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August 08, 2008

Bob Costas: Very Serious Person
Posted by Moira Whelan

I'm watching the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics and have to say, Bob Costas is doing a pretty good job navigating the international politics of all of this. His comments on the heads of state, the WMD issue in Iran, Darfur, and all the rest. Perhaps he could cross from sports into political commentary. It has afterall, been done before...

Gates and Afghanistan's Army
Posted by Patrick Barry

I was going to blog about the Afghanistan story in today's New York Times, but then our intern Alexis came up with something 10X more interesting:

Yesterday Defense Secretary Robert gates expressed his support for a $20 billion plan to double the size of the Afghan National Army. Much as Afghanistan could use this influx of attention and resources, I’m not sure I completely understand the logic behind this particular policy, especially after looking at this report from the GAO detailing the current state of both the Afghan National Army and Police, finding that:

“…only 2 of 105 army units are assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission and efforts to develop the army continue to face challenges. First…it has experienced difficulties finding qualified candidates for leadership positions and retaining personnel. Second, while trainers or mentors are present in every ANA combat unit, shortfalls exist in the number deployed to the field. Finally, ANA combat units report significant shortages in about 40 percent of equipment items Defense defines as critical, including vehicles, weapons, and radios…”

So the Afghan National Army suffers from a lack of leadership, personnel shortages, equipment problems, and low readiness levels, and the U.S. is proposing to double its size? 

A more capable, expanded Afghan Army would certainly be welcome in Afghanistan given the country’s devolving security situation. However, before pouring $20 billion into the ANA, the U.S. must be careful to ensure that any expanded force would also be an effective one. 

Picking a Fight with Russia: Very Presidential
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Things seem to have gone very wrong in Georgia and South Ossetia.  It doesn't really look like anybody has a very clear idea of what is going on.  As a Presidential candidate you have two choices:

A.  Take a cautious approach and call for the cession of violence on all sides
B.  Pick a fight with the world's second largest nuclear power by blaming them without taking the time to figure out what is going on.

Obama chooses A.   

"I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict...Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war. Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected."

McCain chooses B.

Today news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces.

Seriously, nobody really knows what is going on there.  It could be that it is all Russia's fault, but the situation is likely much more complicated than that.  If we want to play a healthy and mediating role in stopping the violence, which is what McCain and Obama both claim to want to do, we should probably hold off on picking a fight.  Especially considering that we have other serious interests with the Russians who also happen to have a lot of nuclear weapons.  McCain promises broad cooperation with the Russians on nuclear proliferation.  How exactly does he plan to achieve that if he's going to come out so aggressively on this type of an issue without even thinking through the consequences of shooting first and asking questions second?

Update:  Also, Think Progress and Matt Duss point out that Randy Schueneman, McCain's foreign policy advisor, was for a long time a registered lobbyist for Georgia. 

August 07, 2008

What a waste
Posted by Ken Gude

Salim Hamdan was sentenced today to 5 1/2 years after being convicted in a military commission on charges of material support for terrorism. The military judge credited Hamdan with a little more than 5 years of his time already in custody towards that sentence, meaning he essentially got time served. I will reserve comment on the farce of a system that finds a defendant guilty of war crimes and then sentences him to time served--almost exactly the same thing that happened to the only other person to go before the commissions, David Hicks.

The biggest tragedy of this episode is that the Bush administration has forfeited one of our most powerful weapons in the fight against terrorists, our humanity, and actually even turned it on ourselves.

A shining example of this failure played out in a quite unexpected way at the very end of the sentencing hearing. William Glaberson of the New York Times reports on a remarkable exchange between Hamdan and the judge in his case, Navy Capt. Kieth J. Allred:       

“It was a sorry or sad thing to see innocent people killed,” he said as he leaned on the defense table and gestured gently at the military tribunal here. “I personally present my apologies to them if anything what I did have caused them pain.”

As he left the sparsely attended courtroom in the hilltop courtroom here, Mr. Hamdan, who at times has shown a mischievous sense of humor, raised his arms and said a good-natured “bye, bye” to the small group.

During pretrial proceedings, Mr. Hamdan, a father of two daughters in Yemen, and the judge, a career Navy lawyer, had regularly exchanged smiles and, on occasion, chats. Before he left the bench, Judge Allred, said a few parting words to the man he had gotten to know in a most unusual way.

“Mr. Hamdan,” Judge Allred said, “I hope the day comes that you are able to return to your wife and daughters and your country.”

“God willing,” Mr. Hamdan said in the rudimentary English he picked up while in American custody.

“Insh-allah,” said Judge Allred, repeating the same phrase in Arabic.

Remember, this is an exchange between a man who had just been found guilty of war crimes and the judge who had presided over the trial that reached that conclusion. Hamdan appears to be genuinely remorseful about the very small role he played in al Qaeda. Allred shows real compassion for a man obviously caught up in something well beyond anything he ever intended. They then exchange the blessings of God in each other's language.

This moment could have had real power. This moment is what America is. This is the America I know. If it had occurred 5 years ago in a US court it would have sent an incredibly powerful message to the world that we are strong and we are just, and yes, Osama bin Laden murdered 3,000 Americans but he utterly failed to destroy our great country and all that it stands for.

But instead, we are arguing about whether the Pentagon will detain Hamdan indefinitely after his sentence has been completed. What a waste.

Bush Administration Justice at Work
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, Salim Hamdan got five and a half years even though the government asked for thirty.  That's a slap in the face of the Bush Administration.  But wait...  It includes 5 years time served.  That's a MAJOR slap in the face of the Bush Administration.  But wait...  When he's done with his sentence he goes back into the general population at Guantanamo since he's still an enemy combatant.   That's just the Bush Administration.

Watching this trial and the result and the haphazard nature of this whole thing just leaves me queasy and sad.  We can do better.

Immoral AND Incompetent
Posted by Michael Cohen

For obvious reason everyone these days is focused on the presidential election, but lest we forget George Bush is still our President - and every once in a blue moon it's worth marveling at the utterly incompetent individuals who have been running our federal government for the past 7 1/2 years.

Example of the day: the Gitmo military tribunals and the trial of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Bin Laden's driver (apparently next up for prosecution is Osama's valet and then his cleaning woman).

As many DA readers are no doubt aware these proceedings were hardly what one would consider fair trials. Hearsay evidence is allowed, evidence gathered in coercive interrorgations can be used against a defendant, the trial is basically held in secret and as the New York Times describes in its editorial today the person convening the trials was also working pretty closely with the prosecution. That the trial is a stain on American jurisprudence and our natio's adherence to the rule of law is uncontested.

What is amazing however, is that even with all these advantages in their favor the Bush Administration was only able to get a guilty verdict on a lesser charge, and saw Hamdan found not guilty on the far more serious charge of conspiracy.

So even though the Bush Administration had the deck stacked completely in their favor, they still lost. It's like the Washington Generals beating the Globetrotters. Honestly how stupid are these people - how do you lose what is basically a sham prosecution and a show trial?

So there we have the epitath for the Bush Administration - "immoral AND incompetent."

Gold Medal Experts Discuss Our China Policy
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Ahead of tomorrow's Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Beijing, NSN held a press call this afternoon with Liz Economy, Director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and Michael Schiffer, head of the Stanley Foundation's Asia programs, discussing America's relationship with China -- what have they been like under the Bush administration and the challenges our next president will face. Audio of this interesting conversation can be found here.

What Surge?
Posted by Moira Whelan

This is a great video that demonstrates what life looks like behind the walls in Baghdad.

August 06, 2008

Listening to the Iraqis
Posted by Michael Cohen

I'm a bit late on this one, but I wanted to say a few words about Michael O'Hanlon, Stephen Biddle and Ken Pollack's latest piece in the NYT. This may come as a shock to DA readers, but they think we should stay in Iraq. Nothing about this is a surprise and if that was the crux of the piece I would hold my powder, but there is a notion in this article worth commenting on, because it seems to define the McCain approach to Iraq as well: none of these folks seem to be taking seriously what the Iraqis think about the US presence in their country.

As we all know, in recent weeks the Iraqi leadership has made clear that American troops must leave Iraq, preferably within the next two years. The most famous example of this phenomenon was of course Prime Minister Maliki's endorsement of Barack Obama's 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq; which came on the heels of the White House acknowledgment of a 'time horizon' for withdrawal.

However, the fact that the Iraqis seem adamant about our departure is lost on these authors.

If the Iraqi government tells us to leave, we should go. But this would be a bad deal for both Iraqis and Americans.

Ok, fine that's their opinion. But what about the fact that ending the US occupation seems to have broad-based appeal in Iraq? O'Hanlon, Biddle and Pollack are incredibly dismissive of this notion, claiming that it is just Maliki playing politics - a position also taken by John McCain:

Why, then, does Prime Minister Maliki want an earlier withdrawal of United States combat forces? Part of the answer may lie in simple overconfidence: as Americans may recall from the spring of 2003, victory can easily be declared too soon. Another factor, however, surely lies in Iraqi domestic politics. With elections looming, Mr. Maliki and other members of the current government hope to demonstrate that they brought about the end of the occupation and the return to normality during their term.

Mr. Maliki in particular has sought to position himself as the symbol of Iraqi sovereignty, and surely hopes to supplant his young rival Moktada al-Sadr, the standard-bearer for Iraqi nationalism. What better way to do this than to champion a timetable for an American withdrawal, especially when the security forces that would replace the Americans are under his command and his Shiite faction enjoys the preponderance of power in Iraq?

It would be tragic, however, to allow American haste and Iraqi political opportunism to undermine a real chance for long-term stability in Iraq.

What is striking is that the writers seems to have little interest in the fact that Iraqis are becoming more forceful in their demands for departure, blithely dismissing it as just political bluster. Look, I haven't been to Iraq recently and I know that the calls for US troops to be out in no more than 2 years is not just bluster. O'Hanlon, Biddle and Pollack may think it's politics, but what if Maliki demands a timetable for withdrawal? They've already held up the SOFA negotiations on this point; what makes O'Hanlon and Pollack believe the Iraqis aren't serious? Not surprisingly they offer no road map and no ideas if calls in Iraq for withdrawal escalate.

What is so striking about this piece is that it seems to be based on a political reality where Iraqis play no role whatsoever - where their views are of little importance. But as Ilan argued here earlier, the assertiveness of Maliki is a fundamental element of effective counter-insurgency strategy and cannot easily be taken back.

After coming out so strongly and publicly for a gradual American withdrawal, the Maliki government has made it all but impossible to walk back. If it were to now sign an agreement that did not include some specific target dates for withdrawal or that tried to preserve the permanent South Korea-like presence that John McCain has long advocated, it would be seen by its own people as a weak American puppet instead of the legitimate government that it must become.

And at a time when we are trying to transition Iraq toward a functioning democracy how can O'Hanlon and Pollack so blithely dismiss the pronouncements of Iraqi leaders?

Of course these views are not only held by these authors. John McCain seems to feel the same way. But one increasingly gets the sense that what American politicians say about Iraq holds a lot less currency than it once did. All in all that is a good thing: Iraqis should be making their own decisions about the future of the country.

But it would be nice if the same Americans who pushed so aggressively for us to go to war in Iraq and stay, in the name of democracy, would come to that realization as well.

Iraqi Parliament Adjourns Without Passing Election Law
Posted by Shawn Brimley

The Iraqi parliament failed to bring the draft election law to a vote today, almost surely dashing the much-anticipated prospect of provincial elections in 2008. This is very bad news, and threatens the fragile and reversible security gains seen in recent months. This from the New York Times:

The provincial council elections are seen by many, including the United States, as a crucial step toward reconciliation among Iraq's political factions. The negotiations are being closely watched in the United States, and President Bush has personally called Iraqi political leaders urging them to find a solution.

The announcement that Parliament was adjourning without an agreement — made by the speaker, Mahmoud Mashhadani — took many lawmakers by surprise and cast doubt on whether the elections would be held this year.

"We entered the hall because we had already made a deal to vote for that law and we were astonished that the session is finished," said Fouad Massoum, a Kurdish politician.

Mr. Mashhadni announced the formation of a committee that would continue working toward an agreement alongside representatives from the United Nations, which has been actively involved in trying to find a solution. He raised the possibility of an exceptional session of Parliament to meet sometime during the recess, which ends on September 9.

I just returned from a trip to Iraq, and while I will post more on that later, a nearly unanimous view among Iraqis I talked to was the paramount importance of proceeding with provincial elections. Particularly for the Sunni community, for whom the Iraq Islamic Party are considered largely "Green Zone" politicians with little actual basis of support among the population, provincial elections were seen as a critical step in bringing Sunnis into the government. Moreover, for many Sunnis, the so-called Awakening Councils along with the Sons of Iraq, helped bring the some semblance of security to their communities, and the elections were seen as an opportunity for them to transition from local political and security organizations into the mainstream of Iraqi political leadership. With these elections now in doubt, it is unclear how these groups will react to the IIP and the Maliki government.

Provincial elections were also seen as a critical vehicle to beginning absorbing some of the more mainstream Sadrist leaders into the government. Many Sadrists were planning on running in the elections and the prospect of being shut out for some time to come will not go over well. Likewise in the north, the elections were seen as a way to address both the status of Kirkuk and the festering Arab-Kurdish tensions in Mosul – parts of which are still very much a war zone.

The failure to hold provincial elections in 2008 or 2009 will threaten the fragile security gains we've seen in Iraq, which were accomplished with great cost and sacrifice. Sustainable security in Iraq is simply not possible without holding safe and fair provincial elections. Today's failure to pass an election law reinforces my view that our political strategy in Iraq is lagging far behind our security strategy.

NSN Daily Update: McCain’s Foreign Policy Bad for Gas Prices- 8/6/08
Posted by The National Security Network

The full NSN Daily Update can be found on our website.

Here are some Quick Hits:

The NY Times reports of sluggish progress with training the Iraqi army
, while the Washington Post reports that the training of Afghan police is advancing at a slow pace with disappointing results.

Iraq is utilizing only a fraction of its $79 billion budget surplus on reconstruction efforts, leaving the bulk of the burden on American taxpayers.

Iran’s response to an incentive package offered to it in exchange for suspending its uranium enrichment was unclear. It appears likely that the U.S. and its allies will likely now seek further sanctions in the UN Security Council.

The former Olympic speed-skater and Darfur activist Joey Cheek was denied entry into China ahead of the games’ opening ceremony. He was set to advocate for new Chinese policies towards the embattled African region.

A Syrian general believed to be in charge of weapons shipments to Hezbollah was assassinated.
The government of Syria has yet to issue an official statement regarding the killing.

The trial of Salim Hamdan enters its third day of deliberations after the possibility of a mistrial arose over the judge’s instructions to the jury.

President Bush will emphasize Chinese political intolerance and the development of democracy in Myanmar in a speech in Thailand.
The speech marks the 20th anniversary of an uprising defying the military junta.

President Bush’s trip to South Korea was met with large protests.

August 05, 2008

Breaking: Judge Refuses to Change Instructions: Hamdan Has Some POW-Like Status, At Least For Now??
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The lawyers can explain this one to me, but the judge in the Hamdan case has declined to change his ruling that evidence that Hamdan transported missiles to be used against US soldiers, as opposed to civilians or other protected persons, would not be sufficient for conviction.  This is the standard applied to POWs under the Law of War, and NOT the standard put forward by the Bush Administration for the "illegal enemy combatant" category it created and has used to justify creating a separate military tribunal system.

Also, it appears the jury is still deliberating.

Prediction:  the one thing this case proves, whatever the verdict, is that the Administration hasn't been able to create a level of common uderstanding, even within the military, about what they are doing and how they are doing it.  A lot of hard, honest and genuinely courageous work by individual military judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers has not prevented this from becoming a blot on the history of American jurisprudence.

Hamdan Judge Appears to Offer Accused Law of War Rights: Prosecution Asks Mistrial
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

It looks to me as if the prosecution in the Hamdan military tribunal has requested a mistrial because the judge's instructions to the jury on at least one of the charges went very far toward placing the accused back in the framework of the law of war -- undermining the Bush Administration's core justification for the tribunals, that "unlawful enemy combatants" enjoy none of the rights that captured soldiers traditionally do.  (Disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV; I do read lots of Just War theory.)


The conspiracy charge accuses Hamdan of agreeing with al-Qaida to commit murder in violation of the laws of war by transporting two surface-to-air missiles that were to be used against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

In order to find him guilty on that, the judge instructed jurors, they must find the missiles were intended for use against protected people — civilians not involved in hostilities, soldiers removed from combat by illness or capture, or religious or medical personnel.

The prosecution presented no evidence any such people were targeted. In fact they argued the missiles were intended for use against U.S. forces, who had the only planes in the area.

It wants the judge to revise the instructions and tell jurors that any attempt by an "unlawful enemy combatant" to kill a U.S. soldier in combat is a war crime.

The defense said that was not the law of war in effect when the alleged acts occurred, and Congress could not retroactively change it in the 2006 law.

If that was the law, defense attorney Joe McMillan argued, then the United States committed a war crime by providing missiles to mujahedeen forces who used them against the Soviet military in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

“Maybe We Got It Wrong This Time”
Posted by Adam Blickstein

That's what Navy Capt. Keith Allred, the military judge in Hamdan's case, said today while entertaining a motion from the prosecution to revise the original instructions he gave to the jurors before they went into deliberation:

“It’s kind of coming up late in the game,” said Judge Allred, who reportedly told the lawyers to consult legal scholars and journals and try to discern Congress’ intent in the 2006 law underpinning the military commissions at Gitmo.

“Maybe we got it wrong this time,” Allred said. “I don’t know that that would be grounds for a mistrial.”

It's already 3pm and we were expecting a decision sometime today. But this latest roadblock in the controversial military trial of Osama bin Laden's former driver came as the prosecution protested the original instructions of what constitutes a war crime:

The conspiracy charge accuses Hamdan of agreeing with al-Qaida to commit murder in violation of the laws of war by transporting two surface-to-air missiles that were to be used against U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

In order to find him guilty on that, the judge instructed jurors, they must find the missiles were intended for use against protected people — civilians not involved in hostilities, soldiers removed from combat by illness or capture, or religious or medical personnel.

Remember, only 4 out of the 6 military jurors are needed to convict Hamdan, so the fact we are still waiting on a verdict could portend a more uncertain result, including the possibility of a mistrial, than some had predicted.   

Continue reading " “Maybe We Got It Wrong This Time”" »

Not Good Enough
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Stephen Biddle, Mike O'Hanlon and Ken Pollack have an interesting piece in Foreign Affairs that is drawing a lot of attention.  They argue that if things keep going as they are in Iraq we might be able to reduce to about half the current troop levels by the middle of 2011.  Needless to say, I have some concerns.  And I just don't think they lay out a very compelling or clear case to leave large numbers of troops in Iraq for that long.

First, I'm not sure I agree with this important observation about the political process, which inevitably becomes a justification for a prolonged American troop presence:

Reconciliation will require all the major Iraqi factions to accept painful compromises simultaneously. If any major party holds out and decides to fight rather than accept risky sacrifices for the larger good, then its rivals will find it very hard to hold their own followers to the terms of a cease-fire -- likely plunging Iraq back into open warfare. If reconciliation can be done slowly, via small steps, then each stage of compromise is likely to be tolerable, with the risk of one holdout party exploiting the others kept to a manageable level. In contrast, if reconciliation must be done quickly, with a grand bargain rapidly negotiated in the face of an imminent U.S. withdrawal, the necessary compromises will be great -- making them extremely risky for all parties.

Maybe this is right.  But it could be just the opposite.  It could be that what is necessary is a grand bargain right now and that this is what we should be working for.  The argument that Pollack, O'Hanlon and Biddle make is the same one that was made about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in 1993.  But in retrospect what was needed there was a quicker process, while the facts on the ground looked good and both Israeli and Palestinian leaders were politically strong and in a position to make major concessions.  Now, it could be that things will only get better in Iraq.  But I think it's just as likely that we are right now at a fragile and remarkable moment that needs to be taken advantage of.  It could be that we should be trying to facilitate a grand bargain, instead of sitting back and trying to put together a piecemeal negotiation that really has no overall direction and where the various bargaining points and key issues are not strung together to create larger choices for the various parties.  Negotiating Kirkuk separately from a national oil law separately from SOIs integration separately from provincial elections only creates a more muddled and complicated situation and might make a positive outcome less likely.  If it's too slow some of the groups may also lose patience and decide to go back to violence to achieve their objectives.  This is most likely in the case of the SOIs, who still have the capacity to cause serious damage and might not wait forever to be integrated.

Continue reading "Not Good Enough" »

Still No Provincial Elections
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, it looks like the Iraqi Parliament is likely not going to be able to get an agreement on the provincial elections today, which would mean they would be postponed until next year.

"With the help of the United Nations we reached a new phrasing for Article 24, which was agreed by the Kurds and accepted by some of the other MPs," first deputy speaker Sheikh Khalid Al-Attia said after Tuesday's session.

"We were surprised by the objections of some other members," he said in comments broadcast by state television.

Attia said that several blocs, including a Turkmen party and a Sunni Arab bloc as well as the Shiite radical movement of anti-US cleric Moqtada Sadr, had insisted on putting off the whole provincial elections process until next year.

On the one hand, this isn't the worst thing.  Trying to push for rushed elections, which would likely be of questionable legitimacy and couldn't guaranteed to be fair could have made things worse.  On the other it still shows how complicated the situation is.  The whole initial drive by the U.S. to encourage the provincial elections was to get the Sunni tribes into the government, but it's created a bunch of new dynamics including the latest confrontation on Kirkuk.   I'm also surprised to see the Sadrists opposing the new elections law considering they had been pushing for earlier elections in which they are expected to do well.  Not at all surprising to see the current Sunni leadership try to hold elections off as long as possible to try and freeze out the Awakening Groups.  But that strategy can't last forever.  Eventually, the Awakening Groups will get fed up and give up on the political process.  I don't think anyone wants to see that happen.

Atta Was in the U.S., Not Baghdad, at Time Alleged in Forged Letter?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

The allegations in Ron Suskind's new book of the Bush administration forging a letter linking 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraq to bolster the justification for war are pretty explosive. Shortly after news of the letter's existence broke in Britain, though, Newsweek cited "U.S. officials and a leading Iraqi document...that the document is most likely a forgery." Fair enough, but there is another striking aspect of the article:

The problem with this, say U.S. law enforcement officials, is that the FBI has compiled a highly detailed time line for Atta's movements throughout the spring and summer of 2001 based on a mountain of documentary evidence, including airline records, ATM withdrawals and hotel receipts. Those records show Atta crisscrossing the United States during this period--making only one overseas trip, an 11-day visit to Spain that didn't begin until six days after the date of the Iraqi memo.

For arguments say, let's presuppose that Suskind's claims are genuine and that the document was a forgery with White House origins. If true, then this administration is far more clueless and reckless than just being complicit in creating the forgery: they crafted a fake letter placing Atta in Baghdad when our own intelligence community had a "mountain of documentary evidence," verifiable and traceable, that Atta was actually in the U.S. If this is true, than not only was the Bush administration illegally manufacturing a false connections between al Qaeda, 9/11 and Iraq, but also neglecting and ignoring our own overwhelming evidence that the lead hijacker was actually on U.S. soil at the time. If true, it's a doubly criminal act of willful ignorance and conscience malfeasance in office.

CIFA Later
Posted by Adam Blickstein

After months of speculation, the Pentagon yesterday announced the dismantling of CIFA, the Department of Defense's controversial Counterintelligence Field Activity unit:

The Pentagon on Monday officially dissolved an intelligence office that once created a controversial database about potential threats to military bases, shifting it to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The Pentagon's six-year old Counterintelligence Field Activity's personnel, budget, and most of its mission has been folded into the newly created Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center.

The dissolving of the Rumsfeld-era intelligence operation doesn't diminish the controversy it helped create (such as retaining information on Quakers), but the decompartmentalization of intel at Defense is another sign that the Gates-era Pentagon is far more attuned to balancing security and concerns over civil liberties than his tin-eared predecessor was.   

NSN Daily Update: A New Direction for Iran Policy
Posted by The National Security Network

Again, the Daily Update can be found on NSN's website.

Here are some Quick Hits:

1250 Marines were ordered to extend their tour in Afghanistan by one month, completing a mission of ‘top priority.’ Impromptu troop extensions have become indicative of the Department of Defense’s misallocation of resources in the war.

A Pakistani scientist educated in elite US universities was detained in Afghanistan after assaulting two soldiers and F.B.I. officers. Aafia Siddiqui, a neuroscientist, allegedly has ties to top al Qaeda operatives held in Guantanamo.

The panel of jurors began its second day of deliberations in the case of Salim Hamdan at Guantanamo Bay. A verdict by the 6-person panel is expected soon.

A senior Sunni tribal leader allied with the US was ambushed and killed by gunmen in southern Baghdad. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been targeting Sunni tribal leaders since the start of the “Awakening.”

President Bush today kicked off his tour of Asia, which will culminate in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, in South Korea.

An earthquake of the magnitude 6.0 hit the Chinese province of Sichuan just hours after the Olympic torch made its final stop in the capital of the region.

August 04, 2008

Live From the Campaign Trail at TPM Cafe
Posted by Michael Cohen

So this week, I'm doing double blogging duty: here at Democracy Arsenal on foreign policy and over at TPM Cafe on presidential politics and Live From the Campaign Trail. Joining me are Andrei Cherny, Matt Dallek, Eli Attie and Todd Gitlin in the conversation.

My first post is up over at TPM

Morocco: The End of Opposition
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Two weeks ago, Abdelilah Benkirane was elected the new head of Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), considered the largest Islamist opposition party in the country. Leadership changes in the PJD are important because the party’s “normalization” as a participant in the political process is seen as a model for other Arab countries. Benkirane is allegedly a “moderate,” which reminds me that “moderate” may be the most abused word in modern political discourse. First of all, Benkirane is known for his sharply-articulated social conservatism. In this respect, he is more appropriately a "traditionalist." Secondly, the only reason anyone cares to call him a “moderate” is because he’s a strong defender of the Moroccan monarchy, i.e. the status quo. But what is so moderate about playing nice with a monarchy that refuses to grant parliament or political parties any real influence in decision-making? And even if this rightly constitutes “moderation,” then perhaps moderation isn’t always a good thing.

The problem of political reform in Morocco, and many other countries in the region, is particularly vexing. You can’t have real political reform without a real opposition to demand it. In Morocco, none of the political parties are, in any real sense, opposition parties, because they don’t really oppose anything. They are all pro-monarchy and pro-regime. Now, this isn’t necessary a problem, except for the fact that the major and overriding obstacle to political reform in Morocco is, well, the monarchy. This is a structural problem, and structural problems are hard to solve, particularly when the U.S. and the EU, in their democracy promotion efforts, tend to focus on cosmetic efforts – such as training parliamentarians – when the structural problem is that the Moroccan parliament has little power in the first place.

The only way Morocco will ever become a democracy is if it makes a difficult transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. This requires a serious effort - backed by large-scale grassroots mobilization - to tackle the issue of constitutional reform head-on. This is difficult to do in Morocco because criticizing the King himself, or even his prerogatives, is a punishable offense. In other words, then, the one issue central to the future of Moroccan democracy is precisely the issue that has been taken off the table and is illegal to discuss publicly.

In any case, Benkirane’s election signifies that a party that was already non-confrontational toward the monarchy will become even more so. It appears - although I hope I am wrong - the PJD will cease to be a force for substantive political reform in the coming years, which is unfortunate, since it was probably the only party that was in any position to do so. 

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