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May 12, 2007

Lipstick on a Pig
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias defends the Bush Administration for its $1 million investment in PR for Mahmoud Abbas.  I disagree.  Not because of any moral problem I have with “high powered PR techniques,” but because I could have thought of better things to do with the money.  If you really wanted to help Abbas you could have spent that money delivering services to the Palestinian people and giving Fatah the credit for it (Both Hezbollah and Hamas are really good at this).  You could have invested in building Palestinian civil society, ensuring that more affective alternatives to Hamas and Fatah emerge.  Basically, you could have found something else to do with this money that would have delivered tangible benefits to the Palestinian people and improved Abbas’s standing.

Matt also argues that the Bushies are actually pretty good at political marketing.  So it’s not bad that they are exporting it.  At home this is true.  But they have been surprisingly incompetent in the Middle East.  The initial Karen Hughes trip to the region was just embarrassing.  Al Hurrah, the American supported Middle East Television network, has no viewers.  And handling PR in Iraq has been just about as bad as everything else they’ve done over there.  In other words, I’m not sure I want any Arab ally taking PR advice from these guys.

Overall, there is a larger point here, where I expect that Matt and I agree.  In the short-term you can get away with bad policy and good spin.  But in the long term, PR, in the absence of responsible policy, is useless.  No amount of PR will overcome the reality that Abbas’s government can’t deliver for the Palestinian people.  No amount of PR will help the Bush Administration out of the mess it has made in Iraq. 

May 11, 2007

The Sins of Liberal Interventionism?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ezra Klein's usually on-target, but he has me really, really confused here. In responding to an article by Timothy Garton-Ash, Ezra asserts that "liberal interventionism's great sin was to give us Iraq." Huh? Last time I checked, not one of the architects of the Iraq war was a "liberal interventionist" (i.e. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith). If you happen to think that liberal interventionists and neo-cons are the same thing - and I'm pretty sure Ezra doesn't - then I would refer you this post, where I explain the differences.

I will say this, however, and maybe this is what Ezra is getting at: although I was against the war since day one, I can't say that I necessarily opposed the idea of the war, or, more accurately, the idea of a war. If I try hard enough, I can envision a set of circumstances where I would have reluctantly supported an Iraq intervention of some sort, although it would've had to have been done very differently. To be sure, as a student of the Middle East, I'm keenly aware of America and Britain's unfortunate history of meddling in the region (1953 stands out as particularly egregious), so I understand why liberals are often suspicious of anything tasting of moral adventure abroad. But one can hope, as so many of us did. As I've written previously, early 2005 was something of a turning point for me. January 30, 2005 encompassed everything I had hoped for in a region that knew little but the pain of dissapointment. So, when I saw the pictures of Iraqis braving terrorist threats to vote for the first time in their lives, I saw the promise of what could have been and, what I believed then, was still possible - the building of a model democracy in Iraq that could inspire the rest of the region, and break the seemingly permanent grip of Arab autocracy. Yes, I was wrong to think that the Bush administration could have done it right. Yet, it is certainly conceivable that another administration (i.e. a Democratic one) could have. And if history had taken that very different course, then maybe the Middle East would've been the better for it.

With that said, let me pose a question to Ezra and others: under what principle or set of principles do you think the Iraq war was necessarily, and for all times, wrong? And if you're going to answer that question, you have to be able to separate between Bush's war and the abstract war, let's call it, that could have been fought if we knew how to fight it. I don't believe that sovereignty is sacrosanct, particularly if we're talking about governments which are unelected and illegitimate. Should America reserve the "right to intervene," even in the case of non-imminent threats? Yes, i.e. Bosnia, Kosovo, Darfur. I can't imagine Ezra thinks that we shouldn't have stopped Slobodan Milosevic from his campaign of ethnic cleansing. The issue then, I suppose, is what meets the threshold that necessitates intervention.

Japan Has a Problem
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Wow. This is surprising. I'm with the "conservative, national government" on this one:

Japan's first "baby hatch", where parents can drop off unwanted infants anonymously, opened Thursday despite opposition from the conservative national government. The baby hatch, modelled on a project in Germany, went into operation at a Roman Catholic hospital in the city of Kumamoto, some 900 kilometres (560 miles) southwest of Tokyo. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has urged Japan to return to "family values," opposed the idea but found no legal grounds to stop it.

It seems a bit weird that a Roman Catholic hospital would start something like this. Is the Pope okay with this?

May 10, 2007

Warming to Sarkozy?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, I know this is near-apostasy in some quarters, but the more I read about Nicholas Sarkozy, the more I wonder if it might actually be a good thing that he won (see Suzanne's post for some of the reasons). I'm troubled by this, because I find Sarkozy to be rather frightening, stern, authoritarian, insert favorite adjective here __________. Not to mention the fact that he doesn't seem to like Arabs that much. Also, I'll be the first to admit that I had a really soft spot for Segelene Royale. While Sarkozy was no doubt a sharp dresser (although probably not enough color-contrast), I really liked Segolene Royal's sense of style, and appreciated the fact that instead of wearing Prada, she wore "pret-a-porter" stuff like Zara. A woman of the people, a new kind of hip socialist. Yes, I'm susceptible to tangential atmospherics, but, then again, who isn't? The clincher, however, was when I read this (via Andrew):

I want to launch a call to all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, of liberty, of democracy and of humanism, to all those who are persecuted by the tyrannies and by the dictators, to all the children and to all the martyrized women in the world to say to them that the pride, the duty of France will at their sides, that they can count on her. France will be at the sides of the Libyan nurses locked up for eight years; France will not abandon Ingrid Betancourt; France will not abandon the women who are condemned to the burqa; France will not abandon the women who do not have liberty. France will be by the side of the oppressed of the world. This is the message of France; this is the identity of France; this is the history of France.

The jury's still out, but if Sarkozy can come up with quotes like that, maybe he deserves a chance. Maybe a little "constructive instability" will do France some good.

UPDATE: Before people start jumping on me, let me clarify. I have nothing - and I mean nothing - against Zara. I actually like Zara quite a bit and have been known to shop there.

Al Qaeda in Iraq
Posted by David Schanzer

I argued on Tuesday that national security issues will continue to be a cornerstone of the 2008 election and that Democrats will need a more developed message to prevail than simply being "anti-war."

A big part of that message needs to be how Democrats intend to deal with al Qaeda -- and not just al Qaeda in Afghanistan, where all the Democratic candidates seem eager to send more troops to engage in the fight -- but also al Qaeda in Iraq, where the organization has a very robust presence, is killing American troops, and will continue to foment serious problems for the foreseeable future

Democrats seem to have an allergic reaction toward speaking about al Qaeda in Iraq.  (The words "al Qaeda" were uttered only twice by candidates in the South Carolina debate, one by Clinton discussing the 2001 attack on al Qaeda and the Taliban and once by Kucinich noting the lack of a pre-war al Qaeda/Iraq connection).

Perhaps we fear that mentioning al Qaeda in Iraq would ratify the fraudulent position taken by the Administration about a pre-war operational connection between al Qaeda and Saddam.  Perhaps we don't mention al Qaeda's presence in Iraq because it makes it more difficult to explain our position on troop withdrawals.  Whatever the reason, continuing to deny or ignore the reality that al Qaeda is causing grave damage in Iraq plays right into the Republican attack that Democrats "do not understand the full nature and scope of this terrorist war against us."

The crazy thing about our hesitance is that we have a devastating story to tell about 1) how the Bush policies created an al Qaeda problem in Iraq when one didn't exist prior to the war, 2) how the mismanagement of the war allowed al Qaeda to gain a stronghold in Iraq and strengthen its organization and capacity, and 3) how Democrats are proposing a means for dealing with al Qaeda where the Republican strategy has failed for four years running.

Democrats ought to go out of their way to talk about al Qaeda in Iraq.  Here are my talking points on this:

**    There were many problems in Iraq four years ago, but at least al Qaeda did not have a stronghold in that country, al Qaeda did not have free reign to foment sectarian violence, and al Qaeda was not training a new generation of fighters how to conduct jihad.  Today, we have all of these problems, thanks to the Republicans’ failed policies for dealing with terrorism in Iraq.

**  There was still not an al Qaeda problem in Iraq when the statute of Saddam fell.  But by failing to have enough troops to maintain order and disaffecting the Sunni population, Republican policies allowed al Qaeda to gain a constituency and a base of operations right under our noses. 

**  Republicans now claim that because their policies created a jihadi terrorist problem in Iraq, and they have now failed to eliminate the terrorist threat in Iraq for four years, we have no choice but to continue their failed policies. 

**  There is a better way. 

And I will discuss that better way in my next post.   


May 09, 2007

A Failing Superpower?
Posted by Michael Fuchs

Yesterday, militants in Nigeria attacked oil pipelines as part of ongoing violence to disrupt oil production and supply. Today, four U.S. oil workers were kidnapped by gunmen off the Nigerian coast. Yet these attacks may just be the tip of the iceberg of Nigeria's problems.   

At a Stanley Foundation conference last year I heard an interesting description of Nigeria during a panel on rising powers. One of the panelists, Coit Blacker, asked, "Can you be both a regional superpower and a failing state at the same time? I think the answer's probably yes."

I'm no Nigeria expert, but this seems like an observation worth considering. Nigeria is a huge energy producer and Africa's most populous nation. At the same time, however, it is fractured by religious and ethnic conflict. Poverty remains at staggering levels, with roughly 52% of the population living on less than $1 a day. Regional security is less than stellar.

This, all while Nigeria struggles to institutionalize its fledgling democracy. The recent presidential elections were widely criticized as unfair and questions about the state of democracy in Nigeria abound. Militants have vowed to continue attacks in the run-up to the inauguration of the new president. As Nigeria attempts its first peaceful democratic transition, its democracy - like many other things in Nigeria - seems to be in trouble.

After today's kidnappings, oil prices immediately rose. Yet, in the midst of a region with such dire problems (see Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Chad, Liberia, etc.), oil supply may be only one of many larger problems if Nigeria's situation further deteriorates.

We should start paying attention before the largest U.S. trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa becomes a failed regional superpower - if it isn't already.   

May 08, 2007

Feith, Tenet and the War of the Roses
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So clearly George Tennt and Doug Feith hate each other’s guts.  Feith’s review of Tenet’s book says it all.  So does the fact that Tenet moved his office at Georgetown to get away from Feith.  But here’s a hilarious tidbit.  In the Hoya, the Georgetown Newspaper, there is an article from when Feith first joined Georgetown.  Attached is a Correction which reads as follows:

The article "Douglas Feith Hired as Visiting SFS Professor" incorrectly stated that Feith had a close relationship with George Tenet since their time serving together in the Bush administration. Feith maintained a close relationship with Tenet while they both served in the administration, not after.

Can we ponder for a moment how this correction came to be?  If I were a CIA analyst, speculating based on limited information, I would conclude that most likely the man who used to run the Central Intelligence Agency took the time to call up a student reporter and say to him, “Take that back.  I hate that guy.  He is not my friend.”  Now that is some seriously petty hatin’.

Footnote:  I could be wrong.  It’s only an estimate and reasonable people may speculate about other theories.

The Next Murthquake
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Outside of the mid-term elections, the two most important moments in the Congressional Iraq debate came in 2005 when John Murtha called for withdrawal and more recently when the House passed the now vetoed Iraq Supplemental.  The key to the Murtha moment was that it finally made it acceptable for mainstream Democrats to support withdrawal.   The House Vote last month turned a responsible timeline for withdrawal into the de facto unified position of the Democratic Party. 

What will happen next is a galvanizing event that will make drawdown an acceptable position for mainstream Republicans - The “Republican Murthquake.”  My guess is that we will see this somewhere between July and September.  Perhaps after General Petreaus gives his report on the progress of the “surge.”

Already you see the Republican consensus breaking up.  Minority Leader John Boehner was on the talk shows on Sunday giving ground.  Endangered Republicans like Senators Susan Collins and Norm Coleman are teetering.  And even the National Review has a blog post today on timelines

So, what will the Republican “Murthquake” look like?  Most likely it will be a prominent conservative calling very publicly and in no uncertain terms for an end to the war.  The most likely candidate is Senator John Warner of Virginia – a former Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.  Collin Powell is another good candidate.  James Baker, Henry Kissinger or maybe someone who resigns from the administration.  Bob Gates would be the optimal choice, but that is far far beyond wishful thinking.

One word of caution.  Even after Murtha’s moment it took a year and a half, and an election, to finally get Democrats united behind withdrawal.  After the Republican Murthquake, Congress still won’t have a veto proof majority.  It will take a long time, perhaps until after the 2008 elections to finally and permanently change Iraq policy.  But the political pressure is building, the consensus is fraying and the situation in Iraq is not getting any better.  It is only a matter of time.

The "Change Candidate"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Just one delightful post-mortem tidbit on the French elections.  The Post today has the we-all-knew-somebody-would-write-it WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR HILLARY story.  (Somehow, nobody thinks it means anything for Hungarian emigres that Sarkozy won, or for ethnic Scots that the Scottish National Party whomped Labor in Scotland.  But I digress.)

You might skip this story because of its painful obviousness, but then you would have missed this gem:

Tom Ingram, who was an adviser to Fred D. Thompson's 1994 Senate campaign and has talked to him about a potential 2008 presidential run, said that he thought the Royal race might be good for Republicans, but not because of gender or any similarity Royal had to Clinton.

"It looked to me like more a change-versus-status-quo campaign, and I think that's interesting, since the change candidate was of the same party as the outgoing president, which is a little odd," Ingram said. "Maybe that's good news for Republicans."

You could argue that "change" won every election in Europe last week, and that, whether we like it or not, "change" is backing the Islamists in Turkey.  You might also find it odd that "change" in America means heightening the Reagan references per minute to levels not seen since, well, since he passed away.  But that's politics.

Two New Guest Bloggers
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

A belated welcome to new guest bloggers.

David Schanzer is the Director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and a Visiting Associate Professor at Duke.   He has a distinguished career in goverment service.  His most recent position in government was as Minority Staff Director on the  Select Committee on Homeland Security in the House of Representatives.

Mike Fuchs is a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress.  He has written on numerous foreign policy issues including intelligence, the United Nations, democratization and nuclear weapons.   

May 07, 2007

Game On Now For National Security Debate
Posted by David Schanzer

I am pleased to be invited as a guest blogger for the next three weeks.  I'd like to discuss what I think about a lot -- how progressives can present sensible and strong national security policies to the electorate. 

My current concern is that there is sense that the Iraq debacle will be such a drag on Republicans that progressives will win the national security debate simply by being anti-war.  I don't think this is correct. 

2008 is not 2006.  There is a big difference in the public's mind about putting a new party in control of the Congress and electing the commander-in-chief.  The 2006 election was a protest vote against Bush's war policies and a response to congressional corruption and lack of oversight of an incompetent executive branch.  The hurdle that John Kerry could not surmount in the public's mind will still be there for the next Democratic candidate for President -- "Will he or she do what it takes to keep us safe?"  The Iraq war has lowered this bar somewhat for Democrats, but it still remains higher for Democrats than Republicans at least until Democrats win a post-9/11 election.   

With the Iraq albatross around their neck, Republicans will be even more eager to play the "weak on national security" card against Democrats.  This was on clear display last week as Rudy Giuliani took great glee (and got rave reviews in conservative circles), for taunting Democrats for "not understand[ing] the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us" and claiming "America will be safer with a Republican president."

Unfortunately, the Democratic frontrunners did little to dispel this notion during the first presidential candidates' debate.  Obama chose to talk about the Hurricane Katrina response when asked the first thing he would do after a terrorist attack on U.S. soil   And, when Brian Williams served up the Giuliani quotes on a silver platter to Clinton, she did not discuss how to defeat al Qaeda or combat the spread of the global jihadist movement, but instead expounded on the virtues of greater port and subway security. 

This isn't going to cut it in a general election.   Because of the still lingering security gap Democrats face, progressives cannot wait until the general election to start speaking convincingly about the threats the nation faces and how to deal with them.  Promising to end the Iraq war (as if that could actually be accomplished), will not necessarily be enough to defeat a Republican opponent who is not Bush and will most certainly have his own plan to wind down the war. 

Now is the time to get our game day faces on for the national security debate.   And we will have to do better than our congressional leaders and presidential candidates have done in this regard since the election.  In my posts over the next three weeks, I'll be discussing some ideas about what I think progressives ought to be saying to prevail in this debate. 

Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While the idea of politically explosive suburbs seems almost oxymoronic to an American, that's not so in France, where its feared that today's election of Nicolas Sarkozy could ignite violent protests in peri-urban areas inhabited by the countries' disadvantaged Muslim population.  France's Muslims resent Sarkozy for a series of racially insensitive remarks made during the countries' explosive 2005 riots and for unpopular policies he enacted as Interior Minister.  Yet once the fervor dies down, its just possible that Sarkozy's election could mark the start of the Republic's first bona fide attempt to tackle its racial and ethnic tensions. 

There are several reasons to think that Sarkozy is placed to tackle the challenge of integrating and improving the lot of France's Muslims:

- He knows the issues - As a former Interior Minister who was in office during France's worst-ever period of racially-fraught civil unrest last year, Sarkozy knows first hand that his country cannot simply dismiss the problem of marginalized minorities because they live in relative isolation and are outside the country's political and economic elite.  While Sarkozy seemed afraid to even visit the country's gritty ex-urban hi-rises during the campaign, its because he knows the cauldron they have become.  Nothing if not ambitious, because of his personal role at the center of France's worst riots in 35 years, Sarkozy is well aware that failure to address the tensions that stoked the unrest could be his own political undoing.  Sarkozy's political star survived one round of riots, but its hard to see how he weathers a second.

- Sarkozy's offensive "get tough" rhetoric has been paired with some genuinely constructive measures to deal with tensions wrought by migration - Sarkozy's references to urban rioters as scum and his pledge to clean up troubled suburbs with the the equivalent of a water canon triggered legitimate outrage.  His proposal to expel foreigners who took part in the protests was even worse. But these are not the sum-total of Sarkozy's record on race.  He has won praise by some Muslim leaders for playing an instrumental role in convening France's Council of Muslim Faith, a body dedicated to giving Muslims a political voice.  He has also pushed to relax rules for government funding of mosques and elevated Muslims within the French government.

- His political positions suggest he may defy expectations - Unlike his opponent, Segolene Royal, Sarkozy has come out in favor of affirmative action for employment in France as well as ambitious training and jobs programs for youth.  If he delivers in these areas, things should change:  France's elite schools, universities and ministries will get more diverse; the French will see whether there historic commitments to egalite and fraternite can withstand much closer proximite - and -- however awkwardly - social life will gradually start to integrate.   Sarkozy will need to ensure, however, that his proposed creation of a new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity work in support of integration, rather than intimidating minority populations or pushing them to renounce their cultural backgrounds.

Continue reading "Sarkoanalysis" »

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