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February 09, 2007

Paranoia and the Realities of Iraq
Posted by Gordon Adams

Oh, for a parliamentary system of government in America!  Had we one, they’d be gone today.  Instead they have lingered around from the deception of the invasion, to the incompetence of the execution, to the current stage of paranoia.

Whatever justified the invasion of Iraq, it was certainly not the reason given at the time.  Deception was key; the American people had to be convinced there was a threat.  The execution of the war and post-war policy, especially the latter, exposed a level of incompetence and unreality only exceeded by their response to Hurricane Katrina.

Today the full reality stands exposed.  Step by step, the deceptive illusion purveyed in 2003 has disappeared, and there is full-fledged gap between what they are saying, the incompetent dance they are doing, and what we see on the ground.

Rather than acknowledge reality, the last stage left is paranoia. – fight with the facts rather than change to a policy that works or bring the men and women home with a few shreds of American dignity left. 

Continue reading "Paranoia and the Realities of Iraq" »


Iraq: War, Occupation... or Hostage Crisis?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Most of us want to get US troops out of Iraq. Leave aside for now the numerous variants of withdrawal/ drawdown/ redeployment: bottom line for most progressives-- and most Americans-- that we want all or most US troops out, sooner rather than later.

But: can we actually get them out without US deaths on a so-far unseen scale? Or are our troops trapped there, for all intents and purposes?

Logistically, tactically, how do we actually get all or most of our 140,000+ troops out safely? Do they go out by land, via Kuwait or Turkey? Are the departing convoys vulnerable to IEDs or attacks? Do we fly them out? How? From where? I know we bring hundreds of troops in and out of Iraq every day, in relative safety, but when there is a massive increase in numbers, are troops on the move either too concentrated for safety, or too spread out for safety?

Or maybe it's no big deal to get the first 130,000 or so out.... but what about the last few thousand troops? How do they get out? And what about the civilians at our vast Baghdad embassy? Do they all stay? Most? Protected by whom?

Maybe this is not as much of an issue as I worry it might be. Maybe the main organized insurgent and militia players have no particular incentive to go after departing Americans once we make it clear we're really leaving. But maybe their desire to get us out quickly is overcome by their desire to teach us a final lesson.

I'd like to think that someone, somewhere, in the bowels of the Pentagon or the Green Zone, is sitting down with maps and plans and back-up plans, figuring out just how we safely extract so many people. But I worry that political pressures may make it hard for military planners to focus on this: it would be like admitting defeat, which is not something this Administration will contemplate.

Iraq offers so much bad news and so many possible bad endings... sorry to throw one more out for discussion. But if we're pushing for withdrawal, we need to be thinking about this issue too.

February 08, 2007

Hamas and Fatah Announce Unity Government
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This is very interesting. Hamas, as part of a unity agreement with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, has agreed to "respect" previous treaties with Israel. I suppose there will be a lot of commentary about what exactly such "respect" entails, and whether it will be enough for Western donors. Whatever the case may be, this announcement (if it holds) will put an end to the destructive, low-intensity civil war between Hamas and Fatah. That's long overdue and, for the first time in recent memory, we can credit the Saudis with doing something positive for the region. 


D'Souza's Folly
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

I never thought I'd say this, but Thank You, Victor Davis Hanson--who weighs in to criticize fellow conservative Dinesh D'Souza's new piece of penmanship "The Enemy at Home," which, you guessed it, is a laundry list of attacks on the Left (a book that uses one-off occasions of liberal criticism that become conservative mythology)

---say---like the myth about how anti-war activists in the 70's persistently spit at veterans returning from the war. Which the New York Times repeated for all our benefit in their coverage of last month's anti-war march in DC....


American Jews and Israel: A Vital Discussion
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Last night I lingered over kitchen cleanup to listen to a program on NPR called "American Jews and Israel." It was just excellent. Listen to it here.

Although I have never been to the Middle East except for a stint as a tourist in Egypt, I have followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. I wrote my final paper on Israel's creation in college...then kept up with it over the years as a student of conflict resolution. Still, this radio program really captured so much of the important discussion that is breaking out all over (from anger over Jimmy Carter's latest book to the Walt-Mearsheimer article last year to the implications of the FBI probe of AIPAC)

I hope these debates crack open the brooding and uncomfortable silence that has persisted on this topic in the USA. From my experience working in Congress...its true that as far as this topic is concerned, dialogue itself has become subversive. Our inability to have a public discussion is stymied in both directions--from criticism of Israel on the Right to criticism of Palestinian human rights issues on the Left. I remember as a staffer trying to put together a simple series of dialogues for a willing group of American Jews, Israelis, Palestinians and others from Arab countries---and being shocked at the offices that either dismissed it outright or refused to help, sponsor, acknowledge or even lift a finger to allow it to be successful.

This debate is painful and sometimes raw, but airing the issues will help the emotional temperature level out. For my own purely selfish reasons, I so want this issue to move forward successfully and for the national tone on the issue to become problem-solving oriented. Why? mostly because--to me--Jewish American philosophy and idealism are the heart and soul of progressive America. Indeed, of liberal democracy itself. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has sucked so much of the attention and energy out of this vital community-- Energy and commitment is a scarce resource. I want more of it put to work here at home, in the trenches, with everyone who is working to set this country back on track.

February 07, 2007

The Genocide Question - in Iraq
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A Daily Dish reader asks an excellent question, one that I suspect puts liberals in an awkward position:

One of the main arguments against an American pullback or pullout is the likelihood of a genocidal and brutal civil war that would "force" the U.S. to come in to stop the slaughter. I think it is appropriate to assume that there would be massive killing. I've heard arguments to the contrary and I've heard arguments that Syria/Iran, etc. would not permit it, but assuming that it would not take place is as foolish as assuming that everything will be just fine. So we should assume that there will be incredible slaughter, religious dislocation and depravity - at least in the non-Kurdish areas - if we get out.

Query: Do we have the discipline to stay out and to be presented night after night with scenes of uniminaginable slaughter that we will be accused of being "responsible for"? Because if we don't have the discipline - or the cold-heartedness, if you will - then that's a strong argument to continue with Bush's approach.

What's the "progressive" response to this? If we have strong reason to believe that there will be genocidal slaughter if/after we leave Iraq, then it seems to me that simply leaving Iraq - and leaving it at that - is a morally untenable position to take. Perhaps realists can stomach the slaughter of non-Americans (as is their wont), but those of us who claim to be liberals should aspire for a higher standard of conduct. The question, of course, is whether there would in fact be massive ethnic cleansing (on a scale demonstrably worse than what is currently occuring) if America fully withdraws. If the answer is yes, then I don't know how we can advocate immediate/full withdrawal in good conscience. We simply cannot. This is something liberals must grapple with. Andrew Sullivan's response troubles me:

The great drawback of my own position is that it requires the United States to stand back as genocide takes place. The great drawback of the president's position is that we are already policing and enabling a genocide at a slower pace but comparable scale. History suggests that Americans can leave a place to hell. America was tough enough to watch the Vietnamese boat people. But of course it makes me pause. It should. The choices before us are all dreadful. But sometimes the best decision is the least palatable in the short term.

There are, however, other options besides "leaving" and "staying." Which is why I think Fareed Zakaria's partial drawdown/rapid-reaction force proposal is a third way out that puts the needed pressure on the Maliki government (by reducing troop levels), while reserving the American right to intervene in the case of genocidal slaughter.


Not with a Surge, but a Dribble
Posted by Rosa Brooks

I was before the surge before I was against it (though I was also against it even before I was for it). What I mean-- if that was not completely clear-- is that though I wasn't sold on the original rationale for war in Iraq, I did think that if we were going to send in the troops, we should send in a lot of them.

No one listened to me (true, I mostly said this to a bunch of random people standing in my kitchen, but no one listened to General Shinseki, either, and he said it at the Pentagon). So now, four years and thousands of deaths later, the Bush Administration has resisted calls for withdrawal or redeployment of US troops, and opted instead for a so-called "surge" of 20,000 or so additional troops, mainly into Baghdad.

Too little, too late, and seriously flawed, said practically everyone, including me. But you know.... if you're gonna surge, SURGE! Get those extra battalions in there, pronto!

It turns out, though, that the surge is really more of a dribble.  Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki admits that the Iraqi troops are a little late getting organized, and Maj. Gen. William Caldwell insists that on the US side, the surge will actually be more of "a gradual effort." 

So here we are, in the worst of all possible worlds: the violence in Iraq is surging, and we're... not surging, not withdrawing, not redeploying... just slowly placing more US troops in untenable positions, while Iraqi civilians continue to suffer.  Someday, the history books will have harsh words for the architects of this "plan," which is doing little good, and endangering many.

Speaking of the Administration's "surge" architects.... Since I'm quoting famous literary figures today, here's an excerpt from TS Lewis Eliot, "The Hollow Men" (1925):

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

....Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us -- if at all -- not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Correction: A commenter points out that I typed "TS Lewis" instead of TS Eliot." I have corrected that, above. Sorry.... too many dead brain cells cluttering up my mind.


How to Hide, c. 2007: Velcro & Pixels
Posted by Rosa Brooks

In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Malcolm's soldiers disguise their assault on Castle Dunsinane by holding tree branches from Burnham Wood over their heads. (They thus fulfil the prophesy: "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him.")

In the high tech era of modern combat, disguising yourself as a tree won't cut it anymore, and the Army has responded with by replacing the old fatigues and BDUs with new "Army Combat Uniforms." The new uniforms replace the old green/brown splotches with grayish digital pixels, which means that when a soldier in a new Army Combat Uniform stands directly in front of a large computer screen, you won't be able to see him.

No, really. Apparently it works in the desert, too.

The new ACU also replaces archaic medieval devices such as "buttons" with velcro. My question: what happens when some poor soldier is in a situation where being quiet is really important? Hunkered down, outnumbered, hoping to wait out the enemy patrols and make it back to safety.... But, he desperately needs to get at something that is IN HIS POCKET or under his shirt... and there is no way to do this without a LOUD velcro-ripping noise, which gives away his position!

Okay. I am certain that the best and brightest military minds are aware of this issue and it is not actually a problem. Right? Right?

(Learn more about the ACUs and see lots of pictures at


I Voted for Him Before He Wasn't Handsome
Posted by Shadi Hamid

"He is an attractive man, handsome"; "matinee-idol handsome"; "He's tall, he's attractive, he's charismatic";" and my favorite - "an extremely handsome man with a head chiselled from marble." Who is this wonderful personage, this receptacle of the hopes of a nation longing for a man who would guide them from the abyss of unattractive, stodgy politicians into the promised land of Kennedy-like inspiration and oratory? Barack Obama perhaps? Nope. John Kerry. Before he wasn't handsome. Check out Ezra's great post for the full list.   

What's up with the Arabs?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The failure of the Iraq "experiment" will have dire repercussions far beyond the immediate matters of waging a war (and losing it). Particularly in recent weeks, I have sensed an increased frustration from friends about "the Arabs." Why can't they get their act together? Why are they killing each other not only in Iraq, but also in Palestine and Lebanon? These do, indeed, bear the appearance of a largely internal problem and in some ways they are. But I worry that we are being led to a kind of revised essentialism - that Arabs do not deserve democracy because the three country-polities that seemed most democratic (in, say, 2005) are either in the midst of civil war or on the brink of one. So we hear more and more that (maybe) Arabs aren't really cut out for the ideological compromise and give-and-take of modern democratic politics. For example, although John Burns doesn't say it outright, that seems to be the implication of what he said to Tim Russert in a recent interview (via Andrew):

My guess is that history will say that the forces that we liberated by invading Iraq were so powerful and so uncontrollable that virtually nothing the United States might have done, except to impose its own repressive state with half a million troops, which might have had to last ten years or more, nothing we could have done would have effectively prevented this disintegration that is now occurring.

Keep in mind that John Burns, despite his admirable reporting skills, knows very little about Islam or, one presumes, the history of the Middle East. This is someone who after spending several years in Baghdad wasn't aware that Muslims had something called the "shahada" (see here for more). I've also noticed Andrew Sullivan's changing tone. And then there's Tom Friedman, who said recently that "if you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all - they won’t believe it."

The problem is that Arabs are not and cannot be "inherently" anything. I'm not a big fan of what one might call "Arab political culture" either, but we have to ask whether this culture is, itself, the problem or a symptom of another, bigger problem (in social science, the indepedent vs. the dependent variable). It is most certainly the latter. There's nothign static about culture as even the most cursory knowledge of Arab history would suggest. Culture is malleable. It can be altered, for better or worse. In the 1950s and 60s, Arab society was overwhelmingly secular, to the point where the word "Islamism" would have had no meaning - because it simply didn't exist beyond a very tiny minority. In the 1930s and 40s, Egypt was enjoying its "liberal era," where it had a real constitution, a functioning (although rather flawed) parliament, and political parties with teeth. It had a burgeoning intellectual movement. The Arab novel was becoming a distinguished form in its own right. So on and so forth. Today, the situation is different, but there's no reason to think it had to be like this. In fact, as recently as 2005 (so quickly have we forgotten), it seemed like we were on the brink of a great sea change in Arab politics and culture. The turning point - the "democratic moment" - had come, finally. Or so we had thought. In less than 2 years, the sudden force of the reversal has been shocking to say the least. But let's try to keep things in perspective.

February 06, 2007


More Satire... for Children of the 70s
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

You either laugh or you cry, and via Steve Clemons, Andy Borowitz proclaims that "like many other TV series entering their seventh seasons, Bush has jumped the shark."

Steve's addition of the Fonzie-waterskiing-in-a-leather-jacket photo is worth a click-thru all by itself.  And Borowitz comparing Bush to cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch... c'mon, if you were watching tv in the 1970s, this is the happiest you will be all day.

Middle East

Your Morning Quiz
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Slate has a quiz up, "Are You an Anti-Semite:  Take This Test and Find Out," which manages to be both knowing and funny about the various sore points Rosa raised last week, administering tweaks across the spectrum.  I was delighted to see that someone had found a way to shine light without adding heat... until I got to the end and saw that the author had felt it necessary to use a pseudonym.

February 05, 2007


Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations of al Maliki
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

In the aftermath of the most deadly bomging since the US-led occupation of Iraq began, President Bush praises the Iraqi government for professing to care to keep its citizens alive (not, mind you, for doing anything to further that end).  He said:

"I appreciate the fact that the Iraqi government is anxious to get security inside the capital of the country . . That is a good sign. It is a good sign that there is a sense of concern and anxiety. It means that the government understands they have a responsibility to protect their people."

It is a "good sign" that Iraqi officials are distressed by mass carnage in broad daylight in the country's capital?  Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. 

Middle East

Could Congress stop a war with Iran?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Writing in today's LA Times, Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss argue that recent "administration moves could presage an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities." That's not good, because such an attack "could leave us even more politically isolated and militarily overstretched.... inflame the region, intensify Shiite militia attacks on our soldiers in Iraq and stimulate terrorist attacks on Americans and U.S. interests worldwide."

So... can Congress-- which so far can't even manage to pass a non-binding resolution opposing further troop build-ups in Iraq-- stop such an attack? Weiss and Diamond argue that Congress should at least try:

Congress should not wait. It should hold hearings on Iran before the president orders a bombing attack on its nuclear facilities, or orders or supports a provocative act by the U.S. or an ally designed to get Iran to retaliate, and thus further raise war fever.
The law should be attached to an appropriations bill, making it difficult for the president to veto.

Of course, this President has a tendency to use what we might call secret pocket vetoes: that is, the use of executive signing statements to announce his intention of ignoring the law. But Weiss and Diamond thought of that already, and have a proposed response (which, unfortunately, would be post hoc in nature):

If [the President] simply claims that he is not bound by the restriction even if he signs it into law, and then orders an attack on Iran without congressional authorization for it, Congress should file a lawsuit and begin impeachment proceedings.

They said it, not me!


Fruitcake more popular than President Bush?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Well, sorta. This, anyway, is the claim put forth by Radar Online. Unscientific... but as the White House has often suggested, science is over-rated. Right?

Middle East

Separating Ahmadinejad from Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I am not anything close to an expert on Iran, but like anyone else with an interest in how to rehabilitate US foreign policy, I've been reading and thinking more about this rising Persian power in recent months.  Its pretty obvious that a resolution that reintegrates Iran into the international system and normalizes relations with the US, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have to be at the very least sidelined.   This is so whether such a rapprochement were to occur prior to the realization of Iran's nuclear ambitions, or afterward as part of an effort to get Iran to behave responsibly as a nuclear power bound by traditional rules of deterrence. 

This and many other pieces explain why Ahmadinejad won't be part of the solution.   He is a regional power-monger whose appeal is predicated on rejecting any concession to the West.  While experts seem to agree that among the most important offerings the US could make in the context of a diplomatic resolution to the Iran standoff is a blanket security guarantee, Ahmadinejad's fiery personae could never abide the idea of Iranian security being beholden to a pledge from Washington.  Ahmadinejad's hold on power rests in his revolutionary populism and his fearless willingness to stand up to the US and the world.  The minute a diplomatic compromise is reached, his raison d'etre as a leader is destroyed.  On the other side, the fear Ahmadinejad has sown in Israel and the West means that even if he were to transform himself in a moderate direction, the rest of the world would never trust it.

While Flynt Leverett and others have made a compelling case that the best resolution to the Iran standoff is a grand diplomatic bargain, Ahmadinejad will need to be jettisoned before such a breakthrough is possible.  This doesn't mean that without Ahmadinejad a deal is guaranteed or even likely.  Far from it.  Anti-Americanism, Islamic radicalism and nuclear aspirations do not stop with Ahmadinejad.   But there are longstanding signs that other leaders in Tehran leaven these beliefs with more pragmatic calculations of the country's political and economic interest.

In Iran's convoluted power structure, Ahmadinejad's status as President means less than it would in a Western democracy.  Just how much sway and staying power he has are matters of debate.  His obsession with bucking international pressure to stem Iran's nuclear program has come at the expense of delivering on promised economic reforms.  Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini has the power to oust Ahmadinejad, and there are rumors that relations between the two are increasingly strained.  Student protesters have decried Ahmadinejad's denunciation of the Holocaust, arguing that it is discrediting Iran.  Its hard to know how much to make of these seemingly promising signs, but given the alternative of a potential armed conflict, it sure seems worth trying to build on them.

All this speaks to the difference between rogue leaders and rogue states, a distinction that strikes me as warranting more attention and analysis than we've given it.

Continue reading "Separating Ahmadinejad from Iran" »


Quotes of the Day
Posted by Rosa Brooks

In Regarding the Pain of Others, the last book she published before her death, Susan Sontag quotes Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas: "War is an abomination; a barbarity; war must be stopped." Commenting on Woolf's remark, Sontag asks: "Who believes today that war can be abolished? No one, not even pacifists."

Is that true? I think it is. When I was a child, I genuinely believed that war could be abolished-- that humans could find better ways to resolve disputes-- that the US government could and should work towards the abolition of war. I've never been a pacifist: it has always seemed to me that some things are worth fighting for. But I used to think that a world without war was not an impossible dream.

True, I haven't believed that since I was ten or so-- but at various points in recent history, many adults, including many serious, hard-headed thinkers, have believed in and sought a world in which there is no such thing as war. After World War One, for instance; and again in the immediate wake of World War Two. But today, in this world of proliferating conflicts and proliferating complexities, can any serious people maintain that war can be utterly abolished?

And if the answer is no, have we lost something by losing that hope? Or gained something?

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

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