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January 26, 2007


One Speechwriter's Point of View
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My friend and fellow ex-White House speechwriter Vinca LaFleur has written a thoughtful and elegant piece about the damp squib that was this year's State of the Union:

As someone who has labored to meet tough deadlines and satisfy tough audiences myself, I sympathize with the task the White House speechwriters faced with this year's State of the Union.  Drafting this annual address to Congress is rarely an enjoyable exercise; my former Clinton administration colleague Michael Waldman once described it as boiling down gallons of advice into a few tablespoons of intense sauce, while former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson reportedly dubbed the process the seven-day death march.

Continue reading "One Speechwriter's Point of View" »


In Which I Waste Time Searching for the Deeper Meaning of the State of the Union Address
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Those of you who spent too much time enjoying the New York Times' State of the Union word frequency calculator may understand the compulsion that led to this:

The Dubya Vinci Code:

-Picking apart Bush's words to decipher the State of the Union message.

January 25, 2007


Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 3)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Lawrence Korb, in his recent TNR debate with Reuel Marc Gerecht get this right: “Our continued unconditional support of this government, not to mention sending additional troops, means endorsing Shia repression.”

The Sunni world has much to worry from the impending Shia domination of the Middle East. There must be a counterbalance. The problem, unfortunately, is that nearly every Sunni government in the Middle East is illegitimate (i.e. does not have the consent of its people) and therefore ineffective. Cowardly authoritarian regimes are not the best of allies in times like these. This fact, which few have acknowleged, does a lot to undermine realism's "attraction."   

However, Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding its status as a most despicable regime, has expressed willingness to contribute troops to Iraq. Turkey, one suspects, might also be willing to play a larger role, considering it has much at stake as an emerging regional power (and the ideal counterbalance to Iran). Beyond this, we can’t really ask either Egypt or Jordan to contribute anything to the war effort, because, again, they can’t afford to anger their people any further (again, this is what happens when we prop up paper-thin governments which would likely fall if it wasn’t for US support. They simply can’t be counted upon). With that said, I want to tie in the points above with those I made in "part 2" - if I was in any position to suggest an “alternative” approach for Iraq, then these would be my (very) rough suggestions:

  1. Begin a gradual troop reduction, to demonstrate to Maliki that we're serious about holding him to certain standards.
  2. Maintain indefinitely a significant number of troops on the ground (i.e. a “rapid-reaction force”) to protect against ethnic cleansing of the Sunni minority. The US cannot tolerate a repeat of Rwanda on its watch. 
  3. Encourage Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Sunni Muslim countries to play a more constructive role in Iraq. If our autocratic friends are unwilling to play such roles, then we should consider using our leverage to convince them otherwise (yes, I know that sounds a bit “realist,” but if we’re going to support crappy dictatorships, we might as well get something out of it).
  4. Work out a deal with Iran where we give them “something,” if they agree to: a) play a more active role in restraining the Sadrist Mahdi Army and other Shia militias; and b) pressure Maliki's government to pursue a bold, far-reaching reconciliation program, reaching out to moderate Sunni groups.

Continue reading "Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 3)" »


In Defense of "Mercenaries"
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Remember that old movie "Escape from New York?" the one where the city has become a large prison populated by violent and depraved criminals. A story  that fell between the cracks of the State of the Union--two downed Blackwater helicopters, five Americans dead--made me remember the images from that film. No escape, not by land, not by air, not by sea.

Some news reports speculate that four of the five were shot on the ground. Ugh and sigh. I know it is hard for some people to feel outrage or grief over the death of private military contractors--an attitude that I often find is supported by perverse logic and misplaced anger about our own government's dysfunction. The bottom line is that the privatization of US National Security  is a trend that has been ongoing for years. It was a conversation that Congress forgot to have during the heady government-hatin hoe down that passed for a legislature for the past decade. So here we are. The Post reported that there are  some 100,000 contractors in Iraq alone, including 25,000 private security contractors.

This exceeds the number of all coalition forces combined, and is only 40,000 less than the  number of U.S. troops in Iraq.  It is a virtual army of largely unregulated individuals working on behalf of U.S. national interests.  From strategic weapons systems as the B-2 stealth bomber and Global Hawk to running ROTC programs, the military has been colonized by corporations. This is all legitimate business created by our own government--though the billions of dollars disappeared by contractors In Iraq make Abramoff look like Little Bo Peep.

Handing over public tasks to the free market without a thorough discussion about what are essential government responsibilities is the hallmark of the era that just ended.  The new Congress has set out an ambitious agenda of contract oversight.  But a much larger
conversation needs to happen at the same time.  Now is the chance for Democrats to put forward a governing philosophy that will provide a backdrop for all policy decision making: One that believes in the value of a public sector that genuinely serves a common good.

Private military companies--like many other efficiencies introduced into government--are here to stay.  They arose in the 1990's to meet a demand for manpower in peacekeeping type missions. Whenever this type of military capacity need came up during the last decade, entire rooms full of Congressmen would come down with the Cold War vapors.  The subject was soon redirected back to gold plated commie-killin pet projects and peacekeeping was left to hang in the wind. 

Its still happening today.  Even now when all the commies are watching American Idol.

Meanwhile, an entire infrastructure has developed to support private security services. Take a look at these bios .  These are not mercenaries. In my ideal world, they would be public servants, but our government has pared down its personnel by the thousands over the past two decades.  Now the institutional memory for many of today's most important issues...conflict resolution, peace ops, post conflict stabilization--reside in the private sector. It doesn't have to stay this way, however.

Continue reading "In Defense of "Mercenaries"" »

January 24, 2007

Obama and World Opinion
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Obama's Muslim connections will bother a handful of people (Virgil Goode, my illustrious congressman, comes to mind...), and there is no doubt at all that those who don't like him will try to use his name and background to discredit him. They probably won't be subtle, though, and I doubt their efforts will have any effect on the presidential race, one way or the other. Those who try to discredit Obama through snide jokes about his name or references to his background will probably only succeed in discrediting themselves (cf. "Macaca.")

Obama's atypical background should be considered a plus, not a minus. For one thing, as Shadi suggests, knowing a little something about the rest of the world is surely good-- especially in this globalized era.

Shadi also notes that the US is trying to win the hearts and minds of people in the Muslim world-- and it's here that someone like Obama could be key to regaining some of the respect and credibility the US has lost in the past five years. On Monday, the BBC released a new poll highlighting what prior polls have also shown: global public opinion has turned sharply against the US as a result of Guantanamo, Iraq, and other US policies in the Middle East. The BBC polled more than 26,000 people in 25 countries. 29% said they think the US role in the world is "mainly positive," and 52% described the US role as "mainly negative."     Three-fourths of those polled disapproved of US policy in Iraq, and  "Sixty-five percent disapproved of U.S. policy on last year's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas, 60 percent of its handling of Iran's nuclear programme."

It's going to take a very long time for us to repair the damage done to our global image by misguided Bush Administration policies, but some big symbolic shift might help enormously. If Americans elected as president an African-American man with close family ties to Indonesia and Kenya, Christianity and Islam, it might go far towards weakening the notion that the US is the land of know-nothing xenophobes and Islamaphobes.

Obviously, there are things more important than symbolism-- sound policies, for a start-- and at this early stage of the race, Obama's ability to articulate a persuasive and smart policy agenda remains to be seen. But for what it's worth, I think that far from being a problem, Obama's cosmopolitan background could end up being a big plus to the many Americans who are worried about repairing our damaged global reputation.


Is Obama's Muslim "Problem" a Problem?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The whole Obama madrasa story turns out to be nothing more than an empty right-wing smear-attack. But even if it was true - so what if Obama went to a madrasa? Maybe that's actually a plus. Madrasa reform is (or should be) on the US foreign policy agenda. Maybe someone who actually knows what a madrasa is - or, even better, has attended one - might be able to suggest some useful policy prescriptions for this very serious problem.

Problem #2: Apparently, some people are worried that Obama's father was Muslim. Why is this a bad thing? Wouldn't you think that a president who actually knew something about Muslims (or had one as a father) would do a better job convincing the world's 1.4 billion Muslims that we're not out to get them? George W. Bush probably hadn't met one Muslim before he ran for governor and look where that's got us. One of the prerequisites for becoming "leader of free world" should be knowing the difference between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd. I hate to state the obvious (or is it?) but knowing about other religions and cultures is not a bad thing. Moreover, it's especially not a bad thing when we're trying to fight Islamic radicalism, understand Muslim grievances, and win the hearts and minds of what happens to be 1/5 of the world's population.

January 23, 2007

Saddam who?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Rosa is right about that State of the Union word search feature in the Times.  Would you believe "al Qaeda," "bin Laden" and "Osama" were used more this year than any other?  And it was interesting that Saddam Hussein hasn't been mentioned since his arrest two-plus years ago.

MUCH MORE FUN with the State of the Union Address!
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The New York Times has a little interactive feature  that allows you to search for particular words in all Bush SOTU speeches-- it will then chart their frquency, year to year. This is too much fun!

"Iraq?" Mentioned not at all in '01, 34 times in '07. "Freedom"? Not so much. 17 mentions in '06, but only 3 in '07. "Poverty"? Hardly mentioned at all-- but this year gets three mentions. "Human Rights"? Um, sorry, no.

If you come up with anything particularly illuminating, please share!

Go Watch Jim Webb
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I know you didn't want to watch Webb's response -- everyone is dying to dial away by that time -- but you really need to.  It was well and personally done.  It was actually a nice piece of speechcraft.

Quick SOTU comments
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Looking back over my notes while he's still talking:

as a speechwriter, I find this speech very odd.  It has no discernible structure... no transitions between subjects... and incredibly few policy specifics, even for a 7th-year president.

And is the rhetoric flat or is it just me?  The first thing I thought he got really into was the immigration line "without animosity and without amnesty."  First thing I thought he really cared about.

My visiting friends point out that "extending hope and opportunity" is what passes for a frame.  Hmmmm.

I wonder how many regular folks care that this is a "decisive ideological struggle" any more?  I just find the pitching of this really odd -- it's as if they're just lost track of who the audience is.

What do you suppose the Special Advisory Council is supposed to get him?  I read it in the excerpts and I still don't get it.

Apologies to my readers who don't like partisan, whiny commentary.  There's just not much else to be said here.

Things You Can Do to Make the State of the Union More Interesting
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

State of the Union speeches occasion a certain amount of dread even when you like the incumbent President and things are going well.  When people I respect are covering this one with headlines like "How Lame Will Bush's State of the Union Be?", the urge to watch Maria Sharapova instead is close to overwhelming, and not just to please my spouse.   

I have no excuses -- I'm the one who agreed to do commentary on WHYY tomorrow morning AND thought it would be fun to invite friends over to watch tonight.  So let me share a few ideas to make this more interesting.  Hope to see you here later.

1.  Best Round-Up I've Found So Far:  As of 2pm I like this Bloomberg piece (via The Note) for quality and conciseness.  For informed snarkiness, go back to the piece by my fellow former White House speechwriter David Kusnets that I mentioned above.  As of 4 pm the White House policy paper is available here.

2.  Best explanation of a dubious policy initiative:  No winners yet -- I hope to update.  Keep checking for Jon Cohn's piece on the healthcare plan to appear on the New Republic website.  (As best I understand it:  Bush taxes generous healthcare plans to give other people tax deductions for healthcare.  I thought Republicans were about simplifying the tax code, never mind whether the folks most desperately in need of healthcare would itemize to get this deduction, or whether this is just a trojan horse aimed at health plans like the ones Federal workers and unionized workers enjoy.)

3.  Best depressing background to speech:  You've seen the newest domestic polling:  AP/AOLsays 2/3 of the country opposes the surge and thinks the country is on the wrong track overall; CBS has Bush's ratings at a Nixionian "all-time low" of 28 percent.  But have you seen this BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA poll showing world views of the US and its policies also continuing to collapse?  Across 25 countries, one person in two now says the US is playing a mainly negative role in the world.  They'll be watching tonight too, by the way. 

4.  Amusing things to do:  If you live in New York City and are a political-speech junkie, go hear storied Presidential speechwriters Ted Sorensen and Peggy Noonan talk about the speech at 7:15. 

5.  Amusing things to do ii:  If you, or your friends, or your civic group, or your non-profit, or your campaign, or whatever, wants a vehicle to think through what you think the President should say, particularly on world affairs, check out this worksheet at The Dream Speech Project (to which I serve as Senior Adviser).

6.  Amusing things to do iii:  enough with those State of the Union drinking games.  You know what I'm talking about.  This year I'm trying a State of the Union benefit:  every time the President says something that makes you crazy, put a dollar or five aside for a good cause.  That way, whatever happens with the speech, you're making something good happen for somebody somewhere.


Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 2)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The surge, like almost everything else the Bush administration comes up with, fails to address in any serious way what seems to me the fundamental problem – the utter incompetence and intransigence of the Maliki government, a government which turns a blind eye to terrorizing and murdering its opponents and a government which shows little to no interest in reaching out to Sunnis, moderate or otherwise. Maliki is an unfortunate creature, as he – by his very existence – presents the most compelling argument against electoral democracy. Of course, I imagine Spencer Ackerman will jump up and down upon hearing this, and say I told you so. Not quite. If the Iraqi people elected Maliki (and I guess you could argue whether they really did), then they have to live with that stupid decision (sort of like how we voted for Bush not once but twice). Democracy, at its essence, is the right to do the wrong thing – and taking responsibility for it afterwards.

Peter Beinart makes the most compelling argument yet that Maliki’s government is not worth defending and we – and not to mention Iraq’s Sunnis – would all be better off if Maliki wasn't longer Prime Minister. He has failed to live up to any of his empty assurances that he would, in fact, be a national leader. He is not. He is a hard-line Shia partisan who protects thugs and murderers (i.e. the Sadrists and their Mahdi Army) who operate with impunity as coalition partners in his government. Perhaps even worse, the Iraqi government has actively undermined the U.S. mission, in effect empowering Sunni insurgents in the process. Fareed Zakaria noted that in Tall Afar

The Third Armored Cavalry Regiment had repelled [the insurgents], secured the streets and won over the local population. But the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad had since ignored all appeals for money for reconstruction (the "build" phase), which has meant few new jobs. Many Sunni areas complain of similar treatment from Baghdad. Tall Afar is now sliding back into instability. Thus a smart American strategy falls prey to the political realities in Iraq.

Back to the original point, though – the fundamental question isn’t so much whether the surge will “control the violence,” (I am not sure what that even means), but, rather, if it will resolve the “Maliki problem.” Kagan and Kristol, for their part, argue that the surge will actually make political compromise between Shias and Sunnis more likely:

Democratic claims that Iraqis must immediately find a political solution to their political problems are laughable in the face of the violence in Baghdad. Abandoning American efforts to control the violence in Iraq would lead to an increase in violence. This would in turn reduce the odds of peaceful and constructive political discourse, and would further undermine any spirit of compromise between the competing Iraqi factions.

Continue reading "Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 2)" »

January 22, 2007


In Memorium
Posted by Zvika Krieger

I hardly blinked an eye last week when I read the news that an American civilian working for the National Democratic Institute was killed in Iraq by Sunni insurgents. I didn't even bother to read her name.

Today I realized for the first time that the woman was Andrea "Andi" Parhamovich, who was about to get engaged to my friend and Newsweek colleague Mike Hastings (who is Newsweek's deputy bureau chief in Baghdad). I am still in utter shock, so apologize for the relative incoherence of this posting, but I feel the need to do my part to remember this remarkable woman. And perhaps more importantly, I think it is of vital importance to be constantly reminded of the human toll that this war is taking and not let the endless list of names make us numb to that fact. I make this point apart from any sort of cheap partisan shots against the war. Perhaps this will give some urgency and immediacy to the discussions on this blog to find a way to end the bloodshed in Iraq.

Love the Warrior, Hate the War
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Why Progressives have more in common with the military than they think...

I'm going to be a complete blog-floozy and link to an article  I wrote that today made the front page online of In These Times! My first! 

The article stars one of our own guest bloggers, Colonel Ike Wilson--who was also featured on NPR  last Friday.


So what can we do about Iraq?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Suzanne's right. Sniping at the Bush Administration is a lot of fun, but progressives need to go beyond critique and offer alternatives-- and resist the temptation to make "let's just wash our hands of the whole thing" be what passes for an "alternative." I don't want to pick on Senator Barack Obama, but I was dismayed by his crack (in response to the President's "surge" speech last week), that "We're not going to baby-sit a civil war."  However intended-- and, in fairness, Obama's views on Iraq are much more complex than that-- it plays to the "let's wash our hands" crowd.

We do have a responsibility to Iraq, and we do have broader responsibilities in the region. The question is: what can we now do that doesn't make things worse? Is there a constructive role for our troops in Iraq to play? If so, what exactly is it? And if not-- or if their role will have to be limited-- what are our other options? If we can't do much good directly, can we still use our military, our money, and/or our diplomacy to encourage other actors to do something directly?

A few weeks ago, I outlined some suggestions, arguing that keeping combat troops deployed as they currently are is only making things worse. instead, I suggested:

In the shorter term (the next six months to a year), redeploying some U.S. troops to secure Iraq's borders might diminish the likelihood that Iraq's civil war will morph into a full-scale proxy war among regional powers.

Military and regional experts, does this make sense? If we're worried about the flow of foreign weapons and personnel into Iraq, can't we play a more helpful role along Iraq's borders-- also, perhaps, ensuring safe passage out for refugees?

I also argued:

Similarly, U.S. military advisors should continue to provide training to the Iraqi army and police in the shorter term, but such programs need to be constantly reassessed to make sure that the Iraqis we're working with don't simply become U.S.-trained members of ethnic death squads.

At this point, this strikes me as the most frightening aspect of the Bush "surge" plan. I'm told that the police and security forces are largely controlled by SCIRI, and many fear that stepped-up US cooperation with Iraqi forces in Baghdad may add up to tacit US support for the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. When I say that, I don't mean to suggest that all or even most Iraqi police and soldiers in Baghdad will try to push Sunni out-- it may be enough that Sunnis will fear that they'll be pushed out, and they'll decide to leave on their own instead of sticking around to see if things get as bad as they might. In the end, the effect would be the same: fewer and fewer Sunnis in Baghdad, squeezed into ever small and more homogeneous neighborhoods. This could well  lead to a "quieter" or "more secure" Baghdad, but the human price would be horrendous.

I'm also an enthusiastic backer of CAP's call for an international peace conference (a la Dayton), for direct negotiations with Syria and Iran, for a genuine commitment to funding Iraqi reconstruction (Bush's promised $1 billion is peanuts), and for meaningful assistance to Iraqi refugees (which starts with US acknowledgment of the scope of the refugee crisis).

No panaceas here... but some good places to start?


Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 1)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Some people have asked me how I’ve managed to avoid saying anything about the “surge” up until now. It may be because I have entirely mixed feelings about the matter. The surge is, first and foremost, a pretty good example of “too little, too late.” So I would say that I’m technically against it. However, I fully realize that being against the surge does not constitute a policy, nor does it necessarily answer the question being asked. Jonah Goldberg (and many others) want “us” to take sides and declare our intentions. Easier said than done. The problem is that I’m personally invested in a cause which continues to die a slow, dispiriting death. As I’ve said before, I was beginning, in the early months of 2005, to revise my original opposition to the war, because for me it was no longer a question of whether the war was legal, just, or necessary. The war happened and to be against something that had already happened no longer seemed a logically consistent position, or even if it was, it failed to take into account what to me was always the larger issue – the welfare of millions of Iraqis, whose lives, hopes, and futures hung in the balance.

To state the obvious, I am an "idealist," meaning that while I do fully realize that the awful reality of the Iraq situation, I am hesitant to defer to that reality, for that is exactly what we have done for the last five decades in the Middle East, and at great consequence. I am particularly worried that if we leave Iraq, then there will be nothing left holding the Maliki-Sadr coalition from engaging in a campaign of massive ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population. While some seem to think that the situation in Iraq can’t get any worse, I suspect it can, and, if we don’t take some kind of decisive action, will. The Arab world has a way of defying expectations. At the end of the day, the American presence – and the intermittent American and international pressure to disband the Sadrist killing squads – provide a much-needed check against the excesses of the Iraqi government. It is not nearly enough. But it is something. It is abundantly clear that many in the ruling coalition have a thirst for revenge. The fiasco that was Saddam’s execution (or, in Hitchens’s estimation “officiated sacrifice”) is a sign of the “new” Iraq that will come to be if we immediately withdraw. 

I am also worried that we have learned precisely the wrong lessons from history. James Baker continues to think that the first Bush administration was right in not taking the fight all the way to Baghdad and deposing Saddam during the first Gulf War. He believes that the events of the last five years have vindicated his position. He is perhaps at a loss to realize that we would have never gone to war in 2003 had the “job” been finished when we had the chance to finish it (and when it would have been much, much easier). But we left prematurely then, because we were afraid of all the things that Western democracies are, understandably, afraid of – dying soldiers and the turning tide of public opinion. It should strike no one as ironic that 15 years later, we have paid a greater cost (upwards of 3000 lives) than we would have paid had we gone in then. The sins of the past, invariably, come to haunt us. It is not a matter of if, but when. So if we refuse to do what is necessary now (whatever that might be), I worry that the costs of that decision will only become apparent many years from now. But for people like Baker, hindsight is not 20/20. As the years have passed, his and others’ judgment has become imperceptibly cloudy. Baker, in his own words:

Continue reading "Reflections on the Surge and the Future of Iraq (Part 1)" »


Thank You, Henry Kissinger
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Never thought I would write that. But this morning, for once, I read something by Henry Kissinger with which I wholeheartedly agree (along with about twenty things with which I wholeheartedly disagree). In a lengthy column on Iraq, Kissenger tosses off plenty of tendentious, wrong-headed rhetoric-- but he also concludes that for any viable way forward in Iraq, 

  Two levels of diplomatic effort are necessary:

(1) The creation of a contact group, assembling neighboring countries whose interests are directly affected and which rely on American support. This group should include Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Its function should be to advise on ending the internal conflict and to create a united front against outside domination.

(2) Parallel negotiations should be conducted with Syria and Iran, which now appear as adversaries, to give them an opportunity to participate in a peaceful regional order. Both categories of consultations should lead to an international conference including all countries that will have to play a stabilizing role in the eventual outcome, specifically the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as such countries as Indonesia, India and Pakistan.

When progressives suggestions direct negotiations with Syria and Iran, commentators on the right tend to sneeringly suggest that we imagine all will be well if only everyone gets together and sings Kumbayah. Will they now say that Kissinger's gone soft? Perhaps-- but I doubt it. Of the various criticisms one might make of Kissinger, "gone soft" isn't one of them. But maybe-- unlikely, but maybe-- Kissinger's suggestion that we might try diplomacy as well as force will give pause even to Bush Administration true believers.

January 21, 2007


Redefining Success in Iraq
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

While the crux of Bush's argument for increasing US troops in Iraq is utterly unconvincing, he's made at least one point that is valid:  those who oppose his plan ought to offer something in its stead.  As he put it: "To oppose everything while proposing nothing is irresponsible." 

Progressives have for years now offered recommendations for how Iraq could have been better handled at every turn; much of the advice  was on-target and could have helped avert the current crisis.  But voters are concerned with what their leaders are prepared to do in the here and now to address policy problems, not what they woulda, shoulda, coulda done in the past.

Counter-proposals need to go beyond simply rejecting an escalation in the number of US troops in Iraq.  If we're convinced that 17,000 extra troops won't be enough to calm Baghdad, it goes without saying that sustaining current troop levels and strategies is a recipe for continued disaster.

But before alternatives can be proffered, we need first to understand what we're trying to achieve at this late date:  with even Bush having finally stopped speaking of "victory" what does success - or even avoidance of total failure - entail?  Putting aside why we entered Iraq and what we might have achieved there, what goals are still realistic and worth striving for now.  I offer a few for your consideration:

- Preventing Iraq from becoming an unfettered breeding ground for al Qaeda and like groups (to his credit, Bush did propose allocating a portion of the increased troops he's proposing toward this end in Anbar province)

- Preventing Iraq from becoming an enemy of the US - Given the state of our relations with Iraq and Syria, we can ill-afford an out-and-out hostile regime and population in Iraq.  This has implications for how we conceive an exit, and how we interpret our moral obligations to the Iraqi people.

- Minimizing American and Iraqi loss of life - Having the political staying power to work toward any other goals in the region will depend on mitigating the ongoing loss of life that has turned the US public so sour on the war.  Rising Iraqi casualties are also likely to impede other policy objectives, such as retaining amicable relations with Iraq and fending off al Qaeda.

- Containing the geographic radius of the conflict - Though you'd never know it from the headlines, most of Iraq remains peaceful.  Keeping it that way, and confining the conflict to Baghdad, should make it easier to reach a military and political resolution.

- Salvaging American credibility in the region - This is a tough one.  While the Administration maintains that any US pullback will spell victory for al Qaeda and its kin, having the US bogged down with heavy troop commitments and scant signs of progress plays right into the hands of Iran.  For others to realize that we're prepared to dig in to the point of self-destruction in Iraq may come off not as determination, but rather foolhardiness.  As I've said before, by remaining in Iraq (and still more so by escalating) we run the risk that when we do depart, our exit is hastened by events outside our control, such as a Beirut style barracks bombing and mass US casualties.   While the Administration argues that any leave-taking will only embolden the US's enemies, the problem will be far worse if we face a tail-between-our-legs, Saigon embassy rooftop style evacuation.  Facing up to a tough situation, articulating a redefined notion of success, and then pursuing it doggedly may be our best bet to restore damaged US bona fides in the Mideast.

- Preventing hostile regimes from using the Iraq conflict to their advantage - While everyone agrees on this, there are fundamental rifts about how to do it:  Bush is using a tough line, others like Flynt Leverett believe a much more conciliatory approach toward Tehran would do the trick and even enlist the Iranians in helping us in Iraq.  My own view is that these are unpredictable regimes, and that an opening for talks with neither preconditions nor high expectations probably makes the most sense.


Stripping for Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

If you claim you care about democracy, why not show you really mean it? How, you ask? Well, by taking your clothes off of course! It appears that Egypt's "democratization process" may have just reached its turning point/incipient moment, also known in Condoleezza Rice-speak as "Wei-Ji":

In a debate on the amendments, details of which have not been released, member of parliament Mohamed Hussein objected to the article which gives the president the right to dissolve parliament.

“Enough of that, enough. Should I take my clothes off?” he added, using a sarcastic popular expression used in response to someone’s excessive expectations. When Hussein unbuttoned the waistcoat of his suit, speaker Fathi Sorour threatened to have him thrown out of the chamber.

Via the Arabist.

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