qaeda, to ensure cohesive security risk mitigation measures are taking place across borders in coordinated fashion.

But what this European cab driver, and the many like him, don't get is simple: 9/11 was an epoch-making event. It heralded a new form of apocalyptic terror. It's not about ETA car bombs or the IRA blowing up hotels. It's a whole new degree of terror--particularly when one considers the prospects of WMD-use in future terror attacks.

So the Europeans need to meet us halfway on this too--if we are to move forward together in multilateral fashion and patch up the Iraq fracas and assorted ill feelings.

They have to emerge, pace Kagan, from their Kantian dreamscape of perpetual peace and honestly engage in a real tour d'horizon of the post 9/11 state of the world.

And if that doesn't happen--it should be made clear too that the U.S. won't succumb to meekness and cowardice because of ill-founded antipathy or irrational fears re: our objectives abroad. We will continue to protect our vital national security interests as we rationally perceive them (and, on that score, we should be careful to, going forward, not risk charges of hyping intelligence again).

And yes, we're going to build those towers even higher this time. And, especially for someone getting on a flight heading home to NYC tonight, that feels good. Real good.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 PM | Comments (4)

Documentary Department Samantha Power is

Documentary Department

Samantha Power is donning her film critic hat. Needless to say, her NYT piece on documentary maker Errol Morris' "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara" is hugely more interesting than your typical movie review (though, unfortunately, Power engages in too much Iraq as Vietnam analogizing).

A snippet:

"By now, Mr. McNamara has learned how to speak about the trauma in his past in much the same way one learns to speak of the death of a loved one: by rote. In our conversation, he often repeated verbatim what he had said on camera. If a question probed tender territory, he pivoted, transitioning skillfully to one of his policy causes, like nuclear nonproliferation or the International Criminal Court. But despite all his best efforts, Mr. McNamara still broke down several times during the filming of "The Fog of War" — "a sign of weakness," he told me, embarrassed. On camera, he remains stoic as he says that his wife and son got ulcers when he was secretary of defense, and that his wife, who died in 1981, "may even ultimately have died from the stress." Mr. McNamara's emotions get the better of him when he goes on to say something he must know to be untrue. "But," he insists, waving his pen for emphasis, "they were some of the best years of our lives and" — here the tears start — "all members of my family benefited from it." He quickly masters the lump in his throat, and proclaims, unconvincingly: "It was terrific." In our interview, Mr. McNamara's eyes filled with tears at precisely the same moment. Though some politicians are known to muster tears as a ploy for sympathy, in the case of Mr. McNamara, who is famously controlling, they seemed anything but calculated; rather, they offered evidence that his public poise is outmatched by his personal demons."

You know, its become something of an American pastime to beat up government officials for sport. Passages like this remind us that, even for a character reviled by so many, high government office can cause intense sorrow and deal real emotive blows still many years later. And at least McNamara is willing to frankly confront the past.

In another interesting passage, Power writes:

"In the absence of full-fledged Congressional investigations, American policymakers rarely look back. They are bound by continuity and fealty across administrations and generations. With the proliferation of class-action suits and the advent of global courtrooms, American officials are now explicitly counseled to avoid public reckoning, for fear of creating legal liability (or constraining their ability to do it all over again, when it suits them). Whether regarding the Vietnam War, America's cold war assassinations or our misguided former alliance with Saddam Hussein, American officials keep their eyes fixed on the future. They rarely admit responsibility for failure, for costly meddling or for large-scale human suffering. They resist debate — internally or publicly — on how good intentions went astray. And they most certainly don't apologize to those harmed."


Posted by Gregory at 03:13 PM | Comments (14)

Franco-American Squabble Watch Support for

Franco-American Squabble Watch

Support for Matt Yglesias' theory?

Check this out.

Squabble soundbite:

"A French official voiced dismay Thursday at Mr. Hanford's remarks.

"Very often there are debates on the pledge of allegiance or other religious issues in the schools," the official said. "Never have you heard a French diplomat comment on an internal debate in the United States."

Posted by Gregory at 02:47 PM | Comments (5)

The European Disunion Via the

The European Disunion

Via the FT:

"The European Union ought to change its name to the European Disunion. This week's missive from six net contributors to the EU budget telling the Commission that expenditure should be pegged at about 1 per cent of EU gross national income for the period from 2007 to 2013 has exposed yet another fault-line in an already fractured Union....

Although the letter of the six is said to have been drafted well before the collapse of the summit on the EU's constitutional treaty, its dispatch to the Commission president just two days later carried an unmistakable political message. Bad boys Spain and Poland, respectively today's biggest recipient of EU funds and one of tomorrow's large net gainers, have been told not to expect largesse from the negotiations ahead."

Posted by Gregory at 02:33 PM | Comments (4)

That Was Then, This Is

That Was Then, This Is Now

This WaPo story has to be seen in the context of major fears of Iranian fundamentalism spreading through the Gulf post '79.

But it's still embarrassing how we soft-pedaled and couched our denunciation of WMD use to Saddam.

And don't miss this encapsulation of a certain strain of Whitehall think (crusty Etonian tendencies also espied during the killing fields of Bosnia by so very sanguine Douglas Hurd and others; in this vein, recall too Bismark's remark that the Balkans were "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier"):

"The declassified documents also show the hope of another senior diplomat, the British ambassador to Iraq, in working constructively with Hussein.

Shortly after Hussein became deputy to the president in 1969, then-British Ambassador H.G. Balfour Paul cabled back his impressions after a first meeting: "I should judge him, young as he is, to be a formidable, single-minded and hard-headed member of the Ba'athist hierarchy, but one with whom, if only one could see more of him, it would be possible to do business."

"A presentable young man" with "an engaging smile," Paul wrote. "Initially regarded as a [Baath] Party extremist, but responsibility may mellow him."

Responsibility, alas, didn't "mellow" him. Though the spider-hole may have.

Oh, and apparently other British observers were intrigued by his smile too. Here's another example:

"I recall how, when he smiled--which he did far too much--his lips would slide back from his teeth too far, so that his warmth turned into a kind of animal leer. It didn't look like this on television. But when you were there, next to him, breathing the same bit of air, that is what you saw."

UPDATE: In terms of various countries' culpability vis-a-vis being in bed with Saddam pre-Gulf War I and such don't miss Dan Drezner's post on the matter.

Posted by Gregory at 12:03 PM | Comments (10)

Readers Corner From reader RE,

Readers Corner

From reader RE, writing in from the Upper West Side (no hotbed of Perle fandom), this exchange:


"You write: "Indeed, Perle described neo-conservatism as a "common sense" pragmatic approach to foreign policy repeatedly during his remarks. "

There is a difference between an assertion and a description. The latter requires examples.

What are Perle's specific examples of neo-conservatism's common sense and pragmatism? I have been unable to find any. despite looking long and hard."

I responded, somewhat in haste, as follows:

"What about holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as terror groups themselves? I think that's rather common sensical."

To which reader RE was kind enough to respond in detail:

"I don't think your answer speaks directly to my question because it is not a concrete example, which is what I was hoping for, but instead it's just a maxim, like "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Superficially, it sounds nice, but the devil is in the details, and it's the details I'm looking for. I will respond to it nevertheless:

To consider a specific example of this maxim in practice, you are saying that neoconservatives believe it is common sense to assert that since Iraq harbored terrorists, Iraq should be considered "culpable" as a terror group itself.

As you know as well as I, there is a serious logical fallacy at the heart of such an assertion. But let us, for the sake of argument, not dispute that. Let us assume that the middle IS excludable, that states that harbor terrorists are equally culpable as terrorists for their misdeeds. (I'll even pass over the uncomfortable fact that confounds your maxim, namely that the US was funding Saddam when he gassed the Kurds, which would, by the standard you propose, make the US at least partly culpable in those attacks. Even though the neocon principle you state all but forces that conclusion, I don't believe the US was culpable, so let's leave that out, too.)

Even by this weakest of standards, the neoconservative position fails the test of common sense when applied to the practical example of Iraq. For there is still no evidence made public, including the recently leaked Feith memo, that has demonstrated any real working relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. So it makes no sense to hold Iraq culpable for the 9/11 attacks if they were not harboring the 9/11 terrorists, as they apparently weren't.

Saddam's enthusiastic support of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and the Territories is well known, and deplorable. Certainly, Saddam is culpable for those specific incidents (and many others, no doubt). But Israel is *not* the United States. The Palestinians also had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, even if they celebrated their success. Palestinian nationalism is very different than bin Laden's radical interpretation of Wahabbism, even if there are a few Islamist themes in

Now, one can attempt to concoct an elaborate chain of associations whereby Israel's security is considered basically equivalent to American security so therefore Saddam's support of Palestinian suicide bombers is really an attack on the US, but such a chain is to say the least debatable, and in any event, easily falls victim to Occam's Razor. Such a chain is definitely not what is usually meant by common sense.

And so, I fail to see any common sense at work in the maxim you propose when you look at a specific example.

So I ask again: where are the specific examples of common sense in neo-conservatism? Where is the pragmatism Perle asserts?

Now, "pragmatism" and "common sense" appear to be the province of a far different approach to international relations, namely that of Raymond Aron, if my preliminary reading of his work is indicative of his opinions. In Peace and War, he provides numerous, highly specific examples of what commonsense foreign policy looks like. Aron, for example, has numerous criticisms of supra-national organizations like the UN. But Aron realizes that groups such as the UN have a very useful purpose in international relations, in spite of their problems. He advocates using them, but carefully. He would never question their existence. That is pragmatism.

In contrast, Perle dismisses such internationalism as essentially worthless, if not actively harmful. Because the UN cannot do everything well, it can do nothing good at all. Whatever such a viewpoint is, that is not the view of a pragmatist.

But Perle and his associates don't stop there., Perle and Wolfowitz, for example have a distressing propensity to entertain the totally unsubstantiated conspiracy theories of Laurie Mylroie and a willingness to rely on the highly unreliable "intelligence" of Chalabi and his friends. That demonstrates to me a considerable deficit in the areas of judgment and common sense. And their inability to understand that in all but the most extreme circumstances* tough diplomacy and broad international consensus is far more effective than bombing is cause, frankly, for alarm.

Like so many other neoconservatives when challenged, Perle resorts to ad hominem assaults instead of reasoned, sourced argument. He rarely provides specific examples where his critics are mistaken except on trivial asides, where he focuses to the exclusion of all else. And so those criticisms stand unchallenged.

If you believe his critics are wrong, you need to come up with specific, non-trivial examples, to real-life situations, not philosophical declarations of purpose. You won't find many such examples, but you will find numerous putdowns, legal threats and insults by Perle and others directed at his opponents..

If serious critiques of neoconservatism, and Perle in particular, are unknown to you, I will gladly give you plenty of backup once I have from you some specific examples of Perle's pragmatic, commonsense, seeing-the-world-as-it-is approach, and where it has proven inarguably correct and inarguably helpful primarily to US interests."

We will be addressing much of this soon over at B.D.

Let me say straight away, however, that I'm no fan of Chalabi--and to the extent Perle carried water for him in the Beltway as presumptive heir apparent to Saddam--it does call Perle's wisdom, on that matter at least, into question.

Josh Marshall, whose blog has been particularly interesting of late (perhaps he should catch the flu more often, though I certainly wouldn't wish it on him having just recently gotten over a particularly nasty one over here!), has an interesting post up on Chalabi's newspaper, Al-Mutamar, running a front page maga-sized photo (ostensibly with Pachachi and other governing council bigwigs excised from the shot) of Chalabi, with barely concealed swagger, surveying a hapless looking Saddam.

I don't know if the Pentagon, as Josh suggests, gave Chalabi any assists on the photo front or such. What I do know, however, is that it reinforces Chalabi's image (to me at least) as somewhat of a charlatan and a pretty shameless self-promoter.

He knows that the Iraqi public is starved for additional photos of Saddam. He somehow manages to get in on the post-hobo (or should I say "bum" instead?), post-shave second round of the action knowing the shots will fly off the vendor stands.

It's a transparent bid to look the key Shi'a player serving up some humble pie to Saddam. It's about as risibly self-promoting as P. Diddy's antics.

So what, you might say? After all the years of pain and repression, can't he enjoy a little gloat peering down at Saddam?

Except that he was likely living not too far down the road from where I'm writing in London in pretty comfy exile throughout the "time of troubles."

I mean, if your paper is going to print a shot of said meeting, print a shot with the entire governing council delegation visiting Saddam rather than crop the pic for maximum self-aggrandizing effect.

Put differently, such stunts positively reek of self-promotion and won't win him additional friends among thoughtful folks in the Beltway.

So leave aside the potentially shady bank deals in Jordan. Leave aside the dearth of grass-roots support for Chalabi among the Shi'a. And, for Perle-haters (and there are many) leave aside that he's popular with that nefarious crowd.

Just focus on the (increasingly tiresome and frequent) self-promotion.

So I'll agree with reader RE on that point, at least. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:40 AM | Comments (13)

December 18, 2003

The Fisk Chronicles Josh Marshall:

The Fisk Chronicles

Josh Marshall:

"In his opening remarks Perle noted that he had recently been on a radio program with Independent columnist Robert Fisk (he then made a throwaway line suggesting that Fisk and I were 'pals'). Fisk had said that he thought the capture of Saddam Hussein would strengthen the resistance movement by removing the taint of Saddam and thus allowing it to become a more broadly national or at least pan-Sunni enterprise.

Perle mocked what he took to be Fisk's desperate spin and said it was an example of trying to make the facts fit your ideology, rather than vice versa."

Marshall goes on to link this Juan Cole post and a Philly Inquirer piece that indicates that some intelligence estimates forecast a spike in insurgent activity after a prospective Saddam apprehension.

All well and good. These are all very real possibilities. The point was made, more comprehensively than by Cole or the article Marshall links, here.

But that's not the point. Ask yourself, what makes a guy like Perle call Fisk "execrable"?

What makes the term "Fisking" enter the lexicon in such widespread fashion?

It's that, a very long time ago, Fisk basically persuaded himself that nothing good can come out of American involvement in the Middle East writ large. And so his stories (universally, at least to my eye) cannot overcome this knee-jerk and myopic anti-American outlook.

To be sure, one can intelligently argue that Saddam's apprehension will somehow lead to an uptick an anti-American violence in Iraq. But can't you at least entertain, even if just for a brief moment, the possibility that it might have a salutary effect from the perspective of Americans?

That, just maybe, it could lead to a dimunition in violence? I mean, who knows finally?

That's what Marshall misses. It's not just the supposed "desperate spin" of Fisk that's necessarily being mocked by Perle and myriad others. It's a long track record of visceral dislike of all American involvement in the Middle East.

I mean, take a look here, here or here.

Some snippets:

"It must have been cold in that hole. And no colder than when the hands of Washington-the-all-Powerful reached out across oceans and continents and came to rest on that odd-looking pot plant and hauled the would-be Caliph from his tiny cell."

Washington, Washington, Washington. He's obsessed, isn't he?

How about this one (from the Fisk article written the day after Saddam's capture that Marshall approvingly links)?

"Peace" and "reconciliation" were the patois of Downing Street and the White House yesterday. But all those hopes of a collapse of resistance are doomed."

How can Fisk be so very sure of this? So completely certain?

He presents the doom and gloom as a fait accompli. But no one is omniscient. Finally, it's this total lack of judiciousness that rankles.

Put differently, and in terms of providing a complex and nuanced picture of the reality on the ground in Iraq, is Fisk any better than the boorish arm-chair chest-beaters occasionally trawling about Fox green rooms and telling us how swimmingly it all goes?

UPDATE: Glenn has more on matters Fisk.

Posted by Gregory at 05:02 PM | Comments (3)

Drezner On The Realist Position

Drezner On The Realist Position Re: War in Iraq and Related Matters

Thanks to Dan for his link to my synopsis and assorted thoughts on the panel discussion on neo-conservatism (the one that mostly pitted Josh Marshall against Richard Perle).

It's always gratifying to be engaged by Dan because of his obvious facility with matters foreign policy and because he's well appreciated by the voices I most respect on both the left and right of the blogosphere.

Unfortunately, on various topics (and just relying on memory here) I seem to recall we've disagreed on the best means to pursue de-Baathification, on the lameness (or not) of Salam Pax, on the impact of social class on political leadership capabilities, and perhaps some other matters besides. So we've often come to the table from different perspectives--though I think the differences have, finally, been pretty slight.

Regardless, let me first relay that I feel chastened to have called into question the mettle of academics when it comes to their abilities to engage in robust and racuous debate!

After all, Henry Kissinger emerged from academia and is probably unparalleled as a bureaucratic blackbelt. Recall that Kissinger, and I paraphrase, once famously observed that campus politics were so vicious because the stakes were so low (the last part of this famous Kissinger aphorism a gratuitous insult that is unfair--albeit still contains a grain of truth).

So, academics, as Dan indicates, are surely well attuned to their fair dose of rancorous clamor and intense debate.

But, more important than that sidebar, let me respond to Drezner's contentions that:

"I'm afraid I've got to disagree with Greg again. First of all, most realists opposed the war in Iraq.

Second, I'm not sure how much neoconservatives think or want Perle to be their exemplar. I've expressed my reservations about Perle in the past, so I might be biased here."

Let's address each objection in turn. First, the contention that "most" realists were anti-war in Iraq.

Who does Drezner point to support this contention? The serried ranks of a pretty large gaggle of academics who signed one of those (pro or anti something) adverts in the NYT (unfortunately Dan's post doesn't allow for a closer investigation of the individual signatories).

UPDATE: Through some kind of Moveable Type magic--Dan appears to have another link that pops up here too. Sometimes it's the academics writing in to the Times, and other times it's this link to a Mearsheimer/Walt FP piece.

Anyway, note both links have Mearsheimer in common at least (end of update).

Somewhat, er, preemptively, Dan admonishes that any attempt to describe them (the signatories to the NYT letter) as "fringe academics" won't fly. As I trust Dan's instincts (and he relays that he's had a beer with a bunch of them at some point or the other!), let's agree he's right on this score.

To further buttress his contention, Dan points out that one of the signatories was uber-realist John Mearsheimer--and further, that "parts of Bush’s National Security Strategy look cribbed from John Mearsheimer’s latest book."

O.K, fair enough. Though I have to say that Mearsheimer is so aggressively hyper-realist he often finds himself in contrarian necks of the woods--even when compared to other academic practitioners of the realist school (see his enervating anti-interventionist stances in the Balkans--an intervention a good number of realists, worried about contagion effects in Europe, supported).

But, in my original post that Dan kindly responded to, I was thinking of a very different type of realist.

Namely, policy elites that are in the pragmatic realpolitik school. Think Henry Kissinger. James Baker. George Schultz.

All of these eminent practitioners of realist-style diplomacy were in favor of the Iraq war (see above links by name confirming their pro-war positions and scroll down this last link for more pro and con war in Iraq blasts from the past, you know, Sandy Berger, Ken Pollack etc).

Now some readers might object and paint Baker, for instance, in different colors. Here's a typical example of that line of reasoning:

"But the threats posed by Baker's presence to the hawks, especially the neo-conservatives both in and out of the administration, go far beyond personal score-settling in which Baker has historically shown little interest: they are strategic. By all accounts, Baker believes the neo-con domination of US foreign policy since September 11, 2001, especially the Iraq invasion, has been disastrous for the country and, perhaps more important, for Bush Jr's re-election chances.

Before the Iraq invasion, Baker made no secret of his opposition to the US waging unilateral war, although he was more discreet about his dismay than Bush I's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to whom Baker remains close.

Baker, like other realists, has also been deeply skeptical, not to say incredulous, of neo-conservative ambitions to "remake the face of the Middle East" by exporting democracy. Long associated with "big oil", Baker would find the kind of radical regional change promoted by the neo-cons to be unacceptably risky and destabilizing." [emphasis added]

Sure, Baker is significantly less gung-ho about democracy exportation exercises than a Paul Wolfowitz. No one is arguing that. But the bolded portion of this piece is flat out wrong. Baker, the "realist," supported the war in Iraq.

Bottom line: I don't think Drezner gives enough due to the many realists who supported the war in Iraq. So I'm not sure he's right when he says "most" realists opposed it.

Perhaps most realists in political science departments did (frankly, I just don't know)--but, per my admitedly unscientific take, not a majority of policymakers (past and present) associated with what would roughly be seen as the realist camp.

Now to Dan's second objection. He says he's not sure how many neo-cons consider Perle their exemplar.

Fair point. But I wasn't trying to paint Richard Perle as the mega patron saint of neo-cons the world over.

Listen, it's pretty common knowledge in the Beltway that the Perle-Wolfowitz-Feith triumvirate is pretty tight. And these are the neo-cons that, I'm pretty sure, have had the most influence (but again, less than commonly perceived) on Bush 43's team.

Bill Kristol, for instance, probably has his differences with a Richard Perle. But Kristol and some at the Weekly Standard are likely viewed as a tad traitorous by some in the White House because of their McCainite affectations. In other words, they hold less sway in the highest policy counsels.

My point? If you are debating the role the neo-cons played post 9/11 and in terms of the build up to the Iraq war--the key players, and likely in this order, were Wolfowitz, Perle and then Feith (even though Perle didn't have a full-blown administration position).

So when Perle says, somewhat credibly in my view, that if he and his close colleagues Wolfowitz and Feith hadn't been around, post 9/11 policy wouldn't have been that different because they were simply engaging in prudential risk management given post 9/11 dynamics--well that's pretty interesting.

Now, you might think that's B.S and disingenuous--but stick with me a second.

Because this ties back to the previous point about whether or not realists were in favor of the war. If many were, as I believe, than it's harder to make the case that, were it not for crazy Straussians run amok in the Beltway, we'd still be pursuing "vigilant" containment (whether "dual" or other variants) in the Gulf.

I mean, here's (this administration's honorable peacenik per Maureen Dowd) Powell and Kissinger teaming up on a robust pro-war in Iraq stance.

And when you add other non-neo-cons like Cheney and Rumsfeld to the mix--I think there's a strong case to be made that, post 9/11, the Bush Administration would have found their way to a pretty similar strategy, with our without , say, Wolfowitz at the Pentagon.

The Bush Doctrine of holding states that harbor terrorists as culpable as the terrorists themselves may not have been proclaimed quite as loudly as a doctrine per se.

But our overall policy would have likely ended up in similar terrain. In other words, I don't think a hijacking of policy by a neo-con cabal occurred. That's more a convenient theory that's hustled about to score anti-Bush points in the predictable quarters.

And it's a gross oversimplification of the real state of play among wrangling policy elites in post 9/11 Washington. The bureaucratic politics underlying the whole decision to go to war were much more complex.

Posted by Gregory at 09:20 AM | Comments (5)

December 17, 2003

Occupation Duration Watch A gem

Occupation Duration Watch

A gem from the Guardian.

"Which will end first ... the occupation of Iraq or the occupation of Palestine? It is a question that has been niggling me for a while, and last week I put it to an eminent professor of international relations. His reply was succinct but would have got him no marks in a university exam. "That's a very good question," he said. Full stop, end of answer.

In the absence of any further guidance from the professor, I am inclined to put my money on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ending first - mainly because of a gut feeling that the Americans will be stuck in Iraq far longer than they imagine."

Posted by Gregory at 07:33 PM | Comments (5)

What If There Were No

What If There Were No Neo-Cons in Washington on September 12, 2001?

Via Josh Marshall, a fascinating panel discussion entitled the "Future of Neoconservatism." Instead, if often touched on the query per the above subject line. Marshall sparred, rather often, with Richard Perle during the proceedings.

Josh writes:

"My main antagonist on the panel was none other than Richard Perle, who ended up in person being about as gentlemanly and fair-minded as his view of foreign affairs and America's posture on the world stage would lead you to expect."

With all due respect to Josh, I think this is unfair to Perle. True, Perle made some snide references to the views of "Mr. Marshall" and his "friends," but he's a long-time bureaucratic operative with sharp elbows. In other words, it's part of his makeup and style to debate in this fashion

Put differently, it's likely a different style of debate than, say, that found defending doctoral dissertations at Brown. I don't say that to poke fun at Josh Marshall--I mean it seriously. Perle and Marshall likely have very different debating styles with Perle more aggressive and Marshall more conventionally polite and, perhaps, a tad docile compared to Perle.

Regardless, and much more important than their different debating styles, Perle throughout, in my view, addressed substantively all of Josh's critiques quite persuasively.

Perle's View of Neo-Conservatism

More interesting to me, however, than all the to and fro of the debate, was Perle's general description of neo-conservatism.

Per his description, it felt very much like sober-headed foreign policy realism--rather than the oft-described messianic exportation of democracy doctrines (or some grossly deluded neo-Wilsonian style project).

Indeed, Perle described neo-conservatism as a "common sense" pragmatic approach to foreign policy repeatedly during his remarks. To be sure, he did say that "spreading democracy" is a "pretty good thing."

But Perle made it clear he doesn't know of anyone who is advocating that democracy be imposed by force willy-nilly around the globe. He intimated he finds such nostrums utopian and, depending on specific circumstances, likely somewhat silly and unrealistic.

Less convincingly, Perle said the end of the Cold War (where the zero sum gain vis-a-vis the Soviets often had us cozying up to unsavory, authoritarian leaders) had now allowed the U.S. to be much freer "to associate ourselves with democratic aspirations."

I'm not so sure about that. True, the world has become much more complex as compared to the previously neat bipolar delineations where Moscow and Washingon each knew who their guys were, ie. he's a bastard but he's our bastard. So you would think that might have a carry on effect allowing us to more easily assist democratization processes.

And yet. Need forward bases in Uzbekistan from which to mount operations in Afghanistan? Cozy up to (distinctly undemocratic) Karimov.

Need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban from points Quetta and Peshawar? Cozy up to Musharraf. (See also Putin, Zemin, etc).

The Neocons and 9/11

But back specifically to the nature, role and influence of the neo-cons in the Bush administration.

On this, Perle asked the key question: Had, when 9/11 came along, there been no murky, nefarious neo-con cabal milling about the halls of the Bush White House--how precisely would policy have looked so different?

Put differently, what what have been done differently if policy hadn't been "hijacked" by the Straussians-on-the-Potomac?

On this, Marshall talked about the whole "internationalization" meme (less cost in dollars and manpower in Iraq if we had been less "unilateral," domineering, swaggering, [insert other adjectives here] on the world stage).

Perle pressed Josh on all this. How many troops would we really have gotten from France and Germany if we had gone further down a so-called "multilateral" U.N. route and Saddam had ultimately remained non-compliant to the satisfaction of, oh, say Dominique de Villepin or Joshka Fischer?

Or how much more, by way of funds/troops/et al., would we have really received if the drums of war had, as intelligent observers like Rachel Bronson of CFR had suggested in the NYT, been delayed until the following autumn?

Marshall struggled a bit with all this. At one point, he retorted that Perle was concentrating too much on France and Germany. What of Turkish (though he agrees with me that they would have been a bad idea) or Indian troop contributions? What of money from non-Old Europa sources?

In my view, however, Perle prevailed in showcasing how, in the real nitty-gritty of all the Iraq politiking around Turtle Bay and varied word capitals, Marshall's calls for "internationalization" wouldn't have made a real material difference in terms of influencing the endgame leading up to the decision to go to war or our actual efforts on the ground over the past months or, indeed, today.

Terror States

Again, back to the query regarding what might have been different had, say, an influential Paul Wolfowitz not been whispering in Dubya and Rummy's ear on September 12, 2001.

A more cogent point than Josh's on this query was made by the Economist's Washington correspondent Adrian Woodridge (another panelist).

He stated that the basic policy precept linking terror to actual states might not have become part and parcel of the Bush Doctrine (ie., the policy doctrine that makes no distinction between terrorists that commit the actual acts and the states that harbor them.)

Fair enough. That's certainly a strong influence that the neo-cons (with big assists from American security hawk nationalists like Rumsfeld and Cheney who, obviously, are not neo-cons) had on the post 9/11 policymaking.

But there is nothing, pace Perle, so deeply philosophical or revolutionary about this. Rather, it's about one's approach to managing risk.

Post 9/11, why not act more robustly contra states that (yes, even if not necessarily directly implicated with al-Qaeda) have (or had) links to terror groups?

Perle asked: should one have rather left Saddam in place and, just like that, hoped for the best?

In other words, there is no systemic philosophical dispensation at play here, Perle stressed, aside from prudence and pragmatism.

So, to put it differently and paraphrase moderator Larry Kaplan of TNR, Perle pretty effectively made the point that there was no neoconservative "theology waiting in the winds post 9/11".

Rather, smart, realist (and necessary) policy adjustments were made in the aftermath of the biggest historical event in post-war American national security history.

Final Thoughts

A caveat. Doug Feith, Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz, Lawrence Libby, John Bolton, Bill Kristol, etc. are not all cut out of identical cloth.

In my view, Perle's presentation made it clear that he veers towards realism as a foreign policy approach a bit more stolidly than, say, Wolfowitz (the latter likely a bit more idealistic in term of democracy exportation and the like).

And a last point. Marshall advocated that we might have slowed down the rush to war in Iraq once we discovered that Saddam didn't have a significant nuclear program (a difference, he suggested, that might have occurred had the neo-cons been less influential).

I strongly disagree. If some in the intelligence community still believed he might have had significant chemical and biological stockpiles, even with weak intelligence on the nuclear capability front, I think the prudent thing to do, balancing the risk and putting the burden of proof on the presumptive terror state, was to maintain the pressure at maximum levels and invade as we did.

This aside, I think Perle was most effective in debunking the myth that a sinister neo-con philosophy has bamboozled Simian Georgie into hapless democracy exportation exercises around the globe. Rather it is, finally, about pragmatic risk management.

And, as the election season intensifies, the most important question will be, even more than the economy in my view, who as between Howard Dean and George Bush is better equipped to navigate the rocky shoals of the post 9/11 risk environment?

Who would prove the better risk manager in the face of international terror in a post 9/11 world?

And (see post immediately below) I get the feeling the majority of the American public will, on election day, decide that that person is George Bush.

UPDATE: I respond to Dan, at some length, here .

Posted by Gregory at 10:54 AM | Comments (5)

More Bad News For Dean

More Bad News For Dean

When Saddam was captured I told London acquaintances that I expected Dubya to get a five point boost in his approval ratings. It appears that I may have lowballed Dubya's boost in the polls a bit:

"In the most apparent demonstration of the shift, 47 percent of respondents said the war was going well for the United States in the poll that ended Saturday night. That number jumped to 64 percent in the second poll. Before the weekend, 47 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Mr. Bush was handling foreign policy, the worst rating of his presidency. After the weekend, that number had slid to 38 percent.

Mr. Bush's approval rating jumped to 58 percent after Mr. Hussein was captured, from 52 percent, and the number of Americans who disapproved of his performance fell to 33 percent, from 40 percent."

Now if we could just get our hands on UBL...I think, in downtown Manhattan alone, that might be worth another 1 million votes for the President. Best of luck finding this scum in his hole.

Note: The NYT, of course, did its best to pour some cold water on the story. The journalist was suprised that, "even" with regard to the economy, Bush's approval ratings were on an upward tick (why so surprised at the polling data, as a variety of economic indicators have been on the mend of late?)

And the intrepid Times correspondent finds a Republican who is eager to use the "V" word:

"Michael Grimaldi, 34, a Republican who is an ambulance dispatcher from Fairfield, N.Y., predicted that the capture of Mr. Hussein would result in a decrease in the bombings in Iraq. But Mr. Grimaldi said he was concerned that the United States was now stuck there.

"It seems to me that another Vietnam is happening," he said. "I'm just hoping that since we've caught him, we can get our soldiers back home and let them deal with their problems on their own."

And there is an odd focus on the whole "should Bush attend Iraq war dead funerals issue?"

Short answer: no. He can't attend all, and families so aggrieved should be able to mourn in private away from the press circus that accompanies the President's movements.

Why is this so hard for those pounding the lectern demanding that Dubya go to each and every funeral to understand?

Probably because it's another convenient visceral anti-Bush bromide to toss out.

Still, the Times ends the article with the key takeaway--that some independents (perhaps Sullivan's so-called 9/11 Republicans) are veering back towards Bush:

"Kim Baatz, 25, an independent voter from Sheldon, La., said in a follow-up interview that her opinion of Mr. Bush had shifted because of the success in Iraq this weekend.

"I was leaning away from approval until the capture because I felt like the progress in Iraq was going nowhere; there were so many of our military men getting killed," Ms. Baatz said, adding, "One of the goals has been achieved."

Close presidential elections are always won in the center. So this is very, very good news for Bush. No wonder the Indymedia crowd is so worried (in an astonishing display of their twisted, noxious priorities) that we may capture UBL.

Barring a) a major terror attack in the homeland that Dubya manifestly could have prevented, b) a massive economic meltdown, c) a series of marine Beirut marine barracks style bombings moving Iraq casualties into the 1,500-2,000 zone, or d) some terrible Rumsfeldian "unknown unknown"--Dubya, especially with UBL in hand, would be very, very hard to beat in '04.

Election politics aside, of course, and while capturing these individuals is of huge import and provides a major psychological boost, neither Saddam or UBL's (prospective) capture mean, by a long shot, that the war on terror is close to being won. The public, of course, rightly rewards the symbolism of such apprehensions. And, for my part at least, I probably can't overstate the joy that UBL's arrest or death would cause for me (a good deal more than Saddam's, it must be said).

But I'm not in the school of thought that thinks that merely decapitating the snake will kill off al-Q or all resistance in Iraq. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2003

More Support for Geneva From

More Support for Geneva

From Shinui MK Eti Livni:

"I'm not entirely happy with the Geneva Accord. I believe, for example, that the subject of the right of return (for Palestinians) should be made clearer, and the arrangements in Jerusalem should be changed, and that they should not have been part of this show of appeasement. In addition, I have reservations about the nature of the Palestinian speeches heard at the ceremony in Geneva, whose content grates on Israeli ears.

But I must say that the Geneva Accord includes substantial achievements for Israel, such as the Palestinian relinquishment of the practical realization of the right of return - and proof of this can be found in the violent demonstrations in the territories against the Geneva participants. In any case, the Geneva Accord is a significant development, both in terms of its content and in terms of the declaration by significant groups among the Palestinians that they favor a permanent agreement with Israel, which will end the conflict and the demands."

Shinui is not a far left party when it comes to matters peace process:

Foreign policy:

"Shinui supports the peace process. However, Arafat is not a partner for peace, and negotiations have to be conducted with moderate Palestinians. The cessation of terror is an indispensable condition for progress in the diplomatic negotiations. Illegal outposts must be evacuated immediately.

As part of the peace arrangements, Israel will also have to leave settlements scattered in the heart of Palestinian populations, but Israel will not evacuate settlement blocs, and these will be integrated within Israel's borders. There are also large settlements, which will be subject to negotiation. We are committed to setting up a separation fence as a partial defense against the frequency of terrorist infiltrations.

At the end of the peace process, we will have to find a modus vivendi for Jerusalem, to enable both sides to coexist in peace, with respect for the holy sites of all the three religions. A Palestinian state will be established only after the Palestinians renounce their right to return." [emphasis added]

Posted by Gregory at 10:44 PM | Comments (5)

Saddam Sympathy Watch Tariq Ali,

Saddam Sympathy Watch

Tariq Ali, writing in (where else?) Counterpunch:

"My first reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein was both anger and disgust. Anger with the old dictator who could not even die honourably. He preferred to be captured by his old friends than to go down fighting, the one decent thing he could have done for his country.

I felt no pity for Saddam. He had killed some dear comrades of mine and imprisoned too many others, but the US had no right to do this. It was the responsibility of the Iraqi people.

I also felt disgust with the way in which the TV networks were covering this event. CNN and BBC World had become total propaganda networks, to such an extent that it must have made Berlusconi smile. Parading a captured prisoner in this fashion is the new model of imperialism. The latter-day equivalent of how barbarian chieftains were paraded in ancient Rome, prior to their execution."

The "responsibility of the Iraqi people."

A nation shuddering in a republic of fear under the brutish heavy hand of myriad security services in Saddam's service. Damn them for not having had the courage to act sooner.

And if they couldn't because they were powerless to do so in the face of genocidal rampages and chemical bombings, well, then simply leave their leader (one in violation of a dozen or so U.N. resolutions) in power until his people finally muster the courage and wherewithal to do it themselves.

And certainly don't dare to show footage of him undergoing a routine physical examination to ensure that Iraqis know he is in coalition captivity and will never be in power again. No, this is sheer barbarism and evocative of crude Goebbelsian (sorry, Berlusconi-like, seemingly a more damning charge these days) propaganda tactics.

Of course, Saddam didn't parade his prisoners too often. They were usually decimated in crude military operations or left to languish in cruel torture chambers in horrific anonymity. But latter day "barbarian chieftains" prefer to detain their captives in full public light while abiding by the Geneva Conventions. How utterly savage.

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (5)

Hill Watch Musings about Saddam's

Hill Watch

Musings about Saddam's capture from a member of our ever impressive Congressional corps.

Jim McDermott, Democrat from Washington, and appearing to make an ever stronger bid to replace James Traficant as the latest Congressional laughing stock:

"Asked if he thought the weekend capture was timed to help Bush, McDermott chuckled and said, "Yeah. Oh, yeah." He added, "There's too much by happenstance for it to be just a coincidental thing."

When the interviewer asked again if he meant to imply the Bush administration timed the capture for political reasons, McDermott said: "I don't know that it was definitely planned on this weekend, but I know they've been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was. It was just a matter of time till they'd find him."

In other news from the Hill--and speaking as an occasional fan of the indefatigable and plucky (if now deceased) Strom Thurmond-- this story sure makes him appear a rank hyprocrite given his prior segregationist stances, doesn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 09:31 AM | Comments (15)

December 15, 2003

Quai D'Orsay Watch There may

Quai D'Orsay Watch

There may be some reading of the tea leaves (more on that below) going on in Parisian precincts.

Dominique de Villepin is saying that some significant Iraqi debt forgiveness may be in the offing.

That said, there are early signs of the predictable grandstanding and folie de grandeur (both phenomenon, of course, virtually synonymous with Chirac and de Villepin's governing style).

"France, together with other creditors, believes there could be an agreement in 2004," the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin told reporters after a meeting with members of Iraq's interim Governing Council. He said that if various conditions regarding Iraq's sovereignty and stability were met, his country "could then envisage cancellation of debts in line with Iraq's basic financing capacity." [emphasis added]

There's a lot of perfidious Villepinian wriggle room in this supposed olive branch, isn't there? "Various conditions." "Envisage." Gauging "Iraq's basic financing capacity."

Then a little theater:

"But by announcing its intention to the Iraqis today, Mr. de Villepin avoided the appearance of answering to Washington's call.

"This way he can say, `I'm not doing it because the Americans are asking for it but because I believe it's the responsible thing to do for the Iraqis,' " said Dominique Moisi, an American expert at the French Institute for International Relations."

Some shameless hypocrisy too (that degenerates into farce):

"The arrest of Saddam Hussein constitutes a chance that we all must take advantage of," Mr. de Villepin said. "France is ready to play a full role in these efforts and to follow the action already undertaken on a bilateral basis as Europeans in the humanitarian domain, of course, and in the cooperative domain, whether it be education, health or even archeology." [emphasis added]

Ready to play a full role in what efforts? Those completed two nights ago in the environs of Tikrit that brought this bloody dictator to justice after decades in power?

After hundreds of U.S. soldiers have been killed in action, in good part, to achieve said goal, over the past many months?

These are the efforts that France is now ready to "play a full role in" at this, er, late hour?

How breathtakingly hypocritical. You can't make this stuff up.

Oh, and thanks much for the offer of help on "archeology". It's quite a high priority right now.

But can we start digging up the precious artifacts after we've exhumed the bodies of hundreds of thousands of victims of Saddam's murderous crimes, if you don't mind, Mr. de Villepin?

Sorry to sound so much the cultural buffoon and philistine, but it's just a little matter of priorities.


Note too the reference to bilateralism as between the U.S. and the "Europeans."

Was de Villepin at the recent EU summit that capsized because of quibbles over voting right formulas?

Put differently, who are these "Europeans" that France (and prospective "union" mate and fast friend Germany) will ostensibly lead into bilateral accords with the U.S.?


"He did not, however, offer to send French troops to help secure Iraqi stability, but instead repeated France's offer — so far ignored by the United States — to build a police school in Iraq."

La gendarmerie is coming! Ooh la la. Send them to Bed-Sty and the South Bronx next.

And then the tea leaves:

"Mr. Moisi said the French offer might reflect the country's realization that in the wake of Mr. Hussein's capture, President Bush appeared to have a stronger chance of winning re-election next year and so Paris would most likely have to deal with his administration for the next five years. "It's better to set the record straight now," Mr. Moisi said."

I think the record is pretty straight. There will be no significant rapprochment between France and the U.S. unless either: a) France makes very serious concessions on debt restructuring (without hogging the limelight by gallivanting about Turtle Bay for show, making grossly unreasonable demands (turn sovereignty over today, all will then be swell!), and talking about the "logic of occupation" and such ) or b) a new French government comes into power.

Option B, of course, more likely (if further away).

Though James Baker, arriving in Paris tomorrow, will do his best to make Option A a reality.

Posted by Gregory at 10:21 PM | Comments (14)

Beeb Watch BBC news, in

Beeb Watch

BBC news, in a story on the prospective modalities of a Saddam tribunal, plays footage of Blair saying that he's opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances but that it will have to be up to the Iraqis to decide on whether or not capital punishment might be employed against Saddam.

The correspondent, James Robbins, then says (while footage of Bush plays) that no such reservations will detain George Bush as he's "an enthusiast for judicial execution."

Charming, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 10:18 PM | Comments (15)

Saddam Nostalgia Watch Someone got

Saddam Nostalgia Watch

Someone got to this site via this Google search today. Perhaps someone from Indymedia? (Who are, rather incredibly, running the following headline at 10:00 PM GMT: "Bush Regime Claims Capture of Old Friend" along with a picture of circa 1984 era Rummy meeting with Saddam).

Elsewhere on the site, hopeful musings that the "Nightmare is About to Begin" linking an article from (who else?) Robert Fisk.

Posted by Gregory at 10:07 PM | Comments (5)

Galloway-Types Aplenty at the Guardian

Galloway-Types Aplenty at the Guardian

Check out this display of astoundingly moronic knee-jerk anti-Americanism.

It certainly provides a fascinating window into the mind of Guardian readers...

A sample:

Total denial:

"The horrifying reality is that we will probably never know if this man delivered to Blair and Bush like a Christmas goose is actually Saddam Hussein. He will be in that category along with the complete absence of intelligence on 9/11 followed by the same for WMD. The sovereign nation of Irag was invaded for the WMD bought from Rumsfield, not for it's dictator. Why would we believe anything told to us by our governments? Stay tuned for the next election photo-op of Bush posing in one of his cute little military outfits he is not entitled to wear next to the captured 'Saddam'. Blair will be more sedate, in his school tie."

It's Halliburton, stupid:

"I agree. The capture's timing is just fortuitous in terms of the Halliburton scandals, and the "debt payment/reconstruction contracts" screw up. I think the timing is related to the fact that today is December 15th, the day that under the US sponsored resolution that the IGC was supposed to have a timetable ready for constitutional government in Iraq. Saddam's capture has distracted attention from the failure of the US to meet its own self-imposed deadline."

Sheer, Unadulterated Idiocy:

Chat board question: So, out of interest, did they shave his beard because they suspected it was the hiding place for WMDs?

"I pondered this myself, if Saddam had a greater profile as a devout moslem it could have been seen as a deeply antagonistic act. However it is probably down to the US forces' pathological fear of foreign lurgies and germs, and thus it was done in the interests of hygiene."

Poor Saddam--In the Hands of the Brutish Yanks...:

"The US forces (yes they are quite forceful aren't they?) not only have a pathological fear of foreign germs, they are control freaks too. SH will be denied human rights using the same logic as they apply to all non-US citizens (as well as US blacks, migrant workers...)."

It's the Jews!

"Nah, it was a typical Mossad schtick, if you ask me. They enjoyed catching the bugger and keeping him in a rathole for a month and now on top of it they are getting a prize!"

How can you reason with such people about the perils of a post 9/11 world in rational fashion? It's not possible, finally.

Posted by Gregory at 05:59 PM | Comments (4)

Colin Powell Let me simply

Colin Powell

Let me simply echo Patrick Belton's post wishing him a speedy recovery.

UPDATE: The surgery appears to have gone well.

Posted by Gregory at 04:03 PM | Comments (17)

Arab Reaction Watch Brian Whitaker

Arab Reaction Watch

Brian Whitaker for the Guardian:

"The shock, for some, was not Saddam's arrest, but the manner of it: the pathetic, passive figure shown on television revealed the king [ed. note: President really] finally stripped of his clothes.

That has never happened to an Arab leader before in living memory, as several pointed out. The tradition in the Middle East is that leaders stay in office until they die, even if they have become unfit to rule.

People in several Arab countries wondered privately what would be the impact of Saddam's humiliation on their own king or president. From now on, they suggested, he would not sleep easily at night for fear that one day he might be paraded on television in the same bedraggled state.

Beyond sending a shudder through the palaces of Arab capitals, many were doubtful that Saddam's capture would have much effect outside Iraq."

Rapid analysis: Yes, it's doubtless a real shock to many in the region that an Arab leader has been deposed (and kept alive) rather than assassinated (Sadat) or allowed to enjoy maximum power until succumbing to a natural death (Assad, King Hussein, etc).

There is some befuddled happiness, doubtless, in the proverbial Arab street to see a tyrant brought down from lofty heights (most especially, in Iraq, where unlike the lofty-headed, noble Indymedia types sitting down amidst the comforts of Seattle and such, they well know the stench of tyranny having endured its brutalities for so many years).

Sadly, however, for we are dealing with very complex emotions, this pleasure is soured by the humiliation born of having had the tyrant dethroned by U.S. forces. There's no point trying to whitewash the deep mistrust (hatred?) against the U.S. harbored by many in the region. The reasons are many. The causes complex. But it's a reality. And we need to think of innovative ways to handle that.

Put differently, bitching about ingrates in Saudi and Egypt won't achieve our policy goals in the region. So, what would?

1) The hard work of creating a democratic polity in Iraq would, of course, help greatly. Beating back the insurgents and turning over power to the Iraqis relatively quickly (but not per a hastily derived Iraqification exit strategy) would be a huge boon.

Aside from the immense import of the region seeing a democratic Arab polity in its midst, the world would also witness Iraqis under transparent control of their oil revenues and the like.

What a coup that would be! How far that would go to silence moronic critics in Berlin, Paris and Cairo who say it was all about a neo-colonialist land grab for petrol.

2) We need to systematically communicate real American values (rather than let our often crap pop culture speak for us) and policy goals to the Muslim world. The President should do this directly more often in speeches. He should dispatch regional specialists to do the same too, in Arabic, in varied fora ranging from satellite T.V., Internet chat rooms, cultural exchanges etc, academic conclaves, etc.

3) We should also encourage this type of thing going on in Yemen.

Money grafs:

"The militants saw themselves as so devout that only arguments based on Islamic texts would hold any sway with them. Instead of leaving them to fester in jail, therefore, the president decided to challenge their beliefs by engaging them in religious debate.

He appointed an Islamic cleric, Judge Humoud Hattar, to go into the prisons and reason with the men, using his profound knowledge of Islam and considerable powers of persuasion.

This was no easy task: the judge, a moderate, had objects and insults hurled at him, has been called a traitor and a government stooge, and received anonymous death threats.

Heading a committee of five, he persisted over many months and finally decided that possibly almost 100 men were fit for release, having "seen the error of their ways".

Now he believes that 90 per cent of al-Qaeda's network has been dismantled in Yemen. "People I am reasoning with see themselves as such devout Muslims that I believe they are sincere when they say that they are now against violence and killing," the judge said."

Who knows? Maybe this judge is being hoodwinked and released prisoners who will resume their killing, terrorist ways. But, and pending greater diligence on this effort and monitoring of those tapped for release, these are the types of initiatives that Don Rumsfeld had in mind when he mused (remember the leaked memo?) about whether we were really winning the war on terror, ie. finding a way to reduce the pool of those flocking to madrassas for succor, education and, so often, anti-Western indocrination.

4) Finally, another critical aspect in all this is appearing to act the "honest broker" as between the Arabs and Israelis. Without resolution of the conflict in the Holy Land even a fully democratic, viable Iraq, with U.S. forces out, won't do the trick in terms of materially moderating Arab's views of the U.S.

I'm certainly not calling for appeasement style policies vis-a-vis the terror tactics employed there. But I would like to see more active nudging of the parties towards real and serious thinking about so-called final status issues. More on that later when I get back to writing about the Geneva Accord.

Bottom line: Great news about Saddam. Our troops, military command, and civilian leaders (not least POTUS) deserve much hearty praise. A brutish thug who orchestrated so much barbaric killing, including the "Kurdish Hiroshima" (Samantha Power's phrase), is now in inglorious captivity. All right-thinking individuals should rejoice.

But no time to rest on our laurels. Much work yet to do!

Posted by Gregory at 02:35 PM | Comments (16)

Galloway Awards In the spirit

Galloway Awards

In the spirit of Andrew Sullivan's latest award a little snippet overheard emanating from a London resident today, on the capture of Saddam:

"They [the Americans] will probably cock that up too."

And here's another example of the Galloway syndrome from a (perhaps) more predictable source.

"Two car bombs have exploded outside police stations in Iraq, leaving at least nine people killed and shattering any hopes of an end to violence after Saddam Hussein's capture." [emphasis added]

There's almost a happiness poking out from the prose about those car bombings, isn't there? At least to the extent that it continues to make life harder for those dastardly Americans.

Posted by Gregory at 01:39 PM | Comments (4)

On Language Department So what

On Language Department

So what is a spider hole? Safire explains.

"Another useful bit of information is the origin of "spider hole," a phrase used by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez to describe the dugout hiding place in which the fugitive Saddam was cowering.

This is Army lingo from the Vietnam era. The Vietcong guerrillas dug "Cu Chi tunnels" often connected to what the G.I.'s called "spider holes" — space dug deep enough for the placement of a clay pot large enough to hold a crouching man, covered by a wooden plank and concealed with leaves. When an American patrol passed, the Vietcong would spring out, shooting. But the hole had its dangers; if the pot broke or cracked, the guerrilla could be attacked by poisonous spiders or snakes. Hence, "spider hole."

Posted by Gregory at 09:29 AM | Comments (4)

December 14, 2003

Saddam's Apprehension to Make Coalition's

Saddam's Apprehension to Make Coalition's Job Tougher?

Some are so speculating.

"Iraq's future in days ahead will play out according to one of three possible scenarios. The first scenario is the extension of what has happened in recent weeks: that is, daily attacks on foreign targets, Americans and otherwise, could continue. The second possible scenario would be escalated attacks on coalition targets, with the intention of hastening the American pull-out from Iraq. Third, political opposition groups could mobilize peacefully and unite around the demand that coalition troops pull out immediately, so that Iraq is left to Iraqis.

These three scenarios have come to the fore because the American occupation has, up to now, derived its legitimacy from the military need to remove the "remains" of Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraqi movements which opposed the American occupation in principle feared that a premature U.S. military pull-out might have allowed troops loyal to Saddam to re-gain power. Now, such movements are likely to take political and military steps to resist the continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq.

In these respects, Hussein's capture is liable to intensify local opposition to the continued U.S. occupation of the country."

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

Musharraf's Close Call It could

Musharraf's Close Call

It could have been an even bigger news day.

Posted by Gregory at 10:26 PM | Comments (17)

Initial Reports on Interrogations of

Initial Reports on Interrogations of Saddam

Time has an article up (thanks to reader SK for the link).

"After his capture, Saddam was taken to a holding cell at the Baghdad Airport. He didn’t answer any of the initial questions directly, the official said, and at times seemed less than fully coherent. The transcript was full of “Saddam rhetoric type stuff,” said the official who paraphrased Saddam’s answers to some of the questions. When asked “How are you?” said the official, Saddam responded, “I am sad because my people are in bondage.” When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, “If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?”

Hmmm. By that rubric, I guess Saddam hasn't been to the bathroom for a helluva long time.

Posted by Gregory at 10:07 PM | Comments (21)

The End A photo of

The End

A photo of Saddam, while undergoing medical examination under coalition captivity, after apprehension where he was found hiding in a hole in a remote farmhouse near Tikrit.

Such images caused joyous outbursts by some, ostensibly Iraqi, journalists in the CPA briefing room. A genocidal leader, who allowed chemical bombings against his own citizens ordered from the comforts of his myriad, lavish palaces, apprehended in a dirt hole with a couple AK-47s, a pistol and US$750,000.

He appeared, per General Sanchez, a "tired man," a man "resigned to his fate."

Note: It's, to be sure, the definitive "end" of the Saddam era. But it's the beginning of many other things. Justice (more on the details of how best to go about that coming soon) for his many hundreds of thousands of victims, detailed interrogations about his WMD capacity, the extent of his links to international terror groups, and more.

And needless to say, the images of Saddam submitting meekly to a medical examination by a coalition physician will have immensely more impact in Iraq than images of his statues being pulled down. Any residual mythology of Saddam as a great Arab Saladin is dead forever.

Posted by Gregory at 12:39 PM | Comments (15)

Saddam Apprehended? The Beeb and

Saddam Apprehended?

The Beeb and CNN International are flooding the zone this A.M. with reports that Saddam Hussein may have been captured. Jamie Mcintyre is up in Washington D.C at 4:00 A.M. and relays that, rare even for the most senior (and early bird) members of Washington officialdom on a Sunday morning, many of them are already up too.

In short, there's a real buzz that something big has happened. The Ace of Spades time may be up.

There appears to be some celebratory gunfire in Baghdad at this hour too (CNN's correspondent Jane Arraf is on a live feed). Some residents of Baghdad have satellite and might be reacting to this breaking story.

Obviously, if the reports are confirmed, this is a very positive development for the coalition. Doubtless some fence-sitters in Iraq (concerned that Saddam was still alive) will now be more willing to provide critical intelligence to the U.S. special forces spearheading counter-insurgency operations.

Still, the months ahead will continue to be bloody as the insurgents are likely operating in pretty autonomous fashion without a centralized command and control structure. And Saddam was doubtless too busy hiding to do much more than release some audio now and then.

So attacks will continue. Still, the resolve of Baathist die-hards will have taken a very heavy blow.

Bottom line: A big day for the U.S. in Iraq if Saddam has indeed been captured. But not a panacea, by a long shot, for our problems in Iraq.

UPDATE: Ahmed Chalabi has reportedly said that Saddam was found in a basement in Tikrit (with a false beard). He had, according to Chalabi, "dug himself into the ground and was extracted with a shovel."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tony Blair has confirmed that Saddam was captured alive. Blair said it "removes a shadow" hanging over Iraq. Indeed.

MORE: DNA testing indicates it's Saddam. A CPA press conference in Baghdad is to begin imminently at noon London time.

STILL MORE: Jerry Bremer: "We got him." (12:12 GMT). Yay!

Posted by Gregory at 10:50 AM | Comments (13)

Euro-Schism Watch A crisis for

Euro-Schism Watch

A crisis for the EU project. And Jacques Chirac is talking about setting an "example" again:

"French President Jacques Chirac raised the idea of a two-speed Europe immediately after the talks failed. He said a smaller "pioneer group" could go forward on areas of common agreement. "It would be a motor that would set an example," Chirac said. "It will allow Europe to go faster, better." He did not specify policy areas where the core group might move forward."


"In the meantime, talk of a separate European "pioneer group" moving at a faster pace toward integration -- essentially creating an EU within the EU -- has raised the possibility that the union could be in danger of a decisive split on the eve of its historic eastward expansion.

Analysts said, however, that they were uncertain how such a separate group would function in practice, what policy areas it might address and whether it would even be legal under existing EU treaty rules.

"I'm not sure how this core Europe group is going to work, but it does worry people," said Daniel Keohane, a researcher at the Center for European Reform in London. "I think the French and Germans always like this Plan B option, to operate outside the EU."

Hughes, of the Center for European Policy Studies, said some founding EU members might be thinking that "if this enlarged EU is going to split and not work, we are going to keep our political aims alive" by cooperating independently. Examples of separate cooperation already exist; only 12 EU members now use the common currency, the euro. And an open-borders agreement that allows free travel within the EU originally began with a small core group and still does not include all EU countries.

"I don't think it's in Europe's interest to have a two-speed Europe," Berlusconi said. He said that when it does occur, such as with using the euro, it "should be the exception, not the rule."

Whether the entire EU unification project fully comes off, say, within the next 10 years is increasingly very much an open question. And it was always more a project spearheaded by technocratic policy elites--rather than the actual Euro masses who were often so suspicious and skeptical about sovereignty handovers to Brussels (or a Franco-German union).

But now this skepticism has spread to key leaders too--given pretty naked Franco-German machinations to flex their muscle in a bid to dominate a 25 state Euroland. Thus Spanish, Polish and Italian retinence to make concessions on voting right formulas.

What Chirac is now proposing is a move towards a Franco-German high speed Europe with satellites like Belgium and the Netherlands along for the ride. It's a risky gambit--as it might not look like such a rosy "example" from Warsaw, Rome and Madrid. And thus the entire 25 Euro state unification project is materially imperiled given the events over the weekend.

Oh, watch for some (likely German and French) commentary blaming the failed summit on U.S. Iraq policy and Rumsfeldian orations about Old and New Europe. After all, these countries have proved adept at scapegoating in the past.

Posted by Gregory at 10:34 AM | Comments (17)

December 12, 2003

Presidential Humor Watch President Bush

Presidential Humor Watch

President Bush on the Iraq contracts ban maelstrom:

"Asked about comments by Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, that international law should apply in the tendering of contracts, Mr Bush said: "International law? I better call my lawyer. He didn't bring that up to me." (emphasis added)

You know, just about everyone loves lawyer jokes. And even as someone who occasionally dabbles in "international law," (if the private variety--while remaining conscious of how frustratingly chimerical public international law norms so often appear) I must confess I did suppress a little chuckle when I read this in the FT this morning.

Indeed, this type of jestful exchange likely gets appreciative guffaws everywhere from the rarified precincts of Greenwich, CT and Andover to the red zones of Crawford and Midland, TX.

But it's a tad sophomoric when uttered on the world stage, isn't it? And it isn't going to make James Baker's job any easier.

It's also unfortunate that Bush responded in such fashion in the context of a journalist's question related to German concerns about the decision. They are a bit baffled why they got banned and not, say, the Turks .

"But yesterday officials were uncomfortable explaining why, for example, Turkey was on the approved list, although its parliament had blocked the passage of US troops on their way to Iraq, while Germany, which has since offered to train Iraqi police despite its political opposition to the war, was left off.

Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, called Mr Powell yesterday to find out. Mr Di Rita said Germany was excluded because it had chosen not to participate in the coalition."

And this answer doesn't wholly persuade:

"Lawrence Di Rita, Pentagon spokesman, said: "Countries determine whether they want to be part of this coalition. We have never established criteria for this coalition."

He said that a country such as Turkey was included because "they have identified themselves as participating in this coalition. They offered troops. Ultimately, the Turkish government offered troops."

Um, whatever. The lack of full cooperation from Ankara prevented the opening of a second Iraq front early in the war. And regardless, Turkish troops were never a good idea in the "post" war as I've blogged about extensively. On the other hand, having the Germans train Iraqi constabulatory forces would be quite helpful.

Listen, I know how frustrated so many were with Chancellor Schroeder's disingenuous antiwar antics back last February and March. They, in large part, were risible in their blatantly self-interested political nature.

But, at some point, you have to start moving on. Recall that Bush and Schroeder had a bit of a rapprochment a few months back in New York on the sidelines of some U.N. meetings.

You can make an argument, as some have, that this Iraq contracts ban is O.K on the merits (but why put it down so explicitly in writing? And the national security argument is pretty nakedly inserted to stave off legal challenges, isn't it? And shouldn't we now also be thinking of prioritizing Iraqi interests in terms of this whole affair?)

But regardless, don't rub peoples noses in it with locker room jokes about lawyers. Be, you know, a tad more Presidential. Bush isn't head cheerleader at Andover anymore.

He can joke like this in private with Andy Card and Condi if he wants. After all, as I suggest above, it's funny to a fashion. But keep the jocular exchanges, if just a little, under control in open press conferences where said utterances land on the desks of Schroeder, Chirac, Putin etc the next day.

Note: This is sheer speculation, but I still think this decision might be reversed and that Baker might hold that carrot (ie., reversing the decision) out in his meetings this week (also worth noting, the universe of subcontracts, if materially smaller, currently remains open as well to the likes of France, Germany etc. and Baker will doubtless be mentioning that).

That's probably, all things considered, the right way to go. Maybe when Bush does call his lawyer (you know, James Baker, the one that helped ensure he holds the office he currently occupies) Baker might so counsel him.

UPDATE: Looks like the whole Iraq contracts ban might indeed get used as a "carrot" going forward:

"Even as Bush took a hard line in public, there were signs that he was working privately to calm the furor. He called Jean Chretien on the Canadian prime minister's last day in office and, according to Chretien, said he would seek to exempt Canada from the new policy. "He told me he wasn't happy we were on the list," Chretien told reporters in Ottawa. "He said we would take steps so that we weren't on the list any more."

White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggested countries that forgive Iraqi debts could be added to the list of those eligible to bid. "If countries want to join in our efforts in Iraq," he said, "circumstances can change, and we'll make that very clear."

Baker will travel to France, Russia, Germany and other countries next week to ask the governments there to forgive part of Iraq's crushing national debt. France and Russia, which are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and carry major Iraqi debts, are particularly crucial." (emphasis added)

Posted by Gregory at 09:01 AM | Comments (3)

December 11, 2003

Middle East Muddle? Check out

Middle East Muddle?

Check out this Richard Wolffe piece. Aside from his pretty spot on criticisms re: the Administration's handling of Geneva in the context of the Road Map, there is also this part about Jim Baker's appointment:

"Today Iraq’s biggest crisis is not financial, even if its debt is a large and unresolved problem. The lack of investment and jobs in Iraq has little do with its national debt, and everything to do with security and Saddam’s misrule. And for many other countries, the solution to Iraq’s debt mountain has nothing to do with the U.S. official tasked with climbing it. The solution is the creation of a new Iraqi government that can re-negotiate its debts with the Paris Club of creditors. “Never in the history of the Paris Club has it ever signed a rescheduling deal with an entity that wasn’t an independent and sovereign state,” says one senior French official.

Unless Baker is about to declare Iraq’s independence, there are only two explanations for his appointment. Either the president feels that Powell, Snow and the rest of his cabinet are incapable of dealing with Iraq’s debts. Or the president is giving Baker a far broader role in resolving Iraq’s future. Both explanations are deeply unsettling for his much-vaunted foreign policy team and for the rest of the world. When Baker travels to European and regional capitals, the world’s leaders will think that Baker—not Powell, Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice—has the influence with the president to get things done in Iraq. Yet we, and they, can’t be sure of that. After all, in official terms, Baker is just talking about Iraq’s debts."

I'm in the school of thought that thinks Baker is not going to be merely negotiating the technicalities of debt restructuring agreements. His balliwick will likely be a lot larger. Imagine how quickly a debt restructuring pow-wow at the head of state (or foreign minister) level can metamorphosize into a wide-ranging discussion/untrammeled horsetrading session in likely Baker ports of call like Moscow, Paris, Berlin and Riyadh.

But I'm not quite as pessimistic as Wolffe that this means there will be mammoth confusion from world leaders about who speaks for the Administration--at least not much more than there's been over the past three years.

Of course, this depends on Baker not crossing Powell too much. Those two need to try to work in tandem. Baker and Rummy will be pretty natural opponents--as Baker is going to be using some carrots to coax key Euro and Arab countries to give up some cash in return for, well, something. Whatever that something is, it is likely something Rummy (and maybe Cheney) wouldn't have wanted to give up.

But Baker has to try to operate in rough coordination with Foggy Bottom. Even with the direct ear of the President--he's not the Secretary of State with a whole building behind him. Powell still, even as a presumptive lame duck, can still throw some heft around.

And both, ostensibly, have similar goals speaking broadly. Getting more cooperation from the "allies" and such--whether debt forgiveness, aid monies, or constabulatory forces and the like. So I think, to some extent, these gentlemen are going to, if not outright need each other, at least not wish to operate at cross purposes so as to scuttle each other.

That said, it's fair to say that Baker's appointment wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the President's confidence in Powell and Snow's ability to run the ball on these issues efficaciously. He evidently felt consigliere-style professional back up was necessitated. I mean, with the road map on the ropes, is Powell that busy that, with Snow, he couldn't have taken this debt restructuring gig on because his schedule was full up?

So, too many cooks pace Wolffe? Maybe, but likely not. Why?

Rummy and Wolfy will focus more on the military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq (though the timing of this was sure odd . And it certainly doesn't make Baker's job easier. Unless this was done purposefully to give Baker another chip to persuade the French, Canadians, Germans, etc to make major concessions on debt restructuring, ie. Wolfy's declaration is reversible?).

Put differently, Baker's appointment will further signal to Rummy that he can't play Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense simultaneously. Cheney will likely continue to play a critical behind the scenes role--with Dubya likely bouncing some of what Baker reports directly to him off Cheney for feedback. (Still, the post-war Iraq travails have taken Cheney down a peg or two two in term of omniscient Beltway sage status. It's not just Ahmed Chalabi's cred that taken a beating or two in the past seven odd months).

Condi continues auditioning for Secretary of State--while, unfortunately (as the result is often policy paralysis) not really playing a real NSC advisor broker role like Brent Scrowcroft did. And Powell, the loyal soldier, tries to keep it cordial with Baker and try to ensure their mutual diplomatic efforts are complementary--while trying to keep Baker pretty wedded to the restructuring agenda and not too much more.

Yeah, it's a lot of moving parts. What the French might call a bouillabaisse. But it's not necessarily quite the train wreck Wolffe sketches out.

Let's see how the first few months of the Baker missions go. If there appears to be a coherent Administration message enunciated, with Bush setting the overall message, we might be O.K.

Note too, it's crunch time for Dubya. He really has to step up to the plate and make sure all these beltway barons (Powell, Cheney, Rummy, Baker) can get along and make good, smart policy in concert. Here's hoping they pull it off. After all, we're all in this together. And the stakes don't get much higher.

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

December 10, 2003

Grotesque Relativism Watch "In particular,

Grotesque Relativism Watch

"In particular, we are experiencing what could be called an apocalyptic face-off between Islamist forces, overtly visionary in their willingness to kill and die for their religion, and American forces claiming to be restrained and reasonable but no less visionary in their projection of a cleansing warmaking and military power. Both sides are energized by versions of intense idealism; both see themselves as embarked on a mission of combating evil in order to redeem and renew the world; and both are ready to release untold levels of violence to achieve that purpose."

--Robert Jay Lifton, writing in The Nation.

Posted by Gregory at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

Geneva Watch Every now and

Geneva Watch

Every now and again I get beaten up for appearing a bit the starry-eyed, imbecilic idealist and cheerleading Foggy Bottom peace processer types re: conflict resolution initiatives over in the Holy Land.

Comes with the territory, I guess. Regardless, and not because of the above but merely coincidentally, I hadn' t blogged much recently on the GVA Accords. But I should take this opportunity to provide you with some strong contra Geneva opinion that, in the spirit of airing divergent views, I post here.

First, a Yossi Klein Halevi & Michael B. Oren piece in TNR (subscription required).

Next, from the reader E-mail files:


"Like your quoted correspondent from Tel Aviv, I am a regular and admiring reader. Unlike him, I live in Delaware. I hope you won't take it amiss if I describe your attitude toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Israel-sympathetic well-meaning British.

Were you aware that one of the Palestinian negotiators didn't attend because Arafat did not endorse the accords? (He merely sent the negotiators off with his blessing.) Or that said negotiator, Abdel Kader (Khadr?) was quoted in the Jerusalem Post 12/01 as saying that the purpose of the accords is to sow division in Israel? Did you know that those who attended were physically attacked on departure, and that large rallies are being held denouncing the collaborators? I'm sure you know what happens to collaborators.

Perhaps you didn't notice that in the accords Palestine is for the Palestinian people, while Israel is for "her people", and that nowhere is there recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. And there is this comment from another negotiator, Jamal Zakot, in the PA daily Al Hayat al Jadida:

"The document does not promise a full and collective return for millions of Palestinians, but it also does not cede this right. On the contrary: the proposed time frame for the solution of the refugee problem is five years, while the time frame for the Israeli retreat from the Palestinian lands, evacuation of settlements and completion of installing Palestinian sovereignty on its lands according to the maps - which are more important than the texts - is only three years."

Finally, a careful reading of Articles 3 and 16, despite the purported Israeli veto, indicates that if other methods of negotiation fail, the IVG (Implementation and Verification Group) has the final say. That would occur after all other Israeli obligations had been performed. Suppose the Palestinians continued to be maximalist in their demands regarding return. Do you think the Russians, the UN, the EU, and the regional members would support the Israeli 'veto'? Could the US stand alone against them?

This accord gives more than ever before, and doesn't even require an end to terrorist attacks; it has no performance requirements on the Palestinian side, only promises. There've been promises before. Indeed, Israel doesn't even have overflight rights, for surveillance, and is wholly dependent on Palestinian good faith for water. This is a truly suicidal document.

On another point, you complain of lack of Israeli support for Abu Mazen, and seem to cite that as the reason for his failure. But he refused to take any action against any terrorist group. When faced with outraged cries that he had betrayed the cause (after the meeting with Bush), he reassured his "brothers" of Hamas, IJ, etc. that he had given up
nothing, that their goals were the same, and that their differences were tactical merely.

Sharon pulled down a few outposts, which some stubborn extremists reestablished. Had there been movement, or cessation--even slowing--of attacks, he might well have gone after them again, more strongly. He removed some checkpoints, and allowed workers in, with the result that entry guards were killed at that checkpoint. So he closed them.

Meanwhile, Abu Mazen was trying to negotiate a hudna, and the terrorist groups were making demands on Israel for prisoner releases (well beyond the "roadmap"). Did you know that at least two of the released prisoners subsequently murdered Israelis? And these were those who purportedly did not have bloody hands, but the demand was for release of murderers and planners of murders.

The sad fact is that Abu Mazen was almost never mentioned in the Palestinian press. Nothing could have gained him support; he was the little man who wasn't there, who had been made only Arafat's puppet for the wider world. Arafat is good at that game. Not that I think the end of Arafat will change much. Since his return from Tunisia, he has
preached murder and maximalism to a generation.

Sorry for not providing links. If there is anything you'd like verified, let me know. Thanks for your patience. I have no answers.

Yours in frustration.

Well, let me first say I'm immensely gratified to have such thoughtful readers. And, second, as I likely say too often-- when time allows--I hope to continue the GVA debate both in relation to some of the points reader AB made as well as the TNR piece.

Posted by Gregory at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

B.D.'s Moscow Correspondent in

B.D.'s Moscow Correspondent in sullen mood:

Schto Delat’ (What Is To Be Done—a rhetorical question posed by Nikolai Chernoshevski)

We will wake up in a different country tomorrow,” Anatoly Chubais said in televised remarks last night. When I mistakenly walked in on him in a bathroom stall in the early hours of this morning, the only man in Russia with the gravitas to stand toe-to-toe with Mr. Putin still seemed, at least, to have a sense of humor. “Everything will be alright,” I told him, not quite convinced, as he washed his hands (a not entirely conventional practice among Russian men after going number one). “Still?” he asked, with a smile.

Not being Russian and having no stake in this country, it is a little embarrassing to admit that for the balance of today I have been holding back tears. There are a number of reasons underlining the destruction of liberal political forces that occurred here in the last thirty-six hours, and from where I sit, I can only say that the blame must be divided in portions that are not yet clear between ourselves (by whom I mean those who were fighting for what we perceived to be freedom), a voting public (51% turnout) seemingly doomed to apathy, and dark forces entirely committed to ensuring that recent events to the south of us have an isolated echo.

After a stunning electoral sweep on Sunday, all but a tiny handful of the already few independent voices in the Russian State Duma were steamrolled by a new onslaught of stukachi, hate-mongers and criminals and two-dimensional figures all-too-accustomed to doing what they are told. The dominant force in Russia’s new parliament is called, in frank terms shared with me over lunch by a Kremlin-associated political spin- master, “the pager faction.” They don’t even need cellphones, this individual noted, because the orders on which they will act are, as a rule, entirely one-sided.

Yesterday morning in Saint Petersburg, I sat across the table from a man who has served in each of the preceding three national assemblies since Russia became independent in 1991. Six years ago, Yulii Rybakov traded himself to Chechen terrorists holding civilians in the southern town of Budyennovsk for the release of several women and children. In the days of the Soviet Union, he was a political prisoner. With chiseled features and a statuesque, though aging, frame resonant of Charlton Heston, Mr. Rybakov, who spent a lifetime defending human rights, lost his seat by a few points to a local “businessman” whose campaign team was caught on camera several days prior buying votes.

By a somewhat more depressing margin, Irina Khakamada, co-chairwoman of the Union of Right Forces and a champion of small business, lost a seat in a northern district of that city to the ex-speaker of the last Duma, Gennadi Selyeznov—a former Communist pal who traded his party allegiance for the right to hang on as the nominal head of a rubber stamp parliament. The last individual to hold for more than a term the seat she lost was Galina Staravoitova, a first generation democrat many saw as a potential presidential candidate, before she was shot dead in the hallway of her apartment building in 1998. Her surviving sister, the impoverished babushka over whose shoulder I peered as she marked her ballot along with thousands of Russian émigrés in the United States who cast their own absentee ballots. Starovoitova’s own ghost would probably have wanted Khakamada to carry on in similar form, but as the results clearly stand, Irina will not be a part of the new Duma. I could look her in the eye this morning only because I knew we did, with limited time and resources, the best we could manage. Or so I’d like to believe.

When I asked an OSCE representative this morning whether their anticipated “harsh statement” would include the words “free and fair,” she paused. “We tend not to use this terminology if we can help it,” she said, “but privately I’d answer ‘maybe free, but definitely not fair.’”

The difference between last night’s exit polls and this morning’s preliminary results were, across the Russian Federation, technically within the margin of error. Two independent surveys with samples of more than 20,000 voters each suggested that both the Union of Right Force and Yabloko would squeak by and pass the five percent barrier. As the figures now stand, they each fell short by 1.2 and .8 percentage points respectively. Had these tiny margins been different, neither would still be a powerhouse in the new, ever-more-hobbled legislature. But the absence of their voices, and increased ascendancy of the nationalistic, revisionistic and altogether frightening ones that will occupy their seats makes me wonder, with frustration and sadness, shto delyat?

Whatever calculus may be used to configure the solutions we very much need, the answer is not, I am certain, to give up the fight. Whoever has failed—and I do not exclude myself from the company of the culprits—the simple fact remains that these people surely deserve better than the parliament they just received. My friend, to whom I may have given better advice if I could, led the Union of Right Forces faction that will not be present in this new Duma. Last night he drew a parallel between the current state of affairs and Germany in the late 1920s. Despite the fact that, in Russian, his name means “German,” he’s wrong. But it doesn’t look that way, and even in defeat, I will stand by him."

Oh, and Safire isn't too happy either.

Meanwhile, a WaPo masthead says we are kowtowing to the Chinese:

"Yesterday President Bush essentially placed the United States on the side of the dictators who promise war, rather than the democrats whose threat is a ballot box. His gift to visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was to condemn "the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan" while ignoring the sanguinary rhetoric of the man standing next to him. Mr. Bush had his reasons for doing so -- above all to avoid one more foreign policy crisis during an election year. But in avoiding a headache for himself, he demonstrated again how malleable is his commitment to the defense of freedom as a guiding principle of U.S. policy."

So what's the deal folks? Are we only democratizing in the Middle East these days--and giving Putin, Musharraf, Jiabao, and others a free pass?

Might, shudder, realpolitik still be alive and well in the Beltway--even amidst the alleged neo-con ascendancy (and assorted neo-Wilsonian exces de zele)?

Maybe, along with Jim Baker, Henry Kissinger should be brought out of retirement too!

Posted by Gregory at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

Euro-Bullying Watch The (doubtless fleeting

Euro-Bullying Watch

The (doubtless fleeting and highly disingenuous) German-French love-in continues at feverish pitch. Lately, the Franco-German condominium is issuing diktats, of sorts, and in somewhat haughty fashion. Go to the link for detail.

Note these snippets too:

"The Franco-German alliance has become so strong that the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, mused in a private forum last month that the two countries, which have the largest economies and populations in the European Union, could merge into one union. He was said to have called it "the only historic gamble that we cannot lose."

Heh. Would such an entity last longer than this one did?

Oh, and the Franco-German "union" is even being accused of unilateralism!

"The Polish foreign minister, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, warned that the European Union could turn into a "unipolar" organization dominated by France and Germany, two of its six founding members."

Meanwhile, in economic news, German exports are taking their biggest hit in a decade.

Of course, the weak dollar vis-a-vis the Euro has had everyone and their mother predicting this for months. But there might be some interesting mitigating factors at play worth monitoring too (you know, just a cautionary note in case you were thinking of shorting heavily export-oriented European companies' stocks):

"First, in an increasingly integrated global economy, companies' pricing power has been eroded around the world. In addition, low inflation has made price increases more obvious. So it is harder for firms to pass on cost increases of any sort, whether rising input prices or higher wages for unionised employees. In the same way, it is more difficult for a European car company, say, to raise its prices in America in response to a stronger euro. According to a study cited by Mr Magnus, the ability to pass on the effects of a stronger currency has been waning in recent years. (see chart)

"Other factors also weaken the power of currency movements. Rather than try and raise prices when their “home” currency strengthens, foreign firms may hold prices and accept lower margins, especially if they think the currency will weaken again or if they are determined to maintain market share. Manufacturing operations that are spread across countries make it easier for firms to match their dollar sales with dollar costs, reducing the effects of currency movements. And there is often a long delay, perhaps of more than a year, before consumers and producers adjust to changes in prices. " [emphasis added]

Relatedly, we should be careful not to assume a weak dollar will necessarily help eliminate America's trade and current-account imbalances. So sayeth the sage folks over at the Economist.

Posted by Gregory at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 09, 2003

The Guardian: Israel is Training

The Guardian: Israel is Training U.S. Assassination Squads

How well has the Guardian really sourced this story? Or are they just piggy-backing on Sy Hersh?

I mean, is it really a true story? Or is it another 'Wolfowitz said it was about oil' piece?

Sample grafs:

"This is basically an assassination programme. That is what is being conceptualised here. This is a hunter-killer team," said a former senior US intelligence official, who added that he feared the new tactics and enhanced cooperation with Israel would only inflame a volatile situation in the Middle East.

"It is bonkers, insane. Here we are - we're already being compared to Sharon in the Arab world, and we've just confirmed it by bringing in the Israelis and setting up assassination teams."

"They are being trained by Israelis in Fort Bragg," a well-informed intelligence source in Washington said.

"Some Israelis went to Iraq as well, not to do training, but for providing consultations."

How does the Guardian try to corroborate all these, er, incendiary charges?

"The Pentagon did not return calls seeking comment, but a military planner, Brigadier General Michael Vane, mentioned the cooperation with Israel in a letter to Army magazine in July about the Iraq counter-insurgency campaign.

"We recently travelled to Israel to glean lessons learned from their counterterrorist operations in urban areas," wrote General Vane, deputy chief of staff at the army's training and doctrine command."

Hmmm. Or, more to the point, so what?

Even if true, U.S. military personnel going to Israel to study counterterrorist techniques is a very far cry from "bringing in the Israelis and setting up assassination teams."

Or proof positive of the presence of Israeli military trainers at Fort Bragg. Or that Israeli military "consultants" have been on the ground in Iraq assisting U.S. forces.

Quick, perhaps Bill Keller should send his finest down to Fort Bragg to investigate.

Oh, and note that the Guardian article claims U.S. special forces are active in Cambodia (sorry, I mean Syria) at the present time. No sourcing on that either (except for anonymous folk "familiar with the operations", whatever that means).

Methinks this story was not quite ready for prime time.

But, hey, it's just the Guardian! Don't let nettlesome facts slow you down...

Posted by Gregory at 02:52 PM | Comments (19)

Iraq Burgeoning Middle Class Watch

Iraq Burgeoning Middle Class Watch

A little good news:

"Still, a swath of middle-class society — particularly government workers like doctors, teachers and administrators — has experienced a tremendous jump in income since the American-led occupation began. That is driving an exultant boom in demand for luxury goods — cars, televisions, fine clothing, expensive perfumes."

Overall, however, unemployment is at 60%--a whopping number.

Posted by Gregory at 11:34 AM | Comments (6)

Presidential Campaign Roundup Well, no

Presidential Campaign Roundup

Well, no big surprises about where we find ourselves (well, except that a heretofore obscure, dark-horse candidate Vermont governor now appears assured to face off against an incumbent war President).

Indeed, the Presidential election looks to be a Bush-Dean face-off. Worth noting again, we've got two men from highly privileged backgrounds (as David Brooks has pointed out, Dean's even more so than Bush's) that will likely face off in 2004.

It's interesting how much these two men have in common. Both went to prep school (Dean St. Georges, Dubya Andover) and then went on to Yale. They both had rowdy youths. Both quit boozing (Dean, perhaps more precocious, at the tender age of 32, Dubya at 40). Both avoided Vietnam (Dean, with a bad back, which didn't preclude a 'ski bum' sojourn, Dubya with the TX Nat'l Guard). They both show flashes of hot temper now and again.

But, most important, they have the quality the French describe as being "comfortable in their own skin." That's ultimately why Dean is where he's at--and has so trounced his competition.

What do I mean? Well, none of the other candidates really had that elusive quality, did they? I mean, let's look at the rest of the field--starting with John Kerry.

John Kerry: There was always something a bit unconvincing about his whole high Boston Brahmin schtick. Part of that was that there was too much of the purposeful myth-making about him. The stressing of the JFK initials. The strained Kennedy accent. The, er, big hair.

You know, he looked "French" and all that. This, among other important factors (Hat Tip: Mickey Kaus), helped ensure he never bonded with the majority of Iowans and New Hampshire residents. He smelled a bit, well, Swiss boarding school via Beacon Hill via too much Heinz money.

Joe Lieberman:

The CT Senator had always merely been riding on the coattails of his enhanced name recognition stemming from his earlier run on the 2000 Gore ticket. Gore's endorsement (more on that later) of Dean kills him off--though he was pretty much dead already.

He never really had that indefinable Presidential timber aura (you know it when you see it) about him anyway. A likable fellow--a hawkish, cerebral, occasionally moralizing Democrat right-centrist--but never a candidate with a real shot at the big prime time.

John Edwards:

The freshman senator always struck me as too Clintonian, ie. a bit slick. A somewhat suspiciously sweet-talking pretty-boy type trial lawyer who had made a decent amount of cash--and never missed an opportunity to mention his textile mill working class father--in slightly disingenuous fashion.

And, I suspect, he revealed too much narcisism by his lack of patience. Did he really have to run for the big job in his freshman tour of the Senate?

Richard Gephardt:

Gephardt might still show us some surprises in Iowa. But he appears so, um, unreal--with his standard blue shirt/red tie Washington costume and face that appears composed of some unmalleable plastic substance.

His somewhat ossified paleo-Democrat views on matters trade (ie, his protectionist bent) won't help much either. Methinks he's a loser in all this too.

Wesley Clark:

Among the serious candidates (though I'll admit Al Sharpton, per his recent SNL gig, is growing on me with his manifold musical talents ), I guess that leaves Clark. But he basically peaked the moment he entered the race and has been heading down since. He confused many with his Iraq war stance (was he for? against?) back and forths.

Also, he appears a little too, well, intense (cravenly ambitious?). I get scared when, you know, his eyes seem to bulge out during interviews and campaign appearances.

And, regardless, given support he had voiced for Bush's prosecution of the war on terror in the past, he never seemed like a guy the Democrat rank and file could trust.

So, maybe Clark's a potential Veep to help Dean to bolster national security cred (though I'm not sure Wes Clark would be an asset for our national security interests--more on that another day) but, aside from that play, pretty much dead in the water.

The Gore Endorsement:

But back to Dean. The big news now is, of course, the Gore endorsement. This is being pitched as the major beginnings of the insider, establishment "crowning" of Dean as the man to beat Bush. And, of course, the NYT is getting breathless and doing some Gore cheerleading in the midst of all this too:

"It was a move of striking — and discretionary — boldness that would have been all but unheard of for the cautious, calculating candidate Mr. Gore once was."

Don't believe the hype. All this ignores Gore's very planned positioning of himself as the anti-Clinton candidate in '08 should Dean flounder.

In other words, this is standard Gore. Very cautious. Very calculating.

He can say, I supported the only truly major anti-war candidate early on in the process, before the primaries, and am a 'real' Democrat. Meanwhile, hawkish Hillary is selling out and wants more GI's in theater!

The problem with all this? The senator's son Gore will never make a convincing populist. That's part of what sunk him in 2000 (yes, he did lose the election folks).

The populist gig didn't ring true then. And it doesn't, even with the Dean endorsement, now.

It's good news for Dean, to be sure. The aura of inevitability around him has just gotten a healthy shot in the arm. But this won't really do much for Gore--unless Dean wins and hands him a plum post and he's that hungry to get back into the policy arena instead of making money.

And if Dean loses (which is quite likely) Gore hasn't done himself any real favors for '08.

Note, however, I'm not at all complacent. Dean could be a real threat.


Posted by Gregory at 10:25 AM | Comments (17)

The Pheonix (Project) Rises Again

The Pheonix (Project) Rises Again

Sy Hersh has yet another New Yorker piece up in what seems an interminable series on the nefarious going-ons at the Pentagon, the myriad Iraq faux pas commited by Doug Feith and gang, and how we've pretty much descended into something of a Tet-on-the-Tigris.

It, like much other commentary recently, makes the point that the U.S. is adopting Israeli tactics in Iraq. Hersh, with some justification, isn't too happy about that.

He also reports, and this is something that I haven't seen before, that:

"According to American and Israeli military and intelligence officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for operations in Iraq. Israeli commandos are expected to serve as ad-hoc advisers—again, in secret—when full-field operations begin. (Neither the Pentagon nor Israeli diplomats would comment. “No one wants to talk about this,” an Israeli official told me. “It’s incendiary. Both governments have decided at the highest level that it is in their interests to keep a low profile on U.S.-Israeli coöperation” on Iraq.) The critical issue, American and Israeli officials agree, is intelligence. There is much debate about whether targeting a large number of individuals is a practical—or politically effective—way to bring about stability in Iraq, especially given the frequent failure of American forces to obtain consistent and reliable information there."

Of course, if this were true, it would provide fresh fodder for conspiracy theorists and Americo-Zionist bashers from Tangier to Jakarta. But I'm not quite sure this has legs. The U.S. has always done its utmost to keep the Israelis out of Iraq related military operations (directly or indirectly) precisely because, as the Israeli diplomat puts it, such charges would indeed be highly "incendiary."

But let's put that theme to the side for a moment. Instead, let's focus on how, as usual, Hersh tends to overstep and criticize the Administration too harshly in his New Yorker pieces by tapping into mostly anti-Bush sources:

"A former intelligence official said that getting inside the Baathist leadership could be compared to “fighting your way into a coconut—you bang away and bang away until you find a soft spot, and then you can clean it out.” An American who has advised the civilian authority in Baghdad said, “The only way we can win is to go unconventional. We’re going to have to play their game. Guerrilla versus guerrilla. Terrorism versus terrorism. We’ve got to scare the Iraqis into submission.” [emphasis added]

We can debate the merits of targeted assassinations and other such so-called "Israeli" style counter-insurgency tactics. But from whom did Hersh fish out this "terrorism versus terrorism" quote from?

Doubtless an Administration critic looking to serve Hersh up a nice soundbite. It's, of course, evocative of unvarnished relativism that doesn't fairly reflect the situation on the ground.

I mean, does this mean that G.I.'s will now be blowing up Red Cross and U.N. headquarters as part of our ramped up "terrorist" counterinsurgency campaign?

Posted by Gregory at 10:16 AM | Comments (2)

A Captain In Iraq I

A Captain In Iraq

I got this for a friend (via an E-mail chain) and so can't vouch 100% for its authenticity. It's ostensibly a personal report from a Captain serving in Iraq who was at the Thanksgiving dinner that Dubya attended at the airport. Check it out.

"We knew there was a dinner planned with Ambassador Bremer and LTG Sanchez. There were 600 seats available and all the units in the division were tasked with filling a few tables. Naturally, the 501st MI battalion got our table.

Soldiers were grumbling about having to sit through another dog-and-pony show, so we had to pick soldiers to attend. I chose not to go. But, about 1500 the G2, LTC Devan, came up to me and with a smile, asked me to come to dinner with him, to meet him in his office at 1600 and bring a camera. I didn't really care about getting a picture with Sanchez or Bremer, but when the division's senior intelligence officer asks you to go, you go.

We were seated in the chow hall, fully decorated for Thanksgiving when aaaaallllll kinds of secret service guys showed up. That was my first clue, because Bremer's been here before and his personal security detachment is not that big.

Then BG Dempsey got up to speak, and he welcomed ambassador Bremer and LTG Sanchez. Bremer thanked us all and pulled out a piece of paper as if to give a speech. He mentioned that the President had given him this thanksgiving speech to give to the troops. He then paused and said that the senior man present should be the one to give it. He then looked at Sanchez, who just smiled. Bremer then said that we should probably get someone more senior to read the speech.

Then, from behind the camouflage netting, the President of the United States came around. The mess hall actually erupted with hollering. Troops bounded to their feet with shocked smiles and just began cheering with all their hearts. The building actually shook. It was just unreal. I was absolutely stunned. Not only for the obvious, but also because I was only two tables away from the podium. There he stood, less than thirty feet away from me! The cheering went on and on and on. Soldiers were hollering, cheering, and a lot of them were crying. There was not a dry eye at my table. When he stepped up to the cheering, I could clearly see tears running down his cheeks. It was the most surreal moment I've had in years. Not since my wedding and Aaron being born. Here was this man, our President, came all the way around the world, spending 17 hours on an airplane and landing in the most dangerous airport in the world, where a plane was shot out of the sky not six days before. Just to spend two hours with his troops. Only to get on a plane and spend another 17 hours flying back. It was a great moment, and I will never forget it.

He delivered his speech, which we all loved, when he looked right at me and held his eyes on me. Then he stepped down and was just mobbed by the soldiers. He slowly worked his way all the way around the chow hall and shook every last hand extended. Every soldier who wanted a photo with the President got one. I made my way through the line, got dinner, then wolfed it down as he was still working the room. You could tell he was really enjoying himself. It wasn't just a photo opportunity. This man was actually enjoying himself! He worked his way over the course of about 90 minutes towards my side of the room.

Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to shake a few hands. I got a picture with Ambassador Bremer, Talabani (acting Iraqi president) and Achmed Chalabi (another member of the ruling council) and Condaleeza Rice, who was there with him. I felt like I was drunk.

He was getting closer to my table so I went back over to my seat. As he passed and posed for photos, he looked me in the eye and said, "How you doin', Captain." I smiled and said "God bless you, sir." To which he responded "I'm proud of what you do, Captain." Then moved on."

Cynics will doubtless denigrate such sentimentalism. And, again, I'm not sure it's the real thing. But assuming it's real, the sentiments contained above speak volumes of what the trip meant to U.S. soldiers in theater. Put simply, the visit meant a lot.

And some critics are whining on about whether he had a 'fake' turkey in his arms for a spell? What kill-joys. Bah humbug. I mean, where's their holiday spirit?

Posted by Gregory at 10:01 AM | Comments (4)

December 08, 2003

The World As Seen From

The World As Seen From Le Monde Diplomatique

We'd never be surprised to see a hard gauchiste bent and knee-jerk anti-Americanism in any issue of Le Monde Diplomatique. But their English language synopsis of the current issue is really quite something:

"... Israel: murky secrets, apartheid rule, raising martyrs; Europe united against the war; democracy California-style; Nepal’s Maoist rebels; French immigrants want to be equal; ’big pharma’, a tale of corruption; is Google any good? ... plus JM Coetzee gets his Nobel prize and Mahmoud Darwish says goodbye to Edward Said... and more..." [my emphasis]

Folks, what "more" is there? They've covered it all!

Posted by Gregory at 08:40 PM | Comments (3)

NoKo Watch More brutish, radical

NoKo Watch

More brutish, radical (per Krugman and Co.) Crawford unilateralism.

Posted by Gregory at 11:53 AM | Comments (3)

Israeli-Syrian Track Ze'ev Schiff on

Israeli-Syrian Track

Ze'ev Schiff on why Sharon should talk to Damascus. He's also got a piece up on the "hudna trap."

I think both of Schiff's analyses are pretty much on target.

Posted by Gregory at 11:23 AM | Comments (3)

December 07, 2003

Dean Watch Brett Marston is

Dean Watch

Brett Marston is taking me (and some others) to task for linking approvingly to a Krauthammer piece on "delusional Dean."

In a way, he's making me look like Maureen Dowd, cynically relying on truncated quotes to score cheap partisan points. Dowdification or such. Say it ain't so!


"For some (embarrassingly) uncritical appropriations of Krauthammer's piece, see The Belgravia Dispatch, Tim Graham at NRO, Environmental Republican....I'm sure there will be more."

Marston's Dean defense relies on a fuller quote of what Dean had to say when intimating that Dubya may have been warned of 9/11 by the Saudis before the tragic events of that day:

The fuller Dean quote:

"I don’t know. There are many, there are many theories about it, the most interesting theory that I’ve heard so far, which is nothing more than a theory – I can’t think – it can’t be proved, is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis. Now, who knows what the real situation is? But the trouble is, by suppressing that kind of information, you lead to those kinds of theories, whether they have any truth to them or not, and eventually they get repeated as fact. So I think the President is taking a great risk by suppressing the clear, the key information that needs to go to the Kean commission."

[Marston's emphasis, with the bolded language some of the verbiage Krauthammer left out of his op-ed]

Marston's point? All that Dean meant by his comments was mostly by way of a classic post-Nixonian tutelage in the cover up always being worse than the crime, ie. tell us all, provide all docs to Kean, full disclosure (a tad rich coming from Dean).

You know, I had seen the full quote after I had linked approvingly to Krauthammer's oped. For a second, I wondered if I should update my post. But, I thought, why bother?

Dean's comment remains, even when in full context, breathtakingly irresponsible and evocative of truly shabby politiking. He popularizes and makes more respectable the canard that Dubya may have been forewarned by Riyadh that hijackers were on their way to fell the WTC and hit the Pentagon.

After all, he calls that the "most interesting theory" (and helpfully contributes to the process of letting baseless theories get, to use his words, "repeated as fact" [ed. note: sorry, repreated as the "most interesting theory"]).

Thus the leading opposition candidate, in the face of what is surely the most important historical event in post-war American history, and in an election that will still ultimately revolve around 9/11 related issues (more than even the economy, despite some polling data to the contrary, in my view), alleges that the Commander-in-Chief may have had foreknowledge of said epoch making attack that killed over 3,000 Americans and, er, just let it happen.

I guess his startled expression in the Florida schoolroom was just good theater. As was his long spin around the country that day on Air Force One--the better so people thought more might happen that day (wink wink)--but, of course, our buddies in Riyadh had already clued us in to all the events of the day and Air Force One's long criss-cross flight paths over the nation were just more show.

And, you know, American Jews in the WTC didn't show up at work that day, and Mossad knew about it, and why did we round up all the little U.S. based bin Ladens and fly them to Riyadh, and it's all about Carlyle and Halliburton, and so on. This conspiracy mongering is a pretty slippery slope, isn't it?

Nah. Dean overstepped. And it might well come back to bite him.

So Brett, I don't think I've embarrassed my humble blog with my Krauthammer link. But have you yours with your somewhat tortured defense of Dean?

NB: Under questioning by Chris Wallace on Fox today, Dean stumbled under questioning about this matter. He retreated, saying he "couldn't imagine" a U.S. President not acting to prevent 9/11 if he had some previous knowledge of the attacks.

Then why did he say it was the "most interesting theory," Wallace pressed?

Because it's "a pretty odd theory" and something about "chatter" and so on Dean bumbled. It wasn't pretty.

Dean fumbled on this one. A blunder, pure and simple. He's now trying to put it behind him. Good for him.

But Rove should remind him of his comments closer to the election. Playing politics with 9/11 is tasteless and gross, in my view.

Another NB: Oh, Marston also has a "More" section at the bottom of his post. It was a tad Derrida-like in its complexities (and Brett seems to have special access to Dean's inner thought processes and so muses on a bit about what the word "interesting" means when uttered by Dean).

But through all the dense prose (it's late here in London town) I did espy that Marston's update didn't really address the bottom line issue this sordid little episode from Dean's campaign represents.

Namely that Dean intimated that Bush may have known about 9/11 before it happened--because the Saudis told him--and by extension, intimated Bush didn't lift a finger to prevent it from happening.

A crude canard he is now speedily retreating from--however his defenders wish to make pretty his offensive discourse.

Listen, all candidates overstep rhetorically in the heat of a campaign. This will likely blow over--especially as, given the viciousness of American politics--this isn't really much out of the mainstream of the typical invective and rank misinformation being peddled about with alacrity by the various campaigns (sadly).

But don't defend the guy about it. I mean, he's not even defending it himself folks.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Marston has an update (scroll down) where he writes:

"Mr. Djerjian at Belgravia Dispatch begs to differ. Apparently I pissed him off a bit: his post compares my prose to Derrida's....That hurts, actually. But at least I can spell Gregory's last name right. Aside from that, though, Mr. Djerjian makes some good points -- if you accept the premise that Dean was engaging in "politiking" with that quote. I doubt it. If the statement struck you that way, though -- well, whatever floats your boat. I'd prefer that you hear the original rather than take your cues from Krauthammer, though."

Er, well actually, Brett, you didn't get my last name right! You neglected that crucial, if discreetly tucked away, second "e" after the "r."

But hey, it's doubtless easier to get Djerejian wrong than no hard feelings over on this side of the pond. And call me Greg--it's less of a mouthful and you'll get the spelling right!

Posted by Gregory at 11:37 PM | Comments (4)

The Israelification of U.S. Counterinsurgency

The Israelification of U.S. Counterinsurgency Tactics in the Sunni Triangle

Dexter Filkins has an important piece up in today's NYT.

Some key grafs:

"The practice of destroying buildings where Iraqi insurgents are suspected of planning or mounting attacks has been used for decades by Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli Army has also imprisoned the relatives of suspected terrorists, in the hopes of pressing the suspects to surrender.

The Israeli military has also cordoned off villages and towns thought to be hotbeds of guerrilla activity, in an effort to control the flow of people moving in and out.

American officials say they are not purposefully mimicking Israeli tactics, but they acknowledge that they have studied closely the Israeli experience in urban fighting. Ahead of the war, Israeli defense experts briefed American commanders on their experience in guerrilla and urban warfare. The Americans say there are no Israeli military advisers helping the Americans in Iraq."

Folks, let's be honest with ourselves. This isn't where we thought we were going to be seven months into the occupation.

Go to the photo essay that accompanies Filkins's article--ask yourself--are you comfortable with such scenes?

Surrrounding entire towns in barbed wire? Issuing identity cards to all residents and said cards being prerequisites for any movement in and out of town?

It all sounds very, you know, un-American.

At least to my ears and I suspect many of B.D. readers, no? And it's most assuredly not the way to win the proverbial hearts and minds of the locals (just ask the Israelis!)

And yet. As Wayne Downing writes in today's WaPo, this is where we find ourselves--and this is how, at this juncture, we must proceed.

Money grafs:

"I believe that American military leaders finally concluded that their restrained tactics were not dampening the insurgency and were never going to win the hearts and minds of the Sunnis as long as the people were dominated by former regime loyalists and the insurgents. So why try? It was time to take off the gloves.

That is exactly what we are seeing: large, well-coordinated cordon and search operations prompted by the best available intelligence; willingness to enter known insurgent strongholds and directly engage the enemy even though these areas might be heavily populated; destruction of insurgents' homes with smart bombs; and sweep operations that round up all likely suspects and turn them over to trained Arab interrogators for determination of their true status -- insurgent or innocent. These aggressive operations, which are very much like those employed by the Israeli Defense Forces, are daring and risky, but it appears this campaign is beginning to take insurgents off the street and, more important, is developing useful intelligence that leads to further fruitful operations.

This is a virtuous cycle for the United States, but time may not be on our side. Will our aggressive tactics produce success before we inflame the entire Iraqi population as well as the Sunnis against us? Will Muslim, and perhaps world, opinion, which has thus far been relatively quiet, turn further against U.S. efforts in Iraq?"

Here's more from our commanders on the ground.

And for an intelligent, nuanced view of the state of Iraq today, go here.

The Economist concludes:

"In a gloomy scenario, the anti-American violence, inevitably catching more and more Iraqis in its train, sparks sectarian violence. The Americans give up hope, and beg the United Nations to come in and pick up the bits.

In a happier hypothesis, an emerging Iraqi leadership, with Shias and Kurds finding a tougher anti-Saddamite Sunni leader at their side, gradually faces down the insurgency—and reaps the benefit of American economic largesse and military firepower. It could yet happen. Iraq is still, just, a better-than-evens bet."

Needless to say, the shorter the time that entire towns are surrounded by barbed wire the better the chances that the 'better-than-evens bet' heads in a positive, rather than negative, direction

Posted by Gregory at 10:12 PM | Comments (3)

A Public Editor at W.

A Public Editor at W. 43rd St.

The New York Times have now appointed an ombudsman (they are calling him a public editor). He sounds like a decent enough fellow.

Though this bit was a bit funny: "By upbringing and habit, I'm a registered Democrat, but notably to the right of my fellow Democrats on Manhattan's Upper West Side."

Heh. I guess that means that Mr. Okrent is to the right of varied Trotskyists, those who think Hillary has "sold out", and Howell Raines.

UPDATE: Readers have written in asking what I mean by the Hillary sold out lingo. Oh, stuff like this surely rankles some lefties...

It's weird, looking at her on Tim Russert's show yesterday I actually felt my detestation had mellowed--I kind of felt, you know, that she wasn't all bad....

ANOTHER UPDATE: Sully has more.

Posted by Gregory at 09:54 PM | Comments (4)

Conde Nast Boulevardier Watch Graydon

Conde Nast Boulevardier Watch

Graydon Carter (when not presiding over high-octane celeb-infused conclaves):

"I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. But there is a large, seething majority out there against what Bush is doing to this country. This administration is as fundamentalist as the Islamics".

Oh my.

I think I'll agree with an earlier analysis by Gawker on Graydon's sudden focus on such heady high politics:

"The intrusion of articulate politics at the Conde Nast offices freaks us out."

By the way, I don't know if the article says more about Graydon Carter's limitations or the Guardian's.

First, note the Guardian's headline: "How King of New York took battle to the Great Polariser".

Memo to the Guardian: Graydon Carter is not the "King of New York."

Perhaps a minor baronet whilst bestriding the Conde Nast building? (And smoking away with rakish insouciance while the V.F. worker-bee serfs are forced onto the cold, snowy streets of Times Square for a furtive puff).

And check out these other snippets from the piece that so well encapsulate the Guardian's pseudo-sophisticate, snide, and patronizing tone:

"This [Carter's increasingly anti-Bush monthly Editor's Letter] has proved surprising given his magazine's even-handed coverage of the war on Iraq, compared with the supine, pro-Bush stance of much of the American press."

"Carter has been mocked by some for using frivolous, glossy Vanity Fair as his platform. Yet he is determined to drag the liberal masses out of their meekness to keep Bush from a second term..."

Oh, and can someone deconstruct the blatantly oxymoronic phraseology in the below:

"Last week a Hollywood bash for the cream of wealthy intellectual society figures in Beverly Hills was starkly themed as a 'Hate Bush' evening."

Hint: Wealth and Beverly Hills society do go together. Big time.

But what attribute mentioned above, um, feels just a bit out of place when describing these hallowed Left Coast precincts?

[my emphasis throughout]

Posted by Gregory at 12:33 PM | Comments (0)

Why Vote? Disillusionment and cynicism

Why Vote?

Disillusionment and cynicism in Iran.

Posted by Gregory at 11:32 AM | Comments (4)

Protest Politics A little while

Protest Politics

A little while back we were blogging about the routinization of political protest. Now comes along this NYT magazine article on some of those swept up in the Howard Dean movement.

"The campaign sees political involvement in the way ''Bowling Alone'' does, as related to participation in civic organizations -- to people getting together socially. People at all levels of the Dean campaign will tell you that its purpose is not just to elect Howard Dean president. Just as significant, they say, the point is to give people something to believe in, and to connect those people to one another. The point is to get them out of their houses and bring them together at barbecues, rallies and voting booths."

Dean's candidacy is clearly the most interesting Democract one in large part because of the passion he's aroused among his supporters. And I'm all for Robert Putnam-like increased participation in civic organizations. But I am bit uncomfortable when I read stuff like this:

"Dean supporters do not drive 200 miles through 10 inches of snow -- as John Crabtree, 39, and Craig Fleming, 41, did to attend the November Dean meet-up in Fargo, N.D. -- to see a political candidate or a representative of his staff. They drive that far to see each other....After the meeting ended, everyone lingered in the library to talk. Greg DeMarco, a computer salesman, told me, ''My wife and I have met more people in Hooksett through the campaign than we have living here.'' [my emphasis]

Again, what really motivates these people? How much have they really focused on Bush's policies, especially those in the national security sphere, and coherently/judiciously decided they are failed ones? Or is this more about the festive atmosphere surrounding an electrifying 'protest' candidate--an antidote to "Bowling Alone," anomie, boredom, and the like?

I'll revisit this theme later. There's more to mine in all this.

NB: Note too the import of blogging, detailed in the magazine article, vis-a-vis Dean's candidacy.

Posted by Gregory at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

Yellow Cab Chronicles Here's one

Yellow Cab Chronicles

Here's one great reason (among many others) that I'll always prefer NY's yellow cabs to London's black ones--despite the "Knowledge", much more leg room, and the fact that more of the drivers here speak the Queen's English.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of NY, check out this good news story too. The Big Apple continues to show its indomitable spirit. Hurrah.

Posted by Gregory at 11:03 AM | Comments (4)

December 05, 2003

Economic Data Watch More bad

Economic Data Watch

More bad news for Dean. Perhaps the recovery won't be quite as depressingly jobless as we've been led to believe.

Though, it should be said, I remain pretty bearish from my little corner of the world. Kind of like Steve Roach over at Morgan, you might say.

Posted by Gregory at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

Kyoto Revisited Remember the anti-Bush

Kyoto Revisited

Remember the anti-Bush screed and breathlessly pro-Kyoto NYT masthead of yesterday?

Compare and contrast with the WaPo's more measured analysis today.

Oh, and on another topic, don't miss Krauthammer on "delusional" Dean.

Posted by Gregory at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

Iraq Dispatch Mark Danner in

Iraq Dispatch

Mark Danner in the NYRB. The key grafs that make the points we've stressed repeatedly over here at B.D.:

"As I write, on November 19, US military forces in Iraq are conducting Operation Iron Hammer, striking with warplanes and artillery bases thought to be occupied by Iraqi insurgents. American television broadcasts are filled with dramatic footage of huge explosions illuminating the night sky. In Tikrit, Saddam's political base and a stronghold of the opposition, the Americans staged a military show of force, sending tanks and other armored vehicles rumbling through the main street. "They need to understand," Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell told ABC News, "it's more than just Humvees we'll be using in these attacks."

The armed opposition in Iraq seems unlikely to be impressed. However many insurgents the Americans manage to kill in bombing runs and artillery barrages, the toll on civilians, in death and disruption, is also likely to be high, as will damage to the fragile sense of normalcy that Americans are struggling to achieve and the opposition forces are determined to destroy. Large-scale armored warfare looks and sounds impressive, inspiring overwhelming fear; but it is not discriminate, which makes it a blunt and ultimately self-defeating instrument to deploy against determined guerrillas. In general, the American military, the finest and most powerful in the world, is not organized and equipped to fight this war, and the part of it that is—the Special Forces—are almost entirely occupied in what seems a never-ending hunt for Saddam. For American leaders, and particularly President Bush, this has become the quest for the Holy Grail: finding Saddam will be an enormous political boon. For the American military, this quest has the feel of a traditional kind of war not wholly suited to what they find in Iraq. "We are a hierarchy and we like to fight hierarchies," says military strategist John Arquilla. "We think if we cut off the head we can end this."

Whatever the political rewards of finding Saddam, they will not likely include putting a definitive end to the insurgency in Iraq.[7] "The Americans need to get out of their tanks, get out from behind their sunglasses," a British military officer, a veteran of Northern Ireland told me. "They need to get on the ground where they can get to know people and encourage them to tell them where the bad guys are." As I write, operations on the ground seem to be moving in the opposite direction. In any event it is difficult to impress an opponent with a military advance plainly meant to cover a political retreat."

I disagree with Danner that the counterinsurgency operations underway are meant to "cover a political retreat." But I still feel we haven't figured our the right force mix and method for fighting this counterinsurgency effectively. Go here, here and here for some reasons why.

Posted by Gregory at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

Conspiracy Theories Run Amok Here

Conspiracy Theories Run Amok

Here is one of the odder ways someone has gotten to my site.

Perhaps there's an appeasement wing of the Straussian cabal too. This particular Yahoo search engine user/conspirator must have been let down to land at this part of B.D.'s archives.

Posted by Gregory at 10:24 AM | Comments (16)

Dubya as Theocratic Fanatic Yep,

Dubya as Theocratic Fanatic

Yep, it's that meme again--appearing in the predictable media spaces. Over here at B.D., we were already trying to debunk this hysteria around Day 1 or 2 of the blog's inception.

And as for Dubya's "Manichean" excesses--why wasn't the Gipper taken to task in such fashion for references to the "Evil Empire"? And let's not even start to peruse Woodrow Wilson's speeches for religious imagery, references and such.

Believe me, this religiosity in political discourse is a bipartisan affair, with a long and rich history in American political discourse.

It's not an unprecedented phenomenon that suddenly began when the prostelyizing Crawford Ayatollah strolled brutishly onto the world stage.

Posted by Gregory at 09:57 AM | Comments (17)

Moronic Inferno Watch Oh, pity.

Moronic Inferno Watch

Oh, pity. No Hiltonian acrobatics allowed for visionary, pathbreaking, Baudelaireian etc etc "film" students at NYU.

But hey, these days even Grand Ayatollah Sistani is getting into the nitty-gritty re: the relative (non)propriety of various sexual acts.

But doubtless, much like those kill-joy deans at NYU--he'd probably draw the line at allowing the filming of all the fun and games, no?

Still, it appears from his website that no one in his large flock has actually quite come out and asked him yet.

Still, one wonders. Might the precincts of Najaf prove more libertine than the stodgy gaggle of academic scolds hunkered down in the center Village?

What will all the democratization underfoot?

Especially as wise clerics might appreciate how students can get so magically creative when their artistic visions are allowed to bloom unfettered by prudish, censorious hordes:

"Vera Itkin, 20, a sophomore, said that one film in a class contained graphic secondhand footage from a pornographic movie and that two scripts called for hard-core sex scenes, one with dead people.

Lisa Estrin, 19, a sophomore, said she made a film showing simulated sex between two stuffed toys, Minnie Mouse and Lamb Chop.

Ms. Carmicino also has the support of her mother, Theresa Carmicino, a retired social worker in Shelby Township, Mich., near Detroit, who said, "It's not subject matter I probably would like, but I think she had the right to represent herself the way she likes."

More great moments in parenting. Hotelier chain scions everywhere would be proud.

And, of course, this expansive "right to represent" (however banal, scurrilous, fraudulent, or, generally, of zero merit the subject matter being represented) is doubtless what the denizens of Najaf are hungering for too?

Call it democratization L.A. style (you know, kiddie porn for all, if you gotta modem!).

Posted by Gregory at 12:03 AM | Comments (10)

December 04, 2003

Antisemitism Watch It's not just

Antisemitism Watch

It's not just in France.

More on this topic here, here (for the record, I think Uzi Landau is looking at the wrong end of the Israeli political spectrum regarding said flame fanning) and here.

Posted by Gregory at 09:52 PM | Comments (8)

Geneva Accord I haven't blogged

Geneva Accord

I haven't blogged this partly because the accord is so depressingly virtual. But it's becoming less so. Dubya's comments, while heavily conditional, are still significant. Clinton has voiced support as the Haaretz article states. Wolfowitz will meet with some of the key Geneva participants as will, less surprisingly, Powell. There's a little momentum brewing here.

I hope to have more on what this all means soon.

UPDATE: Has the meeting with Wolfy been cancelled?

Oh, and Ari Shavit doesn't like the GVA going-ons at all. I think he's significantly off on many of his greivances. He's certainly wrong when he writes:

"The third danger is textual. The entire document is essentially based on the comprehensive crushing statement in UN Resolution 194: [T]he refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date..." The meaning of this statement is the end of Israel. The document attempts to dam it up with a few counter-statements, but in the end, it upgrades it, sanctifies it, makes it operative. In so doing, it lays under the Jewish state a conceptual explosive charge that endangers its very existence."

See why he's wrong here (scroll down to section 2(b).

Posted by Gregory at 09:49 PM | Comments (13)

The Anti-Bush Left How loony,

The Anti-Bush Left

How loony, irrational and obscenely hyperbolic can Bush's enemies (let's call them what they are) on the Left be? Check this out.

The theme is the great perils that will befall the USA and the globe should Dubya win a second term--call it sexed up John Kerry--who recently opined at the CFR that: "Simply put, the Bush administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history" [ed. note: Does he just mean U.S. governments? What is "modern" history? When did it start? The French Revolution, perhaps? Quite a while back. Lots of Administrations--foreign and domestic.]

Anyway, here's a teaser:

"As early as the Christian holiday of Christmas in December 2004, or more likely, the Christian Easter Holiday in April 2005 (celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ), the Bush PCS will attack. Syria will be attacked by American-British-Israeli coalition forces, primarily from its Western, Southern and Eastern flanks. There will be no prolonged bombing campaign in this operation. The air campaign will be concomitant with an amphibious assault on Syria's Western shores, accompanied by a land invasion from the Southern and Eastern flanks. The forces of the American led coalition will crush the dilapidated Syrian military within 10 business days. The Palestinians will likely be granted a piece of the former Syria and will be relocated there by the US and Israel.

Simultaneously with invasion of Syria, Iran will be subjected to an extraordinary air and cruise missile assault led by American forces. This operation will include additional military elements from the Turkish and Afghani military who will have been promised a piece of Iran once it is defeated. A withering air assault will come from the Northwest through Turkey, from the West from US controlled Iraq, from the East from the air bases in Afghanistan, and from carrier groups and cruise missile launching submarines, to include an Israeli submarine, in the Persian Gulf. Within 60 business days, Iran will be defeated by US-led forces. And should Iran successfully test a nuclear weapon prior to that time, the Bush PCS will accelerate its timetable for attack opting to use tactical nuclear weapons to take out Iranian nuclear weaponry.

Since the Bush PCS believes that North Korea cannot be allowed to exist, it will attack North Korea simultaneously with its invasion of Syria and Iran. China will have been dealt with during back channel negotiations. The price China will demand of not intervening against the US invasion (Chinese troop strength at 100 million) will be Taiwan."

And so on. Why does Alexander Cockburn allow this absurd claptrap onto his online 'zine?

Posted by Gregory at 08:46 PM | Comments (16)

More Cartoon Fun Courtesy of

More Cartoon Fun

Courtesy of Le Monde.

The caption reads "Japanese Reconstructors at Training"

Further accompanying text in Le Monde reads: "The Japanese government is more and more embarrassed in the face of its promise to send soldiers to Iraq."

Note the diminutive depiction of the small-sized 'Japs' running for cover. Pretty tasteless, isn't it?

And this is all false, bien sur.

Koizumi is sending in troops. Japan isn't running scared of its promise to send soldiers to Iraq. It's doing so--if in de minimis number.

But it's easier and more fun to mock from the sidelines, no?

Posted by Gregory at 08:40 PM | Comments (15)

Saddam's "Nice" Side Snippets from

Saddam's "Nice" Side

Snippets from his old translator:

"Another of Saman’s jobs was ordering books for Saddam. He liked historical biography, especially books about Nelson Mandela, Stalin and General de Gaulle, whom he admired for standing up to America. The last book he requested before the war was Ho Chi Minh’s selected writings, which deal with the Vietcong’s guerrilla tactics."

And now he doubtless admires Chirac!

Posted by Gregory at 06:32 PM | Comments (17)

Blame Bush, Facts Be Damned

Blame Bush, Facts Be Damned

Moscow says nyet to Kyoto. This was a sovereign decision made by one Vladimir Putin, leader of Russia, you would think.

But wait, if you're penning mastheads on W. 43rd, Russia's recalcitrance re: Kyoto is (you guessed it) Dubya's fault:

"One would never know this by listening to the Bush administration. Indeed, it can be argued that Russia would not be having second thoughts about the Kyoto accord had Mr. Bush himself decided not to bail out."

Oh, and check out this intemperate part of the masthead too--the NYT didn't like Paula Dobriansky's op-ed over in the FT, it seems:

"Meanwhile, the Bush administration continues to bad-mouth the treaty at every opportunity, the most recent example being an amazingly slippery piece of demagoguery by Paula Dobriansky, the under secretary of state for global affairs and the lead American delegate to a follow-up meeting on the Kyoto agreement that is now taking place in Milan. Writing in The Financial Times, Ms. Dobriansky begins by trashing the climate agreement as an "unrealistic and ever-tightening regulatory straitjacket." She then goes on to praise the Bush administration's alternative — a mix of research and development into "breakthrough" technologies and voluntary emissions controls by American companies — as much the better plan." [emphasis added]

Go read the masthead in full. Do you feel convinced that Paula Dobriansky was engaged in an "amazingly slippery piece of demagoguery"? Or are we just scoring partisan points again?

UPDATE: Reader Clark Irwin from Maine writes in:

Dear Disp:

Re the 12/4 post on Kyoto sniping at Bush:

Why can't people get it through their heads that Bush's attitude toward the Kyoto treaty is irrelevant?

Clinton liked it, too, but the president doesn't ratify treaties.

The Senate does. And on July 25, 1997, Senate Resolution #98 was adopted by a 95-0 vote, condemning the Kyoto protocol for requiring costly measures by the US while exempting large and growing countries like China, Mexico, India, and Brazil -- and more than 100 others -- whose aggregate greenhouse-gas emissions are expected to surpass the "developed" counties' by 2015.

Text of Senate Resolution 98

The strength of the sentiment was such that Clinton never asked for a ratification vote. Unless the treaty is renegotiated to cover all nations' emissions, neither should Bush.


Posted by Gregory at 11:20 AM | Comments (15)

Anti-Americanism Watch Are you a

Anti-Americanism Watch

Are you a nefarious America-hater? Take the quiz.

Posted by Gregory at 10:59 AM | Comments (16)

December 03, 2003

Iraq Narratives Dan Drezner has

Iraq Narratives

Dan Drezner has an interesting post up where he makes the point that there is still no "coherent narrative about the future of Iraq". In another post, Dan drives in the same point: "A lot of stuff is happening, and I doubt any single narrative will be able to explain it."

All this seems very obvious, but it's worth stressing and keeping tabs on. I'd like to try to sketch out the key narratives, at least as the situation stands today, in terms of ensuring that the U.S. led intervention in Iraq ultimately proves successful, ie. that we leave behind, within a relatively short time frame of several years, a viable, unitary, and democratic Iraqi polity. Here are the key narratives we likely need to keep an eye on.

1) The Kurdish Angle: While developments in the northern Kurdish regions of the country appear to provide the best narrative to date--there are still very real concerns that merit close monitoring of the situation. For one, this kind of elite opinion is likely spooking the Turks a bit. The last thing they want is an independent Kurdistan. And they will likely cross the Turkish-Iraqi border in good number, even if U.S. forces attempt to dissuade them, to prevent that from occuring.

Relatedly, I've had some concern that the Istanbul bombings would be, perhaps, laid at the feet of the PKK (rather than al-Qaeda) as a means of perhaps providing an additional reason for the Turkish Army to flex its muscles a bit more near Iraq (as a recent oped in the WSJ suggested, link not available). So far, however, the Turks seem to be continuing to focus speculation on al-Qaeda as the culprits .

Finally, it's also worth closely keeping tabs on the prospects for inter-communitarian violence in large cities like Kirkuk where the Turkomen minority could agitate should a deeper Kurdish autonomy take root and foreign (ie, American) troops leave. This could be yet another trigger for Turkish intervention.

My point? It seems to be going pretty well right now in the Kurdish zone. But we shouldn't get complacent.

2) The Sunni Triangle: This is clearly the narrative that gets the most attention. We all know the main story lines. The insurgency has become more sophisticated. U.S. casualty numbers have been increasingly painful in the last month. U.S. forces have recently ratcheted up counterinsurgency efforts. Results are mixed. Some McCainites want more troops in theater. Others think no more are needed. People worry about "hearts and minds" in the face of more robust counterinsurgency operations.

This excellent piece details some of the key issues I think U.S. war planners may be missing:

"Here, the localization of an insurgency becomes both its tactical strength and its strategic weakness. In the short term, it is obviously easier to win hearts and minds in some places (e.g. Kurdistan) than in others (e.g. the Sunni Triangle). In the face of a hostile or apathetic population, counterinsurgency is almost certain to be--in Secretary Rumsfeld's words--a long, hard slog. But localization also means that U.S. troops, once they have pacified a friendly town or region, can leverage the political institutions and elites established there against more recalcitrant areas. At the same time, conventional forces can be funneled away from self-governing regions into hot spots, gradually ratcheting up the pressure against the insurgents." [emphasis added]

Are we involved in doing enough of this "leveraging"? I'm not sure we are. The recent ambush in Samarra where we loudly proclaimed 46 (or was it 54?) Iraqi insurgents killed is too reminiscent of Vietnam era hit ratio talk. Tell me more, instead, about how a village that was previously guerrilla infested is now run by a coalition-friendly (though not quisling) local elite. This would make me feel that this narrative is heading in rosier directions.

Another key point that Donnelly makes as he looks at the Philippines precedent:

"Yet even after the elimination of top rebel commanders, guerrilla infrastructure in southwestern Luzon proved sufficiently localized, personalized, and informal for small bands of the most ideologically driven partisans to persevere. For such dead-enders, it was America's "civilizing mission that inspired much of the viciousness of the war: the Army's mission of making the Filipinos passively accept United States authority ran directly counter to the revolutionaries' determination that the people should actively support independence."

Translation: Capturing Saddam and other senior leaders will be helpful--but not a panacea. Especially if we are not doing enough of the aforementioned leveraging.

3) All Quiet On the Shi'a Front? So far, this narrative has been going pretty well. But lately Grand Ayatollah Sistani has been showing increasing signs of discontent with CPA plans for nation-wide caucuses rather than direct elections. Of course, direct elections increase fears (particularly among the Sunni) of the emergence of a somewhat brutish Shi'a majoritarianism.

The latest news on this, reportedely coming after some pretty intense lobbying from Jerry Bremer, is that a majority of the Governing Council (meaning there were some Shi'a defections) are supporting the CPA caucus approach to elections.

That said, the obvious fear remains-- that the election modality issue degenerates into a real show-down and spells an end to the relative honeymoon the coalition has enjoyed to date with the Shi'a.

Ultimately, a WaPo masthead gets it about right:

"The United States can join Mr. Sistani in embracing as much democracy, and as soon, as is logistically possible. But the administration also must make clear to the Shiite leadership that ballots will not be allowed to serve as an instrument for undermining the liberal political system Mr. Bush has promised for Iraq."

On this last point, go the bottom of this post to get a sense of the nub of the problem.

These are the complex tensions we are navigating at the current hour. Phrased more simply, the question is, would one man one vote lead to an Islamic Republic in Iraq? If so, how can we attempt to stop that from happening while still convincingly representing ourselves, to the entire world, as bringing democracy into Iraq.

I'm not an expert on Iraqi Shi'aism and what it portends for gauging the relative chances of fostering a cohabitation between a modern, secular democracy that, at the same time, respects certain key Islamic tenets--as opposed to a full-blown Shari'ah jurisprudence taking root (if per a distinctly Iraqi model rather than an Iranian one).

But some observers in the region that I've spoken to recently (more on them below) view it as almost inevitable that an Islamic Republic will take root in Iraq. I'm not so sure, but I certainly don't dismiss the possibility amidst the somewhat delusional "democracy, whiskey, sexy" chants seen too often in the blogosphere.

Would that each and every Iraqi solely wanted a picture-perfect (and CPA-compliant) Philadelphia Convention, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, and a night with Gisele Bundchen. But somehow, I think a lot of the rank and file folks we see in the camera footage coming from places like Najaf don't really care for any of those things--as much as we might pretty much view such things as part and parcel of what democracy is all about.

The Regional Narrative

Recently I had drinks with an older Syrian couple that I've known for a good while. They are old-school Christians from a prominent family in Allepo. They make it their business to get to know Western diplomats who pass through Damascus and are highly Westernized. And what they told me worried me a good deal.

A few months back on this blog, I had somewhat poo-pooed a NYT piece that spoke of a significant Islamic resurgence in Syria.

But this informed couple (if perhaps a bit prone to hyperbolic fear given their Christian minority status) told me that the mosques are increasingly very, very full of worshippers (and they claimed there are now some 620 mosques in Aleppo alone) and that many more women were wearing veils in the streets. The man told me, "they [the mosques] used to be like our Churches. Somewhat empty. Now they are full and people listen to the sermons from outside as there is no more room indoors."

Why, I asked?

Anger and humiliation borne of helpelessness they replied. Anger at America, of course, being channeled into the perceived solace of religiosity. Humilation born of attacks on Syrian border guards, the Syria sanctions legislation on the Hill, tough talk from Rummy, what is seen as unvarnished support for Sharon and no appreciation for what some Syrians view as a young, secular, Western-leaning ruler sitting in Damascus.

In short, Syrians feel beat up, under-appreciated for their post-9/11 intelligence cooperation with the U.S. on al-Q, and surrounded by an American army to their East, unfriendly Turks to the North, and Israelis across the Golan.

I still think that some of this talk of an Islamic resurgence in Syria may be overblown. Bashar Assad inherits a brutal special police that knows how to let the street seethe a bit but then clamp down to preserve the Alawite regime's primacy in a majority Sunni country.

But still. One increasingly gets the feeling that we are at a real crossroads in the Middle East. So many narratives to grapple with. And how many of our policymakers are really following all of them with close attention and have the requisite regional expertise to make informed judgments?

This may surprise some, but I think Wolfowitz might be one of our better hopes on all this. How else to explain his willingness to pursue this meeting given the Likudnik appeaser reputation his attackers so often lob at him? (Hat tip: Josh Marshall).

He's one of the few individuals in the Beltway who understands how big the stakes have gotten, and how we need to improve regional dynamics and the image of the U.S. through the region or risk losing the war on terror. (Recall too he served as U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, which further deepened his interest in America's relations with the Islamic world.)

It all gets back to Rummy's leaked memo about whether we are winning or losing the war on terror. If people continue to feel so much humiliation and hate, they will turn to the comfort of madrasas and theocratic fervor. And they will continue to try to kill us whenever and however possible. Hit ratios, chest beating, and statues being pulled down won't do the trick.

Intelligent counter-insurgency operations, innovative bridging proposals forged with Sistani and fostering of more moderate Iraqi Shi'a voices (that nevertheless have grass roots street cred), and attention to regional issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might.

Well, as they say, developing....

Posted by Gregory at 06:49 PM | Comments (7)

The Plame Affair Becomes Farsical

The Plame Affair Becomes Farsical

We interrupt our flu break to bring you this:

"Former ambassador Joseph Wilson has been quite protective of his wife, Valerie Plame, in the weeks since her cover as a CIA operative was blown.

"My wife has made it very clear that -- she has authorized me to say this -- she would rather chop off her right arm than say anything to the press and she will not allow herself to be photographed," he declared in October on "Meet the Press."

But that was before Vanity Fair came calling.

The January issue features a two-page photo of Wilson and the woman the magazine calls "the most famous female spy in America," a "slim 40-year-old with white-blond hair and a big, bright smile." They are sitting in their Jaguar.

And more:

"It's not that Plame has dropped out of sight. In October, as Vanity Fair notes, she was at the National Press Club -- wearing a "sharp cream pantsuit" -- while her husband received a truth-telling award. Wilson wept from the podium, saying, "If I could give you back your anonymity . . ." and then introduced Plame, who also teared up."

As the Russians say, ne culturni... (Hat Tip: Glenn)

UPDATE: I'm ever more underwhelmed--on many levels. (Hat Tip: QandO)

Posted by Gregory at 01:02 PM | Comments (17)

December 02, 2003

Light Posts B.D. has somehow

Light Posts

B.D. has somehow contracted a pretty vicious flu. Merely reading a computer screen is tough! Apologies for the dearth of posts. With any luck, regular posting will resume at some point tomorrow.

UPDATE: I've also fallen behind on reader mail. I'll try to answer each note but am not sure I'll be able to get to all of them. Thanks for your understanding.

Posted by Gregory at 11:52 AM | Comments (16)
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