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December 31, 2006

Proliferation, UN

Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea
Posted by Jordan Tama

2006 was a bad year for American foreign policy, marked by our inability to stop the escalating civil war in Iraq, worsening violence in Darfur, and the continued decline of our international reputation. But we also had a couple of important diplomatic achievements that haven't got as much attention as they deserve: the passage by the UN Security Council of targeted sanctions against North Korea and Iran for their nuclear programs.

After North Korea's nuclear test in October, the Security Council voted unanimously for sanctions that ban the transfer of nuclear materials to North Korea, bar international travel by officials associated with North Korea's weapons programs, and freeze the overseas assets of those officials. The resolution also authorizes countries to inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea to detect illegal weapons. Eight days ago, the Security Council unanimously approved a less stringent sanctions package on Iran, including a ban on the import and export of nuclear materials and a freeze on the assets of some Iranian individuals and companies.

In both cases, the U.S. had pushed for tougher sanctions, while Russia and China had sought weaker ones. The results were painstakingly negotiated compromises that satisfied no one but represented significant diplomatic achievements considering the wide divergence of views among Security Council members. The sanctions won't stop North Korea and Iran from moving forward with their nuclear programs, but they will slow them down by making it harder for them to acquire needed materials and complicating the work of officials involved in nuclear efforts.

The bigger benefits might be political. In Iran, the sanctions already have contributed to growing discontent with President Ahmadinejad, as some Iranians blame him for unnecessarily isolating their country (though most Iranians support Iran's nuclear program). In East Asia, the sanctions have shown North Korea that its most important patron, China, is willing to cooperate with North Korea's enemies to punish it for recalcitrant behavior.

Continue reading "Assessing UN Action on Iran and North Korea" »

Iraq

Saddam's Execution: Oops, Wrong Day
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The decision to execute Saddam Hussein yesterday (as opposed to, say, the 364 other days of the year) may stand as one of the most stupid decisions ever made by the Nouri al-Maliki government. If there’s one time the Bush administration should have put its foot down and said NO, it was now, it was this. I can’t even begin to think how offensive this must have been to Iraq’s Sunnis. Well, first some background: yesterday was one of the most holy days for the 1 billion plus Sunni Muslims all over the world. Eid al-Adha marks Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Ishmael (it was a test from God, and Abraham ends up slaughtering a sheep instead). The catch is that Sunnis celebrated Eid yesterday, while Shias – including those who rule Iraq – are celebrating it today. Juan Cole (via Steve Benen) sums it up well:

The tribunal...had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday -- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

So not only was the execution date a deliberate insult to Iraq’s embattled Sunnis, but it was also illegal. This, however, is not the worst of Maliki’s offenses. His is a government that turns a blind eye and, yes, encourages the slaughter of innocent Iraqis through its continued indulgence of its Sadrist coalition partners (yes, you got it right, there are full-fledged terrorists in the highest levels of the Iraqi government). Unfortunately, a steady stream of American commentators seem to think its okay to indulge the Shia Islamists when, if anything, the US should be doing all it can to serve as a counterweight to Shia excess. Why does this all matter? One of the primary engines of terrorism is humiliation, particularly in Arab culture where shame, dignity, and honor play a much larger role than they do in the West. When you schedule Saddam’s execution on Eid al-Adha, it is yet another mark of humiliation on a minority group which continues to suffer under what has become a tyranny of the majority.

I don’t want to belittle this significance of all of this, but I’m going to employ a very basic analogy which may help to explain how humiliation, even in Western culture, can make people do violent, seemingly irrational things. When I first heard of the NBA’s huge fight earlier this month between the Nuggets and the Knicks, I immediately understood why Mardy Collins took down J.R Smith in a particularly tasteless flagrant foul which provoked the wider brawl. Why would Collins start a brawl with only 1:15 left in the game?

Continue reading "Saddam's Execution: Oops, Wrong Day" »

December 30, 2006

Iraq

Baghdad Blogger returns....
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

After a long silence, Baghdad Burning has come back up on line. If you don't know Riverbend, she is an Iraqi female who has written incredibly on the situation over the past 3 1/2 years.  What she posted Friday is a painful read.  Here are two excerpts:

"A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses,        avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted."

"You know your country is in trouble when: The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI. Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country. The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders. The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation. An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'."

read the entire piece here.

December 29, 2006

Africa

What Darfur Means for our National Security
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Apologies for the long gaps on the blog. I'm home in New Mexico for Christmas and finally got to my mom's house in the Four Corners where I astonishingly found a new DSL line.  This is a big deal seeing as the most advanced technology until now is a windmill to pump water for the horses.

The day before Christmas, I drove by a sign from Savedarfur.org. It stated simply "Not on our watch".  It was a poignant reminder of what's going on in the world--and it made me feel awkward on my way to the shopping mall to catch the last minute sales.  The sign also reminded me of three things that recently came across my defense-wonk radar. First, this great article in last week's New Yorker about social science insights gaining ground in the US Government--including the Defense Department. Second, that even the highly resistant Bush Administration is warming up to the idea of a larger Army . And third, that the DoD just released its latest Counter Insurgency Doctrine manual. 

The manual codifies an important lesson of insurgencies: it takes more than the military to win. So what has this all got to do with SaveDarfur? 

Continue reading "What Darfur Means for our National Security" »

Iraq

Moving the Debate beyond Troop Levels
Posted by Jordan Tama

The New York Times reports today that the Bush administration is leaning toward a short-term increase of 17-20,000 troops in Iraq, achieved mainly by extending the deployments of two Marine regiments. That would be a reasonable decision, though those troops might do more good in Afghanistan. But I'm worried that critical issues other than troop levels are getting short shrift in the administration's deliberations and the public debate on Iraq.

By itself, a relatively small increase in U.S. troop levels (20,000 is a small number, given that we already have 134,000 troops in Iraq) won't make a large difference in Iraq. Don't get me wrong: I don't think we should increase (or decrease) troop levels more dramatically than that, for reasons I described in an earlier post.

But I do think we should be focusing more on other vital issues, namely: how to achieve political reconciliation among the many armed factions in Iraq; how to prod the Iraqi government to take the difficult steps necessary to weaken the most dangerous militias and insurgents; and how to induce neighboring countries to play a more constructive role in Iraq.

These challenges are mostly political and diplomatic. More troops won't get us very far in addressing them. Yet the Times indicates that the bulk of administration discussions this week have centered on security issues and the option of sending more troops to Baghdad.

In 2003, a larger troop presence might have stabilized the country. Today, there's no chance that 20,000 more troops will stop the sectarian violence that's been spiraling out of control for the past year. How exactly are these troops going to prevent death squads from murdering scores of individuals per day in their homes and on the streets? Our troop presence is necessary to prevent the violence from escalating into a total bloodbath, but political deals among Iraq's factions are necessary to end the rampant ethnic killing.

President Bush should focus his administration's energy on finding ways to help broker those political deals.

December 22, 2006

Potpourri

How Trade Strengthens U.S. Security
Posted by Jordan Tama

As Congress wrapped up its work this month, it passed important measures to normalize trade ties with Vietnam and renew low tariffs for Andean and African countries. Additional trade pacts with Peru, Colombia, and Panama will be voted on by the Democratic-led Congress next year. These votes are likely to be contentious. Many new members of Congress argue that trade agreements spur the loss of American jobs, and some new members call for renegotiating existing pacts, such as NAFTA.

The public debate on trade usually centers on its economic costs and benefits. I happen to believe the benefits outweigh the costs, but that the costs are real and should be mitigated by expanded assistance programs for Americans who lose their jobs when companies move overseas.

Here I want to focus on a different aspect of trade policy: its impact on other U.S. foreign policy interests. While reasonable people can disagree about the relative weight of the economic gains and losses induced by trade, I think the political and security benefits of reducing trade barriers are undeniable (though often underestimated). If we take them into account, the case for opening markets becomes much stronger. Consider the following:

1) Trade can provide an economic engine for foreign policy leadership. Trade accelerates U.S. economic growth, producing positive foreign policy spillover effects. Growth increases our tax base, making it easier to fund foreign affairs and defense programs. It also helps us maintain our technological edge, which is central to our military strength. A stagnant or shrinking economy would likely lead to a smaller U.S. presence abroad and diminished American influence internationally.

2) Trade can foster political and security cooperation. We need help from other countries in the Iraq war, in the broader struggle against violent jihadism, and on other security priorities. But nations that don't have direct interests at stake in those issues will only help us if we help them on issues they consider important, like greater access to our huge market. If we reduce our import barriers, they'll be more likely to back us on security matters.

Why should we care whether poor countries support our policies on Iraq, Iran, or counterterrorism? Because they have votes in international bodies like the UN and their backing can make our policies more legitimate internationally.

Continue reading "How Trade Strengthens U.S. Security" »

December 21, 2006

Middle East

Thomas Turns on the Arabs
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The surest way to lose your street cred with the Arab/Muslim community is to say anything remotely positive about Thomas Friedman. This has always been a mystery to me, since I’ve generally found TF to be pretty fair, balanced, and insightful. More importantly, it seemed like he had a genuine empathy for the Arab people, their hopes, tragedies, and dissapointments (a lot of those).

In any case, some of my friends began to suspect I was a “sell-out” when I started quoting Friedman a couple years ago. They would look at me with worried, wary eyes: “Shadi, what’s going on buddy? You okay?” Partly because I believed it and partly because I was being contrarian, I would passionately hail From Beirut to Jerusalem as the single, best book on the Middle East ever written (well, it isn’t, but it’s damn good). I met Friedman for the first time in September at a reception hosted by the British ambassador. We talked a bit about whether or not Hamas could or would moderate. I was quite impressed by what he had to say.

In any case, I’m starting to get worried about Tom. Maybe my friends had a point after all. His latest column on the "rules" of Arab politics is one of the most cringe-worthy things I’ve read in recent memory. For starters, I share Matt Yglesias’s confusion about what this metaphor could possibly mean:

Any reporter or U.S. Army officer wanting to serve in Iraq should have to take a test, consisting of one question: “Do you think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line?” If you answer yes, you can’t go to Iraq. You can serve in Japan, Korea or Germany— not Iraq.

I think he’s saying either that Arabs are irrational or that nothing is as it seems in the Middle East. Let’s hope it’s the latter. But it gets more offensive, with gems like this:

Rule 3: If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all - they won’t believe it…

Gone is the empathy, that’s for sure. Of course, Friedman knows better then to peddle inane generalizations such as these, but he’s angry, frustrated, and, like many of us, feels betrayed by the own sense of hope he had, not long ago, that maybe – just maybe – things were beginning to change in troubled Arab lands. I read somewhere yesterday that “hope is always driven by fear.” I’m not sure this is correct. I hope it isn’t. Sometimes I wish I was a pessimist so I wouldn’t always get disappointed by reality. Maybe this is why we liberals get depressed easier, because we really do believe that people can change, that life can change for the better, that great things are in fact possible. But reality bites and things never quite go as planned. Republicans (and realists) realize this, which is why they seem to have an easier time of reconciling themselves with the disappointments of life, love, and politics.

December 20, 2006

Potpourri

Giving back to the planet
Posted by Jordan Tama

Adding to Heather's excellent suggestions, another way to do good during the holidays is to make a green investment that offsets your annual energy use. Carbonfund.org provides a good overview of the benefits of going "carbon neutral," and a New York Times article explains some of the ways to do it. One option is to invest in planting trees through The Conservation Fund. Another way is to invest in renewable energy projects, as TerraPass does. You'll be surprised at how inexpensively you can compensate for your greenhouse gas pollution.

Since it can take many years for investments in trees or clean energy projects to bear fruit, reducing energy use is still essential to prevent climate change in the near future. So we should all follow Heather's lead and buy a hybrid next time we're in the market for a car.

Potpourri

Bring a Smile to Your Face
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just for a second, forget the President's end-of-the-year news conference and all the other awfulness, and let me suggest a few foreign policy-related things do can do to bring a holiday smile to your face, after you've followed Shadi's suggestion for watching The Devil Wears Prada and pondering the seductions of power:

1.  Go drive a (US-built) hybrid car.  We acquired a hybrid Saturn VUE last week, and I have to confess that I'm getting a lot more psychic benefit from driving it than I ever expected (which almost makes up for my preference for a zippy little standard transmission sedan).  "Up yours, Ahmedinajad," I mutter whenever the little green "ECO" light comes on.  "Take that, Ted Stevens.  Who needs your drilling in ANWAR?"  And I'm also sending a message to my Big Three auto-exec neighbors here in southeast Michigan.  Build some more of these things, darn it -- how about a sedan, or even a station wagon?  Give my other neighbors the autoworkers some work, compete with the Japanese hybrids AND help us climb out of the oil mess.

2.  Give some money to a cause that works.  If you need more encouragement, read Peter Singer's article about how little each of the top 10 percent of US income-earners would need to give to meet the Millennium Development Goals, for example.  If you have kids, or remember the Del Fuegos fondly, or want to see Walter Cronkite hug a sheep, check out the Heifer Project's holiday site. Feel good about your fellow human beings, and lessen the pain of what your tax dollars are being wasted on.

My promised update: 

A kid named Akash Mehta is raising money to help open a girls' school in Herat, Afghanistan.  You can read about him and help him out here.  Akash has already gotten his first challenge grant, from the Unemployed Philosphers Guild, the entrepreneurs who brought you Bush National Security Team puppets, "Freudian Slip" message pads and other novelties you may not be able to do without.  Why is Akash doing this?

The first time I thought of this was when I was sitting in the kitchen trying to help my mom wash dishes. But I found that I wasn't good at dishwashing. So I sat down and asked my mom what use kids were to the world. She told me that we were learning how to be good, and we can help the world when we grow up. Plus, when we are kids we make joy for grownups. But I said I want to do something now that makes the world a better place, and I am too young to do that.

Even if I am only 8 years old, I am thinking about how lucky I am to be rich compared to these kids. You might think that these are disturbing thoughts for a young child and I sort of agree, but the only way that disturbing thoughts can go away from children's minds is if you help.   Once a few people do this, children's disturbing thoughts can be replaced by thoughts of how the world is slowly becoming a better place and how one day is better than the last.

Shoot, send this kid some money.

Also, one thing NOT to do is to give your old clothes to one of those places (including the oh-so convenient drop boxes) that promise to send them to Africa.  Why?  Most end up re-sold by entrepreneurs for profit, and drive the local fabric and garment industries out of business, because who can compete when the raw material is free?  ABC News has a report on this, but don't let it drive you to frustrated despair.  Sell or give your old clothes to a thrift shop or find someplace that recycles them, then take the tax break and send that to a group working to empower folks in poor countries.

Continue reading "Bring a Smile to Your Face" »

December 19, 2006

Potpourri

You Knew it Was Coming...
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Spencer Ackerman's blog redesign will no doubt put a smile upon your faces.

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