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February 28, 2007

Getting Muslims Totally Wrong
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Anne Applebaum is a sensible writer who seems to know more about Muslims than most of her opinion-wielding counterparts (which is sort of like saying that Jessica Simpson is a more substantial "artist" than Britney Spears). That's why her latest column is so worrying. If even Applebaum get things this wrong, then there's pretty much no hope that we'll ever begin to understand the Muslim world. The topic of her column is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who some have hailed as a "brave" and "courageous" voice for standing up to Muslim extremism. More than a few people seem intent on treating her as some kind of anointed spokeswoman for oppressed Muslim women, a reformer from within the faith or, worse, a kind of pseudo-Muslim Martin Luther. There is, of course, the complication that she isn't even Muslim (she renounced her faith long ago). There is also the small matter that Muslims themselves don't like her much. In fact, I have yet to meet even one Muslim on the planet, secular or conservative, liberal or illiberal, who actually thinks that Hirsi Ali is helping the cause of internal Muslim reform. Largely, because she isn't. Applebaum, however, sees things differently:

Continue reading "Getting Muslims Totally Wrong" »

February 27, 2007

Barack Obama knows the Difference between Sunnis and Shias
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Everyone has a list of things they'd like to see in a president. There's the usual: honesty, charisma, "gravitas," good looks, moral grounding, faith. If you're a Democrat, you tend to tack on other considerations: intelligence, knows how to write prose, has read at least 5 books within the last 5 years without any prodding from Karl Rove, has an American passport and has used said passport to travel to a foreign country (Canada doesn't count), and doesn't hate gay people and/or want to throw them off cliffs.

Well, I'm going to add another qualification for 2008 and I think it may actually be among the most important: understands Islam and Muslims. And you get extra points for actually having lived in a Muslim country. If you've studied at a madrasa, even better. Take a look at this clip from 2002 where Obama explains his opposition to the Iraq war. I don't want to set the bar too low, but he clearly grasps the difference between Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds and understands that a war could splinter the country into different ethno-religious factions.

This, for me, is why Barack Obama is such an attractive candidate. He's the only candidate who has any "natural" understanding of the region. He should hype this part of his resume and say it straight-up: "we're fighting a war on terror, one that is taking place mostly in the Muslim world. We're fighting a long and difficult struggle against the forces of Islamic extremism. At the same time, we're trying to convince 1.4 billion Muslims that we're not out to get them. We need a president who understands this region of the world and who is familiar with the aspirations, fears, and sensibilities of our Muslim friends abroad. I am that person. If you grant me your support, I will restore our moral leadership in the eyes of the very people who have come to distrust us most. I will reach out to the Muslim world like no president before me, and I will begin to rebuild the bridges that my predecessor burned."

Friends and Enemies
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Tony Blair is a tragic figure. I used to like him. Maybe I still do, sort of. I think there's little doubt that he genuinely believes he (along with his transatlantic friends) is fighting the "global struggle against Islamic extremism" or whatever they're calling it now. Too bad he seems to always get left in the dust by Bush and Cheney. In a recent BBC interview (via Andrew), Blair draws the struggle in Iraq in the usual overwrought way, although he manages to come off sounding sincere (no small feat). We must "support the democrats against the terrorists." Then he says something about the "forces of progress" versus the "forces of reaction" in the Middle East. It is unclear who he is referring to. Well, on the other side of the pond, Cheney and friends seem to have a better idea of who's on our side (Prince Bandar and a sprinkling of Sunni jihadists) and who isn't (Iran and the "Shia crescent"), and the answers, as you might expect, aren't particularly encouraging. Apparently, our past policy of "moral clarity" has been updated to reflect new "realities." Some choice excerpts from Seymour Hersh's latest:

The United States has also given clandestine support to the Siniora government, according to the former senior intelligence official and the U.S. government consultant. “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can,” the former senior intelligence official said. The problem was that such money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will,” he said. “In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like. It’s a very high-risk venture.”

American, European, and Arab officials I spoke to told me that the Siniora government and its allies had allowed some aid to end up in the hands of emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with Al Qaeda.

...In an interview in Beirut, a senior official in the Siniora government acknowledged that there were Sunni jihadists operating inside Lebanon. “We have a liberal attitude that allows Al Qaeda types to have a presence here,” he said. He related this to concerns that Iran or Syria might decide to turn Lebanon into a “theatre of conflict.”

Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because, um, we kind of tried this before:

Nasr compared the current situation to the period in which Al Qaeda first emerged. In the nineteen-eighties and the early nineties, the Saudi government offered to subsidize the covert American C.I.A. proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Hundreds of young Saudis were sent into the border areas of Pakistan, where they set up religious schools, training bases, and recruiting facilities. Then, as now, many of the operatives who were paid with Saudi money were Salafis. Among them, of course, were Osama bin Laden and his associates, who founded Al Qaeda, in 1988.

February 25, 2007


Iraq Intel - Take it to the Committee
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Last Thursday night I took part in a discussion with Senator Jay Rockefeller, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  Rockefeller offers a predictably blistering critique of the Administration's handling of intelligence to date, and makes clear that Congressional access to those on the frontlines of intelligence gathering is sorely limited.

But Rockefeller is surprisingly upbeat about prospects that incoming DNI Mike McConnell will start to change all that.  He respects McConnell's experience, and judges him a straightshooter who will not be beholden to a hobbled Administration.

Apropos of last week's post on how we will judge the success or (seemingly inevitable) failure of the surge/escalation, Rockefeller and his Committee may play a key role in this determination.   As illustrated by Dick Cheney's down-the-rabbithole argument that Britain's withdrawal from Iraq bodes well for the war effort, the Administration will try to spin anything into success.  Solid intelligence, assuming we have any, could be essential to baring the truth. 

If McConnell is committed to a serious effort to restore the legitimacy of the US intelligence establishment, there is no better place to start than Iraq.

February 23, 2007


More lighter side
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From my friend Jack Balkin at Balkinization:

My solution to the Iraq War-- partial privatization of national security!

Frankly, I'm tired of debates about whether the Democrats should pass statutes bringing the troops home, limiting redeployments, or placing conditions in future appropriations bills.

I think the best solution to the Iraq war is to take a page from the signature domestic policy initiative of President Bush's second term.

I propose that each President be given a personal National Security Investment Savings Account modeled on the proposed Social Security Investment Savings Accounts. Under this partial privatization of National Security, each Commander-in-Chief would be given a specific amount of money taken from the national budget that he could invest in stocks, bonds, or other financial investments. He can then use the proceeds to fund any military actions or preemptive strikes he likes.
After all, it's his money.

Like most Americans, Commanders-in-Chief should be encouraged to save responsibly for their future military invasions and preemptive attacks.


Read the rest here.


On a lighter note
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From the Borowitz Report:

Bush: I’ll Bring Troops Home on JetBlue

No Exact Timetable, President Says

Under increased pressure to announce an exit strategy from Iraq, President George W. Bush revealed plans today to bring U.S. troops home on the budget airlines JetBlue.

Mr. Bush received praise for his decision to withdraw American troops, but his choice of JetBlue to transport them raised more than a few eyebrows.

According to most official estimates, with its recent spate of scheduling problems and flight delays, JetBlue could take up to seven years to bring U.S. troops home, and possibly ten years in the event of inclement weather.

The Limits of American Idealism
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Peter Beinart, unlike so many others, seems to have learned precisely the right lessons from supporting the wrong war. Where Peter started off as an avid, full-blown supporter of the war, he has found himself today in a very different place. His latest piece is a fascinating accounting of how we come to make the wrong decisions only with the best of intentions. My own situation is, in many ways, quite different but I suppose I, too, am on my way to coming to terms with Beinart's somewhat dispiriting but necessary realizations about power and idealism.

I was adamantly opposed to the war from the beginning. I didn't waver (at least not until much later). For me, there was no gray area. I really had trouble understanding how anyone who called themselves a “liberal” could lend their support to such a destructive project. However, my views became a bit more ambiguous by early 2005 when I saw the promise of what could have been and, what I believed then, was still possible. I was living in Jordan at the time. I remember seeing the pictures of Iraqis braving terrorist threats to cast their votes for the first time in their lives. For me, it was one of those rare moments which seemed to hold within it the hopes and dreams of a people. For me, it was a beautiful moment, moving, emotional. It was a formative experience. We lived in a different world then and readers of DA will know how much hope I had for the now-aborted "Arab spring." I remember telling one of my friends in Jordan then (and, trust me, I hated saying it): in 10 or 15 years, we will look back and we might have to admit to ourselves that the Bush administration was the best thing that happened to the Middle East. Well, as the following two years would bear out, I was totally wrong. The opposite of what I “predicted” is now true: the Bush administration is the worst thing that has happened to the Middle East.

Peter says he was seduced by the notion that American could be what it had not yet become: a “revolutionary democratic power.” I began to believe this as well. This is, really, what I longed for, and, like so many others, we were seduced by the idealism of revolution. Beinart’s conclusion is sobering: “We can't be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be.” With that in mind, he goes on to make what I think is the fundamental distinction between liberal interventionists and neo-cons:

Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United State has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn't have trusted ourselves.  

February 22, 2007

Obama as Personal Messiah
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A fun, half-serious (?) email discussion I had with a friend today. Topic? Obama as personal savior. 

...when it comes to presidential candidates, specific policy prescriptions concern me less than character, charisma, intelligence, and a willingness to say things that are unpopular but honest. To cite an example, there is almost nothing Barack Obama could say or do in the next two years (short of advocating that we roundup all young Arab Muslim males) that would make me NOT support him. B/c I trust him as a person. I trust his character.

Friend: Do you have a reason for wanting a candidate who is charismatic, intelligent, willing to say unpopular things, regardless of what those things are/what their policies are?  Do you think that makes them more electable?  Do you think that will make them a better president?  Do you think that will make them more likely to talk to moderate Islamist parties?  Or is it just a personal preference for charismatic presidents?

Me: i want to be inspired. i want to believe in something. i want to fight for something. i want a cause. i want a mission. i want love. i want something extraordinary. i am lost. i want to be found.

Friend: Sounds like you need a shrink, not a presidential candidate 

February 21, 2007


Who Says Non-Binding Resolutions Don't Matter?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Nope, this post isn't even about Iraq, except in the way that every darn thing in foreign affairs is now about Iraq.  A non-binding resolution requesting that the Italian Senate reiterate its support for the government's foreign policy (inspired by a repudiation of war and respect for the role of the EU, UN and international alliances) failed and brought down the tenuous post-Belusconi government. 

Why?  In a word, Afghanistan, and discontent on the left of the coalition with Italy keeping troops in the NATO mission there.

One of my European correspondents has been telling me for months that we Americans underestimate how unhappy our European allies are with the Afghanistan mission and its potential to create serious casualties.  Well, folks, the Prodi government is a serious casualty.  And coming on the same day as the British, Danish and Lithuanian announcements of troop withdrawals from southern Iraq...


The Cross-tabs don't lie
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via the Washington Post blog The Fix, a fascinating new poll on Iraq from a Republican firm, Moore Information.

The Fix post concentrates on the fall-away of "soft" Republicans, who now only muster a small plurality in support of the Administration's policy, and on the full third of those who disapprove who say that blame goes only or primarily to President Bush.  (Another 30% blame Bush and all members of Congress who voted for the war; 24% blame "Bush and the Republicans in Congress" and 8% blame "members of Congress who don't support the President's approach."  Oh, and 5% don't know whom to blame.

But I also see that "The concept of a partitioned Iraq meets with a plurality or majority opposition among all demographic subgroups of the voting population."  The overall figure is 47% oppose a partition, 25% support and 28% unsure.  I'd love to know how exactly they asked the question; I'm guessing there's something important here about how Americans view our role in the world -- that it's not our place to go breaking up nations, perhaps, a general discomfort with our "playing God" -- but that's just a guess.

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