Democracy Arsenal

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August 18, 2005

The Foe We Face
Posted by Stanton Denman

Hello, my name is Stanton, one of the people Lorelei asked  to post while she's gone-- I'm still scratching my head over that, as I don’t have the impressive credentials of the other folks here. As for me, I've been an actor, musician, landscaper, journalist, and now a contractor for the government (be a musician, if you get the choice), but I won't bore you with my ADD resume any more.

I was reading this about the car bombings in Baghdad yesterday. Couple things:

1) there is seething anger at what was done, stoked by non-stop coverage of the event, a first in Iraq; anger at those behind the bombings, but also and especially at occupation forces and the Iraqi government for lack of protection.  Why the extra rage for what seems a weekly occurrence?  IMO, there was something exceptionally remorseless about the bombings yesterday-- something especially vicious that stabbed at the hearts of Baghdadis. Perhaps because, asassination-tag between Sunni and Shia militias aside, insurgents had lately been targeting US or Iraqi forces and not civilians, and there was an unspoken hope that despite looming violence, the rest of Iraqi society would be more or less left alone. Perhaps because there seems progress, even if it turns out illusory, towards a constitution, and a real government could actually be envisioned in the distance like an oasis.  For whatever reason, it seems many Iraqis had let themselves hope-- just a bit--  and this return to savagery was a numbing blow.  This was a methodical, triple hit, with especially cruel intentions-- on a police station, then two civilian targets, the second a hospital. The bombers could have easily hit the police station with each -- but they didn’t: one bomb to intimidate police, one bomb to kill Shias travelling south at the bus terminal, and a finale down the street at the hospital entrance, as the injured streamed through its doors .  As COL Kurtz says to Willard towards the end of Apocalypse Now:

And then I I was  shot...Like I was shot with a diamond...a diamond bullet right  through my forehead...And I thought: My God...the genius of that. The  genius. The will to do that.

The will to do that.

Posturing aside, do we as nation-- truly-- have the stomach for this fight?  We know the answer-- we don't, which is why even the old faithfuls on the right on are starting to get happy feet.  If anyone thinks a quick exit isn't already being planned at the highest levels, I invite them to read this front page story from Sunday's Washington Post.  So we will be getting out, sooner than later. But we can't leave overnight, and the Iraqis (except the educated urbanites we desperately need to stay there) can't leave at all.

Well, then, what does the future hold?

2) Some of the witness statements are chilling predictors, with or without US troops there. From a taxi driver at the terminal:

"I was waiting to get two more passengers to go to Kut when this explosion occurred," he said. "I found myself bleeding and my car damaged. Why would anyone detonate his car here? Are they trying to kill passengers, but for what purpose? Only because most of the ones traveling south are Shiites?"

A reminder, from the bombers and their support network to the rest of the country -- especially Shias-- that, a) the sectarian fight ain't over, it's a multi-pronged war, and they are capable of fighting both simultaneously, and; b) their abilities to execute these types of sophisticated operations have, if anything, become enhanced.  An ominous calling card for when the inevitable US withdrawal occurs, and they can focus their murderous attention on other, much less challenging targets.

This, though, disturbed me most:

"But how can we stop these attacks?" asked a woman who identified herself as Um Karim, a passenger in a bus that had just turned out of the terminal onto a main street when the third bomb exploded. "We have a saying in Arabic: 'It's hard to catch the thief if he is a member of the family.' That's our predicament."

It's now fairly obvious, at least to me, that US forces will never "get inside the decision-making loop" of the insurgency. But now it appears that the native Iraqis doing intel work with the best of intentions may fare no better; her quote is a haunting look at just how buried the insurgency is, and how vicious and anonymous this fight will continue to be, even after US forces begin to leave. Imagine our own Civil War, fought without uniforms.

As we make our plans for the future, we need to look down the road, at the evolution of the foe both the US and the Iraqi governments will be facing.  The picture I see is bleak.  To paraphrase Paul Rieckhoff (sp?) of Operation Truth: you can't plan unless you establish a baseline.  And part of the baseline is finding out the capability of the opponent. It seems, as we start to truly  gauge the opponent's capabilities, that our government is now tripping over itself to get out of Dodge, while Iraqis, who have borne witness to the inabilities of our war machine against this wraith, are now coming to terms with both the monumental cruelty of the war to come, and the increasing likelihood that it will be theirs to fight alone.

I'm not smart enough to have or even suggest a solution. But I do know it's past time we take a long hard look at where we are, and what we have wrought.

August 17, 2005

The Definition of A Noble Cause
Posted by David Adesnik

Luke_stricklin_1 There's about a forty mile stretch of US-29 that runs from Opal to Ruckersville in central Virginia.  In my mind, those forty miles are the graveyard of rock 'n roll.  From Washington DC down to Opal, you can listen to DC101.  One you make it down to Ruckersville, you can pick up 91.9 WNRN coming out of Charlottesville.

The only station I've found that comes in clearly from Opal down to Ruckersville is 93.3 WFLS, "Virginia's Best Country".  Living in a red state for the past twelve months, I've often thought that I should try my best to develop an appreciation for red state music.  To be honest, it hasn't worked out that well.  Often, I just turn off the radio and enjoy the scenery from Opal down to Ruckersville.

But this time I was driving after dark and really needed some music to keep my energy levels up.  And what I heard blew my mind.  First I heard Trace Adkins sing Arlington.  It's a wonderful song.  It's a story told by a soldier killed in Iraq who discovers that he is being buried in Arlington National Cemetery.  He tells us not to cry for him because:

I'm proud to be on this peaceful piece of property,
I'm on sacred ground and I'm in the best of company,
I'm thankful for those things I've done,
I can rest in peace, I'm one of the chosen ones, I made it to Arlington.

I often wonder about the Red States' support for the war in Iraq.  Conservatives have always distinguished themselves by their readiness to use force in order to protect the United States from those who threaten it. 

But now that Saddam's cache of chemical and biological has been exposed as a phantom, why do Red State voters support the war?  Is it because they support the president, full stop?  Is it because they support the soliders, full stop?  Or have a good number of them actually converted to George Bush's crusading democratic faith, which has so little in common with conservatives' traditional definition of the national interest?

In the second verse of Arlington, the narrator recalls that:

I remember Daddy brought me here when I was eight,
We searched all day to find out where my Granddad lay,
And when we finally found that cross,
He said, "Son this is what it cost to keep us free".

The narrator this implies that Iraq is also a war "to keep us free".  But how many Americans buy that?  Although I adamantly support the war on the grounds that only the democratization of the Middle East can ensure our ultimate victory in the War on Terror, there is only a distant and complex relationship between my personal freedom and the war in Iraq.  If conservatives' support for the war derives its strength from a sense of America being threatened, how long can that support truly last?

And then I heard Luke Stricklin sing American By God's Amazing Grace.  Luke Stricklin (photo above) is a National Guardsman who returned this past March from a twelve month tour of duty in Iraq.  There is no description that can do justice to his song, so I will simply reprint the lyrics, which even without the music are compelling and inspirational:

Bottom of my boots sure are gettin' worn
There's a lot of holes in this faded uniform
My hands are black with dirt and so is my face
I ain't never been to hell
But it couldn't be any worse than this place.
Tell my wife don't worry 'cause I know what to do
It makes you feel better sometimes, but don't know if it's true.
I know if I die it's just my time to go
But I pray to God every day that I may get back home.

Chorus: Well when you've seen what I've seen
Things don't seem so bad
Quit worrying 'bout what you ain't got, thank God for what you have
'Cause I could be raising my family in this place
But I was born an American
By God's Amazing Grace.

For the last twelve months I've had a new address
The neighborhood smells like sewage and the streets are lined with trash.
You never know what's gonna be the next thing to explode
But unlike these people, I have another home.
It breaks my heart to see these kids out on the streets
Walking barefoot through the trash, diggin' for something to eat.
I give them what I got, just to let them know I care
And I thank God it's not my son that's standing there.


You want to talk about it, you better keep it short
'Cause I got a lot of lost time I gotta make up for.
Really don't care why Bush went in to Iraq
I know what I done there and I'm damn sure proud of that.

You got somethin' bad to say about the USA
You better save it for different ears 'less you want to crawl away.
And I laugh in your face when you say you've got it bad
Until you've spent some time on the streets of Baghdad.


After recovering from my initial shock, I began to wonder if Karl Rove had written that song.  (You can listen to some of it here.) How could an actual Guardsman from Arksanas, just 23 years old, who suffered through twelve months in Iraq, feel that way about the war? Of course, I feel that way about the war.  But it isn't my life on the line.  I haven't had to test my ideology against the actual experience of democracy promotion.

I seriously did wonder if the song was some sort of hoax.  But for what it's worth, the Associated Press did a story on Luke Stricklin, so I'm going to assume that he really is the real thing.  It turns out that Stricklin first recorded the song in Iraq using a $25 guitar that an Iraqi boy found for him at a street market.  With the help of laptop and microphone, he went to work.  Once again, it's a story almost impossible to believe.

This is the definition of a noble cause.  This is the answer to Cindy Sheehan's question.  Luke Stricklin doesn't have a team of speechwriters or a degree in international relations.  Nor does he describe America as threatened, like Trace Adkins does.  He is simply proud of what he and his country have been able to do on behalf of others.

In contrast to Bush, Stricklin openly acknowledges that there are serious questions to be asked about why the United States invaded Iraq.  But now our mission is clear.  (See boldface above.  Emphasis added.)  Surely it is noble to defend one's homeland from foreign attack.  But how much more noble is it to risk one's life in order to protect a nation of strangers from deprivation and terrorism?

Perhaps it is not wise for the United States to commit so much blood and treasure to the struggle for democracy in Iraq.  Perhaps.  But it most certainly is noble.

August 16, 2005


Good News from the Islamic World
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just as the Bush Administration decides to throw in the towel on post-conflict nation-building, there’s some good news from the slow-mo, frustrating, not-with-a-blunt-instrument side of the house where conflicts sometimes actually get resolved and nations get built.

It was easy to miss – one graf in the New York Times announcing the signing of a peace agreement in Aceh, the rebellious province of Indonesia where fighting since 1976 has claimed 9,000 lives and raised concerns about Islamic fundamentalism.  (To be fair, more coverage in the Washington Times and quite a bit more coverage in the Washington Post.  What’s the Grey Lady’s problem?)

"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">A previous agreement, signed in 2002, fell apart in five months.  But while my former employers the International Crisis Group caution that the road ahead will be difficult, their peerless Indonesia expert Sidney Jones writes that “’can-do’ excitement is in the air, however, as though the impossible may just be achievable.”

There's also some decent coverage on the BBC, but I'm going to plug ICG's report again, because the detail are fascinating.  Anyone thinking about how conflict resolution and peacemaking actually happen in the post-Iraq era ought to give it a look.

Why did this happen now?  Three reasons, says ICG:  Indonesia’s newly-elected vice president wanted to make a deal and reached out; Indonesia’s military offensive of the previous year had weakened GAM rebels on the ground; and the tsunami, which hit Aceh harder than any other region, had given everyone the opportunity to look for a fresh start.

A peace in Aceh has huge potential significance for the prospects of settling the archipelago’s other simmering conflicts and ultimately for the future of stability, democracy and moderate Islam in the world’s largest Muslim nation. 

After the peace was mediated not by the UN, US or ASEAN, but by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari (who helped pull the Kosovo peace out of a hat in June 1999), monitoring will be provided by a coalition of the EU and five southeast Asian nations.    ICG has some good specific points on what else is needed from the donor community.

It’s great to see the EU in the lead on the security side here; this is why common EU security institutions are good for US interests.  Now let’s see the US step up (and follow through) on the donor side to help a Muslim nation out.  And, press and punditocracy, let’s highlight what just might be a major Islamic peace success in the making.  (Remember, Indonesia is the world's one Islamic country where views of the US are improving.  Why?  Aid after the tsunami.)


Deadline Politics
Posted by Derek Chollet

So, they missed the first deadline.

Voting for an extension dressed it up to save face, but make no mistake: they missed it, and while there’s a lot of positive words coming out of Baghdad (and Washington and Crawford) about how this is just democracy at work, today’s papers are also filled with some pretty ominous statements – about how 50% of the constitution is left to be finished, that all the tough issues (federalism, role of Islam, share of oil revenues) are still left on the table, and that if things don’t get finished by next Monday, they will dissolve the parliament and call for new elections.  In a situation where it seems that political crisis/stalemate equals discredited government equals refueled insurgency equals our troops need to stay for a long time to keep a lid on things, this is not good news.

That said, I have to say that I am of two minds about this: part of me agrees with Noah Feldman, who today says that the American efforts to push the Iraqis to meet the artificial deadline were “shameful” and “constitutional malpractice,” and that is more important to get things done right than quickly (also, there is something about the image of U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalizad, on the floor of the Iraqi parliament working folks over like Hastert and DeLay that seems a little off to me).

But on the other hand, I also believe that the faster the journey to a credible political outcome – the constitution and the two rounds of elections – the more likely there will be a conducive environment to start reducing our military commitment to Iraq (and on this point, I actually agree with something Henry Kissinger wrote last week—that one way to help support Iraq’s political development is by creating a kind of regional political framework for Iraq’s future, bringing in Iraq’s neighbors and our key allies to help establish the rules of the road and to support the new government).

Here is where I want to put my two cents behind the glum prediction that Heather just outlined below: I think we are going to get out of Iraq, slowly but surely.  That’s why the Administration is pushing so hard for the Iraqis to hit these deadlines (that we created, by the way), so they can say that benchmarks have been met, Iraqi troops are being trained, and now is the time for us to turn things over to the legitimate Iraqi government.  They’ll argue that if things get a little ugly in our wake, so be it.  We gave it our best shot, it’s their country, and it is now for them to handle.  (This scenario, by the way, looks a lot like one that has been floated by outside analysts).

Part of this is politics—the American people are starting to clamor for us to get out.  But a big part of this is military necessity—I don't know of a single military expert who believes that we can sustain the pace of deployments in Iraq much longer without breaking the force.  And if we need troops to deal with another contingency – North Korea, Iran, Taiwan – forget it.  So if in many ways we have to get out, the Administration wants to lower the bar and create a scenario to declare, well, mission accomplished.

Now I don’t think we will get out entirely – in two years time, we might still have 50,000 troops there.  This is still cutting our troops at current levels by about one-third, but leaving there significantly more than we’ve had in South Korea for over fifty years.

And this is where – politically speaking for progressives -- I want to make Heather’s prediction gloomier.  Because if a slow but steady withdrawal is the future, then progressives will be split between the “get-out-of-Iraq-now” faction, who will claim that we’re not getting out fast enough, and the “complete the mission” faction that will agree with leaders like Joe Biden and John McCain that we need to stay in Iraq (and if anything, increase our troop strength) to get the job done right.  Threading this needle will be one the huge challenges for progressives in the months ahead.

August 15, 2005


A Glum Prediction
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I see a scenario unfolding in which progressives and moderates find ourselves calling for more troops while the Administration touts its troop withdrawals.  I see it coming fast, before the end of this year.  And I really don't like it.

If they salvage a constitution, there is a referendum this fall -- and it looks like a rather contentious one.  Otherwise, there are new elections.  So more votes -- and a more dramatic need for extra security -- no matter what.

But with perfect timing, Administration officials leaked like a sieve on plans to "settle for far less than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months" to the Washington Post over the weekend.

Sure sounds as if the Administration is serious about those drawdown balloons they've been floating, even if the uniformed military is not. 

Am I too paranoid to expect that those of us who try to balance our desire to extract the US from the mess we have made with a strong concern that we leave Iraq not less stable or even less democratic than we found it are likely to find ourselves calling for more troops?

And the American public, quite reasonably not understanding why we haven't gotten things in order by now, is telling every pollster in sight that they're having none of that.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and the Administration will step up and do what it needs to for relatively secure votes.  (I'm not even getting into whether those votes will accomplish anything.)  But I have this grim feeling that my principled desire to do right by Iraq resembles nothing so much as Charlie Brown running up to kick that ol' football.   

And here's a side question for you constitutional scholars out there:  why does an easily-amended constitution make it more like that Iraq can "grow into a democracy" than one like ours, which is quite difficult to change?  (Goodness knows we've done a bunch of "growing" since 1781.)   

Since the anonymous Administration officials chose the "growing into" metaphor, I'll continue it.  Is a constitution more analogous to my baby's shoes, which do need to be changed frequently, or to the household rules under which my family lives, which may be interpreted differently as babies, children and adults come and go, but shouldn't fundamentally change much? 

Defense, Democracy, Iraq, Middle East, Progressive Strategy, Proliferation, Terrorism

Foiled by Assumptions
Posted by Michael Kraig

I am writing in my capacity as a temporary replacement for Lorelei Kelly as she takes a much-needed vacation.   And as a new voice, I would like to comment on some assumptions about international security that centrists and progressives hold in common with the conservatives, which consequently undermines attempts to arrive a truly different security paradigm that can be held up as a strong, coherent alternative.

First, David Adesnik said in a post about Cindy Sheehan, "And what if the Ba'athists and their Al Qaeda allies prevail in that war and transform Iraq into a staging ground for international terrorists attacks, a la Afghanistan except with oil?"  This is a mischaracterization of what's happening in Iraq, and it is an error that points to larger US policy community assumptions in general about connections between groups, and between states and groups.  The fact is that there are multiple fights, battles, and mini-wars going on in Iraq, by myriad groups, and though the Ba'athists and Al-Qaeda fighters may indirectly benefit from the chaos and fear that each is creating, they are NOT creating this chaos and fear with an eye to helping each other (and, they are not the only ones doing it; representatives from nearly every group are involved).  Nor is there any compelling evidence that they are actively planning and coordinating their activities together.  The Ba'athists are fighting for their once Sunni-dominated homeland; the foreign insurgents are taking the opportunity created by Bush to cause as much chaos and pain as possible in the cause of overturning the globalizing status quo in the Middle East.  Rest assured, if the Ba'athists were to finally win (even if just over a slice of the original Iraq), they will ruthlessly root out the foreign insurgents -- of any kind, creed, ideology, religion, or national origin - and rest assured, the foreign insurgents will fight them to the death (or, go next door to Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, where they can cause more trouble for years to come for those governments).   For instance, at a recent Stanley Foundation dialogue in Dubai, it was made quite clear that the biggest fears of Iraq's neighbors is not an alliance of insurgents within Iraq, that then make a strong Iraqi state that supports terrorism, but rather, an eventual return of foreign insurgents to the lands from which they first originated.  In short: they fully expect the foreign fighters to be kicked out at some point in the foreseeable future, because they do not assume that these foreign fighters agree with any other group, or ally with any other group.  Rather, the assumption (which I believe is correct) is that these groups are opportunists, quite separate from the Ba'athists, who simply wish to wreak as much havoc as possible -- and when Iraq gets its act together, whether in Sunni or Shi'ite form, then these foreign terrorists will raise literal hell elsewhere.   

With this in mind, I'm not sure it really matters whether the centrists and leftists be seen as appeasers in 2008 elections, because the entire threat and entire problem is being defined incorrectly from the beginning, by both conservatives and liberals alike -- much as Vietnam and the infamous "domino theory of communist expansion" were ruled by misconceptions on each side of the DC spectrum throughout that entire war.   The question is not whether we stay or go, but whether we are willing to admit just how big a mess it really is, and recognize the true costs of cleaning it up, and admit what kind of transnational (not national) terrorist legacy it is going to leave behind.  Iraqi stability and unity should be a goal -- but this goal will not be reached if characterize the problem incorrectly.

Another example: I find on Democracy Arsenal (and other blogs) a certain amount of agreement with the status quo policy conception that the anger in the Middle East is due to internal, domestic repression/oppression/injustice under autocratic governments, and that the anger toward Israel, the West, the US, and the globalizing world order is a byproduct of this, or an escape valve for this.   Indeed, I've heard this from numerous US officials and non-officials throughout my work for the Stanley Foundation; you could almost call it a standing epistemic agreement in the US policy community. 

Unfortunately, it's wrong -- or at least, half-wrong.  There is of course an "escape valve" factor at work here.  But after traveling to the Near East and the Persian Gulf for a combined total of two months this year (in a cross-country outreach tour for a Stanley product translated into Arabic), what I found was nearly everyone saying that "democracy" is not just about internal practices -- there is also an international dimension to justice, development, and democracy.  And this is where anger toward perceived neo-colonialist aggression, not too different from the British mandate in Egypt and the French mandate in Lebanon and Syria, comes in.  The truth is that people feel oppressed at one in and the same time by their own governments (internally) AND by perceived anti-Islamic, anti-Arab forces at the international or global level (externally), and neither of these exists in a vacuum apart from the other.  There is a palpable feeling throughout the Middle East that their values and way of life are potentially or actually under assault by hostile attempts to subvert true Arabism and Islamism and turn it into a Western template.  Israel's actions fall under this umbrella, but by no means is it just Israel alone; Israel is just sort of the lead "indicator", if you will, of overall Western intentions, especially US intentions. 

Put another way, and a bit more broadly: a Chinese analyst complained to me some years ago that Americans talk about democracy all the time, but they subvert it all the time.  I asked what he meant.  And he sincerely said that international institutions, and international rule of law, were the international equivalent of domestic democracy within sovereign states.  He said that China had finally bought into the conception promulgated by the Clinton Administration in the 90s that the NPT, the CTBT, the ICC, etc. and so on, were legitimate institutions to join and adhere to -- and the internal Chinese debate had been won on this score in part because it was "sold" by analysts within China as "international democracy" -- with soveriegn states as the individuals comprising the electorate.  But, this analyst complained, now the US is abusing the UN, failing to ratify the CTBT, disregarding key obligations of the NPT, and is slowly but surely weaponizing outer space.   In this analyst's view, this was "undemocratic" behavior at the international level, even though it was all being done due to democratic decisions made by the US within its own domestic level of politics. 

Long story short: this is how many Arabs feel about Iraq, Palestine, and about globalization in general.    And this is why the assumption mentioned above is a very dangerous one to hold, particularly for progressives trying to lay out true alternatives to the current policy status quo.  Yes, it is necessary to support democracy internally within Middle East states; yes, if people were not repressed domestically (and were not as poor economically, for some countries) in the Middle East, they probably wouldn't hate Israel, Europe, or the US as much as they currently do.  But would this anger and hate disappear if the Middle East were democratized at the domestic level?  The answer is, simply, no.  Because the feelings about lack of justice, or lack of democracy, at the INTERNATIONAL level are just as acute and just as real for many citizens and officials alike throughout the Middle East, and only the US supporting the rule of law at the international level will appease this anger and truly bring about a sea-change in relations and perceptions.  We may not see ourselves this way, but many in the Middle East (including rigorous analysts) really don't make much of a distinction between colonial Britain in Egypt, colonial France in Syria, and now today, the US in Iraq and Israel in Palestine.   It's all pretty much the same to them: international repression against pan-Arab and pan-Islamic identity (and for many citizens in the Middle East, they still even today feel just as much allegiance to pan-Arab culture as they do to the culture of their own sovereign nation; hence, purely national-domestic efforts at democratization are not meeting the culture of the region as it actually exists, in a transnational/international as well as national context).  Unless the progressive community in the US comes to grips with this reality, we really aren't offering true alternatives to the accepted assumptions of US foreign policy today.   


Confessions of a Battle-Shy Raptor
Posted by Michael Osborne

Angryman responds (August 9), to my piece (August 8), on the Iraqi constitution by grousing that I "backhand the left as a mere afterthought" to my "generally misguided theme."

"Enlist, chickenhawk.  Enlist," he admonishes.

Clearly, Angryman is too angry to explain why he considers me "misguided."  Or to engage on the merits otherwise.  Moreover, he cannot know that, not being a U.S. citizen, I am ineligible to serve.

But let us suppose I was a citizen.  Would I enlist in the United States army?  Let me be clear: Not bloody likely.  For one thing, as Angryman rightly senses, I am chicken.  There.  I said it.  (On reflection, my cowardice would be irrational; I suspect any given enlistee's chances of dying in Iraq are not significantly greater than of being killed on the interstate).

For another thing, my economic opportunities in civilian life mean it would just make no economic sense to enlist.  Let us not hide from the fact that the U.S. army is now effectively a mercenary force.

From the point of view of those who, like Angryman, vehemently opposed the war from the start, those who back it from the comfort of their armchairs make irresistible targets.  (Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 may be the most mendacious movie ever made.  Yet I could not help enjoying the fat man's earnest attempt to coax congressmen into signing up their sons.)

As a matter of logic, there is, of course, nothing inconsistent in my arguing for an initiative entailing others doing work I would not myself consider.  Why should a councilor not vote for a environmental cleanup that would necessitate workers wading in rank cesspools, just because he himself would not touch the job with a bargepole?  And, to reply to a cheap shot sometimes hurled at liberals, why precisely am I disentitled to vote for a tax hike by the fact that I would not voluntarily pay my share into the public coffers, short of a tax law compelling everyone else also to do so?

That being said, I think that war is one area where pure logic runs out.  Fighting, dying and killing for one's country are just too emotionally and symbolically freighted to permit cool public policy analysis to be insulated from one's personal fears, commitments and aspirations.  So, let me agree with Angryman to this extent: the enthusiasm with which those of us who back the war do so must be tempered by careful consideration of the atrocious costs our position impose upon others -- and searching reflection on whether we would be willing to bear those costs ourselves.


Adventures of a Hero of Mulilateralism
Posted by Michael Osborne

Responding to my post of yesterday, in which I made the point that France had intervened without UN authorisation in the civil war in Côte d'Ivoire, KB says that “when the French deployed in 2002 it did so at the request of the legitimate government of the IC and therefore didn't need UN say so.”

The French action has not been adjudicated in any international tribunal but I suspect that if it was it might well be found to have been unlawful. For one thing, by the time the French arrived on the scene a large portion of the north of the country had been seized by opponents of President Laurent Gbagbo, who had thereafter requested French assistance.  Under international law, if rebel forces succeed in acquiring control over a significant portion of the country, the conflict advances to a state of "insurgency," by which time the government's inability to control the entirety of its territory renders its claim to legitimacy uncertain.  Short of U.N. authorisation, states are then expected to refrain from offering assistance to either side in the conflict, inasmuch as any assistance would likely influence the outcome of what has now become a civil war.

August 14, 2005

Democracy, Middle East

Nothing to fear in Egypt except fear itself?
Posted by David Adesnik

Mona_eltahawyIn a WaPo opinion column, Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy (photo opposite) reports that during her annual visit to Cairo, many of her friends told her that the Egyptian people had "broken the barrier of fear" on which the Mubarak regime depends for its longevity.  Eltahawy writes that:

I have never heard so many relatives and friends take such an interest in Egyptian politics or -- more important -- feel that they had a stake in them. This opposition movement holds almost weekly demonstrations. It draws Egyptians from across the political spectrum: leftists, liberals and Islamists. And, more worrisome for Mubarak, it has solid roots in the country's middle class: Journalists, lawyers, judges and university professors have all thrown their hats in.

Before taking an active interest in Egyptian politics, Eltahawy's friends were preoccupied with the sins of America and Israel in Palestine and Iraq.  Eltahawy doesn't say, but seems to imply, that the projection of her friends' anger abroad was the inevitable consequence of thier impotence on the homefront.  But now that has changed:

In Cairo I met reform activists and was lucky enough to march with 300 fellow Egyptians in a demonstration through Shubra, a working-class neighborhood weighed down by the unemployment and poverty that are constant concerns for many Egyptians. It was the first time since the anti-Mubarak protests began in December that protesters had taken their message to the street.

Riot police, who had previously confined demonstrations to one spot, were nowhere to be seen. Most of us knew it was because two days before the protest, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had admonished the Egyptian government for the May beatings and said that peaceful supporters of democracy should be free from violence.

In other words, words get results.  As Eltahawy rightly observes, the Bush administration must keep up the pressure if it wants to see real results.  Democracy is still a long way off, but its foundations are now being laid. 

And to think that just seven months ago, the prospect of serious reform in Egypt was almost unimaginable.  Only the fools seemed to believe back in February that "the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

Democracy, Iraq, Progressive Strategy

Cindy Sheehan, Democratic Savior?
Posted by David Adesnik

Sheehan2No matter what you think of her politics, you have to give Cindy Sheehan credit for staging one of the most brilliant pieces of political theater that Americans have encountered in a very long time.

Conservatives such as Michelle Malkin and Bill O'Reilly have blasted the liberal media for lavishing attention on an unworthy protest, but that hardly takes away from what Sheehan has accomplished.  After all, there are countless efforts made by anti-war protesters which don't result in this kind of coverage.  But Sheehan did a perfect job of framing herself as a lonely voice in the wilderness of Crawford, attempting to soften the heart of an American pharoah hiding behind the darkened windows of his limousine.  And as the NYT points out, Sheehan had the good luck (or perhaps the good sense) to stage her protest in the "slow news month" of August, when journalists are almost desperate for news.

But the broader question here for Democrats is not whether they can learn from Sheehan's tactics, but whether they should embrace her success as the foundation for a full-frontal assault on Bush's war policy.  Thus we come back to the question of what exactly Sheehan's politics are.  Although Sheehan hasn't been terribly consistent in her criticism of Bush, there is no question about what her politics are now: The war in Iraq is not a noble cause.  Pull out now before any more of our soldiers get killed.

In a certain sense, the question of whether or not to embrace Sheehan is same as the question Democrats faced in January of 2004: Should the party close ranks behind a charismatic anti-war firebrand or should it run to the center by adopting a more nuanced approach to the war?  My sense is that John Kerry's loss has led numerous Democrats to embrace the Sheehan approach.

For example, over at TPM Cafe, blogger cscs asks:

Cindy Sheehan has a simple question for the President:

Is Iraq a noble cause?...I believe Democrats who advocate a "stay the course" plan for Iraq have a responsibility to answer the same question.

So, is Iraq a noble cause?

This question generated 64 responses, almost all of which describe the war in Iraq as a manifest failure, both moral and strategic, that must be brought to an end right now.  Yet as one of those commentators pointed, leading Democrats such as Bill Clinton adamantly insist that we must stand by the people of Iraq as they embark on one of the most improbable and ambitious transitions to democracy in the history of the modern world.

Moreover, Clinton insists that one's support or opposition to the initial invasion of Iraq is absolutely irrelevant to whether we should stand by its people now, in their time of need.  That is the moral case for staying in Iraq and describing it as a noble cause.  Although Cindy Sheehan relentlessly speaks the language of compassion, she never seems to address the question of whether there are Iraqi mothers just like herself who are sending their sons out to fight an extremely dangerous war against Ba'athist and Al Qaeda terrorism and therefore deserve American support that will save many of their children's lives.

But in addition to the moral question of whether to stay the course in Iraq, there is the strategic question as well.  If we pull out of Iraq, then what?  This is another question that neither Sheehan nor her supporters seems willing to answer.  What if the low-grade civil war in progress today erupts into a full-scale bloodletting of the kind that took place in the aftermath of the first Gulf War?  And what if the Ba'athists and their Al Qaeda allies prevail in that war and transform Iraq into a staging ground for internation terrorists attacks, a la Afghanistan except with oil?

But perhaps the most important question for those who support Sheehan is not moral or strategic but partisan politcal.  The advocates of a pullout seem confident in their conviction that it is the moral and practical thing to do.  But what about 2008?

You can call Bush either stubborn or principled, but the bottom line is that he seems dead set on keeping tens of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq for as long as he is President.  And the Republican Congress seems to have few qualms about providing Bush with the necessary funds.  Recently, there has been widespread speculation in the media about the administration's semi-secret plan to pull out, but those stories never seem to pan out.

So what we are looking at for 2008 is another scenario, similar to 2004, in which American soldiers are fighting for their lives and the Democrats aren't sure whether the centrist voters that decide presidential elections will trust a Democratic party that continues to embrace its Vietnam heritage of demanding prudent withdrawals rather than investing ever more resources in the prospect of victory.

My intuition is that the response of centrists will depend on just how badly the war is going.  What the Democrats really need in order to make their anti-war stance both marketable and credible is for the army itself to turn against the war, along with a good number of prominent Republicans.  Otherwise, the GOP will once again be able to brand the Democrats as the party of appeasement and surrender. 

That is really what's at stake in the debate about Cindy Sheehan.  The Democrats have to decide whether they are willing to gamble their political future on the United States losing another war in the manner that it lost Vietnam.  Even opposing that sort of quagmire has had an enduring impact on the Democrats' reputation as guardian of our national security.  If democracy prevails in Iraq, the Democrats may find that they have cemented their status as the minority party of this generation. 

Emeritus Contributors
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