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December 14, 2007


Pakistan: 'Twas the Night before End of Emergency Rule
Posted by Brian Katulis

On the eve of the end of emergency rule, Pakistan is heading into a four week election campaign fraught with great uncertainties. 

Intelligence agencies are warning of a new round of suicide attacks.  Opposition parties are already complaining of electoral fraud, with some boycotting the January 8th elections and others planning to contest and then protest the results.  And a new poll indicates that President Musharraf's popularity has plummeted since the imposition of emergency rule last month, a view confirmed in a range of interviews with political party leaders, human rights activists, and journalists in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi.

For longer pieces on the situation, see posts on U.S. competing interests in Pakistan, how opposition activists marked International Human Rights Day earlier this week under emergency rule, whether Pakistan is the real "central front" in the fight against terrorists, and how the coming months in Pakistan are pivotal for making a course correction in the so-called "global war on terrorism."

December 13, 2007

Republicans Don’t Even Talk About Iraq
Posted by Moira Whelan

The long series of debates before the Iowa Caucuses are now over, and one interesting fact speaks volumes about which party is actually addressing the concerns of Americans.

Some truly dedicated souls counted up how many times each candidate in each of the final Republican and Democratic debates uttered the word “Iraq”—here’s the count:






































    (h/t dedicated souls)

So given that the the Gallup Poll released two days ago said that 36% of Americans cited Iraq as their top issue, and that the issue “ranks as the top voting issue for Republicans, independents, and Democrats,” one can only assume that the Republican candidates are banking on the fact that they can win without even mentioning IRAQ.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

News from Our Sponsor: Or Blogs Infiltrate the FP Establishment, Chapter 3
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

One of the great qualities of Democracy Arsenal that readers mostly don't see it its innovative behind-the-scenes architecture, building alliances across institutions and generations and blending the "foreign policy establishment" with the blog world in a way that has worked so well that we've really never remarked on it.  If you work in a field where this is normal, you will think I am going on at length about nothing; if you work in a field where blogs and the 'Net are not considered a legitimate arm of endeavor, you know what I'm talking about.

Founder Suzanne Nossel brought together an unusual coalition of think tanks to host us as an early experiment in working on-line; when that string ran out, we managed to transition and thrive with a new host, National Security Network (NSN).

Now I'm making that transition myself -- it was announced yesterday that, as part of NSN's aggressive strategy to grow and get ready to play a central role in bringing safer, saner and smarter foreign policy into the 08 elections and beyond, I'll be joining the NSN team full-time as Executive Director in mid-January.

For those of you who know, or want to know, NSN, this means a big step on NSN's road from plucky little start-up to emerging player to unique and irreplaceable link between the world of foreign policy wonkery and the world of media and politics.

For those of you who just wanna blog, it's not every day that you find an organization whose board members, staff, management and key advisers blog together -- along with a network of great folks from other institutions.  It's a tribute to NSN that you may never have noticed this before, and I'd like to keep it that way.  The exchange of information and ideas here, which informs how we work at NSN but neither limits nor is limited by it, is to my mind something of a model of how other august entities that are afraid of the Web could start to let the sunshine in.

Having said all of that, will I actually be able to keep blogging and manage these high-octane folks?  Will we have to think hard about making sure our free and open discussion here keeps complementing the work we do off-line?  Do I sound like Don Rumsfeld?  Uh-oh.

Will I act like the boss on line?  Absolutely not. 

Thanks and keep reading,  HeatherH

Chris Dodd is Confusing Me
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Chris Dodd (in the debate which is going on right now) just gave his pitch to Iowans. He kept on saying "we," concluding with "we ask for your vote on Jan. 3." Can someone shed light on this? Maybe I wasn't listening carefully, but who is the "we" he's referring to here?

December 12, 2007

Posted by Max Bergmann

Iraq_wall_10 It was pointed out yesterday that the U.S. has begun building walls to separate segregated neighborhoods – a tactic actively deployed in Northern Ireland. While Matt describes these efforts in Northern Ireland as being some what “successful,” that is only true if the goal behind them was to achieve less violence, as opposed to broader political reconciliation. Erecting walls in both Belfast and Baghdad was/is likely a wise and necessary security tactic, but the need to build them tells us something about the intractable nature of the conflict in Iraq. Looking more broadly at British efforts in Northern Ireland provides other sobering lessons. Brendan O'Leary and John McGarry, two of the leading experts on Northern Ireland, detail the efforts of the British security services:

Up to 30,000 [equivalent to about 450,000 in Iraq] personnel regularly patrol the countryside and city-streets of the region, establishing armed ‘check-points’ at will. ‘Forts’ and observation posts with the latest surveillance technologies have been established in the heart of nationalistic districts. House-searching and civilian-screening take place on a massive scale, backed up by computer data-bases on over one quarter of the population... From time to time entire ‘town-centres’ are cordoned off and everybody entering such areas is subjected to rigorous searching...

But despite these efforts there was little political reconciliation for more than a decade and the situation on the ground continued to be tense:

Both civilians and security personnel travel warily in certain ‘shatter-zones’ or avoid them altogether; and migration from ‘mixed areas’ to areas of ethnic residential segregation in the 1970s reduced opportunities for ‘easy’ killings.

There are two relevant points here.

Belfast_wall_11 First, the U.S. cannot come close to replicating British efforts in Northern Ireland in Iraq. The Brits had 30,000 troops - this would be equivalent to having about 450,000 troops in Iraq. But perhaps more importantly the Brits were not dealing with an alien culture. They spoke the language, understood the culture and had good intelligence on the actors and groups that they were dealing with.

Second, is that even the British security services, with all of the advantages just mentioned, was not able to bring peace to Northern Ireland. No one looks back and says the British brought peace to Northern Ireland. Their efforts did help decrease some of the violence, but sectarian violence, politically motivated assassinations and intimidation continued. That is why after nearly two decades of British efforts in 1989 the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland admitted that the IRA could not be militarily defeated. Instead, movement toward peace first took regional diplomacy between the UK and Irish governments, followed by continuous and eventually comprehensive negotiations that included all parties to the conflict.

The NIE and Remembering Things Lost
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I find it surprising that nearly every conservative commentator out there is decrying the NIE on Iran's nuclear program. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, the NIE actually confirms something that Republicans have often claimed: that the massive show of force in 2003 frightened other countries into giving up their nuclear programs, and forced a change of "good behavior." Libya is exhibit A, and is one of the few things that can be counted in the Bush administration's almost nonexistent "win" column (but even that, in the final analysis, was far from a victory, since Libya has now been added to the much larger, nearly endless column of brutal dictatorships that we like or sort of like and that we provide moral, political, or military support to).

Anyway, let's quickly backtrack to 2003. It's worth remembering that, at this point, the Bush administration's foreign policy was far from a failure. It's difficult to imagine it now, but there was a time when it seemed like the administration might very well usher in a revolutionary shift in U.S. foreign policy, one that, while often quite frightening, also exhibited a number of commendable qualities, among them a willingness to discard a five-decade long bipartisan Middle East policy that had helped give rise to Islamic terrorism and extremism, an occasional but still impressive ability to engage in creative, long-term thinking on tough issues (the belief that democracy promotion was key to undermining the terrorist threat), and a willingness to experiment with innovative programming (MEPI and the Millennium Challenge Account). Although I personally don't think it should be added to the list, I suppose there's something to be said for how the use of force, in the right circumstances, may deter adversaries from engaging in risky, aggressive behavior.

All of which to say is that if things had had taken a different course from that point on, the Bush administration's legacy could have been judged a mixed bag, one with both positive and negative elements. However, today, the verdict is and will be much harsher - that this administration, as far as foreign policy is concerned, is one of the worst in American history. The decline and fall of George W. Bush, then, is both tragic and somewhat vexing. As I've said before - and this may anger some - I remember telling one of my friends in Jordan in early 2005 (and, trust me, I hated saying it) that in 10 or 15 years, we will look back and we might have to admit to ourselves that the Bush administration was the best thing that happened to the Middle East. Yes, I know, it's crazy.

Continue reading "The NIE and Remembering Things Lost" »

The Obama Muslim Rumors
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I was reading about the Obama Muslim rumors again. I've dealt with this issue before, but it deserves to be raised again, since it's one of those things in American politics today that I find really, really irritating. First of all, Obama is not Muslim, and anyone who suggests otherwise is indulging in a smear-campaign. But, I guess the broader question is this: why does saying that someone is a Muslim, or is otherwise sympathetic to Islam, constitute a smear in the first place? What's so bad about being Muslim?

Well, actually, I kind of already know the answer, but I wish more people would be willing to say what they honestly feel on the matter. There is a sizable cross-section of Republicans who think that being a Muslim disqualifies one for higher public service (you can count Mitt Romney, who has been quite open in peddling anti-Muslim remarks, among them). I suspect that a good number of Democrats may feel similarly, but due to political correctness, would never openly say so - that being a Muslim, while we face a predominantly Muslim terrorist threat, would represent a conflict of interest and would bring about questions of "dual loyalty." If the dual loyalty smear sounds familiar, it should, as it is one of the more pernicious smears that can be leveled in American politics.

Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I suspect that someone who understands Muslim culture, religion, and politics would do a much better job of fighting the war on terrorism than someone who doesn't even know the most basic facts about this part of the world. And, no, Republicans aren't the only ones who are clueless. Chris Dodd, after all, gave one of the worst debate answers I have ever heard. Of course, no one picked it up, since making stupid - and dangerous - generalizations about the Muslim world is actually treated as a qualification for office rather than the opposite. And we wonder why we're losing the war on terror.

December 11, 2007

A Contemptible Lie- UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the New York Times, David Brooks argues the new conservative narrative that Americans are no longer concerned about the Iraq War. In doing so, he makes this rather amazing assertion:

Republicans don’t want to talk about Iraq because they’re humiliated by the conduct of the war, and Democrats don’t want to talk about it because they were wrong about the surge.

This is a contemptible lie. Democrats were not, and are not, wrong about the surge. As has been stated ad nauseum here at Democracy Arsenal and elsewhere, the surge was predicated on giving Iraqis breathing room for political reconciliation. This has not happened. To argue that the surge is a success is the new GOP line on Iraq, but it's a bald-faced lie and should be exposed as such.

As for the notion that the American people aren't interested in Iraq, here's what Brooks has to say:

Before the 2004 election, half of all voters listed terrorism as their top concern. But, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, roughly a third do today.

Like any good Bushie, Brooks is trying to conflate the "war on terror" with the war in Iraq, but, as most Americans now understand, these are two separate issues. Indeed it should hardly seem surprising that most Americans would no longer list terrorism as their main concern - they are more worried about Iraq. But David, you get an A for effort.

While the numbers have declined somewhat, every major recent poll continues to indicate that Iraq remains the number one concern of voters. And in the most recent CBS News poll the American people believe by a 45-30 margin that Democrats will do a better job on Iraq.

I'm sure David Brooks would love for this election to be a "post-war election" as he puts it, but as long as upwards of 150,000 troops remain in Iraq it seems very difficult to imagine a scenario where the war is not front and center for Election '08. Moreover, with all the major Republican candidates refusing to break with the President on Iraq there seems even more reason for Dems to make Iraq a key campaign focus. But again David, you get an A for effort.

UPDATE: And in further evidence of exactly how wrong David Brooks post-war argument is, check out the latest Gallup poll on Iraq:

When asked which issues will be most important in determining their vote for president in next year's election, Americans by a wide margin say the war in Iraq, with more than one in three mentioning the war.

While Gallup makes the point that the number of people citing Iraq as their number one concern has dropped from 42% to 36% Iraq is still far and away the most important concern: more than double that of the nearest issues; the economy (16%), healthcare (15%), and illegal immigration (10%).

Continue reading "A Contemptible Lie- UPDATED" »

Wildly Off the Mark
Posted by Shawn Brimley

It is amazing to me that these guys aren't simply going quietly into the night.  In a speech last night to the American Enterprise Institute, Douglas Feith (former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and a leading player in the Iraq fiasco) made the following points, according to the Washington Post's Tom Ricks:

    1. The decision to carry out "a lengthy occupation was, I believe, the single biggest mistake the United States made in Iraq;" and
    2. On the decision to throw tens of thousands of Iraqi military personnel out of work, Feith said that, "some of the problems resulted from implementation, rather than the policy itself."

This is part of an emerging neo-con narrative in which they will assert that the policy (re: neo-cons) of invading Iraq was brilliant but the implementors (re: the military) are at fault for grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. 

But perhaps the biggest sick joke of the night was audience-member Paul Wolfowitz's response after the speech, according to Ricks:

After Feith's talk, Wolfowitz commented that he thought it was "pretty much on the mark."

This coming from a guy who mocked former Army Chief-of-Staff General Eric Shinseki's estimate that it would take several hundred thousand troops to secure Iraq by saying it was "wildly off the mark." 


December 10, 2007

Is Deterrence Back?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Against my better judgment I watched my former mayor, Rudolph Guiliani on Meet the Press and I have to say I share the view expressed here by M.J. Rosenberg that it was not Rudy's finest effort.

But one thing he said really did jump out at me. When asked about Iran's nuclear program, Guiliani extolled the virtues of deterrence.  Here's what he had to say:

We should utilize as much pressure as we’re capable of.  But the fact that that is there, that military option is there, not taken off the table ultimately increases the pressure, doesn’t it?  The reality is the pressure works.  They said that, too, right?  They, they said in 2003 Iran abandoned its nuclear program, they believe, because of all the pressure, all the threats, that they are susceptible to that.  2003 was the year in which we deposed Saddam Hussein.  It was the year in which America showed massive military strength.

Interestingly, John Bolton made a somewhat similar point in his absurd op-ed last week in the Washington Post. In criticizing the NIE's focus on diplomatic suasion, Bolton instead argues that the Iranians were undoubtedly influenced by the US invasion of Iran Iraq:

It [the NIE] implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran.

This is not completely accurate, indeed the Iran NIE argues the following:

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit  approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and  military costs.  This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.  It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

But, whatever the case, the concessions by Bolton and Guiliani are important - because both men seem to indicate that deterrence and containment had an impact on changing Iranian behavior. Why does this matter? Because the key rationale for war with Iraq; the entire basis of the Bush Administration's national security strategy, namely the preemption doctrine, is based on the notion that deterrence doesn't work.

Continue reading "Is Deterrence Back?" »

Oh Dana!
Posted by Michael Cohen

I have something to share with the Democracy Arsenal readership: I have a little thing for Dana Perino.

Sure every word out of her mouth is practically a lie; sure she is a mouthpiece for a corrupt and immoral administration . . . but what can I say, I have a thing for smoky blondes.  Also, she has many positive attributes, aside from her good looks. She never loses her composure; she always has a smile on her face; she has constructed an alternative reality of American statecraft and she has never once wavered from it; she is nattily clad and she wears great necklaces - can anyone say the same thing about Marlin Fitzwater. I think not! It always pains me when the Bushies trot out poor Dana to read the latest White House lies . . . err, I mean talking points. Apparently, I'm not alone.

So it is with great sorrow that I must bring to the attention of Democracy Arsenal readers that sweet, sweet Dana is kind of an idiot. This week she received a question that referenced the Cuban Missile Crisis and Dana was flat-footed . . . because apparently Dana has never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This from Tim Grieve at

Appearing on NPR's "Wait, Wait ... Don't Tell Me" over the weekend, Perino said she "panicked" when she got the Cuban missile crisis question because she wasn't exactly sure what the Cuban missile crisis was. "I really know nothing about the Cuban missile crisis," Perino said. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."

Now in fairness, you have to give Dana credit for exhibiting some really excellent deductive reasoning here. It takes a special kind of person to figure out that the Cuban Missile Crisis had to do with both Cuba and missiles (although it is distressing that she didn't reference the fact that this was a "crisis" but honestly two out of three is not bad).

But the best part of the story was that she went home to discuss the day's events with her husband (the luckiest man in Washington) and was able to reference another historical event involving Cuba.

Perino said she went home that night and asked her husband, "Wasn't that, like, the Bay of Pigs thing?" And he said, 'Oh, Dana.'"

 Oh Dana, indeed!

December 09, 2007

Pakistan: Holding President Musharraf to his Word
Posted by Brian Katulis

In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer this weekend, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf promised that his country’s upcoming parliamentary elections will be clean.  “I do guarantee that they will be free and fair, yes, absolutely,” Musharraf said on CNN’s Late Edition.

Here in Lahore, where a major political party headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met today and decided to contest the elections after flirting with the idea of a boycott, Musharraf’s statement was greeted with widespread cynicism.

In the past month, Musharraf sacked the country’s chief justice and other judges, suspended the constitution, instituted emergency rule, arrested thousands of opposition figures, and shut down key media outlets.  Even before these measures, an international pre-election monitoring delegation headed by former U.S. Senator Majority Leader Tom Daschle and organized by the National Democratic Institute raised concerns about the upcoming elections.

Although Musharraf stepped down as army chief late last month, the emergency rule still remains in effect and won’t be lifted until later next week – even though the elections are to be held in less than a month.  Throughout Pakistan, independent analysts as well as partisans like former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (in an opinion editorial this week) have raised concerns about possible fraud in the upcoming elections.  One key element that observers should watch on this front is what happens with Pakistan’s judiciary.

As Americans know all too well from their own 2000 presidential elections, courts can often play a decisive role in hotly contested elections.  And as President Musharraf has probably learned from events in Egypt last year, reining in independent-minded judges is a key ingredient for holding back real democratic progress.  A month before the elections, Pakistan’s Election Commission – a key body that overseas and manages the elections usually filled by judges – was incomplete because of the shortage of judges that has resulted from the actions taken last month.  Prominent lawyers and judges remain under arrest.

The United States has begun a much-needed and long overdue debate about its policy towards Pakistan, which has suffered from decades of ad hoc and short-sighted policies from Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The run-up to Pakistan’s January 8th elections will offer U.S. policymakers to make some key choices about the course it will set for the coming years.  The past few months have proved to be a bumpy ride in Pakistan, and more turbulence may be ahead.  Stay tuned….

Guest Blogger: Brian Katulis from Pakistan
Posted by The Editors

Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, will be guest posting from Pakistan where he is currently traveling.  At CAP, his work examines U.S. national security policy in Middle East with a focus on Iraq.  He is also a Senior Advisor to the Center’s Middle East Progress project.

What the New NIE Really Means
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, once we get through all the recriminations, celebrations and shock of the new Iran what does it actually mean?  As far as I see it, three key points.

First, on the strategy.  I have to agree with Zbiginew Brzezinski who has long argued that the Iran situation is absolutely important but that it is not absolutely urgent.  In other words: we have time and with time comes a much broader array of diplomatic options and strategies that we should be trying. But Iran still is important and it's still a potential threat.  Iran, still has a civilian nuclear program, which it could eventually transform into a weapons program.  It still has growing influence in the region and has significant interests in Iraq.  It's growing influence is causing anxiety across the region.  That's why experts like Ray Takeyh, who advocate talking with the Iranians, have had mixed views about the NIE.  I suspect that they don't want people to just conclude that Iran is no longer a threat and pull it from the priority list (But I agree with Joe Klein that by complaining about this right now, Takeyh misses the larger point). 

Second, politically, the Iran issue is significantly blunted in the 2008 cycle.  Rudy Giuliani, who has been the most militant candidate out there on this issue, sounded almost reasonable on Meet the Press this morning.  He didn't go as far as to say that we should have direct talks and he didn't take the preemptive strike option off the table.  But he did say that economic and military pressure seems to have an impact and that we should be using those tools.  He also said that in the "short-term the threat isn't nearly as grave" and that in the "long-term we need to be very very cautious about Iran." (Quotes based on video not transcript)  He also directly contradicted Norman Podhoretz's accusations about the NIE.  That's not nearly as aggressive as the tune he was singing quite recently.  It certainly wouldn't qualify as the blatant war mongering that we were hearing quite recently.

Finally, and most importantly.  The chances of going to war in the next 13 months have been dramatically reduced.  I never thought that the Administration would be crazy enough to pull the trigger on this operation.  And I always thought the probability of an actual strike was low.  But still, this NIE is comforting.

Politicize the Intel Community
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

What do you do when you are President and the facts presented by the Intel community
are in contradiction with your policy?  Well, according to the Wall Street Journal, you should just fire the analysts and replace them with people who agree with you.  In fact, and this might be the first time I've ever heard this particular criticism, it turns out that the Bush Administration is TOO TOLERANT of dissenting voices. 

We reported earlier this week that the authors of this Iran NIE include former State Department officials who have a history of hostility to Mr. Bush's foreign policy. But the ultimate responsibility for this fiasco lies with Mr. Bush. Too often he has appointed, or tolerated, officials who oppose his agenda, and failed to discipline them even when they have worked against his policies.

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