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September 15, 2006


Tortured Metaphors
Posted by Michael Signer

You know that old PR saw about you're losing when you're repeating your opponent's message?  (e.g. "Congressman X defended himself today against allegations that...")  You'd think Tony Snow would know better, but then, really, what's he supposed to do?  This is what he actually said in a press conference yesterday:

"Somehow I think there's this construct in people's minds that we want to restore the rack and start getting people screaming, having their bones crunching," Snow said. "And that's not at all what this is about."

Yes, that's exactly what was in my mind -- "having their bones crunching."  More likely, it's that the Administration is so haunted by how desperately, crazily wrong their whole approach is on torture and the Geneva Conventions, and how utterly they've lost touch with Congress, not to mention mainstream America, that it feels like torture.  Hence the ready metaphors.

This was a big deal yesterday.  Senator McCain has gone out of his way to cozy up to the President, yet he led a very principled charge, along with Senators Warner and Graham, to buck the Administration on their attempt to eviscerate (sorry, to interpret) Article III of the Geneva Conventions.  Amazing.  Even in an election year -- even from the Party that showed no hestitation about staging the original vote three weeks before the 2002 midterm elections -- the Senate leadership saw certain things as beyond the pale.

Continue reading "Tortured Metaphors" »

September 14, 2006


The Folly/Wisdom of Exporting Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

An article of mine on the "wisdom of exporting democracy" is out today on TomPaine.Com. For an alternative view, check out Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman's "The Folly of Exporting Democracy." I guess it's sort of a showdown between a "democracy-centric foreign policy" and "ethical realism." In any case, here's the beginning of my piece:

Some commentators —including most recently the American Prospect’s Matt Yglesias —have argued that the central problem in the Middle East is not so much its lack of democracy but, rather, “the enduring legacy of imperialism.” According to this line of reasoning, the solution to our Mideast dilemmas would be to change the policies that Middle Easterners hate the most. Unfortunately, the list of grievances is so long, that to actually redress them would, one suspects, take a very, very long time. Moreover, in a region where our vital interests are engaged, it is unlikely that an avowedly “anti-imperialist” foreign policy—whatever that might mean in practice—will stand a chance of being supported by either political party. More fundamentally, however, this diagnosis fails to grasp the real source of our difficulties in the Middle East.

It’s not so much that people are angry at us, but rather that people have no political outlet with which to express their anger in a peaceful, legitimate manner.

Even if the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict was to be solved through hands-on American diplomacy, it would be shortsighted to think that this would be the victory that some imagine it will be. For if the conflict is resolved, it does not change the fact that millions of Arabs live in humiliation, treated as little more than petty subjects, to be manipulated, controlled and repressed at will. The greatest indignities Arabs and Muslims face—the ones that, for them, are most immediate and tangible—come from their own authoritarian governments. And of course, we, in our continued support for unrepentant autocrats, are complicit.

As long as Muslims have grievances against us (and they most certainly will for the foreseeable future), then the only sustainable American response is to promote those democratic mechanisms that will absorb, temper and channel such sentiments in a constructive fashion. Only when their governments are responsive to their needs and frustrations will Muslims be able to shake off the humiliation and powerlessness which has been the prime mover of terror and extremism.

Read the whole thing here.

September 13, 2006

Middle East

Iraq in the Arms of Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Plenty of progressives have gone quiet on Iraq, tired of wasting words and ink on advice that's consistently ignored, and genuinely confounded by how to untangle the disastrousw results of Administration policy.

The plot thickens even further with today's reports of tightening security ties between Baghdad and Tehran.  The US remains mired in a dangerous and uncertain mission in Iraq in an effort to buttress that country against the influence of terrorists and extremists.  But even as we do so, Iraq is embracing the government of the regions most dangerous proliferator and most open antagonist of the United States. 

So one of the primary outcomes our Iraq mission seeks to avoid is happening under our nose.  The US is protesting that these growing ties are having a destablizing effect on Iraq by empowering Shiite militias, but the Iraqi government does not care.  We're in no position to argue that Iraq need not turn to Iran for security, since the manifest reality is neither we nor the Iraqi armed forces can provide it.

Meanwhile our own senior military personnel are arguing in public over whether troop levels in Iraq are adequate.  After the NY Times and Wash Post reported a senior military intelligence officer saying that more manpower was needed to contain the violence in Anbar province, the best his superior could come up with was that current troop levels were adequate for the goal of training Iraq's security forces, and that trying to combat the insurgency was outside the scope of their mission.  If that's the best we're able to do, no wonder Iraq is turning to Iran.

After rounds of consultations with Middle Eastern leaders who agreed that the Iraq invasion was a disaster but were divided on whether or not we should leave (Iran, not surprisingly, offered to help show us the door), Kofi Annan pronounced that the US is now in a position where "it cannot stay and it cannot leave."   This is pretty much how the Bush Administration seems to look at it:  they won't beef up the mission to a point where it has a fighting chance of containing the insurgency, and nor will they pull out.   

What Kofi Annan left out is that the only thing worth than either deciding to stay and positioning the US with adequate troops for possible to success or deciding to leave, is declining to make any decision at all.

September 12, 2006

Progressive Strategy

Ask it Again: How Divided is the Left?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Last week, Kevin Drum made an interesting argument that’s worth chewing on:

Democrats have recently achieved a fairly considerable consensus on how to move forward. I don't want to overstate this: obviously there are still plenty of differences among major players in the party. But if you take out, say, the Chomsky wing on the left and the Lieberman wing on the right, there's a surprising amount that the rest of us agree on.

This is nearly the opposite of what I argued in my recent American Prospect articles. I said:

Today, significant fault lines divide the left on a host of major foreign policy questions. If such disagreements were simply a matter of differing policy prescriptions, that would be one thing. But the divisions are of a more fundamental nature – a product of competing meta-narratives liberals hold to understand America’s role in a post-9/11 world.

Well, what’s going on here? Drum might be right that Democrats agree on specific policy prescriptions such as spending “more on things like port security and chemical plant security,” “strengthening cooperation between the FBI and the CIA,” and supporting “a far more serious energy policy.” Fair enough. But these are commonsensical positions that anyone who is not slightly deranged would agree with. Moreover, Drum avoids the aforementioned question of meta-narratives: how liberals envision our country's role in the world, its mission and its calling (or does that sound too imperial?). He also skirts around the complex and contentious issue of how and even whether the US should aggressively promote democracy in the Middle East.

The Kossack left, certainly, is rather ambivalent about the utility and uses of American power, but much less so about its abuses. It is a bit challenging to even figure out what the this group really thinks about outstanding foreign policy questions, since all they really do is criticize whatever the Bush administration happens to be doing at any given moment coupled with simplistic calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Indeed, as others have pointed out, the Kossacks and a good chunk of the Democratic base don’t have well-defined positions on foreign policy. Rather, they seem to take a “if Bush says it or does it, it must be bad” approach to national security.

Similarly, I recall an infuriating article by Juan Cole in Salon after Hamas came to power in January’s Palestinian elections. Its title - “How do you like your democracy now, Mr. Bush?” – made me cringe. The occasion of Hamas’s victory was too readily employed in the service of cynical “I told-you-so putdowns,” when it should have been used for reasoned reflection on how to improve our democracy promotion strategy.

As I’ve argued before, even Congressional Democrats, despite the presumably "hawkish" tendencies of some of its membership, had the audacity to come up with a national security plan which not once mentioned the word “democracy.” This is, it strikes me, a rather glaring omission. In short, contrary to what Kevin suggests, all is not well. Far from it.


"No One Would Come"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

On Saturday, I heard Edward Gnehm - who was US ambassador to Jordan when 9/11 happened - speak on a very interesting panel on "the War on Terrorism Five Years In." Gnehm recalled how on September 11, 2001, a crowd had begun to gather outside the US embassy (in Amman). By then, it had become clear – America had been attacked by Muslim terrorists on its own soil. With this in mind, Gnehm and the embassy staff worried that the gathering crowd was a presage to another attack, perhaps part of some coordinated offensive. They were wrong. The crowd was there to express its solidarity with America after its great loss. Over the course of the next week, Gnehm recalled, 3800 Jordanians came to the embassy to express their grief and condolences. And then he concluded: if another 9/11 had happened today, claiming thousands of American civilians, no one would come. No one would come. Unfortunately, he is right.

September 11, 2006


Moral Clarity, Inverted
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Today is September 11. It is almost impossible to tell. Nothing looks particularly different. Starbucks coffee tastes like it did five years ago (or does it?).

We don’t seem to act like a society at war. That, however, does not mean the task at hand – fighting terror and securing the homeland – is any less urgent. But we are losing, whether it is on the battlefields of Iraq or for the hearts and minds we began to lose long ago. A couple of days ago, a friend and I were talking about John McCain running for president. I ran through some of his good qualities: he’s relatively principled, sincere, I said, and he’s anti-torture to boot. Then I thought to myself – this is the legacy of the Bush administration: the moral bar has been set so low that now we get excited when a politician is against torture, which is, as far as I’m concerned, sort of like being anti-rape, anti-murder, and anti-child molestation. It’s really nothing to brag about, or at least it wasn’t before the Bush administration and their Republican enablers destroyed America’s moral compass. 

On the eve of this tragic anniversary, it’s baffling that the Bushies would coin as stupid a term as “Islamic fascism.” Wait, actually, it’s not. They want to rally their base with their red-meat appeals for the red states, who, so we are told, fancy hypermasculine posturing mixed in with their politics. When Bush decided to mix in faux Churchill in his garbage-man rhetoric, he put our troops and our country in ever greater danger. Every terrorist and religious extremist now has another talking point to whip up the anger of potential recruits. In short, this administration has sacrificed the safety of our troops and the security of the American people on the altar of domestic politics.

Yes, some of you might proceed to explain to me the meaning of “Islamic fascism,” and justify its usage. But what we, as Americans, think the term means is irrelevant. In today’s morass of miscommunication, what is said often has little to do with what is heard. And 1.4 billion Muslims, nearly all of them already quite angry at us, interpreted the words as distinctly hostile and an affront to their faith. In a culture which elevates honor and dignity, the spectacle of a man with little command of the English language, fronting in such a preposterous manner, is yet one more insult on top of many others. The scars of humiliation have not healed, while the indignities continue to mount.

As always, the price of such decisions, made in the name of "moral clarity," will have to be borne by us and our country, never more imperiled than it is today, five years after later. 

September 10, 2006

The Bush Doctrine: A Five Year Retrospective
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The Bush Doctrine, advanced after 9/11, comes down to the idea that American and global security is best advanced by toppling repressive and hostile regimes through any means possible, including principally force. 

The appeal of the doctrine has always been more emotional than intellectual:  it provided a needed outlet for swelling feelings of anger, pride, and patriotism after 9/11, allowing Americans to feel powerful again after the unprecedented blow of watching the twin towers - America's two front teeth - knocked out by an enemy we barely knew we had.

Intellectually, the doctrine was never as satisfying.  Its principle flaw was taking for granted a host of things that were expected to flow from the toppling of these hostile regimes that, in practice, have proven elusive.  While Bush claimed that his mantra was the extension of liberty, this outcome was presumed rather than effected through deliberate policies.  It was assumed that broad international support, the embrace of formerly repressed peoples and the flowering of stable democracy not only in the affected territory but in surrounding states as well would all naturally emerge from these US-led ousters. 

Had these consequences resulted, Bush might have been right that the initial trigger - the overthrows of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein - started of a chain of events that measurably enhanced US security.  Since the ensuring consequences were anything but what Bush predicted, the toppling of the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq has had the opposite effect. 

The blindness in the Bush Doctrine was failing to recognize that the key to American security lay not with the removal of hostile regimes, but with their successful replacement with stable and broadly supported alternatives.  Going a step further, Bush failed to foresee that without the latter piece, the initial topplings could create a level of anarchy and regional instability, more dangerous for both the affected regions and the US, than before. 

Continue reading "The Bush Doctrine: A Five Year Retrospective" »

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