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February 09, 2008

Increased Foreign Aid Is Not The Answer
Posted by David Shorr

Increased foreign aid is not the solution to our over-militarized, tone-deaf, go-it-alone, self-centered, self-absorbed, wildly unpopular foreign policy. Rather, it is a necessary but insufficient element of a policy overhaul, and I'm worried that too many progressives are starting to talk about it as a kind of elixir for America's depleted legitimacy. In a way, overemphasizing development assistance actually low-balls the extent of the problem. Deep-seated underdevelopment and the failure to boost standards of living is certainly a piece of it, but only a piece.

The broader problem is this: US foreign policy is out of touch with the perspectives, interests, concerns, and aspirations of the rest of the world. We are wrapped around the axle of our own particular way of looking at things. We've lost goodwill by demanding that everyone get with our program or be treated as part of the problem, and our ignorance about how things look to others makes it difficult to earn that goodwill back.

A favorite example. Was anyone else struck by Fred Thompson's campaign message that America needs someone tough like him to sit across the negotiating table from foreign leaders? Of course, that's exactly what we need, someone to stand up to all these other countries trying to take advantage of us!?! I think a sizable majority of Americans realize that our negative international image is a serious problem that undermines our interests and our security.

The next step is to connect the dots of all the different parts of this problem: how our own nuclear weapons and arms control policy have undercut nonproliferation, the corrosive effect of detainee policy on our human rights credibility, the urgent need for a new approach to democracy promotion, the urgency of building a relationship with different elements of Pakistani politics and society rather than betting everything on Musharraf, and yes, improving the circumstances of those left behind by globalization (abroad and at home).

I say this as someone who still believes in what the United States has to offer the world -- including public goods associated with American hard power -- but the first step towards respecting the rest of the world is respecting how much of an effort that will entail. In a rapidly changing and shrinking world, one of the main things will be to conscientiously and ambitiously upgrade our lines of communication with governments and people around the world. At any rate, it's going to take a lot more than an increase in foreign aid.

February 08, 2008

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Marc Lynch has a pretty devastating summary of what's going with the Awakening Movements right now:

What with this [CLCs protesting the local police chief in Baquba] and the Anbar Salvation Council threatening to take up arms against the elected council and refusing to fly the new Iraqi flag and dismissing the entire Parliament as illegitimate and Awakenings leaders declaring that no Iraqi police are allowed in their territory and clashing with them when they do and blaming Shi'ite militias (and not al-Qaeda) for the wave of attacks against them and fighting over territory and threatening to quit if they aren't paid, it really is hard to see why anybody would think that there might be anything troublesome about the relationship between the Awakenings and the Iraqi "state".  Nothing to see here but great big gobs of victory folks, please move along.

Why Benchmarks Will Never Work
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As someone who spent a whole summer keeping track of various legislative benchmarks in Iraq, you'd probably be surprised to hear that I think the whole benchmark process is just deadly wrong.  Agreements on things such as how to split oil revenue or integrating former Baathists into the current government are critical.  The problem is the process.

Trying to pass legislation piecemeal through the Iraq Parliament is futile.  Not only because it won't work, but because it makes no sense as a conflict resolution mechanism.  If every issue is treated separately then the groups will take a maximalist approach on every bill.  It's as if you were to go to the Israelis and Palestinians and say "Negotiate an agreement on Jerusalem and only Jerusalem."  You wouldn't get anywhere.  But if you put Jerusalem, security, refugees, and other major issues on the table at once, you are more likely to have a productive process.  This approach forces the various sides to make trade offs and decide what is really truly important and where they might be flexible. 

But that's not happening in Iraq.  This is a one issue at a time negotiation that also has to deal with rigorous and complicated parliamentary rules.  So you end up with things like this.

Members of Parliament said they expected to complete the provincial powers measure in the next week, despite sharp disagreements between parties that want a strong central government in Baghdad and those that want more power to rest in the provinces and in the Kurdish region, which encompasses three provinces in the north.

During Thursday’s debate, about 90 members of Parliament walked out in protest over a provision that would give the prime minister a final say over the firing of provincial governors. They were from the Kurdish coalition and the largest Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

Another problem with trying to do this through parliamentary legislation is that the result is often some mixed and muddled bill that doesn't make anyone happy or chart a clear course (i.e. the de-baathification bill).  Of course, there is another option.  You can just threaten to take away people's pay until they come around to your position

As the lawmakers left the chamber, Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani threatened to dock their pay by the equivalent of about $1,700 each unless they stayed to work on the legislation.

Pesky Meddlers
Posted by Patrick Barry

Judging from this Reuters story, it looks as if Iran is back to meddling in internal Iraqi affairs by ramping up their support for destabilizing proxy groups. According to David Satterfield, while overall violence has dissipated in Iraq, attacks from EFP’s and mortar attacks near Basra Air station, both ‘bellwethers’ for Iranian involvement, have risen over the last few months. This news is especially unfortunate, given that for a short while, it looked as if Iran had adopted a more constructive disposition.  Tehran, spurred by such factors as our continued support for various Iraqi Sunni groups, has found new incentive for asserting themselves in Iraq.

What tends to get lost in any discussion of Iran’s conniving is that every country in the region is causing trouble in Iraq. Anyone who reads the Sinjar records will come away feeling just the tiniest bit skeptical about the benevolence of Saudi or Syrian intentions.  The unfortunate truth is that at present, any action the United States takes in Iraq is likely going to upset at least one of neighboring countries. Focus too much on building the capacity of the Shi’a dominated central authority in Baghdad and you risk angering the Sunni establishments in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  Throw in your lot with helpful Sunni militias in Anbar or Mosul and it won’t be long before the Shi’a in Tehran start getting restless.

I hate to belabor a point that has been made numerous times on this board, but this problem has a solution: Regional Diplomacy.  Unless we sit down with all of Iraq’s neighbors to work out an agreement over the country’s future status, governments in Iran or Syria or Yemen will continue to find reasons for playing the spoiler’s role and every decision we make will have to be weighed against potentially damaging regional repercussions.  Only a diplomatic initiative, begun with the expressed purpose of convincing Iraq’s neighbors to place convergent and stabilizing pressures on the country, will offer the United States a path out of this trap.

Keeping the Red Army in England
Posted by Adam Blickstein

First, it was American Malcolm Glazer taking over Manchester United, to the consternation of ManU fans worldwide. Now, the Premiership is exploring the idea of extending the season to accommodate 10 matches across the globe in five cities (much like the NFL's globalization plans) further bringing the two "footballs" closer in character. Maybe ManU won't be singing "Take Me Home" in Charleston, WV anytime soon, but if any league can successfully ape what all four major American sports leagues have done by staging regular season games outside their native territory, its the Premiership. The only problem is that since soccer is such a global brand compared to our major league sports, I'm not sure whether this is anything but a money making venture. I mean, it's not like pitting Arsenal v. Liverpool in Rio is going to make Brazil appreciate soccer any more or increase awareness of the Premier League, though it might sell a few more Gilberto Silva jerseys (especially before he leaves the league). Most fans seem against it while most executives appear jubilant, but in the end, isn't it better we do all we can to restrict the exportation of this crowd from England's green and pleasant Land?

Counterinsurgency in the Bronx
Posted by Max Bergmann

The New York Times profile of principal Shimon Waronker, an orthodox Jew who became the principal of a mostly Black and Hispanic school, is a fascinating read. But this line is my favorite:

He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

“It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.” He added, “I wanted to have influence over the popular kids."

February 07, 2008

Who needs Congress and who needs judges when you’ve got Mukasey
Posted by Ken Gude

Attorney General Michael Mukasey unleashed a bombshell at today’s hearing of the House Judiciary Committee when he tried to defend his refusal to begin a criminal investigation of the now-confirmed use of waterboarding by the CIA. He told the Committee that the Justice Department won’t pursue a criminal investigation against anyone who “relied, justifiably” on an opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, even if that opinion was later withdrawn or considered erroneous.

I’m pretty sure that’s not how the law works. Just because your lawyer tells you an action is legal doesn’t give you immunity from prosecution if it turns out to be illegal. An opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel “authorizing” something, doesn’t make it legal. Imagine if that were the case; all that would be required to immunize any Executive Branch official would be a note from the OLC saying it was ok.

And it gets worse. When Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked to see the OLC opinion that the CIA justifiably relied upon, Mukasey refused and said he couldn’t share it with the Committee because it was classified and discussed a program that was also classified. No matter that the entire Judiciary Committee is cleared to review classified material. They’re just going to have to take the attorney general’s word that the CIA’s reliance on this opinion was in fact justifiable. I’m sure that’s exactly what Hamilton and Madison had in mind. 

Coming up short in Afghanistan
Posted by Max Bergmann

Buried in the New York Times article on Afghanistan is this nugget from the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan:

General McNeill, speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, said that if official American military counterinsurgency doctrine were applied, more than 400,000 allied and Afghan troops would be required in Afghanistan.

There are in total about 40,000 coalition troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Just like in Iraq we are attempting to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy without the capabilities to actually effectively implement such a strategy. Now we aren't ever going to have 400,000 troops in Afghanistan, but we would definitely be able to address the war there more effectively if our forces weren't so heavily diverted to Iraq.

In recognition of the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and in light of our strategy vs. capabilities gap we are currently begging the Europeans to send more troops. There is no doubt that the Europeans should contribute more to the effort. But their reluctance is not just a case of being "weak kneed Europeans," as the administration suggests. It is a by-product of the fact that we ourselves neglect Afghanistan. As Mullen explained so clearly, “In Afghanistan we do what we can and Iraq we do what we must.” Why contribute more to an effort that is seen as a distraction?

But European reluctance to pick up the slack also has to be seen as a backlash against the Bush administration. The popularity of the United States, and especially the Bush administration, is incredibly low. Europeans view Afghanistan, rightly or wrongly, as another Bush war and want little part of it. We aren’t the only ones that have domestic politics and supporting America in a long protracted war is just not popular in Europe. As one German commentator noted,

“Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany.” He added: “The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the president tells us, ‘Look I’ll never get that through Congress.’ Something similar is happening here.”

So after being dismissed during the initial invasion of Afghanistan as irrelevant, after mocking European opposition in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and after attempting to divide Europe between old and new, it should hardly be surprising that Europeans are reluctant to do more at our request in Afghanistan.

I guess being an ass does matter after all. 

More Troubling News from Anbar
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

A lot of the news coming out of Iraq today is about those disturbing pictures of children participating in AQI activity and violence.  But a much more important piece of information is buried deep inside the NY Times.

In Anbar Province, tensions between Sunni factions appeared to be high. The tribal Awakening Council, which is now the most powerful group in the province but which lacks political influence, said it was giving members of the Iraqi Islamic Party 30 days to vacate the seats it holds in the provincial council.

The Islamic Party holds a disproportionate number of seats in Anbar and some other Sunni-majority provinces; while many Sunnis boycotted the last election, the Iraqi Islamic Party was one of the few Sunni parties on the ballot. Now, as other political factions have gained ground, they are seeking to oust the party and replace its members with homegrown groups. That effort is particularly strong in Anbar, where the tribes have joined to fight Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and are an influential force.

Indications from the government in Baghdad that provincial elections would not be held until fall prompted the anger. Tribal leaders said they had expected the government to hold elections in March. Either the elections should be held sooner or, in the meantime, the provincial council needs to be replaced, said one leader, Sheik Ali al-Suleiman.

Mark Lynch has been keeping a close eye on this for the past few days.  But it looks like tensions have reached a new level between the Sunni Green Zone politicians and the "Awakening" movement.  What's scary here is that the level of distrust and hatred in intra-Sunni politics probably doesn't even come close to what you have to deal with in terms of getting the Awakening Groups and Concerned Local Citizens (Excuse me: "Sons of Iraq") integrated into national Shi'a dominated institutions.  And trying to change the leadership by holding elections may only make the situation worse.  On top of that, if violence between the Green Zone politicians and the Awakening Councils breaks out in Anbar we're in for a whole new set of problems and "bottom up reconciliation" could very well go up in smoke.

The Punjabi Tiger?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Across America this past Tuesday, 22 states participated in a massively important, historic, democratic primary where well over 20 million citizens from opposing parties peacefully went to the polls . And how did our stock market react? The Dow Jones lost nearly 370 points, and the S&P 500 is down 8.9 percent for the year, the worst year-to-date performance in its history. It could be worse. I mean, we could live in a country, say Pakistan, where electoral strife, continued violence, and the assassination of a major political figure drags our entire economy into the mire. Right? Wrong.

Since the start of 2008, Pakistan's stockmarket is actually the top performing market in all of Asia, last week's Economist suggests. That's right. Pakistan. Better than Japan's. Better then Hong Kong's. Better than next-door neighbor and the anointed next economic powerhouse India.  Credit for this financial fortitude in the face of political turmoil can in part go to former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, an ex-Citibank executive who left the government last November. This week's Forbes has an interesting interview with him where he suggests that per capita income has doubled over the past eight years, amongst other things. Of course Pakistan still has significant economic, social, and political problems to resolve, but this has to be at least a small glimmer of hope for an otherwise unstable nation. And while a small measure of economic success doesn't excuse the actions of an anti-democratic regime, it does help paint the broader picture for Pakistan, especially ahead of the February 18 parliamentary election.

1 2 3 Book Meme
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent just tagged me with a book meme.  Sort of fun, but it does give me an excuse to link to a couple of his pieces that I thought were particularly good recently.  Anyway, here's the deal.  Grab the book nearest to you.  Turn to page 123.  Copy down sentences 6-8.  For me that is Factional Politics in Post Khomeini Iran by Mehdi Moslem.  I wish I'd opened this up at home.  I have a much cooler library there.  We just moved into swanky new offices, but everything is still a mess.  Anyway here goes:

The left is a vehement defender of the young postrevolutionary generation in Iran.  This faction advocates freedom of action and thought for university students specifically challenging the representatives of the Faqih in universities, most of whom are members of the conservative right or sympathetic to it.  Criticizing the intrusive role of these representatives, who under the pretext of guidance and "Islamization of the universities" pry into student activities, Tahkim maintains that university students do not need clerical "supervision" and must be encouraged to become highly politicized, not apostles.

Iranian academia and politics are fascinating.  Anyway, now I have to tag five people.  So, Abu Aardvark, AJ at Americablog, Andy at Arms Control Wonk (I actually stole this book from him.  So he should probably come and reclaim it), and a couple of our own DA bloggers, Michael Cohen and Shawn Brimley (Is that even acceptable?)

February 06, 2008

Post SuperDuper Tuesday Blogging
Posted by Michael Cohen

For fear that Ilan will come to my home and close the laptop really hard on my fingers I will limit my political blogging to once a week - but there's no way I'm not writing something about last night. Here are a few random thoughts:

REASON # 451 WHY McCAIN IS A WEAK NOMINEE: Not only did the Arizona Senator lose a majority of primaries yesterday, it really does appear that conservatives hate him. Across the board he lost among the GOP's most conservative voters, losing primaries in the Deep South and Far West - places that represent the GOP's base. What's more, he keeps winning in places where moderates are tipping the balance in his favor. Fairly obviously if McCain can't win among conservatives that's a problem, but the bigger issue is that now he has to spend the next few months moving to the right, which will hurt him among independents, which theoretically is the best advantage he had in the Fall race. If Obama is the nominee and he does particularly well among independents) the situation is ever harder for McCain. Catch-22, thy name is John McCain.

WHEN THE WALLS COME CRUMBLING DOWN: Back in New Hampshire I heard talk that Hispanics would be Hillary's firewall on Super Tuesday - and they were. She won big in California, New Jersey, Arizona and obviously New York. Without the Hispanic vote in these places (esp California where Obama won among whites) this thing would be over. But here's the problem, with 24 primaries to go there's only one state left where Hispanics dominate - Texas. And if you look at Hillary's base of support vs. that of Obama it's much more limited, basically she cleans up among older white women and Obama has seemingly opened up a lead among white men. She now has a month or two to broaden her support, but with Obama's huge fundraising advantage that will not be easy. The Hispanic firewall held, but the notion of the firewall was based on Hillary winning Super Tuesday, not fighting to a draw, which is basically what happened.

WHY THE DEMOCRATIC RACE IS LIKE THE PUSAN PERIMETER: So I've been reading David Halberstram's wonderful "The Coldest Winter," which helps explain this analogy. For those of you unfamiliar with the Korean War, in the early weeks of the war, the North Koreans drove down the peninsula and had the South Korean military (or what was left of it) and the Americans surrounded in the Pusan Perimeter. But they had stretched their supply lines and were exhausted from weeks of battle. They made one last effort to wipe out the Americans and it failed. A few weeks later MacArthur landed in Inchon and back up the peninsula the North Koreans went. That's kind of what happened yesterday. Hillary had Obama's back to the wall about a week or so ago and she really had to wipe out Obama last night. But she didn't. This doesn't mean he's going to win, but if you look at the primary map and the fundraising numbers Obama has the advantage going forward. Like the American forces in Pusan he has vaster resources. She could be fighting a rearguard action for a while, hoping that Obama does something stupid . . . like go all the way to the Yalu! Seriously though, it's very hard to imagine a situation where she beats him among pledged delegates. Even wins in Ohio and Texas would only counter-balance Obama's likely success in February. If Hillary wins this, my guess is that it happens at the convention (which by the way, considering her likely advantage among superdelegates could definitely happen).

PREDICTION TIME: That reminds me: here is my fearless prediction for how this thing turns out - brokered convention, baby! See ya in Denver!

"WE ARE THE ONES:" I actually thought Romney gave a pretty good speech, too bad we won't have him to kick around anymore. McCain was desultory as usual and can someone in the Hillary campaign buy her a teleprompter. Not only was her speech uninspiring but she was clearly reading it. Obama's speech was not his best performance and at times it seemed a bit overly harsh on Hillary, but oh can he close. That line about the "We are the ones we've been waiting for." I got goosebumps.

REASON #452 WHY MCCAIN IS A WEAK NOMINEE (IF OBAMA IS HIS OPPONENT VERSION): Everyone agrees that Obama has a problem with Hispanics, but McCain has a problem with conservatives who hate him for supporting amnesty. So if Obama is the nominee how does McCain keep anti-immigrant conservatives and Hispanics (especially Mexican-Americans) happy? There's that old Catch-22 again . . .

McCain and Gandhi
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

How much do conservatives hate John McCain?  Pat Buchanan argued today that John McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi.”  This can't be good for the Republican party. 

Hanging on in Quiet Desperation...
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Secretary of State Rice meets today in London with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband to try and tie up some of the many loose ends regarding Afghanistan, most notably who will be the UN's Special Envoy after Hamid Karzai rejected Lord Paddy Ashdown, apparently known as the "Michael Jackson of postconflict reconstruction", for that post. Lord knows that Afghanistan needs a superstar to assist in the country's reconstruction (perhaps not someone who thinks that giving the Aghan's lot's of rides and toys is enough). But like Jackson's son Prince in 2002, Afghanistan continues to dangerously dangle over the edge between stability and chaos. The three independent reports that came out last week further confirm this. 

But while the U.S. and NATO must do all they can to stabilize the country and create the kind of security that will prevent the resurgence of the Taliban, our European allies remain in a precarious spot, one that might prevent the sort of wholesale strategic reset we need. 

First, few of our European allies will want to increase their troop levels-in accord with a lame duck Bush Administration because their own domestic discord remains high.  This is especially true in Britain, where Labour's unpopularity degrades any chance that the Government will bend out of its way to further ally itself with an unpopular war and unpopular American administration. A second obstacle is the continued realization that Hamid Karzai is a weak leader whose criticism of British troops will only embolden Britain's reluctance to accept the Rice's overtures. This, coupled with Germany's overt and public rejection of Defense Secretary Gates' call for more German troops and Canadian PM Stephen Harper's threat to remove troops, leaves NATO's mission in Afghanistan in an uncertain place. 

Expect no substantial results from Rice's meeting as the British, and indeed most of our NATO allies, will most likely be playing the 'long game' from now until 2009: namely, wait until a new U.S. administration takes power to make any consequential strategic moves, and instead maintain a steady presence there, leaving it up to America to fill in the gaps. Of course with the majority of our forces still bogged down in Iraq with no sign of imminent redeployments to Afghanistan, the situation regretfully displays no sign of improving for the rest of 2008.

February 05, 2008

The Next Powder Keg: Iraqi Provincial Elections
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

We’ve had some interesting exchanges lately between Shadi, Pat, Michael and Matt Yglesias on elections and on this day of all days I wanted to throw another important element into the elections mix.

I think the U.S. is in danger of making another in a long series of catastrophic mistakes in Iraq, and it’s because it’s decided to emphasize elections as a conflict resolution mechanism.  This is something that the United States does far too often in its attempt to solve all of the world’s problems by spreading democracy.

Right now, we are sitting on a combustible set of cease fires in Iraq that are more likely than not to unravel.  The “Awakening Strategy” of aligning with various Sunni tribes and former insurgent groups against Al Qaeda in Iraq has temporarily tamped down the violence.  But it has left in its wake a set of independent well organized and well funded militias.  These groups are not integrated into Iraq’s political institutions in any meaningful way and most continue to view the Shi’a national government as the enemy.

The new conventional wisdom inside American military and diplomatic circles is that sustainable stability can only be achieved by bringing these groups into the political process through provincial elections.  President Bush and Secretary Rice have both made holding provincial elections a central political benchmark in Iraq’s road to reconciliation.  Ambassador Crocker just last month told reporters,

Whether you're looking at the south, and unresolved issues and tensions as to who will wield how much power, or places like Anbar, where the tribes having not participated in the previous elections find themselves in a position of some prominence yet without representation in established political structures . . . it's probably going to be fairly important to have elections within the coming year as a means of regulating this competition,

This makes some sense.  Most Sunnis boycotted the 2005 local elections and the groups that now wield the most power in these territories were too busy fighting an insurgency in 2005 to actually take the time to vote.  No political system can function properly if it is not reflective of the military realities on the ground. 

Unfortunately rather than act as the natural next step on the way towards stability in Iraq, provincial elections at this time are much more likely to simply be the next major spark that plunges parts of Iraq back into full scale chaos.  Elections are the exact opposite of conflict resolution.  They are, by their very nature, an intense struggle for power.  When they occur in stable liberal democracies they lead to increased tensions and partisanship (Just ask Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain or Mitt Romney).  But these tensions are resolved peacefully through liberal institutions that guarantee a certain (Though not always perfect) level of fairness.  However, when elections take place in unstable societies that don’t have strong institutions, they can often lead to chaos, especially if there is no confidence in the results (See Kenya or potentially Pakistan in two weeks). 

Given these tendencies it’s not hard to imagine that provincial elections in Iraq would likely have horrific and unintended consequences.  First, there are some practical questions about how one would manage an election.  Two million people have fled Iraq and another two million are internally displaced.  Given this mass migration, it’s hard to conceive of how Iraq would develop coherent voter rolls.

But even taking this consideration aside, provincial elections are still likely to lead to chaos.  In the Sunni parts of the country an internal power struggle is already under way.  Members of the Anbar Salvation Council (ASC) are being targeted for assassination by Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is still a major force.  Meanwhile, there are increasing tensions between the rising Awakening movements and the Iraqi Islamic Party, which controls most of the local provincial councils in the Sunni areas and represents the Sunnis in the national government.  Add to that mix brewing tensions between the “Concerned Local Citizens (CLC)” groups, which are former members of the insurgency and the ASC that consist of the local tribes.  These two groups are usually thought to be one and the same, but they are different and in actuality the leadership of the CLCs is frustrated with the ASC, which they feel has taken much of the credit for their hard work against AQI. 

Adding an all out competition for power, in the form of elections, to this combustible mix is likely to act as an accelerant.  Rather then a clear winner, the elections would likely be marred by vote rigging and violence.  The losers would be unlikely to accept the outcome and would resort to violence to hold on to their position.  What is needed here is a conflict resolution process that actually brings the various sides together to negotiate an agreement on how they will share power. 

Are People's Political Views "Fixed" or "Plastic"?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Sabeel Rahman, a PhD candidate at Harvard and one of the sharpest observers of American politics I know, sent out an excellent email to a list I'm on, which zeroes in on what he calls the "fundamentally different 'political ontologies'" of Obama and Clinton. It's a really interesting analysis, so I asked him if I could post it on Democracy Arsenal. He said yes, so here it is:

One of the central differences is that these two candidates have fundamentally different "political ontologies"--assumptions about how politics works.  As such, there is a real substantive difference embedded in all the rhetoric about who is or is not a "change agent"--and our gut reactions over who we tend to support has a lot to do with who we think has the right unstated assumptions about politics.

The most basic assumption in politics is whether or not we take people's political views to be fixed or plastic.  Thus, there is one camp--let's call it a Schmittian approach to politics--where people's views are taken to be fixed.  When this is the case, politics becomes more about the battle "between friend's and enemies" (in Schmitt's language).  As a result, there are only two real strategies available to generating political victory and/or social change.  First, you can completely reject everything about your enemies, and whip up support among your friends--a sort of rabid partisan strategy.  Second, you can engage those who disagree, but since their views are fixed and not really open to reconsideration, such engagement means bringing them on board by giving them some of what they want.  This is a strategy of least-common-denominator centrism--or "triangulation" in its negative sense.

If you take views to be fundamentally plastic, however, you now are playing a very different ballgame.  Politics now becomes an effort in persuasion.  And persuasion requires (a) bringing those who disagree on board--not by accepting their policy views in a transactional sense, but by engaging in good faith their core disagreements; and (b) seeking to allay those concerns by offering an alternative approach to the given issue. 

If you accept a deliberative approach to politics, there is a second set of assumptions that you have to make about how to persuade those who might disagree.  First, there is a strategy which says "successful policies drive changes in principles".  Second, there is a view that instead it is by arguing for broad principles first that you bring people on board, which then opens up political space to begin experimenting with different policies.  This approach has the virtue of not pegging the value of these principles on the ultimate success of an ex-ante determined policy, of defending a principle on its own merits.

Continue reading "Are People's Political Views "Fixed" or "Plastic"?" »

A Major Difference on Foreign Policy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

We can't cede any ground on national security to the Republicans. We can't buy into their narratives, and we certainly shouldn't try to replicate their "toughness." We need a candidate who will say - clear and unapologetically - we're Democrats, and proud of it, and, yes, there is another way on foreign policy. So, on this Super Tuesday, one of the questions we should be asking ourselves is which candidate offers a chance to launch a full-court press and destroy the embedded Republican advantage on national security once and for all.

Obama made this point very convincingly in a recent speech in Denver, and I think it points to a very significant difference between the two candidates: 

It’s time for new leadership that understands that the way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him by voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don’t like; and who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed. We need to offer the American people a clear contrast on national security, and when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party, that’s exactly what I will do. Talking tough and tallying up your years in Washington is no substitute for judgment, and courage, and clear plans. It’s not enough to say you’ll be ready from Day One – you have to be right from Day One."

February 04, 2008

Who Are You Calling Stupid?
Posted by David Shorr

I suppose we could have predicted it -- the chorus of political "analysis" and news coverage that has declared that the 2008 elections will not be about the Iraq War or foreign policy, because once again "It's the economy, stupid!"

Frankly, I think you have to consider the American electorate stupid to believe that our national election can only be about one or two issues at the most. I won't even mention the many obvious ways in which domestic and international issues have become intertwined (in part because Heather already has). My point is that at a moment of heightened public engagement, our fellow citizens not only can but want to hear about more than one or two issues. Voters are not going to forget about Iraq or the troubling state of US relations with the world, and these issues are not going to vanish from the national debate.

"I want to be an American" - Obama fever taking over Europe
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Granted, this is anecdotal, but still. A friend was telling me that one of her Dutch friends, after watching the Obama South Carolina victory speech, said

"I was listening to it and I wanted to be an American."

This is amazing. In my travels abroad, all I've heard is anger, frustration, and hatred toward America. But here is someone who listened to Obama and saw the possibility of a different kind of America, one that he could believe in. I'm used to defending America at every turn and pleading innocence whenever people bring up the Bush administration's various crimes ("it wasn't me. Despite the fact that I support U.S. democracy promotion, I'm not actually a neo-con"). But not so much anymore. Weirdly enough (and again this is anecdotal and based only on my circle of non-American friends and colleagues here in England), but anti-Americanism seems to have gone down ever since Obama's dominated the headlines.

Everyone I meet here almost inevitably brings up Obama, often without prompting and usually followed by an accented attempt at "fired up, ready to go." I was at an, um, costume party the other night, and this German guy, almost two minutes after meeting me, started gushing about how excited he was about Obama. Then this other Irish guy started quoting Obama speeches and going on about how pumped he was for Super Tuesday. And I was like, what the heck is going on here? Am I in some parallel universe? And, for a moment at least, I was. I saw a glimpse of a universe where people see America not for what it is, but for what it still can be. Some people still believe in us. It in these moments that I really begin to appreciate the opportunity we will have in January 2009 to start again, to start over.

A Defense Budget Without a Defense Strategy
Posted by Max Bergmann

The release of the Bush administration's defense budget, like all of their previous budgets, increases defense spending without making any hard choices. This is the highest level of defense spending since WWII. But it is not just the numbers that we should be concerned with. Just as worrying is the complete incoherence of the Bush administration on defense policy.

The Bush administration came in to office pushing the concept of military "transformation." Warfare was going to be transformed through new technology and they set out investing in new advanced conventional weaponry that would emphasize firepower and speed. Their approach to warfare vividly played out in Afghanistan and Iraq, where we relied on a light footprint and overwhelming firepower that left us unable to stabilize either country.

Yet things appeared to change with the replacement of Rumsfeld with Gates, the promotion of David Petraeus and the elevation of counter-insurgency doctrine, and the decision to increase the size of the Army and Marines - after resisting for the previous six years. Each of these developments seemed to reflect a clear rejection of Rumsfeld's vision of military transformation and an acknowledgment that a military must do more than just destroy things. It also must be able to protect and secure populations – a mission that we were not adequately prepared for. Such a shift in strategic focus should have had a dramatic impact on budget priorities. Yet it hasn’t.

Instead the Bush administration’s current defense budget looks remarkably similar to the budgets under Rumsfeld. Despite the seeming moderation of Gates, we continue to lack any clear strategic direction on defense spending. The Bush administration has still only cut two major weapons program during its tenure (both were for the Army) and we continue to spend billions on weapons programs that reflect security concerns of a bygone era. As Larry Korb and I recently wrote in a recent CAP report called Restoring American Military Power: Toward a New Progressive Defense Strategy for America:

Our military is lopsided. Our forces are being ground down by low-tech insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan and the most immediate threat confronting the United States is a terrorist network that possesses no tanks or aircraft, while the Pentagon—the world’s largest bureaucracy—remains largely fixated on addressing the problems and challenges of bygone era. This focus has left our military unmatched on the conventional battlefield but it also left the U.S. military less prepared to deal with the emerging irregular or non-traditional challenges that we as a country are most likely to confront.

There are some obvious systems to cut: the DDG-1000 Navy Destroyer, the V-22 Osprey, either the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, National Missile Defense and space weapons programs.  But it is also important to realize that the next administration is not just going to be left with a real budget mess, but a Pentagon that is strategically adrift.

The Need to Prioritize Elections
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I have to say that I get really troubled by the assertion that “elections alone don’t make a democracy.” Of course, it’s true as far as descriptive statements go. But the implications are troubling. I know this isn’t what Patrick was trying to say in his post, but too many others are saying it – that the U.S. has made a mistake by emphasizing elections, and, therefore, the U.S. should de-prioritize elections. 

The problem cited in Patrick’s post (which references a recent HRW report) is that “dictators around the globe are disguising their abusive, authoritarian regimes in democratic garb” by holding elections and winning them. Well, yes. The problem here though isn’t the emphasis on elections but, rather, that the U.S. has turned a blind eye to elections that were clearly rigged and manipulated, as has been the case in places like Egypt. If we’re going to talk a big game about elections, we have to take this to its logical conclusion and ensure the elections are free and fair. Of course, if we encourage elections and then accept their results even when they’re little more than glorified window-dressing, then this is not a good thing for anyone, and this where Patrick's point is very well taken.

With that said, instead of backing down on pressuring autocratic regimes to hold elections, perhaps we should exert additional pressure to ensure that said elections are serious events that meet the standard of “free and fair.”

To address another point which worries me when I hear it, Matt Yglesias writes that “the rule of law, in particular, is crucial. But while we have a lot of knowledge about, say, the rule of law we don’t have much know-how about instilling it elsewhere. So you see a lot of emphasis on elections.” Again, on the merits, this may be true and Matt's correct to point to this as a problem. However, the danger is that this type of logic will lead us to the sequentialist fallacy that before talking elections, we should focus on strengthening rule of law. Asking a dictator to strengthen rule of law is sort of like asking Christopher Hitchens to write an objective account of the history of Mormonism. In layman’s terms, rule of law reform necessitates diffusion of power and spreading responsibility across autonomous governmental institutions. It is unclear why a dictator would want to undermine his own power base and ability to subvert the very same institutions that we want him to strengthen. On a more conceptual level, the underlying premise of dictatorship is that the dictator is not subject to the rule of law.

The only way to address this is by making the ruler accountable to another powerful force in society – the electorate. In short, from this vantage point, rule of law should be seen as complementary to holding free and fair elections (i.e. it's very difficult to envision a scenario in the Middle East where you would have rule of law without some semblance of free and fair elections).

Lastly, it's important to note that rule of law reform, if approached in isolation, is difficult to assess and can take a very long time. Now, it may be easy for us to take a “patient,” “gradualist” approach to democracy promotion. We may be willing to wait. Presumably, however, this view may not be as attractive to the citizens of dictatorships who have to endure repression on a daily basis. I imagine their patience is wearing thin. I’m not sure if it’s really fair to tell them “well, before we let you guys have elections and vote for the wrong party, you have to, um, have rule of law first.”

Happy Birthday Ilan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Thanks to the wonders of facebook (my new favorite site after democracyarsenal of course) I discovered that tomorrow is Ilan Goldenberg's 30th birthday.

I also discovered at Facebook that Ilan's peers have ranked him #2 for being "most cuddly."

Ilan's cuddliness, notwithstanding, he was truly 'present at the creation' of NSN (and unlike Dean Acheson no one would ever accuse him of losing China) and through his tireless efforts we're still going strong. So happy birthday Ilan!

Democracy Promotion Bush-Style
Posted by Michael Cohen

The New York Times had an excellent piece on Sunday about the challenges facing America's democracy promotion agenda in Central Asia. Contrary to the President's recent, rosy rhetoric (how's that for alliteration) on the spread of freedom around the globe, the facts on the ground in Central Asia speaks to a far different reality:

In the last three years in these former vassals of the Kremlin, the exuberant vision of nurturing pluralistic societies and governments responsive to popular will - enunciated by President George W. Bush's public calls for democratization - has met so many obstacles that it has been quietly recalibrated. Throughout the region, journalists and opposition figures have been harassed, threatened, beaten, imprisoned and sometimes killed. American policy has accepted less ambitious goals.

Democracy promotion is not gone. But it has taken its place in a wider portfolio of interests. These include access to oil and gas, improving trade and transportation infrastructure and expanding military, counternarcotic and counterterror cooperation - all informed by a sense that in the competition with Russia and China for regional influence, the United States has lost ground.

Forgive me for momentarily sounding like a realist, but this sounds about right. Of course America should be promoting democracy, but we have to recognize that the spread of democracy is one of many American interests and we must balance it with other important foreign policy goals. The President's messianic and largely empty call on behalf of democracy promotion never seemed to reflect this necessary balancing act. This has only served to weaken American credibility when we've been forced to reduce our commitment to freedom in the face of challenges to our other national interests.

Now having said that, it does seem to me that America should be focusing its efforts at democracy promotion on building the civic institutions necessary to sustain not only democracy, but also the free exchange of ideas. It's a point my blogmate Patrick Barry made just a few days ago.

All of that makes this choice nugget from the aforementioned NYT piece that much more inexplicable.

In oil-rich Kazakhstan, the pattern has been similar. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who runs the country like a family business-and-television empire and has been enveloped for years with allegations of corruption, won 91 percent of the vote in a December 2005 election that independent observers said was flawed.

Before the election, a human rights worker who published allegations of presidential corruption on a Web site was mugged. The attackers tore open his clothes and used a blade to carve a large X - the mark of the censor - on his chest. The government also confiscated newspapers that published articles on presidential corruption.

The State Department urged Nazarbayev to respect press freedoms. But, like the message to Azerbaijan, that message became mixed when the American ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe appeared to dismiss the crackdown's significance, when she addressed a Kazakh official during a speech.

"When I was in Kazakhstan a couple of weeks ago I had the interesting pleasure of reading some of this (sic) newspapers that have been seized," the ambassador, Julie Finley, said to a session of the organization's council in Vienna, Austria, in November 2005, according to the transcript. "Maybe you saved some readers some waste of time, anyway."

Sheesh, that's just awful. It's one thing to look the other way when a nominal ally subverts democracy, but to actually praise it? Just for the record Julie Finley not only still has her job but she enthusiastically supported Kazakhstan's application for chairmanship of the OSCE.

And just in case you're wondering about what qualified Julie Finley for ambassadorship to the OSCE:

Ambassador Finley was National Finance Co-Chairman for Bush-Cheney '04 for the District of Columbia and Co-Chairman of Team 100 for the Republican National Committee from 1997 through 2004.

Democracy in action!

That Wacky, Wacky Kristol
Posted by Michael Cohen

Back in December when Bill Kristol got a job as a NYT columnist I figured he would be pretty awful but I must admit his dreadfulness has truly amazed me. Kristol has some of the most valuable real estate in American journalism. Yet he seems happy to simply parcel out dreary, unimaginative and misleading conservative talking points that seem to have one solitary purpose -- making those people who regularly read the New York Times editorial page tear out their hair every Monday morning.

In today's edition, Kristol calls on American conservatives to support John McCain -- and since about 14 movement conservatives read the NYT editorial page everyday, what an important contribution this editorial is!

Today Bill tells us that "The American conservative movement has been remarkably successful. We shouldn’t take that success for granted. It’s not easy being a conservative movement in a modern liberal democracy. It’s not easy to rally a comfortable and commercial people to assume the responsibilities of a great power."

There are several things wrong with this paragraph, but the notion that conservatives have ever sought to rally the American to assume the responsibilities of a great power is certainly the most objectionable.  In fact, the failure to rally the American people is one of the greatest failings of the conservative movement. 

Go back and read Barry Goldwater famous "extremism in the defense of liberty. Now that was an unwavering and unambiguous call for national sacrifice!  Didn't work out so well. And since then conservatives have been more than happy to let the American people off the hook when it comes to assuming the responsibilities of a great power.

Indeed, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was happy to talk tough on Communism and increase defense spending to destroy the Soviet Union, but when it came to asking the American people to sacrifice, he instead cut taxes AND spending on programs that benefited those Americans most in need.

As for our current President his rallying of the American people has been a true national disgrace. Not only did he cut taxes IN WARTIME, not only has he made no effort to encourage conservation so as to lessen our reliance on foreign oil, but basically the only sacrifice he has ever asked of the American people . . . was to go to the mall and spend money. In George Bush's America, the only people who have to sacrifice are those who loyally and selflessly choose to serve their country.

What is so ironic about Kristol's encomium to the selfless conservative movement is that it's in fact progressives who have consistently called on Americans to sacrifice; it is progressives who have actually challenged the American people; and it is progressives who have had the guts to occasionally speak unpleasant truths to the American people. This has been the case among great progressive leaders, from Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Adlai Stevenson and John F Kennedy to Jimmy Carter (remember the malaise speech), Bill Clinton (Americorps) and now Barack Obama today.

Conservative government under Ronald Reagan and George Bush has been characterized not by patriotic sacrifice, but instead by selfishness; lowering taxes for the most well-off, cutting spending for those most in need of a helping hand; scapegoating the most vulnerable in our society and demanding little to no sacrifice from the American people, even in a time of war. 

If Bill Kristol wants to know why "it’s not easy to make the case for the traditional virtues in the face of the seductions of liberation, or to speak of duties in a world of rights and of honor in a nation pursuing pleasure" maybe he should shine a spotlight on those in the conservative movement who have been more focused on turning government into a four letter word then ever challenging the American people to give of themselves for the national good.

Maybe that's why so many conservatives have been enamored of Barack Obama - they finally figured out what they've been missing all these years.

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