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August 31, 2005


Fire on a Crowded Bridge: Iraq's Deadliest Day
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Dead_from_the_bride As many as 1000 people died today in a stampede in Baghdad that occurred when a rumor spread of an impending suicide attack spread among a crowd of close to a million Shiite pilgrims amassed on a bridge.   It sounds like the classic fire in a crowded theatre situation, and we'll probably never know whether the crier genuinely believed a bomb was about to explode, or was just out to manufacture chaos.  Rockets fired into the crowd shortly beforehand killed 7, undoubtedly raising the level of tension.

A few observations:

1.  The bizarreness and tragedy of this incident underscores just how bad things have become in Baghdad.   While the incident is being blamed on terrorism, there's actually no evidence that terrorists were responsible for spreading the rumors (note correction here - SN).   This may have been triggered by nothing more than someone mistaking a bulky backpack or jacket as packed with explosives.   It's an example of what can happen in a society that's been taken over by terrorism.  No threat is idle.  People live in a state of near-panic.  A rumor can cost 1000 lives.   Two plus years after the US invasion, that's the state of affairs in Iraq.

2.  Even though there's no clear evidence that the uproar was created intentionally, the incident is being blamed on followers of Zarqawi has served to inflame Shiite-Sunni tensions  This means that these deaths will begat more violent deaths.

3.  The Iraqi government apparently had ample warning the crowd would be gathering - the impetus was a major religious holiday that was bound to draw a massive turnout.  Yet there were few police and military on-hand to try to maintain control.  Afterward a Shia militia, the notorious Mahdi army, took over checkpoints with the government soldiers busy sealing off the affected areas.   So much for Iraq's blossoming capabilities as far as law and order. 

4.  The incident is also sparking theories that the government intentionally put the crowd at risk by allowing it to assemble where it did.   Iraqi officials fed the rumor mill, with the Minister of Health saying "I hold my colleagues in the ministries of interior and defence responsible for what happened today."

In sum, if you haven't yet been wrecked by the news out of New Orleans, this incident is depressing at a variety of levels:  the sheer loss of life, the likely aftershocks, and mostly for what it signals about conditions in Iraq.


Kabuki Theatre??? Noh!
Posted by Michael Signer

Kabuki_theater2The Kabuki Theatre of the Absurd continues, with President Bush likening Iraq to World War II, and Japan specifically... and Haley Barbour stumbling into a Japan metaphor for Katrina.  From the Rove Diaries:  "When grasping for straws, always  exploit America's greatest moral victories, however tortured the parallels."

To wit -- here's how WaPo reported what the President said today about Iraq, referring to FDR:

Reaching back into history, Bush repeatedly cited Roosevelt's steadfastness as the model for today's conflict, comparing the Japanese sneak assault on Pearl Harbor in 1941 to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Much as Roosevelt fought pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism, Bush urged against a return to what he called the "pre-9/11 mindset of isolation and retreat."

Well, isn't that just the craziest thing.  Just as the war is becoming the utter debacle its foes feared, the President starts likening it to our conflict with Japan. 

Of course, Iraq didn't attack us (unlike Japan, which did).  And Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq (unlike the Japanese nation, which actively supported their bellicose policies).  And we've created more terrorism by our half-hearted occupation of Iraq (unlike our invasion of Japan, massively supported by the American people, which so dominated the country that resistance was unthinkable). 

But these are just quibbles.

The Noh mask slipped a little bit, though, when Haley Barbour, now installed as Governor of Mississippi (and an ascendant Presidential figure himself?) likened Hurricane Katrina TO JAPAN DURING WORLD WAR II!  He said:

"I can only imagine this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago."

Huh.  So who does Barbour remind himself of?  General MacArthur?

August 30, 2005


Bolton - early returns
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

John_bolton The early signs on John Bolton's behavior at the UN are none too encouraging.  It seems as if, perhaps frustrated by his delayed confirmation, Bolton is trying to make up for lost time by weighing in very heavily at the last minute on the reform package set to be presented at a Summit meeting of world leaders just two weeks from now.   True to form Bolton's ticking people off in all corners, and potentially jeopardizing what could be a major step forward in terms of UN reform.

Bolton's proposed changes have been criticized for being too numerous (he proposed 750 amendments to the draft), for being oblivious to the concerns of the developing world (he proposed deleting references to the Millennium Development Goals, a signature UN initiative for the last 5 years), for being impervious to the environment (he's proposed excising a reference to "respect for nature from the draft, prompting criticism from Sen. Patrick Leahy) and for being aimed at torpedoing the process so that no substantive agreement will be reached (he's proposed either opening line-by-line negotiations among the UN's 190+ member states or reverting to a much shorter summary text).  Many of his proposed changes are unpalatable even to close allies like the Brits.

A coalition of women's groups said this

At the eleventh hour US Ambassador John Bolton is proposing last minute changes to the draft plan, which would undermine the draft Outcome Document. Bolton’s proposed changes would weaken proposals for development, debt relief, Official Development Assistance (ODA), disarmament, and the environment . . . This latest move by U.S. Ambassador Bolton puts us back on the merry go round once again just as we were about to cross the finish line. This tired tactic by the United States to wait until the eleventh hour of a year long negotiation to demand drastic revisions is simply a subterfuge for undermining the entire process. Clearly, they don't want reform that will result in a stronger UN.

A couple of observations:

Rice_watching_bolton 1.   No adult supervision:  Contrary to what some believed might happen, it does not appear as though Condi Rice is keeping Bolton on a tight leash.  She and her reform adviser, Shirin Tahir-Kheli, have been working on the UN package for months.  Just weeks ago they were boasting that reform was well on its way.   Is the Administration playing good-cop, bad-cop with the UN?  Doubtful, since Bolton's public salvos are seen within the UN community as out of sync with the approach prevailing up until his arrival.

2.  No Kinder Gentler John:  Contrary to other speculation, the very public Congressional inquiry into Bolton's style and his penchant for antagonizing others does not appear to have prompted any change in approach.  Bolton has come out swinging.  If his goal was to build support for American positions, Bolton would have worked to quietly build consensus around a handful of the issues considered most important.  Instead he's launched a broadside against the whole enterprise of reform, targeting head-on matters that are hot-buttons to most of the membership. 

3.  UN Reform in the Balance:  The next few weeks will be crucial in terms of the UN's future.  Bolton will be an essential player.  We here at DA will follow it all closely.


Meanwhile in Germany
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While the pot bubbles in Iraq, we check back on the September 18 German elections. A few weeks ago, the sky was falling in German politics.  The Financial Times’ Berlin bureau chief saw the possibility of Germany “slipping into the fully-fledged political crisis that it has been edging towards, unnoticed, for the past two decades.”

And current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder raised the specter of civil unrest if a conservative coalition gains power and enacts significant economic reforms.

Why?  Angst about Schroeder's apparent inability to convince Germans of the necessity of economic reforms and sacrifice (labor market flexibility uber alles, apparently), and the emergence of a new potential kingmaker/spoiler party, Die Linke (the leftists), a union of the East German communist successor Party of Democratic Socialism and a splinter group from Schroeder's SPD.  Up to this week, polls were showing half of voters undecided, allowing a political analyst's paradise of speculation and matchmaking. 

Now, though, the latest polls suggest that the undecided are making up their minds in Germany, and, with the election less than three weeks off, breaking for conservative challenger Angela Merkel, her Christian Democrats and their expected junior partner the Free Democrats.

This after weeks of agonizing about all sorts of scrambled possibilities as undecideds stood close to 50 percent:

Would the governing Social Democrats under Schroeder slip back into power with the same anti-US rhetoric that brought Schroeder a surprise victory last time, this time focused on US designs on Iran instead of Iraq?

(Looks like not – Schroeder is picking up undecideds at a much slower rate than Merkel.)

Would the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats fail to clear 50 percent, requiring a Grand Coalition with the Social Democrats? (Imagine W. offering Joe Lieberman the vice presidency in 2000 and you get the idea of the angst behind this.) Free Democrat parliamentarian Werner Hoyer said that such a coalition would be “reason to emigrate.”

Others are calmer.  An American analyst argues that Germany’s previous CDU/CSU-SPD Grand Coalition, of 1966-1969, was the necessary confidence-builder that paved the way for the long and successful reigns of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt; that it strengthened the center-right FPD and paved the way for the emergence of the Greens. Janes also argues that the period set Germany up for a decade of economic prosperity and laid the foundations of Germany’s Ostpolitik, the engagement with the East that helped undermine the foundations of the Berlin Wall. The Grand Coalition period, though, can also be seen as the (re) birth of right- and left-wing extremist movements. A fertile time for good and ill, in short.

I sense from the coverage that the levels of hysteria about the results that we were seeing a few weeks ago are ratcheting down. Chief among reasons is the slippage of Die Linke (the Leftists). While it surged earlier in the summer, the latest polls suggest it could miss the 5 % threshold to enter parliament at all.

So what does it all mean?  The question of whether Germany is "ready" for a woman Chancellor is of interest for various reasons. 

Then there's the question of what Merkel can do on the economy and will do with Germany abroad.  She is likely to make further efforts to rebuild ties with the US, but there will be limits on what she will want to offer while her top priority is difficult and unpopular reforms at home.  Some imagine her taking up the banner of European leadership in the post-Eu referendum vacuum, but this too seems unlikely given the challenges she will face at home, at least right away.  A CDU administration is likely to produce some significant shifts within the EU, not least on trade policy; the French will find themselves more isolated.  Would the EU then be able to move more strongly to put the US in a corner on agricultural liberalization and other trade issues?  An interesting question.

Lastly, even though the furor has died down a bit, significant changes are afoot in Germany.  Manfred Guellner, head of Germany's Forsa polling group, put it this way – the institutional system that has given Germany so many decades of stability “has reached its limits.”

Two weeks ago I ran into a former US Ambassador to Germany, a man never at a loss for words.  What's going to happen?  I asked.

"I don't know" he said.  "But fasten your seatbelts.  The post-Cold War order is breaking up.  And really, why shouldn't it?"

August 29, 2005


Bunnatine Greenhouse: Iraq Whistleblower Demoted for Her Trouble
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Greenhouse  The Bush Administration seems to have concluded that with everyone so preoccupied with what's going wrong politically and militarily in Iraq, now's a fine time to ride roughshod over accountability and integrity on the reconstruction side.

Army Corps of Engineers' top civilian official Bunnatine Greenhouse has been demoted for complaining about bloated no-bid contracts for Halliburton.  So while Iraq spirals downward with thousands of American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars at stake, we're seizing the moment to punish an official who tried to stand up for fairness and cost controls.

According to her lawyer, Greenhouse received stellar performance evaluations until she started to point out irregularities in the treatment of Kellogg, Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary that's been awarded more than $10 billion in contracts for Iraqi reconstruction.  She argued that if no-bid contracts were to be granted, they should be short-term, rather than the 5-year, $7 billion oil deal awarded to KBR.  The NY Times reports that:

In late June, ignoring warnings from her superiors, Ms. Greenhouse appeared before a Congressional panel, calling the Kellogg Brown & Root oil contract "the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career." She also said the defense secretary's office had improperly interfered in the awarding of the contract.

Once her case started to attract publicity the Army agreed not to take any personnel action against her until an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general was complete. 

But this week the Army broke the pact.  Its hard not to conclude that the timing was calculated to ensure that this story was hidden beneath an avalanche of worse news from Iraq, and bound to be forgotten by the time America gets back from its Labor Day vacation.

August 28, 2005


Iraq - 10 things progressives ought to be saying
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While the public has finally woken up to the Administration's disastrous leadership in Iraq, progressives have not been able to seize the upper hand on Iraq policy. They're caught between the belief that an immediate pullout would bring disastrous results (and undercut progressive national security bona fides), and the difficulty of saying how the war can be corrected at this late date.

In the meantime, the debate on drawdown has narrowed, if you put to one side those calling for a complete, immediate withdrawal.  Within the mainstream debate there are those urging that we set a timetable for drawdown and then do everything in our power to stabilize Iraq before then; and those who favor doing everything possible to stabilize Iraq so that we can draw down sooner rather than later (see Dorgan's comments this AM).  The difference of emphasis matters, but not much. Both groups want major troop reductions next year.

Rather than splitting hairs on drawdown, progressives should be clear and forceful where they can be. The Center for American Progress has done a fantastic memo to the President outlining what we're up against in Iraq.  A great follow-up would say what conclusions can be drawn and what ought to happen next.  Here are 10 things the progressives ought to be saying on Iraq.

1.  This Iraq operation was a mistake - The American public needs to hear it from those progressives who haven't yet admitted it. 

2.  The Administration's actions have brought us to this point - Bad intel, poor planning, inadequate international support, and faulty decision-making all played a part; and the Administration's to blame for all of these.  Whether a hypothetical war, done differently, might've gone better is not the issue.  For those who supported the war, the biggest mistake was trusting an arrogant and blinkered Administration to do such a tough job right.  There's no need to apologize for not calling the problem sooner. Progressives have demanded mid-course corrections at every turn.

3.  We'll never win without a strategy, and the Administration doesn't have one - The Iraq operation has been lurching without direction for months, and none of Bush's public statements have come close to filling the gap.

4.      Any strategy needs to start by facing the facts on the ground - The Administration is in deep denial, and the public is growing uneasy about it.  Acknowledging the strength of the insurgency, the failure to achieve a constitution that enjoys Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish support, and the toll the effort is taking on American troops will not come off as defeatist, since even the most casual observer is painfully aware of all of these.

5.      Any strategy will end with American withdrawal - We never intended to be in Iraq forever, so there's no shame thinking about how and when our men and women come home.  The difficulties we're facing and the absence of an Administration strategy make the question more pressing. 

6.     Our objective is pure and simple: to leave Iraq stable - Security and stability are the main concerns of Iraqis, and the leading U.S. interests when it comes to Iraq's future. They are also prerequisites for liberty and democracy. But rather than utopian visions of Iraqi freedom, our focus is on the precondition for US withdrawal, and that's stability -- meaning a weakening of the insurgency; law and order; a functioning Iraqi authority and a stable dynamic between Iraq's major political forces.

7.      We need to quickly determine how to achieve success - Right now we don't know if the war is winnable.  We should take a finite amount of time -- say through the end of 2005 -- to figure that out.  Doing so should entail the following:

- - a coherent counter-insurgency strategy -  Yet another major lapse in the Administration's conduct of the war has emerged publicly in recent days:  we have no counter-insurgency strategy and the most basic lessons of major past insurgency battles, like Vietnam, aren't being heeded.  A variety of proposals have been forward for counter-insurgency approaches.  The Administration needs to adopt one and fast so that by December we can judge whether its gaining traction or not.

- - an independent audit of the training effort - it's hard to get straight facts on how the training of Iraqi troops is going (estimates of capable Iraqi troops range from 2,500 to 21,000).  Without accurate information, it's impossible to know whether we stand a chance of turning Iraq over to homegrown security forces.  The audit (by the Government Accountability Office or another qualified body) should focus on four questions:  1)  how many Iraqi troops are now capable of keeping the peace and fighting the insurgency?  2) how many more do we need so that the US military is no longer the only thing between Iraq and full-on civil war?  3) how long will it take to get to that number? and 4) what - meaning tactics, resources, equipment - will make it happen faster and more reliably?   The audit should be done by October 30 so that we can judge by late December whether the results are being put into practice.

- - direct engagement of Iraq's neighbors - Iraq's neighbors will play a key part in what happens once we leave.  As Wesley Clark and others have suggested, we ought to be talking to them now about political and economic relationships with Iraq, and about the insurgency.  Even if we get the cold shoulder, we'll at least know we can't count on them.

- - a strict border control regime - This is essential in every scenario, to keep Iraq from being both a magnet and a source of insurgents. Lighting, night-vision equipment, weapons detection equipment and radars are all part of the package, as are cooperation with Iraq's neighbors and ample trained personnel. 

- - expedited reconstruction projects - According to CAP, only $9 of the $24 billion allocated by Congress for reconstruction projects for FY 2003-2205 has been spent.  Security is an impediment, but if our goal is to be out sooner, the pace of reconstruction needs to be stepped up, even if the cost of projects gets inflated due to the need for extra protection.   The Administration should be charged with devising a list of reconstruction projects that deserve priority because they can play a role in getting us out sooner.

8.  Progress on each of these points should be reported monthly - If there's no significant headway being made by year's end once the next round of Iraqi national elections take place, withdrawal timetables may deserve the center stage some are giving them now.

9.  Meanwhile, we need to do a better job supporting our troops and veterans - When it comes to benefits, equipment, schedules, etc.

10.  And keep leveling with the American public - Since the Administration seems bent on keeping the truth from the public, progressives can play a key role making sure the debate is well-informed, and that the public stays engaged.

Defense, Democracy, Development, Middle East, Progressive Strategy, Proliferation

First Steps toward a New World Order
Posted by Michael Kraig

Well, I'm sitting here at 4:45 Sunday CST, listening to Megadeth's 1991 song "Symphony of Destruction," essentially Dave Mustaine's gut response to the first Persian Gulf War with Saddam, and it's put me in a mindset to finish out my tenure with one last parting shot at some of the questions thrown my way.

David Adesnik has thrown the most pointed questions my way, which I can best answer by pasting in a few recent op-eds that have never been published, and also put out weblinks to two more. But first one of the easier questions (paraphrased):

--"Why don't we just start making MagLev trains and rely on wind and solar, and get the heck out of the Middle East?"

Answer: It's not a solution for China or India, or most Southeast or Northeast Asian nations, who are in a different stage of development but who are increasingly driving the global economy, of which the US is itself a part. Also, having traveled through the six Gulf Arab Monarchies: if you think the terrorism problem is bad now, imagine a hyper-developing set of Arab countries with mammoth public works projects and super-modern skyscrapers, hotels, banks, conference centers, and everything else suddenly being BROKE because all the Developing World decided to chuck their oil dependency as quickly as possible.

It's easy to think of the Middle East as just a bunch of poor nations who are hostile to globalization and who lack modern infrastructure; I daresay this is the mindset of many Americans on both sides of the aisle. It is more difficult to digest the reality, which is that 1) 80%-90% of the populations of the six Gulf Arab states are immigrants from Greater Asia (all Asian countries) who remit substantial monies to their families throughout Asia; 2) the oil surplus subsidizes the economies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan through immigrant workers and through big yearly cash checks from Saudi Arabia; and 3) places like Dubai easily surpass New York in modernity and are literally erecting dozens of new skyscrapers every year, 24/7.

Most of this is oil money, or is connected in some way to oil money. Now last time I checked, we wanted to spread democracy to the Middle East. Well, what do sociologists and historians and political scientists indicate is co-terminous with democrat liberalization? Modernization. Modernity. The Burghers (new commercial elite) of Northern Europe came along well before the first open parliamentary elections...actually, a couple of centuries before. Now, oil money is in fact modernizing the entire Middle East region...and slowly but surely drawing it into the global economy.

Do we really want to end it as soon as possible? Will this really help fight terrorism at the global level? Or would a sudden halt to all such development, and sudden poverty, collapse the entire region into flames? Something to think about. I'm not saying to go out and buy a Ford Expedition, but we have to tread carefully on the question of energy futures.

One medium-term answer is to create a stable international security environment that gives the domestic room for liberalization over decades of time international norms, processes, and rules prior to domestic democratization.

Washington puts the latter first, but my answer to David Adesnik and others is that we should think seriously whether we have nearly the control/effect over other states' domestic practices as we have over their international, foreign policy practices, especially given our power to engage other states and shape the security environment in which they operate. We can probably set up international institutions or looser arrangements....Iraq shows the innate difficulty of putting the domestic level as the "causal variable" for peace and stability.

In this regard, I offer one op-ed already published below, followed by the text of two op-eds on Syria and Iran, respectively.

Peace, Michael Kraig, Director of Policy Analysis and Dialogue, The Stanley Foundation

Gulf Security in a Globalizing World: Going beyond US Hegemony

Assuring a Free Lebanon: Don’t Forget the Golan Heights

50 years after the term "roll back" was originally coined to describe a hawkish US Cold War strategy of beating international communism by aggressively pushing it back across the borders of Russia, the term has gained a new lease on life in the streets of Lebanon. The United States and France are now being gladly joined by almost every conceivable actor around the globe in calling for Syria to leave Lebanon, now and for good: from Kofi Anon and the UN Secretariat, to Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea, to Middle Eastern leaders themselves.

In recent shuttle diplomacy to Riyadh and Cairo, Syria has attempted to gain some semblance of pan-Arab nationalist support, but to no avail. Everyone in the region, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, from the highest decision-makers to the lowest academics and opposition figures, seem to believe that Hariri’s death was indeed perpetrated by the Syrian government, either in the form of rogue intelligence elements or via a direct decision of Bashar Al-Asad himself. The only palpable Arab nationalist support has been through the good offices of Ammr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League. No practical political or economic aid for Syria’s position will be forthcoming from the League’s varied members. Syria is truly and utterly alone

Despite these developments, however, the West can still play the crisis in Beirut wrong, with costly and violent outcomes resulting from tactical and strategic missteps. Amid the boisterous joy in the streets of Beirut, as the political and military minions of the Syrian Ba’ath regime seem ready for comprehensive rollback beyond the Bekka valley in accordance with UN Resolution 1559, the West and especially the US should take a deep breath and consider carefully the long-term strategy for peace in Lebanon if it truly wants an inexorable evolution to liberal democracy in Beirut. For as in any complex conflict, the party being backed into a corner can strike back in desperation to protect what it sees as core strategic interests and issues of national identity. And in the present crisis, there is indeed a bilateral issue with central nationalist, territorial, and ideological overtones: the status of the Golan Heights.

Although the war of 1973 is a distant memory for many in the West, for Syrian citizens and leaders alike it is an ever-present, eternal issue. And as in the case of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power today, Syria’s attachment to the Golan is not contingent on the character of the regime in power. Just as experts have predicted that Iran will pursue a latent nuclear capability no matter who holds the reigns of power in Tehran, Syria is likely to press for this slim piece of strategic territory no matter holds power in Damascus. Any conceivable ruling coalition of reformists, secular nationalists, or ethnic-based representatives would expect a final, just, equitable settlement with Israel on this issue, since it is not just seen as a piece of land, but also as an ideological, values-based conflict artificially frozen in time by Western intervention and UN peacekeepers. Even though few in Syria today avidly support Bashar Al-Asad’s confused and ineffectual rule, fewer still support the idea of Israel controlling a piece of Syrian territory indefinitely. Syrians may wish for a different domestic regime, but they still do not trust the ultimate intentions of Tel Aviv. Majority opinion in Syria still holds that Israel is an aggressive, expansionist, irredentist power bent on fulfilling the dictates of an inflexible Zionist ideology (and supported blindly by Capitol Hill) – an attitude inculcated by the beating drums of Syria’s state-controlled media, but an attitude that exists nonetheless.

Therefore, if the well-wishers for Lebanese democracy truly want a non-violent, stable, and just outcome in Beirut, they should think strategically of all the linked issues in Lebanon’s neighborhood, and act accordingly. Syria is much more likely to play the spoiler to current trends within Lebanon (via Hezbollah or other instruments) if it believes that no benefits, no reassurances, and no hope is forthcoming on the core issue of the Golan Heights. Even as pressure is justly and universally applied to roll back Syria’s corrupt, cronyistic control of a fledgling democratic nation, the world’s lone superpower would do well to work with Europeans, Israel, and Kofi Anon to craft public and private messages assuring Damascus that a final and equitable outcome to the Golan issue will eventually materialize, respecting the relevant UN Resolutions arising from the war of 1973 – Resolutions 242 and 338, which are universally supported throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. These promises and reassurances could in turn be diplomatically backed up by the Arab League, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to garner some measure of trust with Syria’s beleaguered regime. These assurances are crucial precisely because Israel is in a stronger position than ever to deny such a settlement to Damascus, unilaterally, with or without international support.

But this subtle strategy of linkage between different issues will require patience, wisdom, and foresight on the part of US decision-makers and Western allies alike – something that has been in regrettably short supply over the past four years. Let us hope that as the demonstrators in Beirut supply the courage of their convictions, the US and the international community can supply a balanced, realistic long-term solution to Israeli-Syrian grievances that will ultimately keep Damascus from further acts of desperation in Lebanon.

Engaging Gulliver: China’s Lessons for the Iranian Nuclear Crisis

The Washington policy community is so mired in the seemingly endless nuclear crisis with Iran that they fail to notice the long-term solution: the example of China over the past 40 years.

Looking at today’s dynamic and largely cooperative Northeast and Southeast Asian economic scene, it is easy to forget just how domestically and internationally unpredictable China once was, or how worried the US strategic community was about it. Amid Mao’s various top-down, state-led revolutions in the 1960s, China’s ascent toward nuclear weapons status galvanized the United States to explore several anti-ballistic missile systems and seriously consider preemptive military strikes on Chinese nuclear facilities – as is now being actively considered by Israel and the United States toward Iran. China was viewed as an aggressive and irrational foe that threatened to destabilize Asia – just as Iran is viewed today in the Middle East. And while a nuclear Iran could incite further nuclear proliferation among regional neighbors, China’s huge size and obvious Great Power aspirations were in large part behind South Korea’s and Taiwan’s nascent efforts to "go nuclear" in the 1970s and 80s – a trend that was further spurred by America’s weakened position in Asia after Vietnam, much as America is looking increasingly besieged in Iraq today.

And yet the worst never came to pass. China bridged the nuclear gap, but instead of brandishing nukes with bellicose, offensive threats, it fielded a minimalist arsenal based on defensive threats. China has exercised its growing power through mutually advantageous economic cooperation with its neighbors, spurred partly by the positive example of US-China bilateral trade deals. And meanwhile, strong US bilateral security guarantees and conventional arms sales with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have kept each from pursuing nuclear arsenals.

The Soviet threat had much to do with the long-term thaw between China and the United States. But it was also because China’s internal revolution – like Iran’s Islamic revolution today – failed miserably in providing its citizens prosperity. In the case of China, this domestic developmental gap was ultimately filled with capital and technology from abroad. China’s Asian Gulliver has not only been tied down by countless financial threads emanating from Lilliputians such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it has also been tremendously enriched at the same time. Paradoxically, the stronger Gulliver becomes, the more he is constrained. Meanwhile, China’s burgeoning market provides the fodder for Lilliputian growth: all of Southeast and Northeast Asia (including Taiwan) have GDPs and GNPs that increase concurrently with China’s market. China has largely become a status quo power, ever hungry for more national strength but largely unable to use that strength for any conceivable aggressive ends.

Herein lies the key to resolving the Iranian crisis. Iran, like China, is an ancient civilization that has regional hegemonic ambitions, and these latent ambitions are motivating its Arab neighbors to buy high-tech conventional weaponry and grant America basing rights in the Persian Gulf. But Iran is a mess domestically, suffering from stagnant growth, declining industry, an apathetic and frustrated population, a leadership hungry for cash and domestic legitimacy, and the desperate need for infrastructure and technology improvements. It is Iran’s own neighbors, the Lilliputian Arab monarchies who are slight on geopolitical power but flush with investment capital, that could conceivably tie Gulliver down and satisfy his regional ambitions at the same time. In the short-term, if Iran could be stopped short of the nuclear weapons threshold – at the level of a latent bomb capability in the form of an indigenous nuclear energy fuel cycle, but not an actual arsenal – then the United States could use the same bilateral security guarantees perfected with South Korea and Taiwan in the Asian context to keep Iran’s neighbors from going nuclear themselves.

But precious time is already being wasted. In order for Iran to become a normal nation, the United States needs to start treating it like a normal nation, as Nixon first did with China. To dampen the nuclear crisis and allow forward momentum in other areas, the United States needs to assure a justifiably skittish Iran that it accepts the Islamic Republic’s basic claim to sovereignty, and it can even recommend Iran’s admission to multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, which could constitute a powerful source of leverage over Iran’s regional behavior. Simultaneously, European trade arrangements and technological know-how could be mixed with Arab investment capital and US bilateral detente. Ultimately, European-Arab-US strategic cooperation could effectively create a virtuous circle of security and development with a fearful but ambitious Iran. Let the tying of Gulliver begin.

August 26, 2005


The Kurds: Will they stay or will they go?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Michael Kraig's post here on what the contours of Iraq actually look like, and what a future path toward stability might look like, is one of the best things I have read recently.   But it does forcibly raise a problem that I have been shoving out of the front of my mind all week:  is the die already cast for the Kurds?  What has to be done to maintain the status quo, with Kurdish leaders saying and doing the right things in public?  And, if we cannot keep the violence from getting to a point where the compromise between regional stability and self-determination we have offered becomes too grotesque, what then?

I don't pretend to have any insight into the minds of actual Kurdish leaders in Iraq.  But I do observe the tealeaves around Washington with some acuity, I like to think, and I see signs that the Kurds' friends, supporters and advisers here have decided that the Kurds are going to walk, eventually, or maybe not so eventually.

I'm not happy about making this observation.  I spent more than enough time on the self-determination vs. territorial integrity battleground in Europe in the 1990s.  Both sides have much to be modest about -- and the Balkans had no oil, no suicide bombers, and quaintly few imported extremists.

But since it sure looks as if the effort to keep Iraq a strong centralized state is in shambles, I'd like to see evidence that we've got better legwork behind plan B, a weaker federation/confederation.  And, although I wouldn't want to hear too much about it publically, some smart minds thinking about what to do if that fails too. 


Death of a Salesman, 2005
Posted by Michael Signer

Amid more news that the Iraq Constitution is faltering and splintering, that American support for the engagement has dropped to an all-time low, and that President Bush has been forced to take a vacation from his vacation and try personally to salvage the process, I want to propose an argument (with the proviso that it's perhaps a little Theory of Everything-ish, and maybe, just maybe, has a teeny-tiny bit of partisan schadenfreude in it):

Most of the problems about America's situation in Iraq can be traced back not to faults in intelligence, to the Bush's failure at international diplomacy, or to internal disputes in Iraq.  They're instead rooted in an earlier, domestic catastrophe:  the Bush Administration's failure to convince the American people of the moral rightness of invading Iraq.

It's August, so it's worth remembering this is the month that Andy Card said was, "from a marketing point of view," a bad time to introduce new products.

If they know so much, why was the Bush Administration so bad at selling us this product?

Americans are willing to suffer great numbers of casualties when they believe there's a cause that, morally, rises to the level of mass sacrifice.  Osama bin Laden famously said America in Somalia was "paper tiger" that "after a few blows ran in defeat."  This belief underlies the ferocity of Al Qaeda's attacks. 

The American people want to be convinced by their leaders that they should summon collective moral passion for a military engagement.  We tend to approach casualties in a binary fashion -- either they are good (and worth dying for) or not (and worth protesting against -- by the way, Cindy Sheehan is back).   

Continue reading "Death of a Salesman, 2005" »

August 25, 2005

Defense, Iraq, Middle East, Progressive Strategy, Terrorism

Being Alternative Means being Realistic: Means and Ends in Iraq
Posted by Michael Kraig

Responding in part to Heather’s great piece “Open Floodgates Pt. 1: Plans for Iraq,”

First, we have to be honest with ourselves – events on the ground are too fluid and chaotic to have a stable, democratic, and highly centralized Iraqi state entity as a short- or medium-term goal.  Odds are that it will fragment, because we destroyed the Iraqi state by de-Ba’athification, and in the void have jumped all the sectarian and ethnic groups, who have their own militias – which the US military has given up on de-arming and de-mobilizing. 

The Kurds have no real interest in a real Federal Iraq; if you listen to their leaders’ statements, they basically want a confederal Iraq not too different from what our 13 American colonies started out as – a loosely knit collection of 13 autonomous states, with one central Capitol that had little power but which represented the confederation abroad.  In addition to the Kurds, it increasingly appears that top Shi’ite leaders have the same overall goal in mind.

Would such a loose confederation really constitute a functioning state?  Odds are that all things would exist simultaneously (a confederation Capitol alongside the reality of regional autonomous rule), as they do right now.  To whit:

1)      A largely autonomous Kurdish region, secured by militias, with representatives in Baghdad whose central mission is to preserve Kurdish autonomy and use central state resources and international political legitimacy to fend off any predations by Iran and Turkey next door.  In short: use the central diplomats of the state, and use the budget of the state, but use them toward the goal of an autonomous Kurdish region.

2)      A largely autonomous Shi’ite region, secured by militias, with representatives in Baghdad….etc. etc…..using central state resources to fend off predations by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other neighbors of southern Iraq.

3)      A largely autonomous Sunni region, secured by militias….you get the idea.

This would reflect the military, social, political, and economic realities on the ground already.  Yes, a new Iraqi economy could theoretically emerge that is not based on sectarian divisions; yes, a strong central military could take on the militias.  But the Sunni guerrillas (the fighters who are truly indigenous, not from far-flung South Asia or Southeast Asia) are simply not going to let either of these things to take shape because of the very understandable fear that de-Ba’athification means de-Sunni-fication in practice, and “central Iraqi economy and state” means a state run by a coalition of Kurds and Shi’ites, who agree to a bargain to keep the Sunnis down and out, as well as out of their own business in their respective sub-regions of Iraq. 

In sum: militarily, economically, and socially, Iraq is now being run on a day-to-day basis by different politico-religious groupings based on well-defined neighborhoods in urban areas and longstanding tribes in outlying areas.  It is starting to border on fantasy to assume this will change. The best hope to avoid this de-centralized, district-based rule was to avoid wholesale de-Ba’athification.  The damage was done in 2003 and now we have to live with the consequences.

If unity happens on a more substantial basis, it will likely happen as a slow evolutionary process of complex micro-level interactions between different tribes, sects, and groups, as was true of state building in many other parts of the world.  It isn’t pretty, but it is how today’s stronger states have historically evolved. 

This leads to the basic question: how to make such an arrangement stable, peaceful, and secure, in a way that doesn’t undermine regional security and the global economy?  On this, I agree with most of Juan Cole’s suggestions.

First, a confederal Iraq (with a bunch of Sunni tribes in outlying border areas doing pretty much what they want) can only be stabilized and regularized if every single neighbor is brought into the process. 

This means finally admitting that Iran is not the primary supporter of Iraqi internal terrorism or insurgency, and in fact, that Iran has played its cards cautiously and pragmatically since March 2003, as pointed out by the International Crisis Group in various reports.  Iran has been schizophrenic, like the U.S. (and like all other neighbors of Iraq) in supporting various factions here and there so as to avoid all worst-case outcomes while at the same time giving relatively higher support to like-minded groups. 

So, Iran has aided virulently pro-Tehran leaders and groups, but not nearly to the extent monetarily or militarily as some analysts would have you believe.  Further, Iran has aided secular groups and even the current central government, in large part because in the end, Najaf is not Qom and Baghdad is not Tehran, and Ayatollah Sistani does not care at all for the Iranian melding of the Koran with authoritarian religious rule (believing that Shariah law must have a central moral role in law-making is not the same as iron-fisted rule by theocrats). 

So, Iran actually is spreading its various forms of aid in ways that avoids an overly strong, overly sectarian, overly-ideologized central grouping that could grow to challenge Iran on religious as well as political grounds. 

Sound familiar?  It should.  It is basically the strategy of all Iraq’s neighbors: keep Iraq together, but keep it weak.  If you believe that America’s six Arab “friends” in the Gulf are acting any differently from Tehran in this regard, then there is a bridge I could sell you in NY.   

Put another way: the balance of power and Realpolitik are not just concepts for international relations; they are the central concepts being applied to internal Iraqi affairs by Iraq’s neighbors.  Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Kuwait, and other Gulf Arab Monarchies are playing balance-of-power politics in Iraq, just as Syria and Israel and others once did in Lebanon with various factions. 

Within this paradigm, Saudi Arabia will of course give more relative support to those Sunni groups that accept the Saudi version of Wahhabi Islam, just as Iran will support similar groups in its favor.  And the Turks will aid the Turkomans to the extent possible to provide challenges to Kurdish militia leaders.

But, neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran, nor any other neighbor, is interested in a strong Iraqi state dominated by any such groups.  Hence the sly practice of aiding other forces as well.  If this sounds familiar, again, it should, because it’s what major corporations do in aiding politicians during election campaigns: relatively higher support goes to Republicans, but the Dems get a fistful of dollars as well.  It’s called playing the odds and spreading your bets, and Iran and Syria are no more “rogue-ish” in doing this within Iraq than any of the other neighbors. 

This reality of neighborly love for confederal fragmentation can work to the benefit of stability or against it.  It is the US job to use its muscle and pull to make sure that the neighbors’ strategy is coordinated (or at least constrained) in a way that supports a stable confederal arrangement rather than leading to all-out civil war, as happened in Lebanon. 

As Juan Cole points out, a much worse civil war could still break out, and if millions die because of it, the blood would be on our hands.  And, of course, such a war would severely disrupt oil supplies in the Gulf, leading to all sorts of nasty international outcomes. 

So what does this mean in practical terms?  First, it means customs, customs, customs, and border patrols, border patrols, border patrols.  It means defining a new military mission for the US that puts all of its gee-whiz high-tech gadgets to use with not only friends and allies, but also enemies such as Iran, in the region, to avoid a very real scenario of highly-trained Islamic insurgents leaving Iraq and destabilizing all neighboring states. 

At a recent Stanley Foundation off-the-record dialogue in Dubai, involving experts and officials from all 6 Arab monarchies, one of the main central security concerns expressed was this scenario: newly trained insurgents-cum-terrorists leaving Iraq when it finally stabilizes and destabilizing everything they can around it. 

I would venture to say that the same fear holds true for Syria (which has secular Ba’athist rule, not radical Wahhabi Islamic rule) and Iran, whose Shi’ite religious basis is antithetical to the radical Islamic insurgents being trained in terrorist methods in Iraq.  In fact, the most radical Sunni sects (which have followers in Iraq originating from far-flung areas such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia) believe that if you kill a Shi’ite child, you go to heaven. 

In sum: The first recommendation is that the US does everything in its power to aid all of Iraq’s neighbors in setting up a customs and border security “firewall” around Iraq. 

Second, see Juan Cole’s full column, which makes acid points about America’s dysfunctional and infeasible policies toward Syria and Iran, as well as good military and logistical points about how to get US troops out. 

What Juan doesn’t do is admit that the current reality is the future reality; he still holds out hope for a strong and meaningful centralized Iraqi state.  At this point in the game, though, the option of a stable confederal state – with an internationally recognized government that handles diplomacy but which has few real powers internally beyond coordinating common security policies between militias where common interests exist – should be studied further as a potentially more realistic and feasible goal of US policy. 

But this is not as pragmatic as it sounds: it means dumping decades of rogue-state strategies based on coercive diplomacy toward Iran and Syria, and actually engaging them, Richard Nixon-goes-to-China style.  This would constitute a radical policy shift for both Dems and Republicans, but it is one that is necessary and long overdue (see for instance the Stanley Foundation Policy Analysis Brief, “Realistic Solutions for Solving the Iranian Nuclear Crisis.”) 

Michael Kraig

The Stanley Foundation

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