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November 30, 2005


Paying off journalists in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In yet another indication of the Administration's utter obliviousness to the ill-effects of patent hypocrisy in US foreign policy (see here for discussion of virtually the same point re torture), the Pentagon was caught today paying a PR firm millions to plant one-sidedly positive stories in the Iraqi media, while in the meantime training Iraqi journalists on the virtues of independence and the need to avoid accepting payoffs from governments. 

Well over a year after being exposed for trying to pressure and/or squelch Al Jazeera (never mind the still unconfirmed reports that Bush was in fact plotting to bomb the Qatari media outlet's headquarters), is anyone really surprised the Administration is still at it?


France to U.S.: Don't Pull Out
Posted by Derek Chollet

How’s this for strange bedfellows?  George W. Bush and Dominque de Villepin. 

The French Prime Minister, who became famous worldwide for leading the effort against the U.S.-UK diplomacy in the UN Security Council before the Iraq war, is now sounding warnings about the implications of a hasty American withdrawal.

In an interview with CNN yesterday (the relevant sections are below in full, but other than this Reuters report, hardly noticed by others), de Villepin worried aloud about the implications of the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal – especially if this means Iraq going down the tubes.  He’s voicing what seems self-evident to me: that Iraq’s future matters as much to Europe as it does to America – in fact, one could argue that given the reality of geography, a stable Iraq matters more to European countries than it does to the U.S.

As far as I can tell, de Villepin is the first major European official from a government that opposed the war to warn against U.S. pullout, and seems to acknowledge that what the U.S. decides to do matters to them.  Most European officials have followed the line recently repeated by the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, which is: don’t ask us to get involved.

Up to now, what’s been striking is how the European debate has not reflected the debate here in the U.S. at all – the Europeans have not seemed to be thinking much about how a U.S. pullout would impact their interests (this is especially interesting because the Europeans were well aware – and very vocal – in 2003 about how the U.S. invasion would impact their interests).  But de Villepin’s remark shows that they are starting to pay attention: and that at least some are getting worried about what we decide to do here will mean to them.

To me, this also shows that we have leverage that we are not yet using.  The Europeans know that they have an interest in Iraq, and for those countries who are not involved, we have to call them on it.  De Villepin said that “now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.” [emphasis added] 

Righto.  So we should be going to France and others with a clear message: You’ve seen the debate in the U.S., and you know about the pressures to bring the troops home.  It’s going to start happening, and we need your help to do so in a way that it works for all of us – because a stable Iraq matters for all of us.  So put your money where your mouth is.

Now I don’t think that getting countries like France to actually act on its self-interest in this case – that is, helping us ensure that Iraq becomes stable – will be easy or maybe even possible, but it’s certainly worth a shot.  And it’s not like we have a lot of great options. 

Secretary Rice is heading to Europe next week.  Not a bad time to start.

Here’s the relevant portion of the interview [emphasis added]:

Amanpour: France, and you yourself when you were Foreign Minister, was very vocal about the Iraq war. You obviously did not support it and you raised many of the issues that are currently unfolding there right now. What do you think? Do you feel vindicated when you look at what Iraq is going through right now?

De Villepin: No, I think it is of course a very difficult situation; we have gone a long way to begin to establish democracy in Iraq, but still there is a long way to go. And I think the effort should be important in terms of including all the political forces. After the referendum on the constitution, we are going to have general elections in Iraq on the 15th of December, and I think it is a very important moment in order to try to put together all the political and social forces of the country. We know that there are two risks in Iraq still today. One is the division of Iraq which is of course a nightmare for the region. And the second one is a growing role of terrorism. So I think it is very important for the international community to try to put all these forces together to solve the matter and I think we should support the initiative of the Arab League: try to support a better regroupement, coalition of the different political forces, and also make sure that all the countries of the region work together in order to go forward.

Amanpour: But you can see there is a huge amount of difficulty with that...

De Villepin: We knew since the beginning that it was very easy to go to war, but very difficult to get out of Iraq, because of the fragility of the country, because of the sensitivity of the situation in this region. So now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.

Amanpour: Do you believe the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops?

De Villepin: I believe that anything should be done coordinated with the local situation in Iraq and the regional situation. I think that the timetable should be a global timetable. The real timetable is the Iraqi situation. We should avoid at all cost the chaos in Iraq which of course would be disastrous for the whole region.


Pomo Rummy
Posted by Michael Signer

Amid today's news (chronicled below, rather movingly, by Heather) of the President's further recalcitrance on Iraq, Dana Milbank has a WaPo article today recounting an interesting press conference by Donald Rumsfeld. 

In an agile, postmodern, linguistic pirouette, the Secretary attempted to remake reality through words.  Check this out:

[Rumsfeld] declared that the insurgents would, henceforth, no longer be called insurgents.

"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,' " Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, said of his ban on the I-word. "It was an epiphany," he added, throwing his hands in the air.

Encouraging reporters to consult their dictionaries, the defense secretary said: "These people aren't trying to promote something other than disorder, and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,' I think."

It is the funniest thing for an administration allegedly populated by hard-nosed realists -- and dizzy-eyed idealists -- that the head of defense should believe such a postmodern proposition that reality actually just depends on what you call things.   

The Secretary's hardly a fan of France -- or of Old Europe.  But could he be a closeted admirer of Jacques Derrida? 

Continue reading "Pomo Rummy" »


"Nothing Less than Complete Victory"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

so now we're not spreading freedom across the broader Middle East, we're spreading the "hope of freedom."  wonder what's up with that.

I think the rhetoric here is going to misfire with regular folks -- who told pollsters they want a less grandiose vision of America in the world, not a bigger one -- and the spill of statistics on staff colleges, etc. is not going to convince anybody who was looking for a detailed "plan."

It's mostly written to appeal to military families, I think -- maybe that serves as a shorthand for whatever the GOP base is these days.  I'd be interested to know how it plays even there.

I just don't have the heart to pick this one apart in my usual snarky speechwriter fashion.  I just want better from my country.  That's all, folks.  God bless America.


Bush Speech Live: "When our mission of defeating the terrorists is complete..."
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The quotes from Iraqi soldiers are good -- I would've led with them if I were the writer.  The description of how the mission will change is right in line with what military analysts and progressives have been recommended.

But the fundamentals appear unchanged.  And did you hear the extra note of stridency in "we will stay as long as necessary to complete our mission?" 

"We will be able to reduce our troops levels in Iraq without losing our ability to defeat the terrorists."  hmmm

Ah, the new code word is "articifial" timetable.   And now we move through our set of coded attacks on progressives:  "cut and run," "invite new attacks on America..."

and a pledge to those who wear the uniform -- "America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief."

Lord, for the sake of us all I hope he doesn't find himself eating that sentence Beirut-style.

So, we will pull lots of troops, but not all of them.  Maybe the Iraqis will get it together and violence will decrease -- against us and them.  And maybe not.  But I don't think this speech is going to give public opinion something to hold onto... and more violence will lead to cascading withdrawals... and we will be forever stuck in another post-Vietnam "it could have been won/it could never have been won" debate. 


Bush Speech Live -- "Basic Survival Skills"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I just jumped in mid-speech -- thanks to the client who canceled the 10 am call.  I am trying very hard to take off my partisan hat.  I want this strategy to be workable, and to work.  So far I'm hearing lots about staff colleges and training academies -- does anybody really think Iraqis who lived through Saddam, the Iran-Iraq war, and the last three years need help learning "survival skills?"  I continue to wonder whether judging our work in Iraq the way we'd consider accrediting a new educational institution in the US is the right way...

More later.  Steve Clemons has the Administration strategy up here, by the way.

November 29, 2005

Iraq: A Facsimile of a Decent Interval
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In an act of head-spinning revisionism, just two weeks after his Administration vilified John Murtha for wanting to cut and run, tomorrow night Bush will evidently begin preparing the groundwork for withdrawal.  My read is that having concluded that an actual decent interval may prove elusive, the Administration is now exploring alternatives to avoid the appearance that US withdrawal precipitates immediate Iraqi collapse. 

One such measure that Heather discussed last week may involve getting the Iraqis themselves to demand the US's departure.  That way the Administration can say that since the Iraqis told us they could manage without us, we left honorably having no reason to suspect our going would set off out-and-out civil war.   

But NY Times Baghdad Bureau Chief John Burns said last night on Charlie Rose that American commanders are telling incoming troops the following:  when asked whether they want the US to leave Iraqis overwhelmingly say yes, but when asked whether they want us to leave now, the consensus is no.   I don't know if that's true (cannot find any opinion polls to back it up), but we will need to listen carefully to what Iraqis themselves are really saying about the timeline for the US presence.   Progressives and the press need to poke behind official statements.

A second aspect of the strategy involves identifying external indicators that purport to support the potential for a decent interval, like a functioning Iraqi army and peaceful elections on December 15.  Bush apparently intends to make these a focus of his remarks tomorrow night, pointing out the positive and ignoring assessments like this by Toby Dodge of the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

"It's increasingly becoming a war of all against all, with no rules . . . The Iraqi security forces themselves are becoming just another of the players, and if they owe allegiance to anything, it's to their commanders or communities, and not remotely to the state itself."

Even if the calm doesn't hold, the Administration wants enough to point to in order to credibly argue that when they made the decision to pull out, all signs suggested that Iraq would cohere.

Here's where I part ways with Fred Kaplan's otherwise piercing analysis.  He thinks that by starting to draw-down Bush can pull off a political "win-win."  But in light of this fast-evolving Administration strategy, John Murtha did progressives more help than he knew. 

Because of Murtha, the American public is starkly aware of  two competing interpretations of a possible pullout:  Murtha's notion that Iraq is spinning downward but there's nothing more we can do, and Bush's vision that Iraq is turning a corner.   So if we do pull back, Bush's credibility will lie in the hands of the Iraqi insurgency, a force that not even Karl Rove can manipulate.

So the political fates are inextricably entwined with Iraq's fate.  And, right now, Iraq's fate isn't looking good.

Required Reading
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Or CliffsNotes for all those articles "everyone is talking about" that you meant to read, honest you did -- and that I read over Thanksgiving weekend while blogger babe was being loved to pieces by his adoring relatives.  I'll be putting up notes on these one at a time over the next day -- keep checking this post as it grows...

Jim Fallows in The Atlantic on why Iraqis "have no army...and aren't even close."

James Bamford, of Puzzle Palace fame, on the PR firm 'hired by the CIA to help 'create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power'"... in the United States.  It's called The Man Who Sold the War.  (thanks to Steve Clemons for catching this piece -- check out his explanation, over at The Washington Note, of why Bamford is worth reading even if you don't usually peruse Rolling Stone.)

Yep, the new Sy Hersh piece in the New Yorker that everyone is filling up each other's inboxes with.

I'll point you again to the new Pew-CFR poll -- actually, people aren't talking enough about this one -- and my friend Lee Feinstein's insightful commentary on it, which he has been making everywhere, to anyone who will listen. 

And, for amusement, the Daily Telegraph piece on John Bolton that got a write-up in the Times a couple weeks back.

Continue reading "Required Reading" »


Another Bush Speech
Posted by Derek Chollet

Another week, another curtain-raiser for one more “major” Bush speech on Iraq.  So far these speeches have fallen relatively flat -- doing little more than fuel the partisan war in Washington – and have not foreshadowed any new policies. 

But tomorrow’s speech at Annapolis seems to be different – and will be the most important speech Bush has given on Iraq since the debate exploded last June, when the President had to scramble to the prime-time airwaves to steady his course.

As the LA Times first reported over the weekend (and the Wall Street Journal writes today), tomorrow’s speech will be the beginning of the pivot on Iraq – laying the groundwork for a gradual troop withdrawal starting next year.  Bush will apparently praise the training of Iraqi troops, talk about the progress they’ve made, and move beyond his standard “as they stand up we’ll stand down” rhetoric, giving a little more detail to convince people that he really means it.

There are a lot of thoughtful folks who have already outlined what we should be listening for tomorrow (not on the politics, but on the policy), and their questions are worth pondering.  They challenge the Administration, but since they raise questions that all of us who are trying to find a responsible way forward in Iraq are trying to answer, they also challenge us.

For example, CAP’s Brian Katulis (co-architect of the influential “strategic redeployment” strategy that has driven a lot of the debate about what to do within progressive circles) raises important questions that will certainly help poke holes in what Bush says: Are his troop training numbers credible?  How many Iraqis that we say are trained actually work for militias, not the state?  Are we failing to give the Iraqis we are training the equipment they need?  If what we’re doing is working, then why isn’t the insurgency getting smaller?   

But perhaps more important are the questions on Fred Kaplan’s mind, which go to the larger strategic plans (and risks) of a Bush withdrawal:

“How does he plan to do it? Which troops will come out first? How quickly? Where will they go? Under what circumstances will they be put back in? Which troops will remain, and what will they do? How will they keep a profile low enough to make the Iraqi government seem genuinely autonomous yet high enough to help deter or stave off internal threats? Who will keep the borders secure, a task for which the Iraqi army doesn't even pretend to have the slightest capability? What kinds of diplomatic arrangements will he make with Iraq's neighbors—who have their own conflicting interests in the country's future—to assure an international peace?

“More to the point, does the president have a plan for all this? (The point is far from facetious; it's tragically clear, after all, that he didn't have a plan for how to fight the war if it extended beyond the collapse of Saddam.) Has he entertained these questions, much less devised some shrewd answers? If he's serious about a withdrawal or redeployment that's strategically sensible, as opposed to politically opportune, we should hear about them in his speech Wednesday night.”

Let’s hope so.  But don’t hold your breath.

November 27, 2005

Middle East

Is Marwan Barghouti a Palestinian Ariel Sharon?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Barghouti While all eyes are on the December 15 Iraqi elections, January 25 will bring Palestinian parliamentary elections that could have just as much influence over the future of the Middle East.  With Ariel Sharon hard at work building a new party, and Shimon Peres looking likely to assume the role of vice premier with responsibility for negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel seems poised to move forward.

If Fatah sweeps to decisive victory, January's poll could mandate Mahmoud Abbas to press ahead on a deal.  Or it could strengthen the hand of Hamas, reigniting violence and eroding the tentative Israeli political will t0 make the Gaza Strip withdrawal a prelude to a final settlement on the West Bank.   In a hopeful sign, support for Hamas has slipped in the latest polls, with a large majority of Palestinians now saying they support negotiations with Israel.   

In an interesting wrinkle, in Fatah primaries held in Ramallah over the weekend, the overwhelming victor was Marwan Barghouti, a long-time leader who is currently serving five successive life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement in terrorist activities.

The results have fueled speculation that a (long-discussed) pardon for Barghouti may be in the works.   Barghouti, 46 years old, represents a new generation of Palestinian leadership who commands the loyalty of radical youths to a degree Abbas never has.   A former leader of the notorious al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, Barghouti has "street cred" among Palestinians who believe they have no choice but to stand up to Israel through any means possible.

Though he's an avowed terrorist, there's more to Barghouti than his conviction for the deaths of four Israelis and a Greek monk in terror attacks.  He was a participant in and outspoken proponent of the original Oslo peace process in the early 1990s and has always favored a two-state solution.  As a member of the Palestinian legislative council after 1996 he led an aggressive campaign against Arafat's human rights abuses and corruption.  His commitment to clean government positions him to stand up to Hamas' most powerful line of attack against the sometimes feckless Fatah leadership. 

Barghouti has also spoken out against both suicide attacks and attacks against civilians within the green line.  This 2001 profile gives you a feel for the contradictions.

Both the Israeli and the Palestinian people have been pushed by their histories into positions of profound insecurity and deep suspicion of anything that endangers their security or their nationhood. 

Americans get the concept of "Nixon in China."   For both the Israelis and the Palestinians its become clear that at this point, with hopes dashed so often, only tested, trusted hard-liners will be given a mandate to compromise.   Given the drama and emotion that surrounds the conflict, charisma and a larger-than-life personality may be essential ingredients as well.  Shimon Peres' decision to join Sharon signals that even he finally accepts this.

Continue reading "Is Marwan Barghouti a Palestinian Ariel Sharon?" »

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