Tuesday, February 28, 2006
I Blame Al Gore
Former Vice President Al Gore told a mainly Saudi audience on Sunday that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that most Americans did not support such treatment. [...]Now, much to my disgust, the Bush administration is hopping on the America-hating, Gore-piloted bandwagon:
Gore told the largely Saudi audience, many of them educated at U.S. universities, that Arabs in the United States had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable."
"Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it's wrong," Gore said. "I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."
The federal government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after 9/11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism.This settlement removed one of two plaintiffs from a lawsuit that is still pending - the other plaintiff hasn't settled. There is also a class action suit brought by "hundreds of detainees" still in play. Returning to the substance of Gore's seditious speech now buttressed by the Bush administration's admissions and certain DOJ/Federal Bureau of Prisons internal audits, just what were these supposedly "terrible abuses" and "unforgivable" conditions that Gore recklessly cited in his attempt to undermine America in front of foreigners who surely had no idea about the incidents until Gore informed them [emphasis mine throughout]:
A 2003 report by the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread abuse of the noncitizen detainees at the Brooklyn center after 9/11, and in recent months, 10 of the center's guards and supervisors have been disciplined.Really Mr. Gore? Since when is a little sodomy with a flashlight a "terrible abuse." How fainthearted. How pre-9/11. I suppose Gore and other America-bashing do gooders would also complain about 9-12 month detentions with limited access to attorneys and family members and without charges being brought in anything like a timely manner. Some, like that traitor Dick Durbin, might even be tempted to claim that anal rape, beatings and indefinite detention sound more like incidents found in prisons run by despotic regimes than American prisons. They would be wrong of course to tarnish America's name in such a treasonous manner. More turn-coats:
Mr. Elmaghraby, who spent nearly a year in detention, and the Pakistani man, Javaid Iqbal, held for nine months, charged that while shackled they were kicked and punched until they bled. Their lawsuit said they were cursed as terrorists and subjected to multiple unnecessary body-cavity searches, including one in which correction officers inserted a flashlight into Mr. Elmaghraby's rectum, making him bleed.
In a telephone interview from his home in Alexandria, Egypt, Mr. Elmaghraby, 38, said he had reluctantly decided to settle because he is ill, in debt and about to have surgery for a thyroid ailment aggravated by his treatment in the detention center.
"I wish I come to New York, to stay in the court face to face with these people," he said in imperfect English, adding that he had always expected the courts to uphold his claim. "I lived 13 years in New York, I see a lot of big cases on TV. I think the judges is fair."
Traci L. Billingsley, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said that its own investigation began in April 2004, after federal officials declined to prosecute.Worse still, Gore said these people were "indiscriminately" rounded up, but I beg to differ. Consider this:
She would not identify the 10 employees disciplined, but said that two had been fired and two demoted, and that the others had received suspensions ranging from 2 to 30 days. She listed the offenses as "lack of candor, unprofessional conduct, misuse of supervisory authority, conduct unbecoming, inattention to duty, failure to exercise supervisory responsibilities, excessive use of force, and physical and/or verbal abuse."
In all, 762 noncitizens were arrested in the weeks after 9/11, mostly on immigration violations, according to government records. Mr. Elmaghraby and Mr. Iqbal were among 184 identified as being "of high interest" to investigators and held in maximum-security conditions, in Brooklyn and elsewhere, until the F.B.I. cleared them of terrorist links. Virtually all were Muslims or from Arab countries. [...]Note the wording: "virtually all." Meaning not exactly all. Not indiscriminate really. And "little effort" which implies that some effort was made to distinguish. Nor should the fact that they were all eventually cleared of ties to terrorism be deemed evidence of indiscriminate application of legal measures. The government lawyers who originally took a brave stand before deciding to join forces with the Gore-skyites had the right idea:
The [DOJ's] inspector general's report said that little effort was made to distinguish between legitimate terrorism suspects and people picked up by chance, and that clearances took months, not days, because they were a low priority. Among the abuses described in the report - many of them caught on prison videotape - were beatings, sexual humiliations and illegal recording of lawyer-client conversations.
That in itself is not evidence of discrimination, government lawyers wrote in the brief they filed on Friday with the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals because "the Al Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks were Muslims from certain Arab countries" who "viewed themselves as conducting a religious war."See. It's obvious. Al Qaeda were Muslims from certain Arab countries, so it wouldn't be discriminatory to round up other Muslims from certain Arab countries and imprison them indefinitely with a little "aggressive" interrogation thrown in. Check the post-9/11 Constitution. It's in there. After all, ever heard of a ticking time bomb? How many Americans should die in order to protect the human rights of terrorists or people who aren't terrorists but are of the same religion and ethnicity as some terrorists? Besides, there was lots of compelling evidence of guilt. For example:
Mr. Elmaghraby, who had a weekend flea market stand at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens, was picked up on Sept. 30, 2001, in his apartment in Maspeth, Queens, when federal agents were investigating his landlord, apparently because years earlier the landlord, also a Muslim, had applied for pilot training. Mr. Elmaghraby says his wife, an American citizen, left him after being threatened with arrest by an F.B.I. agent when she arrived at his first court hearing.His landlord - also a Muslim - applied for pilot training! His freakin' landlord. Pilot training! Need I say more? And this:
Mr. Iqbal was arrested in his Long Island apartment on Nov. 2 by agents who were apparently following a tip about false identification cards. In his apartment they found a Time magazine showing the World Trade Center towers in flames and paperwork showing that he had been in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, picking up a work permit from immigration services.Not only did this man have a suspicious looking Time Magazine in his apartment (who, pray tell, reads Time other than jihadist terrorists?), but he was also Muslim and in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001 picking up a "work permit"? Quite frankly, I'm surprised this terrorist was released at all. He is so obviously guilty. Of something.
So now the Bush administration is abandoning its principles and capitulating to those that think the Constitution is some kind of suicide pact. Like Gore, the Bush administration, DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons are getting all caught up in technicalities about what "indiscriminate" means and other abuse-related Bill of Rights legalese.
To make matters worse, I don't think the Bush administration, DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons have taken necessary precautions to prevent the spread of this information to foreign shores - especially those in the Muslim world. Granted, they didn't give speeches overseas, but still, now everyone over there with an Internet connection, access to newspapers or satellite tv is going to know about what happened. And more importantly, what about the children? How do I explain sodomy with a flashlight to my 5 year old? Thanks a lot.
So I ask you to join me and Tigerhawk in saying:
There is simply no defense for what the Bush administration, DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons have done here, for they are deliberately undermining the United States during a time of war. The DOJ and FBP's reports, as well as the Bush administration's decision to settle this case, are as silly as they are subversive. They should all be ashamed. But they won't be. The leadership of the Republican party should disavow the Bush administration's legal surrender. But it won't.Because as Armed Liberal noted, it is pretty clear that the Bush administration, DOJ and Federal Bureau of Prisons are not "standing for American interests" anymore.
Speaking of which, I must admit to being somewhat surprised by the American public's negative reaction to the decision to grant access and control of certain port functions to the United Arab Emirates. Sure, "the Al Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks were Muslims from certain Arab countries" and one of those countries happened to be the United Arab Emirates. But suggesting that such guilt-by-association factors should be involved, whereby large groups are tarred by the actions of a few representatives, is racist, xenophobic and jingoistic. And I don't know where these attitudes came from. Really.
Care To Reassess?
Look, the place could descend into civil war, but it's worth keeping the following facts in mind. As of a few minutes ago, the New York Times is reporting 138 people killed out of a population of 23 million. It's not a civil war yet. In fact, I'm kind of surprised it's not a lot worse, given what happened. Given that this is such a major symbol, I would have predicted you would have had like 500 killed by this point....Well, perhaps Mr. Kaplan would like to revise his earlier statements in light of recent revelations:
Grisly attacks and other sectarian violence unleashed by last week's bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine have killed more than 1,300 Iraqis, making the past few days the deadliest of the war outside of major U.S. offensives, according to Baghdad's main morgue. The toll was more than three times higher than the figure previously reported by the U.S. military and the news media.1,300 dead in roughly five days is pretty significant, no? Almost three times as many as Kaplan would have "predicted" - which means things are worse than expected. And it's not like the situation is getting any better. From the AP:
Hundreds of unclaimed dead lay at the morgue at midday Monday -- blood-caked men who had been shot, knifed, garroted or apparently suffocated by the plastic bags still over their heads. Many of the bodies were sprawled with their hands still bound -- and many of them had wound up at the morgue after what their families said was their abduction by the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
A suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt at a crowded gas station Tuesday — one of five attacks that rocked Baghdad in quick succession, killing at least 66 people and wounding scores, police said.There were also casualties and fatalities suffered by US forces, as well as two British soldiers killed in the relatively peaceful and calm southern regions of Iraq. Despite public pleas by leaders of the respective groups, the violence continues apace. Which, again, raises the questions I discussed in my prior post: Who is in charge? And do the leaders in charge have control over those perpetrating the violence?
The surge of violence, including three car bombs, unsettled an Iraqi capital already shaken by fears the country teeters on the brink of sectarian civil war. Iraqis have suffered through days of reprisal killings and attacks on Sunni mosques since bombers blew apart the gold dome of a Shiite Muslim shrine north of Baghdad on Wednesday. [...]
There was more sectarian violence in the wake of Wednesday's blast at the revered Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra. North of Baghdad, a blast badly damaged a Sunni mosque where the father of Saddam Hussein was buried in the family's ancestral hometown, Tikrit. [...]
The Iraqi Islamic Party reported a Sunni mosque in Baghdad's northern al-Hurriyah neighborhood was destroyed in an explosion before dawn Tuesday. The Sunni organization blamed the Shiite-dominated government that, it said, "cooperates with the criminal hands that sabotaged God's houses and lighted the fires of sedition."
At a gas station in the mostly Shiite eastern New Baghdad neighborhood, a suicide attacker joined a line of people waiting to buy kerosene before detonating the explosives strapped to his body, witnesses said. The blast killed 23 people and injured 51, Interior Ministry official Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said.
In the same region, a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed nine people and wounded 17 — all civilians, police and paramedics said.
Another car bomb exploded near a Shiite mosque in the crowded southeastern Karada neighborhood, killing four and wounding 16, al-Mohammedawi said.
Kaplan also had this to say:
We had 250,000 people killed in sectarian violence in the former Yugoslavia. And you had intellectuals throughout the United States claiming it was not a civil war, it was just bad people and it was only cynics calling it a civil war. You've had people calling this a civil war from a year ago, when you had like ten people killed a day, out of a population of a country the same size as Yugoslavia. Will it descend into civil war? Possible. Who knows? You know, it's in the balance. But you know, it's worth keeping things in perspective, is all I can say.I would point out, contra Kaplan, that according to Iraqi Interior Ministry reports and statements by President Bush (as well as independent research by Iraq Body Count and other groups), there have been roughly 30-35,000 Iraqi civilians killed in mostly ethnic/sectarian violence over the course of less than three years. That breaks out to a rate of over 10,000 a year. In other words, I don't think there was ever a time when "you had like ten people killed a day." And if there was, then the daily violence after that "ten a day" period has increased exponentially - enough to make up for the earlier lull in order to push the death toll to its current ghastly total.
One last point, observing that other civil wars were bloodier or more costly in terms of lives lost is not dispositive of whether or not the current conflict in Iraq could or should be categorized as a civil war. Nor is the fact that there are certain "intellectuals" who made academic arguments about prior conflicts. Some civil wars take more lives than others, but that doesn't mean that the persistent, continuous and targeted sectarian/ethnic violence over the course of almost three years in Iraq is not such.
Monday, February 27, 2006
When Lose-Lose Equals Mission Accomplished
Along with the unsettling developments, there has been an increased attention paid to issues surrounding the naming of the conflict; particularly whether or not this is a civil war. To some extent, it's hard to tell and to some extent, the nomenclature is irrelevant when contrasted with the reality of the bodycount. There isn't an agreed upon set of benchmarks that would apply in all settings. Most can agree on what a full-blown hot civil war would look like, but Iraq has defied such easier classifications by it's ability to sustain a low-level but consistently bloody civil conflict, without eruption, for the better part of three years. But that simmering ethnic/sectarian strife has only served to pack the powder keg tighter and move the sparks nearer the combustibles.
So when does a persistent, relentless violent campaign of an ethnic/sectarian nature equal a civil war? I can't say for sure, but I agree with praktike that Iraq has probably crossed the invisible boundary. The truth is that such transitions can occur without one key obvious or observable manifestation, but rather a confluence of factors. This can lead to a time-delay between facts on the ground and conventional wisdom amongst the onlookers. While the shrine bombing might become the Fort Sumter moment for Iraq, consider this post from Nibras Kazimi back in early January, more than a month before the al-Askari bombing and concomitant upheaval [emphasis added]:
And they - relics of my life back in Iraq - keep calling these days, telling me Baghdad is burning, as if I can do anything about it. The price for a Kalashnikov bullet is 1000 Iraqi Dinars, up from 400 last month. People are preparing, but for just what, nobody knows. [...]Do you think Kazimi would be more or less sanguine today?
And yet, we keep hearing from the Americans and the Iraqi political elite, that if a civil war has not broken out so far then it is unlikely to happen, which is a license for all parties involved to keep acting and speaking irresponsibly and provocatively. The saga of the Spanish Civil War shows that the ever-menacing embers were set aflame by the sharp words exchanged in the democratically-elected Cortes, or parliament.
I can't shake the feeling that Iraq went from a state of civil strife to one of civil war without anyone, least of which the Iraqis themselves, realizing it. Sunni political debutantes keep rhetorically pushing the envelope, while their adjuncts in the insurgency keep pouring oil on the fire. The Shia leadership, ensconced within multiple layers of security details, seem to have missed that the street-level refrain that used to say "give us the signal to fight" has shifted to "go f*ck yourselves, we'll do this on our own."
I hear of happy-go-lucky Baghdadi kids - groups of six or seven - organizing themselves into mini-militias. One such group that I know of, killed a militant Sunni preacher in Hai Al-Jami'a last week. Only last year, these guys obsessed about the latest hairstyles and the fanciest cell phone models. Recently, they've resolved to kill before getting killed.
What is going on? If this isn't civil war, then what is the proper technical term for it? I fear that no one can control it at this point - not Sistani, not Badr.
And after the bloodletting subsides, how do you bring a 'nation' back together?
Kazimi makes reference to a factor in the evolving dynamic that should cause us all to worry: it is becoming increasingly unclear who, exactly, is in charge? The Iraqi government is, predictably, ineffectual and over the weekend Grand Ayatollah Sistani issued a statement complaining that he was losing control of the Shiite street, and could no longer thwart some of the more violent tendencies of his followers.
This statement can be taken in three ways, none of which are particularly comforting: First, he means what he says, in which case an important moderating voice is being marginalized and/or superseded - to the detriment of all in pursuit of a peaceful and unitary Iraq. Second, Sistani is laying the groundwork for justifying an increase in number and armament of his own personal militia in an attempt to counterbalance challenges to his authority from al-Sadr - whose Mahdi Army has it's own means of "influencing" events. The problem is, for all of Iraq's wants, the last thing Iraq really needs is another private militia roving the landscape. Third, Sistani knows that big time violence is about to be unleashed and he wants to wash his hands of it - claiming that events are/were beyond his ability to control in order to stay above the fray. Of course, it could be a mixture of all three.
Alternatively, yet equally disconcerting, this article by Ed Wong and Robert Worth in the New York Times discusses how Sistani and other erstwhile proponents of the moderate position are being pushed into more hardline and confrontational roles by the internecine struggle for power and influence within the Shiite community. In an effort to maintain their respective power bases, and to keep enraged, aggrieved, vengeance-seeking constituents in their respective folds, figures such as Sistani have been led to adopt a more militant footing vis a vis the insurgencies. If the Sistani's in the community don't re-assert their militant bona fides, their more desperate followers might be wooed away by the fiery rhetoric of the likes of al-Sadr. This becomes more and more likely as violence inflames anger and patience is lost with Sistani's restrained approach.
American officials have been repeatedly stunned and frequently thwarted in the past three years by the extraordinary power of Muslim clerics over Iraqi society. But in the sectarian violence of the past few days, that power has taken an ominous turn, as rival hard-line Shiite clerical factions have pushed each other toward more militant and anti-American stances, Iraqi and Western officials say.This is worrisome because of the power dynamic created: no longer are the clerics with their moderating rhetoric helping to rein in the passions on the street, but in an inverted sense, the passions and impulses on the street are influencing the clerics. Which of course will create a self-reinforcing loop spiraling toward a severely destructive terminus.
As if this wasn't bad enough, Chris Allbritton discusses certain political realities that could be contributing to the deteriorating conditions (via the omnipresent Swopa). Allbritton observes two interacting phenomenon that don't bode well for Iraq's future: First, that the Iraqi government is mostly a meaningless fiction, with the real power belonging to clerics and sub-groups with their own private militias (some of which have attained the status of officially sanctioned Iraqi government forces but, in reality, are little more than militia members in fancy uniforms). Second, even some of these relatively impotent politicians might be gaming their American counterparts by presenting an appealing public face - while behind the scenes, working in ways that undermine their stated goals. From Allbritton here:
It's clear the authorities, at least the ones who appear on television with titles such as "Defense Minister" and "U.S. Ambassador," have no clue what to do....And again here:
...We have reached a point where the facade of the "political process" has been shredded. The real power lies - and has always lain - in the hands of the sheikhs, the clerics - especially Moqtada - and the gunmen. The politicians in Baghdad can continue their silly little exercise in government building and the Americans and the foreign diplomatic corps can tell their audiences in their home countries how much progress Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is making at building bridges with Saleh Mutlak. But we on the ground know the truth. We're on the edge of a hot knife, and it's getting hotter.
What Iraqi politicians say to U.S. Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and to Green Zone-based reporters is largely meaningless. What is much more influential is what they say to their followers through sermons in the mosques, their tribal allies and pernicious whisper campaigns. For example, shortly after Wednesday's bombing, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said Khalilzad bore some responsibility. Although he recanted shortly after, the calls for Khalilzad's expulsion were as strong as ever in mosques loyal to SCIRI and the Badr Organization on Friday.Allbritton seems to channel Kazimi, Riverbend and Omar from Iraq the Model in noting the tense resignation in the collective Iraqi psyche that, "it's only a matter of time." Can't say I blame them considering that the best that we can point to now in terms of avoiding conflict is the diplomatic skill of Moqtada al-Sadr - with his dubiously motivated Sunni outreach - and the increasingly hawkish - and marginalized - Sistani. It should be noted, as Allbritton does, that while many such as Sadr are putting on a show of unity, forces loyal to that wily diplomat were busy fighting street by street with forces from Sunni groups with which he had apparently struck a pact or truce. Not encouraging.
...For the last 18 months, we've been in a low-grade civil war. The Askariya bombing kicked us up to "medium-grade," I guess you might call it. Both Sunnis and Shi'a I've spoken with are waiting and preparing for it, and that very preparation might make for a self-fulfilling prophecy. For to many Iraqis, it's only a matter of time.
So with that stage set, it brings me to another topic worth poring over: the timing of withdrawal. My position all along has been that we owe it to Iraq to try to stabilize the country and head off a full-blown civil war. I believe that, despite the counter-productive radicalizing effect our presence has had, US forces are still a net positive in terms of helping to keep the lid on civil war writ large. But my opinions on this matter are evolving. The violence of the past week - together with the above stated revelations concerning the dynamics of power - have caused me to reassess.
Fundamentally, it is a matter of troop strength - that bugaboo that has hounded Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al. since invasion and before. As praktike also noted, troop strength limitations greatly inhibit our ability to act as a mitigating buffer to a larger civil war. If at our current troop level, we cannot effectively defeat the insurgencies when we have the tacit or active cooperation of roughly 80% of the population (Shiites and Kurds), then what can we expect our troops to accomplish if 80% of the population (Shiites and Sunnis) were committed to all out warfare? Not much probably, as illustrated by the fact that as the recent spate of violence was unfolding, the prime directive of US forces in Baghdad was to stay in their barracks lest they provoke more violence or get caught up in the intra-Islamic maelstrom.
But wait, it gets worse. While our current troop levels would likely make effective interdiction prohibitively difficult, and of inconsequential impact, our current troop levels cannot be sustained for long - and this becomes especially true if we begin to suffer increased fatalities and casualties in the role of the traffic cop in a raging hot multi-directional civil war. So we would be trying to pacify more regions, housing more combatants, embroiled in more intense conflict with fewer and fewer troops. Not realistic.
On top of that, the hotter the civil war, the more likely that more and more citizens from neighboring Sunni-majority countries would stream in to defend their Sunni brethren - as would money to fuel the fight. So we would be facing an even larger hostile force on the Sunni side alone - again, with fewer troops - not to mention the generous contributions from the Iranians on the Shiite side of the ledger.
Further, we must consider the role we would be playing. On the one hand, we could step in to defend the Sunnis, but this would put us in a peculiar and awkward position. We would be on the side - at least ostensibly - of the jihadists, the Zarqawi-ists and the former Baathists against our putative allies in the Shiite dominated government - the government we helped to establish with much purple-hued fanfare. This defense of the Sunnis whom the Bush administration has alternately labeled terrorists, thugs, al-Qaeda-ists, dead enders and former regime elements would alienate the majority of Iraq's Shiite population and could cost us our ability to establish friendly relations with Baghdad going forward. In addition, without us to provide needed support, the Shiites would further cozy up to Iran in order to buttress their fighting ability. We will have swapped Saddam's Baath for a hostile Shiite regime under even more potent influence from Iran. How's that for money/human lives well spent?
On the other hand, we could support the Shiite side in a broader conflict that would be drawing intense scrutiny, recruits and money from the entire Sunni-dominated Muslim world. But as I cautioned in an earlier post, this could have dire and wide-reaching consequences. Just think, for a moment, about how this would play out in the Muslim world - especially on the Sunni side from which the Salafist jihadist terrorists are recruited. A paraphrase of my prior admonition:
The United States (already viewed with suspicion, cynicism and mistrust) will have - in effect - armed, trained and possibly provided air support and other on the ground combat assistance to one side (the Shiites) in a clash of religious sects within the Muslim world. As the ongoing images of a local Sunni population being crushed militarily spread across the airwaves in the local Arab media, the broader Sunni population in other Muslim nations (a majority in almost all save Iran) would be radicalized, enraged, humiliated and desperate to strike back at the "imperialist crusader" that many would no doubt blame for the carnage -- probably inordinately so, but that is to be expected.
Judging by the proclivity for conspiracy theory and rumor to gain acceptance in the region, these events would no doubt be spun as the culmination of deliberate planning by US forces. According to the expected speculation, America would be seeking to weaken the Muslim world by throwing Iraq into chaos and stoking wider sectarian conflict. Of course, this narrative might take root regardless of which side we support.
Regardless, can you imagine the propaganda field day Osama would have? Just think about how many new recruits and copycat organizations there will be - with an ongoing casus belli, on the job training in Iraq and broader financing/logistical networks established from the contacts initiated in Iraq and/or through al-Qaeda generally speaking.
We're talking al-Qaeda on steroids, with growth hormone cocktails, daily workouts and plenty of Popeye's spinach. This outcome would not be inevitable, and I suppose that we could attempt to straddle the field and push each respective side back into their corners. But we would have to trust the skills and nuance of the Bush administration to apply delicate pressures on many valves in order to avoid getting sucked in on one side or the other - and even then, with far too few troops to effectively accomplish those goals. Not exactly a prospective role that instills confidence huh? That is why I am left with the uncomfortable and morally repugnant position that if and when a larger civil war erupts in Iraq, our best possible course of action might be to get out of the way. Trying to thread an infinite number of needles in an intra-Islamic battle of epic proportions is folly on the grandest scale imaginable.
Leaving Iraq to roil in bloodshed and destruction is not something that sits well on my palate, however. It would mean turning a blind eye and disengaging from a tragedy in progress - one that we had no small part in bringing to fruition. But the amazing thing is, there might just be worse positions to take. I'm more than willing - eager in fact - to listen to counterarguments to the position that if the lose-lose dynamic of a full blown civil war should occur, the Bush administration should act as if the mission were really accomplished. Minus the cod piece and flight suit and with as much damage control as possible. But ultimately, attempted solutions might be beyond our means, and our ham-handed attempts could result in making tragic circumstances even worse.
In times like this, all I can fall back on are the wise words of that political sage John Hinderaker:
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.Hey George, heckuva job in Iraq! Should we do Iran next maestro?
Friday, February 24, 2006
The Next Big Thing
This is pretty much what the Lebanese civil war was like, only Iraq is perhaps less complicated for now.With that in mind, Media Matters caught a glimpse of how the GOP might attempt to spin the horror of the steadily intensifying civil war:
Fox News featured two onscreen captions during a segment on escalating violence in Iraq that read: "'Upside' To Civil War?" and "All-Out Civil War in Iraq: Could It Be a Good Thing?"Atrios admits that this angle surprised him. I don't know why. As far back as two years ago, Republican pundits like Charles Krauthammer were touting the prospect that the civil war in Iraq could be a "useful tool" for US interests (discussed here). Maybe Charles should have issued a spoiler alert before that column. Either way, if the tragic violence in Iraq continues to escalate, I expect this narrative to be all the rage. In the US that is. Something tells me Iraqis might, in their own self-centered way, fail to grasp the "upside" or the "goodness" of the ongoing carnage.
I guess that's fair and balanced. Charming, isn't it.
Rhetoric vs. Reality
In light of this rather dramatic gesture, I wanted to turn to a facet of this debate that has been troubling me lately - hopefully some type of conversation could be sparked that would answer some questions. But first, some background. I acknowledge that people on both sides of this debate hold various nuanced positions with various justifications and permutations - but for the sake of this piece I will be oversimplifying certain concepts without the intent of insulting anyone's beliefs.
Generally speaking, those on the pro-choice side tend to view the issue in a woman's rights/libertarian context - with the suspicion that many on the other side are more concerned with controlling women and punishing women's sexuality than any other more noble calling. The anti-abortion side most frequently adheres to the belief that human life begins at conception - when sperm fertilizes egg - and therefore abortions equate to murder and thus transcend claims based on the individual rights of women. It's not anti-woman, it's pro-life.
So here's my problem, as expressed recently by Jane Hamsher at firedoglake: just how far are those that espouse the "fertilized embryo-as-human being" theory really willing to go? Are they ready to extend this belief to its logical conclusions, or is their outrage unduly focused around issues relating to women's sexuality - thus giving credence to the suspicions of many in the pro-choice camp.
Here's an ethics classroom type hypothetical worthy of getting the conversation started (via Jane):
"...if a fire breaks out in a fertility clinic, who do you save -- a Petri dish with five blastula or the two year-old child?"Interesting, if a bit outlandish. I think it's safe to say that most people would instinctively grab the two year-old, but if one believes that those five embryos are just as human as the two year-old, surely the petri dish representing five human lives is worthier of saving. If not, why not? Is there some basis for a hierarchy whereby a fertilized egg is a human, but a two-year old is more human? If so, what is that test?
The fertility clinic hypo is worth exploring even further - especially when contrasted with the stem-cell research debate. First, stem-cells. As many of you are undoubtedly aware, President Bush attempted to thread the needle somewhat on the stem-cell question by limiting federally funded stem-cell research to existing lines of stem-cells taken from embryos already in use, but with no additional embryos to be exploited in this way. One must ask, though, if President Bush believes that embryos are human life, why not go all the way and propose banning stem-cell research outright? Isn't he condoning murder (at least under his belief system)? At the very least, shouldn't he propose banning any further research (federally funded or otherwise) using additional lines derived from embryos not currently being utilized? I can't say I see the moral clarity.
As for fertility clinics, many of you might also be aware that the process of in vitro fertilization involves the creation of many embryos to be used in attempting implantation which might lead to successful pregnancy. Implicit in these techniques is the knowledge that more embryos than necessary are created at once, in order to have back-ups on hand should the procedure fail in the initial attempts (which it inevitably does, and almost always more than once). In a related matter, embryos aren't produced on an attempt-by-attempt basis because such a frequently repeated process of embryo creation is prohibitively stressful on the health of the woman. But this raises the question: what happens to the superfluous embryos after successful implantation?
Currently, there are a variety of options depending on the clinic involved - with the ultimate choice to be determined by the parents and the clinic as a private matter. The parents can choose to use the embryos for their own additional pregnancies, donate them to other couples, freeze the embryos indefinitely, donate the embryos to stem-cell research or destroy the embryos by thawing them out. Other than the first two options, all those choices should be deemed murder by those that believe that embryos represent human life.
But oddly enough, there is no consistent voice on this issue from the anti-abortion camp and very little in the way of public outcry. Some groups, such as the Catholic church, take a consistent stand opposing in vitro fertilization. But other groups remain silent, agnostic or attempt to hide behind a push for legislation that would require embryos that are not used to be frozen indefinitely. In either instance, you don't see picket lines and demonstrations outside fertilization clinics, despite the "murder" being perpetrated within those institutions.
Further, the "freeze the embryos" push is a disingenuous dodge. After a certain amount of time has elapsed, those frozen embryos are no longer viable and under any definition have effectively ceased being a human life. Further, if they are humans, how is it anything near acceptable to put them on ice in perpetuity? Don't they have rights that should trump those involuntary, indefinite cryogenic imprisonments? And here's a follow up question: what if abortions could be performed so that the fetus was removed intact, unharmed and promptly frozen? Would those then be considered an acceptable procedure due the use of cryogenics?
Jane Hamsher also draws attention to a portion of this discussion about which I was wholly ignorant [emphasis mine]:
When John M. Opitz of the University of Utah testified before the President's council on Bioethics in 2003, he noted that between 60 and 80 percent of all naturally conceived embryos are simply flushed out in a woman's normal menstrual cycle in the first 7 days after fertilization, and that women never even know that conception has taken place.For the sake of her discussion, Jane tabled the topics raised by professor Sandel, but I think they warrant a closer inspection. If one believes that all these embryos that are terminated without outside interference are each human lives, and the "death toll" from menstrual cycle-related embryonic fatalities would eclipse all abortion, in vitro and stem cell causes by far, shouldn't medical solutions to this problem take on paramount importance? I mean, human life is human life and with so many millions of humans dying each day, I would think a little urgency would be in order. Yet the anti-abortion movement is oddly silent.
(As a side note, at the same meeting, Harvard government professor Michael Sandel, also a member of the Bioethics council, noted that "If the embryo loss that accompanies natural procreation were the moral equivalent of infant death, then pregnancy would have to be regarded as a public health crisis of epidemic proportions: Alleviating natural embryo loss would be a more urgent moral cause than abortion, in vitro fertilization, and stem-cell research combined." Although I enjoy Dr. Sandel's sense of humor and appreciate the presence of a smartass on the Bioethics council, I really do, let's just chalk this one up to "God's will" for the moment and proceed with the question at hand.)
Jane anticipated the likely response by agreeing to treat these incidents as "God's will" - much like a miscarriage or similar natural cause of death for a newborn. But medical science is dedicated to thwarting "God's will" in terms of combating causes of death in many forms - be it disease, genetic predisposition or other "natural" causes. Why not here? I'm willing to concede that this might be more a matter of what issues have received national attention, but still, shouldn't this matter eventually percolate to the top of the list of items to be addressed by those belonging to the "culture of life"? If abortion is akin to genocide, menstrual cycles are a bigger villain.
Digby takes it one step further by pointing out that 81% of Americans are in favor of abortions in cases of rape or incest - a number that, by its size, must include some in the anti-abortion camp. But if one believes that the embryo created through such acts is a human life, why allow for its "murder"? Surely these same people would not condone the murder of an infant or child conceived through rape/incest after the child was born. But if the embryo is also a human, why the double standard? Although, it should be noted, the South Dakota law avoids this particular ethical dilemma by allowing no exception for rape or incest.
To be sure, there are many opposed to abortion that hold consistent, intellectually honest positions that treat all embryos as human lives. This is a perfectly justifiable stance involving spiritual beliefs and the nature of the human soul - the ultimate answers to which are probably beyond any of our capacities. I happen not to agree with that position completely, but I acknowledge that it is valid, honest and worthy of respect.
What I can't seem to get my head around, though, and where my respect tends to slip, is where people apply a selective or sliding scale concern for embryos - whereby some should be granted the full cadre of human rights (or at least the right to life) while others are treated as less than human even with respect to their right to life. Especially because these "sliding scale" proponents tend to show greater concern for the embryo where there is a woman's uterus involved, where the pregnancy in question resulted from sexual intercourse and where that woman wants to make a choice affecting the embryo in her uterus.
In this inconsistency, I believe, ulterior motives are revealed (be they consciously held, or the product of underlying attitudes and beliefs that are layered in one's subconscious). I sincerely welcome any guidance or explanation that could explain away these apparent contradictions/inconsistencies, because I am left with the distinct impression that too many in the anti-abortion camp care less about embryos and more about a woman's autonomy.
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Louder Than Bombs?
Singer MORRISSEY was quizzed by the FBI and British intelligence after speaking out against the American and British governments.
The Brit is a famous critic of the US-led war in Iraq and has dubbed President GEORGE W BUSH a “terrorist” - but he was baffled to be hauled in by authorities.
Morrissey explains, “The FBI and the Special Branch have investigated me and I’ve been interviewed and taped and so forth.
"They were trying to determine if I was a threat to the government, and similarly in England. But it didn't take them very long to realise that I'm not.
Well I'm glad it didn't take them "very long." Sheesh.
But in all seriousness (or half at least), you know the war on terror has gone overboard when 1980's brit pop icons have come under such scrutiny. As Wonkette suggested, maybe they should take a look at Robert Smith next. Just what did the Cure mean by "Disintegration" anyway? Or that well known terrorist sympathizer Ian McCulloch. I mean we all know that the "Bunnymen" (or as they are known in jihadi circles, Ansar al-Echo) are just an al-Qaeda front.
Luckily for the FBI and the Brits, the Aussies are taking care of Henry Rollins and other assorted American musicians. Up next, the tyranny of boy bands....
Let's Be Frank, Part 1.5
Before I get started on the democracy vs. terrorism redux, I wanted to interject another topic of conversation into the mix sparked by Fukuyama's piece. Apart from the discussion of democracy's historical inevitability, and whether the primary vehicle of democratization is ideas or materialist factors, something else in Fukuyama's article caught my eye. It was an examination of the dynamics of the "unipolar" American moment, and how this new found hegenomy would affect perceptions of legitimacy in our actions vis a vis Iraq and elsewhere:
The Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters did not simply underestimate the difficulty of bringing about congenial political outcomes in places like Iraq; they also misunderstood the way the world would react to the use of American power....After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."About a year ago, I penned a two part series that sought to delve into the interplay of legitimacy, unipolarity, the Bush doctrine and the changing landscape post-Cold War. As cited in that post, an article in Foreign Affairs by Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson, set forth the "pre-unipolar moment" basis for garnering legitimacy and the cooperation of the non-Warsaw Pact world in our foreign policy endeavors. According to the authors, our relationships were built on four pillars:
It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism. The idea that the United States is a hegemon more benevolent than most is not an absurd one, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war. The structural imbalance in global power had grown enormous. America surpassed the rest of the world in every dimension of power by an unprecedented margin, with its defense spending nearly equal to that of the rest of the world combined. [...]
There were other reasons as well why the world did not accept American benevolent hegemony. In the first place, it was premised on American exceptionalism, the idea that America could use its power in instances where others could not because it was more virtuous than other countries. The doctrine of pre-emption against terrorist threats contained in the 2002 National Security Strategy was one that could not safely be generalized through the international system; America would be the first country to object if Russia, China, India or France declared a similar right of unilateral action. The United States was seeking to pass judgment on others while being unwilling to have its own conduct questioned in places like the International Criminal Court.
 Washington's long-held commitment to international law,  its acceptance of consensual decision-making,  its reputation for moderation, and  its identification with the preservation of peace.As Fukuyama and others have pointed out, while the US has - not infrequently - deviated from some or all of those four pillars, the threat of the Soviets in the context of the Cold War afforded the US an open-ended and rather substantial benefit of the doubt. Without that overarching Soviet threat to provide us with our qualified carte blanche, however, the United States would have to re-commit to those four pillars in some shape or form.
Yet, as Fukuyama suggests, influential thinkers and policymakers in the Bush administration went in the exact opposite direction. They deliberately disregarded and undervalued those four pillars, instead insisting on weakening the UN and the larger doctrine of multilateralism - believing that our actions would be deemed "legitimate" and thus supported and accepted based on our "unusually high degree of morality" and other exceptionalist delusions. Unfortunately, the flippant jettisoning of pillars 1-4 as evidenced by the invasion of Iraq fed into a loop of deligitimization whereby our inherent "morality" was cast into serious doubt in the eyes of the world.
In little over four years (though there was some erosion during the Clinton years), we have gone from the proud owners of a blank-check benefit of the doubt, to a perhaps unfair level of distrust, cynicism and scrutiny. I don't suppose Abu Ghraib, extraordinary renditions, the suspension of the Geneva Conventions and the Bush administration's paradigm shattering embrace and excuse of torture did us any favors in this regard either. Adding insult to injury, the highly charged and often gratuitous rhetoric denigrating our allies, and the dismissive way we treated their (in retrospect well-founded) concerns, exacerbated the situation. Legitimacy is a two way street. Or better yet, a central hub with myriad spokes emanating from the center. The spokes must be treated with respect. Flaunting unipolarity is the fastest way to lose it.
So it is no surprise to see Fukuyama returning to themes of legitimacy and international order. As recent history has borne out, the belief in the seemingly limitless capacity of the US to act in any way it sees fit in the unipolar world was yet another casualty of the Iraq invasion. Legitimacy matters, the vigorous support of our closest allies matter, understanding and support from the broader populations of the world matter and we need to go about regaining our mantle of legitimacy for future actions if we want the cooperation, trust and support that is so vital to success. Fukuyama recognizes the problem:
Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy in several fundamental ways....The United States needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action; creating new organizations that will better balance the dual requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness will be the primary task for the coming generation. [...]There is a tension, however, between a "multi-multilateral world" and maintaining the perception of legitimacy that a multilateral organization can confer. Namely, if there are too many international institutions, the potency of their respective imprimaturs of legitimacy will be diluted. With a panoply of venues, it would begin to look like we were shopping around from group to group seeking approval until one bites. Further, unless the newly formed multilateral organizations are broad enough in terms of nations/regions represented, their ability to stamp an action with legitimacy will be limited by the narrowness of the respective organizations' scope and reach. That is not to say that there is no room for additions to the multilateral organization landscape, just that this shouldn't be a free for all process with dubious "front" organizations erected to rubber stamp our missions. In my previous effort, I sought to outline a guide to use in pursuit of legitimacy, and made a passing reference to potential new multilateral organizations:
The conservative critique of the United Nations is all too cogent: while useful for certain peacekeeping and nation-building operations, the United Nations lacks both democratic legitimacy and effectiveness in dealing with serious security issues. The solution is not to strengthen a single global body, but rather to promote what has been emerging in any event, a "multi-multilateral world" of overlapping and occasionally competing international institutions that are organized on regional or functional lines. Kosovo in 1999 was a model: when the Russian veto prevented the Security Council from acting, the United States and its NATO allies simply shifted the venue to NATO, where the Russians could not block action. [emphasis mine]
Instead of relying solely on the UN, though, we should appeal to a cascading standard of legitimacy....we should seek to reform the United Nations and make it more responsive and efficacious, and look to it for the imprimatur of legitimacy whenever possible. Absent Security Council approval, we should court other smaller, but still inclusive, alliances for their support and perception of legitimacy. Even if we cannot find approval from smaller bodies like NATO (or other bodies of alliance that could be formed in the future), we could and should seek to make our case on the world stage, to the people themselves. As information and connectivity increase, it may become possible for the US to convince enough of the world of the wisdom of a certain action without the formal ratification of a given body. [emphasis added]This Washington Post Op-Ed by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay from 2004 takes a crack at a new and improved multilateral - more recently discussed by Daalder here. According to Daalder and Lindsay, the UN is in many ways anachronistic and ill-suited to meet the challenges of today:
With President Bush's go-it-alone policy foundering in Iraq, many of his critics are calling for a return of American foreign policy to a traditional multilateralism centered on the United Nations. Bush's critics are right to point out that the United States benefits when its actions enjoy U.N. blessing. Gaining such support can often be as important as demonstrating America's power and will to act. But they fail to acknowledge publicly what everyone admits privately: that as a pre-Cold War institution operating in a post-Cold War world, the United Nations is not up to the task of handling the most pressing security challenges.[...]The solution, according to the authors, is to create a new organization that could be broad enough in its reach to secure the perception of legitimacy, yet sufficiently exclusive so as to remain consistent with our world view.
The deeper problem is that [proposed reforms of the U.N.] do not go to the heart of what ails the organization: It treats its members as sovereign equals regardless of the character of their governments. An Iraq that ignores resolutions demanding that it dismantle its weapons of mass destruction can chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. A Sudan that wages a genocidal civil war can be voted onto the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
The idea of sovereign equality reflected a conscious decision governments made 60 years ago that they would be better off if they repudiated the right to meddle in the internal affairs of others. That choice no longer makes sense. In an era of rapid globalization, internal developments in distant states affect our own well-being, even our security. That is what Sept. 11 taught us.
Today respect for state sovereignty should be conditional on how states behave at home, not just abroad. Sovereignty carries with it a responsibility to protect citizens against mass violence and a duty to prevent internal developments that threaten others. We need to build an international order that reflects how states organize themselves internally. The great dividing line is democracy. Democratic states pose far less of a threat to other countries and are often more capable than autocracies. That is why democratic nations should rally together to pursue their common interests.
We need an Alliance of Democratic States. This organization would unite nations with entrenched democratic traditions, such as the United States and Canada; the European Union countries; Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia; India and Israel; Botswana and Costa Rica. Membership would be open to countries where democracy is so rooted that reversion to autocratic rule is unthinkable.24 Carrots and Gold
Like NATO during the Cold War, the Alliance of Democratic States should become the focal point of American foreign policy. Unlike NATO, however, the alliance would not be formed to counter any country or be confined to a single region. Rather, its purpose would be to strengthen international cooperation to combat terrorism, curtail weapons proliferation, cure infectious diseases and curb global warming. And it would work vigorously to advance the values that its members see as fundamental to their security and well-being -- democratic government, respect for human rights, a market-based economy.
I think the concept of the Alliance of Democratic States provides an excellent starting point. And there is a rather significant ancillary benefit to be derived from this organization if it were structured the right way.
Alliance membership would need to come with real benefits. Trade among its members should be free of tariffs and other trade barriers. Decision-making should be open, transparent and shared.This is music to my ears. In a separate two part series I also wrote last year, I looked at an article by Steven Cook in Foreign Affairs - the main thesis of which was that our approach to encouraging liberalization/democratization in the Muslim world was fundamentally flawed. From Cook:
The alliance would be a powerful instrument for promoting democracy. Just as the prospect of joining NATO and the European Union remade the face of Europe, so too could the prospect of joining the Alliance of Democratic States help remake the world.
The United States had, in recent years, pursued three different approaches toward the Arab world: punishing its enemies with diplomatic isolation, sanctions, and invasion; bolstering civil society; and promoting economic development in friendly states. Assuming that these last two tactics would gently drive political liberalization, the United States funded good-governance programs in Egypt, promoted industrial zones in Jordan, and provided various forms of economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority and, more recently, Yemen.According to Cook, belief in the efficacy of these last two strategies was premised on previous Cold War successes - where civil society organizations became popular mouthpieces of the people, separate from the ruling regimes and dedicated to liberalism. Yet in the Middle East, leaders have wised up. Instead of opposing these civil society groups, ruling regimes have coopted them through patronage, control and manipulation. In addition, not everyone is on the same page with respect to the goals of liberalism:
Civil society in Arab countries may provide critical social services, such as medical care, education, and legal representation, but many of the groups involved, such as those affiliated with radical Islamist movements, are decidedly undemocratic. Others have proven too willing to cooperate with local nondemocratic regimes: Egyptian human rights activists, for example, serve on the government-created Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, which has no power to compel the government to change its predatory practices and serves only as window dressing. Likewise, in Algeria, Syria, Tunisia, and other Arab countries, labor unions and business organizations enjoy government patronage in return for collaboration with the state.[...]Cook's solution to the conundrum tracks nicely with some of the benefits of Daalder and Lindsay's new Alliance of Democratic States:
The reason that the promotion of civil society, economic development, and sanctions have not led to political reform in the Arab world is that none of them addresses the real obstacles to change in the region: flawed institutions. Institutions are the organizations, arrangements, laws, decrees, and regulations that constitute the political rules of the game in any given society. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Arab states boast such institutions in spades; the problem is not with their number but with their nature. In the Arab world, these institutions are designed to ensure the authoritarian character of the regimes.
The best way to do so would be to move away from negative pressures and toward more positive, incentive-based policies. In the abstract, such policies involve getting others to do what you want by promising them something valuable in return. In this case, the United States can use the prospect of increased aid or membership in international clubs and organizations as levers to encourage Arab progress toward the establishment of pluralism, the rule of law, power sharing, property rights, and free markets.For my money (as a taxpayer), these types of arrangements have the most chance for success. We must change the cost-benefit analysis of the ruling regimes. If they determine that the advantages of actual, legitimate institutional reform outweigh the costs in terms of loosening the grip on power, then real progress will be made. Further, as Cook pointed out, it becomes less an issue of us dictating and micromanaging civil society programs (with cultural tensions and stung pride spoiling well-intentioned efforts), and more a decision on the part of the regime in question within the cultural context of the indigenous people. It's here if you want it, but this is what you have to do to get it (with some leeway granted for you to come up with your own particulars). Cook points to a recent example of success in this context:
...this new way of doing business would give Egyptians a more dignified role in their relationship with the United States: Cairo would be encouraged to undertake reform, but the ultimate choice would be theirs. Moreover, putting subtle pressure on the Egyptian leadership to reform will bolster U.S. credibility with the Egyptian public and help assuage general Arab skepticism toward Washington--which has long talked about political progress in the region while doing painfully little to make it happen.
Perhaps the best example of a successful incentive-based approach is with Turkey, which has long sought to join the European Union. When Turkey petitioned the EU for membership, Brussels responded by setting clear political, economic, legal, and social standards for Ankara to meet first. The huge benefits offered by EU membership created a vast constituency for reform in Turkey. As a result, the Turkish parliament has been able to pass eight reform packages in the last three years. Turkey's Islamists have come to support the program, which they see as their best chance for securing formal political protections. The Islamists have cleverly recognized that, since the EU demands that its members institutionalize freedom of religion, Turkey, to become a candidate, will have to loosen government control on religious expression and Islamist political participation. Meanwhile, Turkey's long-dominant military has also signed on to the reform project. Although some of the changes demanded by Brussels will reduce the military's influence, Turkey's general staff has realized that it cannot oppose the project without looking like an enemy of modernization--something the inheritors of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's legacy cannot afford.Maybe the Alliance of Democratic States can be set up to be an attractive enough club that those on the outside will undertake real reform to get a membership card. Either way, it sure beats the invasion model of democratic change, and Cook is right that the current non-violent approaches aren't exactly yielding stellar results either. Two of the overarching lessons we should learn from the Iraq invasion are: (1) the limitations of the invasion model of democratic change; and (2) the need for international cooperation and a perception of legitimacy for our foreign policy efforts. With the Alliance of Democratic States, we might be able to address both concerns simultaneously.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Let's Be Frank, Part I
Francis Fukuyama's recent article in the New York Times Magazine has set off a flurry of activity and chatter in the blogosphere and the punditry more generally speaking. Two blog-based essays in particular delved into the underlying philosophical shift undertaken by Fukuyama in his latest attempt to clarify his position vis a vis other neoconservatives. Publius at Legal Fiction provides an interesting philosophical backdrop to the perhaps not-so-subtle rearranging of hats that Fukuyama attempts in order to refine his thesis on the inevitability of democracy as an irresistible force of history. First, Fukuyama in his own words [emphasis mine throughout]:
Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.As Publius noted, this new - or revealed - Fukuyama is more of a materialist: arguing in favor of economic/societal conditions rather than the latent desire for an abstract ideal as the means to bring about the transition to liberal democracy. It is modernization, with its ability to spread wealth and power - not the universally human and omnipresent appeal of the ideal of "democracy" - that spurs change. Publius extends the analogy:
"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.
The gist of [the idealism vs. materialism distinction] is that idealists think that ideas can move and shape history, whereas materialists tend to see ideas as the byproduct (or superstructure) of material forces such as economic relationships and power imbalances.Along similar - though separate - lines, Michael Signer at Democracy Arsenal examines Fukuyama's claims regarding the overarching principles permeating certain neoconservative circles. These beliefs relate to the premise that democracy is "ineluctable" and eternally poised on the verge of fruition should certain oppressive and democracy-thwarting forces be removed from a nation - even by force. Interestingly, many neoconservatives developed ideas related to this democracy in waiting theory based on their observations of change in Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. From Fukuyama:
Iraq provides an excellent example of how these schools of thought work. Because materialists see democracy as the byproduct of (relatively) evenly balanced and widespread wealth, the materialist would stress economic reforms as a necessary precondition of democracy promotion. The idealist, however, believes that introducing the idea of democracy is enough – or more specifically, that introducing the idea can produce the economic wealth. The actual invasion of Iraq (and the greater neocon vision for the Middle East) depends entirely on idealism in that it bets the house on imposing Western ideas top-down rather than helping them develop from the bottom-up.
Personally, I think the materialists have the better argument because I think most things can be explained by underlying economic arrangements. For instance, I think economics explains why the American Revolution worked and the French Revolution didn't. In many ways, the American Revolution wasn't a revolution at all, but a defense of the status quo. The colonies rebelled when Britain tried to reassert top-down control and alter existing economic relationships that were favorable and (slavery excluded) relatively egalitarian. The French Revolution, by contrast, was a revolt of the property-less masses. Because money is power, the masses never really had any real power even after the revolution. And so it was inevitable that a tyrant would replace a tyrant – the underlying economic balance simply wasn't there to sustain true democratic reform (see also evolution from czar-to-Bolshevik).
The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside. The model for this was Romania under the Ceausescus: once the wicked witch was dead, the munchkins would rise up and start singing joyously about their liberation. As Kristol and Kagan put it in their 2000 book "Present Dangers": "To many the idea of America using its power to promote changes of regime in nations ruled by dictators rings of utopianism. But in fact, it is eminently realistic. There is something perverse in declaring the impossibility of promoting democratic change abroad in light of the record of the past three decades."But what Kristol and Kagan ignore are important, if not integral, parts of the equation: rather than invade Eastern Europe, change evolved from within. Further, assuming that change could have occurred in these countries through invasion, there are myriad societal, cultural and historical factors that would make some regions/nations more or less amenable to the presence of outsider forces (American at that) and more or less capable of managing the upheaval of the massive re-ordering of social order attendant to democratic change. Taking limited evidence of domestic, relatively peaceful change in European nations and extending the conclusions to broad based sweeping generalizations about universality even when different means are adopted and cultures targeted is dangerous thinking. Again Fukuyama:
This overoptimism about postwar transitions to democracy helps explain the Bush administration's incomprehensible failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that subsequently emerged in Iraq. The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform. While they now assert that they knew all along that the democratic transformation of Iraq would be long and hard, they were clearly taken by surprise. . . . Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.As Signer observes, this view of the genesis of democracy and its interaction with underlying social, political and economic conditions should have serious implications in terms of choosing the means to encourage democratic change. If one appreciates the difficulty of establishing democracies, it becomes apparent that the use of force to provide top-down impetus for this type of transformation is an extremely risky proposition at best - even in friendly settings. Attempting to create those "ripe" conditions ex nihilo as an occupying power is, under even ideal circumstances, a prohibitively difficult task. But if one does not fully appreciate the complexities involved, and one does not acknowledge the unique challenges that a region like Iraq would present, as Fukuyama claims of certain players in the Bush administration, it greatly lessens those already long-shot odds for a positive outcome. Unfortunately, with respect to Iraq, key policymakers ignored, or worse yet, silenced those that recognized potential problems and touted the need for a comprehensive and far reaching nation-building apparatus post-invasion. From Signer:
Fukuyama goes to great pains in his piece to conceptualize why the Administration failed to anticipate the post-invasion insurgency. His key finding is that neocons twisted their own belief in the moral ineluctability of liberal democracy into a more forcible, will-based imperative.From Fukuyama:
As Fukuyama notes, these two contradictory principles (force vs. ineluctability) married badly in the Iraq invasion. He says we went in on the premise of preemptive war (force), but failed to plan the post-war phase because of our naive optimism in liberal democracy's power (ineluctability).
The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends.As I have argued at every turn, the recognition of the limitations of the effectiveness of the imposition of democracy through invasion, together with the comprehension of the intricate network of prerequisites needed to succeed and the appreciation of the costs involved (financial, military, logistical, diplomatic, hearts and minds, etc.), combine to make this overall strategy a means of dubious value in the war on terror. Put simply: this is high risk, low reward and, as Fukuyama would argue, based on a fundamental mis-reading of the nature of the power and universal appeal of the ideal of democracy as it applies across all settings, cultures, time periods and contexts. But I think we can extend the lessons of Fukuyama's analysis in another related direction. First, an observation regarding the pillars of neoconservative thought from Fukuyama [my emphasis]:
The Bush administration's first-term foreign policy did not flow ineluctably from the views of earlier generations of people who considered themselves neoconservatives, since those views were themselves complex and subject to differing interpretations. Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the cold war: a concern with democracy, human rights and, more generally, the internal politics of states; a belief that American power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and thereby undermines its own ends.Coupled with an admonition from Signer:
The problem was that two of these principles were in potential collision. The skeptical stance toward ambitious social engineering — which in earlier years had been applied mostly to domestic policies like affirmative action, busing and welfare — suggested a cautious approach toward remaking the world and an awareness that ambitious initiatives always have unanticipated consequences. The belief in the potential moral uses of American power, on the other hand, implied that American activism could reshape the structure of global politics. By the time of the Iraq war, the belief in the transformational uses of power had prevailed over the doubts about social engineering.
The premise of ineluctability -- of either the Hegelian or Kantian brands -- should alarm us wherever we see it, especially when the idea of ineluctability is seized by political opportunists, those who are interested in power for its own sake.I would argue that while the theory-in-practice concerning the "ineluctable" nature of democracy has been discredited thoroughly in Iraq and elsewhere, there is another "alarming" ineluctable still out there that is largely treated as conventional wisdom - despite its rather audacious and unfounded claims. This is the article of faith that democracy will necessarily curb (if not eradicate) terrorism. Despite Fukuyama's warning about the propensity for "unexpected consequences" to result from outside interference based on grandiose visions, and Signer's cautionary words concerning various politically expedient inevitability doctrines, far too many well intentioned and erudite thinkers have adopted this particular "ineluctable" as an irrefutable premise upon which to base our actions.
In Part II, I will attempt to look a little closer - as I have in the past - at the "ineluctable" truth that spreading democracy to undemocratic regions is a solution to our terrorism related problems. We should be considering now whether this second inevitability doctrine will have the same confrontation with reality as the first, and if so, where we should place democracy promotion on the hierarchy of priorities with respect to the war on terror.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
The Potemkin Laboratory
That's why the Bush administration snapped into lightning fast damage control and had those recently fired employees re-hired in advance of Bush's visit. From the AP:
President Bush on Tuesday acknowledged that Washington has sent "mixed signals" to one of the nation's premiere labs studying renewable energies - by first laying off, then reinstating, 32 workers just before his visit.The problem for the Bush administration is that those funding "mix-ups" haven't been fully resolved quite yet - despite the recent application of a bandage that at least restored the friendly facade needed for Bush's visit. As should be expected, the recent "change of heart" signalled by Bush's SOTU speech hasn't quite filtered down through the Executive branch.
The president blamed the conflicting message on an appropriations mix-up in funding the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is developing the very renewable energy technologies the president is promoting. [...]
Two weeks ago, 32 workers, including eight researchers, were laid off at the lab.
Then, over the weekend, just before Bush's planned visit, the government restored the jobs.
His trip to the renewable energy laboratory is part of a two-day, three-state trip to promote the energy proposals Bush outlined in his State of the Union address.
At the direction of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, $5 million was transferred to the Midwest Research Institute, the operating contractor for the lab, to get the workers back on the job, the Energy Department announced Monday.
Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said the decision restores only $5 million of the $28 million budget shortfall at the lab that forced the layoffs.I must admit, these funding shortfalls contribute to the impression that the renewable energy kick isn't really a priority to the Bush administration, but I sure hope I'm wrong on this. If this near-miss blown photo-op was really the result of some bureaucratic lag in matching allocations with policy mandates, and there has been a legitimate sea-change with respect to the Bush team's outlook on energy policy, then I expect the Bush administration to resolve those other appropriations-related kinks by fully funding the authorized programs of similar intent. Talk is cheap, and time is of the essence.
"The $5 million stopped the bodies from going out the door, but it doesn't provide the money for the (renewable energy) programs," Clapp said. [...]
Lab employee Tina Larney said that even though the jobs are being reinstated, she still questions the government's resolve in finding alternative energy sources.
"There is technology available now, there is the know-how now," Larney said. "What is lacking is leadership on the large scale at the national level." [...]
Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., co-chairman of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus, said the government has funded only one-third of the money the 2005 energy bill authorized for renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Clapp claims the president is promoting renewables because polls show his job approval numbers are being weighed down by Americans' concerns about high utility bills this winter and the cost of gasoline at the pump.[emphasis added]
[UPDATE: The Cunning Realist has some more Potemkin-related blogging with TCR's maiden voyage of the "Potemkin Village Watch". In the words of TCR:
A new feature here at TCR. As long as the Grand Ole Opry is the most hostile territory into which President Bush ventures, and questions about Laura Bush's political aspirations are among the most challenging he takes from an audience, this space will chronicle the ongoing absurdity of it all.Go read. It boggles the mind. Somewhere, deep down, I know this has to bother even die-hard Bush fans. Just a little?]
During his visit to Florida, President Bush spoke at the Port of Tampa. Here are the questions that confronted the president in the order in which the "unscripted" and "unscreened" audience asked them...
Friday, February 17, 2006
Mother Nature 1, Michael Crichton 0
Greenland's glaciers are melting into the sea twice as fast as previously believed, the result of a warming trend that renders obsolete predictions of how quickly Earth's oceans will rise over the next century, scientists said yesterday.On the other hand, fiction writer Michael Crichton wrote a loosely sourced and thinly evidenced book that sneered at environmentalists and others in the "global warming industry."
The new data come from satellite imagery and give fresh urgency to worries about the role of human activity in global warming. The Greenland data are mirrored by findings from Bolivia to the Himalayas, scientists said, noting that rising sea levels threaten widespread flooding and severe storm damage in low-lying areas worldwide.
How do you think Mikey's book is going to be treated in, say, I don't know, 20 years from now? 10? 5? As I've said before, this is really happening folks. The time to take serious measures was the day before yesterday. And my sense of urgency is not just fueled by the fact that I live on a low lying island (Manhattan). Aside from the personal (I could always move I suppose), how would you calculate the financial impact if we lost parts of Manhattan, or they became periodically flooded or otherwise rendered inoperative. What if, instead of our over-reliance on fossil fuels, this prospect was the result of an al-Qaeda plot? Would we treat it seriously then? Just asking.
Brave New Family Values
In 2004, at the age of 14 and at his own desperate request, John G. became a ward of North Carolina.Seriously, is this the right wing's concept of family values? Is it that they blame the children for showing the poor judgment to be orphaned or born to parents destroyed by crack or some other nemesis? Maybe I'm just hopelessly quixotic, but for some reason I tend to think that preserving these meager income streams (and homes!) for orphans and foster children is slightly (just slightly) more important than giving Paris Hilton, Ben Affleck and Donald Trump millions of dollars more in tax cuts.
His mother abandoned him for crack when he was 3, and his adoptive father died of cancer a year later. A succession of guardians beat him, made him sell drugs and refused to buy him toys.
When he finally arrived at a county-financed group residence, he was wearing outgrown clothes. On the plus side, he was receiving Social Security survivor benefits and he held title to a modest house, willed to him by the adoptive father 10 years earlier and an asset that might give him traction, or at least a place to live, when he "ages out" of foster care at 18.
Now, the fate of the house - and the insistence of Guilford County officials on taking all of John's Social Security benefits to help pay for his foster care - are at the center of a legal battle with potential repercussions around the country.
The dispute is the latest in a continuing struggle between children's advocates and money-starved welfare agencies. They are wrestling over the proper use of more than $100 million in Social Security benefits that the states are taking on behalf of foster children with disabilities or a dead or disabled natural parent.
Determined to extract as much federal aid for social programs as the law will permit, some state welfare agencies even hire private companies, working for contingency fees, to help them reap more federal money by identifying foster children who are eligible for Social Security benefits. The money is then routinely used to help offset the cost of foster care.[...]
Guilford County officials refused to release any of John's money, even when they learned that his last guardian had stopped making the $221 monthly mortgage payments on his house and that he faced its imminent loss. A local court has ordered the county to make payments for now, but the county has appealed and said it might appeal to the United States Supreme Court if necessary. [...]
John's court-appointed volunteer protector found out about the threat to his house and enlisted a Legal Aid lawyer to help him fight for it.
"For the state to pocket a child's money and allow his home to go into foreclosure just doesn't make sense," said his Legal Aid lawyer, Lewis Pitts. "No one can say it's in the best interests of the child."
The benefits that states routinely take include both Supplemental Security Income, or S.S.I., and other Social Security money for children whose parents have died or are disabled. The payments are often close to $600 a month, and usually end when children reach 18 or 21.
"The practice is not the result of deliberative policy discussions regarding how to best serve children in foster care," said Daniel L. Hatcher, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who is the author of an article on the subject that is to be published in The Cardozo Law Review. "It is simply an ad hoc reaction by underfunded state agencies." [emphasis added]
Rest assured, this isn't class warfare. I'm not suggesting that we tax the wealthiest Americans unduly, and I'm not preaching massive wealth redistribution. But can anyone really make the case that Paris and Ben were paying too much in taxes before the Bush administration stepped in to ease their crushing burden? What if we just returned to the pre-2000 tax landscape for the wealthiest Americans in order to enable orphans to keep their meager pittance. Is that so radical?
This phenomenon is the direct result of dwindling streams of tax revenue at the federal level, which in turn hinders the federal government's ability to fund state projects (which in turn causes states and municipalities to commandeer the survivor benefits of orphans or just cut their programs in order to stay within budget - someone has to stay within budget). Where are all these deeply religious conservatives on this? Is this what your respective good books say?
Maybe I just have different priorities. Because you can't have it both ways.
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
First, Mahan Abedin (editor of the Terrorism Monitor, published by the Jamestown Foundation) has a very informative and helpful primer on the various strains of the Iraqi Sunni insurgencies (via Prof Cole). Abedin's piece covers all the topics in a concise way, and is a useful guide to the outsider looking to navigate the web of connectedness and intrigue withint that ever changing landscape.
Along those lines, Stygius at American Footprints links to this report put out by the International Crisis Groups entitled, In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency. This report, quite ingeniously, culls information from various communications by actual insurgents. From the executive summary (with Styg's commentary):
Last, and definitely not least, is this round up of articles that Kevin Drum has compiled relating to certain findings vis a vis the detainees at Guantanamo. Among the discoveries: most of those being held at Gitmo have no connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. From the articles (as excerpted by Drum):In Iraq, the U.S. fights an enemy it hardly knows. Its descriptions have relied on gross approximations and crude categories (Saddamists, Islamo-fascists and the like) that bear only passing resemblance to reality. This report, based on close analysis of the insurgents' own discourse, reveals relatively few groups, less divided between nationalists and foreign jihadis than assumed, whose strategy and tactics have evolved (in response to U.S. actions and to maximise acceptance by Sunni Arabs), and whose confidence in defeating the occupation is rising. An anti-insurgency approach primarily focused on reducing the insurgents' perceived legitimacy - rather than achieving their military destruction, decapitation and dislocation - is far more likely to succeed.Note in particular the last sentence's recommendation. The ICG's study of the insurgents' communications and media is particularly important.Abundant material - both undervalued and underutilised - is available from insurgent websites, internet chat, videos, tapes and leaflets. Over the past two years such communication has assumed more importance, both among insurgent groups and between groups and their networks of supporters or sympathisers. This report, the first exhaustive analysis of the organised armed opposition's discourse, seeks to fill the gap, and the lessons are sobering.
The largest single group at Guantanamo Bay today consists of men caught in indiscriminate sweeps for Arabs in Pakistan. Once arrested, these men passed through several captors before being given to the U.S. military. Some of the men say they were arrested after asking for help getting to their embassies; a few say the Pakistanis asked them for bribes to avoid being turned over to America.Here is a typical story, that of a detainee named Mohammed al-Tumani:
...."The one thing we were never clear of was where they came from," [Michael] Scheuer said of the Guantanamo detainees. "DOD picked them up somewhere." When National Journal told Scheuer that the largest group came from Pakistani custody, he chuckled. "Then they were probably people the Pakistanis thought were dangerous to Pakistan," he said. "We absolutely got the wrong people."
Tumani's enterprising representative looked at the classified evidence against the Syrian youth and found that just one man - the aforementioned accuser - had placed Tumani at the terrorist training camp. And he had placed Tumani there three months before the teenager had even entered Afghanistan. The curious U.S. officer pulled the classified file of the accuser, saw that he had accused 60 men, and, suddenly skeptical, pulled the files of every detainee the accuser had placed at the one training camp. None of the men had been in Afghanistan at the time the accuser said he saw them at the camp.Just keep in mind what Gitmo is costing us in terms of tarnishing our image, straining relations with allies and alienating and enraging large chunks of the Muslim population that we are trying to appeal to in order to counter the advances made by extremists. And what exactly are we getting in return?
The tribunal declared Tumani an enemy combatant anyway.
Also, consider all the abuse and torture that has occurred at Gitmo, and recall all the arguments about ticking time bombs and terrorists forfeiting their human rights and how all this reprehensible behavior is necessary. Not exactly folks.
And if that's not enough for you, The Editors have some newly released pictures of Abu Ghraib "frat pranks" (more pix here via Laura Rozen). But remember, Al Gore is a traitor and his speeches are what's radicalizing the Muslim world. Honest.
[UPDATE: What am I out of my mind? I forgot to promote my own work. Sheesh. Anyway, I have a short post up at American Footprints that, naturally, is far superior to any of this other tripe that I wasted my time linking to. Sort of.]