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April 30, 2006

Middle East

On the Brink with Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

After last Friday’s report by the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Tehran has successfully enriched uranium and defied the UN Security Council’s Friday deadline to halt the process, we find ourselves in a frightening stand-off with an uncontrollable Islamic demagogue bent getting nukes.  I am not an expert on the region, but here’s my take on some things the U.S. ought and ought not do:

  1. Do everything possible to position this as a showdown between the Iranand the UN, not Iranand the US– Fortunately, as I’ve described before, Iranians are playing into our hands on this with its flagrant defiance of the Security Council.  China and Russia are unreliable partners when it comes to forceful action but, if positioned right, they will back the proposition that no government can get away with ignoring the Security Council.

  1. Align the world’s neutral nations behind a tough UN stance – Behind the scenes, the US and Europe should be working the 30-50 key capitals around the world – Australia, Malaysia, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Poland, etc. – on the idea that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, and that the time to stop it is now.  While many of these countries have economic and other ties to Iran, they will all recognize that Ahmadinejad is dangerous and is flouting the Council.  Having the support of these neutrals will back up claim #1 above and make it more likely that Moscow and Beijing ultimately come around.

  1. Stay close to Europe– This is obvious, but this Administration can't be relied on to choose rhetoric that ensures that no daylight opens up between Washington and Brussels.  Condi Rice’s reference to “like-minded” nations potentially acting outside the UNSC rubric prompted Javier Solana to retort that no European country would take part in such a coalition of the willing.  While Solana is wrong to offer Admadinejad the succor of believing that as long as China and Russia hold out he’s safe, the US should have known better than to beg the question right now.  For time being, the language needed to keep the EU on board starts with the letters U and N.  Other options must remain open, but well in the background in the short term.

  1. Hold firm on the idea that Iran cannot dictate to the UN – Ahmadinejad’s latest gambit was to allow robust international inspections, but only if their case is referred back from the Security Council to the IAEA.  It did so because only the UNSC has the power to act – through sanctions or force – in response to evidence of misbehavior.  The Administration rightly rejected this.  Iran cannot dictate to the international community how and where it addresses threats to peace and security. 

Continue reading "On the Brink with Iran" »

April 28, 2006

Democracy, Middle East

The Real Muslim Problem: A "Poverty of Dignity"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This plaintive, almost despairing piece by author Murad Kalam must be read by all those who care about the woeful state of not just the Arab world but of “Islam” itself. It reminds me of my own experiences living in Egypt and Jordan, where I would so quickly become disillusioned by the casual, rank hypocrisy, the jaded fatalism, the fevered willingness to blame internal problems on external, often nefarious, forces.

To see the Arab and Muslim world, is to see, in the most stark of fashion, how a great civilization – one that once led the word in science, medicine, and philosophy – could centuries later have fallen into an ever descending spiral. This is one of the great tragedies of our time. In looking for explanations, it is only too easy to fall back on the facile tropes of cultural determinism and Islamic essentialism. One wishes it could be so simple, that complex realities could be reduced into something more palpable.

Yes, lack of democracy, as I’ve often argued, has a lot to do with it. When people don’t have peaceful, legitimate means to express their grievances, they often express themselves in violent, dangerous ways. But it is not that simple, otherwise how would one account for British-born terrorists who grew up in a democracy but still blew themselves up, killing their fellow citizens ? We need to look at what Thomas Friedman calls the “poverty of dignity” to get the bigger picture.

Continue reading "The Real Muslim Problem: A "Poverty of Dignity"" »


The Persians
Posted by Michael Signer

Earlier this week, I went and saw a production of a play that's drawing a lot of attention inside the Beltway these days -- Aeschylus' The Persians, being shown at the venerable Shakespeare Theatre.  The play is drawing a lot of attention (and was sold out on a Sunday night) for its dark comparison of the decline of the Persian empire at the hands of the scrappy, crafty rebelliousness of the Athenians. 

While it's a provocative comparison, and a beautifully staged one (I never would have thought that an expanse of bright red sand could be put to such extraordinarily apt use on a stage), I think the production reveals as many problems in the contemporary mindset about Iraq as it does about problems in Iraq itself.

Continue reading "The Persians" »

April 27, 2006

Dumb on Purpose: Our Nuclear Predicament
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

The fact that the Bush administration is even mentioning nuclear options in dealing with Iran is only partly the last stand of the Neo-Cons. Likewise, it is caused by something more than a president whose political base is buckling up for their apocolyptic joyride. No, our predicament is deeper than that. It is a product of a conservative philosophy that has purposefully broken our open and fact based democratic government. Today’s bad dream of policy options toward Iran is not an accident, but an outcome.

In a democracy that works well, government cares for the institutional memory of big, important public interest issues—like the dangers of nuclear weapons. And long serving bureaucrats provide the steady ballast that keeps the government moving toward objective common goods—like reducing such dangers. That way, government weathers the storm of deviant Executives and keeps the public interest intact. The conservatives in power today are of a breed that does not believe in government virtue nor common goods. Katrina-style government is the result of our failure to maintain a dedicated federal staff for community disaster relief. The Bush Administration’s ability to threaten the nuclear option with little articulate resistance is at least partly because--for decades--conservatives have marginalized or destroyed our government’s ability to pursue arms control. Here are three examples:

Continue reading "Dumb on Purpose: Our Nuclear Predicament" »

April 26, 2006


Public Diplomacy: Equal Opportunity Rudeness?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

It's great to see progressive leaders stirring up debate and action on Iraq policy.  By my count, the supplemental appropriation for Iraq, Katrina, etc now moving through Congress (HR 4939, the one President Bush has threatened to veto) has seven potential Iraq amendments, from cutting off funding for anything that looks like a permanent base (Biden) to forcing the war to be funded through regular appropriations, not back-door supplementals (Byrd) to paying for the war by revoking tax deductions for top earners(Biden again).  (A handy compendium of the amendments, along with many more on homeland security, non-proliferation and other topics can be found here.)

But if progressives are going to take the lead in bashing the Administration for alienating the rest of the world in general, and the Arab world in particular, then we gotta practice what we preach when we talk about the Iraqis, no matter how crazy they are driving us.  That means you, John Kerry:  "they [Iraqis] only respond to pressure."  That means you, Carl Levin:  "There's been too much dawdling..." (transcript of the Levin-Collins-Reed press conference this week, which I haven't found online).  And Ken Pollack's commentary on Iraqi government corruption, though I'm sure it is all true, also edges close to this line.

What, exactly, is my problem here?  One, if we want Iraqis and other folks to see America as a differentiated society, not all Fox-news-watching black-and-white culture warriors, we need to talk the talk.  And two, those progressives who want Americans to see Iraqis as people still worthy of our investment of blood and treasure ought to talk about them as worthy partners, not annoying toddlers.  If our leaders think Iraqis are unworthy and annoying, the American people are going to figure, there's an easy fix for that -- let 'em fend for themselves.

(A note on toddlers -- and grownups -- if mine hears me say too many times that he "only responds to pressure" [or ice cream] then guess what?  That is all he will respond to.  In addition to being bad public diplomacy, this stuff is a self-fulfilling prophecy.)   

And yes, before you start whining, it is perfectly possible to talk about corruption, narrow-minded partisanship, and presumption on US security forces without sounding so condescending.  It just takes a little more thought.

4.27:  and who can blame Iraqis for "dawdling" if the price for entry into the government is the deaths of your siblings?

April 25, 2006


Running out of time with Iran
Posted by Derek Chollet

How far will United States go to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons?  In Washington and key capitals around the world, politicians and policymakers are focusing closely on this difficult question.  The recent frenzy of press reports about Bush Administration’s secret planning for a military attack on Iran lead many to fear that we have entered the grim and sobering endgame. 

Reaching this point was not necessarily inevitable.  For most of the 34 months since arms inspectors blew the whistle on Iran, exposing its efforts to develop nuclear technology secretly in violation of its international commitments, Washington’s approach has been shockingly bumbled and confused.  Only recently has the Bush Administration pursued the kind of strong and serious diplomatic approach the threat required months ago, working with key European allies to pressure Iran within the United Nations Security Council.

But in Tehran, the hard-line mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad show little sign that they are interested in bargaining for anything less than an independent nuclear capability.  They are on a collision course with the rest of the world – and rather than sensing trouble, they seem to relish the situation.

Continue reading "Running out of time with Iran" »

April 24, 2006

The Distinctly French Love for Dictators
Posted by Shadi Hamid

On Friday, French President Jacques Chirac completed a two-day official visit to Cairo for talks with his Egyptian counterpart, President Hosni Mubarak (indeed, two men of great moral stature).

Of course, Chirac was fully aware of leading opposition figure Ayman Nour’s continued incarceration and his deteriorating health (see my previous post for background). So you’d think Mr. Chirac would take the opportunity to at least mention the Nour case, feign some concern, say anything, just a word, even pretend. Instead, we are given a predictably wondrous piece of cynical posturing cloaked in the language of cultural relativism (from Le Monde, translated by The Arabist):

As for internal developments in Egypt, France does not endorse, here as elsewhere in the Arab world, the more aggressive discourse of the United States on the topic of democratization, but instead prefers to stress the fact that “reforms must be conducted by each at his own rhythm.” Mr. Chirac, his spokesman said, intends to “affirm France’s support for the political and economic modernization undertaken by Egypt.”

France is a model example of the complete and utter absence of moral rectitude that has come to define certain segments of the European political elite. France, however, has dutifully earned its right to be singled out as a country notorious for its careful and remarkably consistent indulgence of dictators. One must mention its blatant, unapologetic support for the Algerian military coup of 1991 (civil war and 100,000 lives lost would be the result). Or its unqualified support for possibly the worst of the Arab dictators - Tunisia’s Ben Ali - who still manages to command healthy 95% majorities in his country’s well-orchestrated charades of inimitable window dressing. Or its relative indifference to the massacre of Bosnian Muslims under Milosevic (but, of course, that's not just France). For his part, Chirac, with this latest trip, has yet again proven himself the perfect representation of the unfortunate surplus of Scrowcroftian automatons which have relentlessly pledged their dedication to making the Middle East into the ultimate autocrat-ridden powder keg, a kind of messy playground for the world’s most egregious tyrants.

Silence. The high cost of a carefully constructed Faustian bargain.

April 23, 2006

Progressive Strategy

10 Foreign Policy Questions Progressives Ought to Be Thinking About How to Answer
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

After a series of meetings and discussions this past week on questions of progressive strategy thinking beyond 2006 and toward 2008, here are 10 questions progressives ought to be thinking hard about how to answer.  I have left out issues - like China, Saudi Arabia, the Middle East Peace Process, Iraq and more - - upon which I sense relative consensus among progressive ranks.  These are issues that either divide us or on which we have no clear answers at all:

1.  Should the US Military Be Enlarged? - The Center for American Progress and Hillary Clinton say yes, citing our current predicament in Iraq as Exhibit A.  Others believe if we forswear unilateral invasions and can reorient the armed forces to be better able to handle challenges like post-conflict reconstruction, we won't need more personnel. 

2.  Is the Fight Against Terror the #1 priority or simply a top priority? - Progressives are in general agreement that the fight against terror will be a centerpiece of our foreign policy for years to come, and that the battle needs to be waged more broadly and effectively than it has in the past 5 years.  But is combating terror the foremost objective?  Has the emphasis on terror led us to overlook or neglect other issues?

3.  What is our position on free trade?  I am troubled that coming up on six years after the Democrats first lost the White House, progressives have yet to arrive at a broadly accepted position in the debate over protectionism versus free trade.   Surely the answer lies with an enlightened free trade, paired with systematic measures to temper its ill effects both at home and abroad.  But the details remain unresolved and badly needed consensus is still elusive.

4.  What are the primary lessons of Iraq for American foreign policy?  Iraq was not decisive in the 2002 elections or the 2004 elections.  Nor will it be in 2006 or 2008.  As the debacle of the lead-up to the war begins to fade from the headlines, the big remaining question will be where does Iraq leave us and what's next.  Though the fat lady has not yet sung in Baghdad progressives need to begin to think in terms of a post-Iraq foreign policy.

5.  How should the US promote democracy around the world?  Most progressives seem to agree that despite the disastrous results of the Bush Administration's purported press for democracy in the Middle East, we ought not throw the baby out with the bath water and abandon an agenda of trying to advance democracy globally.  We agree that Bush went about it the wrong way, but need to build consensus on what the right approach will look like.

6.  What will we do to revive global nuclear non-proliferation?  Progressives need to put forward a clear set of proposals for restriking the broken bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and, relatedly, for responding to rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea's.  Talking tough on WMD and then advocating little more specific than direct talks with rash and unreliable regimes cannot be the answer.

7.  How will we deal with global development and poverty?  While progressives have traditionally paid more attention to these issues, it was conservatives who enacted the Millennium Challenge Account which, at least on paper, is probably the biggest policy innovation to occur in this arena in decades.  When progressives seek to rebuild global support for American leadership and policy priorities like WMD and terrorism, other countries will demand answers to this question.

8.  What are our big new ideas?  We didn't have any memorable ones in 2004 and cannot afford a similar void again.  My favorite is still the Stabilization Corps

9.  What More Needs to Be Done to Straighten Out the Gathering and Use of Intelligence?  A raft of questions are emerging over whether the creation of the post of Director of National Intelligence is serving the coordination function the 9/11 Commission envisioned, or has instead become yet another bureaucratic layer protecting the Pentagon's vast intelligence budget and operation from scrutiny.  Progressives need to assert a position.

10.  What needs to be done to shore up American superpowerdom?  My own view is that this will be the central question of the post-Iraq era, and that the answers are manifold and of vital importance.

April 20, 2006

Democracy, Middle East

The Betrayal of Ayman Nour
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The language was eloquent, colored with the requisite hues of Wilsonian radicalism: “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.” Today, 14 months later, Ayman Nour, a courageous liberal, dissident, and leader of the al-Ghad Party, is suffering – some say dying – in prison. The Egyptian regime is destroying him, his family, and the movement he helped give birth to last year. This, we should note, is the same Egyptian regime which receives $2 billion in economic and military aid from the US each year. Where is the Bush administration’s outrage now ? Where has its celebrated love of freedom gone ? There is, instead, silence. 

Last week, an email from Gameela Ismail, Nour’s wife, was forwarded to me, alerting supporters to the unfolding events. The following is from an article in the opposition weekly al-Dustour, which describes Nour’s treatment and his deteriorating health:

“[Nour] suffered from a kidney attack and had to inject himself despite not being qualified or trained. He was obliged to use medicine and medical equipment that his family buys. Such practices resulted in sores and wounds in his arms and the veins of his hands, and left black spots all over his body. Moreover, the diabetes symptoms worsened resulting in swollen feet and face, in addition to general exhaustion believed by those close to him to be an attempt on part of the regime to kill him indirectly, unlike the case with others who were killed directly.”

It has been four months since Nour was sentenced to 5 years in prison on blatantly bogus charges. The White House released a statement on December 24th saying it was  “deeply troubled” by Nour’s incarceration. During a roundtable with Arab journalists just before her February Middle East tour, Rice insisted that this was not the time to “turn our backs” on Arab democracy. As part of her trip, Rice spent a day in Cairo meeting with President Mubarak and other Egyptian officials. Mubarak later remarked with characteristic smugness that Rice "was convinced by the way Egypt is pursuing political reform and implementing democracy...she didn’t bring up difficult issues or ask to change anything or to intervene in political reform as some people claim.” Not only that, "she was very polite."

The cause of Arab democracy has been betrayed by those who profess to be its greatest defenders. This is nothing new – democracy in the Middle East has rather consistently been sacrificed by US policymakers at the altar of purportedly greater interests and concerns. We could have expected as much from the Scrowcroftian automatons who profess, at no end, their undying love for “stability.” This administration said it was different and, for a short while, actually acted like it. The democracy backlash continues.


How do you say Karl Rove in Persian?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

"Simulated irrationality" is an unspoken policy of Iran's leadership-- according to a young  Iranian-American academic who I had the chance to hear at a roundtable this week.  Hmmmmm... Maybe the leaders in Tehran and Washington are playing the same "Careful, cuz I'm nuts" game with each other.  We declare "all options" on the table, we're all sticks with no carrots (threats but not negotiations).  We conduct questionable mega-bomb tests in Nevada (creepily called "Divine Strake"). Congress prepares to dole out money for regime change.  As for the other side, Iran's leadership is impossible to decipher (who's in charge of the nukes?) Their wack-a-doo president rants constantly about Israel, denies the holocaust and ups the ante in the nuclear roulette.  Call me cynical, but politics, like love and war has no rules nor geography. Seems President Ahmadinejad has taken a page out of the Rove handbook: Ignore mainstream folks and stoke the fundamentalist base. The armageddon lobby has gone global. 

Here are some other tidbits I heard this week at various discussions.

Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel hysterics are a terrible embarassment for the rest of Iran's leadership. In fact, others in leadership have been forbidden to ever spew in similar fashion. He continues doing this for his political base for whom Islam's relationship to Israel is critical.  The rural poor are Ahmadinejad's base. Wealth distribution is their issue--and he turns on the fundi rhetoric to distract them from this cruel problem. Values-voters anyone?

"The establishment"  in Iran want Ahmadinejad to fail. If he fails on his own, he will be marginalized. If he can blame the USA, he'll stick around, buoyed by nationalism.  He's already in constant campaign mode, holding huge rallies. We need to stop writing the plot and characters for our enemy.

In May, 2003, the Bush Administration allegedly received a missive containing extensive concessions from Iran--including nuclear issues.  They didn't respond. Keep in mind, this was right as the USA rolled victoriously into Iraq--when the Neo-Con hubris was at its most extreme. The theory is that because of the Iraq experience, the Bush administration figured that no discussion was necessary and that they could trounce the Iranians later without compromise.  Most shocking missed opportunity: one Iranian concession was an offer to disarm Hezbollah.  Given the pulseless response, the Iranians concluded that working with Washington was impossible.

Continue reading "How do you say Karl Rove in Persian?" »

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