Democracy Arsenal

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September 21, 2007

Pointing Out the Obvious
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Civil war drives down property prices...  Does this really deserve to be on the front page of the Washington Post?

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

One other point about yesterday's CATO discussion.  Marc Lynch described a particularly surreal experience.

I concluded with my mind-boggling experience yesterday of watching an American neoconservative on al-Jazeera lecturing a Sunni Iraqi tribal shaykh - in English - about what is really going on in  the Sunni tribal areas, and warned against believing our own propaganda about the Sunni areas.

More good stuff here.

Bush, a strong asset for Republicans?
Posted by Moira Whelan

Warning: this will be stuck in your head all day.

Et tu, Orrin
Posted by Michael Cohen

Inexplicably, the President continues to threaten to veto legislation that would expand the children's health insurance program (S-CHIP). Apparently, some Republicans are none too happy about it:

Asked whether he would vote to override a veto, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a staunch conservative, said, "You bet your sweet bippy I will."

Now I have no idea what a bippy is, but Hatch wasn't done sticking to White House:

Hatch, who helped negotiate the compromise, said it is flatly untrue that the bill would cover children in households with incomes of as much as $83,000. . . "We're talking about kids who basically don't have coverage," Hatch said. "I think the president's had some pretty bad advice on this."

Wow! You know it's pretty bad when even Orrin Hatch is accusing the White House of lying.

September 20, 2007

Some Good News From Iran
Posted by The Editors

This is fantastic news. Welcome home!

I've not yet had the pleasure of meeting Haleh, Parnaz, or Kian but through their friends and reading about their work, have come to know they are amazing people. I am glad they are now free to continue that work.

Also, a very special thanks to those who have been dedicating a good deal of time to bringing them home. I'm sure just seeing that these individuals are safe is reward enough and my thanks means little, but I do just want to say that I'm glad there are still good, true, diplomats using their talents on all sides of this equation.  Your efforts are noticed and appreciated.

Also, to the families of the two Americans still missing--my prayers and thoughts are with you.

Jim Dobbins Is Really Smart
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I went to an excellent panel today on Iraq at the Cato Institute (Actually much more fair and balanced than the Brookings panel).  Marc Lynch already posted on the panel.  With all due respect to Marc, I agree with him that Ambassador Jim Dobbins was the most fascinating speaker (Although Marc was great to).  Dobbins knows a little bit about fixing messes, having been the Clinton administration's Special Envoy for Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo and the Bush administration's first Special Envoy for Afghanistan. 

Dobbins argued that in every case of trying to fix a failed state the neighbors play a critical role.  They have serious national interests because they are the ones who have to deal with the refugees, violence, crime, economic shocks and all the other wonderful things that happen as a result of a total meltdown on your border.  They simply are not going to sit on the sidelines. 

All of the neighbors have an interest in maintaining stability.  To do this they search for proxies who will carry out their agenda.  Paradoxically, this proxy strategy only ends up exacerbating the situation by strengthening various warring parties and creating greater potential for broader regional conflict. The only way around this, is to create a regional dialogue that forces all the neighbors to come together and coordinate their strategies.  Instead of a zero sum game they should be working towards the same greater goal of keeping Iraq from totally falling apart. 

A regional working group is not a new idea, but I’ve always wondered if the whole diplomacy angle was just a way to make everyone feel better without actually having a substantial impact on the ground.  Dobbins clearly explained why it is just so important. 

Dobbins also pointed out that there is no one in the U.S. government who is currently playing this role.  Crocker doesn’t have the authority to talk to the neighbors, except through their representatives in Iraq.  Most of the neighbors don’t have a large diplomatic presence in the country and even if they did, these conversations need to happen at a more senior level. 

Clearly, we need a special envoy to the region whose job is to coordinate the various neighbors and get them all to sit down and talk.  My choice would be Jim Dobbins.

Update:  Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are introducing an amendment intended to promote a diplomatic surge.  It addresses much of what Dobbins talked about yesterday.   

Sunk Costs Fallacy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Via AJ at Americablog. A great piece on the irrationality of this war.

Economics professors have a standard game they use to demonstrate how apparently rational decisions can create a disastrous result. They call it a "dollar auction." The rules are simple. The professor offers a dollar for sale to the highest bidder, with only one wrinkle: the second-highest bidder has to pay up on their losing bid as well. Several students almost always get sucked in. The first bids a penny, looking to make 99 cents. The second bids 2 cents, the third 3 cents, and so on, each feeling they have a chance at something good on the cheap. The early stages are fun, and the bidders wonder what possessed the professor to be willing to lose some money.

The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.

America is long past the possibility of some kind of profitable outcome in Iraq. Neo-con dreams of a quick, cheap victory, delivering democracy and peace and self-financed from Iraq's own oil revenue, got us started on this misadventure. Like the students, the early bidding seemed like a fun adventure to the boys in the Bush administration. "Bring 'em on," the chief boy said about the other bidders. And like the economics class, suddenly we were in the thing up to our necks, with only bad choices available at an ever-escalating cost.

We can cut our losses now and take our lumps, or we can keep throwing good money after bad until maybe we wear the other side out, but in the process raising our own ultimate losses substantially. And in Iraq, the losses are already desperately high, on both sides, in blood, in money, and in the erosion of institutions like law and national cohesion.

A Little More Than Two Thirds of an FU Ago
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I wrote:

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.

I was wrong.  I was so wrong that Gates and Warner actually became the two people who ultimately had the greatest role in squashing the Webb-Hagel amendment.  At least on the bright side, Republicans had a choice:  A) vote to stop the war B) face political extinction.  They chose B.  Interesting choice.  We'll have to wait until November 08 to see how bad it is.

The Myth of Moroccan Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

America's post-9/11 "freedom agenda" has failed miserably. The "Arab Spring" ended two years ago. Yet, Morocco is still often hailed as one of the few bright spots in the region. For a variety of reasons, we should be very skeptical about such claims. Which is a lead-in to say that I've co-authored a piece with Jeb Koogler on the "myth of Moroccan democracy" which is out today at The American Prospect . You can read the whole thing here. Here's a teaser:

Earlier this month Morocco, one of America's closest Arab allies, held national elections. Touted as a bold step toward democracy, the vote was closely watched in the West. But the elections, rather than proving a success, have raised difficult questions about the future of Moroccan democracy and highlighted the flaws in America's approach to democracy promotion.

In the lead-up to the polls, analysts painted the contest as a test of Islam's political strength. Islamists had risen to power in Iraq, Palestine, and Turkey; and many wondered whether Morocco would be next.

The main Islamist organization in the country -- the Justice and Development Party (PJD) -- was widely expected to win the largest number of seats, following the lead of religious-based groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the similarly named Justice and Development Party in Turkey. But instead of securing a projected 70 - 80 seats, the PJD won only 47, coming in second to the secular Istiqlal Party. This is the first time an Islamist party has disappointed after an unprecedented series of electoral gains for Islamists throughout the Middle East.

But the story here is not about the impending failure of political Islam. After all, Islamist parties, like their secular counterparts, will experience fluctuations in support from election to election. The larger story -- one that has rarely been discussed in the Western press -- is about the failure of so-called Moroccan "democracy" and, by extension, the failure of a paradigm that hoped gradual, top-down democratization would pave the way forward for the Middle East.

The Shameless Hypocrisy of Joe Lieberman
Posted by Michael Cohen

This morning, I almost choked on my breakfast when I came across this quote from Joe Lieberman about the filibuster on Jim Webb's troop rotation amendment in the Senate yesterday.

"The fact that it didn’t get enough votes says that Congress doesn’t have the votes to stop this strategy of success from going forward.”

Let us take a second to parse the absurdity of this sentence. First of all, the amendment did get enough votes - 56 to be exact. But it didn't pass because Senate Republicans filibustered the bill. So in fact Democrats did have the votes to change course, if only Republicans would allow an up and down vote to occur.

Second, Lieberman actually has the audacity to claim that the surge represents a "strategy of success." What success? The continued sectarian violence? The lack of movement on political reconciliation? Honestly, I don't even think Petraeus or Crocker went that far in their testimony. You expect this sort of obfuscation from the Bush Administration, but Joe Lieberman should honestly know better. It makes you think that he might be more divorced from reality than the President. Unlike Harry Reid, clearly Joe is not reading Democracy Arsenal.

But that isn't even the best part. I went to Joe's website and there I found a press release bemoaning the Senate's failure to pass legislation giving DC residents a vote in Congress --and this stupefying and breathtaking quote:

I am deeply disappointed that, having come so close, we were not able to overcome a handful of opponents to move forward with this critically important civil rights bill . . . My colleagues, unfortunately, chose filibuster over fairness, refusing to even allow Senate consideration of the D.C. voting rights bill.

Those terrible Republicans, not even allowing consideration of the bill. I mean Joe Lieberman would never do that  . . . wait a minute, wait a minute HE VOTED TO FILIBUSTER THE WEBB AMENDMENT.

Hypocrite, thy name is Joe Lieberman.

Filibuster Phonies
Posted by Michael Cohen

Honestly, the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans really never ceases to amaze. Yesterday's filibuster of Jim Webb's amendment on troop readiness is Exhibit A.

Does anyone remember a few years ago when Senate Republicans threatened to change Senate rules (the so-called "nuclear option") in order to ensure up and down votes on Bush's judicial nominees? Here's what Trent Lott had to say at the time:

“[Filibustering] is wrong. It’s not supportable under the Constitution. And if they insist on persisting with these filibusters, I’m perfectly prepared to blow the place up."

Or how about John McCain who declared that filibusters should only occur "under extraordinary circumstances."

So much for consistency. As McClatchy pointed out in July and Kevin Drum and Josh Marshall remind us, Senate Republicans (now in the minority) are projected to filibuster more bills than any time in history:


Continue reading "Filibuster Phonies" »

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Today General Odierno is out saying that violence in Iraq is at its lowest levels since the Samarra bombings in February 2006.  Too bad the Pentagon's number from a report issued this week completely contradict that.


September 19, 2007

Harry Reid Reads Democracy Arsenal
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post that attacked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for taking a pragmatic approach toward Iraq and offering legislation that will seek compromise with Senate Republicans as opposed to holding their feet to the fire for opposing withdrawal.

Well I'm pleased to say that solely because of my words, Reid has completely reversed course:

After weeks of suggesting Democrats would temper their approach to Iraq legislation in a bid to attract more Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared abruptly Tuesday that he had no plans to do so.

The Democratic leader said he will call for a vote this month on several anti-war proposals, including one by Sen. Carl Levin that would insist President Bush end U.S. combat next summer. The proposals would be mandatory and not leave Bush wiggle room, said Reid, D-Nev.

"There (are) no goals. It's all definite timelines," he told reporters of the planned legislation.

Good for Harry! It's so rare to see an esteemed politician realize the error of his/her ways due solely to provocative and insightful blogging!

Now if only I could get President Bush to read Democracy Arsenal.

Remembering the 'Arab Spring'
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A few days ago, Ezra was wondering if anyone remembers the "Arab Spring," and lamented "how far we've fallen." We should remember the Arab Spring not just because it failed so miserably, but also because it offers a tantalizing hint of what might have been. My memory of it all is beginning to blur. It is difficult to remember it now, but there was reason to believe, then, that, for all its glaring faults, the Bush administration was on its way to helping usher something new in Middle Eastern politics.

We wanted to believe it. And we really did feel that something different was in the air. I felt it in December 2004, when I was having dinner at a workshop in Amman with Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Essam el-Erian, and other bright lights of the Arab opposition. El-Erian and Saad Eddin (the former is now in prison, the latter in hopefully temporary exile) were jubilant and optimistic. Here they were - Egypt's most prominent Islamist, and its most prominent secularist - laughing, joking, praying, hoping, and believing. For me, it was a moving moment that would inspire, and continues to inspire to this very day.

Before the disillusion - before it all began to fall apart - I was a believer, not, of course, in the Bush administration, but in the perhaps now antiquated idea that Arabs would no longer be the historical exemption to the spread of democracy. Freedom, finally, would be theirs. I remember at the end of the workshop (organized by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy), Radwan Masmoudi, CSID's president, was beaming. We have a window of opportunity, he said. The time has come, and we do not know when, if ever, it will come again.

Iran: Looking beyond the Bush Administration
Posted by Moira Whelan

I can’t say I agree with what Steve Clemons wrote in his excellent piece today in Salon-- that Bush doesn’t have plans to go to war with Iran. I think he and plenty of his team believes it should be done; the only argument is whether it happens in the next 15 months, or after that.

First on intent: Clemons quotes a meeting with military leaders in which Bush asks about “the possibility of a successful attack on Iran's nuclear capability.” Reportedly, Bush turns away from the Cheney approach that bombing Iran should be on the table. To me, this sounded reminiscent of Bush asking about Iraq in the days that followed 9/11. In that first meeting at Camp David, Bush turned his attention away from the Iraq argument and back to terrorism, but we’re all familiar with the rest of the story.

Second, I don’t think you can make the case that Gates, Rice are AGAINST conflict with Iran. Their reported arguments are ones of capability, and the need to exhaust diplomacy, rather than believing that a showdown with Iran is contrary to US strategic interests.

I don’t think we need to assume that intent for action against Iran necessarily means “in the next 15 months.” As we know, Iraq became the battle cry of neocons throughout the Clinton administration. They believed that not taking out Saddam Hussein was the greatest foreign policy failing of the Clinton years. Why wouldn’t the same thing happen here? I think we benefit ourselves to at least explore the idea that neocons are trying to construct this debate in such a way that boxes in the next Administration.

Continue reading "Iran: Looking beyond the Bush Administration" »

Religious Enlightenment
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post has an interesting piece today about bringing in religious counselors to work with Iraqi detainees and trying and refute extremist Muslim ideology through religious education.  Generally, I don't object.  But I find comments from American Generals, such as the one below to be, ummm............ unwise. 

Stone described a sort of religious insurgency that occurred at one detention facility on Sept. 2. "We had a compound of moderates for the first time overtake . . . extremists. It's never happened before. Found them, identified them, threw them up against the fence and shaved their frickin' beards off of them. . . . I mean, that is historic."

The Atlantic also recently had a fascinating account on what the Saudis are doing.

September 18, 2007

Who has Better Traffic Jams: DC or Cairo?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Via Matt, we learn that Washington, DC is now apparently the third most-traffic-jam-prone metro area in America. I'm confused by this. As someone who is lucky/unlucky enough to have a car in our venerable capital, I can honestly say that I find DC driving to be rather manageable and not nearly as bad as everyone else seems to think. Yesterday, I drove down Mass ave. in the thick of rush hour and even that was relatively painless.

I don't think I've ever experienced a full-on paralyzing traffic jam in DC proper. Then again, I have one rule - and I make sure to follow it: never, ever, ever go on the Beltway, which is nothing less than an nightmarish black hole, from which there can be no escape. Two years ago, when I briefly lived in Silver Spring, I stumbled onto the beltway at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon. I was stuck for two hours. Unlike most traffic jams, this one didn't seem to be temporary. I escaped and had to put up with going through places like Rockville and God knows what else. I learned my lesson. Other people, of course, are not so fortunate.

With that said, it seems like we're all a bit spoiled. In America, you have to deal with traffic jams mostly during "rush hour" which, so we're led to believe, occurs between 7-9:30 and 4-6:30 pm. In a city like Cairo, you have to deal with traffic jams all the time. In fact, the phrase "rush hour" doesn't have any meaning in Arabic, because there isn't a rush hour. There are rush hours, and they come peppered throughout the day, including at 2 or 3 am in the morning. A 2 am traffic jam is a bizarre thing. There is an infamous bridge - actually it's more like an elevated road - that runs over Cairo. In the way that third-worlders have come to know and love, the bridge is named after some sort of important day - October 6th. So, yes, even Middle Eastern bridges are propaganda. The point is that sitta october bridge is permanently congested, except at like 4:30 am. And the problem is that once you get on October 6th, it's difficult to get off. For a good chunk of it, there aren't really any exits. So when you're stuck, you're stuck. Kind of sums up the Middle East.   

Contractors in Iraq - Another Black Eye for the US
Posted by Michael Cohen

In recent days the big story out of Iraq has been the deaths of nine Iraqi civilians at the hands of private contractors working for Blackwater. Now, the Iraqi government is threatening to revoke licenses for the Company and is calling for an overall review of all contractors working in the country.

Before delving deeper into this issue, it's important to get a little perspective here:

  • First, Blackwater doesn't even have a license to operate in Iraq so there is likely nothing for the Iraqi government to revoke. Since these contractors were working for the US diplomatic service I'm not sure that the Iraqis have any recourse at all.
  • Second, under CPA Order 17 signed by Paul Bremer, private military and security contractors (PMCs and PSCs) are basically immune from Iraqi law - and they can't be court-martialed either.
  • Third, considering the enormous reliance of the diplomatic corps in Baghdad on contractors and Blackwater in particular, these guys likely aren't going anywhere. Even if Blackwater is "forced" to leave, their employees are just going to go work for other contractors.
  • Fourth, it's really important to keep in mind that the lion's share of contractors in Iraq don't carry guns, aren't Americans and perform support services.
  • Finally, from everything I've read it sounds like the Blackwater folks were defending themselves while under attack and the Maliki is probably playing politics here - beating up on a group of individuals (private contractors) none too liked by the Iraqi people.

Indeed, the issue here should be less about Blackwater and instead the utterly incompetent Administration that sent them there in the first place!

Continue reading "Contractors in Iraq - Another Black Eye for the US" »

Chaos Hawks and the Genocide Arguement
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Barry Posen had an excellent piece about chaos hawks six months ago.  (Proving once again that he is smarter than all of us). Posen systematically rips apart the various arguments for why we can't afford to lose.  One particular argument that has escaped notice to this point. 

Genocide. The humanitarian consequences of this intensified fighting could be grave. But genocide happens against unarmed populations; all groups in Iraq are heavily armed. Still, the violent ejection of minorities from particular areas is likely. Instead of convincing minorities to stay in neighborhoods where they are vulnerable to murder by local majorities, the United States can help people resettle in parts of Iraq that are safer.

Posen is right.  Genocide happens when a weak and unarmed population is systematically rounded up and killed.  Exactly, who is weak and unarmed in Iraq?  The small minority Christian groups and the Yezidis are vulnerable and that may need to be addressed.  But surely not the Sunnis, Kurds or Shi'a.  In fact, an unintended consequence of the "Anbar Awakening" has been to ensure that the Sunni tribes are better armed and organized to resist anything approaching genocide.  What you are likely to see in the case of withdrawal is continued ethnic cleansing and population displacement as the groups physically separate.  The sectarian civil war will continue.   But the genocide argument is a red herring.

He Hate Me
Posted by Moira Whelan

So remember the XFL star who made a big name for himself by putting “He Hate Me” on his jersey? (Admittedly, I didn’t either—H/T to George Kivork and Pat Barry on this one.) The dude went on to a pretty successful career by admitting that after games, your opponent is gonna hate you, so why not just say it? Innovative strategy, that seems to be finding its way into US politics as well.

Rudolph has taken up the “He Hate Me” strategy in his claims today that he’s the liberals’ “worst nightmare.” Hillary Clinton has also jumped into the fray in the past by bringing up the “vast right-wing conspiracy” and claiming on the campaign trail that having faced said conspiracy and survived, she’d make a good President.

Now hold on. I really thought the race for the Presidency was about people liking you, not hating you. For 2008, at least two campaigns are banking on a win by having the right people hate you.

Clearly this tactic works with base voters. I do not doubt that, nor am I denying that conservatives love to hate Hillary (and she’s certainly battle-tested) and that Giuliani would love to be more hated by liberals. What I am saying, is when did this become a qualification for President that I had to weigh as a voter?

Now, I’m not suggesting a Broder-esque bipartisan path is the ideal, but I am noting that strategic hating is very much being used as a tactic on both sides. On the Giuliani front, he’s trying to make bank out of drawing fire from MoveOn, while HRC is trying to spin the benefit of having negatives as high as 78% among Republicans (which interestingly have occurred without a real strong backing of progressive bloggers---who usually get blamed for generating conservative ire by institutional Democrats). Smart moves by both, but I guess I just don’t feel good about it, when the main theme of the election on both sides is always about bringing America together---and frankly this is something I'd really like to see happen, even with my jaded perspective on things.

Hate works, clearly, but I guess I’m just hatin' on the whole hate thing.

Making the Same Mistakes in the Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Just to quickly add to my previous post on the danger of "resignation." Here's another interesting graf from Matt Yglesias which I'm confused about:

We've shifted back and forth from the Shah to Saddam to "dual containment" to regime change to stay the course to "surge" over the decades all on the premise that American domination of the Persian Gulf is vitally necessary in order to prevent something terrible from happening. What if we get chased out and things turn out to be non-catastrophic? What if bloodshed is limited to Iraq and maybe some areas around the Kurdistan-Turkey border that nobody cares about? What if oil keeps flowing? ...And what if Taliban-style governance and global holy war turn out to be really unpopular? What, in short, if things turn out to be basically okay for America and for Americans? Well, that'd be good, it seems to me.

I really don't know what this means, but it worries me. Again, as far as the Middle East goes, things were "basically okay" for America and for Americans before September 11th. For five decades, we "managed" the Middle East. But then we realized that what happens in the prisons of Egypt can come back to haunt us and our allies in a very real way. In the 1950s and 60s, I doubt anyone really cared much that Nasser was torturing his Islamist opponents in his horrifying dungeons. It was in those very prisons that modern Islamist radicalism was born. More than four decades ago, did anyone here notice when Sayyid Qutb was executed? No, but we notice today. And it is now too late.

The same mistakes, it appears, will be made again.

Fuzzy Numbers... Again
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

OK, you would have thought that after all the heat that the Pentagon took for its inconsistent violence numbers they would have been very careful about the latest data that they issued in their September report to Congress.  But they weren’t.  There are significant inconsistencies between the numbers General Petraeus showed to Congress regarding civilian casualties and the numbers in the Pentagon’s latest reports.  Again, Petraeus’s numbers seem to make the period before the surge look worse and the numbers after the surge look much better. 

I graphed the Pentgon’s data on civilian casualties from its latest report (Pg 20).  The data is for daily casualties, which includes both wounded and killed (I only included Iraqi civilians, which is the green bar).  I converted the numbers to monthly casualties and compared it to the civilian death numbers on Page 3 of General Petraeus’s presentation to Congress.  I don’t know if the data comes from the same source.  Although, to be clear the Pentagon report data comes from the database that Petraeus himself stated was the best source of information and was verified by two U.S. intel agencies.  Petraeus’s data comes from “Coalition and Host Nation Reporting.”  I graphed everything based on eyeballing the data so the numbers are not exact.

Still, you’d expect the Iraqi civilian death numbers to track the Iraqi dead and wounded numbers and obviously civilian dead should be lower than wounded and dead combined.  Unfortunately that is simply not the case.  Three observations:


According to the MNC-I data there has been no improvement since either December (The numbers Petraeus and the Administration often cite) or February (when the surge actually began).  Why wasn’t Congress shown these numbers in the presentation by General Petraeus?  Why only the good news numbers?  Why the lack of clarity on Petraeus’s sourcing?  Especially since he himself acknowledged that the best numbers come from the MNC-I database. 

In terms of actual anomalies

Anomaly A:  Somehow in December, the month that is always cited by the Pentagon and the Administration, Petraeus’s Iraqi dead is actually greater than the MNC-I Iraqi Dead + Wounded.  That makes absolutely no sense.  You can’t have more dead than dead and wounded combined.

Anomaly B:  In the months after the surge begins Petraeus’s Iraqi dead numbers are significantly lower than the dead + wounded numbers in the Pentagon report.  This is inconsistent with the entire history of the previous year, where the numbers track closely.  The only explanation would be a dramatic increase in the wounded to dead ratio.  Perhaps there were more car bombings that injured people but didn’t kill them, as opposed to close range executions where victims do not survive.  Or maybe there is another explanation.  Still it seems inconsistent to see this major split just as the surge begins..

Image002_2 I’ve also graphed what the wounded numbers should look like based on this data (i.e. you can take the total civilian casualty numbers and subtract civilian deaths to find wounded).  Notice how in December 2006 and January 2007 the numbers are actually negative, which makes no sense at all.  By far the three highest months of wounded are March 2007, April 2007 and August 2007 – after the surge has started. 

Overall, the numbers used by Petraeus have the same effect as all the other inconsistencies.  They make the numbers right before the surge look extremely bad and the numbers during the surge look much better.  Maybe that’s just a coincidence.  But it does raise more questions.

September 17, 2007

Creeping Resignation on the Left?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I'm going to belatedly jump into the discussion of "the chaos hawks." Today, I re-read Kevin Drums's original two posts, as well as Matt Yglesias's response. I generally agree with their assessment. Yet, something about the way they are writing here makes me feel more than a bit uneasy. There is a resignation in their prose, borne perhaps out of their sense that America's moment has passed, that we can no longer shape events as we wish: because our power is limited, our goals must also be limited. Here, for instance, Kevin advises us to avoid alarmist sentiment about the Middle East spinning out of control:

Israel has fought war after war in the Middle East. Result: no regional conflagration. Iran and Iraq fought one of the bloodiest wars of the second half the 20th century. Result: no regional conflagration. The Soviets fought in Afghanistan and then withdrew. No regional conflagration. The U.S. fought the Gulf War and then left. No regional conflagration. Algeria fought an internal civil war for a decade. No regional conflagration.

Well, Kevin is perhaps discounting the symbolic value of all of these things. The Algerian civil war was not only tragic because of the 100,000 lives lost, but also because it spelled the death of the most promising democratic experiment the Arab world had yet seen. We may have forgotten about Algeria: 1991, but Algerians - and nearly a quarter-billion Arabs - have not. For them, it was one among many moments that confirmed their greatest fear: that it wasn't so much that America was incompetent in the Middle East, but rather that America was a malevolent actor, that it actively sought to hinder any real economic and political progress Arabs and Muslims were trying to make.

In short, then, everything we do - or choose not to do - cannot be judged merely in terms of blood and treasure lost. There is, after all, a greater war being fought, and it is the for the heart and soul of a region that has long lost its way. But let us return to Kevin and Matt's posts. Read them closely: their words here, for both better and worse, seem to have been stripped of any ambition, of any of the Left's once unapologetic idealism. Yes, perhaps we have so much less to believe in. Iraq was indeed a wake-up call, one that pointed us to the manifest dangers of Empire, of untempered power that knows no limits. 

But must we now accept something along the lines of a pre-9/11 status quo? Must we return to the notion that as long as we can more or less contain threats and conflagrations before they spread regionally, then that is good. That is enough. This line of thinking is not new. Before 9/11 awoke us from our illusions, it set the tone for five decades of bi-partisan U.S. policy toward the Middle East. It remains a "realistic" way of conceptualizing the scope and limits of power. But it is also dangerously naive for thinking that events in the Middle East - even ones that do not erupt on any large scale - will somehow only have a localized effect. In short, we cannot simply aspire for a Middle East that is slightly better than what we have now. That will not do. That, if anything, was - or should have been - the lesson of 9/11.

Kevin concludes his first post saying that "It's way past time for us to start formulating a sane national security policy for an age of terror. Leaving Iraq is the first step." I agree - leaving Iraq is the first step. But, the first step to what?   

On VSPs, Brookings, CFR and Liberal Institutions
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias has been rightfully giving Brookings and CFR a hard time for sheltering conservative experts and failing to act as liberal watchdogs that push back on the Administration’s crazy talk.  Ultimately, the problem with the liberal VSP community has less to do with being “serious” and more to do with institutions  On the right, groups such as AEI and Heritage act as a conservative VSP machine that systematically nurtures and promotes its experts.  On the left, there are not enough mechanisms for picking out the best scholars, elevating their work and increasing their media profile.  We all assume that because so many liberal experts sit inside CFR and Brookings, these institutions should play that role, but it’s not what they were set up to do.   Heritage and AEI are there to push an agenda.  Brookings and CFR are meant to be purely idea factories, without a coherent advocacy strategy. 

The Brookings mission is “…devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions… For policy-makers and the media, Brookings scholars provide the highest quality research, policy recommendations, and analysis on the full range of public policy issues.”  There is nothing here about supporting a governing philosophy.  Compare that to Heritage, where the point is specifically “to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”  Nothing mealy mouthed about this.  The organization exists to push an agenda.  This means, that while Heritage and AEI unabashedly hire and promote only conservatives, Brookings and CFR remain “fair and balanced.”  So, the Max Boots and Peter Rodmans of the world find their way into these institutions.  The reverse never happens.

Continue reading "On VSPs, Brookings, CFR and Liberal Institutions" »

Bushies who'll do better
Posted by Moira Whelan

Fallows asked a question: "Who will come out looking better by virtue of his or her service in the G.W. Bush Administration. Will anyone?"

I've seen some good answers ranging from Richard Clarke to others, but what about conservatives who haven't left the  fold?

I'd put Condi Rice up as someone who will likely gain--either by going back to academia or into the NFL or something, her fame is going to put her into a new category. She's also viewed as more of a victim of the Bushies rather than a hench-woman at this point.

Also, I'd put Meghan O'Sullivan on the list. She was making a name for herself with the Foreign Policy Community before going in. I think she now has some credible "I know how to work the system" experience but isn't on the talk shows enough to label her over the long haul.

Finally, I think Tom Ridge didn't hurt himself and probably gets to sit on a lot of corporate boards now. He avoided Katrina and still has that "likable guy" thing about him. I think he certainly gained a bit of fame without ever having to have the Iraq  albatross hung around his neck.

Also in that category is Marion Blakey who will continue to be as influential outside of the FAA, but with a bigger paycheck. Maybe not in the direct line of fire of the Bush foreign policy establishment, Blakey was a  smart bet of the Military Industrial Complex in that she has the knowledge of the industry but not the blame of the mistakes of the past. She'll be a player long into the future, but far form page one.

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