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September 28, 2007

How I'm feeling Right Now
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg


September 27, 2007

The Costs of War
Posted by Moira Whelan

Here you can find a pretty cool map just created by the Center for American Progress showing the cost of the Iraq war to US taxpayers in a friendly interactive way. The irony is that it seems that taxpayers in states that lean Democratic are actually bearing the brunt of the costs to keep Bush's War going.

Subtle But Significant Shift
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Unless I missed something there was a significant shift in the Clinton, Obama and Edwards positions on Iraqi training security forces.  While all of them spent a good deal of time talking about residual troops for force protection and counter terrorism missions, no one talked about training.  This has been a staple of Democratic plans for years, and is still part of the various plans in Congress to drawdown forces. 

For months folks at the Center for American Progress have been pushing their Strategic Reset plan, which among other things argues that we should not be training Iraqi security forces unless political reconciliation can be achieved.  The rationale is pretty simple.  We may just be arming various sides in a civil war. 

The shift didn't happen at the debate itself.  All of the candidates' positions have been evolving in recent weeks.  But it was significant that the three leading candidates are all heading in this direction.  They are starting to catch on.

September 26, 2007

Democrats believe in diplomacy
Posted by Moira Whelan

Watching the Democratic debate tonight and conversation has been far ranging so far---
Iraq AND Iran!

In the end, we know that Democrats believe in diplomacy, some more directly and personally than others. What is more interesting however is that Russert has given them the chance to come out in strong support of Israel vis a vis Iran, and so far only Obama and Richardson have annunciated that it’s US policy to support Israel. Others—including Clinton--ducked that point. People smarter than I will surely tell you what that means in coming days and surely it's a tough subject since the Israel/Syria thing is classified right now.

UPDATE: Rewatched the segment and HRC did strongly support the Israel attack on Syria so I guess she did, deeming my post largely pointless.

Bonny Jain—The White House’s Geo-Political Savior
Posted by Moira Whelan

Breaking news out of the White House yesterday: the press office gives President Bush phonetic pronunciations for those tough-to-pronounce countries like Kyrgyzstan. The proof came when a copy of Bush’s UN speech (complete with pronunciation key) found its way onto the UN website. Exercising its influence over the United Nations, the White House quickly had it removed. Dana Perino dismissed questions yesterday in the Press Room about the incident as “offensive.” (NOTE HERE: Bush STILL mispronounced Kyrgyzstan in the speech.)

This is just the latest in the White House geo-grammatical challenges. As a candidate, Bush called Greeks "Grecians," Kosovars "Kosovoians" and mistook Slovakia for Slovenia. He couldn’t recall the names of heads of state of the nations of Pakistan, India or Chechnya …on the fourth—Taiwan—he answered “Lee” for which I suppose he can have 50% credit. 

Ok fine. He’d never been the president of a country before. And as Karen Hughes said at the time “For the American people, the relevant question is not how many names a candidate has memorized but does he have the strategic vision to lead and can he protect American interests?"

So what about now? Very recently, he confused “Austria” with “Australia” and “OPEC” with “APEC.” Perhaps excusable, but you would have figured with a 24 hour airplane ride to prepare, you could have at least gotten the name of the host country and event you were attending correct. Then we can also add the small matter of Iraq to this and other notable foreign policy gaffes (by all means, please contribute dear readers!)

No doubt the White House is feeling the burn, and should consider reaching out to a top expert in this area. 

060524geographicbee_big Bonny Jain.

You all may recall Bonny was the winner of the US National Geography Bee, and did pretty well at the National Spelling Bee as well. At 12 years old, this Illinois middle-schooler certainly comes with a resume that could save the White House, and the United States, from continued global embarrassment. He’s cool under pressure: "At the Geography Bee, Alex Trebek asked Jain to name the Saharan tribe that signed a 1995 peace agreement with the government of Niger. "I was debated between the Tuareg and Fulani," Jain said later. After a moment's hesitation, he guessed Tuareg."

Brilliant. He went on to victory and went home to study for the Spelling Bee.

If Bonny had won the Spelling Bee, he’d have been scheduled to meet with Bush and that probably would have sealed the relationship and prevented these foreign policy disasters. After all of this, I hope the White House will consider bringing back those "Ambassador-At-Large" positions quickly and put an end to this "offensive" behavior. If so, Bonny would be my top candidate for a recess appointment.  (Ha! Recess!)

Being Right About Something
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Here's what I wrote back in April.

If I were President Bush I would be careful about not touting the recent success in Anbar province too publicly.  It’s exactly the type of declaration that invites retaliation.  The Administration is faced with a Catch-22.  In order to prosecute the war it needs the support of the American public.  It therefore goes out of its way to brag about specific successes.  Unfortunately, the American public is not the only audience that pays attention to the President’s and his advisors’ statements.  Iraqis, especially key players such as politicians and insurgent leaders, pay attention too. When they see themselves being used as a talking point they tend to go out of their way to debunk it.

In early September President Bush took a trip to Anbar where he met with Abu Risha, the tribal leader who has been the face of the Anbar Awakening (The ubiquitous photo of the two of them shaking hands was everywhere).  Petraeus and Crocker cited Anbar as one of the key success stories in their recent testimony.

Now Abu Risha is dead.  Apparently his chief of security was paid $1.5 million by AQI to help make that happen.  Meanwhile, AQI has launched a systematic campaign to assassinate tribal leaders and security and political officials in Anbar. This would have happened anyway, but there is no question that the recent publicity elevated the stakes.

September 25, 2007

Rudy Misunderstood
Posted by Michael Cohen

As many of you know, a number of folks have accused Rudy Guiliani of exploiting his role in the tragic events of September 11th to further his political career.

However, in an article today about a fund raiser in California who was asking Guiliani supporters for donations of $9.11, a campaign spokesman has disabused us all of this obviously silly notion:

. . he [Guiliani] has come under sniping from opponents that he is exploiting the tragedy for political reasons. The campaign vigorously denies the charge, noting that they even shut down their Web site and raised no money on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

Clearly, nothing to see hear. I mean if the campaign shut down its web site and didn't raise money on 9/11 clearly their hands are clean. I mean, it's not like Guiliani used 9/11 to explain away his past views on the importance of gun control. Oh, wait a minute . . .

Two Policy Ideas for Reviving Democracy Promotion in the Middle East
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A new piece of mine on resuscitating democracy promotion from the grips of death is up at Ideas Primary, a new DLC-affiliated blog. I outline two policy ideas which, if implemented, could animate an effective post-Bush approach to supporting democratic reform in the Middle East. Read the whole thing here. To coax you, here's the intro/teaser:

Thanks to the Bush administration, the Left views any talk of “democracy promotion” with growing suspicion. This is one of the tragic consequences of the Iraq war and the incessant belligerence of an administration that has tainted everything it has touched in the Middle East. In response - and in disillusion - progressives have abandoned one of the core tenets of liberal internationalism. The task ahead of us, then, is a difficult one: reclaiming democracy promotion as our own, in a way that upholds the best of our ideals, and, at the same time, appreciates the very real limits of power and idealism.

The Numbers Go On
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Karen DeYoung breaks down the way the military counts “ethno sectarian violence.”  A number of observations and questions still remain:

1.  My biggest question is still about Petraeus’s own testimony and its contradiction with Pentagon data.  DeYoung explains that the inconsistency is due to the fact that Petraeus used both Iraqi and American data.  The Pentagon didn’t. 

Civilian casualty numbers in the Pentagon's latest quarterly report on Iraq last week, for example, differ significantly from those presented by the top commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, in his recent congressional testimony. Petraeus's chart was limited to numbers of dead, while the Pentagon combined the numbers of dead and wounded -- a figure that should be greater. Yet Petraeus's numbers were higher than the Pentagon's for the months preceding this year's increase of U.S. troops to Iraq, and lower since U.S. operations escalated this summer…

…the numerical differences are still stark, and the reasons offered can be hard to parse. The Pentagon, in a written clarification, said that "Gen. Petraeus reported civilian deaths based on incidents reported by Coalition forces plus Iraqi government data. The [Pentagon] report only includes incidents reported by Coalition forces for civilian causality data."

But why did he do that if according to his own testimony the most reliable data was American data?  Here’s what he said during his testimony

In fact, two U.S. intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology and concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq… Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December -- this is shown by the top line on this next chart -- and the decline by some 70 percent in Baghdad is shown by the bottom line.

Why would you pollute that data with notoriously inconsistent Iraqi government data. In fact, other Iraqi government data actually indicates a rise in violence.  So which Iraqi government data is being used here?  This makes little sense. 

2.  The article also shows how subjective this measure is.  It might be useful as one measure, but all the grandiose assertions being made by the military and the administration, using this particular statistic as definitive proof, need to stop.  The measure that matters is civilian casualties because it is objective. 

"Everybody has their own way of doing it," [Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan] Macomber, [the Team Leader] said of his sectarian analyses. "If you and I . . . pulled from the same database, and I pulled one day and you pulled the next, we would have totally different numbers."

It is important to note that Macomber didn’t take the lead on this project until February, the month that the numbers started to drop.  I do not think he was manipulating anything on purpose.   But according to his own definition, a lot of the claimed progress could just be the result of a new team of analysts who defines sectarian violence more rigidly.  We can never know.

3.    The car bombs controversy is finally explained.  Apparently they didn’t used to count car bombs in “sectarian violence” but have now added that count.  I do not know if the change came before or after there was a public outcry about how ridiculous not including car bombs might be.

The most recent increase came when the Pentagon decided to include Iraqis killed in vehicle and suicide bombings, the most obvious forms of sectarian violence. Baghdad had always tallied those numbers along with other killings, Macomber said, but the Pentagon had always taken them out in compiling its own graphs.

4.  As Spencer Ackerman has recently explained all attacks on Iraqi security forces and Government Officials don’t count as sectarian violence, even if they were motivated by sectarian ideology.

The killing of seven Iraqis on Aug. 25 in the predominately Shiite Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiya was judged sectarian. The victims were Shiites, and the method and location -- a car bomb in a marketplace -- pointed to Sunnis.

Two Iraqis killed by a car bomb on Sept. 3 were not included in the sectarian database, however. The attack occurred on a road near Ramadi, not far from where President Bush was meeting with government officials that day. But the victims, regardless of ethnicity or sect, were Iraqi policemen. They were counted elsewhere.

5.    Finally, and perhaps most importantly

What the Iraqis perceive" about their country and their daily lives "may be more important than what the numbers are," said a senior intelligence official

He’s absolutely right.  In the case of counterinsurgency the perception of security is more important than the actual metrics.  People need to know that the government, and not the insurgents or local militias, is going to keep them safe. Only in that case will they cooperate with the government and participate in the political process.  Unfortunately, according to a recent survey of Iraqis conducted by the BBC and ABC 70% believe that the surge has failed.

Maliki the "Multi-Nationalist"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'm glad we're making so much progress

Civil war has been averted in Iraq and Iranian intervention there has "ceased to exist," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said yesterday.

September 24, 2007

Proud to be a SIPA Alum Today
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'm glad they let him speak.  I'm glad Lee Bollinger opened with this statement.  Exposing this guy to a real dialogue makes him look like the silly man he is. 

And his comments about homosexuals really were ridiculous

Would Democracy in Morocco be a Good Thing?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Last week, some of you may have read the piece I co-wrote with Jeb Koogler on the “myth of Moroccan democracy.” Michael Van Der Galien posted a quick response where he expresses the concern that “[Shadi and Jeb] seem to assume that full democratization is in the interest of the Moroccan people, and in that of the West. The question whether or not this is true, however, remains.” Yes, the question for better or worse (probably worse) remains. I have given my own answer in past articles, including here, here, and here, where I lay out the case that Middle East democracy is in the long-term strategic interest of the West (to say nothing of the moral component).

Van Der Galien goes on to make the following claim, which strikes me as not a very nice thing to say about Moroccans (and, by extension, Arabs and Muslims):

I don’t believe that full democracy is in Morocco's best interest, nor in the best interest of the West. A large part of the Moroccan people is uneducated and socially extremely conservative (read strict, strict Muslims). They barely know how to take care of their own family. Should people like that be allowed to determine the fate of an entire country?

Jeb Koogler, my co-author, has already ably responded to Van Der Galien here. A few additional comments, though, are in order. Yes, people like that should be allowed to determine the fate of an entire country. The American people voted for Bush two times (or maybe just once), but that doesn’t disqualify them from voting. People have the right to make the wrong choice, and such a right – as a matter of principle – must be unwaveringly protected. Moreover, democracies where the populace is largely poor or uneducated aren’t limited to the Middle East. In fact, it’s probably more of a problem in many emerging African, Latin American, and Asian democracies (India being the most obvious example), where the economic situation and the sheer level of economic inequality is considerably higher than it is in the Middle East.

The crux of Van Der Galien’s argument, however, is this: “What the West should push for are: support for its own agenda and interests; resistence of terrorism and extremism; respect for human rights. We are best served with stability, not with Islamists ruling in the name of democracy.” This line of argument could not be more wrong. The West has been pushing for “its own agenda and interests” in the Middle East for the last five decades, and that hasn’t worked out too well, has it? After all, it was this Middle East – the one where we opted for “stability” over democracy – that produced the rise of jihadism and salafism, and gave us 9/11. In short, the kind of policy Van Der Galien would like to see is the kind of policy which has made the region the veritable powder keg it is today. Not only do Arabs suffer the consequences; we suffer them as well.

September 23, 2007

Worst Announcers in Baseball
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As a Mets fan I have been forced to watch a great deal of the Washington Nationals over the past two weeks (The Nats are playing all their games against the Mets and Phils these days).  The low quality of the Nationals' announcers and their inability to get even the most basic facts right has been unbelievably frustrating.   Three examples:

A.  Today the Nationals announcer decided to declare that the last 5 world series champs had come from the wild card.  Too bad both the '06 Cardinals and the '05 White Sox won their divisions.  (He later corrected himself and mentioned that the Cards were not the wild card but still couldn't figure out 2005).  This is really really basic stuff.

B.  I was watching a game last week where John Maine just got blasted by the Nats.   
The announcers kept going off about how untouchable Maine had been, and how this type of shelling is unprecedented.  His post all star game ERA?  6.16.  What a superstar (I should know he is on my fantasy team).  At the very least as an announcer you need to have a basic understanding of what the starting pitchers have been doing lately.  This is not too difficult to prepare for.

C.  During the game last week someone actually uttered the following phrase "You sometimes wonder if Jim Bowden knows something that others GMs don't"  Is that why the Nats are 68-87?

As part of their new stadium, new face, etc...  The Nationals should really get some new announcers.  I can't believe I'm going to have to spend three more days this week listening to these guys.

How to Rig Elections without Rigging Them: The Case of Morocco
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Andrew Mandelbaum, who understands Morocco more than most, has a good post up at The Democratic Piece (bookmark it!) that goes into some useful detail about how smart autocracies (like Morocco) don't need to rig elections. They can just "rig" the electoral system beforehand by implementing a dizzying configuration of rules and regulations that weaken political parties and make it impossible for any one party to come even close to winning a majority of seats. As a result, parliament ends up being unwieldy, fragmented mess. Analyzing the results of this month's elections, Andrew points out that

It is hardly too early to suggest that these “free and fair” elections have failed to generate a legislature with the capacity to govern responsibly (to put the mis’oul in the mis’ouleen).  This time the dirty work was not carried out via the usual underhanded means for which the reserved domains (those who maintain power above the political system; i.e. the king) are known, but through the wise selection of an electoral system that encourages balancing of political forces over other priorities.

Moreover, it's no longer enough for elections to be "free and fair." Elections are only meaningful if citizens can elect leaders who actually have power, authority, and jurisdiction over all matters of governance. In Morocco, they don't. After all, there's a King, and he has final say over "sovereignty issues" (i.e. foreign policy, national security, trade policy, overall economic policy). Andrew notes:

Unlike many world leaders, a significant number of Moroccans understand that elections do not matter when your parties cannot come up with a plan to screw in a light bulb; an abysmal 37% bothered to show up at the polls. What fewer Moroccans understand is that the parties have incentives to keep them in the dark, and this game starts – as I have argued before - at the palace. Interestingly, approximately 19% of those who cast ballots opted to write anti-government slurs, draw pictures, or hand back the ballots blank rather than exercise their democratic rights not to use their democratic rights in a non-democratic system (some of them were accidental invalid ballots, but I have it on word from an election observer friend that a large portion of them were purposely invalidated).

Andrew's conclusion is pessimistic:

Continue reading "How to Rig Elections without Rigging Them: The Case of Morocco" »

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