Democracy Arsenal

« March 9, 2008 - March 15, 2008 | Main | March 23, 2008 - March 29, 2008 »

March 22, 2008

Obama’s Race Speech and the Middle East
Posted by Shawn Brimley

A shout-out to fellow Democracy blogger Shadi for an excellent piece in today's Washington Post on Senator Obama's speech on race and what it could mean for the Middle East. Two of many great passages:

"We can call these people enemies and say they are lost to us. It would be easy, because these views are indeed reprehensible. Or we can articulate a new strategy, one which, without condoning violence, acknowledges their grievances and their very real sense of being wronged by history. We can seek to better understand why the Middle East has become a graveyard of shattered hopes and an open wound that threatens world security. And we can work to address the unacceptable fact that, while much of the rest of the world moves forward, many Arab and Muslim populations live in economic misery under brutal autocratic regimes -- many of which the U.S. supports with foreign aid."

"On Tuesday, watching his speech from Jordan, I felt for the first time in a while that we could begin coming to terms with the past and accounting for the injustices committed against those at home, and those abroad, who are waiting to see what America will do next."

Millions of Americans regardless of political affiliation were very impressed by the speech, and congrats to Shadi on explaining how and why what we say to each other here at home can help us abroad.

First U.K. National Security Strategy
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Our friends across the pond have published their first ever National Security Strategy, titled "Security in an Interdependent World." While one could easily criticize both the U.K. and American versions for being essentially public relations documents, I believe they are useful as a way to gauge how a government sees itself contributing to the protection of their people.

The U.K. NSS lists a series of "Guiding Principles:"

  1. Our approach to national security is clearly grounded in a set of core values;
  2. We will be hard-headed about the risks, our aims, and our capabilities;
  3. Whenever possible, we will tackle security challenges early;
  4. Overseas, we will favor a multilateral approach;
  5. At home, we will favor a partnership approach;
  6. Inside government, we will develop a more integrated approach;
  7. We will retain strong, balanced and flexible capabilities; and
  8. We will continue to invest, learn and improve to strengthen our security.

Overall, nothing truly earth-shattering, but an interesting and useful effort.

You can read it here, and a news account from the Guardian here.

March 21, 2008

Awakening to More Trouble
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I haven't written much lately about the dangerously deteriorating situation of Sahwa movement.  But here is just another case and point in how unsteady the situation remains.

The success of the US "surge" strategy in Iraq may be under threat as Sunni militia employed by the US to fight al-Qaida are warning of a national strike because they are not being paid regularly.

Leading members of the 80,000-strong Sahwa, or awakening, councils have said they will stop fighting unless payment of their $10 a day (£5) wage is resumed. The fighters are accusing the US military of using them to clear al-Qaida militants from dangerous areas and then abandoning them.

A telephone survey by GuardianFilms for Channel 4 News reveals that out of 49 Sahwa councils four with more than 1,400 men have already quit, 38 are threatening to go on strike and two already have...

But dozens of phone calls to Sahwa leaders reveal bitterness and anger. "We know the Americans are using us to do their dirty work and kill off the resistance for them and then we get nothing for it," said Abu Abdul-Aziz, the head of the council in Abu Ghraib, where 500 men have already quit.

"The Americans got what they wanted. We purged al-Qaida for them and now people are saying why should we have any more deaths for the Americans. They have given us nothing."

In Dora, a southern suburb of Baghdad, the leaders of a Sahwa group of 2,400 men said they were considering strike action because none of the 2,000 applicants they had put forward for jobs with the police and military had been accepted.

The Shia-dominated government of Nouri al-Maliki has found jobs for only a handful of the Sahwa fighters.

You gotta pay them.  You gotta bring them in or this is going to fall apart very quickly. 

March 20, 2008

In Retrospect
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There have been a lot of retrospectives this week on the five year anniversary of the War. Many deal with why so many people supported the war in the first place.  But I think the one justification that doesn't make any sense is the "I thought there were weapons of mass destruction" defense. 

Let's say there were WMD in Iraq.  Would Iraq be any better off today?  The answer is obviously no.  It would actually be worse.  Potentially much worse.  It would still be a failed warlord state with multiple unstable ceasefires sort of partially temporarily holding things together.  We would have still had the horrible sectarian violence of 2006 and early 2007, the still intolerable levels of violence today, and the displacement of 4 million Iraqis.   The only difference is that there would also be biological, chemical or nuclear weapons likely on the loose as well. 

Something to think about before we decide to attack Iran. 

Bush's James Bond Scenario
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Farah Stockman at the Boston Globe wrote a great article yesterday in the Boston Globe about the President's attempt to tie "victory" in Iraq to the economy.  (It's not just excellent because she interviewed me).  So in the all news yesterday about Iraq she pointed out that this particular line from President Bush's speech just didn't get enough attention.

Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened -- with new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America. An emboldened al Qaeda with access to Iraq's oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations.

Seriously, this is some outlandish stuff.  First of all, the idea that Al Qaeda would ever come to control all of Iraq is absurd.  Even in the worst worst case scenarios all you'd have is an Al Qaeda safe haven in the Sunni part of the country.  Not AQI control.  Just an AQI safehaven, which is very different.  And even that seems far fetched since most of the Sunni powerbrokers have turned against AQI already.

On top of that all the oil is in the Kurdish North and Shi'a South.  Do you think that Shi'a and the Kurds would just invite Al Qaeda in to take their oil?  Not to mention the difficulty of actually getting oil out of the ground and transporting it.  Iraq has massive reserves but there's a difference between having reserves and actually having the resources and capital to get them out of the ground, and it's very difficult to do that in a country as dangerous and chaotic as Iraq.  That is why Iraq's oil production still has not exceeded prewar levels.

In fact, don't take my word for it.  Ask Neo-Conservative Michael Rubin who was interviewed for the same article and said "the idea of Al Qaeda taking over the oil is stretch."

I think they've been airing too many Tom Clancy political thrillers at the White House.  It seems to have gone to the President's head.

March 19, 2008

Iraq Conference Call Creates Contentious Clash
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Today, the National Security Network hosted a press conference call with Ilan Goldenberg, Jon Soltz of, and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. They were addressing recent comments made by Bush, McCain and Cheney on the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War.

Our speakers laid out the reasons that John McCain's policies and approaches sound a lot like the continuation of the Bush policies of conflating Iraq with the terrorists who attacked us on 9-11. They addressed that fact that repeated mistakes on serious policy issues (like whether or not a country is aiding terrorists) is not what we need in a commander-in-chief.

When the call turned to Q&A, it got pretty contentious with a clash between the experts and the media over the true nature of McCain's Sunni/Shia conflation.

Listen to the audio for yourself, especially towards the end where things turn into an intense battle over the true intentions and ramifications of McCain's Iraq statements...

Iraq 5 Year Anniversary Conference Call

UPDATE: One of the reporters on the call, The Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, blogs about the call here, describing what most intelligence experts would characterize as black and white as "The Gray Area" of Iran-al Qaeda Connections."  Money-quote (which is so rich it could finance a fleet of wagons for the Right's growing circle):

I was struck by their insistence that Iran wouldn't collaborate
with Sunni extremists, and that they had offered as evidence the
fact that Iran had, at one point, almost gone to war with the Taliban.

100 Years for What?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, I'm piling on but I can't help myself.  I want to second comments made by Max and Michael (As well as Spencer and Matt Duss). 

Here's the thing about McCain's mistake (and let's be clear it was a mistake he repeated it three times in one day.  It's a mistake and a lack of understanding).  This is a man who has staked his ENTIRE CAMPAIGN ON IRAQ.

This is a man who thinks it's OK for us to leave a troop presence in Iraq for 100 years.  He thinks that Iraq is the central struggle of our day.  He thinks that all of our other interests should be subverted to sticking it out in Iraq.  He is running on his foreign policy experience.  Yet he doesn't even understand who we are fighting.  Is this the person we want answering the phone at 3 in the morning?  This fundamental misunderstanding makes you wonder if he is qualified to be commander and chief.  It's quite frankly stunning.

Getting Inside McCain's Head
Posted by Michael Cohen

Thanks to Max for flagging John McCain's frankly stunning comments about Sunnis and Shia, but it's worth looking at exactly what he said:

Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and