Security and Peace Initiative Democracy Arsenal

« July 16, 2006 - July 22, 2006 | Main | July 30, 2006 - August 5, 2006 »

July 28, 2006

Middle East

States and Non-States
Posted by Michael Signer

At a Truman Project dinner the other night at an apartment in Woodley Park, over Armando's pizza and beer, we debated the Israel-Lebanon conflict.  We mirrored the country in our conflicting views.  Some agreed with Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership that Israel's response has been disproportionate.  Others felt that Hezbollah got what they deserved.

At some point in the discussion, it occurred to me to ask -- what is the difference between what Israel is doing now and what America did in Afghanistan?  Our national memory -- indeed, our history -- will be defined by Iraq, which happened only after a massively successful invasion of another sovereign nation.  We reflect too little on Afghanistan (this amnesia is another casualty of the rash and ill-planned venture in Iraq).

So let's talk about Afghanistan, vis-a-vis Israel's approach to Lebanon.

Continue reading "States and Non-States" »

July 27, 2006


Send in the Cavalry (er, International Force)
Posted by David Shorr

There are so many UN angles to choose from -- the bombing of its Lebanon mission, is Kofi playing it right, UN v. NATO legitimacy, content of a Security Council resolution... But I want to focus on the question raised by Elaine Sciolino and Steven Erlanger in their lede of their page one story in Tuesday's New York Times:

Support is building quickly for an international military force to be placed in southern Lebanon, but there remains a small problem: where will the troops come from?

Multilateralists (I am one) have an achilles heel that we must cure. (Yes, I know Achilles' tragic flaw could not be cured, but they didn't have 21st century medicine.) When we vaguely praise "international institutions" such as the UN, we leave them exposed to unfair and unrealistic criteria for effectiveness. The Sciolino/Erlanger piece on the difficulty of obtaining forces reminds us that international organizations rely totally on member states to be able to do anything.

The United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies provide essential public goods for the international order. Their treaties and resolutions give normative structure and help define the boundaries of acceptable behavior in the global community. Their councils and committees give diplomatic structure for international cooperation and decision making. Such organizations are a crucial barricade against anarchy, but the bulwark is only as strong as the collective political will invested by governments.

Let's start a betting pool; how long till commentators start talking about the current Middle East crisis as another "failure of the UN?" I have written elsewhere that the chief political function of the UN is often to serve as a scapegoat. It's as if we're demanding: "Hey UN, why haven't you brought about world peace and "saved succeeding generations from the scourge of war" like you promised?

Ironically, the UN was a significant contributor to Lebanon's Cedar Revolution last year. After the Hariri assassination, the Security Council displayed remarkable unity in putting pressure on Syria. And that's the point, international organizations can be quite effective when governments come together and agree on a course of action.

As a colleague of mine might put it, when it comes to impact, nation states are the independent variables, and international organizations are the dependent variables. This is they key to effective international action, and it's where the debate about multilateralism needs to go.

Dissin' Secretary Rice
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Looks like the latest neocon target practice will occur on the head of Secretary Rice and her colleagues at the State Department. Why? They are not pleased with the way she's handling Middle East policy--most lately the violence between Hezbollah and Israel. This from Insight --(conservative cousin of the Washington Times):

The criticism of Miss Rice has been intense and comes from a range of Republican loyalists, including current and former aides in the Defense Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. They have warned that Iran has been exploiting Miss Rice's inexperience and incompetence to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. They expect a collapse of her policy over the next few months.

Now, I haven't heard anyone say "Miss" since watching "Gone with the Wind"....And even as a 10 year old it was embarassing to view someone addressing a grown up woman in such a way.

Despite all the pre-Iraq war revisionism i.e. that we tried using force as a last resort...neocons really have no time for diplomacy or other "soft" elements of national power. All their misleading blabber about having gone through the UN and talking before striking is political crowd control. Their interpersonal policy has uncanny resonance: neocons obviously also relish the club for their own colleagues who aren't ideologically pure enough.

Rice received the back of the hand for what? Allegedly for:

  - Consulting with Senators Lugar and Hagel
  - Seeking to moderate Israel's excesses
  - Being committed to diplomacy

In psychology, what the neocons are doing is called projection. This is  a defense mechanism--a combo of blame and denial. In this case, looking for a scapegoat for the damage the neocon ideology has done to America and the rest of the world. The USA has lost its legitimacy--a loss that will hinder and harm us for years to come. We live in a world where the time between actions and consequences has collapsed, where expectations of individual equality are actively promoted (with our help) and then denied (with out help) and where that sense of entitlement returns mishapen--often as violent rage--what others think of us  really matters. It is our first line of defense.

Like financial markets, world stability is a confidence game. And we've dealt ourselves out. This is hardly Condi's fault.

Because of our failure to act, the situation in the Middle East is turning into a death wrestle. Here's what Zbigniew Brzezinski had to say  about it on Tuesday:

"Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you're killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You'll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing."

Middle East

Who Fears Chaos More?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

This morning, my old colleague Rob Malley said something that crystallized thoughts I'd been having around the Middle East fighting:

"The question is, who is going to fear instability more, who is going to fear chaos more, and who can sustain violence longer?"

This is exactly the problem with the neocons' "creative chaos" theory that got us into all of this, because, of course, it turns out that we fear instability and chaos more, even -- or especially -- the chaos we helped create.  We mind if oil prices go up; we mind the deaths of our own soldiers, and we sporadically mind the gratuitous killings of civilians.

He might also have asked:  who is best positioned to benefit from chaos?  The answer, as we have seen clearly in Iraq, is:  not us, and not our secular, moderate, embattled friends.  The forces that benefit in times of chaos are those that have strong networks and reliable ties (kinship or faith or ethnicity) already in place; who know the terrain thoroughly and who are known to the people they are trying to coerce/recruit.

Hezbollah has us, and the Israelis, and Lebanon's forces of moderate authority, thoroughly beat on all of those counts.

Why is this fantasy that we benefit from chaos so persistent?  It reminded me of something, so the other day I went and dug through some college textbooks and pulled out the following set of ideas:

--accentuate the contradictions already existing in corrupt, unjust societies;

--expose the weakness and even hypocrisy of governing "moderates;"

--empower the average individual, or forces representing him/her, in the name of democracy and justice.

Sound familiar? 

Continue reading "Who Fears Chaos More?" »

July 24, 2006

Middle East

Dust Yourselves Off, and Get Up
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I spoke to a friend over the phone last week, as the Middle East was coming apart. He was incredibly pessimistic about the future of the region, almost to the point of despair. We are losing the Iranian people, he told me. The gains of the Cedar Revolution have been lost. The democracy promotion agenda has been tucked away in a lockbox. I tried to counter some of his points, but I found it rather difficult. Because, no matter what way you look at it, it really is all quite depressing (see my previous post). I remember the burgeoning optimism of last year. 2005. I really did think, then, that 2005 would stand decisive in the unfolding story of the Middle East. It was an exciting time, where things, for once, seemed alive. Of course, this is the Middle East where nothing turns out quite the way you hope it will. Perhaps I should have known better.

This morning, trying to remember how I felt back then in the heady days of early 2005, I reread an article I had written for The Jerusalem Post (2/1/05). It was titled “A Democratic Moment.” And it was, as the title suggests, a rather optimistic piece - except for a short cautionary note:

This, however, is a different time, a time when 'democracy' is on the lips of millions of Arabs who have never tasted it. There is cause for hope, but it would be dangerous to see this as a harbinger of great things to come. This is not Ukraine, where hundreds of thousands rallied in the icy cold in jubilant solidarity.

Yes, this is not Ukraine. It is the Arab world.

We are, however, at a turning point. And we are faced with a couple different choices. We can accept defeat, and let the Middle East continue being what it has been for the last several decades – a dangerous powder keg, which explodes every couple years (or months). Or we can dust ourselves off, get up, and regroup.


Depressed About the Middle East? Try Bono
Posted by Shadi Hamid

If you’re depressed about all the problems in the Middle East, then you need to have good music to get you through it all. Earlier this morning, I listened to U2’s “Miss Sarajevo” for the first time since May. I played it over and over. In light of this most recent Middle East crisis, it was a beautiful, affecting listen. It is one of those rare songs, political without actually being political, literate without being didactic. It has one hell of a catchy melody. And Luciano Pavorotti’s soaring interlude is absolutely incomparable, like nothing I’ve heard in a mainstream pop song. Inspiring. Check this live version out for yourself. Bono sings:

Is there a time for keeping your distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day...

        Is there a time for first communion
        A time for East 17
        Is there a time to turn to Mecca
        Is there time to be a beauty queen...

        Is there a time for tying ribbons
        A time for Christmas trees
        Is there a time for laying tables
        And the night is set to freeze

The first time I had ever heard “Miss Sarajevo” was at the U2 concert this past October in the MCI Center. I can’t even begin to describe it (so I won’t). Those of you who have seen U2 live know exactly what I’m talking about. By the way, Bono for Secretary of State?

July 23, 2006


Stress Relief for a Disorderly World
Posted by David Shorr

In this bewildering world of strife and struggle, what's a poor policy maker to do? It's stressful, exerting American dominance in a disorderly world. Fortunately, there is a tonic for these woes: moral certainty. Seriously, let's stop and look at all the troubles that can be alleviated by simply showing global renegades the error of their ways and waiting for them to be replaced by good guys. If you settle for anything less than capitulation, you are shrinking from the imperative to end evil. The only good bad regime is an ousted bad regime.

Once you have decided that the bad guys must go, you don't have to worry about what they do in the meantime. They're on the wrong side of history, the ash heap is over there. Weapons programs, support for terrorists, these are mere symptoms. You can't make deals with these people, it just encourages them, lulls you into a false sense of security. The key thing is to hang tough. No matter what happens, you've got your certainty.

Being certain of your rightness also frees you from having to fret about what you can or can't make happen in the world. The point is, everyone else knows what America can do, they'll get the message. As long as you don't waver, the next move is the other guy's. Meanwhile, moral certainty is its own reward (I mean, in addition to the stress relief).

Moral certainty eases a third and final source of stress: unintended consequences. You always do the right thing, you're sure of it. You do what needs to be done. Whatever you've done, it had to be done, to end evil. Go ahead and let people second-guess; they're cowardly and jealous. You're one of history's actors; the pointy-heads can judiciously study the consequences.

Now, don't you feel better?

Guest Contributors
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 the Security and Peace Institute, the Center for American Progress, The Century Foundation or any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use