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February 15, 2007

Iraq War Debate: It's About Time
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Today I watched about six hours of the Iraq war debate on the floor of the House of Representatives...and although the subject was nothing to be glad about, it sure is good to see Congress actually debating issues once again. The other heartening sign from the lineup of speakers: 11 Republicans spoke out for the resolution (in other words against the President's surge idea). Is this a sign of Republicans revolting from within to save their party? I hope so.

What those 11 Members were up against is formidable: Here's a line from the debate strategy memo written by conservatives Peter Hoeckstra and John Shadegg.

“The debate should not be about the surge or its details. This debate should not even be about the Iraq war to date, mistakes that have been made, or whether we can, or cannot, win militarily.” Shadegg and Hoekstra warn, if conservatives are forced to debate “the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose.”

My new favorite Republican (besides progressive favorite Christopher Shays and stunningly courageous Walter Jones) is John Duncan. His five minute speech laid out the principles of true conservatism...and how our circumstances in Iraq go against conservative tradition.

Many stuck to the "what Iraq war?" talking after awhile I started muting them. But some conservatives outdid themselves. Not only did they not mention the Iraq war or what got us there, they were veritably introspection free! Duncan Hunter managed to blame the Clinton Administration at least twice, Pete Sessions kept saying "the Democrat" party (um, Pete, everybody is onto that one) but the grand prize goes to Marsha Blackburn--who not only relied on that tired old trope about being with us or with the terrorists and hating freedom and blah blah blah...but managed to blame Jimmy Carter!!! Well done!! Gentlemen, send that woman a copy of the memo, framed.

February 14, 2007

Republicans Listen to Music?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee is aggressively courting the "people-who-listen-to-music" vote:

One of my real passions is music and art in the curriculum of students. And when I talk about that, and talk about it with the passion that I do, people say 'are you a Republican?' As if Republicans don't like music."

Causal Links between Lack of Democracy and Terrorism
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I think it would be fun to start an occasional series on DA called “causal links between lack of democracy and terrorism.” Yea, it doesn’t sound too sexy, but I think when people go on and on about how unrealistic it is to make democracy promotion the organizing principle of US foreign policy, they forget that the existence of autocracy abroad is not just a profound threat to our founding ideals, but also to our vital national security interests (so, yes, you can be both a realist and a believer in democracy promotion). It’s actually a very simple concept: autocracy breeds radicalism and terror, and there's a vast literature which makes precisely this point. To inaugurate this series, let me start with this excellent op-ed from Anne Applebaum, who looks at the deteriorating situation in Tunisia:

Once upon a time, the educated and the frustrated might have formed the backbone of a democratic revolution, just as they once did in South America and Eastern Europe. Now, Tunisians look at Iraq and see that "freedom" brings chaos and violence. Which leaves them with two options: emigration -- or radical Islam. Or perhaps both.

No one knows the true extent of radicalism in Tunisia because it is in the government's interests to exaggerate the threat. Nor does anyone know the true extent of Tunisian radicalism in the suburbs of Paris. But there have been bombs, arrests and reports of al-Qaeda copycat groups. Thus has an apparently benign authoritarianism produced in liberal Tunisia, as everywhere else in the Arab world, precisely the sort of terrorist inclinations it was supposed to prevent.


Military grants waivers to felons, while dismissing gays
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From today's NYT, an example of true policy irrationality:

The number of waivers granted to Army recruits with criminal backgrounds has grown about 65 percent in the last three years, increasing to 8,129 in 2006 from 4,918 in 2003, Department of Defense records show.

Meanwhile, the military continues to dismiss highly qualified personnel (including Arabic and Farsi linguists) because they're... gasp... homosexual.

Continue reading "Military grants waivers to felons, while dismissing gays" »

February 13, 2007


North Korea: Sharing the Credit
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

While others blog about the within-the-Administration deck chair movements that made this week's North Korea deal possible (here, here, here for starters), I'll suggest three less-sung heroes:

1.  The Chinese decided it was time for the North to get in line, after the embarrassment of the missile test, and are demonstrating -- with their stop-the-clock diplomacy when things got stuck-- that they can deliver.  This seems like good news for the future of the agreement -- China's prestige will be invested in it -- and for demonstrating, if that were needed, that while China is frustrating and, to put it mildly, problematic on some issues (Darfur, human rights, exchange rate) working with China on other issues of mutual concern is required, not optional.

2.  The US Foreign Service.  After a week of complaints about State's inability to come up with officers for tough/dangerous/hopeless posts in Iraq, here's a reminder in the person of Assistant Secretary for Asia Chris Hill that there is just no substitute for someone who has spent his whole professional life furthering US interests in the most challenging places and against the most challenging backdrops back in Washington.  Hill, who also happens to be a genuinely nice guy, won accolades for his performance in the Balkans a decade ago before being rewarded (?) with his Asian portfolios.  I assume he's already won every award the State Dep't has, but hey, triplicate never hurts.  (And while I'm on this subject, may I just mention how delightful it was to see career FSO and consummate professional Alejandro (Alex) Wolff, our acting rep at the UN in NY, make this comment on UN reform last week:

You’ll have a lot of different views on the details, whether this is the best one or a different approach might be better,” he said, “but you have 192 members and consensus is not easy to get, so support for the secretary general is the principle that we stand by."

Imagine what we'd have achieved in the 2005 anniversary summit with that approach.  But I digress.)

3.  The American people.  The Administration concluded, correctly, that the American people voted in November not just on Iraq but on the general proposition that we can't militarily pre-empt all our challenges all the time.  A month after the election, 82% of Americans said that we should talk to countries we disapprove of, not just threaten them; going further, seven of ten said we should sign an agreement not to attack North Korea and six of ten said we should agree to increase food aid in exchange for the North's commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  Nice work, my fellow Americans.

None of that means that this deal is perfect or that the North Koreans won't try to bust it sometime in the future.  But even if it performs only half as well as the Clinton Administration agreement that lasted a decade, that five years is enough time to wind up the distracting disaster of Iraq, move to reinvigorate the global non-proliferation regime, and regain our good name as a champion of non-proliferation.

I also find myself very tempted to turn the this-deal-is-a-bad-signal-to-Teheran argument on its head:  sure, it's a signal to Teheran.  The international community stood with us and we got what we wanted, with intrusive international inspections.  Get ready to give us the non-proliferation guarantees and inspections we need to see, with the ability to know if you're not playing fair, and we're ready to give you a deal too.

Negotiations, after all, like conflict, have a certain logic that breeds more negotiations -- if they're allowed to.

Is Condi 'Brilliant'?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Zathras called me out on my post yesterday for (mis)characterizing Condi as “brilliant.” I don’t know – I think that the Right has set the bar so low that I find myself impressed by even the most cursory displays of intelligence from conservatives. In a similar incident, I remember I got some flak after I called Bush administration appointee Michael Doran “a truly brilliant scholar” on a left-leaning listserv. I also called his 2002 Foreign Affairs article “Somebody’s Else’s Civil War” “one of the most incisive, original pieces I had seen post-9/11.” I do stand by that.

Back to Condi. I kind of like her. I think her foreign policy instincts are not as bad as they could otherwise be. Let me put it this way: if I had to choose between Baker/Scrowcroft or Condi, it would be a no-brainer. I think her “constructive instability” fetish is actually a good thing - and could have borne fruit if it wasn’t for the utter incompetence and lack of resolve of the Bush administration on Middle East democracy promotion. Unlike nearly everyone else in the administration, she actually seems to genuinely believe all the overwrought democracy talk. Or maybe I'm just a sucker for soaring, Wilsonian rhetoric.

February 12, 2007


When is a threat deferred a threat deterred?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

There is debate underway among proliferation experts about whether a country like Iran, assuming it gained nuclear capabilities, would be subject to the traditional logic of deterrence credited with helping avert a nuclear catastrophe over the last 50 years among the existing "club" of nuclear states.

The same question underlay the debate over whether to go to war with Iraq:  if those who were convinced that Saddam had (or was close to having) nukes were also confident that he'd never use them for fear of annihilation, the rationale for war - even assuming his nuclear program had been real and not imaginary - would have been much weaker.

This reminds me of a remark by Madeleine Albright shortly after leaving office as Secretary of State.  She was asked about Iraq and, to paraphrase, said:  "we were handed the problem by our predecessors and . . .  we've now handed it back to them."  It was a witty line, but at the time Bush's rhetoric about the folly of standing back while threats gathered still seemed plausible.   

In retrospect, though, the Clinton Administration's policy of containing the threat and preventing it from getting worse looks a whole lot better than the alternative of confrontation turned out to be.   With the perils of preemption exposed, it seems worth asking whether there are circumstances when deferring a threat - preventing it from ripening and stopping it from getting worse, but not confronting or eliminating it - may be an acceptable outcome.   

Continue reading "When is a threat deferred a threat deterred?" »

We are not Exceptional
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Just in case you were worried, there is now irrefutable evidence that a noxious mixture of stupidity and arrogance destroying the sanity of a current head of state is not a geographically-bounded phenomenon. Oops, never mind, I'm a day late.

Why Michael Gerson is Responsible for a Nuclear Iran headed by a Deranged Millenarian President
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, I realize it's a bit dubious to indulge in the wonderful art of counter-factual hypothesizing, but...Anyway, the point is that it's very unlikely we'd have the kind of nuclear standoff we're now having with Iran if it wasn't for Michael Gerson (and by extension Condi and President Bush's) stupidity in inserting Iran into the inane axis-of-evil speech. Via Matt Yglesias, we learn that:

[Gerson] says Iran and North Korea were inserted into Bush's controversial State of the Union address in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. At the time, Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn't ready to say so. Gerson says it was Condoleezza Rice, then national-security adviser, who told him which two countries to include along with Iraq.

What a surprise there - the Bush administration puts politics over our national security, in the process setting a chain of events that would put us (and the rest of the world) at risk of nuclear confrontation. Well, there you have it, Michael Gerson's an idiot. I would say that stupidity should now be declared an impeachable offense, if it wasn't for the fact that Gerson is actually quite intelligent (not to mention a pretty damn good speechwriter when he pretends to be sane). Condi is, as far as I can tell, brilliant - with the caveat that brilliance can be a rather dangerous asset in the wrong hands.

In any case, the "axis-of-evil" speech came just a week after Iran had committed nearly $500 milliont to reconstruction in Afghanistan. Apparently, this is how we reward good behavior. The Bush administration, as is its wont, empowered the very people we don't like - hardline Iranian clerics for whom the speech was a godsend. Not so good, of course, for Iran's reformists:

Once again, Iran's reformists were knocked back on their heels. "Those who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized," says Adeli. "The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America's intentions." 

Perhaps its worth recalling Arthur Schlesinger, Jr's criticism (made nearly six decades ago) of approaching "foreign policy as a means of expressing sentiments...not of influencing events." The thing is that the Bush administration is great at influencing events. It just so happens that it influences events in favor of our enemies.

February 11, 2007

Middle East

Why so secretive?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The LAT reports that

U.S. defense and intelligence officials today rolled out what they said was solid evidence that Iran was providing bombs to target U.S. and Iraqi troops and accused Iran's supreme leader of orchestrating the smuggling of such devices over the Iran-Iraq border. At a briefing held under unusually secretive conditions here, the U.S. officials, who refused to be identified by name and did not allow cameras or recording devices inside a conference room, offered up tables laden with hardware and a slide show of documentation that they said bolstered the U.S. contentions of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest.

Why the secrecy?

Continue reading "Why so secretive?" »

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