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January 05, 2007


India after the Millenium
Posted by Michael Signer

First, I want to thank Jordan Tama for doing such a crackerjack job guest-blogging while I was gone.

I just returned from a 3-week trip to India and have some thoughts on this fascinating nation that, while they're not on the Iraq surge or Nancy Pelosi, might interest some of you.  And I offer these thoughts healthily aware that you flirt with cliche anytime you try and offer insights about a country that thousands of travel-writers, editorialists, and general India-philes.

I found two things about the country most interesting, especially when thinking about India from the economic-powerhouse, largest-secular-democracy-in-the-world perspective. 

Continue reading "India after the Millenium" »

January 04, 2007


Asia's Katrina
Posted by Zvika Krieger

Last week marked the second anniversary of the 2004 Asian tsunami, which claimed the lives of over 200,000 people and left millions homeless. International aid came pouring in—to the tune of over $13 billion. The US gave $133 million to Sri Lanka—where I’ve been spending the past two weeks—but few Americans seem concerned where their tax money has gone. Many folks here are comparing the mismanagement of reconstruction efforts to the post-Katrina bungling in the US. In between hanging out with Tamil Tigers and getting a sun tan, I’ve been making the rounds at some of these “reconstruction projects”—and let me tell you, the situation here makes the Katrina clean-up look like the New Deal. Despite the billions of dollars given to Sri Lanka, thousands of people here are still languishing in temporary housing two years later.

Of course much of the blame falls on the Sri Lankan government, which was not capable of handling the massive influx of aid money and is debilitated by rampant corruption. But I have been most shocked at the near-universal criticism I’ve been hearing of foreign NGOs and aid groups that flooded the country after the tsunami. Almost every Sri Lankan I've met has complained that these foreigners seem more concerned with spending their money than actually helping Sri Lankans. In many cases, these ill-conceived reconstruction projects have just made things worse. A report by UN special envoy Bill Clinton described aid activities in Sri Lanka as “a competition for photo-opportunities.” And it doesn’t help that, while many Sri Lankans are still living in post-tsunami squalor, many foreign NGO workers are driving around in fancy new SUVs and staying in 5-star hotels. (More than a few of them were at the $50-a-ticket New Year’s party I crashed this week.)

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to call the efforts of the international aid community “arrogant and ignorant” (in the words of the Tsunami Evaluation Commission). While many in Washington have been praising the values of disaster relief as a public diplomacy tool, most are forgetting the key ingredient—our aid has to actually help people.  By writing blank checks to countries like Sri Lanka, we are becoming part of the problem rather than the solution. As the Clinton report concluded, “The generous public funding had discouraged humanitarian actors from prioritizing accountability to affected populations during the tsunami response.” You can read some of the most damning evidence here and here.

Intelligence, State Dept.

Negroponte: Benched, or Deep Relief?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I was waiting for The Washington Note to weigh in on what to think about John Negroponte stepping down as Director of National Intelligence to go be Rice's deputy at State.  But Steve Clemons seems to be trapped at some garden spot without a hard drive -- so let's think for ourselves:

Two-word comment:  Systemic Failure.  There's some amusing gossip/inside baseball/Kremlinology on this move, some of which I note below.  But fundamentally, the idea that a holder of the intelligence position could even consider leaving it for a lower-ranking government job suggests to me that the effort to reform how we manage intelligence has, ummm, not yet succeeded.  Something is very wrong if our senior intelligence job is less attractive than being the waterboy for ANY Secretary of State.

Three word comment:  Staying the Course:  Last May, Steve seemed to see Negroponte in his intel position as a key opponent of then-Secretary Rumsfeld.  Interesting that Rumsfeld's departure didn't make Negroponte want to stay/able to stay.  One should conclude, as if there wasn't enough evidence pouring in from other quarters, that this Administration is not planning to change in any fundamental way.   

Gossipy question: Jumped or Pushed?  That's how NPR framed it this morning. Negroponte told C-SPAN just last month that he was in it through this Administration.  I thought I heard someone on NPR say that Negroponte had also clashed with Rice in the past, but perhaps I hallucinated that in a pre-caffeine haze. 

I'll even leave you with a Thursday morning conspiracy theory:  what if this were a preliminary move because Rice is planning to leave State?  I don't expect that myself, but one could see Negroponte, a career foreign service officer, hoping to do a Lawrence Eagleburger and become Secretary briefly at the end of this Administration.   


Losing Hope: The 9 Best Songs of 2006
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I wanted to belatedly wish everyone a happy new year. See if you can muster any optimism for the world that we have lost and the world that the Bush administration seems intent on losing for yet another year. In the immortal words of Coldplay, we live in a beautiful world, yea we do, yea we do.

I know this is a cliche, but it really is music that keeps us alive, that allows us to relate to a world which sometimes makes little, if any sense. The private is not necessarily separate from the political, as the misunderstandings, malice, loss, and longing which define the shattered hopes of a world losing its way, are the same kind of loss and longing that animate our own imperfect relationships with those whom we love - friends, family, wives, husbands, lovers. There is an inevitable gap between what is, what could be, and what shall never be. Jumping off that admittedly vague pseudo-philosophical point (perhaps inspired by my recent viewing of Babel), I now turn to nominate the 9 best songs of 2006, the songs which captured the zeitgeist of not only my own life, but of a world that seemed to me to crumble before my very eyes, defying the hopes and possibilities which 2005, however gingerly, seemed to offer:

1. Muse, "Starlight"
2. Editors, "Bullets"
3. Keane, "Atlantic"
4. The Kooks, "Seaside"
5. Thom Yorke, "Harrowdown Hill"
6. Keane, "A Bad Dream"
7. Band of Horses, "The Funeral"
8. The Vines, "Spaceship"
9. Kasabian, "Empire"

And then for # 10, I guess I could include Radiohead's "Optimistic," which deserves to be on a top 10 list no matter what year (it was originally released in 2000).


Officiating a Human Sacrifice?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Jason Scorse (of Voices of Reason) in a comment to my previous post makes a good point:

Shadi - you're being way too timid in your reaction - the execution looked very much like it was a snuff film and the fact that the executioners were chanting in favor of Al Sadr, who is a terrorist bent on ethnic cleansing, is utterly despicable. This is what we are spilling so much blood for and spending upwards of a trillion dollars and wrecking our international legitimacy for? This is an utter disgrace.

Jason, you're right. I should be a lot angrier. I just watched the video of Saddam's execution right now for the first time, and I can't imagine being more disgusted. You'd think that if there was one person in the world that deserved the death penalty, it was probably Saddam. But after watching the video, it makes you wonder whether the death penalty is a good idea even in those cases where the guilt of the accused is so clear-cut and overwhelming as to be unmistakable. Once again - another example of the US being in the right, and turning it into a wrong.

Christopher Hitchens might have just written the best commentary on the subject. Money quote:

Thus, far from bringing anything like "closure," the hanging ensures that the poison of Saddamism will stay in the Iraqi bloodstream, mingling with other related infections such as confessional fanaticism and the sort of video sadism that has until now been the prerogative of al-Qaida's dehumanized ghouls. We have helped to officiate at a human sacrifice. For shame.

January 03, 2007


When January Comes, or if FIFA Ran Iraq
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I've been too down in the dumps about Iraq to post much (no policy options anyone believes will work, the degeneration of Saddam's execution into medieval spectacle, all-around carnage).  Fortunately, my email yielded up this satirical suggestion of the "new team" needed for Iraq -- a soccer team.  Even if you know nothing about soccer, don't give up reading before you get to the inspired pairing of David Beckham and Condoleezza Rice -- an image that speaks volumes (Beckham was dropped from the English national team and not had much playing time lately, for those of us who don't follow him).

Herewith, a satirical cry of despair, a faint hope that Iraq's burdens might become half this internationalized, and a small Democracy Arsenal tribute to the beautiful game.

When January Comes:  My Dream Team for Iraq, by Byron Andrews

Goalkeepers: Oliver Kahn and Donald Rumsfeld: Benched Cold War warriors working behind the scenes on a “magnanimous scowl to encourage and cheer our troops.” Will miss absent mentor Jurgen Klinsmann of whom Kahn says, “I have certain knowledge that Klinsmann is either in California or Germany or some other part of the world, which if I believe what I said yesterday could be Iraq.” 

Right Wing Backs: Gary Neville and Pat Robertson: Fearful of a “Scouse-Sunni Jihad” they warn that Manchester and America face far bigger dangers than a “few bearded scallies nicking stuff from Tescos and Wal-Mart.”

Left Wing Backs: Ashley Cole and Ahmed Chalabi: Tough tackling England defender and ex Iraqi Deputy PM leader have promised to continue the fight against “Tactics of Mass Destruction”. Chalabi is now acting as Cole’s agent, telling reporters “It would take an awful lot to get Ashley to leave Chelsea for Iraq, a province perhaps.”

Continue reading "When January Comes, or if FIFA Ran Iraq" »


Troops are Down on the War
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Very few newspapers carried the Military Times poll taken recently about how the deployed troops feel the Iraq war is going. More troops disapprove of the handling of the war than approve of it.

When the military was feeling most optimistic about the war — in 2004 — 83% of poll respondents thought success in Iraq was likely. This year, that number has shrunk to 50%.

Only 35% of the military members polled this year said they approve of the way Bush is handling the war, and 42% said they disapprove. While approval of the president's war leadership has slumped, his overall approval remains high among the military.

Just as telling, in this year's poll only 41% of the military said the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, down from 65% in 2003. That closely reflects the beliefs of the general population — 45% agreed in a recent USA TODAY-Gallup poll.

Read the article here.

January 02, 2007


What Is and What Should Never Be
Posted by Shadi Hamid

On Sunday, I addressed the timing of Saddam’s execution. The more I think about it, the more this really strikes me as somewhat symbolic of the whole, wretched Iraq enterprise. In many ways, the Iraq war could have been, in different hands, a noble endeavor (at least in theory). If we had done things right, then maybe Iraq could have became a functioning democracy and an inspiring model for the rest of the region. Similarly, the execution of Saddam could have served as a powerful, resonant reminder of a new Middle East to come – a Middle East where rulers would be held accountable by international norms and fair judicial proceedings, and where no one stood above the law. It would provide a cautionary take to the seemingly immortal autocrats of the region – that they too would one day be held accountable for their crimes. After all, here was a man – the supposed second coming of Saladin – whose bloated myth was being shattered, after decades of destroying his country and people. But from day one, the trial of Saddam was a botched effort that fell well short of the acceptable standards of a fair trial. And few in the Arab world saw it as anything more (or less) than a charade.

Staging the execution (by hanging, no less) on the same day that Sunnis celebrate Eid al-Adha was the last in a line of botched imperfections. Surveying the Arab reaction, Abu Aardvark notes that:

The decision to execute Saddam on the Eid has swamped pretty much every other aspect of Saddam’s fate. Anger over the timing has probably overwhelmed any other sentiment (with “it doesn’t change anything, Iraq is still a mess” coming a close second).

To make matters worse, it is giving Arab regimes to deflect attention from their own failed policies on Iraq and just about everything else:

Easy for them to score some cheap points by being on the "right" side of the Eid issue so that nobody pays attention to where they stand on the bigger Iraq or Iran or Palestinian or other issues. 

Unlike many other opponents of the war, I actually believed (and hoped) that something good could come out of the Iraq war. But almost nothing good has. This – the gap between what is and what could have been – strikes me as one of the greatest tragedies of this unfortunate episode.

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" »


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" »

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