February 28, 2005

Iran Policy Watch

Steven Weisman writing in the Times:

The Bush administration is considering a proposal by Britain, France and Germany to offer Iran trade benefits, commercial aircraft and aircraft spare parts in return for dismantling what is suspected of being a nuclear weapons program, European and American officials said Sunday...

...When President Bush was in Europe last week, he listened to specific proposals for economic incentives for Iran from Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany.

The specifics of the incentives were not disclosed at the time, but Mr. Bush and his aides did say he would consider the proposals when he returned to Washington.

A senior administration official said Sunday that the specific European proposals for trade benefits, spare parts and aircraft were discussed among cabinet members on Friday but that no decision had been made on whether to give the Europeans approval to make the offer to Iran...

...A European official said, however, that Mr. Bush told his European counterparts last week that if he joined in the negotiations with Iran, it would cause a political furor in the United States and signal prematurely that Washington was prepared to recognize the legitimacy of the Iran government.

As an alternative, the European and American officials said that Britain, France and Germany wanted American permission to discuss Iran's possible accession to the World Trade Organization - which would confer trade benefits to Iran but also impose requirements to open Iran's economy - and also to discuss aircraft sales.

"What we need to do is put together elements of economic incentives for Iran," said a European official, asking not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. "For that we need an agreement with the United States because this cannot be done against the will of the United States."

He added, "A green light from the United States would add a lot of leverage to our capacity to negotiate with the Iranians."

But a senior administration official said only that Mr. Bush would agree to consider the proposal.

This one will be a really tough call for Bush's foreign policy team. The fear, of course, is Iran getting WTO accession and various Airbuses and the like (ie, all the very sizable carrots)--but nevertheless surreptitiously continuing her nuclear weapons program. A win win for the Iranians. Still, significant monitoring mechanisms will be a part of all these arrangements. So, and as B.D. has repeatedly predicted, it appears Bush really is striving to pursue a diplomatic route in concert with the Europeans on Iran. There will be some griping from his right if he goes down this road, as he reportedly pointed out to some of his European counterparts (though it appears the Europeans were hoping for actual American participation in talks, which Bush rightly rebuffed, and which would be much more controversial than what is now contemplated). Bottom line: it appears that the policy debate in Washington is swinging more towards the Pollack/Takeyh school rather than that of more interventionist minded folk like, say, Michael Ledeen. And, at least at this juncture, I think that's the right call. Just don't expect a Sy Hersh piece in the New Yorker about it...we're gonna attack Iran, remember?

UPDATE: Michael Leeden complains in comments that I describe him as being part of an interventionist school when it comes to Iran policy. How dare I insinuate that Mr. Leeden may be minded to pursue military action in Iran? And, to boot, I'm ostensibly excommunicated from the AEI club as a rank "realist" by Leeden. Hasn't Michael espied some neo-con idealism admist all the realpolitik over here? I'm hurt to be so ingloriously left out in the cold...Seriously, though, I'm not in the business of misprepresenting people and respect Michael's passion on the Iran issue. It's true that Michael hasn't called for military action per se against the Mullahs (at least to my knowledge, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time combing through archives playin' gotcha)--but rather he supports a democratic revolution there. But excuse me if I get a bit confused when I read stuff like this:

Had we seen the war for what it was, we would not have started with Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of al Qaeda, the sponsor of Zarqawi, the longtime sponsor of Fatah, and the backbone of Hamas. So clear was Iran's major role in the terror universe that the Department of State, along with the CIA one of the most conflict-averse agencies of the American government, branded the Islamic Republic the world's number one terror sponsor. As it still does.

But yes, Michael is probably right that his overall Iran oeuvre sounds more like this focus on spearheading political change:

I think that Mr. Will got it wrong because he assumes that regime change implies military conquest. But we don't need armies of fighting American men and women to liberate Tehran; the foot soldiers are Iranians, and they are already on the ground, awaiting good leadership with a clear battle plan. The war against the Iranian terror masters will be political, not military. The weapons that will end the dreadful tyranny--so well described by Mr. Will and Mrs. Nafisi--are ideas and passions, not missiles and bullets. To our great shame, we have failed to support the Iranians' battle against their hated regime, but that is a failure of will, not a failure of means.

So, OK, 'interventionist' might not have been the best word given its military emphasis in Beltway jargon. But I keep on asking Michael, and he hasn't convincingly responded, whether major U.S. support of dissidents, students or, say, disgruntled Iranian workers-whether it might not backfire, big-time, with the wily Mullahs portraying said 'collaborators' as avaricious, quisling stooges of Zionist-Christian infidels looking to deny Iran her bomb and her independence from the infidels. Put differently, and I'm not alone in this by a long shot, I unfortunately don't think Iran is ripe for a full-blown counter-revolution just now. So Michael's constant egging-ons along the lines of 'faster, please' leave me concerned that we will sacrifice moral seriousness at the altar of doing something, anything to fight back the dreaded mullahs. Limp-wristed, pin-striped, G&T sipping status quo cheerleading? Not at all. Just a realist appraisal--tinged with some idealism for the future given Iranian demographics--of where we are right now. I simply remain unconvinced that a full-blown effort at egging on a counter-revolution in Iran is wise at this juncture. But, yes, I'll be more careful in how I label Michael Ledeen's stance on this going forward. No more references to an "interventionist" school, promise! Michael, clarification accepted?

Posted by Gregory at 04:49 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Beirut is Feeling Pretty Kiev-y

A friend of B.D. sends this E-mail in from Beirut:

On Friday evening I headed down to the mosque where Hariri and his body guards are buried. A mosque still under construction, the outside protective walls of the site are covered with urban graffiti, people writing condolences and messages for freedom, truth and independence. At the grave site itself, the earth is still fresh over the coffins, and has become home to shrines, covered in flowers, images of christianity, verses of the koran, all of it alight with burning red and white candles. Throughout the evening and during the following day people have been streaming through paying their respects. At the foot of the mosque is the Place des Martyres, a Statue erected by the French. Since the 15th of February, the day after the assassination, a steady number of Lebanese have been setting up tents around the statue and now expanding outward in the square. Essentially a political squat, inhabited by activists making up the faces of the 8 anti-syrian coalition parties have congregated in a similar way to those involved in the Orange Revolution which just took place in the Ukraine. About 100 people and although far from being as impressive in number as of what took place in Kiev, a friend pointed out: "Come on, the Lebanese camping? This isn't nothing". And political activist Tracy, who has been spending all her free time down there explained since the attack explained: "Yeah, this is really a big step for people, a big step". The campers all agreed that while down there, no one would put up political party flags but rather they would rally behing the Lebanese flag as a symbol of unity. The big step Tracy refered to was about how the result of Hariri's death has permitted for a real public display of discontent. Although Lebanese press is noted for being the freeist in the Arab world, each publication is still under the constraints of self-censorship, unable to outwardly discuss the Syrian presence and the impact it has had on decision making in Lebanon. For the first time, since 1989, when the last big anti-Syrian protest took place, people of all ages, socio-economic and religious backgrounds are finding the strength to display their frustration with the impact of the Syrian presence. On Saturday evening, a human chain was organized with maybe 10 to 20 thousand people standing from Place des Martyrs down the site where the blast took place. I overheard people speaking, one lady saying to her friend: "I don't what will come of this, but it is important to be here". Another and more prominent figure I ran into, Ziad Doueiri, a filmmaker who directed West Beirut about the war, and more recently, Lila dit ca, explained to me that " I never go to demonstrations, but that this time I feel like I can't miss this, I just really need to be here". As people lined up, there seemed to be just as many soldiers along the way. A presence heavily armed, stood by quietly in the background. They were noticeable, but far from agitated looking. One officer turned to me and said: "It is all good as long as it stays under control." Persisting to find out what he thought, he said: "You know, Hariri was a big loss, so I think this is good". So far the government is condoning population's ability to act on its democratic right, yet things may start changing. Tomorrow, Monday, there is a mass strike organized, and the city will close down. Along with it has been planned another big rally. Half a million of protesters are expected. Rumor has it that throughout the past week, the government has sent out a rallying word to pro-Syrian factions to show up in support of the government and Syrian presence. If this is reality, the events could be a little more difficult to control, maybe something the Ministry of Interior might have realized. This evening, Philip surfing the internet spotted a message from the Ministry of Interior. It has set out a decree that there should be no protesting in any way tomorrow. The only thought is that the decree might have come in with incredibly short notice, and considering the momentum of the population, it would seem hard to dissuade so many of a breath of free expression for all sides of the equations. [ed. note: spelling corrected from original]

As I've said, exciting times.

Posted by Gregory at 03:37 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

That Troop Number Thang

"My own preference would have been for more forces after the conflict."

--Colin Powell, as recently interviewed in the British press.

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Churchill (Winston) Worship Rampant

...amidst the neo-cons; writes Jacob Heilbrunn.

He writes:

But after celebrating Churchill, many neoconservatives go on to champion empire, and at that point matters become trickier. Krauthammer has applauded the idea of American hegemony, which he calls ''democratic realism,'' in The National Interest. Shortly after 9/11, in an article called ''The Case for American Empire,'' published in The Weekly Standard, Max Boot wrote: ''Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.'' The former Canadian press baron Conrad Black, the chairman of the board of The National Interest, is calling for the creation of a Churchillian Anglosphere, while the historian Niall Ferguson wants the United States to quit being an ''empire in denial'' and adopt liberal imperialism.

It's hard to see why it should. What, after all, was Churchill's imperial legacy? While he was laudably eager to establish a Jewish state, his forays into Arab nation-building after World War I, including the creation of Iraq and Saudi Arabia, plague the region down to the present. Far from helping avert the collapse of the empire, Britain's machinations under Churchill accelerated it. At the same time, it's not clear how ''liberal'' Churchill's imperialism actually was. He was a rather equivocal democratizer, declaring in 1942 that he had not become ''the King's first minister in order to liquidate the British Empire.'' He bitterly fought with Roosevelt over recognizing Indian independence, and he despised Gandhi.

For many of the neoconservatives, however, the great liberal idol Franklin D. Roosevelt was a disaster. The former Bush speechwriter David Frum has hailed Churchill as the great man of the 20th century, while denouncing Roosevelt for not opposing Nazism and Stalinism vigorously enough. It seems clear that by shunting Roosevelt to the sidelines and elevating Churchill, neoconservatives are doing more than simply recovering a neoconservative hero from the past. They are, in effect, inventing a new interventionist tradition for the Republican Party that goes beyond anything Churchill or other British statesmen ever imagined.

I think Heilbrunn comes armed with a bit of an agenda here. It's easy to cherry-pick some Max Boot quotes that sound nostalgic for the days of the Raj or some Conradian musings about some Churchillian Anglosphere. But the Republican party, via its interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, isn't Empire-building any more than, say, the Democrats were during Clinton era interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. Indeed, one could make a strong argument indeed that the interventions in the Balkans were less motivated by realist direct national security concerns than Bush's two wars (and I say this as a major supporter of our belated Balkan intervention).

I guess too that one gets tired of the constant cacophany about the neo-cons (though I'm sure Heilbrunn's book in progress on neo-conservatism will be quite interesting). There really is an epidemic in the use of the term, isn't there? And wasn't the "neo" part, at first, simply a reference to the fact that Krisol and Co. were reformed Trotskyists, ie. they were newly conservative after their youthful leftist exuberances? Or those like Richard Perle, say, who worked for Democrat Senator Scoop Jackson (who was staunchly anti-Soviet) before joining the Reagan Pentagon. Frankly, it seems, anyone these days who believes in robust democratization efforts and holding tyrants to account are automatically part and parcel of the nefarious neo-con crowd. Would, say, opposition to Milosevic's genocidal excesses a neo-con make?

To be sure, there is an empire-like 'national greatness' feel to the foreign policy of people like George Bush or John McCain that doubtless gets the pulse of people at the Weekly Standard (and occasionally here at B.D.!) racing. But occasional, and not wholly unfounded, whimpers of American exceptionalism, married to the reality-moored (yes), forward democratization strategy we are witnessing today--well, what's so bad about that really? The Egyptian parliamentarians listening to Mubarak's recent address about the prospects of Egypt's first free Presidential elections in the modern era or the millions of Iraqis who voted in the face of fascistic terror tactics--surely they are happy that Bush is finally addressing the decades long democracy exception that was our Middle East policy.

Whether it's neo-conservatism or realist-based policy or some hybrid thereto--it's bold, it's ambitious, and it has begun to revolutionalize a region critical to our national interest in what one hopes will ultimately prove a favorable manner. Suffocatingly oppressive societies, atrophying economies--neither can be acceptable over the long term in the perilous post 9/11 era. Societies characterized by such repression and lack of hope would risk pushing too many into the hands of utopic and fanatical radical Islamist movements. And so when Egypt, as the Arab world's most populous nation, sees increasing freedoms implemented, or when Iraq continues its transition towards sustainable, democratic political structures--people in the region from Riyadh to Damascus, even from Tashkent to Bishkek--they are sitting up and they are taking notice. Married to a better public diplomacy effort in Bush II (which I am confident will be a priority of Condi Rice's), greater coordination with allies in Europe, a resucitation of the Arab-Israeli peace process--all give me cause for optimism during these exciting times. And regardless of whoever (whether neo-cons, realists, national greatness conservatives, liberal empire boosters) is behind the policy wheels.

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February 27, 2005

Cautionary Notes Re: Khamenei

Pej admonishes me for perhaps too prematurely jumping on ye olde Pollack/Takeyh bandwagon. He could well be right. But what are the better policy options, one worries?

Posted by Gregory at 10:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Egyptian Democratization Watch

As Glenn might quip, this strikes me as big news. Potentially really big. Analysis later. And yes, the devil will be in the details on this one. Still, this is undeniable progress. The Middle East is increasingly taking on the appearance of a region in the throes of profound change. And, dare I hazard, mostly positive ones?

UPDATE: Tom Friedman is, in the main, similarly optimistic and espies varied "tipping-points" in the Middle East (though he is concerned said tipping-points may become "teeter-totters": 'one moment you're riding high and the next minute you're slammed to the ground'. Meantime, Maureen Dowd is busy writing about Condi's "Matrix-dominatrix black leather stiletto boots." Sigh.

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February 25, 2005

A Nightclub Bombing

A suicide bombing has taken place in a Tel Aviv night club. The New York Times is reporting three fatalities. Debka, not always necessarily the most reliable source on other matters but quite good at the morbid job of getting casualty counts right and up in the public space first, is reporting 3-4 fatalities and 15 seriously injured (as of this writing). In the gruesome business of suicide bombings, a grim logic seems to have taken form over the years. Around 20 or more dead, a tangible sense of national tragedy envelops Israel and very significant military action and even strategic policy adjustments can ensue. In double digits but south of 20, say 10-15 or so, strategic readjustments are not typically in the offing but very significant and robust IDF action results. In single digits, the IDF rolls into action, but the targets tend to be more limited in scope.

Absurdist number games? Absolutely, as every suicide bombing is deeply reprehensible for the resulting slaughter of innocents and every single human life lost a tragedy. But I point all this out only to make the point that I don't expect this bombing to have a major impact on the nascent resucitatation of the peace process--unless a Fatah-linked faction (rather than Islamic Jihad or the military wing of Hamas) are responsible. For one, the number of dead is relatively low (though not, of course, for trying). Second, assuming Islamic Jihad is responsible, say, I expect cooler heads to prevail. Why? Because the quest for peace in the Middle East has always been a race between moderates, on the one hand, and extremists, on the other. Whenever prospects for renewed negotiations look ripe, and as has happened so often in the past, a suicide bomber will do his or her noxious business hoping to reap the predictable result--a breakdown in talks, bad blood with emotions boiling over, another setback for pragmatic discourse and peace in the Holy Land. Sharon knows that these groups are hell-bent on scuttling any forward movement in negotiations, so will allow some leeway to Mazen particularly if a non-Fatah affiliated group is guilty of the bombing. If, of course, a Fatah-faction like al-Asqa Martyr's Brigade is responsible, Abu Mazen will have to do his very damnedest to spring into action and rein any members of this militia cheerleading or otherwise supporting terrorist tactics and imprison them immediately. But I would expect that this was a Hamas or Islamic Jihad action (though, obviously, I just don't know). Finally, I believe Sharon truly believes that Abu Mazen is making real strides (unlike Arafat, unable to relinquish the guerrilla pose and too often duplicitous or, at best, too enfeebled and confused to make good on any of his promises) to improve security controls in Gaza and the West Bank. This will likely allow for continued dialogue rather than an immediate rupture in contacts between the PA and Israel.

As this is a critical moment, the U.S. must, assuming Abu Mazen shows he will fully cooperate in tracking down any and all aiders and abetters of today's carnage: 1) facilitate a cooling down of the situation by offering up whatever good offices may be needed at this time, 2) ask Sharon for restraint, and 3) ensure American intelligence sources are coordinating with Mazen, with even more intensity in the next weeks, to help him maximize his chances of mitigating the chances of further bombings like this in coming days. It's impossible to stop every suicide bomber, of course. It shouldn't be about 100% quiet, necessarily, but 100% effort. By that, I mean, we cannot impose an artifical requirement that there be some set period of absolute quiet before resumption of talks (or that talks must break off after every bombing). This is merely an invitation for suicide bombers to scuttle the Middle East peace process. But there must be 100% effort by the PA to prevent any and all such bombings--even when the going gets tough and negotiations aren't going rosily or have even hit temporary snags. This type of event is crunch time for Abu Mazen. He has to persuade, not only the Americans, but also the Israelis, of course, that he isn't just talking the talk but walking the walk. I think Sharon, as I said, thinks he's making a real go of it. Events in the coming days will either bear this out, or prove B.D. wrong. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let us mourn the victims of this hateful slaughter born of grim circumstance and long bitterness.

P.S. Sharon recently allowed large prisoner releases. If the bomber was one of these, the Israeli government will likely suffer a backlash of sorts for imperiling national security by releasing prisoners still hell bent on killing innocents.

P.P.S. Note this quote from the NYT piece above:

An Israeli government spokesman, Gideon Meir, said the bombing proved the need for the Palestinian Authority to "dismantle terror groups" rather than try to persuade them to accept a formal truce, Reuters reported. Israel's public security minister, Gideon Ezra, said, "We will have to see where we can tighten the screws and the Palestinian Authority has to tighten its screws." [emphasis added]
In other words, the Israelis are holding the door open and acknowledging a role for the Palestinian side in 'tightening its screws.' That bodes well that we aren't about to face a major breakdown in relations between the two sides and that the truce, albeit tragically shattered this evening, remains extant.
Posted by Gregory at 11:15 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

From Brookings, With Love

Russophilia lives! But hey, what else would you expect from someone whose real name is Nelson Strobridge Talbott and who learned Russian in his mid-teens at Hotchkiss?

P.S. Talbott is right when he writes:

...a move by the United States to evict him from the Group of 8 would only play into the hands of nationalist forces in Russia who believe in their country's uniquely "Eurasian" destiny, which implies an authoritarian domestic order and a foreign policy that combines intimidation of other former Soviet republics and xenophobia toward the world at large. A signal that the West is giving up on Russia would also discourage democrats, who are down but not out.

Not that I think fellow Russophile Condi Rice will need much persuading on this score.

Posted by Gregory at 05:24 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

iPods, Henry, and B.D's Sad Nightlife

Amidst all the talk of late of iPod People, have I mentioned that I often blog with the i-Pod on? I've found the music keeps me put-putting along a wee bit longer into the evening hours (and also, doubtless, explains the bad prose, mammoth run-ons, tiresome regurgitations of the latest deep-think from Foreign Affairs, and so on). I'm still living out of a hotel room (its been a long four months now) and, alas, I've got a tremendously underwhelming dial-up connection to grapple with of late (not good for a blogger). Fox or CNN will typically be on in the background. Tonight, a particularly gruesome parade of horribles appeared on Fox across the room (David Duke discoursing on Ward Churchill; O'Reilly hyper-ventilating about jihadis run amok in Fairfax County; domestic Florida intrigues high on bovinity and fake blonde hair, etc).

And then, on Greta van Susteren's show, Henry Kissinger's vibrant and steely visage beckoned! Dutifully, of course, off went the i-Pod and the mute button was unclicked with dispatch. Is it just me, or is it amusing to see anchors fawningly interview the great Doctor? He always seems to be beamed in from his home in Kent, CT (read: playah status, no hauling ass to studio-land in midtown like the mortals)--the faux Anglophilia-infused surroundings almost reassuringly in sight behind Kissinger's shoulder (this montage has, by now, taken on the familiar trappings of your favorite anchor's chair). The interviewer will then try, but often stumble, to string several sentences together that are meant to appear gravitas-laden and of some geopolitical import: Putin! Mubarak! NATO! and Henry, of course, patiently and dutifully bestows his wisdom upon the lumpenproleteriat arrayed in the Atlanta and New York studios. It's a peculiarly American scene, with Kissinger's foreign-accented, gravelly voice holding court around the dinner tables of Peoria, interspersed with the breathless interrogatories about the 'region' clumsily and obsequiously delivered to the ever serene (unless it's the Beeb interviewing), steely-miened Kissinger. Kissinger increasingly appears incongruous amidst the MTVish "news" shows, of course, that are more and more becoming entertainment channels filling us in on Paris Hilton's latest exploits. My point? There is none, really, save that I probably need to get out and about more. Excuse the late night ramblings..

P.S. A final aside, re: the Sunday circuit, one wonders what Wolf Blitzer will do when Zbig and Henry are no longer available to hold court on the region amidst all the homme serieux beard-stroking and tut-tutting? OK, back to regularly scheduled programming soon...

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

More On Iran

With Tehran divided over how to balance its nuclear ambitions with its economic needs, Washington has an opportunity to keep it from crossing the nuclear threshold. Since the economy is a growing concern for the Iranian leadership, Washington can boost its leverage by working with the states that are most important to Tehran's international economic relations: the western European countries and Japan, as well as Russia and China, if they can be persuaded to cooperate. Together, these states must raise the economic stakes of Iran's nuclear aspirations. They must force Tehran to confront a painful choice: either nuclear weapons or economic health. Painting Tehran's alternatives so starkly will require dramatically raising both the returns it would gain for compliance and the price it would pay for defiance.

In the past, dissension among the United States and its allies allowed Tehran to circumvent this difficult choice. Throughout the 1990s, the United States pursued a strategy of pure coercion toward Iran, with strong sanctions and a weak covert action program. In the meantime, the Europeans refused even to threaten to cut their commercial relations with Tehran, no matter how bad its behavior became. Iran played Europe off against the United States, using European economic largesse to mitigate the effects of U.S. sanctions, all the while making considerable progress with its clandestine nuclear program.

Today, the situation is different. A fortunate result of Iran's unfortunate nuclear progress is that Tehran will now have a much harder time hedging. Revelations that Iran has moved closer toward producing fissile material over the past two years could help forge a unified Western position. In the 1990s, Europeans could ignore much of Iran's malfeasance because the evidence was ambiguous. But with the IAEA recently having uncovered so many of Iran's covert enrichment activities--and with Tehran subsequently having admitted them--it will be far more uncomfortable, if not impossible, for Europeans to keep looking the other way. It is still unclear just how seriously Europe takes Iran's nuclear activities, but in public and private statements, European officials no longer try to play them down. Moreover, when during negotiations with the EU in November Tehran requested that 20 research centrifuges remain active, the Europeans refused. Such resolve marked a drastic departure from Europe's fecklessness during the 1990s. That Tehran quickly complied was a sure sign that it fears incurring the wrath of its economic benefactors.

Ken Pollack and Ray Takeyh, writing in Foreign Affairs.

Bush has certainly grasped the reality that Pollack/Takeyh sketch above about the critical import of a united Euro-Atlantic front on Iran strategy. Indeed, Bush repeated the need for a unified Iran policy like a mantra from Brussels to Bratislava during his recent Euro-tour. He correctly calculates that allowing Teheran to play, say, Paris off Washington only allows the clerics more room for maneuver in moving forward Iran's nuclear program by helping keep painful economic ramifications at bay.

This Foreign Affairs piece is one of the better ones I've seen in a while and you should definitely read the whole thing if you have any interest in Iran policy. Particularly good, in my view, was the quite succinct tour d'horizon of the divisions within Iran's non-reformist political powers centers:

Iran's conservative bloc is riddled with factions and their contradictions. But whereas reformers and conservatives differ over domestic issues, the divisions within the conservative faction chiefly relate to critical foreign policy issues. Stalwarts of the Islamic revolution launched by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 still control Iran's judiciary, the Council of Guardians (the constitution's watchdog), and other powerful institutions, as well as key coercive groups such as the Revolutionary Guards and the Islamic vigilantes of the Ansar-e-Hezbollah. The hard-liners consider themselves the most ardent Khomeini disciples and think of the revolution less as an antimonarchical rebellion than as a continued uprising against the forces that once sustained the U.S. presence in Iran: Western imperialism, Zionism, and Arab despotism. Ayatollah Mahmood Hashemi Shahroudi, the chief of the judiciary, said in 2001, "Our national interests lie with antagonizing the Great Satan. We condemn any cowardly stance toward America and any word on compromise with the Great Satan." For ideologues like him, international ostracism is the necessary price for revolutionary affirmation.

The pragmatists among Khomeini's heirs believe that the regime's survival depends on a more judicious international course. Thanks to them, Iran remained a regular player in the global energy market even at the height of its revolutionary fervor. Today, these realists gravitate around the influential former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and occupy key positions throughout the national security establishment. One of the group's leading figures, Muhammad Javad Larijani, a former legislator, argues, "We should not have what I would call an obstinate policy toward the world." Instead, the pragmatic conservatives have tried to develop economic and security arrangements with foreign powers such as China, the European Union, and Russia. In reaction to the United States' overthrow of two regimes on Iran's periphery--in Afghanistan and Iraq--they have adopted a wary but moderate stance. Admonishing his more radical brethren, Rafsanjani, for example, has warned, "We are facing a cruel and powerful U.S. government, and we have to be cautious and awake.

In a similar vein, the issue of Iraq is also fracturing the theocratic regime. In the eyes of Iran's reactionaries, the Islamic Republic's ideological mission demands that the revolution be exported to its pivotal Arab (and majority Shiite) neighbor. Such an act would not only establish the continued relevance of Iran's original Islamic vision but also secure a critical ally for an increasingly isolated Tehran. In contrast, the approach of Tehran's realists is conditioned by the requirements of the nation-state and its demands for stability. For this cohort, the most important task at hand is to prevent Iraq's simmering religious and ethnic tensions from engulfing Iran. Instigating Shiite uprisings, dispatching suicide squads, and provoking unnecessary confrontations with the United States hardly serves Iran's interests at a time when its own domestic problems are deepening. As a result, Tehran's mainstream leadership has mostly encouraged Iraq's Shiite groups to participate in reconstruction, not to obstruct U.S. efforts, and to do everything possible to avoid civil war. Hard-liners, meanwhile, have won permission to provide some assistance to Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and other Shiite rejectionists.

Teetering between the two camps is Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. As the theocracy's top ideologue, he shares the hard-liners' revolutionary convictions and their confrontational impulses. But as the head of state, he must safeguard Iran's national interests and temper ideology with statecraft. In his 16 years as supreme leader, Khamenei has attempted to balance the ideologues and the realists, empowering both factions to prevent either from achieving a preponderance of influence. Lately, however, the Middle East's changing political topography has forced his hand somewhat. With the American imperium encroaching menacingly on Iran's frontiers, Khamenei, one of the country's most hawkish thinkers, is being forced to lean toward the pragmatists on some issues. [emphasis added]

This last point goes unnoticed too often. Rather than fully radicalize Iranian leaders, the reality of U.S. GI's on both their East and West has proven something of a reality check as compared to the old days when the merits or demerits of dual containment were debated in far away Washington think tanks. Put simply, when you have approximately 200,000 American troops near your borders, hyper-revolutionary zeal and saber-rattling takes a back seat to sober statecraft--if still occasionally on the zealous side. Also worth noting is how the Rafsanjani wing of hard-line pragmatists has historically focused on fostering cooperative arrangements with the Berlins, Moscows, and Beijings. These days, this is becoming less of an option, heightening the pressure on Iran to entertain serious compromises on issues of key concern to important Western capitals. In this regard, it's important too to get Russia and China more on board with the increasingly unified Euro-Atlantic view. And I think Bush made good headway, on that score, in Bratislava today with Vladimir Putin.

Are Pollack and Takeyh too optimistic that taking advantage of divisions amidst the hardliners, in combination with economic sticks and carrots, might help slow or stop Iran's nuclear weapons program? Well, truth be told, probably a little. But it's one of the better takes on where we are vis-a-vis Iran that I've seen of late. Put differently, if you are going to wave big sticks around; proffer a few big, juicy carrots on view too. The results just might surprise. A full-blown attempt to stoke a counter-revolution in Iran (safe-havens, major support to dissidents, thinly veiled military threats, covert action etc) could backfire in a huge way. Emboldened students could be the first to feel the wrath of Mullahs spinning all the activity as a Zionist-American plot to deny Iran a nuclear weapon and sparking a nationalist backlash. And who would protect them as they were slaughtered? In addition, risking unleashing massive destablization in Iran just might upset the regional apple cart. By any judicious measure, we have our hands more than full in Iraq (and Afghanistan) at this juncture. Therefore, and unless the hardest of hard-liners rush to brazenly thrust an Iranian bomb on the international community, a military option must be deemphasized in favor of robust, coordinated diplomacy. I think everyone (including, if reluctantly, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith) in the Administration get this. Bush certainly seems to.

Posted by Gregory at 02:32 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Iran Watch

"Q Mr. President, you've talked a lot about Iran in many of your meetings on this trip, and we understand that you did a lot of listening about incentives for Iran, using them as negotiating tools, if you will. And first I'd ask you, why will you not join the EU 3 in direct talks with Iran? And then, what would you approve of as possible incentives? Did you hear anything that you liked?

"PRESIDENT BUSH: I appreciate that. First of all, we talked about Iran here, with our great friend. The reason why we talked about it, because it's a world problem. And one of the things I wanted to make sure I heard clearly from our friends in Europe was whether or not they viewed the Iran problem the same way I did. And they do. Chancellor Schröder and Prime Minister Blair and President Chirac [ed. note: Add Putin too as of today] all said loud and clear that the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon.

"And secondly, I was listening very carefully to the different ideas on negotiating strategies. We have a common objective, which is to convince the Ayatollahs not to have a nuclear weapon. And I'm going to go back and think about the suggestions I've heard and the ways forward. But the key thing is, is that we're united in our -- in the goal.

"The most effective way to achieve that goal is to have our partners -- Great Britain and France and Germany -- represent not only the EU, not only NATO, but the United States. And hopefully we'll be able to reach a diplomatic solution to this effort. We're more likely to do so when we're all on the same page. And I know we're on the same page on this issue when it comes to a common goal." [emphasis added]

More here.

Is it just me, or is the Iran track almost starting to take on the trappings of the six party North Korean talks? Next thing you'll know there will be talk of whether U.S.-Iranian bilateral break-out sessions should take place apart from the Euro troika! Yes, I jest, but clearly Bush-Rice (even Cheney!) continue to push for a diplomatic outcome. Everyone is either a damn good liar and getting the war plans teed up behind the scenes--or Sy Hersh is full of it. I'm betting on the latter.

Posted by Gregory at 02:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 24, 2005

A New and Noteworthy Blog

While B.D. is still getting crushed by the day job--why not check out the U.N. Dispatch instead? Good luck to Peter Daou as he gets this site launched. The U.N. is going through a 'time of troubles', of sorts, and much of the vitriol aimed at it is well merited of course. Still, however, Daou's site looks to provide coverage above and beyond the latest Kojo going-ons (see here for a potentially damning scoop, in case you missed it, written by my high school friend and talented journalist Desmond Butler a couple weeks back). A take on the U.N. beyond Congolese rape camps and UNSCAM is not a bad thing, all told. The U.N. does do some good work here and there--which people sometimes forget amidst all the hullaballoo and chest-thumping about the assorted meanies populating Turtle Bay.

P.S. Henry Farrell has a similar take.

Posted by Gregory at 06:30 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 23, 2005

An Optimistic Realist

Bob Blackwill:

So, it was not at all surprising to me that you had this extraordinary turnout in a situation in which, of course, there was scattered violence. Wherever you were voting, especially in Baghdad and areas around Baghdad, you had to wonder whether you were going to be attacked by the terrorists. So, I think it was an extraordinary outcome. As you say, nearly 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. And when you take into account that the Sunni turnout was quite low, you really do get in many areas of Shiite Iraq an 80 percent turnout, and in some areas of Kurdish Iraq, you get a 90 percent turnout. So, it was really quite extraordinary. And it just shows, again, what the president has been emphasizing, which is that, if given the opportunity, people, whatever their ethnicity and from whatever part of the globe they come, will choose freedom of choice, including elections and going to the polls.

So, it was an extraordinary outcome and one that didn't surprise me. And I must say also, just one last point, that this was also a shining endorsement of the president's strategy towards Iraq, where the critics have been pessimistic and wrong for well over a year with regard to the evolution of the Iraqi political process. And they've been wrong on every single important pivotal event. They were wrong on the elections. And they will probably go on being pessimistic and go on being wrong.

Another snippet from Bernard Gwertzman's interview of Blackwill well worth reading:

Q: Put on your Harvard hat for a moment. What's the impact of these elections and the recent Palestinian elections on the whole Middle East? After all, the president's been mocked by a lot of Democrats and others for the idealistic speeches he's been making about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Is this now more of a reality? Is this election going to put pressure on other states to reform?

A: The answer is yes. And, I must say, that those who mock haven't been paying attention to the empirical data that's been piling up. First, we had the Afghan election last fall with this extraordinary turnout. Then we had the Palestinian election. Then we had the Iraqi election. We're going to have a parliamentary election in Afghanistan in the spring. So this isn't a theory anymore, this is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East and it is absolutely revolutionary, these free and fair elections.

Now, the effect elsewhere in the region isn't going to happen overnight. It isn't going to be that some of these leaders who don't have sympathy for democratic practices are going to wake up in the middle of the night and have an epiphany and say, "Oh my goodness, we want to have our entirely free and fair elections, too." But I do think that, in aggregate, it does put pressure from the bottom up on these societies to move toward more freedom of choice in the political arena [emphasis added]

It's getting increasingly hard to deny that, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

February 22, 2005

In-House News

I'm still alive, but I've had no time to even read blogs let alone produce anything in this space. Hopefully blogging will resume tonight or tomorrow night. There's a lot to catch up on...

Posted by Gregory at 10:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 14, 2005

Hariri's Assassination

We interrupt our brief blog hiatus to simply state that B.D. hopes that the young and relatively inexperienced Syrian President, Bashar Asad, would not have grotesquely miscalculated so as to allow his mukhabarat to be behind former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination today. One cannot discount, for instance, that the assassination may have been the handiwork of other interests shrewdly attempting to create a crisis for Damascus. Or that al-Qaeda, acting indepedently, saw fit to kill Hariri for whatever reason. Commenters are invited to chime in with any theories or viewpoints on who may have been behind the vicious car bombing. Suffice it to say, however, that if the evidence ends up leading to Damascus the entire (already difficult) relationship between the U.S. and Syria will be thrown into real crisis. And rightly so. After all, it would be a poor time indeed, to say the least, for Syria to have stoked such potential instability in Lebanon--given also the potential implications for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iraq, and, of course, throughout the Levant generally. Developing, as they say.

MORE: Here's a pretty good initial round-up from the FT's Roula Khalaf (there is mention of the potential Syrian angle). Note too I've seen some speculation that al-Qaeda types may have been behind the operation calculating that killing Hariri hurts the House of Saud (Hariri made his money in Saudi Arabia, had extensive contacts in the Kingdom and was worth some USD 4 Billion). Another possible motivation for an al-Qaeda type group? Ginning up more tension with Syria and general chaos in the region is likely a net positive for them. Also, the group that claimed responsiblity to al-Jazeera, heretofore unknown and called "Aid and Jihad in the Lands of Syria," sounds like a name specifically chosen to cause real discomfort in Damascus. The Syrian government, of course, would only have pursued such an action surreptitiously. Finally, and contra one of Juan Cole's theses, I think there is no chance "this assassination had an economic/ mafia-type background that we are not aware of." Disgruntled contractors and such don't set off 770 pound car bombs too routinely.

STILL MORE: Don't miss Rami Khouri's analysis. It seems like many parties are going to use this assassination to resuscitate and spearhead new efforts to get Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Part of the rationale will now also be that any supposed Syrian 'stabilization' role has fallen well short with this gruesome mega-bombing near the St. George hotel on Beirut's corniche. Still, however, we need to see where the evidence leads before getting too carried away. The demarche and temporary recall of our Ambassador were fine and, all told, measured and appropriate responses. An actual suspension in diplomatic relations or more permanent recall of our Ambassador are not yet warranted, in my view.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's another op-ed worth reading by an American who was on the ground. He relays that even somewhat removed hotels like the Phoenicia and Monroe had all their windows shattered. The Hotel Monroe, where I've had drinks, is a hip, funky hotel managed by young, Westernized entrepreneurial types. As much as the St. George was a symbol of Beirut's old pre-75 grandeur and intrigue; the Monroe pointed to a fresh, modernistic future for the city. It will be repaired, and life will go on, but I can only imagine how somber the mood is in Beirut today among so many. With steadfastness and international support, however, I am confident that Beirut's inhabitants, who have been through much worse, will persevere through this latest carnage too.

Posted by Gregory at 11:29 PM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

February 10, 2005

In-House News

Just a brief reminder for anyone who missed my earlier note that I am on something of a brief blog hiatus due to professional demands and personal reasons. Regular blogging should resume around February 22nd or thereabouts. In the meantime, don't miss this article on Condi's Paris trip, her Paris speech (including the Q&A), this article on Saudi elections, this Foreign Affairs piece on North Korea (particularly given recent developments there), and this piece detailing how the U.S. is now the largest donor among all countries re: the tsunami disaster (I believe that's the case without even taking into account in kind contributions).

P.S. I've also gotten some complaints that comments need to be pre-approved on this site. For the record, I wasn't aware of anything of the sort. That said, I've looked into it and see that my blog support person has installed some anti-spam devices that include varied mechanisms to block obscene comments and spam attacks. Unfortunately, it appears, a very small percentage of 'normal' comments sometimes get erroneously blocked too. I'll have to look into this more and find a solution when I have time but please note virtually all who wish to post should be able to whenever they wish without any pre-approvals on this end (though, as always, I reserve the right to delete anything I think is obscene, offensive etc). Anyway, let me know if you are having problems so I can work this issue (you can also send E-mail if you are having problems with the comment feature to belgraviadispatch@hotmail.com). O.K., that's it for now.

Posted by Gregory at 01:12 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 06, 2005

More on the Arab World's Burgeoning View of the Iraqi Elections

Amr Hamzawy of Carnegie:

The turnout in last Sunday's Iraqi elections surprised even the most optimistic observers in the Middle East. Reading Arab newspapers during the weeks before the vote, one could hardly escape the expectation that the adventure of holding elections in Iraq was certain to be a fiasco. The bulk of Arab intellectuals and journalists foresaw a minimal turnout and possibly devastating results, such as an outbreak of civil war between the Shiite and Sunni populations and the emergence of an Iranian-controlled Islamic republic of Iraq.

Operating from Pan-Arabist and Islamist credos, they could not envisage the elections as at least a step toward political normality in a country long ruled by a brutal dictator and currently under foreign occupation. Commentators emphasized potential voting irregularities, asserting that no free elections would ever take place under occupation and implicitly urging Iraqis to stay away from the polls.

Because Arab writers normally see themselves as embodying an imaginary "Arab street," they had no trouble, in the absence of independent public opinion surveys, in representing their own quite ideological views as those of the Iraqi majority and as those of Arabs generally. They took this line even though their rhetorical warnings at the time of the initial invasion of Iraq -- exemplified by the slogan "the Arab street will explode if the Americans invade" -- had proven incorrect. These writers were taught a hard lesson by the Iraqi voter turnout in a way that should lead to questions about their claim to represent Arab public opinion...

...Assessing Arab public opinion is notoriously difficult because of widespread media censorship and government domination of the media. One of the few real indicators we have are readers' written comments on op-ed articles published in Arab dailies, especially in the regional newspapers such as al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat...

...within this very wide spectrum a mainstream perception of Iraqi political developments can be discerned that runs counter to the main tide coming from prominent intellectuals and journalists. A clear consensus exists among the majority of commenting readers on the moral and political rightness of the elections and a hopeful attitude toward the democratization of Iraq. Mistrust of American intentions and lamentations on the fate of pan-Arabism are to a large extent pushed aside by a more pragmatic understanding of events.

An active polemical minority, largely non-Iraqis, certainly remains, but it does not define the terms of the readers' debate. Most interesting, however, is the fact that the readers' comments turn out to be self-referential -- that is, they entail less commenting on the respective op-ed pieces and far more discussion among the readers. A pluralistic platform emerges, without the usual allegations of betrayal or tendentious ideological statements.

With all due modesty regarding how representative the readers' comments on the Iraq elections are, they do portray a different picture of the Arab public, a public that is pragmatic, confident and for the most part tolerant. This is one more reason to be hopeful for a better political future in the region. [emphasis added]

Posted by Gregory at 05:37 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Iraq Perceptions: A Deemphasized American Influence

Through 22 months of occupation and war here, the word "America" was usually the first word to pass through the lips of an Iraqi with a gripe.

Why can't the Americans produce enough electricity? Why can't the Americans guarantee security? Why can't the Americans find my stolen car?

Last week, as the euphoria of nationwide elections washed over this country, a remarkable thing happened: Iraqis, by and large, stopped talking about the Americans.

With the ballots still being counted here, the Iraqi candidates retired to the back rooms to cut political deals, leaving the Americans, for the first time, standing outside. In Baghdad's tea shops and on its street corners, the talk turned to which of those candidates might form the new government, to their schemes and stratagems, and to Iraqi problems and Iraqi solutions.

That's exactly the point, isn't it?

Meanwhile, 'Nam is springing to mind again!

It's now a week since Iraqis flooded the streets for their first free election in decades, and America, midwife to the birth of Arab democracy, is still in relieved thrall. Sunni clerics urged boycotts; the French dripped ridicule; terrorists promised to wash the streets with the blood of anyone foolish enough to cast a ballot. And 6 in 10 eligible Iraqis - roughly equal to the turnout in President Bush's own victory last November - voted anyway.

Honestly, has there ever been an election so inspiring?

Unfortunately, yes. Ponder the first sentences of one dispatch from this newspaper's archives: "United States officials were surprised and heartened today at the size of turnout in South Vietnam's presidential election," it reads, "despite a Vietcong terrorist campaign to disrupt the voting. According to reports from Saigon, 83 per cent of the 5.85 million registered voters cast their ballots yesterday. Many of them risked reprisals threatened by the Vietcong."

That appeared in September 1967. Last week, Mr. Bush proclaimed that Iraq tests "our generational commitment to the advance of freedom." In 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union proclaimed a test of American will to "keep alive the hope of independence and stability for people other than ourselves."

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

More Good News on the Sunni Front

Anthony Shahid writing in the WaPo:

Influential Sunni Arab leaders of a boycott of last Sunday's elections expressed a new willingness Friday to engage the coming Iraqi government and play a role in writing the constitution, in what may represent a strategic shift in thinking among mainstream anti-occupation groups.

The signs remain tentative, and even advocates of such change suggest that much will depend on the posture the new government takes toward the insurgency and the removal of former Baath Party officials from state institutions. But in statements and interviews, some Sunni leaders said the sectarian tension that surged ahead of the vote had forced them to rethink their stance...

...The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most influential groups, sent mixed signals this week -- saying it would respect the election results, while arguing that the new government will lack the legitimacy to draft a constitution. But the sermon Friday at the association's headquarters, the Um al-Qura mosque, was decidedly conciliatory. Directing most of his words at the new government, the preacher called Iraq its "trusteeship" and said the people's welfare was "a great responsibility on your shoulders."

A meeting Thursday at the home of a Sunni elder statesman that brought together some largely Sunni groups, including those that boycotted the elections, produced an agreement to participate in drafting the constitution, "without condition," said Nadhmi, one of those in attendance. A spokesman for the Iraqi Islamic Party, which withdrew from Sunday's vote but still was listed on the ballot, said its members would not enter parliament but that the party would not object if independent candidates who were included on its list took seats.

"We're getting the same vibes," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

"It's my sense that there are a number of people in the Sunni community that are trying to build consensus in that community that . . . participation in the political process would be to the best advantage of the Sunni Arab community," the diplomat said. [emphasis added]

Can't say I'm surprised. B.D. always thought most mainstream Sunni factions, even those boycotting (or threatening to boycott), would end up playing (mostly constructive) ball. It's still to early to make any definitive conclusions, but such a peeling away of moderate to nationalist Sunnis from the ranks of the extremists will lend yet another defeat to the ranks of the Baathist restorationists, assorted jihadists, and Zarqawi and Co. terrorists.

Posted by Gregory at 05:28 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

U.S. To Train Palestinian Forces?

More smarts moves on the Palestinian front. When you take the lead in training an army, well, you get to influence it a whole lot more. We did the same thing with the 'train and equip' effort of Bosnian Federation forces back in the '90s. Recall that Clinton had instructed then Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith to tell Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that he had 'no instructions' with regard to whether Croatia should respect the (amoral) Bosnian arms embargo. Tudjman took this as tacit permission to let arms get into Bosnia. Croatia took her cut and the rest of the arms, many Iranian supplied, got into points Sarajevo. The Iranians, of course, were less interested in the plight of beleaguered Sarajevans than establishing a beach-head to export the Islamic revolution into Europe. Thus, post-Dayton, American moves to take control of the training and equipping effort were particularly apropos in terms of reining in radical tendencies in parts of Sarajevo, Zenica etc that were falling for the Iranians who had ostensibly stood by them during their darkest hours. Well, subsitute Hamas and Jihad Islami for Iran in the present equation and it's pretty much the same thing. If (and it's a big if) Palestinian security forces can come under one umbrella, if as Condeeleza Rice puts it there is "one authority, one gun"--well why not have the U.S. heavily involved in training them? And if such forces fall under the sway of radicals at a later date, well, the U.S. will better know what tricks they might have up their sleeves. That unlikely hypothetical aside, a major U.S. role in this training effort will prove a moderating influence and important component in creating a professional PA military apparatus that can effectively cooperate with their IDF counterparts in disengagement exercises, possible joint patrols, and other military-to-military cooperation. Note the Egyptians are also training PA forces these days.

Posted by Gregory at 11:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Heads Up

Blogging will be very light through at least February 22nd or thereabouts. For one, my fiancee is visiting for a few weeks starting tomorrow (she has been shooting/directing a documentary in Brazil for a couple months). For another, the 'day' job is going full steam right now (it's nearing 3 A.M. and I'm just wrapping up for the night...). Even if I tried to blog, after days that run long like this, I doubt the content would really be of much interest to you! You know, at some point, you just have to take a breather. This is one of those times. Still, do check in intermittently as there will certainly be some blogging now and again before late Feb. But not at the same pace or levels of production. Maybe I'll even try to get to the beach a bit more. After all, there must be some benefits to working on a transaction in the Carribbean! Anyway, time to pull myself away from the nocturnal blogging station for a spell, I think. Or I'll be risking burn-out. Back soon--hopefully refreshed and with a spring in the blog-step.

Posted by Gregory at 06:47 AM | TrackBack

February 03, 2005

The SOTU Overall

A confident Bush, who delivered his speech well, and signaled that he was now a seasoned second-termer (the "gray" hair). Still, no great sparks. I'll leave parsing the compassionate conservative notes (lawyers for death row inmates) or the short shrift given to DOMA for others to discuss. And still, there was the requisite grist for social conservatives. Tactically, from a Roveian perspective, the speech was just fine and kept the 'Big Tent' intact. Social Security? Hey, I bought some Merck this year. It, er, wasn't a thrilling experience. But I'm open to hear more about his plan. Devil's in the details, of course. On foreign policy, 'keep on scrolling' below, as Glenn would say. Bottom line: nothing on the foreign policy end of the speech was really surprising (no "axis of evil" declaration, say). Still, some good initiatives in the offing. We are apparently going to have a real-go at resucitating the Middle East peace process. More intense dialogues with Riyadh and Cairo about lessening the dominance of the executive branches there, likely. Damascus is feeling real heat--but there will not be a military confrontation with Asad's regime. Iran, status quo for now--but the UNSC sanctions debate looms if the Euro-trokia fumbles (they likely will). It was good to loudly announce that there would be no artificial timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. Ditto it was also good to tie Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq to the Ukraine example--analogizing the democratization of these Middle Eastern and South Asian countres during Bush's watch to the dramatic events that recently unfolded in Kiev. But, as I said, no big surprises. Bush did what he had to do, business-like almost, with some command and a confident delivery. But this lacked the historical drama of the 9/20/01 speech (an unfair standard perhaps), or, say, the newfangled 'axis of evil' policy shift of a previous SOTU. It was good, but not great. That's OK. It's just one speech. There will be many more. And actual execution of policy, besides, matters much more than how Bush delivers his lines on any given night.

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

A Key Passage

The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.

That advance has great momentum in our time - shown by women voting in Afghanistan, and Palestinians choosing a new direction, and the people of Ukraine asserting their democratic rights and electing a president. We are witnessing landmark events in the history of liberty. And in the coming years, we will add to that story.

A powerful rebuke to relativists and others lacking in sober perspective. Saddam's Iraq and Mullah Omar's Afghanistan were brutish, authoritarian states. The former had the blood of hundreds of thousands on its hands. The latter's brand of fundamentalism so severe it was only diplomatically recognized by three countries on the entire planet. No one interested in human progress and justice should be nostalgic for these regimes.

As for Bush's contention that the "advance of freedom" leads to peace. We can have little academic quibbles about whether democracies wage wars with each other (there are a few exceptions, probably, all told). Still, they fight each other hugely rarely as compared to autocratic societies. Bush is, therefore, and despite all the depictions of him as some neo-Wilsonian dreamer, merely pointing out some realities. Free societies are typically peaceful. So why not have democratization be a key linch-pin of U.S. strategy in a region of such immense import like the Middle East? Put somewhat differently, the march of democracy was the story of the 20th Century. Bush wants to continue it forward in the 21st. And as fascism and communism were defeated in the 20th; radical Islam and fanatical terrorism can be in the 21st. This all seems logical enough.

Posted by Gregory at 04:22 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The Others Bad Guys (And What of Our Friends?)

Other bad guys? One sentence on NoKo. No mention of the "outposts of tyranny." Pretty skimpy. Our soi disant friends? Europe? Barely mentioned (only in context of Iran related diplomacy and defeat of fascism there). No Germany or France. No U.K. Bush is really focused on democratizing the Middle East. Fine, as this is the fulcrum of the war against radical Islam and the generational task that confronts us. But we need to do it with help, and we need to remember that Latin America, Asia, Africa, you know, still exist. As do, btw, Russia and China--not mentioned once in the entire speech.

P.S. Maybe this is just B.D's bias for more foreign policy content. A SOTU, after all, is about the panoply of domestic issues too. Still, didn't this feel a bit thin:

Other nations around the globe have stood with us. In Afghanistan, an international force is helping provide security. In Iraq, 28 countries have troops on the ground, the United Nations and the European Union provided technical assistance for elections, and NATO is leading a mission to help train Iraqi officers. We are cooperating with 60 governments in the Proliferation Security Initiative, to detect and stop the transit of dangerous materials. We are working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and nine other countries have captured or detained al-Qaida terrorists. In the next four years, my Administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.

How? A little more detail would have been nice.

Posted by Gregory at 04:08 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Iraq: No Artificial Timetable

Recently an Iraqi interpreter said to a reporter, "Tell America not to abandon us." He and all Iraqis can be certain: While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come. We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself.

Bubble-headed Pelosi can poo-pooh all these big goals sans timetable--but this was a critical signal to send to the Iraqi people, to the insurgents, and to the international community at large. And a large reason why I supported Bush against Kerry. An artificial timetable would be extremly poor policy. Good on Bush for explicitly taking it off the table during the SOTU. The insurgents will have heard this strong message of American resolve too. And they won't have liked it.

Also: "We will succeed in Iraq because Iraqis are determined to fight for their own freedom, and to write their own history. As Prime Minister Allawi said in his speech to Congress last September, "Ordinary Iraqis are anxious to shoulder all the security burdens of our country as quickly as possible."

Translation: "Training and equipping" an Iraqi Army, in the final analysis, will only truly be accomplished when Iraq trainees, led by a qualified officer corps and adequately equipped, are willing to stand and die for their country. I think he gets it, and I think he gets that this will take at least (again, at least) two years (even if insurgents have been dealt a strategic setback post-elections).

Posted by Gregory at 04:05 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

The Holy Land

The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure. Tomorrow morning, Secretary of State Rice departs on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas. She will discuss with them how we and our friends can help the Palestinian people end terror and build the institutions of a peaceful, independent democratic state. To promote this democracy, I will ask Congress for 350 million dollars to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms. The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach - and America will help them achieve that goal.

Within reach. Good. A signal he thinks an Israeli-Palestinian peace can be consummated in 2007 or 2008. The 350MM to the PA is a smart move too. How much did Saudi Arabia, say, give Ramallah last year? Money buys influence, as we all know. But, more important, it also shows that, as Palestine democratizes and gets its security services under unified command (and pursues maximal efforts to rein in Hamas and Jihad Islami operatives) America will stand by her. Good. For us. And for Israel. Bolstering moderates is the only way to make forward progress there. Bush did that tonight quite effectively (350MM was also the amount donated for the tsunami disaster, no?)

Oh, and a very public send off to Condi! Good luck to her...

Posted by Gregory at 03:56 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Syria and Iran

To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act - and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium re-processing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq. That country is a vital front in the war on terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there. Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq, so we do not have to face them here at home. And the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region, and thereby lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Nothing really new on Iran. On Syria, a country that normally doesn't get big billing in SOTU's, the rhetoric hotted up a bit. This is, in my view, mostly a result of concerns about the Syrian-Iraqi border remaining too porous and that a good number of Iraqi Baathists have found refuge in Syria and are funneling cash back to insurgents in Iraq. This was a very public warning to Bashar, on top of many he has already been getting from a variety of American visitors to Damascus. Still, and like with Egypt and Saudi, I see some policy adjustments, but no major new initiatives with regard to either Syria or Iran in the next year. That said, it was interesting to see Bush note that the Iranian "regime" must give up it's nuclear program--not Iran writ large. This was smart, as it set up a sharper contrast between his call for the Iranian "people" to claim their liberty from the "regime." The enemy, put differently, is not some 'axis of evil' country but, very specifically, the hard-line Mullahs. But would Bush tolerate a secularist, democratic and nuclear Iran?

Posted by Gregory at 03:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Egypt and Saudi Arabia

To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

Realism rather than any full-blown, neo-Wilsonian exuberance. This was simply an acknowledgement that there can be no sustainable progress towards full, regional democratization without moving Egypt and Saudi Arabia along the path some too. I don't expect any mega-policy shifts with regard to either country. Still, this may signal more Ray Takeyh-ish pressure points on Saudi and/or Egypt. Of course, Mubarak and Abdullah (and Bandar) will be sure to have taken note. Truth be told, it was wise to include this reference to these two critical Arab states. Again, region-wide democratization cannot be successful, over the long-term, without further material liberalization in both Cairo and Riyadh. So why not come out and say that? Still, these are complex briefs. And progress with these countries will be intimately related to, not only developments on the Israeli-Palestinian front, but also on how Iraq plays out.

Posted by Gregory at 03:28 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SOTU Theater

I find myself with mixed feelings seeing the protracted embrace between the Iraqi woman and the mother of the felled soldier. On the one hand, the iconography is powerful and moving--a poignant reminder that the sacrifices of our soldiers have not necessarily been in vain. On the other, I recoil from the overt sentimentalism and saccharine-infused theater. On the one hand, my heart is touched by the evident pride of the parents and the honor and pageantry of the moment. And, on the other, I think of the other 364 nights a year they will spend alone in a remote Texan hamlet called Pflugerville--the grandiosity of the SOTU but a distant memory--and the lost son an omnipresent one. That said, deep down, I didn't feel the parents were used in any way. Bush looked truly moved, the parents seemed bolstered somehow by the appreciative cries of thanks, the Iraqi woman didn't appear to be faking it. The symbolism was powerful and, to a fashion, genuine. And isn't so much of politics about theater? But at least this set piece smelled true and was, all told, an elegant moment that skirted, but avoided, spilling into total mawkishness.

UPDATE: In comments, I'm told, Pflugerville is not a "remote Texan hamlet" but a "thriving suburb of Austin". Who knew? Memo to B.D.: Go West man! West of the Hudson, that is...

I'm also admonished, correctly, for not fully understanding the feelings of the deceased soldier's parents. I largely agree with Jason's comment below. Thanks for the added perspective.

Posted by Gregory at 03:07 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

SOTU Blogging

Internet connectivity appears a bit spotty at the hotel tonight. Assuming it holds up, expect at least a little SOTU analysis later. And, if you're on-line and over here, feel free to drop a comment on how you think he is doing. Back later, I hope.

Posted by Gregory at 01:37 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 02, 2005

Saddam Sympathy Watch

Over at the LRB, Eliot Weinberger, in a hugely tiresome and sophomoric litany of anti-American invective entitled "What I Heard About Iraq", concludes:

"I heard that Saddam Hussein, in solitary confinement, was spending his time writing poetry, reading the Koran, eating cookies and muffins, and taking care of some bushes and shrubs. I heard that he had placed a circle of white stones around a small plum tree."

Oh, and Weinberger also "heard":

"I heard that 5 per cent of eligible voters had registered for the coming elections."

But did you 'hear', Eliot? It was, like, 60%.

Posted by Gregory at 05:01 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Democratization in the Arab World: Ways Ahead?

Ray Takeyh writing in the National Interest:

It is customary for U.S. officials to cite the successful campaign of unseating the autocracies of eastern Europe as the necessary paradigm for political change in the Arab world. Yet despite a bipartisan consensus, America's democratization efforts in the Middle East have historically eschewed any vigorous promotion of reform in favor of offering technical assistance. Instead of utilizing intensive diplomatic and economic pressure to force reluctant states to comply with reform criteria, successive U.S. administrations have opted for dialogue with the incumbent regimes. The region's leaders, far from being viewed as the main obstacles to reform, are often seen as the necessary partners in a shared progressive enterprise. And so Washington's strategy of political change, endorsed by both parties, follows a well-worn path of promoting liberalization rather than genuine democratization. And as a result, a strategy of incremental liberalization necessarily conforms to the parameters established by the incumbent regimes.

Herein lies the fundamental weakness of America's approach. Washington has erred in its assumption that the region's ruling elites are prepared to initiate reforms but merely lack the expertise with which to carry them out. That misconception is evident in the proposals envisioned by the State Department, which emphasize technical assistance--aid to legislatures, training and exchange programs for civil servants, election monitors and so on.

The central dilemma of the Arab political order is not unfamiliarity with the process of political competition, but an entrenched elite that is determined to retain power. No amount of technical assistance can overcome that reality. This is not to say that the region's elites are unaware of the need for change and adaptation. Yet most Middle Eastern leaders--hereditary monarchs, revolutionary mullahs and perpetual presidents alike--are more attracted to the Chinese model, which seems to offer the promise of economic growth and development without displacing any of the political prerogatives of the ruling regime. This is not to downplay the value of the Arab world moving along a Chinese path. Liberal autocracies would certainly be an improvement over politically repressive, economically stagnant regimes--but they would not be functioning democracies.

It would be a mistake to claim that there have been no reforms in the Arab world. Indeed, since the end of the Gulf War, a number of authoritarian states in the Middle East have undertaken programs of guided, selective liberalization. Although democracy advocates routinely acclaim measured liberalization as a necessary prelude to democratization, in the Middle East such liberal autocracy seems to be an end in itself. In such an order, the rulers may eschew full-scale authoritarianism for a system that offers periodic openings in response to a variety of social, political and strategic challenges. Despite its tolerant pretensions, this governing structure lays down clear "red lines", ensuring that the prerogatives of the executive are not circumscribed by legislation and judicial oversight. A liberal autocracy may hold elections and countenance critical media, but all actors must agree to the rules promulgated by leaders who remain unaccountable. Far from challenging the reigning autocrats, the current partnership actually complements their survival strategies. [emphasis added]

I think this is all largely true. And, on the "one man, one vote, one time" fear--Takeyh appears relatively sanguine:

As with most ideological tendencies, the complexion of Islamism is changing, as more temperate forces are assuming the leadership of this movement. In states as varied as Turkey, Morocco and Bahrain, moderate Islamist parties are coming to the forefront, calling for participation in the political process as opposed to waging violent campaigns against the state. Indeed, beyond the glare of Western media, a subtle intellectual transformation is underway in many Islamist circles, with leading figures such as Iran's Muhammad Khatami or Egypt's Hassan Hanafi calling for harmonization of Islamic injunctions with democratic precepts. To be sure, given the retaliatory power of the state and the inability of radical Islamists to dislodge the regimes through violence in the early 1990s, such reconsiderations may seem a tactical concession to an altered balance of power. Nonetheless, the inclination of many Islamists to reconsider their ideological strategies should not be discounted. De-radicalization is not a new trend, as leftist forces in Latin America moderated their objectives once presented with the opportunity to participate in the political process. Once part of the governing order, the imperative of getting re-elected led many leftists to actually abandon their disruptive and costly utopian schemes in search of more practical solutions to their societies' conundrums. It is time to test the premise of "moderate Islam" and not continuously invoke the Algerian trauma as a justification for prolonging a deficient autocratic rule...

I think it is becoming increasingly clear that al-Qaeda's brand of nihilistic fanaticism is alienating, more than attracting, the Muslim masses. This is a controversial area, and there is much CW that Bush banged the bee-hive of Islamic fanaticism because of Iraq and so on, but my take is that the winds are going out of UBL and ilks sails of late. Nor did the successful Iraqi elections help Al Qaeda much, of course.

Regarding other aspects of Takeyh's article, I agree that State has, perhaps, too often focused on the latest NGO programs and such as a barometer of success--initiatives that do not cross "red lines" and are in accordance with the "survival strategies" of liberal autocrats like, say, Mubarak. And B.D., for a while now, has argued for using the West's economic leverage to link economic assistance to real political reforms.

But what more can we do? In Iraq, of course, we are proceeding full-bore on democratization. But what of Egypt? Saudi Arabia? I think Takeyh is right that we need to start thinking very seriously about a) tangible curbs on executive power and b) fostering independent judicaries. Indeed, both such ostensibly legal/political reforms have major economic impact too. What businessperson is ever wholly comfortable (unless acting solely in lock-step with local elites) doing deals in environments where the executive is omnipotent or the local judges corrupt? Perhaps, as an intermediate step, such prospective legal/political reforms should be more linked to free-trade style initiatives like the Barcelona Process (only taken more seriously--with a robust U.S. role in tandem with our Euro partners, monitored closely, with more carrots and sticks brought to bear systematically).


Throughout the region, the current constitutions enshrine the power of the executive and immunize him from any challenge to his prerogatives. Monarchs and presidents stand in a privileged position, as their decisions are unencumbered by either parliamentary legislation or judicial verdict. Moreover, many Arab constitutions deliberately undermine the power of the legislative branch by granting the executive the right to appoint an upper chamber that can obstruct parliamentary initiatives. Free elections to such emasculated institutions will not pave the way for emergence of a democratic order, as the existing constitutional provisions effectively strangle any viable reform project.

The second imperative of democratic change is an independent judiciary. Throughout the Middle East, the judiciary is staffed by the compliant agents of the executive, and the courts have been used to prevent media outlets and pro-democracy forces from organizing. Any attempt to create political parties in the region is routinely denied legal sanction by the judiciary. Although the security services are often decried for their abuses, it is the judiciary that provides the legal cover for the arrest of dissidents and closure of newspapers. Iran is the case study of how a cynical judiciary working in conjunction with the unelected branches of government can effectively undermine a progressive regime and its reformist agenda. Through its contrived procedures and arbitrary verdicts, Iran's judiciary effectively silenced the region's most vibrant press and subverted parliamentary initiatives. The lesson of Iran is that in the absence of legal reform and independent judges, the hegemony of the unelected institutions is unlikely to be disturbed.

Readers are invited to comment on Takeyh's piece--particularly with regard to how to move liberal autocratic societies towards real democratization. I think, at this juncture (and Iraq aside), we are mostly pursuing a gradualist course--seeking small improvements within the 'red lines' we informally agreed with the leaders in the region. Given how disorienting the massive changes taking place in Iraq right now, a bit of caution in not forging ahead too strongly in other countries might make sense in the short term. The cup runneth over and all that. Still, however, we need to be thinking about a mid-term strategy for moving, in calibrated fashion, the momentum of Iraq (should the political governance structures there stabilize) so as to help shoehorn this precedent into further democratizing liberal autocracies in the region. To tee that up, I mostly agree with Takeyh that we should get more serious about linking aid and the extension of diplomatic prestige to governments in the region that are, in return, agreeing to real, material curbs on executive power; the fostering of increasingly independent judicaries, to the allowance of parliaments unshackled from upper chambers solely answerable to the executive, to more profound economic moves towards liberalization. No, that doesn't mean wholly abandoning incrementalism, NGO's, civil society groups--but, as Takeyh points out, it's ultimately free political parties that will prove effective in introducing real democratization in the region. And, for political parties to flourish, curbs on executive power and free courts are pretty important prerequisites.

Posted by Gregory at 03:43 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

How Wide the Blogosphere

A blog, Waiter Rant, dedicated to assorted shout-outs and grievances afflicting New York City's oft-disgruntled bars and restaurants workers...

Snippets from the front lines:

I was thinking about writing this long involved essay on tipping. I struggled with it for hours and then gave up. You know why? Because most of you are smart enough to know a waiter is supposed to get at least a 15% gratuity. Just let the following horror stories speak for themselves...

--A table’s bill is $208.85. It’s a four top. They have a $100 gift certificate. They ask me to deduct the gift amount and split the remainder between two credit cards. I present the men with credit card slips for $54.42 and $54.43. The tips are $8.16 and $8.17 respectively. They screw me down to the penny...

--A couple’s on a first date. The check is $150. The man leaves me $12. I’m pissed. His date passes me on the way to the ladies room.

“Just out of curiosity what did he leave you as a tip?” she asks.

I happily show her the credit card slip.

“What a cheap *^*&^,” she exclaims. She goes back to the table and angrily tells her date what a cheapskate he is. I guess he’s not getting lucky tonight. Come to think of it I saw her at the bar alone later.

--My all time favorite. A Birkenstock shod hippie couple’s check is $55. I present them with the bill.

“Waiter we don’t tip because we believe that would force owners to pay you a living wage,” Deadhead proclaims proudly.

I stare at him silently. My look says, “And you should tip me if you want to keep on living.” He squirms uncomfortably.

“Well maybe just this once” he says counting out a few bills.

“Thank you sir.”

Posted by Gregory at 03:27 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Good News..

... for the Republicans.

Posted by Gregory at 02:48 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 01, 2005

Three Bets, Three Wins

Fouad Ajami:

Q: What are your first thoughts in the wake of Sunday's elections in Iraq?

A: It reminded me of just a few weeks ago when people were celebrating the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine. The spectacle of ordinary Iraqis; old women, old men, Iraqis returning from far away to vote, people holding up their forefingers dipped in purple ink, gave the lie to the idea that democracy is alien or need be alien to this region. I got up this morning and decided, because I knew I was going to be talking to you, that I would pick up the Arabic press and see how the election was covered to get a sense of how the region responded to this dramatic and big event.

Q: How did they respond?

A: It was interesting. I would have to say the most shameful of all the responses came from the Egyptians, from the leading paper of the regime of [President] Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak was one of the three people in the region that President Bush called to discuss the Iraqi election; the other two being King Abdullah II of Jordan and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

In the lead paper of Egypt, Al Ahram, the elections were treated as some marginal event. The front page went, of course, to Mubarak who was attending a conference of the Organization for African Unity in Abuja, Nigeria. It was as if Mubarak wanted to shield his country from the effect of this Iraqi revolution.

On the other side, the elections received remarkable coverage from a paper which is undergoing a tremendous revolution, I think, in the way it thinks about the world and covers the world. It's a very influential paper, Asharq Al Awsat, a Saudi-owned paper that's published in London. It was exuberant over the election. The front page was celebratory. The huge banner headline said, "Iraqis Vote for Iraq." And the two pictures on the front page were of a man holding his forefinger with the purple ink and a woman looking and studying her ballot, perhaps a woman who may even be unable to read, who may actually vote with her thumbprint.

These two responses tell you the story that, among some Arabs, there is a kind of celebration of the freedom of Iraq. And then there is this other approach to the elections of Iraq, a fear of what this election would mean for other Arabs, with a determination to show, of course, that it was just another violent day in Iraq. Mubarak and his press, in my opinion, disgraced themselves. In the midst of history being made in Iraq, you have a situation where Mubarak himself is preparing to run for another six-year term to bring it to thirty years in office. So, he is in the middle of preparing for his own uncontested election.

Juan Cole's reaction, say, was much more al Ahram than Asharq Al Awsat, no? But what is he shielding us from? The possibility, just maybe, that Bush's policies in Iraq could bear fruit? On that note, don't miss this part of Ajami's interview:

Q: Let's talk about the United States, where President Bush is having a lucky streak.

You know, he's made three bets and he's won three times. He made a bet in Afghanistan there would be elections. He made a bet in Palestine that he would not have to deal with [former Palestinian Authority President Yasir] Arafat. The death of Arafat and the success of [president of the Palestinian Authority] Abu Mazen in the elections earlier in January were a vindication of the Bush policy. Now come the elections in Iraq.

Here is the president, a few days earlier, being ridiculed by the "realists" and by other people presumably "in the know" when he said he had planted the flag of liberty firmly, and people ridiculed him for saying he had planted a flag of liberty in Iraq, of all places. Well, now the elections vindicate him. But, I add, there is much danger for this policy still. The victory is not total and final, but grant this administration these three good outcomes--Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq.

I think the Iraq elections bought time for our president, not only on the ground in Iraq, but I generally believe they bought him time in the United States. It was almost like we as Americans had grown estranged from the people of Iraq. We came to doubt them. We got used to seeing them in a foul mood. We didn't see enough gratitude on the ground in Iraq. For a fleeting moment, today, January 31, in the immediate aftermath of the election, it seems as though we've closed a circle. We've gone back to that dramatic day, April 9, 2003, when that statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Firdos Square [in Baghdad]. We now seem to be bonded with the Iraqis because they were doing the most American of things, voting. There were election banners, there were these simple men and women, peasants, the marsh Arabs, Kurdish mountaineers, all voting.

You could almost forgive our President if he were to say: "I told you so. I said that I planted the flag of freedom and I planted the flag of liberty." So, I think the news from Iraq is a vindication of this policy. It doesn't tell us that the gospel of liberty is going to sweep the Arab world, but I think it does buy time for the policy. It does re-hook the American people to Iraq. It tells them something good can come out of Iraq. The elections came at about the time we passed 1,400 U.S. fatalities in Iraq. We have paid a terrible price, a heavy price in Iraq, but the elections vindicate and redeem the policy-- there is no doubt about it.

P.S. Chill out on the Sunnis--it just might be O.K.

A lot of people have been predicting that now that the election is over, there will be a big effort to bring the Sunnis into the constitution-writing process.

Everyone I've spoken to in Iraq, Kurdish leaders and Shiite leaders alike, will tell you no one has any intention to put together a new political process in Iraq that eliminates the Sunni Arabs. The Sunni Arabs will have a place at the table. By the way, no one really knows for sure what the Sunni Arabs are as a percentage of the population. I've seen figures as low as 13%. I've seen figures as high as 20%. So, cut it any which way you want, the Sunni Arabs are at best 20%, at worst 13% of the population of Iraq.

No, the betting hasn't played out. This effort will be counted in years. But so far, we are doing well indeed. If we can strike a peace deal in the Holy Land by '08, stabilize Iraq under moderate Shi'a rule, integrate southeast Afghanistan under central government rule and moderate the behaviour of warlords like Dostum and Khan, begin to bring economic and political reforms, in collaborative fashion rather than at the barrel of a gun, to the Egypts and Saudis of the region--what massive progress this will portend in the conflict against radical Islam. And, yes, it's within grasp. There will be many setbacks--but I feel the broad direction of history is at our backs--at least at this juncture. These are exciting times indeed. A tad giddy, here? Perhaps. But if Asia and Europe could become largely democratic after the turbulence of communism, nationalism and fascism, well, why can't the Middle East after decades of authoritarianism? Yes, these are largely pre-Englightenment societies. But they instinctually hungered and were jubilant at the exercise of their newfound electoral freedoms--without having read their Montesquieu or Rousseau. It's called basic human dignity--and Bush's policies in Iraq just provided some to millions of heretofore disenfranchised Iraqis. Yes, there has been woeful carnage and suffering aplenty. But that is sometimes the price of large forward strides in history's evolution towards freer societies, alas. Look, all this could still prove a horrific disaster, of course, if elections ulimately set off uncontrollable factionalism, civil strife, anarchy. The road ahead remains perilous indeed. But I believe we have much leverage over reining in the maximalist agendas of all the key actors in Iraq--and therefore think we have a materially better than even shot at keep this thing together. Indeed, I think there is a decent shot Iraq might be a viable democracy in, say, 10 or so years. That, undeniably, would be an epoch-making event and a major positive in the region and, indeed, for the world. If that occurs, the names Bush and Blair will be remembered quite kindly by History, despite all the vitriolic denunciations heaped at them by large swaths of their respective publics.

Posted by Gregory at 07:02 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Philly's Enfant Terrible Espies an Elephant

The elephant in the living room is of course the high probability that even if things work out wonderfully, and the security situation improves, the Bushies still intend to maintain a significant permanent presence in Iraq. Is that true? I don't know. But it's time for somebody to start asking.

Duncan Black, clumsily and transparently moving goalposts, all the while displaying an ignorance that truly impresses (policy planners are bent over backwards trying to figure out an exit strategy--Duncan Black decides it's time someone start pondering whether we are plotting a "significant permanent presence" in Mesopotamia). And, easily impressionable, he approvingly links a blogger advocating a pre-determined timeframe for withdrawal. The better to signal to our foes how long to wait us out--and thereby very misguidedly suggesting that such a course will prevent insurgents from declaring victory because we 'chose' the timing of the (premature) exit.

This is why so many center-left Democrats simply can't be trusted with the apparatus of national security policy making. They just don't get it. A telegraphed exit is stupid policy, of course. And does anyone seriously believe we are going to scuttle our wider war aims in the conflict against radical Islam--by leaving sizable bases in Iraq after they are no longer needed (handing a propaganda victory to jihadists and conspiracy mongers through the region)? The reality, of course, is that forces will be needed there for a good while yet. But, if we are lucky enough to stabilize Iraq as a unitary, democratic polity--I have no doubt the vast majority of our forces will leave and that we won't leave permanent garrisons behind. Black is merely, and very amateurishly and obviously, setting up his next line of attack (neo-colonialist aggression! perma-bases dude!) because he can't rant on quite as much about some Tet on the Tigris after yesterday's setback to the insurgents. Sad.

P.S. Memo (second) to Duncan: The "elephant in the living room is of course" the hugely significant election that just took place in Iraq--as every serious observer realizes in spades. Sorry, because we try to pretend we're high-brow over here, and keep the snark on the down-low, but again: Get. Head. Out. Of. Ass. Fast. Cuz you're making a fool out of yourself pal.

Posted by Gregory at 06:05 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack


John Burns:

The chief United Nations election adviser here in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, said the vote count at the polling places had been completed by Monday afternoon at all but a handful of centers, including some in Nineveh Province, centered on the northern city of Mosul, one of the places where Sunni voters in surprising numbers defied insurgent threats to kill voters.

Mr. Valenzuela, a 46-year-old Colombian, spoke of the "euphoria" that those involved in organizing the elections felt as reports started coming in on Sunday of the high voter turnout. There had been emergency plans to cancel the election if rebel attacks on polling stations got out of hand, he said.

"We were all very worried about security," he said. "Would people really be so scared that they wouldn't come out and vote?"

"Euphoria." Not from unilateralist Chimperor. From the chief United Nations election advisor in Iraq.

And the Sunni angle:

But as more details emerged of the pattern of voting, it remained uncertain how widespread Sunni voting in those areas had been. Both Mr. Valenzuela and Mr. Ayar, the election commission chief, spoke of higher-than-expected turnouts in Babil, Anbar, Diyala and Nineveh, and described lines at polling stations in cities that have seen major insurgent violence, including Falluja, Baquba and Mosul.

But other reports said that polling centers in Samarra, another trouble center north of Baghdad, as well as in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, had been largely deserted, and that the turnout in Baquba, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population, had been about 30 percent. Still, Mr. Ayar said, "there were no cities with no votes."

But he cautioned against the notion that the Sunni turnout in the troubled areas had been that high. "Everyone says it was better than what we expected," he said. "However, the expectations were very low. So it really doesn't mean very much, does it?"

If the Sunni vote nears (or, dare we hope, tops) 30% it will mean quite a lot, actually. And who would have even begun to fathom the possibility that lines would be forming to vote in Fallujah, for instance? Really, who?

Posted by Gregory at 05:27 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Churchill Chronicles

My brother Michael was killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th. I am absolutely disgusted that Hamilton College would invite and pay a person with the hurtful views of Ward Churchill to address your student body. He is on the record for having written horrible things about the victims who are in no position to defend themselves. Does one deserve to be killed for working for a profit making company? If so, 90% of Americans are not innocent and deserve to be murdered. This is absurd and the fact that Hamilton College would support the dissemination of this type of view point does a great disservice to your school and lowers the school's reputation in the eyes of many. As a lawyer I have always been a big supporter of the First Amendment and I am all in favor of the free exchange of ideas. Mr. Churchill is protected in speaking as he has on this topic. However, this has NOTHING to do with the First Amendment. The First Amendment does not require you to invite, pay and give a stage and an audience to someone whose views are so hurtful to so many. I feel horrible for poor Matt Coppo, a Hamilton student whose father was killed in the attacks. Your blatant disregard for your own students is appalling! It is really unimaginable the hurt that he must feel to have his own college do such a thing. I have many friends who are Hamilton Alumni. They have heard from me on this issue and have told me that they are equally appalled. This type of thing can hurt a college's reputation for many years. I hope you think better of following through with this.

Hundreds more passionate E-mails over at Hamilton's main website. Is Ward Churchill really getting paid to give his little talk? Why not invite some Neo-Nazis and Klansmen too, while they're at it? And give 'em a few greenbacks to boot. Regardless, whether or not he's getting paid is a side show. The campus is atwitter, free speech is being defended! They're moving the speech to a big hall for all the extra curiosity-seekers! Another great moment in the annals of the dumbing down of higher education...the Jerry Springerization of the Academy.

Oh, don't miss this website publicizing "The Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society and Culture" as they present their little “Limits of Dissent?" shindig. Of Ward Churchill, it is said: "According to audience members, Churchill, who is known for his fiery style of delivery, 'tells it like it is' and can shake up the received opinions of many." You can't make this sh*t up.

Meanwhile, Churchill has resigned (under pressure) as department chair of the "Ethnic" Studies department at U Colorado. Good, but not enough--as he's a deeply disingenuous scoundrel. Check out his statement today defending himself:

I am not a "defender" of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy.

Really? What's this then?

In sum one can discern a certain optimism – it might even be call humanitarianism – imbedded in the thinking of those who presided over the very limited actions conducted on September 11. Their logic seems to have devolved upon the notion that the American people have condoned what has been/is being done in their name – indeed, are to a significant extent actively complicit in it – mainly because they have no idea what it feels like to be on the receiving end. Now they do. That was the "medicinal" aspect of the attacks. To all appearances, the idea is now to give the tonic a little time to take effect, jolting Americans into the realization that the sort of pain they're now experiencing first-hand is no different from – or the least bit more excruciating than – that which they've been so cavalier in causing others, and thus to respond appropriately. More bluntly, the hope was – and maybe still is – that Americans, stripped of their presumed immunity from incurring any real consequences for their behavior, would comprehend and act upon a formulation as uncomplicated as "stop killing our kids, if you want your own to be safe." Either way, it's a kind of "reality therapy" approach, designed to afford the American people a chance to finally "do the right thing" on their own, without further coaxing.

Sounds like cheerleading the 9/11 attacks to me.

Still, not convinced? Don't miss this 2004 interview with Ward Churchill:

Q: What are some of the solutions? Extreme events, like 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, have mobilized people out of such complacency, albeit temporarily.

A: I don’t have a ready answer for that. One of the things I’ve suggested is that it may be that more 9/11s are necessary. This seems like such a no-brainer that I hate to frame it in terms of actual transformation of consciousness. ‘Hey those brown-skinned folks dying in the millions in order to maintain this way of life, they can wait forever for those who purport to be the opposition here to find some personally comfortable and pure manner of affecting the kind of transformation that brings not just lethal but genocidal processes to a halt.’ They have no obligation—moral, ethical, legal or otherwise—to sit on their thumbs while the opposition here dithers about doing anything to change the system. So it’s removing the sense of—and right to—impunity from the American opposition.

Ah, he never said "should." He only "suggested." And described 9/11 as an act of "humanitarianism". As I said, a disingenuous scoundrel of the lowest order. Oh, don't miss Churchill's very own "Eichmann defense":

Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.

It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that's my point. It's no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name.

Do you feel like taking a long, hot shower after reading this? You're not alone. B.D. does too.

Posted by Gregory at 04:10 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Hey Greg, Pass the Scotch...

B.D's being accused of blogging under the influence!

P.S. It's not true. Promise. (But this old post from 2003, if memory serves, may have been by way of a quasi-hungover dispatch).

UPDATE: Self-parody watch: "A small precaution: I am convinced of the essential epistemological correctness of anti-foundationalism."

Click through for more navel-gazing from a "free-floating intellectual." (Bonus: He's Berkeley-based!)

MORE: A philosopher prof writes in:

Is that guy a friend of yours? He sounds like a blowhard.

I cite:

"Moreover, it's pretty much hopeless to try to prove such a link, because the nature of irony and anti-foundationalism is that it occupies a null space: it demands silence as to positivity. Inasmuch as anti-foundationalism question all verities and destabilizes certainties, it should be pretty obvious that by definition it cannot be tied to any single set of positive beliefs".

Silence as to positivity! Whoohoo! In case you need a philosophy prof to tell you this, that is crap. You weren't saying that these lefty people drew direct logical inferences from postmodern theory (pity them if they tried!) You were saying that they were influenced in one way or another by it. Does this guy think that postmodern thought can't influence people? That it can't become associated, however loosely, with some political beliefs? Please. "Noooo, the text stands there in silence like a mocking mime!" Wasn't part of your point that PM's 'relentless silence as to positivity' made people suspicious of grand, optimistic visions? I also love Sullivan as the example of the ironic right-winger. No true ironist would post that sappy photo montage of the troops like he did the other day.

That said, I did think you went off the handle a bit in that post. I would have guessed it was blind rage at Ward Churchill, but maybe scotch is the better explanation.

Ward, not Johnnie, was to blame!

Posted by Gregory at 02:08 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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