Democracy Arsenal

« February 24, 2008 - March 1, 2008 | Main | March 9, 2008 - March 15, 2008 »

March 07, 2008

Failed States
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the Washington Post, Susan Rice and Stewart Patrick have an important op-ed about the growing ranks of the world's failed states.

According to their "Index of State Weakness in the Developing World," nearly 60 countries -- more than a quarter of all UN members -- are unable to meet the basic requirements of statehood. This is truly a shocking number and it lays bare just how dependent many nations are on outside assistance to simply survive.

This is an important contribution to our research on failed states, however, where Rice and Patrick fall a bit short is in how they suggest dealing with these challenges.

Virtually all of their recommendation deal with the specifics of US foreign assistance, but none are focused on what may be the most important element of helping failed states out of their current malaise - the utilization of non-state actors, such as NGOs, philanthropic and aid organizations, development consultants and even corporations. Without the assistance and benevolence of these groups, many of these countries would collapse into anarchy or simply cease to exist.

Strengthening these groups, working more closely with them and ensuring they are properly accountable should our focus when it comes to dealing with failed states. I, for one, simply don't think it's realistic to assume that the US government can or will be able to put a serious dent in this enormous challenge.

While I applaud Rice and Patrick's efforts I fear that they are looking at the challenge of not only failed states, but the future of American foreign policy through the usual prism of state-to-state relations when the more important question going forward is will we recognize the limitations of American power and begin to more closely incorporate non-state actors into the conduction and implementation of American foreign policy.

Khaled Hamza and the Search for Moderates
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I wrote about Khaled Hamza, the Muslim Brotherhood member who was recently arrested, last week. Steven Brooke, co-author of a great Foreign Affairs article on the Brotherhood last year,  writes about his own experiences with Hamza and comes to similar conclusions about what his arrest represents. This anecdote from Brooke is really interesting, and is worth pondering for a minute or two:

Khaled told me that as a teenager he had a giant American flag hanging on the wall of his room. Coming from a region where American flags are as likely to be burned as hung in a bedroom, this was surprising to say the least. On another occasion he was quick to condemn Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef for ridiculing President Bush, arguing that "I understand his anger at the man, but he is the President. You have to give him some respect."

Brooke then makes an excellent, if worrying, point about what's at stake for Egypt (and, by extension, us):

Though [the moderate Brotherhood trend that Hamza represents] is probably not the strongest, it is certainly in the interests of the United States to see it grow. Arresting and holding Khaled—and the others like him—is intended to send the message to Muslim Brothers that their efforts to engage with the West are doomed. As one savvy Egyptian observer has written, this increasing repression of important moderates is not only radicalizing the group, but Egyptian society as a whole. We should keep this in mind as we ponder the point of this latest arrest.

March 06, 2008

One Very Bad Guy
Posted by David Shorr

Some very good news, for a change. The Times has just reported the arrest of notorious international arms dealer Victor Bout in Thailand. His activities in supplying some of the world's most vicious conflicts are well know -- as shown in these profiles in the Times Magazine and Foreign Policy. We often forget what a deadly global problem small arms represent. Here is a journal article by Rachel Stohl of Center for Defense Information, a leading analyst on the issue. And here is the web site of the Internatioanl Action Network on Small Arms, the leading global advocacy group.

March 05, 2008

Microtargeting and Ethnic Pandering
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A sometimes overlooked but integral intermingling of foreign policy and domestic politics is how political campaigns and politicians deal with narrow, sometimes single-issue ethnic groups and members of specific diasporas now living in America. Florida's Cuban population and Los Angeles' Armenian community immediately come to mind, and both have directly affected U.S. policy and individual political posturing. Every campaign micro-targets to different populations and ethnic groups (Moira's post on Kosovo/a's Independence again brings this aspect up). The topic deserves more scrutiny and analysis, and this week, it once again reared its head on the campaign trail.

Hillary Clinton put out a statement Monday marking the anniversary of the Katyn Massacre,  the 1940 Soviet execution of nearly 20,000 Polish prisoners of war. It has been parsed here and here as purely a product of political pandering ahead of Ohio's primary yesterday. For instance, Sam Stein over at Huffington Post said:

Perhaps it was a genuine sense of sorrow. Or perhaps it was because Ohio, which votes on Tuesday, happens to have two of the most Polish-populated cities in the country. Indeed, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are more than 31,000 Polish-Americans in Toledo and nearly 23,000 in Cleveland.

Stein acknowledges that "every politician panders" and goes on to quote the part of the release that mentions the Polish and Eastern European diaspora in America, calling it a "fairly transparent wink-and-nod." A wink and nod perhaps, but to whom? Remember, Clinton's home state of New York has a large Polish presence. In fact, the Buffalo region's strong Polish heritage and population of over 70,000 far exceeds that of Toledo and Cleveland combined. But the release was put out from the Clinton campaign and not through her Senate office, from the best of my knowledge, perhaps quieting the New York excuse. I'm sure it didn't hurt in Ohio, and can't be anything but beneficial in Pittsburgh, another city with strong Polish roots, a Polish population of nearly 30,000, and a crucial area the upcoming Pennsylvania primary. Stay tuned.

Great Series on Iraq at CAP
Posted by Shawn Brimley

The Center for American Progress will hold a series of events on Iraq in the coming weeks.  Looks like a great effort.

Series: The Impact of Five Years in Iraq

The Center for American Progress will host a series of events and produce several analyses in the coming weeks examining the course of the war in Iraq and proposing the next steps for U.S. policy in Iraq. The series will include speeches by prominent policymakers and panel discussions on important aspects of Iraq policy and its effects on U.S. national security. The Center will also release updated analyses examining the current policy in Iraq and providing an alternative direction.

In addition, each day between the fifth anniversary of the start of the military campaign in Iraq on March 19 to President Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on May 1, the Center's website will highlight a key piece of analysis examining the mistakes made by the Bush administration and its allies in waging the war of choice in Iraq—and the consequences of those mistakes on our overall national security. These analyses will be catalogued on the War in Iraq page of our website, providing a detailed source of information on our nation's costly march to war in the wrong place at the wrong time five years ago.

See below the fold for the event schedule.

Continue reading "Great Series on Iraq at CAP" »

Because Refusing to Talk Works So Well
Posted by David Shorr

Normally I wouldn't consider a column like Michael Gerson's worthy of attention, except that Marc Lynch has responded so effectively. Actually, I think the exchange highlights the essential problem with the policy of the last several years. Gerson's scenario treats other nations and leaders as objects of US foreign policy, just as recent policy has done. Lynch's response reminds us, of course, that these leaders are actually subjects with their own freedom of action and options to do things other than the response we seek. Gee you’d think we’d have learned in Iraq -- and Iran and North Korea, etc -- about other actors refusing to conform to our wishes.

Dept. of Historical Inaccuracies
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today over Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum has a post arguing that Democrats shouldn't worry too much about the drawn-out Democratic primary between Senators Clinton and Obama. Why you ask? Because we went through this in 1968:

"This was the mother of all ugly, party-destroying campaigns. No other primary campaign in recent memory from either party has come within a million light years of being as fratricidal and ruinous. But what happened? In the end, Humphrey lost the popular vote to Nixon by less than 1%.

This is a pretty good example of reading election results in a vacuum. Drum is right that Humphrey lost by 1%, but what's more instructive is to see what happened to the Democratic Party in a mere four years. In 1964, LBJ won more 61% of the popular vote. In 1968, Humphrey won 43%. An 18 point drop for a political party in four years - that's not only cataclysmic, it's pretty much unprecedented. Granted that wasn't all due to a fractious primary campaign (or even mainly due to it) but it sure as heck didn't help.

Now of course the reason for Humphrey's poor performance was due in large measure to the presence of George Wallace on the ballot, but don't be fooled by that either. A lot of wayward Democrats returned to the fold on Election Day and voted for Humphrey -- especially union members. My guess is that most of those Wallace supporters would have cast a ballot for Nixon on Election Day. Certainly most of them voted for him in 1972 and subsequent GOP candidates.

The Democratic Party got crushed in 1968, torn by racial divisions and a newly aggressive anti-war wing. The party has never truly recovered from that campaign. The divisions between its white working class base and the more liberal progressive wing (not to mention African Americans) did enormous and lasting damage. And just for the record, does this division sound a bit familiar today?

This is not to say that the current primary battle will be as bad. As Josh Patashnik suggests at the Plank: "it just defies belief that a party less ideologically divided that it's been at any time in the past 180 years is going to emerge as anything other than ready and eager for a spirited general-election campaign."

Maybe, but don't underestimate the damage wrought by a fractious primary campaign. Part of the challenge that Humphrey faced after winning the nomination was that he didn't have time to mend fences and reach out to the various wings of the Democratic Party angered by the primary battle. He was simply unable to define himself properly to the electorate, in part because he spent most of the general election campaign trying to pacify the left. This campaign is going to get nasty in the next few months (it already has). Does anyone really think that supporters for the losing campaign will not feel pretty alienated from the nominee? We're already seeing 20-30% of Democratic voters saying they'd be dissatisfied if the candidate they didn't support in the primaries is the nominee. That number has nowhere to go but up.

If Obama or Hilary duke it out until August, they won't have time to properly define their candidacies for the electorate (a process that John McCain and the GOP attack machine are already beginning). What's worse, they won't be able to begin the process of denting McCain's reformist, maverick image and will have squandered the enormous fundraising advantage they currently have over McCain.

In the end, if this race drags out to June or even the convention it could be worse then 1968. Then, Democrats deserved to lose; the historical winds were in their face. They were on the wrong side of the electorate. Today, everything is in the Democrats favor. History is on their side. And they're in the process of blowing it.

March 04, 2008

Trade Wars
Posted by David Shorr

I share Fareed Zakaria's concern about the potential international fallout of American protectionism:

For the rest of the world—particularly poorer countries—nice speeches about multilateralism are well and good. But what they really want is for the United States to continue its historic role in opening up the world economy. For a struggling farmer in Kenya, access to world markets is far more important than foreign aid or U.N. programs. If the candidates think they will charm the world while adopting protectionist policies, they are in for a surprise.

Actually, I made a similar point in response to Tom Friedman's argument that action on global warming would be the cure for what ails our international reputation. I don't want to underestimate the political temptation here, though. NAFTA seems to have lodged in the political consciousness as the symbol of economic insecurity. I fear we're in Framingland here, where public perceptions will follow the rule of 'if the facts don't fit the narrative frame, reject the facts.'

Don't get me wrong, I'm a good Calvinist and believe in resisting temptation. Zakaria is correct (and Matt seems to agree) that, temptation or no, the emphasis belongs on economic insecurity itself. We need to take a serious look at the social safety net to cushion the blow of dislocation. For one serious look, take a look at The Case for Wage Insurance by Robert LaLonde, published by CFR.

"We are at a higher risk state"
Posted by Max Bergmann

There has been a big push recently to demonstrate the costs of Iraq on our economy and on our national security. These arguments have focused on the diversion of about a trillion dollars to the Iraq war and the fact that Iraq has been a distraction from other more immediate national security concerns like Afghanistan. These are all good points, but surprisingly lost in this discussion is perhaps the most significant of Iraq: it is driving our military into the ground leaving us unable to respond to other crises. From the IHT:

The war in Iraq is depriving Keating and other commanders of their ability to respond to a military crisis, draining away thousands of personnel and critical equipment, as well as hamstringing their ability to conduct exercises and forge alliances with foreign nations that one day could prove instrumental, according to interviews with senior military leaders and specialists.

"The readiness of our forces is affected by combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," Keating said in an interview last week in his office, where photos of World War II's storied commanders like Admiral Chester Nimitz hang on the walls. "We are at a higher risk state."

All Eyes (Should Be) on Fallon
Posted by Moira Whelan

Fallon_2 Is anyone paying attention to General Fallon’s testimony on the hill today? They should be.

With all of the attention on Iraq, Fallon’s testimony has the potential to be some of the most important and influential going forward…but only if people pay attention and if the right questions are asked.

Fallon is Petraeus’s boss. In the past, he’s disagreed with President Bush and his approach to war, mainly because he knows Afghanistan is important and is in charge of watching how much is being sacrificed in the central front against the people who harmed us on 9-11. Fallon is the go-to guy for both situations, and for making sure there are enough troops, equipment and a sound strategy. NSN has the details on what he’s said in the past.

The last time Admiral Fallon testified before Congress, he was being confirmed. In other words, even though US troops have been mired in conflict in two places in Fallon’s region, Central Command, Congress only heard from him when they were deciding to give him the job. In the meantime, billions have been spent and US strategy in both places is in shambles.

In contrast, to great fanfare, Congress has heard from Petraeus—who reports to Fallon—and will hear from him again in April which will no doubt capture media attention. Yet, it’s only Fallon who can answer the real questions about strategy, how US troops are being employed to meet security concerns and what the overarching mission is. Congress knows this, and has asked repeatedly for him to testify. Funny, it only happens on the day the Democratic primary may be decided, and at the last minute.

Fallon’s leaked statements indicate that he’ll follow the party line--going so far as to saber rattle at Iran. But watch what he says (or doesn't say) on troop readiness, on the pause in the surge, and on our overall mission in Afghanistan. These could be the things that the Bush Administration and John McCain don’t want people to hear.

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post has another depressing story out of Iraq about the failure to prosecute Shi'a officials responsible for the ethnic cleansing of 2006. 

Two former high-ranking Shiite government officials charged with kidnapping and killing scores of Sunnis were ordered released Monday after prosecutors dropped the case. The abrupt move renewed concerns about the willingness of Iraq's leaders to act against sectarianism and cast doubts on U.S. efforts to build an independent judiciary...

Some of the stories about the trial regarding judge and witness intimidation and an overall kangaroo court atmosphere really don't inspire confidence.  Of course, to the U.S. Embassy this is somehow a sign of progress.

"The very fact that the charges were heard and investigated does show modest progress toward the rule of law," said Mirembe Nantongo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Talk about spin.  More broadly, this comment is in some ways emblematic of the entire operation in Iraq right now.  Things are marginally better than they were a year ago.  But it's really hard to see how what is going on in Iraq right now is "progress".

March 03, 2008

Mandatory Reading
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Nir Rosen in Rolling Stone, writing about the surge.  Nir gets the kind of access that other Western journalists just don't take in Iraq (By taking risks that other journalists don't take in Iraq), and it shows in his exceptional reporting.  I very very very strongly recommend this piece.

Guest Contributors
Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.

www Democracy Arsenal
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use