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October 20, 2007

Refugees and Terrorists
Posted by David Shorr

Thought I'd pass along a recent exchange with a fellow Iowan at a local discussion on refugees. The event focused on the excellent documentary on the internationally renowned Refugee All Stars reggae band from Sierra Leone and two refugees from Liberia who live in Muscatine (I was, as noted in the local press coverage, the requisite 'scholar' needed to receive grant support).

While the Liberians talked about the vital support they have received from local churches and the community, I highlighted the fact that fewer and fewer refugees are being admitted to the United States (a table with the #s, courtesy of the Migration Policy Institute, is in the second part of this post). Since a refugee is someone who, having lost basic rights and protection in her own country, counts on other nations, the US is falling down on an essential responsibility. The failure is most glaring in the case of Iraqis who have worked with US forces; these people are in mortal danger as a direct result of having helped our troops. And yet, we can't seem to get organized to get them out of this vulnerable position and resettle them to the US.

You may already know what this has to do with terrorists. Part of the bureaucratic hold-up to process people for resettlement, yet only part, is the effort to screen out terrorists. Now to the exchange I had after the discussion in Muscatine. One of the participants called me to account for neglecting to mention 9/11 as a factor.

Continue reading "Refugees and Terrorists" »

October 19, 2007

Great Moments in Republican Brilliance on National Security
Posted by Moira Whelan

Romney thinks we should boycott the UN Human Rights Council.

I don't think there's really much more to say.

October 18, 2007

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Not only is Al From's and Harold Ford's idea politically stupid, it makes very little policy sense.  But why would I listen to Brian Katulis, Larry Korb, Steven Simon, or Steven Biddle who happen to be real experts with a real understanding of what's going on in Iraq?  Instead I should just trust From and Ford when they say

The size of the force should be determined by conditions on the ground, but it should be significantly smaller than our current force. Whether we like it or not, the United States is part of the balance in the Middle East, just as we were in Europe for the last half of the 20th century, and we must stay engaged in this part of the world to help protect our interests and to contain Islamic fundamentalists from spreading terrorism in the region and throughout the world.

The smaller American military force should be deployed away from the fault lines of the civil war. They should have a clear strategic mission with four main objectives: train the Iraqi military, interdict terrorists from coming over the borders of Iran and Syria into Iraq, carry on the fight against Al Qaeda and prevent genocide in Iraq. A smaller military force can achieve all of these objectives, while preventing the Iraq War from turning into a wider conflict in the region.

I gotta say that this is one of the most hollow and vapid Iraq articles I've read in a long time.  It reads like a bunch of buzz words and standard lines taken out of various policy pieces with no real coherence or understanding of what it means.  Is there a line in the entire article that is not an Iraq debate cliche at this point?  One iota of creative thinking in all of this?  Clearly the authors have no solid detailed concept of what is actually going on.  And the fact that they use the term "immediate withdrawal" to describe the Democratic position is right out of the Republican play book.

I implore our readers.  Do not mistake these two as member of the "very serious" foreign policy community.  That's not what they are.

Who's to Blame? Pt.2
Posted by Michael Cohen

Thanks to Shadi for his tough response to my earlier post. I will try to avoid a point-by-point response as I actually don't disagree with most of what he said. I think the core of our disagreement is more one of emphasis than anything else.

While I think the US has plenty of black eyes in our relationship with the Middle East (the Iraq war being the best possible example), I simply think it is historically inaccurate to argue even that we are partly responsible for the "very bad situation" in the Arab world. Ultimately, blame needs to be placed on the countries and people themselves; and ultimately that's where the solutions will come from.

We did not put in place any of the corrupt regimes running nations in the region (and that amazingly includes Iraq) and without our support, most of them would still be maintaining power. This is very different, from say, sub-Saharan Africa, where some of the blame for the economic, political and social plight of this region can certainly be placed at the feet of European imperialism.

However, I do want to quibble with a few things Shadi has said. "We have consistently supported and funded dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, to the point where it is difficult to think of counter-examples where the opposite has been the case." I've got one - Israel. It's a country we've supported, against our interests, in large measure because of our values. Many on this board will quibble with my characterization of Israel, but it is a democracy, it does indeed shares many of our values and we have our closest relationship in the region with them.  Whatever you may think of Israel, I think we can all agree that our image in the region would be far better off if we didn't support Israel and it wasn't our closest Mid-East ally.

As for the lack of democratic growth in Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, I'm not going to quibble with Shadi's point, but does he really believe that these nations remain in power because of US support? I think this wildly overstates our influence on these countries. Finally, to his point on Egypt, it is very difficult to write in favor of our support for the hopelessly corrupt Mubarak regime. But, even if we did make conditional the $2 billion in economic and military aid we give to Egypt do you believe that it would have a transformative impact on the regime's behavior? (Also, I wonder if State opposition to placing conditions on the aid package has to do with our treaty obligations under Camp David - I don't know, I'm just curious). I just think it is very hard to argue that any regime in the region would falter if not for our support. And if that is the case, it's difficult for me to see how American support for bad regimes can be seen as the cause of the problems, even partly, in the region.

Continue reading "Who's to Blame? Pt.2" »

Re: Who's to Blame for the Middle East's Problems
Posted by Shadi Hamid

In response to my blog-colleague Michael’s post below, I find it surprising that the notion that U.S. policy is “partly responsible” for the very bad situation the Arab world finds itself in today is controversial. It’s fairly easy to demonstrate that this is the case. The key word, of course, is “partly,” which means not that U.S. policies are the main factor, but rather a significant factor among many others, when it comes to a discussion of why the Middle East is a veritable powder keg. To argue otherwise, you would have to follow the somewhat difficult line of argumentation that the U.S. was not even “partly responsible” for launching the Iraq war, or that it isn’t “partly responsible” for a whole list of other things which have undoubtedly contributed to the misery that many Middle Easterners encounter on a daily basis. I don't think it’s really a matter of “if” but rather to what degree, and this is something upon which different people can differ, and I certainly respect where Michael is coming when he says we shouldn't encourage the Middle East's unproductive and somewhat pathological victimization complex.

But more specifically, Michael remarks that “unfortunately there are times when the US has supported regimes that undermine our values, but bolster our interests.” This is a gross understatement. It’s not so much that there have been “times” when this has been the case; rather, it is that this has been a disturbingly consistent feature of U.S policy in the Middle East over the last several decades. We have consistently supported and funded dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, to the point where it is difficult to think of counter-examples where the opposite has been the case.

Michael goes on to say: “Shadi cites nations such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all of which continue to have dubious human rights records, but have certainly shown improvements in respect for human rights and political liberalization. Certainly, these nations have a ways to go, but they are far better than the ones we are not supportive of, such as Syria and Iran.” To say that Saudi Arabia or Tunisia are “far better” than Syria or Iran is actually quite a stretch, as both countries are full-on dictatorships, and I would venture to say that Saudi Arabia and Tunisia are significantly more authoritarian than Iran, which at least holds periodic elections which, while quite flawed, actually matter, and which people turn out for. In response to Michael’s other point, the unfortunate reality is that Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria have not improved, and are all worse off now, in terms of democratic progress, than they were at various points in their recent past. I’ve written about authoritarian retrenchment in Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, so I’d refer readers to these three pieces.

Where I really disagree with Michael is with this comment: “I certainly believe that we should do everything in our power to try and move Egypt toward democracy, but our ability here is limited and where we can affect positive change we have done so. But to put the responsibility for Egypt's misery on the United States is historical revisionism at its worst.” Actually, where we can affect positive change, we haven’t done so, and, moreover, we’ve actually gone out of our way to make sure that such changes aren't implemented. Every year, there is a debate in congress about making the nearly $2 billion of aid to Egypt conditional upon rather minimal standards of political reform, and, every year, it doesn’t happen, at least partly because the State Department opposes it tooth-and-nail, and because we tend to care more about having a pliable Egyptian dictatorship than we do about Egyptian democracy. With the exception of 2004-2005, when the Bush administration appeared at least somewhat serious about democracy promotion, it is hard to think of examples where the U.S. has used its substantial leverage to good effect with Egypt (maybe another example is in the early 1990s, when the Clinton administration started a low-level dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule).

Continue reading "Re: Who's to Blame for the Middle East's Problems" »


Military and Academe: the Anthropology Question
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

There is an important new debate raging right now between academic anthropologists and "in the field" anthropologists who are working to bring more cultural knowledge to the federal government--and to the forces fighting in the field. There are some really great blogs out there discussing this issue. Kings of War is one of is a group out of Kings College in London. Some of the links on this peacebuilding blog and this civil-military blog, too. are really worth bookmarking....

BTW the Reserve Officers Association and the Foreign Policy Research Institute convened a conference on Monday on the state of American civil-military relations---amidst two ongoing wars. The whole webcast will be posted here soon. I watched as much as possible on a broken down old modem at my mom's farm, but look forward to listening to the whole thing soon.

Why is this stuff important for DA readers? Because if we don't assert the need for a long term beneficial policy discussion now, and keep our eyes on the prize of a new strategy for security and a government reformation to deal with it--all the important lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan war will drown in election 08 rhetoric (Just watch Giuliani ratched up the insanity barometer on national security, I listened to POTUS 08 satellite radio on the long drives in New Mexico this week...and heard one too many of his rants. He seems to insist genuinely on knowing nothing. And I rarely say that about anyone who tries to engage)

That small group of people who work in between politics and policy take note: the civil-military relationship is the cornerstone of US democracy---wither this relationship is wither our governing system. That is why it will benefit all of us who care about both, who sit at this intersection, to get really, really good on these issues. The center-right is already on top of it. So we'll miss out if we don't grab it for ourselves soon.

Adrian Fenty is an Autocrat
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Wow, Adrian Fenty's authoritarian streak is showing. First, he insists on maintaining DC's handgun ban. Now, he wants to - take a deep breath - "modernize" our district's taxi-cab system. What is this man thinking, and who will stop him? But, first, a question for our constitutional lawyers: is this switch to "metering" even legal in the first place? It is unclear where Ezra Klein stands on this issue, but, let there be no doubt, it is a matter that deserves - rather commands - our standing. As Ezra rightly notes, this matters in a way that most policies don't.

Indeed, on the list of Things That Will Affect My Everyday Life, this policy change will rank second only to the smoking ban DC instituted last year. And if DC would only change the zoning laws to allow larger buildings and thus cheaper real estate, I'd be even more set. Local politics matters! And yet I spend all my time arguing for an expansion of health coverage that I already have, and an end to a war I'm in no danger of fighting. It's weird.

I'll answer Ezra's question for him. He cares about things that don't affect him personally, because he's, well, a liberal, and we have this weird thing about us where we actually don't mind getting less of a tax cut, as long as broader social priorities are dealt with. After all, you can only drink so many lattes in a day, no?

October 17, 2007


So much for the "peaceful" haven of Northern Iraq. Iraqis prepare to seek safe haven. But where?
Posted by Anita Sharma

Although Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, downplayed a Turkish invasion in Northern Iraq, refugee agencies and Iraqis are taking the threat pretty seriously.

Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees warned of further destabilization if Turkey attacks. Iraq's Kurdistan has been a refuge for many displaced Iraqis, where -nearly five million people, ONE in SIX Iraqis -- have been pushed from their homes.

According to the recent displacement report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Turkish cross-border shelling has already displaced families living along the border. An escalation in attacks is likely to displace between 300 and 500 families in northern Dahuk (Zakho and Amediyea). IOM reports that local authorities aren't planning to set up emergency facilities, though hospitals are stocking additional supplies. I'm seeking information as to whether UNHRC or the U.S. government has contingency plans should the crisis escalate in Northern Iraq. Don't forget, this area was touted as the safest area in Iraq.

Getting to Know Your House GOP Leadership
Posted by Michael Cohen

For those of you not following the FISA debate in Congress, House Republicans have tried to derail the bill by putting a poison pill amendment in the legislation. They've been successful, as today House Democrats were forced to withdraw the bill. Over at Talking Points Memo, Greg Sargent has the details.

The instigator of this effort is one, Eric Cantor, Chief Deputy Republican Whip. I don't know a lot about Rep. Cantor, but this quote from his web site should tell me and you all we need to know about him:

House Democrats have pulled the FISA bill. They are so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL and AQ, that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote.

Yes, you read the correctly. Rep. Cantor, whose a member of the GOP House leadership believes that the House Democrats are desperately against fighting Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Rep. Cantor seems to be arguing that Democrats are not only giving aid and comfort to the enemy, but that they are siding with the Islamic terrorists who want to attack and kill Americans. 

Ladies and Gentleman, your 2007 Republican Party!

Least Surprising Headline Ever
Posted by Michael Cohen

Plame book criticizes Bush, journalists

You kind of had to see that one coming!

Middle East

Who's to Blame?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Shadi Hamid has a post yesterday that looks once again at the question of America's inherent goodness. As I think I've written more than I've ever wanted on this point, I instead want to focus on something else Shadi said - the notion that Abu Ghraib reflects "what hundreds of millions of other people think America is really about, and, presumably, this matters."

I certainly agree that it matters, but then Shadi takes this argument a step further by noting, "there is no good reason for the average Arab or Muslim to think that we are 'inherently good' or, for that matter, even just 'good' . . . Much of the misery they encounter on a daily basis is at least partly attributable to our policies."

It pains me to call out one of my fellow DA bloggers, but I'm sorry, this is not only inaccurate, its quite dangerous.

The notion that the United States is even partly responsible for "much of the misery" in the Middle East is indicative of a much larger phenomenon in the Arab world - a disturbing lack of accountability by some in the region to accept responsibility for the challenges in their midst. This type of buck-passing contributes significantly to the anti-Americanism that festers so dramatically in the Arab World and does nothing to solve the region's underlying problems.

I am not going to quibble with the notion that we support countries in the Middle East that are hardly paragons of democratic virtue. There is no question about this. Unfortunately, foreign policy is never as simple as supporting only good guys - there are plenty of shades of gray and unfortunately there are time when the US has supported regimes that undermine our values, but bolster our interests. I would like to believe that more often than not we have been on the right, or at least better side, but of course that has not always been the case, particularly in the Middle East.

Nonetheless, if we want to focus on the negative examples, we must also highlight the many places where American foreign policy has had a good impact. Are we willing to give any credit to the US for moderating the behavior of Middle East regimes and for attempting to influence them in a positive manner? Shadi cites nations such as Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria all of which continue to have dubious human rights records, but have certainly shown improvements in respect for human rights and political liberalization. Certainly, these nations have a ways to got, but they are far better than the ones we are not supportive of, such as Syria and Iran.

Moreover, are we willing to give the US any credit for actively supporting the growth of democracy in Afghanistan, working to broker peace between Israel and its neighbors and supporting democratic movements in the Gulf and Lebanon etc? It seems to me that in the years pre-dating the war in Iraq, we did as much as any great power to try to bring peace to the region.

Finally, this type of attack on US policy begs the obvious rejoinder: what is the alternative US foreign policy for the Middle East?

Continue reading "Who's to Blame?" »

Realism and Turkish Domestic Politics
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I agree with most of what Matt Yglesias writes, but in this case I think he makes a classic mistake by not acknowledging the political pressure that the Turkish government is facing at home

Turkey is going to formulate its policy vis-à-vis the United States of America in light of Turkey's interests and not actually radically restructure things in the wake of a symbolic resolution. Things like the strategic partnership with Israel and membership in NATO (and the base-hosting it entails) stand or fall on their own merits and Turkish-US partnership in Iraq is going to be determined by the ability of Turkish and American officials to forge a compromise position on the Kurds that both sides prefer to no compromise at all.

Right now the Turkish public is up in arms because the PKK has been attacking Turkish troops and using Northern Iraq as a safe haven.  For over a year the Turks have been imploring the Bush Administration and the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq to do something about it. Outside of some lip service, nothing has happened.  As a result, political pressure has been mounting on the Turkish government to do something and the Turkish public’s opinion of the United States has dropped to all time record lows.  This resolution, combined with the Bush Administration’s inept response to the PKK problem, just further drives home domestic political pressure on the Turks to act. 

But then again, we all know that the Turks will do what is wise and act in their national interest.  Democracies never make stupid foreign policy decisions based on domestic political pressure…

“Concerned Local Citizens” are counter-productive
Posted by The Editors

A special guest post, brought to you by Sean Duggan:

Colonel Wayne W. Grigsby, commander of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division stationed just south of Baghdad stated in a Pentagon conference call that of the 16 so called “Concerned Local Citizens” brigades in his area of operations only one consists of both Shiite and Sunni Iraqis (eight were exclusively Sunni, seven were exclusively Shi’a and only one was considered “mixed”). Instead of promoting bottom up reconciliation, these vigilantes are reinforcing inter-sectarian divisions and ensuring long-tern strategic complications for the U.S. in Iraq.

The U.S. must act to prevent Turkish invasion of Iraq
Posted by Max Bergmann

Lost in some of the debate over the House resolution on the Armenian genocide, is that Turkey’s threat to invade Iraq is very real.

It would be a disaster. As Mort Abramowitz, former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey, warned the situation could “explode into violence.” Not only would an incursion potentially destabilize northern Iraq – the one relatively peaceful area in Iraq – but it would also set a very bad precedent, possibly enabling Iraq’s other neighbors to justify intervention.

Turkey has legitimate complaints about the PKK (a Kurdish rebel group based largely in Eastern Turkey) using Kurdish northern Iraq as a safe haven to launch attacks inside of Turkey. Turkish opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq had a lot to do with fears that an invasion would embolden Kurdish nationalism, reinvigorate the PKK, and threaten the integrity of Turkey’s borders. These fears have been largely confirmed with the growth of PKK activity since the invasion. Turkey has also continuously brought up this issue with the U.S., but we have done little.  In short, Turkey’s frustration is understandable.

To make the situation worse, U.S.-Turkish relations have declined greatly since the invasion of Iraq. The Turkish public now predominantly views the U.S. in a negative light and the House resolution on Armenian genocide has added more fuel to the fire. The danger is that a Turkish public, fed up with the U.S. and angry about the lack of military action against the PKK, pushes Turkey’s political leaders to act.

The U.S. needs to work to assuage Turkish concerns. Pressuring the Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as taking steps to close down PKK safe havens is a start. But the U.S. must also work to rebuild U.S.-Turkish relations that have precipitously declined under the Bush administration.

That being said, we need a stick as well as a carrot.

While the timing of the Armenian genocide resolution could probably not have been much worse, Turkey’s sophomoric reaction and their continued suppression of free speech and expression and their general treatment of the large Kurdish population in eastern Turkey, should not be ignored by the U.S. As Gary Kamiya in Salon persuasively argues, there will likely never be a “right time” for a resolution genocide.

BUT – instead of shoving these issues down Turkey’s throat with the House resolution at such an explosive moment, we should recognize that Turkey, as a young, maturing democracy, that is seeking EU membership, will have to come to grips with these issues.

But if they invade Iraq. Pass the resolution.

October 16, 2007

Point of Clarification
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Having already registered my distaste for this whole Presidential essays in Foreign Affairs exercise, I will make one point about the Clinton piece.  I agree with most of it.  But one point requires more clarification.

As we redeploy our troops from Iraq, we must not let down our guard against terrorism. I will order specialized units to engage in targeted operations against al Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist organizations in the region.

What "other terrorist organizations" exactly?  She does refer to the PKK at the end of the paragraph, which I think might be reasonable.  But she really doesn't make this clear.  I'd be interested in knowing who else?  Does this give the residual forces a much broader mandate than what any other candidate is saying?

How to read Foreign Affairs
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

When I read the Foreign Affairs candidate pieces, I'm looking less for the canned paragraphs on the designated HOT ISSUES.  Anybody can hire staff to write those.

What I want is evidence of an overall worldview, a moral sense, and an understanding of how specific issues big and small fit in.  And the Clinton piece scores big on all fronts.

By and large you won't read about those three larger points unless you read the article yourself, allow me to recap:

Overall worldview:  ... opportunity cannot flourish without basic security.  We must build a world in which security and opportunity go hand in hand, a world that will be safer, more prosperous and more just.

To meet these challenges, we will have to replenish American power by getting out of Iraq, rebuilding our military, and developing a much broader arsenal of tools in the fight against terrorism.  We must learn once again to draw on all aspects of American power, to inspire and attract as much as to coerce.  We must return to a pragmatic willingness to look at the facts on the ground and make decisions based on evidence rather than ideology.

Values  The piece makes the explicit point about our values being part of our appeal, and the need for us to get back to them; but then there are what I would call values or ethical issues woven through every segment, including the classic power politics ones focusing on Iraq, terrorism, etc.  This is a good job of getting beyond paying lip service to values and actually integrating them into pragmatic discussions of issues.  The "establishment" will probably either wince or ignore it.

I'm selecting a few examples of that -- elements you won't read coverage of -- below...

Continue reading "How to read Foreign Affairs" »

What Federalism Isn't
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

OK, I’m in a very bloggy mood this morning.  So, my last and final post before I go back to some other things.  I agree with David on most things and I don’t think we are that far off here, but it’s worth responding to his post about federalism.

First, the word federalism has been hijacked by the whole Biden-Gelb approach, which the Iraqis themselves don’t like.  You aren’t going to find a simple three state (or province) solution to this mess.  But, every time anyone says the word federalism it seems to mean partition of Iraq into three states.  In practice federalism just means devolving more power to the local actors and building a central government that is generally weak and holds the various local actors together.  There are many different forms that the system can take, and coming up with some kind of reasonable proposal on this front doesn’t do all that much damage.

I agree with David, that doing so might just force the various Iraqi players further apart.  But, this is happening anyway and is already a fact of life in Iraq.  Political power has shifted to local actors and any political settlement will ultimately involve some kind of decentralized system.  There isn’t much disagreement on that (Check out the Katulis-Korb plan section on fragmentation).  So, generally working in this direction makes sense.  Better to go with the flow than to artificially try and focus only on a strong irrelevant national government. 

In terms of whether or not the U.S. should play any role.  That criticism is fair and was made by a number of commenters.  The U.S. will ultimately be a party to any settlement as well Iraq’s neighbors.  So it might better to bring in the UN in to help mediate.  I don’t know.  I don’t have strong feelings on this point.  And maybe we should just not get involved at all.  But again, if we are leaving anyway and we make clear that we are leaving and that the Iraqis have to figure this out, why not throw an idea at them, get their input and help facilitate some discussions.  If it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work.  I just don't see David's concerns here and don't understand what we have to lose.

Just to repeat.  This idea doesn’t in anyway replace the concept of leaving now.  I fundamentally believe that to make American safer we need to leave Iraq now, refocus on other threats and rebuild the military.  I am supportive of CAP's Strategic Reset plan.  But trying to help negotiate a political settlement as we leave comes at no cost to us.

Oh and as for David’s point on history.  They told me in grad school that history is a terrible indicator of future events.  It just happens to be better than any other indicator we have.

Fred Hiatt
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I usually spend a good hour every morning reading the front section of the paper version of the Washington Post.  Call me old fashioned but there is something satisfying about a physical newspaper.  So, I was a bit surprised to find this piece via Matt Yglesias when I got into work this morning.  Turns out that an op-ed by 12 former Army Captains, who served in Iraq, just doesn't qualify as newsworthy enough for the paper version of the op-ed pages.  More of the article below the fold.

Continue reading "Fred Hiatt" »

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The current price of oil.   A new record.

In 2000 and 2001 I worked as an Investment Banking Analyst in Salomon Smith Barney's energy group (Yes I know. I used to work for the dark side).   All of the financial models were based on a long-term oil price of $19 per barrel indefinitely.  That was only six years ago!  Now we are on the verge of breaking $90.  Gotta love George Bush...

Waste of Paper
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I don't know why Foreign Affairs is doing this Presidential writing series. As Ari Melber and Matt Yglesias point out, there isn't much substance to these pieces and you wouldn't expect there to be.  The only value added is that we now have greater insight into how genuinely nutty Rudy Giuliani truly is. 

They should just go back to the old system where you have the two general election candidates each put out a piece.  At least there you would have genuine differences.  But even that is a pretty useless exercise.  Here is what Condi Rice wrote(Subscription) on behalf of Governor Bush in January/February 2000. (Italics mine)

The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society. Military force is best used to support clear political goals, whether limited, such as expelling Saddam from Kuwait, or comprehensive, such as demanding the unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany during World War II. It is one thing to have a limited political goal and to fight decisively for it; it is quite another to apply military force incrementally, hoping to find a political solution somewhere along the way. A president entering these situations must ask whether decisive force is possible and is likely to be effective and must know how and when to get out.

Clearly a sound indicator of what was to come...

Is America Inherently Good?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Last week, Michael Cohen, in response to a post of mine, disagreed with my statement that “the understanding that while we may be good in some abstract sense, we are not, and cannot be, inherently the major point of distinction between liberal interventionists and neo-conservatives,” and rightly countered that while he did believe in America’s inherent goodness, that didn’t make him a neo-con or more willing to invade other countries. He went on to say that our inherent goodness “comes from the basic values that I believe underpin this nation, from not only our founding documents and in particular the Bill of Rights, but from the ongoing efforts to ensure the spread of freedom and opportunity to all our citizens.” However, if goodness, as Michael suggests, “comes from” something else (i.e. our constitution), then it cannot, by definition, be inherent.


Inherent means “existing in someone or something as a permanent and inseparable element, quality, or attribute.” The question, then, is whether “goodness” is a permanent and inseparable American attribute? If the answer is yes, then, as Eric Martin of American Footprints commented, “America could scrap the Bill of Rights - indeed the entire Constitution - revert back to slavery and adopt a brutish fascistic militarism but still be good by dint of some inherent quality that is intrinsic and immutable.” So, yes, to again echo Eric, our goodness is not inherent, but rather contingent on our founding documents, and, moreover, on acting in accordance with the values espoused in those documents.

In any case, what I really want is to use this exchange as a point of departure into other, perhaps more troubled territory. Michael said something which I found intriguing, not because I disagree with it (because for the most part I don’t), but because it seemed so far removed from the reality as so many other people see it: “No nation is perfect and America has its flaws. Of course we have acted badly, it would be disingenuous to deny that and it pains me to no end that we have acted badly in Iraq and Guantanamo. However, I don't for a second believe that Abu Ghraib, as just one example, reflects what America is really about and I hope you don't either.”


Yes, Abu Ghraib does not reflect what we think America is really about. But, it does reflect what hundreds of millions of other people think America is really about, and, presumably, this matters. Whose viewpoint takes precedent, ours or theirs? The unfortunate fact is that there is no good reason for the average Arab or Muslim to think that we are “inherently good” or, for that matter, even just “good.” All they have to go on is our actions, and those actions certainly speak louder than our words, increasingly hollow as they've become. Much of the misery they encounter on a daily basis is at least partly attributable to our policies. After all, the dictatorial regimes that oppress, torture, and even kill them are often supported or funded by us (Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco. And that’s not even including the rest of the Muslim world, i.e. the Kissinger-supported bloodbath that was Suharto’s Indonesia). Why should Iranians ever forget what happened in 1953? That by itself is enough. The U.S. sponsored, funded, and organized the coup which ended Iranian democracy as we know it, and fifty years since, they are paying the price, with their blood and tears, for our misdeeds. And why should Algerians ever forget 1991? Why should any Iraqi believe that Abu Ghraib does not reflect who we are? There is nothing for us to say now.


Having lived in the Middle East after 9/11, it would be fair to say that Arabs' dislike of us has turned into something approaching outright hatred (a phenomenon which includes much of my extended family). We assume the best of our intentions. But they assume the worst. The difficult question for us to ask is how this gap between how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us came about, harder still to inquire into the reasons. If we believe ourselves inherently good, these are questions which are dangerous to ask. However, if we believe ourselves to be exceptional, not despite our misdeeds but precisely because we are willing to face them head-on, then these questions must be asked, and urgently.

Clinton's American Opportunity
Posted by Ari Melber

Hillary Clinton outlines her foreign policy platform in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, arguing that the next President must “reintroduce America to the world” with a new commitment to multilateral “security and opportunity.”  Clinton depicts January 2009 as a historic diplomatic opening: The U.S. can finally break with the unilateral “tragedy” of Bush foreign policy and provide the moral leadership desired by “our friends around the world.” 

Clinton assails President Bush for offering a series of “ideologically blinkered” false choices, such as force versus diplomacy and hard power versus soft.  This emphasis is reminiscent of John Edwards’ call for smart power in his Foreign Affairs essay (DA review here), especially when Clinton concludes that to reclaim America’s place in the world, “our policies must be smarter.”  Drawing a page from Ecclesiastes, Clinton even observes, "There is a time for force and a time for diplomacy."   Yet where Edwards applied smart power as an alternative to conceiving the battle against al Qaeda as a traditional (hard power) war, Clinton’s rhetoric stresses a more authentic war. 

In a section titled “Winning The Real War on Terror,” she ticks off an important but mostly familiar list of Democratic priorities.  The U.S. must reinforce its efforts in Afghanistan; tackle the heroin trade that finances our enemies; “redouble[]” efforts in Pakistan; rebuild alliances; invest in first responders; and improve international intelligence cooperation, since most of the terrorists the U.S. apprehended “were arrested in other countries.” 

If you just printed this terrorism section out and passed it around a group of Democratic wonks, they’d be hard pressed to say which of the top six candidates wrote it. The only line that slightly departs from current conventional wisdom, I think, is this Bermanesque observation:

Continue reading "Clinton's American Opportunity" »

Divide and Conquer
Posted by David Shorr

Matt Yglesias picks up on hard-liner obliviousness in the face of internal splits within Hezbollah. But Matt is so off-handed -- he was going for pithy, I'm sure, and achieved it -- that a really important point is in danger of being lost. He quotes Andy McCarthy saying that Hezbollah is so implacable that its internal struggle over strategy is inconsequential.

In a speech last year, Zbigniew Brzezinski came up with one of the great summaries of our predicament: that instead of uniting our friends and dividing our enemies, we have been uniting our enemies and dividing our friends. One of the many problems with pumping up Jihadism as the contemporary equivalent of the East Bloc is that it defines our adversaries as monolithic. Matt's absolutely right that infighting among our adversaries could be very significant, and useful. But don't take my word for it, West Point's Combating Terrorism Center has done a serious study of disputes among terrorists over tactics and strategy. [Hat tip to Lorelei for highlighting this work last year.]

What's Your Plan?
Posted by David Shorr

I agree with Ilan about many things; the potential value of pursuing a new federal governance system for Iraq is not one of them. Ilan's argument is that it can't hurt. Aah, but it can. One key point has been missing from the debate about federalism and partition; a rarely noted but key feature of any such 'solution' is its fixity. Here's what such a policy would say to the leaders of the various factions: "Okay, we're getting ready to set borders and codify powers." Far from paving the way for compromise, this will be the starting gun for all sides to strengthen their military and political position to bolster maximalist negotiating positions. In other words, the very neatness is exactly the problem. How can we believe that preparing to solve things once and for all will induce moderation?

In his plan, Sen. Joe Biden makes much of the precedent of Bosnia. I was taught in grad school to be wary of reasoning by historical analogy -- 'look at the differences as well as the similarities between cases,' they taught us. Okay, one really big difference, Bosnia was a full-out civil war between three essentially cohesive combatant forces: Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. By 1995, battlefronts and areas of control were relatively clear (relatively) and exhaustion was setting in. In Iraq, forces are not cohering, areas of control are far from clear or contiguous, and I wish the sides were becoming exhausted.

Our responsibility gene makes us want a solution. But if this impulse leads us to clean up the mess from our last constitutional experiment with another, my plan is 'don't just do something, sit there!' I believe there are things we can do. Working from the outside-in, using the leverage of the neighboring states (as the Baker-Hamilton commission recommended) is critical. But when it comes to a neat negotiated outcome, we'd do well to heed the warning o the prophetic coauthors of 'The War as We Saw It':

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers.

October 15, 2007

Can Federalism Work?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

It’s become cliché to argue that the only solution to Iraq is a political agreement among the various parties.  But what exactly does that look like?  There has been a lot of debate recently about some kind of federalist system such as the one being promoted by Joe Biden and Les Gelb.  Is this a good idea?

On the con side, by trying to dictate a solution to the Iraqis the U.S. only aggravates Iraqi politicians.  The Biden Amendment that passed in the Senate a couple of weeks ago provoked precisely this type of reaction.  Moreover, encouraging the country to split up politically could end up excerbating the situation causing a total breakdown and partition of the country, which would lead to much greater levels of displacement and more ethnic cleansing.  As Marc Lynch explained:

By passing with 75 votes a meaningless, non-binding symbolic Senate resolution in favor of the partition of Iraq, Biden managed to simultaneously:  infuriate nearly all Iraqis, who have virtually unanimously condemned the resolution (as have the Arab allies of the US, for that matter);  let Senate Republicans off the hook by allowing them to say that they voted for change even though they continue to vote against anything real;  and endorse an unworkable plan which would massively increase human suffering while working against American interests in the region and not actually solving the problems.   

On the other hand, the country is already splitting apart, and power has shifted to local actors in Anbar, the Shi’a South and the Kurdish North.  Iraqi politicians have acknowledged that relying on the central government to forge some kind of reconciliation is pretty much hopeless.  If we’ve learned anything in Iraq it’s that it’s much easier to go with a trend that is evolving on the ground then to try and fight it.  The current constitution does allow for a federalist system, and generally speaking in countries that have been split apart by ethnic conflict a federalist system with more power at the local level has generally worked out pretty well.  As Gelb and Biden put it:

Iraqis have no familiarity with federalism, which, absent an occupier or a dictator, has historically been the only path to keeping disunited countries whole. We can point to our federal system and how it began with most power in the hands of the states. We can point to similar solutions in the United Arab Emirates, Spain and Bosnia. Most Iraqis want to keep their country whole. But if Iraqi leaders keep hearing from U.S. leaders that federalism amounts to or will lead to partition, that's what they will believe…

Federalism is the one formula that fits the seemingly contradictory desires of most Iraqis to remain whole and of various groups to govern themselves for the time being.

Where do I come down?  Probably the best thing the U.S. can do is come up with some kind of rough sketch of what a decentralized government system might look like.  Clearly the Iraqis and their Sunni neighbors don’t like the Gelb-Biden plan, but there are many other types of decentralized approaches that might be more acceptable.  Once a substantive proposal is on the table we discuss this idea with the key stakeholders inside Iraq and the neighbors, get their input, tweak the plan accordingly, and see if we can begin to find some common ground and use it as the basis for further negotiation. 

For those who argue that the U.S. should just let the Iraqis figure it out, that is a pipe dream.  The utterly dysfunctional political system has shown no ability to facilitate any kind of compromise.  And if the U.S. just showed up at everybody’s doorstep and tried to facilitate compromise by asking them what they think, it would get a list of irreconcilable pie in the sky demands. 

Overall, the probability that something like this would work is extraordinarily low (5%-10% max).  Most likely the Iraqi civil war will end the way most do.  The parties will eventually fight to the point of exhaustion.  Still, this seems worth a try.

Nobody Wants to Work for George Bush
Posted by Moira Whelan

There’s good news and bad news about Philip Shenon’s article about recess appointments and vacancies in the Bush Administration.

The bad news is that of course, the government can’t function the way it should without top appointees at the helm. The good news is that because these positions are not filled, fewer mechanisms of government are acting according to a radical right-wing agenda. One might also infer that there just aren’t enough right-wing people out there willing to drink the Kool-Aid of the Bush Administration, which is reassuring to me as an American.

The Bushies aren’t trying a sneak attack with recess appointments, rather, things really are That Bad for them.Brian Beutler gets at this and I agree with him.

The transition in 2009 will no doubt be made worse by the fact that civil servants and political appointees are fleeing the Bush Administration. So bad, in fact, that the Department of Homeland Security has issued a contract to address the challenge.

This is Pretty Crazy (or, how to declare war on a whole religion and keep your job at AEI)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Matt Yglesias points us to a very frightening Reason interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former Dutch MP, and outspoken opponent of Islam and Muslims in general. Not surprisingly, she is now perched at AEI, an institution which now appears intent to lend its imprimatur to the most blatant kind of bigotry. But, then again, that's not so surprising. What is surprising, however, is that a good many reasonable people have also fallen under Ayaan Hirsi Ali's sway, and hailed her as a brave voice of reason and reform. An unfortunate example is this column by the Washington Post's otherwise sensible Anne Applebaum (see my previous post on this).

The fact that Applebaum and the MSM in general would have good things to say about someone who has, in very explicit terms, declared war on a whole religion (and, by extension, 1.5 billion people) tells us a lot about current state of discourse in our country. In any case, here is what Hirsi Ali has to say about the unfolding "war":

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Understanding the Retributive Impulse
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I was talking to an American friend the other day, in an unassuming but quite satisfying Indian restaurant in London, somewhere along Queen’s Way. The conversation turned to the matter of "dignity," in the context of our difficulties in the Arab world. I told him about a disturbing, but illustrative, conversation I had with my uncle in Egypt. It was the summer before last, during the height of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

My uncle and I launched into a heated debate about Hezbollah’s initial strike across the green line in which eight Israeli soldiers were killed. I took upon myself the thankless task of trying to convince him that Hezbollah’s move was not only a mistake, but a stupid, self-defeating one. Apart from the fact that it was illegal and unprovoked, it was also damaging to the Palestinian cause, and certainly to the Lebanese themselves. Put aside your emotions for a moment, I told him. What did Hezbollah actually accomplish in doing this? How did it help the Palestinians or the Lebanese? I challenged him to cite any positive result. He had nothing to say, because there was nothing to say. These, after all, weren’t the questions he was interested in. I pushed him some more. Why? Then came the answer. He said one word, and that was enough, and, in his own way, he was able to capture the depth of the tragedy unfolding before us. Karameh, he said, looking hard into my eyes, with a mixture of sadness, anger, and exhaustion, as if needing to ready himself for a fight he didn't want to fight, but knew he had to. 

Karameh is the Arabic for "dignity." Back to my friend in London. After telling him about my uncle, I concluded: “It's critical for Americans to understand the centrality of dignity in the Arab psyche.” I pulled back feeling I had gone too far. “Well, I know that sounds ethnocentric, but still…” Indeed, this was not the right thing to say, because this was not unique to the Arab world, although it may appear, at the current moment, a more pronounced cultural trait. “Shadi,” my friend responded, “you’re certainly right, but we have the same problem.”

He went on to talk about the retributive impulse that had defined the post-9/11 American “psyche;” how we, too, have acted irrationally and done things that have not only failed to help us, but have so obviously hurt us. Our pride and our honor took a hit on 9/11. And what came out of it was a visceral reaction, one full of confused anger. Such impulses are necessary at first, even healthy. Anger can be a good thing, particularly when channeled constructively in support of a national cause. But we went far beyond healthy responses, and we’ve drawn out a long, six-year process of cathartic retribution, in some way aiming to erase the humiliation - the affront to our dignity – that the attacks of September 11th brought upon us. And, in doing so, we have descended into a spiral of irrationality, both self-destructive and self-defeating.

Well, my friend was right. We may have more in common with our Arab counterparts after all.

October 14, 2007

American Policy in the Middle East Needs...
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Less hollow rehtoric and much more of this.

Bad Resolution
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Was out of pocket most of this week an am only getting to this now.  But I have to agree with Chris Nelson via Steve Clemons

Please forgive our blatant editorializing here, but dammit, it does not take a highly developed moral center to decry mass murder, or, for that matter, starvation in Darfur, brutality in Burma, et al.

And while we're at it, how about historical events in the US, like, say, the officially declared and systematically applied genocide against the American Indian tribes...and the truly blood curdling justifications offered routinely by Andy Jackson, or Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. . .American heroes all.

Since of course we don't torture, no apologies are needed for Abu Gharib, renditions, et al.

So the question remains on the table today: What strategic interests of the United States have been served by this vote? What US strategic interests will be improved by pushing this Resolution to the Floor? If the Resolution is passed by the House, will US interests be advanced in the Middle East?

Will US troops be safer? And for that matter, will the situation for Armenians still in Turkey be improved?

This resolution doesn't do anything to stop genocide.  It doesn't do anything to make anyone's life better.  It just makes an already complicated situation in the Middle East even more difficult.  Democrats spend plenty of time rightly arguing that minimizing the damages caused by Iraq will require deft diplomacy in the Middle East.  There is nothing deft or diplomatic about this resolution.

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