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March 31, 2006

Democracy, Middle East

Bush Likes Democracy but Doesn't Like Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I guess Bush didn’t get the memo that trying to oust or destabilize democratically-elected leaders and/or governments is probably not the best idea for a country which claims to be the world’s purveyor of democratic ideals. Doesn't exactly do wonders for our credibility. There seems to be a very troubling trend developing here which is part of the overall democracy promotion backlash which both Derek and I have discussed in previous posts.

First, it started with Hamas, which won a commanding majority in January’s surprisingly clean and violence-free elections, forcing the Bush administration engage in dubious verbal acrobatics. It certainly makes sense to not give financial assistance to a government led by a party which refuses to renounce terrorism. Many have made the point that just as Palestinians have the right to elect Hamas, we have the right to not give a Hamas-led government money. That is one thing. It is quite another matter, however, to actively work toward the destabilization of an elected government, which is apparently what the Bush administration was seriously considering as early as two weeks after the election. The logic went that "destabilization" efforts would make governing impossible for Hamas. This would force Mahmoud Abbas to call new elections, which Fatah would presumably win. Status quo ante restored, Scrowcroft style. (See this excellent post by Andrew Sullivan).

Well, fast forward two months and apparently, we now want to get rid of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an Islamist who also happens to be democratically elected.

Continue reading "Bush Likes Democracy but Doesn't Like Ibrahim al-Jaafari" »

Potpourri

Some Specifics (Imagine!) on Immigration
Posted by Michael Signer

In the hot debate about immigration we are desperately in need of cool-headed solutions -- now comes a terrific "Truman Democrat Paper" by my friend Betsy Cooper, who is another Principal of the Truman National Security Project.  The paper, titled "Reforming Immigration:  A Strong Security, Pro-Immigrant Policy for Democrats," outlines a third way on immigration for progressives, that navigates between the quickly-hardening shoals of conservative and liberal sentiment on this volatilre issue.

Betsy's proposal combines both get-tough and be-smart elements in the first truly integrated approach I've seen.  The four pillars of the proposal are:

Continue reading "Some Specifics (Imagine!) on Immigration" »

March 30, 2006

Democracy

Democracy on Defense
Posted by Derek Chollet

I want to second Shadi’s excellent assessment below of the “democracy backlash” and the challenge this poses for progressives, many of whom are looking on in startled amazement, asking how the current Administration has hijacked the democracy agenda and, in turn, undermined it.  I agree that the role democracy promotion should play in future U.S. national security strategy is one of the most important questions we face – not just for how these policies would work abroad, but how they are supported here at home.

Shadi’s argument focuses on Middle East, which is of course Bush’s main focus.  But as Tom Carothers points out in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs, democracy promotion is on the defense in many other places as well – notably Russia, where Putin has systematically dismantled the free press and threatens to effectively shut down domestic NGOs by tying them up in red tape; to Belarus, where President Lukashenko just “won” another rigged election (a result praised by Putin); to Uzbekistan, which effectively booted Freedom House out.  This is happening outside the former Soviet space as well, in places like Zimbabwe -- where Mugabe has driven out foreign NGOs -- and South America -- where leaders like Venezuela’s Chavez routinely rail against U.S. democracy programs.

Add to this the fact that a few recent free-and-fair elections have not gone as hoped – in the Palestinian territories and in the recent Ukraine poll which the hard-liners won (but because of coalition politics will likely not take power) – and many are asking: why is this a good thing?

A survey released today, called the Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index, illustrates this trend.  I have not studied the numbers in detail yet, but here are the relevant conclusions reached:

“Most of the public ranks promoting democracy in other countries as the least important of the foreign policy goals we asked about and seems to doubt the United States can achieve it. Significantly, Americans are divided on whether it will make the United States more secure even if we pull it off. Only 36 percent believe the United States can actively help other countries become democracies, while 58 percent say that ‘democracy [is] something that countries only come to on their own when they're ready for it.’ Six months ago, 50 percent thought the United States was doing well at promoting democracy; this time the number is trending downward to 46 percent. The public is just as skeptical when asked specifically about Iraq. While six in 10 say the United States can at least do ‘something’ to create a democratic Iraq, only 22 percent say it can do ‘a lot.’ In a more general sense, about half (53 percent) say that when more countries become democratic there will be less conflict in the world.”

The message: for those of us who believe that a more democratic world is in U.S. national interests and therefore promoting democratic principles – rule of law, freedom of speech and press, political pluralism, accountable and transparent governance – should be at the core of American foreign policy, we have a lot of work ahead.

Proliferation, Report Blop


Posted by Arsenal Guard

Are we MAD?   Keir A. Leiber and Daryl G. Press claim that the United States is acquiring nuclear primacy - the ability to eliminate an enemy's nuclear retaliatory capability with a first strike - which will end the relative stability of Mutually Assured Destruction.

March 29, 2006

Iraq

Playing Politics in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Jafaari The Bush Administration has waxed often and loftily about the importance of the democratic process in places like Iraq and the Palestinian territories.   After Hamas was voted into office, President Bush intoned: "Democracy can open up the world's eyes to reality by listening to people."

Yet now the Administration is mounting a full court press to get duly selected Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari to step down.  There's no question Jafaari is bad news:  his biggest supporter is notorious radical anti-American sheik Moktada al-Sadr; he has renounced the need to crack down on sectarian militias, instead promising vaguely to integrate them into the state security forces; he is closely aligned with Iran; he has done a poor job running Iraq's ministries and has made little progress toward forging multi-ethnic common ground.  The margin of support he holds is a thin one, having one the Shiite nomination for his post by only one vote.

But here's the problem:  after an invasion and occupation that were both seen as illegitimate, the U.S. - the self-proclaimed champion of Middle East democracy - now finds itself in an open battle to oust a rightfully chosen leader.   Here's Jafaari's complaint:

"There was a stand from both the American government and President Bush to promote a democratic policy and protect its interests . . . But now there's concern among the Iraqi people that the democratic process is being threatened.  The source of this is that some American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process."

If the US succeeds in pushing Jafaari aside, and that Iraqi people perceive the ouster as such, it may only make life more difficult for the 130,000+ soldiers serving in Iraq, as well as for Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad and others who are trying desperately to help patch together a government that can withstand the drag toward civil war.

What's the right approach in this situation? 

Continue reading "Playing Politics in Iraq" »

Democracy, Progressive Strategy

Should We Give Civil War A Chance in Iraq?
Posted by Ike Wilson

Anniversaries are times of reflection.  As this month marks the three-year anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq we should take some time to honestly assess where we are and where we may be heading in our war-policy and war-strategy toward Iraq.  Part of that hard assessment must be a consideration of whether or not our strategic course -- how we have approached the intervention so far -- has been more of a helping-hand or a hindrance in the Iraqi's quest for a national state . . . a democracy.  An honest assessment considers all possibilities.  And so, on behalf of a full and honest accountability, should we ask ourselves the uncomfortable question: could it be possible that how we are intervening may have reached a point where we are actually stifling democratization in Iraq?  As we strive to assist the Iraqis in the construction of their own democratic republic and to avoid a fall into civil war, might we be inhibiting democracy itself?  In short, should we be giving civil war more of a chance?            

Continue reading "Should We Give Civil War A Chance in Iraq?" »

March 28, 2006

Middle East

Israeli Elections: The more things change...
Posted by Gayle Meyers

Israel's polls closed 90 minutes ago, and exit polls show that Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima ("Forward") party won the largest number of seats in the Knesset (parliament), and will most likely be given a chance to form a governing coalition.  Along with the two parties to its immediate left, Labor and Meretz, Kadima would control approximately 55 seats in the 120-seat parliament.  Adding the votes of the far-left Arab-Israeli parties, Kadima will have enough votes to carry out Olmert's plan for unilateral withdrawal from territories of the West Bank. 

However, while he has a parliamentary majority, Olmert can scarcely claim an overwhelming mandate for his controversial plan. The right side of the political spectrum captured approximately 50 seats.  Former ruling party Likud dropped precipitously, to approximately 11 seats, but Yisrael Beiteinu ("Israel is our Home"), which advocates redrawing Israel's borders so that Arab cities would no longer be part of the country, was the rising star of the election, jumping from 4 seats in the last parliament to an expected 12 to 14 this time around. The real wild card is the Pensioners' Party, which ran on the single issue of benefits for senior citizens but has no foreign policy.  The 6 to 8 seats it is predicted to win could make a difference in Kadima's freedom of decision. 

The elections leave Israeli-Palestinian relations approximately where they were before the polls opened.  Israeli voters neither gave a ringing endorsement to unilateral withdrawal nor rejected it decisively.  After working and living in Jerusalem for nearly two years, I found myself wishing for a deus ex machina of a result, something that would change the dynamics of the Middle East enough to suggest a resolution to the conflict.  These two years have been filled with events that felt like political earthquakes: The death of Yasser Arafat, the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the stroke that incapacitated Ariel Sharon, and the election of Hamas to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.  After each event, the dust has settled, and we find ourselves facing the same issues of land, identity, security and independence, which must be solved to the satisfaction of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Intelligence

Fixing What Isn't Broken
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee is conducting another round of hearings on the NSA warrantless surveillance program.  I appeared before the committee today (you can read my testimony here) and I applaud Chairman Specter for conducting this series of hearings.

But the very fact that these hearings are required is disturbing.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, this warrantless program is a clear violation of the law and all surveillance that is needed to protect national security can be effectively pursued under FISA.  It is even more mind-boggling that Congress is discussing granting far reaching new powers to the President in bills drafted by Specter and Senator DeWine.  Until the Bush Administration publicly makes its case as to why it needs additional powers to conduct surveillance, there is little reason to change FISA.  Instead of stretching FISA to accommodate vague power usurpation by the President, the actions of the President and the NSA must be brought within the law.

Continue reading "Fixing What Isn't Broken" »

Potpourri

Plagiarism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My buddy Rodger Payne over at duckofminerva.org brags on a former graduate student for his role in uncovering large-scale plagiarism in Russian President Vladimir Putin's dissertation decades ago.*  Apparently, even in Putin's Russia, it's not quite possible to bury the past.

He wrote the dissertation in the 1990s, by the way, on state management of natural resources.  Kinda makes you want to go back to the out-of-print textbook, written by two Pittsburgh professors, and see what they had to say that struck Putin -- since he has indeed done quite a job of re-centralizing state power over Russia's natural resources, and extracting rather a lot of money and power from them. 

Continue reading "Plagiarism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism..." »

March 27, 2006

Iraq

Iraq: The "Second Betrayal?"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Today two smart observers in Iraq or its environs, International Crisis Group's Joost Hilterman and NPR's Anne Garrels, say Iraqi Shiites perceive that the US has abandoned them and is now favoring Sunnis.  Hilterman has Shiites calling this the "second betrayal," a reference to the US failure to intervene in Iraqi Shias' post-Gulf War uprising 15 years ago.

Garrels has Shiites accusing* US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of trying to "undermine" them and reverse their electoral gains.  She cites a big turnaround under which Sunnis now see the US as their protector and Shiites feel betrayed, as above.

Is this a first sign that Khalilzad's strenuous efforts to forge a national unity government are working -- or that they can never work? 

I don't see anything but trouble here for armed forces in Iraq -- our and the official Iraqi ones we are standing up.  And I wonder whether the task of calibrating a middle position that truly "national" forces could occupy is just not possible in such extreme tension, when all sides look to communal identities as the only reliable source of security.

Why am I not mentioning Sunday's strange raid in this post?  Because I haven't a clue what was really going on.  (Garrels has* one possible explanation.  Juan Cole has a worse one.)

*nb this link is currently mislabeled by NPR, as a Cokie Roberts piece rather than Anne Garrels' report.

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