January 19, 2006

The UBL Tape

I'm still totally swamped at work, but I did want to emerge very briefly to say, when I hear the word "truce" emit from UBL's lips (or, perhaps, whatever impersonator is doing a stand-in on his behalf), I conclude that we are winning the battle against al-Qaeda. Mind you, I'm not speaking about Iraq, necessarily, or perhaps certain al-Qaeda inspired spin-offs, or the GWOT generally. But the battle against the main, original al-Qaeda group that existed and grew in strength and terrorized in Dar es Saalam and Nairobi and in the port of Aden with the attack on the USS Cole--largely with impunity, it should be said, through the 1990s and into 2001--well, it has taken some real body blows these past four years. Any fair critic needs to acknowledge that.

Again, I'm not striking a triumphalist note here, as we face massive challenges still in Iraq, and Iran is rubbing our noses in it, basically giving us the finger you might say, to put it colloquially, with Ahmadi-Nejad's ever-increasing number of inflammatory comments and so purposeful junking of the American-approved EU troika's diplomatic initiative. (Iran is feeling emboldened because they doubt the West has the stomach to institute the only sanctions that would really bite, the ones that would cause an oil price super-spike to $105/barrel and up, and because the going is tough in Iraq, and they calculate that the Americans wouldn't attack--or allow Israel as proxy to mount air strikes--as Iran would then ratchet up the trouble-making in Iraq much more than they have to date, perhaps materially impacting the outcome there.) But, Iran and many other issues aside (like our declining influence of late in Asia and Latin America, of which more post the blogging hiatus)--we do have to give credit to the Bush Administration for robustly taking the fight to Bin Laden's core al-Qaeda group, and putting in a pretty decent show of it. Yes, of course, we wish that UBL were already apprehended and tried for war crimes (more favorable than killing him, which will create a martyr, while captivity will make him look small and all too human, the better to de-mythologize him).

All this said, a few cautionary notes. Reading the text of UBL's note, one must admit it is rather intelligent fare, with his gruesome evocation of U.S. soldiers' suicides in theater and the grotesqueness of IED explosions, with his description of the quartet of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz showing he follows Beltway groupings relatively closely, with his deft and rather effective reference to the 'Mission Accomplished' moment and the many casualties that have resulted since. And, of course, if his tape is followed by a major, calamitous terror attack in the United States--well, then the strategic situation will indeed change. But not in the manner UBL is attempting to achieve, necessarily. He will argue, you see, Bush didn't accept my truce--and now carnage has again visited your shores. But the American people won't be manipulated by such tactics, despite Bin Laden's attempts, in Goebbelsian mien, to divide them so. The wide center of the American polity would only be more resolved in the face of another major attack, rather than cowed and advocating retreat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, an U.S. attack would be a plus for al-Qaeda strategically, no doubt, if for no other reason than it would re-assert its ability to shed blood on American shores. Fine, no argument there. But now UBL has raised the ante, again, and he risks becoming the Boy Who Cried Wolf one time to often. If he can't execute a major attack in the relatively near future, even despite his explications regarding long operational cycles (it has now been over four years and counting since 9/11), his credibility continues to erode. If he pulls it off, yes his credibility is enhanced in terms of his showcasing continuing operational capability far from his current base, but still, however, he will not achieve his desired goal of dividing the U.S. public so as to precipitate a US withdrawal from Mesopotamia. Therefore any strategic ramifications would likely be rather limited (his main strategic success to date has been spurring on significant Islamophobia in good sized swaths of the American masses, helping spur on anti-democratic impulses related to things like torture policy and too easy recourse to militarism in foreign policy, but he's already reaped that dividend and it is somewhat in remission, with a Thermidor, of sorts, having set in after the Jacobin excesses of '01-04).

Ultimately, however, one is left thinking what a sad life bin Laden leads trafficking in human misery, or, of late, reduced to threatening mass carnage via episodic videotapes basically dumped in front of Al-Jazeera's offices. So I guess I disagree somewhat with Muhammad Salah, Cairo bureau chief for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, who says to the NYT: "The fact that he was able to record the message, deliver it and broadcast is in itself a victory for him". Well, yeah, maybe. But that's really defining victory down quite a damn lot, isn't it? It increasingly smells of desperation, of a man espying a tightening noose. I hope this is the case, as I view what Bin Laden wrought at the World Trade Center as a war crime on par with mass massacres of historical scope (like that perpetrated by Ratko Mladic, say, in Srebrenica). These were acts of brutish carnage and war, which demanded the sternest of responses, and against this specific enemy at least, we have made real progress since 9/11. Could we have made even more by not going into Iraq? Perhaps, perhaps. But it is too early to render a judgment on this score, and besides, as I said, real headway has been made. Otherwise, to stress, I don't think we'd be hearing the word "truce", as this is not really in UBL's natural lexicon, save when he's on the ropes angling for a reprieve of sorts. After all, this isn't his first truce offering, is it? Recall he proferred a 'truce' to the Europeans post-Madrid. No one took it seriously. No one will take this one seriously. Save to the extent that it reveals something about the state of UBL's movement now approaching the fifth anniversary of 9/11. It, and he, are ailing. Put that in the plus column for the Bush Administration from someone who hasn't, shall we say, been a big fan of late (of which more another day)...

Posted by Gregory at 11:45 PM | Comments (59) | TrackBack

January 11, 2006

In-House Note

It appears another blog hiatus is looming given work demands. My rough rule of thumb, since I started this blog, has been that I'd try to hammer out a post or two if I was at the day job 12 hours or fewer a day. Lately, however, I've been pushing past that pretty often, and you know, there are only a limited amount of hours in the day. Given these timing constraints--when and if I do blog in the coming days--please expect content to be more by way of shorter links rather than longer pieces. As ever, thanks for your patience.

Posted by Gregory at 03:39 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 10, 2006

Wanted: More Troops

The Jerry Bremer files:

The Pentagon acknowledged Jan. 9 that Paul Bremer, the former top civilian administrator in Iraq, warned in May 2004 that more U.S. troops were needed to secure the country, but it said the U.S. military felt otherwise.

Bremer, in a television interview and in a new book -- “My Year in Iraq, The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope” -- once again has raised questions about the Pentagon’s insistence on a small force even as a fierce insurgency took hold in Iraq...The former diplomat said that almost from the start of his year-long tenure as head of Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, he repeatedly raised concerns about the number of U.S. troops on the ground.

Lawrence DiRita, a Pentagon spokesman, called Bremer’s account “an interesting historical asterisk or data point as to what happened in May of 2004, but it’s a little bit after the fact.”

He confirmed that Bremer sent the Pentagon a memo in May 2004, about a month before he stepped down, arguing that a significantly larger U.S. force was needed in Iraq. But DiRita said that was the only time Bremer raised those concerns.

”People are free to offer their views and certainly (Bremer) was free to offer his,” said DiRita. “But it was not something he did, in terms of force levels, any other time besides this one time he acknowledged.”

”That assessment was reviewed by the chairman (of the joint chiefs of staff) and other military commanders who came back and advised the secretary that where they were -- which at the time, as I said, was 18 brigades -- was appropriate,” he said. “And that was the end of the matter.”

Bremer’s stance on troop levels in Iraq was not publicly known at the time, but he caused a stir in October when he told a conference of insurance professionals: “We never had enough troops on the ground.”

In an interview broadcast Sunday night by NBC television, Bremer said he raised concerns about U.S. force levels right from the start of his tenure.

He said that in May 2003 he sent U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a study by the Rand Corp. which said 500,000 troops would be needed to secure Iraq. He said he never received a response.

Bremer said he then raised his concerns with President George W. Bush, who said he would try to raise more troops from other countries.

In his book, Bremer writes that in June 2003, he warned in a teleconference with Bush and other officials, that the Pentagon was risking instability by drawing down troops too quickly in Iraq.

He wrote that he said in a follow-up call with then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice: “The coalition’s got about half the number of soldiers we need here, and we run a real risk of having this thing go south on us.”

In November 2003, Bremer said he went to Vice President Dick Cheney with his worries about the Pentagon’s push to reduce U.S. force levels in the spring of 2004.

Bremer said he felt the military was exaggerating the strength of the Iraqi security forces being trained to replace them.

”I said to the vice president, ‘You know, I’m not sure that we really have a strategy for winning this war.’ The vice president said to me, ‘Well, I have similar concerns,’“ Bremer said in the NBC interview.

”He thought there was something to be said for the argument that we didn’t have a strategy for victory at that time,” he said.

Bremer writes that in his May 2004 memo he asked Rumsfeld for more troops, specifically one or two extra divisions for up to a year.

”I verified that the secretary received my message. I did not hear back from him,” Bremer said.

DiRita said that because the memo came just a few weeks before Bremer was scheduled to step down, no reply was expected.

More from the FT:

In a memoir published yesterday that broke a more than year-long silence, Mr Bremer portrays himself in a constant struggle with Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, and military leaders who were determined to reduce the US troop presence as quickly as possible in 2004 despite the escalating insurgency.

He also writes how Mr Rumsfeld was "clearly unhappy" that Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, had taken control of Iraq policy from the Pentagon in late 2003.

A Pentagon spokesman yesterday confirmed that Mr Bremer had sent Mr Rumsfeld a memo based on a report by the Rand Corporation consultancy that recommended 500,000 US troops would be needed to pacify Iraq - far more than were sent. But Mr Bremer's advice was rejected by military leaders and Mr Rumsfeld.

Mr Bremer's account of his 13 months as Iraq's governor is at times vituperative - scathing of the Iraqi exiles who formed the initial Iraqi Governing Council, resentful of Democrats in Congress who sniped at his efforts, the press for focusing on the negative and feeding on leaks, and bureaucrats in Washington who obfuscated when he was trying to rebuild an entire country.

"They couldn't organise a parade, let alone run a country," Mr Bremer writes of the Iraqi politicians...He says that military leaders, including the commanding US general John Abizaid, exaggerated the readiness of Iraqi police and military forces in an effort to justify reducing the US troop presence. At the same time, Pentagon civilians, led Mr Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, were urging him to transfer Iraqi sovereignty quickly.

In one particularly bleak moment in October 2003, Mr Bremer pleaded with the president to back him in this internal struggle. "I'm concerned that a lot of the Pentagon's frenetic push on the political stuff is meant to set me up as a fall guy," he told Mr Bush at the White House. When the president looked puzzled, he added: "In effect the DoD position would be that they'd recommended a quick end to 'occupation', but I had resisted so any problems from here on out were my fault."

Exaggerating the readiness of Iraqi police and military forces? Ignoring advice from Bremer on the desirability of increasing forces on the ground? Maybe, for good measure, setting up the U.S. proconsul as a "fall guy" to butt-cover at the Pentagon? Hey, it's all just "interesting historical asterisk or data point" kinda stuff. Or, if Larry wasn't paid to spin for a failed Defense Secretary, you might call such things instead blunders of historic proportions. But why go over such old and stale 'data points'? We're all so sick of it, aren't we? Let's stop crying over spilt milk and focus on the way forward, I guess. Frankly, the massive missteps of '03 and '04 are almost too painful to revisit. Seriously.

Oh, and let's not convey angel status on Mr. Bremer either, OK? Handing over a Rand study to Rummy calling for 500,000 troops, about 45 days before he'd be stepping down--well, you'll forgive Don Rumsfeld if he didn't say: 'well, goodness gracious, let's just triple the head count right quick then...' More on Bremer, then and now, here.

P.S. I'll be examining the merits of all these recriminations in more detail when I read his book in the next weeks, so stay tuned.

Posted by Gregory at 03:32 AM | Comments (69) | TrackBack

January 08, 2006

Questions Re: a Post-Sharon Israel

1) Will Ehud Olmert have something of a so-called Truman moment, and bolstered by sympathy for the tragic denouement of Sharon's long career, help Kadima prevail in the March 28 elections?

2) If no, and Bibi Netanyahu prevails instead, will he end up tacking to the center (despite his carving out space to Sharon's right), and perhaps end up cutting some disengagement-style deal from large swaths of the West Bank (recall Hebron circa '96)?

3) Related to "2" above, and without mighty Sharon bulldozing ahead on possible Gaza withdrawal follow-through in the West Bank, will Condeleeza Rice and her team be able to effectively fill the void left by Sharon--so as to apply the requisite pressure on the parties post March elections to keep forward momentum in terms of helping along the quite moribund peace process?

4) Does Ehud Barak stand any chance of resucitating his political career, or has he been permanently discredited in the broad center of the Israeli body politic given his presiding over the failures of the much maligned Oslo (and various progeny) process?

5) Oh, and looking beyond this election, more towards the 2010s and beyond, does Tzipi Livni, the very talented Israeli Justice Minister, have the goods to become the next Golda Meir?

Meantime, despite all the questions above, it bears noting Sharon is fighting valiantly for survival. The latest here.

Posted by Gregory at 07:13 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Zbigniew Brzezinski Speaks

Count B.D. as a Zbigniew Brzezinski fan. He's one of the very keenest foreign policy minds in the entire country. He bucks conventional wisdom with refreshing frequency, and punctures empty bromides with sharpness and elan. What's more, he doesn't eagerly swallow the usual B.S. on proffer by either side of the aisle, and so is no one's patsy, water-carrier and sycophant. But reading his op-ed in today's WaPo, I can't help feeling that he's vastly underestimating the risks of large scale sectarian conflict should a vacuum ensue with major American troop withdrawals by late 2006, as he recommends in his piece. Brzezinski writes:

Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters -- i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army -- is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.

Moreover, neither the Shiites nor the Kurds are likely to subordinate their specific interests to a unified Iraq with a genuine, single national army. As the haggling over the new government has already shown, the two dominant forces in Iraq -- the religious Shiite alliance and the separatist Kurds -- share a common interest in preventing a restoration of Sunni domination, with each determined to retain a separate military capacity for asserting its own specific interests, largely at the cost of the Sunnis. A truly national army in that context is a delusion. Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation.

The administration's definition of "defeat" is similarly misleading. Official and unofficial spokesmen often speak in terms that recall the apocalyptic predictions made earlier regarding the consequences of American failure to win in Vietnam: dominoes falling, the region exploding and U.S. power discredited. An added touch is the notion that the Iraqi insurgents will then navigate the Atlantic and wage terrorism on the American homeland.

The real choice that needs to be faced is between:

An acceptance of the complex post-Hussein Iraqi realities through a relatively prompt military disengagement -- which would include a period of transitional and initially even intensified political strife as the dust settled and as authentic Iraqi majorities fashioned their own political arrangements.

An inconclusive but prolonged military occupation lasting for years while an elusive goal is pursued.

It is doubtful, to say the least, that America's domestic political support for such a futile effort could long be sustained by slogans about Iraq's being "the central front in the global war on terrorism."

In contrast, a military disengagement by the end of 2006, derived from a more realistic definition of an adequate outcome, could ensure that desisting is not tantamount to losing. In an Iraq dominated by the Shiites and the Kurds -- who together account for close to 75 percent of the population -- the two peoples would share a common interest in Iraq's independence as a state. The Kurds, with their autonomy already amounting in effect to quasi-sovereignty, would otherwise be threatened by the Turks. And the Iraqi Shiites are first of all Arabs; they have no desire to be Iran's satellites. Some Sunnis, once they were aware that the U.S. occupation was drawing to a close and that soon they would be facing an overwhelming Shiite-Kurdish coalition, would be more inclined to accommodate the new political realities, especially when deprived of the rallying cry of resistance to a foreign occupier.

Some issues to flag. Yes, tis' true, Iraqis are Arabs and Iranians not. But no one who has been paying attention to developments among some of those fancying a Shi'a super-state in the south can deny the perils of even greater Iranian involvement, should the U.S. precipitously withdraw, as they and their allies carve out greater Iranian-infested quasi-lebensraum there. And yes, it's true people like Barzani and Talabani, on the Kurdish side of things, know full well out and out independence makes full-blown Turkish intervention very likely. This does act to restrain Kurdish maximalist desires, as Zbig B. points out. But too crude reverse Arabization in Kurdistan (harming some Turkomen caught up in the net as well, say), trouble-making in Kirkuk, potential assistance to PKK brethren across the border by some irredentist Kurds--all this makes heightened Turkish involvement likely as well.

My point in making these observations is simple. To use Kanaan Makiya's memorable and apropos phrase, by invading Iraq and unseating Saddam, we've unleashed the proverbial 'furies' in Iraq. They are raw, they are of historic force, they cannot be easily controlled. But no one but the United States, with its major investment of blood and treasure in Iraq, has a shot in hell of calibrating the political bargaining underway, monitoring the so nascent post-Saddam political structures, trying to create effective command and control from the Iraqi Defense Ministry to nascent Iraqi Army units on the ground, ensuring neighbor's interventions don't risk scuttling the overall nation-building project etc etc. Basically, making a real go of preserving a unitary state, with functioning, if wobbly, democratic structures.

Brzezinski seems to think the Iraqi political machinations underfoot have matured enough in nature that bargaining can normalize, and some rough, imperfect compromises can be hammered out by the Iraqis themselves without major American involvement. He also writes that the U.S. occupation is "increasingly hated". Really? I'd bet you more and more Sunnis in places like Ramadi are warming to the Americans, if ever so slightly. Why? They are increasingly dismayed by Zarqawi's indiscriminate slaughter of, not only Shi'a in Karbala and such predominately Shi'a locales, but also young Sunni recruits in their own towns. But, more important, they realize that, with the Americans gone, Shi'a paramilitary units (Wolf Brigades etc) will perhaps come and engage in the crudest sorts of Shi'a revanchism--massacring innocents and perhaps engaging in ethnic cleansing (some already underway), particularly in certain mixed population areas.

Iraq has been horrifically difficult (spare me Battle of La Somme number-crunching troll-ies. I'm speaking in terms of contemporary standards, for a war of choice, and let's us not forget the very significant Iraqi casualties either). Approximately 30 American servicemen have died there over the past two or three days. A Blackhawk went down today, five Marines died in Fallujah, and yesterday I.E.D.s and gunfire killed several soldiers in various locations throughout Iraq. We are angry at those who declared the war would be a "cakewalk", or that the war was in its "last throes," just as we are angry at the imbeciles in print media and the blogosphere who have declared victory from the safety of their PJs and keyboards. We are angry at these empty spinmeisters, many of them clueless cretins whose knowledge of the Middle East wouldn't fill a small thimble. We are angry too at crass Congresswoman intimating people like Jack Murtha are cowards, when he loves the Army, even if his policy recommendations are unsound, more deeply than perhaps any other serving member of the House. We are angry at the rank ignorance and near dereliction of duty of our Secretary of Defense, and the incredible lack of accountability his continuing presence in that job showcases. And, yes, the President has been a source of not inconsiderable frustration as well, his tepid and half-hearted emergence from a bubble of too uniform advice, of late, notwithstanding. But Bush does know, and he is hearing it from people like Zalmay Khalilzad, that a precipitous withdrawal could well portend disaster. And, as much as Democrats refuse to acknowledge it, I am near certain a Kerry Administration (given Kerry's campaign utterences and world-view) would have organized a too hasty retreat from Iraq with little consideration to what impact such a move would have had on the country's chances for emerging as a unitary and viable, if imperfect, democracy.

So you may protest this is but flawed policy wrapped in an illusion, that Iraq is going to hell in a handbasket no matter whether we stay or go. But I hear from foreign policy pros that the cause is not lost, that with patience, and with a multi-faceted strategy that has become increasingly sophisticated since the State Department took over more of the Iraq portfolio after Rumsfeld's sad bungling of Years 1 and 2, matters are improving and the project is salvageable. This may sound like a thin reed, all told, but it's perhaps better than Zbig B's too breezy "acceptance of the complex post-Hussein Iraqi realities." If "complex" means that the country could descend into large scale ethnic cleansing, or that Kurdish and Shi'a detention centers will sprout up with impunity, or that a Shi'a super-state with massive Iranian influence would sprout up in the South--well, let's at least be clear about what we could be talking about. More on this soon.

Posted by Gregory at 05:35 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

January 07, 2006

The Former Secretaries Meet POTUS

With apologies to all the assembled former Secretaries of State and Defense, it appears that their meeting with President Bush was nothing much more than a photo op, contrary to my earlier hopes. If the most heated exchange was Madeline Albright (hardly the most talented foreign policy practitioner in the room, sorry to say), lecturing Dubya on dropping the ball on non-proliferation and such (the Clinton's Administration's record on such issues rather, shall we say, underwhelming)--with a stock, lame rejoinder from POTUS ("I can't let this comment stand"!) well, forgive me if I found the whole exercise a tad on the lame side.

Rest assured, too, that no major new avenues were explored on Iraq strategy. Of course, after almost two lost years, the strategy in Iraq has improved very significantly over the past year, all told, particularly taking into account resource, political and other constraints. We are in discussions with some insurgents, doing our utmost to stoke divisions between Sunni nationalists and al-Qaeda terrorists killing innocent Sunnis in places like Ramadi. Meantime, we continue the train and equip effort, while remaining conscious that huge challenges remain ahead in terms of command and control, logistical back up, supply chains, ministerial competences, and more (like ensuring a multi-ethnic officer corp loyal to central authorities rather than sectarian interests). But were hard questions asked about troop levels, even keeping in mind the die has been cast and numbers will only trend down, in all likelihood, going forward? Or the specific measures being taken to de-militiatize increasingly autonomous areas like Kurdistan or the Shi'a south? Or how American and Iraqi forces might be better able to secure critical infrastructure, particularly of the revenue generating variety, like oil facilities? Or even, Bidenian and Albrightian huffing and puffing about a Contact Group aside, whether our dialogues with various neighbors were reaping as much fruit as really possible, or could perhaps be rendered more efficacious? Just to take one issue above, troops levels, did anyone deign to broach this angle:

In the past several months, General Vines said that the flow of foreign fighters infiltrating Iraq had diminished in part because of nearly 20,000 Iraqi forces now stationed in restive Anbar Province, a series of American military operation in the Euphrates River Valley and increased cooperation from Syria and Saudi Arabia in tightening border controls.

In the weeks leading up to the December election, however, General Vines differed with his boss, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the overall American commander in Iraq, over how and where to assign troops to ensure a peaceful and successful balloting.

According to interviews with several senior Army officers, who were granted anonymity because their bosses' discussions were confidential, General Casey wanted to build up operations along the border between Iraq and Syria, as well as the Euphrates River Valley, to make it harder for suicide bombers to infiltrate and explode themselves in Baghdad during the elections.

But General Vines and his field commanders said the center of gravity was Baghdad and its predominantly Sunni suburbs like Falluja, the officers said. General Vines wanted to position more forces there to increase the Sunni turnout, a major political goal of the Bush administration but also a means to help reduce the insurgency.

The two commanders eventually worked out a compromise to put troops in both places, the senior officers said. [emphasis added]

What's left unsaid above, of course, is that with more troops the tussle on placing the troops in the Fallujan heartland versus the border areas would have been mitigated somewhat. And while I acknowledge, as I said above, that the die has been largely cast on troop levels (for a huge confluence of reasons, many of them that make a lot of sense, the numbers are going to trend south now going forward), I still flag this as people like McCain were suggesting an increase of 10,000 rather than reductions below 138,000 (even post December 15th elections).

All this to say, this was more a photo op and P.R. exercise that 'no one in the room is for immediate withdrawal' kinda shin-dig (this last, it should be said, an important point to be made in a bipartisan setting notwithstanding its obviousness). That's all well and good, but I guess I had naively expected a tad more to emerge from this distinguished conclave. At the end of the day, Larry Eagleburger probably stole the show with his insouciant Gallic entrance (see photo below) and statement that they were all a bunch of "has-beens" anyway. A little jocular sarcasm sometimes puts things in proper perspective, doesn't it?


Posted by Gregory at 06:58 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

DeLay Steps Aside

The former pest exterminator agrees to "permanently step aside" as Majority Leader in the House. Good riddance. Now, when will Bob Ney be forced out as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration? It should have happened Friday, and it better happen first thing next week--preferably before the likely indictment is handed down...

Posted by Gregory at 06:31 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 05, 2006

The Rancid Stench of L'affaire Abramoff

Sue Schmidt/James Grimaldi:

Alan K. Simpson (R), the former Wyoming senator who was in Washington during the last big congressional scandal -- the Abscam FBI sting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in which six House members and one senator were convicted -- said the Abramoff case looks bigger. Simpson said he recently rode in a plane with one of Abramoff's attorneys, who told him: "There are going to be guys in your former line of work who are going to be taken down..."

...Former Republican congressman Mickey Edwards (Okla.), usually a defender of lobbying and Congress, said there have always been members who get caught "stuffing money in their pants." But he said this is different -- a "disgusting" and disturbingly broad scandal driven by lobbyists whose attitude seemed to be "government to the highest bidder."

"This is at a scale that is really shocking," said Edwards, who teaches public and international affairs at Princeton. "There is a certain kind of arrogance that in the past you might not have had. They were so supremely confident that there didn't seem to be any kind of moral compass here."

There is a fetid stink emitting from Washington, a veritable mega-cesspool of sleaze and dirt. I query, why has the House (and increasingly the Senate) become largely stacked with myriad used car salesman types who sell themselves like rank trollops to the highest bidder?

Tucker Carlson raises a good point too (hat tip, Duncan Black):

Why were supposedly honest ideological conservatives like Sheldon and Reed and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist involved with Jack Abramoff in the first place? Keep in mind that Abramoff's business wasn't just gambling, which by itself should have been enough to scare off professional moralizers like Sheldon. Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist for Indian gambling. Over the years Abramoff and his now-indicted partner took more than $80 million from a half a dozen tribes in return for their efforts to keep Indian gambling revenues tax free.

Step back and think about this for a second. Indian tribes get a special pass from the federal government to run a high-margin monopoly simply because they are Indian tribes, which is to say, simply because of their ethnicity. This is the worst, least fair form of affirmative action, and it should be anathema to conservatives. Conservatives are supposed to support the idea of a meritocracy, a country where hard work not heredity is the key to success and everyone is equal before the law. Conservatives should despise Indian gambling on principal.

And some still do. But others got rich from it, and now they're likely headed to jail. I'll be cheering as they're sentenced. Weirdos and charlatans and self-interested hacks like Lou Sheldon and Grover Norquist have long discredited the conservative ideas they purport to represent. Their political allies in Washington and Congress may be tempted to defend them. I hope they don't. We'll all be better off when they're gone.

It's clean up (Abramoff, Frist, DeLay etc) and competence (Miers, Brownie, Rumsfeld) time people. Who can step up to bat and pull us out of this bog of shit, to put it bluntly? McCain and Rudy? McCain and Graham? Who? We're fed up, aren't we?

P.S. David Brooks is fed up, that's for sure. What he said:

I don't know what's more pathetic, Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too.

That's a great G.O.P. talking point: some Democrats are so sleazy, they get involved with the likes of us.

If Republicans want to emerge from this affair with their self-respect or electoral prospects intact, they need to get in front of it with a comprehensive reform offensive.

Brooks has a six-point plan, and it reads pretty well as an antidote to revolting Tom Delay-ism, or the typical cowardly inaction, or the provincial cluelessness of so many of our 'representatives'.

He concludes thus:

Finally, today before noon, fire Bob Ney as chairman of the House Administration Committee. For God's sake, Republicans, show a little moral revulsion.

Back in the dim recesses of my mind, I remember a party that thought of itself as a reform, or even a revolutionary movement. That party used to be known as the Republican Party. I wonder if it still exists.

I'm looking to Newt Gingrich and Vin Weber and John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others of this ilk to step up to bat and start talking turkey (Brooks' 6-pointer is a good place to start). God knows, no one in the White House has the conviction, apparently, to do so. After all, isn't Bush still on the record cheerleading a DeLay return to his leadership slot? How sad, and low. But, hey, the money Abramoff contributed to POTUS is going to charity now. So what's all the fuss?

Posted by Gregory at 04:43 AM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

The End of the Sharon Era?

"One can cautiously say that it appears that the era in which Sharon stood at Israel's helm came to a tragic end on Wednesday."

--Aluf Benn, writing in Haaretz.

With the Sharon era now fading into history, we must now reluctantly bid farewell to that generation of greatest Israelis (Rabin, Sharon, Peres) whose very lives mirrored the broad narrative of their beloved nation (Peres is alive, of course, but will almost certainly never assume leadership of the country). We can hope that certain aspects of Sharon's legacy remain alive, in particular, that his recent broad, statesman-like centrism can find a place in the Israeli body politic. But the fate of Kadima is now very uncertain (for instance it is far from clear that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be a convincing standard-bearer for the party if Sharon dies or is otherwise materially incapacitated). Israel enters a period of great flux now, the generation of its founding fathers (or immediate successors) having passed from the scene, with massive challenges requiring urgent attention (continuing turmoil in Gaza, the peace process and status of West Bank, Iran, neighbors like Lebanon/Syria). Put simply, this is a terrible time for Sharon to be incapacitated. Israel will get through this period of turmoil just fine, in all likelihood, but make no mistake: this is a country entering a season of sadness and--with most of the giants of its post-1948 history having passed from the scene--a sense of vulnerability, of having been denuded somewhat.

January 04, 2006

Haass on Iraq

Richard Haass is pithy:

It is, in principle, possible that Iraq one day will come to resemble what the president seeks: a successful democracy at peace with itself and its neighbors, providing a model for other states in the region to emulate. You would have to be an optimist and then some, though, to be confident in this outcome.

Far more likely is something less and different: a barely functional Iraq, with a weak central government and highly autonomous regions, including a relatively secular, Kurdish-dominated north; a far more religious, Shiite-dominated south; a similarly religious, Sunni-dominated west; and a demographically mixed and unsettled center that includes the capital of Baghdad. Think of it as a version of today’s Afghanistan minus the poppy fields.

Such an outcome would constitute a mixed bag for those who hope that change in Iraq will stimulate change elsewhere in the region. A working Iraqi democracy would encourage other reformers in the region; that said, nearly three years of violence, the loss of Sunni primacy and the rise of religious fervor have soured many Arabs on following Iraq’s lead.

Still, a barely functional Iraq would be good, and at this point good enough. Sometimes in foreign policy, it is more important to avoid catastrophe than it is to reach for perfection. This is one of those times.

Read the whole piece. In it, Haass also declares against timetables. And rightly so.

Posted by Gregory at 05:35 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

More Bubble-Breaching!

It'll be a pretty interesting meeting at the White House on Thursday...

P.S. By not playing the Wilkerson tune (one Dick Holbrooke thought was a tad erratic, it seems), Powell has kept the door open to the Oval Office. Does it make a difference? Not if Thursday's meeting is just used as PR exercise (the former SecStates are happy! Bush listened to Colin and they hugged! etc). But if there are frank exchanges, and Powell and others can prod Casey/Khalilzad for raw from-the-field info, and give unvarnished advice to POTUS--hell, the preservation of the relationship might just be worth something...

UPDATE: So, um, Colin Powell said nothing? Zip, nada...? How odd, no?

Posted by Gregory at 05:10 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack


A roadmap, you say? And one that has nothing to do with Palestinian institution building! Go read, and comment here on what's missing from it...(and if you think the whole idea sucks and is a waste of time, well, don't waste our time telling us so...we've heard you protestations already!).

Posted by Gregory at 04:46 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Iran: Gaming the Odds of a Looming Confrontation

Well, it's the Guardian so salt and grain and all, but this is yet another in a flurry of Iran-related nuke stories worth taking a gander at:

The Iranian government has been successfully scouring Europe for the sophisticated equipment needed to develop a nuclear bomb, according to the latest western intelligence assessment of the country's weapons programmes.

Scientists in Tehran are also shopping for parts for a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe, with "import requests and acquisitions ... registered almost daily", the report seen by the Guardian concludes.

The warning came as Iran raised the stakes in its dispute with the United States and the European Union yesterday by notifying the International Atomic Energy Authority that it intended to resume nuclear fuel research next week. Tehran has refused to rule out a return to attempts at uranium enrichment, the key to the development of a nuclear weapon.

I was talking to a hedge fund manager today who had research crossing his desk guess-timating an approx 25% chance of a military strike on Iran in '06. I still think it's lower, but others, er, don't....

What do commenters think...let's query, say, the probability of a military strike on Iran, whether by the U.S. or Israel, between now and Q1 2007. I'm gonna say 10-15%, but welcome other views...

Posted by Gregory at 04:34 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack


Yossi Verter:

What has not yet happened in this election campaign? We've had the big bang that shook up Israeli politics; the two tribal elders' departure from their mother-parties; the prime minister's stroke and catheterization (Thursday).

And then Tuesday, another wild card was laid on the table. Exactly three years after the Cyril Kern affair first broke, now, like a nightmare, it is back again to terrify Ariel Sharon and his advisors on the eve of what appears to be his third great electoral victory. How much will this card impact the election? That's the three-million-dollar question.

As it appears any potential indictment of Sharon wouldn't happen before the March 28 elections, I think Sharon is still the lead pony to prevail come ballot time. As a Sharon advisor once put it: "the public prefers a corrupt man to an idiot." Not a particularly noble sentiment, but probably a pretty accurate one all told.

Developing, as they say. One can't help feeling the old lion's been through worse than this, however...

CRITICAL UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Arik Sharon is "fighting for his life" at this hour. Sharon was not an uncontroversial figure, to say the least, but he's acted every bit the statesman these past months in terms of carving out a broad, centrist middle-ground in the Israeli polity. We wish for his recovery, but the news at this hour appears quite grim. Developing, we hope for the better.

Posted by Gregory at 03:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 03, 2006

The Endangered McCain Amendment

First, some background on presidential signing statements:

President Bush has been especially fond of them, issuing at least 108 in his first term, according to presidential scholar Phillip J. Cooper of Portland State University in Oregon. Many of Bush's statements rejected provisions in bills that the White House regarded as interfering with its powers in national security, intelligence policy and law enforcement, Cooper wrote recently in the academic journal Presidential Studies Quarterly.

The Bush administration "has very effectively expanded the scope and character of the signing statement not only to address specific provisions of legislation that the White House wishes to nullify, but also in an effort to significantly reposition and strengthen the powers of the presidency relative to the Congress," Cooper wrote in the September issue. "This tour d' force has been carried out in such a systematic and careful fashion that few in Congress, the media, or the scholarly community are aware that anything has happened at all."

Bush may be acting without fanfare for a reason. As Alito noted in his memo, the statements "will not be warmly welcomed" on Capitol Hill.

"The novelty of the procedure and the potential increase of presidential power are two factors that may account for this anticipated reaction," he wrote. "In addition, and perhaps most important, Congress is likely to resent the fact that the president will get in the last word on questions of interpretation.

Next, Bush's signing statement re: McCain Amendment:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

Marty Lederman has much more, as he has so often on this story. Marty identifies the Big Question at this hour. What will McCain and his staff now do? What will they think of the signing statement's impact on the integrity of the McCain Amendment? Will they fear it will eviscerate it, or do they feel more sanguine than commentators like Lederman? Me? I sincerely regret having to say this, but I must agree with Sully when he writes today, about Bush: "I certainly don't trust him not to authorize torture again in the future." Bush sold many, in the main, on his straight-shooting conviction, but he now appears to be playing games more and more often. When the stakes are this high and critical, playing it fast and loose like this starts forcing people into opposition. Why? Because you lose trust, and there is no more sacred bond than that.

Posted by Gregory at 06:29 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Schroder's New Gazprom Gig: "Despicable But Predictable"

Do not miss this damning John Vinocur article about Gerhard Schroder's latest career moves. A must read (note it's Times Select).


The manager in charge of the company Schröder will chair is Matthias Warnig, a former major in the East German secret police, or Stasi, who currently serves as chairman of Dresdner Bank ZAO, a Russia-based unit of the German bank. A Wall Street Journal article, published 10 months ago, quoting former colleagues of Putin and Warnig, said Warnig helped Putin recruit spies in the West when the Russian president served as a KGB man in East Germany in the 1980s. The same article reported a Kremlin spokesman's denial that the two men knew each other as Stasi and KGB agents.

More: The new pipeline company itself is headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, a town known as a tax paradise sometimes associated with companies run by the "capitalist locusts" Schröder's Social Democrats love to denounce.

Reporting from Zug, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the leading Swiss newspaper, has investigated a Swiss lawyer who is the lone administrative board member of Schröder's pipeline corporation. It said he was previously an officer of a Swiss firm shown in Stasi documents to have furnished East Germany with strategically sensitive electronics from Western embargo lists during the 1980s.

Talk of an accumulating sense of discomfort! Just days before the German elections in September that propelled him from power, Schröder signed the pipeline deal that will carry Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany, bypassing American allies like Ukraine and Poland. Announcement of his new Gazprom job followed weeks later.

All this has been described by Siim Kallas, EU commissioner for audits and fraud prevention, as Schröder damaging Germany's integrity. Had EU Commission standards been applied, he said, Schröder could not have accepted the job.

In Washington, where Schröder has few admirers, an administration official, who asked not to be identified, trashed his choice for a career retread. "Despicable but predictable," was the phrase.

Couldn't have said it better myself...

Posted by Gregory at 06:00 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

January 02, 2006

How Large The Threat from Madrasas?

There has been a lot of back and forth of late re: whether Pakistani strong-man Pervez Musharraf will or won't be expelling foreign students from madrasas in Pakistan. This begs a related query, perhaps. Just how big a deal are these madrasas in the context of the GWOT to begin with? Back in '03, Don Rumsfeld asked: "Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrasas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us"? William Dalrymple, for one, seems more sanguine about madrasas generally, and believes the real peril lies elsewhere, in the main:

...the link between madrasas and international terrorism is far from clear-cut, and new research has been published that has challenged the much-repeated but intellectually shaky theory of madrasas being little more than al-Qaeda training schools. It is certainly true that many madrasas are fundamentalist and literalist in their approach to the scriptures and that many subscribe to the most hard-line strains of Islamic thought. Few make any effort to prepare their students to function in a modern, plural society. It is also true that some madrasas can be directly linked to Islamic radicalism and occasionally to outright civil violence. Just as there are some yeshivas in settlements on the West Bank that have a reputation for violence against Palestinians, and Serbian monasteries that sheltered war criminals following the truce in Bosnia, so it is estimated that as many as 15 percent of Pakistan's madrasas preach violent jihad, while a few have been said to provide covert military training. Madrasa students took part in the Afghan and Kashmir jihads, and have been repeatedly implicated in acts of sectarian violence, especially against the Shia minority in Karachi.

It is now becoming very clear, however, that producing cannon fodder for the Taliban and educating local sectarian thugs is not at all the same as producing the kind of technically literate al-Qaeda terrorist who carried out the horrifyingly sophisticated attacks on the USS Cole, the US embassies in East Africa, the World Trade Center, and the London Underground. Indeed, a number of recent studies have emphasized that there is a fundamental distinction to be made between ma-drasa graduates—who tend to be pious villagers from impoverished economic backgrounds, possessing little technical sophistication—and the sort of middle-class, politically literate global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaeda operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular and technical backgrounds. Neither bin Laden nor any of the men who carried out the Islamist assaults on America or Britain were trained in a madrasa or was a qualified alim, or cleric.

The men who planned and carried out the September 11 attacks have often been depicted in the press as being "medieval fanatics." In fact it would be more accurate to describe them as confused but highly educated middle-class professionals. Mohamed Atta was an architect; Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's chief of staff, was a pediatric surgeon; Ziad Jarrah, one of the founders of the Hamburg cell, was a dental student who later turned to aircraft engineering; Omar Sheikh, the kidnapper of Daniel Pearl, was a product of the London School of Economics. As the French scholar Gilles Kepel puts it, the new breed of global jihadis are not the urban poor of the third world so much as "the privileged children of an unlikely marriage between Wahhabism and Silicon Valley, which al-Zawahiri visited in the 1990s. They were heirs not only to jihad and the umma but also to the electronic revolution and American-style globalization."

This is also the conclusion drawn by the most sophisticated analysis of global jihadis yet published: Understanding Terror Networks by a former CIA official, Marc Sageman. Sageman examined the records of 172 al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and his conclusions have demolished much of the conventional wisdom about who joins jihadi groups: two thirds of his sample were middle-class and university-educated; they are generally technically minded professionals and several have a Ph.D. Nor are they young hotheads: their average age is twenty-six, most of them are married, and many have children. Only two appear to be psychotic. Even the ideologues that influence them are not trained clerics: Sayyid Qutb, for example, was a journalist. Islamic terrorism, like its Christian and Jewish predecessors, is a largely bourgeois enterprise. [emphasis added]

I'm open to arguments that Dalrymple underestimates (even grossly) the threat from madrasas. But there is certainly a distinction to be made between, on the one hand, a relatively under-educated madrasa student, hailing from rural Pakistan, that becomes radicalized to fight amidst the neo-Talibs in the environs of Kandahar, say, and, on the other hand, a Western university educated radicalized Salafi (Kepel's Silicon Valley/Wahhabi hybrid), likelier to foster sophisticated mass mayhem in a European metropolis. The former is still a threat, not least to G.I.s in places like southeastern Afghanistan. But I think it's fair to say the greatest peril we face is from the latter camp, and we should probably be paying at least as much attention re: how to dismantle and uncover their networks, mores, etc as we do with regard to the madrasas. (Also worth thinking about, perhaps, is whether there are material differences in the behavior of madrasa alum as between those who are merely attending in their home countries and those coming from third countries--like those Musharraf wanted to expel from Pakistan).

All in all, I think Dalrymple is being somewhat glib when he describes Islamic terrorism as a "bourgeois enterprise", in the main, or analogizes the supposedly 15% percent of madrasas that are extremist with (a very few) Kahane-esque yeshivas in the West Bank or hyper-nationalist monasteries in Serbian enclaves of Kosovo or Bosnia. The problem of the madrasas, one suspects, will continue to be treated as a high priority issue, and rightly so, by many in Washington. I guess my point here is to query whether we are making absolutely sure we are keeping our eye firmly on other threats that are likelier even more serious (read: Western-educated, under-cover radical Salafists and such) and whether anyone has analyzed the differences (if any) between the behavior of local students post-madrasa versus those hailing from third countries? Maybe these are questions that can be worked into Rumsfeld's initial query as something of a supplement. To whether we are "capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrasas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us"--one might wish to ensure that we are paying at least as close attention to the impact of our policies on potentially radicalized Islamic communities in the West, how their networks are metastasizing amidst more intrusive European intelligence service crackdowns (post 7/7 in London, and with the Germans, Spaniards and French all very active on this score of late), and also the differences in propensity for radicalization and appetite for armed jihad, if any, between madrasa students schooled in their home countries versus those traveling from further ports of call.

I'm not an intelligence expert, but I wonder whether as part of a (still choppy) trans-atlantic rapprochment we might not consider, perhaps under the NATO umbrella, a Brussels-based intelligence body aimed at coordinating information on some of the above matters. I'm pretty confident, despite all the hot air and wailing about regarding how we each suck so much that, say, French and U.S. intelligence agents have maintained pretty good cooperation since 9/11 on such matters. But with networks of international jihadists in great flux, and much of the threat likely emitting from Europe, I wonder whether more institutional modes of intelligence-sharing might not make sense at this juncture. Note, for instance, the following information about NATO's intelligence division:

The Intelligence Division provides day-to-day strategic intelligence support to the Secretary General, the North Atlantic Council/Defence Planning Committee, the Military Committee, and other NATO bodies such as International Military Staff elements, the Political Committee and WMD Proliferation Centre. It relies on the NATO nations and NATO Commands for its basic intelligence needs since it has no independent intelligence gathering function or capacity. On the basis of these contributions, it acts as a central coordinating body for the collation, assessment and dissemination of intelligence within NATO Headquarters and to NATO commands, agencies, organisations and nations. [emphasis added]
Is this lack of an independent intelligence gathering function worth assessing? NATO got along fine without it during the Cold War, and national intelligence services are notoriously zealous of preserving maximum autonomy, but I still put it out there for consideration given that neat bipolar rigidities and roughly accepted rules of the game are so obviously a thing of the past. Put differently, and perhaps putting NATO aside for the time being, I guess my bottom line question is whether trans-atlantic intelligence cooperation is A-OK just now, or whether it needs a shot in the arm? If the latter, should people be considering how to perhaps better institutionalize such cooperation? And, if so, wouldn't NATO be a leading candidate for locus of such formalized intelligence-sharing cooperation?

P.S. Here's more on the status of Euro-American cooperation worth reading. What's clear is that any move towards greater institutionalization of intelligence-sharing would need to incorporate the G-8, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Also worth considering in all this, of course, have been European attempts to optimize their own intelligence gathering capacities. Often, we hear that progress on this score has been hampered because some countries "[emphasize] national sovereignty over shared intelligence." Doubtless true, and not a surprise to any of us, of course. Also worth noting, as the author points out, is that some NATO countries are reticent to jeopardize privileged relationships with the U.S. (the dastardly French, reportedly, are keen to develop a more independent European intelligence capacity). But Washington should play the grown-up in all these bureaucratic machinations surrounding intelligence-network reorgs. It's probably, all told, in the U.S. interest for a greater optimization of European intelligence gathering to occur via more centralization, provided however: a) the U.S. is assured it will be fully privy to the fruits of such greater efficiency, b) that the U.S. is still able to discreetly maintain privileged relationships via bilateral channels when centralized fora are not the most adequate mechanisms by which to handle whatever pressing intelligence matter is at hand, and c) a coordinated approach to ensuring input from the likes of the IMO or FATF, or G-8 is ensured as well. To me, this all sounds like a good opportunity to re-vivify cooperation at the NATO level, perhaps by conjoining movements towards the more centralized European intelligence operations with the relevant U.S. counterpart(s), but maybe that's not the best approach. Still, I think this is more than just empty talk of prospective bureaucratic re-shuffles signifying little. I can't help feeling that, between and among the U.N., G-8, IOM, FATF, IMO, ICAO, OSCE, national European intelligence services, nascent centralized European stuctures, and, of course, the Americans--somewhere, somehow, sometime actionable timely intel will get lost in the shuffle--and people will unnecessarily perish as a result of a lack of cohesion in the Atlantic community's intelligence apparatus.

Posted by Gregory at 04:17 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 01, 2006

Remember the French Riots?

It's often the nature of the blogosphere that we get all in a tizzy over some major issue of the day (Brownie & Katrina! Eurabian Intifada on the Seine! Fitzmas Came Early!) only to (overly?) quickly move on to the Next Big Thing (yes, there are some notable exceptions, like Maguire's monomaniacal coverage of l'affaire Plame, or Steve Clemon's Bolton-palooza, among others). I'm as guilty of it as the next guy, of course, but the thought occurred to me that I had never done a follow-on re: the French riots after my initial post of November last year. I recently noticed that John Vinocur (probably my favorite NYT/IHT columnist after David Brooks) does an able job of checking in on the story now a couple months down the road. He's behind the Times Select wall, of course, but here are some excerpts:

Burn, baby, burn was a cry of grief or vengeance from America's years of black rage, but it was also the incontrovertible truth of the riots that Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin recently insisted to CNN were really a blander, less shameful variety of social disturbance. Death and serious injury were avoided here for the most part. Still, toting up the score, the Interior Ministry indicates something far different than this cleansed version:

Ten thousand cars destroyed and more than 200 public buildings set afire. Damages estimated by insurers at between E80 million and E150 million. More than 3,200 arrests. More than 400 rioters sentenced to prison.

And now, after a period of quiet, here's an unsettling realization for 2006. It's that entirely apart from the official New Year's precautions, the weeks since the riots have not brought the sense of a nation coming together on some kind of common ground.

Rather the opposite. It is a time of new accusations and new verbal excess. It is one of rioters playing victim, or being manipulated by ideologues into the status of history's aggrieved, without responsibilities or obligations to France.

Most obviously, it is a time when the real, linked villains behind the riots - unemployment, and a reflexive insistence by most of the political caste that a quota system for advancement won't help - get pushed out of the discussion in favor of easier polemics. Bringing affirmative action to society here or profoundly changing the stagnant French economic system have the look of ideas that threaten the entrenched left/right status quo too much to make serious headway as the essence of the debate.

Instead of what has to be remade for France to function in confidence again, the headline issues, discussed with special viciousness, have run to the historical effects of French colonialism in North Africa, black Africa and the Caribbean and whether France owes its heirs systematic repentance.

Or to the position of a few writers, now accused as "neoreactionaries," who have dared ask about the role in the country's unrest of resistance to integration among some Muslim immigrants. Or further, to a characterization, vocal on the left and among a group of showbiz and sports celebrities with distant roots in housing project misery - and murmured insistently on the anti-modernist right - that makes Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and 2007 presidential candidate, the one-size-fits-all guilty party for the troubles.

"Permanent daily lynching has become the national sport," Franz Oliver Giesbert, editor of the center-right newsweekly Le Point, wrote in its current issue. "Our society demonizes."

I can attest to much bitching and moaning and yes demonizing about the awful Sarko when I pass through France several times a year. It's almost as if, but for meanie Sarko's use of the word "racaille", all would have been swell in the Parisian banlieu (yes, it's true the usage was unfortunate, but c'mon!). This is particularly true of a segment of the population that bandy about as self-styled progressives, wishing to breeze along in some post-historical dolce vita vibe where the world appears like some big Benetton ad and all is hunky-dory but for those who who are trying to force globalization (quelle horreur!) or primitive Ango-Saxon capitalism (barbarians at the gate!) down their throats. It's all rather sad, finally, but I guess the silver lining in all this is that, with Chirac's massive diminishment (is it 1% of the population now that wants to see him run for a third term?), perhaps some serious policy-making and reform will be able to emerge from the dueling between de Villepin and Sarkozy. We'll try to do a better job of checking in, now and again, on how that particular story moves along in advance of the '07 presidentials...

Posted by Gregory at 09:23 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Changes to the Right Side...

...of this blog, that is. Regular readers will recall that, quite a few moons ago, I tried to add regional and country-specific blogs to the blog-roll. Truth be told, the effort never really achieved lift-off. It was rather ad hoc, and never really brought to fruition. I thought it would be a handy research tool, say, if you wanted to delve into going-ons in Russia in some detail--ie. pop over into the Russia column. But I never really got into the habit of doing so, and I doubt many of my readers did. Rather than delete these nascent regional and country-specific groupings, however, I've moved them further down.

What else have I done? I've added a bunch of op-ed types to the "Columnists" section, added an entire category on "Law and Finance" (this is more for my job but readers working in the private sector might find it a helpful resource as well), and also added a "City" section (New York going-ons, including the odd obligatory real estate blog and such). In addition, I've added a few blogs to the main blog-roll section.

Coming soon too, I'm having B.D.'s software consultant upgrade us to a newer MT platform, and during this effort hope to work out some of the issues with multiple comments, spam trackbacks, and the like. Oh, and refreshing the pics at the top of the page is probably due for some attention soon too...

Anyway, if you have any wish-list items related to this site (not the substantive content but the nuts and bolts of the design, comments feature, the great blogs I've left off the blog roll etc etc) now is the time drop me a note in comments. Thanks in advance.

Posted by Gregory at 08:29 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Salutary Effects of Melancholy

Feeling a tad melancholic after a too boisterous New Year's Eve? Hey, that's a good thing!

P.S. And speaking of overly rambunctious feting about, no one I'm yet aware of has surpassed the superb description of a particularly noxious day after than that contained in Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

As I said, consummate and unrivaled (as far as I know!).

Posted by Gregory at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Spring-Time for Realist Blogging?

A New Year, a new blog. Via Fletcher-bound Drezner, I see Nikolas K. Gvosdev, the editor at the excellent National Interest, has recently started up a blog, The Washington Realist. I particularly liked his description of realism in his inaugural post back in November:

Foreign policy realism has a bad name in Washington. The "realists" are the ones blamed for the carnage of the Yugoslav wars and the sorry state of the Middle East--after all, doesn't Walter Lippman's famous maxim ("Without the controlling principle that the nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes, its commitments related to its resources and its resources adequate to its commitments, it is impossible to think at all about foreign affairs") caution against crusades and interventions, preventing the rapid deployment of American power to do good in the world?

We all know the drill--the realists idolize "stability" above all else, and really they must be "un-American" because they dislike freedom and democracy, preferring the company of autocrats and dictators. Every time the neo-Wilsonians want to castigate any realist concerns about policy, they trot out good old Prince Metternich as their straw man...

...This ignores the emergence of American streams of realism that do understand the importance of values and aspirations as a component in shaping foreign policy--a point even Henry Kissinger, the "uber-realist" lightning rod for both the left and the neo-conservative right in the United States--acknowledges. "Ethical Realism"--the viewpoint propounded by Hans Morgenthau and Rienhold Niebuhr--is well described by John Hulsman and Anatol Lieven in the Summer 2005 issue of The National Interest....

..There is a great deal of diversity among those who call themselves realists, as I noted in a piece for the Winter/Spring 2005 issue of SAIS Review . But realists of all camps--liberal, ethical, democratic, hard, communitarian, etc--adhere to two "organizing principles": The first is a skepticism about utopian projects, no matter how noble in inspiration. The second is an appreciation for the limits as well as the uses of power; that lacking unlimited energy or resources, power must be used selectively. In keeping with this realization, a country's interests must be prioritized--with the greatest effort reserved for averting threats that first and foremost affect a country's very survival.

That's a pretty nice precis, and I've omitted some click-throughs so go the original post for more interesting content/links. With a lot of Jacobin-style absolutist exuberance (particularly primitive variants through much of the blogosphere, causing me frequently to wonder whether I should hang up my blog-gloves and retreat to calmer climes), it's nice to see people like Gvosdev entering the fray...

Posted by Gregory at 01:55 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Whither Russia?

Has the time come to resurrect that quasi-perennial question that seems to cyclically (and reliably) afflict American foreign policy elites: "who lost Russia"? Well, maybe not, but there's certainly more than the Ukranian gas story of late to get one's attention, isn't there? (More on this subject when I can find the time to cobble together B.D.s end of year review).

Posted by Gregory at 01:17 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack
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