March 31, 2005

Yglesias' Iraq Policy Prescriptions: Short-Sighted and Wrong

Time to talk turkey with the estimable Matt Y re: troop levels in Iraq. He writes:

Ah okay. I don't have a really specific view about the appropriate short-term troop level. What I would say is this. It's vital to establish a commitment to long-term withdrawal, which would have the following elements: No permanent bases, a target date for zeroing out the American deployment, and a set of feasible benchmarks for interim withdrawals. This commitment should be combined with a non-trivial short-term withdrawal as a token of good faith and bona fide commitment to the plan.

As I've written to Matt, I think telegraphing an exit date is a terrible idea. It provides succor to insurgents (and neighbors in the region, shall we say, not favorably disposed to our interests) to simply wait us out. As soon as, say, Don Rumsfeld stands up at a podium and says: all American forces will be out of Iraq by year end 2007, for instance, the insurgency will immediately re-calibrate its strategy by going more into hiding, keeping their powder dry, and generally living to fight another day. Syria and Iran too may be tempted, by such a display of Clintonian non-resolve, to reappraise their strategies too. And Jihadists worldwide will spin an announced American exit date as a victory for the insurgency. Indeed, in many quarters, it would prove a propaganda coup for the jihadists and Baathist restorationists.

In an E-mail, Matt wrote back to me:

Well, on the undesirability of telegraphing an exit, I'm inclined to agree. The risk, obviously, is that you signal to the enemy that if he just lays low for X more months to make himself hard to kill, he'll be able to resurface nicely in X+1 months and then you've got all kinds of trouble. It's not a good thing to be doing. But, for the reasons I laid out, I think it's the only way to gain the Sunni participation in the political process that's absolutely vital to getting the Iraqi ship on course. [emphasis added]

Matt displays real short-sightedness here. Has it never occurred to him that today's disgruntled Sunnis, pissed off at the American occupation, might become tomorrow America-aficianados? Once the Shi'a begin to engage in displays of crude majoritarianism, once the Kurds heighten their efforts to carve out a highly autonomous republic and discriminate against Arab Sunnis in their midst (reverse Arabization!)--many Sunnis may very well want American troops to stick around to protect their interests. This doesn't seem to have occurred to Matt; but it's quite possible indeed and not far-fetched fare by any measure. In addition, of course, all the vying ethnic/religious factions need adult supervision right now. The risk of civil war, as some who know much more about foreign policy than Matt or I believe (see Les Gelb, for instance), remains quite a strong risk factor going forward (though overstated in my view, as I've argued contra Matt in the past). This is why, even now during a feverish (if diminishing) counter-insurgency aimed mostly at Sunnis, some Sunnis are saying: 'hey, let the Americans stay in their bases--just get them out of their towns.' Translation: they're not dumb. They realize what havoc and instability could be unleashed if a precipitous American withdrawal were to take place. They realize the specter of Shi'a revanchism could have them grateful indeed to have U.S. G.I.s in their midst. Indeed, and as is clear from the linked New York Times article, there is some rollback in the Sunni "Americans Out!" position of late:

There are indications that Mr. Dari may be softening his line. In February, the Muslim Scholars Association issued a number of conditions that would have to be met before it would endorse the writing of a constitution and the next round of elections, notably the American withdrawal and the release of all detainees from American military prisons.

On Monday, he hinted that he would be content with a timetable for American withdrawal. Some other hard-line Sunni leaders have made similar gestures.

"We do not insist that the Americans withdraw at once, as long as they stay in their bases and cease to marginalize our political life," said Ali al-Mashadani, a cleric at Ibn Taymiyya mosque in Baghdad. Some political leaders even say the Sunnis, after much bickering, are starting to show signs of a common interest.

Look for such trends to gain strength as the insurgency wanes, and Sunnis begin to espy the real threat in their midst (angry as hell Shi'a repressed for hundreds and hundreds of years).

Back to Matt:

Now to be clear, I don't want to see a precipitous, panicky, running away here [ed. note: Surtout pas!]. That means, to me, that you need to go about setting the long-term date the right way. I would suggest something like this. Condoleezza Rice and her staff make a guess about when a zero troop level situation will be viable. Call that Date X. Then add some months onto Date X and call that the Optimistic Target. Then add some more months to the Optimistic Target and call that the Final Target.

Heh. Guess Matt missed the policy-making classes at Dalton and Harvard. After you have committed the blood and treasure of a nation to the tune of 1,500 personnel and hundreds of billions of dollars; you don't just "make a guess" about a troop withdrawal date. That just ain't how the game is played bro. Not. Serious.


There are Iraqis who are nervous about our intentions on both sides. Some worry that we'll never leave and Iraq will become some kind of West Bank writ large. Others worry that we'll abandon our Iraqi allies too soon, they'll be overrun, and meet the fate of the South Lebanon Army or some such thing. You need a date designed to alleviate both of those fears. One far enough in the past as to give confidence that it isn't merely an effort to weasel away, but one firm enough as to give confidence that the need to battle the insurgency isn't merely an excuse for indefinite occupation. One can add that even after the Target is reached, the Iraqi government will continue to have (if it wants) serious financial and diplomatic support from the United States as well as support from the U.S. intelligence community and low-footprit assets that can be kept in the air, in the sea, or in outer space and that will give Iraq's security forces a clear qualitative edge over whomever they may be fighting. A short-term withdrawal is important largely for somewhat symbolic purposes -- to make it clear that as Iraqi troops are trained, American troops will be sent home, and that the whole process is on the up-and-up.

"(T)he whole process is on the up-and-up." Like Duncan 'Don't Know A Damn Thing About Lebanon' Black, alas, Matt seems overly hyped that the U.S. intends to keep permanent bases in Mesopotamia. Look, I don't think that's going to happen (I'll address that in a future post), though I do think we will have at least some bases in Iraq for probably up to a decade yet. And I agree that many in Iraq, in a nation given to conspiracy theories, are concerned Americans have neo-imperialistic designs on their nation. But the elections helped assuage much of these concerns. Further, I think it's more important to keep appropriate troop levels in country in the short-term rather than engage in "symbolic" withdrawals simply for dubious P.R. type purposes. The real 'up-and-up', the best message to the Iraqi people over the long-term, is to not do this half-assed. This means ensuring that Iraq remains a unitary, viable polity. This means U.S. forces in theater in sufficient number to help ensure this result until an adequately-sized, trained and equipped Iraqi army has proven willing to stand, fight and die for the New Iraq. This means continuing to prosecute a robust counter-insurgency campaign in the months ahead. Pulling 20,000 troops out now (keeping in mind we already have a planned reduction from 145,500 to 138,000; during the elections we had beefed up to the higher figure by not rotating some units out) is most assuredly not the right way to go at this juncture to achieve said goals. We're simply not there yet. Yes, things in Iraq are improving. A lot, even. But that doesn't automatically translate to conditions allowing for even modest troop withdrawals below the 138,000 pre-elections floor. Indeed, this article points to potential increases in forces at sensitive junctures in coming months:

The assessment of US troops requirements in Iraq must take into account potential surges in violence around key dates in Iraq's political transition over the next year, according to Lt-Gen Smith.

He suggested US forces levels may be temporarily boosted during sensitive election periods.

Under the current timetable, the Iraqi national assembly is to draft a new constitution by August 15 and have a referendum on it by October 15. If the referendum is passed elections for a permanent government would be held in December.

"Once we get through this timeframe and all that stuff, there is an opportunity to ramp down and shape our forces so that we could have a smaller force size this time next year," he said.

Lt-Gen Smith acknowledged that those dates could be delayed if the Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni communities fail to resolve their differences, but he said there will be pressure to stick to the timetable.

The timetable referred to here, of course, is not a troop withdrawal timetable (as Yglesias calls for) but a timetable for sticking to the draft constitution deadline, the referendum on said document, the elections for a permanent government. Each of these events will doubtless be an occasion for insurgent trouble-making roughly on par with their efforts during the January 30th elections. These are critical milestones and we can only assume that the insurgents will try to derail the process at every turn. I ask you, is this the time to scale back to 110,000 troops, say? Of course not. Such re-appraisals, as the Lt. General points out, could only occur around "this time next year"--once we've got a constitution in place and a permanent government elected. Put differently, we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqis as they cobble together their political governance structures and constitutional arrangements. This is critical--and we'd be sending the wrong signal to draw-down before these events move successfully ahead. It's the Kerry/Kennedy/Yglesias message, really, that we don't care too much, all told, about whether Iraq is successfully democratized.


The problem with the Djerejian/Bush strategy is encompassed by the statement "if conditions allow (ie, Sunni participation in nascent political governance structures moving in right direction; insurgency continuing to weaken) only then would there perhaps be major draw-downs in '06." What's wrong with this? Well, what's wrong with it is that if you make Sunni participation in nascent governance structures (which is necessary for the insurgency to really weaken) a condition for moving toward withdrawal, you're not going to get Sunni participation in nascent governance structures, and therefore you're never going to withdraw. Right now we're trapped in a vicious circle. Sunni participation is a condition for withdrawal, but withdrawal is a condition for Sunni participation. Somebody needs to make the first move here and get us out of the trap. In an interview yesterday with The New York Times, Sheik Harith al-Dari "made clear that he would continue to view the armed resistance as legitimate until the American military offered a clear timetable for its withdrawal - a condition very unlikely to be met." This view is rather typical of moderate Sunni Arab views in Iraq. There are, to be sure, extremists (espcially foreigners) in the country who just want to wage war against Americans and Shiites. And there are also nice cuddly moderates like Pachachi. But the al-Dari types are the key constituency. They will support a battle against an American occupation, but not a battle against a new, independent, Iraqi order. If there the insurgency is to be beaten, we need Sunni participation. If we want Sunni participation, we need al-Dari and his ilk. And if we want them, we need a plan for withdrawal as part of an intercommunal compromise.

As I said, al-Dari and ilk are, almost weekly, weakening their anti-American resolve and pronunciamentos. First, of course, they are increasingly laying down their arms after the twin blows of Fallujah and the elections. Next they clamored for all U.S. troops out. Then many of them wanted just a timetable for U.S. troops to exit. Now they maybe say they want a timetable still, but really are looking for U.S. troops to retrench to their bases (so as to, er, be around the corner in case the Shi'a come calling). Bottom line: Matt overstates the Catch-22 that Shi'a political participation can't occur with U.S. forces there. It can, and will. Not least because more and more Sunni will want the U.S. to stay.

P.S. And what would happen if we made a short-term "symbolic" withdrawal, just to look on the "up-and-up" with Sunnis who don't dig us right now, and a renewed insurgency takes root among Sadr's followers in the slums of Baghdad or Najaf? High and dry, again, a la troop-lite '03 days...and there are other contingencies a plenty too, of course. Flash points like Kirkuk. Turkish adventurism. Syrian obstinacy. Iranian troublemaking. No, this is a long struggle that will likely last through Bush's entire second term if we mean to do it right. That's not to say we won't be able to get down to 100,000 by mid-06 or so. But not for certain. Not telegraphed. And no immediate "symbolic" withdrawal just for kicks so as to risk the constitution drafting, referendum, and permanent government milestones. It's simply not smart policy for all the reasons sketched above.

Posted by Gregory at 02:37 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Political Party Talk

In case you missed...check out these op-eds on the future of America's two major political parties from a couple of our most distinguished former Senators on tap at the NYT today. Bill Bradley, offering advice to the Democrats, explains why "charisma didn't translate into structure." And John Danforth is worried about the ramifications of the Schiavo affair for the Republican party. I think he is guilty of some hyperbole when he writes: "(b)y a series of recent initiatives, Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians." But I wholeheartedly agree with him when he writes:

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

I believe in all these principles. We want government kept small; we want no going forward Warren-style courts; we want strong defense and robust foreign policy (a mix, really, of realpolitik with some moral idealist Reaganite/Bush muscle thrown in); we want protectionism kept to a minimum, we want a strong private sector (albeit one that is soberly regulated). But we, at least Republicans that share B.D.'s worldview, we don't want the Bill Frists and Tom DeLays hijacking the party with sensationalist grandstanding about some supposed "culture of life." Religion is important, to be sure. And moral values matter too. But some of the chest-beating about stem cell research or the Schiavo case is a step too far. Let's keep in mind too, in all of this, that a majority of Americans, repeated polling data shows, would prefer not to be kept alive if they were in a persistent vegetative state. Which Schiavo, it bears repeating yet again, has been in for some 15 years.

This aside, the courts have spoken. Shall we usurp the Constitution, whenever we find the results unappealing? Is this the voice of conservatism? Of course not. It's more Robespierre than Burke. No, it is time to move on from this horrific media circus and for the party to mollify some of its evangelical fervor. I'm no naif, and I well realize that keeping activist Christians supportive of the party is critical. But that doesn't mean we have to turn the keys over to them--that they have carte blanche to hijack the party's agenda. Ultimately, the Republican party must remain a great centrist party grounded in secularism--not one consumed by religiosity. No, I don't think a theocratic Republican party rife with American Ayatollahs is nigh. As I said, I think Danforth is guilty of some hyperbole. But these agenda-ridden Christian conservative media spectacles are becoming more and more frequent, aren't they? And the eager-to-please-blow-dried Santorums and Frists leave me wholly unimpressed. I prefer the Hagels, McCains, Guilianis; and, yes, just maybe, Arnold himself. Those are the kinds of Republicans B.D. is prepared to support going forward. May they prevail! And may a schism be averted through some sanity. Sanity, might I mention, like that Jeb Bush is currently displaying in Florida.

Posted by Gregory at 01:35 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

Kyrgystan's Revolutionary Stirrings Got An Assist

More nefarious American trouble-making:

Shortly before Kyrgyzstan's recent parliamentary elections, an opposition newspaper ran photographs of a palatial home under construction for the country's deeply unpopular president, Askar Akayev, helping set off widespread outrage and a popular revolt in this poor Central Asian country. The newspaper was the recipient of United States government grants and was printed on an American government-financed printing press operated by Freedom House, an American organization that describes itself as "a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world."

In addition to the United States, several European countries - Britain, the Netherlands and Norway among them - have helped underwrite programs to develop democracy and civil society in this country. The effort played a crucial role in preparing the ground for the popular uprising that swept opposition politicians to power...

...After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan quickly became an aid magnet with the highest per-capita foreign assistance level of any Central Asian nation. Among the hundreds of millions of dollars that arrived came a large slice focused on building up civil society and democratic institutions.

Most of that money came from the United States, which maintains the largest bilateral pro-democracy program in Kyrgyzstan because of the Freedom Support Act, passed by Congress in 1992 to help the former Soviet republics in their economic and democratic transitions. The money earmarked for democracy programs in Kyrgyzstan totaled about $12 million last year...

..."It would have been absolutely impossible for this to have happened without that help," said Edil Baisolov, who leads a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, referring to the uprising last week. Mr. Baisolov's organization is financed by the United States government through the National Democratic Institute.

Craig Smith in the NYT.

Sheesh. More jingoistic, neo-imperialistic empire building, doubtless. When will it end?

P.S. The U.S. played, in similar fashion, a hand in the Georgian situation. At least some Lebanese were specifically emboldened by the Iraqi elections. Pressure on Egypt has led to nascent democratization there. Ditto Saudi, if in modest fashion. Positive moves afoot in Palestine. We could go on. Look, I don't know if this maketh some 'fourth wave of democratization' or such; but there's certainly something afoot no? All just fortunate happen-stance for lucky Chimpie? Nothing at all to do with his Administration's policies, right? I report, you decide.

Posted by Gregory at 05:16 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Ask And Ye Shall Receive

We ask all wise men in the American nation to advise the administration to leave this country," he said. "It would save much blood and suffering for the Iraqi and American people.

Sheik Harith al-Dari, a prominent Iraqi Sunni, as quoted in the New York Times.

Well, at least one wise man has taken up the call! Matt Yglesias is taking the Sunni pulse and feels a troop draw-down and time table for withdrawal is the only way to go. He's wrong, of course. I'll have the gory details soon (no time tonight).

Posted by Gregory at 04:50 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

No More Lawyer Jokes!

Sanity from a FSO. Hurrah! (he even manages a good word for us lawyers...).

Posted by Gregory at 05:22 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Paging A Reality Check

Heh. Has anyone ever linked a weaker, recycled Bob Novak article and, voila, tried to declare game over? Read some of the comments to the linked post too (at the LAT site), keeping in mind we are not even half-way through '05. Translation: Approximately 138,000 troops in theater through the New Year at least looks to be a certitude. Thereafter, and only if conditions allow (ie, Sunni participation in nascent political governance structures moving in right direction; insurgency continuing to weaken) only then would there perhaps be major draw-downs in '06. Compare this to Matt Y and the Prospect-y crowd that advocates drawing down, say, 20,000-40,000 (my best guess of what Matt has in mind; though he doesn't deign to clue us lumpenproleteriat in to the 'right' quantum) of the forces in theater with some immediacy. No, Eric's got this one wrong. Sorry. (Yes, indeed, I'd have to eat a lot of crow if Novak had the story right. But I'm pretty confident on this one. Eric, care to wager something?)

P.S. And Eric never cares to honestly address, full-bore, what I mean by the 'abdication of responsibility laden' Clinton years. I suppose he thought, say, our Bosnia policy was just a smashing success through '92-'95 when a rag-tag bunch of Bosnian Serb genocidaires, backed up by Slobo, made a mockery of the international community's 'will'--whilst myriad human tragedies unfolded daily through the Balkans. In the meantime, POTUS twiddled his thumbs and had deep pow-wows with Dick Morris about the merits of triangulation. What great days those! Bring 'em back soonest! Our risible involvements in Haiti and Somalia were embarrassments too, of course. And yes, al-Qaeda and friends were observing all this abdication as far as the eye could see around the globe. And drawing the obvious conclusions. That America was, in many ways, a paper tiger and that bloodying her nose here and there could be done with near impunity (read: the odd pin-prick cruise missile attack in some deserted hamlet; and only after the lawyers [but is Warren on board?] had given the all clear). Call it the Clinton effect. C'etait pas serieux, as they say. And I'm quite happy indeed that it's over. And so, increasingly, are many Iraqis too likely.

Posted by Gregory at 04:02 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

B.D's Internal Polling

OK, so after a rapid-fire, back of the envelope tally of the first 100 comments to this query (probably just around 3% of average daily unique visits so I'm not sure how representative the sample is) I can report that B.D.'s readership appears to be about 70% pro-Bush, 20-25% quite anti-the-Great-Leader, with a gaggle of unclassifiables thrown in for good measure. Well, that's a pretty good mix, I think? As I've said earlier, the point of this site isn't to throw red meat to an applause-ridden amen choir that's uber-smitten with Georgie. It's to have a debate--both with other blogs and via comments right here in this space. So, all told, I think we've got a pretty good thing going here, and I really appreciate those who took the time to add to the sample size as well as the many expressions of support. For someone in business, who is not an academic or journalist, say, I have more than my share of moments where I pause and ask myself: what am I doing here and what will random acquaintances and colleagues stumbling across this site think? Well, my employer tolerates my rantings and so that goes a long way, I suppose. But still, it's good to get a sanity check and hear support from what is clearly a very intelligent pool of readers. It makes me want to keep it up despite burning the candle at both ends and it not being a particularly orthodox hobby for someone in the corporate sector. That said, please do note that the move back to NYC (about a month or so off) will likely force a pretty significant reduction in blog production rates. But we'll get to that another day. In the meantime, business as usual with blogging typically 9 PM and on weeknights. So keep stopping by. And thanks again for the generous words of support.

Posted by Gregory at 03:28 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

He Reads; He Blogs

I meant to blog this Dexter Filkins piece but Pej beat me to it.

Posted by Gregory at 03:15 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

It's Ugly Out There

I've never really watched much television over the past decade plus save the cable news shows. Over the past several years however, at least in the U.S., even the cable news has become barely tolerable. Tonight, back at the hotel I've been living in for several months, I decided to take in CNN's prime time line up from Lou Dobbs through Anderson Cooper through Paula Zahn out of morbid curiosity. Halfway through Paula, I had to change the channel. The saccharine-infused, hyper-mawkish, predictably exploitative fare (the hidden childhood of Terri Schiavo!); the farsical news angles (Michael Schiavo's other woman!); the endless shots of a bikini-clad Terri during better days--it was all so astoundingly bad. Now on Fox, we've got Hannity and Colmes live from Pinellas Park with exhausted looking family members being asked insensitive questions about autopsies and cremation and such (memo to Fox anchors: Terri is still alive guys)--to the sounds of chanting vigil keepers in the background. It's all quite surreal, more so than Jacko's trial even, and I am dumbfounded that this cretinous fare is what boosts the ratings (it does, right?). It's truly lowest common denominator fare--and I guess if it boosts advertising revenues and share prices full speed ahead! Hell, I'd even take the Beeb over this. Needless to say, B.D.'s news consumption going forward (save on overseas trips where CNN International and the like are more tolerable--though they too are in decline) will now come solely from newspapers (NYT, WSJ, FT and WaPo), other Internet new sites and, of course, blogs. Yep, it's ugly out there--and finding refugees and safe harbors is the name of the game.

P.S. I'm not alone! For once I can agree with this blogger!

P.P.S. Yeah, I will be tuning into to Aaron Brown later. Now that's morbid curiosity!

UPDATE: Can I just say that Terri Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler, comes off very well in the face of much of the insensitive questioning (yes, Aaron Brown has just asked him about the autopsy thing). He mentions he's dealing in reality, in other words that he knows his sister is likely close to death, but understandably punts on questions like that about autopsies and instead says he is focused on still trying to save his sister's life. An eminently reasonable position under the grim circumstances, of course, and Schindler comes off as smart, frank and genteel. Which is more than can be said for many of the anchors peppering him with aggressive questions.

Posted by Gregory at 02:19 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

FT or Fleet Street?

US intelligence services are drawing up a secret watch-list of 25 countries in which instability might lead to US intervention, according to officials in charge of a new office set up to co-ordinate planning for nation-building and conflict prevention.

The list will be composed and revised every six months by the National Intelligence Council, which collates intelligence for strategic planning, according to Carlos Pascual, head of the newly formed office of reconstruction and stabilisation.

Alas, even the FT and a pro like Guy Dinmore can't escape the sensationalist tendencies of a UK press that often can't seem to shake the Fleet Street M.O. I mean, what spin to portray the (overdue) creation of a State Department nation-building and conflict-prevention office into a misleading lede that makes it sound like intervention in another 25 countries is nigh!?!

P.S. Here's the fine print at the bottom of the piece:

Although Mr Pascual, a former ambassador, will lead the co-ordination between civilian agencies and the Pentagon, officials stressed the new office did not mean the US was bent on nation-building through military action.

Mr Pascual said conflict prevention and postwar reconstruction had become a “mainstream foreign-policy challenge” because of the dangers of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Posted by Gregory at 01:23 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

A Word on the Schiavo Case

I've been accused of being callous with respect to the Schiavo case in some E-mails. Let me be clearer. I can only imagine the pain, confusion and horror that her parents must be going through. I didn't mean to demean the human tragedy that is underway. My quibble is with media and political blowhards who have turned what should be a private matter for this hapless woman and her family, to be resolved in the courts, into a cheap, agenda-ridden mega-circus. And yes, I was also concerned about encroachments of mobocracy with wild talk of Jeb sending in the cavalry to the hospice on some folly-like re-insertion-of-the-feeding-tube-mission. We have legal procedures and processes in this country. There was a complete circuit court trial to determine Schiavo's life-prolongation wishes, and the verdict was upheld at the appellate level. There were also separate opinions pursuant to various motions pursued by Schiavo's parents that mostly focused on whether Schiavo actually was in a persistent vegatative state and whether hope of some new effective treatment existed. It was judged that yes, she was in a persistent vegetative state and that no, going forward treatment could not realistically be expected to improve her condition. The Florida Supreme Court, as well as all relevant federal courts too, have denied review of the lower court proceedings. This makes me more confident that the lower courts acted competently as higher courts did not believe additional review was necessitated or might lead to materially different findings or conclusions. Michael Schiavo's motivations aside (and I've seen nothing to convincingly suggest they were or are untoward), the fact that the phrase 'Florida courts' discomforts some; or the agonizing spectacle of her tortured parents--none of these factors can change the above facts. The courts have legitimately spoken. So we are where we are. It's not pretty, and there's a lot of emotion in the air this Easter season, but if we believe in the rule of law rather than the rule of the mob we find ourselves now contemplating Schiavo's last days. I leave it to others to decide whether turning her into a poster-child for the 'culture of life' as the Bill Frists and the Tom DeLays of the world have done is demeaning to her human dignity--or something that she would have welcomed.

Finally, a quote from the Second District Court of Appeals:

In the final analysis, the difficult question that faced the trial court was whether Theresa Marie Schindler Schiavo, not after a few weeks in a coma, but after ten years in a persistent vegetative state that has robbed her of most of her cerebrum and all but the most instinctive of neurological functions, with no hope of a medical cure but with sufficient money and strength of body to live indefinitely, would choose to continue the constant nursing care and the supporting tubes in hopes that a miracle would somehow recreate her missing brain tissue, or whether she would wish to permit a natural death process to take its course and for her family members and loved ones to be free to continue their lives. After due consideration, we conclude that the trial judge had clear and convincing evidence to answer this question as he did.

Again, it's about the legal process. Look, I'm hard-pressed to imagine that any right to die case has ever received the amount of due process and court time as this one has. And, scanning the opinions, I think the courts acted pretty conscientiously and professionally all told. And so, with no courts (whether in Florida or federal ones) willing to review the lower court rulings, this simply must be the end of the story.

Posted by Gregory at 08:24 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

March 27, 2005

Not All Islamists Are The Same

Clarification: Much of this post had been lost when I 'published' it which I only found out a day later. It's now corrected and should make a little more sense.

The ICG has a helpful primer on different forms of Islamism (both Shi'a and Sunni variants). On the Sunni front, the report points to three main schools of thought:

1) Political: the Islamic political movements (al-harakât al-islamiyya al-siyassiyya), exemplified by the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and its offshoots elsewhere (including Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Sudan and Syria) and by locally rooted movements such as the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) in Turkey, and the Party for Justice and Development (Parti pour la Justice et le Développement, PJD) in Morocco, whose purpose is to attain political power at the national level. These now generally accept the nation-state, operate within its constitutional framework, eschew violence (except under conditions of foreign occupation), articulate a reformist rather than revolutionary vision and invoke universal democratic norms. The characteristic actor is the party-political militant.

2) Missionary: the Islamic missions of conversion (al-da'wa), which exists in two main variants exemplified by the highly structured Tablighi movement on the one hand and the highly diffuse Salafiyya on the other. In both cases political power is not an objective; the overriding purpose is the preservation of the Muslim identity and the Islamic faith and moral order against the forces of unbelief, and the characteristic actors are missionaries (du'ah), and the 'ulama.

3) Jihadi: the Islamic armed struggle (al-jihad), which exists in three main variants: internal (combating nominally Muslim regimes considered impious); irredentist (fighting to redeem land ruled by non-Muslims or under occupation); and global (combating the West). The characteristic actor is, of course, the fighter (al-mujahid).

All of these movements, to varying degrees, pose problems for U.S. policymakers as they wage a battle against radical Islam. But, as the ICG report points out, painting all these movements with a broad brush of 'jihadist', 'radical' or, even, 'terrorist' except for those 'moderates' we can 'do business with' is too simplistic. What we must focus on like a laser is a combination of better public diplomacy (this might also sometime involve actual shifts in policy where appropriate rather than merely be relegated to the realm of 'spin' and solely the manner by which we communicate with the Islamic world--though this last is important too) and systematically taking the wind out of the sails of the most radical Islamist movements through other varied mechanisms ranging from military action to exertion of 'soft' power.

Yes Iraq, on an initial level, probably attracted more Muslims to radicalism. But, over the middle to long term, if the country stabilizes as a unitary polity and American forces ultimately leave the country--Iraq could well have served to temper more radical tendencies in the Islamic world. Worth mentioning too, the brutish fascistic violence of Zarqawi has showcased to many Muslims that jihadist fanatics don't care a whit for the blood of their co-religionists--whom they slaughter like lemmings at every opportunity. This has not gone unnoticed in the Arab world.

But back to the three main schools in Islamist thought. On the political Islamist trend, don't miss this part of the ICG report:

As a result, these movements have increasingly explicitly broken with fundamentalist perspectives. Abandoning the revolutionary utopian project of dawla islamiyya has led them to emphasise other themes, most notably the demand for justice (al-adala) and freedom (al-hurriyya). In articulating these demands, these movements have insisted that the key to their realisation is the consecration by the state of Islamic law, the Shari'a. But this insistence on Shari'a, while remaining a central feature of Islamist political agendas and rhetoric, is itself now qualified by two key elements. First, recognition of the need for Muslims to "live in harmony with their time" rather than try to recreate the original Islamic community of seventh century Medina has led these movements to insist on the need for ijtihad, the intellectual effort of interpretation, in order to establish precisely how the principles embodied in the Shari'a may best be translated into actual legislation in contemporary Muslim countries. Secondly, recognition of the need for ijtihad has led quite naturally to recognition of the need for deliberation, and thus acceptance of the role of deliberative instances representative of the community, namely representative assemblies and parliaments, in the process of law-making. This evolution in political thinking has led Islamist political movements away from theocratic conceptions of the Muslim polity, in which sovereignty (al-hakimiyya) is conceived as belonging to God alone (al-hakimiyya li-Llah), to more or less democratic conceptions which recognise that sovereignty belongs to the people. [emphasis added]

These trends, needless to say, need to be subtlely encouraged by Washington. We might not be thrilled with Shari'a precepts generally, but modernizing them and marrying them to a greater emphasis on deliberative bodies hammering out interpretations of societal laws and mores rather than having societies solely bowing to fanatical interpretations of Allah's will would be a positive development indeed. It is an obvious point, but bears stressing: Islamic radicals spurn democracy not only because of its supposed corrupting Western influences, but also because the very notion of democracy, in its empowerment of individuals, runs contra their visions of a maximalist, utopic caliphate ruled solely by some reactionary, ominopotent deity (whose diktats, of course, would be interpreted by the Zarqawi's and UBL's of the world).

Regarding the missionary school, the going will be trickier. But here too there are opportunities for the U.S. to make inroads:

Finally, it should be noted that the hegemony of Wahhabism, which has determined the profile of the contemporary Salafiyya since the 1970s, is now itself in question as a consequence of divisions within Saudi religious circles which, gestating since the late 1970s, have come into the open since 1991. The disarray of the Saudi 'ulama has several causes. Triggered by the stationing of non-Muslim troops in the Kingdom in 1990-1991 and the subsequent maintenance of U.S. military bases and personnel, it was aggravated by the vacuum in religious leadership following the deaths of leading 'ulama. At the same time, a new generation of Saudi Islamic activists has emerged, giving rise to the so-called Islamic awakening (al-Sahwa al-Islamiyya).

Influenced by both Wahhabi and non-Wahhabi (especially Muslim Brotherhood) ideas, they are aware of the need for some kind of reform in the Kingdom, are turning out to be more political than their elders, less conservative in their outlook and less wedded to Wahhabi dogma, in that some of them notably accept the national idea now being promoted by the Saudi government, including its inclusive implications for the Shiite minority. The coherence that Wahhabism gave to the Salafiyya is becoming a thing of the past. Whether this will eventually advantage the more political and modernist currents of Sunni Islamism -- e.g. a renewal of a qualified "Islamic-modernism" within the Salafiyya -- or the jihadis remains to be seen and is one of the more significant issues at stake.

Dare I suggest that the war in Iraq, which of course allowed U.S. troops to leave Saudi Arabia, may well prove helpful on this score in the years ahead?

Finally, and quite obvious, the most problematic current is that of the jihadist school. But even here there are opportunities for the U.S. to make real inroads. The good folks at the ICG point to three main trends within the jihadist school:

The jihadi tendency in contemporary Sunni Islamic activism has come to prominence in three distinct contexts and has been guided by three distinct strategic visions:

1) internal: the jihad against nominally Muslim regimes which the jihadis hold to be "impious" and thus licit targets for subversion (Egypt, Algeria, etc.); this variant of jihad has a problematical relationship to Sunni political doctrine and has clearly proved a failure in Egypt and Algeria to date;

2) irredentist: the struggle to redeem land considered to be part of Dar al-Islam from non-Muslim rule or occupation (Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao and above all Palestine). This type of struggle is sometimes the object of rivalry between nationalist forces, who may not conceive of it as a jihad at all (notably in the Palestinian case) and Islamist forces and, within the latter, between 'local' and 'international' elements, e.g. the distinction between the Afghan mujahidin and the "Arab" forces which flocked to their struggle in the 1980s; similar complexities have been discernible in other irredentist conflicts, notably Bosnia 1992-1996, Mindanao and now Iraq.

3) global: the new jihad against the West, or more specifically against the United States and its allies (first among the latter, Israel) pioneered since 1998 by al-Qaeda but now also conducted by autonomous networks benefiting from al-Qaeda's endorsement.

Regarding the internal jihadists, it is easier for young Egyptians to be radicalized about a supposed Western stooge like Mubarak given that he is an autocrat. As democractic 'breathing room' opens up in such regimes, however, isn't it quite probable to expect that painting governments as rank infidels, unpious and corrupt will be harder going given that, to a fashion, the will of the people will have played a greater role in putting them in power? I think so, and while this will be a complex dynamic indeed, I am cautiously optimistic. On the irrendentist jihadist front we can hope that, in time, outstanding territorial conflicts like Chechnya, the Occupied Territories, Kashmir etc will be sorted out in a manner that has moderates on both sides prevailing. No the much derided Middle East peace process is not some panacea for all that ails us. But to deny that it would take the winds out of the sails of much of the jihadist recruitment efforts is silly. It would be quite helpful indeed. Finally, we have the global jihadists, most dramatically of course, al-Qaeda. With them there can never be any quarter. They must be pursued with the utmost relentlessness and vigor. And the Bush administration is doing a pretty good job of it so far, imo.

P.S. Don't miss this distinction either:

The ideology of al-Qaeda is not a simple affair, and it is a serious mistake to reduce it to Wahhabism. To do so is to ignore the extent to which al-Qaeda broke with the traditional geo-political outlook of Wahhabism, which had never entered into politico-military opposition to the West and was indeed in alliance with the U.S. from 1945 onwards. Far from being a straightforward product of the Wahhabi tradition, al-Qaeda's jihad is in part rather the product of the crisis and fracturing of Wahhabism and of its relationships both to the Saudi royal family and to the U.S. since the early 1990s. To focus exclusively on the Wahhabi roots of al-Qaeda is also to ignore the crucial role of Egyptian radicalism, mediated by bin Laden's lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the eventual leader of Tanzim al-Jihad, in determining the movement's vision and strategy.

I hope to turn to the Shi'a schools of Islamist thought soon. Happy Easter to all, in the meantime.

UPDATE: My apologies, I'm just now seeing that a large part of this post never got effectively posted and was lost. I'll try to reconstitute what I had originally written which was significantly more extensive. [OK, I found the rest of the text and inserted it. Guess the wifi on Harbour Island wasn't that great after all....]

Posted by Gregory at 05:14 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

A Rash of Bombings

Irina Prentice sends an e-mail from Beirut:

21:25 and a heavy boom resounds in the city, another car bomb has gone off in the Christian area of Bouchrieh. In a rudimentary apartment housing ten Indian workers from Madras, the back windows looking onto the burning buildings have been shattered. One of the men, a cleaner by profession, has been in the neighborhood for eight years, apparently living in poor conditions. He knows most of the workers around, and to his knowledge he doesn't think there was anyone working in the burning buildings on this Saturday evening in the industrial neighborhood. All the rest of the men in the room are grouped around listening in with alert eyes.

On the street, tension is riding high, there is a scuffle between a civilian youth and the military. After a few punches, the frazzled and angered young man is released. Soldiers are voiciferously telling
people to clear the area. A wide eyed Asian fifty year old man is holding his head lying back in an ambulance while first aid
workers wrap his legs with band aids. He is clearly shell shocked.
The worst is over for tonight with but with the count of three Indian workers killed and five other people wounded.

A middle aged man, Carlos Hede, explains in French in a press gaggle that the Syrians had warned Hariri before his death that daily life would become unstable if opposition to the Syrian presence was pursued. The culprits he had in mind were clear. He reinforced his
accusation by explaining that it was no surprise that the bomb took place in an area strongly run by Christians strongly against the Syrians involvement with Lebanon.

This would be a third bomb exploding in the past ten days in another anti-Syrian area. The attack is both an act of intimidation and provocation. Regardless of who is behind the bombing campaign, it is clear it is paving the way to destabilize the country, and have impact on the economic well being of the Christian community. Hopefully the Lebanese will be able to keep there heads down, and take the brunt of the bullying without picking up weapons.

There are plenty of people who have had enough with war. One young teacher, who will remain unnamed, explained that although she had a good job, she was leaving at the end of her contract. When asked why,
she said: "I have lived through one war, and I can not go through a second. I don't want to do that to my daughter, so we are leaving." And her family: "I am torn, I have to leave, but my family will be here, and that feels terrible". But what will happen to those
who are not able to leave the country? Where will they turn when the attacks begin to take Lebanese lives?

One of the reasons I am somewhat optimistic about Lebanon is precisely the sentiments expressed by the young teacher Irina quotes above. There is massive battle fatigue in Lebanon, not least Beirut, given the traumatic, long years of civil war from 1975-1991. People are still exhausted by the horrific, protracted civil war. I was in Beirut in January of '02, and the city was well in the throes of its rebirth with much new money (much of it from the Gulf), economic reconstruction, new hotels, restaurants, nightclubs. But the wounds of the long civil war were still fresh--and you could very much feel that still. So I think that actors that step over the line in terms of pursuing actions that might destabilize the country will feel the wrath of the vast majority of Lebanese hungering for stability and national dignity. I remain optimistic that Lebanon will get through this difficult period without degenerating into renewed full-blown, civil conflict. Inshallah, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 01:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

Come Again?

Er, Laura--how is this post an apology for my anti-Rumsfeld stances or demand for accountability among higher ups beyond the assorted 'bad apples' on the torture scandal? I wrote: "thanks to the loyal Bushies who continue to hang with B.D. despite the Rummy and torture issues". I'm not retracting or apologizing for my previous criticisms--but, look, I'm well aware that I pissed a lot of people off (many emails have made this abundantly clear). Some in the "Rummy's the Man!" gang simply stopped reading me, which I suppose is their prerogative. Others have stayed and kept reading despite vehemently disagreeing with me. I'm simply saying to those last, hey: thanks for sticking around. Thanks for grappling with a blogger who often angers you but is attempting to be intellectually honest to the best of his (often limited) abilities. So I don't think it's fair of Laura to write that I feel "compelled to apologize for [my] anti-torture, anti-Rumsfeld posts." I don't, and I haven't.

Somewhat relatedly, let me mention that one of the great things about the blogosphere is that bullshit is called quickly, and your feet are held to the fire if you don't have your facts straight. And, unlike some other mediums, you find out about it mighty quick. Especially when you have a readership, for which I am deeply appreciative, that is made up of diverse points of view and independent thinkers who honestly grapple with the issues. And if they think you're full of it--unlike some blogs where comments sections often appear little more than amen choirs--they'll tell you. So, again, I'm grateful to those I've angered for continuing to come around, not least because I value their input and voice. Clear, Madame Rozen?

Posted by Gregory at 10:55 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

A Blessed 60 Years

Fred Ikle:

That event [the first use of the atomic bomb], by the way, caused a profound emotional reaction among hard-nosed, seasoned, political leaders. President Truman, Dean Acheson. It's riveting to read what they said after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And also in the second Eisenhower administration. Dwight Eisenhower himself and John Foster Dulles. And mind you, their emotional reaction was not some feeling of triumph, pride of America having built the bomb first. But a sense of deep concern and foreboding. You probably recall that right after Hiroshima and Nagasaki in '45, military historians asserted that every new powerful weapon has eventually been used in war and so they predicted the atomic bomb would also be used. Now instead we can look back on 60 years of the most extraordinary, most unique revolution in military affairs that I think you'll find anywhere in military history. Namely the uninterrupted non-use of nuclear weapons, the most powerful weapons now in the arsenals of eight countries. At first blush perhaps you'll find this point time-worn and trite. Please reconsider. It's not trite. What happened is that we all became habituated to nuclear non-use among nations. We almost assume it's the law of nature. We do not realize that we are walking on thin ice and the ice is getting thinner because of proliferation.

I'm alluding here not primarily to the often-mentioned threat of nuclear terrorism, but rather to the more pervasive instability of the international system. What I have in mind is illustrated by the agonizing choice that statesmen have to face frequently in deciding between appeasement and escalation. Rolf already referred to that. Presidents, Prime Ministers, often have to agonize, fearing they may be called another Neville Chamberlain, another Munich agreement, or fearing, conversely, that they be condemned by history for dragging the nation into another Vietnam, another quagmire. Now imagine that a serious nuclear use has suddenly occurred, say between India and Pakistan, or between Iran and Iraq, or Iran and Israel, or between North Korea and South Korea, or North Korea and Japan. If that happened, the whole global security system would be transformed within a split second, leaving no time for long consultations, whether or how to counter-attack, whether to appease or to escalate. And it would leave no solution, akin to the Cuban Missile Crisis solution, where it was possible, essentially, to restore the status quo. Once the era of non-nuclear use should end, all the strategic expectations and military plans will radically change. We remember the radical change after a much lesser event, 9/11. We look at the world differently. So do the European nations, Asian nations. But this would be a much bigger change intellectually. So what can a prudent government do? How could we get back on dry land after the thin ice of nuclear non-use suddenly has been shattered? Is it possible to be better prepared for such an awful contingency? Maybe it is. Contrary to what people read into the official 9/11 report -- read into it, not what the authors wrote into it, Secretary Lehman. What they read into it wrongly. The morning after September 11 our government was well prepared. They'd made mistakes in the past. We were well prepared not by having implemented effective measures, surely not. But in terms of our intellectual preparation thanks to the Hart/Rudman Report, the Bremer Report, and many other studies by private think tanks and government, Congress and the executive branch pretty well knew what to do on September 12, 2001. So maybe we ought to think whether we might gain a broader, more historic perspective to comprehend the enormity of what I call the most unique revolution in military affairs, the global non-use of a most powerful weapon and alas, plentiful, plentiful weapon. As long as the situation continues, we are on familiar ground. We usually refer to this familiar terrain as mutual deterrence or whatever you call it. To be sure, we are somewhat less clear about deterrence and terrorism, but it's a lesser case. [emphasis added]

We often forget how immensely lucky we have been that no atomic weaponry has been used, anywhere, since WWII for some six long decades. There was nothing foreordained about this--and there is nothing foreordained about their non-use going forward that should give us false comfort. Like Ikle, I think that we often think too much about the specter of nuclear horror emanating from an al-Qaeda like attack. This is a real risk, yes, but there remains plenty of instability in the state system itself, above and beyond the real threat of transnational terror groups, that could lead to state actors employing nuclear weaponry. Yes, the sheer horror of these weapons and doctrines like mutually assured destruction are helpful in all this in terms of deterrence. But I agree with Ikle that more thought at places like the CSIS and Brookings of the world should be given to what the world would look like, say, the day after North Korea lobbed a nuclear warhead at Osaka. It seems improbable perhaps in the extreme, but so were the Twin Towers crumbling to the ground. History is never neat and we still cannot be sure the 21st Century will be less bloody than the 20th. The specter of nuclear terrorism or state use of nuclear weaponry is one of the biggest reasons why. Above and beyond the critical attention that needs to be paid to non-proliferation regimes and efforts (would counter-proliferation be a more macho way to put it?)--more thought also needs to go into what happens if such efforts fail. A Hart-Rudman kinda report on this issue would be worthy reading indeed, no? Does anything like this exist? Please send in links if I'm missing such analyses and they are readily available.

Posted by Gregory at 10:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Happy Easter Weekend

So B.D.'s just touched down on Harbour Island for a little Easter R&R though Monday. The hotel has wifi--and I've dragged the laptop along--so blogging will continue here and there. I mean, why spend the whole day on the beach, right? Well, we'll see...

P.S. Thanks for all the feedback to this query. Still, I know there are many more of you lurking out there, so feel free to add to the sample size! In the meantime: 1) thanks to the loyal Bushies who continue to hang with B.D. despite the Rummy and torture issues; 2) thanks to the anti-Bushies for continuing to come around and sample the center-right brew with an open mind; 3) and, last but not least, thanks to all of you for well evidencing that Praktike hadn't hijacked my blog! I was getting worried...OK, back soon.

P.P.S. If you are going to add to the sample, best to do it at the original post so we've got the responses handy in one comment thread. And thanks again. You guys and gals make it all worth it! Serious.

Posted by Gregory at 12:22 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 25, 2005

"Physical Harm"

That 'presumption' thang may be hotting up:

Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, had threatened Rafik Hariri, the assassinated former Lebanese prime minister, “with physical harm” if he opposed the extension of the Lebanese presidency of Emil Lahoud, a UN inquiry said on Thursday.

Posted by Gregory at 06:31 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

An "Academic Everyman"?

Perhaps it is best to think of Churchill as our aging portrait of an academic Dorian Gray, in whom all the once-hallowed university’s vices and sins of the last half-century are now so deeply etched and lined.

VDH on Ward the Fraud.

Posted by Gregory at 06:27 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Conviction; or Base Shoring?

From the NYT (admitedly eager to paint Jebbie as a bible-thumping maniac hot on the '08 tip)

Gov. Jeb Bush's last-minute intervention in the case of Terri Schiavo, even after the president had ended his own effort to keep her alive, may have so far failed in a legal sense, but it has cemented the religious and social conservative credentials of a man whose political pedigree is huge and whose political future remains a subject of intense speculation.

But what would Prescott say? Perhaps--why are you involved in this cheap circus grandson? Keep your hands off her feeding tube and return to normally scheduled gubernatorial duties. The pilgrimage of the Bushies from Prescott-era Greenwich/Brown Brothers Harriman-Wall Street establishment to Bush 41 (Andover/Yale/WWII vet but still feeling the need to hit the TX oil fields to show he had some, er, manliness) to Bush 43 (San Jacinto High pre-Andover!) showcases a well known story. Population centers are moving south and west--and the Republican party is getting more 'values' and bible-belt oriented. All well and good--but these DeLayian spectacles are a bit much to swallow, no? Still, I agree with Jonah that this will not have long-term negative ramifications for the party. Just another little affaire info-tainment to boost the ratings--it will be forgotten like so much else emitting from the moronic inferno (Martin Amis' phrase) before it...

Posted by Gregory at 04:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Josh Chafetz Is Wrong!

Lagavulin trumps Laphroaig (the latter, too diesely).

NB: In the darkest of winter, in deep-shiver and hibernation mode, Laphroaig may get the nod. Either way, Chafetz and B.D. seem to agree that Islay's rule (of the six Scotch producing regions of Scotland--Islay's have always been my favorite). Oh, I suspect Josh and I might find common ground here (the extra 20 years matter!) . I'll treat Josh to a bottle anytime--especially if Adesnik and Belton join us for the festivities.

Posted by Gregory at 02:39 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

Fiery Friedman

Tom Friedman:

You have to stop and think about this: We killed 26 of our prisoners of war. In 18 cases, people have been recommended for prosecution or action by their supervising agencies, and eight other cases are still under investigation. That is simply appalling. Only one of the deaths occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, reported Jehl and Schmitt - "showing how broadly the most violent abuses extended beyond those prison walls and contradicting early impressions that the wrongdoing was confined to a handful of members of the military police on the prison's night shift."

Yes, I know war is hell and ugliness abounds in every corner. I also understand that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we are up against a vicious enemy, which, if it had the power, would do great harm to our country. You do not deal with such people with kid gloves. But killing prisoners of war, presumably in the act of torture, is an inexcusable outrage. The fact that Congress has just shrugged this off, and no senior official or officer has been fired, is a travesty. This administration is for "ownership" of everything except responsibility.

President Bush just appointed Karen Hughes, his former media adviser, to head up yet another U.S. campaign to improve America's image in the Arab world. I have a suggestion: Just find out who were the cabinet, C.I.A. and military officers on whose watch these 26 homicides occurred and fire them. That will do more to improve America's image in the Arab-Muslim world than any ad campaign, which will be useless if this sort of prisoner abuse is shrugged off. Republicans in Congress went into overdrive to protect the sanctity of Terri Schiavo's life. But they were mute when it came to the sanctity of life for prisoners in our custody. Such hypocrisy is not going to win any P.R. battles.

I have been deeply outraged that so many detainees have died in U.S. custody. This is a stain to our national honor, and frankly I've been plain let down that so many conservatives have been so silent. This said, and as I've blogged before, there is a dirty little secret about Abu Ghraib. It's that, while the prison scandal angered many Arabs, the sad reality is that they have become so accustomed to being mistreated by their often horrifically brutal internal security services that Abu Ghraib didn't resonate quite as much as one might have thought. The invasion of Iraq, former presence of troops in Saudi Arabia, perceived bias towards Israel, perception of hypocrisy with regard to rhetoric re: democratization but continued cozying up to assorted autorcrats (less so these days, eh?)--all are likelier bigger challenges (save Saudi which is now moot, no perma-bases there!) awaiting Karen Hughes than Abu Ghraib and the death of detainees in assorted detention centers elsewhere.

Still, it wouldn't hurt--so I echo Friedman's sentiments. But Friedman is writing here more as a cri de coeur (I'm guilty of it too sometimes). Sorry to be the boring lawyer dragged to the party, but it's just not that easy to find out "who were the cabinet, C.I.A. and military officers on whose watch these 26 homicides occurred and fire them." Well, at least without full-blown Congressional hearings. But there are Schia-who intrigues entertaining la masse of late--and steroid use in baseball is a big problem too evidently. So we'll have to wait, I guess. In vain, I fear.

Posted by Gregory at 11:30 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack


Is it just me, or are most of my readers anti-Bush? Regular commenters, I think, mostly swing Democrat a la 'liberals against terrorism' crowd. Email is mixed--but I wouldn't be surprised if more are Democrats than vice versa. Odd for someone who endorsed Bush, no? Or is there a silent majority of B.D. readers that are solid Bush supporters but comment less? Unclear. Perhaps the conservatives have mostly fled because of my Rummy-bashing and outrage at torture? Don't be shy, let me know in comments below. I'm curious as to who the hell is coming over here. Thanks.

Posted by Gregory at 11:20 PM | Comments (115) | TrackBack

Iranian Influence in Iraq

Is less than advertised.

Iran has the potential to do great mischief in post-Saddam Iraq, but despite wide-spread allegations, actual evidence of attempts to destabilise the country is rare and evidence of achievement rarer still. Instead, Iran's priority has been to prevent Iraq from re-emerging as a threat to it, which means preventing both outright failure in Baghdad or clear success...
Iran's strength lies elsewhere. Having fought a brutal eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, its security agencies are highly familiar with Iraq's physical and political terrain and are able to sustain an active intelligence presence in southern Iraq, Baghdad and Kurdistan. Iranian levers of influence include a widespread network of paid informers, the increasingly assertive Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC, or Pasdaran), and petro-dollar funded religious propaganda and social welfare campaigns. Most importantly, Tehran has tried to influence Iraq's political process by giving support, in particular, to SCIRI. Even then, and while the record of the past two years suggests a solid Iranian motive to interfere in Iraq and plenty of Iranian activity, it also suggests little resonance, and, therefore, a negligible impact, on Iraqi society. This is because of a deep suspicion and resentment on the part of many Iraqis toward their neighbour.

The starting point to understand Iran's role must be a proper assessment of its interests. These are relatively clear and, for the most part, openly acknowledged. Tehran's priority is to prevent Iraq from re-emerging as a threat, whether of a military, political or ideological nature, and whether deriving from its failure (its collapse into civil war or the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan with huge implications for Iran's disaffected Kurdish minority) or success (its consolidation as an alternative democratic or religious model appealing to Iran's disaffected citizens). Iran consequently is intent on preserving Iraq's territorial integrity, avoiding all-out instability, encouraging a Shiite-dominated, friendly government, and, importantly, keeping the U.S. preoccupied and at bay. This has entailed a complex three-pronged strategy: encouraging electoral democracy (as a means of producing Shiite rule); promoting a degree of chaos but of a manageable kind (in order to generate protracted but controllable disorder); and investing in a wide array of diverse, often competing Iraqi actors (to minimise risks in any conceivable outcome) [emphasis added]

Check out the bolded section above. Except for last prong, U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq seem rather aligned! Yes, I'm being a tad facetious, but there is clearly room for cooperation here. More fodder for the Zbig 'grand bargain' crowd post Takeyh-Pollack Thermidor, doubtless...

UPDATE: The estimable Dan Darling has more. I'll be reacting to his lengthy post soon (I hope!).

Posted by Gregory at 05:40 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Withdrawal Timetable

The Syrian Ambassador to Washington:

Right now nobody, even in Damascus itself, knows the actual timetable," Imad Moustapha told an audience Wednesday at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"We believe that it will happen sooner than you might expect."

Moustapha said Syrian and Lebanese military officials would meet at the beginning of April to draft a timetable for withdrawing troops.

"We will withdraw as soon as possible. The sooner, the better. And we're not talking about two or three months. We will do this very, very quickly," he said.

But he noted, Syria will withdraw "in a phased, organized way so that we will not create a vacuum" and further destabilize Lebanon.

That's about right, all told. An organized, if speedy, withdrawal remains important. The national mood is wary just now, however. That's not an argument for the Syrians to stick around. But it is a cautionary note that the process must be managed with care rather than wild exuberance. Regardless, it looks like Syrian troops will be out of Lebanon by June/July. This is, all told, a positive development given the national mood post-Hariri assassination. And what of all the Syrian mukhabarat in country, one wonders?

Posted by Gregory at 05:16 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Changes at the Paris Review

Philip Gourevitch, of Rwanda fame, is taking the reins at Paris Review. He's not a ribald, raconteur boozer in the old Plimpton high-Eliotic Harvard Porcellian mode, of course. But that's a bygone era, regardless. It appears the magazine will retain some focus on letters and poetry--but looks to expand into non-fiction more than some of the Old Guard might like. So will the magazine start featuring tales from Darfur and Harare and such going forward? Likely, and note this soundbite from Gourevitch:

He described a possible, ideal issue of the future: “Let’s say you have three or four or five short stories, two or three pieces of nonfiction, one or two interviews, a portfolio of photography, and three or four or five poetry portfolios.” Mr. Gourevitch added that the board had been receptive to his ideas.

Diversification! It's good for your portfolio!

UPDATE: Did I mention that I once saw Gourevitch roundly booed at a talk he gave? Why? He was complaining a hell of a lot about something--but when asked to recommend a solution--kinda passed saying he wasn't a policymaker but just a journalist. Came off way weak. He merited the scolding. Happens to the best of us though...

Posted by Gregory at 04:55 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Bullshit Nation

Jonathan Lear explains.

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.

In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory...

...Frankfurt's theory is easy to state. Both the truth-teller and the liar have it in common that they care about the truth. The person who aims at the truth tries to figure out what the world is like and to communicate that to others; the liar attempts to deceive. But by his very attempt to mislead others, the liar betrays his own concern, however perverse, with how things are. As Frankfurt puts it, the truth-teller and the liar are playing opposite sides of the same game.

The bullshitter is in a different game altogether. He simply does not care about the truth or falsity of what he is saying. "The essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony." Consider this classic from ancient history: "I didn't inhale." I think the utterance was true, but it was bullshit nonetheless. If it had been false, the utterer would have said the same thing. For this reason, those who do not believe the statement also do not get to the heart of the matter when they say that the speaker is lying. In both cases, if what he said was true and if what he said was false, the president was bullshitting--for in neither case would the truth or the falsity of what he was saying have mattered to him. Frankfurt is correct to insist that it is a "fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit" that "although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong." [Clarification: Italicized portion is Lear quoting Frankfurt]

Read the whole thing. One reason Kerry lost per the article? He didn't bullshit well enough! So does all this mean Americans love a good bullshitter (Clinton is deified still in quite a few quarters from rural Arkansas to impressionable CFR-ites)? Well, maybe not. I think a big reason that non-ironic, conviction politicians like Reagan and Bush 43 have been so successful on the political stage is, in good measure, a good dollop of B.S. fatigue running through the polity.

Posted by Gregory at 04:46 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Nixon Goes to Paris


According to the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, President Jacques Chirac is listening in on his archrival Nicolas Sarkozy's phone calls.

The newspaper reported Wednesday that Mr. Sarkozy, who quit as finance minister under Mr. Chirac last year to lead Mr. Chirac's own party, the Union for a Popular Movement, is aware of the surveillance and has told friends that he believes the people responsible are Mr. Chirac and his protégé Dominique de Villepin, who took over Mr. Sarkozy's earlier post as interior minister.

The article, written in the wink-and-nod style of the 90-year-old newspaper, gave no attribution for the charge but many such tidbits in the paper have proven accurate in the past. Most recently, the newspaper disclosed that Mr. Sarkozy's successor at the Finance Ministry, Hervé Gaymard, had rented an extremely expensive apartment at government expense. The subsequent scandal led to his resignation.

The wiretapping allegations were met by a wall of silence in the capital; the presidential palace declined to comment, as did Mr. Sarkozy's office.

But, as is his wont, Sarkozy seems to be a step ahead of his rivals:

The newspaper article, which appears to have originated with someone in Mr. Sarkozy's camp, said that he was aware of the surveillance and wily enough not to be caught saying anything useful to his political rivals.

Bravo, Sarko!

Posted by Gregory at 04:33 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

In-House News

B.D. will be passing the 1 million unique visits mark sometime later today. When I started this blog out some dank winter night in London and a couple dorm-buddies from high school constituted my sole readership--it didn't cross my mind that I'd ever have a million separate visitors log on this site. So a big thanks to everyone for their readership, comments, E-mail (on this last, please note I read every last one, but am way behind. Apologies).

P.S. If you read me and haven't blog-rolled me (or still have me blog-rolled at the old blogspot address) please update your sites. We're still too drearily low in the ecosphere!

Posted by Gregory at 06:23 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

More Kennan Remembrances

Richard Holbrooke (Hat Tip: RCP)

In 1996 Kennan went to Columbia University to hear a speech by Pamela Harriman, Averell's widow and, at that time, ambassador to France. A distinguished group, including Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state and one of Kennan's greatest admirers, gathered for dinner afterward in the home of Columbia's president. After dessert we asked Kennan to speak, giving him no advance warning. The 92-year-old legend rose slowly, and in a weak, high-pitched voice, delivered a flawlessly constructed and fairly brutal attack on one of the pillars of the Clinton administration policies Talbott and I were most closely associated with, the expansion of NATO to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Kennan's warning that enlarging NATO would destabilize Europe -- "an enormous and historic strategic error" -- carried the dinner audience with its eloquence and sense of history. Events, of course, proved Bill Clinton right, and Kennan -- and the bulk of the liberal intellectual community -- wrong. But in a sense, Kennan that evening was fulfilling his true role in American foreign policy: not the brilliant architect of containment but an eloquent skeptic, forcing people in power to make sure their easy justifications stood up before his polite but ferocious criticism. In today's Washington, with its emphasis on orthodox thinking, such a person could never rise inside the government, and even in 1947 it was almost an accident. This is a great loss, because, as the life of George F. Kennan shows, individual, original thinking by one lonely person can sometimes illuminate and guide us better than all the high-level panels and commissions and interagency meetings.

We disagreed on many issues: his belief in the need for a "council of elders" -- really a plea for the power of elites -- to contain the excesses of democracy; his 19th-century attitude toward Africa; his view that the promotion of human rights and democracy was a terrible, morally arrogant mistake; and his advocacy of a deal with Moscow over American troops in Europe. He had accurately predicted, at the end of the Cold War, the outbreak of ethnic violence in Yugoslavia, but he did not understand the need for American involvement in the problem, let alone the use of military force to end the Balkan wars. "Why should we try to stop ancient ethnic hatreds?" he asked me one day in the dark-paneled library of his house in Princeton. He shook his head as I tried to explain. He had been ambassador to Yugoslavia, and I wanted him to understand -- to agree with me -- as a sort of stamp of approval from one generation to another in the Balkans. But, though, as always, he was polite and gracious -- and he loved the intellectual combat -- he was firm in his disagreement. He was our greatest diplomat, and I admired him for his intellectual courage, but there was no bridging the gap.

"Why should we try to stop ancient ethnic hatreds?" Because to not do so is to deny the very possibility of human progress in our times. This Kennan quote reminds me of the words of one of the smartest girls in my high school class that I ran into in the mid 90s in the Bay Area. Upon hearing that I was off to the former Yugoslavia to do humanitarian work, she said "I'll never understand why people insist on sticking their feet in other countries problems." Was she worldly-wise in the extreme, forcing me to reckon with sad realities via her cutting comment? Or were her words more evocative of a basic weakness of spirit and genorosity (not to mention a good deal of provincialism)? I have concluded more the latter. Surely only the most unreconstructed Burkeans can be so unmoved at the prospects of humanity triumphing over a bleaker past?

P.S. Re: Kennan, btw, I think Holbrooke may be a bit too rough on him here for reasons I hope to get to soon when time allows.

Posted by Gregory at 05:57 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Pakistan Watch

Remember how Pakistan was to inexorably implode the moment a U.S. soldier touched down within 100 miles of the volatile NWFP? It didn't, of course, during the Afghan campaign. Next Pakistan was going to blow up because of Bush's reckless misadventure in Mesopotamia. But again, that's just not how things have turned out. Dumb luck (again!), doubtless.

Posted by Gregory at 05:36 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack


Yglesias writes in re: my last post:

I'm a bit astonished that you see an apparent contradiction between my belief that the war policy was grossly mistaken and that we are succeeding at it. Surely, there can be reasons for thinking that it would be a bad idea to start a given war other than the belief that the instigating country would lose the war. If you proposed that we invade and occupy Costa Rica in order to eliminate its WMD program, and remove from power it's Qaeda-connected government, I would say "why, Greg, that's a terrible idea!" But if the president decided to listen to you and invade, I'm pretty sure we would successfully occupy the country.

The Sadr point, though, is an interesting one and needs more consideration. But unless I'm mistaken, US forces have ceased engaging with Sadr's forces (indeed, it seems that Sadrists are and vice-versa, so this doesn't seem especially relevant to the issue of force levels.

You would be right that I am "wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet" but I think that if you read my post you'll see that I don't make any such claim. The actual claim was that "The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas." This is, shall we say, rather different.

At any rate, I don't know how much substantive disagreement there is here. I say we should begin paring down our forces. You say paring our forces down to fewer than 100,000 would be a "gross error at this juncture." There are, I believe, about 130,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

I'm also mystified by the relevance of the swipe at Bill Clinton there. Generally speaking, I'm puzzled by the post, which seems driven more by a desire to produce a left-wing strawman ready for the skewering than by a desire to dispute my arguments or even to disagree with what I'm saying.

Let me take these grafs in reverse order. The swipe at Bill Clinton shouldn't mystify Matt. Clinton's foreign policy, in places like Rwanda, Haiti and Bosnia (pre-Holbrooke insertion) was often marked by gross abdication of responsibility. Even people like Laura Rozen will admit they protest voted for Dole in '96. Why? Because candidate Clinton said back in '92 that he would pursue 'lift and strike' in Bosnia (lift the unjust arms embargo on the Bosniaks and strike Bosnian Serb encampments besieging 'safe' havens like Gorazde, Zepa or Sarajevo). Sarajevans hopes were artificially raised that the U.S. cavalry was rushing to the rescue by Clinton's empty words--and those hopes were cruelly dashed while nothing happened for 3 long years. No biggie, as the stock market was starting to kick into high gear and there were, you know, vivacious White House interns hither dither. Why do I bring all this up now? Because after millions of Iraqis have risked life and limb voting on January 30th, Matt would have us declare success and go home--violating our responsibility to those people who bravely stood up against a fascistic campaign of intimidation and violence. Put differently, the risk of following ye prescription Yglesias is doing this half-assed so that those who braved the polls would end up falling to the mercy of Baathist restorationists, assorted terrorists, jihadists. Sure, Matt will argue he actually thinks a troop draw-down is actually the right policy--not just for the good of us lucky Americans chilling in Kalorama and Tribeca--but also for the Iraqis on the frontlines. Except it isn't, as I argued in the immediately preceding post.


At any rate, I don't know how much substantive disagreement there is here. I say we should begin paring down our forces. You say paring our forces down to fewer than 100,000 would be a "gross error at this juncture." There are, I believe, about 130,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. That leaves plenty of room for compromise.

Let's stop these silly number games, shall we? Does one really read Matt's post thinking he's calling for a withdrawal of fewer than 30,000 troops? It sounds more to me like it's all 'get the boys home', declare victory, all of 'em out soonest. Recall, we've had too few troops in theatre for most of this conflict. Let's at least have an appropriate level for a little while, shall we? Matt's pushing a precipitous withdrawal Ted Kennedyesque line here. It's simply not smart policy.

You would be right that I am "wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet" but I think that if you read my post you'll see that I don't make any such claim. The actual claim was that "The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas." This is, shall we say, rather different.

So does this mean Matt agrees that troop levels should be kept around 130,000 for the next 12-18 months or doesn't it?

The Sadr point, though, is an interesting one and needs more consideration. But unless I'm mistaken, US forces have ceased engaging with Sadr's forces (indeed, it seems that Sadrists are and vice-versa, so this doesn't seem especially relevant to the issue of force levels.

My point is that the Mahdi militia could still yet, given an unexpected turn of event or two, take up arms in places like Sadr City and Najaf. We must be prepared for such contingencies for the foreseeable future.

I'm a bit astonished that you see an apparent contradiction between my belief that the war policy was grossly mistaken and that we are succeeding at it. Surely, there can be reasons for thinking that it would be a bad idea to start a given war other than the belief that the instigating country would lose the war. If you proposed that we invade and occupy Costa Rica in order to eliminate its WMD program, and remove from power it's Qaeda-connected government, I would say "why, Greg, that's a terrible idea!" But if the president decided to listen to you and invade, I'm pretty sure we would successfully occupy the country.

I'll concede this one to Matt; though I suspect he too was moved by the January 30th elections to the point he might well reconsider (only in private moments alone, bien sur, lest street cred with the Harold Meyersons be imperiled) whether the war policy was indeed "grossly mistaken." Why is it grossly mistaken to unseat a genocidaire thug, thought to be armed with WMD by the head of our (and many other) intelligence services and in violation of over a dozen U.N resolutions, in a post 9/11 era marked by concern about the intersection of WMD, rogue regimes, and transnational terror groups? Really, why? Why is a forward-leaning force posture in a region critical to our national interest so dumb? Why is attempting to democratize a major Arab country so idiotic? The hard generational task of modernizing and democratizing the Middle East is likely the only real long term solution to stemming the specter of apocalpytic jihadist terror. Bush has begun, in a big way, the job. Let the moronic Atrios and Kos types cackle from the sidelines like provincial brats. We can yawn at their tiresome cynicism. But people like Matt or Praktike or Laura know better, don't they? Finally, note Matt doesn't deign to address some of the other points in my post. For instance, that an American presence is still needed during a hugely delicate time of cobbling together viable governance structures in the nascent Iraqi polity. Or that the specter of communal violence would look nastier should the (yes) largely stabilizing presence of U.S. forces be hastily drawn-down.

Matt is a smart and intellectually honest guy--which is why I take the time to respond to him. But this isn't one of those where we can simply split the difference, be happy to meet half-way, and vibe with the fellow-feeling. Matt wants to draw-down troops in Iraq, er, like now. And I don't for a while yet. It's up to the readers to decide who is on the right side of this one. Reader persuasion aside, however, I'm heartened that the person who matters most, George Bush, is in accord with B.D.'s take. And Kerry isn't and wasn't. Declaring victory and going home is so much easier, isn't it? Also morally defunct and an abdication of American responsibility on the global stage. Clintonian, in a word. But not Yglesiasian, one hopes?

Posted by Gregory at 04:00 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Living La Vida Cheapa: Declare Victory and Go Home

Matt Yglesias performs a public service by aptly reminding us--lest we forget ancient history--of the abdication of responsibility laden Clinton years:

Now since I do think the war policy has been grossly mistaken, there's nothing I would like better than such an admission. But even more than a "gotcha!" political moment, I would like to see a good forward-looking policy implemented. I was trying to suggest an alternative rhetorical strategy that I think will have more success. The troops should be brought home because insofar as it's possible to succeed in Iraq we are, in fact, succeeding. Whatever threat was posed by Saddam Hussein is gone. Elections have been held and future political and policy outcomes are in the hands of the Iraqi government. The insurgency is waning to some extent, and it's level of popular support is clearly limited to the Sunni Arab minority. The new government security forces are beginning to perform tolerably in some key areas. Therefore, it's time to start bringing our troops home.

How misguided of Yglesias to call for a major troop reduction at this juncture! I won't bore you with the reasons why a paring down of our forces to, say, fewer than 100,000 would be a gross error at this juncture. But very briefly, suffice it to say Matt is wrong that the insurgency is definitely limited to the Sunnis now (has he forgotten Moktada al Sadr?); he is wrong that new government security forces are ready for full-blown prime time without continued training and presence of U.S. forces for at least 12-18 months yet; he is wrong that Americans have no major role to play in transitioning Iraq towards sustainable political governance structures (it's not just "dumb luck" and new political elites that will shape the future, contra Matt's assurances thereto); and he is wrong to not even consider what impact a major drawdown of U.S. troops would have on insurgent morale (positive, in case you were wondering) just as they appear to finally be feeling the harsh impact of the cumulative months-long effects of a robust counter-insurgency campaign.

P.S. The war policy was "grossly mistaken." But we are "in fact, succeeding." 'Dem chips always fall the chimps way, don't they? What a lucky guy he is! "Dumb luck", doubtless.

Posted by Gregory at 05:10 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Success on Chinese Arms Procurement Fronts

The Europeans have gotten, at least for now, the message:

Yielding to pressure from President Bush and threats of retaliation from Congress, the European Union has put off plans to lift its arms embargo on China this spring and may not press the issue until next year, American and European officials said Monday.

The officials said that in addition to American pressure, European nations have been shaken by the recent adoption of legislation by the Chinese National People's Congress authorizing the use of force to stop Taiwan from seceding. The Chinese action, they said, jolted France and undercut its moves to end the embargo before June.

And so have the Israelis:

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz convened the heads of some 50 of the leading defense industry firms in the country Monday, and warned that they must get written permission from the ministry for any trip they or their representatives make to China, or for starting any business negotiations with the Chinese even if they are selling civilian equipment that happens to be manufactured in an Israeli defense plant. The CEOs were told ahead of time that it was about the crisis in relations with the U.S. in the wake of military sales to China. Some ministry department chiefs also attended the meeting.

Mofaz told them that Israel has a supreme interest in ending the dispute with Washington over military sales to China.

"We have made a commitment to the U.S. and I have no intention of breaking it," said Mofaz. "I insist on full transparency by all the industries regarding any activity in China."

He therefore demanded that the CEOs make sure to have formal approvals from the Defense Ministry for every commercial contact, anticipated sale or even visits by representatives of the defense industry companies to China. Mofaz further warned that they take what he said in "the widest possible interpretation" lest there be any mistakes, "because I am against mistakes, even if they were made in error."

Methinks Mofaz has been hearing an earful from points Washington.

Posted by Gregory at 04:13 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005

Charm Offensive Watch

Paul Wolfowitz is busy ringing up Bono. Meanwhile development grunts in the trenches--far removed from such lofty rock & roll royalty heights--seem to be coming around too:

As a result, some development specialists who were shocked by Wolfowitz's nomination are grudgingly acknowledging that he would bring an intellectual depth to the job that could serve the bank well. And his links to the White House, many speculate, could translate into powerful backing for important antipoverty initiatives.

Don't miss this related piece from Jim Hoagland either:

"He gets right down to business and talks about how to get these things done, not about the philosophy of why we should do them," says one senior official. "As soon as he makes his mind up on the World Bank, for example, the question right away becomes who to call to get support."

Bush was encouraged by the early call he placed to Jacques Chirac. The French president at first showed an undisguised coolness to moving Wolfowitz from the Pentagon's No. 2 slot to No. 1 at the World Bank, a 184-nation institution that is a major provider of aid to developing countries.

"Please remember that this is the World Bank," Chirac said, in an ironic phrase interpreted by one U.S. official as a plea to Bush not to turn the institution into the Arab World Bank or the American Bank for Spreading Democracy in the Middle East. Europeans and others must also have meaningful input, Chirac insisted. But Chirac then told Bush that France would not fight the nomination, a decision that bolsters Wolfowitz's chances of being confirmed by the bank's board of governors, in the view of U.S. and European officials.

"This nomination shows that the president is not indifferent to the World Bank as an institution. There is a desire to fit the bank into an agenda of change that other leaders can work with and influence," said one U.S. official. "If Chirac can see beyond the caricature of Wolfowitz as a warmonger, others will as well."

Wolfowitz's advocacy of invading Iraq as a linchpin for the democratization of the Middle East has made him a lightning rod for controversy, as has the gross mischaracterization of him as a neoconservative. His intellectual abilities and extensive government service make him a solid candidate to continue James Wolfensohn's spirited efforts to rescue the bank from irrelevancy or worse.

Bush's strong personal ties to Karen Hughes will make her a formidable figure that foreign governments will have to pay attention to as she works to change the U.S. image abroad. The same is true for John Bolton as ambassador-designate to the United Nations, an organization pushing for its own far-reaching reforms that need and deserve U.S. engagement. Bolton, European officials tell me, is far easier to work with in private negotiations than his public abrasiveness suggests.

Hmmm. How does this last square with this blogger's assessment: "That's wonderful. Like John Doe, I think his [John Bolton's] shouting voice will alienate more often than it will persuade." I'll take Jim Hoagland's European governmental sources over Praktike's pithy musings, no?

Posted by Gregory at 04:30 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

More Good News From Iraq

John Burns, the best reporter the NYT has on its staff, has a must read dispatch from Haifa Street in Baghdad. The news is good. Some money grafs:

American morale, for the moment, is high. Lt. Col. Thomas D. Macdonald, the cavalry division officer who commanded the Haifa Street task force, believes the Iraqis, with an affinity for their own people, can push the rebels farther back. "I've got the enemy to the point where he can't do large-scale operations anymore, only the small-scale stuff," he said recently, during one of his last patrols of the area, at the head of a company of 120 soldiers. "If we put in more Iraqi garrisons like this, that will be the final nail in the coffin."

When Iraqi units began to serve in combat zones, desertion rates were high. During the first offensive in Falluja, last April, some soldiers refused to fight. But over the last nine months, a $5 billion American-financed effort has bought Iraqi units more than 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100,000 flak jackets, 110,000 pistols, 6,000 cars and pickup trucks, and 230 million rounds of ammunition. In place of the single Iraqi battalion trained last June, there are more than 90 battalions now, totaling about 60,000 army and special police troops. No one is certain how many insurgents they face; the number, including foot soldiers, safe-house operators, organizers and financiers, is estimated to be 12,000 to 20,000.

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished. "Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide-bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But the overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear, all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

A Shiite himself, commanding a unit composed mostly of Shiites, General Samraa has made his headquarters in the old Sajida Palace, on the riverbank at Haifa Street's northern end, a sad, looted, sandbagged relic of the pleasure dome it was for Mr. Hussein's first wife, Sajida. But the general insisted the new Iraqi forces had history on their side. "Saddam, we've seen the movie, and it's finished," he said. "He's broken. Now is the new Iraq."

In the Shiite neighborhoods of Haifa Street, the good will for Americans is pervasive. A fruit seller, Majid Hussein Hassan, 40, rose from his stall to ask Colonel Macdonald for help getting hospital treatment for an infant nephew with a heart deformity. From a balcony, an old woman appealed for better garbage removal. "We're counting on you Americans," she said. "Iraqi officials do nothing!" [emphasis added]

It is becoming increasingly clear that the situation in Iraq has changed quite dramatically for the better since the elections. Check out how gloomy John Burns was as recently as January 27th. Compare that to his piece today. It's almost night and day. Worth stressing too, apart from the elections, it appears that Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus has made a real yeoman's effort with regard to the "training and equipping" effort. It is only when Iraqi forces are willing to risk death and stand and fight (overcoming the "tiny heart syndrome") that the Baathist restorationist, jihadist, and terrorist insurgency can ultimately be vanquished. This appears to be happening now to the tune of at least 60,000 adequately trained Iraqi forces. As I said, major progress. And kudos to the NYT for beginning to give it more prominent billing.

Posted by Gregory at 04:07 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

More on Kennan

Much more on Kennan from the indispensable Foreign Affairs here. Go check it out.

Posted by Gregory at 12:59 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Iraq Front

This strikes me as good news:

The top Marine officer in Iraq said Friday that the number of attacks against American troops in Sunni-dominated western Iraq and death tolls had dropped sharply over the last four months, a development that he called evidence that the insurgency was weakening in one of the most violent areas of the country.

The officer, Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, head of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, said that insurgents were averaging about 10 attacks a day, and that fewer than two of those attacks killed or wounded American forces or damaged equipment. That compared with 25 attacks a day, five of them with casualties or damage, in the weeks leading up to the pivotal battle of Falluja in November, he said...

...He said that several hundred hard-core jihadists and former members of Saddam Hussein's government and security services were still operating in Anbar Province, but that the declining frequency of the attacks indicated that the rebels' influence was waning.

"They're way down on their attempts, and even more on their effectiveness," General Sattler said.

Yes, "(w)e still have a lot of work to do" as General Sattler put it. But it is increasingly clear that the Iraqi insurgency is under real pressure and is getting push backed quite effectively of late. On a strategic level, I suspect the successful elections played a large part in helping bring this about. The prospects of hard core jihadists, terrorists and fundamentalists widening their base of support to include, say, large swaths of nationalist Sunni (or Shi'a) hasn't worked out. To the carnage of suicide bombings, beheadings and kidnappings the man on the street sees political governance structures being cobbled together that are manned by Iraqis (not Americans or Brits). This puts the lie to much of the jihadist fanaticism and propaganda about Crusader-like foreign interlopers raping and bespoiling the country.

To be sure, there are plenty of potential pitfalls and challenges ahead. But can one hope the worst may have passed, that we survived a rocky post-major combat stage (with too few troops in theater making the going tougher that it likely needed to be) and are now poised for better days ahead? Probably, yes. And while I don't wish to be accused of being overly sanguine about the prospects of a civil war going forward--my money is still on Iraq getting through the next difficult years without degenerating into full-blown civil conflict. There will be inter-communal strains. Flashpoints like Kirkuk will cause headaches. But I think the country can and will remain a viable, unitary polity with an effective central government (with provision for local autonomy in certain areas like the Kurdish north).

P.S. You might have thought the linked New York Times piece would be front page news. It wasn't, alas, as I found out whilst thumbing through the paper edition today. Imagine the placement of the story if the insurgency had worsened since the elections. Much more prominent, one suspects, eh?

Posted by Gregory at 12:19 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

In Memoriam

God speed George Kennan. They don't make them like this anymore, alas. He will be sorely missed by students of diplomacy and, really, anyone who admires strong intellect, basic decency, sober analysis. We can at least be consoled to still have his excellent memoirs with us. Particularly fascinating were his accounts of his first diplomatic tour (circa 1934) in a still so young Soviet Union. These were deeply exciting and revolutionary times indeed, and Kennan helped make them come alive for us many years later in his clean, thoughtful prose. Despite the Princeton pedigree and elite foreign service career--Kennan was always something of an awkward, shy outsider hailing from points Milwaukee and Midwest rather than Northeast Harbor or Beacon Hill. Perhaps this lent to his genius in analyzing, from the outside peering in, the political trends exacting wrenching change in far-away polities. And also helps explain why he left government more than half a century ago upon his return from his shortlived Ambassadorship to Moscow (Stalin had him declared persona non grata). Not for Kennan were the shabby intrigues and naked grandstanding often necessitated to rise to the top of the Washington game. He instead repaired to Princeton (except for a follow-on Ambassadorship to Belgrade in the early 60's that he accepted at Kennedy's bidding) where he kept a subdued voice in the policy debates from his academic perch.

Too hagiographic all this? Let me then offer a criticism in the interest of balance. I felt that Kennan's warning during the 90's debate about extending NATO membership to Eastern European countries overstated how negative the Russian reaction would be. He seemed sometimes to be stuck in a bit of a timewarp, as if Czech adhesion to NATO, say, would set off Stalinist-like agitations and roiling nationalist backlashes through Mother Russia. Not quite, it seems. But such quibbles are minor ones indeed. Kennan was an American giant in the American Century just passed, and he will be rightly mourned by those who cherish the memory of those individuals--charged with the effective stewardship of our national interest--who kept that trust by serving nobly and wisely.

P.S. Dan tees up a much better obit than my late night sentimentalist ramble. Be sure to go check it out.

Posted by Gregory at 06:13 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Don Rumsfeld Defenestration Watch

Can I just say that (with the exception of one nit I'll pick below) Dan's spot on in this analysis as he explicates the Rumsfeld Pentagon's major decline in influence in Bush II. And normally fair-minded and on the ball Kevin is, er, not (if you run a blog called Washington Monthly you gotta do a lil' better than this in gaming the Beltway fishbowl).

My Drezner nit? He writes:

At State, Condi Rice is now the secretary; She cajoled Bob Zoellick to leave a cabinet-level position at USTR to be her deputy, rejecting John Bolton in the process; highly regarded NATO ambassador Nick Burns will be the number three person as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; and Bush consigliere Karen Hughes just agreed to come back as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. There's no comparison between this crew and the old Powell/Armitage team. The old group had gravitas and little else. This group has gravitas, bueaucratic infighting skills, and several people personally close to the President. [emphasis added]

Powell and Armitage only blessed with gravitas while the new crew has gravitas AND bureaucratic infighting skills AND closeness to POTUS? Hmmm. In my view Drezner is right only with respect to the closeness to POTUS being the distinguishing factor. Powell and Armitage were very adept bureaucratic warriors--and, often forgotten, they won some quiet victories here and there. It’s just that the neo-cons and Pentagon were in major ascendancy after the shocks and tremors of 9/11. From that day on, Bush's first term was basically one long war presidency--inherently weakening State's influence on many levels--particularly as Powell never really formed a real bond with Dubya. Now, of course, a Thermidor has set in and the pendelum is swinging back towards Foggy Bottom. In addition, of course, there is that most basic of Washington axioms that figures so prominently in all this Beltway handicapping. That is, the most important coin available in the Washington realm--having the ear of the President--will be Condi's (and Karen Hughes) ace in the hole over the next four years. Whoever is at Defense now or later.

P.S. Might Dick Armitage replace Rumsfeld in 2006? Developing, and not well for Rumsfeld (unless he's eager to spend more time chez home now that he's outlasted Powell, Abu Ghraib, and perhaps the worst of the Iraqi insurgency).

Posted by Gregory at 05:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Blogroll Going-Ons

We asked for some recommendations a little while back for another addition to round out the blog-roll. Many excellent ones were proferred. Too many, in fact. So I've decided to go with one no one mentioned, Phil Carter, and leave the others to the next major round of blog-roll updating. Thanks much for all the feedback and leads on new blogs, however. Some of them will doubtless be featured in this space soon enough.

In other in-house news, I look to have a guest-blogger lined up the next time I hit the road for a little spell (likely relatively soon). He's smart, he writes well, and he will doubtless prove a nice change of pace from ye olde B.D. So keep an eye out for that in the coming weeks.

Posted by Gregory at 05:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

A Query

Can someone please explain to naive, plebe B.D. why we have full-blown Congressional hearings underway about this but not this? I mean, WTF.

Posted by Gregory at 04:34 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

Wolfy Shocks Europe!

It's 'Wolfowitz Appointment Shocks Europe' time...


President George W. Bush's decision on Wednesday to nominate Paul Wolfowitz as the next president of the World Bank marks the second shock this month to Europeans who thought Mr Bush would present a kinder, gentler face to the world in his second term.

Instead, along with the nomination last week of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Bush has put forward two men who have been the most passionate advocates for the view that if the US leads, the rest of the world will follow and fall into line.

"Wolfowitz has been seen as a symbol of the go-it-alone approach of the Bush administration," said Devesh Kapur, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the official history of the World Bank. "Along with the nomination of Bolton, the US is putting the biggest sceptics of multilateralism in charge."

Er, except they're not being put in "charge." Bolton was given USUN as a consolation prize because he didn't get Deputy Secretary of State. And he will be reporting to Condeleeza Rice and not end-running around her lest he raise Bush's ire. As for Wolfowitz, if I were a peevish European, wouldn't I be happier to see him far from the Pentagon and happily ensconced at the World Bank? Where a kindler, gentler Wolfowitz will emerge, full of talk re: the critical import of economic development rather than regime change in Teheran, Damascus and Pyongyang?

Don't miss this other 'the Euros are panicking' piece either:

"We were led to believe that the neoconservatives were losing ground," said Michael Cox, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. "But clearly the revolution is alive and well." He added that despite recent efforts from Washington to mend relations, "Europeans are still inclined deep down to suspect the worst, and this appointment won't go down too well."

How cute Professor Cox! You can almost hear the manifest self-importance ("we were lead to believe...") in the pre-prepared and snide soundbites Cox had all teed up for the Washington Post journalist: "But clearly the revolution is alive and well." Heh. It is, of course, in the streets of Beirut and in the polling stations of Iraq. But it hasn't gotten to LSE yet. Pity, as there's doubtless a lot of dead wood kicking about....

Posted by Gregory at 04:46 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Sid's Amen Corner

Er, Praktike. You are going have to do better than linking Steve Clemons, some Bill O'Reilly interview, Sid Blumenthal's Guardian hackery--and then declaring game over. Unfortunately, you haven't addressed any of my substantive points in your (quite underwhelming) post. In my piece defending Bolton, I was mostly reacting to Samantha Power's New Yorker piece the gist of which was that Bolton is incapable of making compromises and is constitutionally averse to international law and multilateralism. I acknowledged that, yes, Bolton has been a U.N. skeptic and doesn't get all warm and fuzzy as he muses on about the General Assembly's role in international affairs. But I defended him as a pragmatist that believes in effective multilateralism whether effectuated through the U.N. (like his support for the UNSC approved Gulf War I coalition in his writing that I linked) or outside the U.N. in other multilateral groupings (say, the Proliferation Security Initiative which he spearheaded). In addition, and like Andrew Sullivan, I pointed out that his strong voice could prove a boon to the world body. Sometimes brute honesty gains results--if delivered with high intelligence and moral integrity. So methinks you are coming up empty here, bandying about cheap caricatures worthy of sub-Beinart swaths of the 'liberals against terrorism' crowd. Not, alas, thoughts worthy of the ominipresent blogospheric entity whose mighty and pithy commenting we've all come to appreciate so.

UPDATE: I've raised the estimable Nadezhada's ire a tad, it seems. Let me explain what I meant by "sub-Beinart swaths of the 'liberals against terrorism' crowd." Namely that Praktike's cheap and too breezy caricature of Bolton, in my view, was not worthy of intelligent 'liberals against terrorism' types (ie, Beinart) but more of the Mooriean cartoonish wing of 'liberals against terrorism (ie, sub-Beinart swaths). In other words, some liberals against terrorism (Praktike, Beinart, Eric Martin etc) are smart, nuanced, intellectually honest. Others (Atrios, Moore, Kos) not. This time, however, I felt Prak ditched a truly honest appraisal of Bolton in favor of pamphleteering so as to bandwagon with Clemons and Blumenthal (it's a little party it seems!). But I didn't mean to impugn their very worthy website in any way.

Posted by Gregory at 04:02 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

And Then There Was One

Doug Feith. Paul Wolfowitz. Of course, Rumsfeld is next (it's starting to feel like the defenestration of Prague!) The only question is whether he will wait until '06 to exit stage left (I'm still betting mid to late '05). But you've known all this already if you've been reading B.D. over the past months.

P.S. I think so much of the vitriole that has been aimed at Paul Wolfowitz has been hyperbolic claptrap and grossly unfair. Still, his cheerleading of too rosy post-war assumptions cannot be whitewashed away. But while this fact will always remain a part of his legacy, so too could a more positive one given the Iraqi elections, events in Lebanon, democratic stirrings in Egypt. Re: the World Bank, I think Wolfowitz will make a fine choice for the posting. I think his time in Indonesia and elsewhere, married to his obvious intelligence, will put him in good stead as he grapples with economic development issues there. Wolfowitz, in many ways, has always been the most interesting and complex neo-con that served in Bush's administration. Widely reviled by many, yes, I wouldn't be surprised if he will now be missed in some unlikely quarters too.

Posted by Gregory at 03:41 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

US Policy Towards Hezbollah...

...looks to be changing ever so slightly given the dynamics underway in Lebanon. Namely, in order to keep a large, united anti-Syrian Lebanese front--Bush (despite McClellan's, and the State Department's, protestations to the contrary) seems to be giving Hezbollah something of an opening (a small one, to be sure).

From the daily brief:

Q Specifically, what would the President like to see Hezbollah do in Lebanon to join the political mainstream?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Resolution 1559 spells out what needs to happen. And our focus right now is on making sure that there are free and fair elections without any outside intimidation or interference. The Lebanese people should be allowed to choose their own future and to chart their own path, and that's where our focus is. This isn't about Hezbollah, this is about allowing the Lebanese people to freely choose their leaders without any intimidation or outside interference. And you can't have that as long as Syria remains inside Lebanon.

And that's why we are making it clear, as well as other nations, that Syria needs to completely withdraw all its military forces and all its intelligence services from Lebanon, so that those elections can proceed forward in a free and fair and credible way.

Now, if you have free and fair elections, I think experience shows that people tend to choose leaders who are committed to improving their quality of life, not terrorists. But in terms of Hezbollah, nothing has changed in terms of our views. You've heard from administration officials over the weekend; you heard from the President earlier today.

Q The President -- does he recognize that Hezbollah is a potent political force in Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Our view has not changed when it comes to that. And 1559 also calls for all militias to be disarmed. And we want to see 1559 fully complied with...

...Q Scott, if we can go back to the President's remarks earlier today, he said, we view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening peace. Is the President giving Hezbollah an opportunity to change, to renounce terror? And if so, will the United States consider it a legitimate political organization?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me ifs. Those are very hypothetical questions.

Q Well, the President brought up the hypothetical when he said, I hope the Hezbollah would prove that they're not by laying down arms and not threatening --


Q -- that they could become a legitimate organization, not a terrorist organization.

MR. McCLELLAN: Because 1559 calls for Hezbollah to disarm, like other organizations -- terrorist organizations -- in Lebanon. That's what's spelled out in 1559. Again, let me emphasize what we have said previously. You can't have a democratic society and a society based on rule of law where you have groups, organizations, that are committed to violence. And that's why what our focus is on right now is getting Syria to fully comply with Security Council Resolution 1559. That calls for the complete withdrawal of all their forces, military and intelligence, and it says in the resolution, fully and urgently. So we want to see that withdrawal happen as soon as possible. It's important that it happens before the parliamentary elections in May take place, because, in order for those elections to be free and fair, you need to remove the Syrian presence from Lebanon.

And, again, experience shows that when people are given the opportunity to choose their leaders, they tend to choose people who are committed to improving their lives, not terrorists.

Q Is the President saying today, when he says, I hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not -- being not a terrorist organization -- by laying down arms and not threatening peace, is he giving Hezbollah an opportunity here to prove, if they lay down arms, if they renounce terrorism, that the United States would work with Hezbollah in the future and consider it a legitimate --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what you're stating would be that they would be -- it would change the dynamic if they disarmed and renounced terrorism, in your own words. So that changes the situation. We're not -- this isn't about Hezbollah. This is about supporting the Lebanese people. The President believes that the future of Lebanon is in the hands of the Lebanese people. We saw that yesterday, again, in the massive demonstration taking place in the square in Beirut, where the Lebanese people were saying, we want freedom and democracy, and we want Syria out; we want the outside intimidation and outside interference in our country removed, and that means Syria needs to leave. So that's where our focus remains.

The step that needs to happen now is Syria needs to leave. And we appreciate all those other countries that share our view, and are calling on Syria to withdraw. We have confidence that the Lebanese people will be able to determine their future and make the choices that are best for their country. So we want those decisions to be in the hands of the Lebanese people, and the way for that to happen is for Syria to get out.

Q But, Scott, the President's comment was about Hezbollah. And what he said -- and you said, that would ultimately change the dynamic if they were to lay down their arms and renounce terror. If they were to change the dynamic, would the administration deal with Hezbollah? Would they consider Hezbollah a legitimate organization? Is the President creating that opening for this organization to change its dynamic?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me repeat -- would and ifs are hypotheticals. I'm not into hypotheticals. No, the President made very clear that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. They need to disarm, as called for in Security Council Resolution 1559.

We have -- we support the ability of the Lebanese people to chart their own future. And so we want to support them as they move forward on holding elections in May. And the best way to do that is to continue to call on Syria to leave, and to leave now.

Q So we're not to read into this, the President's comments, that if they were to disarm, if they were to lay down their arms and not threaten peace, that there would be an opportunity here for the United States to recognize Hezbollah as an organization that it can --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what the President said. That's not -- you were asking what the President said. I just said he said that our views have not changed when it comes to Hezbollah. And I'm not going to get into hypotheticals. But you, yourself, pointed out if they renounce terrorism, in your question, and if they disarm, well, then that does change -- change the dynamic.

Of course, Lebanese Hezbollah would be tremendously unlikely to disarm before resolution of Shaba Farms and such. But there's a small opening here, and I think some forward progress with Hezbollah is achievable. This is really the crux of Bush's war, isn't it? Persuade terror groups and aggrieved societal segments to lay down arms and renounce the tactics of violence in favor of pursuing disputes peacefully. Some moderate factions of Hamas, one can hope, might go down this road in the future if enough progress on the roadmap were made. Perhaps Hezbollah could too in the future. Fanatics like al-Qaeda or Jihad Islami (or irrendentist segments within Hamas or Hezbollah) would become increasingly isolated. It's not a bad strategy, all told. But resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict will still be critical--as will further democratization and economic liberalization through the region. As for Iraq, I think Zarqawi's brand of terror is not gaining traction amidst a public increasingly disgusted by the massive carnage his brand of nihilistic terror has wrought. More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 05:14 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Bolton, Again

Samantha Power, writing in the New Yorker:

It is unclear what the Bush Administration has in mind by shipping Bolton to New York. The appointment has been spun as “Nixon goes to China.” Nixon, however, actually went to China: the visit was compatible with his world view. Bolton, by contrast, seems averse to compromise, and is apparently committed to the belief that the U.N. and international law undermine U.S. interests. If he is to be an engine for U.N. reform, he will have to jettison his core values.

John Bolton, accepting his nomination to USUN:

And, Secretary, my record, over many years, demonstrates clear support for effective multilateral diplomacy, whether it be the Proliferation Security Initiative, the G-8 global partnership or adopting U.N. resolutions. Working closely with others is essential to ensuring a safer world...

...Close cooperation and the time-honored tradition of frank communication is central to achieving our mutually held objectives.

The United Nations affords us the opportunity to move our policies forward together with unity and purpose.

As you know, I have, over the years, written critically about the U.N. Indeed, one highlight of my professional career was the 1991 successful effort to repeal the General Assembly's 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism, thus removing the greatest stain on the U.N.'s reputation.

I have consistently stressed in my writings that American leadership is critical to the success of the U.N., an effective U.N., one that is true to the original intent of its charter's framers.

This is a time of opportunity for the U.N., which likewise requires American leadership to achieve successful reform. [emphasis added]

I have only the utmost respect for Samantha Power but think she's being too harsh on Bolton here. Yes, Bolton has been a U.N. skeptic. But there is nothing about him that makes him constitutionally incapable of compromise, innately opposed to international law writ large, or wholly predisposed to think the U.N. always undermines the U.S. national interest. Bolton is ultimately a pragmatist (note the use of the word "effective" twice in the above passage)--not some messianic idealogue railing against all international fora. He just, in the main, wants to improve the U.N. efficiency in matching its lofty goals while, at the same time, not allowing the U.S. to be emasculated by said international organization when more effective means of pursuing the national interest are available. Yes, Samantha is right that Bolton is a nation-building skeptic, of sorts. But from this and some Lexis-Nexis ferreting about for Boltonisms one can't so easily extrapolate that he doesn't care a whit for international law, the United Nations system, even, 'compromise'! As even Power points out the Proliferation Security Initiative took some doing, didn't it? Multilateral doing, that is.

Indeed, I anticipate that he will have a strong voice indeed up at the U.N. and will be quite an, er, effective advocate of U.S. interests there (including, so important, helping spearhead critical U.N. reforms). He's also street smart and savvy enough to not only get advice about how to navigate the rocky shoals of Turtle Bay from people who share his basic DNA (Jeanne Kirkpatrick, say), but also from people like Dick Holbrooke who will have distinctively different worldviews from his. At minimum, however, Holbrooke and Bolton will be able to agree that the U.N. can at least sometimes be of utility. As Bolton wrote in this article:

What, then, does the foregoing analysis mean for the United Nations, and for America's role within the organization? It means primarily that the rest of the world should have realistic expectations that the United Nations has a limited role to play in international affairs for the foreseeable future. While that role can be important, it must be seen in perspective. Thus, during the Persian Gulf crisis, the U.N. Security Council served as a critical element in developing the global coalition that opposed and reversed Saddam Hussein's unprovoked aggression against Kuwait. Not since the Korean War had the United Nations been so central to the handling of a major international crisis, and never before had American diplomacy been so focused on the United Nations. Unfortunately, however, many people drew the wrong lessons from the U.N.'s role in the Persian Gulf, thus contributing in part to the debacle in Somalia.

Worth noting too, and contra Power, Bolton has been to the metaphorical 'China':

I believe that the United Nations can be a useful instrument in the conduct of American foreign policy. That is why, for example, even as a private citizen, I am willing to assist my former boss, former Secretary of State Jim Baker, in his capacity as the U.N. secretary general's recently appointed personal envoy to assess the situation in the Western Sahara. Secretary Baker and I met with Kofi Annan on April 2, and we will be travelling to the region, at the secretary general's request, to assess the situation there, and to make recommendations to him and the Security Council.

Another part of Samantha's piece worthy of flagging:

The appointment of John Bolton has the look of a bureaucratic fix for an Administration that doesn’t really care what happens to the U.N. At the State Department, Bolton, a protégé of Vice- President Dick Cheney, has behaved more like a grandstander at a conservative think tank than like a diplomat. Colin Powell endured the collateral damage caused by his outbursts, but Rice made it plain that she would have none of it, and passed over Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State. Cheney reportedly then insisted that Bolton get the U.N. When Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were appointed U.N. Ambassadors, President Clinton announced the nominations. Bush did the same for his first-term nominees, John Negroponte and John Danforth. Rice, in naming Bolton herself, sent a not so subtle signal that she expects to remain boss. [emphasis added]

It wasn't just Condi sending a message but, more important, Bush. After all, it was Bush's perogative, not Condi's, as to whether he would announce Bolton's nomination like is customary for a UN Ambassador (and like he had Danforth's and Negroponte's). He chose not to--signaling that Bolton was to report through Condi and not entertain bypassing her too often via independent channels to the White House. The point is that, where he might have a tendency to go off the plantation a bit, he will be more easily reeled in than he was during Bush's first term.

Meanwhile, I note that Steve Clemons is on something of a monomaniacal anti-Bolton blogathon. Hey, to each his own! It's his space...and he's trying to keep Sid Blumenthal's "neo-primitive" at bay (read: away from Turtle Bay)! But what exactly does he mean by the "Niger-Uranium fiasco"? I thought we had dealt with that extensively here or here or here or, er, here (there's more, just search "Niger" or such 'key words' to the right). The only "fiasco" here, truth be told, was Josh Marshall's breathless chearleading (tectonic plates a shiftin') of what proved a non-story (if you are going hard for the jugular and trying to topple major players--well, you gotta pull it off or, if you can't, stand down and eat some humble pie). So it's too bad to see a smart guy like Clemons repeating the discredited meme as gospel. You can't just try to tar Bolton by muttering on about Niger and uranium and, voila, try to get Chuck Hagel to think twice about supporting his nomination. That's just not serious. Nor would such smear tactics work anyway. People like Hagel are smarter than that.

P.S. Don't miss Sully writing on this in the Times (UK) either:

It remains true that Bolton’s visceral suspicion of the UN is not what we usually think of as diplomacy. But the post of UN ambassador has long been a job in which ferocious critics of the UN have found their niche. Remember Jeane Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s ambassador, or, more pertinently, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Democratic senator? When the UN passed its infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution, Moynihan diplomatically stated, “This is a lie.” When Idi Amin addressed the organisation and was granted the same respect and status as a democratic leader, Moynihan called him a “racist murderer”. Somehow the UN and world diplomacy survived this rare outburst of truth.

The UN and world diplomacy will survive John Bolton too. Hell, they may even be better for it.

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Protests and Counter-Protests

Last week, during the allegedly pro-Syrian demonstrations in Beirut, commenters were quick to jump on me for not truly being in favor of democracy. The gist of their comments was 'why haven't you yet blogged the pro-Hezbollah, pro-Syrian demonstrations you hypocrite?!?...What of this voice of the street? Why the silence?). Truth be told, I hadn't blogged those particular protests mostly due to the mere mundanities of time constraints (reminder: B.D. is a wholly nocturnal hobby, save weekends on occasion--not a real time insta-analysis news service). But what I wanted to say then was that those Hezbollah orchestrated demonstrations were less pro-Syrian demonstrations than they were really anti- Resolution 1559 demonstrations. To explain. Some Lebanese view 1559 as somewhat high-handed (evoking neo-colonalist imagery and the specter of foreign intervention with the French and Americans collaborating on getting the Syrians out and shaping Lebanon's future to heavy-handedly). There is, in some circles, a preference that the Taif Accords be followed more than 1559. In all likelihood, some hybrid of both approaches will end up constituting the end-game with regard to the Syrian presence in Lebanon (though more skewed towards 1559, in my view, at the end of the day). Also important to keep in mind, of course, is that 1559 has raised Hezbollah's ire given that it calls for all foreign militias in Lebanon to disband and disarm. Iran has been a chief sponsor of Hezbollah for many years (though it has a home-grown constituency in Lebanon too).

So what's my point in all this? Really that the demonstrations last week were really more about Hezbollah flexing some muscle and saying "hey, we (the poorer Shi'a in the teeming slums of South Beirut) are here too. Keep us in mind as well oh gelled haired, Western-clad, nightclubbing bourgeois ones." But the shrewd Sheikh Nasrallah, likely all along, was well aware that appearing too pro-Syrian would backfire on Hezbollah (and if he wasn't last week; he certainly is after today's massive protests). Regardless, what's manifestly clear is that the nationalist, liberationist aspirations of the Lebanese have positively erupted, and Hezbollah ain't gonna stand in the way--despite occasional Bashar poster spottings here and there amidst the protests. What better quote to sum it up than: "I feel a certain kind of grandeur today. The Lebanese people are finally saying what they wanted to say for years, and they are saying it out loud." They sure are, loud and proud and in big, big numbers, as Glenn aptly points out.

Oh, and isn't it truly wonderful to see the partisans of competing visions of Lebanon's future argue their positions through peaceful rallies rather than via bullets and terror (yeah, that's a rhetorical question)? Still, no one should get too giddy as instability remains a real risk factor in the coming weeks and months. But with deft diplomacy and sustained international attention, responsible moves by the key Lebanese and regional players, and, not least, a good dollop of luck--things could turn out quite well indeed. And so far, so good.

Posted by Gregory at 01:49 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

Juvenilia Watch

I missed this earlier as I was on the road, but wasn't this one of the most childish mastheads the New York Times has ever seen fit to print (ed. note: and we wonder why MoDo gets away with serial Dowdifications? Wonder no more!)? A few more of these and the editorial page will get just as bad as the (increasingly godawful) weddings section...

Particularly comical, at least as an insight into W. 43rd St-think, was how the masthead writers found this quote so prima facie shocking:

... and North Korea. In 1999, Mr. Bolton told The Los Angeles Times: "A sounder U.S. policy would start by making it clear to the North that we are indifferent to whether we ever have 'normal' diplomatic relations with it, and that achieving that goal is entirely in their interests, not ours. We should also make clear that diplomatic normalization with the U.S. is only going to come when North Korea becomes a normal country."

I mean, how could anyone not be in favor of diplomatic normalization with every country under the sun? How astoundingly bovine! That's always a good thing, right? Only a, er, "neo-primitive" (whatever that means--perhaps Jesse Helms but with a YLS degree and no southern drawl--and occasionally known to sup with Wolfy?) would dare think to the contrary...

Posted by Gregory at 04:49 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Checkpoints Save Lives Too

Bartle Bull seems unimpressed by the likely tactics employed to free Giuliana Sgrena and is worried the fall-out will lead to fewer checkpoints being used in Iraq. He's likely spot on. Read the whole thing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 03:17 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

The Iraq Effect

Mona Eltahawy:

The invasion of Iraq was the equivalent of a bucket of freezing water thrown in the face of an Arab world in deep slumber.

There, I've said it. Can we move on now?

There is a way to talk about the effect of the Iraq war on the rest of the Arab world without actually supporting that war. This time last year and the year before, I marched in demonstrations in New York against the war on Iraq, which I did not believe was launched in the name of democracy and freedom. But we would be lying to ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is a major catalyst for what has been happening lately, be it in Egypt, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia.

As an Egyptian man told me recently, if there was a "domino effect" sparked by the invasion, it was one of questions.

"The U.S. invasion revealed the ability to overthrow one of the worst tyrants around and led to this question: If this regime collapsed, why not the others? Why shouldn't Syria leave Lebanon? Why shouldn't we change the Egyptian regime? Isn't it enough (kifaya) already?"

A bucket of freezing water thrown in the face is one of the more apt analogies I've seen yet. And this from someone who protested against the war!

Be sure not to miss the estimable Youssef Ibrahim either:

"His talk about democracy is good," an Egyptian-born woman was telling companions at the Fatafeet (or "Crumbs") restaurant the other night, exuberant enough for her voice to carry to neighboring tables. "He keeps hitting this nail. That's good, by God, isn't it?" At another table, a Lebanese man was waxing enthusiastic over Bush's blunt and irreverent manner toward Arab autocrats. "It is good to light a fire under their feet," he said.

From Casablanca to Kuwait City, the writings of newspaper columnists and the chatter of pundits on Arabic language satellite television suggest a change in climate for advocates of human rights, constitutional reforms, business transparency, women's rights and limits on power. And while developments differ vastly from country to country, their common feature is a lifting -- albeit a tentative one -- of the fear that has for decades constricted the Arab mind.


MORE: It's a "democratic, electric shock." But not everyone is seeing it quite this way...

Posted by Gregory at 03:06 AM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

On the Road

Lots of travel through next Tuesday. Blogging will therefore be minimal to non-existent until Tuesday evening East Coast time (alas, only Lufthansa has wireless internet connectivity in their air cabins across Atlantic? Or do other carriers now have it too?)

Posted by Gregory at 05:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Golden Oldie Time: Bolton On Clinton's Acquiesence to the "Annan Doctrine"

On a visit to the war zone, Annan said at the time: "Unless the Security Council is restored to its preeminent position as the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force, we are on a dangerous path to anarchy." Subsequently, in the secretary general's annual report to the U.N. membership, Annan returned to this theme, arguing that "enforcement actions without Security Council authorization threaten the very core of the international security system...Only the [U.N.] Charter provides a universally legal basis for the use of force. " These are sweeping -- indeed breathtaking -- assertions, made all the bolder by the fact that the U.N. Charter describes the secretary general as merely a "chief administrative officer."

But not only is the Annan doctrine limitless in its purported reach, it greatly inhibits America's ability (and everyone else's, for that matter) to use force to protect and advance its vital national interests. Such a limitation was never seriously advanced, and certainly not accepted, when the Senate considered the U.N. Charter in 1945. Indeed, during the Cold War, Americans would have greeted such statements by a U.N. secretary general with derision. Why did President Clinton allow Annan's assertions to go unrebuked and even support them, albeit implicitly, during his address to the General Assembly?

...Wishful thinking about the United Nations, as mentioned, ran into a wall of reality in Kosovo. But instead of leaving the dreamers to their dreams, Clinton has felt compelled to justify the NATO intervention. In his speech before the General Assembly last week, he effectively submitted the Yugoslav campaign to the judgment of the Security Council, seeking its post facto blessing. Thus, he argued that NATO acted legitimately in Kosovo because it acted in the interest of the Security Council.

First, Clinton pointed out, the Security Council had condemned the Serbian atrocities, one of the stated reasons for the NATO campaign; hence the cause was just. Second, though NATO acted without Council authority, "we helped to vindicate the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter"; hence the motives were pure. Third, NATO's action gave "the U.N. the opportunity it now has to play the central role in shaping Kosovo's future"; hence the result was right. While the president's willingness to argue that the end justifies the means should not surprise any careful student of his administration, what is surprising in his speech is that he showed any deference to the Security Council 's supposed authority over NATO action.

The correct American response, for those who supported the NATO campaign, is: "We did not need the Security Council's permission to act. Besides, the Security Council was paralyzed and therefore useless for our purposes." In the Persian Gulf crisis, had President Bush not obtained Council authorization to use force against Iraq, he would have made precisely this case to support the U.S.-led coalition's subsequent assault. President Clinton's failure to make this case is neither accidental nor simply cordial, a case of being polite to the secretary general in the chamber of the General Assembly. He effectively accepted the Annan doctrine's logic. [emphasis added]

John Bolton, writing in the Weekly Standard in 1999.

I suspect Bolton will have mellowed in old age a tad...but his argument that the U.S. or NATO should not be hamstrung by UNSC vetoes is spot on. Bosnia and Kosovo displayed that in spades. Were we not to intervene to help stave off genocidal policies simply because the Russians and Chinese would veto? Annan had said: "enforcement actions without Security Council authorization threaten the very core of the international security system". But what threatens the core of the international system more? Inaction in the face of genocide because the Chinese, Russians or, yes, French have vetoed intervention in some hellish corner of the world? Or sending NATO into action to stave off genocidal aggression without the explicit imprimatur of UNSC approval? I think the former is more perilous--legal niceties aside. That said, Bolton goes too far in poo-pooing Clinton's ex post facto arguments about why, despite lack of U.N. approval, the Kosovo intervention was justified per more general U.N. criteria. By all means, take action when the national interest or humanitarian urgency demands--Beijing's plenipotentiary to Turtle Bay be damned. But you don't have to rub people's noses in it. The U.N. is sui generis--the only talking shop on the planet of such wide berth. Let's at least make a pretense and real go of having cohesive decision-making take place at the UNSC.

P.S. Bolton gets this dynamic better now--and I doubt he'll be penning pieces like this old Standard one anytime soon.

Posted by Gregory at 03:30 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Ward Churchill Sympathy Watch

In the weeks after the 9-11 attacks I remember trying to think about ways to explain the attacks to my daughter, who was only three at the time. And it was a child’s logic that I was going to employ, hoping to explain to her that there were many people who were angry at the United States for some of the things that our government may have done to them in the past. It was admittedly a clumsy attempt to introduce my daughter to the realities of American imperialism.

Ward Churchill was no less clumsy in comparing some of those who died in the 9-11 attacks as “little Eichmanns,” in reference to the complicity of average Americans who are unaware of how to or refuse to hold our government accountable for foreign policy initiatives that may “blow-back” onto the American populace as they did on September 11, 2001. Being clumsy is not a crime and in the case of Churchill, who is a tenured professor at the University of Colorado at Bolder, it should not be a reason for him to lose his job.

-- Mark Anthony Neal, Associate Professor in the Program in African and African American Studies at Duke University

Posted by Gregory at 01:45 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Interested in Photography?

Then be sure to check out my fiancee's newly launched website.

Posted by Gregory at 12:41 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

A Printemps Arabe?

A grudging nod to W from Le Monde's editorialists! (Hat Tip: Paris-based attorney Luis Roth).

Mais ce "printemps arabe", selon l'expression des médias américains, doit être encouragé et au besoin défendu par tous ceux qui voient dans le respect des droits de l'homme une valeur universelle.

Le mérite de George W. Bush est d'avoir tenu ce discours dès le lendemain des attentats du 11-Septembre - mis à part quelques écarts de langage sur "la nouvelle croisade". Il a développé l'idée que les peuples musulmans avaient le droit à la liberté, à la démocratie, à la prospérité. Il ne l'a pas fait seulement par altruisme mais parce qu'il est convaincu qu'une telle évolution correspond aux intérêts de sécurité des Etats-Unis.


But this "Arab Spring", per the expression of the American media, must be encouraged and if needed defended by all those who see respect for human rights as a universal value.

The merit of George Bush is to have held firm to his discourse from the day after 9/11--apart from some unfortunate language about "the new crusade." He developed the idea that the Muslim peoples have the right to freedom, to democracy, to prosperity. He didn't do this only out of altruism but because he is convinced that such evolution corresponds to the security interests of the United States.

As I said, grudging. But pas mal nevertheless, eh?

Posted by Gregory at 11:37 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

A "Nixon Goes to China" Move

So describes an aide to Condi Rice explaining hard-boiled, occasional U.N. skeptic John Bolton's appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. I'm not hugely estatic about John Bolton's appointment. That said, I think he could be a pretty decent pick all told. As Condi Rice put it, some of his predecessors with the "strongest voices" (Moynihan, Kirkpatrick) have been some of our best UN Ambassadors. He will, if confirmed by the Senate (probably approx 80% sure), push U.N. reform assiduously--but not like some messianic lunatic. And while Bolton is often skeptical of multilateralism merely for multilateralism's sake (and why not?)--he is well capable of working within such frameworks--as he was at pains to say in his remarks accepting the nomination today. Finally, and especially with the U.N. job no longer enjoying Cabinet status, I think that Bolton at the U.N. is less powerful than he would have been as Deputy Secretary of State. Both Zoellick and Bolton, of course, will both be reporting to Rice. But Zoellick, especially when the Secretary is on the road, has a big building on 21st and C behind him. Bolton doesn't. The U.N. job may be sexier (though the Waldorf isn't what it used to be!) but it doesn't have the policy heft of DepSec. Bolton's mandate, quite simply, is more limited. Still, it's an important job. After all, he needs to help steer the U.N. through its time of troubles, not by doting on Turtle Bay or hand-holding Kofi, but by energetically helping (in collaborative fashion) prod the U.N. through the painful reforms that must be effectuated if that organization is to be of real utility going forward. Best of luck to him assuming he gets the Senate nod.

P.S,. Here are some previous thoughts I had re: Bolton after hearing him speak last year that may still be worth your time.

UPDATE: Matt says my take on Bolton is "foolish in the extreme." He'll be filling us in on why in due course...

Posted by Gregory at 03:51 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

March 07, 2005

The Ugly Business of Renditions

B.D's an adult; and he knows that prosecuting a global war on terrorism can be a dirty business indeed. But getting in the routine of outsourcing torture to the likes of Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and Jordan isn't a long-term intelligence gathering strategy in accord with better American values in my book.

To justify sending detainees to these countries, the Administration appears to be relying on a very fine reading of an imprecise clause in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (which the U.S. ratified in 1994), requiring “substantial grounds for believing” that a detainee will be tortured abroad. Martin Lederman, a lawyer who left the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002, after eight years, says, “The Convention only applies when you know a suspect is more likely than not to be tortured, but what if you kind of know? That’s not enough. So there are ways to get around it.”

There sure are, alas. But it's harder to pretend you don't know when torture like that summarized below routinely goes down in the rendition-recipient ports of call, eh? After all, we're not shipping these detainees off to Helsinki or Stockholm.


During the year, HRAS reported numerous cases of security forces using torture on prisoners in custody, including the case of five Kurdish students detained by the police in April and reportedly beaten and subjected to electric shocks for 3 days (see Section 5). The torture of political detainees was a common occurrence. AI reported the case of four young men arrested in April of 2003 in Daraa and held in Saidnaya prison where they were subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment, including having their fingers crushed; receiving beatings to their face and legs; having cold water thrown on them; being forced to stand for long periods of time during the night; hearing loud screams and beatings of other detainees; being stripped naked in front of others; and being prevented from praying and growing a beard.

Former prisoners and detainees, as well as the HRAS, reported that torture methods included administering electrical shocks; pulling out fingernails; forcing objects into the rectum; beating, sometimes while the victim was suspended from the ceiling; hyperextending the spine; bending the detainees into the frame of a wheel and whipping exposed body parts; and using a backward-bending chair to asphyxiate the victim or fracture the victim's spine. Torture was most likely to occur while detainees were being held at one of the many detention centers run by the various security services throughout the country, particularly while the authorities were attempting to extract a confession or information. For example, in July, a Syrian-Canadian citizen reportedly was tortured while being questioned by security services (see Section 1.e).


Despite these legal safeguards, there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated detainees. Human rights groups reported that the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS), police, and other government entities continued to employ torture to extract information, coerce opposition figures to cease their political activities, and to deter others from similar activities. Reports of torture and mistreatment at police stations remained frequent. In prominent cases, defendants alleged that police tortured them during questioning (see Sections 1.e. and 2.c.). Although the Government investigated torture complaints in some criminal cases and punished some offending officers, punishments generally have not conformed to the seriousness of the offense.

Principal methods of torture reportedly employed by the police and the SSIS included stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims with fists, whips, metal rods, or other objects; using electrical shocks; and dousing victims with cold water. Victims frequently reported being subjected to threats and forced to sign blank papers for use against themselves or their families should they in the future complain about the torture. Some victims, including male and female detainees and children, reported sexual assaults or threats of rape against themselves or family members. While the law requires security authorities to keep written records of detentions, human rights groups reported that the lack of such records often effectively blocked investigation of complaints.

Jordan and Morocco are a little better--not out and out medieval like some of the Syrian tortures. Still, there's nothing to be proud of here. Will torture-apologist conservatives all in a tizzy about Lebanon's potential freedom from the Syrian yoke more loudly denounce a policy that has allowed for U.S. renditions to Syria? Not to be a spoil-sport, as few have been as excited by the Lebanese going-ons as B.D. But still, just asking. It's a fair question.


From the NYT.

The official declined to be named but agreed to discuss the program to rebut the assertions that the United States used the program to secretly send people to other countries for the purpose of torture. The transfers were portrayed as an alternative to what American officials have said is the costly, manpower-intensive process of housing them in the United States or in American-run facilities in other countries.

In recent weeks, several former detainees have described being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and brutal treatment during months spent in detention under the program in Egypt and other countries. The official would not discuss specific cases, but did not dispute that there had been instances in which prisoners were mistreated. The official said none had died...

...Each of those countries has been identified by the State Department as habitually using torture in its prisons. But the official said that guidelines enforced within the C.I.A. require that no transfer take place before the receiving country provides assurances that the prisoner will be treated humanely, and that United States personnel are assigned to monitor compliance.

"We get assurances, we check on those assurances, and we double-check on these assurances to make sure that people are being handled properly in respect to human rights," the official said. The official said that compliance had been "very high" but added, "Nothing is 100 percent unless we're sitting there staring at them 24 hours a day."

...In the most explicit statement of the administration's policies, Alberto R. Gonzales, then the White House counsel, said in written Congressional testimony in January that "the policy of the United States is not to transfer individuals to countries where we believe they likely will be tortured, whether those individuals are being transferred from inside or outside the United States." Mr. Gonzales said then that he was "not aware of anyone in the executive branch authorizing any transfer of a detainee in violation of that policy."

Administration officials have said that approach is consistent with American obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the international agreement that bars signatories from engaging in extreme interrogation techniques. But in interviews, a half-dozen current and former government officials said they believed that, in practice, the administration's approach may have involved turning a blind eye to torture. One former senior government official who was assured that no one was being mistreated said that accumulation of abuse accounts was disturbing. "I really wonder what they were doing, and I am no longer sure what I believe," said the official, who was briefed periodically about the rendition program.

In Congressional testimony last month, the director of central intelligence, Porter J. Goss, acknowledged that the United States had only a limited capacity to enforce promises that detainees would be treated humanely. "We have a responsibility of trying to ensure that they are properly treated, and we try and do the best we can to guarantee that," Mr. Goss said of the prisoners that the United States had transferred to the custody of other countries. "But of course once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do. But we do have an accountability program for those situations."

Reading between the lines, I get the sense that something is rotten in Denmark. Especially as renditions have become more routine and discretionary at the Agency level. No matter what monitoring mechanisms are in place, no matter that such renditions are, per the Administration, not a purposeful, out-and-out 'outsourcing torture' strategy, but rather a question of resources in terms of manpower related to the detention of detainees--there's too much protesting in the above piece that 100% assurances that torture isn't occuring is simply not possible. Translation: some of these detainees, previously in U.S. custody, are being tortured. In countries like Syria and Egypt. And people in the Administration likely know it.

Posted by Gregory at 04:19 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Over Here, A Rich Foreign Policy Debate

Much hay has been made of American foreign policy over the past few years. There is the stereotypical notion that, post 9/11, Bush's worldview was hijacked by a neo-conservative cabal, heavily Jewish and in deep cuddle with Arik Sharon, that was hell-bent on a militaristic doctrine of preemption so that varied Texan evangelicals could join their settler cousins in Judea and Samaria. Then there are the many in the Moore-school--who believe that American policy is plain driven by the avarice of the ruling elites (read: MoDo's WASP Corleones, ensuring all is well with Carlyle portfolio company EBITDA hurdles and reining in Saudi investor cash). And, of course, there are those who just saw naked neo-imperialistic land and oil grabs. The point here isn't to refute these cartoonish views of American foreign policy, however. Its been done before, in this space, and many others besides. Rather my point is to praise the real ferment and intellectual battles that have been underway regarding the future direction of American foreign policy these past years (especially since 9/11). Because when you leave the cartoonish depictions behind and enter, you know, the real world--there is much afoot indeed in terms of racuous debates underway about the future of American foreign policy.

Take just one school of American foreign policy thought--neo-conservatism. There's more than meets the eye. We have McCainite 'national greatness' neo-cons like Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan. We have guys like Max Boot and Brit transplant Niall Ferguson not shy to use the word Empire. We have the Perles who lean more national-security realist within the neo-con constellation. We have the Wolfowitzes who lean more idealistic. And, of course, there are the fissures between the Fukuyama and Krauthammer wings of the neo-conservatives. And this within just one wing of American foreign policy thought! No mention here of the Jacksonians (Rumsfeld), the paleos (Buchanan, Will), the realists (Scowcroft), the isolationists (Dean), hawkish Dems (Beinart, Lieberman), the protectionists (Gephardt), and, sui generis perhaps, the uber-realpolitiker Henry Kissinger. And there are quite a few others besides.

Compare this with the major foreign policy movements in, say France. The debate there is mostly between Euro-Gaullists and Euro-Atlanticists. Put differently, it's a debate about America. How much to partner with her, really. Granted, America is the world's reigning superpower so that: a) it will necessarily have variegated foreign policy schools of thought given its myriad interests around the globe and b) middle powers, like France, will necessarily have America figure prominently in their world views given her sheer might on the global stage. But how petty the French debate, ultimately! How much of a Euro defense corps to build up, say, before angering the Americans that NATO is being sidelined? Put differently, how to strike a balance between projecting (mostly) faux power in the interests of promoting chimerical notions of supranational greatness--versus collaborating with U.S.-led NATO in the great struggles of the time.

True, at the height of the Franco-American spat over Iraq, Chirac seemed to be trying to hold the torch for a foreign policy vision that transcended the Euro-Gaullist versus Euro-Atlanticist paradigm. It was a world defined by varied centers of power, multipolar, that resolved its disputes solely through the mechanisms of accepted international law as enunciated and actualized through the United Nations. But this was always patently bogus. Did the French refuse to take part in the Bosnia peacekeeping mission, say, because unanimous UNSC resolutions were not obtained to authorize it? Of course not. When France's interests where threatened (too much instability in Europe's southeastern frontier lands; perhaps hobbling the bid for an utopic supranational Euro-land in which la France would figure so prominently), she didn't care a whit whether the Russians and Chinese wanted to play ball on Bosnia policy at the UN. Ditto with Kosovo. So Chirac as some enobled avatar of international law as pronounced via the Great United Nations is a dubious proposition indeed (leaving aside his reign of corruption within his country).

Speaking of Kosovo, it reminds me of German foreign policy in the late 90s. Here is another formerly great nation with little to speak of in terms of foreign policy thought of note these days. The most vivid foreign policy debate in recent times in Germany was probably around the time that Milosevic was putting Kosavars onto trains and shipping them out of Kosovo. I still recall Peter Jennings, with grainy pictures of the spurned of humanity pouring onto trains, solemny intoning that history was repeating itself in the Balkans. Above all the Germans should understand such horrors. But Joshka Fischer, who finally got his Green party to support a German role in Kosovo, had to drag them kicking and screaming. What is it about a German propensity towards excess? There were the horrors of Nazism, of course. And now this over the top allegiance to maximal pacifism in the face of horrors reminiscent of the Holocaust. What of moderation, friends?

Americans are often greeted, in more sophisticated Euro-circles, as simpletons and rather on the clueless side. How dare hapless Condi, for instance, state that Iran might be a "totalitarian" state? Parisian foreign policy authorities found the language over the top and inaccurate. Surtout pas de zele. Truth be told, this silly parsing is evocative of the underwhelming vistas of continental foreign policy. The real foreign policy debates of note are occuring on this side of the Atlantic. We might find all the AEI, Brookings and CSIS mutterings-in-a-fishbowl and navel-gazing a tad provincial and tiresome, after a while. But it's a helluva lot better than the rather risible Gaullist versus Atlanticist or pacifist versus 'save victims of ethnic cleansing' debates on tap over on the Old Continent. And in a time when powers like China and India and Russia are mostly pre-occupied with great internal changes--it's nice to know there is someone minding the store when it comes to foreign policy vision--particularly given the massive challenges that will continue to confront the international community in the so-called 'arc of crisis' spanning from northern Africa, through the Middle East and Caucasus, on to South and Central Asia.

Posted by Gregory at 01:50 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Democracy under Occupation

Has anyone else noticed that the most dramatic democratization events underway in the Middle East of late have all occurred in countries under occupation? Iraqi elections occurred under U.S. occupation, Lebanese protests under Syrian occupation, and the Palestinian elections, of course, under Israeli occupation. Well, yes, the Economist has. There's not necessarily a discernible pattern to this, really, but I do think it's worth noting regardless.

Posted by Gregory at 12:33 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 06, 2005

Some Q&A From Condi's Paris Speech

I'd been remiss in not blogging Condi Rice's February 8th Paris speech at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris--Sciences Po. Certainly by blog-world standards, it's now old news indeed. But I thought I'd still point out this little noticed exchange from the Q&A after the speech.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Madame Secretary. My name is Ann Gavaeneau (ph) and I'm a fifth-year student in the Master of Public Affairs. And my question is the following: What is the American position on the form multilateralism should adopt in the future? For instance, do the United States consider it more appropriate to act through regional or ad hoc coalition such as the Caucus of Democracy Madeleine Albright launch in Poland, then to use the United Nations means of actions?

Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. We have to use all the means at our disposal. The United States is a founding member of the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be strong and active and effective. And we have taken many issues to the United Nations. For instance, the United Nations was instrumental and incredibly important in providing the resolution that now allows us to bring attention to what is happening in Lebanon in terms of Syria.

The United Nations has been critical in providing the mandate for the coalition forces that are now in Iraq as a part of a multinational force there to support the Iraqi people. The United Nations, and I must say that Mr. Valenzuela and Mrs. Pirelli of the United Nations did a wonderful job in assisting the Iraqis in their election. They were very active in Afghanistan. So on and on and on, the United Nations is both an important decision-making body and an important means for carrying out those decisions.

There are also other important fora. Sometimes we can do things through NATO. Sometimes we can do things through the OSCE. And increasingly, it is a good thing when ad hoc coalitions of countries get together on a regional basis because they have some particular interest. I'll give you three quick examples.

One is, the United States and Russia, China, South Korea, Japan are engaged with North Korea in the six-party talks, because those are the regional neighbors who most want to be sure that there is not a nuclear-armed Korean Peninsula.

That's an example of an ad hoc arrangement for a regional problem. A problem, by the way, that could have very big international implications, but where the neighborhood is trying to manage it.

A second example is that at the very beginning of the tsunami -- when the tsunami hit, the United States, Japan, India and Australia, which had navies in the area, formed a core group so that we could use that naval -- those naval assets to make sure that, at the very beginning, aid was getting to the affected areas of the tsunami.

And a third example is a very large coalition, ad hoc group, called the Proliferation Security Initiative, to which France belongs, which is an effort to interdict dangerous cargos related to weapons of mass destruction, using our international laws, using our national laws.

So we have great respect for and want to use the United Nations and the Security Council. But there are times when other mechanisms are equally important. I think we will need to be judged by how effective we are, not just by the forms that we use. [emphasis added]

Read: Substantive results over form. While perhaps a tad shocking in the land of Descartes and Pascal, I must say I like Condeleeza Rice's pragmatic, results-oriented approach. And while she certainly explains that the U.N. remains important for the U.S., she makes it clear that other mechanisms can be "equally important." She's right, of course. There is nothing sacrosanct and supreme about the United Nations. As she put plainly to a French audience that likely too often deifies the U.N. (mostly because of the perma-UNSC spot in the sun it affords Paris rather than any noble idealism) the tsunami crisis, say, was best responded to, at least in the near term, by a group of countries with standing navies in the region. North Korea points to how regional talks spearheaded by the players with the most direct interests at stake can be helpful (though results there have, um, lagged). And the PSI, of course, is wider ranging in terms of countries participating but not weighed down by General Assembly handwringing or crippling North vs. South debates. So, by all means, use NATO, the OSCE, the U.N. when helpful. But let's not hamstring ourselves at the altar of comme il faut artificial form. After all, it's the results that actually matter at the end of the day.

Posted by Gregory at 11:42 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Reader Mailbag

Sanjay Krishnaswamy writes in:

While I love the items on your scorecard--and who couldn't be thrilled? (Don't answer that; I know)--I think you're way under tally. The simple fact is that while the administration has achieved great things in the Middle East, despite its naysayers, I still am actually more impressed with Bush/Powell/Rice's maneuvering in Asia, and that too has borne a lot of fruit in the last month. I think that Japan's agreeing to militarily support the US in defending Taiwan against China is-- well, intellectually it is as amazing as elections in the Middle East, even if it's not as thrilling. And I think Bush decided early on to handle North Korea (which, let's not forget, may be the biggest problem in the world) by starting to build a sort of new Asian security group--and that paid big dividends too last month. I still think that the biggest foreign policy miracle of this administration is the simultaneous improvement of relations with Pakistan, India, China and Japan --- so much so that those last three were actively pulling for Mr. Bush's re-election. It's not to downplay the amazing stuff in the Middle East; only your scorecard has to look at global success stories and there've been no small number this past month outside of the Arab world.

We sometimes get a bit too EuroMed-centric over here at B.D.; and I hope to redress that in the coming year. It's a big world out there.

Posted by Gregory at 05:40 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Blogging for Love

This is kind of amusing. And makes me very happy to be safely engaged.

P.S. I stumbled across this Nerve blog thing in an ad over at TNR while reading this good primer on the post-Lahoud/Hariri players on the Lebanese political scene. Particularly entertaining (unless you're Paul Wolfowitz) is the color provided re: the irrepressible Walid Jumblatt. But, and if you're reading comments over here, the equally irrepressible (well, relative to the blog world) Praktike has already clued you in to this, bien sur.

UPDATE: Comment perma-links seem not to be working. For convenience, Prak's succinct Jumblatt appraisal:

"Don't be a sucker, PJC. Jumblatt knows how the game is played, and he'll blow all kinds of sunshine up whoever's ass he needs to kiss at the moment. He's a first-rate operator."


P.S. But does the Druze chieftain get any props for having a beautiful wife (Nora, who has been organizing opposition rallies of late)? Surely some, seemingly in a babes-of-Beirut frame of mind, might give him some...

And Tom, my excuse is that it's Saturday night...

Posted by Gregory at 05:04 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Triangulation Redux

She's smart. I wonder if the partner at my old Manhattan law firm who was rumored to have exclaimed (during her initial Senate run): "I'd crawl through the snow to vote against her"--I wonder if he'd share the same sentiments today. Truth be told, B.D.'s mellowed on her a tad too. Though there is too much theater in all the deft machinations (sound familiar?), one suspects.

Posted by Gregory at 04:01 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

More on Egypt

For the longest time, Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) consistently opposed and rejected any constitutional amendments despite repeated calls by the political class for more than a decade. It was hardly surprising thus when only a month ago, the president dubbed such calls "futile" and accused unspecified foreign parties of allocating $70 million to fund these demands. A few days later, his son Gamal who heads the NDP's Policies Committee stated that the Constitution is not a sacred text and could be amended.

Mubarak's surprise initiative seems to explain, through hindsight, why the obdurate security apparatus allowed three unprecedented anti-Mubarak demonstrations to take place from December to February when normally they would have been banned. But it also contradicts with the arrest of three activists at the Book Fair last February for distributing invitations announcing one of these demonstrations and more significantly, the arrest of opposition MP and leader of the recently formed Al- Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, Ayman Nour.

And if the president was planning all along to take this step, many are asking, why did his NDP recently talk opposition parties into backtracking their years-old demands for constitutional reform? And why did Mubarak, a proponent of slow and gradual change throughout his 24 years in office reverse this policy in a way that is reminiscent of Sadat's famous "strategic deception"?

To date, there are no clear cut answers. And despite the fogginess, the highlights of Mubarak's initiative are startling: for the first time in Egypt's modern history, the army will not be the only door to presidency. For some, this might usher a new era they like to call the "second republic". Hassan Nafaa, a prominent political science professor says this could be the case, depending on what the president has in mind. But because of the way the president announced his initiative, Nafaa told Al-Ahram Weekly, there are three possibilities. The "most chancy" is if Article 76 is amended and Mubarak decides not to run, allowing for his son Gamal, to do so instead. On the other hand, Mubarak might be seriously paving the way for radical constitutional reform that will transform the state from a military to a civil political establishment after he contests and wins the coming vote. In the third scenario, the parliament and NDP will make a point of placing difficult regulations that would make it impossible for other serious contenders to win or contest the elections.

From Al-Ahram

Developing, as they say. And, as I've said before, the devil is in the details. But frankly, I'd be quite surprised if Mubarak went with the third scenario sketched above. He's invited the world now, really, to scrutizine the next Egyptian presidential elections. He knows that the U.S. will be looking closely to see if he scuttles the effect of constitutional reform (rendering it but cosmetic) through onerous regulations and such. So I'm betting this is a pivot point in Egyptian political history. Yes, change will be gradual. But I think the train has left the station and it's heading towards truly legitimate reform.

MORE: Not really related to the above post; but an interesting Egypt-related read from a while back that I had missed (I've let my Granta subscription lapse and most of the pieces aren't available on line).

Posted by Gregory at 03:02 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 04, 2005

The Dylan Chronicles

Be careful what you wish for, the cliché goes. Having aspired from early youth to become stars, people who achieve that status suddenly find themselves imprisoned, unable to walk down the street without being importuned by strangers. The higher their name floats, the greater the levy imposed, the less of ordinary life they can enjoy. In his memoir, Bob Dylan never precisely articulates the ambition that brought him to New York City from northern Minnesota in 1961, maybe because it felt improbable even to him at the time. Nominally, he was angling for Leading Young Folksinger, which was a plausible goal then, when every college town had three or four coffeehouses and each one had its Hootenanny night, and when performers who wowed the crowds on that circuit went on to make records that sometimes sold in the thousands. But from the beginning Dylan had his sights set much higher: the world, glory, eternity—ambitions laughably incommensurate with the modest confines of American folk music. He got his wish, in spades. He achieved Leading Young Folksinger status almost immediately, then was quickly promoted to poet, oracle, conscience of his generation, and, in a lateral move, pop star.

Luc Sante, chronicling Dylan, over at the NYRB.

Posted by Gregory at 04:44 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Blogroll Additions

When I started this blog out two plus years ago, I thought I'd keep a pretty limited blogroll with heavyweights like Glenn and Andrew and TPM and foreign policy minded folk like Oxblog and Drezner. As time wore on, the blogroll expanded. My rule of thumb was that I'd blogroll a blog that I'd check into daily or near daily (with the exception of some like Katrina vanden Heuvel's or the New Criterion's which I linked more for the institutional connection). I never really thought I'd have much more than a dozen or score blogs on the blog-roll, truth be told (I've now got over forty with today's additions). But, and all blog triumphalism aside, there really is just too much quality stuff out there to keep one's blogroll compact anymore. I just recently made a bunch of additions, but not too long after feel compelled to do so yet again now. In no particular order, they are: 1) The Washington Note (Steve Clemons' blog); 2) Roger Simon; 3) Crooked Timber; 4)Wretchard's Belmont Club; 5) Austin Bay; 6) Jack Balkin; 7) the Becker-Posner blog, 8) James Wolcott and 9) UN Dispatch. And, yeah, there will doubtless be more additions soon.

P.S. Throw in your 2 cents to round it out to 10 new blogs added in comments if so inclined.

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The Saudis and The Syrians

Why is Riyadh, which has historically enjoyed pretty good relations with Damascus all told, suddenly calling for Syria to get out of Lebanon? A big reason, of course, is the assassination of Rafiq Hariri--who was very close to many in the large Saudi royal family (he made much of his money in the Kingdom).

The Saudi message came at a crisis meeting in Riyadh between Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler.

The move deepened Syria's isolation and was a sharp rebuff for Mr Assad, who has in the past enjoyed the support of Riyadh.

Saudi officials were quoted by agencies as saying the crown prince warned that Syria had to move its 15,000 troops out of Lebanon or face strains in its relations with the kingdom.

A Saudi official on Thursday said he could neither confirm nor deny reports. But one Arab official familiar with the Saudi position said: “The Syrian presence in Lebanon has been assessed correctly by the Lebanese that it is time for them to go.”

The Saudi warning came less than three weeks after the killing of Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon's former prime minister and a close ally of the Saudi royal family.

Senior Arab officials said Crown Prince Abdullah had been incensed by Hariri's killing, which many Lebanese blamed on Syria and the pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon. “The feeling in Saudi Arabia is one of depression and anger,” said one official. “There will be a price paid.”

Hariri, the architect of Lebanon's reconstruction after the 1975-1991 civil war, was also a businessman who had accumulated a $4bn (€3bn) fortune in Saudi Arabia. Several Saudi princes travelled to Beirut to pay their condolences to the Hariri family after the assassination.

It has still not been proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the Syrians were behind Hariri's assassination. But, shall we say, there is a something of a presumption in the air that Damascus orchestrated the attack. If the evidence ends up bearing this out-- talk about overplaying one's hand dumbly! After all, it takes a lot to get the Americans, French and Saudis all pissed at you, eh?

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Recommended Reading

If you stop by over here at B.D. more out of morbid curiosity, shaking your head in resignation and often thinking I'm wrong on the issues, this guy is a pretty good antidote well worth reading. Yeah, it's not only Yglesias who is talking about a good deal of triumphalism in this space of late. Consider me duly chastened--but still, given the scale of recent events--mostly unrepentant truth be told.

Posted by Gregory at 01:19 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Real Pro Weighs In

Frank Wisner, in B.D.'s humble opinion, is one of the very best of the best diplomats of his generation. He's now in the private sector, but had a long an illustrious career as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, India, the Philippines, among other countries. And while Wisner was a career foreign service officer (ie, not a political appointee) I think it is fair to say that he has always been more affiliated with the Democrat party. Which makes these comments all the more heartening, in my view [emphasis added throughout]:

Q: Were you surprised by President Mubarak's speech over the weekend calling for a constitutional change to open up the presidential election process for the first time?

A: Yes, I was surprised, as I think many people were. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been a very active political debate inside Egypt in recent weeks after the president announced he was going to stand for a fresh term in office. My own personal assumption was that any constitutional changes would occur after, not before, the election. So the timing of this revision of the constitution to provide for multi-candidate presidential polling came as somewhat of a surprise to me, but as I said, the ground was churning. We were headed in new directions for Egyptian politics.

Q: What do you think is behind Mubarak's decision? Internal unrest over the political system in Egypt? Democracy movements in other Arab countries?

I believe it's a mixture of factors. Certainly one can't discount the general move in the region towards freer elections, or the international environment which is arguing for greater democratic participation in Arab countries, or President Bush's specific call for Egypt to take the lead in democracy in the region. Egypt, after all, has a political past that provided for substantial democratic participation. All of these are factors, plus the fact that this is clearly the last time President Mubarak will stand for re-election. His age is such that [Egypt] is clearly in a transition period, with something else to follow.

Q: Let's talk a bit about the impact of events in other countries. I would assume the situation in Lebanon is of most interest right now to the Arab states. Would you agree?

A: Oh, I certainly do. The events in Lebanon are unbelievably important. The assassination of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri is a very consequential event. But it, too, comes within a context. Beginning at about the time of the American intervention in Iraq, there was coalescence in Lebanese politics around the idea that maybe the time was coming to call for, and obtain, an end to the Syrian presence that had dated from the late 1970's in Lebanon. It was led, in the first instance, by the Druze--Walid Jumblat's people [the Druze are a religious sect; Jumblat is a Lebanese politician of the Druze faith]--and was increasingly gaining traction among Maronite Christian elements, and picking up support among Sunnis. It now has all come together in a considerable turnout of Lebanese sentiment, not only to respond to the assassination of Hariri, but to carry it forward politically and get the Syrians to withdraw. What we haven't heard yet, which I personally believe is material, is where the Shiites will come out. They are, after all, the majority in Lebanon, and their political institutions, Hezbollah and [the] Amal [party] are very consequential, and I have not yet heard where they stand...

...Q: What do you think Mubarak's reaction was to President Bush's State of the Union call for Egypt to lead the region toward democracy?

A: The speech, I thought, was valid. There was no finger-pointing at Egypt in those remarks that Egypt was undemocratic and had to change its ways if the American relationship was to be preserved. But rather, it was a positive message, looking to Egypt, her sophistication, her assets, her influence in the Arab world, to take the lead in this, as in other Arab matters, to help the region move towards a more open, participatory political future, and strong institutions that make up a functioning democracy. The press and judiciary have strong foundations in Egypt, but there is a ways to go before they are functioning and able to provide the cadre, if you will, of a democratic society.

Q: Bush has talked about democracy in the Middle East in a very idealistic way now for a couple of years. He's been ridiculed a bit in the United States about this being sort of an impossible dream. And now, all of a sudden, he's either on a very lucky streak or has had some impact. What do you think?

A: I believe that the president took a principled stand. The actions of the United States are consequential in the Middle East, and they have had some serious effects. They have also been clouded in accusations that the Middle East [is] not going to give into American pressure, and democracy can't be built at the point of a gun. But a debate has been stimulated by a clear American stand; one that all of us should welcome, provided that the pursuit of that objective is very, very carefully pursued. Because these are very fragile societies in a dangerous region, and the last thing any American would want are domestic circumstances in any Arab state to spin out of control and have the very people who have profound differences with the United States on top of the heap. We certainly don't want fundamentalist, Islamic-controlled, radical-controlled regimes.

Note Wisner's praise (bolded above) about the manner Bush addressed Egyptian democratization in the SOTU. It was delivered like a pro, quite firmly but still politely and non-diktat like. Also, of course, it's interesting to see Wisner (and I wholeheartedly agree with him) link increased Lebanese agitation for freedom from the Syrian yoke to the Americans unseating the Baathists in Iraq. It's more than coincidental, and serious, experienced Democrats get that.

P.S. Don't miss Wisner's cautionary noises (both re: the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and Egyptian democratization) either.

Posted by Gregory at 12:23 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Misleading Headline Watch

So I log on and check the NYT website after work and am greeted with this headline: "New Poll Finds Bush Priorities Are Out of Step With Americans." I've been doing this too long, so my instinctual reaction is to stifle a giggle and burrow into the piece to spot the transparent spin (and isn't it Bashar who is "out of step" these days? Didn't anyone tell the Times?). It wasn't hard (to find the spin, that is):

The poll was the first conducted by The Times and CBS News since the president's inauguration. It comes after six hectic weeks for the administration, in which Mr. Bush has witnessed successful elections in Iraq - which he hailed as validation of his decision to remove Saddam Hussein - but also the toughest period he has encountered on Capitol Hill, as he has struggled to win support for the signature proposal of his second term.

In an apparent reflection of the success of the Iraq elections, 53 percent of those surveyed said that efforts to bring order to Iraq were going very or somewhat well, up from 41 percent a month ago. That is the highest rating on that score since the capture of Mr. Hussein.

Still, 42 percent now say that Mr. Bush would have been better off trying to counter the threat of North Korea before invading Iraq, compared with 45 percent who think Mr. Bush was correct to focus first on Iraq...The elections in Iraq have contributed to some improvement in the perception of Mr. Bush's policy there, though it remains far from popular. In this poll, 50 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of his Iraq policy, down from 55 percent a month ago, while 45 percent approved, up from 40 percent.

So let me get this straight. There has been a leap from 41% to 53% on how many polled view the Iraq effort, the major foreign policy issue of Bush's Presidency, positively. Might that not be the lede, at least on the foreign policy side of the story? No it's doom and gloomy with Bush woefully out of step with his countrymen, alas. Then we are told: "Still, 42 percent now say that Mr. Bush would have been better off trying to counter the threat of North Korea before invading Iraq, compared with 45 percent who think Mr. Bush was correct to focus first on Iraq." Still? I don't get it. A majority, that's 45%, thought Bush made the right call to go into Iraq first rather than North Korea. So why the "still"? Both poll results are pluses for Bush, the result on the NoKo vs. Iraq question should just flow from the positive uptick in support on Iraq from the previous sentence. But it's Adam Nagourney--so verbal contortions and spin come heavy. Next, we are treated to some awkward sentence constructs and numerical gymnastics: "In this poll, 50 percent of those surveyed said they disapproved of his Iraq policy, down from 55 percent a month ago, while 45 percent approved, up from 40 percent." Why not write the sentence thus instead: "In this poll, 45 percent of those surveyed said they approved of his Iraq policy, up from 40%; while 50 disapproved, down from 55%." It's all in the emphasis, eh?

Then there's this:

And Mr. Bush does not appear to be much more in step with the nation on what the White House has long viewed as his strong suit: 58 percent of respondents said the White House did not share the foreign affairs priorities of most Americans.

I await the publication of the detailed polling data (not readily googable as of this hour) but will make this bold prediction. That 58% number will be unmoored from the full panoply of the polling results on matters foreign policy so that it's a rather unreliable indicator in context. I'll try to follow up tomorrow night on this point. Note too, of course, this poll is pre-Beirut's liberationist stirrings. It's sad when the auto-spin gets this predictable, no?

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Syria's Lebanon Exit Now Increasingly Certain

Who'd have thunk it so soon after the Villepin-Powell spats at Turtle Bay? A joint Franco-American ultimatum!

The US on Wednesday delivered its strongest message to Syria, ordering Damascus to remove its troops and secret services from Lebanon.

The stern message was echoed by the Lebanese opposition, which also demanded the resignation of top security officials backed by Syria.

Applauding the joint statement delivered on Tuesday by Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, and Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, President George W. Bush said the world was speaking with one voice.

You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish,” he said.

Roula Khalaf writing in the FT.

I guess that's pretty clear, isn't it (it's the secret services part that will really smart--and will be harder to monitor)? Oh, but Bush has nothing to do with all the Lebanon going-ons, remember? Heh.

P.S. Don't miss Roula Khalaf (one of the FT's best journalists) on Hezbollah's dilemma either.

Admist all the euporia, some more sober points:

1) Hezbollah, manifestly not a friend of the U.S., must now be persuaded to throw in its lot with the Lebanese opposition given its important role in Lebanese politics;

2) Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon should not be disorganized and hyper-precipitous, leaving dangerous vacuums, but ordered (if rapid);


3) Syria will continue to have a strong role to play in Lebanon given historic links.

More here.

The man with whom the opposition should be dealing is Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is the one in possession of the key to progress in Lebanon.

What may yield results on this front, and what is worthwhile in any case, is the opposition's investment in time and energy in talking with Hizbullah. This is time and energy well invested since, unlike Lahoud, Hizbullah represents a significant percentage of the Lebanese population and is a grass roots and very effective sociopolitical body. The future of Lebanon and the future of Hizbullah cannot be divorced - unlike the latter's marriage of convenience with the Syrian regime. Lebanon, and the opposition, need Hizbullah as much as Hizbullah ultimately needs to throw in its lot with the newly emerging Lebanon.

None of this, though, means that Syria should be estranged. While Lebanon has its own path to follow, Syria will always be Lebanon's closest neighbor, and that naturally means close political, economic and cultural ties. But it does not mean totalitarian Syrian dominance of Lebanon.

Fulfilling the terms of the 1989 Taif Accord will be an important step on the road to establishing a new Lebanese-Syrian relationship. In Lebanon, it will pave the way for such vital developments as judicial reform, administrative reform and attending to the deficiencies in the new electoral law that was introduced during the final weeks of the Karami government.

Note that Walid Jumblatt has been pushing Taif as the way forward too--rather than the joint U.S./French Security Council Resolution. Pushing too heavy on the U.N. resolution could backfire--especially as the going gets more controversial (beyond a Syrian withdrawal to issues like the role of Hezbollah, ie. disarming of militias). Note U.S.-French unity will also look to diminish in the coming months on issues like Hezbollah's role in an independent Lebanon too. For a brief sketch of some of the differences between Taif and UNSC 1559 go here. And more here on resistance in some Shi'a quarters to 1559.

Posted by Gregory at 04:17 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Oh my God, I couldn't believe it, it worked. Our chants have been heard and Karami respected our voices and resigned."

--from the Daily Star

And why wouldn't he be so awestruck and incredulous? This isn't how it has been or, indeed, how it was supposed to be. The rules of the game in the Middle East are undergoing great flux and real bona fide history is being made in our midst. The only question is whether these are but ripples that will prove short-lived--simply borne of lucky happen-stance, destined to prematurely wilt and become stillborn--or whether instead they will pick up momentum, flourish and blossom though the coming decades. But the fact that the leader of the world's sole undisputed superpower is deeply convinced of the justness of such democratization, that he has put the very blood and treasure of his nation in pursuit of it smack dab in the middle of the region undergoing these shockwaves; well surely that counts for a lot, no? Of course it does. This is prima facie self-evident.

Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death. Or Hariri's--the direct catalyst for the Cedar Revolution in process today. Or that Bush didn't cause Qadafi to seek a deal for hard currency and to come out of the cold. Piffle and sour grapes. Bush has, rest assured, done plenty in four short years to further democratization in the broader Middle East. Lest we forget, of course, he unseated a viciously reactionary Taliban government in Afghanistan; and a grotesque neo-Stalinist genocidaire thug in Saddam. Toppling two totalitarian style states is no mean feat, to say the least. Another thing, not previously mentioned and too often ignored? Importantly, Bush has communicated firmly from the top down to one set of front-line troops in this struggle, his diplomats stationed from places like Rabat to, yes, far-away Karimovian Tashkent, that democratization is a key item on the agenda of each and every bilateral relationship. No, it's not and never can be an out and out litmus test. Yes, we sometimes look away from the Karimov's and Musharraf's excesses when the national interest demands it. And, of course, there have been moments of abject hypocrisy (renditions to Syria, anyone?).

But put the carping and nay-saying and exceptions aside and look at the broader Middle Eastern picture. It is one of a region that may well be on the cusp of revolutionary change. A vast region that never went through the Englightenment, one where the revolutionary fervors of the 18th and 19th Century mostly passed it by, its moment may finally be arriving now (ironically, in the midst of an era in the West marked by a sad, spoiled cynicism manifested by those unmoved by such great events). Indeed, and contra sophisticates poo-pooing Georgie's misadventures in Mesopotamia, people in the actual region impacted are listening to what the U.S. will say and do next, and watching intently--both in the steets and in the presidential palaces--with suspicions, yes, but also a sense of deep expectation and wonder (well, at least those in the vaunted Arab street).

In Bush we do not have an intellectual who sets dinner companions atwitter on the Left Bank and Islington; but, and putting it plainly, we have someone who is not a bullshiter (like his predecessor, who was an unusually good one). He walks the walk. And people know it (I have a friend who was recently deep in the Amazon. An Indian, in a primitive and remote hamlet, said he was scared of Bush's electoral victory. Why? Because he really means what he says came the response, ie more wars could be in the offing the Latin American, lefist-infused thinking went). Chuckle at my feverish cheerleading in trotting out such vignettes. But the fact is that when a typical President might have said something like "I call on the great and proud nation of Egypt to bla bla" the typical reaction in Cairene ministries would have been to ignore the prattle deeming it was meant mostly for domestic consumption. Not this time; as Mubarak felt compelled to start pushing forward real reforms. Again, Bush is judged to really mean it. The Saudis ostensibly get this too--despite all the Mooerian distortions of the House of Saud's relationship with the Bushies. And, of course, there was the specter of millions of Iraqis risking very life and limb to vote in convincing number. This too is Bush's legacy--the bad WMD intel aside. It took boots on the ground to have those elections come off (even if we didn't have enough at critical junctures allowing the insurgency to fester). Look, anyone who thinks Bush's forward-leaning posture on the entire democratization issue has had no impact on the Lebanese filling the streets of downtown Beirut are in denial of reality; or rabidly partisan fools, or both. There are many variables at play, yes, but Bush's post 9/11 policies have been an undeniable and major motor driving the developments we are currently witnessing with such expectation and hope. No one serious can deny this anymore.

P.S. I'll try to stop "crowing" soon...

Posted by Gregory at 04:43 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Blair Issues a Message to Bashar

The Guardian: Can we talk about the wider region, I know our time is limited, but your policy of constructive engagement with Syria. Are we now at a stage where we say (a) that is kind of over, but (b) it didn't work, given everything that has happened in the last two or three weeks?

Tony Blair: I think what you have always got to do is to give people a chance, but they have got to take the chance, and we have given Syria a chance. Now I don't want to comment, because we can't be sure who is responsible either for the appalling assassination of Hariri, or the terrible terrorist atrocity in Tel Aviv, we can't be sure. But what we can say is that for Syria it is important to realise that the international community expects certain obligations to be undertaken and adhered to. And in the wider Middle East what is happening now, I think people have missed the announcement of President Mubarak of Egypt, this is of huge significance, and what is happening in Kuwait, and Bahrain and many other Gulf states is of huge significance. There is a genuine, it may only be a ripple of change at the moment but it is happening throughout the Middle East and it is important that we encourage it because it is out of there that so many of the issues that we grapple with in the international community arise, and that is why in the end whatever positions people take on Afghanistan or Iraq, if you can establish democracy there it is of huge importance to again providing an example of how countries can develop.

The Guardian: Just to follow up a few key things in that answer. You said that it is important to give a chance but they have got to take the chance, is it then right to infer from what you said that in your view Syria did not take its chance, you reached out but they ...

Tony Blair: Well the concerns over Syria are well known. I am not saying that it won't change, but I think they have to realise that the international community is looking at Syria very closely at the moment.

The Guardian: I agree you can't be certain, but is it your operating assumption that they were behind the Hariri assassination and the Tel Aviv bomb?

Tony Blair: I think operating assumptions for me are dangerous to make. I don't know, that is the honest answer and therefore it would be unfair to point the finger. There are many in the international community who might, but I will judge it on the basis of the evidence. But I think what is clear is that there are two views of how the Middle East can now develop. One view is the view that I think, and this is what is interesting about today's conference, because remember you have got Arab countries, you have got European countries, you have got the United States, you have got Russia and they are all coming together round the same pitch basically, which is we want a solution, a two state democratic solution to Israel and Palestine, and we want to see the Middle East and those people who are reformers within the Middle East encouraged, and I think that is all to the good. I mean the very fact that you have got Libya coming back into the international community is another interesting change that is happening. And my advice to any countries who are holding out against this emerging consensus is you know stop holding out and get alongside it. [emphasis added]

Well put, Mr. Prime Minister. You know, and for all the tired and cheap vitriole hurled at Tony Blair for being a dutiful poodle to the Toxic Texan; I am consoled that History will remember him much more kindly. Like Bush, he immediately grasped the existential perils presented by 9/11. But he had to carry forward the torch in a land not as rocked by massive tragedy (though many Britons died in the Towers). The skepticism ran higher, the fellow-feeling less pronounced. The Harold Pinters and Tony Benns roundly mocked him for his Bush-fawning idiocy. He stood firm against such darlings of the left, against a comically biased Auntie Beeb, against the coarse and barely concealed anti-Americanism of media like the Independent and, indeed, the Guardian (from which this interview is excerpted). And, all the while, he communicated the stakes with significant eloquence in an era so often defined by mediocre or worse statemanship. Compare this man to an uber-opportunistic Gerhard Schroder or a corrupt Chirac. There really isn't a comparison to be made, is there? Last, but not least, he has manifestly made good on his pledge to the American people to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with them in the post 9/11 war against terror. In other words, he is a man of his word; not the 'Bliar' of the cheap placards mindlessly hoisted about Shoreditch and Hoxton. Yes, this is a man who has earned the right to hold his head up high.

Posted by Gregory at 04:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

Martyr's Square Rules

Hassan Fattah:

Mr. Karami, a Syria loyalist, announced his resignation in a terse statement as Parliament reconvened debate on the confidence measure. "Out of concern that the government does not become an obstacle to the good of the country, I announce the resignation of the government I had the honor to lead," he said.

Lebanese television reported that President Émile Lahoud had accepted Mr. Karami's resignation and that he would soon establish a caretaker government.

Mr. Karami, scion of the Lebanese independence hero Abdul Hamid Karami and brother of the multiterm prime minister Rashid Karami, who was assassinated in 1987, was defiant as he faced Parliament on Monday morning.

I call on everyone to be patient and avoid taking their strength from abroad, allowing Lebanese demands to be manipulated by the ongoing conflict in the Arab world," he warned, in an allusion to growing pressure by the United States and France on his government and on Syria.

The resignation is likely to help budding democratic efforts throughout the Middle East. Few opposition parliamentarians expected to win the no-confidence measure, but in a nod to the growing populism of the opposition, Mr. Karami bowed to the Lebanese street.

"The government would have won the confidence vote, they weren't afraid of that," said Jihad al-Khazen, a professor of political science at American University in Beirut. "But they lost confidence on the street, and that was awkward. They lost legitimacy, they lost credibility." [emphasis added]

"Lost confidence on the street." "Bowed to the street." Think about the import of these words. These certainly ain't the old Hama Rules (perhaps we'll come to call them Martyr's Square Rules)? In Hama, thousands were mowed down on the streets. Now an Arab leader will bow to the street? There's a word for that. It's called progress. And make no mistake about it, such words are partly a legacy of Baghdad. Yes, Hariri's assassination was a tipping point. Maybe he was too big to have been killed. Something definitely flipped in the Lebanese consciousness. Enough is enough! one could almost hear the Lebanese collectively emote. But Iraq emboldened too. Bush's call for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize emboldened. Bush's comments that Syria was 'out of step' with broader Middle East trends emboldened. Yes, something new is in the air; and spring-time is beckoning...


In scenes reminiscent of protests in the United States in the 1960's, protestors rushed to get to the site of the demonstration, just yards away from Mr. Hariri's grave, and camped through the night, waving Lebanese flags as anthems played on. Many handed flowers to the soldiers and beseeched them to cooperate with them. Despite orders to prevent demonstrators from entering the area, soldiers eventually relented to the flood of largely young protestors on Monday, and the demonstration carried on peacefully.

We came to say that conditions are not acceptable anymore," said Tony Khouri, who had come from Amman, Jordan, with his wife, Caroline, on family business and stayed on for the demonstration. "The goal is for everyone to stop interfering in our country and let us take care of ourselves," he said, alluding to Syria's grip on Lebanon.

Such talk was virtually unheard of in public only a year ago. But the resignation of Mr. Karami underscored Syria's weakening grip on Lebanon. For more than 30 years, Syria has held sway over Lebanon's political and economic life through its military and proxy over the government, arming Hezbollah, and using the country as a gateway into the global economy.

Wow. Bonne chance Beirut! A personal note. I've probably been to Syria over half a dozen times. The souks of Damascus and Aleppo (particularly Aleppo's) are simply glorious. I harbor no animus towards the Syrian people who can be extremely hospitable indeed. I have Syrian friends. But the Baathist dictatorship has simply become too ossified and Bashar's decisions (particularly if Syrian intelligence was behind Hariri's assassination) highly unfortunate. Bashar bought himself some time with the turnover of Saddam's half-brother and is doubtless tightening up the border with Iraq (no, there is no Ho Chi Minh trail running between Damascus and Fallujah but the border was always a bit too porous). And Syria will always play a role in Lebanon, in some fashion. But Bashar must move his country forward towards new vistas. The antiquated continuance of Hafez al Asad's hardline rejectionist front vis-a-vis Israel is increasingly appearing a relic. Egypt is at peace (if a cold one) with Israel. Ditto Jordan. Perhaps the PA in the coming years. Millions of Iraqis have voted in free elections. Yes, Syria must come out of the cold. She has her legitimate national aspirations and security concerns--but she has been making too many bad decisions of late. It's not too late to get back in step in more positive vein and play a more constructive role in the neighborhood. But Bashar must seize the moment and act with real resolve. Nor should he think he can outlast the Americans in Iraq through some low-level support to insurgents. He won't.

P.S. Will Hariri have proven greater in death than in life? This, if nothing else, may prove a consolation to his bereaved family.


The anger simmering in this country since the unprecedented extension of President Emile Lahoud's term of office last September finally found a vocal and unstoppable expression that has toppled a government.

The final and tragic component that united the nation and provided the catalyst for yesterday's unprecedented events was the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

This newspaper pointed out following the outpouring of grief at his funeral that Hariri's lasting legacy would be to unite his country. Yesterday's tumultuous events have made that assertion fact.

Stung and shocked by the strength of public anger shown toward it, this ramshackle government, formed by default in the wake of Hariri's resignation last October, finally seems to have lost the will to go on.

History in the making indeed...

Where do we go from here? Who will fill the political vacuum yesterday's events have left? Hariri's sister, MP Bahia Hariri, who spoke both eloquently and movingly in the stormy parliamentary session that preceded the government's resignation, is being talked about as a possible candidate for the premiership.

If Lebanon is ready for a female prime minister she must surely be the first choice.

Whoever it is will have the trust of the people in a way that few politicians can ever enjoy. Let us hope this optimism, this trust and this moment is not betrayed. To paraphrase Karami's last words as prime minister, May God preserve what the people of Lebanon have achieved.

A female PM? Well, why the hell not?

Full article here.

Posted by Gregory at 04:40 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Press Monitoring in the Levant

Nothing to see here. Move along...

Posted by Gregory at 03:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Eroding Credibility Watch

Juan Cole:

Al-Jazeerah is reporting that the Lebanese Opposition is now calling for the big demonstrations at Martyrs' Square to continue until all Syrian troops leave Lebanese soil.

You wonder what would happen if the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza tried the same thing re: Ariel Sharon's military occupation that they face. They'd be crushed by the jackboot (with convenient allegations that they were a front for terrorism).

Hey Juan, didya ever hear of a little place called Hama?

Posted by Gregory at 02:27 AM | Comments (32) | TrackBack

What Is Going On In the Blogosphere?

Juan Cole has, don seatbelts please, written the phrase "positive development" (ya gotta scroll to the bottom to spot this rarest of birds). Matthew Yglesias is wondering why, er, conservatives aren't more excited about Egypt. There's always something to complain about with regard to those dastardly Bushies, isn't there? They're not, you know, happy enough about what Bush has wrought in Egypt (though doubtless John 'palsy walsy with Hosni' Kerry must be duly gratified, eh?) That said Matt, to his credit, is calling developments underway in Egypt a real positive and at least a partial, mid-stream, vindication of Bush's democratization policies in the region. Even Atrios is forced to write something at least arguably positive re: Bush: "George Bush might actually be sincere in his new mission..." Though on the other hand, and true to bumbling form, he simultaneously serves up this sad tripe to this readers:

Republicans have never stopped being isolationist and anti-nation building (true of most of the US population, actually). They don't think tyranny leads to terrorism (nor am I claiming there's necessarily a strong connection), and don't really want to expend any treasure helping out "the other." What they do like is killing bad guys, and when George Bush says "spreading freedom and democracy" what they hear is "killing bad guys." They like killing "bad guys," and they're a bit lost without an enemy, so the actual spreading of democracy just doesn't excite them that much.

Wow, that's deep! What cheap snake-oil Duncan peddles hither-dither! Tell Lech Walesa that "Republicans have never stopped being isolationist." Or the many Romanians, Hungarians, Czechs for whom Reagan was a hero. Tell Sarajevan intellectuals that Richard Perle, Maggie Thatcher, George Schultz, Bob Dole were "isolationist and anti-nation building." What utter bunk. Note too Black's derisive mention of the American people, rather typical of de haut en bas leftists: ("true of most of the U.S. population, actually"). But does the empirical evidence even prove out that most Americans are isolationist? I doubt it--and readers are invited to send in more poll data. But, regardless, how could the boorish masses not be so bovinely self-centered, in snide and so drearily bitchy mondo Duncan? And don't miss this further sad Atrios think--he chastises Republicans for not really believing that tyranny leads to terrorism but then, lest he be accused of buying into Bush-think, hastens to add: ("nor am I claiming there's necessarily a strong connection.") Heh. Heaven forbid he ever flirt with Chimpie-think! Then, continuing the moronic bluster, Black avers that Republicans simply like to kill the bad guys and don't give a damn about democracy. Quick, someone get this man tenure! He's so, er, nuanced.

But I digress, and back to the top of this post--namely, why all these odd blogospheric happenings? Let's review the bidding, shall we?

1) Iraqis stood up, en masse (with the Sunni angle not as grim as some have portrayed) against fascistic terror tactics and turned out in numbers that surpassed all but the most optimistic prognostications--in what proved a moving and historic event that loudly showcased a key yearning of the modern era--namely, to have one's voice heard through democratic governance structures;

2) The Arab world watched this historic election with real fascination and intrigue, and it is probably fair to say it proved a significant strategic blow to the prestige of the insurgents (though they remain resilient and capable of mass carnage as today's massive suicide bomb showed);

3) Bush's increasingly direct admonishments to Egypt to further democratize communicated both in his SOTU and by his representatives from diplomats on the ground in Cairo to Secretary Rice is evidently bearing some fruit (yes, with details to be worked out about how real Mubarak's moves will be--but most analysts appear to see rather important reformist moves in the works);

4) Syria, where I think it's fair to say our relationship is at somewhat of a crossroads, has basically agreed to withdraw all its troops in Lebanon to the Bekaa Valley and has started turning over big Iraqi Baathist fish to the Americans (it's gettin' crunchtime for Bashar, and he is starting to belatedly really get that, it would seem);

5) The Cedar Revolution is filling the streets of Beirut showing the Arab world that, indeed, Bush was right to say Syria was 'out of step' in a region that is, yes, becoming somewhat intoxicated with these first blushes of real democratization from Baghdad to Beirut;

6) Constructive initiatives are underway vis-a-vis the poisonous Israeli-Palestinian dispute, with Bush having pledged over USD 300MM to the PA, and Sharon and Mazen still doing business post the Islamic Jihad bombing;

7) Saudi Arabia, as Dan Drezner has noted, is making some reformist strides (also reacting to Bush's prodding in his SOTU and a robust dialogue via our Embassy in Riyadh and elsewhere);

8) Condi Rice is to spearhead a revitalized public diplomacy effort as she indicated in her Senate confirmation hearings--doubtless helping better explain our intentions in the region (and no, they're not about perma bases in Mesopotamia, helping Zionists take over the Tigris and Euphrates, or making oil grabs in Iraq and Iran) and such a PD initiative will doubtless, in part, thematically link inter-connected developments like the Iraq elections, the civic unrest in Beirut, the reformist resentiment in Cairo;

9) Afghanistan continues to make forward progress towards democratization and greater stability as do other countries in the broader region like Bahrain; and

10) Bush looks to have wisely deemphasized a short-term military option on Iran and is looking to swing Pollack-Takeyh on Iran policy in greater coordination with the Europeans.

Would it be sophomoric of me to yelp out, "scorecard"? Or as Andrew Sullivan has put it, more succinctly:

I think even the fiercest critics of president Bush's handling of the post-liberation phase in Iraq will still be thrilled at what appears to me to be glacial but important shifts in the right direction in the region. The Iraq elections may not be the end of the Middle East Berlin Wall, but they certainly demonstrate its crumbling. The uprising against Syria's occupation of Lebanon is extremely encouraging; Syria's attempt to buy off some good will by coughing up Saddam's half-brother is also a good sign; ditto Mubarak's attempt to make his own dictatorship look more democratic. Add all of that to the emergence of Abbas and a subtle shift in the Arab media and you are beginning to see the start of a real and fundamental change. Almost all of this was accomplished by the liberation of Iraq. Nothing else would have persuaded the thugs and mafia bosses who run so many Arab nations that the West is serious about democracy. The hard thing for liberals - and I don't mean that term in a pejorative sense - will be to acknowledge this president's critical role in moving this region toward democracy. In my view, 9/11 demanded nothing less. We are tackling the problem at the surface - by wiping out the institutional core of al Qaeda - and in the depths - by tackling the autocracy that makes Islamo-fascism more attractive to the younger generation. This is what we owed to the victims of 9/11. And we are keeping that trust. [emphasis added]

Indeed he is keeping that trust--which is why I supported him. And couldn't Kerry. Triumphalist notes in the midst of a hugely sensitive time for a region that could still totter back into anarchic conditions? Oh, perhaps, a tad yes. But only the most boorish Bush haters can still deny that his robust, forward-leaning democracy strategy (tethered to realist tenets) is bearing fruit in the broader Middle East at this juncture. And that's big news--by any measure.

Posted by Gregory at 12:49 AM | Comments (37) | TrackBack
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