June 30, 2005

Grading Bush's Speech: B-

I've now had a chance to read the transcript of Bush's speech. To me the best parts of the speech were those that well communicated his strong resolve to see the effort through, such as: "for the sake of our nation's security, this [abandoning the Iraqi people] will not happen on my watch". In this vein, the explicit refusal to endorse the concept of an exit date was, if not surprising of course, nevertheless commendable. Also positive? His reminder, and a fair one, that his administration has been able to successfully unseat Saddam, hand-over sovereignty to the Iraqis, and allow for relatively successful nation-wide elections amidst a difficult security situation. The bad? Well, for one, there was nothing really new in the speech. Unlike some, I guess, I'm not terribly discomforted by the conflation of 9/11 with Iraq that has become something of a Bush mantra (a tiresome and frustrating one, for Bush's many critics). After all, one can make serious arguments that the post 9/11 strategic climate made action in Iraq--if not an outright imperative--a policy decision that was not without a good deal of merit. Regardless, and these past debates aside, it is now incontestable that Iraq is a (if not the) critical theater in the war on terror. If we were to retreat before a sustainable, viably democratic Iraq polity were in place--we would invite a Taliban era kind of Afghanization of Iraq and, of course, significant instability through the region--thus providing assorted extremists, jihadists, neo-Baathists and terrorists with a tremendous victory (alternately, I guess, if democracy proved chimerical and we deemed anarchic conditions the biggest danger vis-a-vis terror threats--we could end up, more or less, passing the keys to another brutish strongman, one dressed up as a democrat perhaps--which would put the devastating lie to our democratization agenda. Either outcome is too ugly to contemplate and must be averted at all costs). As Bush put it well, quoting UBL (when are we going to capture him, btw?): "Some wonder whether Iraq is a central front in the war on terror. Among the terrorists, there is no debate. Here are the words of Osama bin Laden: "This third world war is raging" in Iraq. "The whole world is watching this war." He says it will end in "victory and glory or misery and humiliation."

My relative comfort with his continued evocation of 9/11 themes aside, I must say I found his continued, seeming endorsement of the so-called "flypaper" argument, particularly in the context of such an important speech, somewhat offensive ("There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us"). You know, to me, "flypaper" has always been something of a bogus spin-infused alter-narrative more than anything close to an accurate policy diagnosis/prescription. Put differently, it has always screamed rationalization-of-potential-debacle--much more than exemplar of brilliant strategic foresight. Relatedly, see such Sully synopsis/reader feedback, for instance:

The first is that the open Syrian border is a deliberate policy, the fly-trap theory, if you will. According to this theory, we want the jihadists from Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere to come to Iraq so we can deal with them there. The only problem is that the mayhem this causes in Iraq undermines the political project, generates casualties among U.S. soldiers, and so weakens morale at home. It also means the possibility of turning Iraq into Jihad Central, making it harder and harder for us to leave - ever. Flytrap would make sense if we didn't have to sustain American morale.

This is risible fare, in my book. And I am pretty certain in people like Abizaid's too. Some intrepid journalist should ask the good commander if he "wants" Jihadists flowing in from Saudi Arabia and Syria. I'd bet you a helluva lot that the answer would be a resounding no--likely accompanied by an incredulous chuckle. I mean, why get all angry with Damascus about the porous border and their alleged nefarious role (whether by simply ignoring or, perhaps, facilitating insurgent movement into theater)? Flypaper, friends! Hell Bashar, be sure to keep that border mighty porous so as to open the floodgates to all 'dem nasty flies! Ridiculous, no? Another issue with flypaper (that its generally dim and too credulous adherents don't appear to rigorously contemplate) is the assumption that the number of jihadists (whether hailing from Saudi, the hinterlands of Algeria or, even, the Parisian banlieu or Barcelona suburbs) is somehow finite. It's not, last time I checked, which is another major problem with this "thesis." Put differently, you can kill thousands of them; but the ranks will still get re-filled with newbies. All told frankly, I suspect that one of the reasons flypaper-mania has gained widespread credence and popularity is because of the way Bush and other advocates like to portray the narrative: better to fight the terrorists in the far-away over there rather than in the streets of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It therefore has something of an appealing, populist, seemingly easy logic to it--but it's mostly bunk, at least in my book.

But I digress, and so back to the speech. As I said and to briefly recap, Bush was strong on showcasing America's resoluteness--while also fairly pointing out some real accomplishments achieved in Iraq. And yet, he was somewhat poor in that he covered very little new ground (with B.D. being less concerned about the 9/11 themes than the flypaper crapola). There are a couple other topics well worth covering from the speech. First, one can begin to sense encroachments of greater realism in Bush's remarks. Witness: "(o)ur progress has been uneven, but progress is being made" or "(t)he work in Iraq is difficult and it is dangerous" or "(t)o complete the mission, we will continue to hunt down the terrorists and insurgents" [ed. note: I quote this here because I am gratified to see him recognize we are speaking not only of "terrorists", but also "insurgents"), and "(w)e have more work to do, and there will be tough moments that test America's resolve." Yes, some of this is boiler-plate. But, taken in aggregate, it is clear he is signaling to the American people the struggle ahead will likely be a long one.

If anything was new in the speech, it was the additional detail Bush provided on the 'train and equip' effort of the Iraqi forces. It is clear that the prominence he placed on this issue showcases how critical "Iraqification" is to the overall U.S. strategy now. Indeed, Bush more of less described 'train and equip' as the very epicenter and kernel of our overall strategy there: "Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." He went on in some detail about elements of how that effort was being implemented, which was more noteworthy for evidencing just how firmly Bush sees this as our exit strategy than for any of the actual policy details (which all make good sense, and some of which, incidentally, Rumsfeld had already discussed on his recent talk show rounds last Sunday--such as the importance of better Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministry coordination down the chain of command).

There was also this very interesting part of the speech:

Some Americans ask me, "If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?"

If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job.

Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave.

As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters: the sober judgment of our military leaders.

First, can I just say that, particularly given the uber-reluctant-to admit-mistakes and so stay-on-message Bush modus operandi--it's quite revealing that he would even discuss, in such a high profile and important speech--the whole issue of troop levels. In a way, this whole passage served as something of a quasi-admission that the adequacy of troop levels was at least an issue worthy of discussion. I do think that's significant--and it is worth noting too that the "right force level" can move up as surely as it can move down. Somewhat relatedly and worth checking out, from a Newsweek piece discussing Bush's war strategy as it relates to his conversations with the commanders in the field:

Those weekly teleconferences between the generals and the president are secret, and it is difficult to know with any assurance what has been said there. But according to a retired general who has spoken to Abizaid, the conversations do not involve much give and take. (The source declined to be identified because he is a friend of Abizaid's.) The president is generous with his praise and support for the generals, who by and large return his salute. Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is well connected to the Joint Chiefs, says, "There isn't much dialogue. It's 'These are the 14 things we are doing this week.' 'Great job.' 'Thank you, Mr. President'." Despite all the brave talk from generals who have read "Dereliction of Duty," it would be unrealistic to expect a more confrontational atmosphere. The military tends to be an optimistic institution, and generals do not win stars without being gung-ho and can-do. On split screen at these teleconferences is Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has repeatedly said that his generals do not need—and have not asked for—any more troops and that the military is winning the war. The generals report to Rumsfeld, and he decides their next job. Also often present at the teleconference is Cheney, who has been equally outspoken about the war's progress. The generals may think they are being reasonably forthcoming about the problems on the ground. But Rumsfeld and Cheney, as well as the president himself, may have a tendency to hear what they wish to hear.

Again, and I'm sorry to appear to beat a dead horse over here, but I wonder: are the Generals really giving Bush the straight skinny as it relates to troop levels? What impact might Rumsfeld's 'transformationalist' biases have on his advice to the President? And Cheney's world-view on such issues? Unlike LBJ--who was choosing specific bridges to bomb in Vietnam in true over the top micro-managing fashion--is Bush perhaps too hands-off (on the other extreme) in terms of his involvement in tactical war decisions? Let me perhaps put this another way. Has he, per chance, been too consistently dependent on Rumsfeld (and perhaps Cheney) in terms of exerting operational control over this war? And might not the President, as he has matured now almost five years in office and given that Iraq will be his major legacy, might it not be time for the President to talk directly to his generals, in private, and really get to the bottom of whether some more troops, say in Anbar province (you run less of a risk of showing an overly onerous occupation footprint where, well, where you barely have a footprint to begin with...), might be necessitated? CEOs, after all, need to talk to their line managers every now and again without said managers' direct superiors necessarily present. It might not change the actual factual content of the information being relayed--but there can be changes in emphasis and tone that a smart CEO can digest and read between the lines--perhaps leaving him with different take-aways even. A final note on this specific issue. Bush said: "And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever, when we are, in fact, working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave." Really? This is too perilously close to Moveon.org and Mooreian disingenuous and hyperbolic speculations about U.S. perma-bases being erected through Mesopotamia. More men, in the short term, might very well reassure Iraqi moderates that America is fully serious about seeing the effort through and quashing the insurgency. Put differently, I'm not at all sure having a greater footprint in places like Tal Afar, or Ramadi, or Mosul--would this really further alienate fence-sitting locals from the horrific American occupier--or might it rather instead, show that an effort to create secure conditions is being more seriously pursued? After all, security and public order are what Iraqis crave more than anything else now. Would we be alienating them further by trying harder to achieve improvements on this score, even if it meant more U.S. and coalition troops needed to go in theater? I doubt it.

More on such topics another time, but to close on the speech, let me just say that I give it a B minus, all told. Big pluses for standing firm and making it clear we won't cut and run. Also for reminding us of some very significant accomplishments to date like the national elections of this past January. A sizable minus for there being so little that was new (perhaps an explicit repudiation of the "last throes" nonsense? an announcement of 20,000 additional men to Anbar Province? some announcement on a breakthrough in negotiations with less hard-core insurgents willing to play ball? an Egyptian or Indian contingent being sent in or such? etc etc). Still, the bottom line in all this is that we must signal fortitude and staying power. Bush did this. The question, however, is whether the resources currently devoted to the effort can do the job. Keeping in mind that public support lags steadily as one, two or three servicemen (and women) die day after day, seemingly inexorably, without an overwhelming display of American force beating back the insurgents more dramatically than any of Spear, or Matador, or Dagger, or whatever the counter-insurgency campaign de jour seems to have proven capable.

We aren't going to be run out of Iraq by the sheer might of an often desperate and nihilistic foe, not anytime soon anyway. But whether they will be decisively beaten, per the strategy enunciated by the President a couple nights back (keeping in mind that leaving behind a too lightly trained Iraqi Army in a millieu characterized by anarchic, quasi-civil war conditions constitutes a defeat, even if we were not "defeated" per se in battlefield terms), is perhaps just as dubious a proposition too. Put differently, how long will the American people accept a bloody stalemate, if it comes to that? Bush is gambling an increasingly trained Iraqi Army, in conjunction with successfully passed political milestones like a referendum on the consitution and such, will carry the day. He could be right. But it's still more by way of a big gamble than a hugely convincing war plan. And nothing about this speech really changes that perception among, say, centrist independents increasingly souring somewhat on the war--as compared to hard leftists deadly opposed from the get-go or chest-thumping, jingo rightists continuing to emptily cheer on the flypaper meme. Bush still, all told, controls the broad center on the war. But will he in four, or six, or nine months? I'm unsure. This speech bought him a bit more time--but perhaps not that much. People are getting tired of mere words--most often repetitive proclamations of certain victory ahead. Yes, Bush is right to make it crystal-clear we will hold firm and honor our committments to the Iraqi people (I disagree with some, by the way, who believe Bush's was subtly defining the mission down in his speech). But the public, more and more, is looking for convincing results on the ground that show tangible progress amidst the calls for fortitude and staying the course. It's not just the President who is becoming a bit more of a realist...

Posted by Gregory at 05:34 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

An Open Letter to POTUS

Ex-Reagan aide and CIA hand Herbert Meyer (Hat Tip: RCP):

From what I see on television and read in the press, the Vice President, the Secretary of Defense and our top generals are convinced that the war in Iraq has turned decisively against the terrorists, and that they are doomed to military defeat. The numbers they provide on terrorists killed or captured are impressive, so what they say about our prospects for victory may well be true.

Unfortunately, these numbers aren’t the only ones that matter. In business, when a company has bet its future on a new product, it’s very common for the company’s sales force to be optimistic because they have the numbers to prove that this new product is steadily gaining market share. What the sales force doesn’t see – but what the CEO does – are the numbers which show that the company is hemorrhaging cash. So the question isn’t whether the new product will be a success, but whether this new product will succeed fast enough, before the company goes bust. In other words, it’s a race against time. As I’m sure you learned at Harvard Business School, in real life cash flow can dry up faster than it does in the spread-sheets and Power-Point presentations the company’s financial geniuses gin up for the securities analysts.

In war, public support is the equivalent of cash flow. So the question isn’t whether a war is going well, but whether a war is going well enough, and fast enough, to end in victory before public support gives out. And it’s obvious that public support for the war in Iraq has begun to erode, which means that from now on we are not only in a battle against our enemy overseas, but in a race against time here at home.

I don’t know how much time is left before public support for this war erodes to the point when victory will lie beyond our grasp. Your judgment will certainly be better than mine, because only you can combine the top-secret intelligence reports on your desk with your own superb “gut feel” for public opinion to estimate just when these two trend-lines will intersect. My only suggestion is that whatever projection you come up with – Three months? Nine months? Two years? – you cut it in half. History teaches that once public support for a war starts to erode – no matter what may be the actual, on-the-ground situation – it erodes at an accelerating rate. But what matters most isn’t so much the actual date you project for when the two lines will intersect. Rather, what matters most is that you recognize these two lines now are on a collision course, and that you understand what this means:

You have less time to win this war than you thought you had. So to win, you will need to fight harder.

Get Real with the Generals

First, you need to fight harder in Iraq. You keep saying that you are giving our generals all the troops they want. With all respect, sir, this couldn’t possibly be true. In the history of the world there has never been a general who thought he had enough troops. If your generals are telling you they have all the troops they want to finish the job in Iraq, either the generals are idiots – or they have gotten the word that asking for more troops will end their careers. Sit down with your generals privately – just you and them -- and find out how many troops they really think they need. If they still insist they don’t want more troops on the ground in Iraq, then get yourself a new bunch of generals. If they tell you they need another 250,000 soldiers and Marines – then fly them over from Korea, Germany or wherever they are stationed just as fast as possible. If we haven’t got them to send – then order a draft. One way or another, put enough troops on the ground in Iraq to secure that country -- fast. [emphasis added]

"Sit down with your generals privately – just you and them -- and find out how many troops they really think they need." Translation: Please don't invite Don to this little prospective pow-wow. Why are former Reagan hands writing this? Because they are hearing from the brass that Rummy has tied their hands...

Posted by Gregory at 12:28 AM | Comments (106) | TrackBack

Bush's Speech

I'm in Europe, unfortunately, and have early morning travel tomorrow. Even a die-hard political junkie like me can't stay up until 3 AM to then blog the speech through 4, only to wake up several hours later and head off to a busy airport and travel day. So consider this an open thread, of sorts, and please let me know how you think Bush fared and what you thought of the speech. I'll digest comments, read the text in the Trib tomorrow, and try to blog my take by Thursday morning Europe time. See you soon.

P.S. Since I won't be seeing the speech but rather reading the text--I'd appreciate a little feedback on the intangible 'feel' people got from his delivery--as well as the basic vibe of the insta-commentary on the networks immediately after. Thanks in advance!

Posted by Gregory at 12:08 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

June 28, 2005

Who Me? The Secretary of No Responsibility

In just one interview with Tim Russert this past Sunday, a whole raft of examples:

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that was a misjudgment?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, you never know what's going to happen. I presented the president a list of about 15 things that could go terribly, terribly wrong before the war started. And the fact that the oil fields could have been set aflame like they were in Kuwait, the fact that we could have had mass refugees and dislocations and it didn't happen. The bridges could have been blown up. There could have been a fortress Baghdad where the moat around it with oil in it and people fighting to the death. So a great many of the bad things that could have happened did not happen because of the terrific job that General Franks and his team did.

I think that the people who had been repressed by the Saddam Hussein regime did, in fact, feel a great relief when Saddam was gone, particularly the Shia who the Saddam Hussein regime killed hundreds of thousands of these people. He used chemicals on the Kurds. I mean, this is not a nice man who's in jail and going to be tried later on. On the other hand, the people who lost out, the Sunnis, didn't like it, and you're quite right. They did not greet our people as liberators and they're still fighting today.

MR. RUSSERT: Was a robust insurgency on your list that you gave the president?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I don't remember whether that was on there, but certainly it was discussed the possibility that you could have dead-enders who would fight. In fact, the Fedayeen Saddam did that during the course of the battle in getting up to Baghdad. They occupied the churches and the mosques. They occupied the schools and the hospitals and they tried to fight to the death and they tried to kill Iraqis that tried to cooperate with the United States and the coalition forces coming in.

Er, not really a big surprise that you'd have "dead-enders who would fight." But isn't it staggering that Rumsfeld would answer that he can't "remember" whether there was any post-war planning regarding a potential "robust insurgency"? Translation: There was no such scenario relayed to POTUS. Because, aside from a few bitter dead-enders in Tikrit around Saddam's old homesteads, we'd be greeted as liberators...

Later, Rumsfeld:

Right now, General Abizaid and General Casey are absolutely convinced that a heavy U.S.-coalition footprint creates the impression of an occupation and contributes negatively to the insurgency. It encourages more people to participate. So they are avoiding a large U.S. footprint and an intrusive behavior pattern, moving Iraqi forces out in front, more coalition forces back.

Abizaid and Casey are "absolutely convinced". "They are avoiding." Translation: I'm Secretary of Defense but I don't really have squat to do with troop levels, ya know... It's all the commanders in the field. Unless I strongly disagree, I'm just really following their lead...Please. Anyone who knows Don Rumsfeld doesn't buy this 'hands-off' depiction of his management of the decision-making process on key Iraq-related manpower level decisions. Also, this is a very disingenuous response to Russert, of course. We can have a serious debate about whether a lighter footprint or heavier footprint makes sense now (I'd still argue for the former--despite the risk of a greater occupation 'face', etc.--we need to control more terrain, really control it and hold it, so insurgents can't flee a Tal Afar and then regroup there days later as our troops move on to the next hot spot they need to cover). But what is virtually beyond dispute now, of course, is that at the beginning of the war effort massive, overwhelming force was critical (especially given the decision to dismantle the Iraqi Army en masse) so as to overwhelm the insurgents-to-be, provide order in the large cities so as to prevent large-scale looting and mayhem (disorder breeds disorder--so stronger early coalition control would have been very helpful on a going forward basis too), and so on. But Rumsfeld, more or less, dodges all this. That said, Russert nudges a bit (he's not a sterling inquisitor necessarily but, still, he's the best in the biz and doesn't always throw total softballs...)

Rummy and then Russert's follow on query:

From the beginning, General Franks, General Abizaid, General Casey have decided how many troops are needed. I believe they're correct. They have been worried about that tension between having too many, which require greater force protection, greater combat support and a more intrusive heavier footprint, more of an occupation force, more alienation of the Iraqi people, a larger insurgency. The idea that these numbers are coming out of the top of the Pentagon or the president or something is just nonsense. These are coming from General Abizaid, General Franks, General Casey, and they're right. There are people outside who say, "Oh, they should be more," "They should be less." But I don't know anyone right now who's suggesting there ought to be more.

MR. RUSSERT: So never any mistake made on troop level?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Who knows? Time will tell. But I happen to think they're right. I happen to think that General Franks was right. We were ready to go right up to multi-hundreds of thousands if needed. He said, "Stop. We've done it." And that level has been roughly where it is, just about level with where it was when the major combat operations were under way. And the goal of General Abizaid and General Casey is to reduce them over time so that it's less of a footprint and less intrusive.

Did Franks really tell Rumsfeld "Stop. We've done it."? I guess we need to take Rumsfeld at this word, though it's quite hard given this:

Then I turned to reveal the next chart: PHASE IV: POST-HOSTILITY OPERATIONS. "As stability operations proceed, force levels would continue to grow--perhaps to as many as two hundred and fifty thousand troops, or until we are sure we've met our endstate objectives."

--General Tommy Franks, in a briefing to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on his updated plan for an invasion of Iraq, February 1, 2002, according to Franks's memoir, American Soldier, p. 366.

Sure, this was just a pre-conflict briefing. Tommy Franks might well have told Rummy we didn't need more troops later, as Rummy says. But Bremer, at least at one stage, had asked for more. There was Shinseki, of course. And Franks writes in his memoirs that talk of up to 250,000 was in the air, as quoted above. At the very least, Rumsfeld's breezy representation that--if only Tommy Franks had said pretty please--500,000 would have been sent just like that, well, it rings pretty damn hollow.


MR. RUSSERT: But the fact is Lawrence Lindsey, one of the chief economic advisers to the president, was fired because he said the war in Iraq would cost $100 billion. We're way past that.

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I don't think he was fired for that reason.

MR. RUSSERT: Oh, go back and read very carefully what happened.

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I just don't know. I can't speak to that.

MR. RUSSERT: Did you make a misjudgment about the cost of the war?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: I never estimated the cost of the war. And how can one estimate the cost in lives or the cost in money? I've avoided it consistently. And how can that be a misestimate? We've said that there are always going to be unknowns, that the battle was going to change, depending on what the enemy does and how they adjust and how we adjust, and to try to predict the amount of time--I mean, I remember the secretary of defense and the president announced they'd be out of Bosnia by Christmas, and that was--What?--10 years ago.

Again, someone else's problem. I don't do cost estimates, Tim. That's just Lindsey's terrain--don't waste your breath asking me such mundane details...

Still more, in the 'Who Me?' vein:

MR. RUSSERT: What is the problem with arming these Humvees so our soldiers won't get hurt?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: They are arming the Humvees. They've gone up like this, and they've gone from a few hundred to tens of thousands of armored vehicles in there. The Army is responsible for equipping the United States Army. The Marines are responsible for equipping the Marines. And they've been working their heads off on doing it, and they've done it at a very rapid clip. I mean, I'd have to see the context of Duncan's quote, but, I mean, a lot of the arming was done in Kuwait. The fact that the armor was still in Kuwait is, in fact, where a good deal of it--the arming process was taking place.

They are arming. The Marines are responsible for equipping the Marines. The Army the Army. Abizaid has recommended the troop levels all along. Casey too. I'm just following suit--though I agree with them! I didn't advise the President that an insurgency might be in the offing--but did tell him nefarious dead-enders might fight another day...(Hey, then, bravo Don!) Cost estimates? Don't do them. That's Larry's brief, I guess, until he was told to move along...Oh, my old #2 (Wolfowitz) and #3 (Feith)--we'll there gone this second term. We did a bit of a house-cleaning, I guess. Why am I still around? Not sure, really. To my amen choir, because I'm the best SecDef to bestride the Beltway, since, well since my last go around! But, deep down, I know people like George Will and Bill Kristol and John McCain and John Warner think I should have probably stepped down. (And I also know there are ways to present a resignation to POTUS. The real way, I effed up, and I'm leaving Mr. President. This is for the good of the country, let's do it and move on, Sir, yes? And the half-hearted, wink-wink, here's my resignation letter way--but I'm happy to stay around well into your second term...). Ah, but the old lion wants to stick around, you see? The Great Rummy doesn't get run out of Washington! Pity that Bush won't get rid of him. But freedom is messy, and stuff happens, and so here we are with a failed, largely discredited leader manning the war effort. At least there will be some justice later given how the history books will view him. As an arrogant, embarrasing failure. Yes, I hear he is a good man in person. I'm sure this is true. I saw him carrying an injured or dead person on 9/11--running about the smoking Pentagon grounds--protecting his building with honor and courage. But his hubris has outdone him. I wish, for the good of the country, that he'd step down. Will I continue to wish in vain? I'm worried the answer is yes. But there are still more than three years left in Bush's second term. Might there be hope? No, new leadership is no panacea. But fresh thinking and approaches can make real differences. And Bush would also be signaling there is some accountability in his administration. Yes, loyalty matters. Mightily. And I know it is part of the Bush code. But performance matters too, Mr. President. A Secretary of Defense who has presided over the worst P.R. debacle since My Lai, who didn't even deign to contemplate the prospect of a post-war scenario characterized by the specter of a resilient insurgency, who went along with significantly under-manning the war effort--hasn't he dangerously under-performed?

NB: My emphasis throughout post.

Posted by Gregory at 11:16 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Kerry's Bad Advice

John Kerry, in today's NYT, has some advice for Bush in advance of his speech tonight. It's quite poor, in the main.


He [Bush] should also say that the United States will insist that the Iraqis establish a truly inclusive political process and meet the deadlines for finishing the Constitution and holding elections in December. We're doing our part: our huge military presence stands between the Iraqi people and chaos, and our special forces protect Iraqi leaders. The Iraqis must now do theirs.

There is an obsession with "deadlines," isn't there, among the Democrat camp of late? As I've said, and I agree with Rumsfeld on this, talk of deadlines and timetables provides a "lifeline to terrorists". It's a huge incentive to the bad guys to simply wait us out. It's simply bad policy, and it's sad that whoever is advising Kerry on such opinion pieces behind the scenes (Jamie Rubin? Susan Rice? Ivo Daalder?) continues to go on about artificial drop-dead deadines and such. Yes, it would be great if Iraqis were able to meet deadlines on the Constitution or the December elections. But to hold a gun to their head and intimate we might cut and run if they do not meet such timeframes is just as irresponsible as providing some drop-dead exit date (yet another fictitious "deadline"). It is simply not the right way forward. Moderate Iraqis must believe that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with them come what may.

Notice too how Kerry cloaks this recommendation in faux patriotic garb ("We're doing our part.,.The Iraqis must now do theirs..."). Let's re-rephrase that somewhat. We've not done our part, not by a long shot. In fact, speaking frankly, much of our involvement to date has been something of a pretty significant cluster-f*&k (this is not to discount the very significant strides made, ie. sovereignty handed over, successful elections, Sunni involvement in the Constitution-drafting but, still, the security situation remains dismal in large swaths of the country and so democratization and reconstruction is badly lagging). After all, a prerequisite to establishing a true democracy in Mesopotamia is providing basic order so that viable political governance structures can take root. So it is simply breathtaking--and speaks to Kerry's lack of real conviction and fundamental disinterest in seeing Iraqi democratization through--that he would breezily declare that "(w)e're doing our part." We've not yet, alas, and so this is simply rhetoric on par with Kerry's donning of the goose-hunting gear during the election. It's a bone to toss to presumed isolationist red-staters who wonder why we're spending so much blood and treasure helping out those so-far-away-ingrate-A-Rabs. It's the cheapest of rhetoric really, and until more serious Democrats emerge such talk only reinforces the view of foreign policy observers, like B.D., who chose Bush in '04 because the alternative was far worse.

He also needs to put the training of Iraqi troops on a true six-month wartime footing and ensure that the Iraqi government has the budget needed to deploy them. The administration and the Iraqi government must stop using the requirement that troops be trained in-country as an excuse for refusing offers made by Egypt, Jordan, France and Germany to do more.

"A true six-month wartime footing." Wrong! What General Petraeus needs to do--the military leader in charge of 'train and equip'--is to take all the time he needs to make sure this job is done right. One criticism I've had of Don Rumsfeld is that he has thrown around numbers, 160,000 and such, of Iraqi forces trained and equipped much too breezily. We're meeting targets, Iraqification is proceeding apace, exit strategy is a-ok on sched! Except, of course, very few of these units can operate without U.S. support, many of them are not specialized in counter-insurgency tactics but are more by way of constabulatory forces and the like, not to mention a good many other problems besides. The point is there is no way this job can be done in six months. To so suggest is grotesquely irresponsible. Even Rumsfeld on Meet the Press last Sunday starting moving away from tossing about numbers and stated: "The biggest problems are not numbers. The biggest problems are the ministries, which are weak, and the chains of command down through those and the linkages between the police and the military forces, because they have to work together if they are going to repress this insurgency. And it's--most people are focusing on the metrics, the hard numbers. I would say the soft things, the ministries, the chains of command are considerably more important." Actually both are important. And neither the requisite numbers of fully trained and equipped Iraqi forces, nor adequate communication via "chains of command"--neither could be adequately accomplished on a 'wartime footing' (whatever that means) of six months. Kerry and his advisors likely know this, but this isn't about coming together and figuring out, really, how to win this war by helping bring about a viable, democratic Iraq. It's more about throwing around fake and easy fixes to score partisan points. Again, no leadership. No real opposition. Put simply, a time of deep mediocrity in Washington.

But I digress. Back to the meat of Kerry's oped. Ah, lest we forget, all those offers of help from Berlin and Paris that we've crudely rebuffed! What are they exactly (lest you think Bush's stubborn refusal to train more forces outside Iraq and his hick-like trans-atlantic feuding has us missing out on massive assistance and largesse from Paris and Berlin)? Well, here are the facts:

[France] pledged $660,000 to a NATO fund for military and police training in Iraq and has assigned one French midlevel officer to the training mission at NATO headquarters near Brussels, French officials said.

You'll forgive me if I wager that the one French midlevel officer--so reluctantly coughed up by Mr. Chirac so as to allow the U.S. to put the 'train and equip' effort under some titular NATO imprimatur/ umbrella--has absolutely no impact on 'train and equip'. Ah, you protest! But this is precisely Mr. Kerry's point! If we hadn't been so stubborn that most of the 'train and equip' take place in Iraq (which we weren't regardless, really)--Chirac would have come through!

Or, er, not:

Even with the agreement, the training mission is hampered by the fact that six NATO countries - France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Greece and Spain - have refused U.S. and Iraqi requests to help train military forces and police officers inside Iraq, preferring to do training outside the country or to help pay for the mission....

...But as several NATO countries resisted U.S. appeals to put even one soldier or police officer on the ground, the United States curbed its aims, saying that paying for the transport of equipment was to be lauded as an important contribution...

...As a result of the intense U.S. lobbying campaign, 17 other member states have committed more than $5 million in the last two weeks for trust funds that will cover such expenses as transporting Iraqi officers to NATO training posts outside Iraq and for equipment purchases...

By contrast, the United States has already contributed more than $50 million since last summer for the training mission.

Jones and other senior U.S. military officers have complained about the lack of adequate funding for the training mission and the cumbersome NATO system of fund-raising.

In a speech at NATO headquarters Tuesday, President Jacques Chirac of France said nothing about the French decision to participate in the NATO plan, but he reminded his partners that France has offered to train 1,500 Iraqi police officers outside of Iraq, a program that would cost France $20 million.

"In Iraq," Chirac told NATO leaders, "France wants to contribute to stability."

Sure, mon Jacques. Stability, indeed! In the form of 1,500 police officers. Gendarmarie, get it? The type that likely already have their hands pretty full in the Parisian banlieu. Still, they could help train a bit, oui? Er, with a small, pitiable number (1,500) of cops-to-be-trained in France. When what is really needed is a 200,000 strong fighting force trained in counter-insurgency that is capable of ultimately fighting alone, without coalition support, against a fanatical enemy. It is for this level of assistance that Kerry would like us to prostrate ourselves in front of a Jacques Chirac and beg for assistance? How silly. How inane. And, again, this is all a fake story, to a fashion. We've accepted German assistance training Iraqi forces outside of Iraq already (in the UAE). Kerry makes it sound like we've been stubborn, steadfastly refusing to allow for training anywhere outside Iraq. But that's simply not true. It's rank politiking, again. So people, lest you be fooled, he is not offering up real alternatives here. Get it?

The administration must immediately draw up a detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities to Iraqis after the December elections. The plan should be shared with Congress. The guideposts should take into account political and security needs and objectives and be linked to specific tasks and accomplishments. If Iraqis adopt a constitution and hold elections as planned, support for the insurgency should fall and Iraqi security forces should be able to take on more responsibility. It will also set the stage for American forces to begin to come home.

Again, a "detailed plan with clear milestones and deadlines for the transfer of military and police responsibilities" would be a roadmap to the insurgents. And all this so that Senatorial blowhards like Kerry can windbag on a few months hence when the "plan...shared with Congress" misses a "deadline" because the going was a bit rougher than expected. Make no mistake. A good part of all this tiresome bloviating is making sure there is good political theater for the klieg-lights of the Beltway going forward. It's bad policy, but potentially good politics. Sad that this is what is proferred up as a serious alternative policy by the leading newspaper in the land and, perhaps, the leading Democrat (save HRC, of course!).

More from Kerry:

Iraq, of course, badly needs a unified national army, but until it has one - something that our generals now say could take two more years - it should make use of its tribal, religious and ethnic militias like the Kurdish pesh merga and the Shiite Badr Brigade to provide protection and help with reconstruction. Instead of single-mindedly focusing on training a national army, the administration should prod the Iraqi government to fill the current security gap by integrating these militias into a National Guard-type force that can provide security in their own areas.

What a horrible idea! Pushing the Badr Brigade and pesh merga out front smacks of desparation to provide security, whatever the consequences. Why? Because to integrate such militias into a "National Guard-type force" is likely to heighten the risks of inter-sectarian conflict. (Note also the inconsistency in Kerry's op-ed. He wants an all out "six month wartime footing" train and equip effort. But, apparently without really addressing the seeming contradiction, he more or less acknowledges that truly efficacious 'train and equip' will take more than two years).

His solution? Well, rush the effort so that a Shia-Kurdish National Guard provides security. But what of the risk of cross-ethnic or sectarian conflagration? Yes, Kerry says these militias would police "in their own areas." But this ignores hot-spots like Baghdad and Kirkuk that are ethnically mixed. And, regardless, what we really need is not more security, say, in Basra--but forces capable of helping root out insurgents in Mosul, Baghdad, Tal Afar, Fallujah, Ramadi, the Syrian border areas of Anbar province, and so on. Is sending pesh merga to Fallujah the way to go? Or, god forbid, Badr Brigades (with some Mahdi militia throw in for good measure)? Of course not. Look, there is a reason we are trying to create a unitary, national army that is ethnically diverse and includes Kurds, Shi'a and Sunni. Much like Turkey, say, the Army is likely to be the ballast and glue that holds Iraq going forward during the coming decades. So it must represent each of Iraq's major populations--or the risk of civil war becomes unacceptably high. Also, for the record, we are integrating pesh merga and Badr people into the Army. But piece-meal and in a fashion that won't raise too many Sunni alarm bells. In a word, brigades of Badr Militia can't simply show up for duty and, voila, happily become part of a unified Iraqi officer corps. This would be reckless in the extreme.


But the progress toward Sunni inclusion in the government came as comments from Interior Minister Bayan Jabr drew a harsh response from Sunni Arab leaders.

Jabr, in an interview with the Al Arabiya news channel, said that Kurdish and Shiite Muslim militias "are going to join the security forces. This does not mean that they are going to join the police or the army as one bloc, but some of their employees can be used as soldiers or officers with their real ranks."

Jabr specifically named the Badr Brigade, the armed wing of one of the top Shiite political parties, as well as the Kurdish fighters known as the peshmerga. He also mentioned firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi militia.

His comments weren't particularly controversial — members of the Kurdish and Shiite militias have been steadily joining the army and police forces. But the militia question is a sensitive one.

Sunni Arabs, who had dominated the Iraqi government and army since the 1920s, now find themselves outside the new Shiite-Kurdish political order.

They fear being further marginalized by the creation of a largely Kurdish and Shiite military.

Sunni Arab leaders complained that the move would produce a factionalized army whose loyalty to Iraq was secondary to diverse political allegiances.

"This is a dangerous decision…. It will be a historical mistake," said Salih Mutlaq, a spokesman for the National Dialogue Council and a new Sunni representative on the constitutional committee.

"There will be a sectarian and racist basis for the army…. The army has to be professional, far away from political parties. These militias are connected to political parties, and their presence will politicize the army."

This is typical Kerry isn't it? Pretend you have a new idea when, in actuality, what you are proposing is actually already taking place. But dramatize the issue and, without thinking through all the consequences, make more 'robust' the policy recommendation so it sounds like you are offering up something new. In other words, it's a matter of degree. Yes, we must (carefully, methodically) integrate some pesh merga and Badr (ensuring, for instance, they are not Mahdi Militia) into the national army. But not like Kerry suggests, seemingly rushed and whole-sale, so as to alienate the Sunnis. Again, he doesn't really care what the consequences are for Iraqi democratization--and is more preening in the New York Times pretending he has a better, more viable exit strategy than Bush. He doesn't. Please don't be fooled.

Anything I agree with in his piece? Yes, this part:

So what should the president say tonight? The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people. Happy talk about the insurgency being in "the last throes" leads to frustrated expectations at home.

He's right, of course. But it's much less dangerous to have a Vice President disingenuously talk of "last throes" than it would be to pursue many of the policy recommendations being offered up by the almost-but-for-Ohio President. Not even close, really.

UPDATE: What he said. And Maguire too. A polite request to various commenters (both on the Left and Right, they know who they are). Please don't hijack threads, engage in personal attacks, frequent use of profanity (yeah, I know, I break this rule sometimes too), or racial epithets--bottom line: please generally do your utmost to avoid descending into all the predictable, assorted cyber-nastiness. I don't have the time to come up with 'policies' and 'moderate' and all that. But if it becomes too unruly or too much of a hassle--I'll just shut them down. Please help me avoid doing so, OK?

On the substance of the post, be sure to check out Cole too (that's John, not Juan). Teaser:

A really good way to be perceived as playing with national security for purely selfish political reasons is to actually have your former losing Presidential candidate write snide and condescending editorials in the NY Times presuming to tell the President what to say in his speech. To make matters worse, you could repeatedly call him a liar, prescribe no real solutions, and throw around phrases that read like a grad school education training class ('establish a truly inclusive political process').

It probably isn't a good idea, the week after Rove unfairly painted you all as weak on security and the war on terror, to have the man who in many ways is still the symbolic head of the Democratic party demanding timelines and deadlines for withdrawal...

Also worth a gander: Von gets it.

Posted by Gregory at 09:15 AM | Comments (116) | TrackBack

June 27, 2005

"Last Throes," Or 12 More Years?

Second, the implication of the question was that we don't have enough to win against the insurgency. We're not going to win against the insurgency. The Iraqi people are going to win against the insurgency. That insurgency could go on for any number of years. Insurgencies tend to go on five, six, eight, 10, 12 years.

Coalition forces, foreign forces are not going to repress that insurgency. We're going to create an environment that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces can win against that insurgency.

Don Rumsfeld, on Chris Wallace's FOX show yesterday.

Compare and contrast, now, with the Veep. On the evening of May 30th on Larry King, the now famous "last throes" statement:

The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."

And, just last week, Cheney again during a Wolf Blitzer interview:

BLITZER: The commander of the U.S. Military Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid has been testifying on Capitol Hill.

CHENEY: Right.

BLITZER: He says that the insurgency now is at a strength undiminished as it was six months ago, and he says there are actually more foreign fighters in Iraq now than there were six months ago. That doesn't sound like the last throes.

CHENEY: No, I would disagree. If you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period -- the throes of a revolution. The point would be that the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand if we're successful at accomplishing our objective, standing up a democracy in Iraq, that that's a huge defeat for them. They'll do everything they can to stop it.

When you look back at World War II, the toughest battle, at the most difficult battles, both in Europe and in the Pacific, occurred just a few months before the end, the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 and Okinawa in the spring of 1945. And I see this as a similar situation, where they're going to go all out.

They'll do everything they can to disrupt that process, but I think we're strong enough to defeat them. And I think the process itself of establishing a democracy and a viable security force for the Iraqis will, in fact, signal the end, if you will, for the terrorists inside Iraq. [emphasis added]

Now, Rumsfeld on Meet the Press yesterday (yeah, he sure did the show-boaty rounds hier):

MR. RUSSERT: I think the concern that many people have is that if we were wrong or misjudged that, are we making some other misjudgments now? This is how The Washington Times reported in exchange before the hearings. "[Sen. Carl] Levin asked whether the general thought the insurgency was in its `last throes,' as Mr. Cheney said ... last month. `In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it was the same as it was' six months ago, Gen. [John] Abizaid replied."

For the sake of clarity for the American people, what about this insurgency? Is it in its last throes or is it alive and well and vibrant and strong as it was six months ago?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, there are various ways to measure it. If you measure the number of incidents, it's gone up during the election period and now it's back down. If you look at lethality of those instances, it's up. Now, what does that mean? Does it mean that the insurgency's stronger? Is it in its last throes? The last throes could be violence, as you well know from a dictionary standpoint. I think the way to think of it is that the insurgents are foreigners in some significant number. They are attacking Iraqis and killing them. They are opposing an elected Iraqi government. They know they have a great deal to lose. If they lose this and if Iraq becomes a constitutional representative system in the middle of the Middle East, the effect on the terrorists will be devastating. So they are going to fight very hard. And you saw that when the elections--they wanted to disrupt those elections on January 30th and so the peak went way up in violence. They're going to feel the same way about the constitution and the elections coming up in December. So I would anticipate you're going to see an escalation of violence between now and the December elections.

MR. RUSSERT: But you wouldn't say the insurgency is on its last legs?

SEC'Y RUMSFELD: Well, if you are successful in having a constitution and having another election under the new constitution, that will have an effect on the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people will see that the people opposing that don't have the interest of Iraq in mind. They have the interests of the violent extremists. And will that hurt the insurgency? I believe it will. I think there's no question but that if we get through this period we will see that the Iraqi security forces will be stronger. They're very well respected today by the population in Iraq, and we will have more and more of an Iraqi face on this, less of an occupation face, which is a good thing. And over time--I mean, foreign troops are not going to beat the insurgency. It's going be the Iraqi people that are going to beat the insurgency and Iraqi security forces. That's just the nature of an insurgency and it may take time, but our task is to get the Iraqi security forces sufficiently capable that that process of defeating the insurgency by the Iraqi people can take place.

So Rumsfeld is now, pretty much, openly contradicting Cheney. He's too smart to realize that--by going on Chris Wallace's show and talking about an insurgency that might go on for another 12 odd years--he's not at least implicitly repudiating Cheney's "last throes" nonsense. And yet, Rumsfeld makes a somewhat disingenuous bow in Cheney's direction by bringing up that Clintonian, parsing dictionary thang again. Well, sure, they are right about what "throes" means: "throes A condition of agonizing struggle or trouble: a country in the throes of economic collapse." But it's the "last", not "throes," isn't it, that is the issue? Last, of course, means a terminal, final stage. So, combining our definitions, could we really fairly say that we were in late May (or, er, today) in the final agonizing stages of struggle (or trouble) in Iraq? Well, perhaps in turn, that depends on the meaning of "final". I mean, such absurd parsing could go on and on. Cheney, in his defense of the usage of the "last throes" phraseology, hints at the time frame he has in mind:

When you look back at World War II, the toughest battle, at the most difficult battles, both in Europe and in the Pacific, occurred just a few months before the end, the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944 and Okinawa in the spring of 1945. And I see this as a similar situation, where they're going to go all out.

So are we now just a "few months before the end" per Cheney? Or, per Rummy, perhaps over a decade away from defeating the insurgency (leaving aside whether we or the Iraqis will ultimately defeat them--I remain concerned that Rumsfeld will recommend a too hasty Vietnamization style exit strategy to POTUS--his comments on the talk shows yesterday further heighten such fears for me--hey, the insurgency could go on for 12 years, but it's won't really be our battle to fight...wink-wink...once they've got a constitution in place or such). Look, Rumsfeld even predicts increased violence through at least December, some half a year away ("So I would anticipate you're going to see an escalation of violence between now and the December elections"). I just don't see how this squares with "last throes," and wish the Vice President would have disowned it and chalked it off to sloppy verbiage on one news interview. Shit, it happens, you know.

My plea to the President tomorrow evening in his speech to the nation. Talk straight and don't pull any punches. Explain the effort could take years yet. Concentrate on the massive stakes at play if we retreat (major instability in the Middle East, perhaps a civil war that drags in neighboring countries, and a safe-haven and rallying point for jihadists the world over, for starters). But, most important, straight talk throughout. So, no, don't mention a "dictionary meaning" or such ludicrousness. This Ahab-like obsession with staying on message is juvenile, transparent, and one of the reasons you are losing support. Rise above it!

Posted by Gregory at 02:33 PM | Comments (43) | TrackBack

We Get Comments

let me put this delicately. some in my circles view your blog as giving aid and comfort to terrorists, which, if treasonous, is not protected under the first amendment... at the very least, you could be shut down, and, in the US at least, I trust you know the consequences of treason if determined by a court of law (other countries have no such compunction... in your travels, I suggest you watch your back). you call yourself a patriot. don't you know we are at war? just a friendly reminder to someone I believe has good intentions, but whose actions are misguided. don't let them lead you down the path of dishonor. prisoner abuse, if you look hard enough (and sometimes not so hard) can be found in any country and should be criticized, much less condoned... but in dwelling on such issues, I think you have your priorities way off. when prosecuting a war against terrorism, caring about our enemies (in the sense of placing mint-chocolate on their pillows every evening for their efforts before they go bed, i.e. their state of mind, welfare and general wellbeing) should be the least of our worries... in basketball, if you commit an offensive foul, you take note of it and move on. if you get enough of them you sit out, but that doesn't mean you stop the game. you see it to its conclusion doing everything you can to help the team win. like the president (coach) sez, you're either with us or against us. which side are you on?

Heh. Is this the kind of bifurcation Karl had in mind?

P.S. Much more on the so-called "conscience caucus" (which seem to have provoked comments like anonymous "Al's" above) later this week. Truth be told, I take many of the saner critical comments. People write that they want me to say what specific interrogation methods I approve of, and which I don't. Well, they're going to get that detail soon. They say I've descended into emotional rants. That I'm blowing de minimis stuff all out of proportion. Gone off the "deep end". And so on. Well, I beg to disagree. And, as I said, I will have much more on this later in the week. I do want to say, however, that 'conscience caucus' is just meant as a handy phrase--like as popularized by bloggers such as TPM. I don't mean to represent or suggest that if you don't agree with every last criticism of the Bushies on this issue you are a moral coward and lack any conscience. But, as I trust you will see later this week, there are some bottom line take-aways that you either agree with, or you don't. And what I'll be looking to find out is how many conservatives agree with me once I've written up my conclusions. So stick with me on this one for a wee bit longer. I believe you may well find my thoughts worthy of your consideration. And I also do hope you will find them to be sober, judicious, and very thorough.

In-house note: I'm on vacation this week, and while I'll be traveling a bit here and there, in true blogaholic form you should expect a lot more blogging than usual. Also, blogging will not just be in the late evenings as when I'm at the day job--so check back earlier in your day too (I am still six hours ahead of New York time).

Posted by Gregory at 12:50 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Leiter's Provocative Query: What Are The Root Causes of a "Reverse Philosophy Brain Drain"?

There is an amusing little post over at Brian Leiter's place about a "reverse philosophy brain drain." Seems many of America's best and brightest philosophers are decamping to the saner climes of Canada and the U.K.---leaving these boorish, quasi-fascist Bushian shores behind! Brian states that "the political situation in the U.S. was a factor" with academic Charles Travis, for instance, who had written:

My decision [also] does have something to do with dissatisfaction with the U.S. After all George Bush did in his first term to prove that he was unfit to hold any public office--as much as you could expect in that regard from anyone--Americans voted for him anyway. I think that fact speaks more ill of America and its future than all the unspeakable, shameless things Bush has done since re-election. I shall be glad to be living elsewhere.

After intimating that the Bush Reich explains at least some of the moving about hither dither of our so noble, dissident-like, philosophe class--Leiter concludes by inviting his commenters to opine on the possible reasons for the so-called "reverse philosophy brain drain."

Seemingly on cue, a Bryan Frances comments:

I am in the process of moving from the University of Leeds to Fordham University. I did it purely for personal reasons, not because of any dissatisfaction with Leeds. However, I did apply for some posts in Canada even though I have no personal connections there, and the right-wing idiocy widespread in the US was a strong factor against my move. After Bush was reelected several of my UK colleagues as well as non-academic friends expressed amazement at the stupidity of Americans. I could not offer any defense!

We might call Mr. Frances something of a 'reverse philosophy brain drain' manque. We almost lost him because of the pervasive "right wing idiocy" over here--but (phew!) "personal reasons" still have him deigning to bless these fine shores. Frances is a smart and busy man, of course, currently working on projects that will doubtless have a major impact on the broad currents of philosophical thought. From his faculty page:

In a forthcoming OUP book, a forthcoming Noûs article, and a work in progress I argue for a new kind of scepticism with a new kind of sceptical argument. It has the traditional form (here's a sceptical hypothesis; you can't neutralize it; you have to be able to neutralize it to know P; so you don't know P), but the sceptical hypotheses I plug into it are "real, live" scientific-philosophical hypotheses often thought to be actually true, unlike any of the outrageous traditional hypotheses (e.g., 'You're a brain in a vat'). Notably, the argument goes through even if we adopt all the clever anti-sceptical fixes thought up in recent years. Furthermore, the sceptical conclusion is bizarre: you can know that there are black holes, but you can't know that your shirt is red, that Moore thought that scepticism is false, that John Rawls was kind, or even that you believe any of those things.

Big stuff this! And coming soon to Fordham (Manhattan campus, bien sur, as he points out on his site--lest we think he'd be festering among the hoi polloi in the Bronx)! But it seems he's coming somewhat reluctantly, you see, as how could 59 million people be so dumb et cetera et cetera. You'd think someone so very clever and versed in all varieties of skepticism might deign to stop for a brief moment and seriously consider why a majority of Americans might have voted for Bush. After all, must it be simply because the pro-Bush voters are all so outrageously bovine and stupid? I had offered some reasons here, for instance, and I don't think they were constitutive of the rantings of a simpleton, or a crypto-fascist, or some rank imbecile. But in the serried ranks of Leiter and ilk's world, there is a seeming Hitlerization afoot in these United States, and we may be losing our very best and brightest "philosophers" to a "reverse philosophy brain drain."

The list is impressive, and almost panic-inducing:

Let's review the facts for the past two academic years (very roughly), which have (in my experience) been unusual. Leaving the U.S. for Britain have been: Charles Travis from Northwestern to King's College, London; Luc Bovens from Colorado to LSE; Alan Carter from Colorado to Glasgow; Wayne Martin from UC San Diego to Essex; Elinor Mason from Colorado to Edinburgh; Knud Haakonssen from BU to Sussex; Larry Moss from Notre Dame to Exeter; Andy Clark from Indiana to Edinburgh; and Christopher Shields from Colorado to Oxford. In addition, Mike Martin (UCL), Michael Otsuka (UCL), Michael Potter (Cambridge), and Hannes Leitgeb (Bristol) have all turned down U.S. offers recently...

...Leaving the U.S. for Canada have been: Bob Batterman from Ohio State to Western Ontario; John Beatty from Minnesota to British Columbia; Sylvia Berryman from Ohio State to British Columbia; Adam Morton from Oklahoma to Alberta; Benjamin Hellie from Cornell to Toronto; Diana Raffman from Ohio State to Toronto; Byeong Yi from Minnesota to Toronto; Jessica Wilson from Michigan to Toronto; Jennifer Whiting from Cornell to Toronto (and she recently turned down Stanford as well).

I have to admit I've heard of a grand total of zero of these individuals, but I'm in business and not philosophy, and that likely makes me something of a philistine in Leiter-world. But if Knud Haakonseen, say, (great name!) decided to decamp from BU to Sussex because Chimpie-in-Chief made the Massachusetts-livin' seem too primitive or toxic or such--well, I have to say, I couldn't care less. Though I'm sure he's a great guy and all.

It's funny, though. Going through Leiter's comments section, you'll find, shall we say, more mundane factors seem to play quite a role in the venue-selection decision-making process too...

For instance, witness this comment further down the thread:

Aside from the political landscape, one factor that has been mentioned and that should not be underestimated is the fluctuations the currency market. Let’s take a starting salary of 55k Canadian (probably a reasonable average but variance is high). With the current exchange rates, that corresponds to 45k US whereas three years ago, that would have corresponded to 34k US. If you have no loans it doesn’t make a difference (after all, rent in Canada is paid in Canadian dollars) but if you have debts in US dollars, moving to Canada three years ago was an expensive proposition. In my case, I turned down American offers because I wanted to go back home (UofMontreal), but the strong Canadian dollar (or weak American dollar…) made that decision, much more reasonable financially than it would have been a few years ago...

You don't say! Money, just plain ol' crass greenbacks, pounds and Canadian $'s--that might have played a role in all this moving about to the freer sanctuaries up north and 'cross the Atlantic? Well I'm just shocked, shocked...No, dissapointed even. I thought there was real political outrage at play here, nay, courage even--and I'm somewhat deceived that may not be the case, in the main. Yes, truth be told, I feel somewhat let down. Too few Sakharovs or Solzhenitsyns in our midst these days, alas. Still, we can be thankful there are at least some--busily going about the hard task of safeguarding the Republic--even, quite courageously, from the rogue Emperor's ancestral seat of Austin itself.

Posted by Gregory at 10:24 AM | Comments (73) | TrackBack

June 25, 2005

What Next for Iran?

Guy Dinmore in the FT:

US "hawks", he [Ken Pollack] said, had a bizarre preference for Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a fundamentalist and hardliner, over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who sought to establish his more pragmatic credentials in part by making overtures to the US during his election campaign.

For the US hardliners, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, Mr Rafsanjani presents the danger of exacerbating the divisions between the US, which is essentially trying to contain Iran, and Europe which favours the engagement approach.

The US hawks also believe that a convergence of hardliners in Iran with the victory of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad is more likely to precipitate the collapse of the Islamic regime through popular unrest than the "Chinese model" of social pacification likely to be embraced by Mr Rafsanjani. One hardline official told the FT he saw no evidence that Mr Rasanjani was less committed to developing nuclear weapons. The Bush administration, he said, harboured deep scepticism over the prospects of success in the nuclear freeze talks with Iran led by France, Germany and the UK.

Well, Ahmadi-Nejad "won." But I'm far from certain that a "convergence of hardliners" is "more likely to precipitate the collapse of the Islamic regime." Frankly, I doubt it. I wonder what people like Michael Leeden or Danielle Pletka think? I'd wager Michael is probably not unhappy that Ahmadi-Nejad assumes the Iranian Presidency--believing the ultra-conservative Teheran mayor better presents the true 'face' of Iran to the world. And that a Ukraine scenario becomes more likely as Khatami-like incremental reforms have now been effectively quashed--leading to greater resentment in the country. Regardless, what is now pretty sure is that the prospects of a break-through in U.S.-Iranian relations are now hovering around less than zero with Ahmadi-Nejad's "victory" (though slight apertures for possible constructive dialogue can not be wholly discounted). Skeptics will say good, and that no real deal could have been struck with Rafsanjani anyway. Better that the "Shark" didn't hoodwink naive Euro-troika diplos and a too soft Foggy Bottom, the thinking goes. But with relations with Iran likely to be heading south, and with U.S.-Syrian relations fraught with tension--regional dynamics look to get increasingly difficult over the coming months.

A quick word on the electoral results themselves. I agree with Publius that turn-out was lower than many MSM outlets made it sound; and clearly there was much electoral malfeasance (for starters the whole permitted field of candidates was picked by the Mullah's from the very get-go). But there is an irony in all of this, of course. Bill Maynes, President of the Eurasia Foundation, recently wrote:

What was the most damaging charge one could make about another person during the Cold War and what is the most damaging charge one would make now that we have entered a Post-Cold-War world?

In the Cold War, the most damaging accusation would have been that one was disloyal to one’s country. The charge that one helped the other side was certainly career-ending and at times even life-threatening. Governments rose or fell in spy scandals.

In the Post-Cold-War world, the most damaging charge that can be leveled against an official is that he is corrupt. It is the charge of corruption that today threatens the stability of governments everywhere. Indeed, the allegation of corruption is as explosive in the West as it is in the East. [emphasis added]

Despite the electoral shenanigans, despire the corruption of Khamenei's circle (that Ahmadi-Nejad will duly serve)--it is likely that there was a good deal of genuine support for Ahmadi-Nejad's stemming from his ascetic image (contra the wealthy Rafsanjani's) and his anti-corruption platform. Such factors did sway many voters to his camp. Worth noting perhaps, I disagree with some observers who believe his support stemmed from a nationalist backlash because of U.S. troops on both of Iran borders and pressure on the nuclear issue. There may have been some of that, to be sure, but I think the much larger factor was how fed up Iranians are with corruption.

The Economist reports:

WAS it a backlash by Iran’s devoutly Muslim poor against a corrupt elite? Or was it a massive fraud perpetrated on the people by the hardline clerics? Perhaps it was a bit of both. Whatever the case, the margin of victory for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the second round of Iran’s presidential election, on Friday June 25th, was striking. Mr Ahmadinejad, the mayor of the capital, Tehran, and a hardline religious conservative, garnered around 62% of the vote, despite having gone almost unnoticed in the field of seven candidates who had contested the first round of voting, a week earlier...

...So what happened? At the end of the first round, one of the defeated reformists, Mehdi Karrubi, complained that the vote had been fixed. There were indeed some suspicious circumstances: for example, in South Khorasan province, home to many disgruntled Sunni Muslims, the official turnout was an improbable 95%; yet Mr Ahmadinejad, the candidate most associated with the assertive Shia Islamism of Iran’s clerical regime, won more than a third of the votes there. And while Friday’s second-round vote was still going on, Mr Rafsanjani’s aides were complaining of “massive irregularities”, accusing the Basij religious militia—in which Mr Ahmadinejad used to be an instructor—of intimidating voters to support their man.

However, whatever the extent of any vote-rigging, it seems unlikely that it was the only reason why Mr Rafsanjani did so badly. Conservative-minded Iranians, especially the devoutly Muslim poor, seem to have warmed to the austere Mr Ahmadinejad because of his modest lifestyle, his personal honesty and his reassuringly insular vision.

Mr Ahmadinejad presented himself as a committed follower of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and of the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; and he pledged to put the interests of the poor at the top of his priorities. In this he seems successfully to have tapped popular resentment at the country’s elite, widely held to be enriching itself corruptly. The wheeler-dealing and allegedly highly wealthy Mr Rafsanjani is seen as the very embodiment of that elite. Whereas Mr Rafsanjani argued for improved relations with America and increased foreign investment in Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad insisted there was no need for any rapprochement with the “Great Satan”, as official Iranian demonology labels the superpower.

Commenters are invited to predict what is next for Iran now that it is likely what we might have called Rafsanjani's nationalist, pragmatic "China" model is the road not taken. Will Ukraine style stirrings now become more likely, with younger Iranians increasingly disenchanted with the consolidation of power by ultra-conservatives? Or will a North Korea scenario take place, with a reactionary circle intent on becoming a nuclear power brutishly and successfully stamping out domestic dissent? Or something else?

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

June 24, 2005

B.D.'s Conscience Caucus

B.D. is thinking of compiling a list of center-right folks who are seriously and honestly grappling with the full panoply of issues presented by the torture/abuse scandals of the past several years. These would not just be bloggers, but any commentators that, you know, don't breezily describe how rosy it all is in the "tropics." I can think of Andrew Sullivan, Jon Henke, John Cole, and Tacitus right off the top of my head. Who else? Both in the blogosphere and outside in academia, business, law, journalism? Thanks for your help.

P.S. These kinds of transparently reluctant, weak-kneed and so ministerial denunciations of Abu Ghraib etc. don't fit the bill. I consider the deaths of detainees in U.S. captivity "serious torture", after all. Don't you?

UPDATE: Yes, yes, Liberal Hawk--thanks for spotting the nit. I mean the death of detainees in U.S. captivity directly resulting from abuse and torture--not varied mortar attacks, accidents, natural causes and the like. I think most of you got my point, however. And such deaths--those resulting directly for torture--occurred at Abu Ghraib too.

MORE: Thanks to many of the commenters in this (and related) thread(s) for their constructive criticism. I will do my utmost and level-best to blog about such topics, going forward, in as non-polemical, judicious and empirically-sound fashion as possible. Many will still be angered, doubtless, by my occasional criticisms. But I hope you will find that I am and will be approaching this issue without ideological blinders, a slanted partisan agenda, or other up-front biases. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on this complex, emotional issue.

As to commenter James Drogan's query, I'll have more on that soon I hope.

Posted by Gregory at 02:37 PM | Comments (55) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Troop Morale and the Home Front

More from Abizaid:

Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, acknowledged that U.S. troops, too, were becoming aware of the drop in the public's confidence.

"When my soldiers say to me and ask me the question whether or not they've got support from the American people or not, that worries me. And they're starting to do that," he said.

The Hugh Hewitt's will tell you it's the Dick Durbins of the world that are the root cause of Abizaid's concerns. Or the baddies of the MSM deflating war morale with slanted news coverage. People like Hewitt might have a point, to a fashion (though I have to say I think they've been a bit hysterical of late. Witness: "Censure Durbin because he deserves it, and the country's defense demands it"). And the bigger factor, I'd submit, is that no one in this Administration has come clean, really come clean, about how long and hard the war effort in Iraq will be. So the American people have been left surprised and dispirited about how bloody and difficult the going has been. Meantime, rank fools or spinmeisters are declaring victory in the blogosphere and in think tanks. This is as irresponsible and stupid as saying we have already been defeated and should pack up and go home. No one really knows how this effort will play out in the final analysis yet. What is clear, however, is that there is a lot of hard work yet to do--as Abizaid, who knows better than anyone, said today.

The public needs to be rallied anew to the task at hand lest support flag further. Bush should likely give a speech to the nation in the coming weeks spelling out what the consequences of retreat from Iraq would be (devastating, in a word). And ask the nation for patience and renewed committment to the war effort. He should neither be too optimistic, nor too pessimistic. But he has to treat his public as having heads on their shoulders--and keep the spin and rosy gloss to a mimimum. I mean, I just saw Cheney in my hotel room in Geneva in a Wolf Blitzer interview actually going on about what the definition of "throes" is when you look it up in the dictionary. Still spinning the "last throes" bit! Message to Veep: This sounds Clintonian and parsy and disingenuous. Only when the American people feel they are getting the real skinny will the country rally again to the task at hand. And so help make the troops under Abizaid's command less concerned about whether the American people support them. They do, still, in the main. But many are increasingly skeptical and disillusioned, as polling data seems to indicate. Again, I wager this decline in support is mostly borne of the over-optimistic prognostications coming from our leaders. Put differently, let's celebrate the victories when they occur; not before. Frank talk and honesty is the best policy. And the hard truth is that success in Iraq, real success (a viable, unitary democratic state with multi-ethnic, integrated security forces capable of standing and fighting), is still years away.

Posted by Gregory at 11:52 PM | Comments (46) | TrackBack

Syria Watch

Abizaid, today:

I would say there is a clear node inside Syria which facilitates it [the entering into Iraq of insurgents]. Whether or not the Syrian government is facilitating it or ignoring it is probably a debatable question, but the key node is Damascus.


Bush administration officials asserted today that an international consensus had emerged that Syria had been stoking the violence in Lebanon and Iraq and against Israelis, and they said they are now certain that Syrian agents have been operating in Lebanon.

The comments represented an escalation of the campaign by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to isolate Syria diplomatically as the administration has faced mounting violence against its interests throughout the Middle East. Ms. Rice has not said what other forms of pressure might be applied.

A senior State Department official, briefing reporters under ground rules that he not be identified, said there was "widespread agreement" at a meeting of leading foreign ministers in London, and among the delegates at a conference on Iraq in Brussels on Wednesday, that Syria bore major responsibility for instability in the region.

Ms. Rice, speaking at the conclusion of the foreign ministers' meeting, accused Syria of supporting the Iraq insurgency.

"Let's not have more words about what they are prepared to do" she said, regarding Syrian promises to help Iraq with security on their mutual border. "Let's have action. If they're prepared to do it, they should just do it."

The temperature is certainly hotting up yet a few more notches between Damascus and Washington. Detailed analysis soon, time permitting.

Posted by Gregory at 11:32 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"A Lifeline to Terrorists"

From the WaPo:

Of a [Iraq withdrawal] deadline, Rumsfeld testified: "It would throw a lifeline to terrorists, who in recent months have suffered significant losses in casualties, been denied havens, and suffered weakened popular support."

But the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said a withdrawal deadline should not be ruled out.

"The Iraqis have approved a timetable for adopting a constitution: August 15th, with the possibility of one and only one six-month extension," Levin said.

"The United States needs to tell the Iraqis and the world that if that deadline is not met, we will review our position with all options open, including but not limited to setting a timetable for withdrawal," Levin said.

"We must demonstrate to the Iraqis that our willingness to bear the burden of providing security has limits. We have opened the door for the Iraqis at great cost, but only they can walk through it. We cannot hold that door open indefinitely," Levin added.

Don Rumsfeld is most assuredly right on this one; and Carl Levin most assuredly wrong. This tendency to cut and run before the job is done is one of the major reasons B.D. is consistently dubious about the seriousness of Democrat national security teams. They can't help themselves, it seems. Meantime, I have to say, I like Rumsfeld's description of setting an exit date as constituting "a lifeline to terrorists." That's really well put, and I say that despite being, of course, a frequent Rummy critic.

P.S. Don't miss Abizaid's refusal to endorse the "last throes" crapola:

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.: "General Abizaid, can you give us your assessment of the strength of the insurgency? Is it less strong, more strong, about the same strength as it was six months ago?"

Gen. John Abizaid, top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf: "In terms of comparison from six months ago, in terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago.

"In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I'd say it's about the same as it was."

Levin: "So you wouldn't agree with the statement that it's in its last throes?"

Abizaid: "I don't know that I would make any comment about that other than to say there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency."

Levin: "Well, the vice president has said it's in its last throes, that's the statement the vice president — it doesn't sound to me from your testimony or any other testimony here this morning that it is in its last throes."

Abizaid: "I'm sure you'll forgive me from criticizing the vice president."

Levin: "I just want an honest assessment from you as to whether you agree with a particular statement of his — it's not personal. ...

Abizaid: "I gave you my opinion of where we are."

"A lot of work to be done." That's not quite the same as "last throes" now is it?

Posted by Gregory at 07:57 PM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Torture Isn't a Laughing Matter--It's Deadly Serious

From this week's Economist (no link avail), a book review:

Reports of the brutality of American interrogators—or their surrogates in Egypt and Uzbekistan—have become commonplace. Still, this book, by an army sergeant who spent six months at the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, has something to add, not because of what it says about the effects of inhumane treatment on suspects, but for what it did to soldiers like himself.

Erik Saar is “every American”. At the age of 22, he had never been outside his own country, had been married for three years and had proudly voted Republican in 2000. Not seeing much future in a marketing job at UPS, he joined the army to pursue a career in intelligence. The army taught him Arabic, and after September 11th, he “couldn't imagine anything more satisfying” than using his training to “flush out the terrorists who wanted to bring on a holy war.”

At Guantánamo, Mr Saar's world crashed. He attended a PowerPoint briefing by an army lawyer on the Geneva Convention, which George Bush decreed did not apply to the men picked up in Afghanistan, or elsewhere, in the “war on terrorism.” It was “nothing but spin,” he says, adding that the administration referred to the men held in Guantánamo as “detainees”, because to call them “prisoners” would have meant regarding them as “prisoners of war”.

As a soldier this bothered Mr Saar. If America ignored the Geneva Convention, “what kind of brutality might we be visiting upon ourselves in the future fight?” Mr Saar had also been taught that torture doesn't work and that it produces less reliable information. When he saw torture being used at Guantánamo, he struggled to “reconcile my beliefs as an American, my conscience, and my religious beliefs with my duty as a soldier.”

The struggle was lost during the interrogation of a 21-year-old Saudi. The man was believed to have taken flight training with two of the September 11th hijackers. Interrogators got nothing from him. After each gruelling session, he returned to his cell and prayed, but a female interrogator sought to break him by making him feel dirty before his God. With the prisoner shackled in an uncomfortable position, she unbuttoned her blouse and began rubbing her breasts against him. “Do you like these big American tits?” she asked. She made another sexually crude remark, then added, “How do you think Allah feels about that?”

The prisoner spat in her face. She grew cruder. She told him she was having her period, unbuttoned her military trousers and wiped what she said was menstrual blood on his face (it wasn't blood; it was from a red magic marker). He screamed but did not break. Outside the room, she began to cry. So too did Mr Saar. “I hated myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks. He went home, and took a shower, but “there wasn't enough hot water in all of Cuba to make me feel clean.”. [emphasis added]

The Economist reviewer concludes: "Not a policy to be proud of."

No, it's not. But I guess this is the kind of stuff that leaves tough guys from Ye Stolid Heartland like Lileks supremely Not Giving A Shit (or maybe titillated--it's kinda hard to tell from his sophomoric ditty over at the aptly named screed-blog).

Lileks, detailing a different interrogation than the one mentioned in the Economist, writes:

Invasion of Space by Female: Over the next few days, al-Qahtani is subjected to a drill known as Invasion of Space by a Female

Mind you, this is considered punishment. Right now across America there are guys who are seriously peeved because they ordered “Invasion of Space by a Female IV” on pay-per-view and the cable went out. They’re on the phone admitting they wanted it, and demanding they get IV and V no charge, understood?...

...One suspects it isn’t the presence of a woman that bothers him; it’s the fact that she doesn’t take any guff, looks him in the eye, laughs at him, blows smoke rings in his face and generally fails to behave like one of the 72 docile celestial whores he was promised. In short: he was broken by the concise application of cultural insensitivity.

How witty and whip-smart! Applause all around right blogosphere! He writes like a dream and he's one of our own! Hurrah. Or not. Poor Lileks, no? It looks like he's clicked on the Dominatrix-Spankavision-Pay-for-View-Channel one too many times on his travels around Minnesota motels or such. And so gotten a little carried away with his fantasizing about all those prison warden hotties----sultry vixens who don't take any "guff" from assorted sand-nig&*az--whilst going about the hard, patriotic duty of nobly rubbing America's finest D cups in detainees faces so as to Save the Republic. So let's help him climb back on the clue train, shall we? The real issue here, at least for anyone with half a brain, is that we cannot win a long-term war on terror by being widely seen to denigrate the religion and mores of those we seek to win over to our political model. As Michael Ignatieff writes in the New Republic:

Thinking that torture will help us in a war against terror also falsifies what our problem is. We think that our problem is information, and so we need torture to get the truth. In reality, before September 11 there was plenty of information in the possession of the American authorities (noise, but no signal). No, our problem is not a problem of knowledge. It is a problem of belief. It is not what terrorists know that makes them dangerous; it is what they believe. And beliefs cannot be changed by physical duress. Indeed, they may be reinforced. Those who survive torture become living monuments to the brutality that has been inflicted upon them. If they die under torture, they become martyrs to their cause.

Any counter-terror campaign is a battle to persuade as well as to dissuade. Terrorists do need to know that what they believe about us is false. They believe that we are weak and will not fight; and so we should prove them wrong. They believe that we are hypocrites; and so they need to know that we actually believe in the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. They need to know all this if we are to win. Winning is about not losing our nerve, about not losing control in the face of provocation. The military logic of terror is to provoke us into reciprocal atrocity that will lose us the war for legitimacy and the war for opinion.

The barbarians who kidnapped Daniel Pearl undoubtedly tortured him. He was subjected to indecent abuse, followed by horrifying death, because he was an American and a Jew. It is hard not to want to do the same in return, but it would be a mistake. Torturing his captors would set in motion an escalation of reprisals that would probably end up jeopardizing the life of every American in Pakistan. The people who killed Pearl may have violated all humane norms, but we have strong prudential reasons for holding on to these norms, even when our enemies do not.

Controlling the impulse to escalate in a counter-terror campaign is not easy, but other countries have shown that it can be done. British interrogation techniques in Northern Ireland in the early years of the Troubles did fall foul of the European Convention on Human Rights. Then the British realized that their methods were losing them important friends abroad, not to mention the support of the Catholic population in Belfast. Over time, they shifted from interrogation under duress to signal interception and infiltration, and managed to gain the upper hand. Information was never effective enough to prevent all bombings: mistakes and tragedies occurred, but each bombing ended up with the terrorists slowly losing public support.

Also worth noting, of course, in an era of non-stop Internet feeds and 24 hour cable, acts of abuse, felony abuse and torture quickly becomes fodder for our enemies. Perhaps Lileks would have preferred that, as the saying goes--what happens in Abu Ghraib; stays in Abu Ghraib. But as Rumsfeld has awkwardly expressed himself, when he was seemingly dumbfounded that people, you know, have cameras and can jpeg shots of soldiers flashing the thumbs up next to murdered detainees (cool!)--shots that go around the world mighty quickly--well, a big part of this war is going to be making sure such public relations debacles don't occur. One way to help ensure it doesn't is not to have free-ranging improvisation going on in Bagram, in Abu Ghraib, in Gitmo, in other detention centers. We need cohesive top-down directives on what is and isn't permissible. We need real accountability beyond the party line about a few-bad-eggs-on-the-night-crew-at-Abu-Ghraib bullshit (oh, and Colonel Karpinski too, how could I forget?!?). We desparately need some real leadership on this issue (Where are the Wise Men who would step in and intervene as in yester-year? To0 busy making money in Manhattan or just plain extinct, I guess).

Look, I'm not sure Guantanamo needs to be closed down (I'll have more on that topic soon). There has been a huge amount of hyperbole painting Guantanamo as some modern Auschwitz-on-the-Caribbean. The orange jump suits and outdoor cages and shackled detainees being wheel-barrowed around didn't help in the salons of Paris or London or Cairo when the first pics of Gitmo hit the media circus. "Tortured" blared an English tabloid! But, yeah, there are some of the hardest of the hard core al-Qaeda mother fuc*ers in the batch. They have to be somewhere--and that might have to end up being Guantanamo (though shouldn't they be tried, like, some day?). Furthermore, there are strong arguments indeed for why POW status should not extend to al-Qaeda (or even the Taliban) so that the exact letter of the Geneva Convention need not apply (more on this below). But surely the time has comes, as the New Republic editors write, to figure out what the hell is going on in our detention centers worldwide:

More than a year after the revelations of Abu Ghraib, we still lack a sufficient understanding of what goes on in the entire system--from Guantánamo to Afghanistan to the secret facilities run by the CIA--and how well it truly serves the war on terrorism. In order to gain that understanding, rather than simply shutting Guantánamo down, Congress and President Bush should appoint an independent commission of Republican and Democratic security experts to investigate the system and suggest how it should operate.

It's true that the Pentagon has conducted numerous reviews of its detention and interrogation policies and practices in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. But important doubts remain about their independence and thoroughness. Consider the March report of Vice Admiral Albert Church on Defense Department interrogations, which found "no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse." This week, Time published excerpts from the interrogation log of would-be September 11 hijacker Mohammed Al Qahtani, whose resistance to questioning prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to expand the list of approved interrogation techniques. That expansion resulted, among other things, in Qahtani being intravenously fed 312 bags of fluid and forced to urinate on himself. With the Pentagon defending his interrogation as taking place under "active supervision and oversight," it's difficult to accept Church's conclusion that official policy was unrelated to Qahtani's clear abuse. Then there's the question of what the abuse gained us. Church refers directly to Qahtani when praising "effective interrogation policy," but Time, citing senior Pentagon officials, reports that true breakthroughs came not from stripping Qahtani nude or intimidating him with dogs, but from confronting him with information gleaned from other detainees--in short, traditional intelligence work.

Whatever the problems with the Pentagon's investigations, the CIA hasn't conducted any policy reviews. All we know about its detention facilities comes from press reports: In March, The Washington Post published an account of a CIA-operated prison near Kabul known as the Salt Pit, where an uncooperative inmate was allowed to freeze to death and was buried in an unmarked grave. The CIA contends that it has had legal authority for all its conduct in the war on terrorism--but the administration won't disclose the sources of that authority.

I won't hold my breath for some bipartisan national commission to be appointed. Washington (both parties) has become all about 'stay on message' and political courage and character are often in low reserve indeed. But, who knows? If enough of us clamor for it--and weren't seen as Mooreian types mindlessly trying to turn the torture issue into a political football to hurt Chimpie and BushCo and Big Oil and so on--but instead as allies of this Administration on the War on Terror (I'm thinking of people like Tacitus, Jon Henke, John Cole, Andrew Sullivan), maybe? Well, one can hope at least...

But I digress. Permit me to return to the beginning of this post and the Economist book review. Simulating the slopping of menstrual blood on a detainee's face is repulsive, it is grotesque--it should never have happened in a U.S. run detention center. Period. It also most assuredly constitutes an "outrage(s) upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment"--in contravention of the Third Geneva Convention. (I know, I know--the Geneva Conventions don't apply, but I'm blogging from Geneva, so let's just pretend for a second). And wait, maybe, to a fashion, they do apply somewhat:

On February 7, 2002, President Bush announced that the U.S. government would apply the "principles of the Third Geneva Convention" of 1949 to captured members of the Taliban, but would not consider any of them to be prisoners-of-war (POWs) under that convention. As for captured members of al-Qaeda, he said that the U.S. government considered the Geneva Conventions inapplicable but would nonetheless treat the detainees humanely.

Was the treatment of the detainee Dick Durbin recounted "humane"? Was the sexual degradation involved in the menstrual high jinx in Gitmo "humane"? Is the death of some 108 detainees in U.S. custody "humane"? Well, not from where I'm sitting friends. And at least a quarter of these deaths may have been homicides (I suspect the proportion is actually higher). But, hey, who gives a shit? We didn't put them through some Saddamite-shredder, or pour nitric acid on them, or rape their daughters in front of them for kicks, or hack an arm or tongue off--it's torture lite, the cool, American, Gitmo-way. 'Cept 108 people are dead. A footnote, you might say. Get on board you sap; there's a war on!

I want to make a few additional points here because this is very tricky, sensitive terrain indeed. I'll start by reiterating that I found Lilek's treatment cretinous and infantile. But he did pick an easy example to crack jokes about. The specific interrogation that he wrote of, in my view and all told, was probably handled mostly appropriately. The individual in question, al-Qahtani, was the likely 20th hijacker, had tremendously important intelligence to impart, and clearly was an avowed, deadly enemy of these United States. So I agree with Andrew Sullivan who writes:

It may well be that the important interrogations were indeed professionally handled and that abuse was kept to a minimum, although some of the techniques are still offensive. Perhaps the real story of the last couple of years is how these techniques filtered down the ranks, how unprofessional individuals got the message from above that the gloves were off and went further, with far less significant figures.

I do think that could be a big part of the larger story. After all, of course, Rumsfeld himself wasn't poring over each detainee's approved methods of interrogation regimen (like he did for al-Qahtani's) stating specifically what was and wasn't allowable. He's got a war to run (rather poorly)--and he doubtless only scrutinized the specific interrogation techniques of a handful of detainees. But in an era when 'socialite' Paris Hilton (no Brooke Astor, she!) doesn't care a whit to fellate on camera; or junior high girls in private schools on the Upper East Side jpeg and videotape masturbatory acts to E-mail around so as to egg guys on to date them--we do have a quite sad pornification of the culture. This maybe helps explain why a not insignificant amount of the top-down authorized interrogation procedures involved sexual degradation (and also that Muslims are deemed to be sensitive to such tactics so that intel would get dished out quicker). Guys like Lileks can't resist the 'dude, wouldn't you like to have tits rubbed in your face?' idiocy, which is unfortunate. I guess it's part of the new and exciting, middle-brow porned-out US culture. But don't let these empty screeds divert you from the bigger story. Part of which, at least, is that top-down authorized tactics for specific high-value detainees--like the sexual humiliation tactics used with the presumed 20th hijacker--got transmongrified into more frequent, unapproved techniques used by varied free-lancers from Bagram to Gitmo. Like, say, the simulated menstrual blood smears and such assorted grotesqueries.

Finally, let me close with a little noticed part of Dick Durbin's recent speech that caused so many marathon bloviations like the one about the war effort being imperiled in the Weekly Standard and so on:

Former Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, a man I call a good friend and a man I served with in the House of Representatives, is a unique individual. He is one of the most cheerful people you would ever want to meet. You would never know, when you meet him, he was an Air Force pilot taken prisoner of war in Vietnam and spent 6 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison. Here is what he said about this issue in a letter that he sent to me.

Pete Peterson wrote:

From my 6 1/2 years of captivity in Vietnam, I know what life in a foreign prison is like. To a large degree, I credit the Geneva Conventions for my survival....This is one reason the United States has led the world in upholding treaties governing the status and care of enemy prisoners: because these standards also protect us....We need absolute clarity that America will continue to set the gold standard in the treatment of prisoners in wartime. Abusive detention and interrogation policies make it much more difficult to win the support of people around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world. The war on terrorism is not a popularity contest, but anti-American sentiment breeds sympathy for anti-American terrorist organizations and makes it far easier for them to recruit young terrorists.

Polls show that Muslims have positive attitudes toward the American people and our values. However, overall, favorable ratings toward the United States and its Government are very low. This is driven largely by the negative attitudes toward the policies of this administration. Muslims respect our values, but we must convince them that our actions reflect these values. That’s why the 9/11 Commission recommended: “We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors.”

No, it's not all Mr. Rogers-in-the-Hood, hunky-dory fare, popularity contests. But our basic values, not least that we will not countenance the torture of detainees in American detention, must be abided by. This must be a red-line for all thinking conservatives. The President says this is our policy. That torture will not be tolerated. But how can we know for sure this is the case now? The dismal record of these past years provides little comfort or confidence on this score, alas. At the end of the day, a not insignificant part of our national greatness stems from America being the 'gold standard' in its respect for its fellow man, in its role as ultimate guarantor of democratic liberties in the international system, on, yes, the standards governing the detention of our detainees and POWs. Sober wisdom and our better angels must prevail as we move forward towards what will doubtless be a difficult, troubled decade ahead. There will likely be more chaos and bloodshed on our shores. What will we do when, say, there is a WMD attack that kills 12,000 in Tulsa or San Diego or Peoria in 2009? Round up the Muslims in our midst and place them in pens governed by Lileks-compliant standards of detainee treatment? No, better that we standardize the rules and have a top-tier, bipartisan outside commission thoroughly look at America's detention facilities and policies from the bottom-up, the inside-out. There's simply too much rot that has been accumulated these past years. And the bright sunlight of judicious, wholly unbiased and serious scrutiny is needed to disinfect it. This will help America re-gain its footing as undisputed avatar of the rule of law and standard-bearer of human rights on the world stage. We owe this to ourselves, to our country, to our grandchildren. It's the right way. And it's not a joke. It's deadly serious.

Posted by Gregory at 01:14 AM | Comments (132) | TrackBack

Stop Presses: Al Gore Picked Up My Keys!

I'm sorry--and I'm sure Harvard student Fatina Abdrabboh is a great gal and all--but why oh why is this piffle crowding valuable op-ed space in the NYT today? Is it to make us pine and wish for how cheery it would all have been if Al had prevailed in 2000? What risible fare! Brad, the FT would never publish such drivel, would they?

P.S. And just think--we'll have to pay for the privilege to read such offerings soon!

P.P.S. Heh. A fellow SFS'er gets into the mood...

Posted by Gregory at 01:11 AM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

The Trivialization of Prison Torture aka 'I Love Gitmo'!

I agree with Kos: "There are issues that can legitimately be fought for partisan gain. This isn't one of them. Too much is at stake."

Indeed. Meantime, John Cole has the must-read on the Durbin follies. And don't miss Tacitus either. I will have much more on this and related topics as soon as time allows--I hope tomorrow night. Stay tuned, as we won't be pulling any punches.

Don't miss this Cole query either:

Do Sean Hannity and guys like this know they are partisan hacks and they just don't care, or do they think they are being fair and just calling things as they see them?

The self-righteous hysteria seems authentic and would point to the latter. Still, I suspect many of the culprits are smart enough that--at least in private, honest moments of self-appraisal, you know, when they take real stock and gaze in the mirror for a spell--perhaps a true self-awareness results, if fleetingly, so that they see a bona fide hack staring right back at them.

Posted by Gregory at 11:49 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack

June 17, 2005


B.D. will be in a remote Italian village this weekend for some much needed recharging of the proverbial batteries. Little to no blogging, therefore, as I'm sure you can understand. Next week I am mostly in Geneva six hours ahead of East Coast--so new content should typically come on line around 4 PM EST. See you Sunday or Monday night my time. And have a great weekend.

P.S. I finally got around to adding perma-links to comments so that I can link directly to ones worth checking out in the future. So, whether on Iran policy or whatever else, comment away! Cheers.

P.P.S. Geneva has been rather hectic. I'll try my best to find time to post tomorrow (Tues) night.

Posted by Gregory at 03:58 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

Vakil Trumps Pletka

Underwhelmed by Danielle Pletka's boiler-plate, cliched op-ed piece in today's NYT? Have no fear! The FT--which incidentally, and for my money, produces significantly higher quality opinion journalism in its pages, day in; day out, than the New York Times--has a much more, er, nuanced Iran analysis from Sanam Vakil (subscription required):


The emergence of a reformist movement with mass support forced the clerical elite, Mr Rafsanjani included, to acknowledge the link between demography and democracy. With 70 per cent of the population under the age of 30 and with no memory of the revolution or its nationalising ideology, the government recognised that it was sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Mr Rafsanjani's re-emergence signifies an essential and often overlooked change in Iran's power structure - a weakening in the position of the rahbar or supreme leader.

It is common knowledge that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, did not want Mr Rafsanjani to re-enter the political scene. Instead, he wanted a unified conservative bloc of support behind the more popular conservative candidate, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the former police chief. Mr Rafsanjani is proving to be a thorn in Ayatollah Khamenei's side.

Moreover, Mr Rafsanjani's presence in the election complicates the outcome. Even Dr Mustafa Moin, the former culture and higher education minister and a reformist candidate, is considered more palatable to some conservatives than Mr Rafsanjani. If elected, Dr Moin could be overpowered by the conservatives who dominate every institution, including the parliament. Such a scenario would replicate the second term of President Mohammad Khatami, the outgoing reformist president.

As a born-again pragmatist, Mr Rafsanjani has abandoned his revolutionary ideals for national-interest oriented objectives. Potential rapprochement with the US - an anathema for many traditional revolutionary adherents who fear American interference in Iranian affairs - is an idea Mr Rafsanjani has flirted with for years and is now one of the main pillars of his campaign. Increased economic liberalisation is another policy issue that reveals the ideological divide between Mr Rafsanjani and the clerical apparatchiks. Both of these issues are not only on his agenda but critical for gaining mass popular support.

Yes Ms. Pletka, I know Rafsanjani is a big, bad "shark"! I certainly know he's no angel too. But we have to operate in the real world, not cubicled-away in think-tanks dreaming of regime change, like, yesterday--and if we carefully embark on a relationship with Rafsanjani (of course initially through our Euro proxies) with our eyes wide open--so that we don't get hoodwinked or bamboozled--I think some interesting developments on the U.S-Iranian bilateral relationship might very well be in the offing during Rafsanjani's tenure.

More here:

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

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

No, he's not going to be our best buddy. Far from it. He'll be canny as hell, and the danger is of course being snookered by his economic 'pragmatism' and such so as to let the Iranians have their cake and eat it too (get economic benefits while still pursuing their nuclear program and not making any real re-adjustments on their support for terror etc etc). But if we approach this dialogue like sharks too, which I trust we will, there could be some very interesting areas of mutual interest to explore indeed. It's certainly at least worth a try. After all, just for starters, I can assure you that if we followed some of the policy prescriptions Pletka is cheerleading (somewhat blindly) in the Times today--Iran would quickly retaliate by ramping up the trouble-making in Iraq in a big, big way. After all, of course, they haven't played all their potential Iraq cards yet, and are holding quite a bit in reserve...

Posted by Gregory at 08:51 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day II

The problem is solved and ended. The Sunnis will participate in the process of writing the constitution," said Tariq Hashimi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni Arab organization.

From a WaPo dispatch here.

Some good Iraq news today with a deal struck so that the Sunni are on board (at least for now) on the Iraqi constitution-drafting exercise. This will be a hugely complex endeavour, and we're just at the very beginning of it, but let's at least be thankful that total stalemate (again, at least for now) has been averted.

More from Sabrina Tavernese:

Iraqi political leaders broke weeks of deadlock today, as Sunni Arabs accepted a compromise made by senior members of a Shiite-led parliamentary committee to include Sunnis in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution.

The agreement marked a turnaround in Iraqi politics and opened a way for the Iraqi National Assembly to meet its Aug. 15 deadline for drafting the document. Legislators had been haggling with Sunni Arabs for weeks over the number of seats the Sunnis would be given on the 55-member Constitutional Committee.

The compromise offer to Sunnis - 15 additional seats and 10 adviser positions - was made last week, but at the time it was rejected by many Sunnis, who said they wanted more seats with full voting powers. Since then, Shiite committee members offered a sweetener, saying the committee would approve the new constitution by consensus and not by vote, making the precise number of seats less important.

The offer was final, said a senior member of the Shiite-led committee, Bahaa al-Aaraji.

"We told them, if you are late it's not good for you, because we start to work and we won't wait for you," he said in a telephone interview this evening.

So on Tuesday night, a team of Sunni Arab negotiators met in one negotiator's house to discuss the offer. They decided, some with reservation, that it was one they must accept. Turning it down, they said, would mean permanent isolation from the political process. Today, they made their agreement public.

"We've been squeezed, we had to agree," said Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni Arab group that has pressed for a greater Sunni role in politics. "There was no other alternative. Either we'd be in the political process or we'd be out of it."

Yes they were squeezed some. But the Sunnis (and those trying to influence them to join the process) made the right call here. If nothing else, it's called pragmatic survivalism. More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 08:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Quote(s) of the Day

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which arrived in Tal Afar several weeks ago. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country. In the past, the problem has been we haven't been able to leave sufficient forces in towns where we've cleared the insurgents out."


"Resources are everything in combat, and when you don't have enough manpower to move around, you have to pick the places," said Maj. John Wilwerding, executive officer of Sabre Squadron, a 1,000-strong unit that now oversees Tal Afar."

This from a Tal Afar Richard Oppel dispatch.

Posted by Gregory at 05:07 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Austin Bay: Live from Baghdad

Austin Bay, now touched down in Baghdad and far from the swanky Lebanese restaurant fare of Doha, reports:

The current chief of operations gave us a briefing in the Corps’ Joint Operations Center. I’ll comment on the difference in operational emphasis at a later date– but it’s clear the Iraqis are taking on a larger share of the operational burden. After the ops briefing we talked with the current corps commander, Lieutenant-General Vines, for about an hour. When asked about Iraqi participation in security missions, Vines gave us a rough percentage figure. In at least nine out of ten security operations, the new Iraqi military is providing half of the forces. The Iraqi units demonstrate tactical combat proficiency but –this is the short version– lack logistical support organizations and heavy weapons (eg, sufficient artillery).

Color me somewhat skeptical. But I'll be reading Austin's Baghdad dispatches with great interest--not least with regard to this critical issue that Austin has flagged straight out of the gates.

(thanks to the commenter in a thread below for the hat tip)

Posted by Gregory at 04:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Iraq As Vietnam Redux?

B.D. isn't one of those who has bought into the 'Iraq as Vietnam' meme--but if you are looking for an honest, right-leaning New Yorker to make a strong argument that we are tragically repeating history--well, look no further.

Posted by Gregory at 03:39 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Infiltration of the Iraqi Army?

Exhibit A:

...a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi Army uniform detonated a bodybelt bomb in a canteen at an Iraqi Army base at Khalis, a market town between the Tigris and Diyala rivers about 40 miles north of Baghdad. A local police commander, Lt. Col. Mehdi al-Ubaidi, said the blast killed 23 soldiers and wounded 28. Survivors said the attacker had waited in the canteen until it filled up for lunch before he triggered his bomb.

It was the second occasion in five days when a suicide bomber wearing an Iraqi uniform had managed to penetrate security at an Iraqi base. On Saturday, a former member of an elite Iraqi police commando unit, the Wolf Brigade, detonated a bodybelt bomb at headquarters that killed four policemen. Insurgent attacks in recent months have often focused on Iraqi military units, whose build-up is crucial to plans for an eventual drawdown of the 140,000 American troops in Iraq. [emphasis added]

As I've been saying these past days-- infiltration of 'train and equip' is a serious problem. Yes, of course, it's possible this last suicide attack wasn't conducted by someone that had actually infiltrated the Iraqi Army. Who knows? But it is unlikely. And, regardless, they got their hands on that uniform somehow, no? And lingered at the canteen, without raising the merest peep of suspicion, for quite a while as the lunchers streamed in. Yes , it would be naive in the extreme to expect nothing like this to happen in the midst of a major training and equipping effort and a chaotic, resilient insurgency. But only the most committed cheerleaders would deny that a too hasty rush to get the numbers of "trained" forces up, at all costs, hasn't contributed to the kind of attacks that occured in Iraq today.

Posted by Gregory at 02:29 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friedman on Iraq

Seems like Tom Friedman has gotten Eschaton all hot under the collar today. Guess he touched a nerve. And that the truth hurts (Friedman: "Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.") After all, any casual reader of Kos or Atrios over the past months knows full well they have been rooting for an American failure in Iraq since, well, since at least the time of Kerry's defeat.

Golden oldie time.


Bush has spent the last year blaming all his ills on 9/11 and Bill Clinton. Well, those boogeymen are now done. Bush is now inheriting his own presidency, and he has a serious mess on his hands. The big silver lining, and it's significant, is that Kerry won't be tarred for cleaning up Bush's mess. Had Kerry gotten us out of Iraq, he would've been blamed for "losing the war". Now Bush will ineptly lose it for himself.

Or Atrios, the day of the January 30th Iraqi elections (this almost his sole comment on the going-ons in Iraq on that historic day):

"Hercules Down

Horrible. Possibly very horrible.

...good. Reuters is saying up to 15 killed which, while horrible, is much less horrible than it could have been."

Am I the only person who read this and couldn't help pausing for a second and wondering what the "...good" refers to? That something tragic happened the day of the successful elections--or that 'only' 15 British servicemen were killed? I report; you decide. [ed. note: Yeah, let's assume his basic human decency and grant him it's the latter. But still, the stench of disingenuousness positively leaps off the blog page].

But enough about liberals and Iraq, and on to the substance of Friedman's op-ed...Friedman is distinctively gloomy in his piece but, like B.D., doesn't think the gig is up (but we are at yet another Friedman "tipping point", it seems). One of the best lines in Friedman's op-ed is this new (to me) coinage re: the "Rumsfeld Doctrine": "Just enough troops to lose." Friedman neatly contrasts this with the "Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force." Somewhat relatedly, he also has this to say poo-pooing the notion of 'train and equip' as some kind of grand panacea:

Yes, yes, I know we are training Iraqi soldiers by the battalions, but I don't think this is the key. Who is training the insurgent-fascists? Nobody. And yet they are doing daily damage to U.S. and Iraqi forces. Training is overrated, in my book. Where you have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching above its weight. Where you don't have motivated officers and soldiers, you have an army punching a clock.

Where do you get motivated officers and soldiers? That can come only from an Iraqi leader and government that are seen as representing all the country's main factions. So far the Iraqi political class has been a disappointment. The Kurds have been great. But the Sunni leaders have been shortsighted at best and malicious at worst, fantasizing that they are going to make a comeback to power through terror. As for the Shiites, their spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been a positive force on the religious side, but he has no political analog. No Shiite Hamid Karzai has emerged.

But might we give Ibrahim Jaafari some more time before giving up on him? Karzai, after all, came to power amidst a relatively peaceful Kabul and environs. It has been a tougher slog for Jaafari who must spend a good deal of his time on constant security crises. He still could end up being more of an effective uniter than Friedman gives him credit for today.

I'd also quibble with this part of Friedman's piece:

Maybe it is too late, but before we give up on Iraq, why not actually try to do it right? Double the American boots on the ground and redouble the diplomatic effort to bring in those Sunnis who want to be part of the process and fight to the death those who don't. As Stanford's Larry Diamond, author of an important new book on the Iraq war, "Squandered Victory," puts it, we need "a bold mobilizing strategy" right now. That means the new Iraqi government, the U.S. and the U.N. teaming up to widen the political arena in Iraq, energizing the constitution-writing process and developing a communications-diplomatic strategy that puts our bloodthirsty enemies on the defensive rather than us. The Bush team has been weak in all these areas.

O.K, sure. Let's have a "bold mobilizing strategy." But simply saying double this and re-double that is all a bit on the facile side, no? The diplomatic effort to get the Sunnis on board--as Steve Weismann recently reported in Friedman's own paper--is going pretty strong all told. How to re-double it? Just by having our Ambassador on the ground (Friedman, quite understandably, complains we don't have Ambassadors in Amman, Kabul or Baghdad right now)? That certainly wouldn't hurt, but probably wouldn't constitute doubling our efforts to get the Sunnis on board. We're working with the EU and the U.N. too now specifically on the Sunni integration issue. Maybe we should get the Arab League more heavily involved in dialogue with wary Sunni constituencies in Iraq as well. I'm sure there has been a bit of that here and there, but perhaps that's one area we we could ratchet up involvement (Jordanian and Egyptian high-level envoys, say). And then the troop thing. Double that too Mr. Friedman advises! But where would the other 139,000 boots be coming from, exactly? Or 50,000, for that matter? All this said, it's on the "energizing" efforts related to the Iraqi constitution-writing process that Larry Diamond and Tom Friedman might have a helpful point. On this, see the talented Spencer Ackerman:

And on fewer issues does Diamond show victory was more needlessly squandered than with the U.S.-brokered Iraqi interim constitution, known as the Transitional Administrative Law (TAL), completed in March 2004 with much U.S. jubilation and much Iraqi bitterness. As he recounts the story of how the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council drafted the foundational document, the sheer fact of American sponsorship of the TAL overshadowed its liberal elements to the Iraqi public, creating the widespread impression among Sunni and Shia Arabs (if not Kurds) that its unpalatable provisions were an American attempt to disenfranchise them. The CPA never recovered the initiative. Distrust of the TAL and the process that produced it hangs over the nascent attempt at crafting a permanent replacement. In short, what happened last March is not an experience we should want to repeat.

Yet Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari is asking the Bush administration to risk precisely that--and he's right to do so. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Zebari implored the U.S. to reverse its recent laissez-faire approach to the Iraqi political scene, warning that the permanent constitution--and hence the future of Iraq itself--is in grave danger if the parliamentary drafting committee is left to its own devices. "If we are unable to write a constitution with consensus, what is the alternative?" Zebari told the Post's Robin Wright last week. "This process would be prolonged and people will start to walk away. Walking away means the possibility of chaos, division, or even civil war. There are people who are fomenting that [conflict] now." Of course, Zebari's alternative--U.S. intervention in the drafting--could produce that same destabilizing result, with our interference becoming an excuse for the sectarian intransigence that could consign the constitution to failure. Should we chance it?

The answer is yes.

I agree. Radicals will say it's a ginned up American constitution anyway--so why not risk getting more heavily involved in the drafting if we can maybe make a difference? Yep, let's do our utmost to help get a viable constitution teed up. As Ackerman points out, Khalizad was instrumental in doing so in Kabul. Will this be a big part of his initial portfolio as he gets set up in the Green Zone? I sure hope so.

Posted by Gregory at 12:04 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

B.D. Gets Results!

Well, this is better than "last throes", isn't it?

Vice President Richard B. Cheney urged patience as Iraq continues on the road toward self-sufficiency in a June 10 interview here. Speaking with Air Force Master Sgt. Sean Lehman of the Pentagon Channel, Cheney stressed the need for patience with the remaining U.S. and coalition mission in Iraq and as the fledgling democracy takes shape, citing "two really important developments" in progress.

"One is the Iraqis (are) in the midst of the process of writing a constitution, which will be ratified in a national referendum this fall, and then they'll have elections in December for the first freely elected government under the new constitution," the vice president said.

"The other important development that's going forward is training Iraqi forces to be able to take care of their own security requirements," he continued. "We've now got over 160,000 who have been through some training and are equipped. Obviously, there are various stages of readiness and capability, but more and more we're seeing Iraqis actually in the fight, taking on more of the responsibilities for the task of dealing with the security threat.

"And those two things," he said, "really are crucial to our completing the mission there."

Cheney noted that Iraq has made its progress so far toward becoming a full-fledged democracy in a relatively short time. "It took us from 1775 until 1789, about 14 years, from the time we started our revolution, ... until we had a constitution ratified, in place, ready to elect a government," he said. "It's only been a little over two years now in Iraq since we went in and toppled Saddam Hussein's regime, so I think we need to be a little bit patient here in terms of our expectations about how fast they go. [my emphasis]

A good statement. Stressing the need for "patience" while acknowledging that the much vaunted 160,000 are "obviously" at "various stages of readiness and capability" (this last still an understatement, of course, but an improvement on Rumsfeld's empty numbers cheerleading). The reference to the U.S. constitutional ratification process lasting some 14 years is a nice touch too. Yes, a successful outcome in Iraq will take a long time indeed. Kudos on the Veep for moving in the right direction with this public statement by pointing that out quite effectively.

(And with apologies to the good Doctor for the shameless usage of his tag line).

[ed. note: Er, you do realize that Cheney said this on June 10th, right? Two days before you were shouting off the blogospheric roof-tops that "last throes" was likely bogus? Yeah, I do, but can I still pretend to take just a little credit?]

Posted by Gregory at 12:02 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

CNN's Finest

Can I just say what a fan B.D. is of Christiane Amanpour? I'm in the Caucasus now, catching her just shy of 10 PM local interviewing Iranian Presidential candidate Hashemi Rafsanjani. She's head and shoulders over so many other journalists (let alone television journalists) who'd be stumbling and clueless conducting such an interview. Truly a class act. Her remarkable coverage of Bosnia in the mid-90s--judicious yet passionate, courageous yet never reckless, gracious yet gung-ho, go-getting--it truly stands out as one of CNN's finest moments. Pity the channel has been grotesquely dumbed-down (especially in the U.S.). Still, Amanpour and a few others still make it worth watching now and again--especially when overseas.

P.S. Even Christiane almost seemed to lose her game face when Rafsanjani intoned: "Iran, more than any other country, has fought terrorism." Pretty rich fare...

P.P.S. While I'm on the subject of gutsy, talented women: how 'bout a shout out to Natasha Kandic? Her moral (and physical) courage in the face of the gross excesses of Serbian nationalism through the 90s and to the present day (she was the key person who released the recently aired Srebrenica tape) has been truly remarkable. Chapeau, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at 11:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

"The French social model isn't a model, because no one wants to emulate it. It's not social, because its caused record unemployment."

--Patrick Devedjian, one of Nicolas Sarkozy's right hand men.

More here from the indispensable John Vinocur.

P.S. Don't miss this part of Vinocur's piece either:

In the middle of this, the following brainstorm: Villepin, who had toyed publicly with the idea two years ago, said in his first major policy speech that the countries ought to move toward a French-German Union in "specific political areas." Whacked upside the head by this added incongruity, Schröder's government first responded that it "is not on the current agenda." In fact, if Villepin is talking airily about union, it's a next-to-ridiculous concept in real time. The French have no plans to share their most treasured international lever with their neighbors: Take it on good authority, it was French insistence earlier this month that led Germany to drop its demand for UN Security Council veto-power from its very shaky bid for a council seat...

...I would not want to leave all the blame to Schröder and Chirac's tactics for keeping away from commitment to change, or to the ludicrous-seeming inconsistencies or incapacities they have brought to German and French politics over the past few years.

Truth is, there's something in the EU's general culture that seems to make its members shy from the real hard stuff.

Remember the murder last year of a Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the real furor it unleashed about the compatibility of Islamic fundamentalism (or just Islam) with European life? It happened while the Dutch held the EU presidency during another EU summit meeting, and became part of the process in which the Dutch government's timidity in not urgently putting the issue on the summit agenda turned up as a factor in the Dutch no vote on the EU's constitution.

Ridiculousness still kills, and just as surely. At this juncture, the EU could not get more absurd than by refusing to focus all its intelligence and resources in Brussels on Thursday to deal with its single great subject: how, and with whom, it has gone wrong.

There is truly a stunning lack of political courage on the Continent these past years. Seemingly no one is willing and able to really confront honestly and full bore what ails the European project. That, or the political elites are just stunningly disconnected from reality (or some combination thereto). Until this changes dreams of a cohesive, united Europe will remain just that. An idyllic fairy land realm, of sorts--an utopic project left unrealized and increasingly relegated to the dustbin of history. After all, how can one take seriously dreams of Euro-cohesion when, even in the face of the debacle of recent weeks, de Villepin's default is some lame resucitation of some Franco-German union? All fine and good, you say. Until one remembers the French are busy backstabbing there supposed best Euro-buddies--during this so sensitive time of troubles--to ensure they are denied a United Nations Security Council seat (lest the nettlesome Teutons in any way share the limelight of the neo-Napoleonic grandees containing the American hegemon round-the-UNSC-horseshoe-table)! This is all pretty farcical, isn't it? Henry Kissinger still, alas (or thankfully, perhaps?), has no number to call when he wishes to speak to Europe writ large. Save Javier Solana, of course. Whose real power and mandate, we might say, is quite limited indeed.

Posted by Gregory at 05:46 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

June 13, 2005

The Perils of Over-Optimistic Narratives

More, shall we say, Wretchardian sophistry:

Yet the question remains: if the insurgency is losing then why is the level of combat constant or increasing? The only answer, admittedly one that will not convince everybody, is to point to the pattern of operations. In 2004 the insurgent strategy was to co-opt or infiltrate government security forces. That failed and the insurgents are now meeting government forces in combat, a fact attested by the losses the Iraqi police and army are taking in the fight.

Heh. Let me translate this in plainer English for you friends. It's kinda good news that newly trained Iraqi forces are being killed in large number. Means the outmatched insurgents have finally been forced to take the fight to the enemy, see! Before, the insurgent strategy was more one of stealthfully co-opting or infiltrating government security forces. They were safer then, not yet actively engaging the enemy, and so losses (all around ostensibly) were fewer. Except, even per the statistics Wretchard bandies about (somewhat like a lugubrious actuary), there were 1,300 Iraqi Forces felled pre--2005 (there are just shy of a 1,000 killed so far this year--a number that will likely rise to 2,000 or so by year end). Not really a dramatic difference, all told. And, in my view, not causally linked to whether insurgents are more trying to infiltrate the Iraqi Army or whether they are more waging live battles with us and our local allies. The bottom line is that nascent Iraqi military forces have been slaughtered like lemmings month after month, often in quasi-quotidian moments, as they await picking up their paychecks (often the only reason they're there) or registering papers at the local municipality building. The heavy fighting continues to be done by the Americans (Wolf Brigades and such notable exceptions aside), in the main, because most Iraqi forces can't face the insurgents head-on without the best fighting force on the planet (that's us) leading the charge. They're not ready for prime-time and solo action. To divine a real pattern from all this regarding the numbers of Iraqi forces killed (that they have moved from infiltration to active fighting) is chimerical. Clear?

But I digress. Wretchard advises that the insurgent infiltration strategy (of the new Iraqi Army) has failed. But this last contention is not evidenced in the least but merely stated as accepted fact. I have significant residual concerns that train and equip has been infiltrated by a variety of foreign and unfriendly domestic agents. (B.D. worked on the 'train and equip' effort for the Bosnian Federation Army--which became infiltrated by a good many Iranian agents at certain junctures. How much you wanna bet they've done a better job of it closer in the 'hood? And that's just foreign agents...there's a good dollop of Baathist sympathizers in the mix too). The reality is that the insurgents are busy, not only placing IED's (a "steady dribble" of them, you might say), fighting us and nascent Iraqi Forces, but also very much still busy infiltrating the new Iraqi Army. And they're, in all likelihood, doing a much better job of it than Wretchard breezily lets on. Go here for more detail.

All this aside, you'd think, wouldn't you, that if more Iraqi Forces are dying, than fewer of our guys would be, no? After all, there taking over the fight, per Wretchard, right!?! Certainly if the insurgency had been "defeated" (or if it is "losing" as Belmont Club puts it more, er, ponderously today), things are on the up and up? But alas, we are losing at least as many men as last year as Wretchard is reluctantly forced to concede: "From a statistical point of view combat in Iraq has been as deadly as the year previous". (Hmmm, one wonders: are we losing fewer men from a non-statistical point of view, perhaps? Just curious). And this, of course, without having to deal with the nettlesome Moktada al-Sadr in 2005.

Wretchard also writes:

Nor is it clear that it will be "far cheaper, easier and quicker for an insurgent force to regenerate than for a counterinsurgent force to regenerate" where the insurgents come from the Sunni minority while the counterinsurgent force comes from the Shi'ite and Kurdish majority of the population.

People just don't get this, do they? Are we really going to send in legions of peshmerga or closet-Sadr supporters into Ramadi, Fallujah and the Sunni bad-lands of the Syrian border? Why not just send some Sunnis to go relieve themsleves in the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, say, or send some revanchist Shi'a to do a spot of score-settling in Anbar Province? The counter-insurgent forces, to be effective, must come from the population itself (or at least have a good dollop from the area in question). Otherwise we risk lighting the conflagration of sectararian strife and, god forbid, civil war.

Wretchard goes on to sum up:

The Coalition is on the strategic offensive, probably inflicting a multiple kill-ratio on the enemy, capturing its leadership, improving its intelligence capacity and generating ever larger numbers of indigenous combat forces. It is basically ascendant in every measurable military category. On the other hand, the insurgents are counting on making America tire of serial combat victories without apparent end in the belief that if they simply do not admit to loss they will eventually win -- not on the battlefield as Fester and Kos would have us believe -- but on the political front, as they always aimed to do. In a sense, neither Michael Yon nor anyone else can say us when the finish line will be crossed because it lies on a plane which includes, but is not limited to the battlefield. Karl von Clauswitz famously said "War is nothing but a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means." The US military has provided most of the "other means"; it now remains to be seen whether the remainder of its society can provide the rest.

I agree with the estimable Wretchard, all told, that we are "basically ascendant in every measurable military category." And amen for that. That's why I am still cautiously optimistic we will prevail in this war. But I have to strongly disagree with Wretchard still in this last concluding graf. In mondo Belmont Club, the insurgents are waiting for us civies watching dissident channels like the Beeb or CBS to "tire of serial combat victories without apparent end" and sap the war effort at home. Weak-kneed coastal Manhattan and San Fran pansies don't even have the stomach to keep the home fire's burning adequately! Please. Tell that to the grunts in the field. They'll tell us that rosy talk of imminent victory is mostly bunk. The bottom line is we have a helluva hard fight in front of us--and "serial victories" are the least of our problems. What we need is for smart guys in the Republican Party to stop spinning. Every time Cheney says something like "last throes", and months later we're still going hard at it, who is really suffering? The President and the credibility of his Administration, that's who. Let's be more intellectually honest with ourselves, no? Isn't that what leadership and character is about? Look, I'll be among the happiest to be proven wrong. Let the serial victories march forth untrammeled, and let us claim victory soonest. But I fear it won't be that easy. Not by a long shot. But who am I to question the over-optimistic narratives that carry us forward majestically and inexorably towards achievement of strategic, Clauswitzian ends? It can only be because I lack the requisite fortitude and sense of purpose, doubtless, that I dare question whether the insurgency has really been defeated. Or something like that.

MORE: A reader E-mails in:

I felt compelled to write and state my wholehearted agreement with regard your recent posts dealing with the recent output of the Belmont Club. Neither post had a word out of place and you got it absolutely bang on.

To be candid - perhaps unwelcomely - my personal view of the Belmont Club is probably rather less positive than yours. In fact it's gone on a more or less constant downward slope since I first read (and was impressed by) his output way back in the day. I don't deny for an instant that Wretchard is broadly well informed and clearly highly intelligent. However, for my part I have long felt that the BC has been perhaps the leading repository of what a friend of mine who works on The Hill as a professional (ex-U.S. Army Rangers) staffer refers to bitterly as the "hidden good news story", whereby an event that is perceived by almost everyone in the defence community as a disaster or setback and reported as such in the press is invariably somehow portrayed by partisan commentators as a startling example of
geo-strategic genius on the part of the Bush administration. Wretchard is also extremely good at making his arguments appear superficially impressive by the employment of lengthy posts drawing on numerous (often very superficial)historical analogies. However, were we to actually go over his coverage over the past couple of years I strongly suspect that in reality very little of what he has had to say has actually panned out the way he predicted. Not, it has to be said, that any of us (least of all myself) are entirely innocent of this! Everyone makes mistakes, but Wretchard's somewhat belligerent assertiveness doesn't help his case.

It also doesn't help that his posting has become increasingly overt in its political partisanship, with numerous sweeping condemnations of "the left" and unpleasant sneers at... well pretty much everyone but the Republican right really (I speak as somebody who cheerfully considers himself to be on the right hand side of the political spectrum - but hackery is hackery). My tolerance of his output probably reached its nadir when he implied, in what I felt was a rather cagey and undignified manner, that Associated Press photographers were guilty of collusion in the murder of Iraqi electoral workers ("questions must be asked" etc..). In fact, the evidence he marshalled was not only highly circumstantial but tissue thin and soon fell apart under scrutiny. To the best of my knowledge he has at no point withdrawn or apologised but was instead happy to deal in nods and winks and to let people foolish enough to dangle on
his every word (of which, to my continuing bemusement, there are very, very, many) to pick it up and run with it - disastrously in my view. For all the brouhaha about the failure and lack of accountability of the "liberal media", as far as I'm concerned that
little performance pretty much set Wretchard up as the right wing internet equivalent of a Michael Meacher column in the Guardian.

You may well consider this assessment unduly harsh and it may be that you'd be right, but regardless, your recent posts have been an absolute breath of fresh air and have restored my faith in a medium towards which I have become increasingly jaded recently (but this email is already too long as it stands so I won't get started...)

Keep the E-mails coming. Frankly, I don't know if my correspondent is being unduly harsh to Wretchard. There are some posts he writes which I consider of top quality and with which I wholeheartedly agree (for instance, see here and here). That said, I'm not a regular reader of Belmont Club and tend to head over more when Glenn links. So I really don't have a comprehensive feel. But I think I've made it clear over the past couple of days that he's overly optimistic on the war--which is my main beef with him. Regardless, no fear, I'll be moving on to other topics tonight beyond this (ultimately not so important) blogospheric navel-gazing. Recall I'm nine hours ahead of East Coast time still.

Posted by Gregory at 11:27 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

June 12, 2005

The Iraqi Insurgency Is Not Dead

Wretchard, of the Belmont Club:

A casual observer can't help but notice that three apparently unrelated news fronts -- the military war on terror, the EU project and the United Nations -- have risen and fallen together as if they were held together by some invisible current. It's possible that the defeat of the Iraqi insurgency (the subject of an excellent roundup by Bill Roggio at Winds of Change), the shocking setbacks dealt to the EU draft constitution and the continuing investigation into criminal activity at the United Nations are only coincidentally linked. [emphasis added]

I'm not going to spend time sketching the imagined connections between and among hapless Kojo and Kofi; Jacques, Gerhard and Dominique; and the Iraqi insurgency. But, with all due respect to Wretchard, it would have to be quite a "casual observer" indeed who would write so breezily of the "defeat of the Iraqi insurgency." This is such utter flimflam and snake oil, and needs to be called mightily lest too many people on the Thinking Right (of whom I count a good deal of Belmont's readership) buy into the "last throes" spinnage making the rounds. Even the Bill Roggio piece Belmont links to (ostensibly to buttress his absurd contention that the Iraqi insurgency has been defeated) is more about a temporary success in Baghdad than the defeat of the insurgency. The first sentence sets the tone: "Operation Thunder has temporarily put a dent in the car bombings in Baghdad." Well then, game over, yes? The insurgency has been quashed! Most assuredly, it appears the insurgency has taken some major hits in Baghdad and pulled up camp Anbar way. Yes, this is a positive development. And it would be an even more positive development, of course, if we had enough guys on the ground in Anbar to decimate them when they decamped there rather than see them live to fight another day instead.

From the Roggio WoC post Wretchard links:

James Janega of the Chicago Tribune reports on the scarcity of US and Iraqi troops available to secure the Anbar province. He estimates 4,000 Marines are patrolling about 30,000 square miles of territory. For good or ill, the strategy in the Wild West of Anbar appears to be one of establishing distinct garrisons in locations such as Qaim, Haditha and other locations, patrolling the territory, conduct search and destroy missions at opportune times when targets and threats materialize, and waiting for Iraqi security forces to train up and deploy to fill the security needs of the region.

Bill puts it quite delicately when he says "for good or ill." Let's be plainer, shall we? It's manifestly for ill.

From the Chicago Tribune piece Bill links:

To reach his battalion stationed at the town of Al Qaim, Marine Col. Stephen Davis must fly more than an hour by helicopter to the edge of 30,000 square miles of dusty badland that is Iraq's most dangerous territory.

Another battalion under Davis' command is split between bases in Haditha and Hit. The towns are 20 miles from Davis' home base at Al Asad but take two nerve-racking hours to reach by Humvee.

His third and final battalion is 150 miles away from Al Asad in the town of Rutbah. The unit's outposts on the Jordanian and Syrian borders are so distant that radios sometimes fail to reach them.

Between those forces are dozens of towns where Marines suspect the heart of Iraq's insurgency has taken refuge. To patrol the region, the Marines must traverse miles of pockmarked desert roads on which it is assumed every pothole hides a land mine.

This is western Anbar province, where in the last month Marines have launched two major sweeps to ferret out the militants they believe are behind an increasingly bloody insurgency. Hundreds of Iraqis--civilians and security forces alike--have died in a monthlong wave of suicide car bombings and other attacks that military leaders say were plotted in this region.

According to intelligence officers, militants use the province's washed-out canyons and remote towns for protection and sneak across the Syrian border almost at will. Davis' Marines are supposed to stop them, a daunting task even if the Marines weren't spread out and short-handed.

Insurgents in a region that is hundreds of miles across in any direction are opposed by Davis' three battalions of roughly 1,000 men each--all three of them short 150 men--plus a force that varies between about 200 and 1,000 at the Al Asad base. Until January, there had been four fully manned battalions in the area.

Over the same period, Marine units throughout Anbar and its restive cities of Fallujah and Ramadi have dwindled from 13 battalions to nine.

By now, military leaders had expected Iraqi forces to make up the shortfall. But training in Anbar has lagged, and construction has yet to begin on bases for the Iraqi troops. American liaisons don't expect to see the soldiers until fall.

In the meantime, Davis is under no illusion that his sweeps last month in Al Qaim and Haditha have quelled the insurgency, and he promised this week that more large operations would follow. On an enormous wall map in his office, he pointed to vast regions where U.S. troops never have patrolled.

"Sooner or later, I would like to get here," he said of a stretch of canyons and high desert near Saudi Arabia. Then he pointed to another desert region closer to Syria, with trails and scattered settlements. "And then maybe up here." [emphasis added]

"And then maybe up here". Meantime, the enemy regroups, rests, and gets ready for another week or two of carnage in Baghdad down the road. This is one of the reasons I've always been so infuriated by Donald Rumsfeld. He's constantly dangled 'train and equip' (yes, like ill-fated Vietnamization) as some form of panacea. Be patient little ones, he avers, as we train the Free Iraqis--only they can pick up the mantle and finish the job. His Jacksonian disdain for really seeing true democratization take root in Iraq is plain for all smart people who care to see. But quit the unpatriotic carping Djerejian, and get on the train [no pun intended], right? Don is the Man with the Plan! Except he's always pushed doing the train and equipping job too quickly--tossing inflated numbers out to a gullible public and often fawningly imbecilic Pentagon press corps (look 'ma, 150,000 Iraqi troops fully trained! And it's not even summer yet!). As I've said for months and years now, you can't rush 'train and equip'. It'll come back and bite you in the ass, to put it plainly.

Again, from the Tribune piece:

U.S. officials estimate more than 150,000 members of Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped, for the first time outnumbering American troops in Iraq. But only a single unit of 30 reconnaissance troops has been sent to western Anbar.

The original Iraqi National Guard units formed in the province after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 were reviled by locals and not trusted by the American troops they were supposed to help and eventually replace. Recently they were quietly disbanded, said Maj. James Whitlatch, the Marine officer assigned to help develop Iraqi security forces in western Anbar.

"There was an urgency [at first] . . . to produce a large quantity of soldiers," said Paul Hughes, a retired Army colonel who was director of strategic policy for the former Coalition Provisional Authority and drafted plans to rebuild Iraq's military.

Authorities quickly learned that haste was counterproductive.

"If you try to stand something up right away, the people most likely to volunteer are likely to be the scoundrels. You have a mixed bag of quality," Hughes said. "It failed miserably because we didn't know who they were."

A more serious or honest Secretary of Defense (think Frank Carlucci or Cap Weinberger) would have grasped this well before. He hasn't, and I'm not even persuaded he has yet today, but here we are (and if you think the 150,000 troops "trained" are truly ready to stand and fight and win--well, put down that crack pipe buddy). And the problem is, and contra Wretchard, far from having defeated the insurgency--we are just settling in for a long battle ahead.

Don't believe me, and still chilling on the Cheney-esque "last throes" vibe? Here's a little reality check:

Military operations in Iraq have not succeeded in weakening the insurgency, and Iraq's government, with U.S. support, is now seeking a political reconciliation among the nation's ethnic and tribal factions as the only viable route to stability, according to US military officials and private specialists.

Two years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the Iraq conflict has evolved into a classic guerrilla war, they argue. Outbreaks of fighting are followed by periods of relative calm and soon thereafter, a return to rampant violence. Despite significant guerrilla setbacks and optimistic predictions by a host of American commanders earlier this year, the Sunni-backed insurgency remains as strong as ever, forcing American officials and their Iraqi allies to seek a political solution to the bloodshed. Pentagon officials and current members of the military interviewed for this story spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We are not going to win the unconditional surrender from the insurgents and have no choice but to somehow bring them into society," said retired Army Colonel Paul Hughes, an Iraq war veteran who is now at the government-funded US Institute for Peace. "To think there will be one climactic military event to end this is foolish. Those who cling to that don't understand."

Indeed, recent comments to that effect by Vice President Dick Cheney —who said on May 31 that the insurgency was in its "last throes" — took many US officials and analysts by surprise, Pentagon officials and others with extensive knowledge of the war said in a series of interviews. The available data, they said, simply do not support such a claim...

...New US government analyses suggest that the insurgents — led by Sunni nationalists, remnants of Hussein's police state, and foreign extremists waging holy war — have vastly more staying power than previously thought.

Following the successful American offensive in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah last fall, which killed at least 1,000 insurgents, there was a dramatic reduction in attacks, according to US military officials. After Fallujah, some US commanders and Pentagon planners had expressed optimism that US troop levels could be reduced following Iraqi elections. But since the Jan. 31 Iraqi elections, the insurgents, relying on steady streams of funding and weapons, new recruits, and staging areas in Syria and possibly Iran, have struck back with a vengeance and US force levels have remained constant.

Despite US estimates that it kills or captures between 1,000 and 3,000 insurgents a month, the number of daily attacks is going back up. Down to about 30 to 40 a day in February, attacks are now up to at least 70 per day, according to statistics of US Central Command.

An internal Army report in April said that rather than what some saw as a drop in the number of daily attacks earlier this year, the insurgents had simply shifted their focus away from US forces to attacks on more vulnerable targets, which were not being fully tallied at the time.

"The insurgency is still mounting an effort comparable to where they were a year ago," said Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer and specialist on counterinsurgency operations who directs the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, an independent think tank in Washington. "We do something we think will change things, but a month or two later casualties and the level of violence are back to where they were."

Still not convinced? Check out this piece too, which doles out the good and the bad in equal portion:

Even worse, the soaring death toll since the new government was formed a month ago has blown a huge hole through the Bush administration's political strategy that assumed the elections, assembling of parliament and subsequent creation of a broad-based government would isolate and shrink the insurgency. It hasn't.

There are, in fact, signs that stepped-up government and U.S. counter-insurgency operations are delivering significant blows to the guerrillas. Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Thursday that the massive deployment of 40,000 troops of the new Iraqi army and security forces across 23 districts of Baghdad this week had killed 28 guerrillas and netted 700 more suspects.

Further, U.S. military-intelligence reports suggest the active forces in the insurgency are increasingly composed of foreign jihadi fighters who have flocked into Iraq to battle U.S. forces there.

However, the bad news is that so far the vastly increased wave of car bombings and other guerrilla attacks across the country since the announcement of the new Shiite and Kurdish-dominated coalition government continues with no end or even lessening in sight.

Some 48 people were killed in bombings and other violence across the country Thursday, and the violence in Baghdad continued Friday with several bomb attacks on U.S. military convoys.

Since the new government was announced, far from sucking the air out of popular Sunni support for the insurgency (as so many American pundits had confidently predicted), the opposite appears to have happened. Some 825 people have been killed, and U.S. troop fatalities are running at the highest level in several months.

Iraqi civilians are being killed at the rate of 20 a day, a figure that would yield 7,300 more victims over the next year. The Iraqi government announced Thursday that the insurgency has killed 12,000 civilians, including 10,000 Shiites. That does not include the number of Iraqis who have been killed in firefights between U.S. forces and the insurgents. Estimates for that vary wildly from 20,000 to 100,000 -- both figures factoring in those who were killed during the intense but highly successful three-week campaign to topple Saddam Hussein in March-April 2003.

Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that the insurgency was on its last legs. Other optimistic assessments have argued that the current wave of attacks is a desperate last-ditch attempt to de-legitimize the new government before it can get established.

This assessment should not be dismissed out of hand. If the wave of arrests of hundreds of suspects this week in Operation Lightning leads to significant intelligence breakthroughs in penetrating the guerrilla networks in Baghdad, it might produce some light at the end of the tunnel. But it hasn't happened yet, whereas the continued wave of death, maiming and generalized terror is all too tangibly real.

U.S. military analysts privately acknowledge that the level of training and leadership of the new Iraqi security forces leaves a great deal to be desired. The current Pentagon civilian leadership erred badly in decreeing that they be run up in such large numbers from scratch.

I agree that Cheney's assessment can't be dismissed out of hand. Who knows? Machiavelli said half of life was skill and half of it was luck. Our troops, under major manpower restraints, are showing skill and great courage day in, day out, in pursuing a robust and sophisticated counter-insurgency campaign. And if all the cards fall just the right way (lotsa luck!) over the next weeks, just maybe this will prove to be the last gasp of the Iraqi insurgency. But let's not lie to ourselves friends. Cheney's assessment is a very optimistic one indeed. And it's not B.D's, either. Mine's not worth too much, of course. I'm just a business-person with a laptop and hi-speed connection blogging out of hotel rooms with none of the intelligence available to me. But, incidentally and importantly, it appears I'm not alone:

Even if the insurgency cannot be quickly eliminated -- and very few if any U.S. military analysts believe that it can be -- if the current counter-offensive and strategy proves successful, it could be reduced to a far lower level of daily attacks and casualties than we are still seeing. And that would buy time both to upgrade the officer cadres of the Iraqi security forces and to explore political strategies for eliminating popular support too.

But if the insurgency continues to rage at its current levels of activity, the pressure will be on the White House and the Pentagon to come up with new answers -- and fast.

On this last, should we be suprised that the President's numbers are at the worst levels they have been at since he's assumed the Presidency? As a supporter of this Administration, dare I suggest it's in part because people sense drift in the Iraq war effort? (On the domestic front, don't miss Newt Gingrich's quite surprisingly Carter-like malaise musings here). And that they want straight talk (no, "death throes" ain't gonna hack it)? Which is that we will likely need to be in Iraq for at least several more years full stop. In at least the numbers we are currently in theater with. This is assuming, of course, that George Bush is fully serious about seeing this effort through the right way. I believe he does which is why I supported him against Kerry who made manifestly clear (to me, at least) his basic lack of interest in securing a democratic outcome in Iraq. Like Kerry, and unlike Bush, I don't think Rumsfeld really gives two shits about securing a truly democratic outcome in Iraq. But Bush is President, and so has a wider panoply of strategic interests to consider, and he is advised by his Secretary of State and others outside civilian DoD like at the NSA, so that he better understands what an abject failure it would be if we declared a too nascent Iraqi Army ready for prime time, and then retreated hastily. Not only would this prove a strategic disaster on par with Vietnam, but it would also have been to lose the lives of thousands and thousands of Americans, Coalition Forces, and Iraqis in vain. I know this must weigh on this President heavily. Unlike cheap political hacks like an Atrios or Kos, say, he has to hold and kiss and hug the families of those killed in this horrible war. Like only a Commander-in-Chief can, he must reckon with the human costs of this war when he huddles with those whose lives have been torn apart because of the decisions only he could ultimately make. The better we should all try to be more honest about the challenges ahead, no?

This is why I am so incensed by the too rosy assessments of the state of the war effort (especially by smart people like Wretchard who should know better). Adults need to stop scoring this like a parlor game. Criticism=treacherous disloyalty to POTUS. Praise=omniscient Rummy rules us happy serfs so wisely! As a Bush supporter, let me give my level-best, most honest criticism here. We never put enough troops in theater and barely have enough there now. We are resource-constrained, and doing the best we can short of increasing the size of the military (which is getting increasingly problematic, see here) or re-instituting the draft (not kosher in the era of Paris Hilton and the Apprentice). What's the best way forward? If we could scrap a few more battalions together to go into Anbar Province that wouldn't be a bad start. Short of marching into Teheran or Damascus (the height of folly), we also need to continue to move towards better securing each of those long borders (today, more Syria's as Sunnis are our biggest challenge; tomorrow perhaps, Iran's, as the Shi'a might become more problematic if we are seen to be overly protecting the Sunni in the future) using every single rational means conceivable and at our disposal. Meantime, we need to continue these commendable efforts to get other parties (the Euros and the U.N.) to help present a united front to the Sunnis to persuade them to enter the political process. Basically, we need to continue to as robustly as possible prosecute a fierce counter-insurgency, while bringing the Sunnis into a political process (the more we get them in, the more this becomes us against foreign jihadists and Baathist restorationists--less so the broader swaths of Sunni nationalists). And, finally and critically, we need to continue the training and equipping effort of a multi-ethnic, cohesive Iraqi Army. Systematically, patiently, and on our own sober, realistic schedule. Sans McNamaresque dubious number-crunching exercises and the tiresome Rumsfeldian spin. The job won't be done until we have a multi-ethnic officer corps shown to be working together well, 200,000 Iraq forces willing to fight and die against, not only Baathists and jihadists, but also die-hard Sunni nationalists that have been totally radicalized and prove unwilling to enter the political process collaboratively. At the same time, we need to remain in Iraq to continue to act as guarantor of minority rights, of nascent political governance structures, and so on.

Do I still think this is all possible? My heart and head still say yes. But, ostensibly like the American people at large, I am getting more and more concerned about our willingness to really see this effort through the right way. As a supporter of this war, and if it turns out that we don't end up doing the job right, I'll have to bear that burden on my conscience--of course an infinitely cheaper cost indeed--compared to those whose lives will have been lost in vain. I still hope and trust it won't turn out this way. To speak as honestly as I can about the challenges that still await us in theater is my small contribution towards helping avert such a catastrophe.

UPDATE: More on the real state of "train and equip" from John Burns and Sabrina Tavernise. Meantime, I'm being subjected to "no s--t, Sherlock" snark from Dan Darling of Winds of Change:

So when I read Greg Djerejian's post explaining that the Iraqi insurgency isn't dead yet my reaction is, to put it quite bluntly, "No s--t, Sherlock!" There is a difference that needs to be understood, however, between the insurgency being dead and it being defeated.

To employ once again over-used World War 2 analogies, the Germans were beaten by 1944 but they still managed to kill quite a few people over the next year and a half.

Similarly, the Iraqi insurgency proved that it could never succeed in its ultimate objective (evicting US troops from Iraq and reestablishing some kind of Sunni hegemony over the country) on January 30 in which they utterly failed to expand their attack zone outside the Sunni Triangle area. That's where the vast of majority of the fighting and terrorist attacks were taking place on January 30 and that's where it's still taking place today. So in that sense, nothing has changed except for the ever-increasing disregard for innocent life among the insurgents.

Dan's a blog-pal and all that, but c'mon. Let's quit this silly rhetorical jousting about whether the Iraqi insurgency has been defeated or is dead (I could just have easily titled my post the "Iraqi Insurgency Is Not Defeated" if that would make Dan happier--as Wretchard's post almost made it sound like all was well in Iraq now that the EU Constitution had gotten the heave-ho and Kofi is feelin' the blogospheric heat or such). Am I supposed to applaud the fact that we will no longer have Sunni hegemony over Mesopotamia--perhaps with Saddam himself coming out of prison (with fresh undies to boot) to preside over a neo-Baathist Round II tutelage of Ye Olde Glorious Preserve?

No, of course the insurgents cannot force our troops out of the country for the foreseeable future if ever and, no of course the Shi'a are now going to run the show in the main so that Sunni hegemony won't be restored anytime soon. But the goal of our intervention, WMD aside, was not just to unseat Saddam and screw the Sunnis. It was to create a viable, democratic Iraqi polity (with minority rights protected) to serve as a show-case and inspiration for the region at large. Surely an embittered Sunni para-state embroiled in terrorist/insurgent activity for another decade isn't what Ken Adelman had in mind? Or a stagnating nation-state negatively impacted by a protracted civil insurrection, increasingly hobbled by the real risks of a civil war if we can't bring the Sunnis into the political process better (and better beat back the insurgents), with near constant carnage in its capital city and other key population centers. Is this what it means for the insurgency to have been defeated? If we are going to define down the goals of our Iraq intervention so bloody low then, hell--yes, we've won. No, the insurgents aren't "dead." But they've been "defeated" all right! Bravo. Saddam isn't coming back, and the Sunnis are gonna get the short-end of the stick. Sweet! Next stop Iran (or Syria), yes? Faster, please--lest us unsophisticates not grasp the "regional" implications at play (Darling: "we need to readjust our paradigm to view Iraq as part of a regional campaign.") But of course. I await this panoramic tour d'horizon with alacrity. But I hope the "paradigm" sketched out begins in places like Anbar Province and Baghdad Dan, because we are quite busy indeed in such locales just now.

Posted by Gregory at 03:11 AM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

June 11, 2005

Historical License

Eric Hobsbawm, writing in the LRB:

What is even stranger, I find myself in an assembly of political ghosts. Leaving aside the Chinese, who avoid public discussions, a surprising number of those who made the world-changing decisions of the 1980s are here. But those who run their countries today are absent. Nobody represents Putin’s Russia, Wolfowitz’s Washington, Schroeder’s Germany, or Blair’s Britain. Only the unchanging logic of French foreign policy provides continuity in Paris. [emphasis added]

"Wolfowitz's Washington." Heh. Pre-World Bank Wolfy is right up there with Blair, Putin and Schroeder among those who "run their countries." Didn't you know? Still, let's give Hobsbawm points for the little gem re: the "unchanging logic of French foreign policy" providing "continuity in Paris." That's a good one too, isn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 04:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 10, 2005

Gitmo Rollback?

From the AP:

The United States would rather have detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp imprisoned by their home countries, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.

American officials are waiting until the Iraqi and Afghan authorities can deal with dangerous prisoners before handing over detainees from those countries, Mr. Rumsfeld said at a news conference during a NATO defense ministers' meeting.

"Our goal is to have them in the hands of the countries of origin, for the most part," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Rumsfeld said he was unaware of anyone in the Bush administration discussing closing the prison in Cuba. Later Wednesday, President Bush said in a Fox News interview that his administration was "exploring all alternatives" for detaining the prisoners.

More on the Rumsfeldian rollback here:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was publicly out of synch with members of President Bush’s administration twice this week, marking rare aberrations for one of the Cabinet’s best at voicing the party line.

On Wednesday, Rumsfeld told reporters in Norway that he hadn’t heard anyone in the executive branch discuss the possibility of closing the U.S. prison camp for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Less than a day later, Bush said he wouldn’t rule out closing the prison.

So what happened? Was Rummy purposefully free-lancing, as is his dreary wont, to get out in front of the policy debate? Or did he, per chance, sincerely think he was in synch with POTUS (perhaps erroneously)? Or does Bush have no intention of closing Gitmo--so that Rummy was right when he made his pre-rollback Wednesday comments? If so, than the President was somewhat clumsy in seeming to leave all options on the table (including, of course, shutting it down) during his appearance on Fox. Still, Bush's response didn't seem a casual slip of the tongue. "Exploring all alternatives" means, to me, that shutting down Gitmo is at least on the policy-debate table.

Here's the best analysis I've seen yet from the Telegraph (UK):

With domestic voices joining the chorus of outrage over the fate of detainees at the base, President George W Bush provoked a flood of speculation when he left open the possibility of shutting it down.

"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," he said, asked in an interview with Fox News whether he would close it.

He went on to defend the treatment of the 540 terrorist suspects at the camp as being in line with international standards. He also defended the policy of not treating them as prisoners of war.

But administration officials yesterday made clear that Mr Bush's remarks betrayed a significant shift, paving the way for heated debate in Washington over what to do with the terrorist suspects at the base.

The officials signalled that there were no immediate plans to close the base pending an anticipated clash between "hawks" and "doves" over its future.

Rather, the administration is expected to accelerate the transfer of detainees back to their home countries.

"It's never been our intention to hold these people indefinitely," said an administration official. "It is not our goal to be an international jailer."

The CIA and the Pentagon have long defended the use of Guantanamo Bay, a base on the eastern tip of Cuba, arguing that the detainees provide priceless intelligence to foil terrorist attacks.

Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, appeared to dismiss the idea of closing the base on Wednesday, saying he did not know of anyone in the administration entertaining such a thought.

But yesterday he took a markedly less hawkish stance, saying that America would rather the detainees were imprisoned in their home countries. [emphasis added]

Bottom line: Gitmo isn't going to be closed anytime soon. But there is going to be a big effort to send many of the detainees back to their respective home countries. And to try some of the worst of the lot rather than keep them in what is increasingly becoming a too long, indefinite captivity. Then, at some point a year or more down the road, one can begin to see conditions coming about allowing for Guantanamo's closure--the better so that it doesn't take on the air of a permanent penal colony. That's my best take of what the Administration might have in mind. Do readers agree?

P.S. Oh, and Rummy won't be spouting off like this again anytime soon: "I know of no one in the U.S. government, in the executive branch, that is considering closing Guantanamo." Er, except, at least arguably, the President. Who, last time I checked, is in the Executive Branch. Big time, as they say.

UPDATE: Andrew is perhaps a tad more optimistic than B.D. regarding the potential timing of a Gitmo closure. And meantime, in what I believe is a first, a Republican Senator comes out in favor of closing the detention center:

Sen. Mel Martinez, who served in President Bush's first Cabinet, on Friday became the first high-profile Republican to call for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for suspected terrorists.

Speaking to a meeting of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in Key West, Martinez called the camp "an icon for bad news."

"At some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio: How much do you get out of having that facility there?" Martinez said. "Is it serving all the purposes you thought it would serve when initially you began it? Or can this be done some other way a little better?"

Can't say I'm surprised the first Republican Senator to come out in favor of closing Gitmo is a Cuban-American. The Castro-bashing is made harder, isn't it, when Fidel can disingenuously and propagandistically play the Gitmo-is-on-my-shores card? And no, I'm not comparing in any way Castro's decades long corrupt, totalitarian rule to a likely (at least arguably) constitutional detention center set up for enemy combatants during a time of national emergency. But you get my point, I think. And it's Mel Martinez's too. It's a cost-benefit thing. I'm no longer persuaded that the national security and intelligence benefits that Gitmo provides aren't outweighed by the (yes, often greatly exaggerated) public relations debacle Gitmo has become. I don't care if 'smart-piss' raced around a building and up a vent to despoil the Koran, or if as Max Boot says, detainees defiled more Korans than guards ever did. The utilitarian bottom line here is, now several years out, and putting aside all the grossly hyperbolic claptrap in places like London and Lahore that makes Gitmo out to be some contemporary Auschwitz or Dachau: is Gitmo contributing more to our national security than it is hurting it? And I think the pendelum is certainly swinging more towards the latter of late.

Gitmo advocates could persuade me differently with intelligent arguments, but for now I note the following: 1) there appear to now be approximately 558 detainees at Guantanamo (some estimates are a bit higher); 2) 38 were recently released as there was not enough convincing evidence that they were actually enemy combatants; 3) of the 520 or so left, the nationalities break-down appears thus: a) a helluva lot of Saudis (roughly 25% of the total), b) 85 from Yemen, c) 82 from Pakistan, and d) 80 from Afghanistan. There are also roughly 30 each from Jordan and Egypt, and Morocco and Algeria clock in in the high teens. What's my point? Well, there don't appear to be a ton of Iranians, Syrians, or hell, North Koreans at Guantanamo. We have major influence in Riyadh, Islamabad, Kabul, Amman, Cairo, Rabat and so on. In other words, we could probably send a lot of these bad guys back home for detention in the home countries--with strict assurances that they aren't going to be let out on the street anytime soon (I should note it would likely be very politically sensitive and difficult for the royal family in the Saudi Kingdom to take in a couple hundred of these a-holes though, all told, certainly doable). The baddest of the bad guys, those we just don't feel comfortable taking any chances with--well, assuming they've coughed up as much intel as we think they've got--let's try them and be done with it, OK? Yes, there are a sprinkling of Syrians, or random detainees like Uyghurs from China, or Chechens. It will be harder to figure out what to do with these detainees, doubtless. Which is why, unlike Andrew, I think Guantanamo might still be open more than a year from now. But shouldn't we be aiming to close it as soon as possible, certainly within two years, say? I mean, what real value added is it doing for us right now, really? Because it's sure not helping our rather moribund public diplomacy effort much. Yes, I know, P.D. is for sissies and real men don't deign to wade in these diversionary waters. Except that's B.S., of course, as it's a strategic component of winning the war on terror, or extremism, or whatever you want to call it. More on all this soon.

ANOTHER UPDATE: And now the Veep tries to roll-back the roll-back. Not thoroughly convincingly, however ("At present, there's no plan to close Gitmo. The president says we review all of our options on a continuous basis"). As I said, I'm looking out 18 or so months ahead, not at tomorrow or the next day.

Posted by Gregory at 04:41 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

A Gesture of Solidarity

From the FT:

Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, is facing total isolation at next week's European Union summit, as he fights to save the UK's controversial rebate from the EU budget. Mr Blair came under renewed attack from Jacques Chirac, French president, who urged him to make "a gesture of solidarity for Europe" by negotiating on the future of the €4.6bn ($5.38bn) "British cheque"...

...There is particular disquiet in London at the way Mr Chirac has used the rebate dispute to shift attention from his own humiliation on May 30, when French voters rejected the EU constitution.

On Thursday Mr Chirac returned to the theme after talks with Mr Juncker in Luxembourg, ahead of the EU summit which starts next Thursday. "The time has come for our English friends to understand they have to make a gesture of solidarity for Europe," he said. [emphasis added]

Takes your breath away, doesn't it?

Posted by Gregory at 11:22 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

"I know the party line. You know, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, five-star generals, four-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: The Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said 1st Lt. Kenrick Cato, 34, of Long Island, N.Y., the executive officer of McGovern's company, who sold his share in a database firm to join the military full time after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "But from the ground, I can say with certainty they won't be ready before I leave. And I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then."

Much more in a (quite gloomy) Anthony Shadid dispatch on the state of 'train and equip'.

Don't miss this part of the article either:

Last month, three trucks filled with two dozen soldiers from Charlie Company were ambushed near a Tigris River bridge. Instead of meeting the attack, the Iraqis fled and radioed for help. The Americans said the Iraqis told them they had lost 20 men, had run out of ammunition and were completely surrounded.

When a U.S. quick reaction force arrived, the area was quiet and the Iraqi soldiers were huddled around their trucks. Four were missing; it was later learned that they had hailed taxis, gone home and changed into civilian clothes. One soldier, the company's senior noncommissioned officer, refused to come out for several hours, saying he continued to be surrounded by insurgents.

After the incident, McGovern said he summoned an interpreter, asked him to translate the soldier's words verbatim and "disgraced" the Iraqi soldiers.

"You are all cowards," he began. "My soldiers are over here, away from our families for a year. We are willing to die for you to have freedom. You should be willing to die for your own freedom. If you continue to run away from the enemy, the enemy will continue to chase you. You will never win."

McGovern asked the interpreter, Nabras Mohammed, if he had gone too far.

"Well, you shouldn't have called them women, and you shouldn't have called them" wimps, Mohammed told him.

"Of course they were scared," said Cpl. Idris Dhanoun, 30, a native of Baiji with two years in the security forces, who defended his colleagues. "The majority of them haven't seen fighting, they haven't seen war, they haven't been soldiers. The terrorists want to die. A hundred percent, they want to die. It's jihad. They want to kill themselves in the path of God."

Shortly after the ambush, a sniper shot a U.S. soldier standing on the roof of a police station, inflicting a severe head wound. The Americans suspected that the fire had come from the nearby Rahma mosque. American and Iraqi troops surrounded the building. Fearful of inflaming resentment, U.S. soldiers ordered their Iraqi counterparts to search the mosque. They initially refused, entering only after McGovern berated them.

"But I don't know if they searched it that well. They were still tip-toeing when they were in there," said Sgt. Cary Conner, 25, of Newport News, Va., who was among the first soldiers on the scene.

U.S. forces then ordered the Iraqis to arrest everyone inside the mosque, including the respected elderly prayer leader. The Iraqi platoon leader refused, U.S. soldiers recalled. The platoon leader and his men then sat down next to the mosque in protest.

"We wanted to tell the Americans they couldn't do this again," Dhanoun said.

In a measure of the shame they felt, the men insisted they had not entered the mosque.

"You can't enter the mosque with weapons. We have traditions, we have honor, and we're Muslims," Dhanoun said. "You enter the mosque to pray, you don't enter the mosque with guns."

At 4:30 a.m. Monday, the men of Charlie Company and the entire U.S. battalion -- some 800 soldiers -- set out in a convoy for west Baiji. The Americans used night-vision goggles to see in the dark. The Iraqis had glow sticks. Before the troops had left the base, an Iraqi driver plowed into a concrete barrier, momentarily delaying the convoy.

U.S. commanders said the involvement of the Iraqis on the mission -- a series of raids to crack a bomb-making cell -- was critical to its success. But the Americans clearly have lowered their expectations for the Iraqis' progress.

"Things are going to change according to their schedule, not our politics back home," said Sgt. Jonathan Flynn, 36, of Star Lake, N.Y. "You can't just put an artificial timetable on that."

No, you sure can't. As Glenn might quip, 'train and equip' is a process; not an event. Assuming we want around 200,000 fully trained Iraqi troops willing and able to fight anywhere in the country--I think we are still at least two-three years out from realizing that goal. If we're serious about doing it right, that is.

Posted by Gregory at 10:29 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

June 09, 2005

What's Going On In Syria?

Events involving Syria have been rather dizzying of late over the past years and months. Real cooperation and intelligence-sharing with the U.S. in the battle against al-Qaeda? Yes, on occasion, including accepting some of our renditions, lest we forget. Assisting with the conflict in Iraq? Well, assisting which side, one must wonder? The border has always been too suspiciously porous for such an authoritarian regime. No, there was never a Ho Chi Minh trail pouring into Iraq from Syria. But there are clearly too many bad guys getting over the border, as this widely linked WaPo dispatch from Ghaith Abdul-Ahad makes more than clear. And yet, there have been some efforts made at times to assist the U.S. with the Iraq war effort (as even Debka points out, though they conclude, not unsuprisingly and probably correctly, that Bashar ultimately betrayed the Americans--certainly if 100% loyalty is the standard). The obvious bottom line is that Bashar has been hedging his bets. All told, he probably wouldn't mind seeing the U.S. well bloodied in Iraq, with U.S. forces leaving his eastern flank sooner rather than later. At the same time, while he's made quite a few missteps of late that would have underwhelmed his father doubtless, he's smart enough to realize there are some red-lines that he can't cross with the U.S. So he buys good will now and then when he realizes people in Washington are particularly pissed and want to see remedial action taken by him.

In the midst of all these going-ons, there is much talk of creeping regime change in the air. From Laura, this NY Sun piece:

In the wake of Lebanon's first elections following Syrian withdrawal, American policy toward the world's remaining Ba'athist government is approaching support for regime change.

President Bush's top foreign policy advisers met last week to discuss the government of Bashar al-Assad, mulling, according to two administration officials briefed later, a tougher policy that would allow American forces or encourage Iraqi soldiers to pursue terrorists that escape to Syria from Iraq for safe haven.

At the State Department, the Bureau of Near East Affairs and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor have asked Congress for explicit legal authority to fund liberal opposition parties inside Syria through regional initiatives that have hitherto focused on reforming American allies such as Jordan and Egypt, two administration officials told The New York Sun.

The White House is also pressing to expand the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, to include a probe of the June 2 murder of the anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir in Lebanon. Later this month, the White House is expected to apply tougher sanctions to Syria, possibly freezing bank accounts of the regime's top leaders, in accordance with the 2003 Syria Accountability Act.

The new approach is also palpable in routine diplomatic matters. Last Friday, when envoys from the Arab League arrived for a State Department briefing on Mr. Bush's meetings with the Palestinian Arab leader, Mahmoud Abbas, Syria's representative was turned away from Foggy Bottom and told his government was not invited, according to one diplomatic source who requested anonymity.

Josh Landis, on the ground in Syria, adds:

Imad Makki of al-Sharq al-Awsat who gets the best story in his article:...He explains that State Department officials recently called a meeting of all Arab ambassadors in Washington to get them up the pressure on the Syrian regime to "change its politics". Imad Mustafa, the Syrian embassador was not invited.

One Arab diplomat said that the US administration is talking about "changing the old Syrian regime."

I'm all but sure that Washington policymakers are not contemplating military regime change in Syria. The locution of choice, of late, is that Syria has been "out of step" with the assorted progress towards democratization that's being made in the region. That sounds to me like noises evocative of ratcheting up the diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria--but not a call to rush into Damascus guns a blazin'. But, that said, we're going to hear a lot more about Syria being 'out of step' in the coming weeks and months, I suspect. And, significantly, pressure is going to be exerted by attempting to isolate Syria within the Arab League itself, doubtless--not just with the Euros, Russians and Chinese as has been the norm.

This last is probably smart policy, because it directly confronts the rather sad appeals Bashar and some of his spokespeople have been making towards resucitating some grandiose pan-Arabist sentiment of late. Bashar made such noises at the Baath Party Congress, and Buthaina Shabaan recently stated (hat tip: Josh Landis):

Syrian Expatriates Minister and congress spokesperson Buthaina Shaaban accused the U.S. of seeking to undermine Arab identity by fostering religious and ethnic divisions.

"If we are not Arabs what could we be? Do we want to be Sunnis and Shiites and Christians? Or do we want to be Arabs? I think I can speak in the name of million of Arabs that we want to be Arabs," she said. "If the Baath Party was not there I think we would have to invent it."

That's really quite pitiable fare, isn't it? Someone send Damascus a better P.R. team! Others have been underwhelmed by going-ons at the Baath Party Congress too. Bob Satloff, writing in TNR, concludes:

For decades, America has been reluctant to classify Syria as a full-blown rogue regime because of its potential role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. That policy should be jettisoned. In its place, Washington should search for a third way between the bad option of a more effective Baathist dictatorship and the worse option of helping to empower Syria's radical Sunni Islamist militants. This will mean publicly encouraging the small, hardy band of domestic liberals that is routinely hounded by the regime and thrown in jail. Today, this group has little popularity, poor visibility, and virtually no organization; but if it becomes clear that the West will no longer throw lifelines to the Assad regime, the ranks and confidence of reformers may grow. Given how brittle Assad's government has become, Syria is one country in which a battle of ideas may itself be enough to trigger fundamental change.

I think Satloff is sketching, if a bit more robustly than policymakers are going to have it, the shift that appears to be occuring in Washington policy circles. The turning point for Bashar, I think, was the Hariri assassination. A strong presumption remains that the Syrian regime was behind the killing. Yes, Bashar bought himself some time when he pulled out this troops and agents out of the country. But, then again, did he really pull out this secret services? The recent assassination of Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir, not shy to write critically about Syria, appears the handiwork of Syrian intelligence. It's as if Bashar was sending a signal to his Baathist Old Guard that, well, he's gone from Lebanon--but not really (wink wink). That surely didn't go down well in Washington. Indeed, he's been less adept and wily than his father at toeing a middle road in the midst of the massive challenges facing him. He had to embarassingly rapidly run tail out of Lebanon, is enjoying pretty frosty relations with Turkey as is more or less the historic norm, Israel is keeping quite high pressure on Damascus doubtless waiting for the next Jihad Islami bomber to strike so as to allow for more missile strikes in Damascus perhaps, and meantime the Americans don't feel Assad is making a real go of helping the Iraq effort. That's a lot of pressure on a guy who was an eye doctor for a spell. It's certainly not an enviable position to be in, particularly as one considers that Asad is a minority Alawite resented by the majority Sunnis in Syria (approx 70% of the population). Still, this might be a factor in his favor. Does Washington really want Alawite Bashar out, with his occasional Shi'a sympathies, and a Sunni strong-man in? What will such a leader portend on his approach to the Iraq issue? Will making the border less porous be likely then? Satloff talks of supporting home-grown democrats in Syria. But they are barely organized, not cohesive, likely not ready for prime time or controlling any major constituencies. This isn't a call for status quo-ism. Bashar's behavior merits ratcheting up the pressure by isolating Damascus more in the months ahead. But let's be careful what we wish for on the regime change front. We don't really have a good feel for who might come in from the wings. More on all this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 03:45 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Cairo Correspondent

The indefatigable Praktike, freshly touched down in Cairo, is blogging street protests there. A small one, non-violent, with security forces acting pretty low-key. Pics and more can be found here. Oh, and al-Jazeera was in the house.

Posted by Gregory at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Prime Minister Rimbaud

“In the flayed city, facing the raging winds, I called upon the words of Rimbaud, Artaud or Duprey. At such a grave hour, how could one not think of these thieves of fire who lit up, for centuries, the furnaces of the heart and the imagination, of thirst and insomnia, to build an empire only within oneself.”

Dominique de Villepin, in New York City, shortly after 9/11.

Funny, my thoughts ran a bit differently. And they were already etched in dust in a parked car that I walked by in downtown Manhattan by 9:45 AM that morning:

"Time To Fight Back."

Quelle philistine, B.D.!

Posted by Gregory at 11:20 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Jacksonian Daalder!

Ivo Daalder:

But now the American people are increasingly clamoring to be heard. They know this is a war that America cannot possibly win -- only the Iraqis can. So we need to put all our effort into training Iraqi police, paramilitary, and military forces. That must be America's number one, two, and three mission. And we must make clear that when Iraqis decide and vote on a constitution, our job there will be done, and our troops will come home.

Sounds more Jacksonian Rumsfeld than sober Brookings-ian mien, no? Or maybe it's just Howard Dean-y?

P.S. Will Ivo Daalder tell us what more he'd be doing on 'train and equip', like, specifically? Rather than have us hapless folk leaning over the counter at cafe TPM cogitate and hazard a guess at what "number one, two and three mission" might mean? Oh, and is it just me, or is it a flat-out risible policy prescription to have all the troops exit the minute the ink is dry on a constitution? Please.

P.P.S. Blogospheric snark aside, I'm very happy indeed to see an I.R. scholar of Daalder's caliber blogging over at TPM. We'll be reading him regularly over here at B.D., and adding him to the blog-roll soon.

P.P.P.S. I'm in the wilds of Armenia just now, but have high speed at the hotel. My schedule has been really hectic, but I might try to get a few thoughts down on Syria later tonight (I'm nine hours ahead of East Coast). Lotsa rumors swirling about re: what's next for Washington and Damascus.

Posted by Gregory at 11:19 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 03, 2005


B.D. is hitting the road for an extended work trip through the Caucasus and Europe. Not back on U.S. shores until after the July 4th weekend. Blogging will continue (though not over the next three/four days), but at odd hours and unpredictable times. I will mostly be nine hours ahead of East Coast time through June 16th, and then just six hours (or five at other times) ahead from June 17 through July 4th. Blogging will still be in the evenings of whatever local time zone I'm in. See you soon.

P.S. July 5th is something of my official move back date to New York City, and B.D. will be based out of the Big Apple from that point on.

UPDATE: Transit airport blogging...did I mention you should be reading Laura on the greatest post WWII massacre in Europe? Appears a videotape may have memorialized the crime. I suspect she'll be staying on top of the story over the next days.

Posted by Gregory at 02:11 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

June 02, 2005

Of Gulags and DNA

The use of the word "gulag" by Amnesty International--aside from all the transparent show-boating and rank hyperbole contained therein--was just plain tactically stupid too. And that's if you actually care about the torture/abuse scandals and might have wished that some of the higher ups above Karpinski got more than the Schlesinger treatment. Sigh. Doesn't anyone at Amnesty read B.D.? (this from December 2004)

But anyone with half a brain who continues to insist that the torture (sorry, "abuse") story is about a few bad apples taking a frat hazing a tad too much to heart at Abu Ghraib alone are full of it and doing the country a disservice through their intellectual dishonesty. It's clear that, while not some God-awful American gulag archipelago--torture has manifestly occurred in detention facilities from Afghanistan to Iraq to Cuba. Likewise, it's time to say loud and clear that the fact that those tortured are Arab and South Asian detainees is noteworthy. Why? Because it's reminiscent of the different treatment afforded the Japanese enemy as compared to the German during WWII. Recall that the Japanese during WWII, above and beyond Korematsu, were more viciously dehumanized in the popular culture than their less offensive Kraut partners in crime. Put differently, race matters. Can anyone imagine the tortures that have taken place in places like Bagram, Gitmo and Abu Ghraib having been inflicted against, say, Bosnian Serbs in Brcko or Banja Luka? Highly doubtful indeed. 9/11 happened, of course. And Islam has too often been conflated in the popular imagination with the radical jihadists who would so gleefully kill thousands as they did in lower Manhattan that fateful day....Still, it's time for intellectuals who care about the moral fiber of our polity, on both the Left and Right, to start speaking more loudly about these worrisome trends. America's better angels, and our more aspirational national narratives, simply demand it. [emphasis added]

Yes, with the imagery that Solzhensitsyn's horrific gulag archipelago evokes--vast penal colonies spanning the Eurasian land mass, brutish labor camps with prisoners often worked to total exhaustion or death, Stalin's exermination of an entire economic class (the Kulaks)--the language Amnesty used smacked of grotesque relativism and was dumb indeed. Still, while Amnesty's absurdist hyperbole is unfortunate, I must say that President Bush could have said more than this:

QUESTION: Mr. President, recently Amnesty International said you have established, quote, a new gulag of prisons around the world beyond the reach of the law and decency.

I'd like your reaction to that, and also your assessment of how it came to this -- that that is a view not just held by extremists and anti-Americans, but by groups that have allied themselves with the United States government in the past, and what the strategic impact is that in many places in the world the United States these days under your leadership is no longer seen as the good guy.

BUSH: I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation.

The United States is a country that promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way.

It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of, you know, the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees.

It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of and the allegations by people that were held in detention, people who hate America, people that have been trained in some instances to disassemble, that means not tell the truth.

BUSH: And so it was an absurd report. It just is.

Yes, good on Bush for stating the obvious. So many other nations will mistreat, abuse, torture, kill and maim detainees with nary a thought. With the U.S. the allegations are at least investigated (if belatedly and not as transparently as an independent blue ribbon panel would likely have allowed). This said, a more statesmanlike answer would have been, not only to dismiss Amnesty's report as absurd, but also to have expressed deep regret for the death by torture of detainees under U.S. custody in places like Abu Ghraib and Bagram. Bush might also have apologized for the documented and now acknowleged incidences of Koran desecration in Gitmo, even keeping in mind some of the worst desecration was by detainees themselves. Yes, I know he's said some of this here and there in the past. But it would have been a wonderful opportunity at yesterday's press conference to do so again forcefully.

Tom Friedman has recently written (also hyperbolically, to use that word yet again) that Guantanamo is becoming something of an anti-Statue of Liberty symbol around the world. So much of this is born of grotesque exaggerations about what has occured there, over-reliance on detainee accounts whose veracity is sometimes dubious, knee-jerk anti-Americanism that moves paper at the Guardian and the Independent, sheer fascination and envy of the hyperpuissance (after all, where is all the outrage at Putin's brutal Chechen campaign which has killed over 100,000 Muslim Chechens! At Karimov's mass killing last month! Partly, truth be told, because it's not the Roman Empire like behemoth of the USA that's behind those much greater human rights violations--a combustible mixture of envy, resentment and suspicion puts everything we do under a huge microscope, as does the fact, of course, that we are the world's leading democracy and so are held to higher standards). Still, however, perception is too often reality and we must better use public diplomacy as part of our arsenal to secure goals that are really strategic ones at the end of the day (stategic because communications failures, whether born of erroneous reporting or real events can, for instance, lead to riots in unstable nations critical to our national interest). Bush, if he's going to give a press conference a month now, can help on this score. He can show greater sobriety, statesmanship, even-keelness. It doesn't always have to be about the talking points of the day and the 'stay on message' preemptive damage control. So I'd say to the President: dismiss the absurdist Amnesty allegations, yes, but step up and show the world you are not always staying on macho message in some approximation of the Indomitable Rovian Imperial Presidency. Show the world you fully acknowledge and understand and condemn the serious crimes that have been committed by the forces under your command because of confusing directives and insouciance emitting from the top on the application of Geneva Conventions, because of too aggressive interrogation techniques, because of poorly trained junior officers running interrogations.

Tom Friedman, a few days back, wrote:

I believe the stories emerging from Guantánamo are having a similar toxic effect on us - inflaming sentiments against the U.S. all over the world and providing recruitment energy on the Internet for those who would do us ill.

Husain Haqqani, a thoughtful Pakistani scholar now teaching at Boston University, remarked to me: "When people like myself say American values must be emulated and America is a bastion of freedom, we get Guantánamo Bay thrown in our faces. When we talk about the America of Jefferson and Hamilton, people back home say to us: 'That is not the America we are dealing with. We are dealing with the America of imprisonment without trial.' "

Guantánamo Bay is becoming the anti-Statue of Liberty. If we have a case to be made against any of the 500 or so inmates still in Guantánamo, then it is high time we put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country. Sure, a few may come back to haunt us. But at least they won't be able to take advantage of Guantánamo as an engine of recruitment to enlist thousands more. I would rather have a few more bad guys roaming the world than a whole new generation.

And today, in similar vein, he writes:

Then he reminded me: It was about the new post-9/11 U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, which looks exactly like a maximum-security prison, so much so that a captured Turkish terrorist said that while his pals considered bombing it, they concluded that the place was so secure that even birds couldn't fly there. Mr. Tinawi and I then swapped impressions about the corrosive impact such security restrictions were having on foreigners' perceptions of America.

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Mr. Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness." American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark."

Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?

Friedman likes this type of op-ed. He travels to London, to Delhi, to Paris, to Cairo--and he gets an earful from middle-of-the-road to left-leaning journalists, "intellectuals," and so on. Then he comes back and tell us we need a "national commission" because people in London don't like us. Look, yes it's true that many of our Embassies look like removed fortresses these days. But why? Isn't it because of what Friedman's Turkish terrorist quoted above said? That "the place was so secure that even birds couldn't fly there". Put differently, the scourge of terrorism has forced it upon us. And the hyperpower thing. If you are going to blow up an Embassy, well, won't it be the U.S. one more often than not? No better way to get a real bang for your buck, right? Better to save the lives of 100 of our diplomats, no, than appear and 'look' more open to the passing denizens of Istanbul?

I point this out only to make the point that much of what Friedman hears is hollow criticism indeed (though I do think we have to figure out a better balance on how we handle foreigners at customs and the issuance of visas. I've stood in the wrong non-U.S. line by mistake once, and, er, it was a very different experience...). Still, however, while I don't necessarily agree with Friedman that we are facing a moment where our nation's DNA might be "deformed", even if via small almost imperceptible steps perilously agreggating--towards some fascist, militaristic future--I still think we need to come clean more often about the missteps we make to absolutely make sure such a worrisome trend doesn't take root. I'm not asking that we let legions of Libyan students in willy-nilly, or that there is pleasant bango-strumming or Jimmy Buffet playing at the customs lines at Kennedy, or that Bush prostrate himself in fulsome apologetics at every turn about every last episode of detainee abuse around the globe. But after the death of at least 20 plus detainees in U.S. custody--the President shouldn't just conveniently use Amnesty's trumped up soundbite to avoid the more difficult realities and questions. He should say, yes, the "Gulag" thing is prima facie absurd, but we've had some heinous crimes committed. And I'm not going to tolerate that anymore as President. I've instructed my Secretary of Defense to do everything in his power to ensure that all requisite POW regulations are followed to the letter. And that enemy combatants are treated largely within the rubric of the Geneva Conventions. Torture is wrong. I won't tolerate it. Incidents will still happen, it's war. But no one will be able to fairly doubt my resolve in ensuring that every effort is being taken to minimize anything like this ever happening again. But, yes, Amnesty got carried away with their language on this one. Next question?

Posted by Gregory at 04:34 AM | Comments (68) | TrackBack

A Few Words on Comments

I really enjoy reading comments on this site (I rarely have time to enter the fray, and wish I did sometimes) but lately I've noted it has gotten a tad nasty. I've got thick skin--and commenting will most certainly continue--but let me try to sketch out a way forward here. One of the reasons that I like the comments so much, in the main, is comments here aren't but an amen corner as many other blogs too often seem to be. That's not to take anything away from Kos or Atrios on the Left, or LGF, say, on the Right. Those blogs have such high traffic that the comments serve as something of an activist community board, of sorts, for all to vent and harumph with like-minded folks. (I often find the tiresome chest-thumping and boorish group-think at these venues quite sub-par, truth be told, but they serve their purposes I guess).

Over here, we seem to get rightists, centrists and leftists in comments. When I write a piece criticizing Bush, or hesitating on Bolton--the lefties are relatively pleased. When I end up supporting Bolton, say, and after trying to be as judicious as I can--I'm Monica Lewinsky, spineless, a political pimp of the lowest rung. When I condemn Don Rumsfeld, or Abu Ghraib, on the other hand, I'm a leftist wimp, a pansy, a terrorist-supporter. And so on. Well, it's to be expected really. That's the price of trying to be as intellectually honest as possible and calling them like I see them. And I think we've got a good thing going here with the lively to and fro.

That said, just in the interests of general disclosure, I thought it might be helpful to put some basic facts on the table in the interests of the general edification of any B.D. readers who might be interested. B.D. is a member of the Republican Party. I have given money to the Republican Party. And I have raised money for the Republican Party. That's not to say I would never vote for a Democrat (really). I judge candidate by candidate. If a blow-dried mediocrity like Bill Frist, say, gained the nomination--and was opposed by a serious enough Democrat (a Sam Nunn type, though I'm not sure who that would be now..), I'd vote for them in a heartbeat likely. But over the years, I've chosen to support the Republicans mostly on foreign policy and economic policy grounds. On social policy, while I lean libertarian on many issues, I do have some traditionalist impulses. Still, you won't find me getting up in arms about Roe v. Wade over here.

All this said, and perhaps not suprisingly to regular readers of this blog given the typical subject matter over here, I vote almost exclusively on foreign policy grounds. Whatever happens to Social Security or health care doesn't concern me much, to be honest. Very frankly, having visited well over 50 countries in my 32 years, I am often stunned by how much hand-wringing there is about how bad our domestic situation is. We forget, and not just the lucky souls dwelling in Greenwich and the Upper East Side, we forget how lucky we are relative to the great masses of humanity. Take a little trip here and there, I often think to myself as I hear someone rave on about flu vaccines or prescription drug benefits, to see what real suffering is. I'm reminded of a writer who described the world as being split in three rough camps. One where people are actually starving to death, one where they enjoy subsistence level existence, and the other where people are obsessed with faddish diets and weight loss programs. We mostly occupy this last category, of course, so perhaps the lack of existential stakes is what keeps me relatively unmoved by much of the domestic debates that seem to occupy so many. (Please note, however, this is most emphatically not to say that I believe endemic povery in this country doesn't exist. It does. And it must be fought tooth and nail and with passion. But I think you get my larger point).

On foreign policy issues, my default position is something of a hybrid one. I guess I'm mostly a realist, but I have strong neo-conservative (neo-Reaganite?) inclinations. I've worked for some neo-con types in the past (in the context of Bosnia policy) and consider myself more closely attuned to many hanging their hats at the AEIs rather than the Brookings. That said, I've done humanitarian work in war zones which tends to put you in touch with people of more leftist stripe and orientation. And I know that there are immensely talented foreign policy practitioners that are associated with the Democrat camp like a Richard Holbrooke or Frank Wisner.

So what's my point in all this? Maybe you now know where I'm coming from a bit better, and so can perhaps try to relax and more often give me a fair hearing. I'm not asking you not to roundly castigate me if you think I deserve it. Go for it! But just slow down and try to appreciate where I'm coming from a bit more often that it seems some of you are (on both sides of the aisle). I'm not running for anything over here, and am working in the private sector--so don't really have anyone to answer to. I'm just calling them like I see them as best I can. Don't become hysterical when I point out some obvious idiocy in the Nation, or place a little epingle in the direction of a Mike Isikoff. It's part of the blog medium, and not all posts here can be lengthy, substantive think-pieces. And even when they are, readers (whether on the Left or Right) will often find my views displeasurable to them. That's life. Anyway, I've gone on long enough. Now you know perhaps a bit more of where I'm coming from. Let's keep this little show going on, and all be as cordial as possible whilst doing so--still allowing for this mediums requisite hysterics, shouts-out, etc. Oh, and don't compare B.D. to Monica Lewinsky. That's a red-line.

Posted by Gregory at 03:22 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Europe in Turmoil as the Dutch Vote No

So headlines the relatively sober FT.


The humiliating Dutch No vote on the constitution kicked off a bout of political masochism among European leaders on Wednesday night, who insisted that other countries should continue voting on the treaty.

Jean-Claude Juncker, prime minister of Luxembourg, holder of the rotating EU presidency, led a chorus of demands that the overwhelming rejection of the treaty by France and the Netherlands should not stop the process.

“We want the other member states to have the opportunity to tackle the same debate,” he said.

The official line was trotted out across Europe's capitals. Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor, said: “I am convinced the ratification must continue.” Meanwhile Jacques Chirac, French president, seemed keen for other leaders to share his pain, pointing out that 14 countries had still not given their verdict on the constitution.

“While 11 countries have already come to a decision, it is the responsibility of all the other member states of the Union to have their say,” Mr Chirac's office said.

They just don't get it, do they?

Posted by Gregory at 02:17 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

June 01, 2005

In-House News

I'm finally getting around to updating the blog-roll to add assorted country-specific and regional blogs. So...if odd things appear afoot to the right tonight, please accept my apologies in advance!

UPDATE: As I'm beginning to dig into this, it appears that the set-up I would most like to pursue is a regional category (ie, Asia) followed by country-specific categories below that (China, Japan, South Korea etc). I've got a decent amount of country-specific blogs to kick this off, but appear light in the regional category. Please give me ideas for Asia, Europe, CIS/FSU, Middle East, etc. if you have a moment.

MORE: OK, we're not even close to done, but we've at least got a decent skeleton in the works. I think people will have a better sense of what I'm trying to do now. Whole regions aren't up yet (South America, for instance), some regions are up (Central and Eastern Europe) but have no blogs listed yet, most other regions and countries are real thin right now. Some countries (Lebanon) have a lot listed because some commenters had happened to help me with suggestions in comments at this previous post here. I might end up striking some of these later but am putting them up for now. As for other specific countries, very important ones are missing still (this is just a start). We'll be adding Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India, Brazil, and many more. It's just that this blog-roll updating is very time-consuming and quite tedious. It's hard to add, say, 100 in a night. We'll keep plugging away in the coming days and weeks. And now that you've got a better idea of what I'm up to, feel free to keep the suggestions coming.

Posted by Gregory at 03:39 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack
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