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December 31, 2008

Bush & the Middle East: Taking Stock of the Last 8 Years
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I've written a retrospective on the Bush administration's somewhat complicated legacy in the Middle East. I try to take stock, and if I had to use one word to describe the accumulated meaning of the last 8 years, I think I would opt for tragic. As I say in the piece, "something, here, was lost." I know many think that the verdict against Bush is so damning as to, in a sense, defy understanding or explanation. Bush was bad. Period. But, it is not so simple. Yes, Bush ended up messing up the Middle East, but it is easy to forget how less obvious and clear the answer to the question was as recently as three years ago.

When I say "something was lost," the implication is that something, at some point, could have been gained. For something to have been lost, something must have gone wrong. There was a progression, or, actually, a regression. How this came to be is, in my view, a genuinely sad story and one worth reflecting on. Bush will likely stand as the worst president for the Middle East in recent memory, perhaps ever. I think the reason for this has to do with expectations. The last 8 years were not simply a disappointment. They were something much, much worse: a betrayal.

You can read the article here.

December 29, 2008

Iraq as Regional Power/ The Weakness of Dictatorships
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Marc Lynch writes about the rather ambitious foreign policy initiatives of the Iraqi government.

[Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh] made some news in his public remarks:  in addition to calling for U.S. dialogue with Iran and pleading for American consultation with Iraqis over the pace and scope of troop withdrawals (see Spencer Ackerman for more), he announced (as far as I know, for the first time) an Iraqi proposal for an EU-style regional economic partnership building off of the existing Iraq and its Neighbors Group (grouping Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and -- possibly -- the other GCC states).  He said that he had already spoken informally to Kuwait, Syria and Turkey about the idea, and -- as several audience members pointed out -- it's hard to imagine that the Iraqi government would propose something that hadn't already circulated through Tehran. 

Wow, that's pretty impressive, considering that Iraq was in the midst of a near-civil war and crippling sectarian violence only two years ago. It's impressive that the Iraqi government can devote significant attention and resources to such initiatives even as it it continues to be plagued by overwhelming domestic instability.

What we are seeing is the emergence of Iraq as regional power, similar to how Turkey (to a larger degree, of course) has risen in regional influence. How did this come to be? Compare Iraq to Egypt which is relatively "stable" and a staunch U.S. ally. It is the most populous country in the Arab world with a proud civilizational history. Yet, when was the last time you heard the Egyptian regime making bold regional moves? This hits at a point I made in a recent post about how democracies have stronger, more effective, and more predictable foreign policies than dictatorships. (It is also not an accident that both Iraq and Turkey are led by democratically-elected Islamist parties).

The Egyptian government is illegitimate, in the sense that it does not have the consent or support of its own people. Iraq, for all its faults, is not a dictatorship. Well, then, you might say: what about China or Russia? They are certainly dictatorships but are not nearly as illegitimate as their Arab counterparts. After all, Egypt is not only a dictatorship, but it is one that is, or is at least perceived to be, externally-imposed. Russia and China, on the other hand, are what one might call indigenous dictatorships - they are products of the collective choices and decisions of Russians and Chinese. Not surprisingly, both countries' governments are relatively popular. When Russia and China make foreign policy decisions, they make them with strength and confidence.

All other things equal, dictatorships have less effective, consistent foreign policies than democracies. All other things equal, dictatorships supported by strong external powers have less effective, consistent foreign policies than dictatorships that are in some sense indigenous. Sadly, what this means is that our Arab allies present the worst of both possible worlds.

December 28, 2008

What Was Huntington Actually Advocating?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

In preparation for a bloggingheads debate with Eli Lake tomorrow, I've activated my inner poli sci geek and been rereading the late Samuel Huntington.  You may think you know what he had to say about the clash of civilizations, and to a great extent, you do.  But just imagine if the folks who had their hands on the levers of power the last eight years had taken this peroration from the original Foreign Affairs article to heart (emphasis mine):

Non-Western civilization will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology, skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic religious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests. It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations, each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others.**

**Edit- via the Boston Globe obit, I learn that he was a speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson.  No wonder I have a soft spot for him.

Continue reading "What Was Huntington Actually Advocating?" »

December 27, 2008

Parallel Universe
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A message from a parallel universe

Glass Half Full in Pakistan
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I'm not entirely sure who Riaz Haq is, but this recent blog post provides a much more optimistic outlook on Pakistan's future than nearly anything else I've seen as of late. He cites a set of figures and superlatives from the Tech Lahore blog:

  1. Pakistan is the most connected country in South Asia, with the highest teledensity
  2. Pakistan’s communications costs are lower than any other country in the region
  3. Pakistan has the world’s largest biometric database (NADRA); this system (not the data)  is now being provided to allied countries
  4. Pakistan has the world’s largest WiMAX network
  5. Pakistan has one of the world’s most aggressive Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) rollouts
  6. Pakistan has one of the highest rates of cellular connectivity growth in the world (According to PTA 2007’s report the rate of growth in Pakistan’s mobile sector is fourth highest in the world)
  7. Pakistan was the winner of the 2007 GSM industry association award
  8. The US is importing UAVs designed and built in Pakistan to protect America’s borders

That's a teaser (read the full list here). These indicators strike me as somewhat selective. Fine, Pakistan is, in some sense, technologically advanced. None of Tech Lahore's indicators, though, discuss what I would call underlying structural factors. In other words, these are primarily dependent rather than independent variables, meaning that it is unlikely that the feedback loops are going to run from technology to politics or culture, whereas politics will obviously be an engine of reform in non-political sectors. Put differently, are these technological advances accidents which have happened in spite of or independent of government policies and political structure, or are they a result of government policies/political structure? If the latter, this would tell us something more meaningful about Pakistan's prospects.

UPDATE: Tech Lahore responds:

The youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in the world being a Pakistan can, perhaps, be an “accident”, as you put it. Having a fibre network spread across a country the size of Pakistan can not. Having the largest WiMAX network in the world can not. etc. etc.

I won’t get into a detailed analysis of all the 15 points mentioned in my original blog post, or even a re-cap of why Pakistan might be one of the world’s best locations for an IT company, but let me take a crack at one item from that list of 15.

Why is it that Pakistan has the world’s largest WiMAX network? Was this truly an accident or can this be seen in a larger political/developmental context? And, what does a WiMAX network really even mean for a country like Pakistan?

Read the rest of his post here. You'll learn more about WiMAX networks than you ever imagined.

UPDATE II: I'm lifting Riaz Haq's response from the comments section:

Without going into the specific accomplishments in Pakistan during Musharraf-Aziz regime, I believe it can be safely said that the communications revolution (accompanied by dramatic growth in vociferous electronic and new media) as well as a significant enlargement of the middle class in Pakistan helped sow the seeds of the end of arbitrary actions by President Musharraf. In other words, Musharraf pulled a Gorbachev ( a la perestroika that unleashed uncontrolled energies) by enabling powerful resistance to arbitrary rule. Some of these changes are durable and I hope will make our rulers more accountable. There will still be abuse of power but the sunlight will shine brightly on it to the detriment of the abusers. Eventually there will be real participatory democracy with appropriate checks and balance imposed by a much larger and more powerful and aware middle class essential for true democratic governance in Pakistan.


December 22, 2008

How Big An Army Does America Need?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Several weeks ago, the New York Times offered a maddening editorial calling for a 90,000 troop expansion of the armed forces - truly an idea in search of a strategic rationale. (Why again does America need a 750,000 soldier army?)

But on Sunday the Times really went overboard with an editorial calling for this expansion of the military to be paid for with cuts to the Navy and Air Force.

The United States enjoys total dominance of the world’s seas and skies and will for many years to come. The Army and the Marines have proved too small for the demands of simultaneous ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the forces most likely to be called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to rescue failing states. Reducing the Navy by one carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings would save about $5 billion a year.

There is much here to chew on. First, the U.S Navy and Air Force represent this nation's most significant asymmetrical advantages; we have absolute control over the global commons (namely the air and the sea). Diminishing America's advantage in these two areas is quite simply a bad idea. But, taking funds from the Navy and the Air Force and using it to expand the ground force. That is a terrible, head-shakingly bad idea.

It is our large ground force that provides the most limited military advantage for the United States - and if anything, when deployed, can serve as a real liability to U.S. strategic interests. It is far more difficult and extraordinarily expensive to mobilize our ground forces (not to mention, quite difficult to get them out), they quickly become fair game for insurgents and guerrilla attacks (as we've seen in Iraq) and is a blunt instrument when scalpels are generally more effective in confronting the transnational and non-state challenges of the 21st century. Indeed our Navy and in particular our Air Force are often far better for dealing with these threats.

Think for a second about the last three wars the U.S. has fought. The Iraq War, a manpower-heavy, counter-insurgency focused conflict, has been a quagmire. Not only is our Army ill-equipped for long-term deployments so too is the country as a whole. But then look at Kosovo, Afghanistan, even the first Gulf War. In each of these conflicts, the Air Force took the lead, with far more positive results.  While I realize that each of these wars are unique and not necessarily comparable, if there is a lesson of the post-Cold War era, it is that air power and to a lesser extent naval power represents America's greatest strategic advantage. Now, why the New York Times would think that building up our ground force at the expense of a cheaper and generally more effective investment in the Navy and Air Force is difficult to comprehend.

What's even harder to understand is the Times' argument that the U.S army is going to be "called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to rescue failing states."

Again, while other methods would seem more appropriate in dealing with both of these threats does the New York Times really believe that the country is ready for another massive deployment of U.S. troops? It's nearly impossible to imagine such an event occurring in the near-term. Unless the U.S is prepared to once again send 250,000 troops into harm's way then there is little necessity for building a ground force of 750,000 troops. How much additional security will America receive from 90,000 additional troops and at a cost of $110 billion over 6 years? Very little.

And the notion that our army is most likely to be called on for rescuing failing states or even waging war against terrorist groups strikes me as foolish strategic thinking. If the past five years has taught us any one thing it is that there are many better tools in the arsenal to deal with both of these challenges. If anything our army should be the least likely option to be called on -- or at the very least should be the option of last resort.

Free Trade and the Middle East
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As part of PPI's series of memos to the President Edward Gesser writes about the need for new Middle East trade agreements (PDF).

Why should this be a priority, when you have so much else to do? Because our nation’s relationship with the Muslim Middle East is our gravest challenge. That’s right—even with a financial crisis threatening our economy, it is our troubled interaction with the greater Middle East (defined, for these purposes, as the band of nations running from Morocco to Pakistan) that truly represents the most serious threat to our national security and well-being. 

And so far, none of our efforts to stabilize or pacify this region have worked. We have tried aid programs, military action, sanctions, and diplomacy. Each of these approaches has failed to arrest the region’s deterioration.

There is another alternative, one that offers greater promise than anything we have yet attempted. It is trade policy—supported by aid, diplomacy, intelligence, and military capability—that offers the best hope for truly constructive change in the greater Middle East.

This just seems sort of odd to me.  I'm all for free trade.  But really?  This is the transformative policy that is going to eliminate the problems of the Middle East?  I don't buy it. 

First, if we're going to really do something about America's problems in the Middle East (As defined by Gesser going all the way to Pakistan) you might want to deal with our 148,000 troops in Iraq, the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict that this administration ignored for six years, the mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  These are problems of basic security. All the free trade in the world isn't going to do much good in places like Iraq, Gaza, or Afghanistan if you don't get some security first.  It's not fully clear if trade  stop wars.  But wars do stop trade.

Second, there are a whole other set of states where free trade won't do all that much because of structure and governance.  The gulf states are primarily rentier states, whose economies have been so warped by oil that the private sector is really non-existent or dysfunctional.  Other states like Syria and Libya have regimes that are so incredibly repressive and economically illiberal that free trade wouldn't stand much of a chance. 

So like I said.  I'm not against the idea of free trade in the Middle East.  It just feels like Gesser is really exaggerating the possible impact.  I'd probably put it pretty far down on the list of priorities. 

Latin America Thought of the Day
Posted by Moira Whelan

I've been mulling this over for a few weeks and just want to throw it out there...

As of late, I've heard a number of folks in circles more prone to nail-biting than my own express concern about Russia building relationships in Latin America, and others expressing concern about growing Iranian presence in Latin America.

But basically, I think this ignores the problem of the lack of presence of the United States in Latin America, no? I mean, they told us not to come to a major conference. To me, this is probably one of the greatest examples of the United States's diminishing role around the world as a result of the failed policies of the Bush Administration.

I'm not diminishing the importance of these developments, but I am saying that the Russian and Iranian presence may be ripe for neocon overreaction, while the fact that the Bush Administration messed things up so much that no countries want us around and would rather hang out with Chavez and Castro may be given short shrift.

Telling
Posted by Moira Whelan

Throughout the campaign we wondered if terrorism would be the one thing that could wipe the economy out of the headlines. Well, it seems the economy has actually trumped the FBI's prioritization of terrorism...

Is the Bush Record on Democracy Promotion All Bad ?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Below, Ilan makes a pretty pungent attack against the Bush Administration's approach to democracy promotion - and for the most part I think he is correct. The Bushies did a lot wrong on democracy promotion not the least of which was their conflation of the use of force to "democratization" and not matching their rhetoric with action. (Although it should be fairly noted that they are not the first Administration to engage in such behavior).

But having said that I don't think it's a completely empty glass here. There were some initiatives launched during the Bush years, that are worthy of praise. For example, the Millennium Challenge program is, to my mind, one of the most progressive democracy promotion initiatives put forward by any president since the creation of the NED in 1983. (Even though MCC is not nominally a democracy promotion program). It wisely connects development to promotion of good governance and civil society and it deserves more not less support from Congress and the new Administration.

In fact, the MCC criteria, namely of conditioning development assistance on good governance and democratic reform should be the model for all U.S. development assistance. In general, the Bush Administration did a good job of identifying civil society promotion as a key element of our democratization agenda (the Middle East Partnership Initiative MEPI is a good example) and it's a model that needs to be followed through on.

So while I am more than sympathetic with the critique of the Bush Administration's Freedom Agenda it would incredibly unwise to throw the baby out with the bath water. Simply because MCC or MEPI were created during the Bush years doesn't mean they don't have relevance going forward.

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