October 31, 2005

The Troubled State of Bush

In Vietnam, the voices of the "cut-and-run" crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists. Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States' betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to "reeducation camps." Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there. As one who orchestrated the end of our military role in Vietnam and then saw what had been a workable plan fall apart, I agree that we cannot allow "another Vietnam." For if we fail now, a new standard will have been set. The lessons of Vietnam will be forgotten, and our next global mission will be saddled with the fear of its becoming "another Iraq."

--Melvin Laird, Richard Nixon's Secretary of Defense, in a must-read Foreign Affairs piece.

Iraq Remains Critical

Back in October of 2004, I wrote a a long post in this blog supporting the re-election of George W. Bush largely based on the central importance of Iraq. Then and now, I believe to my core that the stakes in Iraq are immense, and could well determine America's standing on the global stage for score years or more. Despite my revulsion at Abu Ghraib, my contempt for hubris-ridden, reckless Administration officials like Donald Rumsfeld, and my fear that George Bush's lack of foreign policy expertise could have him proving an emperor with no clothes--I calculated that the alternative would be materially worse. After all, judicious observers took away from many of John Kerry's campaign utterances regarding Iraq that he would do his utmost to extricate us from there with, shall we say, a purposeful rapidity--one not necessarily linked to achieving our war aims. Put differently, a so-called decent interval, rather than a conditions-based withdrawal schedule. (Previously, I have explained why I suspected Kerry's worldview helps evidence such a view). Indeed, Kerry is now on the record calling for the "bulk of American combat forces" to be out of Iraq by end 2006. Such an announced timetable would prove a terrible signal of weakness to the still quite potent Iraqi insurgents. Many would of course opt to keep their powder dry and fight another day. Iran and Syria would be disincentivized to behave better vis-a-vis their Iraqi neighbor. Shi'a and Kurdish militias would similarly be less incentivized to integrate into a multi-ethnic, national army. Chances of large scale sectarian and/or ethnic conflict would ratchet up. And so on.

This said, I suppose it's no secret that this blog has become rather disenchanted with President Bush and his administration. Indeed, I no longer really count myself a supporter, truth be told, for some of the reasons I will spell out below. But on Iraq, Bush deserves significant credit nonetheless. With the Iraq war increasingly unpopular, and Bush's poll numbers hovering in the high 30s and low 40s, the easier path to tread would be that Kerry advocates. Start bringing the boys home, the better so the restless American public espies some exit from the Mesopotamian morass on the horizon. To Bush's significant credit, he is instead continuing to see the effort through. And not merely in some mindless, 'stay the course' fashion.

Yes, the post-blitzkrieg start to the Iraq occupation, defined by Rumsfeld and Co.'s seeming disdain for anyone with regional expertise, their manifest failure to comprehend the massive scope of effort nation-building entails, the various tactical blunders experts had forewarned against (wholesale de-Baathification and disbanding of the Iraqi Army, among others), the breezy transformationalist nostrums (leading to far too few troops in theater initially)--all contributed to, at best, a lost year and, at worst, perhaps a fatal wounding of the Iraq project. But now, however, things are taking a decided turn for the better. As Fareed Zakaria puts its succinctly here:

The simplest proof of the myriad American errors is that, starting around May 2004, Washington began reversing course wholesale. Troop withdrawals were postponed. The decision to hold caucuses and delay elections was shelved. The American-appointed Governing Council was abolished. The hated United Nations was asked to come in and create and bless a new body. In recent months, the reversal is wholesale. The United States has been bribing tribal sheiks, urging the Iraqi government to end de-Baathification and make a concerted effort to bring the Sunnis back into the political process.

Indeed. Take Zal Khalilzad's tremendous efforts as our man in Baghdad. Largely as a result of his tireless work, Sunni buy-in to the political process is on an uptick of late, the potential show-stopper issue of Kurdish federalism is still being kept in check, and the constitutional process, though very bumpy, rambles on in generally positive direction. In addition, Ayatollah Sistani has been able to keep a lid on the worst temptations of crude majoritarianism--that is, large scale, indiscriminate Shia revanchism. Particularly given that our counter-insurgency efforts have improved of late as well, it is even possible to argue that we are winning, if very tentatively, in Iraq. It's a slow, hard grind--but, make no mistake, progress is being made. Yes, as John Burns' (one of our very few journalistic national treasures) points out today, there remain pitfalls aplenty and Sunni alienation, of late mitigated somewhat, is still very real and very prevalent. A civil war is still quite possible. And Sunni tactics may be all that is changing, feigning buy-in to, for example, piggy-back on 'train and equip' to be better armed for the advent of sectarian conflict post a possible U.S exit, say. So we must be hugely cautious in our optimism. And realize that the Iraq effort must still be counted in years. But, yes, Bush is trying--and trying hard--despite Katrina (this could have proven a relatively easy excuse to pack it up and go home), despite the polls, despite the cries for 'phased' withdrawal from many quarters. Let's us at least give him credit on this score.

Still, one must look at foreign policy choices through a prism of cost and benefits. And the costs of the Iraq imbroglio have been immense. 2000 of our countrymen and women are dead. Well over ten thousand wounded. Our allies have lost many of their young to this war. God knows how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion and scourge of large scale suicide bombings. Our moral position in the world has suffered grevious blows because of detainee policies and legal memoranda defining torture down that eager enablers like the John Yoos and Albert Gonzalezs and Don Rumsfelds facilitated. (History will not be kind to these individuals, and many Americans will come to be tremendously embarrased by this dark chapter in our national history). Billions and billions of dollars are down the drain (even more if you count the impact of higher oil prices, some of which is at least an indirect result of the Iraq war). Strained alliances. I could go on, of course, but it is clear the costs have been enormous. And yet. If, and what a big if it is, if an Iraqi democracy can emerge, it may have all been worth it. For, along with several key issues like managing China's rise to great power status, the specter of radical Islamic jihadism presents one of the great national security challenges of our time. In a chaotic region marked by unresolved regional disputes, corrupt ruling elites, authoritarian political governance structures, massive economic inequalities, demographic trends marked by huge amounts of frustrated young persons searching for political space and economic opportunity--Iraq is where the United States, via the happenstance of history (9/11 leading to greater concerns about Iraq's assumed WMD capability)--has taken a stand to attempt a lofty project of democratizing the Middle East.

Look, there have been all the easy cat-calls that the Wolfowitizian project was but some risible utopic Leninist excess. To be sure, it is certainly ambitious in the extreme. It may prove to have been a fantasy, ultimately. And, yes, why should people not be angry? The Ken Adleman's spouted on about "cakewalks," the Shinseki's were ingloriously dispatched for daring to call it right on troop levels, leading neo-cons have now conveniently moved on off-stage to post-Iraq life (as George Packer memorably put it in the pages of the New Yorker a while back: "Good luck guys!"). Still, now that that a dose of realism has been introduced into the Iraq project, with Rummy no longer given free rein to blunder about, real progress is slowly being made in Iraq. Not to mention the region at large. No, I am not one of those who believe that Lebanon is on an inexorable democratic course, or that Egyptian democratization is racing ahead all A-OK, or that the House of Saud has discovered how cool and groovy democracy is. Lebanon could plunge back into civil war in the years ahead, Egypt, even were it to become increasingly democratic, could fall under greater Islamist sway, Saudi Arabia's future remains highly problematic. But, again, slow progress on all these fronts is being made. And Bush's intervention in Iraq is a very important reason why (not to mention that we continue to avoid a repeat attack on the American homeland, a major and under-appreciated accomplishment, despite the embarrasment that UBL remains at large).

Bush's Major Shortcomings

Despite this, however, I have become increasingly dismayed by this Administration's tone-deafness, bunker mentality, mediocrity, vindictiveness, and other short-comings. There have been many 'the Emperor has no clothes' moments of late. The federal response to Katrina, beyond the massive incompetence of the local and state authorities, was an international embarrasment. Not least for the cronyism displayed by the 'heck of a job Brownie' absurdities. And, to add insult to injury, Bush followed this up with Harriet Miers! A decent, kind and smart woman, to be sure, but prima facie not Supreme Court timber. The fact that she had been Bush's lawyer reinforced the sense of a reckless simpleton provincializing our highest institutions so as to be comforted by the company of intimates and to award loyal retainers. This was painfully unserious and unprofessional. George Will put it very well here:

Miers's advocates tried the incense defense: Miers is pious. But that is irrelevant to her aptitude for constitutional reasoning. The crude people who crudely invoked it probably were sending a crude signal to conservatives who, the invokers evidently believe, are so crudely obsessed with abortion that they have an anti-constitutional willingness to overturn Roe v. Wade with an unreasoned act of judicial willfulness as raw as the 1973 decision itself.

In their unseemly eagerness to assure Miers's conservative detractors that she will reach the "right" results, her advocates betray complete incomprehension of this: Thoughtful conservatives' highest aim is not to achieve this or that particular outcome concerning this or that controversy. Rather, their aim for the Supreme Court is to replace semi-legislative reasoning with genuine constitutional reasoning about the Constitution's meaning as derived from close consideration of its text and structure. Such conservatives understand that how you get to a result is as important as the result. Indeed, in an important sense, the path that the Supreme Court takes to the result often is the result.

Indeed. Will well summarizes why so many us were so profoundly disturbed by Bush's pick. How could this come to pass? Was it because Rove was busy staving off Fitz, Libby was imploding causing Cheney to be distracted, an ineffective Andy Card was not seized of the train wreck careening towards the White House (high time for a Howard Baker, by the way, to replace Card)? Who was really manning the ship of state, one anxiously wondered? Still, perhaps Bill Kristol is right and Bush has bottomed out. In Miers' disastrous crash and burn lies an opportunity (Luttig! McConnell!). And, of course, it should be mentioned that Bush has made good picks like John Roberts and Ben Bernanke, so the record is not by any stretch universally bad. Still, that he would have pushed Miers for SCOTUS was profoundly disturbing to many, and for good reason.

That Character Thing

So let's assume the very best, and hope last week was a Bush-bottoming of sorts (by no means a forgone conclusion). Alas, there is still a nettlesome issue of character. After all, Bush came into office promising a return to the highest standards of ethics in government. Clinton had dishonored the office, not only because of his dubious legalistic maneuverings surrounding Monica, but also because he had twice allowed genocidal outrages on his watch (Rwanda, Bosnia). But the stock market had done swimmingly, and IPOs were all the rage! After 9/11, Andrew Sullivan had pointed us to this wonderful W.H. Auden poem that seemed to sum up the emptiness of the Clinton years as the 9/11 zietgeist took hold:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

We had high hopes coming out of the immense trauma of 9/11. The country was united, and comprehended readily the peril she was faced with. A sense of moral strength and fortitude and national purpose seemed in the air. Perhaps the cheap Vegas-ification and Hilton-ization of the country would slow--as well as the endless gab-fests about flipping real estate and NASDAQ stocks. Now, almost half a decade on, we are disabused of such homilies. Instead, we see encroachments of Clintonian parsing and technicalities infecting the Bush Administration--most notably with regard to the Plame/Libby scandal. In September of 2003 White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "[i]f anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." By the very next day, Bush decided to inject a legal standard, however: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." Fast forward to July 18th 2005. Bush again: "[i]f someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration". So now a showing of commission of a crime was necessitated. I ask you: how likely is it that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney were not at all involved in the leak? This is why Bush had to walk away from McCellan's original statement. Yes, perhaps Libby's alleged perjury prevents a showing of legal violations by others. But this is not exactly a showcase of high ethics and honorable behavior by the White House.

Look, any reader of this blog knows that I think very little of Joe Wilson. But I must say, it is a testament to the insecurity of this Administration and their vindictiveness and win at all costs mentality that they would have created a mini-Valerie Plame war-room in the Office of the Vice President--with someone of Libby's import ringing up journalists to impugn his credibility via his wife. Attack Wilson full on the merits, by all means, as his credibility was always rather low. But don't compromise his wife, a covert CIA employee, even if the damage wouldn't be anywhere near Ames or Pollard-like in scope. The rule of law matters, outing CIA agents matters, honor and honesty and fair play and integrity matter. We now have the first indictment of a senior White House official since the Ulysses Grant era. How sad, especially as it wasn't nearly worth it. I mean, none of this Plame fingering was really needed, finally (the biological and chemical WMD fears were always more compelling than the nuclear angle to begin with, and in a post 9/11 climate, were more than adequate to make the case for war.).

Constructive Suggestions?

More on all this soon, but tonight I want to end on a constructive note, as I know these are difficult times for the President. So a few quick words of advice for the President, just five suggestions really.

1) Newsweek reports you watched the first 20 minutes of Fitzerald announcing the Libby indictment on television. Do this kind of thing more often. Watch the cable shows. Read some of the papers. Yes, even Frank Rich or Maureen Dowd (you can skip Krugman). Get a sense of the national mood and dialogue a little bit more. Put differently, get out of your cocoon some. There is certainly not an out and out sense of devastation through the polity, but more and more people are concerned about the broad direction the country is heading. Try to better understand why.

2) Let people in the White House, including junior staffers, occasionally drop by and pay you a visit in impromptu fashion when your schedule allows. Ask them for their take on various policy issues where you often only get advice from the same, senior staffers. And let it be known you are willing to hear the bad news with the good--and that you appreciate out of the box thinking.

3) Consider appointing a new Chief of Staff at the White House. Even if you are happy with Andy Card, new blood might not hurt. Previous Presidents go through many Chiefs of Staff for a reason. The job is exhausting and high pressure. He might even welcome the break. If you decided to replace him, look for someone in the Howard Baker mold.

4) Reach out beyond Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for advice. There are a lot of other smart people out there Mr. President. There are pillars of the New York establishment, like Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chief (and former Goldman Sachs head) John Whitehead. There are former Secretaries of Defense like Mel Laird, Frank Carlucci and Cap Weinberger. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker III, George Schultz. Cross the aisle and get feedback from the Sam Nunn's, Dick Holbrooke's and Zbig Brezinski's. Widen your net some. And yes, Brent Scowcroft, your father's best friend, deserves some one on one time with you too.

5) Signal you are not bull-headed and overly stubborn. How? Well, change course on some policy positions once in a while. For instance, support the McCain Amendment on acceptable standards for the treatment of detainees (this will also serve to signal your independence from your weakened Vice President). In similar vein, you have of late been better explaining the stakes at play in Iraq as an epochal struggle against a new form of fascistic ideology. Recall, when America faced down the Soviets in the Cold War, we also marshalled all the assets of our so-called 'soft' power-ie, propaganda tools, USAID cultural centers in far-flung capitals spreading our values, Voice of America beaming our message to eager listeners beyond the Iron Curtain. Yet, it must be said, we seem to have not taken this aspect of the struggle against radical Islam as seriously as during the struggle against Communism. For example, your point person on this matter, Karen Hughes, waited to handle family matters for many months before assuming her position. What signal does this send about how importantly we view our public diplomacy efforts? And how effective, really, are so called 'listening tours' in Jakarta or Cairo? They can't hurt, but big, bold strokes would go much further. For instance, consider announcing Guantanamo will be closed going forward. No, perhaps not tomorrow, or even next year--but after all the detainees have either been sent to home countries for detention wherever possible, or have been tried by authorized tribunals. Indefinite detention for years, without even any charges being pressed, is simply not in keeping with bedrock American values. Yes, even for the most dangerous and rotten scum on the face of the earth like some currently held at Gitmo.

There are myriad other issues and policy decisions to be made, of course. The point here is to be able to say, 'hey, I made a mistake.' 'I can change course.' You've done it on Iraq war strategy. Let's roll out the learning curve into other areas too. Part of this will come from getting advice from a wider circle. More soon, but this is just to throw a few ideas out there and get a discussion going. You're around for another 39 or so months, presumably, so let's try to make a better go of it, no?

Posted by Gregory at 01:24 AM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

October 30, 2005

The Air Force II Chronicles...


Air Force Two arrived in Norfolk on Saturday morning, July 12, 2003, with Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff aboard. They had come "to send forth a great American ship bearing a great American name," as Cheney said from the flag-draped flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

As Cheney returned to Washington with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the two men spoke of the news on Iraq -- the most ambitious use of the war machine Reagan built two decades before. A troublesome critic was undermining a principal rationale for the war: the depiction of Baghdad, most urgently by Cheney, as a nuclear threat to the United States.

Defending the war became the animating priority aboard Air Force Two that day. According to his indictment on Friday, Libby "discussed with other officials aboard the plane" how he should respond to "pending media inquiries" about the critic, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Apart from Libby, only press aide Catherine Martin is known to have accompanied Cheney on that flight.

Recall these items from Page 8 of the Libby indictment:

22. On or about July 12, 2003, LIBBY flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, LIBBY discused with other officials aboard the plane what Libby should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper.

23. On or about July 12, 2003, in the afternoon, LIBBY spoke by telephone to Cooper, who asked whether LIBBY had heard that Wilson's wife was involved in sending Wilson on the trip to Niger. LIBBY confirmed to Cooper, without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information too.

24. On or about July 12, 2003, in the late afternoon, LIBBY spoke by telephone with Judith Miller of the New York Times and discussed Wilson's wife, and that she worked at the CIA.

If Barton Gellman is right, and the plural construct ("other officials") is correct, Libby must have discussed how to handle "pending media inquiries" with Catherine Martin and Dick Cheney. And, given that Martin graduated college only in 1990, whose advice do you think carried more weight, you know, just in case the issue arose whether Libby should mention to journalists that Wilson's wife worked at the Agency? Anyway, the plane touches down, and Libby has two phone calls later in the day. One, with Cooper, where he confirms to Cooper, "without elaboration or qualification, that he had heard this information too [that Plame was involved in decision to send hubbie to Niger]." Two, with Judy, where Libby "discussed Wilson's wife, and that she worked at the CIA."

P.S. Recall Item 9 from the Libby indictment:

"On or about June 12, 2003, LIBBY was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division. LIBBY understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA."

The Counterproliferation Division ("CPD") is within the Directorate of Operations, ie. its agents are deemed to have covert status. And now the Intelligence Identities Protection Act:

Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified information that identifies a covert agent, intentionally discloses any information identifying such covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent’s intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. [emphasis added]

So Libby calls Miller about a month after he heard Plame works at CPD from Cheney (among other people). Could he make a showing that Libby intentionally disclosed info identifying a covert agent? Probably. But I think it's the bolded part that made Fitz's job harder. Could he also prove that Libby knew that "affirmative measures" were being used to conceal Plame's identity? Maybe not. And regardless, it's not Cheney who went to the press direct either, but Libby. Still, however, there are two tracks to this scandal: legal and political. And Cheney is looking worse and worse on the latter prong, if not in any jeopardy on the former. More on this soon, and why I think it's so important.

P.P.S: Recall too, that on September 29th, 2003 White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "[i]f anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration." The next day, Bush decided to inject a legal standard, however: "And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of." Fast forward to July 18th 2005. Bush again: "[i]f someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration".

Cheney, very likely, was "involved in it", at least tangentially (I guess it depends on what the meaning of "it" is? Is, if it occurred on the plane on the way back from Norfolk, explicitly authorizing an underling to mention that Plame worked at the CIA to Judy Miller constitutive of "it", for example?). By the September 29th '03 McClellan standard, at least an expansive read of it, Bush would likely have to let his Veep go. Thus the pull-back. Question: Who, if anyone, may have told Bush what on September 29th or 30th that led him to walk back McClellan's remarks and clarify on September 30th that a legal violation was needed for punitive action to result? I've got a guess or two...

Posted by Gregory at 02:05 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day II

More Republican Wise Men are getting fed up. First Scowcroft versus Cheney. Now Mel Laird, Richard Nixon's Secretary of Defense, talks (polite but firm) turkey re: Don Rumsfeld:

Donald Rumsfeld has been my friend for more than 40 years. Gerald Ford and I went to Evanston to support him in his first congressional race, and I urged President Bush to appoint him secretary of defense. But his overconfident and self-assured style on every issue, while initially endearing him to the media, did not play well with Congress during his first term. My friends in Congress tell me Rumsfeld has modified his style of late, wisely becoming more collegial. Several secretaries during my service on the Appropriations Committee, running all the way from the tenure of Charlie Wilson to that of Clark Clifford, made the mistake of thinking they must appear much smarter than the elected officials to whom they reported. It doesn't always work.

If Rumsfeld wants something from those who are elected to make decisions for the American people, then he must continue to show more deference to Congress. To do otherwise will endanger public support and the funding stream for the Iraq war and its future requirements. A sour relationship on Capitol Hill could doom the whole effort. The importance of this solidarity between Congress and the administration did not escape Saddam Hussein, nor has it escaped the insurgents. In the days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, television stations there showed 1975 footage of U.S. embassy support personnel escaping to helicopters from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon. It was Saddam's message to his people that the United States does not keep its commitments and that we are only as good as the word of our current president. We failed to deliver the logistical support to our allies in South Vietnam during the post-Watergate period because of a breakdown of leadership in Washington. The failure of one administration to keep the promises of another had a devastating effect on the North-South negotiations.

There are no guarantees of continuity in a partisan democracy. We are making commitments as to the future of Iraq on an almost daily basis. These commitments must be understood now so they can be honored later. Every skirmish on the home front that betrays a lack of solidarity on Iraq gives the insurgents more hope and ultimately endangers the men and women we have sent to Iraq to fight in this war for us. We are now committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must be understood that this will require long-term assistance or our efforts will be in vain.

Shorter Laird: Rummy can be one arrogant sonofabitch. And, alas, such hubris can impact us all, with potential dire consequences for the national interest.

Don't miss this part of Laird's piece either:

Vietnam, however, should be a cautionary tale when fighting guerrilla style, whether it be in the streets or in the jungle. Back then, frightened and untrained U.S. troops were ill equipped to govern their baser instincts and fears. Countless innocent civilians were killed in the indiscriminate hunt for Vietcong among the South Vietnamese peasantry. Some of the worst historical memories of the Vietnam War stem from those atrocities. Our volunteer troops in Iraq are better trained and supervised, yet the potential remains for a slaughter of innocents. Reports have already surfaced of skittish American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians in acts that can only be attributed to poor training and discipline.

To stop abuses and mistakes by the rank and file, whether in the prisons or on the streets, heads must roll at much higher levels than they have thus far. I well remember the unexpected public support for Lieutenant William Calley, accused in the massacre of civilians in the village of My Lai. The massacre did not occur on my watch, but Calley's trial did, and Americans flooded the White House with letters of protest when it appeared that Calley would be the scapegoat while his superiors walked free. The best way to keep foot soldiers honest is to make sure their commanders know that they themselves will be held responsible for any breach of honor.

For me, the alleged prison scandals reported to have occurred in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and at Guantánamo Bay have been a disturbing reminder of the mistreatment of our own POWs by North Vietnam. The conditions in our current prison camps are nowhere near as horrific as they were at the "Hanoi Hilton," but that is no reason to pat ourselves on the back. The minute we begin to deport prisoners to other nations where they can legally be tortured, when we hold people without charges or trial, when we move prisoners around to avoid the prying inspections of the Red Cross, when prisoners die inexplicably on our watch, we are on a slippery slope toward the inhumanity that we deplore. In Vietnam, I made sure we always took the high ground with regard to the treatment of enemy prisoners. I opened our prison camps wide to international inspectors, so that we could demand the same from Hanoi. In Iraq, there are no American POWs being held in camps by the insurgents. There are only murder victims whose decapitated bodies are left for us to find. But that does not give us license to be brutal in return.

Again, the adults in the party are rising from their slumber. You don't read about this much in leading quarters of the right blogosphere--as it's mostly populated by hacks and torture apologists and, yes, barking moonbats. But the people that matter in the party, really matter, are speaking up more and more. That's good. I just wish more of them were bloggers!

Posted by Gregory at 10:53 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Quote of the Day

The mistake on the question of WMD in Iraq has led many to complain that the United States was drawn into the war under false pretenses, that what began as self-defense has morphed into nation building. Welcome to the reality of war. It is neither predictable nor tidy. This generation of Americans was spoiled by the quick-and-clean Operation Desert Storm, in 1991, when the first President Bush adhered to the mission, freed Kuwait, and brought home the troops. How would Iraq look today if George H.W. Bush had changed that mission on the fly and ordered a march to Baghdad and the overthrow of Saddam? The truth is, wars are fluid things and missions change. This is more the rule than the exception. It was true in Vietnam, and it is true in Iraq today.

The early U.S. objective in Southeast Asia was to stop the spread of communism. With changes in the relationship between the Soviet Union and China and the 1965 suppression of the communist movement in Indonesia, the threat of a communist empire diminished. Unwilling to abandon South Vietnam, the United States changed its mission to self-determination for Vietnam.

The current President Bush was persuaded that we would find WMD in Iraq and did what he felt he had to do with the information he was given. When we did not find the smoking gun, it would have been unconscionable to pack up our tanks and go home. Thus, there is now a new mission, to transform Iraq, and it is not a bad plan. Bush sees Iraq as the frontline in the war on terror -- not because terrorists dominate there, but because of the opportunity to displace militant extremists' Islamist rule throughout the region. Bush's greatest strength is that terrorists believe he is in this fight to the end. I have no patience for those who can't see that big picture and who continue to view Iraq as a failed attempt to find WMD. Now, because Iraq has been set on a new course, Bush has an opportunity to reshape the region. "Nation building" is not an epithet or a slogan. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it is our duty...The stakes could not be higher for the continued existence of our own democracy and, yes, for the significant matter of oil. We are not the only nation dependent on Persian Gulf oil. We share that dependency with every industrialized nation on the planet. Picture those oil reserves in the hands of religious extremists whose idea of utopia is to knock the world economy and culture back more than a millennium to the dawn of Islam.

Bush's belief that he can replace repression with democracy is not some neoconservative fantasy. Our support of democracy dates from the founding of our nation. Democracies are simply better for the planet. Witness the courage of the Iraqi people who shocked the world and defied all the pessimists by showing up to vote in January 2005, even with guns pointed at their heads. The enemies of freedom in Iraq know what a powerful message that was to the rest of the Arab world, otherwise they would not have responded by escalating the violence.

--Richard Nixon's SecDef, Mel Laird, writing in F.A, well explicating the stakes at play and the hollowness of the 'No WMD!' cries of outrage.

Posted by Gregory at 10:44 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

October 29, 2005

Cheney: A Diminished Figure

More military men join the McCain bandwagon (Update: Brad's permas are down: scroll down to his Oct 28 post entitled "The Traditions of the Military"). Doubtless they are, to the man, America haters, no? Or so the gaggles of cheap pro-torture apologists will argue. Pity there is not an unimpeachable, above the fray wise man to finally take Dubya aside and wake him up to the dishonor his detainee policies have brought on the nation. 10 years ago, it might even have been Dick Cheney--reining in the excesses, say, of a Don Rumsfeld. Today, alas, Cheney is one of the architects of the morally bankrupt, failed detention policies of this administration. Somewhat relatedly, don't miss Jeffrey Goldberg's article in the New Yorker on Brent Scowcroft. I've got issues with some of Scowcroft's musings, of which more later, but I do agree with him here:

The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney," Scowcroft said. "I consider Cheney a good friend -- I've known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don't know anymore.

More and more people are starting to feel this way in establishment Republican ranks, one detects of late. Cheney did catch the 'fever' after 9/11, as Powell memorably put it, and it's high time he got his temperature back down a few degrees. A good start would be ceasing to oppose the McCain Amendment. I don't have high hopes, however. Cheney appears to be adopting something of a bunker mentality, and apparently finds it impossible to admit any mistakes. Thus talk of 'dictionary meanings' to explain away the 'last throes' crapola (half a year old now), or breezy descriptions of Guantanamo as a splendid little enclave in the 'tropics' (migrating Gitmo tactics more or less directly led to the outrages of Abu Ghraib). And now the Libby fiasco. Rather than a sense of distinguished solemnity from Cheney (after all, why couldn't they just have gone after charlatan like Joe Wilson and left his wife out of it?), instead surreally bogus video of him giving a speech at a 'friendly' military base--during the very moments Fitz is skewering his loyal, long-serving aide before the world. Can we not be spared such farcical theater? No, all this is simply not a record to be proud of. I had tremendous respect for Dick Cheney through the 80's and 90s. No more. But, and infinitely more important, President George H.W. Bush's best friend has evidently lost much respect for his old colleague and friend too. Cheney should engage in some soul-searching, and ask himself why. To be sure, crusty realist Brent Scowcroft is no omniscient saint. He's made errors in judgment aplenty in his time, as we all have (most notably, for me, Scowcroft showcased too much realist insouciance re: the horrors of the wars of Yugoslav succession). But Scowcroft at least is saying out loud what many have only been whispering: Cheney's so key role in navigating the ship of state doesn't provide the same comfort and confidence it did just a few years back. People are worried. And, with apologies to distinguished intellectuals, a steady diet of Bernard Lewis and VDH doesn't necessarily provide, dare I say it, the requisite nuance to navigate such things as the generational challenge of democratizing the Arab world (hint: nettlesome little things like the Arab-Israeli peace process matter too, and Arabs don't only react to the language of force or some such). Anyway, for now, Libby has fallen on his sword and Cheney soldiers on. He'll tap a Libby replacement and keep plowing along just fine, doubtless, though it is possible the Fitzerald going-ons may yet prove increasingly awkward for him going forward (especially if there is a trial, or (unthinkable!) Libby squeals some to reach a plea bargain that avoids jail time). At very least, however, the veneer of the indomitable, Hercules-like Veep is no more. Cheney is a diminished figure. And so, of course, is the man he serves.

Posted by Gregory at 08:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Beyond the Pale...

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel, that is. Such hugely irreponsible and inflammatory rhetoric, of course, forces a reassessment of my previous call to explore opportunities for limited dialogue between the U.S. and Iran. That's most definitively on the back-burner again, at least until such statements are repudiated more forcefully than they have been to date. Blair is pissed, of course, as he has to continue running the Euro-troika ball in the midst of such obscene comments by Ahmadinejad. Meantime, Iran is attempting some damage control. But forgive me if this spin...:

Ahmad Nateq Nouri, a senior conservative cleric and member of the Expediency Council who spoke at the ceremony Friday, tried to play down the president's comments, too, saying, "What the president meant was that we favor a fair and long-lasting peace in Palestine."

....er, doesn't jibe with such succinct (and reckless) utterances:

"Israel must be wiped off the map."

"Long lasting peace" indeed...

This episode will put a bit more wind in the sails of reformist elements in Iran, doubtless, as more Iranians realize their President may be, shall we say, not quite qualified for prime time:

It is becoming more and more clear that among both reformist politicians and some of his own supporters that Mr. Ahmadinejad has neither the political experience nor the knowledge to run the country," said Issa Saharkhiz, a reformist politician and journalist in Tehran.

Meantime, State is right that you don't simply kick a state off the U.N. roster for such odious comments, per the Israeli request:

Iran is a member of the United Nations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "What I think we would encourage instead is Iran to start behaving in a responsible manner as a member of the international community."

Interestingly, Bolton punted on a similar question. He'd do better to get on the same page as Foggy Bottom. There are going to be major deliberations on the Iranian (and Syrian fronts, of which more soon) at the UNSC in the coming weeks and months. I still think a strong voice like Bolton will be helpful to us there (he has reportedly described the stakes to fellow Ambassadors by brandishing a hand-scrawled map of the Middle East without Israel on it, a not ineffective attention-grabbing visual aid). But, given the stakes, now is not the time to egg on any Beltway parlor games about whether there is any daylight between Bolton and State on issues of such immense import--particularly with the White House tottering of late and seemingly rather overwhelmed (Bush still hasn't even made a Blairite comment on the Iranian leader's comments, as far as I'm aware, nor even Condi--though they will doubtless soon, beyond the 'outlaw regime' soundbites). The U.S. government must speak with one voice. Again, this is most assuredly not the time for protracted internecine sniping, intermural intrigues and mixed messages emitting from USUN and State. The stakes are just too high right now. Yes, Iran of course stays a member state of the U.N. But Ahmadinejad must be made to understand very, very cleary that such rhetoric imperils the chances of a peaceful outcome to the Iran stand-off. A final irony? Ahdadinejad's comments, at the end of the day, are actually consistent with long-held post-Khomenist Iran policy on Israel. It just hasn't been said--so directly, brutishly, offensively--in a long time. Thus the international outcry, but I suppose we really shouldn't be all that shocked. We've just heard the policy stripped down and laid bare without all the Persian niceties and obfuscations. A useful reminder, you might say.

Posted by Gregory at 08:57 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Assassins' Gate

Zakaria reviews George Packer's latest. Recommended.

Posted by Gregory at 04:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

The Fitz & Libby Show

The Libby indictment:

On or about June 11 or 12, 2003, the Under Secretary of State orally advised LIBBY in the White House that, in sum and substance, Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and that State Department personnel were saying that Wilson’s wife was involved in the planning of his trip.

7. On or about June 11, 2003, LIBBY spoke with a senior officer of the CIA to ask about the origin and circumstances of Wilson’s trip, and was advised by the CIA officer that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and was believed to be responsible for sending Wilson on the trip.

8. Prior to June 12, 2003, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus contacted the Office of the Vice President in connection with a story he was writing about Wilson’s trip. LIBBY participated in discussions in the Office of the Vice President concerning how to respond to Pincus.

9. On or about June 12, 2003, LIBBY was advised by the Vice President of the United States that Wilson’s wife worked at the Central Intelligence Agency in the Counterproliferation Division. LIBBY understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA. [emphasis added]

Lots of 'on or about June 11/12ths', no? Who first told Scooter Libby that Plame worked at the CIA? The Veep? An Undersecretary at State? A senior officer at Langley? While not necessarily material, it would nevertheless not be of insignificant interest to so ascertain.

Meantime, don't miss this part of the indictment:

On or about July 12, 2003, LIBBY flew with the Vice President and others to and from Norfolk, Virginia, on Air Force Two. On his return trip, LIBBY discussed with other officials aboard the plane what LIBBY should say in response to certain pending media inquiries, including questions from Time reporter Matthew Cooper. [emphasis added]

I know Air Force Two isn't an eensy-weensy Netjet shuttling lumpenproletariat middle management from the serried ranks of corporate America about--that it's doubtless quite a roomy ride indeed--so that Cheney may have been hanging up front and missed some of the key Plame strategizing. But all this verbiage about "others" and "other officials" seems a bit strained, no? Doesn't it seem a tad odd (or convenient?) that Cheney wasn't an active participant in such a critical discussion--on his own plane? Intuitively, one might guess that Cheney would very well have been part of such a conversation, and so perhaps had given Libby the all clear to contact Cooper/Miller and discuss Plame's CIA job. Yeah, this is all highly speculative, but why else but to protect colleagues and higher ups is a smart lawyer like Libby ensnaring himself in perjury and obstruction charges? At least, this is an item of interest one is left to ponder at the end of this sad day...

Comment below, again keeping in mind we are all engaging in rank speculation at this stage. More commentary on what the Libby indictment means for the Administration soon. It's not cataclysmic (at least at this juncture), but it's certainly not a bed of roses either. As animal analogies seem to have been making the rounds, and I've just returned from a safari in Africa, I'd say this story is more than a mouse or large rabbit. Maybe a baby elephant? They're pretty big right out of the gates, and are known to expand in size quite considerably with the passage of time...

Posted by Gregory at 01:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

Yeah, what he said ...

As with Eric, I just wanted to extend my best wishes to everyone here at Belgravia Dispatch as well as to Greg for letting me guest-blog. It's been great, though time actually went much faster than I expected. So thanks to Greg for letting me guest-blog at such a great site and thanks to Eric for our little dialogues here that I hope will continue when I resume blogging over at Winds of Change.

So I'm going now and I wish you all a very fond farewell.

Posted by at 06:20 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Fond Farewell

My guest stint over here will be winding down today, and Greg should be returning to his normal blogging shortly (though I'll still be lurking in the comments section). I wanted to once again thank Greg for the opportunity to post on his site and let Dan know that, as was expected, it was a pleasure sharing this space with him. I also wanted to thank the readers that stuck around despite the void left by Greg’s absence – especially those that challenged my ideas and caused me to reassess my beliefs and contentions.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a big fan of Belgravia Dispatch - but not necessarily because I agree with everything Greg writes. Obviously I don’t, but it is exactly because we disagree that this site has a special value to me. Far too often people tend to cluster in enclaves of groupthink, be it in political circles, artistic, cultural, ethnic, religious, etc. But without a robust contrast of perspectives, absent some semblance of dialectic, ideas and movements tend to lose balance and become self-reinforced extremes that fail to accurately describe reality or formulate solutions.

Unfortunately, opportunities for dialogue can be drowned out and lost amid so much rancor and shouting demagoguery. Luckily, there are sites such as this that can pose intelligent, coherent and thought provoking challenges to my thinking on certain issues. My frequent cross-blog conversations with Dan Darling have also been fruitful along these lines. Hopefully, in some small way, I was able to provide a reasonable contrasting voice for some of you. Regardless, and in pursuit of the dialectic, I once again recommend Liberals Against Terrorism as a left-of-center foil for those on the right, and as a valuable resource of information for everyone, regardless of political persuasion. For those interested, my solo digs are located here. I expect to bump into many of you in the near future. Until, we meet again.

Posted by at 04:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Guest-Bloggers at B.D. in October

Through October, please find guest-blogging in this space Eric Martin (of TIA and LAT) and Dan Darling ( RC and WoC). While they each come from different sides of the political spectrum, don't expect any cross-fire antics while I'm gone! Instead, doubtless, some constructive dialogue and high quality blogging from these two estimable bloggers. Be polite to them while they mind the store, and note E-mail to them should be sent to their E-mail addresses (not B.D.'s, they will doubtless provide). See you in late October!

Posted by Gregory at 04:00 PM | Comments (64) | TrackBack

Perpetual Peace Continued

In his commentary on my discussion of democracy, terrorism, and perpetual peace, Eric addresses my contention about the appeal of Islamic terrorism in Europe:

Regarding the genesis of terrorist groups, "fully formed," in Western-style democracy, is this really crucial to the discussion? First, there is time for just such a growth - as many of these movements and ideologies are relatively new to the landscape of the region (western democracies) – so it is not beyond the pale that we might see some in the near future. If the attitudes and inclinations can be found in local populations to join these existing groups, it is more than feasible that at some point there will also be the initiative to form new ones.

It's a fair criticism, though I think that there needs to be some discussion of the forms that Islamic terrorism takes in Europe. With several notable exceptions such as the GIA bombings in France during the mid-1990s, 3/11, and the London bombings, the vast majority of the terrorist activity that occurs in Europe is essentially that of infrastructure - propaganda, recruiting, financing, and so on. This is one of the reasons why there's been so much apathy among the various European governments as far as acting against said groups: as long as their attentions were directed against distant foreign lands, most European authorities with the exception of the French (due to the bombings in Paris mentioned earlier) saw little reason to move against them pre-9/11.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind is that immigrant communities always seem to be more dogmatic with regard to political causes in their own homelands then the people who are actually living there. Thus, it shouldn't come as any real surprise that there's far more support for Islamic revolution in Algeria among Algerian immigrants living in France rather than among the general population of Algeria itself. Those European Muslims who view Islamic extremists in a romanticized light and go to fight in Chechnya or more recently Iraq generally seem to do so out of a mixture of piety, adventure, and the dogmatic political mindset formed earlier. This seems to be more or less accepted within the increasingly alienated and unassimilated European Muslim community and the prior apathy of European governments towards these types of behavior has had the effect of putting the wolves in charge of the henhouse as far as many European Muslim enclaves are concerned, which is why there appears to be far more support among certain Muslim groups in the UK for acting against, say, the brownshirt wannabes in al-Muhajiroun than there is among the British political class.

However, if European Muslims ever started forming their own terrorist groups and attempting to implement an Islamic revolution on the Continent, they are going to risk disrupting and losing much of the support and infrastructure they have worked so hard to create. In the case of al-Qaeda, their leadership has recognized this from the very beginning, which is why attacks on the "far enemy" are intended to achieve specific results (like the Spanish withdrawl from Iraq, as a simple reading of Iraq al-Jihad will indicate - the 7/7 bombings in London should also be seen in this context) rather than to mark the beginning of an Islamic revolution in Europe, a distinction I think that is not to missed when discussing how many European Muslims are likely to support such actions. MI5 documents leaked to the British press following 7/7 indicate that there are ~10,000 active al-Qaeda supporters in the UK and possibly as many as 300 trained operatives - out of a Muslim population of more than 2,000,000. Now that's a pretty big security problem and one that the UK definitely needs to address, but it's also clear that for all al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers' ability to intimidate and frighten, they wouldn't be winning at the ballot box if elections were held tomorrow, even among the UK Muslim community.

And then, at what point do copycat organizations and cells gain the status of a new organization as opposed to outgrowths?

That's a difficult question, but I would say when it's no longer dependent on its parent group for direction, support, resources, and so on. This is extremely complicated by the fact that al-Qaeda is set up as an organization of organizations, with the result being that a chart showing the relationship between different groups and key individuals within them looks more like a conspiracy diagram than a valid chart showing the different relationships between various terrorist groups at first glance.

Does it really matter where they were born if such affiliated groups spread throughout the world anyway?

The internationalization and spread of local political struggles (and I want to say that the Palestinians were the first group to adopt this particular strategy in the 1960s) is a fact that has more to with the realities of technology and globalization than anything else. In the case of the Sikh insurgency in Indian Punjab, at its height it was active on several continents, though one seldom hears much of them anymore. Save for various communist groups (which owed more to their state sponsors than to anything else), prior to the advent of al-Qaeda and the internationalization of all local Muslim conflicts as some kind of ummah-wide battle the resolution of a conflict at the local level one way or another usually meant the end of the internationalization of the conflict, though inertia usually keeps the external branches operating for quite some time, as can be seen by the presence of IRA members in Colombia as more or less hired trainers of FARC.

Does the fact that this movement was originally an imported phenomenon mean that changing the country of origin’s political system will mean that the imported movements will wither on the vine?

Prior to al-Qaeda, the answer was conditionally yes in many cases, in large part because the external wings of various groups usually served at the behest of the national leadership. If there's ever a solid peace agreement in Sri Lanka, I fully expect the Tamil Tigers' robust external networks to close up shop at the conclusion of the inertia period once Prabhakaran issues the order to disarm. A long-standing argument in support of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (we can debate whether this argument is correct some other time) is that the Palestinian terrorist groups will fold once the Palestinians receive statehood.

With al-Qaeda and its member groups however, this paradigm no longer holds true because there are always new battlefields to fight on. As a result, local groups have their organizations or agendas co-opted to serve an international agenda. That's why the external wings of Algerian Islamist groups are now being used as cannon fodder against US and Russian as well as French targets and why their domestic wings are now being sent as far afield as Mali and Mauritania. The GSPC, for instance, shot up a Mauritanian military base earlier this summer. How that is even remotely connected to their local goal of Islamic revolution in Algeria is beyond me and would have been unthinkable if not for this internationalization factor that al-Qaeda has brought into Muslim conflicts where beforehand there was none.

Dan is right that Salafism is one aspect of the political (and religious) culture of the Muslim world, but if its appeal can penetrate European democracies, its appeal would also likely survive the democratization of the Muslim world. Won’t similarly minded Salafists just keep on “exporting” from a democratic Muslim world – assuming there are no future home-grown movements in western democracies and elsewhere?

Quite frankly, it's not entirely clear to me that Salafism's appeal in Europe is due to the fact that it's winning on the merits. Rather, it strikes me that Wahhabi clerics (and much of institutional Wahhabism has taken on a Salafist bent in recent years) and their benefactors have made an aggressive and extremely well-financed attempt to establish themselves as the torchbearers of Islam in much of Europe, just as they are now attempting to do in places like Southeast Asia. Unlike the latter region, however, there isn't much of a tradition of resistance in Europe and as such many sincere Muslim immigrants who come from places like North Africa that have generally practiced more traditional forms of Islam and find that many of the imams, mosques, religious education materials, and so on are Wahhabi-financed. It precisely these types of concerns that have led the French to adopt religious regulation policies (and I am not merely speaking of the headscarf ban here) in their own country that would be unthinkable in Europe.

Leaving the issue of religion aside from the moment (and Jean-Yves Camus's article on Islam in France should give one a full grasp of just how complicated an issue this is), I think it would be foolish to ignore the fact that European Salafists tend to be both well-organized and extremely well-financed when attempting to understand their appeal.

So pointing out that Salafist jihadism is an export of the Muslim world, does not necessarily mean that it exists only because of an absence of democracy in that region. Further, even if it wouldn't have arisen in the first place if that society were democratic at the time of genesis, now that it has arisen (and we see that it can persuade those living in such free societies), can the cat be put back in the bag - even if the bag is embroidered with democracy? I remain unconvinced.

My own view is that an Ottoman Empire left at least somewhat intact after World War 1 would have been able to successfully suppress the current rise of Wahhabism (thus leaving Salafism without much of a theoretical or popular basis) the same way they had following its initial genesis, but that's neither here nor there.

As far as whether or not the spread of democracy will successfully inoculate the region against extremism, I would point out here again that in those countries in the Muslim world that do hold free elections none of them is in imminent danger of an Islamic revolution and most Salafist parties usually garner about the same share of the vote as far right parties do in Europe, thus suggesting that the Salafist philosophy leaves something to be desired at a popular level. Moreover, as long as Salafist groups are campaigning in elections they aren't blowing up cars or chopping off heads, which strikes me as a net plus in terms of their behavior.

There are other options for dealing with these groups, however, which have been more or less supported by Western governments in the name of stability since the Cold War, including the Egyptian mass detention and torture policy or the Algerian policy of more or less becoming as nasty as the people you're fighting. While Western governments never attempted to justify these tactics or see them as ideal, they were still viewed as a necessary evil as far as keeping the forces of radical Islamism at bay.

As an aside, Dan is absolutely right about the levels of apathy in some of those nations, and the impact this can have on the ability of these groups to operate with impunity. It appears that some of this is changing now - as indicated by Blair's controversial, yet ultimately necessary, moves to silence some of the most vehement proponents of jihadism. I’m not entirely comfortable with the implications of such illiberal policies, but at the same time the United Kingdom needs to take desperate measures to combat a very real threat in its midst that was left to fester for far too long. Hopefully, a balance can be struck, and necessary checks can be implemented on what is otherwise an unseemly level of executive power.

In the case of the UK, I'm still convinced that most of the more notorious offenders can be locked away under some flavor of incitement, conspiracy, or immigration charges. Abu Qatada, who is named in Spanish court documents as al-Qaeda's chief representative in Europe, was living on welfare while in possession of over $100,000, for instance. If I had to venture a guess, I think that a major portion of the issue of protecting democracies from likes of Qatada and his cohorts, for instance, is less a matter of implementing illiberal legislature as it is a robust willingness to enforce our own laws. It isn't like it's any great secret as far as who the resident bad guys are in the UK - it's been public knowledge in French counter-terrorism circles going at least as far back as 1994-1995 when the CIA was still regarding bin Laden as a terrorist financier.

Regarding the issue of state sponsors, Dan is right that many of these organizations benefit from some form of support from, or haven within, states (or failed states, frequently) and in that sense, denying them these bases is important. But as Dan alluded to (I think), doing this through invasion and democratization in all such areas would probably be beyond our means, as well as abilities. I would add that, as per above, democratization might not achieve our desired ends regardless.

Maybe, maybe not, but that is something you have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. You can't solve everything with a hammer, which is why a military solution isn't always the best option to pursue with regard to terrorism. You can't solve everything relating to terrorism through negotiations either, which is why you can't take the hammer off the table as an option. However, when and if we do invade I think there's a fair moral argument to be made that we should at least try to restore and/or establish a democracy in our wake. As I think I've noted in my previous discussions with Eric, I don't favor the spread of democracy by military force.

Wealthy individuals and clandestine cells can still operate within states that do not officially sanction such behavior - even democracies. In some instances, these groups rely as much on the support of local populations as they do on central governments within states.

Wealthy individuals in the United States that seek to sponsor the killing of foreign nationals, either for the perceived benefit of the US or a third party, can be jailed here for violating the Neutrality Act among a host of other laws as I understand it. Ditto goes for the clandestine terrorist cells. If either want to operate openly in Western democracies, they have to so in a clandestine and illegal manner. This wasn't, until recently and then very half-heartedly, the case of say Saudi Arabia where Salafist philanthropists like Yasin al-Qadi, Adel Batterjee, et al. operated rather openly and as upstanding members of the community. Even today, men like Safar al-Hawali, whose fatwa calling for jihad against US forces in Iraq has probably sent hundreds of young Saudis to their deaths, continue to operate openly in the Kingdom, if for no other reason than that elements of the Saudi government secretly sympathize with their view (which is my own view) or because they fear that acting against them will serve to further destabilize the monarchy (which I gather is the official line).

Pakistan is a good example in this regard. I don't doubt that Musharaff would like to see LeT and other groups rolled up, but he lacks the political latitude to act in such a manner and risks creating a violent schism in his country if he were to crack down in a serious way. He also almost lost his life, on more than one occasion, in retaliation for such efforts. Arguably, Pakistan isn't much of a democracy per se, but would more democratic fortifications in Pakistan solve this? Wouldn't any elected government in Pakistan face the same issues as long as there was indigenous support for jihadists?

I'm going to break with the consensus view here and say that while General Musharaf's efforts have been extremely admirable and far more than I would ever have thought he could ever achieve, I do not think that he wants the Pakistani jihadi groups rolled up so much as he desires to subordinate them to the Pakistani state (rather than the Salafists and their Deobandi allies, who think that things should be the other way around). Certainly he has no interest in them becoming involved in any kind of international struggle or throwing in with someone like bin Laden (though this strikes me as fait accompli at this point) who wants him dead and his government overthrown. However, he still wants to preserve the Pakistani jihadis as a means through which to use against India if he has to and a simple look at the difference in military balance between the two powers should explain easily enough why he wants whatever assets he can get. Towards that end, he seems to have deliberately sought to undermine and splinter various jihadi organizations in order to break them free of al-Qaeda's influence and bring them back under his control, but he has always deliberately refrained from shutting down the training camps or other terrorist infrastructure that he believes could be of use to him at some point in the future.

As for the issue of whether or not further democratic fortifications in Pakistan would solve this, I tend to think that if the country weren't a banana republic when it wasn't being run by the military would certainly be helpful towards counter-acting the jihadis' appeal. Bin Laden, for instance, seemed to regard Benazir Bhutto (whatever her flaws) as enough of a threat to try and destabilize her government on multiple occasions if her claims are to be believed. As far as helping to weaken indigeneous support of the jihadi groups, a major way to go about doing that (in addition to the more practical steps like shutting down their training camps) would be to set up a stable education and social service system. Keep in mind that for all their alleged support, those Pakistani political parties that are the most tied at the hip to jihadi organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami or the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami are not exactly electoral giants inside of Pakistan. Indeed, the figures they normally receive were at least partly the basis for my earlier comparison of the actual levels of Salafist support as being akin to those of far right parties in Europe. Doesn't make the rest of the country populated by liberal democrats, but it does sort of deflate the view that there's a huge constituency inside Pakistan just itching to become Iran 2.0.

As another example, in Indonesia we know that it is the dynamics of democracy itself that makes the ruling coalition hesitant to go after Jemaah Islamiya. This ruling coalition relies on Islamist parties to maintain a majority stake in the legislature, and cracking down on Jemaah Islamiya might cost them their control. So they skirt the issue. Limiting state sponsors and denying safe havens are important and a worthwhile goals, but democratization is not necessarily adept at achieving these ends where local populations create powerful disincentives.

Actually, the Indonesian police did a phenomenonal job at the rounding up the initial Bali bombers and much of the senior JI leadership through good old-fashioned police work once the political will was unleashed to support them in that effort. The problem is that most of the Indonesian political class is still in denial about the nature and scope of the threat rather than that they are unable to do anything about it for political reasons. The former Indonesian vice president, Hamzah Haz, who was the closest thing that JI had to a man in the government, was soundly defeated in the last elections and even the most vocal Salafist parties aren't openly supporting JI - they're still arguing that it doesn't exist, or if it does then it isn't a threat to Indonesia. If you want to find a locale where JI does operate in a manner free of government intrusion, I suggest you look not in Indonesia but rather the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) enclaves in the southern Philippines, where all manner of unsavory characters come together in a country that I believe is upwards of 80% Catholic and, like Pakistan during its democratic periods, mostly a banana republic.

Here, I think Dan is taking some shortcuts. Yes, people can "argue" that even mature democracies show some of these tendencies identified by Mansfield and Snyder as existing in immature democracies, but the point of the authors was that such immature democracies act on them more frequently than mature democracies (and even authoritarian regimes). They are using statistical evidence to support these claims, not just making an argument. So, while some people may make facile arguments about the United States and other mature democracies, these do not necessarily undermine the conclusions of the authors. Not unless someone can show statistically that mature democracies are just as bellicose and likely to start wars as immature ones. I’d like to see that evidence. I would also add that Dan’s link to the work by Matthew White is discussing wars between two democracies, whereas Mansfield and Snyder were discussing the war-like tendencies of emerging democracies in general – not exclusively their penchant to go to war with other democracies.

It was more a side observation than anything else. I'm interested in learning more about the authors' views and definitions, in particular as far as how they compare with those offered by Fareed Zakaria in The Future of Freedom, which I found extremely interesting.

Finally, to clarify, I am not embracing the Cold War paradigm of support for authoritarianism. I am in favor of supporting democratic reforms, and other institutional growth such as independent judiciaries and better regulated, and in some cases more open, economic markets. But with this in mind, we should still pay attention and put emphasis on the pace of change (especially in the realm of electoral expression) and the necessity that such change should ideally occur in tandem with other institutional growth.

The reason I noted the Kirkpatrick Doctrine was that much of what is described above seemed to be major factor in kernel form as far as why (among other reasons) the US sought to support authoritarian governments (usually in the context of Latin America) under the rationale that they were more likely to have the kind of institutional growth described above than their communist counterparts, with the case of Chile under Pinochet usually being cited as Exhibit A. As I noted in the last post, I'm not interested in re-fighting the policy battles of the Cold War and I should definitely clarify that I'm talking about how we should interact with authoritarian regimes once they're in place, not the idea that we should seek to install authoritarian regimes on the grounds that they should be considered preferable to communist or more recently Islamist governments. The recent reforms that US has been pushing for in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Egypt, should probably be viewed within the context of the former rather than the latter understanding of gradual democratization.

Posted by at 05:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 27, 2005

More Vectors

My blog mate Nadezhda has a succinct update on some of the Iraqi political machinations for those wanting to keep tabs. Of interest, as per the ongoing discussion, are the cross sectarian/ethnic alliances being formed. One of the strangest conglomerations is the potential combination of Chalabi, Sadr and Sunnis from Al-Anbar.

Vectors are good in the abstract in the sense that they bring Iraqis away from strict confessional identification, but this one leaves much to be desired. But hey, freedom is messy. Or something like that.

Also from the article Nadezhda flagged:

Parties likely to participate in December include a secular coalition headed by a Washington favorite, former prime minister Iyad Allawi.

Maybe that's why Chalabi is courting Mookie. If the Bush team is backing Allawi instead, Chalabi will do what he has to do to maintain his share of the pie. Nadezhda has her own theories on Chalabi. Go read.

[UPDATE: Not quite vectory? From the article linked to in Nadezhda's update, we see that in the end, Sadr has stayed with the UIA ticket as have SCIRI and Da'wa. So much for the alliance (unholy?) of Sadr, Chalabi and a Sunni contingent from al-Anbar. In fact, Sadr's militia was clashing with Sunni insurgents as the last minute deals were put together:

But in a flare-up likely to fuel mistrust between Iraq's two main religious sects, at least 21 Shi'ite militia fighters and two policemen were killed when they clashed with Sunni insurgents near Baghdad, an Interior Ministry official said.

Another five policemen and 12 members of the Mehdi Army loyal to nationalist Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were wounded in the battle, which erupted after they tried to rescue a Mehdi Army member who was being held hostage, the official said.

From the looks of things, Mookie was lured back into the fold with promises of greater clout:

Members of parliament said that among changes agreed in the Shi'ite deal, Moqtada al-Sadr's movement would have a more formal role in the alliance.

"The parties signed the agreement last night, shares are already being distributed according to each party and what it will get," a source in the alliance said.

This leaves Allawi as the sole standard bearer for the cross-sectarian/ethnic vector-ologists:

Former prime minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, has put together a broad list attempting to attract voters from across the sectarian and ethnic divides, Allawi's office has said. It will be formally unveiled on Saturday.

Not quite as vector-rich as was hoped. In other news, three Sunni groups have put together a united ticket, but it remains to be seen how popular they will be amongst Iraq's Sunni population. On that front, I guess this rhetoric is designed to, er, appeal to the base:

"Our political program will focus more on getting the Americans out of Iraq," Hussein al-Falluji, a prominent Sunni who took part in talks on the constitution, told Reuters.

"Our message to the American administration is clear: get out of Iraq or set a timetable for withdrawal or the resistance will keep slaughtering your soldiers until Judgment Day."

That from a separate Reuters article (via Juan Cole). As they say, freedom is messy.]

Posted by at 05:29 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Democracy, Terrorism and Perpetual Peace

I have a few thoughts in response to Dan's insightful continuation of the "peaceful democracy" discussion. First, Dan takes issue with certain aspects of my statement regarding the ability of Islamic terrorists to operate in Western Europe.

While I agree with a lot of this, one of the things that I think is frequently missed in these types of formulations is where the types of terrorist groups that are active in liberal democracies originate from....I am not aware of a single Islamic terrorist group that has sprung up fully-formed inside a Western-style democracy....The various Islamic terrorist groups active in London are more or less extensions of their Middle Eastern counterparts and their existence and strength in the West should be seen more in the context of an attempt to export the political culture of the Middle East into Europe...

I think Dan is right about most of this, though I'm not sure to what extent it really addresses the main thesis. Regarding the genesis of terrorist groups, "fully formed," in Western-style democracy, is this really crucial to the discussion? First, there is time for just such a growth - as many of these movements and ideologies are relatively new to the landscape of the region (western democracies) – so it is not beyond the pale that we might see some in the near future. If the attitudes and inclinations can be found in local populations to join these existing groups, it is more than feasible that at some point there will also be the initiative to form new ones.

And then, at what point do copycat organizations and cells gain the status of a new organization as opposed to outgrowths? Does it really matter where they were born if such affiliated groups spread throughout the world anyway? Does the fact that this movement was originally an imported phenomenon mean that changing the country of origin’s political system will mean that the imported movements will wither on the vine?

Dan is right that Salafism is one aspect of the political (and religious) culture of the Muslim world, but if its appeal can penetrate European democracies, its appeal would also likely survive the democratization of the Muslim world. Won’t similarly minded Salafists just keep on “exporting” from a democratic Muslim world – assuming there are no future home-grown movements in western democracies and elsewhere?

So pointing out that Salafist jihadism is an export of the Muslim world, does not necessarily mean that it exists only because of an absence of democracy in that region. Further, even if it wouldn't have arisen in the first place if that society were democratic at the time of genesis, now that it has arisen (and we see that it can persuade those living in such free societies), can the cat be put back in the bag - even if the bag is embroidered with democracy? I remain unconvinced.

As an aside, Dan is absolutely right about the levels of apathy in some of those nations, and the impact this can have on the ability of these groups to operate with impunity. It appears that some of this is changing now - as indicated by Blair's controversial, yet ultimately necessary, moves to silence some of the most vehement proponents of jihadism. I’m not entirely comfortable with the implications of such illiberal policies, but at the same time the United Kingdom needs to take desperate measures to combat a very real threat in its midst that was left to fester for far too long. Hopefully, a balance can be struck, and necessary checks can be implemented on what is otherwise an unseemly level of executive power.

Regarding the issue of state sponsors, Dan is right that many of these organizations benefit from some form of support from, or haven within, states (or failed states, frequently) and in that sense, denying them these bases is important. But as Dan alluded to (I think), doing this through invasion and democratization in all such areas would probably be beyond our means, as well as abilities. I would add that, as per above, democratization might not achieve our desired ends regardless.

Wealthy individuals and clandestine cells can still operate within states that do not officially sanction such behavior - even democracies. In some instances, these groups rely as much on the support of local populations as they do on central governments within states. Pakistan is a good example in this regard. I don't doubt that Musharaff would like to see LeT and other groups rolled up, but he lacks the political latitude to act in such a manner and risks creating a violent schism in his country if he were to crack down in a serious way. He also almost lost his life, on more than one occasion, in retaliation for such efforts. Arguably, Pakistan isn't much of a democracy per se, but would more democratic fortifications in Pakistan solve this? Wouldn't any elected government in Pakistan face the same issues as long as there was indigenous support for jihadists?

As another example, in Indonesia we know that it is the dynamics of democracy itself that makes the ruling coalition hesitant to go after Jemaah Islamiya. This ruling coalition relies on Islamist parties to maintain a majority stake in the legislature, and cracking down on Jemaah Islamiya might cost them their control. So they skirt the issue. Limiting state sponsors and denying safe havens are important and a worthwhile goals, but democratization is not necessarily adept at achieving these ends where local populations create powerful disincentives.

Dan then takes on the thesis about the bellicosity of emerging democracies put forth by Mansfield and Snyder:

...a number of people within our own country who would argue that the institutional checks and balances of our own system have been insufficient to prevent the temptation of using warfare as a means of achieving electoral dominance, crushing dissent, minority rights, and power-sharing within current and past US governments, and we've had an unbroken democratic system (as variously defined) in place for more than 200 years. While I myself tend to think that such claims are twaddle, my point in bringing up that some people would make just the same arguments for our own government as Mansfield and Snyder would for emerging democracies is that if you can argue it here in a 200 year-old democracy you can argue it anywhere....

Here, I think Dan is taking some shortcuts. Yes, people can "argue" that even mature democracies show some of these tendencies identified by Mansfield and Snyder as existing in immature democracies, but the point of the authors was that such immature democracies act on them more frequently than mature democracies (and even authoritarian regimes). They are using statistical evidence to support these claims, not just making an argument. So, while some people may make facile arguments about the United States and other mature democracies, these do not necessarily undermine the conclusions of the authors. Not unless someone can show statistically that mature democracies are just as bellicose and likely to start wars as immature ones. I’d like to see that evidence. I would also add that Dan’s link to the work by Matthew White is discussing wars between two democracies, whereas Mansfield and Snyder were discussing the war-like tendencies of emerging democracies in general – not exclusively their penchant to go to war with other democracies.

Finally, to clarify, I am not embracing the Cold War paradigm of support for authoritarianism. I am in favor of supporting democratic reforms, and other institutional growth such as independent judiciaries and better regulated, and in some cases more open, economic markets. But with this in mind, we should still pay attention and put emphasis on the pace of change (especially in the realm of electoral expression) and the necessity that such change should ideally occur in tandem with other institutional growth.

Posted by at 03:10 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Democracy and Perpetual Peace

As a fair weather supporter of the idea that democratic peace theory, it is with some interest that I read Eric's own (fair weather?) critique of the concept and in the interest of articulating my own views on the subject I will be quoting his own extensively.

In fact, the overwhelming heft of the evidence indicates that terrorism can thrive in liberal democracies - even mature ones - and in nascent democracies terrorism can operate at the highest levels of freedom of movement and impunity.

While I agree with a lot of this, one of the things that I think is frequently missed in these types of formulations is where the types of terrorist groups that are active in liberal democracies originate from. In the case of the Islamic terrorist groups that are able to operate with impunity in the West (with the UK's "Londonistan," a term coined by French counter-terrorism experts during the 1990s, being probably the most infamous example), I am not aware of a single Islamic terrorist group that has sprung up fully-formed inside a Western-style democracy. The various Islamic terrorist groups active in London are more or less extensions of their Middle Eastern counterparts and their existence and strength in the West should be seen more in the context of an attempt to export the political culture of the Middle East into Europe and the authorities apathy or hesistance towards the situation than an institutional fault of the democratic system in and of itself. The United States and Australia, to use two examples of countries that have successfully dismantled terrorist infrastructure within their own borders post-9/11, remain Western democracies but are far less hospitable to terrorism than say Norway, where Ansar al-Islam founder Mullah Krekar appears to be able to operate with more or less impunity.

The counter-example that is usually cited to all of this are the homegrown terrorist groups that have been active in Europe and North America since the era of modern terrorism began in the 1960s. All the same, if you take a look at these groups on a case-by-case basis, I think you'll find that in many cases they were either fringe organizations with little if any popular following (instead favoring small but extremely disciplined and well-organized cadres, which also fit with the Marxist ideology of many European terrorist groups) or in many cases were dependent on fairly sizeable external support and state sponsorship networks in order to wreak the damage that they did. If we are ever reduced to a point where bin Laden and his acolytes are reduced to the kind of support in the Middle East that say, enjoyed Neo-Nazi groups like the Order in the United States I'll be able to sleep a lot sounder at night. While you are always going to have cranks and meglomaniacs with delusions of grandeur who are willing to kill to achieve political ends, I would much rather be dealing with Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols whose co-conspirators and supporters number in the dozens to someone like Zarqawi whose followers are in the thousands and who is admired by Salafist radicals that very conservatively number in the hundreds of thousands.

Although this second rationale, the peaceful democracies justification, might have been one of the lesser stated goals for invading Iraq, I find it ultimately less than compelling. For one, it ignores, or only tangentially addresses, the terrorist threat that we have been encountering for the past decade-plus. Our adversaries, al-Qaeda and similar Salafist jihadist groups, are not state actors and thus the peaceful characteristics of democratic states are less crucial to the defeat or containment of the Salafists. The state actor paradigm is better suited for Cold War calculations.

Again, I'm not sure if I agree with this paradigm because while al-Qaeda is certainly not an atypical state sponsored terrorist group, I think it would be a definite mistake to downplay the role that state sponsors, de facto state sponsors, or elements with states have been as far as their development is concerned. Former CIA director Jim Woolsey, for instance, has argued that we need to stop thinking in terms of state sponsors of terrorism and start talking about terrorist sponsored states, with a particular emphasis on how terrorist groups prop up de facto governments in places like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Bangladesh. Whether or not all of these can or should be replaced with democracies is another issue altogether, but I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that one of the key doctrines of counter-insurgency, and former CIA bin Laden unit head Michael Scheuer has argued that al-Qaeda is more properly classified as a terrorist group than an insurgency, is to deprive the enemy of potential sanctuaries and allies whenever possible. If supporting democracy or democratic reforms gets us further in that direction, then by all means that's the weapon to use.

Especially because, as noted above, terrorists can operate, generate support and find motivations while living in democracies. Thus, even if we create democratic states that are less bellicose, our terrorist threat will remain ever-present.

Again, I'm not entirely certain that this is true. The radicalized European Muslim immigrants seem to be joining existing terrorist groups and networks, not forming new ones on their own, which would seem to fit with the idea that the entire phenomenon of Islamic terrorism in Europe is an external rather than internal phenomenon. As far as building up support in Western democracies is concerned, in order to so terrorists have had to at least pretend to moderate their agenda to accommodate the society they now live in. Hence, Saad al-Faqih has to at least pretend that his real concerns as far as Saudi Arabia mirror those of Westerners (or at least some Westerners) in order to continue to operate in the UK rather than going public with his real agenda, although the more intelligent observers and governments seem to be more or less able to see him for what he is, which is how he happened to get blacklisted by the UN nearly a year ago.

As to the issue of whether or not democracies start wars, I would note that Matthew White appears to have anticipated this line of argument and the subsequent debate as far back as 1998. While I by no means cite it as infallible, it does make for some interesting reading, particularly when the discussion is raised on the issue of how you define what a democracy is to begin with. This is an extremely important part of this debate and is actually a lot more complicated than it sounds, but it is also an especially thorny issue given our own history in certain areas.

One thing I will take note of is this:

As admirable as the exercise has been, the occurence of elections and referendums have vastly outpaced the establishment of the institutional checks and balances that the authors suggest are needed to restrain the urge to use war as a means of garnering and/or maintaining electoral dominance. Majoritarianism is more appreciated by certain factions than other necessary components such as dissent, minority rights and sharing of power. In present day Iraq, the temptation to use war as a unifying force may be even greater given the internal divisions that need to be broached.

With all due respect to Eric, Mansfield, and Snyder, there are a number of people within our own country who would argue that the institutional checks and balances of our own system have been insufficient to prevent the temptation of using warfare as a means of achieving electoral dominance, crushing dissent, minority rights, and power-sharing within current and past US governments, and we've had an unbroken democratic system (as variously defined) in place for more than 200 years. While I myself tend to think that such claims are twaddle, my point in bringing up that some people would make just the same arguments for our own government as Mansfield and Snyder would for emerging democracies is that if you can argue it here in a 200 year-old democracy you can argue it anywhere.

As bellicose and reckless as Saddam's regime was, there remains the possibility that subsequent incarnations of the Iraq state will do no better in terms of providing peace and stability to the region - if not by its internal implosion, then by its excursions targeting neighbors, territory and/or perceived threats. There has already been an uncomfortable level of cross-border sniping between the various factions and their perceived backers or enemies - from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

If we're going from projections of an inevitable civil war and the subsequent implosion and Balkanization of the country to a fear of Iraqi expansion redux, methinks that we're going to be doing quite well. As it now stands, Iraq isn't in a position to defend its own borders without US assistance, let alone threaten any of its neighbors. Even once the army and security forces are up and running again in terms of defending the nation's territorial integrity, there is still the issue that Iraq lacks an existing the air force, etc.

I also think it's a definite mistake to conflate Iraqi sniping at Iran and Syria (often mirrored by similar allegations from US and UK officials) as well as Saudi Arabia with the kinds of visions of empire that Saddam seemed to favor. Iraq wanting to fight Iran or Syria (which, as noted above, they can't for the immediate future) because they believe that either nation is complicit in killing their nationals is a very different thing from seeking a war of conquest with designs of regional domination - I imagine we'd be equally pissed if Mexico or Canada was doing the same to us.

No doubt Israel is no more popular now than it had been prior to the invasion.

If Seymour Hersh and other journalists are to be believed, Israel is now actively assisting in training the peshmerga, which is now part of the new Iraqi military. I very much doubt that anyone could have imagined such an environment going on during the era of the Saddam Fedayeen. The anti-Israel groups that Saddam Hussein sponsored have all been dismantled in way or another and Iraqi government support for suicide bombing is currently no more. The Iraqis can think whatever they want to about Israel, just many people in Europe and the United States do. As long as they aren't actively sponsoring terrorism against it, I think it's fair to call the situation a net improvement.

As to the issue of Iraq fighting a conventional war with Israel at some point in the future, if we're projecting out things out far enough to the point where Iraq will have the logistical capacity to do so on the scale that Saddam did we're now knee-deep into some extremely uncertain speculation as far as what Iraq will look like by the time it could even hope to do so, let alone the rest of the Middle East.

But this thesis has broader implications as well. It should be considered by those that favor the promotion of democratic reform, such as myself, in terms of informing the ideal mixture of methods, means and priorities associated with such endeavors. Sometimes, there is a great value in allowing and encouraging gradual change from the inside-out, grassroots-up.

This would seem, at least on the surface, to be a partial reaffirmation of the Kirkpatrick Doctrine that attempted to justify US support for authoritarian governments, particularly in Latin America, on the grounds that they were going to make far easier transition to democracy than their totalitarian communist counterparts in the Soviet Bloc. I have no desire to re-fight the arguments of the Cold War on this one, but I thought I would note this.

One further point would be that while I think you can justify support for authoritarian governments while pressing for internal reforms, most Western powers usually haven't as far as the Middle East is concerned, particularly those Middle Eastern governments that are closest to us either economically or strategically. The problem that we (along with the British, French, et al.) have cared too much about the stability of various Middle Eastern governments to press for any kind of change whatsoever in the status quo is one that I think a lot of us have become more and more aware of since 9/11 and continues to be one of the major factors responsible for bin Laden's support in the Middle East - he is seen as being the only one willing to stand up and confront the region's governments and their Western allies through force of arms. Until some kind of alternate outlets are established through which political views, even totalitarian ones like Qutb or Madudi's vision of Salafism (which I am rather skeptical as far as the chances of it sweeping the region in the event it is allowed to compete politically - in those states where Salafist parties have run, they usually garner about the same percentage as far-right parties in Europe), can be expressed openly, I do foresee this support waning for the immediate future, which has direct implications for US national security.

Posted by at 01:57 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 26, 2005

A Lasting Peace?

As I have mentioned in prior posts, there is little empirical evidence to support the claim that democracy eradicates terrorism. In fact, the overwhelming heft of the evidence indicates that terrorism can thrive in liberal democracies - even mature ones - and in nascent democracies terrorism can operate at the highest levels of freedom of movement and impunity. Then, there is the truism that democracies do not attack other democracies and, in a related sense, democracies are generally speaking more peaceful than other types of regimes.

Although this second rationale, the peaceful democracies justification, might have been one of the lesser stated goals for invading Iraq, I find it ultimately less than compelling. For one, it ignores, or only tangentially addresses, the terrorist threat that we have been encountering for the past decade-plus. Our adversaries, al-Qaeda and similar Salafist jihadist groups, are not state actors and thus the peaceful characteristics of democratic states are less crucial to the defeat or containment of the Salafists. The state actor paradigm is better suited for Cold War calculations. Especially because, as noted above, terrorists can operate, generate support and find motivations while living in democracies. Thus, even if we create democratic states that are less bellicose, our terrorist threat will remain ever-present.

A review of the book, Electing to fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War, by Edward D. Mansfield And Jack Snyder, appearing in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, takes a closer look at the underlying assumptions behind certain aspects of the peaceful democracies theory and the results are somewhat counterintuitive. From the review penned by John M. Owen IV:

In Electing to fight: Why Emerging Democracies Go to War, the veteran political scientists Edward Mansfield and Jack Snyder make two critical points. Not only is turning authoritarian countries into democracies extremely difficult, much more so than the administration seems to have anticipated. The Middle East could also become a much more dangerous place if Washington and the rest of the world settle for a merely semidemocratic regime in Baghdad. Such an Iraq, Mansfield and Snyder imply, would be uncommonly likely to start wars -- a bull in the Middle Eastern china shop. Unfortunately, such an Iraq may also be just what we are likely to end up with. [...]

Their thesis, first published in 1995, is that although mature democracies do not fight one another, democratizing states -- those in transition from authoritarianism to democracy -- do, and are even more prone to war than authoritarian regimes. Now, in Electing to fight, the authors have refined their argument. As they outline in the book, not only are "incomplete democratizing" states -- those that develop democratic institutions in the wrong order -- unlikely ever to complete the transition to democracy; they are also especially bellicose. [emphasis added]

The reviewer provides excerpts of the evidentiary basis relied on by the authors:

Mansfield and Snyder present both quantitative and case-study support for their theory. Using rigorous statistical methods, the authors show that since 1815, democratizing states have indeed been more prone to start wars than either democracies or authoritarian regimes. Categorizing transitions according to whether they ended in full democracies (as in the U.S. case) or in partial ones (as in Germany in 1871-1918 or Pakistan throughout its history), the authors find that in the early years of democratic transitions, partial democracies -- especially those that get their institutions in the wrong order -- are indeed significantly more likely to initiate wars. Mansfield and Snyder then provide several succinct stories of democratizing states that did in fact go to war, such as the France of Napoleon III (1852-70), Serbia between 1877 and 1914, Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000, and Pakistan from 1947 to the present. In most of these cases, the authors find what they expect: in these democratizing states, domestic political competition was intense. Politicians, vying for power, appeased domestic hard-liners by resorting to nationalistic appeals that vilified foreigners, and these policies often led to wars that were not in the countries' strategic interests.
The environment that allows for these developments, according to the authors, seems to have some connection to chronology: putting the "electoral" cart before the "institutional" horse.
According to Mansfield and Snyder, in countries that have recently started to hold free elections but that lack the proper mechanisms for accountability (institutions such as an independent judiciary, civilian control of the military, and protections for opposition parties and the press), politicians have incentives to pursue policies that make it more likely that their countries will start wars. In such places, politicians know they can mobilize support by demanding territory or other spoils from foreign countries and by nurturing grievances against outsiders. As a result, they push for extraordinarily belligerent policies. Even states that develop democratic institutions in the right order -- adopting the rule of law before holding elections -- are very aggressive in the early years of their transitions, although they are less so than the first group and more likely to eventually turn into full democracies.

Of course, politicians in mature democracies are also often tempted to use nationalism and xenophobic rhetoric to buttress their domestic power. In such cases, however, they are usually restrained by institutionalized mechanisms of accountability. Knowing that if they lead the country into a military defeat or quagmire they may be punished at the next election, politicians in such states are less likely to advocate a risky war. In democratizing states, by contrast, politicians know that they are insulated from the impact of bad policies: if a war goes badly, for example, they can declare a state of emergency, suspend elections, censor the press, and so on. Politicians in such states also tend to fear their militaries, which often crave foreign enemies and will overthrow civilian governments that do not share their goals. Combined, these factors can make the temptation to attack another state irresistible.

Unfortunately in Iraq, our chronology has been less than ideal. As admirable as the exercise has been, the occurence of elections and referendums have vastly outpaced the establishment of the institutional checks and balances that the authors suggest are needed to restrain the urge to use war as a means of garnering and/or maintaining electoral dominance. Majoritarianism is more appreciated by certain factions than other necessary components such as dissent, minority rights and sharing of power. In present day Iraq, the temptation to use war as a unifying force may be even greater given the internal divisions that need to be broached.

As bellicose and reckless as Saddam's regime was, there remains the possibility that subsequent incarnations of the Iraq state will do no better in terms of providing peace and stability to the region - if not by its internal implosion, then by its excursions targeting neighbors, territory and/or perceived threats. There has already been an uncomfortable level of cross-border sniping between the various factions and their perceived backers or enemies - from Iran and Syria to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. No doubt Israel is no more popular now than it had been prior to the invasion.

But this thesis has broader implications as well. It should be considered by those that favor the promotion of democratic reform, such as myself, in terms of informing the ideal mixture of methods, means and priorities associated with such endeavors. Sometimes, there is a great value in allowing and encouraging gradual change from the inside-out, grassroots-up. As the reviewer notes:

The authors' conclusions for foreign policy are straightforward. The United States and other international actors should continue to promote democracy, but they must strive to help democratizing states implement reforms in the correct order. In particular, popular elections ought not to precede the building of institutions that will check the baleful incentives for politicians to call for war.
As I have harped on in the past, democracy is a fragile edifice that relies on an institutional support structure that is complex, intricate and takes time to develop. Sometimes we might want to consider saying: Slower, please.

Posted by at 06:04 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 24, 2005

Vector Watch

In an earlier post I discussed the possibility, and desirability, of the emergence of political movements and parties that can appeal to Iraqis across ethnic/sectarian divisions. This, I argued, would help to dissipate power that might otherwise concentrate in ethnic/sectarian groups in ways that can choke off the liberal tendencies of democracies, regardless of what are serious underlying political divisions. The success of such a trend relies, in part, on the expectation that the UIA ticket of Shiite parties will not be able to hold together for the December elections, or that their influence will be somewhat lessened - perhaps stemming from a cool reception by Sistani, or a backlash from secular leaning Iraqis or those fed up with the UIA performance in power. In furtherance of this discussion, Juan Cole offers some relevant observations from a translation of a story, in Arabic, from the newspaper Al-Hayat:

Al-Hayat [Arabic] is reporting that Iraqi political parties are scrambling to put together joint lists again. It says that the fundamentalist Shiite Dawa Party has decided to run again with the fundamentalist Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Fadilah (Virtue) Party may join that list, as well. But SCIRI is trying to attract some secular and Sunni candidates so as to combat the impression that its United Iraqi Alliance is a Shiite cat's paw of Iran. Al-Hayat says that the Kurdistan Alliance is exploring a coalition with religious Sunni parties. Several groups are negotiating to join the secular list of Iyad Allawi. For a while it seemed that the Iraqi Islamic Party (mildly fundamentalist Sunnis) might join Allawi, but it has decided to run alone. One subtext of the article is that both the Kurds and Allawi are trying to find ways to attract votes from the vast number of voters who used to support the secular Arab nationalist Baath Party.

From this there are encouraging signs, and others that are somewhat disappointing. First, the not so good news: if this article is correct, SCIRI and Da'wa will remain together which makes them, once again, a formidable electoral bloc. If this coalition receives Sistani's support, even tacit, it's quite possible that most Shiites will feel compelled to, or be persuaded to, disregard other political leanings in favor of confessional identification. This would negatively impact voter fluidity.

On the positive side, the flurry of activity and attempts at cross-ethnic/sectarian coalition building could be indicative of new Iraqi-styled vectors. Particularly encouraging is the effort by many groups to make inroads with former Baath Party voters and other Sunni groups. Bringing Sunnis into the political process is about as close to an unmitigated positive as you can find in Iraq at the moment. Also of note, early indications are that Allawi's more secular leaning slate (or Chalabi's?) has a significant level of popularity - at least at this stage. An invigorated secular movement could do much to counter what could otherwise be theocratic tendencies of the powerful Islamist/fundamentalist parties. Keep an eye on these movements, maneuvers and machinations.

Posted by at 09:46 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

October 23, 2005

Preliminary Iraqi referendum results

Via Knight-Ridder, I see that the official preliminary totals for the Iraqi constitutional referendum are coming in. While the final results aren't in yet, so far it looks like both Anbar and Salahuddin have overwhelmingly rejected the constitution, Salahuddin by 81%, thereby indicating that the opponents as well as the supporters of the consitution seem to have turned out in large numbers.

Courtesy of reader AMac, the preliminary figures for voter turnout are also available.

The Knight-Ridder piece also gives us an idea of the situation in Diyala:

In the mixed province of Diyala, just northwest of Baghdad, where Sunnis and Shiites are roughly evenly distributed, the "yes" and "no" votes are running almost neck and neck, with 51.76 percent voting "yes" and 48.24 percent "no."

If the Diyala votes hold up, that then leaves Nineveh, whose results are not being announced (along with Irbil, Babil, and Basra) as the deciding factor in whether the constitution is accepted or rejected. We do get some good news from the Electoral Commission, however:

Iraqi election commissioner Safwat Rashid said that no evidence of "significant violations" has so far been uncovered but that the audit is likely to delay the final result at least two more days.

Depending on what he means by this, it would seem that the type of widespread abuses that have been alleged by Saleh Mutlaq didn't occur to the degree that he some of his statements to Western and Arab media outlets would seem to suggest. That's a far cry from what I'd like and even in of itself doesn't preclude the kind of Tammany Hall politics we've experienced here in the United States at various stages in our history, but it does seem to indicate that none of the major Iraqi parties were on an organizational level out to thwart the voting process. Given, as many observers have pointed out, that Iraq doesn't have a terribly long tradition of representative democracy, this should be viewed as a very positive development.

The article also notes another interesting point:

Recent weeks have witnessed reduced insurgent violence targeting the Iraqi population, but there has been no letup in the rate of attacks against U.S. forces.

I actually think that violence has been going down (at least from where it was when the insurgents started mounting attacks in a big way in April) for a longer period than that, particularly with regard to the number as well as the scope of mass casualty terrorist attacks in the country. While these types of terrorist attacks are the most visible symbol of the Iraqi insurgency, they are not the ones that are the most lethal killers of US troops, as this New York Times story on the fighting in Ramadi helps to illustrate:

The vast majority of Americans killed here since September have been victims of homemade bombs, what the military calls improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s. Sgt. William Callahan, a member of the bomb disposal team stationed with the Third Battalion, estimated that troops hit four such bombs a day in Ramadi. Most do not result in death or serious injury. Almost all are remotely detonated, which means someone is hiding in wait for coming vehicles.

There are a couple of ways one can read the partial shift from targeting Iraqi civilians to targeting US troops. One is that most of the mass casualty terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians are perpetrated by Abu Musab Zarqawi and his allies and that they've been sufficiently weakened by US counter-insurgency efforts (as my good friend Bill Roggio has documented in exsquite detail over at the Fourth Rail) to the point where they're still recouping their recent losses. Another is that all of the domestic insurgent groups that committed themselves to the referendum through their various proxies see no real contradiction between killing US troops while trying to pursue a political deal with fellow Iraqis, at least at this time. Finally, there's the view that the insurgents are more or less lying low for now in the belief that the constitution will either be rejected or that enough Sunnis will reject the legitimacy of the vote and throw in with them, hence they don't see a reason to rock the boat right now by staging any mass casualty attacks that might prompt such individuals to throw in with the government.

That said, a drop in violence is still a drop in violence, as is the fact that a lot of Sunnis are now engaged in the political process, even as an opposition force, rather than operating outside of it. As I think Eric has noted in the past, there are definite fault lines between the various insurgent groups, some of which are far more open to political participation than others. For those that are willing to come to the table (and it seems to me that several are there right now by proxy), the effort should now be made to keep them there as long as possible and incorporate them into the system. One such method for doing so that I've discussed with Bill Roggio on occasion is the idea of an Algeria-style amnesty offer for various domestic insurgent groups that are willing to deal. While Iraq now has a sovereign government that will have to weigh the costs and benefits of such a proposal, it would seem a measure at least worth considering at this point.

Posted by at 08:02 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

October 20, 2005

Getting To Know You

Out of One, Many

Rory Stewart, a member the British government, served with the Coalition Provisional Authority as deputy governor of the Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces in southern Iraq from August 2003 until June 2004. He has recently written an article (hat tip to reader WAB) that provides an interesting, and balanced, first hand account of events in that region of Iraq, informed by what he has witnessed since his return in March of 2005. The interval and passage of time between stints in-country has allowed for certain insights gained through a study of contrasts.

His recounting of events is, as is so typical with respect to Iraq, a mixed bag of progress and setbacks, optimism and pessimism, promise and disappointment, and underneath it all: coming to grips with unintended consequences. These paragraphs set the tone:

Is southern Iraq only hell with flies? September's image of a British soldier bathed in flames as he tumbled from his tank seemed to symbolise a state of anarchy, spawned by the coalition and dominated by Iranian-funded terrorist militias. The reality is less bleak, but still unsettling. Southern Iraq is under coalition occupation but not coalition control; an elected government that is not quite a democracy uses a secular constitution to impose Islamist codes; Iraqi nationalists funded by Iran employ illegal groups to enforce the law. [...]

The new order in southern Iraq is, in short, hard to define. It is an improvement on the political exclusion and sadistic inhumanity of Saddam and has a great deal to teach the Sunni areas about prosperity, security and politics. But it is also reactionary, violent, intolerant towards women and religious minorities and uncooperative with the coalition. The new leaders have dark histories and dubious allies; they enforce a narrow social code and ignore the rural areas.

But before delving into some of the more substantive observations, a background of the tripartite of players involved in the Shiite dominated region: SCIRI, the Sadrists and Da'wa. The history:

All three groups descend from a single party—the Da'wa (Islamic Call) party of the 1960s and 1970s — and their view of political Islam is defined by Da'wa's founder, a cleric, Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr (sometimes called Sadr I) who was opposed to Iraqi communism and to western "economic and cultural colonialism." Formed by clerics, developed in the ancient medieval theological seminaries of Najaf and shaped by grand ayatollahs, who as mirja (sources of emulation) had unique authority among the Shia, the party had a fundamentally theological character.

In 1970, the recently victorious Ba'ath party declared Da'wa illegal. For the next 33 years, political Islam in Iraq survived only in exile or in secret cell networks. It moved from public politics to something resembling a revolutionary terrorist organisation. On 8th April 1980, the government announced that it was a capital offence to belong to Da'wa. Tens of thousands were arrested and the party's founder, Sadr I, was executed the next day. Much of the leadership went into exile in Iran. This was the point at which the Da'wa movement began to fragment into rival factions whose leaders changed allies, national patrons and ideological positions with startling rapidity.


The first and perhaps most famous of the Islamic groups is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its Badr brigade. In last January's election, it took the governorships in the pro-vinces of Dhi Qar and Muthanna as well as half the seats on the provincial council in Basra. The leadership of SCIRI/Badr was in exile in Iran and has the closest relationship with the Iranian state, whereas many of the Da'wa leaders chose Britain for their exile and the Sadrists mostly remained in Iraq. The founding leader of SCIRI, Muhammed Bakr al-Hakim, an Iraqi cleric, campaigned for a theocracy in which the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini would become the supreme leader of a Shia superstate embracing Iran and Iraq. Under his umbrella came the Badr brigade, a paramilitary unit of Iraqi exiles commanded by the Iranian revolutionary guard who had fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war.

Many of the leaders of this group still have family in Iran. They are all religiously conservative and committed to the establishment of an Islamic government. Their leadership has long-term connections with the Iranian revolutionary guard and intelligence services. Thousands of their followers receive salaries from Iran, but they would not consider themselves agents of Iran. Many claim to have been humiliated while in Iran and to be committed Iraqi nationalists. Immediately after the allied invasion, al-Hakim recommended compromise with the coalition, no longer calling for an Iranian theocracy but instead for "a democratic free Iraq that reflects the interests of its people." He was assassinated and his group is now run by his less charismatic brother, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who is one of the most important figures in the national government in Baghdad.

The Sadrists:

The Sadrists are the second group that dominates southern politics. They tend not to have been in exile, see themselves as nationalists, perceive the coalition as a colonial occupation, and are worried about threats from Iran. Their leader was Muhammad Sadeq al-Sadr (a relative of Da'wa's founder), an inspirational teacher who preached on the evils of western decadence and talked often of the coming of the Shia messiah, the "hidden imam." His populist conservative message attracted many young clerics in the 1990s. Because "Sadr II" was resolutely nationalist and anti-Iranian and called al-Hakim a traitor and a spy, he was initially supported by Saddam. But by 1998, his criticism of corruption, secularism and decadence seemed increasingly dangerous.

Sadr II reached out to the poor with a charity supported by pious Iraqis. Tens of thousands of young men, often from poor homes, began to attend the mosques where his young disciples preached. The most senior leader of the Iraqi Shia was (and is) Grand Ayatollah Sistani, a much more learned scholar. But Sistani was born in Iran and did not give public sermons—some said because he did not want people to hear him speak Arabic with a Persian accent. Young men sometimes mocked him in private, calling him the "silent leader" and gave their hearts to the unimpeachably Arab Iraqi nationalist, Sadr II.

In 1999, Sadr II was assassinated by Saddam. This martyrdom turned a growing movement into perhaps the most powerful popular religious movement in Iraq. Sadr II's legacy was continued through his grassroots network of social foundations and the young preachers, led by his chief of staff and surviving son, Muqtada, a cleric in his late twenties. After the invasion, almost anything in a Shia district that had been called "Saddam" was renamed "Sadr" (hence Baghdad's Sadr City, a poor suburb of 2.5m people). Posters of Sadr II appeared throughout the south. Whereas Saddam was depicted in suits, sheikhly costume or military uniform and holding rosary beads, a Cuban cigar or a hunting rifle, Sadr was depicted in his black robes, preaching.

The party of his son Muqtada — the Office of the Martyr Sadr — is emotional in appeal, exploiting Shia themes of martyrdom and messianic beliefs about the coming redeemer. It is anti-coalition—Muqtada led an uprising against the "occupation" for much of last year in which thousands died. It is also popular. In Maysan, a proxy of Muqtada's party took three times as many votes as the next party, and the head of the Sadr office in a provincial city became governor of Maysan. The group has a militia called the "army of the Mahdi imam."

Now here's something I didn't know:

The Sadrist groups called Fadhile and Fudhala, led by the former chief of staff of Muqtada's late father, share the same theological views and Iraqi nationalism as Muqtada but are more moderate in their politics. Their supporters are often urban professionals whereas Muqtada's are from the urban poor. The governor of Basra is from Fadhile.
Finally, Da'wa:
The third of the three Shia religious parties is still called Da'wa. It was involved in terrorist operations in Kuwait and against Saddam (its Lebanese faction became Hizbullah with Iranian support). But it also established a more moderate branch in London, which rejected Iran and further subdivided. One branch, with the closest links to Iran, became Iraqi Da'wa, whose leader Abu Akil I met in March. Another became the Islamic Da'wa party whose de facto leader is the new Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari.
Despite the fact that these three groups descended from a common political/religious ancestor, they are by no means a cohesive and unitary bloc. Although they are lumped together in the Sistani endorsed UIA, which controls the central government with help from the Kurdish faction, there are signs of unrest. As I suggested in a previous post, the unified UIA ticket might very well splinter into competing factions in the near future, as each appears discontented to stay in its current subservient role. This friction will, hopefully, create room for a real differentiation of political platform that would have the ability to appeal to Iraqis across confessional lines. By the flipside of the same token, however, the tensions between these three factions could erupt into large scale power struggle that has the potential for massive bloodshed.

Meet The New Boss

As Stewart notes, the UIA still has to cooperate with their Kurdish coalition partners in the federal government, but in the south, the three factions enjoy total control of their respective fiefdoms. The results have been, as mentioned above, mixed. On the one hand, law and order has been restored (more on this below), but on the other, there has been a resurgence of religious dogmatism backed up by well-armed extra-governmental militias.

Although they now hold all of the senior elected positions in the provincial government and have thousands of followers in the police and the ministries, the groups continue to rely on their militias. They use them to enforce religious practices: firebombing internet cafes, alcohol and music shops, and attacking unveiled women. Many from minority religious groups, such as the Christians, have fled to Baghdad, preferring the terror in the Sunni triangle to threats from the Shia parties. In March, the Sadr militia in Basra attacked a group of engineering students from the local university who were having a picnic. Apparently angry that men and women were sitting together, that some of the Christian women were unveiled and that some of the Christians were carrying alcohol (none of which was illegal), the Sadrists kidnapped some of them and shot dead a female student for wearing jeans. Basra's new governor, a Fadhile Sadrist from the movement's more moderate wing, defended the actions of the Sadr Office.[...]

Meanwhile, the new politicians use their militias to enforce their will whenever they are frustrated by the new constitution. If SCIRI or the Sadrists are unable to fire a provincial minister through the formal channels, they send the Badr brigades or the Mahdi army to knock on his door. The Islamist politicians are urban and anti-tribal and do not try to work with or around the sheikhs in order to extend government into the rural areas where perhaps half of southern Iraqis live. And the Sadrist movement in particular is reluctant to co-operate directly with an "infidel, colonial" coalition. The Sadrist governor of Maysan has instructed Iraqi police units to cease joint patrols with the coalition. In Dhi Qar, the Fadhile faction in the council has suggested rejecting all development assistance from the coalition. In Basra, the governor has supported the arrest of coalition soldiers. Furthermore, the militias continue to mount terrorist attacks against the coalition, most recently killing soldiers and embassy guards with shaped explosive charges, designed in Iran.

Although it comes at a price, the heavy handedness of the Islamist groups could provoke something of a backlash in subsequent elections. Especially if the UIA splinters, and there are viable secular parties that emerge in its wake. To the extent possible, our efforts should be to assist the growth of a more tolerant political manifestation that could encompass those who would turn away from this style of governance. The Christians mentioned above would be one such disaffected group ripe for the picking. And there are more.

Partly because of such incidents, educated middle-class Iraqis are often horrified by their new leaders. Even if they did vote for the "Sistani list" that now governs Iraq, they do not want to be ruled by men who have spent 20 years as Iranian secret agents or who have no education outside a theological seminary. Some are so afraid that they are leaving Iraq.
It should also be mentioned that, though unpopular to certain groups, these three parties have delivered in some key areas of governance. Most importantly, they have restored security which in today's Iraq is highly valued, to say the least.
Nevertheless, southern Iraq is in a better condition now than it was last year. For much of 2004, the southern provinces were caught up in a full-blown insurgency. In Maysan, in October 2003, the police chief was assassinated on the steps of a Sadrist mosque and in May 2004, the governor shot dead another police chief (with Iranian connections) in a hospital morgue. In the neighbouring province of Dhi Qar, the police were powerless, officials corrupt, beatings and rape commonplace and services faltering. When I left Iraq in June 2004, a civil war seemed almost inevitable—not between grand factions but between small local groups that were simultaneously mafia, tribes and political parties. Neither the police nor the coalition were in a position to control them.

But when I returned to Iraq this year, scores of Iraqis told me that security was much better in the south. This improvement was, of course, relative: my friend Sheikh al-Ibadi praised the security improvements, but did so while breathing heavily because he had just been shot three times in the chest in an assassination attempt. The political militias still kill people and collect "contributions" by threat; diesel smuggling rackets are booming and there were 60 murders in Basra in July alone.

But the rackets in carjacking, kidnapping and archaeological theft which dominated the south a year ago have largely been beaten. The highways are safer. Businesses in Basra are not forced to pay protection money to gangsters. There are still attacks on the coalition but the Sadrists stopped their full-scale armed resistance in September 2004 and have since allowed some of their supporters to join the government....The Islamist militias hate each other, but apart from an incident in September they have avoided large-scale battles. Nor have they become full-time gangsters: they have rarely, for example, involved themselves in the huge black market in diesel. Moreover, although many politicians have been killed in Baghdad and elsewhere, I am not aware of a single provincial governor or member of a provincial council in the four southern provinces who has been killed since Saddam's fall.

Stewart identifies some other sources for the Shiite good governance, as well as their heretofore remarkable self restraint in the face of a brutal insurgency.

Despite their intolerance and violent methods, the new politicians are often young technocrats with a confident and articulate programme of anti-corruption and economic development. Their religious beliefs can be an important moderating influence in Shia society. So too are wider mechanisms of social control, confidence and moral concern. Thousands of Shia have been killed by Sunni terrorists in Iraq but the Shia community has generally refused to retaliate. Restraint has been shown not only by Sistani but also by political leaders at a district level. The leaders I met on my last visit had stopped complaining that they were the victims of a Zionist plot and seemed realistic, tolerant and humorous about progress. They had begun to find the capacity to co-operate with each other and lay the foundations for government and security.
Since I have already borrowed so liberally from Mssr. Stewart, I will allow him to conclude this piece with his analysis of what is a messy entanglement of pluses and minuses, the what if's and what will never be's - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Southern Iraq is a democracy but we should not assume that this or any of the other terms which we deploy frequently about Iraq — insurgency, civil society, civil war, police force or even political party — mean what they do in Britain. There have been elections, but the government is not responsive to or respectful of human rights. In many ways it resembles Iran, but it is not governed by clerics. Its militias are not infiltrators, they are an integral element of the elected parties. The new government is oppressive, but has a popular mandate; it is supported by illegal militias, but it has improved security.

This is not the kind of state the coalition had hoped to create. During 14 months of direct rule, until the middle of last year, we tried to prevent it from emerging. We refused to allow Shari'a law to be "the source of legislation" in the constitution. We invested in religious minorities and women's centres; supported rural areas and tribal groups; funded NGOs and created "representative bodies" that were intended to reflect a vision of Iraq as a tolerant, modern society. We hoped that we had created the opportunity for civil society to flourish. This was a dream we shared with many Iraqis. We refused to deal with the Sadr militia and fought a long counter- insurgency campaign against them. Then we left, an election was held and the dream collapsed—the Islamist parties took almost all the seats provincially and nationally. The rural sheikhs, the "liberal" middle classes and the religious minorities mostly vanished from the government.

Some observers suggest that people voted for Islamist parties out of ignorance or poverty. But most people in the south share the parties' vision of a more religious, moral and traditional society, as well as their suspicion of non-Muslims and "western decadence and colonialism." They are proud of being Iraqis and Shia Muslims. They may dislike the brutality of their new leaders and be suspicious of their connections to Iran, but they prefer them to the coalition.

Most people in the south tolerate the coalition only because they believe the presence of the troops in bases may deter civil war. Iraqis are reluctant to trust us or work with us. Because of this lack of co-operation, it has been difficult for the coalition to achieve as much as it had hoped with its billions of dollars in development aid, and it has received almost no credit for its efforts. The Shia are grateful that the coalition toppled Saddam but for little else. Despite thousands of troops and tens of millions invested in essential services, despite a number of impressive reconstruction projects, despite ambitious programmes in police training and in developing "good governance and civil society," the coalition has had only a minimal political impact in southern Iraq.

The British soldier engulfed by flames and his colleagues who were kidnapped were not simply victims of mob violence, or even of an illegal militia. They were confronting the authorities of an independent state. In place of last year's insurgency, there is now an increasingly confident governing apparatus in the south, which extends from governors and provincial councillors to the militias, police and ministries. The leaders of these groups have a distinctive Islamist ideology and complex history. This new Islamist state is elected, it functions and it is relatively popular. We may not like it, but we can only try to understand it and acknowledge that there is now little we can do to influence it. [emphasis added throughout]

Posted by at 11:01 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Electoral Politics

The Iraqi government has chosen to delay announcing the results of the country's constitutional referendum until Friday while they examine the integrity of the process, with the tallies in Nineveh and Salahuddin appearing as those under the closest scrutiny at the moment. I really don't have that much to add as far as this issue in and of itself goes and I think that the Iraqi Electoral Commission is probably quite wise in making its decision. One of the things I would note in particular is this passage here:

The audit, announced by the Electoral Commission on Monday, will examine results that show an oddly high number of "yes" votes - apparently including in two crucial provinces that could determine the outcome of the vote, Ninevah and Diyala.

The election commission and United Nations officials supervising the counting have made no mention of fraud and have cautioned that the unexpected votes are not necessarily incorrect.

This is one issue that needs to be highlighted, namely that no one except certain Sunni leaders at this point is declaring that there's a fraud in the works. I have no idea whether or not any ballot-stuffing or other improprieties occurred with respect to the vote, but one thing I would urge observers against is drawing any unwarranted conclusions here before all the facts are in. This one of the major mistakes that Anzar made after 3/11 with respect to the culpability of ETA on similar (and at the time far more logical than some I've seen online) assumptions and we saw where that got him.

Other brief thoughts on the referendum:

* Large figures in favor of a particular referendum are not in of themselves evidence that impropriety has occurred. It can be an indication of it, but it is also equally possible that the constitutional referendum was extremely popular, particularly in the major Shi'ite provinces. It should also be kept in mind when looking at some of the Shi'ite results that Grand Ayatollah Sistani has urged Iraqis to vote "yes" on the referendum as well as the kind of following that Sistani is reputed to have inside Iraq. We have been told (and I agree with) on numerous occasions that if Sistani ever called for a popular uprising against US forces inside Iraq, that would be the end of it for us with respect to the Shi'ite population. However, it must also be asked whether or not that level of support also works in our favor on issues such as the constitution.

* There's been a lot of talk as to just how much support the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Sunni Endowment actually have in Iraq, with a lot of it centered around the January elections. I'm not sure if that's an accurate metric to use, though, given that it seems that the Sunni political paradigm has changed a lot since the elections for a variety of reasons. How much weight groups like the Association of Muslim Scholars carry among the general Sunni population rather than among the insurgents (for some of whom the Association is more or less an informal mouthpiece) would also seem to be an open question. Please note that I am not denying that any of these groups have large and influential followings, but rather that I don't think that we can effectively gauge just how much of a following they have. I am also extremely leery of viewing the Sunnis as a singular monolithic entity in either their opposition to the constitution or in terms of their adherence to the groups that purport to speak for them, whether it be the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Sunni Endowment, or the Association of Muslim Scholars.

* On a similar note, let us point out that there is a lot that we still don't know as far as the Iraqi political scene is concerned. Without attacking the integrity of any of the polling data that's been presented to date, let me just point out that we have a lot more polling firms and information available here in the United States yet would still be extremely hard-pressed to predict the outcome of our own domestic politics. One example I know I'm going to get a great deal of flak for by citing is the case of Chalabi, who was widely viewed as someone who would more or less fade into obscurity after being cut off from his Western backers since he had no domestic support inside Iraq. Instead, he emerged as a potential candidate for the Iraqi prime ministership and currently occupies a position in the government that his detractors would have assured us would have been impossible back in the spring of 2004. Similarly, Allawi is also still extremely active in Iraqi politics and is currently trying to set up an opposition bloc despite the widespread view among most observers that he was/is a CIA asset.

* A lot of scrutiny is being put on the vote totals in Nineveh and Diyala with good reason, but one question I have is why there's been so much suggestion that the "yes" totals are inflated in southern provinces but next to none on the possibility that there's been any in Anbar or Salahuddin. If anything, it would seem that the Sunnis have more of a reason in terms of simple demographics to cheat than the Shi'ites in the southern provinces do.

Ultimately, I think it's probably best to adopt a "wait and see" policy at this point and wait to see what the Electoral Commission decides. One thing I will advise though, is for those watching the referendum process unfold in Iraq not to use this as an excuse to settle old scores about voting disputes in our own country. In addition to displaying one's own provincialism, this also misses the full scope of the situation for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that Americans have voted on an entirely new constitution before. The stakes are much, much higher this time around, if for no other reason than that in our own country no political faction maintains well-organized militias on the order of the peshmerga or the Badr Brigades.

In an e-mail conversation with a friend of mine in Washington earlier today, I tried to the best of my ability to explain why I thought the prospects for civil war in Iraq were less likely than are generally believed. One point that I forgot to mention was that at this point all sides seem to be playing the political game except for Zarqawi, whose followers as I noted earlier were going to continue their attacks no matter what happened with respect to the referendum. As long as all the major factions keep playing politics rather than reaching for their weapons, I think that there's a good chance that Iraq is on its way to establishing a stable political system and would consider both Allawi's attempt to form an opposition bloc as well as the news that several major players in the United Iraqi Alliance are planning to run separately in the December election as positive steps in this development. In the interest of seeing that through to its conclusion, I think we would all do well to sit back and see what the Electoral Commission and the international observers have to say on this score.

Posted by at 08:19 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 18, 2005

Stand Up, Sit Down

The Few, The Proud

Most discussions about Iraq, and our eventual ability to withdraw troops from the area, center around the achievement of certain milestones. The elections last January were one such benchmark, the constitutional referendum another, and in December there will be a second round of elections which hold the promise of actual Sunni involvement. While each of these steps forward are encouraging on their own, and hopefully each is contributing to an overall positive momentum, the most important indicia of our ability to withdraw substantial numbers of troops in good conscience remains the stability of the nation of Iraq and that country's ability to quell the various insurgencies and form a cohesive and inclusive state.

Despite increasing calls by politicians on both sides of the aisle, I do not believe we should withdraw our troops until it is clear (as close as possible) that a full blown civil war will not erupt in our absence, that the nation of Iraq will not fragment into sub-states (possibly failed states) and/or that the country will not be overrun by foreign elements. It is our ability to forestall such a large scale civil war and breaking up of the country that is the most compelling argument for the continued presence of our armed forces - en masse. This rationale does not necessarily subside because a constitution has been approved or an elected assembly is sworn in. In too many ways, they are not as dependent on each other as we would like.

One of the factors often referred to as helping to create the environment of stability needed is the formation of an Iraqi Army. As Bush is fond of saying, "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." But if our interest is truly staving off a larger civil war, and preventing the fragmentation of the nation, then we should reconsider what lies behind that simple edict. It is not enough to "stand up" an Iraqi army. We must pay attention to the kind of Iraqi army we are helping to form or we might in fact be engaging in a counterproductive exercise - in the process, we could be unwittingly helping to bring about the very scenarios we hope most to avoid. Allow me to explain.

First of all, we need to be careful of the quality and type of soldiers we recruit (an obvious statement, but easier said than done). Dr. Morton Halperin, writing at Democracy Arsenal, discusses some of the historic lessons from Vietnam and how they relate to our current efforts in Iraq. According to Halperin, the process of forming the South Vietnamese army was plagued by three slightly different phenomena (familiar to our current predicament). First:

In Vietnam we learned after it was over that about one third of those we armed and trained were actually in the Viet Cong Army. This meant surprise operations were impossible and a significant part of our force was actually on the other side. There is every reason to believe that this is true now in Iraq.
In Vietnam, another roughly one third of the trainees in the Republic of Vietnam's army (ARVN) would quickly take the weapons they were given and sell them on the black market. In Iraq we again see signs of the same thing with large desertion levels and US weapons showing up in insurgency hands.
And third:
The remaining ARVN troops, neither secretly the enemy or ready to desert and sell what they had been given, were in it for the pay and for the prestige and the opportunity to plunder. It was no wonder that despite years of training and the provision of equipment far superior to the enemy the ARVN was never capable of winning either the guerrilla war or the full scale battles that marked the final stages of the conflict. This was not for lack of training but for lack of commitment.
As Halperin points out, the Iraqis don't necessarily need training as much as motivation and loyalty. The various militias, for example, fight quite well without deserting even though they lack the advantage of superior equipment and advanced tactical instruction. What they do have is commitment and loyalty in spades. The task, and it's a daunting one, is to field an Iraqi army made up of soldiers that are highly motivated, committed to the larger purpose (not just looking for a paycheck), and that owe their allegiance first and foremost to the Iraqi nation - and not to one or more ethnic, sectarian or tribal groups. Given these lofty standards (made less accessible by the polarizing effect of sectarian/ethnic violence), it is easy to understand how the number of stand alone battalions has gone from three to one. This article on the state of the recruitment and training of Iraq's police forces, written by a captain in the US Army, highlights many of the same impediments flagged by Halperin vis a vis the army.

You and Whose Army?

The other big concern in administering this process is that the eventual army be composed of more than just Shiites and Kurds. As mentioned above, conflicting loyalties being what they are, if there is not enough of a Sunni presence in the new Iraqi army it becomes more likely that the institution will become a vehicle of certain factions to the exclusion and detriment of others. Garrisoning Shiites and Kurds in Sunni regions is likely to escalate, not defuse, tensions. Put simply, we could be funding, training and equipping one or two parts of a three way civil war and making that outcome more likely by putting sparks nearer the tinderbox. Tom Lasseter, writing for Knight Ridder, offers an invaluable look at just how problematic the issue of split loyalties in the new Iraqi army really is.

The Bush administration's exit strategy for Iraq rests on two pillars: an inclusive, democratic political process that includes all major ethnic groups and a well-trained Iraqi national army. But a week spent eating, sleeping and going on patrol with a crack unit of the Iraqi army - the 4,500-member 1st Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Division - suggests that the strategy is in serious trouble. Instead of rising above the ethnic tension that's tearing their nation apart, the mostly Shiite troops are preparing for, if not already fighting, a civil war against the minority Sunni population.
Lasseter moves from the general to the specific, discussing the case of Swadi Ghilan whose two sons and daughter were brutally gunned down in broad daylight by what were most likely Sunni insurgents.
Ghilan is a major in the Iraqi army and a Shiite Muslim, the sect that makes up some 60 percent of Iraq's population. Now, more than ever, the grieving father says he wants to hunt down and kill not only Sunni guerrilla fighters but also Sunnis who give those fighters shelter and support. By that, he means killing most Sunnis in Iraq.

"There are two Iraqs; it's something that we can no longer deny," Ghilan said. "The army should execute the Sunnis in their neighborhoods so that all of them can see what happens, so that all of them learn their lesson."

Ghilan's army unit is responsible for security in western Baghdad, where many Sunnis live. But the soldiers are overwhelmingly Shiite, and, like Ghilan, they're seeking revenge against the Sunnis who oppressed them during Saddam Hussein's rule.

In defense of Ghilan, and his comrades, the Shiites have undoubtedly suffered much in the past at the hands of Saddam's regime and continue to suffer to this day as the insurgencies rage. But if civil war is to be averted, we must find some means of controlling these all-too-human impulses. Creating mixed units would, hopefully, be one way to achieve this. If not, Shiite units could run roughshod over Sunni regions driving more and more into the ranks of the insurgencies (thus creating a downward spiral of violence). Unfortunately, recruiting Sunnis has been difficult, despite the laudable intentions of the American forces.

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad familiar with Iraqi army operations said American officers are concerned about the lack of Sunnis in the Iraqi forces and have started a massive recruiting campaign. In the past three months, some 4,000 Sunnis have been recruited and are undergoing training, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

"We never intended to create a Shiite army," the official said. "Clearly, one of our number one concerns going forward ... is sectarianism ... that revenge mentality."

Nevertheless, as Lasseter points out, "American commanders often refer to the 1st Brigade as a template for the future of Iraq's military," further, "It's one of the rare Iraqi units with a command competent at the brigade level, instead of just smaller company or battalion-based units." This is troubling because, upon closer inspection, this is not exactly the type of unit that would embody the spirit of loyalty to a larger Iraq and ability to transcend the ethnic/sectarian divides needed to head off the potential disaster looming on the horizon. In fact, there is an unsettling relationship between non-governmental religious figures and military personnel - an unhinging of civilian, governmental control of the armed forces which is a linchpin of most successful democracies.

The Iraqi troops consult with American advisers daily. On big raids in dangerous areas, the Americans often take the lead with their superior firepower.

But day to day, the Iraqi officers mostly run their own show, carrying out most of the patrols and running checkpoints without help. Increasingly, however, they look and operate less like an Iraqi national army unit and more like a Shiite militia.

Shwail, the 1st brigade's top officer, regularly reviews important decisions, including troop distribution, with a prominent local Shiite cleric who's closely aligned with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite religious figure in Iraq.

The brigade and its sectarian leanings has alarmed not only Sunnis in the area but also other Iraqi military commanders.

They said they worry that a mostly Shiite military unit will follow religious clerics before national leaders, risking a breakdown in the army along sectarian lines.

"It is a mistake," said Col. Fadhil al-Barawary, the Kurdish commander of the Iraqi army's commando battalion, housed on the same base with the 1st Brigade. "The danger is that when there is strife between Sunnis and Shiites in the neighborhoods it creates problems" with loyalties.

Barawary continued: "It's a total mistake to have soldiers taking orders from the marja'iya. It puts us all in danger." Barawary was referring to the ruling council of Shiite clerics, whose word is law for most Shiites in Iraq.

Predictably, this brigade, comprised of Shiites taking cues from religious leaders, is prone to view the current struggle in sectarian terms (rightly or wrongly), which doesn't bode well for those that insist that as we fill in the ranks of an Iraqi army, we can withdraw from the region. An army like this might actually increase the chances of civil war, rather than provide stability and a sense of nationalism.

The brigade last week raided the home of Saleh al-Mutlak, one of the most prominent Sunni politicians in the country, a day after an Iraqi soldier was shot and killed in the neighborhood. Soldiers said some gunfire had come from the direction of Mutlak's house during the raid on his neighborhood.

Arab satellite news stations carried images of a car with its windows smashed in Mutlak's driveway, and Mutlak held a news conference, saying that the soldiers who came into his home were thugs.

Sgt. Maj. Asad al-Zubaidi said Mutlak was lucky he wasn't shot.

"When we are in charge of security the people will follow a law that says you will be sentenced to prison if you speak against the government, and for people like Saleh Mutlak there will be execution," Zubaidi said. "Thousands of people are being killed by Saleh Mutlak and these dogs."

Other soldiers from the brigade reacted to the shooting of one from their ranks in a Sunni neighborhood:

"Even if you people, you Sunnis, roll tanks on our heads we will not give this country back to you," Mousawi said. "It's ours now."

Two days after the shooting, Sgt. Ahmed Sabri stood outside the Umm al Qura mosque, home to the militant Sunni Muslim Scholars Association. The mosque is just down the road from where Jabar was shot.

"Every man we've had killed and wounded is because of that mosque. Thousands and thousands of Shiites are being killed, which is why they're joining the army," Sabri said. "Just let us have our constitution and elections in December and then we will do what Saddam did - start with five people from each neighborhood and kill them in the streets and then go from there."

Asked if he worried about possible fighting between his men and the Sunnis at Umm al Qura, the brigade's command sergeant major, Hassan Kadhum, smiled.

"Your country had to have a civil war," he said. "It will be the same here. Everything in this world has its price. In Iraq the price for peace will be blood."

Kadhum thought the matter over for a few more moments.

"There will be a day when we take that mosque and make it an army headquarters," Kadhum said.

Adding another layer to this conundrum, some of the troops in this brigade even indicated a willingness, if not latent desire, to turn on American forces if and when their religious leaders so instruct them:

Some Iraqi troops went a step further, saying they were only awaiting word from the marja'iya before turning on American forces. Although many Shiites are grateful for the overthrow of Saddam, they also are suspicious of U.S. motives. Those suspicions partly stem from the failure of the first Bush administration to support a U.S.-encouraged Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991. Saddam suppressed it and slaughtered thousands.

"In Amariyah last week, a car bomb hit a U.S. Humvee and their soldiers began to shoot randomly. They killed a lot of innocent civilians. I was there; I saw it," said Sgt. Fadhal Yahan. "This happens all the time. If they keep doing this, the people will attack them. And we are part of the people."

Sgt. Jawad Majid chimed in: "We have our marja'iya and we are waiting for them to decide when the time to fight (the Americans) is, when it is no longer time to be silent." [emphasis added throughout]

It should go without saying that there are no easy solutions to this and so many of the other problems hampering our efforts in Iraq. Forging an army that represents all factions in Iraq (consisting of well-intentioned and motivated recruits) and one capable of rising above the continuous violence perpetrated primarily by certain sectarian factions (the Sunnis overwhelmingly initially, but that is changing) in order to maintain a sense of duty and loyalty to the larger nation will be enormously difficult. Frequent setbacks and recalibrations should be expected.

But much hangs in the balance, so getting this right is worth the political capital, wherewithal, time, resources and effort necessary to see it through. If the interest of creating an Iraqi army and police force as a fig leaf for our exit supersedes the interest of establishing a functional and representative version of each, we may be doing worse than wasting our time. We could be actively working against our stated goals. That is no way to avoid a wide ranging civil war that could easily morph into regional war.

Posted by at 05:01 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

October 17, 2005

Thoughts on the constitution referendum

The referendum on the Iraqi constitution is over and, by all accounts, went rather swimmingly under circumstances. My colleague Bill Roggio takes a pretty good look at the situation and concludes that the end-result is net victory over al-Qaeda in Iraq. I concur with this assessment, but it is worth noting this passage from Anthony Cordesman's definitive Iraq's Evolving Insurgency in which he states several times:

There also will almost certainly be at least another year of intensive fighting against Islamist and extremist elements that will reject inclusion in the political process almost regardless of what political system emerges during the coming elections. There are only three ways to deal with Iraq’s most hard-line elements: Kill them, imprison them, or drive them out of the country. There is a very real war to fight, and it is still unclear when or if Iraqi forces will really be ready to fight it with anything like the total numbers required.

This is a key realization that needs to be understood alongside any celebration of the very real success achieved yesterday with respect to the constitutional referendum. However, the realization that Zarqawi does not have a significant popular support base inside Iraq was one of the major events that came out of the January 30 elections, as was the fact that he is extremely limited with regard to carrying out attacks outside his geographic base in the Sunni Triangle. Both of these realizations were extremely important developments, as they were both extremely unclear prior January 30, but it is nice to see that both have withheld the test of time with respect to the current referendum.

That said, Zarqawi does not require the support of all or even most Iraqi Sunnis to continue his terror campaign. Without getting very far into the numbers game, if only has a core of 5,000 fighters about 50,000 supporters, that should be more than enough to sustain al-Qaeda in Iraq and its allies like Ansar al-Sunnah for the time being. Note that this doesn't even begin to address those insurgent groups that are participating in political discussions through their various proxies like the Association of Muslim Scholars or similar organizations.

Now please don't get me wrong, it's certainly wonderful to note that so many Iraqis aren't buying what Zarqawi is selling or that his operational reach is limited. These are all extremely good things and should be recognized as such by everyone, as I'm sure my colleague Eric will agree. There are now a serious questions, however, as far as what happens next.

As it now stands, the constitution looks almost assured of passage despite the strong Sunni efforts to defeat it. The big issue now, though, is what comes next for the Sunnis. Do they return to the insurgency in earnest, do they wholeheartedly embrace the political game, or some combination of the two? Or will their efforts as a community splinter, with various groups going one way and others going another?

Eric expressed much the same concerns in this comment:

Will this vote convince the insurgencies to stop? Will it drain support from the Sunni regions? Will it help to bridge the divides between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites? Will even the Shiites and Kurds continue to work together now that the document they wanted is enshrined? What exactly about this vote will translate into any of those positive outcomes? What is the mechanism?

I honestly don't know the answers to those questions one way or another, but my guess is that we'll all find out pretty soon. One thing to keep in mind though is that earlier quote from Cordesman that even if everything goes absolutely wonderful as far as the political process is concerned, the Iraqis are still going to have a major fight on their hands against Zarqawi and his allies. Depending on how the Sunnis choose to approach the political process from this point forward could either accelerate or draw out that fight, but either way it's one that's going to happen sooner or later.

One final point that I once made to my good friend Aziz some time ago on the issue of what it means to have a real democracy in Iraq is for both sides to accept the results of the popular will without resorting to violence. In this way, I actually thought that it was something of a positive development for Allawi to lose the January 30 elections and then give up power voluntarily without going underground or declaring some kind of a permanent state of emergency to keep the United Iraqi Alliance from taking charge of the parliament. In a similar way, if Iraq is going to be a successful democracy, particularly once US troops are withdrawn, the Sunnis are going to have to accept the results of the constitutional referendum without going underground and launching a campaign to bring down the government. Same thing goes for both sides with respect to the December elections and so on and I think that ultimately that's going to be the biggest challenge for all quarters to accept given that much of Iraqi politics prior to this point have more or less been a zero-sum game.

Posted by at 02:44 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

October 15, 2005

Loose Lips

In light of a couple of recent posts (discussing Zal Khalilzad's last minute brokered deal to punt the major issues in the Iraqi consititution until a second constitutional panel and the potential political breathing room this might create), I can't say I find this very encouraging (via praktike):

Shiite leaders said the Sunni Muslims wouldn't win enough seats in the next Assembly to make major changes to the document next year. The document will remain largely the same when voted on again.

"The changes made (this week) on the permanent constitution were not very radical," said Saad Jawad Khandeel of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a powerful Shiite political party. "Changes are normal, but I do not expect big changes" next year.

Convincing the Sunnis to view the political process as a legitmate means to achieve their goals, and in turn splintering the insurgencies, is sort of contingent on not telling fence-sitting Sunnis they don't stand a chance in the political arena. It makes Zal's hard fought compromise look like a case of the Shiites and Kurds appeasing the American interlocutor, with every intention of going back to business as usual at the first available opportunity. Don't these guys realize that when performing political Kabuki theather, the actors are supposed to stay in character. At least for a couple of weeks. Sheesh.

On the positive side, it looks like turnout was enormous, and violence relatively tame. Of course, this encouraging turnout will mean more if it is not just a popular expression of the deep divides between the various factions. Any chance for broader than expected support for the constitution? Let's hope.

Posted by at 08:41 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

October 14, 2005

Thoughts on Nalchik

The attack on Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria is yet another sign of the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. While this is the first high-profile attack by Basayev's Chechen fighters and their allies since Beslan, this is unfortunately just the latest indication of the waning Russian control in the region. For some time now, there have been nearly as many clashes between Russian forces and Chechen fighters in Dagestan and Ingushetia as there are inside Chechnya proper and Basayev's followers now consist of large numbers of Dagestani and Ingush Muslims in addition to actual Chechens and Arab al-Qaeda fighters. With the death of Aslan Maskhadov at the hands of Russian forces, the chances for a negotiated peace in the Caucasus is now virtually nil and Maskhadov's successor Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev is little more than a puppet for Basayev, Doku Umarov, and his Arab al-Qaeda backers Abu Hafs al-Urduni and Abu Omar al-Saif, both of whom have called for attacks on US troops in Iraq.

Gateway Pundit has done a pretty good job of rounding up the information on the Nalchik attacks, though it seems that the FSB source that originally claimed that Basayev and Umarov had been killed is now retracting the claims. My own experience with reading Russian media coverage of the Chechen conflict is that it is heavily censored and that it now appears that the Russians are unlikely to acknowledge just how badly they were hurt until they have a better opportunity to assess the situation, particularly how a force as large as 300 fighters according to some reports were able to hit Nalchik without them getting any prior warning about it, for instance.

As for Yarmuk, the Basayev-aligned group that appears to have carried out the attacks, Andrew McGregor has the closest thing to a profile that I've been able to find on the group courtesy of the Jamestown Foundation:

Both the KBR and the neighboring Karachai–Cherkessian Republic (KCR) have supplied a steady source of fighters to the conflict in Chechnya. Many began their careers in the Islamic Peacekeeping Army that invaded Dagestan in 1999. While Chechens are routinely blamed for all bombings and other terrorist acts, it is the Turkic-speaking Karachays and Balkars that have actually been prosecuted for these incidents. An example is the 1999 apartment block bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, where blame was laid on Chechnya but all the individuals actually charged for these acts hail from Karachaevo-Cherkessia or Kabardino-Balkaria.

... Jamaats (Islamic communities) began to emerge in the KCR and KBR in 1996 as a reaction to the opening of the former Soviet Republics to the outside world of Islam. With the established structures of "official Islam" held in distrust, a younger generation began to seek connections with "true Islam", which to many meant adoption of Salafist beliefs current in the Arabian heartland of the faith but foreign to the North Caucasus. Some jamaats are entirely peaceful, while others have felt the lure of the message of jihad and adopted armed revolt. The Yarmuk Jamaat is of the latter type, having been formed in 2002 from Balkar followers of Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev in the Pankisi Gorge.

Other young Muslims have turned to the leadership of the self-described Emir of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria, Musa Mukhozhev. Mukhozhev's Salafist Islam has experienced a sudden growth in popularity as many young people abandon the region's traditional Sufi beliefs. Russia's new Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliyev (himself a Tatar Muslim) has disparaged the republic as a breeding-ground for foreign-supported "Wahhabism."

... In August 2004, the Yarmuk Jamaat announced the beginning of military operations in the KBR. [4] The statement rejected terrorism, calling it the preferred method of Russian security services: "We are not fighting against women or children, like Russian invaders are doing in Ichkeria (Chechnya). We are not blowing up sleeping people, like (the) FSB of the Russian Federation does." (The last sentence refers to alleged FSB responsibility for the 1999 apartment bombings). The author expresses anger at the Russian forces, but focuses on the divisive corruption of the "mafia clans" that lead the republic: "These mere apologies for rulers, who sold themselves to the invaders, have made drug addiction, prostitution, poverty, crime, depravity, drunkenness and unemployment prosper in our Republic."

A January 21 statement is the most detailed exposition of Yarmuk's aims. [6] It begins with a summary of historic injustices suffered by the Muslims of the Northwest Caucasus at Russian hands while maintaining that Shari'a law has been the legitimate legal code in the region since 1807. The authors avoid reference to radical Islamic thought, preferring to establish the orthodoxy of their movement by citing the Hanafite legal code (one of the four accepted schools of Sunni Islamic law) as justification for beginning a "defensive [and hence obligatory] jihad." Emphasizing personal reasoning and exercise of judgment, the Hanafite code differs greatly from the rigid and inflexible terms of the Hanbalite legal school followed in Saudi Arabia. The Hanafite interpretation is traditional in the Caucasus, and is a touchstone in the author's appeal to historic resentment of Russian rule.

The Yarmuk statements are an unusual blend of Islamic militancy and local concerns (extending even to the scandalous behavior of a local pop singer). They describe an indigenous movement that derives its purpose from regional and traditional interpretations of Islam rather than imported "Wahhabism". Indeed, foreign solutions to the problems of the KBR are explicitly rejected – Western democracy is deemed to practice a double standard in its dealings with the Russian Federation, while there is "nothing but betrayal to be expected from the fattened womanlike ‘sheikhs' of the East."

The Yarmuk manifestoes call for political change through moral revolution. Even the Russians are warned that their rule in the North Caucasus is crippling them, "morally and physically". The KBR's large Orthodox minority and tiny Jewish community are both offered the protection of dhimmi status under Shari'a law. [7] The statements were probably the work of Yarmuk leader Muslim Atayev and his associate Ilyas Bichukayev, both graduates of the University of Nalchik. The two were both killed in a day-long gun battle in Nalchik on January 27.

According to Russian accounts, Yarmuk is now led by Astimirov Anzor and Ilyas Gorchkhanov, who were previously wanted in connection with an earlier attack on the regional branch of the Federal Drug Control Service in Nalchik. The reference to Yarmuk as non-Wahhabi (Russian insistence to the contrary) is somewhat curious, as Gelayev himself was a Wahhabi (abeit of a more moderate variety than Basayev) and he certainly fell in with the Wahhabi-controlled Chechen enclave in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge prior to his death at the hands of the Russian military. Whatever the status of Yarmuk's religious orientation, there seems to be little doubt as to their ties to Basayev:

... Though Maskhadov may have ordered the creation of these new fronts, it is the remarkably well-traveled Basayev who has demonstrated operational control. Basayev spent six weeks in KBR in 2003, narrowly escaping capture in a firefight at Baksan.

The Jamestown Foundation's descriptions of the restrictions on Islam in Kabardino-Balkaria and a healthy dose of local corruption also gives one some idea of how extremism might take root there:

The KBR government has imposed restrictions on Islam that recall Soviet rule. All mosques save one in Nalchik have been closed, and the wearing of beards or praying outside the home marks an individual for arrest. Some young Muslims detained by police have had crosses shaved into their scalps. A list of 400 people deemed security threats has been compiled, though some suspect the list contains many non-militants whom the regime dislikes. Mukhozhev notes that "It is very hard for us to keep the youth from retaliating. The authorities' policy cannot be described as sensible – rather, it is provocative." [2] The FSB maintains that the KBR has become a base for terrorism and religious extremism.[3]

I suspect the FSB is correct in that regard, though they're likely confusing the effect with the cause in this instance.

Both Russians and Islamists accuse the other of provoking war in the KBR. Russia has steadily increased the number of soldiers, police and secret services in the republics over the last year and incidents of torture, arbitrary arrest, and disappearances are now commonplace. The Yarmuk statements suggest that Islam will serve as a rallying point for young people tired of repressive rule, corruption and lack of economic opportunity. The war in Chechnya continues to serve as the catalyst for the violence, and the Kremlin's pursuit of a military solution there ensures an escalating cycle of insurgency and repression in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Now before I get accused of sympathizing or legitimizing Basayev's jackboots, do understand that I nothing but abhorrence for their methods and as long-time readers know I don't consider there to be much of a distinction between Yarmuk, the Riyadus-Salikhin, the International Islamic Peacekeeping Brigade, and every other jihadi group active in the Caucasus and Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq (particularly since they've openly thrown in with him), especially if you look at where the money's coming from and who's ultimately calling the shots. However, basic counter-insurgency, especially if the insurgency is taking place in your own backyard, is to try and win over as much of the population as possible. Accepting that Kabardino-Balkaria is majority Muslim and is going to remain so for the immediate future, these types of Russian policies only serve to feed into resentment in the area and gain more recruits to the banner of people like Basayev.

That all said, nothing can excuse the horrific actions of Yarmuk, particularly since the majority Muslim population of Nalchik (particularly those who just happened to be at the store, the airport, or the school on the day in question) weren't occupying anything except perhaps their town. Today's events are yet another grim reminder of how al-Qaeda and its allies, among whom must be counted Basayev, Abu Hafs al-Urduni, and Abu Omar al-Saif, have once again twisted the Chechen independence movement and instead turned into yet another front in their global jihad.

Posted by at 10:08 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

October 13, 2005

Intrigue, Vectors and a Mosaic of Fault Lines

Vector Vexation

Since the punditocracy has shown a predilection for making comparisons between Iraq's struggle to forge a constitution with our own in the late 18th Century, I thought it would be worthwhile to inject the philosophical thesis of one of the framers, James Madison, into the mix. The always recommended Publius from Legal Fiction provides an insightful backdrop:

When Madison and others were arguing in favor of the large democratic republic now known as the U.S. of A., the conventional wisdom was not on their side. The prevailing view was that, in order to succeed, a republic had to be small and largely homogenous because "factions" would inevitably develop. The fear was either that diverse factions in a large republic would make it unstable, or that one faction would seize power and oppress the minority (or even the majority). The larger the republic became, the more likely it would be that these problems would arise - or so everyone thought.

In the Federalist Papers (#10), Madison - developing an idea of empiricist David Hume (one of my heroes) - turned that wisdom on its head. He argued that the best way to preserve stability and prevent tyranny of a majority or minority faction was to increase the size of the republic. This is an important contribution to political thought....Madison's argument was that by increasing the size of the country, you increase the diversity of interests and factions, which in turn makes it much more difficult for any one faction to seize power or act against the public interest. In other words, the bigger your group gets, the harder it becomes for any one faction to control it - and given the history of mankind, that's a good thing. Here's Madison in his own words:

The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.
What's really cool is that you can clearly see the influence of Newtonian physics (and Enlightenment rationalism more generally) at play in Federalist #10. The various factions are like vectors that will cancel each other out or push the governmental body towards the common good (or at least away from corruption and tyranny). It's all very logical.
One can immediately see how such a theory is relevant to the current dynamic in Iraq, with the various competing ethnic and religious factions, but Publius saves us some of the work by connecting the dots in a subsequent post.
The vectors are really the key to the theory of the big republic. The idea is that they become so diverse and overlapping in a large republic that they result in fluid coalitions that vary by issue. Because it's hard for any one faction (or interest group) to hold together on all issues, it's harder for that faction to maintain the power necessary to undermine the government.

At first glance, you would think that the theory of the big republic should give us hope for Iraq's future. After all, the great fear is that ethnic factionalism will rip the country apart - or that one faction will come to dominate the others. However, by creating a national republic of elected representatives, the factions would be multiplied. For instance, urban Shi'a would have common cause with urban Sunni on certain issues, and so on. The idea would be to drown the ethnic factions within a sea of Newtonian vectors and shifting coalitions.

It sounds nice, but I don't think it will work in Iraq. And here's why. I think the ethnic tensions run so deep and are so bitter that they will prevent new vectors from forming. In a sense, the tensions have formed impenetrable floodwalls around each ethnic group that prevent other common interests from "leaking through" to forge the shifting coalitions so essential to Madison's theory. Fellow urban-dwellers from rival ethnic camps who might otherwise have a common interest won't be able to get past the ethnic hatred. This centuries-old hatred will prevent the new urban coalition from forming.

Pat Lang offers a similar, though somewhat different, perspective (via praktike):

The Sunni Arabs are supporting the insurgencies because they are unwilling to accept the radical re-distribution of power and wealth on the basis of "one man, one vote" that we are sponsoring. Why are we doing that? It is because we believe, deeply, that justice in voting rights for INDIVIDUALS produces government that embodies a "National Compact" that is accepted by all. The Middle East is not like that. In the Middle East people self-identify in a number of ways, only one of which is at the level of the individual. More importantly, people there predominately see themselves as members of COMMUNITIES of various kinds whether they be ethno-religious, tribal, clan, regional or just plain family. A system that strips an individual's community of power and wealth is inevitably going to be seen as HOSTILE and to be defeated.
Despite the pessimism, I believe Publius (and maybe Lang as well) would agree that the value of Zal Khalilzad's nominal breakthrough with respect to the constitution was that it might buy time for the formation of cross-sectarian/ethnic "vectors" or "non-communitarian" enclaves. If the agreement to re-form a constitutional panel after the December elections can sap some of the support for, and participation in, the various insurgencies, then Zal will have created the requisite space to allow for the softening of ethnic/sectarian boundaries. Put off the inevitable day of reckoning as long as possible and hope that a renewed national entity can supersede the more communal impulses. Even if it is only enough to forestall the commencement of an all-out civil war, it might carve out the breathing room necessary to allow Iraqis to begin identifying along less rigid lines and to act on what are, underneath it all, vastly differing goals, aspirations and conceptions of what life should look like in the new Iraq that don't necessarily neatly form along strict ethnic/sectarian lines. Without the emergence of non-communal based vectors, Iraq's future is bleak.

Fault Lines and Tectonic Shifts

There is evidence that the political situation may, in fact, be more fluid than some have warned. The cross-ethnic alliance between the Kurds and Shiites is showing signs of fraying. Recently, there appeared to be a rift forming within this marriage of convenience, with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (a Kurdish leader) calling on Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (a Shiite and leader of the UIA) to resign his post over issues related to power sharing and the resettlement of the hotly contested city of Kirkuk. If the Kurds bolted the coalition, the UIA would have to look for another partner in order to maintain a majority in the assembly - no easy task in the current state of affairs. Of course, this could have been just one more example of Kurdish brinkmanship in order to get a better deal, and faster, on Kirkuk. Nevertheless, it is an indication of how fragile at least this alliance is.

Beyond the Kurdish/Shiite sniping, there is an increased interest in the future of the UIA - which is by no means a settled question. Many are speculating that the UIA will splinter into several groups each with differing agendas, ahead of the December elections. The grand coalition of Shiite parties has, after all, always been a somewhat heterodox conglomeration of characters that are not all natural political allies outside of their common religious affiliation.

One of the main irritants in the UIA universe has always been the brash, though cunning, Moqtada al-Sadr. Throughout the occupation, Sadr has, with surprising skill, been cultivating a political niche for his faction, casting himself as the independent voice of the downtrodden (a natural fit for the heir to Sadr City), in opposition to the Americans and those that work with or for them. Rhetorically, he often heaps dispersions on the UIA leadership calling them corrupt, obsequious to the CPA and unable to deliver basic services to the people (thus capitalizing on what are grim realities of electricity shortages, unemployment, and other infrastructural decay). Sadr's independent streak even went as far as to lead him to take a hostile stance to the draft constitution - before he watered down his opposition in the face of mounting pressure.

There are indications that Sistani is taking this posturing by Sadr seriously by proceeding to distance himself from the current Iraqi government that has proven to be less than effective, and not entirely popular even amongst Iraq's Shiites. Just last week there was this statement from Sistani (via Swopa):

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has told his closest followers not to run in December elections or support any candidates, aides said, suggesting no party stands to win his backing.

That could spell difficulties for the parties in the already much criticised government coalition, who profited in January's poll from a wide perception that they had Sistani's blessing.[...]

A statement from Sistani's office said any official of his clerical organisation who runs on a party list or openly supports candidates will "lose his status as a representative".

"Sayyid Sistani bans his representatives from nominating themselves in the next election after they proposed to run," said the statement.

In addition to Sistani cutting ties with the UIA to counter Sadr's advances, SCIRI's Badr Corp has had more than a few run-ins with Sadr's Mahdi militia. In other words, this is not one big happy family and each player is intent on jockeying for its own larger share of power. If the UIA dissolves, for lack of Sistani's blessing or otherwise, I predict we will see Iyad Allawi make a comeback for the December elections (to be held whether or not there is a "yes" or "no" vote on the constitutional referendum) in an effort to cobble together pieces of the various factions into something of a fourth way - distinct from ethnic/sectarian identification (in fact, Allawi will probably be on the scene in December regardless of the UIA's demise or continued existence - despite the fact that some 20 members of his cabinet were just indicted on corruption charges).

Allawi, or a politician in the same vein (the unsinkable Ahmed Chalabi?), will try to lure the more secular and/or disillusioned Shiites from the UIA bloc as well as Kurdish and Sunni groups willing to coalesce around a common political purpose. There certainly are numerous Sunni factions from which Allawi could seek to forge alliances, and the Sunnis are far from monolithic in their outlook for the future. Much will depend on the tack taken by Sunni voters in the December elections, and the extent to which the politicians they elect will feel constrained by communal demands ala Pat Lang above.

Similarly, the Kurds (though acting as one) are actually, at the very least, two competing groups so a fourth faction might be able to lure a few outliers away from the fold (though I imagine, as always, the level of autonomy and the status of Kirkuk will be the guiding principles of any Kurdish politician). The question remains, though, will Sistani give a group of secularists his blessing? Without it, could this fourth faction really garner enough electoral support to supplant the more religious parties, or even become a player in a future coalition? I think there is at least a possibility of the latter occuring. If successful, this could be the fruition of the Madisonian call for the formation of "vectors" - especially if it forces other groups to react in kind by reaching out across ethnic/sectarian lines. It will test whether there are indeed impenetrable boundaries around each faction that prevents inter-factional cooperation. Unfortunately, both Allawi and Chalabi are less than ideal choices to be the uniting force behind the movement to broach these divides. Each has more than enough baggage, dubious ethical character and a historical closeness to the Americans that will not help in establishing their legitimacy or appeal.

My guess is that Zal Khalilzad has been working to bolster the fourth faction (regardless of its figurehead) behind the scenes, while trying to plant the seeds of dissension amongst the competing members of the UIA - the better to counter the prospect of Iranian influence over Iraq should a unified UIA continue to dominate the Iraqi political landscape. But any attempt to encourage intra-communal fragmentation bears its own risks. As Anthony Shadid noted, there is a dark side to the stoking of internecine hostilities:

This question of civil war is really pressing, and I think it is actually important to say whether one is under way or not. I believe it is, but maybe not in the way we've fashioned it in the past: Sunni, Shiite and Kurd. When I think of the civil war in Iraq, I'm struck by the fault lines that are getting less attention. There is the sometimes explosive rivalry between Hakim's Badr militia and the Sadr forces. We've seen time and again the flaring of differences in western Iraq between insurgent groups. (As far back as last year, I heard an Iraqi guerrilla from Fallujah, of the nationalist variety, vowing to shoot any Arab expat trying to give him orders.) We should be careful in not minimizing differences between the two Kurdish parties. Understandably our attention is focused on Zarqawi's threats to wage an unrelenting campaign against Shiites. But in the long run, it's the intra-communal battles that I think are more decisive and worrisome.
In Iraq, the political game is afoot. That in itself is worth noting. The stakes are monumental, and the question remains: will the intrigue end in tragedy, or are these just the growing pains of a society learning to adjust to the parameters of a Madisonian "big republic." The prospects for success are not aided by the fact that there are so many armed groups involved, and the associated violence that continues to ravage the nation. I'm not overly optimistic, but time will hopefully prove me wrong.

Posted by at 07:33 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

October 12, 2005

A Bridge Not Far Enough?

There was something of a breakthrough in the Iraqi constitution drafting process announced late yesterday (as was noted by reader LH). Credit goes to Zalmay Khalilzad, who has proven his mettle as one of the most competent and skilled appointees of the Bush Administration's foreign policy wing. He may not have achieved the broad consensus he wanted, but he was working with intractable problems and managed to compel at least some compromise. According to the New York Times:

Iraqi political leaders said they had agreed to an important last-minute change in the draft constitution on Tuesday evening in exchange for a promise by some prominent Sunni Arab leaders to give public support to the document in the nationwide referendum on Saturday.

The change would create a panel in the next parliament with the power to propose broad new revisions to the constitution. In effect, the change could give the Sunnis - who were largely shut out of the constitution-writing process - a new chance to help redraft the document after elections in December.[...]

Along with the new constitutional panel, the Iraqi leaders agreed to some smaller changes to the charter, several lawmakers said. At least two of them represented concessions to Sunni demands. One is a moderation of the so-called de-Baathfication process to root out former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party from public office, and the other is a clause providing firmer guarantees of Iraq's unity.

It remains to be seen how "important" the Sunni population deems these changes to be and whether or not they will translate into Sunni support for the draft constitution in the upcoming referendum - scheduled for October 15. As far as I can tell, the far more pressing issues deal with the ability of various groups to form near autonomous regions, and how and to what degree the proceeds from oil are divided. These remain unresolved. But at least one Sunni political organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party, has given their blessing in reaction to the concessions, and there may be more in the wings.

The Iraqi Islamic Party was the only Sunni Arab group involved in the talks, which also included the leaders of Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish political alliances and the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. Mr. Makky [a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party] said the party had acted in coordination with another major Sunni group, the Conference of the People of Iraq, which also agreed to change its stance and support the constitution.
My blog mate praktike is correct to point out that some level of skepticism is warranted when assessing the extent to which the Iraqi Islamic Party speaks for the broader Sunni masses.
I think Robert Worth may be a tad too optimistic about the clout that the Iraqi Islamic Party has among Sunni Arabs. After all, they played a remarkably similar interlocuting role during the run up to the January elections, and they were unable to have much if any effect on Sunni Arab turnout. But this is certainly better than nothing--jaw-jaw being better than war-war and whatnot. [emphasis added]
Ultimately, the success of this 11th hour change lies in ability to do just that: encourage more discussion and, hopefully, a greater willingness to forego violence in favor of the nascent political process. At least until round two.
The change would also give Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted elections in January, a significant new motive for participating in politics. The more parliament seats they win in the December elections, the better chance they would have of changing the constitutional provisions they oppose, like allowing for the creation of semiautonomous regions within Iraq.
The down side is that this is really nothing more than a quick fix, a patch on a hemorrhaging artery - but at this point, staunching the bleeding is needed to save the patient so it is, nonetheless, a net positive. If we can get enough Sunnis focused on the political process, we may be able to weaken support for at least some strains of the various insurgencies - in the short term. Unfortunately, engagement in the political process does not necessitate an abandonment of more violent tactics. The various factions are quite capable of employing multiple methods, simultaneously, to achieve their ends.

And even if the Iraqi Islamic Party's endorsement translates into a positive Sunni turnout in favor of the draft constitution, I think that the changes have done little more than kick the constitutional can down the road. The actual modifications (softer de-Baathification rules, a nod to unity) do little to assuage the main concerns that the Sunni population had with the draft - they just memorialize an agreement to talk more, later. And those talks may not necessarily lead to anything of substance.

The constitutional panel would have four months after its creation to propose changes to the document, Mr. Makky said. Those proposed changes would then be voted on by the full assembly, which would have to approve them by a two-thirds majority. The changes would then have to be approved in another popular referendum. [emphasis added]
Therein lies the real problem. Even if the Sunni population supports the constitution in the referendum (or remains indifferent), and then comes out en masse in the December elections, and the Sunnis are able to garner a substantial percentage of seats in the assembly (say, 20-25%), they would still be utterly powerless to change the constitution. While under the rosiest scenario they would have proportional representation on the new constitutional panel, any changes to the actual document would require a two-thirds majority in the assembly, and even the most delusional Sunnis don't believe that they could muster a two-thirds majority via the December elections. They are bound by the fact that, at most, they make up 20-25% of the Iraqi population.

Instead, they will need to rely on a coalition partner(s), and even then, this coalition would have to include substantial numbers of Shiites and Kurdish politicians. That is an extremely unlikely scenario given the historical, and ongoing, hostilities and the tendency (thus far) of Iraqi politicians and voters to identify strongly with ethnic and sectarian roots.

In other words, any objections that the Sunnis have to the constitution, as is, are unlikely to be remedied by the reconvening of a constitutional panel. At the end of the day, the Shiites and Kurds are holding all the cards. So, the constitutional draft is probably not going to be altered by the new panel unless the Shiites and Kurds agree. Their unwillingness to compromise further could mean that this attempt to woo the Sunnis away from an embrace of violence will ultimately fail - even if delayed by a couple of months. The hope is that a new space for dialogue has been created - but that dialogue must bear fruit or it will be all for naught. If ethnic/sectarian tensions subside as a result of the current compromise, the same impasse that plagues the process today will re-emerge after the December elections, and the same forces pulling the country in different directions will dig in. Only then, we will have milestones to point to if political cover for withdrawal is what we're hunting. Let's hope it's not.

Posted by at 02:57 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

The South Asian Earthquake and US Foreign Aid

I already noted this over at Liberals Against Terrorism, but it's something that I want to expand on now as far as the need for the US to send as much aid as possible to Pakistan right now.

As noted by the Counter-Terrorism Blog, a lot of the Pakistani jihadi groups, many of which are members of bin Laden's terrorist coalition, got hit hard in this quake. The Jamaat ud-Dawaa (JuD), which is the legal name under which the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operates in Pakistan, appears to have been hit exceedingly hard and lost most of its assets in and around the epicenter of the quake. According to Indian Army General JJ Singh and al-Sharq al-Awsat, the LeT and its allies all suffered heavy casualties, effectively neutralizing most of the terrorist training camps in Azad Kashmir and parts of the Northwest Frontier Province that had long been considered unreachable by US and Indian intelligence agencies.

This loss, however, is only going to be a temporary one, at least on the part of the LeT and I suspect several of the other Pakistani terrorist groups as well. The LeT, however, is the one I'm most worried about because it's now the de facto trainer for al-Qaeda operatives, including likely several of the 7/7 London bombers. Moreover, they also act as a secret police for al-Qaeda inside Pakistan. When al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Zubaydah was captured, he was staying at an LeT safehouse.

Like many other terrorist groups, the LeT maintains a social services wing inside of Pakistan that I described in the following manner in the threat dossier on the group that I wrote up on the group for the Manhattan Institute:

... It would seem not altogether inaccurate to compare the role played by MDI [Markaz ud-Dawa wal Irshad, a Wahhabi organization founded in 1987 by Zafar Iqbal and bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam] within the LET as being not altogether dissimilar to that assumed by the political and social services branches of Hezbollah. Both organizations maintain elaborate political and social services infrastructures designed to provide both extremist ideological direction and social welfare services in environments of poor or non-existent government control in order to build up and maintain popular support.

The influence of MDI in framing Pakistani perceptions of the LET cannot be ruled out. According to a recent article in Jang concerning the MDI’s Taiba hospital in Azad Kashmir, “According to official sources of the Markaz, around 9,000 outdoor patients visit this hospital every month to get free of cost or very inexpensive medical support. In spite of being a charity, it is considered to be the best private hospital in Azad Kashmir … The doctors are not supposed to offer treatment just for bodily ills; they also offer dawat to all their patients. They ask their Muslim patients to become better Muslims and non-Muslim patients to convert to Islam.” As long as the MDI is able to provide medical support at this scale within the context of Pakistan’s vapid health care infrastructure, support for the organization should not be expected to ebb in the near future.

While the earthquake may well have hit the group hard, it has more than sufficient resources and financial network to recoup these losses and solicit the necessary cash from its external support network, which is far larger and more successful than any of the other Pakistani jihadi groups because the LeT and its parent organizations are Wahabbi rather than Deobandi in outlook and hence are better able to solicit donations from the Gulf states.

As I noted in the same threat dossier cited above:

Through the framework of the MDI, the LET is able maintain ties to a vast array of Islamist NGOs, political parties, and guerrilla groups spanning from Western Europe to the Philippines, enabling it to draw on a wide variety of Pan-Islamist support prior to September 11, 2001. In addition, the LET’s ties to the Indian mafia don Dawood Ibrahim combined with its Salafist rather than Deobandi orientation have given the group the necessary contacts to establish itself in the Middle East as well as to recruit growing numbers of Indian Muslims into its ranks.

The establishment of the LET’s Gulf network appears to date back to the late 1990s, when LET activists began distributing copies of the group’s journal Majallah al-Dawa among Indian Muslim expatriates living in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE. These efforts appear to have been stepped up considerably following the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat that radicalized many Indian Muslims living abroad.

... In contrast to other terrorist groups, the LET relies primarily on legitimate donations funnelled through MDI in order to finance its jihad. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed routinely travels to major Pakistani cities, exhorting huge crowds to join or contribute to the jihad and it is believed that tens of thousands in US dollars are raised for the group in this fashion. While Saeed rails against India and the United States, JUD activists armed with clubs hold up banners calling for contributions to jihad and set up collection boxes to support the jihad in Kashmir or the families of dead LET fighters. While the Pakistani government claims that these contributions are for legitimate social welfare purposes, it is generally accepted that a majority of the money raised is used to support the LET’s militant activities. It is also believed that a number of wealthy Pakistani and Kashmiri businessmen help to finance the group’s activities through donations separate to those raised during the group’s fundraising rallies.

Outside of Pakistan, the LET receives money from the Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom and other Western countries. The group is also believed to receive considerable support from an intricate network of wealthy Gulf donors and Islamist NGOs, very possibly the same “Golden Chain” network that is believed to support Al Qaeda. If the LET does not rely on the Golden Chain to finance its activities, it almost certainly relies on a similarly-modeled financial network.

So basically I think that the LeT has more than the financial endurance necessary to weather whatever hard assets they lost during the storm and provide support and relief services to God knows how many Pakistanis lost their home during this latest event. That is going to take some time for them to mobilize, however, which is one of the reasons why I'm more than confident that the US can beat them off at the pass on this one if we act quickly and decisively. This also fits into Dr. Gunaratna's recommendation of creating a parallel NGO and aid network in Muslim countries to serve as a challenge to Wahhabi charities like the LeT's parent MDI organization.

There are also broader issues of national interest here that need to be taken into consideration here. Riding on the wave of popular anti-Americanism that swept across much of the Muslim world during the run-up and aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, the LeT claims that it recruited as many as 3,350 new members from January to June 2003. Even if these totals are inflated (and it certainly wouldn't be the first time), I think it's entirely fair to say that allowing several thousand people to become dependent on LeT social services for the immediate future does not serve US national interest. Moreover, Pakistanis assisted by the US will in all probability be far more likely to assist us at tracking down al-Qaeda and their allies.

Finally, if the heavy casualties suffered by the LeT and other Pakistani jihadi groups live up to hype, this would be an exceedingly good time for the US to press Pakistan on the dual issues of a permanent settlement over Kashmir or at least dissuading them from allowing the wounded groups to rebuild their destroying training infrastructure.

Posted by at 03:09 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

October 11, 2005

Dan Darling Is Dead Wrong

Actually, I agree with almost everything Dan wrote as a continuation of our discussion of democracy as it relates to terrorism, but I thought it would sound better if I couched it in more antagonistic terms. Dan, no hard feelings, huh?

Aside from providing insights into a variety of means for combatting terrorism, Dan's post gives me the opportunity to clarify my position in relation to a point Dan made regarding the history of anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world. Dan is right that such widespread hostility predated the invasion of Iraq - and while he takes the Bush and Clinton White Houses to task for their lack of progress on this front, I'm sure he would agree that the blame stretches back to earlier administrations as well. I also acknowledge that much of this animus is based on virulent propaganda, half-truths and unfair treatment in local media and press outlets. Still, it should be noted that certain of our historic foreign policy tactics and strategies - such as the coup toppling the democratically elected and popular Mossadegh in Iran and the underlying emphasis on access to oil over human rights - haven't done us any favors in this regard either. Nevertheless, and despite our flaws, in many ways America has become the convenient scapegoat for the regimes in power across the region (even and especially allies) and a ready means of distracting the respective populaces from what is the inability of those same regimes to deliver the needs of the governed.

But my argument was not that the invasion of Iraq created the rampant anti-Americanism, merely that it further eroded what were already pretty anemic levels of support and good will. Poll after poll, whether conducted by Pew, Zogby or our own State Department confirms the reality that the invasion of Iraq has seriously tarnished our image. Here is a review of some Zogby poll data from 2004/2005:

In 2002, the single policy issue that drove opinion was the Palestinians; now it's Iraq and America's treatment, here and abroad, of Arabs and Muslims," said James Zogby, who commissioned the report with the Arab American Institute.

In Zogby's 2002 survey, 76 percent of Egyptians had a negative attitude toward the United States, compared with 98 percent this year. In Morocco, 61 percent viewed the country unfavorably in 2002, but in two years, that number has jumped to 88 percent. In Saudi Arabia, such responses rose from 87 percent in 2002 to 94 percent in June. Attitudes were virtually unchanged in Lebanon but improved slightly in the UAE, from 87 percent who said in 2002 that they disliked the United States to 73 percent this year.

The latest survey results out of the Middle East show that America's favorability rating is now, essentially, zero. That's down from as high as 75 percent in some Muslim countries just four years ago.

It was bad enough in 2002, when Zogby found that an appalling 35 percent of Jordanians and 12 percent of Saudis viewed us favorably. Now those figures are 15 percent and four percent respectively. We can't even buy friends. Egypt received some $4 billion last year in U.S. aid, yet only two percent of Egyptians responded positively. In a poll with a margin of error of about four points, that doesn't even move the needle.

Those polled said their opinions were shaped by U.S. policies, rather than by values or culture. When asked: "What is the first thought when you hear 'America'?" respondents overwhelmingly said: "Unfair foreign policy." [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. Our image has also taken a beating in other parts of the world - from Europe and South America to Asia and Australia. This backlash has proven a boon to certain of our enemies and other unsavory characters (such as Chavez in Venezuela who is far more popular than warranted - stemming in part from his open defiance of the United States) and impacted some of our business interests - stinging from the open hostility in foreign marketplaces to American branded products. From an article appearing in The Atlantic (via a previous post on TIA providing more background):

The U.S. government isn't all that's taking a public-relations hit overseas these days: U.S. brands are hurting as well, according to a study of European and Canadian consumers conducted by the market-research company GMI. Roughly 20 percent of people surveyed reported consciously avoiding American products in response to U.S. foreign policy. The brands most at risk, the study noted, are those that have "America" or "American" in their name (such as AOL and American Airlines) or are considered quintessentially American (such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's).

From the poll cited by The Atlantic:

When European and Canadian consumers were asked to characterize the American government and President Bush, they were most often described as arrogant and self-centered....With this in mind, when consumers were asked to characterize American multinational brands, the data revealed select American multinational company's - AOL, Exxon Mobil and Starbucks - were viewed very much like the American government and President Bush: arrogant, intrusive and self-centered.

"Some American brands become closely connected to their country of origin and are quintessentially American. They represent the American lifestyle, innovation, power, leadership and foreign policy. Unfortunately, current American foreign policy is viewed by international consumers as a significant negative, when it used to be a positive," explains Dr. Mitchell Eggers, COO and chief pollster at GMI.

American multinational companies will need to mount a valiant effort to distance themselves from the image of the U.S. federal government and its unpopular foreign policies in the New Year or risk continued brand erosion and ongoing boycotting by European and Canadian consumers, according to independent market research solutions company GMI, Inc....

Allyson Stewart-Allen, an American based in Europe for the past 17 years and co-author of best-selling business book Working with Americans...adds that for the New Year, American companies need to distance themselves from being American.

Again, the invasion of Iraq did not create anti-Americanism, but it did bolster it. Our policies should be informed by these trends, though we need not become slavishly devoted to poll data. But we would be foolish to disregard the fact that the successful realization of our goals - be they foreign policy objectives or sustained economic growth - are intimately tied to how the global community views us in an increasingly interconnected world.

Posted by at 06:05 PM | Comments (50) | TrackBack

Democracy is not a panacea for terrorism

Since part of Greg's wishes when he temporarily handed over the keys to Belgravia Dispatch was that Eric and I do a kind of dialogue, commenting on Eric's Swimming Against the Tide seems to me to be as good a place as any to start.

To begin with, let me just say that I agree with your fundamental point, namely "Empirical evidence simply does not support the contention that democracy would eradicate the mentality that gives rise to this virulent strain of Salafism. It is not more freedom that they want, nor would freedom extinguish their cause ... Unless of course, democracy would give legitimate power to the Salafists' ideological kindred spirits."

Indeed, Dr. Gunaratna makes much the same point in Time Magazine's Asia edition in which he writes:

The investigation into the Oct. 1 Bali bombings may lead to arrests and high-profile trials. But that will not stop the terrorism. In fact, Asia's vulnerability is likely to grow.

There are several reasons for this. The phenomenon of suicide bombers has become a grim new reality in the region, and it's here to stay. During the Suharto years, Indonesian authorities clamped down on any challenge to the state. Now the country is more open and democratic, but an unwelcome consequence is that militants have a freer run of the place.

I suspect that similar examples could also be offered as far as the increased role that Hezbollah in Lebanon following the Syrian withdrawl. When the Algerian political system opened up in the late 1980s, one of the immediate consequences was that the Islamist Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) became one of the largest political parties in the country. Part of the reason for this probably lies in the fact that because Islamists usually have large overt or clandestine support networks in existence prior to the fall of a dictatorship that they are among the groups best-poised to exploit its immediate aftermath. I suspect that at least part of this uncomfortable reality is one of the main reasons that Reuel Marc Gerecht has adopted the view that he has with respect to his belief that Western nations should support the rise of Islamist parties in nascent democracies on the belief that, once in power, they tend to discredit themselves that he lays out in greater detail in The Islamic Paradox.

One of the things that I think needs to be stressed when countering the threat posed by Salafist terrorism (and as an aside, I really wish that we could call it that, is it would seem to go a long way from differentiating adherents of Islam in general from the enemy and not get into some of the catch-all problems that Islamism poses in that it throws everyone from Osama bin Laden to Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey all under the same umbrella) is that there isn't a silver bullet on this one, no more than there was when it came to the issue of countering communism during the Cold War.

Dr. Gunaratna, to the best of my knowledge, is one of the few experts on al-Qaeda who has come up with a comprehensive strategy for defeating the terror network that you can find at the conclusion of Inside Al Qaeda. I first summarized his conclusions in the aftermath of the London bombings and they are as follows:

* Military and non-military responses to al-Qaeda on a region and issue-specific basis, with military responses providing the necessary security and political conditions to facilitate far reaching socio-economic, welfare, and political programs that will have a lasting impact.

* The destruction of al-Qaeda and allied infrastructure, denying them rear bases, killing their leaders, exhausting their supplies, and disrupting their recruitment.

* Ending Pakistani covert and overt military, political, and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri jihadis while mediating to provide diplomatic solution to the Kashmir issue.

* Strangling terrorist financing, tightening control over the manufacturing and supply of weapons, exchanging personnel and expertise with allies, and building common terrorist databases in the Third World.

* Developing new vaccines, medicines, and diagnostic tests, enhancing medical communication and disease surveillance capabilities, and improving controls on the storage and transfer of pathogens and their equipment so as to address the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

* Enhancing the protection of nuclear facilities while monitoring rogue suspected scientists and technicians.

* Killing Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Mohammed Omar in order to diffuse the momentum of the terrorist campaign [to which we can probably add Zarqawi].

* Relying on black ops operations to assassinate terrorist leaders and ideologues.

* Recruiting intelligence agents and agent-handlers within Muslim immigrant communities and sharing existing intelligence with the wider decision and policy-making community.

* Engaging al-Qaeda as an organization militarily while working non-militarily to erode its active and potential supporters by discrediting its ideology through broader action in areas where international neglect has legitimized the use of violence among many Muslims.

* Replacing unilateralism with multilateralism wherever possible and developing far-reaching policies designed to grapple with protracted conflicts and contentious issues currently fueling anti-Western sentiments by answering the real and perceived grievances of many Muslims and frustrating the current wave of open and clandestine support for al-Qaeda.

* The Islamic world as a whole must answer whether al-Qaeda and its actions are Koranic or heretical and credible Muslim communities and religious leaders must stand up and denounce bin Laden and his acolytes as power-hungry murderers rather than men of God.

* Muslim rulers and regimes must compete with Islamism and Wahhabi NGOs, building schools and community centers that both impart a modern education and instill humane, non-sectarian values.

* The international community should prioritize reform Islamic education, fostering an independent media, and establishing criminal justice and prison systems that truly reflect the rule of law rather than the whims of the current ruler.

* Terrorism as a tactic must be rejected and a societal norm built against its deployment similar to that which now exist to varying degrees against slavery, colonialism, fascism, Nazism, sexism, and racism irrespective of the legitimacy of the struggle.

As Eric seems to make quite clear, here agrees with Gunaratna on a lot of this: (emphasis mine)

As Fukuyama and Brooks point out, our goal should not be to appease the actual Salafists such as Zawahiri, Bin Laden, Zarqawi, etc. Nothing we could do would placate them, nor should we reward such behavior to begin with. For them, there are only violent solutions. But it is absolutely crucial that we engage the remainder of the Muslim world in an effort to take away the jihadists' base of support - that which they rely on in order to thrive. The recent bombings in Bali, and the reaction to them, provides an illustration of the two currents laid out above: the fact that democracy itself is neutral to the effort to purge terrorism, and how public opinion impacts our efforts to combat the jihadists.

Eric then contrasts what we need with the actual state of things in Indonesia:

From this reaction in Indonesia, it is easier to see the impact that certain facets of our foreign policy have had on our effort to combat the radical Islamists. The invasion of Iraq, regardless of any ancillary benefits (a conversation for another time), has not aided our effort to win over the moderate hearts and minds from the likes of Bin Laden and his ilk. In fact, it has set us back considerably by lending credence to Bin Laden's outrageous propaganda about US/Anglo/Israeli crusaders seeking to take over Muslim lands and humiliate Muslims - aided by images of civilian deaths and carnage that are the inevitable accompaniment to any military action no matter how carefully planned. Public opinion of America in the region has plunged so low, that many reformers and would be proponents of democracy have complained that the mere fact that their movements are associated with American ideals has made their work more difficult.

But as Dr. Gunaratna documents in Inside Al Qaeda (published in the mid-2002)), this problem goes back quite further than the invasion of Iraq:

... Leaving aside the Muslim elite, ordinary Muslims worldwide view the West through the prism of anti-Americanism. 61% of Muslims polled in nine countries - Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey - denied that Arabs were involved in the September 11 attacks. The corresponding statistics were 89% in Kuwait, 86% in Pakistan, 74% in Indonesia, 59% in Iran, 58% in Lebanon, and 43% in Turkey. Only 18% of those polled in six Islamic countries said they believed Arabs carried out the attacks and just 9% said they thought US military action in Afghanistan was morally justified. In Kuwait, a country liberated by the US from Iraqi aggression in 1991, 36% said that the 9/11 attacks were justifiable. Just 7% said Western nations are fair in their perceptions of Muslim countries ... Clearly the US has no public support from the Muslim world either to fight terrorism or to remain in Afghanistan.

Now generally the usual conclusion reached by these kinds of statistics (which have changed significantly since, though Gunaratna's basic point still carries through) is that a majority of the Muslim world are at least tacit supporters of terrorism. I don't accept that formulation, if for no other reason that you can contrast these figures with the vote totals that Islamist parties receive in those areas where they've been allowed to operate openly - the totals are generally about the same as those that far right or neo-fascist parties pick up in Europe.

However, as one can see from the statistics cited by Dr. Gunaratna, the West in general and the US in particular has a major problem as far as how we are viewed by much of the Muslim world that well predates the invasion of Iraq and unless we make a serious effort to engage the masses as opposed to the governments we are likely to be in that pickle for quite some time. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations have been singularly lacking in this regard even after the full extent of the threat became clear.

As a side note, I should probably point out that ETA, November 17, Baader Meinhof, Aum Shinrikyo, and the Shining Path don't enjoy anything like the kind of popular support that bin Laden and his followers currently do (and have since at least 1998). Aum Shinrikyo was after all a cult while the Shining Path was largely based around the person of Abimael Guzman, which is one of the reasons why it has all but fallen apart following his 1992 capture. I strongly suspect that much of FARC's support, moreover, lies in the fact that there is a great deal of money to be made with regard to its role in the international drug trade, which depending on your figures brings in at least several billion dollars a year.

Another thing that needs to be kept in mind (as I'm sure Eric would agree) is that we need to define what democracy is before we set about spreading it. As Eric correctly noted when discussing recent developments in Iraq:

... the issue remains whether even the most well intentioned Iraqis really grasp what "democracy entails." Yes, the concept of majoritarianism seems easy enough to get a hold of (especially for the Shiites who can now reap the benefits of their majority status), but democracy, at least a healthy functioning version, is so much more than the edict that the majority rules. There needs to be respect for minority rights and interests, respect for institutional integrity along horizontal and lateral lines, respect for the rule of law and the rules of the game, etc.

In terms of an institutional framework, democracies require several loci of power and influence - an elaborate web of checks and balances capable of withstanding strains and eccentricities pushing and pulling in certain directions. These include, but are not limited to, a powerful and independent judiciary, a robust and free press, an open and free economic system relatively unfettered by corruption enabling a middle class to emerge, a civic minded populace, quality educational systems and a free flow of ideas, etc. Absent this matrix, power tends to be concentrated at the top, with the ruling faction's influence constricting the mechanisms of democracy that lead to liberal rule.

If all democracy means is simply the idea of popular majority rule, then promoting it is reasonably easy, but there are also a whole multitude of reasons why this is Not A Good Thing. Indeed, if one goes back and reads many of the critiques against the idea of a democratic state, one of the primary arguments that is often encountered is the fear that democracy will lead to exactly that kind of crude majoritarian rule. How such a system would serve to prevent terrorism as beyond me, if nothing else it seems as though it would hasten it as minority groups became increasingly chafed under the yoke of the majority.

One thing that I think that the United States needs to be exceedingly careful of as it goes about the whole business of democracy promotion is making sure that the first definition is not over-stressed at the expense of the second. Countries like Nigeria or pre-Musharraf Pakistan appeared to understand the whole idea of voting and elections, but neither were all that keen towards any of the other aspects of democracy that Eric mentions above. Both countries suffered as a result and I certainly don't think that you can make the argument that either had a reduced level of terrorism or political violence as a result.

Then there is the issue of the European Muslim population. As praktike notes, it's cool to be a jihadi in far too many European Muslim circles these days. The problem here is not in my mind the absence of democracy but rather than absence of assimilation, with the predictable enough results being that the political culture of the Middle East is now being imported in its entirety to much of Europe with predictable results. Then, on the somewhat reverse side of the coin, is that those portions of Europe (with the UK being particularly notorious in this regard) that have opted not to adequately act against the extremist elements on their own soil, in my view doing a gross disservice to the Muslim community by essentially putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.

Finally, there is the issue of state sponsorship to consider. Here in my view is where the democratization argument makes the most sense, as an authoritarian state pursues terrorism as a matter of policy and then undergoes democratization is not likely to revive the practice. Iraq, for instance, is not going to reviving its support for the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, Hamas, or the Abu Nidal Organization at any point in the near future as a matter of state policy.

So in summary:

1. Democracy is not a panacea for dealing with terrorism.

2. Extremists often fare quite well in emerging democracies by virtue of being the best-organized.

3. There is no silver bullet in dealing with the threat of Salafist terrorism and an in-depth plan is instead needed - Dr. Gunaratna provides one.

4. The US has little if any real support among the general populace of the Muslim world for reasons that well pre-date the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Our public diplomacy efforts for dealing with the general public rather than the governments of the Muslim world have been grossly ineffective and mostly non-existent.

5. This is a problem because al-Qaeda currently enjoys far more popular support than any earlier terrorist groups.

6. Setting up merely a democracy in the sense of voting and majority rule is pointless as far as preventing terrorism or political violence if the institutions needed for such a society to function or flourish do not exist or are not being respected.

7. The European Muslim population is attracted towards jihadi groups through a combination of the Middle Eastern political culture being imported to Europe and/or European governments being unwilling to deal with known Islamic radicals in their midst.

8. Democratization is effective with regard to dealing with state sponsors of terrorism since the issue there is one of state policy rather than popular support.

Posted by at 06:33 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

To Pakistan With Love

In my previous post, I cited an Op-Ed by Scott Atran which discusses the peculiar dilemma facing the ruling coalition in Indonesia: Because it relies on Islamist parties to form its coalition, it does not have the necessary underlying political support to crack down on Jemaah Islamiyah (the terrorist organization responsible for the multiple Bali bombings). Compounding the problem, anti-American sentiments, which rose dramatically after, and as a result of, the invasion of Iraq, have further lessened the latitude with which the ruling bloc can act against the al-Qaeda offshoot in its midst. Anti-Jemaah Islamiyah actions are seen as craven capitulations to the malevolent Americans. But within the somewhat pessimistic scenario laid out by Atran, there was a glimmer of hope:

Fortunately, the Pew figures also reveal positive trends that suggest another way forward for the United States and its allies. In three years, Indonesians' support for suicide bombing has declined from 27 percent to 15 percent, and confidence in Osama bin Laden is down from 58 percent to 35 percent.

If one American policy can be correlated with improvements in Indonesian attitudes toward the United States, it is aid for tsunami victims in Aceh. The Pew polls suggest that, largely because of the American role in tsunami rescue and relief, Indonesia is now one of the few nations where a majority believes that American actions sometimes consider other nations' interests. Since that time, support for combating terrorism has doubled to 50 percent, as Indonesians focus on the dangers they face rather than on distaste for American policies. [emphasis added]

As should be obvious, this data supports the thesis that our actions actually do affect the attitudes toward us held by citizens of other nations. This should not be a controversial proposition.

Realizing the impact our tremendous aid package to Indonesia, post-tsunami, had on public opinion, and noting how crucial the gaining of that same public's trust is to our mission of combating Jemaah Islamiyah and other Salafist extremists, I think the opportunity is ripe for us to try to make the same gains in Pakistan. By mobilizing our nation's vast economic and logistical resources to help alleviate the suffering stemming from the unthinkable tragedy in Pakistan, we could do much to begin repairing our image in a part of the world that is as crucial as any other to our larger mission of defeating al-Qaeda.

The same mountainous region in Northwest Pakistan that was hit hardest in the earthquake is, in fact, the same region that has been rumored to be housing many top level al-Qaeda operatives, including none other than Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Further, this inhospitable terrain has been the launching pad for the now resurgent Taliban movement which is jeopardizing the fragile peace in Afghanistan - a country that could all too easily slip into the chaos of armed conflict thus providing an ideal base for jihadists groups looking to re-establish their former locus of operations.

Even a slight uptick in support for America and our anti-terrorist efforts amongst Pakistanis would also serve to strengthen Musharraf's hand in any effort to crack down on the Islamist militants that threaten his rule, and have made numerous attempts on his life. Just as in Indonesia, Musharraf's actions are constrained by levels of domestic support. We should be pursuing policies that buttress, not drain, that support.

So get out the ex-Presidents, get the shipments going, the aid flowing and by all means take measures to stamp every parcel with a big old American flag. Try, to the greatest extent possible, to get actual Americans on the ground to utilize our expertise, to show our faces and to drive home the message that we are a force for good in the world. Relief efforts such as these do cost money, but in terms of the return on dollars invested, this type of PR is priceless. It would be worth a thousand Karen Hughes tours. The initial $50 million promised is an excellent starting point, but we might want to go higher, or at least insure that the alloted money is well spent.

As we saw with the Indonesian people, it is hard to hold on to prejudices fueled by propaganda and cynical misinformation when we extend a helping hand as proof positive that we are not quite the "Great Satan" we are made out to be in a slanted local media. Not to mention the fact that we would be helping to save lives and mitigate truly horrific suffering. This would be a synergy of our national interests with our nobler humanitarian impulses. To paraphrase Dan Darling and his sometime mentor Michael Ledeen: Faster, please.

Posted by at 12:21 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Swimming Against The Tide

I have long been doubtful of the proposition that spreading democracy will erase, or even vastly reduce, terrorism. At least not the brand of terrorism that washed up on our shores on September 11, 2001 - the Salafist jihadism espoused by al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah, and myriad like-minded groups that Dan would be better suited to list. Empirical evidence simply does not support the contention that democracy would eradicate the mentality that gives rise to this virulent strain of Salafism. It is not more freedom that they want, nor would freedom extinguish their cause. They are working for the creation of a romanticized version of a quasi-mythological unified Muslim caliphate stretching from Southeast Asia to large swathes of Africa to Andalusia in Spain. They believe that if they accomplish this feat, Allah will reward the Muslim world and it will vault ahead of the West. To achieve this, they aim to topple the "apostate" regimes currently ruling Muslim countries. Whether those regimes are democratic or authoritarian is irrelevant. Unless of course, democracy would give legitimate power to the Salafists' ideological kindred spirits.

Contra this meme, liberal democracies, at various stages of development, such as the United States, Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, Turkey, the Philippines and Indonesia (to name but a few) have spawned, sheltered and provided space to numerous Salafist jihadists. Further, democracy has shown no particular penchant for curbing other, domestic terrorist movements such as ETA in Spain, the 17th of November in Greece, IRA in Britain, Beider Meinhof in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, Aum Shinrikyo in Japan, FARC in Colombia, Shining Path in Peru, etc. As Marc Sageman points out in his seminal work Understanding Terror Networks (highly, highly recommended), the liberal democracies of Western Europe itself are becoming some of the most fertile grounds for recruiting would-be jihadists. Here is David Brooks commenting on Sageman's work in light of the London bombings (via LAT):

The first implication, clearly, is that democratizing the Middle East, while worthy in itself, may not stem terrorism. Terrorists are bred in London and Paris as much as anywhere else.

Second, the jihadists' weakness is that they do not spring organically from the Arab or Muslim world. They claim to speak for the Muslim masses, as earlier radicals claimed to speak for the proletariat. But they don't. Surely a key goal for U.S. policy should be to isolate the nationalists from the jihadists. [emphasis added]

With this reality in mind, allow me to state emphatically for the record that I support the promotion of democracy, or perhaps more accurately, the empowerment of people to create a more dignified, responsive and just political life through a democratic system of government. Given the lack of correlation between democracy and terrorism, however, we should be wary to assess various strategies for supporting democracy and how they might impact our more crucial endeavor of "isolating" moderate Muslims from the jihadists. To quote Francis Fukuyama:

...[I]t is hard to see how we can deal with [al-Qaeda] other than by killing, capturing or otherwise militarily neutralizing them.

But the radicals swim in a much larger sea of Muslims-1.2 billion of them, more or less-who are not yet implacable enemies of the United States. If one has any doubts about this, one has only to look at the first of the United Nations Development Program's two Arab Human Development reports, which contained a poll asking whether respondents would like to emigrate to the United States if they had the opportunity. In virtually every Arab country, a majority of respondents said yes. On the other hand, recent Pew surveys of global public opinion show that positive feelings about the United States in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and other supposedly friendly Muslim countries has sunk to disastrously low levels. What these data taken as a whole suggest is that for the broad mass of public opinion in Muslim countries, we are disliked or hated not for what we are, but rather for what we do. What they do not like is a familiar list of complaints about our foreign policy that we somehow continue to fail to take seriously: our lack of concern for the plight of the Palestinians, our hypocritical support for dictators in Muslim countries, and now our occupation of Iraq.

The War on Terror is, in other words, a classic counter-insurgency war, except that it is one being played out on a global scale. There are genuine bad guys out there who are much more bitter ideological enemies than the Soviets ever were, but their success depends on the attitudes of the broader populations around them who can be alternatively supportive, hostile or indifferent-depending on how we play our cards. [emphasis added]

As Fukuyama and Brooks point out, our goal should not be to appease the actual Salafists such as Zawahiri, Bin Laden, Zarqawi, etc. Nothing we could do would placate them, nor should we reward such behavior to begin with. For them, there are only violent solutions. But it is absolutely crucial that we engage the remainder of the Muslim world in an effort to take away the jihadists' base of support - that which they rely on in order to thrive. The recent bombings in Bali, and the reaction to them, provides an illustration of the two currents laid out above: the fact that democracy itself is neutral to the effort to purge terrorism, and how public opinion impacts our efforts to combat the jihadists. Here is Scott Atran:

The coordinated bombings of popular tourist areas in Bali, almost exactly three years after similar attacks there, signal that an outbreak of democracy in the Muslim world will not necessarily be enough to destroy Al Qaeda's viral movement or even to diminish its reach.

If anything, the entrenchment of democracy has weakened Indonesia's willingness to fight terrorism. The country's minority-led democratic government, whose very survival requires the support of Islamic parties that range from the militant to the mainstream, has spent the period between the two Bali attacks waffling in its response to terrorism for fear of alienating these Muslim parties and a largely anti-American populace. Such lack of resolve augurs ill for American efforts to promote democracy as an antidote to terrorism elsewhere in the Muslim world.[...]

President Yudhoyono has said that he cannot submit legislation to parliament proscribing Jemaah Islamiyah because there is insufficient proof that the group exists. At the same time, he warns that more terrorist attacks may come.

That seems more than likely, to judge from the accounts I received from self-proclaimed mujahedin in Java and Sulawesi. They report that Jemaah Islamiyah has set up a suicide squad to conduct large actions against Western interests, over the objections of some group members who reprehend killing civilians.

It cannot possibly be in the Indonesian government's interest to continue to shelter an organization with such violent intentions. But the country's officials may have concluded that it is even riskier to support American policies. According to the latest survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Indonesian views of the United States, which were largely favorable before the invasion of Iraq, plummeted to 15 percent favorable right after. In Pew's June 2005 survey, 80 percent of Indonesians feared that the United States would attack their country. [emphasis added]

From this reaction in Indonesia, it is easier to see the impact that certain facets of our foreign policy have had on our effort to combat the radical Islamists. The invasion of Iraq, regardless of any ancillary benefits (a conversation for another time), has not aided our effort to win over the moderate hearts and minds from the likes of Bin Laden and his ilk. In fact, it has set us back considerably by lending credence to Bin Laden's outrageous propaganda about US/Anglo/Israeli crusaders seeking to take over Muslim lands and humiliate Muslims - aided by images of civilian deaths and carnage that are the inevitable accompaniment to any military action no matter how carefully planned. Public opinion of America in the region has plunged so low, that many reformers and would be proponents of democracy have complained that the mere fact that their movements are associated with American ideals has made their work more difficult. As Fareed Zakaria (a supporter of the invasion of Iraq) noted:

Bush does not seem aware that the intense hostility toward him in every country in the world (save Israel) has made it very difficult for the United States to be the agent of freedom. In every Arab country that I have been to in the last two years, the liberals, reformers and businessmen say, "Please don't support us. American support today is the kiss of death."

There is much room for improvement in our outreach to moderate Muslims, and we need to constantly analyze our actions and methods to find a balance of policies and tactics that will both serve our interests and appeal to a Muslim population whose support we will rely on in years to come. At the very least, and as a starting point, we should show marked reluctance to invade another Muslim nation in the near future. Invasions have a funny way of tarnishing a nation's image and washing away bridges and common understanding. Especially in a part of the world already suspicious of our motives to begin with.

Posted by at 03:43 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

Summary of ICG report on Dar ul-Islam, Part 2: The Usroh Movement

Continuing from my earlier summary of the International Crisis Group (ICG) report on Dar ul-Islam, the section focuses particularly on how the usroh (family) activist movement helped to regenerate Dar ul-Islam in Indonesia. Abdullah Sungkar, who is referenced repeatedly here, is the actual founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, with the now-incarcerated Abu Bakar Bashir taking up the leadership of the group after his death.

Usroh and the regeneration of Dar ul-Islam

* The Dar ul-Islam offshoots in Jakarta and other parts of Java produced a literal explosion of jihadis due to using popular anger at the Suharto government and the availability of first guerrilla and then terrorist training in Afghanistan. Another recruiting technique, known as usroh (family) was pioneered by Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Banna's belief was to gather 10-15 people prepared to live according to the principles of sha'riah, with each usroh serving as a building block for the eventual establishment of an Islamic state. In Indonesia, the first proponents of usroh were activists in the Coordinating Body of Indonesian Mosque Youth (Badan Koordinasi Pemuda Masjid Indonesia, BKPMI) based at Istiqomah Mosque in Bandung. BKPMI members were divided between adherents and non-adherents of Dar ul-Islam, with the Dar ul-Islam members looking to Aceng Kurnia as their mentor and being members of the Indonesian Islamic Students' Organization (Pelajar Islam Indonesia, PII) or the Islamic Youth Movement (Gerakan Pemuda Islam, GPI). 2 BKPMI students obtained a copy of al-Banna's Arabic writings and translated it into Bahasa Indonesian, making it the standard reference book for the group.

* From Istiqomah Mosque, the idea of usroh spread out to other mosques in Bandung, particularly taking root at the Salman Mosque, which was heavily attended by students at the Bandung Institute of Technology (BIT). Mursalin Dahlan, a PII/GPI member, introduced the concept to Dar ul-Islam members in Yogyakarta who included Irfan and Fihiruddin Awwas (Abu Jibril) and Muchliansyah, all of whom would later become prominent members of the Indonesian Mujahideen Council. All three were students of JI leaders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir and they began using usroh as part of their own recruiting and training programs. These Dar ul-Islam members and others like them living in Jakarta and East Java had been cut off from the movement's leadership as a result of their imprisonment and also favored a more rigorous approach to Islam that much of the Dar ul-Islam old guard was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. Religious study sessions also provided a forum where resentment against Suharto could be expressed during a time when his determination to crush political Islam was increasing. The usroh adherents proved so popular that in 1980 they formed the Society for Indonesian Islamic Development (Badan Pembangunan Muslimin Indonesia, BPMI) based at Jl.Menteng Raya No.58, the headquarters of the GPI.

* With Nunung Nur ul-Ichsan of Jakarta as their leader and Mursalin Dahlan as secretary-general, BPMI turned the pesantren kilat into 3 or 4-day courses aimed at the youth, particularly university students. Participants could "graduate" and continue their studies in usroh program, during which they would be inducted into Dar ul-Islam. So many people were drawn into BPMI that nearly every day induction programs were taking up their entire schedules. BPMI soon opened branches across Java and in February 1981, Mohammed Achwan (later arrested for involvement in the Christmas Eve church bombings in Malang in 1984) was installed by Dahlan as the head of the Malang chapter. During his 1986 trials, prosecutors argued that the Malang chapter of BPMI held regular meetings to discuss the overthrow of the government and the creation of an Islamic theocracy, but found a responsive audience by the end of 1981, with 93 new Dar ul-Islam members inducted in Malang alone after 3 pesantren kilat sessions.

* The usroh adherents operated outside the formal structures of fisabilillah Dar ul-Islam and its relationship with the formal movement varied from place to place, with ties particularly strong in West and Central Java where Abdullah Sungkar was based and his students were in charge of local usroh adherents. In Jakarta, relations were strained because the local Dar ul-Islam infrastructure was one of the few that maintained a successful recruiting program in the form of the Jakarta Muballigh Corps (Korp Muballigh Jakarta) to compete with the usroh followers for the same groups of people. The Jakarta Dar ul-Islam were loyal to Adah Djalani while the Bandung-based usroh leaders followed Aceng Kurnia. There were also doctrinal differences, with the Jakarta Dar ul-Islam following the reformist teachings of Isa Bugis that were an anathema to the more zealous Wahhabis. But whether the Dar ul-Islam old guard liked it or not, the usroh followers transformed their movement and gave it new activists along with a renewed sense of energy and purpose. It was a means to their end of overthrowing Suharto and establishing an Islamic theocracy and as their ranks swelled with new recruits the goal seemed all that more reasonable, particularly given recent events in Iran.

* In 1981, Dar ul-Islam usroh activists made contact with a group of political dissidents from the Jakarta political and military elite, all of whom were signatories of "Petition 50," a document they had sent to President Suharto demanding greater political freedom. Most of the signatories wanted nothing to do with Dar ul-Islam, but a few including former cabinet minister Ir. Sanusi were interested in meeting with Mursalin Dahlan and others to make plans for the removal of Suharto.

* For Mursalin, the success of the Iranian Revolution wasn't merely an inspiration but also a model for how to seize power in Indonesia in a 7-point plan:

1. In Iran, the political situation had degenerated to the point where the Shah was forced to flee. In Indonesia, Mursalin planned to create the same situations for the Suharto regime, though he was more interested in eliminating him than in forcing him to flee.

2. In Iran, minister Bazargan assumed the presidency following the Shah's departure. In Indonesia, once Suharto was dead it was believed that Vice President Adam Malik would seize power.

3. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini had appeared. In Indonesia, a coalition of nationalists, disaffected military officers, and Muslim activists would quickly form.

4. Whereas the Iranian masses had taken to the streets to support Ayatollah Khomeini, in Indonesia the masses would take to the streets to support the coalition.

5. In Iran, the security forces were consolidated and purged to service the new regime, just as would be the case in Indonesia.

6. In Iran, Khomeini then assumed power, whereas in Indonesia a democracy would be declared and free and fair elections would take place.

7. In Iran, Khomeini declared the establishment of an Islamic Republic, while in Indonesia the Islamic parties would sweep the elections and then declare their own Islamic theocracy.

* Mursalin's plan could not be implemented until Suharto was dead, so he began to plan for his assassination, assembling 6-man hit team in August 1982 with the intention of killing him with a bomb either by hurling it as his car after he returned from golfing in east Jakarta or in planting a bomb along a railway crossing near his home.

* In September 1982, a meeting was held at the offices of the ar-Risalah newsletter between Mursalin, Sanusi, Muchlianyah, Fihiruddin (Abu Jibril), Mohammed Achwan, and several others including Agung Riyadi (currently in Malaysian custody on suspicions of JI membership) to continue planning to assassinate Suharto. They discussed intensifying training in the pesantren kilats across Central and East Java in the view that these graduates would later be brought to Jakarta as the nucleus of a popular uprising. To facilitate this training and standardize teaching materials, Mursalin and the other usroh leaders set up the Institute for Education and Development of Pesantren Kilat (Lembaga Pendidikan Pengembangan Pesantren Kilat, LP3K) in December 1982.

* When both assassination plots failed to pan out, the conspirators set their sights on Suharto's planned February 1983 visit to Central Java to preside over a ceremony marking the restoration of Borobodur, an 8th century Buddhist temple outside Yogyakarta. This plan fell apart when the conspirators failed to find a way to hide the explosives inside the temple and by the end of 1983 the dream of an Iranian-style revolution had faded and the authorities began cracking down on usroh followers in Central Java.


* Most usroh leaders from this period continue to be politically active, with several of those arrested in Central Java later going on to found the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia (MMI), an organization founded in 2000 to press for the application of sha'riah law. By virtue of their imprisonment, these adherents were unable to join the jihad in Afghanistan and hence were far less likely to become members of Jemaah Islamiyah than their counterparts who fled to Jakarta in order escape arrest. With most of the usroh leadership arrested, underground, or abroad by 1985-1986, the followers of fisabilillah Dar ul-Islam now had to decide what to do with hundreds of youths who had been recruited by the movement. Over time, most of them were eventually reabsorbed into the Dar ul-Islam regional command structure.

Usroh in Jakarta

* Even before the crackdown in Central Java began, Abdullah Sungkar sent several of his most trusted cadres to work with the usroh activists in Jakarta. 3 in particular played a role in the radicalization of the Dar ul-Islam followers there: Ibu Thoyib (Abu Fatah), who later became the head of Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II; Muchliansyah (Solihin), a fiery preacher who fled to Malaysia with Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir and has remained active on the fringes of Jemaah Islamiyah ever since; and Ahmad Furzon (Broto, Ustadz Ahmad), a preacher and a follower of the Dar ul-Islam leader Ajengan Masduki, who would be instrumental in recruiting Indonesian jihadis to fight in Afghanistan. The usroh group they set up in Condet, East Jakarta, and later in Pasar Santa, South Jakarta, drew in many young men to their ranks who continue to be active in Jemaah Islamiyah to this day. These networks became known as the Condet Ring and the Santa Ring (with "ring" signifying that they operated outside the ninth komando wilayah structure that covered Jakarta but rather to the second komando wilayah in Central Java.

* The Condet Ring consisted of high school students, vegetable sellers, and drivers, making it a real social mixture even though members of other usroh groups tended to exist at more or less the same socio-economic level. The Santa Ring was made up largely of gang members who joined as a way of protecting themselves from petrus (pembunuhan misterius, the Indonesian government program charged with overseeing the extra-judicial killing of suspected criminals, whose bodies were then left to rot on the side of the road). Some Salafist preachers from the Tanjung Priok port area of Jakarta also joined the Santa Ring, as did students attending Islamic schools in the area where meetings were held. The student dormitories were top recruiting areas for the Santa Ring and some students also traveled from Pondok Ngruki to take part in the movement, with the total number of participants estimated at around 100.

* In 1986, the Santa Ring was shaken by an incident in which 2 of its gang members, including Muchliansyah's bodyguards, killed the driver of a main benefactor of the Jakarta usroh movement after he refused to repay a debt. This incident led to the exposure and dissolution of the Santa Ring at the hands of the authorities, prompting the group to splinter into 3 parts. Some members joined Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir in exile in Malaysia, while a second group led by Broto continued to function as part of the Dar ul-Islam movement and began recruiting jihadis for Afghanistan in 1986-1987, and a third group led by Nur Hidayat regrouped in Ancol, North Jakarta in 1987 and attempted a Dar ul-Islam uprising in Lampung in 1987. Members of all 3 groups have appeared in various roles in jihadi organizations.

Broto's Group

* The careers of 4 jihadis give some idea how important Broto's group is for understanding the history of Jemaah Islamiyah: Slamet Widodo was arrested in Jakarta in 2003 for membership in the Jemaah Islamiyah special forces team planning to target public buildings and foreign assets, Ahmad Sajuli is under detention in Malaysia under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for Jemaah Islamiyah-related activities, Karsidi is imprisoned in Central Java for working with a Dar ul-Islam member to sell military-grade ammo for use in the sectarian conflict in Ambon, while Yoyok is a Jakarta gang leader who founded the AMIN organization in 1999, members of which have been involved in violent acts in Jakarta, Ambon, and Poso. While neither Karsidi or Yoyok were Jemaah Islamiyah members themselves, they were in touch with or worked alongside people who were. This suggests that it would be useful investigate those Dar ul-Islam members who remained active in Condet and remained loyal to Ajengan Masduki rather than going to fight in Afghanistan if one wishes to fully appreciate the broader network within which Jemaah Islamiyah operates.

Slamet Widodo (Pepen, Urwah)

* Joined an usroh group in Cempaka Putih, East Jakarta at the age of 18 while still in high school in 1984. The group, mostly made up of fairly poor young men in their 20s, was led by a man named Mubasir whose younger brother and brother-in-law were also members of the group. After the dissolution of the Santa Ring, he joined another usroh group in Sumur Batu, Jakarta, this one led by a student at the Mohammediyyah Technical College named Jamal. During his interrogation 16 years later, Slamet remembered the names of 5 other students and laborers who attended the group with him, but also Broto, who he described as about 35.

* During his time in the usroh group, Slamet participated in pengajian Negara Islam Indonesia (study for the creation of an Islamic theocracy in Indonesia) sessions and during one such session in 1989, Broto offered Slamet a chance to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan and within a week he had a passport and was well on his way via Malaysia. He remained in Afghanistan for 2 years, working briefly at a Pakistani repair shop and becoming involved in the construction of the Lukman ul-Hakim pesantren, which served as the chief Jemaah Islamiyah base in Johore. Returning to Jakarta in 1993, he began trading in used electronic goods, a business he remained in until the time of his arrest. After his return, he began attending religious meetings at the Jemaah Islamiyah-controlled Suprapto-Suparno Mosque in East Jakarta, though he only returned to active membership in Jemaah Islamiyah in 2000. Thus, while he remained in contact with other "Afghan Indonesians" and Condet Ring alumni, he was effectively "on leave" from jihad for 7 years and was only recalled to up for active duty in 2000. He was arrested in 2003 after being trained as a member of the new special forces unit by Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II.

Ahmad Sajuli

* Another Jemaah Islamiyah member who began his career in the Condet Ring and was arrested in 2001 in Malaysia, Sajuli was a high school student in his early 20s in Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, where he attended religious discussions at the Arif Rahman Hakim Mosque at the University of Indonesia and the Solihin Mosque in Tanjung Priok. Through these mosques he met up with Broto in 1984, who invited him to take part in the Condet Ring meetings. According to him, the discussions at the Condet Ring focused on the history of Dar ul-Islam in Indonesia and how Kartosuwirjo had filled a political void when Sukarno had lacked the necessary courage. In 1986, Sajuli and 13 other jihadis were sent by Broto to Afghanistan, later returning in 1987 and moving to Malaysia in 1988-1989.

Karsidi (Mansur, Atang)

* Now 42, Karsidi was close to the founders of the Condet Ring and was a distributor of ar-Risalah, edited by Irfan Awwas Suryahardy of the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia. After the Condet Ring split up, Karsidi tried to form his own cell, though whether or not he considered it an active part of Dar ul-Islam is unclear. He was also involved in the founding of AMIN and was arrested in what appears to have been a sting operation. On April 2, 2003, police stopped a vehicle in Banyumas near the border between Central and West Java, finding 4,000 rounds of ammo produced at the military munitions factory in PT Pindad, Bandung, and some Dar ul-Islam literature. The men arrested were Karsidi, who was then living in Bekasi near Jakarta, Dadang Hafiz from Cicendo, Bandung, and his older brother Endang Rukmana from Cimahi, Bandung.

* Dadang Hafiz was the member of an usroh group in Bandung who had been detained for several months in connection with the failed Lampung uprising in 1989, where he became close with the imprisoned Dar ul-Islam notables including Kartosuwirjo's son Dodo, Ajengan Kecil, and Emeng Abdurahman, making connections that enabled him to become active in the seventh komando wilayah. He is also the teacher of the Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Dujana, who went to fight in Afghanistan at his recommendation. Known within Islamist circles as an arms dealer with ties to the oknum (renegades) in the Indonesian military that helped him to secure the ammo from PT Pindad. If Jemaah Islamiyah's leaders ever needed weapons, they could easily turn to Dadang to obtain them.


* A gang leader from North Jakarta who joined the Condet Ring after meeting Broto, he joined the group for protection from petrus but was also impressed by Broto's religious knowledge. Broto trusted Yoyok, making him his treasurer in the Dar ul-Islam Jakarta network at the same level as Muchliansyah (Solihin), whose credentials in the movement were far stronger. In mid-1985, Broto offered Yoyok a chance to go to Afghanistan, but he was getting married and decided to stay behind and help with the logistics instead. That decision kept him on the Ajengan Masduki side of the schism with Abdullah Sungkar several years later.

* In 1998, Yoyok began sending jihadis to Mindanao for training at the behest of Ajengan Masduki. These recruits were some of the most extreme Dar ul-Islam members in Jakarta, including Achmad, Pikar (Zulfikar), Annas, Agus, and Asadullah. Led by Asadullah and Yoyok, these trainees formed AMIN (Angkatan Mujahideen Islam Nusantara) in 1999 after the fighting in Ambon broke out. Yoyok never joined Jemaah Islamiyah, but he remains a gang leader and is still in touch with his old associates.

Nur Hidayat's Group

* In 1987, Nur Hidayat managed to reunite a number of the old Condet and Santa ring members in what became known as the Ancol Ring, after Ancol, North Jakarta, where most of the meetings took place. Meetings of 8-10 members were held in different homes, discussing the ideology of Dar ul-Islam and its conception of iman-hijrah-jihad, Koranic study, and then a discussion of the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, each member would recite the Koranic verses assigned to them at the previous meeting, with those who forgot having to do push-ups or pay a small fine. The meeting concluded at midnight and all of the participants would sleep in the home where it occurred, waking for prayers at 3 am, going back to sleep, and then awakening again for morning prayers.

* The Ancol Ring was far more egalitarian than its Condet counterpart, with no imam or hierarchy. But with 6 months it schismed between the followers of Abdul Haris who wanted to adopt the model of the Muslim Brotherhood and those of Nur Hidayat who favored a more militant course. In mid-April 1988, Nur Hidayat, Fauzi Isman, Wahidin, and Zaenal Abidin decided to use violence to impose sha'riah, get in touch with the other usroh groups led by Abdullah Sungkar, and get in touch with other Dar ul-Islam leaders and members who held to a similar vision to make the movement stronger, more practical, and more efficient than ever before.

* Their plans for setting up an "Islamic village" in Lampung in 1988-1989 and starting an uprising went tragically awry, but the Lampung base attracted a large group of Ngruki alumni and followers of Abdullah Sungkar as well as reaching out to the older generation of Dar ul-Islam leaders to see the movement could be revived again. The Ngruki link in Lampung was a direct result of the government crackdown in 1984-1985 on the usroh movement that Sungkar and Bashir had set up in Central Java. Beginning in late 1985, several members of the movement fled to Lampung to escape arrest and fell under the protection of the Javanese religious teacher Warsidi. By 1988, Warsidi led them to set up their own pesantren in Cihideung, Talangsari, Lampung to create an "Islamic village." At least one member of his group stayed in touch with other usroh followers in Jakarta and at a meeting on December 12, 1988 Warsidi and Nur Hidayat decided to join forces. They would all make hijrah to Lampung with Nur Hidayat as their leader, where they would set up a utopian Islamic community that would serve not only as a center of sha'riah and "Islamic economics" but also a center for jihad training. All the major Dar ul-Islam factions sent representatives to a meeting at the Cihideung pesantren on February 15, 1989. New leaders and a more permanent organization for the village were then selected.

* While Nur Hidayat insisted his motives were peaceful when interviewed in 2000, others present at the Cihideung meeting saw things quite differently. According to them, Lampung was to be the base for a new Dar ul-Islam uprising as soon as the jihadis had gained sufficient numbers and strength. One attendee noted that he had been asked by a Dar ul-Islam contact to get in touch with Indonesian mujahideen who had just returned from Afghanistan to see if they could provide military training. While the attendee refused at the time, believing it was too risky, by 2003 the same attendee was now a Jemaah Islamiyah member who had been arrested in connection with Marriott bombing.

* After the Cihideung meeting, members of both groups were dispatched to contact other former Dar ul-Islam members and convince them to rejoin the movement or at least visit the Cihideung pesantren in December 1988 and January 1989. The Warsidi group agreed to get in touch with Dar ul-Islam members in Lampung and Central Java, while Nur Hidayat sent representatives to Ajengan Kecil, Bardan Kintarto (who had been arrested at the time of the Komando Jihad raids there), Gaos Tawfiq (released from prison in 1987), Kahar Muzakkar's followers in Makassar, students at the Hidayatullah pesantren in Gunung Tembak, and Abdul Ghani Masykur.

* 10 years after the failure of Komando Jihad, there was little interest in reviving Dar ul-Islam except in Lombok and Sumbawa, where the local Dar ul-Islam members agreed to send representatives to Cihideung though none ever arrived. Warsidi's activities by this time had come to the attention of local officials, who summoned him for questioning in January 1989. After he failed to arrive, a group of military and police officers were sent to the pesantren on February 6, where they were attacked with arrows and the subdistrict military commander was killed. The next day, the regional military commander Hendropriyono led an attack on the school in which dozens of students were killed and the latest incarnation of Dar ul-Islam was destroyed. When reflecting on their failure, former followers of Nur Hidayat reflected that he was a fool to seek out the old Dar ul-Islam leaders after so many of them had been compromised by Indonesian intelligence.

* While Nur Hidayat and his followers were inspired by Dar ul-Islam and saw themselves as working towards an Islamic theocracy, their links to the "real" Dar ul-Islam were rather tenuous. Warsidi had been inducted into the organization by Ajengan Masduki, who had strong connections in Lampung, and Abdul Qadir Baraja's 12 year-old son was among the students killed during the attack on the pesantren. While Warsidi's followers consisted mostly of young usroh adherents who were linked to Abdullah Sungkar, the eighth komando wilayah of Dar ul-Islam that oversaw Lampung never embraced their activities.


* There may be a lesson here as to how Jemaah Islamiyah schisms emerge: the Young Turks of a Jemaah Islamiyah subdivision (wakalah), inspired by the group's earlier exploits, could plan and carry out an operation in the name of the organization without the endorsement or expertise of its senior leadership. But while the only weapons that Nur Hidayat had at his disposal were arrows, any over-zealous members of Jemaah Islamiyah will have access to guns and bombs.

* There are 2 points worth noting in relation to Jemaah Islamiyah. First, it has been a feature of the various efforts to revive Dar ul-Islam that many of those imprisoned after a failed revolt are not chastened by their imprisonment and normally make some attempt to try again in a different form, sometimes with different allies. This means that jihadi groups know or at least believe that those now imprisoned will be available at some point in the future and will have no compunctions about asking them to rejoin the jihad upon their release. Nur Hidayat, for instance, claims that he was contacted by Jemaah Islamiyah about taking part in the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings but declined and that he was far from the only one. Secondly, Lampung often emerges as an important base in Dar ul-Islam and later Jemaah Islamiyah:

- In 1976, it was a staging ground for Komando Jihad.

- Abdul Qadir Baraja, whose book on jihad was circulating Ngruki around the time of the founding of Komando Jihad, was a Dar ul-Islam leader then and continues to operate there to this day.

- Musa Warman of Komando Jihad started his Dar ul-Islam career in Lampung.

- Dar ul-Islam leaders met in Lampung in 1989 to decide on a new imam.

- Usroh adherents fleeing persecution found refuge among the Javanese immigrants in Lampung.

- Timsar Zubil, who was arrested in 1977 for his membership in Komando Jihad, settled in Lampung upon his release from prison.

- It is not clear when Jemaah Islamiyah set up a wakalah in Lampung, but the Dar ul-Islam movement in the region was affected by the schism between Sungkar and Masduki in 1991-1992. The Masduki faction was led by PT Cipta Niaga employee Abi Surachman, who succeeded Baraja as the leader of Dar ul-Islam in Lampung after his arrest in connection with the 1985 Borobodur bombings. The Sungkar faction (later Jemaah Islamiyah) was led by Iliyas Liwa of Sulawesi and his successor Utomo (Abu Faruq) and the split was not just over which leader was more desireable but also over religious issues. The Masduki faction believed that as long as they were living in enemy territory it was not mandatory to pray 5 times a day but that the morning and noon prayers could be merged for tactical reasons. For the Dar ul-Islam members who were becoming more and more influenced by Salafism, this view was anathema and many of them joined together with Sungkar's followers in Solo to create the nucleus of Jemaah Islamiyah in Lampung.

- Utomo (Abu Faruq) was a prominent member of the Lampung Jemaah Islamiyah and was originally from Trenggelek, East Java. While studying in 1985 at the same university where Warman had shot the assistant rector 6 years earlier, he met Ibu Thoyib (Abu Fatah), later the head of Jemaah Islamiyah's Mantiqi II, who inducted him into Dar ul-Islam. Abu Fatah also sent him to join the jihad in Afghanistan, where he became close to Thoriquddin (Abu Rusdan). After his return, he traveled to Solo but in 1988 fled to Lampung because he was told that Central Java was no longer safe.

- Jihadis from Lampung were being sent to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) Camp Hudaibiyah in Mindanao in 1999 and that a wakalah in Lampung was still active as of 2002. In late 2002 and early 2003, some members of the Lampung wakalah's military wing were being sent to train for the new Jemaah Islamiyah special forces unit that was being set up by Mantiqi II.

- By 2003, Lampung was still considered the 3rd most important Jemaah Islamiyah stronghold after Central and East Java.

- Several important meetings were held in Lampung in June 2003 to plan for the Marriott hotel bombing.

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October 08, 2005

Summary of ICG report on the implications of Dar ul-Islam, Part 1

I missed this when it first came out, but ICG has a great report out on the threat posed by Dar ul-Islam, the movement that al-Qaeda's Southeast Asian arm Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) can be seen as the major outgrowth of. One issue that is only touched on peripherally here but is discussed in far greater detail in other ICG reports, is that Dar ul-Islam grew out of the Indonesian Hezbollah, an Islamist militia formed during World War 2 by the Japanese to assist them in their conquest of Indonesia alongside the "anti-colonialist" Badan Penyelidik Usaha Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (BPUPKI) puppet government under Sukarno. While the links between World War 2-era Islamists (notably the Mufti of Jerusalem) and the Nazis are reasonably well-known, I'm surprised the ties between the Japanese and the Indonesian Islamists hasn't come under more scrutiny given that while Islamist SS units like the 13th Hanjar division and Ostmusselmanische SS regiment were destroyed at the conclusion of the war, JI is a direct organizational descendant of the Indonesia Hezbollah.

This summary is my summary of the outstanding ICG report on the topic, with some minor spelling differences due to my own preferences (Dar ul-Islam instead of Darul Islam, Suharto instead of Soeharto, etc.) that I hope is useful to others wishing to know more on the topic.


* After the September 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, evidence soon emerged that JI leaders Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were involved. But evidence also surfaced that they were working alongside a Dar ul-Islam offshoot termed the Banten Ring by Indonesian police that provided logistical support, field cooperation, and the actual suicide bomber. Questions soon emerged as to whether JI was stronger or weaker than it was before the Bali bombing and whether bin Husin and Top were still in control of the JI leadership or were acting on their own. These questions missed a key point, namely that even if JI was seriously weakened by the arrest of much its senior leadership post-Bali that it can still operate by forging ties to other offshoots of Dar ul-Islam like the Banten Ring, suggesting that it might be productive to look back at the splits and fissures of Dar ul-Islam since its conceptions.

* Dar ul-Islam is an extraordinarily resilient organization, having gone through cycles of decline and growth over the course of its existence. Every time the old leadership seems to have passed out of relevance, a new generation of even more militant followers have emerged to breath new life into the movement. As a result, the Dar ul-Islam strongholds of the 1950s are now strongholds of JI and al-Qaeda support, with the bases of the Banten Ring overlapping with some of the last pockets of resistance to the Indonesian military in West Java in 1962. Past and present incarnations of Dar ul-Islam continue to provide recruiting pools for jihadi groups and their support networks can provide logistical aid and shelter to terrorist groups as needed.

* Over the decades, many of the younger Dar ul-Islam members have formed many new groups, the largest of which is JI. This common Dar ul-Islam bond facilitates contacts and communication across the movement, JI, the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia (Indonesian Mujahideen Council), Laskar Jundallah (Army of the Legion of Allah), the Banten Ring, and Angkatan Mujahideen Islam Nusantara (AMIN), not counting the innumerable Dar ul-Islam veterans who maintain their own popular followings outside any formal organizations, those who know one another from school, intermarry, and stay in contact across generational lines. These ties have also led to feuding, bickering, and informing on one another to the authority, but the movement itself has endured even as its constituent elements continue to change.

The Defeat of Dar ul-Islam

* Dar ul-Islam emerged in 1948 with a regional rebellion in West Java under Sukarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo, followed by similar outbreaks in Central Java and later independent Dar ul-Islam rebellions in South Kalimantan in 1950, South Sulawesi in 1952 under Kahar Muzakkar, and Aceh in 1953 under Daud Bereueh. The rationales for these rebellions differed from place to place, but most were rooted in the discontent of the Indonesian Hezbollah at the concessions that the new government had made to the infidel Dutch or its failure to give them the respect they deserved in the new national army. In the beginning, religious factors were not paramount, but it became a common bond between the leaders and by 1953 they formed the Islamic State of Indonesia (Negara Islam Indonesia, NII) with Kartosuwirjo as the group's leader. Seven regional commands (komando wilayah) were formed in Priangan Timur (centered in Tasikmalaya but spreading out to Jakarta, Purwakarta, and Cirebon), Central Java, East Java, South Sulawesi, Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Serang-Banten, Bogor, Garut, Sumedang, and Bandung. Later, in the mid-1970s, komando wilayah were set up in Lampung and the Jakarta metropolitan area.

* In August 1962 after Kartosuwirjo's capture, the Indonesian military persuaded 32 of his top subordinates to denounce their actions and pledge allegiance to the government in return for amnesty. In their Joint Proclamation (Ikrar Bersama), they said that Dar ul-Islam and the NII rebellion was both wrong and misguided and that they had sinned against the people of West Java and now affirmed their loyalty to the Indonesian government. The signatories included many individuals who would later be arrested in the late 1970s for involvement in Komando Jihad.

* The betrayal and defection of so many of Kartosuwirjo's senior lieutenants questioned the issue of succession following his October 1962 execution. He had no second-in-command and while he had added a Dar ul-Islam regulation that any successor be chosen from the komando wilayah leaders and other members of his high command, but no explanation was ever given at how this was supposed to occur. All 6 contenders had some shortcoming: the West Java leaders Djadja Sudjadi of Garut and Adah Djalani of Tasikmalaya as well as Agus Abdullah Sukunsari had all signed the Joint Declaration, Abdul Fatah Wirananggapati of Kuningan had been in prison since 1953 (though he was released in 1965 to help the government fight the Indonesian Communist Party), Sulawesi leader Kahar Muzakkar was unacceptable because of his efforts in 1962 to form a federation that rejected Kartosuwirjo's concept of an Islamic state, and Aceh leader Daud Beureueh had surrendered in May 1962. As a result, Dar ul-Islam remained leaderless for nearly a decade as many of its former leaders received cars, land, and business rights in return for their cooperation with the government.

* Ahmad Sobari, the bupati (district head) of Priangan Timur near the time of Tasikmalaya, refused to abandon the struggle and founded the Islamic State of Tejamaya (Negara Islam Tejamaya, NIT) in 1969. But the new organization never achieved any lasting success after Sobari's arrest in 1978 and only maintains a handful of members in the Tasikmalaya area.

* As Dar ul-Islam's leaders feuded, the 12-15,000 fighters who had joined Kartosuwirjo during the height of his rebellion in 1956-57 were left without guidance but able to be recruited by members of the movement again. Some Dar ul-Islam leaders achieved reproachment with the Indonesian military in 1965-66 when they offered weaponry in return for agreeing to use it to wipe out the communists in West Java, Aceh, and North Sumatra. Suharto's powerful intelligence chief, Ali Murtopo, intervened with the dictator to save Dar ul-Islam from annihilation in 1966 when he learned that Suharto was planning to use the mass killings of that year to exterminate the last remnants of Dar ul-Islam.

* The Dar ul-Islam leadership saw cooperation with the army against the communists as a means through which they could both exterminate infidels while avoiding further arrests. A former NII regiment commander, Opa Mustopa, tried to reform the rebellion in Rajapolah, Tasikmalaya in 1967, but he was arrested in short order and spent the next 3 years in prison.

* By the late 1960s, NII Aceh leader Daud Beureueh became a strong candidate for leader of Dar ul-Islam with Kartosuwirjo and Kahar Muzakkar both dead by virtue of his being both a former Indonesian Hezbollah commander and the only one of Kartosuwirjo's original lieutenants who had retained his authority over the movement in Aceh. In 1967, he sent envoys to the remaining Dar ul-Islam leadership to ask their opinion on reuniting the movement. Two delegates returned, requesting that Beureueh become their new leader, to which he replied that only the Ummah could choose a new leader but that he would instead serve as All-Indonesia Military Commander (Komandemen Perang Seluruh Indonesia, KPSI). A stream of Dar ul-Islam leaders traveled to Aceh afterwards, including Aceng Kurnia, Haji Ismail Pranoto (Hispran), and Kahar Muzzakar's former lieutenant Ale A.T.

* In the late 1960s, Dar ul-Islam began to emerge from the period of inactivity that had plagued the movement since the signing of the Joint Proclamation. Aceng Kurnia began to instruct the children of Dar ul-Islam adherents, including Kartosuwirjo's son Tahmid Rahmat Basuki, inspiring them to continue their mission to make Indonesia an Islamic state. One of Aceng's students was Abdullah Said, an admirer of Kahar Muzzakar who founded the Hidayatullah pesantren (madrassa) outside Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, which would in more recent times be used to support and shelter jihadis fighting Christians in Ambon and Sulawesi.

* In West Java, recruits to Dar ul-Islam saw the movement not just as a political philosophy but also as the fullfillment of the Wangsit Siliwangi prophecy. According to the prophecy, Pasundan (modern West Java) will only be great when it is ruled by the followers of Kian Santang, the son of the 15th century Sundanese king Prabu Siliwangi. According to Indonesian legend, the Prophet Mohammed's nephew Ali bin Thalib first brought Islam to Pasundan and Kian Santang was among the first of his converts. During their meeting, Ali thrust his staff down in front of Kian Santang (whose family claimed to possess supernatural powers) and asked him to move it. Kian could not, so Ali recited a verse from the Qu'ran and easily pulled the staff out, convincing Kian to convert to Islam and take the name Sunan Rahmat. Dar al-Islam leaders in the Tasikmalaya area exploited this prophecy by telling the local population that their movement were the true followers of Kian Santang and that power would be theirs if they joined them.

* 10 of Aceng's students in the Bandung area led by Tahmid formed the Penggerakan Rumah Tangga Islam (PRTI) in the failed hope of consolidating Dar ul-Islam under their control. When that failed, Aceng began working with PRTI to form a committee to reunite former NII commanders. Danu Mohammed Hassan, who was Aceng's contact in the Indonesian intelligence coordinating agency BAKIN (Badan Koordinasi Intelijen Negara), was then contacted by Aceng to use BAKIN to support a reunion of the old NII leadership. With the 1971 elections drawing near, BAKIN saw the possibility of drawing former rebels into Suharto's Golkar ruling party and gave Aceng's committee $600 (R.p. 250,000) to finance their activities.

* Starting on April 21, 1971, Hassan hosted an NII reunion at his mansion in Situaksan, Bandung. Over the next 3 days, nearly 3,000 former rebels took part in Hassan's "Ex-NII Social," with Colonel Pitut Suharto delivering a speech explaining to the Islamists why they should support Golkar. Behind all the normal electioneering, however, a quiet consolidation was taking place as Dar ul-Islam members who had not seen each other for years met together to discuss the future. One fault line that quickly emerged was the issue of accepting BAKIN support, with Djaja Sudjaji and Kadar Solihat being vehemently opposed but many others seeing nothing wrong with taking money from their former persecutors.

* Following the Situaksan social, a series of secret meetings sprung up hosted by Hassan or Aceng to complete the revival of Dar ul-Islam. Because of the controversial nature of working with BAKIN, not everyone in the movement was informed but BAKIN was kept fully aware of their activities. The idea of working with Islamists was the brainchild of Ali Murtopo, Suharto's intelligence adviser and the head of Opsus (Special Operations) for the Indonesian government. A former Indonesian Hezbollah member, Murtopo was able to convince the Dar ul-Islam leaders not only to trust him but also to believe that he was dedicated to their goal of an Islamic theocracy in Indonesia. At a 1973 meeting in Cibuntu, Hassan, Aceng, and Adah Djalani drafted a new command structure for her movement with Daud Beureueh as their new military commander.

* In 1974, the Dar ul-Islam leaders for Aceh, Java, and South Sulawesi met at a house on Jalan Mahoni in Tanjung Priok, Jakarta in what would later be known as the Mahoni meeting and marked the success of efforts over the last 5 years to revive and unify the movement. Daud Beureueh came from Aceh while Ale A.T. came from Makassar bearing an apology for the actions of the NII rebels who had declared an Islamic Republic of South Sulawesi in 1962 rather than an Islamic Republic of Indonesia. Out of the meeting, Beureueh was named leader and KPSI, Gaos Tawfiq was named military commander, Beureuh and Ale A.T. agreed to share their foreign affairs portfolios, Adah Djalani became Home Affairs Minister with the assistance of Aceng and Kartosuwirjo's other son Dodo Mohammed Darda (Abu Darda), and Hassan was made military commander for West Java. Collectively, these leaders became membership of the Imamate Council (Dewan Imamah) with Beureueh as the chairman. Dar ul-Islam was divided into three territorial distinctions: Java-Madura under Hassan, Sumatra under Gaos Tawfiq, and Sulawesi and eastern Indonesia under Ale A.T. An agreement was made to continue their work towards an Islamic state, but Beureueh cautioned that they needed to focus on diplomacy and consolidation before they began to move openly again.


* Kartosuwirjo, Kahar Muzakkar, and Daud Beureueh are all regarded as heroes by Indonesian Islamists. While some of their followers have lost credibility for deviant religious beliefs or selling out to the government, these three continue to inspire new generations of jihadis. Ale A.T. was a mentor to Agus Dwikarna, Gaos Tawfiq (now 74) retains the respect of the Dar ul-Islam movement despite his former status as an Indonesian intelligence asset, and many JI members retain contact with him and his associates.

* During their persecution, Dar ul-Islam leaders in West Java legitimized the doctrine of fa'i (criminal activity, usually robbery, to raise money for jihad) that is now practiced by all members of the movement including JI. This reliance on fa'i has led to the creation of a symbiotic relationship between the Indonesian criminal movement on one end and JI on the other. The latter badly needs the money, while the former receive religious sanction for their criminal activities. Fa'i has now become a standard part of the JI recruiting and fundraising pitch in Indonesian urban areas.

* In the 1950s, NII commanders divided Indonesia into regions where they had control and could begin setting up an Islamist theocracy in addition to serving as a refuge for supporters fleeing government-controlled areas, areas that were contested but could be brought under control through dawaa (preaching) in addition to military gains, areas where they were actively fighting the government. In late 2000, some Dar ul-Islam leaders were still talking of the need to set up an secure base (Qaeda Aminah) under their control where they could uphold sha'riah and maintain a refuge for the faithful. Until 2003, Poso served this role for JI leaders based in Indonesia.

* The West Java Dar ul-Islam continues to instill the three-part doctrine of iman (faith), jihad, and hijrah (flight). Iman remains the core of the movement, while hijra is an integral part of the belief that whenever the enemy is stronger the faithful should take flight and head to a place where they can build up their numbers to the point where jihad can be waged against the enemy. Malaysia served as the site of hijrah for JI founders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir in the 1980s, Jakarta played that role for madrassa students in central Java, and today Mindanao in the southern Philippines serves that role. Understanding hijrah is an integral part of understanding contemporary JI strategy.

Komando Jihad

* In 1976, a violent phase of Dar ul-Islam began with the creation of Komando Jihad, whose creation was manipulated by Ali Murtopo and BAKIN, who used the organization to serve their own ends. Dar ul-Islam's leadership were not victims of Murtopo's plot, but rather saw Murtopo's schemes as their first opportunity to mount a guerrilla war against the government since their defeat in the early 1960s. Former BAKIN head Sutopo Yuwono warned Murtopo against getting too close to Dar ul-Islam's leadership, but Murtopo believed that by encouraging the Islamists to act prematurely they would be all that easier to crush and discredit.

* After the Mahoni meeting, Dar ul-Islam's military structure was further refined. Hassan brought 2 men, Ateng Djalani Setiawan and Zaenal Abidin, became members of the Imamate Council even though they had both surrendered to the military in 1961 and helped them to hunt down fellow NII rebels before the end of the insurrection. Hassan claimed that they both wanted to atone for their past actions for joining jihad. This view of atonement is one of the reasons why feuds within even the most extreme elements of Dar ul-Islam can splinter, regroup, and splinter again. As long as there is still a jihad to fight, atonement is always possible.

* Hassan's decision to bring 2 new prior collaborators into the Imamate Council prompted a schism within Dar ul-Islam between those who were willing to accept BAKIN funding and those opposed to it. In 1975, a number of Dar ul-Islam dissidents based in Limbangan, Garut announced that they would henceforth be known as the fillah (with God) wing of Dar ul-Islam, as opposed to the fisabilillah (those who followed God for the sake of jihad) Imamate Council. The fillah Dar ul-Islam would devote itself to education and social welfare, while the fisabilillah prepared itself for military action. By early 1976, Hassan convinced Gaos Tawfiq to form Komando Jihad with the intention of starting a revolution that would begin Sumatra and then sweep across western Java while leaving Gaos Tawfiq to plan the military campaign.

* Gaos Tawfiq was born in Garut in 1930 and joined first the Indonesian Hezbollah in 1947 and later the Pasukan Dar ul-Islam (PADI). In 1954, he was captured by the Indonesian military in Sukabumi, West Java and forcibly relocated to Rantau Perapat, North Sumatra with 1,500 Islamist POWs. Once there, he began to organize local ulema, fellow relocatees, and even some soldiers into the anti-Sukarno resistance. By 1958, he had organized the 350-man force Operasi Sabang-Merauke that succeeded for 4 days in taking control of the city of Medan. When defeat at the hands of the Indonesian military seemed certain, Gaos transferred his allegiance over to Daud Beureueh and his brief success in Medan gave him enormous prestige among Islamist radicals.

* Gaos's first step in forming Komando Jihad (Komji) was holding a meeting in Sukabumi in 1976 where a flag for the group and a special forces unit were created. Recruiting men he had known since the 1950s as well as those who had joined Dar ul-Islam in Medan in the 1970s. One of the second group of recruits was Abdullah Umar, a 24 year-old ustadz (religious teacher) from Larantuka. Killed by a firing squad in 1989, Umar was not only an important figure in Dar ul-Islam and Komji, he also inducted the head of JI's second mantiqi (regional command), Abdullah Anshori (Ibnu Thoyib, Abu Fatih), into JI and introduced Dar ul-Islam to his village, producing a number of followers in an unlikely corner of Indonesia who are still active today.

* Komji operations were launched simultaneously in North, South, and West Sumatra and Lampung, including bombing pro-government mosques they deemed to be masjid dhiror (mosques that divided the Ummah). After several bombings in Medan in late 1976, Gaos Tawfiq and his followers were arrested. During his 1978 trial, several witnesses testified to attending Komji bombmaking courses and had reached an agreement with the Libyan embassy in Kuala Lumpur for weaponry that never arrived. One of the accused Komji members, Timsar Zubil, was sentenced to death in 1979 but was later commuted to life and finally released in 1999. During an interview in 2001, he recanted his earlier actions and admitted that he had sinned and visited the 1982 Nur ul-Islam mosque in Padang and 2 churches in Medan to apologize for his actions.

* After Timsar Zubil's arrest, Abdullah Umar fled to the Islamic boarding school at Pondok Ngruki was taken in because he as well as future JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir had the same alma mater - the moderate pesantren Gontor in East Java.

* In Lampung and Palembang, the lead Komji operative was Asep Warman (Musa), a Garut native who had been involved in Dar ul-Islam in his early years, arrested, and moved to Lampung after his relase. He was active in the local Dar ul-Islam movement there under the leadership of Pak Ujeng and Abdul Qadir Baraja, who continues to be active in jihadi circles today. Baraja led the Komji operations in Palembang in 1977 and supervised raids on police stations in order to secure weapons. He was finally arrested and imprisoned, but later led a prison break that added to his reputation and that of his followers. Warman carried out 16 raids in southern Sumatra prior to Gaos Tawfiq's arrest, which prompted him to flee to Jakarta in 1978 with the other Lampung fighters. In Jakarta they were given shelter at the pesantren Misi Islam headed up by Abdullah Hanafi, whose son Hasyim Hanafi now serves as a key aide to JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir arranges visitations for him in prison. Another of Misi Islam's alumni was Abu Dzar, the father-in-law of al-Qaeda operative Omar Farouk.

* After Gaos Tawfiq's arrest, Asep Warman and his comrades joined forces with Abdullah Umar and took up the nom de guerre "Terror Warman," launching an assassination campaign against individuals suspected of informing on Komji and Dar ul-Islam adherents, killing a university rector who had informed on JI founder Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, a man they suspected of informing on Abdul Qadir Baraja, and special forces soldier Farid Ghozali. The income from their robberies was so great that the rest of the Komji leadership, who only learned of Warman's activities through media reports. Abdullah Umar and Warman were apprehended by Indonesian authorities in 1979, but Warman escaped from prison and increased his reputation as a pious bandit, becoming the main Dar ul-Islam fundraiser and even undertaking contract raids to secure consumer goods for the Dar ul-Islam leadership. He was finally hunted down and killed by the Indonesian military on July 23, 1981 in Soreang Kolot, Bandung.

* After Warman's death, JI founder Abdullah Sungkar sought to find a replacement so he began recruiting criminals in the Condet area of Jakarta. A question of succession for the broader Komji after the Indonesian military abducted Daud Bereueh in 1978 and held him in Jakarta in secret, rendering him unable to act as KPSI and throwing Dar ul-Islam into chaos. Open fighting broke out between the fillah-fisabilillah factions, culminating in a rash of murders of senior members of both groups in 1978.


* Abdullah Umar is dead, but his nephew Abu Bakar continues to preach at a Dar ul-Islam mosque in Jakarta. Some members of the congregation including Ahmad Said Maulana became new recruits to jihadi groups after the violence in Ambon erupted.

* Emeng Abdurahman, one of Warman's followers, remains active in Bandung as the imam of a Dar ul-Islam faction loyal to the late Abdul Fatah Wirananggapati.

* Former Komji leader and training instructor Abdul Qadir Baraja is now the head of the Salafist group Khilafat ul-Muslimin. Based in Lampung and Sumbawa, Baraja now lectures regularly in Bekasi and several JI members had joined his movement, attracted by its message of setting up an Islamic republic in Indonesia.

* The exploits of Komji have become legendary for many Dar ul-Islam followers, particularly the story of how Warman Shaheed escaped from prison. Warman's life has become a hero story passed down among Dar ul-Islam families, who have taught their children to follow in the footsteps of this unlikely hero. Warman is seen not as a thief and a gangster, but rather as a pious bandit who lived the life of a devout Muslim who died for his faith.

* The experience of Komji also shows that no matter how deeply Indonesian intelligence was able to infiltrate the group and exploit it for Murtopo's ends, the organization was also adept at using BAKIN and Opsus for its own ends. The fact that Indonesian intelligence had so many contacts in Dar ul-Islam would eventually lead it to believe that its contacts were actually working first and foremost for the government rather than for the movement. Komji also shows how, more than a decade after the end of the NII rebellion, a handful of men could still undertake considerable anti-government activity at the height of Suharto's oppression. This is a valuable lesson as far as understanding the need to root out JI, as even a handful of survivors could easily be serve as the next generation of militant Islam in Indonesia.

Power Struggle in Java

* From 1979-1987, Adah Djalani emerged as the new leader of the movement just as the Suharto crackdown intensified, resulting in the arrest of most of its Java leadership. JI founder Abdullah Sungkar and Ajengan Masduki both contended for leadership of the movement, with both drawing new recruits from increased dawaa programs in Jakarta from 1983-1987, which continued even after Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir fled to Malaysia in 1985, the same year the first Indonesian Islamists left for Afghanistan in large numbers to fight the Soviet Union.

* In July 1979, a meeting was held in Tangerang near Jakarta attended by 16 Dar ul-Islam leaders in which Adah Djalani was chosen as the new leader in a bloodless coup. He then eliminated a key rival, worsening the schism between the fillah and fisabilillah factions of the movement that existed since 1975. To fisabilillah adherents, the fillah faction had abandoned jihad and the legacy of the NII rebellion and were traitors to the Dar ul-Islam movement along with their leader, Djaja Sudjadi. In 1978, Adah and his supporters sought out a fatwa from Ajengan Masduki about the permissibility of having two leaders under Islamic law. Believing it to be a hypothetical question, Masduki replied that if there were two leaders then one had to be false and therefore worthy of death. Seizing upon this fatwa, Adah ordered Djaja shot and killed with several of his men, ending any chance of healing the schism through negotiation. From that point onwards, the Dar ul-Islam movement was irrevocably splintered between fillah and fisabilillah, with only the latter producing jihadis.

* During the Tangerang meeting, Adah claimed that both Daud Beureueh (still in Indonesian custody) and the imprisoned Gaos Tawfiq had chosen him as the new Dar ul-Islam leader and presented a copy of the letter that Beureueh had sent Gaos when he appointed him as military commander. After Adah's accession, the Dar ul-Islam old guard from West Java appeared to be back in control and several NII commanders who had served under Kartosuwirjo became members of the Imamate Council. Yet despite the power of the West Java leadership, Central and East Java had over time become far more prominent for Dar ul-Islam. After Kartosuwirjo's defeat in 1962, many of his commanders had returned to their old villages and begun recruiting new members of the movement. One of them, Ismail Pranoto (Hispran) would recruit the future Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas, and Ali Irmon before his arrest in Blitar in January 1977. Adah retained Gaos Tawfiq and Ale A.T. as the Dar ul-Islam leaders in Sumatra, Sulawesi, and eastern Indonesia. Ules Sudjai was brought in to replace BAKIN official Danu Mohammed Hassan as the Dar ul-Islam leader in Java-Madura. Adah's reign was brief, however, as he had only been head of the Imamate Council for a short time when he and the rest of the Council were arrested for involvement in Komji.


* Several members of the Dar ul-Islam leadership in 1979 have direct links to JI. Haji Rais who attended the Tangerang meeting is the grandfather of Abdul Rauf (Sam), who took part in robbing a gold store immediately prior to the Bali bombing at the behest of JI leader Imam Samudra.

* Haji Faleh of Kudus who was the head of the second komando wilayah in Central Java during this period, is the father of Abu Rusdan, who succeeded Abu Bakar Bashir as the active leader of JI following his imprisonment and had been inducted into Dar ul-Islam at the age of 15 by Aceng Kurnia.

* Mohammed Zainuri, the father of the notorious JI operative Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi (who died in 2003 after having escaped from a Manila maximum security prison), was active in Komando Jihad during this period and later arrested as part of the government crackdown.

* In July 2003, Indonesian police raids unearthed a wealth of JI ammunition and documents led to the arrest of Tawfiq Ahmad (the son of Dar ul-Islam leader Hussein Ahmad) in December. Ahmad is accused of working with Abu Rusdan but there was insufficient evidence to hold him and he was released after a few days.

* Despite the deep rift between the fillah and fisabilillah factions of Dar ul-Islam, the movement did not collapse. Similarly, if JI schisms, both factions could easily survive and the more militant wing could easily serve as both the source of ongoing problems as well as the progenitors of equally militant offspring.

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

October 07, 2005

A Dodged Bullet Or A Warning Shot

The project of helping Iraq evolve into a liberal democracy was always an ambitious one (glaring understatement) requiring a unique and fortuitous confluence of luck, military success, post-invasion management, enlightened indigenous leaders, favorable contextual conditions, skilled enablers found amongst the occupying forces, adroit and agile policy capable of instantaneous and far reaching flexibility, etc. The results so far have been mixed at best, with several red flags being raised as warnings of what might ensue in the near future.

While any nation building effort is problematic in the extreme, the particular characteristics of modern day Iraq present an even trickier model with which to work. There are bitter and historical grievances to settle on the one side of the ethnic/sectarian divide, and a loss of long held political power on the other - not to mention an ongoing and relentless campaign of violence that would be enough to unravel many an existing democracy, let alone forestall the creation of one ex nihilo. This violence and historical animosity makes it that much more difficult for moderate, conciliatory voices to win out over louder more confrontational ones - regardless of the faction. As I mentioned in a previous post, these factors negatively impacted the drafting of the constitution - which in the end fell short of being the inclusive document needed to attract enough Sunnis to make its codification the turning point hoped for by so many. At least so far.

The breakdown in that process is, unfortunately, symptomatic of larger problems endemic to nation building ventures: First, how do you help a population to form a democracy when there are so few democrats? Second, how can you invigorate a functional democracy without institutional undergirding supporting the fragile structure?

While there have been leaders in Iraq that have been more cooperative and helpful during the process (Sistani comes to mind as being a net positive so far), the issue remains whether even the most well intentioned Iraqis really grasp what "democracy entails." Yes, the concept of majoritarianism seems easy enough to get a hold of (especially for the Shiites who can now reap the benefits of their majority status), but democracy, at least a healthy functioning version, is so much more than the edict that the majority rules. There needs to be respect for minority rights and interests, respect for institutional integrity along horizontal and lateral lines, respect for the rule of law and the rules of the game, etc.

In terms of an institutional framework, democracies require several loci of power and influence - an elaborate web of checks and balances capable of withstanding strains and eccentricities pushing and pulling in certain directions. These include, but are not limited to, a powerful and independent judiciary, a robust and free press, an open and free economic system relatively unfettered by corruption enabling a middle class to emerge, a civic minded populace, quality educational systems and a free flow of ideas, etc. Absent this matrix, power tends to be concentrated at the top, with the ruling faction's influence constricting the mechanisms of democracy that lead to liberal rule. A glance to Putin's Russia is instructive on how progress can succumb to backslide.

In Iraq, these institutions either did not exist, or were only in rudimentary form prior to the invasion. This has made the transformation to democracy a daunting task, and one that requires more time and attention than might be permitted under the break-neck pace of constitution drafting.

Over the past week, the Iraqi "democrats" simultaneously fired a warning shot off the bow of the Iraqi democracy project and dodged the same volley when they realized they were in the cross-hairs. I am speaking of the 11th hour rule change for voting on the constitutional referendum, and then the 11th and a half hour reversal. First the change:

In their vote on Sunday, the Shiite and Kurdish members interpreted the law as follows: the constitution will pass if a majority of ballots are cast for it; it will fail if two-thirds of registered voters in three or more provinces vote against it. In other words, the lawmakers designated two different meanings for the word "voters" in one passage.

Then the reversal:

Iraq's Parliament voted today to cancel a last-minute rule change that would have made it almost impossible for Iraq's new constitution to fail in the upcoming national referendum.

Even though they got it right in the end (after considerable pressure from the UN and the Bush administration - strange bedfellows these days), the initial gesture is worrisome to say the least. The rule change, or "clarification," was both disingenuous (because the Kurds and Shiites knew that they were changing an established principle whose meaning was understood by all) and deeply un-democratic. It betrays a crude conception of democracy as some sort of majoritarian juggernaut, when in fact democracy must be built on a mutual agreement or pact to play by the rules and solve problems through the political process, one which acknowledges compromise and the sharing of power. I quote Publius from the blog Legal Fiction:

Voting is fundamental in that it's the source and guardian of all our other rights. It is therefore extremely important that officials in power respect the voting process (a broader concept that includes not just voting itself, but redistricting, registration processes, trustworthy ballot machines, trustworthy election officials, fundraising disclosures, etc.). This broader voting process should be as transparent and as free from official meddling as possible. It should also be governed by clear ex ante rules to ensure legitimacy and accountability.

As pointed out, ex ante rules are of the utmost importance. They insure that the party or faction in power does not simply rig the system to ensure their maintenance of control. Without accepted rules, known beforehand by the population with an expectation that they are legitimate, there is nothing to ensure that political factions will remain committed to a process that they see as fair, just and capable of delivering their needs. That is not to say that such rules can and should never be changed, but such a last minute change, and for so obvious an ulterior purpose as was undertaken by the Shiite/Kurd alliance, was profoundly misguided. There was absolutely no respect for the process.

It was also the worst possible message to be sending the Sunnis. The constitution itself did little to assuage fears of what the new Iraq has in store for the Sunni population now bereft of influence, power and clout. But what this move told them was not only were they going to be held out of power, but even if there was a slight possibility that they could affect outcomes at the ballot box, that modest opening could and would be taken away from them by an overbearing majority bloc - on a whim. If we are trying to bring certain Sunnis into the fold and cause a splintering in the insurgencies, this is about the worst way to go about it (in the political realm). And if we want Iraq to serve as the catalyst for widespread democratic change in the region, we better hope that the Iraqis can forge a democracy that will be worth replicating and one that will garner envy amongst its neighbors.

It was important that the Shiite/Kurdish faction reversed themselves, but it does not bode well for the future of Iraqi democracy. There will not always be such a proximate and potent US influence. When we are gone, it will be up to the Iraqis to figure out the importance of playing by the rules. The record thus far, is not encouraging.

Posted by at 03:06 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Dr. Paz on the Sinai attacks

I just received an occasional papers on the subject the recent bombings in Egypt and the Sinai from Dr. Reuven Paz, probably one of the finest Israeli authorities on the subject of counter-terrorism outside of government. As readers from Winds of Change know, this has long been an interest of mine so I thought it prudent to summarize so everyone could appreciate Dr. Paz's work as much as I do.


* On September 25, 2005, an al-Qaeda supporter using the kuniyat Abu Mohammed al-Hilali published an online analysis of recent terrorist attacks in the Sinai combined with instructions for waging jihad in Egypt. The analysis relies on both the Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh bombings and has gained a particular significance in light of Israeli warnings of future possible attacks on tourists in the Sinai during the Jewish holiday season.

* Al-Hilali's analysis is the first known to have been based on the 1,610 page al-Qaeda e-book Dawaa lil Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah al-Alamiyyah (A Call for Global Islamic Resistance) published in January 2005 by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abd al-Qadir Mustafa Hussein bin Sheikh Ahmed al-Muzayyek al-Jakiri al-Rifa (Abu Musab al-Suri), who uses the surname Setmariam Nasar after his grandfather. The son of a respected family of Rifa'iyyah Sufis in Halab, Syria who converted to Wahhabism, al-Suri was born in 1958 and is known to have been close to the late Syrian Islamic Jihad leader Marwan Hadid. Al-Hilali not only relies on al-Suri's book and other writings, appearing to be an adherent of the senior al-Qaeda leader and following his methodological analysis.

* If al-Hilali's analysis represents an accurate reflection of al-Suri's views, it might represent a new phase in al-Qaeda's attempts at achieving two objectives: to identify new fronts for jihad in the Arab world (other than Iraq) and to revive the basic principles laid out by bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam. Abu Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq are accused of neglecting Azzam's principles, namely to create a new generation of jihadis after a long period of indoctrination and to focus the direction of the global jihad against foreign tourists and "apostate" Arab governments and their economic interests rather than against fellow Muslims, Shi'ites, or fighting according to the principles of Takfir wal Hijra.

* Based on al-Suri's writings, al-Hilali emphasizes the need to use terrorist attacks for the purpose of spreading propaganda, incitement, and indoctrination to a new generation of mujahideen rather than to directly threatening the West. Like al-Suri himself, al-Hilali notes that his criticisms are intended as constructive in nature.

* With regard to Egypt, it must be remembered that not only in the Sinai but also in the suicide attacks against Cairo tourists in April 2005 and against a British school in Qatar in March 2005 by Egyptian jihadi Omar Abdallah that attacking tourists have been a top priority for Egyptian al-Qaeda members. Furthermore, the Sinai attacks have triggered a massive security crackdown, mass detentions of hundreds of Bedouin, and violent clashes between the Bedouin residents and Egyptian security forces that resulted in the death of at least 2 senior military officials. These clashes between the authorities and the Bedouin, combined with an increased Egyptian military presence in the northern Sinai, have served to disrupt the smuggling economy that ferries every good imaginable from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan. Under these circumstances, is it merely coincidence that there has been an upswing on terrorist activities in Egypt over the last year or is this the result of a new generation of al-Qaeda members influenced by the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri?

* Finally, it must asked if the political conflict between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood following the recent presidential election has contributed to the rise of Islamist unrest in the country. While the Muslim Brotherhood does not engage in violence, as the largest Islamist opposition bloc in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, it has helped to create an "Islamist atmosphere" through the existence of small but well-educated cadres who have become disaffected through the repeated Egyptian suppression of the Brotherhood. Many establishment Egyptian Muslim elements also tend to side with Hamas in its struggle against Israel and adopt anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric in general without fear of the government despite the standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Egypt and Armed Jihad

* Al-Hilali admits that he is unfamiliar with the Egyptian political situation from first-hand experience and is instead relying on media reports to base his analysis. He accuses the Egyptian government of behaving as a colony of the "Zionist-Crusader conspiracy" both in the Middle East and internationally by securing its borders with Israel, training the Iraqi and Palestinian security forces, and servicing interrogations for suspected terrorists at the behest of Western governments. Upon reflecting on this background, al-Hilali argues in favor of 1) a thorough study of the circumstances and responses required in accordance with the sha'riah and Salafist principles, 2) the adoption of a Salafist platform for radical change, and 3) the preparation, training, and implementation of armed struggle, arguing that this is being ignored because of a false societal conception of a division between soldiers and civilians that does not exist in Salafism.

* Al-Hilali argues that the teachings on the promotion of armed struggle are contained in the writings of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Suri, Abu Bakr Naji, and Abdullah Azzam. From that, the following priorities should be derived: 1) attacking the United States in order to force its withdrawl from the Middle East so that al-Qaeda can then see to the destruction of the "apostate" realms there (or alternately to target Europe if it attempts to fill the power gap left behind by the US withdrawl) and 2) waging a conventional military campaign against both "apostate" Arab governments and Israel. According to al-Hilali, al-Qaeda is currently in the first stage in this process in which the United States and its Western allies are the primary targets. Attacks on Arab governments should be launched on a strategic basis, as these attacks serve to harm US interests as well.

* Al-Hilali summarizes these arguments by saying that the proper formula of jihad in a particular region should be left to its appropriate strategists from the ranks of the clergy and the al-Qaeda leadership. He then quotes Abu Musab al-Suri as saying that the most important al-Qaeda target in Egypt at this stage are tourists, since they regard Muslim nations as their backyards and bring their moral depravity with them. If viewed from this perspective, the Sinai attacks were a highly successful example of this strategy by both attacking the Egyptian government and terrorizing Westerners.

The Lack of Propaganda

* Al-Hilali then discusses his key criticism that the Sinai jihadis failed to adequately utilize the bombings for propaganda and incitement purposes. Following the attacks, there were only unclear or overly optimistic claims of responsibility that in al-Hilali's mind caused more harm than good. The absence of this propaganda is nothing short of a defiance of Allah, since it is an integral part of jihad and a vital element for recruiting new mujahideen who must see that jihad is the only way to alter their destitute conditions. They need a starting point and al-Hilali cites the April 2005 attack in al-Azhar in Cairo as the worst example of such a failure.

* This propaganda failure allowed the Egyptian authorities to falsify the effect of the attacks and present them as the actions of a small and marginal group. As if the tardiness in issuing statements of responsibility and their contradictory nature weren't bad enough, these failures were compounded by the lack of a strategic religious analysis of the attacks, as evidenced by dispute among jihadi clerics as to the legitimacy of the attacks. Al-Hilali specifically mentions Abu Basir al-Tartousi, who, following the 7/7 London bombings and in a recent fatwa condemning suicide bombings published several declarations against attacking civilians. The attacks in Egypt and the Sinai were not even seen as important enough to warrant the public release of the wills of the suicide bombers, which al-Hilali sees as an important element serving as a role model for potential jihadi recruits.

* Al-Hilali calls upon the Egyptian mujahideen to take up the example of the numerous religious and strategic publications of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, who established a large library of jihadi texts in accordance with the divine edict of complementing jihad with the ongoing study of its doctrines. This does not harm operational security and al-Hilali criticizes the Egyptian jihadis for preparing operations for quite some time since 2002-2003 without taking any step towards Dawaa and indoctrination.

* Another problem noted by al-Hilali following the Sinai attacks is the absence of any clear message from the attackers. A statement should have been made for the benefit of both the tourists and the Egyptian government. The tourists should have been informed that their deaths were a reprisal for their governments' participation in the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy and taught to stay away from the Muslim world once and for all. The Egyptian government should have been sent a message that a permanent state of war now existed between them and the mujahideen until only one side survived. The absence of such messages turned an otherwise brilliant terrorist attack into a case of mere harassment for the Egyptian government, who were able to spin away the attacks' significance.

* Another of al-Hilali's criticisms is that attacks devoid of value should not be carried out, such as those against the Sinai peacekeepers in August 2005. The Sinai peacekeepers are not a strategic target at presence and attacks against it should not be launched, just as al-Hilali warns against attacking the Egyptian military except in self-defense. Quoting al-Suri and Zarqawi's mentor Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, al-Hilali warns that while weapons and explosives are easy to obtain in the Sinai, easy attacks must not be conducted without serious study and a strict cost-risk analysis.

Future Strategies

* Al-Hilali advocates following the strategy laid out by al-Suri, including: targeting tourists or taking them hostage, targeting ships or attacking Egyptian ports in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, targeting oil and gas shipments bound for Israel, and targeting foreign sites inside of Egypt including cultural centers, foreign corporations, and embassies. All of these steps should be taken after a period of focusing on recruiting, training, and indoctrination, with the last element being crucial, as al-Hilali argues that one dead martyr is more effective than dozens of lectures and sermons. This is the first goal of jihad and all terrorist operations must be accompanied by proper Salafist indoctrination.

* Since Egypt, like other Arab nations, is a police state, al-Hilali proposes a plan of recruiting small terrorist cells that can be provided with indoctrination and training without raising the attention of the authorities. The cells should be instructed in the writings of al-Suri and the training should take place in the mountains and caves of Sinai, beyond the reach of the Egyptian authorities.


* The most significant element of al-Hilali's document is the public reference to Abu Musab al-Suri's magnum opus. Over the last year, there has been a substantial rise in the number of references to al-Suri's writings in jihadi and al-Qaeda forums on the internet despite the long time needed for al-Qaeda supporters to read such a lengthy work. There is also a growing effort to post other writings or lectures by al-Suri online for mass consumption. Al-Hilali's document is the first attempt to interpret and follow through on al-Suri's strategy, which differs from both that favored by the older al-Qaeda leaders as well as those employed by the newer generation headed up by Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, the latter of which have been criticized by Zarqawi's mentor, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi.

* Apart from the significance of Egypt to al-Hilali, another implication of the text is that al-Suri is now enough of an intellectual force among al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups on par with that of Zarqawi in Iraq. As long as these circumstances endure, bin Laden can feel secure in the knowledge that even if he is captured, killed, or voluntarily steps down from his position as al-Qaeda leader that both the organization and the movement that he has created will now almost certainly outlive him and his top deputy al-Zawahiri.

* The two new schools of thought within al-Qaeda, the al-Suri school and the Zarqawi school, are by no means equal. Zarqawi, while seen as charismatic and worthy of loyalty by his followers, favors tactics that include the mass killing of Muslims as his strategy of choice, a move that may ultimately sap his campaign of its much-needed support in the Iraqi Sunni areas. The transformation of Fallujah, Tal Afar, Ramadi, and other Iraqi Sunni towns into miniature Salafist theocracies is not an aspiration shared by the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, while his attacks on Shi'ite civilians cannot continue forever without provoking a massive and bloody reprisal. While Zarqawi is currently the most effective al-Qaeda commander, he is neither a scholar nor a strategist, while al-Suri is both, having diligently written his book over the course of the last 3 years as a masterpiece of insight into al-Qaeda strategy and thought.

* If al-Hilali's document reflects the beginning of an attempt to set up a new base for al-Qaeda in the Arab world outside of Iraq, it seems that Egypt and primarily the Sinai Peninsula might well become the potential new arena for international jihad. The Israeli withdrawl from Gaza, the Egyptian inability or unwillingness to control the smuggling routes between the Sinai and Gaza, the rise of Hamas over the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and attempts by Hezbollah to establish a presence in the area all reflect the dangerous potential for the region to degenerate into a haven for international terrorism.

* The location of al-Suri since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 remains unknown. He is believed to have relocated to Iran in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban's fall and remained there until at least November 2004 when the United States declared him an international terrorist. Since then, reports or rumors of his whereabouts have surfaced in Iran, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa, but as of today they remain unconfirmed.

* Al-Suri is easily one of the most talented terrorists still active in al-Qaeda, a lethal combination of a terrorist and scholar. In Afghanistan, he served as senior explosives instructor but also delivered many lectures on jihad, strategy, religion, and indoctrination to recruits. Many of his Afghan lectures are posted on his website as video or audio files and many of these ideas appeal in his book. He seems to retain the patient character of the first generation of al-Qaeda leadership and unlike second or third generation leaders active in Iraq and Saudi Arabia prefers to act according to a deliberate and well-organized plan. In his 9-page open letter to the US State Department in November 2004 as well as in his book and lectures, he has taken on innovative positions and even engaged in constructive criticism towards bin Laden. More pragmatic than others as far as assistance from "infidels" is concerned, he has expressed willingness to ally with Iran and North Korea against the US. He has no anti-Shi'ite sentiments and has apparently made a deliberate decision to refrain from being active in the Iraqi insurgency. His pragmatism may derive from his family's Sufi background, while he prefers terrorism carried out by small cells of elite fighters to an insurgency according to his writings, which may explain in part his absence from Iraq.

* Al-Suri is also dangerous for his European connections, being a Spanish citizen through marriage and has lived in both Spain and the UK during the 1990s. This makes him familiar with both European and Middle Eastern societies, particularly North Africans. It would be wise for intelligence and security officials as well as private analysts to translate the last 400 pages of al-Suri's book and review his lectures in order to better understand the future strategies of al-Qaeda and counter-act them long after the conclusion of the Iraqi insurgency.

Posted by at 09:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The al-Zawahiri memo

CBS news is reporting that the US intercepted a 6,300 word memo from al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab Zarqawi that was written shortly after the London bombings (I'm assuming the 7/7 bombings). I want to see the full text of this before drawing any far-reaching conclusions, since the media in my experience has a habit of misinterpreting the terrorists' remarks in a manner not supported by the text.

According to CBS, the memo makes the following points:

1. Al-Zawahiri outlines al-Qaeda's plan for Iraq and beyond, more or less supporting the argument that al-Qaeda plans on using the country as a base from which to project itself outwards. Resuming the jihad in Egypt has long been a priority of al-Zawahiri's and in my view the recent bombings in Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh should be seen as a manifestation of this desire. In Lebanon, al-Qaeda's local affiliate is Asbat al-Ansar based in the Ein al-Hilweh refugee camp and Evan Kohlmann recently noted this item from January indicating that a member of Zarqawi's shura paid the Asbat al-Ansar leadership $100,000 and began training their members in document forgery.

The mention of Syria as being a target of al-Qaeda may strike some commentators as bizarre given the frequent US allegations that Syria is supporting the insurgency. However, it might be important to keep this item in mind when reading al-Zawahiri's remarks:

The magazine also reports on mass arrests of students in the city of Homs and of citizens from villages where individuals have been identified as having departed for Iraq. It gives the figure of up to 1,300 militants of various Arab nationalities arrested by the authorities in Syria, including 150 Algerians from the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prèdication et le Combat (GSPC). The news reports also detail the continuing victims of Law 49 (a 25-year-old decree stipulates the death penalty for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood), disappearances attributed to kidnappings by the regime and a government plan to replaced Islamic lessons in schools with ‘Ethics' studies.

So regardless of the nature or extent of Syrian involvement in the insurgency, al-Zawahiri would seem to be well within his rights to consider them an enemy. The fact that the al-Qaeda battle plan seems more concerned about setting up a stronghold rather than a theocracy in Iraq would seem to support the opinion of US analysts that the network is more interested in a beachhead than anything else in the country.

We also get some indications that the high command is not at all happy with Zarqawi's more sadistic activities:

In the letter, Zawahari complains to Zarqawi that some of his violent tactics are hurting public support for al Qaeda's cause, particularly the videotaped beheadings of hostages.

"We don't need this," the letter says. "Use a bullet instead."

Zawahiri also complains about Zarqawi's all-out war against the Shiites of Iraq, saying the Arab man in the street doesn't understand why suicide bombings are killing so many fellow Muslims.

As I noted to Eric in another conversation, it was precisely the more sadistic actions of the GIA that led al-Qaeda to ditch the group in favor of the GSPC. While Zarqawi hasn't gone nearly as far as Antar Zouabri did in declaring himself Caliph, ordering the indiscriminate murder of anyone who hadn't directly pledged allegiance to him, declaring the whole the Algerian society takfir, etc. Zarqawi likely heard stories about Zouabri during his time in Afghanistan and appears to have gone to some effort to avoid his fate.

The criticism of Zarqawi's killing of Shi'ites, like the earlier reference to plans to attack Syria, may also strike some observers as odd. As I have repeatedly noted, however, neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri are particularly interested in fighting a sectarian war against Shi'ites. While they have been willing to enlist sectarian groups into their coalition as cannon fodder (notably the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba) or even as commanders (Zarqawi), they have steadfastly refused to incorporate such tenets into their platform, in large part they see it as counter-productive towards their long-term goal of a fighting a civilizational war with the West in general and the United States in particular.

The letter also indicates Zawahiri's life in hiding has left him cut off from news and financial support. He asks Zarqawi to provide him more information about operations in Iraq, saying he should know at least as much as the enemy knows, and he even asks Zarqawi to send money.

This is where I'd like to see the actual text of the letter, as the al-Zawahiri videos released to date suggest that he has real-time access to at least satellite television and, I would even go as far as arguing, not only al-Jazeera but also CNN International and BBC World Service. His request for information from Zarqawi may simply mean that he's smart enough not to believe either everything he reads in the news or his own propaganda and instead wants to know what the situation is directly from his commander on the front. The request for financial support seems a bit odd, but then again from the records recovered in the al-Qaeda computer that were printed up in the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic Monthly leave me with the impression that al-Zawahiri is something of a penny-pincher and may want to make sure that Zarqawi is sending any extra cash he doesn't need back to the rest of the network.

Anyone with a full copy of the memo please e-mail it to me at scorpius@shwiggie.com ASAP so I can perform a more thorough analysis.

Posted by at 04:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 06, 2005

The Farther They Travel, The Less We Know

Building on Dan's insightful analysis of the difficulties and different approaches for infiltrating al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations, this short piece by Michael Scheuer is probably worth a look. Scheuer argues that we will never enjoy the same quality of human intelligence from the penetration of Islamist organizations as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, based largely on the level of ideological dedication of the members at various stages of power within the respective organizations (though, surely, not exclusive of the many other reasons cited in Dan's piece). He explains:

In the Soviet Union the people most difficult for Western intelligence agents to recruit were found at the entry level of the Communist system—young men and women who were moving from youth groups and school systems into the military, the KGB, Party organizations, or the diplomatic corps. At this stage these people were steeped in Marxism-Leninism, believed that socialism worked, had faith in the USSR, and were hostile toward the United States. The ideologically committed are always the toughest to recruit for intelligence services.

But on those occasions when the West could develop an informant at this level, the Soviet system unwittingly assisted in that development. With each promotion in the Communist ranks, the potential informant would see more clearly that socialism delivered nepotism, tyranny, and corruption, rather than fairness and equity. Non-Russians (those hailing from the Soviet republics and satellite states) would quickly realize that ethnic discrimination dominated the world in which they worked. In short, the further up the Soviet hierarchy our would-be informant progressed, the more likely the system was to disillusion him, making him more vulnerable to the Western intelligence services.

Here's the challenge that al-Qaeda and other Sunni militant groups pose: In such organizations the old Soviet scenario is exactly reversed—the militants who are least ideologically committed (and therefore most easily recruited by our spy agencies) are found at the edges of the groups, among the ranks of those who perform gunrunning, human smuggling, and narcotics trafficking. Once we've recruited these people, their value to us increases as they move toward the center of al-Qaeda. The problem is that the higher a would-be spy rises in al-Qaeda's ranks, the greater the ideological and theological commitment of his associates; Sunni leaders are often (though certainly not always) the devout and courageous men their media organizations claim them to be. Career advancement in al-Qaeda tends to wash away much of the mercenary hypocrisy found at the entry level—and therefore, in effect, to unrecruit those cultivated by our intelligence agencies. The odds of our ever having an informant among the senior al-Qaeda decision-makers are remote.

Infiltrating the fringes might not be so difficult, but there seems to be a barrier in place preventing potential informants from traveling too high up the chain of command. As Dan pointed out, the structure of the cells (separate, ignorant until the last moment before an operation, etc) means that the value of human intelligence from fringe sources might not be too high. We need people to penetrate the upper echelons, but that may require something close to a true believer - or at least someone capable of the subterfuge necessary to create that impression.

Posted by at 04:39 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

I do not claim oracle

But it seems my Weekly Standard article (which was originally going to be named "General Zod" and kudos to those who get the reference) on Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani was oddly prescient, as a senior British official is now blaming Iran for the killing of the 8 British soldiers that the UK has lost in Iraq so far this year.

This issue has been building for several months now, ever since IRGC explosives started showing up in Iraq over the summer. That the British are now coming forward and publicly accusing the IRGC of orchestrating this turn of affairs is noteworthy, as the British have traditionally downplayed most US allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraq. They haven't denied it, but they certainly haven't been as eager to promote it as US officials.

As a result, when British officials start saying something like this, attention must be paid:

A senior British official said there was evidence the Iranians were now in contact with Sunni Muslim insurgents fighting the coalition forces in Iraq.

... Sunni Muslims linked to al Qaeda have been blamed for trying to ignite a civil war with the majority Shias. The official said he still believed it could suit Iranian interests to work with the Sunni insurgents.

"There is some evidence that the Iranians are in contact with Sunni groups," he said.

"If part of the aim was to tie down the coalition in Iraq, it would be entirely consistent with supporting those groups."

... A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "Iranian links to militant groups are unacceptable and undermine Iran's long-term interest in a secure, stable and democratic Iraq."

This is by no means surprising for those of us who have argued, much to the chagrin of many experts, that the Shi'ite/Sunni sectarian barriers are not a barrier towards cooperation between Iranian cooperation with al-Qaeda and its allies, particularly given bin Laden's explicitly anti-sectarian views on the matter of said cooperation. Or, to use the words of the 9/11 Commission report:

In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb detonated in the Khobar Towers residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that housed U.S. Air Force personnel. Nineteen Americans were killed, and 372 wounded ... While the evidence of Iranian involvement is strong, there are also signs that al Qaeda played some role, as yet unknown.

... In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support - even if only training - for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security.

... Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin's return to Afghanistan ... Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan.

The "Iranian security officials" in question are almost certainly members of the Revolutionary Guards, which is one of the reasons why I regard Brigadier General Suleimani's activities as being so important to understanding what is going on here. European court documents, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism officials (such as the French individual quoted in the AFP story linked above) have also provided a wealth of evidence on collaboration between al-Qaeda, Zarqawi, and Ansar al-Islam and the IRGC. Indeed, given Zarqawi's emergence as the #1 figure in the Sunni insurgency, who exactly does one think the "Sunni groups" referenced by the British official above are? Some will argue that there is no way that such a thing could be possible given Zarqawi's unambiguous bigotry towards Shi'ites and the commonly held view that the new Iraqi government is made up of little more than Iranian pawns. To which I reply: whatever Zarqawi's personal views on Shi'ites (and he has had to temper his public statements to a degree since openly pledging himself to bin Laden), his immediate superior Saif al-Adel is currently based inside Iran. As to why Brigadier General Suleimani would ever back someone like Zarqawi, al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted him as saying that the former man's actions served what he believed to be the interests of Iran. As long as he and is subordinates in the IRGC hold to that opinion, there doesn't seem to be much interest in the Iranian hierarchy of dissuading them of it.

Now before the predictable allegations start floating to the surface, let me be clear: the UK has no desire, let alone capability, to initiate military action, let alone a war, with Iran. Neither do American neoconservatives in my opinion, though I suspect that I'll get a healthy storm of rebuttals to that statement. So given that none of these statements serve anyone's political interest at this time, I would urge observers to deal with them on surface value rather than questioning whether or not they're part of some elaborate design. Bringing up the issue error with respect to WMDs is also a logical fallacy on two points: it does not follow that just because the US and UK were wrong on WMDs that they are wrong on this and in the case of the WMDs they were not being actively deployed against coalition forces at the time the claims were made.

How these British allegations more specifically connect back to Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani is reasonably simple. Suleimani is the head of Qods Force, the elite Iranian military unit charged with carrying out extra-territorial operations. He is also a special advisor to Rahbar (Supreme Leader) Khamenei on Iraq, which means that if the Revolutionary Guards want to do something in Iraq, he is the one who approves it and oversees its execution. That makes him the most direct person responsible for the deaths of British servicemen in Iraq and, lest we forget, one of these IRGC- charges killed 14 US marines back in August.

The Guardian adds some additional information:

The explosives initially used by Iraq insurgents after the March 2003 invasion were crude and British forces were, for the most part, able to shrug them off. The bombs they face now are of a different order. They were designed by Hizbullah, the Lebanese-based Shia guerrilla group that fought the Israeli army for almost two decades and eventually forced it out of southern Lebanon.

A senior British official said yesterday that the bombs were imported by Iran -which, along with Syria, provides financial and logistical support to Hizbullah - and then passed on to insurgents in Iraq.

The disclosure that Iran is supplying such sophisticated weaponry for use against British forces marks a new low in relations between the two countries. For the first two years after the invasion of Iraq, British officials repeatedly made a point of saying that Iran had not been interfering in southern Iraq.

Since the spring, the tone has changed. In August, a British official described as unacceptable the smuggling of weapons from Iran into Iraq after a cache was intercepted at the border.

It also notes the failure of the European approach with respect to Iran to date:

The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna voted overwhelmingly last month to declare Iran in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a first step towards possible punitive UN sanctions. Iran denounced the IAEA vote, calling it "illegal and illogical". Government spokesmen raised the prospect of reprisals, including withholding energy supplies to western European countries and withdrawal from the NPT.

Increasing the pressure on British forces in southern Iraq was not listed publicly among Tehran's possible reprisals. But that may have become an option now being exercised covertly, officials suggested. In other words, after the Vienna vote, the gloves are off.

"Iran's motives certainly don't seem that benign," the senior British official said. "If Iran wants to tie down the coalition in Iraq, then that's consistent with supplying insurgent groups."

Britain's decision to take a tougher line in public may also reflect a realisation that its policy of "critical engagement" with Iran, which was pioneered by the late Robin Cook and doggedly pursued by his successor as foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has run into a wall.

That belief was strengthened by the landslide triumph of Islamic hardliners in Iran's presidential election last June. The rise to power of their candidate, Mahmoud Amadinejad, a little known former mayor of Tehran, is the other key development that appears to have changed the Anglo-Iranian dynamic. His speech at the UN summit last month dismayed western governments because of what they called its "confrontational tone".

The deterioration of bilateral relations comes at a crucial juncture in Iraq; a referendum on its proposed constitution is due on October 15 and parliamentary elections are scheduled for December.

A couple of reality checks need to be added here, not the least of which being that the IRGC arms shipments appear to have predated the Vienna vote by more than a month and may well have been a contributing factor in its outcome, so blaming the vote on the IRGC's latest antics would seem to be a real-time exercise in alternate history. As to the fact that Iran doesn't appear to have benign motives, I don't see how anyone who has paid attention to the repeated and universally acknowledged Iranian interference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as described by either side can come away with the idea that they harbor benign intentions.

Another major point is that Ahmadinejad was not simply appearing "confrontational," he appeared to be a flaming lunatic whose conspiracy-ridden speech stopped just short of overt advocacy of what Abdul Qadeer Khan was doing.

As noted by Yael Shahar:

The Islamic regime’s determination to continue supporting terrorism has forced the Iranian Foreign Ministry to strive, under extreme international pressure, to offset the damage caused by this policy to Tehran’s economic and political ties. In recent years, Iran has made considerable efforts to cast off its negative image as a state sponsoring terrorism. This has been motivated mainly by the desire for the economic advantages that can be had by altering its appearance vis-a-vis the West. Iran does not deny its adherence to Khomeini’s “Islamic revolutionary ideology”, which supports all radical Islamic movements worldwide. However the regime insists that Iranian support for these movements does not go beyond cultural, moral and humanitarian aid. Tehran strongly denies any military and/or financial assistance to these movements. Upon hearing these denials, it is well to bear in mind the principle of taqiyya (concealing the faith), a concept deeply embedded in the Shi’ite tradition, and according to which untruth can be used as a means of protection against the persecutors of the Shi’ite faithful.

... The only change that did occur in the Iranian terrorism scene in recent years has been essentially a tactical one. Iran has been careful to adjust its terror policy to international circumstances, in the realization that such activity does not play well to a Western audience. Iran does everything possible to ensure that its own actions are not perceived to be part of international terrorism. Iranian agents rarely take an active part in terror attacks; instead, missions are “out-sourced” to proxy organizations, such as the Hizballah, a regular contractor and central player in Iran’s terror strategy. Often terrorist groups active in the target country are trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and commissioned to carry out terrorist acts against common enemies.

Once this truism is understood, much of the rest of Iranian foreign policy falls into place rather nicely. With the reformists crushed and the IRGC ascendant, the rather thin veneer of plausible deniability that Khatami and the Iranian foreign ministry worked so hard to construct over the last several years is finally starting to drop and the results are far from pretty.

And after the manner of my mentor Michael Ledeen, faster, please.

Posted by at 10:10 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Detainee abuse redux

I see Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk (the latter of whom was an acquaintance and sometimes mentor of mine during my time as an intern at the American Enterprise Institute) have a good primer up in the Weekly Standard on the subject of Congress codifying the Army Manual interrogation guidelines as the uniform standard for interrogation. The Senate has now voted 90-9 on the subject and I think it's for the best. Readers interested in my previous thoughts on the topic of detainee abuse can read here.

The 12 points (and yes, I know the Good Lord had only 10) on this issue for me are as follows:

1. I don't want to have to deal with this topic. Period. There are a lot more important issues that need to be discussed and a lot more important things that need to be done that are not because of this controversy. Its continued existence continues to sap domestic support for the war, provides inadvertent aid and comfort to both the enemy and the US anti-war movement, and makes it difficult to curb the rise of anti-Americanism among the general populace our oh-so-superior European allies. I also think that many of the bloggers who have touched on this subject have become far too hysterical and in so doing discredited the much broader and more important issues at hand.

2. All of the above might be tolerated if there were some kind of real, tangible benefits derived from the procedures that have been documented in various government reports. As noted in my previous piece, I am well aware that interrogating a terrorist to the point where they will supply useful information is not a pretty thing, which is why they call it "breaking." However, I do not see how any useful information that can be obtained from utilizing the various abuses documented to date, nor do any number of individuals who know far more about the practice than I up at my hometown of Fort Leavenworth. What good is interrogating a subject if they die in the process, for example? One of the options I am sympathetic to is that of narco-interrogation, but as I understand it no one has raised it as a serious alternative to date, leaving me wondering if it has either been dismissed as ineffective or is simply being ignored. From a purely utilitarian perspective, the key issue here for me is effectiveness and I do not see how what happened at Abu Ghraib or Bagram according to the military reports on the subject are effective interrogation techniques.

3. As noted above, I do think that many (but by no means all) of the individuals involved in this have been overly hysterical, have a political axe and/or vendetta to grind, et al. I also think that if you take many of the more hysterical arguments on this subject to their logical conclusion that you can't help but come to the point of view that US troops, at least when serving under a Republican administration, are serial human rights abusers. That's a personal judgement call and one I'll happily make. But that does not remove their concerns from the area of merit and I think that the Donnelly/Serchuk piece helps to put this issue in its proper perspective as far as what the issue is here ("it's apparent that confusion and lack of training--more than premeditated malice or moral failing--have been the determining factors in the misconduct of American soldiers"). Conservatives who have for many months now defended American troops against what they regard as a sickening smear campaign against them by elements of the anti-war left should not shrink from adopting this measure, as it clearly defines right from wrong as far as interrogation techniques are concerned. From a purely political perspective, it serves to separate those who are genuinely concerned over the issue of detainee abuses from those who regard this as just another political vendetta.

4. Al-Qaeda prisoners will almost certainly continue to claim abuse or torture before a jury, military tribunal, or upon release. It is a part of their training curriculum and serves as an effective propaganda tool, which is one of the reasons why it's so necessary to counter for the broader PR battle that the US is now facing in the Muslim world. In order for this campaign to work, we must be able to contrast our own civilized nature to the abject barbarism practiced by Zarqawi and his allies. Conservatives (in my opinion correctly) bemoaned the tabloid-esque media sensationalism that occurred following the release of the first round of Abu Ghraib photos as nothing less than a recruiting commercial for al-Qaeda. Those photos played directly into bin Laden's hand and from the perspective his Middle Eastern audience confirmed the truth of everything he said about the US. We cannot afford to have a disaster on that scale happen again, period.

5. I do not believe that either international human rights organizations, the international media, or the loonier segments of the anti-war movement are going to dampen their criticism of the United States or the administration because of this measure. Keep in mind, many of them tend to regard the very idea of designating al-Qaeda detainees as enemy combatants an act against international law every bit as bad as the detainee abuses themselves (which in my view demonstrates more the skewed moral paradigm that such individuals operate under than anything else). You don't undertake correct actions like this to gain the praise of your enemies, however.

6. The idea that this act plays into the hands of the enemy is misplaced, in my view. It certainly does not extend the rights enjoyed by US citizens to the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, Abu Zubaydah, Abd Rahim al-Nashiri, Tawfiq Attash Khallad, or Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, for example. Rather, it codifies US interrogation policy so as to make sure that there are unambiguous distinctions between what are and are not acceptable conduct under American law. If these abuses are indeed the exception or the result of confusion and a lack of training as I believe to be the case, then what exactly is the problem?

7. Armchair psychoanalysis assessments linking prisoner abuses to either the US (correctly) labeling Iraqi insurgents as terrorists are horridly off-key, in my view. Or to state it better, these are arguments that sound brilliant to pundits but completely fall apart once you expose them to the harsh light of reality. As anyone who has ever taken an introductory class in psychology will tell you, human beings have a natural tendency to abuse authority, particularly when the rules are confusing or seemingly ambiguous. There have been a number of famous sociological studies demonstrating ample potential for prisoner abuse quite removed from anyone calling their prisoners (who were their classmates in one such study if memory serves) "terrorists" or even being in the middle of a war.

8. I understand well the argument that prisoner abuses, like the poor, will always be with us. No policy is going to be perfect in this respect, but if there is room for improvement I see no reason not to take that step whenever possible.

9. The administration, as I understand, argues that bill in question would intrude on the power of the executive branch to conduct war. That's a reasonable concern and I'm all for separation of powers, so if in fact they're correct in this regard the solution seems simple to me - have the administration implement a directive doing exactly what this bill argues for and then remove it from the floor.

10. The administration is threatening a veto on this particular bill, just as it has threatened a veto on another bill aimed at rescinding its earlier policies with regard to embryonic stem cell research. As a Catholic whose views on this subject are in line with the Magisterium (an issue that I am not going to get sidetracked on in the comments), I accept arguments in favor of the latter on the grounds of preserving human life. Given that adopting the former measure will serve to assist in the preservation of the lives of current and future US soldiers for all the reasons noted above, is it not then equally worthy of support?

11. On the issue of how to handle truly hard-core al-Qaeda members and leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, I think there are a variety of interrogation options available, though I'm still more than a little fuzzy as to whether or not the Field Manual regulations even apply to the CIA operatives charged with his interrogation or whether they have their own internal interrogation guidelines. Whether or not they do, I think it goes without saying that the interrogation techniques that can be used against absolute monsters like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be quite different in terms of both order and degree from those employed against the normal Iraqi or Afghan detainees who are often taken up in periodic "sweeps" of hostile territory, questioned, and in most cases released afterwards. Simply put, what you do to someone you know is a mass murderer in a controlled environment like Diego Garcia (you guys do know that's where they're housing KSM, right?) is and should always be different from what you do with regular detainees.

12. One final point that hasn't been discussed but needs to be is how we deal with the interrogation of juvenile detainees. As I noted in an earlier discussion with Eric, al-Qaeda doesn't adhere to Western ideas like the belief that you become an adult at 18 and has no problems fielding fighters, runners, or spotters as young as 16 or even 12. A number of African armies do this as well and it's not a pretty thing, but it is a reality that is going to need to be addressed at some point as far as how we deal with them upon capture.

That's all I plan on writing on this for now and barring any unforeseen developments, I really don't plan on addressing the topic again. Just wanted to bring this to the attention of readers and let them know where I stood on it.

Posted by at 08:42 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Infiltrating al-Qaeda: The Turkish View

AP has a pretty good piece up on the failure of Western intelligence and law enforcement agencies to infiltrate al-Qaeda to date.

Turkish intelligence agents are infiltrating mosques, monitoring underground Web sites and investigating Islamic front charities but are having little success penetrating al-Qaida's tight-knit cells, agents and anti-terror police say.

I'm actually pretty surprised to hear this for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the Turks have very effective anti-terrorism and intelligence agencies that have been honed from over a decade of fighting the the Marxist Kurdish separatists in PKK, the Marxist Devrimci Sol, and the Islamist Great Islamic Eastern Raiders' Front (IBDA-C) and Turkish Hezbollah (not to be confused with the infamous Lebanese group of the same name). Given that members of the latter group were trained by Zarqawi from 1999-2001, my guess is that they're the local muscle while the al-Qaeda being referenced here are the actual controllers, financiers, and agent-handlers. There is also a racial dynamic at work here, given that many of al-Qaeda's top operatives are of Egyptian, Saudi, or Yemeni nationality, with Indonesians playing much the same role in Southeast Asia. I assume that the Turks have already infiltrated elements of the Turkish Hezbollah and there have long been allegations, some of them credible, that Turkey deliberately cultivated the Turkish Hezbollah in order to orchestrate a conflict between them and the PKK to deprive the latter of support. Whether or not these accounts are true, the success that Turkey has had against its domestic Islamist groups (arresting IBDA-C leader Salih Izzet Erdis in December 1998 and killing Hezbollah leader Huseyin Velioglu in January 2000) suggests that they are at least at present a manageable level for the Turkish authorities but that the ability to infiltrate and disrupt their new benefactors has been somewhat elusive to date.

As the AP story explains however, this isn't just a Turkish problem:

It is a common frustration around the world, with police in Italy, Britain and dozens of other countries finding it difficult to penetrate al-Qaida, a loosely knit terrorist organization where family ties and close personal relationships are often key.

I'd be interested to know if France is on that list, as the French have exceedingly capable human intelligence and informant networks that have been set up and carefully maintained ever since the first bombings in France during the early 1990s. Italy (or at least the Milan prosecutor's office) seems to rely more on wiretaps and there hasn't been as much incentive to do so since up until this point the country has served more as a logistics center than a potential target for al-Qaeda. So far, anyway.

And then there is the UK, whose counter-terrorism policies appear to boggle the mind at times. From the ongoing existence of Londonistan to trying to recruit Abu Qatada so that he would prevent terrorist attacks in the UK (I guess attacks in the rest of Europe and the Middle East are okay then?) to trying to assassinate Qadaffi using al-Qaeda operatives (a claim echoed by Gunaratna and others), there is much about British policy in this area that does not make sense to me. Even to this day, UK authorities continue to be in denial about the al-Qaeda link to the 7/7 bombings. These actions, to put it bluntly, do not inspire a great deal of confidence about their ability to infiltrate or understand the group.

The Indonesian government's inability to prevent Saturday's suicide bombings on the island of Bali - three years after a similar attack on the tourist haven and a month after the president strongly warned of the possibility of upcoming attacks - is the latest example of the elusiveness of Islamic terrorist groups and the need for better intelligence.

Indonesia's inability to prevent the Bali bombings is due more to problems among the political class as far as recognizing the threat is concerned and the institutional weaknesses involved in prosecuting domestic terrorists. The latter is a very common flaw in former dictatorships, but I have a healthy respect for the Indonesian police given the speed and dedication they've shown in rounding up Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members since October 2002. The problem is that they're operating in the absence of political support given that most of the political class still regards the idea of an organization as widespread and dangerous as JI as being too fantastical to believe.

Turkey's recent arrest of Louia Sakka, a Syrian accused of planning to ram a boatload of explosives into a ship carrying Israeli tourists to southern Turkey, illustrates the challenges.

Sakka slipped into Turkey with a fake passport two years ago and was detained, but police said they did not realize he was an al-Qaida operative and deported him to Syria.

He returned to Turkey and was caught in August only after an accidental explosion in the safe house he was using led neighbors to complain to police about a strange smell coming from the burning building. Police discovered more than 1,320 pounds of bomb ingredients in the house and later uncovered Sakka's alleged plot.

I've noted Sakra before and he definitely seems to be a major player, at least in Anatolia and the Levant. He first came to the public light when he was identified in Turkish court documents as one of the financiers of the November 2003 Istanbul bombings.

To gather information on al-Qaida-linked groups, police here and in other countries have been trying to use Muslim informants to penetrate cells, but police are having trouble recruiting people who can infiltrate al-Qaida, which has links often forged on battlefields in Chechnya, Bosnia and Afghanistan - and now Iraq.

"Al-Qaida is held together by bonds of friendship, kinship and discipleship," said Nick Pratt of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies based in Germany.

Indeed. In the case of JI in particular, Sydney Jones of International Crisis Group has documented more than 400 inter-locking marriages and family ties that make up the core of the group. One of the reasons why it took the Greek government so long to roll up November 17 was because the entire group was a single extended family of very capable Marxist kooks that made it all but impossible to infiltrate or subvert the way you could more traditional terrorist organizations. The Middle Eastern penchant for sealing alliances through marriage has in many ways made al-Qaeda's upper echelons far more difficult to infiltrate than any other group adhering to the classic Marxist Leninist clandestine cell model.

Paul Beaver, a British defense and security expert, said it took years for Britain to penetrate IRA cells, and infiltrating al-Qaida is "a more demanding job. There has been some success, but not enough, as the July 7 attacks in London showed."

I would actually attribute that more to the issue of not fully appreciating the ramifications and dangers of the al-Qaeda alliance with the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with regard to the British Pakistanis, the effect of Londonistan as a radicalizing force on the British Muslim population, and a deep-seated unwillingness of the British political class as a whole to recognize the problems inherent in either situation. If the MI5 assessments leaked to the British press post-7/7 are any indication, there are upwards of 10,000 active al-Qaeda supporters in the UK and perhaps as many as several hundred members. Lest we forget, the UK has a Muslim population of upwards of 2,000,000, so this sounds to me as being about right. What then, do the British plan to do about this? I don't know, but so far I've been far from impressed on this score. None of this should be seen as denigrating the efforts of British law enforcement and intelligence, incidentally, both of which have done an outstanding job in thwarting attacks in the UK absent any real leadership from the political class.

The article then proceeds to discuss Turkish strengths as far as fighting terrorism:

Turkey has an advantage in investigating Islamic groups - with a 100 percent Muslim police force, as religious minorities are not accepted - but that has failed to translate into big gains.

Turkey is 99.8% Muslim according to the CIA, so even if they accepted religious minorities into their police force they'd still likely have a 90% Muslim police force. I'm also not certain that I'd accept the reporters' characterization that they haven't made big gains - the Istanbul bombers, with the exception of those who fled to Iraq or Iran, were apprehended in fairly short order. Planned attacks such as foiled 2004 plot against the NATO summit (whose plotters were trained in Pakistan, likely by the LeT, and planned to assassinate President Bush) were disrupted or the more recent maritime attack on Israeli tourists have been thwarted and major players like Sakra have been taken out of commission. If that isn't progress, I'm not certain what is. Had the assassination attempt on President Bush or the suicide attacks on Israeli cruise ships succeeded, we wouldn't be debating how much "progress" the Turkish authorities were making on this score.

One Turkish intelligence agent said it might be possible to infiltrate al-Qaida sympathizers or supporters, but it's far more difficult to penetrate an operational cell discreetly planning and carrying out attacks, because the structure is built on a "lack of trust."

Cells operate independently and each cell leader knows only the person above him in the organization, said the intelligence agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the subject.

That's because the al-Qaeda supporters and allies like the Turkish Hezbollah or the IBDA-C are insulated from the operational cells the same way the financial, propaganda, recruiting, and operations wings of the network are insulated from one another. Moreover, the al-Qaeda MO is to keep a short-term operational cell as isolated as possible immediately prior to an attack to keep them from being detected until it's too late. What this means is that it is next to impossible to infiltrate a cell that has already completed its training and psychologically conditioning to carrying out an attack.

That's the theory and the trend anyway. In practice, while these guys may look, act, and even talk like comic book villains, they are not infallible, nor is it all that easy to adhere to rigorous definitions of discipline that may have worked in a controlled environment in Pakistan but is next to impossible to maintain in the far more open atmosphere of Western countries. Operating on the assumption that the 9/11 hijackers were some of the finest operatives ever produced by al-Qaeda training camps, even a casual reading of their MO once they entered the United States will indicate that these guys are not all robotic constructs unyielding in their operational security. Sooner or later they screw up, and that is when law enforcement or intelligence agencies are able to disrupt them.

Also, one cell leader may command several groups, the agent said. The leader will use one alias with one group and another with a different group, he said, so captured members of different cells give interrogators different names.

When Turkish police showed suspects pictures of Sakka, they identified him with different names, according to a police interrogation report obtained by The Associated Press.

Harun Ilhan, one of the key al-Qaida suspects on trial for the Istanbul bombings in 2003, said they frequently changed code names.

Those are what's known within the trade as "masterminds" or "failed masterminds" depending on their success rate. This isn't a new concept either, as I'm sure our own spies do it all the time when dealing with overseas contacts. If you take a look at the Rewards for Justice website, for instance, you'll notice that bin Laden is known by a variety of nom de guerres even within his own organization, including the Prince, the Emir, the Director, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Sheikh, and Hajj. Al-Zawahiri, who has been far more active clandestinely than bin Laden, is known as the Doctor (a reference to Dr. Who, perhaps?), the Teacher, Ustaz (a Muslim religious title), al-Nur ("The Light"), Abu Mohammed, Abu Mohammed Nur al-Din, Abu Fatima, Mohammed Ibrahim, Abu Abdallah, and Abu al-Muaz.

Turkish authorities monitor more than 800 Turks who have fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya or Bosnia; they are also now monitoring people who have fought in Iraq, police say.

That's quite interesting, as it means that some Turkish jihadis who have gone to fight in Iraq have already returned, either by accident or some design of Zarqawi's. One of the things that needs to be understood, however, is that these jihadis do not constitute a majority of the Turkish population (69,660,559 per the CIA) who, regardless of what they think about Iraq or the United States or even the role of Islam in politics, do not seem to be lining up to join Zarqawi at this time. Some of the good news about the Iraqi jihad is that it doesn't carry any of the long-standing Turkish cultural-religious grievances against Slavs and/or the Eastern Orthodoxy that the Bosnian or Chechen jihads do and hence is unlikely to obtain anything resembling the same level of popular support, even within the Turkish Islamist community.

Turkish undercover police often join Friday prayers in certain mosques, trying to see who known suspects may be meeting and where they are going, said an anti-terror police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk on the record.

Police also use cameras to monitor streets and airports in some major cities.

Sometimes the police make their presence obvious. During a recent Istanbul Islamic charity event to collect aid for Palestinians, some people seemed startled when a police radio began blaring under the jacket of a man attending the event. The man - clearly a plainclothes police officer - made no effort to turn off the radio, possibly to intimidate people.

All of these are good methods and are probably going to pay off in spades within the next 5-10 years as the Turks find themselves more and more redirecting their counter-terrorism efforts away from the PKK (which has killed far more Turkish citizens than al-Qaeda and is still their #1 priority) and towards a more Islamist-oriented strategy. Keep in mind that it has taken the French over a decade to refine their counter-terrorism efforts to where they are today, simply because the 1994-1996 terror campaign by the Algerian GIA left them little choice but to do so. Because of that, they were able to identify bin Laden is the main driver of the GIA during a period when the CIA still saw him as merely a "financier" of terrorism and by the time of the 1998 World Cup in Paris they were ready for action, working with their neighbors to arrest over 100 suspected GIA members living France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. I have no doubt that the Turks can receive similar results, but it is going to take time and effort to do so.

Police and intelligence agents also tap telephones of suspected Islamic militants and try to intercept Internet messages, but security forces are also finding that task frustrating.

"Just as it was difficult to infiltrate al-Qaida's inner circle in the real world, the chat rooms, Web sites, and computers of today's displaced network have become more challenging to observe," said Chip Ellis, coordinator of terrorism studies at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism based in Oklahoma.

"Some of these have been around for years and have closed themselves to new members and encrypted their communications," he said. "Others are constantly relocating and resurfacing."

I'm a big believer in SIGINT, even after its failure with regard to Iraqi WMDs. Anyone who is even remotely aware of the wealth of information contained in the wiretaps that the Milan prosecutor's office was able to obtain is probably of a similar mindset, at least once you get over the reaction that nobody talks like that. Monitoring Internet sites for terrorist content is a little bit more iffy, though the efforts of Internet Haganah and others on this score are extremely useful. The challenge for investigators is to determine which sites are genuine and which are run by wannabes, though some of the more notorious such as Azzam Publications, al-Neda, Farooq.net, Jehad.net, Qoqaz, etc. sort of stand out by themselves.

There are also legal barriers. Phone and Internet companies in the Netherlands, for example, have protested demands by the Dutch government that they store data such as Internet service provider addresses and phone calls for three years for police.

I'm not terribly surprised to learn about the legal barriers, particularly in Western nations. Some ISPs used to housing controversial content such as some of the seedier porn sites or racial supremacist sites simply refuse to shut down websites even when confronted with proof of their extremist leanings. Another favored tactic by al-Qaeda is to hack in to another website and then install their content as part of an obscure image subdirectory.

Authorities also are trying to convince militants to give up violence.

Following the 2003 truck bombings in Istanbul that killed 61, some al-Qaida-linked suspects expressed regret for their role in the killings while under interrogation, but after they returned to their prison cells, "they were seen quickly returning to their militant views," said Emin Demirel, a Turkish terrorism expert and author of a new book titled "Al-Qaida Elements in Turkey."

The Yemenis claim to be having some success on this score, but their method is far more akin to the kind of deprogramming regimen that people go through after leaving cults than anything else. It also unambiguously challenges the tenets of Salafism, which could lead to all sorts of interesting legal issues as far as attempting to employ it in Western nations are concerned. As far as the fact that terrorists express regret upon being caught, the Jihad in Europe case studies produced by Norwegian intelligence awhile back makes it quite clear that many terrorists have no compunctions about lying, particularly with regard to infidels. As documented by the Norwegians, captured terrorists would cite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as their motivation, express remorse for their activities, claim racism, and a whole host of other despicable tactics all designed to elicit popular support. This doesn't even begin to get into how many of these people got into Europe to begin with, ranging from claims that they have been persecuted for their political views to their religion to even their homosexuality if it gets them refugee or asylum status. Minus the Yemeni de-indoctrination program, I think we're going to have to take claims of the repentance of captured terrorists with a definite helping of salt. Moreover, if memory serves most of the Londonistan crowd still to this day denies any involvement in terrorism. Truly, the cynicism of these people knows no end ...

Posted by at 01:26 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

October 05, 2005

When No Means Yes, Maybe

It has been the persistent hope, and in some cases strategic game plan, of the Bush Adminstration that the drafting of a constitution in Iraq, and the subsequent elections, might serve as a means of tamping the intensity of, and support for, certain strains of the insurgency. These two events are often cited as benchmarks of progress and facilitators for the anticipated withdrawal of at least some of the US forces from Iraq.

While the foreign jihadists and domestic Islamists (even, potentially, some Shiite militants) would likely be hostile to the formation of an inclusive and relatively liberal constitution, certain strains of Sunni insurgents might be tempted to forego the use of violence in favor of participation in the political process. This likelihodd is aided by the fact that at least some amongst their ranks have rued the fact that their boycott of the first round of elections has left them without a voice in the process. These factions are loathe to repeat such mistakes again. If the political process (the constitution plus elections) could in some way allay the Sunni population's fears that they will be disenfranchised, retaliated against, humiliated and eggregiously disempowered in the new Iraq (the sentiments adding fuel to the fire of some insurgencies), then a breakthrough might be possible.

The prospect for Sunni participation in the political process, and correlating abdication of violence, is tantalizing because of the possibility for splintering the insurgencies and turning them against each other. The foreign jihadists must rely on some level of domestic support, or tolerance, in order to continue their operations in country. But if we could peel away layers of Sunnis from the various insurgencies, while marginalizing and alienating the foreign jihadists loosely under the control of Zarqawi, we could make considerable headway against the stubbornly resilient armed resistance. Our quality of intelligence would be upgraded and local cooperation with coalition forces would increase in the erstwhile hostile Sunni regions - both vital components of any successful counter-insurgency strategy. This strategic maneuvering would be aided by the counter-productive tactics employed by Zarqawi's groups - including the brash targeting of civilians and provocation of sectarian tensions. At least some Sunnis are losing patience with Zarqawi regardless.

Of course, the potential to realize any of those gains is premised on the assumption that the constitution that will eventaully emerge from the process will appeal to enough Sunnis to actually make a difference with respect to the issues listed above. Unfortunately, in pursuining these ends, the constitution-drafting exercise has failed miserably - so far. The draft that emerged from the artificially expedited process has only served to confirm the suspicions and fears of the suddenly marginalized Sunni population - no doubt exacerbated by the fact that they were essentially sidelined for the duration of the process by virtue of their negligible representation in the legislature.

Within the text of the draft of the constitution is written the means by which the Kurds and Shiites will maintain control of, and reap the windfall from, Iraq's rich deposits of oil. The text provides for uneven distribution of profits based on regional contributions of resources and population concentrations, as well as ostensibly "temporary" quotas on the disbursement of funds from oil proceeds to pay for past wrongs (read: the Shiites and Kurds get more money from oil because they control the productive regions and suffered grievously under Saddam). In addition, there are apparent mechanisms for creating near-autonomous regions - most likely delineated along ethnic or sectarian lines with the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the South (the two oil rich areas).

The major Sunni groups have rejected this version based on what they perceive as in-built mechanisms to deprive them of economic and political power going forward. The document confirms their fears of what life will look like in the new Iraq. Even Shiite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr was originally opposed to the draft, most likely because his power base in Baghdad is not in an oil rich region and so he, too, would be out of the money loop.

At a time when the various Iraqi factions needed most to take an enlightened approach, to put aside the impulse to maximize on new found political power to the exclusion of others, the dominant Shiite/Kurdish faction decided to make a power play. Normally, a constitution would be the document that bridges gaps, broaches divisions and creates a consensus set of rules by which members of a nation would agree put aside differences, or at least let them play out in the political realm. In Iraq, a nation riven with often violent ethnic and sectarian cleavages, the need for consensus - or something approaching it - is even more crucial. From the disappointment of the process so far, it is not hard to understand what the International Crisis Group (cited by Greg last week) was getting at when they said of the constitution, as written:

At this point, however, without a national consensus embodied in a permanent constitution, there is little that can halt the slide toward civil war, chaos and dissolution. Drafting a constitution based on compromise and consensus arguably could have been a first step in a healing process. Instead, it is proving yet another step in a process of depressing decline.

In the wake of the draft's completion (sort of: Zalmay Khalilzad, the Bush team's most worthy representative in the region, to his credit, has been working feverishly even after the "completed" draft was submitted to get more Sunni-pleasing compromise into the document), some have expressed hope that the impressive numbers of Sunni's registering might be a sign of a new found appreciation of the political process. The Sunnis registering, appear to be doing so in order to try to defeat the constitution via the referendum planned for October 15. By doing this, I would argue, the Sunnis could learn to appreciate the potency of the ballot box and might be encouraged to view the December elections (which would be converted into elections for a new legislative body and constitutional drafting body by the referendum's defeat) as the next step in their political maturation. The Kurds and Shiites, it is hoped, would be forced to accept the fact that they need to work harder at consensus building - acknowledging and making concession for Sunni concerns. The politicization of the Sunnis, if met with some level of success at the ballot box, could serve the aims of splintering the insurgencies.

There would be a risk, however, that the Kurds and Shiites might just grow impatient and proceed with the fragmentation of Iraq. In addition, there is no guarantee that the Sunnis would become so enamored with the political process as to withdraw support from the various insurgencies. They could simply decide to hedge bets, and pursue all routes available - they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But the route of defeat in the referendum seems ultimately less risky than a further alienation of the Sunni minority. How can Iraq really hold together and avoid civil war and fragmentation if the founding document is forced upon the Sunni population. To quote Fred Kaplan:

A key breakthrough in Philadelphia was the Connecticut Compromise, which gave each state two senators, thus preserving the power of small states. But imagine there had never been this compromise. The constitution needed ratification by just nine of the 13 states in order to become the law of the land. Nine states might have signed on even without the compromise—but the union would not have lasted very long. The same is true of Iraq's constitution: Enough provinces may sign on—but that probably won't be enough to build a durable Iraqi nation.

If the opportunity to extend a bridge to those Sunnis who might be fence sitting were lost, the Sunni population would be even more alienated, and any opportunity to isolate and marginalize certain strains of the insurgency would be wasted. On the contrary, there might even be an increase in support for the insurgency from a more desperate Sunni population with fewer and fewer alternative outlets and less faith in the political process and the intentions and designs of their fellow countrymen.

In short, the risks of Shiite/Kurdish withdrawal from the process would be worth taking in the interest of the long term health of Iraq - especially since the Shiites (if not Kurds) still have much to gain from a unified peaceful Iraq. Effective and inclusive constitutions take time to craft, and the arbitrary timeline placed on the process is not allowing for the emergence of the Iraq version of the Connecticut Compromise. That is why in Iraq on October 15, "no" means "yes."

(FWIW: The Shiites and Kurds have just reversed their earlier decision to change the voting rules to make a "no" vote virtually impossible. It is still unlikely that there will be enough "no" votes to defeat the draft via the referendum, but I still believe it would be the most prudent course of action).

Posted by at 03:28 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Manning The Shop

Like Dan, I feel an introduction is in order, although I'm sure I've bumped into many of you in the comments section on this site. Hopefully, we're still on speaking terms. For those that don't know me, my name is Eric Martin and I host my own blog, Total Information Awareness, and am a member, along with some truly thoughtful and interesting voices, of the group blog called Liberals Against Terrorism. Despite the somewhat strident title, I highly recommend that site to anyone looking for a serious, pragmatic, dialectical and nuanced look at foreign policy from a left of center, though not far left, perspective.

Like Greg, I am an attorney living in New York City (downtown just a few blocks from Ground Zero) with a passion for foreign policy and international relations. I am also an avid reader of Belgravia Dispatch and look forward to engaging in some fruitful back and forth while Greg is on hiatus. And for those showing concern, rest assured, Greg's having a lot more fun than any of us right about now.

(Questons, comments, hate mail to ericred55 [at] hotmail)

Posted by at 03:09 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Introduction and Brief Commentary

First of all, an introduction is probably in order for those who don't already know me. As I'm too lazy to come up with a new one, here is the same one I sent Greg:

"Dan Darling is a consultant for the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism and an occasional contributor to the Weekly Standard magazine. He is also a 22 year-old student at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri, where he is currently completing his undergraduate degree in political science."

That's about the long and the short of it. Not as detailed or qualified as Greg or Eric, mind you, but hopefully just as interesting. As noted above, I do write on occasion for the Weekly Standard and am fortunate enough to have a piece out today on Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani. Compiled entirely from open sources, the general point of the piece is that if even half of what the open source information says about the activities of Brigadier General Suleimani is to be believed, it is long past time we started including this element in the public discussion of how we deal with Iran.

Another thing that needs to emphasized with regard to Brigadier General Suleimani is that he is not a pariah as far as the Iranian regime is concerned. Indeed, it is he and his fellow travelers among the most radical elements of the Revolutionary Guards that were so key with regard to ascension of Ahmadinejad.

Posted by at 07:50 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

October 04, 2005


B.D. will be out of commission starting tomorrow and pretty much through October. Picking up the slack will be two bloggers: 1) Dan Darling who also writes at the excellent Winds of Change, and 2) Eric Martin of TIA. Dan tends to lean right, and Eric left--but both are keen proponents of effectively waging the GWOT (or whatever we are calling it these days). They will likely engage in occasional cyber-dialogues between themselves, but would suspect they will, more often than not, blog regarding whatever foreign policy matters strikes their fancy (ie, independent of what their fellow guest-blogger may be writing about). And while they will occasionally be cross-posting at their respective sites, I suspect there will be a decent amount of independent content put up here at B.D. as well. So please keep dropping by in my absence! I'll probably have a last post or two tonight, and will try to tell you a bit more about these two excellent guest bloggers then.

Posted by Gregory at 01:45 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Testimonials from Camp Mercury

"Sergeant A"

In retrospect what we did was wrong, but at the time we did what we had to do. Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads.

We got to the camp in August [2003] and set up. We started to go out on missions right away. We didn’t start taking PUCs until September. Shit started to go bad right away. On my very first guard shift for my first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, this is what we are allowed to do? This is what we are allowed to get away with? I think the officers knew about it but didn’t want to hear about it. They didn’t want to know it even existed. But they had to.

On a normal day I was on shift in a PUC tent. When we got these guys we had them sandbagged and zip tied, meaning we had a sandbag on their heads and zip ties [plastic cuffs] on their hands. We took their belongings and tossed them in the PUC tent. We were told why they were there. If I was told they were there sitting on IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices, homemade bombs] we would fuck them up, put them in stress positions or put them in a tent and withhold water.

The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy goes before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever. Deprive them of food water, whatever.

To “Fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day.

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

Guard shifts were four hours. We would stress them at least in excess of twelve hours. When I go off shift and the next guy comes we are already stressing the PUC and we let the new guy know what he did and to keep fucking him. We put five-gallon water cans and made them hold them out to where they got muscle fatigue then made them do pushups and jumping jacks until they passed out. We would withhold water for whole guard shifts. And the next guy would too. Then you gotta take them to the john if you give them water and that was a pain. And we withheld food, giving them the bare minimum like crackers from MREs [Meals Ready to Eat, the military’s prepackaged food]. And sleep deprivation was a really big thing.

Someone from [Military Intelligence] told us these guys don’t get no sleep. They were directed to get intel [intelligence] from them so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling. All that shit. We never stripped them down because this is an all-guy base and that is fucked up shit. We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them in dirt and sand. We did the jugs of water where they held them out to collapse all the time. The water and other shit… start[ed] [m]aybe late September, early October, 2003. This was all at Camp Mercury, close to the MEK base8 like 10 minutes from Fallujah. We would transport the PUCs from Mercury to Abu Ghraib.

None of this happened in Afghanistan. We had MPs [military police] attached to us in Afghanistan so we didn’t deal with prisoners. We had no MPs in Iraq. We had to secure prisoners. [Military intelligence] wants to interrogate them and they had to provide guards so we would be the guards. I did missions every day and always came back with 10-15 prisoners. We were told by intel that these guys were bad, but they could be wrong, sometimes they were wrong. I would be told, “These guys were IED trigger men last week.” So we would fuck them up. Fuck them up bad. If I was told the guy was caught with a 9mm [handgun] in his car we wouldn’t fuck them up too bad – just a little. If we were on patrol and catch a guy that killed my captain or my buddy last week – man, it is human nature. So we fucked them up bad. At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug.

What you allowed to happen happened. Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel. As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened. We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit. If a leg was broken you call the PA – the physician’s assistant – and told him the PUC got hurt when he was taken. He would get Motrin [a pain reliever] and maybe a sling, but no cast or medical treatment...

...On their day off people would show up all the time. Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport. The cooks were all US soldiers. One day a sergeant shows up and tells a PUC to grab a pole. He told him to bend over and broke the guy’s leg with a mini Louisville Slugger that was a metal bat. He was the fucking cook. He shouldn’t be in with no PUCs. The PA came and said to keep him off the leg. Three days later they transported the PUC to Abu Ghraib. The Louisville Slugger [incident] happened around November 2003, certainly before Christmas.

People would just volunteer just to get their frustrations out. We had guys from all over the base just come to guard PUCs so they could fuck them up. Broken bones didn’t happen too often, maybe every other week. The PA would overlook it. I am sure they knew.

The interrogator [a sergeant] worked in the [intelligence] office. He was former Special Forces. He would come into the PUC tent and request a guy by number. Everyone was tagged. He would say, “Give me #22.” And we would bring him out. He would smoke the guy and fuck him. He would always say to us, “You didn’t see anything, right?” And we would always say, “No, Sergeant.”

One day a soldier came to the PUC tent to get his aggravation out and filled his hands with dirt and hit a PUC in the face. He fucked him. That was the communications guy.

One night a guy came and broke chem lights open and beat the PUCs with it. That made them glow in the dark which was real funny but it burned their eyes and their skin was irritated real bad.

If a PUC cooperated Intel would tell us that he was allowed to sleep or got extra food. If he felt the PUC was lying he told us he doesn’t get any fucking sleep and gets no food except maybe crackers. And he tells us to smoke him. [Intel] would tell the Lieutenant that he had to smoke the prisoners and that is what we were told to do. No sleep, water, and just crackers. That’s it. The point of doing all this was to get them ready for interrogation. [The intelligence officer] said he wanted the PUCs so fatigued, so smoked, so demoralized that they want to cooperate. But half of these guys got released because they didn’t do nothing. We sent them back to Fallujah. But if he’s a good guy, you know, now he’s a bad guy because of the way we treated him.

After Abu Ghraib things toned down. We still did it but we were careful. It is still going on now the same way, I am sure. Maybe not as blatant but it is how we do things.

So what happens now? Fishback is forced to reveal the two Sergeant's identity--more witness testimonials and a half-assed 'investigation'--and then Rumsfeld announces the latest batch of 'bad apples' that will stand for trial a la Lynndie England? Or will we finally start opening our eyes and understanding that culpability lies above the level of some 23 year old semi-literate Kentuckyian?

It’s unjust to hold only lower-ranking soldiers accountable for something that is so clearly, at a minimum, an officer corps problem, and probably a combination with the executive branch of government.

It’s almost infuriating to me. It is infuriating to me that officers are not lined up to accept responsibility for what happened. It blows my mind that officers are not. It should’ve started with the chain of command at Abu Ghraib and anybody else that witnessed anything that violated the Geneva Conventions or anything that could be questionable should’ve been standing up saying, “This is what happened. This is why I allowed it to happen. This is my responsibility,” for the reasons I mentioned before. That’s basic officership, that’s what you learn at West Point, that’s what you should learn at any commissioning source.

That’s basic Army leadership. If you fail to enforce something, that’s the new standard. So I guess what I’m getting at is the Army officers have overarching responsibility for this. Not privates, not the Sergeant Jones, not Sergeant Smith. The Army officer corps has responsibility for this. And it boggles my mind that there aren’t officers standing up saying, “That’s my fault and here’s why.” That’s basic army leadership.

Look, the guys who did this aren’t dishonorable men. It’s not like they are a bunch of vagabonds. They shown more courage and done more things in the time that I’ve spent with them than I could cover in probably a week of talking to you. They are just amazing men, but they’re human. If you put them in a situation, which is the officer’s responsibility, where they are put in charge of somebody who tried to kill them or maybe killed their friend, bad things are going to happen. It’s the officer’s job to make sure bad things don’t happen.

[Another important] thing is making sure this doesn’t happen again…. [We need] to address the fact that it was an officer issue and by trying to claim that it was “rogue elements” we seriously hinder our ability to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And, that has not only moral consequences, but it has practical consequences in our ability to wage the War on Terror. We’re mounting a counter-insurgency campaign, and if we have widespread violations of the Geneva Conventions, that seriously undermines our ability to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

Please name me the officers have have been criminally charged (no not administrative discipline, letters of reprimand, demotions, fines). No, not even Karpinski and Pappas. There has certainly been a near awe-inspiring amount of investigations on the abuse/torture incidents that Rumsfeld's Pentagon has commissioned. But none of them have concluded the obvious. Legal enablers with their talk of 'military necessity' and enthusiastic 'defining torture down' memoranda gave Bush the wriggle-room he needed to ignore Geneva whenever it suited him. Rumsfeld got carried away with souped-up Gitmo interrogation tactics that--while unsuited even for such a controlled environment--were absymally inadequate in front-line environments like Afghanistan and Iraq. Gitmo is in the rosy tropics, after all, as Dick Cheney has reminded us. But near front lines where detention centers get shelled, where buddies are getting killed, when officers are letting people work off stress by beating prisoners, where riots occur, where the guard to detainee ratio is way too low, and so on--well, things got and still get pretty nasty. And while Rummy paid cheap service to Geneva applying in Iraq, there was obviously much confusion on this point, and likely still is to this day. The result? It is not implausible to wonder whether there has been an institutionalization of detainee mistreatment in Gitmo, Diego Garcia, various camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, undeclared so-called OGA (CIA) detention-holds, rendition modalities, the practice of holding surreptitiously so-called ghost detainees, possible failure of health professionals to report abuses, and more. Given this, what is needed now is a truly independent investigation armed with full subpoena power.

Look, just in Iraq I have read reliable reports of abuses, without limitation, at Camp Red in Baghdad, at Camp Mercury near Fallujah, at Umm Qasr and Camp Bucca, at Camp Cropper at Baghdad International Airport and, of course, Abu Ghraib. And the abuses may still be continuing to this day, as Rumsfeld's Pentagon continues to exude a certain air of permissiveness and confusion about appropriate standards of detainee treatment. For instance, new detainee policy guidelines in development post-Abu Ghraib (Joint Publication 3-63: Joint Doctrine for Detainee Operations) continue to carve-out military necessity exceptions to humane treatment (itself a vague standard). Before we had crystal clear Army Field Manual standards for interrogation that were compliant with the Geneva Conventions. These have instead been replaced with vague, shifting standards of 'humane' treatment-- but often subject to 'military necessity.' To young men in the heat of battle, many things can appear born of 'military necessity'. This is why we have officers and chains of command and adult supervision. Officers are supposed to enforce clear guidelines and standards. Fishback's testimonials show how this is manifestly not the case. Mightn't one reason be that many in the officer corps haven't received clear enough guidance and/or don't believe the highest levels of the Pentagon and Executive branches are yet ready to return to broadly-applied Geneva compliant interrogation doctrine? So better not to rock the boat, but let under the radar abuses continue, no?

Prediction: if McCain and Warner step up to bat, more Fishback's will emerge, as abuses are continuing to this day in varied locals I'd wager. Cheney and Rumsfeld and Bush are sweeping this issue under the rug and, like with Harriet, asking us to 'trust them'. I don't. Not for a second. I am left hoping that two distinguished Senators will pick up the slack. I pray my hopes are not in vain, but am worried that I will be let down. It has been happening a lot lately...

Posted by Gregory at 05:14 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

October 03, 2005

Harriet Who?

Is this all a bad dream? Or is this really who the President is seeking to have confirmed to the Supreme Court in the post-Brownie era? I'm somewhat flabbergasted, I have to say. One of the (very) few things that has impressed me of Bush of late was his willingness to not buy into all the 'diversity' hoopla and pick a hugely qualified judge to lead the Supreme Court. He did that, in spades, with John Roberts. But, in one shot, he's now squandered all that good will. Yes, yes, I know, she's hard-working, smart, loyal, had a quite distinguished career as a practitioner in a Dallas firm, was a fine Lottery Commissioner of Texas, and so on. But there are vastly more qualified individuals worthy of putting on our greatest court. I repeat: vastly. This is worse than Poppy's cynical appointment of a relatively under-qualified Clarence Thomas--who at least appeared to have enough relevant experience that he wouldn't require a decent dollop of on-the-job-training (at 60!). I'm hugely underwhelmed.

Look, it's not even that this is so transparently placing a loyalist on the court who will be predictably Executive Branch/GWOT-friendly in her opinions (with some evangelical & crude originalist shadings perhaps? ed. note: By crude I mean originalism without the intellectual firepower of a Scalia). It's not just that it's a lame diversity play (Bush couldn't stop talking about all the glass ceilings she had burst through today). It's not even that she was never a judge, as there have been quite a few private sector attorneys appointed to the bench who served with distinction.

It's ultimately that she's just not Supreme Court timber. Harry Reid can cheer-lead her if he wishes, showing major Democrats don't care a whit about serious constitutional credentials on the bench either, but those of us who are proud of this court must demand better. We should root for her defeat--perhaps by an alliance of thinking Republicans and Democrats. The Achilles heel of this President has become such displays of bovine worship at the altar of some warped conception of loyalty. Be loyal, yes, but demand excellence and competence and, yes, accountability in critical postings dear God! I'm now forced to conclude that Bush, after such a hugely good show with Roberts, is nevertheless willing to be unserious and even reckless, more so than his father, with appointments to the highest court in our land. Look, she might prove a Scalia rubber-stamp, and conservatives will be happy that she votes 'right' (the coded message Cheney was peddling today to Limbaugh). But a man of character and vision wouldn't stoop to such a low threshold of what makes a good SCOTUS pick. He would look for an intellectual leader, a bona fide constitutional thinker. We all know who they are, and that there were far more distinguished picks available. Instead, Bush went for a relative mediocrity. This is not to take anything away from a woman who has had a very distinguished career in private practice. No, Locke Liddell & Sapp is not Covington or Williams & Connolly or Cravath or Sullivan & Cromwell. Still, it's a decent firm in an important American city that she rose to co-head. But a hard-working law firm manager, a decent litigator, a tough cookie who gets results--these are not the credentials for our highest court. Nor should it be merely dogged loyalty to a President. What matters is serious intellectual depth, profound understanding of constitutional law, potential greatness. She fails on all three counts. And, with all due respect to a successful private sector attorney, I have to say rather dismally.

Posted by Gregory at 03:00 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack
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