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July 31, 2005

Terrorism, Weekly Top Ten Lists

10 things that matter more to the fight against terror than a new acronym
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Anne-Marie Slaughter at America Abroad, Fred Kaplan on Slate, Sid Blumenthal on Salon and the mainstream media have been buzzing this week about President Bush's pivot away from the language of Global War on Terror (GWOT) and toward the so-called Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, aka GSAVE. 

For the record, led by Derek Chollet, we here at DA were writing about this months ago, opining here and here about what was - until Madison Avenue had its way - known as the Global War on Extremism (I personally think we all ought to stick with the Elmer Fuddish but factual GWOE rather than buying into the boosterist GSAVE).

Most commentators judge the rebranding of the fight against terror to be more politics than substance.  So, in a month of dastardly attacks from London to Sharm el Sheikh to Baghdad,  let's not let this bit of spin doctoring obscure all that needs to be done to shore up an anti-terror fight that is targetting an ever more complex, and constantly changing enemy.  Here are 10 priorities:

1. Wage the War of Ideas in Earnest - The Administration has until now resisted calling the war on terror is a fight over values and purposes.  That ideas play a role is, after all, potentially in tension with the view of Islamic terrorists as nihilistic and devoid of reason.  But while the core of extremist terrorist groups may be a fanaticism too deep and immutable to be tackled with reason, beliefs and viewpoints certainly do matter in the outer spokes of terrorist support networks, to the ordinary people who either grant or deny terrorists the funds, political support and safe harbor they need to operate.  These are the people we need to appeal to and pry away from their terrorist sympathies.

2. Recognize that U.S. Soldiers and Prison Guards are the Frontlines of Public Diplomacy - In waging a battle over ideas and perceptions among ordinary populations, what we do matters more than what we say.  Like it or not, our military, our prison guards, and our private contractors are on the frontlines of public diplomacy.  They do us proud much of the time, but the lapses that have occurred - some more than accidental - have hurt us badly by playing right into the worst fears and misperceptions about the United States.  But the Administration remains in denial on this score.

3. Get Politics Out of Homeland Security - The shameless pork-barrelling of this month's Homeland Security budget dealt a blow to the anti-terror efforts.  Whereas the 9/11 Commission and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff made a compelling case that funds be strictly apportioned on the basis of threats, the Senate decided on its own formula that shortchanges New York, California, and our ports and nuclear facilities for the benefit of unlikely terrorist targets like Wyoming, Idaho and Maine.

4. Put Forward A Clear Strategy For Iraq - Without a strategy to achieve U.S. goals in Iraq, no matter what we call the fight against terrorism, many Americans will fear that we are losing on the most important front.  This is not because we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to avoid fighting them here.  Rather, inadequate planning, a shaky justification for war, and inadequate global support have enabled America's enemies to use the struggling Iraq effort as a rallying cry for terrorist recruitment.   Bush claims to be committed to seeing Iraq through to stability, yet this week's talk is of a pullout.    More on what needs to be done here and here.

5.            Refocus on Counter-Proliferation - Everyone agrees that the gravest terrorist danger is that posed by a nuclear weapon in terrorist hands.  Yet as Peter Scoblic writes in the latest New Republic (tip to Matthew Yglesias) the Bush Administration is doing a dismal job responding to this threat.  To encapsulate, the Administration's focus on countries' intentions (good or evil) has eclipsed efforts to hold in check their capabilities, with the result that while we've deliberated over the potential for regime change in places like North Korea and Iran, they've continued to build their nuclear capabilities unfettered by the flawed non-pro regimes that Bush has done little to try to improve.

Continue reading "10 things that matter more to the fight against terror than a new acronym" »

July 29, 2005

Iraq

Patience on Iraq's Constitution
Posted by Michael Signer

The Looking-Glass War continues... from the assiduous folks at the Democratic Policy Council, another installment in Iraq's tragicomedy of errors -- and a key insight:  maybe Iraq ought to complete their constitution until after American troops are withdrawn, thereby allowing a secular constitution to emerge, rather than the pressurized, reactive theocratic document now being hastily (and defensively) drawn up.  More on this below. 

It turns out that in the FY 2005 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (as originally noted by Kos), Congress required the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress "that identifies security, economic, and Iraqi security force training performance standards and goals, accompanied by a notional timetable for achieving these goals."

Instead of providing an honest, constructive assessment of the situation, DOJ, shockingly, cobbled together an ideologically freighted, disingenuous fretwork of facts, a sort of mirage of Iraq.  One is put in mind of the following dialogue:

"Look, you stupid bastard, you've got no arms left!"

"Yes, I have."

"Look!"

"It's just a flesh wound."

So.  On the report DOD ultimately filed -- 10 days late -- was as politicized and rigged as everything else in the Iraq War so far.  To wit:

Claim: The report claims that "one key measure of progress toward the establishment of a constitutional and democratic government in Iraq is therefore the timeline and political process" set forth by the United States, the United Nations, and the transitional Iraqi government in March 2004 (p. 3). By this standard, the political process "is on track as demonstrated by the January 30 election and successful formation of the TNA [Transitional National Assembly] and the Iraqi Transitional Government." (p.4.) The report consistently refers to progress made toward completing a draft of Iraq's constitution as an indicator that the political process is still on track.

- Fact: There is a risk that the Administration may be focusing on speed to the detriment of quality in the drafting of the Iraqi Constitution. Leading experts have called upon the Iraqi drafting committee and the U.S. to extend the constitutional drafting process to ensure that the constitution that emerges is one that fully protects the rights of all Iraqi citizens and toward which the Iraqi people can feel a sense of ownership and pride. As an International Crisis Group report pointed out, "while there are downsides to delay, they are far outweighed by the dangers of a hurried job that could lead to either popular rejection of or popular resignation to a text toward which they feel little sense of ownership or pride." (6/8/05)

The Administration has instead pushed the drafting committee to finish by August 15, no matter the consequences. There are reports that quality is suffering. The New York Times has reported that "a working draft of Iraq's new constitution would cede a strong role to Islamic law and could sharply curb women's rights." (7/20/05) And the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently wrote to Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, to express concerns that the draft constitution "limits the equality of women and Iraq's international human rights obligations;" "makes no reference to the right of freedom of religion;" and "provides no guarantee of freedom of thought or conscience." (7/26/05) These reports demonstrate that, while delay is fraught with its own consequences, progress on the political track is far more complicated than simple adherence to artificial deadlines. Addressing at the outset key issues in the content of the constitution is also critical to success.

Knowing what's actually going on in Iraq is most critical in the most important effort now going on:  the drafting of the constitution.  Above and beyond the training of security forces and the building of civil society, successful constitution-making is the sine qua non of successful nation-building in Iraq. 

The constitution will knit together all the disparate pieces of Iraq society, and it won't work unless all the stakeholders have bought into the process, and the final document.  It would be better to be honest about the difficulties at the outset than to find out in a year or so that the document either (a) will fragment under internal strain, (b) will lead to poor human rights, especially for women.

Right now, as the WaPo reports, the Iraq constitution is veering in a highly theocratic direction, in contrast to Turkey or Egypt: 

[M]ariam al-Rayyes, a Shiite member, said Islam will be the state religion and a "main source" for legislation in the constitution.

"It gives women all rights and freedoms as long as they don't contradict with our values," she said. "Concerning marriage, inheritance and divorce, this is civil status laws. That should not contradict with religious values."

More here from NYT

It's not clear why Iraq should have a constitution premised on sharia law.  Political expediency, in light of the Administration's artificial deadline, has forced Iraqis to accept the emotionally compelling narrative of creating a religious state to rebut the notion that American secular/Christian decadent imperialism has totally dominated Iraq.

Regardless of your party, everyone has to concede that convincing Iraqis that secularism is in their interest would be a difficult task in any event.  But with Karen Hughes taking her sweet time to get on the job of helping our image in the Middle East, why should we push this first and most important cart in front of the parade? 

Indeed, why finish the constitution before the ultimate American withdrawal of troops?  It took the United States of America, after all, 11 years between the repudiation of the British to complete our own national constitution. 

It hardly seems our security interests (allegedly reflected in the deadline's urgency) justify a finished product that creates both a worse human rights environment and a more fanatical state.

Hard to know what the Black Knight would say about that.

July 28, 2005

Terrorism

The IRA Puts Down Its Guns
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The IRA formally announced a cessation of its armed struggle, vowing to use only peaceful means to pursue its political aims.  This is a potentially momentous announcement, and one not to be overlooked in evaluating the progress of the war on terrorism.  If this is a sign that Islamic extremists have discredited terrorist tactics in the eyes of groups that were once quite comfortable with violence against civilians, that is no small matter.   

In theory, such a shift of mindset could lead to a reduction in terrorism as groups that do have concrete political aims conclude that by resorting to terrorist means they will utterly isolate and deligitimize themselves.

One problem, of course, is that there is little sign of such a shift in mindset in the Middle East, the source of most of the world's terrorism.  The Iraqi insurgency rages, and Palestinian terrorism seems to be back on the upswing on the eve of the Gaza withdrawal.  Articles like this one and this one reprinted on Watching America (one links to a Dubai television broadcast reporting that “The American's oppressive, inhuman, and undemocratic behavior in recent years has led to the creation of martyrdom-seeking movements everywhere”) point to the widening gulf in perceptions about terrorism between the west and the Mideast.

That the circle of those who reject terrorism may is widening in Europe and elsewhere represents an achievement.  But at the same time it may be shrinking in the Middle East, with the result that the overall threat to the U.S. and our allies could be greater and not lesser than when the fight on terror formally started nearly four years ago.  One step forward two steps back?

Potpourri

Hillary, Take it Back!
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Okay, now that I've come to terms with the fact that raising yucca plants and goats in New Mexico may be a fine career switch for  me, I must comment on the recent DLC proposals--contained in the new issue of Blueprint called "How America Can Win Again" put forward and roundly endorsed by many Democrats in Congress,  including Senator Clinton. Liberal bloggers are an editorial target in the issue--which has caused all kinds of fine rumpus online.

First, there's the call to unity"Less than four years ago, the attacks of Sept. 11 united Americans like no event since Pearl Harbor. For a brief, shining moment, country -- not party -- was all that mattered."

Yes, politics is ugly, but it was the rabid ideological pyromaniacs of the conservative "revolution" in 1994 that paved the path we are treading today. Maybe politics are polarizing further because some liberals have finally realized that since we're not even allowed in the ring anymore we might as well stand and fight on principle. The prevailing conservative mind-set is NOT a two-way street. It thrives on absolutes. As my dad (a former Republican) said --their ownership society is "I have mine and now I want yours!"  After watching this president and his cohorts on Capitol Hill bully their way into Iraq, and the conservative leadership of Congress capitulating on its own prerogative of checks and balances--I think some serious rabble rousing may be in order. They started it.

"We challenge Washington to increase America's Armed Forces by 100,000 troops. Iraq isn't the last war we'll have to fight, and we need a bigger army. We need to challenge more Americans to serve, and give them the means to do so. "

Okay, now stop this calling for all these new troops. This is a throwaway line unless you tell me exactly what items in the defense budget you are willing to cut in order to pay for the personnel.  Even the Defense Department has now cast into doubt the F22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. Why? WE CAN'T AFFORD THEM. Also, this expansion of troops assumes the normalization of pre-emptive war and you'd think that our experience in Iraq would diminish that option somewhat. Our future looks like Afghanistan, not Iraq.

The DLC could contribute much more to the debate by calling for a Manhattan Project-like effort to counter the problem of improvised explosive devices (IED) and embarass the defense industry for being such slackers about real warfighting needs. Or how about convening a joint conference with the Air Force entitled "Beyond Airpower"?  Secretary Rumsfeld is right about smaller, expeditionary forces being the need of the future. Where he's wrong is to stress technology over human beings as the way to achieve it. We need commanders who can take a city and then reorganize their battalion on the spot to restore the city. No Flash Gordon widget can do that.

"Washington ought to close the revolving door, so that members of Congress and administration officials can't become lobbyists as soon as they've left office."

Agreed. But there should also be much stricter controls on military officers who retire and then go into the defense industry. Yes they provide reality tested advice, but they also contribute to the hypnotic chant that more defense spending will purchase more security.  Who wants to argue with a military professional? Why doesn't the DLC help create an entire think tank for returned soldiers and retiring officers who would like to make a living doing something other than shilling for Boeing? Like advising policy makers?

"We challenge Washington to put its own house in order. It should cut congressional and nondefense staff by 10 percent, reduce federal consultants by 150,000..."

This one requires a little cognitive mapping.  This is trying to get a little bit of the "we hate government, too" action away from the Norquist trolls. Congress is broken. It is overwhelmed. It can no longer even perform basic functions of oversight. We need more talented congressional staff across the board, not less. Besides, if this order is carried out with the Republicans still in power, guess who is going to take it in the shorts?  How about roundly standing up for all public service? The reason we have so many consultants is because of the malarial fevered downsizing promoted by conservatives for thirty years.  The Agency for International Development is little more than a contracting shell because it has been stripped of its permanent professional specialists: the institutional memory so vital for capacity building is lost along with them.  Even the conservative's sacred cow--the military itself-- is being sacrificed in their "free market" . Witness the privatization of military duties in Iraq and the morale busting salary differentials that go along with it.

The overall problem with the DLC's ideas is that there's not much new in them. In the security sections, they still rely on the military to solve all our problems for us. Knowing this is the furthest thing from being "anti-military".  Civilians need to grow up.  Indeed, at the Marine's Irregular Warfare conference a few weeks back, one of the sessions inspired a lively Q and A.  It was about the military's ability to foster conditions leading to stability and IPB (Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield). Because Marines generally don't worry about manhood issues during policy discussions (unlike Karl Rove) it became clear that paying attention to   psychological and societal aspects of a culture is vital--as is institution building.  The military is in a process of learning backward. One marine said "if we had done the planning for phase four (rebuilding) we would not have fought this war."

It was the smartest thing I've heard in a long, long time.

Continue reading "Hillary, Take it Back!" »

July 27, 2005

Defense

Planning the Post-war
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A CFR Task Force has come up with a good report on post-conflict stabilization with ideas on how to fund and organize U.S. efforts to preserve peace and get countries back on their feet after violent conflict.  We've been talking about that here for months.   The report counts 6 such missions in the last 12 years, beginning with Somalia and points out that post-conflict work has become an integral part of U.S. defense.

The unfortunate part is that the Administration has underfunded even its very limited bureaucratic response to post-conflict needs.   Signs suggest that we may face more missions for which we are ill-prepared before we invest the money and attention required to bring post-conflict operations up to the standard we uphold for military operations.

Middle East

Changing Tack on Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Just weeks after President Bush's primetime speech vowing to stay the course and redouble U.S. efforts in Iraq, it appears today that the Administration is changing tacks.

Rumsfeld issued something that sounded suspiciously like an ultimatum, demanding that the Iraqi leadership crack down on the insurgency, agree swiftly on a new constitution and put more pressure on Iran and Syria to seal the borders.   From the sound of things, the Administration may be putting out terms they know the local government cannot meet laying a potential foundation for later announcing that America can't or won't stay in light of the Iraqis' failure to hold up their end of the bargain.

General Casey, who is in charge of the U.S. troops in-country spoke today of "substantial reductions" in the U.S. presence next Spring, provided progress is made on training Iraqi troops.

On cue, Iraqi Foreign Minister Jafari stressed Iraqis' desire for a speedy timetable to send the Americans on their way.

Make no mistake, these comments do not reflect any improvement on the ground in Iraq. 

On the insurgency, General Casey said this:  "I wouldn't say that it's necessarily a stalemate . . . Insurgencies need to progress to survive, and this insurgency is not progressing. There's been a change in tactics, to more violent, more visible attacks against civilians. That's a no-win strategy for the insurgents."

Now, why are violent, visible attacks against civilians a no-win strategy for the insurgents?  They terrorize people, presumably undermine their confidence in the Iraqi government and security forces (and the U.S. military) to protect them, they can disrupt the political negotiation process (as occurred last week when the Sunnis pulled out of the constitutional talks due to security concerns).  These attacks project publicly that the insurgents are alive and well and capable of mayhem.  They are probably helpful in drawing in recruits and support from anti-U.S. elements abroad.

Perhaps what Casey means is that such attacks turn the Iraqi people against the insurgents.  Clearly the Administration wishes this were the case.  After a bomb that killed 25 Iraqi civilians earlier this week, the Pentagon issued a statement quoting an unnamed Iraqi who said: 

"They are enemies of humanity without religion or any sort of ethics. They have attacked my community today, and I will now take the fight to the terrorists."

The trouble is, according to the New York Times, that the Pentagon used the exact same quote after a separate explosion two weeks earlier.   The Times reports that Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, a military spokesman, said he had "no idea" how the duplication occurred.  "I have sent a message out to discuss this with the leadership," he said.  The gaffe is now being chalked up to "administrative error."

That the Administration is beginning to despair over Iraq is no surprise.  A look at headlines  during the past 24 hours tells the painful story:  Diplomats are being gunned down, pounding deadly violence is targeting both Iraqis and U.S. troops, the U.S. death toll is mounting, Iraqi morgues are overflowing, the military is struggling to deal humanely with swelling numbers of detainees, British intelligence analysts are calling Iraq the dominant issue driving the violent extremists behind the July 7 bombings, the political fissures dividing the country may be deepening.

While the completion of a draft constitution on time in August will be a hopeful development if it happens, the document's content may raise serious concerns about women's rights and religious freedom.

Bottom line?  I wrote about 5 weeks ago that I thought the consequences of U.S. retreat from Iraq were grievous, and that there were still ways to turn the situation around.  I still believe the former is true.  Leaving Iraq in danger of becoming a failed state will have dire results for the region and for U.S. security.  But there's no sign of improvement on the ground and the amount of sound advice that has been dismissed and ignored would fill volumes.   Whatever glimmer of hope there was to build up the Iraqi security forces in time to combat the insurgency and allow a noble exit for the U.S. is fading fast.

If the Administration has indeed grown cynical about prospects for putting Iraq on a stable footing so that its no longer in danger of becoming a failed state, then it is time to rethink the wisdom of putting American lives at risk for that goal.

Continue reading "Changing Tack on Iraq" »

July 26, 2005

Africa, Terrorism

Attention to Africa: Be Careful What You Wish For
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

This piece in Tuesday's Washington Post is a lovely bit of writing, even if it does draw too heavily on the "white man's burden" school of Africa reporting.  The substance of its coverage, focused on a unit of National Guard reserve Green Berets training Chadian soldiers, under the headline "US Pushes Anti-Terrorism in Africa," was, however, lacking in content and context.  Using the magic of the web, allow me to fill in some gaps.

1.  So, the US has just discovered a terrible terrorism threat in Africa?

For years now, Africa advocacy groups have been toying around with the theme that Africa presents ripe opportunities for terrorists, in hopes that the US would pay more attention.  Well, folks, my mother used to tell me about Saint Theresa, who cursed you by giving you what you thought you wanted -- and here we are.

According to the International Crisis Group, the highest threat of Islamist activity is actually in Mali, "star pupil of 1990s neo-liberal democratisation."  ICG (see links below) also says that the Salafist Brotherhood for Preaching and Combat was dramatically weakened by the raid described in the article.

In any case, what seems clear is that recognition of terrorism in Africa is not, in fact, leading to increased resources for government, health, education and other areas that will, in the long run, give people choices beyond joining terrorist groups and hunting gazelles and/or non-Muslims.   It's leading to more DoD programming with little regard for broader political consequences.  Oh well.

2.  And the military response is the best one?  Thank goodness the Pentagon is on the case.

Back in March, the International Crisis Group published a report on US anti-terrorism activities in Africa which had some rather pungent things to say about where there is a problem:

With the U.S. heavily committed in other parts of the world, however, Washington is unlikely to devote substantial non-military resources to the Sahel soon, even though Africa is slowly gaining recognition -- not least due to West Africa's oil -- as an area of strategic interest to the West. The resultant equation is laden with risks, including turning the small number of arrested clerics and militants into martyrs, thus giving ammunition to local anti-American or anti-Western figures who claim the PSI (and the proposed, expanded Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI) still under consideration in the U.S. government) is part of a larger plan to render Muslim populations servile; and cutting off smuggling networks that have become the economic lifeblood of Saharan peoples whose livestock was devastated by the droughts of the 1970s and 1980s, without offering economic alternatives. To avoid creating the kinds of problems the PSI is meant to solve, it needs to be folded into a more balanced approach to the region, one also in which Europeans and Americans work more closely together.

3.  Of course, this will also promote democratic accountability, since that is so important to the Bush Administration.

One of the things I love about working with the military is that by and large you get very straightforward answers to questions.  Our Post reporter is clearly troubled by the implications of training a military whose job is to protect an embattled and autocratic government frm its irate fellow-citizens.  She notices that members of Chad's president's small ethnic group control everything and are "feared" by others.  She poses the question to a soldier and gets the following answer, much more straightforward than any comment you will get on the subject back home:

"It just makes sense. They're the president's guard, and so in this region, with all the coups and stuff, you'd want them the best trained," said Capt. Jason, the team leader.  U.S. officials said the battalion is based in N'Djamena to safeguard the government and prevent its vehicles from falling into the hands of regional commanders.

Res ipsa loquitor.  (**Thanks, Dan, for correcting my Latin spelling.)  But there's really no further comment on the old democracy vs. stability argument needed.

4.  And nothing like this has ever been tried before?

Here's where readers can test out their wonk skills.  What do ACRI and ACOTA stand for?  Which was an initiative of the Clinton Administration, and which of Bush 43?  What was the difference between them?

The Africa Crisis Response Initiative was a State Department-managed, DOD-supported program to train selected African militaries for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and promote Africans' ability to work together (basically, to build a peacekeeping capacity for circumstances in which the US and other Western nations would not send forces themselves).  This was a Clinton-era initiative in the wake of Rwanda.

In FY2004, the Bush Administration replaced this with Africa Contingency Operations Training Assistance, focused "on training trainers and providing programs tailored to individual country needs."

Obviously, peacekeeping and terrorist-hunting are not the same things.  But we do have a dismaying track record of Administrations trying out and then abandoning ideas for Africa, as if no one had ever thought of them before.  And then we wonder why our programs encounter difficulty in producing long-term change.

So we know that the trouble with the war on terror is that our allies can't just be Britain, Poland, and those plucky democrats in Georgia and Ukraine.   Now that Secretary Rumsfeld has shored u p our bases in Uzbekistan, and gotten the Kyrgyz to say that they didn't really mean what they said when the Russians and Chinese were in the room, can't we be a little more honest about where we can't avoid dealing with thugs, and a little more discriminating about which thugs we hug?

One is just left with the impression here that this Administration's policy is more like that wonderful board game Risk -- "terrorists here?  let's put some chips there" -- than an actual calculation of the sum total of US interests and how to maximize them.

The International Crisis Group report I linked to above has some good policy suggestions, among them doing more cooperative work with the Europeans in Africa.  At least that would give our soldiers some up-to-date maps of Chad.

(It's good to be back.  I'll have my midwest trip report soon...)

Proliferation

A Breakthrough with North Korea?
Posted by Derek Chollet

For a long time, critics of the Bush Administration’s policy toward North Korea have argued that the U.S. should be prepared to sit down face-to-face with the North Koreans to bring an end to their nuclear ambitions—some even quoted the old JFK line about the Soviets, that we should never to negotiate out of fear, but never fear to negotiate.

Well, we wanted a more direct approach, and that’s what we finally got.  It took awhile—it has been 13 months since the U.S. formally met with the North Koreans in the “6-party” format (where the two sides are joined by China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan)—but yesterday in Beijing, Chris Hill, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, met alone with his North Korean counterpart.  Chris Hill is one of America's best and most experienced diplomats, full stop.  He is smart, tenacious, and no stranger to tough negotiations with difficult characters. He cut his teeth a decade ago in the talks that ended the war in Bosnia--when working under Richard Holbrooke, he crossed swords with the likes of Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, among other thugs (including, at one point, Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic).  He was Ambassador to Macedonia during the 1999 Kosovo war, where he served as the Clinton Administration's point person in dealing with the Kosovar Albanians.

This experience has earned him trust among the Bush Administration hardliners to deal with the North Koreans.  He's not an "Asia hand"--proudly so--having only served there briefly (he was most recently ambassador to South Korea), and has ruffled some feathers in that relatively insular Foreign Service world by bringing in some fellow non-Asia hands to fill senior positions in his State Department bureau.  He is one of Rice's most trusted aides and well-liked by President Bush -- who got to know him when he served as ambassador to one of Bush's favorite countries, Poland.

Hill has told the press that he is in Beijing to get results--and that he might stay there for weeks if he needs to.  "We do not have the option of walking away from this problem," he said when the talks opened this morning.  This is a far cry from the stilted and overly-managed efforts of his predecessor, Jim Kelly, who was very much part of the Powell and Armitage crowd but did not seem to be trusted by anyone else. 

So in terms of skills and stature, we’ve got the right person there.  But the key question is: what does he have in his diplomatic bag of tricks?  The Administration got caught flat-footed a few weeks ago when the North Koreans announced that they would return to the 6-party talks, and they publicly state that there is no new American position.  They claim to have had success in pressuring the Chinese to take a more forceful role, although many Asia experts dispute that.  The prospects for success seemed to get new life a few weeks ago when South Korea announced that it would supply energy to North Korea—at cost of billions of dollars--if it gives up its nuclear programs.

It is anyone’s guess whether there is a deal to be had—whether North Korea actually will agree to anything that blocks its desire to be a nuclear power.  But for too long, the U.S. policy has been to leave things up to the allies (note the irony—while many complain that the Bush team ignores allies, this is a case when we’ve deferred to them too much).  Now that we have a negotiator on the ground who has a track record of success in dealing with tough talks (and my guess is that his interlocutors know this) and, importantly, the trust and confidence of officials in Washington, what has started this week is the best chance we’ve had for some kind of breakthrough since this crisis erupted nearly three years ago.  Stay tuned. 

July 24, 2005

Middle East, Weekly Top Ten Lists

10 Open Questions On the Gaza Pullout
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

If we're lucky, this summer will be remembered not as the moment the U.S. Supreme Court took a swerve to the right or for the quickening of Iraq's spiral out of control.  It could be known instead as the watershed moment in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the time when Israel proved it was serious about dismantling settlements and allowing a 2-state solution to take hold, and the Palestinians showed they were capable of  controlling, governing and developing truly independent territory.

But the devil is in the details and, 24 days before the actual pullout (which may be expedited to forestall further protests) , lots of unanswered questions remain, questions that may determine whether Israeli withdrawal from Gaza turns out to be a major step forward or a backward stumble for the peace process.  Here are some of the most important unanswered questions:

1.  Will the actual withdrawal date proceed smoothly? - No one expected the Gaza pullout to be clean.   Die-hard protests by furious settlers, violent outbreaks and mutual frustration were inevitable.  With the killing of two innocent motorists and an attempted suicide bomb, the situation is becoming explosive.  Rumor is that Israel will expedite the pullout to avoid further escalation (as was done with the end of the US occupation in Iraq - - it seemed to help, but only very, very briefly).  If violence boils over and Israel cracks down (in an operation already planned and labeled "Iron Fist"), the pullout has the potential to become a fiasco before it is even completed.   Sinai in 1982 offers the benchmark for a painful, but largely peaceful, withdrawal.

2. Will the Palestinians be able to maintain security in Gaza post-withdrawal? This is the linchpin.  If Gaza is relatively stable and turns out to be a decent neighbor to Israel, the political weight in the Jewish state will shift inexorably toward favoring a final settlement and substantial disengagement from the West Bank.  If not, not.  Mohammed Dahlan, this is your hour.  If you can keep Gaza quiet (without trampling rights in a way that undercuts the Palestinian State's long-term stability), you will deserve a Nobel.

3.  Will Egypt do its part to keep arms from flowing into Gaza - Just last night Israel struck a preliminary agreement, long in the making, with the Egyptian government over the control of the Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza.  Some 750 Egyptian border policemen will patrol the area, necessitating an amendment to the Camp David agreement.  Egypt will also be responsible for intelligence-gathering in Sinai.  After this weekend's carnage at Sharm el Sheikh, one hopes Egypt views tight border control, good intelligence, and a stringent arms crackdown as matters of straightforward self-interest.

4.  Will Hamas take over Gaza?  Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority has only a tenuous hold over Gaza.  Just days ago PA Civil Affairs Minister Mohammed Dahlan accused the group of plotting a coup.  Hamas, through its social-service minded style of politics, has been making strides at the polls in Gaza.  If Hamas, with its active military wing, takes over, the U.S. will be confronted with whether to continue to boycott a terrorist organization.   In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian relationships, all bets are off in this scenario.

5.  Will the Palestinians be able to keep Gaza economically viable? - This World Bank report details why disengagement in itself may mean precious little to the moribund Palestinian economy.  While Israeli farmers were prosperous in Gaza, for Palestinians to simply pick up where they have left off will pose challenges.  For one thing, the renowned Gush Katif greenhouses, employer to 600 Israelis and 1200 Palestinians, are being dismantled and relocated near Ashkelon.  To be healthy, a Gaza economy will depend on careful husbanding of the territory's agricultural resources, open access to markets, and generous foreign aid, none of which is guaranteed.

6.  How will goods flow from Gaza into Israel? - To thrive, Palestinian farmers in Gaza there will need ways of swiftly transiting produce into Israel for sale and shipment overseas.  If every car and truck were to be stopped and searched for weapons, the citrus and vegetables would rot in the heat.  But the parties have yet to hammer out a formula for this common customs envelope to encase the two territories.  Maybe the answer lies in an airport-style "Fastlane" - regularly pre-checking and validating certain producers and drivers who become eligible for swifter passage at the border.  One of the big debates is whether Israel will trust a reputable 3d party to do this sensitive job.

7.  Will true freedom of movement for people be possible - A ready flow of labor from Gaza into Israel will be essential for the territory to avoid isolation and economic ruin.  Thousands of Gaza residents commute daily into Israel for jobs.   With Israel in control of Gaza, border closures were routine.  Unless the security situation improves dramatically, this is likely to continue.

8.  How will people and goods transit between Gaza and the West Bank? - One of the most awkward elements of any conceivable peace settlement is the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous, and the only route between the two cuts through 40km of Israel.  For the Palestinians to build a viable polity and economy, passage needs to be made simple.  The World Bank has proposed a kind of desert chunnel - - an sunken road linking the two.   Rail link is another option. 

9.  How quickly can Gaza's airport and seaport be reopened? - No matter how optimistic one is about the post-withdrawal period, there's no getting around the fact that security considerations were a key driver behind Israel's desire to withdraw from the combustible Strip.  So leaving the Palestinian economy fully dependent on open borders is a recipe for ruin.  Israel has approved the reopening of sea and airports.  While the airport should be up and running more quickly, the seaport is projected to take years to get started.

10.  What happens next?  Assuming the pullout is less than disastrous, what's next?  Do Sharon and Abbas continue to lead their respective peoples forward, implementing the road map to a two-state solution (or something close to it)?  Is Sharon really - as some accuse - using Gaza simply as a way to tighten Israel's hold on the the West Bank?  Are the Palestinian terrorist factions kept sufficiently in check to enable progress?

July 22, 2005

Progressive Strategy

Integrated Power and Truman Democrats
Posted by Michael Signer

There's a new national security plan out from the Center for American Progress by Larry Korb and Bob Boorstin called Integrated PowerEvery progressive should study this road map not just through post-9/11 foreign policy but also through the political problems that have bedeviled a party since Vietnam -- how to recapture the energy, spirit, drive, and courage, internationally-speaking, of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy.

The book is especially important in light of a debate we were having over here at Democracy Arsenal about just how we can go about rebuilding progressive strength on security.

A little background first.  A few weeks ago, I put up a post here synthesizing some values of "Truman Democrats" -- the new group of Democrats (of which I am a Principal) who have formed to try to reinvent the engaged, robust internationalism of Democrats past.  The piece said that six values should frame the underlying theory of an American left re-engaged on the international front:  American exceptionalism, acceptance of the use of force, hegemony, community, liberal-mindedness, and democracy.

There was a fair amount of reaction to the piece.  Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote it up at TPM Cafe, saying it "provocatively summarized" the "best nextgen foreign policy thinking I know."

Continue reading "Integrated Power and Truman Democrats" »

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