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June 15, 2007

Who's REALLY scared of Gaza?
Posted by Jerry Mayer

If you want to know who is most terrified by what is happening in Gaza, it's not the US, although this is bad news for Bush. It's not the Israelis, although this is bad news for them, too. It's not even Abu Mazen over in Ramallah. There is even a clever argument to be made that over time, this will weaken Hamas and eventually contribute to a painstaking peace, built on a West Bank first policy. I don't know if that's true, but it is the best outcome that can be hoped for.

But the pictures and stories of executions and security officers pushed off roofs are affecting people far beyond Israel-Palestine.

The people REALLY frightened are those in the security forces in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and other places where Muslim extremists have been brutally tortured and suppressed. This is what it would look like in Cairo if (when?) the rulling claque there started to fall.

I loath Hamas, and what it stands for. It has practiced terrorism with inhuman glee, and is committed to the destruction of Israel. But at the same time--Arafat's treatment of them during his reign was atrocious. His corrupt Fatah movement ripped off the people and tortured its opponents in the very prisons and buildings overrun yesterday.

Mubarak has been far worse to his Muslim opponents and far more corrupt even than Arafat, which is quite an accomplishment. (in his defense, there was more to steal)

What does all this mean? Well, it could mean that Egypt looks over the border into Gaza and sees the abyss to which it doesn't want to sink. And that could weaken Mubarak's opponents, and give a desperate power to Mubarak's supporters. Victory or death is quite a good rallying cry. But I don't think that's the likely outcome. I think it will embolden the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, and splinter the security forces that fight them. Come the revolution, no one in Egypt's feared security forces wants to individually be high on the list of torturers and suppressers.

172 Million Bullets for Iraq
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Iraq Slogger reports that the Pentagon is buying 172 million bullets for the Iraqi Security Forces (That’s about 500 bullets per ISF Member).  They are also ordering 20K grenades for RPG-7 Launchers. 

Now on the one hand, if you are going to build a military you need to give it weapons.  But on the other, does this anyway seem like a good idea?  Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war.  The security forces are notoriously unreliable and sectarian.  The likelihood is that a good portion of these weapons will end up being used in sectarian violence or eventually against American troops.  In fact, the situation is so bad that Brian Katulis, an Iraq expert at the Center for American Progress, is now arguing that we should stop training Iraqi Security forces all together.

Increasingly it appears the United States is training and arming different sides of Iraq’s multiple civil wars rather than creating a national army and police force willing and able to protect the nation’s fragmented political leadership

Most of Iraq’s violence is related to a vicious struggle for power that only has a political solution. Training and skills building are not the fundamental issue for Iraq’s security forces. In fact many of Iraqi security forces have more training than hundreds of U.S. soldiers being deployed as part of this surge. Their problems are motivation and allegiance.

There are no good solutions for getting us out of the hole that is Iraq.  But as a first step I might suggest that at the very least we stop digging.

June 13, 2007

The Question of Political Islam
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I've written a new article on the U.S. and political Islam for the summer issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. Readers of DA will know that I've long advocated a more proactive approach to promoting democracy abroad. Sometimes, however, this discussion has stayed at a somewhat meta-level. This article is a sustained effort on my part to really explain what "democracy promotion" means in practice, to outline how it would work on the ground, and to really flesh out the "Islamist dilemma" and how to address it head-on. In any case, make sure to give it a read. Here's a teaser:

In any case, Islamists are here to stay. The United States can no longer delude itself into thinking that it can build non-existent liberal-secular parties from scratch and somehow lead them to electoral victory. Arab liberals are in disarray and in no position to seriously contest elections, much less win them. Only Islamists have the mobilizing capacity and grassroots support to pressure Middle Eastern regimes to democratize. Thus, in not engaging groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, the United States cuts itself off from large constituencies whose participation is vital to the process of political change. Instead of assuming that Islamist groups are obstacles to democracy, we should instead ask how they can help it come about...

Islamists will come to power whether we like it or not; in Iraq, Turkey, and the Palestinian territories, they already have, It is better to have links–and leverage–with these groups before they come to power, not afterwards. This leverage will increase our ability to hold Islamists to their democratic commitments, and will be critical in ensuring that vital American interests are protected when "friendly" dictators are finally pushed out of power. Autocracy is not permanent. It will, sooner or later, give way to an uncertain "something else." The question is whether the United States will position itself on the right side of the coming transformation.

5 Mexicans = 1 American?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Don't know where you stand on immigration? This might help you. It's a pretty interesting article, but in a sort of sleight-of-hand freakonomics kind of way:

It turns out that the immigrant's $7 gain is worth about five times the American's $3 loss. In other words, to justify keeping the immigrant out, you'd have to say he's worth less than one-fifth of an American citizen.

June 12, 2007

Foreign Policy Potpourri
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So rather than doing a whole bunch of posts on various issues, just thought I’d post on some observations from today's conference.

Madeleine Albright, who probably gave the best speech of the conference, cited Harry Truman as the example of strong reasonable foreign policy leadership for the 21st century.   I completely agree with Matt Yglesias. Enough with the Truman references.  True he did a lot to shape the early period of the Cold War and set up the necessary international infrastructure.  But he also got us into the Korean War and left office incredibily unpopular.  Bush often compares himself to Truman these days, believing that he too will be vindicated in the long-term.

Senator Daschle points out that the single biggest beneficiary of global warming is Russia.  Global warming will melt a lot of their useless land making it arable.  It will open up more places for oil and gas drilling.  Create new sea lanes in the North, which are currently iced over. 

Daschle’s comment was the only point during the entire energy/environment panel where someone actually tried to tie geopolitics to global warming.  We keep talking about how global warming is a national security problem, but even when you get a General on the panel the conversation always shifts to domestic energy issues.

Great summary from Daniel Levy on U.S. Middle East policy these days.  “We go around asking everyone ‘help us on Iraq.  help us on Iran’  They all say ‘give us political cover on Israel.’  But none of it is happening right now on either end.

Zbig Brzezinski is great.  AJ at Americablog says all that is necessary on this front.

Is America the Indispensable Nation?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I am at the big Center for American Progress Center for American Progress / Century Foundation security conference today.  So, I’ll be blogging a bit about it.  What I will not be doing is “live blogging.”  I just hate that term.  With all due respect to some of my fellow bloggers, isn’t all blogging live blogging?   Anyway, I’ll stop being a sarcastic jerk now.

Madeleine Albright gets a lot of flack for her description of the “indispensable nation.”  But according to her statements today, that just means that most of the hard international problems can’t be solved without American engagement.  That doesn’t seem so controversial.  Albright also pointed out that this has started to change.  On Darfur – we are stuck in the muck without China.  On global warming we can’t do it without China and India.  In the Middle East we are so radioactive that when we do get involved fewer things happen.  So are we the indispensable nation?  I’m inclined to say yes, but it doesn't mean we can achieve our objectives alone.  I’d like to hear what our readers have to say on this question.

June 11, 2007


From West Point to Boston and back....
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

All with a nine month old in the backseat....

To those of you tuning in here at DA, you're early adapters! Apparently, online newsis going to overtake TV news within 5 years. Sorry I've been so absent. I just drove up and down the East Coast going to two separate conferences, the first at West Point in New York. The Social Science Department's Senior Conference this year was about American civil-military relations....It was a terrific event. To summarize: both the civilians and military at the event--on the dais and in conversation-- were at varying levels of worry and frustration about this relationship from the general public up to the White House.

The second thing I attended was a three day training by the Public Conversations Project a group in Boston that is well known for its innovative work on public discourse. Each of these events are bookends of a civil-military dialogue project I'm working on...more on that later.

Here's a fantastic site full of political brain candy....ever wonder who is working behind the scenes on the presidential campaigns? This site has the most comprehensive information I've yet seen. Go to the candidate's page and link to "organization" for the inside scoop.

Re: Legitimacy = Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Thanks David for pointing us to an excellent and no doubt provocative article by Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan. It discusses the thorny question of what is sovereignty and when and who has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of “sovereign” states.” David in his post, questions the linkage between legitimacy and democracy. I certainly understand the potential danger of using legitimacy=democracy arguments, and I have no interest in delegitimizing an organization that we should not and cannot give up on (the United Nations). However, at the most basic level, there is, as Daalder and Kagan argue, a fundamental difference in how democracies (US-UK) and autocracies (China-Russia) interpret sovereignty.

This interpretation gap all too often manifests itself in Security Council deadlocks – deadlocks which prevent the UN from taking decisive action to counter genocide and other gross human rights violations (Intuitively, it's doesn't seem particularly sensible that tiny ruling cliques of China and Russia have effective veto power over the rest of the world. When the US casts its vote on the SC, it can claim to represent the will of $300 million people. When the leaders of China/Putin's Russia cast a vote, they can claim to represent no one but themselves).

What, then, is the solution to this matter? China and Russia do not care about gross human rights violations in other states, because, within their own borders, they themselves are some of the most egregious human rights violators. So when we want to intervene on human rights issues, it almost goes without saying that China-Russia will drag their feet (as was the case in Bosnia and Kosovo). One solution is to wait for China and Russia to blossom into democracies. This, however, could take a rather long time.

The other solution, as Daalder and Kagan suggest, is to channel our efforts through multilateral organizations which are more “legitimate” than the UN, i.e. a Community/Concert of Democracies. This is not a perfect idea, but it is a better idea than maintaining the status quo.

Continue reading "Re: Legitimacy = Democracy" »

The Kissinger-Cheney Coupling
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Like Jerry, I was also quite alarmed when I first heard awhile back that Kissinger was advising the Bushies on foreign policy. But I was also quite surprised. "Henry the K" (Jerry - I've never heard him called that before, but I like it). In any case, Kissinger is an arch-realist, someone known for his refined indulgence of dictators, and for a keen disregard for what foreign countries do to their own citizens (i.e. kill them) as long as they toe the line on U.S. strategic interests, narrowly-defined.

On the other hand, Cheney, one has been led to believe, is a neo-con, or perhaps a neo-neo-con. But he quite evidently is not - and was never - a "true believer" like Wolfowitz; he has not been known to wax particularly eloquent about the struggle for Arab democracy, a la Bush circa January 2005, and he seems to share with Kissinger a carefully-cultivated disdain for the weak coupled with a sweet tooth for authoritarianism (not only abroad, but also at home). Still, Kissinger always seemed to me a rather unnatural match for an administration that, at least rhetorically, appears to heap scorn upon realism and realists (i.e. Baker/Scrowcroft). I suppose the key qualifier here is "at least rhetorically."

Henry the K With Nothing To Say
Posted by Jerry Mayer

Now, look--I love the Washington Post, the paper I grew up reading and still read almost cover to cover every day.  But my friend and colleague David Hart encouraged me to blog about the Post's worst chronic problem: the inexplicable gift of prime Post editorial real estate to Henry Kissinger, that stale windbag and likely war criminal.  Today's piece, which could not be located online (they have mercy on their online readership, I guess), is a typical meandering bit of historical revisionism.  I guess they let him write whatever he wants, and what he wanted to do today was to continue to pound at his critics--about 1969-73, with some tangential references to Iraq.

Given that Kissinger is frequently, and justly, accused of unnecessarily prolonging the Vietnam War, many of us found it alarming that he was the principal outside advisor to the Bush administration on foreign policy.  Worse, just as he did during Vietnam, he thinks at least half the blame, if not more, for the difficulty we face in Iraq should go to those disloyal Americans who are criticizing the president and making victory difficult!  Damn those nattering nabobs of negativism!

If Cheney and Bush want to learn how to break domestic and international law, lose a war and damage American prestige, they have found their appropriate expert. 

Dick Cheney: Of the outside people that I talk to in this job I probably talk to Henry Kissinger more than just about anyone else - he comes by I guess at least once a month and I sit down with him.
Woodward: And the same with the President?
Cheney: Yes, absolutely.
(woodward, being interviewed later on 60 Minutes, said this--)
Woodward: In Iraq he declared very simply, victory is the only meaningful exit strategy. This is so fascinating. Kissinger is fighting the Vietnam war again. Because in his view, the problem in Vietnam was that we lost our will. That we didn't stick to it. 

I can understand why Cheney and Bush would want to talk to Kissinger; who better to give a sympathetic ear to these incompetents? But why does the Post continue to print his op-eds, many hundreds of words longer than they allow even former presidents?

June 10, 2007

Peter Pace the Piper
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained his last-minute decision not to reappoint Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace on the basis that Pace's Senate confirmation battle would amount to a "divisive ordeal" focused on the past rather than the future.  Gates claimed he had every intention of renaming Pace until he consulted with Senate leaders who signalled that the nomination hearings would amount a contentious examination of the Bush Administration's Iraq policies as carried out by Pace.

This rationale places the blame in the exact wrong spot, inplying that overly aggressive Congressional oversight is costing the US government the best-qualified person to lead the war effort.  The truth is the opposite:  that Pace's leadership will wither under scrutiny means he isn't the right person to tackle one of the toughest jobs in memory for the US military. 

There's something distressingly ostrichlike about Gates' avowed reluctance to subject Administration policies to further Congressional scrutiny.  His comments all but confess that Pace's record is vulnerable.  Given that, his professed wish to reappoint Pace must be called into question. 

Gates' comments are most charitably read as a nice way to telegraph the real reason why Pace was pushed aside.  When a policy or project is in need of sweeping overhaul and dramatic changes in direction, having the architect of the status quo in the room can be a real hindrance.  Though that person, Pace in this case, will provide valuable history, knowledge and expertise, it is almost impossible for them to resist justifying the choices and decisions that led to the current mess.  The need to pay due respect to such rationales and judgements can slow or derail the effort to break from the past and find a more effective path forward.  In order to fix what's gone on during Pace's watch, in other words, his colleagues and successors will need to offer their unvarnished opinions of Pace and his efforts, something that won't happen if he's still in charge.

Gates' comments can probably be forgiven as an effort to show respect and politness while showing a loyal soldier to the door.   By showing deference to the man, Gates has freed himself from having to show deference to the policies.  Let's hope he sees it that way.

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