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February 23, 2007


More lighter side
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From my friend Jack Balkin at Balkinization:

My solution to the Iraq War-- partial privatization of national security!

Frankly, I'm tired of debates about whether the Democrats should pass statutes bringing the troops home, limiting redeployments, or placing conditions in future appropriations bills.

I think the best solution to the Iraq war is to take a page from the signature domestic policy initiative of President Bush's second term.

I propose that each President be given a personal National Security Investment Savings Account modeled on the proposed Social Security Investment Savings Accounts. Under this partial privatization of National Security, each Commander-in-Chief would be given a specific amount of money taken from the national budget that he could invest in stocks, bonds, or other financial investments. He can then use the proceeds to fund any military actions or preemptive strikes he likes.
After all, it's his money.

Like most Americans, Commanders-in-Chief should be encouraged to save responsibly for their future military invasions and preemptive attacks.


Read the rest here.


On a lighter note
Posted by Rosa Brooks

From the Borowitz Report:

Bush: I’ll Bring Troops Home on JetBlue

No Exact Timetable, President Says

Under increased pressure to announce an exit strategy from Iraq, President George W. Bush revealed plans today to bring U.S. troops home on the budget airlines JetBlue.

Mr. Bush received praise for his decision to withdraw American troops, but his choice of JetBlue to transport them raised more than a few eyebrows.

According to most official estimates, with its recent spate of scheduling problems and flight delays, JetBlue could take up to seven years to bring U.S. troops home, and possibly ten years in the event of inclement weather.

The Limits of American Idealism
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Peter Beinart, unlike so many others, seems to have learned precisely the right lessons from supporting the wrong war. Where Peter started off as an avid, full-blown supporter of the war, he has found himself today in a very different place. His latest piece is a fascinating accounting of how we come to make the wrong decisions only with the best of intentions. My own situation is, in many ways, quite different but I suppose I, too, am on my way to coming to terms with Beinart's somewhat dispiriting but necessary realizations about power and idealism.

I was adamantly opposed to the war from the beginning. I didn't waver (at least not until much later). For me, there was no gray area. I really had trouble understanding how anyone who called themselves a “liberal” could lend their support to such a destructive project. However, my views became a bit more ambiguous by early 2005 when I saw the promise of what could have been and, what I believed then, was still possible. I was living in Jordan at the time. I remember seeing the pictures of Iraqis braving terrorist threats to cast their votes for the first time in their lives. For me, it was one of those rare moments which seemed to hold within it the hopes and dreams of a people. For me, it was a beautiful moment, moving, emotional. It was a formative experience. We lived in a different world then and readers of DA will know how much hope I had for the now-aborted "Arab spring." I remember telling one of my friends in Jordan then (and, trust me, I hated saying it): 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. Well, as the following two years would bear out, I was totally wrong. The opposite of what I “predicted” is now true: the Bush administration is the worst thing that has happened to the Middle East.

Peter says he was seduced by the notion that American could be what it had not yet become: a “revolutionary democratic power.” I began to believe this as well. This is, really, what I longed for, and, like so many others, we were seduced by the idealism of revolution. Beinart’s conclusion is sobering: “We can't be the country those Iraqis wanted us to be.” With that in mind, he goes on to make what I think is the fundamental distinction between liberal interventionists and neo-cons:

Being a liberal, as opposed to a neoconservative, means recognizing that the United State has no monopoly on insight or righteousness. Some Iraqis might have been desperate enough to trust the United States with unconstrained power. But we shouldn't have trusted ourselves.  

February 22, 2007

Obama as Personal Messiah
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A fun, half-serious (?) email discussion I had with a friend today. Topic? Obama as personal savior. 

...when it comes to presidential candidates, specific policy prescriptions concern me less than character, charisma, intelligence, and a willingness to say things that are unpopular but honest. To cite an example, there is almost nothing Barack Obama could say or do in the next two years (short of advocating that we roundup all young Arab Muslim males) that would make me NOT support him. B/c I trust him as a person. I trust his character.

Friend: Do you have a reason for wanting a candidate who is charismatic, intelligent, willing to say unpopular things, regardless of what those things are/what their policies are?  Do you think that makes them more electable?  Do you think that will make them a better president?  Do you think that will make them more likely to talk to moderate Islamist parties?  Or is it just a personal preference for charismatic presidents?

Me: i want to be inspired. i want to believe in something. i want to fight for something. i want a cause. i want a mission. i want love. i want something extraordinary. i am lost. i want to be found.

Friend: Sounds like you need a shrink, not a presidential candidate 

February 21, 2007


Who Says Non-Binding Resolutions Don't Matter?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Nope, this post isn't even about Iraq, except in the way that every darn thing in foreign affairs is now about Iraq.  A non-binding resolution requesting that the Italian Senate reiterate its support for the government's foreign policy (inspired by a repudiation of war and respect for the role of the EU, UN and international alliances) failed and brought down the tenuous post-Belusconi government. 

Why?  In a word, Afghanistan, and discontent on the left of the coalition with Italy keeping troops in the NATO mission there.

One of my European correspondents has been telling me for months that we Americans underestimate how unhappy our European allies are with the Afghanistan mission and its potential to create serious casualties.  Well, folks, the Prodi government is a serious casualty.  And coming on the same day as the British, Danish and Lithuanian announcements of troop withdrawals from southern Iraq...


The Cross-tabs don't lie
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via the Washington Post blog The Fix, a fascinating new poll on Iraq from a Republican firm, Moore Information.

The Fix post concentrates on the fall-away of "soft" Republicans, who now only muster a small plurality in support of the Administration's policy, and on the full third of those who disapprove who say that blame goes only or primarily to President Bush.  (Another 30% blame Bush and all members of Congress who voted for the war; 24% blame "Bush and the Republicans in Congress" and 8% blame "members of Congress who don't support the President's approach."  Oh, and 5% don't know whom to blame.

But I also see that "The concept of a partitioned Iraq meets with a plurality or majority opposition among all demographic subgroups of the voting population."  The overall figure is 47% oppose a partition, 25% support and 28% unsure.  I'd love to know how exactly they asked the question; I'm guessing there's something important here about how Americans view our role in the world -- that it's not our place to go breaking up nations, perhaps, a general discomfort with our "playing God" -- but that's just a guess.


Is This the War Boom at Last?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via Faiz Shakir at ThinkProgress, a story about Gulf states looking at the security situation around them and "re-arming for the first time in fifteen years."  Boy, there's progress for you.  US manufacturers, we're told, stand to take the lion's share of the contracts (which is either an interesting commentary on the reality of our ties with Gulf regimes, the amount of concessionary financing we're willing to provide, or the quality of our weaponry -- you decide). 

How ironic that this won't happen fast enough to benefit the Administration in the current political cycle.  If only these governments had known a couple years ago how bad things would get, they could've ordered ahead.  Some key contracts to plants in, say, Ohio really would've been useful last year.

On the other hand, I know anecdotally of at least one Midwest defense-related plant whose local union members passed an anti-war resolution -- against the advice of their national union -- back when the war began.


Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Thursday evening on HBO, via Mark Danner.  He says:

The film, in which I took part, is difficult to watch but it seems to me one of the better attempts to explore Abu Ghraib - how it happened and what it continues to mean.

Continue reading "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" »

February 20, 2007


GOP Uses Dems (old) National Security Playbook?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

For years, Democrats have paid careful attention to military benefits and welfare issues to try to blunt the accusation that we hated not just any particular conflict, but the troops themselves. I rubbed my ears several times this morning when my local radio station reported that Michigan REPUBLICANS have introduced a bill to triple the amount of time returning Guard and Reserve soliders can take with their families while still holding on to the right to return to their civilian jobs. Needless to say, the state GOP’s friends in the state Chamber of Commerce are quietly unhappy about this. A question: many public opinion experts have told Democrats that this strategy doesn’t work – that it doesn’t replace a public sense that your party can be a responsible steward of our national security. I’m sure this kind of provision will be a boon for families stretched to breaking by long, repeated deployments… but I don’t see any reason it’ll work better politically for Rs than for Ds.

Continue reading "GOP Uses Dems (old) National Security Playbook?" »


Al Qaeda, the Franchise
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Today's NYT has a piece on terrorism in North Africa. No, there's nothing new about the existence of terrorist groups in North Africa-- but what's new is that local terrorist groups are recasting themselves as al Qaeda franchises. 

Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (G.S.P.C.) used to stick to murder and mayhem at home, but now their ambitions are reportedly regional and even global: according to Henry Crumpton, US Ambassador at large for counterterrorism, “The G.S.P.C. has become a regional terrorist organization, recruiting and operating" throughout Northern Africa, even sending some recruits off to Iraq.

But here's what should keep you up at night: further evidence that al Qaeda's no longer an organization, but a brand. The Times reports that "Last year, on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda chose the G.S.P.C. as its representative in North Africa." As befits the proud owners of a new franchise, G.S.P.C. promptly engaged in a little rebranding: as of January, the G.S.P.C.'s new name is "Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb."



Judging the Surge
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

A fascinating thing to watch over the next few weeks and months will be the Congress, the media, the Administration, the military and the American public's evaluation of how the "surge" is going.  Last week there was some qualified good news about the initial American sweeps of Baghdad going more smoothly than expected.  The weekend brought more bombings and then yesterday's unprecedented attack on a US installation. 

The stakes in assessing the surge are high.  If it fails, its hard to imagine what new tack the Administration can take that won't amount to a tacit yet unmistakable admission of defeat. 

Progressives have, after 6 years of the Bush presidency, gotten used to being of two minds on the fate of Bush's policies:  on the one hand, they want the best for US interests (and especially for US troops), mandating that they hope against hope for the surge to succeed.  On the other hand, having been repeatedly and resoundingly vindicated in their critique of Bush's policy, they rightly judge that the sooner the facts on the ground make it clear to everyone that Bush's misadventures are just that, the sooner they will be forced to end. 

The media and the public have grown weary of years of being spun on the supposed invisible successes of the Iraq mission, and will treat claims of progress with skepticism.  With an additional 20,000 people in the field, the military may be torn between trying to keep morale up among soldiers whose tours are being extended, and not wanting to fuel the continued over-extension of US forces based on false hopes of potential victory.

One of two things will happen:  either the news out of Iraq will be so consistently and grindingly bad that the Administration's policy will fall apart.  Alternatively, there may be a battle of perceptions where some positive signs make it all but impossible to figure out the truth.

February 19, 2007

Paul Kennedy: The good old days of the Cold War - Los Angeles Times
Posted by Rosa Brooks

In the LAT, Paul Kennedy lambasts nostalgia for the good old days of the Cold War. Terrorism is a serious threat, but as Kennedy notes,

Those were really scary times, and much more dangerous than our present circumstance because the potential damage that could be inflicted during an East-West conflagration was far, far greater than anything that Al Qaeda can do to us now.


Torture: It's just so Trite
Posted by Rosa Brooks

If you haven't yet read Jane Mayer's piece in this week's New Yorker, you should. She describes the politics behind Fox's hit show "24," in which all-American hero Kieffer Sutherland successfully uses torture to stop impending terror attacks in virtually every episode. Surprise: the genius behind the show, Joel Surnow, is a big fan of Dick Cheney.

Mayer describes a confrontation between West Point Commandant Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan and some of the show's producers. Finnegan took the producers to task for glamorizing torture and making it hard for him to help cadets understand why America should respect the rule of law.

So now there's good news and bad news, as usual. The good news? The makers of 24 now say they plan to cut back on the torture scenes. The bad news? It's not because they care one jot what the military or the human rights community thinks. It's just that, well, all those torture scenes are "starting to feel a little trite," says executive producer Howard Gordon. "The idea of physical coercion or torture is no longer a novelty or surprise."

I'm not a big Michael Moore fan, but when I read things like this I do start to wonder,  "Dude, Where's My Country?"


Oh, Great
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The NYT reports: Al Qaeda Chiefs are Seen to Regain Power.

And they really appreciate the fact that we've been too busy in Iraq to bother them.

February 18, 2007


Iraq: A Progressive Plan B
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Congressional Democrats are enmeshed in a dilemma that became inevitable once they took over both chambers of Congress last November.  At the time, I made the point that Congressional authority over foreign policy is limited, and that by losing sight of this Democrats would risk assuming the blame for a disaster in Iraq that was not of their own making. 

The House has passed a non-binding resolution denouncing the surge.  In the Senate, Democrats fell just short of the 60 votes needed to bring that resolution to the floor.  The maneuvering won't stop there.   President Bush has shown no appetite for heeding the will of a weary and frustrated public that mostly wants out of Iraq.  Anti-war voters are understandably insistent that Congress go beyond hortatory measures and stop Bush from continuing to escalate.

Democrats face a genuinely tough challenge:  On the one hand, they won control of the Congress with a mandate to halt Bush's folly in Iraq and non-binding resolutions are, by definition, half-measures.  On the flip side, though, Democrats cannot afford to be accused of withholding support for the troops.  Moreover, restricting funds won't, in itself, put the war on a wiser course.  And it may give Bush the ability to argue that future failure in Iraq ought to be blamed on Congress not him.

According to this account, into this mix comes a crafty proposal by John Murtha.  Rather than holding back funds wholesale for the surge, he wants to attach requirements for high levels of readiness among additional troops to be deployed in Iraq, standards he believes the Administration cannot meet.  This will de facto slow the surge, while allowing Democrats to be on the side of protecting the troops from unfavorable battlefield conditions.

While this is clever, both political and policy considerations ought to temper enthusiasm.  First of all, the Politico website has already dubbed Murtha's proposal a "slow bleed" for the Iraq mission.  As long as the President refuses to moderate his ambitions, forcing him to pursue them on a strict diet of troops and resources may only starve existing troops in the field of much needed support and rest.  Leaving 130,000 troops exposed in Iraq as political support drains away in Washington is not an appealing prospect.  At the same time, though, the fact that the President will ignore repeated messages from the Congress and the public is anything but a reason to shut up.

Continue reading "Iraq: A Progressive Plan B" »

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