November 30, 2004

In the Mail

I've been corresponding a bit with Michael Ledeen of AEI. Here's the text of an E-mail I got from him not too long ago that I think he won't mind me re-printing here:

Dear Greg: Not to worry, I greatly appreciate thoughtful criticism. And obviously I like what you do; otherwise I wouldn't read, let alone post. But I don't think you've really listened to me. Can you please slow down for a sec [ed. note: Isn't it normally "faster, please!" with Michael?]? Now listen up: 1. I have never--never ever ever never--advocated military action against Iran. Nor do I know anyone who does. That whole "criticism" is a total red herring. Faggetit. 2. I am one of very few people who forecast, many months before Operation Iraqi Freedom--the current situation. And on that basis, I was opposed to the military campaign against Iraq. I said we should first demonstrate our political intention (liberation, not occupation) by creating "Free Iraq Zones" in the north and south, and inviting the Iraqi people to abandon Saddam and come live like free men and women. That way we would have gutted the Baathist state. We might even have gotten plenty of defectors. 3. My monotonous call for action against Iran has always been a call for support for democratic revolution. Always. To repeat, NOT NOT NOT military action. 4. People like Pollack don't think it can succeed. I can't imagine why they believe that. When I went into the Reagan Administration in 1981, along with a handful of other Scoop Jackson Democrats, we believed we could bring down the Soviet Union peacefully. Everybody thought we were nuts. Eppur, si muove. We did it, with maybe, what? ten percent of the population willing to take active risks to bring down the regime? In Iran, according to the mullahs' own polls, we've got upwards of SEVENTY percent who hate the regime, and lots of those have showed a willingness to take to the streets and challenge the tyrants. If we had an administration willing to support the president's brave words about spreading freedom, with appropriate policies--support for the farsi language broadcasters, financial help to potential strikers in key sectors, communications devices to people inside, etc. etc. and perhaps some guidance on effective forms of non-violent revolution--I think chances for success are excellent. Ditto for Syria, by the way, but Iran is much more important and much more urgent. I have very little to say about the "peace process," except that I can't imagine why anyone thinks it can work, when for fifty years the smartest people in the world have failed. Bush seems to think that, as freedom spreads in the region, the Palestinians will get a representative government and then it will be possible. Maybe. But for that to happen, the "terror masters" have to be defeated. First. So I think Palestine/Israel is a post-war issue. Defeat the terror masters and you've got a chance. Leave the tyrants in place and it's hopeless. All this is in "The War Against the Terror Masters," written many months before we went into Iraq. Think revolution, comrade, not invasion. I was recently rereading R.R. Palmer's wonderful "The Age of the Democratic Revolution," and kept saying 'wow.'

I'll have more on all this soon. What I did want to say now, however, is that to the extent that I've portrayed Michael Ledeen's Iran position as simply 'bombs away'--ie, full-fledged invasion now--I may have been guilty of some hyperbole and apologize to him and my readers for that. That said, the idea of "free zones" (whether Iraqi or Iranian ones) is a very perilous and slippery slope indeed. I'll address Michael's points soon.

Posted by Gregory at 12:54 PM | Comments (7)

The Granddaddy of Trot Studies

If you've never had occasion to read Isaac Deutscher's magisterial Trotsky trilogy--well, what the hell are you waiting for? And how better to understand the man that has inspired political figures as disparate as Lionel Jospin and Irving Kristol?

Trotsky is mostly an affliction of youth, of course. I too fell under his spell after reading Deutscher's (quite friendly) biography as a high school student. Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Pound (not to mention two very dispiriting years in the Balkans) pulled me rightwards quickly indeed, however.

And so did this espying this phenomenon:

Trotsky was one of the first revolutionaries to denounce the temptation of ‘substitutism’. Back in 1904, he had warned that if the Party substituted itself for the working class, then ‘the Party organisation would . . . substitute itself for the Party as a whole; then the Central Committee would substitute itself for the organisation; and finally a single dictator would substitute himself for the Central Committee.’ Few prophecies have been fulfilled with such ghastly precision. But Trotsky himself was complicit in its fulfilment. Within a year or so of the Revolution, he adopted – with typical enthusiasm – the principle that in crisis the Party must substitute for the proletariat. In 1923, as he fought for ‘proletarian democracy’ against the triumvirate led by Stalin, he changed his mind again, but by then he was too involved to speak decisively.

As Deutscher writes, neither side in the controversy

"could say that they were condemned to pursue the proletarian ideal of socialism without the support of the proletariat – such an avowal would have been incompatible with the whole tradition of Marxism and Bolshevism . . . Trotsky, while he sought to reverse in part the process of substitution and struggled to tear to shreds the thickening fabric of the new mythology, could not help being entangled in it".

Still, who cannot but feel moved by a Trotsky, exiled to Siberia at age 22, proclaiming with such unvarnished earnestness:

As long as I breathe, I shall fight for the future, that radiant future in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizon of beauty, joy and happiness.

Such broad vistas seem long gone--replaced by rampant consumerism and dumbed-down culture. Perhaps we are just all wiser now. But the "false consciousness" born of the prevailing and near-constant ironic, cynical millieu we inhabit surely showcases some of the perils borne of "value-emptying."

Still, perhaps Ezra Pound said it best in his poem, "An Immorality":

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (7)

The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: What Next?

What seems like many moons ago, I had written up a rather long post on the state of the oft-maligned peace process--around the time Bush and Sharon had held a summit circa. April 2004.

In a nutshell, I had written that, despite all the vitriole spewed in the Euro press about Sharon and Bush reaching a "separate peace"--what Bush had really done was spoken publicly about what everyone knew before but didn't say out loud, namely that: a) any final deal would necessarily involve Israel keeping hold of at least some of the settlements in the West Bank and b) there would be no unvarnished right of return (which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state).

Back then, however, I had nevertheless expressed some displeasure because of the way by which Bush and Sharon had contravened one of the most basic precepts undergirding the roadmap (namely a sequenced process by which confidence building measures would lead to security talks which, in turn, would lead to interim understandings leading to, if all went well, a resolution of the so-called "final status" issues--ie, the toughest nuts to crack like right of return, settlements, Jerusalem etc.).

I was somewhat peeved because Bush had jumped the gun and broached certain final status issues--contra the sequential manner by which the roadmap was meant to proceed. This M.O. also bothered me because, as I wrote back then, it put into doubt America's role as the "honest broker" in the dispute since the Palestinians didn't even take part in the negotiations:

What do Madrid, Oslo, the '94 Agreement on Gaza and Jericho, Oslo II, the Hebron Agreement, the Wye River Memorandum, the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum, Camp David II and Taba all have in common?

They were all multiparty talks with the U.S. (or other third parties) shuttling between the Palestinians and Israelis as something of an honest broker.

Now, flash back to the Bush-Sharon meetings of last week.

Forgive me if I've got this wrong--but I'm under the impression that the Palestinians were not even consulted about the outcome of the Bush-Sharon meetings.

Now one of the reasons that there was no Palestinian participation, of course, was that Yassir Arafat was persona non grata around the White House. He is now, of course, dead. Abu Mazen, among others (keep your eye on Dahlan and, yes, even Barghouti going forward) are more favorably viewed by the White House as compared to Arafat (to say the least).

What does this all mean? Well, very obviously, there is the fact that Arafat's departure from the scene allows for better conditions by which to kick-start the peace process. But what I'd really like to touch on here today is to toss out my two cents on how Condeleeza Rice might intelligently pursue a resucitation of the peace process with some legs. Not surprisingly, perhaps, I think (much like Arik Sharon desires) that we should stick to the roadmap--in the main. But, and likely unlike Sharon, I believe that just like Israel got to 'jump ahead' and reach informal understandings (ones, it should be noted, with the force of a Presidential declaration) back in April of 2004--Palestinians too (providing elections go off well and moderates are empowered) should get to fast-track forward on some final status issues too (more on this below) at critical junctures (ie, when Abu Mazen is losing street cred with nothing to show for his cooperation with the Israelis and Americans).

Keep in mind, in all of this discussion, the basic phases of the Road Map:

1) Phase I: Ending Terror And Violence, Normalizing Palestinian Life, and Building Palestinian Institutions; 2) Phase II: Transition (creation of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders) and 3) Phase III: Permanent Status Agreement and End of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (resolution of the so-called "final status" issues to include borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements; and, to support progress toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria).

The problem with Sharon's approach to the roadmap was that the Israelis would insist on a 'quiet period' in which no terror attacks had occured before moving along further into the roadmap. But, of course, every single extremist in Palestine wanted nothing more than to blow up innocent Israelis whenever a window of opportunity existed to move the roadmap forward. The quest for Middle East peace has always been a race between moderates (Abu Mazen, Rabin), on the one hand, and extremists (Yigal Amir, Jihad Islami, Hamas) on the other. So while I can fully appreciate Sharon's desire for a 'quiet period'--it too often led to a complete stalemate in any forward movement--so as to play into the hands of the extremists. Today, the situation is different in that (contrary to my earlier belief) the "security barrier" has proven quite effective in repelling attacks so that the prospects of a "quiet period" are quite a bit higher. And, of course, Arafat's departure from the scene is, at least where we sit today, a net positive in terms of the security situation too (though this is debatable).

My point in all this? Let's move as swiftly as possible through Phase I of the Roadmap (the most critical component thereto, perhaps, the consolidation of Palestinian security services into a unitary force capable and willing to convincingly hunt down extremists and irrendentists). But, at the same time, and at critical moments when an Abu Mazen will need political oxygen (he is roundly opposed by many as too weak and in the pockets of the Americans--and opposition will get more pitched when the necessary crackdowns on Jihad Islami and Hamas are underway)--and much as Bush did with Sharon in April '04--let's publicly hint that the Palestinians will get a favorable dispensation on some of the final status issues as well. In particular, and least controversial now, a massive compensation fund should be created for Palestinian refugees who will be unable to return to '48 (or parts of '67) Israel and/or the Occupied Territories. These funds should allow those Palestinians dwelling in refugee centers in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan etc. (often now, for multiple generations) the prospects of a better life. In addition, America's spearheading of a major compensation fund would also be an opportunity for the Euros and Americans to work in cooperation on a critical issue--whilst also giving Europe an opportunity to put its money where its mouth is. Not to mention very good P.R. for us in the Arab world.

More on all this soon. In my view, after Iraq, resolution of this conflict is second to none (well, along with Iran and NoKo) as among the very most pressing foreign policy challenges we face today. Put differently, we can't win the war against radical Islam without resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict. That's not to say resolution of that conflict is some panacea. It's far from it--as atrophied economic systems, rampant poverty and unemployment, and authoritarian corruption and controls all act to radicalize Arab youth through the region. But, make no mistake, the conflict in the Holy Land is a (very) big part of the puzzle. And if nothing else, Arab leaders would no longer be able to distract their publics with footage of the latest helicopter gunship attacks gone astray in Gaza. Reckonings and accountability would therefore be more easily pressed upon many of the corrupt satrapies in the Broader Middle East.

Posted by Gregory at 01:55 AM | Comments (10)

Post-Thanksgiving Cat-Blogging at B.D.!

My lovely little sis Francesca--Yale senior, Macintosh devotee, and music maven extraordinaire--hammering out varied theses in the company of her adorable cat "Scratch" over the Thanksgiving break.


Scratch, um, scratches a lot. Especially for newcomers who she doesn't trust just yet (it was only our second meeting--she lives up in New Haven with my sister). But before going out for a walk I was able to get a little quality time with her--once she had settled down a bit.


Anyway, please join me in wishing my sister continued good luck in finishing up all those all seemed much more demanding than putting up a couple blog posts daily (and brought back, from what seems so long ago, some rather harrowing college-era memories!) Oh, and if any of you out there have any leads on music journalism/industry openings for a soon-to-be-graduate--lemme know.

NB: More traditional B.D. blogging later tonight.

Posted by Gregory at 12:42 AM | Comments (5)

November 28, 2004

The Next Front Post-Fallujah: Baghdad's Southern Approaches

First, the (relatively) good news:

Commanders expect the main offensive to last another week. But nobody is talking about quick victories, rather of the new raids setting the scene for more later on.

A chart of suspected rebels that was developed over months by American intelligence officers and Iraqi undercover agents, laid out like a genealogical table, measures 10 feet by 4 feet. Unrolled in the command center at this Marine base in the desert southeast of the town of Iskandariya, it lists hundreds of rebel leaders, financiers and fighters, grouped together by family, by tribe and by past links in Mr. Hussein's military, political and intelligence apparatus.

"Every day, we have to stay the course," said Col. Ron Johnson, 48, a native of Duxbury, Mass., who commands the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, whose operational area covers parts of three Iraqi provinces with a combined population of 1.2 million. "We're in here for the long haul," he said.

Still, the mood among Marine officers is cautiously upbeat, and the belief, as put to reporters embedded for the offensive, is that the war here can still be won. The immediate objective is to deal a hard enough blow to the insurgents that plans can proceed for the election scheduled for Jan. 30.

Sounds like a smartly-conducted, sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign to me. And it's wise indeed to strike a hard blow now still two months before the election--the better to try to be able to defend polling stations in such areas (if voting can indeed take place) by eliminating some of the worst trouble-makers now.

But here's the bad news:

Early on in American military planning, commanders knew that a campaign to wrest Falluja from the insurgents would necessitate an offensive here, but limitations of logistics, air power and troops dictated the two offensives be staged sequentially. One disadvantage was that this gave the Falluja rebels a ready refuge, one that American generals sought to inhibit by asking Britain to move an 850-soldier battalion of the Black Watch north from Basra to a base just west of the Euphrates.

Marine intelligence officers estimate that 200 to 500 rebels from Falluja, many of them natives of the region south of Baghdad that is the focus of the new offensive, have come here in the past few weeks; some officers say those estimates are too low, as they also say official estimates of 1,200 insurgents killed in Falluja are too high.

Marine intelligence officers say there are 400 to 500 "core leaders" of the Sunni insurgency in the area, many of them former ranking members of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party or senior officers in his military. Although they describe the insurgency as heavily decentralized, they have identified two new political groups that knit together these rebel leaders, one of them known as the Return or Restoration Party. These men, they say, have made common cause in the insurgency with the numerous criminal gangs in the area, who also have much to lose in the new American push. The intelligence estimates say that insurgent attacks in the area are carried out by 2,000 to 6,000 rebels, many of them unemployed youths or criminals released from jail by Mr. Hussein before he was driven from power. In many cases, American officers say, captured men have told them that they were paid sums ranging from $20 to $200 to stage ambushes or plant explosives that are detonated by "part-time triggermen," many of them also paid.

Like the Marines who know infinitely more than me about what is going on on the ground--I remain cautiously optimistic that we will prevail in these military actions through the coming weeks and months (it is interesting to note that many of the cell leader's foot-soldiers are criminals resisting for mere cash--hardly true believers whether of the Salafist or restorationist stripe). Prevail in the sense that we will decimate and kill enough of the "core leaders"--without alienating overly broad swaths of the local populace--so as to begin to get some of these Sunni areas on the path towards conditions conducive to normal, post-conflict reconstruction. It won't be easy, and I'm very concerned about security surrounding the electoral process in particular, but I think all of it is achievable (sorry, Kos and Co.!).

But, as John Burns' article makes clear, it would likely have been far more effective (remember, time is of the essence with elections looming) to have more forces on the ground during the Fallujah offensive so as to prevent insurgents fleeing it getting refuge in the Sunni areas south of Baghdad. Having to transplant the U.K.'s Blackwatch contingent, I fear, is symptomatic of the biggest problem that has confronted us throughout this Iraq conflict. Too few troops. And while Colin Powell is the man exiting the Cabinet--his Powell Doctrine, imho, looks better and better than the too easy nostrums of the "transformationalists". Don Rumsfeld, I continue to hope, will be held accountable for these and other missteps after he has helped see through the elections (switching Defense Secretaries pre-Fallujah offensive, pre-ongoing counter-insurgency operations, pre-elections--all would have sent the wrong signal to our foes and likely proven disruptive to the prosecution of the war effort).

Posted by Gregory at 11:28 PM | Comments (5)

Ukraine Watch

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

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

November 26, 2004

The Shi'a Triangle

"Surged." "Tenacious." "Relentless". "Devastated." "Intense." "Devastated (again!)." "Unrelenting." "Inflamed Sunni resentment." "Impossible." "Threatening to unravel the very social fabric of the country." "Sunni-dominated cities exploded." Mosul: "second front of the insurgency" "Embattled capital."

All that in a short Edward Wong NYT dispatch from Iraq. Oh, don't miss the "bit of positive news" too! (How, exactly, by the way, has Mosul become a full-blown second front of the insurgency? Several police stations were occupied by insurgents--and have since been re-taken by coalition forces. Does this a second front make?)

Look, these stories matter and need to be reported--if in more balanced, judicious manner. But the big and hugely under-reported story in Iraq, right now, is that the Shi'a are about to assume power after the January elections--after 500 years under Sunni domination since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Most journalists are ignoring this mega-story in favor of the cacophony of news re: car bombings, beheadings, and so on. While B.D. has been dismayed throughout the Iraq war that too few troops were put in theater (allowing such absurd situations to fester) the country is still moving towards elections-despite all the turbulence enthusiastically chronicled by the MSM.

Yes, of course, instability in the Sunni Triangle matters very much to the general legitimacy of the impending elections. But it's the emergence of a "Shi'a Triangle" that is the big story media should be following diligently right now. Unlike the Sunni Triangle, the Shi'a Triangle isn't a geographic designation--but a description of the complicated inter-relationships currently underway between three men: Ayatollah Sistani, Moktada al Sadr, and the irrepresible Ahmad Chalabi (busily re-inventing himself as a pious Shi'a, of sorts, and helpfully out of sorts (vis-a-vis his street cred) with the Americans, Allawi, etc (Allawi remains a player too, of course, so that we might even talk of a Shi'a quadrangle).:

In the political jostling, the two main religious Shiite parties have agreed to form a coalition to run in the elections and are competing for the support of Sistani, say officials of both groups, the Dawa Islamic Party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, better known as SCIRI. The two parties want the ayatollah’s commission to endorse the parties as the main body of a unified Shiite slate.

But so does Chalabi, who leads a rival faction called the Shiite Council, which consists of 42 smaller parties, including his own Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi is competing for the commission’s endorsement and a guarantee of a significant share of any assembly seats won by the Shiites, at the expense of the more established parties.

Seen as a carpetbagger by some Iraqis, Chalabi is relying on Moqtada Sadr to strengthen his credibility. Senior officials in the groups of the two men have discussed how they would divide assembly seats if they were to offer a single list of candidates. An organizer of the Shiite Council, Ali Faisal Al-Lami, recently traveled to Mosul with Ali Smesim, Sadr’s top aide, to speak to Sunni tribal leaders about their possibly joining a predominantly Shiite coalition led by Sadr or Chalabi or both.

Who would have thunk it? Chalabi, Iraq's George Washington to be and darling of Washington's neo-con's--now allied with Moktada al-Sadr against more establishment Shi'a political groupings (SCIRI, Dawa) that are vying for Sistani's support? More material to beat up the AEI crowd with? Well, not necessarily. The situation is much more complex than that. Sadr, after all, periodically threatens to boycott the elections claiming that cooperating with the Americans and interim authority re: the scheduled Jan. 30 elections is tantamount to unacceptable cooperation with the occupiers. And, of course, we are busy enough worrying about Sunni boycotts to concerns ourselves with, say, Sadr City boycotting too (these Baghdad slums, it should be noted, represent approximately 10% of Iraq's population alone). So, to a fashion, Chalabi's attempts to cobble together some unified Shi'a list, perhaps with Sadr's participation, is actually probably pretty helpful to the Americans. In conspiratorial moments, indeed, one wonders whether the so public falling out with Bremer and the US government may not have been, at least to some extent, suffused with an extra dose of theater. After all, it is good for Chalabi to have fallen out with all the right people--Allawi, the U.S. government, etc. How else for him to gain Sadr's trust and cooperation, for instance...

My point in all this? The Shi'a are about to gain power in Iraq for the first time in 500 years (at least, why not start the clock back in 657 when the first Shi'a Imam Ali was deposed?). This is a massive historical development. Chalabi, indefatigable and uber-intriguer that he is--has emerged as one of the key players in this historical drama. We should, at least in the short term, be wishing him some dose of luck in getting a unified Shi'a ticket put together. Remember, Sadr refusing to participate in the elections would be a disaster for us. Let Chalabi help us keep him on board--whatever his agenda. Meantime, recall that many of Iraq's impoverished Shi'a certainly revere Sistani as their spiritual leader--but Sadr's credibility has been greatly enhanced on the bricks and mortar political leadership front--given his skillful evocations of Iraqi nationalism fused with displays of religious fervor during the intermittent insurgencies he spearheaded with his Mahdi Army. So it's doubly important to keep him in the fold.

Some brief takeaways, at this point: 1) Don't delay elections. A delay will, almost certainly, open up the proverbial gates of hell. The Shi'a are very keen to hit the ballot box come end Jan--let's let them--as a delay will likely precipitate renewed Shi'a insurgency 2) Allow Chalabi to continue his convoluted Shi'a ticket balancing act--it's a net positive for us--at least at this juncture. 3) Ensure that Shi'a emissaries continue to meet with Kurdish counterparts. The Kurds are likely biding their time for a going forward independence bid and, at this point, are basically happy to play along with the elections in cooperative manner. But their good behavior should never be taken for granted. 4) Don't panic on the Sunni front. My fearless prediction--many of the Sunni groupings that have threatened to boycott elections (most notably the Association of Muslim Scholars) will reverse course before then and end up playing ball--so that Juan Cole's (not bad) idea of carving out a 20% Sunni slate and holding in reserve may not be necessitated. Remember, the real enemy are the hard-core Baathist remnants, Salafists, and foreign jihadists. They do not consitute even close to a majority within Sunni areas and, of course, many of the jihadists aren't even Iraqi nationals. So I am still somewhat confident most Sunnis will realize that there real interests lie in participating in the elections come end of January.

This is the big story in Iraq right now--the myriad frenetic political machinations underway--truly a massive burst of political activity marked by free discourse rather than the old oppressive Saddamite yoke. These events are pushing Iraq towards elections that will help move Iraq towards a democratic outcome--despite all the obvious pitfalls and imperfect conditions we face over the coming months. Pity the MSM doesn't devote more resources to this story--one that is significantly more critical than the latest beheading or car bomb.

Note: More on the Iyad Allawi role in all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 07:25 PM | Comments (5)

November 25, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving

I've just returned from a Thanksgiving lunch in Houston, TX where I gorged myself with turkey, lamb, oyster stuffing, shrimp, corn bread, sweet potatoes with (yes) melted marshmellows, more turkey, salad, green beans and, for good measure, pecan pie and something called a seven-layer cake--each of these last with a good dollop of vanilla ice cream on top. A couple espressos at the tail end of this gluttony kept me on my feet and allowed me to get through what was left of the afternoon! I feel bloated, of course, but isn't that what one is supposed to do Thanksgiving Day? Well, aside from giving thanks too, of course. Alas, however, no time for lengthy reflections about Plymouth or such today--but do check out the stories below if you need some general cheering up.

First off, from my favorite NYT reporter, John Burns, some perspective (after a week of near hysterical reportage from his colleague Edward Wong):

American hopes that Falluja would be a turning point in the war were dimmed, at least initially, by the concurrent upsurge in rebel attacks elsewhere in the Sunni heartland, especially in Mosul. The fear was that the American forces might have crushed one center of resistance only to ignite others.

But the week since the major fighting in Falluja has also been one of a sudden quickening in political activity before the nationwide election set for Jan. 30, in which voters are to choose a 275-member assembly that will pick a provisional government and draft a permanent constitution. Many Iraqis fear that the election could set off new levels of rebel violence, but the political momentum is building. The leader of the Iraqi Electoral Commission, Abdel Hussein al-Hindawi, said Wednesday that more than 200 Iraqi political parties had registered for the polls, a week before the closing date.

Maneuvering is under way to form consolidated lists of candidates who can draw a major share of the votes. [ed. note: More on all this maneuvering soon]

Oh, and Zarqawi is feeling some serious heat, apparently:

An audiotape was posted on the Internet on Wednesday in which a man identified as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist leader, condemned the Sunni Muslim clerical establishment in Iraq for abandoning the Iraqi resistance movement in the face of the American military offensive in Falluja and other Sunni cities.

"You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy," the tape said. "You have stopped supporting the mujahedeen. Hundreds of thousands of the nation's sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence."

Why is he feeling so abandoned? Here's one reason detailed by Edward Wong (who last week was deep in the full-blown MSM groupthink 'Fallujah-didn't-solve-anything-mode' and whose stories were replete with hyperbolic language such as talk of full-blown second front having developed in Mosul--where some police stations had changed hands)--representatives of some of the insurgent factions appear set to meet with Iraqi interim authority personnel in Jordan.

Finally this Thanksgiving, don't miss some positive news coming out of Powell's visit to Israel. Sharon is being pretty accomodative on issues related to the impending Palestinian elections:

Israeli officials say they will make it possible for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote, even if by postal ballots, will pull back troops from big towns in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and will dismantle a number of checkpoints to make it easier for Palestinian candidates and voters to travel freely.

The European Union said Monday that it would send an observer mission for the election. Mr. Shalom, meeting on Wednesday with the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said those and other observers could enter "to ensure that these elections are fair and the results will be acceptable, not only to the international community but first and foremost to the Palestinian people."

In another public sign of cooperation on smaller matters, the Israeli and Palestinian tourism ministers, Gideon Ezra and Mitri Abu Aida, met Wednesday to sign an agreement on cooperative measures intended to ensure safe and smooth passage of pilgrims and tourists visiting the Holy Land, especially during the Christmas season.

And all this in the New York Times! Anyway, happy turkey day again. More blogging likely tomorrow.

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 PM | Comments (2)

November 24, 2004

Langley Watch

Who you calling a rogue? The view from Langley.

Posted by Gregory at 12:32 PM | Comments (3)

November 23, 2004

More on Troops Levels

Some experts are now arguing we have too many troops in theater. (Hat Tip: Laura):

Those arguing for immediate troop reductions include key Pentagon advisers, prominent neoconservatives, and some of the fiercest supporters of the Iraq invasion among Washington's policy elite.

The core of their arguments is that even as the US-led coalition goes on the offensive against the insurgency, the United States, by its very presence, is stimulating the resistance.

"Our large, direct presence has fueled the Iraqi insurgency as much as it has suppressed it," said Michael Vickers, a conservative-leaning Pentagon consultant and longtime senior CIA official who supported the war.

Retired Army Major General William Nash, the former NATO commander in Bosnia, said: "I resigned from the 'we don't have enough troops in Iraq' club four months ago. We have too many now."

Nash, who supported Hussein's ouster, said a substantial reduction after the Iraqi elections in January "would be a wise and judicious move" to demonstrate that the Americans are leaving. The remaining US forces should concentrate their energies on border operations, he added. "The absence of targets will go a long way in decreasing the violence."

More on all this soon--specifically, why I think it's such a bad idea. Oh, but here's one reason...

The danger of civil war is clear in recent reports that Iranian-backed assassination teams are targeting Sunni leaders. Iraq's intelligence chief, Mohammed Shahwani, charged on Oct. 14 that the Badr Organization of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) had killed 10 of his agents, and that he had found detailed evidence of the plot in three Iranian safe houses in Baghdad. SCIRI leaders denied the allegation.

Iraqi sources tell me they have independent evidence of an Iranian plan to recruit as many as 3,000 Iraqi Shiites and organize them into hit teams of 10 to 15 people each. These sources also describe an Iranian plan last summer to provide intelligence training in Syria for some leading members of the anti-American Mahdi Army of Moqtada Sadr. "The rationale for the Iranians is that the Sunnis must never get control of Iraq again," an Iraqi source tells me.

The Sunnis have embraced this dirty war. The insurgency has been conducting a vicious assassination campaign of its own against the Iraqi government, military and police. Most of the victims are Shiites.

Imagine all the fun and games that would result if the U.S. pulled out somewhat precipitously causing a major power vacuum. Hard-core Sunni insurgents would spin it as a victory--and it would greatly embolden them. In turn, Shi'a militants would feel more threatened by residual Sunni forces no longer distracted by the American interlopers. Thus, prospects for a civil war would increase. Oh, and the Kurds would start thumbing their noses at the Turks more--perhaps leading to Turkish interventions in Kurdish areas. There are many other problems too (as I said, more another day when time allows).

But, certainly, the risks of plunging Iraq into a civil war by pulling out prematurely is one of the worst. Folks, a massive historical development is about to occur in Iraq. The Shi'a, after 500 years, are about to assume power from the Sunni. And we're just going to high-tail it out of there right after the elections and let the chips fall where they may--in this time of immense flux?

P.S. Don't miss this part of the article Laura linked: "Said Ken Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Board who predicted the Iraq war would be a "cakewalk": "If there is a [stable] Iraqi government after January you can withdraw. I would be OK with that."

Do these people have no shame? Why is Adleman still going on about what we should be doing in Iraq? Wrong once--he's wrong again. A "stable" Iraqi government is not going to magically appear the day after the elections. I simply cannot see how having fewer than 100,000-200,000 troops there, at least for the foreseeable future, is feasible--unless we are happy to leave Iraq to its own devices. Allowing massive score-settling between the Shi'a and Sunni, major Iranian and Syrian troublemaking, Turkish interventions in the north (and concomitant Kurdish troublemaking in majority Kurdish parts of Turkey), and a propaganda victory to the insurgents--all are unthinkable. Yes, if we had a major contingent of Iraqi forces trained and equipped adequately and large U.N. or other international forces available for deployment it would be fine and dandy to make the face of the occupation less American (as the French and Syrians, but not the Egyptians and Iraqi government, so disingenously want to see). But we don't have either. Which therefore, in all likelihood, means we need to stick around in large number for a good while yet. It's the lesser of two evils, I'm afraid.

Look, I'm not saying our G.I.s should be parading around Sadr City every morning in large, obnoxious displays of American power. I get what Bill Nash and others are saying. I can see how, er, a more "nuanced" force posture and such would be helpful. And, to be sure, we can scale down our presence in certain sensitive areas as and when non-compromised (doubtless a good dollop of Iranian agents and/or proxies, not to mention unfriendly Sunnis, have infiltrated the program) fully trained Iraqi troops can pick up some of the slack--and any international troops too (an Arab contingent would be nice someday--though with no troops from immediately neighboring countries). But everyone on the ground right now knows very well that, in the background, the Americans loom mightily as the major constraint on all the various, shall we say, more maximalist agendas. What will all these factions do if that is no longer the case? Hint: They are not all going to lay down their arms, be all cheerily fraternal, and sing Kumbaya around the solidarity-infused, happy Iraqi campfire. More later.

Posted by Gregory at 12:23 PM | Comments (43)

Do Policy Wonkdom and Good Prose-Writing Mix?

Or, put somewhat differently, what happens when "wonks go wild"?

In his new role as Robert Ludlum manque, [Joseph] Nye joins a long list of policy wonks looking for readers beyond the Beltway and the faculty lounge. Former senators Gary Hart and William (The Poet) Cohen were trailblazers in the Serious-People-Try-Pulp-Fiction genre with their 1985 page-turner, "The Double Man."In this torrid excerpt, Sen. Tom Chandler enjoys a working dinner with his aide, Elaine Dunham, who is actually working for the CIA, but that's not important here:

After dinner, they went dancing at Charlie's Jazz. Elaine felt detached form herself, floating in Tom's arms. The hell with [CIA director] Trevor, she thought. And when Tom pulled her close to him, she knew that for tonight at least, it would be just plain Tom and Elaine. Later, back at her house, they made love. It was fierce, two rivers of energy rushing together, gloriously, powerfully. No words were needed.

Heh. No words indeed.

Oh, and don't miss this heroic effort from Joseph Nye:

Alexa led me to the bed in the middle of the enormous room and pulled me down beside her. I kissed her breasts and ran my hand between her thighs. She gripped my shoulders tightly. Unlike the first time I made love to Alexa, when the ecstasy had been eroded by a sense of anxiety and uncertainty, I was sucked into this moment as quickly and completely as if I had placed my feet in quicksand. Memories from years ago blended with intense physical excitement in a driving, pounding torrent of passion.

Er, maybe better to stick to "soft power" going forward Mr. Nye!

(Hat Tip: High school buddy and ace-litigator Jeffrey Lang).

MORE: Somehow I just knew Dan Drezner would appreciate this...

Posted by Gregory at 02:54 AM | Comments (19)

November 22, 2004

A (Highly Selective) Take on the Iraqi Art Scene!

The good folks at the Guardian have been kind enough to give us a tour d'horizon of the Iraqi art scene. But, er, it's a highly selective one. After all, you might think that, after decades of being forced to churn out "state art;" Iraqi artists might be spreading their wings a bit in varied directions. But the Guardian instead chooses to focus on three works of art: 1) a piece comparing the Americans to the Mongols; 2) one simply called "Fallujah"; and 3) one series titled (you guessed it) "A Man From Abu Ghraib."

In a dark corner of a dingy courtyard, four stocky warriors with disproportionately tiny heads and huge, muscular arms stand with their backs against the wall. They wear thick vests - like flak jackets or breastplates - decorated with circles and strips, and knee-high boots with metal caps. Weapons dangle from their waists. One wears a two-horned helmet and carries a round shield. A huge crescent-shaped sword rests against his shoulder.

They look like a jihadi group posing for a beheading video or the latest fashion show in an American sex shop; in fact they are 10cm-high bronze figurines called The Invaders, the latest in a series of sculptures produced by an Iraqi artist trying to come to terms with the everyday realities of his life in Baghdad. "The first three are American marines, the fourth is a Mongol warrior," says Karim Khalil, 45, an Iraqi painter-sculptor. "They have all occupied Iraq and destroyed its culture. But while the Mongols were primitive savages who burned the libraries, the Americans, who call themselves a civilised nation, stood watching as the Iraqi museums were looted."

Artists are emerging from the atrophied, censorious Saddam years, from the distortions of taste provoked by state patronage and control and the horizons foreshortened by sanctions, and are beginning to document what is around them [emphasis added] [ed. note: Translation, for those of you less versed in Guardian-speak. Under Saddam--there was patronage of the arts--something the crude Yanks don't do back in Jesusland].

In the courtyard of his small house in an impoverished Baghdad neighbourhood, where kids play around open sewage drains and electricity is as scarce as security, Khalil, chubby, bald and sweating like a boar, sits at the bottom of the stairs and paints another of his war scenes: a burning tank surrounded by red, orange and green flames applied with childish strokes on canvas. "A burning tank on the outskirts of Baghdad one day in May inspired me to do this," he says.

Another painting, showing a jet fighter dropping bombs and called Falluja, lies in a corner, next to marble blocks and unfinished statues, under a laundry line strung with towels and underwear. In another corner a big plastic barrel used to store water during shortages sits next to an outdoor toilet and more paintings and statues. His wife has to step over piles of brushes and paint on her way to the kitchen.

There, in the middle of all that domestic chaos, Khalil has produced his best work, A Man From Abu Ghraib: a series of a dozen 20-30cm-high marble and bronze figurines. A marble figure of a man, classically sculpted, at first reminds you of Michelangelo's David; it's only later that you realise he has a marble sack on his head. Another figurine - of bronze - depicts one of the more famous Abu Ghraib pictures, a man also wearing something like a sack over his head, standing on a box, with electrical wires attached to his fingers.

Think the Guardian will at least emphasize, out of a sense of basic fair play, that Iraqis now have the freedom to pursue their artistic visions--wherever they lead them--whether towards Mongols, Fallujah, or Abu Ghraib? Well, not really. The piece concludes thus:

The art of satire is something new in our country," said Jalal Kamil, the leading Iraqi actor and director who is behind this series, "and the potential is great. For the first time we can work without fear of the censors." He went on and on about this great potential, the great drama that can be found anywhere in Iraq these days. Then, as he left he turned and said, "What I have learned, however, is that I am not allowed to make jokes about the Americans or to criticise the occupation."

You can't make this stuff up. But it gets worse. In another Guardian piece, terrorist beheading videos are called "theatre." Well, in an evil, grotesque way they are, right? But note the despicable moral relativism that runs throughout the piece:

The videos are one of the most shocking elements of the war in Iraq. Scores have now been released by Iraqi insurgents. To many the terrorists' use of the media seems a radical innovation. It isn't. The Iraqi videos are part of a genre of propaganda tools developed over decades. This is simply the moment that the terrorist film-makers have started to reach a mass audience. In the longer term, the videos are rooted in the essence of the militants' project, which is the project of all terrorists - dramatic spectacle. Or, put another way, theatre...

...The intense competition between groups for airtime and attention goes some way to explaining the savagery of the acts committed to film by insurgent groups in Iraq in recent months. In the past two weeks, all over Iraq and particularly in the area where Mrs Hassan was killed, there has been violence of an extraordinary intensity. The insurgents know that for a single, small group of men, lightly armed in conventional terms, to grab the attention of their audience they need to do something utterly atrocious...

...The terrorists have become auteurs, mini film directors. Early on, in the Eighties, their videos were basic, consisting of little more than the speeches of radical leaders spliced with news footage of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. They were, however, effective. Many of the militants I've interviewed have described how they were first inspired by seeing one of the crude recruitment videos in circulation at the time...

...The execution videos in Iraq combine all the tried-and-tested elements of the genre. They are dramatic productions. There is the main subject centre stage, there is a carefully designed set and backdrop and there are carefully chosen props, such as the cage that Kenneth Bigley appeared in, that send particular messages to particular audiences. In recent videos, there is even a script, carefully drafted statements that have to be read out by victims, often in a hideous duet with their killer.

Auteurs! Competition over airtime! Innovation! Genre! Backdrops and stages! Scripts! Sounds like a production set in L.A.--not a spate of barbaric beheadings.

Oh, and then this whopper:

The risk is that we will become desensitised. Over the period that jihadi videos have been developed as a genre by the terrorists, hardcore porn sites and major release films and video games depicting graphic, if fictional, scenes of mayhem have also become far more common. There is a parallel in the proliferation in the pornography of violence and that of sex. Have a look at any number of American websites where 'rape videos' and clips of road and train accidents are available alongside dozens of the hostage and execution videos released by the insurgents over this year. When you subscribe you get access to both. Once, you may remember, images of life-taking were very rare.

"If fictional." Much of the perils of post-modern relativism can be summed up in how the author of this piece breezily uses that one little phrase.

UPDATE: Some readers appear to be struggling with what all the fuss is about with regard to the "if fictional" formulation. Read comments--particularly this helpful soul:

"Do you guys really not understand what's wrong with the inclusion of this phrase?...Let me break it down for you.

The Observer author's point is to make a moral equivalence between Harrison Ford movies and VIDEOS OF REAL TERRORIST DECAPITATIONS. He's saying that Hollywood movies and porn, IF FICTIONAL, are really gruesome and therefore contributed to the barbaric war crimes.

The argument about violent art's influence on real violence is complicated (and not one that the Observer writer is even beginning to get into), but surely one of the basic presuppositions is that there's a fundamental category distinction between art and reality.

The dismissive, parenthetical way he mentions this CRUCIAL DIFFERENCE reveals that in his imagination there really is no moral difference between art and reality. He lives in a world of moral relativism where everything seems as real as everything else. Like our boy said, it's the pyrrhic victory of postmodern moral relativism when well-meaning people are so blind to the difference between truth and fiction that they blame Hollywood for the barbaric atrocities of terrorists.

Clear now?"

Thanks, Chris!

P.S. The people who routinely imbibe this claptrap wrote us letters about whom to vote for in the Presidential election? Spare the poor Ohioans the indignity, please!

P.S.S. FYI, I should also note that the author of the piece on the Iraqi art scene is a combat photographer. He worked in Fallujah during the U.S. offensive--doubtless at great personal risk--not as a U.S. embed but with the insurgents. Some of those pics can be seen here (go to page 5). He's got guts and some talent--but unfortunately his Guardian piece is risibly biased in its anti-American slant.

Posted by Gregory at 11:03 PM | Comments (48)

Coming Soon at B.D.

The big story major media are largely ignoring in Iraq--the 'Shi'a Triangle.' Yes, you read that right.

Posted by Gregory at 02:35 PM

Too Little, Too Late (But Better Than Nothing)

The possibility that additional troops would be required to battle the insurgency in this critical period preceding the Iraqi elections has been signaled for weeks. The Pentagon took an initial step in this direction last month, ordering about 6,500 soldiers in Iraq to extend their tours by up to two months.

With some fresh U.S. forces already arriving in Iraq as part of a long-scheduled rotation, and two newly trained Iraqi brigades due to start operating next month, U.S. military leaders had hoped to avoid further increases.

But over the past week, a closer assessment of the forces needed for the Fallujah recovery effort and future offensive operations revealed a gap in desired troop strength, at least over the next two or three months, according to several officers familiar with the issue.

The officers said the exact number of extra troops needed is still being reviewed but estimated it at the equivalent of several battalions, or about 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq fell to nearly 100,000 last spring before rising to 138,000, where it has stayed since the summer.

From the WaPo.

Fifty thousand would be better. But I'll take five. It's a start. But it's not enough to remedy such ridiculousness.

P.S. I'm not alone in my view...

MR. RUSSERT: More American troops?

SEN. McCAIN: I've said that for--since a year ago last August.

MR. RUSSERT: How many more do you think we need, Senator, in all honesty?

SEN. McCAIN: I would say at least 40,000 or 50,000 more, but...

MR. RUSSERT: Where are you going to find them?

SEN. McCAIN: I think you can find them, but it's an enormous strain. We also have to plan on increasing the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. Among others, General McCaffrey is a guy I admire. He says the--you need to increase the Army by about 80,000 and the Marines by 20,000 to 30,000. I don't dispute that. He and others tell me that that's about the right numbers.

Posted by Gregory at 03:23 AM | Comments (16)

November 21, 2004

B.D's Condi-Rama Continues

A telling little snippet from a 'Week in Review' Dave Sanger piece in today's NYT:

A lot has happened since, not least a terror attack on American soil that profoundly changed the President's world view, and with it Ms. Rice's.

Note the assumption undergirding this breezy assertion. 9/11 changed Bush's world view--and so inexorably (and dutifully) Condi followed suit. Permit me to throw out a perhaps radical notion. What if, just maybe, 9/11 changed Condi too--independent of whatever impact it had on Bush? Might it be possible, Mr. Sanger? (That's a rhetorical question).

But over at the New York Times, of course, she is but a "servant" of Bush's. If so, she will be quite a powerful one. This earlier post linking to a Newsweek piece explains how Condi might well prove to be one of our most powerful Secretary of State's since Henry Kissinger. This may or may not be how things play out. But Condi's a big girl--and portraying her as a mindless servant of Bush's is insulting in the extreme (if woefully predictable--as it fits the latest MSM meme that Bush is solely casting about for a mindless kitchen cabinet stock-full of hyper-servile loyalists).

Look, B.D. has had some beefs with Condeleeza Rice in the past. Mostly, as regular readers know, a good dose of dissatisfaction re: the flawed interagency process. Mark Danner, for whom I have nothing but the utmost respect (based on his riveting and important NYRB series on the former Yugoslavia), appears to think she should have never gotten promoted because of her shortcomings at the NSC:

This job falls, by statute and custom, to the national security adviser. And it is directly to that office that "the major interagency coordination problems between State and Defense and the striking ineffectiveness of the National Security Council" can be traced, in the words of Anthony Cordesman. Mr. Cordesman, a nonpartisan military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is one of many professionals who trace the disasters in Iraq back to failure to resolve conflicts between major government departments, as well as to debilitating "ideological efforts to shape the nation-building effort and personnel deployed to Iraq."

After Condoleezza Rice's elevation as Mr. Powell's successor, so much of the commentary seemed focused on her "closeness" to the president that it might have seemed the height of indiscretion to point out that she has been something of a disaster in her present job - a fact widely acknowledged among foreign policy professionals.

"(S)omething of a disaster"? That's pretty harsh. Remember, the trench warfare between Rumsfeld and Powell was particularly brutal--much more than the normal institutional tensions between State and the Pentagon. So, no, Condi's stewardship of the NSC wasn't a bravura performance. But a "disaster"? That's quite an aggressive verdict. And, whatever happened to the notion of a honeymoon? Let's at least give her a shot, OK...?

Posted by Gregory at 05:35 PM | Comments (15)

The Thermidor Cometh

So now, in one convulsive move, State has gone from a marginalized agency to a central one. Rice's deputy national-security adviser, Steve Hadley, wasn't even asked to stand when he was named her replacement at her announcement ceremony last week (Bush gave Hadley a smile and a nod as he sat quietly in the front row). Some observers believe that Rice, if she can manage to wrestle the giant bureaucracy down, could prove to be the most powerful secretary of State since Henry Kissinger, who also managed to install a deputy, Brent Scowcroft (later to become Rice's mentor), in the White House spot. There were other signals that Rice's State Department will soon be the new center of gravity in U.S. foreign policy. Rumsfeld's Defense Department, once a powerful player, is bogged down in Iraq and may have lost some standing with the White House (Rice has occasionally expressed irritation at Rumsfeld's abrasive manner). There is also some rethinking of basic premises. In the first term, Bush officials tended to talk about alliances as if they were a barter system: you give us aid and troops, we'll make you a partner. Now some of these officials lament the loss of "a whole atmosphere of cooperation," as one put it. They note that China has been aggressively filling the global leader-ship vacuum they believe was left by Bush's approach and the rampant anti-Americanism that resulted. Beijing has prodded the European Union to consider lifting its arms embargo. It is also integrating its space programs with Europe and cutting commercial deals with Iran. All this has sent tremors through the U.S. defense and intelligence community, which before 9/11 had been largely focused on Beijing as a future threat. So the answer is to launch a counterdiplomatic offensive. One sign that Bush was taking diplomacy seriously was the rebuff that Rice delivered last week to John Bolton, a fierce hard-liner and libertarian (he's often misidentified as a neocon) who bears an almost ideological hostility to multilateral talks. The under secretary of State is the leading arms-control official in the administration, but Bolton's unwillingness to compromise has earned him numerous enemies abroad, including even close allies like Britain. Bolton's conservative allies have campaigned aggressively to land him the deputy secretary's job being vacated by Powell's friend and ally, Richard Armitage. But a White House official said that Rice, who was out for minor surgery last week, has decided little about her future staff other than that "John Bolton would not be her deputy." Bolton, who may yet be appointed to some other senior post in the administration, has refused to comment on his future.

More here.

Eric, why the "gloat"?

Posted by Gregory at 05:13 PM | Comments (14)

November 20, 2004

Politburo Watching

OK, so not to get carried away--but it's all about this job right now.

Fred Kaplan:

If Rice is to be an active top diplomat, as opposed to an errand girl, she will want her own deputy, someone she knows and trusts, someone who's clearly working for her. With Bolton, she'd have to assume he was always talking, operating, maybe even sniping behind her back.

Ultimately, Rice's test is Bush's decision. The president is the one who will settle whether she can pick her own No. 2—or whether Cheney and Rumsfeld can hang on to their agent. Bush, in short, has to choose between his closest advisers. If Bolton goes no higher than his current post, it may mean Rice will be allowed some latitude in her work. If Bolton advances to deputy, she may wish she'd gone back to Stanford after all.

A tad exaggerated; but a pretty accurate analysis all told. Anyway, I'm pretty certain Bolton will not the get No. 2 job. (BTW, I'm not a Bolton-hater or anything--but do go here to read about some of my reservations about him.)

Laura Rozen, over to you. I'll bet you more than just a couple lattes (dinner at the restaurant of your choice!) that a) Bolton doesn't get DepSec and b) Pletka doesn't get Asst Sec for Near Eastern Affairs.

Laura: probably wrong about Bolton; in all likelihood wrong about Pletka. So whose operating under "IAEA standards of proofs" these days? An overwrought, hyper-AEI-phobic War & Piece, or yours truly over here at B.D.?

Oh, read this too:

Many Europeans, including Mr. Sandschneider, argue that it is far too early to make firm predictions about the kind of secretary of state Ms. Rice will be, though her nomination has been interpreted in two interrelated ways.

One is that she is being rewarded for her loyalty to a president who is not highly regarded in Europe, and that she will strengthen further the hard-line views of people like Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and the neoconservative group that is viewed by many people in countries like France and Germany as intellectually imperious and highly ideological.

"A lot of attention is being paid to who her deputy secretary of state will be," said François Heisbourg, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. "If it's John Bolton," he continued, referring to John R. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security who is widely viewed in Europe as a conservative ideologue, "then a lot of people will assume that the next four years will be even worse than the last four years."

The other interpretation is that Ms. Rice is more pragmatic than ideological, and, with her sophisticated understanding of international affairs, particularly of Russia and Germany, will prove to be both close to President Bush and sympathetic to, or at least, cognizant of, European views. Among her books, some have noted here, is a highly regarded study of German reunification.

Speaking of Germany, there are more rapprochment maneuverings in the air of late.

Posted by Gregory at 06:31 PM | Comments (11)

Buffoonish Relativism Watch

In Iraq shortly before the war, I had an icy conversation about Iraqi elections with one of Saddam's goons. "What do you mean by 'sham'?" he asked.

"Look, Saddam gets a lot of votes, but no one's running against him," I protested. "If you only have one candidate who can win, that's not a real election!"

Oops. I spoke too soon. The U.S. electoral system looks increasingly dysfunctional, and those of us who used to mock the old Soviet or Iraqi "elections" for lacking competition ought to be blushing.

Perspective, Mr. Kristof. Perspective. You badly need some.

UPDATE: The Captain digs into all the "Kristofian fantasy" in more detail.

Posted by Gregory at 04:49 PM | Comments (10)


"The feeling of helping God" in the struggle with evil is "excellently fitted to aid and fortify that real, though purely human religion, which sometimes calls itself the Religion of Humanity and sometimes that of Duty," and which "is destined, with or without supernatural sanctions, to be the religion of the Future."

John Stuart Mill, in his "Essays on Religion."

Er, sound familiar (no, this doesn't mean I now think Dubya is a religious nutter...)?

Posted by Gregory at 04:05 AM | Comments (7)

Medieval Barbarism Watch

How many great ideological movements have been borne of beheadings in the past half millenia?

(OK, aside from this one...)

Can this savagery really win hearts and minds--even in a pre-Enlightenment society ridden by myriad American blunders--over the long-term? The answer must be no. Or am I understating the role of vicious, wanton violence in spearheading ideological movements--successfully over a significant time horizon (scratch relatively short-lived fascistic and communist excesses) in the modern era?

This said, it's one of histories great ironies that the demarcation point as between the pre-modern and modern era occurred via the decapitation of a monarch.

Posted by Gregory at 03:41 AM | Comments (8)

Tired Tina

Does this tiresome tripe bother others too, or is just me? I find it so lame. But maybe it's just me being cranky after a long week?

The psychiatrist Hadassah Brooks Morgan says that John Kerry's defeat, coming on the heels of the Yankees' collapse in the playoffs against the Red Sox, plunged many of her patients into near-catatonic distress. "In my whole 40 years of practice here I have never heard patients as bereft by a result as this," she told me on the phone. "There was a feeling in session after session of the insult to one's tribe, a loss of purpose and direction. For men, their sports team being beaten at the same time made them feel New York is no longer the command center, no longer the winning city they identify with or that so many people move here to find...

...What makes it worse is all the political news booming away out there. The Bush Cabinet reshuffle is like a percussion band playing in the room next door when you're trying to sleep. All that crashing and banging of big careers and exiting reputations -- will somebody please turn it off? Don't they know politics is over? Can't they take a damn breather from running the world.

I wish I could just say that this is just a case of my B.S. detector booming--Tina Brown just full of it. Alas, however, Brown does represent and/or describe a certain Manhattan zeitgeist with somewhat broad reach. Call it Central Park West with certain limousine liberal enclaves of the Upper East Side thrown in (not to mention bourgeoisie & boutique laden parts Tribeca and central Soho). In these precincts, how dare the Texan chimp ruin the good times with his war-mongering? And those dastardly dangerous old men Antonin, Dick and Don. They are conspiring to keep utopic, post-Kantian conditions at bay. Well, again, how dare they!

Maureen Dowd is their spokeswoman--and Tina so kindly takes their pulse for us--thinking she's being so cute and amusing. OK, so people just want to "turn off" politics; and take a "breather from running the world." There's another V.F. party to go to, after all! Graydon's hair looks great--and another B actress is all porned out in Galliano. Whoppie! So enough already about dullards Colin and Condi.

Yawn. My favorite city in the world (Manhattan, particularly) has gotten somewhat boring, hasn't it? The days of intellectual ferment appear long gone. A search for the "Truth", of course, is passe and considered risibly ancien. Hipness is the new religion and collective pursuit. And artists have become, so often, rank pimps and hustlers--bustling about west Chelsea looking for the next con (no, I'm not talking about the many valiant ones toiling away in anonymity). If I move back someday--shall I have to hunker down in Brooklyn--far from the cretinous hullaballo Brown chronicles? Probably, all told. Pull up the drawbridge 'cross the river...Still, and worth recalling, the epoch-shaping event of 9/11 happened in lower Manhattan, of course. It remains a key and sober firmament (especially for those living there that day) in the life of the City. And therefore many of the city's residents realize, very much so, that politics still matters a helluva lot. All those people taking the subways every day, trapped in midnight work marathons, downing a couple Scotches after a hard week--they have real moorings, real perspective. What do I mean? I mean that these teeming masses of city-dwellers have more back-bone, more character, more spirit than the flabby, whiney, shrink-at-the-ready world Brown describes. They don't need to rush to the neighborhood psychiatrist because the Yankees lost, or because the buffoonish Red Stater trumped Kerry, or because La Caravelle closed (OK, this last a pity, it should be noted). They keep plugging away with near manic intensity through myriad industries and walks of life--making New York the premier city on the planet--and ultimately proving a stolid rebuff to the vapidity of the millieu Brown sketches. Amen for that, and excuse the rant. (And, er, don't worry. I'm actually a pretty relaxed guy. We'll be returning to our normally scheduled programming soon...)

Posted by Gregory at 01:06 AM | Comments (28)

Deconstructing Condi

Rice joined Bush after a period of apprenticeship with Brent Scowcroft, the cautious national security adviser under George Bush, Sr. In the past, she has mentioned how she was influenced by the book by Hans Morgenthau, "Politics Among Nations," one of the pillars of "realistic" thought, which maintains that relations among nations have to be based on interests rather than on ideology. The "realists" refrained from calling the Soviet Union an "empire of evil," for fear of damaging "stability."

And this is the same stability in which Colin Powell believed, when he explained his opposition to continuing the first Gulf War in 1991. He was afraid that changing the regime there would cause fragmentation in the country and would therefore "not contribute to the stability we want in the Middle East."

Because what is surprising about Powell and Rice is the degree of similarity between them in terms of the station at which they joined the Bush administration - that of narrow, cautious realism, which began with Henry Kissinger and continued with George Bush, Sr. - as compared to the considerable distance between them today.

Powell seems to have remained where he was: moderate, afraid of ambitious undertakings, adhering to the famous "Powell Doctrine," which he formulated as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and which is reluctant to use force and defines goals cautiously. Rice, on the other hand, has undergone a transformation. In the adviser who issued the revolutionary document spelling out the updated security concept of the George W. Bush administration, it is difficult to recognize the expert on Russia, whom Scowcroft liked because she was, as he put it, someone who knew how to say where we could cooperate with the Russians, rather than, God forbid, an ideologically motivated fighter against them.

The Rice of recent years presents an updated position. More hawkish, like Vice President Richard Cheney's "hardheaded" realism, and sometimes even"neo-conservative," in favor of promoting democratic values all over the world, in the style of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Her admirers say that 9/11 changed her. Her opponents say it's all personal. Her closeness to Bush has distorted her judgment.

Whatever the case, in her new position she will face an interesting test. Further from the eyes of Bush, and closer to the cautious State Department establishment, the question is which path she will choose. In an administration that did not achieve consensus on a single foreign policy issue from the time of the decision to attack in Afghanistan, the assumption is that the new Rice will guarantee harmony and unanimity that were not achieved with the old Powell. [emphasis added]

Shmuel Rosner writing in Haaretz.

Condi will be, imho, something of a hybrid as among: a) traditional realist (particularly as her policy views become tempered by the career foreign service at Foggy Bottom) b) occasional aggressive "nationalist" (a la Cheney and Rumsfeld...see: "forgive Russia, ignore Germany, punish France"), and c) neo-con, ie. Wolfy-esque democratization emphases.

I think both her position and world events will see her tethered more towards "A" over the next four years--but with decent doses of "B" and "C" thrown in. That's not a bad mixture, all told, for the challenges facing us at this juncture. A full-blown realist in the old, musty mold doesn't fully get the ramifications of 9/11. And a hard-core neo-con (the f*&k Fukuyama and Kagan kind) doesn't get the realities we face on the ground in places like Iraq--too intoxicated by ideology and ignoring cold, hard facts. Finally, in the midst of lots of disingenuous whining from parts Old Europe--a bit of the (let's perhaps call it Jacksonian) nationalist strain (think Rummy) doesn't hurt either.

And, of course, as she's a tad closer to the Rumsfeld-Cheney (and Wolfowitz wings) than Powell (and, of course, much closer to Bush)--we may well see a more "unitary" policy emerge for Bush II. That might not be a bad thing--given all the crippling trench warfare between State and Defense the past four years. Ironic, isn't it? Condi, the very person who presided over the flawed inter-agency process, might end up helping bring the protracted policy drift (NoKo, Iran, Arab-Israeli peace process) to an end via her promotion to SecState.

The big question is, will she carve out some independent space apart from the Cheney-Rumsfeld wing? I think she very well might--particularly as she has Hadley at NSC and Bush's ear and full confidence. But none of us really know, finally. As so often, Cheney is likely the biggest wild card in all this (will Bolton get DepSec and spy for him? Will Hadley end up serving Cheney, perhaps via a Libby channel, more than Condi? etc etc). Oh, worth noting lefties, Cheney is not a raving lunatic. He's made me uncomfortable during the past four years at cetain junctures, yes. For instance, he had to be put back in the box by Bush on going to the U.N. for approval on Iraq and he exagerrated the WMD intel, taking a judicious view of the data available, in my view. But that doesn't make him maniacal and jingoistic in the extreme. Put differently, Cheney's influence in the policy-making process is not always a negative for those of us more on the center (rather than hard) right. As long as the "fever," that is, doesn't hot up in Bush II.

Posted by Gregory at 12:11 AM | Comments (8)

November 19, 2004

Baghdad Dispatch--"Friendly Fire"

One of my best friends, an American national, sends in this descriptive dispatch from a chaotic Iraq where, it appears, identification of friend and foe can prove a rapid-fire judgement indeed--with life pretty cheap--especially if someone gets a tad trigger-happy. We've still got a long road ahead folks...

Friendly Fire

“Do you think if they’d have killed you, that would technically be murder?” Pete asked with a genuine and child-like curiosity that helped soothe the silent shivers that had suddenly gripped us all. “No,” I answered without pondering too long over the force majeure jurisprudential peculiarities of a friendly fire fatality, “but it would be pretty fucking embarrassing.”

Pete is one of four stocky, British Close Protection Officers who was
crammed in together with me in a late-model Ford Taurus that had skidded to a stop about 100 yards short of a U.S. checkpoint. The skid began when Bruce yelled “Stop!” and continued through several bursts of an M-60 until the trusty American car actually did stop, moments before the aerated barrel atop a distant, sand-bagged Hummer made the fatefully second engine-block, windshield sweep which, of course, would have made the Taurus a defunct convertible and robbed my faithful readers of this dispatch. After Pete’s question, there was—as one might imagine—a fair amount of swearing. Then
the Fijian popped out to go have a word with the Yanks, both arms as high in the air as his squat frame could manage. Crumpled in one hand was the mimeographed Union Jack, in the other his Department of Defense ID.

What was actually embarrassing was the amount of time one of the young,American reservists guarding this forlorn checkpoint, twenty or so kilometers west of Baghdad spent staring at the British flag. I’m not completely sure he knew what it was. It was all very strange: my bodyguards were—for perfectly understandable reasons—expressing various anti-American sentiments and, like them, I had nearly been shot dead by Americans, but I refused to allow myself to join in this chorus of criticism. To do so would be self-denial, after all. The best I could muster was a scowl at the repentant sentries (one had been gesturing us forward as the other was signaling to stop—their second day in Iraq, we later learned) as we eventually drove through the checkpoint, though even this was disingenuous as I actually felt badly for the boys, who themselves I knew felt badly as well.

600 yards further, we came into view of another checkpoint. A good ten yards ahead of the bi-lingual STOP sign, they too opened fire, though this time only a single warning shot. This time Pete, who had been driving, hopped out. They would have likely killed the Fijian. This sentry wouldn’t come any closer than 50 yards and the yelling back and forth was scarcely audible. We asked Pete what had been said as he returned to the driver’s seat. “Iraqi, go away!”

Stuck between two checkpoints, we figured our chances were best at the first where a few minutes before we’d had the opportunity to explain ourselves and I’d only scowled (as opposed to whipping the bird—sometimes restraint pays off). There, under the afternoon sun, we spent a good hour as the reservists struggled to get a signal on their radios and summon up an escort that could take us through the impassable checkpoint and to the designated meeting point with our back-up team a few kilometers beyond. Few things that day had gone according to plan.

As the disconnect between the checkpoints amply illustrates, radio
communications—like hand signals—are sometimes imperfect. The repentant soldiers at the first checkpoint were unable to summon an escort and eventually another Hummer came through and we flagged it down. Together with one of the sentries, we recounted the recent events and as we did the sergeant in the passenger seat did his best to suppress laughter. It was admittedly a ridiculous situation. Grudgingly, they invited us to tail along as they headed back down the road to pick up two track vehicles at the second checkpoint who were themselves awaiting an escort to proceed further. As we re-approached, this time nose to rear of the Hummer, the roof-gunner
of the Humvee desperately waved his arms in a gesture that said “NO” to the heavy gunners on the bridge above, and we made it through, stopping under the bridge to pick up the new members of the entourage. There, under the bridge, we got some incredulous looks indeed. With the Fallujah offensive still underway a hundred or so kilometers to the West, everyone seemed to be on edge. Twenty minutes later, we were in a safehouse waiting for our security firm’s escort to arrive and take us back into Baghdad. Sipping my
coffee, I stared at a wall-map tracing back the day’s route. “You’re
remarkably calm, all considering,” Bruce noted. “What do you expect me todo?” I responded. “I don’t know, maybe write your Congressman.”

Hours before, on the journey North, we lost our back-up car when its
radiator started acting up and it became clear it could no longer keep the only sort of pace that would be judicious under these circumstances. Accordingly, we packed sent the Iraqis back to the trip’s origin and the remaining British CPOs piled into the Taurus, with Pete taking the wheel. This may strike my distant readers as an impossible stretch of the “low-profile” posture which I maintain is the safest here these days, but when you’re stuck in the desert what else are you going to do. You need to understand the context—not only of Iraq, but of the Brits who, themselves one-hundred years short of an empire, tend to find their best successes traveling light and close to the earth. I maintain that there is, despite the comedy of errors described above, a very positive lesson exists here on
how to comport oneself in today’s world. The lesson, or perhaps question, concerns the manner of approach. American military—or
political-military—planners have taken a good deal of heat for going into Iraq “light,” yet that is precisely how those who have twice before made the Umm Qasr-northward drive did it. These days, the Brits know they cannot always rely on massive backup, and that’s what makes their soldiers necessarily resourceful. Fans of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” may join me in remembering the scene when O’Toole, fresh out of the desert, strides, in full dishdasha and kefiya, into the officers’ mess hall and demands a glass of water. Slowly, but eventually, it dawns on the assembled company what is going on.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I remember clearly the day a line was drawn over Fallujah more than seven months ago. I was exercising in the MWR “tent” in the Green Zone where one generally has to wrangle for limited weight machines amongst Army grunts burning off steam. Walkman blaring, I was struck by the sudden availability of most weight sets and relished in this for a few minutes before turning around to see where everyone went. When I did, I saw the rest of the gym clustered around a television set. On it, a satellite station was broadcasting footage of an angry Fallujah mob kicking and tearing at the charred remains of four American corpses. To a far more exaggerated sense than I have ever experienced in a male-dominated gym before, the prevalence of rising testosterone was palpable, and it
spelled revenge.

This might otherwise foretell that the recent operation in Fallujah was about revenge. Despite my little anecdote, I am here to testify—and justify as I did in my previous dispatch—that it wasn’t. It was about something bigger. But speaking of big, there is the old adage about elephants dancing. Best to get out of the way, say the African bushmen, who are of course the most likely to ever witness such a thing.

But don’t get out of the bush entirely. Don’t crawl into an armored bunker somewhere in the sand, or behind concrete walls, and try to imagine what other things might be causing the earth to tremble. What do the earth-dwellers do when the ground beneath their feet trembles? Watching them, and shaking with them, can be enlightening.

This afternoon, I found myself sitting in an imperially-appointed office, with gold-freized ceilings and Louis XV sidetables, overlooking the Tigris. The palace, previously belonging to Mrs. Saddam, had been renovated by a returned Iraqi expatriate who had a dream of turning it into the Hollywood of Mesopotania. With family and tribal ties to some of the folks running about Al Anbar province with red kafiyah-covered faces and RPGs, I have to say this guy was pretty close to reaching his dream. Out the window, I had the best view I’ve seen yet of the Al Dora Bridge, from which insurgents launch mortars over my roof and into the Green Zone every night. A variance of their aim would be an end to the dreams of my afternoon host. But that doesn’t seem to stop him, and the existence of such bizarre anomalies in this admittedly surreal environment maintains one’s fragile sense of hope. Hope, that is, that is there is some way—not just out—but to a better place.

Posted by Gregory at 05:32 AM | Comments (12)

Pavlovian Reaction


I'd forgotten Ken Pollack has a big new book out warning us about Iran. I'm sure we can look forward to his numerous appearances on chat shows saying diplomacy is the best solution, but absent that war is probably a better choice than doing nothing. Rumsfeld will deny that there are any "war plans on his desk," giggling as our press fails to note that he neither bothers to make any plans nor does he actually use a desk. Andy Card will comment that one waits until after Labor Day to roll out any new product. Judith Miller, the current Queen of All Iraq, will develop exciting new sources within the new Iranian National Congress. With any luck, the balsa wood drones of death will reappear, as will scary plans for weapons of mass destruction which look like they'd been scribbled by a 5 year old. And, it'll all hit the fan right before the midterms as the Dems once again run and hide. Wake me up, please.

Atrios didn't deign to read the book , of course, as this blogger points out. Hell, he didn't even read the book review, it seems.

Michiko Kakatuni:

Mr. Pollack's recommendations for dealing with Iran turn out to be a lot less hawkish than the sort he proposed for Iraq in ''The Threatening Storm.'' In these pages, he argues against invading Iran (''unless Iran commits some truly egregious act of aggression against the United States on the order of a 9/11-type attack''), calls for a flexible approach that would take into account fluctuations in Iranian foreign policy (caused by internal tensions in the country between hard-liners and pragmatists) and discusses the uses of containment and carrot-and-stick incentives.

Tsk tsk. How glib, partisan, and hacky (in an amusing way, of course).

How, er, Atrios...

(Might this be a new sub-variant of Laphamization? "I knew what the book said, before I even read it!")

NB: No I haven't read Pollack's book yet either. But I'm not shouting, erroneously, the book's supposed Iran policy prescriptions from the rooftops.

Reality based community, indeed.

For my take on what our Iran policy should be, go here.

And, relatedly, read this too. The author argues that the Mullahs are mulling over variants of the so-called China model, ie "limited economic liberalization in exchange for political acquiescence." He argues in the article (only a preview avail at link above) that there are two China models, in effect, under consideration: 1) one, insincere and unserious in the extreme, characterized by little genuine interest in real economic reform, basically "a form of crony capitalism that spends state resources on political patronage of key constituents, including security services (see Saudi, Syria, Egypt and so on) and 2) a more bona fide effort at real, if limited, economic liberalization involving more foreign and private sector investment (Option 1 basically uses oil revenues to "dole out subsidies to the population and interest-free loans and cash to their supporters"). High oil prices are making that strategy particularly easy for the hard-liners right now. But note the international community could be better positioned to employ economic carrots/sticks should crude go south of $40 in midterm.

Finally, note the author espies large-scale political apathy in Iran, at the moment (cynicism, fatigue, people cowed by crackdowns etc etc). I don't think that's the consensus view, necessarily, but it's interesting to note.

Calling Michael Leeden....does he agree there is widespread apathy in Iran now? Doubtless, he doesn't. But is he right that counter-revolutionary fervor is in the air more than fatigue, apathy and cynicism? Hard to tell, really. And, of course, latent nationalism will rear its ugly head should foreign adventures there be nigh...

Kagan Reviews Feldman

Here. Don't miss the little epingle in Richard Clarke's direction. Or these key grafs:

The most tragic was the failure in the early days after the invasion to fulfill the ''first duty'' of an occupying power: providing basic security. Much has been made of the looting that occurred immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, but Feldman notes the essential point: by allowing the looting to proceed, American forces sent a clear message ''that the United States was not in charge, and that no one else was, either.'' Iraqis had to seek security for themselves in what was for a time a state of anarchy, and it was hardly surprising that they turned to their own kind for protection. Feldman says that it was not ''ancient'' ethnic and religious differences that empowered armed militias, but the human instinct for survival. ''Had there been half a million U.S. troops on the ground,'' he insists, ''it is highly likely that there would have been little looting, no comparable sense of insecurity and therefore a reduced need for denominational identities to become as dominant as they quickly did.''

The United States failed the Iraqi people again, he writes, when, in the winter and spring of 2004, it did not take the necessary steps to put down the growing insurgency. Although Feldman does not say so, much of the blame for this moral and strategic failure must fall on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose responsibility it was to have enough forces on the ground -- not only for war fighting but also for the nation-building that followed. America's efforts in Iraq have never fully recovered from this monumental error.

People ask me why I don't like Don Rumsfeld much. Well, here's why. Because he never put enough troops on the ground to provide secure conditions. And security was the 'critical enabler' for all our other goals there: 1) democratization, 2) reconstruction, er, 3) getting out. Also, Abu Ghraib--partly a result of too few troops, of course, but also a result of his arrogant insouciance of Geneva norms. Oh, and his reaction to Abu Ghraib--arrogant, dismissive, no time to read Taguba report, you know, like what's the big deal? 'Stuff happens' and so forth. And, worth mentioning, his overall cock-sure hubris through it all--reminiscent of McNamara.

Just for the record.

Posted by Gregory at 02:55 AM | Comments (10)

Department of the Blindingly Obvious

Heh, you think?

Posted by Gregory at 01:51 AM | Comments (6)

November 18, 2004

Gloomy Lede Watch

A NYT piece timed to make Fallujah (a successful operation) appear, well, unsuccessful.

Senior Marine intelligence officers in Iraq are warning that if American troop levels in the Falluja area are significantly reduced during reconstruction there, as has been planned, insurgents in the region will rebound from their defeat. The rebels could thwart the retraining of Iraqi security forces, intimidate the local population and derail elections set for January, the officers say.

You have to dig down into the piece to read this:

"The assessment of the enemy is a worst-case assessment," Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas III of the Army, the senior military intelligence officer in Iraq, said of the Marine report in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "We have no intention of creating a vacuum and walking away from Falluja."

And this:

Officers who have read the report played down its dire warnings and pointed out several successes noted in the document. The report, for instance, says that the Falluja operation achieved its basic goal, to deny the insurgents their largest sanctuary in Iraq, and has forced the network of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to move to a new base of operations in the country, probably Mosul.

The report also says that the number of attacks in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar Province, has declined by 40 percent in the last few weeks, after security was heightened in the region, according to Maj. Douglas M. Powell, a Marine spokesman in Washington.

That said, as with most things, the reality lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these positive and negative going forward assessments. Put simply, and sorry to sound like such a broken record for some 15 or so months now, but more troops wouldn't hurt right about now in places like Ramadi, Mosul, Fallujah and Samarra, would they?

Oh, don't miss this assessment re: why the insurgency is proving rather resilient:

The insurgency has shown "outstanding resilience" and the militants' willingness to fight is bolstered by four main factors, the report says. One, the tribal and insurgent leaders understand the limitations of the United Nations, American elections and internal Iraqi government politics, and try to exploit them. Two, they are skilled at turning battlefield defeats into symbolic victories, just as Saddam Hussein did after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Insurgents will make the battle of Falluja into an excellent recruiting tool, the report says.

Three, the insurgents are dedicated propagandists who use the Internet and other means to feed exaggerated and contrived reporting from the battlefield to jihadists in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Al Jazeera and Arab media then pick it up, the report says.

Finally, the report says, the insurgents believe they are more willing to suffer casualties than the American military and public, and "will continue to find refuge among sympathetic tribes and former regime members."

Bush's victory took some wind out of their sails on the italicized portion of that fourth point, in my view.

Posted by Gregory at 06:30 AM | Comments (20)

Iraq: The Local Governance Angle

Local government is no substitute for central government, and there is a great need to recreate a sense of national identity. But in the context of rising violence, a growing sectarian and ethnic divide, and doubts on the feasibility and impact of national elections, the best way for now to protect the centre from centrifugal tendencies is, paradoxical as this may seem, to strengthen government at the various local levels. This means not only electing local governments but effectively empowering them, particularly on budgetary matters, and improving communication between national ministries and local councils. Without such steps, the isolated central state and the neglected local councils will both lose relevance and be unable to hold a fragile country together.

More food for thought from the smart folks at ICG can be found here.

Posted by Gregory at 06:25 AM | Comments (6)

Haass on Powell

Q: People have made a lot of assumptions about what Powell might have said or might have done if his way had been accepted. I guess Powell was the classic "good soldier." He never complained publicly, as far as I know.

A: I think Colin Powell has an old-fashioned but what I believe to be admirable approach to the definition of loyalty. Loyalty essentially means you tell your boss what you believe in private. And then, once the decision is made, in public you defend the decision as if it were your own, regardless of whether you got your way or not. I think that's essentially his code. In Washington, my experience has often been the opposite. By that I mean I have come across a lot of people who in private failed to give the president honest advice, and then, after a decision was made, actually went out of their way to undermine it. Colin Powell plays the game by the rules. That's one of the reasons I think he is such an admirable person.

That's about right. Link here.

Posted by Gregory at 05:59 AM | Comments (8)

More Foggy Bottom Scuttlebutt

My Washington spies tell me people at State are very much on edge re: what direction Condi will go towards. Will it be: A) the Baker/Albright model (bring in a gaggle of top advisors and cut out large swaths of the building from significant decision-making--Albright the worse offender on this score, both in terms of how much she cut out the building and the quality of her gaggle) or B) more George Schultz (tap into the building writ large for policy expertise)?

And, if "A"--will the gaggle be heavily neo-con; or more mixed? If Bolton gets DepSec and Pletka/Abrams NEA--it's ugly for those who want more of a neo-con/realpolitik mix.

Re: NEA, the building's candidate is rumored to be this guy--currently our Ambassador to Cairo. Worth noting, if that doesn't happen, it appears people at State would even prefer Eliot Abrams over Pletka for NEA slot.

My bet: Condi's first bid to signal her independence and Scrowcroftian roots has her picking an Arnie Kanter type over Bolton. And I'm pretty certain Pletka doesn't get NEA. But Abrams might trump Welch. Not sure what happens at European and Asian bureaus. Send me info if you've got it...

Er, developing.

Posted by Gregory at 05:19 AM | Comments (5)

November 17, 2004

W. 43rd St. Watch

In their masthead on Condi:

As secretary of state, Ms. Rice is going to be first and foremost a loyal servant of Mr. Bush's agenda and worldview, and that does not bode well for those who were hoping for a more nuanced approach to American diplomacy.

What breezy condescencion! And couldn't they have chosen a different word than, er, "servant"? How gauche and ungracious--particularly given her (inspiring) personal history and background.

Posted by Gregory at 12:30 PM | Comments (30)

Around the Blogosphere

The estimable Arthur Chrenkoff has thoughts well worth reading on the Franco-Polish relationship--past, present and future. Read the whole thing. And, over at American Future, Marc Schulman is blogging about nuclear deterrence in relation to the prospects of a nuclear terror attack.

Posted by Gregory at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)

Fallujah Killings

Sully says it better than I could:

The video is grim enough; and if the marine in question is found guilty of violating rules of conduct, then he should face punishment. But I have to say I cannot stand in judgment of this young man, after what must have been brutal, terrifying days of urban conflict. This is surely what they call "what happens in wartime." It may not be morally defensible; but it is psychologically understandable. Frankly, I'm grateful for what this man, half my age, is doing with his fellows in unspeakably terrifying circumstances. Compare his action with Abu Ghraib, and you can see the difference. One a snap judgment in a furious battle context; the other a pre-meditated example of abuse and murder of prisoners in U.S. custody.

And then, this:

In the south of Fallujah yesterday, US Marines found the armless, legless body of a blonde woman, her throat slashed and her entrails cut out. Benjamin Finnell, a hospital apprentice with the US Navy Corps, said that she had been dead for a while, but at that location for only a day or two. The woman was wearing a blue dress; her face had been disfigured. It was unclear if the remains were the body of the Irish-born aid worker Margaret Hassan, 59, or of Teresa Borcz, 54, a Pole abducted two weeks ago. Both were married to Iraqis and held Iraqi citizenship; both were kidnapped in Baghdad last month.

US and Iraqi troops have discovered kidnappers’ lairs filled with corpses or emaciated prisoners half-mad with fear, and piles of bodies of men who had refused to fight with the insurgents. As the guerrillas run their last sprint from death, sympathy for their cause is running out among Iraqis.

Sully: "There you see the difference between the occasional horror of war and premeditated, conscious barbarism."

Amen, Andrew. Amen.

Posted by Gregory at 05:17 AM | Comments (25)

The Hadley File

Kessler on Hadley here.

Some administration insiders have faulted Hadley for allowing Pentagon officials to rewrite the summary of decision meetings more to their liking -- or for permitting policy disputes to fester. For instance, on May 14, 2002, when the administration was debating what to say to the North Koreans at its first high-level bilateral meeting, State Department representatives, led by Deputy Secretary Richard L. Armitage, believed they had secured the approval of Hadley to adopt the middle-ground approach, known as option 2.

But during the meeting, Hadley announced he had looked at option 2 but really favored option 3, the more hard-line approach, according to the notes of one attendee. Armitage recovered and said he wanted what he called "2b" -- a combination of 2 and 3. The inconclusive result allowed the hawks on North Korea policy to build more support for their position, according to officials involved.

2(b). Heh. This little vignette kinda sums up the last four years, no? Powell would want "1" (or 1.5 or such). Rummy/Wolfy/Cheney would want "3". Rice/Hadley would signal, to Armitage, a "2" might be in the cards. But, when push came to shove, the 2 would veer towards the 3. You know, 2(b). Result--Powell would look smaller but keep the big wind out of the neo-con sails. Neo-cons would spin a victory but wouldn't really have one. So policy drift results. (Nor, incidentally, does any of this quite get the pulse racing either, eh? Regardless, bully for Armitage on the salvage job...there were quite a few more, I hear).

To be, or not to be: that is the question...Or, more apropos, the question is whether this cabinet rejuggling will have us getting coherent policies (hopefully the right ones!) or more drift, 1, drift, 3, drift, er, 2(b)! (Pity Kissingers come so few and far between, isn't it?)

Posted by Gregory at 04:30 AM | Comments (8)

The Gubernator

Getting bored with all the talk over here at B.D. re: whether Condi and Rummy will forcefully spar--bespoiling nascent kitchen cabinet unity; whether Hadley is a Cheney mole or, alternately, a Condi confidante; whether Wolfy will replace Rummy in twelve months once Iraq has turned the corner?

Sick and tired of all this tiresome Beltway navel-gazing? OK, than go West, man!

P.S. I saw Arnie on Larry King's show tonight. He looked good--dare I say nascent Presidential timber? But can someone tell him to use the word "people" a bit less often?

Posted by Gregory at 03:50 AM | Comments (7)

Condi vs. Rummy

Some saw the departure of Mr. Powell as the moment for conservatives under the influence of Vice President Dick Cheney to assume an even larger role and seize key sub-cabinet posts.

But Ms. Rice is considered less ideological than many in the administration and more attuned to the president's own thinking.

The question is whether she will arrive at the State Department with an agenda known chiefly to her and the president. According to officials who have heard accounts of the case Mr. Bush made to Ms. Rice, he argued that their strong personal ties would convince allies and hostile nations like Iran and North Korea that she was speaking directly for the president and could make deals in his name.

"This is what Powell could never do," said a former official who is close to Ms. Rice and sat in on many of the White House situation room meetings where policy conflicts arose. "The world may have liked dealing with Colin - we all did - but it was never clear that he was speaking for the president. He knew it and they knew it."

Ms. Rice's brief acceptance speech gave few hints of what course she planned to set if confirmed, as expected. But several officials said that in recent days she has spoken of leaping at the opportunity created by the death of Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and of deciding whether North Korea and Iran could be induced to end their suspected nuclear weapons programs....

But that leaves in place Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, a strong-willed hawk who often clashed with Ms. Rice. Most notably, she took over control of the occupation of Iraq, creating an Iraq Stabilization Group. Her aides had made no secret of her opinion that Mr. Rumsfeld had failed to devote enough planning, attention or resources to making a success of the occupation.

Their relationship worsened after the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, the American run prison west of Baghdad, became publicly known. Ms. Rice, her associates say, had warned Mr. Rumsfeld to pay attention to detention issues, but the defense secretary often sent subordinates to meetings on the subject.

So there is no end of speculation about whether Mr. Rumsfeld will have the kind of relationship with Ms. Rice that he had with Mr. Powell: one of constant bickering. Mr. Rumsfeld tried to tamp that speculation down on Tuesday, telling reporters traveling with him in Quito, Ecuador, "I have known Condi for a good number of years," and adding that "long before this administration, we were friends."

"She is an enormous talent," he said. "She is experienced, very bright, and as we all know, has a terrific relationship with the president, which is a very valuable thing."

But he acknowledged that tensions would inevitably occur, and, he said, "It is the task, the responsibility, the duty of people who are participating in that national security process to make sure that the issues are raised and discussed," a process that he said "has worked very well in this administration."

Ms. Rice's associates said they expected that there would be fewer and less heated arguments in the future, partly because Mr. Rumsfeld would be more wary of Ms. Rice and her relationship with the president.

The task of defusing tensions between the departments will now fall to Mr. Hadley, a skilled lawyer who seeks the middle ground but in the past has been deferential to Mr. Cheney, one of his mentors, and to Mr. Rumsfeld. His loyalties, though, are clearly to Ms. Rice, who installed him as her deputy and entrusted him with a series of the toughest problems facing the administration: North Korea, managing the relationship with Pakistan, and coordinating the plan for Iraq after Saddam Hussein, to name several.

-- Sanger and Weisman writing in the Times.

Bush, perhaps wisely, didn't want to change horses over at the Pentagon in the midst of the Iraq war. But, regardless, Rummy's honeymoon is long over; and Condi's is just starting. She's got Hadley backstopping for her at the NSC--and Bush solidly in her corner. Yeah, bureaucratic blackbelts Cheney and Rummy will still be major players, of course. But don't expect Rummy free-lancing as SecState in Bush II. He will be sticking more to his side of the Potomac River...

P.S. Laura is wrong that there will be no breathing-room as between a Secretary of State Rice and Rummy/Cheney.

Posted by Gregory at 03:33 AM | Comments (24)

In Memoriam

Margaret Hassan, RIP. We mourn in solidarity with the Care International community.

Posted by Gregory at 03:14 AM | Comments (8)

November 16, 2004

More on the Tucker/Hendrickson F.A. Piece...

I got too distracted by the Powell/Condi show to update this post but thankfully, Yevgeny Vilensky picked up some of the slack and is on the case.

Posted by Gregory at 01:54 PM | Comments (5)

The U.N. at Work

A Senate committee investigating the United Nations oil-for-food program for Iraq estimates that during 13 years of international sanctions, Saddam Hussein's government made at least $21.3 billion illicitly - more than double previous government estimates.

-- Judith Miller, writing in the New York Times.

But, you know, sanctions were working. Why did we have to go and rock the boat?

Posted by Gregory at 12:41 PM | Comments (6)

The Triumph of Fealty in Bush II

Josh Marshall can't resist a pot-shot at the end of this post; but he makes a very good point.

Neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. Gonzales are the neo-cons' or the conservatives' choice for their respective offices-to-be. In each case they're acceptable; but no more.

What distinguishes each is their connection to the president, their loyalty and their fealty. Neither has any base in the city or standing anywhere else absent their connection to him.

Put differently, Chuck Hagel's needn't apply....

Still, I can understand Bush on this point. Loyalty does matter. Hugely. But you have to make sure your loyalists aren't mere courtiers. When they think you are full of s&%t; they should be able to so tell you. Can Gonzalez, he of the 'torture-is-constitutional' (as long as there is no organ failure!) memorandum? Can Rice?

We'll doubtless find out soon enough...

P.S. I suspect Rummy's influence might well wane in a Bush II. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But Dubya and Condi are so tight. If Rummy tries to wear both hats again (SecDef and SecState) Bush will reel him in, I suspect, if only to protect Condi (to the extent she needs such backstopping).

The big question is, will she really go to bat on policy issues where Cheney and Rummy are aligning on another side of the issue? Or will they all be operating in lockstep, as this Glenn Kessler piece suggests?

MORE: Read this too.

Posted by Gregory at 05:58 AM | Comments (12)

Department of 'It's the Small Things'

Powell imbued "a sense of self-worth that's a rare commodity for the civil service and the foreign service that works here," a mid-level official said. "It hasn't sunk into folks around here that we're about to lose our lord and protector."

One female officer said she will be forever endeared to Powell's team for a minor, but telling, change. At the State Department, historically a male bastion, the female bathrooms still had urinals. Now, two on the first floor of the department's main building do not.

( Strobel over at Knight-Ridder, hat tip: Laura Rozen)

Posted by Gregory at 05:24 AM

Our National Interest Will Be the World's (Again)!

Power matters, both the exercise of power by the United States and the ability of others to exercise it. Yet many in the United States are (and have always been) uncomfortable with the notions of power politics, great powers, and power balances. In an extreme form, this discomfort leads to a reflexive appeal instead to notions of international law and norms, and the belief that the support of many states -- or even better, of institutions like the United Nations -- is essential to the legitimate exercise of power. The "national interest" is replaced with "humanitarian interests" or the interests of "the international community." The belief that the United States is exercising power legitimately only when it is doing so on behalf of someone or something else was deeply rooted in Wilsonian thought, and there are strong echoes of it in the Clinton administration. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with doing something that benefits all humanity, but that is, in a sense, a second-order effect. America's pursuit of the national interest will create conditions that promote freedom, markets, and peace. Its pursuit of national interests after World War II led to a more prosperous and democratic world. This can happen again.

Condoleeza Rice, back in 2000, writing in the august pages of Foreign Affairs.

By the by, don't let my facetious tone fool you. I think Condi, then and now, is spot on re: her deep skepticism of wooly-headed multilateralist cheerleaders who too often appear to insist "that the United States is exercising power legitimately only when it is doing so on behalf of someone or something else..."

But it's dangerous, of course, to assume our national interest is always destined to be the world's. When Condi wrote, back in 2000, that "this could happen again," none of us knew that one Manhattan morning would force upon the U.S. the critical mission of spearheading a massive decades long campaign against international terror. But we must be careful to not too breezily assume that our new banner is the world's writ large. It may, to a fashion, be Russia's (Chechnya), China's (Xinjiang), Israel's (Hamas, Jihad Islami), India's (Kashmir), among others.

But others still see our prosecution of the war on terror as a somewhat indiscriminate war against Islam. We might intuitively smell out the hyperbole in that contention sitting down in Kalorama, Belgravia, and the Upper East Side. But the world looks different on the streets of Cairo, Fallujah, or Riyadh. And not everyone in the whole region, it bears mentioning, is some horrific jihadist hell-bent on destroying us. We need to work to win hearts and minds there, people. This means, yes, more "nuance", here and there. For instance, believe it or not, Iran is not the single source of all evil in the world today (Michael Leeden notwithstanding). So let's keep some of the Danton-like excesses to a minimum, I say. Surtout pas the zele. To "faster, please"; I say "smarter, please."

And, er, allegedly killing unarmed Iraqis in mosques ain't smart. Not that Rummy will give a damn, of course. Cuz, you know, "stuff happens". It happens at Abu Ghraib. It happens when an insurgency is advantaged by having too few troops in theater. It happens when you don't secure weapons sites. And on and on. But this is a boring list by now, no? There simply is no accountability for Don Rumsfeld, is there? I'll shut up with my sour grapes, promise!

UPDATE: I'm toying with disabling comments (or opening them up less often). Why? Oh, maybe it is the moonbats that emerge whenever you talk about the Arab-Israeli peace process. Or the sometimes obscene comments that need to be deleted. Or that someone, fresh from 3 weeks in Albania, is kind enough to dispense lessons about the Balkans to me (where I lived for some two years). And so on. Status quo, for now. But I'm tired enough between a demanding day job and nocturnal blogging to have to consider dispensing with comments to eliminate the hassle. That said, I often feel I have some of the smartest commenters in the blogosphere--indeed the the comments are sometimes worth reading more than the original posts. What to do? (No time for some "registration' scheme," at the moment, I'm afraid).

Posted by Gregory at 05:02 AM | Comments (18)

Condi on Iran, Circa 2000

Finally, there is the Iranian regime. Iran's motivation is not to disrupt simply the development of an international system based on markets and democracy, but to replace it with an alternative: fundamentalist Islam. Fortunately, the Iranians do not have the kind of reach and power that the Soviet Union enjoyed in trying to promote its socialist alternative. But Iran's tactics have posed real problems for U.S. security. It has tried to destabilize moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, though its relations with the Saudis have improved recently. Iran has also supported terrorism against America and Western interests and attempted to develop and transfer sensitive military technologies.

Iran presents special difficulties in the Middle East, a region of core interest to the United States and to our key ally Israel. Iranian weaponry increasingly threatens Israel directly. As important as Israel's efforts to reach peace with its Arab neighbors are to the future of the Middle East, they are not the whole story of stability in the region. Israel has a real security problem, so defense cooperation with the United States -- particularly in the area of ballistic missile defense -- is critical. That in turn will help Israel protect itself both through agreements and through enhanced military power.

Still, it is important to note that there are trends in Iran that bear watching. Mohammad Khatami's election as president has given some hope of a new course for a country that once hosted a great and thriving civilization -- though there are questions about how much authority he exercises. Moreover, Khatami's more moderate domestic views may not translate into more acceptable behavior abroad. All in all, changes in U.S. policy toward Iran would require changes in Iranian behavior.

-- Condi Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs, back in 2000.

Translation: Euro-troika gets 3-6 months to see how the, er, "deal" goes--if it flops--more policy muddle with potential sanctions regime in '06.

More Condi:

Foreign policy in a Republican administration will most certainly be internationalist; the leading contenders in the party's presidential race have strong credentials in that regard. But it will also proceed from the firm ground of the national interest, not from the interests of an illusory international community. America can exercise power without arrogance and pursue its interests without hectoring and bluster. When it does so in concert with those who share its core values, the world becomes more prosperous, democratic, and peaceful. That has been America's special role in the past, and it should be again as we enter the next century.

No arrogance, hectoring or bluster! Is Rummy listening?

Posted by Gregory at 04:54 AM | Comments (6)

Cabinet and Sub-Cabinet Going-Ons

OK, so Powell is out; Condi is in; Hadley to replace Condi; Rummy appears (alas) to be sticking about; and Porter Goss is cleaning up house at the CIA (ostensibly pleasing McCain; with Chuck Hagel somewhat concerned).

Aside from these principals; one wonders: Is Armitage going to leave (I'd think so, he's Powell's best friend) What happens to Grossman? Does Bolton get promoted to DepSec (I'd think not; but I'm beginning to get too much of this wrong of late)? And, what of Wolfy and Feith? [UPDATE: Armitage indeed out, Grossman out, Feith rumored out, Wolfy still unclear].

Oh, and who will run this Bureau? Pletka?

Lots of this seems quite grim, no? But permit me to focus on some silver linings.

1) The Condi Factor: Regular readers of this blog know I have mixed feelings about her. She was lousy in brokering disparate policy positions into unitary, cohesive policies--a key function of the NSC advisor. But hey, she had to deal with Beltway behemoths Don "so-called Occupied Territories" Rumsfeld and Powell sparring endlessly! My point? Never an easy job; it was particularly hard this go around. Give her at least a little bit of a pass given the open trench warfare between State and Defense these past three and a half years--worse than any I've seen in recent memory.

On the positive side of the ledger? She shined against Clarke during her 9/11 Commission congressional testimony. She can be a strong advocate, she's intensely disciplined, she's pretty damn smart (though she's not a visionary foreign policy thinker--but name me a SecState since Kissinger who was...) Also a positive? Foggy Bottom can be consoled that they will have someone very close to the President to defend the building's interests. That's important as Powell was hugely popular at State (after Madeline Albright's so depressing tenure) so good to have someone replace him that is likely to protect the building too.

A big Q: will there be some Porter Goss style purge of the 6th Floor, ie. the Assistant Secretaries? I doubt it--but if Pletka gets NEA--all bets are off. Look, I've worked for prominent neo-cons and think AEI is a damn good think-tank. But let's get a reality check, OK? Pletka at NEA, Abrams at NSC on Middle East--does this a resucitation of the peace process make? Don't think so--unless countervailed by a significant outside player as Special Envoy. Let's stay tuned and see how this plays out--but Pletka at NEA would be just shy of FUBAR, in my view.

Oh, for the record, I agree with Dan that Blackwill's departure is a "shame"--unless he was truly physically abusive of staff (lightly grabbing someone's arm doesn't count).

2) Whither the NSC? Er, who is Steve Hadley? A former lawyer at Shea & Gardner (since merged with Goodwin Procter). There was also a stint working on arms control issues over at Defense in the late '80s/early 90s. OK, so like many Beltway lawyers, Hadley is a generally sensible fellow. But he must share some responsibility, along with Condi, for not getting a better handle on the inter-agency process. Here's a rather revealing look at his management style--if from a partisan source. Soundbite--expect competence; but no mega-sparks.

3) Defense: Still a question mark. Is Rummy around for four more (still doubt it; but he'll doubtless stick around for another year)? Whither Wolfy (status quo)? Feith out? Should we view Rummy as the great survivor--with direct links to Cheney--running circles around Condi and Hadley? Who knows, really. But note that I have a sneaking suspicion that Rummy will cut out in a year or so and get replaced by a McCain or Lieberman type...

Anyway, my fearsome prediction! Condi is going to spearhead a major push on the Arab-Israeli peace process. She may, just perhaps, prove more effective in this than Powell as people will know she has Bush's ear and full confidence. The Israelis won't risk back-ending her by running to the Pentagon or NSC (like they reportedly often did with Powell). It would majorly piss Bush off and people like Dov Weisglass well know it. Important early indicators of her Middle East policy will include, of course, whether a) she sacks current Asst Sec Bill Burns and, if so b) who she replaces him with.

Look, this wasn't how I wanted the cabinet re-shuffle to turn out (I wanted Rummy out before Powell). But we might be seeing the makings of a Bush-Condi-Hadley axis (yes, with Cheney still hugely influential, of course) with Rummy cut out of State's turf and focusing where he should--on the military aspects of the GWOT--particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. Yeah, I'd have preferred, all told, Powell to stay. But Condi might just provide a burst of new energy that could prove a net positive. Also worth noting, Condi's old Soviet expertise might prove more than handy at this juncture given Vlado's democracy roll-backs of late. Bottom line: on Russia policy, perhaps Middle East peace processing, relationship with POTUS--she could prove a tangible improvement over Powell. And on Iran and NoKo--she's basically on the same page as Powell--if a tad more assertive.

P.S. So I guess this article is going to get read, and re-reread, and read again--in a foreign ministry near you. Problem, of course, is that it's a pre- 9/11 document. Which explains such passages, doubtless:

The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society. Military force is best used to support clear political goals, whether limited, such as expelling Saddam from Kuwait, or comprehensive, such as demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany during World War II. It is one thing to have a limited political goal and to fight decisively for it; it is quite another to apply military force incrementally, hoping to find a political solution somewhere along the way.


UPDATE: Dan Drezner has more on all this well worth reading.

Posted by Gregory at 02:35 AM | Comments (29)

Powell Exits

Hasn't been a great day for us over here at B.D. Well, I'm back at the blogging station this Monday evening and will comment on all this shortly. In the meantime, Laura's on top of all the Cabinet and sub-cabinet shuffling about. My two cents later tonight.

Posted by Gregory at 01:32 AM | Comments (7)

November 13, 2004

Weekend Reading

Don't miss this Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson piece over at Foreign Affairs. Tucker and Hendrickson argue that the legitimacy of U.S. power has always rested on "four pillars": 1) pledging the use of U.S. power to international law; 2) Washington's commitment to "consensual modes of decision-making"; 3) America's "reputation...for moderation in policy"; and 4) Washington's "success in preserving peace and prosperity within the community of advanced industrialized democracies."

Not suprisingly, the authors believe the Bush doctrine has run afoul of all four of these pillars of legitimacy. They quote Edmund Burke, speaking of the French revolutionaries, to the effect that Bush's policy has been "military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirits, and in all its movements." Tucker and Hendrickson even charge that the U.S. has "assumed many of the very features of the rogue nations against which it has rhetorically--and sometimes literally--done battle with over the years." In this vein, the authors' argue that world public opinion has reached something of a "tipping point," with Washington defined more "by the ease with which it justified illegal actions as by its commitment to legality."

These academics are not wild-eyed Chomskyites and Tucker, in particular, is an eminent diplomatic historian I respect much. But, like so much of our public discourse today, I believe their piece unfortunately spills into hyperbole. I'll comment on the piece in detail when time allows (likely Monday night)--but do take the time to read it and provide comment, if any, before then.

Oh, and if you haven't read this post over at the Belmont Club--well, go do so soonest. It touches on themes of maximum import to our collective futures--and is well worth your time. I hope Wretchard will return to this theme more often in the coming days. I certainly hope to and have been negligent in not addressing these issues full-square before. Regardless, here are some key portions of Wretchard's post worth cogitating over:

When that underlying civilizational consensus has been destroyed or diluted, as is the case in Western Europe and to a lesser extent the United States, what intrinsic ends does a value-neutral democratic mechanism serve? The answer possibly, is whatever it can be put to, like a Turing Machine which adopts whichever persona the loaded instruction set demands. Then Dutch democracy becomes the Muslim right to chuck a hand grenade out the door at policemen come to arrest them for plotting to blow up a public landmark. Democracy becomes a vehicle waiting to be hijacked; a metaphor for the old saw that someone who believes in nothing will believe in anything.

But of course the process of secularization -- or 'value emptying' as Pell might put it -- has not been entirely uniform. In actuality, while whole chunks of the West have thrown out their traditional value systems, other chunks have been busy proseletyzing theirs. As Episcopalian churches have emptied the fundamentalist Islamic mosques have filled. That uneven development, if left unchecked, may eventually mean that the magnificent mechanism of secular democracy, which serves no value of itself, will be arbitrarily assigned a goal by the majority most willing to hijack it.

I often think of this issue (the perils of a lack of spirituality in the West) in relation to Solzhenitsyn's fascinating Harvard commencement address in 1979. Go read that too. Recall, everyone was expecting a grateful Solzhenitsyn, recently exiled to Vermont, to beat up on the big, bad Soviet bear. He did so, of course, but he also addressed significant moral/spiritual shortcomings in the West. His speech engendered much controversy and was attacked by most quarters of the U.S. intelligentsia--but it's important and worth revisiting in relation to Wretchard's post. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at 02:40 PM | Comments (21)

November 12, 2004

Hyperbole Alert

To hear Laura Rozen say it--one would think that the neo-con ascendancy is running rampant (again!) through Washington. Bush, after all, has his mandate--and so we are marching to Iran soonest. Faster, please--as they say.

But wait. Blackwill's speedy resignation may have been for reasons apart from any overly realist stripes. Doug Feith looks set to leave. It's still even money on whether Powell or Rummy will go first. Bolton is not necessarily a shoe-in for Deputy Secretary of State. Danforth is a grounded, rational player and may be landing a bigger job. And so on.

And this:

President Bush is expected to call on Europe to assume a key role in helping the new Palestinian leadership build and support institutions and prepare for negotiations with Israel, American and European diplomats said Thursday.

Such a call would represent a notable increase in cooperation between Washington and its European allies over the Middle East. An issue of contention until now had been the Europeans' continued communications with Yasir Arafat, who died early Thursday. The United States, along with Israel, believed that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be solved only without the involvement of Mr. Arafat.

The new role for Europe is likely to be discussed publicly on Friday after the president's meetings with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the diplomats said.

Also on the agenda is a possible American endorsement of a conference that Mr. Blair wants to hold on the Middle East early next year in Britain, the diplomats said.

Why, how brutishly unilateral and cowboy-esque!

And, while the NYT downplays it, the WaPo even espies a possible special Middle East envoy! Special envoy aside (where not there yet...); it looks pretty clear that some major new initiatives are in the air on the Israeli-Palestinian front (hopefully with elections in Palestine in the next six odd months too--critical to establishing a legitimate heir to Arafat).

Talk is cheap, of course. Let's see where these initiatives lead--and, be assured, there will be a good amount of trench warfare in DC on the scope of such resucitations of the peace process. But, clearly, with Arafat's death and Blair's entreaties (not to mention Bush's very own representations to the Palestinians about post-Arafat potential statehood--which I trust him to actively pursue)--some significant activity is in the air.

Oh, and worth a mention, perhaps--elections in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in the space of a year or two?

Not bad, no?

MORE: Laura Rozen: "Greg is operating using IAEA standards of proof when it comes to interpreting the signs in Washington about where things are headed."

Heh. And Laura's not? Her blog, of late, has been rife with links to every peep out of an AEI'er or Leeden or Pletka type. Sorry, but that's not the whole story, Laura. She's spinning too heard, imho. Exhibit A: Bush: "I think it is fair to say that I believe we've got a great chance to establish a Palestinian state, and I intend to use the next four years to spend the capital of the United States on such a state. I believe it is in the interests of the world that a truly free state develop." [emphasis added]

Remember, when Bush went before the press the day after his victory--he talked about how he viewed his electoral triumph as constitutive of "political capital", of sorts, to better achieve his goals (he's our first MBA President, after all). So it's very interesting to see him use this formulation with regard to forging an Arab-Israeli peace. Put differently, I think it really means something--and isn't just jaw-jaw for buddy Tony.

I mean, love him or hate him, Bush actually means what he says (as opposed to Clinton and, to a lesser extent, John Kerry). So when he says he sees a "great chance" that a Palestinian state will develop in the next four years--well folks, that means something. It doesn't mean, of course, that it's inexorably going to happen. But I think he's going to give it a very serious try, in his own way (no POTUS poring over maps, no midnight pizza sessions at Sheperdstown, no quasi-rambling bull sessions with Ehud and Yasser)--one that just might prove more effective than Clinton's.

Posted by Gregory at 04:33 AM | Comments (45)

November 11, 2004

Arafat Dies

The symbol and very embodiment of Palestinian national aspirations is dead. The WaPo appears first out of the gates with a Lee Hockstader obit.

By dint of ruthless violence often directed at civilians, artful manipulation and the sheer theatrical force of his personality, he managed almost single-handedly to elevate the grievances of a few million disenfranchised Palestinians to a prominent place on the world's political agenda...

Yet for all Arafat's public exposure, a sense of mystery remained about his essential nature and some of the basic facts of his life, thanks partly to his own efforts at obscuring them.

He could be charming, courtly and good-humored in private, pouring tea for his visitors and regaling them with amusing (if inflated) accounts of his battlefield exploits, narrow escapes and political travails. Yet he was an unimposing character, 5 feet 4, bald, thick-waisted, bug-eyed, temperamental, ineloquent and modestly educated. People delved into his speeches in search of an ideology, only to come up empty-handed. To this day, there is confusion about his place of birth, controversy about his battlefield exploits and debate about any number of episodes in his spectacularly eventful life.

Still, few doubted his knack for survival, the product of astonishing talent, luck or intuition. Many or most of his closest aides and confidants were murdered in the course of their long guerrilla struggle. But Arafat emerged intact from 40 assassination attempts (by his own, probably exaggerated tally), plus wars and rebellions, car accidents, a plane crash that killed both the pilot and co-pilot, and a stroke. And he managed to keep himself and his Palestine Liberation Organization whole and relevant despite devastating political setbacks and military defeats.

And the end:

Even as the negotiations sputtered on after Camp David, in September 2000 a bloody new Palestinian insurrection erupted at the very site that had been central to the talks -- the Temple Mount -- following a visit there by Arafat's longtime nemesis, Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader. The new intifada spread, with Arafat's blessing or consent, and in the process it destroyed his dreams of self-determination in the near term for his people.

Provoked by Palestinian suicide bombers and other attacks, Israel reoccupied large swaths of the West Bank, inflicted thousands of casualties, destroyed much of the Palestinian economy and started building a security barrier intended to deter the suicide bombers from entering the country -- even as it separated thousands of Palestinians from their own land.

Declared officially "irrelevant" by Sharon, who had by then become prime minister, Arafat was shunned by the Bush administration and confined by Israeli troops to the bomb-blasted rubble of his once-grandiose presidential compound in Ramallah, the West Bank's main city. His globe-trotting days finished, his health in decline, his aspirations shattered, Arafat had become a prisoner in his own land.

Risking an Israeli assassination attempt or forced exile if he left the compound, he passed his days in isolation, receiving foreign diplomats and issuing pronouncements that seemed increasingly divorced from events. His influence waning and his profile at home and abroad in decline, he lived on more as a symbol than an actor in Palestinian affairs. And his lifelong dream -- self-determination for the Palestinian people -- remained elusive.

More on the ramifications of Arafat's death as soon as time allows.

Posted by Gregory at 04:45 AM | Comments (13)

November 08, 2004

Temporary Relocation

Just a quick note to alert readers that I've temporarily relocated out of London. I'll be in between the Caribbean and States on a transaction for approximately 3-4 months. I'll most often be on East Coast time rather than GMT, therefore, so please look for new content to typically come on line between 8 PM-midnight Eastern Standard during the week. Weekends, as before, will vary pending travel and the like. Thanks.

UPDATE: Work is particularly crazed right now. Blogging to resume as soon as possible--hopefully by mid-week. Apologies.

Posted by Gregory at 03:41 AM

November 07, 2004

Van Gogh Mailbag

I've been getting lots of mail in reaction to my post about Theo van Gogh's murder. A lot of people think I'm being overly simplistic in equating a murder in Amsterdam to battles in the Sunni Triangle. Others seem to be interpreting my post as some call to arms against Islam generally. It is nothing of the sort. I believe Islam is one of the world's greatest religions and that it merits the utmost respect (I find all the tiresome, repetitive blogospheric chatter denigrating the "ROP" as moronic as the "proud member of the reality based community" crapola). That said, of course, there are far too many radical Islamists who have perverted Islamic tenets and turned them to fanatical, brutish ends. (After 9/11, that's what every Muslim cabbie in NYC couldn't wait to tell me--"these men were not real Muslims"! they would scream emphatically--as the smoke continued to billow from Ground Zero).

Put differently, I don't think a massive Huntingtonian clash of civilizations is nigh. That's not what I meant when I spoke of a "grand ideological battle" in my post on the van Gogh murder. What I meant, really, what that there must be a battle within Islam to purge the most radical Islamists. And we (ie, the non-spectating West) must stand ready to assist the Mubaraks, Allawis, Abdullahs in this fight. Which is why we need to often hold our noses and support people like Crown Prince Abdullah (better than Prince Nayef); or Musharraf (better than more radical elements in the ISI), or Allawi (better than Sadr and such) and so on. And, while supporting such authoritarians (today martial law was declared in Iraq; a not uncoincidental timing post-U.S. election); we must also balance this realpolitik with varied initiatives aimed at producing greater democratization--albeit in calibrated fashion lest religious and/or populist resurgences sprout up that are anathema to the U.S. national interest.

Important in all this, and not discussed often enough, is improving our public diplomacy in the region. We are letting, too often, others describe American intentions to the region. We need to explain what we are up to--more clearly, more loudly, in Arabic, often, and through varied fora. For instance, the European view (more prevalent there, perhaps, than in the Middle East, somewhat ironically) of Dubya as a messianic figure--something of a Christian warrior--must be loudly rebutted. Here is a typical cartoon from today's Le Monde:

le monde carton.bmp

The caption reads: "l'armée américaine prête à l'assaut de Fallouja." Bolstering such theses, you have AFP stories like these.

I am distressed by how widespread such stereotypical stories have become in Europe and the Middle East (in Europe, elites use them as a handy way to relativize UBL and Dubya--both religious nutters, to a fashion, the thinking goes). Look, Dubya went into Iraq, not because of evangelical enthusiasm to prostelyize through Mesopotamia and the Levant--but because of a confluence of factors, in my view: 1) post 9/11 WMD fears (60%); 2) unfinished Poppy business and assorted pyschological impulses thereto (20%), 3) Saddam was 'evil', ie the humanitarian argument (10%); and 4) Afghanistan seemed, well, too quick somehow, and the American behemoth, bloodied on 9/11, sought to push along what Richard Haass has called the "geopolitical momentum." (10%) (2)-(4), in my view, are mostly poppy-cock (ie, as valid reasons for the U.S. to have gone in--though 3/4 are quasi-legit on some levels). But, my point here is only that this isn't a religious war--that didn't factor into the decision-making process at all (are we converting Afghans and Iraqis to Christianity or such? Of course not.) Just because Bush shucked Jack Daniels for Jesus doesn't mean he is a religious fanatic hell-bent on bringing back the Crusades. To so argue, as so many in Europe do, is hugely hyperbolic. Consider how often American Presidents, historically, have used religious imagery with frequency in their speech-making. Regardless, we need to better beat back this myth as it is dangerous if it begins to gain too much credence in the Arab world.

Nor should we be so pessimistic about some inexorably poor fate for Christian-Islamic relations. Read this article for some interesting background. Some key passages:

There is a serious point underlying such anecdotes, for they show that throughout history, Muslims and Christians have traded, studied, negotiated, and loved across the porous frontiers of religious differences. Probe relations between the two civilizations at any period of history, and you find that the neat civilizational blocks imagined by writers such as Bernard Lewis or Samuel Huntington soon dissolve. It is true that just as there have been some strands of Christian thinking that have always been deeply hostile to Islam, so within Islam there have been schools of thought that have always harbored a deep hostility toward Christians, Jews, and other non-Islamic religions and civilizations, notably the Wahhabi and Salafi schools dominant in modern Saudi Arabia. Until this century, however, the Wahhabis were a theological movement of only localized significance and were widely regarded by most Muslims as an alien sect bordering on infidelity—kufr. It is the oil wealth of modern Saudi Arabia that has allowed the Wahhabis to spread their narrow-minded and intolerant brand of Islam, notably by the funding of extremist Wahhabi, Salafi, and Deobandi madrasas across the Islamic world since the mid-1970s, with the disastrous results we see today.

My point in my prior post re: van Gogh, of course, what that if the Sunni Triangle becomes a zone dominated by jihadists influenced by Wahhabists or Salafists, we will have handed a major victory to the radical elements who kill on the streets of Amsterdam or blow up churches in Iraq. And, yeah, that Old Europe needs to step up to bat and put more money on the line to help us out given this reality.

Finally, and particularly if one believes history is destiny--we need to analyze the competing narratives re: Christian-Islamic relations in more detail.

The tortuous and complex relationship of Western Christendom and the world of Islam has provoked a wide variety of responses from historians. Some, such as the great medievalist Sir Steven Runciman, take the view (as he wrote at the end of his magisterial three-volume history of the Crusades) that "our civilization has grown" out of "the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident." Runciman believed that the Crusades should be understood less as an attempt to reconquer the Christian heartlands lost to Islam than as the last of the barbarian invasions. The real heirs of Roman civilization were not the chain-mailed knights of the rural West, but the sophisticated Byzantines of Constantinople and the cultivated Arab caliphate of Damascus, both of whom had preserved the Hellenized urban civilization of the antique Mediterranean long after it was destroyed in Europe.

Others have seen relations between Islam and Christianity as being basically adversarial, a long-drawn-out conflict between the two rival civilizations of East and West. As Gibbon famously observed of the Frankish victory at the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, which halted the Arab advance into Europe:

A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the Rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland: the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.

Like most things, I reckon, the truth lies somewhere in between. That is, Christian-Islamic relations fall along a spectrum of relative amity and adversity. The challenge today is to get things moving more towards the amicable pole. Bombing Fallujah isn't going to do it, yes, in the short-term. But better securing Anbar Province enough to allow elections to take place there might--taking a slightly longer view. And, of course, so will addressing political and economic liberalization in the broader Middle East, moving towards a two-state solution in the Holy Land, keeping Afghanistan on a path towards democratic self-rule, providing more aid to state-run Pakistani madrassas with 'moderate' curricula, and so on.

Posted by Gregory at 09:18 PM | Comments (36)

November 05, 2004

They Don't Get It Either (Part Deux)

Andrew Sullivan movingly sketches the events surrounding the odious murder of Dutch filmaker Theo van Gogh at the hands of fanatical Islamists. Yep, it's happening here and now and it's scary and real.

Cut to Brussels. Iyad Allawi, no great saint but, you know, Prime Minister of the Iraqi interim authority and someone up there in the global sweepstakes for recipient of the 'world's hardest job' award (not to mention, most dangerous; and throw in Arik, Vladimir, Bush, Abu Mazen, Musharraf and a few others into the sweepstakes too)--is coming to Brussels to try to get more support from the European Union. There is an important EU summit lunch for him scheduled today--and many EU grandees are in attendance. But, alas, not this one:

Jacques Chirac, the French president, has denied he snubbed the Iraqi interim prime minister by failing to attend a lunch hosted by Iyad Allawi in Brussels.

Jacques Chirac: 'I have no problem with meeting Iyad Allawi'
The French leader left early from a European Union meeting in Brussels, missing a scheduled lunch hosted by Mr Allawi.

M Chirac said he would be happy to meet the Iraqi leader at a more convenient time, before boarding his plane to the United Arab Emirates.

"I have absolutely no problem with meeting Mr Allawi if he wants to meet me," he said. "I am not snubbing him at all."

Uh huh. Sure Chirac is not snubbing him "at all". Surtout pas! Except, of course, that he very much is snubbing Allawi (or is Mr. Chirac flying commercial to the UAE--and so needs to rush to the airport two hours ahead for check-in?)

Look, Allawi has ruffled feathers calling France and Germany "spectator" states--but, hey, why not call a spade a spade? Some protest that, just because a country didn't assist the U.S. militarily in Iraq doesn't mean they are merely spectating--they're providing monetary aid, after all. Of course. A more than fair point. Until, that is, you ponder the minimal amount of aid that the EU has put on tap to date.I mean, what has the EU coughed up in terms of real support to Iraq (as it mounts its big bid for multipolarity and playerdom on the global stage!)?

The European Union pledged more than $21 million on Thursday to support the elections scheduled for January in Iraq.

The action, on the eve of a visit by Mr. Allawi, to seek help in rebuilding his country, provides 16.5 million euros, or more than $21 million, to help train up to 150 Iraqi election observers, pay for computer support and send European Union election experts to Baghdad.

The new cash brings to some 31.5 million euros, more than $40 million, the amount offered by the European Union to support election activities in Iraq, and to 320 million euros, or about $412 million, the total cash support it has provided to Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Less than USD half a billion total support to Iraq by the EU to date for '03 and '04--a small to mid-size M&A deal on any given week in Manhattan. Speaks volumes, doesn't it? The word free-loading leaps to mind too. After all, whether you supported this war or not, the hard-core Fallujans are part and parcel of the crowd that bloodily pinned this message into the flesh of a hapless documentary film-maker in Holland:

I know for sure that you, Oh America will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Europe, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Holland, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh Hirsi Ali, will go under; I know for sure that you, Oh unbelieving fundamentalist, will go under.

Oh, you will say--Bush made it worse because he went in! All was swell before! Only now is Iraq a mess! The terrorists are now revitalized, have a base--we bluntly banged on the bee-hive of Islamic terror--a messianic Dubya is imperiling us all! I don't buy this hyperbole, but that is a debate for another day. Today, after all, we know this: 1) parts of Iraq are under threat by radical fundamentalists, jihadists, and terrorists; and 2) Iyad Allawi is trying to stare them down with U.S. and U.K. support (in the main). Meanwhile, cowardly murderers that share the same basic world-view of the people Allawi is trying to face down are murdering people in the streets of Amsterdam (perpaps the icon of urban libertinism)--because they detest the rich fabric of liberal democracy with all its tolerance, myriad opinions, racuous debates.

Put simply, this is a grand ideological struggle with much at stake. But Mr. Chirac has a flight to catch! Tant pis!

P.S. The last words of Theo van Gogh were reportedly: "don't do it, have mercy!" I have no words, really. Except, however, that I'd like to point you to this Eric Alterman piece over at Altercation:

We got well over a thousand e-mails in a matter of hours yesterday [re: Bush's win] and while I was moping around in my bathrobe looking at Left Bank real estate brochures, Paul peeked at every one of them.

Not everyone is poring over the Left Bank real estate offerings, Mr. Alterman (scroll up from the link).

Posted by Gregory at 12:28 PM | Comments (50)

Web of Influence

Dan Drezner and Henry Farrell (of Crooked Timber) have a long piece on blogs over at Foreign Policy. Somehow I missed it until today; but highly suggest you go read it. And Dan, thanks for the mention of B.D.!

Some snippets:

Even foreign-policy novices leave their mark on the debate. David Nishimura, an art historian and vintage pen dealer, emerged as an unlikely commentator on the Iraq war through his blog, “Cronaca,” which he describes as a “compilation of news concerning art, archaeology, history, and whatever else catches the chronicler’s eye, with the odd bit of opinion and commentary thrown in.” In the month after the fall of Hussein’s regime in April 2003, there was much public hand-wringing about reports that more than 170,000 priceless antiques and treasures had been looted from the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. In response to these newspaper accounts, a number of historians and archaeologists scorned the U.S. Defense Department for failing to protect the museum.

Nishimura, however, scrutinized the various media reports and found several inconsistencies. He noted that the 170,000 number was flat-out wrong; that the actual losses, though serious, were much smaller than initial reports suggested; and that museum officials might have been complicit in the looting. “Smart money still seems to be on the involvement of Ba’athists and/or museum employees,” he wrote. “The extent to which these categories overlap has been danced around so far, but until everything has been properly sorted out, it might be wise to remember how other totalitarian states have coopted cultural institutions, enlisting the past to remake the future.” Prominent right-of-center bloggers, such as Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan, and Virginia Postrel, cited Nishimura’s analysis to focus attention on the issue and correct the original narrative.

As the museum looting controversy reveals, blogs are now a “fifth estate” that keeps watch over the mainstream media. The speed of real-time blogger reactions often compels the media to correct errors in their own reporting before they mushroom. For example, in June 2003, the Guardian trumpeted a story in its online edition that misquoted Deputy U.S. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as saying that the United States invaded Iraq in order to safeguard its oil supply. The quote began to wend its way through other media outlets worldwide, including Germany’s Die Welt. In the ensuing hours, numerous bloggers led by Greg Djerijian’s [ed. note: That's, er, Djerejian] “Belgravia Dispatch” linked to the story and highlighted the error, prompting the Guardian to retract the story and apologize to its readers before publishing the story in its print version.

Bloggers have become so adept at fact-checking the media that they’ve spawned many other high-profile retractions and corrections. The most noteworthy was CBS News’ acknowledgement that it could not authenticate documents it had used in a story about President George W. Bush’s National Guard service that bloggers had identified as forgeries. When such corrections are made, bloggers create the impression at times that contemporary journalism has spun out of control. Glenn Reynolds of “Instapundit” explained to the Online Journalism Review that he sees parallels between the impact of the blogosphere and Russia’s post-Soviet glasnost. “People are appalled, saying it’s the decline of journalism.… But it’s the same as when Russia started reporting about plane crashes and everyone thought they were just suddenly happening. It was really just the first time people could read about them.” Media elites rightly retort that blogs have their own problems. Their often blatant partisanship discredits them in many newsrooms. However, as Yale University law Professor Jack Balkin says, the blogosphere has some built-in correction mechanisms for ideological bias, as “bloggers who write about political subjects cannot avoid addressing (and, more importantly, linking to) arguments made by people with different views. The reason is that much of the blogosphere is devoted to criticizing what other people have to say.”

Read the whole thing. It's well worth your time.

Oh, and if you live in the Washington DC area, don't miss your chance to have cocktails with Dan and other prominent bloggers later this month--as they discuss the burgeoning role of blogs in politics.

Posted by Gregory at 09:34 AM | Comments (2)

November 04, 2004

They Don't Get It

So I went over to Kos today--a blog I rarely visit--to get a sense of the mood over at an "activist" Democrat blog. Truly, my intention was not a spot of schadenfreude. I was merely curious to get a bit of the pulse. Solidarity and regrouping for the next battle? Internecine recriminations? Shock? Anger? A 'shucks', let's try again next time, vibe? Well, not really. Something altogether more alarming. Kos calls the "big silver lining" re: Bush's victory that America will lose the Iraq war on Bush's watch.

They don't get it, do they? Such fifth-column-like talk is a big reason why they lost this election. Because broad, centrist swaths of the American polity find such rhetoric noxious, irresponsible, morally defunct, defeatist, lazy and indulgent. This abject abdication of American responsibility on the global stage--arrived at through such a myopic, provincial lens--is a pity, I guess. But, then again, this Moore-inization of the Democratic party's younger, activist base--including the increasing fusion of political thought with 'entertainment' (read: crude, imbecilic popular culture offerings--whether pseudo-documentaries a la Moore or risibly parodic P. Diddy-esque "political" activism and such)--does have, er, a "silver lining" of sorts. At least if you are a card-carrying Republican. It's that the Democrats won't be able to turn their electoral disadvantage around in either of the '06 midterms or '08 Presidential--certainly not if their strategy is to root for defeat in Iraq! It's not only morally despicable, of course, for Iraq, for us, for our soldiers, for all the Iraqi citizens who don't wish to trade the previous Baathist thuggery for the cruel yoke of Islamic fundamentalism, say. It's also just plain dumb on a tactical level.

People like John Podesta are going to need to exert leadership to try to steer misguided people (like those hanging their hat over at Kos') back towards a centrist re-jiggering of the "values" debate--ie, turn the talk away from gays, guns, and God (issues they appear to be losing) to talk of human dignity, economic progress, human rights writ large. It will be hard; but that's at least a possible way forward that warrants investigation--especially if married to a highly charismatic leader (rather than a wooden, if distinguished, senator). Instead though, and sadly, this crowd appears to care little about human rights--at least per such hugely irresponsible cheerleading of an American defeat in Iraq. That country is currently the critical theater to spearhead democratization in a region which needs it so desparately. What folly to root for a defeat there! And what idiocy too!

Finally, of course, such flippant treatment of a major national security issue is also very small; and the American people have smelled this smallness out. That's part of the reason a somewhat embattled American president, with a less than ideal economy and with a tough war on his hands, was handily re-elected (I believe not since FDR has a President been re-elected while simultaneously gaining seats for his party in both Houses of Congress). Americans like to dream of big projects and goals--and the Democratic party is failing them in this--content instead to lazily carp from the sidelines. Worse, some of that party's activists, it too often appears, would wish for some important, declared national objectives to be scuttled. Trust me, that wasn't a winning strategy in the past, it isn't one right now, and it won't be one in the future.

More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 09:10 PM | Comments (74)

W. 43rd St. Revisionism Watch

In calling the president, Mr. Kerry abandoned a threat to contest the election result in Ohio in deference to a decisive popular vote victory by a man who four years ago won the presidency with less than 50 percent of the popular vote. [emphasis added]

Adam Nagourney, writing in today's New York Times.

Er, that's not right Adam. Kerry, in his graceful concession speech, said as follows:

I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio. And therefore we cannot win this election.

Kerry conceded because he could not win the electoral college--per his own admission and the bare-bones facts--not in "deference to a decisive popular vote victory" writ large.

This isn't just nit-picking. It's important--given the barely concealed innuendo underpinning that spin. After all, Nagourney's copy strongly suggests that Bush stole the election from Gore--but, now come a Democrat's turn, nobility reigned and election results weren't contested--in "deference" to the popular vote margin. Nothing of the sort occurred. As I said, Kerry conceded because he could not win the electoral college. He conceded with grace--and I was proud and grateful to him for it. But his concession was born of cold, hard realism--not some grand magnanimity that was crudely lacking during Florida 2000.

Posted by Gregory at 02:02 PM | Comments (31)

Who Exits Stage Left (or Right) First?

By whatever mechanism, Bush needs to deliver a strong message that he is looking at the next four years differently. True in foreign policy as well, it is particularly true on Iraq. Bush stubbornly refused during the campaign to admit error, and before that he tolerated internal divisions, battles and confusion that handicapped the war effort. Not four more years of that, please.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are the symbols of these divisions. Each may be reluctant to award a "victory" to the other by leaving first. That possibility has been factored into the rivalry.

"Tell me how long Rumsfeld will stay, add a day, and Colin will be out of there," says one of Powell's friends. Rumsfeld also has reasons to spend another year, or less, in office to cancel out any impression of leaving in failure.

But Bush should avoid temporizing on such important appointments. Powell and Rumsfeld ought to be immediately reappointed for full terms or become part of a general turnover in the Cabinet by Inauguration Day. And Bush should begin now in a very visible way to consult with senior Democrats, including Kerry; with war critics within his own party, such as Sens. Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar; and with foreign leaders who have limited their support and enthusiasm for Bush's policies.

Reelection should give him the confidence as well as the opportunity for this. So should the fact that his vision of moderate Islamic leaders taking on the burden of fighting Islamist terrorist networks is generally right, even if its implementation has been flawed. At the very least, Tuesday's result gives the nation a chance to know the ending of the story of George W. Bush's effort to remake the Middle East.

Jim Hoagland, talking sense, in today's WaPo.

So, who is going to leave first--Rummy or Powell? Or are they both heading out? Or neither? Thoughts and assorted scuttlebutt welcome in comments.

Question: Does the strong Republican showing in the Senate races enhance the chances of any of Lugar or Hagel (State) or McCain (Defense) entering the cabinet should Rummy and/or Powell leave?

MORE: A reader writes in:

Ref your post on State/Defense positions. My sources at State say Powell has made it an open secret he will be leaving. Likewise, I hear Rumsfeld likes his job and wants to see through the transformation/global rebasing he has started. Rumsfeld's love of the job and desire to stay were verified by a WJS reporter who covers the Pentagon that I spoke with earlier this year. BTW, Ambassador Coats in Berlin has made no secret over his desire to be SECDEF should Rumsfeld leave. However, I'm told his lobbying have had no traction in DC.

This is the CW, of course. Does anyone have contra info, namely that Powell is making noises he might stick around and Rummy that he might, about a year or so from now, leave?

Posted by Gregory at 01:45 PM | Comments (14)

'We Know What's Best For You'

I'm writing this on tenterhooks on Tuesday, without knowing the election results. But whether John Kerry's supporters are now celebrating or seeking asylum abroad, they should be feeling wretched about the millions of farmers, factory workers and waitresses who ended up voting-utterly against their own interests- for Republican candidates [emphasis added].

-- Nick Kristof, writing in the New York Times.

How does Kristof know these hapless factory workers and waitresses voted "utterly against their own interests"? How does he know what their interests are? Simply because Kristof went to Harvard and Oxford and your wait-staff at the typical Cleveland diner didn't? Or some other reason?

Kristof goes on:

One problem is the yuppification of the Democratic Party. Thomas Frank, author of the best political book of the year, "What's the Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," says that Democratic leaders have been so eager to win over suburban professionals that they have lost touch with blue-collar America.

"There is a very upper-middle-class flavor to liberalism, and that's just bound to rub average people the wrong way," Mr. Frank said.

So is the hyper-patronizing, we know best, tenor of pieces like Kristof's. They are so drearily typical we don't really stop and take note of them anymore, of course. But I thought this one was worth pointing out given the irony: Kristof diagnoses the problem--and, seemingly unawares, showcases it himself.

NB: In fairness to Kristof, he likely meant to say such voters were acting against their economic self-interests rather than their interests writ large. But the impact of Bush's economic policies on these societal segments cannot be so breezily assumed either.

Posted by Gregory at 12:13 PM | Comments (10)

Soros' Reaction

George Soros is "distressed" about the electoral results--although retains some hope (if faint) that the second "Bush administration will have learned something from the mistakes of the first." And, hey, he's going to keep on blogging!

Posted by Gregory at 11:10 AM | Comments (4)

The Mailbag

Lots of mail on the mini-Allawi piece (strict instructions to keep it under 200 words!) in the NYT. First, let me thank the Times for including me in their special on elections and blogs. It was more than gracious--particularly given the amount of sniping at the Times that takes place over here at B.D.

A few things I learned from the Times link. One, Glenn generates a good deal more traffic than the Gray Lady! Two, the hatemail gets nastier when you access this kind of broader audience. And, three, quite a few old friends and acquaintances come out of the woodwork with kudos, random thoughts, or round castigations!

I'll be posting some of the mail shortly but am having problems accessing the Belgravia Dispatch mail at this time. More soon.

UPDATE: THE MAIL (at least a sampling of the, er, relatively polite ones....):

Dear Sir,

I've just read the excerpt from your blog that was printed in the New York
Times, Nov. 2nd edition in which you took exception with Mr. Kerry's
characterization of Mr. Allawi as a "puppet".

Perhaps you are unaware that Mr. Allawi was previously one of Saddam
Hussein's more highly placed henchmen --- known for his particularly vicious
brutality --- who, for reasons which are unclear, was forced to leave Iraq
in a "big hurry." Following Hussein's deposition (and having curried the
favor of Americans in the meantime) Allawi returned to Iraq, well-placed to
be appointed "Interim President."

Perhaps you are not curious, as I am, about this appointment. By what
right, I wonder, does the United States name the chief official of another
country --- interim or otherwise?

Perhaps you are unaware that the "moving" speech you so highly praised was
written by one of President Bush's stable of writers --(reportedly, the
principal author was Karen Hughes, his close confidante).

Considering the foregoing, surely there is no more succinct and accurate
description of Mr. Allawi than "Puppet."
Therefore, it is my hope that you will publicly revise your description of
Mr. Kerry -- a man who correctly stated a straightforward and
incontrovertible fact.

Yours truly,
MK Hawley

Dear Sir,

America and your man, Blair (Bliar?) rushed to war on hyped, cooked, false, falsified intelligence. Allawi is just a front for American interests!

Where's you anger in Bush's, Blair's lies?

Wake up and smell the coffee, or, in London, the tea!


Gavin Young

ALLAWI--What you seem to miss is that much of America's capital overseas has been burned by our willingness to cynically prop up anti-democratic leaders when it suits our purposes. I give you the Shah of Iran, the House of Saud, the oil grandees of Kuwait. Non worth of the term democracy. And people notice. Now this CIA manifestation Allawi, one tick on the stink-o-meter less repugnant than the fraud Chalabi. This is democracy, placing your intelligence service dupe in charge, thus giving him the inside track on the election? By guiding the result you guarantee cynicism, lack of acceptance of the body politic and continued insurgency. Bottom line: we don't trust democracy because we won't let it happen. We feel we must rig the results. Here we call that Floridca democracy.

Peter Storms

I saw your comment in the NY Times today and have therefore come to the conclusion that you are another of those who operate according to the fantasy of what you would like the world to be to without letting reality get in the way. I believe this characterizes most of Bush supporters: his words (which people like) do not match his actions but, amazingly, you people don't seem to notice. I guess any acknowledgment of this disparity would get in the way of the fantasy. Bush is the most transparent of con men.
It would be nice if Allawi was a strong independent freedom fighter - but he isn't. Many people noticed that Allawi's speech sounded very similar to Bush speeches. Of course, as is their habit, the Bush people at first lied about having any input with Allawi's speech. It soon came out, however, that they had, indeed, largely created it. Mr. Allawi came here and gave the speech that he was told to give. That may be unpleasant but, nevertheless, true. I can't criticize Kerry for being realistic.

Will Shaw

I was going to chat you up about the post of your column in the New York Times. But after visiting your webpage I realized whatever I had to say would probably fall on deaf ears. However you may feel about Kerry denigrating Allawi it really was a case, as was documented, of Allawi delivering Bush/Cheney/Rove talking points since it was the White House that wrote his speech (didn't you see the bump in the back of his suit coat?).

I give him credit for now speaking out for the Iraqi guard's executed alongside the road and putting the brakes on the attack on Fallajuh as the executing (oops, I mean, Executive) branch of his government.
Bush is not the one who is going to need an apologist after today. I believe it would be Prime Minister Blair (remove the mote from your own eye, Belgravia)
California, USA

Oh, and an old high school acquaintance sends in a long missive from Moscow, contra my post on Tora Bora and Sully's endorsement:

Regarding your assessment of the tactical or strategic value of Tora Bora, what you fail to appreciate is whether or not the Tora Boras of this so-called war are effective in achieving our ultimate goal of victory over terror. This war is not definable by any one persona, someone whose absence from the field of battle a la Hirohito, Hitler, Attila, whoever, will bring about the end of hostilities. Our so-called enemy has no standing armies, no diplomatic apparatus, no borders. Rather, the swamps of poverty, despair and disenfranchisement are the wellsprings of terror’s legions. Military, political and diplomatic campaigns are one in the same in today’s environment. And in this light, Tora Bora can only be viewed as a strategic and tactical failure of the highest magnitude.

If hypothetically we had captured bin Laden in those mountain redoubts, we may have had the chance to make Afghanistan into a model of sorts, a message to the world that we will find and prosecute those who not only advocate and act upon threats against America, but also those who harbor such persons. Leveraging our diplomatic, economic and social strengths, a second phase of the war may have been opened, one in which we provide economic support, diplomatic assistance, a semblance of security for the Karzai-led burgeoning civil society, all the while giving Afghanis alternatives to a world of poppy plants and Kalashnikovs. So women can now vote in Afghanistan (in numbers that seemingly far exceed the actual number of women in Afghanistan if some news streams are to be believed)…well, people also vote in Zimbabwe, formerly in Iraq and China. This doesn’t mean that people are necessarily free…free from poverty, despair, intimidation and disenfranchisement. And the resurgence of the Taliban – no matter how small their numbers – the continuation of the warlord system, and the continuing reliance on opium cultivation…these are examples of the results of our failed mission.

Instead, the Tora Bora failure allowed bin Laden to fester, not so much as a direct threat, but still an inspiration to those without inspiration in the slums of Gaza, the mosques of Iran, the underground of Europe. Worse, we’ve legitimized the plight of such harbingers of hate; a powerful lesson in history is that regimes that use professional or semi-professional soldiers to quell domestic or international unrest only bequeath further destabilization to later generations. The use of force has given undue notoriety and legitimacy to nascent nationalist, religious or social movements. Examples abound of such actions in the history of Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. In Russia, nothing gave more legitimacy to nascent Russian anti-Tsarist activity than the use of Cossacks to quell labor unrest. Napoleon in Spain…Argentina in the early 1980s…even Vietnam under Diem…. Most notably, the Ghandi-led revolutionary campaign in India only gained its widespread legitimacy – at the expense of Anglophile moderates – only after English General Dyer’s professional troops opened fire on thousands of peaceful gatherers in Amritsar in the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. Dyer received a bejeweled sword for his actions; England lost an empire. By the use of force, a professional army – and worse, its failure – we have only further alienated those whose minds we seek and marginalized the few moderates in the Middle East who may have been able to temper the passions of the street.

Indeed, this lesson has been ignored in our whack-a-mole dealings with Iraq. Though we may have captured Saddam and the rumors of a Baathist revival may be over- or underblown, our destruction of the country’s infrastructure and indiscriminate killing of its inhabitants by the tens of thousands have only fueled the fires emanating from said swamps. Shortly after 9/11, I happened upon a Tunisian banker in a bar here in Moscow. He told me, “the thing is…America is seen as the greatest killer of Muslims.” “Absurd,” I retorted, “A guy like Saddam butchers his people indiscriminately.” “Yes…but he is seen – no matter how absurdly it seems – as a proxy for America, like Mubarak or the House of Saud. That is the challenge you face.” The scenes of death and carnage may be evidence of battles being won, but we are no closer in winning the war. In fact, I would argue we are further from the goal.

The antidote to all strife – against property, person, by hate or dogma – is economic opportunity. Look no further than the streets of New York to see evidence; was the crime drop in the 1990s due more to Guliani’s extra policemen or the level of economic growth in the city and its boroughs? Statistically, many cases have been made to support the latter, and the endemic poverty in today’s Middle East (versus yesterdays, when lower population numbers, higher petrodollar value in real terms, and infrastructure investment obscured the abysmal amount of intra-regional trade and conspired to keep the radicals at bay) is evidence of this trend. In today’s Iraq, economic hardship has been magnified, as an already strained economy has collapsed through pilfering, street violence and a misguided military adventure. Iraqi’s don’t want to vote necessarily. They want jobs, TVs, clean water, etc.

Additionally, your notion of Kerry being on the wrong side of the Cold War is simply false. Our arms build-up had nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a Reagan-era myth that has been given a new life with his recent death. The Soviet Union collapsed – like most geopolitical developments – under the weight of economic necessity; its people were starving for material goods, its harvests poor, its resources stretched by low oil prices and an unwieldy military structure, its strongest proponents (i.e. WWII vets) aged and dying. Star Wars? Simply that…a mythical threat that had far less of an effect on the minds of the Genshtab than the endemic corruption of the Soviet state. Our Cold War victory stems more from the economic might exercised, dating from the Marshall Plan, than any military-related initiative. Did the Ossies flee through Austria to escape Soviet guns? Hardly…Hungarians didn’t back down from Soviet tanks in 1956. Rather, East Germans needed the clothes, food, material goods available the local Sparmarkt.

Debating the success of military campaigns in Afghanistan or Iraq is a moot point, and Afghanistan’s or Iraq’s military ‘successes’ will only benefit later experts at West Point or the Naval War College. After all, General Dyer used force to achieve what he wanted…a dispersal of the crowd. But this success – thousands of dead Indians – ultimately led to British defeat. Similarly, we are losing this so-called war, for it is being fought in the wrong place in the wrong way. As a fraction of the cost – in both men and material – we could have bought Hussein, moved him to exile, and had a much better foundation from which we could have embarked on our nation-building adventure. Instead…we are faced with a situation even worse than Vietnam, a morose from which no candidate will allow us to exit gracefully. The inability of the second phase – American investment – to get off the ground is primarily due to the security situation, and the situation was created by our leadership.

I am new to blogs as a whole, so I haven’t yet digested what you have written in the past, nor do I appreciate the innuendos you make regarding other bloggers. However, though I hardly knew you at all, I recall you being a clear thinker with a unique perspective on things from our days at Andover (I am a class of 1991), so, when I saw your name in today’s Times, I figured I would take a peak (though your comments surprised me…using the term quisling is a bit of a stretch, but you have to admit, that as an ‘installed’ leader, he is a proxy for American interests. What base of support does he have, other than the rifles of American servicemen and largesse of the American taxpayer?). Though we likely view the current world through different prism’s, I appreciate your blend of hysterics and perspective.

J. Tulgan

The mailbag had some E-mails of support too. But I go on enough about my views over here--so I thought I'd air the other side of the fence today.

Posted by Gregory at 06:58 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2004

Bush's Re-election, the Transatlantic Divide, and Related Musings

There are times in commercial transactions when the deposit money put down by the prospective purchaser is said to have gone "hard", ie. your due diligence and other outs have expired, and you're on the hook for your full deposit--even if you don't ultimately pull the trigger and close the deal. Today was the day Robert Kagan's thesis about Europeans from Venus and Americans from Mars went "hard."

A brief explanation. Doubtless, of course, the broad, European masses in France, Germany, Spain and (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in my experience) Italy and the UK were hoping for a Kerry win. Bush's three post-9/11 years could then have simply been chalked up as some fearsome aberration. Sanity had returned to les Etas-Unis! A transatlantic rapprochement could proceed apace. Jean, Gerhard and Jacques would clink glasses and make nice nice. And so on. Instead come hard reckonings--especially on the European side of the pond. The American people, and quite decisively, have voted George Bush a second term. No Florida 2000 repeat here--despite the "echoes" of Florida the NYT espied in Ohio earlier today. Bush sizably won the popular vote, and similarly handily, the electoral college. Europe's hugely anti-Bush sentiment was therefore strongly rebuffed by the American electorate. A leader many Europeans view as a crusading, messianic, simpleton--indeed, a man they often view as representing a real danger to global order--has been re-elected with some enthusiasm by the world's leading democracy.

I don't sketch out these painful realities re: transatlantic discord with any happiness. The transatlantic alliance has been one of the most successful in history. And, note too, it is far from dead. Indeed, I would urge that we be more cautious in too frequently employing a 'cherry-picking' strategy of dividing Old and New Europe--at least if Old Europe is willing to shoulder more of its international responsibilities in a Bush II. Regardless, and as I've argued in this blog these past weeks, a Bush II will moderate some of its, shall we say, more Rummy-esque tendencies. As Aznar had once pleaded to Bush: "More Powell, less Rumsfeld." Specific figures and bureaucratic intrigues aside (of which, of course, much more at a later date), I trust the tenor of this Administration will take on at least some of Aznar's admonition in the months ahead.

After all, victory can be a humbling thing, as wise victors well know defeat can lie around the next corner. Thus better to dampen tendencies towards full-blown, chest-beating triumphalism. Put differently, Bush will not see this election as a vindication of all the excesses of his first term. Revolutionary zeal has abated somewhat, amidst the cold, hard realities of Iraq, and something of a Thermidor awaits (though an Iran crisis remains an unpredictable, and incendiary, variable in all this).

But make no mistake. A majority of Americans believe we are in something of an existential struggle with a radical jihadist foe that aims to massacre us, indiscriminately, however possible, and in as large numbers as possible. In the face of this, the electorate sought, despite its misgivings about elements of Bush's Iraq policy, a leader they believed would prove resolute in squarely staring down this threat. I believe, despite my suspicions of the 'moronic inferno' that can prove the large, brawling body politic--I believe in my head and heart there is a deep wisdom in the collective voice of the American people. Well, the American people have spoken--and their verdict was clear yesterday. They decided this post 9/11 era is a time for moral clarity and the robust prosecution of American interests on the international stage. And they are right.

Also, and in so doing so, they have reinforced Bob Kagan's famous words quoted below:

It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might.

Contra Kagan, let me say I think we do "occupy the same world." We just see it very differently at this juncture. But a French intelligence agent knows well that a Salafist cell is worth tracking down and combatting as much as a guy at Langley does. But there are differences in approach, strategy, tactics, the willingness to use hard power, and so on--often starkly different ones. So while Kagan's language can ring a tad hyperbolic--he is certainly right that the American hyperpower and the Brussels Euro-cracy see the uses and employ of power in materially different terms today. Some of this, of course, stems from the horrors of 9/11. But memories have cooled some, and a lot has happened since the Towers fell. The American public was not in the grips of some mass hysteria yesterday--when they returned Dubya to power. They were, in the main and some in the evangelical wing aside, exercising their vote through the employ of their reason. They rightly perceive major threats continuing to gather on horizons near and far--and seek rock-ribbed conviction in seeing such perils through. Of course, the fact that the election was not fraught with mass hysteria only makes the Euro-American divide all the deeper, at least in the near term. (We will be returning to how to better broach the divide in the coming weeks here).

Bush must now act, if he seeks to move towards greatness, to unite the American people (and the world, hard as it is to imagine!) in his second term. This means, in my view, that he must begin to marshall all the resources of American power (hard and soft) in this struggle against radical jihadism. He must act with more subtlety, at times, but still with the strength and conviction that were the hallmarks of his stewardship of the Oval Office and which gained him a second term. But he must better realize that military action alone will not win this conflict. He must now move to resucitate the moribund peace process (especially with Arafat incapacitated), he must better explain America's intentions to the Arab and Muslim worlds, he must coax, cajole, badger and occasionally force the Saudis and Egyptians to democratize further--in organized and disciplined fashion--using economic reforms as an initial lever perhaps. But always, in all of this, the hard currency of American power cannot be doubted by our enemies. We will therefore need to soldier on, militarily, in Afghanistan and Iraq and perhaps points beyond. The road ahead is fraught with peril; but the rewards of peace and prosperity, however elusive they may seem today, remain great indeed. Tonight I congratulate President Bush and wish him godspeed during the inevitable crises that await him and this great nation in the four years ahead. "Here buildings fell and here a nation rose." Onwards!

UPDATE: Exhibit A.

Posted by Gregory at 06:50 PM | Comments (21)

Election Result Watch

I went to bed (in the far-away Caucasus; where I'm traveling on business)--veritably deluged with exit poll data E-mailed around and on various websites (Drudge etc) showing a possible (probable?) Kerry win. I was all set, come morning, to not only (of course!) confirm my agreement with the Jarvis pledge--but also congratulate a President-elect Kerry (and ask him in my blog to please pick Dick Holbrooke as his Secretary of State!).

And then, per CNN this A.M. before heading to meetings, I see that FL looks pretty safe in the Bush column (and Ohio?). And, er, more revelatory perhaps--that James Carville has just said on CNN: 'I think it's time to acknowledge that President Bush has a competitive advantage in this race' or words to that effect.

It's looking pretty good for Bush, isn't it?

Either way, let me echo Josh Chafetz's words here.

Good luck to both these hard-fought, passionate candidacies as the end game plays out. And here's hoping for a clear, uncontroversial victor by my afternoon--which is looking very likely indeed.

UPDATE: Classy of Kerry--good on him for not unnecessarily dragging this one out. More commentary on all this soon.

MORE: A mature, generous concession--particularly the heartfelt call for unity in these divisive times. I felt, yes, like I was sometimes too hard on him in these cyber-pages. For a man who has likely wanted this job ever since St. Paul's (if not before)--today must have been a crushing blow. But he handled the moment with dignified grace. Bravo, Senator!

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (9)

November 01, 2004

Revisiting the Tora Bora Meme--and a Reaction to Andrew Sullivan's Endorsement

I hope Andrew won't mind; but I've reprinted a letter he received over at his blog as it's so well worth reading.

THE TORA BORA 'FAILURE': If you're going to cite the failure at Tora Bora, at the very least you should take the time to inform yourself about the military issues involved beyond reading what other pundits like Marshall have to say. Tora Bora was a tactical failure that occurred within the context of a spectacular strategic victory that destroyed "the base," unseated the Taliban and drove the bin Ladenists into hiding in Pakistan -- all with[in] a few weeks. This did not happen because of the Army brass at the Pentagon or Tommy Franks, but because Bush set a deadline of one month from 9/11 to develop and execute an attack plan, and because Rumsfeld whipped the Pentagon into meeting that deadline. It's almost certain that bin Laden and Mullah Omar expected the US to invade Afganistan -- indeed, that's probably what al Qaeda aimed to provoke by 9/11 -- but their model for what to expect was the first Gulf War and the Soviet Afghan quagmire. The US would need to land multiple heavy divisions at Karachi, requiring unambiguous Pakistani support, or find an overland route, making the effort dependant on Russia. In any event, that would take many months, probably precipitate a crisis within Pakistan and enable the Taliban to rouse Afghans against a new infidel invasion reminiscent of the Soviet war. But they did not realize how far the US military had come in 10 years -- how the combination of small SOF teams on the ground and pin-point air strikes mounted from as far away as Kansas -- could and did decimate Taliban forces and rout them. This strategy depended, of course, on local allies mostly bought for cash.

As the Taliban crumbled before this surprising, swift onslaught, bin Laden apparently saddled up and with about 1,000 of his men headed for the Tora Bora redoubt that had withstood years (remember that, years) of Soviet attacks. There were at this point few US troops who could have been deployed to this fight. Franks was able to draw on two, maybe three battalions -- a drop in the bucket of what he'd have needed to assualt that four-square mile fortress of steep slopes, hidden caves and trails only narrow enough for a single man. Air power had limited value, because strong points had been built in the 80s to be invisible from the air and unreachable even by "smart" munitions. Franks judgment was that; (a) US troops available would have been chewed to pieces in direct assaults; (b) ferrying in the far-larger troop elements and supplies that might have sufficed would have taken months; and (c) the locals from the "Eastern Alliance" like the Northern Alliance had demonstrated that the traditional Afghan ways of negotiating and bribing their way through warfare had worked well to pull support out from under al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and, in any case, he had no other viable option. Meanwhile, Pakistan had not yet taken the plunge to cooperate beyond diplomatic words and a few super-secret consessions, so the Pakistan side of the border could not be close anyway.

Thus, the only reason we had anyone "trapped" at Tora Bora at all was that we had totally surprised and defeated them strategically. Put simply, if there were enough US troops in the theater to surround and assault Tora Bora, it would have been April, not December, and god only knows what we would have provoked in the process of getting them there.

Denouncing Bush -- or Franks -- for the tactical "failure" while overlooking the globally significant strategic victory is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, a reprehensible political attack on those who achieved that victory. As a result of that victory, which led to the installation of a pro-US Afghan government, we know for sure that Musharraf changed his position from one of indifference to US requirements to one of active alliance in crushing al Qaeda. [ed. note: End of letter.]

How easy all this handwringing about a failed Afghan campaign! Let's get back to basics, people. By any judicious standard, Afghanistan has proven a major success. People can, from the sidelines, carp on about neo-Talibs regrouping in the southeast and higher opium production rates. But here's the bottom-line. We were attacked on 9/11 by al-Qaeda. Bush got Pakistan on board and quashed the Taliban with utmost speed--denying al-Q their key state sanctuary in the process. This is, of course, a major victory in the war on terror--by any fair standard.

In Iraq, and little noted of late, Bush has successfully mitigated the perils of having to grapple with two insurgencies simultaneously--through a nuanced combination of sophisticated counter-insurgency efforts and attendant political machinations contra Moktada al-Sadr. We are now, therefore, free to focus like a laser on the key Sunni insurgent strongholds--with a battle for Fallujah looming shortly.

Oh, of course, Richard Perle was wrong about the flowers and squares to be named in Dubya's honor in downtown Baghdad. And we haven't heard from Ken Adleman in a while. But let's not get carried away about just how de minimis our force posture is there. We didn't just air-drop Ahmad Chalabi in Nasariyah and send in a few thousand special forces leading "free" Iraqi forces to victory. We've got 130,000 guys on the ground--a not insignificant amount of manpower. And we are making headway with elections approaching in January (ironically, and more on this another time, both Sadr reps and Chalabi are current liasing with Sunnis to try to get more of them to view the January elections as legit). Stay the course, people!

It is sad that people like Dan Drezner, David Adesnik and Andrew Sullivan have been snookered by Kerry's campaign rhetoric--the assurances that he will see Iraq through. I'm extremely dubious--as are the very people with most at stake--liberal, elite Iraqis (see Larry Kaplan's excellent WSJ piece on this--secular, urban Iraqi elites are mostly supporting Dubya--fearful that Kerry will cut and run). They are right to be so concerned--given Kerry's myriad mixed signals about the merits of the war.

How easy for Andrew Sullivan to write: "He [Kerry] has said quite clearly that he will not "cut and run" in Iraq. And the truth is: he cannot. There is no alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq." Of course there is an alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq. It's called not seeing the war through in Iraq. Kerry was against (post his laudable, if quite short, service there) the Vietnam war, major Cold War defense expenditures, Gulf War I, Bosnia. What gives Andrew comfort he will see this major Iraq challenge through? Words (so often contradictory), alone? Reminder: "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time." What thin gruel you are serving up to us, Andrew!

Sullivan then essays an argument that: "Kerry's new mandate and fresh administration will increase the options to us for winning. He has every incentive to be tough enough; but far more leeway to be more flexible than the incumbent." What does this mean? With apologies to Andrew, it means nothing. "Tough enough." "Flexible." Folks, the Canadian-French-German multinational contingent is not going to haul ass to Ramadi to free up more GIs for Fallujah simply because Kerry wins and they like his Euro-mane, Turnbull & Asser shirts, and Davos entreaties. Regardless, let's talk about flexibility. As I've said before, Bush has shown repeatedly he is capable of making strategic adjustments in theater--ditching Garner, handing over more power to the U.N., handling the Shi'a insurgency quite adeptly, in his approach (using elite Iraqi forces in tandem with U.S. troops) in places like Samarra, lately in moving budgeted funds back towards security needs rather than reconstruction. I ask you: on the critical 'train and equip' effort, can Dan or Andrew point to concrete examples of how the Kerry team will handle this better? What gives them this confidence? Really, what?

Look, all our biggest gripes about Iraq (Abu Ghraib, no security, stalled reconstruction) stem from too few troops. Andrew, who is likelier to keep 130,000 odd men in Iraq for longer--Bush or Kerry? After all, Kerry has already indicated troops will likely be fully drawn-down by the end of his first term. What kind of signal is this to our foes--telegraphing an exit date so as to provide hope to insurgents that they can simply wait us out--while keeping on grinding us down for another 2-3 years?

A word on Abu Ghraib. Readers of my blog know how massively disgusted and dismayed I was by the scandal. But recall Kerry's reaction to it initially. My best recollection was some boiler-plate denunciations--but that, mostly, this was a careful man seeing that there was 70% support for Rummy still and best not to rock the boat too much. If Kerry had, right out of the gates and with real political courage, denounced this major stain on our national honor with more alacrity and genuinity--perhaps I would have thought more of him. But he was basically watching the polls and performing a balancing act--condemn Abu Ghraib, to be sure, but not too mightily--lest he look 'weak' and not red-blooded enough. This will be his approach to much else besides, I strongly suspect, should he prevail tomorrow. Put differently, character matters, and mightily.

Andrew also writes, in his Kerry endorsement, that "the Bush Administration has shown itself impatient with and untalented at nation-building." Please. The PRTs in Afghanistan are doing pretty well, I'd think. And, of course, we've just had an election there--one fraught with huge peril--but one that has largely proven a major success. Elections are near in Iraq too--let's not, via 'Laphamization' and such, declare them a disaster before they've even occurred.

And from whence this verdict of impatience? It's Andrew who is being impatient--just over a year into Iraq he is getting wobbly and casting about for a 'new team' to save the day. He thinks simply because Bush is a "polarizing" figure; the world will rush to assist our effort should Kerry prevail, so that, with a greater international imprimatur in Iraq, the battle for hearts and minds will be joined more effectively. With the utmost respect for Andrew, I have to say, what claptrap! Andrew well knows the deeper sources of European-U.S. discord stemming from the end of the Cold War and concommitant Soviet threat, Kagan's Mars/Venus meme, neo-Gaullist faux-swagger, Schroder's uber-pandering (to a somewhat disingenuous and immensely self-conscious pacifist strain in Germany) and much more besides. Andrew is deluding himself to think Kerry's victory will lead to a materially different posture among Euro policymaking elites vis-a-vis Iraq.

Andrew further thinks we need to forge a bipartisan consensus on the GWOT--much like we did on the Cold War--another reason to vote for Kerry pace Sullivan! Only problem is, of course, Kerry was largely on the wrong side of the Cold War. (We would still be debating the merits of detente and arms build-ups if the Kerry wing of the Democrat party had its hands on the reins of policy-making on Soviet issues). And, I fear, on the wrong side of the GWOT. No, that doesn't mean Kerry is an UBL-hugger or bovine Mooreian blowhard. But it does mean that he is very likely to draw-down our force posture too precipitously in Iraq.

Look, does anyone seriously believe, should more troops be required in Iraq, that Kerry will push or get a troop increase through the party of Dean, Moore, and Kucinich? How can Andrew and Dan Drezner not grapple with this reality? What a sad abdication of intellectual leadership by these bright war supporters!

Andrew asks of the Bush team: "could they have run a worse war"? Of course, they could have Andrew. We could have brutishly blitzed through Najaf and Sadr City alienating (much more than we have) the Shi'a. We could be nowhere near getting elections organized. We could have pissed off the Turks more in the Kurdish north. And, believe it or not, things could be worse in the Sunni Triangle.

Finally, Andrew writes: "Does Kerry believe in the power of freedom enough to bring Iraq into a democratic future? I don't know. It's my major concern with him. At the same time, it's delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq; and a little more humility in the face of cultural difference does not strike me as unwarranted at this juncture. Besides, Kerry has endorsed democracy as a goal in Iraq and Afghanistan...his very election would transform the international atmosphere."

One does not simply "endorse" democratic outcomes in Afghanistan and Iraq and, voila, the all clear. One must remain in the trenches, likely for many years yet, striving for such an outcome through blood, sweat and tears. Kerry's team has called Iyad Allawi a "puppet," all but declared troops will be out by the end of his first term, hinted 'democracy' is not a tenable outcome in Iraq, and called this war a blunder of the first degree.

I ask you, how can this be the man to see this effort through? Do words no longer matter? Put differently, who is relying more on irrational "faith" here? Me, in hoping that Bush will more effectively prosecute the conflict in a second term, or Drezner and Sullivan and Adesnik--hoping against hope that Kerry really cares, yes--deep in his gut where it matters--cares deeply about seeing this generational project of Iraq democratization through?

As for a transformation of the "international atmosphere"--surely it will be more pleasant for Americans to attend cocktail parties in South Kensington and the 7th arrondissment--should Kerry win. We will no longer have to hold our heads in shame that a Simian dolt leads us hapless simpletons in myriad Crusades, willy-nilly, through the Middle East and beyond. But again, let's ask ourselves about the international atmosphere in Baghdad--where secular elites openly worry about what a Kerry victory will mean for their very livelihoods in the midst of significant chaos--far from the cushy drawing-rooms of London, Paris and the Upper West Side. That, right now, matters much, much more--vis-a-vis the "international atmosphere."

Finally, as with Andrew, this election comes down to a risk calculus for me as well. For the Economist (and ostensibly, Andrew), this risk calculus was framed as a decision between the incompetent (Bush) and the incoherent (Kerry). The Economist chose the latter. For me, it's more a decision as between a deeply imperfect and often too intellectually simple man, but one who is driven by real conviction to see our massive foreign policy challenges through; and on the other hand, a man who says all the right things and gets waverers like Sully on board--but doesn't really believe in what he is saying in his core.

Yes, of course, this is a subjective judgement. You are free to disagree. But, if Iraq is the crucible of attempting the hard generational task of modernizing the Middle East (and, per Sully, Bush 'gets' that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror), and if you believe that is the most critical task facing our next President--I believe a vote for George Bush is the wiser vote tomorrow.

Posted by Gregory at 09:19 AM | Comments (83)
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