Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Oh Holiday, Oh What a Lovely Day Today
Ugh. See why I need a vacation? You do too. Stop reading blogs so much. Go somewhere. Just don't get too cozy in your non-computer screen world, or we might end up with President Giuliani. Shudder.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
The Sum of 41
They crossed the high seas; they poured out their billions; they sacrificed their sons … to "liberate" Iraqis … but what we, the women of Iraq got, is article 41.
In 1959 the Iraqi government amended the Personal Status Law. Article 118 came into being as part of our constitution.
It gave the women of Iraq the most progressive of all Arab and Islamic women's rights legislation until this very day. No discrimination in salaries, no discrimination in uniforms, the separated Mums get to keep the home until the children are of age, and so many other items that made the female community of Iraq one of the most progressive female communities within the Arab, Islamic and regional states – from that time … until we got "liberated".
Now we have article 41.
In brief, it says go to your cleric and he will deal with whatever issues you have.
Girls had the choice either to don the Islamic hijab or walk abroad in safety, quaintly dressed in all manner of modern garments. It was a private matter that was entirely resolved inside the family and according to its own convictions, its own beliefs. Now it's not safe for a girl to step outside her home unless fully covered. How much more liberated can you get??
Girls used to be free to drive their cars in safety all over the city to all appropriate hours. Now it has suddenly become shameful for them to do so.
Why have we lost our rights?
For what have we been pushed back into the dark ages?
How can this be liberation if my daughter has fewer rights than I did at her age? If she has less control over her life than I did? Fewer choices than even her grandmother had?
Why have we been forgotten?? Neither our Parliament nor our Government cares. They are up there for their own interests.
But what about the powers that crossed the high seas to liberate us?? They poured out their billions; they sacrificed their sons … to "liberate" us … but what we, the women of Iraq got, is article 41.
Go to your cleric – he is sure to solve all your issues.
You're welcome Sahar. Please send the flowers and candies to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue c/o Laura Bush:
Well, the good news that came out of Iraq [is] that the Governing Council has been able to write this agreement so they can begin to write the constitution is very good news. And even though I don't know what all is in that agreement, I do understand that women's rights are protected in that agreement, and I like that very much.
I want the women of Iraq to know how much American women stand with them.
And George Bush:
In the last four years, we have also seen women make great strides in...Iraq -- [a country] where just a few years ago women were denied basic rights and were brutalized by [a] tyrant...
Now who wants to be liberated next? What, no takers?(h/t to J-Hen)
Monday, September 24, 2007
The Hog Pit
Friday, September 21, 2007
Hegemony in Reverse
I found James Dobbins the most interesting speaker (including myself). Drawing on his own long experience as a diplomat and as a student of interventions, he argued forcefully for a version of the Iraq Study Group's 'diplomatic surge' which would bring all of Iraq's neighbors into a Dayton-like (or Bonn-like) conference. The US brought Milosevic and Tudjman to Dayton knowing perfectly well the amount of blood on their hands and the boost it would give to their domestic political fortunes, because that was the only way to end the violence - and it worked. He argued that no civil war can ever be resolved if the country's neighbors don't want it to be resolved; the US can either contain Iran or stabilize Iraq, but it can't have both.
At the end, I elaborated on Dobbins' Dayton example by suggesting an alternative lesson of the Anbar model which is rarely discussed. After years of failed warfare against the Sunni insurgency, the US decided to talk with and then cooperate with "former" insurgents with a lot of American blood on their hands. They discovered that it worked (at least for the short term). It's ironic that the same people who currently most vigorously defend the "Anbar Model" of working with these "former insurgents" usually strongly oppose any serious dialogue with Syria or Iran. If there's one good thing which could come out of the current American Sunni strategy in Iraq, perhaps it will be the recognition that talking to one's enemies can sometimes have positive results. [emphasis added]
No, you can't have both can you, nor can you have stability absent regional engagement. I'm just afraid that a choice may be in the offing, which will lead to catastrophic results. Then again, no choice will lead to more unthinkable suffering as well.
Andrew Sullivan has an appropriately snarky run down of the debacle stemming from the attempt to have cake and eat it:
It's back to the 1980s. Instead of backing Saddam against Iran, we're now in danger of backing the Iraqi Sunnis, in league with Egypt and Saudi Arabia ... against Iran The border of the conflict has simply moved from the Iraq-Iran border to the middle of Iraq. And this time, we have 160,000 soldiers trapped in the middle. Yay! Just because it is hard to imagine how the situation in Iraq could get worse doesn't mean that Cheney isn't figuring out ways to do it. He's got more than a year to foment more chaos and bloodshed and sectarian hatred and anti-American hatred. Give him time.
Henley returns the volley:
Which means, if you want to get all grand-strategic about it, the American political class, genus GOP, species Committee on the Present Danger, has simply, in 25 years, lost half a country’s worth of ground in the so-called War with Iran that began in 1979. Heckuva job, hegemonists!
Speaking of blundering, incoherent hegemonists, Greenwald has a bit of fun with one here. And just think, these guys were supposed to be the grown-ups, The Vulcans, the wise and competent set that was going to show the country how to run a masterful foreign policy, unlike the dread Clinton administration. The incalculable tragedy is the only thing that undercuts the humor.
Every Day the Vanity of Old Men and the Cowardice of their Courtiers
I'm sure Maliki and the Bush team came to some, ahem, mutually satisfactory understanding.
American convoys under the protection of Blackwater USA resumed on Friday, four days after the U.S. Embassy suspended all land travel by its diplomats and other civilian officials in response to the alleged killing of civilians by the security firm.A top aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had earlier conceded it may prove difficult for the Iraqi government to follow through on threats to expel Blackwater and other Western security contractors.
The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation into Sunday's shooting was ongoing, said a way out of the Blackwater crisis could be the payment of compensation to victims' families and an agreement from all sides on a new set of rules for their operations in Iraq.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
With Friends Like These...
Now this is curious. In the latest Gallup poll, more Republicans approve of the job Congress is doing than there are Democrats who approve. According to the poll, 37% of Republicans approve of Congress' performance, compared to 23% of Democrats and 14% of independents, with an overall rating of 24% approval and 71% disapproval.Exactly. A large chunk of Congress' low approval rating stems from the fact that Congress hasn't done enough to counter the GOP agenda. But that level of discontent won't actually translate into gains by the GOP next election cycle because voters aren't going to decide, en masse, to elect GOP politicians as a means to better counter the GOP's agenda.
This is odd, of course, considering that both houses have Democratic majorities. But on second thought, the current Congress has passed President Bush's funding requests for Iraq, passed his FISA bill, and has given the White House exactly what it wanted on a host of other issues. So what do Republicans really have to complain about?
What it could, and should, mean, however, is that there will be more spirited Democratic primary battles pitting Bush Dog Democrats against true-blue progressives.
Hooper Drives the Boat, Chiefy
Is it accidental that the Iraqi government's reaction to the latest Blackwater incident comes on the heels of U.S. criticism of Iraqi progress?
The United States sent in an army of private-security contractors (PSCs) with only a whiff of controversy as the insurgency mounted in Iraq - contrasting sharply with the hoopla over the so-called surge. But this week's media frenzy demonstrates the political pitfalls of a reliance on companies like Blackwater. The Iraqi government is certainly justified in raising questions about how these companies operate, especially regarding the still unclear legal status of PSC personnel. But the Iraqi government has reacted mildly to the dozen or so previous incidents that have reached the Western press, making Maliki's outraged calls for the expulsion of Blackwater and a review of all PSCs working in Iraq seem puzzling at first. One wonders, though, if Maliki’s reaction to this incident is driven by a desire to take the spotlight off the Iraqi government's failures and buy it some bargaining room, both in domestic circles and with the Americans. Practically, the United States cannot operate in Iraq without PSCs—and Maliki knows this. The chance to point a finger at one of the more controversial elements of U.S. strategy and put the United States on the hot seat even while sticking up for Iraqi sovereignty in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad is probably too good for him to pass up. [emphasis added]
Avant is most likely correct that this sudden outrage - at least on the part of Maliki - is an opportunistic ploy. That is not to say that Maliki or any other Iraqi should be silent about the abuses of Blackwater, it's just that the relative inattention shown to numerous past examples of Blackwater's misconduct suggests that there are likely ulterior motives for the recent protestations.
Maliki is no chump after all. He knows how the game is played, and he knows enough about the precariousness of the US position in Iraq to remind the Bush team that ultimately, the "sovereign" Iraqis still have a lot of say about tolerating the US presence. There are more ways than one to cripple the efforts of the US in Iraq. With all this talk about "coups" and "replacing Maliki," the prime minister would be foolish to let slip this opportunity to remind Bush of his indispensability, and potency.
The domestic political boon for Maliki is also something to consider, but that one could get a little thorny. Sticking up for the Sunni neighborhood in question - and taking a vocal stance against an unpopular aspect of the occupation - will redound to his benefit; temporarily at least. But if he eventually capitulates to the US and allows Blackwater to continue its activities unscathed, his domestic gains will become losses, especially with Sadr around to drive the point home (this domestic hit would occur even if Maliki's leverage vis-a-vis the Americans improves in the process).
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The Doctor Was Taking Too Long to Fix My Arm, So I Cut Off My Nose
Only 29 percent of Americans gave Bush a positive grade for his job performance, below his worst Zogby poll mark of 30 percent in March.This would come as a surprise to anyone who has been listening to the so-called liberal media chorus which has been claiming that the past week was a big win for President Bush. The Zogby poll in question had another record low performer, though: the US Congress.
A paltry 11 percent rated Congress positively, beating the previous low of 14 percent in July.Which brings me to yet another maddeningly prevalent media narrative: that the President might be unpopular, but so are the Democrats. "Why, just look at the approval ratings for the Democratically controlled Congress - their numbers are even lower than Bush's!" Thus, the Democrats are in trouble, and the GOP is better placed for 2008 than some would claim.
There are several glaring shortcomings in this analysis. For one, the approval ratings for individual members of Congress are much higher, which indicates an institutional critique, not a candidate-by-candidate dissatisfaction such that the next elections will swing in another direction. Second, the Democrats don't really control the Senate. There is a 50-50 tie, with Lieberman giving the Dems a whisker majority mostly for organizational purposes, and rarely in terms of voting on key legislation. It would be nice if this point were made more often in the media's coverage of the Senate.
But the most fundamental interpretive flaw flows from this: Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents ever, and the policies that he and the GOP have implemented (from Iraq, to the economy, to domestic mismanagement) fare little better in the public's eyes. The poll numbers reflect this consistently. The Congress, on the other hand, is getting hammered in these opinion polls for...not doing enough to stop the unpopular Bush/GOP agenda!
For example, the voters want an end to the Iraq war, but the Democrats haven't been able to make progress because Bush and the Republican lawmakers have stymied these efforts repeatedly. But impatience and anger with the Democrats for their inability to effectively roll back the many policy manifestations of the Bush/GOP years does not accrue to the benefit of the GOP. Especially a GOP caucus who, when not loudly agreeing with Bush, mainly criticizes the President for not pushing his unpopular policies far enough.
From the foreign policy side, Bush should be doubling Gitmo, we should expand the Iraq war into Iran, Syria and possibly other locales, our foreign policy should be marked by less circumspection and, echoing Bush, there have been no major mistakes in the approach embraced during the previous 6-plus years. Domestically, we should continue to run enormous deficits by making permanent the tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthiest Americans, a national health care system that would actually deliver health care to people would be socialism and thus should not be attempted, and we should redouble our efforts to scale back, if not kill, Social Security.
And yet, the chattering classes would have us believe that millions of Americans will hold Congress responsible for not stopping Bush, and as punishment these voters will vote for a candidate that promises to...double down on the Bush policies that Congress didn't do enough to counter. That only makes sense in the bizarro world of the Beltway pundits as described by Greenwald:
In their world, the Republicans are always ascendant, Bush is always the Strong Leader, Democrats are always the sorry losers captive to their destructive Leftist extremists, and Americans are aching to support the War. They have been predicting endlessly that, any day now, all of this will be true again.Actually, I hope the GOP field hews to this worldview: Just promise four more years of Bush, and the voters will reward you. Say it early and often.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
The Road to Bloody Conflagration or Just Unthinkable Catastrophe?
Sunni political and tribal leaders are increasingly throwing in their lot with U.S. forces here against Al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent types. But, to get them to come over to our side, the American military has fed them a steady diet of anti-Shi'ite propaganda.
Arrests and killings of Shi’ite militants are announced from loudspeaker blasts; President Bush’s bellicose rhetoric towards Shi’a Iran is reported on friendly radio programs. But the majority of this country is Shi’ite. Are we setting ourselves up as the enemies of the majority here? Are we priming the pump for an all-in sectarian battle royale? It seems like a possibility.
The motivations behind this tilt toward Sunni militants are as fraught with peril as the particular means that we are employing to effectuate the plan. Under the most charitable reading, the Bush administration is arming, training and funding former insurgents (even if some are required to join "official" Iraqi police and military units that aren't "officially" recognized by the actual Iraqi government) in order to more effectively neutralize the already negligible al-Qaeda in Iraq presence.
A slightly more cynical alternative (and an ancillary benefit regardless) would be the fact that by taking this route, the Bush administration would be able to reap the short term political benefit afforded by being able to highlight a decrease in anti-US attacks in Anbar (see, ie, Petraeus/Crocker and the associated media blitz). Slightly farther out on the limb of cynicism, the Bush administration could view the strengthening of ties with the Sunni factions in Anbar as a means of hedging its bets in terms of maintaining options for establishing the desired permanent military presence in Iraq. If the Shiites reject us, maybe the Sunnis will abide - or so the argument would go.
In a related sense, the Bush administration could be pushing a strategy that would further calcify the nascent, de facto partitioning that has been occurring through ethnic cleansing and population displacement. By propping up Sunni elements, and further breeding mistrust and animosity between the Shiites and Sunnis, the Bush team could be moving Iraq closer to a break-up.
The most dangerous and reckless read of the situation, however, would be that the lean toward the Sunnis is part of a larger strategic preparation for war with Iran (as discussed here and here). According to this interpretation, the US would seek to use Sunni militants to counter any push by Shiite factions in Iraq mobilized by a US invasion of, or strike on, Iran.
The problem is, however, that no matter what the motivation is, we are indeed "priming the pump for an all-in sectarian battle royale" as Shactman put it. First, the least cynical option: What good is picking off a smallish al-Qaeda presence that was already wearing out its welcome with the local Sunnis regardless of our stance, when in order to achieve this, we not only arm former insurgents that maintain a bitter, violent opposition to the Shiite government (and US forces even if this animus is in suspension), but also stoke the fires of that underlying sectarian feud by promulgating incendiary propaganda. This is a recipe for greatly intensifying the civil war(s) and initiating the onset of that oft repeated parade of horribles (genocide, regional conflict, etc.) the prevention of which is, ostensibly, our primary reason for staying.* That's like one step forward, a mile trotting back.
While feeding the sectarian furnace might make eventual partition easier, the furnace would also likely overheat, resulting in an eruption of inter-state violence, whereas prior to the partition, such violence was between occupants of the same state. Six dead, and half a dozen corpses of the other.
As for the moderately cynical options, the same enormous costs apply with even less of a legitimate payoff. Which brings us to the Iran question. The strategy of supporting these Sunni elements, while simultaneously using inflammatory propaganda to exacerbate the tensions, makes the most sense in the context of an imminent conflict with Iran. Unfortunately, an imminent conflict with Iran makes the least sense in terms of America's long term strategic outlook in the world. Such an attack would lead to a political and military catastrophe the likes of which we haven't seen since...well, since the invasion of Iraq. But we can't afford one, let alone two. Simultaneously.
So, in summation, the Bush administration is either pursuing an incoherent strategy that will only serve to vastly increase the levels of bloodshed in Iraq when we leave (and before), or there is a general coherence to the strategy, but the underlying objective is to widen the war to include Iran, which will also play out - with heightened intensity - via proxy in Iraq. So, would you prefer the conflagration or catastrophe?
*[The gorilla in the room is, I suppose, the proposition that the Bush administration could be deliberately provoking - or at least fueling - sectarian/ethnic conflict in order to keep Iraq weak, divided and easy to occupy. Matt Yglesias was flirting with this concept last week (at least acknowledging that the current outcome, even if not the product of deliberate policy, has resulted in these types of benefits). My problem with this theory is that it rests on assumptions such as these from Matt:
And, indeed, while the absence of political reconciliation is probably Iraq's biggest problem, it's not a particularly large problem for the American military presence. On the [contrary], a unified Iraq -- especially one swayed by Iraqi public opinion -- might be very likely to give the US the boot. By contrast, in a divided and chaotic Iraq one can easily imagine the main players resenting the US presence but preferring it to anarchy.
However, the continued violence and instability stemming from the lack of reconciliation creates a rather sizable obstacle to maintaining a permanent US presence in Iraq - if viewed from the domestic political situation in America, rather than Iraq. It would be far easier to sell American voters and politicians on the plan if the military wasn't literally breaking under the pressure, with costs soaring into the trillions. Relatedly, there are actual logistical hurdles created by the current level of violence and instability such that the military might not be able to maintain the desired "permanent" position absent some change in footing.Also, a "unified Iraq" was and is a far-off longshot with or without alleged US manipulation. With Saddam removed, an earnest competition for power, influence and money has been unleashed, with long aggrieved parties seeking to assert their dominance, while displaced parties look to reclaim what was lost (with various permutations in between). Where was the unity that the Bush team needed to thwart going to come from? Sketch out the plan whereby the Shiite factions and Sunni factions agree on who gets the aforementioned money, power and respect. In fact, a little unity under the helpful guidance of permanent US security forces would have likely been a much more palatable option for both domestic, and indigenous Iraqi, audiences.]
Monday, September 17, 2007
Blackwater to Keep on Rollin?
The Iraqi government said Monday that it was revoking the license of an American security firm accused of involvement in the deaths of eight civilians in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion near a State Department motorcade.Spencer Ackerman provides some details:
The Interior Ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday shooting. It was the latest accusation against the U.S.-contracted firms that operate with little or no supervision and are widely disliked by Iraqis who resent their speeding motorcades and forceful behavior.
Yesterday's incident involved an insurgent attack on a State Department convoy in the Sunni neighborhood of Mansour in western Baghdad. Blackwater personnel guarding the motorcade returned fire -- "to defend themselves," according to a State Department official quoted by The Washington Post. A Post reporter on the scene in Mansour witnessed Blackwater's Little Bird helicopters "firing into the streets." Almost immediately, an Interior Ministry spokesman said the company's license to operate in Iraq would be revoked.
See, that's easier said than done. As Ackerman and Larry Johnson point out, Blackwater doesn't actually have a license to revoke. That is, Blackwater's authorization comes directly through the US State Department as part of its diplomatic security apparatus. So it's not clear on what authority the Iraqi government would act - which gets to the larger question of what is the true quality of the "freedom" or "sovereignty" that any government could claim while the nation it represents is being occupied by a large foreign army, both private and official.
This recent incident has brought to a head simmering resentment about the relative immunity, and thus impunity, enjoyed by the tens of thousands of armed security contractors operating under US government aegis. These private soldiers do not have to comply with the same rules of engagement as US military forces, and not surprisingly considering the absence of such standards, there are numerous Iraqi complaints accusing the mercenary forces of showing a callous disregard for life.
In response to the latest provocation from non-official military forces, the Maliki government has staked a bold public position that will be as difficult to execute as it will to walk back. From the perspective of the United States at least, Maliki's proposed action is likely a non-starter. Spackerman again:
The Interior Ministry's decision is likely to be a source of friction between the U.S. Embassy and Iraq. Not only does Blackwater guard many important U.S. officials there, but the embassy is unlikely to want a precedent established that allows the Iraqi government to kick out U.S. contractors for excessive use of force.
The US simply does not have enough troops to make-up for the potential loss of the private security contingent currently provided by Blackwater - let alone those other firms that might be clipped if the "precedent" were established that the Iraqi government actually had a say in which armed groups had license to operate in Iraq.
Yet at the same time, the Maliki government risks further alienating the Iraqi people, and reinforcing the image of impotence and subservience, by backing down, yet again, in the face of American pressure on such a sensitive issue. The last time Maliki tried to flex his sovereign muscles, he "halted" the construction of "security walls" in and around certain Sunni enclaves in Baghdad. Although Maliki and the Iraqi parliament made a loud public protest, the walls went up regardless. I expect the controversy surrounding the Blackwater incident to follow the same arc. Not without costs however, as Larry Johnson observes:
We might not give them the keys just yet, but the Iraqi people have more than enough power to make this an increasingly deadly car ride. Even for our private chauffeurs.
I can only imagine how Americans would react if there were Russian, Chinese, Mexican, or French security firms running around the United States and getting into firefights in tough neighborhoods, such as South Central Los Angeles. We would just shrug our shoulders and say nothing. Right?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. This incident will enrage Iraqis and their subsequent realization that they are impotent to do anything about it will do little to support the fantasy that the surge is working. There are some Iraqis who genuinely want to run their own country. But we are not about to give them the keys to the car. Blackwater is staying.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Our Proxy's Proxy
The Somali government is trying to create a Baghdad-style safe "Green Zone" in Mogadishu to protect senior officials and foreign visitors from insurgent attacks, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said on Tuesday.Well, it's been such a smashing success in Baghdad that there's little doubt that Green Zone 2.0 will do the trick in Somalia. Speaking of which, Rob Farley has a good piece on our continued fumbling in the region. Here is a brief sketch of some of the recent developments:
"At the moment, the government security agencies are trying to create a Green Zone where international community workers, and those vulnerable, can stay for their security purposes," he said, without giving more details.
"I hope that we will achieve positive results very soon."
Somali Islamists and opposition leaders meeting in Eritrea have joined forces in a new alliance to overthrow Somalia's transitional government. More than 300 delegates, including Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, have approved a constitution and central committee.The right way to assess this nascent alliance between Eritrea and certain of Somalia's Islamist groups would be to recognize that Eritrea and Ethiopia are regional rivals, as are Ethiopia and Somalia. The tripartite have been in various states of war for many decades (and currently, our Ethiopian ally is in violation of a UN brokered border agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia). Thus, it would be a perfectly rational bit of regional politics for Eritrea to assist Ethiopia's enemies. Ethiopia, after all, assists Eritrea's enemies and has territorial ambitions that include the formerly colonized Eritrea. In fact, the entire Horn of Africa is a swirling mobile of cross-border interference, proxies and stoked rebellions with the various states vying for regional hegemony, or fighting off such bids from their adversaries.
A spokesman said the new movement will be called The Alliance for the Liberation of Somalia. It aims to remove the Ethiopian-backed government by negotiation - or war...
Obviously, Ethiopia and its Somali allies will feel the need to counter Eritrea's gambit. As they have learned, however, there is a new and easy way to enlist the support of the great enforcer, the United States: By once again, invoking the specter of al-Qaeda and hinting at your enemy's (Eritrea in this instance) alliance therewith. Keep in mind, however, that Eritrea was a member of the Coalition of the Willing during the Iraq invasion (and thereafter), and is roughly 50% Christian. Granted, Eritrea wasn't exactly sacrificing immensely as a COW member, but still, it's hardly a natural fit for a state sponsor of al-Qaeda, and should not be viewed as a necessary enemy of the United States.
Surely the Bush administration recognizes, then, that there are other forces at play; that a former member of the COW wouldn't just flip 180 degrees and become a jihadist state relatively overnight. There is an attempted manipulation of the situation by interested parties that should be apparent given the underlying context and history. The objectives that Eritrea is pursuing have nothing to do with sponsoring al-Qaeda. So the Bush team will reject this ploy, right? That's not entirely clear, but the signs aren't overly encouraging:
The US has issued Eritrea with its strongest warning yet over its alleged support for terrorism. A senior US official said the presence of an exiled Somali Islamist leader in Asmara this week was further evidence Eritrea gave sanctuary to terrorists.This is the wrong approach on many levels. First of all, al-Qaeda's actual presence in the Somali Islamist movement has been exaggerated from the beginning (for obvious reasons). Further, our foreign policy outlook has become so monomaniacal and myopic, that we are increasingly susceptible to view highly complex, deeply rooted conflicts in terms of al-Qaeda's presence - real and imagined.
The gathering of further intelligence could lead to Eritrea being named as a state sponsor of terrorism - followed by sanctions, the official said....What had got her government's attention was Eritrea's actions to destabilise other countries in the Horn of Africa and, in particular, evidence that they were harbouring terrorists.
Worse still is the fact that after we apply our simplistic binary framework to figure out which is the "good" and which the "bad," we then adopt tactics that actually exacerbate the situation by augmenting the power and influence of the applicable radicals. We barge in with heavy firepower and get bogged down on the side of one faction in multifaceted, long-standing tribal conflicts. In the Horn, for example, we aligned ourselves with Somalia's long time enemy, Ethiopia, in connection with Ethiopia's brutal invasion and occupation - a campaign that has led to a massive refugee exodus and a return to the lawlessness that plagued Somalia previously.
In turn, we have increased radicalization amongst the Somali population, stoked anti-Americanism by voluntarily becoming the face of the invasion/occupation and pushed many formerly unaligned warlords into the hardline Islamist camp. Our only Somali allies are a group of warlords that are only moderately popular, and lack the strength to hold Mogadishu without foreign assistance. Meanwhile, we have done nothing to actually kill or capture the negligible al-Qaeda presence that justified the intervention in the first place.
Simply put, we have made more enemies in Somalia than we have neutralized. For little in return. Sound familiar? Now we are on the verge of making an enemy out of our former COW ally, Eritrea, because Eritrea is secretly "destabilizing" its neighbors. As if that is a particularly unique behavior for the states in the region. It's also ironic. We continue to assist Ethiopia in its invasion and occupation of Somalia even though Ethiopia's long term stated goal is to destabilize and weaken Somalia. Only the al-Qaeda embellishment can paper over this glaring inconsistency.
There is a better way to conduct foreign policy.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
[I]t's amazing to me that people refuse to acknowledge that he has any gifts at all. But those who are in a room can feel it. And among them is that Bush has a very pungent personality. He has these scruffy charms about him. He doesn't really put on airs. The guy you see is the guy he is, pretty much. Sure, he has a variety of shortcomings, and they've hamstrung his presidency in a variety of ways. But one thing that became meaningful to me in doing that book is that I interviewed people who have been working for Bush over the years -- they love this guy. I don't just mean that they admire him. I don't just mean they are in awe of him. I mean they really love him and would take a bullet for him. I've spent a lot of time now with a lot of elected officials and the people who work for them, and you can't always say that about them.One of my closest friends (let's call him Q) has had the rare opportunity to participate in and around high level meetings and the like at the White House. Q's interactions with the White House (including the POTUS) have included detailed briefings and other estoterica regarding a variety of foreign policy issues.
But beyond the fact that Bush is charming and there's this incredible loyalty that is cultivated between him and his subordinates, he has a surprising intellect. A guy who reads Cormac McCarthy isn't a dummy. And a guy who can listen to an economist talk about a tax scheme and just eviscerate the guy because he doesn't seem to really understand what he is talking about and there's a loose thread in his argument cannot be intellectually lazy. I think that what's difficult to reconcile is this man's brightness with his capacity for incuriosity. I think where the rubber meets the road there is that Bush, for all of his talk about him being so comfortable in his own skin, possesses insecurities like the rest of us. And Bush, due to his insecurities, really doesn't like to be challenged.
It says a lot that this man, at the age of 61, stills feels the need to differentiate himself from his father, and there are examples of that throughout the book. And that this man, at the age of 61, having received the best education that money can buy from Yale and Harvard, still feels the need to run down the elite Ivy Leaguers. That this man, after being a very successful governor, felt like he had to select as his No. 2 guy a man who had no interest in the No. 1 spot. Clinton, for all his shortcomings, was not in any way threatened by having as his vice president a guy with clear designs on the presidency. He still found he could get a lot out of Al Gore and trust Al Gore while dealing with Gore's ambitions. Bush couldn't do that.
This is a guy who really possesses a lot of insecurities, and I think that's why he evinces this sort of incuriosity. There are only certain kinds of challenges that he can deal with. What is admirable about Bush is also part of his insecurity. I think because his insecurity drives him to want to be relevant and want to do big things, he's willing to throw the ball long. And I think that because of that, history is not going to judge this man with indifference. They are not going to judge him as Franklin Pierce. He is either going to go down in history as a disastrous flop or a really monumental president. [emphasis added]
Some time back, Q told me that one of the biggest misconceptions that the public held about Bush is that he is stupid. On the contrary, Q assured me, Bush consistently displays a surprising level of knowledge about many of the issues discussed, and the ability to quickly come up to speed on the rest (at least when his interest was piqued). This admonition from someone whose judgment I generally trust has always bothered me a bit, though, since there has been so much seemingly conflicting evidence.
Draper does a good job of reconciling the two strands. Myopia born out of incuriosity to those issues not on Bush's radar and denial about negative trends, mixed with a potent blend of stubbornness and insecurity, is a better diagnosis of Bush than coarse stupidity. It's not entirely clear that this version of events should instill any greater confidence in Bush's leadership abilities (wanting to do "big" things out of some oedipal insecurities is a pretty reckless starting point, for example).
Still, make of it what you will.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Know Your Onion!
I don't want to utterly write off the Sunni's return. Halting the worst excesses of de-Ba'athification will definitely help Iraq, for instance. But anyone who thinks the Sunnis in parliament are going to vote against their own interests on such as the oil law or that todays return is part of a magical transformation of the entire Iraqi political picture is smoking the Kool-Aid in a crack-pipe, not just drinking it.And just to complete the dousing: achieving even the modest progress alluded to above assumes that "halting the worst excesses of de-Ba'athification" is possible given the current makeup (or even conceivable future makeup) of the Iraqi government. There is more than ample cause to doubt the likelihood.
There was one other item that Cernig discussed that I wanted to focus on, though:
For instance and despite the hype, the Anbar Opportunists are very much opposed to the Baghdad government - to the extent of even mistrusting the Sunni represenatives there.This is absolutely correct, which represents a major impediment to winding down the violence in Iraq. Because there is no unified political voice that speaks for the Sunni insurgents (and certainly not one participating in the Iraqi government), forging political deals that will satisfy the demands of those combatants, and bind them accordingly, is exceedingly difficult. As James Fearon pointed out in this devastatingly thorough essay, this is but one of many factors that points to the inevitability of a protracted Iraqi civil war (regardless of our presence).
There have been, however, recent indications that the Sunni insurgents are beginning to get serious about devising such a unified political voice. Predictably, due to the extent of factionalization within the Sunni ranks, progress has been slow, halting and prone to evaporate amidst the intrigue of competing alliances and suspicions. There is little indication that any consensus political vehicle is even on the distant horizon.
Which brings me back to the passage cited by Cernig above. As mentioned, the Anbar Awakening crowd does not have a lot of faith in, or support for, the Sunni political representatives in the Green Zone. But it's actually worse than that. Much of the rank and file Sunni resistance doesn't have much faith in the Anbar Awakening crowd, and there is considerable fear among these groups that the Anbar Awakening faction is trying to outmaneuver the other elements of the Sunni insurgency - sell out, if you will, to the Americans for a ripe payoff and a key political perch.
Suffice it to say, the non-Anbar Awakening insurgents have even less faith in the Green Zone politicians. To top it off, none of these groups enjoys widespread support from the Sunni population at large, and their goals are divergent enough to suggest that coming to such an accommodation remains a remote possibility for the time being.
We're looking for something solid and consistent - a unified political voice capable of forging lasting accords - when all we have are layers and layers of mistrust, animosity, powerlust and conflict. And that's just the Sunni side of the ledger.
(cross-posted to NewsHoggers)
Monday, September 10, 2007
Stop Me If You Think That You've Heard This One Before
Matt Yglesias - riffing off a Charles Krauthammer column (Matt suffers, so we don't have to) - succinctly describes the neocon's rhetorical game plan:
And such is the war in Iraq as seen through neocon lenses. Mistakes are always in the past. The current policy is always working. When the mistakes are being made, those who point out the mistakes are tarred as near-treasonous. Then, after another year or two of pointless, futile bloodshed, it's conceded that mistakes were made in the past. But now we're right on track. And the liberals, once again, just don't get it.
As odious and pernicious as this approach is in terms of degrading the level of political discourse, the larger problem is that it has not been relegated solely to the realm of domestic political demagoguery. The Bush administration's policy apparatus has also internalized this narrative, rewarded policymakers and military personnel that adhere to its doctrinal tenets and stifled internal debate to the extent that "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" has been the compass guiding the ship of state. Predictably, the lack of a dialectical approach to crafting policy, and the stifling of any means to identify, debate and correct policy mistakes, has compounded numerous blunders (and created at least as many on its own).
Little has changed within this vicious circle of incompetence, ideological purity, willful blindness and dolchstoss. Most recently, when the Joint Chiefs and other military brass objected to the escalation of the occupation, Bush simply replaced them with military leaders that supported "The Surge." In line with this pattern, The Surge has already been declared a success by the Bush administration and its allies based on a combination of tendentious misdirection and misinformation. Those that point to the inconvenient facts and empirical evidence undermining the dubious story of success are being labeled anti-American defeatists - sometimes, explicitly, accused of treason and "stabbing our troops in the back."
Regardless of the mendacity and intimidation engaged in by the The Surge's many salesmen, though, media blitzes and the quashing of dissent cannot rectify the fundamental flaws in The Surge's overall blue-print. Even its architects concede that a much larger surge of troops was needed in order to have a shot at success, that the current (already-inadequate) level of troops is unsustainable, and that even if fully manned (which it's not) this approach has likely come too late in the game (the civil wars' momentum is impervious).
With this shaky foundation underlying the approach, The Surge has produced nothing in terms of tangible gains. Petraeus has said repeatedly that without the large-scale political reconciliation that The Surge is supposed to deliver, there is no military solution possible in Iraq, and that no temporary, Surge-related improvements in the security situation will be sustainable. Yet despite this overriding objective, political conditions have actually deteriorated.
Predictably, given The Surge's unimpressive results (itself unsurprising considering its flaws), its proponents are touting, instead, some modest security gains (which are meaningless and temporary without that political reconciliation stuff) and an unrelated development in the Sunni Anbar province that began before The Surge, has nothing to do with the Surge (it was not facilitated by an increase in troop numbers) and actually works against the stated purpose of The Surge: political reconciliation between Iraq's major ethnic/sectarian factions. Naturally, the Bush PR machine is calling this policy of fragmentation "bottom-up reconciliation" (a beleaguered George Orwell continues his 6-plus year spin cycle).
In a year or two, the sage Charles Krauthammer and his ilk will deign to inform the masses that, in retrospect, pushing a "bottom-up reconciliation" actually further entrenched and armed the civil war combatants, weakened the Iraqi central government and, ironically (or not), worked against anything resembling actual reconciliation between the major factions (in fact, that particular approach couldn't even reconcile the folks in charge of authoring our larger Iraq policy). At that time, no doubt, Krauthammer will be assuming an authoritative and dismissive tone while touting the latest and greatest deus ex machina, and explaining why those with the capacity to observe reality are unserious America haters.Will the then-current occupant of the White House break the cycle?
Friday, September 07, 2007
Working for the Weekend Reading
First, Nir Rosen presents an assessment of the state of affairs in Iraq that, while depressing, is a necessary dose of reality - helpful in warding off the rose-colored spin we will be subjected to when the prodigal Petraeus returns next week.
Relatedly, if you really want a glimpse into how and why there is almost no chance for the United States to unwind Iraq's many civil wars (squeezing the toothpaste back in the tube), just look at this article that Swopa just re-linked to (I meant to discuss it when he cited it originally). Some excerpts from Swopa:
But, you know, The Surge baby! It's working. It would be sloppy to suggest otherwise. Actually, according to John McCain and Lindsey Graham, it has already worked. Mission Accomplished and all. As George Bush recently observed, "We're kicking ass" in Iraq. Heh. Indeed. Defeatocrats. Surrendercrats. Etc.The colonel pulls his Mercedes into the parking lot of the drab, 11-story concrete building, scanning the scene for suspicious cars.And that's before you get inside the building:
Before reaching for the door handle, he studies the people loitering nearby in hopes he will be able to recognize anyone still there later in the day. He grips his pistol, the trigger cocked, wary of an ambush.
He has arrived at his office.
This is Iraq's Ministry of Interior — the balkanized command center for the nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the government here to grind nearly to a halt.
. . . Until recently, one or two Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior police officials say.On the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.
The third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.
The sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to the Badr Organization militia. . .
. . . The ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.
"They have some bad things on the ninth," says the colonel, a Sunni who, like other ministry officials, spoke on condition of anonymity to guard against retaliation.
The ministry's computer department is on the 10th floor. Two employees were arrested there in February on suspicion of smuggling in explosives, according to police and U.S. military officials. Some Iraqi and U.S. officials say the workers intended to store bombs there. Others say they were plotting to attack the U.S. advisors stationed directly above them on the top floor.
. . . Partitions divide the building's hallways, and gunmen guard the offices of deputy ministers. Senior police officials march up and down stairs rather than risk an elevator. They walk the halls flanked by bodyguards, wary of armed colleagues.
But seriously, The Surge is working so well, that...what Jim Henley said in response to news that Riverbend has just - like millions of other Iraqis - fled to Syria:
If you ever bought the cockamamie idea that the US could and should invade Iraq and turn it into a “beacon for the Muslim world to follow,” one more reminder that what the Muslim world sees now is Iraqis trying like hell to get to Syria, because life is better there. Syria. Stop to think about how much Iraq has to suck that Iraqis would rather live under Bashar Assad and his clown-school mukhbarat. Iraq is every middle-eastern dictator and prince’s favorite object lesson now. “Democracy??? Do you want to end up like Iraq?????”Kickin' ass baby. Kickin ass.
Heckuva job, liberators.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Also, some exclusive content over at AmFoot. Hey, TIA gets its exclusives too...
Quote of the Day...
Tom Tancredo denied that "waterboarding" equals "torture," which would probably surprise the torturers who invented the technique.Oh, the inventors had their Tancredos too. Still, that's a snarky man's snark.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
I Dream I Could Fight Like David
Oh, and that "report" from Crocker and Petraeus won't actually be a "report" per se, but rather a series of findings submitted to the White House, after which the White House will then select certain portions of those findings and use them to author the actual report. This White House generated report, according to the spin, is bound to be more honest and objective than the partisan screed of some non-partisan government watchdog. Uh-huh.
It is understandable why the GAO report has the Bush administration and its supporters a bit nervous, though:
Comptroller General David Walker, who heads the GAO, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday that "the least progress has been made on the political front." Fifteen of 37 cabinet ministers have "withdrawn support" for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and serious problems remain in other ministries, Walker said.This lack of political progress is actually not all that controversial at this point - and will get less push-back in the Bush administration's report due to its obviousness. Instead, the Bush report (with input from Petraeus/Crocker) will focus on putative improvements in the security situation. Even here, though, the case is rather weak. From the GAO report (with a specious rebuttal):
"Given the fact that significant progress has not been made in improving the living conditions of the Iraqis on a day-to-day basis with regard to things that all citizens care about -- safe streets, clean water, reliable electricity, a variety of other basic things," he concluded, "I think you'd have to say it's dysfunctional -- the government is dysfunctional."
Iraq had failed to meet all but two of nine security goals Congress had set as part of a list of 18 benchmarks of progress. [...]
The GAO concluded that all forms of violence remain high in Iraq — causing senior military officials to complain that the report did not consider statistics for August, when, they said, trends in sectarian violence and the performance of the Iraqi security forces improved.
"They use the end of July as the data and evidentiary cutoff and therefore are not taking into account any gains in any of the benchmarks that may have become more clear throughout August," one official said.This attempted wiggle led Kevin Drum to observe:
This is beyond pathetic. Even if the August numbers are good — and that's a helluva stretch in any case — are they seriously contending that we should toss out the entire previous six months and judge the surge a success based four weeks of data? Is that the best they can do?Although Drum is right that the August numbers (and others) are likely the product of fuzzy math, he still leaves out one of the more salient facets of this statistical ruse: the Bush administration hasn't been willing to provide the full August numbers to any outside source for scrutiny and/or verification - including the GAO!
Walker said the GAO consulted with the military until Thursday. "We asked for, but did not receive, the information through the end of August," he said.Amazing. The White House and its supporters blame the GAO for not taking certain numbers into account - but those would be the same numbers that they couldn't take into account because Bush administration wouldn't provide them. A rather fetching 22 if I do say so myself.
In depressingly familiar lockstep, however, reporters at supposedly liberal media outlets like CNN parrot the right wing talking points: that the White House report compiled with input from Crocker and Petraeus will be the credible version of events in Iraq, while the GAO report is riddled with inaccuracies and perhaps influenced by partisanship (unlike, you know, the White House's version of events!!).
The foundation for this latest bit of up-is-downism is the Bush administration's larger strategy of piggy-backing on, and shielding itself from criticism with, the credibility and reputation of General Petraeus. Bush now frequently makes a show of deferring to "Petraeus's plan in Iraq" [ed note: it's Bush's plan of course, as Bush is the CinC], and beseeches us all to suspend our scrutiny and observations of the war zone until Petraeus can tell us, through his White House ventriloquists, that things are really looking up. In other words, that there is some slight progress being made toward mini-benchmarks that might yield to reaching actual benchmarks at some point in the future, which could be over a decade away. Or not. You never know.
Despite the reliance on - and touting of - the veracity of Petraeus's word, there are strong indications that Petraeus himself is not exactly the objective, disinterested, straight shooter that he is portrayed to be. In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Korb (scroll to middle of page) makes a compelling case that Petraeus has repeatedly overstepped ethical lines in order to interfere in the political sphere in favor of the Republican Party, and the war in Iraq generally speaking.
In particular, Korb cites a 2004 Op-Ed (which is reposted by Brent Budowsky at Chez Larry Johnson). In this Op-Ed - released at the climax of the presidential campaign - Petraeus gushes about the successes in Iraq in terms of training a non-sectarian, nationalist military and police force. As Budowsky points out, though, Petraeus was either lying or simply displayed a galling lack of judgment and analytical prowess. The claims made by Petraeus in that column have been eviscerated by subsequent events. Regardless, injecting such a tendentious column into a presidential campaign in obvious favor of one side is not what a high ranking military officer should be doing.
Then comes the disturbing reports of Petraeus's latest subterfuge: the Potemkin-like Dora marketplace that is artificially secured and populated in order to impress visiting politicians, pundits and think tank denizens (O'Hanlon, I'm looking at you). The details of this propagandistic sleight of hand are truly stunning in their audacity. But then, Dora is just a small part of the larger PR blitz that the supposedly non-partisan, honest general has been overseeing (described by Kevin Drum and Laura Rozen quite adeptly).
Given this background, the upcoming White House report (erroneously touted as the Petraeus/Crocker report) should be taken with an entire shaker of salt. Think about the methodology: the White House will be writing a report with input from one of its employees, and a general who has shown, repeatedly, that he is more than willing to play political angles, employ dubious propaganda and twist actual events to fit the desired narrative.
Oh, and this is the report we should be focusing on, not that silly non-partisan GAO thingy.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Wretched is this Peacemaker
A footnote to Fred Kagan's exceptional work on events in Iraq: he rightly says "al Qaeda in Iraq is a foreign-run Iraqi terrorist organization." Moreover, one has to stipulate that "Iraqi terrorist" is a term rather more complicated than outfits like al-AP seem to understand. Many Iraqis went to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, where they were trained/indoctrinated by the mullahs for twenty-plus years. We're talking about several million people, not a few cadres. Some of them, along with children, were sent into Iraq to fight us. It's very misleading to simply call them "Iraqis." Maybe they—and their children even more so—should be called "Iranians of Iraqi origin," or "Iranian agents" or some such. [emphasis added]
While many Iraqi Shiites did flee to Iran during the Iraq/Iran war (and during the subsequent suppression of the Shiite uprising post-Gulf War I), Ledeen is leaving out a couple of key points, and twisting some others. First, these exiles include people like Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, many of Maliki's Dawa party co-members, as well as large majorities of the party formerly known as SCIRI (now ISCI). Most of these exiles returned to Iraq post-invasion in order to seize power - not to fight us. We helped them to achieve this goal, and continue to help them, so there is little actual need to fight us. For now.
As such, and contrary to "fighting us," these previously-exiled-in-Iran groups are working in close concert with American forces (see, ie, Bush's big weekend phote op with Maliki), and are much more amenable to our continued presence in Iraq than, say, Iraqi Shiite leaders/groups that never left Iraq for Iran during this period such as Moqtada al-Sadr and his followers. This cooperation comes with good reason too. We are currently arming, training (further) and supporting thousands of Badr Corp. foot-soldiers and integrating them into Iraq's official security forces. Badr Corp. is ISCI's militia, which was recruited, formed and trained in Iran during these exiled periods. Interesting way to limit Iran's influence in Iraq, huh.
Taking this argument one step further, there are two possibilities. First, Ledeen is actually suggesting that Dawa and ISCI are "fighting" the Americans. Alternatively, Ledeen is deliberately conflating many actors and their histories in order to confuse the issues and create the impression that Iran's nefarious influence is greater than it is in reality (deceitfully implying that Sadr's forces are Iranian exiles and agents)?
If the former, and if Ledeen is correct (two massive "ifs," I concede), isn't that an overpowering argument to begin withdrawing from Iraq now. I mean, our two strongest allies in the Shiite dominated Iraqi political sphere are actually "Iranian agents" "sent into Iraq to fight us." And our policy, in response, is to further arm and train them...in order to help them fight us on behalf of Iran. If the latter (which is the more likely interpretation), then this bit of dissembling is simply more pro-war agitprop from the most duplicitous hawk in the neocon nest.
As a follow up thought: Does Ledeen think we should begin to categorize other long time Iraqi exiles differently as well? "Iraqis" like Ahmed Chalabi - who left Iraq the same year the Dodgers left Brooklyn: 1956. That was three decades before most Iraqis that Ledeen now considers Iranians made their exodus. So, using Ledeen's model, Chalabi would most definitely be an American (or Brit) of Iraqi origin. Or, likely, an American (or British) agent. Ditto Allawi who left Iraq in 1971.
I expect to see him pushing for this clarification as well. After all, it's exceedingly misleading to simply call them "Iraqis."
Postscript: In other Michael Ledeen news, the ol' pacifist himself has a book coming out in a couple of weeks entitled, The Iranian Time Bomb. In this work (rushed to market just as the Iran war drums are starting to pick up steam) Ledeen will explain to the reader why he opposes military confrontation with Iran and what an enormous mistake war with Iran would be - just as Ledeen strongly opposed war with Iraq and argued, repeatedly, that invading Iraq was wrong prior to the invasion.
You don't believe me? Check out the excerpts...