Democracy Arsenal

« April 15, 2007 - April 21, 2007 | Main | April 29, 2007 - May 5, 2007 »

April 27, 2007


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" »

Insurgents Can Wait Us Out, Or They Can...
Posted by David Shorr

A lot of talk about "signals" lately. Signals to the enemy. Signals to the troops. Anyone who has read Sy Hersh's 1982 book on Kissinger, Nixon, and Vietnam, The Price of Power (out of print, unfortunately), should be extremely wary of military action as a communication medium. We should always ask whether the signal we're sending is the same one being received by the other side.

Force is sometimes necessary to achieve military, political, and strategic objectives. It can also be an effective complement to diplomacy. But in all these contexts, the connection to the desired aims must be specific and explicit, rather than general and vague. Once you adopt the demonstration of resolve as your aim, you have put yourself in a box and will have a hard time getting out.

Which brings me to the critique of a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. If we announce one, supposedly, our adversaries can just wait us out. Okaaaay... And if we leave it open-ended, they'll do what? Insurgencies are famous for being able to sustain themselves over long periods. I think we've got something backwards here. No matter how you slice it, the longer timeframe plays to the other side's advantage, not ours. Timeline or no timeline, either way the insurgents can wait us out. After all, they live there.

Why We Don't Understand Political Islam
Posted by Shadi Hamid

There's a new foreign policy blog up that's worth bookmarking, the cleverly-named Democratic Piece. One of the contributors is a friend of mine, Andrew Mandelbaum, who also happens to be one of the few people who actually knows something about Moroccan politics. Now, you might ask yourself, what's so interesting about Morocco? Well, two things: first, Morocco is often hailed as being a model for Arab reform (it's not), and second, the leading Islamist party in the country, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), looks poised to win the upcoming parliamentary elections, which would make that the fourth free election Islamists have won in the Middle East since 9/11 (Turkey, Iraq, Palestine).

In any case, Andrew has a great post up about a recent New York Times article by Craig Smith. It's a pretty bad article and serves as a good example of why Americans still don't understand political Islam, and why reading the Times won't necessarily help. Let's take this sentence for instance:

Every country on the continent’s northern rim, from Egypt to Morocco, has outlawed extreme Islamist parties that would be likely to win large parliamentary blocs — if not majorities — were they allowed to participate in free and fair national elections.

Sounds okay, right? You've probably heard it before. Pretty standard. Well, actually, it's extremely misleading and Andrew explains point-by-point how one seemingly innocuous sentence can totally obscure the reality of Middle East politics:

Continue reading "Why We Don't Understand Political Islam" »

April 24, 2007

More on Obama's Foreign Policy Speech
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I was going to do a piece on Obama’s foreign policy speech but Shadi seems to have beaten me to the punch.  I’ll just focus on a couple of things that I thought distinguished Senator Obama from some of the other candidates and one thing that they all need to address.

I was thrilled to see that section four, not section one, was cooperation with allies.  Too often progressives confuse ends (Keeping America secure) with means (multilateralism).  Working with others is important but it shouldn’t be our top priority.  Obama doesn’t drivel on about the UN, the ICC or international norms.  Instead, he uses examples where working with others results in tangible and direct benefits to America’s interests.  Global warming and the concept of a new security architecture for Asia, which takes into account the rise of China, are both great examples.  If you want to convince people that working with others will them safer, you have to clearly demonstrate the benefits. He does that effectively, and demonstrates that he believes that working with others is not an end onto itself.

The emphasis on nuclear issues is huge.  This is probably the single most important security threat we face and yet it usually get short shrift because it’s technical and boring.  Obama goes beyond the standard talking point about nuclear terrorism and unsecured nuclear material.  He addresses issues such as interdiction, an international nuclear fuel bank and rethinking the nuclear posture.  He has made the nuclear issue a high priority since he got into the Senate, and it’s reflected in the speech.

The one area where Obama, and all the other candidates on both sides of the aisle need to do more work is military policy.  The proposal to increase the size of the military is a good one.  It has been around for almost four years.  It originally came about because a number of experts looked around and realized that we were going to be in Iraq for years and that to prevent the military from breaking we needed to increase its size.  Well, too late.  The military is broken and will require significant restructuring.  Some of the think tanks are starting to work on new long-term proposals, and I don't expect any of the candidates to have one yet.  But I do hope that before we get to 2008 there is a candidate out there who has an aggressive plan to help the military recover from the Iraq War.

Time for American Muslims to Speak Up: ElBayly Must Be Fired
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This is disgusting. Former Dutch MP, outspoken critic of Islam (and now fellow at AEI), Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke at the University of Pittsburgh last week. "Islamic leaders" tried to stop it from happening. One of them, Imam Fouad ElBayly, president of the Johnstown Islamic Center, said the following:

[Hirsi Ali] has been identified as one who has defamed the faith. If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death.

Yes, you heard that right (read the original Pittsburgh Tribune article here). ElBayly essentially passed a death sentence on Hirsi Ali. It wouldn't be the first time, but it's probably the first time for an American-Muslim (he's been here since 1976, so I'm assuming he has citizenship). Here's hoping that the Muslim blogosphere (to the extent that it exists), rises up in arms, speaks out and condemns this guy, and tells him, "if you don't respect even the most basic American traditions of free speech and expression, then why the heck are you in our country? If you're going to go around passing death sentences on people you disagree with, then please leave not only the Islamic Center you purport to lead, but also this country." So, yes, here's a call to action: the Johnstown Islamic Center should fire ElBayly immediately. He should be prevented from holding any leadership post in the American Muslim community.

I'm no fan of Hirsi Ali and I've criticized her at length in previous posts. I suspect most American Muslims don't like her either. That, however, should not keep us from speaking out against ElBayly and those like him. Hirsi Ali's freedom of expression must be protected, and it is here that Voltaire's famous quote is most operable ("I may not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to my death your right to say it"). The irony of it all is that in one stupid, dangerous statement, ElBayly has succeeded in "defaming" Islam more than Hirsi Ali ever could.   

Obama's Big Speech
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A friend of mine emailed me late last night. The subject heading was "I'm Sold." He was, of course, referring to Obama's foreign policy speech to the Chicago Council for Global Affairs yesterday. Personally, I think there were problems with the speech, mostly having to do with his lack of his emphasis on democracy promotion (criticisms forthcoming tomorrow). But putting aside my ideological biases (what Spencer Ackerman calls my "democracy fetish") for a moment, and putting on my not-obsessed-with-democracy-promotion-hat, let me just say that it is a beautifully written speech, thematically coherent, detailed, and affecting. 

A speech does not a president make but this, I think, marks a critical step for the Obama campaign, and we may look back and say that this was a turning point. Obama is not allfluff.” He is the real thing, and yesterday’s speech confirms that Obama has the capability and the potential to be the visionary that many Democrats long for him to be. Today, it is rare to read a speech by an American politician, and think to yourself, this is why I love my country. This is why America is, in fact, the “indispensable nation,” and that, yes, we can be a shining beacon for the world. I know it is no longer fashionable in leftist circles to think such things, but when you hear Obama speak, it is possible (if you let your idealism get the better of you), to think that our generation will actually heed the call and make America what we always wished it could be. Sure, that's a high calling, and this will only inflate the largely unrealistic expectations that so many liberals have for Obama. We'll have to wait and see if he can build upon this strong showing and really explain in greater detail how he plans to implement his vision. I'm also interested to see how the other candidates respond. Although she's strong on policy specifics, Hillary can't really compete with Obama on the "vision thing." Edwards, however, has shown that he can, and I look forward to hearing him iron out his foreign policy agenda.

As for the speech itself, do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. I especially loved this part. As strong a declaration of intent as I’ve seen recently:

Continue reading "Obama's Big Speech" »


Talking Points from the Armageddon Lobby
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Not too long ago, I did a live radio show and one of the callers told me I sounded like a socialist. Hmmmmm. I thought. Silly man! don't you know that only the private sector enjoys the benefits of socialism in this country? Take last week's conservative onslaught about the "guv-mint wanting to take over your health care" In other words, taxpayer subsidized health care corporations don't want the government to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs. Or the glorious bounty of public financing going to the school testing industry? (No Child Left Behind is a social engineering endeavor that even Lenin couldn't have dreamed up. Rise Up! And Obey! ) But the most insidious one of all is the subsidization of companies making billions off of our legitimate fear. That would be those members of the defense industry who cling to the Cold War like barnacles on a Trident sub. And they get a boost from conservative activists who are trying to send us back to the bad old days of nuclear inspired nightmares.

The Armageddon Lobby has even sent out talking points. A friend who works on the Hill sent me this example:

"I support new and improved nuclear warheads for the U.S. I also support creating smaller warheads.

Continue reading "Talking Points from the Armageddon Lobby" »

April 23, 2007

'Everyone Believed Saddam Had Weapons,' the Argument that Won't Die
Posted by David Shorr

Do you want to know who gets my hackles up? Richard Perle. I'd be happy to just let his voice fade away, along with other proponents of the Iraq War, but there he was on our televisions again last week as part of the PBS "America at a Crossroads" series. Perle had his own documentary in the series, "The Case for War - In Defense of Freedom", which follows him through recent travels (and encounters with critics) to elucidate his worldview.

I will have to wait until a transcript of the film is available before I can detail everything irritating about it. What prompts me to write today, though, is a tried and true argument in defense of the war that Perle reprises: "we all believed Saddam had WMD." This is the zombie of Iraq War debate arguments. It stubbornly refuses to die and will continue to be a distraction until it is finally killed off.

According to this history of the 2002-03 run-up to the war, there was broad consensus, domestically and internationally, about Saddam's WMD. You can find a thorough debunk in Fred Kaplan's November 2005 Slate piece. I'm more interested in how this argument works and why it's being deployed.

Continue reading "'Everyone Believed Saddam Had Weapons,' the Argument that Won't Die" »

Giuliani's "Intellect"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I found this article by Thomas Barnett mildly amusing. Barnett seeks to assure us that Giuliani has an "intellect." It's too bad that his article is almost entirely circumstantial. Giuliani is all style and no substance in an age where it is very easy to confuse the two. It reminds me of the opt-repeated talking point that Giuliani can give good speeches without notes (and walk around the room and make eye contact simultaneously!) At first, when I heard this tidbit, I was impressed since giving a talk without notes is difficult and even more difficult to do well. But then the alarm bells went off: what does his ability to give extemporaneous speeches tell me about his ability to make smart decisions as President: um, nothing. Style 1, substance 0.

Barnett takes this even further and some of it comes off as rather laughable. We are told that Giuliani is a "serious" reader ("you better remember what you wrote because this guy really absorbs material"). And there's this, "the mayor’s been around this world. No matter where the conversation wandered, Giuliani had personal contacts or experience or knowledge to draw upon." Wow. As if that wasn't enough, we are further assured that "Giuliani likes intellectual debate but doesn’t need to dominate." You have been warned: the bar has been lowered.

Al-Qaeda and the War on Vegetables
Posted by Shadi Hamid

American commanders cite al-Qaida's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said.

From a pretty funny Onion article...Oh, wait, it's true. Oops.

What was MoveOn Thinking?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I actually found McCain's "Bomb-Bomb-Iran" joke to be slightly funny (key word: slightly). It really does sound like "Barbara Ann," the classic Beach Boys tune. In any case, MoveOn was sufficiently offended to air an anti-McCain attack ad. At first, I thought to myself, why are they wasting their money on this so early in the primary campaign? Particularly when Andy Bowers and John Dickerson make the valid point that the ad is likely to backfire (McCain can use the ad to burnish his tough-guy credentials to conservative audiences). But then it sort of made sense to me: this is part of MoveOn's strategy to hype up McCain to conservative voters to help him beat Giuliani in the primaries. McCain, unlike Giuliani, would stand little chance against Clinton, Obama, Edwards. Giuliani, on the other hand, would probably give the democratic nominee a serious run for his/her money.

April 22, 2007

Bulletin from France
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In today's first-round presidential voting, the expected happened:  and that, for France, is quite unexpected.

To wit:  pre-election record levels of cynicism about the process nonetheless translated into record turnout; distaste for the two leading candidates, leavened with heavy doses of misogny and some nice anti-immigrant sentiment, nonetheless produced declines for all but one of the minor-party candidates who traditionally do well in the first round.  And the far-right Jean-Marie le Pen falls to 10%, far below the second-place showing that so embarrassed France last time.  So much for the SPECTER OF ANTI-IMMIGRANT SENTIMENT LEADING TO RIGHT-WING TAKEOVER.

For more, I'm attaching a bulletin from a dear old friend, former diplomat and soon-to-be French citizen:

Continue reading "Bulletin from France" »

Double Standards: Va Tech and Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

At the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday the President declined to joke stating that “In light of this week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech, I  decided not to try to be funny.”  Three years ago at the same dinner the President joked about his inability to find WMD’s.  What happened in Blacksburg was absolutely awful, but what is happening in Iraq every day is no less of a tragedy.  In fact, with more than 3,300 American deaths, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths and 2 million refugees, it’s tragedy on a much greater scale.   

Rosa puts it much better than I do in her weekly column.

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 any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use