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May 17, 2007

Middle East Contrarian, Danish-Style
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Update -- Meanwhile, Sarkozy names a woman of North African origin as his Justice Minister.  Et apres on verra bien, as they say...

A 25-year old Danish Muslim woman, Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, is running for Parliament.  Here's how The Guardian describes her:

The 25-year-old social worker, student and town councillor describes herself as a feminist, a democrat, and a socialist. She has gay friends, opposes the death penalty, supports abortion rights, and could not care less what goes on in other people's bedrooms. In short, a tolerant Scandinavian and European.

She is also a Palestinian and a devout Muslim who insists on wearing a headscarf, who refuses, on religious grounds, to shake hands with males, and who is bidding fair to be the first Muslim woman ever to enter the Folketing, the Danish parliament in Copenhagen.

Her party put her up for a safe seat, so she's likely to win -- the question is whether the famously-tolerant-yet-also-quite-conservative Danes will let her take her seat in the headscarf.

Continue reading "Middle East Contrarian, Danish-Style" »

A Contrarian Takes on the Middle East, Part II
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It appears that Michael in his previous post was also sufficiently baffled by Edward Luttwak's somewhat bizarre and not-very-well argued piece on "Why the Middle East Doesn't Matter," an admittedly provocative title which, one would think, would bear promise of, at the very least, a mildly interesting 10-minute read. I should have known better. When I first saw this gropingly contrarian title on the bookshelf at Borders, I glanced over with interest. I thought it weird that someone who wasn't a Middle East expert would write an article, which states, in the very first sentence no less, that Middle East experts have been so "unfailingly wrong." It is rather tiresome when articles begin with what is so evidently a straw-man argument. Which Middle East experts is he talking about exactly? The ones in academia, or the ones in the State Department, or those at Washington, DC think-tanks? The Saidists or the neo-culturalists? The "apologists for empire" or the "anti-imperialists?"

And, now, a fisking is deserved. Luttwak tell us that

The first mistake is "five minutes to midnight" catastrophism. The late King Hussein of Jordan was the undisputed master of this genre. Wearing his gravest aspect, he would warn us that with patience finally exhausted the Arab-Israeli conflict was about to explode, that all past conflicts would be dwarfed by what was about to happen unless, unless…

So Luttwak thinks that this supposed "catastrophism" has been unwarranted. I suppose his threshold is a bit higher than the rest of us, who have been sufficiently daunted by September 11th, a war in Iraq and the resulting sectarian bloodshed (also known as a civil war), a deteriorating Israeli-Palestinian situation, a rising Iran which seeks to acquire nuclear weapons, an empowered Hezbollah, emboldened Arab autocrats brutalizing their own populations, a dire constitutional crisis in Turkey, and, if you count Sudan as part of the Middle East, the Darfur genocide, and, if you count spillover effects from the region, then radicalized, disenfranchised Muslim minorities in Europe. I suppose Luttwak wants for more catastrophe to justify paying attention to this, or any other, region.

He then goes on to say, as if to goad us into thinking that he is not quite with it: "Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war." It would be one thing if he tried to explain how this could be. Instead he delves into some rather incoherent discussion on declining global dependence on oil. I will spare you that.

Continue reading "A Contrarian Takes on the Middle East, Part II" »

Ignore the Middle East? Too Late
Posted by Michael Fuchs

I like contrarian points of view, but this piece by Edward Luttwak seems a little bit much, even for me:

The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognise that backward societies must be left alone... With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history - the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seemed determined to deny them.

The U.S. currently has roughly 150,000 troops in Iraq. It also has an interest in safeguarding the international supply of oil from the region. While I believe that we should work towards the end of the large U.S. presence in Iraq and the international dependence on oil, these nonetheless are realities for the moment. I also fear that, whatever bit of truth might have been found in Luttwak's argument not long ago, the invasion of Iraq has made it necessary for the United States to focus on the Middle East for years, decades, and perhaps even generations to come. Invasions? No. Friendly engagement? Absolutely.

But U.S. foreign policy focuses are not mutually exclusive. We would therefore do well to heed Luttwak's call that U.S. foreign policy should focus much more on Europe, East Asia and India.

May 16, 2007

I See London, I See France...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

This morning the BBC had an absolute festival of coverage of Nicholas Sarkozy's inauguration in Paris -- a nice bookend to the Blair-o-rama of the previous week. This is certainly going to be interesting:  will he really make Socialist, Medecins Sans Frontieres founder and 70s radical Bernard Kouchner foreign minister?  What was a "senior adviser to the new President" doing invoking "what Margaret Thatcher did in Britain" as a model for the nouveau regime on the BBC this morning?

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Sarkozy and Gordon Brown across the Channel is how busy commentators are in seeing what they want to see?  The BBC quotes some unidentified European as seeing Brown, Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with EU Commission president Barroso, as a pro-American "dream team" of economic liberals ready for a big shakeup.

Meanwhile, last week a  commentator in the gloriously, unrepentantly troglodyte Human Events said of Gordon Brown:  "It may well be that when we look at England, we'll see France."   

If Elysee Palace advisors are approvingly citing Thatcher, maybe he's inadvertently on to something.  But it seems rather more likely that when we look at Europe we'll see a bunch of countries trying to balance renewed appeals to nationalism (cf. Sarkozy's first order -- that a letter to his parents from a martyred WWII Resistance fighter be read in the schools) against the splintering global pressures of economics, immigration and political Islam.  And who's a useful bad guy when it comes to renewed appeals to nationalism... we are. 

May 15, 2007

Dealing with al Qaeda in Iraq
Posted by David Schanzer

With the Bush Administration having caused a jihadist terrorism problem in Iraq where none existed before, Republicans now cite the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq as the primary justification for our continued heightened military operations.  Despite this, they continue to assert with a straight face to be the party that truly "understands" the nature of the terrorist threat (even though, after four years, the terrorists have achieved all their objectives in Iraq and the United States has achieved, well, uh ... none).

Anyone that "understands" terrorism, as Bush-Cheney-McCain-Giuliani repeatedly claim to do, would realize that the strategy of escalating the military conflict and pledging to maintain a huge military presence in Iraq indefinitely is playing right into the terrorists' hands.  bin Laden wants us to stay in Iraq because our presence helps him satisfy every one of his strategic objectives. 

To grasp this reality, consider how, prior to the Iraq war, al-Qaeda was in steep decline.  It had lost its sanctuary in Afghanistan, many of its leaders were captured or killed, its sources of funding and recruits were drying up, and it had few recent successes to inspire its followers.  The invasion threw al Qaeda a life line -- it provided an open, ungoverned landscape in which to operate, ratification of its core message that America seeks to occupy Muslim lands, an unlimited supply of soft targets, and a daily opportunity to project throught the internet its ability to strike at the infidels.  Add to that the chance to lash out against the Shia-led government and create tension between its two greatest enemies, the United States and Iran, and the Iraq war has created for bin Laden the perfect jihadist storm.  The longer the war continues along its current path, the better it is for al Qaeda. 

The best strategy for dealing with al Qaeda in Iraq is to dramatically reduce our footprint in the country.  This will take the steam out of the insurgency and therefore reduce al Qaeda's ability to project force.  Redeployment of our forces would reduce the number of targets and thereby decrease the opportunities for radicals to engage in jihad against the west.  The only troops we should keep in Iraq are elite counterrrorism units that can gather intelligence and launch swift strikes against al Qaeda targets and trainers to teach Iraqi troops to do the same once we leave. 

An Iraq with fewer foreign toops, an elite corps of counterterrorism forces, a stronger Iraqi army, and few western targets is a much less attractive picture for al Qaeda.  And that is exactly the type of Iraq that is called for in the now vetoed Democratic Iraq spending legislation.  It is a shame that the political debate has focused almost exclusively on setting withdrawal dates that will not occur instead of explaining to the American public how the Democrats have the superior strategy for dealing with al Qaeda in Iraq.   

Fred Thompson's Pathetic Response to Michael Moore
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, it started when Michael Moore challenged Fred Thompson, perpetual fence-sitter and yet another boorish Republican in a field already full of them, to a debate. Moore's letter was presumably posted first on his site, and then - perhaps magically - found itself onto the Drudge Report, where non-stories become stories. The funny thing is that Thompson actually got goaded into responding - and by video no less, with something in his mouth resembling a, um, Cuban cigar.

It is the most cringe-inducing 40 seconds of Republican neo-macho posturing that I've seen in at least two weeks. "Mental Institution Michael, maybe something you oughtta think about?" That's a bit ad hominem, no? Oh, and the way Thompson says it, dripping with condescension. He must have practiced that line quite a bit this morning. It seems like there's a lot of reverse psychology going on here. The fact that Thompson's response made a nuance-loving, latte-sipping, occasional New Yorker-reading liberal like myself want to puke probably means that red-meat-eating, fire-breathing Conservatives are absolutely loving it, and thinking to themselves that a man who takes it to Michael Moore, can probably take it to the terrorists as well. 

Good News: A Radical Imam Resigns
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Some of you may recall a recent post where I called on American Muslims to speak out against Imam Fouad ElBayly, who, last month, had essentially passed a death sentence on Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Dutch MP (and currently a fellow at AEI). Well, good news on that front: ElBayly has resigned as President and prayer leader of the Islamic Center of Johnstown, after pressure from board members and congregants.

The Iraqi Parliament
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

We are so screwed….. 

In Parliament last week, Shiite lawmaker Shatha al-Mousawi was complaining bitterly about her recent visit with displaced Shiites from Diyala province. They were expelled from their homes because of sectarian violence.

It's intolerable that the government allows this bloodshed to happen, she said, demanding that the prime minister and other top officials be summoned to Parliament to respond.

The speaker of Parliament reacted to her emotional diatribe with laughter.

Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, said he was laughing to conceal his pain at the situation in which the Shiites of Diyala found themselves. But Shiite parliamentarians openly scolded him for his seemingly coldhearted reaction, and he in turn began attacking them.

"Three-quarters of those sitting here are responsible for the displacements and the sectarian killings, and now you're calling yourselves patriots?" he thundered.

Amid the shouting that ensued, Mashhadani pounded his gavel and declared the session adjourned. He did not consult his two deputies before making the decision. Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman says Mashhadani then got into a physical confrontation with a fellow parliamentarian from his own party

May 14, 2007

Playing Tennis with Rush Limbaugh
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Before going to sleep last night, I had an “Al Sharpton binge,” also known as that weird time of the day (usually Sunday), where one is overcome by an uncontrollable urge to watch clips of Sharpton pontificating on YouTube. I stumbled upon a 6-minute clip of Sharpton’s debate with Christopher Hitchens on whether God “is great” (Sharp) or whether He “poisons everything” (Hitch). At one point, Sharpton says, "as for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don't worry, that's a temporary situation."

Anyway, I was sufficiently amused by the whole exchange, and then went quickly to sleep. But then I had a really weird dream. I was, um, playing tennis with Rush Limbaugh. We had a sort of deal going: If he won, that meant that God was on his side. If I won, that meant God was on "our side" (don’t worry, most Democracy Arsenal readers are on the latter). As you might imagine, I was really nervous. A lot was riding on this. The future of our cosmic destiny was essentially in my hands. I can’t remember how I got in touch with Rush’s agent, and I was somewhat baffled that Rush would even accept, considering I’m actually pretty good at tennis (varsity singles, baby). Anyway, I dominated right off the bat. Rush wasn't his usual gregarious self. After a few points, he was panting, and lunging nervously for his water bottle. Before I knew it, I was up 3-0. My forehand was doing wonders, and my serve was like a lightning bolt. I looked up and I thanked God for my good fortune. And then I winded up for yet another precisely-placed serve. Ace! Eat that Rush! Yes! I shouted, taunted, and dallied around the court, beside myself, ecstatic, and knowing that, yes, there was no longer any doubt. The Democrats would win. God was building a permanent majority for us. And then suddenly, I woke up, flustered, not knowing where I was. I sat up, looked around, and realized I was in my room. It wasn't real. Ha. I smiled.

Tear Down Which Wall?
Posted by Michael Fuchs

When the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, it wasn't merely a sign that a conflict had ended and the wall was no longer necessary, but rather it heralded the end of a conflict. Today, the idea of walls between nations seems to be in vogue. Does this mean that conflicts are increasing, or that solutions to them seem increasingly hopeless?

There are walls being erected in Baghdad to separate Sunnis from Shias. A barrier is going up between Israel and the West Bank. The United States wants a wall separating it from Mexico. But there are others. Pakistan is building a wall on its border with Afghanistan. India is constructing a wall along its border with Bangladesh. As a recent TIME article points out, this trend appears to be accelerating:

Nor is this kind of activity confined to the subcontinent. All around the world, countries are busy throwing up walls. Iran is building a bulwark along its border with Pakistan to stop illegal crossings. Botswana erected a 480-km electric fence along its boundary with Zimbabwe. Saudi Arabia is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on massive ramparts to separate itself from Yemen to the south and Iraq to the north. Thailand wants a concrete barrier along part of its border with Malaysia.

Perhaps these are last ditch efforts of failed policies to stop violence across borders. The Pakistan-Afghanistan border seems to be a particularly lawless place, though building a wall might worsen relations since Afghanistan disputes the contours of the border itself, the Durand Line. This is clearly a problem in other places with walls, such as Israel and the West Bank.

But will mere walls prevent conflict? As the TIME article mentioned above points out, walls can have short term impacts on reducing violence. But it seems that they are hardly long-term solutions and more likely the result of failed policies. The Great Wall of China was built to keep the Mongols out. Much good it did them. The Mongols overran China. Now the Great Wall is a tourist attraction. Hopefully one day the rest of these walls will be mere tourist attractions as well. But in the meantime, many of these walls increasingly appear to be relatively futile moves of desperation.      

Avoiding Groundhog Day at the UN Human Rights Council
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

High on the list of things that have given the UN a bad name over the years is the spectacle of countries with abysmal human rights records issuing pious pronouncements on the subject from the comfort of international meeting halls.  This Alice-in-Wonderland phenomenon leads the world body's critics to conclude that a forum as diverse and universal as the UN is incapable of distinguishing right from wrong and should not be entrusted with either money or authority.

The UN's Commission on Human Rights stood for years as the most flagrant example of the foxes guarding the human rights henhouse.  A year ago, the UN took an important but incomplete step toward correcting that by disbanding the feckless Commission and replacing it with the Human Rights Council, a body aimed to correct the worst of the Commission's failings, if not restore the UN's position as a global force for human rights.  Unfortunately, with its second-ever elections coming up this week, the Council has thus far been a big disappointment.  When the UN membership goes to the polls on Wednesday, however, they will have a chance to signal - by keeping Belarus off the Council - that the new body is capable of more than just business as usual.

One of the key, and most hotly contested, elements distinguishing the Council from its disesteemed predecessor was to have been its composition.  Whereas the Commission was traditionally dominated by some of the world's worst human rights offenders (think Zimbabwe, Sudan, Cuba, Libya, etc.), the Council was supposed to be different.  The U.S., EU, the UN Secretary General and others wanted to bar nations with egregious human rights records from participating in the Council.  The idea was to prevent these states from shielding themselves from the Council's scrutiny, or simply trying turn the spotlight elsewhere. 

The membership criteria were hotly debated and, in the end, heavily watered down.  Part of the problem, in fairness, was that none of the proposed fixed formulas for membership - ratification of particular treaties or cooperation with human rights investigations - swept in the right countries while excluding the wrong ones.  Rather than, for example, banning nations under UN Security Council sanctions, the resolution that created the Human Rights Council simply said that membership "shall take into account candidates’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights.”  A proposed requirement that membership be by election of two-thirds of the UN membership - the idea being that violators would fail to muster broad enough support - was likewise scrapped in favor of a simple majority vote.

On the basis of these and other shortcomings in the drive to prevent the Council from going the way of the Commission, the US opted not to stand for membership when the Council was formed in 2006, and says it won't run again this year.  But some others still hold out the hope that the Council can be salvaged.  A look at this week's election hints at both the promise and the problems.

Continue reading "Avoiding Groundhog Day at the UN Human Rights Council" »

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