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November 24, 2007

Shifting Tones on Iraq
Posted by Shawn Brimley

I found today's piece in the New York Times on the Democrats and Iraq fairly interesting:

"As violence declines in Baghdad, the leading Democratic presidential candidates are undertaking a new and challenging balancing act on Iraq: acknowledging that success, trying to shift the focus to the lack of political progress there, and highlighting more domestic concerns like health care and the economy.

Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.

But the changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military."

While it is clear that the level of violence in Iraq has been trending down, the complete absence of real political progress serves as a warning that these trends can quickly be reversed. I've believed for some time that the question of withdrawal is no longer a question of when (it has already started), but:

  1. How quickly the next president will bring out the remaining troops (the next president will inherit around 120,000);
  2. Whether or not the next president will consider plateauing at a certain level at some future point in order to continue counter-terrorism and/or an advising mission (I believe he or she should); and
  3. If the next president will use the nature and pace of troop reductions to attempt to influence political dynamics on the ground (I think he or she should).

November 23, 2007

That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer has written another piece in his multi-year fantasy series "See the World as I Do, Not As It Really Is." His topic today, a familiar one, the extraordinary success of the surge in Iraq and the disloyal and partisan Democrats (in particular Nancy Pelosi) who are living in a "state of denial"  and want to pull the plug.

When I read Charles Krauthammer use the words "state of denial" I feel the need to introduce him to the "kettle" and the "pot." And I feel like a bit of a broken record on this point, but it's important to once again go back and remind ourselves of the rationale for the surge in Iraq.  It was never intended as a military solution to the challenges facing Iraq - it's success was always predicated on political reconciliation, which of course has not occurred. Faced with this nasty piece of reality, Krauthammer has bravely not tried to ignore it (as many on the right are prone to do) he simply says it doesn't matter:

We would all love to have the leaders of the various factions -- Kurd, Shiite and Sunni -- sign nice pieces of paper tying up all the knotty questions of federalism, de-Baathification and oil revenue. . .  But it is not going to happen for the same reason it has not already happened: The Maliki government is too sectarian and paralyzed to be able to end the war in a stroke of reconciliation.

But does the absence of this deus ex machina invalidate our hard-won gains? Why does this mean that we cannot achieve success by other means?

Talk about moving the goalposts. So what does this "success by other means" look like: local provincial and tribal autonomy. In fact Krauthammer lauds the "genius" of General Petraeus for genius for adapting "American strategy to capitalize on that development, encouraging the emergence of and allying ourselves with tribal and provincial leaders."

Yet, as Podesta, Korb and Katulis pointed out last week in the Washington Post (maybe Krauthammer should occasionally read his own op-ed page) "the progress being made at the local level often undermines the stated goal of creating a unified, stable, democratic Iraq." Creating pockets of political and military power divorced from the central government is hardly a long-term plan for success, its a path toward creating another Afghanistan - a warlord state. Moreover, Maliki is using these local "success stories" to argue that there is no need to move forward on national reconciliation (a concept he recently mocked). How long do you think the Sunnis will put up with that? How long do you think they will accept being shut out of the country's oil revenues? Yeah me neither.

Continue reading "That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer" »

November 21, 2007

Busharraf
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Yes.  That is what they call him in Pakistan.  And after these latest statements from the President I'd have to say they are completely justified

President Bush yesterday offered his strongest support of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying the general "hasn't crossed the line" and "truly is somebody who believes in democracy."

Up until now, the Administration's position has been weak and uncertain.  But these latest statements represent a new low and a dramatic turn.  Essentially signaling that the United States will stand behind Musharraf and against democracy.  This sends a terrible signal to the people of Pakistan, the Muslim world and pretty much the entire international community.   All for a guy, who hasn't actually helped the United States achieve any of its strategic goals in Pakistan or the region.  I have to agree with Senator Biden:

"What exactly would it take for the president to conclude Musharraf has crossed the line? Suspend the constitution? Impose emergency law? Beat and jail his political opponents and human rights activists?" asked Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a presidential candidate. "He's already done all that. If the president sees Musharraf as a democrat, he must be wearing the same glasses he had on when he looked in Vladimir Putin's soul."

I'm sure Shadi will have much more to say on this issue.

Annapolis Gets a Bad Rap
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Jim Zogby writes that Annapolis actually has a long history of hosting peace conferences and that if the Bush Administration and the various parties took the time to read up on these they may learn something useful.

Eye of the Hurricane
Posted by Shawn Brimley

After reading this oped by retired Major-General Robert Scales in today's Wall Street Journal - in which he describes the decreasing violence in Iraq as a possible "culminating point" in the war - it occurs to me that what we are most likely seeing in Iraq is the eye of the hurricane. Scales is a very respected leader and thinker, but I think there is a degree of hubris in this and other pieces that distorts what is actually going on.

Yes, General Petraeus has been an extremely effective and adaptive leader, but let's not forget that the Anbar awakening started before the so-called "surge," that sectarian cleansing in Baghdad and surrounding areas is to some degree responsible for the lower violence today, that Sadr and the JAM are largely out of the current picture by choice, and that the so-called "Concerned Local Citizens" groups (aka: motivated local militias) are and will remain an enduring threat to the prospect of effective government security forces. And finally, there is little to no indication that the Shiite central government is attempting to either seriously incorporate the CLCs into their security infrastructure (paying them, transitioning them into Army or Police units) or make the kinds of political deals (oil-sharing, enhanced provincial powers, etc.) that are vital to any reasonable prospect of an enduring stability.

All these factors convince me that rather than a "culminating point" beyond which lies a stable Iraq, what we are actually seeing is a "strategic pause" in which the dynamics of civil war and insurgency are being held in check by U.S. forces while various Iraqi actors position and plot for the endgame. I hope I'm wrong.

Lecondel
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I think there is general agreement on the fact that the Annapolis Conference is unlikely to produce much in the way of progress on the Peace Process.  Right now there is little consensus inside the Israeli or Palestinian population and on top of that you have three lame duck leaders who are not strong enough to generate any genuine progress.  Basically, the political situation is all wrong for any serious progress to be made.  It didn't have to be this way, if the Administration had actually engaged on this issue from the very beginning, but now it is.  The whole effort is probably best symbolized by this:

The long buildup to Annapolis, together with Ms. Rice’s many trips to the region, have given birth to a new verb in Israeli government circles: “lecondel,” meaning, to come and go for meetings that produce few results. The word is based on Ms. Rice’s first name.

The prefix "Le" in Hebrew means "to."  So "Lecondel" literaly means to Condoleeza. 

November 19, 2007

Irony
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Clinton, without naming Obama, also continued to blast him for proposing to the lift the cap on the taxing of Social Security benefits, which are currently taxed at 6 percent, but only on the first $97,000 of a person's income.

"We don't need more Republican scare tactics about a 'Social Security crisis,'" Clinton said. "And we don't need a trillion-dollar tax increase that will hit families already facing higher energy, health care and college costs.

As far as I can tell, calling a plan to raise taxes on people making more than $97,000 a year,  trillion-dollar tax increase on families is a text book "Republican scare tactic"  (I really don't know enough about Social Security to have strong feelings or opinions about a specific plan)

Why Biddle is right about 30 years
Posted by Max Bergmann

Marc Lynch reported a comment from Steven Biddle that it would take “80,000-100,000 troops in Iraq for the next twenty to thirty years” to achieve stability in Iraq. Biddle’s assessment is a welcome departure from the conventional and simplistic view now out there that, as General Petraeus remarked, “the average counter insurgency is somewhere around a nine or a 10 year endeavour.” What is important about this difference is that it shows that counter-insurgency experts advocating the 10-year time-frame fundamentally misread the conflict in Iraq.

The conflict in Iraq is not just a two-dimensional conflict between occupier vs. insurgents (or government forces vs. ideologically-driven communist rebels – as much of the 10 year counter-insurgency modeling is based). It is more fundamentally, an ethnic conflict – and these are generally much more intractable and take a lot longer to resolve, because you simply don’t “win” an ethnic conflict.

Take some of the existing ethno-sectarian conflicts around the world such as in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, and even the Basques in Spain or the Kurds in Turkey. Each of these are highly intractable conflicts that involve one group resisting being ruled or dominated by another. Each has gone on for decades. Northern Ireland exploded in the 1970s, Sri Lanka and Kashmir in the 1980s, the modern Basque nationalist movement originated from the 1950s and 60s, and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey from the late 1970s.

Importantly, external attempts to unilaterally resolve these conflicts through force almost always backfired. 

Continue reading "Why Biddle is right about 30 years" »

Don't Judge a Book by Two Chapters, Yglesias
Posted by David Shorr

Matt Yglesias extends his scorn for Fred Kagan and Mike O'Hanlon's New York Times Pakistan op-ed to the entire project from which their ideas emanated, the Stanley Foundation's Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide project, whose resulting book is coming out this week. Having been co-editor for the foundation of this project -- together with Tod Lindberg of Hoover Institution and Derek Chollet of Center for a New American Security -- I'd like to respond.

Matt is making three big leaps as he uses the op-ed to question the value of bipartisan dialogue and consensus-building: from op-ed to book chapter, from book chapter to book, and from book chapter to bipartisanship. With each step, the critique gets weaker. In their essay for the project, Kagan and O'Hanlon use a number of scenarios (including the one for Pakistan given in their NYT piecee) to argue the need for an increase in the overall size of US ground forces. But the key point is this: you can view their scenarios as an argument for enlarging the Army and Marines without agreeing with the authors' options for how to respond to these contingencies, as they point out themselves.

This project included ten essays by pairs of authors from the right and left on different issue areas such as detainee treatment, China, the UN, and the relationship between US interests and values. Matt doesn't care much for Ivo Daalder and Bob Kagan's essay on the use of force (which was summarized in a WaPo op-ed last summer), but I challenge Matt to read the entire set of essays. In fact I'll make it easier for him and make sure he gets a copy of the book.

I have differed with Yglesias over whether there is value in bipartisanship before. There are and should be sharp partisan differences over foreign policy issues, and bipartisanship cannot bridge all of the divides. On the other hand, partisanship has absolutely had a warping effect on the debate, and there is definite benefit in clearing the air of some of the mutual caricatures that go back and forth.

Democratic National Security Messaging
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There have been a number of pieces out lately on national security messaging from Ed Kilgore and Democracy Corps.  I’m a little late to the game but there are a few things worth mentioning.  First, after forty years of Republican dominance on this issue, I completely agree with Democracy Corps that Democrats have a unique opportunity to take control of the national security message and use it to their advantage.  Iraq is clearly responsible for shattering the narrative of Republicans as responsible stewards of America’s foreign policy.  Now Democrats need to take advantage of the situation and prove that they are in fact credible by presenting an alternative agenda.  However, let’s be clear.  That simply isn’t going to happen in a permanent way until Democrats get into office and are able to prove that their policies work.  The public needs proof points and despite the fact that I thought that the Clinton Administration ran a perfectly reasonable foreign policy, the public wasn’t really paying attention to these issues in the 1990s.  Kosovo is just not the type of proof point that is going to resonate

Second, Ed Kilgore presents an interesting taxonomy of the choices that Democrats have in terms of national security.  The three that I think make the most sense are:

3)  Vociferously oppose Republican positions on national security (and particularly the use of military force) in order to convey "strength," on the theory that "weakness" is the real message of conservative "weak on defense" attacks (a common assumption among bloggers and activists arguing that a single-minded focus on ending the Iraq War is a sufficient national security message).

(4) Oppose Republican positions on national security while focusing on Democratic respect for, and material support for, "the troops" and veterans, on the theory that a lack of solidarity with the armed services is the real message of conservative "undermining our troops" attacks (a common theme in the Kerry 2004 campaign and in post-2004 Democratic messaging).

(5) Find ways to compete with Republicans on national security without supporting their policies and positions (e.g., the 2002-2004 Clark/Graham "right idea, wrong target" criticisms of the Iraq invasion as distracting and undermining the legitimate fight against terrorists).

The one thing I will say is that I’m not sure if these are choices or part of one integrated messaging strategy.  I think that you can do all three pretty effectively.  My own personal preference would be for a message along these lines:  “After seven years of a reckless foreign policy marked by wishful-thinking and incompetence, we need an intelligent defense for a complex world.  This means leaving Iraq to make America safer and focus on the real threats we face.  Our troops have performed valiantly and done everything they can but it’s time to bring them home and focus our efforts on the real dangers we face from those who attacked us on 9/11 and are now hiding out in Pakistan, to our debilitating dependence on foreign oil, to the strain that this Administration has put on our military.”

Continue reading "Democratic National Security Messaging" »

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