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May 17, 2008

"Appeasement" Ammo for our side
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

That would be the side of those who care about America and our reputation in the world...not to mention our ability to lead.  So the President makes the entire Knesset's jaw drop to the floor with his unbecoming statements about Democrats and terrorism.  Meanwhile, we here in the USA are no longer surprised at how the Neo-cons and this administration substitute politics for policy.  I've actually convinced myself that they don't know the difference. That way I won't be so disappointed when there is absolutely no remorse or reflection when these same people are lecturing us via pundit jobs in the legacy media next year.

Time to read up on the history of this ill-used accusation.  Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930's by Jeffrey Record was published by the Army War College in 2005...

Record examines the nature of appeasement, the factors underlying Anglo-French policies toward Hitler from 1933 to 1939, and the reasons for the failure of those policies. He finds that Anglo-French security choices were neither simple nor obvious, that hindsight has distorted judgments on those choices, that Hitler remains without equal as a state threat, and that invocations of the Munich analogy should always be closely examined.

The Strategic Studies Institute at the War College notes their hope that this monograph will contribute to the national security debate over the use of force to advance the objectives of U.S. foreign policy.

You can read the whole thing here.  Neo-cons be warned: Facts will be present.

In Israel, Bush Punts
Posted by Moran Banai

While I agree with my colleagues on this site that President Bush’s appeasement comments were both ridiculous and inappropriate, they were only one aspect of what was wrong with his speech. Bush was in Israel, for the second time in his presidency and also the second time this year, at the halfway point between the launching of the Annapolis process and the end of his term, speaking to the Knesset and, in effect, to the whole region, and all he had to say about the peace process, about the Palestinians and about the U.S. role was that in 60 years, “[t]he Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserved -- a democratic state that is governed by law, and respects human rights, and rejects terror.” It was left to Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to mention that the visit “provided another important opportunity for us to discuss the advancement of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

I think Bush’s silence on this issue speaks volumes about his efforts on the peace process. After seven years of malignant neglect the administration was able to bring 49 countries together at Annapolis to support the beginning of a bilateral negotiating process between the Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of reaching an agreement by the end of 2008. President Bush elicited an agreement from the two sides that they would tackle “all core issues, without exception” in their negotiations and that the “United States will monitor and judge the fulfillment of the commitments of both sides of the Roadmap.” These were serious breakthroughs.

A major problem according to those who have worked on this issue (see here and here) has been the implementation, or really, the lack of thereof. Just one example: General William Fraser, assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was assigned the role of monitor of implementation of the road map (one of four envoys, along with General Jim Jones, General Keith Dayton and the Quartet’s special envoy, former British PM Tony Blair). Not only was it hard to comprehend how he could accomplish this as a part-time envoy with no real staff on the ground, but now he’s been nominated as the new commander of United States Transportation Command, a job that seriously calls into question his ability to continue as monitor.  Without a monitor on the ground day in and day out there is no one to ensure that progress is made on the very difficult issues that generate distrust between the two sides- settlement building, movement and access and Palestinian security reform - and make a final agreement all the more unlikely.

Yesterday’s speech provided an opportunity for Bush to stand up and say “Israel has achieved a lot in 60 years and as we look forward, I want to help it achieve greater security through peace with the Palestinians. We’ve got nine months left, we’ve got a process going, it’s floundering and we need to do some heavy lifting to make sure that whether a final agreement in 2008 is possible or not, we will have created the mechanisms necessary to ensure that this moves forward, rather than backward. I will use all the powers of my office and of the United States to do this and this is exactly how.” But that, of course, is not what we heard.

This type of silence sends the message to the parties involved and to the region that the process is not that important, that it is only an afterthought. And that makes his speech not just a missed opportunity, but a net negative. 

Introducing Moran Banai
Posted by The Editors

We have a new guest blogger coming on this week.

Moran Banai is the US editor of the Middle East Bulletin. She worked as a researcher for the National Security Network on issues including transnational terrorism and U.S. economic competitiveness and was the Editor-in-Chief of Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs from 2005 to 2006. Moran has a background in education on the Arab-Israeli conflict from her time working as the National Director of Hashomer Hatzair and as the Director of Programs and Academic Affairs at Meretz USA for Israeli Civil Rights and Peace. She has a Master in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and graduated magna cum laude from Brown University.

Good for Nothing
Posted by Michael Cohen

I've said it once and I'll say it again, what is the point of electing a Texas oil man to the nation's highest office if he can't lean on the Saudis to increase oil production:

The White House said Friday that Saudi Arabia's leaders are making clear they see no reason to increase oil production until customers demand it.

President Bush was in the oil-rich country to appeal to King Abdullah for greater production to help halt rising gas prices in the United States.

But his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said Saudi officials stuck to their position that they already are meeting demand.

We know that George Bush can't competently conduct a war, helm a successful relief operation to a natural disaster or speak in complete and coherent sentences, but is it really too much to ask that he can get us some relief from the Saudis. Sheesh!

Because It Feels Good
Posted by David Shorr

We have an obligation to call it what is: political hedonism. How else can we explain slamming a position that no serious political figure stakes or even entertains? So much chest thumping and sound and fury can only be for the indulgent pleasure of it. Moral clarity is so self-satisfying, but it doesn't actually help solve anything. And in this case, it runs headlong into a couple of lessons that we supposedly learned from recent years' experience.

First, if you take the president's position, we'll opt out of the hearts and minds battle. According to President Bush, the only question is the willingness of the terrorists to commit unspeakable acts. Any struggle for the high ground and public sympathy only distracts us from their evil. Or, as Vice President Cheney put it, "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it." And how exactly do we do that? I guess they dismiss Mao Zedong's idea that insurgents are like fish who need the sea of a friendly public in which to swim. This gives me another opportunity to plug the excellent Winning the Right War by Brookings' Philip Gordon, which argues that we will win the war precisely by discrediting terrorists, exposing their grisly hollowness, and draining their public sympathy.

I also thought we had learned that you don't actually get potential nuclear proliferators to relent by simply making demands and waiting for them to capitulate. Because they don't, actually. Do we remember what happened with North Korea? While we were calling them evil, they were building nuclear weapons. So how's about we stop fulminating for our own gratification and start working on the world's problems; there are plenty of them to work on.

Brooks interviews Obama
Posted by Shawn Brimley

So I started reading David Brooks' column on the whole appeasement thing this morning and I almost had an aneurysm before Brooks had the good sense to give the presumptive (can we say this yet?) Democratic nominee a call. Some choice excerpts:

"The debate we're going to be having with John McCain is how do we understand the blend of military action to diplomatic action that we are going to undertake," he said. "I constantly reject this notion that any hint of strategies involving diplomacy are somehow soft or indicate surrender or means that you are not going to crack down on terrorism. Those are the terms of debate that have led to blunder after blunder."

Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does: "The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough."

I asked him if negotiating with a theocratic/ideological power like Iran is different from negotiating with a nation that's primarily pursuing material interests. He acknowledged that "If your opponents are looking for your destruction it's hard to sit across the table from them," but, he continued: "There are rarely purely ideological movements out there. We can encourage actors to think in practical and not ideological terms. We can strengthen those elements that are making practical calculations."

Obama doesn't broadcast moral disgust when talking about terror groups, but he said that in some ways he'd be tougher than the Bush administration. He said he would do more to arm the Lebanese military and would be tougher on North Korea. "This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans," he concluded. "It's an argument between ideology and foreign policy realism. I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don't have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don't have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall."

I wonder if Democrats might try to flip the fear question on its head and ask why our opponents are afraid to talk to our enemies. What are they really afraid of? And really, can someone please press McCain/Bush on how they square their comments with what Rice, Gates, Petraeus, and Crocker are actually doing? Can someone please ask Colin Powell or James Baker what they think? This is a good fight for Democrats – bring it on!

Dear Mr. President
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Sir, I thought you should be aware that your conflation of diplomacy with appeasement continues to undermine America's position in the world. The definitions of both words follow:

Diplomacy: The art or practice of conducting international relations, as in negotiating alliances, treaties, and agreements.

Appeasement: The policy of granting concessions to potential enemies to maintain peace.

The exercise of diplomacy is not a concession, and does not constitute appeasement.

Respectfully, Shawn.

McCain's Hamas Flip-Flop
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today in the Washington Post, Jamie Rubin has a bit of a blockbuster - apparently John McCain wasn't always Hamas's greatest nightmare. In an interview two years ago   conducted with the UK's Sky News he had this to say about Hamas after their victory in parliamentary elections:

Rubin: "Do you think that American diplomats should be operating the way they have in the past, working with the Palestinian government if Hamas is now in charge?"

McCain: "They're the government; sooner or later we are going to have to deal with them, one way or another, and I understand why this administration and previous administrations had such antipathy towards Hamas because of their dedication to violence and the things that they not only espouse but practice, so . . . but it's a new reality in the Middle East. I think the lesson is people want security and a decent life and decent future, that they want democracy. Fatah was not giving them that.

What's most amazing about this comment is that McCain actually goes further than Barack Obama in advocating diplomatic talks with Hamas. Obama has said he is against talking to the terrorist group and his greatest crime, according to McCain and others, is that he was "endorsed" by Hamas leadership. But here we have McCain taking a pro-active position that advocates reaching out to Hamas leadership. For the most part I think McCain is correct here but I'd really like to know how he squares this comment with his argument that a) he would be Hamas's "worst nightmare" and b) "I never expect for the leader of Hamas... to say that he wants me as president of the United States."

Based on these words I would imagine that Hamas might prefer John McCain.

May 15, 2008

A Note About Appeasement
Posted by Michael Cohen

So today in Israel our increasingly loathsome President felt the need to invoke the death of 6 million Jews in attacking the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. "Stay Classy" Mr. President.

He used that favorite "A" word of the neo-conservatives, appeasement, and intimated that Barack Obama's desire to speak to the Iranian government was akin to the appeasement of Nazi Germany by Neville Chamberlain.

Many people have made the argument that it's despicable for the President to attack another politician on foreign soil or that he is lying about Barack Obama's foreign policy record or that his own Secretary of Defense wants to talk to Iranian leaders . . . I could go on.

All of this is correct, but something else deserves mention: Neville Chamberlain didn't appease Hitler because he talked to him - he appeased him because he gave him half of Czechoslovakia. Or as George Costanza famously declared about Chamberlain: "You could hold his head in the toilet [and] he'd still give you half of Europe."

Ordinarily this wouldn't matter much, but something tells me we should get used to listening to conservative commentators making the Obama-Chamberlain appeasement argument, including this moron who got eviscerated on Chris Matthews tonight. (check out the link, its a train wreck not to be missed).

If people want to quibble with Obama's pledge to meet with foreign leaders. Fine. But let's get one thing straight: it's not appeasement.

Former CFR President Les Gelb Says McCain Speech in "La La Land"
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Today, the National Security Network held a conference call responding to John McCain's claim that we will achieve victory in Iraq by 2013. Our experts also questioned other aspects of John McCain's misguided foreign policy approach. Below are a few quotes from the call, and a link to the full audio can be found here:

I think John McCain has been one of the most important voices on national security policy for many years now, so it really surprises me to see him giving speeches like the one today that are almost in "lala" land. These unsupported generalizations and predictions that he would have scoffed at as the old John McCain.  Lets just take a couple of examples, one is what he says about the future Iraq. He says most of the troops will be gone in four years, at that time there will be relative security in the country and that it will be a democracy. But we have no idea how that is to come about. It certainly isn't coming about by the present polices of the Bush administration and the speech gives every indication he'll continue those policies and so it's kind of a wild eyed, unsupported prediction.
-Les Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations

I don't think McCain has an understanding of what a counterinsurgency is all about...To project that there will be substantially reduced violence in Iraq and that Iraq will be a functioning democracy sounds almost like a campaign promise. For the troops that means a indefinite extension of the substantial deployments in a country where they are seen as occupiers...I am very disappointed Sen. McCain would make these kind of projections, which are fantasies, without giving any hint of how he plans to achieve them.
-General Robert G. Gard (RET)

When it comes to Iraq I think he's lost his perspective right from the beginning. If you go back and look at his statements back in 2003, before the war, and predictions all throughout 2003 that it was going well and would end shortly and then each year he seemed to be telling us it would end very very quickly...But now what he is saying it will end in four years. Even if that were to be true, he's not shown us how you could get there, that will have meant the United States be there for 10 years.
Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund

There he goes again…
Posted by Shawn Brimley

In addition to the derailment of McCain's Straight Talk Express (cho-cho!), President Bush has equated diplomacy with appeasement… again.

President Bush used a speech to the Israeli Parliament on Thursday to denounce those who would negotiate with "terrorists and radicals" — a remark that was widely interpreted as a rebuke to Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential contender, who has argued that the United States should talk directly with countries like Iran and Syria.

Mr. Bush did not mention Mr. Obama by name, and the White House said his remarks were not aimed at the senator, though they created a political firestorm in Washington nonetheless.

In a lengthy speech intended to promote the strong alliance between the United States and Israel, the president invoked the emotionally volatile imagery of World War II to make the case that talking to extremists was no different than appeasing Hitler and the Nazis.

"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," Mr. Bush said. "We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."

So if those recommending that we actually use diplomacy as a tool of statecraft are to be labeled as appeasers, I guess that means that Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Armitage qualify as well. Is that really what you meant Mr. President? Right…

UPDATE: And another thing, are we therefore to label General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker as appeasers for talking to Iranian officials over the last few months?

And what are we to make of our multi-year effort via our heroic diplomat Chris Hill to negotiate with North Korea? 

And what are we to make of Secretary of Defense Gates' speech TODAY, in which he said of Iran:

"We need to figure out a way to develop some leverage . . . and then sit down and talk with them," Gates said. "If there is going to be a discussion, then they need something, too. We can't go to a discussion and be completely the demander, with them not feeling that they need anything from us."

In the meantime, Gates told a meeting of the Academy of American Diplomacy, a group of retired diplomats, "my personal view would be we ought to look for ways outside of government to open up the channels and get more of a flow of people back and forth." Noting that "a fair number" of Iranians regularly visit the United States, he said, "We ought to increase the flow the other way . . . of Americans" visiting Iran.

"I think that may be the one opening that creates some space," Gates said.

Give me a break! 

Straight-Talk Derailed
Posted by Patrick Barry

For years, John McCain has been touting his 'straight-talk express,' a place where he can candidly discuss the issues with the American people, a place free of the sound-bytes, exaggerations, and empty promises that typify life on the campaign trail.  For years, this thrill-ride of openness has excused every foible, every embellishment, every distortion that the Senator has made, all because Mr. Straight-Shooter says he wants nothing more than to have an honest discussion with regular folks. 

This train has kept-a-rollin’ even as the Senator from Arizona has dropped bomb after illogical, ill-founded bomb. He claimed on Hardball that there wasn’t a history of violent clashes between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq. Even as reality caught up with him, McCain declared on Face the Nation that troops could be there for as long as 10,000 years so they weren’t on the “front lines.” Turning a country riven by bloody, sectarian conflict into a troop-filled, but violence-free utopia would be a pretty astounding feat, but no one ever bothered to ask McCain how he intended to achieve it. Bob Schieffer barely followed-up.

Today, however, the straight-talk express finally careened off the tracks. Sanguine, rosy-eyed, pollyannaish, none of these words come close to describing the piece of delusional farce that passed as McCain’s vision for the world’s foreign policy. Iraq democratic, Bin Laden defeated, Afghanistan stabilizing.  He literally promised everything except a pony for each toddler. What he didn’t do was explain how he would it all happen.  He never once elaborated on what he would do to bring this dream to fruition.  Instead he stood contentedly at the podium, more than willing to prize sound-byte over substance, more than happy to make empty promises, believing that Americans would give him one more pass. 

Economist in 2002: John McCain "Laid the Groundwork" for George Bush's Post 9-11 Foreign Policy
Posted by Max Bergmann

In a shocking article from the Economist in March 2002, John McCain is described as having George Bush's foreign policy before George Bush had it. The article, by the Economist's Lexington columnist, is titled "George Bush: McCainiac - How the president has almost become the man he trounced in the primaries," confirms the progressive argument that John McCain's foreign policy is no different then George Bush's.

The article, written more six years ago, and meant as praise at the time, says "
It is almost as if the Arizona senator had won the election," saying that "Despite his defeat, he [MCCAIN] laid much of the groundwork for Mr Bush's post-September presidency." The article concludes that the great irony is that "Mr Bush has proved a better spokesman for McCainiac ideas than Mr McCain could ever have been."

The quotes are even better in context, below are snippets from the article and a great picture as well (you can read the whole thing here).

IF THE battle in 2000 to choose the Republican Party's presidential candidate now seems a world away, it is not just because September 11th changed the world. It is also because George Bush trounced John McCain so thoroughly that he seemed to bury everything the Arizona senator stood for.

Back then, the two men appeared to have nothing in common...

But the biggest differences were in foreign policy. The Arizona senator campaigned for a policy of “rogue-state rollback”— by which he meant preventing disruptive small-country dictators getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction, if necessary by arming the local opposition. Mr McCain was the only candidate on either side to promote this theme, and hardly anyone took him seriously. Mr Bush, in contrast, talked about managing great-power relationships and repairing the damage done to America's ties with China, Russia and Europe after, as he saw it, eight years of Clintonian inconsistency. Mr McCain spoke stirringly or scarily, according to how you see these things, about “national greatness”. Mr Bush called soothingly for greater humility in projecting American power abroad...

Yet, if you look at the ideas that currently animate Mr Bush's presidency, they are about as McCainiac as you can get without having spent five years as a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war... In his state-of-the-union speech in January, Mr Bush... delivered his famous warning on the “axis of evil”, rhetorically reformulating Mr McCain's “rogue-state rollback”.

Suddenly, “national greatness conservatism”—Mr McCain's amour fou—has become the passion of the White House too. Confronting threats from small dictatorships, not managing relations with big powers, has become the focus of the presidency. Mr Bush has defined his presidency in terms of success in the war against rogue states and terrorists. To make the comparison complete, Mr Bush has been telling anyone who will listen that he has been reading Edmund Morris's new book on Teddy Roosevelt, one of Mr McCain's often-quoted heroes.

It is almost as if the Arizona senator had won the election. How on earth did this happen? But he still does not see the broader horizon the way that Mr McCain sees it... Abroad, it meant changing corrupt regimes which threaten the West, and encouraging the spread of democracy.

...Whether by prescience or luck, he [MCCAIN] was the first to reach out for the policies that fit the new world wrought by September 11th. Despite his defeat, he laid much of the groundwork for Mr Bush's post-September presidency. But the credit to Mr Bush is probably greater. He has proved quicker to adapt his views than anyone expected, switching seamlessly from great-power maintenance to rooting out terrorists and showing his independence from the Republican establishment by pinching ideas from his rival.

This transformation contains an irony and a question. The irony is that, because the president dominates his party in a way the maverick Mr McCain could never have done, Mr Bush has proved a better spokesman for McCainiac ideas than Mr McCain could ever have been...

Saying it Does Not Make it So
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So John McCain is outlining his vision for America this morning.

John McCain, looking through a crystal ball to 2013 and the end of a prospective first term, sees "spasmodic" but reduced violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden dead or captured and government spending curbed by his ready veto pen.

But saying it does not make it so.  This is the same man who said that we would be "welcomed as liberators." The same man who said the war would be "fairly easy."  The same man who said "There's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias."  The same man who one year before Iraq was hitting it's worst level of violence of the war said:  "a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course." 

These are serious and complex problem and they require serious solutions.  But instead McCain has taken a page out of George Bush's playbook - naively declaring a mission accomplished moment without actually promising any way forward.

Here are some of McCain's greatest hits.

“And I believe that the success will be fairly easy” and “There's no doubt in my mind that... we will be welcomed as liberators.”  [CNN, Larry King Live, 9/24/02. MSNBC, Hardball, 3/24/03]

“I think we could go in with much smaller numbers than we had to do in the past... I don't believe it's going to be nearly the size and scope that it was in 1991.”  [Face the Nation, 9/15/02]

“There's not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias. So I think they can probably get along.” [MSNBC Hardball, 4/23/03]

McCain was asked, “at what point will America be able to say the war was won?” He responded, “’s clear that the end is, is, is very much in sight.” [ABC, “Good Morning America,” 4/9/03]

Exactly one year before violence in Iraq peaked:  “Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course.”  [The Hill, 12/8/05]

May 14, 2008

Opium-Induced Zen
Posted by Adam Blickstein

When Andrew Sullivan links to Mother Jones linking to one of our reports, you know the karmic alignment in the universe is reaching a celestial apogee.

McCain and Energy
Posted by Patrick Barry

John McCain delivered a speech on energy yesterday that was billed by various papers as a shift away from Bush Administration policies. Two things struck me about the speech. The first is that McCain made the fairly obvious point that energy and national security are linked. The second is that he called for the U.S. to work closely with other countries to form a global consensus on a new energy direction.  This rhetoric certainly sounds nice but if you look beyond that, to where McCain’s views on energy overlap with his foreign policy positions, I think there is a pretty wide gulf between this supposed new direction, and what his intemperate foreign policy will allow.

McCain has saved his most incendiary foreign policy language for three of the world’s most prominent energy exporters: Russia, Iran and Venezuela. Not only has he intimated that he might “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran, but he has called the Venezuelan leadership “wackos,” and threatened to kick Russia out of the G-8. It isn’t clear from this bluster whether McCain recognizes that Europe draws half of its natural gas and 30 percent of its oil, or that Iran is not only the world’s 4th largest producer of oil, but also controls a natural gas supply that is used to stimulate oil production in the larger Middle East. What is clear is that McCain intends to continue or even ramp up the confrontational approach that has defined the Bush Administration.

While frustration with these countries is justified, brash declarations are unhelpful to the more important pursuit of energy solutions. Of course a key aim of any energy security policy will be to reduce the geopolitical influence of problem-states. No one is saying otherwise. But if the U.S.wants to assemble as broad a coalition as possible to tackle the enormous challenge of finding sustainable sources of energy, it will have to ensure that potential spoilers aren’t constantly tearing at the seams of a hypothetical arrangement. Russia, Iran, and Venezuela - by virtue of their stranglehold on current energy supplies - retain the ability to throw a wrench into the system, and a responsible energy security plan should acknowledge that.

The point is not that we should let Putin, Ahmadinejad or Chavez set the boundaries of U.S. energy policy, but that building a mandate for a new direction on energy must deal with the fact that gatekeepers of the current system can still be disruptive.  A sound energy policy would result in the marginalization of resource-rich autocratic regimes.  Escalating tensions through bad foreign policy before an energy consensus has even formed risks putting the cart before the horse in a really bad way. 


May 13, 2008

The Burden Of Proof On Iraq
Posted by David Shorr

I was on a conference call the other day focusing on Steven Simon's recent article on Iraq, and I was struck by two things. One, the arguments for withdrawing from Iraq are a slam dunk. Second, we seem to lose sight of how rock-solid our case actually is.

Simon is especially persuasive regarding the unavoidable trade-offs between a top-down approach to Iraq focused on bolstering the central government and a bottom-up approach, which is what the surge has been. In other words, you're not really building a unified Iraq if you go around paying off a lot of different local tribal leaders.

In the conference call discussion, there was a feeling that we advocates of withdrawal bear a burden of proof. We talked about how to present the strategic cost-benefit analysis. Certainly there is plenty of evidence to show massive cost and little if any benefit. But the point is that it's not even close. Our own Adam Blickstein nailed it the other day; there's nothing to show that a continued occuption will get us any closer to resolving the situation than it has in the last five years, a point that Steven Simon's analysis reinforces. As Adam says, the approach of doubling down with an open-ended presence is an emperor with no clothes.

Another key point from Simon is how much friends-of-Iraq coalition building is needed to bring more (and better coordinated) international pressure to bear. I agree that an outside-in strategy offers the best (only) hope. Wait, isn't that what Baker, Hamilton, et al were telling us 18 months ago!!?#%!?

Our President
Posted by Michael Cohen

I really have nothing to add to this. I am devoid of snark:

US President George W. Bush said in an interview out Tuesday that he quit playing golf in 2003 out of respect for the families of US soldiers killed in the conflict in Iraq, now in its sixth year.

"I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal," he said in an interview for Yahoo! News and Politico magazine.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf," he said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them."

The US president traced his decision to the August 19, 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, which killed the world body's top official in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

"I remember when de Mello, who was at the UN, got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. And I was playing golf -- I think I was in central Texas -- and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it's just not worth it anymore to do," said Bush.

Bush's last round of golf as president dates back to October 13, 2003, according to meticulous records kept by CBS news.

On the day of the bombing two months earlier, he had cut short his golf game at the 12th hole and returned to his ranch in tiny Crawford, Texas.

Is Beirut Belfast or Baghdad?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I attended a fascinating discussion this morning at the New America Foundation on the current crisis in Lebanon.  The speakers included Rami Khouri and Nir Rosen who were both on the phone from Beirut.  There is no clear consensus on what is going on and what exactly it all means, but here is the basic gist of what I was able to take away.

For more than six months Lebanon has been stuck in political gridlock, unable to elect a new President.  The clash is between the western back government (Primarily the “March 14 Coalition” which came together in the Cedar Revolution of  2005) and the political opposition led by Hezbollah.  Hezbollah has boycotted Parliament and by doing so has stopped the election of a new President.  The struggle is about the political leverage and veto power that Hezbollah will have in the new government.  Last week the Lebanese Government ordered Hezbollah to shut down its independent phone networks across Lebanon, which led to violence in the street and Hezbollah essentially seizing Beirut. 

A few observations from today’s event:

  1. Nobody seems to know why the government decided to take the provocative step of demanding that Hezbollah’s phone networks be shut down.  Although, it appears likely that the government simply miscalculated and did not expect this type of reaction.
  2. Hezbollah had been planning this operation for a while.  It was too well executed to have been spontaneous.  The phone networks issue was simply the provocation.
  3. Hezbollah’s target was not the Lebanese army, but instead militias that were being cultivated by a number of Hezbollah’s pro-Western opponents.  In fact the army stood down, allowed Hezbollah to essentially eliminate its opponents (most of whom simply fled in the face of conflict) and then disappeared allowing the Lebanese Army to reassert control.
  4. This was most likely a limited power play by Hezbollah to gain leverage and signal to its opponents that it has the capability to take Beirut in half a day, if it so chooses.  But because of the contained level of violence and the absence of more drastic steps such as ethnic cleansing or the assassination of key political figures, it doesn’t appear to be a wholesale attempt to take over the country.

There were three scenarios that most of the experts believed were likely to result from the events of the past week:

  1. The Lebanese see the potential abyss of all out civil war, and decide that it is not something they wish to repeat.  They all reevaluate their positions and rather then continuing in the current stalemate there is an accommodation over the next two or three months, which results in a new government.  This would have to be a government that is acceptable to Hezbollah as well as its Iranian sponsors and to the March 14 movement as well as its Western supporters, most notably the United States.  So, in that respect there are some interesting analogies to the type of settlement that will be necessary in Iraq if there is ever to be a stable government.
  2. The increased tensions lead to a Samarra mosque type event in Lebanon, which results in the outbreak of all out civil war.
  3. Nothing dramatically changes.  The political stalemate continues.  All the groups continue to muddle along with periodic sectarian strife and Hezbollah holding significantly more leverage then it did a week ago.

Needless to say, the likely scenario, as is always the case, is the status quo.

For more see Abu Muqawama who has been covering Lebanon all week.

May 12, 2008

Blaming the UN for the World's Failure
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Fred Hiatt averts his gaze for a few moments from the rousing success of Iraq to pass judgment on the United Nation's "failure" in Burma:

At a summit celebrating the organization's 60th birthday, 171 nations agreed that they would intervene, forcefully if necessary, if a state failed to protect its own people . . . 

Since then the United Nations has averted its gaze as Sudan's government continues to ravage the people of Darfur. It has turned away as Zimbabwe's rulers terrorize their own people. Now it is bowing to Burma's sovereignty as that nation's junta allows more than a million victims of Cyclone Nargis to face starvation, dehydration, cholera and other miseries rather than allow outsiders to offer aid on the scale that's needed.

Let's be clear as possible on this point: The United Nations does not send troops or use diplomatic suasion in Sudan, Burma or Zimbabwe unless its member states approve such action - and over the past year or so it is the organization's member states that have dropped the ball.

The best example of this came in Darfur when last December Secretary General Bar Ki Moon asked for member states to contribute helicopters to the flailing peacekeeping mission there - it was a request met with resounding silence. Attacking the UN for the failure of its member states is a red herring argument.

And as David Schorr suggests below the notion of intervening in Burma is far-fetched indeed. The right to protect is an important concept and one that I hope receives greater currency in the years to come, but in response to a humanitarian disaster such as the Burma cyclone it is the worst possible test case. The notion that the international community would be able to quickly mobilize a military effort to intervene in Burma is simply not realistic and even in the face of Burmese intransigence would likely do more harm than good.

As Bruce Wallace cogently points out in the Los Angeles Times, an effort along the lines that Hiatt is suggesting is simply fanciful:

Several European Union and U.N. officials have dismissed the idea, saying confrontational tactics encourage the generals to dig their heels in deeper. Others say the idea is flawed for practical reasons.

"Dropping pallets of aid from the sky without teams on the ground is one of the most dangerous things you can do," said an international aid official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy. "It's like dropping cars from the sky. We just have to find a way to convince the generals to cooperate."

As difficult as it may be, diplomacy must win out over the use of military force. And while the right to protect is an important concept casting it aside because the UN could not respond to a natural disaster such as this one is both foolish and short-sighted.

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