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April 30, 2007

Gross Incompetence
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So what is this report talking about?

“[He] made up his mind hastily, despite the fact that no detailed military plan was submitted to him and without asking for one," the report said. "He made his decision without systematic consultation with others, especially outside the [military], despite not having experience in external-political and military affairs…

[He] was also censured for failing to “adapt his plans once it became clear that the assumptions and expectations of [the country's] actions were not realistic and were not materializing…  All of these," the report said, "add up to a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence."

"[The Defense Secretary] made his decisions during this period without systemic consultations with experienced political and professional experts, including outside the security establishment."

[The military] chief of staff at the time, was criticized for entering the war "unprepared,"... [He] failed to "present to the political leaders the internal debates within the [military] concerning the fit between the stated goals and the authorized modes of actions."

According to the report, “the government did not consider the whole range of options, including that of continuing the policy of 'containment', or combining political and diplomatic moves with military strikes below the 'escalation level', or military preparations without immediate military action.”

No.  It’s not George Bush.  These are the results of the Winograd Report, which evaluated the Israeli Government’s performance during the Second Lebanese War.  It includes an inexperienced leader, who never really asked the tough questions about whether or not the war should be waged in the first place, and then refused to change course once it became clear that his initial objectives couldn’t be met.  The Defense Minister made decisions without input from others.  The Army Chief of Staff did not disclose the military’s own misgivings about the operation.  Does this sound familiar?

The biggest difference is that in the U.S. we might have to wait another ten years to get a report this damning, and it will never happen while President Bush is still in office.  This report is as high profile in Israel as Baker-Hamilton was in the United States - if not more.  Could you ever imagine Baker-Hamilton being this harsh?  Then again, it's pretty easy to take shots at a PM with a 3% approval rating.

Judge this Administration on its own priorities
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

It wasn't even one pm today -- officially I was on mommy duty and not even working -- and I'd already heard US credibility in three high-priority policy areas utterly demolished.

First, Europe's first terrorism czar, Gijs de Vries, discoursing on why the EU has found it so difficult to make effective information-sharing and policy-toughening on terrorism a priority.  Bureaucracy and a large community are important causes, but also there's this:

De Vries says America's current image makes the job of fighting terrorism difficult in Europe.

"The United States used to be known as a country of the rule of law and of liberty," he says.

Today, those associations are with the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, detainees at Guantanamo Bay and CIA renditions, de Vries says.

"That is sapping support for the United States, and also indirectly for Europe worldwide," he says.

Again, folks, that's not some lefty radical or weenie think-tanker.  That's the senior EU counter-terrorism official.

Then NPR got to the resignation ofUSAID Administrator and former Global AIDS czar Randall "have some abstinence education with your anti-retrovirals" Tobias.

Continue reading "Judge this Administration on its own priorities" »

Some Not So Good Signs
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Aside from the usual violence, there have been a number of stories over the past few days that taken together paint a bleak picture.

1. The Iraqi Parliament is considering a two month recess for the summer.  Urrrrgh…  Seriously?  Looks like the Administration hasn’t been too successful in instilling in the Iraqis a sense of urgency to reach a political solution.

2. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia refused to meet with Prime Minister Maliki before the international summit next week in Cairo.  So much for regional diplomacy.  Although, on a positive end, the reason for snubbing Maliki is that Abdullah is fed up with the lack of movement on the political front.  At least someone is trying to hold Iraqi politicians accountable.

3. The Administration is pushing back any comprehensive evaluation of the “new” Iraq strategy until the fall.  Shocker…  If you are actually surprised by this move, then I have a very nice piece of real estate that I’d like to sell you in Anbar Province.

April 29, 2007

Asking for Trouble
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

If I were President Bush I would be careful about not touting the recent success in Anbar province too publicly.  It’s exactly the type of declaration that invites retaliation.  The Administration is faced with a Catch-22.  In order to prosecute the war it needs the support of the American public.  It therefore goes out of its way to brag about specific successes.  Unfortunately, the American public is not the only audience that pays attention to the President’s and his advisors’ statements.  Iraqis, especially key players such as politicians and insurgent leaders, pay attention too. When they see themselves being used as a talking point they tend to go out of their way to debunk it.  Some recent examples:

Earlier this month the administration began talking about a 26% drop in sectarian violence in Baghdad.  A week later there was a massive bombing of a Shiite market and an attack on the Green Zone.

John McCain was in Iraq with a Congressional delegation in early April and they consistently used Moqtada al-Sadr’s marginalization and weakness as a sign that things were finally getting better in Iraq.  By the next week Sadr had organized a massive protest in Najaf and pulled his Ministers out of the Iraqi government. 

The Administration has been touting the joint Iraqi-American security stations that have been built around Baghdad.  And soon enough there is a suicide attack at one of these bases that kills nine American troops.

The President has consistently referred to Tall Afar as an example of success and a model for the “surge”.  But just last month it experienced one of the worst sectarian bombings of the war and an equally ugly reprisal.

These declarations are not the reason that the attacks are happening.  But every time supporters of the war cite a specific success, they add symbolic value to a target. At this point they have no hope of regaining public support for the war.  So, I'd suggest keeping quiet.

April 27, 2007

Defense

If you want to save the professional military, read this article.
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

One of the best overviews of civil-military relations I've ever seen is at this siteState Department site on Principles of Democracy. Read that for a primer, and then read theoriginal article in Armed Forces Journal that Heather points out below. This is a very, very important statement and will hopefully lead to a ground-breaking discussion about the need for a new grand strategy, including the role of the mililtary in national security since the end of the Cold War. The most memorable line? "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war"

Surrendering to their baser instincts
Posted by Rosa Brooks

My colleague Marty Lederman flags another little bit of nastiness emanating from the White House this week:

The official White House statement on the Democratic supplemental funding bill states that the legislation "insists on a surrender date." I understand the inevitable urge to spin every issue so as to put one's adversaries in the worst possible light. But really. To play at such name-calling with a matter this solemn and important -- to use official White House stationary to cavalierly insist that a majority of the national legislature not only favors military "surrender" but "insists upon" it -- is conduct unworthy of a chief executive, let alone a Commander in Chief.

Read the rest of Marty's comments here.

YouTube and CivMil Relations Theory -- all out the window?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

This is a fascinating development.  I'm not so sure about the Oliver Stone angle -- and if you watch the submissions from Iraq vets and their families on YouTube, you may like me find them so compelling that you wonder why Stone is needed.

But having significant numbers of veterans speaking out against the war and criticizing the chief executive in a public, media savvy way seems to me likely to change some of the ways we think about civil-military relations forever.

I've written before that it's not clear to me exactly how our old code of military disengagement from politics holds up when anybody can make a Youtube video or write a blog post about his or her experiences and when, as with an unpopular war, those experiences take place in a highly-politicized context.

Great if this helps pressure the Administration and relieves "support the troops" pressure on Democrats; but imagine the tables turned... think about this happening with troops in Kosovo, or Darfur... imagine the challenges of being the non-political authorities over troops in such a situation. 

(And by the way, I was surprised to hear a young officer at a Truman Project event last week castigating military authorities as well as political leadership for what's gone wrong in Iraq -- but this Washington Post article suggests he's got a lot of company.)

April 26, 2007

Is Islam a Peaceful Religion?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I stumbled across this article, provocatively titled “Why I am not a Moderate Muslim.” It is yet another addition to the tired and bloated genre of Islamic apologetics. I sympathize with what the author (Asma Khalid) is trying to do here – reclaim Islamic discourse from extremists. But the article comes off as defensive, with the usual clichés about “Islam is peace,” and “jihad really means something other than holy war.” Yes, as a Muslim, I personally happen to think that Islam – in its original, revealed form, as God intended it – does not condone violence or the slaughtering of “infidels.” But Islam does not – and cannot – exist in a pure form. It exists only in its interpretive form, channeled through human understanding, an understanding that is, by definition, imperfect and compromised. (in other words, while Muslims believe that the Koran is perfect, this perfection cannot be realized by humans because once they begin to interact with the text, they invariably do so within their own limited prism, a prism which transforms the eternal into the ephemeral).

Therefore, there is no such thing as Islam as “pure” doctrine. Rather, there is only Islam as it has been constructed and re-constructed by human interaction and social context. To use social science terminology, then, Islam is a dependent, as opposed to an independent variable. Thus, to say that Islam is peace or Islam is violence, or Islam condones terrorism, is to say something which, in effect, has little meaning. Islam cannot be anything. Just the same, it can be everything. At the end of the day, because of the interpretive anarchy that has been a staple of modern Islam, it’s my word against Bin Laden’s. I can say all I want that the religious extremists are wrong, but I don’t suppose that’s much solace to the victims of religious extremists. When Muslims say that Islam is peace, they are (usually) making a sincere claim, but it is a doctrinal claim, not one that is necessarily grounded in a realistic appraisal of how Muslims behave. Whether Islam is peaceful from a doctrinal standpoint (what God intended when the Quran was revealed) is irrelevant to the question of whether Islam is peaceful from the practical standpoint (what actually happens in real life). So, yes, while Islam may be peaceful doctrinally (I think it is, although I can’t really prove it), it is not (now) peaceful as far as the daily practice of Muslims is concerned, and I think most non-Muslims would consider the latter to be more relevant. I hope that makes some amount of sense.

Continue reading "Is Islam a Peaceful Religion?" »

The French Muslim Swing Vote
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This may set a bad precedent, but I accidentally stumbled onto Dinesh D'Souza's blog. And, feeling a bit adventurous, I decided to wade through some of his posts. This one about Muslims and the French elections is worth your two-minutes. His point: Muslims aren't going to "take over" Europe through sheer numbers, but, if they form a voting bloc in places like France (where they are nearly 10% of the population), they can pretty much become the decisive factor in close elections:

So Edward Gibbon's fear--that the students of Oxford and the Sorbonne might be subjected in their curriculum to the teachings of Muhammad--seems as far-fetched as ever. But there is another, more plausible, way for the Muslims to "take over," and that is to become the swing vote in closely divided European countries...While the international press is focusing on "Bayrou power," little is being said about "Allah power." If they can form a united bloc the Muslims can play a crucial, and perhaps decisive, role in the French election. They are in a position to extract commitments from either party.

April 25, 2007

Yeltsin: Farewell to the Century
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Russian Patriarch Alexy's statement for Boris Yeltsin's funeral today read, in part:

"The destiny of Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] reflected the whole dramatic history of the 20th Century."

More than I've seen recognized, Yeltsin shaped the 20th century's end for his own country and much of what we think of our own country's birthright for the 21st century.

Of course that's true for Russia:  the man was born a peasant, lived through World War II, Stalin's purges and Khrushchev's thaw; came up through the Communist Party hierarchy to run a defense-industry city.  Then, brought to Moscow by Gorbachev to shake up a corrupt party hierarchy, he defied all expectations and let his reforming zeal run beyond his mentor's.  Forced out of first the Politburo and then the Communist Party in the late 1980s, his popularity only increased.  (At least two college friends of mine had honors theses on him fall apart when the man couldn't stay static long enough for a semester to run its course.)

In retrospect, the man had his own version of Cory Aquino's "people power" (another highlight of the late 1980s); he harnessed the fury of anti-corruption before Transparency International.

Continue reading "Yeltsin: Farewell to the Century" »

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