Democracy Arsenal

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August 04, 2007

Posted by Moira Whelan

A question in the debate about China. Obama did really well. He stressed that we have to view them as a competitor, but not make them into an enemy. He highlighted a very important point---when he's traveled to Africa, the Chinese presence is as pronounced as the US absence. This is what is happening while we're distracted in Iraq.

Beijing2008_logo I think China is going to be big in the election. We should expect they'll put on a pretty impressive show with the Olympics.

Way to be on top of it, bloggers.

One thing Kos doesn't have...
Posted by Moira Whelan

Newspapers. This from Hendrik Hertzberg:

There are two thousand people here, every one of them a news junkie, and I haven’t seen one single person—not one—carrying a newspaper.

True, but to the credit of the attendees: it is 2pm: You should have read the paper by now. Also, the coffee shop ran out of papers at like 7am.

Presidentials coming on now.

Bill Richardson is hanging in the crowd
Posted by Moira Whelan

as I just posted, was about 2 feet behind me. Before the lunch chat starts, I just gotta say...

There are 1400 people here, and all of the Presidential candidates save Biden (scheduling conflict) are coming to hang out....and not a drop by 20 minute speech, but for 3 HOURS. Unscripted. No idea what questions are going to pop up. Pretty crazy.

The Middle East Panel was actually kind
Posted by Moira Whelan

I have been to a lot of Middle East panels in my time, but I gotta give it to Kos, this was the best. One. Ever. For one, I laughed…and not just at Dennis Perrin who was on the panel talking about the influence of satire, but Juan Cole and even John Mearsheimer got a few laughs as well. That’s not to say that it wasn’t serious. In fact, I’d say the opposite. The audience and the panel were passionate. Matt has some thoughts on Mearsheimer’s presentation. Unsung on the panel was Manan Amed who had some interesting thoughts about Pakistan. He talked about how important Obama’s speech was, and what a major step forward it is regarding the challenges we face. The audience was more interested in talking about Israel and Palestine, and of course, Iraq.

At the risk of delving into a subject matter in which I have no expertise (the Middle East Peace Process), as a wonky type, I found a few things interesting about the conversation that followed. It’s less of a debate at Kos, and more of a given, that AIPAC and other groups have disproportionate power, and those that think differently simply don’t have the money/organization etc to compete.  The panelists correctly pointed out that the blogs are really the only place where the Israel and Palestinian relationship is being talked about without the influence of “the Israel lobby.” Because bloggers don’t really face recourse from typical levers of power (money, media, etc) the Israel lobby is accused of wielding with great effectiveness. The conversation can be fairly vibrant and democratic. Frankly, I think if the blogs are going to exercise power on foreign policy, this will probably be the area of biggest influence.

Continue reading "The Middle East Panel was actually kind" »

August 03, 2007

The father of Kos
Posted by Moira Whelan

John Mearsheimer is at Kos. My favorite part so far was introducing him to Matt Yglesias. Mearsheimer admited to spell checking Matt's name about 5 times to make sure it's right in the upcoming book he's written with Steve Walt.

More later. Want to listen now...

UPDATE: father of offensive offense to Morgenthau


Was Kos Questioner a Military Plant?
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I was just informed that the guy in uniform this morning.....the one who posed a question to the panel about Progressives and the Military..... was a plant from the Right Michelle Malkin to be specific, who has a blog called hot airbags or something self-referential like that.

More on this later. If this is true, it represents the most egregious, ugly, shameful and anti-American tactic I've ever witnessed in my own experience of studying and trying to improve US civil-military relations.
I'm not going to link to her blog, which I just checked out...and indeed, she's accusing the conference of stifling dissent. QED Malkin, you are an idiot.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Posted by Moira Whelan

I skipped the panel on Foreign Policy so I wouldn’t have to compete with Matt, Ezra and Steve for something creative to say, and instead went to a session on the idea of the unitary executive and how the Presidency should really be (if, that is, you believe in American core values).

If you’re in this business (political and/or national security) you’re in it because you want things to be as good as they can be. Aim high and then work for it. We believe societies should flourish, not just survive. We know things aren’t going well now, but instead of just limiting ourselves to fixing what the Bushies have messed up, we need to figure out who we want to be.

Continue reading "Where do you see yourself in five years? " »

Yglesias v. Slaughter - Partisanship and Bipartisanship
Posted by David Shorr

A lot of wires are getting crossed in the debate on the relative role and need for partisanship and bipartisanship, sparked by Anne-Marie Slaughter's recent WaPo column, "Partisans Gone Wild." (Heather, always quicker than me, posted days ago.) Some of the tangle is caused by the appearance of the Slaughter piece within a few days of Michael O'Hanlon & Kenneth Pollack's infamous "War We Might Just Win" NY Times op-ed.

Matthew Yglesias says in the LA Times yesterday that bipartisanship is not only a false god, but a self-justification and self-preservation by an elite class that places itself above the rabble. Ouch. Yglesias and Slaughter are both right - and both wrong. Matthew is correct in standing up for the validity of public outrage over Iraq. Anne-Marie is justified in her worries about the venom of the overall foreign policy discourse.

To echo Yglesias (and coin a phrase): acrimony in opposition to quagmire is no vice; calm in the acceptance of inertia is no virtue. It is entirely appropriate that Iraq should be debated loudly and passionately, in no small part because it wasn't debated properly at the outset. That said, I don't think the Iraq War can be laid at the feet of bipartisanship per se, nor is it true that the entire foreign policy establishment supported the war.

Continue reading "Yglesias v. Slaughter - Partisanship and Bipartisanship" »

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So the Bush Administration's latest talking point for why the surge is working is that American casualties were down in July.  Unfortunately, they really weren't.  Casualties in July were exactly the same as they were in both February and March of this year and two less than they were in January.  In other words, casualties in July are where they were at the beginning of the "surge" and somehow this is a sign that the "surge" is working.

Even more ridiculous is the fact that the lazy media decided to start analyzing these numbers on August 1.  Anyone, who has followed these numbers knows that there is a time lag for reporting casualties because the Pentagon always notifies families and loved ones first, before they publicly release information.  So all the preliminary reports about how this is the lowest level of fatalities since November 2006 were just wrong.

YearlyKos check in
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I'm here at Yearlykos convention for The White House Project.., so am posting on our new blog. Another beautiful day in Chicago...this year 1500 attendees are here (registration had to close, in fact).
Choosing between working sessions is tough...I'm at a progressive infrastructure panel right now ( great independent movies are playing constantly in another room...for movie geeks) Not to mention gazing out the window at the sailboats on the lake....I attended a session on why progressives and the military have in common this morning and there was a dust-up on the dais between panelist John Stoltz of VoteVets and a uniformed questioner. (an Army captain) John took issue with the fact that he was at the conference in uniform (his question was pretty innocuous) but this is a sign of things to come. John is technically right on this, but as a civilian, I must admit I feel a sense of righteousness when someone in a uniform says something I agree with. DESPITE knowing it is wrong to attribute my politics to him or her. Its just wrong. But its hard. And I am continually conflicted. Another panelist, Ilona Meagher, said that after the war, the hard work for the civilians has just do we welcome our troops back and let them know that their experience was meaningful...across the board, from the protesters to the yellow flag crowd...we all need to agree on this.

Our panel on progressive activism and foreign policy is this afternoon...more later...

If you don't know them, you should
Posted by Moira Whelan

Avaaz is awesome. We need more global conversations like this.

Now here's a wonk with GOOD judgement!
Posted by Moira Whelan

At Kos, listening to General Clark (which will be followed by a great discussion on the military hosted by VoteVets). I was checking my morning news and wanted to share a few pieces with you.

At a time when the judgment of SOME national security experts is in question (sounds like O’Schmanlon and Collick), I wanted to remind people there are still good ones out there.

Would you quit your job because you disagree with the boss’s wrongheaded policy that endangers the country and threatens the lives of thousands? What’s more, would you throw yourself into an effort to get him fired? And raise money so you could hire a bunch of overzealous folks to join you in continuing the fight to make things right in a part of politics where it's NEVER been done before? I like to think I would, but hope I’ll never have to, because of Rand Beers.

He’s out in the woods right now and unlikely to see these posts about him.. Courage of conviction is something that is rare in this world. Sticking to it is unheard of.

We need more like you, Rand.

August 02, 2007

Obama Speech Pt II
Posted by Michael Cohen

One of the comments I received today about my earlier Obama post provides a great jumping off point for another important issue that I think needs to be raised about his recent terrorism speech.

MyDD and others have argued that Obama is advocating the same preemptive war policy as Bush in calling for a potential strike against AQ leaders in Pakistan. I am at a loss to see how anyone who read the speech in its entirety could draw such a conclusion.

First of all the Pakistan section was four graphs out of a lengthy speech on terrorism. But more to the point, read exactly what Obama said:

If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

That strikes me as a fairly measured step for an American President to take - present the evidence to Musharraf and if he does nothing than be prepared to act unilaterally. Yet MyDD suggests that Obama is calling for the "military invasion of a sovereign nation" as if he wants to launch Iraq II. That is quite an exaggeration and it seems a fairly silly one to me.

Moreover, I think a message like Obama's is a bit more subtle then many are realizing. If an American President were to make clear to Musharraf, either privately or publicly, that we are fully prepared to act against AQ leadership in Pakistan . . . do you think this might light a fire under him? It seems to me that the threat of America acting might do the trick in actually getting Musharraf to go after these guys. I understand that Musharraf is a key ally of the US, but when he is allowing terrorists to operate in his midst with impunity, something has to be done.

To reverse the question to liberal, anti-interventionists, if the U.S. were to have highly actionable intelligence about the whereabouts of Bin Laden, should we do nothing? Should we not act? This is a man who killed 3,000 Americans and who is likely plotting to kill more - if we have a chance to take him out we should and I think most Americans would agree. If liberals are not willing to use force in this situation - then would they ever be willing to do it?

I argued in an earlier post that our military is only one tool in the US arsenal for fighting terrorists - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use it. In fact, it would be a real policy mistake if the misguided invasion of Iraq would cause Democrats to question the use of military force in fighting the war against Islamic extremism.

Not to sound overly militaristic here, but it seems to me that there when it comes to hardcore Al Qaeda, if we have a chance to kill them, we absolutely should, no matter where they are. These are individuals who aspire to kill Americans, short of capture or death, I'm not sure how else to deal with them. And after all . . . we are fighting a war here! Frankly, our failure to act more aggressively at Tora Bora is part of the reason why this issue is even being debated.

One of the advantages that Obama has as a critic of the Iraq war is that he can use his credibility with the anti-war wing of the party to bring them around to the view that there is an appropriate time and place for the US to act aggressively and unilaterally when fighting the war on terrorism.

For nearly 40 years, liberal Democrats have looked askance at the use of American military force. It's about time the party changed its stripes, not just because it's smart politics, but because it's the right thing to do. There is a time and place to use American military force and we shouldn't be afraid to use this key tool in our arsenal. The fact that most of the key Democrats running for President seem to share his view is a welcome sign and an important moment for the party.

Rural America - Rural Africa
Posted by David Shorr

Surely it's a sign of the times that we have to read news reports from East Africa to find out what's going on with the farm bill in Congress. A Celia Dugger piece in Tuesday's New York Times highlighted the issue of American food agricultural development aid to Africa and longstanding rules requiring the US Government to "buy American." Bizare as it seems, our aid programs in Africa are often prohibited from purchasing corn and other grains from nearby in Africa, and are instead required to ship food from the US, at great added cost. Actually, I already knew all that. But what got me were the the arguments being used in Congress to preserve this crazy status quo in the farm bill. Advocates of preserving the rule claim that it's necessary to preserve domestic political support for food aid programs. According to quotes in Dugger's piece, which is an excellent description of the on-the-ground consequences, claim that buying the aid from within Africa will hurt American farmers. This gives Americans, and farmers, ridiculously little credit. I live here in the Iowa heartland, and I can't believe my neighbors are that stingy. In fact, I'm sure of it. Do we seriously think American farmers (or the rest of the public) would oppose food aid for Africans if we stop shipping it from here? And would it really hurt rural Americans for us to support agricultural development in rural Africa? Whatever the impact here might be, I'm sure it's tiny compared to the hardship and poverty reported from on the ground in Kenya. So much for our supposed belief in providing "a hand-up, not a hand-out."

Self-Masochism II
Posted by Michael Cohen

As if watching Dick Cheney on Larry King was not challenging enough to the soul I went to see Charles Ferguson's new documentary No End in Sight the other night about the occupation of Iraq. For those of you who have read Fiasco or Assassin's Gate much of the material will seem old hat, but there is something about seeing the breathtaking incompetence of our occupation of Iraq laid out in an hour and forty minute documentary that will . . . well take your breath away. It's almost as if we said "how can we screw up every single element of this occupation and get nothing right." Bingo - you have Iraq, circa the Summer of 2007.

It's hard to figure out what areas to specifically highlight about the film since there are so many stirring and disturbing images. Certainly, after seeing it and then watching Rummy on the Hill yesterday provided me with a further reminder that there actually was someone in the Bush Administration more despicable and deranged than Dick Cheney. 

However, one element really jumped out at me - the Iraqi people really were and remain a sideshow to this Administration. Now I'm not going to sit here and argue that the Iraqis had it made under Saddam's sociopathic rule. But, considering that we invaded and occupied their country, a certain responsibility falls on the United States for the terrible fate that has befallen the Iraqis since March 2003. When you watch what we did in the first few months of the occupation it seems obvious that we could have cared less what happened to them after the invasion. "Liberation" was always just a catch phrase for this Administration. The Iraqis were simply pawns in our foreign policy game.

Sure we prepared for a humanitarian crisis (although the cynical could argue this driven by public relations), but the political, economic and social needs of the Iraqis seemed to be pretty low on our list of concerns. Obviously we made no effort to provide security, we allowed the looting to go on unabated (the great underreported story of the Iraq war), and we put little to no thought into what type of political regime would replace Saddam. Certainly, by even countenancing a post-Saddam, Chalabi regime we were more than happy to replace one strongman with another (although one far less benign).  When the Administration threw the Ba'aths out of power, disbanded the military or even instituted ridiculous economic reforms like a flat tax, lack of capital controls and 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi companies outside the oil industry, I'm hard pressed to find any evidence that the best interests of the Iraqi people were their chief concern. Since the beginning of this war the Administration has treated the Iraqis more like guinea pigs for their political and economic ideology rather than a people worthy of our respect and assistance. And most disturbing, as the Onion brilliantly satirizes, their suffering seems to have little impact on our national psyche.

Now some would argue, "we liberated them" - what more do you want? It's true we did liberate them from a terrible dictator, but I'm amazed to say this, we've actually made their lives worse. Consider that for a second: we replaced one of the worst sociopathic dictators of the 20th century and we've created a worse situation with more suffering, more death and more fear and uncertainty. The chance of random kidnapping, rape or murder for an ordinary Iraqi has actually increased. That's not easy to do.

Even now, we seem reluctant to admit Iraqi refugees, even those who worked for the occupation, into our country. And as my colleague Heather Hurlburt notes it's not just the Administration that deserves a black mark for that one. Besides the obvious importance of bringing the troops home, providing a safe haven for displaced Iraqis should be a top priority for this Congress.

I'm quite sure that when the history books are written, we will be bombarded by further tales of incompetence, arrogance and venality by this Administration (I suppose we already are). Tragically, the terrible hardships and suffering we've imposed on the Iraqi people will likely continue to be a mere footnote. It shouldn't, because in some respects, it is our greatest moral failing in this terrible and unnecessary war.

August 01, 2007

Second City Blogging
Posted by Moira Whelan

Heading to YKos bright and early tomorrow, and wanted to take a minute to highlight the Democracy Arsenal talent that will be there. Both Lorelei Kelly and Suzanne Nossel will be on panels, and AJ Rossmiller who blogs over at Americablog and recently out-ed himself as part of the "strategic class" and a fellow with the National Security Network, will be chairing a panel. (AJ, you'll always be a dirty hippie to me.) I will not be on a panel, but will make sure to pass on any comments or embarrassing moments encountered by these folks.

BellevegasAlso, let me take the opportunity to remind all conference attendees that there are other parts of Illinois, not just Chicago. I proudly come from that patch of blue just across the river from St. Louis--St. Clair County. Belleville, Illinois to you, Bellevegas to locals. Home to Jay Farrar.  Often in the  shadow of Chicago, I thought my hometown needed a shout out.

Obama's Speech
Posted by Michael Cohen

Building on what Moira wrote below, allow me to offer my two cents on Obama's terror speech today. Bravo!

This is exactly the kind of broad-based, diplomatic, economic, political and military approach we need to win the war against Islamic extremists.

When I am President, we will wage the war that has to be won, with a comprehensive strategy with five elements: getting out of Iraq and on to the right battlefield in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing the capabilities and partnerships we need to take out the terrorists and the world’s most deadly weapons; engaging the world to dry up support for terror and extremism; restoring our values; and securing a more resilient homeland.

Luckily Obama goes beyond these platitudes to offer substantive ideas on how he as President will accomplish these goals. Granted Bush has talked about non-military elements of the war on terror, but let's face it, this guy has always viewed the military as the key tool in winning the war on terror. His actions belie his rhetoric.

What Obama seems to get is that there is no finite military solution to the war we're waging. We need to bring all of our foreign policy tools to bear on this issue and above all recognize that in an era of asymmetric threats there are limits to what our military can accomplish in this fight. It's certainly the case in Iraq as Bush's nominee for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen pointed out yesterday:

The failure of the Iraqis to make progress toward political unity imperils Iraq, said the nominee, Adm. Michael G. Mullen who said that unless things changed, "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much a difference."

Quite simply, it's the politics stupid!

As we've seen in Iraq, the U.S. military is a blunt instrument - and a damn effective one at that. There are certainly times and places where our military is a key element in fighting Islamic extremism. Certainly the war in Afghanistan and our ability to disperse Al Qaeda, takeaway its safe haven and kill many of its fighters was a crucial first step (alas, if we had only finished the fight at Tora Bora). And I share his view that we need to put more pressure on Pakistan to deal with the terrorists in their midst (although I would imagine there is a strong political impulse to show toughness operating here as well for the Obama campaign).

But let's not get lost in the soundbite. The most important point that Obama makes is that this war needs more scalpels and less sledgehammers. We're doing battle not with a state, but with a non-state actor, yet we're waging this war with an approach that is straight out of the Cold War playbook. It's time we started fighting a 21st century war against a 21st century enemy.

But above all we need to be having this debate on the campaign trail. We need candidates to seriously debate this issue and offer up ideas not just about Iraq, but about how we win this war with Al Qaeda.

Kudos to Obama for starting this conversation in the heat of a political campaign.

The Surge Has Failed, Again
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Iraq's largest Sunni bloc has apparently quit the Maliki government. If this doesn't provide further evidence of the failure of the "surge," what will? That's 44 seats. How many Sunnis does that leave in the "national" parliament? (That's sort of a rhetorical question, but I kind of what to know what the exact number is too). Marc Lynch zeroes in on what this means for Petraeus and his strategy of "buying time." Question: doesn't this quite blatantly contradict the claims of progress made in O'Hanlon and Pollack's New York Times op-ed? Answer: yes.

The 5 Sentence Rule
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Does James Fallows really think this is a good idea? Yes, it's a somewhat creative solution to a longstanding problem, but I can't imagine actually putting that on my email signature. Seems kind of rude to me. Thoughts?

Terrorist Doctors
Posted by Shadi Hamid

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to say a few words about Stanley Kurtz’s somewhat involved two-part essay on “terrorist doctors," where he discusses the root causes of extremism, and makes some more general points about economic-political stagnation of the Middle East. It’s actually pretty good, in the sense that it meets the very low bar that conservatives have unwittingly set for themselves: it is moderately thoughtful, and in some sentences, even nuanced. 

You’ve probably forgot about it by now, but last month, there was the big hullabaloo about the fact that the British terrorist plotters were well-educated, doctors. This prompted one of the dumbest news headlines I've ever seen (from NBC): "UK Terror Suspects Include 2 Doctors." The fact that this would surprise anyone provides further evidence that we’re totally lost when it comes to the Muslim world. In the ranks of terrorists, doctors and engineers have always been disproportionately well-represented. This is not unique to the Muslim world; the professional classes have usually been the engines of anti-system political activity for a long time. European communists were not led by peasants, but by middle-class and upper-middle class activists, usually quite well-educated.

Kurtz, like most conservatives, dismisses the theory that poverty causes terrorism. He is right to dismiss it because poverty doesn't actually cause terrorism (again, this is Middle East Politics 101; the fact that people are still advancing this dubious causal link is, quite frankly, bizarre). That said, poverty is one factor which contributes to political violence, and more generally to the popularity of violent, extremist groups. Terrorists draw their support through appeals to a sense of collective humiliation (see Lind/Bergen’s excellent piece on this), and poverty certainly contributes to a sense of economic and political impotence. For this reason – and this is reason enough – international poverty alleviation should be a
priority for American policymakers.

But while poverty may not be a major root cause, that is not the same as saying that economic factors are inconsequential. Doctors and engineers may not be poor, but they are relatively poor. As Kurtz notes, “Egypt’s huge new generation of doctors, lawyers, and engineers may not have been poor, but after years of study and sacrifice they were seriously underemployed. The emergence of Islamism is less a tale of abject poverty than a classic case of social revolution fomented by rising expectations.”

Continue reading "Terrorist Doctors " »

Fighting Terrorism is a Progressive Value
Posted by Moira Whelan

I’m a little worried about some of the initial response I’m seeing to Obama’s terrorism speech today. I have tremendous respect for the handful of bloggers I’m seeing respond negatively to this move on Obama’s part, so I wanted to just reassert something I thought we all already knew.

We cannot forget that most of us get on George Bush’s case because he’s taken the fight AWAY from terrorism.

It really should be the rule, not the exception, that candidates tell us how, rather than if, they’re going to do that. (Can someone respond to a point of inquiry here…have other Democratic candidates presented such a comprehensive view of how they’d do that? If so, please link. If not, why not?)

If you want to debate Obama’s approach on the merits, that’s a worthy enterprise, but wanting to finish the war that Bush abandoned for his reckless policies is responsible not "hawkish."

Continue reading "Fighting Terrorism is a Progressive Value" »

O'Hanlon and Pollack
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I know I’m a little late to the game, but had to add my two cents on this Pollack/O’hanlon piece.

First of all, I have to disagree with Suzanne when she writes that the piece “has special credibility coming from two longstanding critics of the war.”  At best they have been lukewarm advocates/critics of the war.  The blogosphere is full of positive statements they have made about a war that they both supported.  And the fact that O’hanlon and Pollack mislabel themselves as consistent critics of the war is actually the most irritating thing about the whole op-ed.

Second, I completely agree with Michael.  The entire point of the surge was to increase security so that we can facilitate political reconciliation.  Unfortunately, Iraq’s politics have been going in the opposite direction.  Over at NSN we have been tracking the various benchmarks on a weekly basis and you cannot help conclude that the political situation has completely deteriorated.

How bad is it?  The Sunnis, who are the entire key to political reconciliation, have been boycotting the government for about a month (they came back for one week in the middle) because they have have no say in governing the country.  Today they left Maliki’s government.  This is problematic since they are the entire key to political reconciliation.

The situation gets even more absurd when you look at some of the reasons they have chosen to boycott.  For example, they were previously protesting a warrant out for one of their cabinet ministers for the role he played in an attempted assassination in 2005.  Meanwhile, there was a major confrontation when the Sunni speaker of parliament who has had his body guards rough up a number of other parliamentarians and has condoned killing American troops was forced out.  The Shi’a and Sunni Vice Presidents have also threatened to resign numerous times in frustration.  Oh, and of course the Parliament isn’t even close on any of the political benchmarks.  It can’t even get a quorum let alone an oil law.  And yes, they just started their one month vacation, which according to some parliamentarians is their “constitutional right.”

Meanwhile, much of the progress on security has come on the backs of questionable alliances with forces who aren’t necessarily friendly to the United States.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend has historically proven to be a dubious proposition.  Working with Sunni tribes that have previously attacked American troops doesn’t seem like too much progress.  Especially since it has caused Prime Minister Maliki to threaten to further arm Shi’a militias.  Why?  Because Maliki understands that while Sunni tribes might be useful in fighting Al Qaeda, what we are essentially doing is arming the Sunnis against the Shi’a for the inevitable outbreak of more sectarian hostilities.  This whole concept was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Didn’t work out too well….

Sectarian killings in Baghdad aren’t really down.  Baghdad is now getting 1-2 hours of electricity per day.  This is also causing the water purification systems to shut down, which is a major humanitarian problem. 

In short, the O’Hanlon Pollack piece is full of anecdotal evidence that we have heard too many times before.  The big problems on politics and sectarian violence persist and show no signs of improving.

I have great respect for Mike O’hanlon when he writes about military issues and the defense budget.  Ken Pollack is a serious Middle East expert who has published a great deal of interesting material about the Middle East.  Unfortunately, on Iraq they have both been consistently and tragically wrong. 

July 31, 2007

The Despicable Dick Cheney
Posted by Michael Cohen

Probably out of some self-masochistic tendency on my part, I decided to check out Larry King Live tonight and watch our esteemed Vice President.

I suppose I could run down the list of half-truths, mistruths, exaggerations, duplicitous statements, mischaracterizations and lies that peppered his comments, but really what's the point.  With or without my contribution, the blogosphere, along with the overwhelming majority of the American people, seem to understand the true nature of our Vice President - namely that he is a despicable man.

However, that admonition, notwithstanding, I did want to pass along this little nugget from an interview Cheney did with CBS News several days ago:

"I've had my differences with Pat Leahy," Cheney said. "I think the key is whether or not he (Gonzales) has the confidence of the president — and he clearly does."

This really should be the epitaph of the Bush Administration. In one sentence, Cheney has pretty much summed up the fundamental arrogance and disrespect for America's governing institutions that has come to define this Administration. We don't care what Pat Leahy thinks; hell we don't care what Congress thinks. Allies? Take a hike. American people? LOL. All that matters is one thing and one thing only - what does George W. Bush think.

Ok, now that I've gotten that out of my system, I will now return to sober blogging on major foreign policy issues  . . .

Drop What You're Doing and Read This
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok. Go read this. Now. It's that good. No, actually, it's better. So rarely do I read a piece on democracy promotion that I agree with 85-100%. This is one of them (at about 90%). Either that says a lot about me, or a lot about Ms. Slaughter. Take your pick. Anyway, here's the part I particularly liked a lot:

A sensible strategy of supporting democracy around the world, then, would recognize the long-term and complex nature of the task. It would support liberal democracy and governments with institutions that are accountable to their citizens. It would support parties of any religion and any ideology as long as they are committed to the democratic process, recognize the rights of the opposition and bind themselves internationally to recognizing minority rights and the individual rights of all citizens, and upholding independent courts and honest government. Such a strategy also would recognize that American security is best assured by a world of liberal democracies not because the governments of those countries like or agree with the United States - plenty of European, Latin American and Asian liberal democratic governments oppose American policies - but because the processes that elected those governments and the institutions that keep them honest are the best antidote to extremism, violence and sustained injustice.

Is there really any alternative? Would the newfound adherents of a foreign policy based only on securing U.S. interests really like to return to an era characterized by the apocryphal quote: "He may be a son-of-a-bitch but he's our son-of-a-bitch"? (The quote has been attributed variously to Cordell Hull, speaking about the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and to Franklin Roosevelt, referring to the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García.) Isn't that the policy that has landed America exactly where it is today in so much of the Islamic world, with vast majorities of young people hating the United States, in part because America is seen as a key supporter of the governments that oppress them?

Declaring Victory in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I almost jumped out of my subway seat yesterday morning while reading Mike O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack's NY Times op-ed entitled:  A War We Just Might Win.  The pair just returned from a trip to Iraq and declare:

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

The two report that troop morale is high, that American servicemember have confidence in General David Petraeus and in the surge strategy.  They say that efforts at reconstruction and stabilization are appropriately tailored to the needs of local communities, that local politicos are cultivating the support of American commanders, that commercial districts of Baghdad are coming to life, that Iraqi troops are showing their mettle, that militia-ridden areas are being not just cleared but also held, that the US-led provincial reconstruction teams are working and that Iraqis are rebelling against the likes of al Qaeda and Sadr.  The only major caveats noted are in relation to the police and the stalled process of political reconciliation.  The piece ends by calling for the extra troops to stay in place at least through 2008.

This is the best news to be reported out of Iraq in months if not years, and has special credibility coming from two longstanding critics of the war.  When John McCain made some similar observations several months back, he was ridiculed in the media.  But is it really cause to rethink the grim outlook on Iraq shared throughout so much of official Washington and Middle America?

Continue reading "Declaring Victory in Iraq" »

The Trouble with O'Hanlon and Pollack
Posted by Michael Cohen

Let me first take this brief opportunity to thank Ilan and the folks at Democracy Arsenal for the opportunity to guestblog. There is so much to talk about in the news today, it's hard to know where to start, but like many in the blogosphere I wanted to offer a few comments on the recent NYT editorial by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack on Iraq.

Much of the criticism, atleast on sites like TPM, Thinkprogress and others has been directed at the mainstream media for giving Pollack and O'Hanlon an enormous amount of media coverage, particularly since they've been pretty much consistently wrong on everything about the war from the beginning; as well as the fact that O'Hanlon published a Brookings report at complete odds with his op-ed. All fair points, but really the issue here is the substance of their comments - and that deserves as mush criticism as anything else.

O'Hanlon and Pollack claim that from a military perspective the surge is working. Having not been to Iraq I will not try to quibble with their assertions (no matter my own reservations or those raised in the Brookings report) yet one passage in their op-ed jumped out at me:

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation — or at least accommodation — are needed.

You think? In case we've all forgotten, the surge was predicated on the notion that by improving the security situation in Baghdad, it would give the Iraqis breathing room to move forward on political reform. In fact, here's what the President said when he announced the surge policy in January.

This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas.

Yet, as O'Hanlon and Pollack acknowledge nearly seven months after the annoucement of the surge, there has been virtually no progress on any of the major political reforms that Iraq needs. And it's not as if Iraqi leaders are really putting themselves out to achieve these goals.

The surge was never meant to represent a military solution to the challenges facing Iraq. At its core, the surge represented a coordinated military and political initiative. Indeed, the two are inextricably linked. So even if you buy the notion that the military effort is acheiving success, by ignoring the Iraqi government's political failures O'Hanlon and Pollack are conveniently minimizing what is the key issue to the long-term success of the surge.

While they acknowledge that "the surge cannot go on forever," they argue "that there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

Why? If after seven months of dawdling what evidence is there that Iraq's leaders will at some point actually accomplish something? Without the threat of American withdrawal or, heaven forbid, a timetable for withdrawal is there any lever that would push the Iraqis to compromise? I have yet to see one and Pollack and O'Hanlon certainly don't offer it. 

In the end, both men seem to ignore the fact that winning the battle is not the same thing as winning the war.

Introducing Michael Cohen
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

We have a new guest blogger today.

Michael A. Cohen works as a corporate communication professional in New York where he provides communications, public affairs and crisis management support to a variety of clients. He is also a senior fellow at the New America Foundation where he helms the Privatization of Foreign Policy Initiative and an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Michael is currently writing a book on the history of campaign speechwriting, titled Live from the Campaign Trail: The Political Speeches that Changed America, which will be published by Bloomsbury in May 2008. Previously, Michael was the chief speechwriter for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson and Senator Chris Dodd.

Can Anne-Marie Slaughter and Daily Kos Both Be Right?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Slaughter had a WaPo piece on Saturday calling for foreign policy bipartisanship and claiming that the real divide in American politics is now between partisans and nonpartisans.  After bemoaning the tendencies of the left-wing blogosphere to attack Democrats, she gives her solution:

It's time, then, for a bipartisan backlash. Politicians who think we need bargaining to fix the crises we face should appear side by side with a friend from the other party -- the consistent policy of the admirably bipartisan co-chairmen of the 9/11 commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton. Candidates who accept that the winner of the 2008 election is going to need a lot of friends across the aisle -- not least to get out of Iraq -- should make a point of finding something to praise in the other party's platform. And as for the rest of us, the consumers of a steady diet of political vitriol, every time we read a partisan attack, we should shoot -- or at least spam -- the messenger.

Over at DailyKos, Booman23  gives this response:

In these circumstances, moderation is not a virtue.  A moderate response is indistinguishable from apathy.   

And for Slaughter to shoot the messenger in the name of apathy is a case study in why the blogosphere reacts to bipartisanship with fury.

We are patriots that are trying to save our country.  Ms. Slaughter appears to be just one more deluded member of the establishment that thinks all can be put right if we just tinker around the edges and get Bush to accept the wisdom of James Baker and Lee Hamilton.   

First, Bush is not going to accept the wisdom of Baker and Hamilton.  Second, their wisdom is grossly overrated and wholly inadequate to the challenges we face.

Can both be right?

Continue reading "Can Anne-Marie Slaughter and Daily Kos Both Be Right?" »

On a Stack of Coffee Cups
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Over at BloggingHeads, Rosa and I discourse on the global economy, politics, impeachment, Iraqi refugees and motherhood.  And we do it all while staring implacably into tiny video cameras mounted precariously on stacks of folders, old bestsellers, and coffeecups on our desks.  No, you can't see that part.

July 29, 2007

Some Good News
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Max Blumenthal video that Lorelei posted is depressing.  So it's nice to see a letter like this a couple of days later from Evangelical Leaders

We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope this support will embolden you and your administration to proceed confidently and forthrightly in negotiations with both sides in the region.

Joe Biden - The Only One to Offer a Detailed Plan?
Posted by David Shorr

Sen. Joe Biden has offered a plan for Iraq, I want to acknowledge at the outset. He has looked deeply into the situation, made an analysis, and offered a proposal for a partition of the country into a loose federation. He and Les Gelb have made an important contribution to the debate, no question. But the extravagant claims as to the plan's uniqueness, and some of the associated swooning, have skewed the issue of what constitutes a plan, and what constitutes a viable solution.

I write about this tonight because the New York Times' Helene Cooper has a flattering Week in Review piece today about the Biden(-Gelb) plan. Cooper gives Biden credit for his prescience because Iraqis are migrating (not always voluntarily) into areas controlled by militias of their own sectarian or kinship groups. But it's a significant leap to claim that these migration patterns show that partition is the clear answer. The way I see it, Sen. Biden steps into the same trap that snared us in the first place: misjudging our ability to leverage the outcome in Iraq from the outside.

In fact, the plan itself as well as the political claim staked on it both display the same sort of hubris...

Continue reading "Joe Biden - The Only One to Offer a Detailed Plan?" »

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