Democracy Arsenal

« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

November 30, 2006


"Pinned by Reality"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The LA Times has that pungent comment from Reuel Marc Gerecht on how members of the Iraq Study Group must be feeling.

Since I'll be working several conferences on December 6, and won't have time to blog the study group's report As It Happens, I'll have to blog the "leak" instead.

Folks have been hoping the Study Group report would answer two key questions:  when are we getting our troops out of Iraq, and what are we leaving behind -- instruments to preserve any level of stability, national boundaries, regional arrangements, long-term US role in the region -- in our wake?  If our vision of the future is no longer a Middle East transformed by democracy with an Iraqi ally at its center, what is it?

Maybe it's inevitable that the leak reporting focuses on the troop question -- of most immediate interest to Americans -- and the most controversial recommendations, those involving talk to Syria and Iran.  (Though that is only controversial these days because of this Administration's strange idea that we can avoid talking to people we don't like.)

And I certainly understand that the panel couldn't reach a single clear position on troop withdrawals, and so put forward a tendency rather than a timetable, if you will.

But the trouble with that is that it give nobody any indication of what our best and worst scenarios for what the region looks like in 2-5 years are, and what we need to be doing to favor the best and defend against the worst.  Where do we need troops to stay, if anywhere?  To do what? 

I'm hoping that the Study Group's report has some really smart thinking about this, that just didn't lend itself to "leaking."  Sometimes it's hard to see the forest when you're pinned by a tree.  But if they couldn't place the stakes in a larger context, who will?

Progressive Strategy

Realist Means and Neo-Conservative Ends
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc’s last post on using realist means to achieve non-realist (liberal, idealist, neo-conservative) ends is interesting. Unfortunately, Marc is all over the place on this one and ties himself in more than a few knots.

First of all, I wonder how clear-cut a distinction one can make between means and ends. Presumably, such distinctions might lead to an acute case of schizophrenia and/or large helpings of cognitive dissonance. In any case, means and ends are intertwined and, often, inextricably so. In other words, even if it would be somehow ideal (and I’m not sure it would), I have trouble conceptualizing how a policy defined by realist means and idealist ends might actually operate in practice. What are realist “means” anyway?

Ok, say our long-term objective in Iraq is to establish democracy. Perhaps, then, someone with a realist knack for policy might say, well, the only way we can get from point A to B is to temporarily install a brutal dictator who will keep the rowdy citizens in check until circumstances are more amenable to democratic governance. Would such a policy be advisable from a moral standpoint? The ends do not justify the means. Or do they?

Marc also stumbles when he assumes that George W. is actually committed to democracy promotion. He says: “Granted, history has yet to show that you can make a realist design and implement policies in pursuit of decidedly anti-realist ends.  But if anyone can do it, I'm going to put my money on someone as stubborn and ideologically driven as Bush.”

The evidence suggests otherwise. I must confess that I used to think President Bush had an ideology. However, now I'm not so sure, unless doing the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do is, in fact, an ideology. In any case, I can't seem to think of one president who has betrayed the democratic aspirations of Arab reformers more than George W. Bush (except maybe his father, guided by the steady, fisted hand of Brent Scrowcroft). Perhaps Marc is essentially trying to say that Bush has really good speechwriters. And, yes, that much is true.

If anything, the neo-cons’ commitment to democracy promotion, in practice, has been incredibly spotty. The problem is that neo-conservatives don’t just believe in democracy promotion; they believe in the promotion of a distinctly liberal kind of democracy in places where liberalism is non-existent and/or a bad word. The problem with some liberal interventionists is that they too will support democracy abroad only if it passes some imaginary liberal litmus test. Unfortunately, “liberal democracy” in the Middle Eastern context, is an oxymoron, because if Arabs are allowed to vote, they will vote overwhelmingly for parties that are illiberal. For someone who believes in liberalism more than democracy, this is unacceptable. Well, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The whole point of democracy is to allow people to freely express their own conception of the “good,” even if it is different than our own. If we don’t like it, then that’s why there are elections every 4, 5, or 6 years. I hope I’m stating the obvious when I say that you can’t force people to be liberal, even if liberalism is, somehow, the holy grail of healthy political life (and I’m not sure that’s always the case).

November 29, 2006


Why Leak the Maliki Government Memo?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I've been trolling the web looking for commentary on this question, which seems important.  But I haven't found any yet.  So I'm going to make some up.

The chief effects of the leak seem to be:

1.  Re-focusing attention on how weak and ineffective the Maliki government is.

2.  Further clarifying how detached the Administration is from reality (read the memo's "Steps Maliki Could Take" and, umm, weep.)  Telling a prime minister to change his personal staff so it "reflects the face of Iraq?"  Bring his "political strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure" (that would be the strategy that brought him to power)??

3.  Giving Maliki additional reasons (if threats from Sadr weren't enough) to cancel today's dinner with President Bush, delivering the kind of stinging slap that Senator-elect Webb can only dream of.

4.  Reminding Americans that the self-effacing National Security Adviser is named Steve Hadley (who seemed like a smart, pragmatic moderate back in the Bush 1 days, when I was a young Congressional whippersnapper "monitoring" his arms control team --yes, Virginia, Republicans used to believe in arms control).

I'll rule out #3 and #4 as unintended consequences.  So either somebody thought this memo made brilliant points that the public needed to know, or that weren't being acted on fast enough, or (more likely?) someone wanted #1 and/or #2 to be forced on the Administration from the outside.

Remember how secrecy and loyalty seemed to be woven into the Bush team's DNA in 2001?  Calling in a reporter to show them a memo like this is a breathtaking breach of trust.  It makes me wonder whether the Administration is capable of acting effectively -- and calls into comprehensive doubt, I think, Marc Grinberg's hopes that this Administration can re-invent itself as a get-er-done realist. 

9 pm update:  Laura Rozen places the memo in the context of an on-the-quiet Iraq strategy review she says was held at very high levels over the Veterans' Day holiday, and particularly the "unleash the Shiites" debate.  Our own Mike Signer points me to MSNBC, which quotes CSIS's Jon Alterman suggesting that the memo is really a "memo to Maliki" designed to "steel his spine" and offering "his whole to-do list, plus his rewards if he does it."  On the other hand, one might read Dan Kervick's comment below and wonder whether the leak was intended to set the stage for the government's disintegration and Maliki's removal.  But then one might be reading not just too much Machiavellianism but too much competence into how things have been going lately.

Nov. 30 update:  the New York Daily News suggests that someone from the Cheney or Rumsfeld orbits might have leaked the memo in "payback" for the firing of Rumsfeld.  That seems too juvenile for this crowd, but then again...  Does the fact that someone suggested that to a reporter mean that embattled NSC types are looking for "payback" under every bed?


Iraq Rx: A Shot of Realism
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Since the summer of 2005, I've heard from senior Democratic national security insiders, at regular strategy meetings and in personal conversations, that President Bush was going to start pulling American troops out of Iraq before the November election - they were 100% certain of it.  Now, I'm hearing from the same people that the pull out will definitely begin next year, since no 2008 Republican presidential contender want to deal with 100,000+ troops still deployed in Iraq. 

Of course, these folks were dead wrong the first time around and it seems likely that they'll be wrong again.  Yes, a rational reading of the political landscape would suggest that the President was going to begin a withdrawal before November and certainly before '08, but lets remember that President Bush can hardly be described as rational.

Yesterday, at the opening of a NATO summit in Latvia the President insisted that he's "not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."  On this particular issue (though not many others), I'm inclined to take him at his word.

For those who believe an American military presence in Iraq can do nothing but make the situation worse, this is certainly bad news.  But for those of us who think that American troops can, at the very least, prevent things from descending into all out ethnic cleansing, hope hinges on whether this Administration's Iraq strategy can start working.

With "stay the course" Rumsfeld at the helm, the answer was obviously a big "no."  But, with Robert Gates, I am hopefully optimistic.  In Iraq, a shot of "realism" may be just what the doctor ordered.

Now, I am no fan of a Kissinger/Scowcroft-style conservative realist foreign policy.  I think realist strategy, namely balance of power, has proven time and again that alone, it fails to achieve the long term national interest.  Furthermore, the absence of values considerations in the making of foreign policy all too often leaves conservative realism - both its means and its ends - illiberal.  (Note: I explicitly say "conservative realism," which I think is different than the "liberal realism" of Anatol Lieven and Steve Clemons, among others - I'll address this in a future post). 

Nonetheless, it seems to me that a little bit of realist influence may be just what the Bush Administration needs to move forward in Iraq.

My problem with the Administration's version of neoconservative foreign policy is largely (and has always been) about means, not ends - which I think are in many (though certainly not all) ways similar to those of liberal internationalists (the promotion of democracy, development, liberalism, etc).  The last five years have shown that neoconservative means are simply unrealistic, since they are based on false assumptions about human nature and the international system (ex. that democracy would quickly spring up after the fall of Saddam; that the world would line up behind a morally motivated America, that military force alone can secure American interests, etc).

The only way the Administration's foreign policy could succeed in the pursuit of its neoconservative-influenced ends is through the use of realistic - that is, non-neoconservative - policies.  The Administration neocons are incapable of changing to a more realistic course, since it would require them to go against everything they know about how the world works (though you think they would see by now that what they "know" is wrong!).   But maybe, just maybe, a realist - who shares few of the assumptions and beliefs of the neocons - could succeed. 

Of course, the realists are no fan of neoconservative ends - in Iraq, this means democracy (or really anything better than simple "stability").  But assuming Bush continues to believe that he is the 21st century Truman - tasked by a higher power with remaking the Middle East - and he can channel Gates' (realist) energies towards this end, we may just make some progress.  Granted history has yet to show that you can make a realist design and implement policies in pursuit of decidedly anti-realist ends.  But if anyone can do it, I'm going to put my money on someone as stubborn and ideologically driven as Bush.

You will probably never get me to endorse conservative realism again, but here's to more realists in the Bush Administration - for once, they may be just what America needs.

November 28, 2006


A Fresh Perspective from NATO Summit
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

One of my favorite Brits, Martin Butcher, moved back to the UK from Washington earlier this year...but lo and behold, he's back online already with some fresh reporting from the NATO summit in can see the rest here.

Can NATO transform for the 21st century?

From Acronym Consultant Martin Butcher in Riga, November 27, 2006

NATO heads of State and Government meet in Riga, Latvia, on November 28/29, with many outstanding questions on their agenda. While NATO and national government sources agree that the worst of the conflict from the build-up to the invasion of Iraq has dissipated (and for some in Europe the firing of Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense helped), there is a sense that the organisation is somewhat adrift - carrying out missions from Kosovo to Afghanistan, but with no underlying purpose to tie it together.

The subjects that will be on the agenda at the specially made table in Riga - Alliance transformation, burdensharing, the Comprehensive Political Guidance, and even Energy Security - are far less significant than the subjects that will be overlooked - enlargement, the perennially troubled issues of NATO-EU and NATO Russia relations, and most notably the rewriting of the Alliance's mission statement, the 1999 Strategic Concept, with the role of nuclear weapons in Alliance defence policy at its heart.

All this throws up questions which will have to be answered if NATO is to be an influential and important alliance in the 21st Century - what is NATO's role and how should it accomplish that role. A shiny "transformation" exhibition at the Olympic Sports Complex Summit venue shows what the Riga Summit is meant to be about. But there are those in Riga who fear that the focus on the somewhat loose concept of 'NATO transformation' means less than meets the eye.

Riga 2006 was to have been the 'transformation summit', and settled those questions once and for all. Now, it is merely the latest in a line of summits, leading from Istanbul, through Riga, to another Summit in 2008, followed by a 60th birthday party Summit in 2009. Transforming the Alliance, it seems, is a long and politically contentious process.

read the rest of the article here.


Nouri al-Maliki (and Partition) are Bad for Iraq
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It is a mystery to me how the idea of partitioning Iraq into three separate states (or "statelets") has gotten traction in elite foreign policy circles. It's amazing how an idea so self-evidently bad could be considered good. I suppose I can see the attraction. Everything else has failed, so let's try something so left-field, that, who knows, it might actually work. Sort of like John Chait's Swiftian exercise of floating, tongue-partly-in-cheek, the idea of bringing Saddam back into power. Well, Reza Aslan does a useful service in debunking the three-state plan in the latest issue of TNR:

Partitioning Iraq would in no way solve the country's most intractable problem: how to divide oil revenue evenly. Considering that the vast majority of Iraq's oil fields reside almost exclusively in the Shia south and the Kurdish north, it is not difficult to imagine how partition could lead to the permanent exclusion of the Sunnis from what is practically Iraq's sole source of revenue. This would likely result in an even greater sense of alienation among the Sunnis and, consequently, increased sectarian violence.

However, the rest of his article is somehow less convincing. Aslan argues that:

Despite the country's rapid descent into chaos and the government's deadlock on fundamental issues like revenue-sharing, the Iraqis have done a masterful job of coming together to lay the groundwork for a unified, viable state. The Iraqi constitution provides a template for a united yet pluralistic nation...And the fractious government, in spite of its bumbling ineffectiveness, has nevertheless managed to come to terms on issues of mutual concern that would have been inconceivable a mere year ago. Indeed, the fact that the Iraqi government remains standing despite a devastating civil war is in itself a miracle.

Well, one of the reasons we have an ever-intensifying civil war in the first place is because of the utter incompetence of Nouri al-Maliki's government and its continued willingness to turn a blind eye to the increasingly brutal, roving death squads of its Sadrist coalition partners. Yes, Maliki is complicit in the state-sponsored murder of Sunnis. If there's been one time where I've felt that toppling a democratically-elected leader would be the moral thing to do, it is now. Of course, this is not to say we should, because we have no guarantee that the next guy would be any better (and ousting elected leaders would set a very, very bad precedent). In any case, our indulgence of Maliki and the Sadrists must end. Oh, but I forgot, we don't have anymore leverage with anyone in the Middle East, the wonderful result of six years of the Bush administration's uncanny ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong time all of the time.

November 26, 2006


Don't Forget Iraq
Posted by Lorelei Kelly New Orleans and southern Mississipi for Thanksgiving and just now found a laptop with cable. NOLA is looking significantly better than it did last January, but it is still a city in shock.(a resident told me that their post-Katrina motto is "together alone" the same as Sinn Fein in Ireland. Its not hard to understand why, given their virtual abandonment by the rest of us)

These past few  days have seen a jaw-dropping amount of carnage in Iraq....and my Thanksgiving prayers were for everyone over there and also about making sure Americans never allow an ideologically driven war to happen again.  Hopefully, the elections this month will start the long slow road back to a healthy democracy

Here are some comments sent to me by a friend who was deployed to Iraq a few years ago and has since followed the war closely and with a planner's perspective:

...with regard to U.S. war-policy and strategy in Iraq – no revisits of the past recent history of the Iraq War policy and strategy, but instead a deliberate focus on "new prescriptions."  ...a way to both change the course and stay the fight....

  • A continuation of US support for the Iraqi Governance-Building enterprise. Specifically,
  • Continued diplomatic, economic, military and "other" support to the Iraqi government in its ongoing "national reconciliation" efforts;
  • Support in the Iraqi governments "DDR" process (Disarmament; Demobilization; and Reintegration) regarding the current militia threat to current and future Iraqi Nation-Statehood ;
  • A "moderate" theater-strategic re-posturing of the preponderance of US military force units more toward the Iraqi territorial borders so as to enable two critical conditions for the future success of Iraq's continuing war for Nation-hood and the US/International Community's grand strategic interest in waging a successful long war against transnational and global terrorism:
  • Posture US forces at the operational center of gravity in the GWOT-in-Iraq and the surrounding region . . . at the borders, and in so doing, also . . .
  • Posture ourselves in locations that offer the Iraqi Government a means of ensuring the sovereignty of its own national borders (one important condition of nation-state sovereignty) as well as setting the best operational conditions for ensuring an internal conflict over the future of Iraq that is not dominated by unwanted and unwarranted "foreign" influences.
  • Continue to reinforce the US military "advisory" program to Iraqi Security Forces, with a plus-up of officer-advisor commitments to ISF units (the US "Military Transition Team" program, or MTT) – this plus-up could come from a downsizing of the US forces in Iraq that would come from the theater-strategic re-posturing of US military forces to the Iraqi periphery.      

Any comments?

November 23, 2006

Progressive Strategy

On Idealism (or, how Christopher Hitchens Lost the Iraq War)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Let us talk about moral language. Let us talk about idealism, its dangers and its promise. I fully understand liberals’ (now more acute) fear of unabashed idealism in matters of diplomacy and foreign affairs. This is certainly reflected in our readers’ comments.

Idealism, whether it be of a secular or slightly religious/messianic nature, has played a vital role in American political history. It is the lifeblood of so many of our country’s achievements. Our greatest presidents have been idealists (FDR, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan), but so too have our worst (George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter).

I remember when I first heard the quotation: “Some men see things as they are and say why; I dream things that never were and say why not.” If there was one quote I hoped would define my approach to politics, it was perhaps this. But there remains a lurking, potent danger. Sincerity and idealism can just as easily lead to personal and political destruction. It is all the more tragic because idealism raises expectations so high, only to shatter them. The higher the highs, the lower the lows, and the more acute the sense that we have been betrayed our own ideals, resulting in, first, anger, then dissillusion.

As the last few years have demonstrated, idealism, if unchecked, can lead to the most blatant abuses of power. Why is this? Because idealism gives one a sense that there is one right and one wrong, that the world can be ordered by moral absolutes, that, at some point, one must take a side and stand by it, no matter what the cost. If one is destroyed by this stubborn resolve, then this is what some call "courage."

I want to quickly mention a few examples of this phenomenon. For all his faults, Christopher Hitchens has been a major influence on me. A lot of people seem to think that “we” lost Hitchens to the neo-cons, but I can think of few people who are as defiantly Left as him (which I suppose says just as much about neo-conservatism as it does about the Left). The original Leftist – or, let us say, liberal – impulse has always been something particularly noble, an unwillingness to accept things as they are, and a willingness to right wrongs, more often than not through some kind of “intervention,” whether it be state intervention in the economy or humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide.

The problem, however, is that Hitchens is not only ideological but, in a way, consumed by his own abiding sense of moral clarity. He is an atheist but his brand of morality often, paradoxically, takes on a pseudo-religious tone. Unlike, say, Andrew Sullivan (another major influence), Hitchens does not engage in what one may call the politics of doubt and skepticism. A leftist friend of mine at Georgetown, who regularly accused me of selling out to the “forces of imperialism” or some other such nonsense, would sign his emails off with “there can be no compromise with reactionary forces.” I suspect on this point he and Hitchens would not differ.

Continue reading "On Idealism (or, how Christopher Hitchens Lost the Iraq War)" »

November 22, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Is Moral Language Illiberal?
Posted by Marc Grinberg

Looking back on my last post, I don't think I was fair to Shadi's comments on language.   Whether or not liberals will fight to take back the liberal internationalist tradition from the neocons (which I suspect Shadi would agree with me that they should), another fundamental question arises: Is morally-influenced foreign policy language/messaging inherently illiberal?  More specifically, is it illiberal to talk about right and wrong or about morally inspired goals and purposes in language that explicitly rules out moral relativism?

I would argue that it is not.  That liberal uncomfortableness with moral language is a consequence of the Bush Administration's style of rhetoric and the failures of its morally influenced foreign policy. When Bill Clinton used moral language (strikingly similar to that used by Bush) and when Jimmy Carter rooted his human rights emphasis in morality (even religion - he did say that human freedom is a "fundamental spiritual requirements"), liberals, not conservatives, rose in applause.  But now that the Bush Administration has taken ownership of morality, liberals are running from it, fearful of sounding too much like a neocon. 

So where do we go from here?  Maybe the Bush Administration has tainted moral language so much that liberals need a decade or so of value-less foreign policy debate before they will be comfortable again with the language of morality.   Maybe liberals just need to take it down a notch - a "values lite" language, if you will.  Maybe I'm entirely wrong and moral language is illiberal.  Readers, what do you think?

November 20, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Ok, So I'm Not a Liberal?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A friend of mine, perhaps egged on by the fact that someone called me a neo-con a couple weeks ago, decides to encourage the rather questionable line of thinking that people like me are not real “liberals."

Here is an excerpt from an email he sent me a few days ago. Enjoy and digest: “Seriously, why do you consider yourself a liberal? I mean what do you believe that you view as distinctly liberal? It can be international or domestic policies. I am just curious.”

At least he is curious. Apparently, he does not read Democracy Arsenal regularly. I am tempted to engage in a spirited defense of my liberalness, but I will not. Doing so, I suspect, would only vindicate the reactionary tendencies of those who appear to increasingly populate liberal ranks, among them the Kossacks, the Chomsky cut-outs, the new neo-realists, the Scrowcroft avengers, the if-Bush-says-it, it-must-be-bad intellectuals, the I-love-Murtha clan, and other such factions. Well, that was a bit of name calling, wasn’t it? In all seriousness, I do not question the good intentions of each of these groups (except perhaps the Chomsky cut-outs), but I wonder exactly why they have let conservatives set the terms of foreign policy discourse for them. I feel a bit silly repeating the same points over and over, but speaking about democracy and doing so in moralistic terms does not make one a neo-conservative. If you think it does, then please explain why and defend your argument using real evidence.

To return to my friend’s question: what I consider to be my “distinctly liberal” positions on foreign policy are discussed in much greater detail here and here. Of course, these are the same two articles which got Doug Bandow, noble defender of the liberal tradition, to say:

[Hamid] might as well be working at the American Enterprise Institute, writing for The Weekly Standard, and advising the Bush administration.

So go figure. I guess you can’t please everyone.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use